3. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,347,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Works, Buildings, Repairs, and Lands of the Air Force, including Civilian Staff and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927."
On a point of Order. May I ask, Sir, for our guidance. I believe it was arranged that we could have, on Report stage, a general discussion on one of the Votes that are now before the House. May I ask, for the guidance of the House, how far you would allow the discussion to range on either the first or the second Vote.
Before I left the Chair on the Estimates, I was asked that question one day last week, I then said if the Committee stage of Vote A was passed without discussion on that day I should think it right to give, on the Report of Vote A, the full Debate usually accorded on the Committee stage of Vote A. That means to say any matter that is pertinent to the Air Service.
Before dealing with certain specific points arising on this Vote, I want to advert to one or two matters raised in the previous Debate. I think all Members of the House find their greatest difficulty in discussing these Estimates, and indeed in discussing any of the Service Estimates, is that it seems to be quite impossible to get from the Minister in charge any real explanation of the defence policy of this country as a whole. If one raises the question of air defence from the general political or strategic point of view, one gets the reply, "I am only dealing with the Air Estimates. I must leave that to the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister." The same occurs on the Navy Estimates, and the same occurs on the Army Estimates, and I think it emphasises the point I am glad to see the Minister recognised in the last Debate, of the very general feeling in the House that the discussion of defence Estimates should be a discussion of one set of Estimates and not three sets of Estimates wherein we could have a general discussion on policy.
The way is to have the three sets of Estimates before us and, as far as we know, those three sets of Estimates do not come before any one direct authority from the point of view of policy and the point of view of defence strategy, although they are dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the finance point of view, and the last time I was speaking the point I made was that the reductions more depended on the personality of the Minister in charge of a particular service than on the intrinsic merits of that service as against another service. When the right hon. Gentleman replied, he did not reply to some questions I put to him, in which I endeavoured to elicit what was in his opinion the role of the Air Force in defence under modern conditions. All he would say was that no one was keener than himself to see a reduction of armaments. There was nothing he would like to see better than a restriction of air warfare and air armaments over the whole of Europe. But while that was very praiseworthy, he did not indicate the manner in which the Air Force would be employed in the event of war, and I want to raise one or two points on that matter.
I can understand that one role of an Air Force is to be the eyes of the Fleet, and the eyes of the Army. Another role is to be one arm acting in conjunction with others arms in land warfare or in sea warfare. But, of course, if those were the sole rôles of an Air Force, there would not be so much case for a separate Air Ministry and a separately-controlled Air Force. What I want to elicit is the manner in which an Air Force by itself is going to be employed, because I think it came out in discussion that there were few Members in the House who believed very much in air defence. I think it was common ground on all sides that the Air Force is an offensive weapon, and perhaps I might quote from a very interesting speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Warrington (Captain Reid) who speaks with considerable practical authority on Air Force matters. He repeated the well-known truism that in war it is the moral factor that is so exremely important. I am sure we are all grateful to him for not quoting Napoleon's maxim, which we have heard so often. Later he said:
If in the future it should ever be necessary for this country to assert herself in Europe, I sometimes feel that the best way of doing it would be for our augmented and efficient air fleet to make a visit to the capitals of the countries concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1926; col. 862, Vol. 192.]
I want to know whether that is the sort of idea we have at the back of our minds in having an Air Force, and whether we really contemplate that our Air Force, when full grown, shall be a weapon to be held in terrorem over civil populations, because I cannot deduce from that visit suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman anything in the way of those naval visits, full of international courtesies,
because you cannot do it when you are hovering over a town up in the air. It seems to me to be merely a matter of threat. On a small scale, in Iraq and on the North-west Frontier, we are using the Air Force as a weapon to be held in terrorem. In fact, we are keeping peace in Iraq to-day because we have the threat of being able to bomb armed forces or villages or inhabitants. Is that really the position accepted by the Minister and by our air staff, that in the next war we will utilise the Air Force to destroy the morale of any particular enemy country, because if it is so, I think we ought to put some corrections in those advertisements in which we advertise for young men to join the Air Force—very attractive advertisements. "See the world." "It is a man's life." Yes, but if this is going to be the role of an Air Force, it is not a man's job. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has a horror of air warfare. He has expressed it more than once in speaking on the Air Estimates. But I wonder if he is really impressing his colleagues sufficiently with the horrors of any future war from the point of view of air warfare. I want to know whether he is pulling his full weight in leading towards general disarmament, because I, for one, am not in the least impressed with the idea that by any international convention you can humanise warfare. I read a suggestion the other day that the Air Forces were going to be like public houses. They were going to have certain closing hours. It did not impress me much. I do not know whether they were to be allowed to bomb by day or bomb by night. Another suggestion made was that it might be possible to outlaw any nation that drops bombs from aeroplanes, and that the aeroplane should be used for other methods. I am profoundly sceptical with regard to any such suggested regulations. We have seen their utter failure in the case of poison gas. We know that such regulations have failed in regard to submarines. In effect, where any Government considers that its nation's existence is at stake, all these international conventions are worth so much broken crockery.
I am rather seriously concerned at the right hon. Gentleman's policy of allowing our aeroplanes and our engines, made in this country, to be sold to other countries. If it were merely a question of civil aviation, I should rejoice at seeing this country increase its trade. But trade in armaments has a very sinister record, and I am afraid that this setting free of our aeroplanes and our engines to be sold overseas is only the prelude to the despatch of some of the sort of missions that we found going out from the Admiralty and the War Office in past days. We may have Air Missions going to teach some poor little nations, somewhere away across the seas, the really up-to-date methods of slaughter, and when they have learned them they naturally want to follow the wise advice of their instructors. Accordingly, we shall find a little flow of orders gradually coming back to this country for the material recommended by the skilled men sent out by this country. By those means the growth of armaments is stimulated all over the world. When one nation has accepted a mission from this country we shall find another nation accepting a mission from another country, and we shall get to a state of affairs such as we had just before the War, when, I think, Bulgaria was armed by Germany, Serbia was armed by France, and the first Balkan War was made the occasion of seeing how the thing worked. We should not actually encourage traffic in armaments when at the same time we are working for a disarmament conference in the near future. It is utterly and entirely inconsistent.
I want to take the matter a little further in considering another branch of the Air Estimates, and that is the question of civil aviation. The right hon. Gentleman is continuing to develop civil aviation. It seems to be absolutely inevitable that in every country where civil aviation is developed you are in fact building up a reserve for the Air Force of that country. It can hardly be denied, and it has certainly been made a point in several speeches in this House that, where we find civil aviation developing, that is counted in weighing up the air strength of that particular country. We in this country are supporting civil aviation. The right hon. Gentleman has recently made an agreement with Imperial Airways, Limited, and I should like him to tell us a little more what this new agreement means. We are paying a subsidy to Imperial Airways, and in return they give a guarantee that one million miles will be flown every year. We have changed that now to 425,000,000 horse-power miles which, I understand, is miles multiplied by horse power.
I should like to know exactly the sort of bargain we are getting, because it seems to me that when one is dealing with Sir Eric Geddes, who is the Director of Imperial Airways, you want to have a fairly long spoon. I should like to know a little more about the details, and in particular how long we are bound to pay the subsidy to Imperial Airways. It is part of the system that has grown up of late years by which we subsidise private adventure. They get 10 per cent. profit, if there is any, and in this case when they have had 10 per cent. profit we get one-third of what remains. We take the risk or, rather, the certainty in this case, of giving them £180,000 odd, in return for this particular agreement. That is not Socialism. It is a case where some very astute people make the best of both worlds. While devoting themselves to the pursuit of private interests, and worshiping at that shrine, at the same time, as a collateral security, they worship at the shrine of the State.
I think that is quite likely, but it does not alter the fact that we are paying £186,000 to some extremely astute business men, who, I daresay, may not be making much at the present time. But what I am wanting to know is what they are going to make in the future. How long is this to go on? Whether they are making anything or not, there is this danger in the arrangement that, without adequate public control, we pay subsidies of all sorts to private enterprise. Where you are developing your own country I admit that you may have to do it, but I suggest that this is not the best way in which civil aviation could be developed.
I am very much afraid of this development of civil aviation along purely national lines. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman is developing on civil aviation lines to get a line down to Singapore, something in the nature of an all-red route. I submit that that is a danger. The more we pile up air materials and trained airmen, and the more other countries do the same with their civil forces, which may be called in as air supports, we are increasing the danger of air rivalry. I should like to see civil aviation lifted entirely outside the plane of international rivalry. We have an International Commission for the regulation of aerial navigation. Seeing that we go so far, I would suggest that the whole business of civil aviation should become the function of the League of Nations, and that it should be taken entirely out of the hands of the nationalists. That may seem a strange proposition, but it seems to me that one of the tragedies of the development of transport has been that while transport has brought the peoples of the world nearer together, it has also brought them to so many points of dangerous contact that it has actually increased the risk of war, and it certainly has contributed vastly to extending the scope of war, until we have had enormous armies and long wars.
I should be very sorry to see this latest development of man's activities in transport made the handmaid of warfare. I should like to see an international commission of the League of Nations taking over the whole of this service and building up an international civil aviation undertaking, which would be staffed by men drawn from all the nations of the world, in which they would get to feel that they were an international body, in which we could make use of the esprit de corps and the chivalry that was displayed so very prominently during the War by the men of the Air Forces of all nations. That would be an ideal worth working for. If we could take up this matter in the same way that we take up other matters connected with the League of Nations, and if we could develop our civil aviation as a great means of uniting the world, we might make a great step forward, and a step forward in which the advance of science would be really utilised for the good of the whole world. The Air Services are essentially international. They are for long distances, and instead of handing over civil aviation to a company in this country and running it as a national matter, as it is also done in other countries, we ought to make the whole of this wonderful means of communication an international service, by which we could really unite the world, and we could go forward in its development because we could feel quite certain that we were not merely building up reserves for future aerial warfare.
There is one further point to which I would draw attention, and that is the question of safety. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what developments have been made recently in safety appliances, parachutes and so forth. We are taking men into this service, and I want to protect them, not only by making the service as safe as possible for actual flying, but as safe as possible so that the men will not have to fight.
The hon. Member has dealt with many points with which I am familiar, and perhaps I may be allowed to reply. I was a director of Imperial Airways. I was one of those "astute business men" who endeavoured to get the better of an innocent Minister. I do not know why the hon. Member should impute to everybody who goes into business some malign motive. I went in entirely to try to help the business of civil aviation. I had two very interesting years on the board. When I was reelected to this House, I felt it my duty to resign from a subsidised company. The hon. Member complains about subsidy. I have seen civil flying all over Europe. I have flown in French machines, in German machines, in Dutch machines, and I think I have flown in every type of British machine that is flown by Imperial Airways. I have met the men concerned with running civil aviation in Europe, and I can say that not one company is paying without a subsidy. No civil plane is going through the air without a subsidy. Even on the most easy and frequented route, the London to Paris route, no plane will pay its way. The business of civil aviation may pay in time. I believe it will. The present agreement was for 10 years originally. There was a loss made for the first year, but the accounts for the second year are not yet out. I believe that it will pay at the end of 10 years. The subject is one of immense importance. I look to it as the great means of transporting fast mails and passengers. There is an enormous future before it. The hon. Member opposite said, "Why should it be developed nationally? Why should you not have a general control under the League of Nations?" I have a different solution to offer. The first step is for each country to start civil aviation. But as soon as you start, you are up against the fact that you leave your own boundary very quickly and you are bound, therefore, to combine with other countries. No country can expect to fly independently of all other countries, and I think we shall get some kind of international cooperation. In fact, we are getting it already, and we must expect it will be developed even further in the future. I agree that the actual physical plane will continue to belong to the country concerned, and for good reasons. That is, I think, the best plan.
The hon. Member also inquired why the old agreement was changed from a subsidy paid on flying 1,000,000 miles a year to a subsidy paid on 425,000,000 horsepower miles. May I be allowed to give my own explanation? The mere mileage subsidy did not encourage the flying machine which may become commercially possible without a subsidy. It is clear that if you have a bare subsidy on the miles flown, the cheaper and smaller your machine the more subsidy, comparatively, that small machine will earn. But a small machine can never pay independently of a subsidy; therefore the bare mileage subsidy has the effect of discouraging machines that may pay eventually. The future of civil aviation is very good, and it is quite independent of military aviation. It is a means of transport that is bound to come. It is no good thinking that we can make any arrangements whereby competition between nations will not take place in civil aviation. I am sure it will, and I see no harm in it. After all, it may be quite a businesslike and keen competition, and may not lead to all the evils which the hon. Member opposite expects.
Now I come to the second question in which I took a personal part, and that is the question of the traffic in arms. I quite agree that the traffic in arms is a very great international evil. It is a terrible question, but I do not think the hon. Member realises how good is the record of this country in this respect. We are the only country who are really playing the game. I had the honour of sitting on the Commission of the League of Nations which drew up the Convention for the traffic in arms, and I had the further honour of being appointed the rapporteur to that Committee. The actual Convention which is now before the various Governments is my work. If it be passed—and I think it will be passed—it will do a very great deal. But I must add this; it will not do more than bring other countries up to the British level, for we do consider ourselves bound by an old Convention, the Convention of St. Germain, which was only ratified by a few countries. We are now doing all we can, and I do not think we can do much more. I want, however, to say a word of commendation of our own country; our Governments have tried their best to put down this abominable traffic.
The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) spoke also about a Ministry of Defence. Here I agree entirely with him. It is the great need of the future, and I do not see how you can get along without a Ministry of Defence. When these Estimates were before the Committee, the hon. Gentleman gave some interesting examples of duplication, and I am quite sure that a large amount of duplication is taking place. My point is not so much the duplication of recruiting: staffs and of hospitals or things of that sort; it is the general overlapping between the other Services and the Air Force. I want to know what is the role of the Air Force in defence. In 1914, and before 1914, the chief burden of the defence of these Islands was on the Navy, but since then the Air Force has sprung up and the Prime Minister has assured us that the three forces, the Navy, Army and the Air Force, are co-equal. How much of the burden of defence of these Islands is now carried by the Air Force? It must be something; it cannot be that the Air Force is doing nothing in defence. Some people may put the line here and other people may put the line there, but a certain amount of the burden and expense which was borne by the Navy before 1914 must now be borne by the Air Force.
I confess that when I read the Navy Estimates, I cannot see much signs of it. We shall spend this year £117,000,000 on defence. It may be necessary, but it is not proved to me that it is, and I believe if we had a single Ministry which could co-ordinate all our Defence Forces, we might save very large part of the £117,000,000. It is surely obvious that the Air Force must bear some of the burden, but I cannot see any signs of it in the Estimates. We have not seen the Colwyn Report. The Prime Minister says it is a private document and will not be shown. I should very much like to see that Report, and if the Prime Minister were assured that the House generally would like to see it, perhaps he may change his mind; for after all it is germane to this question. It is the last occasion on which an expert Committee has gone into the finance of the three Services, and it would be extremely interesting to us who are interested in economy to see the Report of that Committee. I hope we shall.
There are one or two more things on which I want to say a word or two. The hon. and gallant Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Sir F. Sykes) made an interesting speech on the Committee stage, when he attacked the Air Ministry rather severely. He said that we had no reserves, that the ground staff was too large, and that civil aviation was falling behind. I want to say a word on each of those three points. I do not think you can have reserves which are big in a new Service. You want many years for the system of reserves to mature, and I think the hon. and gallant Member was expecting rather too much. Then as to the comparison of the staff employed on the ground and the staff employed in the air—I know he is a great authority on this subject, and my own experience has been obtained solely in civil and commercial aviation—I happened to be speaking the other day to one of our most distinguished pilots, a man engaged in civil flying and whose name is known all over the world. He said:
Our progress in the air has gone ahead of our progress on the ground. We have very good planes and very good engines and the real advance now is in the ground services. What we pilots want is still better directional wireless, fog-piercing lights, automatic control, and, above all, weather reports.
I know it is easy to point to figures and say there are so many men employed on the ground and so many machines in the air. Let the House remember what a plane in the air really is. It is a point on which all sorts of unseen currents meet, and its safety depends on what is done on the earth below. God help the
pilots if the ground service is cut down! Instead of being reduced, I think we shall see the ground service increased, and largely increased, for the new inventions, all of them of great value, entail more services upon the ground.
A few more words upon the charge that our civil aviation is falling behind that of other countries. No civil aviation is paying. All Governments are subsidising their civil aviation. I do not think that any Government pays less than we do, at least no big country pays less than we do, and some pay a great deal more. I have flown in the planes of a great many countries, and, as far as air skill is concerned, there is no shadow of doubt that we are ahead in this country; our pilots are still the best in the world. As far as the construction of planes is concerned, I think foreigners are getting ahead of us in all-metal planes, especially the Junkers Company in Germany, in whose planes I have flown. I think that the plane of the future is the all-metal plane, and that is being built more on the Continent than here. As far as engines are concerned, I notice that foreign countries are coming here; so I do not think we are falling behind in that respect.
But perhaps the best proof of our present position is the way in which we are regarded by foreign countries. I wish that some Members of this House would go into the aerodromes of Paris, Amsterdam and elsewhere, and read the advertisements on the walls. In all those countries you will find advertisements of the civil aviation company of the country, and all those advertisements are written entirely in English: you will not see a word of French or German or Dutch in the advertisements. It is not an unfair assumption that some of these companies, at any rate, are inducing people to think that they are British companies, and I think we may say that all over Europe these companies find it pays them best to have, at least outwardly, a British appearance. Therefore I do not think there is very much wrong with our civil flying. I am reinforced in that belief by the fact that we are the only country who are trying to make civil flying pay without a subsidy. All the other countries, as far as I can see—I see most of them—are running it on more extravagant lines than we are, and, therefore, they appear to do much more. We are going to work more slowly and more solidly because we recognise that a subsidised service is no good.
The French pay about five times the amount of our subsidy, or something like that. I may be putting it too high, but I know that it is many times our subsidy. We are trying to fly commercially, and I submit that that is the best thing to do. It may not make such a show. You may be attacked in the Press and be told that Germany or France is going ahead, and what is being done in those countries may be contrasted with what the British company is doing. Still, I believe that we are proceeding on the right way, and that we are laying the foundations for a very great success in the future.
I listened with great interest the other day to the speech of the Secretary of State for Air when he introduced the Estimates, and to the reply on the Debate which he made later in the evening. My real interest in what he had to say lay in two directions. I wanted to hear what he would say about the Air Service as a means of defence for this country, and, in the second place, I was wondering what was going to be the effect of the Locarno Pact upon the air policy of this country for the year 1926–27. I would like to revert to this question of the Air Service as a means of defence of the people of this country. The Minister has taken pride, and quite rightly, in the steady and marked advance of the Air Service in this country since His Majesty's Government introduced their new policy in 1923. The right hon. Gentleman was able to tell us that, whereas we had only three squadrons for home defence three years ago, this year we had as many as 25 squadrons, and he was able to promise the House that the squadrons would num ber 28 by the end of the current year; and, while he made a certain allowance for slowing down, he assured everyone that the original programme as laid down in 1923 was destined to be carried out—the idea of 52 squadrons to be used for purposes of home defence.
The right hon. Gentleman also emphasised the fact that he had succeeded in the course of this year in associating the two classical universities of the country in the building up and extension of that programme. He particularly referred to the collaboration of those two universities in the problems of research into technique, inventions of new methods, and the whole question of the use of the best brains of British scholarship in close co-operation with the Air Ministry in working out the 1923 programme. I confess that if all this development were in the interests of civil aviation I should have had much more pleasure in listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. No one could desire anything better than that the State should be co-operating with enterprises which are destined to succeed in the conquest of the air, in bringing together the nations of the world for effective co-operation through expansion in that direction. But we know that when the Minister invites the co-operation of the scientists of Oxford and Cambridge he has very different intentions in mind from those which the last speaker has described. I would ask the Minister what is to be the actual and practical result of the kind of research work which is being carried on, not only in his own laboratories, but in the laboratories of the two ancient universities. I find that the ideals which are laid out for these research men, the best and cleverest scientists of our own time, were set forth by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a piece of writing that was published in 1924. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the two great objectives of research were as follow:
Then there are explosives. May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything heretofore discovered? May not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings—nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatic-
ally in flying machines by wireless and other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer also referred to a second great branch of research in which, I take it, the Air Minister is anxious to co-operate with the moneys that he is dispoeed to grant to seats of learning. Let me give the House the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own words upon this second field of research:
A study of disease—of pestilence methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast—is certainly being pursued in the laboratories of more than one great country. Blight to destroy crops, anthrax to slay horses and cattle, plague to poison not armies only but whole districts—such are the lines along which military science is remorselessly advancing.
When I try to work out what will be the upshot of the whole of this development in military tactics that the right hon. Gentleman is busily engaged in, what will inevitably prove to be the risk of warfare as against the old practice of having certain sections of the population specialised in warfare, I find that this new method will inevitably result in the whole of the civil population of a country being engaged in general warfare with another similar entire population. I find that the German Military General von Altrock—we do not hear quite so much of the military technique of the Germans in these days—throws a very illuminating light on the subject in an article in the Militar Woehenblatt, in which he tries to come to a logical conclusion as to the results of research in air warfare. He says:
In wars of the future the initial hostile attack will be decided against the great nerve and communication centres of the enemy's territory, against its large cities, factory centres, munition areas, water, gas and light supplies; in fact, against every life artery of the country. Discharge of poisonous gases will become the rule, since great progress has been made in the production of poison gases. Such attacks will be carried to great depths in rear of the actual fighting troops. Entire regions inhabited by peaceful population will be continually threatened with extinction. The war will frequently have the appearance of a destruction en masse of the entire civil population rather than a combat of armed men.
I have tried to give the opinions of experts rather than imaginings of my own. I do not know that there is any-
thing new in this conception of the logical results of this policy, because the Minister himself admitted the broad outlines of the consequences of this policy; he admitted that if and when another war came along we would be face to face in practice with something like the possibility of the destruction of civilisation. In view of the entirely new character of the technique of air operations in modern warfare; in view of the fact that it involves warfare between whole civilised populations in their entirety, in view of the fact that we do not know of any defence against aircraft except other aircraft; in view of the fact that the chief use of air machines in war, is to consist of deliberate attacks on defenceless populations, I think it would have been appropriate if the Air Minister were to make a frank statement to the House and say what is the value for defensive purposes of the Air Service to the British nation in any conceivable circumstances of modern war. The opinion is growing, and is fortified by expert views, that we are simply playing a fool's game, and embarking on a policy of warfare which is not only going to fail in defending this country, but is going to provoke undreamt of forces for the undoing of modern civilisation. I pass to my second point, which is in regard to the influence of the Locarno Pact upon the air policy of the Government. I, along with many hon. Members, thought that after the Locarno Agreement we might expect a definite, concrete and permanent policy tending towards disarmament. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman's speech correctly, however, the only thing Locarno has done in the way of influencing British policy has been to produce a short delay in the carrying out of an expansion policy. The right hon. Gentleman summed up the Government's views in this language:
The Government have decided that the expansion programme should remain intact. Their decision means nothing more nor less than that the programme will be eventually carried out, but as a result of the signing of the Locarno Treaty it is possible to take a longer period for carrying it out than would have been the case if no Treaty had been signed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1926; col. 772, Vol. 192.]
I take it, therefore, the practical meaning of Locarno is that the expansion policy is to go on, but we are to have 12
months' respite in which to look around and explore the possiblities of improved machines, and so forth. In the end there is to be a continuance of the deliberate policy of expansion agreed upon in 1923. What does the Air Minister feel in regard to this matter in view of the solemn obligations entered into at Locarno? I may remind him of the tax of the final Protocol of the Locarno Conference, which contains the following passage:
The representatives of the Governments represented here declare thir firm conviction that the entry into force of these treaties and conventions will contribute greatly to bring about a moral relaxation of the tension between nations, that it will help powerfully towards the solution of many political or economic problems in accordance with the interests and sentiments of peoples, and that in strengthening peace and security in Europe, it will hasten on effectively the disarmament provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. They undertake to give their sincere co-operation to the work relating to disarmament already undertaken by the League of Nations and to seek the realisation thereof in a general agreement.
In order to emphasise the solemnity of that view, the Foreign Secretary, on his return to this country, went out of his way to make the following reference:
The agreements of Locarno do not make war impossible—no human undertaking or human force can do that—but they render war infinitely less possible than it would otherwise have been.
It will be agreed that the word "infinitely" is a strong word to use in a statement of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded:
I feel, therefore, that Locarno has made a real contribution to the peace of the world. The British Government, like the other Governments there represented, mean to give their full force to these agreements and to draw the natural consequences from them. In removing suspicion and fear and giving a sense of security, we make disarmament possible, and disarmament ought to follow.
I should like to ask the Minister for Air whether he cannot—if not in respect of the general policy of the Government, at any rate in respect of the service for which he is responsible—make some definite statement as to the implications contained in those two statements, in so far as the current year is concerned. I know that he, alone, cannot give any general statement of policy, but he is in charge of the Air Service which is the key service in connection with any possible disarmament. Is he pressing on
his own Department the claims of the forthcoming Disarmament Conference? Is he asking his own experts to take the initiative in drawing up plans, so that he will be ready with a programme carefully worked out to show how this policy of disarmament can be applied to the service for which he is responsible? When I take into account the temper of the right hon. Gentleman's speech and remember the background of Locarno, I cannot help concluding that this Government and all those who support the policy which the Air Minister is adumbrating, have learned nothing from the profoundly tragic experience of the World War. We have learned nothing from the experience of Locarno. We are simply reproducing the same arguments as those which we had from 1906 to 1914. We are still resting our power in the same place as in those old days.
I, for my part, raise my protest against the steadily growing tendency to perpetuate expenditure upon military purposes on behalf of the nation. The time has come to launch out on some kind of new policy. The Air Minister cannot go on for more than three or four years more taking the view which he now takes and carrying out the expansion policy, without allowing for the operation of a similar logic among those who are now coming into the League of Nations. Does he think that the German nation will continue indefinitely without a military air service if he continues the policy of expanding the British air service? I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman frankly facing these problems because in five years' time, if we are to honour our bond to Germany, in respect of the Peace Treaties and disarmament, we shall be compelled to allow Germany to begin to rebuild a military service, comparable to our own. I protest here in 1926 as a relatively new member against our being subjected to the old policy of the military state. I believe the people of Britain recognise that the time has come when instead of being in the service of the military state, we here in the House of Commons should devote our time to the wise guidance of the economic life of the nation. We are passing away from the old bad days of the military state to what we can describe as the industrial state, or if you like, the cultural state. I regret that in the speeches, so careful and so lucid, of the right hon. Gentleman this year and last year—speeches so dispassionately and scientifically rendered to this Assembly—he has omitted to deal with these two vital and fundamental matters, firstly, whether the air service ever can defend the people of this country, and secondly, what are we going to do to fulfil our obligations of honour, and to follow along the path of voluntary disarmament where we have already compelled one great civilisation to go?
I endorse what the last speaker said in regard to the very clear and precise statement of the right hon. Gentleman in opening the Debate. I have a great regard for the right hon. Gentleman for more reasons than one. He is one of the very few Air Ministers in Europe who talks air at home and flies through it abroad, and I think he enjoys the regard of many on the Continent, who like to see a man practice what he preaches. This Debate has brought out arguments on many aspects of the question and I should like to address myself to the industrial side of aviation. Particularly, I should like to emphasise the industrial or civil side of aviation in relation to the Empire, as one who has just returned—and not for the first time—from a tour which embraced many parts of the Empire. As I see it, at the moment we have no Empire air policy and I think if one were put forward, it would mean much for the future of civil flying in this country and the Dominions. At present, in the Empire, civil flying is divided into watertight compartments and it is impossible to make those compartments, individually pay. I do not much care for committees and I think we suffer from too many of them in some directions, but in regard to this subject a committee should undoubtedly be set up to consider the whole question of Empire aviation and give us a statement as to what can be done in commercial flying under the Union Jack, and its possible relation to Empire commerce, development and defence. I am convinced that if the matter were dealt with on a large scale we should not only not require subsidies, but that aviation in a few years could be made to pay well.
At the present moment the foreigner is busy. I do not blame him at all, but I do not like to see him busy at our expense. He is endeavouring to compete against us in the British Dominions as well as elsewhere. Only a week or two ago we read that a very important order by the South African Government had been given to a German firm making metal aeroplanes. I believe that news has since arrived to the effect that this is not definite, but at any rate it shows the possibility of services falling into foreign hands and, at the same time, the same German company is endeavouring to get into the West Indies with a service either from Colombia or Venezuela. Turning to the position of aviation in the Dominions we find that Canada almost immediately after the War—the Canadians being a hard headed and practical people—thought it was time to see what could be done with civil aviation, when war purposes for the time being were set aside. They called a conference of all Government departments to see what use could be made of civil aviation, in what measure each department would benefit, and in what way each department could help. They succeeded in making considerable case of aircraft for the very important purpose of surveying and map-making, and an even more important purpose from the point of view of economy is served by the use of aircraft to patrol the forests of Northern Canada. Since this measure was put into practice, millions of dollars have been saved in Northern Quebec and other provinces in Canada by the fires saved through the air patrol. Hon. Members who know Canada well will recognise that it is not a difficult thing for planes to cover the Canadian forests, because there are thousands of lakes and ponds in which they can readily descend. The Air Board under the Canadian Government compile every year a most interesting book of statistics giving the facts as to what has been done in the year previous.
As far as Australia is concerned, very wide spaces have been bridged. The Australians, I believe, under encouragement from the Motherland, could be induced to do even more than is being done now, because they suffer at the present moment from a series of very old planes. In fact, practically all that they have to-day are the gift planes which they received some six or eight years ago from the Mother country, and which badly want replacing. It fell to my lot to make a tour, a few months ago, of Victoria and part of New South Wales, and I was not particularly reassured when I was told that the plane was a very ancient one. Notwithstanding this, a great deal has been done in both Queensland and Western Australia in opening out trade by a regular route, and it is very satisfactory to know that in both these States, since this route was opened, and these aeroplanes have been operating, there has not been a single casualty, a fact which speaks very well indeed for Australian aviation. It is a country in which very much might be done, for it is absolutely ideal for flying, from the point of view both of landing grounds and of possessing an almost perfect climate.
In South Africa very little civil flying has been done, except for spasmodic flights between Cape Town and Durban, but there, I think, the House will agree that even the past few weeks have shown what can be dono, not only in South Africa but in Africa as a whole, when we look in the papers and see the magnificent flights, carried out by Alan Cobham, and the splendid flight now being undertaken by the Royal Air Force. As far as India is concerned, there is at present absolutely no civil air policy at all, but there, again, I am quite sure that hon. Members who know India will agree with me that there is a tremendous opening for civil flying, if it were undertaken in an energetic manner. We at home have a subsidised monopoly air route to the Continent, and, as far as these two or three short routes are concerned, the job is done very well indeed. It is not an easy job, for we have a very difficult climate, and, of course, these planes operate in a region in the world where there is about the finest train, and boat service one could find anywhere, but as far as it is possible to succeed, they certainly have succeeded. I should like to see this Service added to by one or two routes, which, I think, perhaps, our French friends might be induced to allow us, and that is in the development of a seaplane service between, say, Southampton and certain of the French ports and seaside resorts. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if we readily admit them here, I think it only right and fair that they should let us land in the ports of France and continue a seaplane trip, which now only goes as far as Peter port, in Guernsey.
But because we have here a difficult climate with only short distances, from the point of view of flying, that must in no way warp our judgment from the point of view of doing our best to develop aviation overseas. Years ago, and throughout the Middle Ages, in fact, the British Navy was built up by the Mercantile Marine, and I do not see any reason why the Air Force stand-by of tomorrow should not be the Merchant Air Service. We shall see, I am quite convinced, in a very few years' time a tremendous move forward in the building of airships. They will, of course, form the long-distance, non-stop, transoceanic service, and aeroplanes will be the auxiliaries in different parts of the Empire. I think it is quite impossible to exaggerate, from the point of view of inter-Empire air communication what a good airship service would mean between the Motherland and the Dominions. I understand that it is the intention of the Air Ministry eventually to have a fleet of twelve—eight running and four in overhaul—and that we hope to be able to accomplish the distance between London and Australia eventually in 9½ days' flying, either by Karachi or the Cape. This will enable passengers, mails, and parcels to go from England to Australia in something like a third, or well under a third, of the time occupied now, and to be distributed from the termini on arrival by a good civil aeroplane service.
As a suggestion as to what might be done, may I just turn for a moment to a very important section of the British Colonies, and that is the section which starts from British Guiana and swings round in a great are to the Southern States of North. America, where the Bahamas are almost opposite Florida? In British Guiana itself we have a very rich colony, of which at least three-quarters is covered by virgin forest, and a great deal of it entirely unexplored. These virgin forests are intersected by rivers, and the only means at present of getting into the hinterland of that country is by water. It is very difficult to make geological or forest surveys or to ascertain any possibilities of development. I recall one trip of some 250 miles up the Mazaruni River, with a special boat and a native crew, which took 10 days, and which, by plane, might have been easily carried out in three hours. Between the capital itself, Georgetown, and Trinidad there is a very poor steamship service, and a seaplane would be amazingly useful in linking up these two colonies.
From Trinidad this great semi-circle of islands up to the Bahamas, which is really the nearest link between North America and South America, could be very easily joined up by a seaplane service, for I believe I am right in saying that the islands do not average more than 50 miles apart, and that if a good service were formed, mails and passengers would be taken, not only between the islands themselves, but a great deal of business would result from the wealthy countries of South America, which would send their mails and passengers that way to catch the boats to Europe. In the Bahamas a flying boat could be made of the greatest possible use in the lighthouse service. At the present time, an expensive yacht is used, which costs a great deal more than a couple of seaplanes would do, and, of course, is very much slower. The Bahamas are scattered over a wide area, and I think I am right in saying that no Governor of the Bahamas has ever yet visited all his islands. He would be able to do so by the same means. As with the West Indies, so with the Colonies in many other parts of the Empire, but I have, I am afraid, exhausted the patience of the House in this conducted tour, and I will say no more except this, that I am certain that private enterprise would come in if the Government would only give sympathetic help and advice. I think we might do worse than take warning from Central Europe. Air lines there are extending in all directions. France and Germany and Czechoslovakia all believe, and believe whole-heartedly, in the future of civil aviation. In France there is an Air League of over 1,000,000 members, whereas in Great Britain it has been hard work to raise 5,000 members. We are falling behind at the present time, and it is only this House which is able to give the right encouragement. To be effective, we must have an Empire policy. I believe that this can be done, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that some such points as a working unit for the Empire will be placed before the Imperial Conference.
Finally, I would ask one important question, and that is whether civil aviation should be worked by the Air Ministry at all. I am convinced that the Air Minister himself is very sympathetic in regard to civil aviation, but I think no-one can be blind to the fact that at least some of his leading advisers have expressed themselves on more than one occasion to the effect that they have no particular use for it. We have had another suggestion from the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), that civil aviation in all countries should be handed over to the League of Nations, which should form a sort of Société Internationale des Wagons-Lits de l' Air. I do not know. I do not think we have quite advanced to the stage where anything of that kind can be done, but I should like to make the suggestion to the Minister that if his Department does not see its way to encourage civil aviation, it might be handed over to another existing Department, such as the Board of Trade, or to whatever Department might be considered best to handle this particular subject. And I do press upon him that if it is left as it is to-day, or until a change is made, he will do all he can to develop this great new method of inter-communication which means so much to the Empire as a whole.
I am sure the House will have enjoyed the conducted tour, as he himself described it, of the hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain). I should like to refer first to the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith), in which he appealed to the Secretary of State for Air to give effect to the provisions of the Locarno Treaty. I should like to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we are not the culprits in so far as the air situation is concerned. I believe he has a method of making his opinions felt with foreign nations. The Labour party has machinery for making representations to foreign nations, and I would suggest to him that he should bring what pressure he can to bear on France, whose military machines stand in the ratio of four to one com- pared with our own. I want to say a word or two about civil aviation, because, although I am one of those who believe in civil aviation, I believe our position there is no better than it is in regard to military aviation. I have always said that there are only two positions which are compatible with our island situation. We ought either to press forward for a policy of complete disarmament, or, if that be unsuccessful—and we have made some attempts—we ought to insist on a position of superiority in the air. I noticed the other day that the Under-Secretary for Air gave a lecture, I think in Brussels, and he was able to demonstrate successfully to his audience the fact that we have made the most drastic reductions in our Air Force in the course of the last few years. I think we have carried this reducing policy of our Air Force as far as we can possibly go, and, especially as the representative of a London constituency, I regard our deplorable position in the air with great dismay and apprehension, which is not confined to our position from the point of view of military aviation.
The other day I was looking up a few figures in regard to civil aviation, and I found that Sir Eric Geddes, chairman of the Imperial Airways, made a speech in which he boasted with considerable pride of the fact that the Imperial Airways flew a total of 825,000 miles in one year, and carried a number of passengers equal to 11,000. I was at some pains to find out what the corresponding figures were of several nations, and in the case of the Lufthans-Gesell-schaft or Deutche-Luftreeder, which is a German air combine, of all the German airways, that flew on their regular services 2,500,000 miles in six months, as compared with our 825,000 miles in one year. That is to say, our total mileage, compared with the civil aviation mileage of our late defeated enemies, is only one-eighth.
I am quite sure that the hon. and gallant Member wants to put the whole case, but I think he will bear in mind that Germany has got a very large amount of home flying, and that a large number of these miles are flown over Germany itself. We fly only over 60 miles of the British Isles, and we never shall fly over more for commerce. From London to the north has been tried and failed, and will fail in future. So that we start with a large handicap against us, and the figures are not really comparable.
I quite understand the point which the hon. and gallant Member puts, but if Germany has a large land surface to fly over, we have large intervening water spaces to fly over, and I have always understood that for traffic over intervening water spaces, passage by air had incomparable advantages over passage by other means of transport, and I do not think it is sufficient explanation of the fact that we only flew one-eighth of the mileage of the German civil air combine. It is not sufficient to say that they had greater scope, because also in the case of passengers we find that, whereas the Imperial Airways only carried 11,000 passengers in one year, the German air combine carried 48,000 passengers in six months. So that for every one person who flies by our British civil air service, 10 persons fly in Germany. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to what he attributes that? Is it any unpopularity of the air as a means of transport in the case of our own people, or is it because the German Government is devoting greater attention to its civil air service than we are? At any rate, it is a matter which requires close investigation. It is an extremely unsatisfactory position for this country.
I want to make a further appeal to the Secretary of State for Air. I know it is an almost impossible thing to ask him to bring about a Ministry of Defence. I do not believe that that would be possible to bring about. It would require a stronger man than we have got in this Government or any other Government, so far as I can see, to bring about that consummation. I think it would be a splendid thing, but if we cannot have the whole thing, there is a certain extent to which, I believe, it is perfectly practicable to go. I believe it is possible to bring in a Measure to introduce a certain amount of co-ordination of the four Services—supplies, recruiting, medical service, and research, in which it ought to be possible to bring about closer co-operation. I do not think the House realises what a ridiculous position we are in at the present time. In almost every large town the Army, Navy, and Air Force have each a recruiting office, and perhaps some country yokel, having seen an aeroplane flying over his farm, goes into the air recruiting office, and says he would would like to join the Air Force. In spite of the fact that he knows nothing about the subject, and in spite of the fact that he may be a perfect horseman, the Air Ministry recruiting officer would not dream of sending him to the cavalry or artillery recruiting office, but sends him to the Air Force depot. Again, if a first-class mechanic goes into the Army recruiting office in Manchester, if he has the necessary proportions as to height, and so forth, he will be taken into the Guards, and the Air Force would not be given the benefit of this mechanic's training. I think there is scope there. The same as regards medical service, supplies and research.
I want to say one word about supplies, although I do not propose to drag in the whole story of the War, when British flying machines in France could not get a Rolls-Royce engine while there were hundreds in the Royal Air Force depots in this country. I remember one occasion which impressed itself indelibly on my mind when flying in France. I saw a plane in the air that I had never heard of before. I thought it was a foreign machine, but when I came down about an hour afterwards I discovered it was a machine belonging to the Royal Naval Air Force, which the Royal Flying Corps, certainly in my aerodrome, had never heard anything about. If that occurred in the last War, innumerable instances are going to happen in the next, unless the country takes the necessary steps beforehand, and we must contemplate the possibility, however hard we strive to prevent it. In the case of research, wireless, sound-ranging, crystal-lisation of metals, and in engineering research with the Diesel and semi-Diesel engines—on all these lines I have mentioned, I believe the Army, Navy and Air Force are working on parallel lines. Are any attempts being made to co-ordinate the results of their researches? So far as I have been able to ascertain, with the limited avenue of information open to the private member, I have not found any evidence of co-ordination.
I make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I have never been able to make out whether his aspirations lie in a literary or a political direction. He seems to share his activities between them, but if they lie in a political direction, I appeal to him, if he cannot bring about a Ministry of Defence in this country between now and next year to persuade the Committee of Imperial Defence to bring about co-ordination in those four main Services I have mentioned. He would then not only save this country from a position which would bring discredit on any South American Republic, but also save £8,000,000 in the Estimates of the three Services next year.
I listened with the closest attention, and with great interest, to the statement made by the Minister in presenting these Estimates, and I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed, for the reason that I felt, although we are spending this large amount of money, we have no adequate Home Defence Force at the present time. I realise the great difficulty of dealing with this problem in view of the economy that is wanted, but this economy has been wanted ever since the Great War, and we know that the Committee of Imperial Defence, after very exhaustive evidence, came to the conclusion that we required an air force of 52 squadrons, which were to be formed over a period of five years. Although the present Government feel that the policy must not be altered, they are going to extend that time. I think that that is a wrong policy altogether, as it is equivalent to a temporary reduction. We ought to have sufficient aircraft, and if economy is essential, as we know it is, it should be effected upon the administration, where I am sure it can be done, instead of upon aircraft. We finished the War with the finest and best equipped air force in the world, and while our pilots to-day are second to none, we have dwindled, I think, to a third or fourth position in the air, although I understood the Minister to say the other day we hold second place. We know, however, that France has about 1,500 front line machines and about 4,000 in reserve. Then there are Italy, America and Japan, and the forces of Russia, though unknown, are fairly considerable.
The scheme decided upon by the Committee of Imperial Defence was labelled an "expansion" scheme, which, I think, was a misnomer, and apt to lead to false impressions being formed when economy was needled. It was really a minimum nucleus of our defence force capable of expansion, and I do think, in view of the utterances of Ministers of all parties as to the necessity of having an adequate air defence force, we should direct our attention to that object. It was accepted by one Government, and has been re-accepted as the right policy by three successive Governments, one of which was the Labour Government, which quite agreed with the policy as set forth. I really think that to retard the making of these aircraft is false economy. It is rather like a man economising in expenditure by cutting down his insurance. The people who will feel this will be the men, women and children in this country, and for that reason we should consider well before deciding to postpone the building of aircraft. I certainly think a tremendous amount could be saved by putting an end to the overlapping of the Departments. We have buildings, parsons, doctors and many other services which may not amount to much singly, but in the total they amount to a very considerable sum, and there are already Departments dealing with them. Why should there be all these separate watertight compartments in each fighting force to deal with one and the same thing? It all means expense.
If I could have my way, I would like to see armaments cut out altogether, but we cannot have this, and we should be in a far better position to dictate to other Powers if we regained our supremacy in the air, instead of taking fourth place, for we should then he able to tell them more exactly what the proportions of their forces should be. Much has been said about the Peace Treaty of Locarno, but I cannot see that being carried out much in the world at the present time. I very much regret it, but, at the same time, if other nations are not prepared to arrest their production of aircraft, I think it is wrong that we should not go ahead, because, admittedly, the air is the first line of defence, and we are spending £120,000,000 on armaments at the present time. Therefore, I would suggest that if we cannot on the present Vote get an adequate supply of aircraft, we should ask the Army and the Navy to give us some of their Votes, so as to make our Air Force the most efficient defence force in this country. I really do think that if we voice that view strenuously, it will help the Minister considerably, because, unfortunately, we know there is a certain amount of jealousy between the three Fighting Services. I should like to see that done away with. We have to realise that the next war, when it comes, will be in the air, and if we are unable to repel the first attack, it is useless having an Air Force at all.
Then, as regards the production of aircraft, I have a large aircraft factory in my constituency. I have been over it and seen the efficiency of it. I am told that they must keep going so as to have the necessary skilled labour and brains to deal with the problems that arise, and in that regard I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that he was going to help them all he possibly could. The right hon. Gentleman realises that it is impossible to go in for any scheme of expansion, whether aircraft or any other mechanical armament product straight away. You cannot go from the normal to the abnormal in a matter of this sort without a certain hiatus. In the factory they put that down, at the very least, at five months. That is to say, there will be five months' delay before you can get really going on an increased production scale. We have to keep in mind that the aircraft industry is a vital unit of our Defence Force. We also know that the Air Staff estimate that during the first month of a war we should lose, approximately, 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. of our first-line machines. In view of that, it is in my opinion absolutely necessary for us to have reserves to the extent of, say, 150 per cent. to 200 per cent. to make up for the wastage that is likely to occur.
It is to be remembered that an air attack will be repulsed by machines. They will do the work, and not all the costly buildings on the ground, not all the administration; and for that reason I again stress the point that the policy decided upon originally should not be delayed. I am delighted to hear that the scientific and research departments are not in any way to be cut down, because they are so essential for the development and advancement of the service. I should also like the Minister to consider whether he could not give a greater scope to the technical men for training as pilots to fly their own machines. We want reserves of men, as well as of machines. There is, too, the question of the short-service men. I have received letters from men who are nearing the time when they will have completed their term of service. I do ask the Minister to consider what can be done for these men. I have written on this point to the Under-Secretary, and he has replied very sympathetically, but he can do nothing more, except to say that, perhaps, it will be better to apply in a matter of this sort nearer the time when the men are about to leave the service. But I would suggest that a man with anxiety in his heart the whole time can not do his best work in the service. I think that something should be done, so that these men can be absorbed in one or other branches of our defence forces, if their services cannot be utilised further in the Air Force.
I would also like to see a unified control of the defence forces. I should like, as the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) said, very much to hear what the Colwyn Committee decided on that point, because the Minister told us the other day that many of the recommendations that he had received had helped him very considerably in checking extravagance. For that reason, I would like, if it were possible, that we should be given some idea as to the attitude of mind of the Colwyn Committee on this important point. Again, I should like to see a more co-ordinated system of Estimates for the three fighting forces. Really, it reminds me, when I am inclined to delve into these Estimates, of a good day with the ferrets, excepting that one does not get the sport. The rabbit eludes the ferret by diving down skilfully constructed side tracks and passages, and the ferret is only able to bring an occasional rabbit into the daylight. I have always found if you cannot get the rabbits to bolt, the best way is to get a spade and dig them out. I should really like to see a Committee set up to investigate these artfully constructed passages and to advise the Government as to how those ramifications could be simplified, which, I am sure, would expose much that is now hidden.
I would ask the Minister to accept these criticisms that I have made in the spirit in which I make them. It is very difficult to criticise your own side, but I feel I should be lacking in my duty if I did not do so. I listened with great respect to the arguments and figures put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) the other day. I should have liked to have seen his criticisms more sympathetically received. He is a man who has given gallant service to his country, and is entitled to speak. It was possibly not pleasing for him to have to voice these views, but I suggest such should be received in the spirit in which they are given. We are all starting off on common ground. We all want to support the Minister, for the reason that we know he desires as much as we do to have an Air Force second to none in the world—an absolutely efficient Air Force and economically run. Therefore, I ask that when from these benches criticisms are made which it may be difficult to make, they will be taken in the way in which they are given, because we want to have an Air Force which is capable of protecting this country in the hour of need.
I have listened to the speeches that have been delivered, and especially those which dealt with what I believe is the main question before the House, namely, the organisation of our fighting services. There is no doubt that it is scarcely possible to consider these Estimates which we have to-day unless we can consider the remainder of the £117,000,000 in reference to them. Neither can we consider this amount unless we bear in mind what we have spent in the last five years upon defence. We have spent £1,000,000,000 on our fighting forces in the period in which we are supposed to be in fear of no war on the major scale. Therefore, I think that the expression of feeling which we have heard from all sides of the House is one of which the Government has got to take some notice. When these Estimates were introduced a somewhat extraordinary occurrence was witnessed. All four Amendments down on the Order Paper were Amendments by hon. Members on this side of the House. Each one of those Amendments was drawn in a critical spirit in so far as they affected the organisation of our fighting forces. The Minister evidently, as is usual, was somewhat far-sighted, and he brought up his reserves at once in the shape of the Prime Minister. He got the Prime Minister into the House and got him to answer questions by the Leader of the Opposition in which he endeavoured to spike the guns of criticism of hon. Members.
We heard, as has been said, that the present Government do not contemplate altering the organisation of the fighting services. The criticism which went on during the last discussion extracted from the Minister the promise to inform the Prime Minister that there was a large body of opinion in this House that was in favour of greater co-ordination between the fighting services. I would observe that in this matter I do not think we can be expected to be satisfied with so nebulous and vague a promise. We have had the same sort of promises made before. We have had the same kind of promises made by other Ministers. We have got to face the fact that no Government will really tackle this question unless they are forced to do it by private Members. There are no votes in question. Hence the Government—I am talking of any Government—are disinclined really to deal with the question in regard to the reorganisation of the fight-in services. No votes are to be obtained, only vested interests are to be upset; and in that respect there will be a great deal more trouble and a great deal more loss of popularity than there will be of gain. I do not think the present Government any worse than the last three who preceded them.
There are two main questions, two main developments, which are inevitably urging the Government of the day to deal with this question really drastically. One is economic, the other is technical. One deals with the changed financial position as a result of the war; the other deals with the development of aviation. So far as the economic conditions are concerned, the Government have brought to our notice an Economy Bill which has made this Debate much more academic from the fact that Members have not had any of these proposals before them to see in what way they will affect the fighting services. I venture to think that it is probable that considerably more drastic action will have to be taken than at present contemplated if hon. Members in this House are to be satisfied.
Let me turn from the Air Estimates which we have under consideration to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), to which reference has been made more than once, and to other speeches that have shown that we have certain definite facts to deal with. In the criticism I am going to make, I want to make it clear that I do not think the Air Ministry, as such, is to blame. It is more the system. We have heard that there are three officials in the Air Ministry to every aeroplane which is in the service squadrons. It has been stated—and we can work out the implication of the statements—that each and every aeroplane in the service which hon. Members see up in the air costs the country £2 a minute for each minute of flying. We have heard that the secretarial work of the Air Ministry costs three and a-half times as much per head of personnel as either the War Office or the Admiralty. Again, we have heard that the hospital accommodation of the Air Ministry costs twice as much per head as either the War Office or the Admiralty. The question I want to put to hon. Members is: "Are you satisfied with that state of affairs?" Are the people in this country satisfied that their money should obtain results of that character? It cannot be any answer to say that the Air Force is efficient. No one has criticised the efficiency of the Air Force as such. What we are criticising is whether or not the country is obtaining full value for its money, at the time it is obtaining an efficient Air Force!
Personally, I do not think the Secretary of State for Air is in any way to blame for this state of affairs. He is doing what is humanly possible to provide this country with full value for its money, in so far as aviation is concerned, within the limits of the organisation under which he is working. I think the country owes a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the interest and the untiring energy which he always displays in anything connected with aviation, whether he be the Minister or whether he be in Opposition. I do not think it is in any sense a matter of personal efficiency, either of the administration or of the Minister himself. He is confined by the conditions under which he operates. I will quote a few words from the speech of the Under-Secretary during
the last discussion, when he put the actual position in a very few words. He said:
Here in this country practically every man that has anything to do with the maintenance or the equipment of our Air Force is shown on the strength of the Royal Air Force, hut abroad air organisation is interwoven with naval and military administration, and statements of personnel, no less than of cost, specifically assigned to the air arm take no account of the men or money employed on the air forces which are borne on naval and military votes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1926; cols. 828–9, Vol. 192.]
That is the real point. That is the reason why, on analysis, the Air Ministry appears to be more inefficient. If the strength of the Air Force in military personnel were expanded to two or three times what it is to-day, the Air Ministry's Votes would bear strict comparison with either those of the Admiralty or the War Office. It is not a matter of inefficiency; it is merely that they have a very large organisation compared to the number of machines which they operate.
We have seen rather bitter criticisms of the Air Ministry in the Press, and two papers, the "Morning Post" and the "Daily Mail," were represented by an hon. Member as doing something which was very detrimental to the interests of the Service. He said criticism of that kind was not justified. But we have to look at the other side of the question. No major change can ever be carried out in this country unless we have public opinion behind it. In this case, I think the editors of those papers were of the opinion that some major change is desirable, and, as experts in manipulating the public opinion of the man in the street, they utilised that method of appealing to the man in the street which they thought would achieve their object, and came out with headlines about the "Royal Ground Force" instead of the "Royal Air Force." I agree with the Secretary of State that that atack is inimical to the prestige of the Air Force, and, as it is inimical to their prestige, it is inimical to their efficiency, but we have to accept the fact that attacks of that kind are part of the price we are paying for the bad organisation under which we are endeavouring to administrate our fighting forces. Therefore, I do not think it is any answer to attacks by the Press to say they ought never to have been made. Rather, I think we should say to them, "Keep up your attacks until some change is made." The most constructive thing to do would be to put forward certain suggestions, such as I put forward with considerable diffidence, for the purpose of seeing whether or not some change could be made which would get us out of our present impasse.
May I briefly state the problem with which we are confronted, as I see it? It seems to me that the introduction of aircraft has in two ways altered the outlook of those persons who control our policy. First of all, there is no doubt that aircraft have increased the danger which this country suffers in case of possible attack, and at the same time they have increased the cost of defence. On the other hand, the development of aviation, by binding together our Empire both politically and economically, may give to the Empire as a whole the greatest boon of the century. These two gifts from aviation are, as one might say, rather in opposition, though perhaps equally balanced. The military development and the naval development of aviation must be bad for this country, whereas the commercial development may be, perhaps, of the greatest advantage to this Empire during the next century. In passing, I would like to remark that only 3 per cent. of these Estimates are devoted to civil aviation. Turning to what we are really considering to-day, the military side of aviation, what is the real position? Large claims are made by men who ought to know, men who are competent authorities, as to what will happen when the next war comes, if it be another war on a Continental scale, similar to the last one. They say that our Army and our Navy will never come into it, that, long before those forces can be brought to bear, the attack by air, unless it is defeated, will have laid our cities in ruin, will have broken our communications, and have so destroyed the moral of our people that a weak Government might perhaps sue for peace. That is what is put forward by those who make what I call extravagant claims; but without accepting those claims—and, personally, I think they are over-stated—there is no doubt that the majority of informed opinion, not only in this country, but abroad, also takes the view that the country which secures the mastery of the air in war is the country which is more likely to be successful in the final issue of the war. I will put it no higher than that. Not only is that the case, so far as military, or land war, is concerned, but I believe it to be the fact also so far as naval war is concerned.
Now I come to a point in regard to naval war for which I would ask the considered attention of the House, because I believe it to be a point to which much credence has not so far been given, but that it will have a very great effect upon our policy. Hitherto, we have been accustomed to look upon the English Channel, the silver streak, as the great safeguard for the protection of this country. I venture to think it may be our greatest danger in the future. Some of the modern seaplanes carrying torpedoes can sink and destroy a merchant ship—that is, if they hit it with their torpedo—within two or three minutes. It is also, I think, a fact that no escort of naval destroyers or light cruisers without aircraft is likely to defeat that attack. If we consider naval policy in two spheres, one the narrow waters, and the other the great ocean spaces, the conditions are very different. In narrow waters I believe it will be found in the future that a country which does not control politically the lands on both sides of those waters will not be so safe as a country wholly surrounded by land. When once a merchant steamer is torpedoed and sank she is lost irrevocably with her cargo; whereas if a railway is bombarded, though the railway may be destroyed, it can be repaired; and a train, though it may be destroyed, never carries anything like the amount of produce that a ship does, and can also be repaired; but a ship once sunk is lost for ever. In so far as the narrow waters are concerned, therefore, control of them must inevitably pass to the air, and I believe it is not too strong to say that such control has already passed to the air. Therefore, it seems to me, both in the plan of our campaign and in peace-time preparations for war, the kind of preparations must depend largely upon the capacity of aerial machines as they may be at the time of that war.
The same changes are coming in the military sphere. We have found in Mesopotamia, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, and elsewhere, that with even a small number of aeroplanes we have attained a new mobility, and that men can be concentrated at a vital point very much more quickly. The whole of our garrison duties and policing duties throughout the Empire are coming to depend more and more upon the aerial arm, and if that be the case to-day it is only reasonable to suppose that as the development of aviation proceeds so will larger tracts of our Empire pass under that type of police and garrison force—the whole of India, for instance, and the whole of our Dominions, in regard to such forces as they keep. In so far as it affects the narrow waters, and over the whole military sphere, the development of aviation must inevitably have a very great effect upon our whole organisation, and must dominate the whole consideration of the programme, the policy, and the Estimates of the other two Fighting Forces.
Hon. Members may say that while that may be so in the future the time is not yet; but we must have regard to the rate at which these developments have been proceeding. I have had got out for me some particulars of the rate of progress in the past, and I will quote figures contrasting the position in 1905, 1915 and 1925. In 1905 the highest speed of the aeroplane was 37½ miles an hour; in 1915 it was 115 miles an hour; and in 1925, 269 miles an hour. That shows very consistent progress in speed. In regard to endurance, it was 20 miles in 1905; 585 miles in 1915; and 1,900 miles in 1925. In 1905 the weight which could be carried was nothing—with the exception of the pilot; in 1915 it was 1 ton; and in 1925 it was 6 tons—these figures referring to heavier-than-air craft, i.e., aeroplanes. With regard to airships the figures are quite comparable. As the development of aviation proceeds progress will be more difficult, but will, I believe, be at the same rate—because, for every one man connected with aviation 10 years ago to-day we have over 100. Our advance has been consistent and the powers that he should take into consideration the probability of those curves going up at a fairly constant rate. It has been said that the solution of this difficulty would be the establishment of a Ministry of Defence.
I ask the House to consider that if the points I have put forward are in fact correct, then obviously our organisation to-day is wrong, and we have the proof of it here. Where is the First Lord of the Admiralty, and where is the Secretary of State for War, because they are equally affected by these Air Estimates and they are not here? Where is the representative of the Treasury, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be here? I think that very fact shows that our organisation is wrong, if what I have stated is correct. It may be that my own premises are wrong, but if they are not wrong then the organisation is wrong. What is the policy of our defence force? I believe I am not very far wrong in saying that the policy of the Army is to consider what they would do in the event of the Rhine frontier being in dispute. I believe I am right in thinking that the Admiralty are considering what action they should take in case of a war in the Pacific due to the re-orientation of Naval power. As regards the Air Ministry they are concentrating upon preserving their own integrity from the other two forces, and I believe the Secretary of State for Air stated some time ago that 30 per cent. of his time was spent in dealing with that very matter.
Therefore we ought to press this question of high policy further. At the present time we have a Committee of Imperial Defence, and that body is assisted by a little organisation consisting of three Chiefs of Staffs, but they are simply advisory and have no executive authority. I do not believe that intermittent conversations between the three Chiefs of Staffs are likely to effect very much change. For instance, we have heard some criticisms from an hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite regarding the overlapping of staffs between the three services, firstly in regard to recruiting staffs, and he told us they were costing £172,000 a year. One speaker from the Labour Benches stated that we have three staffs for the Directorate of Intelligence and they cost £174,000. We have also had criticisms deprecating the fact that we have three separate Contracts Departments, but we are not going to get, through the intermittent conversations of these three estimable gentlemen sufficient attention given to these matters to overcome the vested interests and the opposition which they would have to overcome if they wish to achieve any- thing practical in cutting down and co-ordinating these Departments. Therefore I have great diffidence in making the following proposals which I think would achieve some practical result. In the first place I think there should be a permanent Secretariat attached to the three Chiefs of Staffs. At present there is no permanent Secretariat attached to them at all, and I think that would make that body a more co-ordinated machine. There should be put under that body as a first step and with executive authority the staff colleges and the war colleges, and that would tend to co-ordinate the thinking machine of the three forces.
The second change I suggest is one which may not receive the approval of Cabinet Ministers. My suggestion is, that as soon as these Estimates are through we should do away with two out of the three Fighting Ministers. As regards the Under-Secretaries, which now number nine, I suggest we should do away with five of them. That is a small measure of economy, but it would have the effect of insuring the co-ordination of the heads of those Departments from a political point of view. Of the Under-Secretaries, one in each House should be detached to look after the Supply Departments for all three Services, and the two, one in each House, the executive and other departments of all three Services, and we should then commence to co-ordinate as our defence force. The three Chiefs of Staffs, the War Colleges, and the Staff Colleges would co-ordinate the thinking department of the three Services. I do not think any man to-day has the capacity to devise a scheme for a Ministry of Defence, because that is something which must grow up in a truly British fashion of improvisation and compromise. I, therefore, think that it is better to hasten slowly and allow the organisation to grow up into a Defence Ministry by making one political head responsible to Parliament, and if one political head is responsible for all three Departments, and, at the same time, you co-ordinate your thinking machine, you will achieve the result which we all desire.
In conclusion I wish to put this point to the Committee. We have been told that no war is likely to take place for ten years, and that therefore this is the time to reorganise our fighting services because otherwise we might be caught in a war. My second reason is due to our economic position. It has been said by many persons more competent than I am that this country has been drawing on its internal reserves for some time. The coal trade, the shipping trade and the iron and steel trades are existing upon their internal reserves or State subsidies. If we take the railway balance sheets last week we find the railway companies have been paying dividends out of their reserve funds to the extent of millions. If that is a fact it is surely our duty to insist upon the Government taking action to achieve economy even if that action is unpopular. Therefore I appeal to hon. Members on this side of the House and to hon. Members opposite to continue to attack the Government upon this question of co-ordination of the fighting services until something definite and practical is done.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down speaks with great authority on this subject, and I have listened to his remarks as a specialist with very great interest. Perhaps he will forgive if I do not agree with his conclusion, because I am more concerned, with other aspects of the air defence problem. I am concerned with this problem as it affects the men, women and children of this country, and, although I do not come to the conclusion which has been arrived at by hon. Members opposite that we ought to have a much stronger Air Force than we have, yet I cannot help thinking that the future happiness of the men, women and children of this country is very much bound up in this problem. I am sorry the Air Minister is not in his place, because I would like to refer to two points in his statement of last week. He referred to the Locarno Treaty, and he gave us an interpretation in terms of air armament and the meaning of that Treaty.
When I remember the loud hosannas of peace sounded in this House at the time that Treaty was discussed, I could not help wishing that it had been possible for the Air Minister to make his speech when we were considering the Locarno Treaty itself. The Minister said that Locarno meant, so far as the Air Force was concerned, no real disarmament whatsoever, and that it merely meant a breathing space or a pause in the acceleration of our air expansion, and even that pause was to be put to profit able use because we were going to increase the fighting accuracy of our Air Force and increase the accuracy of our bombers, but under no circumstances were we going to scrap the air expansion policy which had been laid down. What a pale ghost is left of this Locarno business after a statement of that kind!
There is another point I would like to refer to in the speech of the Air Minister. He referred to the fact that at last he had been able to take away the embargo from British firms exporting aeroplanes and air engines to foreign countries, and he went on to say that these aeroplanes and engines are the very best in the world. I submit to him as a reasonable Englishman, and even as a patriotic Englishman, that this approval of our manufacturers sending aeroplanes and air engines abroad to foreign and possibly hostile countries is carrying generosity a little bit too far, and it does not seem to me that it is going to soften very much the feelings of men and women if another war comes about to reflect that in the intervals between the dropping of bombs the particular engines and aeroplanes of the enemy dropping those bombs were made by British manufacturers. It seems to me that purely on the ground of national defence it is utterly indefensible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the manufacturers of this country are making aeroplanes and engines of the finest type in the world, and yet we are going to allow those manufacturers to send those aeroplanes and air engines abroad with the possibility that in time to come they are going to be used for the purpose of slaying British men, women and children.
On this side of the House we speak of Internationalism, but I know the Air Minister is not an Internationalist in the ordinary sense of the term. As I understand him, I gather from his action that he understands international capitalism. He understands capitalism, which shows profits and takes no regard either of frontiers or of race. British capitalism, as far as it is invested in the armament firms of this country, is prepared to send its produce to other countries in order that at some time in the future that pro- duce may be used for slaughtering British men, women and children. I do not complain of it. I am very glad that we have got the stark, brutal ruthlessness of British capitalism staring us in the face like this. But I am going to make a suggestion to these armament firms. They are prepared to seek profits wherever they may be found, even at the expense of shedding British blood. Very well, let them do it, but let me make a suggestion. The people who derive profits from this land of traffic ought at least to know where the profits are coming from, and I am going to make this suggestion. In future, in order that the shareholders may know the source of their profits, when these armament firms which are manufacturing armaments for possible use against British people, declare dividends—in order to make it quite clear the nature of the profits which has made these dividends possible—I would like to see them just smear the dividend warrants with some British blood, because that is what it means.
My main point, and I am not going to delay the House at any length, is this. We are discussing this Air Vote to-night, and the defence of the Minister in regard to that Vote is that it is providing the people of this country with security in the air. That is his main line of defence. Obviously, if it is not providing the people with, security, there is no justification whatever for bringing the Vote forward. If it is not going to do that, he is deceiving us and the country and is getting his Vote by false pretences. Is he going to provide us with that kind of security? From what the Minister said last week, and from, what has been said on previous occasions, and from what is being said continually in this House, it is plain that we are viewing our air programme from the standpoint—and let us be perfectly frank about this—of a possible war with France. Implicit in our air preparations is the belief that at some time or another we are going to be face to face with a war with France. It is believed that France is going at some time in the future to use that mighty aerial arm which she has got for the purpose of attacking the people of this country. That is the sole justification for this expansion policy, which the right hon. Gentleman stands by. If we are not going to meet that situation, the whole justification for our air policy falls to the ground.
I am going to put it to the right hon. Gentleman, why should he trifle with the House in this fashion? If he really believes that France at some time in the near future or perhaps fairly distant future, is going to make war on us, and that the people of this country are menaced by the possibility of a French attack, why does not he make adequate preparation for such a situation? What is the use of his coming to the House with the kind of provision he is making by means of this Vote? Member after Member has explained that even now, with this additional expenditure of money, our Air Force in comparison with that of France is only as one is to two or even rather less than that. In other words, even when our present programme is completed in two or three years' time, we shall be hopelessly inadequate in the air as far as France is concerned.
I submit we have got to face the logic of this position. There was a Member who spoke some time ago who was a militarist. I am not a militarist; I am an anti-militarist. He was perfectly logical. He said if we could not have a better Air Force than this, and a strong enough force to do its duty of protecting the country, we had better not have any Air Force at all. They say extremes meet, and as far as the extreme militarist and the extreme anti-militarist are concerned, we can meet on the same plane of logic. I agree with that position. If you cannot have an Air Force which is going to do its job in the way of establishing security for the people of this country, you had better not have an Air Force at all. If you have a weak Air Force, such as this is in comparison with that of France, it is not defensive at all; it is merely provocative, and therefore it is worse than having no Air Force at all.
There is an overwhelming case, if the Members of this House could only rid their minds of preconceptions and prejudices, in favour of no Air Force at all. This security which we are seeking all the time is a myth. There is no such thing as security. The right hon. Gentleman himself knows it. The air experts in this House know it. Aerial development is such that you cannot possibly safeguard
any country from air attack on a large scale. The right hon. Gentleman has got a home defence Air Force, but what is the composition of that Force? It is made up of a very large proportion of bombing squadrons. Those bombing squadrons are not intended for the purpose of protecting the people of this country from air attack. They are intended for the purpose of going overseas and attacking the enemy. The right hon. Gentleman is a realist. It is as well he is a realist in these matters, and he knows as well as every air expert in this House knows, that when it comes to a clash between two great aerial Powers, what is going to happen is this. There are going to be large scale bombing attacks on either side. It is going to be a contest—I was going to say, of extermination, but I will not put it as high as that—it is going to be a determined, ruthless contest of slaughter and destruction on both sides until such time as the morale of one of the countries gives way. It is obvious that when we come to a war of that kind we have got to fight to the very bitter end, and there must be no half measures. I think it was Clemenceau who said, and it is a very apt saying as far as war is concerned,
"Fait la guerre ou fait la paix."
Make war or make peace, and once we become involved in a gigantic struggle of that sort between two great aerial Powers, there will not be any half measures; no conventions or laws of the League of Nations will avail. There will be ruthless fighting on both sides, and I would confirm that by an authority who may appeal to hon. Members opposite.
Air power has revolutionised everything. Who would be so mad as to make war long if they could make it short. The speed and efficiency of air squadrons is continually increasing. They would strike at the heart…
and London is the heart of this country, and my constituents who are herded together are in a vulnerable part of the city, in the East End of London—
They will strike at the heart. Their bombs will crash continually on the dense cities without respect to age or sex. Poison fumes will choke and kill. Fire will ravage. The shattering, the stifling, the conflagrations will go on together. The civilian population will have the weight of casualties, not the armies and navies.
It was Mr. Garvin, who wrote that, only on the 22nd November, and every word
he has written there is true. In time of war, unless the people of this country see reason, they will realise how dreadfully and prophetically true such words are. It is going to be just a contest of pure devilishness, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, if he were frank with the House, would admit that this lies behind the whole of his preparation and behind the whole of his soothing talk about home defence. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to be honest with the people in this matter. I invite him to tell the people that home defence is a mere catchword. I invite him to tell them, as he ought to if he is honest, that it is an impossibility for him to safeguard, in any aerial war in the future, the homes of the men, the women, and children in this country. I invite him to tell them that the utmost he can promise them is that when they are being slaughtered in their thousands, and maddened by panic in their thousands, is that somewhere else, where the nominal enemy people is, other people are being slaughtered in their thousands and maddened in their thousands. If he will speak the truth in this way and tell the people exactly what war means, and ask them whether they want to go on with this stupendous folly, I am perfectly certain what the answer will be.
I have noticed in the course of the Debate that every speaker has availed himself to the full, not excepting the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), in one direction or another, of the ruling given by the Chair at the end of the Debate 10 days ago on the Motion "That Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair." We were promised a wide debate. It is only recently that the speakers have brought it back again to where we left it 10 days ago, and I have noticed that in all the later speeches there has been from every point of view and every angle some approach to the question of the simplification and unification of our Defence Services, and some approach to the question which I am going to ask the House to allow me to discuss very shortly, as to whether we should have these separate Air Estimates presented by a separate Secretary of State for Air. In the Debate, 10 days ago, the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech with a reference to the following pronouncement
which the Prime Minister had made earlier in the day at Question time:
I think it essential to announce that, in accordance with the policy of successive Administrations, the Government have no intention of re-opening the question of a separate air arm and Air Ministry. We intend to pursue the organisation of Imperial Defence on the existing basis of three co-equal Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1926; col. 719, Vol. 192.]
In answer to a supplementary question that I put to him, the Prime Minister said that in making that statement he had no idea of stifling or muzzling Debate in this House. I do not think that this question can be regarded as a question that is settled, finished and done with, and one that is not to be debated in this House or in the Press of the country. I remember, in the course of the 16 years that have elapsed since I first came to this House, many pronouncements on Government policy in regard to such questions as Ireland, the economic policy of the country, agriculture, and even defence—for instance, on the question of the Navy and the number of first-class ships that would Be required—and in every case that policy has been abandoned, generally quite soon. The only thing one can be sure of is that the policy of to-day is not going to be the policy of to-morrow, or to continue for any great length of time. I do not, therefore, despair of this question being regarded quite independently of the Prime Minister's pronouncement, and considered on its merits. I would like to say, before I commence the very short argument that I want to put before the House, that I noticed in the previous Debate that the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) took what seemed to me to be a rather peculiar view of these Service Estimates. He said, referring to an Amendment which I, with other Members, had put on the Order Paper:
I do not think the hon. Members who put down this Motion, know anything about the air; they are not airmen. I doubt whether any of them have been up in the air."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1926; col. 805, Vol. 192.]
I think I am entitled to ask, is it supposed that, in these Air Debates on the perfectly serious question of Estimates, which are really mainly the same thing as accounts, and are very closely analagous to any business accounts, it is essential
that you should have been in the air in order to discuss Estimates of this kind and what they mean? During the War, I had one or two most exhilarating experiences of going up in the air, but when I came down to the ground, I was no more capable of going into the intricacies of a balance sheet or of the Air Estimates than I had been before I went up. I would put it on a wider basis than that. These Service Estimates ought not to become something like Scottish Debates in this House; these Services affect every civilian in the country. Every taxpayer in the country contributes to the protection of the country by the three Services as they are now. Therefore, I hold that Members who are returned to this House by the votes of the taxpayers are not only entitled but bound to go into these Estimates, and to put the view that is very widely held in the country, namely, that we are not getting the best value for our money, and that we shall not do so until there is a great simplification and unification in these Services as they exist to-day.
Having said that as a civilian, I would like to say that, where it will be necessary for me to quote anything in the nature of military or naval opinion, obviously I can only give in a condensed form what I have been able to gather—in the usual phrase—through such channels of information as are open to a private Member. There are channels of information open to all private Members. They can ask any naval or military people of their acquaintance whose opinion they are entitled to take, what their views are, and I will undertake to say that they will find practically a consensus of opinion in the older Services on this question of the relationship of the newer Air Service. May I, first, give quite shortly, without any argument, what I have been able to condense from the naval opinion with which I have been favoured, first on the question of the Fleet Air Arm? The naval air arm should be part and parcel of the Fleet. That is the first thing in regard to what I have been informed of naval opinion. Its employment is either in conjunction with or in relation to the Fleet. The co-operation between the Services, however good, can never produce the efficiency essential to fleet operations. The second opinion is that naval airmen are required for naval air work. Landsmen should not be sent to sea to do purely naval work. Naval work can better be done by naval aviators associated with the sea from boyhood.
I am sorry to interrupt, but may I ask what the Navy did with their Naval Air Service? They had one during the War, and they must have done something with it.
I am afraid I must decline to he diverted into a long discussion upon the late War and the Naval and Air operations at that time. Otherwise, I should never get through the remarks I want to make in time to allow the Secretary of State to reply, as I believe he intends to do shortly. The third opinion I have been given is as follows, that control of the naval air arm by the Admiralty would be economical in actual cost of serving personnel. It would also produce economy in that it would provide the means of absorbing naval flying personnel at the end of their flying life without the necessity of finding gratuities, pensions, or jobs for them. I think that that is, perhaps, the most important aspect of this question. In this way, the entire Navy would be permeated with the knowledge of naval air work, just as, at present, the science of naval gunnery is diffused. In the course of his speech the other day the Secretary of State said that he was very anxious to stimulate the air sense of the nation as a whole. I venture to think that the first thing to do is to get this air sense spread right throughout the Navy and the Army; then you will get one cohesive whole. With regard to naval co-operation aircraft, the problem, as it has been put to me, is practically the same. In time of war they carry out the important and purely naval function of protecting shipping from attack by submarines and surface craft; they will be engaged in the detection and destruction of submarines, in reconnaissance, and in the escort of convoys. Naval co-operation units are an intimate part of the Admiralty organisation for the protection of shipping. Their value depends greatly on naval experience and training of the personnel employed. Naval co-operation aircraft should be administered, trained and manned by naval personnel. That is all I propose to say with regard to the question of the Navy and the air arm. When we come to the Army air
arm, I find that the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) recently delivered a lecture at the Royal United Service Institution, and, as it is now in print in the quarterly journal of that institution, I am able to quote one or two of his opinions, and also the opinions of one or two of the distinguished officers who took part in the subsequent discussion, as their names are already in this published print. The hon. and gallant Member for Fareham, in the course of his lecture, said that in his opinion the Air Ministry had come to stay. Almost in the same sentence he said:
I do not mean by this that it is not necessary for the Navy and the Army to have their own Fleet air arm and Army co-operation squadrons, or whatever you may call them—this is essential for artillery observation and reconnaissance purposes. I go further and believe that, for example the man who observes for artillery should be, above all, an artilleryman.
He also said very shortly after that:
Why has not the Army got an Army air arm, instead of Army co-operation squadrons. Further, I am told on all sides that there is great waste in the administrative services of the Navy, Army and Air Force by overlapping and unnecessary duplication. Of course, I refer to such Departments as Medical, Chaplains, Pay, Contracts, Lands, and the like. It is inconceivable to me that, for example, one Lands Department and one Contracts Department should not satisfy the requirements of all three Services. Surely it is better to effect some economy here if economies have to be made, and be enabled to maintain an extra cruiser or a few more aeroplanes.
Before he had finished his lecture, I came to the conclusion that, although he said the Air Ministry had come to stay, he did not leave the Air Ministry a leg to stand on, or, perhaps, I ought to say, a wing to fly with. But the remarks that were made afterwards by one or two of the distinguished officers who constituted his audience are, I think, even more illuminating. There was a speech of only four lines by Lieut.-General Sir Noel Birch:
It is not the custom of the Army Council to discuss policy in public, and I am not going to break that rule, but I should not like the air staff to go away without a message from us to say that if they will make the Army a present of an Army wing at Christmas it would be a very acceptable gift.
There is a saying that "a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse," and I think that that is one of the most eloquent speeches, although so brief, that I have
ever had the pleasure of reading. Then there was a gallant Admiral, Admiral Tupper, who proposed a vote of thanks to the Chairman, Sir William Robertson, and he said:
I cordially agree with Sir John Davidson that it is necessary to have men trained as soldiers to work as soldiers between the air and land, and also absolutely essential to have sailors in the air to work with sailors on board ship.
I have given the House, at any rate, some opinions with names to them which have been quite recently given in regard to the question of the Naval Air Arm and the Army Air Arm. There remain, of course, other branches that are controlled by the present Air Ministry. The first and most important is the home defence squadron, about which so much has been said in this House this afternoon. There is also the production of aircraft, there is research work, and there is civil aviation. First of all, I would say a word or two with regard to the home defence squadron. I think it is necessary to remember what was the genesis of the Air Ministry. It was started eight years ago, in 1917, towards the latter part of the War period, and it was started, as I remember, mainly on account of three things. The competition that had been going on between the military and naval sides for aeroplane engines and things of that kind, which has already been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), was one of the three causes which led to the starting of the Air Ministry. Another was that the civil population was undoubtedly suffering from the very unpleasant frequency of air raids. I do not think we were rattled in the least, and I do not think they did anything like the amount of damage you would expect, or anything like what we hear from the hon. Member for Shoreditch is going to occur in the future, but undoubtedly it was very comforting to the public that we were going to have a special Ministry in order to look after them and protect them from the air raids. It was, no doubt, psychologically a good move in 1917, and so was the Munitions Ministry about the same time, but we scrapped it after the War.
The third and much the most important justification of the Air Ministry was that we had conquered the air. There was a third element, and therefore obviously we required a third Ministry to look after the fighting in it. I want the House to consider that. At the first blush it looks obvious—three elements, three Ministries. For the two elements we have always had, the Navy and Army were sufficient. We only wanted a First Lord of the Admiralty and one Secretary of State. As a matter of fact the whole animal kingdom, including fishes and birds, live on the land or in the sea—on it or under it—and that is where they perpetuate their species and have their homes and their family, and their nests in the case of birds. What do birds do? They go from place to place using the air as a means of transit. They migrate in the summer to places that suit them and to places where they can rear their young at other seasons of the year and so on. Occasionally you can shoot one as it goes by, but if you want to destroy them you go to the nesting places. That is why we have bird sanctuaries. Working it out from that you will find now that man has learnt, not to fly but to sail in the air, it is only a means of transport from one place to another, and it does not alter the problems at all. Every objective from the air is a land or a sea objective, or a thing observed in connection with the land or the sea, and I believe we have got a perfectly false analogy so far as there is any basis on account of the third element for having a third Ministry.
With regard to this question of contracts, if it had not been for the War, we should never have dreamt of having a Ministry on that account. We should have soberly gone back to the good sensible precedent of ordnance. Years ago there used to be great competition between the Army and the Navy in the matter of ordnance. An Ordnance Committee was formed, but you did not have an Ordnance Ministry, and it is exactly the same thing with regard to the production and supply of aircraft, including engines and everything else. There is no justification in that for a Ministry, although there is justification for an Aircraft Material Supply Committee, or whatever you like to call it. With regard to research, that is vital. You must have a Research Board, but why should it not be under the Imperial General Staff or the new Staff Committee? I do not suppose, important as the right hon. Gentleman's position is, even he would say it is essential to research for development in the air that he should have a seat on the Treasury Bench. Civil aviation has been dealt with in a very interesting speech by the hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain), who spoke of what might be done in different parts of the Empire which he enumerated, and at the end of his speech he asked what really it had go to do with the Air Ministry. Why was it not under the Board of Trade? I say the same. The mercantile marine in time of peace is our means of transport for men and materials over the sea, and civil aviation in time of peace is undoubtedly simply the means of transport for men and materials through the air, and the whole of the mercantile marine, so far as it requires any Government intervention at all, in the matter of shipwrecks, the regulation of deck loads and things of that sort—they are all purely commercial questions—are controlled by the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade. I might be tempted by someone asking me why it should not go to the Ministry of Transport. I would only say I do not want to see that Ministry perpetuated any longer than the Air Miinistry. I hope to see the right hon. Gentleman leave the Treasury Bench arm in arm with his colleague. He really has not a job left, except electricity, which has been chucked to him lately, and that has no immediate connection with transport.
I do not want to go into the details of the Estimates as a justification for what I am proposing, but really, when you look at such a thing as the separate medical staff of the Air Ministry—I have added up all the different items on Page 53 of Vote 5, and I find that 1,377 is the total of the medical staff, at a gross cost of £347,500, or, deducting all that is allowed for off the part of the medical staff that is paid for under other Ministry Votes, they arrive at £209,000 net. But the real figure is, of course, the £347,500, and the 1,377 medical staff work out at one for every 26 of the whole personnel of the Air Service in Vote A. You find out facts of that kind by digging about and exploring the rabbit buries, as the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny) expressed it. You find, for instance, that there are only 920 flying and observer officers this year—134 less than last year
—and the 1,377 medical staff seem to compare very unfavourably with the total number of flying and observer officers. In the Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates the Secretary of State says, on Page 5, under Personnel,
The reduction effected last October in the pay of new entrants, both officers and airmen, affects the Air Estimates during the coming year comparatively slightly, but the saving will increase year by year.
Evidently he prides himself on that reduction, about the only economy I have been able to see in these Air Estimates, and we now know that the Navy is to find economies to the extent of £2,400,000 this year and the Army to the extent of £2,000,000, though we have not the exact figure, but we have an increase in the Air Estimates. I think what is called the "Man in the Street," the people who pay for these things, when they hear all this about economy, will think it a little unfortunate that this one economy that is shown, the reduction in the pay of the new entrants, happens to come only a year after what is not an economy at the top, after the time a year ago when the pay of the right hon. Gentleman himself was increased—not diminished—from £4,000 to £5,000, and, I think, although there is no necessary connection between the two things, it is rather an unfortunate juxtaposition of events.
I have not said anything about Air Ministries in other countries. We may be a law unto ourselves. Someone said just now that the Secretary of State for Air, not only controlled the Ministry, but flew, and he was the only one in Europe who did. As a matter of fact, he is the only Secretary of State for Air anywhere, with the) exception possibly of Italy. Italy has had an air ministry for a few months, but has already found out that she must have a separate fleet air arm, therefore she has gone half way towards scrapping her ministry already. I want to read an extract from evidence at an inquiry that took place in America in October last on this very question. This is a statement by Brigadier-General Hugh Drum, Assistant Chief of Staff, United States of America. It was given before the Morrow Committee of Inquiry, for the purpose of making a study of the best means of developing and applying aircraft in national defence:
This separation of our air forces from other national defence forces is openly pro-
posed in order to obtain freedom from control, or independent action in the field of battle. History is replete with defects and disasters attributable to no other cause. It is unthinkable to any student of military history that a nation could deliberately organise its forces on such a basis.
Next he said:
With the development of any new instrument of war, extreme views on the theory of war are advanced, especially in peace. Based on such theories, imagination coupled with self-interest dictates extraordinary views and conclusions. In many instances during the world war and since we find the enthusiasts of special weapons, such as machine guns, gas, tanks, aeroplanes, long-range cannon, grenades, liquid fire, etc., claiming a revolution in the theory of war. These enthusiasts fail to distinguish between the theory or conduct of war and the application of a new weapon for warfare. Separation of military aviation from the Army and Navy, whether as a separate corps, a separate executive department, or a third co-ordinate arm under a Department of National Defence, while an administrative expedient of questionable value, is fundamentally unsound, tactically and strategically.
That I believe I may quote as being perhaps the best expert opinion of the United States of America and I think, although we may be accused of being somewhat a self-satisfied nation, we can recognise that in considering a question of this kind it is at least of use to know what other people think outside and what they are doing.
Nearly everyone who has spoken in these Debates has dealt with the question of a Defence Ministry. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to say anything about that I hope he will tell us what is really meant by this Defence Ministry. I have not been able to gather from the speeches whether hon. Members are quite clear in their mind what they are asking for. Is it that we are to have only one Ministry of Defence, that the Secretary of State for Air, the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty are to disappear, or is the proposal that they are all to remain there? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not so sure that that is not what some hon. Members have in their mind. If, however, it is only one Ministry and they are all going, the rest of the House is far more revolutionary than I am for I only want the right hon. Gentleman to go as a preliminary.
It appears to me that a one Defence Ministry may or may not—I am not entitled to give an opinion—be ideal in time of peace, but I believe in time of war it is absolutely impracticable. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for proceeding at the present time while we have not too much money to spend on defence, on lines which would bring the greatest possible co-ordination between the Air Force and the Forces with whom they co-operate, and to have as little of the overlapping of a separate Department for each of the three Forces, where one in most cases would amply suffice and do the work at a mere fraction of the cost. Looking at it from the point of view of business, it appears to me that we are altogether overloaded with costs.
I have no quarrel whatever with the airmen and with the material; I am not qualified to speak on that point. The right hon. Gentleman went off at the deep end on the question of efficiency, at the end of his speech on the last occasion. He said that he had been attacked from all quarters in regard to efficiency. Nobody attacked him on that, and nobody is attacking him now on the efficiency of our flying men or of our machines; I believe they are second to none. What I say from the business point of view is, let us have more of that, and a good deal less of this tremendous top hammer and incubus which is taking an unfair proportion of the money we have to spend.
I have no intention of taking up the time of the House with another long speech, for I fear that I trespassed at great length upon the attention of hon. Members ten days ago. But I will deal as briefly as I can with the many questions, covering a very wide field, that have been raised to-day. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny) said that delving into the Estimates reminded him of ferreting for rabbits. I can assure him that in to-day's Debate hon. Members have shown remarkable skill in bolting the right rabbits. There is scarcely any question affecting the Air Ministry Votes that has not been dealt with by one hon. Member or another. The hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) was one of several Members who take the view that the number of defence Ministers might be reduced. He was kind enough to say that he would keep one of them. I do not know whether we were to toss up for it.
Or whether we were to draw lots. The hon. Member for Barnstaple was not so kind, so far as I was concerned. He made no bones about it. He said that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport should be the first two to leave this bench. Both these hon. Members and several other hon. Members have, setting aside what they may have said about my humble self, raised once again the big question of a Ministry of Defence. Here I find myself in exactly the same difficulty in which I was placed 10 days ago. I sympathise with hon. Members who, having only a single Service Estimate before them, have not the opportunity of dealing with the question of defence as a whole.
I carried out the undertaking which I gave to the House 10 days ago, when I said that I would convey to the Prime Minister the general feeling upon the question of a Ministry of Defence in all quarters of the House, and the Prime Minister has asked me to say that he would welcome a debate upon the Cabinet Vote on one of the Supply days, when he could deal comprehensively with this very big and very important question. If that arrangement does not meet with the convenience of the House, perhaps some private Member might put the subject down in the form of a Resolution on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening after Easter. The Prime Minister would welcome a debate upon the general question and would desire the opportunity of hearing an expression of views upon it and putting his own views to the House.
I am now being drawn a good deal further away from the Air Estimates. I have given the House the Prime Minister's views, and I cannot go further than that. Short of the big question of a Defence Ministry, a number of hon. Members to-day have referred to the scarcely less important question of the duplication, or, to speak more accurately, the triplication between the three Service Ministries. I should like to make it quite clear that, so far as I am concerned, and so far as the Air Ministry is concerned, we wish to reduce this overlapping to the very minimum. So far from desiring to set up departments to match the departments of the Navy and the Army dealing with general services, I wish to reduce the triplication to the very minimum. Hon. Members will rightly say, "You say that you wish to make this reduction, but how are you actually carrying your policy into effect?"
Let me tell hon. Members what we are trying to do. We are trying to ensure that the biggest purchaser as between the three Services should purchase for the three Services. For instance, the Air Force has no Army Service Corps, and is getting its commissariat and items such as barrack furniture from the Army. In the same way, the Navy is the principal producer of torpedoes. We have no torpedo department at the Air Ministry, and we go to the Admiralty for our torpedoes. I might go through a number of other branches of common administration in which we are trying, even with the existence of the three Services, to reduce overlapping to the lowest possible limit.
My hon. Friend asks about hospitals. We do not want to set up any hospitals anywhere where Army and Navy hospitals are providing treatment for Air Force officers and men. To-day, in England, there are only three Air Force hospitals, in each case where there are no facilities for the officers and men of the Air Force in the near neighbourhood. There are two hospitals for men and one hospital for officers. In Iraq, where the command is an Air Command, and where the main responsibility is an Air Ministry responsibility, there are no Army hospitals, and the Air Force hospital at Iraq is doing all the work for the British and Indian battalions. I should like to see the arrangement developed to the full.
The question of chaplains has been mentioned this afternoon. Let me assure the House that we do not want to set up a great organisation of Air Force chaplains. We only want to ensure a chaplain of some kind for our various Air Force stations. At the present time, I forget the exact number, I do not think we have more than 20 chaplains in the whole Force.
Yes, and the Force is a good deal bigger. We have only these chaplains at stations where there are no Army or Navy chaplains to do the work. There are other stations were we have no Service chaplains at all, and we ask the local ministers of religion to do the work for the station. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) ten days ago twitted the Air Ministry about a dental service. We have no dental service at all. We use the dental officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Right through the whole field of common services it is our definite policy, and I cannot emphasise this too much, to avoid duplication wherever we can. I shall take to heart the suggestions and criticisms that have been made in this debate, and see whether we can push this policy a little further than we push it at the present time. Quite definitely, we have set our faces against unnecessary duplication anywhere.
There was a criticism, almost a hardy annual, made by the hon. Member for Barnstaple against the existence of an independent Air Ministry and an independent Air Force. He desired to abolish it root and branch; but, supposing that he cannot do that at once, he wished to proceed upon the lines of breaking off bits of the Air Force and setting up an Air organisation in both the Navy and the Army. I am not going to be drawn into any detailed discussion of that very old controversy, which has been discussed over and over again in this House, and has been examined over and over again by a whole series of Committees.
Surely, economy is one of the chief objects of my hon. Friend. Both on grounds of economy and efficiency the claim urged by the hon. Member for Barnstaple has been turned down time after time. I hope we shall now lay to rest for ever this controversy, and thereby make it much easier for the three Services to co-operate together than it has been when, year after year, this old controversy has been revived. I am authorised to say that the Colwyn Committee turned the proposal down on the ground of economy. On the ground of efficiency, you are much more likely to have an efficient Air Force to deal with the very difficult problem of air warfare if the duties are concentrated in one Department and under one staff than if they are broken up, as they were until a year or two before the end of the War, between the Army and the Navy. But I am not going to be drawn into a controversy on that subject. I believe that, as the controversy is becoming less and less bitter, as it does every year, we shah have a much better chance of a closer co-operation between the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, which is an object that every Member of the House desires.
A series of questions have been asked by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. R. Smith) on the subject of disarmament and the objects for which the expansion of the Air Force is to be carried out. On the question of disarmament I can add very little to what I said 10 days ago; but I think I can add this: The hon. Member for Penistone was in some doubt as to whether the Air Staff was seriously considering the question of disarmament. Let me tell him that the Chief of the Air Staff and his officers are most seriously engaged on this question. They are in direct communication with Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, who, as the hon. Member knows, represents the Government in the Disarmament Committee of the League of Nations. The meeting of this Committee has been postponed, but this is in no sense due to any action of the Government. We are seriously dealing with the problem, and he can rest assured that the Air Staff and myself are fully alive to all those horrors which he and the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) so eloquently described. We desire, just as much as they do, to see some restriction put upon a form of warfare which, if it is allowed to go uncontrolled, will end in destroying civilisation altogether. The hon. Member for Limehouse asked what it was we intended to do with the Air Force in the event of war, and whether any Air force was really adequate as a means of defence against an attacking Air force? I agree with him that Air defence is one of the most difficult problems that has ever presented itself in the field of national defence. It creates a series of new and almost insoluble problems, and it may be that however efficient your Air defence is, you can never make it impossible for an attacking force to penetrate these shores. That may be so, but I am equally sure that, provided our expansion programme is carried out and we have an Air Force of the size that is contemplated, we are making it so risky for a foreign Power to attack us that it will think twice and many times before it undertakes the risk.
When the hon. Member asked me further how we intend to apply the Air Force in the event of war, then I can only give him the simple answer that within the limitations of international law we shall apply the Air Force in the best way possible in order to bring the war to an end and beat the enemy. Obviously, at this time of the day, I cannot go into further details on a question of that kind, when we hope that the day is very remote indeed. The hon. Member asked me a question about the safety of our flying personnel, whether we are doing all we can to lessen flying risks. He put a specific question about parachutes. I am glad to say that we have now equipped a large number of our squadrons with parachutes. I will give him the figures. Already 727 parachutes have been delivered. Last year I told the House that the deliveries would take some time, but as the result of our representations the firm are making their deliveries at a quicker rate than originally contemplated in the contract, and the House can rest assured that, as far as parachutes are concerned, we are pressing on as quickly as we can, and at no distant date the whole of the Air Force, every pilot and every machine that goes into the air, will be equipped with parachutes.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), who is himself an ex-pilot, asked me a question with regard to civil aviation—a question that was reinforced by other speakers. He wanted further information about the contract that was recently signed with Imperial Airways Company. The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) gave the answer as to why we made a new contract with that company. We found that the old company was using small machines instead of developing up-to-date civil machines. It was much easier for the company to earn its subsidy simply by flying small out-of-date machines which would never become a commercial proposition. We have re-arranged the contract, and as a result there will be an incentive to the Imperial Airways Company to develop new types of flying machines, and so we hope, in the course of the existence of the subsidy period become a self-supporting proposition. I agree with everything hon. Members have said as to their objection to any form of subsidy at all. I would much rather have no subsidy at all, but unfortunately it is the fact that without subsidies civil aviation would come to an end not only in this country, but in practically every other country as well. I have done what I can so to arrange the subsidy, first, by fixing a time limit and, secondly, by giving the company an incentive to develop new and economically run machines, to make it possible for civil aviation to become self-supporting within a certain number of years. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney I say that the real test as to whether our civil aviation policy is right or wrong is not whether such and such a number of small machines in Germany or any other country do a given number of miles, but which policy is most likely to make civil aviation self-supporting at the earliest possible moment.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I laid emphasis on the fact that the importance of German civil aviation was not in the number of miles flown or in the number of machines, but in the number of passengers carried.
That may be so, but I still say that the real test is whether the German policy of subsidising a large number of small machines running short distances between various towns in Germany is more likely to make civil aviation self-supporting than our policy of giving a diminishing subsidy over a period of years with a great incentive to the company in the meanwhile to develop not small but big machines. The hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain) raised a question with regard to air lines to the Dominions.
As I told the House 10 days ago, I am already arranging the Air Agenda for the Imperial Conference, and I can assure the hon. Member that I will take into full account the very interesting observations he has made in the course of the Debate. My hon. Friend was also one of those who are anxious to partition the Air Ministry. One hon. Member wished to give part of us to the Navy, another to the Army; and my hon. Friend wishes civil aviation to go to the Board of Trade.
The right hon. Gentleman will pardon me. I did not make any such suggestion. I merely said that from what I had learned all the military advisers of the right hon. Gentleman were not interested in civil aviation, and I said that if they could not take it under their wing and administer it efficiently, would they hand it over to another Department?
I am glad to hear that observation because it seemed to me that three great Departments of State were each to have some portion of the Air Ministry. The position seemed to be rather like the great Powers and the Kingdom of Poland in the 18th century. I am glad to hear, however, that my hon. Friend is going to give us a chance for a year or two. If we are to show a keen interest in civil aviation, as we certainly shall, he will be prepared to allow this important Department to remain at the Air Ministry. Let me disabuse his mind altogether. The Air Ministry are keenly interested in commercial and civil aviation, and when the India route is started next year, we shall see a new era open in civil aviation. That, I think, disposes of all the main questions raised so far in the Debate.
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question raised by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) as to increased facilities for selling abroad? Will these companies be allowed to sell directly to other foreign Governments; and can he give an assurance that this extension of opportunity for selling abroad will not have the effect of strengthening competition amongst the Governments of Europe?
There is no change of policy; the policy remains the same. British firms have always been free to sell abroad. What I am doing is to withdraw certain restrictions that made it almost impossible for them to sell their newer types abroad. The effect of them was that foreign firms got the orders and British firms did not. The question is merely whether foreign firms should get the orders or British firms. I am anxious that British firms should get them. But so far as the traffic in arms goes, we shall carry out to the full any obligations under which we may be, and there will be no secrecy about these sales. All that will happen, if the policy succeeds, as I hope it will, is that British firms will obtain the orders rather than foreign firms. I think I have now dealt with the main questions raised in the Debate. If there are any further questions asked later, the Under-Secretary of State will be happy to deal with them.
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the announcement of the Prime Minister that we are to have a Debate on the whole question of defence on one of the Cabinet Votes. I hope that when that times comes the House will bear in mind some pertinent observations made by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) at the beginning of this Debate. He spoke of the tendency for the same question to range over the policy Votes of all three of the fighting services. His own party cannot hold themselves guiltless in the matter, for they invariably raise the disarmament issue on all three Votes. It would be of advantage to the House if
that issue could be raised on the Vote to which it is most pertinent, and that is the Foreign Office Vote, leaving us the Committee of Imperial Defence, say, for a general discussion on the question of armaments. I dare say hon. Members opposite would retort that we are not guiltless and that we invariably raise the question of the Ministry of Defence on all three Votes. That is true. The discussion on the particular Vote is spoiled by the introduction of these questions on all three Votes. My right hon. Friend in his reply spoke on the question of civil aviation which has been raised by several hon. Members in this Debate. I am one of those who believe that civil aviation should be treated precisely the same as ordinary commercial shipping, that is to say, it ought to be under the Board of Trade. But I take further ground than that. In the Morrow Report which has been quoted in this House and which was the Report of a very strong Committee of nine of the very best brains that the United States could produce—it was appointed by President Coolidge—there is a very pertinent reference to this question of civil aviation in connection with armaments. The Committee reported unanimously:
To organise these peace-time activities, or what it is thought may ultimately be one large branch of them, under military control or on a military basis, would be to make the same mistake which, properly or improperly, the world believes Prussia to have made in the last generation. The union of civil and military air activities would breed distrust in every region to which our commercial aviation sought extension.
That is the American view. Anyone who has seen the prejudice which has been excited in the United States by the fact that the British Government own oil companies, and are interested in oil, can easily see the prejudice which will be excited by the fact that the civil aviation of this country is conducted and controlled to a large extent by a fighting Air Ministry. I hope that that matter will be remedied before many years have gone by.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and other speakers referred to the Colwyn Committee. It was evident that they had had advance intelligence of the Report of that Committee, and, from what the Secretary of State for Air has since told us, it is evident that the Report is favourable to the Air Ministry in regard to its controversy with the Admiralty. What qualifications have the Colwyn Committee to pronounce on such a question? We are here face to face with an anonymous Committee. It is a purely Treasury Committee. It is ranging over the whole question of the expense of the Fighting Services. No evidence is made public. Yet the Government are willing to avail themselves of this anonymous Committee and make an announcement of that character, when the evidence cannot be subjected to any criticism in this House.
I have no authority for the statement, but I believe that the Chief of the Naval Staff was never asked to give evidence before the Committee. What value is the Report of such a Committee on such a subject as that? It is of no value whatever. The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon made a statement, for which I am sure he will be sorry, to the effect that he believed the Navy attaches no weight whatever to air armaments. Why is the Admiralty trying to get control of this Air Force if it attaches no weight to it? What the Admiralty says is that a fleet cannot be efficient unless it has associated with it an air arm which is controlled by the Admiralty and by the Navy, and consisting of men trained up to the Navy. I do not wish to deal with that sectional question of the Navy on this Vote. It is properly a question that appertains to the Navy itself. But when we are told that the Air Force is a substitute for a Naval Force, and confidence in the Navy is being undermined in every direction, largely through propaganda, I believe inspired by the Air Ministry—
The evidence is what the Press knows full well. I have seen propaganda from the Air Ministry myself. You have in the Air Ministry what no other Department of the Fighting Services has, a special man for dealing with propaganda in the Press.
I must contradict that statement. We have no official in the Air Ministry who even touches propaganda remotely. As my hon. and gallant Friend has made a serious charge, I will be obliged if he will produce the evidence.
Well, I will do so, as I have permission. Let me ask a question. There are 6,000,000 tons of wheat imported into this country, and we produce 1,500,000 tons. What possible influence can the Air Force exercise in the protection of that wheat, which comes from, say, 12,000 or 13,000 miles away? The country could be starved into submission. The only possible protection for it is afforded by the Royal Navy of this country.
The aircraft did less in sinking submarines than almost any other weapon. The statistics of the Admiralty prove it. I am not arguing that point, however. I am asked whether aircraft are an important supplement to the Navy. I say that they are a very important supplement, and that that is the reason why the Navy wants the control of operations in the defence of shipping from both ships and aircraft. One thing against which I protest is the exaggeration which has been noticeable in these debates. We have had in the past exaggerated statements in regard to attacks on battleships. I am not dealing with that matter now, but during the present Debate an hon. Member referred to the fact that there were 4,000 French aeroplanes in reserve. He did not say that over 3,000 of these are pre-Armistice machines, constructed about eight years ago, and every one of these would have to be reconditioned. The hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), who made a very able speech, referred to the endurance of an aeroplane as being 1,900 miles. It is well known, on the evidence of airmen given before the Morrow Committee, that bombing machines have only an endurance of 250 miles out and 250 miles back. You cannot take "stunt" aeroplanes which carry no bombs and no armaments, and describe the 1,900 miles that one of these machines may do as the endurance of an aeroplane. By such exaggerated ideas people throughout the country are misled. Reference has also been made to the cheapness of aeroplanes. What is the truth? We have an Air Ministry which costs £16,000,000. What are we getting for it? About 650 aeroplanes. When we complain that money is wasted on ground men, have we not good reason? If it takes 12 ground men for a civil aeroplane, why should it take 50 for an Air Force 'plane? We have never had an answer to that question.
Now I come to deal with the general question of whether there should be a separate Air Ministry or not. The Secretary of State referred to "numerous committees" which have sat in regard to this question. I say there has never been a single public Committee, the evidence taken by which has been given in public, at which the Admiralty have been able to state their case since the Air Ministry came into existence. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Geddes Committee, but that was merely a committee with the Treasury mind, working on the question of achieving economies somehow or another, and they examined the whole range of public expenditure in a few months. To investigate this one question alone would take a Committee two or three months at the very least. There was also a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which consisted of Lord Weir the Chairman of the Air League, Lord Peel and Lord Balfour, but Lord Balfour was sick for practically the whole duration of the Committee's sittings. Is a Committee of that character to tie the hands of Parliament for all time, when Parliament knows, nothing about the evidence? The Air Ministry know that the conflict now is over the terms of the Report of the so-called Balfour Committee, that it has not succeeded in allaying the controversy between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry at all, and that the Cabinet has still to pronounce judgment—in spite of what the Secretary of State has said—on the various points in controversy. One or two points have been conceded. We have now secured that all the observers are to be naval men and 70 per cent. of the pilots are to be naval men, and it is a well known fact, as shown by reports from the Fleet, that efficiency has gone up 100 per cent. since naval men were put on to the job. That does not disparage the airmen at all, but simply points to the fact that landsmen cannot do the work of sailors and much less can short service men do the work of long service sailors.
I wish to deal with the announcement which the Prime Minister made on 25th February to the effect that it was intended to pursue the organisation of Imperial defence on the existing basis of three co-equal services and that it was in the interests of the fighting services that controversy on the subject should cease. If we had had any inquiry in which the public could repose confidence, then I should say that those who, like myself, have strong views about the separate existence of an Air Ministry should give up the controversy and wait to see whether time would justify us or not, but we have never had such an inquiry and until we do, we shall go on with this controversy in spite of the appeal. All the arguments which I can see are against a separate Air Ministry. I have asked three questions—one in relation to the example of other Powers, a second in relation to the experience of the War, and a third whether there has been any adequate inquiry? In regard to the example of other Powers, the Americans the moment the War was over sent a mission to Europe to inquire into this question and the conclusion of that inquiry was against a separate Air Ministry, and the Americans have ever since been against it. The Japanese are the finest copyists in the world. They are not a people of imagination or initiative but we know the way in which they applied the accumulated surgical knowledge to the war of 1904 to saving the health of their army. If they thought this was a good idea they would apply it. They have copied us in every other respect in regard to our Navy, but they have their own Naval Air Arm and Military Air Arm and refuse absolutely to have a separate Air Ministry. The French tried it and scrapped it, because it was a failure.
It has been said that the experience of the War justifies a separate Air Ministry. The experience of the War
was that dual control is bad and a separate Air Ministry means dual control in all Army operations and all Naval operations. You have a Fleet air arm to a large extent owing a separate allegiance to the Air Ministry; you have Navy co-operation units which have a great deal to do with the defence of commerce at sea—they are not very numerous in peace time, but I believe in the last War there were about 1,500 such units—and they are entirely under the Air Ministry. There are sure to be clashes when war breaks out, and the thing will be unworkable. When we are told that war experience justifies the Air Ministry, I quote against that view our first Secretary of State for Air in 1917 and 1918, Lord Rothermere, who said in the "Daily Mail," 30th July, 1923:
The Ministry was established because the two forces, the Royal Air Force and the Naval Air Force, were competing against each other for extremely limited supplies of planes and parts, and it was necessary to end that state of affairs.
He also said:
The Royal Air Force was then constituted purely as a war expedient. I never contemplated its continuance after the War, but always thought it would revert to its former subordinate status under the two older fighting arms. The claim bf the Royal Air Force to be a separate fighting arm is not based on war experience, and has never really been tested. The naval air work in the war was done almost exclusively by airmen trained in the Royal Air Service.
Contrary to our practice, the Americans had several comissions of inquiry. There was the Harding Committee of 1921, a strong committee appointed by President Harding, which reported:
Aviation is necessary to the success of the Army and the Navy. Each should have complete control of the character and operations of its own air service.
In 1925, as a result of the agitation of Colonel Mitchell, President Coolidge appointed another committee entirely independent of any Government control, it sat under the chairmanship of a very distinguished man, a partner of Pierpont Morgan, and a great legal light and banker. On that committee were two men very favourable to Colonel Mitchell's scheme, one a senator and the other a distinguished expert. There was Senator Colonel Hiram Bingham, a former airman, who was in favour of Colonel Mitchell's contention when he went on the committee. Then
there was Howard Coffin, a consulting engineer and air expert, who had testified before the earlier Congressional committee in favour of a single air force and a single unified air ministry. The evidence of that Congressional committee was before this committee, and they also examined 99 witnesses, more than half of them airmen, and their report was unanimously in favour of retaining the present system of separate Army and Navy control. I had better give the actual wording of the report:
Modern military and naval operations cannot be effectively conducted without such air services acting as integral parts of a single command. Moreover, the training of these air services…. must be under the continuous direction and control of the command which is ultimately to use them.
In regard to the independent missions of an Air Force, they said:
We believe that such independent missions as it is capable of can be better carried out under the high command of the Army or Navy, as the case may be.
I do not wish to take advantage of that last part. They were dealing with the question of the United States, and I recognise that the conditions are different in the United States from those here, but what emerges is this: These three Commissions were all public Commissions. All the men on them were ready to stand by them, the evidence was held in public, and the evidence was published to the world. All these Commissions which investigated this very question decided against the separate existence of an Air Ministry. For those reasons, until we have a public inquiry in this country, I am afraid the agitation must go on, in spite of the appeal of the Prime Minister, unless we get something towards our demands in the way of a public inquiry.
We have heard a great deal of criticism of the Air Ministry to-day, but in spite of that fact I welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that we should have a separate Air Arm of His Majesty's forces, although I agree that it would be a good thing to set up a Committee of Defence to combine the policy and control the expenditure of all three forces. It seems to me that if it were a case of war in the future it would be, as far as this country is concerned, largely a war of defence. The tendency of the Navy seems to be to work and manœuvre more under water, and of the Army to work more under ground, which would leave the Air Force as the eyes both of Army and Navy, and also as a protection for this country from air raids. To my mind, the Air Force of the future must necessarily become the most important arm of our forces. During the last Debate and during this Debate hardly a word has been mentioned with regard to airships, and I should like to raise one or two points to-night on the question of our airship policy.
I believe that to-day the only airship we have, the "R33," is the only British airship that can take the air at short notice. This airship was reconditioned, almost rebuilt, recently and has been used for experimental purposes, and it is satisfactory to know, that those experiments have turned out to be of value for the design and building of the new airship. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State, with regard to those experiments, if members of the crew have parachutes served out in case of accidents, and if parachutes are now being made in this country. The Minister, in his statement 10 days ago, mentioned the accident that occurred to the "R33" when she was blown from the mooring mast at Pulham and drifted over the North Sea with her forepart very badly damaged, and I would like to pay my tribute to the officers and crew of that ship, who, by their courage, airmanship, and skilfulness, managed to avert a disaster and bring that ship safely back to her base at Pulham. That airship, I believe, has been repaired since and has been used again for experimental work in regard to aeroplanes. I would like to ask the Minister if he intends to lay this ship by now, because I think it would be a great mistake to disband the crew. After all, there are very few men in this country who have been trained as airmen for airship work, and the services of these men would be very valuable when the new airships are completed. I support the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) when he pleaded for more men to be trained for airship work. I think there will be a great amount of work in future for these men.
I gather that the "R36" is not to be repaired and that the flight to Egypt has been given up. I welcome that fact, because, after all, there is no airship shed in Egypt where running repairs can be done and where an airship can be docked in case of anything more serious. The "R36" is an old ship, and at the time she was built the margin of safety in the building of airships was cut very fine for military purposes. I believe the shed at Cardington is now almost complete, and also the mooring mast, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he can say when it is proposed to lay down the new airship, the "R101". I gathered from the Minister the other day that he thought this airship would be completed before this Parliament comes to an end, and I was very disappointed, because I hoped he would say that this airship would be ready at the end of next year, but I think it is essential that when the "R101" and the airship that is to be built at Howden, in Yorkshire, by the Airship Guarantee Company, are ready to come out, we should have proper airship sheds for docking purposes at the end of a long journey. A shed is being built to-day in India, and I hope that that will be completed, because if you send an airship from this country to India, it will be necessary, I believe, that the airship should be docked and thoroughly overhauled before her return journey. I would like to suggest that we have also an airship shed in Egypt, because I believe the climate there is more equable than here, and an airship shed there could be used in conjunction with the airship sheds at home. The airship, I believe, is on the civil side of the Ministry—at least that is what I gather from the Minister—and, therefore, I suppose would be used entirely for Imperial or commercial purposes. I believe a long journey by airship would be far quicker than a long journey by aeroplane, but when it is understood that new airships are to be of 5,000,000 cubic feet, carrying something like 100 passengers with their baggage, I think it can be readily understood what is the possibility of transport by this means to the Dominions.
A question was asked the other day about the line to Australia. I believe the only solution of that question in the future lies with an airship, but, of course, for airships you must have airship sheds in Australia. I believe the whole question of airship policy is one
for the Imperial Conference, and I hope this matter will be brought before the Imperial Conference in October. I notice that in the Imperial Economic Conference held in 1923 a resolution was passed with regard to airships in the following terms:
That the British Government should circulate to the Dominions and India a statement showing the present operations and performances of British airships, and in the future should circulate regular up-to-date information of the progress of the Burney airship proposal, in order that the Empire participation in this or future airship proposals may be facilitated.
There we have the Empire in agreement on the use of airships. I believe the problem in the future for the Empire is to a great extent a problem of quick transport, and I hope that this matter will be brought before the Imperial Conference in the autumn.
This is the third time, in listening to an Air Debate, that I have been surprised that we are still being entertained to an exhibition of differences of opinion between what is called our three fighting Forces. To a layman that becomes very disturbing, if he is depending upon these Forces to protect him. You have the airman criticising the Army and Navy, and the seaman criticising the Army and the Air Force, and the third criticising the other two. That does not satisfy anyone who, like myself, depends upon others for information to give him protection, and I feel unsafe because every time this discussion goes on I discover these differences are fundamental. It is quite easy to see that if the jealousy that is shown in Debate here is allowed to take place when the country is in difficulties, it may lead to our destruction. We were told by the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny) that he was in favour of disarmament, and yet in the next breath he said the only position we can take up is to have such a power that we may become dictators of the world. I cannot understand the type of mind of anyone who can talk about disarmament, and at the same time say that we, being Britons, must have full power over all other people to dictate their policy. You cannot expect any other country to take from us the idea of disarmament when any hon. Member of this House speaks in terms like that. It is no use talking about disarmament in one breath, and in the next of dictation against other nations.
I would like the Minister to reply to three questions. It is all very well for Members who have had experience to get up in this House and make certain statements, but we must have the information from responsible Ministers. We have been told to-day in this House that it is not a practical business to fly north, and that there are only 60 miles over which we can really fly in this country. We were told that by a gentleman who claims to have some knowledge. I am not taking his word, but I want to know from the Minister whether that statement is true, and, if so, why we cannot fly north, because if it is the case, I think I will go into the air business and see what can be done. The next point made by an hon. Member, who said he had some knowledge, was that this flying was a great boon in cementing the Empire by linking up the outer parts. If that is not flying north, I do not know what it is. To a practical mind, it becomes a very difficult matter when three sections of the fighting forces are all intent on trying to enlighten the country. We are told that only three per cent. of what is being done goes to civil aviation. Then we got from the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) that in 1915 our capacity in carrying was equal to one ton, whereas in 1925 it was 6 tons. It is no use telling me that a machine was carrying 1 ton in 1915, and then tell me it is carrying 6 tons in 1925 unless I get the horse-power. I take it that the hon. and gallant Member meant we were dealing with the same type of machine, but we had so improved it that it would take six tons instead of one. When we are told of the capacity of a machine to carry 10, 20 or 30 passengers, we ought to be told, suppose we put goods in the place of passengers, what is the difference in cost, taking speed as an element in the cost, when carried by a railway or a ship the same distance. Salient facts such as I have been enumerating ought to be brought out to impress those of us who would listen to them so that we might become enthusiastic supporters.
Then I come to the question of research. I have been at Farnborough and at Uxbridge and have seen the flying and enjoyed very much the fellows flying up in the air, except that, as we have been told to-day, it costs £2 an hour while they are up, and that was always running in my mind. While, however, we get more money spent upon research we hear nothing about it. What I want to draw attention to is that while we may boast about being able to produce the best kind of aeroplane, the best machine and so forth, our research in this country has not up till now made it possible for us to find the sources of supply for these machines. It would appear to me that the best way to have dealt with this matter was to have been thinking about it in the early days. You have got the best machines in the world, and yet you are dependent for your supplies of gas upon others. Why is it that you have not used the brain-power that you employed during the War? Why did you not use the brain-power of the country at Gretna, where you had one of the finest plants in the world for the manufacture of all required?
You ought to have made yourselves independent of other sources of supply. Nothing like that has been done, yet we are told in this House of our great security. Your air security depends upon getting your power from overseas! We were told the other day that we had enormous tanks for supply. What is the use of talking like that? The other fellows can come in and simply destroy them. Then you will discover that you have been left. We are spending money on this kind of research like water. Whenever it comes to a matter of industrial research there is always a vote against it. When it comes to organised mass murder then, of course, it is a quite a proper thing to spend any sum of the taxpayers' money in research and carrying out destruction. When it comes to industrial research, something that is going to help forward trade or the development of industry in this country, then you find the people who are spending all the money for this kind of research have none left for industry.
I want to take this opportunity of putting one more point. It does not matter what you do in the way of air production; you are doing nothing in the way of disarmament. It is little matter what you may say unless you are going to take the steps understood by other nations who may be in the position that they do not want to prepare and they are only preparing because Great Britain is preparing. If we had a strong man representing the Army, Navy or Air Force, a man who could lead in these matters, such a man would come forward with a policy in that light Instead of there being a policy, I have discovered there is no policy at all. I should have thought it would be worth while considering this matter, and so consolidating that which the whole nation depends upon in time of war. I have listened to naval experts in this House, and I would not like to go out in a rowing-boat with one of them. I have listened to air experts, and I would not trust myself to them. The Army is different.
However, the whole of this subject, no matter how we try to disguise it, all comes back to this in the long run; that the whole atmosphere of this House, whether it is a question of the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, is a question of preparing for war. When it comes, I say, to this question the atmosphere of the House is quiet, even when the prospects of going to war are being discussed. We have been told to-day something of the horrors of war, and told that no longer will it be the men in the front trenches: in the coming war it will be the civilian population. We ought to revolt against such talk. So far as we in the Labour party are concerned, we stand for disarmament: we stand against war. We want to hear about an invitation towards disarmament, and the doing away not only with the manufacture but with the use of war material. This nation, which pretends to be a great nation, can do something to give a lead in this matter. This is my appeal to the party opposite—to try to do something to carry through, to take one step towards universal and everlasting peace.
I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. B. Peto) who, I regret, is not in his place. I take it that, other things being equal, any of us who have a certain amount of air sense ought to be allowed to include that in the argument. He quoted an extract which dealt, curiously enough, with the overlapping of certain Departments, this sounded a strange argument in connection with a plea for splitting up the Air Force. One of the strongest arguments in support of a unified Air Force is that it prevents that duplication which occurred when the Army and Navy had separate establishments. His reference to air sense in nature was rather strange because so far as I can make out the only two animals to which that reference might apply, the flying fox and the flying fish are rather poor performers in the air. I hail and welcome the information that the Prime Minister has decided that there shall be no question of splitting up the Air Force between the other two Services because any such reversion would be an irreparable setback. I think there is a certain amount of justification for the criticism of the organisation at present. But if pressed unduly must re-act on the morale of the Force. Particular cases of duplication have been referred to, and I am glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he is using every endeavour to avoid it.
I would like to refer to two small details, one of which is referred to in the American Air Report. One, often given as a reason for having a separate Naval Air Service, is the sea-plane carrier. The necessity for these vessels is supposed to make it quite impossible to have an Air Force organisation, but I should have thought that the genius of the Navy and the Air Force could settle that difficulty. Another matter was brought to my notice, when I was in Felixstowe the other day and saw the new spotting seaplane for the Navy, and there I should give credit to the Army for the plane they have accepted. I do not say this in any spirit of criticism, but it does appear to me that it is very desirable for that reason to have a separate Air organisation, to deal with matters of design, in the best interests of the Forces concerned.
I hail with pleasure the announcement that there is to be the closest co-operation between the three Chiefs of the Staffs. I think nothing would be more likely to produce what, perhaps, may eventualise, and that is a Defence Ministry. At all events, the co-ordination of these three Chiefs of Staffs must produce an atmosphere favourable to that. The magnitude of the operation involved in changing from our existing system to a Ministry of Defence would be stupendous, but the difficulties which are there might be got over, and undoubtedly its existence would prevent overlapping, unnecessary competition, and lack of harmony, and it would probably enable the Estimates to be overhauled in a manner which would produce economies. When I was in Canada recently I had an opportunity of seeing how the system works there. Of course, it is on a very much smaller scale than it would be here, but the defence organisation there has produced a great deal of harmony in the fighting services. Such a co-ordination here would enable some sort of transfer of personnel to be made between the Air Force and the other two fighting services. That matter was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Captain W. Brass) in dealing with the question of short service. If I might make a suggestion to the Secretary of State for Air, it seems to me that officers of the Army and Navy might well be seconded for service in the Air Force to form a kind of active Reserve in addition to the Reserve which exists at present, and which consists of men who, after a period of service, pass out into civil life and remain on the Reserve for a number of years. Officers of the Army and Navy might well be attached to the Air Force as pilots and come back after a certain period of service.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is the development of seaplanes and flying boats. Through the courtesy of the Secretary of State, I was enabled to inspect the establishment at Felixstowe. I was very much impressed by what I saw there, and I am very glad to see from the Estimates in Sub-section 3, Vote 3, that no reduction is likely. It may interest hon. Members to know that when I was in Canada the Deputy-Chief of the General Staff asked me to urge on every occasion the provision of more seaplanes. This may sound anomalous, but, as has been pointed out by a previous speaker, the lakes which abound in that country make that form of aircraft most essential. I do not think hon. Members realise, at all events I did not until I went to Felixstowe, what an extraordinarily useful craft the seaplane is becoming, and the extent to which it is being developed. Personally I was rather doubtful of their seaworthiness, but I am told that the addition of the planes makes them steadier at sea than a motor boat of corresponding size would be, and they are practically independent of all assistance, except, naturally, a store ship for supplies. I believe the only thing that prevents them from being thoroughly seaworthy is the difficulty of carrying an anchor heavy enough to moor them, and I think that is understandable, because it would be difficult to lift that amount of dead weight. I trust this branch of the Air Service will continue to get the active support of the Secretary of State for Air.
Lastly, I would like to refer to the development of the Air Service in the Empire, and to deal more particularly with the question of the Air Survey. I happen to have done a good deal of ballooning in the early days, having been responsible for the navigation, and as I was also in the Ordnance Survey, the work of the air survey appeals to me considerably. I was much gratified to find when I was in Newfoundland and Canada recently that development there has been on very big lines. In Newfoundland, it is true, they have not had much opportunity of making progress lately, but in Canada the Air Survey is now run principally by the Air Force, and one cannot over-estimate the extra-ordinary value of it over that enormous area of country. The Deputy-Chief of the Staff, who kindly gave me every facility for acquiring information, hoped the Secretary of State for Air at home would allow our pilots to co-operate with them, at all events to go over there and work with them, and it seems to me that that is a point that is worthy of consideration. It was further impressed upon me on my recent visit to Felixstowe, where I met a young flying officer lately returned from the East who had been working with the Royal Engineers on the air survey of Singapore and the Malay Archipelago. They had found that an extraordinary amount of experience was necessary if one was not to waste a lot of time on the job, and that is another reason, therefore, for our concentrating attention on that branch of air work.
Hon. Members must realise that this work is highly specialised and requires special experience. In it the opportunities for airmanship are unrivalled and perhaps this will reconcile hon. Members opposite who hope that civil aviation will receive more attention. I must say that their line of argument is not unreasonable and my own experience in that direction leads me to think that one is inclined to look upon aviation as a purely military operation. Before the War I was connected with aviation, and then most development was done by private individuals, while the Army establishment at Farnborough only received £500 a year for research work. When the War started heavier than air aviation had only just begun to develop in this country and naturally an impetus was given to it by the necessities of the War, and thus the problem became to be regarded more as a purely military science, and I think hon. Members opposite will agree that at all events it is necessary that we should take the lead in that direction. It is quite apparent that if we do this we shall be in a much better position to protect ourselves. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Air will now be able to work in the direction of civil progress in connection with the aerial surveys of the British Empire.
I will refer briefly to a few notes I have made from books and documents and other information about the Empire generally and its possibilities in regard to surveys. You may take it for granted that in the British Isles an aerial survey is no use whatever. In India, however, the Royal Air Force is poorly equipped for survey work, but good material exists there for carrying it out. In the Sudan at the present moment there is no organisation whatever, and I think that territory could very well be developed under the Royal Air Force. I have already referred to Canada, and the case of Australia has already been fully dealt with. In Iraq there exists a cadastral survey from a land point of view, but a great deal more might be accomplished by an air survey, and I trust an opportunity will be taken of doing something in that direction. East Africa and South Africa, might appear to be good fields for air survey work, but here you have principally open country, and the ground system would defeat your air survey, not only in speed, but in cost which, for a one-inch scale map, would be £1 per square mile as against £4 a square mile.
I must apologise for detaining the House at this length, but I wish to emphasise the importance of the following subjects. It is essential that the Air Force should work out its own salvation while the co-ordination of the three Chiefs of Staff should create an atmosphere which will be likely to produce successful results. Secondly, I would urge the development of seaplanes and flying boats; and, thirdly, that an Empire organisation for aerial surveys should be developed as soon as possible.
I think quite a number of hon. Members would appreciate a little more information in respect to the success or otherwise of airships. We are spending, an enormous amount of money in experiments upon airships, and if I understand the Minister aright he attached the greatest amount of importance in connection with these airships by way of their being useful for civil purposes and not war purposes. As an ordinary layman I can readily appreciate that point of view because it does seem to me to be quite out of the question, if not an impossibility, to make the airship not liable to serious attacks from aeroplanes, quite apart from attacks by aircraft guns. Therefore we should like to know just how far the Ministry are entertaining hopes of making airships a success from the point of view of the voyages they will be able to take, and furthermore in view of the enormous cost entailed in filling airships with gas I should like to know what likelihood there is of its ever being an economic proposition.
Questions have been put which have elicited the enormous expense entailed by way of the supply of gas, and this enormous expense seems to me to make the airship, even from a civil or commercial point of view, quite an uneconomic proposition. In view of the expense entailed and the money we are spending in this connection, some of us would appreciate a little more information as to what we may expect in that direction.
The second point is in connection with the grants we are making to the light aeroplane clubs. There is something like £3,000 in the Estimates this year for the light aeroplane clubs. It appears to me, in view of the appeals that are being made for economy, that here is an ample opportunity of effecting economy in that direction, because I feel that these people, who are members of these clubs and join them for sporting purposes, are in a position to provide for themselves the machines that are necessary for their sport. I imagine that the Ministry are hoping that, by indulging in this sport, pilots will be trained as a result. I feel that the Minister ought to be able to give us some evidence as to what has already been achieved in that direction, in view of the fact that we gave a considerable grant, amounting to about £22,000, in last year's Estimates, including the Supplementary Estimate.
When the Minister was introducing the Estimates he referred to a few sentences to the campaign on the North-West Frontier, and I personally feel rather bitterly about that matter. I feel that there is somewhat of the spirit of hypocrisy about it. When we were engaged in the last War it was an everyday occurrence for us to object to the manner in which women and children, and even babies, were being killed as the result of the policy of those with whom we were at war. I find in "Flight," published on 26th November, 1925, a report of the campaign termed "The Waziristan campaign." Here we are told that the
targets varied from the good-sized villages, vulnerable to bomb attacks, of the Faridai and Maresai, to the purely cave dwellings of the Abdur Rahman Khel and the scattered huts and enclosures of the Guri Khel. Practically all the villages, however, possessed a protective cave system. All the tribes possessed some cattle…. Every effort was made to avoid routine in older to keep the tribes on the qui vive and in a constant state of uncertainty as to when and how they were going to be attacked.
That is precisely the position we were in here in London and in various parts of the country during the last War.
By varying the times and order of attack on targets, attempts were made to affect a surprise. Air blockade consisted in sending machines over the area at irregular intervals during the day to attack certain definite targets. The object of this method was to harass the tribes continuously, to give them a general feeling of insecurity, uncertainty and discomfort, and to prevent the pursuit of their normal activities.
There was also raiding by night and raiding by moonlight.
Reconnaissance flares were used to assist the pilots in such work. No great material damage can be expected from this night bombing, but it prolongs the blockade into the night, and this further disorganises the normal life of the tribesmen.
After our experience of bombing, even in the City of London, what right have
we to expect that the material damage was slight? It is admitted here, as the report states, that
it is difficult to obtain information as to the actual number of casualties inflicted on the enemy. It is not likely, however, that there were many.
It does not matter if there were only half-a-dozen. I find it difficult to be able to defend a policy of this kind. We cannot tell what the casualties were. We have no idea what the casualties were, but we find that they had to drive their cattle to the caves during the day, and had to feed them, and water them by night, and even then, in spite of their adopting those methods, they were harassed by the bombs from our aeroplanes.
The operations themselves lasted for 54 days, and on 42 of the first 45 days bombing was carried out on some part of the area proclaimed.
The area was anything between 50 and 60 square miles. In view of our experience, in view of our charges against our late enemies during the last War, when we said that they gave iron crosses to baby killers, we are playing the part of baby killers in this respect.
I find at the end of the Report that we have given medals to the flying men for distinguished service. What merit can there have been in going up in an aeroplane and dropping bombs on poor defenceless creatures of this kind? We are here giving distinguished service medals to baby killers and, even although the rest of the House may not agree with my protest, I wish to embrace this opportunity of raising my protest and my voice against baby killing of this kind. We have no right to harass these poor defenceless creatures under circumstances of this kind. Even although they may be stubborn, even although they may object to our political methods when seeking to govern their country, there is no justification. Posing, as we are, as a Christian nation, how on earth can we justify the killing of these innocent people? Then, by way of recognising the special merit of killing these defenceless people, to give distinguished service medals for this purpose seems almost beyond anyone's imagination. I hope that this House this evening is going to have at least some explanation, if not a justification, for a policy of this kind. I, for one, feel there cannot be any justification in adopting methods of this kind to a defenceless people, such as they are in that quarter of the earth.
I spoke the other day on the Air, and only rise to touch on subjects mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), namely, civil aviation and research. Probably I may not have explained myself very clearly 10 days ago when I touched upon these subjects, and I will, therefore, if I may, give my hon. and gallant Friend one or two figures on these heads. With regard to the actual number of reservists, although, as I stated, they have dwindled from 8,033 to 7,830, I did not mean only to refer to that item; what I had in mind was the volume of men and material and knowledge behind the actual service squadrons in the field, which to me is of vast importance. Any tendency for this to diminish is suicidal to the actual squadrons in the field, but we hear on all sides that skilled men are having to be discharged from factories making aircraft engines and machines. I quite agree with the expert who told my hon. and gallant Friend that he was all for greater effort on the ground in overcoming the difficulties of fog and in the matter of meteorology, wireless and so forth. Personally, I think the more machines there are in the air the better, and the more men technically employed the better, but I feel most strongly that there should be fewer non-technical men, whether in the Air Ministry or elsewhere, who have anything to do with aviation.
With regard to civil aviation, one of the greatest difficulties I have found in discussing these Estimates from any point of view is the difficulty of obtaining information from them. Also, in regard to civil aviation, we have had no report as to the progress made by Imperial Airways. But I think, if I may say so, that the hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain) was right when he said words to the effect that not nearly enough was being done in the direction of civil aviation. The staff, certainly, of the Supply and Research Department in the Air Ministry is being increased, but it is outside the Air Ministry, and not inside, that I plead that research, experiment and operational development should be pushed forward. As I see it—and I have repeated this often—outlay on experiment, research and operational development is of the greatest import, and would have been of the greatest value had we carried it into effect ever since the War. A very considerable proportion of our money and our efforts should have been put out in that direction ever since the War. We are told that we have a certain number of years of peace still to run; I urge again that greater effort should be put forth in these directions in time of peace. Research and experiment, however, only receive, in actual figures, half as much again as is allowed for repairs and maintenance of existing buildings and works staff. Civil air routes and surveys receive rather less than sanitary services and window cleaning; experimental operations receive £12,000 as against £30,000 for horses and forage.
Turning to the last figures available for this and other countries in regard to civil aviation—the figures are contained in the Air Ministry Report of a year ago—in 1924 the mileage flown by this country is shown to be over 1,000,000 miles; the passengers carried were 15,000, and the percentage of passengers carried in British machines was 79 per cent. In 1925, however—that is to say, the financial year ending in March, 1925—there was a drop to 890,000 miles and 13,500 passengers, and the percentage carried in British machines was only 58; while for the calendar year 1925 there was again a further drop to 51 per cent. In 1926, the British subsidy is £136,000. Turning to France, in 1924 2,250,000 miles were flown by civil machines, with lines stretching from Bucharest to Dakkar. In 1925, the French Vote for Civil Aviation was 154,000,000 francs, or, say, £1,500,000 at 100 francs to the £, of which 57⅓ million francs, or, say, £570,000 at 100 francs to the £, was for subsidies. That is against our £136,000. In Germany, in 1924, £245,000 was spent, and 16 daily route services were run, with 16 additional or extended services proposed for 1925. In the United States of America, 1,800,000 miles were flown on mail routes, with a night flying portion of the route—which is very important—of 1,600 miles. I hope that these figures will prove to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon that other countries are certainly making very strenuous efforts in this matter, and I sincerely hope that not only he, but the Minister and all concerned, and every hon. Member of this House, will see to it that this aspect is more strenuously developed in this country in the future.
I feel that we have at least gained something in this Debate if we have succeeded in conveying to the Prime Minister that there is a very strong feeling in this House in favour of a Ministry of Defence; and I do not feel the necessity, which has been expressed by some hon. Members, that this should be taken only by slow stages. I will put it as a point particularly for the Secretary of State for Air that the Air Ministry, over and above all other Departments, has everything to gain by being embodied in a Ministry of Defence, not, as the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. B. Peto) said, with four heads, but with one head. Quite apart from any question of finance or of gestures of a Locarno character, I feel that this is sound from a strategical and fighting point of view, but I absolutely agree with what most hon. Members have said—namely, that we have to realise that it will only be done from the House of Commons. We shall be up against, in the Services, three of the most powerful vested interests in the country. There is hardly a single direction nowadays in which one does not find vested interests, and the Services perhaps afford one of the most flagrant examples. I do not blame them, it is the instinct of self-preservation; but I would put it to all hon. Members who feel that the formation of a Ministry of Defence has to be brought about that, it can only come about by the different forces coming in on an equal basis, and that it is not in any sense a half-way step to get rid of the Air Ministry.
It would be absolutely damning to the whole principle of a unified Ministry of Defence. I hope those Members who are in favour of that reform will definitely avoid tying themselves up in any question of scrapping the Air Ministry. We have heard a lot from some hon. Members about the Air Ministry being redundant. I put it to hon. Members as a whole that in war, as in peace, the main factor of the military section of flying is not so much what it does for the Army and for the Navy as what it does entirely on its own bottom. That is the way I look at it. I regard the science of air fighting as something that is done independently of the other Services, not that I minimise in any direction the work it does for the Army and the Navy, but I am convinced that neither the Army nor the Navy have any sound basis, except perhaps a sentimental basis, for urging that they are not properly treated by the Air Force. Gunner officers—I was a gunner officer—often go up in the air to see the effect of their shooting, and the Navy have their observers in the Air Force. So really, when it comes to the actual facts of the case, they have not a leg to stand on, but are simply resting on prejudice and feelings of whether their uniform and buttons are of the right kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] If you look at the columns in the papers of Notes on the Services you will read such things as that it has been arranged in future that officers' servants, or mess cooks, shall be drawn from the Navy instead of the Air Force. Silly little encroachments like that which are going on all the time show a petty mind. They show that the other Services, instead of taking the thing on a big basis of fighting, want to creep in by mess cooks and officers' servants and things of that sort. I do not want to carry that any further, because my main object is to make it clear to the Prime Minister that we intend, in the course of the next 10 years or so, to see a Ministry of Defence firmly established, and I am sure the House of Commons will not rest until it gets it.
There is one point in connection with civil aviation. I am a great believer in pioneer flights round the world, but I believe they are not going on on the right lines. It is very interesting for a particular pilot or a particular machine to fly round the world, or to Cape Town or Japan. But after all, civil flying should be made a commercial proposition. It is not a question of what one machine or one man can do. It is a question of a particular thing getting to the opposite end at the earliest possible moment, and to my mind the proper encouragement to civil aviation should be on the lines of saying you will give, if you like, a prize to anyone who can organise a mail bag leaving London and arriving at a specific point at the earliest opportunity—flying by night, different pilots and machines, picking them up en route and so on.
It is not of interest really to know that one particular man can fly to Japan. It is a question of how quickly a passenger or a mail bag can travel from one point to another, and I think that that is what wants bearing in mind, to organise some flight which will secure that a particular article or person should reach the opposite end at the earliest moment irrespective of the number of pilots used and the machine used. Probably it is necessary that civil aviation should remain with the Air Ministry in its early stages, but it is certainly not satisfactory that it should remain with it as a matter of permanent policy, and when the Air Ministry is abolished, conjointly with the War Office and Admiralty, then will be the moment to transfer civil aviation to private enterprise or, failing that, to the Ministry of Transport, if it still exists. I hope these points, particularly as to the Ministry of Defence, will be borne in mind by the Government in the course of this Parliament.
I should like to associate myself with those who are pressing for a Ministry of Defence. I should also like to say how much we are at a disadvantage in not having the Army Estimates before us. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) has told us of the great danger to the Eastern portions of London in the event of air raids, which all hon. Members hope will not take place. It is well to remember that the East End of London is really about three-quarters of an hour flying from the nearest country.
In dealing with the Army Estimates, which are not before us, we are at this disadvantage, that any defence of those areas is associated with the Army. If aeroplanes come to attack us the chances are that they will come in the future by night, or in foggy weather, and for that reason it is necessary to indulge in considerable research to find out the best means of discovering their height and their rate. Those instruments are in the hands of the Army. If they cross our coast they are liable to be discovered by sound indicators or searchlights. Both those are worked by the Royal Engineers. We do not know how far the combination of the three Services is capable of defending our shores. I should like to say a word or so about anti-aircraft. During the War, certainly at the beginning of it, the anti-aircraft guns, which are not in these Estimates, were inefficient. Their instruments had to be discovered, and, if I may use technical language, we had to discover the means of firing in four dimensions when on the ground we were only accustomed to two. Various electrical instruments were discovered, so that during the last years of the War the anti-aircraft guns brought down, I think, 200 planes by themselves.
That is a great asset for home defence. Those weapons are not weapons of offence but of defence, and for that reason the East End of London ought to be encouraged to take an interest in this part of our air defence. After all, it is air defence, although it is actually manned by the Army. I am aware that possibly on the outbreak of war it would be transferred to the Air Force, but it is not fair to the House or to the men themselves that they should be trained and manned by one Force and changed over on the outbreak of war. It is not fair to us, because we are dealing with the Air Estimates, and we have to consider the Army Estimates. The hon. Member who led the attack from the Opposition Benches said he could not understand the Navy Estimates. I suggest that all these Estimates should be modernised. They have been brought down from the days of His Majesty's ship "Victory" or the Battle of Trafalgar, or we will say the earliest days of the Army. The Air Force has come in, and there is a new Estimate which complicates it. There is another argument for the Ministry of Defence. If we have it, we shall have modern methods. We hope we shall get economy, but at any rate we shall be able to judge the three Estimates together and know exactly where we are.
There is one direction in which I suggest that there might possibly be economy and that is in regard to Commands. When we look at our worldwide possessions we notice that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force take varied responsibilities in each one of these areas, and as a rule they have separate staffs and Commands. If we look to the future there would be the Home Command, the Mediterranean Command, the Middle-East Command, the Indian Command, and possibly the Far East Command. At the present time these Commands are divided up, with portions of the three Services in each. I suggest that the Home Command should be an Air Force Command, that the Mediterranean should be a Navy Command, that the Middle East should be an Air Force Command, India an Army Command, and the Far East a Navy Command. In that way we could look forward in the future to getting probably greater economy and also efficiency. The arguments so far in the Debate have been directed to two things, first the necessity for some kind of Ministry of Defence, and, secondly, the necessity for reviewing in this House the Estimates of the three Services together.
I am not a gallant flying officer, nor am I an expert on the Air, but, just as hon. Members who have dockyards in their constituencies take an interest in the Navy, so an hon. Member who has a big aircraft factory in his constituency takes an interest in the Air Force. I also take an interest in the Air Estimates from the point of view of a very humble foot slogger. I do not believe that we have arrived at a time when we can safely cut down our Army or cur Navy. Our flesh has been made to creep and various harrowing pictures have been drawn of what will happen in the next war. The hon. and gallant Member for Warrington (Captain Reid) the other day gave us a very interesting speech, in which he told us of the effects of aerial torpedoes dropped on to a battleship. I believe the experiment took place in the United States of America. The hon. and gallant Member forgot to mention that the battleship was anchored and that the battleship could not fire back. I should be very pleased to challenge Jack Dempsey, on two conditions—that his feet were anchored to the ring and that he could not hit me back. I suggest that under those conditions I might even win the fight.
I believe that the principles of war will always remain the same, and that the infantry still is the "queen of battle." I think it was Queen Boadicea who, when she put scythes on the wheels of her chariot, thought that the infantry were going to get it in the neck, or, rather, on the shin bone. In the last War we were told that the invention of the tank would mean that we should do all our fighting by machinery and not by infantry. I believe that when the next war comes we shall still find the infantry the "queen of battle," and we shall still find people in this country who will grudge that infantry their rum ration. While some of us hold this point of view, we want, very sincerely, to see a very efficient Air Force, not to take the place of the Army, but to help the Army in carrying out their duties. I would like to endorse the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Major-General Sir F. Sykes) when he pleaded that some of the work which is now done at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough might be done by the aircraft industry.
One hon. Member on the opposite side of the House suggested that private enterprise was getting very great advantage from some of the results of the research work done at Farnborough. I doubt whether very much advantage to the aircraft industry has come from the Research Department at Farnborough since the War. I believe that most of the advantage has come from the industry itself. We have been told that we might make further use of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in regard to the manufacture of aeroplanes I believe that was tried before the War, but in the War we found that some of the machines which were made and designed at the Royal Aircraft Factory were not suitable, and to overcome our difficulties we turned to private enterprise, and used private designs for the making of our machines. In my constituency we are proud of the fact that the Bristol Fighter was designed by private enterprise, and proved one of the most successful machines in the War.
I cannot help being worried, from the point of view of those who are employed in the aircraft industry, at the proposal to cut down the money spent on air engines. I do not believe that it is much good having an aeroplane or an aeroplane pilot unless you have a large reserve of engines. It takes a very long time to train the highly skilled men who are going to make these engines. If we lose these men from the industry it will take a long time to get them back into it. I am informed that when America came into the War we sent designs over to America and gave America our plans. It was under- stood that America was to make machines by mass production, but I am told that when the armistice was signed there were very few American aeroplanes flying over the line. It is said that there was not one single American aeroplane flying over the allied lines when the Armistice arrived. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Air will be good enough to say whether those figures are correct. It took over two years for America to build or try to build those machines. We shall be in a very dangerous position if we cut down the Estimates for engines, or lose these highly trained men from the industry.
I congratulate the Minister on removing the restriction on the export of aeroplanes. I believe that will do more to help the aircraft industry than any other part of his policy. Some hon. Members are nervous lest we give away secrets to foreign countries. In the aircraft industry the very carefully guarded secret of this year may be out of date next year. France has never gone on this principle. France allows aeroplanes to be sold out of the country within six months of the first engine or aeroplane of that type having passed its test, with the result that in France to-day aeroplanes are being manufactured not only for the French Government but for other Governments, and France is in the happy position, in the event of war, of being able to commandeer all the machines manufactured in her shops.
I would like to add my voice to those who have spoken in favour of the Air Ministry. As the Air Service was founded in the time of war extravagance, some element of extravagance still remains. At one time I was keen on athletics and I remember well an officer of the Air Force coming to me and asking if I could get a trainer to join the battalion at a great increase of pay. The same thing I believe goes on to-day. A musical director of the Brigade of Guards, of the Navy and the Royal Artillery, is an honorary lieutenant; but the Air Force is not content with that. He is a Flight Lieutenant, which corresponds to a Captain; and that is the system that goes on right through the Force. It is not easy to keep down expenses in times of great difficulty and when everything had to be found for the flying forces, and it is not easy for the Service to get down to the real facts of the case.
This year the hon. Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley) went to Australia as an emigrant in order to try and get the real facts about emigration; and we shall only get the real facts of the Air Force if we do something like that. I do not say that the Minister himself should become a recruit, but we shall not get the real facts unless some hon. Member follows the example of the hon. Member for Southampton and enlists in the Air Force in order to find out what extravagance goes on. My final point is this. Is it not possible to spread the orders for the Air Force more evenly to the industry throughout the year. I am told that a number of men work overtime some parts of the year and that at other times they are working short time. Is it not possible to spread the work throughout the year so that the permanent men in the industry may continue regularly at work. These are a few observations which, with great diffidence, I offer to the attention of the House.
The trend of this Debate has been more or less on the desirability of a Ministry of Defence and the extravagance alleged to exist in the Air Force. With regard to the latter point, it is quite clear that in a new Service there are bound to be certain expenses which have not figured in previous Estimates, but a careful perusal of this year's Estimates will show that the Ministry is progressing in its attempt to cut down these costs. I find myself in this dilemma—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Air will explain it—that if you assume that the number of men per plane in the Air Force is correct for 1925, it is wrong for 1926. From the White Paper accompanying the Estimate I find that in 1926 we are to have more aeroplanes than before, an increase in the number of squadrons, yet under Vote A we have a reduction in the number of men. Either the right hon. Gentleman was right in 1925, and is wrong in 1926, in which case he is now failing in his duty (which I cannot believe), or else he was wrong in 1925, when we had too many men and too few planes, and has now in 1926 seen the errors of his ways.
The whole question of the number of our planes is a matter of mystery, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman why it should be so. We know exactly how many ships we have in the Navy and what kind of ships, but there is at least one Member of this House who has not the vaguest idea how many aeroplanes there are, either on active service or in reserve. And I am not ashamed to acknowledge that fact, because the Under-Secretary in a very interesting speech he made at Brussels three Sundays ago announced that we had not less than 2,424, though what exactly was meant by that I am not sure; perhaps he will explain it. About the same time the hon. Member for Hallam (Major-General Sir F. Sykes) published a statement that as far as he could make out we only had 1,053. I do not see that it will be giving away any secrets if the public knew exactly how many machines we have. The House was extremely gratified to hear from the Secretary of State the progress he is making in regard to the question of co-operation in the purchase of bulk suplies and his promise to look into the matter of doctors, chaplains and nurses. After all, the spiritual needs of the men are the same whether they wear sky blue, navy blue or khaki; and so are their physical requirements. Naval nurses do not go to the sea in ships, and air nurses do not go into the air. Why should they not be brought from a common pool?
We should not, however, allow ourselves to be drawn away by this inspection of trees from seeing the problem as the whole wood. We have had an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. R. Smith) who argued that our Air policy was one of drift, that the Secretary of State and the Government itself were not quite sure what they wanted. This reminds me of a very noticeable speech made at an earlier stage of the Estimates by the hon. Member for Warrington (Captain Reid) who pleaded that the Air Force was not big enough. He said we had, perhaps, too big a Navy, and too big an Army, but we certainly had not got anything like a big enough Air Force. It is very natural that anyone associated with any Service should have a hankering to see that one Service developed as far as possible. I find a similar line of thought though, I fancy, for different reasons, in a Motion put down for reducing the Naval Estimates by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who proposes to cut down the Navy by 100,000 men. The tragedy of the position is that the hon. Member for Warrington and the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley do not know what is the right proportion as between the three fighting Services. They do not know, I do not know, and you, Mr. Speaker, do not know—if it is possible that anything escapes your knowledge—and the country at large does not know, because we have never had a definite statement on the matter.
I may be crying for the moon, I know. It is not an easy matter to go into, but we have to remember that, roughly speaking, by this year's Estimates, for every £1 10s. spent on the Air Force we shall be spending £3 on the Army and £5 10s. on the Navy. Is that right or is it wrong? We know the functions of the different fighting services. My right hon. Friend in introducing these Estimates laid down quite clearly what he conceived to be the duty of the Air Force. That was to help in Home Defence—I do not say to take over the whole of the home defence—to assist in doing the air work for the Army and the Navy, to man air garrisons as and when required, and to keep open air communications. The function of the Army obviously is, if and and when hostilities break out, to fight land battles, and the Navy's job is to keep open trade routes and the communications of the Army and the Air Force when they are overseas. The question is the proportion between them. The ultimate purpose of all these services is of course to defend the country in time of need. We are all agreed about that.
It is for my right hon. Friend to take a bold line and try to persuade his colleagues the civilian heads of the other fighting services, to bring the greatest possible pressure to bear on the Government so as to have the matter threshed out. We have had great First Lords of the Admiralty and great War Secretaries. We have only to remember the names of Cardwell and Haldane. I hope that we shall before long have one very great Air Secretary, and I hope that I see him on the Front Bench now, because I am glad to say that he is my representative in this House. In my humble opinion the Government should lay down as far as possible, and in as clear language as it is possible to use, a definite policy with regard to the fighting services. It has not been laid down as an Empire statement for many years past. Now, that so many people in this country have, through bitter experience, a very considerable a priori knowledge of the Services from the inside, the Government will be speaking to a public educated in these matters far above any other public for many years. I know that we have a Committee of Imperial Defence, and that the Chiefs of Staffs meet to discuss these matters. The point is that this is very pressing this year, because there are two important conferences coming along.
First of all there is the Imperial Conference, convened by the Prime Minister to meet in London; and, secondly, the Disarmament Conference, to meet in Geneva, convened by the League of Nations. For both of these Conferences we must have a perfectly definite policy of some kind, and we must know exactly what the relationship is between the different forces. I will put it in this way, for example: I do not know how the Disarmament Conference is going to work, but supposing that it did not, as the Washington Conference did, satisfy itself with merely scrapping one particular line of armaments. The policy at Washington was to cut down the heaviest form of all, the battleships, which in the opinion of some people were obsolescent anyhow. They may this time take the line, when they have investigated the estimates and the expenditure of all the nations, of saying: "Let every one take off 25 per cent., or 50 per cent., from each estimate." If your ratio is wrong to start with, it is much more wrong when you take off a flat percentage rate. If, as is the case at present, we are spending 3s. in the £ of our taxation on the Services, it is very important that this matter should be settled once for all.
At the same time my right hon. Friend should consider the question, Is the distribution of the Air Force right? We are told we are to have this year 28 squadrons for home defence. If that number represents the right proportion for Great Britain, what is the right proportion for India? According to the Estimates, we have only six squadrons there. Something is wrong somewhere. If the Mediterranean is the strategic point for our Fleet, surely we ought to have far more than four air squadrons in the vicinity—that is assuming the number of 28 to be correct for Great Britain. These are points which, it seems to me, the Government should take very earnestly into consideration and put before our Imperial statesmen in October. After all, one of the chief objects of the forthcoming conference is to consider Imperial foreign policy, and foreign policy, as any child knows, must have some kind of backing in the way of force. We have the force. No one has suggested we have not some force, but the point is whether it is the right kind of force and whether it is in the right places. If the Air Force is a cheap way of securing defence, perhaps we may be able to induce some of our Dominions to take up the matter. We may find that some of them will be able to organise territorial or other squadrons in countries such as Australia. All these matters ought to be explored.
In my opinion, we are not spending too much on our Fighting Services. In corroboration of that view, I was struck at seeing in to-day's paper a statement which will probably be a surprise to many people, that the United States—that great pacifist nation, as it is pleased to call itself—is this year budgeting for £15,000,000 more for its fighting services than we are. That is a striking revelation and a considerable advertisement for the success of our own economy campaign. I would press, and press again, on my right hon. Friend that he should get his colleagues to induce the Government, through the mouth of the Prime Minister—he is the only person who can be the mouthpiece of the Cabinet in matters so important—to lay down in the clearest possible language the policy on which the three Fighting Estimates are built, and to review the principal factors on which Imperial defence as a whole is now considered to be based. If my right hon. Friend cannot do it now, when the tree is in the green, he will not be able to do it later on when the tree is in the dry. He must take the opportunity. The country looks to a Conservative Government not necessarily to have an overwhelmingly strong defence force but to run its Fighting Services on an intelligible basis which everybody can understand. It is for that I most particularly appeal. The opportunity of my right hon. Friend is very great; and from the great much is required.
I have very little to add to what I said 10 days ago in the last Debate on the Air Estimates, but I am glad to see so many hon. Members, the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and others, taking an interest in a Ministry of Defence. Some 4½ years ago I introduced into this House, under the Ten Minutes Rule, a Ministry of Defence (Creation) Bill, and I had only eight supporters for that Bill, but I am told now that I could get 200 or 300 supporters in this House who would back a Ministry of Defence Bill. You have only to look at the Estimates for the years since the Armistice to see that the Admiralty have had £608,000,000 and the Air Force £149,000,000. I submit that if a Ministry of Defence went into those figures they would show, even taking into account the dead-head charges of the War, that the Admiralty get far too much money. This year the Navy are getting £58,000,000 and the Air Force only £16,000,000, and I submit that we are not taking enough money for our Air Force. We ought to have at least another £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 in this Estimate, and I am sorry the Secretary of State for Air has retarded his expansion programme. An hon. Member opposite shakes his head and says we should not, but I have been connected with this air movement from the very beginning—I started it with one officer and one man—and I know very well the dangers that our countrymen are in from air attack. Those dangers have been put forward very ably by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and other hon. Members from the Labour Benches, and I think it is wrong for us to be the second or third air Power. We ought to be on an equality with the largest air Power of the other nations.
I would like to ask one or two questions of detail. I notice that in Paris the Air Attaché has a clerk, as well as the Air Attachés at Washington, Rome and Buenos Ayres. When I used to go to Paris Naval and Military Attachés never had clerks, and I should like to know if the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, can tell us whether the other Services' Attachés have clerks. I should like to say a word about Farnborough, In the Estimates the amount allowed for experiments and research is £1,268,000, including instruments, armament, wireless equipment, etc., the actual amount to be spent on experiment and research for aircraft and engines being £720,000. It is also shown in the Estimates that the total of the expenditure on Farnborough is about £424,800, and I would like to ask if it is really necessary for Farnborough to have so much money. You have reduced it by £50,000 this year, I see, and I congratulate you on that reduction, but I notice that the Farnborough staff is increasing. On the 1st January, 1924, it was 979; and the 1st January, 1925, it was 1,002; and on the 1st January, 1926, it was 1,064. I do not know whether those numbers include the drawing office staff, clerks and typists, but I think Farnborough ought to be looked into, and I submit that the Minister might make more economies there. I should also like his assurance that he will give as much work as possible to the trade.
With regard to airships, when may we expect the airships to take the air? It is now two years since the Under-Secretary for Air in the Labour Government put forward his programme, and I do not quite know how far those airships are getting, but I think we ought to have some information about them. Then I should like to ask whether a shed is being put up in Egypt for airships, because I think it is rather risky to send a big airship out to Egypt without having a shed, and relying only on a mooring mast. Under the heading, "Works," I notice that a very large amount of money, £235,000, is for "staff for works services," and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary, when his buildings are completed, whether his works staff will be cut down in proportion, because it seems that there is a very large number of people employed on that staff work, and I think economies might be made there.
I notice some hon. Members have been raising a question again about separating the Air Services, and this is a good hardy annual. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. B. Peto)—I am sorry the latter is not in his seat—want to break up the Air Service again, and split it up between the Army and the Navy. I have said, I suppose, about 20 times in this House, that we had a Naval Air Service, and we had an Army Air Service. Hon. Members in this House have said the Naval Air Service was very efficient. What did the Admiralty do with it. They first smothered the young child, and then threw it overboard. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, who knows as well as I do that it was thrown overboard, now suggests separating the Air Services and going back to the horrible condition we had of always having rows with the military side of the Air Service who were competing for the same machines, the same personnel, and the same raw material, and there was always friction going on. If we put a Naval Inspector into any factory to inspect our machines which were being built, in 48 hours he had a row with the Army Inspector, and in a fortnight they were not on speaking terms. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone and the hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries (Brigadier-General Charteris) want to break up the Air Service, and go back to those conditions. And then they come here and say it is all for economy. I assure them it is not economy. You would have three Air Services—the Army, Navy and independent Air Service—and it would mean more expense. When it is said we could save millions and millions, no wonder I challenge the hon. Member for Barnstaple and say he does not know anything about the air. Anyone who listened to his speech to-day could judge for himself.
It is in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own recollection that when I rose 10 days ago he said he was not referring to me, but to the hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries, who had never been in the air and knew nothing about it.
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of his speech 10 days ago, but I am replying to his speech this evening. The hon. Member, I am very glad to hear, has been in the air, but I. cannot think he has learned much about it. He has been looking through a miscroscope and had a microscopic vision. These hon. Members would split up the very efficient Air Service we have, just to please the Admiralty and the War Office. Now we are asked
by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone to copy the United States. He quoted a report, and I should like to quote another one. It is a Report of a Select Committee of Inquiry into operations of the United States Air Services. It is numbered 1653, and is printed in Washington. They had a great inquiry into the Air Service, and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone wants us to copy them. In paragraph 6, on page 4, it says:
That in spite of the expenditure of nearly 40,000,000 dollars for purchase and overhaul of airplanes and motors, the Air Services of both Army and Navy have deteriorated in equipment and in morale; that deterioration in equipment is due in large part to the increasing age of the war surplus equipment issued to the services; that the deterioration in morale is due in large part to four causes.
It sets out those causes, and I invite the hon. Member to read the Report. Further on it says:
The Committee finds that there is no uniformity of Army and Navy policy as to organisation, equipment, control of personnel, procurement, design, or use of aircraft; that there is no continuity of policy with respect to design and purchase of aircraft and engines in either the Army or the Navy; that the attempts to co-ordinate the activities of the Army and Navy by the use of joint boards, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, and other agencies have been sporadic and occasional, and therefore have not achieved the results desired.
The hon. Member wants us to copy the United States, and break up our efficient Air Service into a naval and a military wing again. The Prime Minister, I think, has laid it down that he will not break up an efficient Air Force.
As the House has this afternoon during the course of the Debate shown considerable interest in the development of aviation, I should like to say a few words in regard to pioneer flights before proceeding to answer some of the questions which have been raised. All Members of the House doubtless have watched with interest the flight that has lately taken place from Cairo to Lake Chad, and also Mr. Alan Cobham's brilliant flight from Cairo to Capetown. Another flight from Cairo to the Cape is being undertaken by the Royal Air Force with four Fairey III D machines, and I have just had a report which says that they are now 1,550 miles from Cairo and 425 miles south of Khartum. Hon. Members will be very glad to hear of the successful progress of that flight, because it is in flights like these that we look for developments, and the blazing of the trail; in this way air communications and developments can be most easily carried out. They should be the basis of our civil flying.
Questions have been asked about the progress of Imperial Airways. Hon. Members possibly know that they have had a difficult year, but they are now consolidating their prospects very successfully. New machines have been ordered and have begun already to arrive, and the company looks forward with great hope to the future. Some figures have been given during the course of the Debate about Imperial Airways. During the past year Imperial Airways machines have flown over 800,000 miles, have carried over 10,000 passengers, and 455 tons of cargo. Hon. Members may perhaps think that that is not a sufficiently good achievement, but everybody, I think, will be satisfied when they know this has been done without any accident. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air explained earlier in the day that it is not always the amount of money spent on civil aviation which showed the best results. What you want to do it to spend your money in such a way as to make civil aviation self-supporting as soon as possible.
Now about British Air engines. They are employed on air lines in no less than eleven countries which include Holland, Germany, Sweden, Soviet Russia, the Belgian Congo, Rumania, etc The flight by Major Franco from Spain to South America, the flight by the other celebrated airman, Thieffry, from Basra to the Congo, and the flight by Captain Amundsen to within 160 miles of the North Pole and back again were all on machines which had British engines. Questions were put in the course of the afternoon as to the development of directional wireless. Matters in this direction are going on very satisfactorily, and the experiments we have undertaken since last year have borne good fruit. The hon. Member for the Thornbury Division of Gloucester (Captain Gunston) has spoken of the money expended being spread more equally over the year and also spreading the contracts over a larger number of firms. This is being done; we are spreading the work over as many firms as we can. He also made a suggestion that a Member of this House should enter the Air Force, and I hope that if that does take place he will be willing to offer himself, because I am sure we could not possibly have anyone better than he.
Several questions were put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) with regard to airships. I am glad to tell him that, although it is not possible for the crew of an airship to wear parachutes all the time, parachutes will be provided for them in sufficient numbers. The R33 has been temporarily deflated, but has not been finally laid by; if and when it is, arrangements will be made to keep on all the officers and, anyhow, a nucleus of the crew with a view to manning the new airship. The policy, however, with regard to the future of the R33, has not yet been finally decided. A mooring mast will be erected in Egypt, and a shed erected in India.
It will be laid down early next financial year. I should not like to say exactly when it will be laid down, but early next financial year, and it will be completed without any delay. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) rather resented a remark made in the Debate that very few people flew northwards. If that be so, I am sure it is not because they are reluctant to do so, but because this is a small country, and the roads and trains are very good, and the aeroplane proves itself of greater utility in a country in which the distances are greater and which is less well served with travelling facilities than is this country.
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick (Colonel Crookshank) raised a point about survey work. Survey work is being carried on with great success in Iraq, Palestine and India. With regard to the point as to seconded officers, I should like to assure him that the Air Force welcomes seconded officers, and that we do get seconded officers now.
Last year I said a few words about the growing importance of the Meteorological Department of the Air Ministry, and perhaps I might say a few words now in reporting progress. Everything that has happened since last year has gone to confirm the opinion then expressed about the wide field of usefulness of this Department, not only to the Royal Air Force but also in a wider and more general way. Long distance flying and the development of the airship will more than justify the valuable work this Department is able to do for flying generally. The possibility of obtaining accurate weather reports at any time of the day or night along any given route is a factor of incalculable importance to the safety and regularity of air communications.
Arrangements have been made for the organisation of the meteorological and ancillary wireless surveys along the new India route, and an officer of the Department has gone out there to investigate that. Similar organisations will no doubt be necessary when long-distance routes of Empire communications are effected. Everything tends to show that the work they can do in assisting agriculture and surveys is of the greatest importance. I think the House will agree that both the days we have had on these Estimates have been of exceptional interest, and I appeal confidently to hon. Members to allow this vote to go through. The Debates have brought to light many useful suggestions, and hon. Members may rest assured that full consideration will be given to them.
The Minister has stated that the Government will give a day for the discussion of the principle of a Ministry of Defence. Could we be assured of this? Supply days are asked for by the Opposition, and they are mostly concerned with efforts to do away with the defence forces altogether, and it may be that they will consider that it is not advisable to put down a day for a discussion on a Ministry of Defence. Therefore, I wish to press for a definite undertaking that we shall have a day for the discussion of this question before the Easter Recess.
No, Sir. That is a practical impossibility. What I authorised my right hon. Friend to say was that I should welcome a discussion of that subject, but I thought it might be taken on my Vote when the Opposition are anxious to raise the question of the composition of the Committee of Imperial Defence. If it should happen that this question of a Ministry of Defence should not be raised in that discussion and there is a general desire in the House to have such a discussion, I might consider it, but I could not undertake to give a day between now and Easter, as our time is fully occupied.
Lieut.-Colonel DALRYMPLE WHITE:
I only intervene to explain my position with regard to a matter which has not been touched upon. I allude to the non-effective services. Many of us do not wish to say that the Royal Air Force is not a very efficient force, or that the Air Minister is not doing his best to make it more efficient. I am sure the Air Minister is doing his best but what we feel is that while you have a segregated Air Force you are creating a blind alley employment, and a very strong evidence of that is that the non-effective vote is rising. We can see how that Vote has risen this year, because last year the amount was £73,000 and this year it is £168,000 or an increase of £94,000. There is bound to be a progressive increase because the young men have to be provided for later on.
That is a strong argument, apart from any other merits or demerits of the case, in favour of these young officers being either naval or military officers. I feel quite confident that, in many years' time, we shall find that this non-effective Vote is going to crush the Air Ministry and render reconsideration of the present position desirable.
With the leave of the House, I shall answer the hon. and gallant Member in a sentence or two. The big rise in the non-effective vote is due to the fact that a large number of short service effective officers have ended their period, and it does not follow that it will rise in a proportionate degree every year in future. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the problem of personnel is a very difficult one. It is a problem not peculiarly difficult to this country, where there is a separate Air Force and a separate Air Ministry.
France and America are finding the problem equally difficult to deal with, although they have no separate air administration. It is significant that both in France and in America the movement is all in the direction of making a permanent career for the officer engaged in air work and keeping him in air work for the whole of his career. I do not want to be drawn into a long discussion on the question of Air Force personnel as I have already dealt with it in the course of the Debate. I can assure him that I shall keep his point in mind because I am conscious of the necessity of providing a career for the short service commissioned officer and of avoiding a very large rise in the non-effective personnel.