§ (1) For the purpose of the administration of matters relating to the Air Force and to the defence of the Realm by air there shall be established an Air Council consisting of one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, who shall be President of the Air Council and of other members who shall be appointed in such manner and subject to such provisions as His Majesty may by Order in Council direct.785
§ (2) His Majesty may, by Order in Council, fix the date as on which the Air Council is to be established, and make provision with respect to the proceedings of the Air Council and the manner in which the business of the Council is to be distributed among the members thereof.
§ (3) On the establishment of the Air Council the Air Board constituted under the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, shall cease to exist, and all the powers, duties, rights, liabilities, and property of that Board shall be transferred to the Air Council, but nothing in this: Sub-section shall affect any orders, instructions, or other instruments issued by the Air Board, and all such instruments shall have effect as if issued by the Air Council.
§ (4) His Majesty may, by Order in Council, transfer from the Admiralty or from the Army Council or the Secretary State for the War Department, to the Air Council or the President of the Air Council such property, rights, and liabilities of the Admiralty or Army Council or Secretary of State as may be agreed between the Air Council and the Admiralty or the Army Council, as the ease may be.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, at the, end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words "It shall be lawful for the Board of Admiralty and the Army Council respectively to nominate an associate member for the Air. Council, which members shall have the right to take part in all, discussion and vote on all measures."
It has not been made very clear exactly what are the powers of the Air Service. It has not been made very clear whether the Air Council will retain control, either direct or indirect, of the members of the Air Service who are attached to the Grand Fleet or to the Army respectively; and it has not been made clear at all whether the guns and machines and the flying officers of the Navy who decide not to avail themselves of transfers or attachment are to be permitted by or under the Admiralty to carry out the functions of gun-spotting or scouting for the Grand Fleet. There is nothing in this Bill, so far as I can see, to prevent the Lords of the Admiralty building an aeroplane and asking one, of their officers to fly it in the interests of the Grand Fleet. This Amendment is down to provide that on the Air Council which it is proposed shall have control over, or at least a certain 786 right of interference with, the aeronautical impedimenta, on sea or land, with the Army in the field or the Grand Fleet respectively, the Army and the Navy shall have a representative on that Council to make representations to the Council in the interests of the Grand Fleet and the Army respectively. I utterly fail to see if this Amendment is not accepted on what grounds it is rejected. Surely, on the ground of common sense, in starting a new Service such as this, it would be as well to have the service in an advisory capacity of a senior officer of the Army and Navy respectively on all matters of strategy and on all matters of the ordinary conduct of their force, because—so far as I can see nothing that has been stated from the Front Bench has led us to consider the contrary—anybody may be a member of this Air Council. It is even suggested and advocated by the representative of the Government that certain tradesmen shall form part of this Council, and shall busily continue their work of directors of a firm who are trading with the Council. Tradesmen are very fine fellows in their way, but when it comes to strategy or the administration of affairs of a great new Service, I should not recommend tradesmen only; I should say that we must have the advice and assistance, as associate members, if you wish —I distinctly provide in my Amendment that they should be associate members and not permanent members—of high officials of considerable experience from the two Services respectively.
One hon. Member referred this afternoon to the attitude of Lord Northcliffe so far as this Air Council is concerned. Hon. Members may have varying opinions as to the ability And methods of Lord Northcliffe, but one thing I am perfectly certain about is that he possesses energy and enterprise. He may have good reasons for refusing the position, but I am confident that if he had accepted it he would have been most anxious to have had naval and military associates on that Council. The fact that he has refused the position suggests to me that they have refused to give him a free hand. I am in favour of seeing the Air Minister, for better or worse, with a free hand, subject always to such advice as the Council could render to them. Nothing can be said against having associate members attached to this Council. To suggest that it would cause friction is nonsense. I say that it will 787 defeat friction, intrigue, and inefficiency in their early stages. Let us assume that the Admiralty are anxious for another squadron of machines or for the development of one particular type of machine in the interests of the Grand Fleet. The Grand Fleet have suffered at the hands of German airships. Up to recently they have been blind. We are proposing to take all that away from the Grand Fleet again, to transfer it all to the Air Service, and we leave it to the new Air Minister to blind the Grand Fleet. He will not do it, of course, but he will have his own ideas. There are two schools in the Air Service, the lighter-than-air school and the heavier-than-air school. A lot of confusion will arise. I can almost hear now the arguments that will be put forward by the airship experts of the Admiralty, when the Air Service is transferred, to show that the Air Council should supply the Navy with lighter than air machines. I can equally hear the arguments put forward for heavier than air machines.
I suggest that this Council should have upon it one naval representative who can attend the deliberations of the Council and put forward the views of the Admiralty, while the consultation is taking place and before a definite decision is come to, because the tragedy of officials is that, having decided, rightly or wrongly, they think that they are becoming smaller men instead of greater men in the opinion of others if they withdraw their opinion in face of evidence which justifies that withdrawal. The Army and the Fleet will require extraordinary assistance from the Air Service. They will actually constitute the Air Service during the first few months, if not the first year of its career, because, despite the transfer and calling it by a different name, of the men, officers, machines and materials employed under the direction of the Air Service about 75, or, at any rate, 60 per cent. will be in the hands of the Army until such period as all these delicate questions of control, distribution, machines, the use
§ to which they are to be put, and the development experiments which are necessary for a complete understanding of the possibility of the employment of aeroplanes in connection with naval and military forces are settled. It would be a tragedy if all these things are placed in the hands of a Council which had no naval or military adviser upon it. If it were purely and simply in the hands of the Council to have the direction of a great raiding squadron, possibly this Amendment would not be so important, but as it is proposed that this Council shall affect and is requested to work in harmony with the two great Services the Army and Navy, I consider that it will be a very serious matter if this Amendment is lost.
§ Major BAIRD
I cannot accept this Amendment. The Government are fully alive to the necessity of keeping the closest possible touch between the Army and Navy and the Air Forces. It has been stated quite clearly that the main business of the Air Council would be to co-ordinate the Air Forces of the two Services. The hon. Member did not appreciate the competition of the Air Council as it is now proposed. This Council will discharge its duties in relation to the Army and Navy, and obviously means will have to be taken to keep the closest possible touch between all three Services. I do not think that the method suggested by the hon. Member is necessarily the best method. There is nothing whatever to stop the Air Council inviting the Admiralty and the War Office to send representatives to consult with them. Undoubtedly consultations will be of daily, indeed, hourly occurrence, but it is essential in the interests of efficiency to leave it to the Air Council to decide the best methods to adopt.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 0; Noes, 143.789
|Division No.113]||AYES.||[3.14 p.m.|
|TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Billing, and Mr. Lynch,|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Archdale, Lieut. E. M.||Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Baird, John Lawrence||Beale, Sir William Phipson|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Barnett, Captain R. W.||Beck, Arthur Cecil|
|Anstruther-Gray, Lieut.-Col. William||Barnston, Capt. Harry||Beckett, Hon Gervase|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Parrott, Sir James Edward|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs. Lecl.)|
|Blair, Reginald||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Pease, Rt. Hon. H. Pike (Darlington)|
|Boland, John Plus||Haslam, Lewis||Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Henry, Sir Charles||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Boyton, James||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Philipps,Maj.-Gen. Sit Ivor (S'ampton)|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Butcher, John George||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rees. G. C. (Carnarvonshire. Arfon)|
|Cave, Rt Hon. Sir George||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Roberts, Rt. Hon. George H. (Norwich).|
|Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk.||Rowlands, James|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Ingleby, Holcombe||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Jardine. Sir J. (Roxburgh)||Shaw, Hon. A.|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Smallwood, Edward|
|Craig, Colonel James (Down, E.)||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Joyce, Michael||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Creeks, Rt. Hon. William||Kellaway, Frederick George||Staveley-Hill, Lieut.-Col. Henry|
|Crumley, Patrick||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald|
|Currie, George W.||Kiley, James Daniel||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West))|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Lambert. Richard (Wilts. Cricklade)||Sykes, Col. Sir Alan John (Knutsford)|
|Dickinson, Rt Hon. Willoughby H.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Doris, William||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid.)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Fell, Arthur||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Wedgwood, Lieut.-Commander Josiah C.|
|Fleming, Sir John||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk. B'ghs)||Weigall, Lieut.-Col. W. E. G. A.|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Mackinder, Halford J.||Whiteley, Herbert J.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Macmaster, Donald||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Gardner, Ernest||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Gilbert. J. D.||Macpherson, James Ian||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Maden, Sir John Henry||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Magnus, Sir Philip||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Greig, Colonel J. W.||Morgan, George Hay||Young, William (Perthshire, East),|
|Gretton, John||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Griffith, Rt, Hon. Ellis Jones||O'Grady, James|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||O'Malley, William|
|Hackett, John||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Parker, James (Halifax)||Lord Edmund Talbot and Captain Guest.|
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words "Provided that no member of the Air Council shall be financially, interested in any undertaking which supplies aeroplanes, aeroplane engines, or parts thereof to the Government."
I move this Amendment on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson). It was moved in the Committee stage, and gave rise to an interesting discussion. The result of that discussion was that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill, seeing the strong support his proposal received in Committee, said the matter would be considered before the Report stage. I do not desire to recapitulate what was put forward in support of the proposal in the course of that Debate, but I think it is to the advantage of the House that I should very briefly indicate what the main arguments were. Nobody, of course, seeks to disparage the value of services rendered to the country during the War by business men who have given their services to various Government Depart- 790 ments. There have been instances in which valuable help has been received, not only by the Air Service, but by the Ministry of Munitions and by the War Office, from business men, and consequently nobody wishes to prevent the best business and technical skill being at the disposal of the Government. Nor is it intended to discourage in any way those men who have served on the existing Air Board, or to suggest that their action has, in any degree been improper. The reason for putting forward this proposal in connection with the Air Service is that the Air Service is in that stage which places a man who has business interests in a position of peculiar difficulty when he accepts a post in the Government. In the first place, the Air Service, more than any other, is in the experimental stage. You have continuously a series of improvements being brought into operation, and all sorts of questions arise in respect of royalties which may be payable for patents for improvements,. and other matters. It is of the utmost importance that there should be no sugges- 791 tion of financial interest on the part of those who make decisions in respect of royalties that may be payable. But the further question arises as to the likelihood of trials being given to new inventions, where those connected with the Air Board might happen to be financially interested in machines which at the present time are being turned out for the Government. That, I think, is a matter of extreme importance. It is obviously essential that in our Air Service we should have an open door to every possible improvement. It is necessary that our airmen may have the best possible machines at their service. I mentioned in Committee a case where an inventor was dissatisfied. I do not suggest that there was substance in his complaint, but, rightly or wrongly, he attributed the decision to the preference, as it were, or want of impartiality, of a competitor of his who happened to be a member of the Air Board. There might be perfectly sound technical grounds for rejecting his invention, but the very fact that the person responsible for the decision was a man who had been involved in long patent litigation with the inventor was not one calculated to create a feeling of confidence in the decision when it was given. You had anyhow a situation which led to suspicion, and it is a matter of the utmost importance that you should not have a situation in which such suspicion can possibly arise.
There is a further matter which was not referred to previously. We know that in respect of the production of munitions we have had a national shell factory and national munitions factories, and we know that the Board of Admiralty, whether rightly or wrongly I cannot say, has decided to establish national shipyards. There is no national aeroplane engine factory. It has been found very useful from the national point of view in respect of the production of guns and shells and now in the matter of ships that you should have the nation going into business to compete with those who are already engaged in it. We have in the matter of aeroplane engine construction no national factory, and that decision influenced by those who at the present time are greatly interested in existing engine factories. I do not think it is right that a decision on an important matter of policy of that kind should be influenced by men who are interested in the trade. I think it is 792 right that the services of those men should be obtained in an advisory capacity, but to make them members of your Air Council responsible for administration and for decisions in matters of policy such as those I have referred to is, I think, a principle which should not be adopted. It is true it has been already in force in regard to the Air Board, but now that we are setting up an Air Ministry I think it is our duty to make it clear in respect of this Ministry that a different course should be taken and that the new Ministry should be entirely unfettered by private interests, and that there should not be the slightest shadow of suspicion possible to arise with regard to decisions as to inventions, for example. In the second place, when you come to a large issue of policy, such as that of having a national aeroplance engine factory, that decision of policy should not be in the hands of those who are interested in private firms. We hear many accounts of possible developments of this industry, and undoubtedly there will be great developments in the future. In developing industry of this kind I think it is a matter of national policy that nothing should be done which might possibly lead to a monopoly of interests in the industry in the future, but that the nation itself should always be in the position to check any such monopoly. While you have private manufacturers represented on your Board which takes decisions of policy I do not think you have a safeguard against decisions of that kind. It is for these reasons I have raised this question. I hope that the Government will be able to make some statement that, at least so far as the larger matters of policy are concerned, there will be no danger whatever of private interests interfering with decisions which ought to be taken solely in the national interest.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think the House on some previous Amendments has been somewhat restive by reason of the character of the Amendments moved and the verbosity of the speeches. I hope that all of us who take an interest in this Bill will limit our remarks so far as we possibly can. My hon. Friend has raised what I think is a point of substance and a point which, although it was argued in Committee, is a point which it is essential should be raised again on the Report stage. I am glad also that 793 the Leader of the House, who came down the other afternoon and made a most interesting, important, and vital statement, is present during the discussion now, because when the Amendment was previously moved, although I do not desire to criticise them, certain obiter dicta fell from the representatives of the Government which impelled me for one, though I had no intention of taking part in that Debate, to rise and protest against the doctrine then enunciated. I quite agree that there is a distinction in matters of this kind between a time of war and a time of peace. In a time of peace it would have been impossible for the Air Council to take any person who was actually interested in the material of warfare. At the same time I wish to be clearly understood that I for one, and I am most deeply interested in the great Service with which this Bill is concerned, should not desire to deprive the Executive Government of the services, especially the advisory services, of any man who from the nature of the case owing to the technical character and novelty of the matter had from his profession acquired special knowledge. I also say that we have to recognise that the Government is passing through a very special time. But there has been so much talk throughout the country, loose talk but still talk, to which great importance is attached in the trade union world and the Labour and Socialist world about profiteering and the like, that I think it would not be unworthy of the time of the Leader of the House that he should make quite clear what is the case for the Government. I understand it is that this is an entirely exceptional case which is borne in upon them by the necessities of the War. In the hope that a statement will be made, I beg to second.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I certainly can find no fault either with the length or the tone of the speeches which have been made in support of this Amendment. But the Government cannot accept it—most emphatically cannot accept it—and, indeed, I am of the opinion that those who support it, support it without any clear idea of the conditions, or knowledge, of those industries which are now being carried on. This proposal really goes very much further than the rule which was laid down by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as to directorships, which has since been adopted. The rule in regard to these appointments was that 794 members of the Government were not to he directors of companies; but it was clearly understood that that rule did not apply to the private businesses of the gentlemen themselves. It must be obvious to the House that that is a right distinction, otherwise it would mean that no, business man could ever become a member of the Government until he had absolutely given up his business. This proposal really goes to this length, not that a man has to give up directorships, but if he should have a business of his own, which, by any possibility, may come in contact with the kind of matter with which he is dealing for the Government, he must either cease to serve the Government or must give up his business. That is a curious suggestion to be entertained by the House of Commons. I know that from the very beginning of the War I myself have taken up the view, and have. expressed it often—and every time I have expressed it I have had the approval, so far as I could judge, of the whole House—that this country possesses in our business men a mine of capacity, and especially of organising ability, which it was the first duty of the Government to bring into its service in the conduct of the War.
Personally, I believe that the tremendous effort which has been made in this country in organising peaceful institutions for the purpose of war is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened in the history of the world. I believe that that would have been absolutely impossible but for the assistance which the Government has gradually got more and. more from practical business men who have been carrying on organisations in this country. When you say you want business men, you mean you want business men with special knowledge of particular things, and it is almost impossible to get men with that special knowledge unless they have been engaged in businesses which are more or less connected with manufactures. The idea that a man should be asked to give up his business, or else cease to serve the State, seems to me to be quite absurd. Obviously, however, if he is giving his whole time—and most of these Gentlemen are—to the service of the State, they cannot be engaged in conducting their own businesses. To say that they have to give up their businesses means that when the War is over they will have lost not merely their profit, whatever that means, but 795 have lost the whole occupation which has been made the business and work of their life.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member is not very quick to understand what I said. I did not state that after the War they would not merely lose their profits if they gave up their businesses, but lose the occupation which is part of their lives. Nobody could ask anyone to come under any such obligations.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I put that as a general proposition. I venture, however, to say something more. I thoroughly sympathise with the feeling of the House, that, so far as possible, any suspicion of private interest should be avoided. I am perfectly in favour of any plan that you can lay down which will secure that result, and which does not have one or two effects: which does not suggest suspicion on the part of this House as to the motives of these men—of whom I myself can name scores—who are not only giving their service, but suffering great financial loss in order to help the country at this time. Therefore, I approve any restriction which does not suggest that suspicion. I approve any suggestion which does not deprive the country of men who are specially needed at a time like this. Within these lines I shall be perfectly ready to go. It is the custom, I know, as regards the Ministry of Munitions—I am not sure about other Departments, but it is a very good custom—that every business man should make a declaration to the Secretary of the Department of what are his interests. That is a good arrangement. It is good from the point of view of the Minister; he knows exactly the position. It is good from the point of view of the business man: he shows that he is concealing nothing, that everything is open, and everybody knows exactly what they are going to do. While I say that, I do not myself rely upon that as a protection. I have said many times in this House, and I repeat it now, that my own opinion is, if Government Departments are dealing with business men in the way of bargaining, in nine cases out of ten the business man will get the best of it. I have spent the better part of my life in business. For seventeen years I have been associated with the 796 House of Commons. I know what are the standards of honour, and all the rest of it, of business men. With my matured experience I venture to say this, that though the point of view is a different view, in my belief the standard of honour of business men is not lower than the standard here. What I rely upon in these matters is this: If you go to a business man, not to bargain but to say to him, "We ask you to act for the State, and we trust you," I venture to state here that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that trust will never be abused. What is more, that is not merely what one might expect from one's peace-time experience, but we have had an immense experience of it in this War. I know of no case where that trust has been abused. I know scores of cases where men have given not merely of their time, but given of their money, in order to have the privilege of helping the country at a time when the country needed their service. So much for the general situation.
I wish the House to consider this particular case. This Amendment is concerned not merely with this Board. If the principle of this Amendment be adopted it would have to be adopted all round. The result would be that I do not know how many men serving us in the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions would be compelled to give up what they are doing. I wish the House to consider the matter as regards this particular case. It applies only to one man. There is only one man who can be affected by this particular Amendment. The only man who can be affected is Sir William Weir.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Absolutely. Only one man who is on the Air Board. If this Amendment be passed, what is the position? As it happens, I have, ever since I have been a member of the Government, taken the keenest interest in the Air Service. What I am saying now is not something got up in order to make this speech. It is the knowledge of over two years. Sir William Weir is the life and soul of the Supply Department of the Air Service. I do not know anyone who is indispensable. I do not believe in that doctrine. But I do say this: If he were to leave his present post it would be a calamity to the Air Service. What is his position? Before the War he had nothing to do with aeroplanes in any shape or form. The Director-General at that time 797 went down to Glasgow, where he had personal connections, to try and get people as servants of the Government to undertake the work required to be done. Sir William Weir's firm undertook that work. The work which they undertook was on the basis of actual cost with 5 per cent. added. Anyone connected with manufacturing knows that if an estimate were made at an ordinary time more than 5 per cent. would be put on to the actual cost, so that I may say that practically this work is being done for nothing by this firm. I really wish this House to consider the effect of this kind of discussion when it falls upon one man alone, and in this case it only affects one man.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I raised this discussion quite impersonally. While I knew Sir William Weir was connected with the Board, I made no reflection whatever on him.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not in the least think that this is a personal attack on Sir William Weir. That was not the point I was dealing with, but we all know he was the only man concerned for the moment, and therefore it seemed to me, as he seemed to be directly concerned, right to ask him to come and see me yesterday. He did so, and I talked it over with him. I found that he looked upon this as something affecting his position, and his first feeling was that he would like to be done with Government contracts altogether. I explained to him the position, but it is not easy for an outsider to understand these things. I explained to him that these questions are raised not on personal grounds, but in order to maintain what we consider to be a right principle, and that there was nothing personal about it. But it is not so easy to make people who do not understand our methods realise that these points are raised, not always to maintain a principle but sometimes to annoy the Government.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think that suggestion ought never to have been made—that this was done purely to annoy the Government.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I made no such suggestion. What I said was that sometimes that was the motive for raising these questions.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I explained the position as well as I could to Sir William Weir. I said it was a matter of principle. He accepted that. I said also that the Government would support me. He replied —and I think I should have taken the same view—"I am not serving the Government; I am trying, as far as I can, to help my country. This question has been raised in the House of Commons. It does not satisfy me that the Government supports me. Since it has been raised, I want to be sure that the House of Commons also is willing for me to go on." That is not unreasonable. With regard to all these questions I recognise as fully as any Member of the House that there is great danger of laxity growing up in regard to this kind of thing, but in these times we have to take war conditions. I am sure no one in the House would think that what we approve of now is to be regarded as a precedent as to what shall be done in time of peace. I would venture to ask the House of Commons as a whole, not merely with regard to this particular Amendment, but in regard to all these matters, that they should adopt the principle recommended by Lord Salisbury in another connection, that they should use large-scale maps and that they should consider not merely the principle, but, if necessary, go a little outside. I venture to make this appeal to the House. Let them show by their vote—or, better still, by having no vote—that not merely in the case of this particular gentleman, but in the case of all men who are giving their services in this kind of work, that we are not suspicious of them, but are grateful to them for the services rendered.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I think I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is not an attempt in any way in this Amendment to bring in personal considerations, which for the first time he has introduced into this Debate. We are fighting for a principle, and we do not want to drag into the fight on that principle the name of 799 any person. I submit that this is a very important principle. We may be able to abandon the principle for the sake of securing the services of one individual—
In this case let us frankly admit that we are abandoning a principle for a consideration which may be worth while. Am I to understand that the right hon. Gentleman takes the view that if the Secretary of the Air Board had a financial interest in a firm he would be able to make a contract with that firm? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would go as far as that. The rule now in operation prevents any such thing taking place, because Parliament is anxious that there should be no conflict, and indeed no appearance of conflict, between the public and private interests of men who serve the State. I venture to think that that is a right view to take. It is not merely efficiency in administration; it is also confidence in administration that counts; and I submit for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman that this merely does not affect one person. We do not know how many members of the Council it may affect—
One in this case, and I am quite sure we are all very anxious to secure a continuation of his services. But, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, we are legislating for the future as well as for the present, and it might be most harmful if it were thought that in any Government Department there were men in receipt of Government salaries—I do not know whether Sir William Weir is or is not in receipt of a Government salary—it would be most harmful if it were thought that such men could come to a decision with regard to anything affecting the things they manufacture and affecting also their rivals in that industry. I am quite sure the House of Commons would not sanction or allow such a state of affairs as that. I do not want, after the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman, to dwell upon this matter, but there is considerable difficulty in it, and I would have suggested, if a gentleman were financially interested in the manufacture of some particular engine or part of an aeroplane or some other form of construction, that when the matter came before the Air Council he should leave the decision to his colleagues.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am afraid I have been misunderstood. I must have put my point rather badly. What I said was that we have to trust these men to act in a reasonable way, and I am perfectly certain. that no one would do otherwise.
I am quite sure he would leave the matters to the other members of the Air Board, and would not in any way attempt to influence their judgment. But I think it must be made perfectly clear that the principle is art important one. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, the present arrangement is not intended to apply to peace time, and we are only to depart from the principle I have referred to in time of war. The right hon. Gentleman, I take it, agrees with the view I am trying rather haltingly to put before the House of Commons, that in time of peace, as I understand the argument, it is all very well, but that those considerations that apply so cogently in time of peace cannot be applied in time of war, because we should lose services which are very important to the State. Put in that way, I am prepared to accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
Although I am prepared to follow the Leader of the House, I should be extremely loth to keep my seat without, as a Member of the House of Commons, entering some respectful protest against the introduction of personalities and of the personal aspect in the discussion of a matter which is really one of very great principle. I am probably not alone, but represent the majority of those who have listened to this Debate, in having up to the time of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention been absolutely ignorant of who were to be on the Air Council, and whether even one was professionally or commercially interested in the trade. I think the right hen. Gentleman on reflection will see that if we are to have this innovation become one of the established practices of debate, of intervening in the discussion of a great principle by the introduction of names and of individualities, it will practically put a muzzle on any thinking Member of the House of Commons, as no 801 one with an instinct of honour, or even an instinct of gentlemanly feeling, could, continue the discussion on this most important principle if it were once associated with a definite personality. I think, on the merits, this proposal is one that ought to have the gravest possible consideration from the House of Commons. As has been pointed out, the whole defence of this particular arrangement rests upon the assumption that we are now dealing with war emergency conditions and legislating for war emergency conditions. That is not the intention or the scope of this particular Bill at all. We are actually establishing a permanent new Service of the country, and we have no sort of information as to whether or not the present personnel of the Air Board, or the proposed personnel of the Air Council, will comprise the membership of that Council in three, five, or ten years. Certainly when we are embarking on a new departure of this great importance we should be a little alive to the principles to which we pay homage in the case of corporations or councils. I made a proposal of this kind in connection with a much less important matter, because it did not happen to be a Government proposal. I ventured to make a protest on the same kind of principle in connection with the Trade Corporation Charter a few months ago. That was not a direct Government measure, or direct Government proposal, but was one to which the Government were giving a certain sponsorship. With regard to this Ministry, I think there is the greatest possible objection to the neglect of a most important principle without any safeguard whatever, and if there were some sort of qualifying condition by which the matter should be reconsidered or reviewed after the termination of hostilities, and the Air Council in its permanent form should not have upon it persons financially interested in or directly connected with any trade concerned with that Department I should be reassured. I was startled when the Leader of the House drew a distinction, which I should find it difficult to accept, between the directors of companies and the heads of private firms financially interested in these trades. I hope we shall not have that principle pressed too far, and I implore the right hon. Gentleman, as a distinguished Member of the House who is very sensitive of its traditions, not 802 to allow the innovation of this afternoon to be followed up in a discussion of these important questions.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I think everyone will agree that it is very desirable to maintain the general principle in normal times that there should never be a conflict of private interests with official duties. The hon. Member (Mr. Sherwell) has spoken of my right hon. Friend having introduced the subject, and of his having raised a new principle, but that is a mistake. The Bill as it stands is in a normal form. What is proposed is to make a special restriction applying only to this particular council which would, of course, establish a new Statutory system which you would have to extend as a matter of logic to every Department of the Government. But in this particular case it only applies to the Air Council. The innovation, if there be any, is in the Amendment, and not in the Bill. Everyone, I suppose, assents to the general proposition that you want to keep private interests and public duty absolutely distinct, but, as my right hon. Friend has explained, in this particular case, and I believe in many other cases, urgent public necessity has obliged the Department to depart from the normal course. It would be quite impossible to conduct the business of the country in time of war without having recourse to eminent business men who may be interested in the articles which the Government desire to use. In this particular case, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, there is only one individual who would be affected by this proposed Amendment. It is a perfectly plain case. A distinguished business firm is asked on public grounds to undertake the manufacture of aeroplanes. The principal member of the firm, being an extraordinarily able man, having administrative capacity in addition to his business capacity of the very highest order, adds to his service to the country by undertaking the functions of controlling the supply. Obviously, it would be madness to put obstacles in the way of, much less to throw slurs upon, anyone who took that course.
It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Sir William Weir's services to the supply of aircraft are at this moment of the highest possible value, and could not be dispensed with without inflicting the most serious damage on the public advantage. He is a man who is most profoundly 803 respected by everyone who has to deal with him, both for his great tact and his most remarkable capacity. He conducts the most important section of the work, the supply of aeroplanes, with conspicuous success, and with an admirable tact and flexibility which makes him the friend of every Department with which he has to work. The only direct effect of this Amendment illustrates how mischievous it is in time of war to lay down a rigid constitutional rule of this kind. Unquestionably, innovations introduced in time of war, whether they be invasions of the normal liberty of the subject or of the practice of Parliament in matters of this kind, must be most carefully watched in time of peace to prevent them developing into abuses, but it would be a most serious public mischief if we adopted this Amendment which could have no immediate effect except to drive out of office a most valuable, and indeed almost indispensable, public servant, and which would add nothing to the protection which we can perfectly well erect in time of peace for the principle we are all anxious to maintain. I am certain that there is not anyone who is familiar with the needs of the Air Service at this time who would not most earnestly join in the appeal my right hon. Friend has made at this moment, and in the great crisis in which we are living, not to put an obstacle to the public service by making a rigid rule which would exclude from that service a man whose position in the Air Service is the most invaluable and indispensable of all.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I must say the arguments used by the Noble Lord have almost, if not quite, convinced me that any Rule or Regulation of this sort should not be embodied in any Act of Parliament, but should be an understood matter in the future as it has been in the past. When I came into the Debate this afternoon I did not know that the case of Sir William Weir or anyone else was in question. From what I know I should think he was an ideal member of the Board, and if a vote were to be taken I hope he would understand it did not affect our regard for him. This is a question of bold legislation, and this is an opportunity of laying down the principles upon which absolutely unimpeachable public work ought to be carried out. I remember very well one Secretary of State who seems to me to have adopted the ideal method. 804 When he came into office he submitted his list of investments to his Permanent Secretary of State, and asked him to mark any he thought that he should sell. The Secretary of State marked the P. and 0. shares, and he sold those shares. That seems to me to be an admirable example. I will not give his name. That is a case in point, but I remember a case which is almost directly applicable to this particular Bill before us. An uncle of mine, Sir George Rendel, was made Civil Lord of the Admiralty when that post was. originally formed in the early eighties. He was then a director of Armstrong. When the post was formed the Admiralty wanted to get in civilian advice. He took the office, and he was forced, I think, in that case by an Act, or by the wish of the Government, to realise all his Armstrong shares, with the result that he lost a considerable fortune in doing so.
That has been the practice in the past, and I hope it will be, in times of peace, the practice in the future also; because we politicians are open to far more criticism, to far more antagonism, from the public of this country than any private body of traders, and therefore it behoves us to be far more careful, particularly those who accept posts intimately connected with the manufacturing trade. It would be far better that no one should be able to point the finger of scorn at us. Our Government in the past—and I think in the present day—has been far more on a pinnacle in respect of honesty than any other Government in the world; and I should dislike enormously any suggestion, by Amendment in an Act of Parliament, or any practice which led the public to suppose that in future Members directly connected with businesses were in charge of Departments which had connection with those businesses. It is not a question of their impeccable honesty, or of their preferring their own trade to that of their rivals. I should say in most of those cases they prefer that of their rivals in their excessive desire to be on the right side. It is extremely important that none of the sub-ordinate officials, the staff, the inspectors, the draughtsmen, and the hundred and. one people in their Departments, who have to do with all the different manufactures, should be suspected, any more than the heads of the Departments, of unduly favouring the firms with which their chiefs are connected. All these are things which must be con- 805 sidered when we are making arrangements of a permanent character. In war all these safeguards must go. We have got along so far singularly well without any grave scandals, and I believe we shall do so for the rest of the War. But even if scandals do come, if we see the best man in the field, we must take him, whatever the risks may be. Whether a Division is taken or not upon this question, I trust that Sir William Weir will realise that we are discussing as a debating society a principle of administration, and disregarding entirely the individual who may imagine that he is being pointed at in this Amendment.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I should not have intervened in this Debate only I feel strongly on this matter, and I spoke strongly upon it when an Amendment of a similar kind was brought up in Committee. I had no idea that Sir William Weir or any other individual was aimed at, and I do not think there was any such intention on the part of the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. I do, however, think that we really have some right to find fault with the Government for not telling us the composition of this Air Council. We have asked about it, but we have not got any reply, but when we go on discussing principles for the formation of this great force we are suddenly told that we are treading upon somebody's toes. I think the Government ought to tell us straight away who is going to be on the Air Council. It appears to be assumed that we know already. We do know that there are certain gentlemen on the Air Board, but we have not the faintest idea whether they are going to be on the Air Council or not. In view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that it would be wrong for this Amendment to be pressed to a Division, I sincerely trust that the Mover will withdraw it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I only wish to have an opportunity for Debate, and I intend to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Sir I. PHILIPPS
I am glad that the Proposer intends to withdraw this proposal. All I wish to add is that I have personal acquaintance as to the valuable work of Sir William Weir. I have worked with him at the Ministry of Munitions, and I know his sterling qualities. I can quite appreciate why the Government are most reluctant to lose his services, and I should look upon that as a national mis- 806 fortune. I am sure that Sir William Weir, by his continuance in office, will satisfy not only the Government and the House of Commons, but the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked for a relaxation of this rule only for the purposes of the War, and we are assured that present arrangements will not continue in peace time. Under these circumstances I think we should be satisfied, and that it would be wrong for any of us to take any step which would in any way hamper the Government in carrying on the War.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I should like to make what is almost a personal explanation. I quite realise the force of what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) has said about giving names. I did not do it purposely. The reason was that all the business people know that Sir William Weir was the only person who could be affected, and he seemed to be so much upset by it that I desired that the House of Commons itself should show by its own action that the House, as well as the Government, appreciated his services.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
As to the personal matter which has been raised, I desire to say nothing. I was quite unaware that Sir William Weir was implicated in this matter. I do not even know what precisely is Sir William Weir's connection. I really desire to protest against the extraordinary statement made by the Leader of the House, and apparently accepted by, generally that purity, is less important in war than in time of peace. That seems to me an astonishing proposition. Surely at a time when the whole fate of the War may depend upon the success of our Air Service, and when the whole success of our Air Service may depend upon the right kind of engine, it is not less important but far more important, that no possible suspicion should attach to any person on the Air Board. The Leader of the House told us that a gentleman in this sort of position, having a particular interest in a machine or part of a machine, would probably, when the matter came up for discussion, withdraw and take no part in it. I think that is probably perfectly true, but suppose Sir William Weir—I do not know what his position is—were interested in the very engine most wanted, he would, under those principles, be precluded from taking part in the discussion. This man who, we are told, is the life and soul of the air industry—I believe it is probably true—would be precluded from pressing it. 807 The more honourable the man, the more inclined he would be to withdraw at the very moment when it might be most desirable that his vigour, his energy, and his enthusiasm should be directed to getting the right type of engine. He would feel himself precluded by his own personal connection from taking any action whatsoever. That would be a very unfortunate thing, and I should have thought that it would have been very much better that it should be generally understood that no man should have any personal interest in any matter likely to come up for his consideration in his official capacity.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to insert the words, "If it should be found necessary, owing to the exigencies of the present War, to countenance the appointment to the Air Council of individuals who are members of trading concerns directly or indirectly interested in the output of aeronautical material or the tendering for, or accepting of, orders from such Air Council all such persons shall automatically retire from such Council immediately on the cessation of hostilities."
This Amendment falls well within the scope of the statement made by the Leader of the House. If it is not carried, any Members on the Air Council who are also members of trading concerns will in time of peace be able to continue to remain on that Council. The Leader of the House has stated that the only reason for rejecting the previous Amendment or not considering it seriously, was because of the position of one man. His statement reminded me of a certain Sarah who, finding an excuse for her illegitimate child, said "It is only a little one." While we may be obliged to waive this principle in time of war, surely the Government cannot give any excuse for not undertaking to restore it in time of peace. I sincerely trust it will be restored not only in the case of the Air Council, but also in the case of this House itself. It places hon. Members in a very difficult position indeed, when we, of our own volition, by the Courts Emergency Act, took power to vote on matters in which we were financially interested. When quite recently hon. Members were showing such extraordinary surprise that we should permit it in the case of the Air Council, I do not know whether they were aware that we 808 passed a special Act to permit it in our our cases. It is very difficult for us to sit in judgment on the Air Council as to whether they shall have members on that body who are also financially interested in its work, when we have foregone the principle in the womb of public opinion. There can be no doubt that if the Government do net accept this Amendment it is their intention not only to continue to break this principle but to accentuate its breaking.
There can be no possible excuse for this Amendment not being accepted. The Leader of the House, having committed what is possibly the greatest political it indiscretion in his life, which is saying a good deal, has left the House. If he had remained, I should have liked to ask him whether he would give the House an undertaking that this should be the only case. He says it is only one case. Will he undertake that it shall be the only case? It is a very unfortunate thing that one gentleman's name should have been mentioned in this Debate. That places all those who speak on the Question in a very invidious position, because it makes them feel that to a certain extent their duty is guiding them into unpleasant paths. However unpleasant I may consider it to be, I still conceive it to be my duty to say that it is against the best interests of the public service that private interests should ever be allowed to clash with them. In view of the fact that we are fighting this War on a question of principle, it would be just as well if we gave serious consideration to the breaking of principles in order to bring victory a little nearer. Hon. Members must know how extra-ordinarily difficult ft is to dissociate private and public measures in their own minds. For example, we have been debating this afternoon matters of grave public urgency on the formation of this great air fleet with only half a dozen Members present. Would that have occurred if we were discussing a financial measure or a question of coal or ships or anything else that might have a financial bearing on the private affairs of hon. Members? Directly this Amendment came up on a question affecting not only the gentleman whose name has been unfortunately mentioned, but which may affect hundreds of other men—the Leader of the House said it would affect hundreds of other men—then we get a full House. It is very unfortunate that the House should become more populous when 809 we are discussing a matter of that description than when we are discussing the fate of the Air Service itself. I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to give this Amendment his most serious consideration. Not only are we to forego these principles in time of war, but if the Amendment is not carried it must be accepted that we are to forego them in times of peace. The Noble Lord, in a speech which might have appealed to some sections of the House, suggests that because we have never embodied a proviso of this kind in a Bill before, it would be a terrible and a shocking thing to do it now. Is it not equally terrible and shocking that the exigencies of war have necessitated our breaking a principle? It is a far more serious thing to break a principle than to adjust a Bill, and if it has caused us to break our principle, surely we ought so to frame the law, the principle of which is being broken, as to see that when the War is over this thing is not carried on to any extent.
I should like to say, also, that any gentleman who is added to this Council, will find himself in a very difficult position indeed. The minute peace comes there will be cancellations of orders right, left, and centre. The Air Council will be called upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut its loss. He will say to the Air Council, "What do your contracts involve you in?" They will say, "Million pounds." All this stuff which is being manufactured now on war orders is no good because the War is over, and it is not reasonable to believe that we shall have war again in twelve months, and as all the machines you are now building are specially for war within the next twelve months, and in twelve months after that they will be obsolete, it is best to cancel. What is the proprietor of a large firm to say to that? Presumably he will be obliged to cancel all the orders of his firm, and it is a very difficult position for a man to be in. Not only that, but he will naturally know all the future plans. He will be the first to know as to the possibilities of mail carriers, and other duties to which aeroplanes may be put, and it is putting a man in an impossible position to give him this information and ask him not even to give his attention outside the Council to such a matter. These things pass through his mind, and if he was consulted as to designs and so on it would be very difficult for him to erase from his mind the information that he had heard in the Council Chamber. When the Leader of the House 810 referred to the great sacrifices which are being made I wish that no name had been mentioned, and that he had dealt more generally with that aspect of it. But there are men in this country, not in ones or twos but in hundreds and thousands, who are making far bigger sacrifices than giving up, even for the period of the War, attention to their business. In the question of sacrifices property does not occur. Property must not be allowed to occur. There are thousands in this country with one-man businesses who have shut them up and ruined themselves.
§ Mr. BILLING
I will leave that, because the mere inference is enough to carry to the mind of any thinking man the equality respecting sacrifice of men in this country. Although we are obliged, through circumstances which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has certainly enunciated but has not made very clear, to make this special exception in our principles purely in the case of one man, I trust it will not be carried to any extent, and I trust it will not be perpetuated when peace comes. Therefore I look forward to the hon. Member giving us that assurance. If that assurance is not forthcoming, it means that the Leader of the House made a statement which he is not prepared to substantiate. He promised us it should not be done; therefore why is there any objection to embodying that promise in the Bill? When the time comes the right hon. Gentleman may not be leading the House—there are more impossible and more likely things—and it may be said from that bench, as I have heard it said before, that they did not personally give that assurance. Therefore, I think in the interest of purity in the conduct of our public affairs, this Amendment should be accepted, and I appeal to some hon. Member who views it in the same way, though he may not see eye to eye with me on many subjects, to come forward and second this Amendment if he sees eye to eye with me as to the desirability of cleansing our public life in times of peace. If this Amendment is carried it is no reflection upon the gentlemen whose names have been mentioned, or upon any member of the Air Council or any other public officer. I hope that when peace comes we shall be able to draw front the Government some Motion in this 811 House to upset the Courts (Emergency) Bill which puts it into the power of Members of this House to vote public money—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment is not seconded.
The next three Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member are all out of order, as they are covered in the Bill; but the Amendment as to the decision of the Air Council being final in certain matters is in order.
§ Mr. BILLING
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (4), to add the words,
"If any conflict should arise between the Admiralty Board and the Air Council or the Army Council and the Air Council as to the development or the disposition of any Air Service personnel or material which is not peculiar to the requirements of the Grand Fleet or the Army in the field, then the decision of the Air Council shall prevail."
This is a very necessary Amendment in order to prevent the delays which would occur in the event of the Air Council wishing to perform any act or to do any of the things which they have powers to do under the Bill while the Army and the Navy make up their minds whether they agree or not. This Amendment would not have been necessary had we carried the previous Amendment standing in my name to attach to the Air Council representatives of the Army and Navy respectively. As it is not proposed that these representatives should be there it is the more important that in all purely aeronautical matters—if hon. Members will consult the Amendment they will see that it is only in case of matters which do not in any way refer to the Grand Fleet or the Army in the field—the will of the Air Council shall prevail without reference to the War Cabinet. Any hon. Member who knows anything of the inside workings of Government Departments will appreciate how trifling are some of the details which hold up the work of those Departments, and those details cannot be settled without going to the War Cabinet. I think that is most unfortunate, and my Amendment provides that in all matters that are purely air matters the Air Council should have the right to have its way without 812 having to refer to the War Cabinet. If this Amendment is carried, it will not in any way prevent an appeal to the War Cabinet in any case in which the Army or Navy could claim to have the slightest interest. So far as I can see, if the Air Council decided to draft fifty aeroplanes to the Fiji Islands, it is purely an air matter, as we have no Army and Navy there, and the Army or Navy should not object. That is altogether a matter for the decision of the Air Council, and in such a matter they should be supreme. I do not know whether hon. Members will appreciate the saving in time and trouble which would be effected if this Amendment were carried, but those who have service experience I am sure will appreciate it.
§ Amendment not seconded.