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Vote a. Number for Air Force Service

Part of Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1962–63 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park 12:00 am, 12th March 1962

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to put into our mouths opinions which would be highly irresponsible if we were to express them, because we do not have access to all the detailed information. It is on political grounds, which I hope to develop, that we base our statement that we should not seek to remain an independent nuclear Power.

Before I come to a subject I must deal with because the Secretary of State devoted so much time to it, but which I thought was a more fitting subject for the defence debate, namely, the strategic concepts, I want to say something about welfare and similar matters concerning personnel. I have been very struck by the very high standard of man management in the Royal Air Force. The other Services might well learn from the Royal Air Force experience in many of these matters.

However, although great progress has been made, a little more probably needs to be done, because the Royal Air Force today is a highly technical service. One of the things which I noted was the extremely involved technical work being done in maintenance and servicing by relatively junior low-paid personnel. If we are to get the right kind of man to stay in the Air Force, its conditions and pay must be brought as near as possible to a civilian standing. A man who has done eight hours work on highly involved electronic apparatus does not want to be told at the end of his day's work that he has to go and wash up the cups for the officers, which sometimes happens.

I noticed in many parts of the Service that extra work was being demanded of the technical personnel because of the make-do-and-mend attitude of the Minister. The Service was having to fly planes which were really too old, or which had passed their most useful life. This is particularly true, as I think the Secretary of State knows, in the Far East. There was a feeling in that command that they were at the end of the line and were rather forgotten.

Throughout the Service there is the feeling that there has been a lack of policy. The Government must make up their minds about overseas bases, and not give Commands tasks that can be fulfilled only if and when reinforcements are obtained. If the Minister would put his mind to those problems instead of to the problems of the 'seventies, on the one hand, and the problems of nuclear retaliation in the 'fifties, on the other, we would probably get rather more progress towards the sort of capability we want in the Royal Air Force.

I was pleased to note the great improvement in the married quarters position, particularly in Aden. I think that nearly all the notorious Crater quarters have been given up, but I hope that we shall be told something about the new points system that has been introduced for the allocation of married quarters. From what I can understand, it seems heavily weighted to the advantage of those who are very senior in rank and service. If men know from the very beginning of a two-and-a-half year period at an overseas station that they have no chance whatever of getting married quarters it is likely to be a great disincentive to recruiting. Under the old system, everybody seemed to get married quarters for some period of overseas service, but under the new system it seems most unlikely that that will apply to those of junior rank and with relatively junior service.

In spending vast sums of money on building in overseas bases, I wonder whether we have fully learned the lessons of Kenya and other places, where we have spent a lot of money and have then had to leave. Are we not building hostages to fortune in Aden? How long shall we be able to remain there? While we have overseas bases we want to provide adequate married accommodation in them; at the same time, we do not want to spend money that is due to go down the drain very shortly. An overseas tour is now usually two-and-a-half years. In one or two places, like Gan, where there is a short unaccompanied tour, there is extremely good morale. Has consideration been given to the practicability of having shorter periods of tour? In the Far East two years might be long enough, in any event.

We were glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman that the recruiting position is rather better than we were led to understand last year. My own view, although this is a matter of controversy, is that all the talk about nuclear deterrence has reduced the recruitment of pilots. If one opposes the independent deterrent one does not discourage recruiting. On the contrary, if potential recruits see more and more planes in the Royal Air Force, and the Air Force doing more of its own transport work, and so on, they would be more likely to see a long and worthwhile career in the Service.

The Minister said very little about the technical trades. Shall we be able to keep pace, with the increasing complexity of equipment, in terms of technical personnel for maintenance and service? The recruitment of technical personnel might well prove to be a bigger problem than the recruitment of air crew. Perhaps we can be told something about that.

I was extremely disappointed—as, I know, Royal Air Force personnel will be—at the right hon. Gentleman's lack of reference to the pay position. Presumably with the Secretary of State's full approval, the Government have decided to defraud R.A.F. personnel of one year's pay increase resulting from the two-year review. I am glad, at any rate, that the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to twist the English language, as one of his co-Ministers did, in an attempt to explain that to review did not mean to pay. When it is said that there will be a pay review in two years' time, it is assumed and understood that the consequence of that review will be the payment of any sum then found to be due. The Government's decision on pay will do more harm to morale and recruiting than anything else.

I hope that we shall not be told that there will be a great willingness in the Service to give up the increase for the sake of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the balance-of-payments position. Without wishing to take on the mantle of Dr. Gallup, I would be prepared to bet that a poll would show a ten-to-one majority in the Service in favour of having the money now; and that such a view would not be confined only to the lower ranks. I suspect that there might be an air vice-marshal here and there who would also take that view.

The job of the Government in an Estimates debate is essentially to defend their policy, to explain it, and to inform us, so that we may determine, now, the number of men needed, and, later, the amount of money to be devoted to the Air Force in the coming year, but in view of what the Minister has said one cannot avoid making some observations about the rôle of the RAF.

Our chief quarrel with the right hon Gentleman and the Government is that they have put strategic nuclear striking power as their first task—a strategic nuclear striking power represented by the V-bomber force and the Thor missiles. Although the right hon. Gentleman spoke eloquently and with great enthusiasm about the V-bombers, he said nothing whatever about the Thor missiles, and the only conclusion I drew from his eloquence was that he had given the best case I have so far heard for getting rid of the Thor missiles now.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the vulnerability of bombers if they could not get off the ground, and was indignant about such suggestions being made about the V-bombers. But the Thor missiles will not get off the ground; they are essentially a first-strike weapon—and a very provocative one. It is true that they may not cost very much to maintain, but the sum involved is still £4 million or £5 million a year. They are not our independent weapons; they are subject to Anglo-American control.

The right hon. Gentleman might answer some questions. He may find them distasteful but, after all, he gets the salary. Is there any reason why we should not get rid of the Thor missiles now?