I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words,
in the national interests it is essential that the Air Force should be administered in such a way as to ensure adequate protection against air attacks by the strongest air force within striking distance of our shores, and to foster and assist civil aviation, and to secure economy and increased efficiency in regard to construction, equipment, personnel, research, and routine.
The prime position which we in this country held at the end of the War, as the strongest air power in the world, has long since passed away, in numbers, in design, and in research, and it is of the utmost importance that no effort be spared to rectify that and to place this great arm of defence in a satisfactory position, so that the country can feel a sense of security, and feel that we have adequate protection in the event of an attack against our shores. Those who are to direct our destiny in the air must, I submit, not only look to the present, but must have vision and look ahead in this connection. The speech delivered recently by the Secretary of State for Air left a feeling of amazement and alarm throughout the country. I am very pleased to think that the sanctimonious expressions which the hon. Gentleman uttered on that day did not exactly coincide with the speech of the Secretary of State for Air in another place. That somewhat reassured us, although it illustrated once again the great divergence of views between responsible Ministers, at which we are not very surprised, seeing that it has happened before in other Departments. I rather think the Secretary for Air must have had a good talk to the Under-Secretary and said: "In this. Debate to-day you had better put on my mantle and wear it for a bit," for I could not recognise the valorous Champion of the Air Force to-day in the timid pusillanimous man who faced us in the recent Debate. It was absolutely a weather-cock turn, seeing the other day he was dead against it. To-day he had nothing but eulogy for the service and for pushing on, and I am delighted to hear that he has those views to-day, because I feel quite sure we will walk into the same Lobby together when it comes to a Division.
He said in the recent Debate that the Government intended to make no change in the policy laid down by the late Minister for Air, but he carefully qualified that by adding "for the time being," and gave us to understand that his view was that we had to rely upon the good will of other nations and wait for a changed international atmosphere. The times are so serious that such a policy is unthinkable, and if we wish to see the integrity of this Empire maintained and the safety of our people assured, I think it is almost time that if the Under-Secretary does not realise that he is a square peg in a round hole, he should be told by the Prime Minister that that is how the country views him. He may be a most estimable young fellow, and I am not saying this in any personal way because I have great friends on those benches—but I really feel he is not the right man for the position he holds. Our Air Force is such an important force that if we have a man who can turn round in a fortnight from South to North, he is not the man and he must be thinking of the remuneration of the office more than of the interests of his country.
I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting anything of a personal character which would involve the honour of a Minister. I am sure he would prefer to withdraw such a suggestion.
I should be the very first to withdraw had I intended anything offensive. What I meant was that the hon. Gentleman does not realise the importance of this, and he is preferring to stick in office rather than do what he should do for the Air Force. [HON. MKMBKBS: "Withdraw!"] I will not withdraw.
I would appeal to hon. Members to give the hon. Member a hearing. It is not unparliamentary to accuse Ministers of desiring to stick to their offices. That is an accusation that is commonly made in this House.
On a point of Order. Is there not a distinction between an accusation hurled against the-head of a Minister that he wishes to retain office, and an accusation that he wishes to retain that office in order that he may fill his pockets with the emoluments of his office?
I wish to make it quite clear, and if what I have said has been misinterpreted, I withdraw with pleasure. But I stick to what I said in so far that I want to convey to the House that I did not think the Minister realised the importance of the Air arm in the defence of the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What an explanation!"] It is the best explanation I can make, for it is the truth. Another astounding doctrine he preached that night was that he thought preparedness indicated fear of one's neighbours. This surely is absolutely contrary to the very laws of nature, for no matter what calling, whether it be diplomacy or anything else, the first essential is to be prepared for all contingencies. He also stated that one thing that was knocked on the head during the War was the doctrine that in order to get peace we must be prepared for war. This, I submit, is a fallacious doctrine for in maintaining and strengthening our position we shall be creating an insurance for peace in the future.
Has the effect of our having a Navy ever been an aggressive measure? I maintain that our Navy has always been one of the greatest factors for peace. Does the hon. Member remember the year of the Spanish Armada, 1588? Our Police Force, for instance, is not going to create conflict, but to keep peace, and it is for that very reason that the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) not so long ago said the Labour party were going to stand four square so as to incorporate that loyal force within the ranks of the Labour party. They realise what it means. Do we take out a life insurance because we are not going to die, or do we insure our belongings because we are sure we are not going to have a fire? It is for those very contingencies. It is superfluous to say none of us desire war. That is absolutely known to all of us. None of us desire it, but until our position is such that we are sure other nations are of the same way of thinking we must be prepared for all contingencies. The position being what it is, let us face it like men and let us be prepared so that we shall not be let down should occasion arise, For this reason, I dislike to hear protestations that it is not directed against one country or another. We must accept facts as they are, and we must prepare ourselves. I was glad to hear the Under-Secretary say they were going to do everything possible to stimulate civil aviation, because I feel that civil aviation is a nucleus for obtaining the personnel for our fighting forces should they ever be required, in the same way that the merchant service assists the Navy. Any Measure undertaken in this direction will, I am sure, set up a great framework for peace throughout the world for bringing peoples of different lands in closer contact so that we can get a better understanding, and I should very much like to see bases established right along our great trade routes so as to make one great international chain.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned how very useful our Air Service had been in Iraq. It had achieved many more things than could have been accomplished by ground forces, it had done them far more quickly and it had also saved a great deal in money and in lives since we had them there. I was also pleased to hear the statement made again that never was a bomb dropped in that country for the collection of taxes which were in arrear, out of which so much capital was made by hon. Members opposite not so long ago. I have spent a great number of years amongst natives, and they really appreciate force, provided it is carried out with justice. I wish now to travel from Iraq to the north-west frontier of India. The tribal races there are always giving us trouble—the Mohmands, the Mahsuds and the Afridis—in that mountainous country, extending for 200 miles between India and Afghanistan, and we have to keep up a great force there, which might be minimised or withdrawn if we had a greater Air Force in those regions. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary if he would consider something in that direction being done, for it would be far more effective and it would bring about economy, and would also be a great saving of lives in the punitive expeditions which have to be undertaken from time to time, so that we may let the tribes see that they cannot go on robbing, plundering and murdering without being brought to task.
As regards the home service I would particularly draw attention to the question of the short service commission. The Minister has told us he thinks that state of things is bringing about the best effect in the Force, though the men in the Force themselves rather look upon it as a curse. A batch of young officers are taken on about every five years. They go through an expensive training to learn to fly and become efficient officers, and just when they are likely to be of use to the country they are turned out into civil life with their best years behind them and with the uncertainty of getting civil employment. A new batch of youngsters is then taken on, and the whole course of training is gone over again. I contend that that is a very expensive way of going about this, and I think it would be much better if permanent commissions were given to the short time War officers, of whom there are many, and the suggestion as regards these officers being fit and competent to carry on those tasks should be left to the Commanding Officer. Very often the recommendations made by the commanding officers receive no attention from the Air Ministry. I know of specific cases where recommendations have been made of qualified men, and others who have been sent down to fill the posts have not half the qualifications of the men recommended. I would like the Minister to look into that question. There are trained, practical pre-War engineers now serving as short-time officers who are not permitted to take the long engineering course. That absolutely takes the keenness away from these men. I know of one man who had a five years commission. He had a long pre-War experience of engineering, including service in a Royal Aircraft factory, had superintended the manufacture of aerial engines for the War Office in the early days of the War, had commanded a large repair depot, and has flown many hundred hours on service machines, and he is now employed teaching officers to fly. I think that proved men such as these should be given permanent commissions, if they are recommended by their commanding officer. I have mentioned this case, but it is by no means an isolated case.
I should like to compare the cost of the Air Ministry with the Army Estimates at the present time. The cost of the Air Ministry is £710,000, and the number of men administered is 35,000. The total cost is, roughly, £14,500,000, so that the cost of the Ministry is £20 per man, which is equivalent to five per cent. of the total sum. Comparing that with the Army Estimates, the difference between the two forces is five per cent. and two per cent. Therefore, I think there must be some mal-administration as regards the Air Ministry. It seems to me either that they have too much of a staff or that they must have some expensive way of frittering away the country's money. I would like the Minister to look into that question. There is also the question of the amount of clerical work which has to be undertaken by officers. By a vicious circle there is nothing else but paper revolving, which keeps the commanding officer so employed that he cannot well look after his duties. In that respect much could be done to minimise the amount of clerical work, because if there should come a war it would be won in the air and not by the clerk in the office.
Referring to construction, I should like to make a few points, and the first point is that there is a great tendency to strive after what is called the Christmas tree effect by constructors. They put every kind of gadget on to the machine. Whether it is wanted for that particular type of machine or not does not matter. The machine has to be constructed so as to carry all these things. It means additional weight, and not only is it impossible to place them in proper position, but it is difficult, if not almost impossible, for the pilot to control all these things properly, and the additional weight makes the machine far less effective. Then there is the position as regards keeping engaged a large number of firms who have not proved themselves worthy of having orders placed with them. It would be far better if the Air Ministry were to confine themselves to, say, 12 firms who had really done good work, and keep them fully employed and in a healthy condition, than to employ 20 firms, keeping them only employed halftime and in an unhealthy condition. There is a great deal of feeling about this. It means that the overhead charges of these firms react upon the prices which we have to pay for the machines and make them far more expensive.
I have brought forward these points with the object, if possible, of showing where I think a little economy might be effected by the administration, and whereby the personnel would be contented, so that we can get the best out of them, and also that the Minister may realise the great importance of having our country adequately protected in the event of another air force attacking us at any time. In view of what he has said, I feel that when this Amendment goes to a Division he will be in the Lobby supporting it.
In rising to second this Amendment I wish to refer more particularly to the first part of it. The Under-Secretary, in his very interesting statement this afternoon, did not indicate what would be the attitude of the Government towards the standard of air strength implied in this Amendment. Three weeks ago the Government did not accept that standard of strength. On that occasion, the Secretary of State for the Colonies said that the Government could not accept that standard of strength because the programme of construction which they had inherited from the late Government could not, even in the most favourable circumstances, put this country into the position which that standard demanded, and that if the Government accepted that standard of strength they would be in the position of having undertaken an obligation which they could not fulfil. I submit that that is not the position. The Government were not asked and are not asked to undertake any new obligation., The standard of strength which they are asked to accept was recommended by the Committee of Imperial Defence, was accepted by the late Government, and that programme of construction, which was begun by the late Government and is being continued by the present Government, was intended to be the first step towards the fulfilment of that standard. The late Government was at liberty and the present Government is equally at liberty to modify that programme in any direction which the circumstances may require.
Nobody imagines that that standard of strength can be achieved all at once, but it is a standard of strength at which we ought to aim. Some hon. Members object even to the present increase in our Air Force. In the recent Debate, I think the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) said that it was a mistake for the civilian population to feel too secure, and that if they realised that in the event of war they would, at any rate, share some of the dangers of the fighting population we should be much less likely to have war. There is a great deal to be said for that argument, but, surely, it ought to be of universal application. The people to whom the hon. Member referred are not peculiar to this country; they exist in all countries. While it is perfectly true that owing to our weakness we have every inducement to avoid war, yet for that same reason, owing to our weakness, other countries may not have the same reason. It was urged that it is no use for this country to try to increase the Air Force, because our inferiority is so great that other countries can easily maintain the advantage which they now possess.
It was said that if we increase our Air Force it will be the beginning of a new competition in armaments that may lead to war later on, and that we ought to devote all our energies to securing limitation of armaments by international agreement. I am sure that every hon. Member wishes to secure limitation of armaments, but I agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) that we shall only get limitation of armaments if we have an adequate Air Force. If we are to go into an international conference we must be in a position to say that our armaments are adequate now and that we will reduce ours if other countries will reduce theirs. We must have something with which to bargain. I was very much interested in the point raised by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, and I hope he will agree that that argument applies, not only to armaments, but to tariffs.
It is essential that we should have a definite standard of air strength for this country. Before the War there was a definite standard of naval strength, which was, I think, accepted by all parties. The Navy, among its other duties, must protect this country against invasion, but the Navy cannot protect us against air attack. The Navy cannot give us the means of reply to Air attack. It is only an adequate Air Force that can do that. If the Government do not accept the standard of strength which was recommended by the Committee of Imperial Defence, they ought to tell the House now in what way the international situation has so changed as to justify them in rejecting it. They ought to tell the House what standard they do accept, and why. Finally, I submit that no lower standard than the one indicated in this Amendment will be adequate for our national security.
These Estimates are an inheritance from the past Government, and I hope, therefore, that my criticisms will not be taken amiss. Part of these Estimates is due to the occupation of Iraq and Palestine. My objection to the Estimates is based upon that policy. I believe that that policy has been an entirely wrong policy, and I believe that from the point of view of defence it would be very advisable for us to withdraw the Air Forces from those countries in order to reinforce our Home Defence Air Forces, which are very far below what they ought to be. I ask the Government to reconsider their policy regarding the occupation of Iraq and Palestine. It is part of the policy of all Governments that we are going to abandon Iraq. The only question is when we are going to do so, and I hope the Government will not object to Members impressing upon them the necessity for doing so as soon as possible, because in Iraq there is no halfway house between complete occupation and complete evacuation. In my opinion it is quite impossible that the local population will ever be able to build up a constitutional monarchy capable of running the concern, and if that be the case, the sooner we are out of the country the better, and we can then bring home the Air Force which is there and employ it where it will be of much greater use. The Government's policy in Palestine is more or less the policy of all Governments, and it is, I submit, a most unfair policy to the inhabitants of that country, to this country, and also—as they will realise later on if it is pursued—to the Jews themselves. I may recapitulate briefly the facts of the situation in Palestine. There is a population of, approximately, 750,000, and 600,000 of these are Moslems, 75,000 are Christians and 75,000 are Jews, It is always assumed that the Moslems and the Christians are of a different race from the Jews, but I believe that is entirely wrong. The majority of the Moslems in Palestine belong to the original inhabitants, and, first of all, were Jews.
The trouble is that it is a matter affecting the Department of another Minister. What the hon. and gall nut Member wishes to discuss is a matter of which the Secretary of State for the Colonies has cognisance. The present Debate is confined to matters which are within the administration of the Air Ministry.
As most of what I had proposed to say comes under that heading I shall bring my remarks to a close. My objection is not to the Estimates—I do not think they are too large—but to the policy which necessitates the maintenance of air forces in Palestine and Iraq. They are doing very little good and, in fact, I think are doing harm and would be much more usefully employed in this country.
I should like to reinforce what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, about the advisability of withdrawing as soon as possible the squadrons which are in Iraq. It would be a desirable measure of economy. I do not know what is the intention of the Mover of this Amendment, and in fact I do not know what the Amendment means. I wonder when the Mover and Seconder made their speeches, bad they read the Amendment at all. It seems to me to be a clumsily drafted attempt to get through the Standing Orders of this House. What the hon. Gentlemen may desire I do not know, but possibly they desire to reintroduce a Motion which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Minister of Air introduced in this House a short time ago and which was introduced in another place by a Noble Lord. They cannot do so, because it would be out of order and therefore they introduce this amazing sentence:
That in the national interests"—
that, of course, goes without saying—
it is essential that the Air Force should be administered in such a way as to secure adequate protection, etc.
What does that mean? Not that the Force should be increased; not that a new declaration should be made, or anything of that kind. There is nothing about the one-power standard, the numbers, the aeroplanes, or the aerodromes, but simply that the Air Force should be administered in such a way as to secure adequate protection. I should be greatly surprised if the Air Ministry were not administering the Air Force which they have, in the best possible way, and trying to make it the most efficient as it is the most modern, of the fighting services, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman the Mover, who made such an entertaining speech, whether he seriously intends to ask the House to vote on a mumbo-jumbo which has absolutely no meaning at all. Let us suppose, however, that this Amendment has passed the Clerks at the Table, and let us address ourselves to the questions which it is intended to raise. There is first the question of the Government's programme, and, secondly, the question of some declaration as to a one-power standard. Nobody; complains about the Government's programme. Everybody is satisfied that the Government is carrying out the plane of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Minister, and that the programme is sufficient for the needs of the country at this moment. In passing, I apologise to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for a mistake which I made. It is quite true that the Prime Minister, in making that speech, did say:
In the first instance we propose a Home Defence Force of a certain number of squadrons.
Everybody agrees that the Government programme is adequate. What then is the complaint? The complaint apparently is that at this moment we will not declare not only our intention to continue this programme or basis, on which a very high edifice can be erected if necessary, as the late Air Minister himself stated, but also our intention to enter into competition with other nations. That is the point. It was dealt with admirably by the Secretary of State for Air in another place. Personally, I do not think it necessary and I do not think it wise, that there should be any such declaration at this moment. If I thought the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry were suggesting to the House an inadequate force, I should vote against him, but he is not doing so. An hon. Member opposite
shakes his head, but he cannot have heard the speech of his colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) and the eulogiums which he heaped upon the Ministry.
The right hon. Gentleman has only to wait until the Vote for the five cruisers to learn what my intentions are in that regard. In all my votes I shall pursue the course which I consider to be right. The point at issue is whether it is necessary at this moment to inform all and sundry that we are going to enter into a competition of armaments with other countries. There is no material advantage to be gained by that declaration, and great moral disadvantages are likely to result. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) said no one intends anything but the friendliest feelings for our Allies across the Channel, but it is, nevertheless, the fact that on more than one occasion when an increase of our Air Force has been announced in this House, it has been followed—a post hoc if not a propter hoc—by an increase on the other side of the Channel. There was the case in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Minister announced an increase in the beginning of last year. That was followed by an announcement on the 30th May of 15 new squadrons for the French Navy. Then the Prime Minister announced that we were going to give the Home Defence Force 52 squadrons, and that was followed three days later by a Supplementary Estimate for half a million in the French Chamber, and by the declaration of General Castlenau, who is Chairman of the Army Aviation Commission of the French Chamber:
In aviation France is foremost in the world and France will do her utmost to stay there.
My contention is that if we are satisfied that the right number of machines is being built, and the right number of personnel is being maintained, it is not our business to enter into competition with declarations of that kind. It is unwise and it is altogether against the spirit of
the time. My complaint against the Parliamentary Secretary is not on account of his desire to have a peaceful world. I am with him entirely in that, but my complaint is that he cannot give us any definite information as to what steps we are taking towards mutual disarmament. We have asked the question repeatedly. Of course, the difficulties are very great owing to the unsettlement of Europe and a feeling of bitter hostility between France and Germany. Nevertheless, it is the only hope of the world. You get no further forward by speeches like those of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight about the horrors of aerial devastation. What we most earnestly hope is that the Parliamentary Secretary or the Prime Minister at some early moment will tell us that an actual step has been made towards the true light.
I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking on one of the most-urgent problems of the day, namely, that of defence as a whole and of air defence in particular. We all recognise the paramount necessity that every effort should be made to find some way out of the appalling possibilities, to which the world may drift unless we shall arrive at some way of stopping war. We are all agreed that steps should be taken to arrive, if possible, at a general restriction of armaments. There is not a Member of this House who would not back the Government in any practicable steps they can take towards further general disarmament. In the immediate present defence is either unnecessary or necessary. If unnecessary or unsoundly or inadequately provided, any expenditure on it must be in the nature of sheer waste. If necessary it must be sufficient, efficient, and based on sound policy. Again, if necessary, after having decided upon the general plan of operation, the first point as I see it is to arrive at how much money must be spent upon defence as a whole. The second is how much should be the respective amounts allotted to each particular arm within the total sum, in order to obtain the best combined result from the three. The third point is to arrive at the ratio of allocation within each arm through its various concomitants. This seems to me to be a very obvious, practicable and businesslike necessity, but at the same time to be generally forgotten. There has always been a great waste resulting from lack of co-ordination between the Army and the Navy.
The most glaring weakness of our system of defence is the absence of any co-ordinating power short of the Cabinet itself. I say this because, with the advent of the Air into defence, with this growth of ratio to the other two, a combined policy and action by the three Services will be of really vital importance to the safety of the country and of the Empire. That safety will rest, as the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight said, more and more upon the Empire as a whole and not upon this country alone. It is all the more necessary that combined policy, combined financial arrangements, should be thought out in advance on a scientific, systematic basis. The best method of securing better results is by the co-relation of defence, and, to carry this out, the real solution lies in eventual supreme control by a Defence Ministry, with the Prime Minister as chairman, and with a joint staff which would really think out the problems at issue.
I hope that the Government knows what it is doing in this great problem. Are we now beginning to work on a line of thought-out Imperial policy, or are we merely carrying on because the public obviously will not stand the subject being entirely ignored? I sincerely hope the former. It is much needed. During the past five years, with the exception of the efforts made, with a very difficult heritage, by the last Government, there has, in my opinion, been very little policy, no standard of defence, nor understanding of ratios between the services. In 1918–1919 the expenditure was swollen by war costs liquidation. I think I am right in saying that during 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923 some £700,000,000 was spent on defence. Yet we have no security for this vast expenditure; we are, indeed, relatively weaker than in 1914, and our greatest weakness lies in the air. Defensive measures cannot be extemporised at the last moment. London is now only 20 minutes by air from our sea frontiers. As has been frequently said, our island is no longer protected by sea supremacy alone. It is clear that weakness in the air is weakness in the whole scheme of defence.
At the Armistice we stood on an illimitable threshold of potential dangers, but, I think, of equally great possibilities for good. We were the strongest air power in the world. We had 30,000 officers and 270,000 men imbued with the air sense. We had 200 squadrons sustained by the greatest scientific brain power in the world and by the best equipped industry. We had 22,000 machines and a great number of aerodromes and buildings. In addition, flying having proved itself as a great factor in war, had evolved technically to the point where great hopes could be reasonably placed upon it as an agent of peace. The coming of war in the air had created a great change in the general conditions of defence and called for action in three directions: First, the necessity for considering defence as one great problem; second, the utilisation of the post-War period for basic improvement in organisation and for a large proportion of effort to be put into research, experimental development and operation; and, third, the maintenance of effective air power to tide over the period until more peaceful conditions should arrive, by which time, probably, somewhat the same strength would still be required owing to the growing ratio of Air to Army and Navy.
There requirements were not adopted as the basis of reorganisation. Instead, the three services were still allowed to continue in open competition; organisation is wasteful, inefficient and overlapping Departments was retained; the prime necessity for research and experiment was neglected. As far as the air at all events, is concerned, the amount of money and effort put into design, experiment, and operational development was in lamentable contrast with that put into bricks and mortar. The building up of a true, self-supporting reserve was indefinitely postponed, and civil flying, limited to some 2 per cent. of the air allotment, was crippled by lack of nutrition at birth. It was not, I think, grasped that expenditure on a purely military basis involved ever-increasing dead weight of expenditure and a minimum of development, and that that on aeronautical development promised eventual air defence at a minimum cost and with a maximum of efficiency. Service strength must be dependant upon technical development, which, in turn, must rely on three continuously recurring factors, which are design, new construction, and operation. Again, the navigational side, which is of very great importance in flying, can best be tried out by civil flying under regular, extensive and meteorologically and climatically varying conditions. In a word, though financial stringency should reduce all Votes to the lowest possible level, in the case of the Air Vote, the bulk having been swallowed by first line force, general aeronautical progress and the development of reserve strength suffered severely.
During the four years I have mentioned, a gross figure of about £74,000,000 was spent by the Air Ministry, but, instead of stabilising an adequate proportion of the existing force, our first-line Air power was almost entirely dissipated. It is easy to destroy and difficult to build. The pitch to which we had been allowed to sink by October, 1922, seems incredible, and is measured by the fact that, of the 200 squadrons I have mentioned, we had only some 24 machines available for home defence. Then the expansion of 49 squadrons, or up to about 600 machines, for home defence was put in hand. Aerodromes and buildings, which had cost great sums, had been discarded, and now, we have been told by the Under-Secretary, they have to be bought again, personnel recollected and trained from the beginning at great cost and expenditure of time. As a result, we now have 100 machines to France's 1,000, and when the programme is completed, we shall have 600—a little more than half the present French establishment—in about four years' time. Nor is France the only country which is building up Air power. Italy is doing so, Russia is said to be doing so, and Germany is said to have aircraft factories in various friendly countries outside her own borders.
I trust that in reconsidering this subject the Government will give no undue prominence to the undoubted difficulties that it enfolds. These are matters which should receive immediate attention. The great lack is of superior guiding policy to the fighting Departments, and of controlling force to ensure their adherence to a common policy. I also think that the Government is right in its trend of ratios of expenditure between the Army, Navy and Air Force, but I sincerely hope that it will soon find time to take up the question of unifying and economising on services such as works and buildings, accountancy, clothing, medical, chaplains, and others which are common to the three Services. As far as the air is concerned, I am glad also to know that squadrons are at last to be re-equipped with new type machines. I am also delighted that the Secretary of State seems to understand the claims of experiment and research and civil operations.
This being so, however, I think that he will have very considerably to improve upon and increase the £240,000, which can hardly be looked upon as a guarantee of that faith. The splitting of the Directorate, of Research into sections for pure research and technical development is useful so far as it goes. But, as a matter of fact, I hope the Under-Secretary of State will quickly recognise that it is fundamentally unsound for research, experimental and aeronautical supply, to be organised as a Department of the Royal Air Force at all. No good, in my opinion, will be done in this direction until these are independent of the fighting Services, though, of course, still within a Department of the Air Ministry. Coming to other points of the Estimates before us, there are, however, several unfortunate, items. First of all, I agree with the late Secretary of State that the method of dealing with the airship problem is very disquieting. From the time that airships were taken over by the Air Ministry from the Admiralty in 1919 development was confined almost entirely to the short period during which they were controlled by the Civil Department. After annual changes of policy and several inquiries into their utilities, it was decided that the progress of airships was best ensured by their being placed under civil commercial control, but I see that the token shown in the Estimates is contained in a Vote administered by the Military branch; and I would ask the Under-Secretary, before it is too late, to weigh very carefully the loss which will arise if airship development is placed under military control. I confess also that I view with regret the complete elimination of competition with which civil heavier than air development is to be endowed, and which will, in my opinion, delay its progress to the self-supporting state which we all desire. I think it is very unfortunate that the incentive of competition has had to be eliminated. We can only hope that the enthusiasm of the company's personnel will minimise this handicap, and as the sole holders of the future of the British mercantile air marine they have, at all events, our best wishes for their great success. I am glad, on the other hand, that the Secretary of State has resolved to make a close scrutiny of Establishments and to secure economy in administration. In some respects, as the Estimates show, the damage is beyond repair.
The destruction which took place under the policy adopted in 1919 now calls for reconstruction with attendant expense. This is particularly brought out in the Works Votes with over £250,000 for works staff, over £2,000,000 for new quarters, and over £500,000 for improvements in Home Stations generally, while a total of over £400,000 remains outstanding for Halton. I sincerely hope that, whatever Government is on that Front Bench next year, this question of building will be more severely scrutinised than it is at present. I note the Under-Secretary's statement, too, with regard to ground personnel. I am thoroughly in view with the idea of the necessity for the most highly-trained personnel to look after the aircraft, but there seems to be something wrong. The figures, of course, are given in round numbers, but there is, I think, something wrong when for an expenditure of some £19,000,000 we get only, as far as I can calculate, 150,000 hours flying per year. This works out at a cost of about £130 per flying hour.
There is another point. We find an Air pay-roll of some 45,000 men—35,000 military and 10,000 civilians—but of course only one in 22 are competent flyers, and little more than one-half the permanent officers and only some 100 noncommissioned officers are pilots. Again, we find the Air Ministry itself a staff costing nearly £750,000 with a higher division staff in the Secretariate more numerous than that of the War Office which administers a force five times as great as that of the Air Force. Clearly, then, a great deal can be effected. The disproportion between senior officers engaged in staff and administrative posts to flying officers should in my opinion be rectified. There should be greater differentiation in pay between skilled and unskilled personnel. The percentage of fighting men should be raised in all three services, but in the Air Force in particular the scope is very large. There is no reason, surely, why the great majority of the Air Force personnel should not receive definite training and periodical practice in one form or another in the air. The great proportion of officers and a larger proportion of non-commissioned officers than at present should be pilots and should carry out a definite number of hours in the air per annum. Broadly speaking, we all know that the basis of air work is actually flying, and those who are auxiliaries to the service and do not fly should be civilians and in the reserve. These are matters which we may hope, as I say, will receive immediate attention and immediate results.
My conclusions are—and I apologise for having taken up so much of the time of the House—first, that there should be a real Imperial policy as a result of the consideration of defence like any practical business proposition, and in the light of changes brought about from time to time; secondly, that a defence service should be set up of all three arms to meet this policy; thirdly, that increased economy and efficiency by the amalgamation of services, such as supply, medical, etc., to which I have referred, should be carried out; fourthly, the elimination of dual and triple control as soon as possible, and that there should be a unified supreme control invested in a Defence Ministry, with the Prime Minister as Chairman. I know, of course, that the Prime Minister himself could not always be present at meetings of this body, but there is no reason why his powers should not be delegated to a senior minister. Fifthly, experimental research should be the especial care of the Government—constructional industry to evolve and the operational industry to develop the most suitable types; sixthly, expenditure on building and ground service generally should be brought into much more reasonable ratio to the whole; and, seventhly, the Air Ministry should be re-organised in two halves—a service side with a considerably reduced staff, and a civil side to include experiment, research, aeronautical supply, and operational development, and to ensure also true basic aeronautical progress, and bring into effect extended flying on the Imperial and international air routes and so make flying of great benefit to the world.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Sir F. Sykes) made one point which I am sure will receive much sympathy on this side of the House, and that was the necessity of better co-ordination of the three Services. If I heard him aright, he advocated a Ministry of Defence. I think that was the implication of his speech. I hope he will bring that matter up again, possibly as a definite Motion. With regard to his pitiable story of the destruction of the greatest air force in the world at the end of the War, I think that is a well-deserved reflection on the Coalition Government of that period and of its Air Minister, who is now seeking, by a series of devious methods, to get back into this assembly. I mean Mr. Churchill. I must say, at any rate with regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), that he has had courage, although I disagree with his speech on this occasion. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam has driven one more nail into the coffin of Mr. Churchill.
The Under-Secretary for Air has been justifying this very necessary, I suppose, increase in the Air Force. We are working up to a total of 600 machines capable of fighting in the air against the present number of machines of France. For there is no good in burking the fact that France is the power against which we are building, and shame upon us that it is so. France at present has 1,000 machines, and in three years' time will have nobody knows what number. But the House might have heard from the hon. Gentleman some hint of the Government policy with regard to the great cause of reduction in armament. I admit, as he admits, and, I believe, everyone admits, that as things are to-day, in March, 1924, we have to carry out the late Government policy with regard to the Air Force, but it is quite unsound to talk about defence.
I rather quarrel with what the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea said in that respect. I do not believe in defence at night against aircraft. The only thing you can do is to have such a force that the next strongest Power, or the strongest Power, would hesitate to attack you. In other words, we are following in the footsteps of the Kaiser's Government, in the Amendment of the Naval Law, in which it was laid down that the state of the German fleet on the high seas should be such that the strongest naval Power would hesitate to attack her. We are building up an offensive force of such strength that the strongest power in Europe in air matters—which, of course, is France, and for many years is likely to be France—will hesitate to attack us. We are back to the year 1910, and it is a nice commentary on the sufferings, bloodshed, misery, and bestiality which were seen during the four years of the War.
I would strain every nerve and use every atom of diplomatic skill and influence that we have to get the nations together for the sole purpose of reducing our air armaments. [HON. MEMBERS: "And other armaments."] At the moment the aerial armaments are the greatest threat. Some case could be made out for the Army and the Navy, but in the matter of aerial armaments no case could be made out. We and France are Empires. We have to have an Army and a Navy to maintain our Colonial Empires, but these rival forces which, on the one hand, are to destroy Paris and, on the other hand, to destroy the heart of London, are simply a reversion to barbarism. There is no defence on either side. The Frenchman who finds his own children poisoned by mustard gas will have only the doubtful consolation of thinking that children are dying, through the same agonising agency at the same time in London and other English cities.
Therefore, I consider that the Government should try by every means, as soon as possible, to call together a conference of European Powers to see if we cannot get some general limitation of air armaments on the same lines as those on which the Washington Conference limited the construction of battleships and battle cruisers. We can leave America out of this conference for the time being. America is so far away as not to be immediately concerned in the matter. That is the suggestion which I make in answer to the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckinghamshire (Captain Bowyer). The Under-Secretary did not deal, in my opinion, with the accusations which have been made against the Air Force of bombing expeditions in Iraq against the native tribes. He spoke of the humanity of the Air Force, as if it were necessary to pay a tribute to the humanity of British officers. We all know that English officers are very humane men. He told us of the very justifiable action of the Air Force on many occasions, but he did not give us any details of the alleged raids for tax-gathering purposes. The newspaper had this matter in a great deal of detail about the time that the present Government took office. Am I to understand that the whole thing was a fabrication?
I notice that the "Daily Herald" gave credit to the Government for stopping it. Why did they have to wait, in the words of the "Daily Herald," for the Labour Government to come into power to stop this? We are entitled to some further details. I am told on the other hand that the villages are not bombed, but that only the cattle of these wretched tribes are attacked, and that this is done at the request of the Civil Government, the Government of King Feisel in Bagdad. A great many Members in all parts of the House would agree that, if the English Air Force is being used for punitive expeditions to uphold the civil power in Bagdad, the sooner it is stopped the better. I do not want to enter into matters of this kind now, but if the civil Government there is not sufficiently established by this time, it should not rely on the support of the British Air Force. The whole use of aircraft against savage and semi-savage tribes should be hedged about by the most careful restrictions.
In the last Parliament I asked the then Air Minister whether notice was given before native villages in Iraq and Afghanistan were bombed, in order that non-combatant women, children and other individuals could be removed, and he said that that was the case. I would like to know if that is still done, and if it is a regular instruction to the air officers commanding in these various areas. We do not hear any details of the recent use of the Air Force on the Indian Frontier, and in Iraq, but it is being used in a great many expeditions, and it is necessary that this House should insist on inquiry when accusations of inhumanity are brought against His Majesty's Government. I make no sort of reflection on the officers themselves. They are there to carry out orders, but it is because they have to carry out those orders that this House should be jealous of those orders, and make sure that they can be justified on the grounds of humanity and public morals.
I would like now to say a few words on the question of aerodromes. Great expenditure is being incurred on buildings and lands for aerodromes for the Air Force. Are these war aerodromes to be the assembling ground and the ammunition stations of this great Air Force of the day after to-morrow, because, if so—and I am sure that the hon. Member for. Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) will share my opinion on this point—they should be well to the north to be out of easy aerial striking distance of the territory of the strongest aerial Power. That is exceedingly important.
Lieut.-Commander KEN WORTHY:
Landing grounds can be arranged for in the south, and no preparation need be made. Any open space will do for the purpose. For fighting purposes the squadrons from the distant aerodromes need only come to these landing grounds for fuel and to take in their bombs. Then they are ready to carry out the Christian duty which the hon. Gentleman is preparing for them. That is a very important matter. The gist of what I want to say is that the aerodrome must be chosen from the point of view of war use, and war use only. It is a great mistake to spend any money on an aerodrome for fighting purposes at a place where it can be destroyed by a possible enemy. I believe that it will be possible to add very much to the efficiency of the Air Force at a low cost, if we could enrol a body of civilians, skilled mechanics, who need not wear uniform, and who need very little training, but would be available for a rapidly expanding Air Farce in case of war.
I believe that there are many men who object to annual camps and training, and uniforms and spurs and swords, and all the rest of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "There are no spurs!"] There are. The field officers in the Air Force wear spurs. I view with some apprehension the attempt in the Air Force to emulate and imitate the Brigade of Guards, as regards the rank and file. The most efficient services in the War in the Navy were the so-called piratical services of the submarines and destroyers, where the less pipeclay, spit, polish, and parade ground discipline there was, the greater was the efficiency when the War came. [An HON. MEMBER "Oh!"] The naval officer behind the hon. Member who says "Oh!" agrees, I am sure, that the submarine and destroyer services in the Navy were the most efficient, and anyone else, who knows anything about it, will agree with me. This sort of force could be enrolled, and I believe it would be very valuable. It would be cheap and efficient, and I put it to my hon. Friend as a constructive suggestion. Then the people, whom the hon. Member for Bridgeton talks about as the Red Army, might enlist in such a force, and, at any rate, their presence would ensure that it was used only for the defence of the country and not for any illegal purposes against the King's subjects. Those last remarks were drawn from me by the hon. Member for Bridgeton, but I mean them very sincerely.
The Force should be democratic, and I hope it will be. I hope the officers who are being enlisted now do not have to pay fees and that their parents do not have to pay fees either. I hope it is possible for the poorest boys to-day to go into the Air Service, if they are the most fit and the most suitable for that service. I regret very much that in the Minister's statement there was not some indication of what is the Government's policy to deal with this perfectly appalling system by which all three parties in the House are practically blackmailed into voting for this great increase in the Air Service because of the position of Europe. We cannot help it, but we can do something to remedy it, and that, I hope, the Government are seriously trying to do.
There is nothing the House likes to hear so much as that a speaker is going to be brief, and that is what I propose to be. I will not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in his discussion of the sartorial trimmings of the Air Force, but I should like to say that since this question was raised in this House last month, it has been the subject of much discussion both inside this House and outside, and the result has gone to show how valuable the original raising of the question was. It has shown, too, that this is a question concerning which not only the country at large, but especially the population of this great city, are genuinely anxious. It has also served partially to clarify the attitude of the Government towards this most important matter. The two important questions, one of them arising out of this Debate, are, I think, first, that the Government have decided to go forward with the scheme of expansion which, in time and if persisted in, will give this country something like adequate protection in the air, and the second point is that the people of this country are at last fully awake to the present defenceless position in which they find themselves. I hope the Government will not forget this point.
The ordinary citizen is beginning to realise very acutely that his position in the next war, if there is one, is going to be very different from the position of his kind in all past wars, not excluding the last war. Before the development of flying, when the question of defence was under discussion, he had inevitably at the back of his mind the thought that, after all, it was primarily the job of the fighting Services, that the Army and Navy were there to bear the brunt of the first attack, and that if the affair became serious there would always be time to raise the necessary forces and take the necessary precautions. But to-day the whole situation is reversed. The first people to bear the brunt of an attack upon the security of these islands will be the man and woman in the street, going about their round of daily business. It will be the ordinary peaceful citizen whose lungs will be the first to be affected by poison gas, whose body will be rent, and whose home will be destroyed by the bombs of the invader. I think the ordinary elector is beginning to realise with acute anxiety this new fact of war, and there is, after all, something perhaps to be said for the paradox that in the next war the safest place for a man will be in the fighting Services. There, at least, he will have a gas mask issued to him, and he will be taught how to use it and how to defend himself, so far as defence is possible.
I hope that the Government will realise this new state of mind of the public towards this question. The Government have made a reassuring gesture, but it will require more than a gesture to allay public anxiety. The reluctance of the Government to enter into anything in the nature of a pledge is very disquieting, and one cannot help feeling that, although Ministers are outwardly on their best behaviour, some of them at least have inclinations towards past heresies. The attitude of mind which, if logically applied to other matters, might, for instance, abolish the police force so as to discourage burglars has no attraction for common-sense citizens, nor are they very much taken in with the suggestion that, because totally adequate defence is impossible, they had better have none or next to none. To carry on the analogy of the police force, they think that a police force is worth its cost, although it is not possible for every householder to have a constable on his doorstep, and, similarly, with regard to air defence, the country would like to have an air defence of a sufficient standard to make it unsafe for another country to attack us, and they will not grudge the cost of such a standard, nor do I think they will be content with less. The assurance contained in these Estimates that for the time being this standard is going to be maintained is all the more welcome, as also is the fact that money—a million, I think the Under-Secretary stated—is going to be given for civil aviation, but I cannot help regretting that there is no mention at all about airships, excepting to say that they are to be relegated to the backwater of re-discussion and reconsideration.
A strong, active, civil air industry is vital, not only to act as a reinforcement of the military arm in case of need, but also for the usages and for the general purposes of such an Empire as ours. We have been told that in Iraq the aeroplanes have been able to take the place of 24 battalions of infantry. That shows what vast economies can be effected when aeroplanes discharge the military burdens of Empire, and still vaster economies could be effected by a properly established civil air service taking on the commercial development of our immense Imperial resources, and also acting as a reservoir, certainly for men, and perhaps for machines. I hope the Government will push on with the scheme which the Under-Secretary mentioned when he referred to the Auxiliary Territorial Air Force Bill, which would train pilots as well as ground men, and I am sure that with that it would form a valuable source for getting recruits of the best kind. The best pilots are necessarily young, and if something could be done for boys in our public schools and young men in our universities on the lines of the Officers' Training Corps, which might enable them to qualify as pilots, I am sure that many would come along, and the recruiting difficulty would be overcome.
There are other hon. Members who want to speak, and all I should like to say, in conclusion, is that I consider that this question of air defence is one that the nation regards as transcending all party considerations. Not one party alone, not the people of these islands alone, but the whole Empire, will view with dismay and disapproval any Government that fails adequately to provide for the pressing needs of our Empire in this most important matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) has not only spoken very briefly, but he has given us an illustration of how much good sense and sound argument can be packed into a very small space. I will do as much as I can to imitate the admirable example that he has set. Let me, in one sentence, associate myself with the regret which he has expressed that the Government have hung up once again, for yet another inquiry, all progress with the civil airship scheme. I can only hope that they will conduct that inquiry as expeditiously as possible, and at the end of it, as happens—after all, we are encouraged by other experiences—be brought even to come to the same conclusion as their predecessors had already adopted. The discussion has been a discursive one, and I have no desire, in the few observations which I am going to make to the House, to travel over the wide field raised. What I want to do is rather to concentrate on a little matter of great importance, namely, what should the policy of this country be in relation to aircraft construction, not merely what is the immediate programme which ought to be included in these Estimates, about which, I think, we are all pretty much agreed, but what policy ought to inspire the Government and direct the Bouse.
The hon. Member the Under-Secretary of State for Air said that in his opinion it was a very good thing that the fighting services should be organised by pacifists. At any rate, I go this length with him, that I think it is a very good thing for the pacifists, and all of us who listened to him to-day, and who either heard or read him when this subject was under discussion a few weeks ago, must not only congratulate ourselves, and him, upon the signal progress he has made in the last few weeks, but must have listened with delight to the hon. Gentleman explaining that nowhere in the world could you find such young men as enter our Air Service, nowhere in the world, and in no other institution, was so admirable an education, both for learning and for character, as this Service afforded. That testimony from the hon. Gentleman is one which, I am sure, will be as welcome to the Service which he helps to direct as it has been to the Members of this House. I am a little less happy when I come to consider what he said about policy. Have the Government any policy in this matter? I do not complain of these Estimates in so far as they refer to aircraft construction as distinct from civil aviation, but have the Government a policy? The late Government had a policy, a policy which is embodied, not textually, in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny). It was that British air power must include a home defence air force of sufficient strength adequately to protect us against air attack by the strongest air force within striking distance of this country.
What I want to ask the hon. Gentleman to say specifically upon this Amendment is whether that is the policy of the present Government, and, if not, why they have abandoned it, and what they have put in its place. I think they are fair questions. They are matters of which the Government have had full notice, for they were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) earlier in the Session on an occasion when the Debate could not be brought to a conclusion, and when you, Sir, invited us from the Chair to resume the subject on the present occasion. May I, for the purpose of making my questions easier, say that this demand for a policy is not affected by what may happen in pursuance of any international agreement, if such can be reached, for the limitation of armaments? That is common to all men and women in this House, and, I should hope, all men and women outside. Any one of us will do anything to help the Government to get an international agreement for the limitation of armaments, and any standard that we set up must be revised, and may be reduced, as the result of any such agreement. I am speaking only of what is to be our policy in this House, and in the Government, until general agreement, or general agreement among the great Powers, as was made in regard to capital ship construction, is possible also in regard to air force.
The Government have spoken a great deal about their hopes of such an international agreement. I would deprecate their waiting upon the possibilities of that before they form their policy. Let us have our policy for the position as it is, and as it may continue for an indefinite time. Let us reduce that policy; let us alter it or abandon it, if, at any time, it is rendered obsolete by international agreement. Surely it is very dangerous to act on any other principle. In the first place, is it not probable that the standard of force which will be suggested if you ever enter a conference with other Powers, will be largely governed by your relative strength at the moment you enter the conference or by the programme you have announced at that moment. That was the case with naval disarmament, and naval limitation would not have been possible on any other basis. It would be a tragedy if we entered the conference so weak that we were obliged to resist that standard, and claim some exceptional treatment for ourselves, in consequence of our own failure to make adequate preparations in advance. It might be fatal to the conference. It might, ruin the very object which hon. Members opposite—I grant it—have very near their hearts, and I say very near the hearts of all their countrymen.
There is another thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Hythe spoke moderately, but impressively, of the horror that air war threatens in future for the civilian population, even, perhaps, more than for the fighting forces, for I remember to have been told by officers coming back from France that the soldiers in the trenches were far more exercised when they heard of there having been a raid over their native town, where their wives and children were, than they were by the fierce bombing to which they were subjected. Can anyone say that our position at this moment is safe? I am not criticising anyone. If there was any Government to be criticised in this matter, it, was the Government of which I was a Member. In our anxiety to meet the urgent necessity for a relief of our burdens, I think we undoubtedly cut down the Air Force, not only too much, but with too little consideration as to how we did it.
I make that confession. I want to carry hon. Members with me as much as possible, and I make it because I am not trying to criticise others. I say if any Government was to blame it was the Government of which I was a Member, and for which I share as large a responsibility as anyone. But nobody can doubt that our position now is one in which, if we were attacked, we have not the means to defend ourselves. I need not repeat the figures given by my right hon. Friend beside me a little time ago. Roughly, we have one machine to put into the air against 10 machines that could be brought against us. I venture to say there is no war that can come so suddenly as air war. There is no warfare which can be so horrible as air warfare. Unless you have a settled policy, such as the late Government had, and continue to carry it out steadily until the circumstances are changed by international agreement, you run a great risk of panic in this country, panic which will force you or your successors to build in great haste, and may force them to build just at that moment when active preparation creates the greatest international danger, because the panic itself is the symptom and result of some tension in international affairs. Accordingly, I urge the Government to take their courage in their hands, and frankly accept the policy laid down by the late Government in the declaration of the late Prime Minister, embodied in this Amendment, and say that, unless and until the situation is changed by international agreement, or by a voluntary reduction without agreement on the part of others with far larger air forces than our own, we are going to build to a standard here laid down, and provide a force adequate to protect us against air attacks by the strongest Air Force within striking distance of this country. I ask the hon. Gentleman for a clear and specific reply to the question I have given him.
The Government's announcement with regard to their intentions this year has met with universal approval. I have listened to every speech in this House during the course of this Debate, and not one has found any fault with the scheme outlined on behalf of the Government indicating our actions and our purposes for the forthcoming year. Indeed, I do not remember such unanimity on any subject in the House before. Hon. Members have actually been in a difficulty in performing the natural duties of criticising at all. My predecessor has claimed this afternoon that he regards these Estimates as his own, and, naturally, therefore, they must be perfect. They are the legacy entrusted to us by the late Government. With this unanimity, why is there this Amendment to the Motion which I have made to get on with business? What is it an Amendment to? It is an Amendment to a Resolution which I have moved that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and the success of that Amendment will naturally prevent the Speaker from leaving the Chair. Whatever the merits of the Amendment may be, that will be the result of carrying it. It does appear to me very strange indeed that if this House is so unanimous about getting on with the proposals that I have outlined, and most of all to find the money for doing it, that an Amendment should be on the Paper, which, apparently, is to be persisted in, and put to the vote, which would most effectively prevent, and in a most irritating way delay, what everybody seems unanimous in wanting. I have no other course but to oppose the Amendment, because of the result which would follow the carrying of it.
On the merits of the Amendment itself, I am not at all sure that I understand the meaning of it. So far as I can make out, it is purely a pious resolution which may have something behind it to which we on this side cannot subscribe at all, or which, on the other hand, may be perfectly harmless. It looks to me as if it were an anti-French declaration in some respects. Apparently, it must have in it the element of prompting the idea that we are arming against France. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at all!"] I do not desire that any such untruthful impression should get abroad. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody does!"] If nobody does, then what on earth is there in the Amendment that needs any attention at all? It is a declaration to secure economy and increased efficiency. How many times have I heard those words and that phrase! They mean absolutely nothing at all. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) found fault with the Government for hanging up still further the lighter-than-airship legacy entrusted to us by the late Government. I want to give one or two reasons why that has been necessary. I observed in the "Times" to-day a letter from the hon. and gallant author of this scheme, in which he makes the declaration that in this undertaking private capital shoulders the major risks. That is not correct.
The arrangement on the subject is that private capital finds £200,000 of ordinary shares, and the Government £400,000 of debenture shares. I always understood that the ordinary shares take the risk. If there is any failure of the concern, the Government forecloses on the whole property and private capital loses its money, while the Government will get the money spent on airship development for £400,000.
The way I see it is this. The total amount of taxpayers' money which it was intended to put into this scheme was £4,800,000. It is true there is a provision to pay some half of that back if the profits allow. The hon. and gallant Member says that in this undertaking private capital shoulders the major risks. The whole of this sum is going to be a risk, and the Government's share from the taxpayer is, as I have said, £4,800,000, while the whole of the risk to be put upon private capital is £500,000. I think that practically disposes of the idea that this is a scheme which ought to be presented to the House at this juncture without further inquiry.
I think the hon. Gentleman should get the facts correctly. No other money of the Government whatever is risked until the first stage has been completed, until the whole programme has been shown to be feasible. Then the second stage comes into operation, and no further money, other than that for the second stage, becomes due from the Government until the service is on a paying basis and is actually in operation. Further than that, the Government is repaid £3,300,000 out of that amount, and a further amount is added to make it £4,800,000. This further amount of about £2,000,000 is for services rendered in providing gun positions, for the ship training, and so forth.
It is not my intention to go into very close detail on the airship scheme, but I will content myself with a quotation from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who was Minister of Air last year, on this question of risk. We are advised (July, 1923) by the late Minister of Air:—
Too great reliance should not be placed on the repayment of those subsidies.
It may be that in my innocence and in my inexperience of office I have quoted from a document which it is improper to use in this way, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman it was done in complete ignorance.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) asked me to indicate what the programme of the Government is to be. I have been trying to the utmost of my ability to do just that, thing in my speech this afternoon, and to outline as clearly as may be exactly what we propose to do. Further than that it is impossible for me at this moment to go. An hon. Member complained that I had not referred sufficiently to the Iraq situation. It is true that I had prepared myself with some extracts from the report of the High Commissioner of Iraq on this matter which I was not permitted to use.
No, no, it is not fair to say that. The hon. Member should have used the extracts if he was prepared to lay the paper. I intervened to save him from the mistake which he has just made of quoting from a confidential document and being unable to lay it.
I have no complaint to make. I think the right hon. Gentleman's point was perfectly proper. In regard to the situation in Iraq, it is necessary for the Air Force authorities to come to the Civil authorities when there is any intention to use the Air Force in any way, and every proposed effort on the part of the military authorities is carefully scrutinised before a final decision is made. I trust that the Amendment which put this difficulty in our way will be withdrawn after the explanations I have made.
I regard, with the utmost possible concern, the attitude of the hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Estimate. I have no confidence in him. How can you expect the gallant officers and men of the Air Force to have confidence, that they will not be let down when they have an hon. Gentleman who professes pacifist opinions to look after their interests. It is they who will suffer. The hon. Gentleman will not surfer if he lets them down. Defeat, either at sea or in the air, is irretrievable, and there can be no recovery for this country. We are now facing a dual menace in the air and at sea. I ask the House and the country not to forget that both of those menaces are absolutely vital, and both may have disastrous results, which would be quite irretrievable.
I think it is possible to have only one speech at a time in this House. We are not arming against any specific country at all. We are providing what we think is the necessary Air Force for this country. The hon. Gentleman in charge of the Estimates has not yet said what his standard of strength. I regard his declaration as profoundly unsatisfactory. He has not said whether his standard of strength in the air is the standard of the late Government or some new standard. Perhaps they will have another Committee to inquire into that. In regard to the Burney Airship scheme, I submit that this is a most unnecessary further delay. The hon. Gentleman said that further inquiry is necessary. How many months have we to wait? Five or six Committees have already sat upon this; about five different Cabinet Ministers have gone into it and decided that the scheme should be proceeded with. When the late Government left office the scheme was on the point of application. Why cannot the Government tell us that at any rate their decision will not be delayed and that they will give a guarantee that at a certain time they will decide to go ahead with the scheme? I am quite certain that they will not get airships by any other means unless they are to start in with a kind of company promoting business at the Ministry of Air. These airships are required, not only from the point of view of commerce and industry, but also from the point of view of the Navy. Nothing was more wonderful during the War than the escape of the German Fleet after the Battle of Jutland, and this was due to the German airships. Again on the 19th August another German airship enabled the German Fleet to escape. The airship in naval war would be the finest aircraft carrier of the lot. It would be the best antidote to attack you could possibly devise. I submit, therefore, that these airships are vital to us not only from the point of view of commerce but from the point of view of the Navy, and I hope the House will not rest content with the declaration of the hon. Gentleman. He has told us nothing about it at all. I would like to
|Division No. 21.]||AYES.||[8.15 p.m.|
|Ackroyd, T. R.||Falconer, J.||Kedward, R. M.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Foot, Isaac||Keens, T.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Franklin, L. B.||Kennedy, T.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Alden, Percy||Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Gavan-Duffy, Thomas||Laverack, F. J.|
|Alstead, R.||George, Major G. L. (Pembroke)||Law, A.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Gilbert, James Daniel||Lawrence, Susan (East Ham, North)|
|Attlee, Major Clement R.||Gillett, George M.||Lawson, John James|
|Ayles, W. H.||Gorman, William||Leach, W.|
|Baker, W. J.||Gosling, Harry||Lee, F.|
|Banton, G.||Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome)||Lessing, E.|
|Barclay, Ft. Noton||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lindley, F. W.|
|Barnes, A.||Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Livingstone, A. M.|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff)||Gray, Frank (Oxford)||Loverseed, J. F.|
|Batey, Joseph||Greenall, T.||Lowth, T.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Lunn, William|
|Berkeley, Captain Reginald||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||McCrae, Sir George|
|Black, J. W.||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Groves, T.||Mackinder, W.|
|Bonwick, A.||Grundy, T. W.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)|
|Briant, Frank||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maden, H.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Mansel, Sir Courtenay|
|Bromfield, William||Harbord, Arthur||March, S.|
|Brown, A. E. (Warwick, Rugby)||Hardie, George D.||Marley, James|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Harney, E. A.||Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.)|
|Brunner, Sir J.||Harris, John (Hackney, North)||Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.|
|Buckie, J.||Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)||Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M.|
|Burnie, Major J. (Bootle)||Hastings, Sir Patrick||Middleton, G.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Hastings, Somerville (Reading)||Millar, J. D.|
|Cape, Thomas||Haycock, A. W.||Mills, J. E.|
|Chapple, Dr. William A.||Hayday, Arthur||Mond, H.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)||Montague, Frederick|
|Clarke, A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)|
|Climie, R.||Henderson, A. (Cardiff, South)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Morse, W. E.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Henderson, W. W. (Middlesex, Enfield)||Mosley, Oswald|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Hillary, A. E.||Muir, Ramsay (Rochdale)|
|Collins, Patrick (Walsall)||Hirst, G. H.||Murray, Robert|
|Compton, Joseph||Hobhouse, A. L.||Murrell, Frank|
|Comyns-Carr, A. S.||Hoffman, P. C.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Cory, Sir Clifford||Howard, Hon. G. (Bedford, Luton)||Nixon, H.|
|Costello, L. W. J.||Hudson, J. H.||O'Grady, Captain James|
|Cove, W. G.||Isaacs, G. A.||Oliver, George Harold|
|Crittall, V. G.||Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich)||Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley)|
|Darbishire, C. W.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||O'Neill, John Joseph|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)||Owen, Major G.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jewson, Dorothea||Paling, W.|
|Dickie, Captain J. P.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Palmer, E. T.|
|Dickson, T.||Johnston, Thomas (Stirling)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Dodds, S. R.||Jones, C. Sydney (Liverpool, W. Derby)||Pattinson, S. (Horncastle)|
|Dukes, C.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Perry, S. F.|
|Duncan, C.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Dunnico, H.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Phillipps, Vivian|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, Southern)||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Edwards, John H. (Accrington)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. (Bradford, E.)||Potts, John S.|
|Egan, W. H.||Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)||Pringle, W. M. R.|
|Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.)||Kay, Sir R. Newbald||Purcell, A. A.|
|Raffan, P. W.||Snell, Harry||Ward, G. (Leicester, Bosworth)|
|Raffety, F. W.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Warne, G. H.|
|Ramage, Captain Cecil Beresford||Spence, R.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Raynes, W. R.||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Rea, W. Russell||Stamford, T. W.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Richards, R.||Starmer, Sir Charles||Wedgwood, Col. Rt. Hon. Josiah, C.|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Stephen, Campbell||Weir, L. M.|
|Ritson, J.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)||Wells, S. R.|
|Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Stranger, Innes Harold||Westwood, J.|
|Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Chelmsford)||Sullivan, J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stratford)||Sunlight, J.||White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Robinson, W. E. (Burslem)||Sutherland, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Whiteley, W.|
|Royce, William Stapleton||Tattersall, J. L.||Wignall, James|
|Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. C.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Darby)||Williams, A. (York, W. R., Sowerby)|
|Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)||Thompson, Piers G. (Torquay)||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Scurr, John||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Seely, H. M. (Norfolk, Eastern)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Sexton, James||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)||Williams, Lt.-Col. T. S. B. (Kennington)|
|Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Thornton, Maxwell R.||Williams, Maj. A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)|
|Sherwood, George Henry||Tinker, John Joseph||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Shinwell, Emanuel||Toole, J.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Tout, W. J.||Windsor, Walter|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Simpson, J. Hope||Turner, Ben||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.|
|Sitch, Charles H.||Varley, Frank B.||Wright, W.|
|Smillie, Robert||Viant, S. P.||Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)|
|Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Vivian, H.|
|Smith, T. (Pontefract)||Wallhead, Richard C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Smith, W. R. (Norwich)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen||Mr. Spoor and Mr. Frederick Hall.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Cope, Major William||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Alexander, Brg.-Gen. Sir W. (Glas. C.)||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Henry Page||Johnson, Sir L. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Astor, Viscountess||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Dalkeith, Earl of||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Austin, Sir Herbert||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Lamb, J. Q.|
|Baird, Major Rt. Hon. Sir John L.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Lane-Fox, George R.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Deans, Richard Storry||Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Doyle, Sir N. Grattan||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)|
|Becker, Harry||Eden, Captain Anthony||Lord, Walter Greaves-|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lorimer, H. D.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Ednam, Viscount||MacDonald, R.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Elveden, Viscount||McLean, Major A.|
|Berry, Sir George||England, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Ferguson, H.||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||FitzRoy, Capt. Rt. Hon. Edward A.||Meller, R. J.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Forestier-Walker, L.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Gates, Percy||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Briscoe, Captain Richard George||Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Morrison-Bell, Major Sir A. C. (Honiton)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Burman, J. B.||Gretton, Colonel John||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Gwynne, Rupert S.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Harland, A.||Pennefather, Sir John De Fonblanque|
|Cassels, J. D.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hartington, Marquess of||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Harvey, C. M. B. (Aberd'n & Kincardne)||Phllipson, Mabel|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. S.)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Raine, W.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Rankin, James S.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rawson, Alfred Cooper|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.)||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Clayton, G. C.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Remer, J. R.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.||Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hutchison, W. (Kelvingrove)||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Stewart, Maj. R. S. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Russell-Wells, Sir S. (London Univ.)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wells, S. R.|
|Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-||Weston, John Wakefield|
|Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Wheler, Lieut.-Col. Granville C. H.|
|Sandeman, A. Stewart||Sutcliffe, T.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Savery, S. S.||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Wood, Major Rt. Hon. Edward F. L.|
|Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Shepperson, E. W.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wragg, Herbert|
|Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Waddington, R.|
|Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Somerville, Daniel (Barrow-in-Furn'ss)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)||Mr. penny and Colonel Windsor-|
|Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H.||Warrender, Sir Victor||Clive.|
Question put, and agreed to.