Servicing and Maintenance

Part of Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1950–51 – in the House of Commons at 8:10 pm on 21st March 1950.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield 8:10 pm, 21st March 1950

I never said anything of the kind. I said the present night fighter could not catch the T.U.4 bomber. The hon. Member must pay attention to these points. I made it quite clear.

I ask the Under-Secretary whether the Service will be in a position to man the B29. I appreciate it would take a considerable time to train the pilots and gunners and the others in the crew to man this aircraft, but I would ask if we have sufficient trained personnel to man these aircraft. I have seen it stated that we are to be given spares for one year with these aircraft. Is there any assurance from the United States that we shall get spares beyond a year, or have we to pay dollars after that date? As was stated earlier, the development of large aircraft takes a number of years, five to seven years. I fear that unless we really go ahead in manufacturing large aircraft it will be a great handicap to the manufacturers of civil aircraft, because one backs the other. It is not only the question of the manufacture of air frames, but it is all the ancillary equipment going into the modern bomber; and by ceasing to manufacture such machines much knowledge and "know-how" will be lost in the industry supplying the equipment.

Reference has been made to cuts in Transport Command. I can quite see that if there is to be a cut Transport Command would be the first part of the Royal Air Force to receive it. But surely the Government knew at least a year ago that there were economic difficulties. Why was it left until the middle of an election before it was made known to the manufacturers and the public that such cuts were to be made in Transport Command? We have been talking in this House about an economic crisis for the last 18 months. I consider that the Government have been extremely lax in allowing the situation to continue.

It may be remembered that before the war the Soviet Embassy showed in London a film of troop carriers dropping soldiers by parachute. That film made a profound impression on the world, but we went to war in 1939 with very few transport aircraft. A few Hannibals from Imperial Airways flew us over to France, and they got stuck in the mud on arrival. We worked at a great disadvantage, because we had no transport aircraft. I am concerned about how the Air Force will manage unless it has an adequte Transport Command. I saw in a newspaper only this morning a report that the four Lincolns which had flown out to Singapore were backed up by a York transport carrying airmen, ground crew and equipment.

The Secretary of State said that the Air Force must be mobile. It may have to go to the Continent and take with it a lot of equipment. Unless the Air Force is backed up by a strong Transport Command, the position will he extremely difficult. I should like to think that this is only a temporary expedient and that, as soon as we find the way clear, the Air Force will secure additional transport machines, because the need is vital. Mobility is the first essential for all the Services.

The maddening point about all this is that the Government, through the Air Corporations, in the last four years have spent f18 million on American civil aircraft. That is enough to employ another 4,000 or 5,000 people in the British aircraft industry for four or five years, apart from what we shall have to spend in years to come on spares for Stratocruisers and Constellations. Is it intended to continue to withdraw air attaches from foreign countries? That step has been taken in two or three instances, and I think that it is false economy. The Air Force must be kept informed, and an air attaché can also help to secure orders from abroad for military equipment. I ask the Government to consider whether they are bringing about any worth while saving.

The Secretary of State talked about the Commonwealth Air Forces and referred to the auxiliary squadrons which were being formed in the Colonies. I congratulate him on that move. He did not make it clear whether these squadrons are recruiting Europeans or local men or both. Some information on that point would be helpful. If only Europeans are being recruited that is a step in the right direction, but it does not go nearly far enough. There are many men living in the Far East who would be willing to serve. In Hong Kong, for example, there are Chinese with British passports—British citizens—who would be very glad of the opportunity to defend their own British territory.

I ask whether we are going far enough in the integration of the Air Forces in the British Empire. I know that we have the schools and that visits take place, but are we really planning future types of aircraft and equipment with, for example, the Canadians? I do not think that we are. I should like some reassurance about that. I should like to be told that the planning of new types of aircraft and equipment is being worked out between the great countries in the Empire.

My humble view is that the Air Force has made progress in the last two years. I am desperately concerned that the problem of manning the Service will be one which will prove a great hindrance in our operation of the aircraft which we may acquire. I beg the Government to do everything they can to attract men into the Service. I believe that men want to go into the Service, but they will not join while they can earn more money in civilian life. I beg the Government to give the Air Force first priority in the three Services, because without an Air Force this country will mean nothing at all, but I believe that with a strong Air Force peace can be maintained.