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Royal Air Force

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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Meteorological Research

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement about his proposals for improving meteorological research.

I would refer the hon. Member to paragraphs 123 and 124 of the Air Estimates Memorandum.

That is not helpful, Mr. Speaker, because I have not seen those paragraphs. When the right hon. Gentleman listens to the weather broadcast on the radio at night does he not think the coverage given is very short, and will he say what research is going on in co-operation with America, when the satellite is put up, and, if necessary, with Russia, to provide us with a world coverage which will tell us not merely about rain and change of wind but about those vast tornadoes which sometimes destroy crops and kill thousands of people?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Meterological Office is in the closest touch with scientific work in meteorology, mainly through membership of the World Meteorological Organisation, and also by attending ad hoc conferences on meteorological subjects.

V-Bomber Force

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what consideration is now being given to the life of the V-bomber force and Great Britain's independent deterrent, in view of the fact that the recent display of Soviet air strength indicated that Russian air defences now include Mach 2 fighters.

Nothing seen at Tushino alters our view that the V-force, with the successive improvements already planned in its offensive capability, will remain a valid deterrent for the rest of this decade.

Would the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific? Is he saying that the existing V-bomber force is a valid deterrent in view of what we saw at the air display, or that the V-force which he has in mind, which I understand is not in operation, would be a valid deterrent if it were in operation?

The V-force as it is is a valid deterrent. We are, of course, and have been for some time aware of the general direction of Soviet developments in air defence, and, of course, it has been with this in mind that the improvements we have planned and are undertaking have been conceived. We are quite satisfied that as things are developing at the moment the V-force is and will continue to be an effective deterrent.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, whatever else may have been learned from the Soviet Air Display, it certainly indicated a great and important rôle for manned aircraft in the future?

Would the right hon. Gentleman not also consider this in the light of the general requirements of the Air Force, and if we are short of transport and other planes, should he not perhaps consider that these should also be taken into account and that we should concentrate more on mobility than on producing a new V-bomber force at this time?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we attach the greatest importance to mobility and to transport, but plainly, I think, the evidence of increasing developments in Soviet air defence and combat shows the wisdom of our plans in the Air Ministry for maintaining the effectiveness of the deterrent over the decade ahead.

Middleton St George Station

11 and 12.

asked the Secretary of State for Air (1) on how many occasions during the last year Middleton St. George Royal Air Force Station has been used by civil aeroplanes; and what are the conditions for its use for this purpose;

(2) on how many days in the last year Middleton St. George Royal Air Force Station has been in use for Service flying.

Middleton St. George airfield has been out of use since the beginning of June for runway repairs. However, in the year ended 31st May, it was open for flying on 351 days and used by Service aircraft on 292 of them. This involved about 20,000 movements. It was used by civil aircraft on 92 occasions. When the runway repairs are completed next month, the airfield will again be available to civil aircraft for diversion purposes and for occasional civil flights provided the permission of the Commanding Officer is obtained beforehand.

As the only means of developing a civil air service to and from Tees-side lies in the use of this airfield, and as there seems to be scope for the use of it to be increased provided that there is no interference with priorities for the Air Force, will the right hon. Gentleman make every effort to bring this about so that we can have a civil air service to Tees-side?

I am well aware of the strong feeling on Tees-side about this. It was made clear to me during a visit which I paid recently to Middlesbrough. We shall certainly do everything we can to provide this, compatible with the operational rôle.

Are requests growing greatly at the moment for the use of this station by civil aeroplanes?

I do not think that they are growing all that much. There were 92 occasions on which there were civil movements up to 31st May this year.

Skybolt

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what version of Skybolt has been ordered for the Royal Air Farce, in view of the fact that the United States Government have already produced a surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting a weapon with the performance of Skybolt Mark 1.

Only one version of the Skybolt is at present being made. We are ordering this, as is the United States Air Force. We know of no developments in anti-missile defence which give reason to suppose that Skybolt will not remain a valid deterrent throughout the 1960s.

Is the Secretary of State prepared to deny the American claim to have developed a surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting?

The hon. Member would have to study very carefully, as we will have to study, the capability of any antimissile defence system. So far there is not even a proving test taking place, and certainly no test against Skybolt, which has not yet been perfected and built. Although plainly there are all sorts of Possibilities in anti-missile defence, we do not believe that anything sufficiently effective can be devised in the decade ahead to prevent Skybolt continuing as an effective deterrent for ourselves and the United States Air Force.

Blue Steel

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Air when he expects the air-to-ground missile, Blue Steel, to be operational with Bomber Command.

I have nothing to add to the forecast I made on 8th March in the Air Estimates debate.

Is it not the case, therefore, that Blue Steel now is being so seriously delayed that it is quite probable that Skybolt, which has a vastly superior performance, will be available very shortly after Blue Steel? Is there a real purpose to be achieved by continuing with the production of Blue Steel?

Yes, indeed, Sir. I do not accept, to begin with, that we shall not have Blue Steel substantially in advance of Skybolt, and I think that it will fulfil a very useful rôle. Its continuing importance in air defence all over the world, to which reference has been made already in Questions today, underlines the importance of having a stand-off weapon of short-range first and of long-range later, and we shall be glad to have Blue Steel.

What is the purpose of having a stand-off weapon with a 100-mile range about a year before having one with a 1,000-mile range?

I do not entirely accept the hon. Member's time-scale, but as I tried to explain during the Air Estimates debate, there are two phases in air defence: one is point defence, namely, building up defence round a particular target; the other is overall defence over the country's air space. The stand-off missile would be extremely valuable, whatever the state of overall defence, in attacking a particular target.

We are discussing rather hypothetical considerations, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give an assurance, in pursuing the idea of Blue Steel, that it will come in a considerable time before Skybolt? In a previous answer the right hon. Gentleman said that the United States had now definitely ordered Skybolt for the United States Air Force. Is that so? I was under the impression that it was still in an experimental stage and that no firm order had been placed.

I am answerable in the House only for the Royal Air Force, and I think that what I have said explains the situation where Skybolt is concerned. As to Blue Steel, I have nothing to add to the forecast which I made and which I think at the time went fairly far.

Transport Aircraft

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what interim arrangements he is making to improve the carrying capacity of Transport Command, pending the entry into service of the Belfast transport aircraft in 1964.

We expect to take delivery of the 56 Argosies and 5 Comet 4s now on order.

Is it not the case that none of these aircraft to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred is capable of carrying heavy equipment long distances? In view of this very serious gap in our transport capacity between now and 1964, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman could indicate what consideration the Government have given to purchasing Lockheed C.130s, which are the only aircraft to have a cargo cross-section, a payload, and a range so as to be capable of carrying heavy equipment long distances, until the Belfasts are available?

We have considered all these things. The hon. Member must realise that the Belfast is due to fulfil the strategic rôle of carrying not only heavy payloads but particularly the bulky equipment required by both the Army and the Air Force. The Hercules, or Lockheed C.130, would not be able to carry the equipment which we have in mind, not so much because of the weight as because of the bulk. Therefore, it would not fulfil the rôle for which the Belfast is required.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Air when he expects to have strategic air freighters in service; and whether he will now arrange for the placing of orders for the Lockheed Hercules as soon as satisfactory arrangements are made for its manufacture in this country.

The Britannia already gives us some strategic freighting capability and the Belfast is due in service in 1964. We have no plans to order the Hercules for this task.

Can the right hon. Gentleman really assure the House that he is satisfied with the strategic freight capability of the Royal Air Force and is prepared to wait until 1964 for the substantial addition of the Belfast with these very small additions in the meantime? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that we can wait three years after what was disclosed in the Kuwait operation?

As I tried to make plain when we discussed Kuwait a week ago, we are certainly not complacent or satisfied with the situation. But there is no aircraft that we know of, apart from the Belfast, which, between now and 1964, would carry the heavy and bulky items of equipment that the Army and Air Force wish to be transported. We there- fore have to wait for the Belfast for that purpose.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the American Air Force has equipment which could do this work and that by not acquiring suitable aircraft this country runs itself into a dangerous position in the present state of international affairs? Does he not think that for all we do for the Americans it is about time that they did something for us?

We are well aware of the importance of carrying this equipment around. Some of it exists and some of it is still in development in this country, but heavy equipment—not Skybolt—as far as we can make out, could be effectively carried only in the Belfast, and we shall have the Belfast in 1964.

Farm, Maidenhead (Right Of Way)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware of the inconvenience caused both to Mr. H. J. Burfitt, of Altwood Farm, Maidenhead, and to the Maidenhead Borough Counciil by his Department's delay in issuing the necessary documents concerning a right of way over Lees Gardens; and when he expects to be in a position to reach a final settlement with Mr. Burfitt.

I think my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written to my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that there are several matters still to be settled between Mr. Burfitt and the Air Ministry and that it depends on both sides when a final settlement will be reached. But I can assure my hon. Friend that we are anxious to reach a settlement at the earliest possible moment.

While I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for at last taking speedy action since I put the Question down on the documents concerning the right of way, may I call his attention to the fact that negotiations between his Department and my constituent have been running for nearly nine years? Although I admit that this is not entirely a straightforward case, may I ask whether he will do his best to reach a final solution fairly early?

As I have said, we are very anxious to reach a solution as soon as we possibly can, but the difficulties are not all on one side in this matter.

Kenley Airport (Land)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the land at Kenley Airport comprising the old runway and adjoining land can now be released for use for building or as a public open space.

I have asked my Department to review our requirements for land at Kepley, but I am not yet ready to make a statement.

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to inform me as soon as he comes to a decision? I think that he ought to do his best to come to a decision as soon as possible.

Aircraft And Missiles (Expenditure)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what percentages of his expenditure on new aircraft and missiles in the financial year 1960–61 and in the current financial year have been for Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Transport Command, respectively.

The estimated cost of new airframes, engines and missiles, expressed as a percentage of the net Vote for aircraft and stores was, for Bomber forces 11 per cent. last year and 13·5 per cent. this year; for Fighter forces, 9·5 per cent. and 9·5 per cent.; and for Transport forces 4·5 per cent. and 6 per cent.

Do these figures not disclose the inadequate state of Transport Command, and in view of the increasing necessity for preparing for possible limited war action as distinct from global war, should not the Transport Command allocation be very substantially increased?

I think the hon. Gentleman has to realise that the figures are, naturally, influenced not simply by the programme but by the dates on which the bills for the aircraft acquired fall due. Thus, in 1959–60 the Transport percentage of expenditure was higher than the Fighter. It is a question of when the actual bill is presented by the firm concerned for the aircraft supplied.

While I understand the difficulties of accounting and the rest of it, might I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not realise that the important thing is what planes are actually in service with the Royal Air Force at this moment?

Yes, Sir, and the planes in service with the Royal Air Force at the moment do not bear a direct relation to the percentage of expenditure incurred in one year.