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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 Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford 12:00 am, 12th March 1962

In which case it was a most inept quotation. I have listened with a good deal of interest to both Front Bench speeches. They were both divided in almost equal parts. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air spent a little more than the first three-quarters of his speech in dealing with equipment and techniques and hardware and the last quarter of his speech in dealing with manpower. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) spent the first quarter of his speech on manpower and the latter three-quarters on hardware and matters of equipment policy. I want to confine what I have to say to manpower. However important may be the techniques and however powerful the hardware in any Service, these are quite useless unless we have first-class manpower.

One of the important matters which we must look at in the R.A.F. in the next year or two is the question of manpower at a reserve level. The Service is deficient in reserve manpower compared with the Army. It gets by at the moment because it has the tail-end of National Service. This will remain for a little while, but after the National Service men have gone we shall be entirely dependent upon Regular forces. The Secretary of State and the Air Ministry are to be congratulated on the success of the recruiting drive, but if the Royal Air Force is to continue to make an impact on the nation and we are to have a force available for emergency, we shall have to go beyond reliance on a permanent force and have some form of reserve force.

As always in debates on defence matters, there have been many references already to nuclear war. In the event of nuclear war the question of reserve manpower would be completely irrelevant. The Secretary of State made it clear that in the time it takes to call a Count in the House of Commons we could be obliterated. I cannot think that even the Secretary of State for Air and the Air Ministry would be able to call up the reserves in the warning time available, which would be about as long as it takes to have a Division in the House. In nuclear war, therefore, an emergency pool for the R.A.F. or the Army or any other Service is completely irrelevant. But I think that there the wrong assumption is current in both parties today that if there is another war it will necessarily be a nuclear war. I believe that the deterrent is right because it is a deterrent and that the balancing forces on both sides all mean that a nuclear war is unlikely.

As this becomes borne in on all the great Powers it is possible that they will become more venturesome in the conventional field, and it is there that we must be strong. It is there that we require an expanding manpower and where a reserve force will be important. Power of hardware is of no avail without manpower behind it. The greatest reduction in manpower figures in the Royal Air Force—over 50,000 National Service men less as shown in the graph published in the Memorandum—has been the result of this ending of National Service. These men will disappear altogether very soon. What have we left? The Army is spending £20 million a year on its Territorial forces. The Air Force is spending less than £1 million on such auxiliary forces as there are in the Service.

I know that this is something which the Air Ministry has already looked at, but the main purpose of my intervention in the debate is to ask the Ministry to look at it again. It is important that we should not refuse to recognise that there is a problem here or that we should not say that we can do without the reserve forces because certain arguments are advanced that it is difficult to obtain them and to train them.

The strongest argument against the R.A.F. having a reserve force is that the Service requires men who are technically trained and it is difficult to train men part-time up to the required standard and to employ them on the high technical tasks that must be carried out in the Service. I ask whether this is really true. If we have aeroplanes, radar equipment and electronic apparatus used in the Service, then clearly there are technicians in the factories making these things. If they are making them, they must be competent to operate them. Is this not a field for recruitment? Is it not possible to secure a reserve force from among people who are already engaged in the factories to serve the R.A.F. Could we not recruit these men part-time and to be on call if required?

No doubt we shall be told that the Air Force would then be competing with the Territorial Army. The Memorandum states that the R.A.F. Regiment is short of men. Presumably they could be recruited from the available manpower but we are told that if that were done we should be competing against the Territorial Army. I suggest that the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Secretary should look at this point again. A good deal of the power and influence of the Territorial Army is in the country areas and is concentrated largely in the county towns. The Territorial Army is at its strongest there and at its weakest in industrial areas.

Why should the R.A.F. have to compete against the Territorial Army in the Army's own areas? Why cannot the R.A.F. compete for recruitment in the towns and cities? Just as, during the war, towns and cities were set a target to raise funds to buy a bomber and the aircraft was named after the town or city, so a Royal Air Force auxiliary force could be named after a town or city. We could recruit in the towns and cities technical and non-technical people who might be interested in serving in the R.A.F. and the R.A.F. Regiment in an emergency. In the country areas the Territorial Army is not only a military force but very much a social force. This is a good thing. I know that a great many comments are made by people about the number of colonels, captains and majors in the country areas who are connected with the Territorial Army. But that is a great advertisement for the Army.

We have nothing comparable in the Royal Air Force. Despite all the recruitment that there has been through National Service and despite the large numbers of men who went through the Service during the wax, there are comparatively few who have the kind of pride in their rank that one gets in the Army sufficient to maintain their rank in civil life. I think it would be a good thing for this Service if there were some auxiliary force available and officers were encouraged to carry their ranks with the same pride as those in the Territorial Army.

Of course, there are great difficulties about establishing an auxiliary service of this kind. They should be overcome. The Parliamentary Secretary, who is concerned with manpower, ought seriously to ask the Air Ministry whether it cannot in the next year or two evolve some scheme which would provide a means of continued service for men who have finished their National Service in the Royal Air Force. This would provide a means whereby the Service would permeate the whole of our national life in the same way as the Army permeates through its own territorial forces.

If this is not done and an emergency arises, we shall not have the feeling for the Service which will encourage people to volunteer and serve it. In fact, if one takes the view that the job is too technical and, therefore, one cannot ask for recruits on a part-time basis, in an emergency we shall lose the very technical people we want.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) spoke about the A.T.C. I think that a great deal more encouragement could be given there. I said at the beginning of my speech that the Royal Air Force is the Service of the future. I know that the other Services have traditions which go further back than those of the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, when we are talking in terms of space we are talking in terms of something which is the future. There is no denying that. Whatever may be done by this Government or any other Government about participation in space, it is bound to come.

I believe that as it gets cheaper we shall in ten or twenty years' time find ourselves involved in space as we are now involved in ordinary air travel. Therefore, the young people see this as the Service of the future. The R.A.F. should be careful that it does not cut itself off from the young people who at the moment, I think it is fair to say, have a great interest in this service by turning it into a Service without any part-time volunteers.