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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

I am only asking whether the Government have actually questioned the N.A.T.O. doctrine, which they are disregarding in terms of the N.A.T.O. doctrine with regard to the Army, but which they are very happy to accept as regards the Air Force because it fits their nuclear philosophy.

The Government's chief scientific adviser talks about the danger of the use of the phrase "nuclear interdiction" and he poses a question which, I think, is worth repeating. He says, "We can deter with nuclear weapons, but can we defend?" This is a question on which I would like the Government to reflect rather more than they have done so far. I apologise for having spent so long on this theme, but it was a challenge from the Secretary of State, and I did not want him to feel that we were not prepared to meet his challenge.

We attach far more importance, in terms of the rôle of the Royal Air Force, to the need for mobility, and this, of course, gives particular significance to the rôle of Transport Command. There is reference in the Memorandum to the Kuwait incident and to the tremendous job that the Air Force did on that occasion. What it does not say is that every single freight aircraft that could fly was engaged in Kuwait and that the Transport Command and, I suspect, even its civil contractors, could not have provided any other transport at all if there had been any other emergency at that time.

I very much endorse what the hon. Member for Macclesfield said in the defence debate, when he referred to the great weakness of Transport Command due to the fact that we have not got any strategic freight capability. I am not sure that before the Belfasts come along we may not have lost several overseas bases by that time; but, in any case, I am not sure that ten Belfasts will suffice.

Certainly, there is a serious gap for two or three years, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his hon. Friend's suggestion that he should do something to fill the gap meanwhile by leasing or making arrangements with the United States Air Force for a Globemaster, a C130 or a C133 preferably. He will not always find a situation like Kuwait where there are stockpiles to hand and a commando carrier conveniently in the vicinity. If we are to take mobility seriously, we must be prepared to move many more troops and much more freight than we are able to do at present.

On the question of trooping, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the first Report of the Estimates Committee for this Session. It has drawn attention to a number of questions regarding the trooping functions of Transport Command, and I hope very much that the Report to which the Committee refers in paragraph 25, the inter-Departmental inquiry on the use of Transport Command, will be reported to the House. Perhaps when he replies tonight the Under-Secretary can tell us something about the progress to meet the demands of the Estimates Committee. If Transport Command got the additional aircraft, I am sure that it could take over and do just as well, if not better, the trooping functions which are at present put out to private charter.

I should like to see, as would the Estimates Committee, a higher proportion of the trooping done by Transport Command. I was a little alarmed to learn of the very small number of flying hours a year which Transport Command utilises its aircraft. A reconsideration of this matter might give Transport Command the extra capacity to provide for a larger proportion of trooping requirements.

I turn now to aircraft. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) will, if he catches the eye of the Chair later in the debate, develop this matter more fully. I was very much impressed by paragraph 16, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred with a fair amount of flourish—all the grand ideas about having multi-purpose aircraft, about having simplification and fewer types, about having aircraft which might be common to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and so on. These are wonderful ideas, but why did not the Secretary of State and his predecessors think of them before? Why did they not think of them when the controversy about the Buccaneer and the TSR2 was going on? The trouble with the political officers of the Air Ministry and the defence Ministries generally during the last ten years is that they have always talked about pie in the sky, but we have not had the aircraft in the sky which the Service demands.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to pay very careful attention to the third Report of the Estimates Committee for this Session on the Supplementary Estimates on the estimating of airframe costs. Anyone familiar with the language of Select Committees understands that the moderate language of that Report is very strong Parliamentary language. It is nothing less than an indictment of the Secretary of State's Department and the Ministry of Aviation for their wild and inaccurate estimating.

According to the evidence of one witness, if they do not make these rather wild estimates the aircraft companies will not get on with the job. If they have an aircraft company which will not get on with the job, they should find another one. It is extraordinary that they should continue making arrangements outside the figures which are put before this Committee. I recommend every hon. Member to read the very short but searching third Report of the Estimates Committee on this subject.

Reading that evidence, I wonder what the function of the Ministry of Aviation is in all this. Apparently, it pays the contractors and then the Royal Air Force pays it. To the question: "What happens if the Royal Air Force will not take the plane?" the Ministry of Aviation witness replied that the R.A.F. would have to take the plane and would have to pay the Ministry of Aviation whether it liked it or not. What is the function of the Ministry of Aviation? Is this one of the reasons for the great delay and the tremendous number of modifications which take place between the placing of an order and an aircraft coming into service? The right hon. Gentleman should order the immediate investigation into procurement of aircraft which the Estimates Committee recommended.

There has been the very interesting but disturbing argument about the Dart Herald and the Avro 748. Does the Minister say that he is obtaining for the Service the aircraft best suited to the demands of the Service? If he is not fighting for the planes that the Service wants, if he is not fighting to obtain for the Service the pay to which it is entitled under a Government commitment of two years ago, what kind of Secretary of State for Air is he? These, I imagine, are the questions which everyone in the Royal Air Force is asking. Quite apart from all the talk about aircraft in the future and the space age, what is the Minister doing to obtain the planes that the Service needs now?

I was told by an Army colonel engaged in Air Force co-operation, with particular reference to the short-range aircraft, the Herald, Caribou, or Avro 748, "If they do not want us to get on with the job, they should say so, and we can get on with peace-time soldiering". These people believed that the Government were taking mobility seriously. If they are not, they should tell the men so, and then they can go back to polishing things, parades, and the rest of it. If the Government really want the Army to be mobile, with transport capability, they should do something about it and not just talk about the space age.

I hope that Ministers will not talk about the problem of cost. As we have been reminded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), the Government have spent during the last eleven years the staggering sum of £16,000 million. Of that sum over one-third, £5,500 million, has gone to the Royal Air Force, and they are asking today for £555 million. What have they provided with the money?