I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Air Estimates for 1950–51 show that the net total sum required for the Royal Air Force is £223 million. This is an increase of £15,500,000 on the sums allowed last year. The most substantial increase is in the Vote for aircraft and stores, for which we are asking £13,500,000 more than we did last year, and in the Works Vote for which we are asking £3,500,000 more than last year. The increase is due to the exhaustion of wartime stocks and the consequent need for re-equipment over a wide range of equipment, as well as to increased prices. As regards works expenditure, the increase is mainly in respect of the provision of married quarters, modern barrack blocks and airfield development.
In addition to the normal grants of supply, the Estimates this year provide under Vote 11 for a maximum of £4,900,000 to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund for the construction of additional married quarters under the procedure authorised by the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act which was passed last year. I hope to deal with the housing programme in more detail later. The number of personnel who will be serving on the active list will be less than in the current year. Vote A, which, as the House knows, fixes the maximum number of officers, airmen and airwomen who may be maintained at any time during the year, allows for a total of 215,000. This compares with 255,000 voted for the last financial year. In fact, the strength of the Royal Air Force on 1st April, 1951, is expected to be about 198,000.
In reviewing the present state and the development of the Royal Air Force I should like to deal first with the front line. The doubling of the front line strength of Fighter Command's jet fighter force, which I announced last year, is proceeding. All our day fighter and ground attack squadrons overseas are now re-equipped with jet aircraft, with the exception of those squadrons operating in the Far East.
Orders have been placed for the production in quantity of a new type of jet fighter, the Venom. This aircraft will have a performance exceeding that of the Vampire in all respects—greater speed, greater rate of climb and a much higher ceiling. The Venom will be coming into the squadrons next year. The Venom will in turn be followed by jet fighters of much more advanced types which are now under development. These aircraft will have speeds approaching the speed of sound—that is, well over 600 miles an hour—and capable of operating at extreme altitudes.
What I have said so far relates only to the regular day interceptor squadrons. In addition, of course, there are the 20 Royal Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadrons, which are now part of Fighter Command. Eight of these squadrons have now been equipped with jet aircraft, and eight more are to be re-equipped during the next 12 months. The remaining four squadrons will be re-equipped as soon as possible thereafter, although in the case of one or two of these four squadrons, certain difficulties in connection with the development of the airfields upon which they are based to standards suitable for the operation of jet aircraft have yet to be overcome. It is anticipated, however, that all 20 squadrons will be fully re-equipped with jet aircraft by December of next year.
Last year I referred to a jet night fighter, and I said it would have a performance comparable to that of our other types of jet fighters. I am glad to say that this aircraft is now in an advanced stage of development, and we have placed orders for its production in sufficient quantity, not only to re-equip the existing night fighter squadrons but also to expand the night fighter force itself. We plan to re-equip a substantial number of these squadrons with this jet night fighter next year. Our jet night fighters. which will be fitted with up-to-date radio and radar aids, will also be capable of operating by day in weather conditions in which the day fighters would be grounded. They will, therefore, have a vital part to play in the air defence of the United Kingdom by day as well as by night.
I should like to emphasise that these changes in the front line of our fighter squadrons are only the first stage of a larger plan for the build-up of the air defences of the United Kingdom. It is our aim to build up a balanced fighter force whose equipment will keep pace with progressive advances in the technique of air warfare, and in this connection I should like to say a word or two about the development of new weapons. For obvious reasons I cannot say a great deal on this subject, but I can just mention that some extremely valuable work is being done on an advanced air-to-air guided missile designed to improve the effectiveness of our fighters against the modern bomber. It is our aim to enable our fighters to attack and destroy the modern bomber from ranges beyond those of its defensive armament.
Another important element in the defence system of this country for which we are making provision this year is the modernisation and extension of the control and reporting system, which includes not only the radar stations themselves but the communication net-works and control centres behind them. I need not emphasise the need under modern conditions of warfare of a fully integrated and well-equipped system for controlling the movements of defending fighters and passing information of enemy movements to the antiaircraft batteries.
I turn now to Bomber Command. We have been allotted this year 70 B.29 aircraft under the Military Aid programme, and hope to receive further supplies later on. The first four are, in fact, arriving in this country tomorrow. These aircraft will be absorbed into the front line strength of Bomber Command, and will obviously greatly increase the effective striking power of our bomber force. During the next few months our Bomber Force will become substantially larger than it was a year ago.
The B.29 has a much higher performance than the Lincoln, which is the bomber plane with which our bomber squadrons are at present equipped, both as regards range, speed, and ceiling, and it carries nearly twice the bomb load. We are very grateful to the Americans for this contribution to the fighting efficiency of the Royal Air Force. Our arrangements with the Americans provide for the aircraft to be flown to this country by American crews. The United States Air Force 3rd Division, at present in this country, are to give our crews and ground staff training in the handling of the B.29. The United States Air Force have also undertaken to assist us in the major maintenance and overhaul of these aircraft, putting the facilities at Burtonwood at our disposal until other arrangements are made for this work to be done either within the Royal Air Force or by civil contractors.
I said last year that we had placed a production order for a twin-jet bomber. I refer, of course, to the Canberra. This aircraft has successfully completed its initial flying trials and rapid progress is being made in preparing it for introduction to the Service as a fully operational type. Squadrons equipped with the Canberra should be in service next year. Our good opinion of this aircraft, by the way, seems to be shared by the Australian Government, who have decided to build it under licence for the Royal Australian Air Force.
Here again, these changes in the equipment and in the front line of Bomber Command are part of a planned programme for the increase and the progressive re-equipment of our bomber striking force. As I explained to the House last year, we have concentrated our efforts on a long term development of advanced four-engined jet bombers, capable of speeds, heights and ranges far greater than those which have been attained with our piston-engined bombers. Although good progress is being made in developing these new types, we are still in a transitional period. The B.29 and the Canberra will, therefore, as they become available in larger numbers, constitute the main equipment of our bomber striking force until such time as the advanced types to which I have referred begin to come off production.
With one exception, to which I shall refer later, the strength of our other operational Commands will remain for the next year at much their present level. In particular, Coastal Command has continued to develop the technique of antisubmarine warfare in close co-operation with the Navy. All Coastal Command squadrons go through a course at the Anti-Submarine School every year, where realistic exercises are carried out with submarines and anti-submarine vessels provided by the Navy. Apart from their work at the School, Coastal Command squadrons in the United Kingdom and overseas take every opportunity of training with units of the Fleet, and in particular, during the last year, a very successful exercise was carried out with vessels of the Home Fleet in the Atlantic, when the Fleet acted as an ocean convoy attacked by submarines.
These increases to which I have referred in the strength, both in quantity and quality, of Bomber and Fighter Commands will involve increased expenditure. Moreover, the maintenance of the Royal Air Force costs more now because the stocks with which we ended the war are now exhausted. Oil and other supplies cost more, the latest types of aircraft are more expensive than their predecessors; for example, the twin-engined Canberra costs more than the four-engined Lincoln, and the Meteor costs twice as much as the Spitfire.
No, Sir, I prefer to relate them in proportion, and not to give exact amounts.
The House will, therefore, realise that expenditure will tend to rise year by year as the Royal Air Force increases both in quantity and quality. In these circumstances it will become increasingly important for us to be quite clear what kind of air force we are aiming to produce over the next few years, and how best the building up of an adequate sized force can be reconciled with the need for maintaining the very highest quality of aircraft and of equipment.
I am clear that it must be our aim to build up a compact, balanced and mobile force, not depending on numbers alone, but equipped with the latest aircraft and weapons which our scientists can devise, and trained throughout to the highest pitch of efficiency.
But for the moment, and for some time to come, we are engaged in expanding the front line; and for this year, in order to secure the increases in the strength of Fighter and Bomber Commands to which I have referred, we have had to find substantial savings in men and money.
The most substantial measure of economy is a reduction in the number of transport squadrons in the United Kingdom. I regret very much that this should have been necessary, especially in view of the great part which Transport Command played for over a year in helping to maintain the air lift to Berlin; though this is not to say that the Command would not again make an extremely useful contribution if, unhappily, a new task of that kind were imposed. The reduced force will contain squadrons of long range Hastings and of medium range Valettas, the type which is now replacing the Dakota.
I would add that our transport forces in the Middle East and the Far East are being kept up to their present strength, and, indeed, their effectiveness will increase as their medium range squadrons are also being re-equipped with Valettas. It was only after the most careful and anxious consideration that the Air Council came to the conclusion that, in order to secure these vitally important increases in Bomber and Fighter Commands, there was no alternative but to reduce the size of the transport force in the United Kingdom.
On balance, however, the net result of the change which I have described is an increase in the front line strength of the Royal Air Force, and I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this result is being achieved with a much smaller manpower force. Apart from the introduction of further economies, with which I shall deal in a moment, this expansion has only been made possible by a more efficient use of the manpower available to us, both Regular and National Service. But even after having made allowances for increased efficiency in the use of manpower, we have had very reluctantly to dispense with some units of real value and importance in order to secure the greatest possible increment in actual fighting strength.
As an example, we have abolished the Central Bomber Establishment, whose responsibility was to study the technique of bombing operations, and to undertake tactical trials of equipment. We should have liked to retain the establishment for this specialised work; but its size was roughly that of three bomber squadrons, and its retention would have meant that the front line of Bomber Command would have been correspondingly smaller. The responsibility for this work is now being undertaken by the bomber squadrons themselves.
Until recently we had three Empire Schools studying three different aspects of the work of operational aircraft—the Empire Flying School, the Empire Air Navigation School and the Empire Air Armament School. We have now amalgamated these schools into a single unit, the R.A.F. Flying College, where squadron-leaders and wing-commanders undergo a year's practical course in flying in all-weather conditions, in navigation, and in the use of weapons so that they will be able, by their own knowledge and example, to train those under them in the most effective use of aircraft as weapons of war. The savings from this change are considerable, and we hope to get better value from the training given. Of course, the other Commonwealth Air Forces who were concerned with the old Empire Schools were consulted before the change was made, and they are contributing staff and pupils to the College as they did to the Schools.
I should like to deal for a moment with the size of staff at headquarters. Command and group headquarters staffs are being cut by at least 10 per cent. Moreover, two Transport Group Headquarters have been abolished altogether. In Technical Training Command, by concentrating courses in our largest and best schools, we hope to close down next year three of our training establishments, and a further six at a later date.
I will deal with the Air Ministry a little later. I pass now to flying training. The introduction of the Prentice as the basic trainer has enabled instrument flying instruction to be improved considerably, and trainees are now flying in weather conditions previously considered impossible. The use of the standard Beam Approach system for landing is a further help for pupils undergoing basic training. The Balliol, which has recently completed its trials with great success, has been accepted as our new advanced trainer and should be a considerable improvement on the Harvard.
Now a word about Colonial Air Forces. In the Federation of Malaya, in Singapore, and in Hong Kong auxiliary squadrons are now being raised by the local Governments—one squadron by each, and the formation of a local corps of the Royal Air Force in Malaya has just been authorised. This force will carry out a wide range of ground duties with the Regular Air Force. I am confident that it will prove as valuable a part of the Air Force in the Far East as has the R.A.F. Regiment (Malaya) which was formed over two years ago. The similar but smaller force which was formed in Malta in 1949 has been making satisfactory progress and is another instance of our policy of using local resources, where this is practicable, to share the responsibilities of the R.A.F. in Commonwealth defence. An extension of this principle of local enlistment in British territories overseas is being examined.
Let me now say a few words about the problem of manpower. From the developments and changes in the structure of the R.A.F. which I have described, the House will realise that we are working to a considered plan for obtaining the best and most effective fighting service from the materials at our disposal. Of these materials by far the most important is manpower, and I should like to give the House an outline of the facts of the present manpower situation as it affects the Royal Air Force, and of the very real difficulties with which we are faced. On 1st January, 1950, there were 126,000 Regular officers, airmen and airwomen and 76,500 National Service men in the R.A.F., making a total of 202,500; so, while the total number of Regulars is about the same as last year, it represents a larger proportion of the total force.
A critical problem for the R.A.F. is the maintenance of an adequate flow of recruits of the quality required for aircrew training. There has been a slight improvement in recruiting to the aircrew categories during the last year, but we are still not getting the numbers and quality required and we are considering a number of measures to increase the attractiveness of aircrew service.
I regret to say that in ground trades also the rate of recruiting of airmen and airwomen from civil life declined towards the end of 1949 and did not show the expected seasonal improvement which is normal towards the end of the year. Entries for the last six months of 1949 compare very unfavourably with the number obtained during the corresponding period of 1948 and the significance of this fact must cause all of us great concern. The numbers of airmen and airwomen who re-engaged or extended their service—so far as the airmen are concerned, mostly bounty men—showed an increase in 1949 as compared with 1948 and I hope that the improved rate of re-engagement during 1949 can be maintained this year.
The recruiting position as a whole, however, remains unsatisfactory and since, during the coming year, a large number of tradesmen are due to leave the Service on completing bounty engagements, the general level of experience in the Service will further decline unless a larger proportion of these men are willing to remain for a further period of service. The recruiting figures, unsatisfactory as they are, do not reveal the full effect of the shortage of trained men. There is still a lack of balance between trades and, while surpluses in some trades have been eliminated or greatly reduced, there are still serious deficiencies in some of the most vital and highly skilled trades, such as radar and wireless fitters and armourers. This unbalance, I am afraid, must persist for a long time and can be evened out only as the experienced regular content of the force is built up.
During the year a number of measures have been taken to redress this unbalance. Men have remustered from the overmanned to the under-manned trades, some 2,300 airmen being accepted for re-training under this scheme; the National Service men in the over-manned trades, or some of them, have been released several months in advance of their due date under the programme of differential release of National Service men; a system of recruiting priorities has been introduced in order to place volunteers in those trades where they are most needed; and, finally, the decision that National Service men should serve for 18 months enabled training in Group B technical trades to be re-opened in the early part of 1949. The National Service men who entered training in Group B technical trades in early 1949 are now completing their training and from now on there should be a steady increase in the manning level of the Group B trades. Also, deferred apprentices are now coming into the Service in fairly large numbers and these will provide a valuable source of tradesmen for the more highly skilled trades.
A large number of airmen require ab initio training each year and an experiment was, therefore, introduced into Flying Training Command in September, 1948, to see whether airmen could be trained on the job in some of the less highly skilled trades. The scheme has since been extended to other Commands and it is hoped that ultimately all training in 29 of the Group C and D trades will be done in this way.
On the job training is particularly valuable in increasing the period of productive service of National Service men without loss of skill. The men are trained on the R.A.F. Stations where they will subsequently be employed, and the Stations thus have a direct interest in them from the start. The men are given interesting productive work—as interesting as it can be made—at the earliest possible moment and are made to realise that they are doing a worthwhile job. In this way the R.A.F. obtains the maximum amount of productive service from the men and substantial economies in the training organisation are achieved.
I should like at this point to emphasise the fact that the Royal Air Force is trying to make very good use of the National Service entry, and that their services are vital to the continuance of the Force on its present basis. Nor should it be thought that these men are employed only in unskilled work. On the contrary, National Service men are eligible for entry into all skilled trades, except the highly specialised trades for which long periods of training are required. During the last 12 months, for example, it has been possible to allocate 38 per cent. of the National Service entry to skilled technical trades and 25 per cent. to clerical trades. Twenty-five per cent. have been allocated to semi-skilled trades and only 10 per cent. to unskilled trades.
Moreover, some of the National Service men now being called up are skilled civil tradesmen, and in their case we have introduced a special scheme to ensure that the skill of hand gained by these men during their civilian apprenticeship is used to the fullest possible extent in the R.A.F., so that some at least of these deferred apprentices will be fitted into R.A.F. trades with little or no R.A.F. technical training. Thus we hope not only to make good some of our deficiencies in the highly skilled trades, but also, by placing these deferred apprentices into shortened courses, to reduce the training overheads in Technical Training Command.
In spite of these measures, serious manpower problems still remain, which we are tackling in two ways. In the first place, we are concentrating training in the largest and best schools at our disposal, and hope in this way to secure at once greater efficiency and greater economy. In the second place, we have for some time been anxious to revise the organisation and structure of our ground trades, in such a way as to provide an assured career, or provide assured career prospects, for a larger number of men than is the case at present, and in particular to introduce long-service careers as foreshadowed at the time of the introduction of the new Pay Code.
At the present time the great majority of Regulars leave the Service after 12 years. What we wish to secure are conditions which will enable and induce a much greater number to re-engage for 22 years, or even longer, up to the age of 50 or 55. I consider this to be one of the most effective ways of overcoming our shortage of Regulars. Planning is complicated, however, by the need to reconcile two conflicting factors. On the one hand, we want to be able to offer a proportion of airmen the opportunity of a life career. At the same time, we must ensure that if they sign on for such a career they enjoy adequate status and prospects of advancement and that they do not suffer from stagnation in promotion.
In addition, we have been radically overhauling our conceptions of the training and employment of tradesmen in the light of the recommendations of the R.A.F. Manpower Economy Committee on which we had the assistance of both sides of industry. An Air Ministry committee has recently submitted a report dealing with trade status, training, employment and careers, and has suggested a new trade and career structure designed to overcome the difficulties to which I have referred. In particular, the committee propose that we should provide a new avenue of promotion and advancement to experienced men who acquire a high standard of skill or special qualifications in their trade, but who cannot at present be offered advancement in noncommissioned ranks owing to the limited establishment of non-commissioned officers.
I believe that a scheme of this kind would enable a larger number of men to re-engage for long service, and would remove the disadvantage under which we are suffering at present of having to discharge at the end of their engagements men whom we should like to keep in the Service, and who indeed are anxious to sign on for a longer engagement, but to whom we could not at present offer an adequate prospect of advancement. The report is now being considered, and I hope that very shortly we shall be able to give effect to many of the recommendations.
Bearing that point in mind, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman take into account the desirability of increasing pensions, if he is asking men to stay on for longer periods?
I would not rule that out, but it is really a different point. What we are seeking to do is to give men who are not eligible for pensions the right to stay on to qualify for pensions. As to whether the pensions are adequate, that is another point.
If we are to recruit to the R.A.F. men in the right numbers and of the right quality, we must destroy the notion that service in the R.A.F. is a blind-alley occupation. We have therefore been concentrating on the problem of the resettlement of the ex-Regular. It has been accepted, for example, that the source of recruitment to meet the pilot needs of civil aviation shall normally be the Services. A scheme has recently been adopted which provides for pilots, in the last year or so of their service, to be provisionally pre-selected for appointments with the civil aviation corporations and charter companies. So far as Service considerations permit, we shall help these men to get their civil licences before they leave the active list.
As the House is aware, the inter-Service machinery for dealing with this problem of resettlement has been strengthened by the setting up of an advisory council containing representatives of both sides of industry. It would, I think, be most helpful if both sides of industry would encourage men to enter the R.A.F. on short-service engagements, on the understanding that when they leave the Service they will be taken back by the firm at their appropriate level. There would obviously be mutual advantages in such an arrangement. The R.A.F. would get a valuable period of whole-time service with a corresponding saving in training overheads, whilst industry would receive back men with improved skill in their trade, a wider outlook and, we hope, developed qualities of leadership.
I am glad to say that negotiations have been proceeding with nationalised industries, local authorities, and industry generally, regarding a scheme of this kind, which has made a good beginning, and the first response from industry has been very encouraging. I should also like to inform the House that valuable agreements have recently been reached with the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Electrical Trades Union, under which training in certain Service trades is recognised for purposes of membership of the appropriate section of these unions. These agreements cover some 50 Air Force trades, and negotiations are proceeding with other trade unions to get recognition for other R.A.F. trades.
I want now to say something about the size of the Air Ministry. The reduction in the Air Ministry, as shown in the printed Estimates, is about 580, although the actual reduction through the year has been about 700. This very appreciable reduction at a time of continued and severe pressure on headquarters' staff has been achieved only by the most rigorous scrutiny of all posts in the Department. During the past three years, the staff of the Air Ministry has been reduced by over 3,000.
Let me turn to the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces. The House has always taken a particular interest in the build up of our Reserve and Auxiliary Forces. Although recruiting for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve has not been as rapid as we would wish, recruits are coming in steadily, and, what is equally if not more important, they are of good quality. During the past year we have overhauled the structure of our Reserve and have been able to give detailed study to ways and means of meeting the Reserve requirement. During this year the 1949 class of National Service men will be coming out, after having completed their 18 months' full-time period They will pass to a special class of the Reserve for their part-time service, but we hope that many of them will, in lieu of their statutory obligation, volunteer for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force or the R.A.F.V.R., and undertake the additional training for which those Forces provide an opportunity.
The fighter squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force have, as I have indicated, now taken up their operational place under Fighter Command, where they will later on be joined by the fighter control units, in accordance with tile phased programme for the constitution of our first-line force. We are most anxious—and I know that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have tried to do what they can to help in this work—to attract as volunteers into the early warning system on its Auxiliary side as many men and women as possible of suitable quality to carry out this interesting and most important work. After all, the control and reporting system is vital to the efficient operation of Fighter Command: they are the eyes of Fighter Command. But we are finding great difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers into this vital work, and anything hon. Members can do to help in this work will be very much to the advantage of improving the efficiency of our reporting system.
It is very difficult to get people to join these fighter control units if the units do not exist. It is no good the right hon. and learned Gentleman appealing to hon. Members to help find recruits in, for instance, the Midlands, or anywhere in Worcestershire, because no fighter control units exist there.
That, of course, I could not controvert. The great majority of the fighter control units are in existence and are related to the various sectors of our control and reporting system. Even though in other districts we may have to wait until fighter control units are established, where they are established it is vitally important to get them filled up. I should like here to pay a tribute to the excellent way in which the fighter squadrons, fighter control units and the Royal Observer Corps have collaborated with the Regular squadrons in exercise "Bulldog," and indeed in many other operational training exercises which took place last year.
The Air Training Corps and the Air Sections of the Combined Cadet Force now total 45,000 cadets, and in addition to their value as a youth organisation in training boys to be good citizens, are providing excellent material, both for Regular and National Service engagements in the Royal Air Force and for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. As the House has no doubt seen in the Press, we have recently established a flying scholarship scheme which will provide facilities at the civil flying clubs for some 200 boys a year to be trained up to the standard of civil pilot's licence. We hope that this will give us a steady flow of suitable candidates towards our requirements in aircrew, both Regular and National Service.
This is in addition to a similar scheme which is being sponsored by the Air League of Great Britain. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how much we appreciate what the Air League are doing in this respect, which will make a very real contribution to increasing the interest of the youth of this country in aviation. These scholarships afford a great opportunity for young men to learn to fly without any expense to themselves.
We had hoped to re-establish three more university air squadrons, but I am afraid for reasons of economy, this project must be postponed for the time being. The air squadrons are of great assistance to us in stimulating air-mindedness amongst university students.
I think it is 11 or 12, subject to correction.
May I say a few words about the way in which the Royal Air Force have carried out their current tasks? While so much effort is being devoted to building up the Royal Air Force of the future, we cannot ignore the responsibilities of the present, and in the last year these have been many and onerous.
In Malaya, for example, our comparatively small Far East Air Forces aided for a short time by 210 Lancaster Squadron from Coastal Command, have continued to discharge a wide variety of tasks in the war against the insurgents. These tasks have included air strikes by Nos. 45, 33 and 60 Squadrons. convoy cover, photographic and visual reconnaissances, as well as airlifts, supply drops, leaflet dropping and communication flights by Nos. 110, 48 and 52 Squadrons. While the nature of the country in Malaya and the type of operations involved are such that anything in the nature of normal close support operations is extremely difficult, there is evidence that these air strikes have a valuable moral effect, and both the military and police authorities on the spot have emphasised their importance.
But probably the most valuable, indeed indispensable form of air co-operation with the ground forces in Malaya has been air supply. That confers upon our jungle patrols a mobility and independence of normal lines of communication without which their task would be virtually impossible. In terrain where normal military transport is useless and the soldier has to live and fight on what he can carry, air supply enables our detachments to live and fight in the jungle for two months and more at a time.
The Middle East Air Forces have continued to help in maintaining internal security over a wide area, including the Aden Protectorate, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, and particularly good work was done by No. 8 Squadron during the year. I hope the House will forgive me if I mention all these squadrons by their numbers. It is the only way we can give recognition to the men and pilots of these squadrons. A flight of Dakotas of No. 27 Squadron was sent out from the United Kingdom to Nigeria during the disturbances there last winter. Fortunately no emergency arose, but the G.O.C.-in-C. West Africa paid a tribute to their work in demonstrating the speed and efficiency with which military and police could be moved about the territory by air.
The R.A.F. has continued to carry out many non-warlike flights for various socially useful purposes. Extensive programmes of photographic survey have continued to be carried out for the Ordnance Survey, the Colonial Office and other Government Departments. The R.A.F. is also able to assist scholars and scientists from time to time in their researches. For example, fighter aircraft were used last summer to expose photographic plates at very high altitudes in connection with experiments in cosmic radiation. The R.A.F. has also cooperated in a programme of air photography for archaeological purposes, and valuable results have been obtained, particularly in the dry summer of last year, when traces of ancient monuments of various types were revealed with great clarity on air photographs.
A small R.A.F. flight of Austers accompanied the expedition to the Antarctic in s.s. "Norsel." Its reconnaissance flights in search of seas free from ice saved the expedition a great deal of time in finding a place to land; subsequently they surveyed possible sledge routes into the interior. The leader of the expedition has said that the R.A.F. reconnaissances were of the utmost value, and indeed, without them, the expedition might well have failed to land at all. We were also able to provide the services of R.A.F. personnel and supply dropping and other equipment for the Falkland Islands expedition of the s.s. "John Biscoe" which led to the rescue of the marooned scientists on Stonington Island.
The normal peace-time training tasks of the Royal Air Force have been many and widespread and their exercises have involved co-operation with a great many other air forces. I may mention in particular the two major air defence exercises "Foil" and "Bulldog" over this country, and air defence exercises in Egypt in which the Royal Egyptian Air Force joined with units of the Middle East Air Force, which was reinforced for the occasion by Lincolns and Meteors flown out from the United Kingdom.
The R.A.F. has continued to strengthen its links with other Commonwealth Air Forces. The exchange of officers with the older Commonwealth Air Forces has continued and there have been a number of visits by squadrons or individual aircraft. For example, 120 Squadron of Coastal Command, equipped with Lancasters, spent a month in Canada and, in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Navy, carried out a number of exercises in anti-submarine duties and in interception, shadowing and illumination of surface vessels.
A number of personnel of Bomber Command have been attached to the Royal Australian Air Force Lincoln Squadrons, and there has been an exchange of visits between flying boats of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Far East Air Force. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has also provided a flight of Dakotas which, under the general control of the Far East Air Force, have carried out valuable communication work between Hong Kong and Malaya.
The extent of our co-operation with the Indian Air Force and the Royal Pakistan Air Force may not be equally well known. We have been happy to lend the Governments of India and Pakistan senior R.A.F. officers to command their Air Forces, and several other R.A.F. officers are serving in command and staff posts in those two Air Forces. No. 9 Squadron of Bomber Command took part in an exercise at Quetta, which included attacks at sea in co-operation with the Royal Navy. Members of the Indian Air Force and of the Royal Pakistan Air Force are receiving training at a wide variety of R.A.F. units; in particular, places at Cranwell have now been reserved for cadets from Pakistan at the request of their Government.
In the Middle East, too, there has been a great deal of co-operation with friendly Air Forces. A Turkish fighter squadron visited Cyprus last summer, and No. 32 Squadron returned the compliment by visiting Turkey shortly afterwards. Members of the Royal Egyptian Air Force have received training at R.A.F. Stations in the Canal Zone, and a squadron of the Royal Iraqi Air Force recently spent a month at Habbaniya exercising with the R.A.F. squadron there.
May I say a word of what we have done in the way of contacts with the Air Forces of our North Atlantic Treaty Allies. Our links with the United States Air Force remain very close, and I may just mention that the number of officers exchanged between the R.A.F. on the one hand and the U.S.A.F. and U.S. Navy on the other is greater than ever before, and that the scheme has just been extended to include women officers.
The development of a unified Air Defence Organisation covering Western Union has made good progress during the past year, and a considerable number of British jet fighters have been supplied to these Allies. All Western Union Air Forces took part in Exercise "Bulldog." Nos. 66 and 92 fighter squadrons have visited Norway and Italy. In addition, Bomber Command took part in an air exercise over Norway, designed to give Norwegian fighters practice in interception
May I, in the last part of my speech, deal with the question of housing? It is impossible to over-emphasise the importance of providing decent living accommodation for the men and women serving in the Royal Air Force. Last year I told the House that by this date we hoped to have some 12,500 quarters in use and 1,400 building, as compared with a total of approximately 6,000 quarters in use in the Royal Air Force in September, 1939. I am glad to say that in exceeding this forecast we have more than doubled the number of quarters in use as compared with 1939. I am not making any point of this fact, because we have doubled the Air Force. In addition, over 2,000 quarters are under construction at the moment.
There has, however, been a major development in this field as a result of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, which empowers us to borrow money from the Consolidated Fund to finance the housing programmes for the Services, provided that any houses so built will be of value for general housing purposes should they ever become surplus to our requirements. As a result of this we are hoping to double the rate of building of permanent quarters which has hitherto been possible, and our programme at home for 1950–51 amounts to no less than 4,000 new permanent quarters, which on completion will give us at least a total at home of nearly 17,000 quarters.
A third of the 1950–51 programme will be for officers' quarters. I have been much concerned personally, on my visits, at the severe hardships which the present shortage of civilian accommodation has placed on many officers, especially junior officers, and I hope that the provision which we are making for new building next year will produce a welcome improvement in this respect. Overseas we are also planning to double the rate of provision of married quarters, and it is hoped to complete over 600 in the Middle East and Far East during the year.
We have also introduced a scheme following that which was introduced by the War Office, under which the Air Ministry will rent suitable houses or flats for married officers and airmen. The rent will be paid by the Air Ministry, and the occupant will be charged at the rate which he would normally pay for a married quarter. This scheme has only recently been introduced, and it may interest the House to know that up to date we have been able to provide nearly 500 married quarters on this basis. I hope that this scheme will make a very useful supplement to the permanent building programme. I can assure the House that the whole problem of suitable housing for the Royal Air Force is one to which I have given, and will continue to give, the most careful attention. Unless our officers and men are decently housed, and unless they can be guaranteed the accommodation to which they are entitled, we shall never build up the contented and efficient force which is our aim.
Nor is it only in the field of married quarters that the accommodation problem is urgent. At home, many units continue to be housed in war-time hutted camps which were never intended for peace-time occupation. This accommodation is being replaced or rehabilitated as fast as available resources will permit. Since the end of the war, 29 modern airmen's barrack blocks, each housing 100 airmen, in a high degree of comfort, have been completed.
I believe there are different views. A view was expressed yesterday about "pansy" accommodation. I am afraid that I cannot agree with that attitude. I doubt very much whether any hon. Member who has served would disagree with me when I say that there is no reason at all why we should not give our airmen, or our soldiers and sailors for that matter, a reasonable degree of comfort, whatever we may do by way of increasing their emoluments. In my opinion, one of the best ways of solving the problem of Regular recruitment is to give, not only to maried men but to single men, reasonable accommodation not too dissimilar in standard from the standards they may enjoy in civil life. I have never yet known anyone fight less well if he is treated well.
As I say, we have built these 29 modern blocks. A further 15, including four for airwomen, are in an advanced stage of construction. An additional six, which it is hoped to increase to 14, are being planned for this year. The completion of this programme will make a valuable addition to the permanent accommodation already available, in that it will provide up-to-date standards of comfort for an additional 5,000 airmen and airwomen.
We are also concerned with the amenities of the stations. We have therefore tried to help with the provision of some new clubs. A number of new clubs for airmen are needed, and eight of these are under construction, with a further two in the planning stage. Apart from new building, however, a good deal of rehabilitation has been, and continues to be, undertaken. This includes extensive improvements to existing single accommodation, messes, kitchens, roads, etc., to bring them up to acceptable standards. To conclude this review of the situation at home I should mention that in addition to domestic accommodation, a wide range of improvements are being made to existing technical buildings, including schools, hangars, storage sheds, and workshops.
Overseas, barrack blocks to similar standards are planned next year for the Canal Zone, and for the R.A.F. in Malaya; a large block at Gibraltar which will house 400 airmen is nearing completion. In addition to this new construction, however, steady progress is being made with the rehabilitation of existing accommodation, both domestic and technical, to bring it up to acceptable standards. I hope the House will agree that in the matter of housing at any rate, we have made a good start to provide conditions which will compare favourably with those in civilian life.
I have tried to give the House a broad picture of the present state of the Royal Air Force and to show that while it is continuing to carry out its present responsibilities and meeting effectively and without fail the many calls which have been, and still are being, made upon it, it is also building for the future. There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed that the strain and stress of the unsettled post-war conditions, coupled with the very heavy load imposed upon the operational units of the Royal Air Force, might endanger its long-term development and efficiency. It is my conviction that this period of acute danger to the future of the Royal Air Force is now over, and that, in spite of the difficulties to which I have referred, we have turned the corner and can look forward, as both accommodation and career prospects improve and as new aircraft and equipment come forward to the squadrons, to a period of consolidation, of increasing operational efficiency, and of continued expansion.
It is, to me at any rate, a sobering thought that this is the fifth occasion on which I have been called upon to speak from this bench following the introduction of the Air Estimates. I am bound to say that there were moments during that exciting afternoon of 24th February when I began to hope that I might be spared this exacting and delicate task, but this was not to be. The Government, if not altogether airworthy, are still in the air. Perhaps it would be truer to say that they are suspended like Mahomet's coffin, between Heaven and earth by the operation of a kind of political helicopter.
In the meantime, while awaiting the inevitable crash, I have one very pleasant duty, which is to congratulate the Secretary of State on his retaining in these anxious days both his seat in the House of Commons and his seat at the Air Ministry. He has now, unlike some of his predecessors, had a reasonably long tenure of his office. I believe that to be of great advantage to the Service, for in the Fighting Services Ministers should be given a chance to do something serious. Before I go on to some other points, I congratulate him in particular upon what he told us in the last part of his speech about the progress in housing. Throughout, in the discharge of his important functions, he has shown every courtesy and given every assistance to hon. Members on all sides of the House who are interested in the great Service over which he presides, and we are very grateful to him for that.
I have also the pleasure of welcoming the new Under-Secretary of State for Air. We have often heard him to great advantage in our Debates on Defence, and especially on air problems. His opinions upon air strategy have always been interesting, if sometimes rather unorthodox. In the melancholy task which I set myself during this weekend of reading through the whole of the Defence and Air Estimates Debates of the last four years, I was particularly interested in re-reading the speech which the Under-Secretary made last year in the Defence Debate on the relative advantages of the defence and the attack in the air. I expect he has been re-reading it, too, with equal interest and perhaps a little anxiety, but I think he should not be unduly worried, for, if I recollect aright, the atmosphere of the Air Council is both congenial and forgiving.
During the first Air Estimates Debate of the last Parliament, in 1946, the then Under-Secretary of State for Air, now the Secretary of State for War, observed that this was a transitional period and that he would make a transitional speech. The Secretary of State for War is becoming rather an expert on transition in every sense of the word, both in function and in opinion. Burt, of course, every year is a transitional year, and I have no doubt that, as they left the Garden of Eden. Adam said to Eve "My dear, we live in an age of transition." It is, of course, true that the problems of the Royal Air Force have been enormously increased and complicated during these four years by the rapid deterioration in the world situation. After every great war, a Fighting Service, whether Army, Navy or Air, has to face tremendous problems of reorganisation. It has to try to fit itself back into something like the old peacetime pattern and yet, of course, the vast scientific changes and developments that war has brought about make the new pattern very different from the old.
We might have hoped that this transformation could have taken place during a period of comparative calm in our international relations when we should only have to carry out those inevitable routine functions which are the duty of every great imperial nation and of which the Secretary of State has spoken to us today. I should like to add our tribute to what he said about the work of the Air Force in Malaya, the Middle East and Africa. All these hopes have been disappointed, however, and all of us in different parts of the House, with varying degrees of disillusion, have been forced to face the harsh and stark realities of the day. There has certainly been some difference between the two sides of the House in the note of urgency sounded, but at any rate the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister cannot reproach us for failure to give the necessary warnings and to demand the necessary defence measures in the light of the deteriorated situation. Indeed, the Prime Minister, who is himself a master of the art of understatement, has sometimes reproved us for over-dramatising the situation and overestimating the need for leadership and decision.
At any rate, as these four years have passed we have tried to do our duty, and today, on a very appropriate day, the massive and impressive manifesto of the Air League comes to reinforce everything that we have been trying to say. We have called attention year by year to the increased burdens which the grim situation in the world has placed upon air defence, with ever-increasing gravity and urgency. We have asked, within the limits of security, for at least the information which is public property all over the world, in order that we may judge of the progress, or otherwise that we are making.
We have not been very successful, for the Air Estimates conceal under a vast statistical apparatus an almost complete black-out, much more complete than the Navy Estimates, on everything of real importance. If we look up the index we can find the most extraordinary range of information, especially on trivial matters, from chimney-sweeps to sewing machines, but if we want to know about the great questions—the number, the character, the equipment and the fighting strength of the actual formations—nothing at all. All we know is the number of airmen and air- women, the cost of their pay, the cost—but not the type—of aircraft, the cost of the stores, the supplies and all the other expenditure consequential upon maintaining their manifold and intricate requirements.
We have repeatedly asked, why all this secrecy? We have pointed out the extraordinary contrast between our secretiveness in Great Britain and the daring exposure of these vital facts practised by our American allies. They tell us the number of machines, the number of formations and the squadrons, their character, a great deal of information as to their equipment, and a host of similar vital and illuminating statistics. I do not propose to repeat today all the arguments about secrecy in any detail; we have developed them repeatedly, and especially last year. I will content myself with saying this. The Americans are the dominant air Power in the world today. They do not practise secrecy; they revel in publicity. That is because they are strong and they wish to advertise their strength.
I can only add this, that the less Ministers tell us—and they must make the final decision; it rests with them—the greater is the burden of their responsibility. For in the form in which these Estimates are introduced it is impossible for any private Member to share in that responsibility except in a purely formal sense. We cannot even know whether we are getting value for our money, for we do not know, except in the broadest terms, what it is that we are getting. It is, therefore, within these limitations and under these conditions—not, I should say, of an impenetrable fog but at least of very low visibility—that we must make what contribution we can today to the common pool. At least it will be our purpose to be helpful and constructive. We shall not seek to darken counsel or to raise controversy for its own sake. However, there are many uncertainties which must if possible be cleared away.
At this point perhaps I may be allowed to express on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends on this side of the House our pleasure at two recent appointments. No one has served the Royal Air Force in war and in peace better than Lord Tedder, and we rejoice that he is still to serve our country in Washington and in the Anglo-American Alliance, which he did so much in war to create and to cement. In his successor, Sir John Slessor, we have a man who commands both the confidence and the affection of the Royal Air Force and of the nation. His Majesty's Government are fortunate in having two such advisers, both equally competent in the tactics and the strategy of air warfare.
Now I must come to one or two matters which are difficult to express, and therefore, the House will excuse me if I speak with care, because I do not want to say anything disadvantageous to our interests. I do not think there is any longer a need to present at length an appreciation, as it used to be called, of the broad strategic situation in which the Royal Air Force is called upon to make its contribution. Today we are in fact at war—thank God, only a "cold" war, but still war—and our first and major purpose is to avoid and prevent the shooting war.
I wish to limit myself today to the strict question of what the Royal Air Force is to do and how it is to do it. In the higher realms of air strategy there are naturally conflicting views and a changing balance of argument between the relative power of offence and defence at any moment. Some people believe that the interception of modern high-speed and high-flying bombers is more difficult even than in war-time. There are others who argue—and they can certainly fortify themselves by the position taken by Mr. Vannevar Bush in the remarkable volume to which the Prime Minister referred last Thursday—that owing to the approaching development of short-range, ram-jet and other guided missiles, and similar developments—to quote the words of this authority—
the days of mass bombing may be approaching their end.
However, we should be careful in not drawing too rapid or too definite a conclusion. Readers of this volume must remember that it is written from an American and not from a British point of view. I do not mean ideologically, I mean geographically. America operates over distances which we cannot command. Mr. Bush sums up his argument in these words:
No fleets of bombers will proceed unmolested against an enemy that can bring properly equipped jet pursuit ships"—
against them in numbers, aided by effective ground radar, and equipped with rockets or guided air-to-air missiles armed with proximity fuses.
That is his proposition, on which he bases the weakness of the bomber under modern conditions.
The House will also observe that there are many conditions to be fulfilled before we can claim that the enemy bomber can be mastered, and for Britain some of them are difficult to accomplish. Some we cannot accomplish alone. Take the first that we can do—"properly equipped fighters in numbers." Last year the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I had a little passage about the precise meaning of the phrase "doubling the strength of Fighter Command." I am bound to say that what he said to me today has not left me much wiser than last year. I can find only two references to this operation in the White Paper and they are both rather obscure. In the Defence White Paper the expression is:
The plan for doubling the jet fighter strength of fighter command will be completed.
Last year it was to have been completed in the year 1949–50, so I take it that the expression "will be completed" means the year 1950–51. The words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which I took down, were "is now proceeding," so it is not complete, but it will be. The Memorandum says:
The necessary manpower is being found to complete the doubling of the jet fighter strength of Fighter Command …. The re-equipment and expansion of day fighter squadrons with jet aircraft is continuing.
That is a little ambiguous.
If I may interrupt to get the facts correct, what I said a year ago was that the increase in the strength of Fighter Command would be completed by the middle of next year, that is 1950. I do not want to go into details, but there have been some difficulties and, therefore, I would not mislead the House by suggesting that we would complete at a time later than I said, so I said "We are proceeding," and we are getting on with what I said.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that in dealing with technical matters and new aircraft it is difficult for any Minister to give an exact month—[An HON. MEMBER: "A year?"] It is not a question of years. I do not want to tie myself to a matter of a month or so, but certainly it will be completed by the time I or my successor comes here next year.
I am glad to hear that it will be completed in the financial year 1950–51, which is what I said.
So far as the organisation of a squadron is concerned, there was some discussion last year as to whether the plan was to return to the system of two flights to the squadron, instead of what might be called the emergency plan of only one flight. Of course, we do not know the number of squadrons. All we know is that there are x squadrons and 20 auxiliary squadrons. Am I right in believing that by the end of this process the number of squadrons—x or whatever it may be—remains the same—
I did not want to confuse the House with the number of jet aircraft; it is the squadrons with which I am dealing. I take it that at the end of this operation there will be the same number of squadrons but that there will be two flights instead of one. Can we also assume—because we have no information such as the Navy gives about its ships—that there will be the same number of aircraft in each flight? In other words, that the number of flights will not be increased by the mere method of reducing the number of aircraft in the flight?
The same number of aircraft in each flight? I am only trying to find out the facts which were a little obscured by the phrase which was used for the first time this year. We are told much more about the auxiliary squadrons, that there are 20, and that the 20 fighter squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are now a part of Fighter Command. I take it that that is for operational and training purposes and that there are still x squadrons plus 20 auxiliaries. They are not used to make up the number of squadrons?
I am glad to hear that.
Now, as to equipment. Last year the right hon. and learned Gentleman was very careful in his statement, when he told us:
We are doubling the total number of equipped and operationally effective jet fighters next year.
But since he did not tell us the proportion of the unknown number of Regular squadrons which are armed with jet fighters to the total number of all the squadrons, it was very difficult for us to reach a conclusion. I take it, however, that I may now say that all the squadrons in Fighter Command will be armed with jet fighters and that the squadrons will be organised on the two-flight, and not upon the single flight, basis, and that that, we can say, may be finished some time this summer or, at any rate, in the course of this financial year.
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to make this point quite clear? Every one of the x number of squadrons today is complete on its present strength with jets. There is no squadron without jets. By the end of this financial year, we shall have doubled the number of jets in the squadrons.
I am very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope he does not think that I am trying to conduct a cross-examination, but I think that the expression "doubled" has now moved into a much closer meaning than anything we knew before or ascertained last year.
Now, about the Auxiliary squadrons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, I am very happy to say, is one up on the White Paper, because that tells us that seven squadrons have been equipped with jet aircraft, whereas the number is now
eight, or one more than is in the White Paper. We have made progress, therefore, since the publication of the White Paper, and I congratulate the Minister. We are now told in the White Paper that
other squadrons will receive them during the coming year.
I thought that a very typical phrase which every Ministry produces, because "other" might mean anything more than one but less than 13. But now we hear that eight more squadrons will be equipped this year and four, presumably, afterwards.
What was the reason for this deficiency? Why is it that all the Auxiliary squadrons are not armed with jet fighters? Is it because the runways or the maintenance staffs are not available or, perhaps, because these are the very planes which the Argentinians and the other locusts have eaten up during last year? Unless the first two acts of negligence have been committed, unless it is that there is not enough maintenance or there are not the right kind of airfields, then I do not see how the Prime Minister is justified in claiming, as he did the other night, that the transaction of selling the jet aircraft has not meant a weakening of the Air Force. So much for the day fighters.
Now about the night fighters. We have had very good news, on which I should like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman, about the progress with the night fighters. Last year the White Paper on Defence and the Memorandum were rather discreet—nothing was said about them; but now the right hon. and learned Gentleman uses the words "an advanced state of development," and says that orders have been placed. I take it, therefore, that we can really hope that within a reasonable time there will be the introduction and equipment of the squadrons with night fighters.
So much for the fighter planes, the "pursuit ships" which, the American authority tells us, must be "properly equipped and in numbers" if the threat of the bomber is to be met. The number of enemy bombers which we might have to meet, we can, perhaps, estimate. The hon. Gentleman who is now the Under-Secretary of State made his own estimate last year. I do not know whether he has found it confirmed since he went to the Air Ministry. It was a very formidable number, but I believe he underestimated it—I should like to know. At any rate, the number of fighters required upon the basis of any estimate is a pretty heavy one.
Of course, we read all these estimates in different quarters and in the publications of different nations of what is likely to be the bomber strength of the enemy, but on this side of the House we have no knowledge at all as to whether we have, or are likely to have, sufficient numbers to deal with a potential attack. That is the responsibility of the Government, and that is the one which they can discharge in this country if they have the will.
The next phrase, "properly equipped," involves considerations which are very much discussed abroad and in many technical publications but are not very much discussed at home. I was very happy to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to say about lifting the curtain a little on this matter. On the development of rockets and guided air-to-air missiles with proximity fuses of various kinds depends, probably, in the views of most of the experts, the real power of the fighter to deal with the bomber of the future. I can only say that I am certain that our scientists and technologists will be equal to this task if enthusiasm and energy are given towards the solution of these problems.
What was the third condition to success? It is effective ground radar. But effective ground radar for the defence of the American Continent is one thing, and effective ground radar for the defence of this little island, separated from the Continent of Europe by only a few miles, is quite another thing. I do not think anyone can doubt that the speed and range of modern attack, whether by bomber, fighter-bomber, or even fighter, has changed the whole situation. Britain cannot have effective radar protection except by an integrated European defence system, including the territory as far to the east as possible. In that sense, Western Germany is essential to our protection. Either the territory must be held by occupying forces, with all the risks and difficulties involved, more or less indefinitely, or, alternatively, by some means or other they must be incorporated in a truly European system of defence.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made his first movement towards the solution of that problem at Strasbourg in August of last year. Of course, there were doubters and faint-hearts then, but, largely under his inspiration, the Consultative Assembly unanimously approved the invitation to Germany to join in the Organisation of Europe. Eight months have passed and nothing has happened. Last Thursday my right hon. Friend made an equally important declaration, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister tried to brush it aside with a phrase. Of this, however, I am certain: that on grounds of effective radar—and on this alone—without the cooperation of, at least, what remains of free Europe west of the Iron Curtain, there is no way at all in which Britain can be protected from a degree of air attack which might be fatal to her effective resistance.
Now I turn from defence to offence, for, after all, our supreme purpose is to prevent war and not merely to win a war if it begins. Therefore, we cannot rest content with defence, however ingenious or however effective it may be. We must make it clear, and be able to make it clear, with our Allies, to the aggressor or to the potential aggressor that any act of aggression will call down immediate and overwhelming retaliation.
What, then, is the situation of Bomber Command? I do not find it altogether encouraging—nor does the declaration of the Air League. It is remarkable—I should say, not remarkable, but splendid—how free high Air officers become once they are relieved from the control of Service. It is a very important declaration. The present Under-Secretary of State said last year that it was beyond our economic power to provide both attack and defence. He did not argue that it was wrong, but that it was putting too much of a strain upon our economic system. He therefore argued that all of us in Europe should rely upon the United States for our bombers; that we should undertake the defence and the fighters and that the United States should be relied upon to provide the bombers for Great Britain and for Europe; and that we should not attempt to develop or produce modern bombers in our factories.
I think there is something to be said for that point of view, but I must be frank. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had time yet to convert the Air Staff or to be converted himself. It would naturally go very much against the grain to abandon in this country the attempt to produce high-speed long-range bombers and, consequently, since military requirement provides the only economic basis to civil production, the high-speed air liner.
The enterprise which has just produced the Comet can certainly do the job, so far as skill and knowledge are a test. I am not speaking of economic resources. Therefore, we should not be prepared to acquiesce in a decision to abandon the attempt to make what was called last year the "Dream Bomber," a high-speed bomber of the future unless it became inevitable. I think it is assumed that meanwhile the period of development of the long-range high-speed bomber is a long way off, rather a misty period and it would be a matter of years before it would actually eventuate, and we are to depend on the short-range or medium-range bomber of which the Canberra is the type. It is very good to hear that this aircraft is likely to prove a real success and that deliveries of the first quantity are soon to begin. But we must not forget that short-range bombing really means bombing one's friends, because one can only thereby get to the place where the enemy is likely to be occupying one's friends.
I have not been able to give an indication of the range of this bomber and I do not intend to do so, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not assume that it is necessarily a short-range bomber.
I do not want to press the right hon. and learned Gentleman too much on these matters of security as we understand it here, but I have understood from many people that the Canberra is much more likely to have a future as a night fighter than as a light bomber. Meanwhile, while development of the long-range heavy bomber is a matter of considerable distance as far as Britain is concerned, I am glad that we have decided to accept American assistance.
Last year I said that we could re-arm the Force with American Super-Fortresses and I am glad we are doing that to some extent, but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are considerable difficulties involved. For instance, are the gun stations of the B29's going to be manned and have we the gunners to man them? A year ago we had too many air gunners and remustered them and retrained them for something else; now there are too few. Of course these are the trials which always come to Service Ministers and seem to be sent to test their patience. But, in any case, the B29's are, in a sense at any rate, obsolescent and in the event of our own not proving successful I trust we shall have an agreement with the United States that the more modern machines they may have available will be made available for our own purposes.
I have dealt with matters of what one might call conventional fighting in the air because I think the Prime Minister was right when he said the other night that we ought not to pay too much attention to atomic and hydrogen bombs and unconventional weapons. It is our duty to provide ourselves with everything we can, both in defence and attack, in the conventional weapons of war as we know them now to be. I am sorry to keep the House for so long, but there are other points I wish to make.
Apart from the number of squadrons in the different commands and apart from the number and quality of the aircraft available to those squadrons, I do not know whether we are really able to operate at full strength the squadrons we have. In the Memorandum there is a very disquieting sentence:
Regular recruiting is still far from satisfactory. There is a shortage of trained men and a lack of balance between trades persists. Although surpluses have been eliminated or reduced in a number of trades, there are serious deficiencies in some of the most important and highly skilled trades.
In other words, we have got rid of the men we do not want, but we have not enough of the men we do want. That is what the sentence really means. I shall leave to my hon. and gallant Friends who keep more closely in touch with personnel questions than I have been able to do,
problems of recruitment and inducements required to get men to join the Service as Regulars, or to take advantage of other forms of engagement.
I am concerned with the effects of this paragraph. Does it mean in regard to the shortage of maintenance staff in particular that squadrons which might otherwise have their full complement of air crews and aircraft are not properly operational owing to maintenance difficulties? If that is so and as far as that results from shortage of maintenance staff, could it not be partially and temporarily remedied by giving major overhaul and similar maintenance contracts to aircraft manufacturers, especially to those who are now having to dispense with substantial numbers of their employees owing to the curtailing of the new construction contracts? After all, the rapid turnover of manpower within the Service is very costly and I think that from a cost point of view there would be a great advantage in using contractors for that kind of maintenance and repair work. I believe that a great part of the maintenance of the Berlin airlift was done by contractors. Perhaps that point can be considered.
There is one other matter of vital importance to operational efficiency. Paragraph 12 of the Memorandum refers to the continued shortage of short-service flying officers. As I have said, I will leave to others the questions of pay, allowances, including Income Tax on allowances—that thorny problem—married quarters and the like. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us some good news, but I think there is a deeper and more serious deterrent which is new since the war. Between the wars many young men accepted short-term commissions because they believed there would be opportunities for them afterwards in the rapidly developing civilian aviation industry with all its diverse forms. Do not let the House think that I am going to drag in nationalisation like King Charles' head.
I do not want to argue the merits of different forms of enterprise, public and private, in civil aviation; there may well be room for both; but I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be equally objective and not to allow his colleague to put the charter operators and private flying concerns out of business. He should try to get him to encourage them because they are really to the Royal Air Force what the Merchant Marine is to the Royal Navy. The more they flourish side by side with the great corporations the better it will be for the Royal Air Force. Many of the types of young men he wants will join his short-term flying service if they can see that they have some hope of flying apart from the restricted opportunities provided by the corporations. The same is true of flying clubs. Many of them are not in a very good way today and I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us what has happened to the recommendations of the Straight Committee and how far the Air Ministry has been able to put them into effect.
I apologise to the House for the heavy drain I have put on the forbearance of hon. Members, but the opportunities for Debate on these great problems are very few and far between. I have raised a number of points which I hope are relevant and I have asked a number of questions which I hope will be answered with courtesy, but whether they will be really answered I can only hope. On this vital day, when perhaps everybody is interested in making a contribution to this great problem, I shall be content if I have conveyed to the Government some of the anxieties many of us feel on this side of the House and the need not for easygoing, conventional or deliberate methods but for urgency and determination and. above all, of courage.
We have listened with great interest both to my right hon. and learned Friend and to the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) because this is a part of a series of our Sittings devoted to consideration of our defence position, and a most important part at that. The other day the Minister of Defence made a statement in which he gave us the general considerations which had some bearing on each of the three Defence Services. Yesterday we had consideration of the Army Estimates, today we are considering the Air Estimates and tomorrow the Navy Estimates.
I was impressed by an article which appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" the other day which quoted at some length what was said by a distinguished American, General Lucius D. Clay. He
seemed to think that all the free countries of Western Europe today were seeking to provide all-round defence for themselves. The impression I gained from what he said was that in the process of trying to do so each one was wasting vast sums of money and man-power, which he said ended in ineffective air forces and ineffective navies. He said it was a case of a little of all—and a lot of nothing. To quote from the article:
What Western Europe needs,' General Clay continues, is a composite force to which each country contributes the resources and talents which it can best exploit.
In this connection, he went on, he thought that Britain should concentrate on shipbuilding, the production of fighter aircraft and the Navy.
Both in the White Paper and in his speech today, my right hon. and learned Friend told us a great deal about the activities of the Royal Air Force in many parts of the world, and we were encouraged to hear of the co-operation particularly in the Empire and with the Commonwealth countries. It has certainly done a great job of work, and if I may say so in parenthesis it did a particularly good job with the Americans in the Berlin airlift. But although there seems to be very close co-operation in operational matters I wonder whether we heard quite enough about the kind of integration which we were led to expect following the Brussels Treaty and the Atlantic Pact—so far as the countries of Western Europe are concerned.
The right hon. Member for Bromley made some reference to the problem of building bombers in this country. We were told by my right hon. and learned Friend that in the near future we can expect delivery of the "Canberra," the details of which he did not disclose but which he led us to think would be a most acceptable utility machine of long range, or so I gathered from what he said. The point is that the economic resources of each of the countries are so limited in the light of what has to be done, that there should be some kind of co-ordination and some kind of exploitation of the particular field in which we are best able to serve. When we were debating the Army Estimates yesterday the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) made some useful remarks about the co-ordination of strategy, and I should like to have heard something today in that respect in terms of air support in defence and offence.
What is happening in regard to our Allies overseas, and particularly on the Continent of Europe? The Leader of the Opposition put the cat among the pigeons, to put it mildly, the other day by mentioning the possibility of Germany being asked to undertake some of this work of defence against the common enemy. I imagine that most people today consider the common enemy to be the Communist countries. Whether or not that suggestion was made in the proper context, or whether it more properly belonged to a foreign affairs Debate, here is a matter of the greatest urgency.
We have first to satisfy ourselves as to the job which has to be done. We have heard today something about our far-flung commitments in Malaya and the Far East, policing the Commonwealth and the Colonies and doing all kinds of day to day work. The job of defending this country has to be expressed in the form of what we can do in terms of economic capability related to what the countries on the Continent are to do. What is France to do? Is Germany to pay anything to foot the bill? What form is this co-ordination to attain? Is it to be some sort of international force, or are we to continue, as General Clay said, with bits of everything and a lot of nothing? Here is a problem of great importance which is apposite to each of the three Services. Speaking as a layman, I think that increasing responsibilities will fall on the R.A.F. I can see that in naval operations, etc., the job of the R.A.F., with all its modern scientific apparatus, must be in the front line of our defence.
I know that many of my colleagues are exercised about the cost of all this. It is a pity that in this day and generation we have to face a defence expenditure in the coming year of £780 million. Not all that is required for the Air Estimates. There is an increase of some £15 million in these Estimates, the major portion of which is accounted for by new equipment under a single item. I know that many of my hon. Friends are exercised about the great amount of money involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) described it the other day as a colossal fraud to spend so much money in these circumstances without having much more information.
Last night we heard some apprehension expressed from some of my colleagues about this large scale expenditure, not only on the Air Estimates but on the Defence Services generally. It is only after very prolonged and anxious thought that I have come to some settled view about this matter. The point we have to decide is whether we are prepared to defend our country and our way of life. If that point can be resolved the ground is cleared a great deal. There can be no question that in the circumstances in which this country and the world generally finds itself today there is a solemn duty upon us to protect our way of life and to build up a defence force.
We have to decide on one of two things. It is either a matter of raising sufficient forces to achieve that protection or it is a matter of leaving the job completely alone. It is either a case of taking the pacifist point of view of letting this system of values, this Parliamentary way of life which we have built up over centuries, go by the board in face of ruthless forces which would trample our history, our people and our values in the dust and of hoping that something may arise phoenix-like in the future to redeem mankind and the things we value; or it is surely a case of saying, "This job has to be done." If it has to be done, as I believe it has to be done, it must be done in an adequate and proper manner.
That is not to say, however, that we have to vote a carte blanche of £780 million, or £800 million, or any other sum of millions of money, and then say that the job begins and ends there. I believe that in these matters there should be wise administration and great economy. For that reason I thought it useful to direct attention to what was said by this distinguished American. If we decide that that great job of work has to be done, and that the Foreign Secretary, faced with a difficult position, has done good work with the countries in Western Europe, and with the countries in the Commonwealth, in building up a Defence system, we are driven to the position where it has to express itself in tangible terms of defence.
As a layman, I want to hear from time to time what we are attempting to do. Why the figure of 198,000? I think that was the figure the right hon. Gentleman mentioned as being the strength, at which he was aiming. What does it purport to do? How is it to be divided? How does it fit in with the requirements of the other Services. In the White Paper and the Estimates there is not sufficient evidence to show what is the job in hand. We have made the concession that unfortunately in our day and generation even a Socialist Government has to spend millions of money in defending the things we think good and proper, and which will ensure that justice and equity is done. Therefore, from time to time we should have an assurance that in terms of coordination, consultation and co-operation with other countries we are not wasting our time, or putting our money into a bottomless pit, but that we are trying to do a job for the Commonwealth, for Germany, Italy, Belgium and the other countries.
I have heard some criticism of the fact that we are spending 7 per cent. of our national income on defence expenditure; that it is a luxury we cannot afford, and that perhaps it is disproportionate in relation to what the rest of the countries are paying today. I pray, as I am sure all hon. Members pray, that there will come a time when reason will prevail; when the nations of the world through the United Nations will learn to cooperate so that we can build a collective means of security. But until such time, we are bound to proceed not entirely in our own way. I suggest that it is not a matter of a unilateral approach as distinct from the collective approach as we would hope under United Nations, but that we have to make arrangements with the majority of nations who think in similar terms; and particularly do we look in that respect to the Commonwealth and the countries of Western Europe.
It was a most encouraging speech which we heard from my right hon. Friend, in terms of welfare for the Services, in terms of new houses, in terms of scientific progress, in terms of trying to get on top of the job. But I failed to detect any encouraging note or information as to what was being done to co-operate, either in terms of strategy or in the use of the resources at our disposal, with other countries. I hope that before the conclusion of this Debate we may hear something about that.
As I have the honour to be addressing the House for the first time, I would crave the indulgence of hon. Members. I feel greatly in need of it at this moment.
In the few remarks I have to make I wish to address myself especially to Vote 7 of these Estimates. In particular I wish to refer to the supply of aircraft for this Service. In any consideration of this nature it is necessary for us to refresh our minds as to the primary task of the Royal Air Force. In my submission, this is to secure the defence of our island home. Commitments abroad today are many and greater than ever before in peace-time, but I maintain that our first consideration must be for the aerial defence of this island. It is only right that we should select this occasion to consider whether we have in fact adjusted our means and methods of aerial defence to suit the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. It is against this somewhat sombre background that I make my remarks.
At the outset I would state, lest there be any misunderstanding, that I am not one who believes that war is inevitable. I believe that if all the proper measures are taken, war can be avoided, and one of these measures is the establishment of a strong air defence of Great Britain. I believe that one of the means of securing the proper defence of this island is to create and establish the ability to strike any potential enemy at his base. We must be able to throw out a solid and a straight left and keep in reserve a well-armed right should the enemy penetrate to our shores. It is therefore first of all to Bomber Command and the aircraft of Bomber Command that I would turn my thoughts.
In the Memorandum to these Estimates it is stated that the striking power of Bomber Command will be increased by the formation of new squadrons of B29's. I have nothing against the B29 as an aircraft; and certainly the remarks I have to make in regard to it are made in no sense of criticism of the Air Staff. Nor are they intended in any way to disparage the Americans. I believe the B29 to be a tine aeroplane. It has been tested in combat and, above all, it has the ability to carry the atom bomb. But the Americans finished the late war with it and now here we are, five years later, equipping our own great Air Force with a piston-engined aircraft which the Americans themselves now consider to be bordering on the obsolete.
We are doing this at a moment when a new pride of Britain, the Comet, has burst upon the world of civil aviation to the general delight of all. I am reliably informed that it would be possible to adapt this civilian aircraft, which is leading the world, to the purposes of bombing; that it would be possible not only to carry a considerable bomb load in this aircraft, but also to attain a considerable range. Furthermore, in regard to the B29, I think it is necessary for us to realise that it is very largely an electrically-operated aircraft, like so many other American aircraft.
As I understand it, the crux of the problem of the Royal Air Force is one of maintenance, one of keeping the aircraft in the air. I believe also that it is in the electrical trades that particular difficulty is being experienced at the present time. I may be wrong, but I believe that this is so. If we are re-equipping our squadrons with B29's, which are largely electrically-operated aeroplanes, shall we able to maintain them in the air'? I would submit that that is a point on which we should be assured. While we welcome the advent of the Canberra into the Service as a high-speed jet-propelled bomber, I suggest that the Comet, properly adapted, could fulfil another role quite apart from that for which the Canberra is designed.
In any thought of these aircraft, it is necessary, I feel, to measure our development against the rise of the Russian Air Force. I hope very much that we shall keep this consideration in view. I am not at the moment concerned with the numerical strength of the Soviet Air Force nor with its bomber strength; but I am most anxious about the development of their jet fighter force. I believe—I only hope that I am wrong—that Russian jet fighter production today amounts to some 60 aircraft per month. These are first-class aircraft which bear comparison with the best produced by other countries. To anyone who had the practical experience towards the end of the last war of the German jet fighters, which were then capable of very high performances, it was clear that this kind of development would take place when German scientists became available to the Russians. It is necessary for us, while we are considering the aircraft of Bomber Command, to keep the Soviet fighter development very much in view
Mention of fighters brings me now to the aircraft of Fighter Command. It is only right and proper that in the face of atomic development that we should concentrate on high altitude fighters. It was my privilege and honour before I left the Service after the end of the late war, to command a station in Fighter Command on which we had two of the latest jet-propelled squadrons. There I was able to obtain some limited experience of this type of flying. I am certain that the genius of the British aircraft industry now enables us to lead in this field and it will, provided the proper encouragement is given, permit us to maintain this lead. It is well known, however, that jet-propelled aircraft operate at their maximum efficiency at great heights. We have a right to be assured that while we are, rightly, concentrating at this moment on the development of high altitude fighters, we are not neglecting our aerial defence low down near the ground.
As will be recalled by many hon. Members on both sides of the House who then sat for constituencies in the South of England, the Germans in 1943 started a series of what were then called "Tip and run raids." At that time I was closely concerned with the defence against these raids. I recall very well that it took us some time to get the measure of these attacks and to make the necessary modifications to our own aircraft to enable us to combat the raiders. I feel we should now be assured that the development of high altitude fighters will not blind us entirely to the possibility of providing aircraft which can operate at comparable speeds and performances low down near the ground. I do not believe that in this sphere of aerial defence the anti-aircraft gun is the only answer. It is one answer, but not the only one.
The Memorandum states that the necessary manpower is being found to complete the doubling of the jet fighter strength of Fighter Command. I think we all agree that this is good news. It was good news last year, and it is good news now. However, I should like to know whether we really will be able to maintain this additional fighter strength. Will we be able to keep the aircraft in the air, for surely this must be a prime consideration? I used to consider that any pilots under my command who were completing something of the order of 25 to 30 flying hours per month could be said to be in full flying practice. If I looked at their log books and saw that they were getting less flying than that, I began to get a little concerned. It is only natural that the more a pilot flies, the more he wants to fly; the less he flies, the less inclined he is to fly. I do not propose to give any indication at all of what I understand to be the number of individual pilot-hours being flown in the Service today. All I wish to say is that we should be assured that this doubling of the jet fighter force in Fighter Command will be accompanied not by any decrease but by a definite increase in the number of individual hours completed by each pilot.
Finally, I should like to make a passing reference to Vote 1—pay and allowances amounting to £53 million. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will make detailed references to this subject. I wish, however, to say that I regret that it has not been found possible to provide flying pay for aircrew. I appreciate that there are great difficulties in this respect, but I believe that the hazards of modern flying which bring pilots up against the supersonic barrier together with the immense responsibilities which they are now asked to shoulder demand proper benefits and fair rewards.
We are out to attract the best types of British manhood into this great Service. It is a shame and a pity that we should have cases today—and I believe that there are some—where pilots, on account of the low level of their pay and especially because they do not get flying pay, are unable to pay the premiums to insure their lives against flying risks. I feel that the point of view of their families in this matter should be taken into consideration. Unless we are prepared to provide additional emoluments for these people we shall not be able to attract the best types of British manhood into the Service. Therefore, let us do our best to benefit these men by giving them the rewards which their priceless endeavours deserve.
I am most fortunate to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), who has just made his first speech in this Chamber. It was a speech which appealed strongly to many of us on both sides of the House, not only because of the sincerity and charm with which the hon. Member expressed himself, but also because of the knowledge which he showed. We remember the distinguished career which he had in the Royal Air Force, and it gives me great pleasure to congratulate him. I am sorry that he does not sit on this side of the House, but he is quite young and there is still time.
It is only possible for me to select a few items in these Estimates for close examination, and I should like to discuss one technical and one non-technical point. Before I do that, I wish to express my appreciation at the appointment of the new Under-Secretary of State for Air, whom I am pleased to see in his place. He also had an Air Force record of which to be proud, and I am sure that my appreciation is shared by my hon. Friends.
I understood the Secretary of State to say that his Department had adopted certain recommendations made by a Committee of which I had the honour to be chairman and on which many distinguished gentlemen served, including the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Roland Robinson). One recommendation was that, before aircrews leave the Royal Air Force, certain of those who so desired should be given an opportunity of training for commercial employment in civil life. I would like to thank the Minister for that, for it is one and only one of many recommendations which that Committee made, and I still hope that he will look again at some of the others, with his colleague the Minister of Civil Aviation. As was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, civil aviation is a great and important reserve of the Royal Air Force, and anything that can' be done to link these two services together will be for the good of the country.
It is with satisfaction that we realise that America is loaning us the B29. I am not sure whether it is a loan or a gift, but I do not suppose it matters very much. The benefit of this arrangement and of our having this aircraft is that we shall have a high-flying aircraft of first-rate performance in which to give operational practice to our aircrews. The possession of this old type of aircraft—and, after all, it is an old type—must not be an excuse for permitting the delivery of the jet bomber to fall behind schedule. We see in the White Paper that the new jet medium bomber is in production and will be delivered this year. I must confess that I am very disillusioned about the delivery of aircraft in this country. We have all heard in this House so many times that aircraft are about to be delivered, but yet time goes on and months and even years pass before we find out that the aircraft are still in the experimental stage. I hope that the Under-Secretary, in replying, will be able to say whether the aircraft is actually coming into operational use or whether it is the case that one or two aircraft are going to squadrons for experimental use.
The question of the new jet bomber is a most important factor in defence today, and when I say defence I mean not only aerial defence but the whole military defence of this country. I am not interested in the winning of wars as much as in preventing them, and perhaps I differ from hon. Gentlemen opposite whose Service experience is as wide as mine, in that I consider myself that the menace to this country in case of a war does not arise from aircraft or from fleets of bombers, but from guided missiles, rockets and lone aircraft with atomic bombs. In mentioning guided missiles and atomic bombs, I am only referring to things that have already been used in war and which are within the knowledge of us all.
Therefore, I feel that this is not a question of defence against aircraft at all, and not a matter of Fighter Command, so much as a question of defence against the things I have mentioned. I think hon. Members will agree that it is not possible to make 100 per cent. certain of preventing individual high-flying fast aircraft from crossing the shores of this country, and certainly there is nothing to prevent rockets from being used, as they were during the war. If I am right we can therefore have no adequate defence against such attack and the only deter- rent to war is consequently the threat of retaliation, and that means bombers. If we have a bomber force large and modern enough, it then becomes unprofitable to an enemy to wage war against us.
I do not personally object to any argument. I am stating what I think is an absolute fact, and it is that if we have a strong enough deterrent force, it may he that we shall not have the war which none of us wants.
The logical conclusion to what I have said is that we should utilise the whole of our financial and manpower resources solely in the air and in this form of defence, that is, a powerful deterrent bombing force, and, indeed, that is my personal view. I ask that the Minister of Defence to approach the problem from that angle. We have only certain resources, financial and manpower, and they must be used to the best advantage, which means in the air. I do not say this merely as an ex-R.A.F. officer, but because it is the logical approach to this problem, and the Army should be a police force, with colonial troops, and the Navy just a covering force for surface ships. An enemy—and we can visualise only one—would in the event of war make an all-out effort against this country, unless the threat of retaliation was very great.
If I might now turn to something else which is also controversial, it will be to make the administrative point which I wanted to mention. I believe that this question of the overseas tour is interfering with our recruiting. It is my opinion that it is a serious deterrent to recruiting for a married man to know that he may have to go overseas for two or three years without his family. It is also a deterrent to the airmen or officer who would otherwise be inclined to extend or prolong his service, but who does not do so because of that fear of parting with his family for two or three years.
It is not the case that we can solve the problem by the provision of married quarters overseas. We hear very much about married quarters, but, at the very best, it is only 10 or 15 per cent. of officers and other ranks who can obtain married quarters overseas. In my view, the expense of these married quarters and all the paraphernalia of the shipping and the servicing of the families when they get there is out of all proportion to the results achieved. Indeed, I personally doubt whether there is any value at all in having families overseas, because only 10 or 15 per cent. can be provided with the accommodation. That means at best that only 20 families in 100 can be accommodated, while the other 80 married officers and men are out there without their families and are naturally very disturbed and unsettled because of that fact.
I want to suggest a solution which I have mentioned before, and I hope the Under-Secretary will take note of it and will say whether my figures are correct. I suggest that no married man should have to serve longer than 12 months overseas, and that that should apply to all married men in the R.A.F. It might equally well apply to the Army and the Navy, but I am not concerned today with those Services. I suggest that these men should be moved by air every 12 months. With single men, no serious problem arises, because the single man likes to be overseas for two or three years, but that is not the case with the married man. If we take the Royal Air Force strength at 200,000 and we say—and here I confess I am guessing—that 40,000 of them are overseas, which means 20 per cent., and that half of these men are long-service men and the other half National Service men, the figure of the long-term men is reduced to 20,000, of which I think it would be fair to say that half are married. Therefore, we have the problem of moving 10,000 men every 12 months during the trooping season. That can be done by 42 flights a month or 10 aircraft a week.
If we look at the Estimates in the White Paper, we find that £2 million is being spent this year in providing married quarters overseas and transporting 500 wives and families backwards and forwards. I would prefer to see that £2 million spent on the building of more married quarters in this country, because this is the place in which the money should be spent, and not overseas. We should derive several advantages from so doing, and we should certainly get better recruiting, because married men would know that they would not be parted from their families for longer than 12 months.
If it were possible to put that project into operation, we should certainly save over £2 million this year, and many millions of pounds in the provision of schools, medical services and transport overseas. I do not know how many millions of pounds we have already lost in the past few years by building married quarters in such places as Palestine, Egypt and India. And now we vote another million and a half for further married quarters overseas, and, presumably, we have the same chance as before of losing this money and the quarters. I ask that this matter should be seriously considered, and I believe that when the Minister has thought about it he will agree that the 12 months maximum overseas is a good recruiting point.
Finally, we are turning over to jet fighters and bombers, and I believe that this fact will very seriously alter establishments in the Air Force. As is well known, the maintenance of jet aircraft is very much more economical than the maintenance of the piston type of aircraft. I think we are justified in having a little crystal-gazing into the future in so far as establishments are concerned. If we now manned all our establishments on the principle of so many men and mechanics to a squadron we should find in a few years' time that we did not need those establishments at all and that we should be in much the same position as that in which we found ourselves about 15 years ago, that is, careers blocked because of no vacancies. There should be a long-term establishment for the Royal Air Force, such an establishment as we shall require when it is fully equipped and rearmed with jets. That is the establishment we should man and to which we should give long-term engagements, and that is the one we should watch in conjunction with our promotion curves.
In conclusion, I wish to add a word or two to what the right hon. Gentleman said concerning economy in maintenance by the use of civil facilities in this country. I believe that a tremendous lot can be done in that way, and that we should thereby be achieving two purposes. We should be giving civil aviation and civil engineering concerns the opportunity of helping not only themselves but the Royal Air Force, and we should also be putting the work into the hands of people who could continue to do the work in time of war. That is really a very important factor.
In my opinion the Royal Air Force today is, in at least one aspect, lagging behind the Royal Air Force of before the war, that is, in all matters appertaining to Reserves. If I remember rightly, we had several types of Reserves in 1939. We had a Reserve of Air Force officers, a Reserve in which young men could be trained for 12 months as pilots and then go back to civil life—a most excellent arrangement—we had the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which had about 40,000 pilots and aircrews on its strength at the outbreak of war, and we also had the Auxiliary Air Force. I believe that the Minister and the Under-Secretary should look at the position of the Royal Air Force Reserve today compared with what it was in 1939 to see whether we have advanced on or fallen behind the position at that time in this most important aspect, because every Air Force relies upon its Reserves for that wastage which can be expected to be extremely high in war.
May I begin by adding my congratulations to those already extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) on making such an excellent maiden speech this afternoon. It was a most constructive and interesting speech, and it was made in a manner which displayed the prowess for which he was so famous in the Royal Air Force.
I say that with great feeling because it is over five years since I was fortunate enough, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye, and today I feel like a boy who has returned to school after a long illness due to an epidemic which hon. Members will remember was very prevalent in 1945, but from which, happily, I have now recovered. I find new monitors and my own class has moved up. But as for the masters—about whom I read so much while I was away—I find that their authority is far more challengeable than one would have imagined from hearsay Nevertheless, it is with the greatest diffidence and temerity that I start again to join in the activities of this House as one who desires most earnestly to play a con- structive and sincere part in the matters to which we must address ourselves in the future.
There is one aspect of this present Parliament which causes me deep concern. I refer to the confusing and ambiguous statements which are far too frequently made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. I draw the attention of the House to a remark made by the Minister of Defence in the defence Debate on 16th March, and which has already been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) this afternoon. The Minister of Defence said:
There is a limit to the amount of money which the Air Force can spend on equipment; while they do purchase large numbers of jet aircraft, they could not afford to buy the full output.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition immediately queried that statement, but the Prime Minister himself, at the end of the Debate, repeated the remark. He said:
With regard to the jet aircraft, it is the fact that we could not afford to buy all the aircraft produced by the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1277 and 1393.]
Such remarks made by prominent members of His Majesty's Government are most misleading and cause hon. Members on all sides of the House—I am not speaking for the Liberals, who do not appear to be here this afternoon—both inside and outside this Chamber, great misgiving. Remarks of that nature are not conducive to high morale in the Service itself. When one considers the reactions of people overseas with whom we have joint defence responsibilities, one realises how serious that sort of thing can be.
A statement of that sort could mean several things. It could mean that five years after winning the greatest victory of all times, we find ourselves today in such straitened circumstances that we cannot afford more aircraft for which we have, in fact, the necessary personnel, the aerodromes and the technicians. It could mean that we cannot afford more aeroplanes because we have reached the ceiling which can be operated by the Forces at our disposal, and that unless we can increase recruiting in the Royal Air Force we cannot make use of any more aircraft. It could mean that if we bought more aircraft, it would result in a proportionate increase in manpower, equipment, air bases and so on, and we are not in a position to afford that. It could mean that with all the national financial burdens to which they find themselves committed today, the Government are not able to permit a total expenditure for the Air Forces in excess of the figures we are asked to pass today and which, under Vote 7, include aircraft. Finally, it could be that the Government are satisfied that we are buying today sufficient aircraft to meet our commitments, both at. home and overseas, in the defence of the nation and to honour obligations which we have in relation to our allies.
If the last be true—and I hope it is true—then both the statement of the Minister of Defence and that of the Prime Minister are most unnecessarily misleading and are not conducive to national confidence. At all events, it is not a question of what we can afford; it is a question of what we must afford in the matters which we are speaking about this evening. The yardstick must be that the first priority of all our resources should go to a minimum striking force which is adequate for our own safety and for the fulfilment of our overseas obligations. To meet these obligations we must maintain a balanced Air Force.
The second point I wish to make has been touched upon by several hon. and right hon. Members this evening. It is the question of these 70 B29 American bombers, the first of which are on their way to this country now. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air—to whom I add my compliments and best wishes on his appointment—if he will answer the queries I am now about to raise. What are the implications of this deal? I yield to no man in my admiration for and gratitude to the United States, but gratitude must not blind us. This particular aspect of American co-operation needs very careful analysis indeed. What are the long-term implications of this aerial Americanisation? I realise that these Superfortresses, bound for Britain, are part of the mutual assistance programme. I realise also that the need to purchase American high-flying bombers as an interim measure derived from the decisions taken, as long ago as 1943 and 1944, that we in this country should go straight ahead for the greatly superior and more complicated gas-turbine engined bombers which are still in the course of development.
The House knows that the development of a modern aeroplane takes approximately five years. Therefore, let us look to the future. I want an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State that, as a long-term policy, we will revert to our traditional conception of having an Air Force complete, independent and balanced in all its parts and equipped with fighters, bombers, transport and training aircraft of all appropriate classes fitted to the national tasks which it has to perform. I confess that I have very grave suspicion that this mutual aid will be an excuse to cut down on our Bomber Command. If that is the plan, I warn the Government—and I am pleased to see that the Prime Minister is on the Front Bench—that this will be the gravest false economy in the future.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of listening to what I said. I tried to make it as clear as possible that, so far from reducing the bomber force, this was the first phase in an increase in the bomber force.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of making my own remarks clearer. I am talking about the intention of the Government in the future, and not what comes under these particular Estimates. Can we have an assurance tonight from the Under-Secretary of State that it is not the intention of the Government to plan that in future we should continue to use American planes in order to economise on expenditure ourselves? I want an assurance that, if these United States heavy bombers are to be a permanent part of the defences of the North Atlantic area, we will have enough of our own heavy bombers in time to act, if need be, on our own and on our own decisions.
The House knows well how long it takes to develop bombers these days. We have to be careful that we make it quite clear to the aircraft industry that they have a reasonable guarantee of orders following development of successful new types of heavy bombers. I welcome the reference to the medium Canberra bomber, but our aircraft industry must know that there will be no question of the Government saying later on that "we cannot afford any more aeroplanes," as we were told last week. If His Majesty's Government are contemplating a division of labour in our air striking power with another country, however friendly that country may be, this will constitute a revolutionary change in our general conception of a defence system. As such it will be a major issue of national policy. It has never been presented to this House in that light.
Heavy bombers can be compared with capital ships of the Navy. They are the capital ships of the air. If we are going to play our part in preventing war we must have, on our own, sufficient aerial capital ships to make it possible to carry high explosives and atomic bombs, if necessary, into other countries. We should be able to inflict corporal punishment from the air for any acts of brutality which may be contemplated against this country. The Royal Navy has its own capital ships, from which it fires its own torpedoes manufactured in our factories. The Army has its own tanks and its own artillery, firing its own shells manufactured in our factories. The Royal Air Force must be in a comparable position. It must not be put in a situation in the future where it relies on a foreign Power, however friendly it may be, to provide replacements, spares and possibly ammunition.
I shall not be satisfied with an assurance that for the bombers that are coming, the United States will supply all the spares needed. If we continue to use these as an integral part of our Air Force, the time may come when we are no longer friends, when we may wish to act on our own, and to use our own initiative in starting action. And when action has been started, we want to know that our Chiefs of Staff can give orders without the "by your leave" of any foreign country. We in Great Britain must be in a position to carry out our own foreign policy. In that policy the Foreign Secretary is responsible to His Majesty the King and to this House. But foreign policy rests ultimately on armed strength and the Government's unfettered control of the size and structure of the Forces. If Britain has to rely on another Power for units essential to the balance of its Forces, it will have abrogated entirely its sovereignty in foreign relations to another foreign Power. I ask the Minister to give me an assurance that we shall maintain the system of keeping a fully balanced Royal Air Force which can carry out here or anywhere in the world the great traditions of that gallant Service.
May I first ask for the indulgence of the House on this the first occasion on which I have the privilege and honour of addressing it? The Debate so far has been on a very high level, if I may say so. It has been conducted in a most professional manner by professionals, and, therefore, I feel much diffidence in intervening with a view to saying one or two things about the more mundane affairs connected with the Reserves of the Royal Air Force.
I want to refer particularly to the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces associations and those branches of the Service which they specially cater for, namely, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Air Training Corps. The Secretary of State has paid a handsome tribute to the Reserve Forces, but I was rather disappointed that he did not make any allusion to the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces associations who are doing so much valuable work in promoting, organising and administering these branches of the Service. In my capacity as vice-chairman of the Air Committee of the West Riding Association, I have seen a good deal of the difficulties in the field of recruiting which are facing the Territorial associations. These difficulties do not seem in any way to diminish.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that recruiting was most unsatisfactory, and, therefore, I should like to mention one or two of the things that have struck me as being important in getting a sufficient number of men into the Service. The first difficulty that we experience is that of persuading the ex-Service man to join an Auxiliary Service when he knows himself to be already on the Emergency Reserve. He feels that he is liable to call-up in any case, and therefore he does not feel that there is any obligation upon him to join any Auxiliary Service as we are hoping he will do. Then the National Service man who is waiting to be called up is reluctant to go before his time. That might easily mean the loss to the Reserve Forces of a year's valuable service for many young men. Then many ex-Service men return home after long periods abroad and they feel reluctant to take on anything which will take them away from their homes at weekends or perhaps for a fortnight during the year for the annual camp and training.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I mention one matter which I feel is contributing to the low recruiting rate to the Auxiliary Services. I refer to transport and travelling facilities to get these men to the places where they are to be trained. Perhaps I could cite my own case. The division which I have the honour to represent in this House—Bradford, North—lies adjacent to the Yeadon Aerodrome which is the headquarters of 609 West Riding Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and its complementary formations. The men have to be brought to this point from all parts of the West Riding. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, transport is difficult on Sunday mornings. The men cannot get there on Sunday mornings, nor can they get back easily on Sunday nights. Something should be done to provide adequate transport facilities to get the men to the point of training. By that means we shall get an encouraging response fairly soon. If we are going to set up expensive training establishments with all the necessary facilities and equipment, we ought to ensure that the men get there to use those facilities.
On the material side there are substantial difficulties for local associations in finding sites for Fighter Control unit headquarters and so on. The difficulties arising from the Town and Country Planning Act and from local authorities are manifold. I hope something will be done to ease these difficulties so that Territorial associations can get on quicker with the job with which they have been entrusted—that of providing premises for the Reserves quickly, and I hope permanently.
I suggest on this question of recruiting that a special committee might be set up embracing all interests—the interests of industry, of the Service, of local authorities and so forth who might be involved; I do not necessarily mean a Service com- mittee or a Civil Service committee, but a committee embracing all interests, which can bring new opinions and views to bear on this very important matter. Unless we get the men, none of the plans of the right hon. Gentleman and the Air Council will be capable of fruition. I should like to know whether there is any chance in the immediate future of the Reserve centres being set up in time. If we can establish these Reserve centres we shall have reached the point where we can deal with a man near to his home and provide him with a centre where he will have the sort of communal life which is necessary in the Service; we shall be able to give him recreational facilities and the comradeship of his fellow men in the Reserve in which he serves.
I want to make a plea for something that is very dear to my heart. I have been connected with the Air Training Corps since its inception, and I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that on occasions I have discussed this matter with him. I feel that in the Air Training Corps we have the most valuable medium available to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department for getting the right material, both quality and quantity, into the Royal Air Force. In his speech at the opening of this Debate the right hon. and learned Gentleman was generous in his praise of the Air Training Corps, but I want to emphasise that when there is a satisfied cadet there is a satisfied parent, and when there is a satisfied parent we have the best possible public relations system for a Service Department.
I hope, therefore, that the Cadet movement will be encouraged. Notwithstanding the doubt which may exist at the present time about exchange visits between Canada. United States and this country, I hope we shall go on to build up the Cadet Force and shall give it that help and support which it deserves. We have 45,000 air cadets in this country today and we are relying upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give them something for which they have been waiting for a long time—a real surge forward. I will not say any more on this point because I might divulge some information to which I have been privileged to have access in my capacity as a member of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's advisory committee on the Air Training Corps.
I did not want to let this opportunity pass, however, without reminding the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there are people in Canada and America today who are awaiting anxiously and with great enthusiasm for him to say that our cadets can go over there this pear and that their cadets can come to this side of the Atlantic. We want to see an extension of this interchange of cadets not only between countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations but between other countries of the world. There again, is an excellent medium of public relations. It is not too directly connected with defence, but if we can extend this principle of friendship among the young people perhaps the necessity for defence will become less apparent as the years go by.