§ (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 or it 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 of 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 750 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.
§ (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.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "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," and to insert instead thereof the words "who was not serving as a member of His Majesty's forces prior to the fourth day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen, may be transferred or attached by the Air Minister to the Air Force for the period of the present War. Any officer, warrant officer, petty officer, non-commissioned officer, or man who was so serving His Majesty before the 751 fourth day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen, may be attached but shall only be transferred to the Air Service at his own request."
This is a most important Amendment. As the Bill stands, it provides that any officer or man may be taken from the present Air Services with his consent and transferred into the new Air Service. In this matter I feel more particularly for the officers concerned, because this is a force where officers are employed to a far greater extent than in any other force, in view of the fact that at the present time practically all the pilots are officers. There are a few exceptions in the Royal Flying Corps, but I believe I am right in saying that there are no exceptions made in the Royal Naval Air Service; therefore, if we are going to transfer these men under the Bill as it stands now, it means that it is within the power of the Air Minister to take any man from the Air Service, no matter whether he be a naval officer of ten years' experience, and transfer him into the Air Service. The Bill gives the officer or man the opportunity, within a period of three months, if he is not satisfied with his transfer, to apply to be sent back. I think it is absolutely essential that this matter, which was discussed fairly fully in Committee, should be dealt with now by the Government. If the members of the Government will read the Official Debates—for that is the only way in which they can get the information, because they were mostly absent—they will appreciate how strongly this particular Clause was dealt with in the Committee stage. The right hon. and gallant Member (Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps) pointed out quite clearly that in the event of this Clause standing as it does it would put any man in the position within three months of calmly informing the Government that he did not want to stay in the Air Service any longer.
The Air Service, above all the other things that we are forming, is a permanent institution, and the fewer officers we have attached to it the better for its efficiency and the better for its subsequent work. If we are going to fill all the important posts by attaching officers from the respective Services to those posts we shall have, and quite rightly, a very considerable feeling of dissatisfaction among those other officers who, instead of being attached, have decided definitely to 752 transfer. I do not consider that it is either in the interests of efficiency or in the interests of the Air Service or the interests of the War itself that the question of attachment should be considered. I think it is a most unfortunate thing in forming a new force to lend for a certain period officers from another Service. They naturally take all the superior posts—otherwise why attach them?—and in that case there is no feeling of security, and there is no feeling that there will be any continuity in the position of any man in that force. If, on the other hand, we had no men with whom to form the nucleus of this force, if there were no volunteers and nobody anxious to create a force of its own with its own esprit de corps, with its own individuality, I think it is a mistake to trouble the House. The object of the Bill is to create a new Service with its own uniform, and with its own distinctive institution, quite apart from either the naval or military forces. To that end we want men who will throw in their fortunes in this new Service, for better or worse, and who will not always have operating in their minds the question, "Shall I like it? If not, I will go back." That is so far as the question of attachment is concerned, and it is dealt with in my Amendment by a provision that a man may be so attached but only at his own request, not forcibly as in this Bill. As the Bill stands, it is possible to transfer or attach men to the Air Service for the period of the War against their will or without their consent, giving them three months to make up their minds whether they will stay or not.
If there are any hon. Members who have had anything to do with the Air Service, which is a very gallant service, they will know that because of its gallantry and of the constant risks, not only war risks but peace risks, it attracts a temperamental type of man, like every walk of life which is exceedingly risky. Without saying anything detrimental of these men, it is a fact that the temperamental type of man is a very difficult type to deal with when it comes to running a service. and when it comes to discipline. Temperamental men have more grievances, as a rule, than the ordinary stolid type of individual, who does not mind very much what happens. We are wedding the two Air Forces, and sending them on a honeymoon for three months, and telling them that at the end of that period, if they do not like each other, or if any of them do not like 753 each other, they can fall out. That aeronautical honeymoon is going to be a very trying time for both Services. There will be officers who have been waiting, like many I know, and very anxiously waiting, for justifiable promotion for the last two or three years in the Navy, but whose promotion has been held back simply and solely on account of the claims of the deep seamen or the Blue Sea Fleet crew. They have been told, "It is impossible to advance you to-day because you have no seniority in the Service. You are a very capable pilot, or officer, and understand aviation thoroughly, but in view of the fact that you have only got about two years' seniority it is impossible to advance you in the Navy." That has not been quite so much the case in the Army. There are many cases in the Army of men anxiously awaiting the formation of the new force to come into what they consider their own, to be given the opportunity with which the restrictions of the old force have not provided them. You are going to amalgamate those two forces, you are going to create new ranks, and I am glad to say that you are going to institute a new uniform. Do not hon. Members apprecite that there is certain to be considerable friction when this amalgamation takes place? The respective ranks themselves of the two Services are quite sufficient to occasion a considerable amount of friction.
You have in the Royal Flying Corps a lieutenant who ranks as lieutenant; is he going to be transferred as a lieutenant or how is he going to be transferred? If you are going to take these men over en masse, you can only take them over at their present rank and then shake them up and readjust them. You must take them over individually if you are going to make any change in rank. You cannot transfer the whole body of naval officers and Army officers to the new Service en masse without making some arrangements for their respective ranks in the new Service. Compare a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps with a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service. A lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service ranks with and senior to a captain in the Royal Flying Corps. A captain in the Royal Naval Air Service ranks with and senior to, I think, a brigadier-general in the Army. A major in the Royal Flying Corps ranks with and junior to a commander in the Royal Naval Air Service. This Clause in its present form 754 provides the seeds of endless dissatisfaction. I would suggest that the only possible way of overcoming this trouble as to confusion of ranks and seniority is to let all those members of the old forces respectively who are anxious to come into the new force, come in. Let them resign their commissions and be for twenty-four hours civilians, and the next day let the Ministry of the Air enrol them without any reference to their sea service, and their land service, but purely having regard to their value to the Air Service as organisers, pilots, observers, or on the military staff, and then you would have perfect unity in your new force. There may be many members of the old force who will think that they have been treated very badly, but they will not leave the old force.
I am not speaking of the men because nearly all the men in the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service are direct entrants. I know very few cases to the contrary. There are something like 30,000 men to-day in the Royal Naval Air Service, of whom I do not think there are 2 per cent. who are old naval men. They are all direct entrants and it matters very little to such a man whether he serves as an air mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service or in the new Service. But when you come to officers you find that direct-entry officers are in most cases in a minority, because a majority of the flying officers and observers are men who have transferred from the old Army or Navy itself, and these men have behind them seniority in the Service, in the naval branches of the Service. How are you going to treat these men when they come into this new Service? If they transfer presumably they throw it up, which it is essential they should do, because now is the parting of the ways, and the man who takes up aviation must give way to the man who is prepared to devote his life to it, and now is the time to say to the naval and military officers who have taken up aviation as a hobby, "You have seen what aviation is. Now is the time to decide; will you make this your career in life or will you remain in the Navy or the Army respectively?" I cannot too forcibly press this Amendment on the House of Commons. It is possibly the most important Clause with which we have to deal in the whole Bill, because if it is allowed to stand as it is not only is it likely to cause unnecessary friction, but it is likely to 755 destroy the very ideal to accomplish which this Bill has been framed. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this matter his very careful consideration, and to give his reason for retaining this Clause in the Bill, if he has one. He promised on the Committee stage to give this matter his serious consideration, and see if something could not be done to overcome it.
Another important point. The Bill as it is framed gives the Army and Navy respectively the right to refuse to the Air Service any man whom they do not want to lose. In my opinion, neither the Army nor the Navy has a right to refuse to the Air Service to allow any man who is a direct entry man to transfer to the new Air Service. The very fact that he was a direct entry man proves that he entered the Air Service and not the Army or Navy, and for the Army or Navy to refuse to allow him to go to the Air Service, if it is taken from the Army or Navy, is going to produce endless confusion and delay. Why should this Bill provide that the permission must be obtained before men can transfer? My right hon. Friend may say that the Army and Navy are agreeable in this matter. It is not only that. What I have been trying to impress on this House for nearly two years is that every man in both Services, of twenty-five years of age, who feels that he has in himself the makings of a pilot, or that he will be of value to this country as an airman, ought to be encouraged anyway to transfer and become an airman. I have pressed the right hon. Gentleman, and he has promised me many times that every consideration will be given to these men. Hardly a day goes by on which I do not receive at least half a dozen letters from these men, who say, "I have knowledge of mechanics; I am very keen to fly, but my superiors refuse to forward my application, or I am told my application has been turned down. What can I do?" I know the hon. Gentleman cannot take up every case, and if he took up every case that comes to me he would have time for nothing else; but now is his opportunity to save time in future, and he would not be bothered any more, because the Bill would provide that every man who wants to be transferred shall be transferred. So far as the naval officers are concerned, I do not think you will find that many deep-sea men wish to transfer to the Air Service, and a number will be guided to a very 756 large extent in their decision by the governing consideration of the possibilities of success in the new Service, and as to whether or not they would be likely to receive promotion in that Service or are going to be transferred to another rank. That was one of the reasons why I put down a large number of Amendments asking the hon. Gentleman what ranks it was proposed to create in the new Service.
§ Mr. BILLING
I accept your ruling, Sir, though I find it difficult to deal with the three Services and the respective ranks without somewhat transgressing the Rules of Order. I have, however, practically finished my observations on this Amendment. My experience in framing Amendments to Bills is of a very recent character, and if any other Member, seeing my point, can suggest an Amendment which better accomplishes its purpose and is more acceptable, and if it attains the object I have in view, then I should be most happy to give such an Amendment the best. support I could. There is not a man in either Service to-day who is not anxiously awaiting the passage of this Bill, and they are as interested as I am to see this Bill become law. I know also that they are anxious that, if it does become law, it will convey something to them which it does not possess now. It has been suggested that this Bill is a skeleton Bill. It is; but it may yet be the skeleton of the forces. It is a most unfortunate Bill as it is now framed; we have looked to this Report stage for some very interesting and definite news from the Front Bench, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not now going to tell us, in the accustomed phraseology of the Front Bench, that he has nothing to add to what has already been said in the Committee stage, for that would be a very poor compliment to the House of Commons, and in that event it would be almost better to accomplish this work by Order in Council than to occupy the time of the House on a measure of this kind.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE. for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
A large number of the Amendments of my hon. Friend who has just spoken have been 757 ruled out of order by Mr. Speaker, and we have now had a lengthy discussion on a comparison of ranks as between both Services. The whole point of this Amendment is to introduce a system of compulsion, because it makes an express difference between men who have enlisted in the Service since 1914, namely, the men of the New Army, and the men of the Old Army, who enlisted before 1914. Since the beginning of the War, however, the Army has been effectively one, and it is rather late in the day to introduce a distinction between the New Army men and the Old Army men. I was struck by one remark of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. He said that the men of both Services were anxiously awaiting the passage of this Bill. If his words be true, why is it necessary to have this discussion? The hon. Gentleman believes that the men in the Services are awaiting the passage of this Bill so that they may transfer at their own request.
§ Mr. BILLING
The Amendment does not provide for compulsory service. There is the three months' option.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. Friend knows that comes later. In view of the fact that this Amendment is seeking to introduce compulsion, I ask the hon. Member not to press it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I beg to move, in paragraph (a), to leave out the words "designated by the Admiralty or Army Council for the purpose," and to insert instead thereof the words, "considered by the Air Council to be necessary for the purpose of leaving a unified and properly co-ordinated service in that respect."
After listening to the whole of these Debates, I decided that I would raise specifically the question of anti-aircraft units. We have so far received no word of explanation as to the extent to which the Air Force proposes to control and administer personnel, to make itself responsible for supply of material, and to perform the necessary staff work in a highly specialised department of artillery, as novel in its way as aircraft. If the Air Service has suffered from divided control, I believe their difficulties have been mild in comparison with those of the gunner units. You must unify the personnel, you must have a common pool of trained officers and gunners from which the different units can draw their 758 drafts, irrespective of their uniform. You must have a centralised and co-ordinated staff, so that your latest, material, your latest information on fire control and war experience, is instantly available for units, by whomsoever they are locally controlled, and wherever they are situated. In Committee I said that life in these units was one long change of uniform. Take my own case. I started, under the direct control of the Admiralty; I subsequently came under the control of the War Office. I then came under the Royal Naval Air Service. If I had continued, I think it would have been essential that I should have become an officer in the Royal Marines, and reverted to Army control.
I do not want to be thought a hostile critic, or as introducing opposition in the matter. You have so constantly altered these purely paper classifications of officers and ratings that very often the Departments themselves do not understand them. I once had one of my best gunlayers taken away and turned into an officer's cook because, having been entered as an A.B., he was rated as an A.C., and owing to that alphabetical inequability nobody could understand what he really was. There were most distressing scenes about it. I said pathetically that he was a seaman gunner, but I was told, more in sorrow than in anger, that I really must be mistaken, and that there was his, description in black and white as an aircraft man, and there was no such thing as a seaman gunner in the Royal Naval Air Service. But that did not prevent my having trained the boy as a recruit a couple of years before, or his having earned his badge at Chatham. I give that as an illustration. A gunlayer in the Royal Naval Air Service means a man who fires a machine gun in an aeroplane. That is the only kind of gunlayer they recognise and rate as a skilled man. Consequently if the Royal Naval Air Service comes across any other kind of gunlayer they cannot make him out, he worries, them, and does not fit into the scheme in spite of that necessary flexibility which my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the other day. He loses his 3d. a day, and because he is not a photographer or a storekeeper, or something equally bloodthirsty, he is written down in the unskilled grade of aircraft men. I do not blame the Royal Naval Air Service. Artillery is not their job, but if they will have Artillery under 759 their own direct command they must make provision for the proper supply and grading and promotion of drafts, or otherwise it is not fair on the men. You must also recognise that you will get units where you will have a whole vulnerable area, ships in harbour or off the coast, or camps and dumps in the Army, and you will also have aerodromes under the Air Service. Those may be under three separate distinct controls, and yet they require a unified anti-aircraft defence. Obviously you do not want always to be transferring units, and sometimes from the nature of things they must be separate and distinct. Ships sail and camps move, but you do want most essentially to unify control and supply and staff work of every kind. The thing which matters is the character of the gun and not the uniform of the detachments. I would ask one or two specific questions so far as in the public interest they can be answered. Do you propose to take over all or any substantial part of the general defence of the United Kingdom? Secondly, do you propose that the Air Force should take over specifically the defence of their own aerodromes, or leave that to the local military and naval authorities to provide such material and personnel as they may be able to spare? I do not doubt for a moment that all these points have been considered, but have they been decided? I hope they have. We have not been told so, and the Bill does not say so. It is like all the rest of the Bill, purely permissive. Any units which the Navy and the Army designate may be taken over if the unit does not mind. That is what the Bill says, and that is all it says. I do not presume to advise the Government, but I do say if you are taking a great new branch like Anti-aircraft do take it over in a big way and take the proper staff and supply services, but whatever you do do not leave isolated units lying about like nobody's children controlled by anybody and everybody. Work them into your scheme, think them out, and keep up their esprit de corps. I am not wedded to the precise form of the Amendment, but I do wish to insist as a matter of principle that if the new Air Council are going to touch the subject they should take the initiative, and should not merely accept what is given to them. They are such very diffident war lords that I want to give them a little more confidence in 760 themselves. They should take what they consider "necessary for the purpose of securing a unified and properly co-ordinated Service," in the words of the Amendment, and I think that embodies the right attitude and right principle.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think it is a matter of the very greatest importance that we should know how we are situated as regards Anti-aircraft organisation. Nobody looking round this House this afternoon would think it possible that so few Members would be here to discuss this very important matter. The other day, when the enemy were chucking half a dozen bombs on London, and this very Anti-aircraft organisation which we are now discussing was hurling tons of steel into the Heavens, down came all the London Members, weeping and gnashing their teeth because they were not being protected, and they were not satisfied with this organisation. Where are they to-day? I do hope that London will notice the London Members that are present here to-day, there is one, and that is greatly to his credit. Here is a matter which this great city looks on as one of the greatest importance, and yet there is nobody here to get a definite statement of what the Government intend. I am not here to interfere with what the Government intend, I only rise to support this Amendment exactly in the spirit in which the hon. Member who moved it put it to the House. He simply put it forward, as I understand, in order to get information out of the Government. I do not think myself that the actual words of the Amendment could be adopted because, of course, there is a large quantity of anti-aircraft guns which are at sea on battleships and cruisers and which would naturally have to remain now and for all time under the control of the Admiralty. There are also many anti-aircraft batteries which must for all time remain with the Royal Artillery. I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees with me in thinking that what we are discussing now is the anti-aircraft defence of our own country. Whether it should be taken over by the new Air Council is a matter that wants very great consideration, but I do think when a Bill of this great importance, on which the safety of our own country depends, is brought to this House, that the Government should tell us, and I do not ask for 761 anything definite, as to the future, and give us some general idea of what their intention is. In war everything changes. What is suitable for to-day may be wrong for to-morrow. May I ask what the Government mean about these proposals for to-day only?
Let me examine the Bill and see exactly what it is, because, frankly, I am not satisfied with it. There is a battery, say, in Hyde Park. The Air Council, the Army Council, and the Admiralty decide that that battery is to be taken over by the Air Council. Of course, I do not know whether they will or will not so decide. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the battery is to be handed over to the Air Council, what happens? There are two distinct things, the personnel and the materiel. They transfer the materiel. We have word for it that the materiel will be transferred. But the officers and men can only be transferred for three months. At the end of three months all the men can go back, or on any day within the three months. So that if this Bill passes into law next week, number X Battery in Hyde Park is transferred to the Air Council. The Air Council take over the materiel. What happens? Some of the men, and the officers, say, "Oh, I am not going over until they tell me what my position will be under the new arrangement." Others will not transfer at all. It seems to me that as the Bill stands it is almost bound to lead to the utmost military confusion. I myself cannot see anything else for it. The Air Council ought to have the courage of their conviction. I am quite certain that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who so ably and courteously pilots this Bill through the House cannot himself believe that this is a good arrangement to make in time of war. In fact, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General told us frankly that it was not, but they could not use any compulsion with these great war lords—the Army Council and the Admiralty. I say that in time of war the Government ought to settle what they want to do, and do it! They cannot do it under this Bill and that is what I complain of. They are not taking powers in this Bill to do what they may require to do. Suppose it is best for the safety of the country that a certain anti-aircraft battery should be transferred to the Air Council. They cannot do it under this Bill. Because they have not the courage of their convictions, and ask Parliament for full powers, 762 they have this namby-pamby production which gives them no powers, and unless they are very careful they will have the defences of London and of the country thrown entirely into the melting-pot. I cannot see or think what they can do. They must either leave the anti-aircraft battery in the hotch-pot command of both the Army and Navy or they must transfer the materiel to the Air Council, and leave the men as they are. The position is so absurd that I cannot believe it has been thought out with care, in view of the great importance of the matter at the present time.
§ Major BAIRD
The hon. Member who proposed, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded this Amendment, are undoubtedly as well qualified as anybody in this House possibly can be to speak to the Amendment. The anxiety which they feel is, perhaps, natural, in view of the knowledge—particularly of my hon. Friend behind me—of the present position in regard to anti-aircraft. I will not say the present position, perhaps, but the development of anti-aircraft. But there are two things to which I think attention should be drawn. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said he wanted the Government to say what they required to do and to do it. The Government in this case is undoubtedly the War Council.
§ Major BAIRD
I beg pardon—the War Cabinet. We are all apt to think in terms of matters prior to the War, when a Minister or a Secretary of State or the First Lord of the Admiralty were members of the Cabinet, and, therefore, judges in their own case. Under the present system if any question arises of difference of opinion between the two Departments. that difference has to be submitted to the War Cabinet, and their judgment is supreme. I think that is much the better way to deal with so complex a matter as the question of anti-aircraft. In the first place, may I draw the attention of the House to this: The anti-aircraft gunners are not at present members of the Flying Corps of either branch. They are essentially gunners. Flying is no part of their business. The man who is going to deal with hostile aeroplanes in this way will have considerable advantage if he has some knowledge of aeroplanes, their speed, and so on. But 763 the hard and fast rule that has been .drawn in the past between the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service and the Anti-aircraft gunnery branch both of the Navy and of the Army does, I think, require modification. That modification, hon. Members will agree, must be the result of experience in War. Developments are going on constantly at home and on the front in connection with anti-aircraft guns. It is on that experience that we must base the system to be applied to the defence of the country by anti-aircraft. It is quite certain, and everybody, I think, must admit it, that anti-aircraft gunnery and defence by aeroplanes must go together; but it does not follow that wherever you have anti-aircraft men you must also have an aeroplane station. I do not think it is necessary that isolated detachments of anti-aircraft gunners should be under the control of the body which controls the aeroplanes. Nobody would contend that the men on board His Majesty's ships who man the Anti-aircraft guns should be under the Air Council. The difficulty is to avoid drawing hard and fast rules. I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend opposite quite appreciates the powers which the Bill does confer. So far as Clause (3) is concerned, it is quite clear that the Admiralty and the Army Council may designate units of the naval or military forces for defence against air, craft, and they may be transferred or attached to the air forces.
§ Major BAIRD
No, that is as regards the men. But Clause (8), Sub-section (4) states:(4) His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer from the Admiralty or from the Army Council or the Secretary of State for the War Department to the Air Council or the President of the Air Council such property, right and liabilities of the Admiralty or Army Council, or Secretary of State as may be agreed between the Air Council and the Admiralty or the Army Council as the case may be.Property undoubtedly must include the guns, so that I think that is watertight. My hon. Friends are not satisfied, I gather, that the Air Council has adequate powers to take over what they think they ought to have.
§ Major BAIRD
I do not think the words proposed—my hon. Friend has said that he is not wedded to these words—can be inserted in the Bill. The difficulty of taking over after consideration—and we do not propose to take anything over without consideration—any portion of the Navy or Army which underlies the whole principle of this Bill makes it necessary in the event of any disagreement as to whether any particular force should be taken over or not should be left to be settled by the War Cabinet. I hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied with my assurance that we are determined only to take over those sections of the Anti-aircraft force which we think ought to be controlled in conjunction with the Air Forces of the Crown. But we do not wish to saddle ourselves with the control of a largo number of anti-aircraft gun people who certainly belong to the Artillery. I am afraid I must ask the House to leave it to the Air Council when they have been able to go into this matter to decide who shall be taken over. I would like the House to leave the Bill as it stands with the assurance that it is our intention to ask for such control of the Anti-aircraft forces of the Crown as may appear to the Air Council to be desirable. They would take over such portions as they deem necessary, by attachment or transfer, whether they belong now to the Royal Artillery or whether they are naval gunners.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
May I interrupt for one moment. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware there are a certain number of ratings who are actually in the Royal Naval Air Service and employed on anti-aircraft guns?
§ Major BAIRD
I think my hon. Friend refers to some men who joined very early in the War and are now employed on these guns. There will be no more difficulty in taking them over with the consent of the Admiralty than there will be in our taking over anybody else, but the fact that there are a small number of men so engaged in anti-aircraft gunnery shows the difficulty of laying down here a hard and fast rule as to who shall or shall not be taken over. I hope the House will realise the danger of even discussing details and will be content with the indication I have given of the intentions of the Government and of the Air Council to take such 765 measures as may be considered necessary with the approval of the War Cabinet which will decide any disagreement that may arise between the Air Council and the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty. The House will realise how difficult it is for us to discuss this question satisfactorily, but I hope I have made it clear that we do not want to be tied down to take over or to refuse to take over any particular unit; we want these matters to be left open to be decided by the experience and knowledge of the officers themselves. I trust, therefore, that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Mr. BILLING
I have listened with some interest to the whole of this Debate, and I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is piloting this Bill through the House should have indicated a fear of free speech in dealing with this measure. If it is absolutely the fact that the only defence the Government can put up against giving us free and frank discussion of our future air policy is the fear of heartening our enemies, then I think it would have been much better if the Bill had never been introduced at all and if the objects aimed at had been secured in some other way. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that it would hearten our enemies or that the joy-bells will ring in Berlin if it is announced from the Treasury Bench that one man is to be placed in supreme command of the Air Service? I should think it would be rather the reverse. This House has a perfect right to know whether there is going to be any unification or not of the air defences of this country, and that is practically all that this Amendment aims at. We have a right to know whether there is going to be one man responsible for defending this country or whether there are going to be in charge all sorts of representatives of the respective Services, each working on his own and without co-ordination with the others, some giving orders to send up aeroplanes, other giving orders to fire the guns, and others still giving orders to lower the lights in certain districts. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman who supported this Amendment (Sir Ivor Philipps) has pointed out, the position as it is to-day is really an impossible position.
London is concerned in this matter, and it is a standing disgrace to the London Members that they are not in the House at the present moment. I hope, should I have time at the next General Election, to pay a visit to their constituencies to 766 point out what has occurred to-day. It is, I say, an honourable obligation which the London Members owe to their constituency to be present to support an Amendment such as this, and the mover of the Amendment has a right to claim their support. They might possibly decline to take part in any other discussion so far as the defences of this country are concerned, but on this Amendment they are subject to an honourable obligation and they ought to have been here to-day giving it their support. We are not content with promises from the Front Bench; we want definite statements to which we can pin them down at some future day. We want to know whether it is proposed to appoint a man in supreme command of the air defences of England. We want to know what the position of that man will be and if anyone will be able to challenge his authority, and on what grounds.
It is necessary for the efficient defence of this country that one man should have supreme control over the aeroplanes which are to go up by night or day, for the defence of this country, and over even the guns which are fired either on the coast or inland, and over the rockets which may be sent up for the assistance of the night aircraft so as to enable our men to see at night with some degree of accuracy. It is absolutely essential that one man should have complete control over all the lighting regulations in the country, that he should be able to frame the regulations to be laid down for lighting or darkening any part of England, that he should have it in his power to darken districts or to give instructions for resuming normal conditions, and that from the very moment an air attack is anticipated until the moment that it has been driven off no man shall be able to challenge his decision. He should be really supreme, and if be hears that aeroplanes are coming on the North-East coast he should be able to order the darkening of that coast and there should be no question whether the Home Office have arranged for special constables to go round and warn the firemen or whether the firemen have done their share of the work, because if all that routine is to be gone through, by the time it is finished the district may be blown up. This is what has happened not once, but dozens of times. The whole air defence of this country is a criminal farce. It reflects the utmost discredit on every- 767 one concerned, and yet all the time there are men who are nightly being sacrificed on the altar of national inefficiency.
Here is an opportunity for the Government to make a plain case, and for them to say, "We admit that the defence of England is a one man's job, and that in the past it has left much to be desired." To say it is in the interests of the enemy for anyone to get up from that Front Bench and say, "Now we are going to do this; now we are going to put the supreme defence of this country in the hands of one capable man, and we are looking to him to make it so hot for the invaders of this country that in all probability the invasion will stop" —is that heartening our enemies? When there is no argument, no answer to a straight question in this House—which there very rarely is from the Front Bench—they take shelter behind, "It is not in the interests of the country." It is in the interests of the country, and I am going to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman before we pass from this Amendment to state clearly these points: Is there going to be one man, with a seat on the War Council, appointed to the supreme command of England; is he to have the control of all the aeroplanes, and of the aerodromes used for the purpose? Is he to have control—I hope the hon. and gallant Member is listening to this, because I certainly shall require an answer—of all the lighting arrangements throughout England; is his word to be law if he wishes the whole of a large munition area to be shut down at any given time, or has he to write to the Ministry of Munitions when he wants it shut down in the middle of the night and await an answer? On top of that, is this man to have a seat on the Air Council, and is he to be in supreme control of all the ammunition which he wants and of all the anti-aircraft guns and gunners that he wants to make an effective defence of this country? That is perfectly clear. The other point raised by the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment was a further one which we might have cleared up. He asked whether anti-aircraft defence corps were to be lent for service. Take it in France. What about the kite-balloons? Are they to be in the Air Service? The Air Service have them. I believe they are lent. What about the anti-aircraft guns that serve with the kite-balloons to protect them? Are they 768 going over to the Air Service or are they going to be left to the Army? There is another point. Who is going to supply anti-aircraft guns, and who is going to conduct experiments in anti-aircraft shells, because that is a thing that is constantly developing? A man comes with a new invention. He has a fine anti-aircraft shell which may ignite a Zeppelin. To whom is he to take his invention?
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Sir D. Maclean)
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to seize the opportunity of this Amendment to go into the whole of matters arising on the Second Reading. He must confine himself to the Amendment.
§ Mr. BILLING
I would point out that this Amendment is an Amendment on whether or not it is going to be within the power of the Air Ministry to control anti-aircragt guns, supplies, and operations, and I am asking the hon. and gallant Gentleman now whether that is so, and if he will give us the exceptions to the Amendment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer from that box on Committee stage made the dramatic announcement that the Air Service was going to take over everything, lock, stock, and barrel, en masse, but now we get qualifications from his assistant. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here to stand by his statement.
§ Mr. BILLING
Certainly he ought to be. It is an insult to the country that he is not. His assistant has qualified the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and has said that these are not going to be handed over.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Major BAIRD
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to stop him at once misrepresenting what my right hon. Friend said? What he said was perfectly clear, namely, that the whole of the two Air Services of the country were going to be absorbed into the new Air Service. No one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that anti-aircraft gunnery does not either belong to the Royal Flying Corps or to the Royal Naval Air Service, except a small part. There is no modification whatever that has fallen from me or from anybody else on this bench of any statement made by my right hon. Friend. None whatever.
§ Mr. BILLING
But hon. Members will help me if I am wrong—they generally do. Perhaps I may hope that I am right on this occasion. There was the question of anti-aircraft defences raised, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—
§ Mr. HARCOURT
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? He is perfectly entitled to make any speech that the Chair will allow, but as regards myself I do not want to misrepresent the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Baird), or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was good enough to come down and make an interesting statement. I particularly said, in moving the Amendment, that the question of anti-aircraft defences had not as yet been considered in Debate at all, and therefore the only statement by the Government on the subject is the statement in reply to this Amendment now before the House which has been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Mr. BILLING
I think if the hon. Gentleman refers to the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that on Second Reading and in the Committee stage, considerable reference was made to anti-aircraft defences.
§ Major BAIRD
It was never said that we were going to take them over en bloc. Really, nobody ought to know better than the hon. Member (Mr. Billing) of what the Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service consist, and it is not fair to represent to the country that the Government is not straightforward when it says it is going to take over the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. It is not fair to imply that that includes taking over all anti-aircraft services.
§ Mr. BILLING
I am not interested, if I may say so to the hon. and gallant Member, in what the Government is going to do as regards the Royal Naval Air Service or the Royal Flying Corps. What I am interested in is what it is necessary for the Government to do. and therefore I wish to hear from him before this Amendment is passed whether it is the intention of the Air Service—it is no good nudging the hon. Member and telling him not to speak; if you think that is helping the Bill through, by all means do it, but 770 I do not think it is—whether we are to have a Director of Defence of this country and whether that Director is to have under his supreme control the Air Service, and the necessary anti-aircraft guns and lighting restrictions of the country? Perhaps he will answer that very clear point now.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
It seems to me that the House is leaving this matter still in some obscurity. I recollect that on the Committee stage my lion. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Harcourt) brought forward this Amendment.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He brought forward a similar Amendment with the object of raising the same question, and it is true that the Leader of the House was good enough then to come down and offer a reply to the observations which my hon. Friend then made.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I do not wish constantly to intervene, but the previous Amendment I moved, which gave rise to considerable debate—the question, as I called it, of contracting-out—was on the general question of whether the Government would exercise compulsion by taking over the Air Services. This is a specific Amendment, confined exclusively to the anti-aircraft gun units.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I understood the situation to be very much as my bon. Friend has described it, but my point was that when he raised the general question there were certain details in obscurity, and the object of this Amendment was to throw some light on the matters then left obscure. It is a matter of very considerable importance to hear from the Government whether it has any intentions in this matter, and, if so, what those intentions are. My hon. Friend has pointed out that this is a matter of very great importance from the point of view of the defence of this country, particularly for the defence of London, and he was entitled to point out what a slender interest the representatives of this great City take in that matter. But we are fortunate now to have one representative of London present who will 771 doubtless put his views before the House. As I understand it, the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill takes the view that if definite statements were made on this question it would give information and comfort to the enemy. That seems to me a most remarkable statement coming from any man sitting on the Front Bench at the present time, especially in view of what has recently been said by the head of the Government. After the speech which the Prime Minister made in Paris, when the hon. and gallant Member says that some statement on a comparatively trivial matter—at least, a matter of detail in the defence of the country—could be a matter which would give information and comfort to the enemy, I think the House is entitled to laugh at it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
So far as the House is represented here at the present time. If there had been a larger representation of Members present, I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentlemen would have ventured to make such a statement. When you leave matters of this kind in dispute, or at least in doubt, you are leaving open what is likely to be a convenient source of dispute and difference between the Services. In the past there has been a kind of duel between the Admiralty and the War Office on many matters, and, unless you make things clear, instead of having a duel, you will have a three-cornered fight. Instead of simplification and co-ordination, and more harmonious co-operation and better organisation, you will have all sorts of misunderstandings and a great increase in friction, which will certainly detract from the efficiency of the Service and tend to diminish the effectiveness of the whole Force. I think those considerations by this time might have led the Government to endeavour to make up their mind. They have had long enough to make up their mind. It was one of the last raids, about three weeks ago, that decided them to set up this Air Service. In order to prevent t motion for the Adjournment, we had an announcement from the Front Bench that there was to be a new Air Ministry, and that the functions of this Air Ministry were to be very considerably magnified beyond those of the Air Board. I think at least three weeks have passed since that announcement, and only this week has the Bill been introduced. Yet, during that long interval of time, the Govern- 772 ment have not been able to make up their mind on these very important matters, which go to the essence of the powers of this Ministry. I hoped in the interval between the Committee stage and the Report some decision might have been arrived at on this point of detail. I can well understand why Lord Northcliffe has refused this Ministry. He has intimated, in quite clear terms in the Press this morning, how hopeless the position would be; and I quite sympathise with him in intimating to the Prime Minister that he declines to accept the post of Air Minister, and will in future accept nothing less than the Premiership.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It seems to me the only way to obtain simplicity and avoid friction is for the new Air Ministry to avoid taking over any antiaircraft guns whatever. For one argument that can be adduced in favour of those guns being taken over by the Air Ministry, ten arguments can be adduced in favour of their remaining in charge of the Army and the Navy. There can be no doubt whatever with regard to the controversy between my hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Member behind me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred only to the Air Services. Here are his exact words: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—Sir I. Philipps: The whole of it?Mr. BONAR LAW: The whole of it—that is the first consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1917, col. 446.]That referred to the controversy which immediately preceded, which dealt absolutely and entirely with the Air Service as an Air Service, and had nothing whatever to do with the anti-aircraft guns.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
It appears to me that this Amendment is a very useful one, and I should have imagined that anyone acting on behalf of the Air Board would agree to have it inserted. It is most important that the new Air Council, if they considered it necessary, ought to take over any of these men, and also have command of the anti-aircraft guns. I know what has happened in the past where there has been dual control, and fighting men have been shot down by their own guns. If those guns had been under the control of the Royal Flying Corps at the time those men would not have been shot down. Therefore, I think that is most important, and I cannot 773 understand how the New Air Council can really carry out the business properly unless it has the power, if it thinks fit, to take over any of these men, and to command them, so that they know really where they stand. In the past, undoubtedly, owing to there being three, four, or five different authorities, many of these young men have been brought to their death simply because of the lack of unification of the Anti-Aircraft Service and the Royal Flying Corps. Therefore, I think it would only be right that if the new Air Council should require the command of whatever they think necessary, they ought to have the power to take it over.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Harcourt) if he is going to stand that? His Amendment seems to me good and vital, and I would invite him to pursue it to its logical conclusion. I regard this matter as so vital that if this very point is carried I should vote against the Third Reading, not because I do not desire an Act which will defeat the Germans, but because I regard this matter as the most essential point of the defence and of the attack to-day against the Central Powers. For years I have been trying to force upon the attention of this House the necessity for a Bill of a much wider scope than this and greater power, and after many months of consideration we have this lame measure which may satisfy a Parliamentary situation, but it will be totally inadequate for the main object of the Bill—that is, to defeat the Germans in the air. It is argued from the Front Opposition Bench that if it be permissible to the officers to enter into this new Service you may have a certain number from one battery and certain others may be reluctant, and you may have a whole unit destroyed.
It is also argued that if there be an anti-aircraft gun on board ship it is absolute madness to take away from that gun the men who are serving it. If the whole control was transferred to the Army Council nobody would dream of taking away that gun or the men who serve it. Too much play is being made of the word "compulsion." What is suggested is rather an automatic transfer which will give unity of control. That does not necessarily mean that the Council would immediately proceed to do preposterous things. Unity of control would give great 774 driving power where it is necessary, and the building up of a great Air Force rapidly is the essence of the contract in this case. If you give unity of control to anyone who has intellectual power enough to be the Secretary of State for this new Air Ministry, it is absurd to suppose that he would immediately proceed to disorganise the Services whim are now doing such good work. Unity of control is necessary to enable him to have the necessary driving power, and to realise the conceptions which may be in his own mind. I ask my hon. Friend opposite to make his words good.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).
I think it would have been much better if the whole Clause had been left out. If this Sub-section is carried it will be a most unfortunate thing, for the simple reason that since the friction first started between these two forces at the beginning of the War both of them have been endeavouring to expand, and so establish an overlapping that when it came to amalgamation the Royal Flying Corps would be large enough to absorb the Royal Naval Air Service, while on the other hand the latter service have all been working to be in a position to absorb the Royal Flying Corps. Neither of these things have happened, but in the effort to accomplish this —I do not want to give away any secrets which I have acquired while I was in the Royal Naval Air Service for twenty months—certain action was taken by both these forces. The Royal Flying Corps proceeded to promote its officers with a rapidity which has only been excelled by the efforts of one of the leading Members of the Opposition. The Royal Naval Air Service, instead of promoting those who should have been promoted who were honest, intelligent and efficient members of the Service, proceeded to co-opt or add to its numbers a number of what are regarded as "naval dug-outs," who have never had even a nodding acquaintance with an aeroplane. The result is that you are now in a position which, if this Clause passes, you would prevent the transference of certain men without giving them a seniority commensurate with their experience. It would also mean that it would be out of the power of the Air Council to transfer a man and allow him his seniority and give no reason for it.
775 Does any hon. Member suggest that it would be fair to reduce a captain or a colonel to a lieutenant and not give him the slightest reason for doing it. You would not explain to him why it is being done or give him an opportunity of stating his case before an inquiry or a court-martial, that is what this proposal amounts to. That is what it amounts to. If this Sub-section stands part of the Bill the Air Council can say to a man, "You have six years' seniority in the Naval Air Service. We transfer you into the Air Service, and we make you start at zero." Hon. Members may say that it will not be done, but if the world were so perfect that no one ever did malicious, spiteful, or dishonest things, why have laws at all? if you are going to have laws, see that they provide that these things cannot be done. This Bill provides that it can be done. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to the well-being of the men who are transferred that they should all start from the word "Go" with no seniority at all or that the people who come into the Service and carry the burden of their seniority in the old Service with them. I do not know why fifteen years at sea should qualify one man to come into the new Service with fifteen years' seniority whilst another man who has got five years' air service should come in with no seniority at all. A naval man who perhaps has not made a complete success of naval commanding may have decided to come into the Royal Naval Air Service with fifteen years' service. He will now be transferred into this new Service with fifteen years' seniority, whilst a young lieutenant who may have; done admirable work all through this War and possibly before it—I am talking about pukka naval officers—may only come in with seven years' seniority or half the seniority of the other men. Again, a direct entry man who may have had considerable experience and made flying his profession may come in with only two or one year's seniority, and it is even possible to give him no seniority at all.
The whole thing is preposterous. I am so sick of the word "seniority" in the Service that if this Air Service could start with a nice clean sweep, wiping it right out, it would be all the better. I know from personal experience in the Service how, if you happen to be Number 1 on the station, someone who happened to join the Service two days before you may come down, with the result that everything 776 on the station is upset because he is your senior. I do not propose to suggest any cure for seniority. I do not know whether any cure for seniority in the Service could possibly be introduced other than actual rank, but I do not want to accentuate it, and this Bill does so. It makes it even worse than ever. Look at the Front Bench at the present time. There is no one there who knows anything at all about aviation. It really is an insult to the House of Commons and to those Members who are sufficiently interested in the wellbeing of this Service and who come here at great personal inconvenience to comply with the threat of the Leader of the House that he would make us come down here on Friday if we refused to gallop through the measure in half an hour. When we do we address ourselves to empty benches, not that it makes any great difference, but it would be a graceful compliment to have somebody sitting here keeping the bench warm. The hon. Gentleman (Major Baird) having returned, I will address myself to him, or rather to the Chair, in the hope that in passing he may hear me. The Clause under discussion is Clause 2, and the Amendment is to leave out the whole of Sub-section (2). The reason—
§ Mr. BILLING
Surely it is necessary to. call the attention of a Member on the Front Bench who has just added himself to our number to the Amendment before the House !
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The Minister in charge of the Bill was in. the House when the hon. Member moved his Amendment, and I must ask him not to persist with remarks which are obviously trifling with the House. There are Amendments of substance on the Paper.
§ Mr. BILLING
Certainly. Possibly you may appreciate how hurtful it is when a measure of this importance, a measure which is going either to prove the salvation or otherwise of this War, is under discussion to find that we cannot get a. Member on the Front Bench to listen to us, and I think I am more or less in order in calling the attention of the House to the fact. I ask the Government to give this matter their serious consideration and either to say that there shall be no seniority in the Service or that all shall be treated alike. It has been suggested 777 that this Sub-section is necessary to enable members to sit on courts-martial. Are we to have the whole fabric of rank wrecked purely and simply to enable members to sit on courts-martial? I should have thought it would have been quite conceivable to provide by Order in Council that any officer joining the new Air Service should by reason thereof be qualified to sit on courts-martial. It is, indeed, questionable whether any officer who sits on courts-martial should not have to pass some preliminary legal examination to qualify him to do so. I do not know why it should be purely a question of seniority. Perhaps in his reply the hon. Member will give his reasons for it. If he cannot say that a man shall not carry his seniority on the sea or in the land Service into the new Air Service, will he say that every man shall carry whatever seniority he has managed to get, and that there shall be no exceptions? Either every man must lose his service when he leaves one Service to join the other or no man should do so. When you are taking over the whole Service, what is a man to do? He has seven years' seniority in the Air Service, and because of his "C.O." it is in the power of the new Council to wipe out five years of service without any court-martial or inquiry. If the hon. Gentleman will say that in the event of a man losing his seniority there shall be a court-martial or an inquiry, I am quite willing, but it is a great injustice, and will not in any way help the frictionless progress of the Service to rob him of his seniority without a court-martial or inquiry. I trust he will do either one of these two things—either make it apply to all men or to none.
§ Major BAIRD
If this Sub-section were left out, very great injustice would be done. If the hon. Member studies the provisions of what will be known as the Air Force Act, which provides for the discipline of the force, he will see that Section 48 provides that an officer cannot serve on a general court-martial unless he has held 778 a commission for three years, or on a districe court-martial unless he has held a commission for two years. Under the hon. Member's proposal an officer might have had ten years' service before being transferred and yet could not serve on a court-martial, and it might not be possible to hold a court-martial.
§ Major BAIRD
You have to safeguard the rights of men who are tried by court-martial. One qualification of an officer to sit on the court-martial is that he has done a certain amount of service. If you exclude this Sub-section you may not be able to get officers who have that amount of service. This Sub-section enables a man to be tried by a properly constituted Court. Therefore, if the hon. Member's Amendment is carried, a great deal of injustice will be done, and the effect of eliminating the Sub-section would not in any way have the effect he anticipates.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order. I am afraid it does not, because that Amendment seeks to amend the Sub-section. Having failed in my Amendment to omit the Sub-section, I now move to amend it. Although the hon. Member in charge of the Bill may show reasons why the Subsection should not be omitted, he did not show reasons why it should not be amended, especially having regard to the fact that the only reason he has put forward for retaining the Sub-section is the question of courts-martial. I am willing to withdraw the Amendment if the hon. Gentleman is willing to say that this provision shall apply to all men and not to a chosen few. Is he prepared to say that seniority shall apply in all cases?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is for the Chair to decide whether the previous discussion has sufficiently covered a succeeding Amendment, and I so decide.