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Royal Air Force

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 28 March 1962

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Chalgrove Airfield

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if the agreement with Martin Baker Aircraft, Ltd., in respect of Chalgrove Airfield, has yet been signed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I raised the matter two years ago, on 31st March, 1960, and that on 8th December, 1960, I was informed by the Under-Secretary of State that only one or two matters of small detail remained to be settled? May I know what those points of detail are? Furthermore, does the original assurance still stand, that the land will be offered back to the original owners as agricultural land at current market price when the company ceases to have use for it for its present purpose?

A public local inquiry was held by the War Works Commission in February of this year. The firm, not unnaturally, wants to await the result of the inquiry before it signs the agreement and before everything is finally settled.

With regard to my hon. Friend's second point, I understand that the firm has made it clear that it would give a first option to the original owners—I think that is the position—if it terminated its lease.

Might I press my right hon. Friend to be a little clearer about this? Will he reassure me and the House that when the company ceases to wish to use the airfield for the purpose of testing ejector seats it will then offer the land back to the original owners as agricultural land at current prices in accordance with the undertaking originally given?

Airmen's Wives, North Luffenham (Hospital Facilities)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what hospital facilities are available to the wives of airmen at North Luffenham in cases of confinement.

Service wives at North Luffenham may use either the National Health Service maternity facilities or those provided by the Royal Air Force Hospital at Nocton Hall.

Can the right hon. Gentleman be satisfied with the present arrangements when some of the wives who are already in labour have to be sent by road to hospital 50 miles away with no qualified person in attendance to deal with any emergency en route? Does he not think this a disgraceful and scandalous state of affairs? Will he bring this sort of thing to an end without further delay?

I do not think that the situation is a scandalous one. We should, of course, like to have even better facilities than we have, but what we have compares very reasonably with the civilian facilities available in the area.

As North Luffenham is in my constituency, might I make it clear to my right hon. Friend that we have all the health facilities in Rutland available for anyone from North Luffenham who cares to make use of them? This is contrary to the view that some people seem to have about my county.

We should like a little more information. Is it not the case that some wives of Service personnel have to go fifty miles for their confinement? If that is the case, ought not something to be done about it?

There are facilities at North Luffenham, but they are not on a large scale, and some wives of airmen prefer to go to Nocton Hall for their confinement, and this is some distance off. They have a choice.

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Newspaper Representative (Facilities)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what facilities were afforded by his department to Mr. Chapman Pincher, of the Daily Express newspaper, to investigate the effectiveness of Great Britain's hydrogen bombs.

Mr. Chapman Pincher was given facilities to visit Headquarters Bomber Command and a Bomber Command station.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in its issue of 19th March the Daily Express made clear that the Air Ministry had offered unique facilities to Mr. Chapman Pincher to see everything at one of our chief bomber stations and that no vital facts were withheld from him? Is the right hon. Gentleman able to square that with the statement which he made a week earlier in the Air Estimates debate, on 12th March:

"I am not prepared to explain here the exact details of our readiness or dispersal systems."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1962; Vol. 655. c. 909.]
When he could not explain them to Parliament, how was it that Mr. Pincher was able to go and see all about them?

I thought Mr. Pincher wrote some very well-informed articles, but I am not, of course, responsible for everything that he wrote.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that Members of Parliament who want to write articles on this subject will be given facilities equal to those given to Mr. Chapman Pincher?

Similar facilities have been given in the past to hon. Members belonging to the party opposite.

While welcoming the maximum information that can be given to the public, may I ask why these facilities were granted immediately after the Air Estimates debate when the Secretary of State had declined to give the House information about scrambling and so on which subsequently appeared in Mr. Chapman Pincher's articles? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he approved the articles as well as providing the facilities, and will he give like facilities to any accredited defence correspondent who wishes to avail himself of the opportunity?

As I have already said, I thought Mr. Pincher's articles were very well informed and well written, but I do not accept responsibility for everything that he wrote. As I have already said, I have previously provided facilities for other journalists, including hon. Members opposite, to make visits of a similar kind.

Aircraft, Transport Command

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will give the types and numbers of aircraft on order for Transport Command and the dates on which he expects to have them available for service.

I would refer the hon. Member to the information in the Air Estimates Memorandum and to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on 12th March.

With respect, that information is not nearly as full as the information about V-Bomber Command which Mr. Pincher had made available to him. Cannot we have the dates when the Air Force expects to get into service some of these transport aircraft which are on order? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about the Belfasts and when they will be in service—all ten of them—because there is great concern about this lack of a strategic air freighter and we want to know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about it.

I understand, appreciate and share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the heavy freighters and the need to have them in service as soon as possible, but I think it would be unwise to go beyond what I have said previously; that we expect to have ten Belfasts in the mid-1960s.

Children (Education Allowances)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what allowances and arrangements are available for Royal Air Force officers and other ranks to assist them to educate their children in this country whilst on overseas tours, and to avoid the problems arising from frequent changes of school.

Allowances are paid for children at boarding or at day schools, at the rates set out on page 17 of the Air Estimates. In addition, children are given one free passage every year to visit parents serving abroad.

I am sure that the Secretary of State realises that the education of children is a very important welfare and recruiting factor. Can he say how the Service allowances compare with similar allowances for personnel in the Foreign and Colonial Services? Are any steps taken not only to advise Service men about public and private school possibilities but also to bring to their attention the possibility of local education authority schools, some of which are boarding schools? My impression is that an airman is left very much to his own devices and that if he is in Singapore or Hong Kong and has no relatives in this country he finds the placing of his children in school a difficult matter. What help is the Air Ministry giving?

The Royal Air Force education branch can and does help, but we have found that, on the whole, parents have strong and decided views of their own about the education of their children. With regard to comparable rates paid by the Foreign Office, our rates are at present lower than theirs but I am, with my right hon. Friends the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, discussing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there should be any change.

I understood the Minister to indicate that children who are attending school will be given the fare to visit their parents abroad once a year. Does that concession include children who are not attending school? If so, does it include the children of officers under 25?

That is a different question, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who are very anxious about the limited educational standards reached by some of these children? Will he undertake to consult the Minister of Education with a view to improving the facilities which are available when the children do not come back to this country for schooling?

I will gladly consult my right hon. Friend who will, naturally, be glad to receive any representations from my hon. Friend.

We wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter. Will he make a statement to the House as soon as he is in a position to do so?

I have no doubt that a statement will be made, although it may be made by the Minister of Defence rather than by myself.