Skip to main content

Royal Air Force

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

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

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Stoddart.]

3.50 p.m.

It is one of those strange coincidences that, on a day when we should be debating the future of the Royal Air Force, we have a Private Notice Question about a serious accident in which two members of the crew of a Royal Air Force aircraft and also civilians were killed. I hasten to add my condolences to the relations of those, both in the Royal Air Force and civilians, who were killed in this tragic accident. It highlights the dangers to which members of the Armed Forces are exposed, and it is, perhaps, no bad thing that one should be reminded of that when one begins to debate the fate of the Royal Air Force.

For those who take a continuing interest in the defence of this country, and therefore try to keep informed of the state of our Armed Forces, debates on this subject become increasingly disturbing and frustrating. They are disturbing because, whatever Ministers may say, five successive lots of cuts have put the Services into a position that can only be described as dangerous. This is clear from courageous statements made by Service chiefs over the last few years, and by the action of the Chiefs of Staff only a few months ago—in December last year—in using their right of access to the Prime Minister. It is also made abundantly clear by the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee, which considered defence expenditure.

These debates are also frustrating because the Government know that they are putting the Services and the country at risk, but they have not the courage to stand up to the pressure of Members from their left wing, who are all absent today.

I was referring to the pressures of Members of the Left Wing, most of whom will not be satisfied—and the hon. Gentleman knows that they will not be satisfied—until they have cut defence expenditure to the point where we might as well abandon our defences altogether. That is the only thing that will satisfy many of them. It is purely a case of putting party before country, for the Prime Minister knows perfectly well that he would have had the wholehearted support of the Conservative Party if he had taken his courage in his hands—even after the defence review—and said "Enough is enough; I must preserve the security of the realm". Had he done so, he would not have needed even the help of the Liberals—who are also not here—to survive. He knows that he would have had our support.

But the most disgraceful aspect of the whole affair is that the Government keep making damaging cuts, despite the fact that they are fully aware—and say so—of the rapidly increasing threat that faces this country. I do not have to spell it out. In defence debates—and, indeed, in speeches from the Treasury Bench—it has been spelt out over and over again and in detail. In White Paper after White Paper it has been spelt out in great detail.

The Government are also fully aware of the effect that the policies that they pursue could have upon the whole NATO Alliance. It is not just a question of undermining the confidence of our Allies and the credibility of NATO as a deterrent force. There is, as I said in a previous debate, the danger that the electors and Parliaments of other NATO countries will feel free to follow our example by reducing their defence budgets, thus destroying NATO altogether. It is against that sombre and depressing background that we consider today the rôle and the state of the Royal Air Force.

At this early point in my speech I should like, on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends, to pay a heartfelt and warm tribute to the men and women who serve in the Royal Air Force and the Women's Royal Air Force. They have had a great deal to put up with in recent years, particularly at the hands of Parliament, yet one cannot visit any RAF station without being immediately struck by the enthusiasm and dedicated professionalism of everyone whom one meets. I know that on this side of the House—where there are some hon. Members present—there are many who have recently visited RAF stations and have been struck by that very fact.

If similar qualities could only be engendered in all other spheres of activity in our country, we should have little cause to worry about our future. We owe them, as we owe the other Armed Forces, a great debt of gratitude, and if during the course of our debate we complain of any deficiencies, let it be clear that we intend no reflection whatever on their loyalty or dedication to duty. On the contrary, our aim is to attempt to match their performance in fulfilling our responsibilities for making their task as easy as possible.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate moment to mention one or two appalling examples of maladroit actions by the Government, which unnecessarily, but justifiably, upset members of the Service. In drawing attention to these matters, I am particularly mindful of the delicate balance on which morale is based, and I am sure that the Minister is, too.

It is astonishing that the morale of our Armed Forces, and the Royal Air Force in particular, which has taken a big hammering in recent cuts, has survived despite the Government's actions during the past three years. We started with the much-vaunted defence review, which was to be the most thorough-going review ever undertaken in peace-time. That was announce in March 1974, and it was followed by a long and anxious gestation period, culminating in the 1975 Statement on the Defence Estimates, published in March of that year. It set out the results of the review—or so we were told at the time and, again, so we were told in the Statement on the Defence Estimates published the following year.

Perhaps we should have been a little more sceptical about the ability of the Labour Government to come to firm decisions on defence matters, because if one looks hack to the 1975 White Paper, which contained the announcement of the defence review, one sees under Chapter 1, entitled "The Defence Review", a subheading which says "The Review So Far". I ask my hon. Friends to note the words "so far". That was in 1975.

Perhaps after all that talk about balancing forces with commitments, about all those studies in depth, somebody in the Ministry of Defence had decided to leave the door ajar—just in case. How right he was! The House did not then know that within one month of the 1975 statement we should be having the first of four lots of additional cuts, based not on military requirements or on economic necessity, but on political pressures within the Labour Party.

As I said, it is astonishing to me that morale has survived all this. But then, as I said earlier, we had the maladroit handling of these cuts, especially as they affected individuals. Has the Under-Secretary of State discussed with serving officers, as I have—I am sure he must have done so—the manner in which their brother officers were made redundant? There was no question of their being asked whether they would care to offer their resignations. There was merely a formal letter informing them that their services were no longer required. These were men who had entered the Royal Air Force believing they were part of a professional force, that they had a lifetime's duty in a profession, like any other profession, in which they could look forward to proceeding right through from the bottom to the top if they were sufficiently able. Yet this was how they were informed.

I do not need to tell the Under-Secretary of State, because I am sure that he knows, just what the effect was on those men who were being cut off in their prime at a time when they had every expectation of continuing until they reached a good age and a good rank in the Royal Air Force. But I must remind him of the effect on those remaining in the Service, for it is they who complain and tell most fervently of the bitterness that was needlessly engendered by the maladroit handling of these redundancies. I gather that at some later stage somebody with some sensitivity realised what was happening, and the form of letter was changed. But a great deal of damage to morale was done, damage to morale, which is a delicate balance, which need never have occurred.

Then there was the case of the aircrew officers who joined with the promise of a gratuity at the end of their service. This Government were clearly prepared to renage on that promise.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
(Mr. James Wellbeloved)


It is all very well the hon. Gentleman saying "Nonsense". It was only under pressure from my right. hon. and hon. Friends—

It is going too far to drag in statements which are demonstrably untrue. Consideration was taking place on a wide range of issues in Government circles, but this issue was never a starter in the mind of the Ministry of Defence.

It may not have been a starter in the minds of the Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. I said that it was a matter on which the Government were prepared to renage. It was only under pressure, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman was glad to have to support his line, that there was a change of mind, and a decision, which has been used by the Ministry of Defence to honour the commitment, was finally made.

Can anyone imagine what uproar there would have been if some large private enterprise concern had announced its intention to break such a promise? We should have had Government supporters fulminating in the House. We should have had trade union leaders calling employees out on strike. We should have had general abuse of all private enterprise, and we should have heard no end to it. But it lay quiet with nothing apparently happening until pressure from the Opposition forced the Government to agree to honour a commitment which they had already firmly promised.

How insensitive can a Government become? I exclude the Service Ministers from this. But, excluding them, how insensitive can a Government become and how could Service Ministers have even allowed such a decision to be taken in the first place? I accept that they were fighting for it, with the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and between us we won the day.

I see no reason for laughter on the Treasury Bench. I see cause for joy in sinners who repent. I hope that I am right in saying that the few Government supporters here today, who are almost entirely concentrated on the Treasury Bench, share our satisfaction in the fact that the Government were prevented from reneging on a commitment which was a firm promise.

We then come to the latest and—in my view—the worst of these demonstrations of gross ineptitude—the report of the Review Body on Force's Pay, Cmnd. 6801. It is interesting to note that it was presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister by command of Her Majesty. I presume that means that in this case it had been previously approved by the Ministers of Defence en bloc. Otherwise, we should, no doubt, have had some resignations. There was a 5 per cent. pay rise—

I ought to make it clear that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the report of the members of the independent body. Like the reports of other such committees on pay, it is presented to the Prime Minister, but it is the report of the gentlemen concerned.

The Prime Minister presented it to the House. I have not heard of a single Service Minister resigning as a result of the Prime Minister having presented it to the House. The Prime Minister could have sent it back if he did not like it. But he presented it to the House, and Service Ministers are now sitting back and saying that it has nothing to do with them. It has a good deal to do with them.

This 5 per cent. pay rise means that most will qualify for an increase of between £2·50 and £4·00 per week. On the face of it, that is bad enough, but then there are the accommodation charges. I always feared when we started this system of payment for the Forces that this was likely to happen. It happened with the nurses—I said so at the time—and it is now happening with the Armed Forces. Accommodation charges are now to be increased by up to £2·50 per week. The charge for food is going up by £1·12 per week. That means that most airmen will end up with an increase of just 50p. No wonder the Sunday Express described it as "a shameful, shaming exercise". I wonder whether Ministers really think that 50p per week is an adequate additional reward in the circumstances of today.

It may be that my arithmetic is wrong and that my hon. Friend's is right, but I worked out last night that the actual increase would be about 45p a week, which is the exact cost of this paper which the Review Body is selling to the public.

I am quite certain that no Service man will waste one week's additional pay on buying it.

What is so depressing is that there are already many Service men who are facing severe financial hardship.

To turn for a moment to one of the other Services, almost half the married soldiers in Ulster who face dangers day by day which no one in this House or this country faces are forced to claim rent rebates. Some of them will now be worse off than they were before.

I am asked to stop scowling. I think I am entitled to scowl, but if it makes the news any easier for the hon. Gentleman I shall smile.

To what depths of meanness are the Government prepared to sink? Is there no one, not even the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, who will demand that this whole question be looked at again? I do not ask him to answer now. He has a long speech to make. In fact, he has two speeches to make. I hope that we shall hear the answer, and I hope that the answer will be in the affirmative.

It has been claimed that the tax concessions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which were promised on the basis of a new pay agreement, have been taken into account already in arriving at the Service men's pay increases. If that is so, it must mean that civilians will be far better off on their 5 per cent. than will Service men. Is that what the Minister wants? Is that what he has agreed to? Is that what he has allowed to slip through, believing that it is only the recommendation of the review body?

It is quite disgraceful that those who volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces of the Crown, who risk great dangers and hardship, and who are prepared to lay down their lives if necessary to defend our country, should be treated in this way just because their loyalty is beyond question. It is high time that their service and sacrifice were fully recognised.

Perhaps at this point I should remind the House of the effects of all these cuts—of which the various matters I have mentioned are part—upon the Royal Air Force as a whole. First, there was the cut of 18,000 officers and men. That is a very large number. It represents a cut of 18 per cent. of officers and men—a very large percentage of the Royal Air Force. As I said earlier, they are all people who joined up believing they were joining a professional service in which there was a lifetime career for them.

I come to the question of equipment. Here also the cuts are very severe. I make no apologies for reminding the House of the cumulative effect of the past three years of office of the Government. Transport aircraft have been cut by 50 per cent., and helicopters cut by 25 per cent. The Nimrod force for maritime surveillance has been cut by 25 per cent. Then there is the cancellation of an extra squadron of Jaguars, the cancellation of the QC434 short-range air-to-air missile, and the cancellation of a whole range of radar and communications systems.

There have been reductions in engineering spares. I should like to know how far the Minister considers that the Royal Air Force has sufficient spares to last the sort of war it is likely to have to fight when the balloon goes up.

Then there is the indefinite deferment of the medium-lift helicopter and the reduction of the delivery rate by up to one-third of the Tornado multi-rôle combat aircraft force. There is also the reduction of the delivery rate for a variety of radar and communications equipment.

As the report of the Expenditure Committee rightly states:
"It is not difficult to single out a range of equipment from those listed above, where the effect of the cuts is not disputed"—
that means, no doubt, that it will not he disputed by the Minister today—
"and where there are very serious implications for the quality of our defence capability".
The war-time rôle of the Royal Air Force was stated clearly and succinctly by the Under-Secretary of State in last year's debate. He said:
"In the event of hostilities the RAF will be called upon, in co-operation with our allies, to defend these islands against attack from the air and sea, to co-operate with the Royal Navy in keeping open the lines of communication and reinforcement from North America, and to support our Army in the field and undertake offensive operations against any enemies."—[Official Report, 10th June 1976; Vol. 912, c. 1704.]
That is a pretty massive commitment by any standards.

Since the Under-Secretary of State spoke, the NATO Defence Planning Committee has authorised SACLANT to prepare a plan for the protection of Allied shipping south of the Tropic of Cancer. Right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have been pressing for this year after year in the North Atlantic Assembly and in this House. Over and over again we have said that NATO cannot ignore what goes on south of the Tropic of Cancer. We have asked "What about the Cape route, what about oil supplies, what about the vital minerals in that part of the world, what about the Communist threat?" At last we have a recognition of this within NATO. Is this an additional rôle which may fall to the Royal Air Force?

I should like to examine the effects of the various RAF cuts on the task of the Royal Air Force. In transport aircraft, we know perfectly well that if there is to be reinforcement of BAOR it has to be very rapid. Does anybody really believe that British Airways, by making available its normal passenger aircraft, will be able to do anything of great importance in hastening the reinforcement of BAOR? We know perfectly well that there would be a period of delay in which we should presumably have to legislate to obtain authority to requisition the aircraft.

The Minister of State shakes his head. I should be glad to hear how long it is likely to take from the moment that the need is seen to the moment that the aircraft can be used.

It is obvious that men with rifles could be carried in these aircraft, but what about heavier equipment? These passenger aircraft are not equipped with big doors to enable one to put in Land Rovers, field guns, and so on. They do not have floors that are stressed to take heavy equipment. What have the Government in mind when they suggest that one can just switch from a large transport fleet in the Royal Air Force to a mere requisitioning of British Airways passenger fleet?

How can civil aircraft be compared with the Royal Air Force's specially built transport aircraft, 50 per cent. of which are being thrown away? It is surely axiomatic that the more one reduces the size of one's forces, the more one needs to increase their mobility. We are reducing the size of our Forces and at the same time reducing their mobility. That must be obvious for all to see, even those in the Government who are not sitting on the Front Bench this afternoon.

Only last month the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron, was reported to have said that in future NATO may have to fight peripheral wars outside Europe to preserve its share of the world's natural resources and to maintain a political balance. He went on to say:
"We probably face an era in which if the West is to respond, it must do so with great speed, often over very long distances."
Yet when the Chief of the Air Staff says that—he cannot have thought it up yesterday; it must have ben current thinking in the higher echelons of the Royal Air Force for a long time—it is at a time when the Government are withdrawing from our air bases in the Mediterranean, the Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and cutting our transport fleet by half just when the global threat is known to be increasing.

I sometimes wonder whether our Defence Ministers even listen to our defence chiefs. It would not appear so from the contrast between the attitude of Ministers in the House and the constant courageous warnings given by senior Service chiefs in the Press from time to time, reported from meetings, seminars, and so on. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite appear not to have so listened in the past. Perhaps recent events in Southern Africa will make them listen a little more in future.

I come now to the 25 per cent. cut in the helicopter force. The Expenditure Committee report is explicit. Page XIII, paragraph 9 states:
"The Army have been badly handicapped by the cuts and deferments in the helicopter force. Battlefield and logistic mobility has been impaired by the failure to provide a Medium lift helicopter (now further deferred for an indefinite period), together with a significant reduction in the capability of reinforcing divisions due to the substantial reduction in the number of Gazelle and Lynx helicopters.
Therefore, support for the Army in the field—to use the words of the Secretary of State for Defence last year in defining one of the rôles of the Royal Air Force—has been greatly weakened by ail these cuts.

Paragraph 15 also speaks of the deferment of the medium-lift helicopter. It states,
"The operation of the Harrier force is also adversely affected by the failure to provide the medium-lift helicopter, leaving its dispersion heavily dependent on wheeled transport vehicles."
In other words, the whole original concept of the Harrier force has been thrown overboard.

Right hon. and hon. Members must realise that the whole point of the Harrier was that it was an aircraft which could be dispersed and there were to be other aircraft which could service it with rapid speed at frequent intervals whenever needed. Therefore, the capacity to undertake offensive operations against any enemy—again, to use the Under-Secretary's words—as another rôle of the Royal Air Force has also been greatly weakened by these cuts.

That weakening is further accentuated in paragraph 15 which says:
"The RAF has suffered a serious impairment of its strike and offensive support capability, not only with the cancellation of an extra squadron of Jaguars but also with the major cut back in the delivery rate for the long awaited Tornado which is designed to replace op to five existing aircraft types and perform in a variety of vital rôles."
It is extraordinary that the Government should take such a relaxed attitude on this matter. The Chiefs of Staff and hon. Members who are charged with the task of inquiring in detail into these matters and reporting to the House are all saying the same thing—that these cuts greatly impair the ability of the Royal Air Force to carry out the rôles assigned to it.

Paragraph 15 goes on:
"The danger of such a deferment is not simply that the numbers needed will not be achieved quickly enough, leaving an operational deficiency, but that there is a risk that the aircraft will be obsolescent before the last of them is delivered."
[Interruption.] It is all very well for Ministers to chat happily away. I hope that if they will not do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say, they will read it afterwards.

I was not only listening; I was seeking a second opinion of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

If the right hon. Gentleman is capable of speaking to one person and listening to his replies at the same moment as he is listening to the speech of another, he is a new breed of human being, and we welcome him to this House.

It is quite ridiculous that we should have a risk of this sort, apparently accepted, presumably, by the Secretary of State for Defence and the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for the Royal Air Force.

I come next to the reduction of the Nimrod force by 25 per cent. [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman worried about what I am saying? I hope he is. This decision must reduce the Royal Air Force's capacity to co-operate with the Royal Navy, another rôle, as I outlined earlier, which was spelled out by the Under-Secretary of State in last year's debate on the Royal Air Force.

In talking of Nimrod we must talk about North Sea oil and gas. I know that it has been the Government's hope that this will become a NATO commitment and that somebody else will share the burden with us. It is interesting that Admiral Kidd, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, should have said at a Press briefing in Norfolk, Virginia, quite recently:
"My suggestion is that the security for North Sea oil should be made a national responsibility."
So he is putting it right back on the plate of the British Government. I hope sincerely that they are looking at this question of the Nimrods, which will, no doubt, be withdrawn from Malta in due course, and the possibility of using them if they must be brought back.

Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that, besides cutting the Nimrod force, the Government and their predecessors have abolished the fixed-wing flight of the Fleet Air Arm, and therefore the attenuated RAF has also to defend the Fleet?

Yes, there is no question but that the Nimrod is one of the most valuable aircraft that we have, and in terms of looking after these various areas assigned to the Royal Air Force, it is a great mistake, as I am sure all my right hon. and hon. Friends agree, to cut the force by 25 per cent.

I come now to the question of air defence, which requires us to ensure the freedom of movement across the Atlantic. But that is a useless concept unless there is a secure base on this side of the Atlantic where ships and aircraft can discharge and turn around and, more important still, where their loads can be put to effective use. As the then Chief of the Air Staff said in December 1975:
"Our country is not only a most important base in its own right, but by its location it also dominates the sea and air approaches to the whole of the Central Region of NATO and to Northern France, Denmark, Sweden and Southern Norway."
He went on:
"So failure to provide an adequate air defence for this country would not only mean that our efforts to secure our trans-Atlantic lines of communication had been wasted, but would even call into question the effectiveness of a strategy of forward defence in Germany."
We could not have a more explicit warning from a more experienced person.

It is indeed unfortunate that, under the tripwire strategy, our air defences were run down far beyond cuts to other forces, naval, army or air. But that surely indicates how important it is to build them up again. The Opposition has committed themselves to building our forces up again, and air defence is one of the most important facets.

With the coming into service of the Soviet Backfires, Fencers, and perhaps Foxbats, all armed with extremely accurate air-delivered weapons, the need is all the greater. This is no doubt where the air defence variant of the MRCA will be vitally needed, but it will be needed as soon as possible. I have covered some ground. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends want to cover other aspects.

I have deliberately painted a very sombre picture because I believe that it is vital that the House should be reminded—and the country also—of the need to ensure that our Armed Forces are of sufficient strength and adequately equipped to carry out the tasks expected of them in wartime.

The Under-Secretary will feel bound to assure us that this is so, that the Government have got it right, and that all is well. I will finish by quoting the last few lines of the report of the Expenditure Committee because they are worth repeating:
We ask, however, whether it is now the Government's policy that defence spending should be treated on the same footing as that of any other department regardless of the effect on the operational capability of the forces or whether the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security. We do not see it as our function to pronounce on the relative merits of these two approaches. Nonetheless, we think it only fair to the forces themselves as well as in the interests of an informed debate on national defence policy that the Government should make clear the basis on which they make choices as between defence and other spending programmes."
The Government have not yet answered this question in words, but, my goodness, I regret that they have answered it with deeds.

4.32 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
(Mr. James Wellbeloved)

We started the debate in rather sombre circumstances. It is not my intention to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said in answering a Private Notice Question other than to say that no words of mine can in any way lessen the grief that those who suffered so tragically in that accident must endure. I assure the House and the country that every serving member of the Royal Air Force is conscious of what has happened and is deeply affected by the grief that exists in that area.

I am delighted to have the opportunity of debating the Royal Air Force today and of explaining to the House in more detail the rôle of the RAF in plans for the future defence of this country and the defence of Western Europe.

Before I come to that, however, I want to say one other thing relating to sombre circumstances that the RAF has encountered in recent months. I should like to add my personal tribute to the late Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Andrew Humphrey, whose career as Chief of the Defence Staff came to an end so tragically with his untimely death. Sir Andrew, when Chief of the Air Staff, worked closely with me and my colleagues on the Air Force Board, and none could have failed to be impressed by his intelligence and integrity. His loss to the Services is indeed grave, and my colleagues on the Air Force Board and I once again extend to his widow our deepest sympathy.

In his remarks, the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) paid great attention to the various cuts announced in the defence White Papers that have come out in recent years. The Government's defence review of 1974 concentrated our defence efforts in support of NATO, and in particular on the crucial areas of the central front and the Eastern Atlantic and Channel. A number of measures that arose from this review affected the RAF, and we have made very good progress in their implementation. The reductions in the RAF transport and support helicopter force are now complete, as are the reductions in training commitments and communications and support aircraft. The moves to concentrate RAF units on better-found stations are also well advanced.

Since the 1974 review, the nation's battle for economic recovery has necessitated further reductions in the defence budget. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has told the House, our aim in making these further cuts has been to avoid any reduction in the frontline capability of our forces in support of NATO. However every effort will be made to minimise the effect on the front line of the cuts announced but still to be finalised.

The hon. Member for St. Albans trotted out a whole load of well-worn arguments, and in particular he referred to the gratuities situation. He has sought to claim that it was only as a result of his activities and those of his hon. Friends that any changes of importance came about in that case. Of course, that is not true at all. It is clear that with the passing of the Social Security Act 1973—and hon. Members will not have missed the point that that Act was passed in the period of another Administration's term of office—and the subsequent Social Security Act of 1975, designed to give effect to some of the provisions in the 1973 Act, there was a need for the Treasury and Civil Service Department to give consideration to a whole range of issues relating to the Ministry of Defence.

In those discussions there was no question of our ratting on undertakings that we had given. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has claimed that there was such an intention, because he in particular is a great exponent of putting up Aunt Sallies based on things about which he has, by some strange means, heard a whisper and then mounting a campaign and seeking credit when a Government policy develops and his Aunt Sallies do not come to pass.

I shall give the hon. Gentleman a particularly scurrilous example of the accusaton that I am making against him. On Monday 24th January he wrote an article in the Daily Mail on the great Backfire controversy which he has sought to generate. A commercial firm in the United Kingdom has developed a particular piece of apparatus of great use to the British aerospace industry. That firm has the opportunity of selling the commodity overseas and has been giving consideration to a possible sale to the Soviet Union. The hon. Member for Stretford launched a campaign to accuse my right hon. and hon. Friends in some way because of this move by a commercial company. He claims that the Government are putting at risk the whole defence capacity of the United Kingdom.

If the hon. Member does not know already he should consult his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who will tell him that there is a well-tried procedure for private commercal companies which seek to sell overseas materials, ideas and inventions that could be used to the detriment of the security of this country and of NATO. All these plans of private companies are considered by the Government and by a special committee before a decision is given. The hon. Member would have done a much greater service to the country's security if he had made inquiries before launching that sort of campaign. I can tell him now that no decisions have been made. The proposition is being considered.

For the hon. Member to launch an attack, so that later he can try to say—as he has done on gratuities—that it was only through his efforts that the Government were stopped from doing these things is nothing short of gross misuse of Parliament and the privileged position that he occupies as a spokesman for the Opposition.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. Is he aware that prior to my writing that article I raised this matter in the House and that his hon. Friend the Minister of State informed me that the Government saw nothing wrong with the Lucas aerospace deal which involved computer equipment for fuel control for the NK 144 Kuznetsov engine? The Minister will be aware that that is the engine which powers not only Koncordski but the Backfire.

It is an outrage that British technologists should be called upon to push back the frontiers of science, whether the work is for Lucas or for Plessey, in order to extend the range of a Soviet nuclear bomber. I am glad to hear from the Minister that the Government recommended reconsidering the position, but he will be clear that up to that moment the Government and the Ministry of Defence were giving this project the green light?

That is quite untrue. As I say, the hon. Gentleman is becoming an expert in sticking up these Aunt Sallies and then seeking to claim credit.

I think that the hon. Member for St. Albans wished to intervene on the question of gratuities.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary. I was not trying to claim any credit for myself, because I was not involved in representations to the Government about the gratuity question. I said that my right hon. and hon. Friends were involved. I have a letter written from the Ministry of Defence to a retired officer who inquired about this matter. It states:

"You may now have seen from further Press reports that the Secretary of State for Defence announced in the House of Commons on 22nd March the Government's decision to honour its commitment".
The Government, if they made a decision to honour their commitment, must have previously come to a decision not to do so, otherwise all the Minister is saying is that there was never any question of not honouring a commitment.

Again, I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that that was not the position. There never was any such question as far as the MOD was concerned. If he likes to put in his letter, we shall be very happy to look at it.

Turning to one or two of the other points that were made—

I shall give way in a moment. I should like to deal first with another point made by the hon. Member for St. Albans relating to the use of civil airlines for reinforcement purposes. I want to try to get clear, for the benefit of the House, just what the Opposition policy is in respect of the provision of transport for reinforcement. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that there was something wrong in the use of civil aircraft for this purpose, and I think that one of his hon. Friends in an earlier debate questioned the use of civil ships for reinforcement purposes.

I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that under successive Administrations it has been the policy to use civilian ships and aircraft for reinforcement purposes. This is why I am seeking clarification, Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who replies for the Opposition this evening might be able to enlighten the House on whether that is still the policy of the Opposition, We have had two Opposition spokesmen putting forward serious criticisms of the Government's plans, but successive Administrations have had plans for the use of civil airlines and ships.

Is it now the Conservative policy to discontinue reliance upon civil aid and to go in for directly-controlled ships and aircraft? If serious criticisms of this nature are made, it is not sufficient for the Opposition to hide behind their natural reluctance to make known to the country what their policies are. In particular, the Armed Forces are entitled to know the Opposition's view on this.

We oppose the defence review and the cut of 50 per cent. in transport aircraft. The Minister knows that. Furthermore, he must know that if he reduces the transport fleet of the Royal Air Force by 50 per cent. he is increasing its dependence and the Army's dependence on the civil airlines. Whereas it might be reasonable in certain circumstances to rely upon passenger aircraft for carrying troops across to Europe for the reinforcement of BAOR, a cut of 50 per cent. in the capability for transferring heavy equipment is something we cannot accept or understand.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will still accept my invitation to give me an answer to the question. If the criticism concerns the reduction by 50 per cent. of the transport force, which was mainly employed in our overseas commitments, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider enlarging on that.

I want now to make one further point on the speech made by the hon. Member for St. Albans, who seems to be trying to say that our whole defence structure is now in a much weaker state than ever before. That is not the view of those who have exercised supreme command of our Armed Forces. It has been the habit in recent debates for Opposition spokesmen to speak of bedrock, and the hon. Gentleman has just kindly done me the courtesy of quoting once again a statement which is purported to have been made by Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver. I say "purported" because I happen to have with me the transcript of a broadcast made by Sir Michael on 12th January 1977.

When Sir Michael was interviewed, he was asked about our defence expenditure being at bedrock. This is what Sir Michael said:
"Well, I was in fact answering a question…about commitments, and he was saying—well, are we really down to absolute bedrock in commitments—and I said—with one or two minor exceptions I thought that we were. I know I've been constantly misquoted as if I'd said we were either down to absolute bedrock in defence expenditure, which I didn't say"
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look up his bumper book of quotations and find another one to attribute to Sir Michael.

Sir Michael went on to say:
"or in actual combat units, and I would make the point that in fact, since the Defence Review there have not been any reductions in the number of combat units of any arm."

The interesting transcript is the one of the original interview. If the Minister refers to that, he will see from the answer that Sir Michael Carver gave, and the three questions further on, that it is absolutely plain that the field marshal was talking not only about commitments but also about expenditure and the way in which we had to maintain the credibility of our forces with our allies. That is the interesting transcript. If the Minister will read that out, we shall be glad to hear it.

I am not prepared to get into an exchange with the right hon. Gentleman which would in any way cast doubt on the integrity or the accuracy of any statements made by Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver. I have quoted to the House the most recent statement made by that distinguished gentleman, and it stands on the record.

I will give one more quotation from Sir Michael. In an article in The Times at the beginning of January this year, he said, among a number of other interesting things, that
"a better and more realistic balance has been achieved between our commitments and what we have the strength and the means to support".
I believe that that quotation from Sir Michael Carver is a much more accurate description of the state of our Armed Forces and their ability to perform the tasks which now confront them.

I move now straight to the main part of my speech. Much comment has been made on the reductions which have been made in the defence budget, thereby deflecting attention from the very real improvements which are being made to the fighting capability of the Services and the first-class contribution which the United Kingdom makes to the NATO Alliance. I should like, therefore, in this debate to try to redress the balance so far as the RAF is concerned by explaining its rôle in support of our NATO commitments and the way in which our equipment plans are tailored to enable it to fulfil that rôle efficiently.

The basis of the ideas underlying the up-to-date and efficient Royal Air Force which is now evolving to meet the needs of the next decade is the United Kingdom's continuing policy of support for NATO and of concentration of our military effort in support of the Alliance in the areas where it will make the finest effective contribution. Nevertheless, this unchanging strategy does not mean that our tactical thinking can remain static. It must respond to changes in the strategic position as the political scene shifts and it must take full account of the rapid advances made in technology.

A prime example of the extent to which strategic thinking can change over a relatively short period of time is the contrast between the present NATO strategy of flexible response, in which the air defence of the United Kingdom plays a major part, and the earlier days of the "tripwire" strategy, where the threat of massive nuclear retaliation was seen as a sufficient deterrent to a potential enemy.

But it is not so easy for the equipment provided for the Services to change quickly enough to match a changed strategic approach. The time taken to develop modern weapons systems and the limited resources available to finance their development make it ever more important that both our tactical concepts and our equipment should be able to cope with a variety of different scenarios. The growing military strength of the Warsaw Pact is well documented, and there is no need for me to elaborate on it now in any detail, save to say that the increase in the threat to the Western world makes it of paramount importance that the resources of the NATO nations which are devoted to defence should be used to the best possible effect.

Given the capability of the Warsaw Pact, the classic concept of air power and its essential attribute of flexibility acquire an added significance in NATO strategy. The use of air power gives the Alliance the mobility to concentrate its fire power very quickly anywhere in Europe, in the Eastern Atlantic or in the Channel area to meet any aggression that may occur.

In the recent debate on the Army, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) asked about the possibility of a surprise attack by the Warsaw Pact. He was concerned, and rightly so, that the Warsaw Pact has sufficient forces in place on the frontiers with NATO to be able to launch an attack without any need to reinforce its front-line troops—a standing-start war scenario. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army when he replied that it was far more likely that we would have a period of warning. But military planners cannot rule out the unlikely scenario of a sudden attack, and in such an event it would be only the air forces of NATO which would provide the initial defence and give time for the land forces to deploy to the scene of the battle.

As to the particular contribution of the Royal Air Force, on the one hand it is only one element in the front line of Alliance power, but on the other hand it must span a unique variety of rôles. These range from strike, attack and reconnaissance in the central region, through the all-important air defence of these islands to the provision of surveillance, air defence and attack forces for our naval units in the Eastern Atlantic.

We have inherited about 20 aircraft types to fill those rôles, but by the 1980s, with the introduction of the Tornado, they will have been consolidated into a much smaller number—mainly of multi-rôle systems. It is impossible to be certain which of the several possible rôles, or which of the many areas of operations, might prove to be the most crucial if deterrence failed. Yet the aircraft being procured to meet future contingencies can be expected to stay in service for 20 years and more.

It is that, as well as the pressing need for economies, which puts such a high premium on the adaptability and the flexibility of today's Air Force and leads to multi-rôle solutions and centralised command and control. The alternative to multi-rôle solutions would be a much larger number of aircraft and crews—at enormous cost; and the alternative to centralised control would be a dissipation of resources into small packets, many or most of which would turn out in the event to be in the wrong place or in the wrong rôle. Indeed, an aggressor must be expected to plan his initiatives in such a way as to make sure that these small packets were wastefully deployed. We must not forget that we are members of a defensive Alliance and that the corollary is that the opposition will have the initiative.

I should now like to consider in more detail three of the RAF's major tasks—offensive operations over land, maritime operations and air defence—and to show how the advantages and demands of flexibility have influenced our concepts of operations and our choice of weapons systems. I deal first with offensive operations in support of the land battle. These cover a great range of tasks for RAF aircraft operating as part of NATO's Second Tactical Air Force and provide a very good illustration of the versatility of air power.

The Warsaw Pact forces will wish to fight a mobile armoured battle, making the best use of their superiority in this field and their ability to dictate both the time and place of attack. Our aircraft, in support of land forces, would have fully to exploit their inherent flexibility of operation to play their most effective part in the battle. Warsaw Pact aircraft would obviously be used in large numbers in support of their land forces, and that fact stresses the need to put their aircraft bases out of action.

The enemy's numerical superiority on the ground would also put a premium on short and longer-range interdiction tasks beyond the immediate battle area—attacking armoured units on their way to the battle, concentrations of artillery, fuel installations and other reserves and headquarters which are vulnerable both to direct attack and to attacks on targets to block their progress—for example, roads, bridges and other choke points. These types of operations complement the Army's indirect fire systems and have a near-immediate effect on the land battle but at the same time avoid the inhibiting effects on our own troops' fire and movement plans that are brought about by the use of close air support in the immediate battle area.

The need for interdiction and attacking enemy air forces on the ground, and for the associated reconnaissance, shaped the requirement for the IDS version of the Tornado, whose range, speed and sophisticated avionics will enable it to penetrate enemy air space at very low levels, preferably at night and in poor weather, at high subsonic speeds. It will use laser-guided bombs, electronic countermeasures and tactical routing with a view to creating the greatest possible difficulty for enemy air defence systems. Considerable weapons development is being conducted in this field to exploit the potential for damaging the enemy's capacity to continue the battle.

Is my hon. Friend saying that the weapons system for the Tornado has been satisfactorily developed and is being tried out? My information is that there is not a weapons system for the Tornado.

I shall be interested to hear my hon. Friend later in the debate. I noticed his attendance in the Chamber. I know of his deep knowledge of the Tornado programme, and I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Minister of State who is sitting beside me that I looked forward to hearing from our hon. Friend later in the debate, when I shall deal in some detail—

I am delighted to seek to answer questions as they arise if that is for the convenience of the House. The simple answer is that many of the developments that are taking place for the Tornado are not yet available for public comment. It is, therefore, difficult for a Minister to deal with detailed points. That is why I prefer to wait until my hon. Friend has developed his case at length. I can then consider the points he has made and decide which can properly be dealt with and what assurances I can give him.

Does the Minister seriously believe that the Russians do not know whether the system is working yet? Is the weapons delivery system on the Tornado yet working? If not, when is it now scheduled to be working to satisfactory squadron standard?

It would not be helpful for me to deal with that in any depth. Unfortunately, I am not aware of the state of knowledge of the Soviet Union's intelligence service. I do not have that information. If I had it, we would be in a better position.

The Tornado is in full production in the three partner countries and should enter Royal Air Force service in the early 1980s. The nine prototypes have been built and flown, together with the first two pre-series aircraft. Although, obviously, there were bound to be some development snags in a programme of this complexity, good progress is being made with their resolution.

When the Tornado enters RAF service, it will provide a very cost-effective way of meeting the various rôles which are planned for it. Despite recent speculation, the Air Staff remain convinced that the aircraft will not fall short of the requirements of the Royal Air Force or of our partners. This very important project will, by the early 1980s, employ about 36,000 people. For many years to come it will be by far the most important project of the United Kingdom aircraft industry.

As regards close air support, we see the requirement for this task as being determined by the state of the land battle. In areas of high activity, where enemy breakthroughs have occurred or threaten to occur, all available air effort would be brought to bear on concentrations of enemy armour. This response requires close co-ordination with our own ground forces and must be initiated at a sufficiently high level of command to ensure that the allocation of air effort in one area will not leave another area vulnerable. Enemy surface-to-air defences would pose a far less serious problem in this fluid situation, although encounters with his aircraft are likely to be frequent because of his need to support his armoured thrust. Our aircraft would therefore need to be armed not only with improved anti-armour weapons but also with a good short-range air-to-air missile. Both missiles would need a high degree of agility after launch.

Before discussing our plans in this area, I should like to say a word about some of our present forces. We have now in service eight squadrons of Jaguars, three in the United Kingdom and five in Germany. The Germany squadrons, which have been introduced since the present Government took office in 1974, have replaced four squadrons of Phantoms. Four of the former are in the strike attack rôle and one is in the tactical reconnaissance rôle. The Jaguar's inception was during the previous Labour Administration of 1964–70. Its introduction into service represents a significant addition to the strength of NATO's Second Tactical Air Force. Part of the answer to some of the attacks made on this Government is that in respect of our contribution to NATO and to the defence of this country we have made significant advances.

The process of updating our capability is, however, a continuous one. A programme of improvements to the Jaguar has commenced, including measures to uprate and to increase the overhaul life of the Adour engines.

We have also recently announced a decision to order a further 24 Harrier GR3 aircraft to maintain the Harrier front-line force into the 1980s. Methods of enhancing the capability of the Harrier force are also under consideration.

Before leaving the Jaguar, I should like to correct a wrong impression about the effect of the defence review on our Jaguar force. The Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, in its recent report on the cumulative effect of cuts in defence expenditure, stated that an extra squadron of Jaguars was cancelled as a result of the defence review. During the defence review a planning assumption—it was not a firm intention, and never had been—to buy extra Jaguars was forgone. Prior to the review no definite decisions had been taken about the possible future use of these aircraft, which might have been employed either to back up the planned force for a longer period of time or to form reserve squadrons.

I turn again to our future plans. For the shorter range interdiction tasks in the area immediately to the enemy's rear, where targets of great importance to the progress of the land battle will be found in abundance—armour and mechanised and artillery units moving forward—we need aircraft that can survive and light in the confused, fluid and hostile air-to-air environment that we believe will exist in the late 1980s.

Studies are under way on such an aircraft, which could replace the Harrier and Jaguar. They are still at an early stage and all possible options are being considered. We should welcome collaboration on the project and we are, therefore, actively pursuing this possibility with our colleagues in the European Programme Group.

This has been a very short and incomplete summary of the tasks confronting the air forces of NATO in the central region, but I have none the less touched on a large variety of tasks. There is, in consequence, a need for a central and efficient command and control system to allocate air power resources in a way which makes best use of their mobility and flexibility.

I turn now to offensive air operations at sea. Over the past few years the RAF has progressively taken on the task of providing a strike/attack capability to counter the naval threat posed by Soviet surface forces in the Eastern Atlantic. In war, our aircraft in this rôle could deploy to forward operating bases to achieve maximum radius of action, using tankers to extend their area of operations. Their principal targets could be Soviet naval units armed with surface-to-surface guided weapons which pose a threat to allied naval forces and shipping.

At present, part of the RAF Buccaneer force specialises in the maritime offensive rôle, with Martel stand-off missiles and bombs. For the future, the Tornado will carry out this function. A new guided weapon is being developed specifically for the anti-shipping rôle.

We believe that our ability to monitor the Soviet Navy in peace time, and particularly in periods of high tension, is of great importance. Of the various tasks, by far the most important is that of monitoring the submarine force. The Nimrod long-range maritime patrol aircraft are about to undergo a major refit to bring them up to the Mark 2 standard. New equipment, including a powerful search radar, an acoustic processor and sonobuoys, will be installed. Development is going well and we expect that the refit will be completed in the early 1980s.

Can the Minister give the House some idea of the cost of this refit? Does he include all Nimrod Mark 1 aircraft?

I shall deal with that matter in the winding-up speech. The sum involved is not in the recesses of my mind.

How would the RAF protect NATO task forces sent to the South Atlantic to deal with interference with the million tons of oil a day designed for Europe, especially since the Cape route is outside the range of our aircraft?

That is not a NATO commitment, and we are fully committed to the NATO requirement.

As well as enhancing the Nimrod's ability against submarines, this refit will also improve its ability to shadow surface vessels—a particularly important attribute in the context of offshore patrol. We are confident that it will continue as the best anti-submarine system available to NATO up to the end of the century. Recently it has also very successfully taken on the aerial surveillance of our new exclusive fishery zone. This has been a remarkable demonstration of the adaptability of the Nimrod system itself and of the RAF in responding quickly to a new commitment.

The Nimrods, including the four extra which we added to the force in January, have certainly proved their value here. I should also emphasise that since this is a peace-time task we could, if necessary, devote any proportion of the whole maritime patrol force to ensuring the integrity of these matters.

Finally, I turn to air defence. The tasks of our air defence force are, in peace time, to dissuade a potential enemy from violating our air space and, in war, to deny him the use of that air space and to secure the continued use of the United Kingdom as a base area for operation and reinforcement. A Soviet air offensive against the United Kingdom would be likely to strike in particular at the build-up of strategic reinforcements.

In a crisis, the United States Air Force tactical air elements already in Western Europe would be heavily reinforced by aircraft from the United States of America, and many of those are earmarked to mount sustained operations from airfields in this country. The loss of our bases to enemy air action would, therefore, be a very serious blow to the Alliance as a whole. This is one of the reasons why air defence has been given an increased emphasis over the past few years.

Because we are committed to the air defence not only of the United Kingdom base but also of the naval forces in the Eastern Atlantic channel areas, we have a very large area to cover. That fact and the diversity of tactics open to the enemy mean that our air defence system must be as flexible and as adaptable as we can make it. Our concept of operations would broadly be to make the greatest possible use of Continental and United Kingdom early warning—supplemented by airborne early warning to give the essential low-level cover—and to inflict the maximum attrition on incoming raids using both fighter and SAM systems.

A fighter with a high chance of destroying enemy aircraft even in heavy electronic jamming conditions is needed. It must have long range, a first-class radar, good air-to-air weapons and a capability to stay on patrol for long enough to make early interceptions. These requirements have led us to select the Tornado ADV after exhaustive consideration of many contenders. Its range, aerodynamic performance and very advanced avionics add up to the most flexible and effective system for the job. It will carry the excellent new medium range missile called Skyflash, a British derivative of the American Sparrow, which has impressed the Americans very much in trial firings in the United States of America. In combination with its advanced radar, we consider that this will provide a formidable weapons combination and we look to this aircraft to provide our night, all-weather, long-range interception capability for the foreseeable future.

If we are to use our air defence aircraft to the best effect, we must have the maximum amount of early warning. The House is aware of our recent decision on the replacement for the Shackleton airborne early warning aircraft.

Following the NATO ministerial meeting on 25th March, the Government decided that in the light of continued failure to agree on the procurement of a joint AEW force within NATO we should have to go ahead with the Nimrod airborne early warning system. Subject to the conclusion of the usual contract negotiations, full development work on this project has therefore been set in hand. This decision was not intended to rule out the possibility of a collective NATO solution to the AEW requirement. We aim to secure the maximum interoperability and compatibility between Nimrod and any airborne early warning aircraft that the Alliance may eventually decide to operate and with other NATO ground and air defence systems.

Since the Nimrod is designed to operate in the maritime rôle, whereas the E3A AWACS is optimised for the overland rôle, the operation of these two types of aircraft together as part of a joint NATO force should prove very effective in improving NATO's air defence capability in the 1980s. In particular, it will provide greatly increased radar cover for the United Kingdom Air Defence Region in terms of both quantity and quality, especially at low level.

Improvements in our ground radars are also in hand. The radar at Saxa Vord, the most northerly of the British Isles, is being replaced by a new radar built to the highest standards by United Kingdom firms on behalf of NATO. Planning for the replacement of two other early warning radars by modern equipment is also well advanced.

The Nimrod AEW aircraft's capability to control interception will also mean that it can work in conjuncton with the United Kingdom Air Defence Ground Environment as part of the command and control system. Once again, responsive and sophisticated command and control, with overall command at the highest possible level, is essential to make full use of the flexibility of air defence aircraft. We are planning a series of improvements to UKADGE which will allow the Air Defence Commander to take advantage of the most advanced techniques in this field.

The control and reporting system of the Air Defence Ground Environment is to be improved in stages over the next four years. These and other improvements will greatly enhance the ability of the UKADGE to survive attacks and resist degradation.

Before leaving air defence, I wish to refer to the substantial improvements which have been made in this vital area since the present Government were elected in 1974. We are ensuring that the air defence of the United Kingdom and of that part of Germany for which RAF (Germany) is responsible is undertaken by well-equipped forces which are kept up to date and effective.

In Germany, these improvements have included the completion of our present programme of hardened aircraft shelters for our combat aircraft and the replacement of Lightnings by the more up-to-date and better-equipped Phantoms in our two air defence squadrons now based at Wildenrath. In the United Kingdom we are now deploying Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles to three stations—West Raynham, Bawdsey, and North Coates—and to a fourth location as yet undecided. We have also deployed a Rapier squadron to protect RAF Leuchars.

Turning away from our tactical concepts and the equipment we require to put them into practice, I should like now to talk about the men and women who serve in the Royal Air Force.

Before he leaves the subject, will the Minister say what progress has been made in establishing hardened aircraft shelters at RAF stations in the United Kingdom? Second, what aircraft will be available to the Royal Air Force in the mid-1980s for maintaining air superiority over the central European front on a day and night basis?

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman will know that NATO has a programme for hardened shelters. We are in very close consultation. The Air Force Board recently gave detailed consideration to the whole question of ASM—airfield survival measures—and we are in contact with NATO on this. I am most optimistic on that point.

As regards the future of the aircraft in the next decade, I have tried to show that we are considering a replacement for the Jaguar and the Harrier which should do that. As for air superiority, consideration is being given to a whole range of matters but I cannot at this stage say anything that would be helpful to the House or to the hon. Member.

I turn from those weighty matters of equipment, command and control, to talk about the men and women who serve in the Royal Air Force. In his opening speech—[An HON. MEMBER: "This one is taking a long time."] I have nearly finished—

It has been 45 minutes, I hope, of very good stuff for anyone who takes a serious interest in the Royal Air Force and the defence of the United Kingdom.

No, I will not give way. The hon. Getleman cannot accuse me one minute of being overlong in my delivery and then seek to interrupt me. I say again that I hope that those who take a serious interest in these matters, in whom I include the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—I am sorry to see that I have apparently driven him from the Chamber—will find this information of use.

Let me get back to what the hon. Member for St. Albans said about the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay, the independent body which advises the Prime Minister on pay and allowances for members of the Armed Forces up to the rank of air commodore or equivalent and which, as the House knows, has recently made its report. All the recommendations made in the report on pay and charges are within the terms of the Government's counter-inflation policy and they have been accepted by the Government.

Rates of pay for adult men and women were increased from 1st April by a weekly supplement of 5 per cent. of gross taxable pay, subject to a lower limit of £2·50 a week and an upper limit of £4·00 a week. At the same time, the charges made for food and accommodation have been increased to reflect the similar costs outside the Armed Forces. The Review Body assessed that, taking into account only the pay increase and the increase in charges, the majority of Service men would receive some after-tax increases, albeit small ones. But if full pay and charges are taken into account along with the Chancellor's Budget changes, which are, of course, an essential part of the Government's counter-inflation strategy, the position is that all Service men covered by the pay award will get a net increase.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has sent a message to the forces saying:
"The Government hope that it will be possible to put right under future stages of the policy some of the anomalies which have occurred. I will ensure that the needs of the Armed Forces are taken into account."
I say to the forces that those who are in command of our Armed Forces are fully aware of the serious situation facing every citizen of the United Kingdom, but particularly those in the Armed Forces. As a Minister, I know of the strong representations made on behalf of the Armed Forces by the Chief of the Air Staff and members of the Air Force Board. I have no doubt that similar representations have been made in respect of the other Services.

Ministers are well aware of the situation, and the Secretary of State made clear in his message that we shall seek, as the economy improves, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces share in whatever increase in prosperity there may be for this country.

It has been claimed that, in arriving at the increases, tax increases have been taken into account for the Armed Forces but not for civilians, and, therefore, civilians will be much better off with their 5 per cent. There is widespread feeling about this matter. Will the Minister comment on it?

The Pay Review Body has reflected the Government's entire anti-inflation policy affecting pay awards, and the full award allowed under the policy has been recommended by the Review Body, accepted by the Government and implemented. Pay policy cannot be taken in isolation from the Government's overall economic strategy, which includes tax changes announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are, therefore, entitled to say to citizens in industry and to the Armed Forces that, as a whole, the pay review and tax cuts give a net increase to everybody.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the great hardship that is imposed by the retrospective rent increases for Service men and their families? Can he name any other section of the community that is presented one month after the event with an announcement that, unknown to them, they have been paying more rent for the past month? Can he imagine the reaction of the miners, for example? Would they tolerate such treatment for one minute if the National Coal Board told them that there would be a one-month retrospective rent increase for miners in NCB houses? It is an outrage.

The hon. Gentleman could play a great part in our debates, and I am sorry that he keeps trying to score petty party points without having taken the trouble to check the basic facts. Changes in rent and other charges are made by the independent Review Body which has operated under successive Governments. In a letter to The Guardian on 2nd May, the hon. Gentleman accused the Government of scandalous Rachman-like behaviour in imposing rent increases retrospectively and without announcing them.

I should prefer it if we could arrange for the Review Body's report to come out on a date and with such recommendations that an announcement could be made before anything was implemented. I shall give the same consideration to that proposition as was given by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues when they occupied high office.

The hon. Gentleman makes outrageous accusations of Rachmanism against the Government and he claims that we are wicked landlords. I have taken the trouble to do what the hon. Gentleman did not do—namely, look at the record—and I can tell him that in most years between 1970 and 1974 when his party was in Government, increases in pay and rent and food charges were backdated by just as long as they have been in this case. Indeed, in one case just before the institution of the Armed Forces Pay Review Board, charges were made retrospective by nearly two months.

I do not like making party points in a serious debate on a serious subject, but the hon. Gentleman's Government had a far worse record than this Government. He would have done better if he had admitted that both Governments had used the system and that it had not been fair and had then asked us to end it. That would have been appreciated by the House and by the Armed Forces.

The hon. Gentleman has a habit of trying to make cheap party points out of everything affecting security and the Armed Forces. It does him and his party no good. Although I do not care twopence about that, I care about the Armed Forces and it does them no good. I wish that for their sake the hon. Gentleman would adopt a more responsible mantle now that he is an official Opposition spokesman on defence.

Instead of giving a lesson in manners or morals, could not the Minister resolve to ameliorate the situation? The Conservative Government were as lax as this Government in implementing pay rises, but surely the important thing is that on all sides we deplore retrospective legislation. Could we not have a commitment from the Minister that he will try to do better?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point in reasonable and restrained terms, and I respond immediately in the same spirit. I shall report the hon. Gentleman's views, on behalf of the Liberal Party—our partners in this Government—to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I shall seek his consent to making suitable noises to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body that it should seek, if possible, to avoid retrospection. I can give no undertakings except to respond to the responsible view expressed by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and to report it to my right hon. Friend. I only wish that the hon. Member for Stretford had made his points in similar terms.

I turn to another topic. As the Minister with special responsibility for recruiting, I take a special interest in aspects connected with personnel. Recruiting has continued to be fairly buoyant, but we are still encountering difficulties in obtaining enough recruits with the educational qualifications required for officers and technicians. Therefore, we are concentrating our advertising in those areas. As part of the continuing search for economies in the support area, we are reducing the expenditure devoted to the recruiting of staff, advertising and recruiting premises. Studies on how to make further reductions are in hand.

I answered a recent Parliamentary Question on this topic which showed that the cost of recruiting as an average per recruit was excessive. As a result of studies now in progress, I am determined to bring about a significant reduction in these costs. However, I must take account of one important factor. As the economy improves and as the years pass, we could move into a situation in which it would be much more difficult to obtain the manpower required by the Armed Forces in a voluntary force. Whatever we do, we must take account of the absolute necessity to ensure that the recruiting organisation is capable of responding to any deterioration that might take place in future in obtaining volunteers.

I now turn to purely Royal Air Force personnel matters. The 1975 White Paper forecasts a reduction in RAF strength of about 18,000 between 1st April 1974 and 1st April 1979. The hon. Member for St. Albans referred to redundancies. At the beginning of April this year the strength had fallen by 13,000, and I hope that the balance will be achieved by a fairly even rundown in the next two years. This substantial reduction has been achieved by strict control of recruiting and by the normal outflow of men and women completing their engagements. I am glad to say that redundancy has been kept to a minimum, and the greater part has been on a voluntary basis. The state of play is that the total number of officers made redundant in that tremendous rundown amounted to 745.

Since the House debated the Royal Air Force last year, I have had the opportunity of continuing my programme of visits to RAF stations both in the United Kingdom and abroad. I have been particularly impressed by the high standard of morale among officers and airmen. They carry out their duties, often under trying circumstances, with a high degree of skill and enthusiasm.

I have also noticed the very high regard in which the RAF is held by our NATO allies. Our operational stations achieve consistently high results in NATO tactical evaluations.

If the hon. Member for Chingford will contain himself for a few moments, I shall enlarge on what I have said about our successes in NATO tactical evaluations. I am glad to emphasise this point because the Royal Air Force has had a high degree of success in these exercises. Recent performances by the Harrier and Jaguar wings have been outstanding. They have obtained the highest possible ratings from the international evaluation team.

Although there has been some anxiety over the uncertainties through which the Royal Air Force has been passing, this has been overcome. The Royal Air Force can look to the future in the knowledge that, together with our NATO allies, it will continue to play a full and vital part in the defence of the free world and that within the resources available to us the equipment which it will have to enable it to do this will be the most up-to-date available.

5.34 p.m.

It is difficult to follow such a long contribution from a Minister. I doubt whether many will spend time reading that long speech in Hansard.

Although the Minister gallantly defended his line, I was worried at the smugness that exuded from his remarks minute after minute.

I hope that if I approach anywhere near the hour-long contribution of the Minister I shall be called to account for repetition, not only by my hon. Friends, but by the Chair, and certainly by the representative of the Liberal Party.

This afternoon we are not just debating the Royal Air Force; we are talking about men who offer their lives in peace to try to save us all from war. It is sad that this should be an occasion on which we mark the passing of two of those gallant men in the Huntingdon air crash.

The gallantry of that thin blue line is offset by the smugness of the ministerial team who are now serving in the Defence Department. They appear to be immune to the tremendous threat that is growing daily from the Soviet Air Force. They do not seem to realise the developments in the Soviet Air Force, involving the entry into service of new equipment, with an almost identifiable time objective in view. Those Ministers should be expressing their fears about the forces that face us across the Iron Curtain. It is clear that the new types of Soviet aircraft and missiles that are coming into service in Warsaw Pact countries will reach a peak of use in the Warsaw Pact in about 1980. From then on those arms will become more and more obsolescent. One must wonder about the equation of time, which is running out on us as we near 1980. We could almost ask whether there will be a 1984.

Why is it that the Soviet Army, Air Force and Navy are arming to such an enormous extent? It surely must be regarded as an extension of the Soviet foreign policy and the policy of the Supreme Soviet.

We know that in the EEC we have a butter mountain, and we also know that in the Iron Curtain countries there is a munitions mountain, but we cannot discover what is happening within our own defences. I am worried at the shroud of secrecy with which we surround our defences, which are losing out in favour of the Soviet forces. We have draped too much secrecy across the scene. Indeed, I presume that if I were to make this speech outside the House—without the privilege of Parliament—and if I were to quote what I shall refer to in the House this afternoon I should be charged under the Official Secrets Act—an Act first enacted in 1889, before the first man ever flew. I could be accused of giving
"for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State…information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy".
When one tries to discover the facts—facts that one wants to place before the House—a clamp of secrecy comes down and one is told that such matters are not in the public interest.

I am very worried about the difference between the spirit and the reality of Helsinki. I recognise that the Minister must try to balance what he has to say to the House against what he could say. I am worried that the Minister did not say enough—and indeed could not say enough.

A little earlier we were told, in connection with the Huntingdon air crash, that it was not usual to publish reports by boards of inquiry. There, at a low level of the commitment to secrecy, was an example of the failure to recognise the fact that air safety is indivisible. What could be learned from that crash should be available to pilots of other friendly air forces, and certainly to civilian pilots. That information is extremely important to civilians, who have a right to know whether they are in any danger from such occurrences. When we are dealing with the higher levels of what is going on in the world to the East of the Iron Curtain, we know that only by prising information out of the Government can we begin to have an understanding of the threats that face us.

During the last debate on the RAF, in which the Minister took part, I raised with him the point that we now have no more than about 100 fighter aircraft available for the defence of the country. At the end of the debate he was about to tell me whether I was right, but he ran out of time. I have to apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the Minister, because, for reasons beyond my control, it will not be possible for me to be present to hear the closing speech. Perhaps the mystery will have to remain. It is right that the public should know this. We should know how many aircraft the RAF has. It is only in response to parliamentary Questions that we can find this out. It is not published as information that the public has a right to know.

We are not allowed to know the extent of the MiG25 operations over NATO countries. We are told that they do not operate over United Kingdom airspace, but we are not allowed to know what their penetration is. Other countries in NATO—West Germany and Norway—openly admit that there is regular penetration. We are not allowed to know about the deployment of the Soviet SS20 mobile missiles in Eastern Europe, which, with multiple independent re-entry vehicles in the warheads, can strike at all our bases in Western Europe within a matter of minutes. We are not allowed to know this as public knowledge, and yet it is vital to provide such information so that the public may know the awful threat facing them.

The deployment of those missiles alone affects the whole of our air defence strategy. Are we to have Tornadoes on runways, or more Harriers? These questions are vital. The Israeli air force has already faced this and has come up with some solutions. I commend to the Minister a close study of what the Israelis have found out about how to beat some of the Soviet threats. The Minister said that one of our main efforts would be to put enemy bases out of action. With great respect, I do not think that those gallant pilots will ever have the chance.

We have seen all around us the growth of the Soviet maritime-air threat. I was delighted, as a one-time aeronautical engineer, to see that the aircraft that the Russians were deploying on their carriers—and they have another 11 to come—were of a kind rejected as unusable in Western Europe over 10 years ago. However, let the Soviets find that out in their own time. The fact is that they are seeking a mobility not only in their nuclear missiles but in the deployment of their aircraft that should be worrying the Minister as it worries most of my colleagues.
"We are the few against the many."
Those are not my words but the words of General Tal, who commands the Israeli tank army. That man knows more than anyone else in the world about how to defeat surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-surface missiles used in man-carrying versions. He knows that if there is another time he has to deploy masses of helicopters low down alongside his tanks. What is our response to such a situation? It is to cut our helicopter orders. It seems that we do not face reality. We do not ask what the threat is. We do not talk about it and analyse it. There was a joke during the First World War which asked "Whose side is the War Office on?" The response was "Our side, I hope!" With respect to the Minister, I am beginning to wonder how he would answer that question.

The secrecy that is drawn across the affairs of this country does not apply to those who come here and want to find out our secrets. I have questioned the Minister on Air Staff Target 403, asking him with whom he has been sharing the information. I find that my best sources of information about Air Staff Target 403 are those who work for LTV, General Dynamics and McDonnell-Douglas in the United States. They seem to have free access to the information denied to Parliament. Why should this be? Why cannot we get the information? I would not be at all surprised to find that the Soviet Union has been sending someone into the Ministry of Defence, because there seems to be equality of information with everyone except the people of this country, let alone their representatives in Parliament.

To illustrate this I refer in detail to the Tornado aircraft, which figured, so correctly and properly, in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) who made such an excellent debut at the Opposition Front Bench. The Minister stoutly defended what is to be a fine aircraft. Recently Sir Denis Smallwood, who was Commander-in-Chief RAF Strike Command, wrote in a national newspaper:
"The taxpayers of all three countries can have no cause for complaint on cost grounds."
He is probably right. The problem is that we are not allowed to know the cost. We are not allowed to know, on that or any other defence project, what the cost is. I cannot understand this.

I have the privilege of being the Chairman of the Science and Aerospace Committee of Western European Union. In that rôle I am allowed to know these things, not from the United Kingdom but from my West German and Italian colleagues. They freely give me the information on costs throughout the whole of the programme. I cannot understand why we are not allowed to know that the whole of the 12-year development programme for the MRCA is expected to cost around 8 billion marks—allowing for currency fluctuations, approximately £1,400 million. Why should not the taxpayers of Britain know that? They are paying 42½ per cent. of it, the same amount as the Germans.

The Minister would be the first to admit that he would not be allowed to answer a question seeking that information. I ask him to consider why. Who is stopping him? Why should he not be allowed to tell us officially at the Dispatch Box that which is freely available to the citizens of West Germany, who are sharing an equal financial burden? Why cannot he tell us why each Interdicter, of which he spoke so highly, will cost us about £6,300,000 in production? Why cannot he tell us that the air defence version will cost about £7,700,000 in production? The idea of a "stretch-out" in Tornado production will escalate those figures. I hope that the Minister has thought of that.

Perhaps politicians on all sides—I do not exempt myself—should have remembered that when they launched a project like the MRCA it meant a commitment to three parallel production lines in the three countries which are partners, merely to satisfy individual national aspirations and to prove that everyone could build it better than the British at Wharton. Everyone has to pay 20 per cent. more. "Everyone" includes taxpayers like ourselves and those whom we represent. What it adds up to is that on the whole of the development and production programme for the Royal Air Force-385 aircraft—the total cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer will be about £3,000 million—six times as much as Concorde. Yet we are not allowed to know this. Why cannot we know? This commitment of so much money in the defence of the country should be made known to the Russians, so that they are aware of the strength of our commitment and our determination. We should not hang back, keeping these figures secret. What is the value of secrecy except to invite attack?

Would it not be wiser to say that the collaboration programme does not only mean that costs rise by 20 per cent.; it means that we have 20 per cent. fewer aircraft than we could have had for the same money? That is even more important.

That is a good point. I hope that in the development of the Air Staff Target 403 strategy it will be accepted once and for all that if partners want to come in with us they must come as contractors to us if we have something that is worth building. In that way we shall all save money. It is a high price to pay for any weapons system, but I believe that it is a sensible sum to invest in freedom. With great respect to our wonderful American allies, it is a slightly cheaper way of getting the same job done. The Israelis, for instance, are paying $25 million each for the F15 Eagles that they are purchasing, which is more than double the price that we would have to pay for the Tornado, including development amortisation.

Secondly, we would be involved in political dependence. That is why I congratulate the Government on so wisely accepting advice from the Opposition that it would be better to purchase the Nimrod than the Boeing E3A. That is an acknowledgment that it is much better to keep careers and dollars in this country than to export them overseas, and not only do that but lose the taxes that are cycled through the economy by the purchase of defence equipment in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, one calculation made by an industrial company in Britain recently showed that it was worth while paying an excess of 50 per cent. over the price of an imported product if we could get the same product of the same quality in the United Kingdom, because of the cycling of the taxes.

I recognise that the two-way street is there, but I should like to see traffic flowing down both sides of it, and until it is so flowing I do not believe that it is our job to make the first move. I should like to see the Americans exercising an initiative.

I conclude by saying that I believe that our potential enemies will be much more in awe of the strength of the Royal Air Force if they know our commitment, in financial terms, to our defence. I think that the gallant men of the Royal Air Force, and the women of the Royal Air Force, would be happier if they knew what is being spent to make sure that they can do the job that is assigned to them. I trust that the coming Conservative Government will use the freedom of information for our defence.

5.51 p.m.

I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) about the availability of information from outside this country on matters concerning the Tornado. More information is available abroad than in this country. I have said that on previous occasions.

The House will recall that during the debate on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill on 18th March 1976, I laid out for my hon. Friends the point that the hon. Gentleman was making. I said then that I was receiving information from my friends on the Continent about the disgraceful situation concerning the development of the Stores Management System for the Tornado, and yet my hon. Friends the Ministers were answering me in the House in a manner that could be construed only as misleading.

In that debate I specifically drew the attention of the House to the stores management system and to the contract itself, and how that contract was let. I drew a picture for the House of the way in which Marconi-Elliott had attempted to obtain the big contract for the computer systems in the aircraft, had failed to get that contract and, as in a Bugginstype situation, it was granted the contract for this stores management system, with which it was quite incompetent to deal.

I also showed how the procurement executive of the Department had been persuaded to downgrade the specification for this weapons system in order to ensure that Marconi-Elliott could do some part of it. Then, on a second time round for letting the contract, Marconi-Elliott was granted the contract for a very much simplified system.

I listened patiently to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who made an excellent speech in which he described the new rôle for Tornado. I intervened during his speech because I was astounded to hear him describing a very sophisticated rôle for Tornado now. I could not quite understand how his advisers had downgraded the specification, because they said that a sophisticated system was not necessary, and yet my hon. Friend was today telling us how he had increased the rôle of Tornado and how the avionics had become a massive part of the exercise. I cannot see, therefore, how I could be assured a year ago that the whole system had been downgraded because it was being simplified and because we did not need that type, and how my hon. Friend can tell me that he is now assigning to Tornado a very front-rank job and that the system has to be sophisticated and top rate. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain how it came about that this change has taken place.

That leads me to ask my hon. Friend to explain what has happened since 18th March 1976. The Germans have gone ahead employing Base Ten, the American contractor. The best information that is available to me suggests that their weapons system is being developed satisfactorily and on time. I understand that it is extremely costly because of the changing pattern and the way in which the contracts were determined. The Germans were entirely fed up with the United Kingdom and Italy about the way in which they were doing the work.

The House should recall that the whole value of Tornado was that it would be standard throughout Europe. That was the great selling point. I also warned that if the Germans were to go ahead with Base Ten, the American firm, there would be no compatibility and that, therefore, we would have two aircraft in Europe instead of one. It is regrettable to realise that the Germans have no faith in the British and Italian system. In the event the Germans having gone it alone, I must ask whether my hon. Friend is satisfied that there will be compatibility in the weapons systems and whether one of the British aircraft landing in German territory could be serviced with the necessary parts for its weapons system, and so on, even though it was not developed by Base Ten.

Does my hon. Friend know whether it would be possible for such an aircraft to be rearmed if it landed at a German airfield rather than at a Royal Air Force airfield in West Germany?

I had that in mind, because there is complete incompatibility as I understand it, between the system that Base Ten is developing and that which was the downgraded system for our own aircraft. Primarily it is a matter of safety. Their system is duplicated and our system was to be duplicated. It was the procurement executive that downgraded that duplication, arguing that "wherever possible" we were to have a fail-safe situation in which just one failure could not cause any inadvertent release. The procurement executive, as I explained to the House last year, put in the word "wherever". It has now been changed to an omnibus statement, whereas before the Germans believed that it should be mandatory.

Therefore, my question to my hon. Friend is this: how does he feel that the situation is developing? Is it true that because of the changing circumstances that he has described to the House today concerning the rôle of the Tornado, there is now evidence that we shall be going to Base Ten ourselves and that the Base Ten contractor solution will be used by Britain and the Italians? I am told by those who understand these matters that we have virtually abandoned any hope of developing our own stores management system and that there is now a serious feeling that we shall be going ahead with Base Ten. I hope that my hon. Friend will give me an answer.

When my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State for Transport, spoke at the end of the debate on 18th March last year, notwithstanding the fact that I had initiated that debate he answered one of my hon. Friends all the time and did not answer the points that I had put to him. I hope that tonight my hon. Friend will do me the courtesy of answering my questions and not fobbing me off by saying that he will let me know the answers later, or that we ought to discuss these matters somewhere else.

If it is not true that we are contemplating using Base Ten, will my hon. Friend indicate the present state of the art of the development of the stores management system in Britain? He will recall that Marconi-Elliott could not carry out the work and that that company gave it to a firm called Selenia. That was a firm in which I had no faith. I do not think that anyone else had any faith in it, either. That firm, in turn, could not do the job. It had no chance of doing it and it was hawking the job around in March 1976 to any company in Britain that could do it. Lucas finally decided to try to produce the Pylon Decoder Unit. Has Lucas yet produced it? The best information that I have is that the situation is as it was in March 1976, because Lucas has been floundering all over the place and we have not got it.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be free to give me the facts. I know the answer. My hon. Friend and I have known each other for a long time. I ask him to give me the facts tonight. They are not classified. What is the position about the Pylon Decoder Unit, which Lucas was trying to develop? Is it ready for installation for the prototype flight?

On a number of occasions I have asked about the programme for testing this weapons system. My hon. Friend will recall that I suggested that when the Tornado went on its prototype testing it would have to throw pineapples out of the cockpit, because it would have no other weapons system. From the way that my hon. Friend described its rôle—its penetration and thrusting force in our defence system—I am not sure that he will have sufficient pineapples available for it to drop.

On the last occasion I asked whether we would have a substitute weapons system for trying out on the prototype in order that the configuration of the aircraft could be ascertained and confirmed. I did not get an answer to that question. I hope that my hon. Friend will answer it tonight. Is the prototype being tested with a substitute weapons system? If not, how does my hon. Friend propose to ensure that the time scale laid down for the flying of the prototype programme will be maintained? Is it still on target? Are we satisfied that the Tornado is going through its paces with all the bits on it that it should have at each stage?

On 18th March last year the Minister of State undertook to consider all the points that I had made. Indeed, he said that he would either confirm or deny those points, but he has not done so. The Minister has now been translated to another rôle—a passive rôle in the Ministry of Transport—so I do not see him any more.

The importance of the Tornado, as described today by my hon. Friend, means that we shall have to be satisfied that this weapons system has been developed and will be available to carry out the rôle that has been described.

I do not want to delay the House for too long. I feel very strongly that I was misled after the debate in March 1976. I have waited patiently to see the developments. I have listened to information offered to me abroad about the state of play with regard to the aircraft and the development of its weapons system. I am very unhappy about what I have heard. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that we shall have a viable weapons system, so that this plane will prove to be of the value that he claimed for it tonight.

6.3 p.m.

When I was elected to Parliament I felt that probably my only intervention in a debate under this heading would be about the RAF hospital in Ely—an excellent establishment which tends and cures my sick constituents and employs my well constituents. Such employment is very much needed.

This is a debate on the Royal Air Force. Whatever the merits or demerits, the extravagances and the economies of both hardware and software, the RAF predominantly is about people and pride. The heroes are human beings, not bits of machinery which have different numbers. It is about a sector of human beings that I should like to address the House today.

I have a direct constituency interest, in that one of my constituents has been trying for over a year and a half now to leave the Royal Air Force by premature voluntary release. I make no apology for raising this matter because, in reply to a Question which I tabled on 12th April last year asking how many Royal Air Force officers
"had their applications for premature voluntary retirement refused"
the then Minister—now the Secretary of State for Transport—said:
"The only figures readily available to my Department are as follows".—[Official Report, 12th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 400–2.]
In the six years listed, the total is 130. Knowing the ways of beauracracy, if 130 cases are readily available, it is fair to suppose that the number is very much higher than that. We heard from the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) about appalling examples of maladroit administration.

I shall quickly outline my case, which is not unique in itself, which I should like to bring before the House. It is a plaint about the cavalier manner of enforcing redundancies. We heard this afternoon about men who were made redundant from the Royal Air Force and were said to have had their lives cut off in their prime. My constituent is a man in his prime whose life seems to have been cut off through his inability to get out of the Royal Air Force. He was commissioned at the age of 20, sent to university, posted to a unit in Germany and became disenchanted.

On 20th January last year he wrote to the officer commanding his Air Force unit, and he wrote with some proper Pomp:
"I have the honour to report that I wish to resign my commission from the Royal Air Force."
He then gave his reasons. The main reason was:
"After completing my training I was posted to RAF Wildenrath as the personal co-pilot to the Commander-in-Chief. During my tour I became disillusioned by the Air Force life and particularly the fact that the Armed Services always seemed to be among the first to suffer with cuts in public spending. Subsequent defence cuts on a massive scale have shown my fears to be well grounded. As a transport trained pilot it is most demoralising to see the transport element of the Air Force take the brunt of these cuts. Only last week there is the mention of a further £163 million cut in defence spending."
After giving a number of other reasons for his disenchantment, he states:
"I can no longer rationalise my personal views with the requirements of the Air Force, as a result my loyalties are becoming divided. I can never compromise my personal feelings and so my loyalty to the Air Force must suffer.
I am sure you will agree, Sir, that this situation is totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable. Before matters reach that stage I wish to resign my commission."
That letter, dated 20th January 1976, received a reply from the Ministry of Defence seven days later on 27th January 1976, as follows:
"I am commanded by the Air Force Board of the Defence Council to inform you, with regret, that your application for premature retirement has not been approved.
Officers of the General Duties Branch are required to undertake a minimum of five years' productive service after they have completed training at an Operational Conversion Unit for the first time."
I should like the five years' "productive" service to be borne in mind. Since my constituent's return to this country at the end of 1975, with the exception of occasionally taking up a cadet for a flip around an airfield, he has not done one job which could not have been done by the regimental goat, if the squadron possessed one.

The troubles came, as they are bound to come in service. My constituent was reported under Queen's Regulation 1021 and was warned that:
"notwithstanding your personal views, you are to measure up to the standards of behaviour and performance expected of an officer, and must not, by either word or action, attempt to undermine authority or to bring the Service into disrepute. Any failure by you in these respects will inevitably lead to disciplinary or administrative action… Further, during the remainder of your service I expect you to play a full part in the life of this unit, and to set a good example both on and off duty."
That is much to expect from a disillusioned and unhappy young man who wants nothing so much as to join all those people who have been made redundant.

My constituent came to me, and I wrote to the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, now Minister of State, Home Office. I had a meeting with the then Under-Secretary, who promised to look into the case. He wrote to me in April, and his letter finished:
"You may be sure that the case of your constituent will be given very careful attention and that every effort will be made to treat him sensibly and fairly whilst preserving the fundamental interests of the Royal Air Force, which are bound un with the PVR rules. I will write to you again as soon as I possibly can."
Those are words that all Back Benchers have embroidered
"I will write to you again as soon as I possibly can"
over their beds. The hon. Gentleman never wrote to me again, because he left the office of Under-Secretary.

However, in the next month I received a letter from his successor, the present Under-Secretary, who thanked me for my letter and said
"The return on the nation's investment in flying and associated training does come mainly from service in flying duties, but mans ground appointments in the Royal Air Force have to be filled by officers with aircrew expertise."
I remind the House that for he past 17 months this man has done absolutely nothing, except that by a strange quirk of circumstance, about which there was a general embarrassment, he was promoted. The Under-Secretary went on:
"If we remove one aircrew officer from such an appointment we must replace him with another"—
that is a fine argument, except that it would be duplication in that somebody else would have to do nothing—
"so we only get one dividend from two investments…. For the present we need to employ your constituent on the ground, but he has been assured that he will return to flying duties when his current ground tour ends."
I advised my constituent to lie low, to present a low profile. I promised him that I would talk to the Under-Secretary after he had spent a few months not making any sort of nuisance of himself. I did this, and received a very full letter from the Under-Secretary on 19th July. He said:
"To summarise, the criteria for premature release are the manning situation in the officer's branch and the return of service he has given for training received."
It will he readily appreciated that there was no return of service.
"Naturally we make exceptions when compassionate grounds exist or in other very special circumstances…. I am afraid that the problems you raised have taken some time to resolve. Such personal cases are most carefully considered, and in this one there were three matters to investigate—resignation, redress and of course your own enquiry. I hope this letter will enable you to explain the position fully to your constituent. As your constituent has already been told, it is our intention to return him to flying when his present ground tour ends in June 1978."
My constituent went on leave in the summer of last year, and when he came back his commanding officer, alarmed by his physical state, sent him to a civilian medical practitioner. I have here the report from the commanding officer, which is obviously readily available to the Under-Secretary on my constituent's files. I had considerable trouble getting hold of a copy of the report. It is marked "Staff in confidence". In a case like this the medical practitioner reports and the station commander makes the recommendation. I quote:
"During my initial interview of him it was quite apparent that he was in a state of great mental tension and that his behaviour was likely to be unpredictable. I was aware that he was not eating properly, and was probably drinking too much; he had in fact been sent by the Station Commander to the Station civilian doctor who had given him anti-depressive pills. I formed the opinion that if I were to employ him as an Engagement Controller, I could not safely trust him not to misuse Flight operational equipment; there was no doubt in my mind that he would have an unsettling and damaging influence on the Flight with a consequent adverse effect on operational efficiency….
"Mitigating Factors. Not applicable.
"Compassionate Factors. Not applicable.
"Value of the Officer. I can see no value to the Service in this officer.
"Recommendation. I recommend that Flight Lieutenant…be called upon to resign his commission, on the grounds of his unsuitability, under the provisions of QR 2905(3)."
And the synopsis says simply and succinctly:
"can no longer be trusted to carry out his operational duties in a safe or satisfactory manner".
That report, dated 12th October 1976, has only just come into my hands.

I felt that it was my duty as the constituency Member to look after anyone who came to me, and this young man was pretty good in coming to me. When he did not come he wrote, and when he did not write he telephoned. I went on doing what I could for him. When the right hon. Gentleman who had been Secretary of State for Education and Science when I was an Opposition education spokesman was moved to defence, I thought that I would try again. I wrote:
"Your Under-Secretary is unkeen on this whole affair. Would you look into it?"
On 22nd November, one month and 10 days after the medical report which I have just read to the House was on the files of this RAF officer, the Secretary of State for Defence wrote to me:
"I have now studied carefully all the papers in the case and have discussed them with Jim Wellbeloved. Having done so, I have come to the same conclusion as did Jim Wellbeloved and, indeed, Brynmor John before him. Flight Lieutenant…has no basis for claiming that he should be allowed premature release from the RAF. His pertinacity in putting his case does not make it valid and his recent application to the Air Force Board for redress of complaint has been most carefully considered and, rightly, rejected.
"I see no need to set out all the arguments again but you have my assurance that I am familiar with them. I am satisfied that the issues have been carefully and sympathetically examined."
In view of the medical report, this is a scandalous piece of maladministration.

That is not all. The Under-Secretary wrote to me on 17th December, well over two months after the civilian doctor recommended my constituent's release. He thanked me for my further letter and said:
"It is true that he has not been employed to good advantage during his time at West Raynham, and as you say his persistent agitation for premature release has had a marked bearing on this. However he was notified a month ago that he was to be transferred to the post of HQ Operations Officer"
—the exact posting to which where his commanding officer and medic specified total unsuitability—
"The new post will enable him to get full benefit from the specialist course which he undertook".
If that were not enough, on 31st March, six months after the medical report, I was told that the position remained the same. The Minister wrote:
"As Flying Officer (now Flight Lieutenant)"
—and my constituent's name followed—
"has already been told, it is our intention to return him to flying when his present ground tour ends in June 78, but I should point out that this will carry a further amortisation requirement of 3 years from the end of any necessary conversion training."
All that I ask and all that any Back Bench Member of Parliament has a right to ask is that my constituent be told the truth. In this case, I think that there has been a scandalous cover-up.

I have deliberately not mentioned the name of my constituent, and I would be perfectly content to continue so to do if his case were now to be properly investigated and if, in view of what I have disclosed about his medical report, some small degree of compassion were exercised. It can do no good to a Service to have in it disillusioned men, let alone disillusioned officers. It undermines the morale of all the people connected with them.

I hope that I have made out a case—

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). I have allowed him to develop his case, but, quite honestly, although it is a very difficult case, it is one which, in my opinion, comes strictly within the ambit of an Adjournment debate rather than that of a contribution in a debate on the Royal Air Force. However, the hon. Member may as well finish it off, since I have allowed him to develop it thus far.

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we have a debate on the Royal Air Force and an hon. Member attempts to discuss a matter concerning an RAF officer and the incompetence of the Minister responsible for the RAF, I should have thought that this was an ideal moment. However, I bow to your judgment, because I was about to finish.

I hope sincerely that I shall not have to put down a motion for an Adjournment debate in order to raise this matter again. I have noticed that the Under-Secretary has appeared sympathetic while I have been speaking. I hope that he will re-examine this matter and grant the one wish that my constituent had, which was to do what so many people were forced to do against their wishes to get out of the Royal Air Force, with which he is so thoroughly disillusioned, and be allowed to resume civilian life.

6.22 p.m.

I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will forgive me if I do not take up the matter raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud).

The main issue to which I want to relate my remarks is the one that I raised with the Minister of State during Question Time on 28th April and again in a Written Question to which he replied—it can hardly be said that he answered it—on 2nd May. It concerns the aircraft that will be used in the 1980s by the Royal Air Force to maintain air superiority over the likely battlefield in Western Europe.

It is a matter that has been raised often enough in this House in the past. It was in the minds of hon. Members 40 years ago in 1934 when this House was discussing the future of the RAF and when the then Government, under Mr. Baldwin, faced the threat of a censure motion because of their proposal to increase the strength of the RAF by 41 squadrons, or 820 aircraft, over the following five years. But oh that we had a Government today as good as Mr. Baldwin's Government in 1934.

On that occasion, as we would expect today, the censure motion was moved by the Labour Opposition, whose principal spokesman was Mr. Attlee, and it was supported in full by the Labour Party's allies, the Liberal Party and Sir Archibald Sinclair.

The then Opposition kept on about disarmament, of course, but by May 1935 the Baldwin Government had realised that even 41 squadrons would be inadequate. Still Mr. Attlee and Sir Archibald Sinclair were bumbling and waffling on about collective security.

Just as there are today, there were two themes from the disarmers. The first was "Leave it to someone else, because, collectively, we are strong." In those days, they talked of the League of Nations. In the way that Mr. Attlee leaned on the League of Nations, so the present Government leans on the Germans, the Americans or anyone else who, it is hoped, will provide us with collective security.

The other theme, of course, was that the Labour Party, as it does today, wanted arms reduction by agreement throughout the world. Then, as now, it wanted us to disarm first to show our good will.

But there were two senses in which the late 1930s were far less perilous than are the late 1970s. First, in the late 1930s the Royal Air Force was about to overtake the Nazi air force in technical terms. The coming introduction of the eight-gun fighters, radar and heavy bombers would swing the technical superiority battle decisively in favour of the RAF. Not many people would believe that that was true today. It is generally believed, I think, that the technical superiority of our potential enemy is becoming greater and greater year by year.

The second great difference was that the Government of the day in the late 1930s were led by men who were big enough, as Mr. Baldwin was big enough, to admit that the threat had been underestimated. To be fair to this Government, they also admit that the threat has been underestimated, but Mr. Baldwin was a big enough man to act to redress the balance between Britain and its potential enemy, whereas the present Government are acting to do precisely the reverse. As our potential enemy becomes stronger, it is the policy of this Government that our defences should get weaker. That has been their policy in opposition and in government. It is not only the policy of Ministers. It is the policy of the Labour Party as well. That is a rare consensus these days. It is on this that there is absolute solidarity among members of the Labour Party. There may be a difference between them about how fast they should make progress towards dismantling the country's defences. Some want to see it done faster than others. But there seems to be no difference in essence.

Despite the wisdom of those who in the 1930s saw that no dictator and no totalitarian Power acquires a vast aggressive military machine other than with the intention of using it for aggression, the wasted years in the 1930s left their mark on our force at the onset of the war, just as the defence cuts of today will do.

When the Minister took up his responsibilities as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, I hope that he found time to look back at what had happened in the past to the Service for which he now cares. I recommend him to read some of the history of the Royal Air Force during the 1939–45 War. In the light of what I shall say later, I suggest that he consults page 114 and what follows to learn what happened to our inadequate attack aircraft when they were committed against the German advance across France in 1940:
"When the Battles went into action on 10th May, they were thus known to be still extremely vulnerable to fighter attack from below…The orders were carried out. But a storm of machine gun and small arms fire rose from the German columns, and three of the first eight crews were at once shot down. No better fate attended their comrades who attacked during the afternoon. Of the thirty-two Battles despatched that day, thirteen were lost and all the rest damaged."
Later, there is a reference to the attack by six Blenheims of 600 Squadron of Fighter Command:
"They had barely delivered their attack when they were pounced on by a dozen Me 110's, and on pilot alone returned to Manston to give an account of the operation."
So the terrible story is told of attack after attack made by brave men in inadequate aircraft, without fighter aircraft to support them and without the ail superiority that an attack aircraft requires if it is to carry out its mission against an advancing enemy and return.

The deaths of these young men were a charge upon those who had failed to give the full support that they required. Now, 40 years later, we are carrying out the same policies, or worse, that led to those deaths. The attrition rate was terrible, and when we consider the strength of the RAF in numbers today, it is appropriate to remember that, in May and June 1940, a total of 959 of our aircraft, of which 477 were fighters, were lost to little apparent avail. I will refer later to the experience of the Israelis in the Yom Kippur war in terms of the rate of attrition in their air force.

I turn now to what the Minister told me in his reply at Question Time on 26th April. I asked the Minister:
"Which fighter aircraft does the Minister think the Royal Air Force will have in its inventory in the early 1980s to ensure air superiority over the battle-front?"
He replied:
"As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the early 1980s we shall still have in service a number of existing aircraft. In addition, we shall have the ADV version of the Tornado coming along in the 1980s."—[Official Report, 26th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 1011.]
I believe that when a Minister makes a stupid reply it is nothing more than courteous to give him the chance to make a better reply next time round. So I put down a Written Question on 2nd May. In essence, I asked whether the Minister would develop what he had said, asking him to name the fighters and when they first entered service, not only with the RAF but, if they were imported, with their original Service.

There was a slight change of emphasis in the Minister's reply. As I see it now, I think that he did take my olive branch and withdrew his remark about the ADV version of the Tornado in relation to air superiority over the battlefield. Wisely, he did not mention it. We all know that whether it would prove to be a good interceptor is one thing, but that it is clear that it will not be an aircraft which will be committed to maintain superiority in the immediate area of the battlefield—not at £6 million or £8 million apiece, it will not, nor on its performance. So the Minister told me:
"Air superiority over the battlefield will be achieved by NATO with a combination of fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems…"
It is unlikely that surface-to-air missile systems will maintain superiority over the enemy's half of the front and that is where our tactical strike aircraft ought to be. At least, that is the way it was when I was in the RAF. The Minister went on:
"The United Kingdom contribution to this NATO task consists of the SAM defences of the land forces, Phantom aircraft acting as interceptors and attack aircraft such as the Jaguar and the Harrier. The United Kingdom version of the Phantom aircraft first entered service with the RAF in 1968. Phantoms entered service with the US armed forces in the early 1960s. The Harrier and Jaguar entered service with the RAF in 1969 and 1973, respectively."—[Official Report, 2nd May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 54.]
So those are the aircraft. We are conscious that the MRCA is not a battlefield aircraft. But what is the prime requirement of a dogfighting aircraft in that sort of environment? The first requirement is that it should have a very high thrust-to-weight ratio, and unless its thrust exceeds its weight, it is unlikely to compete in modern air battles. The MRCA weighs about 40,000 lbs. and has 29,000 lbs. of thrust—about 0·75 to 1.

The Phantom, a 1950s-designed aeroplane, is expected still to be a battlefront dogfighter 30 years later. It is as though the Air Minister in 1940 had suggested that he would launch into the Battle of Britain Bristol fighters left over from 1918. That is the time scale we are talking about, and technology moves no more slowly in this era than in that.

As my hon. Friend has a number of interesting statistics to hand, is he able to allay a fear that I have read about, that the possible potential maximum speed of the MRCA, designed to be mach 1·8, has, in the limited testing done so far, been only 1·3? Given the very high power and speed necessary and the rate of climb in a dogfight, surely this underlines the point that he is making even more.

That is possibly so, but I believe that the MRCA has been travelling at well in excess of mach 1·3 recently, and that the engines are delivering something nearer to their design power. In any case, we are talking here about low-level performance, where it is far more likely that the MRCA has approached its design performance, which was to reach mach 1·3, or about 790 knots at sea level. That is the area that we are talking about.

I return now to the Phantom, which has a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0·65 to 1. It is obsolete now, let alone in another five or 10 years. The Jaguar is an interesting attack aircraft, but it is a 34,000-lb aeroplane with less than 15,000 lbs of thrust. It was not designed as a fighter, and to hang a couple of missiles on it will no more make it into a fighter than hanging an extra machine gun under the Fairey Battle made that into a fighter.

The Harrier is a short-endurance aeroplane, and unless it is operated from battlefield strips supplied by heavy-lift helicopters, it will have to operate from way back, and although, with the techniques which have been developed, it will not be a bad dogfighting aeroplane for a long time yet, I do not think that it can be regarded either as an ideal aeroplane for this purpose or as one which will really match the opposition in the early 1980s—certainly the ones that we have in service at the moment will not.

What aircraft will be matched against them we do not know, because the Russians are not so kind as to tell us what aircraft are coming into their service next. But we know that since the early 1960s the Mig 21 has had a thrust-to-weight ratio of about 0·75 to 1, and that its successor, the MiG 23, had been in service for five years. They were both formidable opponents for the Israeli Phantoms during the Yom Kippur war.

An aeroplane like the F15—perhaps the world's finest fighter but very expensive—would be a suitable adversary for the MiG 25 but it is not a battlefield aeroplane. Perhaps more typical of the sort of battlefield aeroplane that other air forces will have, but not the RAF, is the F16, with a thrust-weight ratio of about 1·1 to 1. That is the sort of fighter aeroplane that is required by a fighter pilot for that job.

If the RAF does not have an air superiority fighter in the early 1980s it will leave the crews of the Jaguars in precisely the position of the crews of the Fairey Battles in 1940. I have referred to the sort of hostile environment in which they fought. If the Minister has not spoken to the officers who flew in the Israeli air force and to the generals who guided the tactics of those battles, the time is long overdue when he did. If he did, he would realise that the answer of the Minister of State, although perhaps true, was absolute nonsense in tactical terms.

Ministers must know that in their policies they are potentially signing the death warrants of pilots who would have to go to war, if war came, in aircraft in the RAF's inventory today.

Before I sit down, I wish to leave the question of the tactical fighter and to put forward a suggestion—quite a new one, I think—in relation to the needs of the RAF to reinforce its military transport capacity. It reflects on the exchanges today about how quickly the aircraft of, for example, British Airways could be brought into use in time of emergency. Aircraft of British Airways are ideal for carrying passengers, whether they are passengers with buckets and spades or passengers with SLR rifles provided there are good airfields for them to fly into and out of. However, that is not all that the RAF and the Army want.

Therefore, I suggest that the Government should consider a scheme under which they would make an offer to United Kingdom freight airlines that if the airline was prepared to co-operate in the formation of a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron the Government would assist the airline concerned, through a purchase or lease arrangement, to acquire new heavy-lift aircraft. The crews would be ready for rapid embodiment. The airline would undertake to the Government that the crews and aircraft would be available, both for annual training exercises and in the event of a state of emergency, at very short notice. Such a scheme would assist our freight airlines to re-equip and would ensure that the reserve capacity represented by their aircraft would be of a common type suitable for use by the RAF.

As a former RAF and Auxiliary Air Force pilot, let me finish by saying that I have no doubt that the RAF crews of the present generation are as good as those of any earlier generation—

Yes; that is the problem—but I fear that they may well be sentenced to give their lives in a totally hopeless struggle against impossible odds and superior weapons. If that happens, the responsibility will fall on right hon. and hon. Members opposite. That will give no comfort to any of us who die in a Western European war, or even those who have the good fortune—or it might be the bad fortune—to survive it.

6.45 p.m.

I have followed with attention the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). I hope that the Ministry of Defence will follow up his suggestion about making an arrangement with civil airlines whereby their aircraft would be available in the event of hostilities. I am sure that our reserve position is such that an arrangement of that type would be advantageous and that it is well worth considering.

The Under-Secretary of State has come in for a certain amount of criticism, first because of the length of his speech and secondly because of the Government's shortcomings. Because of the bad attendance in the Chamber, I find it difficult to criticise him on either the first or the second ground. It is fortunate that the Under-Secretary of State spoke for an hour, because there were very few Members present to speak. We may complain that the Government are not doing their duty by the RAF, but Opposition Members and those of other parties are not doing their duty either when they fail to attend in larger numbers for this important debate. I therefore absolve the Under-Secretary of State from blame for his actions. I listened with pleasure to what he said, and I thought that when he got off the polemics and read the brief which the Ministry of Defence had written for him he did very well, and I agreed with what he said.

I should like to mention the threat to which other hon. Members have referred, because, although those who know about it already are with us today, our comments will perhaps be read in some corridors of the Ministry of Defence or colleges of learning. Therefore, it is perhaps worth putting it on record.

Russia is spending 12 per cent. of her gross national product on defence, which means that she is building 1,500 aircraft a year. The Backfire, coming shortly into service, is a very high-performance aircraft which is able to threaten the United Kingdom from any direction, whether east or west, at high or low level at supersonic speeds. The threat to the central front—our vital area—is presented by no fewer than 3,000 frontline aircraft, together with 350 helicopters. They do not need to deploy any further forward because the airfields where they are situated are sufficiently near the area of operation that they will not have to move and thereby give away their intention.

In the Foxbat, the Russians have a reconnaissance aircraft capable of 2·5 mach which can cover the whole of the United Kingdom for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes. They have over 600 transport aircraft. Their training has recently changed in character and has become far more allied to an offesive technique, such as the seizure of airfields and operations in bad or zero weather.

That is the Russians' capability. What their intention is must remain an enigma on which the Minister is more qualified to exercise judgment than I, because he has access to intelligence reports. But we must match our capability to the degree necessary to counter the Russian threat. My conclusion is that we must be ready to meet a surprise attack with the full force of modern weapons and perhaps in conditions of zero weather, as I believe it is known in technical circles.

I do not believe that up to now we have been able to devote sufficient attention and resources to the dispersal of aircraft. We have the Harrier, of course—and we have led the world in that kind of development—but it cannot remain permanently dispersed because of the difficulty of servicing it in small sites around the country. It cannot be kept far from its home airfield. We have gone a certain distance on dispersal, but probably not far enough. We should consider how far we can go for the next generation of V/STOL aircraft, because I do not believe that airfields in the future will be safe for them to use.

It has been shown that the hardening of airfields has great advantages. The techniques of destroying airfields are improving all the time, and the temporary advantage of hardening an airfield will not last. But certainly at the present time a properly hardened airfield and a hardened missile or weapon are very worth while. This makes it harder for an enemy to knock it out.

Of course we must have intelligence. We must have some kind of vehicle, manned or unmanned, that is able to get in, get the intelligence, and then get it back. This indicates that a mechanical or unmanned vehicle is the best proposition. However I appreciate that nothing can take the place entirely of a manned aircraft. But we must have the intelligence, otherwise we cannot operate at all.

We must have our airfields and vital areas properly defended by missiles. Missiles should be developed more than they have been up to now. We have good missiles, but we do not have nearly enough of them. Missiles are cheap when compared with their targets, and in their sphere or area they can be very cost-effective. They cannot be the full answer, of course, because the stand-off missile can to a large extent defeat the value of a missile. Therefore, we have to have aircraft as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford mentioned electronic countermeasures. It has been shown in the Middle East that it is possible to operate over missile-infested territory with proper electronic counter-measures in aircraft. I was surprised to learn from various papers the very low losses suffered by Israeli aircraft operating over heavily defended targets in the Middle East wars.

During the Second World War, in the Battle of Britain we suffered 4·4 per cent. losses of Spitfires per sortie and 5·7 per cent. losses of Hurricanes. In the Middle East wars the Iraelis suffered a loss of less than 2 per cent. per sortie. This is a figure that can be sustained permanently by any reasonable air force. When it increases to more than 7 per cent., it cannot be sustained and the strategy must be altered. The German bomber force in the Battle of Britain suffered over 8 per cent. losses, and the Germans were forced to change their policy with consequences that we all know.

I think my hon. Friend would do well to emphasise that the key to the relatively low number of losses per sortie on the part of the Israelis lies in the fact that they had air superiority over the battlefield and sufficient aircraft to draw enemy missiles from the tank formations over a long period before they went into attack. We do not have as many aircraft as that.

That is a valid point. That air superiority was obtained by fighter aircraft. The missiles they were atacking were largely mobile because the Egyptians had to advance and this mobility made them much more vulnerable. Fortunately the same thing applies to the Russians. Their missiles are essentially more mobile than ours, which are more defensive.

I do not take the gloomy view of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford about the MRCA. I bow to his knowledge about its speed, but in a fighter environment it is not so much speed as manoeuvrability that is important. I believe that the MRCA will play an important rôle—it should, because £7 million to £8 million for each aircraft is a lot of money. I recall a farmer in my area riding a valuable horse and saying that £1,000 was too much to put to a fence. The MRCA is a very expensive aircraft to have over the battlefield, but if it is the only aircraft that we have we must deploy it. If it does the job, that is the main point. We should redeploy our efforts on electronic counter-measures in order to operate these aircraft in the area that we want.

I turn now to the question of low-level attacks. I believe that low-level training must continue. I have the impression that the Under-Secretary has not had so much trouble about low-level flying as I had when I was in his position. Somehow he seems to have managed to quieten his Welsh colleagues. This training is essential and it must go on, but this is increasingly difficult. It is very unpopular in Germany, and we do far more than our share in accepting the inconvenience of low-level training.

I was a little disturbed by the Under-Secretary's reference to equipment "coming along". That is a rather vague phrase. To me it indicates that it is all quite a long time in the future. It is no good having something that can go in by night "on the deck", but cannot then find the target. Intelligence must be precise, because it cannot then climb to 5,000 ft. in order to see the target it has to destroy. That is the complexity of the situation when NATO expects us to fly no fewer than 6,000 sorties a day. Each has to be planned, and equipment and intelligence are essential if we are to play our part.

Our equipment is pretty good, but we have some gaps and shortages. Certainly we have shortages in numbers. Leaving out the two super-Powers, we are behind Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Germany. We cannot put up with serious shortages because most of our nuclear weapons are carried by the RAF today. I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) is not sitting here, because no doubt he would disagree with me when I say that I think that Polaris would find itself in difficulties in this respect because of communication. Although it is the strategic forces that would have to use nuclear weapons, it would be the RAF, rather than Polaris, that would be called upon to deliver them.

If we have these shortages and lacks, research and development are not less necessary but are far more necessary than before. In some fields we have even abandoned it and we should resume these operations. I have already mentioned VSTOL. Research and development on this was discontinued in 1965 after we got the Harrier, and I regard that as very unfortunate. Also, what has happened to the Rotadyne? I believe that we have abandoned that too, but it is being pursued in the United States and I believe that we should get back into that activity as well as into electronic countermeasures.

On a more esoteric note, there is the question of airships which was debated in another place the other day. These are comparatively cheap and one can get a lot for the price of one MRCA and even more for the price of one through-deck cruiser. I do not believe that airships are any more vulnerable. The attack on the Navy will be a mass attack, rather like the Japanese attack on Singapore. I do not believe that an airship is any more vulnerable than a ship at sea. It is an ideal platform for anti-submarine work and quite a good platform for radar. Its drawback there is that it can only get up to about 10,000 ft. The "look" over the horizon is limited. Undoubtedly the airship could play a rôle.

Another area in which we have not done any work but in which work is being done elsewhere is in assisting heavier-than-air aircraft to take off by the addition of lighter-than-air devices. By adding a helium pod to an aeroplane, it is possible to lift a load 10 times greater than normal. This could be valuable.

We have discussed what could be done by the aeroplane to assist at the battleground. We may, perhaps, have to consider whether the aeroplane could take over the rôle of the main battle tank. The next generation of tanks, after the one which is currently on the stocks, will be terribly expensive, and anti-tank missiles may result in its not being cost-effective.

I must express some misgivings, because I do not believe that aeroplanes can properly intervene or find adequate targets within the battle area. There is too much confusion. It is necessary to go at least three miles beyond where the smoke can be seen. Then there are lots of targets. We ought to join in the work on the Cruise missile, thus releasing aircraft—if the missile succeeds—for rôles which only a manned aircraft can carry out.

There is one other small matter which ought to be looked at. At present we have only two squadrons of tanker aircraft. Our aircraft cannot operate without tanker aircraft. I understand that they are in short supply and difficult to get hold of. We ought to consider whether two squadrons are sufficient.

I found it surprising to learn that we have 34,000 reservists for whom we have no rôle. They have no call-up duties and no training, and no one knows what to do with them. They are simply reservists. They have no papers and no obligations. No one has told other Ministries of their existence and whether they could be of help in an emergency. I suggest that the Ministry of Defence should bring its practice on reservists into line with that of the other Departments. Reservists who have just left the Service should have the opportunity to do refresher training.

My final point concerns engine repair. I may be wrong—I hope I am—but I am told that a military aircraft engine, which is virtually the same as that used in civil aircraft, takes six months to be completely overhauled at St. Athans by the RAF while it takes the commercial airlines at Heathrow only six weeks. We took away the engine repair facilities from Rolls-Royce because they were going so well. We got fed-up with that and gave the work to St. Athans. It was quite wrong to give the job of repairing engines to an engine manufacturer. He does not want to repair them; he wants to sell new ones. In the United States the civil airlines have found this to be so. They have arrangements to repair their own engines. If they want a new one, they go to the manufacturers.

I hope that the Minister will investigate this to see whether I am right. If I am, it is not a very sensible arrangement. At St. Athans we are trying, with difficulty, to enlist men to carry out these repairs which take so long. The difficulty lies in the fact in modern conditions the pensions and secure Civil Service arrangements at St. Athans are not such as to attract people from the engineering industry. I hope that the Minister of State will pass this on to those who are responsible.

7.5 p.m.

I have listened to debates on the RAF over many years in this House and have participated in one or two of them. I have not spoken in a debate that was more surrounded by sadness than today's. There are two RAF stations in my constituency and part of another one. They are not far from the scene of the accident at Huntingdon. I join with those who have expressed their sadness over the loss of lives, Service and civilian. This accident highlights the exceptional nature of such events. They do not occur very often, still less do they often involve civilians. That is a tribute to the sheer efficiency and professionalism of the Service men.

Having listened to many of these debates, I know that my hon. Friends can speak about the equipment and the weaponry with great knowledge and to considerable effect. Today has been no exception. I want to concentrate on the Armed Forces pay report which has just come out. If such a report had been published affecting the industrial scene, the Labour Benches would have been packed. The Labour Benches below and above the Gangway would have been making a great song and dance about the inadequacy of the proposals for an increase in pay as from 1st April.

When I look across to the Labour side, I feel like a pilot who for most of the time when he is flying is looking out across green fields. We have been looking across at green Benches for the past few hours. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) spoke about a disillusioned officer who wanted to get out. There will be many more disillusioned men in the RAF and the other Services once they look at the pay award contained in Cmnd 6801. As I said in an intervention, the cost of this publication is 45p, and that is just about what the men will receive. Some of them will not even get that. The award is hardly worth two pence.

After tax and the increased charges for housing and other so-called benefits, the men will be left with very little. I say "so-called benefits" because housing and food in the Services cannot really be called benefits. They are a means of keeping the Services going. Without them we would not have the fit individuals we need. The pay award is a Dutch one. What has been given with one hand has been taken away with the other. Because of the increase in the charges, I do not believe that the Services will receive an award equal to that which has been gained in industry under phase 2 of the pay policy.

On the first page of the report it is said, as though apologising for what was offered:
"The proposals announced by the Chancellor on 29 March 1977, if implemented, will have a similar effect".
The suggestion is that they will help to provide a further increase for the forces—as though that should be of any concern to those who are awarding the pay increase! The Review Body is obviously conscious of the fact that it has not been able to give very much.

The Review Body is not entirely to blame. It is, however, partly to blame, because it should have put it to the Minister that he need not necessarily implement what it put forward, or that its proposal to increase the cost of housing and food should be altered to reduce the suggested increases. In other words, I am saying that, notwithstanding this report, this is the Government's responsibility. It is not the responsibility of an outside Review Body. It is the Government who have to make up their mind, and it is the Minister who has to make up his mind. If it helps the Minister, he should go to the Treasury and say that there is strong feeling in the House that this award is not acceptable.

Paragraph 4 of the report says that differentials have gone out of joint in the Services, just as they have done outside. It goes on to say that
"the first round of restraint measures has led to pay levels that fall markedly short of the levels justified by outside evidence; to the compression of differentials".
The report suggests that the proposals for increasing charges to Service men could be rebated by improved differentials or through some other arrangement of that kind.

The problem of differentials is affecting the Armed Forces just as much as it is affecting people in civilian life. I do not know for how long this pay award is supposed to last, but I hope that in July or August Ministers of the various Services will request the Chancellor to allow an additional award to be made to the Services not only to deal with the problem of differentials but to provide a general increase.

The report says that the pay of the Services is behind that of people outside. This is so for a number of reasons, some of which can be read between the lines of the report. Some of the reasons are declared, while some are not. The first reason is that there is no opportunity in the Services to earn overtime pay. That is important. We have read recently that there has been an increase in overtime working in British industry during the past few months. In so far as that improves production, that must be a good thing, but working overtime has never ceased in industry. Unemployment has increased, but those who have managed over the past few years to retain their jobs have been able to work overtime. It is well known that many firms create overtime to pay skilled people the increases which the firms think ought to be paid to them.

The second element that is not available to people in the Services is the right to earn bonus payments. There are no productivity bonuses in the Services. In many instances in civilian life bonus payments have been exempt from the incomes policy. Right through the period of the incomes policy, some bonuses earned by people in industry have not been caught by either stage 1 or stage 2.

Thirdly, promotion cannot be obtained within the Services by changing one's employer. A man cannot leave one Service and join another. He cannot even leave the Service, as we were told by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely, to take a civilian job. I appreciate the Minister's difficulty about releasing people from the Service. There is not much point in spending a lot of money in training somebody to be a pilot and then allowing him to leave the Service, for whatever reason, however good it may be, only to find that he then obtains employment at a much higher salary with one of the international airlines.

Everybody knows that throughout the period of phase 1 and phase 2 of the incomes policy one way in which people have been able to increase their income has been by getting a job with a different firm. In some instances people have been upgraded within their own firms, and in that way they have increased their incomes. People in the Services cannot change their jobs.

Fourthly, the Services have always received their pay increases long after those paid to industry and commerce. That has been particularly so during the period of the incomes policy, and that fact is categorically stated in the report. It says that the pay award for this year is late, but the Review Body feels that it can do nothing about that.

A great deal of technical skill is required of those in the RAF. Only the best that is available is good enough to keep going the kind of equipment that the Service has to use, equal only to the best required in civil aviation. Only the best people must be employed to service civilian aircraft, and the same applies to the RAF.

It must be recognised that we are not paying the rate for the kind of skill that is required in the RAF. The Review Body realises that, and that is why I say that when the Minister is considering this matter he must look not only at the proposals in the report but at the fact, as stated in the report, that there is a need to provide an increase beyond what would appear to be right under the incomes policy. This provides that a man earning £50 a week can have his pay increased by £2.50, while a man earning more than £80 can have an increase of only £4.

The greatest opportunity for improving the situation lies in reducing the impact of the increases proposed for housing and accommodation. A week ago I ask the Minister whether we should not now think in terms of going back to the situation that used to exist in the Services when advantages were given through the allowances. The Minister replied that we had to await this report. We now have the report, and the Review Body has done its best. But it has not proposed that there should be any let-up in the proposed increases. The housing and accommodation charges have been increased to such an extent that the advantage of the salary increase has been eroded.

The Review Body says, no doubt properly, that its terms of reference will not allow it to do other than that. I must therefore ask the Minister, bearing in mind the reply that I recieved the other day, to tell me who is passing the buck? Is it the Review Body, which says that it is tied by its terms of reference, or is it the Minister, who the other day gave me the impression that this was a matter for the Review Body? The matter rests squarely with the Minister.

Let us examine the proposed charges. They are important to the final outcome for Service personnel. Food charges are to go up by £1·12 per week. Accommodation charges for those in married quarters are to go up by £1 a week for those on the lower level of pay, by £2 for those on the middle level and by £3 or more for those on the top level. Single quarters personnel will face increases of about one-third of this. Some quarters are stated to be sub-standard. I have received a number of letters from Service men saying that they live in sub-standard quarters. Why on earth should rents for sub-standard quarters go up at all? According to the proposals, they are to be increased by between 50p and £1·50 a week. One wonders whether they are worth paying what the Service men pay for them at present. They certainly do not justify an increase.

There is also the fiddling and stupid suggestion that there should be a £8 a year increase in the cost of a garage. If one can convince oneself that a garage is not needed for a car, one could save oneself £8 a year. Paragraph 20 of the report contains an interesting sentence. It reads:
"The increases in charges for unmarried Second Lieutenants and for more senior officers exceed the after-tax increases in pay, but in the main by small amounts"
Why should any of the increases be greater than the increases in the pay award? The higher-paid officers have already been caught by the £8,500 cut-off which applies to everyone. This pay award is a thundering disgrace. It is a non-event. It could, and should, be put right.

The Minister may say that people in the Services must pay for increases in the costs of housing and food the same as everybody else. The question is, how much should they pay? That is important, particularly at a time when increases in pay are not as great as they should be or as great as they would be if there were no pay policy.

The rents of houses for Service men should not be anything like as high as they are. The increases in rents should not therefore be as high as they are. Service men live in a house for only two or three years. At the end of that time they must put their houses back into good decorative order. They must bear the cost of that. A Service man has a limited time in the Services. He retires at an earlier age than most people in civilian life. He has no chance of buying a house, although he will want to do that so that he has somewhere to live when he retires. The ability to buy a house is reduced if he must pay an economic rent for his Service house. The Minister should take that into account.

Service houses are tied cottages. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have tied cottages for which they pay no rent. During our debates on the Bill dealing with tied cottages we learned that tied cottages in the farming industry are either rent-free or carry very little rent. The Services are the only organisations which charge an economic rent for tied cottages.

I turn to the proposed charges for food to Service men. If the Minister travels around British industry, he will find that almost every firm in the country provides a subsidised canteen. The ordinary workman in British industry—whether in private enterprise or in nationalised concerns—has subsidised meals. Almost every office in London provides typists with luncheon vouchers. There is a wholesale subsidisation of meals throughout the civilian sector of British industry. If those subsidies can be justified, they should be taken into account when the price of food is fixed for Service men and their families. There is no case for charging the full economic cost.

That the Services are either strong or weak is decided in part by the strength of their equipment and the power of their leadership. But however useful and advanced the equipment, however good the leadership, if the morale down below is bad or uncertain the Services certainly become weak. Service strength is dependent upon the state of morale of the men—and the women—who work in them. The Government are proving to be very bad employers. They are mean, unfair and lacking in common sense when dealing with the pay and conditions of the people they employ.

The cost of putting that right is very small indeed. The report gives the figures. The cost of the pay increases is £55 million. At least 35 per cent. of that will go in tax. There is another £16 million for the proposed increases in charges. The net cost of the pay award for the whole of the Services is between £20 million and £25 million—that is all. That sum is so small that I suspect that the country will be spending almost as much on the Jubilee celebrations in the next few months. Surely we can afford a little more than that to provide the Services with a real pay increase rather than this niggardly non-event. Some people will actually receive less, some will receive very little indeed, and only a few will receive anything at all.

7.29 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) has just made an excellent speech on the subject with which I mainly wanted to deal. That makes my task easier; I can now shorten my speech.

I do not want to go into details of White Papers, the statements of vice-admirals or the names of new aircraft and their weaponry, because I am not expert enough to do so. However, I live close to one of the largest aerodromes in East Anglia, the home of the Royal Air Force, and there is another air station in my constituency. I have been worried for a number of years—I have told the Minister and his predecessor about this—about the morale of the RAF because of the constant feeling that it is being run down. I believed that the pay award might lift their morale and begin to make them feel that they were wanted and important. A cursory glance at the award convinces me that they will be badly disappointed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford said, RAF housing is tied housing. Agricultural tied cottages have been a hot political potato in my district all my life. The system has now been ended, not without controversy, and I shall be glad if we can do without it. But we cannot do without tied cottages in the Services.

Not all tied housing is wanted today. When I joined the Norfolk County Council soon after the war, most teachers and policemen wanted a house on the job. Over the last five or 10 years, the council has been selling off such houses, and I assume that the same has been happening all over the country. The teacher, the policeman and the prison warder now want to be able to have a home to which they can retire.

This is very difficult to achieve in the Services. As my hon. Friend said, if one is paying rent all the time it is difficult to save for a house, and when the average Service man leaves the Service he finds it difficult to get on a council list. I know that the Ministry writes to councils asking them to put Service men at the top of their lists although they have not been able to live in the area for the required period, but councils have great difficulty. They are told that they must house the the homeless and, now, any agricultural worker who leaves his job. They must be treated as priority cases.

Most RAF stations are in rural areas. The men become very attached to the area in which they spend the last few years of their service, but they have great difficulty in getting on the housing list. The Ministry allows men and their wives to remain in Service quarters for some months after they have left the Service, but they cannot do that for too long, obviously. I would have hoped that this request to councils could be a definite rule, giving Service men a right. I hope that the Minister will at least re-emphasise the point.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) that the attendance in this debate is poor, although there was a good turnout for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). I am worried by the low attendance at Service debates. It would be a good thing if the Government could persuade a number of their supporters to be present. The Services are the Services of the nation, not of one party or the other. We should not be seen as the party of the Services, against the Government. We should all be able to take a great interest in these matters.

I hope that efforts will be made to improve morale. I was never in the RAF, but I started my Army life as a Territorial defending the aerodrome that I have mentioned with a Lewis gun, which even then did not seem an intelligent thing to do. I had a great affection for that station and I am now an honorary member of its mess. I then went to France and learned how unpleasant it was to find the skies dominated by enemy planes.

Since coming to the House I have had the honour to represent those two magnificent RAF stations—Marham, close to my home, and Swanton Morley, which I believe is the foremost boffin station, with great experts in aircraft mechanics. I have also seen a great deal of Service life on those stations. I am greatly worried at the recent disbandment of a tanker squadron at Marham. We used to have three there; now we have only two.

The average man in the RAF has rightly been called a keen professional, but he is much more than that. Most of those I know are dedicated to our country's service. That makes it all the harder for them to accept cuts in their Service. They have fine planes, but the lack of money means that they cannot fly them as often as they would wish. The Army cannot use its tanks as often as it should. Men cannot exercise and train as much as they should. All this affects morale.

There will always be changes of equipment in the forces, but over the last few years there have been constant changes of attitude. Most of these changes have been cuts, and many men have been made to feel that they are not wanted in the Services.

I know that the Minister will say that this is the last thing that he wishes the Services to believe. He is a sincere person, who will do his best to increase morale, but the House must encourage the men and women in our forces, particularly in the RAF, as much as possible. We must show our appreciation of their difficulties by our statements here and by contacts in our constituencies. Above all, we must give them the feeling that they are in a job that is worth while and that we believe that they should be properly paid and equipped.

7.40 p.m.

I wish to intervene briefly on the subject of RAF pay and to refer to the Sixth Report of the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay. This report is an absolute charade. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary with responsibility for the Air Force is leaving the Chamber just as my salvoes are beginning to fall around him.

I wish to give some quotations from the report. It refers to what appeared in last year's report, and it says:
"Most important, we established that the maximum supplement of £6 a week permitted under the restraint measures at that time fell short of the increases that were justified by the evidence on earnings levels outside…
We observed then that remedial action would be needed if, in the longer term, pay levels that were competitive with pay for comparable work outside were to be maintained in the armed forces."
A year ago the Review Body was saying that there was no fair comparison with outside. The report continues.
"In short, the first round of restraint measures has led to pay levels that fall markedly short of the levels justified by outside evidence; to the compression of differentials; and to a toss in the relative value of individual items of additional pay and allowances which also disturbs differentials. Where comparison with earnings in other fields of employment over an annual cycle has a part to play in settling pay at a particular date each year (as it has for the armed forces), it is inevitable that a process of "falling behind" begins as later outside settlements are reached…Furthermore, unlike some other people in the community, individual servicemen are unable to increase their earnings by working longer hours or by moving to new and higher paid jobs."
I am sure that the Review Body is composed of eminent gentleman who have gone into these matters very closely, but they are tied by the Government's policy of pay restraint and the Government, who have a direct responsibility for Service men, hand out the same old stuff year after year against the charade of the Review Body's reports and announce that they are going to follow the recommendations. The Government must grasp the nettle and realise that Service men—this applies to all three Services—have been falling behind in successive years.

The report says:
"Senior officers of the armed forces in their management capacity have emphasised in evidence to us the awareness in the Services as a whole of the fact that their pay has fallen behind the levels that could be justified by the outside evidence."
There is a general understanding of why this is. It cannot be claimed that Service men have been anything but extraordinarily patient and reasonable. As is their nature, they have not complained or made a fuss, but the fact that they have no muscle or trade union power means that successive Governments and Service Ministers have a moral reponsibility to see that Service men are fairly dealt with. I submit that they are not getting a fair deal at the moment.

The report says:
"The Government has said that it intends to provide flexibility in whatever arrangements will follow the current restraint measures after 31st July 1977."
That should be the date by which Ministers should deal with the problem. They should say that the pay award given in accordance with the Review Body's report should run only to 31st July and that, under the flexibility that will be needed if the pay restraint policy is to continue after that date, there will be a new look at Service pay so that we may break out of the cycle of deprivation. Will the Minister promise to take this business seriously and not give us the same old formula but introduce a new system to make up for the years in which Service men have fallen behind?

The Canberra crash is a sad and topical subject that has been discussed widely in the debate. Earlier today the Secretary of State told me that the aircraft that crashed came into service in 1960. It was a 17-year-old aircraft. Although I am the last to wish to cast dismay and despondency about the Services or their equipment, it is remarkable that this appalling accident, with all its terrible consequences for civilians and aircrew, should have involved an aircraft dating from 1960 and belonging to a type that was first used by the RAF in 1951—more than a quarter of a century ago.

On a visit to the RAF Museum at Duxford yesterday, I saw many historic aircraft and relics of the past that brought back war-time memories. Among them was a Canberra, the same sort of aircraft as crashed.

In his replies this afternoon, the Secretary of State also allowed to slip casually the fact that the Government hope that these aircraft will go on until the 1980s. This is grotesque. In the language of the RAF itself, airmen are having to go on and on flying clapped-out aircraft. The design of Canberras is obviously outmoded, and what can we know about the effects of metal fatigue on the engines and airframes of the 'planes? This is another baleful result of the sort of cuts that we have been getting from the Government every year.

The Secretary of State gave an extraordinary reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who is unfortunately unable to be here at the moment. Reference was made to the subject of maritime surveillance and what should be done to protect British shipping around the Cape. I regard this question as most important, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and I have discussed this matter in the Chamber and outside. I know where the hon. Gentleman's heart is, and it is a pity that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force is not present to hear me say this.

We are all in business to prevent the waging of war, and in that task we must know what is going on. We should be able to deal with questions as they arise and before they escalate into a war situation We cannot be sure that intervention in some shape or form will not be required in the defence of British interests, and certainly in the defence of British merchant shipping throughout the world.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force said that it was not a NATO task to protect British shipping around the Cape. It is a pity that that is not the case, but it is surely a British task. Therefore, it must be a task for the Royal Air Force to protect British shipping wherever it may be threatened. If that is not the case, the Government should make such an announcement in the Minister's reply this evening. A fundamental principle will be breached if we abandon the rôle of protecting British shipping.

When the carrier programme was scrapped by a Labour Government, we were told that the defence of British shipping would be carried out by shore-based aircraft. We are now told that it is not a NATO task or, by implication, a British task. However, we cannot be sure that intervention may not be required somewhere else, particularly in Africa. We all know that we have interests in Africa which are as great as those of France or Israel, and one doubts whether the French or the Israeli Government foresaw, say, five years ago that there would be a need for action in Zaire or at Entebbe, but they had the foresight to realise that the unexpected occurs in the waging of war—and, even more so, in preventing it.

Those are the three specific points I wish to mention, and I shall be grateful if the Minister will refer to them in his reply and give some assurances to the House.

7.53 p.m.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has, in his usual powerful way, made a good case for a better deal for members of the Armed Forces, and in particular for members of the Royal Air Force, whom we are discussing today. I am sure that his remarks about ageing equipment in the Royal Air Force and in maritime surveillance made their mark.

My personal credentials for intervening in this debate relate to the fact that my constituency has strong historical associations with the Royal Air Force. The two RAF stations, Tangmere and Thorney, have made important and historic contributions to the defence of the nation.

I am pleased to see standing in for the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, because he has some ideas about one of the points that I wish to raise. I refer to the future of RAF Thorney, a station which, following the disbandment of Transport Command, was vacated 18 months ago, despite its technical transfer within the Ministry of Defence to the Royal Navy and the possibility at an earlier stage that HMS "Daedalus" at Lee-on-Solent would be expanded to utilise some of the facilities there. I am advised that this is unlikely to materialise and that the future of this important station, which was recognised as of prime strategic importance in the 1971 defence White Paper is left uncertain.

I very much welcome an opportunity to draw the Minister's attention to the good will that exists in the locality in terms of the continued defence use of this station. The station possesses excellent hangarage facilities and has good residential facilities for staff, married quarters, extensive aircraft-handling facilities, and a good hard runway. It seems to me that with the extensive deployment of the Armed Forces along the South Coast this station should be kept in use rather than moth-balled. If it is treated in that fashion there will be a number of serious social consequences, not the least of which is the fact that there will be a large number of vacant houses at a time when housing waiting lists in my area are rising substantially. I hope that this matter will be taken seriously by the Minister. I ask for a speedy judgment and a resolution of this problem. We would welcome the continuing defence use of this station, if such use can be found.

I turn to the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977. I very much agree with the analysis and priorities outlined in the report, parts of which deal with detente, disarmament, military capability of the Warsaw Pact and NATO's response. However, having said that, I find myself in fundamental disagreement with the conclusion reached by the Government in formalising their defence policy, which is summarised in the first two pages of the statement.

A reduction of a further £200 million in the current fiscal year, with a further reduction of £230 million in 1978–79, will be the last straw for our Armed Forces, whose capability and morale have been reduced to an inadequate level by successive Labour defence cuts.

Our defence budget this year amounts to £6·3 billion, which is a substantial drain on public expenditure and on the gross domestic product. But we are still not clear about the Minister's assessment of the impact of these proposed cuts on equipment and on the research and development activities of the RAF. A number of my colleagues have dealt in detail and in an able technical and experienced way with the subject of R and D, as well as with the strategic capability and equipment of the Armed Forces, and particularly of the Royal Air Force. But I believe that at a time when flexibility is often referred to by Chiefs of Air Staff and Defence Ministers as being an important priority in defence policy, an essential part of that flexibility must lie with the research and development activities carried on within the RAF to enable it to respond speedily to technical developments which Warsaw Pact countries and other potentially aggressive countries are developing.

In this context, we heard this afternoon about the potential threat of the Russian Backfire aircraft. I understand that work is now taking place on a successor to Backfire, which is a highly sophisticated piece of equipment, presenting a major threat to the United Kingdom It is a frightening prospect indeed when we consider that the Russians are considering extending the technology beyond that aircraft. The rate of building aircraft in Russia, which is now four times that of our own total aircraft production, is a significant reflection of the inadequacies of our own aircraft numbers. When we add to that the fact that our total number of aircraft is half that of the Polish Air Force, it puts into context the inadequacies of our RAF commitment and our commitment to NATO.

I turn to a slightly different but more general area of activity, which is important when discussing the impact of these defence cuts and our response to the White Paper. I refer to the rôle of the United States within NATO. I believe that the rôle and effectiveness of NATO in deterring aggression and in contributing to world peace—two of NATO's major aims—are not determined solely by our contribution to that organisation. They are in large part dependent on the contribution and policy of the United States.

An assessment of the posture of the United States armed forces in comparison with other major world Powers was set out in a very realistic fashion in the report that was presented to Congress by the chief of the American armed forces. While I welcome potential congressional support for the defence budget in this fiscal year, and the contribution that it is and will be making to NATO, I have very serious misgivings and a growing unease about where the American President stands on the vital issue of America's NATO commitment.

President Carter's policies may still be to some extent in embryo. A good deal of certainty has been presented by the American armed forces and, indeed, Congress, in recognising the threat of the Warsaw Pact countries and the need for a continuing and substantial American contribution to NATO, recent developments in presidential foreign policy and defence statements lead one to suspect that this commitment is not as substantial or as firm as it has been in the past.

I hope very much that the summit meeting that is coming up this weekend and the NATO meeting that will follow it will provide an opportunity for Ministers of this Government to make representation indirectly on the importance of a continuing and substantial contribution by the United States to NATO, on the important way in which this reflects on our national contribution, and on the capability that we have to ensure the efficiency of the Royal Air Force and the deployment of the squadrons within it.

Secondly, in this context, I believe that some of the recent troubles in conducting discussions with the Russian leaders on strategic arms limitation and on nuclear disarmament have provided an area of uncertainty that cannot be helpful to the evolution of defence policy within NATO. Furthermore, substantial reductions in conventional capability that may be undertaken by the United States will, in my view, seriously reduce further the nuclear threshold and thus impede effective agreements on preventing nuclear proliferation.

It is the subject of the lowering of the nuclear threshold, on which I have spoken before in some debates—and, indeed, in my maiden speech in this House—that I take most seriously, because consistently we are presented with arguments, sometimes persuasive, from many Labour Members below the Gangway, as to how we should substantially reduce our conventional defence capability. This leads to the most serious complications, in terms of the degree to which somebody will have to push the nuclear button at a much earlier stage of warfare and proliferation than would otherwise have been the case.

Thirdly, in the context of the American commitment and influence on formulating our own defence policy, United States foreign policy has clearly become more retractionist in recent years. My fear is that if US defence and foreign policy become more retractionist and more insular, and fail to recognise the rôle that they play within the Western European alliance in the defence of the free democratic world, that alliance of countries will be in an increasingly exposed position, at a time when we are least able, in the short term, to build up our own commitment.

Labour's programme, which was enunciated and discussed last year, gives very little basis for hope that these questions have been taken seriously by the Government. I was disappointed to hear that the Minister some time ago said that he regarded the proposals set out in the Labour document as a basis for discussion, but it is worth pointing out that, while there is considerable debate and argument on the percentage of our defence commitment as a part of gross national product—the case for nuclear disarmament is increasingly put, and many hon. Members support the neutrality or individualism of our own country in formulating our own defence policy—it is of vital importance to ensure that the defence of our country is a prime call on public funds.

I have often said, and I repeat, that in my view the defence of our country comes before any other priority of Government. The Government must assure the security of their people before they set out to achieve any other social or economic priority of government.

I know that many labour Members say that we have to trim our defence commitments and capability according to our economic circumstances, and that, similarly, many Conservative Members say "Look at the Warsaw Pact countries. The major criterion in determining what our defence commitment should be is the size of that opposition." Those are the two extreme arguments, but we have to recognise that we may have to spend the whole of our gross national product and still not meet the growing defence capability of the Warsaw Pact countries. On the other hand, we could substantially reduce our defence capability, if we followed the argument of the Labour left wing, and thereby leave ourselves open.

I recognise that there are extremes of view, and obviously any Government have a difficult choice in drawing a balance between these extremes. But I reiterate that defence must be the prime call on public funds. In my view, the principal and the historic raison ďetre of the existence of Government is to defend their people. If a Government fail to do that just because it is convenient during a time of peace, surely history should have taught us that it is much more difficult during a time of initial warfare to build up our defence capability.

All these arguments apply very pertinently to the Royal Air Force, and I pay tribute to its contribution to our defence rôle. We have heard today of its experience and of its award-winning performances. I believe that the best way in which we can maintain our national defence security and, indeed, our commitment to NATO, as well as keeping faith with the many men and officers who are members of the Royal Air Force, is to ensure that our defence commitment is given a greater and proper priority—sadly, a much greater priority than this Government have so far been prepared to give it.

8.6 p.m.

Defence debates—I think I have said this on previous occasions—are rather curious affairs. The debate today, if I may say so, is even curiouser—to quote "Alice"—than normal.

One or two previous speakers have commented on the fact that the Chamber is ill-attended. This is deplorable. It must be deplorable if the knowledge of the poor attendance gets back to the Service about which we are talking today. But, deplorable though it is, I think it is understandable, because it all takes place in the context of the Government's defence White Paper, with a background of two or three other White Papers before that. Here is a document that sets out very clearly the dangers and the defence needs—my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) referred to this—yet the answer is the Government's defence policy, which really bears no relation to that danger and that need.

Somehow or other, over the years we seem almost to have accepted this, yet, if there were a document published about, say, housing, which said that Britain is short of so many houses, and that the Government's answer, in effect, was to do hardly anything, there would be an outcry. If we were to take the reasoning that runs through the defence White Paper and apply it to any other aspect of Government policy there would be a public outcry, yet somehow or other it has become the basis for some sort of argument in the defence field.

Dealing specifically with the Royal Air Force, I have a little claim to speak about that Service. It is a pleasure to speak after my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I cannot outrank him but at least I can outbid him in this debate, because I was commissioned in the other two Services that did not commission him.

Concerning the Royal Air Force, it is really curious, looking round the Chamber today, to recall that it is just about 60 years since far-sighted men in Britain realised the force of air power which was demonstrated in the First World War and which has been emphasised ever since on any battlefield that we can think of, from the Spanish civil war onwards.

It would be unthinkable to imagine any sort of battlefield without first considering air superiority. Yet here we are, in Britain, and our policy, so far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, has gone through some curious convolutions under Governments of both complexions. There was a Conservative defence White Paper many years back which seemed to suggest that the day of the manned aircraft was about to disappear, yet we still have the manned aircraft with us today. It is still an important part of our defences, and, of course, the forces of our potential enemies.

However, in this respect we still have to remember, sitting on a very vulnerable island, that it is not only quality that counts but also quantity. I have no doubt of the quality of the men serving in the Royal Air Force. I have no doubt of the quality of some—some—of the modern aircraft and, perhaps, those that may soon come into service—though many of out aircraft, as has been pointed out in the debate, are long overdue for retirement, But what we are talking about is, in fact, 26 squadrons of either RAF or Royal Navy aircraft—that includes helicopters—deployed in and about this island and 12 squadrons of RAF aeroplanes concentrated in the central region of NATO. Those are the numbers.

I accept that those aircraft, if called upon to wage war, will almost inevitably be operating within an alliance. There is no suggestion that we should have to maintain some sort of parity with the whole of the Warsaw Pact armament. However, today those numbers are far below the requirement for the defence of this island, let alone answering our commitment to NATO as well.

That is what I mean when I talk about quantity being just as important as quality. It is all very well for the responsible Minister to tell us about the RAF winning bombing competitions and navigation competitions. It has been doing that for some time. I do not doubt the individual skills of our men or the performances of individual aircraft. We simply have not got enough to maintain the defences of this island.

We talk about a possible war, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester said, we are in business to prevent war. We are living in the deterrent age, but in order to look at that realistically we have to think in terms, as the military expression goes, of a scenario. The scenario for a European war that I think is accepted by all senior Service officers and defence experts has been changed dramatically over the last two or three years, by the build-up of the Warsaw Pact nations' armament and the modernisation of their equipment and their aircraft. In the Backfire the Warsaw Pact now has an aircraft that could reach any part of the British Isles without any difficulty, and in consequence of that the time scale has been shortened. We are now thinking about a war that could happen with perhaps only two or three days' warning, as a maximum.

In that respect I should like to make a quotation that brings this matter home. The quotation is from a speech made by Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver—and it is not the familiar quotation that has been trotted out quite often in these debates. This speech was delivered to a Conservative audience at the Conservative Political Centre Conference in London on 22nd January. Sir Michael was asked the question,
"What about the Cape route?"
His answer was,
"What does it matter if they sink one of our tankers? The war will be over by the time it would have arrived."
I think that that brings home the sort of time scale within which we are operating. Shorten that time scale and one increases the need, as I see it, for aircraft to defend these islands—and of those, at present, we are short.

As a consequence of this shortage, inevitably a burden is placed upon the RAF, which results in the sort of situation, which I think is very unfortunate, in which an aircraft—the MRCA, for instance—gets saddled with about three or four rôles. No doubt it can perform two of those, or perhaps three. Some hon. Members present are more expert on that than I am. However, it is not the fault of the RAF. It is the fault of skimping on the defence budget, because those functions should properly be carried out by two or perhaps three different types of aircraft, but this situation has been forced on the RAF.

Therefore, one has the situation in which one aircraft—history provides a similar example with the TSR2—is forced to carry the burden of having to perform three tasks. The danger of that is that if that aircraft is not up to all those standards it tends sometimes to get abandoned, sometimes at enormous cost. Thus, the whole process escalates. The difficulty of finding another aircraft to replace it is even more intense.

As I understand it, the answer from the Government is that all will be all right in the 1980s, when we shall be getting the new super generation of aircraft. All that I can say is, what happens in the meantime? There is an awful, yawning gap.

It is a reflection, perhaps, of people's bewilderment in defence matters—that is reflected in our poor attendance here—and I think that many people have just given up. However, it is not proper or honest for Ministers to take advantage of that situation and produce, as answers to debate, comments about individual men and individual performances that suggest that the whole picture is acceptable—because it is not acceptable. To call Ministers ostriches would be rather unfair to those birds, because they at least believe in what they are doing.

8.16 p.m.

In the presence of many experts on the Opposition Benches, I declare my interest as a layman. I want to speak primarily about my own constituency, where, if I am not mistaken, there are almost as many aircraft movements as there are at London Airport. The reason is that there are two very large American bases at Lakenheath and at Mildenhall, and there is also the very important Royal Air Force station at Honington. In the close vicinity there are other major American and British airfields.

I start by saying to my constituents, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, although we have a great deal of noise that is created by both the American and the British Air Forces, that noise is the sound of freedom and should be accepted as such.

It is, of course, true that we benefit in various ways—through the rates, through the payroll and through the shopping that is done in our local community—from the presence of very large numbers—some 14,000 or 15,000—of Americans and their families. Taking the area as a whole, there is a similar number in the Royal Air Force. So we benefit in economic ways from the presence of these large numbers of airmen and aircraft. However, the benefit that is most important is the one we make to the defence of our country and of the Western Alliance. I therefore, welcome the presence in East Anglia of strong American and British Air Forces. I should like to make one comment about each of them.

The American bases are of course, NATO bases. Mildenhall provides early warning aircraft, the flying command post of the Strategic Air Command and a substantial number of transport aircraft. Indeed, many of the American Army personnel in Germany are flown back and forth from the United States by air transport aircraft that are situated from time to time at Mildenhall.

At Lakenheath there have been over the years a large number of fighter aircraft. I am delighted that they are now to be reinforced by a very powerful contingent of F111s. The F111s have begun to arrive, but, as I understand it, over the months ahead the F111 force will be substantially built up, until some 80 or so of these magnificent aircraft are deployed in East Anglia.

There was an attempt in this House by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)—I am sorry he is not in his place—to create a scare by suggesting to the people of East Anglia that the arrival of the F111 would suddenly inject a new nuclear danger in my constituency. Of course he was talking complete rubbish, as he frequently does on defence matters. I wish that he were here so that I could tell him. On this occasion, however, his fame or notoriety caused problems. Local members of the Labour Party, who perhaps did not know any better, picked up his unwise words in the House and used them to attempt to scare large numbers of elderly people living in the vicinity of Mildenhall and Lakenheath by suggesting that the arrival of the F111 would make my area a new target for the Soviet Union and might also, somehow or other, unleash radioactive materials.

We in this House know perfectly well that that is total rubbish. The F111 in no way adds to the nuclear risks. The operational and procedural arrangements to ensure that there is no danger are the same for the F111 as for the other United States Air Force aircraft which have been flying out of these bases for a very long time and as also are applied to RAF bases in East Anglia.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Defence, whom I regard as a personal friend, for coming to the aid of the United States Air Force, if it needed it, and robustly rejecting the irresponsible suggestions made by the hon. Member for Salford, East. I am glad that, with the help of the Secretary of State and that of the United States Air Force, it has been possible to reassure many of my constituents that their anxieties are groundless. However, I suggest to the Minister, who, since he has been in his present office has taken a more robust view of the need of this country for defence, including nuclear defence, that the Labour Party should not irresponsibly generate scares of that kind when we need the F111 reinforcement for NATO on this side of the water.

. I am sure that my hon. Friend needs no assistance from me, but no doubt he has explained to his constituents that the motto of the United States Strategic Air Command is simple—"Peace is our Profession".

Indeed it is. I am always glad to honour that motto when I attend at Mildenhall and Lakenheath.

I should like to make one general point arising from the example that I have given. I refer to the crucial importance of keeping the United States generally and the American Air Force in particular committed on this side of the Atlantic to the defence of Europe. We cannot say that too often. We all know what happened between the wars when the Americans got tired of Europe and went home. We all know what could happen again.

As one who has lived and worked in the United States for nearly 14 years, I should point out to the Minister that the US Congress is changing. Many of the younger, perhaps more radical, Demo crats who have recently come into the House of Representatives, and some Senators as well, are inevitably, since Vietnam, asking questions about the deployment of American forces and their costs on the wider world scene. Indeed, some of them are asking the kind of questions which led this country to remove its forces from the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.

I do not believe that those voices in the American Congress in any way as yet represent a majority. I am heartened that President Carter, in one of his first actions, agreed to the deployment of the F111 force in this country. But it is important to recognise that Congress, public and Press opinion in the United States is changeable. And what makes more difficult the task of those in the American Administration and Congress who are committed to NATO—they are the vast majority—is that the British should appear to be giving up their responsibilities for the common defence of the West.

Some time ago I was attending a football match in my constituency. Around the sidelines were large numbers of young Americans, some of them in uniform. They came from places such as Kansas, California and Colorado. They were here doing their duty because, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said, peace is their profession. One of the senior American officers said "Do you see anything unusual about this scene?" I said I was very glad that young Americans were watching some of my young constituents playing football. He said "That is just the point. Your constituents are not in uniform. They are at home playing football, whereas my boys are over here 5,000 miles away from their homes, helping to defend your country." I confess that though I was able to give him, I hope, an adequate response, I did so with a little sense of shame, because I believe that the United States, thank God, is carrying a much larger share of the common defence of the West than we are, even in proportion to our population and economy.

Another American recently said to me "The trouble with you guys is that you want to come in out of the rain, but you are no longer prepared to carry the umbrella". I believe that we do carry some part of the umbrella. I agree with what the Minister said about the British Armed Forces and our continuing contribution to the Western Alliance. But I ask him to have a care about the American Alliance and to recognise that the political ability of the United States Government to keep their troops, airmen and materials committed on this side of the Atlantic Ocean depends to a great extent on what we, the Americans' allies, in particular the British, do.

I turn briefly to the Royal Air Force presence in my constituency. This is predominantly at Honington, which the Minister has visited. I understand that his visit was well received. He made an excellent impression and I hope that he will come back. The principal force at Honington at the moment is the Buccaneer squadrons. The Buccaneer has a number of rôles—including maritime reconnaissance and a support rôle in Europe.

I wish to put three questions to the Minister with respect to RAF Honing-ton. The first concerns the Buccaneer. This aircraft ought to be obsolete. It has been around a long time, in fact, it has turned out to be a remarkably versatile and flexible aircraft and it continues to have a very important rôle. I ask the Minister whether the maritime reconnaissance version of the Buccaneer, which is flying out of Honington, has the range to do adequate surveillance over the northern part of the South Atlantic. It was or has been the practice that the Buccaneers would stage out of the United Kingdom and would either be air refuelled, or would use somewhere like Gibraltar. There is a whole area of sea space that the Buccaneers have been reconnoitring. Will the Minister confirm or, if necessary, deny the suggestion that the Buccaneer is not adequately provided with the range to do a good surveillance job in that sea area?

My second point concerns the new aircraft that I hope we shall receive at Honington, namely the MRCA. I find it very hard to call it the Tornado yet. I wish to put a technical question. There has been a suggestion that there have been problems in developing the undercarriage. I do not ask the Minister to say anything in the House that would provide any comfort whatsoever to our enemies. If he prefers not to deal with this technical question, I shall understand. I would, however, like him to say whether the development of the undercarriage of the MRCA has thrown up problems which could delay its coming into operation.

The third point which concerns my constituents at Honington is the wretched, measly, miserable pay review. I need not repeat the points made by so many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). There is no doubt that the Armed Services need and deserve a rather better deal than this.

The significant point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) was that members of the Armed Services are unique in the sense that they cannot do overtime They cannot go out cleaning windows on the side. They cannot supplement their incomes in the numerous ways that people in civilian life are able to do. But I am afraid that my reading of the situation is a little different from that of my hon. Friend. I do not believe that it is simply the absence of overtime that is the heart of the matter.

The reality is similar to the reality in the police service. The reason why the Armed Services and the police are treated shabbily is, first, that they are not allowed to strike—they would not want to do so in any case, because they are dedicated professional men—and, secondly, that they are not allowed and in many cases do not wish to be members of trade unions. I hope that they never will be, because I think that there is something inherently incompatible between the idea of loyalty to a trade union and loyalty through the Armed Forces or the police service to the United Kingdom as a whole.

Because the Armed Services and the police are not allowed to strike and do not use industrial muscle against the rest of the nation, and because they are not brigaded into the trade union movement, they are exploited. They are being exploited because of their dedication. They are being given less than would be paid to similar groups of people doing dangerous and highly responsible jobs, simply because they do not have the ability or the wish to make militancy pay.

The House should say plainly to the Government that it is unacceptable that those of our fellow citizens who do not go in for industrial muscle and industrial militancy should be penalised compared with those who do. I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that when we come to 1st July—or whenever phase 2 gives way to phase 3—the Government should look again at the miserable proposal that has been made for the Armed Forces.

No one who has read successive White Papers on defence and has seen what has been done by the present Government can attend a defence debate without a feeling of despair. I see that the Minister has returned. In his absence I complimented him, and I hope he will accept that I regard him personally with friendship and affection. He has a background in foreign affairs, defence and aviation. I believe that he unquestionably accepts that there is a need for stronger Armed Services. I have no doubt that he did his part in trying to fight their battle. My only regret is that he did not win it. Perhaps he ought to have taken steps to remove himself from further responsibility, but that is a judgment that only he can make.

I ask the Minister, on behalf of the Royal Air Force and all the members of the Armed Services for whom he is responsible, never to give up the fight, which I believe he supports, for more money for the Armed Services, who are among the best in the world. He should make it his task to screw out of the Treasury, at the expense, as need be, of other Departments, every penny he can get. Our nation is at risk, and the Western Alliance depends very heavily on the British contribution.

8.35 p.m.

I wish to draw attention to what is probably the most famous Royal Air Force station of them all, namely, Biggin Hill. I am proud to have been a member of the RAF during the war, but it was never my privilege to fly from Biggin Hill. However, I am fortunate now in representing the constituency within which the Biggin Hill airfield is situated.

The world-wide fame of Biggin Hill arises from the fact that it was the premier station of RAF Fighter Command throughout the war, especially during the Battle of Britain. During the Battle of Britain, the finest of the Few operated from it. They made hundreds of sorties with fearful loss of life and, as everyone knows, they made a decisive contribution to the victory we achieved in the Battle of Britain.

Biggin Hill is now a civil airfield devoted to general aviation, especially to club flying. Over the years its connection with the RAF has dwindled. Until now, it has been used regularly on one occasion during the year by the RAF for its open day round about the time of the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when all the facilities have been open and available and all current operational aircraft have come to Biggin Hill and used it as in the old days, being very much admired by the many thousands of people who have attended for the flying and static displays.

On the existing RAF station there is the memorial chapel dedicated to the Few—to those who lost their lives during the Battle of Britain, having flown from Biggin Hill. It is visited by thousands of people every year—really they are pilgrims—who wish to pay homage to those young men of the RAF who gave their lives and who perhaps provided us with a remarkable and wonderful example of heroism. The people who visit the chapel regularly do so not only to pay homage but also to renew the feeling and the spirit of the Battle of Britain, and the continued presence of the RAF at Biggin Hill is very much cherished by all local people, some of whom are still employed there in a civilian capacity.

Today the RAF's presence at Biggin Hill is reduced to one unit, the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre. It does an important job very efficiently. The members of that unit do their work admirably and have the full support of local residents. Unfortunately, the Government propose to transfer that unit elsewhere, with the result that unless something is done the RAF presence at Biggin Hill will come to an end.

At the moment, there is not only the memorial chapel. There is the officers' mess, which continues to be used by the RAF. There are also the married quarters, comprising a large amount of accommodation still used by the RAF, especially by those members of the Service who are stationed in London, at the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere. There are barracks still in use. There are the magnificent hangars. There is also the control tower, which is not used by the civil flyers.

One therefore wonders what is to be the future of Biggin Hill as regards the Royal Air Force presence. This is a matter of great importance, not only to local people but also to the spirit of the RAF and the spirit of the Battle of Britain that I am sure the House wishes to perpetuate. There have been suggestions about what might be done. The first question is whether it is necessary to transfer the unit away at all, as it is making good use of the accommodation at Biggin Hill. If it must be transferred, if, on operational grounds, there is an argument for doing so, is it not possible for another viable RAF unit to use this splendid accommodation at Biggin Hill, thereby maintaining the RAF station?

One suggestion in particular will, I think, commend itself to the House. It is that the buildings, the memorial chapel, the officers' mess and some of the hangars should be used as part of the RAF Museum. The main part of the museum is at Hendon, but Hendon has no airfield nowadays, and perhaps another section of the museum south of London, with an operational airfield attached to it, would be worth maintaining.

In that event, I would ask the Minister not to close down all RAF activity al Biggin Hill and to find some other RAF and military use which might be made of the airfield and of the RAF buildings. If we withdraw the RAF completely from Biggin Hill, I am sure that we will live to regret it. Perhaps in time to come we may well feel that with the presence of the RAF at Biggin Hill it will be possible to maintain and preserve some-thing which we might later wish to renew.

8.43 p.m.

In intervening in this important debate I do not have the same interests as those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has the historic and famous Biggin Hill air station in his constituency. But perhaps even so there is a connection with my constituency, because the late Wing Commander Guy Gibson might have become Member of Parliament for Macclesfield. He was adopted for the constituency towards the end of the war but, sadly, was killed in the service of his country. It is perhaps partly for that reason that I, as the present Member for Macclesfield, intervene in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has two very important airfields in his constituency. Therefore, he has spoken because of his constituency interest and because of his interest in the country's defence capability.

Wing Commander Gibson was succeeded as Conservative candidate for Macclesfield by my immediate predecessor, Air Commodore Sir Arthur Vere Harvey. So again I have, as the Member for Macclesfield, a further connection with the RAF, and, of course, Sir Arthur took a particular interest in this subject—inevitably so, in view of his considerable experience in the RAF.

How right my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds was to raise the sad and dismal offer that is being put forward by the Government in respect of pay for the Armed Forces. I have said publicly in my constituency and elsewhere in the country that the first priority of any Government of the United Kingdom is to guarantee the security of the State against external aggression. Therefore, I view with grave misgivings the heavy cut-backs in expenditure on the Services, and perhaps above all on the RAF. I echo the views expressed by my hon. Friends, particularly on pay, because if the Services cannot be treated as a special case—I am not stating the party line; I am expressing a personal view—we do not deserve our stable democracy which we at present possess. We cannot value properly our freedom unless we recompense adequately members of the Services for the valuable contribution they make to the security of our nation and to the guaranteeing of our freedom.

Therefore, perhaps even at this stage the Government will have second thoughts. When the third stage of the social contract or the pay and prices policy comes into being, I hope that all the Services—not just the RAF—will get a much better deal from the Government than they have had recently. My understanding of the feelings of the people is that they expect the Government to treat the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force as special cases and to ensure that they are adequately remunerated for the difficult and arduous tasks and duties which they undertake.

Does my hon. Friend realise that the Government do not need to treat the Services as a special case? Their pay award amounts to less than that being given under stage I and stage 2 to workers in industry because the Service men are being charged more for their accommodation and food, which cancels out their award almost entirely.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I hardly think I need add to it.

Service families are returning from Northern Ireland because Service personnel can no longer afford to keep them there. When members of the Services cannot afford to have their families with them when on home duty, it is a sad situation which the Government should correct at the earliest possible moment. I make a firm request to the Government—if I could make it a demand which would result in action I should do so—to give further consideration to this important matter.

Although it was not totally in accordance with the subject matter of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised the question of the police who guarantee law and order internally in this country. They should be the second priority of any Government, whether it be Conservative or Labour. They deserve to be treated as a special case, and without further ado the Government should do something to relieve the current difficulties and end the impasse.

Having given Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Sir Arthur Vere Harvey as historical reasons for intervening in this debate, may I express a word of thanks to the Secretary of State? I do not know whether he did it willingly or grudgingly, but he placed a contract with Hawker Siddeley Aviation for the AEW Nimrod. I chose my words very carefully when I spoke of his placing the contract willingly or grudgingly. I have a constituency interest in the Hawker Siddeley Aviation factory at Woodford, which is situated on the very edge of my constituency. Part of the factory is inside my constituency and part is outside, and I have many hundreds of constituents who work for this excellent and progressive company.

The contract that the Government have given to the company does them credit. It has done a great deal of good for the British aerospace industry. Hawker Siddeley is a first-class company with a first-class work force, and I assure the Minister that even if he is in people's black books in other parts of the country in Macclesfield and wherever else there are Hawker Siddeley factories he will be greeted with happiness, satisfaction and pleasure. He has done a service to the company which has produced an excellent piece of equipment. The airborne early warning Nimrod is a first-class aircraft, and it is a pity that our European allies do not accept that it will do the job of surveillance for the whole of Europe. I believe that it will do that job very satisfactorily indeed.

I am very grateful for the Minister's statement on the Nimrod, and it is right to pass on the thanks of workers in my constituency to the Government for ensuring their jobs at least for the foreseeable future. By placing this contract the Minister has done a service not only to the company but to the country as well, because this early warning surveillance aircraft will provide a high level of security for Britain.

The RAF is a vital part of the military defence of this country. The cut-backs have been very damaging. Perhaps some of them have been made because the Government felt that it was necessary to placate some of their hon. Friends below the Gangway. Certainly most of my constituents—and I speak for the majority—do not view defence cuts with equanimity or glee. They believe that the country should be able to defend itself.

If any message goes out to the Government from this debate, it is that the first priority must be defence. It comes before education, roads, welfare and even housing. What value are all these things if we cannot defend ourselves? This may well have been a poorly-attended debate today. Nevertheless, it was important and the messages that have been given sincerely to the Government Bench should be taken on board and heeded.

8.53 p.m.

In terms of the numbers involved, debates on the Services are in danger of becoming more like proceedings of Select Committees, albeit without the expert witnesses. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), who said that it was a pity that the whole debate, with one exception, should have been sustained by contributions from Conservative Members. I think that it is a case of "Never mind the width, feel the quality".

It is also a pity that with the exception of the speech made by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) there has been no contribution from the Liberal Party. The contribution by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely dealt with a constituency point, albeit it a perfectly legitimate one. Looking at that hon. Member I realise why the Minister said, at the start of his lengthy speech, that we were increasing our Bloodhound defences.

Does my hon. Friend suppose that the Liberal Benches are now totally empty because the Lib-Lab pact requires that if the Labour Party is not here the Liberal Party should not be here, either?

That is probably true. Perhaps it is a case of getting home early to bed.

The Minister referred to the latest quotation from Field-Marshal Carver. I say "the latest" because no doubt the Ministry was rather displeased with the field-marshal when he made his original quote. We on the Opposition side are not concentrating, now or at any other time, on what the field-marshal has been saying on television recently. What we are interested in, and what we have been basing our remarks on, is the famous "bedrock" speech. I am sorry that I have to give the quotation yet again. It is from a "Newsday" programme. I have the transcript here, dated 31st July 1975. An interviewer called Mr. Watson said:
"We are now back to the central commitment to NATO that in fact there can't be any further cuts."
The field-marshal replied:
"Well, with a few exceptions like—I mean, Hong Kong is one, Cyprus is another, with a few exceptions, I think we are really down to absolute bedrock now and—"
Mr. Watson intervened:
"If I may just intervene, does that mean in practice that in your own dialogue with government that you have so to speak drawn a thin red line and thus far and no further?"
The field-marshal said:
"Well, what we have said and—and what the defence review made clear was this is not a judgment that you can make as—as between shall we say the United Kingdom and Soviet Russia, we're not the partners in the ring. We are members of an alliance. And what is most important and which is the real criteria, it is the criterion that was employed in going through the defence review, is what is the level of contribution by us to NATO below which our allies as well as our potential enemies believe that we are no longer serious supporters of NATO. Now, it's very difficult to draw an absolute hard line on this, it's a matter of assessing judgment of other people."
Mr Watson then said:
"But you think we're pretty close to it?"
The field-marshal said:
"I think indeed we are and I think that that is—that was our judgment that the force levels of our contribution to NATO which came out in the defence review were—the lowest that we could go down to without bringing into question the seriousness of our dedication to NATO."
That is the quotation and I am happy to go back to it as often as the Minister requires. Just because the field-marshal has seen fit to make a more recent variation of that, or whatever the case may be, that is the original quotation and there is no getting away from it.

I add my tributes to Sir Andrew Humphreys. This is the first debate on the Royal Air Force since Sir Andrew's death. He was an outstanding airman in every way and his death will obviously be a great loss to the country.

Many hon. Members have refererd to the Canberra crash, and I add my condolences to the relatives of all those who have been killed in that sad accident. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) drew attention to the fact that the aircraft involved was 17 years old. This is by no means a unique event in Royal Air Force experience. The average life of an airframe is reckoned to be from 20 to 35 years. That in itself, then, is not a matter for the inquiry. People always tend to take an extra interest when they find that the aircraft was as old as that.

Like all defence debates we are deliberating again today with the usual lamentable lack of information, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) pointed out. If we are to believe everything in the White Paper, we are getting on fine—there is not a cloud in the sky, never a mention of a problem of any sort. On page 14 we read:
"The Royal Air Force is currently forming further squadrons of strike/attack Jaguar aircraft".
There is no mention there of the cancellation of a much-needed extra Jaguar squadron, although the Minister in his speech attempted in a rather convoluted piece of reasoning to explain that the contract would not be made in the first place and therefore the cancellation was not really a cancellation. Perhaps he will have an opportunity later of explaining what he meant.

Further down on page 14 we read:
"The Royal Air Force is…re-equipping its air defence squadrons with the Phantom"
which makes the Phantom, which was a very good aircraft in its day, sound like the latest number hot off the production line, whereas the truth is that it entered service with the United States Forces in 1962–15 years ago—with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) said, a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0·6. That means that it cannot compete now, let alone in 10 years' time.

On page 14 we read that
"an order has also been placed for a further 24 Harrier aircraft",
but no mention is made of the failure to procure the medium-lift helicopter without which the Harrier has to rely for its tactical dispersal on wheeled transport vehicles.

We read further that for the 1980s front-line Tornadoes will be ordered, but there is no mention of the reduced delivery rate. We are forced to the conclusion, although we are not debating the White Paper itself tonight, that that document—and certainly certain parts of it—is nothing more than a succession of, at best, half truths.

The one body that gets close to something like real information is the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. The trouble there is that the closer it gets to anything interesting, the thicker on the page are the asterisks. At page 38 of the report one gets this rather fascinating contribution:
"Is there any chance though that if there is a further delay, the *** which comes to replace the *** will be able to be a better one, with better ***."
It goes on to say:
"We have adopted the solution. We have established what *** shall be, and it is now a case of ***. It is not contemplated at the moment that we shall change the specification."
It is information that we lack, as always in these defence debates.

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, but I am sure he will agree that for security reasons, it is not possible for all the information that is given to a Committee to be published for the benefit of potential enemies. The arrangement for publication is a matter for the Committeee and not for use. I wish that we could arrive at an arrangement whereby confidential briefings were given and the convoluted form quoted by the hon. Gentleman would not need to be used.

The House will welcome the news from the Secretary of State that he would feel able to give the kind of briefings that he has described, because he will agree that, while the fault does not necessarily lie with the Ministry, the kind of information that the House gets is inadequate. I accept that we should not deal with questions of weapon capability or reveal information that would be of help or assistance to an enemy, but it is my submission that the information that we receive falls a long way short of that. We never get the requisite degree of information to enable us to have a proper debate.

My hon. Friend is now aware that what we might call the bleep-bleeps are there at the insistence not of the Committee but of the Secretary of State.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has put the record straight on that. I thought that the Secretary of State was beginning to suggest that the bleep-bleeps were there because the Committee wished it. The Committee has the final say over presentation.

I do not want to go into too much detail, but there is a fundamental point here. Although there is a different system in the United States, the fact is that the United States Congress has available to it a greater depth of information which enables it to carry out meaningful defence debates. The lack of information seems to be one reason why relatively few hon. Members attend our debates. For a variety of reasons they wonder whether the debates are meaningful or whether the whole situation is hopeless. The inhibiting factor is that we can never find out what is going on.

My hon. Friend will remember that about a month or two ago the Secretary of State, in an unguarded moment, said that the Chiefs of Staff could speak for themselves. It only they could do so before the Committee we should get the situation at which both sides of the House, in this moment of amity, are aiming.

The Secretary of State has been big enough publicly to regret that remark, and I do not wish to remind him of it tonight.

I think everyone agrees that out defence provisions must take into account our reduced rôle and our reduced circumstances, but that should not prevent us from having forces which, albeit small and all-volunteer, are highly trained, well looked after and well equipped.

When assessing the RAF we must look at the two divisions—men and material—both of which I shall examine briefly. Much has been made of the problems of morale. To all outward appearances, moral is good. The Minister will not assert otherwise. But it is not an exaggeration to say that there is a rising tide of anger, disappointment and resentment over the way in which RAF personnel have been treated. The latest pay award is a good example of that.

Last week I happened to be visiting a Services establishment when the signal about pay was received. It was a most vivid experience. I was among people some of whom had received a net increase of 45p per week. Living—in categories are worse off. One can imagine the effect of that on top of the redundancies about which the Minister spoke. I wonder how many trade union leaders would be proud of pulling off a deal of that kind.

If the Government felt that they must follow the recommendations for increases made by the Review Body, they could have found a way of staggering the rent increases to avoid the feeling of all Service men that the Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other. I accept that this is a situation which has obtained under successive Governments. It is not something that applies particularly to this Administration. The matter must be looked at urgently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) made a series of excellent points on that theme. He drew attention to the fact that in the Services it is not possible to do overtime and that there are no bonuses and no promotion to be gained by changing employers. He also stressed that there was no subsidised food. The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing its attention to those matters.

It is not that Service men expect any special treatment. They can accept that times are hard for many people throughout the country in all walks of life. They feel, however, that no account has been taken of their particular problems. For instance, frequently they have to let their homes. The problems caused by the Rent Act have hit them hard. Many Service men have had great difficulties in repossessing their homes from tenants who refused to move out. Even when tenants move out, they often cause substantial damage.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester drew attention to the compression of differentials that has occurred in the Services. That is not a matter that is confined to the toolroom workers at British Leyland. The situation has meant that many Service families have opted to stay apart, even when married quarters are available. Husbands commute to the quarters, leaving their families at home. This has produced a nine-till-five, Monday-to-Friday, Royal Air Force. I make no criticism of the men and women involved. They are as skilled and as resolute as their predecessors, but they are reacting to a situation for which they are not responsible. It seems to them that society and the Government valued their predecessors more highly.

There is considerable disquiet about the proposed closure of the Defence College at Latimer. If people begin to believe that defence training of that type apparently is to be rationalised, they will be anxious about whether it is to continue in the future. All those pressures affect Service personnel. The closure of the college is unwelcome at this time.

I have several more items on the grievance list. The income that Service men receive from letting their properties is being taxed as investment income, even when it concerns their own homes. Often, they must let those homes to repay mortgages. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) stressed the tied-cottage nature of Service housing.

The allowances that Service men receive towards the education of their children are presently aggregated with their income. They often find, if they have three children to educate, that when the first two sums have been aggregated their income is too high to merit the allowance for the third child. Many such anomalies should be examined.

At a time of hardship and privation, when the Services see their material being cut back and wonder about their future, they get very concerned and are in danger of becoming demoralised. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) mentioned the problems which could arise from the ending of the RAF presence at that famous station Biggin Hill. I hope that the Minister will answer him.

We elicited at Question Time a few weeks ago that plans were afoot in the Treasury to treat travel warrants as taxable emoluments. No doubt this is all in line with recent legislation and the argument would be, why should the Services be exempted? But the thrust of our argument is that there is a strong case for the Services being treated in a special way precisely because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, they do not have industrial muscle or the right to strike: they are in the same position as the police.

It has been said that an increasing number of airmen have to claim rent rebates. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) said at Question Time a few weeks ago that at RAF Binbrook, in his constituency, many airmen could not afford to turn on their night storage heaters. This is not a single factor but is an accumulation of things which tend to make people feel that society and the country no longer value their contribution.

The country can rely on the Services, particularly the RAF, but it should not take them for granted. The police have been treated in a way which seems unfair to many people, with predictable results. A few years ago such results would have been unthinkable. It has taken the peculiar genius of the present Government to turn the unthinkable into the commonplace. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of any of the Defence Ministers in fighting for their Service men, but we must judge them by results. They are not winning. Therefore, in our view, they are not fighting hard enough.

The situation could be transformed almost overnight by recognising the special difficulties of the Services and taking the appropriate measures. These measures would have a minuscule impact in terms of revenue lost to the Exchequer. I would expect an incoming Conservative Government to give the human problems their first priority. Unless we get these right, the best equipment in the world will be useless.

That brings me to the subject of equipment. It might be possible for Service men, harassed with the problems that I have described, to seek solace and comfort in their work. But even there they are subject to a constant round of cheese-paring, restrictions and cannibalisation of grounded aircraft as the only way in which they can get parts for other aircraft, working on the fatigue life of aircraft to get them to last longer in service. That brings us back to the 17-year-old Canberra and the endless postponement of new equipment.

If they are fighting against postponements, Ministers are certainly not winning. This can turn a £5 million aeroplane into an £8 million aeroplane, and as the Select Committee said,
"In addition to an operational deficiency, there is the risk that the aircraft will be obsolescent before the last of them is delivered."
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) made a thoughtful and well-informed speech, urging the proper hardening of airfields and seeking our involvement in the Cruise missile programme—a concept that I very much support. He also raised the important subject of the number of our tanker squadrons, which have recently been cut from three to two.

The Royal Air Force, with the problems I have mentioned, could do without the slanted criticism from the media that it occasionally gets. I have to place in this category the recent Granada Television "World in Action" programme on the MRCA. If ever there was a programme that first made its conclusions and then selected the validation, this was it. From my conversations with some of the participants in that programme, it is clear that adverse comments were included while favourable comments were deleted.

Some examples were given in an article in Flight International on 30th April which said:
"On the question of Tornado's rôles and its ability to fulfil them, the programme asserted that the aircraft would be able to discharge only the low-level strike/interdiction and reconnaissance missions, even though it claimed the German Air Force requirement was for close air support. Having correctly pointed out that the Luftwaffe needed a Starfighter replacement, the programme was at the least politically naïve not to point out also that this aircraft is not used for close air support but for the more sensitive penetration and nuclear strike rôle."
Nor did the programme inquire why, if the Italians require an "air superiority" aircraft, they are not taking part in the United Kingdom-only Air Defence Variant.

The Panavia collaboration that has produced the MRCA has been a conspicuous success, and it was particularly hurtful for the British Aircraft Corporation to be subjected to ill-informed criticism of the sort that I have described.

In this context, it would be a help if the Minister could resolve the question put so forcefully by his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown). We shall all be interested to hear the Minister's answer, though I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch describe the Tornado's rôle as a new one to him. I had always reckoned that MRCA would have to achieve a strike and interdiction rôle.

On the vexed question of standardisation, it is a pleasure not to have to sound off about the virtues of the Nimrod AEW system. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) made a slightly Freudian slip when I thought he described it as the AUEW system. I do not know whether Air Commodore Scanlon—

That explains everything.

The Government have taken the eminently sensible and correct decision to buy British, and I congratulate them.

The key problem in all these cases is maintaining a balance which, while achieving interoperability, which is vital, preserves the capabilities of various domestic defence industries. The United States always trumpets loudly when it wants its equipment bought, but any British industrialist can describe the virtual impossibility of the reverse process except in a very subordinate capacity.

In the Warsaw Pact, the Russians "have ways of making you standardise", but, to be fair to them, they buy their jet trainers from Czechoslovakia and their light helicopters from Poland. Great Britain has a first class jet trainer called the Hawk, which would suit the United States Air Force very well. Let this be a test of the United States sincerity by making it a real two way street purchase.

It is not sensible to attempt to evaluate equipment unless one has a clear idea of the tactical rôle of the RAF. In his usual eloquent way, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford made an interesting suggestion concerning the possibility of an auxiliary air force being operated in conjunction with certain civil airlines. I know that the Minister heard my hon. Friend's suggestion, and if he has time to reflect upon it it would be interesting to have at least an interim reply. We do not expect a full Government decision tonight. Next week will do.

The maritime reconnaissance rôle is of increasing importance as the policing of fishing zones and oil rigs has come to be of prime national concern. There is a debate taking place about the most suitable and cost effective type of aircraft to perform this task, though I do not propose to go into those matters now.

The ageing Shackletons continue with the vital AEW task secure in the knowledge that they can look forward to well earned retirement when the AEW Nimrod enters service in 1981. Nimrod, in another mode, performs a vital anti submarine warfare task and, in addition, the Royal Air Force has the task of protecting shipping in the Eastern Atlantic and it must have the task of protecting shipping south of the Tropic of Cancer.

The importance of that task for Britain cannot be overestimated. That point was made with tremendous force by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester and also by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew).

The two key rôles of the RAF, however, remain the preservation of the integrity of the United Kingdom's air defence region, which stretches as far as Northern Norway and involves the support of land forces on the central front. The combat strength of the RAF can only be described as minimal—there is no other word for it. We have only 100 aircraft defending the United Kingdom. It was recently reported that during a major NATO exercise aimed at testing our defences only 30 per cent. of intruding aircraft were detected and of those no more than 80 per cent. were intercepted. If those figures are wrong, the Minister has an opportunity in a few moments to set the record straight.

In addition, one looks in vain for any meaningful policy pointing to the defence of key targets in this country. Have any steps been taken to harden our master radar heads? This is urgently needed. The Select Committee on Expenditure drew attention to the fact that hardening of airfield shelters was to be decided for the United Kingdom within the next two or three months—and that was said in a report in February. Therefore, in my calculations a decision must now be imminent. Perhaps I could press the Minister to deal with that point when he replies.

On the central front, the problem for countries of our size involves the cost of tactical aircraft. The Tornado and the American F-15 are four times more expensive than the systems that they are replacing. The inevitable tendency is to go for aircraft that can combine as many rôles as possible. This process is accentuated if the partners in a collaborative project have somewhat different requirements from the aircraft.

I accept that bearing in mind the length of time it takes to develop any advanced weapon system—upwards of 10 years—the forecasting of future needs can be very difficult. That problem is faced by successive Governments.

The future tactical environment will be affected by developments in satellite surveillance, improved radar detection and data processing—and, above all, by precision guided munitions, often known as "smart" bombs. In my view we are still far away from the day of the unmanned aircraft, but the real significance of precision-guided munitions and Cruise missiles will be in their greater accuracy, and therefore a reduction in the numbers of aircraft and ordinance needed to subdue a given target.

The Royal Air Force has about 160 aircraft in Germany and will operate with the United States air force and with the Luftwaffe against the Warsaw Pact forces. The Government are fond of repeating that we would not be fighting the Pact on our own. That is a fair point but, even including our allies, NATO air forces will be outnumbered two to one on the central front. Moreover, the Soviets are building the equivalent of the RAF every six months. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) drew our attention to the follow up to Backfire, which has already been produced in prototype form. He also warned of the danger of lowering the nuclear threshold. If there were a Soviet armoured advance it would have to be met by close air support attacks, together with interdiction of rear-area targets. All these targets, whether fixed or mobile, are defended by a formidable umbrella of SAM 6s, SAM 8s, SAM 7s and the multiple anti-aircraft guns, the ZSU-23-4. Pilot tactics can enable successful strikes to be made, but the key requirement is for active radar countermeasures to dislocate the radar fire control of the Pact's air defence systems.

The Jaguar aircraft has no active electronic counter measures. This will give that aircraft great problems in surviving to reach the target. In addition, it needs an air to air missile to defend itself in a crowded battlefield environment. As it is, it will rely on getting home fast by keeping as close as it can to the terrain, where, admittedly, it will not be a very easy target to hit. The Jaguar has no radar. This reduces its effectiveness in the frequent bad weather on the central front. It could also do with the uprated engine, which is in course of development.

The much-vaunted and heralded Harrier, of which we are very proud, also lacks electronic counter-measures and does not have an air-to-air defence missile for self-protection.

Many people feel that if NATO is to have any hope of stopping or slowing a Pact attack, the warfare will have to be of a highly intensive nature. We know from the attrition rates—mentioned by some of my hon. Friends in the debate—in the Arab-Israeli war that in high-intensity operations the war stocks will run out in a matter of days. It has been said that the RAF will cease to exist after three days. If that is so, it will be entirely a function of the number of sorties flown and the number of aircraft available. In this sense numbers matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) so accurately said, quality is all very well, but there comes a point when quantity becomes extremely useful as well.

I accept that there must be restrictions on the number of aircraft that we can afford. My contention is that we must do everything we can to ensure that the few aircraft we have are as good as we can get them for the tasks they have to carry out. To have small numbers of inadequately equipped aircraft seems to be the worst of all possible worlds.

I have already described what should be done to enhance the Jaguar and Harrier. Ammunition stocks should be substantially increased to take into account the new reduced warning time.

Looking ahead to the Tornado, it would seem highly desirable to arm it with the SRAAM short range air-to-air missile of Hawker Siddeley. This is a much more agile system than Sidewinder and would compensate for any lack of manoeuvrability in the MRCA. I wonder whether the new guided weapon that the Minister announced early this afternoon will be a long-range sea-skimming missile to justify the use of aircraft against SAM defended ships.

The Press has kindly told us about the free-fall bombs to be used for cratering runways. Probably it was not supposed to tell us, but it has. There would seem to be great advantages in developing a specialised guided weapon for this rôle.

One major need on Jaguar and MRCA seems to be for a system to assess information concerning enemy countermeasures and to take appropriate action automatically in the one or two seconds available.

All these measures that I have mentioned are designed to make the best possible use of the slender assets that we can afford. My hon. Friend the Member for Ching-ford very graphically and dramatically reminded us what happened in 1940, when brave young men went out criminally under-equipped and were massacred. In talking about air battles, people do not use the word "massacre", believing that it applies to what happens on the ground, but it is a perfectly fair word to use in this context. As my hon. Friend said we shall be signing the death warrants of future pilots unless we ensure that out equipment is of the best.

I can accept that the economic restraints are such as to make certain that we cannot have more squadrons, but I make the point that those we have should be fully able to get to the target and back again and defend themselves.

In all this talk of equipment we should not forget that the RAF is part of a defence force established because we in Britain still feel that we have freedoms and a way of life that are worth defending. These virtues were referred to in the Loyal Addresses to Her Majesty this morning, and this House, in its own way, epitomises and embodies those democratic strengths. If it is our wish to be defended we owe it to the men and the women of the Royal Air Force to ensure that their conditions are right and that their equipment is right. Nothing less will do.

9.29 p.m.

Having sat here throughout most of the debate, I must say how refreshing it has been to have heard so many serious and thoughtful contributions to a debate on the Royal Air Force. I apologise in part to the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) for the length of my opening remarks. I sought to make a constructive report on what the RAF has been doing and how it saw its future rôle, and on a number of other matters.

Perhaps I may say to the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) without in any way seeking to give the slightest impression of being patronising or anything silly like that, that I greatly welcomed his contribution, as I welcomed that of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). Both hon. Members raised a number of most interesting points. I assure them that what they have said in the debate will be carefully examined and that we shall take note of many of the points.

I particularly thank the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton for his remarks in suport of Tornado. The Air Staff, as I said in my opening remarks, are enthusiastic about this aircraft and the rôle that it will play in the future RAF.

I was very interested in the remarks about the Hawk. It is a first-class aircraft and it has been welcomed now that it is coming into service in the RAF. I hope that those to whom the remarks were directed will duly note them and, perhaps, take action on them.

There is one other point with which I want to deal in my opening sentences. That is the question of the quotations that we have both made from that very distinguished Service man, Field-Marshal Sir Michael Carver. Now that we have both, in our respective political postures, got on record our most favourable quotations from that distinguished soldier, perhaps in fairness to him we could both forbear in future from causing him any further embarrassment now that we have suitably neutralised the effect of those remarks.

I apologise for not being present to listen to all of what was said by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). The hon. Member, and, indeed, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), raised in interventions the matter of airfield survival measures in the United Kingdom. I made a few brief remarks on that subject, but I should like now to deal with it a little more fully.

The airfield survival measures programme is expensive and its financial implications have to be weighed very carefully, partly in consultation, of course, with NATO Meanwhile, a great deal of detailed planning has taken place since the decision in principle to put in hand an airfield survival measures programme was taken in 1975. We have been studying closely the optimum requirements for shelter size, for shelter design and for their location. We have needed to establish our future aircraft deployments. But, once built, these hardened shelters will be with us for many years, and we have to be sure now about getting things right. The alternative, perhaps, would be to rush ahead and come up with the wrong result, which could have serious effects in the future.

I am reminded, from some of my visits to RAF stations, of the size of the hangars that are now in existence on most stations, built in the early and middle 1930s and designed by people who could not have foreseen the developments that have taken place in aircraft sizes and sophistication, and yet in the main those hangars are still adequate for the needs of a modern RAF. Therefore, in respect of hardened shelters we must see that we have the same foresight so that they last long into the future and meet the requirements of the RAF.

The report of the Select Committee on Expenditure which has just been published says that a decision to begin the ASM programme would not be taken for two or three months, but, as I have said, the decision in principle was taken in 1975. The Air Force Board has now taken further detailed decisions to get this programme under way. Hardened shelters will be built at RAF strike/attack and air defence bases in the United Kingdom, in conjunction with additional airfield survival measures. Work is now in hand to get on with that job as quickly as possible.

I turn now to the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) about the Tornado and the stores management system. Both the Marconi/Elliott Avionics system and the German Base Ten system are being developed to the same specification. Therefore, they will be compatible with each other. I hope that that clears the point. The RAF is satisfied that the Marconi/Elliott Avionics SMS will fully meet its requirements. There is no question of that system being abandoned. Furthermore, the Air Staff are confident that the system will be available on time for incorporation into the first and subsequent production aircraft as they enter service.

The details on the pilot enclosure unit are rather complex. Although my hon. Friend warned me not to offer to write to him, I must make that offer because of the complexity of the matter. I shall write to him on that point. However, I hope he will accept that what I have said covers the other points that he made.

Will my hon. Friend confirm whether Lucas or Marconi/Elliott is producing the final version of the Pylon Decoder Unit?

I must stick to what I have already offered to do. I shall write to my hon. Friend on these matters as soon as I can.

I turn now to the point made by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). The hon. Gentleman made what I consider to be a fairly serious accusation about my handling of the case to which he referred. Therefore, I should like to deal with it in some detail.

Applications for premature voluntary release are granted whenever possible. Officers who cannot be given early release dates are placed on waiting lists, and when their names reach a high position an exit date is arranged to suit them and the Service. The need to cover the high cost of training applies particularly to aircrew whose training is very expensive. The system needs to be fair to everyone. It would be wrong to allow one officer to be released because he claimed to be disenchanted whilst others, with a more conscientious attitude to their duties, may have to be retained.

I am aware of the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred in some detail. However, I find myself at a disadvantage in dealing with a personal case of this nature by not being able to quote from confidential documents, in fairness to all concerned—Service officers other than the hon. Gentleman's constituent. The House will appreciate that the processes of Service administrative disciplinary proceedings necessarily require complete frankness at all levels. It is unfair and improper to make selective quotations from documents. Moreover, it is entirely proper that disciplinary matters should be dealt with at the lowest appropriate level.

It is correct that the station commander of the officer concerned submitted a disciplinary report to higher authority. It was there decided that the correct action would be to post the officer concerned to duties where he would be under close supervision. That was done, and the officer has since carried out his duties satisfactorily. All relevant considerations would have been taken into account in coming to that decision. Should subsequent events make a further review necessary, appropriate administrative action will be taken.

After the officer concerned first represented himself as wishing to leave the RAF, as the hon. Gentleman knows from a letter which he wrote to me on 4th May 1976, he applied to go on a VC10 training course. It is not a long letter, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I quote it to the House. The hon. Gentleman refers by name to the officer concerned, and goes on to say:
"Further to our correspondence on the above-named officer, he informs me that there is a VC10 training course commencing at Brize Norton on 14th August and if the Air Force should see fit to permit him to go on this course, he would undertake to serve a minimum of a further three years. I thought you would want to know this."
So much for the officer's complete disenchantment with the RAF. The correspondence of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely shows that the officer had applied for further things.

However, in view of the specific request made my the hon. Member, I shall of course review the case again, calling for all the documents and reports that were raised at unit level throughout the matter. Then, if necessary, I shall discuss with the hon. Member on a confidential basis any matters that may be of interest in trying to satisfy him that the case has been dealt with fairly and properly. If the hon. Member is still dissatisfied, he has his own remedy in the House, where he can raise the matter in an Adjournment debate.

I hope the Minister appreciates that I was perfectly satisfied with all that went on, with every letter from his Department, until the medical document came into my hands. That showed that the station commander realised that the man was ill and unsuitable for further service, but I continued to receive letters saying that the matter was being treated with sympathy and compassion.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand from what I have said that some documents in this case were matters for consideration by a lower authority. I hope that I have adequately covered that point.

I turn to the points raised by the hon. Member for Chingford. Without wishing to fall out with him, I would say that he made a most interesting and powerful contribution to our debate. He raised the question of air superiority on the central front. This must be viewed in the NATO context. The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton said that this is what we normally say. We normally say it because it is absolutely correct.

We cannot take our defence out of the context of NATO. It is not a matter for the Royal Air Force alone. We make our contribution to a comprehensive allied force which includes specialised air superiority fighters. Furthermore, it is a mistake to view the achievement of air superiority in isolation merely as winning dogfights over the battlefield. Hitting the enemy on his own ground and destroying his SAM systems also play their part in affecting the balance of forces in the air. The Tornado, Harrier and Jaguar all have a rôle in this.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the future and the Air Staff requirement for a successor for air superiority. Consideration is continuously being given to the future requirements of the RAF, and this is one such requirement. In the context of what I have said, however, there is nothing that I could usefully tell the hon. Gentleman at this stage.

Surely the Minister must share my disquiet about the fact that for the first time in the history of the Royal Air Force it is being suggested that the security of our strike aircraft over the battlefield will be placed in the hands of another air force which is not under our direct control.

I am not going so far as to say that, but, as the hon. Gentle-man will know, the commander of the Second Tactical Air Force in Germany is a British officer, and a British officer is likely to continue to be the commander in the foreseeable future. That should also be taken into account.

I shall give proper consideration to the hon. Gentleman's point about civil airlines, but I must tell him that we already have some pretty advanced arrangements with a number of civil operators in the country, and the NATO command is entirely satisfied with the arrangements that we already have. However, I shall look with seriousness at the point that the hon. Gentleman raised.

One of the threads that has run through the debate is the whole question of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which was mentioned by a number of hon. Gentlemen. The award recommended by the independent board is in complete conformity with the Government's policy. That policy is being applied throughout industry, both private and public. The award was for the full amount allowable under that policy. Therefore, I do not think that I can accept some of the strictures which have been made.

It may be said that, as the charges for accommodation and food have come in at the same time as the pay award itself, there is a feeling that it is an Irishman's rise because it is being taken away. In fairness to the country as a whole and to all those civilians who have co-operated in and accepted the policy of restraint, it must be said that, although they do not always have coinciding rent increases with pay increases, there is little doubt that over the past 12 months in most cases they, too, have had to meet additional charges for accommodation and food. I do not think it is right to say that the Armed Forces have been treated unfairly in this respect. They have been treated in exact conformity with the remainder of the population, and along with everyone else they are playing their part in the battle to bring about the recovery of our economic base.

There have been a number of minor improvements during the course of the year in some of the other matters affecting Service men with respect, for example, to boarding school allowances. However I do not make a great deal of them.

The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton referred to rent and rate rebates. In this connection, the Armed Forces are in no different position from anyone else. They have a scheme of which they can take advantage. I find on examination that the number of Service men in receipt of rent and rate rebates is considerably lower as a percentage on an equivalent basis than it is in civilian life.

I expected the Minister to talk in terms of cost when discussing the increase in the charges for accommodation in food. I have just been looking at the tape—I do not know whether he has seen it—and there it is reported that the Price Commission has announced that telephone users are to get a £100 million refund because of the excess profits of the Post Office. The Ministry of Defence and all the other Government Departments will save a great deal of money. It will get some of this £100 million. Could not the hon. Gentleman use some of it to reduce the charges for accommodation and food which he is imposing on the Royal Air Force?

I have always admired the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity. I have not seen that message on the tape. Accordingly, there is not a great deal that I can say about it.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) raised a number of matters. I know from personal experience that he takes a detailed and close interest in the RAF stations in his constituency. I extend to him the appreciation of the RAF for his interest.

Before the Minister leaves the subject of Service men's pay, I do not know whether this will make life easier or more difficult for him—he will have to be the judge—but he may be interested to know that, in a reply today from the Treasury, I am told that between March 1974 and February 1977 the real take-home pay of a married man earning average manual wages and with two children under the age of 11 fell by about £4·20 at 1977 prices. Does that make him feel happier to know that the RAF is doing better, or does it make him feel generally more miserable as a Minister in this Government?

It gives me the opportunity to say again that that is a clear demonstration of the sacrifice being made by working people in the battle to regain Britain's economic base. I know from my visits to the RAF that although airmen grumble—and I understand their grumbles—they would not want entirely to be left out of being able to play their part in this vital battle. I do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation, but, as I have said, my right hon. Friend has taken, and will continue to take, certain steps.

I was congratulating the hon. Member for Norfolk. South-West. I am happy to say that I shall soon be carrying out my undertaking to him to visit one of the stations in his constituency to see at first hand the situation there.

I apologise that I was not here when the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) spoke, but I have been told by my colleague that his speech was most interesting. I will study it carefully in Hansard, and if there are any points to which he feels he would like a written reply I shall be delighted to see what can be done.

I say clearly and openly at once to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that I welcome his efforts in support of the presence in this country of the United States Air Force. It plays a vital part in the defence of this country, of the United States itself and of the whole of the NATO Alliance. That cannot be said too often and too clearly.

The hon. Gentleman asked detailed questions about the Tornado undercarriage. We have encountered problems which, as the House knows, stopped the Tornado from flying for some time. But steps have been taken to rectify the trouble, and the full flight test programme has been resumed. There will be no effect on the expected in-service date for the aircraft.

I have said on numerous occasions, both in the country and in this House, and I had an opportunity only a few days ago of repeating it at an Anglo-American get-together where we thanked those of our citizens who man the voluntary community relations committees in areas where there are American bases, that peace, freedom and security are not gifts bestowed on mankind by a benevolent nature but have to be fought for and maintained. It is the alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO that enables us to enjoy that peace, that freedom and that security. Long may that friendship and that alliance continue, and the presence of these American forces in Europe remain, if we are to preserve our freedom.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) asked about the future of Biggin Hill. I have a personal feeling for the point of view he put. In the early days of the war I lived not far from Biggin Hill, and as a boy I witnessed many of the heroic actions of our airmen serving there. I associate myself entirely with his remarks about the heroism of the men who served there during the war and the distinguished and honoured place in the nation's history which Biggin Hill rightly occupies.

These considerations were borne very much in mind when we reached our decision to retain the memorial chapel and the officers' mess to symbolise that station's historic past. But I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any good news about the future of Biggin Hill. There are so many stations throughout the country with equally heroic pasts, and we cannot run a modern air force on nostalgia. Therefore, many of them have had to close.

I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) sincerely for his very kind remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend takes many kicks and knocks in the course of the difficult job that he does, and I was delighted to hear an hon. Member who can sometimes rough things up very badly pay him such a handsome and wholehearted tribute on his Nimrod decision.

A number of other points have been raised about which I shall write to hon. Members.

I take this opportunity again to pay tribute to the dedication, courage and loyalty of the men and women who serve in the RAF and discharge their duties with great professionalism and skill. I give way to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles).

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way. His comments have been most constructive. I do not think that he has quite understood the point about pay. The Armed Forces have fallen successively and cumulatively behind on pay as a result of review awards. The latest award provides that the Government require flexibility as from 31st July. Is is the hon. Gentleman's intention that this review should be applicable for 12 months, or will there be a complete reconsideration of the matter on 31st July?

I am glad that I gave way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman because he has given me the opportunity to clear up the point.

It is plain that pay awards for people in private industry and public industry and for the police and Armed Forces are dependent on the outcome of the current negotiations on the next stage of the pay policy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said—indeed, it is in the report on the pay review—that the policy which has been pursued has caused a number of difficulties and anomalies and problems over differentials. It is hoped—this is what is said in the report—that his matter will be taken care of in the next pay policy negotiation.

I am delighted that this has been such a constructive debate. I hope that I shall be around long enough to participate from this side of the House in further debates on the RAF. It has been a great honour and pleasure for me to be associated with the RAF. Coming from a man who served in the Royal Navy, there could be no greater tribute to the RAF.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.