Air Defence.

– in the House of Commons on 7th June 1935.

Alert me about debates like this

2.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I wish to divert the attention of the House from a topic which has aroused much interest here and out of doors, and which has been dealt with, if not disposed of, by the witty and terse speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I wish to draw the attention of the House and of the public to a question connected with air defence. The question is limited in its character. It has nothing to do, on the one hand, with the present method of defence, namely, counter-attack, the only method which exists at present, the belief that by having adequate air forces such a deterrent may be imposed upon a potentially hostile State that bomb-dropping, especially upon defenceless areas, will not be pressed. The point I am raising has nothing to do with that. Neither has it anything to do with that other large sphere of air defence, namely, the organising of the civil population in case of air raids, the provision of shelters, the provision of gas masks and so forth. This point is limited, and largely technical and scientific in its character. Nevertheless, I venture to think that it is important. It is concerned with the methods which can be invented, adopted or discovered to enable the earth to control the air, to enable defence from the ground to exercise control—domination—upon aeroplanes high above the surface.

This, naturally, must be a technical matter, but I am not going to tire the House by involving it in detailed technicalities. I will make only one or two observations upon that point. I have not been able to feel at all satisfied that the limits of the usefulness of artillery have been reached. It is quite true that in the great war, as every hon. Member who took part is aware, an enormous number of shells were fired at aeroplanes without, as far as my recollection serves, or from what I have read, any aeroplane ever actually having been visibly brought down from a great height. In consequence, the anti-aircraft artillery has been generally discredited, but I think it would be well worth while to pursue that study carefully. The range of guns and the character of the projectiles which they fire should be most carefully considered. After all, an aeroplane, though a very formidable engine of war, is also a very fragile structure and an explosive charge no bigger than a small cigar is sufficient to bring down the most powerful aeroplane if it strikes a spar or the propeller—even a bird has been the cause of fatal accidents. Merely to fire at an aeroplane in the air is like trying to shoot a flying duck with a pea-rifle. What must 'be aimed at is not the hitting of the aeroplane but the creation of conditions in the air around the aeroplane which are extremely noxious if not destructive to it. For that purpose it is clear that the effect of the shell which is fired should not be momentary.

At present the moment after explosion a shell is useless, but suppose you were able to create conditions—I am not going into details—which make a considerable area very perilous to an aeroplane for an appreciable period of time, say five minutes, and suppose that a number of these shells were fired at the same time, a large space would become deadly to an aeroplane. That is only one line of inquiry, and there must be many more. The question of kite balloons, which was being hopefully examined in the last year of the war, is also another line which should be pursued, and matters of sound detection of the approach of an aeroplane and the range, and so forth, are also lines of inquiry which should be pursued. These are some of the more obvious aspects of the field of scientific inquiry, but no doubt there are many others which are not so well known.

My experience, and it is somewhat considerable is that in these matters when the need is clearly explained by military and political authorities science is always able to provide something. "Seek and ye shall find" has been borne out. We were told that it was impossible to grapple with submarines, but methods were found which enabled us to strangle the submarine below the water, a problem no less hard than that of clawing down marauding aeroplanes. Many things which were attempted in the war we were told were technically impossible, but patience, perseverence, and above all, the spur of necessity under war conditions, made men's brains act with greater vigour, and science responded to the demand. That being so, I venture to set this particular aspect of air defence in a position of primary importance on the research side. I agree that there is nothing at present which can offer any substitute for an equal or superior force, a readiness to retaliate, but, if you can discover some new method, the whole of our affairs would be greatly simplified.

Let me say a word about the past history of this subject. During last summer a number of letters were written to "The Lines" newspaper by Professor Lindemann, professor of physics at Oxford University, pointing out not only the possibility of scientific results being obtained in this sphere but dwelling upon its enormous importance to this and every other country. I had long conversations with him last autumn, and we endeavoured to bring the matter to the attention of His Majesty's Government. We made a pilgrimage to Aix-les-Bains, where we thought we had enthused the present Lord President of the Council upon the subject. He seemed to be most interested, but when we came back to London more difficulties arose and the matter seemed to hang in the balance. Many letters were written and interchanged, but no progress made. There was in existence at the Air Ministry an Air Ministry Committee on this subject, with scientists exploring the matter. This Committee was in existence at the time when the Air Ministry advised the Lord President of the Council to make the speech which made such a great impression two years ago, that there was really no defence, and, consequently, a mood of giving up the problem undoubtedly rested on the department concerned. Although the Committee was still working, no real hope stimulated its onward progress.

What we thought was so necessary was the removal of this Committee from the Air Ministry and putting it under the Committee of Imperial Defence, where the heads of the Government, the most powerful politicians in this country. would be able to superintend and supervise its actions, and also make sure that it was supplied with the necessary funds. What is £100,000 a year if you can discover some method which will make us more secure from this sudden and disturbing menace to civilisation? It is nothing at all. At this stage we were joined by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), and we continued at intervals to address the Government on the subject. In February we had the good fortune to be received by the Prime Minister personally, and we laid our case before him with as much cogency and force as we could command. No difference of principle at all existed between us. The right hon. Gentleman was most sympathetic to the idea, and I thought that I made a considerable impression on him when I pointed out the peace aspect of this idea. Nothing would do more to remove some of the terrors and anxieties which overcloud the world than the removal of these surprise attacks on the civilian population. However, the Prime Minister found difficulty with the department concerned in regard to the Committee which was already in existence. Everything went on in a very gradual progression and, finally, on 10th March the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had a personal interview with the Prime Minister in which he asked for a specific answer, as a result of which the Prime Minister told us that he was, shall I say, hardening his heart to overcome the department's resistence. In fact, he did not need to harden his heart, perhaps he was softening his heart to meet our supplications—

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

The right hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

His heart remained neither hardened nor softened: it continued to beat with its even tenor; its texture was in no way altered. The result, anyhow, was a satisfactory answer to the question, and the setting up of this new Committee, under the conditions we had desired. The Prime Minister said: We have, therefore, decided to appoint also a special sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence through which the Air Ministry Committee will report to the Committee of Imperial Defence itself. This sub-committee will have the direction and control of the whole inquiry, and the necessary funds to carry out experiments and to make researches approved by this committee will be made available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1935; col. 1003, Vol. 299.] That was all we required. But I ventured to ask two days ago how often this Committee had met, and the answer I received was that it had met on no fewer than two occasions in the three months since it was set up. I do not know what was the last occasion on which the Committee met. When was it? I understand now it was 27th May. There have been two meetings. I doubt very much whether that will be accepted by those who have interested themselves in this matter as at all a satisfactory result. Let us look back on this. Really the whole story is a slow-motion picture. Beginning in August last, on this matter, about which there really can be very little argument once its importance is realised, we have got now to the middle of June. If a really scientific Committee had been set to work and funds provided for experiments, 20 important experiments would be under weigh by now, any one of which might yield results decisive in the whole of our defence problem.

I am raising this matter to-day with a view to stimulating and stirring on the action of that Committee. No doubt a great deal of material has been accumulated by the old Air Ministry Committee, but what we are arguing is a drive behind this work, not only that money should be freely supplied, but also, and more important, the personal energy of persons possessing real political power in the State. I have ventilated this topic and assigned to it the publicity and importance which it certainly requires, but I must in conclusion once more draw the attention of the House to the value that a, discovery of this kind would have upon the whole of our affairs. It is not a matter which interests one nation alone. Every single nation in the world has an interest in this. I wonder that the League of Nations at Geneva does not offer an enormous monetary prize to stimulate inventors of any country to discover methods of bringing down the marauding aeroplane.

It is only in the 20th century that this hideous conception of inducing nations to surrender by terrorising the helpless civil population and massacring the women and children; it is only in the 20th century that that vile idea has gained acceptance and countenance amongst men. If that continues one can clearly see that the conquest of the air may mean the subjugation of mankind and may mean the destruction of our civilisation. This is no national cause only. No, every country would feel safer if once it was found that the bombing aeroplane was at the mercy of appliances erected on the earth, and that haunting fear and suspicion which are leading nations more and more to the brink of another catastrophe would be abated by such a discovery.

This island nation more than any other nation would gain by such a discovery. We have not only to fear attacks upon our civilian population and our great cities, in respect of which we are more vulnerable than any other country in the world, but we have to fear attacks upon the dockyards and other technical establishments without which our Fleet, still an essential method of defence, might be paralysed or even largely destroyed. Therefore it is not only from the point of view of a world effort to eliminate one of the worst causes of suspicion and war, but from the point of view of restoring to us here in Great Britain the old security of our island, that this matter should receive and command the vigorous thought of the greatest men in our country and in our Government, and should be pressed forward by every resource that the science of Britain can apply or the funds and the wealth of the country can liberate.

2.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ramsay Macdonald Mr Ramsay Macdonald , Seaham

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the reflections he has made on what would likely happen if any Government neglected its duty in providing for air defence are not confined to himself. The Government are keenly alive to these dangers. The only question I have to answer is, are the Government taking steps to discover preventives and so protect the country against air attack in that particular direction? I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman laid so much stress upon there having been only two meetings of the committee. The announcement of the appointment was made on 19th March. I think I explained to him, when I saw him with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), that this Committee was to be a co-ordinating committee. It was not to be an investigating Committee itself. Its duty as a, Sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was to see that investigations were being pushed ahead with all due expedition, that the investigators were the very best scientific, practical and technical men upon whom the Government could lay their hands, that the work was carried on with as great expedition as possible, that the reports on the results of the work should be sent in as soon as they were ready, and that this co-ordinating Committee should study them, with further instructions, further investigation into the subject to be dealt with, new ideas to be experimented with, and so on.

A committee like that does not require to meet every day or every week. Since the Committee has met the investigation work has been speeded up most substantially. Its first duty was to collect the information which was available as to work already done, to collect ideas that have been experimented with or that had not yet reached experimental ripeness, and to see that in every respect where this question should be investigated and was being investigated no time was being lost, and that the results should be the product of the very best brains upon which they could lay their hands. It did not scrap any of the defence committees which were in existence. It would have been foolish if it had scrapped for instance the Tizard committee. That committee was a small one, and I think the less said about it in this House the better because I hope that whoever is here, or whoever is chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, will always remember the very wise injunction laid down by Mr. A. Balfour, as he was at the time, when he said that the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence must pre-eminently be secret work. Once anyone begins to give information here or there as to the details of its works, then it will be impossible to draw the line, and the Committee of Imperial Defence work will become changed in its character, because in the House of Commons information will have to be given in regard to the details of that work. The Tizard Committee is composed of exactly the type of men with the type of experience and knowledge which such an investigation requires.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to Professor Lindemann. Professor Lindemann was asked to join that committee, and he replied that, pending the debate in the House of Commons, he would suspend his judgment, and there the matter stands. The fact of the matter is that this committee is working day by day on the most important questions involved in this investigation and its progress is very marked indeed. With that, the investigation committees attached to the various defence departments are also working. They are reporting to the committee which was announced on 19th March and that committee will meet as often as is necessary. It is under the chairmanship of a member of the Cabinet. There is another member of the Cabinet a member of that committee and representatives of industry, science and departmental knowledge are associated with it. I believe that the organisation is just precisely the organisation that is required to conduct these investigations.

As to the rest, the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman made regarding funds might be taken to mean that funds are not being supplied. May I assure the House that that is not the case. The statement made that the necessary funds would be supplied has been fully carried out and will be fully carried out in the days that are to come. The House need never fear that stinginess on the part of the Exchequer will hold up in any way investigations that are so vital to the well-being and safety of this country. This is a, very fascinating subject, and one would like to go on enlarging upon what is being done. It is not because that is impossible that I am not going to try to do it, but it would certainly not be in the national interest. I would just like to say this, that in order that I might be sure that the contact which I have had up to to-day—with a, very slight break—with this question was still up-to-date, and that I might be sure that I could describe my own experience of a short time ago as being possible for me to have to-day, if I had the time, I have had an interview with one of the most responsible of the investigators, and I am authorised to say that thanks to the investigation over the whole field of air defence by those committees, this supervisory committee and the committee of scientists set up by the Air Ministry, I feel able to take an optimistic view of the outcome of these researches. I hope that this very limited statement may give the House the assurance to which it is entitled and which I give with pleasure.

2.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

The House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for initiating this discussion and will have received with satisfaction and with hope the statement of the Prime Minister and particularly its concluding words. When my right hon. Friend the President of the Council made that great speech on air warfare and the whole problem of the air nearly two years ago I found that the impression which it made upon me was very different from the impression which was produced in the House at the time or on the Press next day. My right hon. Friend's speech was hailed generally, in this House and outside, as a very noble declaration. Frankly, to me, it seemed a confession of bankruptcy when he presented us with a problem and then turning to the young men said, "It is you who will have to face this difficulty; what are you going to do about it?" From that moment I have been uneasy about the policy of the Government in respect of this matter. I do not think it is possible for any Government in that way to pass on to another generation, not yet invited to replace it on that bench, the responsibilities which those who sit upon that bench ought to bear. My right hon. Friend, speaking on the information then supplied to him by the advisers of the Government, took it as axiomatic that there was no defence to air attack except counter attack. I think we should make no progress at all if we treated our problems in any field upon that basis. My right. hon. Friend the Member for Epping, has already recalled how, under the pressure of war, problems were presented, which had never been presented before, and were at first declared insoluble, but were, in the end, resolved. This new problem is as capable of solutions as the half-dozen or more problems—and one could name others—which arose in the War and were solved under that urgency, if the Government will work in the same spirit and under the same spur, not merely of necessity but of urgency as they did in War time.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, very naturally, after what had been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, made allusion to Professor Lindemann. I think it right that I should say that he consulted me as to the invitation to join the committee and that I advised him not to join a departmental committee of the Air Ministry. I would not give him that advice to-day. I mean the character of the Committee has changed in the subsequent stages, and I should give different advice to-day. But when the right hon. Gentleman says he was invited to join that Committee and he replied that he would await a discussion in the House of Commons and nothing since has happened, I think I ought to say in justice to Professor Lindemann that, as the channel of communication between the Government and him, I have failed in my duty, and that, while I left on the responsible Member of the Government the impression that Professor Lindemann would communicate with the Government, I distinctly told Professor Lindemann that the Government would communicate with him. I owe that explanation to Professor Lindemann and, if any misconception has arisen out of my mistake, I hope that it will be remedied.

All I want to urge is that here is a question of vital consequence to every one in this country—as my right hon. Friend has said, of equal consequence to everybody in every other, or nearly every ether, country. This is a search which menaces no one. It is a search for a weapon that can be used only in defence, and not for attack. I am convinced that that weapon can be found. Probably it is not a single weapon. Probably it is a combination of half-a-dozen different things, but what we want to know, and what I am encouraged to hope from the concluding words of my right hon. Friend, is that every idea will be explored, that those who are charged with the matter will have open minds, that they will not be deterred by the first difficulties which will inevitably arise, but that they will consider a difficulty as something to be overcome and not as an impassable obstacle, and that they will pursue this policy in peace with the same urgency, the same determination, and the same enthusiasm with which they would if we were already engaged in a war and our cities were already being laid waste. I am quite certain that if they will work in that spirit this menace from the air, which is the curse of our age, which does more to excite immediate alarm, to aggravate every suspicion and fear, and to poison international relations than anything else—if they do it in that, spirit, this menace from the air, if not conquered, will at any rate be reduced to much more manageable proportions. The world will recover something of its sanity if this or any other Government solves that problem.

2.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Fulham East

I will not venture to detain the House more than one or two minutes, but there are some observations concerning what has been said to-day that ought to be made. The House will readily understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) should feel it to be his duty to raise this very grave and urgent matter, and, in view of the Government's record with regard to aerial defence, one can readily understand his misgivings. I have a great personal admiration for the courage and initiative of the right hon. Gentleman. If the Government view of the European situation is the right view, the Government's course of action. over the last few years is the course of action which is, in fact, the only course which circumstances have ordered, and the right hon. Gentleman is right that this problem had been neglected, has been laid on one side, has been the subject of innumerable delays and references to committees—a method to which the Prime Minister is only too prone—in exactly the same sort of way as the question of the provision of an air force itself was delayed and the House was misled as to the position.

There is another aspect of this situation which is very grave. The right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said that the discovery, the pursuit, of means of defence from the ground would menace no one; that it was an international problem, one which curses the lives and worries every people in every land and that the League of Nations might well take a hand in devising some effective means of defence against surprise attack from the air. The League of Nations has devised a means of attack, but it is not a means of attack of the kind which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

The menace in turning the whole energy and purpose of the Government into this pursuit of methods to bring down hostile aeroplanes is that we shall entirely lose our sense of proportion and forget, what we remembered only too well a short time ago, that the object of the increasing pressure of every civilised Government should not be defence from the air but the abolition of the air menace altogether. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman believes that to be impossible. I am sure that the Government have come to the view that, while it is still fashionable to make pleasant statements with regard to the League of Nations, it is in fact impossible to secure any kind of defence that way.

We on this side do not share that view. We believe that because it is a menace to everyone, because every civilian population is likewise in peril, because there are in aerial warfare no fruits of victory, because everybody in every country and every Government everywhere has everything to lose and nothing to gain by aerial warfare—because of these peculiar circumstances, which are new in war, it is still possible to secure by energetic action the removal of the air menace altogether. It is a terrible thing for us younger people to see the Government of the day drifting steadily along to the belief that aerial warfare cannot be prevented, that its outbreak is only a matter of time, and that all that is left to us is to devise some sort of means of attack upon the enemy aircraft when they come. The right hon. Gentleman spoke, and he has a unique knowledge of the matter, of projectiles by which it is possible to make whole areas of the air so noxious as to be uninhabitable by hostile aircraft.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Fulham East

It used to be said by those in the best position to know that such projectiles, dropped from the air upon the civilian population, could create havoc and devastation over wide areas, that great towns could be simultaneously poisoned, that after hostile attack great towns would be utterly devastated, that there would remain alive no man, woman, child, cattle, or dog; but it has been fashionable in recent months for Government spokesmen to deprecate that kind of talk, to talk of it as scaremongering, to say that books have been published which have received influential backing to the effect that this talk about poison gas has been greatly exaggerated, and that in fact for a very small sum a civilian can purchase some sort of defensive apparatus. I do not believe it, and I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Epping believes it. We know, on the evidence that is available, that it is impossible to exaggerate the power of modern poison warfare from the air, even now, before the devilish mania of invention which war would bring in its train has increased its effectiveness a thousandfold. No kind of ground defence will remove that menace. It may lessen it, it may set at work inventors devising means of defence against the new air attacks, but there is only one way to safety, and I still believe that that way is open if only we could induce the Government—and the British Government are in a unique position of opportunity in this matter—to pursue it.

There are three cardinal planks in this bulwark of defence. There is agreement on the abolition of the military plane. It is not impossible, I believe, to secure that agreement, because every country shares this terror and this menace. Coupled with it, there must be the rigid control of civil aviation, because any paper pact, any treaty, any agreement to abolish military planes is utterly valueless while States may possess commercial aeroplanes capable of being turned at short notice into bombing planes. Civil aviation must be placed under rigid international control. It can be done. In fact, it has been done. After the war the Allied Powers effectively controlled the armaments of Germany. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has fully explained exactly how effective that control was and how it was worked. Because every State is primarily interested in the removal of the air menace, it would be possible, if we would only pursue it as resolutely as the right hon. Gentleman has been urging us to pursue this problem, to secure, first of all, the abolition of the military plane and secondly, the effective international control of the civil plane.

There is a third and equally necessary part of this complete scheme of defence by removal, and that is the establishment under international control of a force of aerial police, a force of attack, capable of dealing with sudden and unknown infringements of the other two parts. It may be argued that this idea of a striking force under international control from the League is unworkable. I do not believe it is. I believe it could be tried. I believe that, if it was possible towards the end of the war for those vast armies, navies, and air forces to operate under a unified command—so far as our great forces were concerned, under a foreign high command—surely it would be possible, in view of the enormous stimulus and the incalculable gains to humanity which the removal of this menace would mean, to achieve those three things, namely, the abolition of the military plane, the effective international control of civil aviation, so that it should not be used for military purposes and thus defeat the other provision, and, finally, an international aerial striking force capable of dealing with any sudden banditry that might arise in any place.

That, I submit, is the only solution to this aerial menace. By all means pursue, so long as it is unsolved, such Means as there may be of protecting the unfortunate population, but such protection and defence at the best can be but a poor thing. It can only reduce by a small proportion the number of certain victims of this shocking thing which will break upon us unless we take energetic and immediate steps to get this solution worked out and put into effect. Unfortunately, the Government record in this matter is deplorable. It is the main obstacle to the development of this invaluable gift to humanity, and I beg the Government to give some sign that they will turn over a new leaf and pursue this objective resolutely, determined and prepared to take some risk and courage, if need be, because the prize is a priceless one.

3.12 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg Lieut-Colonel Sir Edward Grigg , Altrincham

I am sure the House will agree that it owes a great meed of thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for having called attention to the subject to-day and for the valuable response which he elicited from the Prime Minister. It is a very great satisfaction to know that a committee is hard at work upon scientific research into the possibility of dealing with aeroplanes by various measures of prevention, and to know that no money is being stinted in this research and that the prospects of success are, at any rate, fairly good. This is not merely a matter of protection for our civil population, although that is a matter of great importance. It is always possible—and we must strive to achieve it, if we can—that attacks on the civil population may be limited by some kind of convention. Obviously, we must try to secure that if we can, but the danger to this country from the air will remain enormous even when such a convention is secured. We have lost our insular security, and everything that can be done to minimise attacks on our munition factories will restore some measure of that security. We are nearly always slow to move, and we want to get some measure of security so that our power of resistance may riot be suddenly destroyed while we are endeavouring to make up our minds as to what action we should take.

There is another aspect of this matter which deserves attention. In modern war unquestionably the new technique will be to deliver rapid, successive and widely distributed hammer blows upon nerve centres. Those attacks will be directed not merely on munition factories, but necessarily at the whole industry of the country, and we shall find, if we are unfortunately the victims of an attack of this character, that the whole of our industry will be exposed to attack. We cannot distribute industry widely in this country. It is bound to be concentrated and to be more exposed than elsewhere to attack of this character. We know that it is impossible to ensure the capital of industry against the terrible damage that may be wrought as the result, and we also know from hard experience that reparation for damage cannot be secured at the moment of victory.

We therefore face the fact that an air attack would be at an attack upon our whole industrial system, upon the livelihood of our population, and it might be very difficult to repair things even if we were victorious. Therefore, it becomes of enormous importance to discover, if we can, by research, by expenditure and by using all the authority, force and driving power of the Government, some means of restoring to ourselves the security we used to possess but no longer possess. For that reason I welcome very warmly the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. I hope the Government will press this research forward in every possible way, and that, without giving away any secrets, its progress may from time to time be reported to the House 'and the country, which must be very deeply interested in it.

I wish to turn for a moment to another aspect of the air peril which was dealt with by the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot). He said that the only security against air attack was to abolish it altogether, but I would ask him to consider exactly what responsibilities we may have to face if an air pact of the kind which he described is to be secured. What is to be our contribution to any system under which an air pact may be attained? We shall not attain any limitation of this air danger except as part of some system of collective security. It is no good dealing with the air as if it were a separate thing, for a very obvious reason, that if we limit the air danger we thereby pro tanto restore and intensify the old danger of ground attack. Take away the menace of the air peril to France or, if you like, to Germany, and instantly the old danger of sudden invasion by ground becomes more intense. That danger is, I think, in many ways more serious at the present time than it has ever been before, because it may be carried out by secretly-mobilised, highly-mechanised professional forces, comparatively small in numbers, moving very rapidly with tanks and with all the other destructive mechanism which has been developed.

If we set out to secure an air pact, as I hope we are doing, surely we shall be asked some searching questions. It will be clear that we gain more than anybody else by an understanding of that kind. The immediate danger is removed from us, and our insular position is once more restored, but other people pro tanto increase their dangers by giving us that new security. I would like to ask the Government—I do not press for an immediate answer, but I hope they will be able to tell us before long—what is the attitude of the other Powers in relation to the other defence forces to an air pact of the character which we are seeking to negotiate. The French press has already called attention to this aspect of the matter. It will be interesting to know whether the French Government has not already done so. But, quite beyond that, it seems to me that if we are to secure an air pact we shall have to define very much more dearly the definite, concrete contribution which we are prepared to make to a system of collective security in Europe. Can such a contribution be made with the air arm alone? Personally I do not believe it.

I believe that if we are to secure a limitation of air armaments, if we are to secure an air convention to remove this peril from us, if we are to secure, best of all, the abolition of the air peril, we must be prepared to say quite definitely what we shall do in the case of the casus foederis of the Locarno Treaty coming into operation. I believe that will quite inevitably involve the co-operation of the military arm with the air arm, if the air arm still exists, and action by the military if the air arm does not exist. We have no idea what is happening to the Army while all this public attention is being concentrated on the expansion of our Air Force. Obviously, if ground defence is to be greatly developed it will call for personnel. Where is the personnel to come from? Is it to be secured at the expense of the Army? Are the needs of the Army being considered in this tremendous preoccupation with the air peril? I do not ask the Government for a definite answer to these questions this afternoon, but they are matters upon which the House of Commons is obviously entitled to information before long. We shall want to know what is being done in regard to the Army as well as in regard to the Air Force, and we shall want to know what definite contribution we are making to the proposals for collective security. We shall have no prospect whatever of securing an air convention unless we are prepared to make a practical and concrete contribution to collective security in another way.

3.22 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon , Wallasey

My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) raised a very simple question. He asked how the Committee is getting on which is charged with the duty of seeing whether there is any defence against air attacks. I maintain that we should speak to that subject, yet we have just listened to two speeches, one of which was the well-known speech of the Fulham Road, having nothing to do with the point at all, but roaming over the whole of air policy. I protest very much at that form of abuse of the very narrow subject which was raised.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Fulham East

The hon. and gallant Member need not be offensive.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon , Wallasey

Not at all, but I have heard the hon. Member make that speech several times on technical points. I am not saying anything against it, except that it is very much bigger than the point which was raised, and when other people are trying to get in on other subjects it curtails the Debate very much. Hopes have been expressed to-day of a solution of the problem of air defence. Even the Prime Minister said that one scientist was very optimistic about a successful solution of the problem. I hope that everyone will not run away with the idea that the problem is easily solved. I am very far from that opinion myself. Warfare up to now has been of two dimensions, but aerial warfare is in three dimensions, and that is the fundamental difficulty which is very difficult to overcome.

The gunner, who is one of the most self-confident of soldiers, thinks he can shoot and make his projectile go approximately where he wants it to go, but he made a very sad mistake when he started shooting at aeroplanes. That was the cause of those astonishing inaccuracies which caused the anti-aircraft gun to be called an "Archie" from that well-known song of the time, "Archibald, Certainly not!" The opinion has been expressed that something should be done to put fear into an invading air army. Certainly during the war the balloons which were hung up with a curtain of wire underneath them had a restraining influence. People did not like that idea. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, thinking well into the future as he does, has thought also of something ingenious, when he speaks of throwing up into the air something which may last there, rather like a firework, remaining in the air for a certain time, and into which aeroplanes would run and get damaged.

Whatever you do in trying to defend yourself from the ground against aircraft must be done by projecting something into the air. Our organisation to-day is fundamentally wrong, because antiaircraft measures are put into the hands of the military and not into the hands of the Air Force. It would seem to me that these problems are wrapped up, not with pure ballistics, but with the possibilities and movement of aircraft, that it is necessary to change the organisation and wrap it up together. That may or may not be part of the function of the Committee, but I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he is thinking of defence on the ground against air attack, to go into this question again, because I am certain that, if there is anything in it, it must be done by the Air Force and not by the Army.

3.26 p.m.

Captain GUEST:

I cannot let a subject of this nature go by without adding, if I can, a useful comment. In the first place, I would congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on having so psychologically, if I may so say, introduced this subject, because.he has continued the pressure upon the Government to wrestle with this problem. Many of us have been engaged for 21 or three years in the attempt to bring them up to date on the subject raised by my right hon. Friend, which seems to me to be a terribly important one. If a solution of this question can be found by means of scientific research, so much the better but do not let the Government slow up their programme because of these investigations. I have seen during the last few weeks that the discussions on the possibilities of a successful air pact are having an effect upon recruiting for the expanding Air Force, and therefore, with great respect, I would say to the Government and to this House that we must not slow up in any way in our determination to bring ourselves up to what we consider to be a condition of safe parity. Shortly there will be coming along the Supplementary Estimate which will implement the programme that has been announced by the Government. I only hope that it will come soon, because water is flowing under the bridges, and without the support of the House of Commons the finance cannot be found. I wish with respect to warn the Government and the representative of the Air Ministry who is here to-day that, if civil aviation is ignored in. the Supplementary Estimate, increasing pressure will be brought upon them not to do so. Many of us hold that the support of civil aviation is vital to all forms of national aerial defence, and I hope my right hon. Friend will report to his Department, whoever his chief is when the Supplementary Estimate is introduced, that civil aviation must not be left out of the Supplementary Estimate.