Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1948–49

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th March 1948.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 4th March 1948

I wish to oppose these Air Estimates. I do not believe that the future security of this country depends upon the millions that we spend on the Armed Forces, and I want to direct my remarks to these Estimates and to say that £173 million spent upon the Royal Air Force at the present time is not likely to bring us more security, but will impose a crippling economic and financial burden on the nation.

The right hon. Gentleman who led for the Opposition paid a well-deserved tribute to the father of the Secretary of State with which I wish to associate myself. Mr. Arthur Henderson was one of the greatest Foreign Ministers this nation has yet produced, and I only regret that it is left to his son, years afterwards, to propose Estimates which mean that £173 million in these times is to be devoted to the destructive purposes of modern war. I have listened with great interest to the specialists and experts on air warfare, and the more I listen to them, the more am I convinced that they have very little conception of how this new war is to be fought, and that they are preparing for air warfare in terms of the last war. The modern developments in science quoted by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition make us wonder whether we are not rehearsing for something that may never come off, and which, if it does, will not be like the rehearsal.

At a time of grave economic crisis, when, as we were told last night, our dollar reserves are at the point of exhaustion, how does this sum compare with the sum that is being spent on civil aviation? Our Conservative friends a few days ago were criticising the losses incurred by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. They thought that the £8 million lost on civil aviation was too much, but, in these Estimates, we are asking for a bill 25 times greater for the doubtful purposes of the Royal Air Force, compared with the item in our national accounts for civil aviation. Consider the treatment handed out to the Ministry of Civil Aviation as compared with the R.A.F. We were told in the Debates on civil aviation that we could not afford to spend money developing air travel in Scotland, and, as representing a constituency with an airport which is one of the biggest in this country and which played a prominent part in the last war, I object to spending so much money on military aviation when we can spend so little on civil aviation and are cutting down that expenditure.

In the Civil Estimates, we are spending £162 million of the national expenditure on education. We are spending on the R.A.F. more than we are spending on education. We could go over the items of money spent on the social services, and we should see that the social services are being crippled because these immense sums are being lavished on war expenditure. We are suffering from the hangover of war, and, looking over these Estimates in great detail, I have been convinced that we have at the Air Ministry, people who are out to defend the vested interests that always hang over from a war.

Take the case of the Women's Air Services. I had occasion to protest against the expenditure on the Women's Services in a recent Debate, and I am more convinced than ever, after reading the publicity material I picked up at an R.A.F. recruiting office in Kingsway, that we are prepared to spend money like water in recruiting women for the Royal Air Force when we are told by the Ministry of Health that we have not enough nurses to nurse the tuberculous victims of the last war. I strongly protest against the recruiting activities of the R.A.F. and the literature that is being distributed asking the women of this country to roll up and join war services at a time when our nursing services are so desperately in need of women to help in the nursing of the civilian population.

It is, indeed, very interesting literature which is produced by the Department of the Secretary of State. Here is an interesting little leaflet, entitled "Careers in the R.A.F.," and this is the sort of publicity material that is being sent out by the Minister's Department. I have never seen anything so naive and simple in my life. It begins in this way: In the days when Dickens wrote 'Dombey and Son' women had a very difficult, but very limited, place in the scheme of things. It goes on to say: Their sphere was bounded by the church, the kitchen and the nursery. Then comes this most interesting statement: Some very advanced women wrote books. Really, the profundity of thought that comes from the publicity department of the R.A.F. is most impressive. We are told that the books of George Eliot and other women were read by women, particularly unmarried women, but only in secret. There were rebels like Taglioni, the dancer, and Fanny Davies, who carried the torch lit by Clara Schumann. Any amount of money can be found by the publicity departments of the war Services, but very little money can be found for essential civilian services like the Women's Land Army.

We do not wonder at that when we turn to the Air Estimates and find set out the publicity apparatus which is being used to popularise the Royal Air Force. We are told on page 48, that there is a Chief Information Officer, a Director of Public Relations, a Deputy-Information Officer, a Deputy-Director of Public Relations, a Publicity Officer, a Senior Press Officer, two Press Officers, eight Assistant Press Officers, a Campaigns Officer, an Assistant Campaigns Officer, a Layout Artist, a Designer (Exhibitions), an Assistant Designer (Exhibitions), and so on. There is absolutely no attempt at economy and the cutting down of expenditure in the Royal Air Force. It seems to me that the Ministers of our War Services take their instructions from the chiefs of their Departments, and that they are not framing policy at all.

I had occasion yesterday to ask the Minister of Defence about the speech delivered by Air-Marshal Lord Tedder at Glasgow last week. I drew attention to the fact that Lord Tedder, in opening a recruiting exhibition, had referred to nations, with whom we are on terms of friendly relationship, as "yapping jackals." I was amazed to find that the Minister of Defence, instead of supporting me in my reasonable demand that air-marshals should restrict their activities to their technical services, actually endorsed the remarks of Lord Tedder. My only point in mentioning this is that if the Minister of Defence is not prepared——