§ Mr. BILLING
Before this House adjourns I should like to take the opportunity of calling the attention of the Government to one or two points, which I think I have done before, and possibly done in vain. For the next six or eight weeks at least we shall not have an opportunity, even what few opportunities private Members now have, of championing the causes which some of us came into this House to champion. I would like to suggest that the German nation have made several threats in the last two years during their conduct of this War. They threatened us with a submarine campaign, and to some extent we have experienced the result of that threat. Quite recently they threatened us in the coming winter months with a series of raids, and I really think that they will not disappoint us in that either. Experience shows that German threats, unlike the threats or promises of the Prime Minister, are something more than sound and fury. I really consider that the present defences of this 2605 country, as we know them to be, demand that attention should be called to them on the Adjournment. I have received all sorts of answers to questions which I have put with regard to the Air Services, but I have never had a satisfactory answer to any of the many questions which I have put on that subject in this House. I presume that it is the duty of Ministers to answer questions, but it is not the mere fact of answering—it is what they say that counts, when all is said and done. When the answers are boiled down there is nothing in them, and you see that you might just as well not have asked the question. We have had assurances of all sorts from the Treasury Bench. The First Lord of the Admiralty started off with all sorts of assurances at the beginning of the War. When he found the task too great for him he handed it over to the Under-Secretary for War. He gave us a lot of assurances, and the ex-Home Secretary, I think, told us that the best defences against Zeppelins were darkness and composure. I know that he said that Zeppelin raids are incidents of war. If they are incidents of war they should be dealt with as such, and a proper defence should be set up against them.
What are the men enlisted for to-day? They are enlisted to protect the homes of the women and children of this country. Yet, though they are in France doing this, the Government has utterly failed, and there is no excuse for their failure. It has had enough advice, heaven knows, both in this House and in the Press, not only during the last two years but during the last eight years, and how has it defended the homes of the men out in France? I have letters here since the last raid from women, the wives of soldiers, who ask, "What sort of protection are we to have while our men are fighting in France?" and they also call attention to answers to questions in this House. I have had hundreds of letters dealing with that last raid which go to prove that the answers to questions apart from not being entertaining have no foundation in fact to satisfy the British public. I would like to show the Government that the public are not satisfied. I know that the Government are so overworked that they have not time really to think of what the public do feel about this matter. There is no question of panic at all. It is purely a question of this, that for two years and some months the Germans have been threatening and carrying 2606 out raids over this country, and yet the defence against Zeppelins to-day, although it has been amplified, is not more scientific than it was two years ago. Have we learned anything about it? It is all very well for Ministers in official communications to say that these things are of no military significance. That is not true. There is military significance in everything in war, and if there is any significance at all, there certainly has been in these raids. As I pointed out in the House, the other night, if one carried out similar raids in Germany by way of reprisal, if we raided one of their towns, we should very soon find what German men and women, the non-combatants, would have to say. I am satisfied that if we had the men and the material to do that, German opinion, seeing the price they had to pay for their raids over England, would very soon say, "Stay your hands." They do not want these raids over their towns, and I am perfectly satisfied that they in their turn would not be prepared to undergo the suffering they have caused here. As to the anti-aircraft guns, in answers to questions in this House it was stated that guns had been removed to make place for more efficient guns. I am sure I would be the last to complain of that, but I think what really happened was that a dummy gun was substituted in the empty emplacement. We have heard the whole story about the dummy guns. These guns were removed, and I suggest that when they were removed we did not put in better guns, because letters which I have received state that in a certain East Coast town no gun was fired at all, not a searchlight was shown. In another East coast town there was one very old-fashioned Boer War pom-pom, which was perambulated about on a motor chassis with, I think, an acetylene searchlight with which they endeavoured to light up the Zeppelin.
We heard a cock-and-bull story about a fog. I have received letters from all parts, written by persons not interested in covering up anything, not interested in trying to make it appear that nothing had failed, but who simply make a bald statement of the fact that it was a bright, starlight night, and that the searchlight never lighted up the Zeppelin at all. That is after two years, and no wonder the country is fed up with it. In this very town, one person writes to me that they were sitting in a cinema theatre, reading on the screen, "This is the best protected town in 2607 England," and within two minutes the bombs were dropping around them and not a gun was fired. Who is responsible for that film; is it an official film; who is responsible for making those false statements on the screens at some of our cinema theatres, and giving false confidence to the public? I would like the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to state whether this is an official announcement, or whether it is that the cinema theatres are doing it to gull the public to go to the cinema theatre, an extremely dangerous place to be in, with inflammable material all round. If they are doing that, I hope the hon. Gentleman will see that it is stopped. It was my intention not to make any mention of the things I said in the past on this occasion. I was very anxious, and I am very anxious, not to allow the justification of my actions to occupy either the time of the House or my time, or to bother about it at all; but since I spoke last the Air Committee of Inquiry into the administration and command of the Air Service has brought forth a Report. I have heard of mountains being in labour producing a mouse. It is not my intention to answer that Report in detail, but I am going, for the benefit of the House, to take just one case to prove how generously this Committee anticipated the wishes of the Government, and to prove that I was justified in that case, and if there is any other case that I have ever mentioned on the floor of this House or on the public platform which either the representatives of that Committee in this House or any member of the Government care to challenge me on the floor of the House I am prepared to substantiate it. My difficulty in that case, as it must be in all cases, is to make my point, which is a Service point, without not only involving but damning the career of the officers who are interested in this particular case. What did the Committee of Inquiry say about the one case which I will just put to the House? In their Report they state:Statement by Mr. Pemberton Billing—Desmond was killed on some type of B.E. machine which had been repaired by the Royal Aircraft Factory. The repaired part broke at 4,000 ft. up, and the pilot was pitched out.Mr. Pemberton Billing's suggestion is that it was faulty design or in bad repair.'I frequently attacked the Government as to spare parts, and I have also attacked official repairs. These are the facts as 2608 given by the Committee, founded presumably on statements of the military witnesses:The date was 28th May, 1913. The place, Montrose. There was a suggestion made at the time that there had been a patch on the outside of the right wing of the plane, and that someone had broken the tip of the wing, then repaired it, and put a patch over the repaired part, the suggestion being that this was done by someone with a view to hiding some damage which he had done to the machine. The matter was closely inquired into at the time by a Committee, of which Mr. H. T. Baker, M.P., was chairman. The Committee have had the notes of the whole of the evidence given to that Committee before them.I would like just to mark that point.There were twenty-three witnesses. The suggestion depends on the unsupported evidence of one man out of those twenty-three witnesses. No useful purpose would be served by reopening the matter, especially as some of the witnesses called have since been killed.Now listen to what the Committee say:A perusal of the transcript of the notes of the evidence lead to the conclusion that the suggestion of a patch is quite unfounded.In fact, this Committee say that Mr. Pemberton Billing made a statement for which he had no justification. He said there was a patch, and there was no patch; he said there were repairs, and there were no repairs; he said the pilot lost his life through maladministration, and that the man was killed through the machine crumpling up in the air through bad design or bad repair, for which officials were responsible; and it is a lie, and the charge he has brought is without foundation. Let us look at the actual Report of the Committee on Public Safety and Accidents, which investigated the case, and the notes of which the Air Committee had before them. The Public Safety and Accidents Committee sat on 2nd June, 1913. There were present Major Sykes, Major Burke, and the Royal Flying Corp military representatives:On consideration of the evidence the Committee regard the following facts as clearly established (1) that the aircraft was built at the Royal Aircraft Factory in June, 1912, and rebuilt there with new wings in August, 1912,The examination of the wrecked aircraft clearly indicated that the top right-hand wing tip had been broken at some time or another and repaired in three places.The joint between new and old piece of the main spar had been made in a most improper and unsafe manner.The toper splice in the woodwork, about 7½ inches long, was very roughly made and badly fitted, there being places in which the glue was an eighth of an inch thick. The splice was subsequently bound with whipcord, which was not treated with cobbler's wax or varnished to prevent it becoming loose. The new portion of the spar was not varnished, but left in its natural state.After the repair had been made, new fabric was put over that portion of the wing affected by the breakage. The new fabric was of a different material from the rest of the wing. The representatives of the Royal Flying 2609 Corps and of the Royal Aircraft Factory reported that their records contained no entry of this repair having been made to the wing of this aircraft since it was rebuilt.Pieces of the wing and struts were picked up a mile away from the spot where the aircraft struck the ground and in the direction from which the aircraft was seen to come, and in such positions that they must have fallen from the aircraft whilst still in the air.The Committee is of opinion that the primary cause of the accident is the failure of the faulty joint, in the repair to the rear main spar. This joint, subjected as it necessarily was to vibration when flying, and probably at the last, only held together by the wrapping of cord, the glue having failed previously, eventually gave way.The Committee is further of opinion that the repair referred to above was so badly done that it could not possibly be regarded as the work of a conscientious and competent workman.
§ Mr. BILLING
The 17th June, 1913. What are we to say to a Committee which makes such a hading when it has access to a Report of this description, a Report made not by a packed Committee, but by independent authorities within twenty-four hours of the accident, with the machine at their feet to examine, who say that there was a patch, a big patch, that the wing had been broken in three places and clumsily repaired, not repaired in a conscientious manner, and that the man when told to fly a certain machine had confidence in his senior officer that it was a safe machine to fly. He gets into this groggy machine to which I have referred and is dashed to death from 4,000 feet, and then it is considered improper if I say that some of our men have been murdered rather than killed. All I have to say is that if this is a sample of the reports that we are to expect from the Air Committee of Inquiry, I do not look forward with any satisfaction, and I am sure the country does not look forward with any confidence, to its future findings. The great charge I brought against the Air Service was what? Faulty mechanism. I said that there was ignorance displayed on the part of those in supreme command. There has been colossal ignorance displayed, and there is appalling ignorance being displayed now by the supreme command. So appalling is that ignorance, so forcibly has it been brought to my notice, that unless before the 10th October some very drastic reforms take place, I shall have very much more to say in this House about the Air Service of our country than ever I said before.
With regard to this engine which was designed by the Government officials—this engine which has been supplied to prac- 2610 tically all our pilots ever since the outbreak of war, in the military branch in particular. This engine has killed more men than any other mechanical contrivance in this War. We are told that this is an excellent and efficient engine. We are told that there is no justification for saying that it is mechanically impossible; that it is a very expensive engine to produce; that it is a very inefficient engine to produce! I asked a question in this House the other day, as to whether the Prime Minister would give the Air Committee access to a Report, extracts of which I propose to give to the House. I was told that there was no such Report; that it could not be found. Some gentlemen do not want to see these Reports. But there is still the pen of an honest man. Fortunately, there are one or two men—quite a number, I hope, though, perhaps, a minority—in the Departments yet who do consider that their country is something even greater than their Departments, and who do consider that if men are to be driven into the air with inefficient machinery that the least they can do is to say so. Here is the Report, from which I shall read brief extracts in the hope of guiding the hon. Member for Rugby (Major Baird) in his search for the original. Any other assistance I can give him I will be happy to do. Here is the Report. Since I raised the question in this House I have ascertained, for I did not know it, that this Report was made at the desire of the Ministry of Munitions, by one of the leading precision engineers in this country.
§ Mr. BILLING
I did not extract it from the post. This is a Report on the labour problem for the Ministry of Munitions. He says:Immediately the manufacturing of any of the component pieces or the erecting and assembling of the complete unit known as the Royal Aircraft Factory engine is attempted … nothing but trouble, disappointment, and scrap result.There is another point that is rather interesting:That no particular unit piece excepting a few standard bolts in the whole of the R.A.F. engine 2611 could be looked upon as a manufacturing proposition. The general design of the whole of this engine was so bad and so ill-considered from the standpoint of manufacture that the most appalling difficulties were experienced in producing it at all. After it was produced the number of consumable spares required to keep the engine running were of such enormous quantities as to make the construction of such a device a farce.This is from the Report upon which these gentleman are basing their replies and attacks upon me. They can have this Report if they want it:Considering these statements and examining Mr. Hannay closely as to the veracity of his accusations, he invited me carefully to go through the construction of this engine with him, and the facts and figures submitted to me were so astounding as to be almost unbelievable.I do not want to trouble the House too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on ! Go on!"]Prior to my inspection of the actual constructional work, Mr. Austin—I do not see why I should not give names—Mr. Austin volunteered the statement that he would be only too pleased if he had no more of these engines to construct, as they were an impossible proposition to make and an impossible machine to maintain in working order when made. He told me, that in spite of this the Contracts Department, who had given, them the order for fifty to sixty per month, wanted this number immediately increased to 100 complete engines per month, and fifty complete sets of spares per month. I asked him if this meant that they required cylinders as well, and he said that cylinders were one of the consumable spares.Many of us know what a motor car is. How many of us when buying a motor car buy two or three dozen spare cylinders for the engine? What should we think of a salesman who tried to sell us a car and who not only recommended but insisted on undertaking that, on delivery, we should take four dozen spare cylinders for fear of a breakdown on the road? They have got motor cars running all over the country going to the factories of the people who are building them, and when they have got completed machines they tear the cylinders off, and I am told on good authority that the week before last in six days 1,800 spare cylinders were sent to France to keep some 200 or 300 engines going.I asked what the life of such an engine was, and he told me in many cases it did not exist for more than twenty-five hours.When a pilot knows that, it must give him anxiously to think at what point that twenty-five hours is reached. Surely this House appreciates that the spare plant of an aeroplane is the crux of the whole problem. Should we supply our airmen with engines of Government design simply because some official has made some ghastly blunder which he has got to substantiate? 2612 He has spent hundreds of thousands it may be in experimental work which cannot be written off, and so he perpetuates his blunder, when all the time, if we wished to, we could be buying and building much more efficient engines. Only this morning it was brought to my notice that, not satisfied with this colossal blunder, another Department of the Royal Flying Corps is bringing out their own engines. This Department has had access ever since the outbreak of the War to all the drawings of all the engine people of this country. General Henderson said before the Committee that, the Royal Aircraft Factory did not have access to the manufacturers' drawings of their engines. Well and good, but there is another Department which did, and that is the Department which is now bringing out this wonderful engine; and I would like to know what experience this gentleman, whose name I would be very pleased to hand to the hon. Member for Rugby, has had for designing this engine? What right has he to waste Government time and Government money, even if we were not at war, and much more so when we are at war, in looking over the designs of private manufacturers, without slavishly following—if he did that it would not be so bad—but making improvements without knowing why they were done? What is the result? They produce an engine, and it is a failure. They give orders to one firm, to two firms, to three firms, whose names I will give the hon. Member, and before the writing on the order is dry they carry out the tests after giving the order, and they find that the engine is inefficient, and this has got to be altered and that has got to be altered. They go round to the firms, and do not even ask permission, but simply cancel these orders. This is not a single case. It has been multiplied, and the engine I am speaking of now is not the engine to which I have been referring, but the engine they are trying to build up to take the place of that engine. It says here that they made up to the two hundred and fortieth engine over 4,000 scrap pieces or parts. There are hon. Members in this House who know what a machine shop is, and perhaps, like me, they have worked in machine shops. You talk about 4,000 spare parts, and you read here that in very few cases of component parts does the scrap go down so low as 75 per cent, of the output. This is the official report, and what I want from the Government Bench is an assurance that this mechanical abortion shall be stopped 2613 before the Adjournment of this House, so that for two months more we do not go on squandering money.
I am sure the £6,000,000 we are spending a day on the War would not justify my keeping the House for half a million or a million pounds spent between now and the reassembling of the House, but it concerns the lives of some of the best men of this country who come to me, although I cannot mention their names, and ask me to see that they get the best engine and the best machine. There is a very great deal more in this Report with which I do not propose to deal now, but I do ask that someone on the Government Bench will ask me for a copy of this Report and make some reassuring statement that the Committee of Inquiry will not leave such ghastly loopholes as this to destroy what little confidence they may have left. In these matters my reputation counts as nought, but I came here to do a certain job, and whether the members of the Government succeed in discrediting me in the eyes of the public or not does not matter. They can attack me as much as they like, but for the sake of the men who are laying down their lives I hope they will pay some little attention to the matters to which I have drawn attention. I did propose to read some letters I have received from East Coast towns, but really that is a matter which demands the attention of the Government. I am sorry for the hon. Member for Rugby (Major Baird), and this prevents me getting cross with him. At one time the difficult duty of answering questions was divided between the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, the Under-Secretary, and the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and the Minister of Munitions; but since this new post has come into existence, since this official steel helmet which the Government have put on to protect them from air attacks in the shape of the Air Board has been created, the hon. Member for Rugby has got to take all the blame, and while I am sorry for him I am exceedingly annoyed that the genuine criticisms of the Air Service should be side-tracked in this way. The hon. Member for Rugby may be very sincere, but he cannot tell me why the defences of a certain North-East Coast town are hopelessly inadequate, and he cannot give me an assurance from the Government Bench that more efficient guns shall take their place, or that reprisals or something, at least, shall be 2614 done. He cannot even trace the little report that I told him so much about. I think it is time that the Government, with a* due sense of proportion in relation to other problems with which we are now faced, took this air matter into consideration just long enough to introduce action instead of apathy. A member of the Flying Corps, speaking to me on the question of the Government's position, said, "If blood is the price of incompetence, Lord God, we have paid in full!" That just about sizes it up. In Mesopotamia, the Dardanelles, Antwerp—wherever they have put their foot, and wherever they have tried to administer, there has been nothing but blood, sorrow, and mismanagement. They come with such regularity that it is almost possible to anticipate in any future action the order in which they will follow. Whenever criticism gets a little keen, and whenever either indifferent or—I do not know whether I am allowed to say it—impertinent answers are given, a Committee is appointed. I have greater hopes for some of the other Committees which have been appointed recently, but I would ask the House to appreciate that the findings of this Air Committee and that the attitude of it, so far as it has been at present revealed to us, do not command the respect and confidence of this House or of the country.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into any of the more controversial matters which he has raised, but as he has made somewhat of an attack upon the Air Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, I feel that I ought to let the House know something of the methods which that Committee adopted in their investigations. The Air Committee was appointed as a committee which was to be presided over by a gentleman of judicial training and judicial mind. Our proposal was to invite, and we did indeed invite, evidence to be brought before us, not of a strictly legal kind, but the best evidence which anyone who had any suggestion to make, any criticism to make, or any charge to make against the Air Service could obtain. We heard, amongst others, the hon. Member for East Herts, who has just spoken. Indeed, I may say that it was because of his charges of criminal negligence against the higher command of the Air Service—primarily, at any rate—that this Committee were appointed and constituted. We heard evidence, whether direct or indirect, whether 2615 of their own personal knowledge or by hearsay, from anyone who chose to come before us. We not only invited the hon. Member for East Herts to come before us, but we gave him every opportunity to prepare his case. It is true—I do not make any complaint; I am merely reminding the House of the fact—that he treated us with considerable contempt; but eventually he did consent to come before us, and, as he had made charges, we were only too pleased that he should come and let us know what he knew and give us such information as he had got and as was available to him. He had provided for him some three postponements, going over a considerable number of weeks, in order to enable him to prepare the case which he had said in March of this year he was prepared at that moment to prove in this House to any individual Member. But we gave him such time as he required.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order. I would like to point out that the postponements referred to were with the express intention of giving the Committee an opportunity of taking a holiday, which I cheerfully assented to—the postponement after the first ten days.
§ Mr. SHORTT
The hon. Member's memory misleads him. We eventually had the hon. Member before us, and he produced any amount of hearsay evidence. Of course I quite appreciate his reason for refusing to mention any names. We appreciated that, and we heard all the hearsay evidence he had to bring before us. He brought no matter, no hearsay evidence which we could trace, to which we could attach a name or with regard to which we could ask for any person to be called before us. I mention that for this reason, that I am now going to tell the House what steps we took, as a Committee, to enable members of the Air Service to come before us without any possibility of their identity being known, either to General Henderson or to anyone in the Higher Command. What we did was this: We asked gentlemen, like the hon. Member for East Herts, to give us the names of any witness they desired should be called before us. We got from General Henderson a complete list of all the members of the Air Service who happened to be in this country, and we chose a list, which embraced not only those witnesses whose names were given to us by critics of the 2616 Air Service, like the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Bennett-Goldney)—
§ Mr. SHORTT
Really, I think I might be allowed to go on with my speech. We not only embraced their names, but a large number of others. Their names were sent in to Headquarters, and every name we sent in was ordered to appear before the Committee. So that nobody knew that any particular witness was called before the Committee, and nobody, neither General Henderson nor anyone else, knew which were the witnesses named by the hon. Member for Hertford, if he did name any, which he did not, by the hon. Members for Brentford or Canterbury, by Lord Montagu, or by anybody else. Therefore, it was perfectly safe for any member of the Air Service to come before the Committee and to give any evidence he chose.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I did hear a complaint from Lord Montagu of one witness who, on his return from the Committee—the witness, by the way, was not called and did not give evidence—was embroiled in some way with the civil police, nothing to do with the military at all. That was the only case I did hear of. If the hon. Member will tell me of any other, I am sure it will be looked into.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I cannot say. I have only heard of one, and I do not propose to detain the House any longer. These witnesses were able to come before us; they were examined without their names being disclosed. They were A, B, C, D, E; they were called by the critics. And the hon. Member for East Herts was invited to call any witnesses that he chose—any witnesses. He was not only invited to call any witnesses. He was pressed over and over again to say whether the cases he brought before the Committee were those upon which he relied and were those to which he attached any importance. He was pressed by the learned judge to say whether he had any more 2617 cases to which he attached any importance at all, and he said he had not. He was asked whether he had any more documents to produce, and he had none. Of course, if a document had been produced to the Committee, we should have been able to see who was responsible for the document, and if the person was available we could have brought the person before us. The reports which the hon. Member has mentioned to-night we have never heard of. When there was a chance of their being cross-examined, he never mentioned them to us at all. We had such evidence as was available to us. We had the whole of the evidence that could be brought before us, and upon that we had to decide.
I do not propose to go into the question of the engine to which the hon. Member has referred. I can only say this: that upon that we have not yet reported, therefore it would be most improper for me to offer anything at all to-night. We have only reported what our opinion is as to the "murder" charges. We have not yet reported upon any of the much wider questions that came before us, or the wider criticisms which came before us. Therefore I do not propose to say a word about them. I will only say that we have had a very large body of evidence with regard to the "B 2 C," which is the machine the hon. Member has most faithfully attacked, and with regard to the engine designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory. As the hon. Member has once again used expressions which are calculated to cause considerable disquietude not only among the public but especially among those who have friends and relatives in the Air Service, I think I am entitled to say, without intimating in the slightest degree what the finding of the Committee may be, that the evidence with regard to that engine, its reliability, its usefulness, and with regard to the machine generally does not coincide with that of the hon. Member. He may be right; they may be wrong. That is another matter. It would not be right for me to go into further detail of anything the hon. Member has said, but I did wish the House to appreciate fully exactly what the Committee was doing, the methods it was adopting, and that we were attempting, as far as possible, to obtain all the information we could, and to do it, as far as possible, without disclosing the identity of any witness or of anybody 2618 who chose to come before us. I may say, in conclusion, that we have not yet finished. There is still an opportunity for the hon. Member if he thinks that there is any evidence that he can bring which we have not yet had. If he thinks there is anything he can tell us that we do not know, we will welcome him. He can come, and he will have the same facilities to give his evidence and the same safeguards for any witnesses he may bring that he has had all through the investigation.
§ Sir A. GELDER
It is not my intention or desire to follow the hon. Member for East Herts in regard to the technical matters of which he has spoken to-night respecting our air defences on the East Coast. He has reviewed the matter to a certain extent broadly, and told us what is the lack of proper defences. The Secretary for War to-day said that our first duty was to win this War abroad. We are all in hearty co-operation with that sentiment. But added to that there is the necessity imposed upon His Majesty's Government of making adequate protection as far as practicable for the defence of this country against the murderous attacks of Zeppelins. I do not say that whatever we do we shall be immune from them, but not sufficient attention has been paid to this very important matter in the past. I also emphasise the fact that there has been no continuity of policy, no thorough scheme propounded for adequate defence. Part of the time it has been under the wing of the Admiralty, and part under that of the Army. Now I suppose it is under that of the Air Committee. As a result there has been no co-ordination, and the policy has been one of chopping and changing, to the disadvantages and to the lack of protection of the people in certain parts of the country.
§ Major BAIRD (representing the Air Board)
Everybody sympathises with the relatives and friends of people who have lost their lives as the result of Zeppelin raids; but we are at War, and that unfortunately involves loss of life. Up to now there have been thirty-four such raids. In ten no casualties occurred, and the total number of persons killed in the remainder was 334 civilians, and 50 military. That loss of life is very regrettable, but no one can say that it has had any influence on the conduct of the operations. The military damage caused by the raiders has been absolutely nil. I have received from 2619 the Commander-in-Chief and from my right hon. Friend the authority to state that, if any hon. Member who desires to be reassured or seeks information with regard to the defences in his own locality will come to the Air Board, the Board will satisfy him to the best of its ability. The Zeppelins have not got off so unscathed, as people might imagine, and this is rather important to remember. We have destroyed, officially reported—in the "bag"—so to speak—seven of them. Five others have been damaged to such an extent that there is every reason to hope that they have been practically destroyed, but it is unwise to count them if you cannot be absolutely certain about them. The Allies, as a whole, have accounted for thirty-five Zeppelins. When you come to count the amount of damage that has been done, I am bound to say that T do ret think we have any cause to complain.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Major BAIRD
You must remember that the Germans have been preparing for forty years for war, and we have been preparing during the past forty years for perpetual peace. You cannot suddenly improvise defences to make up for the time and the opportunities you have lost, and the money you did not spend in all those years. What reception would any hon. Member have got in this House, on whatever side he sat, if, four years ago even, he had suggested that we should spend £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 on defences against aircraft? We must make the best of it; the best of it is pretty good, and a good deal better than it is represented by hon. Members. And hon. Members should remember this, and it is necessary that they should realise this—it is very important—that the allocation of anti-aircraft guns, and of all artillery, must necessarily remain in the hands of the General Staff. They have to consider the whole problem from the military point of view. There is no possibility of considering it from any other point of view. You are waging a War, and you have to consider not only the requirements of this country, but those of our Expeditionary Force in France, and of all the forces which we have operating in other parts of the world. You have to consider that problem as a whole, and to distribute your armament and defences in such a manner as to render the most efficient service, and to contribute to the best 2620 of our ability to defeat the enemy. That is the only possible way to look at it. The greatest service which hon. Members can render—I hope they will allow me to say this—if they are not satisfied with the defences in their locality, or if they do not know what the defences are—is to come to us, to enable us to have the information given to them, and when they go down to their locality, to do their utmost to satisfy their neighbours and friends who live around them that everything possible is being done that can be done in the circumstances to secure them.
I do not know that I am called on to make any remarks with regard to the hon. Member for East Herts. I wish he would remember that, though he is anxious for a reform of the Flying Corps, so am I. I should not be here if I were not. I approach the problem from a different point of view. But it really is no use his continuing these wild statements, because he has had a Committee set up to consider his complaints. The system of the hon. Member seems to be this. A Committee is appointed to investigate the charges he makes He is dissatisfied with the findings of that Committee, and lie constitutes himself an Appeal Tribunal, and gives the appeal in his own favour. I do not think that is very convincing.
§ Major BAIRD
I know the hon. Member is identified with the Press. But all these inquiries take up the time of officers who would be otherwise employed. People talk at large, but let us be business-like and, when the matter has been inquired into, accept the decision of the Committee. Who were the Committee? They were a very distinguished judge, two experienced and respected hon. Members of this House, a very distinguished general, a lawyer, and two engineers. The Committee sat for twenty-two days. The hon. Member occupied the whole of four days with the Committee, and part of two other days. That does not account for the time that he took up in cross-examination and examining witnesses. What Flying Corps in the world can show the record of our Flying Corps? I cannot imagine why the hon. Member should use such expressions as he did, with all the experience and the very honourable record he has. Undoubtedly it does create a sense of disquiet and anxiety among the parents of these 2621 glorious young men who are serving in our Flying Corps. Moreover, it is an anxiety which is not shared by the men behind the engines. It is quite gratuitous on the hon. Member's part. The engine to which I think he referred—R.A. F. la—is one which may have had the defects he described long ago—
§ Major BAIRD
I prefer to have the report of hundreds of officers who fly these engines, and not the report of an individual who, through a gross breach of confidence, has communicated with the hon. Member, and who has gone down in the course of confidential work for the Government and made a report. He is not an expert on aeroplane engines. I am not going to discuss the merits or argue with the hon. Member as to the value of the two reports. On the one hand you have the men who fly the engines abroad, and who say they are good engines. After all, they always "get you home"—that is the expression used in regard to them. On the other hand, you have the report to which the hon. Member has referred. What earthly service is rendered by the hon. Member to us, a country at war, who are building up day by day this Flying Corps, which is doing the most marvellous work? Nobody will deny that.
§ Major BAIRD
The fact remains, if I may bring in a personal matter, that I have had much more experience of the Flying Corps than the hon. Member, particularly that part of it which chiefly uses these engines. Obviously he is misinformed.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has put the question to me whether I speak as an expert. The question put did not relate to any expert know- 2622 ledge. It was as to the opinion of the men who do fly. I assert that their opinion is that of the hon. Member for East Herts.
§ Major BAIRD
I do not minimise for a moment the question whether the engine is good or bad, because it would be a scandal to send men up habitually to do work with bad engines if you can send up better ones. But we do not do anything of the kind. [Interruption.] The hon. Member can go on repeating that as long as he likes.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member (Mr. Billing) was listened to in complete silence in the long speech he made. The least he can do is to listen to the answer.
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it not reasonable if the hon. Gentleman makes a definite statement that I should have a right to express my disagreement?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is a good deal more than that. The hon. Member keeps up a running commentary of interjections which he has no right whatever to do. That is what I am asking him to refrain from.
§ Major BAIRD
I am authorised by the Secretary of State to extend to any other Member the invitation I have already given, with a view to satisfying their friends. They must expect Zeppelin raids. As regards the specific points which have been raised, there is the question of lack of policy. At the beginning of the war, it is true, home defence was in the hands of the Navy. Since the beginning of this year it has been entirely in the hands, so far as land defences are concerned, of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, and he has a very complete scheme of aerial as well as other defence which is being carried out as rapidly as the guns and aeroplanes required can be provided. That has been arranged on a systematic plan, and I give the hon. Member the assurance that no gun will be removed, except on replacement by a better one. I do hope that the hon. Member will take this assurance that everything has been done, and is being done, to secure the best possible means of dealing with a very important matter.