§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words,
"That this House humbly regrets that no mention is made in the Gracious Speech from the Throne of any proposals for placing the Air Services of the country on a firmer and stronger basis."
In moving this Amendment I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not in any sense a party attack upon the Government. It is rather a patriotic effort to improve the condition of our Air Services. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) said, quite truly, that the action we shall take upon this Amendment depends almost entirely upon the answer the Government give to it. There is no subject, I imagine, upon which public feeling is stronger at the present moment than the subject of our Air Services. It has been brought to a head very largely by the effects of the 82 undisputed raid which the German Zeppelins made over us on the 31st of last month. While, in my opinion, the actual effects of the Zeppelin raids are a very small portion of the whole question, I cannot help suggesting to the Government, and, indeed, to those Members of the House who have had no experience of the Zeppelin raids, that where the raids have taken place the feeling is very strong indeed with regard to the mode in which the Government has neglected the possibilities of defence against those raids Anyone who has seen a raid or who has been in contact with those who have seen a raid cannot but feel strongly that our population is entitled to every possible protection which an alert and capable Government can give them against that horrible form of murder in which the Germans have chosen to indulge. We have been eighteen months or a little longer at war. The Government have had all that time to reconstruct and improve their Air Services. They have known all that time what the possibilities were. Indeed, they knew long before the War began what could be done by the Germans and what could be done by ourselves in reply.
The position of a prophet who prophesies evil is never a comfortable one, but the position of a prophet who prophesies an evil which comes true is a very far from pleasant one, therefore I do not propose in any way to refer to the speeches which I and other Members have made in this House. The whole of England, very largely through the Press, who were, perhaps, more wide awake in this matter than the Government itself, saw what the possibilities of the Air Services were long before the War began. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) is not in his place to-day. If he had been here I should have liked to remind him that the Northcliffe Press, whatever views he might have about it, has done a very real service to the cause of getting real supremacy in the air long before the War began. I notice that in 1911 the "Daily Mail" advocated more aeroplanes and more airmen. Eighteen months before the War, in April, 1913, there was this very remarkable sentence in one of their leading articles:—The conquest of the air by man has revolutionised the art of warfare—I am afraid our Army and Navy did not realise the truth of that sentence. 83So profound is the revolution that its full meaning has not been grasped by either the Government or the people.I venture to hope that to-day the Government and the heads of the Army and Navy fully agree with those sentiments, for the warfare of the present has been and, still more, the warfare of the future will be revolutionised by the new arm which has come into being. As soon as the War began efforts were made of one kind or another, by the Leader of the Government in this House, first of all, to satisfy us that all was well in regard to the Air Service. I do not wish to quote again the speeches of the late Secretary of State for War in regard to the airship question, because he is now serving very gallantly in the field, but I want to call attention to a statement made in this House in March, 1914, only five months before the War began, by the then First Lord of the Admiralty, and if those statements had been carried out we should not to-day be in the position we are in in regard to our defenceless state against Zeppelin raids. The right hon. Gentleman informed us that a considerable new programme of airship construction had been approved.A contract has been made with Messrs. Vickers for one large and three smaller non-rigid dirigible airships. The rigid is approximately a Zeppelin of the British type. Having regard to our great and growing superiority in the seaplane, we consider that the additional airship provision is, under present conditions, sufficient.That is a statement made by the man who was responsible, the man who knew what Zeppelins could do, the man who knew the powers and the possibilities of Zeppelins, because they had been stated long before then. The first thing I am entitled to ask is where is that non-rigid airship of the Zeppelin type which was laid down in March, 1914? He went on to tell us—We have, built and building and ordered, fifteen airships.When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of airships in that Debate, I am quite certain he did not mean, or if he did mean no one thought he meant, the small type of sausage balloon which, I admit, has done very good service. What he meant, or what the House at all events thought he meant, was an airship which was able to cope with Zeppelin airships brought out by Germany. I do not want to rub it in too strongly, but this is the same speech in which he told us of the swarm of hornets which would go up immediately an offensive Zeppelin came across our shores.We are already in a position of effective strength and any hostile aircraft, airships, or aeroplanes reached 84 our coast daring the coming year would be promptly attacked in superior force, by a swarm of very formidable hornets.1915 has gone, 1916 is here, and it is a commonplace to say that up to the present moment, whatever arrangements have been made by the Government, our shores are open to the incursion of Zeppelins in any number they like to send—not merely our shores, not merely the East Coast and the South Coast, not merely London, but as we now know, the Midlands, which many of us thought were at least secure from Zeppelin raids. What we want to get at to-day is who is really responsible for the condition of things which has allowed this to take place, and who is going to be responsible in the months which are to come. We have had the War Office, the Admiralty, the Home Office. We have had the present First Lord and we have had Sir Percy Scott to deal with the gunnery question. Sir Percy Scott served the purpose of the Government some few months ago. He was an eminent Admiral; a man in whom the whole public had confidence, and he was appointed by the Government, perhaps it is not fair to say to throw dust in the eyes of the public, but his appointment had the effect of doing so. It had the effect of making people think "Sir Percy Scott is in charge; everything will now be right, and the gunnery defences of England will very soon be put on a perfect basis." Now we are told Sir Percy Scott is no longer going to be in control of the gunnery defences of our land. I do not quite know whether he is there to-day or not. I do not quite know whether the Navy or the Army is really controlling this matter at present. The chopping and changing is very remarkable. It began on 28th October by the statement of my right hon. Friend, to which I called attention once before, that the military are responsible for sending up military aeroplanes, and the Navy for sending up naval aeroplanes. My information is that, whatever the military were responsible for, and whatever the Navy was responsible for, neither of them sent up aeroplanes when the Zeppelins came along on the 31st of last month. Then on 14th December the Under-Secretary of State for War told us:—The defences of London are being transferred to the control of the War Department. Sir Percy Scott will no longer be in charge.On 19th January the same right hon. Gentleman told us—The London Anti-aircraft defences are still under the control of the Admiralty.85 On 14th December they were being transferred to the War Office. On 19th January they had got back again to the Admiralty.It is not desirable in the public interest to make any further statement at present.I imagine not. I should imagine that if the responsibility for the air defences jumped about in December and January in that manner, it would not be desirable to make any further statement until they had really made up their minds where the defences were going to be. Two days later, after we had been told by the Under-Secretary that the defences were under the control of the Admiralty, the Prime Minister stated—Certain changes in the aircraft defences are under consideration.On 27th January the First Lord of the Admiralty told us that the aircraft defences were being handed over to the Army. Where are they now? Who was responsible for the condition of the gunnery defences on 31st January, when the Zeppelin raid took place? We are told—I hope this is not more dust thrown in the eyes of the people—that at present arrangements are being made to hand the entire defence of London over to Field Marshal Lord French. I presume that means gunnery defence, and, I take it, aeroplane defence as well. I should have thought if there was one man who had enough to do without undertaking the defence of London, it was the Field Marshal. We understand that he has come back from the front in order to control and organise the Forces of the Grown in this country. All the different commands—the Northern, Southern, Western, and Eastern commands—which have been in the habit of referring and reporting direct, as we are told, to Lord Kitchener, will now report and refer direct to Lord French. He is responsible for the military training centres at Aldershot and at Salisbury Plain. We see from the public Press that the Field Marshal is going up and down the country inspecting these troops because he has the responsibility upon his shoulders of organising, training, equiping and preparing some two million men who are believed to be in this country to-day, to have them to send over to France to fight either as drafts or as complete units. Surely that is enough for one general, however able and however vital he may be in the capacity to work. What is to happen, may I ask, when Lord French is inspecting some of these troops in Northumberland and a raid is immi- 86 nent? Is a telephone message or telegram to be sent, "Come back at once, never mind the troops, and take charge of the Zeppelin defences here," or is he, when an application is required for him to go to Salisbury training centre, to say, "Lam very sorry, but I cannot go because I have to stay and look after the anti-aircraft defence of London"? Really, it seems to me, if they had desired to pitch upon the one man who would give confidence to the public, they have pitched on the right man; but if they desired to pitch upon the one man who, of all others, could not possibly do the work owing to his other great duties, they have pitched upon that man also.
The powers of the Zeppelin are increasing very strongly. I want the House to realise how much Zeppelins have improved, and therefore how much our defence ought to improve concurrently. Four years ago the Zeppelin had a radius, out and home, of 250 miles. Two years ago it had a radius of 350 miles. To-day it has a radius of over 450 miles, and there is every reason to suppose that within a short time the Zeppelin will have a radius of at least 600 miles, out and home. This time they went not merely to the East Coast, but got right into the middle of the country. Our defence against Zeppelins must come under three heads. It can either be by gunnery, by aeroplane, or by a strong offensive over on the other side of the water. I leave out of the question defence by Zeppelins of our own because we have not got them. In that matter the responsibility lies very heavy on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman who was First Lord of the Admiralty at an earlier period. Think what the benefit would have been if we had three, four, or five large airships of the Zeppelin type able to patrol our East Coast whenever there was a chance of Zeppelins coming over, and able to meet them there! If we had had four or five Zeppelins we should not have had these raids carried out so successfully as they have been. In regard to anti-aircraft guns, Sir Percy Scott has, I understand, for some months been in charge of the anti-aircraft gunnery defences. I am not sure whether his liability and his power were confined to the defences of London or whether he had responsibilities, for the whole of our coast defences as well. Whatever the answer may be, I am afraid the position is somewhat unsatisfactory.
87 Let us look at the position. We had these six Zeppelins over here, and it is no good shirking the facts. We have to deal with the facts as they are, to see what ought to have been done and what was done on the 31st January. These Zeppelins came over our East Coast. It is well known where they came. They came in daylight. They were seen, not merely by scores but by hundreds of people, coming over, as they nearly always do come over, flying low down. It is essential, I understand, for the Zeppelins to cross the coast rather low after drifting across the sea in order that they may pick up the landmarks and see where they are and then direct their course to whatever position is required. These Zeppelins came over flying not more than two or three thousand feet high. I do not think anyone will deny that. That was a height at which any anti-aircraft gunnery of any pretensions to use could have got them down. What was the truth in regard to the matter? Either the guns were not fired or the guns were no use. That is the position. There is no alternative. Either they were not fired or they were no use.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
If they were not there, they were not fired. I understood, and I think from statements which have been made in this House we were entitled to understand, that there were guns on our East Coast ready to meet Zeppelins. That it is not a difficult matter to bring down Zeppelins by aircraft gunnery let me read what the late Secretary of State for War said in regard to the question. He is an authority. In March, 1913, the late Secretary for War made a very important statement in this House.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Secretary of State for War (Brigadier-General Seely), on 9th March, 1913, made the following statement in this House with regard to experiments they had been making in regard to anti-aircraft guns:We have been for a long time conducting very careful inquiries upon these questions.… All the mechanical difficulties have been completely solved, and the actual difficulty of hitting an aerial target at a 88 considerable height, moving at an unknown speed, and at an unknown height, has been enormously exaggerated, and everybody concerned has been surprised beyond measure at the apparent ease and remarkable accuracy that can be attained in firing at aerial targets."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1913, col. 1080, Vol. L]That was the view of the Secretary of State for War at that date, and he, as a member of the Cabinet, was responsible for that Department, and I and the rest of the public were entitled to take the right hon. Gentleman's statement as having some backing behind it. I put forward this statement by the right hon. Gentleman in aid of my speech to-day and to strengthen my position when I ask the Government whether the anti-aircraft guns were there when the Zeppelins came over, and, if so, why they did not fire? I will not mention places, but I have a great deal of information in regard to what happened when the Zeppelins came over. There was one gun, a big gun, at one place where the Zeppelins came over on the East Coast, flying at a height of not more than about 3,000 feet. This gun stood, more or less, on end and fired at the Zeppelin. It missed it, but the effort of firing was such that the gun rolled over and it fired no more. I ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tennant) whether that is true or not. I want to go further. I want to ask him, or perhaps I ought to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, because I think he is responsible, what is the condition of our anti-aircraft corps at the present time? It was started eighteen months ago, and a very large number of men volunteered, men of the keenest intelligence and determination, who gave up their positions in order that they might serve their country in this anti-aircraft corps. They have been given guns and they have been practising from time to time on the East Coast. I will not say what part of the East Coast I am referring to, but I will give the right hon. Gentleman the particulars. This is the position of this particular corps on the 31st January last, which had control of about 3,000 square miles of our land—a force which the Crown rely upon to bring down Zeppelins if they come over, and which we were entitled to rely upon, because everyone knew of their existence. They had ten maxim guns, which were used in the Boer War, mounted. Maxim guns fire rifle bullets, and you might as well fire a pea shooter at an elephant as to fire maxim guns at a Zeppelin with any hope of bringing it down. In September last year, when things became critical in regard to Zeppelin raids, they were pro- 89 vided with certain 1-lb. pom-poms and also 1½-lb. pom-poms. Of these pom-poms three were new at the time of the South African War, and five were reconstructed last year. They were guns which Sir Percy Scott turned out of London because they were not good enough for London, and so they were sent down to the East Coast, although the East Coast is the place where, as everybody knows, we ought to attack the Zeppelins. The First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me in that, because in the last speech he made in this House he said quite frankly that we must have local defences as well as coast defences, and he entirely agrees that we should extend the circle of our defences as far as possible, and, if you can and when you can, catch your Zeppelin as he approaches your shores. That is the view of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is my view, and it is the view of everybody. We should catch the Zeppelins on the coast. But how can you expect to catch them on the coast if you arm your men with guns of the calibre I have mentioned? Now I think the hon. Member is answered who asked me why the guns did not fire. They were there, but they were no use. They did fire some of them, it is only fair to say that. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know I can tell him that these guns were fired numbers of times during previous Zeppelin raids. They have been in action again and again, but they are no earthly use whatever. Is the country to be palmed off after eighteen months of war with defences of that kind? Surely that question hardly needs elaborating? At the end of eighteen months, after raid after raid has taken place, this is the condition of affairs. Are you going to end it?
The second mode of defence is by aeroplane, by patrols of aeroplanes. This is where I want to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman referring to the statement that the military send up the military aeroplanes and the Navy send up the naval aeroplanes. Who sent up the aeroplanes on the 31st January? The Zeppelins were there in broad daylight. They were seen at 5 o'clock and at 5.15. There they were coming over the coast, and they were not flying high. It was known that they were coming, yet where the Zeppelins came over the aeroplanes did not go up. The right hon. Gentleman indicates that I am wrong there. It may be that in one place they did not go up, and that in another place they did go up I will show him the letters I have received, 90 stating that in certain places they did not go up. If they did go up, what did they do? What was the result? Were they properly armed? Were they aeroplanes that were able to cope with Zeppelins? Were they aeroplanes that could fly quickly and get to the top of the Zeppelins and drop the necessary bombs upon them and smash them up? Were they aeroplanes with sufficiently powerful machine guns to deal with the Zeppelins when they got up, or were they merely aeroplanes that went up for scouting purposes? It is perfectly possible to have fleets of aeroplanes, fleets of formidable hornets, to use the words of the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Churchill) around our coast, not only when Zeppelin raids are taking place, but when aeroplane raids are taking place. At Dover and Broad-stairs aeroplanes came over. Where were our aeroplanes? Why were they not there to attack them?
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
An hon. Member reminds me that they came over at Deal also. I do not like to give figures, but it would not give the Germans any information of value if the Government would tell us how many battle aeroplanes there are at Dover capable of competing with the German aeroplanes when they come over. I do not mean school machines. I do not mean machines for teaching young officers to fly, although, of course, they are necessary, but I mean battle aeroplanes, capable of going up when needed, and capable of dealing with the enemy when they get up. The Under-Secretary for War (Mr. Tennant) told us in answer to a question that you cannot send aeroplanes up by merely pressing a button. You can send out a fire engine with two horses and six men in thirty seconds. The London Fire Brigade do that. You cannot send up aeroplanes by pressing a button if they are not ready, if they are not oiled, greased, and filled with petrol. You cannot send them up if their pilots are not there, but if you have a proper service at every station just as you have in connection with, the London Fire Brigade, where you have fire engines and men ready to go out the moment when a fire breaks out, and if you have three or four aeroplanes ready with men there, all you have got to do is to turn a handle and off goes the aeroplane. If the machine is ready and the men are there it 91 is just as simple as pressing a button. We know that the condition of affairs in our air stations is not such, after eighteen months of war, as will enable our men to go up when they see the enemy aircraft coming in broad daylight across the English Channel. We were told by another Cabinet Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, that he had many men who would go up in aeroplanes and dash into Zeppelins when they approach. That is very fine indeed, but you have to give your men better machines. That would be certain death, and I do not want to call upon any man to incur cerain death by doing that. If you will give them proper machines they can meet the enemy. You must arrange for flying with your aeroplanes at night. On the coast you can catch the enemy's aircraft by daylight, but in London and large towns they must fly at night. What arrangement are there for flying grounds where our aeroplanes can rise and descend? At Barnes, Wimbledon, Hendon, Brooklands, and Hyde Park there are large open spaces, and we are entitled to know what general arrangements are being made with respect to flying by night. They cannot go up at night unless they have had practise in flying at night. You must have considerable spaces for flying grounds, lighted by sufficient electric light, which can be turned off and on when a raid is taking place, so that your aeroplanes can go up and come down in safety. We asked for that before the War, and those who know anything about aeronautics have asked for it over and over again. Are we going to make arrangements even now so that things may be better before the conclusion of the War? What would be still better would be to carry on the offensive, confined not to London and not to our coasts, but to the coasts of the enemy, to Germany, and those parts of Belgium where the Germans are. We are told that it is difficult. We are told, it may be, that we have not sufficient aeroplanes which can fly in sufficient numbers from Dunkirk, say, into Germany, where these Zeppelin sheds are. Remember this, that every Zeppelin shed is known. Zeppelins cannot do very much without going back to their sheds at night. They must go back to their sheds. These sheds are known. I admit that they are protected, but that would be no check to English bravery if we could have the machines.
92 Let the House realise what aeroplanes did before the War. Before the War broke out 135 miles was done in an hour by an aeroplane. An aeroplane went up 25,000 feet, which is twice the greatest height that any Zeppelin has ever been known to rise to. An aeroplane flew without stopping for twenty-four hours and twelve minutes. That would take it to Dunkirk and Essen and back with a few turns over. An aeroplane also flew 1,250 miles continuously without coming down. These are all records of what was done more than eighteen months ago, and I believe these performances have been exceeded in cases where there was no definite record. Why cannot our aeroplanes do that to-day? It is because we have not got a sufficiency of high-power aeroplanes. We confine ourselves at the present moment to aeroplanes of limited horse-power. The Germans use, as a general thing, from 160 to 200 horse-power. We must have bigger aeroplanes, amply armed, some of them with guns, some with bombs, some with scouts, some as battle-planes, and some to protect those others which are not so well armed, if we are to have any real, effective offensive. It is well known that air warfare is divided up into compartments in exactly the same way as land warfare. If we had a few hundred high-power machines with double engines—because it is not fair to send men over the enemy's country with one engine—capable of flying for ten hours at a stretch, and capable of carrying a certain amount of bombs and ammunition, a very few of these would go a long way towards ending the War. I am not keen on reprisals on women and children, much as I hate the abominable murders which have happened here, but I would not rule out the possibility even of reprisals on undefended towns. There are plenty of defended towns to practice upon in the first instance. Essen is 220 miles from Dunkirk, and I am giving no information to the enemy in stating that. The double journey would represent a distance of 440 miles, or, allowing sixty for wandering, perhaps to get out of the way of hostile aircraft, 500 miles, and that distance could be done in ten hours. If we had 500 such machines as I have indicated in Dunkirk, there would be no difficulty in finding the men.
The men want to go. I have spoken with hundreds of our men who are keen and anxious to go, who have asked me to say to the House of Commons that they 93 want to go, and that they cannot get leave to go, and they cannot get, through the Admiralty or the War Office, or whoever is responsible, the necessary powerful machines. I want to make a statement, which I hope will not be thought out of place, in regard to our machines at the front, because we cannot do anything towards attacking Essen, Cologne and the Rhine bridges until our men are more amply fortified with more powerful machines. At the present moment our men at the front are outclassed by the enemy's machines, whether the Fokker or other machines. My right hon. Friend told us the other day that the Fokker was useful, because it stayed behind the German lines and attacked our men when they went over, but that the Germans did not come over our lines. I am going to read a letter from a Member of this House, a highly-respected Member who is serving with our Forces at the front, and I shall be glad to show this letter to any of my Friends who wish to see it, but as the Member in question is serving in the Army his name must not be mentioned. The letter is dated 6th February:I should like to tell you how regularly these official reports from France seem to me to lie as to our mastery of the air out here.…That is not my language. It is the language of a Member of this House serving at the front.This mastery may prevail elsewhere. It certainly does not prevail at—.and he mentions a particular part of the line where he is, but it is a part of the line where, I know, our aircraft are as good as, or better than, they are at any other part of the line. It is not a part of the line which is weakly held, but is one of the strongest parts of the line.What happened on this very day? I was going to the trenches. It was a brilliant bright morning. We were held up there while two German machines cruised slowly about like a couple of well-trained pointer dogs, reconnoitring the whole of our lines, without interference of any sort, except for some desultory shelling by our anti-aircraft guns, which they treated, as usual, with supreme contempt.It is not over the German lines, but over our lines that the German aeroplanes were flying on that particular day. He goes on in the letter, which is too long to read, to say how one of our batteries which was close to him had to stop firing for some hours because the German aeroplanes were flying over them, and they did not want our battery to be spotted toy the aeroplanes. That is an important part of the line. I will not say more than to ask anybody to read to-day's paper, and to say that the two events, that which I have 94 mentioned and that which can be read in the paper, are not unconnected. This is a serious position for our men at the front. I have dealt with the anti-aircraft gun, and the failure that has taken place, and the need for a strong offensive in which every airman believes, whether it be the defeated candidate for Mile End or those in the Army or the Naval Air Service. They all believe in the possibility of a strong offensive if they are only given the necessary machines.
What do I propose? I have spoken too often perhaps in this House on this question. I know that what I have got to suggest to-day does not meet with universal approval, but I do think that sooner or later you will have to put the whole control of the two Services into the hands of one man, whether you call him an Air Minister or not, or whether you give him the salary of a Cabinet Minister, which I hope you will not. You will find many men willing to give all their time to this for their country. But at all events, find a man, either military, naval or civil, who has energy and determination, and who believes in the possibilities of what can be done. It would be impossible to create a new Air Service at the present time. That is clear. It would be impossible to amalgamate the two Services, but I would like to see transferred to the Air Minister—and a name has been mentioned, a Member of the other House who would make an admirable Air Minister, a man who has time and determination—all the powers of the Army Council as effecting the Air Service and all the powers of the Board of Admiralty as affecting the Naval Air Service. Then you would have one man controlling both. He would have a small staff of good men, a naval air man, an Army air man, and an anti-aircraft gun man. I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman could pick out the men. I am quite sure that no Member of this House would believe it possible that one of our best anti-aircraft gunners in France, who has been decorated for his work with the anti-aircraft guns, is now in control of a battery somewhere in another part of the world. All his ability with regard to anti-aircraft guns is wasted. I do not know why he is sent to be wasted in another part of the world when you are crying out here and in France for good anti-aircraft gunners. Something must be done. The country demands it, and I think it can be done. I think that we are entitled to ask 95 both right hon. Gentlemen who are responsible for the conduct of these two Services that they will give us not merely sedative speeches, but that they will give us the assurance that something has been and something will be done to save the lives and homes of our people from such occurrences as happened sixteen days ago in the Midlands, something which will save our shores from invasion by hostile aircraft men, something which will enable this War to be brought to a much more rapid and much more victorious issue. It can be done, it ought to be done, and it shall be done.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
Whether or not my hon. Friend is correct in saying that our men at the front are not at the moment in possession of the mastery of the air, I think that the House will agree with me in saying that he is in possession of the mastery of this subject. Certainly he has a technical and extensive knowledge of the whole of this subject to which I have no pretention, and though I am anxious to second the Amendment which he has moved I do so with no right whatever to speak with the authority which he wields on this subject. There is one respect certainly in which I intend to follow the example of my hon. Friend. I think that this is a subject on which it is of the greatest possible importance at the present time that we should all scrupulously avoid using the language of panic, and even more so that we should avoid using the language of exaggeration. I am specially interested in this discussion, because the people whom I represent in this House have themselves been subjected to one of the most recent of the raids in the air, and I particularly say that I want to avoid the language of exaggeration, because if I were to speak as if those people were nervous or panicky or frightened in consequence of what they have been subjected to I should be guilty of most grossly misrepresenting them. I believe it is the same in all constituencies of the country which have been visited by enemy aircraft, whether in the Midlands, or the East, or in London. I believe that you will find everywhere that, so far as the effect upon men's minds is concerned, the only result of these raids has been to make people set their teeth in a still stronger resolution that this War shall be prosecuted until the enemy who are guilty of these actions are not merely defeated, but crushed. 96 Although I believe that to be the attitude of mind which has been brought about by these raids—and in that respect the enemy are being and will be disappointed of the calculation upon which alone they can have been carrying out these raids—nevertheless, it remains true that innocent people lose their lives, suffering is caused, bereavement is caused, damage and loss of property is caused by these abominable outrages, although they have no military value whatever. That being the case, the people of the country have the right to look to the Government, with confidence, to take every possible step which can be taken to prevent the success of these raids and to make their recurrence less likely and ultimately impossible.
The reason why my hon. Friend and some of us on this side of the House are pressing upon the Government this Amendment is because we have failed up to now to see the smallest evidence either of what the Government have done or, from what they have said, that they at all grasp the gravity of the case which we are presenting, or that they have taken any adequate steps for preventing these raids occurring in the future. My right hon. Friend opposite corrected my hon. Friend in the course of his speech, when he said that at a certain place aeroplanes had not gone up on the occasion of the recent raid. I can only say that in that respect my information from a part of the country with which I am most acquainted is in entire agreement with what my right hon. Friend has stated. I have no wish to particularise with regard to localities; I think it desirable not to do so; but I am informed that in the raid which took place and which was described in the official report as over the south-east coast in the autumn—I am not now referring to the most recent of these raids, but to one which occurred some weeks ago—the Zeppelins arrived over a certain locality where bombs were dropped and human life destroyed. They arrived there about nine o'clock. The approach of these Zeppelins was known in a neighbouring town within ten miles of that spot rather more than two hours earlier, yet no sort of warning was given. There was telephone connection between those two places. I do not know whether any mishap, or possibly any foul play, had interrupted the telephone communication between those two places; but even if that was so, the distance was not great, and it would have been perfectly easy to communicate either by motor cycle or motor car between those 97 two places betwixt the hours of seven and nine. The consequence of no warning having been given, was that the place where the bombs were dropped—a place of considerable importance—was not darkened, and no preparations were made, although preparations might have been made if warning had been given for resistance, and the consequence was that the raid was conducted, so far as that part of the country was concerned, with impunity.
Coming to the recent raids, there was a raid on the Saturday night and another raid about midday on the Sunday following—the next day—over Dover and the neighbourhood, I am informed—the facts may conflict with what has been said in this House, but I am obliged to repeat them, because my information comes from a source which I cannot neglect—that no anti-aircraft guns were fired, and that no aeroplanes went up at that place at all to attack the approaching aircraft, while in the immediate neighbourhood there is a place where there were both guns and aeroplanes. But not a single aircraft went up. We were told in this House, and I think through the Press Bureau, that the enemy aircraft were chased by our aeroplanes. There is a sense in which that is perfectly true, but my information is that our aeroplanes did not go up in chase until after the enemy aircraft were well out of sight across the sea. Moreover, in one particular place in that district—it is difficult to make the matter clear, for I do not wish to mention names of places—guns and aeroplanes and other means of resisting airships were to be had; but on that Sunday, at midday, there was no one there at all except a sentry. My hon. Friend very forcibly pointed out, in a part of his speech, that if the machinery is ready the aeroplanes might go up, to use the Under-Secretary for War's own expression, by "pressing a button." I entirely endorse all that my hon. Friend said. It is quite clear that you had in the middle of the day on a Sunday, whether for reasons of devotion or otherwise we need not inquire, at this place neither mechanician, pilot, observer, nor gunner, nor anyone except a sentry, so that it is quite clear that if warnings had been sent they were not likely to produce any effect.
There is one aspect of this question on which I should like to say a few words. The question which I think the House wants answered by the Government is this: Have the Government ever clearly thought out in their own mind what is 98 the proper method of defence against Zeppelins, and, if they have thought it out, how long ago did they arrive at that decision, and what steps have they taken to act upon it? It is quite true that, so far, and I think we ought to lay stress upon the fact, the Zeppelins, although they have created suffering and damage—and, of course, in the eyes of the individuals who have suffered nothing can be more serious—still, from the national point of view, and from the military point of view, they have been not only abominable but contemptible. They have done no great military damage. But it does not follow that because they have done little military damage up to now they may not do it in the near future, if this new branch of military art is allowed to develop in the hands of our enemies without any sufficient and proper steps being taken on our part to meet it. Are we even now making proper provision of this nature for the future? My hon. Friend mentioned, and I wish to emphasise what he said, that quite clearly the defence against aircraft, especially against Zeppelins, can only be one of three sorts, or a combination of three sorts; it can only be by guns, by aeroplanes, or by Zeppelins—that is to say, by rigid dirigible airships or by a combination of them all.
As my hon. Friend quite truly said, this is not a new subject. Really the Government have no justification for taking the line on this question that they do take, even up till now—that these matters were entirely unforeseen, that experience of them has only been brought to light by the War, and that, consequently, any delay or neglect upon their part is in the ordinary course of events absolutely unavoidable. That is not so. For more than two years before the War began some of us in this House, I think on both sides, were very earnestly pressing this subject upon the Government. We were pressing it in no party spirit, even in those days, but we were anxious to know what was being done in Germany, and what provision the Government of this country were making for repelling aircraft and what method was adopted for defence against aircraft. There was a good deal of blindness, I am afraid, in those days in regard to this subject, and possibly it may interest hon. Members to be reminded of the wisdom of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), who is always prominent upon these occasions. The hon. Gentleman, in April, 1913, asked this 99 question of the Government, which was answered by the right hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), predecessor of the First Lord of the Admiralty. The question was addressed to the Secretary for War, but was answered as I have stated. It was—Whether he is aware that of the sixteen Zeppelin airships that have been built in Germany, only six remained, the rest having already proved obsolete, useless, or disastrous; and whether he will continue to resist the appeal made to him to build or buy airships similar to those which in other countries have been found far from satisfactory?The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee answered as follows:My right hon. Friend has asked me to answer this question. The statement that of sixteen Zeppelin airships built in Germany only six remain is correct. There is no intention or building or buying airships of types that have proved unsatisfactory in other countries.That was the view which was taken at that time, and in that oracular reply he neither endorsed nor denied the fact that the Zeppelins, as the hon. Member thought, were useless and obsolete; he did not, in that oracular language, give to this House or to the country any information on the subject. I want to refer to another question which was asked on the same subject by the Member for North Birmingham (Mr. Middlemore), also in 1913:Whether the principal dockyards, arsenals, and naval bases in this country are within the nominal radius of action of a German airship of the Zeppelin type acting from the German coast; and whether our fleets, dockyards, and arsenals are provided with defensive equipment against aerial attack by means either of aircraft or of anti-aircraft guns?The answer was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) as follows:The reply to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, provided that the conditions are favourable. With regard to the second part, defensive measures are being taken for dealing with aerial attack.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Birmingham asked the further question:Will the hon. Member say what is being done?The right hon. Member for South Molton replied:I do not think that would be very wise.There we have further evidence of the anxiety of hon. Members to ascertain whether or not this matter was being seriously considered, and whether every possible thing was being done in order to meet the matter. My hon. Friend said, I think, that the chief responsibility with regard to our having any airships of that type rested upon the late First Lord of 100 the Admiralty. I do not think myself that the late Secretary of State for War is altogether free from responsibility in this matter, and I will tell the House why. That right hon. Gentleman (Colonel Seely), speaking in this House on the 19th of March, 1913, making his statement at that time introducing the Army Estimates, when he came to the question of matériel, used these words:The Army is not in possession of any large rigid dirigible balloons, not because it is feared to face the expense in the least degree, but because it was deliberately laid down from the start that the British. Army at the present time does not require Zeppelins.The reason the right hon. Gentleman gave why the British Army did not require a Zeppelin is an extremely instructive one, in the light of our more recent experiences. He pointed out that our Army is an Expeditionary Army, and as it was an Expeditionary Army the only possible use that Zeppelins could be put to would be to go to Egypt or to go to India. His words were:—Our Army is an Expeditionary Army, to use a Zeppelin for the purpose of, let us say, the reinforcement of Egypt, or the sending of a large body of men over the frontier to India, operations which are not very likely but against which we are obliged to guard, to use a Zeppelin in those instances is almost impossible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1913, Vol. L., col., 1070.]That is only an illustration of the hopeless want of preparedness of mind, not merely preparedness of matériel, of the Gentlemen who were responsible for the government of the country at that time. Although we had provided an Expeditionary Army the bare possibility of the use of the Zeppelins in an European Army never even crossed the minds of the most responsible people at that time. The right hon. Gentleman at that time thought that the right method of repelling these aircraft attacks was by guns. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment read a very instructive and amusing passage. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members how the Secretary of State for War described how all the anticipated difficulties had been overcome, and how now they had guns which found no difficulty in hitting an aerial target flying at an unknown height and speed. What I would ask is "where are the guns to-day" which enabled the right hon. Gentleman to come to that conclusion? With what guns did he make those experiments? He would not have made that statement, I suppose, unless by actual experiment he believed it to be true. Where are those guns today? If they are in existence, why is it that raid after raid comes to this country 101 while presumably those lethal weapons which were so satisfactory to the late Secretary of State for War are not used, and why do we not see any of the excellent results which he got by these experiments in those days? There is only one other passage with which I propose to trouble the House, because I think it shows a truer foresight and a truer insight into this matter than anything that we got from the Government of that day. I quote it because it leads me to ask a question of my right hon. Friend. In one of the Debates which we had in 1913, when this matter of aircraft came up for consideration, a speech was made by my Noble Friend Lord Beresford, in which he said:Airships which carry weights cannot be seen at night, and will not be destroyed by guns. as some people think.That was after the Secretary of State for War had spoken about the extraordinarily successful experiments which he had made. My Noble Friend continued:The only possibility of fighting them is the plan adopted with regard to all fighting machines, ashore or afloat - you must meet like with like. You will have to have as many as other Powers to-day to guard against this great risk.There we have different opinions on the question which I am putting to right hon. Gentleman as to what is the Government plan. The late Secretary of State said gunnery. My Noble Friend Lord Beresford, who knew far more about these matters than right hon. Gentlemen opposite, said that you will never do it by gunnery, and that you can only do it by having airships of the same sort. The opinion expressed by my Noble Friend is important in this respect. We are dealing now with the whole question of the Air Services of the country, and not merely with regard to recent raids, which are comparatively small part of them. My Noble Friend was speaking of the possibility of using these aircraft in Fleet action. What I want to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty is, Has the possibility of the use of Zeppelins in Fleet action been really seriously considered, not merely in the conventional sense in which Governments always tell us everything is considered, but has it been considered and a definite conclusion reached? Lord Beresford evidently thought that they might prove a very serious addition to the enemy's forces in Fleet action. I want to know have the Admiralty not merely considered, but have they arrived at any definite decision upon which they have acted? I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman to give any infor- 102 mation as to the steps they have taken, but I do think the country ought to be told that that particular use of Zeppelin has been considered, and whether a definite decision has been arrived at by the Admiralty as to how it is to be met, and provisions made in order to meet it. I will give an example. Speaking without any technical knowledge, I think it is quite obvious that in ordinary naval gunnery which may be used high-angle fire would be entirely useless if a large number of Zeppelins were sent over a fleet approaching our shores with a view to engaging our own squadrons. I do not know, of course, whether the right way of meeting that menace would be to have a special type of vessel armed exclusively with anti-aircraft guns, or whether we should have depot ships carrying aeroplanes. I do not know, and I am making these suggestions as examples of the sort of provision which presumably the Admiralty has made. All I want to draw if I can, with all seriousness and earnestness, in view of what the country is feeling, is an assurance from the Admiralty that the matter has been fully considered, and that definite steps of that sort have been taken.
The question remains—and it is the question which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply—Has the Government definitely made up its mind as to which of these three engines of defence are the proper ones for employment against aircraft, whether in raids in this country or in actions on sea or on shore? Have they definitely thought out and decided which of those engines is to be used, and, if they have come to that decision, have they definitely ordered or provided the country with the means of using that particular engine for the defence of these shores or for offensive purposes in war? These are serious questions which we are entitled to raise, and the absence of any knowledge of them justifies us in having proposed this Amendment to the House. I do not wish to say anything more upon this subject. We do not want any information which would reveal to our enemy the steps of this nature which have been taken, and which it is desirable to keep secret; but I do think we are entitled to know from the Government—which, as I have shown, for two years and more have been assuring the House and the country that defensive measures of this nature have been occupying their attention—now, after we have been more than eighteen months 103 at war, whether that consideration has materialised into a definite conclusion upon which action has been taken.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
The hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has made a strong attack upon His Majesty's Government, and an attack which, no doubt, has been reinforced by certain occurrences which have recently happened. He has been seconded in his Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine's Division of Kent (Mr. R. McNeill), with a large part of whose speech I entirely concur. It was refreshing to hear from him that people with whom he had come into contact had displayed a spirit which is entirely worthy of the best traditions of our race. My hon. Friend asked me whether the Government have yet grasped the gravity of the situation and if we were now making provisions, or if proper provisions had been made to meet this situation. I rather despair of giving assurances, certainly to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford, because I am afraid that he would not accept them in their entirety. I would rather, than give assurances, inform the House of the action which His Majesty's Government has taken and express again, although not again, for I do not think I have ever expressed it before, the hope which I share of the consequences which will follow on that action. The two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have told us that the Government have no excuse for inaction or want of preparation, because this matter is not a new matter. I really would ask them whether if it is not a new one, it is certainly an experimental matter. It is an experimental Service, and the whole of the Air Service of this country is constantly developing from day to day and almost from hour to hour, a fact which I know the House appreciates. In so experimental a service as this it would be absurd for any Minister standing at this box to pretend to anything in the nature of perfection. No such pretence has ever been made. But I would ask the House to consider for a moment what were the original purposes intended to be served by the Air Service? I think the generally accepted view was that it was for fighting purposes only, and not for defensive purposes against Zeppelin raids, such as have been the subject of the greater part of this discussion. There were three or four purposes set 104 forth as being the purposes for which aeroplanes were required. First of all, reconnaissance, including the photography of the enemy's position, and artillery observation—observation of our own artillery as well as of the emplacements of the enemy's guns, which involves the use of wireless telegraphy; secondly, fighting, including the use of guns; and thirdly, for bombing vulnerable points or important structures belonging to the enemy. Those were the original purposes which I think were universally accepted as being those for which an Air Service is required. A new problem has now arisen, and I think the very fact that this new problem has arisen in the dimensions in which we see it at the present moment is a practical demonstration of the novelty and of the experimental nature of this service. Even the hon. Member for Brentford, who has given much time and thought to the study of the subject, I do not believe ever had it in his mind that there was a probability of this kind of raid, not upon fortresses or upon London—I admit there was always the probability of that—but upon undefended parts of the Midlands and upon the inland towns of Great Britain. I do not believe that that ever crossed the hon. Member's mind. Certainly it did not mine. I think that so far as London, the arsenals, and vulnerable points are concerned, we have made endeavours to provide proper equipment and proper defence. I do not wish from that any hon. Member to go away and say that our arsenals and vulnerable points are therefore safe; but I would say this, the complete defence of every part of the United Kingdom against the attack of long-range aircraft by any system of guns or purely defensive aircraft can never be complete, and if carried out even partially would impose an intolerable strain on our resources. The most that can be done is to make an endeavour to protect our vulnerable points in such a way that the enemy's probable loss will be so great as to act as a deterrent. That is the most which I think ought to be demanded. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman who initiated this discussion himself thought it a conceivable thing that we should endeavour to defend every part of His Majesty's Dominions within these shores. What I want to tell the House is what we have actually done. The hon. Member for Brentford seemed to make a charge against the Government, inasmuch as he considered that we have been 105 changing our policy, that the defences of London had been handed from the Admiralty to the War Office and back again from the War Office to the Admiralty, and he wanted to know where we were. He really has no right to make that charge against us. It is true that at the outbreak of war my right hon. Friend, now a gallant major in the Army, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, did take over the defences of London, and they we're under his charge until quite recently. To-day is the first day that this change has been effected. As from the 16th February, in accordance with a promise made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to a deputation of hon. Members, some of whom are present, that transfer has been effected. What does that mean? It means this, that under the provisions which have been now agreed upon the Navy will undertake to deal with hostile aircraft attempting to reach this country, while the Army will undertake to deal with any such aircraft which reach these shores. All defence arrangements on land are to be undertaken by the Army, who will also provide the aeroplanes required by the Home Defence troops to protect garrisons and vulnerable points, and the flying stations required to enable the aircraft to undertake these duties. These are the things which have been agreed. The Navy is to provide the aircraft required to co-operate with and assist the Fleets and patrolling flotillas to watch the coasts, and to organise and maintain such flying stations as are required to enable the aircraft to undertake this duty. It has been supposed that there has been no co-operation between the Army and the Navy, between the War Office and the Admiralty on these subjects. That is not true.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I was answering a criticism which has been made outside. Under this agreement the military authorities are charged with the anti-aircraft defence of the United Kingdom as soon as hostile aircraft shall have reached these shores. The War Office will be responsible for demanding the necessary armament (guns, mountings, and ammunition) from the Ministry of Munitions. The Ministry of Munitions, after consultation with the War Office, will be responsible for the designs and supply of the armament demanded. No fresh orders for armament to be placed except in accordance with this arrangement. Further than that, a 106 Standing Joint Naval and Military Committee will be formed to collaborate in and to co-ordinate the question of supplies and design for matériel for the naval and military Air Services. This Committee will take the place of those informal conferences, which I should like the House and the, country to realise have not been very rare in the past.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Does the statement of the right hon. Gentleman mean that Sir Percy Scott has no longer anything to do with the matter?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not go away with any such idea. Sir Percy Scott is still in the position he was in. There has been no change in reference to Sir Percy Scott. What may ultimately be I do not like to say. Sir Percy Scott's position is what it was. He is in command of the gunnery.
§ Mr. TENNANT
If the arrangement which I hope is going to be completed is actually completed, the services of Sir Percy Scott will be transferred from the Admiralty to the War Office. It is a little inconvenient to answer these questions when the arrangement is not actually quite completed. We hope it may be so.
§ Mr. TENNANT
We have also taken steps, in conjunction with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Postmaster-General, to make better provision for warning various towns to which we anticipate aircraft will come. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will say a few words, complementary to what I have said, when I sit down. In order to remedy certain difficulties which have become apparent in the past, particularly on the occasion to which allusion is constantly made—the 31st January—difficulties of conveying information owing to congestion of the lines—the military authorities, the Home Office, and the Post Office are arranging a general system of warnings to the local police authorities, which will be communicated by them to the various local authorities and undertakings who require to take certain precautions in anticipation of attacks. For this purpose 107 Great Britain has been divided into a number of districts of suitable size. Preliminary warnings will be sent from certain military centres as soon as hostile aircraft are observed at any any point on the coast. These preliminary warnings will enable the police authorities in the various districts to prepare in advance for the arrangements which will be necessary on the approach of aircraft to any district. Other warnings will be given from time to time, according to the observed movements of aircraft to districts likely to be attacked, and the police authority in each district will communicate them to the local authorities and to important establishments, so that the necessary precaution may be taken. In consequence of the very large number of the points to which these local warnings will have to be distributed by telephone it will be necessary to regard the distribution of them as the most important function of the telephone system, and to limit its use for other purposes as may be found necessary to prevent interference with the distribution of the warnings. It will be specially necessary to reserve the telephone lines used by the police strictly for police purposes, so that they may not be blocked by irresponsible inquiries by members of the public. Owing to the uncertainty of the movements of hostile aircraft it may often be necessary to issue warnings within a short time of the possible arrival of the aircraft, and in such cases it will probably be necessary from time to time to suspend altogether the use by the general public of the telephone system.
These are the main steps which have been taken by the War Office. I leave out the question of large dirigible aircraft, which is not within the province of the War Office, and with which my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will deal. Allusion has been made to the occasion of the two raids upon the coast of Kent. I interrupted the hon. Member for Brentford in his speech to inform him that it was incorrect to say that aeroplanes did not ascend upon 31st January. I believe in that statement I am quite correct. Aeroplanes did ascend, but the height—
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg your pardon. I accepted at once the statement of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that aeroplanes had gone up. What I said was that there were various aeroplanes, and it was quite possible they went up in one place and not in another.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I should like the House to realise that it is not possible to have aeroplanes all over England ready for this kind of attack. The only way in which that could be made a possibility would be by denuding the front of the aeroplanes which we have there. Is there an hon. Member in this House who would say that it was a proper position to take up to take the aeroplanes away from the front for that purpose?
§ Mr. TENNANT
We have ordered, and ordered and ordered! The right hon. Gentleman says: "Order more," as if it were so simple. Surely he knows that the whole of the labour of this country has been occupied in producing all this kind of armament, and guns, and munitions, and it has not been possible to get more. We have expanded the Air Service of this country in a manner which is positively astonishing. I cannot give figures, but it is really a marvellous thing to have done. To say "Order more" is not really a helpful observation, if I may be permitted to say so.
§ Mr. TENNANT
They were ordered eighteen months ago. They have come forward in hundreds—literally in hundreds. To say what some hon. Members do is really not to advance the position. I must add one word upon the panic which it is endeavoured to create by this kind of talk. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I hope very much it is not intended; but I am not sure at all it is not the result of Debates such as this. I very much hope it will not be; and I very much hope that what I have said may allay this feeling in the minds of the people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I do not think it is at all the proper manner in which to accept these observations. I should like the House to accept, not with scorn, and not with ridicule, the reforms which have been carried out and the steps—and they are very important steps—which have been taken to give protection against this barbarous method of warfare which is being 109 waged by our enemies. I hope very much that hon. Members will not go away with the idea that the Government are not alive to the gravity of the situation. I trust no hon. Gentleman who is listening to me will go away from this Debate with that impression in his mind. On the contrary, we have felt throughout that this is a very difficult matter, and that it is almost impossible, as I have said, to meet the attacks in every case. We have devised new machinery from which we hope there will be the very best results. We do not require a Debate like this; we do not require an Amendment to the Address; we do not require invective against the Government, to make us put forth our best efforts, or our every endeavour to protect the hearths and homes of our people. But I do say this: it is not really a feasible method of defence to say that all parts of this country are capable of protection against this particular class of warfare. To say that would be misleading the public. It is not possible. What we can do, and what we will do, will be to provide more guns—which are on order, more aeroplanes—as soon as we can get them, more pilots, and generally a larger personnel and more material for this purpose, for we realise the very grave menace to unprotected people. It is not a military operation, as the hon. Member has perfectly and properly said. The number of casualties incurred, grievous though they be, are not really very large. I know that is a very poor consolation to the relatives of those who unfortunately have suffered. But we are deeply stirred by the feelings of those who have suffered. It is, however, a physical impossibility to protect every part of the United Kingdom against these attacks. But we are prepared to use every endeavour in the way of protection.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I do not rise to take part in any discussion, but merely to supplement the statement of my right hon. Friend by a very brief description of the measures taken by the Home Office, in that comparatively modest part of this question which lies within its sphere. The last raid showed that the Midlands were within the circle of operations of hostile airships. It also showed that the restrictions in lighting were of great utility to the localities which had adopted them. Within a day or two of the raid taking place a conference was held at the Home Office between 110 officers of that Department, of the War Office and of the Admiralty, and within a few days of the conference an Order was made extending the lighting restrictions that had hitherto prevailed in the Eastern Counties, and in the districts south of London, to the whole of England, with the exception of a few outlying portions. That very complete and restrictive Lighting Order is now in operation practically throughout the whole of England, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland has also taken suitable action in portions of Scotland. Secondly, conferences were held between the Home Forces Department (General French's Department), the General Post Office, and the Home Office, with a view to perfecting a system of warning, of which my right hon. Friend has already spoken. It is essential that, even though the lighting throughout England is reduced, warning should be given to localities, because there are certain factories and works which cannot carry on their operations with restricted lighting, for reasons into which I need not now enter.
That system of warning, which is of a very elaborate character, is now nearly completed, and I think will operate satisfactorily should another raid take place. Whether the general population in the towns should be warned or not by hooters or by other similar means is a matter on which opinion is divided, and the choice has, by the Government, been left to each locality concerned. If the people of that locality, through their local authorities, desire to have public warning, they can make the arrangement that they need. The experience of the Home Office is that on the whole we do not advise warning the general population. In the Eastern Counties, which have had most experience of these raids, the majority of the police and of the local authorities are against warning the population. Several towns which had adopted arrangements to warn the population have, after experience, abandoned them. One place where there was one raid has since sounded a hooter whenever it was anticipated that the Zeppelins would visit the towns, and the population have been alarmed since that date on no fewer than twenty-four occasions, and no Zeppelins have, in fact, visited the place. In respect to London, I have had the records most carefully examined. I find that if a system of warning the population had been adopted since the 111 beginning of the War—putting outside occasions when mere false rumours have been spread—the circumstances would have justified, and indeed would have required, warning to be given on six occasions for every one on which the Zeppelins have actually visited London. For these and other reasons the Metropolitan Police do not propose, as at present advised, and on the basis of our existing experience, to warn the population of London at large as to when raids may be anticipated. The third step which has been taken since the last raid occurred has been to give the Press much greater liberty in reporting the actual circumstances of the raid. Previously they were limited to a very brief official communiqué. Now, subject to certain restrictions, they are at liberty to print detailed accounts of what has taken place. For my own part I think there is every reason that the whole world should know what is the true nature of these murderous outrages.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
What the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has said touches only, of course, very small remedial measures. For my own part I think the restriction of the lighting, the method of warning, and the greater liberty of the Press are steps in the right direction. But the object of this Debate to-night is not so much to consider measures to mitigate calamity when it conies as to avoid altogether that calamity. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War was quite as fair as he generally is in suggesting that we were inspired by panic in any way. Really, it is not so! It is no good in regard to these matters to say: "Oh, only 266 persons have been killed; it was worse on the 'Lusitania,'" and to say that everybody that was killed met death with courage. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said in respect of the recent raids that the lighting had to be put out in factories which were working for the Government, so that really we must look at this matter not only from the civilian point of view but from the military point of view. The Under-Secretary is a master of the soft answer that turneth away wrath, but a soft speech does not always answer the same purpose. I am bound to say that when he comes to read his speech in to-morrow morning's papers, when he questioned us with more indignation than he generally puts in his voice, that he will understand why we are not 112 satisfied with these great reforms which are taking place. What do they really come to? If that portion of his speech was a rhetorical device, it was wonderful if it was meant as an argument of substance it was woefully short!
I know there are reforms in contemplation; there always are! I know there are things in process; they always are in process! What does it all really come to—I want to be perfectly fair to the right hon. Gentleman—that to-day, on the 16th, wonderfully appropriate for this Debate—after a deputation from the London Members to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty—postponed as long as it could be until Parliament met—and even postponed until after the general discussion on this subject—postponed actually on the day of this Amendment—something has taken place, something very mysterious—or is on the point of taking place; for all responsibility is going to be removed from the Admiralty to the War Office. I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is important. There are others who take a contrary view. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me. I know he is very hard worked. But he cannot possibly think that this work will be better done by the War Office than by the Admiralty. It is inconceivable that he should come to a conclusion like that. This is a great reform—the only reform, so far as I understand, that has taken place. But it is not a reform to transfer responsibility. The only reform that is worth speaking of is to get an assurance that in future we shall be able to do something which we have failed to do in the past. As I understand it, Sir Percy Scott is in a state of suspended animation. He has not quite left the Admiralty, and he has not quite joined the War Office. He is in process of departure from one to the other. He is the same Sir Percy Scott. It is no good of us talking in phrases or in words. The real question is: How much better off are we now than we were before? We had Sir Percy Scott before. He is not likely to do better for the War Office than for the Admiralty. Where is the really great reform? The great reform of which I should like to have heard is this, that we had aeroplanes not in process of construction, but that we had aeroplanes built for the special purpose of meeting Zeppelins, and that we had more hornets for the same purpose.
113 There was no word in the speech of anything done. It is all transference—I will not call it juggling, that would not be polite, and I am always polite. It is really only transference of responsibility from one Department to another without, so far as we know, a single additional weapon whereby the new Department can do the work better than the old. That is a very strange kind of reform. No new guns, no new aeroplanes; they are all on order. Is it not time the orders should be executed? We have had twenty-nine raids on England; Zeppelins have been coming over here for a year. They have been in England time after time, and yet it came as a surprise to the Government that the Zeppelins should go beyond London to the Midlands. I say that the duty of the Government was really to prepare for an emergency of this kind. But, then, what is the Government's answer? The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War asks whether we are prepared to denude the forces at the front. Certainly not, and if the Government tell us that we cannot both protect London and give adequate aeroplanes to the forces at the front, then I say leave London unarmed, but do not pretend that you are defending London at the same time. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he made no pretentions to perfection, and I must say that I think his speech gave adequate confirmation of the attitude he took. But are we to be told that, after a year of raiding, the War Office of this country is not in a position to provide adequate aeroplanes both for the front on the West and for the protection of London? If that is not so, there is nothing in the point. The real point I wish to submit to the House and desire to emphasise is this: The heads of the War Office and Admiralty have told us that we have perfect guns, and adequate provision for scouting the seas to meet the Zeppelins. But who are those who are responsible for giving expert advice to them? I see there a full Front Treasury Bench, and it is obvious that not one of its occupants has any expert knowledge of the arts of war—not one of them knows anything about a gun.
I mean expert knowledge. Not one of them knows anything about a bomb, or about an aeroplane, or about a ship, and we do not ask that knowledge of them. We do not ask the impossible. But for the conduct of a 114 great war I think we are entitled to ask this of them, that they should get the best advice from somebody, and that if the experts mislead them time after time that they should hesitate before they trust them again. If the experts mislead them, let them take good care that they do not give them an opportunity of making another mistake. I know the loyal conventional tradition that you must stand by your public servants. That is a very good thing, but the country is now face to face with a tremendous crisis, and to stand up for a man who is not efficient for his job, and to vindicate a man that you know perfectly well cannot do his job, is not loyalty to a colleague but treachery to the State. I should like to ask the Government, and its representatives here to-day, whether they are really satisfied with the present position, and with the men who are advising them, both in the War Office, at the front, and as far as the Air Service is concerned? The right hon. Gentleman must know that very few men of those in command of that service have real flying experience. Does he know that? If he does not know it, I think he will find it out, if he will take steps to inquire. Of the six brigadier-generals in the Air Service, is he aware that only one man has flown at the front from the beginning of the War? Does he know that men are promoted to the position of squadron-commanders with practically no experience in flying? Does he know that a man who learned flying in December, 1915, is now an acting wing-commander of the Royal Flying Corps? Those are matters which very gravely affect the public Departments, and really concern the safety of the country as a whole. I am not concerned about whether there should be an Air Minister or not. I understand the plan now. When Zeppelins are crossing the North Sea, it is the Admiralty's business; directly they come over our coast, then it is the War Office's business, and these two Departments have to co-ordinate and try to act together and assist one another.
The view I wish to press upon the House is that the land, the sea, and the air are three elements, so far as war is concerned. There was a time when we were an island. We are no longer an island ad hoc the War. The air is now one of the military elements, and the defence of the country as a whole from attacks through this element ought to be put into the hands of some expert person who understands 115 this great problem. Does the right hon. Gentleman not really give us some cause, not for panic, but for anxiety, when we know that six or seven Zeppelins crossed the North Sea, crossed the coast defences, and came into the Midlands for a considerable distance, and that they then went back over our coast defences and oversea, and, so far as we know, they escaped uninjured and unhurt? This is not only a matter of the past, but of the future. It may happen again. The real question is not whether things are in process of being done, but that we should get an assurance from the Government that they are in fact done. We have had twenty-nine air raids and a year's experience. I might make a strong attack on the Government, but there is really no use of strong attacks upon the Government, or for personal considerations in the matter. I do not care whether this man occupies this post or another man occupies it. All we have got a right to ask the Government is to see that men at the head of the Air Service should not be promoted unduly over others, and that men who can really fly should have something to do with the command of the service. If you do that, I venture to think you will remove a difficulty from a branch of our military Departments which has done excellent work. We began the War with an ascendancy in the air, but nobody can pretend that now we have that ascendancy. I know a great deal about this matter which I cannot state in this House of Commons. From what I know and have heard, I have come to the conclusion that the Army and the Navy do not co-operate together. I have found that in some cases they have been rival purchasers of commodities against one another. That is a very serious thing, and I have it from the very best authority to which I have access that sometimes one Department have bought more than they want of a particular machine in order that they might have a plentiful supply behind them, although the machine was absolutely necessary for the other Department. I beg the Government to try and co-ordinate these two Services. Let us have the best skill, and let the two Departments act together. I have been told that they have a machine better than the Fokker aeroplane so much talked of. The right hon. Gentleman has said a great deal about aeroplanes going up, but he has said nothing about their coming down. It is an absurd thing to talk about 116 the defence of London when you have not got an aerodrome where the machines can come down at night anywhere near London.
I am told that we are not nearly up to Paris defences in this respect, and I am very glad of the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman. I understand him to say now that there is adequate accommodation for aeroplanes to land at night in the neighbourhood of London.
Then we have inadequate accommodation. Well, the sooner that accommodation is made adequate the better. It is a very serious matter; it is one of the most serious matters that have confronted the War Office. We know perfectly well that at the front in the West it is almost impossible for either side to get through, and we are hoping that the best may happen. Again, as regards the Navy, the German Fleet is hidden behind its mine areas, and it is an extremely difficult thing to get them out. As a matter of fact, there is only one element that is mobile, and that is the air. We are told that the Germans are making great progress in this direction, and if that is so it may be a very serious matter to us unless we make adequate provision on our part. Without caring for the prestige of the War Office or the Admiralty, I venture to say to the Government that we want efficiency, and that we want them to co-operate together. We want a little more premium upon private enterprise. I know of a man who went to the War Office and the Admiralty and put specifications before them of a machine which would improve our defences. The specifications were approved, and he was told that when they were worked out the machine would be bought from him. They did not advance him any money, however, but left him to try and borrow it from his friends and others. That is not the way to treat a man who produces a machine which will do something for the British Empire. It places us in a humiliating position. The sooner the War Office and Admiralty do something to enable men to bring their inventions to completion, the better it will be for the country. I suggest, without passing any censure upon any persons, that the gravity of this 117 matter of the Air Service is such that the Government should immediately take it in hand as one of the most important matters which Concerns the vital interests of the War and the future progress of the War against the enemy.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Balfour)
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has a good many criticisms which he has passed and which he desires to pass upon those responsible for dealing with the air problem, but I am not sure that I sympathise with some of the grounds of attack which he has adopted. The last thing he said before sitting down was that he knew of a great many inventors who came to the Government with excellent inventions, and that the Government had had the cynical indifference to reply to them that they were not in a position to lend them money until their inventions had been proved.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I do not say that there may not be occasions, and many occasions, upon which the Government have to take in hand and bear all the expense of developing some luminous idea which may prove of value either to the Army or the Navy, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had any acquaintance with the masses of inventions of which 999 out of 1,000 I suppose or even more are completely worthless and of those which are not worthless—a large percentage of them have already been anticipated by similar devices running on parallel lines—he would know that although undoubtedly cases may occur, and it is almost inevitable that they should occur, in which something which might have been developed has not been developed, on the whole that is not a charge which so far as the Department with which I am concerned and with which I am connected, can be substantiated to any great extent.
What I said was that I knew of a case where a Department had approved of the specification, and they told the man, "When you have built the machine according to this specification we will buy it," but they refused to advance money on the machine.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
If it was a flying machine brought to the Government the design of which they approved, it was the manufacturer's place to get the design completed, and I do not really understand what my right hon. Friend's charge is against the Government. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will let either me or my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War know what the particulars of the case are to which he refers. Another thing which I regretted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman was his criticism of the flying operations at the front. Now, that is not a thing upon which I pretend to have the smallest technical knowledge, because it is not in my Department or connected with it, but we all know the way in which the flying arrangements at the front have been developed, and it is really one of the glories of the British Army. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that no man ought to be connected with the Flying Service unless he can fly, but I think that is a profound mistake. The power of dexterously managing an aeroplane is no doubt a very useful thing for every man connected with the Flying Service to possess, but the capacity to administer and organise, the power of seeing what machines are required at the moment. and the kind of machines required in the future, have no connection with the actual training of a pilot or an observer. I think it would be the grossest mistake for this House to suppose that you ought to promote men in the Flying Service in proportion as they show dexterity as flyers.
The right hon. Gentleman desires to see a separate department for the air as distinguished from land and water. I hope, if that subject is ever developed, it will not be developed on the lines that a man is to receive promotion precisely in proportion as he shows daring, skill, and dexterity as a flyer or as a pilot. That is not the way in which any Government, or any Department, or even the right hon. Gentleman himself will really desire the flying arrangements of this country to be ordered. What I have felt all through this Debate is that the House has not realised that the question of providing material for dealing with the air problem is only part of the much larger question of how material generally is to be provided. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and the hon. Member who moved the Amendment to the Address, as well as the hon. Member who seconded 119 the Address, all proceeded upon the theory that the Government had never awakened to the fact during the eighteen months of this War that there was peril from the air, and they assumed that it had never occurred to the Government that long-distance raids might be undertaken; that the Government had allowed things to drift and had taken no trouble to collect material; that they found themselves now in a defenceless position because they had neglected their opportunities in months gone by. Now, that is a profound and utter misapprehension of the whole circumstances as regards the material. Material for flying is not to be distinguished from other material. If anybody really looks back on this War they will see that the difficulty we and our Allies have been in from the beginning is a difficulty of material. The Central Powers ranged against us had made every preparation for the colossal contest in which they now find themselves involved. It is a matter of notoriety that we had not made preparation neither in this country, nor in France, nor in Russia, nor among our other Allies. Our preparations at the beginning of the War were preparations quite adequate for the Expeditionary Force except in the matter of big guns in the field—[An HON. MEMBER: "And machine guns!"]—yes, and machine guns, the necessity for which had not been recognised by the military authorities. So far as those necessities had been foreseen they were provided for that force. That force, however, has been expanded, as everybody knows, tenfold. The expansion of the Navy has gone on I will not say in like proportion, but to an extraordinary extent. The number of ships in commission now, the number of men voted under Vote A of the Navy has been, as the House knows, enormously increased since the War began, and what has happened in the case of those services has happened with the Flying Service. The expansion of the Flying Service since the War began has also been phenomenal; in fact, it has been perfectly prodigious. The material for all that expansion had to be provided, as everybody knows, and we are still behind. It is not that we have neglected to order the things, and it is not that we have been oblivious of the fact that such and such a thing was required, be it for the Air Service or for the Navy or the Army. The fact is that we cannot get the things, but the orders are coming in. What is the use of my right hon. Friend coming down here 120 and saying, "Why have you not got this or that kind of aeroplane?" I think that is unreasonable. The whole of this flying business is new in practice; and how could any Government foresee all these things? We might possibly have foreseen all this had we been endowed with that wisdom after the event with which all of us have been blessed by Providence in such a large measure.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Certainly; there is no difficulty in stating that. We have not had enough aeroplanes with their engines in factories of our own, and we have had to go to those who have had factories. The manufacturing possibilities in this respect of this country and of the Allied countries together with those of America have been used to the utmost extent by this country in order to get the necessary aeroplanes, and these arrangements have not yet really reached their full fruition. My hon. Friend the Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. Ronald McNeill) said, "We do not want to know what is being done, but we do want to know what has been done." Of course, we have not really-reached finality, and the orders that have been issued are not nearly completed. I do not doubt that developments in machinery are going on. The hon. Member opposite talked as if there were a standardised amount of aircraft of a standard pattern which the Government ought to have provided and foreseen the necessity. Nothing is or can be standardised in this entirely new and most rapidly developing service.
The hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate talked upon this occasion, as he has talked before of the necessity for aggressive action. Now nobody desires aggressive action more than I do, and nobody is more entirely alive to the advantage of it than the Government, but aggressive action requires very powerful machines, and this is a question of slow development, or at any rate slow compared with the necessities of the case. The difficulty is not because the Government have not done their best to develop this thing, but because it necessarily takes time to develop it in the existing state of our manufacture. Nothing could be more misleading than my hon. Friend's suggestion that before the War began there were 121 in existence machines that could do all the things which are necessary before you can make an aggressive raid upon Germany. He said that before the War there was a machine which could fly about 140 miles an hour and which could keep in the air for twenty hours. But those were not machines that could be used for the purposes of warfare. They were special machines made for special pilots and for a special purpose. There were great efforts made by particular experts in order to break the record, and you cannot work the Air Service on those lines. If you were to send up an ordinary pilot in one of those machines which would fly 135 miles an hour he would break his neck. The machine that remained up in the air twenty hours on a single voyage was a machine which carried nothing at all but the necessary petrol, and every stay and every wire rope had been fined down to a point which made it just barely possible that this record performance should be gone through, but it made it utterly impossible that any such kind of machine should be used in the rough-and-tumble of everyday warfare with the ordinary average pilot. Therefore, nothing could be more misleading than the suggestion that there were machines before the War and that if we had ordered them at the time we could now be carrying out a raid in the centre of Germany. It is utterly misleading to the public, and that suggestion ought not to be put forward seriously.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am sure my right hon. Friend does not wish to do me an injustice. I distinctly said that I should like to give the House records of what had been done with specific machines. The argument I used was not that they would be useful in the War—I never suggested that—but that if the Government two years or eighteen months ago had made their ideal higher they would have had what they want now.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I do not know that the premises of my hon. Friend justify his prediction at all. The mere fact that someone was up in the air twenty hours before the War has literally no reference to anything that can be done during the War, and it is irrelevant to this Debate. I am sure—I do him full justice—that my hon. Friend did not mean to mislead the public, but anybody who reads his speech, unless they do me the honour to read my correction of it, must come to the conclusion that there were all these kinds of 122 machines in existence before the War which could have been used for long distance voyages and that the stupidity of the Government has prevented us making full use of them. It is this question of material and also of men which lies at the root of this matter. I forget which hon. Gentleman, but I think it was my right hon. Friend near me, who pointed out that they had not more men and machines at the front than were absolutely necessary for the work of the Army, and that you could not withdraw men from there and bring them here to carry out the aerial defence. That is undoubtedly true. Both the Army and the Navy have been enlisting, training, and building as hard as they can since the beginning of the War. That every development was foreseen and that everything was done which we now in our present knowledge think would have been the best course, I certainly do not pretend, either on behalf of the late Government or on behalf of the present Government. No such pretence should be made, and, if it were made, no human being would believe it. That both the Army and the Navy have been pressing forward this aerial service to the best of their ability is really beyond doubt.
I take another illustration of the oblivion in which hon. Gentlemen fall with regard to this question of material. I think it was my hon. Friend who opened the Debate who said, "The coast has to be defended. How is it defended? What guns are put there? Well, there are machine guns. What is the use of a machine gun against a Zeppelin? A machine gun only fires a bullet, and a bullet is no use against a Zeppelin." That is quite true. Then he said, "Pom-poms were brought there. What were the pom-poms? The pom-poms were guns not thought good enough to defend London, but although rejected by Sir Percy Scott for London they were thought good enough to go and defend the coast." That to people totally ignorant of the facts sounds a plausible argument. It would have been interpreted again by anybody who did not take the trouble to read my correction of my hon. Friend as meaning that the Government had plenty of good guns, but only sent pom-poms, that were bad guns, to the coast.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The point surely is that after eighteen months of war that is the only gun you have got.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Precisely, that is the point, and I am glad we have got it really down to that. Does not the hon. Gentleman see how accurate I was when I said that the whole of this Debate turned upon material—deficiency of material? He said, "You have had eighteen months to make guns. Why are not these guns there?" At this moment we are deficient in guns. The Navy has not got all the guns it wants at this moment. Is it because we have been idle in trying to get guns? Every nerve has been strained to the utmost to get the necessary guns. If there is a pompom on the coast when there ought to be a better gun it is not because the Government were oblivious of the fact that guns were required; it is not because the Government have been idle in getting guns; it is because of the strain upon the manufacturing resources of the world, which have been inadequate to meet the necessities in material for this War.
You cannot consider this problem of the Air Service apart from the general necessities of the Army and the Navy at home and abroad for competing material. If we had had nothing to do except to provide guns for Home defence there would have been plenty of guns for Home defence, but, of course, that is not the fact. We have got to provide for our ever-increasing number of ships. We have got to provide for the ever-increasing size of our Army, and it is no criticism to say there are not enough guns to go round for Home defence. There are not, and the Government have never pretended that there are. The necessities for Home defence were undoubtedly not adequately fulfilled, and they are not adequately fulfilled now. At this moment we have not got all the material we require in any branch of the Service. That may be a subject for attack on the Government if you like—that is no business of mine—but let it be part of a general attack for a general deficiency of munitions in every Department. Such an attack may be well or it may be ill-founded, but to get up, as my hon. Friend did get up, and practically imply that we have neglected one particular branch of our duty, namely, Home defence against aircraft, because we did not take the trouble to get enough guns, is utterly to mistake the situation and utterly to mislead the public. I was going to say that it is unfair on the Government, but that 124 really does not matter a bit. The thing is that it misleads the public as to the real necessities of the situation, and it was really to correct that more than anything else that I rose to intervene in this Debate.
Take another illustration of the same thing. My hon. Friend says that he has been to the front and has seen any number of airmen who have said, "If the Government would only give us a long distance machine we would go and destroy Essen or carry out some other great aggressive operation," as if the Government had the machines which they refused to these people. Machines are no doubt in the process of construction. My hon. Friend is very angry when anybody talks about these things being in process of construction; but when you start with the deficiency with which we started, and when you have got to expand at the rate at which we have had to expand, a process of expansion is all that you can expect. We have not reached finality. The process will go on and improvement will go on. Quality, quantity, strength, and power, all are in a state of transition, and neither my right hon. Friend nor I, nor any other Department of the Government concerned are going to come down to this House and say that in this rapidly growing and rapidly changing branch of warfare we can see our way to the final organisation and final provision of all that is required to carry out either offensive or defensive warfare.
I think that really is all I need say upon the broad aspect of the aerial question, but I might, perhaps, make one observation upon what my hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment said about Zeppelins. He and others in this Debate have gone back into ancient history in this matter. I have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to follow them. Personally, I think an error was made when we deliberately, after consideration, refused to follow the German example and try to develop lighter-than-air ships on a considerable scale. But do not let the House, if I may again talk about wisdom after the event, suppose it was an easy decision that had to be taken or an easy problem that had to be solved. I think myself we should have been better situated if we had gone in for Zeppelins eight or ten years ago. No doubt we should have lost a great many, and there would have been a great outcry. I dare say my hon. Friend would have been in the forefront of the critics of the Government and would have said, "What is 125 the use of the Zeppelin? You have made ten, and eight are in hospital. A great deal of money has been wasted and a great many lives have been risked in carrying out this new policy." I dare say many of us would have been. I dare say I should myself have been, among that band of. critics. But, looking back, I am sorry that we did not develop a rigid lighter-than-air ship, not so much for the purposes of aggression and defence as for the purposes of maritime and air scout duties. I think they might have played an important part there, and I think the Germans have had an advantage in their possession. We are doing what we can at the Admiralty to remedy that state of things, but I do not for one instant pretend to the House that when you begin this race against an enemy who has had a ten years' start or more there is any immediate probability of catching him up. I do not think that there is. Something may be done, and what can be done is being done.
My hon. Friend asked whether the Admiralty had ever considered the probability of Zeppelins taking part in a fleet action. Of course, the Admiralty have considered that and many other problems connected with modern fleet action—problems on which history gives us no guidance. Whether the considerations of the distinguished officers, whether the day and night considerations which they are giving to these and kindred problems will prove to anticipate all the dangers that have to be faced, or provide means for facing them, I cannot say; but this I can say with absolute confidence: If care and forethought, if anxious consideration, can in any sense diminish the inevitable changes, chances, and perils of modern maritime warfare this House and the country will have no reason to complain of the distinguished sailors who have our naval destinies in their charge.
§ Mr. WARWICK BROOKES
In rising to say a few words in support of the Amendment, I should like, first of all, to apologise for intervening in a Debate of this importance so early in my Parliamentary career. But the reason is that, very recently, I have had placed in my hands something very much in the nature of a mandate from the majority of the polled electors of an important East London Division on the very question we are here to-day to discuss, and that fact, coupled with my knowledge of the traditional hospitality and sympathy of this House towards a newcomer, has made me 126 bold enough to venture these few remarks. We heard yesterday that the War is costing us something like £5,000,000 a day. I take it, therefore, time is somewhat valuable, and, under the circumstances, I shall be as brief as possible. Let me say straight away, without any ambiguity whatsoever, that I am whole-heartedly in support of the policy of appointing a Minister of Aviation to take over the control of both wings of the Imperial Air Service of this country. Even if the Government were willing to do this—and from the speeches I have heard to-day I very much doubt it—I do not believe that a bald statement issued to the public to that effect would calm the public in the sense that I mean, unless that statement was accompanied by definite and precise information upon three points: First, what the powers would be of this Minister of Aviation; secondly, what duties he would be called upon to perform; and, thirdly—and this is quite as important as the other two and more difficult of solution—what type of man should be chosen for this particular position.
With regard to the first point, I submit with all deference that not only should he be a member of the Cabinet, but he should also have a seat upon the War Committee of the Cabinet, and should be of equal status with the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, with powers similar to those conferred upon those Ministers. Hon. Members may think I am moving somewhat rapidly, but my reason is that aircraft have now passed the point when they are useful for observation or scouting purposes only, and are rapidly becoming most terrible weapons of offensive warfare, and, with the slightest degree of imagination—a power which this nation singularly lacks—it is quite possible to see in the near future that they may become a deciding factor in this War. With regard to the second of my points, I suggest that the powers and duties which should be given should consist of the organisation, control and manning of both sections of the aerial defences of this country. As to the third point, we have heard it put forward by a very important section of the Press that a young and energetic airman should be selected for this position. I venture to doubt, however, whether a man with those qualifications, and possessed with the necessary temperament to fly a machine, would be the right person to handle the great powers which would devolve upon him by reason 127 of his position in the Cabinet. I would suggest that a man be chosen who is possessed of great organising ability, combined with a forcible personality, a man who could exercise great driving powers over the affairs of that Department at the present moment. I believe there are several men who have recently retired from the public service who have those qualifications, and who would well fill this position.
I would like to ask the Government to rely in the future as little as possible upon the use of the word "expediency," and to use the words "foresight, initiative, and enterprise." I would particularly ask the Leader of this House and his colleagues to resuscitate the old electioneering slogan, "Trust the People," because the people have behaved magnificently on their part. They have placed at the disposal of the Government their wealth, their labour, and their lives, and in return for that I ask the Government to put more trust in the people. I am sure if a strong aggressive lead is given at the present moment on this question you will find that all hesitations and doubts which exist in the minds of the public at the present juncture will be transformed, and will be welded into a piece of case-hardened steel upon which the hammer blows of adversity will merely create the sparks that will kindle the spirit to win a decisive victory and a lasting and honourable peace.
§ Sir HENRY NORMAN
My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War has administered the affairs of his Department with so much ability, and has shown so much courtesy to those of us who have had recourse to him, that it is a distasteful task to criticise him even very slightly. But I cannot think, after having listened to him very carefully this afternoon, that his speech on this great topic can really be regarded as satisfactory, either by this House or by the country. In view of the extraordinary interest with which it will be read in Germany, an open Debate in this House could not possibly be a satisfactory method of dealing with this question. In my opinion the proposals made by my right hon. Friend really amount, as has been stated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith), only to a change in the offices previously held. They give little indication of the actual steps that are to be taken to improve a situation which almost 128 everyone believes, and some people know, to be unsatisfactory. No one can speak without great and profound gratitude of Lord French, the man who led the British Army back from Mons, and who so long held the British front at Ypres, but I cannot think the country will accept the proposal that he should practically act as Air Minister as a satisfactory proposal. Surely this is a modern question: it requires a man with modern mind, accustomed to modern and entirely novel developments. Again, from what the Under-Secretary for War said, it is impossible, without further explanation, to know exactly what is going to take place. The right hon. Gentleman said, for instance, that after air raiders came to this country the defence against them was to be in the hands of the Army. Does that mean that the naval establishments in this country, which are well equipped with machines ready at all times to start—does it mean that the naval aircraft establishments are going to be under the Army? If it does not, I cannot understand the meaning of the Under-Secretary of State for War.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was handicapped in his speech by the fact that he is not at liberty to speak frankly on the points which we most desire to know. That is obvious, and I beg him to believe that if he is handicapped in that way so, to a considerable though less degree, are some of us handicapped in criticising him. I have had some little opportunity of seeing and learning aircraft work, both on the French and the British front, and I find myself entirely unable to discuss this matter publicly. I want to put certain questions. I cannot do so. I would like to advance certain very pointed criticisms, but I am entirely unable to do that in public, and, therefore, it seems to me this kind of Debate cannot possibly be satisfactory. A suggestion has been made from outside which I should like to see accepted, or, if it cannot be accepted, to be told why. It is that a small Committee of representative members interested in this subject should be formed to consult in secret, but quite frankly, with responsible members of the Government and their responsible advisers, to meet them face to face, to ask them direct questions, and to get under the seal of absolute secrecy plain answers. If such a representative Committee were appointed, and were to publish a statement to the effect that they had made inquiries, and had been given information, and were satisfied with what was being done, I believe the House and the country would 129 accept its decision. But short of that I do not see it is possible to come to any kind of decision that will satisfy the country.
The present situation is not satisfactory. I say it with great reluctance. I have come to the conclusion, from what I have been able to learn of the situation at the present moment, that it is not entirely satisfactory either in this country or in France. Let me point out that the airship problems in this country and in France are not distinctive, and that the machines which will do what is required in France is practically the machine which is required for work in this country. I need not state the reasons for saying that, but I believe it to be the case. After all, it is not only a matter of dealing with Zeppelin raids. It is a question of the general direction in which the Aircraft Service is moving, and if I may say so with all respect, it appears to me that the First Lord of the Admiralty somewhat misconceived the criticisms which have been directed to this subject. The complaint is not that we are not moving rapidly, not that we are not ordering masses of every conceivable material—and in some respects I may suggest that perhaps the authorities have ordered too much of some things—but the real point is more in the nature of the inquiry, "Are we quite sure we are moving in the right direction?" A number of the most expert airmen and expert aircraft designers and mechanics are convinced that we are not moving in a right direction, and I should like nothing better than to give examples which have come to my knowledge which seem to justify me in thinking there may be some ground for that criticism. That really is the criticism against the Department. We want to know whether they are moving in the right direction. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We cannot get material." But that is a different question. The real question is, "Are yon getting the right things, or are you not?" and I believe a small Committee would be the only way in which this House could be satisfied, or in which the country could be satisfied. Those of us who desire for public reasons to get some satisfaction for the doubts that assail us, and if possible to give effect to some of the urgent requests that have been made to us, especially in France, believe that that is the only way in which the situation can be met. As a final word, I would say that the urgency of doing all we can to meet the 130 doubts and criticisms and, if possible, to give effect to such urgent requests as I have mentioned, lies in the fact, which can hardly have escaped the attention of anybody here, of the very great number of losses of airmen we have suffered recently, a rapidly increasing ratio of loss. I beg to throw out the suggestion. It did not originate with me. It was made outside this House, in the first place, in the "Times" newspaper. I trust that the Government may see fit to give it their favourable consideration. It could do no harm, nobody would be the worse, and the time during which you would take the expert men from their work would be only a few hours. I believe the general effect of it would be good and widespread.
§ Mr. CECIL HARMSWORTH
The hon. Baronet who has just sat down has thrown out a very interesting suggestion, but whether it is adopted by the Government or not I do not think it can be generally regarded as a complete solution of the difficulty we all feel at the present moment. It might be possible for the heads of the responsible Departments to satisfy a small Committee of Members of this House, but I am not quite sure that we should make very much progress in that direction, because, after all, the important thing is to satisfy the opinion of Parliament generally and, what is even more important, public opinion outside. As I listened to the speeches of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Under-Secretary of State for War it seemed to me that they were in their own persons, if I may say so with the most complete respect, illustrating the very great disadvantage that arises from a divided control in this most essential matter. I think it is possible to say, with perfect respect to the First Lord of the Admiralty and to the other right hon. Gentleman, if he were present, that they seemed to be labouring under a disadvantage in addressing themselves to this topic. They spoke, as it seemed to me, without certainty and as men to whom this matter was not the most important matter in their charge, and I hope it is possible to say without disrespect that they did not throw any great amount of light upon the problem. The Under-Secretary of State for War referred to the danger of creating a panic in this country. There is only one chance of a panic arising in this country, and that would emerge from a mistrust of the authorities responsible for the air defences of the country. At present, as every Member of this House 131 knows, there is no panic in any part of the country. I have myself visited several of the districts that have been the subject of raids by German Zeppelins and aeroplanes. I have talked with people who have witnessed those raids and who, indeed, have been the victims, as regards their property, of those raids, but I have never discovered in any part any symptom of panic or even of alarm.
It is equally true, however, to say that there is a certain amount of uneasiness in the public mind, and I think I may say of disappointment with the measures that have been taken hitherto to meet this very great danger. That uneasiness has shown itself in two very marked ways. We have had a spontaneous meeting of some of the most responsible business men in the Midlands with a view to making their own arrangements to meet this danger, and we have even had the demand for reprisals, emanating in some cases from public men for whom we all have the greatest respect—a demand with which I personally have no sympathy whatever. These two circumstances do point—I will not put it higher than that—to some uneasiness in the public mind. I am not sure that that uneasiness will be allayed in any marked degree by the speeches we have had this afternoon from the Under-Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is quite true to say, as they have said, that we cannot expect everything all at once; or, again, that it is impossible to provide protection in every part of the United Kingdom. I quite agree with them as to that. You must do the best you can; you must protect the vital places and, by the adoption of lighting restrictions and so forth, meet other cases as best you can. But when you have said that, you have not got very much further in the direction of calming public opinion. I hoped, in spite of rumours that had already begun to circulate, that the Government would be able to announce a really definite policy in regard to this great problem. I am quite sure myself that it will never be adequately met until there is established in this country a separate Department, a Ministry—I care not what you call it—which has sole charge of the whole problem of the Air Service of this country. We have seen already what it is possible to do in another War Department by the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions. I do not think that anybody pretends, or could pretend, that we should be 132 in so favourable a position as we are at the present time in regard to the War if the Ministry of Munitions had never been established.
I should like to see myself, and I wish we could have it announced this afternoon, a Department of Air Service established in the country. The Under-Secretary of State for War, if I may venture to say so, discharges the very difficult functions of his office to the great satisfaction of this House. He has won golden opinions in his office during the years he has occupied it. But he is too busy a man, and his chief in another place is too busy a man, to take sole charge and control of this great Service, while the First Lord of the Admiralty has enough on hand for any one man, and ought not, in my judgment, to be charged with any great responsibility in regard to the Air Service. I see no difficulty in the way of establishing a Department of Air Service, with somebody at the head of it with the push and go, if you can discover him, of the present Minister of Munitions—a man of tireless energy, great versatility, accessibility to new ideas, and, above all, endowed with complete and undivided responsibility. There can be no question that, whatever we do now, in the years to come, and I think it will not be many years, the Ministry or Department of Air Service will rank with the Admiralty or the War Office. A day or so ago I was looking back at a Debate we had in this House less than eight years ago. Monsieur Blériot had then just flown across the Channel, and some people realised with a start that our immemorial insularity had then departed for ever. If I remember rightly, in those days we had only two or three aeroplanes in the possession of the fighting forces of this country, and I am not at all sure that we had as many skilled pilots. The advance that has been made in this great art is, I suppose, the most marvellous in this great age of invention, and it may be quite possible that within a very few years from now that the Department of Air Service will rank equally with that of the Admiralty. I gathered from the speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that we were not likely to have a Ministry charged solely with this matter in the near future. I regret that. I am not at all sure that even before this War is over the Government may not find it necessary to change their mind in that regard.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
No, Sir; but I gathered from the fact that the two right hon. Gentlemen did not make any definite reference of that kind that it was not the intention of the Government to establish any such Department. I repeat that I should not be surprised if the Government found it necessary to do that even before the present War is over, and in my humble judgment they could do nothing better in the interest of the Air Service itself, and with a view to calming any public anxiety that may exist at the present time.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I should not have intervened but for the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Hon. Members have come down to-day hoping that we should have a statement from the Government which would reassure not only this House but the public outside as to the realisation by the Government of the importance of this whole question in regard to aircraft. Can anyone truthfully say that the three different statements which have been made from that bench to-day have done anything to increase the confidence of the country in the Government in regard to the matter which we are now discussing? What have they told us? Simply that we are to have the telephones shut off in case of another raid, lights are to be lowered in the Midlands, and the transfer of direction is to be handed back to the War Office. It is this kind of statements that the Government seriously consider are going to inspire public confidence in their administration. I tell them that at this moment they have failed to understand public opinion in this matter, as they failed to understand public opinion on many other vital matters of the War. What are the Government's proposals? The War Office, forsooth, is now to have control of this whole matter—the War Office which had not time to deal with munitions, the War Office which had not time to deal with recruiting, the War Office from which the power of appointment at the front has been taken away and handed over to the Imperial General Staff. This Office, which is unable to do these things because of pressure, is now going to undertake the whole question of the Air Service. The public will be profoundly dissatisfied with action of that kind. Hon. Members opposite have paid worthy and well-earned tributes to Lord French. I have not heard from the 134 Government to-day that Lord French is going to have sole responsibility in this matter. Not a single word has been said. I suppose very much the same in regard to Sir Percy Scott. The Government themselves really do not know at this moment what their policy is in regard to the air. The First Lord of the Admiralty made two defences. He said we could not get materials, and we could not get men. As I understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the situation is not satisfactory at present from his point of view. He does not pretend that everything has been done which might have been done, and he does not pretend to lead the House to believe that the whole defence, so far as this country is concerned, is satisfactory.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman means that I do not for a moment pretend that we have all the material required for organised defence, I do not think we have. I agree.
Sir H. DALZIEL
That is the assurance we have from the Government now, that we have not an adequate defence at present against the possibilities of the immediate future. That is the position after eighteen months, that the Government have had to tell us that it is not adequate. How this House was misled before the War! How every Minister from that bench used to assure us that everything was all right in regard both to offence and defence, and the House and the country accepted it. But, says the First Lord, we did not know there was going to be this great War, and we did not make preparations. We cannot accept that as a defence.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
It is rather hard to make me responsible for everything that happened before the Coalition Government came into being. I was one of the critics of the Government.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I can quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman has quite enough responsibility without taking that also on his shoulders, and I remember well that he was one of the critics of the Government, but for the purposes of this Debate, the first important Debate we have had since this Air Service got to its present important position, we must recognise the right hon. Gentleman as a member of the present Cabinet, and as the selected member of the Cabinet who has spoken in this Debate with the object of reassuring the public on the whole 135 matter. We, as members of the House, cannot shut off entirely from the review which we make of the position the assurance which was given us by the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman is now a member, before the War took place. According to the admission of members of the Cabinet, they knew that the War was coming, and they knew that we were committed on the Continent if it did come. Why did they not make adequate preparations at that time? Long before the War broke out men used to spend their time from a patriotic point of view in going and representing to the War Office the importance of this matter. They were turned down. We must remember that they knew the importance of this matter before the War and they have known for eighteen months how our enemy was going to use aircraft in war. It is over a year since the Zeppelins were over Paris and over Antwerp. Surely that was time enough for them to realise the necessity for action. The First Lord left the impression that the late Government had done all that was necessary in order to put our position right in this matter. I absolutely deny the statement of the First Lord, and I will make him this challenge. It has been suggested that we should have a Committee. Will he allow a Committee of any three Members he likes to appoint in this House to look at the dates of the orders which have been given? If he will allow that I will abide by the result. They will find—and I wonder if he will deny it—that the date when the orders were given was not eighteen months ago or anything like it. I should like to know the dates when the orders were given which are supposed to put our position right in this matter. Eighteen months ago, twelve months ago, six months ago—no. They say you cannot get material. Does the House forget that for six months after the War started scores of our engineering works throughout the country were on half-time, and that they were working for stock, and would have been delighted to get orders for aeroplanes. Their men were haunting the War Office week after week, offering to turn their places into manufactories to produce these things. They were snubbed for their pains. Two hundred thousand engineers—skilled men—were allowed to go to the front who could have been working for eighteen months in making these aeroplanes. Then with knowledge of that 136 fact, and with the further knowledge that scores of Americans were offering to place their factories at our disposal in order to make aeroplanes, they were turned down. I know myself a factory which will turn out fifteen aeroplanes a day at three months' notice, and which is turning them out now in America. Why were these orders kept back from America when the great manufacturers there were eager and willing to place their factories at our disposal for nearly a year after the War started? It is not right to tell us that material is the difficulty and that we cannot get machines.
Then with regard to men, are we able to get men or are we not? I know a case of two successful and rich New Zealanders who, from a patriotic point of view, the moment the War started, decided to go in for flying. They got their pilot's certificate after a time, and provided their own machines. They telegraphed over here offering their services and asking if they would be accepted if they came over. They came over and went to the War Office day after day and week after week, but their services were not accepted. Finally, in a spirit of despair, the two brothers wrote and said they were tired of kicking about London and were going over to France to offer their services. Only after they had made that threat were their services accepted. Every Member of the House is besieged almost daily by men who are anxious to get into the Flying-Service, and have been for the last six months or a year. The right hon. Gentleman tells us the difficulty is with regard to men. In the time these men have been offering their services there has been any amount of opportunity and time to train them. The real secret is not material or men. It is absolute neglect on the part of the Government. They ought to have taken steps long before they did. The First Lord, I think, rather overstated his objection to-day when he said that a man who knows and understands machines is not necessarily of more value than a man who does not. I agree with regard to organisation and the management of men in the carrying out of work in connection with the Air Service, he is right, but he is not right in regard to the chief in charge in regard to flying in any particular part of the front, or any part of the country. Why have we been having so many casualties in the West recently—two or three men day after day? There is no secret about it. The men are being sent 137 up day after day on days which are entirely unsuitable for flying. I have asked why we are having so many casualties. The reason is that the men go up when they know it is an impossibility to do any good because the weather conditions are all wrong. The officer in charge there has never yet flown over the German lines. He does not understand the conditions the same as the men who are called upon to do it. The men who are sent up there know that they are carrying their lives in their hands. There has been grave discontent in both branches of the Air Service—the right hon. Gentleman himself spent a good deal of time in interviewing members of the Service—because they have the feeling that they have never had justice or fair play, and influences have been at work in regard to promotion and appointments in both branches of the Service. Hon. Members know what that means in regard to discipline. They know the Government has never fully realised the importance of this matter, and that there is no plan, there is no method, and there is very little encouragement. These are some of the reasons why the Air Service is dissatisfied to-day with the Government as well as the public are dissatisfied.
In my opinion the situation is a very serious one. After all this warning, after all the lessons they might have got from the Continent, after all the offers which have been made to them to help them in this matter, all that the Government have to say is the same old thing—patience, patience, patience! I think you may carry that policy a little too far. We have had practically thirty raids in this country, not one of which, so far as I know, has ever been in any way damaged by our own aircraft. That is a very serious position. The public give them all the money they want, and all the assistance they want, and after eighteen months they have never yet shown us any improvement. The whole organisation, in ray opinion, has been out of order, and therefore I say to the Government I think the public will call for more aggressive action in this matter than there seems any indication of at present. I think there is a good deal to be said for a separate Department. With the important and great matters which the right hon. Gentleman has to decide and consider at almost every hour of the day, perhaps the most important at this moment in regard to any branch of the naval service, it is im- 138 possible that he could give time to all the details which are necessary in regard to the management of the War. So it is in regard to the men in possession at the War Office. You do not require this to be a mere subordinate Department—quite a side issue. You want a Department of the air.
You want a man who has the confidence of both Services at the head of it. You require a consultative committee on which both Services are represented, having the time, the determination, and the ability to improve the Air Service. With the Council of War that we have, how is it possible that the Cabinet or this Council of War can give sufficient time to this important matter? You want a strong man at the head who will impress the Cabinet with the necessity for spending more money, if necessary, in regard to this matter. Up to the present time there has been no indication, and there is no indication to-day, that the Government realise the necessity for prompt and vigorous action in this matter. I profoundly regret that, and I can only hope that reconsideration of their position may take place, and that the view of the House of Commons as expressed to-day will receive more attention than it has received up to the present time. I do not know whether my hon. Friends opposite take the same view of the statement of the Government as I do, but if they do they have the responsibility of deciding whether there is to be a Division. If there is a Division I shall most cheerfully give them my support. It is really no use going on having these academic Debates, complimenting one another and saying nice things. The public outside do not understand that kind of Parliamentary finesse. If hon. Members believe, as I believe, that the situation is so serious, both at home and at the front, in regard to the Air Service as to demand the most urgent attention, they have no option, in my opinion, but to vote for the Amendment. I believe at this moment in my soul that the Government have neglected this matter, as they have neglected so many things from the very commencement of the War. I believe that the only thing that will let the Government realise what the public think, and what we think ourselves, is to record our votes in the Division Lobby. As far as I am concerned, I shall have no hesitation in doing that. Let hon. Members not be afraid of the bogey about turning the Government out. You will do nothing of the kind. You will 139 still have twenty-two members of the Cabinet. All that it will mean will be that there will be a special Cabinet Council to say, "The House of Commons is waking up at last. They are getting tired of our eloquent perorations, and our glowing speeches, and they are going to ask for something to be done."
§ Sir J. ROLLESTON
I do not wish for a moment to be classed as a "scaremonger," or as a whimperer, but I want to say a few words on this important matter. I have been asked to express the wishes of my Constituents, some of whom have been victims of air raids. They wish representations to be made to the Government that there is much need for development of our aerial defences and other safeguards against invasion of this kind, and they are justified in expressing that wish, because they have themselves been the victims on various occasions of visitations by airships, with terrible and fatal results. One of these was on the county town itself which at one time was represented by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and no warning or notice of any kind was given beforehand. What I wish specially to call the attention of the Government to in regard to this district is that close by there exists, apparently under the patronage of the War Office and the Home Office, a German colony occupying 300 acres of land and on which are employed about 100 able-bodied Germans. The maintenance of this colony in this district is most distasteful to the inhabitants who, at a large meeting attended by 2,000 people, expressed themselves as wishful for its removal. The Germans who occupy this colony as labourers, I believe, were described by the late Home Secretary, in an answer given to me, as hospital patients. The colony is said to be a philanthropic institution maintained by wealthy Germans in this country for their poor compatriots. The existence of an institution like this on an elevated position commanding the Great North Road, is a matter which I think demands the attention of the Government. It seems to me that to remove a German colony of this sort from an English county would be a better precaution against air raids than any of the minor precautions taken. In any case, in a district in which sudden and cruel death has overtaken civilian inhabitants they are entitled to express dissatisfaction with the inade- 140 quacy of our national defences as regards aircraft, and as I represent one of these for a brief moment I heartily support the Amendment.
In regard to the recent air raids over the Midland counties, one of them passed over my home there, and a large town close by, which has an excellent organisation as regards lights, which were well extinguished, was passed over; but a smaller town, ten miles away, which was lighted up, was visited with terrible results. It is a serious matter in connection with these raids that there are people in the towns ready to give signals for guiding hostile airships in order that they may drop bombs. There can be no doubt that there is all over this country an organisation of enemy spies, always ready to guide hostile aircraft to those places which they wish to destroy. I submit with great respect that the precautions taken against enemy spies, Germans or otherwise, are completely inadequate. It is well sometimes to see ourselves as others see us, and I am sure the Government will not resent my saying that, certainly in the provinces with which I am acquainted, the opinion prevails there—I believe it is a wrong opinion—that the Government, to use the language of the field, have not sufficiently extended themselves in the matter of this War, inasmuch as their most notable efforts and changes of policy have been made not on their own initiative, but under the whip and spur of public opinion outside. This Amendment, therefore, will be very popular outside, and I shall have pleasure in supporting it. The Prime Minister declared at the beginning of the War what in his opinion victory would mean, and he has received the hearty and popular support of the country. The time is approaching when the people will expect some indication that that declaration may be made good in its fullest sense. The Government have got the ships, they have got the men, and they have got the money too, and they have got the money to provide adequate aerial defence. Therefore I submit, with great respect, that the commencement of this new Session is a favourable opportunity to endeavour to convince and satisfy the people that this War will be pursued with resolution and determination, and that the declaration of the Prime Minister made at its commencement, and since repeated, is well on its way to accomplishment. I hope that this Amendment will be a means of largely contributing towards that desirable end.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
I desire, as a representative of the Midlands, to express strongly to the House the views taken in that part of the country. The feeling in the Midlands very distinctly is not one of panic, but there is a broad feeling of want of confidence in the Government because there is an absence of vigorous guidance and expert management in the matter of these aircraft raids. That feeling has been accentuated by the recent raids, but it has been growing there for some time. I am quite convinced that, while there is no panic, there is a very strong feeling of want of confidence in the general management. What we want is vigour, guidance, courage, and determination. Those are the qualities that we want to see in the Government, and while I do not want unduly to criticise the Government, I do want to stir them up to exercise those qualities to the full in the consideration of our aerial defence. I cannot fancy altogether that the speeches we have had from the Front Bench will entirely reassure my Constituents. The mere incidental remark of the Under-Secretary for War about there being an aerodrome for aircraft to land at in process of formation near London rather disclosed the belated attitude of the Government in this matter, and in cross-examination he admitted that it was perhaps an inadequate proposal.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I did not use the word "adequate" or "inadequate." It was the skill and ingenuity, I think, of the right hon. Member for Anglesey which put the word "inadequate" into my mouth. What I stated was that there is in process of being formed certain landing places in and around London. Whether they are adequate or not it is impossible to say until the times comes when they may be required. It is, however, the fact that they are now being provided.
§ Mr. CECIL
I hope that they will be adequate when the time comes. If this Debate contributes towards getting them more rapidly established, and results in assuring the country that the matter is being looked into more vigorously, the Amendment will have been very useful. One hon. Member mentioned the proposal as regards a new Air Department. I think there is a great deal to be said for that. I cannot see how the extremely busy authorities at the War Office or the Admiralty can give sufficient attention to this extremely important matter unless 142 there is an Air Department that can give its whole attention to it. I rather fear that the present arrangement still leaves a great amount of dual control which may lead to delay and indecision. The First Lord of the Admiralty admitted that we had a right to complain of the general deficiency in aircraft. I do complain of that, and I think that the matter goes back to a time considerably anterior to many of the dates that have been given during the Debate. If I may mention one or two personal experiences, I would like to tell the House that as far back as August, 1909, I happened to be in Cologne, and I hold in my hand a postcard which was being advertised there for sale, and which is particularly interesting in view of the subsequent developments. The German Emperor is represented with a cynical smile of triumph on his face, shaking hands with our King Edward, who is absolutely terror-struck. Below are numbers of British men-of-war with British flags flying. Above in the sky are all kinds of German aircraft, and the Kaiser is represented as saying to our King, "Wir sind quitt," which means, now "we are quits." That was in August, 1909. That was being sold in what I may describe as the most slummy quarters of Cologne, but I was informed that it was having a very wide circulation in Germany and increasing the feeling of determination in reference to air attacks against this country.
I was so much struck with this postcard that when I came back to this country I thought it worth while to show it to the then Secretary of State for War, my Noble Friend Lord Haldane, who, with a friendly smile, told me that he had already received one or two copies. I showed another to the then First Lord of the Admiralty, my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. McKenna), who was much interested in it, and I think that probably it fortified him in his determination to persist in a policy which I believe he was then advocating as against a certain party who desired a little Navy, and who were then rather vociferous in this House. As a private Member, five and a half years ago, I tried to impress the importance of paying attention to the methods of Germany in reference to this question of aircraft. Hon. Members can with pleasure look at the postcard. Two years afterwards, if I remember aright, we had an aircraft exhibition at Hendon, to which Members 143 of this House and of the Upper House were invited. I was one of the first to go up in an aeroplane, two days before the exhibition, and two days before my respected leader, the present First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Balfour). On that occasion a demonstration was given by Mr. Grahame White, who with great skill showed how bombs could be dropped from aeroplanes—they were sandbags in his case—so as to hit the pattern of a ship drawn on the grass below, and he hit it very successfully. The aeroplane was flying comparatively low, at a height of about 200 feet, but the demonstration showed the possibility of great developments in this matter, and so far as I was concerned, and I think so far as a great many other Members were concerned, we felt considerable anxiety as to what German aircraft might do in the future.
I quote these cases because they prove that the matter was brought before the attention of the Government at that time, and that they were given an opportunity of at any rate considering the matter, and that even in the interval which elapsed before the War broke out there was ample opportunity of doing more than they actually did in respect of aircraft. I very much fear that we made very little progress until the War broke out. How does the problem stand to-day? My hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of this Motion have asked whether experts have yet to make up their minds as to what is the best way of fighting the Zeppelins when they come over—whether by aeroplanes, or by counter Zeppelins, or in any other way. I do not know, but I rather strongly suspect that experts are very much divided even now, and what we are doing is to press for promptitude, decision, courage and vigour in all this matter. Without these the country will not be satisfied, and the country expects those qualities in the Government in this matter. Obviously we cannot rely entirely on our guns. We have got one-pounders and two-pounders, I believe, but, and again I do not know for certain, you cannot bring down Zeppelins at the height at which they fly with anything much short of a thirteen-pounder. I do not suppose that we have enough to spare of them. If we have not got the guns, they should be ordered. If we have got them, they should be put in the proper place, where they would be effective.
144 Again, have we examined the possibility of inventing or working aerial torpedoes? I do not know in the least what may have been done in that respect, or if anything has been done. All these are points which might very properly and would be very actively taken up by a central Air Department. If nominated under the War Office, well and good. At any rate, let it be a vigorous Department which can tackle the question with greater speed than has hitherto been shown. It may be decided that higher power aeroplanes should be built. It may be that more anti-aircraft guns should be made, or that we should make invasions into the enemy country and destroy the nests of the Zeppelins, and destroy such places as the factories at Essen. What I am asking is that we should have no more of the spirit of procrastination in this matter. I do not even want to divide against the Government to-night if they will take to heart the lesson of the Debate. In spite of the speeches which have been made from the Front Bench, I do hope that the spirit of procrastination will be entirely removed in the future as regards our aircraft. I cannot help remembering that more than once we have had speeches with promises which have not always borne fruit. I was very much struck last December by the admission of the Minister of Munitions—I have got his words here—that machine guns were not ordered in any very large numbers until after one of the Prime Minister's visits to the front last June. The War had been then on for ten months.
§ Mr. CECIL
I was basing my argument upon it, but if my hon. Friend tells me that it is not correct, cadit quœstio. All I claim is that this kind of procrastination or delay should not occur. I do not want to see the Government prodded by public opinion. I want the Government to take the lead themselves. I do not want to see this country governed by newspapers. I want to see it governed by the Government themselves, and if we can get courage, leadership, decision, promptitude, and vigour into their future policy, particularly 145 as regards aircraft, and in general as regards the War, I think that the country will rally warmly to their support.
§ Mr. LYNCH
We have heard to-night speeches of various qualities. One which I particularly enjoyed was the pungent, witty speech of the right hon. and learned Member who sits for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith). We have heard speeches from the Front Bench, and in my experience of this House they were the weakest speeches that I have ever heard from that quarter, and I say that without any disparagement whatever of the sincerity, courage, or ability of those who uttered them. Remember—and it is hard to remember, in view of those speeches—that we are now engaged in a war, the most momentous perhaps in all history, which has lasted for eighteen months, that in reply to the gravest accusations—for it amounts to that—against the Government, we have speeches such as those delivered by the Under-Secretary for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. My objection to those speeches is not in regard to the facts or the arguments, but is something far more fundamental, in regard to the whole attitude in this matter, in regard to the handling of the entire question. What you want in the present crisis is men endowed with the spirit and intellect of the engineer. We are represented by men who have got the spirit and intellect of lawyers.
A lawyer or an advocate, when, in a somewhat conventional and not altogether sincere manner, he has succeeded in convincing a judge or a jury or a public assembly has done his work. This House allows itself to be far too easily convinced by lawyers' utterances. The engineer must take an entirely different attitude, and that attitude must gradually mould his whole mind and spirit and bent of intellect, because he knows that his work will be judged by the forces of nature itself, and so he acquires a certain responsibility and foresight and forethought, and he prepares his plans accordingly, and he does his work knowing that every portion of that work must be valid because it will be tested by external forces. The lawyer's intellect is one which serves for the purpose of advancement on that bench. It is the brilliant intellect which succeeds in persuading Parliament, but the work of the engineer is tried in the crucible of nature, and that work will be pronounced a success or failure as judged by the results which the engineer has produced.
146 The Under-Secretary for War said what really amounted to this—that the previous regime had been found a failure, and that in view of this Parliamentary Debate they were now inventing something which would serve the purpose of the hour and please the Members and avoid a Division. And what was the result of all this? A shuffling of cards between the Admiralty and the War Office, simply a change of name, or a change of direction, so that one man who had proved himself incompetent under the Admiralty is destined to be continued in office to prove himself incompetent under the War Office. This is not the time to be tender about reputations. I have no personal animus whatever against these men. I hardly know them. I judge them by results. As I have said, we are engaged in this desperate struggle in which .£5,000,000 are spent every day, and in which hundreds of lives are sacrificed—men of the finest quality, men equal to the best record of all time, men, the flower of the nation, who are pouring out their blood in sacrifice, and often in useless sacrifice. No reputation must be allowed to stand between us and the realities, and if a man be tried by his deeds and is found wanting, that man must be sacrificed. If we take even the most trivial example, a cricket match, and you have a man who is incapable of bowling, and you sec that the match is slipping from your grasp, then you change the bowler. But when we come to a matter of such enormous gravity as this War, we refuse even to act on the principle which is employed in a cricket match. The attitude exhibited to-day, the spirit and the kind of arguments which have been put forward show not only that we might be incapable of winning the War, but incapable of winning a cricket match.
I always listen with respect to the First Lord of the Admiralty, though I fail to agree with him, because he is a man of intellect, and that can never be too highly prized. He is also a great expert in making "the worse appear the better reason." He is "in act more graceful" than some of his colleagues, but I do not know of any mind that could be more disastrous at the present moment than that of a highly skilled and intellectual man who glosses over facts, who fails to look at realities, and is content to put before this tribunal reasons which he himself could shatter of he were ranged on the other side. I regret to add the words 147 spoken of his prototype, "and yet he pleased." His argument with regard to the deficiency of aeroplanes was that we had not sufficient material. Why? It is always a mistake to accept the argument of a man who has to defend insufficiencies or errors for which he is responsible. In a crisis of this kind it would be a mistake even to allow to pass as a good argument that any man in that position had done his best. Such best may not be good enough, and if that best is not good enough, the man who does his best and it is proved insufficient should be ruthlessly sacrificed.
Why is the material insufficient? Responsibility falls upon those who had control of this Department, not so much upon the right hon. Gentleman, because he has only lately arrived, and no doubt he has already exerted himself to repair past faults. What becomes of the Department which has not made the necessary preparations to have material, because sufficient material is available? I will give one instance which has come within my own experience. Whilst last in Paris, I had the opportunity of visiting some of the great aeroplane factories in that city. I saw the experimental work of M. Eiffel, to which there is no analogy in this country. An experimental laboratory was put up by M. Eiffel at his own expense; he conducts experiments at his own expense on behalf of constructors who bring to him ideas; and the result is that by the work of his experimental laboratory he is able to determine the best type of machines in every detail, given the conditions which those details should fulfil. I have also seen the aeroplane construction of M. Voison, a constructor of genius, who not merely reproduces old types, but who makes use of experience gained by one success to achieve other successes.
I came back to London greatly impressed by what I saw there, and I submitted to the authorities, indirectly, the project of a young Belgian engineer, who has followed the results of the experiments of M. Eiffel, and has produced an aeroplane in which he has such confidence that he spent something like £2,000 of his own money in its construction. Unfortunately, just as the tests were being made that aeroplane was burned down. It was an aeroplane which had these peculiar advantages, that it would rise more 148 quickly than any other known aeroplane, that it would attain a very high rate of speed, greater than most of the types then in use, and it has other qualities besides. I submitted that indirectly, and it finally reached the proper quarter. After some delay that project was refused. I have no desire to quarrel with that decision; it may be a perfectly just decision; but what I do quarrel with is this, that the Department which has had the plans and specifications before it never had even the curiosity to demand to see whether or not improvements could be made in the construction in order that the idea might be pursued further. I want to put this question: If that aeroplane had been tested, and if it was wanting in some parts, would it not have been possible by bringing expert knowledge to bear to improve some of the details or even the general construction, and to still make use of the organising and constructing ability of the man who projected that aeroplane? He submitted to the Government that if they would help him in manufacturing the aeroplane by establishing a factory in this country, he would bring here not only others of technical skill, but would bring workmen with him. By having a factory established in this country he would be able to secure from various parts of the world an unlimited supply either of trained workmen, or workmen who might he trained for the purpose. All that project was entirely rejected.
The whole argument of the First Lord of the Admiralty is that there is insufficient material. That is a true argument as far as it goes, but it does not meet the real point, that there should have been sufficient material, and even if the factories now in existence are insufficient to turn out these machines at the rate required, this problem should have been faced even in a more fundamental fashion, and the factories themselves should have been created, and, one type having been secured, it could have been extended and multiplied, and then there would have been no shortage of material. The reply to his main argument is this: Granted there is a shortage of material now, there would be no shortage of material if the question were looked at not from that mere basis, but from the whole broad principle that, having the supplies of the world, having unlimited labour, having command of the seas, we should be able to have factories of the type of those in America. You say it is not possible, and 149 that you have not got the material, but no man who regarded the problem in the fashion indicated would dare to say that it would be impossible to supply material in sufficient quantities.
I will give one slight instance out of hundreds cropping up, of the kind of objection which experts make in regard to solving the problem. I heard, for example, about a shortage of steel, perhaps more in France than in this country. If it be suggested that there is an unlimited supply of steel from America, these experts would immediately say that the steel from America has some flaw in its composition which makes it unsuitable for the purposes required. That argument is true and valid, but it does not meet the further question, Is it possible, having these unlimited quantities of steel from America, to purify that steel by processes which would render it suitable for special purposes? The First Lord of the Admiralty has put forward objections which are valid on the face of them, but in his reply he has not put forward arguments which really meet the whole question on the more fundamental basis from which he should have regarded it. Then again we come to the attitude of mind which is content to accept objections and put forward plausible arguments to convince this House , but the other type of mind, such as we should have at the head of a Department of aeroplane construction, would not have been content with objections, but when confronted by superficial objection, would insist upon looking deeper into the whole question, in crushing down merely artificial obstacles, and in placing before itself a great ideal, which is yet attainable. These aeroplanes not having been produced in sufficient quantities, of sufficient power, of sufficient quality, the whole bent and energies of a man with such a type of mind would have been directed to employing all the resources of his Department until the production of the aeroplanes desired had been attained.
The question of Zeppelins has been put forward, and the First Lord has regretted that we have not proceeded to build Zeppelins in this country. I would venture to to say that the great salvation of this country in this War has been that the Germans have thrown themselves so determinedly into the construction of Zeppelins, because, having devoted so much of their constructive ability and their engineering genius to the perfection of Zeppelins, they have been less energetic than they might 150 have been in the construction of aeroplanes. No greater mistake could be made than that, at this hour, so belatedly, this country should recognise certain advantages in Zeppelins, and should now proceed to follow suit and start factories for the building of imitation Zeppelins. The Zeppelin is a slower instrument than a first-class aeroplane. The Zeppelin does not rise so quickly as the best type of aeroplane; and remember that one aeroplane is capable of bringing down a Zeppelin, and that the time, money, skill, and labour devoted to the construction of one Zeppelin would be sufficient to turn out a whole fleet of the best kind of latest type aeroplanes. So that instead of now so belatedly attempting to follow the Germans in this line of Zeppelin building, a successful policy would be, I think, to devote the utmost energy to the construction of the latest type of aeroplanes, fast aeroplanes, fast-rising aeroplanes, aeroplanes of great power and aeroplanes carrying fighting guns.
Lately we have had considerable alarm and considerable discussion on the question of German aeroplanes. The Fokker is one machine, and one would think it was something suddenly sprung like a bolt from the blue, a surprise to our experts, as if it were something following a new device, and something entirely beyond their own reach. As a matter of fact, it is nearly twelve months since the Germans first began to recognise the great value of the aeroplane as an arm in this War. All their engineers were instructed to devote their energies to the devising of new types and to the adoption as far as could be of the best qualities of the existing types, in order to produce a superior kind of aeroplane, and the Fokker has been the result. Over eight months ago the Germans were beginning to build aeroplanes which were showing their superiority over the aeroplanes of the Allies at the front. In all these questions where the Germans have gained any superiority at all it has not been because they have shown any great inventive genius in these matters or produced the original bright idea which is truly the work of genius. Their skill and superiority, where it has existed, has been in adopting and adapting the ideas of others, but they have adapted them. The result was that eight months ago they had a fast aeroplane carrying two engines and able to rise more quickly and fly more quickly than any of the aeroplanes possessed by the Allies. The first aeroplane of 151 very high power produced in this War was the product of the Russians—the Sikorski. The Germans had nothing of the kind. When the first Sikorski fell within their lines, it was submitted immediately to their experts and photographs were taken and reproduced of the parts and details, and those were sent into every workshop in Germany, and even every private engineer and every head of every workshop was invited by the Government to study those details and to reproduce them if he found they were of the best kind, and, if not, to suggest any improvement which the Germans could adopt. So that, although the initiative has arisen either in this country or in France, and though at the beginning of the War, as the aeroplane was an invention of an English-speaking nation, this country and France had a great advantage, yet in the progress of the War the Germans have in some respects acquired the upper hand over the Allies. While I say that, I believe that in the personnel the Allies are still superior, and that the flying men of England and of France are superior to those of Germany. But in the mechanical part, and particularly in the adaptation of what has been useful, even though invented in other countries, the Germans have shown superiority over this country, and the Government has not yet waked up to the vast importance of the part which aeroplanes could play in this War if a fleet of aeroplanes were provided of sufficient magnitude and sufficient power. If the question be asked, "Has the Government done its best?" is there any man, even on the Front Bench, who can truthfully answer, "Yes, the Government has exerted the full power of its ability"? The Government has not yet fully recognised the immense part which aeroplanes could play in this War if they were regarded less as an appanage of the naval or military forces, and were regarded as a distinct fighting arm. If, in fact, aeroplanes were regarded in this new kind of service somewhat as the Cavalry is in regard to military service, that is to say, if it were regarded as possible that this country could build not merely dozens of aeroplanes or hundreds of aeroplanes, as the Under-Secretary has said, but thousands of aeroplanes if necessary, so that the country would have a fleet whose superiority would be such that in no part of any one of its fronts would any hostile aeroplane be able to show itself above the 152 horizon. I say that that is an ideal well within the possibilities of attainment by the Government, and to that they should bend their energies; that is to say, to build the Cavalry of the air and to recognise that that Cavalry of the air could be brought to such a pitch of perfection or of sufficiency that it would become one of the decisive factors in the termination of this campaign.
Let me offer a practical suggestion. I would say in the first place that there should be created a new Department having its own means of action, plentifully endowed with money, having its own responsibility and having its elbows free for its own initiative. The head of that Department should be a man not merely able to represent the Department in the House of Commons and able to give us plausible speeches, but a man who had faith, that is to say who had faith in the future of the aeroplane and its power in this War, that faith that removes mountains and crushes down every obstacle of every kind either of organisation, or of a technical character, or of Government, or of lack of finance, which stood in the way of creating this great and powerful fleet. Such a man should have Cabinet rank; such a man need not necessarily be a Member of this House. In France it is not seldom to find a member of the Government sitting in the Chamber of Deputies who has never been elected. If it were thought necessary that the man appointed should be a Member of this House it would be easy to find him a seat, or even to make him a Member of the other House, so that he would be a Member of Parliament. But the best man in the country should be selected for this position, and the best brains should be available. But if he were not a Member of this House, and if it were thought advisable, as it well might be, that his attention should not be distracted by the details of Parliamentary business, he could be represented in this House by an Under-Secretary. But the important part is that a Department of the Air should be created, and that at the head of that Department should be placed the best man for that purpose in this nation, whether he be now a Member of this House or not. Having created that Department and having appointed that man, he should be allowed to move forward with the greatest energy, and instead of obstacles being placed in his way, he should be encouraged at every turn, and 153 money should be spent lavishly, if necessary, in furnishing his Department. The Government should have one great objective in view—that is, to build an aeroplane fleet which should not merely fulfil the exigencies of the position as at present seen, but which would be of such a kind as once and for all to dominate the air and give this country the supremacy of the air, on the same terms as it has the supremacy of the sea, and to make the competition of the Germans in regard to the Air Service impossible, to strike down all their aircraft, and to use the service as a great striking arm, whether for destroying submarine bases or great factories such as that at Essen, or for whatever other purposes of war for which it might be designed. If that were done, I am certain that the money would be well spent.
There would be no delay whatever in the operations with regard to any of the other arms, and such a fleet, such a new great military arm, would repay itself tenfold in the sense of obtaining decisive victory in the War and of bringing it to a conclusion, a satisfactory conclusion, months before it would be possible without that arm. I would recommend to the Government not to treat these matters as mere matters of debate, or as a mere advantage that may be gained by one side or the other, or as a mere matter of satisfying this House, but to look into the realities of the situation, taking up what may be good in this suggestion or in that in the remarks of those who have spoken in a sympathetic spirit, even where it may have been directed in a sort of hostile manner against the Government; and that they will see whatever be good in these ideas and bring them to perfection, adapt them, and devote themselves with the utmost energy to carrying to the highest point in their power the efficiency of this great, powerful arm.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think my hon Friends on this side of the House have not been altogether satisfied with the replies that have been made by the Government, but at the same time, as we are given to understand that further arrangements are in contemplation by the Government, and that we do not wish to divide or press them unduly, if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies will give me an assurance that within a month, or at ,any rate after the financial year is finished—after the financial business is finished, as it may be necessary to take that first—a 154 further opportunity shall be given for full debate, I would ask my Friends not to take any further part in this Debate.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
I have not the smallest hesitation, on behalf of the Prime Minister, in giving the undertaking for which my right hon. Friend has asked. Unfortunately, I have not been able to listen to much of this Debate, and, therefore, I have no intention whatever of taking up the time of the House by any defence of the Government. I would, however, like to say this, that if there is any idea in the House that the subject is not treated seriously by the Government, and that they do not realise its importance as strongly as any Member of this House, I can assure them they are mistaken in that view. As I happen to be a member of the War Council, it is one of the subjects on which for that reason I have a certain amount of information, and for what it is worth—and I am sure the House will give me credit for at all events realising that I believe what I am now going to say—an examination of what has been done by the two Air Services surprised me that there were not greater defects than I have actually found to be the case. Everyone knew that in the stress of this War, not only the Air Service but every other branch of our fighting forces was not in any sense prepared for the kind of struggle in which we have been engaged. I have heard some of the speeches this afternoon, and the point of view is one which is very easily understood. One takes the Air Service, and they say, "What is the use of talking of the absence of material." That is quite true, and if you were dealing only with the Air Service nothing would be easier than to get in the most rapid way possible an efficient Air Service. But let me point out what is the actual fact. There is a scarcity in this country now, in spite of every effort which is being made by the Government to meet it, of material, to which my right hon. Friend the First Lord referred, in every branch of our Services. For instance, in what has been said about the supply for the air the greatest need is engines. I took, myself, the opportunity of discussing the question of engines with a firm, I am not going to give the name, but it is a very famous firm which, I think, probably makes the best engine in the world to-day. I asked what power they had of increasing their output. An hon. Member opposite 155 said, "Why do you not build factories?" I give this to the House for what it is worth. This gentleman said to me that owing to the scarcity of labour, and the difficulty of getting labour, he saw no prospect whatever of being able to give a single additional engine beyond what he was giving now within any reasonable period. That is the fact. I would like also to say this. One would have thought that our Service was abominably deficient. It is not so really. The other day I was in Paris, and I took the opportunity of finding out as well as I could what was the condition of the French Air Service and what its difficulties were in the same connection. Again I say this for what it is worth. In my belief—of course, this is partly due to the quality of our pilots—the British Air Service at the front today is as good as, if not better, than that of any of the other combatants in this War. That is the fact. That does not mean that things are hopelessly bad. Still less does it mean that the Government is not trying to remedy them. It is quite true, as has been pointed out, that there has been competition between the two Services, and there is waste in that way. But that is precisely what the Government are trying to stop. Do not let the House imagine that that has all been bad. If hon. Members realise that this is a comparatively new Service they will realise also that in the early stages it was not altogether a bad thing that two Departments were energetically pushing forward to get the largest number of machines they possibly could. I am very far indeed from making any pretence that we, as a Government, are satisfied with this Service. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cheer as if that were a great admission. It is not. We are not in the least satisfied. The only thing I wish to say and to impress upon the House is this—that we do realise the seriousness of this question, and that we are, as well as we can, trying to effect a remedy. In these circumstances it is not merely to avoid a disagreeable Division that I agree to the proposal of my right hon. Friend. I think it perfectly right and natural that the House should be interested in this subject, and I think it is only right that the Government should be ready to give a further opportunity for the discussion of it when the House wishes. My right hon. Friend has suggested within a month. I am not sure that 156 that is possible; the House knows how the financial business has to be got through; but on behalf of the Prime Minister I readily give the undertaking that an opportunity will be given for it immediately after the financial business has been concluded.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
After the statement by my right hon. Friend, I need hardly say that I concur in the view expressed that we should not press the Amendment to a Division to-day. But I want to express my own personal feeling, which is shared by many Members on this side, that we do not and cannot regard the defence made by the Government to the arguments in this Debate as a satisfactory defence. The whole matter must be considered as adjourned in order that it may be brought up again when we have more complete information in regard to the arrangements suggested or outlined by the Under-Secretary for War which are coming into force to-night. Under these circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.