Colonel Arthur Evans:
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether, in view of the shortage of man-power he will make a statement on his decision to dismiss the members of the Cardiff Centre Royal Observer Corps who are over 50 years of age and have nearly four years of efficient service to their credit, which has been highly praised by those responsible for the corps during periods of heavy raids and, particularly, as men of this age are still being recruited for the Home Guard and other services?
asked the Secretary of State for Air why it has been decided to replace all members of Royal Observer Corps centre crews over the age of 50 years with younger men from the Royal Air Force; and whether he will consider first combing out the young men who joined the Royal Observer Corps to avoid military service before disturbing ex-service men who, from patriotic motives, joined the Royal Observer Corps before the outbreak of hostilities?
There has been some misunderstanding. There is no intention of making wholesale dismissals in the Royal Observer Corps. All that is at present being done is to replace plotters and tellers over the age of 50 at Royal Observer Corps Centres—who represent a fraction only of the total personnel of the Corps—by immobile young women under 35, whom experience has shown to be particularly well suited for this exacting work. This step has been found necessary in order to maintain at the highest possible level the efficiency of the Centres which are operationally an integral part of the activities of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command. Not only has the work at these Centres become increasingly complex since the war began, owing to the introduction of new technical devices, but activity is now almost continuous throughout the 24 hours, owing to the greatly increased amount of flying which takes place over this country and to the fact that the Royal Observer Corps is responsible for tracking friendly as well as hostile aircraft. The work calls for alert minds, quick reactions and cool nerves, and the age level of those engaged on it must be lowered if it is to be done with the rapidity and accuracy required.
Would my right hon. Friend consider taking this on an individual basis, because there is great variation between men of 50, and many are much more mentally and physically alert than others, and it seems a very hard ruling to rule out an entire class?
My answer to the first Supplementary Question is, "Yes, Sir." I have most carefully considered the alternatives which my hon. and gallant Friend suggests, but I have been convinced that the only way to increase the efficiency. of these centres with the necessary speed is to introduce this age-limit in the Centres, and I would only add that I welcome the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Colonel Evans).
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men over 50 have in many cases extremely alert minds, and will he therefore really reconsider this very important point, as his hon. and gallant Friend suggests?
I think it would be possible under the arrangements suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite to explain why the particular and most exacting character of this work demands young, fresh people to do it.
I am sure that that is so, and I would ask hon. Members to realise that the motive for the introduction of this new measure is not only the protection of our homes and factories in this country, but also the protection of the lives of our air crews.