During the Debate last week on the Air Estimates a great many points were raised from both sides of the House, and a large field was covered on this important subject. There is not a very great deal to add in the Report stage tonight. I think hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that by far the greatest anxiety which was expressed during the Debate last week, and which has been expressed in the Debates on all three Service Estimates, was the question of recruiting. It is that to which I wish to direct my remarks for a few moments. The Secretary of State for Air said during the Debate last week:
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.
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that it does cause us all very great concern. I might remind the House of the extent of that concern by quoting the relevant figures. In the fourth quarter of 1948 the Regular engagements were 3,061 and, in the fourth quarter of 1949, only 1,934. In the bounty scheme in the fourth quarter of 1948 there were 1,140 and in the fourth quarter of 1949 only 373.
The Secretary of State also said:
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.
That is the second of our problems. The first is to keep up the required numbers
in the Royal Air Force as a whole by recruiting, and the second is to keep up the required level of experience in the Service.
There is, of course, a third problem which the Secretary of State expressed in these words:
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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March. 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1775.]
That is the third problem we have to solve—the question of balance between trades.
The impression left upon the House by the Secretary of State last week was that he was rather too inclined to accept this serious position with a sad shake of the head and an expression of hope that it would eventually become all right. He also told us of certain improvised expedients, which I described in my speech as "robbing Peter to pay Paul." The truth is that it is no earthly good waiting for something to turn up. These very vital problems can only be solved by taking definite and decisive steps, first to attract into the Air Force men of the right standard by offering them improved pay and conditions, not only for single men but for married men also; secondly, to give them greater hope of advancement; and, thirdly, to give them decent pensions when they have finished their careers in the Service.
We welcome the statement of the Secretary of State that action is already being taken to implement the recommendations of the R.A.F. Manpower Economy Committee and the suggestions of an Air Ministry committee dealing with a new trade and career structure. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House who are interested in air matters will watch the results of this reorganisation with a great deal of interest, but that is only a part of the solution and the Government must really make some attempt to keep pace with the rising cost of living, especially for married airmen.
To give an example of what I mean when I talk about keeping pace with the rising cost of living, I would point out that although the total number of personnel in the Royal Air Force is to be reduced this year by 15 per cent., the Air Estimates under Vote 6 provide for an increase of 25 per cent. for food. This might indicate that the scales of rations in the Royal Air Force were being increased and that we were, therefore, to spend more money on food, but I think it more likely that it reflects the increased cost of food in this country.
I hope the Under-Secretary of State will tell us which of these two propositions Vote 6 reflects. If it reflects the rising cost of food, it is interesting to note that the ration allowance, which is a cash allowance to personnel who do not eat on their station, is reduced by 11 per cent.—in other words, approximately the same as the reduction in the total personnel of the Air Force. That means that when the Royal Air Force buys the food we, Parliament, are asked to vote the cost of the increased price of food, but, when the married airman has to buy the food for himself, he gets no increase whatever in his marriage allowances to meet rising prices. Similarly, the provision for solid fuel, gas and electricity is up by 10 per cent., in spite of the 15 per cent. reduction in the total numbers of personnel. Again this increased cost is not provided for by any increase in marriage allowances.
In his winding-up speech last week the Under-Secretary of State spoke of comradeship and games, etc., in the Service, as if these by themselves made up for the very real hardships from which married men are suffering in the R.A.F. I could not help feeling at the time that the thought of the cricket and football played by her husband was very small consolation to the harassed wife who had to make both ends meet. The Under-Secretary was speaking much more realistically when he said:
A reasonable return is expected to provide a decent standard of living,…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1919.]
That is what the airman wants, but at the moment he is simply not getting it.
I have been dealing with the question of allowances. I must return for a moment to the question of pay, because it all really boils down to that. The Under-Secretary of State said last week that pay scales equivalent to civilian earnings were not in themselves a panacea.
We on this side of the House would like to know just what the Government's policy in regard to pay is to be. Has it changed since 1945, when the White Paper Cmd. 6715, setting out the new pay code for the Air Force stated, in page 6, paragraph 8;
It is desirable … that a suitable broad relationship should be established between the rates of pay of members of the forces in the basic grades and wage rates for comparable employment in industry generally"?
How far does that policy stand today? Let me give an example. The weekly pay of an aircraftman, first-class, group A, is 49s., badge pay after four years' service is 3s. 6d. per week, marriage allowance 35s. per week and the value of his clothing, rations which he receives in kind is 24s. per week, making a total of 111s. 6d. per week.
Let us compare that with average weekly earnings in civil life. According to the Ministry of Labour Gazette of September, 1949, the average weekly earnings of a man over 21 years of age were as follows: in engineering and shipbuilding, 146s. per week; instrument making, 145s. 6d. per week; motor vehicle manufacture, 153s. 11d. per week. How then can the Government say in their White Paper that Forces' pay should be broadly equivalent to civilian earnings, when to-day the two clearly bear no relation whatever to each other?
During the Debate last week the Secretary of State said:
we are considering a number of measures to increase the attractiveness of aircrew service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1774–5.]
I read his speech very carefully and I must admit that I could not make out what those measures were. I had to reach the conclusion that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not told us what those measures were to be. I hope that the Under-Secretary may be able to enlighten me on that point when he winds up the Debate tonight. In considering measures to increase the attractiveness to aircrew service I trust the Secretary of State will be duly impressed by and give proper weight to the opinion expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House during the Debate that the solution of aircrew recruitment is the restoration of flying pay. If he will consider that, I feel certain that he will have taken a great step forward towards solving the problem.
I cannot help feeling also that many more airmen, both Regular and National Service men, who are engaged on ground duties, many of them not always very exciting, would be more encouraged to engage for longer periods in the R.A.F. if they lived in closer contact with flying personnel. Many of these men feel that they are far too remote from the main purpose of the Air Force which is, after all, flying and training to fight in the air. In reading the Debate on the Report stage of the Air Estimates last year, I was interested to see that the present Under-Secretary of State for Air said:
I do not wish to enter into the question of the morale of the Air Force, because that has been fully debated, but I am told—and it is my experience so far as I have been able still to keep in touch with the Air Force—that the difficulty which Air Force officers have always experienced in keeping in close touch with their men is increasing rather than decreasing. The difficulty arises particularly among young pilots, because they are, both figuratively and literally in these days, wrapt up in their machines. Normally they meet only the fitter and the rigger, and one or two other people of the Flight, who deal with the machines, and their contact with other ranks is limited. If they live off the station this contact is all the more limited.
He said a little later:
It is disturbing to learn that this difficulty is increased by the fact that most of the personal questions from other ranks are dealt with by the chief technical officer and that the ordinary station officer, the flying officer and pilot officer, have less to do than before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 105–6.]
In that case he was clearly talking about the lack of opportunity for man management among the younger flying officers.
I think that the same argument can well be applied to the airmen. I believe it is as important for the airman to be in close contact with the general duties branch officer as it is good for that officer to be in close contact with the airmen. I made the same point in the Debate on Air Estimates in 1946, when I put forward a plea to close the gulf which yawned between the winged and the wingless. On that occasion the then Under-Secretary of State for Air, the present Secretary of State for War, replying to me at the end of the Debate, said that the Government were proposing gradually to give the leadership of the airmen more and more to general duties branch officers.
He quoted a passage from an Air Council letter as follows:
In the Council's view, the object to be aimed at is that every airman should know that there is a particular officer to whom he may go for friendly help or advice on any matter, whether it relates to his private or Service life, whenever the position of the man or his efficiency is suffering from undue strain. Conversely, every officer should appreciate that there are certain individual airmen who expect to come to him for such help and advice, and it is both his duty and a privilege to encourage their confidence and study how to maintain and increase it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1059–60.]
I believe that that is the key, or one of the keys, for which we are searching. I would like to know how far the admirable objects set out in this Air Council letter have been achieved since 1946, and how far the general duties branch officers have been able to be brought into closer contact with the airmen on the station. I believe if we can encourage that very much more, we shall obtain a higher morale, a better spirit in all Royal Air Force units which, in itself, will help a great deal to encourage men to stay in the Air Force instead of leaving.
I wish to deal for a moment with one or two small points which either were not discussed at all or not discussed very fully in the Debate last week. I would mention Reserves for a start. The Auxiliary flying squadrons and the Fighter Control units both received a fair share of the discussion. Although the figures of the strength of both of them were depressing, at the same time we were encouraged by the thought that as the National Servicemen start completing their full time training they may, we hope, join the Auxiliary squadrons and units instead of doing their ordinary Reserve training. I hope they do, and that may be the solution to that problem. But the Royal Air Force Regiment was not mentioned at all during the Debate last week; nor were the University Air squadrons.
In the 1949–50 Estimates it was said that 20 Royal Air Force Regiment squadrons were to be formed during 1949–50. But the Estimates for this year, on page 33, speak of only 12 squadrons. Would the Under-Secretary tell us whether that figure of 12 squadrons is the final figure, or whether it is still the policy of the Air Ministry to form 20 squadrons; and if so how long it will be before the remaining eight squadrons are formed? Would he tell us how recruiting for these Regiment squadrons compares with the other Auxiliary units; how it is getting on and what sort of training are the Regiment squadrons carrying out?
Turning to the University Air squadrons, I understand that the permanent staffs of the 12 University squadrons have been considerably reduced. We are not told whether the reduction in those permanent staffs is due to a reduction in the number of University members joining those squadrons, or whether it is due to administrative economy. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us, so far as is possible, what is the strength of those squadrons; whether the University students are coming forward to join them in sufficient numbers and whether it will be possible to form the additional University squadrons which the Secretary of State mentioned in his speech last week. Those University squadrons played a very important part before the last war, and they still have a highly important part to play in providing the right officer material for the Royal Air Force. They should receive every possible encouragement.
There is one more point I wish to raise and that is economy of manpower. While recruiting is in such a bad state I hope that the Government will carefully consider whether there is not some unnecessary duplication in the flying training of Royal Air Force pilots and Fleet Air Arm pilots. I appreciate that this is largely a matter for the Ministry of Defence, but I hope that the Secretary of State will ask the Minister of Defence to go into the question and make certain that all the independent and separate Fleet Air Arm training units are really necessary; or whether some of these trainees from the Navy could be taken on by existing Royal Air Force training establishments, and so effect some saving in manpower. I do not want to start a war with the Navy. I was attached to the Fleet Air Arm myself for three years, and I have a great many friends in that branch of the Navy. But I am sure that it is something well worth looking into.
The occasion of the Air Estimates Debates is really the only chance in the year which we get to discuss these details of the Royal Air Force. I think it right we should take this opportunity to examine every aspect of the Service, to seek such information as we can reasonably be given and to express our opinions. It is a valuable and important occasion of which good use was made last week in examining in detail all the many aspects of Service life. In this House we are concerned not only with the building up of the Royal Air Force into an efficient and powerful fighting Service and into an effective deterrent in peace and a strong defence if war should come, but we are also concerned with the wellbeing, the morale and the happiness of the men and women who serve in the Royal Air Force, and who deserve nothing but the best.
I wish to make one last appeal to the Secretary of State to issue an Air Ministry order to keep Royal Air Force pilots out of this new safety zone about to be created between London and Bristol. I know and fully understand his difficulties, but this is the last chance we shall get of raising the matter for another twelve months. I do urge him therefore to issue this edict before it is too late, and to put a stop to all Royal Air Force flying in this corridor. If he does that he will restore confidence in the scheme; and he will minimise, so far as it is humanly possible to minimise, the risk of an accident. But I am convinced that if he does nothing, if Royal Air Force pilots are allowed to fly into this corridor, it will be only a matter of time before an accident happens.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to see an accident and when he realises the facts of the situation he will do everything in his power to prevent that inevitable accident from happening. This scheme is shortly to come into operation and I do urge him, before it is too late, to issue an order to keep Royal Air Force pilots out of the area, if only in the first three months in order to give the scheme a fair start.
I am more than conscious of what is involved in this particular scheme. In point of fact, consultations are taking place between my Department, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and other interested parties, and I can assure the hon. Member that we shall do everything we can to secure a settlement satisfactory to all interested parties.
I do not wish to detain the House for very long, and I certainly do not wish to repeat in any detail the points which I ventured to put forward during the Debate on the Committee stage. We had a very full Debate then and we were indebted to the Under-Secretary for the answers which he gave so far as they covered the points which we had raised. But there are two points which I should like to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State.
In successive years we on this side of the House have often complained about what seems to us to be unnecessary secrecy in the general presentation by the Air Ministry of the state of the Royal Air Force. I think that we repeated the plea this year. We compare the statement with the information which the Admiralty give us from time to time, and the very broad picture which the Navy shows us as to the character of their ships, their numbers and types, whether in full commission, whether with reduced complements, whether in reserve or under construction. I think that, particularly in this year's Debates, we received from the Admiralty a good deal more detail than even in past years. It was detail which was most acceptable to the House and very encouraging to the country. It is that general information of which we have none regarding the Royal Air Force. We only know what numbers of men we are asked to provide for, and how much money we are asked to spent upon equipment as a whole and upon all the necessary supplies.
Therefore, when we are asked, "Are we getting value for our money?" we on this side of the House are not in a position to give an answer. But, curiously enough, compared with this rather close point of view in general, there are from time to time provided in various sources a good deal of detail on special machines and of a special type. I wonder whether the Secretary of State approves of the publication of these details in the technical Press. No doubt, he must have authorised some of them. For instance, in December of last year a very full account was given in "The Aeroplane," with detailed plans of the experimental development of the E.T.44 powered by the Rolls Royce new engine. I have no doubt that all these details are ones which the Secretary of State may think it right should be—
That is why I gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman a few minutes' notice. I knew that; but, of course, it is the responsibility of the Government. I come to the next case. In "The Aeroplane" of 10th February there are 16 pages with extremely detailed plans of Britain's first jet bomber. There are very careful plans, pictures and diagrams of the Canberra B. Mark I which is, after all, not yet actually in production. It is still in development or just entering production.
It seems to me and my hon. Friends rather a curious contrast. We have this great cloak of obscurity over the general state of the Force and this extreme degree of detail which is allowed to be published in the technical Press regarding certain special machines, including some of the most novel and valuable. No doubt, these details are issued under the authority of the Ministry of Supply, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the responsibility of the Government is indivisible. I am bound to say that I think that no Secretary of State for Air if he did not approve of the publication—and I do not say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did—would take refuge in the fact that it was issued under the authority of another Department. That Department under the present arrangement is detached from the Air Ministry, but it is largely composed of those officers and skilled research designers who, under another system, might be part of the Air Ministry itself, as indeed they were until the coming of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government in 1945.
I should like to know whether the Air Staff are consulted about these publications and whether all these details have their approval before they are published in the technical Press. One knows how important some of these details may be. I feel sure that if we had similar details about all the developments and research, the new machines and engines, of all countries, we should be rather grateful. I am informed that it is easy from the data given, especially about the Canberra, to calculate very closely its speed, range, bomb-carrying capacity and many other important factors in weighing the value of the machine from the point of view of another Power. I do not press this point any further. I had not the opportunity to give any long notice to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and if he prefers to look into the matter and to make a more careful statement after examination, I shall be satisfied. This is a most important factor, and care should be taken about this kind of detail, though we should welcome more general information about the Service as a whole.
There is one other point, which arises out of the Debate of last week, about the general policy on the future of our bombing force. I do not wish to press this point too hard, either. There were, and there may be still, varying views about what is the wise course which ultimately will be taken by all the Governments who enter into the alliance of Western Europe, including the United States of America and the Dominions, as the great plans of the grand alliance grow. It may well be possible that we shall find that the wise course will be to concentrate the efforts of certain countries on particular parts of the joint programme; but that involves a far greater degree of organisation and a much closer alliance than has yet been reached after the rather slow steps which have been taken so far towards the building up of the grand alliance.
In those circumstances, I understand that from our own point of view the bomber force today consists of Lincolns. They are a development of the Lancaster that we knew so well in the war. We do not know how many Lincolns we have in use or in reserve. We do not know how many squadrons there are in the bomber force, but they are armed with the Lincolns which, if not out of date, can hardly be called modern machines. They are powerful machines, but they have not either the range, the speed or the bomb-carrying capacity which the modern long-range bomber will require.
That force is now to be supported by the gift of the B.29's—I think 70 in number. Those aircraft, as we mentioned last week, present certain staffing problems to the Secretary of State. No doubt, they will be overcome. However, the aircraft do not amount to a very great number. In war-time, if I remember rightly, we had a complement of 20 machines to a bomber squadron. Therefore, this number would hardly equip, and make the reserve for, three squadrons. I have no doubt that in peace-time the strength of the squadrons might be reduced to nine or 12 machines. Important as it is, it does not, I assume, mean a very great contribution in relation to the total forces and squadrons of Bomber Command. This type is itself obsolescent, and I think it is being replaced in the United States by the B.36, which I am informed has a maximum bomb load of the order of 72,000 lb. as against the maximum load of the B.29 of 20,000 lb. That is an enormous difference.
I would like to know what is the real intention of the Government on the future of our bomber force. I am not going to press for an immediate answer; I do not think it would be right. We enter these Debates in a spirit of very great responsibility at the present time, and it increases year by year. Therefore, I am not going to press them to give a final answer, but I want them to consider very carefully which way we are to go. Are we going to think of depending upon the B.29 and perhaps the B.36? Are we to depend largely for our strategic bombing forces on aircraft either given to us by the United States or U.S. Forces themselves which are located in these islands? That would involve a great change of policy, and I observe that Lord Tedder rather protested against that view in a very interesting lecture, the text of which is printed in the January-February number of the organ of the United Empire Society. Lord Tedder took the view against a policy of relying upon the United States to provide the strategic heavy bombers of the future.
I do not wish to press the right hon. and learned Gentleman on details of technical equipment, but I think it is pretty well known in Service circles, and is now quite clearly understood, that the Canberra is not that kind of bomber. When we speak of a long-range, strategic heavy bomber, I think we must agree that, magnificent machine as it may be, both as to the character of its bomb load, its range and speed, in relation to the work which it has to do, it is not in that category. Therefore, I do ask that this problem should be faced and settled. Are we to proceed with the development of the bomber which we are told was in development and which will equip our strategic heavy bomber squadrons with some British-built bomber which will come into being perhaps three, four or even five years from now, according to the difficulties which development and production may bring? Or are we to abandon the attempt and range ourselves on the work of development and production done by our allies in the United States?
The question of cost is tremendous, and the question of financing the effort which each nation should contribute towards the common pool needs to be most carefully weighed. I certainly do not wish to press the Minister too far today, except to say that I hope he will reach a final decision as soon as may be, and that that decision, when taken, will be pressed forward with the approval of the Government—any Government, this Government or its successor—with the feeling that it would be likely to carry out that policy This problem has to be weighed against the enormous cost of these new machines, assuming that a British-built bomber is to come into the picture. It has to be weighed against the contribution to defence which the nation has to make, and a decision must be made if we are to make any really effective developments and reach the position which we ought to have.
I only raise these two points because I think that, although they both arise out of the Debate last week, they need to be underlined. I do not expect to receive from the right hon. and learned Gentleman a very detailed answer to the points I have raised, because I have not been able to give him anything but very short notice of the fact that I intended to raise these matters, and I shall be quite content if serious attention is given to them as the result of this small intervention. We bring these points to the attention of the Secretary of State and of his colleagues in the Government, in the Service Departments and also in the Treasury, because these are matters which are all linked together in any long-term view.
On those two points, I would only say that, both last week and in this series of Debates, we have had far wider information than before, and, although there are many other points on which we wish to press for more information, our purpose is to sustain in every way we can the Secretary of State in the efforts which he is making for the strengthening of the R.A.F. Our object today, as it has been during all these years, is to urge the vital necessity of a powerful and effective Air Force as one of the most, and perhaps even the greatest, demands that the country must meet, above all other considerations.
As the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) said, so many points were raised in the Debate last week, that it is not very surprising that not a great many hon. Members should have added to their remarks today. If I might begin by answering the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) who said that obviously he would not expect a detailed answer tonight on the two points he raised, I would simply say, in reference to the article in "The Aeroplane," that in general we are informed that no technical information of any value is given away in this article, but we will certainly look into it again from the general point of view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. In regard to the bomber force, I would say that the B29 is an interim aircraft, and there is no thought of abandoning our experimental work on the larger jet bombers. We are pressing on with them, but, quite obviously, any decision will depend on their development, and we are not in a position to reach a final answer yet.
When the hon. Gentleman says that the decision will turn on development itself, does he mean that, if the machine is successfully developed and proved to be capable of doing what it is intended to do, and, in fact, turns out to be a good machine, then it will be the machine with which the squadrons will be equipped; or does he mean that, apart from development of the machine and questions of financial and general considerations, as well as what shall be the function, will have to be weighed, and that a final decision has not been taken?
If the machine turns out as we hope it will, we do intend to arm Bomber Command with it, but the right hon. Gentleman will realise that there are many other things upon which the decision will depend.
If I may now turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester, I should like to begin by saying something which I wanted to say the other day but which got crowded out because of the late hour. The hon. Gentleman began by making a friendly reference to myself which he knows I reciprocate, but he also made a libellous accusation against me that I had made a landing without my undercarriage at an aerodrome where he was the instructor. I shall not weary the House with the details showing why that accusation is libellous, but I will retaliate by saying that, on the first occasion on which I saw the hon. Gentleman, he was making a landing without an undercarriage, which was intractable, rather than retractable. It was at a meet of the Oxford University drag hunt, and I remember seeing the hon. Gentleman immaculately dressed and coming over a high fence, without his horse.
The hon. Member raised many points during his speech, and I shall try to deal with a few of them. He spoke at some length about pay and allowances. We can say that, when the hon. Gentleman makes comparisons between a married airman with 111s. 6d. per week and various civilian jobs, he is omitting any mention of certain perquisites which Service men receive, such as his own meals and a good many of his clothes, a great many of his repairs, and certain preferential rates in travel and other things which I have not in the time been able to total up to any amount, but which, and including cheap cinemas, and some educational facilities for his children, and so on, amount to quite a lot.
At the same time, I am not suggesting that in all respects the payment received is as high as in some civilian trades. However, one must compare like with like and bear in mind that there are a great many things which the Service affords and which it is very difficult to reduce into terms of hard cash. On the figures given me by the hon. Gentleman and remembering some of the additional things, I do not think that the comparison is as unfavourable as the bare figures suggest. Again, we are looking at these things the whole time, and our policy remains what the hon. Gentleman asked for. We are trying to make the conditions of the men roughly equivalent to those in the trades in which they might engage in civilian life.
In regard to recruitment, I would like to make—
I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to be quite fair. He said that I was not comparing like with like, but if I was not doing that, then why was it that in the Government White Paper the rates of pay of members of the Forces are compared with wage rates in comparable employment in industry generally? That is what I was trying to do.
What I mean is that in making the comparison the hon. Gentleman has omitted certain things which make them like each other. For instance, the airman—not his wife—gets his meals during the week. There are really a large number of small items which, when taken one by one add up to a great amount. The advantage, for example, of having cheap cinemas which other people do not get is something which one cannot reduce to hard cash and that is why the comparison is difficult if one tries to tie it down to figures. We do not pretend that everything is perfect, but we are constantly trying to improve the amenities for the airmen in many small ways where we cannot make large improvements in pay.
The same applies very much to recruitment. I should again like to make the point that quite obviously at this time the best hope of improving our recruitment is by inducing those who have served their National Service term to take on a Regular engagement. In that respect we have done several things which I am sure will help although they are only just beginning to have their effect this year. There is, for instance, the deferred apprentices scheme. This is the first year in which we shall have apprentices who will be doing a much shorter time of training and going into a skilled trade. All that makes life in the Royal Air Force more attractive. We have broken down various skilled trades into jobs more or less repetitive, but still requiring skill so that more National Service men can go into skilled trades. We are considering careers in the trades and the possibility of altering the trade structure.
Then there is the work on resettlement which I think we can claim as successful and is becoming better known. In regard to the general recruitment of people from civilian life, the hon. Member for Worcester raised the question of flying pay for aircrews. At this point I can only say that we are studying the matter very carefully. There, again, it is much more a series of small things, if one accepts the great economic difficulties all round, than of large increases in pay, but a series of things makes life more attractive. I think that applies also to allowances and I am afraid I have nothing more to say today beyond the fact that we are making careful study to see what more can be done.
In regard to the general duties officers and their contact with the men which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, was something which I raised last year, we are glad to say that we are now handing over all welfare work to general duties officers which will have the effect of what I had in mind that is, bring them into contact with the men on all sorts of social and personal questions which I am sure we all agree is necessary, and I hope that will meet what the hon. Member has in mind. With regard to the Royal Air Force Regiment, there are now 12 squadrons and they are doing training like other Auxiliary squadrons, but whether they should be increased to 20 or not has not been finally settled. Twelve are quite sufficient at the moment, but the whole question of what exactly the Royal Air Force Regiment is to do and what the training is to be is under review.
There are 14 and not 12 University Air Squadrons, and the reduction of staff is simply a matter of pruning. In fact, the recruiting is very good. The establishment is about 960. There are more than 860 members of the squadrons and of these 532 are doing training ab initio, that is to say they are not people who have come out of the war and gone into the university squadrons; they are brand new recruits, and I think that is a very healthy position. Even where there has been a reduction of staff, I think the Opposition can comfort themselves that there is a real degree of efficiency in pruning in Headquarters Staff without affecting recruitment by the squadrons.
In regard to the Fleet Air Arm, all basic training is done by us. We will certainly look into the question to see if anything can be done about advanced training. A committee has sat and, I think, reported last year. It reported that it was of the opinion that there was not much more that could be done with regard to amalgamating the two, but that, again, is something we can look at to see if we can bring about further improvement. I do not think there are any other particular questions to which I can give any immediate answer, but if there are I will certainly look through the speeches and write to hon. Members when this Debate is over.