I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The story of the air war in the past year is, largely, the story of the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force, working in the closest partnership and harmony for the destruction of the common enemy. Their tasks are complementary, their fortunes are intertwined. Together they have achieved mastery of the air over Germany and the battle area. The extent of their mastery is illustrated by the reduction in the casualties incurred by squadrons of Bomber Command. In 1942 the bomber squadrons lost 4.1 per cent. of the aircraft despatched; in 1943 they lost 3.7 per cent.; in 1944 the figure fell to 1.7 per cent.; and for the first two months of 1945 it has been as low 1.1 per cent., although an increasing number of operations have been carried out by day.
The power of the Allied Air Forces—which, of course, include many squadrons from the Dominions and our European Allies—has increased, is increasing, and will continue to increase until Germany is beaten. In mere numbers it is true that the Royal Air Force has reached the peak of its expansion; but its power does not depend only on numbers, but on the prowess of its aircrews, commanders and staffs, and on its technical and scientific equipment, which is becoming ever more formidable with each month that passes. Therefore, without diminishing the total current impact of the Royal Air Force on the enemy, we are in process of reducing the aircrew training organisation to the level required to maintain the smaller air force which will be operatng after the defeat of Germany, This reduction in training will take place mostly in the Dominions. As the House will recall, I explained the details of this reduction last November. Much of the air training has, of course, been given in this country, but in the early months of the war agreements were made under which Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia undertook to provide a great deal of the training of the aircrews required, not only for their own Air Forces, but also for the R.A.F. and not only their own young men but young men from this country as well. They also provided the airfields, the buildings, and most of the instructors and ground staff. That was a big task, especially when we remember how small were the Dominion Air Forces at the outbreak of war.
Soon, however, it became necessary to make further demands on the Dominions. In 1940 we were shut out of the Continent and threatened by invasion, and much of the training which had hitherto been carried out in this country had to be transferred overseas. These additional tasks were readily undertaken, triumphantly completed and, as need arose, ungrudgingly extended. Many of the Dominion aircrew trained in these schools have been formed into Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African and Southern Rhodesian squadrons, and many more have gone into Royal Air Force squadrons. Not far short of 200,000 young men, many of them from this country, have received their flying training in the Dominions. All have played a distinguished part in operations against the enemy.
It was on the sure foundation of this great Dominion training plan that the huge structure of the Royal Air Force was built. It was in the fullest sense a war-winning plan. Strategically, the British Commonwealth and Empire was taking advantage of space and distance to train its aircrews unmolested by the enemy. The United Kingdom and each of the Dominions which took part in it has good I reason to be proud of its share in the success which it has achieved. Most of all our gratitude is due to the Canadian Government and to the Royal Canadian Air Force, on whose shoulders the main burden rested, and whose energy, determination, generosity and inexhaustible resource were equal to every one of the great and constantly increasing demands which were made upon them.
The air superiority which has enabled us to call a halt to the numerical expansion of the Royal Air Force has not been obtained without hard fighting and heavy casualties. Between 1st April and 3oth September, 1944, Bomber Command alone suffered more than 10,000 casualties killed, missing and wounded. Reconnaissance and ground straffing of troops and vehicles in the battle area or in other areas heavily defended by flak is also dangerous work. On the other hand, well-planned bombing and hard fighting in the air have so reduced the strength of the German Air Force that our casualty rate has fallen far below what it was prudent to anticipate two years ago, when we were planning for the flow of aircrew into the squadrons to-day. At this juncture the needs of the Army for men are greater than ours, and, just as earlier in the war, men were transferred from the Army and the Navy to the R.A.F. when our needs were the greatest, so now it has been decided that several thousands of men should be transferred to the Army from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
Naturally the Royal Air Force and all of us who have the privilege of being associated with it in this war, regret the loss of the services of these men. I sympathise deeply with their feelings at being compelled to leave the Service of their choice. I am explaining to the men the reasons which make these transfers necessary and, while no explanations can be expected altogether to remove their disappointment, I know they will understand that the requirements of the war must transcend any individual preference.
We regret likewise the disbanding of Balloon Command and I know that the House will join with me in paying tribute to the protection, indispensable until recently, which the men and women of Balloon Command have provided for London and other great centres of population. Particularly, the House will recognise the patriotism of those who fitted themselves for these important duties by sacrificing their leisure in the days of peace. Those living in the South of England will remember the swift development of balloons to meet the V.1 attacks. We say "Thank you" to the officers and men of this fine Command. Their work will be carried on to the extent still necessary by smaller elements in Fighter Command and in the Overseas Command.
We shall not make the mistake of supposing that Germany is defeated before the "Cease Fire" sounds, but, in the meantime, it is necessary to look beyond the immediate requirements of the war and to take some preliminary thought for the re-establishment of the permanent Royal Air Force. Since the outbreak of war, officers and men have joined the Service as members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Regular officers and airmen are at present only a small minority, and we shall want to take into the Regular Air Force many of the war-time entrants who have so well served their country. I cannot, of course, estimate how many will be required, until the Government has been able to decide on the size of the peace-time Royal Air Force. Till then the total number of officers holding permanent commissions cannot exceed the number in the Service immediately before the war. A start has been made by inviting officers to volunteer for permanent commissions, and lists of those selected will begin to appear at intervals in the near future. So also, early in 1944, airmen were given the opportunity of entering on regular engagements, of extending existing engagements, and of re-engaging for pension.
We are also preparing for another task which will confront the Royal Air Force when the German war is over—to transfer squadrons and supporting units to the Far East to finish off the war against Japan. We are very conscious of the need for improving the welfare and amenities of men and women serving in that theatre, and the Air Ministry is working closely with the other Departments concerned to secure those ends, of which the Prime Minister recently gave the House a full account. I have appointed a special committee in the Air Ministry to push these things on and to help in overcoming any special difficulties. One measure which is the particular concern of the Royal Air Force is that we have been able recently to increase the provision of air transport for the carriage of mails to troops in that theatre. This has made it possible to abolish the rationing of homeward air letters and to carry by air, at surface rates, all letters up to one ounce in weight both to and from the forces in India and in the South East Asia Command. The pattern of the air offensive in Europe has been reflected in the distant swamps and jungles of Burma. The same hammer blows from the closely integrated British and American Air Forces have destroyed the enemy's dumps, airfields, bridges and all forms of land and water transport. Denied supplies and reinforcements, the Japanese have fallen a prey to our advancing troops. This in turn has led to the clearance of the Burma Road with the great strategic consequence of increasing the flow of supplies to China. The Tactical Air Force element with its Beaufighter, Spitfire and Thunderbolt fighter squadrons, its Hurribomber and tank-busting squadrons, and its Mosquito bomber squadrons have worked closely fused with the Army; while the heavy bombers, the photographic reconnaissance units and the coastal squadrons have all made their brilliant and indispensable contributions to the Allied victories in that theatre. Air supremacy has enabled us both to starve the enemy's troops and to nourish and sustain our own. As many as three divisions have been, at one time, maintained solely by air transport. Thus Air power is opening the gate, through which the Allied Armies will pour to the liberation of the Eastern territories.
The creation and development of Transport Command has destroyed the paradox that the Royal Air Force was, tactically, the most, but strategically the least mobile of the three services. There in India and Burma, it has full scope not only in maintaining communications along its trunk and feeder services with this country and with other overseas theatres, but in airborne, air-transporting and supply operations. Last night the capture of Meiktila, 75 miles south of Mandalay with its eight airfields, was announced by the B.B.C. The great part of the troops that took it were carried there and all are being nourished there by aircraft of Transport Command.
In the Far East the British and American Air Forces serve under a British Air Commander-in-Chief, Sir Keith Park. In the Mediterranean theatre they serve under an American Officer, General Eaker, with a British officer, Sir John Slessor, as his Deputy. The Mediterranean. is a theatre which provides a striking example of the versatility and flexibility of air power. The famous Coastal Air. Force has many roles. Before the decline of German sea power in the Mediterranean, this group fought the German submarines and the torpedo and bomber aircraft which attacked our convoys. That work would hardly keep them busy now, but they still attack German shipping in the Adriatic, and in the Gulf of Genoa; they still carry out reconnaissance over the sea, and they still give fighter protection to our convoys, bases and lines of communication by day and by night.
The Allied Tactical Air Forces, of which the famous Desert Air Force forms part, work closely with the Army. The 15th United States Strategic Air Force and British bomber squadrons working with them carry the bomber offensive into Southern Germany from Italian airfields. There are plenty of German fighter squadrons, and several factories, which produce jet aircraft in Southern Germany. The Alps present a formidable barrier—ice and snow in winter and an even greater danger in summer—heavy electrical storms; but the targets are important, and these squadrons are making a big contribution from Italy to the success of the Bomber offensive. Another formation in Italy with a brilliant record of achievement is the Balkan Air Force, working closely with both the Army and the Navy, fighting the Germans and their satellites in the Adriatic and the Balkans, and supporting Marshal Tito's partisans.
When I introduced these Estimates last year, the German Air Force was attempting, on a small scale, to renew the blitz on London. The unfailing skill of our night fighter crews, of our ground controllers and of the gunners and searchlight crews of Anti-Aircraft Command, inflicted on them sufficient losses to deter them from mere harassing attacks, which were producing no military results. The German blitz has petered out under the crushing blows of the Allied bomber offensive, Small numbers of fast aircraft, carrying a few bombs, may get through from time to time, but not without paying their toll to Fighter Command; as they did when they lost at least six, and more probably eight, aircraft out of seventy fighter raiders on Saturday night.
They were not jet-propelled, but long-range fast night-fighters carrying a limited number of bombs.
So the Germans resorted last summer to the flying-bomb. The weight of the attack fell off when the sweeping advances of Field-Marshal Montgomery's Armies resulted in the occupation of the principal launching sites. Launchings continued, however, on a small scale from aircraft during the winter, until the campaign was temporarily abandoned about six weeks ago. Now the Germans have started using them again. As far as we can see, the new ones are much the same in performance as the old ones but they have a rather longer range. In the meantime, we are also under fire by V.2. The Government are deeply conscious of the strain to which these attacks are subjecting many thousands of our fellow countrymen. The loss of life and homes, the injuries and the human suffering and misery which they inflict are grievous. They fall upon a courageous people which has suffered and endured much in more than five years of war.
No practical means of abating these attacks has been neglected by the Royal Air Force, but the launching site of a V.2 is small and hard to identify. Any space of ground—hard or artificially hardened—23 feet by 23 feet, will serve as a launching site for the rocket. It may be in streets or woods, or on an open road. We may know that certain areas near or in a particular town or village in Holland, are being used for launching. To send some squadrons of Bomber Command to obliterate that town or village would destroy the lives and homes of hundreds, or even thousands of our Dutch allies, who are already suffering terribly; but the men who operate the rockets, would emerge from their deep shelters when the bombardment was over, and either carry on their nefarious work elsewhere, or else perhaps clear a space, and continue to operate from the same devastated town. By attacks on storage sites, on supply routes, motor transport parks and lines of communication, we are reducing the scale of attack far below what the Germans hoped to achieve; but in the case of the rocket, as in the case of the flying bomb, the only way to silence this form of long-range artillery is the physical occupation of the sites from which these weapons are fired and our primary object, therefore, is—in close co-operation with the Army—to hasten the paralysis and destruction of the German armies on our front and, consequently the liberation of Holland from the German invader.
To this supreme object—the destruction of the armed might of Germany—all three Services in closest partnership are bending their efforts. In successive speeches introducing these Estimates, I have described how the partnership of the three Services was being developed. The fruits of these efforts have been gathered in the campaigns at sea against the German U-boats and German shipping, and on land in the battles by which the German armies are being driven remorselessly back from the West, from the East and from the South, with crippling losses in men and material.
D-Day for the British and American Armies of liberation was 6th June last year, but for the Royal Air Force the campaign had started long before. The weight of our invasion of Northern Europe would have been much reduced if the U-boats had been sinking even a fraction, of the number of Allied ships which they were sinking in every month of the year 1943. Gradually, however, the squadrons of Coastal Command—very long range Liberators, Wellingtons with their searchlights, Fortress, Sunderland and Catalina Squadrons, Beaufighters with their rockets and Mosquitos carrying a six-pounder—working in closest co-operation with the escort groups of the Royal Navy, had obtained an increasing mastery of the German submarines. Bomber Command, too, had contributed largely to this result by bombing the U-boats in their assembly yards and in their pens, and by their arduous, difficult and extremely successful mining operations.
The Germans had boasted that, thanks to the U-boat, no Allied soldier would set foot on the Continent of Europe. Coastal Command and the Royal Navy answered this boast with deeds. Together, they swept the seas, and kept open those channel lanes on which depended the security of our convoys and the nourishment of our armies. In the opening stages of this great battle the burden of the fighting lay principally on Coastal Command. In the three weeks before D-Day Admiral Doenitz was endeavouring to move up his reserves of U-boats from their bases in Norway to the threatened area of the Channel coast. From Norway, these U-boats began to slink out on their long trek through Northern and Atlantic waters to the Channel. The Commander-in-Chief, Coastal Command—Sir Sholto Douglas—had anticipated every move they made. Knowing what they had to expect, the German Command had given their crews a concentrated course of training against air attack. In particular, they were equipped with a new 37 mm. anti-aircraft gun. Their foresight was wise but unavailing, for these reinforcements were attacked and mauled by aircraft of Coastal Command. In the continuous daylight of the Northern summer, the battle was joined off the coasts of Norway, the Shetlands and the Faroes, and even in the Arctic, where the U-boats sought to escape the range of our aircraft. Many were sunk and damaged.
This was the opening bout. The main campaign, fought in the English Channel and its Western approaches, began on D-Day. Previous to that date, single U-boats had penertated into coastal waters with the aid of Schnorkels. When the invasion came, the Biscay U-boat fleet made their way to the Western approaches of the Channel on the surface. They were instantly engaged by Coastal Command, and U-boat prisoners have frankly admitted that entering the Channel was a nightmare. During the first tour critical days from D-Day, the Command made 38 sightings, which resulted in several destructive attacks. In every case the U-boats fought back desperately with flak, but our indomitable aircrews—heroic men like Flight Lieutenant Hornell, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who lost his life, and Flying Officer Cruickshank, whose gallant exploits earned for them the Victoria Cross—flew in low through the flak and bombed with deadly accuracy.
These successes of Coastal Command, won in unison with the Royal Navy, were decisive; a blow was inflicted on the enemy from which he never recovered. It was fatal to his prospects of holding what he chose to call the Fortress of Europe. Nor were the enemy's hopes of countering the invasion confined to U-boats. He hoped for great things from his motor gun boats and motor torpedo boats which were to harry the main lines of our shipping. We know from our prisoners of war that hardly a motor gun boat or motor torpedo boat put to sea without being spotted and attacked from the air. Coastal Command is also carrying on a sustained and deadly campaign against the enemy's shipping which has been carrying supplies to his U-boat bases in Northern waters or evacuating his troops from Norway. The target presented by enemy shipping is incomparably smaller than that presented by our own shipping to the enemy; but, week by week, Coastal Command is sinking German ships off the coasts of Norway, Denmark and Holland.
The work of Bomber Command under Sir Arthur Harris and of the United States Strategic air forces under General Spaatz, in preparation for the launching of our armies, had been continuous over a period of years. All through 1943 and 1944, the great battles of the Ruhr, of Hamburg and Berlin, were steadily undermining the war power of Germany. We had become aware that the Germans were making a tremendous effort to build up the biggest fighter force that the world had ever seen. They were preparing to accept the defensive role and, sacrificing their bomber force, they were concentrating on building up an impregnable fighter defence Thus the Germans were being forced to cover up against our bomber blows. The bomber offensive was proving to be the most effective defence of our homes and factories against a blitz on the great scale. Had they been left undisturbed, they would have increased their fighter production from 1,000 a month, at which it stood in the middle of 1943, to 2,500 or 3,000 a month by thee end of last year.
The British and American bomber forces, therefore, in the winter of 1943 and spring of last year turned their main effort against the German fighter factories and ancillary production. The German fighters struggled desperately to save their factories. Bomber Command's casualties were high, but they pressed their attacks with determination and with devastating effect. The Americans fought brilliantly, destroying hundreds of German fighters in air fighting and bombing with deadly accuracy.
The House may remember that, in introducing these Estimates on 29th February last year, I said that it might well be that historians of the future would look back upon the period between the February and the March moons, in which these attacks were being delivered in great force
by British and American squadrons from Italy and from this country, as one of the decisive stages of the whole war; and I am interested to see that General Arnold, Commanding General of the United States Army Air Force, in his annual report to Congress, which was published last week, says:
The week of February 20–26, 1944, may well be classed by future historians as marking a decisive battle in history—one as decisive and of greater world importance than Gettysburg.
That great series of attacks against the German aircraft production laid the foundation of the air mastery which the Allies enjoyed on D-Day and now enjoy over Germany and the battlefields of Europe.
In the late spring, the destruction of German communications behind the intended invasion front took first place among our bombing objectives. Bomber Command, the 2nd Tactical Air Force and the U.S.A.A.F. all played their parts in this campaign. It was not a task upon which the Allied Air Forces entered lightheartedly, for it involved the destruction of railway facilities, some of which were in thickly populated areas of France. It was therefore bound to entail distressing loss of life among French civilians in spite of every precaution which we could take—and we neglected none. Marshalling yards and railway repair facilities were destroyed on a great scale. Twenty-four road and railway bridges over the Seine were selected for bombing; by D-Day all 24 had been either demolished or severely damaged. The result of this campaign was to destroy one of the main assumptions on which the enemy's plan of defence was based. He had naturally assumed that he could reinforce his defensive front by road and rail more quickly than we could reinforce by sea. As things turned out, the weather favoured this calculation and for three critical days it was impossible to land troops or supplies over the beaches. Nevertheless, so thoroughly had the Allied Air Forces done their work, and so complete was the mastery of the British and American Tactical Air Forces over the French roads and railways by day, that the Allied armies were able to reinforce much more quickly than the Germans.
German troops were rushed into the battle piecemeal on bicycles. Two divisions which were brought from the eastern front took only five days to cross Europe to the French frontier, and then took 14 days to travel from the frontier to the battle. Another German division, hastening to the battle from North-East France, detrained at Rouen and subsequently took 14 days to reach the battle area on foot. Famous Panzer divisions were short of tanks and in some cases were using old French ones. The strategic plan of the Germans for countering the invasion broke against the searching weapons of air attack.
The Royal Air Force also successfully delivered two of the largest airborne formations ever taken into battle. In the first of these operations, British and American airborne forces formed the spearhead of the Normandy landing. The second operation succeeded later in forcing the Maas and the Waal, and one of the Transport Command groups which took part in these operations has also successfully evacuated by air from the Continent over 55,000 casualties since D-Day.
The brilliant work of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, their mastery of the air over the battlefield and their throttling grip on German communications have surpassed all reasonable expectation. The slaughter of the German Panzer Divisions in the Falaise Gap by the rocket and bomber Typhoons of the Tactical Air Force was a brilliant exploit. Under the command of Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory—whose loss is such a heavy blow to the Royal Air Force and to the country—and of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, the closeness of the partnership between the Tactical Air Force and the Army, under Field Marshal Montgomery, was assured. Together they have operated in the spirit of Field Marshal Montgomery's declaration that the first and great principle of war is that you must first win your air battle before you fight your land and sea battle: and, as he added, we never had to bother about the enemy in the air because we won the air battle first.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question? If we have, as he keeps saying, complete supremacy in the air, will he explain why the German troops were able to get across the Rhine so recently, particularly after General Eisenhower had said that he had smashed the German Army on this side of the Rhine?
I said complete air supremacy. I did not say complete supremacy over the land and the air, and I do not think there has been in any theatre of war, at any time during this war, any case in which an army has been so paralysed by an air force that it has been quite incapable of movement, even in winter weather.
Two activities of Bomber Command call, I think the House will agree, for special attention on this occasion, and the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) will be interested in view of what he said in last year's Debate. The first is the sinking of the "Tirpitz", the greatest of the German battleships and perhaps, in her time, the toughest ship afloat. The House will not forget that she had already suffered rough usage at the hands of the midget submarines of the Royal Navy and the aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm. She was sunk by two squadrons of Bomber Command under Wing Commander Tait. They flew 1,200 miles to bomb from some 15,000 feet and scored three direct hits and two near misses. The House is fully sensible of the immense debt which we owe to our gallant Allies—to their courage and skill in battle, to their wisdom in counsel and planning, and to their co-operation in scientific research—but I think Hon. Members will also be gratified to reflect that this brilliant feat of arms was accomplished by British, crews aiming, with a British bombsight of extraordinary complexity, ingenuity and accuracy a 12,000 lb. bomb of British design and manufacture from a British Lancaster—the only aircraft in the world to-day which could carry that bomb.
The other activity of Bomber Command to which I referred—mainly but not solely of Bomber Command, for other commands overseas and to some extent at home have shared it—is one of which little public mention has yet been made. When the peoples of Europe awoke from the nightmare of 1940, they found themselves powerless against the mechanised might of Nazi Germany. To the Royal Air Force fell the task of supplying arms to the resurgent peoples of Europe. A plan to arm the patriots of Europe was drawn up between the Services. A small force of aircraft was allotted to the task. First, Whitleys carried out these missions. Then they were replaced by larger aircraft—by Halifaxes, Stirlings and Liberators—and in greater numbers.
The task was exacting. Every crew was a pathfinder. They were searching, not for towns or marshalling yards, but for fields and points in the open country—often miles from roads or other landmarks. This entailed extremely low flying, with the aircraft—especially if it was a light night—an easy mark for even the lightest flak. In difficult country the navigation risks were almost as formidable as the risks from the enemy. Frequently pilots had to land their aircraft in occupied territory to bring out leading members of the Underground movement.
For example, it became necessary last Spring to bring out of South East Poland some staff officers of the Polish Underground Forces. Two days before the operation was due to take place, the suspicion of the Germans in the district was aroused. The local peasants and farmers, all members of the underground organisation, were mobilised. Their rifles, pistols, and hand grenades were taken out of the hiding-places where they were kept between the battles which the Polish secret army had been fighting for four years and were put into action. For 48 hours the brave Poles fought. They lost 42 men killed and many wounded, but they kept the landing ground—a field of stubble—clear. A Dakota aircraft, flown by a British crew with a Polish navigator flew in, landed safely, and five minutes later took off with its important passengers.
The Women's Auxiliary Air Force has been to the fore in these activities. Several young W.A.A.F. officers were dropped by parachute at night. In one case, after parachuting into France to act as a courier, a W.A.A.F. officer took charge of a large Mavis group after the capture of her commanding officer, reorganised it and, displaying remarkable qualities of tact, leadership and courage, contributed greatly to the success of many supply dropping operations and to the destruction of enemy forces. In another case a W.A.A.F. W/T operator landed and trained three French operators. This brave young woman's parachute stuck and opened only just in time. So she fell heavily and declares that she owes her life to bundles of paper francs which she was carrying wrapped round her like a cushion.
Thus fostered, the Resistance Movements of Europe grew. From Norway to Greece and from Brittany to Poland small armies sprang up, and as the days of 1944 grew longer as many as 170 aircraft a night ranged the length and breadth of France, guided, in some isolated places, by immense bonfires and, at other times and other places, by other methods. Patriot forces in the Balkans and in Central Europe were supplied from bases in the Mediterranean. Aircraft operating from this country dropped more than 160,000 parachute containers of arms and explosives, and 3,700 packages of specialised equipment. At least 15,000 tons of supplies wore dropped from Great Britain alone. Many splendid and experienced air crews have been lost in these enterprises. Thousands of Europen patriots have been savagely slain in reprisals by the Germans, but their devotion and the courage of Allied air crews have not been in vain. The achievements of the F.F.I. and other citizen armies of Europe testify to the success and effectiveness of their enterprises.
The strategic bomber offensive, however, remains the principal role of the British and American Bomber Commands. The arm of Bomber Command reaches across Europe from time to time and bombs targets in direct support of the redoubtable Red armies in their advance from the East. More generally, however, the effect of the British and American strategic bomber offensive is felt on every front—in the West, East and South. The 5th and 6th Panzer armies when they started on their great offensive in the Ardennes in December, were only at half-strength in tanks, and the shortage of tanks and other equipment and, most of all, of oil, is hampering and enfeebling the power of Germany in every element and on every front.
It was a big decision of policy when the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet determined, in 1941, to launch this tremendous offensive. Vast resources had to be devoted to it. The factories and machine tools did not exist for the construction of the necessary number of bombers. Land had to be bought, foundations laid, factories planned and built, and labour recruited and trained, before the expansion could get into its stride. Our experience in bombing up to that time had brought home to us the extreme difficulty of the task which we were setting our crews. We knew that only a small proportion of our own bombs were hitting the right target, and that the same was true of the German air force in the blitz. With extraordinary courage and determination, our bomber crews were pioneering and blazing the trail for those who are now carrying on their work.
We saw and appraised our difficulties, errors and deficiencies, and we calculated—applying, so far as it was possible to do so, the scientific method to our calculations—that we could and would enable Bomber Command to hit Germany, not three or four or ten times harder, but 50 times harder than in 1941. We estimated that we could increase Bomber Command's bomb-lift ten times, and that we have more than done. In addition we allowed for improved training, for scientific aids to navigation, for more powerful bombs and explosives, for better fuses and bomb-sights, all of which were at different stages of design arid development, and we made a liberal discount for the improvements which we expected the Germans could make—as indeed they did—in their air defences. To the improvements which I have mentioned as being in our minds at that time, we subsequently added others—for example, the new methods of identifying, marking and illuminating targets by the Pathfinder Force. I am not going to make an assertion that I cannot prove—that we have succeeded in hitting Germany 50 times as hard as we did in 1941—but I feel confident that the scientific, impartial and objective investigation which will take place into the results of the bomber offensive, will prove that we have achieved our aim.
For four years, the Allied Air Force was the only force from the West carrying the war to Germany. From Dunkirk to D-Day, they harried and pounded German war industry and transport. Had not the Luftwaffe been out-fought in the air, hammered on its airfields and smashed in its factories, there could have been no invasion of Normandy last year. Every port in Southern England before D-Day was packed with shipping for the invasion—a bomb-aimer's paradise—ships incomparably bigger and more numerous than the targets which Hitler's invasion preparations offered to our little bomber force in 1940. Yet not a bomb fell. From the clays of the first thousand-bomber attacks in the summer of 1942, the scale of attack has been mounting hugely. During the fifth year of the war—from September, 1943, to August, 1944—Bomber Command dropped a greater weight of bombs on Germany than in the four previous years put together. Even the fifth year's total has been greatly surpassed in the six months which have elapsed of the sixth year of war.
The combined offensive against German oil production began last April. By September, owing to the destruction wrought by Allied bombers and the capture of the Roumanian oil fields by our Russian Allies, this production had been cut to about a quarter of the April figure. But oil targets are small, strongly defended and hard to hit. By November, after a period of bad weather, which prevented visual bombing, the Germans had succeeded, by incessant and desperate repair work, in raising it appreciably, but repeated attacks by the bombers, aided by the capture of the Polish refineries and the synthetic oil plants in Silesia by the Russians, have struck the figure down again to the September level. The attack continues. We start in March, with the weather improving, where we were in September, with the weather deteriorating.
The effect of this lack of oil supplies is being felt in many ways. Many combat units of the German Army are not allowed to use oil except during actual operations. Movements of reserves and replacements are being held up. The movement of German surface shipping is severely restricted. German aircrews are not so good as they were because they cannot spare the petrol for training. The destruction of the synthetic oil plants at Zeitz, Politz, Brux and Leuna by Bomber Command will rank among the great feats of British Arms in this war. Already, the Allied Air Forces have reduced German oil production to such an extent that his available reserves are approaching exhaustion.
Allied air bombing is on such a colossal scale that Dr. Goebbels has had to admit that "it can now hardly be borne." In the week ending 12th February, 16,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the Allied Air Forces. This rose to 23,000 tons the next week, to 41,000 the week after that, and, in the following week, 32,000 tons with some returns outstanding. This swelling crescendo of destruction is engulfing oil plants, tank factories and the communications of the German armies on every front, as, from West, East and South, the Allied Armies surge forward into Germany.
The House will join the Secretary of State in his thanks to the Royal Air Force, with which the right hon. Gentleman coupled, rightly, the Canadian Royal Air Force and the American Bomber Commands, for the work that has been done during the past year. The high-light of his speech, I think, was the right hon. Gentleman's statement towards the end that, before D-Day, with all the Southern ports crowded with invasion shipping, not a single German bomb fell. The story is an epic one and has been told with the dramatic force and brilliance that we may always expect from the right hon. Gentleman. I think also that the House will wish to join in the appreciation expressed by the Minister to the people of this country, who have withstood the attacks of the various V weapons that have been launched from Germany against this country. That, too, is a splendid story, and those of us who have seen some of the results of that kind of attack appreciate the stalwartness of our civilian population in standing up so well to it.
There are one or two questions that I would like to put before I come to the main part of what I wish to say. They are not altogether concerned with minor points, but I do not put them in any sense of challenge or criticism, but rather for the purpose of giving the Minister an opportunity of informing the House more generously than it has been informed hitherto about particular points. Some anxiety, I understand, has been expressed among personnel of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East and even farther afield in the more remote Commands with regard to facilities for training for civilian employment. They feel that there is a possibility, if not of being forgotten, at least of being left out to some extent and taking second place when they come back at the end of hostilities. It would, I am sure, be reassuring to these personnel if whoever replies for the Ministry at the end of this Debate gave some note of what is in mind with regard to training for civilian employment. The Secretary of State referred to the question of recruitment after the war. Without raising the general question of conscription which, of course, would hardly be in Order in a Debate of this character, I would like to know, and many of my friends would like to know, whether we still rely upon Air Force attractiveness being sufficient for recruitment at the end of this war, and whether anything can be said about the question of short-term engagement, as against conscription or compulsion.
The third point I wish to raise concerns accidents to aeroplanes carrying official personnel. This opportunity, I think, could be taken by the Ministry to reassure this House, which has been very much concerned about the number of these accidents. Compared with the flights that have been undertaken, there may not be so much of a disproportion as appears upon the surface, but, both in the newspaper Press and among the public in general, there has been a great amount of concern. We would like to know whether the results of investigations have shown any kind of common factor such as applied to the aeroplanes—climatic conditions or operational circumstances generally.
Finally, I would like to hear something upon the terms upon which land has been acquired for aerodromes throughout the country. There has been a very large number of them, and one appreciates, of course, that, in the emergency of war, it has been impossible to carry on things in a normal way. There is, however, one case which applies to a civil aerodrome, and may apply to Royal Air Force aerodromes and others in the country, suggesting the desirability of a statement upon the method adopted of recoupment for the owners of land when land is acquired for this purpose. I refer to the Middlesex Airport. The best agricultural land in Middlesex does not command more than about £25 per acre upon normal sale. I recognise, of course, the necessity for doing away with farm buildings—in this case, a large number of conservatories—and probably there is a figure in contemplation which will deal not only with land values, but also with the question of goodwill and the buildings that occupy the space. I am told that, as against the £25 per acre for land of pure agricultural value, there has been some amount of speculative purchase at £300 per acre, and that the Government are prepared to pay up to £600 per acre for land for an aerodrome which is going to cost many mil-liens. This has appeared in the Press and has been discussed. I refer to the Middlesex Airport called Heath Row, the new London Airport that is being built. If we are being "rooked," if I may use an expression like that—and I know that land speculators do "rook" the public and the Government in this way—this must be taken into account, magnified tremendously if we take into account the large number of transactions of a similar character which have been undertaken.
Perhaps I cannot give evidence that will satisfy my hon. Friend, for it was a figure I saw in one of the week-end newspapers quite recently. I do not know from personal knowledge that that figure is accurate, but I should imagine there is a vast difference between agricultural values in Middlesex or anywhere else in the country and the £600 an acre which the Government are willing to pay, although, as I have said, I appreciate that the £600 would cover much more than the bare agricultural value. I want to refer to one other point which I know concerns primarily the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Perhaps, however, the Air Ministry can say, for the benefit of those concerned who are considerably distressed about the matter, something on the transfer of the air replacement station at Kidbrooke. This transfer would mean that about 600 personnel would be uprooted and they consider it ought to be possible for the Ministries concerned in that to get into touch and to see if some other kind of Government operation could be carried on there, such as telephones and so on. I refer to that in passing because some concern has been felt about it.
I want to come now to an aspect of the Vote which may perhaps be questioned by Members because of the large number of Debates we have had upon the subject of Civil Aviation. However, there are some things that have happened since the last Debate which ought to be ventilated at the very earliest possible moment, and therefore I make no apology for raising the general policy of the future of civil flying in this country.
It has always been debated upon the Estimates, although only Vote A and Vote I are mentioned. I want to deal with this question because civil flying cannot be dissociated from questions of defence and world peace. The hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds), in the last Debate on Civil Aviation, thought that the policy of the Labour Party upon this question had been changed because I did not state the Labour Party's case and gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). However, that was due to indisposition, and I am sure that the Labour Party's policy upon Civil Aviation and the world aspects of Civil Aviation have not changed in the slightest degree, but I do not want to raise the question quite so widely as that. We stand for public ownership, as the House very well knows, and if any argument is wanted in favour of that policy it is to be found in the illogical proposed set-up for Civil Aviation in the future which has seen the light in spite of the fact that there have been a number of secret deals and meetings beforehand without the opportunity for this House to consider the matter, or having the details put before them. I do not disagree with consultations with people who are concerned in matters affecting legislation—the Trades Union Congress, for instance, in industrial matters, is a case in point; the British Medical Association in respect of medical services; education people in respect of the subject of education. There is, however, a world of difference between discussing with interests of one kind and another the administrative details of a Government policy, and propounding to certain elements that policy before it is presented to the British House of Commons.
I shall deal with it all in a moment. I cannot help feeling that there is a question of constitutional tradition involved in this, and that this particular case is an exceedingly flagrant one. The question just asked me is answered by the fact that I have here minutes of a private meeting between Lord Swinton and the independent operators after a deal had been made with the railway companies and the shipping companies of this country, throwing at them—not discussing details, not facilitating the future of Civil Aviation—the declared policy of the Government which has not been declared to this House or the country. I think that kind of thing must stop; we have had too much of it. It is in the direction of the corporate State and it is a very dangerous precedent, constitutionally speaking. The proposal I have referred to is one which contains the demerits of both systems. The question is not the ordinary one—and I do not wish to raise it in any large way—that we put of public versus private enterprise. We have discussed that over and over again. It is one that is bigger because of the potentialities of this instrument, the aeroplane, for good and for evil. This instrument, we consider, apart from its commercial or even State exploitation, apart even from the question of general efficiency, has too much potentiality for harm in the world for it to be left any longer to the development of private concerns and private individuals.
The Royal Air Force has a jet fighter in operation, the Meteor, which is faster than V1 and has been in operation against it. When I was at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, at a time when I had the great privilege of almost daily contact with the "boys in the backroom," I remember when Lord Brabazon, Sir Charles Craven, Air Marshal Linnell and I looked upon the first diagrams of the jet plane, the Whittle, and were not only amazed at the simplicity but the possibilities of that new instrument. We were almost aghast at its possibilities after some years of development. We must think in, terms of 20 years hence of what that development will mean to peace in the world, to the relations between those who are exploiting the air, and all that speed means. Personally, I do not believe that this worship of the goddess of speed is likely to make human beings a bit more happy than they are, but there it is. We live still in a competitive World, in a world that is menaced by war, and we must and we will do wonderful work. Apart from any question of private enterprise, those "boys in the backroom" were actuated by patriotism, and by considerations that had very little to do with matters of private property, as I know very well.
Anyhow, the R.A.F. has this jet fighter and we are building a new research station, I believe. Now there is in actual existence, in its primary stages at any rate, another jet fighter which is embodied in Lockheed designs, I believe, in. America, a jet fighter which has aerodynamic principles, that will enable speeds to be attained greater than the speed of sound—720 miles per hour. Anyone with imagination thinking of those facts, must look upon the possible picture of the future with something—well, I will not say "like despair," because it all depends, but the Prime Minister said in his last speech that the peace of the world depends upon a very fine equilibrium. We have great hopes of the Allied Powers, and the equilibrium of forces that will be the result of those Powers remaining friendly and keeping the policy of unity in being, but, thinking 20 to 25 years ahead, at any rate he cannot guarantee that. We have to recognise that it is a fine razor edge of equilibrium and that, when we have these facts in front of us, we cannot divide military and civil aviation one from the other. That is what I particularly wish to stress. Both aspects advance in step, and for that reason we might as well leave the development of the rocket bomb to private enterprise as the development of these fast aeroplanes of the future, quite apart from any ordinary question of whether private enterprise or State enterprise is good, bad or indifferent.
It is no use at all reopening the question of international co-operation, that was settled at Chicago. The Government are satisfied that order in the air and a certain amount of agreement to avoid competition are sufficient. Any commercial cartel could do exactly the same thing, and that is all Chicago amounts to—it amounts to making the world, in the air at any rate, safe for commercialism, if hon. Members will excuse the paradox. That is really all it amounts to, just as any international cartel can arrange zones
of influence and divide up world trade. I notice that Lord Swinton, speaking to the Aerodrome Owners' Association, made this remarkable statement:
I am glad to say that we have achieved a commonwealth partnership in the air in these recent months, a complete agreement on how we are to run our services in partnership together. That is the thing we all have wanted for years.
We have done nothing of the kind. We have turned down our two Pacific partners. In Empire, as well as in trans-Atlantic services, Civil Aviation is to run as virtually private monopolies. I think I am able to prove that. To say that we are now in partnership with our Dominions is an exaggeration, because, after all, Lord Swinton was only referring to the partnership represented by the Chicago policy—
The hon. and gallant Member must not be in such a hurry. That is twice he has interrupted me. I am going to deal with all the evidence there is. Lord Swinton had made no agreement which justifies that statement. The Prime Minister of New. Zealand said that Australia and New Zealand stood for the control and operation of international air trunk-routes by an international authority which would own the aircraft and equipment. Lord Swinton did not make an agreement of that character. He did not think every nation would approve of that, but he considered that it should be aimed at as the greatest force for friendship that could be devised. If the international ownership idea failed to advance, international control would still be striven for. As an alternative they would be prepared to support an Imperial system of air trunk-routes owned and operated by the British and Dominion Governments. That is where Australia and New Zealand stand, but it is not what the Government stands for and it is not the policy which has been declared, though secretly, and which will, I suppose, soon be embodied in the White Paper. What is the policy? I have the minutes of the meeting which was held with the independent operators. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where did the hon. Member get them from?"] The newspapers had it, and there have been many references in the Press as to what has happened before the House has had a chance of knowing the policy of the Government.
There are to be three separate units in some vast tripartite concern. The first will compose the Empire and trans-Atlantic air services, comprising the B.O.A.C. in partnership with certain shipping companies on certain routes. That is the only case where the B.O.A.C. has predominance. The South and possibly Central American, West Indies and Caribbean areas are to be combined and to be operated by shipping companies serving those areas with the B.O.A.C. holding a minority interest. Thirdly, the civil air routes in the United Kingdom and in Europe, comprising the interests of the railway companies, the short shipping lines and independent operators of prewar services—the B.O.A.C. would be given a substantial though not a controlling financial interest—and tramp steamship companies also are expected to participate. That means that Civil Aviation is to be run by steamship and railway companies. The dominant power, financial and operative, is now to be vested in steamship and railway companies, for they are to be given monopoly powers. One of the answers of Lord Swinton to those who raised the question whether goodwill should be paid out was: "No, there will be no payment for goodwill, because there is monopoly power granted." He actually used that expression. The Minister is to approve the board of directors, who are to be solely responsible for operation and management, and Government control over all lines of aviation policy is to be established. That is defined and, when we come to the definition, we find that it means simply conformation to the policy of the International Convention or bilateral or multilateral agreement—in other words, Chicago.
That is all that the Government have to deal with—the question of order in the air and certain questions of the avoidance of competition, mainly for the benefit of railway and steamship companies. The European company is to have the power to form joint operating companies in Europe and to enter into pooling arrangements with foreign companies. An international company might be formed in Europe to operate services in and to Germany and the Government might have an interest in such a company. The terms upon which the Government desire interests to participate have been fully acceptable to those who were consulted, but those so far consulted were the steamship and railway companies before the independent operators were called together. That kind of consultation, before the House has the faintest notion of what is being done on Civil Aviation or anything else, is very objectionable and I and my party protest against it.
I have said twice that what has been done is common property. It is the property of the newspapers, and I have the minutes of the meeting at which Lord Swinton addressed the independent operators. I feel justified in raising this question beforehand because, when the White Paper comes out, it will be regarded as a settlement and certain dispositions will have been made. Look at the shares of the railway and shipping companies. Look at the fact that there is one independent company which has already, on the basis of the Government plan, sold out to the railways. If these dispositions can be made before the House is consulted, we are going far towards the corporate State and a set-up which is certainly not of a democratic character.
The Minister of Aircraft Production some weeks ago announced that the Minister for Civil Aviation had, with the approval of his colleagues, initiated talks with certain interests. The House was informed of that some time before. There has been no secret deal. Confidential talks have taken place as a result of which a White Paper is in course of preparation. It will be published in a few days and the House can express its opinion when the opportunity arises.
My point is that some of these interests have been told what the Government policy is. No one objects to consultation after the House knows what is the policy of the Government. There is very good reason for it. But here the policy has been set out and declared. It has not been a question of asking the interests concerned whether they will agree to this, that or the other, unless that was the case with the railway and shipping companies. They have done a deal with the Government, and every other interest concerned has simply been informed of the fact afterwards. The European internal company will have an authorised capital probably of £5,000,000. This may all be in the White Paper when it comes. We are ignorant of what it is to contain. We know nothing at all about the White Paper. I have seen the outside of it, but I have not had a chance of reading it. But, whatever may he inside it, no statement of policy ought to be declared until it is declared to the House of Commons. In the previous Debate there was no indication of this kind of policy with regard to the railway and shipping companies.
I have just seen that it is in existence. It was not given me to read at all. Naturally, it is confidential until it comes to the House of Commons. I am not betraying any confidence. The Government could not offer independent operators a large interest, but they might participate if they wished up to five per cent. of the authorised capital, with no guarantee of representation on the Board. They could invest as independent units or as an entity. In other words, they could buy shares. I am not concerned about the independent operators as such. I do not believe in independent operation. I think this ought to be a public concern and have nothing to do with private enterprise at all. But some of these people have been pioneers and have sacrificed a great deal in the early days for civil aviation and they simply have this scheme flung at them without any chance of even expressing their views other than on a fait accompli.
I am sorry to rely upon newspaper evidence, but perhaps it is not far from correct. One newspaper said that the railway companies are to have 50 per cent. interest, the shipping companies 25 to 30 per cent. and B.O.A.C. the remainder, except for the 5 per cent. that the independent operators may happen to invest. That is a scandal. We are going to hand over Civil Aviation, internal and as far as the Empire is concerned, to the railroad and shipping companies.
What is the motive behind the railway and shipping companies? It is blazoned in the history of those industries—the railways, in particular. It always has been, in the case of canals and road haulage and everything else, to do away with and to smother competition with their own interests. The argument is that these people have had a great amount of experience in transport. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) on Friday spoke of fabricated pips in raspberry jam. It seems to me that the independent operators are getting the pips or, if another figure of speech may be used, they have been "sold a pup." So you may have pips or pups, whichever you like. In America it is illegal for the proprietors of surface transport of any kind, railways, shipping or anything else, to take part in civil aviation. The Civil Aeronautics Board under the Department of Commerce, which is equal to our Board of Trade, has always resisted the mingling of air and surface transport interests. There were two notable cases in their refusal to allow Pan-American Airways to join forces with the Matson Line on the San Francisco-Honolulu route and their ruling that American Export Shipping lines must renounce any financial interest and control of American export air lines. I do not think anyone can say that Civil Aviation in America is going behind as the result of that policy. America is dead set against the participation of shipping and railway interests, and yet we are following the course I have prescribed.
This idea that railway and shipping companies have vast experience in transport is "all my eye and Betty Martin." Pepys, in his Diary, refers to one of the earlier strikes. He went out one morning and found that he could not take a barge from the City to Westminster because the watermen of the Thames had struck work as a protest against the new-fangled hackney coaches. The watermen of the Thames of those days had as much right to talk about transport experience in respect of hackney coaches as the railway and shipping companies have in respect
of Civil Aviation. What they are after, of course, is a subsidy. They want the State to guarantee them against competition, and to guarantee them without any risk to themselves by means of State subsidies. Does anybody deny that? Major Mayo, who is the technical adviser to the Eastern group of Shipping Companies and Shipping Air Lines Ltd., wrote an article in the "Shipping World" in which he "blew the gaff." He said:
We must face up to the hard fact that in the very case where air transport can offer the greatest benefit to the travellers—the case where the saving of time is greatest—the economic fare level will be too high for the large majority of potential passengers. If, therefore, it is decided as a matter of State policy that long-distance air travel must be brought within the reach of a reasonably wide public, there must be some form of direct or indirect subsidisation for the passenger component of the traffic. Particular services may show exceptional characteristics, but there is no escaping the two fundamentals that the cost per capacity-ton-mile increases with stage length"—
that is because if you have to have a lot of gas you cannot have passenger freights—
and that the ability of the public to pay an economic fare decreases as the total distance increases.
That is what these companies are after, just as what they have been after in the whole history of this country is to get State support to safeguard their interests against any competition from outside. That is all their concern about aviation. We do not forget, and I am sure the Secretary of State does not forget, the attempted blackmail on the part of the railway companies with regard to the travel agencies. They put a pistol to their heads, and said: "You will get no advantage from us unless you agree to a monopoly of our air services." That is the spirit and background of the railway companies in respect of aviation.
Hon. Members have said that the Labour Party's policy has been altered. It has not been altered at all. The newspaper with which the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) is associated made a statement last week-end that this arrangement was a compromise between the Socialist Party and the Government. I can assure the House that it is nothing of the kind. If it were such a compromise, I for one would denounce it. The Labour Party has always stood for public enterprise. The kind of public enterprise that some people stand for is a slight participation of B.O.A.C. in a set up of that character. It means monopoly. It means prefabrication, back stairs influences and a game of poker, with the national interests and world peace as counters. We of the Labour Party denounce that policy, and I make no apology for raising the question again under the new circumstances, which indicate that things are very dangerous for the future not only of civil aviation but of the constitutional liberties of this country.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) into the controversial field of Civil Aviation. Unlike him, I have not even had the privilege of seeing the outside of the draft of the White Paper. I do not agree with all that he said, but it may be that after we have seen what is in the White Paper hon. Members may be able to speak with greater knowledge of the true position. I want to follow the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He could this year speak with real pride of the achievements of the Royal Air Force, and I feel that his speech gave the House some knowledge and meaning of the place and importance of air power in modem warfare. He was able to give us striking examples from practically every theatre to prove the great versatility of the men of the air. I was interested when he referred to the sinking of the "Tirpitz" by two squadrons of Bomber Command under Wing-Commander Tait. It was a great achievement, and I feel that it should cause us to think on the various functions of our Forces after the war arid as to which are to be the best offensive and the best defensive weapons. One of the most interesting comparisons has been afforded by the recent big American naval battles in the Pacific against the Japanese. We read of large numbers of big and small vessels being sunk, and a more detailed analysis of the reports shows that practically every one of the ships was sunk by air power.
We have seen, too, the use of air power in evading the submarine menace. The submarine menace has been handled from two sides—from the air and from the sea. I should like to hear in the reply some statement which would give a comparison of the number of sightings and sinkings which have been made by surface craft and by aircraft. The House should know that, because we have to assess the relative importance of these two services when we come to-the question of allocation of power after the war. We have seen other good examples of the use of air power. In Burma striking work is being done by our Tactical Air Force. I believe that so great is their accuracy that they are entrusted with work much nearer to our front line than our own artillery. We have seen this year, too, some of the great preparations for offensives which have been made by the Air Forces. The Italian offensive before Cassino was opened by one of the greatest programmes of railway and road interdiction that there has ever been. Bridge after bridge was destroyed, and roads, railways and tunnels were blocked so that the supply of the German armies was an impossibility and the offensive work of our Armies was made much easier. We saw the same thing in France. We saw the real value of the great strategic offensive which had been waged by our own Bomber Command and by the 8th and 15th American Air Forces. It was then that we began to reap the real benefit of the tremendous work of destruction which had been done upon the German armaments industry. In February of last year we had done so much damage to the German aircraft industry that it could not muster air power to lay against our own forces as they were landing on D-Day and after, and they had nothing to send to this country to smash up the great bases from which we were launching this offensive. That work of strategical offence against lines of communication has made so very much possible.
I think, too, of the flexibility of our forces when we realise that from this country we can go right across to the far side of Europe and play our part in the Russian offensive by attacking and disorganising the German communications ahead of the Russian Armies. I was interested when the Secretary of State spoke of the great work that is done on supply. The dropping programmes of the Royal Air Force have been one of the outstanding contributions of the war. Not only have they helped our own armies in the field, but have made possible the great successes of the partisan movements over the whole of Europe. In air power we have a real war-winning weapon, and it is our overwhelming air superiority which has made so much of our success in the field possible. I cannot help thinking of a remark made by General Eaker, the Allied Air Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, a month or so ago, when he said, "I wonder what the position would have been if the Germans had had the same overwhelming air superiority instead of us." It would, indeed, have been very different indeed.
Air superiority has been a war-winning weapon, and I believe that in this war it has been the greatest factor. How are we to make use of it in the future? In the event of any future war we will have to consider, in addition to air power, a new factor, weapon power. What is to happen with the development of the flying bomb and the rocket. Who is to have the responsibility for looking after this matter? Obviously, we must have research into these new weapons. Will it be one of the responsibilities of the Air Force, or is it to be left to someone else? If so, to whom? I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us something about the post-war organisation of the Royal Air Force. I believe that we can use our air power for the preservation of peace, but peace through air power can only he achieved if we are ready for action on the day that the emergency arises. It will not do if our preparations are such that we can only be ready some six months later. The moment the sore spot appears our forces must come into action, and in that way prevent a large war from developing.
Coming to the immediate future, I would like to know what part air power will play in the occupation of Germany. The occupation of Germany can call for very large forces, and my plea is that we should not lock up unnecessarily manpower in Germany. The men want to come back, and we need them for the reconstruction of our country and for the resumption of the ordinary everyday activities of the people. We ought to do the occupational job in Germany in the most economical way possible, and that is where the Air Force can come in. Our military Government must know what is going on and they must watch the people of Germany. Cannot we use the Air Force as the eyes of the occupational authorities? They have done wonderful work on photo-reconnaissance throughout the war. In spite of enemy fighters and flak, we have been flying over Germany and occupied territory day after day, bringing back photographs which now have such minute details that our interpreters can tell exactly what is going on. When we occupy Germany will these aircraft continue to do that work? They will be able to get their pictures much easier and better, for there will be no flak or fighters to impede them. They should be able to give a complete photographic report of what goes on in Germany. Then, when a sore spot arises we shall have our offensive weapons in the air which can remove it quickly and well.
There will be a large number of personnel who will be redundant with the end of the war in Germany. Many of them would like to stay in the Forces in some capacity. In the Royal Air Force now there is a great wealth of brain power and administrative experience. Will it be open for Royal Air Force officers to take their part in the administration of Germany during the next few years, or will these positions be given exclusively to those who are under the governing power of the Army?
On a long-term policy for the future, I want to be sure that shall move with the times. I would like to have an assurance that we shall give the greatest possible backing to the "back-room boys", both now and after the war. We cannot spend too much money on research. The Germans have been very smart about it and it has done wonders for them, particularly in regard to jet fighters, V.1, and V.2 and numerous other weapons. We must get ahead with the times. Let us not praise the back-room boys in war only, but back them up, so that they can continue their job. There are many things which we can develop and great work lies ahead for those men.
Will the character of our Air Force change very much after the war? What steps are we to take for the purpose of recruiting its strength? No doubt regular recruits will come along, both conscript and voluntary, but wherever possible we shall retain the voluntary character of our Air Force. There are masses of boys in the country who go into the A.T.C. because they want to join the Air Force of the future. When they have given their time voluntarily in that way can we not give them some guarantee that they will have an opportunity to play their part in the Royal Air Force? Are we going to develop our staff colleges? We shall have three types of people serving in the Royal Air Force—the short-term people who come in under conscription; the long-term people who want to make it their career; then, presumably, we shall also have medium-term men, such as we had in peace time, consisting of volunteers. We have to make the Service attractive to them. We want them to know that the time spent in the Service will be a help and not a hindrance to them in their future careers. Let us find out what sort of career those people want in the future, and assist them to train for it while they are in the Service. Let people know that we train the best engineers, the best motor mechanics as well as pilots, that our radio men and administrators are of the finest quality, and that men can go straight from the Air Force into industry. Can we not link up our Service with industry, commerce. the professions and even the Civil Service so that it become a well-known fact that a man can go from the medium-term service of the R.A.F. into any one of those occupations, for his training has been good and takes him right ahead into whatever kind of life he chooses?
During the war we have seen the greatest example of co-operation that there ever has been among the peoples of the world. There is a sort of comradeship of men of the air. The vast open spaces of the air know no national boundary at all. It has been my privilege to serve not only with British colleagues but with Belgian, French, Dutch, Norwegian and many other nationalities, all in the common service of the Royal Air Force. We also have had in our own country the great American Air Force and we have seen how we can work with them and have formed a real friendship. Is it going to be possible for us to retain this friendly atmosphere? I hope we do not lose it, but will develop the friendship now existing among the nations and will try to see that, after the war, British, Continental and American Forces continue to mix.
A very good suggestion has been made in another place. Could we not, after the war, appoint training airfields in this country to be available for visits from squadrons, say from France, Holland, Belgium or Norway? In the same way they would appoint some of their airfields to be available for our visiting squadrons so that it could be part of our flying training to go from one country to another and renew our friendships. While there they can then exchange experiences; and that can only be for the good. It ought to be possible, without too much red-tape. The squadrons should move following arrangements between commanding officers. The air crews should only need written authority from their commanding officer and their uniform would be their passport. This happens regularly in war time; why not in peace time too? If our airmen simply fly up and down this country they do not get anything like the kind of experience they need. Could we not have regional agreements for visits along these lines in North-Western Europe with our many Allies, in the Middle East with Russia, in the Pacific with the United States of America?
We have developed a great deal of common organisation among our Forces during the war. Cannot we make an agreement for the continuation of this? We should have common regulations about aerodromes and landing procedure. We should use the same forms of signalling and radio procedure. Though types of aircraft may vary cannot we have certain standard equipment in our aircraft such as guns and ammunition, so that in an emergency one country could make good the deficiency of another? Let us agree to continue the exchange of information and ideas with our friends as freely as we have done during the war. Let us exchange both students and lecturers among our staff colleges. Let selected American and Allied officers attend our staff colleges so that we in turn may be invited to theirs. Let us develop our Air Force on practical lines in cooperation with our friends. We have in our hands great power. Let us use it well.
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken made some extremely interesting suggestions regarding the future, and on the question of liaison between ourselves and our present and future Allies, as well as on air policy. Generally speaking, I know of nobody in this House better qualified than my hon. Friend to make suggestions of that kind, because of his very fine record of service as a liaison officer in this war. He done a very good job in that capacity in looking after one of our Allies, and any suggestion that he makes regarding the future is well deserving of consideration.
There are one or two points on which I should like a reply from the Minister when he winds up the Debate. It was very interesting to hear the Secretary of State make that wonderful and eloquent review of Air Force activities for the past year. It brought my mind back to the days of 1939 and 1940 when I was associated with that gallant Service. Comparing the position now with the situation in which we were then, it is evident that a great change, almost a revolution, has taken place. To-day we are in such a position as regards manpower that the Service is able to cut down the number of air crews training. The drop is because casualties were not as heavy as was expected. We all welcomed that news. But it is a great disappointment to many people that men of the Empire Air Training Scheme have been told that there is no place for them in the future of the Royal Air Force. I know it is a bitter disappointment to these young men. The Air Training Corps, who hoped to be absorbed into the Royal Air Force, have also been told that their services will no longer be needed. I know they have put in very hard work. Many of them work in the factories and give their week-ends to training, and they have reached a very high state of efficiency. It is a pity they should have to be told that they are not to be absorbed into the R.A.F. I understand that it depends upon the allocation of manpower, which the R.A.F. are allowed.
I should like to know whether the prisoners of war who are in Germany and other places will be given an opportunity to volunteer for the regular Air Force. I know that one or two of my former colleagues are prisoners of war, and they are rather disturbed about this point, and are very anxious that they should be given a chance to serve in the R.A.F. I think that they should be given at least an equal chance with anybody else.
Then there is the question of the absorption of all those people who are redundant for operations to-day. Their services should be utilised to the utmost, and there I see an opportunity in Transport Command. On this subject of Transport Command, I would like to ask one or two questions. It has been laid down already that until such time as civil aviation can take its proper place and undertake its future functions, until it has aircraft, until, at any rate, the war in Europe is over, the R.A.F. must carry on a great deal of the work formerly done by the B.O.A.C. To-day a great many passengers are being carried by Transport Command. I admit they are all priority passengers, but a great number of people are being transported who used to be carried by civil air services. I have made criticisms on more than one occasion previously, and have pointed out the importance and necessity of having decent services on the ground for looking after passengers. That is where we have failed in the past, and that is where our American competitors in Civil Aviation have always excelled. I have travelled a great many thousands of miles on Pan-American Airway services. Their ground facilities for looking after passengers are first-class. We have not altogether failed in that direction. In many places we have even exceeded the service of our competitors, but, on the whole, our services have not been up to the standard they should have attained. We have not devoted to that aspect of Civil Aviaion the attention we should have given it.
I have had an opportunity of seeing one or two or more of the staging posts that have been set up by Transport Command in liberated countries such as France, Belgium and Greece, and I was not at all pleased or happy about some of them. In cases where the officer in charge was keen, and took an interest in his branch of the service, and where perhaps he had an eye to the future and aspirations as a transport operator, you generally found he put up a pretty good show. But I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary that one or two of his transport staging posts require attention immediately. I mention one, Marseilles East, which he has probably heard about. There, I admit, the situation is difficult. The Germans sabotaged everything they could when they pulled out. They sabotaged everything on the aerodrome. They left the "Rathal" that I gather was still flourishing up to the last moment of their departure; they did not blow that up, but the water supply, the hangars, the electric lighting and that sort of thing were destroyed by the Germans before they pulled out. There has since been time, however, to have had those things put right. A great many passengers are put down there, and they ought to have better accomodation than is there to-day. When the Prime Minister goes abroad to various conferences, he has large parties following him, women secretaries and other people, who have to travel in very awkward circumstances sometimes, and when they are put down at a place like Marseilles East they are shocked and horrified to find what discomfort they have to put up with; and it is not necessary. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will assure me that action is being taken in that particular case.
I shall not try to make a dissertation to-day on Civil Aviation. Unlike my hon. Friend who spoke for the Labour Party, I have not had access to these secret documents to which he referred. Quite frankly, I cannot see how we are expected to debate this question to-day, because as far as I am concerned, although I have seen some newspaper reports, I have also seen newspaper denials of those reports. It is an extraordinary situation that an hon. Member of the experience of my hon. Friend should speak for the Labour Party, and embark upon a personal attack on a Minister, and quote secret minutes that have come into his possession. I do not intend to follow him, but I would like to know the source from which his information has come.
thought that the last Debate on civil Aviation did authorise the Minister to take steps to negotiate with people who are concerned with Civil Aviation, or who wish to be concerned with it. The Minister was appointed for that purpose—to negotiate with interested parties and to formulate a policy for Civil Aviation. I gather that that is about all he has been trying to do.
I was here and took part in the Debate, and I and every other speaker suggested that Lord Swinton should take action with regard to a policy for civil aviation. That is why I understand he was appointed as Minister.
I fail to see why an hon. Member should come to the House to-day and accuse the Minister of some nefarious practices, and of treating this House of Commons with contempt in not revealing his policy before it was revealed to the general public. I should be very surprised if Lord Swinton gave his White Paper secrets to the Press before they went before the Cabinet. Yet we are led to believe from the hon. Member's speech that is what did happen. I would like to know, from whoever answers for the Government, what are the real facts. For my part I am quite happy to wait until the White Paper is published in a few days' time. Then let us have a Debate. But meantime let us steer away from that discussion to-day. We do not want it mixed up with the proud and splendid record of the Royal Air Force in the past years. Let us deal in this Debate with matters outside Civil Aviation. We have also the question of the A.T.C. to consider on an Amendment to that Motion, and I should have thought that was enough to occupy us for one day. I have asked a few questions and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will he able to give the replies to them before the Debate closes.
I agree with the line taken by my hon. and gallant Friend on the question of Civil Aviation. I think all we have had is intelligent anticipation from the newspapers about what is likely to be contained in the White Paper, which I understand is to be published in the next two or three days. I asked the Leader of the House when he announced this Debate would take place, whether he could arrange for the White Paper to be published by now. I think he has had some difficulties which perhaps not anticipate, and we have not got it. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote an item from "The Times" of this morning, a telegram from Washington, on this question of civil aviation, for the Government to bear in mind in the event of the possibility of their changing what has been understood. It says:
The United States Department of Justice is opposed to single-company operation of American international air transport.…
The Department also opposes the ownership or control of air lines by companies controlling other forms of transport.
I have advocated, probably almost
ad nauseam to this House—[Interruption]—I am sorry, but the hon. Member has similarly advocated a policy which to my mind is most dangerous. My advocacy was against the railway companies or shipping companies having anything to do with the running of this service. I wish the Government would bear in mind that the dominant consideration should be the interests of the consumer and not the interests of the operator. I have every fear as to the contents of the White Paper because of the Conservative domination of the present Government. I would like to say, as I did in my last speech on this question, that I hope the Leader of the Labour Party and other Members of the Labour Party who are in the Government, will not endorse a policy which is in conflict with the policy of the Labour Party, as endorsed by annual conferences. This is one of the problems which arise when a Coalition Government, formed to wage the war, goes into questions of postwar reconstruction. I will not say anything further about that subject, because I think the Leader of the House will give us a Debate on civil aviation soon after the publication of the White Paper.
I have a Question on the Order Paper for to-morrow to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Aircraft Production to the following effect:
To ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, as representing the Ministry of Civil Aviation, whether he is satisfied that the condition as to using the Shannon in the air agreement signed between Eire and the U.S.A. is not inconsistent with the Air Transit Agreement signed at Chicago.
As he is answering the Question tomorrow perhaps I might make a little clearer what is in my mind in asking that Question. Unfortunately the hon. Member does not quite know what are the full implications. I am trying to help the Parliamentary Secretary, arid also perhaps to save supplementary questions. There is a report of the full text of this Eire-U.S.A. Agreement in the "Irish Independent" of 5th February, and the main point is the grant of reciprocal rights to air transport operators to fly over land for technical purposes, and the right of commercial entry, for the purposes of international traffic, in Eire, on routes from the U.S.A. to Eire and places beyond, in both directions. It is a condition of the
agreement that on such routes the Shannon must be used as the first port of arrival in Europe, and the last port of departure from Europe. The hon. Members for Scottish constituencies who have been talking about the importance of Prestwick might be interested in this particular point. There is no definition of the "right of commercial entry for purposes of international traffic," but presumably it means the third, fourth and fifth freedoms. The same phrase has been used in the other recent bilateral agreements made between the United States and Sweden and other countries. The condition as to using the Shannon is most remarkable. I allege it is inconsistent with the Air Transit Agreement—the two freedoms—signed by the U.S.A. at Chicago, but not by Eire. And there is a preamble to it, as if it were excusing this defection on the ground that it is needed for fuel economy in the present stage of aeronautics. I hope that by to-morrow my hon. Friend will be able to take advice, so that he will be able to answer the question—about which I have some doubts. [Interruption.] It is not possible to explain everything in a Parliamentary question.
Would it not be better to leave this matter until to-morrow? These are Air Ministry Estimates, and, while agreements between the United States and Southern Ireland may have some relation to the Estimates, to go into them at great length would seem to be going rather beyond the actual Estimates themselves.
With great respect, I do not quite see why that is so. The Minister for Civil Aviation, whose salary is being voted under these Estimates, so far as I can gather from a footnote to the White Paper, resisted, on behalf of this country, something that Eire has done, by entering into an agreement with the United States. That is a matter which I think should be brought to the notice of the House and of the Minister for Civil Aviation. I will say no more on the question of Civil Aviation.
Slowly coming to the Air Force, perhaps I might ask my right hon. Friend a question about Transport Command. He, as much as anyone else in this House, deplores what seems to be a series of unfortunate accidents recently, for which Transport Command is responsible. I think that this question is important. To what extent do pilots who are taken off operations and put on Transport Command go through a conversion course? I am informed by friends of mine, who have certain experience, that, for instance, aircraft when taking off consume petrol, in certain cases, at something like 240 gallons an hour. Unless the pilot is experienced, and does something about it, he will go on consuming petrol at that rate, with the result that he will empty his tanks, although normally that petrol would have carried him over the whole journey that he had instructions to fly.
I had the temerity to interrupt my right hon. Friend's very illuminating review, which I am sure was very interesting to the House and will be read outside with great appreciation. I was trying to put before him a view which I find is shared, it may be ignorantly, by many people, about this question of our air superiority over Germany. Two points are involved. We are told that we have complete air supremacy. Yet General Eisenhower said, not long ago, that it would be. his object to try to destroy the Germans West of the Rhine, without letting them cross the Rhine. Here we have magnificent fighting men on the land and first-class fighting men in the air, and yet Rundstedt is able to get a great proportion of his troops back across the Rhine. Whether some crossed by the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne I am not sure, but it seems, by the Press this morning, that a great proportion were able to get across the river by barges. Very much in the public mind is the question of why it was possible for Rundstedt to evacuate so many of his troops across the Rhine, when we have this air supremacy.
Nobody has greater admiration than Members of this House for the brilliance and bravery of the men in the R.A.F., particularly the pilots, bombers, and other members of aircrews. They have been bombing Germany for years. The right hon. Gentleman said that from 1941 it was decided to go in for wholesale bombing. He also said that they were bombing with deadly accuracy. I am not trying to be awkward, but to ask a question to which I think the public will appreciate an answer. We remember our eight months in London. We remember the nights in Coventry, and the many nights in Birmingham, Plymouth, Hull, and so on, when whole townships were very considerably upset. Our bombing, the right hon. Gentleman has said, has been on something like 50 times as great a scale, and it has been going on for four or five years.
I did not say that it was on 50 times the scale of the German attack. That may be true, but I have not calculated that. I said that I believed we were hitting Germany about 50 times as hard as we were in 1941.
The point is that people would like to know why this great resistance is being put up by the German people. Are their factories, to a large extent, below ground; or have they been moved farther West; or have they shelter such as we never had in this country? I am just asking for information. I think the public would be interested to know why they are able to put up with this tremendous thrashing, which is taking place almost every hour of the 24.
There is another matter which I have raised before. I would like the right hon. Gentleman, as head of the Air Council, to tell us exactly why he keeps advising the Home Secretary to continue the blackout. I raised this matter once on the Adjournment—it was a very short Adjournment, because I was not able to start until something like 14 minutes past six, because of the Division; and I let the Home Secretary have the same time as I took myself. Do the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers believe that bomber pilots rely on anything but navigational aid? Does he believe that lighting on the ground is any assistance to them at all? He shakes his head, and I believe he agrees that it is not.
I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would say whether the Air Council are still so convinced about this. I am told that at 1,500 feet the hall-blackout which is now allowed and the street lighting which is now allowed are quite visible to pilots, and I am also told that the pilots do not depend at all on lights. I am assured that any person who has had any training at all in flying can find London with the very greatest ease. I believe that the great mass of the people of London, and of other parts of the country, would be quite prepared to take it. We had a perfect blackout from 1939 to May, 1941.
I am asking him to explain why his Council are giving the Home-Secretary this advice. The right hon. Gentleman said to-day, and the Home Secretary referred to the matter in an earlier statement, that Heinkels are releasing V.1's from the air, and that if the Heinkel pilot can see London, it makes his job much easier. I am told that there is no truth in that, and that any pilot flying from Germany or Holland knows exactly the direction in which he is going, and where London is, and that, in any case, lights do not make the slightest difference. I will not pursue that matter any further, but this is the gentleman who advises that the country should remain in a state of perpetual darkness. I think it is time he put an end to this policy of strength through misery.
I hope that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). will forgive me if I do not follow him into what is to happen at Question Time tomorrow. I want to go back to the speech of the Secretary of State, and to say how. very much we all appreciate the story which the right hon. Gentleman had to tell. One category of the Royal Air Force has not had the full recognition that it deserves. That category is the crew of the bomber. I believe that fighter work must indeed be great fun, like fox-hunting, where you are out by yourself on your good horse. But when you come to bombing in cold blood sitting for four or five hours, in a narrow, uncomfortable cockpit or rear-gun turret, with your heart certainly anywhere but near its proper place, that is indeed one of the most difficult moral performances that anybody has to face in this war. I know a good many of these men. I live in an area surrounded by bomber stations, and I can see that they get weary. It is not a physical weariness; it is a mental weariness. But they go on, and they only say, "Well, it is part of the day's work." One man to whom I was talking last week had done four raids on Germany in three days, and even then he did not get a rest. We owe a great debt to these men, which has never been fully paid. I would like to pay my contribution towards it.
Another point, to which my right hon. Friend referred, is the contribution of the Dominions to the war effort. He did lift a corner of the veil this morning, but I fear in a somewhat introductory capacity. I hope to address myself to that particular subject, because, had my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) met with an accident, I might have had the pleasure of moving an Amendment to that effect, but, fortunately, my hon. Friend has survived, and so I am prohibited from doing so. It is of particular interest to me as Member for Ripon to discuss the question of the Dominions Air Forces' contribution to the war effort, for it is to my constituency that air crews returning from the air training scheme, or a large number of them, are first sent on their return, and we know large numbers of them, although acquaintance is very short lived. Secondly, one of our greatest and most generous Dominions has a very large formation also located in part, at any rate, of my constituency, and I had the pleasure, the other day, of going to a British Council party where I met Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians and men from Trinidad and numerous other parts of the Empire, gathered together in a party with a large number of men of the Allied Nations. It was, indeed, a cosmopolitan assembly. Therefore, we in Ripon do know a great deal about the contribution which the Dominions have made to the Royal Air Force.
I think their contribution can be divided into three parts. First, there are the men and the planes. My right hon. Friend gave us an idea of the numbers who had been through the air training scheme, but I would ask if it is not time now to give us, first, some information upon the actual members engaged, at any rate, in the early part of the war upon operational and ground duties and, secondly, information upon the planes which our Dominions have turned out. With regard to the planes, I believe that their main contribution has been that of bombers, and I hope that we might have more details that would show how great their contribution has been in regard to this. Of course, some Dominions have had not such a glorious role as others, but have been making trainer planes rather than bombers. Nevertheless, the whole Empire has been working, in one way and another, towards the main war effort, and I feel it is time that this country and the other members of the Empire knew the contribution made by each part.
The second main category is that of training facilities. No one will deny the tremendous success of the Empire Air Training Scheme to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. There can be no doubt that this has had a far-reaching effect on the war effort. It has had, moreover, a wider and more permanent effect. We see our friends and relations going off to South Africa or Canada, or wherever else they go, getting to know the people who live there, and enlarging their knowledge of the Empire. Similarly, we see the men from the Empire getting to know a great deal more about us, which is of equal importance. Of all the men to whom I have talked, who have gone from this country into the Empire Air Training Scheme, I do not think there is one who has not expressed the idea that he would like to go back to the country in which he was trained for the Royal Air Force. There is, however, a danger in that, for we can ill afford the large number of men involved. Nevertheless, if migration is required, and if it is encouraged as it should be encouraged, then we know that the men who will go first will be those who were trained in the Empire Air Training Scheme. I understand that this scheme is now on the decrease, as it must be. I hope that we may now have a great deal more detail, and, perhaps, one of those well-illustrated publications which the Ministry of Information issues, showing not only the bare bones of the work but the countries in which these men lived. It would be a valuable contribution towards Empire unity. My final plea, on this point, is that these air training schemes should not be closed. I believe that there is work for them to do yet and I hope it will be possible to keep them going.
The third point is in regard to hospitality. I think this country owes a very deep debt of gratitude to the Dominions for the way in which they have accepted and shown hospitality to the men sent to them. I know that Canada is always receiving great praise from hon. Members of this House, but the way in which these men of ours have been entertained, shown the country and, generally looked after, while in Canada is, indeed, of a high order, and there is no man to whom I have spoken, who has not expressed the highest praise for the Canadians, both in their war effort and in the kindness of their hearts.
There have been great results from this help, and I think we can draw certain lessons from it. The first, and perhaps the greatest, is that the Empire Air Forces are one co-ordinated air force. I believe that, now, they are as closely interwoven as the various Navies of the Empire were before the war, and, in air staff, inter-dependence, strategy and tactics and in every conceivable way, they are almost one single force. I believe another lesson to be learned from it is that, however great the effort of the Dominions may be, the main responsibility does lie and always will lie with this country, and we must see to it that we carry it out a great deal more thoroughly than we have done in the past. The hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool (Wing-Commander Robinson) touched upon the question of research and development being co-ordinated with our Allies. I see great historic difficulties in that, particularly with our Allies in Europe, but I feel that these activities should be co-ordinated completely so far as the Empire is concerned, and that, although we will have to bear the main weight, the contribution of the rest of the Empire should be encouraged and utilised.
A third lesson is that of the co-ordination of training. I am completely convinced, as I think most hon. Members of this House must be, that the continuation of this co-ordination is vital. Instructors should be interchangeable, so that you might have a British instructor in Australia, or a South African instructor in Canada. War planes and training planes might well be standardised, as, indeed, their equipment should be, and I hope that the Empire Air Training scheme will be continued, even if it is on a reduced scale. I go one stage further than that and ask if there is any reason why, considering the difficulties of air training in this country, all operational training should not take place in the wider stretches of the Empire rather than in this country. We know what a great advantage it has been to the Air Force trainees, for instance, in Canada, to know that they were able to exercise over vast open spaces, whereas, in this country, training is carried on at the expense of a great number of accidents. Though those accidents may be unavoidable, there is no doubt that, in the less densely populated countries of the Empire training could be done very much better and more safely.
My final point is in regard to the interchange of squadrons. I see no reason why British squadrons should not he stationed in the various Dominions and Colonies and in India, and, similarly, why Empire squadrons should not be stationed in this country. The results of all this integration and co-ordination, must be to strengthen the ties of empire, and it must help understanding of the great underlying motives of all air defence—the security of the Empire. It must also help in Empire Civil Aviation, because, although the use of pilots and crews for civilian aircraft is not as easy as it looks upon the surface, yet all the equipment and ground staff, radio-location outfits and all the other matters connected with running Civil Aviation, are so closely connected with training in the Royal Air Force, that it cannot but have a very great effect upon civil flying within the Empire.
I have, as I think we all have on this side of the House, a very deep sense of our role of Empire. I believe that we should use every means within our power to continue that unity and cohesion. I feel that we should bend the stern necessities of war to the wider and more permanent aspects of the matter and help on that duty of girdling the world with peace-loving and freedom-loving nations. I believe that the Empire Air Forces are the modern instrument to carry that out, and I call upon the Government to give a lead to that policy.
I was very glad that the Minister paid a tribute to the contribution which the Dominions have made to our great air training schemes. To the right hon. Gentleman's tributes to them, and to the work of our own men, I wish to add my humble voice. If the Minister will not think me very personal in saying so, I do not think his speech did justice to the epic story which he had to tell. I am sorry to join issue with him on this deplorable habit which is growing up of Ministers at that Box reading their speeches. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman, when he sat on this side of the House, make the most eloquent speeches for an almost interminable time with only half a sheet of paper. When he has a glorious story to tell, he comes down to-the House and reads us a lecture which he might just as well have had published beforehand and circulated to the House. I think this is an abominable habit and ought to be protested against on every possible occasion. In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred to the 10,000 casualties which have been sustained by Bomber Command. In the failing to which I refer he is not alone. It seems that other Service Ministers are also deplorably inadequate. They give us figures of deaths and wounds—I saw great squads of young flying men in South Wales hopping about on one leg—but they never offer one word of sympathy or compassion to the families who have been bereaved, or who have wounded sons and daughters, as the case may be. It seems to me that that ought to be their first consideration.
The Secretary of State for Air went on to talk about the war against Japan. I have often wondered whether sufficiently adequate preparations have been made for that war. I suppose it must be obvious to everybody who has considered the situation that the war against Japan, in the main, will be a naval war. I am mindful of the shortages which we had at the beginning of the war, of what were termed dive-bombers. I suppose the American Navy will play the preponderant part in that war, but I would like some assurance from the Minister—having regard to the shortages which we heard about at the beginning of the war—that when the battles are in progress, we shall find our Navy equipped with adequate dive-bombers. I know he may say that that is a subject for the Admiralty Estimates to-morrow, but the Air Ministry comes into it as well.
Recently I had the great privilege of getting out of this country—I must not call it a lunatic asylum, otherwise there will be more confusion. I am talking about the country and not the House of Commons. As a result of my visit abroad I want to pay a tribute to the spirit of the airmen, to their unfailing courtesy and the help which they are always prepared to render to—as I regard myself—a wandering minstrel but with a different song to sing. I found a really serious degree of, perhaps distrust is not quite the word, but disconcertment among the troops at the idea that they are not being served up with both sides of the political story. I do not wish to refer at length to the speech I made, which seems to have caused so much annoyance at this end, except to say that they were told at the other end that it was suppressed here and not out there. I do want to say that there is a very grave danger of the men coming home with only one point of view in their minds, as represented in their Service newspapers. To show that I am right in my belief that fair treatment is not being meted out, instructions have since been issued that Members of Parliament are not to address the troops without permission—[HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right, too"]—and then only after submitting what they are going to say for censorship. I regard that as a most deplorable restriction on the right of a Member of Parliament, and I wish to enter a brief protest.
May I say that a nephew of mine heard the hon. Member's speech? He said he had never heard such awful tripe. He did not mind that, but what he did mind was that he had to be there.
I am not really responsible for the mentality of the hon. Member's nephew. I know I said a lot of things that were not popular, but I also said a lot that were. I protest against this arbitrary restriction.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has made a statement that Members of Parliament going overseas may not address troops without permission and that their speeches must be censored. I should like to know whether that is true or not. I consider it rather a serious matter.
I see the Minister will not answer, but I am glad I have an ally above the Gangway. I think that point will be threshed out at a later hour. I also was depressed—as was my hon. Friend who spoke an hour or two ago—that nothing was mentioned by the Minister about Civil Aviation. When I listened to my hon. Friend on the Front Opposition Bench talking of the secrecy that prevails in these negotiations, I was not in the least surprised that the Minister said nothing about it. I suppose we shall be served up with another cut-and-dried scheme, entered into without taking the House, as a whole, into consultation, and settled, according to my hon. Friend, by vested interests behind the scenes. We may protest, but nothing will happen because the whole thing will have gone too far, just as some of our arrangements with America will have gone too far before we are told.
I listened also to the Minister speaking about the great accuracy of our bombing. I want to devote the few minutes more, during which I wish to speak, mainly to this subject. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman has gone away.
I hope in the new House we shall have telephones at the Box. I thought that Ministers had such things as Parliamentary Private Secretaries to run messages for them. Although I am sorry the Minister is not here, I cannot fill in time until he comes back, and Ishall have to go on. What I regret about it is that I wanted to address the Minister. I would have been interested to hear from the Minister a rather more accurate statement and more definite information with regard to this great accuracy of which he has spoken. My hon. Friend who spoke before me, above the gangway, asked the right hon. Gentleman some very pertinent questions on the accuracy of the bombing of the Rhine bridges and the passages of the Rhine, whether by ferry or by road transport. I should have thought, if the accuracy is such as we are led to believe, that the Cologne railway bridge would have been down a long time ago. Of course, I do not believe in this humbug. I do not believe there is anything like the degree of accuracy which we are led to suppose from the newspaper reports, the communiqués, and the announcements over the wireless.
I have been fortified in my belief by listening the other day to a very well-known expert talking about new weapons including such things as the V-bombs Somebody pertinently asked him what was the accuracy of the V.2. I think he overstated his case in reply. He said its accuracy was about the same as our precision bombing. I thought it a very interesting reply. I have been told by other responsible air officers that in these great night attacks—I am not talking about dive-bombers or the rocket—they do not think of aiming at a target of less than 16 square miles. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can answer me because I shall have the greatest joy in facing my informants and in coming back to the House and stating what they say in reply. Perhaps, in that way, we shall arrive at the truth one day.
I raise this issue of bombing because I have always doubted the advantages of what I call strategic bombing. In anything I am going to say please let it be clearly understood that I am not criticising, for a single moment, any of the actions of the men who go and do these things, or their great loyalty, devotion, courage and determination. Nothing of the sort. I am merely criticising on the higher level as to what is the right policy. I questioned the usefulness of bombing on strategic grounds alone, at an early stage, and whether the manufacture of these vast machines was not deflecting war production from other more important aims. I also questioned whether the "blanket" bombing could really ever win a war. It is very noticeable that the Russians do not seem to indulge in it. The answer, of course. may be that we are doing it all for them, but I cannot really swallow that. I do not know what the moral issue is behind the Russian policy, but I can quite see the advantage to them in being able to say that it is these nasty Western capitalist States who have done all the dirty tricks, and that they have limited their bombing activities to what I call tactical bombing.
I do not join issue on tactical questions. Where bombing is necessary for the conduct of military affairs, with military objectives, it is just too bad if civilians and old women get their guts blown into tree tops, but there it is. That is war and has got to be put up with. The question is whether at this period of the war indiscriminate bombing of large centres of populations, full of refugees, is wise. One reads the most ghastly stories of what is going on in Dresden. I know it is a German report, but I am going to read what was in the "Manchester Guardian" of yesterday:
Tens of thousands who lived in Dresden are now burned under its ruins. Even an attempt at identification of the victims is hopeless. What happened on that evening of February 15th? There were 1,000,000 people in Dresden, including 600,000 bombed. out evacuees and refugees from the East. The raging fires which spread irresistibly in the narrow streets killed a great many from sheer lack of oxygen.
I agree that that may be an over-statement, but one has only to read our own correspondents' reports about Cologne to see that this account is probably not far removed from what is the case.
Perhaps I may answer my hon. Friend. No one has ever suggested that bombing could win a war on its own. It is intended to aid the war effort, and to save many hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of soldiers' lives.
I quite understand; I have been a soldier, too. But if I were a soldier to-day I should speak just as much in opposition to what I consider to be a perfectly foolish policy. I think its un-wisdom will be proved in the long run. I do not expect to be able to persuade the House of Commons at this stage to accept my views, but I have held these views all along and I do not propose to give them up at this stage of the war without adequate grounds for doing so. I leave out the moral issue. I have given up in despair trying to persuade people on that issue. On the strategic issue, what are you going to find with all the cities blasted to blazes and disease rampant? May you not well find that you will simply be overtaken by your own weapons, and that the disease, filth and poverty, which will arise, will be almost impossible either to arrest or to overcome? I wonder very much whether it is realised at this stage. I have read with horror of the raid on Berlin and of the bombed millions of refugees who have crowded into it. When I heard the Minister speak almost gloatingly of the "great crescendo of destruction" I thought what a magnificent expression for a Cabinet Minister of Great Britain at this stage of the war.
I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware that the propositions which have been put forward as to the value of strategic bombing and his own views on the matter, have a very large measure of support from leading military and Air Force staff opinions?
I am glad of that interruption. I had, of course, heard that. The difficulty about quoting people in responsible positions in the Services is that the Gestapo get going to worm out those who have been talking to you and not very comfortable results may be inflicted upon them in their career. I have been told over and over again in my travels that, just as every military man objects to the term of "unconditional surrender," you also find responsible people in the Army and Air Force protesting against this mass and indiscriminate slaughter from the air. I am particularly hot on this question to-day because we read in the Yalta Declaration that decisions have been taken for the military steps necessary for the ultimate, complete and final destruction of the enemy. Leaving aside strategic bombing, which I question very much, and tactical bombing, with which I agree, if it is done with a reasonable measure of accuracy, there is no case whatever under any conditions, in my view, for terror bombing. I wish to read to the House a despatch from the Associated Press Correspondent from S.H.A.E.F. on 17th February. It was from S.H.A.E.F. headquarters and this is how it reads:
Allied Air Chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adapt deliberate terror bombings of German populated centres as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler's doom. More raids such as those carried out recently by heavy bombers of the Anglo-American Air Forces on residential sections of Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz and Kottbus are in store for the Germans for the avowed purpose of heaping more confusion on Nazi road and rail traffic and to sap German morale.
The all-out air war on Germany became obvious with the unprecedented daylight assault on the refugee crowded capital with civilians fleeing the Russian tide in the East.
I did not want to read that to the House without taking some trouble to verify its authenticity. it was published very widely in America, it was put over the Paris Radio, and released by the censor at 7.30 p.m. on 17th February for publication in this country. It was objected to by some people and at 11.30 on the same night it was suppressed from publication in this country. It was said it was put out so as to get it abroad but the people here were not to be told. That is the usual way the Government treat people in this country. It was widely broadcast in America, broadcast on the Paris Radio to Germany, but not communicated to people in this country, who are, at least, supposed to be responsible for what is going on. If the people think it is true let them protest if they want to protest and let them endorse it if they want to endorse it, but this agreeing to put the policy out and then suppress it several hours later is not good enough. It is in keeping with the Quebec decision two years ago that at least 50 German cities were to be bombed out quite indiscriminately, as quoted in the "Daily Telegraph" of 19th August, 1943.
All I want to say in conclusion is this: Is terror bombing—perhaps the Minister will answer me—now part of our policy? If so, why was this declaration from S.H.A.E.F. issued for publication and then suppressed? If it is not part of the policy, why was the statement handed out at all? And why is it that the British people are the only people who may not know what is done in their name? It is complete hypocrisy to say one thing and to do another. I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman and with the Government on this question. I think we shall live to rue the day we have done this and that, in many ways, it will stand for all time as a blot upon our escutcheon.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has referred to strategic bombing. I would point out that all the targets are very carefully planned by the Planning Committee. The Committee go into each target, which is of military importance necessitating the carrying out of this bombing. I submit to the House that we have confidence in our Planning Committee working under the General Staffs Committee. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Blackpool (Wing-Commander Robinson) made a very interesting speech and showed that he has a wide grasp of air matters gained during his service in the Royal Air Force. One point he mentioned was the sinking of Japanese ships by American aircraft. I was hoping that he was going to tell us whether they used bombs or torpedo aircraft in the sinking of that very large number of ships. It would be very interesting to know that, and perhaps the Under-Secretary will answer that question. It was claimed that between 50 and 6o ships were sunk, and it is not an easy matter to sink them by bombs.
The Secretary of State for Air gave us a very fine survey of the work of the Royal Air Force from D-Day up to now. It was a great survey. He touched upon all matters connected with the various concerns and the help which the Royal Air Force gave to the Navy in sinking U-boats and so on. I would like to ask him why this is not all circulated to the public before. Once a year he comes here and makes these surveys. We have not a very good publicity staff. We ought to know more about what is going on. Only last night on the wireless a talk was given by Mr. Chester Wilmot, who talked about the wonderful work of the Army. Undoubtedly they are doing grand work but he did not once mention the Royal Air Force. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether he cannot get more experienced men on his publicity staff, so that news of the work of the Air Force can he circulated among our people a little more.
The position is reflected somewhat in the rewards given to the Royal Air Force and I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the number of Air Marshals made during this war. The present Chief of Staff is an Air Marshal and the former Chief of Staff on retirement was made an Air Marshal. That is a total of two, but eight Field Marshals have been made. The Secretary of State for Air should approach a higher authority, and see if he cannot have some of his officers made Air Marshals, so that we might have nearly as many Air Marshals as we have Field Marshals. A point was made in my constituency the other day about bombers. One constituent said they were always hearing about the American bombers on the wireless. They knew that those bombers were doing great work but this constituent asked whether they could not occasionally hear the words "British bombers." Many people think that our bombers are not doing anything. I commend that suggestion to the Under-Secretary when he comes to reply. The battleship "Tirpitz" was mentioned by the Secretary of State for Air. He told us that they had new sights, and how the attack was carried out, but he did not tell us at what altitude the bombs were dropped.
I apologise, I must have missed it. It is important, when you have a new sight, to know at what altitude the bombs are dropped. The hon. Member for Islington West (Mr. Montague) made a very interesting speech but he was a little hard on shipping and railway companies. They are interested in traffic problems, and they want a fair share of the traffic which will he available after the war. Some of them were interested in air matters before the war, and will want to continue that interest. He was a little hard on them. He had certain information; I do not know whether it was official or not. I had not had the information which he read out—I do not know where it came from—of what Lord Swinton was going to do with regard to Civil Aviation. We asked for a White Paper and the promise was given from the Front Bench opposite that we were to have one shortly on the whole question. I hope that the private operating companies which worked so well before the war and into which a great deal of capital was put, will not be thrown on one side. These men have their own interests to look after. It is very unfair to them. One or two of them were among my old officers in the Royal Naval Air Service. They put their backs into developing these private companies, and it is very hard on them that they should be turned down now. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will have a word or two with Lord Swinton to see that the interests of these private operating companies are looked after.
The question of personnel has been touched upon by various Members who have spoken. After the war I hope that those officers of the Royal Air Force who engaged in operations will, when they come back, be given some of the billets that are available and will not find those who have not had to risk themselves much, continuing to occupy the posts they now hold. It is only fair to these gallant men. This sort of thing happened after the last war when a great many officers came back from active service and found most of the posts filled, and were discouraged. I am certain that the Secretary of State for Air will look into the matter and see that these officers are properly treated.
I intervene in this Debate this afternoon in reply to a direct challenge from the Prime Minister himself. In this House on 25th January, the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes) asked the Prime Minister whether he would give time to discuss the Motion standing on the Paper in his name:
[That a Select Committee be appointed to investigate the allegations made in this House on 19th December, 1944, by the hon. Member for Mossley concerning irregularities in the administration of the Air Ministry.]
In reply to that Question the Prime Minister said this, among other matters:
There are, however, in the normal course of Parliamentary business various opportunities when the question can be raised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1945; Vol. 407, C. 962.]
This, so I am advised by the experts on this subject, being one of those opportunities, I take it with a view to reinforcing the allegations which I then made, and particularly in view of the possibility of a Debate on the initiative of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) on the Adjournment Motion to-morrow, with a view to pointing out to the House, when they come to discuss that Motion to-morrow, the necessity for refusing a Judicial Committee under the Tribunals Act of 1921 and insisting upon
the inquiry being made by a Select Committee.
I must recall the memory of hon. Members to a Debate which took place in this House on 26th October last year. In that Debate I made four definite and specific charges which I asked the Secretary of State to answer. At the risk of boring the House, I must repeat those charges because the wording of them is very important. They were these:
First, with the knowledge of the Commanding Officer of the unit, of the Air Commodore commanding 54 Group, and of his Senior Air Staff Officer, food produced by and for the unit was, over a long period, distributed by sale or otherwise to persons who had no claim or right to receive it.
A very definite accusation of a comparatively small offence. The second charge was this:
….records of sales were kept in a book … showing the names of the recipients of the food together with the quantities, the dates, and the prices.
The third charge, I think it will be seen, by implication was a very much more serious one than the other two:
….the majority of those names are of persons in official positions, in positions where they could either break the offenders, or exercise vast powers of patronage in their favour.
The fourth charge was that:
….the list includes … (a)two Air Force officers of status superior to that of the Air Commodore then commanding the Group; (b) five officials of various Ministries concerned with one or other of the activities of the Group; (c) two Ministers and their immediate subordinates.
The Secretary of State on that occasion replied:
All the hon. Gentlemen's charges amount to this one charge: that food was sold outside the unit contrary to the regulations of the Ministry of Food and the licence which was given by that Ministry to this unit. Yes, that charge is true.…
Thus I take it, and I think the House will agree to this, that the Minister on that occasion admitted the truth of all four charges. I deliberately suggested, and I think it is quite obvious that the House appreciated my intention, that the Secretary of State had been intentionally compromised by the officers concerned, and consequently had acted in a mariner which was not in the interest of the Service by, on the one hand, protecting the offenders and, on the other hand, by conferring special favours upon them. I think that implication was clear; I in tended it to be perfectly clear. The
truth of the allegation can, I think, be established by reference to statements already recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, both on that occasion and subsequently, and I propose this afternoon to show the House that this is so. In process of doing so, however, I shall make several very serious further allegations against the Secretary of State, and these can be proved or disproved only by the production of official documents—there is no other way of proving or disproving these additional charges which I shall make this afternoon.
It has been decided by the courts that a judge in court trying a charge, or a Judicial Committee under the Tribunals Act, 1921, if official papers of a Ministry are called for, cannot enforce the production of those papers. If the Minister concerned says it is not in the public interest that these papers shall be produced, the court is then powerless to compel production. I take it, however, that the House of Commons would never allow that plea to prevail against one of their own Select Committees, and if the Minister concerned refused to produce official documents necessary to prove or disprove an accusation, to such a Select Committee, I ventured to say that the House of Commons, even in its present condition, would never allow that. If they did, it would simply mean that no Minister of the Crown could be brought to book for any offence which he happened to have perpetrated and which the House of Commons regarded as serious; and no Minister of the Crown could be brought to book if the Prime Minister of the day had possession of the whole time of the House and refused to grant time for the House to discuss any Motion on those lines. It is essential that the House should bear that in mind, and not allow the Prime Minister to say that he will set up a Judicial Committee under the 1921 Act, because that would not meet the purpose in hand, and would not give the House of Commons the information which it is entitled to have.
The House will forgive me if I refer to notes because nearly everything I say consists of quotations from the OFFICIAL REPORT. In the Debate on 26th October, the Secretary of State said:
Unfortunately, some of the unrationed pig meat was sold to customers outside the station … contrary to the Regulations of the Food Ministry and to the terms of the licence
issued by the Ministry. All this happened many months ago. As soon as it came to light, about the end of last year, the Commander-in-Chief of the Command started an investigation.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 473, 476 and 479.]
On 15th November of last year, the Joint Under-Secretary of State replying for the Secretary of State to a question said:
These irregularities did take place.
The same irregularities were detailed in my question as follow:
… false entries on Form 658; false descriptions of the contents of packages of foodstuffs illegally distributed; illegal consumption of motor fuel; illegal use of vehicles and employment of R.A.F. personnel for private purposes.
As I say, the Joint Under-Secretary of State admitted that the irregularities took place and he went on to say:
They were exposed by the officers concerned, who actually asked, two months before our inquiries started, that an investigation should take place in order to see that everything was in order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1944; Vol. 404, C. 1935 and 1936.]
On 6th December, in answer to another Question, the Secretary of State said:
A request for an investigation into the management of the farm including the application of the Food Regulations was made by the commanding officer of the station to the Group Headquarters in an official minute on 20th October, 1943."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1944; Vol. 406, C. 522.]
I think I am correct in saying this, and I speak subject to correction from the Secretary of State, that it is evident from the above that the House was given to understand that the irregularities—that is to say these definite offences—were first exposed on 20th October, 1943, by Group Captain Gilligan to Air Commodo4e Critchley, both of those officers having been recipients of the foodstuffs over a considerable period, and therefore perfectly well aware of what had been taking place. Furthermore, as soon as this exposure was made, the Commander-in Chief of the Command started an investigation. "As soon as" means, therefore, two months later—at the end of the year, the exposure by these officers having taken place on 20th October.
Now in actual fact the information was laid on 26th March, 1943, in this way: one of the officers who had been on the station for some time, and knew what had been going on, approached an officer of the Provost Marshal's Department and informed him of what was taking place. That officer of the Provost Marshal's Department began to take notice and to obtain information, and his inquiries were in full swing in November, 1943, simultaneously with the exposure by the officers concerned. Now my information is this—and I stand to be corrected by the Secretary of State—that the investigation for which Group Captain Gilligan asked Air Commodore Critchley was conducted by two officials of the Air Ministry, It was apparently not an inquiry into these irregularities but into certain other questions relating to the farm, to the pigs kept at the farm, and the method of feeding the pigs. My allegation is that this exposure by the officers concerned was not an exposure of the offences which were admitted by the Secretary of State on 26th October. This was an inquiry into another matter, and I want to know whether those who conducted the inquiry were people of sufficient standing and sufficient knowledge of the subject to be able to make an effective inquiry into what was taking place in that particular unit.
The next thing is this. A very curious thing appears to have happened according to the statement of the Secretary of State, who said in reply to a Question on 8th November, 1944:
The summary of evidence was sent to the Treasury Solicitor in June last. I have already explained to the House in the Debate on the Adjournment on 27th October why the Treasury Solicitor was consulted by the Royal Air Force Deputy to the Judge Advocate General."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1944; Vol. 404; C. 1340.]
Now what he actually said on 26th October was this:
… I suggested—I did not order—to the legal authorities in the Air Ministry, that, as this case dealt not solely with Air Force law, but with Regulations outside the Air Force—the Food Regulation—it would be as well to get the advice of the Treasury Solicitor"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944, Vol. 404, c. 479 and 480.]
While on November 8th he said:
The Ministry of Food has, I understand, its own enforcement organisation and a branch of the Treasury Solicitor's office is attached to the Ministry of Food. This branch undertakes prosecutions for that Ministry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c.1340.]
Not, I want the House to take note of this—the enforcement organisation of the Food Ministry belongs to the Treasury Solicitor, and as that organisation had handed over the charges to be dealt with
by the Air Force some six months earlier, how is it that in June, 1944, the Enforcement Department—that is in effect the Treasury Solicitor—was shown the summary of evidence and, according to the Secretary of State's statement on 26th October:
The legal advice which the Air Force Deputy of the Judge-Advocate General gave to the Commander-in-Chief was supported by the Treasury Solicitor, and the Commander-in Chief came to the conclusion that the institution of the court-martial was not warranted. He also found that breaches of the Food Regulations had been committed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944, Vol. 404, c. 480.]
I put a Question to the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty, because all who have been in the Services would have been amazed to hear that the Judge-Advocate General's advice as to the holding of a court-martial had to be confirmed or otherwise by a civilian lawyer who had no locus standi whatever in any court-martial. In the case of both the other Services they said there was no record of such a thing. It has never happened on any other occasion even in the Air Service itself.
It so happened that on 30th October I met the Treasury Solicitor and asked him at what date he was called in. He could not definitely say, because he had not the papers by him, but he thought it was just before the Summer Recess. There may have been enough doubt to make the end of June and "just before the Summer Recess" tally, but "just before the Summer Recess" would be late July, or early August. On 26th July, I put a Question to the Food Minister on the Paper and it was asked on 2nd August. On 26th July I actually warned the Secretary of State for Air that I was going to raise the matter on the Floor of the House if court-martial proceedings were not allowed to go forward, and I raised it at, the earliest opportunity on the Adjournment.
At this point I propose to make serious further allegations which can only be proved or disproved by documentary evidence. Information has reached me—it is no use talking about the Official Secrets Act because I have not the faintest idea who sent it. I can show the note to the authorities and perhaps they can tell me who gave me this information. If they can find out where it has come from they are cleverer than I am. This is it:
When your question was put down the Secretary of State consulted the Judge Advocate General and asked his advice. The Judge-Advocate General is not competent to give advice on that point. The Secretary of State then consulted the Attorney-General who suggested that the Treasury Solicitor could advise him. The date was late in July.
There may be an explanation of these things but up to the present the Secretary of State has not given any explanation whatever but has had the impertinence to accuse me of being suspicious. I think the House will agree that a certain degree of suspicion was justifiable.
That is the first of these statements which can only be proved or disproved by the production of papers, and it is essential for the sake of the Secretary of State himself, and for my reputation, that whatever body inquires into this should be in a position to enforce the attendance of witnesses and the disclosure of documents. I do not say that these statements are correct, but as far as I know, they come from a reliable source, although I do not know what that source is. That sounds like a paradox. But there is a thing called the Official Secrets Act, and I understand from those who give me information that there has been considerable talk recently about prosecuting me under that Act—that being one of the counter-attacks of which a considerable number have been in process of development from time to time.
I have, however, a system which I designed a long time ago by which information comes to me in such a way that I do not know from whom it comes, but I do know whether or not it is reliable information. It is a perfectly simple device but I am not going to disclose it. I will only disclose it when I have finished with it, not to the Secretary of State, nor to any politician, nor to anyone in the House, but to those authorities whose business it is to find things out in the ordinary course. That is the information that came to me. It seems to tally with the actions and words of the Secretary of State himself. But it cannot be proved or disproved unless we have a really strong tribunal which can compel witnesses to give evidence and compel people to disclose documents.
To go back to the quotations from that speech on 26th October, the first was:
As soon as it came to light, the Commander-in-Chief of the Command started an investigation.
In the seventh of these quotations the legal advice which the Deputy Judge-Advocate General gives to the Commander-in-Chief, presumably means to Air Marshal Babington, because he was referred to immediately before. These two quotations came from consecutive paragraphs in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Secretary of State's speech on 26th October, but between those two passages we find this:
this obviously means the Commander-in-Chief of Training Command—
reviewed the summary of evidence. He is the officer who holds the King's Warrant for convening courts-martial and he was responsible for deciding whether or not it was necessary to hold a court-martial in this case. He is an experienced man of unimpeachable integrity of character and he decided on the merits of the case in the light of the legal advice of the deputy Judge-Advocate General who is the highest legal authority available to the Commander-in-Chief."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944; Vol. 44, c. 479–80.]
Then why call in the Treasury Solicitor? This is the case for the Secretary of State to answer. It is quite obvious that he intended the House to think that Air Marshal Babington took the decision against holding a court-martial. In actual fact was it Air Marshal Babington—though the description of his character applies absolutely to that Air Marshal and his reputation in the Air Force is at least as high as stated by the Secretary of State—who gave the decision against calling a court-martial? My information is that it was not and that it was in fact Air Marshal Barratt.
The way it came about was this. The circumstances that led to the handing over were these. At the taking of the summary of evidence the officers under suspicion called Air Marshal Babington as a witness and asked him some trivial questions about a dinner or lunch at which he had been a guest and at which, apparently, contraband food had been consumed. By giving evidence he was debarred from taking further charge of the court-martial, which was then transferred to another air officer commanding-in-chief, who in fact was Air Marshal Barratt. So the Deputy Judge-Advocate General's advice based on the summary of evidence was tendered to the latter and not, as was implied by the Secretary of State, to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command, that is to say Air Marshal Babington. Hence it appears first that the Secretary of State misled the House and, secondly, it appears that Air Marshal Babington as Commander-in-Chief of Training Command must have seen a very great deal more of this case than was ever seen by Air Marshal Barratt, who was only called in after the summary of evidence had been taken. I wish to ask the Secretary of State a specific question. Was Air Marshal Barratt given all the papers prior to the summary of evidence? Was he, for instance, in possession of the report made by the Provost-Marshal's officers who investigated the affair and made the first report to the Provost-Marshal, or was he only given the summary of evidence? I do not know what the reply is but I should like to know, and I think the House ought to know because if, as I believe, that is the case, it seems to me that it is far less likely that the court-martial would have been prevented from being convened had it been judged by Air Marshal Babington, who must have seen a good deal of what was going on before the summary of evidence was taken.
Here we come to another of these points where it is essential that the House should insist upon a Select Committee capable of enforcing the production of official documents. Information reached me that Air Marshal Barratt, after the summary of evidence, ordered charges to be drawn against certain officers and, while this was being done, the Permanent Under-Secretary addressed a letter to the Deputy Judge-Advocate General telling him that Air Marshal Barratt would write to him on the subject of these charges, and enclosing suggestions as to the reply that was to be made to the letter from Air Marshal Barratt by the Deputy Judge-Advocate General. There, again, I do not know if it is true or not but, when the information reached me, it came on paper which had a certain mark, and that mark is only used by a certain group of persons who, I know from experience, are to be trusted.
Let us pass to another example where the House of Commons was misled. In his speech on 26th October the Secretary of State said first:
There was no evidence of fraud or any improper motives.
There was no secret about it.
It was all done in the light of day.
There was no secret about that as far as I know."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944; Vol. 404, C. 475–478.]
On 15th November, I asked the Secretary of State:
Whether he is aware that the inquiry into the food offences in a Unit of 54 Group Training Command provided prima facie evidence that the following offences had been committed: false entries on Form 658, false description of the contents of packages of foodstuffs illegally distributed, etc."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 1935.]
As far as food is concerned, 13½ tons. As far as money is concerned, we can only estimate it. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the estimate?"] I have not made an estimate but it could be very large indeed, amounting to many thousands of pounds. On 15th November I asked the Question to which I have just referred. The Under-Secretary replied, "Yes, Sir" I then asked him to reply specifically about the falsification of Form 658, and he said:
I have said these irregularities were committed.…
I then asked whether it was a mere "irregularity" that packages of foodstuffs delivered from the station to private houses were described as "Operational papers. Urgent." He replied:
The commander-in-chief who investigated this case did not find that the charge of concealment was proved. He could not make sure, in his investigation, whether, on these journeys, a small diversion occurred, or alternatively, that papers were not being carried."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 1935–6.]
As I pointed out in my speech on 19th December, the station was not operational and therefore operational papers could not have emanated from it. I venture to say that there was a great mistake made by the officer who conducted the inquiry when he said there was no concealment when these things were done, if indeed he did say so.
With regard to the question of there being no fraud or improper motive, the Secretary of State said on 26th October:
I was told … that it was possible for them to dispose of their surplus to people outside the station.
This was early in 1942—
I asked specifically about that, and they said that it would be all right. They had not at that time received their licence, and had based themselves on informal conversations.
When they did receive their licence they must have discovered that they were acting illegally and compromising the Secretary of State. Why did not they inform him unless the failure to do so was due to improper motives? The Secretary of State was persuaded to commit an offence against the Food Regulations, and it is only just and right to say that he took a lot of persuading. The evidence was that nearly all the victims had to be persuaded before they fell into the trap. They had not then got their licence. When they did get their licence they only had to read it to see straight away that this distribution of food was illegal and that it could not be sold outside. Yet, having put the Secretary of State in this position, they did not take the trouble to get him out of the hole. In his speech, the Secretary of State went on to say:
It so happened that a number of officers and others thought it right to show their interest and give such little help as they could by buying small packages of food from time to time.
I asked him if "from time to time" meant regular weekly and monthly accounts. He said:
Yes. Surpluses were bound to arise weekly or monthly and a number of people took small weekly parcels.
I said at once that the investigation must be thorough and nothing should be left out. I asked the Minister of Food at once to arrange for my own purchases to be examined and assured those whose duty it was to conduct the investigation that they would have my full support in pushing it right through to whatever degree they thought necessary to serve the interests of justice.
The Secretary of State seemed to have wavered later on, if I am correct in saying that a communication signed by the Permanent Under-Secretary was sent to the Judge-Advocate-General practically suggesting that court-martial proceedings had better stop. I do not think that the Permanent Under-Secretary would have done that without higher authority. If the document is produced, I think we shall find that it is written under the instructions of the Secretary of State.
Continuing his speech, the Secretary of State went on to say that, as I had said,
while a summary of evidence was taken, he did not know what obstruction or opportunities of suppression of evidence were afforded. I resent that insinuation.
I interrupted and pointed out that what I said was:
How serious were the attempts to bring the offenders to justice I do not know, nor do I know how far the efforts made were deliberately frustrated.
The Secretary of State then reported:
No efforts made were deliberately frustrated.
Why were two of the officers asked to leave the station because they were obstructing?
There may have been obstruction, I do not know.
He had said a second or two before that there had been none. He went on to say:
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that officers of the station, presumably some of the officers concerned with the offences—
There was here considerable interruption in the House, and the Secretary of State went on:
that they did not attempt to obstruct. Therefore they were told to leave the station at once and their obstruction was stopped. That is exactly what I was saying, and I and my legal advisers were determined to ensure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 478–481.]
Earlier, he said:
The hon. Gentleman has suggested that a very large proportion of the meat did not go to the airmen's messes at all, but was sold outside.
To which I had to interrupt by saying:
That is absolutely an untrue statement. I did not say that a great proportion had been improperly disposed of.
My information is to the effect that, so far as we know, only about 13½ tons of foodstuffs have been traced. I take it that the House may possibly agree with me now that I have shown the truth of the allegations I have made, at any rate, the third of them, which is that persons in official positions had been compromised by these proceedings, and that they were in official positions where they could break the offenders, but did not do so, but, on the contrary, appeared to be very active in protecting the offenders from being broken.
I come to the other side of the picture, which is that these persons in official positions who were compromised were in a position to exercise vast powers of patronage in favour of the offenders. It will not take long to deal with this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I wish hon. Members who cheer would get up in their places, so that I would know who they are. Let us see what happened to the offenders. Air-Commodore Critchley, who commanded the Group, was recommended for the Order of the Bath and was placed in almost uncontrolled charge of British Overseas Airways Corporation, with high emoluments, salary and expenses, of which the Secretary of State refused to give any information. On 22nd March, 1944, the Secretary of State was asked by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) what were the pay and allowances of the Director-General of B.O.A.C. The Under-Secretary replied:
I am not in a position to say what remuneration the chief executive receives … as this is a matter for the Corporation to determine.
With his usual persistence the hon. Member for Ipswich went on:
Is it a fact that £7,500 is paid in salary and £15,000 in expenses?
The Under-Secretary replied:
Either the Corporation must have independence … or has to be run front Whitehall.
In pursuance of his character for persistence, the hon. Member went on to ask whether the sums mentioned were not extravagant. The Under-Secretary replied:
I have not said that I agree that the sums mentioned are the correct sums."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1944; Vol. 398, c 834–5.]
When the hon. Member pressed him to say whether they were or were not extravagant, no answer was returned. On 17th May, 1944, the Under-Secretary refused information on the grounds of security, the idea being apparently that Mr. Goebbels would at once transmit to Hitler and the German general staff the fact that the Director-General of B.O.A.C. was receiving such and such a salary and drawing such and such expenses. Perish the thought that the whole war effort of the country should be prejudiced by betraying a military secret of that sort! My information, although I do not know whether it is correct, is that
Brigadier General Critchley's predecessor received a salary and expenses of the same order as the sums mentioned by the hon. Member for Ipswich, and, also, that when his successor took office the amount at first was the same, though it may have been wrapped up in the accounts of the Corporation under other headings.
It is very easy to do that. Any of us engaged in industry, if we want to cheat our shareholders, particularly during a war, know how to do it. I think the hon. Member for Ipswich knows that. I certainly do. On 17th January, the Secretary of State replied to a question from the same hon. Member, and said that the expenses allowance had not been varied since May, 1943, in respect of service at home. Between June and October, 1943, a slightly higher rate was authorised in respect of service abroad, since when there has been no variation. In another place just before, it had been said:
These are the fees for the present period: a salary of £5,000 a year and expenses allowance of £1,000 a year. That is the whole.
Here again I do not think it is possible to get at the real truth of the matter unless the accounts, both at home and overseas, are fully investigated in order to ascertain not only the actual cash payments to the Director-General, but also the approximate value of his emoluments in kind. The Prime Minister stated on 25th January, 1944:
I am now in a position to tell the House that there is no ground for the allegations which were made against the B.O.A.C."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January; Vol. 407, c. 96.]
The House noted with surprise the introduction of B.O.A.C. on that occasion, because nothing was said about it in the Motion standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes). The Prime Minister said that he was in a position to deny the allegations. From this it would appear that a thorough investigation of the books of the Corporation was undertaken. I should like to hear from the Secretary of State how that thorough investigation was made. Was it made under the superintendence of financial experts unconnected with the Corporation, or was it merely a cursory glance at the books by somebody with no particular qualification for the work? The investigation involved an inspection of the books of this Corporation all over the world. The time
available, eliminating Christmas week, which was a busy week at the Air Ministry, was three weeks at the most. I venture to say that the information given to the Prime Minister to enable him to say that all was well must have been based on very insufficient grounds, because I cannot conceive how that investigation could have been conducted satisfactorily all over the world in the short space of three weeks, particularly as it takes a year to get the accounts presented to Parliament. Group Captain Wilson was allowed to leave the Service and got a high appointment in the B.O.A.C.
Group Captain Gilligan was allowed to leave the Service and go back to dog-racing, retaining his acting rank on retirement, although he had just incurred the serious displeasure of the Air Force. Wing Commander Meredith, by special request of the Treasury, was allowed to leave the Service and become managing director of the Philip Hill Investment Trust, a holding company having no industrial activities.
When all the facts are produced, we shall see the answer. Wing Commander Newman was also allowed to leave the Service and go back to dog-racing.
I have at least put a case to the House for demanding to-morrow that it shall have a Select Committee, whether the Prime Minister likes it or not. I think I have shown that the allegations I have made, apart from those already admitted by the Secretary of State in the Debate, are proved, that is to say that these Ministers and other officials and officers, who were compromised by these people, did exercise their powers of patronage in their favour and did, so far as present evidence goes, take every step they possibly could to save the offenders from court martial.
My position is that the matter was brought to me more than a year ago by officers and other ranks of the Air Force. After listening to the Secretary of State's speech this morning I think the House will agree with me that the finest of the youth of this country have been drafted into our Air Force and that the deeds of the Air Force will be one of the brightest pages in the history of this country. Tbere are many people in the Air Force who feel that it is a shameful thing that those boys, who in the case of these air crews are the pick of the working people of this country, the absolute cream of the best stock in our land, should be passing through that station and should know what was going on, because it was known for months, and then should go to Air Force stations all over the world and spread the fact that this is the way in which the officers behave. I say it is a tragedy, and those who brought the matter to me felt most keenly, as I feel it myself, that the duty of the Air Ministry and of the Secretary of State is to see at any rate that their powers of patronage are not conferred upon those who have put this foul smear upon the Air Force.
With the permission of the House I would like at once to give some answer to the hon. Member. I cannot, of course, follow him in all the details of his tortuous allegations. He only gave me notice after I had sat down this morning and had made my speech that he was going to raise this issue. He raised a number of extremely complicated and difficult questions. They are difficult to answer because they involve a series of legal implications. I will give the House the plain story of what actually did happen in this case, and in the general case which I shall put to the House on that, I shall be able at any rate to draw to some extent on the hon. Members' own contributions to this discussion.
As regards the B.O.A.C. and the salary and expenses of General Critchley, a full account was given in another place by the Noble Lord, Lord Swinton. It was never the case that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), who was then Under-Secretary of State for Air, said that security considerations forbade us to tell the House what General Critchley's salary and expenses were. There were two things we were asked about. We were asked for a fuller statement of the accounts of the Corporation. One reason, though by no means the only reason, for not being able to meet all the requirements of hon. Members of this House for information about those accounts was the security reason, and that was stated by the Undersecretary. He never gave security reasons for refusing information about the salary and expenses of General Critchley. The reason for that was that General Critchley is not a servant of the Government. He was not appointed to the post of Director-General of the Corporation by the Government. He was appointed by me as a member of the Corporation and not as Director-General. That was an appointment by the Board of the Corporation. Therefore, it was in accordance with precedent for my right hon. and gallant Friend to refuse information about his salary and expenses.
He was appointed by the Corporation. I said so a moment ago. He was appointed a member of the Corporation by me and he was appointed Director-General by the Corporation. Subsequently, as there was so much interest in this case and so many allegations have been made, Lord Swinton obtained the permission of the Board to make a statement in another place. He made a full statement of what had in fact been paid to General Critchley.
The present arrangement is the same, with some very slight modifications which I explained in answer to the question of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). It remains the same as it always was, with those slight variations. The hon. Member referred to the charges which he had made in the Regent's Park case, in October of last year. I answered those charges. I gave a full and a frank statement to the House. The Debate ended about 20 minutes before the House was due to rise for the Adjournment. I do not say, and I think I ought not to claim, that in my necessarily brief speech, I carried complete conviction on every point to every hon. Member present, but at any rate I carried so much conviction that nobody rose to continue the Debate on that occasion.
The truth is, in this matter, as I have said, I have always been absolutely frank with the House from the very start about this matter. I do not know who the hon. Member's informants are, these reputable informants. All that the hon. Member knows about them—he does not know their names or addresses—is that they are reputable. That is the one piece of information that we have. For my part, I have always been frank with the House when I have had an opportunity of answering the hon. Member. The last time he raised this farm case he did it after having obtained Mr. Speaker's permission to discuss the B.O.A.C. accounts. I had not the slightest idea that he was going to drag that farm case into the discussion of the B.O.A.C. accounts or I would have been in my place to answer him. As it was, I left it to my hon. and gallant Friend to take the Debate on the, B.O.A.C. account.
On the irregularities, I have told the House before that what I deeply regret and what I described to the House did, in fact, take place in Regent's Park on one of the many stations of 54 Training Group. That was at a time when we were in the throes of the expansion of the Royal Air Force in 1942–43. It threw a particularly heavy burden on the officers of that station. As the hon. Member said in the concluding words of his speech, that is the station through which young air crews gain their entry into the Royal Air Force. The officer who was in command of the station at that time had the task of reorganising the station and greatly extending its work, a task which he and the officers associated with him did magnificently. At the same time, they responded to the appeal which, as every hon. Member will remember, the Government were making at that time, to Royal Air Force stations and also to units of the Army and Navy, to grow food for their men so as to add to the supplies of food in the country. It was not their principal task, but they threw themselves into that task with tremendous energy in addition to their principal task. Perhaps they did it too light-heartedly. Perhaps I, too light-heartedly, felt that it was a good thing for me to give them a little feeling of encouragement from the top, as I did when they said to me: "Will you from time to time take a little of the surplus food that comes off every week? You pay, and the profits go into the institute fund of the station." I admired the spirit they were showing. I did not need persuasion, and I can tell the hon. Member that I did it spontaneously.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for having made that statement. I understood that he took, like others, considerable persuasion. I understand now from what he says that he did not need to be persuaded.
No, I did it quite spontaneously. I did, indeed, ask whether it was correct and whether it was right. I did not need persuasion. These officers said, no doubt quite genuinely at the time, that it was perfectly all right for me to do it. The fundamental error which they committed in this case was in believing that they were entitled to sell this food off the station. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman should see the action of these officers in none but a baleful and almost sinister light. As soon as these irregularities came to light, investigations were started by the responsible Commander-in-Chief.
The hon. Gentleman referred to another investigation which was started on the initiative of the officers concerned, who felt doubtful about their administration of this side of their business, this food-producing business. They wished to have it inquired into to see whether their business methods were correct and to ask that the question whether they were or were not entitled to sell food off the farm should be considered. Before that inquiry, which they had initiated, was completed, the Commander-in-Chief had launched his inquiry into what was going on in reference to the food production business on the station. For my part, I did not know about the first inquiry. I did not know that those officers had asked for this inquiry to be undertaken, but as soon as I knew of the second one being undertaken, which the Commander-in—Chief had launched, I gave instructions that every possible consideration must be given to those who were conducting this inquiry, and every obstacle was to be swept out of their way, so that these inquiries should be thorough and searching. These inquiries were exhaustive. The summary of evidence was taken from numerous witnesses, a process which lasted some nine weeks. As a result of this no trace of fraud was revealed. Indeed, the hon. Member for
Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), speaking on 19th December last, said:
These food offences are trifling—about the same thing as when a baby steals a lump of sugar from the sugar basin. I definitely chose those paltry little offences in order to see whether the House of Commons was assiduous enough in conducting its public duties to take the matter up without my disclosing anything further"—
I hope he felt that the House of Commons came up to his expectations.
I am coming to that. The hon. Member went on to say:
I say these offences were comparatively trivial …
offences which he was representing this afternoon, within the recollection of every hon. Member sitting in this House, as baleful and sinister transactions:
I say that these offences were comparatively trivial; but what I think is a very serious thing is interference with the course of justice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1944; Vol. 406; c. 1734 and 1736.]
I will only say before I come to that point that I have never said that they were paltry and trivial offences. Hon. Members who have heard me speak on this subject before will remember that I said I deeply regretted them. I feel my responsibility to the House of Commons for what happened on this station. Responsibilities were fixed on the officers mainly concerned, and disciplinary action was taken.
The hon. Member for Mossley says that I interfered with the course of justice. I interfered on only two occasions in these transactions. The first, as I have already told the House, was when I said that the investigation should be thorough, and I gave instructions to all concerned that any obstacles that were met with should be swept aside. The hon. Member referred to alleged obstruction by officers on the station. As I pointed out on a previous occasion, if indeed these officers had been posted away because they had obstructed, it would only have proved that my orders were being carried out, and that obstacles were being swept aside. I have made inquiries, however, and I am told that the allegation is quite with- out foundation, and that these officers did not, in fact, attempt to obstruct. My first intervention was to say that the investigation should be thorough.
I wish to make one disclosure to the House at this point, which I have not made before. I was very anxious to make certain that the methods of conducting the investigation were those most likely to secure the ends of justice. I therefore thought it right to consult the Law Officers of the Crown. It is not usual to disclose the fact of consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown to the House, but the Attorney-General has told me that on this occasion I am free to make that disclosure when I wish to do so. As the hon. Member for Mossley has referred to the Attorney-General this afternoon, I feel it right that I should tell the House that I did consult him. The question was how the inquiry could most effectively be conducted, and he advised the course which, in fact, was pursued.
The only other time I interfered was when the Commander-in-Chief had come to his conclusions. Let me say that neither I nor the Air Council can order a court-martial. The convening of a court-martial is not an administrative but a judicial act. It is carried out by the Commander-in-Chief, who holds the King's Warrant for convening courts-martial. But when I knew he had come to his conclusions I felt it right to offer him the advice that he should seek the highest possible legal advice. He therefore sought the advice of the Royal Air Force Deputy to the Judge-Advocate-General, and the Treasury Solicitor and the Attorney-General. They endorsed, on legal grounds, the course which the Commander-in-Chief recommended.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for explaining this. It is perfectly true that from time to time there have been two Commanders-in-Chief, and the names have, perhaps, been confused. There is nothing sinister in it at all. The fact is that the first Commander-in-Chief to be concerned in this case was, of course, the Commander-in-Chief, Flying Training Command, of which No. 54 Group forms part. As the hon. Member for Mossley explained, it was discovered that the Commander-in-Chief, Flying Training Command, was being called to give evidence when the summary of evidence was taken. Therefore, it was felt to be more proper that the case should be transferred from Flying Training Command to Technical Training Command, and the Commander-in-Chief, Technical Training Command, then became responsible for deciding whether or not there should be a court-martial.
There has, therefore, been no interference with the course of justice, as the hon. Member for Mossley suggested today. The hon. Member tried to interfere with the course of justice. He came to me and said that if I did not see that there was a court-martial he would raise the matter in the House of Commons. I told him then, as I am now telling the House, that I would not interfere, that the Commander-in-Chief would form his own opinion, that he would have the best legal advice at his disposal, and that I should support him, whatever his decision might be. Therefore, all I have to say to the House is that there has been a thorough investigation, a thorough judicial process of inquiry, into these allegations about what happened at Regent's Park Station, a judicial decision has been given by the Commander-in-Chief, holding the King's Warrant for convening courts-martial, that decision was endorsed by the highest legal authorities, and I hope the House will agree that no further action is called for.
I. will not pursue further the matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), except to say that it seems to me a pity that the time of the House should be taken up, on the one day in the year which it has to discuss matters of policy of a great Service Ministry, by exploiting a petty, administrative scandal in order to pursue a personal vendetta against a Minister. I think that whatever opinion one may have about his political view, no one can deny that the Secretary of State for Air is a man of the very highest integrity. I think, further, that the House is getting extremely bored by those reiterated, vindictive and personal attacks that are continually being carried on against him by the hon. Member for Mossley.
Earlier to-day we listened with great pleasure and pride to the fascinating story of the contribution that has been made to the winning of this war by the Air Force, and I am sorry I have to bring up, at this late stage, a controversial topic. I wish to raise once again the matter of the recent air accidents that have taken place in Transport Command. I very much hope that the Secretary of State will not take it amiss, or feel, as he appeared to do the other evening during the Adjournment discussion in the House, that a personal attack is being made upon him which has to be answered by a panegyric on the Air Force as a whole, or that the questions I shall put to him this afternoon will be answered in an all-is-well-in-the-garden sort of way, such as the statement he made the other evening on the Adjournment Debate, when he said with considerable pride that current experience shows the fatal accident rate to be 1/30th of 1 per cent. That, put into language which the ordinary man can understand, works out as meaning that one out of every 3,000 passengers carried suffers a fatal accident. I would point out that in the United States in 1943 very nearly 3,000,000 passengers were carried by air, and out of that total only 22 were killed. That works out at one in every 127,000 people carried, or 42 times better than the figures quoted in the Adjournment Debate by the Secretary of State for Air. I do not believe this kind of answer either reassures Members, or helps the case that the right hon. Gentleman is defending.
We all realise the great work that is being done by Transport Command. The Minister had a word or two to say about it to-day. They are doing a wonderful service in all parts of the world to-day. I wish him to be assured that I am not approaching this matter in any hostile vein, but merely to elucidate information, and, if possible, to obtain assurances in a matter which I believe is causing very widespread anxiety. But worse still, it is giving rise to unfounded humours as to the quality of British aircraft and the crews than man them, at a moment when it is essential for our export trade that British aircraft should establish the highest possible reputation. I am convinced that them is nothing wrong with British aircraft, or with the qualities of the crews that man them, but I believe there is some justification for thinking that they are not as effectively maintained or loaded as they should be, and that there is something very wrong with the way in which crews are trained, briefed and generally used. Recently there has been a change in high places in Transport Command; and rumour has it that the new commanding officer is a very live wire, and that he has called for an investigation into all these matters. Let us hope that if he finds that there is truth behind them, he will set machinery in motion to have them put right.
The training of a pilot for commercial air transport—or, in other words, of a man to whose safe keeping the travelling public is entrusted—and that of a pilot whose work is to be primarily concerned with the bombing of Europe, are utterly different. The training of a pilot for Transport Command approximates more nearly to the former than to the latter. The commercial pilot must have two essential qualities: experience and academic training in both navigation and meteorology. His experience must enable him to take instant decisions should a set of circumstances arise, in the course of a flight, about which he has not been briefed. The pilot gets that kind of experience only by knowing all the branches that he has under his command. He must also have a thorough knowledge of the routes and of the pecularities of the weather that he may find upon those routes. Before the war it was necessary for a pilot to have at least 1,600 hours in the air before he was entrusted with the command of a plane carrying passengers and mail. It is necessary for a bomber pilot to have only something like 400 hours in the air.
Legally, yes. In addition to that, a bomber pilot has all the aids, such as master bombers, Pathfinder forces, and so on to help him—which is as it should be. The question I would like to ask the Under-Secretary is whether the principles applied to the teaching of commercial pilots have been followed in the training of air transport crews or not. I believe that they have not, and that the Air Ministry have in the past been granting certificates to pilots of fairly low qualifications and of no navigational experience at all. The Americans, who have had considerably more experience in these matters than we have had, set up an Air Transport Command immediately they came into the war, and they put into it all the ability, knowledge, and experience of civil aviation that they possessed. Heads of great air lines were immediately put into uniform, and they took with them all of their personnel and their crews. It was not long before those crews were flying between Miami and Calcutta, or on other long-distance flights, with the same ease, facility and knowledge, that they had shown on a route such as from New York to Chicago. I have always felt it was a mistake that when we, at long last, set up an Air Transport Command we did not follow the lead that the Americans had given us. We should have brought into it B.O.A.C., with their knowledge and experience of commercial air transport. Air Transport Command restricted themselves primarily to Service knowledge: they seem to have neglected to call in advisers from outside—indeed, it is frequently said that they look down on civil aviation experience.
I believe it to be a fair statement that most of the accidents that take place are on unusual routes: that is, to planes engaged on special missions, such as that which figured in the tragic accident recently somewhere in the Mediterranean. If unusual routes are to be flown by planes carrying what is known in aviation circles as V.I.P's—very important personages—it is essential that, wherever possible, pilots with a knowledge of the routes and of meteorology and navigation should be employed. Rumour has it—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will deny this—that on this particular flight there was a new air crew, unacquainted with the routes, which they had never been over before. If that is so, it must never happen again.
The next matter that I want to raise concerns the maintenance and ground staffing of Transport Command. Is the Undersecretary satisfied that it is as good as it should be; and are the planes in Transport Command supplied with the same appliances as civil aviation planes possess, such as the latest de-icing equipment and navigational landing aids? I heard about a York that was flying back from Australia recently. It developed engine trouble, and had to come down on an aerodrome where its crew knew there was a spare engine. In due course the engine was changed—and it took 33 hours to do it, because the engine was still in its packing case—and the plane flew on. Two hours later the new engine developed engine trouble, and the plane was forced to come back. It was then found that the engine had been put in covered with the heavy greasing that it had been covered with as a precaution against weather conditions, and was in a filthy state. This was not the fault of the makers of the engine, but purely that of the maintenance staff on the ground. In point of fact, the aeroplane made a very good flight back to England, under extraordinarily bad weather conditions. That is an isolated case, but it is the kind of case which might well bring about a serious accident. I should also like to ask the Under-Secretary whether he is satisfied in all instances that the meteorological reports are as comprehensive and accurate as possible. We all realise that in time of war, for security reasons, it it not nearly so easy to have good weather reports as it is in peace-time. Therefore, it is essential that the best possible reports should be given to the crews, and that they themselves should be given a course in meteorology.
Finally, I would like to ask the Secretary of State whether he would consider, in the public interest and in the interests of British aviation generally, publishing the findings of inquiries into accidents involving the loss of civilian life. Obviously it would be impossible to do so in cases where Transport Command were flying Generals, let us say, up to their commands, very often in bad weather, when they have been advised not to do so. But when planes are flying over established routes, and accidents occur, in which there is a loss of civilian life, I believe a report should be published. This has been done for a very considerable time in the United States, and at the end of each year the Civil Aeronautics Board publish in book form findings of all the accidents that have taken place. The public can read that, and the pilots who have to fly over the various routes can read it, with great assistance to themselves. I understand also that that is done for internal consumption by the B.O.A.C. At this time, when we have to build up an aircraft industry second to none, not only for our own satisfaction but in order to sell our aircraft abroad at the end of the war and in the face of heavy competition, a record of that kind would, I believe, restore confidence at home and at the same time refute rumours that can so quickly be spread abroad.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary intends to reply to the whole Debate at the end of the discussion this evening. I understand that Mr. Deputy-Speaker is calling the Amendment now, and the Under-Secretary will reply to that first. Then we shall return to the general Debate, and the Under-Secretary will reply to that.