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Royal Air Force

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 12 May 1943

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Vesuvius (Bombing)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Air the size and number of bombs dropped in the crater of Mount Vesuvius; and whether he will give full details of the operation?

I presume the hon. Member is referring to a recent Press report to the effect that bombs were dropped on Vesuvius by accident during the first raid on Naples in 1940. No report of this incident has been received in my Department.

Is it not a fact that no scientific evidence exists to show that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tidal waves cannot be produced by artificial means? Would it not be advisable for the Air Ministry to have some experiments carried out?

My hon. Friend may be assured that we have been in touch with seismologists, who are experts in this aspect of the possibilities of bombing.

Has my right hon. and gallant Friend ever heard of the old proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle?

Before the right hon. and gallant Member goes any further, may I remind him that I am one of the few people who have flown round the inside of the crater in an aeroplane, and that the active part of the crater is only about 12 feet in diameter?

Women's Auxiliary Air Force

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Air on what grounds women are excluded from the Women's Auxiliary Air Force unless they have family connections with the Force; and whether there will be equality of opportunity for all applicants and selection made only on grounds of merit and suitability?

Merit and suitability remain essential qualifications for enlistment in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. As, however, in the age group recently called up, the number who had expressed a preference for service in the W.A.A.F. greatly exceeded the authorised allocation for that Service, recruitment was restricted, except in cases of special qualification, to those who had been in civil employment under the Air Ministry or were closely related to personnel already in Air Force service. I am advised that under this arrangement sufficient recruits will be obtained of the requisite standard to meet the needs of the Service.

While it may suit the Air Force Selection Board to carry it through in this manner, is it not very unfair that intelligent and capable girls who are anxious and keen, and who are qualified to join the Air Force, are denied, simply because they have not family connections, while somebody with poorer qualifications may be admitted on these grounds?

The position is that we have far more applicants for the Women's Air Force, suitable applicants, than we can accept. Therefore, among the suitable applicants, we give preference to those who have some close connection with the Air Force. I think that is a fair and reasonable system.

Is it not a fact that the documents issued to the girls say that they are debarred, although they are qualified, unless they have these family connections?

Although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has a large number of applicants, would it not be more efficient to choose the girls on the ground of merit rather than of background?

We have so many girl applicants with the requisite merit and qualifications that we have to make a distinction within the category of those who are eminently suitable. Therefore we say:

"Previous civilian work at R.A.F. unit or in the Air Ministry.
Father or brother in the Royal Air Force.
Fiancé, deceased, formerly member of the Royal Air Force.
Fiancé, prisoner of war, member of the Royal Air Fore.
Widow of former member of the Royal Air Force.
Mother or sister in the W.A.A.F."

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that the existence of a former fiancé makes a girl more suitable?

Air Crew Refresher Course

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Air the purpose of the Royal Air Force officers' disciplinary course at a town of which he has been informed; and whether he is aware that officer and sergeant pilots are sent there for offences involving not discipline but some error of judgment in flying, correctable more readily at a flying refresher course than on a barrack square?

The purpose of the air crew refresher course is to assist in the elimination of tendencies likely to contribute to avoidable flying accidents. The course forms part of a general scheme of accident prevention. As for the second part of the Question, only those pilots are sent on the course who, in the opinion of their commanding officers, are likely to benefit from it.

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there have been a number of cases in which sergeant pilots in particular have been sent there with a view to sending them on a punishment course?

No, Sir. Pilots who made an error of judgment in flying would not be sent to a course, except when the commanding officer considers that carelessness or disobedience of orders, or tendencies in those directions, have been the cause of the error or are likely to cause errors in the future. Of course, there will be cases in which pilots consider that their error has not been due to carelessness. The commanding officer must be the deciding authority.

Will the Minister investigate certain cases I have in mind if I send them to him?

Yes, Sir, certainly. If the hon. Member will send me any particular individual case, I shall be glad to look into it.

100 Octane Aviation Fuel

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the statement made by Mr. Patterson, United States Under Secretary for War, to the Senate Truman Committee, regarding the serious shortage of 100 octane aviation fuel applies also to Great Britain; and whether he will again bring to the notice of officers commanding Royal Air Force units the need for the utmost economy in this matter?

I have seen Press reports of the statement referred to. The United States and United Kingdom Governments collaborate closely in the matter of supplies of 100 octane aviation fuel and operational needs have been and are being fully met. As regards the last part of the Question, regulations designed to ensure economy in the use of aviation fuel are in force throughout the Service.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consider a case I have in mind in which, owing to the tightness of the rule about pool petrol, a journey which would have involved two gallons of pool petrol was found to be much more conveniently done by means of aircraft at a cost of about 40 gallons of 100 octane fuel?

Naturally, I cannot accept that version of the case until I have investigated it. If my hon. Friend will send me particulars, I will look into them.

Volunteer Reserve Officers (Promotion)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Air how many officers of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve have been promoted to air rank since December, 1942; and how many have been promoted to group-captains in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal and Army Co-operation Commands, respectively?

The answer to the first part of the Question is "One." As for the second part, no such promotions have been made in the Commands referred to in the period in question.

In view of the high qualifications of so many officers of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, does not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman think that this matter might be stepped up a bit?

We have only one test for filling these air posts, and that is, to try to get the best man available for the post, irrespective of whether he is a Regular officer or an officer of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Security Work (Second Front)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the organisation of the Royal Air Force security police for sending personnel abroad when we make a second front in Europe is complete?

In the circumstances referred to, the Army Field Security organisation will undertake security work for the Royal Air Force.

British Overseas Airways Corporation

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether, in view of the opinion of the former members of the Board of British Airways Corporation, now made public, that they consider undue hindrance to the efficient discharge of their responsibilities and their duty of planning for a rapid expansion of air transport, during and after the war, was due to the attitude of the Government, he has any statement to make?

I cannot accept the implication of my hon. and gallant Friend's Question. In order that our limited air transport resources might be used to best advantage in the prosecution of the war, the Corporation were required in April, 1940, to place their undertaking at the disposal of the Secretary of State for Air in accordance with Section 32 of the British Overseas Airways Act. In these circumstances while management remains a function of the Corporation, the formulation of war-time policy is, and must be, the responsibility of His Majesty's Government. As regards the last part of the Question, I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the statement which my right hon. Friend made to the House on behalf of the Government, in the course of the Debate on Civil Aviation on 11th March.