Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 128,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
About a fortnight ago the House debated the broad issues of defence policy. Today, we are considering the R.A.F. It is my intention to present a factual report on the progress we are making with implementing the Defence Review. We are virtually building a new Air Force. I will tell the House how our new aircraft are being introduced into service and how our efficiency is being improved, both in terms of our organisation and our management techniques.
Accordingly, my broad pattern will be to deal, first, with the progress made by the R.A.F. towards the aims of the Defence Review, I shall go on to report on the new aircraft; next, to organisation; and, finally, to certain special points on training and recruiting.
Since, as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, I find myself under the new ministerial organisation in the Ministry of Defence in a position which be loosely described as that of the "Manager" of the Air Force Department, I present something akin to a manager's report.
The Defence White Paper sets out the progress made towards achieving three main aims of the Defence Review. The first aim was to bring defence expenditure into balance with the nation's resources. So far as Air Votes are concerned, the Estimates are almost exactly the same as those for 1966–67, after adjustments have been made to the latter to allow for transfers of some services between Defence Votes and from Civil Votes. Allowing for price increases last year, they represent a decrease in real terms of about 242 £16 million on 1966–67. Although, as I have said, the totals shown in the printed Estimates are almost the same, there is some variation in individual Votes,
Costs of civilian staffs are up by over £2 million, mainly as a result of the new Selective Employment Tax. Vote 7—Aircraft and Stores—is up by about £5½ million, reflecting the new aircraft programme on which the Government have embarked, including, of course, the orders for American aircraft. Pensions and gratuities are up by £3 million.
These increases are offset by a reduction of £6 million on Service pay, resulting from the further rundown in the size of the force and the reduction in the number of men serving abroad. We also expect to spend about £5 million less on movements, part of this being due to the build-up of our own transport fleet with the introduction of the VC10 and the Belfast which enables us to save on charter costs.
A second aim was to reduce what we call overstretch. The active strength of the R.A.F. is still contracting slowly, but it is realistically related to the commitments which we now plan that it should be capable of meeting. During the next year or so, the overseas establishments of the R.A.F. will be reduced by about 8,000; at the some time, the United Kingdom establishment will increase by nearly 2,000 posts. This means that the proportion of R.A.F. personnel serving overseas will reduce; and this will help to improve the home/overseas ratio of service in the R.A.F.
The effect, so far as the R.A.F. is concerned, of the agreements with the Malta Government announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio is that the planned reduction in our establishments in Malta, which involves in particular the disbandment of a Canberra squadron and the closing of the air headquarters, will take place about a year later than was previously proposed. An exception is the reduction of Hal Far airfield to a care and maintenance basis which will take place later this year. It is proposed, further, to make greater use in future of R.A.F. (Malta) personnel than was previously planned.
A third aim was to cut the cost in foreign exchange. The R.A.F. is making 243 its contribution to the reductions in force levels in the Far East and elsewhere of which the House is aware. We are also making some savings in Germany by various administrative economies irrespective of the size of the front line; the possibility of a reduction in the size of B.A.O.R. and of R.A.F. Germany is a separate matter and is dependent on the outcome of the tripartite discussions now taking place.
To turn to our new aircraft. In this field, the contrast between the picture before us now and the one facing us when we came into office is great. In 1964, we inherited a programme which, admittedly, included new aircraft, but aircraft which would either have entered service far too late to meet the operational need or would have cost far more than the nation could afford, or both.
By the time we were debating the Air Estimates for 1965–66, we had already made major decisions like the cancellation of the HS681 and the P1154 and the adoption of the Hercules, Phantom, Harrier—P1127—and HS801 for the Royal Air Force. A year later, with the 1966 White Paper on the Defence Review, we had completed coherent and comprehensive plans for the R.A.F.'s front line aircraft over the next decade, and now I am in the rewarding position of seeing these plans turned into hardware.
First, the C130, Hercules. We have ordered 66 and four have already arrived in the U.K. for final preparation before entering R.A.F. service within a few weeks. Crew training will begin at Thorney Island; and squadrons will be based at Lyneham, at Fairford—as a second and temporary U.K. base until Lyneham can accommodate the whole U.K.-based force—and in the Far East. The Hercules is without question a first-class medium range tactical transport aircraft and in that rôle it will replace the Hastings and the Beverleys, and greatly improve on their performance.
The next aircraft will be the Phantom. A week or two ago I was in St. Louis, Missouri, for the roll-out and the first flight of the first Phantom for the R.A.F. Because we required the Phantom at a slightly later date than the Hercules, we were able to introduce considerably more British equipment into it, to the extent 244 that it is virtually half British, embodying the Rolls-Royce Spey engine, a Ferranti navigation/attack system and various other British equipments. There has also been some airframe sub-contracting.
We have already ordered more than 150 Phantoms for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and we shall be considering a further final order during the next few months.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
In giving the number of aircraft, could my hon. Friend also give the cost of each aircraft for the benefit of the House?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall most certainly do that in future.
The Phantom O.C.U. will form in a little over 12 months' time at Coningsby and we aim to follow this over the next two or three years with squadrons at Coningsby, in the Far East and in R.A.F. Germany. There will also be Phantoms deployed in the Middle East, but they will be provided on rotation from Coningsby. This will give the crews valuable experience for the increasingly mobile rôle of the R.A.F. in the 1970s and will help to reduce the problem of the limited facilities available for accompanied service in the Persian Gulf by permitting the families of Phantom squadron personnel to remain in the settled environment of the home base.
The next aircraft is the R.A.F. version of the F111. Again, I was fortunate to be able recently to visit the factory in Texas where it is being produced. There are development problems with the F111—as with all new aircraft—but I am confident that these will be resolved and that the aircraft will meet our requirements when it enters R.A.F. service. I was impressed by the scale of effort devoted to the development of this aircraft. There are already about 20 F111 aircraft of all types flying and over 2,500 hours have been flown.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Could my hon. Friend say what technical personnel accompanied him on visit, and into what specialist measures he probed?
§ Mr. Rees
I had sufficient professional technical people to enable me to discuss at great length all the problems involved 245 to the degree that I can assure my hon. Friend that, despite the problems, I am sure that when the F111 comes into R.A.F. service it will more than meet the operational requirement laid down.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The Minister says that development problems have been encountered. Can he tell us by what percentage the drag exceeds expectations, and whether the air intake geometry problems have yet been cured?
§ Mr. Rees
There is a more than adequate pay-range-load. I think that it would be wrong of me to go into the air intake question, but I am very sure from what I was told when I was in Texas, and from what I saw on the different types of aircraft, that that problem, too, is being solved.
The cost of the F111 is a fixed-cost price of £2.1 million, which was negotiated a long time ago—it will be the same for the other aircraft as well. A ceiling price is being negotiated on the additions made for the R.A.F. version.
On present plans, about two-thirds of our F111 is, both in squadrons and in the O.C.U., will be based in this country at Honington, and the remaining F111 aircraft will be based in the Far East Air Force.
The main way in which the dollar costs of the F111 are being met is in the offset agreement. This agreement and the question of the price to be paid for the aircraft were gone into by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence the other day. However, in view of the obvious and unnecessary confusion which reigns in many minds about the rôle of the F111 with the R.A.F., I will spend a moment on this aspect.
In the words of last year's White Paper on the Defence Review:The key to the deterrent power of our armed forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through reconnaissance and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need.Although we do not plan to indulge in major operations without the cooperation of allies, this does not absolve us from the responsibility of maintaining a balanced force capable of making a contribution which those allies would value, nor indeed from the responsibility for providing our own forces of all three 246 Services with strike/reconnaissance support.
These responsibilities are not confined to an area east of Suez and the F111 is not intended solely for commitments in that area. It will form a vital element in our strike/reconnaissance force and can go wherever it is needed from its base in the United Kingdom. Its vast radius of action gives it operational flexibility, not least in its approach routes, which is an important requirement in reconnaissance, and in replacing the strike carriers.
In brief, the principal rôle s of the F111 aircraft will be tactical, and particularly reconnaissance, to support our forces in any military operations and to discharge our responsibilities to our allies. It will fulfil that rôle long after the AFVG comes into service. The V-bombers—not the F111—will be the stop-gap.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
With regard to the F111's rôle for early-warning, do the Government contemplate invading the air space of a possible enemy before war so as possibly to anticipate his strike? It is not much use carrying out reconnaissance after the war, because we would be unlikely to exist.
§ Mr. Rees
I think that my right hon. and learned Friend's last remark is true, but he is putting views into the mind of the R.A.F. which could not possibly be the case. One would have to bear in mind the political situation. It is envisaged that the reconnaissance rôle of the F111 would take place 100 miles on the other side of the line. The reconnaissance rôle is vital if it is thought politically that an outbreak of war—not necessarily global, but possibly limited—is imminent.
§ Mr. Rees
It is different when the reconnaissance is carried out at sea. Without going into full details, I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that the scope of the reconnaissance Canberras is such that it is possible to "see" 100 miles on either side without crossing the line. I repeat that it is possible to see 247 without crossing what in my day in the R.A.F. used to be called the bomb line.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Have not these reconnaissance duties been almost entirely superseded by the satellites which are now circling the world and which are capable of taking high definition photographs even over potential enemy territory?
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Gentleman said that one of the advantages of this aeroplane is that it could approach from strange directions. If it is to fly up and down the frontier, it will soon be found.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman has vast Army experience, but I was talking about the Navy. In its seaborne rôle, the flexibility of approach of the F111—[HON. MEMBERS: "Seaborne?"] In its rôle at sea, its flexibility of approach will be vital. I argue, and it is the case, that the F111 will have that rôle when the carriers have phased out. It has a far longer range than the AFVG—it is a bigger aircraft with greater scope—which will make it invaluable in the Navy rôle when the carriers are phased out.
In brief, the principal rôle s of the F111 aircraft will be tactical and particularly reconnaissance to support our forces in any military operations and to discharge our responsibilities to our allies.
Apart from these three United States aircraft, there are two national projects in hand for the R.A.F. We are buying the American aircraft because it suits us; but Her Majesty's Government believe firmly in the need for a strong national aircraft industry and these projects form part of a new pattern for the British industry. I stressed this time after time the other week, when I was speaking to members of the United States aircraft industry; and I would not wish anyone to underestimate the depth of our conviction on this matter.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for not having available the cost of the P1127 aircraft; the figures have been announced and I will get them for my hon. Friend as quickly as possible.
The Harrier will be used for close support of the Army in the field, 248 operating in conjunction with the Phantom. In building the Harrier we are following up a unique line of aeronautical development; and when the aircraft enters service in two or three years' time, it will be the first deflected thrust V.T.O.L. aircraft in the world to enter squadron service.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Is it not a fact that a fixed-price contract has not yet been completed for the Harrier and that a price has, therefore, not yet been settled for it?
§ Mr. Rees
No, Sir. The situation is that instructions to proceed have been given. The contract has not been completed. A great deal of design work and so on is taking place on the P1127.
The other national project is the HS801 the world's first land-based all turbo-jet maritime reconnaissance aircraft. It will provide an important strengthening and modernisation of Coastal Command when in 1969–70 it replaces the Shackleton Mark 2. The HS801 will not only be able to remain for extended periods on patrol using the most sophisticated underwater warfare equipments, but it will also be capable of high speed transit between its bases and the area of operations.
The HS801 will also look after the long-range search and rescue commitments, as the Shackletons are doing now. This, of course, is complementary to the work of the S.A.R. helicopters which continue their humanitarian tasks with courage and skill. Hon. Members will wish me to remind them that in the calendar year 1966 our helicopters were called out to 789 incidents and saved 330 lives.
I ought also to say that a measure of the hazards faced and overcome in this work can be taken from the fact that during the same period the aircrews were awarded one George Medal, one Air Force Cross, one Air Force Medal, and six Queen's Commendations for Valuable Services in the Air.
In addition to our American purchases and to our national projects, there are three collaborative projects with France. There is the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft which will replace the V-bombers in the mid-1970s in the tactical/strike/reconnaissance rôle. Like 249 the R.A.F. F111, it will enable us to support our other forces—in addition, taking over such strike/reconnaissance tasks as are at present carried out by aircraft carriers and will remain in the later 1970s.
Again, there is the Jaguar, a supersonic ground attack and trainer aircraft. In the ground attack version, it is planned to enter service in five or six years' time when it will take the place of the Phantom for close support of the Army in conjunction with the Harrier. This will, in turn, release Phantoms to assume a primary rôle of air defence in replacement of the Lightning. The trainer version of the Jaguar will follow a year or so later to replace the Gnat.
Thirdly, there is the SA330 helicopter—one of the three helicopters that are the subject of a recent Anglo-French agreement. This helicopter is required for tactical support of the Army in forward areas. It can be transported by air more readily than the Wessex, which will continue to form part of this element of our front line, and can carry more troops and equipment. The SA330 is expected in R.A.F. service in 1970. Our initial order will be for about 50.
Finally, we have a need for a heavy/lift helicopter for use in the logistic support of troops in forward areas and to transport particularly heavy loads beyond the capacity of the other helicopters. We have been unable in this case, where the numbers we require are small, to arrange a collaborative project and an order has been placed for 15 Chinook helicopters from the U.S.A. These helicopters, which will have a British avionics fit, will be delivered in 1969. I will obtain firm figures of cost, but it is about £10 million plus support.
All this is an impressive picture. When these new aircraft are in service the R.A.F. will have the tools it needs to play its part within our future defence policy. It will be more flexible and more mobile than ever before. Here, I must not forget the contribution being made by the VC10, the Belfast and the Andover, which were included in the plans we inherited and are now entering service.
The new aircraft which I have just mentioned are visible signs of the way the R.A.F. is adapting itself to fulfil its rôle in our defence policy. Another aspect of 250 this adaption is a change in command structure. As hon. Members already know, Flying Training Command and Technical Training Command are being amalgamated at Brampton to form a new Training Command by June, 1968.
We have just announced that Bomber Command and Fighter Command are to be amalgamated to form a new Operational Command which will bring together the bulk of R.A.F.'s U.K.-based "teeth" forces. The new Command will have its headquarters at High Wycombe and provisionally it will be called the Strike Reconnaissance and Defence Command. It will have two groups—Strike and Air Defence. We aim to bring the new Command organisation into being on 1st April, 1968, but reaccommodation of staffs and the relocation of units will be carried out progressively over a rather longer period.
The first step towards the formation of this new Command is already being taken—the amalgamation at Bawtry of Nos. 1 and 3 Groups of Bomber Command.
Transport Command of the Royal Air Force will be retained essentially in its present form, but it will be provisionally renamed Transport and Ground Attack Command; 38 Group will continue as a subordinate formation within this Command, and its importance will continue to grow in conjunction with the development of the Army's Strategic Command.
We are still studying the future of Coastal Command and of Signals Command. The future of Coastal Command is, of course, closely bound up with possible changes in the naval command structure, on which decisions have yet to be taken. The two Services are working closely together to ensure that Coastal Command is ultimately incorporated in a new R.A.F. structure in the way which will best preserve its effectiveness in joint operations with the Royal Navy.
This process of reorganisation is not confined to the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
My hon. Friend will readily appreciate my interest in this matter, as he is almost a constituent of mine. Can he say what will happen to the property at Bentley Priory when Fighter Command moves? Will this be made available, or will the local authority be given an opportunity 251 of purchasing this, as it does not have a town hall or centralised administrative offices? Can he say what will happen to the H.Q. unit at Stanmore Park? Is it proposed to dismantle this, or will it be made available to the local authority? What will happen to married quarters in the area?
§ Mr. Rees
I am very much aware of the fact that Harrow does not have a town hall. We have not yet reached the point of disposing of Bentley Priory. It will have a continuing use after next year, and it will be a matter of three or four years before we are in a position to deal with that. I assure my hon. Friend, who, I know, lives alongside Bentley Priory, that when the time comes, if it comes, to dispose of this property, there is a well-tried procedure in which the local authority plays its part.
I would be very wary about saying anything about Stanmore Park, but, again, I would not like to be dogmatic. There is a large number of married quarters in the area, and I would have thought there would have been a continuing use for them, certainly in the wider area of Bushey and Stanmore and Harrow Weald.
We have also been examining the organisation of the Far East Air Force in the light of the reduction in force levels following the end of confrontation and as a result of this, we are also introducing a streamlined and more economical command structure there. It involves a number of changes but possibly the major one is the replacement of 224 Group H.Q. with a small mobile tactical H.Q.
We are continuing with our programme of improving the efficiency and economy of our support organisation in R.A.F. Maintenance Command. We have just closed one of our five large Equipment Supply Depots, with a saving of over 700 posts. By about this time next year, we hope to introduce computers into the remaining four depots. These computers, which will be linked with the one computer centre at Hendon, will be used to keep the stock records and accounts, to progress contracts and generally to organise the storekeeping work of the depots for example, each day's list of isues to be made to R.A.F. units will be produced 252 in the best order to select and pack the equipment so as to avoid any wasteful movement.
We shall get a considerable improvement in depot management and efficiency and we shall, when the system is working fully, be able to have 400 or 500 posts. The computers will also play their part in a reorganisation of the storage system at the depots, since they will enable us to distribute equipment within them, according to its weight and bulk and the frequency with which it is likely to be needed. We shall be concentrating the smaller and quicker-moving items in one shed in each depot, with thoroughly up-to-date storage and handling methods. In this way, we expect to save yet another 400 to 500 posts; we envisage that this reduction will be spread over a year or more and can be met by wastage.
Finally, we are engaging management consultants to take a rather more thorough look at our management systems and techniques in this area and to advise us among other things, on the possibilities of greater decentralisation to local managements. Although this study stems from the Report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes on the Pay of Industrial Civil Servants, it is not linked to the proposals for a new industrial pay structure, about which negotiations are going on quite separately.
A few moments ago I spoke about Transport Command; and I have earlier mentioned that the Belfast, the VC10 and the Hercules are now entering service. Hon. Members will appreciate that preparations for the introduction of these three new aircraft, together with a fourth shorter-range aircraft—the Andover—represent a major task of organisation and training which Transport Command has undertaken with its usual unobtrusive efficiency.
By the end of the year there will have ben a very substantial increase in the Command's capability. In the meantime, it continues to meet the varied demands made on it, from the Zambian airlift to tactical training with the Army, with a promptness of reaction and reliability of achievement which inspires the greatest confidence. The safety rate of Transport Command on its scheduled flights has been extraordinarily high.
The size of the strategic transport force is governed by our need to move across 253 the world troops and their equipment on a sufficient scale speedily and at short notice. If we are to continue to be able to discharge our commitments the need for such a reinforcement potential will increase as our overseas based garrisons are reduced in size.
The strategic transport force has to be exercised continuously over the routes which it is likely to have to use in emergency. This familiarisation flying is vitally necessary both for the efficiency of the aircrews and the safety of troops to be carried in an emergency and also for the training of ground staffs at the various staging posts and elsewhere along the routes.
The expenditure involved is essential to ensure that the force and ground organisation are always in full operational trim and able to react immediately in time of emergency. At the same time, we are making profitable use of this activity by using these flights for the regular trooping and air freighting commitments to the Near, Middle and Far East.
We shall be making increasing use of these flights by our strategic transport aircraft over the next year until, apart from North-West Europe itself, only a portion of the Far East trooping commitment will remain to be undertaken by civil charter aircraft on contract. In future, this will save each year at least £5 million on passenger fares and £3 million on air freighting.
A very interesting Report by Sub-Committee D of the Estimates Committee was published this morning on "The Movement of Service Personnel and Stores". I am sorry to find that the Committee does not apparently see eye to eye with us on some aspects of the subject. Hon. Members will need more time, as I shall, to digest the Report. I hope that in reading it hon. Members will bear in mind what I have just said about the considerations governing the size of the strategic transport force and its use for trooping. I undertake to consider the Committee's recommendations with every care; and in due course our comments will be laid before the House in the customary manner.
Transport Command's aircraft cover the world in its journeys and as its range increases—as, indeed, the range in- 254 creases of other front line aircraft—we are able to be more flexible over the question of routes. One of the areas in which we are considering the possibility of being still more flexible is—as stated in paragraph 27 of the Defence White Paper—the western Indian Ocean, where we are considering the possibilities of a staging airfield on the island of Aldabra.
This has given rise to some concern in scientific circles. Aldabra has a unique ecosystem and is of the greatest interest to the world scientific community. We have assured the Royal Society that the scientific considerations will be taken fully into account in the process of reaching a decision.
We have also assured the Society that if we decide that we have to construct an airfield on Aldabra it will be built in a way likely to cause the least interference with the ecology of the island, and that we would wish to extract some small virtue out of necessity not only by working closely with the Royal Society in conservation matters, but also in providing such facilities as we can for ecological and other studies.
I acknowledge the deep concern felt by the Royal Society, and I wish to emphasise my Department's awareness of the issue and its willingness to do something about it.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Aldabra, can he say whether all the islands in the Indian Ocean, such as Diego Garcia, have been ruled out for consideration for development bases? Can he also say what is the average height of land on Aldabra above sea level?
§ Mr. Rees
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all of these other islands have been taken into account in the very fullest way. A decision has not yet been taken on Aldabra. As to the height above sea level, I have recently read a report, as a result of an expedition there last October, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Defence, the B.B.C., and M.P.B.W., full of interesting material. If anyone were to ask me about turtles and birds and goodness knows what I might be able to help, but the one thing that I cannot recall is the height of the island above sea level.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army said 255 during the debate on the Army Estimates that a statement would be made during this debate on a human problem which has rightly occupied the attention of a great many hon. Members, namely, the procedures which should be adopted when a Serviceman dies overseas in peacetime. It now falls to me to inform the House of a new policy which the Services will adopt for the future, and which will be put into operation without delay.
The Services will offer next-of-kin the opportunity, at public expense, either to attend the military funeral or to repatriate the body for private burial to the United Kingdom and Irish Republic, where circumstances allow this to be done. In the case of married accompanied personnel, a parent or child will be permitted to attend the funeral in the overseas theatre. Both next-of-kin, and a parent or child, may be accompanied to the funeral by one companion—that is we will provide transport to the overseas funeral for two people.
Where it is necessary for repatriation, embalming and the preparation of bodies for travel will be arranged at public expense by a local overseas civilian undertaker, and I must make it clear that where local arrangements are not available, or are not satisfactory, the Service will not set up its own undertaking facilities in order to repatriate the body—and I should point out that arrangements for embalming and preparation may not be satisfactory in Middle and Far East Commands. In cases where neither attendance at the funeral, nor repatriation, is practicable the Services will offer the following further alternative.
The next-of-kin, or parent or child in the case of married accompanied personnel, plus one companion, may visit the grave at public expense within two years of the interment, provided that the security situation permits.
We shall also, of course, continue the present arrangement under which, where it is feasible and has been requested by next-of-kin, a Serviceman's body is cremated and the ashes returned.
I must make it clear that the new arrangements must be regarded as a privilege and not a right. We have to safeguard the position that there may be circumstances which would make the repatriation of bodies or the visits of 256 relatives impracticable, or very undesirable.
These arrangements mean, of course, that the existing scheme for North-West Europe has been replaced by more general arrangements, which apply worldwide. As part of this new approach, it will be necessary to alter the present arrangements which apply in North-West Europe under which arrangements are made for near relatives to attend the funeral of a wife, or for a fee of £20 the body of a dependant is repatriated. The general principle, which will now apply worldwide, is that the Serviceman overseas is regarded generally as being financially responsible for arranging the funeral of a dependant as if he were at home.
But discretion will be given to commanders-in-chief and commanders overseas to repatriate the bodies of deceased dependants at public expense in special circumstances. I have in mind, for instance, a case where both the Serviceman and his wife or child have been killed in a car crash, or the Serviceman severely injured, so that he is unable to carry out the duties which would normally fall to the head of a family.
Hon. Members will, I think, agree that the Government have worked out a policy which is humane, logical and, above all, universal in application. Within the limits of what is practicable, the Services intend to do their best to meet the wishes of the Serviceman's family when it is faced by bereavement. The new arrangements will not be retrospective, but they will be put into effect without delay.
I should add, though this aspect is really within the province of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that parallel arrangements are being made in respect of United Kingdom-based civilian employees who may die overseas.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As one who has been critical on this subject in the past, and who has asked for change, will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations on this humanitarian and warm measure?
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
May I ask why my hon. Friend has refused to give me answers to my repeated Questions on this subject, including one as recently as yesterday, since the information was apparently available in the 257 Sunday Press? The kernel of what he said appeared in the Sunday Mirror.
§ Mr. Rees
I regret that fact. I looked into that report. All that I can say is that by doing homework and looking back at Questions, and so on, the report appeared. I cannot offer any more comment than that.
Now to training and recruiting. Hon. Members will have seen from the Defence White Paper—and my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration also raised this subject in a recent debate—that it has been decided to set up a Royal Defence Academy which would exercise central academic and administrative control over the engineering department of Cranwell and its counterparts at Manadon and Shrivenham.
The Royal Defence Academy would also exercise this control over a new inter-Service college, the Royal Defence College. The Royal Defence College is to be established to improve the arrangements for the education of regular officers of the non-technical arms and will provide, among other things, courses up to degree level.
What this means for the Royal Air Force, for Cranwell, is that officer cadets for the General Duties, Equipment and Secretarial Branches and for the R.A.F. Regiment, will start training at Cranwell. After they have completed general military training and then gained either their wings or completed equivalent professional training, they will go for one year's academic instruction at the Royal Defence College, together with young officers of about the same age from the Royal Navy and the Army.
Those young officers who are capable of taking university degrees, and who wish to do so, may remain at the Royal Defence College for a further two years to complete their course and to graduate. Those officers who do not wish to take degrees and those who have graduated will return to the Royal Air Force for advanced flying or equivalent professional training before joining operational units.
I would be the first to admit that introducing this new sequence of training will present us with problems of great complexity and difficulty. However, I believe that they can be solved; and I believe that, in the end, we will be amply rewarded by a flow of young officers in 258 whom we will have developed those intellectual qualities the Services need—young officers with a deep understanding of the wider aspects of their profession.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
From what the hon. Gentleman has said, it seems that young R.A.F. officers will get their flying training and then will go off for academic studies for a year. Will they get any flying training during that year, to keep them up to the mark?
§ Mr. Rees
What is envisaged is refresher training, perhaps in association with a university air squadron. I will look into that aspect.
I must point out here that the establishment of the Royal Defence Academy, and the Royal Defence College implies, no change in the desire of the Services to recruit university graduates. The Royal Air Force has been fortunate in its graduate recruitment in the past and it is as anxious as ever to maintain that flow. I am glad to be able to say that the recruiting figures confirm that we are doing so. In 1966, the number of university cadetship applications was the highest so far and 46 awards were made compared with 43 in 1965. In addition, we recruited 64 graduates as well as the 21 university cadets who graduated in 1966.
That brings me to the subject of recruitment, where we are still beset with certain problems. Last year, the recruitment of aircrew officers was good. We met our target for pilot entry; and navigator recruiting improved considerably over 1965, so that by the end of the year we were only slightly below the target figure.
We met our target for Cranwell entries. For R.A.F. scholarships, we found an improvement in the quality of applicants, and again we virtually met our target.
Recruitment for the ground branches showed an improvement generally over the previous year, particularly in the G.D. (Ground) Branch, the Secretarial Branch and the R.A.F. Regiment. W.R.A.F. recruitment, too, has been excellent for most branches.
But the exception to all this was the Engineer Branch, where it continues to be difficult to obtain professionally qualified entrants, and here recruitment to the branch reached only two-thirds of the target figure. Apart from this, the officer 259 recruitment situation could be described as fairly successful, but when we turn to airmen the situation is less satisfactory.
The total number of airmen enlisting in the R.A.F. during 1966 was greater than during 1965 and recruiting for the higher skilled trades has, in general, been satisfactory; but the shortage of recruits for the lesser skilled trades continues to cause us concern.
As regard internal recruitment, the current figures are appreciably better than those of a year ago; and although there are many gaps in the administrative trades, a large proportion of our needs for the higher skilled airman to re-engage to pension has thus been covered. The number of those wishing to extend their service for shorter periods continues to be considerably short of our requirements, again particularly in the lesser skilled trades. We are, therefore, concentrating our recruiting efforts in these problem areas. The size of the R.A.F. is declining, but recruitment is still vital to obtain young people and to fill gaps in deficient trades.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
May I ask a question about engineering officers, which is always a great problem? I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would look at the command structure, because in the United States I think that the second most important man in the American Air Force is a non-flier. The command structure is of considerable importance.
§ Mr. Rees
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the question of the promotion ladder, which is another way of expressing it, for the engineer is being very much looked at. As the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, the problem in the Royal Air Force is that the man with the wings on his chest is often, by the very nature of that fact, the most important person, as well as in view of his operational rôle. Engineers are vital to the Royal Air Force. I give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we are looking at this problem.
These difficulties make it all the more essential that we should make the fullest use of all the potential recruiting sources available to us. In this context, I would mention the important part which the Air Cadet Forces have to play, both in 260 developing an airmindedness in our youth and in fostering an interest in the work of the R.A.F. In fact, a high proportion of R.A.F. recruits continue to have previous air cadet experience. To ensure that the organisation of the Air Training Corps, in particular, remains fully geared to its own needs and those of the Service, we have decided to set up a committee to review the whole organisation and training policy of the A.T.C. and to advise us accordingly.
Now, a word or two about the R.A.F. Education Branch. One has to remember that the typical airman of today is a skilled tradesman and the N.C.O. a manager. The educational qualifications for most of our trades are high and the skills and knowledge demanded are increasing.
The R.A.F. Education Branch has always been closely associated with training at all levels, from the apprenticeship schemes of the early days to the honours degree courses for engineer cadets at the R.A.F. College, Cranwell. It has always been to the forefront in the use of modern teaching techniques and has done important original work in the development of teaching machines and in the technique of writing programmed lessons. Moreover, through the General Education Scheme, it has widened the education opportunities available to all personnel both in subjects related to their work in the Services and in the pursuit of qualifications which may assist them eventually in their resettlement into civilian life
A problem arises over the provision of school places for the children of Service families now returning in large numbers from overseas. This can cause difficulties for the local education authorities. Fortunately, in the R.A.F. the problem is, perhaps, less serious than with the other two Services because it is our policy to post individual Servicemen to vacancies at existing units; and where families cannot readily accompany their fathers we do our best to accommodate them at R.A.F. stations where married quarters are available.
This means, in general, that the returning families will be spread over the country rather than concentrated in one or two places, and where there is a build-up at a station where existing married quarters are being used the problem for the 261 local education authority is often one of providing again school places at a level which they had already achieved in the recent past. Where this is, in fact, happening, at the R.A.F. stations at Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, and Honington, in Suffolk, for example, my Department has, of course, been in discussion with the local education authorities concerned. Another case in point is Brize Norton, on which I hope to let the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) have a reply to his inquiries very shortly.
If measures have to be taken which result in an entirely new requirement for schooling in a particular area, my Department and the command headquarters concerned will naturally carry out the necessary consultations with the Department of Education and Science and the appropriate local education authorities.
The House may like me to say a word at this point about the arrangements we are making for the accommodation of R.A.F. families over the next year or two, when the numbers needing family accommodation will be substantially increased as a result of the Defence Review withdrawals.
A programme for the provision of permanent married quarters at R.A.F. stations has been in train for many years. About 28,000 permanent quarters have been built in the United Kingdom since the end of the war and we plan to continue building at the rate of about 1,300 houses a year. We are still, however, a long way short of being able to provide permanent quarters for all eligible families who would like one, and it will be some years before we begin to approach this ideal state of affairs. In the meantime, extensive use is made of temporary hirings to reduce deficiencies. Currently, about 6,000 houses are on hire for the R.A.F.
The withdrawal of forces as a result of last year's Defence Review adds very considerably to the number of families needing accommodation in the United Kingdom. Some will prefer to make private arrangements, as many families stationed in the United Kingdom already do; but we estimate that the number of R.A.F. families applying for public married accommodation will increase by about 2,700 as a result of the Defence Review withdrawals.
262 We are, therefore, taking special steps to add to our stock of public married accommodation at a greater rate than the normal building programme provides for and to provide furniture for them, as well as, of course, for houses being acquired by the other Services. The R.A.F. has an across-the-board responsibility for furniture.
As my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration has informed the House on a number of occasions, the Ministry of Defence is now purchasing suitable houses on the open market as a means of adding quickly to the accommodation at our disposal. We hope that many of these houses will prove suitable for permanent use, to the eventual relief of our building programme. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works is also taking steps to accelerate the construction of about 2,000 of the permanent quarters already in our building programme.
These special steps should go a long way to enabling us to handle the temporary peak in family housing requirements arising from the Defence Review withdrawals. If need be, however, we shall fall back on the temporary expedient of using mobile homes, but this will be a last resort and I am hopeful that we shall not find it necessary to make much use of it.
May I say, briefly, that the subject of meteorology has been much in the news in the past year, thanks largely to the useful and interesting report of the Estimates Committee on Meteorological Services. I am grateful to the Committee for its helpful and perceptive comments. Its recommendations have been considered and replies will shortly be submitted.
I have completed what has had of necessity, despite the time, to have been but a brief survey of the R.A.F. as it is at present. I have mentioned some of the highlights; there are many more subjects I would have liked to have covered. However, I will make only one point more. I am proud of the fact that I have served in the Royal Air Force; and I am, therefore, doubly honoured to be the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. But I feel even prouder of the Royal Air Force as now it has entered a most stimulating period in its existence; for example, with new aircraft starting to come into service, with a major 263 reorganisation in hand of the command structure in the United Kingdom and with the finest and most sophisticated management techniques applied to its supporting services.
It is very appropriate that at the end of the coming financial year, when the R.A.F. celebrates its 50th birthday, it should, in directions such as those I have mentioned, be showing that advancing years have led to no decline in vigour and to no tendency to ossification, but rather to the contrary—that the R.A.F. is, as ever, meeting the challenge of changing time and adapting itself to contemporary needs.
§ Mr. Rees
It is not for me to rule what is outside the scope of the debate. The rôle of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft is very necessary to the R.A.F. On the other hand, the stages in the negotiations concerning the AFVG are, in a sense, the joint responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology. I would have thought that from my point of view there was not the slightest reason why it should not be talked about.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
It is my very great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on presenting his first estimates as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, or as manager of the R.A.F., as he put it. I am sure that all hon. Members will have enjoyed hearing him speak today. He spoke with the courtesy with which we have always associated him and for which he has a great reputation. Everyone will agree that it is particularly appropriate that someone like the hon. Gentleman, who has taken so much care over individual cases, should have had the task today of announcing special arrangements about deaths overseas. My right hon. and hon. Friends welcome that greatly.
It is not his fault that the Service for which he is responsible has so many doubts about its future, in spite of what he may have said today. Those doubts are caused by the Government's whole 264 approach to defence policy. After the long wait for the Defence Review from October, 1964, until February, 1966, during which time there was great uncertainty and anxious speculation about the future of the Services, it was hoped that the R.A.F.'s rôle would be made clear-cut.
The Defence Review states, in paragraph 1, on page 4:Defence must be the servant of foreign policy, not its master. Military forces must be designed accordingly.It goes on to say, in the next paragraph:We are compelled to plan the main features of our defence policy a decade ahead.When it read that, the R.A.F., like the Services, breathed a sigh of relief. It thought that at last the agony of 16 months of uncertainty was over and that it would be able to face a stable future knowing its rôle and the weapons with which it was to play it. It went on to read on page 6, in paragraph 14:N.A.T.O. must maintain enough conventional forces to deal with small-scale conflicts in the European theatre without automatic resort to nuclear weapons, when the origin of the conflict may be uncertain and the intentions of the enemy obscure. The number of ground formations already available is probably sufficient, if they are adequately manned, trained and equipped. But more air support is needed for such conventional operations.It will have read in the next paragraph:We shall strengthen our air support for conventional ground forces in Germany at the cost of some reduction in our nuclear strike aircraft based there.When it went on to read, on page 10:Our plan is that, in the future, aircraft operating from land bases should take over the strike-reconnaissance and air-defence functions of the carrier on the reduced scale which we envisage that our commitments will require after the mid-1970s",it thought that that was all very encouraging and that the future for the R.A.F. was good.
Furthermore, while there had been 16 months of agonising uncertainty about new aircraft, following the cancellation of the TSR2, the HS681 and the P1154, when rumour and counter-rumour had dominated the Press during those anxious months, it learned from the Defence Review that the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft was to be the core of the R.A.F.'s long-term aircraft programme, and that 50 F111 As would be 265 purchased from the United States to bridge the gap, supplemented by the V-bombers when the Polaris submarines came into service. It knew already that Phantoms and P1127s were being ordered to replace the ageing Hunters, that the strike version of the Anglo-French Jaguar in due course would release the Phantoms to replace the Lightnings, that the HS801 was to replace the Shackleton and the C130s had been ordered for the strategic transport force. The future of the R.A.F. looked settled and rosy.
Then why should there be such uncertainty only a year later? Perhaps it is because, first and foremost, while the Defence Review had said on page 14:… we have planned a reduction in the tasks which we shall undertake in the 1970s",it became abundantly clear both in the debate on the White Paper and in subsequent statements that that was far from true.
Operational requirements may have been downgraded, as they have been with new aircraft orders. Decisions may have been taken to reduce the number of men and weapons so as to cut down defence expenditure in the hope of reaching an arbitrary limit. But what was certain was that the commitments had not been reduced accordingly. Apart from the decision to withdraw from Aden, which anyone with any knowledge of that area could have told the Government would only result in chaos and could involve us in a major conflict in the Arabian peninsula, our commitments remained as before. Indeed, that was the reason for the resignation of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who was certainly in a position to know the truth.
Then we have further evidence that short-term economic considerations are determining our defence policy, when foreign policy considerations should be doing so. For instance, in connection N.A.T.O., despite the assertions in the Defence Review concerning the need for conventional forces backed by increased air support, there is now a threat that after 1st July we shall withdraw our N.A.T.O. forces unless Germany meets our foreign exchange losses. How can anyone believe that serious thought is being given to defence considerations when such a threat is made?
266 Is there any wonder that the R.A.F., like the other Services, fears that there are no real long-term plans, that there has been no proper assessment of the tasks which it is likely to have to carry out, and that there has been no real attempt to match men and weapons with these tasks?
The military threat to Europe remains. There has been no reduction in the forces facing us behind the Iron Curtain. Indeed, those forces are now equipped with more sophisticated and better quality weapons than when N.A.T.O. was first formed. The fact that Mr. Kosygin has spoken of a non-aggression pact should not reassure us. After all, when he was here he continued his country's perpetual endeavours to break up N.A.T.O. by trying to drive a wedge between Britain and the U.S.A. and between Britain and Germany.
No one in the R.A.F. can be expected to feel that a withdrawal from Germany is a sensible move now, only a year after being told that our ground forces were just sufficient to cope, provided that they were given additional air support.
What of east of Suez? Are we to leave a squadron of Hunters at Aden, as requested by the Government of South Arabia, to deter Nasser from moving in, or are we to clear out altogether leaving them with no air support? How much longer can we expect to operate from Bahrain once Nasser has dealt with Southern Arabia and is free to turn his attentions to that area? These are important questions, because these are vital air staging posts en route for the Far East.
The White Paper rightly pays tribute to the R.A.F. and its contribution to ending the Indonesian confrontation against Malaysia, but it then goes on to say in paragraph 26 on page 7:Our aim is Mat Britain shall not again have to undertake operations on this scale outside Europe.But how can such an aim be achieved so long as we have treaty commitments in that area? How can the Government suggest that their aim is no longer to be involved in this way, or have they made up their minds to make certain that we are not equipped to undertake such operations in the future? After all, there is no guarantee that we shall not be involved once more in some fighting in the 267 Far East, or that it will not escalate as it did in Malaysia. If that is so, is it not vital that we should have sufficient air forces to control the air space over any ground operations taking place?
Obviously, it is quite possible to withdraw some of our forces, as has been done since the ending of confrontation, because they can be dispatched in a reasonably short time to reinforce the existing Far East force. But what if we are already involved in, say, the Middle East and we are then called upon to help in the Far East? Have we sufficient men and aircraft to meet both those commitments, or is it that we are cutting back in the hope that we shall not be called upon to help in two theatres at once and in the hope that, in any event, we shall be lucky enough only to be involved in conflicts on a much smaller scale than the Indonesian confrontation?
I sense that these are the thoughts which are giving so much concern to those in the R.A.F. who will have to "carry the can" in the air should the gamble not come off.
Another matter which is causing great concern in the R.A.F., as in the other Services, is the topic which appears in a short paragraph on page 9 of the White Paper, saying:The Government is studying the scope for developing further the peaceful use of military forces in this country.If, with their usual keenness of mind, the Services apply initials to that, I suppose that the peaceful use of military force will become known as "P.U.M.F.", and that is a very appropriate name for it.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
On the day of the disaster at Aberfan, which is the next village from mine, I was at St. Athan. Immediately the personnel of the station stood to and were prepared to play their part. In the event, the Army played the major rôle, but is not that an appropriate use for the R.A.F.?
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
The hon. Gentleman is sneering at it.
§ Mr. Goodhew
It is certainly not to be sneered at, and the hon. Gentleman knows that I was not sneering at it. I was sneering at the bald statement that the Government are studying the scope for developing this further. When interviewed on television about this subject, 268 the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Aberfan disaster and the valuable work which the R.A.F. does in rescuing people by helicopter, to which we all pay tribute. When he was asked what ideas he had, he merely said that there was further scope in this direction.
I hope that we shall not have further disasters merely to enable the right hon. Gentleman to send troops to combat them. How will this affect the Royal Air Force? What has the Government in mind?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Regarding the use of the R.A.F. in the Aberfan disaster, could not all the services rendered by the R.A.F. be perfectly well done by some civilian force instead of the R.A.F.? Surely one cannot justify a bomber on the ground that it is going to Aberfan?
§ Mr. Goodhew
That is a point on which I was about to come. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. How is this going to come about, and what has the Government in mind? This bald statement, with no attempt at explanation, is causing grave concern in the R.A.F. and other Services. The Secretary of State may laugh, but it is a serious matter for those who are in the Services. He can apply for the Chiltern Hundreds if he likes. But they have to soldier on.
§ Mr. Healey
Can the hon. Gentleman give any evidence of the grave concern of the R.A.F. about this? Has he not made this up to make a party point, without any thought whatever?
§ Mr. Goodhew
Certainly not. It is quite clear that the Secretary of State is not in touch with the feeling in the Service as his hon. Friend was who nodded his head in assent a moment or two ago. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the men who join the Services do so to serve their Queen and country as soldiers, sailors and airmen. It is the prospect of service overseas, the possibility of adventure, the thrill of flying modern aircraft, the pride of keeping aircraft flying and the knowledge that the R.A.F. is helping to keep the peace, which are the sort of things for which men join the Forces.
If the right hon. Gentleman is going to take all this away and replace them 269 with duties that can be performed in civvy street, he will destroy a spirit and a mystique which can only be re-created when danger threatens, and that will be too late. We hope that we shall have more information. The Government will have to do something with the forces they bring home from abroad.
I come now to island bases, this concept, to which I referred earlier. At the time of the Defence Review, constantly in the newspapers were maps of the Indian Ocean area showing bases on islands and on the mainland, with circles drawn round each one demonstrating that the F111, with its 1,000 miles combat range, could cover all our commitments. There is no word of this in the Defence Estimates or in the White Paper. The map at that time showed that it was 1,000 miles. No doubt that was a conservative estimate, but there is no word about this. There is merely mention of the possibility of new facilities in Australia and the examination of possiblebenefits from a new staging airfield in the British Indian Ocean Territory".What has happened to the grand strategy? Has it been sunk without trace like the CVA01 carrier? It was said to be a replacement for that carrier.
We have heard very little about Diego Garcia, to which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) referred. I know why he asked about the height above sea level of Aldabra; it is because he knows that Del Garcia is only 5 ft. above sea level and for three months of the year it suffers from hurricanes and for another three months from intermittent flooding. This is the area which the Government was going to use as a base for aircraft.
There are indications that Aldabra is thought to be too expensive to adapt as a modern base. The hon. Gentleman was careful to say that it was only under consideration. The island base concept is quietly disappearing.
Aden is presumably to go. This is one of the bases around which a circle was drawn. One wonders what will happen to our air staging en route for the Far East. Perhaps the Secretary of State discovered that the original map of the bases, which was presented to the Chief of the Air Staff, showed Australia as being 280 miles north-west of its actual 270 position. Perhaps he decided that to rely upon aircraft, based on islands and operating at 1,000 mile range, was like trying to support the Anzio beachhead from Biggin Hill without an alternative airfield on which to land, should the airfield be destroyed while you were away. There is still too much that remains uncertain for the R.A.F. or anyone else to be confident that the Government knows what it is doing and where it is going in the sphere of aerial warfare. This applies just as much to aircraft as it does to general strategy.
There are too many unknown quantities for anyone to be confident that everything is under control. Let us look at the F111K. We are told in Command No. 3203, page 38, paragraph 44, thatwe plan to form the first squadron of F111Ks in 1969.That is particularly interesting, because the Prime Minister said two years ago on 4th March, 1965, at col. 1557:The situation which we inherited last October was that the supersonic bomber which they finally put into the programme—the TSRII—could at the earliest not be in service until 1968.Obviously the Prime Minister would be giving a very pessimistic date for the entry into service of the TSRII to make it look as if this party had failed. Yet we now find that even his pessimistic date would have been at least a year earlier than the date on which we are to have the F111K. The cancellation of the TSRII and the purchase of the F111K for reasons of time scale begin to look somewhat doubtful.
What about the cost? We have not yet agreed a ceiling price for the F111K, as we have been told today. We were told by the Secretary of State on 27th February:As to the F111K, I am now discussing the ceiling price for a further 40 aircraft, and hope to place that order by the end of the month.Why did he say, in Command No. 2901, on page 11, at paragraph 10:We are guaranteed full delivery of the 50 F111A's not later than January, 1970. The ceiling price for the basic aircraft—5.95m. United States dollars or about £2.1 million—covering the production costs and a contribution to the United States research and development cost, will apply to the total purchase.Does not this mislead the House into thinking that a ceiling price had been fixed for the whole order?
§ Mr. Healey
Ever since I first discussed this, I have made it clear that there 271 was a ceiling price for the basic aircraft of £2.1 million which under no circumstances could be exceeded. The cost of the R.A.F. modifications and additions which turned the F111A into the FMK would raise the price to something like £2½ million. This is still the case. I have never disguised the fact. It was in the White Paper last year, as the hon. Gentleman will know if he brushes up on his homework.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I have indeed done my homework, and I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman is being a little naïve, because in the White Paper, on 13th December, 1965, he said:We negotiated a firm price before we decided to discontinue production of the TSR2.This could only give the impression that the price had been negotiated, and there was no possibility of the F111K proving to be more expensive than the Government were making out. It is this juggling with the basic price and the final price which is designed to mislead the House and to fog us in trying to decide how we fare with these costs. What is the thruth, I wonder? Have costs arisen so much that there is to be an adjustment upwards of the price to be paid? Once these defence debates are safely out of the way, are we to learn, perhaps in a Written Answer to a Question, that there has been a considerable increase in the price? The more I look into the whole question of aircraft costs, the more suspicious I become of the arithmetic of the party opposite in public. What its arithmetic is like in private, I do not know.
When the Government were so busy trying to prove how much money was being saved by purchasing the F111 instead of the TSR2, they ignored the research and development costs of the TSR2 which should have been added to the cancellation charges. But worse than that, they compared the cost of 50 F111s with 158 TSR2s. The Secretary of State said on 8th March, 1966:We came to the conclusion that we did not need the 158 aircraft—the TSR2—which were in the programme of the last Government and which would have cost £1,200 million and that we could manage with 50 F111As at £280 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2041.]The F111A is to be a minor adjunct to the AFVG—this has been changed 272 today, and I shall come to that shortly—but the fact remains that there was no reason to compare 50 F111As with 158 TSR2s. We are to have AFVGs to carry out this rôle, but we do not know how many. There have been various estimates of between 150 and 200, and as the Secretary of State told me in answer to a Question recently that it takes about two AFVGs to carry the same bomb load as one F111, one can assume, that 150 AFVGs will be equivalent to 75 F111s. If we add that to the 50 F111s which we are getting, what we should be doing is comparing the cost of 150 AFVGs and 50 F111s with the cost of, say, 120 TSR2s.
Once we get the AFVGs, if we do, and we hope we do, it will be interesting to do a little arithmetic and add the cost of the F111K and the AFVGs together to see how that compares with a comparable bomb load-carrying number of TSR2s. I suspect we shall find that the Government will have wasted both time and money, as well as dealing a devastating blow to the British aircraft industry and British technology.
However, the Government having had the TSR2 put down—to use a doggy term which is more appropriate than removing licences—with unseemly and unnecessary haste, we are left with 10 F111Ks ordered and the promise of another 40 to follow at a price to be agreed, after these defence debates have taken place.
What is the F111K? What type of aircraft is it? What rôle can it play? One would not learn all this from speeches made in the House by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. One learns more from "Jane's all the World Aircraft" than from speeches here. The F111K is generally similar to the F111A. It is a two-seater tactical fighter-bomber, and the principal modification for R.A.F. service is a strengthened landing gear. I wonder whether we can be told why this is so.
The original F111A has a short take-off and short landing capability on rough airfields in forward areas, and I wonder why a strengthened landing gear should be necessary. It is, we are told, a very fine machine and can fly at two and a half times the speed of sound, 2.5 mach, at operational heights, and at 1.2 mach at sea level, an impressive performance by any standard.
273 In parenthesis, while talking about the performance of the aircraft, may I say a word about the escape arrangements. I understand that the cabin is an escape capsule which can be propelled away from the aircraft by rocket and land by parachute. I hope that we shall hear whether the Government are satisfied with this in view of the unfortunate affair of the Starfighter. I hope we shall hear that the Government are satisfied that the escape arrangements are satisfactory.
The aircraft can carry a formidable bomb load. It was designed to fly between any two airfields in the world in one day and to carry a full range of conventional and nuclear weapons, including the latest air to surface weapons. We know, too, that it can be converted to a reconnaissance rôle by the addition of a pod.
What is the rôle of this aircraft in the Royal Air Force? One thing that we have learned is that it is not to be a stopgap. The Defence Review, under the heading "Canberra Aircraft Replacement", said:The key to the deterrent power of our Armed Forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through reconnaissance and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need. This rôle has been assigned to the Canberra aircraft since the early 1950s; this aircraft cannot safely continue after 1970. By the mid-1970s, we intend that the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft should begin to take over this and other rôles. Both operationally and industrially, this aircraft is the core of our long-term aircraft programme. But, if the Royal Air Force is not to be lacking in a most critical part of its capability for some five years, some arrangement must be made for bridging this gap.Today the hon. Gentleman said that this was not a stop-gap aircraft after all but that it was to run on long after the AFVGs had come into service.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Whatever the argument may be on this, surely an aircraft costing £2.1 million-plus is not going to last just until 1975? These 50 aircraft in their various rôles are bound to go on for about 15 years.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I would not question that they are. All I am saying is that the original intention was that they were there to fill a gap and they would have a similar rôle to the AFVGs, but it is becoming apparent that they will have a different one.
274 On 8th March, 1966, the Secretary of State said:We decided we must have some—not … simply as a contribution to an integrated allied force … but essentially as a conventional deterrent against intervention by others in peace-keeping tasks which we were carrying out.The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the reconnaissance rôle, and he then said:This is the first requirement—reconnaissance. The other requirement—the strike rôle—is to deter the enemy's intervention …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2040.]On 28th February of this year the right hon. Gentleman said:The other rôle is as a tactical conventional strike aircraft. Its purpose in this rôle is essentially to deter the escalation of the local conflict, to deter intervention by other powers in a peace-keeping operation by our own forces, as we successfully deterred, with the Canberras, such an escalation and intervention during the three years of confrontation…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 391.]What are the targets which we need to be able to hit to prevent escalation with which the V-bombers cannot deal? This is the question which I should like to ask.
§ Mr. Goodhew
No doubt we shall get a reply later in the debate.
On 8th March, 1966, the Secretary of State said:We came to the conclusion that we could use the V-bombers … against less well defended or less distant targets."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2041.]Which far distant, heavily defended targets are we likely to want to attack with conventional weapons? Perhaps we can discover this later.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I would have said that they were there to deliver nuclear weapons. Perhaps we can discover also the theatres in which these aircraft are to operate.
On 8th March, 1966, the Foreign Secretary said:The importance of the F111A, in my judgment, was that no alternative aircraft has been proposed which would have the effectiveness that would cause anyone to believe that we were serious about the rôle in the Far East …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1958–9.]275 On the same day the Secretary of State followed a similar line and said:But the question was, how many, with these peculiarly sophisticated capabilties, with vastly supersonic speed at high level, with supersonic speed at ground level, and with a sophisticated nay-attack system, we were likely to need in the part of the world where we might face this type of problem, namely, the Far East"—We go on like this talking only about the Far East. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:Essentially, most of these aircraft will be based in Singapore.Later he said:… in addition to the main base where these F111 s will be kept in the Far East, we shall also have minor bases in Bahrain, Masirah and in Gan, and if we are working with the Australians, in Darwin and the Cocos …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, cc. 2041–2.]With a force of only 50 of these aircraft, 10 of which are for training purposes in the United Kingdom, it is unlikely that more than 20 will be operational at any one time.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense", but we would like to know how many there will be if not about 20. We have tried to get this information before, but have not had it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us tonight. The Secretary of State is here now. Perhaps he will tell us. As the right hon. Gentleman has not risen, it is obvious that no information is forthcoming, as happens with so many of the questions that we put on this subject.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is not just a question of not wishing to oblige. From my short time in this office, I know that security issues are involved. This is not a laughing matter. I have just spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I think that one could at least give an approximate figure which would show that the figures which have been used today and in recent debates are wildly wrong. I undertake to provide a figure during the course of this evening.
§ Mr. Healey
The party opposite never gave figures either of the total number of aircraft we had in any rôle or the number 276 of operational aircraft in any category. We have already gone a great deal further than that, and the fact that we have given a great deal more infomation has been widely welcomed inside and outside the House. But there are still some types of information which it is not in the national interest to give, and with great respect to the House I shall not give such information.
§ Mr. Goodhew
That merely reinforces my view that we have to take our own knowledge of these matters generally and to say that it is quite clear that these aircraft are going to be used for a nuclear rôle, because there simply would not be enough for a conventional rôle. In any event, if they are to be spread in penny packets all over the Midle East and Far East they could not constitute a proper conventional deterrent.
This year's debates begin to give the impression that the Government are shifting their ground and changing their minds about where these aircraft should be, and are going back to the idea that they should be in Europe. On 28th February the Secretary of State said:This aircraft"—that is, the AFVG—and the F111K were not intended only for east of Suez commitments. The French want the AFVG for Europe; they have no east of Suez commitments of any sort; and the last Government planned the TSR2, which the F111K and the AFVG will replace essentially for a rôle in Europe and not outside it …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 392.]On the following day the right hon. Gentleman said:As I made clear in my speech last night, we shall need a replacement for the Canberras, the tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, whether we are east of Suez or not. This aircraft replaces the cancelled TSR2, designed by the previous Government primarily as an aircraft for use in the European theatre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 477.]Where is this aircraft to be used, and for what? The Government cannot possibly maintain that there can be a credible conventional deterrent for Europe, the Middle East and the Far East at the same time. Perhaps we can be told whether this is just a further manifestation of the Minister's gradual conversion to the doctrine of "nuclear or nothing".
I want to say a word about the AFVG. It is to be the core of our 277 long-term aircraft programme. It has been clouded by uncertainty over the whole time that we have heard about it. Even today there is no certainty that we shall have it—nearly two years after the cancellation of the TSR2. Not only have we not yet ordered all the F111Ks we need so much to bridge the gop; worse still, there is no decision on the specification of the AFVG. Even if that is agreed later this month—as expected; or is it?—there will be no decision whether or not to go ahead with a prototype until the end of this year.
Under such circumstances it is most misleading—indeed, verging on the dishonest—for the Secretary of State to say, as he did on 27th February:The Martel will be in service before the end of the decade, the Jaguar will be in service in the early 1970s. and the Variable Geometry Aircraft in the middle 1970s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 98.]The Minister does not know that the variable geometry aircraft will be ready by then. There is nothing definite about it. Decisions have been taken on the Martel and the Jaguar and these are under way, but to talk glibly in the same breath of the AFVG as if it were in a comparable state is quite disgraceful.
It is not only the House of Commons that is being encouraged to take for granted an aircraft on which no real decisions has yet been taken; worse still would-be recruits for the R.A.F. are treated in the same way. Two years ago, in winding up the Air Estimates debate, I remember paying tribute to those who had provided the excellent recruiting advertisements for the Royal Air Force. But I was disturbed to see one advertisement—only a day or so after the publication of the White Paper—which showed the AFVG as thenew strike and reconnaissance weapon of the R.A.F. in the 1970s and 80s",above a reference to the Jaguar.
If this had been a company prospectus signed by some directors they would probably have found themselves in the courts in no time.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I accept full responsibility for that advertisement. I made absolutely certain that the future aircraft of the Royal Air Force were divided into two camps. If there was any suggestion of a false prospectus it is my fault. I 278 assure the hon. Gentleman that I deliberately made it clear that there was a division between those that were firm and those that were in the future.
§ Mr. Goodhew
There are those up to 1970 and those after 1970. That is the division in the advertisement, which I believe was taken from the Sunday Times. It seems to me that we often hear directors saying, "We thought that we would have these assets in due course", but that excuse did not keep them out of gaol.
I hope that the Secretary of State's optimism is justified. There is a danger that France will decide that the AFVG will be too expensive and will rely on her own single-engined Mirage 3G. There is also the important question of export prospects. We read reports that France will wish to be satisfied on this aspect before agreeing to go ahead. We know that the Government have been consulting prospective purchasers to see whether any adjustments to the R.A.F. specification are needed to attract a larger market.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not succumb to the temptation to simplify the aircraft and reduce its capability to suit the requirements of less sophisticated foreign air forces, so as to achieve larger exports. We need this aircraft to carry out its proper rôle for the R.A.F., and it would be the worst possible decision to provide an aircraft which is not likely to be effective in the rôle that the Royal Air Force wants, merely for the sake of exports.
We must hope that the Secretary of State gets agreement with France on a suitable specification and, in due course, a decision to go ahead with a prototype in December. We must also hope that the Americans do not produce a mini-F111 in due course, and dangle it before the eyes of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite just at the moment when the AFVG has reached the stage that the TSR2 had reached, and to say to them, "This is a cheaper buy", and have them fall for it.
One thing that may not be appreciated by the House is the remarkable position that we have reached as a result of the cancellations of aircraft by the Government and the piecemeal provision for the operational requirements that they were to have filled. Whereas under a 279 Conservative Government the R.A.F. was to have just two types of combat aircraft—the TSR2 and the P1154—under this Government it is to have five combat aircraft—the F111K, the AFVG, the Phantom, the P1127 Harrier, and the Jaguar.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that his Government would not have had the P1127? He said they would have had two.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I said that we would have had the TSR2 and the P1154 as combat aircraft. The P1127 is a less sophisticated type, but the Government decided to take it on. The point is that there are now five different combat aircraft. I wonder whether it is appreciated that this must place an immense burden on the Royal Air Force. First, ironically, there is the question of cost. I wonder whether the Minister later can give us some figures showing the additional cost of carrying spares and tools for five types of aircraft instead of two. This must militate against any supposed saving in unit cost per aircraft.
Then there is the question of training and techniques. This applies not merely to aircrew but to maintenance staff. It must be an expensive item. I suspect that by the 1970s, when the payments for the F111s are falling due, when the cost of developing and building the AFVG has to be borne, and Phantoms and Harriers and Jaguars are being delivered, even hon. Members opposite will begin to wonder what the great Defence Review was all about. No doubt they will no longer be in office, and they will complain from this side of the House at the growing burden of the Air Estimates.
I shall then hope to remind them that it was the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force who, in the Air Estimates debate 1965, complaining about the aircraft programme he had inherited said thatthere would have been a fantastic expenditure on replacements bunched in the years 1970 to 1974".There will be a fantastic sum of expenditure bunched for some years in the 1970s under this Government, too.
It was also in that debate two years ago that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the R.A.F. said: 280Over 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.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 453, 454.]I hope that I have made clear this afternoon that there is still much indecision, that vital decisions over aircraft have still to be made, that the R.A.F. has not been given a precise statement of the job which it is expected to do, and, further, that there is no clear, worldwide defence policy in the context of which such a job could be set.
If there was anxiety in the R.A.F. when this Government took office, it can have been but as a small cloud compared with the solid overcast created by the continuing chaos of the Secretary of State's continuing Defence Review, accompanied as it is by the menacing rumblings of the "cut defence at any price" brigade below the Gangway. In the battles which lie ahead, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see to it that the great Service which he represents in this House is always equipped with the weapons that it needs to carry out the tasks allotted to it.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
This is not the first time that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has spoken from the Opposition Front Bench in these debates, but it is the first time that I have heard him. As we have co-operated in other spheres, I should like to say that I enjoyed the fluency and manner of his speech, if I could not agree with much of the content.
I share his anxiety, for different reasons, about the extent of the commitments with which we have saddled the R.A.F. and our ability to meet them. I am as curious as he about the future of the Indian Ocean bases, although I should like quite different answers from the Government to those which he sought. He said that he was not sneering at the Government for planning civilian tasks for the Service, but if he was not attacking them, I do not understand what he was doing—
§ Mr. Goodhew
I was not sneering at the work that had been done by the Services in disaster areas and in rescue work. I was sneering at the bald statement in the Defence Review which seemed to imply something quite different.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
There is a disagreement between the hon. Member and those of us on this side of the House who feel that there are useful and important tasks which the Services can perform in a civilian rôle.
There were some points by which I was encouraged in my hon. Friend's speech. I was pleased with what he said about higher education and I think that we were all pleased by what he said on the rather macabre topic of funeral arrangements for relatives. We were delighted to hear about the humanitarian work of the Royal Air Force helicopters, which we all admire, and I was also delighted to hear that Transport Command will shortly be taking over all trooping and that the civilian charter firms, which, in the past, have provided some disgraceful aircraft for this purpose, will shortly disappear—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) wishes to interrupt, perhaps he will do so.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I simply wanted to ask, what disgraceful aircraft? Is there anything wrong with the Britannia?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Gentleman knows, as does my hon. Friend, that in the past, particularly under the previous Government, a large proportion of trooping work was done by civilian charter aircraft. There were aircraft, for the maintenance of which the R.A.F. was responsible, which were a disgrace to this country. There were some unequipped, ill-maintained, old aircraft which should never have been used for this purpose and with the maintenance and servicing of which the R.A.F. Transport Command was saddled. I am glad to see them disappearing and I am glad to know that Transport Command will take over all trooping in the near future.
I disagree with the basis of the policy of future commitments for the R.A.F. In view of the defence programme, I cannot help feeling that the Air Estimates amount to nothing less than a misuse of 282 public funds. My hon. Friend may have noticed that I was among those hon. Members who were not able to vote for the Government during the debate on the Defence White Paper. The reasons that I could not do so are the same reasons why I now disagree with him about the present deployment of the Royal Air Force and about the tasks which he has assigned to it. I want to explain what they are.
Essentially, my reasons are that I believe that the Government's whole defence programme is wrong, that it is based on false and out-of-date assumptions. In particular, I believe that the deployment of the Royal Air Force and our other Services east of Suez is irrelevant to the United Kingdom's real defence requirements, is disastrous for our economic revival and is incompatible with our proper rôle in the modern world and the part which we ought to be playing as members of the United Nations. In other words, our east of Suez posture is militarily useless, economically crippling, and politically damaging for this country.
In the last 30 years the British Empire has been demolished, not by any carefully planned long-term policy of British Governments, as we sometimes like to brag, but because the United Kingdom accepted the inevitable and withdrew from countries whose people or whose politicians would no longer tolerate British rule—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting away from the Air Estimates. This is not the time for a debate on foreign affairs or a general defence debate. He must relate his comments to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am trying to explain why I cannot accept the Government's Air Estimates—because I believe that our commitments east of Suez impose an unrealistic burden on them. I hope that I may be permitted to explain these views.
I was saying that, in a few places, we were driven out by violence, as we shall soon be driven out of Arabia; in others, we forestalled the violence and left on our own. Now we have to dismantle 283 what is left of our former Imperial commitments before they are dismantled for us. It is in an attempt to maintain those commitments east of Suez that an unfair and unrealistic strain is being placed on the Royal Air Force.
I appreciate that shedding these commitments and leading the United Kingdom to a new place in the world, in the United Nations and in Europe is an extremely difficult practical, psychological and political task, but our defence policy and our posture east of Suez, which is entirely dependent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is not dealing with the Air Estimates at all but with general defence policy, and that is out of order in this debate.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will do my best to relate my argument even more closely to the Air Estimates.
I was about to say that our defence policy and our posture east of Suez, which is, of course, entirely dependent on the Royal Air Force, points in exactly the opposite direction. In deference to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will jettison some of the other points which I wished to make in this connection.
Our presence in Aden, in the Gulf, in the Indian Ocean and in Singapore is entirely dependent on a lifeline maintained by the Royal Air Force—and a desperately fragile and over-stretched as well as vastly costly lifeline it is. The whole huge British military structure east of Suez depends on one vital, weak, uncertain link—over-flying rights over Turkey and Iran to the Persian Gulf. At any moment, some political complication or disagreement with one of those two Governments could cut that link, with the result that the only secure air route to Singapore, Gan, Bahrein and Aden would be "west-about", across the Atlantic Ocean, American and the Pacific.
In these conditions I am unable to understand how the Government can maintain the fiction that in 1967, even if it were politically imperative, we are able to play a reliable and credible rôle in the defence of Australia or New Zealand or in maintaining the security and prosperity of Singapore. The longer we attempt to perpetuate this fiction the more difficult it will become to deal with the underlying problems and—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was coming to the Air Estimates. He has not done so. The precedents are clear. They are that remarks about the Service Estimates must relate to the Votes; to matters of administration and of the rôle within the defence policy which has already been established. It is not in order to have a general debate on defence matters, and I must, therefore, insist that the hon. Gentleman addresses his remarks to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is deferring to my Ruling, but he must come to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will now comment on the problems and morale of the R.A.F.—the subject to which I was about to turn. Nobody who has seen the R.A.F. establishments at work—even briefly as I have done at Lyneham and Cyprus, in the last few months—can have anything but the warmest admiration for the cheerful and efficient way in which the men are carrying out their duties, despite the often inadequate and out-of-date equipment and aircraft which they are still required to use.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Would not my hon. Friend agree that Lyneham is one of the best R.A.F. stations in the world and that the facilities there are absolutely first-rate? I ask this question because I want to be sure that he is not raising difficulties about the facilities at Lyneham.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I agree that a first-rate job is being done at Lyneham and that it is one of the finest passenger handling establishments in the world. However, I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the men at Lyneham have had, and still have, problems relating to the use of aircraft—for example, the Comet II, which has been in service for a long time, the Britannia, which the civil airlines regard as an obsolete aircraft, wrongly in my view, although they welcome the new aircraft which are coming into service, including the VC10—and that they have been overstretched and have had difficulties. I was saying that in the Air Force the men are facing 285 exactly the same problem which faces the whole country in the wider context of defence they are being asked to do far too much with far too little.
The Minister and his colleagues must be aware of the psychological as well as the physical strain which the unrealistic—for that is what I believe them to be—assignments which are being imposed on the R.A.F., and the sense of uncertainty and insecurity which is being caused by the knowledge that the R.A.F.'s present rôle is unrealistic and is bound to change is having on the men.
At the end of the debate on the White Paper my right hon. Friend was unable to give an undertaking about the effects of our withdrawal from our over-extended and unrealistic commitments east of Suez. Naturally, a similarly unrealistic rôle has been ordained for the R.A.F., and I regret that I cannot accept the Government's case today.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I cannot say that I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) with interest, particularly when he made accusations about the "disgraceful aircraft"—his phrase—in Transport Command.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member for Swindon said that the men and engineers were having to fly and maintain aircraft which had been bought from B.O.A.C. and which should not be kept in service any longer. I suggest that he withdraws the statement which he made against these professional men who have rendered great service to this country in running these independent airlines, and the work which they have done on behalf of the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me on another occasion to introduce him to R.A.F. personnel who have had the task of servicing some of these civil charter aircraft. I assure him that he will hear descriptions of these aircraft in language far less Parliamentary than I have used.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I cannot recall the hon. Gentleman having raised this matter in the House. If he had information, why 286 did he not draw it to the attention of the House and kick up a fuss about it?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will send the hon. and gallant Gentleman the OFFICIAL REPORT references of Questions I have tabled on this subject.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Over the years most of us have been critical about this and other matters and have tried to improve the situation. I am vice-president of the British Airlines' Pilots Association. The Association has 4,800 professional pilot members, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that they will resent his remarks. He referred to "disgraceful aircraft". I thought that his speech was disgraceful. He obviously came to the House to make a speech on defence generally, probably because he was not called to speak in the debate a few weeks ago. He referred to unrealistic assignments being given to the R.A.F. I believe that the R.A.F. is doing a remarkably fine job wherever it is stationed, and he should be proud of the Service instead of criticising it.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman made his own speech. He must be responsible for what he said.
In dealing with R.A.F. matters in the last 12 months the Government have been completely split, as we have seen this afternoon. They have been split in their discussions on R.A.F. matters, in working out their policy and in providing the funds required to run in the Service. The 1967 White Paper lacks information about Government policy and planning for the future. It is all puffed up, but there is very little meat in it.
Many outstanding problems facing the R.A.F. need clarification. For example, what is to be the R.A.F.'s position in N.A.T.O. if the projected withdrawals take place and if the Germans do not provide funds to offset the foreign currency involved? These matters are worrying not only Parliament but the R.A.F. The whole planning of the 287 Labour Government was based on the National Plan, but that document has been thrown in the wastepaper basket and the right hon. Gentleman who was responsible for it has been transferred to the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting a little wide of the Air Estimates. The National Plan is not in the Vote.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I do not wish to become out of order. I have great respect for you personally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for the Chair.
Had the Government been able to adhere to the National Plan the funds would have been available to provide continuity in the provision of equipment and to enable the men in the Service to perform their task adequately.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
An argument could be levied against the Government that £2,000 million, at constant prices, as a proportion of the gross national product, is different because the gross national product has been stationary for a year. This is an argument and it may or may not be the case. But surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not arguing that had the gross national product gone up, a larger sum would have been spent on the R.A.F. Is that the nature of his complaint?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The Minister is as much out of order as I would be if I attempted to answer him. I will take him up on that on another occasion. Suffice to say that the economy is certainly stationary at the moment.
The Secretary of State for Defence recently said that the V-bombers and Canberras would last well into the 'seventies. I took that to mean 1975.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Then the position is even worse. The Victor bomber has been in service since it first flew in 1955. If it continues to fly in 1975, it will then be 20 years old. The same can be said of the Vulcan bomber. Nobody will suggest that flying at the speeds now required of aircraft a bomber of this nature should be in service for such a long time. We are told that these aircraft will be given 288 more limited rôles. That may be so, but a limit on a rôle does not mean a limit being placed on the throttle in the aircraft. The Canberras have been in service since May 1951. By the mid-'70s they will have been in service for nearly a quarter of a century before being replaced.
The Labour Party stated a year or so ago that it would provide the men with the best and latest equipment. I was in Singapore four years ago with the hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of State at the Foreign Office. On that trip we heard the men of the R.A.F. complaining about the maintenance problems they were having with the Canberras. That was four years ago. Now they are being told that these aeroplanes will probably have to remain in service for another eight years. This is not a particularly cheering state of affairs for the aircrews and maintenance engineers—particularly coming from a party which said that it would do all the necessary planning.
My hon. and learned Friend, if I may so refer to him, the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), asked the following Question of the Prime Minister on 22nd June, 1965:Will my right hon. Friend confirm that internationalisation does not affect the fact that we own and will continue to own nuclear weapons or that we own and will continue to own the means of delivery?That was a rather confused Question, if I may say so, but what the hon. and learned Gentleman was getting at is quite clear. The Prime Minister replied:That is the position about ownership, but they will be committed, and committed irrevocably, to N.A.T.O. so long as N.A.T.O. lasts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1965; Vol. 714, c. 1465.]Up to date, British nuclear capacity for the Royal Air Force is not committed irrevocably to N.A.T.O. but remains firmly in British hands. I agree that it should remain in British hands—I have always taken that line, but it all seems very extraordinary.
The promise made by the Labour Party and the Labour Government usually was that we would get rid of the V-bomber nuclear air capacity. The present Minister without Portfolio, speaking from these benches three or four years ago, virtually said that the Labour Party would put a match to the V-bombers. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys 289 Hughes) would probably agree with that view, but he is not a responsible Minister, which is the difference between him and his right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio. One can see now why the party is split, not into two factions but into three, and why there are abstentions from Divisions on defence matters.
I can see that the Victors and Vulcans have to be used east of Suez. They have been in Singapore for some time. I do not know whether they are still there now that the confrontation with Indonesia is over. We should be told. There is no secret about it. Thousands of Chinese and Malays in Singapore must know whether the V-bombers are there, but we in Britain are not allowed to know where they are. One could probably find out in American journals.
The first ten F111Ks have been accepted for the R.A.F. at an agreed price of about £2.1 million. What will the remaining 40 cost? Are we to have an escalation of costs with these aircraft when we are firmly committed to them? The Government always boast that they are cost-conscious, but I do not see that at all. They should have agreed a price with the Americans when they ordered the aircraft, or at least a maximum price. One hears of considerable and complicated modifications taking place, as I believe the hon. Gentleman saw for himself on his visit to America—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it not a fact that Senator McLellan has made it very clear that his Committee at least is determined that the United States taxpayer is not to subsidise the British taxpayer in the provision of the F111?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The American taxpayers certainly pay less than we do—we are one of the most highly taxed countries in the world. However, I must not pursue that angle. I am concerned with what the British taxpayer will have to pay for these aircraft.
I want to know the rôle of these F111s when they are accepted for the R.A.F. Will they or will they not carry British nuclear weapons? We have a right to know. We get information when we build a battleship or a destroyer. The Labour Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot conform to their responsibilities in line, possibly with the Americans and other allies, and at the same time 290 hold back the information and put on something to satisfy their own Left wing, We need some frank talk.
In a Written Answer on 28th February, 1966, the Secretary of State said:As I have often said, our primary need is to replace the Canberra as a tactical strike/reconnaissance aircraft carrying conventional weapons. But the F111 will be able to carry British nuclear weapons. The answer to the final part of the question is 'Yes'".The final part of the Question was whether the F111… will be available for use without prior consultation with the United States or any other of Great Britain's allies,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 191.]We must know about this.
Fifty aircraft is a dangerously low number. There will be accidents. There will be undercarriage problems. One or two will be out of action. The Royal Air Force will be likely never to have more than 30 of them flying at any one time. If some of them are kept in the Far East and the others scattered round about, it will be an ineffective force. It seems almost a waste of money to have such a limited number if these aircraft are to have a rôle in the Far East—and the Government must tell us about that rôle. The Times today refers to the F111 and says that the Secretary of State said that it is virtually the same as the TSR2. I do not agree. The country must play its rôle, and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) was right when he criticised his own Government for keeping the commitment but cutting down the force and cutting down the money. Here, again, the Government are not being fair.
I understand that the carriers will last until about 1975, but what is being done to follow on from them? I am sure that if Britain is to have a rôle at all as an air power the right answer is to develop vertical take-off aircraft as is being done with the 1127 and the research should be going on with the 1154. Money should be spent on a follow-on for the 1127 in the form of the 1154 supersonic vertical take-off aicraft. That would keep technicians in this country rather than go to America. We should then develop a small vessel of 15,000–20,000 tons from which the aircraft could operate. The cost would be very small, 291 and nothing like the cost of 50,000–60,000 ton aircraft carriers.
I want to know more about the British and French project for variable geometry aircraft. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State has put a complete gloss on this project. I remember seeing him on T.V. when he was in Paris. One got the impression that everything was buttoned up, but when he was back in England the story gradually unfolded itself, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made it crystal clear how the House of Commons and the country had been misled. There is not even an agreement to complete a prototype. Instead, there is to be a conference some time this month to see whether we can go ahead with the project at all. The right hon. Gentleman even spoke of export orders when not even a prototype had been ordered.
The Government cannot go on misleading the country indefinitely. I get the impression that already the country is beginning to question this Labour Government. Promises are made in all directions and people have just about had enough of it—and that includes enough of the Prime Minister himself; he has been dented thoroughly in the last few weeks. The Secretary of State for Defence must be frank, and must not mislead the House on this very important matter about the future aircraft that are to defend our country.
The Under-Secretary of State referred, in passing, to Malta, and spoke of making use of Royal Air Force Malta personnel. I was not clear whether he meant making use of them in Malta or when they were brought back to Britain—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
While the Royal Air Force is in Malta full use should be made of the facilities there. The climate is right, the men like serving there and full use should be made of the facilities. The Government will find in the next year or two as they bring forces away from the Far East, Aden and possibly Germany that they will not have the accommodation here in married quarters or schools, and so on. The Government may have to eat their words and go back to the 292 Prime Minister of Malta to ask that more use of the facilities for the three Services, particularly the Army and the Royal Air Force, should remain.
The Chief of Air Staff, Sir Charles Elworthy, a very good officer who has rendered distinguished service to the Royal Air Force, is shortly leaving to take up the post of Chief of Staff. All of us who follow these matters are grateful for what he has done in his great career. He is to be followed by Air Chief Marshal Sir John Grandy, who has just returned from the Far East. We wish him well.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. Member has referred to the F111. Air Chief Marshal Grandy flew the F111 and took the opportunity to have a good look at that aircraft.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Knowing him for a great many years, I am not surprised to hear that. It is just the sort of thing he would do. I wish both officers well. I am sure that, in spite of all its troubles, the Royal Air Force still observe the traditions it has had since World War I and will go on fulfilling them.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
I intend, in this debate, to talk about meteorology. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in opening the debate, made reference to the Meteorological Office. I declare my interest in the subject because before coming to this House I worked in the Meteorological Office as an assistant scientific officer for 15 years.
I make no apology for bringing forward this matter, because year after year, in our debates on the Defence Estimates, the very great problems—I agree that they are very great—are thoroughly thrashed out but we often completely forget that this very important national service comes under the heading of Defence Estimates.
In the Estimates the provision for the Met. Office is shown as running at £7.2 million. This is broken down into service to the Royal Air Force, £3 million; to civil aviation £1.3 million; other repayment services £0.4 million; research £0.8 million; and basic weather service £1.7 million. I worked mainly on the Royal Air Force side and I know from experience that this kind of service provided over the years—because, naturally, with the advent of aviation weather was all-important to aircraft—has tended to grow alongside the aviation service as such.
293 This is mirrored in the figures in the Defence Estimates. Of the £7.2 million, £3 million is spent on the service which appertains to the Royal Air Force. The service given over the years has been very good indeed. That is not to say that we should not improve it, but, because we have always had this bias towards the Royal Air Force we have forgotten that meteorology also serves other sections of the community. It is for this reason that I speak in this debate. I believe more emphasis should be placed on the fact that much more money, although it comes from the Defence Estimates and is accounted for in this way, should be diverted to other meteorological services.
I share with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who briefly alluded to it, my gratitude for the work of the Estimates Committee. The Committee works hard and its comprehensive work deserves much more attention than it has had so far. I am sure that I do not need to commend this to my hon. Friend. I have pointed out that the basic weather service accounts for £1.7 million, civil aviation £1.3 million and other services £0.4 million. All need much more spent on them. I refer now to services provided to agriculture. An excellent paper was written this year by the Director-General of the Meteorological Office, Professor Basil Mason, in which he examined the rôle of meteorology in the national economy.
This is a very comprehensive work and I wish to prove to the House that we should spend much more on this aspect of defence so that we could save more money in other ways. I have chosen agriculture for this purpose and I shall go into quite a lengthy extract because it proves my case. The paper said:Hay is a very weather-sensitive crop. In good summers the yield and quality are high and the crop is cheap to produce; in a wet summer it is expensive to harvest and quality is poor: the total annual crop is worth about £70 million. In these circumstances, the judicious use of weather forecasts to choose the best times for cutting and drying may increase the yield and quality of the crop by 10 per cent. with a benefit of £7 million. An improvement in the quality as well as the quantity of hay is of considerable importance to winter milk production, which totals about 1,000 million gallons valued at £200 million even at manufacturing prices.A poor hay crop could reduce this by 2 per cent. at a cost of £4 million. Thus the 294 potential value of the meteorological advice to hay and milk production is, perhaps, £11 million.Those are the kind of figures we are dealing with. When we look at the amount of money made available from the Estimates we find, demonstrated by this one crop, that we do the service slightly less than justice.
The paper went on to say that savings in respect of animal diseases could be £4 million a year, in dealing with potato blight £1 million and sugar beet virus £1 million, and that if the service contributed only 1 per cent. to the total yield of wheat and barley it would amount to £2 million. [Laughter.]
Some hon. Members may be amused, but all too often there has been lack of attention to this vital national service. Hon. Members may think that the debate has taken a strange turn, but I have taken advice and I understand that I am absolutely in order. Over the years the House of Commons and the nation have sadly neglected this very important service. I intend to continue to discuss it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If any hon. Member appeared to be amused it was by way of giving credit to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) for his ingenuity in raising this subject on the Air Estimates and still remaining in order.
§ Mr. Ellis
Thus well fortified, I shall continue.
We are making money available to the building industry. I understand from a Report of the Estimates Committee that provision is being made of money for this industry. In the national economy the building industry produces annually a value of £2,900 million. Bad weather affects the output of the industry by £100 million, or 10 working days a year. The outlay of money in this direction can save £10 million to the economy.
Here we have a service which is costing the nation £7.2 million a year overall. The mass of it is in expenditure on services for the R.A.F. Then we come back to the paltry figures of the service to the rest of the economy. A comparatively small increase in the funds made available for this service could result in vast savings.
The service rendered to agriculture and the intention in regard to the building 295 industry could also be duplicated in regard to electricity, gas and things like urban storm water drainage systems. The House should devote more time to this service.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will mention when he winds up an article which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 12th March, entitled:Britain to Get Met Forecasts from Russia".Part of our expenditure will go towards World Weather Watch. The article says this:In five or six years Britain will get her weather forecasts from either Russia or America. Plans prepared by the World Meteorological Organisation mean that Britain will lose her place as one of the world's major weather centres. The new system will give more accurate forecasts and should benefit the world economy by about £6,000 million a year"—again there is this reference to the saving which could result from this service's being developed—about 50 times the expected running costs.The important point about this article is that this is a serious and responsible newspaper apparently writing off the rôle of the Meteorological Office in the future. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that we intend to participate in the world weather watch system with part of the money allocated in the Estimates. Britain has a significant rôle to play. The money granted by the House in previous years has given us the cloud satellite, which is perhaps one of the best cloud satellites in the world.
When I was at the Meteorological Office last year, I was informed that it had been amazingly good. Not only had it picked out cloud masses all over the world, but it had been possible to trace major ice formations. This information had been invaluable to shipping organisations and nations all over the world, so much so that, with the advent of winter and less daylight in the Northern hemisphere, the organisation was being pestered to see whether, by some refinements, it could extend the period in which it could obtain useful information.
I want to refer to that part of the moneys made available for research—£0.8 million—and on the basic whether service, £1.7 million. There is room for improvement in relation to statistics. One learns 296 from talking to people about the Meteorological Office that many people have violent views. Some say, "The weather men are very good. I always go by what they say". Others say, "They are absolutely terrible". These people regard the Meteorological Office as being staffed by witch doctors who put a pretty chart on the television screen each night full of wiggles and squiggles and dots to represent rain.
I would tend to question some of the figures given by the Meteorological Office. I made some inquiries through the Department about how accurate they were. I received this answer:Taking all regions together the overall accuracy has worked out at 77 per cent. for the forecasts issued in the evening"—that is, for the following day—and at 84 per cent. for those issued in the morning"—that is, for the same day.There has hardly been any variation from one year to another.So, year after year, the myth has grown up in the Department that on a short-term forecast for the day, usually issued at 7 a.m., the Office is right on an average on about eight occasions out of 10. It depends on the criteria being employed. Those in the Department should pull up their socks. I learned that the accuracy of forecasts is judged as follows:The elements checked are the nature of the weather (e.g., wet, stormy or foggy), wind, state of sky and maximum temperature. For each element marks are awarded according to whether the forecast is assessed good (2 marks), moderate (1 mark), or bad (no marks).The House should remember that this is a scientific subject.
The letter in which I received this information continues:For each region marks are awarded by staff of the Meteorological Office in the region, who try to judge the forecasts from the point of view of intelligent laymen. The judges are staff at offices other than those which made the forecast and had no hand in its making.This is as far as I have been able to progress in this scientific field.
The Meteorological Office should not make this claim of being right eight times out of 10 in the case of short-term forecasts unless it is prepared to say what 297 it means and what the criteria are which are used in judging. If I now say, as an immediate forecast, that it will either rain or grow dark before morning, I am bound to be correct. If an ordinary housewife reads a forecast for Monday, when she does her washing, that there will be rain in the morning and it will be fine in the afternoon, if she acts upon that information, and if the weather is the other way about, she is in serious trouble and will not regard the Meteorological Office as having been right. What if the Meteorological Office's criterion for judging whether its forecast was right is whether there was rain in the eight-hour period? It could then claim that it was right.
I do not intend to harp on this, but the Meteorological Office should go into this a little more carefully. After all, it is a scientific subject. Millions of people are interested, and we have a right to know what criteria are being employed.
I have made some criticisms, but I must make it clear that my view is that overall the Meteorological Office gives good service consonant with the amount of money invested in it. I thank the House for bearing with me in an interlude in this debate. It has been important and I think that the House should spend more time discussing this service, perhaps on this occasion every year.
I will sum up in the words the Director-General used when he presented this very important paper, "The Rôle of Meteorology in the National Economy":I think, however, that my estimates are good enough to show that the economic value of the civil national weather service is at least £50 million to £100 million per annum, for a cost of £4 million, with a probable overall benefit/cost ratio of about 20 to 1.In conclusion, I cannot but feel that the Meteorological Office gives the taxpayer excellent value for money; that, even so, meteorological advice is both under-used and undervalued; and that we should be able to make an even larger contribution to the national economy in the future.If the House is willing, we could make money available to the Meteorological Office on the other non-aviation sides and this would show an immense return and would be of benefit to the nation. In that light, I commend the service to the House.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)
This is the first time that I have had the privilege of intervening in a defence debate and I shall therefore perhaps make the great mistake of speaking to the Motion. If that is unusual, I can only apologise. The Motion states:That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 128,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1968.Being a newcomer to the defence debates, I have looked up in HANSARD what has happened in previous such debates. I find myself fortified by HANSARD of 3rd March, 1964, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), as the last Secretary of State for Air, introduced the Air Estimates with an almost identical Motion, which was:That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 140,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.My right hon. Friend said:Because the overall manning position is so encouraging, we needed to recruit relatively few men directly during the past year … I have … kept the recruiting machine in being. Last year we recruited all the apprentices and boys required. Here I am again glad to say that the standard of applicants was high and competition for vacancies very keen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1142.]I find that a somewhat doleful contrast to the report from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force today. We have been told that there are gaps which cause serious concern in many grades of the Royal Air Force.
In the Defence Estimates 1967–68 the figure of 128,000 all ranks is given, but note 2 on page 145 says that 2,650 of that estimate is to cover unforeseen contingencies. I therefore assume—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that the ceiling figure of which he talks will be 125,350, provided there are no unforeseen contingencies. That contrasts with the actual figure of manpower on 1st January of 124,300. If I am right, the Government are presuming, or hoping, that they will have 1,000 more men in the Royal Air Force by 31st March, 1968, than they had on 1st January, 1967. The Under-Secretary of State looks puzzled. Perhaps I am completely wrong.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The figures I gave in opening show that the manpower of the Royal Air Force will be smaller next year than it is at the moment.
§ Mr. Fortescue
That is exactly the point about which I am rather puzzled. I am not seeking to make a party point, but from my research it seems that exactly the opposite is expected to happen. On page 66 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1967, it is stated:The total strength … of the Royal Air Force was 127,600 on 1st January 1966 and fell to 124,300 on 1st January 1967.Therefore, the figure is now about 124,300 and we are talking of approving 128,000, of which 2,650 are for contingencies. I do not understand how that amounts to a reduction in strength, and I should be grateful for illumination.
I and the whole House would like to know what percentage of the requirements of the Royal Air Force the 125,350 men represent. The Statement on the Defence Estimates seems to indicate that the figure for the Army is 1.2 per cent. short of the manpower ceiling figure. There is no such comment for the Royal Air Force, and we do not know whether the 125,350 men are what the Government want for the coming financial year, what they expect, or what they hope to have, or whether it is greater or less than they would like.
In the same excellent Statement, on pages 68, 69 and 70, there are some disquieting remarks. On page 68, for for instance, it is stated:Although that"—the recruitment—'of navigators has improved over the last year, it is still slightly short of the target. Recruitment for the main ground branches is a little better than last year, but it is still running 25 per cent. short. In the engineer branch, the number of graduates and professionally-qualified men who enter has again been extremely disappointing.The Under-Secretary of State referred to that.
On page 69, it is stated:… shortage of candidates for trades, … remains a matter of considerable concern.I was a civil servant a long time ago and I know that words such as "considerable concern" are not chosen lightly and ill-advisedly. There is "serious concern", "grave concern", "considerable concern". "slight concern" and "no 300 concern". "Considerable concern" represents a position in the middle of the gamut of concern which gives me considerable concern.
Are we seriously short? Is the shortage endangering the maintenance of our aircraft? Is it expected to endanger that maintenance during the years to come? Paragraph 31, on page 70, states:Interest in re-engagement…increased in the spring of 1966, … The improvement has not been maintained. Numbers in the second half of the year have fallen appreciably short of those required in many of the ground trades. It is estimated that about 65 per cent. of those required will be prepared to extend their service.Thus it seems to me that we have a position where the Royal Air Force in many of its aspects is considerably short of the manpower it needs.
During the next year and over the next four or five years, the Royal Air Force will receive a large number of aircraft that are brand new to it. We heard all about them today. The maintenance work to be done on them will be new for most of the ground crews involved. Yet we seem to be shown that we have far fewer of those men than we need even for present requirements. What will happen when those new aircraft, with their new technical problems and far more complicated systems begin to enter service, and the ground crews needed to service them are seriously deficient in numbers?
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force on introducing Estimates which show a reduction in cost. We had a succession of increases in the cost of running the Services under the previous Government and to find a reduction, however small, is very welcome. It is very difficult to bring that situation about, and, therefore, it is all the more commendable.
In spite of that, however, I would like to suggest one or two more ways in which the Government could effect small savings. I realise that big savings are difficult, if not impossible, but if we go in the right direction of gradually reducing the cost we shall ultimately get what we want.
A considerable amount of money is spent on recruitment every year. Why is 301 it so difficult to get recruits? The answer is simply that when a person signs on for any of the Services he signs away his freedom for a period of years. Even when they are unemployed, many people are very reluctant to do that. That is the first difficulty that must be overcome if we want to get recruits without spending large sums of money on attracting them.
The basic way to achieve that is to put them on the same footing as the majority of civilians. If they are dissatisfied with their job and conditions after taking it on they should have the right to resign—not re-sign, but resign. I want to give an instance of a case in my constituency recently, a lad who joined the R.A.F. at the age of 17 and signed a long-term agreement. He was subsequently married and later had children. Then he was needed at home with his wife and family. He tried to get himself out, but the application was refused and then he offered to buy himself out and that, too, was refused. Ultimately, he wrote to me and I took up the matter.
Finally, we got this lad out because he fulfilled two essential conditions. He had to have a compassionate reason for getting out and he had to pay £100 to buy himself out. He was not a pilot or a highly trained aero engine fitter, but a storekeeper. It is fantastic to suggest that it is impossible to release people like this. It may be a very good job, but it is a job which can be filled without any great difficulty. I believe that men should be allowed to resign if they feel like resigning.
Secondly, if dissatisfied men are compelled to remain in the Services, the lives of others are endangered. Pilots depend on fitters to service their aircraft properly and if a man is dissatisfied with his job and "wants out"—and many of them do—he will not do as good a job of maintaining that aircraft as he should, and he will thus endanger the safety and even the lives of others if he is compelled ii, remain in the R.A.F.
I am convinced that if we accepted the idea that a Serviceman could resign if he wanted, very few of them would, fact, resign. There are many dangerous jobs in the world and yet people are not resigning from them every five minutes. 302 On the other hand, we would keep the right type of person, the person interested in the job and we would remove many of the anomalies and difficulties which can now arise in Service life.
The Government have said that they intend that more troops should be home based and I presume that the R.A.F. is included. If airmen are brought home to British bases, there will be many ancillary jobs now done in the R.A.F. by Service men which could be done by civilians. It is ridiculous that the R.A.F. should have bakers when there are ample bakeries in the country far better qualified to bake bread and which can bake it more cheaply and more efficiently.
A baker in the R.A.F. has to be provided with a uniform, which a civilian does not need, and often with a house for his wife and family, accommodation which would not be provided for a civilian. If these extra costs were taken into account, considerable savings could be made by reducing the number of jobs done by Service men, particularly in this country, using civilians instead.
From time to time it has been said that when Servicemen return to this country, some of them will become redundant as reductions in the forces are made and that some payment must be made to them on their redundancy. It is rather silly that we should pay men to leave the Services when they want to stay in and yet keep in men who are willing to pay to get out. That is a crazy situation which could profitably be considered by the Ministry.
I turn to another constituency case—and this debate presents a wonderful opportunity for dealing with such cases. A man in the R.A.F., living in my constituency, was charged with an offence in the R.A.F. and was court-martialled. He applied for and was refused legal aid, so he paid his own legal expenses. He was acquitted and he then felt that he was entitled to a repayment of his legal expenses. The Ministry admitted that he had been wrongly refused legal aid, but said that even if legal aid had been granted he would have had to pay a share of the legal expenses himself. He was offered a refund of £1 6s. 6d. against his legal costs of £17 1s. 6d., not a very generous offer. In the letter which I received from the Ministry there was the remarkable statement that if he had been 303 honourably acquitted, he would have had a full refund of all his expenses.
What other kinds of acquittal are there besides honourable acquittals? Is this honourable acquittal a decision of a court-martial, or is it something which has been invented by the Ministry? How many decisions can a court-martial reach? I have never heard before of an honourable acquittal and I would like to know the difference between an acquittal and an honourable acquittal. The difference to my constituent was more than £16.
There is another way in which money can be saved. For a long time Dundee has been crying out for an air service. The obvious place from which an air service would operate has been the R.A.F. Station at Leuchars. It is only 15 minutes by train from Dundee and, now that the new Tay Road Bridge has been opened, it is only 15 minutes by road. It has all the required facilities and is a first-class aerodrome.
When I took up this matter I was informed that it could not possibly be used, because such a use would interfere with what was then a fighter station. However, Dundee got a private company to run an air service from a grass air strip which belonged to the corporation. At the beginning of the year, after heavy rain the grass air strip became unusable and the civil airline applied to the Board of Trade, I am told, for the use of Leuchars for a limited period while the grass strip dried out. To my astonishment, this request was granted and the company used the aerodrome for a month. At the end of the month, it got an extension for another month, and I believe that it has been given yet another extension. As far as I can judge, there has been no interference with the functions of the R.A.F.
I appear to have been misled in my correspondence with the Department. This airfield could reasonably be used by civil as well as military aircraft. The one excuse given to me has been that a civil aeroplane might want to land at the same time as a military aeroplane and that under some regulation the civil aircraft would have to have priority. If that is the excuse, it is very poor, because the regulation could easily be changed. Civil airlines would not in the least mind if an aeroplane had to do two or three more circuits in the area so as to give 304 the military aircraft priority. It is common for civil aircraft to fly 40 or 50 miles to another aerodrome in bad weather and airlines are not unduly worried by such an occurrence.
Here would be an opportunity for the R.A.F. to save money because it would draw an income for supplying these facilities and presumably there would be landing fees and a charge for the use of certain parts of the airfield and for buildings and so on.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend knows, does he not, that there are many of us in central and eastern Scotland, Members of Parliament, industrialists and others, who are right behind him on this issue?
§ Mr. Doig
I thank my hon. Friend for his moral support.
This can be done quite easily. It is not a coincidence that the first time that the R.A.F. could allow the civil airline to use its airfield without interfering with its military function, was when the civil airstrip became unusable. I am convinced, along with everyone else in the area, that it could be used all the time without interfering with the defence commitments of the airfield.
This would produce a small saving, but there will be a bigger indirect saving, because the local corporation has been promised Government grants for a project to open a disused aerodrome at Errol. This is not so convenient for the city, and would cost a considerable amount of money to put into operational use. Why should we waste this money and have two very large areas of ground when we can do the whole job on one? This is a crazy set-up.
We have been told about the R.A.F. helping out in national disasters. It does a very good job and many mountain climbers owe their lives to it. Mention has been made of the value to civilians of the R.A.F. weather reports. A charge should be made for this. There is a great deal of R.A.F. equipment and services which could be used profitably without interfering with its defence purpose. Some training has to be done somewhere, and it might as well be done usefully and at a profit.
Hon Gentlemen opposite have referred to the fact that the bombers would be in use in 20 or 25 years' time. This Government have only been in power for a little 305 over two years. How long does it take from the time a decision is taken to build a new aircraft to bring it into use? Is it less than two years? If there is something wrong with the bombers that we are using now, if they are out of date, then some of the responsibility and the blame rests with the previous Government.
The Under-Secretary should have a close look at the possibility of cooperation between Government Departments, civilian firms and the R.A.F. If this can be fitted in, and beneficial economies made, then such schemes of co-operation ought to be carried out.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) has made many constructive suggestions, and I am sure that many other hon. Members would like to explore the suggestion that he made about the use of the military airfield near Dundee. One can think of several military airfields up and down the country, adjacent to centres of population where no civil airlines operate at present. Anglesey is an example. The Government ought to consider some relaxation of the present rules applied by the R.A.F., which I understand, allow the occasional landing at R.A.F. airfields. At present, I understand that it will not have any scheduled services, and I would like to know why.
If the hon. Gentleman can assure the House that there would be no interference with the operational capability of the R.A.F. operating from this field near Dundee, he has a very good argument. As he points out, the taxpayer might derive an important source of revenue from landing charges imposed on the civil company. I also heartily agree with him in his comments about young men under the age of 21 being signed on for a lengthy period. It is wrong that this should happen in any of the three Services, because frequently a young man of 17, I think the hon. Gentleman said, does not know exactly what he wants to do. At the time he may think that the R.A.F. is the right career, but afterwards he may discover that some other vocation calls him, and that he has made a mistake. It is too late for him to rectify it then.
306 I should have thought that the Services would not want people forcibly restrained from leaving. Such people are bound to be discontented; they are bound to lower the morale of those remaining in the service. Even if adults are recruited for a long term of years this procedure should be abolished for all people under 21. The Government know that there has been a great deal of fuss about this recently and the hon. Gentleman is not the only one who has raised such a case in the House. There are cases of young men offered places in universities and prevented from leaving the services to take them up. There has been great hardship caused to the family life of persons prevented, quite arbitrarily from leaving.
If the person referred to by the hon. Gentleman is, indeed, a storekeeper, then this is quite monstrous. One can see some point in the case of a trade or profession in which there is a shortage of personnel, such as the engineers, of whom the Under-Secretary spoke in his opening speech. In the case of young men, not following a skilled occupation or profession, I cannot see any reason for applying these harsh and rigid rules, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West will receive a satisfactory answer to his question.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) on his speech. I am something of a connoisseur of the rules of order, and I thought that the way in which he managed to raise the problems of agriculture, building, electricity supply, and many other subjects too numerous to mention on the Air Estimates, was quite brilliant. He raised an important point about the cost-effectiveness of the Meteorological Office. It appears from the figures that he has given that, if additional money was spent on it, the Government might achieve substantial savings and aid the industries mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
I would like to return to a point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) and I hope that I may do so without infringing the rules of order. In spite of the fact that we are not engaged in a general defence debate one must consider the east of Suez policy of the Government in relation to the aircraft procurement policies.
307 I would like to quote two passages from the White Paper in Chapter I dealing with this problem. Paragraph 26 says:Our aim is that Britain should not again have to undertake operations on this scale outside Europe.Paragraph 27 says:We are continuing our discussions with the Australian Government about the possibility of having new facilities in Australia. We are also examining what benefits we would get from a new staging airfield in the British Indian Ocean Territory. These arrangements would offer us greater flexibility in our future defence planning, particularly in relation to the Far East.Does not the House see some inconsistency between these statements occurring in successive paragraphs? If we are no longer to undertake operations in the Far East on the same scale as confrontation, we are merely talking about very limited police actions or perhaps actions in which we co-operate with other members of the United Nations in peace-keeping in those areas. We are not talking about the kind of operation which needs large nuclear bomber forces supported with all the other facilities which would have to be provided to sustain them in Far East theatres. We are talking about very limited policing operations which Britain would be unlikely to engage in by herself, but in which she would be likely to act in concert with her allies.
I therefore wish to question the Government's policy of ordering the American F111 bomber and to relate what I have to say to the policy of remaining in the Far East indefinitely because the Secretary of State for Defence refused to give a clear answer to hon. Members who raised this matter in the defence debate. He told the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) that he was quite unrealistic in asking for a firm commitment to withdraw from that theatre of operation, that we might be staying there into the middle of the 1970s and that this is justification for ordering this very expensive American aircraft. The Under-Secretary of State may shake his head, but that is the opinion of many responsible commentators.
Let me quote from the well-informed article by Mr. Charles Douglas-Home, the defence correspondent of The Times, on 27th February. He says: 308… there appears to be an inherent contradiction between that policy and the Government's present attitude to possible conflicts in the Far East. This year's White Paper says the Government's aim ' is that Britain should not again have to undertake operations of this scale outside Europe'"—I have already quoted that paragraph.If the Government imagine that the only future operations east of Suez are to be small-scale policing operations, or internal security situations, where does a bomber force of this kind come in?Mr. Douglas-Home makes precisely the same point as I am making, that we do not need F111 aircraft for that kind of operation in the Far East.
The Financial Times of 1st March, 1967, said:If Britain has a rôle cast of Suez in the 1970s, it is surely the preservation of order in small, delicately poised communities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, to which the F111 is largely irrelevant.The hon. Gentleman may disagree. He may think that for internal security operations an aeroplane costing £2.5 million is a suitable piece of equipment to use. But I contend that if it were not for the ridiculous east of Suez policy on which the Government insist this aircraft would not be in their forward commitments programme at all.
In the defence debate, the Secretary of State said that the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and the F111Koverlap in rôles and complement each other …Later, he pointed out that theRadius of actionthat is, of the F111K—is enormous and may often be required particularly in the maritime rôle when it is working from land bases which may be distant from a possible centre of operations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 391–2.]The Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force paraphrased that this afternoon when he spoke about the vast radius of action of the F111K.
I should like to know what purpose there is in having this vast radius of action if we are considering only operations in the European theatre. As the Secretary of State for Defence admits, the two aircraft are designed for much the same rôle, but in different theatres of operation. My point is proved, if I may say so, by considering the difference 309 between the French and British procurement policies. The French Government do not find it necessary to order these American aircraft because they are thinking only of operations in Europe where a more limited rôle is required and they do not need aircraft with a range of 1,900 miles which is said to be the radius of action of the F111K.
If I may disgress a little, the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force said that the Government were being much more frank about giving information to the House than the Conservative Government. I should like to know why it is that we can read articles in the Financial Times and The Times and, indeed, in most American magazines giving detailed performance of aircraft which we are about to purchase when we cannot get the Minister to give us this information in the house. Maps have been published—I have some here which I will show the hon. Gentleman—showing how the F111K would operate from the bases in the Indian Ocean. If this information is so widely available—and presumably a potential enemy can read The Times and the Financial Times as well as I can—why does the Minister persist in refusing to give this information to the House directly?
The Government should look again at the question of security. They should not be so self-satisfied about the progress which has been made since they took office or always compare, as the Secretary of State did in an intervention today, their performance with that of their Tory predecessors. This is not good enough, and I hope that further progress will be made in this direction.
Could we avoid purchasing the F111 if we had a fixed date for withdrawal from the Far East? I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give me a specific reply to that question. I believe that he can only say, "Yes". We could avoid the expenditure of £280 million, the large proportion of which is in dollars, if we did not insist on remaining in Singapore and in other theatres of action in the Far East. It is important to notice that no less than £260 million of the total sum will have to be spent in dollars, because this aircraft has a very limited British content. This is why I object far more to the purchase of the F111 than I do 310 to the purchase of the Phantom. Fifty per cent. of the work on the Phantom will be done by our own aircraft industry and not in Santa Monica or Fort Worth.
The Government should appreciate the resentment that there is in the British aircraft industry that so much money is being spent across the Atlantic. This, as they must know, is a substantial reason why qualified people are leaving the aircraft industry and going to America to work and joining American firms which have set up design establishments in this country. If only the £280 million which we are to spend in dollars were available to the British aircraft industry, it could have made a substantial difference to the future prospects of our industry and the likelihood of retaining the sort of people we require.
On the question of costs, I was reading in the Inter-Avia Newsletter, for some time in February, the testimony of the United States Defence Secretary, Mr. McNamara, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said that no study had been made of F111 costs since the contracts were negotiated with the United Kingdom 18 months ago. He went on to tell the Committee that the Pentagon was presently estimating the unit costs of the F111A at 7 million dollars. This works out at about the figure of 280 million dollars for 40 aircraft. If we add on the £2.1 million for the 10 aircraft which we have already contracted to purchase, we find that the grand total is £121 million, which does not include the spares. I understand that it is not the normal practice of General Dynamics to offer a fixed contract for spares.
What might easily happen if we buy these aircraft at less than their production cost price to the Americans is that after they have been in use for two years the price of the spares will increase so that the manufacturers will recover their loss on the first sale. This could easily happen even if the Secretary of State negotiates what he thinks is a favourable price for the 40 aircraft, the contract for which has to be signed before 1st April. I would like to know what provision will he made in the contract to guard against escalation in the cost of the spares.
311 I am not absolutely clear about the difference in price between the first 10 aircraft and the further 40 aircraft. On 27th February, the Secretary of State for Defence said:As to the F111K, I am now discussing the ceiling price for a further 40 aircraft, and hope to place that order by the end of next month."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 99.]That indicates to me that the price for the further 40 aircraft is not the same as the £2.1 million which has been negotiated as the price for each of the first 10. I should like the Under-Secretary to spell out, because he certainly did not make it clear in his introductory remarks, whether it is purely a question of the British content of the F111K. Can we be certain that this will not lead to escalation in the price beyond what can reasonably be afforded?
If we did not proceed with the F111—and I still hope that in spite of the fact that only a few weeks remain to the option date, we can reconsider the matter—we could go ahead with the purchase of more of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which, the Under-Secretary and the Minister have said, are complementary to the rôle of the F111. The AFVG will cost only £1.5 million each as compared with £2.5 million for the F111. If we were to increase the production run of the AFVG beyond the planned 150 or 170, that of itself would bring about a reduction in the unit cost.
All this money could be spent in Britain instead of our having to fork out scarce dollars, which will damage our balance of payments by paying General Dynamics.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member quotes £1.5 million as the price of the AFVG. Looking into history, has there yet been an aircraft with such complications that has remained at its first fixed price? Is there not bound to be escalation of cost during the course of design and development?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am not sure how authoritative the £1.5 million figure is. I do not think that it has been given in the House. I have taken it from the article in The Times of 27th February, from which I have quoted. I should have thought that in the light of previous experience Governments would be rather 312 careful about putting a price on an aircraft which will not fly for several years and that if the £1.5 million is an official figures which has been given to the defence correspondent of The Times, it is likely to include a substantial element to take care of any possible increases in price which may accrue before the aircraft comes into operation.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Would not the hon. Member also say that as far as we know there is at present no evidence to suggest that the specification for this aircraft has been finally fixed? This must also give it a higher propensity to increase in price.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Member is right in saying that the design has not yet been finalised, but the performance specification has been outlined and we have, I gather, agreed with the French what we want this aircraft to do, which is not the same thing as putting the aircraft on to drawings. That of itself could affect the cost. If a figure of £1.5 million is being mentioned between ourselves and the French, it must have been gone into very carefully.
If my suggestion were accepted and we had more AFVGs in place of the F111s, this would tend to bring down the unit cost, because the £200 million which it is estimated that the research and development of the aircraft will cost could be recovered over a longer period and would be less per single aircraft.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Has not the hon. Member noticed that certain events have happened in France within the past few days and that there may be a Government in France which will be sensible enough not to spend so much on military aircraft?
§ Mr. Lubbock
If that were the case, and there were a trend towards economy in France, that should help the co-operation between the two countries, which has got off the ground so well with the Jaguar agreement and now in the AFVG. If the importance of economy is uppermost in the minds of the French Government, they will try to have more co-operation between the two countries rather than less.
That is the sort of policy which we should be pursuing in this country. Rather than spending dollars in purchasing aircraft from the other side of the Atlantic, I want to see even greater effort towards 313 co-operation with the French, particularly so that we can have common programmes and recover the research and development costs over longer production runs of the aircraft.
Finally on the F111, the Under-Secretary did not give me satisfactory answers to my Questions to him about the performance difficulties. When representatives of General Dynamics came over here last year, they were extremely frank to a meeting of hon. Members upstairs. They told us that the drag was higher than had been anticipated and that they had the intake problems which caused surging of the engine in certain parts of the speed range.
That meeting was something like a year ago, I think before the last General Election. At the Box this afternoon, the Under-Secretary said that he was sure that these problems would be cured. The fact is, however, that a year has gone by since they were mentioned to us by General Dynamics, and still the flight programme has not achieved the success which General Dynamics at that time anticipated.
Evidence has been given again, I understand, to the Senate Armed Services Committee about continuing technical problems of the F111 and doubts have been expressed by certain senators about whether these can be solved at all, in spite of the confidence which has been expressed by General Dynamics and by the Government on this side of the Atlantic. We should not, therefore, be satisfied with assurances given across the Floor of the House which do not enter into any detail. We ought to know much more about the nature of these technical difficulties and what steps the United States Government are taking to see that they are solved before aircraft are delivered to us.
I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the question of bases in the Indian Ocean. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that the cost of developing Aldabra would be small. I would like to know what he means by "small". Does he mean £1 million, £10 million, or £50 million, and exactly what does the sum include?
In an article in The Times of 17th May last year, a former Sea Lord said that 314 development of Aldabra would be extremely expensive. I quote:After studying the Admiralty charts for the area the Admiral concludes that an airstrip at Aldabra would be 'astronomically expensive and of great inconvenience'…The Admiral, Sir Peter Gretton, described Aldabra asfour coral strips surrounding a lagoon which dries out at low water. The coral strips are intersected by mangrove swamps and the whole is covered with dense shrub and forest. There is no harbour for small ships and no good anchorage outside the lagoon.
§ Mr. Lubbock
No fresh water is available and there are no piers.Does the Under-Secretary really pretend that it can be developed at small cost to provide a base for the F111?
The hon. Gentleman was not able to answer my question to him about the average height of the land at Aldabra above sea level, but this is a matter of some importance. It is the reason why Diego Garcia was rejected as a possible base, because it is on average only 6 ft. above sea level and at many times of the year when there are hurricanes in that part of the Indian Ocean the airstrips would have been under water and it would not have been possible for any aircraft to land on them.
§ Mr. Onslow
Can the hon. Member assist the House by giving the reference to the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence in which he said that the cost of development would be small?
§ Mr. Lubbock
Yes, I can. I have not got HANSARD before me, but it is reported in c. 393 of 28th February of this year.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of Defence went to considerable lengths to try to stop publication of the article by Sir Peter Gretton to which he has just referred—very understandably?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am not surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that, in view of the facts revealed in that article.
I have now found the passage in HANSARD to which I referred, and I see that the words were that the cost of developing it "will be very small", 315 and not just "small". How can that be reconciled with the description of the island given by the former Sea Lord?
The next question to consider is where it is possible to get from Aldabra. I have before me a map showing circles drawn round numerous islands in the Indian Ocean which might have been considered as potential bases. The map is contained in an article by Major P. G. Boxhall entitled, "The Strategic Use of Islands in a Troubled Ocean", which appeared in the November, 1966, Royal United Services Institution Journal.
It is interesting to note that Major Boxhall mentions all the potential bases in the Indian Ocean which might have been chosen by the Government, such as Socotra, Gan, Masirah, and the Cocos Islands. Having mentioned them all, he only deals with four or five, ignoring Aldabra altogether, presumably because it is not within reach of any convenient place, as I have discovered by drawing my own circle on the map.
One cannot get to any part of India from Aldabra. With the range of the F111, one could just make Gan, and so continue across the Indian Ocean to the Far East. However, if the intention is that it is to be purely a staging post and not a base from which to attack a potential enemy, I should have thought that the Government would do well to consider the possibility of going westwards across the Atlantic to the Far East, instead of spending vast sums on creating concrete landing strips in the middle of nowhere.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Can my hon. Friend tell me whether, for the purposes of operating the F111, it would be best to use permanent fixed bases? Are aircraft carriers not better for the purpose?
§ Mr. Lubbock
The answer is that the F111 was supposed to be a two-Service aircraft, with naval and Air Force versions, but the weight has so increased that the Americans are having difficulty in getting the naval version to work at all, and it may not be able to land on the decks of the carriers which they have in operation at present.
If we have this base on Aldabra, what defence is there to be against attack by naval units? Are there to be airborne 316 early warning radar, ground to ground missiles, ground to sea missiles, or ground to air missiles, and what other paraphernalia will it be necessary to have there to ensure the safety of the base in the event of armed conflict? If it is really a permanent aircraft carrier, there must be some sort of defence against hostile action by a potential enemy. Is the very small cost about which the Secretary of State for Defence talks inclusive of these other elements which would be necessary if one had a base for the F111 in the Indian Ocean?
Have the Government taken into account also the cost of operating the base? If there is no harbour, as Sir Peter Gretton says, it will be necessary to supply the base entirely from the air, and we shall have to increase the number of logistic supply aircraft in Transport Command. What would be the cost of taking everything, including fresh water, to the troops and airmen who will be living on this island in the middle of nowhere?
I think that the whole policy is absolute nonsense. If the Government insist on proceeding with the development of bases in the Indian Ocean, militarily there is no purpose in them, and, unless we have the answers to all the questions which have been raised today, the public generally will not be satisfied that the Government are attempting to control defence expenditure, as they have told the House and the country that they are.
In short, we believe that the purchase of the F111 is inconsistent with the policy of withdrawal from the Middle and Far East. We believe that the establishment of bases in the Indian Ocean is a piece of gross extravagance. We are not satisfied with the rate of reduction of our defence expenditure as a whole and of spending on American planes in particular. If it were not for the certain knowledge that our action would be misrepresented by the Government, we should have liked to make our protest in the Division Lobby this evening.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I find myself in agreement with nearly all that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has said. The one matter about which I do not agree with him, which I shall come to in a moment, is the AFVG.
317 Before I say anything else, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the able way in which he opened his first Service Estimates debate.
My hon. Friend said, with regard to aeroplanes, that, in 1964, we inherited a programme which was too late and too expensive. After hearing him, I am left with the impression that we are providing for our successors, if we have successors, a programme which will be even later and even more expensive.
We require fighter cover and, in the Lightnings, which are American, we have probably got the best available fighters.
§ Mr. Paget
That was a slip of the tongue. We have developed the Lightning ourselves, of course, and in so doing we have probably provided ourselves with the best available aircraft. Expert friends of mine tell me that we have been highly successful with that aircraft.
As for support planes, the Phantom is probably the best available successor to the Canberra, which has served us so well for so long. But I cannot feel that we have had a happy inheritance in the Harrier. We have been told that its price will be £500,000. My expert friends tell me that it is certain to cost more than £1 million. It will have a vertical takeoff capacity, but not when it is carrying any kind of load, and it is very unlikely to sell competitively with the Phantom. I cannot believe that it is good policy to attempt to develop an aircraft of our own when most people will think that there is one available which is better.
When I come to the F111, may I say that I believe that by the time we get all the bits and pieces of equipment which go with an aeroplane we shall not see any change out of £3 million per aircraft. To be told that it is a reconnaissance aeroplane which will fly along a frontier in order to look over the wall when we feel that there might be a danger of war, is, frankly, an insult to our intelligence. If we want something to perform that rôle, there is no aeroplane which cannot do it. We do not have to go to America and spend £3 million on one to do that. In any event, if this kind of reconnaissance were done by aeroplanes at all it would 318 be done by a U2 type of plane, but, in fact, it is done by satellites.
The F111 is a nuclear bomber, and nothing else. It is being disguised as something else because the Government wish to put an artificially low cost on their nuclear expenditure. But the F111 is a straight nuclear bomber. If we are to use it for any other rôle, even at the rate of American losses in Vietnam, where I should have thought there was the complete minimum of air defence, there is a loss of ½ per cent., which would bring the cost of flying this plane operationally at £30,000 a sortie.
That does not make sense in any terms other than nuclear. Indeed, this is a nuclear weapon for the Indian Ocean to give an impression of nuclear power which, for a variety of other reasons, is totally incredible in that area. Therefore, if we are looking for defence cuts, this is the first economy that I would make.
The AFVG was not mentioned by my hon. Friend in his opening speech. I congratulate him on this, because he knows as well as I do that it will not materialise. The development costs of the AFVG will not be less than £250 million.
The American costs of the F111 are said to be £234 million, but they had a number of advantages. They had variable wing-lift experience. They had avionics experience stemming from the B48. They had the experience of the FA108 in this field, and they had the engine which had already been developed in the Douglas. To say that we can do it without any of those advantages, cheaper than the Americans, I do not believe for a moment. I should have said that £250 million was the very limit.
To get a satisfactory Lightning Mark III took 10 years. The AFVG, even with French assistance, is so much more complicated a product than the Lightning that I should again be surprised if we see it in service in its final form before 1976 or 1978. By that time, at a production cost which, again, I think, will not come much under £2 million—Britain requires 200, France 100 with possibly another 20; certainly, Germany will not buy any, because she is far too tied up with the Americans, and nobody else will buy any—we will end up with a mini-FIII as expensive as the F111, and 10 years late. That is a folly which, I think, will not be proceeded with.
319 There is no sense in trying to maintain our aircraft industry by giving it Air Force orders for uncompetitive aeroplanes. I do not believe that that is a good thing to do. We cannot be competitive with really extensive developments the costs of which run to several hundreds of millions of pounds.
The TSR2 is a very good example of that. We spent £130 million on developing the TSR2. It was our maximum pressure development. It took us six and a half years to spend that, and we were still a long way from having completed the job. The Americans spent over £100 million in a year. They have such development capacity that they can start two years after us, having got what they want, and they can finish two years before us. I just do not think that we can compete on those terms.
We can produce a replacement for the Shackleton, certainly. We can probably produce a satisfactory "chopper" and develop one, and Heaven knows there is no greater need in the Army than that, but I cannot think that it makes sense for us to try to compete in this major field, whether or not we take on the French who, after all, have only a third of our capacity.
I cannot see any future for the British aircraft industry by making it Anglo-French. It just has not the capacity. It has to be Anglo-American. It has to work as Chrysler and Rootes are working. If we attach ourselves to a major American unit, we become part of it and are used as part of it. It does not mean that the Americans do the sophisticated and interesting work and that we do not. On the contrary, they look at it on straight business lines. They know of our very great skills both in men and experience. They will use us in the development programmes. They are already trying to do so. They have a development unit here, because we have cheaper facilities, connected by a direct wire computer with America. We are already doing this. We could work as an Anglo-American aircraft industry. I firmly believe that an attempt to have an Anglo-French aircraft industry will fall flat on its face, because it has not got the market for its resources.
Finally, I turn to the Estimates, where the real economies in the development programme are available. First, cut out 320 the F111 and AFVG. Those are nuclear bombers. They are nothing but nuclear bombers, and they have no other usefulness. Drop them. Secondly, the Army requires the Lightning, Phantom, and transport. It requires a lot of transport. How short we are on transport—and my hon. Friend knows the advice which he received—is shown by the fact that eight months were spent working flat out to be able to mount one and a third divisions on the Zambesi. That shows how short we are of transport.
We want transport, but this is Army and it should become Army. The Navy want the HS801, but that is Navy. I cannot at this stage see any point in maintaining the expense of a separate and independent Air Force. We should have an Army flying corps and a Navy flying corps. We should cut out this nuclear role, which does not really mean anything. If the Government are serious about defence economies, this is where to find them.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) always speaks with an original turn of mind and with great expertise in our defence debates. Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I do not. This evening I find myself in rather more agreement with him than I usually do. I shall be returning to his argument on the F111 later on. The hon. and learned Gentleman carried on the great tradition which has run through this year's series of defence debates in that he was highly critical of his own Front Bench.
I would like to begin with a word of commendation for one thing that has happened in the Royal Air Force. A word of commendation is so rare that it has brought the Under-Secretary of State up with a jerk. Looking on the bright side, I think it is fair to say that for years the Royal Air Force has had a better career structure for its Regular officers than the other Services. By this I mean that officers have reached senior rank considerably earlier in their careers than they would have done if they had been in the Army or the Navy. At least one can say that the Royal Air Force has not had its career structure smashed as the Army's was last year by the disruption of the Territorial Army.
321 I believe that the Army will have to move much closer to the Royal Air Force system in its career structure and that it will have to do so by having a smaller proportion of officers to whom a career is offered until the age of 55. The Royal Air Force has a smaller proportion of career officers. It has more officers on short service commissions and more men who are commissioned from the ranks, and I am sure that the Royal Air Force pattern is preferable to the one that is followed in the other Services.
Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), who opened the debate from this side in such an admirable speech, said, there is considerable concern in the Royal Air Force about the impact which the new Defence College will have on flying training. I know that many problems will have to be worked out before the Defence College can get under way. For instance, what will happen under the new dispensation to all the foreign cadets who form such a valuable part of the student body in our present Service academies. It is difficult to see where they are going to fit in. I am sure that in the Air Force of the future, and indeed in any of the Services of the future, we cannot afford to offer a Regular commission with an assured cadre through to the age of 55 to anyone who is not capable intellectually of benefiting from a three-year academic course.
There is not one officer or other rank in the Royal Air Force capable of benefiting from even a three-week academic course who is not able to grasp the fact that the decision to pull the Air Force out of Aden by the end of 1967 is stark staring mad. On the ground we are leaving the South Arabian Federation with quite a considerable force. There will be the Federal Army consisting of 10 battalions, and some of these units are very effective indeed, but in the air we are to leave Aden with next to nothing. By the end of this year there will be one Adeni pilot who will be supported by a handful of Airwork pilots flying eight jet Provosts, rather less than a handful of helicopters, and again less than a handful of Dakotas. It will be a puny, unimpressive, and ineffective air force.
It is in the air that the main threat to South Arabia comes. I do not believe 322 that the Egyptian Army has either the skill or the will to try to hold the road out from Dhalla on the Yemen frontier down to Aden itself against the Federal Army or even local tribesmen, but it is plain that Nasser's Air Force can wreak havoc in this area. It has already bombed Saudi Arabia and got clean away with it from the point of view of world opinion. It has already invaded South Arabian air space and made ground attacks in the area. We know that Nasser's Air Force in the Yemen is well equipped with Mig.17s and even Mig.21s. We know that the pilots are ruthless and well trained in dropping poisoned gas on villages.
Against that sort of force we are leaving eight Provosts and one local pilot. At the same time we are abandoning in Aden Khormakhsee, which only a couple of years ago was the busiest airfield in the Air Force, and taking away most of the highly developed radar and communications equipment. I do not believe that it is necessary to keep a large force of soldiers in Aden after independence, but I believe that we ought to be prepared to keep a squadron, or perhaps two squadrons, of fighters there to prevent Nasser's Air Force from dominating the air space over South Arabia at will.
One would not want to be entangled there for ever, but I believe that we should be prepared to keep this Air Force detachment there so long as Nasser's soldiers remain in the Yemen. When Nasser withdraws from the Yemen, we can depart from Aden with at least some vestige of honour.
During the past year I have seen something of the fine work which has been done by the Air Force helicopter pilots in Aden. But praise for the men who are doing this difficult and hazardous job does not mean that I approve in any way of the present demarcation line between the Air Force and the Army over helicopters. I am unashamedly a helicopter man, and recently I visited the American First Air Cavalry Division in the field in South Vietnam. This one division alone has twice as many helicopters on its divisional strength as we deploy altogether. They have achieved marvels of mobility. To give one example, I know of one battalion in that division which was in action 60 miles from its base camp within two hours of first being warned that some action was contemplated at some point.
323 I do not believe that we can put an air cavalry division in the field. The cost of raising, equipping and maintaining it in the field would take about half of the air Estimates which we are considering. This is beyond our present and our future capacity, but I am sure that within this defence budget we are spending too much on tanks and far too little on helicopters.
One reason for this imbalance is the demarcation line in the use of helicopters which gives responsibility for troop-carrying helicopters to the Royal Air Force.
Some years ago—I do not blame the present Ministers for this, because they were not in office—the Army geared itself to asking for a really substantial helicopter lift. It was conceded that it should have a ten-company lift, which means that there would be enough troop-carrying helicopters deployed on the ground to lift ten infantry companies simultaneously. Then there was a change in the Service responsibility for helicopters; responsibility was handed over from the Army to the Air Force.
The Air Force put helicopters at the bottom of its list of priorities. That was quite understandable because, as a Service friend of mine said, "The Air Force is really only interested in flying at twice the speed of sound and the idea of hovering motionless in the air does not appeal to it very much." The Air Force is not yet sufficiently helicopter-conscious. I am not reassured by the remarks made earlier by the Under-Secretary of State, and I am not happy about the new family of helicopters that we are told are under way. Certainly I am not happy about the division of responsibility between the Army and the Air Force.
What sort of aircraft then should the Air Force be flying at twice the speed of sound? I join those who have criticised the potential purchase of the F111, although on a different basis from that of most other hon. Members. Unlike the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I think that we should maintain a presence east of Suez in future. What worries me is that at present the Service is tied to an aircraft which is grossly expensive and unnecessary and will bring into even further dis- 324 repute our activities in that part of the world.
Many hon. Members have quoted paragraph 26 of the Defence White Paper, which says that we do not contemplate, in the future, carrying out any defence activities even of the scale of confrontation with Indonesia. But even in the confrontation with Indonesia, in practice there would have been no rôle for the F111.
It is true that the V-bombers were deployed in Malaysia at one point as a semi-deterrent to the Indonesians, but in the field the V-bombers could not be used, and the F111s canot be used in that sort of conflict. But even that sort of conflict, we are told, is larger than anything that we are going to enter into in the future.
I see a need for the F111s if the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft does not get off the drawing board. I share some of the scepticism of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about the fate of this project. The luck of this Government in foretelling the future has not been very good. I do not foresee circumstances in which we are likely to have to use F111s between 1970 and 1975. According to the Defence White Paper, it is highly unlikely that we shall have to use the F111s then—the period where there is going to be a gap. But the Government could easily be wrong. What can we do to produce some form of insurance against possible error?
I offer the Government one suggestion. What about renting the bombers? Peter Simple has popularised the phrase "Rent-a-crowd". We all know that in certain countries one can shell out a certain amount of money in return for which a large and enthusiastic mob is produced which will beat up the local western neo-colonialists, and the Egyptians have shown that one can "rent a thug". The Egyptian secret service in Aden distributes a few pounds to buy a few young Adenis to throw hand grenades in the direction of British Service vehicles.
If it is possible to rent people, why, instead of buying the F111s, cannot we say, "We will put down a deposit now with the American Government and if between 1970 and 1975 the international situation changes and a crisis suddenly 325 blows up on our front and not theirs, we will have F111s made available quickly from the large stocks that the United States Air Force will have on its strength"? The Americans should be happy with this. We would be paying for certain F111s and they would be held by the American Air Force on its strength. We should be able to take them over fairly quickly because we would already have paid for a certain number of these aircraft.
We have signed a contract for a certain number, and our pilots would already be well trained. Certain equipment differences might arise but as chairman of the N.A.T.O. Parliamentary Standardisation Committee I would hope that standardisation had reached a stage in which it would not be difficult for those who had been trained on British F111s to switch to American F111s.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
My hon. Friend has put forward an attractive idea. The Government have already bought ten of these aircraft. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government were unable to purchase the aircraft they should nevertheless come to an arrangement with the American Air Force to buy spares at the same price as that which is paid by the American Air Force? Otherwise the British could be taken for a tremendous ride if there were an escalation in prices.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. From what he and others said earlier, it seems that the problem of spares throws up one of the main economic Achilles heels in respect of the deal that we seem to be on the brink of making. The present Government may intend to go ahead with an order for another forty F111s. They may already be committed to a degree that the House has not been told.
If they do go ahead, I would refer back to the entertaining speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), in which he cast some doubt on the predictions of the Meteorological Office. If the Government carry on in their present course of aircraft procurement, I would say with 100 per cent. Certainty—not just the 77 per cent. certainty which the Meteorological Office claims—that it will be a stormy future and that the storms will grow in intensity in the next few years.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force made a very disarming speech, as though he were presenting this huge Estimate of £545 million as part of the annual budget of the Y.M.C.A. or the General Methodist Council—
§ Mr. Hughes
Or to the Labour Party. The argument will be put to the Labour Party, "Look how we are reducing these enormous sums spent on defence." I see that in hard cash the net decrease in the Air Estimates this year is only £60,000. That is not very much. If they go on doing this until the next General Election, they will not be able to say that they have reduced the Estimates very much.
It does not impress me to be told, "Look what the Tories would have done". I criticised Tory Estimates throughout their thirteen years. The TSR2 came in for considerable criticism. I aimed a few bombs at it myself. If the Tories had been in power, they would also have faced this financial and economic crisis and would have had to reduce expenditure somewhere—perhaps on the TSR2, perhaps somewhere else.
The Air and other Estimates have been going up considerably year after year, and one of the main results has been the economic crisis. The Government have been spending too much. I wish that I could be convinced that this Government have any clear purpose of disarmament. The Minister for Disarmament recently put it off to the dim and distant future. But the economic crisis will continue, and I cannot see that those who have produced the general plan of which these Estimates are a part will effectively have reduced the Estimates by 1970.
Then, of course, there will be an outcry from people who want houses, education, advance factories and hospitals, who will say, "You must cut this enormous expenditure." When they analyse these Estimates, they will get no sign that the Government will reduce them.
I remember when five of us were thrown out of the Labour Party because 327 we voted against the Tory Estimates. But, in the defence debate, 62 Labour Members abstained. An increase from 5 to 62 is a considerable percentage in which I rejoice, and I forecast that this revolt will go on until by 1970 there will be very different Estimates. Otherwise, this House will be full of Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, with a big protest vote against this extraordinary expenditure.
What are the arguments? The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) is all in favour of the TSR2. The Government are all in favour of the F111K, and the Liberal Party are all in favour of the French variable-geometry aircraft. Let us examine these one after the other. We can rule out the TSR2, because in five years' time it will be so obsolete that no one will want to go back to it—[Interruption]. If the Government are going back to the TSR2—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member is probably not aware that his own Government, when they cancelled the TSR2, put a steamroller over the jigs and tools, so that it would be impossible for anyone to go back to the TSR2, even if he wanted to.
§ Mr. Hughes
That only shows what the Estimates are likely to be in 1970. It adds to my argument that until we reverse the policy these Estimates will go up without any Government giving a convincing reason for them.
Let us be candid. If we are to have aircraft as deterrents, surely it is better to tell those whom we intend to deter, "We can destroy your countries, burn your cities and burn up alive your women and children. That is the power of our deterrent." This is precisely what the F111 is. That is one of its purposes. My hon. Friend did not mention the phrase "atom bomb". He made no mention of nuclear weapons at all, but that is the reality. If there is to be a deterrent and it is to deter the Soviet Union, surely we should be able to show the Soviet Union that we can destroy Moscow, Leningrad and all the other cities in that vast territory.
The Under-Secretary said that the F111K could get anywhere that it is wanted. That may be so, but there is not much sign that it could ever get back. 328 What is likely to happen? Even if it does its reconnaissance, if the Russians think that atom or hydrogen bombs will be dropped on their territory, someone will press a button and we shall receive a rocket. There has been no mention of rockets. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) will remember the Question which I used to put 10 or 15 years ago—how can fighters bring down rockets? There has never been an answer.
We are talking now about 1970. What is the argument between the U.S.S.R. military people and those of the U.S.A? We are out of the argument, as we do not have the rockets. Mr. McNamara said about two months ago that by 1970 the Russians will be able to kill 75 million people in the U.S.A. On the other side, the Russians probably have the satisfaction of knowing that the Americans are capable of destroying 75 million people in the U.S.S.R.
Those who have the money and resources are now not thinking of aircraft but about rockets. The latest defence argument in the U.S.A. is concerned with inter-continental missile missiles. It is said that some American cities can be protected while others cannot. In this argument, there is a demand for other American cities to have an adequate anti-missile system. They are saying, "If New York and Washington can be protected by this system, why not Detroit and San Francisco?" Things have gone so far that the Russians can, by pressing a button, bring down any type of missile that is directed towards the U.S.S.R. Despite this, they admit that a few might get through. What chance do we have, with our little pea-shooters, against their megaton bombs?
It is obvious from what is happening that the Labour Government are continuing the strategy of the former Conservative Administration, with the difference that they are trying to pare down the expenditure on grounds of economy but not on grounds of strategy and commonsense. In this connection, I asked a rude and indecent question of the Minister of Defence not long ago, when I wanted to know the cost of an H-bomb. I was told that if we divulged that information we would be revealing a secret to the enemy. Of course, the real enemy is the British taxpayer.
329 We read in the Estimates, in the item concerning stores, that we are spending £26 million on arms, bombs and explosives. That is a lot of money, particularly since they will never be used. I say that because the whole argument is to the effect that they will not be used. We are, therefore, piling up enormous expenditure and wasting the brains of science and engineering when they could be devoted to something else. We are doing this in a way which cannot stand the test of examination. I regret that the Government are continuing, in a slightly different way, the policy followed by Tory Administrations for so long.
When in Opposition my hon. and right hon. Friends time and again criticised the then Tory Government for the policies they were following. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General regularly catalogued the mistakes they had made; Skybolt, Blue Streak and the rest. At the conclusion of the term of office of the last Tory Government we tabled a Motion censuring them for wasting £20,000 million in their 13 years of office. What will be the cost of all these gadgets when scientific development has made them obsolete? The Opposition will list Green Streak, Red Arrow, Blue Murderer and whatever other gadgets we contrive to make—under whatever names they may go—in just the same way, proving that the Labour Party is also prepared to waste enormous sums of public money.
The TSR2 is too expensive, the F111K is a gift to General Dynamics of America—which, incidentally, also manufactures Polaris—and the French variable geometry aircraft, in which the Government are showing so much interest, appears to be a mixture of the two. But have hon. Members noticed what has happened in France in the last few days? Something that was incalculable has occurred. Are hon. Members now prepared to say that there will always be a Right-wing Government in France? I do not believe that there will, and I hope that the Left-wing Government there will proceed boldly to cut down their defence expenditure and have the sense to give a lead in international affairs which the present Labour Government here are, unfortunately, not prepared to give.
I rule out every one of the present projects on which the Government are engaged. In an age when the Russians 330 can press a button and send a rocket to the moon and when they can demolish this island completely at the turn of a switch—if they can hit the moon they can certainly hit us—all the preparations that we are making are out of date and these Estimates should be reduced to, say, £500,000 a year.
I fix the figure at that amount because, as the Minister said, the R.A.F. has a valuable rôle to play in peacetime. Consider what our Service men did at Aberfan—but I wonder how much of the total R.A.F. Estimates are in respect of that emergency? It is all eyewash to say that we need a vast Air Force. We have no need to spend vast sums on bombers if we want our troops to be of assistance in times of disaster. If that were so the Russians could say, "We need a vast Air Force in case there is an earthquake in Tashkent. We may need vast forces to do the necessary rescue work." That sort of remark would be as relevant as the argument adduced by the Minister. Bombers have no rôle to play in such a rescue.
If the F111K drops an atomic bomb, that will be equal to a thousand Aberfans, and innocent people will be killed. Our hearts were touched when we read about the schools which were obliterated and the women and children who were killed in Aberfan. The Under-Secretary knows the valley as well as I do. If we drop an atomic bomb on a Soviet or Chinese city, or anywhere else, we will be committing a great crime against humanity.
The money which we are asked to vote today would be better employed in developing the civil aircraft industry. I will not elaborate this point, except to say that if a small fraction of the money that has been wasted since the war had been spent on developing civil aircraft—instead of the sort of aircraft about which we are speaking, which will become obsolete before long—we would have had an entirely different situation in the civil aircraft industry and we might even be leading the world in this sphere.
I regret that the Government have not been bold enough to scrap the other projects just as they decided to scrap the TSR2. I regret, too, that we have not been told the truth. When they talk about targets, what do they mean? They mean destroying millions of people in 331 other parts of the world, knowing that immediately they started the answer would be here in ten minutes and we would be obliterated, too.
The Government are carrying on what I call an expensive modified suicide policy, and there is no justification for it. I remember hearing the present Prime Minister trying—in, I think, about 1960—to explain the Labour Party defence policy at a Labour Party conference in Glasgow. He made a very interesting defence of the then Labour Party policy, which has since been buried and forgotten. Then question time came. A little woman from the Shettleston Co-operative Guild asked him: "Look here, Mr. Wilson, would you press a button to drop an atomic bomb?" He said: "No, no, I would not." Well, if one is not to use the deterrent or press the button, what is the use of it? So I believe that the futility of this—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been very skilful up to date in keeping in order, but he is now getting into the realms of broader debate on defence. He must keep to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Hughes
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the little woman from the Shettleston Co-operative knew the relevance of that remark.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not doubt the importance of what the hon. Member says, but I doubt whether it is in order in this debate.
§ Mr. Hughes
I quite understand. My disadvantage is that that little woman is not present.
I have been posing these questions for the last 18 years. I suppose that I shall continue to do so. Although my speeches are disregarded, I believe that it is not argument but the sheer force of the development of science that is making this defence policy and these Air Estimates absolutely irrelevant to the future. Therefore, we will continue our opposition next year, when I hope that we will get more than 60-odd people who will refuse to agree to this kind of policy. And the numbers will grow and grow until the Government have to re-think the whole of their defence and foreign policy.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I do not think that anyone in the House disregards the speeches of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He is most persuasive and, if I may say so, we always enjoy listening to him. But he is a very difficult man to follow. He comes faithfully to the House for each defence debate and makes his C.N.D. Trafalgar Square speech with great skill. In fact, if I did not want him to be made uncomfortable I would say that he should be sitting on the Floor of the House throughout the defence debates instead of in his place.
However, the hon. Gentleman's purpose is different from that of most of us. He does not come to these debates to ensure defence cuts, but, if he can, to ensure that our defence is done away with altogether. That is what he wants, and a large number of his hon. Friends think the same, if not to the same degree at least to some degree. It is something of which the country will become more clearly aware as time goes on. As he has said, those 60 or more abstainers may grow into a larger number next year, and it will not be long before the country wakens up to what they stand for—
§ Mr. Hastings
No, I should have skipped one. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire is perhaps not so hot on his "French geometry", at least he understands what the F111 is for. It is a nuclear weapon system—he is perfectly right.
The other thing that he seemed to be saying to the Government—and I hope that I got him right—was that they are following Tory defence policies, but are not doing it as well as the Tories did. I think that he has something there—
§ Mr. Hastings
I interpreted it in a different way. I do not wish to exaggerate what the hon. Member says, but that seemed to be the general tenor of his remarks.
333 I am afraid that, basically, the hon. Gentleman's position is not a very honourable one. Boiled down to essentials, what he and his Friends say is that if a man who is bullying you is bigger than yourself you should not resist,, because it will hurt and you can do nothing at all about it. That is the basis of the hon. Gentleman's thesis on defence, and I do not think that the House need have any great difficulty in rejecting it.
The main debate has so far seemed to centre increasingly around our difficulty—and it is not confined to this side—in assessing, first what the Government's intentions are on air defence, and, therefore, what their real requirements are and secondly what aircraft fit which requirement. Just two years ago they inherited a balanced and integrated programme which the Under-Secretary referred to as being based on what has been described as a "mobile" airforce; that is, aircraft all capable of operating from jungle or rough airstrips and able to cope with the threat in any foreseeable theatre.
They were interdependent and, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) said, in his most able speech, there were only three types—the Hawker-Siddeley 681, the P1154 and the TSR2. Of course, they were expensive, but in time they would have produced for the Royal Air Force—and I doubt whether even the Under-Secretary would wish to dispute it—the finest all-round equipment in the world, and it would have been well ahead in many respects even of the American equipment. I have no doubt that, again in time, they would have achieved massive exports as well, and this is one of the most important and real aspects of saving on defence.
They are now all in the dustbin. We have six operational types instead of the three—the American Phantom, the F111K, the C130, the British Harrier, the Anglo-French Jaguar and the "French geometry", as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire so eloquently called it. I cannot understand how it can be argued that the reorganisation of the R.A.F.—and the Under-Secretary seemed to refer to this with some pride—which this involves will save any money. The massive difference between spares, between maintenance systems, and 334 so on, must in the end have an adverse effect on costs.
I want to refer briefly to what is perhaps the most controversial aircraft of the lot—the F111K. This is based on the same operational requirement, OR343—originally OR339—as the TSR2. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the requirement was passed to the Americans years ago. The only justification for this aircraft is in the tactical strike and reconnaissance rôle for the Far East, or for nuclear attack against the Russian heartland from bases in this country.
Now, I want to ask a question of the Under-Secretary. I know that this is a complicated matter, but perhaps he will try to put me straight about it later in the debate. The original American navigation and attack system was only consistent with what one might term a nuclear degree of accuracy. It was not nearly as sophisticated as the TSR2. We have changed our requirement and the F111A has become the F111K. This is largely a matter of electronics.
I do not want to touch on the other technical difficulties in this aircraft. They have already been debated fairly widely—the question of the air intake, the drag factor, and so on. To meet our requirements, I think it is necessary for North American Automatics, Texas Instruments and the other firms, completely to redesign the computing system and indeed to add computers. I believe that the design they have produced is so closely related to the original TSR2 design that it must be a copy. I want to know whether this work is on schedule; whether it is in any way consistent with the delivery dates for the aircraft as published in the White Paper, and mentioned by the Under-Secretary today.
It was, I think, to become operational in 1969, but I fear that this will not be so. I fear that it is way behind. This work is extremely complicated to carry out and very expensive indeed. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the price of £2.5 million is in no way firm when there is no ceiling price yet negotiated for this highly sophisticated equipment. I think that it will go higher; I do not think that we shall sec any change out of £3 million for this aircraft. The House should realise that when this plane is delivered, if it is, for 335 service in 1969, without that electronic equipment to our specification and working, it will be quite useless. We might as well have a motor-bus. I hope that we shall have an explanation from the Under-Secretary of how things are going with that project.
Another factor about the F111 bewilders me, perhaps because of my technical ignorance. It has been demonstrated with a considerable bomb load, one imagines conventional bombs fixed to the extended wings. What happens when the wings fold and it goes up into the high rôle as opposed to low flying? It would be as well for the House to hear the answer about that. I agree with all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have identified this aircraft as what it is, a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft with a nuclear rôle based on OR343, and a highly sophisticated system at that. It makes no sense in any other rôle, but, whether or not the rôle is still necessary to us in present circumstances depends on our interpretation of the British Government's intentions.
Many hon. Members have already drawn attention to the inconsistency of paragraphs 26 and 27 in the chapter on policy and planning in the White Paper. In the first paragraph, it is said:Our aim is that Britain should not again have to undertake operations on this scale outside Europe.Yet in the next paragraph we are told that arrangements are being made whichwould offer us greater flexibility in our future defence planning, particularly in relation to the Far East.This is not clear. Not only is it not clear to us, but it is not clear to many other people.
Mention has been made—I believe that the Under-Secretary said something about them—of negotiations with the Australians. The Australians are very concerned about our intentions in the Far East. There was an election in Australia last year in which the present Minister of Defence, Mr. Fairhall, made a considerable point of this. One of the issues in that election was the question whether Australians should go on with their assistance to the Americans in Vietnam. He argued that one of the main reasons why we have to do our duty in Vietnam and regard the situa- 336 tion in the Far East as one in which we must be physically involved, is because the British are going to get out.
That was never denied and there was much publicity about it. Why was it not denied? We have communications with Canberra. We are trying all the time to sell military aircraft in Australia. Some of them, the Jaguar and particularly the AFVG, have a perfectly understandable operational rôle in the Far Eastern theatre. It was because the Australians did not believe in our certainty of purpose that TSR2 did not sell in Australia. It was not on technical grounds. The same may be happening now. I hope that the Government will take note of this uncertainty and reflect that it is not found only in this House, but wider in the world, that our intentions for Far Eastern defence are a mystery.
I hope that it is not too much of a jump in logic if I pass to the connection, which I am sure will have occurred even to the present Government, between our own military requirements for aircraft, our technical and technological advance in this field as a whole, and our exports of aircraft. All three are linked. If we take a decision to get out of the Far East we shall affect the other two factors as well. We should never forget—and the Royal Air Force ought to be as conscious of this as any other sector in aviation—that the Plowden Committee reported the potential market for military aircraft to constitute 85 per cent. of the world market for all aircraft for the next 25 years.
We hear a great deal, and have done since the beginning of this debate, about savings on defence. Indeed, sometimes I have wondered whether hon. Members opposite are more interested in saving on defence than in defending their country. A lot of what has been said on this has been questionable, some of it purely bogus—the talk about bringing the boys home and abandoning position after position abroad regardless of the chaos and suffering which would be caused. Little has been said about the sensible exploitation of defence requirements and know-how for profit. The Secretary of State has a direct responsibility here, because his Department includes sections of the administration directly involved.
337 The timing of research and development for these military projects is of great importance. It must be related to the world market and not simply to the redundancy of British equipment. There is a difference here. I give two examples to show what I mean. There was a design by the British Aircraft Corporation for a Gnat replacement which was aimed to replace the American P33, which will phase out in 1970 or thereabouts. If that had been able to go ahead in time the design might have competed in that large market, but because it was envisaged by the Ministry of Defence that the Hunter and the Gnat would continue until 1974 the project was abandoned.
The second is the Jaguar which, happily, is now all right. Why? If my information is correct, we originally saw the Jaguar coming in to meet our own requirements in 1974; we did not want it before. It was the French who insisted on 1970, because of their requirements. This is a logical difference of view in terms of our own equipment alone. I am arguing that for new research and development our timing must be geared, not simply to our own equipment, but wider if we want to prosper in the world market for military aircraft in the long run.
I want to ask, in this connection, whether the Under-Secretary is satisfied with the extent of the liaison which exists between the Operational Requirements Committee, a critically important Committee for the whole of this technology, on the one hand, and Mr. Ray Brown's Branch—Defence Sales—and, I think it is called, the Export and International Relations Division of the Ministry, on the other.
Here I have a specific question to put to the Under-Secretary about what it has so charmingly been called "the French geometry"—it will always remain that in my mind from this time onwards—the AFVG. Does the hon. Gentleman know—I have no doubt that he does—that the Americans are well advanced at the moment with a feasibility study for an aircraft of about 40,000 lb. all-up weight—half the size of the F111-with an operational range of about 1,000 miles, and with the same low-high-low performance as is envisaged for the AFVG and which I believe is known as the AFX? This aircraft, if I am right, is in direct 338 competition with the AFVG. The only inconsistent passage I noticed in the hon. Gentleman's speech was when he said at the end that he did not see any necessity to discuss the AFVG in this debate, although it has been said—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
On the contrary. I hope that I did not say that. I said that I thought that there was every reason to, in response to a question asked by one of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Hastings
I accept that. I must have misheard the hon. Gentleman.
This aircraft, as his colleagues in the Government have said—I think that the Secretary of State for Defence has said this—is the core of our military aircraft programme in the future and, therefore, of critical importance. A feasibility study is now being conducted on an American aircraft which appears to be a direct competitor. The important point is that the final decision to go ahead or not with the AFX will, I understand, be taken next month. If the Americans go ahead, it will be offered to N.A.T.O. So precisely the same position will arise as we had with the TSR2 and the F111 a few sad years back. Both these animals are the same, but there is a difference in timing. The Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft is certainly ahead.
There is no time to be lost, if this is true. That is why I am asking this in the context of the liaison between the Operational Requirements Committee and the sales side. If we are to avoid another tragic clash of interests here, which would damage the Americans, although the scale is different, just as it would damage ourselves and the French, it is time for us to make an approach to the Americans, to suggest that they drop this project; to suggest that, instead, they build the AFVG under licence. They would thereby save their research and development costs, which will be very large indeed. It is possible that they will need a higher thrust for interception at higher altitude than we or the French want for the AFVG, but this is not beyond the bounds of their technology. General Dynamics know the materials only too well. If more thrust is necessary for the engines, I have no doubt that Rolls-Royce could produce it.
For a variety of reasons, of which the Under-Secretary will be well aware, the French are very unlikely to take any 339 initiative in this matter. Therefore, it is up to the Secretary of State for Defence to do something about it. To cross the Atlantic—not, this time, in order meekly to abandon British projects, but to suggest stoutly to the Americans, with the strongest possible logic behind him, that they drop their AFX and take on the AFVG, thereby laying a genuine bipartite base for the European and American military aircraft industries. What one might term the "soft market" for military aircraft in Europe for the Americans is and should be coming to an end. All that is needed is a little determination and work, especially in Anglo-French co-operation.
I was very impressed by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who is always perceptive and challenging. He made a very important proposition, saying, in effect, that he thought that Anglo-French co-operation was a flop and would be seen to be a flop, and that our only hope in the long run would be an Anglo-American aircraft industry. To say the least, that is worthy of argument, but I shall not dilate on that point. I should probably be out of order if I did so.
I think that the dangers of what the hon. and learned Member suggested are considerable for our continued technological progress. I do not believe that it is necessary or beneficial, and I do not think that the Americans would necessarily welcome it, either. We have reached a point where if we pursue with determination these projects, particularly the military Anglo-French projects, we can genuinely establish a competitor industry to the United States, which would be good for both them and us. I hope that the Government will consider it worthwhile to go ahead on this basis with the AFVG.
Finally, I should like to make a plea—not for the first time in the House—for a better and more realistic management of our military aircraft projects. The Royal Air Force is involved here although it is not the only Department involved. I spent some time recently in the context of the TSR2 project, trying as best I could, as a layman, to consider and delve into this extremely complicated area of administration. I still detect the same old faults as were apparent during 340 the life of the TSR2 project—the endless proliferation of committees in Whitehall, the inability to take decisions except at the top of an enormous pyramid, a preoccupation—frequently futile—with watching short-term expenditure, and the consequent examinations of every project which leave resources idle and send costs soaring.
Our administrative machine is incapable of understanding, as the private manufacturer must, that time is money, that it is no good stopping the whole massive production machine at regular intervals to assess whether the idea was good in the first place. Of course, one must continue to assess that, but one must not stop the production machine, for if it is stopped costs will inevitably go up, as they did with TSR2. When we make up our minds to go into production, to make a military aircraft project for the R.A.F., let us make it and make it quickly. Let us plan it for the world market, and consider that at the same time. That is the real way to save money on defence in the long run.
But, alas, there seems to me to be little sign of change as yet. I, for one, should be very grateful if the Minister could say something about this complicated subject at the end of the debate. The Government have sought as best they could today to rationalise what I believe to have been an erratic air-defence and procurement policy over their two years in office. But nothing they have said, however persuasively the Minister concerned may have said it, will ever atone for the damage they did during their first months of office two years ago. They decided first on these major questions and thought afterwards. In doing so, they set a pattern of Alice in Wonderland planning which has characterised practically all their provisions for our defence ever since.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I speak on these matters from a profoundly different point of view from that of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). But during the Christmas Recess I read his book "Murder of the TSR2", and in my view it is required reading not only for all of us who talk on these subjects in the House but also for Whitehall. Although I could not 341 accept many of the hon. Member's conclusions, I hope that any civil servant or member of the Defence Department who must deal with these matters will give a careful first and second reading to what the hon. Member wrote.
§ Mr. Hastings
I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for what he has said. In relation to the size of the problem the book was a humble effort, and there is room for much more study. I know that the hon. Member thinks deeply about these things, and I would enjoy reading a book by him about the subject as seen from his point of view.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Perhaps it had better not appear while the Government of which I am a supporter is in power!
I hope that the hon. Member's point about great complexity and related matters is taken notice of, because, as we have often said before, this kind of subject can be dealt with meaningfully only by a Select Committee. I hope that the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which the hon. Member and I are both members, might be persuaded some time in the not too distant future to turn its attention to certain of the programmes mentioned this afternoon. Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) made his decision on the TSR2, a decision which I profoundly supported, there has been a quiet reversal of Government policy, epitomised by the decision to go ahead with the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft.
There is one point I want to pursue. The hon. Member spoke in terms of a tie-up with the United States and said that we should say to the United States, "Do not let us make the AFVG while you go ahead with a competitor." That was the basis of his argument. I wonder whether that is very realistic and whether, even if the American Government wanted, it could persuade American industry to allow such a decision to go ahead. It might be very difficult to persuade American firms competing with each other to come to this sort of agreement with the British.
Secondly, there are powerful opinions in the United States, not least General Dynamics, which has a glaring and ob- 342 vious vested interest, which say that no plane using variable geometry techniques which is less than 70 per cent. of the weight of the F111 is technically viable or feasible. I wonder whether to brush that aside, saying that the Americans have a vested interest in putting forward that kind of view, is altogether wise.
I very much welcome the Government's announcement on the sad question of Servicemen's bodies being brought back home and the decision to allow parents to go out to funerals. As a constituency Member, perhaps I have had more than my share of these tragic cases. The decision announced this afternoon seems both humanitarian and rational.
I do not think that there is any difficulty on the subject of the Lobby correspondent, Mr. Shrimsley, because merely by looking at what had already been printed in HANSARD he could have evolved the article which appeared in the Sunday Mirror. I drew his attention to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration on this subject and, resourceful Lobby correspondent that he is, he built up an intelligent story.
But why did it take so long to arrive at this decision? I do not think that one can blame the present Government, because many of us were pressing the former Administration on the same issue. However, was this a Treasury matter, or were there certain difficulties in the Ministry of Defence which have been overcome? Do we have an assurance that an investigation will be made into the subject of embalming bodies in the Far East and Middle East? To my knowledge, it is not as difficult as it might have appeared to get bodies embalmed in the Far East.
My next question is concerned with staging posts. I am somewhat mystified, because there can be one of two possibilities. Either we need staging posts against a sophisticated enemy, or we need staging posts against an unsophisticated enemy. That is almost a glimpse into the obvious. If it is against a sophisticated enemy, what is to stop one of these so-called staging posts from being wiped out by nuclear or even conventional attack? If it is against an unsophisticated enemy, in what circumstances would the British Government 343 use a staging post against a unsophisticated enemy in the Far East? It must be one or the other. I refer to The Times of this morning:If the V-bombers will be able to penetrate to European targets until 1970, it can hardly be claimed that any Asian target will reach that sophisticated level of defence by 1975.It goes on:Moreover the threat to stability in that part of the world comes from subversion, insurrection, unemployment and under-nourishment—hardly conditions which can be deterred or defended by supersonic bombers.It is not very often that we on these benches below the Gangway and The Times are in agreement.
It is profoundly sad that we can talk in terms of setting out upon expenditure such as this. Some say minor expenditure, and others agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that it will be serious expenditure. It is sad that the Government can become committed to this kind of expenditure in setting up staging posts when the priority ought to be for the fourth Indian five-year plan. That is where the stability of South-East Asia will lie and not in this kind of fantastic and grotesque scheme of staging posts on atolls. It was this kind of consideration which prompted some of us not to support the Defence Estimates this year.
May we hear something about the activities of the Royal Air Force in Thailand? I put that as a simple question, without any innuendo.
I come now to the F111. When does the United States agreement on the F111 options come up? Is it to be decided in a few weeks, and if so, what precisely are the facts about this aircraft? What does my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary mean by the F111's vast radius of action? It is my understanding that this radius of action has been severely curtailed by considerations of weight.
Is it true that the F111 is now up to 35 tons? Has the United States Navy turned it down because it is already too heavy to land on carriers? If this is so, what is the effect on cost, because my understanding is that originally 1,750 F111s were ordered. If the United States Navy has turned the F111 down, it seems likely that there will be only 1,500 ordered. A reduction of 250 at the margin will have a considerable effect on unit cost. Can 50 344 aircraft really be of operational use? Apart from anything else, and I am not qualified to go into the secrets which my hon. Friend, probably rightly, refuses to give about how many will be operational at a given time, is there not a natural reluctance to hazard such expensive aircraft?
When one reads about the crash at Edwards Air Force Base on 19th January, one begins to ask questions about wastage. If the report of this crash is to be believed, even the most experienced test pilots, men of great skill, have difficulty in manœuvring such a complex machine. While there might have been other reasons—the degree at which the wings were set for example, for this particular test crash—it seems that when one has the most experienced test pilots of America making mistakes, then over the years there will be a very heavy wastage rate.
Is it true that Senator McLellan is extremely concerned that after the initial sale the United States taxpayer should not subsidise the British taxpayer over the sale of F111s? As far as I can make out the Government have said nothing about the conditions of sale, not of the first ten F111s, but of the following 40. Perhaps we could be told precisely what are the conditions of sale, should we take up the option on the following 40? It would be extremely interesting to hear what the conditions of sale will be. We can have the figures for American wastage at a later date. At the moment I am merely asking for a factual statement on the conditions of sale. What is to be the logistical support? Is this entirely to be in terms of the Hercules aircraft to which my hon. Friend referred? What is the cost of logistical support? The House of Commons deserves to be told a great deal more on this subject than it has been told. Several hon. Members have asked about the question of drag. Is it up to the 35 per cent. reported in the technical Press?
Finally, on the F111, precisely what are the offset agreements on the F111? I would find it deplorable if we found ourselves taking 40 F111 aircraft which the Government decided they did not want merely to honour our offset agreement. I should have thought that it would have been possible even at this late stage for the Government to manoeuvre and perhaps to change the offset agreement if the 345 decision is that we do not want more than the ten F111 aircraft to which we are already committed.
What is the precise nature of the offset agreement? As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, and in the presence of hon. Members who have been or who are members of the Committee, I believe that this is something which should concern the Comptroller and Auditor General and all who work with him. We should be absolutely clear as to what we are letting ourselves in for.
If my hon. Friends say that I get too hot under the collar about these matters, I say to them that it is much better to have our rows now, to have our discussions now and to probe in depth now before an irrevocable decision is taken than have the humiliating experience of the former Administration of delving into matters like Blue Streak, Sea Slug, Thunderbird and Firestreak after the financial damage has been done. Now is the time for controversy, not later.
That is why I come to the AFVG. I have grave doubts about the figures which we have been given for research and development. The Government say that the figure is £200 million. Some of those in the aircraft industry tell me that it will be at least £300 million. I should multiply it by the average factor of actuality above estimates which we have had since the war in these matters and put the figure at £500 million. In my view, that is a fairly legitimate estimate.
I had a Question today which is relevant to this matter. I asked about the estimated total cost of the Concord project at various dates. This was the reply of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse):In November, 1962, the development cost"—that is, of Concord—was estimated at £150 to £170 million. This was revised in July, 1964, to £280 million. The present estimate is £450 million, which includes an allowance for work after Certification of Air-worthiness, plus an overall contingency of £50 million, making a total of £500 million"—an increase of over 300 per cent. The reply continues:These figures do not, of course, include intramural expenditure".I am not sure what "intramural" expenditure refers to, but I suspect that it includes the Fatigue Stress Laboratory at 346 Farnborough. I should be curious to know how many more millions are involved in intramural expenditure. With the problems of kinetic heating raised by the AFVG, I am sure that particular units will have to be set up at Farnborough, at the R.R.E. at Malvern or at other research establishments to cope with the development of the AFVG. I cannot bring myself to believe that the research and development cost of AFVG will be confined to £200 million in the light of Concord experience.
The United States experience is totally different. I will not go over the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Orpington, except to add that the Americans had the experience of the X15. They are now on their fifteenth test aircraft in the development of the F111. I do not believe that it is possible to test 15 aircraft without incurring a great deal more expenditure than we have allowed for in the £200 million for the AFVG. Nor do I see us as so dramatically ahead of the Americans that we can do without the series of test aircraft that they have deemed necessary. How can we British do this relatively cheaply not using the generations of know-how that the Americans have built up?
What about the increase that may come with the final specifications, and what about the time factor? I understand that the F111 has taken 24 months from the drawing board to production. The time for the AFVG from drawing board to production is said to be five years, and time equals money. Great cost differences are implied in the time difference. I wonder whether these have been taken into account.
What research has been done in low-level terrain bombing at supersonic speeds, or is the terrain bombing equipment not actually to come into operation at supersonic speeds? What research has been done into flutter testing? It is all very well for the Government to say that they have gone into greater detail than ever before, but one cannot go into detail on an aircraft which is not yet fully defined either as to range or weapons, which does not yet exist and for which there is no kind of British precedent.
What about the titanium research? If it is not to be mostly titanium, what research will there be on the projects connected with kinetic heating? All this 347 is immensely expensive and cannot possibly be covered within £200 million. Therefore, as one who for three years spent every Tuesday and Thursday on the Public Accounts Committee in Room 16 upstairs, I have the gravest doubts about the future of the project.
One can add all sorts of other problems. What research is to be done on exhaust nozzles? What research has been done in matching the intake to the compressor, and when does Britain hope to begin any meaningful evaluation of drag? If the F111 has problems of a 35 per cent. drag, I cannot see that the AFVG will not have similar problems. Once one gets into wind tunnels and that kind of research, the costs escalate by factors of three, four, five or even ten.
There has been a good deal of misunderstanding concerning unit costs. I have no hesitation in accepting the Government's word that a unit cost of £1.5 million is based on a production run of 300. I thought at first that it was supposed to be on a production run of 1,000. Does not this, however, assume a smooth production run? Do those who have knowledge of this kind of industry have the temerity to assume such a smooth production run? Surely, all our experience in the aircraft industry in the last 20 years shows that a smooth production run is an optimum state which does not come about. I marvel at the thought of a unit cost of £1.5 million on a production run of 300.
What are the ground support costs likely to be? What about maintenance and running costs? Any meaningful evaluation of unit costs seems to me to be very misleading if it does not take into account maintenance and running costs. We can see this from the chastening experience which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have had, and I am not disposed to be very critical of them tonight. They will remember Seaslug, which started with an estimate of £1 to £1½ million. Later, it was found that the direct development costs of that missile rose to £40 million and would have been £70 million with control and guidance equipment. Then there was Thunderbird, which started at £2½ million and was found finally to be £40 million. Then Firestreak escalated from £4 million to £33 million, remember it?
348 Winding up the debate on Blue Streak, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister quoted the Financial Times with approval:We should leave to General de Gaulle the fatuous search for national prestige through the belated and the technologically inferior production of weapons that belong in the arsenals of powers richer than ourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1960; Vol. 622, c. 330.]However careful we are in these matters, I refuse to believe that there are not inevitably a substantial number of mistakes. To put all one's eggs in the basket of one or two prototypes is an operation which does not justify the risk.
Winding up the defence debate in January, 1963, the Prime Minister said:We believe that a nation's greatness depends not on prestige military policies, but on the influence which we can exert on the forum of world opinion.Contrast this aviation medium-term cost curve with the things which we are doing or are not doing in relation to developing countries, housing, education and our other vital commitments. I am fully sensitive to the fact that you cannot cancel military expenditure and, hey presto, produce houses overnight. But you can avoid taking catastrophic long-term weapon decisions.
Again, we have to go on to the question of the Anglo-French variable geometry plane and exports. My understanding is that the Government now take the attitude that exports will be "gravy" and that anything gained in exports will be extra. But one has to ask to whom one exports? I might take issue with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire who wanted to export the TSR2 on what he described as a massive scale. If we are talking about the export of arms, I want to ask some questions, because I am not happy to support the export of sophisticated arms to lots of small Powers—such as Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. One has to ask the Government to whom one is to export Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. The answer comes back, in public, "To Belgium." Belgium is a small Power, and I cannot see her buying the AFVG on any significant scale.
So we come to the Germans—yes, Germany is said to be a good market—and I want to quote again from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who, most 349 eloquent of all, referring to a purely European deterrent, said…it would face the Soviet Union with the most provocative challenge the West could in its folly devise, a nuclear force which included, and might be dominated by, Germany. I think that we have all referred at one time or another, some of us from quite deep personal knowledge, to the Russian obsession—I do not apologise for the word; it is understandable when one considers their history and their 20 million dead in the last war—about the Germans. I believe that to endow Germany with nuclear status"—and I remind the House that the AFVG aircraft is nothing if not a nuclear strike aircraft—would mean the end to our hope of easing East-West tension and a successful conclusion to the efforts now being made in East and West to make co-existence work. In spite of our preoccupation with weapons systems, which we have been debating this week, let us keep clearly before us the paramount aim, to mount successful negotiations between East and West."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1245–6.]The context is different. The point is the same.
I again come back to this question of Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. If it is thought that we are going to sell a substantial number of such aircraft to the Western Germans—even if the French would allow it, which I doubt; and not going into the German joint-funding operation with Lockheed and the E.W.R./Fairchild Hiller tie-up—let us be quite clear that it will disturb the growing relations which we have been building up with the Russians. After what Mr. Kosygin told us along the passage about his views on the West Germans and nuclear weapons, Leningrader as he is, he ought to understand these matters—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the Air Estimates at the moment. He must come back to them.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I respect your views, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Export of Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft on a large scale is a highly dangerous and undesirable concept.
I wish to raise a technical point on this matter of exports. I understand that in November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked in terms of what he called a "datum aircraft". That was in the context of selling Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft to the Nether- 350 lands. If he speaks in terms of "datum aircraft", how can he later talk in terms of altering this, that or other specifications? It might be possible to alter specifications, but one cannot do so without raising costs substantially. If there are to be modifications for export, the House should be told precisely how much those modifications will cost.
I come to the question of our relationship with France. The building-up of this project is often referred to in terms of a step towards the European technological community, something which some of us want very much. I have written about a European Technological Community in the Press and elsewhere. I yield to no one in my desire for European technological co-operation, but I want to be quite clear on what we are co-operating, the nature of the break clauses, and whether the French are likely to go on with it.
As I understand it, no French spokesman has said that he wants a strike aircraft. The French, as I understand it, want a reconnaissance aircraft, an interceptor, and they are well on the way to making one because Dessaults are making the Mirage 3G. It is all very well to say that a Mirage 3G is a one-engine aircraft, that the French Government will not place orders for this, yet I cannot see Marcel Dessault going ahead with an aircraft which his Government is not going to order. That is one point.
My next point is that if one is really sticking to an interceptor, a reconnaissance aircraft, a one-engine aircraft is quite a sensible proposition and not at all stupid because it does not happen to perform the sort of rôle for which airmen rightly want two engines for limping home after a distant sortie in a Vietnam-type war. What is wanted by the French is a short-range aircraft and it makes sense to have a one-engine aircraft.
Therefore, we should look sceptically at a situation where the French are going ahead with the Mirage 3G to suit their own purposes, a situation in which they can invoke a break clause at will. We should ask what is the Government's view in the eventuality of Britain being placed in a position where she may have to continue this project alone. In the absence of an east of Suez rôle in the mid-70s, why should Britain require a strike 351 element, not required by France? I am as certain of this as I have been of anything in my political life—I forecast here and now that sooner or later, and it may be sooner rather than later, this House of Commons will be faced with the prospect either of cancelling the AFVG or of Britain going ahead alone. I do not believe that France is serious about continuing with this aircraft.
I would like to ask a factual question in a minor key. What is the position about the initial payments? Is it true that Britain's initial payments are substantially higher than those of the French? What exactly is the order of acceptance of this plane? Is it true that we want ours in 1974, while the French are content to wait until 1976?
In technology we are ahead of almost everything that is being done in Europe, and, Common Marketeer though I may be, I think we have to be quite clear that we do not surrender the British lead in technology for nothing, that at least we make some kind of sensible bargain about it.
If there is doubt, as I see there is on the Front Bench opposite, about the intentions of France, I go back to the 8th November, 1966, when M. Messmer is reported as having real trouble with the Finance Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, and I want to ask the same question as was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). The set-up in France in the last 48 hours is very different, and I have a suspicion that the new Finance Committee of the new Chamber of Deputies might be asking even more awkward questions still.
I cannot help reflecting on what the electorate of Lorient did to M. Messmer. I do not know whether his negotiations with Britain had anything to do with it, possibly not, but at least there are straws in the wind from France that there are many Frenchmen, and they include some extremely well-informed people to whom I have spoken, who are more sceptical about this project than I am.
I believe that after all has been said what we are discussing here is not a military rôle at all, and I quote a man who, as far as I know, is not a member of my party. Sebastian de Ferranti, 352 writing in this month's magazine Scotland, said:One of the main reasons why military procurement makes total technology grow is that the goods must actually be produced. Components, materials and methods are actually developed to production and are made truly available. It is for this reason that military procurement is such an important part of the home market, and not, for Heaven's sake, because these military products are necessary or useful!That is Sebastian de Ferranti saying that we must go ahead with these military products, but do not let us suppose that they are useful in a military way; merely that we want to advance technology. He is no political friend of mine.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Are my hon. Friends quite sure that in saying that there will not be a British aircraft industry unless we go ahead with the AFVG this is the whole truth? I do not accept the proposition that a civil aircraft industry necessarily depends on an ever more sophisticated military aircraft industry, because if it does we shall suffer, and I ask the House to remember the warning which Eisenhower gave the American people when he ceased to be President of the United States. In a very moving speech he warned them about the military industrial nexus taking over, and this is what I am afraid might happen to my Government because of the great pressure from the aircraft industry. Let us give immediate attention to a safe, subsonic, reasonably cheap air-bus.
It is possibly out of order to go into the details of the aircraft industry and I do not want to do this. There are many other things that the aircraft industry could do and many other things that most of its workers could do. If we are talking about a small number of elite designers, I confess they might go to America on work for Designers International—no bad thing. There are many other things that aircraft workers could do provided the Government were imaginative and Socialist in its outlook and prepared to go ahead, with worthwhile technical projects. There are all sorts of schemes which are necessary for advancing British developments throughout the world. That is why the Government were elected in 1964 and part of 353 our contract with the electors in 1966, Is that we should go ahead with plans which break out of the vicious circle which produces military equipment merely to keep people employed. We accepted without argument in the 1930s that battleships should be built to keep people in work. Surely we have advanced in our horizons.
Another question arises. Let us suppose that the hon. Member for West Lothian is totally wrong in what he says. The question must be faced whether the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft will not be obsolescent by 1974. The Secretary of State for Defence may say that since coming into office he has been struck by the mistake made by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) when he was Minister of Defence. The right hon. Member for Streatham said that the day of the advanced manned aircraft was over. My right hon. Friend says that this was a great mistake. Perhaps in 1957 it was a great mistake, but 10 long years have passed since then.
I ask my right hon. Friend for his assessment of other developments in this field. What about the x-ray laser? Will not this act as a deterrent in future? If we are talking about deterrents—and here we bring in the question of nuclear strike weapons—I should like a more frank assessment of what is happening at Porton. Many of us have seen reports from academic laboratories of devastating microbiological and chemical weapons—dreadful things which could bring civilised life as we know it to an end. If we are looking for a deterrent this is a much cheaper form, ghastly and frightful though it may be. In my view it is absolutely unrealistic to keep developments at Porton and places like Porton out of the question of assessing the value of a strike aircraft. It is no use hiding such factors under some kind of hedge.
As for the variable-geometry aircraft, is it suggested that by 1974 devices will not be in the hands of sophisticated enemies which will make low penetration aircraft obsolete? What about using radar downwards, so to speak? it can be done from helicopters or satellites. It is being done by "red-eye" techniques in Vietnam by the Americans, and what the Americans have today surely we shall 354 have in 10 years' time—or our sophisticated enemies will have it.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, and I want to end with a quotation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 23rd November, 1964, in reply to the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). He said:I think the mistake which his Government"—that is, the Government of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire—made was the thought that provided one follows whatever is the right line in weapons policy, no matter what one does about economic strength, a nation will have influence, authority and power".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 930.]That was my right hon. Friend's view, when he had just taken office.
Some of us are deeply saddened by what one might call a change of outlook—a change of character, perhaps. How it is that the man who was the leader of the British delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organisation at Rome in the 1940s, and a great champion of the underdeveloped world, to whom we all have an intellectual debt, a progressive economist in the 1950s, technologist in the 1960s—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting a long way from the Air Estimates. I would remind him of his own comment—other hon. Members are waiting to speak.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not know by what alchemy members of this Cabinet—which has done many good things—can have changed their character so that they have come to support the sort of weapon development which is epitomised in this debate. The contrast between the urge to bring about stability in the world by means of economic development, and the development of weaponry epitomised in this debate, certainly needs some explaining.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me, I hope, if I do not completely follow his long and interesting speech. He appeared to be more than a little iconoclastic. He did not give a clear view of what he or any of the other back 355 benchers opposite who have spoken believe should be our air defence.
Of course, when the Labour Party took office, the cancellations followed of the main projects for our aircraft industry—the HS681 transport aircraft, which was jet-powered and very important and the rôle of which was emphasised by the Under-Secretary tonight, the P1154, a supersonic vertical take-off aircraft, and the TSR2, a tactical strike and reconnaissance contour-following aircraft which would be capable in Europe, if such a deterrent were required in Europe for some time to come of providing an effective deterrent in the rôles of strike and reconnaissance.
The debate has underlined the fact that these cancellations have left the industry in complete confusion. The cost of the American purchases has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides. We are buying about 150 Phantom aircraft and about 50 F111s, and we do not know what the total bill for these aircraft and the spares will be. These purchases are to replace British projects, and, as a result, we shall have to export many more of our goods and services to pay for the American imports.
Our industry is losing the benefit, to which the hon. Member for West Lothian referred, of the technological fallout of the development of these aircraft. It is all very well to suggest that we cut down our Air Estimates and spend the money saved in technological research. We could go further, but, without the stimulus of a production order, it is not easy to attract the men of the right calibre into the industry and to carry research through boundaries of knowledge in the way that it is done only in the aircraft industry.
Britain is also losing her independence to a degree as a result of these large purchases of American aircraft, which run into hundreds of millions of pounds. A great deal has been made of the way in which it is alleged that we are reducing our defence costs. As the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, the net decrease in the current year is only £60,000. But if one looks more carefully at the figures, one sees that a large chunk has been taken out of the Air Estimates as a result of the cancellation of these projects.
356 We have not yet had to pay anything for the Phantoms or the F111s. Payment has been postponed until the future. One must, therefore, ask whether there is any net saving at all. If one refers hypothetically to 1964, as is done in the Defence White Paper, one can say that although the Estimates have increased, it can be shown—this is a phoney argument—that, in practice, they have fallen marginally. However, when one remembers that a large proportion of the cost has been postponed—that cost representing a substantial figure in the total defence costs; about £592 million—one realises that the Government are putting over one of the greatest confidence tricks they have ever tried on this House.
I would like to see more support being given to the development of British helicopters. It was suggested in the Plowden Report that the Government should decide on future helicopter requirements as soon as possible. That Report was published about 18 months ago. Have the Government yet made this decision? There is tremendous scope, both in the civil and military sphere, for the use of British helicopters. But instead of going ahead with this development, we seem to be relying on Anglo-French co-operation—and in the interim we are again buying American. Is it not possible for Britain to develop British helicopters, which would have a prospect of military and civil sales abroad, so that our industry could benefit from this lucrative and viable sphere of production?
Much play was made by the Under-Secretary about the availability of transport aircraft. He recited the Belfast, the VC10 and the American Hercules. The Hercules has been in service for seven or eight years and is approaching the end of its development. The Belfast, of which only 10 have been ordered, is a fine aircraft and could be developed further, as was pointed out in the defence debate. The Belfast was used to bring British helicopters back from the Far East, so great is its carrying capacity. Indeed, it has a larger carrying capacity than other aircraft.
It is ludicrous to develop the jigs and tools to produce only 10 of these aircraft, and I hope that the Government will order at least another 10 and that the power of the 'plane will be increased, perhaps, by developing a superior Tyne 357 engine with the installation of larger propellors. If the Government wish to achieve the mobility which they say is necessary, particularly to meet our commitments in the Far East, we must have more and larger transport aircraft. Looking further forward, no plan has been announced for developing a jet transport aircraft to meet our requirements in the 'seventies and 'eighties, but this aeroplane could easily be developed in Britain for this purpose.
Is there nothing to replace the HS681? Must we rely on America to provide the technological development that goes into producing such an aircraft? I hope that the Minister will supply more information about these transport aircraft and our needs. To order as strategic aircraft only 10 Belfasts, for example, is ludicrous. If one or two of them are undergoing development, and one or two are being serviced or otherwise out of commission, the other five or six are not adequate to meet strategic phasing requirements. At the other end of the scale we have the Short Skyvan. Why do not the Government consider ordering some of them to meet military needs?
Mobility is the key word of the future. I say at once that I do not agree with our withdrawing from Aden or Singapore, but as that withdrawal takes place during the period of office of the party opposite—which, I hope, will be short—we shall need more medium, strategic and short-range transport aircraft to keep our forces mobile. The Government should pay more attention to this aspect of our defence requirements.
A great deal of doubt has been cast by hon. Members opposite, particularly below the Gangway—unfortunately, they are not now present—on the defence rôle. They have asked why we should stay east of Suez, or even in the defence business at all. Our defence commitments have one purpose only, and that is to save both this country and the world the very much greater expenditure and loss that would come about if we did not satisfactorily fulfil our rôle. I agree that in the world of today—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now getting into a general defence debate, which is out of order in this debate.
§ Mr. McMaster
We should maintain our island bases and our bases at Singa- 358 pore and Aden in order to be able to stop the sort of brush fire that could easily escalate into the major war that could cause great damage, and cost us a great deal more in our Air and Defence Estimates than if we withdrew completely.
I have some special knowledge of vertical take-off and landing aircraft. It has been suggested, and was also suggested in the defence debate, that if we are to withdraw from Aden and Singapore we should have ships, not aircraft carriers, equipped with vertical take-off aircraft. I am glad to see coming in the Chamber my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles), because this is one of his main ideas.
I am disappointed that the Government have decided not to carry on with the production of the F1154. I do not agree with their suggestion that the F1127, a subsonic aircraft, should be sufficient to meet our defence requirements in Europe and the Far East. It would have been very much better to have gone ahead with the F1154, which was to have been a supersonic aircraft, and one for which we might have found an export market, as we were the only country producing an aircraft with this potential. The likelihood of a subsonic aircraft being of any use is problematical, particularly during the 'seventies.
Aircraft must have supersonic capability to meet the defence requirement of protecting our ships or striking against shore bases. Even countries in the Middle East are equipped with supersonic aircraft. I refer to Aden and Bahrein. In so far as we have a commitment in Malaysia, our troops are likely to be met by missiles and supersonic aircraft. Therefore, more money should be spent out of the Air Estimates on developing supersonic and vertical take off aircraft and also in developing further experiments on the SC1.
That was a different project. Instead of a deflector jet a light engine is used and it has a much longer life and a forward thrust. These aircraft have a quicker thrust because the power required to lift the aircraft is less than that required for the forward motion. The SC1, with a slight weight penalty, has engines which can lift 16 times or more its own weight 359 and the loss is more than offset by the advantage of having forward thrust engines working at full capacity throughout the flying time. The lifting and landing engines are used only for a short time and they can be very light with light blades and compressors.
I should like to see more money allocated to the R.A.F. for use on vertical takeoff aircraft. This is the craft of the future. It was a very retrograde step to cancel the supersonic aircraft and to go back to the subsonic 1127. Arguments have been developed very fully that some of the money for this project could be found by reducing our requirement for Phantoms and particularly F111 purchases. It has been convincingly proved in the debate that the F111 has not a credible rôle. Its rôle in the Far East from island bases, assuming that we abandon Singapore, would be very doubtful. It could be used only as an aircraft with a nuclear bomb capacity and it is doubtful whether it is the kind of aircraft to deal with the brush fire situation of which, unfortunately, we have become very familiar during the last 10 or 20 years.
Its rôle in Europe is receding rapidly in credibility. Do we actually require the F111 to meet a possible threat from Russia? Would it not be better if there is any real danger of that to revert to the TSR2? It can get in lower if we have to strike at the heart of the enemy. In changing circumstances, these rôles need to be reviewed very closely. We should hesitate before deciding, as pointed out in the second leading article in The Times today, to give a firm order in a fortnight for the 40 craft from the United States.
If we were living in a perfect world we would not need these aircraft, but we are living in a far from perfect world. Populations are rising very rapidly and a population explosion can place the world with tremendous pressures which could easily escalate to serious world war unless the balance of power is retained. To do so, we need an Air Force. Therefore, I plead strongly with the Government to consider placing as much of this work in Britain, or in Britain in close collaboration with France, as possible, and not depend on the United States and allow taxpayers' money, collected by the Government, to pay for this arm of our defence to go to furthering research and 360 development across the Atlantic. The Americans are very quick to take full advantage of research and development.
British industry, and particularly the British aircraft industry, could benefit from this. The Plowden Report pointed out the expanding civil market for aircraft, but the civil market is not sufficiently great on its own to support the British aircraft industry. It must also have the help of the Defence Estimates. This is why I am so very critical of this part of the defence debate.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Tonight, we are asked to give our support to the expenditure of the vast sum of £545 million for air services. We must ensure that there is no unnecessary wastage incorporated in this figure. I say "unnecessary", because I recognise that wastage occurs, but there is wastage which is or which should be easily detected and there is wastage which might not so easily be detected.
Tonight's Evening Standard tells us, in an article entitled'Waste' on Forces Air FerriesthatMinistry of Defence arrangements for ferrying Servicemen and material overseas were condemned as 'wasteful' today by an M.P.s' 'watchdog' committee.In a report to Parliament the M.P.s, members of the all-party Estimates Committee, strongly criticise the expansion of air trooping by R.A.F. Transport Command at the expense of the private air charter companies.They give warning of a risk that the switch-over may result in 'a serious waste of public money' and cite 'wasteful and extravagant' methods of shipping Service stores.The report gives three examples:The return to Britain from Singapore of three aero-engine packing-cases worth £98 each at a cost of £600.The despatch of a single cube of Bostik to a Far East unit from a depot in Britain and a single cutlery set consisting of knife, fork and spoon.This is a current and live criticism of these Estimates. The Vote which this excerpt is a criticism amounts to £2,300,000, a very small part of the total Estimate. Yet within that £2,300,000 this very serious criticism is made of wasteful expenditure.
I ask the Minister to give us an assurance that in this vast sum of £545 million that we are being asked to pass 361 tonight there are not a number of similar examples of wasteful expenditure. I hope that he will assure us that that is the sole example of wasteful expenditure that has been traced.
It is important that we should be able to give that sort of assurance to the general public, to the taxpayer who is meeting that sum, because there are people who are protesting against the fact that while we ask them to pay £545 million we refuse to give them the increase in their wages that provides the source from which they meet that expenditure.
That is incurring serious and acid comment outside the House, particularly in the part of Britain from which I come, where local government servants are threatening to go on strike because what they regard as a legitimate wage that should be paid to them is being refused at the very time when we ask for this heavy payment from the community. Regional development and planning in Scotland are being slowed down—the development and planning are necessary to help provide the increased sums that the Government now ask from us.
Eighty-thousand people in Glasgow are unable to get houses that are fit for human habitation because the Government say that they cannot provide the necessary financial help to the local authority, while tonight we ask the community to find £545 million for air defence.
That is not the whole total that is being requested. There is another aspect of air services which is not pertinent to our present discussion. It amounts to £235 million and means that when we take into account the civil side, with which we are not now dealing, we are faced with a total of nearly £800 million for air services.
In view of the wasteful expenditure which has been incurred and condemned by a Parliamentary Committee only today in respect of one item of £2,300,000, we are entitled to ask the Ministers concerned for an assurance that there is not even greater waste in this vast total of £800 million.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman has tacked on £200 million plus to the sum which we are debating. I am sure that he is wrong to do that, because he is bringing in expenditure which is quite separate and which resulted in exports of 362 £212 million last year. He is confusing the picture.
§ Mr. Rankin
I was merely reinforcing what I had said about waste. I agree that the second sum is not pertinent. I was using it only as an illustration for this discussion, and we shall be debating it later.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
I do not think that we ought to pursue that matter. We must confine the debate to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Rankin
I shall confine myself to the £545 million. I was on the point of saying that it will be almost another year before we get the chance to discuss these sums again and in the interim another change will have taken place.
This Service is now divided into two compartments, one under the Ministry of Technology, and one under the Board of Trade. We therefore have to consider two separate sums to get the total impact on community earnings. The trouble is that a Service which consumes these enormous sums is no longer to have a Parliamentary identity. Tomorrow we shall be asking Questions about it and one has only to look at the Order Paper tonight to see that the civil aspect of this Service is mixed up with a whole host of other important matters. It is entirely wrong for a Department spending such vast sums of money not to have a Parliamentary identity. There ought to be a senior Minister who, at stated periods throughout the year, can be questioned about what is happening to these huge sums of money and who can be asked whether they are being spent to the best advantage.
There has been some talk about running down the cost of defence east of Suez. A year ago, we were told that the F111 was absolutely necessary to Britain's rôle east of Suez, but in view of the rundown of the F111 I wonder what is to happen about the defence of Hong Kong. It is remarkable that we should have had debates on defence and on certain aspects of defence without this part of the British Commonwealth, which depends on us for its defence, exciting any comment. What will happen about the defence of Hong Kong if our rôle east of Suez is run down?
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that a large 363 proportion of the expenditures on the Royal Air Force is on Transport Command and that with present Government policy of evacuating everywhere, Aden, Malta, and so on, we could not bring men home without Transport Command? Would he not agree that great credit is due to the safest "airline" in the world?
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that the time occupied by the hon. Gentleman will not be assigned to me as part of my speech, but I congratulate him on getting in so much on an interruption. I said nothing against Transport Command, I merely mentioned the fact that the Government have decided that it should play a much greater rôle in transporting troops and material than formerly. I was dealing with a matter raised by a responsible Committee of this House.
The best comment that I have read about this debate today was in The Times. It said:The Government have one more opportunity … to put forward a more convincing case for the purchase of the F111 than has yet been deployed.I hope that the Government will take advantage of that opportunity tonight. So far, we have been told that the rôle of the variable geometry aircraft is the same as that of the TSR2. It has been said that in almost every respect the military requirements of the F111 are the same as those of the TSR2. Since the TSR2 evidently has the qualities and qualifications of this aircraft why was it ever cancelled. At the time, the justification for stopping work on the TSR2 was that something like £600 million to £700 million would be saved by the abandonment of the work.
I would like to know, in view of the commitment to the F111 and the possible commitment to the AFVG, what has been the net saving compared with the cost of the TSR2? Has a single penny been saved, since the characteristics of all three aircraft are said to be the same? We are told that 50 F111 s are supposed to fill the gap between 1970, when the Canberra will go, and 1975 when the variable geometry aircraft arrives. The Times goes on to ask:For what purpose?This is a definite question to our Front Bench and I hope that we shall receive an answer to it.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.364
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.—[Mr. Ioan L. Evans.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Rankin
Last year, we were told that the F111 was absolutely necessary for Britain's rôle east of Suez during the 1970s. But we are now told that this rôle is to be reduced. If the rôle is to be reduced, surely the order for the F111 is should be reduced, too. If it is not reduced, then can we depend on the assurance that the rôle east of Suez will be reduced? I hope that the Government will take the House into their confidence on this matter.
May I quote again from the article in The Times:Whatever strength Britain will maintain east of Suez can hardly justify the additional presence of fifty supersonic bombers. The F111, it is said, will be supported by the V-bombers which will be able to engage the 'less well defended targets' until the AFVG arrives. If the V-bombers will be able to penetrate to European targets until 1970, it can hardly be"—denied that they could get through to Asian targets up till at least 1975.
The article continues:… the threat to stability in that part of the world comes"—not from any fear of some human enemy but—from subversion, insurrection, unemployment and undernourishment—hardly conditions which can be deterred or defended by supersonic bombers".These are serious points which have been put by a great public newspaper and which, I think, will be endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that they will be dealt with in the Government's reply.
I am against Anglo-American cooperation in aircraft production. If we want a true basis of co-operation, there must be some equality in status. It is because there is no equality in status between Britain and the United States that I oppose co-operation with them. I therefore turn to the French. If we wish to seek co-operation between equals, it will be found on the Continent and not on the other side of the Atlantic. However, 365 while I seek British co-operation with France, I am not prepared to accept cooperation with the Germans in the production of a variable geometry aircraft, for the simple reason that the introduction of a weapon of that type so near to Russia is bound to upset the balance within Europe and to lead to trouble and perhaps disaster in the long run.
I hope that the Government are facing these problems very seriously. They are problems that can influence the kind of Europe that we have in the days ahead. The Europe which I want to see is one based on peace and not a Europe that will be set on the road to war if we proceed to develop an aircraft like the variable geometry aircraft in company not just with the French, but also with the Germans.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
This is the first time that I have spoken in a Service debate. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) in his courageous speech on the meteorological service, although I probably know as much about haymaking as he does, nor do I intend to follow hon. Members, on both sides, who have spoken of all the new types of aircraft, of which I know very little. My knowledge of aircraft finished in the days of the Wellington and the Spitfire, although I have learned of one new aircraft today, and that is the "French geometry" plane.
I see a lot of the Royal Air Force in my constituency, where there are three Air Force stations, of which I am very proud. We heard today from the Under-Secretary of the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Last year, Marham R.A.F. station celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as an Air Force station.
I commenced my service on an Air Force station, but in the Territorial Army defending it against enemy air attack with Lewis guns, which even in those days seemed to be shady ludicrous. Although I would agree that the R.A.F. is greatly concerned with its rôle in the future and is somewhat unhappy at the considerable and continual changing of the types of aircraft allotted to it, I wish to concern myself for a few moments with the wellbeing of the officers and men 366 and their families, because I believe that there is quite a lot of dissatisfaction, which makes the Service less efficient than it should be.
The education of the children of Air Force officers and men has been touched on in the debate and is a serious matter. I am on the education committee of the Norfolk County Council, and we have a tremendous job in trying to find places for the children of all the Air Force personnel in the county. Very large numbers are continually arriving at Air Force stations, and the very large number of new houses which have been built at at least two of the Air Force stations with which I am concerned brings about a very great problem.
At Marham, which is now almost as large a town as any in my constituency, we have only recently built a new school of three classrooms. Before it was finished the passages in the school had to be used as classrooms, and by next term we shall have another 58 additional children and we now need three or four new classrooms.
I would particularly point out that the children of Air Force personnel have less opportunity than many other people of being educated properly. They are always being moved about, and they get a less settled education. I hope that the Minister will do all that he can to see that they have more than their fair share of facilities and of teachers to make up for the continual movement which the children have to undertake, thereby losing a lot of their education.
Another matter which I should like to touch on is that of recreational transport from some of the more isolated stations. Practically every evening in my constituency I can pick up two or three Air Force men who are trying to get back from local towns. Some of our roads are extremely dangerous, and a number of Service men have been knocked down. Transport facilities from some of the stations is extremely bad, and that again makes for bad morale in the Service.
The Minister referred to the great shortage of housing, and it is a problem in my constituency. We are an isolated rural community with very few houses which can be hired for Service personnel. As a result, we are very much dependent 367 upon the swift building of married quarters. I hope that it will be pressed on with and given priority.
One other source of annoyance which is found by those living near to Air Force stations is the almost complete monopoly of N.A.A.F.I. N.A.A.F.I. does a first-class job, but it is good for it to have competition from local shops and garages. I find great resentment among Service personnel that it has no competition from other shops, garages and repair places close to Air Force stations.
On the subject of recruitment, we are talking about bringing back numbers of men from various parts of the world, and they will be returning to a shortage of housing, educational facilities and transport. If we give up our overseas stations, 368 we shall do away with one of the main spurs to recruitment. I am convinced that many men join the Services, as the recruiting posters suggest, to see a bit of the world. A lot of the attraction of the Services will be done away with if we abolish our overseas stations.
In the course of my speech, I have not said anything about all the types of aeroplanes and the technical details which should concern us greatly. However, they have been covered extremely well by other hon. Members. I wish to bring home the fact that a Service man who is moved about continually demands that his family shall have good housing and good recreational and educational facilities. We have a first-class Service in the R.A.F. We must keep its personnel happy and contented, for that means a lot to a Service man.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) is not expecting me to follow most of the lines of his argument, although I wish to pay my personal tribute to the R.A.F., having served with it for four and a half years during the war and gained experience of the great work which it did then and still does.
I was a little shocked to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that the main reason why we should keep our bases overseas was because it is a good spur to recruitment. I can think of better arguments than that. I hope that he was not being serious about it, because, if we continue this vast overseas expenditure merely to recruit men into the R.A.F. and give them a bit of overseas service, we shall have come to a serious and rather ludicrous position.
I find these Estimates a little gratifying in the sense that there is a modest decrease of £60,000, and any decrease in military expenditure of one kind or another is acceptable. But it does not go far enough. When we consider that the gross estimate is £594 million, we are talking about a great deal of money. That raises the question: what are we intending to do with the F111Ks and the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft?
This type of expenditure must be related to the future of this aircraft, and precisely to what its rôle is likely to be. I cannot for the life of me understand how we can talk in terms of cutting down on our overseas military expenditure, of evacuating some of our bases east of Suez, and, at the same time, talk in terms of 50 F111s and, later, VG aircraft. We must understand precisely what those aircraft are for.
In the Financial Times of 26th October, 1966, there appeared an interesting argument on the right terms for collaboration. It said:It is generally accepted that the VG project only makes sense on the basis that by the mid-seventies Britain will need a more advanced strategic weapon than the F-111 if she is to sustain an East of Suez rôle".I would ask my hon. Friends on the Front Wench that if it only makes sense on our maintaining an east of Suez rôle, and, at the same time, we are told that 370 we are abandoning the east of Suez line as quickly as we can—I was delighted to see in today's Press that the whole process will be speeded up, so perhaps the protests which have been made from this side of the House are having some effect—how can the process be speeded up, if at the same time, we are to spend enormous sums of money on an aircraft which obviously has a rôle only east of Suez?
Therefore, I ask my hon. Friends: where are we going and what do we intend to do about this matter? The article to which I referred is an interesting one, because it raises the whole question of the nuclear strike force. It went on to say:Secondly, is there any reason to suppose that anything which the VG is planned to do East of Suez cannot be done equally well by the (possibly enlarged) Polaris force? Did in other words, the commitment in the White Paper represent anything except reassurance to the aircraft industry following the cancellation of TSR2?Only last week we discussed the question of Polaris and I made some pertinent remarks about the project. We have Polaris, and we are also to have the VG aircraft. We really must make up our minds.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the original agreement for Polaris was made by the then Conservative Government, one of the arguments put forward was that it was likely to save money on the Air Estimates?
§ Mr. Heffer
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. We have been told so many things by successive Governments in such a contradictory way about the nuclear position, and about our defence commitments, that hon. Members get somewhat confused about precisely where we are going.
Only last week we were told that there were 7,000 N.A.T.O. nuclear missiles in Europe. We have this shield now. Four Polaris submarines are being built, and we have this great project of the VG aircraft, with an almost open-ended commitment from the point of view of costs. No one really knows the position with regard to research and development costs. When we were on the benches opposite there was considerable criticism, year after year, about the escalating costs of research and development of the various 371 projects which the Government of the day carried through. Skybolt comes to mind immediately, and one can also think of Blue Streak and many others.
No one really knows the cost involved in this VG project, and if the Government decide to go ahead with this project because it will help us get into the European Economic Community, as one who believes that we ought to go into the Common Market I suggest to them that this is no way of getting into that organisation because if we try to buy our way in like this the effects on Britain's economy might well be disastrous. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to give us some answers to the questions which have been asked about the future rôle of this aircraft.
I come back to the F111. Originally, we were told that the cost would be about £2½ million per aircraft, but recently in the House an hon. Gentleman opposite asked what was likely to happen about the necessary sophisticated equipment which would be required by the Royal Air Force and how much this would cost. He was told by the Government Front Bench that it was hoped shortly to agree a supplemental ceiling price for the modifications which the Royal Air Force would require. What are they? I am told that the £2½ million is likely to become £3 million.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend say "No". Perhaps he will tell us later what the figure is likely to be. We have a right to know to what figure the costs will rise.
I understand that in a short time we must decide whether to go ahead with the purchase of F111s. What will be their rôle? Are they to have an east of Suez rôle or a European rôle? I am told that their range will be too great for a European rôle, and that in that sense they are unnecessary, but I am told that their range is not great enough for an east of Suez rôle, and that they are very heavy aircraft. I am also informed that the American Navy has decided that it has no use for this aircraft. The McLelland Report contains considerable criticism of this aircraft. We should be told what 372 the ultimate costs are likely to be and what rôle the aircraft is likely to fulfil.
All hon. Members on this side of the House, if not on the other, are concerned about the continual escalation of our defence costs. We must know precisely where we are going. No one suggests that we should not defend our country. I am not a pacifist, and never have been. To that extent I disagree with some of my hon. Friends who, from a quite logical point of view, argue that all military weapons are utterly useless and morally wrong, and that we should not produce them. I do not argue that. I have never argued that. I believe that it is our duty to defend our people. But it is not our duty to extend that defence practically throughout the world.
That is why I want to know what is to be the future rôle of the aircraft in respect of which we now have an open-ended agreement with France. What is to be its rôle if we are talking of getting rid of our east of Suez bases and reducing our forces in that part of the world.
The speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), like that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), was full of detailed knowledge of this subject. No one could argue that either hon. Member's understanding of the subject was anything but tremendous. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian made a brilliant speech, and I hope that the points he made will be answered. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire suggested that the future of our aircraft industry must be with the United States of America. I do not share that view. I want to see us slowly cutting our ties with the United States and concentrating on the Continent of Europe for our future. This means that the British industry's future is bound up with that of the European. It will have to rival the power and influence of the United States industry. It is not a question of our being tied up with the United States, but of being tied up with Europe in opposition to the United States.
The Minister said on television that one of the other reasons that we were going ahead with the development of the VG aircraft was to help the development of civil aircraft. This is a serious argument to justify the aircraft. We should 373 develop civil aircraft, but not the type which we are developing for a rôle which we are told is non-existent. Therefore, this is an immense amount of wasted money. We should abandon it and talk in different terms to the Europeans about the aircraft industry. I hope that my hon. Friend will take note of the sincere points made during the debate by hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made, as always, an interesting speech, but his satisfaction with the decrease in the amount spent this year will be short-lived, because the bills have not yet come in. When we start to pay for the aircraft which we have discussed, we will find that the Estimates are much higher.
I favour our co-operating with the French, but we should not under-estimate the difficulties. In any one year, 400 commercial airliners are produced in the United States and only 50 in Europe. That is the measure of their superiority and this is a serious problem. I share the hon. Member's anxiety that we should be told exactly what these aircraft are for, as this makes a difference.
I want to know more about the Government's intention over the new staging airfield in the British Indian Ocean territory. I understand that the island of Aldabra is not exactly favoured by nature. How high is it? I remember that it sometimes rises to 60 ft. when the wind blows the sand into dunes. It is otherwise unattractive, and has no anchorage. It is in the path of the annual hurricane. Nothing lives there except some turtles or tortoises, which, to judge by the expressions on their faces, do not like it much, either.
The staging airfield, mentioned on page 7 of the Statement, will not be a small undertaking, especially if designed for the reception of sophisticated aircraft like the F111K. They will require navigation guidance systems, armaments, fuel and stores, as they must be kept there in good condition. There must be repair facilities, although they cannot be of an elaborate type, and the airfield must be militarily secure. An island, the location of which is fixed and known to the whole world, cannot be considered as safe as 374 an aircraft carrier. Nor can it have a carrier's flexibility.
My principal query about this island policy is this: not only the nature of the post but its location must be such that it is on the way to or from somewhere. In other words, what will these aircraft be doing when they have put down at this staging post? Like other hon. Members, I have been far from clear about this during the debate.
In any event, we shall have so few first quality aircraft, the F111Ks, that in a strike rôle it is impossible to imagine them being of the slightest use, except in a nuclear rôle. But the Secretary of State said that he does not see these aircraft in a nuclear rôle. Nor do I. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say that we do not anticipate operating without our American and Australian allies, so that the number of planes we have is not all that important. They will merely join with others as a gesture of solidarity. That argument has some force, but it is rather an expensive gesture.
Even that position is not, however, entirely clear, for in April, 1965, the Secretary of State said:This is the case, and I fully accept it, for having as part of our total defence capability some aircraft with a capacity for tactical strike and reconnaissance. In my view, it is an irrefutable one if Britain proposes to maintain any capacity for military action on her own in any part of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 1198.]In that sentence the Secretary of State envisaged military action by Britain on her own.
I question whether the strike capacity of the number of FIIIKs we will be able to keep in the Far East—and that number not backed up by any substantial naval or land forces—is worth the money. When the right hon. Gentleman made that statement he was buying the aircraft and writing the specification; and he said that we would operate on our own and that these aircraft would enable us to do it. It is clear therefore, that so few aeroplanes can be of use only if they are used in a nuclear rôle. Otherwise, they are absolutely useless.
Unlike some hon. Members, particularly hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am not against a nuclear capability to ward off a nuclear war. But we should realise that nuclear weapons are absolutely no guarantee against a conventional war, 375 which can flourish—if that term may be used in this context—underneath a nuclear umbrella which neither side will use. And if that is the rôle for which these aircraft are to be used, then that rôle could be performed better by Polaris submarines.
I agree that this aircraft has a reconnaissance capability. So has any aircraft. One does not have to spend £3 million on an aircraft in order to get a camera inside it. That is an avionics problem. Reconnaissance is useful, but if our naval and land forces are small and without mobility—as ours seems likely to be by the time this aircraft comes to us—that reconnaissance information will be of little use. We should be able to move our effective forces to the places where the reconnaissance tells us that they should be. If we cannot do that—and without floating bases ordinary bases and forces of sufficient size I do not see how we can—we might as well do without the reconnaissance as well.
I know the Under Secretary shook his head when the point was made before, but I suggest that, if not now at least quite shortly, satellites might be able to give as good reconnaissance as the few planes we shall be able to buy.
I was very surprised last week to hear the Minister without Portfolio say, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) that he was interested in the proposition that the Royal Air Force might do a great deal more of its training out in Malta, and that he would talk to the Secretary of State about it. He seemed to think it rather a good idea. Is it not extraordinary that the idea had not occurred to the Minister without Portfolio before? He seemed to have come to it quite fresh, and not to have directed his mind to it until then. If the impression he gave was correct, no wonder these negotiations were so hamhanded, if the Minister responsible did not even realise the advantages in training the R.A.F. which Malta offers.
I believe that the House ought to be reassured that adequate care is being taken of this problem. I do not believe that any mere verbal assurance from the Government, which seem to be rather 376 ignorant about these points at times, will do. We will want to know exactly how the training facilities in Malta will be replaced, where they will be, and everything about them before we can afford to believe such a Government.
I should like to refer to the Women's Royal Air Force. I was very glad to see from the Statement on the Defence Estimates that this force is increasing in numbers. It has always seemed to me that there could be considerable scope for the employment of women in the R.A.F.—more than in the other Services. The Navy have the complication that they go to sea in ships, and the Army lead a brutal and licentious life in ditches, which is not suitable to the ladies. But the R.A.F.—at least, as an ex-Army man I believe so—except for a few flying duties, lead a sheltered and even pampered existence around long-established and comfortable airfields. They have a great deal of signal and office duties. I believe that more use could be made of women in the Royal Air Force, and I hope that the Minister will direct his mind to that possibility.
Incidentally, I read in Annex A, page 78, under the heading, "Women's R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve, that in 1965, 1966, and now in 1967, only one lady came into this category. Perhaps I might say that she is certainly a rather rare bird, but is it the same bird each year, or does the bird change?
I have not exactly followed the system of education. As I understand, the cadet at Cranwell is given a short flying course when he first joins. Then he does no flying for a year, and then does some more basic flying during the last six months. Then what happens? Does he go straight to the Advanced Flying Schools, and if so, for how long? After that, he goes to a unit. How long does he stay there, and does he keep up his flying training? After he has been with the unit for quite a short time, a year or so, he goes to the Royal Military College for two years' academic work.
I see from the expression on the Minister's face that I have got it wrong, but I think he will agree that the Statement is rather difficult to follow. The House would be interested to know exactly what the cadet does. During his academic time, what steps are taken to see that he gets flying duties, to keep his hand in?
377 I come now to what has been mentioned so often during the debate—the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which, we are told, will be the core of the R.A.F. For a core it is remarkably wobbly, because the project is not yet firm. We shall not even know for sure until the late spring whether we shall build a prototype later in the year. The specifications are not fixed. France has only a European rôle for it. We have, apparently, a world rôle, which is vastly different.
We wish to replace the F111K with this aircraft. We have no idea of the cost except for the estimates, which are the best which can be made. I make no complaint about the way in which they have been presented, but it will be difficult to know, from past experience, before we start on it, how much it will cost. We know that we are to develop it for £250 million, but I very much doubt that figure. Even the Americans cannot do that, so I do not think we can.
We have no idea of the time scale. We know when we want it, but when we shall actually get it with all the hazards of development, is another question. We are doubtful of the value, doubtful of the rôle because it is not yet settled, and doubtful of our ally because we do not know whether France wants to go on with the exact sort of craft which we want. We are sure that no one else wants it. Before it is even started on the drawing-board, this is a problem plane.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) said that to leave Aden without air protection was stark, staring mad. I think those are words with which the whole House could agree. There could be no other opinion. It is possible from what the Secretary of State said the other day that we shall leave some troops behind. If so, it is quite clear that the R.A.F. should be a component. It is certainly arguable that the Egyptian Army, whose martial qualities we all know, will not be able to fight its way through the hills of Beihan and Dhala, but the Egyptian Air Force is another matter. A few picked men could fly a few good planes and, almost without attacking Aden, could paralyse it and sap its will to stand up to Nasser. They could give him the bloodless victory which is the only kind of victory which 378 the defects of his troops lays open to him.
If the R.A.F., to borrow a naval phrase, were "in being" in Khormaksar, it might save the whole situation. I beg the Government to think again on this matter. I know that they find great difficulty in losing sight of the pledges they have made to reduce overseas expenditure so drastically, but I ask them to believe that this is one of the occasions when self-interest and honour do not lie so far apart.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) after the bird he flushed from the financial undergrowth. During the minutes which remain to me, I wish to turn primarily to some of the problems of costing and particularly to consider some of the points discussed admirably in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), with reference to the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft.
This aircraft has been discussed at length in the debate. As one who was incarcerated in the Public Accounts Committee during the earlier part of the debate, I hope that I shall not repeat points which were made then. There is everything to be said for stressing the critique so effectively deployed by my hon. Friend. In particular, I refer to some of the past history of escalation of costs which has been so notably endemic in the aircraft industry, including the military side of the industry, with special reference to the experience over TSR2 and what we may seek to learn from that experience in relation to the AFVG.
In reply to a supplementary question on 1st March asking him whether he would tell the House the terms of the mathematical law of progression in relation to contracts of this type, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said:All I can assure my hon. Friend is that whatever the law was under the Conservative Administration, it will be very much more satisfactory to the taxpayer under the present Administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 479.]I have no doubt that when the dispassionate history of these years is written full credit will be given to my right hon. Friend for the rigorous way in which he 379 has applied himself with enthusiasm and results to the task of controlling ever-mounting costs. But I notice that he used the future tense in his reply, so any satisfaction we may feel on the problem of the escalation of costs is premature.
The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, quoting a reply given to him today by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Technology, on the escalation of costs for Concord, should give us no sense of complacency about the continuing escalation of costs on that project during the lifetime of the present Administration. Although there was an escalation of costs of over £100 million, from about £170, within 18 months of the project's being started, the costs of Concord have gone up from £275 million to £500 million since May, 1964. We learn that there are further millions of pounds—possibly tens of millions—to be added to the costs of £500 million arising from intra-mural expenditure. Perhaps that matter is not worth pursuing, and it would not be in order to do so in this debate.
It is more relevant to consider some aspects of the TSR2. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, I had no reservations, although I was not a Member of the House at the time, on hearing of the cancellation of the TSR2. But had we then known some of the facts which have since emerged our enthusiasm might have been moderated.
In December, 1959, the cost of TSR2 was estimated to be £80 million to £90 million. By March, 1962, it had risen to £137 million; by January, 1963, the estimates had been revised to between £175 million and £200 million, with extensions of the time scale for introduction into service; by January, 1964, the cost had risen to £240 million to £260 million.
A year later, at the time of the cancellation, it is undoubtedly true that the escalation of costs on the development of TSR2 had risen still further. It was understandable that in the light of those facts it appeared necessary to cancel the project, but it should be borne in mind that the sums which had by then been paid could not be recovered by cancellation. Indeed, £125 million had already been paid to contractors at the 380 time of the cancellation, and a much larger sum than had been thought was outstanding and still owing to them.
That proved to be as high as £70 million, making a total of £200 million effectively written off at the time of the cancellation. Therefore, when we try to examine the costs of the F111 in relation to the TSR2 the unit costs of the F111s should properly be qualified by those costs already borne by the TSR2 project if we are to make a viable comparison.
My main point in discussing TSR2 is not to rake up old history for the sake of it. But arising out of the experience of TSR2, which I think hon. Members on both sides would agree was grossly unsatisfactory, the Public Accounts Committee, the Government and certainly the Treasury have applied their minds to this problem. In a Treasury Minute which appeared in November last year, relating to the sections of the Report of the Public Accounts Committee which discussed these escalations of costs of the TSR2, some consideration was given to the future. It is pointed out:However, it is now clear that this planning and initial work "—that is, in relation to the TSR2—was inadequate for a project of this size and complexity. To reduce the area of uncertainty the Ministry now undertake feasibility and project studies of complex developments (a practice which had not been introduced when work began on the TSR2). But it must be recognised "—and this is the sentence which I should like to stress—that these arrangements cannot be expected to yield at the outset of a development programme of the magnitude of the TSR2 a precise definition of the task, and hence accurate estimates of cost to defined physical stages of the programme, and to completion.In the light of this, if it were to be the case of the AFVG were a pioneer venture of similar complexity and sophistication to the TSR2 there is no guarantee available to us that we would not, once again, make the same sort of mistakes in estimation at the outset of the project as were clearly made at the time of the TSR2, and, of course, at the time of practically every major project, including Concord, on which we have embarked since the war.
Bearing in mind the continued escalation of the costs of Concord, which is 381 relevant to the AFVG in that it is an Anglo-French co-operative venture, it is fairly obvious—although it is difficult and may be permanently impossible to measure precisely—that these escalations have arisen in some measure because of the difficulty of collaboration between two industries each of which has its own procedures for contracting and subcontracting and which may have differences in the very funding of the production of aircraft.
This is by no means a complete critique of the figures which have been given of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. We have been given a figure of £200 million, but I would be inclined to wager a similar sum with my hon. Friend, if I had it, that the cost will be considerably in excess of £200 million, if the plane goes to completion. But will it go to completion? Here, again, I can do no more than repeat the points made so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, when he discussed so many aspects of the ambiguity which surrounds this project. Perhaps we can remove at least one of the ambiguities tonight.
For example, on 18th January, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State revealed the proposal to go ahead with the AFVG, he said:… we shall be consulting potential purchasers over the next few weeks to see whether any adjustments to these specifications are likely to attract a larger market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1967; Vol. 739, c. 405.]As this spring will be a critical time for making long-term strategic decisions about the future of this project, and as eight weeks have passed since that announcement, referring to the next few weeks, it is time that the House learned what discussions have taken place and what has arisen out of them relating to modifications.
It would be useful to know whether if, as a result of further exploratory work carried out with the French, it is still true, as my right hon. Friend said in a later exchange on that occasion, that although the French require the plane primarily for interception at this stage, the British and the French have succeeded in reconciling our requirements "so far as is necessary ".
"So far as is necessary" is a somewhat ambiguous qualification and we 382 would like to know what, in fact, are the conditions on which the break clauses, about which so much has been said, but about which the House still knows so little, would be invoked.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian quoted the remark of President Eisenhower at the termination of his office. There is a very real danger that, just as in the 'thirties it was suggested that the cure for unemployment would be to dig holes and fill them up again, we shall see the problems of our defence in terms of the problems of an industry which must be kept going simply because it is there.
This is a completely false view of strategy. There is a need for strategy and a need for a "fortress Britain" approach for the application of a deterrent policy. There is a need to discuss a military rôle through the United Nations, and perhaps, other bodies. But if we are to measure the need for an aircraft as complicated as the AFVG is bound to be, in terms not primarily of future military requirement, but in terms of an industry which is simply there and which is undoubtedly a very potent pressure force in all Departments in any Government, then we are on a very slippery slope, and Parliamentary democracy may be at risk.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)
I am glad to have the opportunity of winding up this debate, and I would like to start by paying my own tribute to the work of the Royal Air Force on the nation's behalf, and not least on this Lifeboat Day, to its work in rescuing those of us who find ourselves in peril on the sea. This is a very considerable contribution to our collective and individual security.
This has been a far-ranging debate, sometimes straying beyond the bounds of order. It has all been very interesting, but it does prompt some reflection upon the future shape and length of debates on Estimates. The tendency for speeches to expand to fill the time available has been noted before by my right hon. Friend and I myself am conscious that when I spoke last week, in the debate on Army Estimates I possibly went on longer than was strictly necessary.
Probably the case which I understand the hon. Gentleman the Member for West 383 Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put forward, for committing Defence matters to a Committee for consideration at more frequent intervals and in greater detail, has not been weakened by anything said this evening, and perhaps a case for a Select Committee on Meteorology has been made overwhelmingly. There are many points to be covered and I hope that the Minister will find time to answer many of the very many questions that have been put.
I will not rehearse them all now, but I would like to concentrate on some of those which seem to be most important. I am not suggesting that the worrying manpower problems which the R.A.F. has are not important. Clearly, the failure to recruit, particularly in certain key grades, must have a detrimental effect on the future efficiency of the Service, if means cannot be found of making this good. The reluctance of men voluntarily to sign on, or re-engage must reflect to some extent, a basic uncertainty and insecurity about the future of the Service. This is as true of the R.A.F. as of the aircraft industry. Any impartial observer would consider that in both cases there is some way to go before confidence is re-established after the events of the last two years.
But I want to speak mainly about matters concerned with aircraft, particularly with their procurement and utilisation. As a general question, I would like to ask the Minister: how is the procurement going? How are the new arrangements with the Minister of Technology working out? I know that it is early days yet, but some of us have been very anxious about the effect of the recent transfer of functions on administration and procurement, and we would like to be reassured that so far there have been no snags. I am glad to see that we have the Minister of State, Ministry of Technology, with us.
A particular point on training aircraft is that I see from paragraph 20, Chapter VIII, of this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates that the Royal Air Force is returning to the idea of beginning training on piston-engine aircraft instead of having all-through jet training. I understand that the Chipmunk is known in the air training business as a nice, quiet aircraft. I remember 384 that the first time I went up in one it looped the loop and did a number of other disconcerting things. But to those who have the task of qualifying for advanced aircraft, no doubt the Chipmunk is a useful starter.
The Chipmunk is now out of production, however, and is declining in number. What plans have the Government for a replacement? It certainly appears that a replacement must be needed before long. At the end of the 1965 debate on the Air Estimates, the then Under-secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force told the House thatCurrent holdings of the Chipmunk are adequate until the 1970s, so that there is at present no question of replacing the Chipmunk ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 579]Since the reversion since last October to the Chipmunk for ab initio training must have had an effect on the utilisation of existing stocks of the aircraft, I hope that we will hear from the Minister that he is giving thought to a replacement for it and, in particular, that he is considering the possible use of the Beagle Pup, which might seem to be a suitable alternative.
A question of more general importance, which has been touched upon by a number of speakers in the debate, is trooping and reinforcement by air. We know that for many years mobility has been the key to the successful containment of international incidents. This is certainly likely to be even more important in future. For a long time, the independent air transport operators have provided the bulk of civil capacity to move Service personnel and supplies by air, and with a high degree of cost effectiveness.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) is not present, because I would like to criticise his unjustified and irresponsible generalisations concerning the standards of this operation by civil airline operators. The hon. Member was quite unable to produce evidence to substantiate what he said. Certainly, I have not been able to see anything in the Report of the Estimates Committee to bear out his remarks. It is worth remembering that during the past five years nearly 2 million passengers have been carried by civil airline operators under trooping contracts.
385 This year's Defence White Paper shows that the cost of the air mobility forces will increase from the 1966/67 figure of £135 million to £140 million, and within this overall figure the civil charter element is to be reduced from £11 million to £7 million. This represents, apparently, a saving of £4 million within the increased total of £140 million, although I understood the Under-Secretary, in opening the debate, to say that there was a saving of £5 million on passenger trooping and £3 million on freighting and that this results from and reflects the greater degree of direct responsibility which is being taken over by R.A.F. Transport Command.
The House must ask the Government for an assurance that real savings are to be made here both in the long run and in the short term. Is the Minister satisfied that Transport Command will be at least as efficient a provider of trooping services as the civil operators have been? I realise that precise cost comparisons are not necessarily very easy if trooping and training coincide, but has the cost effectiveness been assessed?
What assessment has been made of the likely effect of this change on the strength of our civil air fleet? This fleet constitutes a most valuable reserve in case of need, and it seems possible that it may now be reduced in size as a result of this policy and of other decisions taken in other directions by the Government. Once again, it seems that the Government are deliberately closing their mind to the importance of maintaining reserve capacity adequate to back up the Regular Services in the event of emergency.
Those are points which I had made a note to put forward before the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee on the movement of Service personnel and stores. A quick study of that Report reinforces the views which I have already expressed. There are some particularly forceful criticisms on page xvii. In Paragraph 40, we see it said:… a reduction in current civil air trooping capacity may have far-reaching effects not confined to the purely military field.In Paragraph 41:… it is Your Committee's duty to consider value for money being spent and from this point of view it is impossible … to endorse the proposals of the Ministry's Working Party. In Your Committee's view it would have been better to have framed plans for a more even 386 distribution of trooping tasks between Transport Command and the charter companies.Again, in Paragraph 42:Your Committee recommend that in considering the future ordering of aircraft for Transport Command … the possibility of making more use of the capacity of the charter companies and the Air Corporations … should be examined much more closely than hitherto. They consider that a serious waste of public money may occur from ignoring civil air trooping capacity.These criticisms are serious and it was disappointing that the Under-Secretary seemed to brush them off. The House may want an early opportunity to debate this in full. I know that the hon. Gentleman has not had time to consider them at length, but his reaction to these weighty criticisms might have been more serious than it appeared.
What plans are there for further re-equipment of the R.A.F.'s tanker force? I know that the replacement for the three-point Victor tanker is complete, but what will follow? We have been told that the Ministry is having discussion with the British Aircraft Corporation VC10s, but is the Minister merely considering acquiring conversion kits for the 14 transport VC10s already ordered, or does he see definite advantage in increasing the total order to provide a squadron of VC10 tankers?
What do the Government intend should replace the Hercules? This will not be indefinitely up to date, even if it is now. What consideration has been given to a possible military requirement for the Fokker Wulf 614, the 40-seater Dakota replacement now to be built by West Germany, and which is to have a Bristol Siddeley engine?
The House will have noted with interest the sentence in the Statement:We are also examining what benefits we would get from a new staging airfield in the British Indian Ocean Territory "—At Aldabra, presumably. The Secretary of State believes that a staging airfield could be constructed at small cost. The Statement continues:These arrangements would offer us greater flexibility on our future defence planning, particularly in relation to the Far East.This seems to be an admission of insufficient flexibility for the Government's purposes at the moment, it also makes interesting reading in conjunction with a passage in Paragraph 58 about the work of the Defence Operational Analysis 387 Establishment. This is in my constituency, but it is, I believe, of general importance. This passage reads:The main value to their studies lies in what they can do to define clearly the extent to which decisions can be founded on ascertained fact rather than on empirical judgment, and to expand the area of fact by the systematic collection and critical examination of evidence.This is a commendable exercise, but after reading the Statement and listening to the debate, one is left feeling that, in the future rôle of the R.A.F. in particular and the Government's defence policy in general, far too many decisions have already been taken on a foundation of empirical judgment rather than of ascertained fact and that the judgment has been faulty.
In our debate two years ago, the then Minister told us, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) reminded us in a powerful and excellent speech:What the Royal Air Force 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.Just before he said that the Minister had told the House:When the defence review now going on is complete, the essential tasks of the Service over the next decade will be clearly defined."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 454.]That was two years ago.
If I might remind the House of this, also, I find that I was prompted by those statements to comment:What we have instead is a decision to acquire certain aeroplanes now and to build a strategy round them later."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1965; Vol. 708. c. 492.]I cannot see that anything which has happened since invalidates that reaction, and much of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly and noticeably by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, reinforces my view most strongly.
We have now been told that the Defence Review is a non-stop process in the true traditions of "Windmill" government, with the participants wearing noticeably fewer clothes as the time goes on. But this in itself is no consolation to us and it can scarcely be said to improve matters.
388 The Defence Review continues, and the role of the Royal Air Force remains undefined. Let us consider, for example, two adjacent paragraphs in Chapter 1 of this year's Defence White Paper, paragraphs 42 and 43. The first of these says, in part:Since Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. will have a critical influence on the composition and deployment of all three Services, final decisions on the shape and size of our defence forces in the 1970s must await the outcome of the N.A.T.O. discussions.The next paragraph says, in part:… plans have been made to satisfy the main equipment needs of all three Services until at least the mid-1970s.There we are. We have decided to buy certain equipment, and we will build a strategy round it later, and the Government are proudly claiming to have settled the needs of the Royal Air Force and the other Services before they have decided their shape, size, composition and deployment.
This does not seem to be a process in which logic can have played much part, and the illogicality of the Government's present posture is nowhere more clearly shown than in the highly confused series of pronouncements on the subject of the F111. We have heard a lot about this in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans very rightly devoted much of his speech to this subject. Other hon. Members on both sides have spoken about it at length, and I make no apology for returning to this point, and to the points made by other hon. Members, because this is the last chance which the House is likely to have to debate the subject before the Minister of Defence signs on the dotted line for the 40 aircraft on which we retain an option until the end of this month.
Before the right hon. Gentleman gets himself a gold pen for signing a commitment for about £100 million of British money as a minimum figure, I think that the House has a right to know more about a number of things. First, we need to know more about price. What is the ceiling price? What does it include? Does it cover spares and back up stores?
§ Mr. Onslow
There seems to be some disagreement. The hon. Member for 389 Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is most knowledgeable on this matter, but I am asking the Government for a reply, and, as the Minister says, the hon. Member for Orpington is not yet a member of the Government.
§ Mr. Onslow
I have a number of questions to ask, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. If we can obtain an answer from the Front Bench opposite, I have no doubt that both the hon. Member for Orpington, and I will be interested in it.
I believe that the House has a right to know more about the modifications. Is there a requirement for strengthening the undercarriage of the F111K, and if so, why? Does this represent a need to carry a greater pay-load on take off? Is it because the F111K is expected to operate from rougher surfaces, or is there some other reason about which we have not yet been told?
We need to know more about development problems. I agree that these may be overcome. I have heard it said that when the Americans have a problem they do not bother to solve it; they just hammer it to death. The resources of the American aircraft industry are probably capable of overcoming the problems of the F111K, however serious, but we should know more about it, and we should know one thing in particular—what increase in cost is this likely to represent if at any time the Government find themselves wishing to buy over and above the initial 50 to which they are committed? Many suspect that if the Government require any more F111Ks they will turn out to be far more expensive than the price so far agreed.
The House should know about the serviceability of the aircraft that we are to get—and, in particular, the 40 which will be operationally deployed, as against the 10 trainers, which, we understand, will be based mainly in this country. It seems most unlikely that more than 30 of these would be operational at any one time, at the outset. They will not all be acquired together, so there is a process of wastage which will, presumably, play its part, and there is loss by accident and loss, perhaps, in operation. There 390 is the toll of rising maintenance costs as the aircraft get older and faults appear which we do not yet suspect. The House may be interested to know what the ratio is between the aircraft's flying hours and the hours needed for its maintenance. This is a very interesting equation, if we can get it.
I hope that the Minister will not plead security in this matter. I find his argument on this most thin, just as I found his reaction surprisingly excitable. The Minister has developed a habit of being disarmingly frank about things which do not matter at all and obstinately silent about things which matter much more to us and are much more valuable to us than, presumably, to our enemies, who will doubtless have the means of working out the answers for themselves, either by access to public information in this country, or, more probably, information already published in the United States.
We have a right to know much more about roles and targets of the F111K. Many hon. Members have said this and so far, whatever the Minister may feel, the House is not satisfied. The Minister has been putting up quite a smoke screen on this subject. We had him saying, a year ago, thatin addition to the main base where F111s will be kept in the Far East"—which, by implication, is Singapore—we shall also have minor bases "—in a number of places in and around the Indian Ocean—which will give us extraordinarily wide coverage of the whole Middle East and Southern Asia and East Africa."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2041–2.]More recently, there has been a shift of emphasis, and a very interesting and revealing one. On 28th February. 1967, about the F111K, the Minister said:the last Government planned the TSR2, which the F111K and the AFVG will replace, essentially for a rôle in Europe and not outside it …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 392.]and the following day, in answer to a Question, he said:This aircraft replaces the cancelled TSR2, designed by the previous Government primarily as an aircraft for use in the European theatre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 477.]That is not untrue. The Minister may laugh, but so often in Government information there is small print to be 391 read. Industry certainly knows that if TSR2 had been intended exclusively for use in Europe, they would have come up with a rather different kind of aircraft. It is naïve to pretend that there was no Far Eastern specification for the TSR2 and the F111K. The Minister knows it, and he knows that the F111K has it. This is what makes it important to discover the gap between 1970 and 1975 that the F111K has to fill and the V-bombers cannot.
There is a need, is there, for all-weather reconnaisance outside Europe, or is there an imagined need for a nuclear strike capability outside Europe, a point which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) put his finger on, and a point which gained strength from the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), that the nav-attack system in the F111K has only nuclear accuracy? If this is not true, we shall be interested to hear it.
We understand the desire of the Government to want to please their back benchers below the Gangway, to throw a bone to the pedigree chums, but their attempts are not very successful or very intelligent because of the possibility, the probability, the certainty that in the Government's mind there is this nuclear rôle for the F111K, and this appears to us more transparent every day. It is up to the Government to admit it, and, if they do admit it, to justify it, because we cannot have a sensible or serious debate about the policies of the Government in the field of this Service or any other unless they are prepared to say what is the purpose for which they seek the aircraft which they ask us to authorise them to buy.
At the same time, I think that hon. Members opposite below the Gangway will be disappointed if they look for any immediate saving from the cancellation of the F111K, because this is being bought at the moment largely "on tick".
There has also been some pertinent and persistent questioning of the Government on the AFVG. It was very ingenious of the Under-Secretary not to mention this in his opening speech, particularly as it was part of his advertising. The AFVG is proclaimed as the core of the British aircraft industry, but how 392 firm is it? How satisfied are the Government that the type of French uncertainty there has been in relation to plans for NATO will not spill over into this field as well?
The Concord, at the moment, is the core of the British aircraft industry, and the Jaguar seems to be coming along to reinforce it, but if the AFVG is to become the future core of the industry it will require much greater certainty than it has at the moment. It is certainly not a cheap aeroplane. Even the elastic slide-rule which the Minister keeps producing, and which adjusts so many of his calculations in the Government's favour, cannot make this out to be a cheap aeroplane. Indeed, all the facts indicate how difficult and expensive it will be for the Government to replace the TSR2.
There is confusion about the O.R. demands; that AFVG is wanted for different purposes by different people, which must mean that it will cost more. But what is it for? What do the R.A.F. need this aircraft for? The Government really have not made out their case on this; they must tell the House more about it.
This has been the main burden of the debate—not criticism of the Under-secretary, certainly not criticism of the Royal Air Force, but criticism of the Minister and his policy and the future aircraft programme to which he lends his name. We know the Minister to be a professional optimist, the Pangloss of the Defence Ministry who is always making out that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. He sits there and smiles very genially in assent, but this is not a field in which unbalanced optimism is desirable.
It is a most dangerous fallacy to assume that everything will be all right on the night, that our world must become progressively more peaceful, that our interests and responsibilities will progressively diminish, that new interests and responsibilities will not arise to replace the old, or perhaps that by the time they do this Government may well have gone and their successors will have to worry about it. That seems to be the view of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton.
But no matter whose problem in the end this may be, the question that faces 393 us now is that the men of the R.A.F. know that there is a veneer of professional optimism covering their future. They want to know what is underneath it. However proud the Under-Secretary may be of the new Air Force he claims to be building he must understand that the R.A.F. will serve the nation best only when it knows what it is expected to do. That, so far, it does not know, and nor does the House of Commons.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Chapter I of the Defence White Paper deals with the new functions of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence—a Secretary of State, two Ministers and three Under-Secretaries. Obviously a great deal of discussion took place on the next step following the 1964 changes. I feel extremely strongly, as far as the R.A.F. is concerned—and I know that this is true of my other right hon. and hon. Friends—that it is right to keep the single Service board. It gives managerial responsibility. There are different philosophies, but while that is right we believe that the system which now obtains—a Secretary of State, two Ministers and three Under-Secretaries—is right. In our view, the new system is working and will develop in the years to come.
I have been asked about relations with the Ministry of Technology. These are very early days. I put the suggestion, which I know my right hon. Friend has considered, that perhaps under the new set-up of Ministers in the Department it might mean in future years that the pattern of the Estimates debates will change to match this arrangement. I put that forward purely as a suggestion.
A year ago, at the end of the Defence Review, according to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), the R.A.F. personnel said, "Good". If they said "Good", that was rather different from the view which the Opposition took. The complaint this time is of uncertainty. A Defence Review can never be a once-for-all. Defence in its relationship with economic and foreign affairs cannot be stable. We shall constantly be developing. Whichever Government are in power, uncertainty to some degree is the key word in defence policy.
The hon. Member asked me the cost of the additional aircraft types in main- 394 tenance and training, for example. I admit that I have been unable to obtain these figures. Indeed, to obtain them would involve considerable cost, and I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not pursue it. He said that we have a mixture of aircraft instead of two aircraft carrying out a number of rôles. On many occasions, it is a waste to use a sophisticated aircraft for a minor rôle. With the larger number of aircraft that we have, we can use an aircraft for a particular rôle, and there is economy to be made. An example is the P1127 in a ground attack rôle.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) raised the question of the use of airfields by light civilian aircraft. By prior notice, light civilian aircraft may land at over 50 airfields. The question of time arises. It is our wish to be as helpful as possible. We recognise the growth in the use of light aircraft and we are in touch with the Business Aircraft Users' Association on this and other matters.
The hon. Member asked about abolishing the system of signing on at an early age. This is a difficult question. My hon. Friend spoke on it last night. The whole question is being looked at. I assure the hon. Member that in the R.A.F. there are grounds—compassionate grounds and purchase if the trade is under-manned. I realise the difficulties, and the situation is being looked at. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) also raised that point.
I was not here at the time, but I understand that my hon. Friend raised the possibility of the use of Leuchars. We did so, and subsequently it was used by civil aircraft. The situation is that, because of the inability to use the civil airfield, we allowed civil aircraft to use Leuchars. We put that forward until 1st April, but it will have to cease then. We were in the happy position that training was not at such a high pitch at Leuchars, but it will be from 1st April. It was very much a temporary arrangement, in order to help out as far as we were able.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) discussed air trooping. I take his point that he is glad that Transport Command is doing more of it, but I have no evidence to support his suggestion that the charter 395 companies have provided bad service for our troops. No doubt if he has any points to raise at the moment, he will bring them to our notice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) brought has knowledge of meteorology to the debate. The House may like to know that he brings his knowledge to me very frequently, and I am extremely grateful for it. He referred to the Report of the Estimates Committee, which was very laudatory to the Meteorological Office. The suggestions that were made are being looked at, and my right hon. Friend has been in touch with other Ministerial Departments to see what can be done to inform weather sensitive industries of the great savings which can be obtained from the work of the Met. Office.
My hon. Friend made reference to an article which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph a few days ago, and I have had that looked at. It would seem to be a garbled version of the World Weather Watch project which is on the stocks. The headline,Britain to get met, forecasts from Russia",and the suggestion that we shall lose our place as one of the world's major weather centres probably derive from the fact that the United Kingdom will not provide a world centre in the project. We shall be a regional centre. There is a great deal of work to be done, and the part to be played by us has yet to be decided, but certainly the World Weather Watch, via the United Nations, is something which we shall do all that we can to help.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) raised the matter of air-sea rescue. He will be pleased to know that I have had only the briefest notice of this, just as I had only the briefest notice of the Estimates Committee Report, which came out today. The fact that I do not say much about it does not mean that I am brushing it off. I am not very good at instant politics yet. Perhaps I shall improve in time—[Interruption.] No doubt I could learn a great deal from my right hon. Friend, as perhaps could the hon. Gentleman.
I notice that the Report on the "Darlwin" disaster is out today. I was involved in that matter some time ago, and 396 I am pleased to note that the Report pays tribute to the search and rescue work done by the Services.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) raised one of the many points which rather floored me. His was a highly technical one, asking if I had discovered the difference between the figures in Vote A and those on page 66. We have a contingency figure, otherwise, if the Vote A figure was not being kept to, we could recruit someone and then have to tell him that he was surplus to our permitted number. Then one has to subtract from that the local forces recruited in other parts of the world. In that way, one arrives at the figure on page 66. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to my notice.
I can assure the hon. Member that the R.A.F. will be able to deal with the new aircraft. There are deficiencies in recruiting in certain trades, such as steward, gunner, fireman, and supplier (Equipment Branch). However, in the higher technical trades, we do very well on recruitment.
A number of hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) latterly, suggested a greater use of Malta. Malta is much used by R.A.F. aircraft on training flights from the United Kingdom and Germany for operational training and navigational flying training, and those flights will continue. It is another matter to base aircraft in Malta for training purposes. We have looked at this matter carefully. There are savings to be made from concentrating the base of our training in this country, and while there are benefits to be derived from flying to Malta, the actual basing of it there has been rejected.
A number of hon. Members have asked questions about the F111. As we have stated before, the cost is £2.1 million. This is a fixed price for each of the 50 aircraft when the option is taken up. Other questions were asked about the supplemental ceiling price of the British version, the F111K—that is, for the undercarriage, escape capsule and avionics—and the figure for this version, £2.5 million, has also been given before. It was stated clearly by my right hon. Friend.
I was asked if the Americans could recoup on spares, since we have obtained 397 such a favourable price. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are being unnecessarily suspicious about this. The price we will have to pay is firmly stated. It will be the same price as is paid by the American Air Force; and that Air Force, the American Department of Defence, strikes a very hard bargain. The complete cost of the F111 is covered by the offset agreements—by the direct purchases and by the combined purchases together. Altogether, 127 million worth of offset has been obtained for direct sales, and the co-operative sales are going very well.
Understandably, hon. Gentlemen opposite raised the question of drag. Despite the problem of drag, the aircraft will more than meet our requirements. As for the problem of air intake, having been in the United States recently and having had with me some highly skilled technical members of the R.A.F., I repeat that we are satisfied that this problem is already being dealt with. I insist that it is wrong to think that only the F111 has problems in its development. This happens in the development of all modern aircraft. These problems are bound to arise, but I assure the House that this aircraft will meet our operational requirements.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
A moment ago the hon. Gentleman referred to co-operative "sales". Did he mean "sales" in the plural? Is there more than one such sale extant?
§ Mr. Rees
No. Co-operative sale or sales, I certainly did not mean to indicate that there was more than one.
A number of questions were asked about the rôle of the F111, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) wondered how the aircraft would be used in advance of war. I assure him that that was the point I was endeavouring to answer, and not the rôle when war has started. I wish to make it clear, having carefully looked into the matter, that we do not use satellites and that, in any case, their accuracy would not be nearly good enough for a tactical rôle, It is in the tactical rôle that reconnaissance is required.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for being absent while he was speaking. I had to attend a short meeting. I 398 have dealt with the question of unit and fixed costs, so I hope that I have answered the question he put.
§ Mr. Dalyell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Rees
It is fixed at £2.1 million over the whole of the 40 aircraft, and there is nothing more I can say about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian also asked me to comment on the implications of the United States Navy no longer being in the market. Having checked on the matter, I can only tell my hon. Friend that it is not for me to comment on what is happening in the United States, except to say that I understand that this is not the case at all.
I was questioned about the undercarriage of the F111, and I can best answer by referring to a Written Answer which I gave to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in July of last year, when I said:The FBIII undercarriage will confer greater operational flexibility and a greater degree of safety when operating at higher weights, for example on a long-range reconnaissance mission, particularly from less developed airfields ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 276.]I was also asked about the operating efficiency of this aircraft. The answer is 50 man-hours—not 50 men, which was a mistake I made earlier—for one hour in the air, and it drops to 35 man-hours. I was given a figure in the United States assuming that the engine of an F111 failed in the jungle, perhaps, with no equipment available. That is an engine in one hour. Even if that is an exaggeration, it still shows that the Americans have given a great deal of thought to the operating efficiency of an aircraft of this type.
I was asked about the other British equipment. I looked very carefully at the escape capsule in the United States. I was impressed to find escape at zero-zero, which is quite incredible. The escape capsule is a great step forward. It is being developed and made down at St. Louis, and will be taken to the aircraft at Fort Worth.
§ Mr. Onslow
Could the hon. Gentleman explain the necessity for the strengthened undercarriage? Why is that required by the Americans not for all their F111s but, presumably, only 399 for a small number? Why a strengthened undercarriage—that is, greater payload—for tactical reconnaissance? Presumably, it means that they will operate at extreme range.
§ Mr. Rees
The answer lies in the greater amount of aviation fuel they would be carrying, but the major point is the type of runway from which they might be operating. There is also the point that the American operational requirement of TAC is different from the requirement for their SAC, which is the FBI 11. This is where they had the heavier undercarriage, and this is something which we on our professional side were advised to fit to our aircraft.
As to the range of the F111, I went into this matter earlier today and attempted to answer some of the points in the article in The Times today. Time is passing, but I will go over those points quickly now because I know they are of interest to hon. Members. Last year I read the words of the White Paper that the key to the deterrent power is our ability to obtain early warning of the enemy's intention through reconnaissance and to strike at his offensive force at a distance. The rôle is not only east of Suez; two-thirds of all aircraft are in the United Kingdom.
I promised to look at the number of operational aircraft. I regret that I am not able to give the figures—I am advised very strongly that it is not the practice of Governments to give this information—but I assure the House that it is not a case of 10 aircraft in the OCU. The mere fact that we have 10 as a first buy should not be taken as the number for the OCU. The figure given for the number of aircraft is a gross under-estimate of the true figure. The point about the F111 is that it is part of a mix of aircraft. There are the V-bombers in the conventional rôle; the Phantoms for the short-range rôle, and in the long-range rôle it is vital to replace the strike carrier.
I was asked about the time scale. The Phantom we had earlier than the P1154; the C130 earlier than the HS681. The argument on the F111 was that it was cheaper and as good as the TSR2 and broadly in the same time scale. I have dealt with the question of the capsule. 400 An hon. Gentleman quoted from "Jane's Fighting Aircraft"—I suggest that HANSARD might be a better place to look than, perhaps, "Jane's Fighting Aircraft" in this sense, because I looked at HANSARD to find out what I had said originally. As to rough airfields, I have read what I said last July.
Any modern aircraft can easily be equipped for nuclear weapons, but the 10 F111 aircraft and the 40 which are to come are for a conventional rôle. The nuclear strategy rôle is for Polaris. The major rôle for F111 is for reconnaissance. We had V-bombers in the Far East in a deterrent rôle, but they were deployed in a conventional rôle. The AFVG—
§ Mr. Hastings
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the F111, does he recall that I asked if he is satisfied that the development of electronics in America for British requirement is not behind-hand and not inconsistent with the operational delivery dates he has quoted?
§ Mr. Rees
I have checked thoroughly and find that the time-scale is good. The hon. Member also asked whether it could be used with only nuclear accuracy Neither is the case.
Interesting points have been raised about development with the United States and the AFVG. The answer to the question about development costs being greater than for the F111 is no. The AFVG is considerably smaller. We have had arithmetical ratios tonight, but there is an arithmetical ratio relating to size and cost. The sales aspect is not being ignored by my Department. I took the opportunity at St. Louis to speak to 500 engineers in the plant there. I expressed my view that we might buy aircraft from them off the peg and on a 50/50 basis, but I stated my view that to have a viable British aircraft industry depended on whether there was r. and d. in this country. I found that the Americans accepted someone who spoke plainly on this matter. The basic force is built on the AFVG with some F111s, but the AFVG has not such a range. The V-bombers are the stop-gap supporting the Army and the navy.
I was asked about the Operational Requirements Committee and the E.I.R. Division. Sales are well represented 401 there. There has been a change in organisation on realistic management of military projects. The project teams are in the Ministry of Technology. I have noted the point about AFVG costs and passed it to my right hon. Friend. One of the effects of the offset agreement is that we are in the United States market. We have broken through there because of procedure arrangements.
The hon. Member for Orpington raised the question about Aldabra. I make clear that no decision has been reached. It is not an island base but a staging post. There is a great difference between the two concepts. It is needed and it is covered with dense vegetation, I am informed. The height above sea level varies between 5 ft. and 15 ft. The height above sea level of the Island of Gan is about 5 ft. One can get to the Far East, the Middle East and many parts of Africa from the island when it is used as a staging post. No decision has yet been taken. I am not in a position to give the cost, but the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the capital cost of Gan to date has been just over £6 million.
One of my hon. Friends raised the question of dead bodies, and I understand that he argued that there were more facilities for embalming in the Far East. We have stated that where possible it will be done. I agree that this has taken a long time; I understand that the question of dead bodies has been discussed in defence matters for 60 years. There is a slight victory in our doing that in the past few months.
I was asked if we had anything in Thailand, and the answer is that we have nothing at all. Other questions were asked by two of my hon. Friends who are not here now, so I shall not deal with those matters. I was asked a question about Hong Kong. The R.A.F. has precious little there except a communications flight and a staging post, and the rôle in Hong Kong is certainly not an R.A.F. rôle.
402 Questions were also asked about TSR2, but the answers to those are also in HANSARD.
§ Mr. Goodhart
The Minister was talking about embalming. Does he intend to say something about the possible continued presence of the R.A.F. in Aden before he closes?
§ Mr. Rees
No—not at this time of night.
There was a question about the Chipmunk replacement. Present stocks will last some years, and therefore we do not now have that problem. The aircraft is not sophisticated and we can fairly readily acquire another. We have only four C130s and shall not be worried about a replacement until about 1980.
I hope that I have answered as many questions as I can this evening. I now return to my first point, that I regard the job in the R.A.F. as managerial.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
The Minister has not said anything about Coastal Command, and we have heard very little about it in the defence debates. Can he assure the House that he is seized of the importance of Coastal Command, whatever rôle it must fulfil in the future?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Officers, Airmen and Airwomen, not exceeding 128,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1968.