I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I am also pleased to follow Stewart Malcolm McDonald and my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, both of whom made knowledgeable, relevant and eloquent speeches.
“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.”
As I am sure many Members will know, it was Pericles, the 5th-century Greek statesman, who said that. I think the House is united in recognising that for the last 100 years the Royal Air Force has been at the forefront of that defence on our behalf, along with the Royal Navy and the British Army. In that role, they have acquitted themselves with a terrific record of courage, sacrifice, innovation and service.
I am proud to say that much of that innovation, and much of the early development of the Royal Air Force, took place in my constituency. Farnborough had a critical role to play in the genesis of the RAF, partly through its role as the birthplace of British aviation. Samuel Cody, a tremendous pioneer, conducted the first British flight in October 1908. The flight, which lasted not much more than 20 seconds, concluded with his crashing into a tree, but it was nevertheless the first British flight, and was the start of a tremendous sequence of innovation whose legacy still exists today. Everyone will be aware of the terrific biennial air show, when the numerous defence and aviation industries cluster around Farnborough and the Blackwater valley. This year’s show saw the unveiling of Tempest, which represents the future of air combat.
Farnborough’s role in the genesis of the RAF was connected not just with the first British flight but with its position as Lord Trenchard’s headquarters, where he formalised the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps as a battle-winning force. What had been a battle-winning force in the first world war had, by the second world war, developed into a war-winning force, in the form of both Fighter Command, which in the summer and autumn of 1940 prevented the invasion of this country by the Germans, and Bomber Command, which smashed Germany’s means of war production with extraordinary losses to its flight crews. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East mentioned that the Bomber Command air crews suffered devastating losses: a total of 55,573 perished during raids. As Members will know, Churchill said:
“The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”
I think it a fitting testament to their sacrifice that that is inscribed on the Bomber Command memorial in Hyde Park, which most Members will have visited.