Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

The Government evacuated all the people they could get away, and left the working classes behind. The trouble is not so much the inconvenience caused by evacuation and the money spent on air-raid precautions. The real curse is that it has destroyed the morale of this country. Every night that this black-out continues, the people become more discouraged. Business is up set, the railways are handicapped, transport goes, the troops find that there is no life in the country, and the workers have nothing to do except either go to their homes or to the public houses, unless they want to be run over in the streets. I do not believe that the experts who perpetrated this state of panic have any idea of the loss they have caused. They are ruining half the business people of London. They are reducing the productive capacity of this country and reducing our export trade, by which, alone, we can pay the enormous cost of this war. If we ask questions about it in the House, we are told by the Minister of Home Security that he has nothing to do with it and that it is the Air Ministry; and if we go to the Secretary of State for Air, he says that he has nothing to do with it and that it is his experts. The country is "fed up" with the experts of the Air Ministry, the more so when it hears that those experts differ amongst themselves and that they are not a happy family. We ought to have a statement from the Air Minister as to what he intends to do about the black-out and evacuation.

Surely we can assume now that the Germans will not raid us until we raid them. If it is true that we keep the black-out, not in order to save the civil inhabitants—because in that respect the black-out has been proved rather an expensive matter—but solely in order to prevent the German aeroplanes from finding somewhere else to hit; that it is navigation that they are thinking of, and nothing else, then it is time the Air Minister brought his experts to heel, and told them that this country cannot have its trade and its morale destroyed because they made a wrong estimate of the number of casualties which might be suffered. It seems to me that here we have a young, new Department, anxious to show the importance of its particular arm. When we are plunged into a war, they immediately think, "If we can draw a lurid picture of what will happen in England, unless our arm is taken seriously, we shall then have the opportunity of building up a really strong Air Force."

That is sheer ignorance. There is not a man in this House, there is hardly a man in this country, who was not ready at the beginning of this war, and for two or three years before this war, to spend all the money we had on building the Air Ministry. We would have strangled the Army and the Navy rather than strangle the Air Force. We know the money was available for the purpose; as far as this House was concerned there was an unlimited supply. The difficulty has always been in the Ministry itself—slowness in increasing production. The country is worried about those things. There is no complaint against the men, but there is complaint against the method by which the Ministry is conducting the defence of this country, and the way in which these raids are going on. The Germans are shooting down our ships. I do not know why they are not stopped from doing it. The other day we had the worst case of all—the bombing of a lightship. Then you have the squabble between the Navy and the Air Force, and you have the stories about lack of co-ordination in the Air Ministry.