§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the AIR BOARD (Major Baird)
I beg to move, " That the Bill be now read a second time."
It was intended that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should move the Second Reading of this Bill, but unfortunately he is indisposed and will be unable to come to the House for a couple of days, and I ask the indulgence of the House in the difficult task which has fallen to my lot. It may be desirable to sketch the progress of our organisation for dealing with aviation matters up to the present point. In 1912 the Royal Flying Corps was formed, and provision was made for a Naval Wing and a Military Wing, to be maintained and administered by the Admiralty and the War Office respectively. The Central Flying School was also formed, and a reserve on as large a scale as possible. In order to secure cooperation between the two Services a joint Committee, called the Air Committee, was formed, composed of the Under-Secretary of State for War as President, the Commandant of the Central Flying School, the Officer Commanding the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, the Commandant of the Military Wing, the Director of Operations in the Admiralty War Staff, the Director of Military Training, and the Director of Fortifications and Works. It is not to be wondered at that this Committee proved to be somewhat unwieldy and the members tended to range themselves into two parties—a naval and a military party. The tendency was throughout to separate the Services more and more, and in 1914, before the outbreak of the War, the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps was changed into the Royal Naval Air Service, and on the outbreak of hostilities the separation was practically complete. With the enormous extension which was rendered necessary by active operations in our Air Services competition was bound to take place, and it can hardly be denied that that competition 127 was bad for both Services. The Joint Air Committee continued to exist but never sat, and eventually a Committee was appointed under Lord Derby to arbitrate between the claims of the two Services. The powers of that Committee proved inadequate, and its career was terminated by the resignation of its chairman. A few months later, in May, 1916, an Air Board was appointed under the presidency of Lord Curzon. It made an exhaustive and careful study of the situation, and made recommendations which resulted in another Board, with extended and increased powers and a different personnel, being appointed in December of last year. That Board, which is the existing Board, consists of a President, a Parliamentary Secretary, a representative of the Board of Admiralty, who is the Fifth Sea Lord, a representative of the Army Council, the Director-General of Military Aeronautics, and two representatives of the Ministry of Munitions. The outstanding feature of that development was the transfer of the Naval Air Service to the control of an officer raised to the rank of Sea Lord of the Admiralty—the Fifth Sea Lord—who was one of the earliest officers connected with aviation, and the first Commandant of the Central Flying School; and another important change was the transfer of the duty of supply to the Ministry of Munitions, the Air Board becoming responsible for the design of aircraft, engines, and accessories.
That state of affairs has continued up to the present date, and the whole tendency has been to amalgamate and centralise the different branches of aeronautics. The first thing that happened, which has been undoubtedly extremely useful, was that we all came and lived together, or as many of us as there was room for, under one roof in the Hotel Cecil, but the accommodation was quite inadequate. We are making efforts to extend, and undoubtedly the outstanding feature of this Board, which will cease to exist when this Bill passes and the Council is created, has been that by bringing the members of the two Services together under the same roof, together with the officials of the Ministry of Munitions who are responsible for supply, the officers and everyone concerned have got to know not only each other, but also the different methods of the Service, and it is necessary to put on record that nothing 128 could be more satisfactory than the extremely harmonious relations which prevail between all branches of the Air Service at the Hotel Cecil. No one who knows anything about the situation questions that. Another satisfactory thing is the extremely valuable services rendered by the Ministry of Munitions. There was some nervousness at the start lest the transfer to a separate Ministry and a separate organisation of the duty of supplying highly technical things like aircraft and air engines might lead either to delays or to falling behind the times and failure to supply our flying men with the most up-to-date machines. That is always the great difficulty in connection with aeronautic supplies. If you could turn out to your satisfaction large quantities of machines such as are being used to-day there would be no difficulty whatever in the task, but the machines in use to-day will probably be obsolete, and certainly obsolescent, nine months hence, and preparations have to be made to-day for what we are going to have, as to quality and quantity, nine months hence. That makes supply an extremely difficult matter, and the closest possible co-operation between the designer, the user, and the manufacturer is absolutely essential in this branch of warfare. That we have secured to an astounding extent at the Hotel Cecil.
That is the good side. But looking at the problem of developing to the utmost extent our aeronautic resources with a view to hitting the enemy hardest from the air as often as we can and as much as we can, there is no doubt that the present system entails a great deal of divided responsibility. For instance, the Royal Flying Corps is continually expanding. The Air Board has to supply all materiel, and the Army Council has to supply the personnel. The division of responsibility goes even further. In order to train pilots, for which the Army Council is responsible, the Air Board must supply training aeroplanes, for which the Air Board is responsible. If there was a shortage of training aeroplanes, or engines, there would be a shortage of pilots. If there was a shortage of pilots all the efforts of the Air Board to provide more aeroplanes and engines would be wasted. In the same way, for training pilots new aerodromes are required. The Army Council has to provide them. If the Department of Fortifications and Works at the War Office should fail to supply, 129 the, aerodromes the Military Aeronautical Director of the Royal Flying Corps would fail to supply the pilots, and all the efforts of the Air Board would be wasted owing to the failure, which is quite outside their control or jurisdiction. That is only an instance of the difficulty and an example of the need for co-ordination in this matter. The duty of the Air Board is to co-ordinate the demands of the Navy and the Army, and, unfortunately, we have no staff to advise us on technical matters of that sort. That will be provided by this Bill. If there is disagreement under present circumstances between the Navy and the Army as to the allocation of aircraft the dissatisfied officer, be he the Fifth Sea Lord or the. Director-General of Military Aeronautics, can appeal to the Army Council, but it says a good deal for the harmony which prevails at the Air Board that on no single occasion has either of these officers availed himself of that right.
There are other problems which require to be unified and dealt with as a whole. I might mention, for example, one which, I think, will interest Members and certainly will give no information to the enemy. One of the most important needs is a specialised medical service. It has been found by experience that flying men are subject to many peculiar physical disabilities, and research into the methods of prevention and cure of these disabilities has advanced very rapidly. So long, however, as the flying service remains merely as appendages of the Army and Navy, it is very difficult to provide for the study of these medical matters and for the special treatment of the patient. Knowledge on the subject is limited almost entirely to those few medical officers and civil practitioners who have had considerable numbers of flying men continuously under their care, and it is necessary at once to take special measures to provide separate accommodation for the cases and separate staffs to concentrate on the problems which have arisen. The mere selection of candidates for the flying services has become a highly specialised business, and the standard of fitness required for flying is diverging from the standard required for the ordinary naval and military services. There are many minor physical imperfections which render a man unfit for flying, but which if taken in time might be removed or cured. Still more important, many precautions have to be taken to enable pilots 130 who have obtained their certificates to maintain their fitness under the severe conditions of modern air warfare. These are only examples of the necessity for securing a body of men whose sole business shall be to concentrate on that particular branch of medical science which is necessary for the welfare and well-being of our flying men.
It might be asked whether this change might not have been brought about sooner. I think nobody who has really been in close contact with the flying services would agree that the change could have been brought about sooner. People are apt to forget what the strain is under which the officers and men are working, whose co-operation must be used in order to bring about this change. To change a service rendering highly specialised and vital service to the Army and the Navy such as the Flying Corps of both branches is doing at the present time, except by the advice of those who are really competent to judge, would in time of war be an extremely dangerous thing to do Until you had an organisation bringing everybody together as we have now at the Hotel Cecil, I am perfectly certain it would have been quite impossible to have devised a satisfactory scheme without running very great risk of dislocation, which might have had disastrous effects in the field.
§ Major BAIRD
I mean the people who are responsible for these things. I do not know that any civilian would have done it. I should have been very loath to have entrusted this work to any body of amateurs. These are the people who, after all, must have the guidance of the flying men. Those of us who have been concerned with the Flying Corps entirely endorse what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on the 16th May, when he was advocating the creation of the original Air Board. He said:Even if I believed an Air Minister was the right thing in the end—I think an Air Ministry may come out of it—I should say the right way to get it is to make some arrangement of this kind, to let it grow and gradually absorb more and more all the air services.This view has been absolutely justified. Now I come to the Bill. We have endeavoured to draw a Bill which will create an air force and an authority responsible in air matters by using all the existing machinery so far as it affects our flying men to the utmost extent, with a 131 view to the least possible dislocation and the smallest amount of innovation. The first Clause of the Bill is the usual form adopted on the creation of any new force. It was used when the Territorial and Reserve Force was created in 1907. That applies to Clause 2 except as regards pensions. Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 seeks to ensure that pensions which under various Acts go to soldiers will go to the airmen when they transfer from the Army and come under the Air Act. In the same way we have eliminated in Sub-section (2) the word "corps" and substituted the word "units," because it is not contemplated that airmen will be organised into corps. Disablement pensions are excepted because those pensions fall within the sphere of the Ministry of Pensions.
§ Mr. BILLING
Can the hon. Gentleman say what is the effect on a man who transfers from the Navy? Does he fall under the Army rule or under the Navy rule?
§ Major BAIRD
I am coming to that. It is set forth in the Bill. Clause 3 is the really important one, as it refers to the transfer of officers and men from the existing air services into the new force. There are two forms. An officer or a man can either be transferred, in which case he ceases to be a sailor or soldier and becomes a member of the air force, or he may be attached, in which case he is in the position of an officer or man seconded or lent by one service to another. He is very much in the position of officers of the Army who are seconded for service with the Egyptian Army. It has been thought necessary to secure that men who have engaged for a particular kind of service should not and cannot be forcibly transferred to another kind of service; therefore it is provided that the transfer can only take place in the first place with the consent of the officer or man, and in the second place with the consent of the Admiralty or the War Office as the case may be, and, obviously, with the consent and at the request of the Air Council. I think that is the gist of Clause 3. We are making provision for taking over the air forces of the Navy and of the Army subject to the consent of the Admiralty and the War Office, and subject to the consent of the officers and men whom it is proposed to take over. The transfer does not affect their term of service. If a man enlisted in the Army for 132 seven years with the Colours and at the time of his transferment had four years Army service he could only be kept in the Air Service three years. Sub-section (3) of Clause 3 equally safeguards the right to pay pension, gratuities, retired and half-pay, decorations and rewards depending upon length of service which have been earned in the Service from which the man has been transferred. Equally, when an officer or man is attached to the Air Service, the fact that he is so attached shall not affect any right to any pay, pension, gratuity or so on which he has already earned, and he is precisely in the position that he would be if he joined the Egyptian Army or was seconded or lent for service in any other force. Sub-section (2) of Clause 3 provides:Regulations by the Air Council may provide that in the case of a person so transferred, the time during which he held a commission or served in the force from which he is transferred shall, for such purposes as may be prescribed, be aggregated with the time during which he holds a commission or serves in the Air Force, and that his entry into or enlistment in the force from which he is transferred shall, for such purposes as may be prescribed, be treated as enlistment into the Air Force.The object of that is to enable officers to serve on courts-martial if they have sufficient Army or naval service to entitle them to do so, but would not have the necessary service if it counted from the date of their transfer.
§ Mr. BILLING
Does that seniority count in the corps service or only for the purpose of court-martial?
§ Major BAIRD
For such purpose as may be prescribed. It is put in with that definite object in view. There may be other reasons, but they are not at the present moment obvious. If the hon. Member can think of any, perhaps we might put them in. I am explaining certain provisions in this measure. Clause 4 affects various rights and powers enjoyed by commissioned officers under different Acts of Parliament, and in addition to that certain privileges conferred by common law. They are all safeguarded, and the object is to put officers of the Air Force in precisely the same position as officers of the Army and Navy.
§ Major BAIRD
There is going to be a Committee stage, and I hope the hon. Member will allow me to proceed. Clause 5 deals with the application of the Military Service Acts, and is quite clear. Obviously, the Military Service Acts would not apply to the Air Force unless provision is made. The allocation of men as between the Army and the Air Force is a matter which must be settled by the War Cabinet and the Ministry of National Service, in pursuance of the general instructions which will carry out the allocation. The present arrangement as between the Navy and the Army, under the Military Service Acts, is that information must be obtained from the men as to their preference for naval service, and the Admiralty have first call upon the men who express that preference, in case their services are needed for that purpose. Clause 6 makes it possible to raise a Reserve and an Auxiliary Air Force. Obviously, in time of war, that would be inoperative, but it is necessary to provide in the Bill for time of peace. Clause 7 provides for any consequential Amendments of the Naval Discipline Acts and the Army Act. Amendments are made in both Acts regulating the relations between the Air Force and the Navy and the Air Force and the Army respectively. There is one Amendment which does not fall within this category, and it is an Amendment of the Army Act, which will deprive the military authority of the power of requisitioning aircraft. It was not quite obvious to us what they would do with the aircraft, and it was not necessary to put that in. Clause 8 establishes the Air Council. The President of the Air Council is to be a Secretary of State, and a Secretary of State is, according to constitutional practice and precedent, created under the prerogative of the Sovereign. Therefore power is not taken in the Bill.
The other members of the Air Council will be fixed according to Order in Council very much on the lines of the Army Council, and the Order in Council will allocate their duties. We have not mentioned what is very important, but which it would not be proper to put into the Bill—i.e., that the representative of the Ministry of Munitions will obviously continue to sit as a member of the Air Council, because there is no question of disturbing the admirable arrangement under which aircraft are now supplied by that Ministry. With regard to the other members of the Council they will be 134 officers charged with duties analogous to those performed by members of the Army Council. The distribution of those duties will be made known and the composition of the Council will be laid down in the Order in Council.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I ask if it is intended to provide that any member or members of the Air Council shall continue to sit one on the Army Council and one on the Board of Admiralty, to act as intermediaries?
§ Major BAIRD
There is no such intention, and for this reason: that when you create a separate Air Force the Army and the Navy will make their demands on the Air Council for their requirements, and the Air Council will then exercise the function now exercised by the Air Board and allocate to the Army and the Navy, not only aircraft, but the whole personnel, and will have to keep up the units and be responsible for them. There will be nothing, as far as we know, analogous to the present Department of Military Aeronautics. The Council will take over in the same way the powers of the Department of the Director of the Air Service. Therefore I think that the necessity for a member of the Army Council to be also a member of the Air Council does not arise. I do not know whether any special point arises on this Clause except the one to which my hon. Friend has called attention. I may mention that Sub-section (4) refers to aerodromes and other property now vested in the Army Council or Board of Admiralty, and also to contracts for large works which are at present being carried out. Clauses 9 and 10 are common forms, and are taken direct from the Military Pensions Act of last year. Clause 11 enables the Fifth Secretary of State to sit in the House of Commons as well as his Under-Secretary, and at the same time the provisions of the New Ministries Act are safeguarded.
§ Mr. P. A. HARRIS
Why is it necessary to create a new Secretary of State for Air and not for Munitions?
§ Major BAIRD
The head of the fighting service will have to discharge various duties now discharged by the Secretary for War, and which cannot be performed under our Constitution except by a Secretary of State. I will give one example. I believe the channel of communication between the Sovereign and an officer who feels himself aggrieved or the officer 135 who has the right of reply is only through a Secretary of State. It would not be satisfactory if an officer of the Air Service felt aggrieved that he should have to apply to his Sovereign through the Secretary of State of another Department. Another reason is to give to the Air Force the same status as we give to the Army and Navy, to recognise that the air is an element in which it is as necessary to make provision for national defence and offence as it is for us to do on sea and land. These are the main reasons why it was thought wise to have a Secretary of State instead of a Minister of lesser rank. Clause 12 applies the Army Act, subject to certain modifications, to the Air Force. We were confronted, when we decided to have a separate Air Force, with having to choose between either the Navy Act or the Army Act, or creating some new Act for the purpose of enforcing discipline in the Force. After consideration, and on the advice of people well qualified to give it, we decided to adopt the Army Act, with such modifications as would make it applicable and suitable to the Air Service. These modifications are set out in the Schedule, and hon. Members will find in the Vote Office the Act printed as a whole, that is to say, the Army Act, with the Amendments introduced under this Clause, and in the Schedule underlined in that Act. Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to run through the main changes to be made in the Army Act. They fall under the following heads: Those which are required to translate military terms into Air Force terms. These constitute the bulk. Those which create certain new offences, for example, causing the destruction or capture of aircraft or loss thereof, tampering with air signals, and so on. There is nothing analogous to that obviously in the Army Act. Then you will require to extend to the Air Force certain provisions in the Navy Regulations, due to uncertainty as to the nature and organisation of the Air Force. At the present time they are not sufficiently clear as to the duties to be discharged by certain officers. This is due to the comparatively small numbers of the Air Force. For instance, there is a reduction of the number of officers required to constitute a general court-martial from nine to seven, and authorising the sitting of military or naval officers on a court-martial where there is an insufficient number of Air Force officers available. There are also various 136 miscellaneous Amendments, those introducing necessary definitions, and so on. These are the main modifications of the Act. The Act will automatically come into force annually with the passing of the Army Act. Provision is made in Sub-section (4) to ensure that the Act shall be kept up to date by making it necessary that Amendments to the Army Act, in so far as it is necessary to adapt the same to the Air Force, shall be introduced by Order in Council into the Air Force Act. The power is strictly limited by confining these Amendments to those which are definitely stated to be necessary for the Air Force. Clause 13 refers to a very large number of Acts relating to the Army which will have to be applied to the Air Force. They are over one hundred in number, and the most practical way to deal with them was to leave the matter to be dealt with by Order in Council. There are Acts relating to the acquisition of land, to military savings banks, to privileges and exemptions of soldiers, Acts relating to the property of soldiers, provisions as to wills, and so on. There are upwards of a hundred Acts in that category, and power is taken in Clause 13 to apply them by Order in Council to the Air Force.
I have explained very briefly the nature of the Schedule and I have endeavoured to explain the provisions of the Clauses of the Bill. I should like to make it clear that this Bill is not brought forward as a sign that the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service is a failure. Anything but that. It is brought forward because it is felt that the moment has arrived when the existing organisation is incapable to discharge the duties which in the national interest it seems necessary should be discharged. In particular it is necessary to create an authority whose exclusive duty it shall be to study and deal with the general problem of war in the air. That authority will be exercised by the General Staff Branch of the Air Council. At the present time the study of these aerial war problems is confined to two separate watertight compartments, each of which is limited to the assistance which can be given by the Air Force to another arm—that means the assistance that can be given, on the one hand, to the Navy and, on the other hand, to the Army. But it is nobody's business under the present organisation to think out air problems as a whole. In the second place, it is necessary to provide a unified system for ensuring 137 the most rapid, scientific, technical, and tactical progress in aeronautics. In the third place, it is desired to provide a unified system of administration to replace the present duplication of Staff and divergence of methods. These, briefly, are the reasons which have weighed with the Government in bringing forward this Bill. But, if the House will allow me, I would appeal to them most strongly to look upon this as a war measure in the first instance —that is to say, that the urgency of passing it is great. It is a measure which undoubtedly ought to supply an organisation that will largely increase the effectiveness of our national resources, and consequently help towards a peace which can only come after victory. But much more than that. It lays down the principle for all time that we recognise that we are no longer solely an Island, and, so far as the air is concerned, we have to take measures for the protection of the realm and the maintenance of our rights in the air just as far-reaching and as permanent as we have to on the land or on the sea. More than that. I think anybody who has made a close study of this question will realise two things. In the first place, supremacy in the air is as essential to our national existence as supremacy at sea; and, in the second place, Providence has endowed Britons of all climes, be they born in Canada or Australia or in these Islands or in South Africa, with a special aptitude for airmanship which gives us a field for great work in the future.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I for a few minutes trouble the House, and begin by congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend on his introduction of this Bill. If he will allow me to say so, he told us all that could properly be told us with reference to it. He explained it as amply and as fully as it could be explained, and I think everyone here in this House is convinced, after his explanation, that the Bill is in every way a desirable measure. There is another thing I should like to say also, and not merely in regard to my hon. and gallant Friend, but to the whole of the Air Board, which is apparently now going out of existence, and that is how much we are indebted to them for the work they have put in on behalf of the country and the Air Services in the last ten months. I have been in the past a critic, and at times a severe critic, but I should like to acknowledge, as I do fully and frankly, how much 138 we are indebted to the Air Board, and in particular to its chief, Lord Cowdray, for what they have done within the ambit of their powers to improve the Air Services during the period of their existence. I am not going to criticise now. I hope rather to make a speech on the Air Service without criticising, perhaps for the first time in this House. The Bill is, in effect, a skeleton Bill. It is a Bill which must be clothed by Orders in Council. It depends entirely upon the manner in which this Bill is clothed, the flesh that is put upon the skeleton, and the spirit which is breathed into it, whether the Bill will really be a great success or not.
I am not going to criticise that. I realise that in time of war it is quite impossible to introduce a Bill creating in the fullest and most complete manner an Air Service which would be as great in its personnel as the Navy and as great in its importance as the Army. That would, indeed, need an enormous Bill, and I have considered carefully what course I ought to adopt in regard to the idea of proposing various Amendments. I think the better course, the proper course for one who is so keenly desirous of having an Air Ministry and a complete Air Service established, is to leave the Bill largely in its present form and not in any way attempt to amend it in the direction of making it a complete Bill. On the other hand, I think we are entitled—I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will not think I am in any way critical—to ask a few questions with regard to the Orders in Council, the course he proposes to adopt in those Orders in Council, and the time those Orders will be brought out. I see throughout the Bill that the consent of the Army Council and the Secretary of State for War, and of the Board of Admiralty, is from time to time required. In the second Clause of the Bill no man or officer can be transferred to the Air Service without this consent. I am quite sure it is almost unnecessary to ask him to assure us that the consent has already been in effect granted to a complete transfer of the existing personnel of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service to the new Air Force.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is not quite the point. I want to be quite clear that there is going to be no residuum left 139 of the Royal Flying Corps under the control of the Army Council and no residuum of the Royal Naval Air Service under the control of the Board of Admiralty. I hope I may have an assurance from my hon. and gallant Friend that so far as he knows it will be a complete and absolute transfer. I am quite entitled to ask that question. That is a claim that some of us on this side of the House have been pressing for some time past. If I were in a critical mood the latter part of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech, in regard to the period of creating a new Air Service and the period of creating the Air War Staff, would afford me grounds for the criticism that it might have been created many months, if not years, before. I am going thankfully to welcome the Bill, however, now that it has come, and the new Imperial Air Service which is going to be, as we hope, a vast measure for winning this War. One point I would like to mention is whether it would not really be desirable, at all events in the first few years of the existence of this new force, that one member for the Air Council should have the right to attend and sit upon the Army Council, and that one member of the Air Council should have the right to attend and sit upon the Board of Admiralty.
There must be for certainly many months—probably a year or two—many questions arising between the three departments, and I would venture to ask my hon. and gallant Friend to consider whether it would not be desirable that there should be some kind of liason officer established between the old Services and the new Service. I take it, of course, that there will be the closest touch and co-operation between the new Air War Staff and the General Staff of the Army and the War Staff of the Navy. While I have pressed most strenuously for an independent strategic striking force in the air, I realise—and my hon. and gallant Friend, perhaps, has not put this very clearly—that the greater portion of the Air Service must for some years to come be loaned partly to the Army and partly to the Navy. The great bulk of the Royal Flying Corps, after it has once been transferred to the new Air Service, will be loaned to the Army for use in the field; and I take it that the Air Council and the Secretary of State for the Air will, while that force is in the field under General Trenchard, or whoever may be the leading general, leave the disposition 140 and discipline of that force to the commander in Flanders or elsewhere. That is an important point, and one which affects the position of men and officers transferred to the new Service, and who must be during the period of this War, as I take it, loaned to the Army in Flanders, in Mesopotamia, in Egypt or elsewhere.
I was very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend placed the foundation of this Bill upon what can be the only real foundation, namely, that there is a new force fighting in a new dimension, and the time has come for those of the Army and Navy, who have very gallantly co-operated with the air force in the last few years, to realise that there is a distinct difference between the air force and any other force connected with the Army or Navy. Only last week a high Staff officer from the Front complained to me, in discussing this Bill, that there should be created a new Air Ministry and Air Service. "Why," he said, "don't you create a new Ministry for tanks, or a new Ministry for Artillery?" Obviously, my gallant Friend who made that remark was one of the old school or Army officers, who think in one dimension only, and cannot get out of the idea that the aeroplane is only a kind of aerial motor-car, and that everything that applies to artillery or motor cars which live in one dimension only must necessarily apply to the aeroplane, which lives and fights in an entirely different dimension. That is, I think, the real foundation principle upon which it is necessary to create this new Air Service. I take it that the Air Service will take command and control of all that is now done in the air by the Army and the Navy, and that there will be two separate forces under the general supreme control of the Air Board—one allocated to the Army and one allocated to the Navy, and under the jurisdiction of the respective Commanders in-Chief of the Army and Navy. There is one point my hon. and gallant Friend did not mention, and that is the defence of England against hostile aircraft, and whether it is proposed in any way to transfer this defence of England to the Air Board and to the Secretary of State for the Air, and in particular what is proposed to be done in regard to anti-aircraft artillery; whether it will remain under the Army or be turned over to the Air Board so as to make one complete controlling factor having control of everything to do with the defence of England against aircraft.
141 The last point I imagine will be dealt with by the new Board is the strategic offensive. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that I have from time to time advocated a strategic offensive apart altogether from the Navy or the Army, and it is because of that that I have felt it was absolutely essential we should create a new air command, separate from the Army or Navy, with a fleet of machines of its own. The military view is necessarily confined to military matters. It is necessarily a short view. The military view takes notice only of the trenches and thirty or forty miles behind the trenches— the dumps and collecting ground of the rival forces—but we want this new Service to take into the scope of its care a great strategical offensive far beyond what the existing Army forces are doing at the present time, or what the Army rightly do. I quite agree that the Army should have all the aeroplanes that it needs for its use in carrying out the work it is doing—for artillery observation and photography and short bombing raids close behind the lines, and so on But I want to put it to my hon. and gallant Friend as a soldier, and to carry all the soldiers in the House with me and the soldiers at the front too, in saying that the question of the strategic offensive is really a question of psychology and not a question of military expediency. There is where I think we have gone wrong up to the present moment. The question of whether it is north while for Great Britain to institute such proceedings as have been instituted by Germany over the City of London is a question not for the Commander-in-Chief in Flanders, but for the War Cabinet here. It is a question not of whether we could exercise such military effect in Germany as could be exercised by dropping bombs on dumps or aerodromes behind the German lines, but whether we can affect the psychology of the German nation and affect their moral, for I am convinced that the result of this War will depend on the moral of the men in the trenches as it must be affected by the morale of the respective nations.
The point I want to press is that the new Air Service should consider, apart entirely from the views of the military authorities at the front, whether it is not desirable from the pyschological point of view to get behind the enemy forces and smash, as I think we could do, the moral of the German nation and so produce a great effect upon the moral of the German 142 troops in the trenches. I know that up to the present we have devoted ourselves to bombing dumps, but it seems to me it is better to bomb the place where the munitions are manufactured, than to bomb the completed article in the dumps behind the German lines. I will not say more than that, because I do not want to say anything which could give assistance to the enemy, but I want my hon. and gallant Friend and those associated with him in the command of this new Air Force to realise that the people here in London and throughout the country are not quite satisfied, not at all satisfied, with the mere bombing behind German lines; but we feel that if it was good enough for the German High Command to spare machines in order to try to affect the moral of the people here—thank God they have not done it. I do not think they will succeed in doing it. I think that the moral of Great Britain is altogether different from the moral of the people of Germany; but, from my knowledge of German psychology, it would be worth while to transfer from the needs of the Army sufficient machines to try to affect their moral.
All this comes back to the question of production. The new Secretary of State with his Air Council must first, after he has got over the initial difficulties of instituting his new forces, devote himself, in conjunction with the Ministry of Munitions, to production. I have pleaded before this House, and I am going to plead very shortly again, for bigger machines and more high-power engines Over and over again during the last four years I have raised the point, and I plead with my hon. and gallant Friend that the new force should not be content to get equal with the Germans, to make machines as good as the latest German machines, but should go boldly one better, jump over the heads of the Germans, and have machines bigger, faster, and better than the German machines. Everybody knows that the Germans are devoting all their manufacturing efforts at the present time to the creation of a still larger air service for use against Great Britain and our forces both at the front and at home in the spring of next year. If we are to meet them, the only possible means of doing so is to create an equally large and equally strong Air Force. I am not giving away any secret in what I am going to say, because the whole of it has been mentioned in our Press in a report from 143 General Headquarters published a few days ago. We know that the Germans are enlarging their plant for air purposes, that they have placed large numbers of orders in Switzerland for the production of air engines, that the Fokker Company itself has taken over an enormous guano factory in Schwerin in order to manufacture aeroplanes, that they are building three-seater bombers carrying over a ton of bombing material, that they are now building two- and three-engined machines provided with electric heaters, and that in the six months prior to August this year no fewer than twenty-nine new aircraft factories have been opened by our German rivals.
I am not going to ask my hon. and gallant Friend to tell us what we are doing. I merely want on this occasion of the starting of this new Imperial Air Service to press upon him that he must go to the Ministry of Munitions and ask them, if possible, to consider whether they can really divert some of the men and women who are now working at other forms of munitions to a great output of aeroplanes and aeroplane engines. I know that I have been regarded in the past as a fanatic on this point. Perhaps the Ministry of Munitions may say, "We cannot spare them from the creation of guns and shells." The rival armies have now had three and a half years work with guns and shells, trying to beat one another and up to the present moment it is fair to say that the War is not yet decided. Many of us who may be called fanatics have felt that there is a chance of the War being decided in the air. I for one say quite frankly that if the present Prime Minister, when he took in hand two and a half years ago the supply of munitions, when he put into that work that wonderful imagination and wonderful driving force of his, greater perhaps than that of any other man of the nation, had applied some portion of those qualities, while he was dealing with the production of shells and guns, to the production of aeroplanes and high-power engines, I for one feel that the War might have been ended in the air before the present moment. I feel most strongly that there is a very definite chance of the War being ended in the air next summer by whichever of these two great rival countries gets supremacy in the Air. My hon. and gallant Friend told us just now that we in this country were particularly and peculiarly suited to maintain supremacy 144 in the air, from the way in which our men, both in our colonial forces and our own forces, took naturally to flying. He cannot say too much for me in praise of our aid services and our men.
I want for a moment to refer to the speech of my right hon. leader in this House on the last occasion when he spoke. He possesses the great faculty of speaking without notes. He possesses also, if I may say so, the somewhat dangerous faculty of speaking without notes. He quoted a speech of mine, I am perfectly certain not intentionally, but very gravely, distorting what I said and attributing to me, what I had never said. Neither in this place or any other place, have I ever said one single word derogatory to the verve, bravery, courage and skill of our flying men. Only that very afternoon my right hon. leader accused me of having spoken in derogatory terms when I had only a half-hour before made what I may call, if it were not vainglorious to say so, a glowing speech in regard to the work of the Air Service. I want to-night, when I feel that the work on which I have been engaged for so many years is now almost completed, when I see —I hope that the House will not think me conceited for saying so—the fruition in this Bill of much for which I have fought and pressed in season and out of season, in the presence of contumely, attacks in the Press, inuendoes of one kind or another with regard to my personal object in it, when I see to-night the fruition of my hopes in that respect, I desire to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend, I desire to congratulate the Government for having brought in this measure, and I desire to say that while the Bill is going through the House there will be no obstruction of any kind by myself, and that I shall do my utmost to get it through as quickly as possible in every possible respect I can. One thing more: The work is only half done, but I believe that it will be completed by the spring or summer of next year, and I am convinced that when this new Air Service gets to work, when the new push, with the new drive that must come into it from whoever may constitute the new Air Council, coupled with the bravery, which no words of mine or of anybody else in this House can paint too highly of the men in Flanders and our other fronts who are flying and fighting there, if next spring or summer means that victory which my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned, the 145 victory which will lead to peace, that victory will, I believe, be brought about in the air through the gallantry of those young men who have fought and are going to fight under this new scheme.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that he has every right to congratulate himself on this evening, for he says no more than what is true, that he has always urged the desirability of building up an Air Service for the country out of the existing Air Services and placing it under one authority. Naturally he expressed the pleasure he feels on this occasion. His interest in matters connected with the Air Services has always been that of one thoroughly disinterested and thoroughly anxious to promote what he believes to be the benefit of his country. I am certain that he always had in view what he could best do to promote that interest, in the important part he has taken in the Air Debates in this House. I have not always been able to agree with him, but I have no doubt about the thoroughness and sincerity of his view. I am a strong supporter of the Bill, and I think the case might be put less extremely, but more poignantly, in favour of this Bill than it perhaps could be put by my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke from the Treasury Bench. He said that there could be no doubt that the utmost harmony existed in the Air Services or of the good will of those who served the Ministry. That is no doubt true, but I must add that in my belief the Air Services are one of those institutions in which, by the exhibition of good will, you will manage to make work a method which is the worst perhaps that the mind of man could devise. I am not speaking at all of what takes place over the Channel, but of the administration here in London. What is the existing administration of the Air Services, worked, no doubt, with excellent good will and with results immensely more favourable than we were entitled to expect? It consists of two Sub-Departments—a Sub-Department of the War Office and a Sub-Department of the Admiralty, which are linked together by the Supply Department, which is also under a board.
None of these three Sub-Departments has any independent power, excepts perhaps over the design of air engines and aeroplanes, while they have to administer the Air Services as well. Power resides 146 in the War Office and in the Admiralty. The organisation which has intelligence has not any authority, and the organisation which has authority has not got the intelligence. When I say intelligence, I do not mean that they have not intellectual ability, but I mean that they have not intelligence in respect of knowledge and acquaintanceship with the subject. The War Office and the Admiralty have constantly displayed the utmost good will and utmost pains to administer the Air Services as well as they can be administer ed. But it is only a slight exaggeration to say that you might just as well have the Air Services in the hands of two Boards of civilians—Judges of the High Court and members of the Bench of Bishops. Knowledge with authority is absent. My hon. Friend who has just spoken said he had discussed these matters with an official of position and ability, who said, "Why not have a tank service under one control, or other services?" That is a fundamental error, and my hon. Friend could have said in answer to him, "Supposing a proposal were made to you to take over the management, of the Navy, why should you shrink from the task?" The officer would have replied probably, to begin with, that though he knew in general terms what were "Dreadnoughts" and torpedo boats, and torpedo destroyers, in regard to the range of services and their needs, all these were matters with which he was as unfitted to deal as any civilian. He could have gone on also to reply, that just as he could not understand the great machine of the Navy, neither could he take the point of view of an ordinary sailor who had developed the professional point of view. Every word of that would be true about the work of the Flying Services. Both on the side of the mechanism involved and on the side of the personnel, the Flying Service is quite as unique and peculiar as the Services of the Army and Navy.
That is just as true of this Flying Force being under the control of the War Office and the Admiralty as of the Navy being under the control of the War Office or the Army under the control of the Admiralty. But, as my hon. Friend said just now, this Bill does not achieve, or anything like achieve, the object of building up an independent Air Force. He called it a skeleton Bill. It is, at any rate, only a beginning. It is inevitable that, in time of war, to set up a complete organisation by Act of Parliament, would be quite out of the question; but it is a desirable thing to do, 147 because when first your Air Service is set up, it should be able to study all the problems involved, and that should take bit by hit the position now occupied by the Army Council and the Admiralty. But you should not fall into the mistake of supposing that you can cut loose the Air Service from the Army and Navy. You require most careful scrutiny and the most delicate judgment to determine whether a particular thing is really essential from the military or naval point of view. It would be very hasty to say, without much more scrutiny, how far it may be possible to take away particular functions from the Army and Navy, and how far it would be in the interests of the country to leave the Air Services as they are. It is a difficult problem, requiring the utmost care and good will. It is, therefore, desirable that there should be an Air Minister, having the handling of the machinery which already exists, who should be able to scrutinise and investigate the whole matter, and then seek to gradually draw out the threads which at present connect the Air Services to the Army and Navy.
The question which my hon. Friend naturally asked on such an occasion is how far and how soon will it affect the position of the fighting forces abroad? I would rather that my hon. and gallant Friend would not answer that question, and I am not sure that he could answer that question, because it is obvious that that would be precisely one of the problems that the Air Service in future will have to deal with, in consultation, of course, with the Army Council. It would be precisely one of the matters that the Air Board and the Army Council together would have to solve. But I do not myself imagine that there would be any substantial change in the position of the Royal Flying Corps in the field, because anyone who has happened to be in France and connected with flying matters knows that the Royal Flying Corps is already a distinct service to a degree not attained in any other part of our military forces. The general control of the corps in the field, and its general management and organisation, are as independent as they can be under the conditions, nor does anyone contemplate, and certainly it would be very inadvisable that anything should be done to interfere with the supreme control of the Commander-in-Chief both in matters of strategy and in tactics, and in matters of discipline. Therefore, I do not myself imagine that 148 there will be any substantial change in the position of the Royal Flying Corps in the field except in so far as improved administration reacts, as it ultimately must react, on the efficiency of the force. I do imagine that the new Ministry at home will be like putting a new heart into the body and that instead of the heart functioning rather feebly as in the past that is will be a new and strong organ and will drive the blood through the whole body more quickly than before, and that in a variety of ways it will react on the efficiency of the force abroad. Nevertheless, everything depends, as my hon. Friend truly said, on how the new Air Ministry carries out the work assigned to it. The building of a new force will be difficult and anxious and will require the utmost tact and consideration.
My hon. Friend desired most patriotically not to say anything which would give comfort to the King's enemies. There is another thing of which my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench must think, and that is of not giving discomfort to the King's friends. It is necessary for him to avoid saying anything which would add to the difficulties of the Air Ministry by raising any degree of suspicion or ill-feeling in any quarter. Therefore, I do not anticipate that my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to go very deeply into these matters. What I am sure is true is that by unifying the Air Board and by centralising its administration and giving real authority to an Air Ministry, instead of making an Air Board a merely consultative body with certain powers of conciliation, we are putting the mainspring into the machine and we are really giving a vigorous and efficient administration such as the gallantry and great services of the Royal Flying Corps deserve. The future is anxious. I am sure that if my hon. Friend is right in saying that it is the nation with most moral that wins in the end we shall not be defeated. Our moral is, I think, singularly unchanged by all the events through which we have passed. Nevertheless, the prospect is necessarily anxious, and we who sit in Parliament debating on the well-being of the nation owe it to those who fight our battles abroad to make the administration that controls the service in which they serve as efficient as it can be made. We owe this Bill as a tribute that is due to their noble work. I earnestly hope that the Government will press it forward with all the rapidity 149 possible. It is, as my hon. Friend said, only a beginning. The sooner it is passed the sooner the new life can run through the veins and the sooner the new strength can begin to come into effect. Let us pass it as soon as we can and raise no points that are not really necessary to improve the Bill and make it more efficient than it is. If we display such a spirit, we shall not be unworthy of the gallantry of those who fight our battles and we shall in our humble capacity play our part.
§ Sir HENRY NORMAN
My hon. and gallant Friend in introducing the Bill rightly anticipated a very warm welcome for it from all parts of the House. If any of us had any criticism or reproach to offer it would only have been that the Bill was not introduced before. We have waited for it very anxiously indeed. Anyone who has taken any interest in the Air Service must know that there has been nobody or no individual sufficiently free from the trying task of the day to devote himself to the air or to envisage the questions of the air on the great scale in which they must be looked at. We know that our enemies are making very great preparations and we know that every week is of the greatest importance. Therefore I am sure the Noble Lord will have expressed the feeling of everyone here when he said that the best tribute we can pay to the men who have fought for us is to proceed with the Bill as rapidly as possible and to avoid everything in the nature of unnecessary criticism. I only desire to raise one point, and I do so particularly because it has been raised in a striking fashion by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), about whom I should like in passing to he allowed to add my word of congratulation to the congratulations so charmingly expressed by the Noble Lord. The point is this: My hon. Friend said that he hoped that there would not be left any residuum of the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service, and that that was what the Bill did. The Bill in my understanding, and I raise this point to be corrected if I am wrong, does nothing of the kind. It is permissive. It may do it in the future, but the Bill, as it stands, may leave both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service precisely as they are to-day. It might have the effect only of creating a third Air Service, because at the end of Clause 8, Sub-section (4) it is stated, 150His Majesty may, by Order in Council, transfer … such property, rights and liabilities of the Admiralty or Army Council or Secretary of State as may be agreed between the Air Council and the Admiralty or the Army Council, as the case may be.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I think my hon. Friend is mistaken; that Clause only refers to the property rights and liabilities; it does not refer to the Air Forces or personnel Those are dealt with in Clause 13.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
Is not the personnel under precisely the same provision? The personnel may be taken over if the man is willing himself or if the Army Council or Admiralty consent. Is not that the case?
§ Sir H. NORMAN
The personnel is on precisely or practically the same footing as the property rights and liabilities spoken of in Clause 8.
§ Major BAIRD
It is absolutely true. We are dealing with men in the Army and Navy, and we cannot, even by this Bill, take them without the consent of the Army and the Navy.
§ Lord H. CECIL
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? I do not gather from the Bill that there will be any air force except the one air force created when this Bill becomes law.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite for his explanation. The matter seemed to me so clear that, it hardly needed his confirmation. But on the point raised by the Noble Lord—I put that because the suggestion is that there will be no Air Service except service in the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service. It seems to me that under this Bill—and on Second Reading a Bill of so novel a character one is always, of course, a little vague—there may be a third Air Service formed under the new Secretary of State. Suppose that the Royal Flying Corps on the one hand, when approached with a request, or an offer, from the new Secretary of State, says in correct, official, technical language that it does not agree, then, so far as they are concerned, is the thing to remain there? The same would be true of the Admiralty. That is in the Bill.
§ Major BAIRD
There is the War Cabinet. Undoubtedly, if the Army or the Admiralty refused to grant the airmen required by the Secretary of State, he will go to the War Cabinet, and, the War Cabinet having decided the matter, the Army or the Navy will have to give him what he asks for.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
I am very glad of that, because that clears away to a certain extent the only point I desired to raise.
§ Major BAIRD
It is a very important point. There may be certain officers, naval or military, who obviously are doing admirable service where they are, as naval or military officers. We cannot—it would not be fair— arbitrarily take them away from the Army or the Navy if they are doing better service with the Army or the Navy. If, on the other hand, the Army or the Navy should in an obstructive way—and they have shown no signs of it—refuse to hand over large numbers of officers who are now training as airmen, the whole thing becomes confused. Then we shall go to the War Council, and place the matter before them.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
That, of course, as I say, makes clear to me the difficulty that I wished to solve, and answers the one point I desired to raise. We are then left with this situation: that this Bill may only create a third Air Service, leaving the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service as they are, except in case of the intervention of the War Cabinet. That states it accurately. The matter is really, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, one of very great importance, because most of us who are interested in the air look forward to the time, not far distant, when by the natural development of events, certainly not by any arbitrary action on the part of the coming Secretary of State, by the natural course of events and developments there would be, not a third Air Service but one great Air Service precisely as there have been one land service and one sea service. Many of us feel that if the War is going on for many months longer—counting it in months—it may be demonstrated, almost mathematically demonstrated, that the War can be won in the air. For that purpose it is necessary that there should be an absolutely uniform command and control in the air.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
Much as I appreciate the introduction of this Bill, it is not my intention to join the society of mutual admiration to whose efforts I have listened to-night. I should like to assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is piloting this Bill through that not only in the view of certain Members of this House, but certainly in the view of quite a number of Service Members, the Bill leaves very much to be desired. While I appreciate the fact that anyone who purposely obstructed this Bill would be doing his country and, as the Noble Lord opposite me particularly stated, the gallant men who are actually flying and fighting for this country, a great disservice, one would be doing them a far greater disservice by not seeing that the Bill when it passed met with their views and did them justice. I think it is seven years since the Government first dimly realised the necessity for creating an Air Fleet. At Barrow, to be correct, they built a large, cumbersome airship, which they called the " Mayfly." It did not. Here, on this occasion, we are dealing with an Act which, instead of saying a thing " shall " be done constantly says things " may " be done. Posterity may well refer to this Act as the " May " Act. I only hope they will. Before we come to the Committee stage there are a number of points which I think need to be very satisfactorily cleared up. I regret, if I may say so, that the Secretary of State for the Colonies was unable to pilot this. Bill through himself, as it would have been more satisfactory had we had on the Front Bench opposite a responsible member of the Cabinet who could have satisfied us on all the points which this House and hon. Members really feel, despite anything said to the contrary, it is necessary and just should be cleared up
In the first instance we have in the title of the Bill itself. Here was an opportunity to embody in the Bill not only a grateful compliment to the Dominions, but even in the Preamble of the Bill there might have been a happier and more comprehensive title than the one we have. The Bill might have been called the "Imperial Air Forces Bill." On the other hand, it might have been called the "Imperial Air Service," because, if the hopes which have been expressed in the House this afternoon materialise I trust that the aeroplane, even as it is to-day, the most punitive weapon which has ever been placed in the hands of mankind, may 153 eventually render war so terrible as to result in its abolition altogether. Under these circumstances the word "Force" would be an unhappy one. The word "Service" would be infinitely better. I sincerely trust, when this War is eventually brought to a close by the medium of and through the dominion of the air that we shall discover a happier word than "Force" for referring to that Service. Imperial Air Service would have a more real meaning than Air Force.
I would suggest to this House that when the Air Service is in being directly the War ceases, if we are to keep the establishment which is absolutely necessary for us to be prepared for any eventuality or any invasion by air, some means will have to be found for employing aeroplanes on more productive work than mere flying from aerodrome to aerodrome to keep the skill of the pilot up-to-date and the machines themselves in flying order. I suggest that it will be found most probable that all the mails of this country, and possibly the mails of the Empire, will within the next few years be carried by the very service, to introduce which we are now debating the Second Reading of this Bill. So far as that is concerned, I would recommend with due humility to the Government, and with a proper appreciation of the source from which the recommendation comes, the suggestion that "Imperial Air Service," or, if the word "Imperial" is distasteful in the minds of the Government, "Air Service" rather than "Air Force" should be introduced as the name for that Service.
The next point that arises is that, throughout the whole of this Bill, it seems to have been the determination of the gentlemen who framed it, under the direction, presumably, of the Officers of the Crown, to confer upon the War Cabinet or by Order in Council, whatever that may be, powers of dictatorship, and to remove from this House any opportunity whatsoever of controlling their future actions, their movements, or the destiny of the force which we now propose to create. Personally, although possibly, on some occasions, some speeches of mine suggested that there was a certain lack of respect on my behalf for the methods and the system of this House of Commons, I very strongly deprecate, and I should very strongly oppose, any action on the part of the present Government to deprive the Members of this House of what few privi- 154 leges they still retain. Unless we are going to be handed over into a condition of bureaucracy, without any effort on our part, I would suggest that the Members of this House should watch this Bill, as an instance, very carefully, and not allow it to become a precedent of actions on behalf of the War Council, under the plea, which we hear so frequently at that box that it has almost lost its meaning, that all these things are necessary be cause we are in a state of war. To a very great extent there is some foundation for that remark, but it is more particularly necessary because it has been said from that box for three years. It is because we have been late—always too late—in everything that we have undertaken that it is becoming even more necessary to expedite all measures, even at the expense of doing those concerned an injustice. Therefore, I do trust that when we come to the Committee stage there will be found Members of this House who are sufficiently interested in the privileges that a Member should respect to support Amendments on many Clauses which it is necessary to support if the House of Commons and Parliament are to retain the control of this Service. When the hon. Gentleman who is piloting this Bill referred to Clause 3, I noticed that he quite omitted, although I called his attention to the fact, the proviso of that Clause. Surely there is a proviso which is quite unnecessary. He states very loudly, with a considerable amount of satisfaction, that no man will be called into this Service against his will. He reads Clause 3, Sub-section (1), very carefully, that no man shall be called into this Service against his will, and he utterly fails—I suggest almost to the point of deceiving the House—to read the proviso of that Clause which says that if that consent is not forthcoming from the man he shall be forcibly introduced into the Service. What is the next proviso? If, after three months, he has not become acclimatised, he is to be allowed to go back to his original job. I call that playing with the matter.
§ Major BAIRD
I must settle that point. The hon. Member must realise that there are certain people at the present time who are prisoners of war and you cannot get at them, but if anybody within three months of receiving notice states he does not wish to be transferred, then the transfer is annulled.
§ Mr. BILLING
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much, and I take it from his reply that this House can take it as sure and certain that provisos (a) and (b) of Clause 3 apply only to prisoners of war, and that no other member of His Majesty's Forces can be transferred to the Air Force against his own will. Is that so?
§ Major BAIRD
Nobody can be transferred to the Air Force against his will, prisoner of war or otherwise. This is to make it watertight.
§ Mr. BILLING
I am very glad this point has been cleared up, because it was a point which operated on my mind to some extent. With regard to Sub-section (2), the question of seniority, I should equally like the hon. Gentleman to clear up that point once and for all. He stated in his speech that the idea of allowing men to carry their seniority from the Army or Navy, respectively, into this Air Force was purely for the purposes of court-martial. I do not know whether it would be more facile under Order in Council or the Defence of the Realm Act—which seems to cover everything for the support of the Government's policy—that for the purposes of the Air Force one day's service should rank for purposes of court-martial. If, on the other hand, it is not only for the purposes of court-martial that this seniority shall rank, I consider the Clause is most invidious and unfair. It puts power in the hands of a person or persons unknown, because I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that, so far as this Bill is concerned, the people to whom we are transferring this power are quite strangers to us. I have heard it suggested that Lord Northcliffe is to be Air Minister—he is a man of imagination and considerable force—and I have heard it suggested that the late Director of Military Aeronautics is to be the Minister. I have also heard it suggested that General Smuts is to adorn that post. At any rate, by this Clause it would be possible to transfer one man of five years' or three years' service and rank him of no years' service in the Air Force, and to transfer another man of perhaps one month's service in the Royal Naval Air Service and make him senior to the other.
Members of this House may consider that I am laying undue stress on the question of seniority, but I am quite sure those who are members of the Army or the Navy will appreciate that it is impossible to 156 place too much stress upon the questions which vex and trouble a man in his professional career. If it is placed in the power of any Council to rob a man of ten years' seniority without the right of a court-martial or appeal, you are not doing: anything that will add to the harmony which is said to exist in such large quantities at the Hotel Cecil to-day. There are differences of opinion as to that harmony, but it is not part of my duty to-refer to that now, and I am addressing myself purely and simply to the Bill. We have the question of pay and pensions. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand that questions of naval and military pay and allowances are important, and under these circumstances it would be interesting to have cleared up what acts on the decision of the Air Council in transferring naval or military men to the Air Service. If it is going to be a considerable decrease and they are going to, suffer financially, it is reasonable to assume, in view of the ridiculously low pay compared with the cost of living, that by transfer they are going to suffer financial loss, you are not going to encourage the best men to come forward. I should like. that point cleared up, and I wish the pay and allowances of the officers of this new Air Service could be embodied in the Bill.
Another point is that even now I utterly fail to see what the position of this new Air Service is to the Army and Navy, respectively. It is absolutely essential to the well-being of the Service that so far as possible the Naval Air Service should remain under the control of the Admiralty. I think it would be fatal to transfer the control or the policy of the Naval Air Service, so far as it is necessary to operate with the Grand Fleet, into the hands either of amateurs, as the hon. Member suggests, or into the hands of the Army officials, or anyone else. If the Grand Fleet by now does not know what it wants so far as the Air Service is concerned, it never will, and certainly it will not be taught by the War Office or the new Council. For the purposes of the Grand Fleet it is necessary that there should be a complete and unified Service under the supreme command of the Navy, and not at the command of any Air Minister. It is equally necessary that in regard to the work on the Western Front so far as it affects the operations of the Army in the field—which may be taken to be from the enemy's front line to the base which is supplying them, that is the actual mobile army of the 157 enemy in the field—that there should be complete control, without reference or discussion with any other body, in the hands of the commanding officer of that area. Just as the guns of battleships are under the supreme command of the officers in command of the ship, and the guns of an army are under the command of the army officers, so surely aeroplanes which are necessary for the operation of these respective Services ought to be under those commands. That is no argument against a complete and entire Air Service operating in connection with both those Services.
It is not my intention to claim any special credit for the introduction of this Bill, but there is one thing which I have been pleading for the last nine years, and that is a separate Service. This Bill does not give the faintest hope that that thing is about to be accomplished. This measure is one of the most nebulous things which in my brief Parliamentary experience I have examined, for it simply provides that His Majesty may by Order in Council do this, and then if sufficient pressure is brought to bear on the gentlemen interested, His Majesty may not do this. We want to know what the policy of the Air Council is going to be and what are its powers. How will it stand when it gets up against the Army Council or the Admiralty? Surely any hon. Member who has any inside knowledge of what the Air Board has been up against when it had no power, when it had to go from one side of Whitehall to the other and appeal on its knees for recognition and utterly failed to get it—surely anybody who knows anything of the brief and tragic life of the last and the present Air Board and knows anything of what is going on with the overlapping which still exists, and the opposition which the Air Board received both from the Army and the Navy respectively, must see what is the position of the new Air Council when it comes into conflict with the champion of the new Service. Having snatched the Cinderella away from both her elder and spiteful sisters, what is going to be the attitude and the power of this Air Minister?
I would like it laid down in the Bill that he shall not only have the right to request but to demand that every piece of material which is not absolutely essential to the well-being of the Grand Fleet and to the requirements of the Expeditionary Forces shall be immediately 158 transferred to the complete and supreme, control of the Air Council. I would like to see, instead of the new Ministry being dependent upon the good graces of the Ministry of Munitions, a certain proportion of the firms capable of increasing aeroplane output transferred to the Air Council. This Bill tells us absolutely and utterly nothing. First of all, it should, have cleared up the relationship between the Royal Flying Corps and the War Office. Is the Royal Flying Corps still going to exist after this Bill has been passed into law? Are we simply going to bleed the Royal Flying Corps of its best men, or are we going to take the sweepings of the Royal Flying Corps to form the nucleus of the great Imperial Air Service? What is going to be the relationship between the Royal Air Service and the Admiralty? Are we going to have put into the Imperial Air Service all the direct entry men? Are the pukka men going to be allowed to transfer to this Service, or, if they volunteer, are they going to be allowed to transfer? As far as I can see, nothing can be done unless everybody agrees. First of all, the man has to agree, then his immediate superior officer has to allow him to go, then the Admiralty have to allow him to depart, and then the Air Council have to agree to accept him. It will be the first experience I have had of military and naval Departments in every case being in complete unity about such a matter. The Bill should definitely lay down that any man or any officer who is suitable as a pilot and who wishes to transfer to the Air Forces should be allowed to do so. Are we creating a real thing or are we simply creating a name—just a Ministry which is going to have the spare men of the two forces and any direct entries which they can get? If so, then the Service itself, quite apart from the Act upon which it is founded, is doomed to failure.
How many men are there left in this, country to-day, after nearly two years of Conscription, who are at all suited, either physically or in any other way, to engage in this new service? If this new service is going to increase and multiply in the way that the hon. Member suggests, it is perfectly obvious that it will have to draw its recruits either from the Army or the Navy. It is suggested that these recruits should only be allowed to go provided that the Army and the Navy respectively agree to let them go. This will be the first instance that either the Army or the.
159 Navy have allowed a good man to transfer to some other service. Unless there is going to be something definite about this Bill, far better that we should not pass it at all. If the Bill is purely and simply a blind, or a sort of answer to the two years' agitation for a new portfolio, to keep the public quiet, then the sooner the matter is cleared up in the interests not only of the public, but more particularly of the Air Service and the men with whose careers we are juggling, the better. I know that the public, when once this new portfolio is granted, will to a certain extent feel that they can turn over and sleep safely in their beds, that there will be no more air raids, and that everything will be quite all right. But I would like to take the opportunity of saying, no matter how able the Air Minister, and how excellent may be his qualifications, that he has a great and terrible task before him, and, whatever we do, it would be not only cruel but a disservice to this country to criticise him for the first six months. He must be given a chance. On the other hand, if we are going to allow the privilege of criticism to pass from us for six months, it is most essential that w e should see that the warrant which gives him power is such as to render it at least possible for the right man to assert his authority and to acomplish the will of the people.
The Bill before us does not even say what the relationship of the Royal Naval Air Service to the Royal Flying Corps is going to be. Above all, it does not say what the relationship of the Air Ministry to these four distinct and separate services is going to be, beyond the fact that they should mutually agree what is the greatest good for themselves. Any member of the War Office who did not look after the interests of the War Office would be a traitor to the War Office. There is a certain rivalry between all corps, and there is a certain feeling, if you are a naval officer, that you want to keep the Navy end up. It is the same with the War Office. What is the poor little Air Service going to do, starting off with no power? There is no power given it by this Bill. It has simply got power to plead, and as far as I can see, in most oases it will plead in vain. I appreciate, and I want the House to give me credit for appreciating, that it would be a most dangerous thing to interfere with the 160 actual war necessities of the Army and. Navy in so far as the Grand Fleet and the Army in the field are concerned, but over and above that there is a vast army of young fellows under twenty-five years of age willing and anxious to come forward and join this Service. I would like this Bill to lay it down that any young fellow under twenty-five years of age who is capable of passing the medical examination necessary for this peculiarly trying and exhausting service shall be received by the new Air Force with open arms, whether his commanding officer wishes to let him go or not. Surely this is not a question whether a commanding officer wishes to sacrifice a man or not. Surely there is not a Member of this House who will say that a young fellow of 25, 22, 21, or 19 is not doing much more useful work as a pilot right over the enemy's lines than sitting up to his waist in mud in the trenches. I can testify that a pilot is worth twenty men in the trenches for military value, and it is the young men in the country whom we must select and train for this purpose. It is a waste of money and of human material to throw away in the trenches the life of any young man who is a potential pilot.
I would not like to suggest that the framers of this Bill have had more regard for the personal effect it will have upon individuals than for its future value as an instrument of war and as an effort to victory, but in this country, whenever one watches any legislative measure, one always feels that the one thing which has occupied the minds of the people who drafted it is the effect it will have on Smith, Brown, Jones or Robinson, rather than the effect it will have on victory. I do not know who has been consulted in the drawing up of this Bill. Presumably the only people who could have been consulted are the senior naval and military officers in the respective Air Services. Had I been responsible for the drafting of this Bill, I would have called a council of 200 or 300 of the squadron-commanders of both the Navy and the Army, and 1 would have endeavoured to draft a Bill based on the actual war experience of those men. It was absolutely necessary, especially in a young service such as this. where there is very little experience and which has not yet given any man an opportunity of making or gaining a public reputation for himself, that all those men who are directly interested in the failure or success of the aeroplane as a fighting 161 arm should have been consulted in so important a matter as the drafting of the first Air Bill. I would suggest, from what I see in the Bill, that that has not been done.
Another question, which I might ask the hon. Gentleman now, is whether it is proposed that the men who are appointed to this Council are to be appointed under what, I believe, is called the Great Seal. I do not know very much about these matters, but I do know that there is a certain dignity attaching to all officials who are appointed under the Great Seal, and I would suggest that it might be advantageous to give the members of this Council the same status as members of the War Council, or the members of the Admiralty itself. The Bill should state definitely—it need not be by name—what kind of a Council the Air Minister is to have under him, and what are to be the respective duties of those men. For example, if a Director of Operations is going to be on the Council, it would have been just as well to have stated it in the Bill. If a Director of Air Defences is going to be on the Council, it would have been just as well to have stated it in the Bill. By a Director of Air Defences I mean a man in the Air Ministry in supreme command of all the air defences of the country against invasion by the air. I certainly think that such a man should be appointed to the Council. That a Director of Construction should be appointed to the Council is most important, and that should be done rather than leave the constructive side of the whole of this vast service, which is to be in the hands of any official in the Ministry of Munitions. If this official in the Ministry of Munitions is competent to accomplish this task, it might be as well if he were transferred to the Air Council as the Director of Construction, with supreme powers. The Air Minister could then look, not to a Department, but to an individual, and could say: " This thing has not been done; why?" So far as I can see the present method in all official undertakings is to get as many signatures to every document as you can, and that if you have a hundred signatures on all the documents and everything goes right, they all claim credit for it, while if anything goes wrong, they all say it was the other man. That has been, in my experience, one of the great failings of official departments. I should like to see the Air Minister turn to one man only for the 162 supreme duty of organising and directing the defences of this country from invasion and attack by air.
Presumably there will be a Director of Personnel on the Council. If that is so, perhaps the hon. Member will say whether the Director of Personnel of the Air Force will have any authority over those members of the Air Force who are serving in the Army and Navy respectively. This is a rather important point, because all this sort of thing has a great bearing on the feeling of the members of a force. Every man knows that the only way of gaining promotion—presumably even officers of the Army are human—is to keep well before those people who are responsible for recommending him for promotion. If the Director of Personnel of the Air Service is going to lend officers to the Army and the Navy, they will pass out of his vision, and we shall have, what is quite a common thing now, namely. officers who have been sent out as lieutenants or flight-commanders to distant parts of the world, and who are still lieutenants and still commanders, while other officers, who have managed to do their bit around the War Office or the Admiralty, have gone up in promotion rather more rapidly, like the right hon. Gentleman who recently joined the Royal Flying Corps from the Front Opposition Bench. There is also the question of a Director of Equipment. I hope, even if the hon. Gentleman is not following all that I say, that he will do the House the compliment of reading it in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. A Director of Equipment is a most important point. It is absolutely essential that the Air Council shall consist of certain men who shall be responsible for these different duties. What is even more important is that a representative of the Army and of the Navy should be associate members of the Council. It has been suggested by the hon. Member that it will not be necessary, that the unity and harmony will be so complete throughout the whole Service that it will not be necessary for the Army or the Navy to make representations to the Air Service, and that everything will go so sweetly and harmoniously that things will just happen. If he will allow me to contradict him from actual experience, I would tell him that is not the case, and that the Army will be making constant demands on the Air Service, that the Navy will be making constant demands on the Air Service, and that unless 163 there are representatives sitting on the Council—let him call them walking delegates if he likes—from the Army and Navy respectively, I am afraid that nothing but friction will occur.
I presume that there will be the customary Parliamentary Secretary and Financial Secretary, because there will be a considerable question arising as to the financial position of these respective Services. If the Navy is to have the use of a large part of the Air Force, and if the Army is to have the use of another large part, are the Army and Navy going to hire them from the Air Service? If not, how is their Vote going to be taken? Are the Army and Navy going to pay these men, or will an Air Service Vote provide for their pay while they are loaned for these respective operations. If the latter is the case, I can see the enormous difficulty and utter chaos that existed in the Royal Naval Air Service in its earlier days being accentuated, when no one could make out who ought to have paid certain accounts, and whether they related to the Naval Air Service, or what they were. A point which the hon. Member might take an early opportunity of clearing up is the financial relation of the Air Council to its own members and to those who are either loaned or who have never even volunteered from the Army or Navy respectively. Presumably it will be necessary to have a series of superintendents for the purpose of carrying out the work which will evolve on this new Air Council. It would be interesting to know whether this work is going to be duplicated or whether it is going to be centralised and unified. There will have to be superintendents of aeroplane and seaplane construction. Presumably that work is now being carried out by the Munitions Department. Are we to understand that in future it will be carried out by the Air Council It says nothing about it in the Bill. It will be necessary to have superintendents of airship and balloon construction. What are we going to do about that? At present even the Air Board has nothing to do with balloon or airship construction. The Admiralty absolutely refused to hand it over to the Air Department, and to avoid an absolutely open rupture the Air Board gave way, and though the majority of the people of this country think to this day that the Air Board has control of airships, I take this opportunity of assur- 164 ing them that they are wrong. The Admiralty still retains the supreme control of the construction and operations of airships. Presumably this Bill is to allow, the Air Council to take over the functions and duties of the Air Board. Does it include that? I see the hon. and gallant Gentleman has gone. Perhaps there is someone on the Treasury Bench who is not in complete ignorance of the Bill. If so, I hope he will advise the Rouse whether the Air Council takes over balloons and airships.
We come now to the Superintendent of Engine Construction. Balloons and airships need engines. Aeroplanes need engines. The Army, the Navy, and the Air Service need engines. Who is going to be the Superintendent of Engine Construction? Where is he going to be? What Council is he going to be on, and is he going to take his orders from the Air Minister, the Minister of Munitions, or the Army or the Navy? That is a point I should very much like cleared up. Another important point is as to the Superintendent of Armament Construction. The armament of aeroplanes is a most important thing. Fighting machines want very special forms of armament. So far as the present bomb-dropper is concerned, it is almost a secondary consideration. In observation machines, where they are accompanied by fast fighting scouts, the armament is even less. Really, so far as armament is concerned, the Army and the Navy would be much more interested in the development of armament than the Air Service itself, whose functions would be really those of a great raiding squadron. If you are going to hand over the armament to the Imperial Air Service with no representation from either the Army or the Navy on the Board, I can see a great deal of friction arising, and surely now is the time to clear it up. Is the Superintendent of Armaments going to be on the Air Council, in the Navy or in the War Office, or are they going to have three; and if they are, are they going to conduct their own experiments, and, if so, are they going to exercise the same secrecy as was exercised for nearly two years by the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service? They were both experimenting with the same invention, and neither knew that the other was doing it, and both took jolly good care they did not.
We come next to the question of the Superintendent of Laboratories. Presumably he will conduct his experiments under 165 the Air Council. Will he conduct aero- plane experiments and the various experiments which are necessary for observation with gun-spotting machines? These are the things which I am perfectly confident the Services themselves, as distinct possibly from Members of this House, want cleared up. What they want to know, when this Bill is passed is, where the Services stands as a service. It is most essential that we should have an Air Service, and that it should be made worth a man's while to join it and that he should be able to take up flying, the same as a man can take up the Army or the Navy, as a career. The present system is to snatch a man out of either Service, slip him into the Royal Flying Corps, rush him through the training, and push him into a job. He comes down and crashes. He is said to be medically unfit. He is pushed down, and within a week is probably called up as a private under the Military Service Act because he is unfit for a pilot. We want to stop that now. We want to create a career for the men of this country who are making the great sacrifice. I am not talking Jingoism. At present the direct entrant into the Naval Air Service has a very thin time. He is known as a pukka service officer, and it is very much the same with the direct entrant into the Army itself. I know a small club in London frequented by naval officers where it is not considered the thing for a Royal Naval Air Service man with a bird on his buttons to come in. They only have an anchor. They are different from the pukka service officer who is transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service. The uninitiated cannot tell the difference, but the men in the Service can. They recognise the bird as distinct from the anchor on the button. We want to sweep away all these little jealousies and intrigues and the seniority business. We want to sweep away the naval "dug-out," with years of seniority, who has been planted in the Naval Air Service to introduce disciplinary measures. Disciplinary measures are very fine providing they are all leading to one end, but if they only arrest the development of the Service and kill imagination and individual effort they are working the destruction of the Air Service rather than its salvation.
Then there is the question of the Air-craft Factory. Where does that stand? Is it to be handed over to the Royal Air Service or is it going to be retained by the Flying Corps. There is nothing in the 166 Bill. That is a most important thing. It has never been my job in this House to plead the cause of a trade, but there is a very important work going on at this moment which has a very great bearing on the whole future of aviation in this country. The Government is putting up huge factories all over this country which are nothing more nor less than Government factories. They are putting up all the money to build them and are supplying all the material for the purpose of building the aeroplanes, they are paying all the wages bills, and putting fictitious names over the doors to make people believe that they are private enterprises. I can give the names of four of them in private who have no more financial control than the office boys. They simply draw a small commission on the machines that come out. Their names are used as a blind to deceive the trade. It may be in the interests of this country to set up these vast factories and to produce under these conditions, but if you stifle enterprise and arrest its development you will find that other countries, which have not arrested private effort, and have not endeavoured to stamp out individual ingenuity, will leave us trailing behind in the fight for the supremacy of the air. I am not going to waste the time of the House perorating about the needs of an Air Service to this Empire. That they are essential to our existence there can be no doubt in the minds of reasoning men.
So far as transport works and buildings are concerned, the Royal Naval Air Service have decorated the coast of these Islands at intervals of about two miles with vast buildings that contain, among other things, some thousands of engines which, unfortunately, are obsolete or obsolescent, and a considerable number of very excellent seaplanes and flying boats. What is going to happen to all these? Are they to be handed over to this new Service? Surely these are matters of very grave importance, and the Bill ought to inform the House what is to happen in regard to them. So far as the duties of these men are concerned, I do not think it is necessary to develop them to any great extent; but that the Air Ministry should have supreme control of policy and general supervision of the whole service, in so far as it does not infringe on the Army and Navy respectively, is absolutely necessary. Such a straight statement from the Treasury Bench would do more to accelerate the passage of this Bill than anything else 167 would do. They have clothed the skeleton of this Bill in a wilderness of words. A perfectly straight statement is all that is necessary. If they say that the Air Minister shall have supreme control of everything appertaining to the Air Service irrespective of the needs of the Army in the field and the Grand Fleet, then we can get the matter cleared up. As to the respective functions and duties of other members of the Air Board, I cannot see why it cannot be provided in the Bill what they should be responsible for and what duties can be expected of them. So far as the Bill is concerned, one finds absolutely nothing which guides one in the slightest degree. It is so vague and nebulous that one is almost tempted to sit down and, by way of Amendment, practically write or create an entirely new Bill, and a Bill which would convey something to those people who are interested.
The Bill does not provide the name or the rank that the various officers in this Service should carry. It does not provide whether this Service is to have a distinctive uniform. Hon. Members may think that is a matter of small importance but I can assure them it is nothing of the kind. The question of uniform has caused considerable friction. The question now as to whether this Air Service shall be given distinctive uniform is one of very considerable moment to the men who will come forward to join the new Service. We do not want a burlesque. We do not want to put them into a uniform which will cause them to be mistaken for Belgian or French flying officers; but an alteration of uniform which will provide something distinct from both naval and military uniforms will do more to remove friction than anything else this Bill could do. Then we come to the question of title. You have lieutenants Royal Navy who rank with the senior two captains in the Army, and you have hundreds of lieutenants R.N.V.B. who presumably take the same rank with officers in the Army. Are you going to transfer these men piecemeal into the new Service? Captains are going to come in and find themselves junior to naval lieutenants and naval lieutenants are going to find themselves junior to military men What are you going to call these men? Might I suggest to the Minister that the best thing would be not to transfer any of these men but to allow them to come out of the Service for twenty-four hours and to he civilians again. There would then be no 168 question of transferring them with their rank or seniority. Let us start on a clear basis. Let us start from zero and give to these men the appointment which their ability justifies, irrespective of the position they have occupied in the past. You will find many young lieutenants who are infinitely more fitted to lead squadrons than many transferred squadron commanders in both Services. I should like to see all these young fellows brought out.
I should like to see a council or selecting body established and each man bringing his dossier showing what he has done, where he started, and what his experience has been. Then let him be offered a post in the new Service which he deserves, irrespective of his previous seniority. If you are going to transfer some men and give them seniority because they have a friend at court, and other men lose their seniority because they have not a friend at court, you are going to have nothing but disputes, friction, and intrigue on the part of men endeavouring to make good, when opportunity is given. This Bill should not provide that opportunity. It should be clear. Here at last is an opportunity for this Government which is claiming a reputation for doing things. Here is an opportunity for doing the thing thoroughly and showing skill not only in drafting Bills, but in having the courage to do things thoroughly. Let them sweep aside the interests of the various men involved, whether they are on the Army Council or on the Board of Admiralty. This War has come to such a state that if you are not prepared to sacrifice reputations we may have to sacrifice victory. Let this Bill be clear and concise. Let it say that in regard to aeroplanes the Government recognise that the functions relegated to the Army and Navy must not be tampered with, but that they also realise that there is a great future and a great opportunity for the development of vast raiding squadrons, irrespective of both these Services, carrying the air war for the first time in its history and for the first time in three and a-half years of war thoroughly into the enemy's country and giving our enemies just a flavour of what it means to make war on humanity in the way they have done. There is that opportunity now. This House works in penny numbers and never has the courage to make a clean sweep. It is merely a series of concessions after concessions. If you want a pint you have to ask for a gallon 169 and then you get a gill, and then they come here on their hands and knees and say that we must be grateful that after two or three years we have succeeded.
If this Bill passes as it is to-day it is neither a credit to its critics nor to its constructors. It is a nebulous and useless Bill and the only thing it does is to lob the House of Commons and private Members of the House of Commons of the privilege which freely elected men, when you can find them, really should hate. An hon. Member says, Daily Mail." The future Air Minister must be in his mind. This Debate opened with, I think, three or four Members present. I hope -that when it reaches the Committee stage many Members of this House, whether they understand aeroplanes or not, no matter how much they know, will make it their business to come down here and help to create a great Air Service. If they will not do that, let them come down to guard their own privileges. What does this Bill provide? That the Home Secretary shall by Order in Council—which is following the example of the Defence of the Realm Act but is infinitely more.pernicious—I beg pardon, it is not "shall," for "shall" does not appear in the Bill—may, by Order in Council, do this, that, or the other. Every Member who has risen from his seat in this House to sing the praises of our gallant airmen owe those men a great duty. They owe it to them to see that when the Bill becomes an Act it shall not only fulfil the views and wishes of members of the Government and of the High Command, but that it shall also meet the views and wishes of those men whose gallantry has brought this Service into such prominence. Quite apart and distinct from agitation and criticism, these men by their sacrifices have galvanised the Government into the tentative action they have taken on this occasion.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I want to ask one question on a subject treated earlier in the Debate. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Second Reading was asked whether it was the intention of the Government that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service should be handed to the Air Council, he replied, "Yes, as far as I know." That is, of course, not a very definite statement from the Minister in charge of the Bill, but I know my hon. and gallant Friend only introduced the 170 measure at very short notice, and I think the House and the country are entitled to something a little more definite as to the Government's intentions in this matter. Of course, the difficulties are very great. I quite appreciate that this is only the skeleton of the Bill, and that all that is going to take place must be left until the Council is appointed and the Secretary of State takes his place on that Bench. That I quite understand, but still I think the House is entitled to rather more information as to the Government's intentions. I do not ask my hon. and gallant Friend to lay down definitely what the Government are going to do. It would be absurd to ask that, but I do suggest he ought to give us something better than "as far as I know." When an hon. Gentleman sitting on the Opposition Bench asked later on what really was going to happen, the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that if the Army Council and the Admiralty did not come to an arrangement about handing over the Forces to the Air Council then, of course, the War Cabinet would intervene and give definite orders which the Admiralty and the Army Council would have to carry out. That is quite a reasonable proposition. But then we have this remarkable Clause 3, which I want to bring to the attention of the House. You are setting up an Air Force in time of war. One would imagine that at once you would transfer every flying officer and man to the new force. But you do not do it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill said, "We do not want to compel anybody. We do not want to compel a seaman in the Navy, although he may now be in the Flying Corps, to go into the new force. Neither do we want to compel a soldier who may now be in the Air Service to go into the new force. We will not use compulsion." We know we are at war. The Front Bench are always telling us that. You take a man from the plough and you send him into the trenches, or you take him from an office and send him there. But you may not take a flying man who is already in the Service and transfer him from the Army or Navy into the Air Force. I think we are entitled to know something more as to what the Government has in view in this matter. I do not wish to press the hon. Gentleman unduly, but I think he will admit that the point is a very important one.
I do not think for one moment we are going to have a single Air Force as 171 the result of this Bill. There is nothing in the Bill Which prevents the Army and the Navy still keeping up their Air Forces, and I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that the matter has been left in that nebulous condition because the Army and Navy have definitely determined that they will have their own. flying forces. I do not believe for a moment that the Army could surrender its flying force. You have only to be in the front line of the Army in France to realise the intimate connection there is between the Artillery and the aeroplanes, and it is almost incredible that they are to be entirely divorced. The troops have to throw out signals so that the aeroplanes may recognise them, and I do not think the Army will ever agree to surrender entirely its flying force. I also doubt very much whether the Navy will ever agree to do so. From what one hears—I know very little of the Navy—I very much doubt whether they will surrender it, and the events of the last few months show how rapidly they are developing their Service. They have lately given a large number of flying officers regular commissions in the Navy, although previously they held only temporary rank. I think I have given sufficient reasons to prove to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the House and the country are entitled to know a little more as to the views of the Government in this matter. I know the great difficulties we have in front of us. This Bill is only a very slight step in the direction we all want to go, and I am not quite certain in my own mind that it is not a serious retrograde step. At the present moment you have the Navy and the Army Flying Services more or less connected under the Air Board. Directly this Bill becomes law the new Air Force has no control over, the Army or Navy Flying Services, and, consequently, all the good that the present Air Board has done will be entirely vitiated. You have actually a Secretary of State for the Air who has nothing whatever to do in any way whatsoever, by law, with either the work of the Army Council or of the Admiralty. I do think we are entitled ,to some further information of the matter. I do not wish to hamper the Government in any way, because I am anxious to see the Bill go through: If it is not as I have suggested, but- which I fear it is, I am ready to support the Bill, 172 hoping that in Committee we may be able to make it impossible for the Bill to become a retrograde Act.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I propose to offer a few words which I will endeavour to make as brief as possible, because we have already had this evening one exhaustive speech. I for one do not regret its length in view or the material which it contained. I am one of those who for months past have not only been looking forward to the introduction of a Bill of this description, but who many months ago first urged that there should be what was then proposed as an Air Ministry, and also many months ago, so long ago that it seems like ancient history, the formation of a Thinking Department. Although we were at war then the Government did not wake up to the realities of the situation, and it has taken all these months of dire experience to have done what their prevision should have accomplished for them. They should have seen before by virtue of their own foresight what would be required by the necessities of the situation.
To-night in listening to the Bill being introduced I must say that I had this sense of disappointment: over it all there was a feeling that it was impossible for the minds of those who have been conducting the Air Service to escape from their grooves, from the traditional routine in which they had become encrusted; the desire always to cling to the shores and never lose sight of the old landmarks, the inability ever to strike out on new lines, and to trust their own analysis of a problem—their own capacity for scientific construction. It seems to me that in introducing a Bill of this kind which is the foundation of an entirely new arm of defence, one might have proceeded from the great exterior situation, observing the necessities of the situation which have been imposed upon us by the Germans themselves, and regarding the problem in that way step by step, to work down until the final basis of construction was reached, so that from that point the plans could be built up step by step, which would finally give us an adequate reply to the German menace. But instead of the Bill being conceived in that form as a reply to the German menace, it seems rather to be conceived as a measure for amelioration, improving and developing the present bad system. The German themselves have failed so far' from their point of view to attain an adequate Air Service, and for 173 this reason, that at the beginning of the War they were hypnotised by their great Zeppelin idea, and they thought it would be far more effective in bringing a decision in this War than it has proved to be, in spite of the genius that has been expended on the construction of these vessels. But after long months of hard experience on their part the comparative failure of the Zeppelin has been shown, and now while unfortunately perhaps from their side it is not too late the Germans have thrown overboard that idea in great part, and have concentrated on an Air Service; and, in concentrating on their Air Service, they have built up a system much more simple in its lines of construction, and much more capable of giving direct and vigorous action, than the Bill which is now before the House will be able to accomplish. We have already seen the result of that in the air raids upon London itself, and those air raids upon London bring this aspect of the question forcibly before our minds, that, quite apart from the service that aircraft renders to the Army in the way of observation, spotting for artillery and so forth, and quite apart from the service that airships and various kinds of aircraft have rendered and are capable of rendering to the Navy, there is not only one distinct use but a multitude of distinct uses, entirely separate from and independent of those of the Army and Navy, for which a great Air Service could be constructed. That is the great datum line, so to speak, in viewing the construction of this Bill which lays down the machinery of this force.
There seems to me, unfortunately, resistance in the ranks both of the Army and the Navy. Recently in speaking to a French officer in Paris, a very intelligent man, I found that he seemed opposed to the very idea of a great development of air service. I will represent his point of view very briefly, because it seems to be a very professional point of view, perhaps artificially cultivated. He said that after all the great implements of the Army were the Infantry, the Cavalry, and the Artillery, and he seemed to regard it as impossible, as something that did not fit in with the etiquette of the military system, that victory could be attained by any arm that did not fall within one of those three categories.
174 I believe that few people in the Army and not many in this House have risen to the enormous possibilities of the Air Service as a separate striking arm in this sense, that if we slowed down somewhat in the sense of attack on land—if a Hindenburg wall of defence on the Western Front were set up, for example, while keeping the Navy up to its present state of development, it would be possible then to concentrate on a new arm immensely more powerful, not merely than anything hitherto attained, but perhaps than anything hitherto conceived. Two years ago that would have been possible. Two years ago, we see now clearly, it would have been possible to have constructed such an enormous air fleet that with its multitude of uses the Allies could have obtained complete mastery of the air in the same sense as after Trafalgar the British Fleet had obtained complete mastery of the sea—that is to say, no enemy aircraft would have dared present itself above the horizon. Then the whole field of the air would have been free for any purpose for which that fleet might be employed and without resistance. Without going into detail I could throw off a score of highly important uses, some perhaps absolutely decisive, in the sense of actually winning the War in which that fleet could be employed. At one time I said it would be possible to gain a final decision by that means, but months have rolled by and the situation is changed. Now every effort will have to be put forward to gain perhaps not a final decision by the air but to cope with the ever-growing power of the Germans in that same region.
In view of the lateness of the hour and in view of the fact that many of the most interesting points that have been raised to-night are really Committee points I will conclude in these terms, by saying that though I look upon this Bill as bad, it is better than nothing; but I regard the future of the Air Service as still uncertain, and a great deal will depend upon the spirit in which the measure is carried out. and particularly upon the man on whom the choice falls for the position of Secretary of State to control and administer the Act, and also on the point as to whether the man will be a member of the War Cabinet; because, if you have the right man, capable of rendering the most signal service, and his acts and decisions be revised by those void of the same faith and insufficiently endowed with his energy, a great deal of 175 his work may be rendered nugatory. Therefore, I think that the Controller of the Air Service should be a member of the War Cabinet, in order better to utilise his services. He should be a man endowed with the faith that can move mountains, with that driving power, the absence of which in a man of minor calibre would cause him to be overcome by difficulties real enough in themselves; he should overcome those difficulties not by sheer brute driving force, but by the clear intelligence to see how those difficulties are capable of being solved with the means at his disposal; a man of rapid decision, great energy, clear intellect, and ever keeping before his mind the fixed thought that victory may be accomplished by working ceaselessly night and day for the realisation of the plans which he has conceived.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I regard this Bill as one of great importance, but its terms are to my mind exceedingly nebulous. The real difficulty, as I have always understood, is the competition between the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. I doubt whether this Bill solves those difficulties. The great difficulty is in regard to the manufacture of the very best aeroplanes to be supplied for the Air Services, for which both the Admiralty and the Army, as I understood, were competing. I see nothing in this Bill to get rid of that. It does not in any way indicate what powers the Admiralty will have and what powers the Army will have in regard to the disposal of Air forces. It seems to me that the Admiralty should have complete disposition in regard to the forces created so far as His Majesty's ships are concerned and equally that the Army should have complete control in regard to the forces to which are committed the operations on the land. There is nothing in the Bill to show how this is to be done. It would be much more satisfactory if the Air Council had granted to them powers in regard to the training of the men who are to construct the aeroplanes and the men who are to guide them. The conditions in regard to sea and land are wholly different, but it is clear that the Army must control on land and the Navy on sea. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that course should be adopted. On the contrary, I am surprised that the Bill contains a provision that any officer or man in the Royal Naval Air Service or the Royal Flying Corps may within three months have to be remitted 176 to his own particular service. That does not to my mind speak of co-ordination or co-operation, and I trust that we may have some explanation of what is the real and inner intention of the Bill from whose terms it is very difficult to understand what is aimed at. What really, in my judgment, we should desire, is that we should manufacture the very best, without competition between the two Departments of the Army and the Navy. I cannot myself see any reason why we should depart from the name of the Royal Flying Corps, which has obtained such great distinction, and I trust that on the Committee stage of this Bill the name of the Royal Flying Corps, which distinguishes our Air Service over all others, will be retained.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir F. Smith)
I was asked by my right hon. Friend, to whom the charge of this Bill was originally committed, owing to his inability to be here to-night—which is to Le regretted—to give him such assistance as I can on some technical questions that will present themselves for consideration in connection with the provisions of the Army Act. These questions are technical and complicated, and I am asked to give assistance to the House in that respect. I am glad to do so. It is not my object to intervene on the merits of the Debate either on the Second Reading stage or any other stage, but any criticism might be pushed too far on that point, and, without either discourtesy or exaggeration, I might be permitted to retort that though we are not all experts, yet we have advisers who in the past three years have become entitled themselves to be considered experts, and who are not inferior in technical experience to their critics. The only object with which I have risen—my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced the Second Reading or this Bill having exhausted his right to speak again in this Debate—is to attempt to reply to one or two points which have been raised, and I hope I will not be considered punctilious when I say that those who have addressed to us a large number of questions left the House on the conclusion of their speeches. I am not desiring to take advantage of any such technical point, and I will attempt to address myself to the more serious points that have been raised. I hope I shall be permitted to begin by saying that no one is entitled to think that the bringing in of this Bill is any admission that the growth, 177 increase, and efficiency of the Air Service, both naval and military, in the course of this War is not one of the most marvellous improvisations that this War, or any other war, has ever wit-messed. It has been said by some of the critics of the Government that we ought to have introduced a proposal of this kind earlier. Others of our critics have said that we ought not to have introduced them at all These lines of criticism were perhaps a little mutually contradictory, but I think the House will be willing to bear in mind, in justice to the officials concerned, and in justice to those politicians who are responsible and who are over the officials, that they found themselves compelled, in times of improvisation, to multiply all our resources in the air, whether in the Navy or in the Army, when the very existence of the Army and of the Navy may depend at any moment on the rapidity and success with which that improvisation is carried on. Those who do justice to those considerations will, I think, be a little slow to criticise severely those who have been thought slow to introduce amalgamation of all the Services, which, everyone knows, was greatly resented by many members of both those Services. Let us never forget this, that the moment you develop a naval Air Service, and side by side with that you develop a military Air Service, you have immediately the soil from which competitive instincts spring, and this nation would not be the nation it was if from that soil and from those origins, from the very circumstances of the co-existence of naval and military flying, we had not that competitive instinct which in the past has been the soil, the fruitful soil, of gallant deeds.
§ Sir F. SMITH
That question is even more foolish than those which the hon. Gentleman addressed to my hon. and gallant Friend. The hon. Gentleman says why do you not have two Navies to compete. If the hon. Gentleman could keep sufficient control of his listening faculties to understand even the most elementary points that were being made in debate he would see—
§ Sir F. SMITH
He would see that I was not recommending the existence of 178 that competition as an advantage, but that I was rather founding the case from this Bill, which attempts to abolish it, and I was trying to explain what had been the difficulties in the way of those who, before to-night, had to deal with the task of amalgamating the improvisations.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The House listened to a long, rambling, irrelevant speech by the hon. Gentleman, who took an hour. I have not the time to answer the foolish questions he addressed to the House. I was attempting to explain the reasons why this change had been so slow in adoption. I think the House accepts from me the suggestion that once you started, as we were bound to start, under the historical circumstances in which the Air Services started, on a competitive basis, it was inevitable that you would create vested interests. You created vested interests in this sense, that every man in the Navy and in the Army—and, indeed, it is human nature, and it is known to be human nature—who has a command is naturally concerned to magnify the importance of that command and, if it be possible, to extend it. What has happened—the most wasteful and prodigal competition between the two Services It is not convenient in every case to give full examples or explanations, but there are very few people concerned and who study these things who do not know the immense injury that is occasioned to the Services by overlapping and competition between them, It might well be if we had been all-wise, and if we had ample leisure and no other problems jostling against one another for consideration by His Majesty's Government, that we should have been able to deal with these things at an earlier stage of the War. Let it not be forgotten that in war the services are all-powerful. The House knows well enough what happens on the slightest attempt on the part of politicians to interfere with soldiers or with sailors. I have always been of the belief that it is one of the greatest misfortunes to attempt to foster, as has been done in the Press, the idea and to represent that the soldiers and sailors were all in one camp and that all the politicians were in the other camp My reading of history teaches me that no great nation has ever emerged from a great struggle that decided its very existence, and may determine its very future, 179 unless the politicians were able to work aide by side and hand in hand with the sailors and soldiers. They do an ill service to their country who attempt to establish cacophony between the politicians and the Services. It is true that when the soldier or the sailor have come to manage on existing lines a particular arm of either Service that it is extremely difficult for the politician or the statesman to interfere.
But I do say this, the patience of successive Governments has induced them to try and overcome by persuasion the detailed arguments of the Army and the Navy to similar proposals to those of this Bill, which are the surest guarantee that the great new proposals—for they are great proposals !—shadowed in this Bill will be worked with a minimum of friction and a maximum of good will between both of the Services. It is true that considerable sacrifices are to be asked from both of the great Services under the terms of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman who addressed the House in a very moderate and a not unfriendly speech asked several questions upon this point. As I understood him, he inquired whether the new Air Board, to be set up, would absorb the functions at present discharged by what I may call, in popular language, the Military and Naval Wings. The main fundamental object of this Bill is to recognise what is the most amazing fact in modern warfare—that is, that all the conditions of warfare have been revolutionised by the calling into existence of a new arm, the consequence of whose intervention are so immense and so incalcuable that no one who is at all cognisant of the operations of this War can doubt that for good or for bad and for all time a new arm has declared itself in war which is distinguishable from the regular arm as was the Navy from the Army in the old days. It is the recognition of this fact that is the motive and spirit of this Bill. How far it has been carried out precisely is a matter, as I think my hon. Friend will see, very difficult of definition. It is not so difficult to understand as difficult of definition. What, however, is important is the spirit with which this Bill is conceived and the spirit with which it is contemplated that the Orders in Council shall be framed. It is the spirit and object of this Bill that the Air Service shall be recognised as an entirely distinguishable Service, that those who 180 are responsible for it shall form a new and important Department answerable to Parliament and responsible for the Service for which it so answers to Parliament, and with complete control unfettered by any other Service over all those who belong to it. My hon. Friend may say: Surely some qualification is necessary in the very nature of the case in that Department? The real point of the qualification is this: It is quite obvious that the great usefulness of the Air Service which is attached to an army is that it may be the eyes of the army. In other words, so long as it is loaned by the Air Board, say, to Sir Douglas Haig, it is quite obvious, if you have overlapping and if the Air Council were to interfere with that object it would be destruction of military efficiency. But, subject to that qualification, the Air Council is to be supreme. The qualification is not one with which, I think, any Member of this House is likely to quarrel. The same qualification is necessary where units are lent to the Navy. As to the questions of promotion, those are matters which require the most careful consideration. Similar problems have arisen in connection with the employment of the Naval Division under the Army, and problems, which, though not identical are analogous, have arisen in the case of the Colonial troops. The precise methods are a matter which can either be raised in Committee or which can be discussed with reference to the Orders in Council.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
Is it not the case that under the Bill the Orders in Council of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks, which would refer to the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service, would be quite ineffective without the consent of those Services?
§ Sir F. SMITH
I really think, if my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, that when he makes that observation he has not sufficiently reflected upon the conditions under which Government is carried on under modern conditions. Let me explain what I mean. It is quite obvious that you may have, if goodwill is not forthcoming, a hundred points of friction. You may have friction between the Admiralty authorities, the Army authorities, and the new Air authorities. I assure my hon. Friend that we have such differences of opinion almost every day or every week in this Government, and the method in which those are resolved is that where there are competing 181 claims the representatives of the Departments in which those claims compete go before the War Cabinet, and they state their case, and the War Cabinet arrive at a decision. Do not let me embark upon the great topic whether that is the best method of Government in normal times, but I do say confidently that it is the only which in the Cabinet you could deal with matters of that sort.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The hon. Gentleman does not suppose that Orders in Council are passed without consideration and discussion between the Departments concerned. They do not spring up like mushrooms by night. They are discussed between Departments concerned, and if there is controversy between them they must go to the War Cabinet, and then a decision is reached at the War Cabinet. Take the simplest illustration of all. Sometimes there is a question as to the appropriation of personnel, and a question is raised as between the Army, Navy, and Air Service whether certain men ought to be drafted into the Air Service, or some question is raised as to the promotion of officers. All those matters have to be dealt with by Order in Council. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Herts (Mr. Billing)— although I exchanged a somewhat unfriendly passage with him a moment ago, I have, I assure him, not the slightest unfriendliness towards him, and I notice, as other hon. Members notice, the constant zeal which he devotes to this subject—but I think he was profoundly mistaken in the whole attitude with which he approached this Bill. He stated in the course of his speech an innumerable number of supposed omissions in this Bill. His knowledge of such points enables him no doubt to specify—and I do not doubt to specify with accuracy—a large number of points upon which this Bill is silent. I would only ask the House to consider what would have been the dimensions of this Bill supposing we had attempted to include in it every point of omission referred to by the hon. Gentleman in his speech. Long as this War may prove to be, this Bill would hardly have passed Parliament, even on the most pessimistic basis. If it, indeed, be true that you cannot rely on the Army and Navy now in the fourth year of war, loyally and patriotically to combine to create a great Air Service, if, on the other hand, you you cannot rely on them to give 182 the political authorities the advice which they alone can give, so that wise and prudent Orders in Council can be formulated dealing with all the points that he suggests ought to be put in the Bill, if you cannot rely on the naval and military experts to do that, I, for one, would despair of ever creating a flying service, in spite of the lessons this War has taught.
§ Mr. HOHLER
It seems to me very important that it should be explained to the members of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps the position they will hold after the War. What is to happen to them then? I do not want to impede this Bill, but I should like to be assured that these airmen are not to suffer under this Bill.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I do not think their position is altered at all. Either they engage for the period of the War or they are attached. But is not this question a little out of the perspective with the crisis of the Motion? Surely the House of Commons may be trusted on the conclusion of the War to see that the officers who have left the Army or the Navy to go into the Flying Service—not less dangerous than the most dangerous positions in the Army or Navy—sustain no loss. I think my hon. Friend will find that the most studious care has been taken to avoid any such consequences, but if he will, in Committee, point to any hiatus in that respect he will find that it will receive the most careful and sympathetic attention of the Government. The Member for Southampton (Sir Ivor Philipps) asked a question very forcibly, and it certainly deserves and requires an answer. He said that you are taking men from the counter and the shop and putting them into the trenches and other places equally disagreeable, and I cannot understand why you deny to yourself, except with the consent of the persons affected, a power to move them from one branch of the Army or Navy into the Flying Service. That is a question to be answered in Committee. Whether it be right or wrong, it is the reason which influenced the Government, on the advice of military and naval experts, to come to this conclusion. There is an old tradition in the Army, and I believe in the Navy, that if a man joins the Guards or the gunners he has made his choice, he is entitled to it. He has selected his own field of gallantry, and we ought not to remove him except with his own free consent.
§ Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
We have often in this House ignored that rule entirely. We have taken men not only from one branch of the Army to another branch but even from civil life. What I suggested was that as long as this Clause remains as it is now it does make those who like myself are anxious to see an efficient Air Service doubt whether there is any stability in this Bill because only a few men come forward voluntarily and you leave it to the individual.
§ Sir F. SMITH
My hon. Friend is very familiar with military duties and he will understand why this was inserted in the Bill. He is fully entitled to point out that great changes in tactics have taken place, and to raise this question on the Committee stage when the Government will be fully prepared to consider his suggestion. I have attempted as far as I can to deal with the various points that have been raised. The Government recognise the friendly spirit with which the House as a whole has been good enough to receive this Bill. They have received it in the spirit of a war Bill—not perhaps perfect in every detail—incapable in the circumstances of the time of containing all the terms upon which the House would insist in normal times of peace. If the Government receive, as we anticipate that we shall receive, the same indulgence from the House in the later stages of the Bill, the House on its part will find that the Government are prepared and anxious to consider in sympathetic spirit every criticism and suggestion that is made, and is obviously made with the object of improving the Bill and rendering it more workable.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Wednesday next.—[Colonel Craig.]