There are two points in the hon. Member's speech to which I wish to refer. I was interested to hear him say that in his opinion we were at one period pretty near to financial collapse owing to the rearmament programme. I presume he was referring to the period towards the end of 1951. I am sure that my hon. Friends on this side of the House are very grateful to him for this admission, for it is the first time that any hon. Member of the party opposite has ever admitted that there was any financial crisis at all when the present Government came into office.
The second point was the hon. Member's statement that he thought we in this country were over-estimating the power of the Russian military strength. I think that is a most dangerous thing to say, because I do not think we can over-estimate the dangers that exist in that powerful military weapon. The Minister responsible for the aircraft industry of the U.S.S.R. has openly boasted that last year they made 22,000 aircraft, half of which were military planes, and something like 63,000 aero-engines. It would be quite wrong if we in this House allowed it to be thought that in our view the strength of the Russian Air Force was being over-estimated. It is a most powerful weapon and a most dangerous threat to peace.
The part of the Estimates to which I particularly wish to address my remarks is Vote 7, which refers to aircraft and stores. The figure involved is something like £266 million and represents the equipment for the Royal Air Force, including, of course, the important item of £140 million for aircraft. I am particularly concerned to see that this money is well spent. I am also concerned about the research being carried out in this country into aircraft and aero engines. I am far from happy about the future.
I believe that at the present moment we are to a great extent living on our fat, and that we should pay particular attention to the necessity for new developments in regard to aircraft and aeroengines, particularly now that we know Russia has jet aeroplanes. The lead we had at the end of the war has been dissipated, and a very great effort indeed will be needed by the Service, the research departments of the Government and by the industry itself if we are to recapture that lead which we so needlessly threw away shortly after the war.
The most important expenditure to be considered in regard to aircraft is expenditure on research. If any reduction is to be made of the money that can be spent on aircraft and aero-engines, I hope that there will be no reduction whatever on research. Although the international situation may ease—and I hope that it will—that easing may well be temporary. We must not say then for a moment, "Let us start cutting our costs and reducing expenditure on research." That is the moment to press on with research and, if necessary, cut down production orders.
But I am not satisfied that the money spent on research in this country is being properly spent. It is quite right that the most basic research should be done in establishments run by the State, but when research is carried out there is always the danger that it may be done in watertight departments. I say this with great caution because I have great respect for the scientific world, but there are a tremendous number of scientists who, when charged with carrying out research into a certain matter, are inclined to look upon it as only an interesting experiment and not a means to an end in the form of a completed aircraft or some other production.
There is great danger if research is kept in water-tight departments. This tendency to keep it within those departments is increased when the research is done in Government research centres. I believe that the United States handle this problem far better than we do. The Americans are inclined to bring in production firms at a much earlier stage than we are inclined to do so that their production lines can be arranged. I believe that the production position in this country is made considerably worse than it need be because so much of the research into aircraft is done by a department divorced from the Ministry.
I suggest to the Under-Secretary that he might consider whether it is desirable that some of these research departments should be brought back from the control of the Ministry of Supply to the control of the Air Ministry, under whose control they were before the war. I have no doubt that it was necessary for the production and research departments of the Air Ministry to be removed from the Air Ministry and placed under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production during the war.