§ 1) Any officer, warrant officer, petty officer, non-commissioned officer, or man of any of His Majesty's naval or military forces may, with his consent and subject to the approval of the Admiralty or Army Council (as the case may be), be transferred by the Air Council to the Air Force, or attached by the Air Council to the Air Force for the period of the present War or for a period not exceeding four years:
§ Provided that—
- (a) any officer, warrant officer, petty officer, non-commissioned officer, or man who at such date as may be fixed by Order in Council belongs to or is attached to the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps or any unit of the naval or military forces engaged in defence against aircraft which is designated by the Admiralty or Army Council for the purpose, may be so transferred or attached without his consent, but if any person so transferred or attached, within three months from the time when he receives notice of such transfer or attachment or such longer period as in any particular case the Air Council may allow, gives notice to his commanding officer that he does not desire to be so transferred or attached, the transfer or attachment shall be annulled without prejudice to the validity of anything which may have been done in the meanwhile; and
- (b) no person transferred to the Air Force under the provisions of this Section shall be liable to serve with the Air Force for any longer period than that for which he would have been liable to serve had he continued in the force from which he was transferred.
§ (2) Regulations made 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.443
§ (3) Where any person is transferred to the Air Force under this Section, then for the purposes of pay, pensions, gratuity, and retired or half-pay, and of any decoration or reward dependent on length of service, any previous service with His Majesty's naval or military forces which would have counted as service towards pay, pension, gratuity, retired or half-pay, or such decoration or reward if he had not been so transferred, shall be deemed to be service with the Air Force towards pay, pension, gratuity, retired or half-pay, or such decoration or reward.
§ (4) Where any person is attached to the Air Force under this Section, the fact that he is so attached shall not affect any right to any pay, pension, gratuity, retired, or half-pay, or such decoration or reward as aforesaid, already earned by him in that branch of His Majesty's naval or military forces to which he belonged at the date on which he was so attached, and the period during which he is so attached shall, for the purpose of any provisions relating to pay, pensions, gratuity, retired, or half-pay, or such decoration or reward, be deemed to be service with that branch of His Majesty's naval or military forces to which he belonged at the date on which he was so attached.
§ Mr. HARCOURT:
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "with his consent and subject to the approval of the Admiralty or Army Council (as the case may be)."
In common with, I think, a good many other hon. Members, I was struck on the First Reading, and perhaps not very favourably impressed, by what I should describe as the voluntary and permissive character of the Bill, or what would seem to be such a character if you confine yourself strictly to the language in which it is drafted. I did not speak on the Second Reading, although I listened to the whole Debate, but I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southampton (General Sir Ivor Philipps) and other hon. Members was justified in concentrating on that point, even at an early stage of the Bill. At the same time, so obvious is it to every friend of the Bill that it is a conciliation as well as an amalgamation Bill, and so much does it depend on tact, good feeling, and good will, that if the Government, and they alone have full sources of information, tell me that this or any other similar Amendment will make a clumsy and brutal change in the Bill contrary to 444 the whole spirit of the transfer, so anxious am I that the transfer should take place, that I will withdraw it, although I hope more explanation will be given than was accorded to the House on the Second Reading of the Bill. It is intended to raise, at any rate for discussion, what I think we are accustomed to call usually the question of contracting-out. I take the view—and, indeed I think it will be regarded as a platitude—that the Air Force and the Secretary of State, assuming them to be reasonable and judicious parties, are entitled to take all the personnel that they wish to take and that if any substantial part of that personnel is withheld, for whatever reason, a serious public injury may result. I think I have gathered correctly what is no doubt a prevailing view in opposition to this Amendment, and I will state it merely to see whether I correctly apprehend it. It is said, "That is all very well, but your point is purely a verbal point. No effective contracting-out of the Bill is possible under the Bill, even if it were desired, and it is not in fact desired." The Air Force will have all the materiel—although the hon. Member for Herts put in a caveat as to lighter-than-air machines—or will control the bulk of the machines and aerodromes, and consequently if a pilot desires to fly he will only be able to fly under the auspices of the Air Force.
§ Mr. HARCOURT:
I agree that it is not in the Bill, and I think I specifically stated that although it might be an opinion, it was not in the Bill. That is why I am moving the Amendment. What I desire to point out is that whatever that is, it is not conciliation. It is compulsion, and a very effective form of compulsion. It says, in effect—and I was dealing with the answer which I presume will be made to my Amendment— "Whether you like it or whether you do not, you must come under our umbrella or give up flying." Otherwise why have a Bill? I say that is not the intention, the spirit, or the tone of the proposals of the Government. It does seem to me that from the point of legislative effect these words are extremely wide. You have taken power to transfer men to other units, even against their will, and much as many people dislike compulsion it is compulsion of a very mild kind in comparison with other forms. I only want to give a couple of illustrations. In regard to the purely aviation 445 element, the pilots are so incomparably the greatest element that one is apt to forget that the personnel includes many other people, such as the observers. The Royal Naval Air Service contains many attached Army officers, Infantry soldiers and gunners. Several of the best observers we had at the aerodrome where I spent many months were soldiers lent to the Royal Naval Air Service, and it is possible, under these very wide powers, that at least a decision might be made that an individual, or group of individuals, should revert to non-aviation service, where their services would be of infinitely less value. Let me take another illustration. With regard to those officers who have been described as the "pukka navy" officers of the Royal Naval Air Service, although I do not much like that phrase, there are men, commanding officers and squadron commanders, and wing commanders, friends of my own, who were at one time naval lieutenants. It would be lamentable if some of those men were sent back to the Navy as watch-keeping officers, or in any such capacity. It is conceivable that they might decide, or it might be decided for them, that their duty lay in that direction, and the same line of argument applies to many technical officers. I will not specify them, but there are many specialised officers, who, if the fashion were set in of contracting-out, might be offered employment in other naval and military units. That will very probably happen as it is. It does happen in nearly all these cases of transfer, and it would be most unfortunate if it did happen in a substantial number of cases where the Air Force really wanted the men.
To take another illustration, I will refer to the Anti-Aircraft units. I happen to know something about the personnel of those units. I have completed three years' service in them at home and abroad, and I have, as an officer, been in two transfers in such units. When I was demobilised my technical rank was lieutenant of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Under the Royal Naval Air Service I have been twice asked, quite unofficially, whether I would become, once a captain of the Royal Garrison Artillery and once a captain of the Royal Marines. There is a case in point. It is idle to deny that in all cases of transfer there is always involved a certain esprit de corps, and I press it on the Government that if you offer a man an option you very often, in fact, 446 place him in a more difficult position than if you take him over automatically. I think the point is understood. A man is apt to ask himself whether, if he changes his uniform, he will offend the friends with whom he has been working all through the War and whether they will think he is in a hurry to leave, that he is after a job, or that he is playing for his own hand. So the discussion in the mind of the individual goes on, and as the result of all this perfectly honourable, and quite human and natural hesitation you do in fact during transfers fail to get hold of all the best men. That is the point. In the transfer I have in mind owing to that sort of feeling the Army did fail to get the pick of the candidates for commissions, because there was a feeling in some cases in favour of staying in the ranks rather than entering a new branch, whereas several gentlemen whose qualifications for commissioned rank were not so apparent to their own officers blossomed out as second-lieutenants. Of course, you must have the support of the Services. If you have not, obviously your Bill is as dead as mutton. If you have the support of the Services, and when you are ready you say, "We are the executive Government; we have all the best flying opinion behind us; things are pretty hot, and we have no time to waste; it is notified for information that the following are the men we want," I believe every man will rejoice in having once in a way got a bit of leadership, and will say, Take me if you want me, and leave me if you do not.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
My hon. and gallant Friend (Major Baird) at the end of his last speech said a word or two with regard to this Amendment. The basis of this Bill is, in the first place, the determination of the Government that the whole of the Air Services must be treated as one; and, in the second place, it depends on the good will of the two Departments which are now engaged in the Air Services and on their working harmoniously. As regards the first point, the determination that the whole of the Air Services must be treated as one and transferred to the new Department and become a new service independent of either the Admiralty or the Army Council—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
The whole of it—that is the first consideration. The second 447 is that this conclusion was come to, and both the Army and the Navy loyally accepted it, and by accepting it have put themselves in this position, that they have come under an obligation, which I am sure will be carried out, to act in the spirit and to transfer the whole services to this new body as soon as it is possible to set it up. That is the position in a nutshell. This Bill in the middle of war would be absolutely impossible if there was not good will on the part of the two Services for carrying on the Air Service. That is the essence of it. Then comes the question of voluntary as compared with compulsory transfer. That deals with two different sets of conditions. The first is the men themselves. I do not think there is any member of the Committee who would want to make it compulsory on the part of pilots in the Air Service to be transferred at this moment.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
I will give my reason. At this moment, if an officer who is transferred to the Flying Corps were to say, "I prefer to go back to my old Service," he would not be retained, and for this reason: Every member of the Committee knows that this is a service which, above all others, requires nerve and enthusiasm, and it is quite obvious that no one would retain for a minute a man in this position if the man himself felt that he would rather be in some other position.
§ Mr. HARCOURT:
I rather specifically said in my speech that the pilot stood on a very different footing, but that there were a very large number of other officers and men who were not pilots.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
To a certain extent they have the right now to go back to their old Services. The experience in this War has shown that instead of people wanting to go out of the Air Service, all the inclination is to remain in. I do think the Committee may be under no fear that we will lose on account of this option being given. If my hon. Friend refers to mechanics and people of that kind, there need be no apprehension, since their position is really much better than under either the Army or the Navy. I think the Committee can rely on no loss being sustained on that point. There might be more objection to the right of the Army Council or the Board of Admiralty not to 448 allow particular men to be transferred. I do not think it is unreasonable that both those bodies should have the right in exceptional cases to say that a particular man should be retained in his own Service. I admit at once, if that right were to be exercised to any extent, then the whole object of this Bill would be defeated, and the thing could not be done. It rests, as I have said, on good will. There is not only the determination of the Cabinet, but there is the acceptance of that determination on the part of the heads of the two Services. I am sure the Committee can rely that this is a power which will not be exercised except in most unusual and exceptional cases. If by any chance the Board of Admiralty or the Army Council were to be unreasonable, then the new Secretary of State of the Air Department would have a position of authority equal to theirs, and would have the right to bring the question to the Cabinet, in order to see that his intentions were carried out. I will ask the Committee not to press for this Amendment. All these questions of arrangements have been thrashed out between the three Departments concerned. They formed the subject of a great deal of negotiation. It has been done with the utmost good will on all sides, and I do not think the Committee, without the strongest reasons, should upset an arrangement which has been come to by those engaged in framing the Bill.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS:
I am very pleased indeed that the Leader of the House has come down to answer our questions on this matter. I really think, considering the great importance of the Air Service of the country, that we should have had his statement on the Second Reading. We pressed for it and we got nothing, and I tried again this afternoon to bring the matter up on the Money Resolution. The statement, the very important statement, now made by the right hon. Gentleman has entirely altered my view of the Bill. I only point that out to show how much better it is to be open with the House, and to tell us what you are doing, and in that case many of us are only too anxious to help you in passing the Bill. We could not doubt, when we saw the Bill, that there was something behind it, but the statement of the right hon. Gentleman has satisfied me that the whole of the Air Services are to be handed over, and, in reply to my question, he 449 repeated that. I could not help doubting, when I saw this skeleton Bill, and when I saw this Clause making it quite possible that nobody need go over to the new Force in the middle of a great war, and that you would have in this most important Service a new leader of the Service and no force behind him. That seemed to me to be an absolutely impossible situation to take up. You only had to tell us that you intended, and that the Admiralty intended, and the War Office intended, honestly and honourably, to carry out the proposal, and the whole doubt went by the board. Still, I do not like Clause 3, even now. Of course, I waive my opposition, and would not think any more of dividing the House.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS:
It is permissive still, and I do not like it. Let me remind the House what has been done with soldiers who from their childhood up have and there are many such who were were suddenly taken and put on bicycles, and there are many such men who were trained as Cavalry, and who have now been turned into Infantry. That is so, because they are fighting for their country, and the country is in danger. I remember in one of the first interviews I had with Lord Kitchener he asked me, "How is your R.A.M.C. getting on?" I said, "I have some of the finest men in the world," and he then remarked, "Turn them all into Artillery." If that is what our great soldier did, why should we hesitate to-day? We do not ask these men to change their profession or their customs or lives in any way whatsoever. We simply say that instead of being under the mixed command of the Air Board with a little soldier and sailor thrown in, we are putting you under one command. I say it is an absurd position, even now, and although I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I think this Amendment ought to be accepted, and that it ought to go out to the country that you are in earnest in your determination that this shall be a great force, and that every man who is in the Air Forces now shall come into the new Air Force. Even now I shall leave this House to-day with a certain amount, not of doubt about the right hon. Gentleman's good intentions, I am quite certain of that, or any doubt as to the Air member of the Army Council, Sir David Henderson, or Commodore Paine, the Fifth Naval Lord, I have no doubt about them. But you 450 have a large body of men who have strong feelings about this junction between the Army and the Navy; there are questions of rank. I may say that if you leave it as a voluntary arrangement, I think you will not get over all the men you want.
The Government are making a great mistake. Even at the last moment I think if you asked those gallant men who are going to be your air force, there would be no question of what their answer would be. I think that you are only hesitating over this because you have got doubts of the good faith of the Admiralty. How can we help having doubts when we know from the moment this outside agitation began, and a very proper agitation, which compelled the Government to bring in this Bill what the Admiralty did. Why do we doubt their honesty on this matter? What did they do? They started immediately from that moment bringing all the naval officers in the Naval Flying Service a great deal more firmly under the Admiralty. They started making aeroplanes, and all kinds of air machines in the dockyards. There was no necessity to do that in any way. They were not doing it before the War. I should like to have that contradicted, but I would even doubt an official contradiction, because my information on the subject is such, that unless I was taken into the dockyards and could actually see that those machines were not being made on the benches, I should doubt, because we all know they are being made. I say that that only began at the time that the Admiralty were beginning to fear that the Naval Air Service would be taken away from them. I do hope that the Government, before the Report stage, will carefully consider this matter. I am sure that they, like all of us, have only one cause at heart, and that is that our Air Service shall be the finest Service in the world. If you are going to hesitate, what will happen? Captain So-and-so—and I am speaking of a naval captain—will say, "How am I to be placed as regards Colonel So-and-so?" and Admiral So-and-so will say, "How am I to be placed as regards General So-and-so?" With these technical questions you will have deals and counter-deals and backstair work of all kinds. There is one other thing. It will cost the Exchequer a great deal of money, and, above all people, that aspect should appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If you have got to bribe 451 these men to come over and to say, "We will increase your pay," that is all to the disadvantage of the country and it is absolutely unnecessary. The Amendment which my hon. and gallant Friend has moved, and of which I also gave notice, as well as the omission of paragraph (a), would simply have provided that any person would be liable to be taken over. Let me remind the Committee also that under this Clause the men are only called on to serve during the period of the War. Why should you not do this in the case of these men as in the case of those whom you made ploughmen, and quite properly so? I say it would be quite proper in this case to do similarly if the interests of the State demand that it should be done. The whole question is "only for the period of the War," or "not exceeding four years." I should like to see that four years knocked out. I shall certainly not vote for the Amendment in view of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but I do hope that before the Report stage he will consider this matter, and discuss it with the naval and military officers who are responsible for the Flying Force and not with the Army Council or Board of Admiralty. If he will do that, I have no doubt he will come here and ask us to adopt the Amendment which is now asked for.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW:
I am not going to reply again to the arguments put forward in favour of the Amendment, but I would point out that all that my hon. Friends have said about the difficulty of making these arrangements as between the different Services is only an additional reason for not refusing to accept the compromise which has been arranged. May I add that I have to leave the House now to meet a deputation, and I thought I should like to inform the House of that fact.
§ Sir H. NORMAN:
Anything my right hon. Friend says, and any kind of undertaking he gives is instantly accepted at full value by every Member of the House. I am sorry, however, in spite of his appeal, that I cannot accept the situation as it is now left. The general view is really—and I think I must call attention to it—that this is a permissive Bill only. I do not think a Bill of this character on a subject of such far-reaching importance should be left as only one of a permissive character. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Navy and the Army had come under an 452 obligation. Why is it an obligation? It is an obligation resulting only from private conferences. Why should not that obligation be frankly in the Bill? The words which fell from my right hon. Friend, may I point out to every member of the Committee, describe exactly what took place. I have no knowledge whatever; I am simply drawing what seems to me the natural inference from what has just been said by the Leader of the House. He spoke of a delicate and difficult arrangement come to between the Government on the one hand and the Board of Admiralty and the Army Council on the other. Is it not a natural inference from that that the Board of Admiralty and the Army Council have agreed to accept the Bill as it is, on condition that these two lines in Clause 2, and the corresponding lines in Clause 8 remain? In regard to these I have handed in an Amendment. That is to say, they have agreed, provided that the Bill remains of a permissive character. If that be a fair and natural inference, and I think it is, then it is a very, very significant one indeed. The phrase has been used about flying officers "being transferred." I would like to point out that this transference is really only a transference in name. It does not mean that a flying officer shall necessarily leave the front and go somewhere else. It does not mean that he will be taken away against his will and attached to a different unit. It does not mean that he will wear a different uniform. It makes no difference whatever to him personally, except that he will owe allegiance to another Minister of State, and will be under the control of another Minister, instead of the Board of Admiralty on the one hand or the Secretary of State for War on the other. One might almost say that it is a matter of book-keeping, of entries. This transference will make no other difference to him whatever. I think, therefore, that undue importance is being attached to it.
If this agreement has really been come to—we know now that it is, because the right hon. Gentleman has told us so—what possible reason can there be for not putting it in the Bill? If the new Air Service is to be the great, splendid service of the future which we all hope, and confidently expect, you will want all the best men in it. Not only that, but it must be a Service to which they will be very proud to belong. For that purpose the permissive element, it seems to me, must 453 come out, and for that reason, although very reluctant, as one always is not to respond to the right hon Gentleman, I must confess myself still wholly unsatisfied.
§ Lord H. CECIL:
I hope the Amendment will not be ultimately pressed after the very important declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It must be remembered that the organisation and control of the Air Service, and of the Army and the Navy, are primarily administrative matters. It is quite true that Parliament in the old days, to preserve the liberty of the subject, placed certain restrictions on the prerogative of the Crown in respect of the grant of public money. Parliament has to give its consent. It is necessary, also, that there should be administrative discipline; this requires statutory regulation. Therefore in various ways Parliament has to cooperate in military and naval, or, as we now say, matters connected with the Air Force. But it remains true that, fundamentally, the thing is an administrative act, an executive power, lodged in the Crown. It certainly is not desirable to enlarge further than necessary the statutory regulations attaching to the Crown's exercise of its authority in any particular way, further, that is to say, than the public interest requires. Therefore, the general character of the Bill is so far permissive that it leaves the Crown to set up an Air Force, and to remove whatever stands in the way, so far as may be necessary. Perhaps I am speaking rather in a disorderly manner in, for the moment, dealing with the general character of the Bill. But in regard to this particular Clause there is a speciallly permissive character. I think the objections to the permissive character in respect of the control of the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty have been completely removed by the important declaration made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have learned from that declaration first, that this Bill is not merely an Air Board Bill, but the policy of the War Cabinet put before Parliament as part of the policy of the War Cabinet; and, secondly, that the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty are obviously—the Government could not have promoted the particular purposes of this Bill unless that were so—consenting parties, and willingly consenting in the public interest.
454 Surely there is no reason—not the slightest—to anticipate that the Army Council or the Board of Admiralty will use their veto unreasonably. If such a thing happened the War Cabinet, in carrying out their policy, would certainly overrule it. These declarations of the right hon. Gentleman are, I think, of very great importance. I do not share—nor have I at any time shared—the apprehensions of the right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the benches opposite a few minutes ago, that there will be left about fragments of the Air Service, partly in the Army and partly in the Navy. That seems to me, with all respect, a rather fantastic conception; if it happened it would incredibly complicate matters. It was stated that there was a danger or suspicion, which does not affect in the slightest degree either the Army Council or the Board of Admiralty, of there being an anxiety to retain officers of great ability in their own Service—of being very unwilling to lose their services. Accordingly something which may be called picking out the plums from the Services may take place. The Army Council might refuse permission to hand over a number of able men not because they wish to do anything spiteful to the Air Service, but because they genuinely wished to retain the able officers in their own services. I think the declaration of the Chancellor removes that fear. If that were done in any manner that interfered with the efficiency of the Air Service, it would be done contrary to the declaration to which we have listened. We may, therefore, I think, assume it will not be done.
I do not think there can be any objection to giving the option in the Bill to the Board of Admiralty or the Army Council. There is, indeed, a very good reason for doing so. We who are discussing in this House are apt to take the broad outlines. In the actual working out of these administrative problems an enormous number of difficult cases arise. There will be a considerable number of cases in which it may be that there is a doubt as to whether the public service would be best served by men serving in the Navy, or Army, or in the Air Service. It may be that a man is temporarily lent—the case of a Staff officer, say—avowedly lent, temporarily, and for a particular purpose, to the Air Service who never had any intention of permanently joining the Air Service and who, it was never anticipated, would do so. There is an infinite gradation of cases.
455 It is quite possible and reasonable that the Air Council may decide straight away that particular officers should be taken into the Air Service. They would be bound to consult the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty and get their consent. The matter is much more likely to be done better, and more efficiently, and with regard to all due considerations, if done in this way. We do not get much in administrative matters with compulsion. If Parliament comes down strong with all its supreme authority to coerce the Army Council or the Board of Admiralty, we are not in the end likely to get very willing service, or more cordial co-operation, than if it be left to the good will of the Services and their loyalty to the best public interests.
In regard to the choice, then, of the individual by the Army Council or the Admiralty, my hon. Friend behind me, in an admirable speech, described with very great truth the danger of the voluntary system. A person is reluctant on various sentimental grounds. No doubt in many cases it is a very weighty consideration. I do not, however, think it applies in this case, because all the esprit de corps will be on the side of the Air Service. The people who come to give the Service help for a short time, and who are temporarily attached, may well be better in the Army or the Navy, but persons whom it is perfectly plain should be in the Air Service are likely to be attached to it by the esprit de corps. In many cases, moreover, they hold a better position and have better pay. I do not think the choice is likely to be unreasonably used. It will be observed that there is a matter of machinery in the exercise of choice which is really of importance. Every man, every officer, called upon by the Air Council will be transferred, or attached, as the case may be, unless he sends notice in writing saying he does not wish to be; thereupon he will be retransferred. That makes a good deal of difference. Everybody knows that a man will not take the trouble to get himself attached or transferred if he has any doubt or hesitation, but he will not take the trouble to get himself retransferred if he finds that he has already been transferred. That saves a good deal of administrative labour by taking the matter for granted, unless the contrary is shown. Here, again, I believe you find, by allowing the voluntary 456 system—though it is perfectly reasonable to coerce people in time of war—that you will get the best for the Air Service. If a man feels that he has been brought in by force, reluctantly—a point of view not at all likely to arise—he would give reluctant and unwilling service to the Air Board, and would look back to the Army or Navy with regret. But if this is a matter of his own choice, and he is a perfectly free agent to do as he pleases, it will be all the better for the Air Service.
I am, and always have been, a great believer in voluntary choice. I greatly dislike compulsory service, necessary as it is in time of war, and I believe in many respects we get a much better spirit in the Service if you base it on voluntary choice. Therefore, I do not regret the choice given to the officers concerned, and it will be observed that if an officer, against the will of both the Air Council and the Army Council, or the Admiralty, exercises his option unreasonably, in a manner his superiors disapprove, he will be in a very bad position, and certainly neither the Army Council nor the Board of Admiralty would feel bound to find him a new job if he acted unreasonably in refusing the Air Council's job. Therefore, it is a liberty which could only be exercised in reasonable circumstances if a man has a good ground for doing so. I am confident that, after the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Air Service can be carried through efficiently on these voluntary lines, but, if not, it would be for the War Cabinet to take the necessary measures. The all-important part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's declaration is that it is the policy of the War Cabinet to make an independent Air Force, and that they are prepared to carry that through by exercising the authority in their hands. That declaration is worth all the compulsory provisions you could put in an Act of Parliament, because it is a declaration made by those who have the power to carry it out, and it is consistent with maintaining an atmosphere of good will between all concerned.
§ Mr. MACMASTER:
I think, in order to appreciate Clause 3, we must have regard to certain other Clauses in the Bill. On first reading this Clause the impression one would naturally get would be that this new Service, from which much was to be expected, was practically a voluntary service, and that it depended very largely upon the opinion and the 457 view of the Admiralty and the Army Council to what extent it should be successful. That was my own impression, and the impression that very largely prevailed. But I do not think that that is the real meaning of the Bill. Clause 3 is a mere incident in the Bill. The substantial Clause of the Bill is Clause 1, which provides for the establishment and the maintenance of an Air Force. Clause 3 is a mere provision for the transference of certain officers of the Army and Navy from their existing services into the new force to be set up under Clause 1. I characterised this as a permissive Clause, and, to a certain extent, it is; but it is also largely an obligatory Clause, because the word "may" empowers the transference of the qualified officers of the Army and Navy to the new force, always subject to the consent of the individual, and subject to the consent of the Army Council or the Admiralty. In that respect it is permissive—that is to say, the permission of the Admiralty or the Army Council must be obtained, and the consent of the man, before he can be transferred. Is that an unreasonable provision? I think the Noble Lord has made out a very strong case why it is not an unreasonable provision. I do not refer at the moment to the objection which might be made by the individual, but I refer to the case of the Admiralty and the Army Council.
We cannot forget, while we are establishing a new armed force, that many of the men who are at present engaged in the service of the air have come from the Army and the Navy, and they may be extremely useful, and, in fact, necessary in the very services that they are now performing. It might be rather a disadvantage, therefore, if the Bill were made so rigorous that at once it would be in the power of the authority to say to a particular section of the Army men or Navy men, "We wish to transfer you at once into the new force," disregarding the actual necessities of the War, so that an agreement has been arrived at, on the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, between the Army and the Navy with regard to this matter. I think it is reasonable that it should be permissive, and that the word "may" should be retained as to the time of the transference, and the necessity for the transference, and that the Act, reasonably worked under such an instruction, would be quite successful, in view of the general provision in Clause 1. On the first view 458 I was rather in favour of the Amendment, but after full consideration I believe that this Clause is a wise Clause and a necessary Clause, and that it does not impair in any respect the vital power of the first Clause of the Bill constituting an efficient Air Force.
§ Colonel WEIGALL:
The Leader of the House cleared the air considerably by his declaration, but he also added, at any rate to my mind, one further difficulty. He made it absolutely clear that the Air Force was to be wholly separate, and a self-contained, complete force. Agreed. I only rise to ask that one point should be cleared up, and I hope that if this point is cleared up by the Government the efficiency of the force will not suffer. You have already, both here and overseas, an adequate administrative machine. There are now clearly defined commands of the Air Force which have their full and adequate administrative machine. Is it intended to superimpose another self-contained administrative machine? The hon. and gallant Member in charge of the Bill informed us that there would be an officer corresponding to the Q.M.G. and the D.G.O. to deal with the administrative service. But I do want to suggest that, in the interests of economy, we cannot spare the extra man-power and the extra money-power for further self-contained administrative machines to carry out these administrative services for a force that will have to be located in a command which already possesses an administrative machine to carry out fully those duties. I realise that, from the point of view of the senior officer in charge of the corps, it would be extremely difficult to draw a line as to where the administration begins and where it ends. Certain broad administrative services would remain, as I suggest, most economically and most effectively under the Army Council. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give me an answer, although obviously I do not expect that he can give a detailed answer as to where it is to begin and where it is to end. All that I suggest is that where, without loss of efficiency, existing machinery can be used for administrative purposes, it will be so used.
There is only one other point. In his earlier remarks my hon. and gallant Friend led us to believe that the acquisition of land for aerodromes and so on was to be handed over to a new officer on the Air Council. I am sure he did not 459 intend that, and why I am so sure is that only this morning, on the sub-Committee of the War Office which is inquiring into naval expenditure, we had a great deal of detailed evidence from Sir David Henderson and Sir Howard Frank, Director of Lands, War Office, and Ministry of Munitions, which was in direct contradiction to the statement made here by my hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure he did not intend to convey to the Committee that there was to be a new Lands Branch, which obviously could only add to the difficulties in every way, because the Director of Lands to-day has centralised all the work so as to secure efficiency and economy. Therefore, I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend did not intend to convey that the acquisition of land for aerodromes in future would be taken out of the extremely efficient Lands Branch.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS:
There is one question I would like to put with regard to the transfer of officers and men. I gather from the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that everybody serving in the existing Air Forces is going to be transferred to the new force. I want that to be made perfectly clear. I suppose my hon. and gallant Friend does accept that view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech. Then I want to go one step further, and to express the hope that, in the event of any officer or man under the preceding part of the Clause desiring not to be transferred, that officer or man will not remain in some kind of ethereal, emasculated Royal Flying Corps, but will be sent back to some other section of the Army. I want it to be made perfectly clear that no residuum of a Flying Corps will remain in connection with the Army. My hon. and gallant Friend nods approval. That is the only question I desire to ask.
§ 6.0 P.M
§ Mr. LYNCH:
This Clause seems to be the crux of the whole Bill, and, according to the decision that is given, I believe that this Bill will be a great success or a great failure. I differ from the Leader of the House in the view that there is no man who desires to make it compulsory that all men should be transferred. I am one of those who would make it automatic, because the transference does not necessarily mean that any man who is doing good service in the Army or Navy will be removed from the position in which he is doing that service, but it gives power and authority 460 to the new Secretary of State to accomplish the very difficult task that we are now placing before him. Take the matter from another standpoint. I would say that this Bill has been brought into being by a great exterior danger, and what we want is rapidity to form and develop a huge air force, which is capable of meeting the Germans at every point, and not merely holding our own on any front and gaining successes here and there, but developing it to such a degree and with such intensity that once and for all the question of air supremacy is settled so that no German craft can live above the horizon. That is possible only on one condition that the whole of the forces of the country are bent upon it, and that every energy is utilised and every facility given to the man who is to carry it out. Let us look at it from the point of view of the psychology of the new Secretary of State. He may be a new man and even hitherto unused to administration but yet endowed with great faculties, but he will find himself confronted with men who have held responsible posts in the Air Service, who feel their own responsibility and the great importance of their own services. If this Bill is made permissive the new Air Minister will have to fight his corner against these influences and powers and the end will probably be a wretched compromise such as the Bill indicates, and, after six months, if the Air Minister happens to be a Member of this, House, he will come down here and explain that he has done his best and done all that was humanly possible. You should make this arrangement automatic with the whole Service. If the flying man passes under the control of this Council the Allies win, but if you make it permissive the Germans win.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I would like to add one or two words on this Amendment, but the major portion of my remarks I wish to reserve for the Amendment standing in my name.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Donald Maclean):
I do not know whether the hon. Member is referring to the next Amendment standing in his name.
§ Mr. BILLING:
My Amendment is to leave out all words after the word 461 "consent," and the Amendment we are discussing is to leave out all words after the word "may." This Amendment provides that the new Secretary of State shall have power to conscript men against their will and against the will of the Army and Navy, whereas my Amendment is that they shall not have that power but that they shall have power to override the Army and Navy.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN:
I understand the hon. Member proposes to make another speech on that Amendment.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I will leave my remarks on that subject until we reach my Amendment on the Paper. I would be willing to support this Amendment even against my view that it is necessary to make it compulsory on the men, and if some such Amendment is not carried in one form or another the Bill will be absolutely wrecked. From personal experience in the Service I say that if you are going to allow the Army and the Navy to have control as to who shall and who shall not be transferred to the new Air Service the new Air Minister and the Air Council will occupy their time in corresponding with the respective Services trying to get the transfer of men. I have seen many cases of men who desire to transfer into the Air Service, and hardly a day goes by when I do not receive less than twelve letters from men anxious to get transferred into the Air Service, but the authorities will not give them permission.
We have heard a most remarkable statement from the Leader of the House. In a most dramatic manner he tells us that all we are pleading for is going to be done, but it is not going to be embodied in the Bill. What does that statement mean? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean us to understand that the whole of the Naval Air Service, as well as the Royal Flying Corps, are going to be transferred piecemeal against their will into the new Air Service? The proposition is absolutely impossible. Is it suggested, if this Amendment is carried, that a man with ten years service in the Navy is going to be transferred, with or without seniority into the Air Service against his will. Quite a large proportion of these officers are officers of the Royal Navy. Are those men who have transferred themselves to the Royal Naval Air Service going to be claimed by the Air Minister without any regard to their past service, or to ten or fifteen years service, 462 and lose their seniority as well? They may have attached themselves to the Air Service for the duration of the War, and they may wish to return to the Grand Fleet or the Navy at the end of the War. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that everything was going to be handed over to the Air Minister. Does that include the anti-aircraft guns? Personally I should be in favour of that. Does it include the airships which at present time are under the control of the Navy and not the Air Board at all? Presumably the Chancellor of the Exchequer wishes us to understand that these things which were mentioned as being now under the control of the Air Board will be handed over to the Air Council. The airships are not under the control of the Air Board, and perhaps the hon. Member will tell us whether airships, dirigibles, kite balloons, and all the various paraphernalia connected with aviation are going to be handed over to the Air Services. If you are going to hand over everything to the Air Council you are doing a reckless thing which will be attended with disaster so far as the Grand Fleet is concerned.
Hon. Members are quite aware how keenly I feel on the matter of this Air Service, and how anxious I am, that this Bill should become an Act with as little delay as possible, in order that a great Imperial Air Service shall spring up out of the ashes of the present Service, which will be consumed in the creation of this Service. Surely it is an impossible thing to say that aeroplanes which are fitted and specially constructed for service with the Grand Fleet for rising from and alighting on the decks of battleships, with officers trained to naval strategy, are going to be handed over piecemeal to the Air Service, because that is preposterous. I want here and now some assurance from the Front Bench that no such action is contemplated. To suggest, as the hon. Member for Brentwood (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) did, that these are merely fragments which are to be left for the Army and Navy is absurd, for any hon. Member who has only made a cursory study of aviation knows that there are definite functions for aeroplanes in connection with the Grand Fleet.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN:
I am not able to connect the hon. Member's remark with this Amendment, and it appears to me that they would be much more relevant to another Clause in the Bill.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I am now addressing myself to the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this Amendment as to what it proposed to do, and since the right hon. Gentleman made his statement naturally other hon. Members have referred to it. I do not know whether you, Sir Donald, were in the Chair when the statement was made, but if you were, I think you would appreciate what a dramatic statement it was, and what a bearing it has upon the whole Bill. Of course, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was out of order—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN:
I do not think the hon. Member is in order. I did hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, and I have heard what other hon. Members have said, but the remarks of the hon. Member are more relevant to another Clause of the Bill.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I think it is quite unnecessary to give the Air Minister compulsory power to draw in these men. It is not only unnecessary, but it is unwise and impossible, because if he has these compulsory powers he will be able practically to call up all the officers of the Grand Fleet into the Air Service, and the Admiralty could not refuse to deliver the goods, a thing which I suggested was quite impossible for us to permit. I ask the hon. Member in whose name the Amendment stands (Mr. Harcourt) to seriously consider the advisability of giving the Air Minister these powers to conscript Naval officers with long seniority and sea service into the Air Service, and I ask him whether he does not think that, having regard to the fact that possibly 50 per cent. of the present members of the Army and Navy would willingly and cheerfully volunteer for service in the Air Service, he would so alter his Amendment as to make it compulsory on the Army and Navy to release such men who volunteered for the Service, and not hold them back, and not make it compulsory on the men to join at the dictation of the Air Minister.
§ Mr. HARCOURT:
I do not know to what portion of the Amendment the hon. Member refers, but if he wants the individual to have the option I am entirely in agreement with him.
§ Mr. WATT:
I have listened with attention to the Debate on this question, and I have noticed that all the speakers with a single exception have been in favour of 464 the Amendment. Yet my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Harcourt) is just about to withdraw it. How has that come about? It has come about owing to the observations of the Leader of the House, who said it was the intention of the framers of the measure that these men should be so transferred. The Committee, therefore, is accepting from the Front Bench a Parliamentary assertion that an Act of Parliament will work in a certain way. Anyone who has had experience of assurance given in Debate from the Front Bench will realise that, although the right hon. Gentleman has made that statement quite bonâ fide in the House, it is beyond his power to see that his promise is carried out. I, therefore, suggest that hon. Members should keep the Report stage in view so that it may be made a thorough measure by the automatic transfer of men and material instead of leaving it a matter of consent or approval by the Admiralty and War Office. Such a provision for approval is apt to give rise to wire-pulling whereby one man is transferred and another retained.
§ Commander BELLAIRS:
I do not appreciate the difficulties which the hon. Member for East Hertfordshire (Mr. Billing) anticipates with regard to naval officers. I do not see why they should not be transferred. The Clause states that it is for the period of the War or for a period not exceeding four years. They are serving as airmen and there is no reason why they should not serve under the Air Ministry, just as marine officers are lent to the Army and then come back to the Navy. They will not be injured in any way in their careers. Their natural calling for the War is that of the Air Service.
§ Major BAIRD:
The hon. Member for East Hertfordshire (Mr. Billing) was correct in drawing attention to the fact that if the Amendment were pressed it would enable the Air Minister to lay violent hands upon anybody in the Grand Fleet, and to automatically transfer him to the Air Service without any interference on the part of the Admiralty. It would also enable him to take over a whole battalion of the Coldstream Guards or anybody else in either of those two Services. That is not the intention of my hon. Friend (Mr. Harcourt), though it would be the effect of the Amendment if it were carried out.
§ Mr. HARCOURT:
I specifically said that you must assume that the Air Ministry are reasonable and judicious people.
§ Major BAIRD:
And that is precisely what I should like to ask to be assumed on behalf of the Admiralty and the War Office. Unless we can assume it, the whole thing will not work. My hon. Friend the Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) asserted that the Leader of the House had undertaken a responsibility which he would be unable to carry out. I do not think that anybody who has taken any part in the administration of any of the Government offices during the present regimé can possibly complain. After all, this is the decision of the War Cabinet, and, if the Admiralty or the War Office do not want to carry it out, then the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Secretary of State for War must resign. Is it conceivable, when the Air Minister says that he wants a post captain, who is at the same time a distinguished airman, and the Admiralty says that he cannot have him, and when the War Cabinet says the Air Minister is to have him, that the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to resign? Hon. Members have ignored the fact that this Bill has been accepted by all the parties concerned, and that there is every intention of making the thing work well. We are all very keen to beat the Germans, and we think that this is a good way to do it. Hon. Members have expressed a fear as to a residuum of the Naval Air Service or of the Royal Flying Corps being left somewhere, but it has been specifically decided by the Government that the two Services are to be absorbed. I am quite sure that hon. Members are not really in favour of having three separate Air Services. The difficulty arising from two separate Air Services and supplying them with men and material with the danger of competition between the two makes one perfectly horrified at the idea of having three competing Services. It is precisely for the purpose of eliminating competition between the two existing Services and unifying the training, supply, and everything else that this Bill has been introduced.
I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed. In its present form it would undoubtedly empower the Air Minister to take over a battalion of the Coldstream Guards or to deplete half-a-dozen ships in 466 the Navy of their officers. It would confer those powers, and undoubtedly that is not my hon. Friend's intention. I would ask the House to realise this valid reason for agreeing to the condition which safeguards the dignity of the Admiralty and the War Office with regard to their own officers and men. The great bulk of the Air Service will be engaged with the Navy and the Army. It will be the first duty of the Air Ministry to supply the Navy and the Army with their contingents of airmen and their aircraft. If we start on bad terms with the Navy and the Army there will be opportunities for friction and for difficulties which are really quite unnecessary if we start on good terms with them, and those opportunities should not be given merely in order to satisfy a view which is based on the desire to make the thing more logical. You cannot have everything absolutely logical in war-time.
There is another point which deserves attention. These officers and men in the Navy and in the Army have entered into a contract represented by the Naval Discipline Act and by the Army Act. If those Acts are going to be varied, surely it is only right and fair that all parties to the contract should be consulted and have a chance of giving their opinions. This is a separate force and a separate service, and if you are going to transfer men to it from the Navy and the Army, surely it is only right that the Navy or the Army, as the case may be, should be able to say whether the men proposed to be transferred are indispensable to them or not. Surely the men and officers are equally entitled to say whether they wish the contract that was entered into with them to be varied. It is for those reasons that I venture to hope the Committee will be satisfied with the declaration made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the intention of the Government and the decision of the Government is to substitute a central Air Force for the two forces that now exist with the object of supplying the needs of the Army and the Navy from that common pool, and, in addition, with the object of doing other work. I hope that we may now come to a decision, and that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "and subject to the approval of the Admiralty or Army Council (as the case may be").
467 There is an essential difference between these two Amendments, and, after what I have heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I am quite sure that he will be prepared to very seriously consider this Amendment. In opposition to the last Amendment he put forward the objection, which is a very serious one, and which, naturally, I uphold, that it would put it in the power of the Air Ministry to commandeer a regiment of the Coldstream Guards or officers of the Grand Fleet. I feel sure that the hon. Member who moved that Amendment and myself are quite at one in what we are trying to accomplish. We do not wish it to be within the power of the Admiralty or the Army Council to refuse a man permission if he actually wants to join the Air Service.
§ Mr. BILLING:
My contention is that you will find plenty of men willing to join the Air Service, but, on the other hand, a great number of them may be direct entries into the Navy. The formation of the Royal Naval Air Service brought into being a new type of naval officer who is known as the direct entry man. Some of these men are not first-class naval officers and never will be—a number of them have only a nodding acquaintance with discipline—but they have that which is of great value, a knowledge of aviation and a very valuable knowledge of the new Service. On the other hand, you will find in the Royal Naval Air Service quite a number of deep sea sailors who, through their association with these men for the past four or five years and through the great spirit of enterprise and imagination which they have thrown into their work, will, in my opinion, be quite sufficient to form the nucleus of that technical staff which is absolutely necessary to the existence of the Grand Fleet, and over them the Admiralty should have complete control. It would be a very great pity if the Air Service ever got hold of them, because it would be a loss which the Navy could not possibly make up. This Amendment does not render that at all likely. If a man is anxious to take up flying as a career—at present there is nothing in either of the Services or in this Bill to encourage a man to take up flying as a career—it would be most unfortunate if either the Army or the Navy should have the power to stop him or to cancel his application. If he wants to go into the 468 Imperial Air Service he ought to be able to do so. If that is not done, my experience leads me to believe that, anyhow for the duration of this War, neither the Army nor the Navy will give permission to any of their first-class men to transfer. Although we have had an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that everything is going to be transferred from the Army and the Navy to the Air Force, I beg leave to doubt that statement, and would qualify it considerably. I only hope it is not true.
We must give every man in the British Army or Navy to-day who thinks he has a special faculty for flying, and who is anxious to excel as a pilot, the right to join this new Service whether his late officers wish him to do so or not. If you make it a matter of permission, a man is put in a false position. If he wants to join the Air Service, he puts in a chit to his commanding officer, who turns him down. Later on he still wants to join, and puts in another chit and asks that it should be passed along. If he presses his request on his commanding officer, I dare say he becomes almost as unpopular as I shall become by pressing this Amendment on the pilot of this Bill. Even if the man eventually gets through, there is always the fear in his mind that, no matter what action is taken, he may not succeed. He is frightened to press his case for fear that if he does succeed he will be penalised because he wants to leave his present Service. It is absolutely essential that some of the best men should be encouraged to volunteer for this Service in order to form its nucleus, and that they should be encouraged to remain in the Service. They should not merely be loaned by the Admiralty, with the right to go back to the Navy. That sort of thing leaves a man in a most unsettled state.
This is not a War measure; this is a Bill for the foundation of a Service upon which, in the next two or three years, the very existence of this Empire will depend. It is no more a War measure than the Army Act. We must, therefore, frame this Bill so that it makes of this Service a real thing and not a temporary patched-up affair by which you borrow officers from one Service or the other, either men from the Grand Fleet or Hussars or Guards from the Army. We want the minds of the men in this Service to be in a settled state, and we want them to have a settled position so that they may renounce the sea and the field and take up the air as a 469 profession. If we leave it in the power of the Admiralty or the War Office to control these volunteers, they will be very slow in coming forward, one reason being that they will not want to show their hands to their immediate superiors. Naval officers will not want to show their hands to the Lords of the Admiralty if they want to get out of the Navy and into the new Service. I am sure that if they have to put in a chit saying that they want to join the Air Service and thereupon they will be allowed to do so, the Admiralty will have to set up a staff to deal with the applications that they received from these men. On the other hand, if you make it compulsory for a man to join, the Amendment would not hold water, because it would give the Air Minister powers which neither the Admiralty nor the War Office possesses. There are not very many Members in the Committee now. I am afraid a good many Members regard this Bill as a political plaster to be applied to the running sores of the two Services, and say to themselves that, no matter what happens, it will do. I want hon. Members to understand that this Bill is the seed from which the supremacy of the air, if it ever comes to us, is going to be born, and that this Clause is going to be the making or the breaking of the Bill.
§ Mr. MACMASTER:
The effect of the Amendment of the hon. Member is simply to require the Air Council to commandeer any men in the Army or the Navy who is ready to go into the Air Service.
§ Mr. BILLING:
No. It is exactly the reverse. It is to give every man a chance of choosing the Service he likes, without interference on the part of the Army, the Navy, or the Air Council.
§ Mr. MACMASTER:
If the hon. Member will consider the terms of the Amendment in conjunction with the Clause, he will see that it gives the Air Council the power to commandeer from the Army and the Navy any man who is willing to go. I do not think the Air Service should be discouraged. Everybody should be encouraged to go into it, at any rate those fitted to fill the position of airmen. While that is undoubtedly true, it would be most unfair to the two old Services that the new Service should have the power, regardless of the necessities of the old Services, to say that they want this man from the Army and that man from the Navy, quite regardless of the necessities of the situation.
§ Mr. BILLING:
May I point out that the Clause says:
"Any officer, warrant officer, petty officer, non-commissioned officer, or a man of His Majesty's naval or military forces may, with his consent, and subject to the approval of the Admiralty or Army Council (as the case may be), be transferred by the Air Council to the Air Force."
My Amendment is to remove the proviso as to the approval, so that a man will be permitted to join without being subject to it. I fail to see how, if this Amendment is passed, the Air Ministry will have any power whatever to commandeer any individual without his consent.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING:
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "not exceeding" ["for a period not exceeding four years"], and to insert instead thereof the word "of."
By this Clause you bind a man to come in for a period of four years, but you do not bind yourselves to keep him for four years. I quite appreciate that it has now become customary that a man shall serve for three years or the duration of the War, whichever be the longer. If this were a war measure pure and simple, I should not have put down this Amendment, but in view of the fact that this is a measure which, I trust, is drawn up to, encourage the creation of an Air Service, I hold that the contract that is binding on one side should be binding on the other. There may be the case of a man who is attached to some other form of service, but who has made up his mind that he would like to take up flying as a career. That type of man would be encouraged to volunteer for service, provided he was satisfied that whatever happened he would remain in the Flying Service for four years, long enough to become an expert pilot, and probably for him, to have attained that experience and efficiency which would justify the authorities in giving him promotion and retaining his services, so as to enable him to form a career for himself. On the other hand, it is suggested that the Air Service shall have an option of being able to relieve a man of his commission without any explanation or court-martial, so that it might at any time simply tell a man, "We want your services no longer." That would be a most unfortunate state of 471 affairs, and would be likely to lead to considerable abuse. Many cases have come to my notice quite recently in connection with the Air Service. I think I am right in saying that there are some 240 pilots at the present moment who have been relieved of their commissions in an informal way and told that they had better put in as medically unfit because of some friction with their commanding officer or something of that nature. If it is provided that a man shall be retained for four years, unless there is some definite charge against him, it gives him an opportunity to make good.
It is most essential for the well-being of the force that there should be a stated period of enlistment. We are now creating a new force, not merely a volunteer force for the period of the War. One quite appreciates that directly peace comes there will be a clamour throughout the country for the cutting down of expenditure, and everybody who suggests the granting of a few shillings for the purposes of munitions of war will be voted an extravagant person. We shall have a grudging Chancellor of the Exchequer and we shall have all our work cut out to get a few shillings out of him for anything like war measures. If we leave this Clause as it stands the first thing he will do will be to reduce expenditure by cutting off the wages of the officers and men who hold a contract which is terminable at the option of the Air Council. This is an occasion when it might be advisable for a statesman to lead public opinion and not to follow it. Although public opinion may be opposed to any extravagant expenditure by way of creating a new fighting force, it is absolutely essential that this force should be the last to suffer. Cut down the Army, even cut down the Navy, but do not let us vote for a provision in this Bill which will enable the popular clamour for economy to force the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce the Vote for the Air Service because he will not have the funds to do otherwise, which will mean the turning away of hundreds or even thousands of first-class men who otherwise would have been afforded, by the nature of the contract, an opportunity of having their services retained. I, therefore, press the Committee to accept the Amendment so that these men shall have a career, instead of their being made a convenience.
§ Major BAIRD
I am afraid I cannot accept the Amendment. The period not exceeding four years is put in to keep the Bill in line with the conditions that obtain now for men engaged in the Air Service. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should give an undertaking to keep a man for four years is not reasonable.
§ Mr. BILLING
You might just as well say that it is impossible to sign on a soldier in the Army or take on a man in the Navy. You have opportunities of satisfying yourself whether or not a man is capable. Indeed, you have infinitely more opportunity in this case than in the others. In the Navy you take a young boy of seven years when you do not know how good an admiral he is going to make. Do you suggest that there should be no honourable undertaking between the Admiralty and an officer to turn him down? Surely you must admit that these men whom you are taking over have proved themselves in nearly every case, and further, that this is not a war measure. I want the Government, if it possibly can, to disabuse its mind of the idea that this is a war measure. It is essentially a measure for creating a new force, and it should have passed through the House five years ago.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not think the hon. Member quite understands his own Amendment. The omission of the words "not exceeding " would have this consequence, that any officer who was attached to the Air Service would always have to be attached for four years, neither more nor less. A more absurd arrangement could not be conceived. After a very little practice his nerve might be broken, and he might be quite useless for the Air Service.
§ Mr. BILLING
Surely the Noble Lord is aware that there are other people besides pilots in the Air Service. There is a vast personnel. Does he suggest that all the rank and file of the Air Service should be in the air from day to day?
§ Major BAIRD
I think the hon. Member has omitted to notice one thing. He is talking as if this were a permanent condition. When a man permanently adopts the Air Service he is transferred. When he is attached we proposed that it shall be for a period not exceeding four years.
§ Mr. BILLING
Are we to understand that the principle on which this Council 473 is going to work is to try to avoid enlistment as much as possible and to encourage attachment? This is a most unfortunate Clause which permits of attachment, because it is going to lead to the very abuse which this House a little time ago was very anxious to prevent, namely, that this should be made a temporary measure, and that the force should consist of naval and military officers temporarily lent for the purpose.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out from the words "Provided that " to the end of the Subsection.
By these two provisoes you put it in the power of the Service to take a man away and transfer him for three months against his will, and if at the end of three months he still does not like it he can go back again. That is a way of toying with a man which should not be introduced into a serious measure. You must either make it compulsory or not compulsory. You might as well introduce a Conscription Act for conscripting the men of this country, and after you have enrolled them all in the Army, give everyone three months to make up his mind whether he wants to be in the Army or not. This must be cleared up now. Either these men must be brought in by compulsion or they must come in of their own free will. A proviso which is going to allow a man, after having been brought in by a compulsory measure, to leave at the end of three months simply means that he will say, " I am not going to stick it, so I will sit down and twiddle my thumbs for three months till I can get out of it." The thing is quite unsound. I propose to omit these paragraphs so as to leave it quite clear that this is a compulsory measure, if we cannot have a non-compulsory measure.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
May I invite the hon. and gallant Gentleman to explain what will be the effect of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's promise in regard to these two paragraphs?
§ Major BAIRD
These two paragraphs are put in with this object. Paragraph (a) is to enable an existing officer to be transferred without his consent, leaving him the right, by a subsequent provision, to be placed in the same position as if
474 he had refused to transfer. That applies to people who may be serving on distant stations. A man serving at the Cape may not be in a position to say he does not want to be transferred. He may have been transferred by his unit being taken over. Take, for instance, the case of a unit of the Royal Flying Corps serving in Mesopotamia being transferred. They carry on and do their duty exactly the same as if they were members of the Royal Flying Corps, but an officer or man may say: " I do not want to transfer to the Air Service, but to go back to my regiment." Paragraph (a) gives him the power to do so. Let me lay stress on the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which will be endorsed by every man who knows anything about the Air Service. It is perfectly useless to try to take men into the Air Service who do not want to be there. This is merely for the purpose to give a man who would be automatically transferred with his unit, and who is too far away to communicate, three months in which to say he does not want to be transferred, and in that case the transfer will be annulled. The object of paragraph (b) is to secure that the transfer shall not affect their length of service. The first proviso is necessary as a matter of administrative convenience, and it seems right that men should have an assurance, definitely set out in the Bill that no person transferred to the Air Force under the provisions of this Section shall be liable to serve with the Air Force for any longer period than that for which he would have been liable to serve had he continued in the force from which he was transferred. I explained that on the Second Reading. I cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
No one, I know, has suggested that men who are not in the Flying Services should compulsorily be put there. All we wish is that those men who are already in the Flying Service should remain in it. Anyone who has had control of large bodies of men knows that this is a very dangerous Clause. The one control you have over your men is that they cannot down tools. If you down tools in the Army it is death.
§ Lord H. CECIL
On a point of Order. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is hardly in order. He is arguing against the decision at which the Committee has already arrived. The Committee has decided that the words, " with his consent," 475 shall stand in the Clause. An argument directed to show that his consent ought in no form to be asked would be arguing against the decision of the Committee.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a perfectly sound point. I would ask hon: Members to remember that we had a long discussion on the words, " with his consent," and, after an hour and a half, an Amendment to leave them out was negatived. Therefore, the Committee has decided that point, and our subsequent discussions must be on the basis of that decision.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I submit that I am not breaking any rule of order, and the Noble Lord had no cause to interfere. I am not questioning the matter of consent. I am questioning the point that a man is entitled within three months to decide to go back. That is quite a different matter, and it has nothing whatever to do with the matter brought forward by the Noble Lord. I do not see why I should be interrupted in this manner. If the Noble Lord is anxious to get on with the Bill, he should not obstruct Members who are as anxious as he is. We have settled that men can come in with their consent. Now we are dealing with a case where they have been brought in without their consent, and at the end of three months they can go back if they like. Before we discussed the question whether a man would care to come in or not. Now the question is whether, when he has been compulsorily brought in, he may voluntarily go back. I submit that I have not said a single word that is out of order. To return to what I was saying, a man, say, in Mesopotamia, is going to be compulsorily transferred to the Air Force for three months, and at any time during those three months, if he has a little tiff with his commanding officer, or if there is a little bad food or anything that upsets a man, and after all the climate of Mesopotamia is quite bad enough to upset any man, there is nothing to prevent the whole of that body of men downing tools and saying, " We ask under Clause 3 to be allowed to return to our corps." It is an absolutely impossible situation in time of war. I should not have raised the question again but that the hon. and gallant Gentleman treated it as if we were asking for something absurd. I am with him in trying to make this a good Bill, but this position 476 is an absurdity, and to think that the Government is putting such a proposal forward in time of war is too absurd.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir Ivor Philipps) has very substantial grounds for raising what is, after all, to some extent a separate point. I wish to enter a caveat against the proposal that the whole Service, whether it is the Flying Service or the Anti-Aircraft Service will have to go for a period of three months without knowing whether individuals are to remain or not. I think that is a very serious point. I feel considerable nervousness every time I hear a representative of the Government insist upon this point. I hope, therefore, that they will consider in consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown whether it will or will not be possible to introduce some form of words which will make it perfectly clear that that is not intended.
§ Colonel GRETTON
This Bill provides a freewill and voluntary joining of the new Air Force by any officer or man. No officer or man is to be compelled against his will to join. If for any reason after he has joined the Air Force he does not wish to go to Mesopotamia, or he does not wish to be sent to, or to take service on any of the fronts in which the War is being waged, he is given the option under this Sub-section, within three months of receiving an order to transfer, if he does not wish to go to any of those fronts, of giving notice under the Act and of saying, " I will no longer be a member of the Air Service " By so doing he escapes performing that service which for some reason or another he does not wish to perform. He takes the law into his own hands. That is destructive of discipline. It is a serious position and one which the Government could not have contemplated when they inserted this Sub-section in the Bill. It requires a great deal more consideration, and I think that when a man has the choice whether or not he will join the Air Service, if he does join that Service he must be prepared to abide by the discipline, rules, and regulations of that Service, and must not be allowed to do anything he wishes up to the end of three months. I appeal to the Government to give this matter further consideration and not press it to a decision until they have consulted their adviser.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I did not intend the smallest discourtesy to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir Ivor Philipps). I was anxious not to have discussion which we had already had, but I did not appreciate at the moment that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was raising a new point. I think the difficulty is, and it is not quite appreciated by hon. Members, that having agreed to the principle that a man may be taken with his consent, you must have the easiest and most convenient machinery for making that principle operative. Obviously it would be a very inconvenient plan if you had deal with each individual officer and man in the existing Services. It seems to me to be the simplest way to provide that everyone whom the Air Council transfers or attaches, as the case may be, shall be deemed to be transferred or attached unless he objects. That saves a vast amount of correspondence which would be necessary if you had to write round to each individual officer and man and ask his consent. if he is to be left the option of objecting, how long is he to be given in which to object? He must be left a reasonable time, and he must be left a time sufficient to cover the longest case. It does not seem to me that three months is too long a period. It is merely a matter of machinery, and I do not see how you can deal with it in any other way than the one proposed. You must deal with it by leaving him the right to object, and you must give a limited time beyond which he cannot object. I do not think that any great difficulty is likely to arise. Anyone who wants to make objection will make it pretty promptly. The Clause expressly provides that nothing that has been done in the interval is to be affected by the subsequent objection. If you are to have the principle of consent at all—and for reasons which were given earlier that seems to be inevitable—you must have machinery, and the simplest way is that provided by this Sub-section.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
This Sub-section is a Sub-section of the main Clause and the main Clause provides for detaching units from the Regular Services to this Air Service. This Sub-Clause deals with an entirely different class of people, namely, those who are already in the Air Service, and it provides that they shall remain there without their consent, but it gives them the option within a period of three months of detaching themselves from the Service. I think there is a great deal of force in what was said by my 478 right hon. and gallant Friend (Sir I. Philipps), who has had experience of the Army. This Sub-clause certainly gives these men the right to " down tools," and to withdraw from the Air Service after preparations and arrangements have been made upon the assumption that they would remain. I think that weakens the first portion of the Sub-clause, because it provides for attaching those at present in the Air Service to the service. I think this Sub-clause in its operation will be attended with some danger.
§ Major BAIRD
This is merely a proviso to do away with the necessity of obtaining every man's individual consent. The man is transferred, but if he does not want to be transferred he will say so. We take it the man agrees to be transferred unless within three months he gives notice that he does not want to be transferred. As to the dangers pointed out by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir I. Philipps), that would be a great danger, but what is the position? The man who leaves the Air Service has got to go back to the trenches, where his pay is a great deal less. The proposal in this Sub-section is necessary from the administrative point of view. You have either to obtain every man's individual consent or you have to take it for granted that the man has consented unless he expresses his dissent. The reason for putting in a long period is because there are men now serving in the Air Force who will be transferred automatically who are serving in distant parts of the world, where it is impossible for them to communicate at short notice with the authorities at home, and this was the only method that occurred to us for safeguarding the rights of men who are not to be taken without their consent. You must either take them with their consent or you must take them without their consent, and in the latter case this Clause would be unnecessary.
§ Mr. BILLING
Why not take them without their consent for the duration of the War? The hon. and gallant Member says that this is only a war measure.
§ Mr. BILLING
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman appreciate that if it 479 is done in this way the utmost chaos will arise? I thank the right hon. and gallant Member (Sir I. Philipps) for raising a most important point which I had omitted. But over and above that, what is the position of these men in Mesopotamia, who at the end of three months calmly inform you that they wish to withdraw from the Air Service? They may only hear at the end of the three months for the first time that they have been transferred, and some of them may only have twenty minutes in which to make up their minds whether they will stay in or go out. Many of them may say, "I am going out." But in that case what are they going out to? They are in a Service which exists no longer. What is there for them to remain in? They will find themselves detached individuals with no Service. These direct entry men of the Royal Naval Air Service cannot be taken as naval officers. They will find themselves without any position at all. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not told us whether it is proposed to consult those people who are not in Mesopotamia as to whether they want to go in the Air Service or not.
§ Mr. P. A. HARRIS
I will call the hon. Member's attention to line 28 —" In any particular case the Air Council may allow."
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it proposed to consult all these officers and men who are accessible before they are transferred, or are we to transfer them piecemeal almost without any consultation whatsoever, and to provide that only those who squeal will be let out again? If the hon. Member is familiar with the feeling in the Serviecs he will find that it is by no means unanimous. There are some men who are fully out for the new Imperial Air Service. There are other men who are definitely opposed to a third Service, and there are some who want to remain in the Navy and others who want to remain in the Army. There is no unanimity of feeling, and if you take them all piecemeal and say that the ones who squeal can come out you will find that at the end of three months you have hundreds or thousands, perhaps ten or twenty thousand men, who for personal reasons want to come out. Hon. Members must appreciate that the first three months of this new Service will be the most dangerous period, just as the first twelve months of married life is 480 the most difficult to live. Therefore, the first three months of the wedding of these Services will suffer very considerably. All the grievances which this new Service is likely to encounter will be encountered in the first three months, and yet you are giving every man the opportunity at the end of three months, when he most probably will be fed up —there will be lots who will be fed up —the opportunity to clear out. There will be lots of them who may think that by this transfer they are going to jump from lieutenants into flight-commanders, and some flight-commanders who will think that the new Air Minister will appreciate their services and make them squadron commanders. There will not be an officer in the Service who will be thoroughly pleased with his new position. Every man who has a grievance —and it is human to have a grievance —Members of this House have grievances —will be given the opportunity of saying, "I am fed up, and I am going out." In that event what is he to go back to, when there is no Royal Naval Air Service and no Royal Flying Corps? The. whole thing is preposterous. The Clause should make clear either that the men are-going to be asked first if they want to come in, or that they are not going to be asked at all, and not to be allowed to leave until the end of the War. If the men were to be told now: " Unless we receive a declaration from you before three weeks that you do not want to join the Service we will take it that you are coming in," you would find that you would have got all the consents before you get your Act. If you are going to wait until you get your Act through it may mean another three months.
§ General HICKMAN
The hon. Member may make himself perfectly easy about that. The matter is quite clear. A man may not like to serve, and he will not have-to serve; but he can be attached. If the military authorities want a man they can always attach him to the Service, as long as they like. There is no difficulty at all. The hon. Member is only obstructing business by raising unnecessary points.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
The hon. Member for Chertsey has made quite clear what has been the difficulty all through. That is that the first part of the Clause deals with the Army and the Navy for all time. Clause 3, Sub-section (1) is for all time. The present sub-Clause is only a temporary arrangement, as long as there is a. 481 Royal Flying Corps and a Royal Naval Air Service. There we are getting this very serious position, that there is a possibility of a large number of His Majesty's troops in the field downing tools under an Act of Parliament. Such a thing is so dangerous that Parliament should not think of passing such a Bill in time of war. If my hon. and gallant Friend will look into the matter —which I will certainly raise again on Report, to see how it is possible so to amend this Section as to get the great majority of men to give their consent, so as to reduce the possibility of any risk under this Sub-section —any objection which I have will be waived; but as it stands here the man need not take action for three months. He may be compulsorily retained for three months, and then decide. He would be very apt to say: " Let the Government put me in compulsorily for three months, until I see how the business goes on " That is what you will find the great majority of men will do. It is a national risk to have many tens of thousands of men —I do not know the strength of the Flying Corps, but it is that —it is all the anti-aircraft defence also, serving under such conditions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the whole of it was coming over —
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
If he did not say that, I certainly misunderstood him. My words to him were "Do you mean the whole of it?" and he said "the whole of it." This Bill deals with anti-aircraft artillery. Until we get to know what the Government mean we cannot decide. I hope that before Report stage this Clause will be so amended as to remove the danger to which I have referred.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Do I understand my 'hon. and gallant Friend to say that they 'would take the anti-aircraft men?
§ Major BAIRD
The hon. Member will see in paragraph (a), " The Royal Flying Corps or any unit of the Naval or Military Forces engaged in defence against aircraft which is designated by the Admiralty or the Army Council for the purpose."
§ Major BAIRD
He said the whole of the Flying Corps. The anti-aircraft men do not belong to the Flying Corps.
§ Major BAIRD
I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend, who seems to anticipate some misfortune occurring as the result of this three months' notice, how are you to give a decent opportunity to men who are serving far off without it? You will see the words of the paragraph, " within three months from the time when he receives notice of such transfer or attachment."
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
It does not matter where he is 'serving. It is three months after he gets transferred.
§ Major BAIRD
I was only explaining why we put this in. If we had not put in three months then there would be a grave injustice to the men who might not like to come over yet, owing to the conditions in which they were serving, and had not had an opportunity of taking advantage of the provision in their favour. If a man refuses to transfer to the service of the Royal Flying Corps he cannot be made. but he is at once at the disposal of His Majesty's Government for military service, whereupon he is trained as an Infantry man. It is not reasonable to suppose that a man earning high pay and doing interesting work is likely deliberately to sacrifice those advantages, and also many other advantages attaching to his position, in order to go on to the Barrack Square as an Infantryman at a very much lower rate of pay. I will look into the thing, of course, but I really do not think there is much substance in the point.
§ Major BAIRD
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Bill he will see that it is " within three months from the time when he receives notice."
§ Mr. WATT
May I ask the Under-Secretary for War, who has had a legal training, how is he to prove the day on which a man receives notice in Mesopotamia? It may be a minor point from what day the three months is to start, but it will give rise to a great deal of ill-feeling. confusion, and discontent
§ Mr. BILLING
Why cannot the Orders, now that this Service is proposed, say that if a man is going to enrol he should advise his commanding officer, and then you would start off with the knowledge of what you have got.
§ Amendment negatived.483
§ Mr. BILLING
Am I to assume that there is no opportunity for a Division on so important a question as this?
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is for the Chairman to judge when he counts the voices. I only heard a single voice. Does the hon. Member wish to move any further Amendment on this Clause?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I am not completely satisfied with the explanation of the Government with regard to taking over the anti-aircraft guns. The Royal Flying Corps does not control the anti-aircraft guns. I have been an officer in the Anti-Aircraft Gunnery for the last three years, and I have been under naval control Is it proposed to take over the anti-aircraft guns and units so far as they are considered necessary for the proper conduct of operations, or are the War Office independently to supply such anti-aircraft defence?
§ Major BAIRD
The hon. Member's own experience shows the varying conditions under which anti aircraft guns are controlled. They are either in close conjunction with the Force of the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service. The matter is one which has to be considered on every occasion. It is a matter of convenience and efficiency in discharging its functions.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move in Subsection (2), to leave out the word " may," and to insert instead thereof the word " shall."
§ Mr. BILLING
I intimated my intention of moving an Amendment, and I was only taking a little time to find the Amendment for the purpose of moving it. With your permission I will move the Amendment.
§ Mr. BILLING
I certainly bow to your ruling, but, on a point of Order, is it not customary, when calling on a Member to move an Amendment, to refer to the Clause or the sub-Clause to which the Amendment relates?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Where there is a number of Amendments, and some of them are consequential, then it is quite customary to ask the hon. Member, as occurred to-day, which of them he desires to move. There was no response to that request, and therefore I proceeded with the business.
§ Mr. BILLING
Then, on a point of Order, it was perfectly obvious to you that I was referring to the Bill to see whether the question of losing the previous Amendment governed those which followed. I did not wish to trouble the House moving any Amendment, except one, which was not affected by the decision on the last Amendment.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have really endeavoured to meet the hon. Member, but I cannot at this time listen to him on this point.
§ Question, " That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.