The Under-Secretary of State for Air, replying late last Tuesday week to the Debate on the Committee stage, had good reason for wanting to get away. He was good enough to write a letter to me asking me whether there were points in the speech to which I would like an answer. I only received the letter yesterday, and therefore I take this opportunity to repeat the two questions. I understand that the answers will be of interest to the public and to hon. Members. I have had a good deal of correspondence from the public on the matter. The Secretary of State claims that we have complete air supremacy over Germany. The first question is: Why was it that so many of Runstedt's troops were able to cross the Rhine by barge and get to the East side of the river? The other question is: How, having regard to the tremendous bombing that we have carried out over Germany, for the last five years, is it possible for the German people to stand up to it? Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the accuracy of the bombing and whether there has been considerable dispersal of population and of industry? Will he say whether a great deal of German industry has been put underground? Many people are asking such questions and it would be doing the public a great service if the right hon. Gentleman would give a reply.
I turn to the question of civil aviation, upon which we are to have a Debate next Tuesday on the Report stage of the Civil Estimates, when it will be impossible for hon. Members to indicate their attitude by a Division. Hon. Members may make speeches, and I am sure that they will do so from both sides of the House, some criticising the White Paper and others supporting its general findings and views. I understand that a definite Motion will be put down later on by His Majesty's Government—commending the White Paper to the House, I imagine—but that issue cannot be discussed next Tuesday. It may come on after Easter. In those circumstances, I want to say from these benches—and I am sure I am speaking on behalf of a great number of my hon. Friends—that we do not: accept the contents of that White Paper. From our point of view, there has been a complete sell-out to interests that have been fiddling behind the scenes at the Government, ever since the future of civil aviation became a matter for discussion. I have heard speeches made by Noble Lords in another place, admitting frankly that they represented shipping or railway companies. It is completely deplorable that the Government have given way to pressure of that kind.
I am not going to say very much about B.O.A.C. this afternoon. Within its range it is doing a magnificent job of work. It is not a commercial enterprise in the ordinary sense of the word. It is under the direct instructions of the Secretary of State for Air and I do hot think any judgment can possibly be come to between it and any other commercial enterprise, of which we have had knowledge in the past. However, from information I have, it appears that even B.O.A.C. do not know where they are in this new set-up. They, apparently, are to have a minority holding in the two enterprises in which they ought to have a majority holding. They have a majority holding, so far as the Empire and the North Atlantic routes are concerned, but for the South Atlantic, South American and European routes they seem to be put in the extraordinary position of being a minority shareholder. The Government are proposing to be a minority shareholder in two of the enterprises they have visualised as being set up to divide the rest of the air traffic between them.
I have taken a fairly prominent part in this House, with my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), in advocating what we on this side of the House believe is a proper policy for civil aviation. As a result of that, I have had repeated requests to address meetings outside this House. I make more or less the same speech on every occasion, because it is a very good speech. It puts the case fairly clearly in about half an hour. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is this it?"] No, this is not the speech. Hon. Members will hear it on Tuesday, if I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I find that the ordinary public are very interested and excited by the ideas that we put forward from these Benches representing our policy for the future of civil aviation. I have here a letter which I should like to read. I received it only this morning. It is from the secretary who convened a meeting which I addressed on Tuesday at lunch time. It says:
When I read the report of the Debate on civil aviation I could not help feeling that our choice of subject was peculiarly appropriate.
In other words, it is a subject which interests a great many people in this country. There was a short, half-hour meeting, with a kind of buffet lunch, and from 120 to 150 people turned up in their lunch hour to hear me put forth those views. He goes on:
I wish the trend of events was more along the lines of your talk, but I take hope from your final words that what is now being done is not necessarily final, and much may be re-
adjusted when the General Election makes it possible to replace men whose methods and ideas are outworn, with those whose outlook is more in keeping with a shrinking and war ravaged world.
That is a very clearly put statement. [Laughter.] I do not see anything to laugh at in that remark. The point is that the public are interested and angry at the present time with the policy that the Government are pursuing. If the hon. Member opposite goes back to North Hackney and tries to justify that policy on any platform in his constituency, he will find, if I go with him, that my view will be accepted and not his; and in any case they will probably deal with him at the next General Election, as I tried to do on three previous occasions.
The public are interested in this matter, and in all earnestness I would like to make this statement, because it is about time that something of this kind was said. We understand that we are to have an Act of Parliament to set up the Minister for Civil Aviation and his Department, but that has not come along at all yet, and I understand that so long as the B.O.A.C. Act is on the Statute Book, nothing can really be done. I think I can say—although I have not been authorised—on behalf of the Labour Party that when we form the Government after the next General Election, we are not going to follow the policy outlined in this White Paper. We would warn the shipping interests, the railway interests, and anybody who is foolish enough to subscribe capital to the new organisations that they propose to set up for the purpose of running civil aviation after the war, that they had better beware.
This is a matter on which we take a very strong stand indeed. It is only two days since the White Paper was issued, but yesterday, in the "Financial News," it was the main item. I can see what is going to happen very soon. The Government are frightened of vested interests, or even interests that want to become vested. I say, let them beware. Let would-be investors beware. Even if the companies are floated and the objects and memoranda arranged to allow them to run air routes, and even if they have got their capital together, let them be quite certain that they do so at their own risk. The Government will not last for ever. It has lasted a good deal too long as it is. I can assure hon. Members that in this matter of the future of civil aviation lies the ability of mankind to work together, to co-ordinate and to co-operate, because it is a matter that is really and truly closely touching the peace of the world.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has raised points on which, he quite rightly says, the public are excited and are displaying great concern. I believe that the Minister has now been given an opportunity by him to reply on many important issues. I would like to bring to the notice of the Minister another matter, in regard to which he made certain unwise remarks in this House, in relation to rocket sites in Holland. The public are interested in the use of words in this House and I believe it was unfortunate that the Secretary of State should suggest that we could not do certain things in Holland, either because of those sites being in congested areas, or because we might hit Dutch people, or hit certain buildings, or do damage in Holland, which would cause him a disturbance of mind and conscience.
Perhaps I might be allowed to interrupt the hon. Member here. What my right hon. Friend did say was that these attacks on sites in Holland would not be effective, not that we had any particular tenderness. Although the Dutch are our Allies, there was no question of our not doing things to those sites that we should do, when the people of London were being injured. We were doing everything we could to them, but our attacks were not carried out on a devastating scale, because it was felt that they would not be effective. We were not particularly concerned at the moment about injury to property, but we naturally took loss of life into account.
I am sorry that have not by me the exact words that the right hon. Gentleman used, but if I delete the reference to property, perhaps I might associate my remarks only with persons; and I would make it clear that there has been considerable correspondence in national newspapers on the matter. There have been references in letters written here by constituents—not my own, but constituents of London Members, and in the South of England—about what I believe were the unfortunate words used by the Secretary of State.
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me interrupt at this point in order to point out that he is being less than fair to me. I said two things. One was that attacks on a grand scale, obliteration attacks against towns and villages in Holland, would cause frightful loss of life which would affect my conscience, certainly, and I think the conscience of the House of Commons. I also said that the other great argument against such attacks was that they were bound to be ineffective, because the men who work these instruments would emerge from their shelters afterwards; they would come up and clear a space about 23 feet square, and carry on as though the attack had never taken place. May I say that the official newspaper of my hon. Friend's party treated me very fairly in this? They not only published both parts of my speech and both arguments, but when some correspondents wrote to that newspaper and drew attention only to the first part, about the loss of life which would be caused to the Dutch civilians, I am glad to say that that newspaper did, most fairly, point out that I had also indicated that the attacks would be ineffective.
The hon. Member is accustomed to trotting out comments of all kinds when allegations are being answered, or explanations are being followed up in the way I am endeavouring to do to-day. If he will just allow these explanations to be given, if he will only be attentive and listen, I am sure he will receive some indication which will convince him that the public, the thinking public, are deeply concerned about the statement which the Minister has just made to the House. I hope the newspapers will take particular note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and that the unfortunate citizens in the areas concerned will be further reassured that in the matter of strategy nothing will be spared, so far as the R.A.F. are con- cerned, in attacking these sites. I hope that wherever these rocket sites may be situated, whether in Holland or Germany, they will be winkled out with the greatest possible energy, and that we shall attack them, whatever the circumstances may be. I also hope that the "Daily Herald" will again take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
I would like to raise the question of the warrant officer who has been promoted to officer rank in the R.A.F. Not a great many people are affected—probably some few thousands—but they do, at present, suffer considerably through certain anomalies. I have taken the opportunity of sending details of the anomalies to the Under-Secretary, and I would like to remind hon. Members of what the present position is. If a man was a warrant officer in the R.A.F. before the war, and he now holds officer rank, he is limited to a maximum pension of £317 a year. It does not matter whether he reaches the substantive rank of flight-lieutenant, squadron-leader, wing-commander, group-captain or air-commodore, he can still only get £317 a year. On the other hand, a group-captain, general duties, substantive rank, can, if he reaches his maximum pension, get£750 a year. That is a great difference. I am not asking that these ex-warrant officers should have the same pension, but I think that they ought to have a differentiation in the scale according to the rank they have reached. They not only have to serve a longer time in the R.A.F., due to the fact that, until they reach the rank of warrant officer, every year served only counts as half a year, which means that they have to stay in the R.A.F. a considerably longer time, and are a great deal older when they come out.
These men are the most loyal in the Service. They never say anything. Many of them started as Halton boys, and have been trained in all the technical knowledge of the R.A.F. When the war came they found themselves warrant officers. They did not want to take commissions, but they were urged to do so. It was necessary for the expansion of the Air Force that they should become officers. Until they reached the rank of squadron-leader they were not as well off as when they were warrant officers. Many of these men now find themselves wing-commanders. They have had to improve their standards of life. They probably send their children to better schools and are living in larger houses. They are worried about what is to happen to them when the war ends. What is to be the policy of the Air Council? Are these men still to be employed or are they, because they have been promoted, to be offered warrant officer rank again or put out of the Service altogether? Their great fear is that of being put out of the Service altogether. In many cases they will have their families to educate. While in the Service they get family allowances, which are such a great help. I urge the Under-Secretary to give this matter sympathetic consideration and, at as early a date as possible, to make some statement which will help to allay the worry in these troubled minds.
Can we be told anything further about Prestwick airport? I see a frown on the hon. and gallant Gentleman's brow. I am certain he is "fed-up" with this subject, but I give him, and the Government, and even the House, due warning that they will become even more "fed-up" with Scottish Members before we have done with them. I would not have troubled him on this occasion but for two reasons. I should think it inappropriate on Tuesday next to raise this subject, because we shall be dealing with the broader issue of the Government's policy in connection with civil aviation. The real necessity for questioning the Government further on this subject arises from what, I hope, I may describe, without disrespect, as the empty statement made this week in another place by the Minister responsible. He said there was a misapprehension; that a rumour had become current that the Government meant to close down Prestwick, and he said that they did not mean to do so. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to agree with that statement. There is no concession in that, because the plain, blunt fact is that the Government cannot shut down Prestwick just now, because they cannot do without it.
It is making no concession to Scotland, nor giving any reassurance to Scottish opinion which is disturbed on this subject, when the Minister says that the Government do not mean to shut down Prestwick. They must keep it open, they have no alternative. That is, substantially, the basis of the Scottish resentment on this subject. Scottish people know that Prestwick has, during these war years, met a national need which could not have been supplied in any other part of the Kingdom, and I think they feel that after their usefulness to the nation; commercial interests are now being interposed, and that Prestwick is to be relegated to a secondary, commercial airport. I should like an assurance, in terms of figures, that the money which is being spent on this North London airport is not being spent because of military or war aviation necessity. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that any substantial portion of this airport, on which public moneys are being spent, will be in operation for any substantial war purpose. It will be of great use commercially, and I am not, for a second, saying that we should be without it. But some consideration should be given to whether a proportion of this money might not have been spent more economically and more efficiently at Prestwick upon the post-war commercial extension, or ancillaries with which His Majesty's Government think a national terminus should be equipped. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell us that the Government have taken their consideration a stage further. I hope that, without qualification, he will be able to pledge himself that in the Government's post-war organisation they mean Prestwick to remain a main terminus, secondary only to that of London. I will not pursue the subject of operation and manufacture further, but I give due warning that we shall pursue those two topics at a more suitable time.
I congratulate the hon. Member opposite and all Scottish Members on their magnificent high-pressure salesmanship about Prestwick. I think it is premature. I do not see why the Air Ministry should be blackmailed by any body of people into saying that "This, and this only, will be the main airport for civilian traffic." The hon. Member indicates that he does not like the expression "blackmail," so I at once withdraw it and will say instead the energy and eloquence of the hon. Member and his colleagues—and I myself, being Scottish by descent, have the profoundest sympathy with them—should not convince the right hon. Gentleman before he has had before him the whole facts of civil aviation which can hardly be the case before the war is over. Prestwick would not have been used as the main terminus for civilian air transport but for the fact that the main aerodromes in Northern Ireland had to be used for operational purposes. They are much nearer the Atlantic routes, but they could not be spared. Prestwick was available and it has a nice, sandy soil. It is all right for the present type of land aircraft that are used, the large four-engined machines, but it is perfectly apparent to anyone who looks to the future—and I am sorry to see there is not more vision about the hon. Member in regard to the air—it will not be long before trans-Atlantic machines will be larding on water.
That is not so sheltered as inland water, and in Northern Ireland we happen to have the two largest lakes in the Kingdom. That is infinitely better than anything that can be found in the neighbourhood of Prestwick, though sea fishing would be an added attraction. It is clear that Northern Ireland has been highly developed aeronautically with a very large number of aerodromes that can be used for the dispersal of passengers who arrive, and it has the two largest inland sheets of water in the British Isles, which have also been very highly developed for national purposes, but cannot be spared for mere civilian traffic in war-time. I cannot embroider the subject too much, because we are still at war, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not approve of my going into details which would clearly show the great superiority of Northern Ireland as the main terminal, in contrast to anything in Scotland.
I wish again to address myself to a subject very dear to me, and with which all the House will cordially agree. I made a plea, a year ago, for a very small class of men who have done more to win this war than any other class. In fact, we have had that stated by the Prime Minister in an immortal phrase. I allude to the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. They are very few. There are fewer of them to-day than when I spoke on this subject a year ago. There is no distinction, no decoration, by which anyone can see that a pilot was a fighter-pilot on that occasion. The gallant soldiers of the Eighth Army have, on the ribbon of their Africa Star, an "8." The gallant soldiers of the First Army also indicate the part they played in the victory in Africa by having a "1" upon their ribbon. But the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain have nothing beyond the ordinary 1939–43 ribbon to show that they took part in that unique victory. It was fundamental. Had that victory not been achieved, there would have been no Alamein, there would probably have been no victory in Africa. The danger of defeat was never closer to this country than when that small band of fighter pilots and those bomber crews who were associated with them saved us from a disaster which this country has never suffered, and which, please God, she never will suffer.
I cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman to give me any reply to this matter, because it has been under consideration for a year, and it is mixed up with a lot of other matters. I would remind him that the Waterloo medal was given after even more profound consideration—50 years after the battle. That is a good deal too long. I cannot see why some little emblem, such as possibly the wings in miniature, to be worn on the ribbon of the 1939–43 Star, should not be given, to show what a unique achievement this was. I know that it is difficult to draw a line, because there are bound to be hard cases on both sides of it. It was once said, with great justice, that decorations descend impartially on the just and on the unjust, but surely it is easy for the Air Ministry to decide, substantially correctly, who were those airborne members of the Air Force who helped to win the Battle of Britain, and who should be given some distinctive medal, to show what the country owes them.
I have joined in the Debate partly because I wish to take part in the auction for the future airport. We have had a bid from Scotland and a bid from Northern Ireland; would like to make a bid for my own constituency. We have everything convenient. We have a fine stretch of water, called the Solent. We are already accustomed to deal with foreign nations, and I cannot imagine a better place than Southampton in which to erect the airport. As I understand that the matter will soon be out of my right hon. Friend's hands, I will make a first bid to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Civil Aviation, before he appears in the House. I will leave the matter at that. I want to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, apart from a few hon. Members, one of whom we have heard this afternoon, we are all completely behind him in his policy in regard to the rocket sites. He gave an explanation a few days ago, which must appeal to the humanitarian feelings of all of us. The Dutch are one of the bravest of our Allies, and it would horrify us all if we bombed their crowded villages, and perhaps did not destroy the rocket sites after all. The enemy on the sites would escape like rats underground, and we should not injure them, and then they would move elsewhere. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) should have put forward the argument which he did and that he should have complained because I uttered disapproval while he spoke. If I had fainted and collapsed it would not have been surprising.
I am sure the House would not wish me to answer that question. When I mutter or interject it is often for very good and sound reasons. As I said, if I had fainted and collapsed when listening to the hon. Member it would not have been surprising. Then I should not have been able to groan at all. I do not think that the SecretarY of State gave any further explanation to-night. That is what I muttered. The right hon. Gentleman had simply repeated what he said on a previous occasion. If the hon. Member for Doncaster will take more accurate notes in future, he will avoid making such a mistake as he made this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) asked the Secretary of State why the German bridges were not destroyed, and why the German people have not already collapsed under this terrific onslaught. I do not think anybody in the country expects the R.A.F. to immobilise the whole German Army and to prevent them altogether from crossing the Rhine. I dare say there are good strategic reasons—I do not know. I do not think my right hon. Friend could give an explanation of why the German people have not collapsed, and I do not think the House would expect anyone to enter deeply into these matters. My right hon. Friend should leave the matter at that. Everybody is perfectly satisfied with the progress of the war at the present time, and with the great feats of the Royal Air Force.
I quite agree that the Minister can answer these questions or not, but I am taking the opportunity of advising him not to, in case he falls into this trap. I am perfectly entitled to do that. I hope my remarks have impressed my right hon. Friend sufficiently, and that he will not take the course which my hon. Friend suggests. We are going to discuss civil aviation on Tuesday. My hon. Friend threatened some of us, who have a different point of view from his own. He said that this White Paper was giving special advantages to the shipping companies and the railway companies, who have been nibbling at it—as my hon. Friend expressed it—for a long time. Many of us take another view of the White Paper, and think that it is going much too far in the direction of Socialism. We shall probably have a very interesting time on Tuesday. When my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton left that subject he uttered a very ominous threat. He feared to complete it, although he apparently would have liked to do so. What he meant to say, I believe, was that those who subscribe capital to these companies were in grave danger, when a Government arose from the party to which he belongs—I will complete it for him—that that capital might be confiscated. Perhaps I had better not pursue this matter of civil aviation further: I think we can leave it until Tuesday. I want to end, as I began, not by pressing the claims of Southampton to be the air port of the future, but, as the one who interrupted the eloquent address of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, to say that the reason I rose was that I am wholeheartily behind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in regard to his attitude towards the bombing of the rocket sites.
I do not need to tell the Minister that in the R.A.F. he has a wonderful body of men, worth watching over, caring for, and helping. I think he will realise that if the suggestion of policy that was made by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) was accepted there would be a wonderful opportunity not only for helping these men, as pilots and technicians and the rest, but for obtaining a degree of coordination between the R.A.F. and civil flying that would prevent, what a Member on the other side apparently feared, that at some moment many of these men, who have given such gallant service, will be left to their own resources, and possibly faced with great domestic difficulties. If we had such a policy as has been suggested in connection with civil aviation, the Minister could easily arrange at any time to get men transferred from his Service to that which is under the other Government Departments. But if he is going to hand over the control of civil aviation to such.a crowd as the White Paper suggests many of these lads, who have given such splendid service to the country, may be put off from active service in the R.A.F. and find that they have no future of any kind. If they get into the clutches of this organisation, they may find that it is simply exploiting them, and doing nothing to recognise the good service they have given to the country. Those who get the opportunity to speak on Tuesday should emphasise that this White Paper may be welcome to the shipping companies, from Southampton and other places, but may be a bad thing for these men, who have so gallantly served the country.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) has gone out of the House. Might I say that Loch Lomond is big enough to hold the whole of Northern Ireland, let alone an airport? The danger of making Northern Ireland the air terminal is that, after so much money has been spent on it, Mr. de Valera and his colleagues might decide to blow away the partition and take the air terminal. When Ireland is united and indivisible, we shall have no more say in what is going to happen in Northern Ireland. That may happen at any time. On the opposite side, the other day, Members were clamouring with the deepest fervour for freedom and independence. We might get freedom and independence for Ireland as a whole.
It was just to warn the House of the danger arising out of the suggestion of another hon. Member that we should make an air terminal in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Nuneaton drew attention to the fact that he was going about making a very good speech and that, as he made this very good speech, the utmost interest was being taken by the people of this country in the R.A.F. and also in the question of civil aviation. He said that the people as a whole are thinking of it very keenly. I believe that the interest that is being taken by the people off England and Wales in aviation in general is as nothing, compared to the interest that is being taken by Scotland on the question of aerodromes.
The whole Scottish people, every intelligent organisation and all the county councils and the burghs are interested in the question of Prestwick aerodrome. It is a token question. It represents for them, either treatment of Scotland similar to that which it received after the last war or a different treatment. We know that a big terminal is to be built in London. They say that they want another terminal to be at Prestwick. If they should close down the other terminal, some of the crowd who are always anxious to come in will be there ready to sustain some of the vested interests. This is a very serious matter, not only for Scotland but for the people of the country as a whole. In the Scottish Standing Committee on Tuesday I made reference, arising out of certain Amendments on the Hydro-Electric Bill, to the support that some of the Tories were giving to "scrounging capitalists," and this, to some extent, was taken up by one or two hon. Members who objected to the use of such a term.
The fact is we have to be on the watch all the time in connection with aviation. Aviation in this country has been given a terrific acceleration through the war and through the accomplishments of the many young lads who have gone into the R.A.F., and through the efforts of scientists and technicians who have been brought in as a result of the war. When we have done all this, and developed it as a nation to this tremendous extent we have all these scroungers ready to come in and grab. We have developed this great force. One has only to look at some of 'the splendid periodicals, illustrated books and magazines which are issued in connection with the Air Force to see the amazing developments that have taken place, not through the efforts of some private individuals or private firms but through the direction of the nation as a whole. Particular firms have been used for building and so on, but all the drive and direction have come from the nation as a whole, and the great training and skill which have developed as a result of the training of these thousands of young men should not be thrown away or handed over to scroungers or mouchers. I felt yesterday when discussing that Bill that it was a mouchers' Bill. That is the position all the time.
If the Secretary of State for Air has any real respect for this magnificent Service which he represents in this House, and any regard for the splendid lads who have rendered such great service to the country, he cannot leave the aviation of this country or these young men, when they have finished with the Air Force, at the mercy of grasping shipowners or others. When he has built up such a magnificent force of machines and men, he should retain and develop it in the interests of the people as a whole.
I had intended to defend the Secretary of State for Air on the question of the bombing of the V.2 sites in Holland, to which he referred in his Estimates speech last week, which he said was inadequately reported in some newspapers. I feel that there is nothing now for me to say, because my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) has leapt to his feet and defended the Secretary of State nobly and well. I feel now something akin to sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), who has almost precipitated the reunion of the Liberal Party and found it arrayed against him. Therefore, I would like to join in the geographical aspect of this Debate in the allocation of airports for post-war civil aviation. The claims of Prestwick have again been pressed and reference has been made to the possibilities of Northern Ireland. I make bold to ask, Is the Secretary of State disposed this evening to tell us something with regard to the development of the London airport? So far he has said very little about it, except in reply to questions, and no actual official information has been given as to whether the London airport is to be on a site on the Great West Road or elsewhere.
I would also like to ask the Minister whether he can give us any indication as a pointer to the future of the sort of cost in which the State will be involved for land known as Heath Row and its environs. We have had all sorts of calculations as to the time that will be taken to produce aircraft when we have to fly air routes at the end of the war. But can the right hon. Gentleman give us an indication when this airport will be finished to take its place as World Number One Air Terminus? Then there is another aspect of this. Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to indicate those aerodromes which are likely to be kept by the Royal Air Force after the war? I understand that all the aerodromes are vested in the Secretary of State for Air, and I have particularly in mind the aerodromes of East Anglia used by Allied Forces. A great deal of this land was taken from agriculture, which hopes to have it returned one day. Can he give to those who are and will be interested in the future and development of agriculture, including the war agricultural executive committees or those who take their place, an indication of the aerodromes or air stations which are likely to be kept on and of those which will be returned to the purposes for which they were originally used. This is important to many patriotic individuals who were dispossessed at short notice.
I would also like to soften his heart on a question I raised on the Adjournment some months ago—the question of the single or observer's wing of the old Royal Flying Corps. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary for Air replied to that Debate, and the posi- tion at the present time is that a member of the Royal Flying Corps who is to-day wearing Army uniform or Royal Air Force blue can wear his wings provided they are pilot wings. He is not entitled to wear on Army uniform the single observer's wing of the Royal Flying Corps which he won in the last war. I would emphasise that the single observer's wing was not given for a certain number of hours in the air or for training. It was won, I believe, by 30 operations over enemy territory. It was an award in every sense of the word. There are not many of this gallant band left to-day who were entitled to wear this single observer's wing, and they are precluded from now doing so by an Order in Council dating back to 1941. It is no good my tackling the Secretary of State for War on this, although the men who wear Army uniform are affected. What I have to do is to soften the heart of the Air Ministry and persuade the Secretary of State for Air, out of consideration for these very few survivors of the gallant band of Royal Flying Corps Observers in the last war, to allow them to continue to wear the insignia of the single wing.
I believe the position was that the Order in Council of 1941 enabled the holders of the Royal Flying Corps observer's wing in the last war to wear wings on Royal Air Force uniform or khaki uniform, but a distinction was made which precluded the wearing of the observer's wing. We left the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for Air. He is a younger flyer of this war, and it would be a very gracious gesture on his part if he could extend to this gallant Battle of Britain Force of the last war the authority to continue to wear this badge, which they regard as something that was awarded to them and something which they had to win in actual operations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has been into the matter and is going to tell us that all is well.
I would also like to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he can tell us anything about the Royal Air Force Regiment. I have sat through every one of the Air Estimates and I do not think I could recall an occasion when the Air Minister has told us anything about what is happening with regard to the Royal Air Force Regiment. Who is responsible for their welfare to-day? Many of the men are on ground defences at aerodromes, and some of us know what tedious work it is. Do they get their welfare arrangements from the Army or from the Royal Air Force? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the Royal Air Force Regiment is properly used and fully employed at the present time? The complaints that one hears of redundance in man-power in various parts of the world, including this country, with regard to the Royal Air Force Regiment is common knowledge. It was intended that the Royal Air Force Regiment should be to the Royal Air Force what the Marines are to the Navy. Whether that idea has been properly developed and they have been able to establish the conditions and the actual functions and duties of the Royal Air Force Regiment as originally intended or not I do not know. I have heard that some of them are not fully employed and that others are employed on the kind of work for which they were not originally recruited. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us something when he comes to reply.
I now want to say a word or two about the Royal Air Force Transport Command. Several hon. Members have raised from time to time in this House the question of vocational training in the Royal Air Force during the war to enable men to undertake duties and responsibilities in civil aviation after the war. Is the Minister now in a position to develop that plan? Transport Command have far more experience in navigation and so on than, shall I say, the ordinary members of crews and fighting pilots, but the difference between operational work, or military work, in the Royal Air Force and the responsibilities of civil aviation is very considerable, and I cannot, for the life of me, see why those members of the Royal Air Force cannot be given the fullest opportunities to get adequate training so that, when we can set up civil aviation after the war, we shall not be, as we were before the war, short of navigators and pilots.
I had also hoped that the Air Minister, in his Estimates speech, was going to tell us that Transport Command would be developed upon a considerable scale. When it was first announced, a great deal of support was given to this idea. It was welcomed with enthusiasm. I do not know what part Transport Command is playing to-day in flying senior officers all over the world to their duties, or in ferrying troops to various parts, but I would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that it was his intention to increase the size of Transport Command at the end of the war so that it would be able to fly our prisoners back to this country when they are liberated on the Continent of Europe. I am fully convinced that when we come to draft large numbers of troops to Burma, India, and the Far East, we shall be forced to use R.A.F. Transport Command to fly the men back on their ordinary routine leave. I should have thought that there could be no international complications about that, whatever might be said at the Chicago Air Conference.
Has the Air Ministry set about building up Transport Command to be the greatest fleet of aircraft that the world has ever seen, so as to use them to fly our men back from Burma on regular routine leave, and to fly our prisoners back from liberated Europe? There could be no objection to that, surely, and then, when we were able to get into the position of reverting to ordinary civil aviation, we should have what we are not now likely to get, as far as I can see, a considerable fleet of aircraft available for the Commonwealth and Atlantic air services. At the present time, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a certain amount of redundancy in the aircraft industry in this country. It is not the case that he could not get the aircraft. Our factories, are very well able to produce the aircraft necessary to build up Transport Command, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will fight this battle in Cabinet Committee and be successful.
In conclusion, I support the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who referred to the coming Debate on civil aviation. What we shall want to know on Tuesday is whether we are committed to the White Paper without having voted on it in this House. I understand that the Minister for Civil Aviation will be going to Cape Town in the near future. There has been a full-dress Debate in another place, but since the White Paper was issued the House of Commons, which is responsible for voting large sums of money for this purpose, has had no opportunity to discuss it or the policy which the Minister for Civil Aviation will be advocating on behalf of this country when he goes to Cape Town.
We have not even had the Bill to set up the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. How far, constitutionally, is he right in committing the Government and this House in any negotiations with shipping and railway interests and foreign Governments when, in fact, We have not had the Bill to legalise his present office? I should have thought that this was highly irregular, and I hope that, on Tuesday next, when we come to the Debate, we shall have a full explanation from the Government. I do not know who will speak for the Government, but I hope we shall be told about the negotiations that have taken place with regard to the shipping and railway interests, and whether the small, independent, airline operators, who, apparently, have been almost excluded from this potential scheme, have been consulted and have been given an adequate opportunity to state their case. We have had Debate after Debate on the future of civil aviation ever since B.O.A.C. was set up. The House of Commons has nearly always been ahead of the Government, and has nearly always been dissatisfied with Government policy. I hope the Government will give us an opportunitiy for voting on this scheme next Tuesday and that the Patronage Secretary will give us an open vote, so that we can express what we feel should be the true policy of the Government on civil aviation.
I want to raise one point which is causing some concern in the Middle East. I have not had the opportunity of giving my hon. and gallant Friend more than a few minutes' notice that I proposed to raise this point, but I think it right to do so at the earliest opportunity, since the proposal to which I am going to refer is due to take erect in a few weeks' time. It is a point analogous to the very controversial issue debated here some little time ago—the question of the compulsory posting overseas of members of the A.T.S.—but, although more limited in its nature, I think it is, in a way, even more serious.
I understand that it is proposed to post W.A.A.F. personnel compulsorily from the Middle East to Iraq. Volunteers have been asked for, but it has been made clear to the women concerned that, if not enough volunteers are forthcoming, there will be posting. The climate of Iraq is such that male R.A.F. personnel only serve a two years' tour there, followed always, I understand, by one year elsewhere; and, even in peace-time, Royal Air Force personnel are never allowed to be accompanied by their wives when they go to Iraq, and that applies also, for instance, to Air Ministry auditors.
The other point which is worth noting particularly, I think, is that these compulsory postings of English women to Iraq are to take place in, or very soon after, next month—April—which is the start of the hot season there, and the worst possible time of the year. It was disclosed in a lecture to W.A.A.F. personnel in the Middle East, on 8th March, that some W.A.A.F. officers had agreed to this arrangement, after a short visit to Iraq, which they happened to pay during the brief cold season; so that, I think, their agreement cannot be taken as altogether a valid argument for the proposal. It may be argued that the climate of Iraq may not be bad for all women, or all English women, and it may also fairly he argued by the Air Ministry that all these W.A.A.F. personnel volunteered for overseas service in unspecified theatres of war—
I cannot give the exact figures, but I understand from people who have been there that it is a very hot climate indeed. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend has more detailed and encyclopædic information than I have. I say that it can fairly be argued that these women were all volunteers for overseas service in unspecified theatres of war, but I do suggest that my right hon. Friend should think very carefully before he allows women to be sent from the comparatively good climate of Egypt to the far worse climate of Iraq.
I wish to say a few words on behalf of one of the depressed classes of this country—the education officers in the Royal Air Force. We have already had a debate on their position, when their case was very ably put by a hon. Member opposite and quite as ably answered by the Minister, but there are very many points still outstanding which I should like to mention at this opportunity. Perhaps the House is not quite clear about the position of education officers in the Royal Air Force. I am not sure that I am quite clear myself, but, so far as I can understand it, relying on the very scanty material which we have to study, they are, to quote Kipling, a kind of "giddy harumfrodite," neither one thing or another—or, to quote a slightly more dignified author, like Browning's "half angel and half bird." Because they are civilians they will not have any war gratuity but, at the same time, many members of this body hold the King's Commission. This is something which I simply cannot understand and I wonder if there is anybody in the whole House who can explain how it is that an officer who holds the King's Commission signed by the King, is also a civilian, and is to be treated as a civilian, and, although holding a Commission from the King, like any other officer of the Navy or Army or Air Force, will get no gratuity at the end of the war. And this in spite of the fact that there are men in the country who do not hold the King's commission, who are not in any kind of military service, and yet quite deservedly, of course, will get gratuities. I refer to such bodies as the National Fire Service. I shall mention only one or two matters about which members of this distinguished body are extremely dissatisfied. I should like to say in passing that this dissatisfaction is not a case of sporadic grumbling—you get in every Service, of course, some people who grumble whatever happens—but I think I could name this particular section of the Service and say about it categorically that it is perhaps the only service, whether in the Army, Navy or Air Force, where every single person without exception is dissatisfied with his position.
Take the case of discipline, for instance. As I understand it, if an education officer is given an order by an air officer, however unreasonable that order may be, and he refuses to obey it—seeing that he holds the King's commission he is bound to come under Royal Air Force discipline—he will be punished for refusing to obey such an order. Yet he is there we are told, simply as an education officer, but if that is so, he should be treated as such. But though he is only an education officer, he is given miscellaneous duties exactly like any other officer and if he refuses to do them, as he is entitled to do, he will be very unpopular with his fellow officers, none of whom, I am told, have yet been able to understand the position of the education officer in their midst. I am also told that it had been found quite impossible for anyone to explain it to a set of men as normally intelligent as any in the King's service, to put it at its lowest.
These, however, are comparatively minor matters. There are two very much more important points, namely, the question of compensation and the question of gratuity. Not long ago, a certain ship happened to be carrying 25 education officers. It started for the Continent, but, due to some event, which naturally it is not right that I should specify, it had to turn back to port. During the time this event was taking place they had time to think. Of these 25 education officers, nine thought they would not be doing their duty by their wives and families by running the same risks as their fellow passengers, when the compensation to be given them would be very much less than that given to other branches of the Services and, when they came back to port, they refused to sail a second time.
As to war gratuities, this can be stated in the simplest of all terms—they get none. Whereas the members of the Civil Defence Service and the National Fire Service will receive gratuities and similar officers in the Royal Ordnance Corps—of course these are officers but they do civilian work just as these people whose cause I plead do—get gratuities, these will not. What is the case for refusing gratuities, except that they are civilians, I do not know, but I contend that they are, in every sense, Service officers. However, even if we grant that point, it must be remembered that some of these men have been out of their own work for five and a half years. They have given up their prospects for the future, they have failed to save money on account of the expense of living in messes, and so on, exactly in the same way as other officers. I think the case for gratuities to soldiers is not mainly a reward for virtue—they are all virtuous—but some sort of compensation for what they have lost during the five and a half years they have been serving. Well, the education officers have missed exactly the same things as the other officers have, and in many cases they have missed more, because they have missed the chance of promotion in their own particular line of life, namely, education. There is a good deal more that could be said on this but I hope my right hon. Friend will not take it that I consider that this is in any way a simple question. I am perfectly certain he will give me an adequate answer but I hope the adequate answer will come after and not before he has really reconsidered the case of these excellent men.
The war has lasted nearly six years and may go on for another two years before we have finished with Japan. During the course of those eight years a great number of young men have joined the Royal Air Force and have been trained with an intensity never before achieved as pilots, navigators, engineers and for ground staff duties. These gallant men in those many years have started on a definite and honourable career, because if one takes that slice of the first eight years of life of a man who starts at 20, during that time he is embracing the actual career which he would normally be expected to continue. Can the Minister say what comprehensive steps he is proposing to take to see that these tens, nay hundreds of thousands of pilots, engineers and navigators in the R.A.F. will have jobs in their calling when they come back to their native land? I suggest that the White Paper on Civil Aviation will not do much to help the Minister. The White Paper is the granting of a monopoly of civil aviation in this country, which is just ham-stringing the whole of civil aviation in this country. It is doing to civil aviation what Chinamen used to do to the Chinese women—they used to put their feet into steel boots so the girls' feet could not grow, in order to make sure that they would only toddle along. That is what this White Paper is doing to civil aviation in this country. In fact, if we refer to paragraph 27 of that Paper, we see that the Paper admits there will not
be any room for these 20,000 or 30,000 pilots and navigators of the R.A.F. It says:
The constituent elements of the three corporations have expressed their keen desire that every possible opportunity should he given to officers and men of the R.A.F. to take service with the corporations. Close relations will be maintained with the Air Council through the Minister of Civil Aviation in order to give full effect to this intention.
That sounds all very good but listen to the rounding off sentence of the paragraph:
It will, however, be appreciated that openings for employment in the Civil Air Transport will not be large compared with the war-time strength of the Royal Air Force.
In other words, it is admitted by the White Paper that there will be practically no room whatever for these men to remain airmen in civil life. Their career is just taken away from them. But the position is much worse than that. The White Paper, in creating this monopoly, only permits those to enter into the field of aviation who happen to be either railwaymen or shipping proprietors or someone who has run an air line before the war. That means to say that an airman who comes back to this country after the war and wants to start an air line will not be allowed to do so. It is dreadful to think that these men who have behaved so gallantly, so bravely during the war will come back to their country and find that they are forbidden to run an air line. They can embrace some other profession. They can become probably a porter or a doorman at some cinema, but they will not be allowed to fly professionally. The White Paper shows that the three corporations will join together for the training of personnel. This means that if an airman is not liked for some reason, if he displeases some high official in one of the corporations, he will be black-balled by the other two corporations and will have no means whatever of following the profession which he has embraced in the first eight years of his working career, and for which, out of public funds, he has received so efficient a training.
My hon. and gallant Friend is perfectly correct—that is one saving point, that the charter-plane field is open, but it is very difficult to see what chartering will mean or how it will expand. Chartering may develop very considerably; on the other hand it may be that the regular running of airlines may make it small. After all, the chartering of private aircraft may be a very expensive thing, and possibly there will not be very many clients. It is entirely a different type of flying from running large air liners that take 50 or 100 passengers. The chartering business is more likely to be for the small planes carrying two or three passengers. There is a certain amount of space there, however, and I would urge the Minister that every assistance should be given to those valiant pilots to start up private chartering businesses so that even in this minuscule manner they can practise in the profession they have embraced.
But I want to ask the Minister what is to be done with an airman coming back to England who may be interested in aviation and may have a certain amount of money, or may influence his friends to invest their money. He will not be allowed to establish an airline. Why? Because he is a British subject. If he happened to be from Spain or from Sweden or some other country, he would be able to do this, but because he is a British subject he is not allowed to do so in this country. Surely this is not a policy that should commend itself as a British, national policy—to stop these men, who have made of their war work a peaceful career, from following it? Therefore I ask my right hon. Friend what is going to happen if one of these men goes abroad to try and join one of the foreign air lines which will be established and which will fly to and over England. It may be suggested that foreign countries may not be pleased to accept a man not of their own nationality to run their air lines and will naturally not copy us but give preference to the nationals of their own country, to whom the air lines belong. However, in view of the great efficiency of the R.A.F. and the wonderful work they have done during the war, it is possible that some countries will be very glad and happy to encourage British pilots to operate their lines. In that case are these British pilots or these British airline owners or operators to be tracked down by our Govern- ment? Is our Government going to instruct our foreign representatives to track down these men and stop them from doing the monopoly work, as this Government has done in other fields? As I have pointed out before, there are three fields of human endeavour in which, if you grant a monopoly, you are following a policy which consists of forbidding your fellow nationals doing in your country what foreigners are allowed to come and do in your country. They are the air, shipping and radio. If you were to give a monopoly to a corporation to run shipping, as has been suggested for these three corporations, it would mean that two Englishmen could form an English company, could buy a cargo boat, could put it on the sea but, if they came to Southampton, because they were flying the Union Jack they would not be allowed to enter Southampton. They would have to wait outside the three mile limit. While waiting outside the three mile limit they would see Chinese, Belgian, and Italian ships going into Southampton while they were ostracised. That is exactly the position of a monopoly granted in the air, according to the White Paper.
When the White Paper is a Bill in operation it will mean as it means to-day that an English airman who has fought in this war can buy a commercial transport aircraft but he will not be allowed to land that aircraft at Heston airport to pick up passengers and take them away. No, for he is flying the Union Jack. Flying the Union Jack is a crime. But a Swiss or a Belgian plane can land at Heston to drop passengers, to pick them up and take them. These machines are foreign, they are not flying the Blue Ensign, they can carry on. They must be allowed to land for, if they were not, B.O.A.C. could not land in Italy or Spain, etc. It is a most wicked thing to grant a monopoly in any one of these three fields—air, sea or ether. If you give a monopoly for the construction or operation of railways or the opening of fish and chip shops, or coal mining, then no Englishmen or foreigners can open a shop or mine or operate a railway who is not of the chosen instrument. If you give a monopoly in shipping, radio and the air you are following a policy which means that you are ostracising your own people—you are saying to an Englishman or to an English company: "You cannot do this in Great Britain but the foreigner can come and do it under your nose." Surely that can never be accepted by any sane person as a proper national policy for this country.
When we come to those British pilots who are compelled to go abroad for work and enterprise, will the Government track them down if they start an air line? Suppose they go over to Spain and Spain is hospitable enough to say: "We will allow you to establish a line between Madrid and Lisbon." Is the British Government going to give them assistance to do that or will it stop them from doing so by making diplomatic representations to Spain and Portugal? It may seem strange to hon. Members to hear me suggest that the Government should go and track down their nationals and prevent them from taking over a foreign concession which is offered, but they have done so in the past. It has been done to me as the chairman of a British company in the field of radio, when the Luxembourg Government decided to build a broadcasting station and decided to tender abroad for the concession.
I went over to quote for the concession, and a French company went to Luxembourg to quote for it too. Our Ambassador tried to stop the English company from obtaining the concession, while the French company naturally had the support of the French Ambassador and they secured the contract and built the whole station. My company has to be content to accept the contract of operating the station on a working arrangement with the French company. Because an English individual cannot run an airline in England, are we going to track him down when he tries to get a concession in a foreign country to fly a line from that country to England? When we think of what these airmen have done, and how they have embraced their careers in such a magnficent way, I say that to hamper them in continuing to follow the careers they have started so brilliantly would be a dreadful act. I would, therefore, like my right hon. Friend to say what steps he is taking to see to it that these valiant and gallant airmen, mechanics and engineers will have the full opportunity of continuing their careers, after the war has been won, in England and in any part of the world.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Pluģ ģe) has just brought out an important point. I would like to mention, quite briefly, two other equally important points. The first is with regard to the allocation of airports, which is a vital matter in relation to the location of industry. The vision and initiative shown by many of our municipalities in pre-war days should have some return. We have heard suggestions about airport allocations, and I would like to press the point that the West Country should not be forgotten. For one thing, it is the nearest landfall in the crossing of the Atlantic, and, for another, there are suitable places there waiting for development. The great industrialists in the country are waiting to see where these post-war civilian airports are to be located. I would like to remind the Minister that the wise men came from the East and went to the West and, therefore, I hope that one of the important airports of the future will be placed in the West Country. I suggest that my right hon. Friend could find no better allocation than Bristol, where the municipality had the vision and foresight, as long ago as 1925, to lay the foundations of the airport which has been without comparison in the useful work which it has been able to carry out for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, for Transport Command and in the defence of this country. So I hope that we shall have a statement as early as possible from the Minister regarding the allocation of our future airports.
The second point I want to make concerns our smaller airports. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) mentioned this very important part of our future operations in this country, and I think it would be tragic if all the work done in pre-war days by the small-line operators was forgotten, and they were eliminated from air operations in post-war days. They put their all into this job before the war; they produced some of the best personnel, which the Minister was proud to take into Transport Command; they have proved their worth, and I hope means will be found to give them that opportunity for enterprise, vision and initiative which they showed before the war and will show again after the war.
I do not wish to speak for long, but I should not be inclined to make an apology if I did, because the House in these days discusses questions of importance in a much shorter time than in the past, and I am not at all sure that that leads to efficient administration. In the old days we discussed these Estimates at considerable length, and it was possible both for questions of main policy to be discussed and for individual points to be put. Nowadays everybody is in a desperate hurry to get business through, and I think administration suffers. I think the Secretary of State would probably agree with me that that is so, although perhaps not in regard to this particular Estimate. I would like to refer to what has just been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Pluģģe), who raised a point of great importance. I do not propose to follow him on the subject of civil aviation, because I understand that we are to have a Debate on this matter next week. But I make the comment—and I hope it will not be regarded as unfriendly by the Minister or the Under-Secretary—that the White Paper scheme is the best in the circumstances, although it would be a profound mistake to suppose that the Government are now out of the controversial wood. There will be more controversy surrounding the question of civil aviation in the next few years than around any other question of the day, and a lot of it will arise round the point mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend.
We have the most magnificent Air Force any country has ever possessed—and I hope it will not be regarded as wounding by our Allies if I say that. This Force has been built into a most magnificent engine of defence and offence, yet we have not been told, so far, what is to happen to it after the war. That is where the real disadvantage of a Coalition Government comes in; if we had not a Coalition Government, but an ordinary party Government, they would say what was their defence policy for after the war. This Government can do nothing of the sort. All they can deal with is short-term policy, in a most sketchy manner. That is greatly inimical to the interests of the Air Force. It is not the fault of the Minister, or of the Prime Minister; it is the fault of the situation. It is greatly antipathetic to the interests of the Air Force that the Minister cannot stand at that Box and announce our post-war policy for the next 10 years. I think the American Government have gone much further than we have. One of their spokesmen has referred to the need for an enormous Air Force after the war. We have had no such declaration from His Majesty's Government. We do not know at all what are their views.
That, of course, is intimately connected with the point which was so well put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham. We have given a skilled training to men through the Air Force which has never been equalled in our history. No Governmental organisation has ever provided the training for men that the Royal Air Force is providing to-day. It is on quite a different basis from that which is given in the Army. We are taking young men, in the most formative years of their life, and turning them into most highly skilled people for the purpose for which they have enlisted, to fly machines and beat the enemy, yet we are unable to say what is to happen to them after the war. This is not a party matter, as I am sure my hon. Friends on this side of the House will agree. It is really a calamitous situation, and this Government or any other Government in the future will have considerable trouble if we see air lines flying here with foreign pilots.
I want to make an earnest appeal to the Secretary of State to handle personally the psychological aspect of the A.T.C. problem. What is the situation? The other night there were speeches very critical of the Government on this subject, and I think most of the criticisms were justified, though not all. We had a reply from the Under-Secretary, from an obvious Departmental brief, in which he said that he was doing his best to deal with the matter. If I may say so in all friendliness, that is not nearly good enough. What is the history of the A.T.C.? I know something officially about its origin. It was built up in a spirit of high endeavour; it had no political complications; it was believed by people of all parties that it would be an excellent organisation, not merely from the point of view of defence but from a moral point of view. Boys were led to believe that they would have the first choice of entry into the Air Force. From a practical point of view the Air Ministry could not say other than they said the other night—that in view of the tremendous demand for men for the Army it was necessary for boys in the A.T.C. to go into the Army. That is right, and I support it. But it is not enough merely to say that. I think the Minister should realise this spirit of high endeavour which has always actuated and motivated this Corps, which is, I might almost say, the corps d'élite of Cadet Corps.
Would it not be possible for the Secretary of State to address members of this organisation at a big meeting in London, and say something which would make them feel that this necessity for them to go into the Army, owing to the demand for man-power, was most regrettable but was, nevertheless, unavoidable? Above all, could not the Minister say that while it is not possible for the Government to determine and define, at this moment, our post-war policy in regard to the Royal Air Force, there would be an Air Force of some sort after the war and that the A.T.C. would always be looked to in peace-time as the chosen instrument, so far as we can have one, for pre-entry training in the Royal Air Force? If the Minister could deal with the matter on those lines, and on more sentimental lines than has been done in the past, he would have a lot of support from responsible opinion in this country, and from myself and others who have been at the Air Ministry. I therefore make a most earnest appeal to my right hon. Friend to act on those lines.
I would like to take up straight away the point which has been raised by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), and to say that my right hon. Friend and I are doing our very utmost to deal satisfactorily with the problem he has put forward. I will admit to failings in experience, owing to lack of years, but I want to say that although personal reminiscences are generally boring, about a year ago I was one of the men who was doing some flying, and that I hope I still have particularly at heart the interests of the pilots, and will continue to have them at heart after the war. My right hon. Friend and I will do what we can, in the best interests of the Royal Air Force, to see that these young men are properly treated. As soon as we can make some announcement about these things we will do so. As soon as my right hon. Friend is in a position to make a further statement about the A.T.C. he will do so himself. Our difficulty is that we are continually being asked to make statements about the future and that we have nothing to say. That, perhaps, is a brutally frank statement, but we are trying our utmost to see that we shall have something to say in the near future—a s near a future as possible. Therefore, I would appeal to hon. Members to be generous and patient with us, because we are fully seized of their anxiety in these matters, and as soon as we can tell them something concrete and definite we will do so. While I accept the Noble Lord's strictures about the statement that I made about the A.T.C.—
I admit that it was extraordinarily dull. I feel that nothing could infuse any life into it, but I accept full responsibility for it, and I did my very best to give the A.T.C. some hope that they were being looked after. We will try to give them more flying and increased gliding. We do not want them to do endless parades and desk work and then have to go into the Army.
How is it that the Government have so much to say about giving away our air assets to railway companies and nothing to say about these valuable assets, the young men training for the Air Force?
Perhaps that was an over-frank statement on my part. We shall have something to say and I am only asking hon. Members to be patient for the moment and we will let them have a statement on these matters as soon as we have something worth saying. As far as civil aviation is concerned, having taken some part as a back bencher in the agitation to get the affairs of civil aviation taken away from the Air Ministry, the moment I had the honour to be sent to the Air Ministry I took no further interest in civil aviation except, as was my duty, in the day to day operations of the Department. Therefore I ask hon. Members to accept my assurance that the suggestions that they have made about various sections of the country, which have great beauty as far as airports are concerned, will be sent to the right quarter, and when the Government representatives introduce the White Paper next Tuesday, I have no doubt that a full statement will be made on the policy of civil aviation and hon. Members will have an opportunity of debating it and will receive an answer. I hope they will not think that I am lacking in my duty in not being able to answer them tonight, because, although on a legal and technical basis it is the Air Ministry's responsibility, the House is aware of the arrangements that have been made for dealing with it.
I want to come lastly to the questions put to me by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). First of all the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) suggested an alarming thing, that there was about to be compulsory posting of W.A.A.F. overseas. There is absolutely no truth in this at all. W.A.A.F volunteers may be posted to the Middle East—this includes Iraq—but there are no W.A.A.F.s serving in Iraq and none could be compulsorily posted there. If we should want any W.A.A.F.s in Iraq we should ask for volunteers.
I am glad to have that reassurance, but will the hon. and gallant Gentleman communicate with the Middle East, because quite definitely they have been told that unless sufficient volunteers are forthcoming for Iraq they will be posted there?
The hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Granville) raised points about agriculture and the single observer's wing. Here again, our aerodrome policy, as was announced recently, must have relation to the size of the post-war Air Force, and we are in no position to make a statement about that because we have not only this war but the war against the Japanese on our hands and we cannot tell how that will affect the size of the Air Force at the moment. The hon. Member is under a misapprehension about the observer's wing. The pilot's badge is an integral part of the uniform of the Royal Air Force. As a concession to those who have some reserve obligations to the Royal Air Force, members of the Army were allowed to wear pilot's wings, but that is where the concession ended. The concession cannot go on for ever, otherwise we should have requests for every one to wear pilot's wings and, no doubt, members of the Air Force would like to wear boy scouts badges, and the uniform would become an odd collection of insignia.
My hon. and gallant Friend raised the point on the Adjournment some weeks ago, and I promised to look into it again. I am convinced, on the facts as I know them, that these pilot's wings are an integral part of the Royal Air Force uniform. If they were not so 25 years ago, I cannot be held responsible for it but they are not to-day regarded as anything but part of the Royal Air Force uniform.
Is it not a fact that Army officers are wearing wings? There are many cases of senior Army officers who qualified in France and at home in the last war and are able to put these pilot's wings up. The point with regard to the observer's wing is that this is something that was granted for war service. It was impossible to get the observer's wing in England. We were sent out of the country and did in some cases as much as 100 hours' operational flying, and the observer's wing was awarded to us in France, as appeared in the orders, as an award.
I am afraid that that is where my hon. and gallant Friend and I must agree to disagree, because it is a fact that these pilot's wings are a part of the uniform and are a qualification. They are in no sense a decoration. They are a badge of efficiency. I am afraid that is all I can say about it except that, if we go any further, the difficulty about limiting the concession is very nearly impossible. Originally we allowed members of the Army to wear pilot's wings as long as they had a reserve obligation towards the Royal Air Force, but it was found impossible to impose a limit. It is a sort of snowball. We felt that we must make it stop here.
I am afraid I am not quite certain of the answer to that. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will communicate with me and I will give him a firm answer.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) raised the question of decorations for Battle of Britain pilots. The whole matter of war medals is under consideration. It is a matter in which the Prime Minister takes the very closest interest and I have no doubt there will be a statement on the subject in due course, but I am not able to make one to-night. The hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) raised a point about warrant officers and their pensions. Most of the information that he gave the House to-night he got from me.
Whichever way it is, my hon. Friend is in communication with me on the subject and I hope he will allow me to give him a reply as soon as I have one ready. I certainly have not got one at the moment.
The hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) made a plea for his constituency also to be considered as a site for an aerodrome, and I shall send that on to the proper place. It is still permissible to support Ministers in the House as well as to criticise them, and the Air Ministry is most grateful for the support that he gave to us and our bombing policy. I should like to emphasise, if emphasis is needed, the point of my right hon. Friend's remarks, which have been slightly misrepresented in some cases, about our policy vis-à-vis rocket sites in Holland. The paramount consideration which we have in front of us all the time is efficiency and efficacy of attack. If we think we shall achieve something by making an attack we shall make that attack, and that is the sole criterion upon which we really judge the thing. Humanitarian considerations naturally come into it but they take their proper place. Efficiency and efficacy are what we are concerned about.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton asked a number of questions. I cannot give as full an answer as I should have liked but I have some information which the House may like to have. The hon. Member asked me why bombing had not won the war, or why the Germans were still holding out against our bombing. It is a matter of surprise to many of us that they have taken so much without the obvious effects that we might have expected. At the same time since the Secretary, of State last spoke, on 6th March, we have dropped no less than 46,000 tons of bombs on Germany. Slightly more than half of them have been dropped by Bomber Command and 21,000 or 22,000 by the 8th Air Force. It seems to me an astonishing total. That scale of attack will continue, and I hope, and my right hon. Friend also hopes, that it will increase during the good bombing weather. Forty-six thousand tons in eight days is quite a weight of high explosive. The hon. Member asked me, too, how it was that some of Runstedt's troops were able to get back across the Rhine. This operation is under the control of General Eisenhower, and it would not be proper for me to express an opinion, but we must emphasise that no measure of air superiority can prevent an army or bits of an army moving at night and we have never suggested that it could. It is surely some sign of our air superiority over the Germans that we have a bridge across the Rhine, which we are maintaining against bombing and all the attacks that the Luftwaffe can thrown against it. This is the measure of our air superiority, and the measure of German inefficiency at the moment that they cannot destroy that bridge.
The question I put is quite specific. General Eisenhower said that he is going to destroy the German army West of the Rhine. The Air Minister says that we have complete air supremacy over Germany. How was it therefore that General Eisenhower, for whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot speak here—I do not know why—with the air supremacy that the Americans and we hold, allowed the Germans to get across?
We would not claim that air supremacy and superiority could immobilise an Army. All we claim is that it is having an immobilising effect, and the only occasion when a reasonable reaction of the Germans was possible was when air power was neutralised by the weather in the Ardennes in the early part of this year.
May I, in support of the effect of our bombing policy, say that even in the Ardennes offensive it is now known that the Panzer divisions used were less than 50 per cent. of their strength, and they were known to be short of oil. That should be a recommendation to every hon. Member that the strategic policy which Bomber Command has adopted has had and is having an immense effect in immobilising the enemy. We have had the opportunity of having a look at Cologne, from Bomber Command point of view, and we can say that every factory of any significance has been destroyed or severely damaged, that 81 per cent. of the total built-up area of the city has been destroyed, and that in the sparsely built-up area, presumably in the suburbs, 45 per cent. has been totally destroyed. That means that 60 per cent. of Cologne has been totally wiped out.
I have different information. I understand that the walls collapsed from the force of the explosion but that the machinery does not get broken up quite so easily as the hon. and gallant Gentleman imagines, and that it is easy to put up asbestos walls and carry on production.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's information is not as recent as the information I have here. It has been a very stimulating and encouraging piece of news for Bomber Command to know that their bombing has been so accurate. May I say a word about accuracy? I speak with some fervour about this, because this concern about pilots' accuracy is something I feel very personally as there are many of my friends who are flying, and I know with what skill they operate. It is probably more accurate now to bomb at night than it is to bomb by daylight. Such efficacy has Bomber Command achieved, that in our efforts at night bombing, with our technique of marking, the concentration we can achieve is really devastating. I can assure Mem- bers that if they had been able to see, as I have recently seen, in Europe some of the targets, they would have been as convinced as I am that the accuracy of Bomber Command is very high indeed.
Hon. Members must be reasonable in this matter. To fly at 18,000 feet and attempt to pick out a non-continuous chain of barges would be very difficult. When I speak of accuracy of Bomber Command, I mean accuracy in, for instance, continually destroying the Dortmund-Ems Canal and the operations against the. Mittelland Canal. It is only fair that the House should give its confidence to the pilots of Bomber Command.
The Under-Secretary says that they are exceptionally accurate at night despite the black-out. I take it that the black-out does not, in any way, interfere with the bombing?
Most of our scientific efforts of the last two years have been directed to an attempt to destroy the black-out. We have invented such flares, lights, markers and so on as to overcome the black-out. That is partly why the bombing is accurate. We have lit the places in the way we wanted them lit and have overcome the German blackout. I have, I am afraid, in rather an unconnected way, answered many of the points which have been put in the Debate. I would like to conclude by repeating what I said about civil aviation, that there will be an opportunity of debating it on Tuesday, and I hope that the House will excuse me giving an answer to-night.