HC Deb 20 December 1916 vol 88 cc1555-8

For the purpose of organising and maintaining the supply of aircraft in the national interest in connection with the present War, it shall be lawful for His Majesty to establish an Air Board, consisting of a President appointed by His Majesty, who shall hold office during His Majesty's pleasure, and of other members who shall be appointed in such manner and subject to such provisions as His Majesty may by Order in Council direct. The President of the Board shall act with the advice of the other members of the Board.

For the purposes of this Act the President of the Air Board shall be deemed to be a Minister appointed under this Act and the Air Board a Ministry established under this Act.


I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

I move purely formally to leave out this Clause in order to ask what will be the powers of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Air Board which it is proposed to appoint. We shall probably have a whole day after the House reassembles for discussing the constitution and powers of the Air Board. It was promised us by the last Government, and I am quite sure that the present Government will keep that promise. Before we go off for the holidays I wish the right hon. Gentleman could give us some indication what will be the powers of this Parliamentary Secretary and what he will answer for, what the composition of the Board will be, and what his powers will be. I am glad to say that the Board has now been turned into an Air Ministry. I suppose it is the work of the right hon. Gentleman, and I thank him that we have at last got an Air Ministry, if only in name. I want to know whether their duties will be entirely advisory, or whether they will have executive power. Up to now the Biard has consisted of a Cabinet Minister, a Member of the other House, a Member of this House, and representatives of the Army and the Navy. I want to know whether a representative of the Ministry of Munitions is going to be added to this Board. I would lay great stress on that, and, if it has not been so decided, I would urge upon the right hon. Gentleman whether the matter could not be reconsidered. After all, nothing can be done, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, without the Minister of Munitions. He has absolute control over all the men and the materials in this country, and this Air Board must come up against the Ministry of Munitions whatever it does. Unless, therefore, there is a representative of that Ministry on the Board I am afraid that there will be great trouble.

There is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, an International Commission in this country which lives at India House, and which buys aircraft material for our Allies. Great power is being given to the Air Board, far greater power, I hope, than it had before, and I would press upon the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would not be advisable to put on the Air Board a representative of that International Commission; otherwise they will be in a very difficult position in supplying the needs of our Allies. They will have no say at all in the getting of the material, and we may find that our Allies are not properly supplied as they should be. Finally, will the powers of this Air Ministry continue after the War, or will they cease when the War is over? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to make the Ministry permanent. We are told that the Labour Ministry is going to continue. Why should not the Air Ministry continue? It is perfectly obvious that aviation in the future must be of far greater importance than it has been in the past, and why the Ministry should cease—in the case of the Under-Secretary, six months after the end of the War, and in the case of the Ministry as a whole, twelve months after the War—I cannot see. Surely it would be better to let it remain on and make any alteration in its composition or powers which may be necessary after the War.


I wish to offer a few remarks on this Clause. I think, perhaps, they would be more in order on the new Clause. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in the course of some very valuable remarks has addressed himself to a question which appertains more closely to the new Clause. With my hon. Friend I would like to know a little more about the constitution of this new Air Board or Ministry, or whatever it may be called. I would like to lay stress upon one point particularly. The Minister responsible should have a seat in this House. If he is a representative in another place he is far removed from our sphere of action and the greater mental activity which prevails in this House, and really we have no control over him whatever. We have no control, moreover, over his representative, because in nine cases out of ten he simply replies that he will consult his Noble Friend. He has no authority to give a definite reply to any important question whatever. It seems to me, therefore, not only an important point, but an essential point, that the Minister responsible should be in this House.

We were never able to obtain any definite information with respect to the last Air Board. It seemed to work in the dark, and we were certain only of one thing, and that was that it never produced any valuable result at all. It left the question of air supremacy pretty much where it took it up, and its only effect was that it acted as a sort of breakwater to public opinion and to the opinion of this House in order to delay the solution of this most important question. I hope, therefore, that with the change of Ministry there will be also a change of methods—more activity and more real work, more energy and more determination to produce something definite and concrete than has yet been shown by the Board. Failure was stamped on that Board from the very beginning, because, instead of being a real workmanlike Board full of men of great brain power and with great capacity for producing really valid and bold plans, its composition reminded one of the ornamental names which fill the directorships of showy city companies. Now is a time when we do not want ornamental names or titles or frippery of that sort. We want brains; in fact, I could emulate the Prime Minister yesterday and say three times the same thing. We want brains, brains, brains, and not one tithe of the brains which this country commands has been utilised even in this great new forward Government. Now is the time to watch the composition of this Air Board very closely and to take it as a kind of touchstone showing the real value of this new Government, and how much the country has gained by this great change. Up to the present all the signs have been disappointing. I leave the matter at this stage, to return to it with greater force and with the intention of offering perfectly definite concrete suggestions later.


With regard to the composition and powers of the Board, as my hon. Friend will understand, the matter has not yet been finally settled. It is still under consideration, and I am afraid I cannot give him a final answer to-day. I have reason to believe that it is proposed that the Ministry of Munitions shall be represented on the Board, but with regard to the other body mentioned by the hon. Member I take a different view from him. I think there would be an objection to having it represented on the Ministry. The proposal is that the Ministry should be created for the War and should continue for a year after the War. That will leave ample time, and I have no doubt that the question of continuing the Board will be taken into consideration as soon as the War comes to an end.


Will the head of the Board be in this House?


I cannot say.


Has any decision been come to yet by the Government as to the means of supplying aircraft?


That is under consideration. It will be considered in a few days as part of the arrangement for setting up the Board.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.