Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1957–58

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1957.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield 12:00 am, 9th May 1957

That is a very good point, although I would mention to my hon. Friend that much of this work can be done with scaled-down models. Nevertheless, the wind tunnel work and research should continue without going on with the full project.

Now I come to Transport Command, in which I am really concerned about the position today. We have been told that we have the Comet 2s and the Beverleys, although we do not know how many. The Beverley is a new aeroplane and has given teething troubles. Fortunately, they have been overcome, but we do not know its range. We have the Hastings, and 13 Britannias will begin to come in the latter part of next year. We are in this position partly through decisions of the Labour Government, when they cut down contracts for transport aircraft, and I should have thought that we need every independent airliner that we can lay our hands upon. It is vital for us to have them.

Consider what happened at the time of Suez. All the aircraft, military, civil and Transport Command, did a wonderful job, not only in transporting our troops out but in bringing families home from Cyprus, Libya, and so on. I am not in the least happy about the build-up of Transport Command. It amounts to practically nothing.

If we are to have the reserve force in Britain, which must be moved probably thousands of miles overnight, the proper way to do it would be to have a reserve of aircraft, not necessarily in Transport Command, where for various reasons it would be impossible for them to have a high utilisation; millions of pounds worth of equipment would be sitting on the ground doing nothing for part of the time. It is far better to have aircraft with the two Corporations which they could use for freighting. Both Corporations are well behind on freight services. Let them have freight aircraft and let the independent operators have aircraft, on a rental basis, which could be called in at 24 hours' notice in the event of a national crisis. We probably would not get 100 per cent. availability, but we might get 70 per cent. Other aircraft in the Commonwealth countries would proceed to their duties in the same manner, in the same way as ships at Aden, for instance, at the outbreak of hostilities were armed with guns and took on military stores. The same thing could be done with civil aircraft.

I know that this is not entirely the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but the Government must look at the whole position afresh and satisfy both sides of the House that more will be done about the transport aircraft position. It is unsatisfactory. Even the Defence White Paper did not tell us anything which we did not know previously. As for the hon. Member for Dudley and his figures this afternoon, I do not know where he got them all. I disagree with some of them. I know that he quoted the Herald. He was wrong in that instance. He said also that there were not any Provost jet trainers. I think he is wrong on that one. I do not think he will be giving much information away to the foreign air attaches in London.

I shall conclude my remarks by asking my right hon. Friend, together with his colleagues in the Government and the Cabinet, to look into the question of the surplus officers and senior N.C.O.s who will leave the Service. We are told that Treasury will be generous. It is no good giving a young officer £500 or £600 if he has been in the Service for a short time. He would simply buy a sports car and get through a lot of the money. What he wants is something to look forward to in the form of security and not simply cash.

I should like to see a strong committee set up with industrialists—men like Lord Chandos, for example, who has the political experience and is well versed in industry—and trade unionists and others to advise the Government how we are to resettle these men both at home and abroad. If we fail to do this, we shall ruin any chances of recruiting men in the future. It will not be easy in any event, but it is imperative that these officers and senior N.C.O.s be resettled properly so that they are able to have a chance to make a success of their lives in civilian life.

In the short time that the Air Force has been a Service it has won great traditions. It has always acquitted itself well. I am confident that, provided it is given the right equipment and the right decisions are made, the Air Force will play its part in the future. I hope, however, that the next thing we shall be told, within twelve months, is that we are really getting on with integration, at any rate of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I am sure that money could be saved and that we would probably get more recruits and a more efficient service if we made it into one great Service, rather like the Marines. It is not a question simply of combining the chaplains, the doctors and so on. By eliminating much of the overlapping that exists, we could save manpower and a lot of money. We must face this question and make a start soon, but it can be done gradually. There is no need to make vast decisions overnight.

I would suggest combining the two cadet colleges, Dartmouth and Cranwell. This would be an initial step in getting the young men coming out of their training with a similar outlook. There is nothing very difficult between flying one aircraft or another. After a short course, the students would be able either to land a bomber or to land an aircraft on an aircraft carrier. These machines are much easier to fly than those of 20 or 30 years ago. I wish my right hon. Friend every good fortune with the Air Force and I trust he will ensure that we get our fair share of what is going with the other Services.