§ It shall be lawful for His Majesty to raise and maintain a force, to be called the Air Force, consisting of such number .of officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men as may from time to time .be provided by Parliament.742
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, after the word "the," to insert the word "Imperial."
I am encouraged to move this Amendment by the remarks of an hon. Member which indicated that there is an idea in the mind of the Government to eventually include on the Council of the Air Service representatives from overseas. There are people in this country who resent the word "Imperial," but I am suggesting it in connection with this Bill in the sense of the unity of the Empire and quite distinct from any other meaning which may have been attached to it. I consider that if the Air Service is to develop on such lines as will render it of value to the Empire it is essential that they should have co-operation, assistance, and guidance of those men who are guiding the forces and destinies of the Dominions generally. If that is the case it is quite possible and reasonable that this word should be embodied in the very title of the Bill itself. It would be a graceful compliment to our men from overseas, because, whatever critics may say, they have certainly not failed us in this War. They have come forward not only in the trenches and on the seas, but more particularly in our Air Services. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member (Major Baird) on the Front Bench will echo what I say when I tell the House that a very considerable number of our pilots, numbering some of the most gallant among them, men who have attained great prominence as expert pilots and fighting airmen, have been drawn from the Colonies themselves.
When this Air Service develops as it must, it will be absolutely essential that we should have bases throughout the Empire. It may be suggested that these bases should be organised by the Dominions themselves, but we shall have to use them not only for our fighting forces but also in peace time, because it will be impossible to keep up the establishment of a vast number of airmen in peace time unless they are given something to do. There are no facilities in the Air Service like there are in the Army and the Navy for keeping the men in training. The question of materiel is even more important. The life of an aeroplane is so short that it is quite feasible, unless the machines are employed for something more than mere flying from aerodrome to aerodrome, that it will be impossible to keep them up to date. That is why I think it would be an excellent 743 thing if this. name were embodied in the Bill so as to throw out the suggestion to the Dominions that it is the wish of the Government eventually, if not at the present time, to make this Air Service a comprehensive unit for the whole Empire, and by so doing to encourage the formation of bases throughout the Empire to be used in times of peace for mail carrying and various other Imperial duties of an Imperial Government. I strongly recommend this Amendment, not in any sense of Jingoism, but purely as a means, and a very simple means, of paying a graceful compliment to the Colonies, which I am sure they will appreciate, and of putting the hall-mark on the statement of the hon. and gallant Member in Committee, that the only reason they did not wish to limit the numbers on the Council was that they might have the opportunity of having representatives from the Colonies and the Dominions upon it. Surely there can be no reasonable excuse or justification for refusing to accept this Amendment, and I hope there will be Members who are sufficiently interested in our Imperial destiny to second the Motion.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
I beg to second the Amendment, and it is so seldom that I find myself in accord with the hon. Member that I do with special pleasure. I second it primarily because the Air Service is, in fact, an Imperial Air Service. Australia has its own Air Service, but Canada has not. The British Government have already circularised the Canadian Forces to supply airmen and officers for the Air Service. That at once makes it, as a matter of fact, the Imperial Air Force, and it is a misnomer to describe it as an Air Force. I think the word "Imperial" is more akin in this connection than the word "Royal," used in connection with the Navy, and I hope that the Government will adopt the term, which has a significance, outside this country, of a great national import.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the AIR BOARD (Major Baird)
This Amendment obviously commands the greatest possible sympathy; but there is this difficulty, that, in order to accept it, it will be necessary to consult the Dominion authorities, and we have not been able to do so.
§ Major BAIRD
Yes, the military forces of Canada and Australia are practically autonomous. Australia has got its own pilots. Canada, it is true, has not; but I. know, from personal experience, that there is a great desire for a Canadian squadron. It is quite easy to understand that the men of those great Dominions would like the deeds of their fellow citizens to be identified with the Dominion from which they come. That does not in. the least dispose of the very desirable view put forward by the hon. Member who moved this Amendment, that we should. unify the whole of that Service just as we desire to unify the Service as it applies to Great Britain, by abolishing the imaginary high-water mark which at present unnecessarily divides the airmen operating with the naval and military forces. It is impossible to controvert the desirability of including the Dominions, but I hope the Amendment will not be carried, because, although we are entirely sympathetic, we are really not in a position to take them over, and if it were pressed it might lead to misunderstanding.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I can hardly support the elaborations of my hon. Friend (Mr. Billing), in moving to insert in this Bill the word "Imperial." I am surprised to find that a man so up to date should by some mental hiatus seem to be about ten years behind hand in this regard. In the course of his excellent speech he kept referring to these Dominions as "colonies." Nothing could be more behind-hand than to dub them as "colonists." They are not colonists; they are self-substantial men, who, I hope, have a great future before them, and my hon. Friend seems to miss the very A, B, C of the question, when he falls into such an elementary pitfall. If he had been in this House a few years ago he would have known that I introduced the question of the title "Dominions," but, with the usual supercilious style of the Front Bench, I was sneered at for months until the so-called "Colonies" and Dominions backed up my demand, and they were forced at last with bad grace to give way. The word "Imperial" should stink in the nostrils of history and of all except those who are saturated with pro-German sentiments. There is one, and only one, great example of an Empire since the Roman Empire which, under the word "Empire," has 745 fallen into rottenness and corruption, and that is the German Empire. The word "Imperial" reeks of a sentiment which was prevalent here before the War, especially in Tory circles, and it found voice at the beginning of the War. It was said, "No; it is not the German Empire which will rule the world with their Germanic ideas and their German Kaiser; it is we, the great English people, who will dominate the world and set our heel on other nations and trample them down under the great spirit of Imperialism."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Member is wandering from the Amendment. This is a very small Amendment, and lies within a very small compass. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to it.
§ Mr. LYNCH
All this arises from the word "Imperial." If I am wrong in wandering, my hon. Friend (Mr. Billing) was also wrong in introducing this word, and his speech wandered as far from the mark as you, Sir, say I am wandering now. I intend to continue to protest against the use of the word "Colonies," preferring to call them Dominions until we can proceed to a word of greater glory as opposed to this miserable and imitative idea of Imperialism, which is unworthy of us and certainly unworthy of the Dominions, whose destiny it is to be a federation of free republics.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move to leave out the word "Force," and to insert .instead thereof the word "Service."
746 The term "Air Force" is an unhappy one, because it does not roll easily off the lips and its initials do not help in any way. I should like to qualify the suggestion that this body is to be purely a force. It is rather more a service than a force. It is a service which, I hope, is going to bring victory to our arms. I do not know of any other means of getting it in the present condition of the world. After the War I trust it is going to be a force in a punitive sense only, and that it will be more of a service to mankind than a force for the purpose of making war. Although the aeroplane itself is the most punitive weapon that has ever been placed in the hands of man to wield, it is also, from that very cause, most likely to bring to this world universal peace, because the only way to keep people quiet, whether it is an individual or a collection of individuals, or a collection of nations, is to have in one's hand a punitive weapon by which to exert authority in the interests of justice and peace. [An HON. MEMBER: "In other words, force!"] This country, whether it be an Empire or purely a country, is not going in times of peace to spend the vast sums of money which are and will be necessary to keep up the establishment of any force worthy of the name, and one likely to keep us on even terms with potential enemies, without turning it to some other use in peace time. The life of an aeroplane is only about four days in war. In peace time possibly it becomes obsolescent in from six to twelve months. We are passing through stages of development in aviation, and shall be for the next ten years, which render that certain. It is necessary that whatever force or service we have shall keep up with the very latest types of machine in ever respect.
Despite the fact that this War has been going on for three and a half years, I hope the future will bring more years of peace than of war. Therefore, it would be better to call this a Service, because we look to it in times of peace to serve mankind in a constructive capacity and in times of war to serve the nation in a destructive capacity. Before very long the aeroplane, in the hands of capable men, with a nation or nations united behind it, will make war so terrible that no statesman or body of statesmen will dare to commit any country to a state of war. Its effect will be at once so sudden and so complete, its powers of destruction so enormous, that it 747 will be able to lay cities in ashes in a night. Although the aeroplane comes to us as a weapon of force, we shall live to regard it as a winged messenger of peace. Great developments will take place, but they will be developments in the interest of humanity, and the function of the aeroplane will be, in the first place, to serve mankind, and, in the last resort, it will be used for punitive measures. I hope that the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will accept the Amendment. We have used it in the Navy as the Royal Naval Air Service. It is never called the Royal Naval Air Force. The Royal Flying Corps was never called a force. The destinies of these two great Services, which have rendered such extraordinarily valuable assistance, are going to be merged in this new force. I trust it will be called by a name which will fall kindly from the lips and which will suggest that it will work for the service of mankind rather than its destruction.