§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Air Ministry, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919."
Mr. PR INGLE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
It is undoubtedly an unusual and a somewhat anomalous course to propose a 1306 reduction in the Vote of the salary of a Minister in the case of an office which has just been vacated, and to which a new appointment has only been made two days ago. No doubt, owing to the change, the Debate we are likely to have to-day will lose something in piquancy, but I think there is ground for believing that it will not be entirely shorn, of usefulness. In the first place, I believe I am expressing the feeling in all quarters of the Committee when I say that we deeply sympathise with the late Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force in the reasons of ill-health and private sorrow which have compelled him, at this juncture, to relinquish his post. In spite of his retirement, a discussion of the recent changes at the Air Ministry is necessary at the present time, because, as we have been informed by the Leader of the House, the decision taken in regard to the late Chief of the Air Staff was not simply a decision of the late Secretary of State, but a decision of the War Cabinet. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] That is so, it has been stated by the Leader of the House. That is somewhat unusual in oases of this kind. In the second place, we have been informed, in answer to a question, that the matter which issued in his resignation was a question of policy, and in these circumstances it is the right of the Committee to be fully informed of the differences of opinion on policy between the Minister and his Chief of Staff which issued in the resignation. Further, there is even a stronger reason for the discussion, because the Committee is now still more interested than it was before that the best use should be made of the undoubted ability, particularly in regard to the Air Service, of the late Chief of the Air Staff. I think it important that by way of preliminary I should recapitulate the ascertained and undisputed facts. On the 15th April an announcement appeared in the Press, issued by the Secretary to the Air Ministry, to the effect that General Trenchard had resigned his post and that a successor had been appointed. A private notice question was put in the House on that date by the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) to which the Under-Secretary of State to the Air Ministry replied as follows:I have no statement to make beyond that the resignation resulted from the fact that General Trenchard took a view as to the powers and duties of the Chief of the Air Staff which the Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force could not accept. I am authorised by the Secretary of State to say that, personally, he yields to nobody in appreciation of General Trenchard's 1307 high qualities, and much regrets that a difference of opinion on a, point of principle should have arisen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1918, col. 43.A further question was put by myself on the 18th April, in which some further information, although not much, was elicited from the Leader of the House. I then asked whether General Trenchard's resignation had come before the War Cabinet and, further, whether the Leader of the House could make a statement as to the questions of principle which had led to the resignation? To these questions the right hon. Gentleman replied that the resignation of General Trenchard had come before the WarCabinet, but that he declined to make any statement as to the questions which had brought about his resignation. The final questions which complete our information on this subject were put on Wednesday, 24th April, by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Major Sir J. Simon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick (Sir F. Blake). The answers to those questions were to the effect that the resignation of General Trenchard was tendered on the 19th March to the Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force, who, on the 10th and 12th April, brought the: matter before the War Cabinet, and that the Secretary of State intimated on the 12th April to General Trenchard that he accepted his resignation. It was further stated by the right hon. Gentleman that neither the War Cabinet nor any member of it had seen General Trenchard on the subject or endeavoured to arrive at a solution of the difficulty. In reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick, it was admitted that General Trenchard had continued his work temporarily on being requested to do so, and had not been consulted as to whether the fact of his resignation ought to be made public. On the 25th April a letter was published from the Secretary of State resigning his office on grounds of health, and a letter of the same date was published by the Prime Minister accepting that resignation.
These arc all the admitted facts which up to the present, after prolonged cross-examination, the House has been able to extract from the Government. It seems to me that there is much that requires explanation. This strange and anomalous situation has had a number of extremely 1308 unfortunate effects. In the first place, the resignation in itself, announced without any explanation, has given rise to a great deal of unrest in the public mind as to the conduct of this Service, and it has brought about what is of far greater importance, a condition of complete consternation throughout all ranks in the Air Force. We have had a number of semi-official explanations offered in the usual way when such Ministerial and official changes occur. We are told by people who give the impression that they know, or ought to know, that General Trenchard was really not altogether qualified for the post which, up to a fortnight ago, everyone believed he admirably filled. We are told that he was no doubt an admirable fighting general, but that he was not fitted by ability and experience for a post in which high organising capacity was required, or, to use another phrase, which I have no doubt many Members have heard, that he was not fitted to be the head of a thinking Department. whatever that means. I have often heard this phrase used and it has always seemed to me to be employed by those who are anxious to conceal their own vacuity of thought. But it is strange that immediately a change of this kind occurs we find these extraordinary revelations regarding the reputation of high officials, and, in many cases, of generals and admirals. We are told that the men who have held posts as Chief of Staff, not only in the Air Force, but in the Army, and equally important posts at the Admiralty, have been men of the highest capacity, that they were in every way competent to advise the Government in the conduct of the War. Then, suddenly, something occurs and the demigods are cast down from their pedestal without any notice to the people who are outside the charmed circle. To slow-moving minds, this process presents some difficulty. We have a difficulty in adjusting ourselves to these sudden oscillations in official values. We naturally inquire why it is that a man who is a great administrator, with a genius for war, on one day should suddenly, in the course of a night, become totally incompetent for discharging the duties to which the Government has appointed him.
No real explanation has been given in this case. The only approach to an explanation has been given by the Secretary to the Air Ministry. It was that 1309 the difference between the late Secretary of State and the Chief of the Air Staff related to the different views which they held of the functions of the Chief of the Air Staff. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Baird) gave an account of the functions of the Chief of the Air Staff when he presented the Air Estimates, on 21st February, and I think it worth while to quote what he then said, as I assume that statement was a summary of the Order in Council constituting the new Air Council. He then said:The Chief of the Air Staff is charged with advising His Majesty's Government as to the conduct of air operations in all questions of air policy affecting the security of the Empire, including Home defence. He is further charged with liaison with the Allies, with the Admiralty and with the Army Council as regards policy, operations, and intelligence. Under his Department falls the subject of policy as to air organisations and establishments. The principles of training are laid down by him. Schemes of development of the Air Force are also settled by him. Guidance as to the specifications of aircraft, engines, armament, ammunition and other equipment, strategic and tactical, dispositions of air stations, and general schemes for works and aerodromes—that covers, briefly, the sphere assigned to the Chief of the AirStaff."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1918, col. 956, Vol. 103.]That catalogue seems to be a fairly clear and exhaustive account of the duties allocated to the Chief of the Air Staff. Quite obviously, with such a clear statement of the functions of the office, one wonders how this difference of opinion which is alleged to have taken place has arisen. It may be that a clue is to be found to that in a letter addressed by the late Secretary of State to the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Faber),which appeared in the newspapers on 15th April, in which the Secretary of State said he proposed to establish a Strategic Council, whatever that may mean. If that is the case, are we to understand that the Government proposes to issue a new Order in Council with a view to entirely recasting the duties and functions of the various members of the existing Air Council? Obviously, in the allocation of duties to the various members of the existing Council, all the duties in relation to strategy and to tactics were entrusted exclusively to the Chief of the Air Staff, and one would imagine that that would be the most effective arrangement, and that it is better to concentrate the responsibility for such important matters upon a single individual rather than to diffuse it over a committee. We have had some experience already of strategic committees. The 1310 case of the Versailles War Council is sufficient in itself to discredit for ever committees for the direction of strategy, and the fact that the Government has taken the logical course, which some of us always advocated, of going direct to our aim and selecting a Commander-in-Chief has shown the hopelessness of entrusting strategy to a Council of War.
What we desire to know is what were the questions relating to the respective functions of the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Staff upon which this-difference arose. We have heard other accounts of what happened. In a supplementary question of Thursday week I made the suggestion that the difference between the Minister and his Chief of the Staff really related to policy in regard to new construction, and that while the Chief of the Air Staff was concerned that new construction of aeroplanes should be-used in the first instance for maintaining existing squadrons at full strength with a view to efficiency in the field, and also from the point of view of its effect upon the men themselves, on the other hand the Secretary of State was rather concerned in multiplying the number of squadrons with a view to presenting the achievements of his Ministry in a more spectacular form. If that was the issue between them, there is no doubt on which side the verdict of this Committee would be. It would prefer the view of the Chief of the Air Staff to that of the Secretary of State. And as a great number of people have heard this explanation, it is of the utmost importance that we should have a clear and definite answer from the Government as to whether that was the issue between them, and if it was, the Government would have some difficulty in defending its position here.
Another suggestion has been made that when the matter came before the War Cabinet, the War Cabinet itself did not really seek to come to a decision on the merits upon that particular point, but came to the view that matters had reached such a stage that it was impossible for both the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Air Staff to continue in their respective posts at the Ministry, that in these circumstances one or the other required to go, and the decision of the War Cabinet was that it preferred to retain Lord Rothermere and to allow General Trenchard to go, not on the merits but simply on the ground of the desirability of retaining or dispensing 1311 with either one or the other of these gentlemen. If that is the case, now that a change has been made in the Secretaryship of State, the War Cabinet has an opportunity of changing its position in regard to General Trenchard. We can only assume from the announcement in the Press that the War Cabinet accepted General Trenchard's resignation with the greatest reluctance and regret. We must assume that they had no idea that he was incapable of being the head of a thinking Department, as some of the underlings say, and in these circumstances that they were not inclined to use his resignation as the equivalent of a dismissal. If that is so now, when there is a change in the Secretary of State, and when a former colleague of General Trenchard on the Air Council, with whom so far as we know he has never had any difference, is the new Secretary of State, surely an opportunity occurs of restoring to the service of the Air Force the great ability, experience, organising capacity and high personal qualities of General Trenchard. This can be done, I think, without any reflection upon the late Secretary of State, and I hope the Government will be able to see it in that light. It is a misfortune that a difference should have arisen between Lord Rothermere and General Trenchard. From all one can hear it has been an extraordinary occurrence that any such difference should have arisen, for General Trenchard's reputation is that he has shown a peculiar capacity for getting on with all sorts of people in whatever force he has been employed. I think we may, therefore, assume that his misfortune in relation to Lord Rothermere may be very largely due to the cause of ill-health and private sorrow which have brought about Lord Rothermere's resignation. We all know that when men are suffering as Lord Rothermere has been suffering, that there are sometimes causes of friction which arise which would not otherwise have arisen if the Minister or official were in his usual health, and it may be possible to attribute to this unfortunate cause the unfortunate differences which have brought about the present situation. If that be so, the course is surely open to the Government to reinstate General Trenchard in the post which he has held since the -creation of the Air Ministry, and to reinstate him in a post for which on all hands lie is admitted to be admirably qualified.
1312 I think the greatest consideration which the Government could give to this matter is the effect upon the war situation at the present time. It is most unfortunate that this change in the Air Staff should have taken place in the midst of a great battle. I wish to remind the Committee that General Trenchard's resignation was tendered in the first instance on the 19th March, before the battle began, and when most people in this country did not expect it to begin immediately. He continued to discharge his duties, by request, continuously after that date until the 12th April, when suddenly the decision of the War Cabinet was communicated to him without any notice at all that his services were going to be dispensed with. It is most unfortunate that this should have happened in the midst of the battle. Those connected with the Air Force are united in the view that his resignation has had not only an unfortunate but even a disastrous effect upon the Air Force itself. They all feel it keenly, and they fear that loss than justice has been done to an officer in whose career they take a special delight, with whom they have all worked, and to whose energy the success of the force in France has been very largely due. Would it not be well to put an end to this feeling of soreness and restore, as it were, the confidence which, to a certain extent, has been undermined by these events, by reinstating General Trenchard in the force as Chief of the Air Staff? I think that is a fair and reasonable request to make. If that announcement were made I think there would be no desire on the part of anybody to reopen the disputed question which has brought about his resignation. It would put an end to the unrest which has arisen in the popular mind in this country.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I say there is unrest. The hon. Member for Liverpool disputes my suggestion that there is any unrest. I am afraid he is simply judging from the Press.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
I do not dispute anything of the sort. What has astonished us is to know on what authority the hon. Member is making these statements. He says the Air Service thinks this, and the Air Service thinks that.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I have made the statement more than once in my speech that there is unrest, and I have assumed that the larger number of hon. Members agree that such a result has been brought about, And I can only account for the hon. Gentleman's scepticism on the ground that he in this case, as in others, regards the Press as the only authentic means of ascertaining what is in the popular mind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Then the hon. Member's scepticism is still more inexplicable. The course I have suggested would, I believe, have the effect of quieting the unrest on the part of the people at home, and it would have the still more valuable effect of putting an end to the feeling of uncertainty in the Air Force itself, a feeling of uncertainty which has amounted almost to consternation. It would restore confidence, and by restoring confidence would undoubtedly greatly enhance the moral and fighting efficiency of this force in whose success and in whose triumph we are all so deeply interested.
§ Colonel Sir H. VERNEY
I put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day as to whether he was aware of the disgust in France at the dismissal of General Trenchard, and he replied that he was not. I venture to think that the hon. and gallant Member (Major Baird) who sits next to him would not have given any such reply, because with his well-known sympathy for the Air Service and after the work he has put in and with his knowledge of that force he would know that there is great feeling in the Air Force on account of the action which has led to the retirement of General Trenchard. If he would take at random any officers in the Air Force who may be in the Gallery, I think one could be quite certain that 99 per cent. would give him their impressions in language to which perhaps he is not accustomed at the Air Board. If he would fly over to France and ask the opinion of anyone on the Staff, from Sir Douglas Haig downwards, the opinion, I think, would be unanimous, and if he would go to any part of the front and ask the opinion of any officer, junior or senior, whom he might meet, the result would be the same. If he would take one more flight, and go over the German lines, and 1314 if he had engine trouble which compelled him to come down on the German side, and he asked any German officer why it is that there is an admitted superiority of the British Air Force there, he would get the opinion that it is due to General Trenchard. A right hon. Gentleman told me that this is an improper course I am taking. If so, I must apologise. Of course, I cannot prejudice the case, because I do not know all the circumstances. Until an explanation is given I have no title to speak as to whether the dismissal of General Trenchard is right or wrong, but what I think I am entitled to say is that those who are actually serving and who are doing the work all hold one opinion on this matter. That is all I think I have a right to say, and that is all I will venture to say. I may be wrong and I may be contradicted, but I do say without much fear of contradiction that there is in the whole Air Service in France disgust at the dismissal of General Trenchard. It has been suggested that the interest in this Debate has gone because Lord Rothermere has resigned. I would like to join with the hon. Member who moved the reduction in expressing the sympathy we all feel with Lord Rothermere in the cause of his resignation, but it seems to me that the interest has not worn off, and will not wear off until we know whether the Government are prepared to reinstate General Trenchard in the position which he held previous to his dismissal. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer on several occasions has complained that hon. Members are not willing to back with their votes any criticism they make. Speaking only for myself, I would say that unless some explanation is given which is palpably and obviously the reason for the dismissal of General Trenchard, and unless we get that and the assurance that he will be reinstated in the Air Service, or, at any rate, that he is being given work in which his unrivalled experience and his wonderful leadership will have full scope in the Air Service, then I shall be prepared to follow the hon. Member into the Division Lobby against the Government.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
My intervention in this discussion is, I hope, not in an unduly controversial vein. My desire is to contribute to the public interest and to assist, as far as a Member of this House can assist, in making the Air Force of the Crown as powerful as we all desire it to 1315 be. I have received from one or two Friends some very kindly-meant words of counsel against my speaking in this Debate, because of the circumstances. I was, a short time ago, very slightly occupied in a very subordinate position in the Air Ministry. As a matter of fact, that would not have affected my speech on this occasion, because it is not my desire to enter into a controversial spirit as to anything that is past; and as my connection with the Air Ministry is at an end, obviously my mouth is perfectly free. By the indulgence of the Committee, I may say this one word upon that topic because it seems to me of some importance. I am sure we all agree that at no time, especially in war time, when the public interest is concerned, will we allow any mere custom or mere question of etiquette to stand in the way of doing public service. Mere etiquette may be set on one side. The question, then, comes of official duty, and I hold very strongly—and I solicit the support of the Committee in holding strongly—that for a Member of this House his first duty is to this House.
We often think of this House as a purely democratic body, and the circumstances of its election are such that it can be so viewed. But it is also part of the High Court of Parliament, it is part of the King's highest Council; we who sit here are part of the great sovereign authority of the country, and I believe I am right in saying that the custom which used to be prevalent but which has now fallen in the main into disuse among Members— the custom of keeping covered is a symbol that we are part of the sovereign authority of the realm; we sit here covered, uncovering only when individually we rise to speak. If we are to uphold that position of being in the King's highest Council and taking part in the functions of the King's sovereign Court, the duty arising out of that honourable membership must take precedence over other official duties, and accordingly the privilege of Parliament surrounds our every word or act; no one can call us in question for anything we say within these walls. Therefore I have no doubt that it is the official duty of every Member of Parliament to do his best, and give of his best knowledge and experience in the Debates in this House. It may be a Member of Parliament may at some time and in certain circumstances have had official relationships in connection with 1316 certain questions and personal honour may stand in his way. Of course personal honour comes before any official duty. But I do earnestly plead with this Committee in the interests of the power and authority of this House and of its usefulness not to allow any doctrine of official etiquette to narrow the efficiency of Members beyond the requirements of plain personal honour. It is obviously a point of honour when one has held an official position not to make use of confidential information acquired in that position, but to go beyond that and seriously to limit the power of Members to inform this House on important administrative questions is to increase the authority of government and to make it more independent of criticism, whereas we all feel to-day that criticism by Parliament of the Government is a really important, valuable and most indispensable part of the Constitution, and we cannot afford to have it weakened or spoilt in any way whatever.
But as I said, before inflicting these observations on the Committee, I desire to speak of the present and the future. My connection with the Air Ministry is of the past, and that past has been closed by Lord Rothermere's resignation. I desire to express the warmest sympathy with the tragic circumstances which caused that resignation. I cannot, however, speak very respectfully of the Prime Minister's letter accepting that resignation, and perhaps the kindest thing to say of it is that it is the effort of a strong Celtic imagination. It was not a statement of fact, but an essay in hagiology, and as often in hagiology the legendary element very strongly predominates in it. Still the past is over, and I for one am not going to provide any controversy in regard to it. We have a new Secretary, of State, and I desire to congratulate the Government very heartily on the appointment they have made. Sir William Weir is a man who deserves the warmest confidence he can receive. He is deeply respected by everybody who knows him, both as a very able man and as a man in whose integrity and good sense the strongest trust can be placed. It is indisputable—and I do not think the Government will dispute it—that the Air Service has suffered two great losses quite recently. It lost Sir David Henderson who presided over the Flying Corps almost from its commencement, until it extended itself and became the great and 1317 memorable force it has become. He is a man of the most encyclopædic knowledge of the subject, a knowledge which could not well be dispensed with by any Government or Ministry. He is full of resource and most active in every respect, and he is a man whose services ought not to be lost to the country in connection with the Air Force. There would be no one more useful to the Government in advising the War Cabinet on aerial matters—no one who would better be able to make clear to them what most needs making clear, no one who would be readier with advice or resource when an emergency has to be dealt with, and I am sure that if they had had Sir David Henderson at their elbows when the recent disputes were under discussion several serious mistakes would have been avoided.
But if possible a still heavier loss has been occasioned by the resignation of Sir Hugh Trenchard, and I want to tell the Government how great that loss is. In doing so I draw not in the least on knowledge derived at the Air Ministry, but on the knowledge I have derived in the past from conversations with all sorts of officers in the Royal Flying Corps, now the Royal Air Force. It is from the knowledge which I have thus been able to gain that I have found where the vitality of the Air Force lies, and in what degree Sir Hugh Trenchard contributed to making that force live, powerful, and efficient. First let me say it must be realised that Sir Hugh Trenchard is a great organiser. No one who saw any of his work in France, as I have done two or three years ago, can doubt his extraordinary capacity for organising. That capacity arises partly from having a very strong memory and great power of detail, partly from having an extraordinary acquaintance with the distribution of the work, and partly from his personality which made for quickness of decision and which enabled him to build up the Air Force in France until it became the great body it now is. In the recent battle the Royal Air Force has done magnificently, and the organisation of its work and the credit for it belongs to Sir Hugh Trenchard. It is sometimes suggested that Sir Hugh is rather a sort of outside man who, so to speak, gallops about on a horse to stir up enthusiasm. No conception of his character could be more erroneous. He is essentially a man with knowledge of detail, and I am almost tempted to say he knows where 1318 every aeroplane and every pilot is in France. Nothing could be more astonishing than to hear him dealing with matters of business over the telephone, than to hear his knowledge of every unit and every item in the whole resources of the Royal Air Force, than to realise how clear and distinct is his memory and how available for any decision he has to make. But he is something more than an organizer—something which is rarer—he is a great leader, and his loss in that respect is one which it is almost impossible to replace.
Let me ask the Committee to consider what is the true centre of the live efficiency of the Air Force. We are apt to sink into most erroneous materialism in dealing with it and to suppose you can make an Air Force by multiplying aeroplanes and increasing the number of ingenious devices. But the life of the aeroplane is in the flying pilot, and it is because of the efficiency of our pilots that our Air Service is the greatest Service in the world. That has been attained partly because we have such fine material to work upon, but also because the leaders of the Flying Corps have kept as their object steadily in view the improvement of the moral of the pilots, and have made all their arrangements accordingly. A young officer said to me the other day, "The Royal Air Force may be the finest Air Service in the world, or it may be everything absolutely rotten." That is quite true, and it is true because of the temperament of the officers. These men are essentially pursuing an art. Flying is not a science, but an art. Flying men are of essentially artistic temperaments. They are men who may sink into vice and indiscipline, as well as soar to the highest acts of gallantry and enterprise. Nothing could be more critical than the present state of the Air Force. So much depends on the temperament of those who work in it; they are so easily affected by moral temperament. Leadership, as in all military matters, is of the highest concern. We know how great mere personality has always been in the War, but it never has been so great in respect either of the Army or the Navy as it is in respect of the Air Force, and that is because of the temperament with which it has to deal. It is in this respect that Sir Hugh Trenchard is indispensable. Let me tell the House one or two very slight anecdotes which illustrate the spirit that acts on the moral of the force under his 1319 command. On one occasion there was a machine which was supposed to be dangerous, and to occasion accidents which might be avoided. It was a misapprehension; really it was an undue suspicion, but it affected at once the moral of the pilots who were asked to fly it. Accordingly Sir Hugh Trenchard made arrangements to go from squadron to squadron himself on one of these machines in order to reassure the Flying Corps and to convince them that the machine was really to be trusted. That is a very simple illustration of his insight into their minds. Another and rather more subtle case came out in a conversation I had with him, and I noted it at the time as interesting. There was a certain machine which was under consideration. It was a very fast machine and possessed great climbing power, but it had some defects for purposes of observation, and it was not so good a machine as it was thought to be. Nevertheless, he thought the pilots would like it. Sir Hugh did not wish them to have it, as it could only be given to one or two squadrons; the other squadrons would be disappointed at not being supplied with it, and think they were only given inferior machines, and that would react on the moral of the whole force.
That indicates how much he considered the moral of the force, what insight he had into the minds he had to deal with, and how carefully he guarded this most precious of our national possessions. When it is said that Sir Hugh Trenchard is an outside man, I am tempted to make a verbal quip, and say, "The life of the Air Force is not outside; it lies within. The kingdom of the air, like the kingdom of heaven, is within. It is within the hearts and brains, the eager nerves and ready muscles of the pilots, and over that kingdom Sir Hugh Trenchard is lord paramount indeed." Let us be assured that if we part from him we part from one of the greatest assets in respect of leadership. I read in the paper and hear in conversation a great deal of aerial strategics, and it is indeed most desirable that the Government should have that in their minds. If they are considering that, no one would congratulate them more warmly than I should upon that matter. But let us be assured that in order to carry out aerial strategics you want, first of all, before anything in the world, the confidence of those who are 1320 going to carry out your plans. That is indispensable in all military, naval, or aerial manœuvres. Take, for example, the unfortunate expedition to the Dardanelles. Those who initiated that expedition have been very severely attacked, and not always reasonably attacked, but I suggest that the true error they made was this, not in supposing that an attack on the Dardanelles was a wise thing to do, but, in forcing it on their naval and military advisers against the grain. That was the fundamental mistake that was made, and that shows, surely, that there is nothing more imprudent and foolish than to try to impose strategic ideas on those who will have to carry them out unless you can induce those persons to fall in with your ideas cordially, and to carry them out themselves, as though they were their own ideas. The good will of those who are the instruments of strategic operations is one of the most essential conditions of their success. If you have a man like Sir Hugh Trenchard at the head of your Air Force, perhaps you may find he will not always listen to the ideas of every amateur strategist in the Cabinet quite as sympathetically as that strategist might desire.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
Why does the Noble Lord say that? No amateur strategist in the Cabinet ever suggested anything to Sir Hugh Trenchard while he was in the Air Force. The Noble Lord has really no right to say that. Does he know of any amateur strategist in the Cabinet who ever suggested anything? If not, he has no right to say that.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Sensitive, because there is so much talk of this kind of thing going on. I can imagine no such suggestion going from the Cabinet to Sir Hugh Trenchard.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I am very glad to find the Prime Minister has said what he has said, because it accords with my own impression. I will tell Him quite frankly what was in my mind. What I have heard Sir Hugh Trenchard criticised for, in conversation—I am anxious most frankly to respond to what the Prime Minister says—is that he would not accept new ideas if they were put before him. I believe that to be utterly 1321 and entirely untrue. All that was in my mind was that conceivably somebody had said something to him that he did not receive very responsively.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I am very glad to hear that. Considering that the Prime Minister has lost a great public servant, and that all we are doing is to point out how great the loss is, I do not think he need show himself so very sensitive. The right hon. Gentleman really seems to care about nothing except his own retention in office—himself, personally.
§ Lord H. CECIL
All the other public servants—[An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with the War!"]—may resign office, and if anyone so much as discusses the subject the Prime Minister becomes angry and interrupts. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense!"] Then I really do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is angry if it be not for that reason.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Noble Lord surely ought to know what I mean. He talks about the interference of amateur strategists in the Cabinet with Sir Hugh Trenchard. He has not the slightest ground for making the suggestion—not the slightest; and instead of apologising, as he ought to have done, he makes one of the mast offensive suggestions it is possible to make.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I used no such language. I am entirely within my rights in everything I have said. I made the suggestion in a most casual way by way of illustration, as the Prime Minister knows perfectly well.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I am certainly not going to withdraw a syllable of what I said. Everything I said was proper and right. If the Prime Minister supposes that he is going to browbeat critics he ill understands the House of which he is a Member, or the particular Member who is venturing to address the Committee at this moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down!" "Shut up!"] My only purpose is to try and persuade the Government of what I am confident is in the public interest.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I am abusing the right hon. Gentleman himself, because I think he is treating me very badly, and is behaving very badly to the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "Abuse is not argument!"] Neither is interruption in debate, I might say. I certainly did not desire to wander into' the controversial vein, and if the Prime Minister had not been present I should not have wandered into it. I am anxious merely to serve the public interest. I do want to put before the Government and the Committee the great loss that has taken place. They have lost a man who is a great organiser, a great leader, and a man who has an unequalled knowledge of the subject. We are speaking of strategy. How can you conduct strategy if you have not adequate knowledge? There is no great professional tradition in the matter. You do not have a staff college at present, though you may have one later, turning out a regular supply, week after week, year after year, of competent officers who have an outlined knowledge of aerial strategy as they have of military strategy. You have not a great body of competent men to draw on. Therefore, if you quarrel with the most competent men in your service, the loss is, in a way, irreparable. There is no other knowledge available except what lies in the minds of one or two individuals, and if you are going to carry out strategy you must have recourse to that knowledge or you will do it amiss. I put it to the Government that they have lost—and in my unrequited desire to avoid controversial matter I have not gone into the question of how they came to lose him—a great national asset. I want them to consider how they would think of that if it had happened one hundred years ago. Suppose that the Government that presided over the Napoleonic Wars had somehow or another lost the services of, say, the Duke of Wellington or Lord Nelson. Supposing they had lost the services of some other distinguished officer, we now, reading at a distance of a hundred years the history of the transaction, and seeing that through some mismanagement or other the loss of this distinguished officer had taken place, how impatient we should be, how angry we should be, how we should say that this improvidence of ability was the worst improvidence of all! We should ask, "Were men so plentiful that they 1323 could afford to quarrel with another one of them? What did this official oligarchy of those days—so different from our purer democratic times—do? What were they about, quarrelling with their ablest officers in this time, and upon a mere punctilio refusing to restore them when opportunity offered?" I think we should be justified in those criticisms, and I entreat the Government to act wisely and take the advice of those who do understand these things before they make up their minds that they can go without the services of so valuable an officer.
I do not at all pretend myself to be in any respect an expert. I have only had the advantage of talking to a few officers here and there, but I feel like one who has been held up to look over a high wall, who has got a glimpse of what lies behind, and I am afraid the Government have not yet looked over the high wall, and have not even brought themselves to believe that there is such a wall in the way of their vision. I am afraid they are very ignorant in the matter, and that they are not even aware of how ignorant they are. I sometimes have the great honour and privilege of discussing these matters— let me hasten to say not with the Prime Minister, lest he tell me that I misrepresent him—with other members of the Government, and I have always been impressed with the fact that although they are animated with the most admirable patriotic sentiments they are incredibly ignorant of everything that concerns the Air Service. Do let us unite, if it be possible, now that we are in the midst of a great war, now that we are looking with the utmost anxiety as to what the future will bring forth; do let us unite and resolve to get at the root of things, to see things as they really are, and not to be shut off from that realm of reality by any prejudice, any punctilio, or any doctrine of official etiquette. I am sure if the Government will inquire they will hear, in different language from my own, but in language which will probably carry much more weight, very much what I have said. They will hear that Sir Hugh Trenchard is a great organiser, a great leader, a man of unequalled knowledge in the resources of the Air Force. I do warn them that they are running on a danger, and I do implore them to retrace their steps in the name of our common patriotism and common country because I am sure the salvation of our country lies in such a 1324 retracing of their steps. They may be adamant to counsel. I hope not. But let me assure them that people all over the country who are interested in the Air Service are watching with the utmost anxiety what is happening, and to them the anxiety is keen and acute. Do let us, if we can, come to a decision upon the realities alone, setting aside all prejudice, and all passion, anxious only that the best shall be done for the national service of the King.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am very anxious in the present state of public affairs, especially military affairs, to avoid anything in the nature of unnecessary disputation, and I am especially anxious to do so when we come to discuss a force like the Air Force and the internal administration of this force. I shall endeavour if possible to avoid anything in the nature of personal recrimination or dispute, and so far as I am concerned I shall certainly do nothing to add to the temperature. I have this afternoon listened to the criticism of the action of the Government, criticism which has been advertised in advance. I listened to the speech first of all of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle), and I confess that after listening most carefully I really do not quite know at what he was driving. I do not quite know the point of his criticism, except that I should like to say this at once with regard to one statement he made. He seemed to be under the impression that the differences in the Air Force were attributable to something which had not the remotest connection with it. I can reassure him and the Committee on this subject at once, with regard to the number of aeroplanes for one particular purpose or another.
I now come to the speech of the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil), and with regard to most of it let me say at once, I agree. Certainly I agree with every word he said about the great, the distinguished, and the remarkable service rendered by Sir Hugh Trenchard to the country. There is not a word of that which the Government does not adopt. There is not a word there which I should not wish in every particular to support and to enforce, if I could possibly do so. There is one proposition, however, he laid down which I certainly do not accept, and I think it is necessary that I should at once tell him so. I am not referring to the 1325 particular offensive episode, on which I do not want to dwell any longer. I leave that to the judgment of the House. I am referring to his claim that Members of Parliament serving in the various branches of the Army have a different standard of discipline to others who are not Members of Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "In this House!"] That is so. What is the position with regard to that? It is, I think, very derogatory to the whole discipline of the Army.
It was one of the first questions brought to my notice when I was Secretary of State for War in the late Administration. The Army Council called my attention to the fact that there were several Members of Parliament who were serving in the Army, and who were utilising knowledge which they got as officers in the Army in order to criticise Army administration in this House, and they said, "This is extremely unfair to the Higher Command. It is extremely unfair to those who have the direction of the Army, and these Members ought to decide between being Members of Parliament and being officers." This was impressed upon me, and it was said, "If an ordinary officer makes a speech, criticising, based on information which he gets as an officer, he is liable to discipline, but a Member of Parliament can go to the most public rostrum in the whole world, he can make a speech where he has all the privileges of Parliament, and cannot be brought to book by the ordinary methods if he makes a misstatement; he can do that and he is not amenable to the discipline of the Army." They said, "That is quite intolerable. It is quite impossible to maintain the discipline of any force under those conditions." And so it is. It really makes no difference whether you are serving in a trench or in an office. It is exactly the same thing. You get inside information. You consciously or unconsciously use that information for the purpose of criticising, may be the head of the Department, or the Government, if you are particularly hostile to the Government. You may even be hostile to the head of the Government. You may be very anxious to bring public obloquy upon him. You may think you are rendering a great public service in exposing him, the Government, or anybody who is related to it, and therefore you think you are doing your duty. You are getting information inside an office, and unconsciously are using it. I say that is disastrous to the whole of the public 1326 service. There are Members of Parliament serving in every capacity—in the trenches, in the Fleet, in offices; there are two Members of Parliament serving on the Staff of the War Cabinet. They must necessarily get a good deal of information as officers of the War Cabinet. Are they to use the information they get as such, either for the purpose of criticising the Government or supporting the Government? It does not matter which.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Or praising a senior officer. It makes no difference. Because if you distribute praise and blame, you are entitled to both equally. You may criticise the head of your Departs merit. You may do it, in order to support somebody in a dispute inside the Department. All that, as I see it, is derogatory to the public service. I think it ought to be stated at once that this has nothing to do with the merits of this particular dispute, but I think it ought to be stated once and for all that for any Member of Parliament to feel that he has a different standard of discipline applicable to him from the discipline which is applicable to the least significant member of any force is to claim something that ought at once to be put an end to.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Will my right hon. Friend be specific on this point. Does he claim that Members of Parliament who belong to the Army and Navy are not free to criticise in this House t He has made some serious charges against Members of Parliament, but has no., brought a single specific ease in connection with this Debate.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman said there was not the same standard of discipline from serving officers who are Members of Parliament. I made it my business to ascertain whether that was so, and I was told the standard of discipline was the same, and accepted it.
§ Mr. BILLING
Before he replies, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, having regard to the opinions expressed, he will take steps, as the head of the Government, to see that this does not occur again?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not say that I can state in clear, precise, technical language the exact limit, but what I mean is this, that an officer actually serving— 1327 whether in military service, whether in the trenches or elsewhere—ought not to use information he may get in that capacity for the purpose of criticising the Command, whether it be civilian or military, or for the purpose of praising it. It comes to the same thing.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What it really means is this, that a Member of Parliament has got to choose, and that is why a choice has been given to Members of Parliament of military age by common consent of both Governments. If a man says "I am going to remain a Member of Parliament", very well, but he cannot really do both; it is derogatory to the Service. I am trying to make a statement which, I believe, is of non-controversial character, which has no particular reference to this dispute, except in so far as, I think, it has been aggravated by circumstances of that character. It is no use pretending it has not. I do not think it really does good to these distinguished officers. There are many of these disputes which would have been settled had it not been for this kind of thing. There is a sort of encouragement which unconsciously gives them a feeling that they have political support, and this makes it quite impossible to settle differences.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I really will not. I do not want to enter into the whole of these controversies, but unconsciously this sort of thing makes it impossible to settle differences which are inevitable in the Administration, whether it is war or peace. You cannot administer any Department, military, naval, or civilian, without some differences of opinion between the experts and the civilians; they always arise. The civilian is there to put the civilian point of view, the expert is there to give expert advice. Differences must arise, especially if you have men of strong individuality on both sides, and the only way to settle them is that there shall be no undue political interference on either side. I am certain many disputes would have been settled had they been left alone in that respect.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He certainly is. He is the head of the Department. That is the British Constitution—the civilian has been put there as a judge. It is even a principle of the law that the juryman, who is inexpert, is the man who sits in judgment upon even the judge. [Laughter.] Well, he has the final say in the matter; he is an inexpert who has the final say.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the Prime Minister could, without inconvenience, add one other thing which some of us really want to know—does the view he has expressed apply to voting?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, I think that will be carrying it very far. To say that a Member of Parliament, in order to serve his country, may not even express the views of his constituents in the Division Lobby is carrying the matter very far.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
He might be asked which way he was going to vote, and his answer would be very significant.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No man has a right to ask him which way he is going to vote. He votes. This is carrying it too far. You must apply the principles of commonsense. Let me say another thing—
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not want to interrupt, but if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to attack me, I hope he will do so in express words so that I may reply. I do not wish to suppose he is attacking me, but if he thinks I have done wrong let him say so, because I want to say why I think I have not done wrong.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Noble Lord interrupted me before I said anything. I was going to say something, and the Noble Lord says, "If you are going to attack me, do so." I think it is a guilty conscience. The Noble Lords says, "After all, Parliament is the place to criticise." He gave that as an argument why those who are serving in either Army or Navy who happen to be Members of Parliament should have the most perfect freedom to criticise. He said it was essential that Parliament should criticise. So far from attacking, I agree with him. I am going to say more than that. My grievance is that most of these criticisms are made outside, and not here. There are criticisms which are made outside. I wish they were repeated 1329 here, because this is the place to make them, this is the place to answer them. My grievance, and the grievance of my colleagues here, is not so much that there are criticisms in Parliament—they may be hypercritical, and there is a great desire to criticise where I think there should be a little allowance made; but that is not the grievance—the grievance is that the most serious criticisms are criticisms which are made outside, where you cannot have an opportunity to reply, because you cannot chase lies to every gutter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If that is the sense of the House, I am glad to get it, and I hope the criticisms will be made here, and then they will be answered here.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If any man wants to criticise any action of mine, he has simply to give me the ordinary courtesy—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Just a minute—he has only to extend to me the ordinary courtesy which is due to any Minister, and that is to give me notice that he intends to do so, and I guarantee I shall be here to answer him. I thought it necessary at once to challenge that doctrine of the Noble Lord, because if it be a doctrine upon which Members of Parliament who are serving in the Forces are supposed to act, it would be very disastrous to the discipline of all these forces. I thought it necessary at once to protest against that.
Now I come to deal with the general, I will not say criticism, but the general observations which have been made. I repeat that the Government agree with everything that has fallen from either of the two hon. Members about the services of General Trenchard. The description given of him by the Noble Lord is one which we adopt in every sentence that he has delivered. General Trenchard's services to the Air Force have been incalculable. That does not quite conclude the argument. I do not accept the statement made, for the second or third time I think, by the hon. Member who comes here to speak on behalf of those who serve in France, that General Trenchard has been dismissed. He insisted upon using those words. General 1330 Trenchard resigned. If the War Cabinet, or his Minister, had suddenly dismissed him, that would have been a very different set of circumstances. General Trenchard put in his resignation for reasons into which I do not wish to enter, because it involves a dispute which the Noble Lord himself has not thought fit to enter into, as I think wisely. I do not believe anything would be gained by entering into these controversies inside the Air Board. We had to deal with a situation where a resignation had been tendered, and the question was whether it was wise to accept that resignation. The Cabinet asked General Smuts to look into the matter finally. General Smuts has rendered very great services indeed to the Air Force in the course of the last two months, and I think that would be admitted by all those who have been working in connection with the Air Board. He has rendered very great assistance. There is no one who doubts his tact, his sagacity, and his knowledge of war. Acting upon the investigations which he made, and without expressing any opinion upon the merits of the dispute between these civilian heads of the Department and his Chief of the Staff, he certainly came to the conclusion that General Trenchard's special qualities were-not used to the best advantage in his position as Chief of the Air Staff.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir D. Maclean)
I think it meets with the wish of the Committee that the Prime Minister's statement should be subject to as little interruption as possible.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I agree with you lit is a very difficult matter to put before the Committee, because I am most anxious that nothing should be said which would appear to be derogatory to the distinguished services of General Trenchard or to his great ability. If the Committee listened, as I know they did, very carefully to the description given by the Noble Lord of General Trenchard, it was the description of a great leader. He said something about Nelson and Wellington. I am not sure that either of them could be the Chief of the Air Staff. In fact, anyone reading their account would come to the conclusion that Nelson certainly would not be a Chief of the Staff. That is not a criticism of Nelson. That was not his quality, and I agree with 1331 the Noble Lord that the qualities of General Trenchard are qualities of the Nelson type—his highest qualities are Nelsonian qualities of mind and inspiration. I do not know to what extent Nelson had great qualities of organisation. He must have had them to a considerable degree, but at any rate they were the qualities of a great leader of forces.
Anyone who has had any experience at all, and even Ministers who have been for three or four years concerned in the conduct of the War must know a great deal about it, and I can assure the Noble Lord that there is an essential difference between the kind of qualities which you require for a man who sits in an office to think out carefully, slowly, perhaps laboriously, plans not merely for to-morrow, not for the day after to-morrow, but for next year—because that is the business of the Chief of the Staff of the Air Board to think out the work of the Department for months to come for this year and for next year—there is a vast difference between the qualities required for that, and the qualities which you require for great leadership and inspiration of the Air Force. Having been faced with the accomplished fact of the resignation of General Trenchard, having to consider as between General Trenchard and General Sykes for the position of Chief of the Air Staff, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of those who investigated the matter on behalf of the Cabinet that for that particular post General Syke's qualities and mind were better adapted than those of General Trenchard. That is not a criticism of General, Trenchard, any more than it would have been a criticism of the Duke of Wellington or Nelson to say that they were not fitted for Chiefs of the Staff, but that they were very great leaders. That was the position with which we were confronted, and I have do doubt at all that, after looking into the matter, and after hearing what has been said on the subject not merely by General Smuts, but by the presiding head of the Air Force, that the Cabinet came to the right conclusion.
The Noble Lord spoke in the highest possible terms of Sir William Weir. It is quite right. General Trenchard has rendered services to the Air Force which are incalculable, and so has Sir William Weir; and the services which he has rendered are not 1332 merely the services of a manufacturer who increases the supply. No one knows better than the Noble Lord that Sir William Weir has made his special study of the Air Forces; he has been thinking out the best methods of using that great service, and a good deal of the efficiency of the Force at the present moment is due to the fact that Sir William Weir went out side his special functions of manufacture, and thought out in advance the kind of thing that could be done by means of aeroplanes—things which were not thought of at the moment by any other expert. There are machines of a type used for particular purposes now which are there because Sir William Weir thought of them in advance a year ago. It was not his function. As a matter of fact, his business was purely to manufacture machines that had been ordered for the Air Force. Having a great knowledge of the air, feeling that a good deal could be done outside the limits which had then been laid down for aerial activity, Sir William Weir planned machines, and now there is not a general in the Air Force who would not admit that a Very large measure of the efficiency of the force is attributable entirely to the fact that Sir William Weir showed foresight which was beyond that shown by any other member of the Air Board. When you come to consider whether it is desirable to turn out the present Chief of the Staff of the Air Ministry and put General Trenchard in that post, instead of using his services where they can be of more advantage to the Air Force, then the opinion of Sir William Weir must necessarily count with the Government. He has absolutely no doubt upon the subject—none. That is not the best way of using the great services of General Trenchard, and there is no man with greater admiration for General Trenchard than Sir William Weir. The Noble Lord and the right hon. and learned Gentleman know perfectly well that Sir William Weir and General Trenchard got on without any difference of opinion or any dispute. Nothing could be better than the cooperation between those two men. There has been no difficulty so far as Sir William Weir is concerned; but that is his definite and deliberate opinion—that for the particular kind of work which you want a Chief of the Staff to do. General Sykes is better adapted. But he also believes that General Trenchard's services ought to be retained in the Air Force.
1333 There was a suggestion that the command of a brigade or division of Infantry was to be given Major-General Trenchard. That was not a suggestion made by the Cabinet—not in the least. We were very much opposed on the point, and we thought that it would be a serious loss to the Air Force if a man of General Trenchard's peculiar gifts of leadership, a man who had the confidence of the pilots to such a large extent, were not retained for the Air Service. It was he himself who was anxious to get the command of a brigade or division of Infantry. He pressed for it, but the Cabinet refused to sanction his being taken out of the Air Force, and put in command of a division of Infantry.
I am very glad to be able to say that there is now every hope that General Trenchard's services will be retained, in a position of considerable power in the Air Service. As a matter of fact, two or three positions were offered to him in the Air Service, but, for reasons which were quite honourable to him, herefused them. I need not go into those reasons, but I may state that he felt that he might be displacing someone or other, and a man of the honourable nature of General Trenchard did not wish to be placed in that embarrassing and distressing position. Sir William Weir is confident, now that General Trenchard's services are to be retained in the Air Force, that he will not be placed in a position where there is not scope for his varied powers in the future of the Air Force. I ask the House to bear in mind what is best for the Air Service. According to the advice which we have been able to obtain, General Trenchard's services were not best utilised in the position in which he was placed. The present Chief of the Staff is a man with a mind better fitted for that kind of work. General Trenchard's services will be utilised in another capacity in the Air Service.
I wish to say one or two words about the services of Lord Rothermere. I think it is fair that the House should recognise not only the services of a great and distinguished soldier, but should also recognise the services of a civilian, rendered in very distressing circumstances. Lord Rothermere was head of the Air Service for only four months. During that time he has done a good deal to reorganise that service. He was the first to set up a well-organised Air Staff. That was Lord Rothermere's achievement, and not a small one. Previously there was no Air Staff 1334 at all. The men who were fighting in the field had their minds taken up, of course, naturally, with the tremendous strain of preparing for the struggle from day to day. The Air Staff ought to be in a position remote from the tumult of the battle, where they can consider the whole problem of the air not merely for the moment, but for months to come. Lord Rothermere organised a very efficient Air Staff. The second thing he did was to achieve a very necessary fusion between the various branches of the Air Force, military and naval. Everybody knows what a difficult thing that was, and nobody knows it better than my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Asquith)—what a very difficult thing it was to reconcile the various claims of the different branches of the Service, which have created a good deal of difficulty and delay in the past. Here, for the first time, we have a real fusion, and that is the work of Lord Rothermere. I am perfectly certain that the Committee will be not only willing, but anxious to acknowledge the distinguished services of General Trenchard, and at the same time will be ready to acknowledge the great work done by Lord Rothermere in the course of three or four months. I would make an appeal to the House, and would say that here you have as the head of the Air Ministry one who, the Noble Lord admits, was the best possible choice for the post—a man of great experience, of great sagacity, and a man in whom the officers of the Air Service itself have the greatest confidence. We have made inquiries upon that subject, and without exception they gave the same answer expressing their confidence.
I am perfectly certain that the House and the country will be anxious to give Sir William Weir every opportunity to do his best to increase the efficiency of the force, especially at a time when there is such a great strain upon it. This is a moment when the Air Force is being put to such a test as it never has had before, and it has emerged triumphantly out of that test. Never in the whole history of the Air Force have our aviators rendered such service to the Army as they have during the great battle which is going on. It is our business to do all that we can to support and sustain it. Everything should be done that can be done to avoid friction, differences, and dispute, and I do not think that there will be any perpetuation of this controversy in the Air 1335 Force itself. I do not conjecture—I know that General Trenchard is the last man in the world to desire that. He is only too willing and anxious to co-operate with the present head of the Air Force, and I trust that the House, without entering into disputes which are thoroughly unprofitable—while there may be a good deal to be said on both sides—will now allow the new Air Minister the opportunity of developing on a greater scale, with the assistance of an extremely able Chief of Staff, and the co-operation of General Trenchard in that new sphere which I hope he will soon occupy—that the House will without any further controversy allow these developments to take place, in order to enable the Air Force to render in future even more brilliant service than they have done in the past.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
There are points in the speech just made by the Prime Minister which I think all the House will have heard with much satisfaction, or, if not with much satisfaction, at least with considerable sympathy. The first is the welcome intelligence that the unrivalled services, for such they are, of General Trenchard in the Air Service are to be retained in the Air Force, and not diverted to some much less appropriate service. We should be glad to know what particular functions have been assigned to him. It is not enough that he is not to take one of the offices which he has chivalrously refused to accept on the ground that he might supersede others. What we would like to know is whether he is to be put in a position where he will have scope for his unexampled powers of organisation and leadership. On that point the Prime Minister has left us in vagueness and uncertainty. The second point in my right hon. Friend's speech, which I think was generally acquiesced in by the House, was his expression of heartfelt sympathy with the personal disabilities that have fallen upon Lord Rothermere; and, next, in his equally heartfelt recognition of the eminent qualifications of his successor for the post to which he has been appointed.
Having made this acknowledgment, I feel bound to say one or two words of comment, perhaps of criticism, on what has fallen from the Prime Minister. I will deal first with the question of the limitation of the duties of Members of the House of Commons who have taken active service in the War, in regard to 1336 their speeches and their votes in this House. Let me say at once that I do not think that there is any canon that the Prime Minister laid down to which my Noble Friend who took part in the Debate has shown himself in the least degree obnoxious. I am going to examine what those canons are, because it is very important. I have suffered as much as anybody from information given and influence exercised by irresponsible military persons in regard to the conduct of the War, and on that I hold quite as strong an opinion as my right hon. Friend—an opinion to which he gave effect when he was Secretary for War—that that should be rigidly curtailed.
But the matter is not so simple as at first sight it may seem. It would have been, of course, quite possible, at the beginning of the War, to say that no Member of the House of Commons should take active service in the field, and that there should be a complete separation between his Parliamentary and civil character and the conduct of operations outside, which, of course, would have left him with absolute freedom of criticism and of action. That, however, would have been a very undesirable rule to lay down. Members of this House, and of the other House also, have in all the various Departments of military and naval activity, and in the ancillary Departments which are not less important, rendered conspicuous service in the War, and the country would have been very much worse off had they not been in a position to give those services. I should have been very sorry, and I should now be very sorry, if any rule were laid down which prevented Members of this House from discharging that patriotic duty. But ruling that out as impossible and undesirable, it appears to me that the only real limitation which can practically be laid down in the public interest is that Members of Parliament—who owe a duty to their constituencies, which however, it may be in abeyance while they are in the field, is still a duty and an imperative obligation, and a duty which they are bound to discharge when they come back to this House—that Members of Parliament who, to their honour and credit, have taken part in active operations in the field, or in the ancillary work in public offices here, should feel themselves bound by what is after all an obligation of personal honour, quite apart from their military or war obligations, not to make use of information 1337 which comes to them in their employment for Parliamentary purposes. I will even go further and say—and this is still more important—for indirect purposes which are not Parliamentary, for I would very much rather—and there I agree with my right hon. Friend—that if a breach of this rule is to be committed, it were committed here on the floor of this House, and subject to the criticism and answers which can be obtained here than that it should leak out through sub terranean and illegitimate channels, poisoning the public mind, distorting the public judgment, and yet under conditions which make it absolutely impossible to make amenable the person responsible. I do not think you can go further than that, and I do not see how you are to prevent, or why you ought to prevent, a Member of this House who has gained knowledge—not confidential information which has come to him in a particular capacity, but general knowledge which, from being at the front, face to face with the enemy, in close, immediate and daily contact with the conditions of war—utilising that knowledge here for the information of Parliament—
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It may reflect on his superior, but he is bound as a Member of Parliament to bring to the common stock all the knowledge he has gained. Of that I am perfectly certain, and I think it would be a very injurious thing if his mouth were to be closed in regard to matters of that kind. I quite agree that when it comes to commenting upon persons, or on the merits or demerits of particular operations or of a particular general, I hope a certain natural delicacy would put a fetter upon our tongues; and I think, on the whole, during the conduct of this War the House has very admirably maintained that tradition. But it would be absurd to say, in view of our experience, that Members of Parliament at the front are not to take part in military discussions. I remember very well during the Debates on the Military Service Bill we have seen this House suddenly crowded with Members brought from the front—they probably came voluntarily, I do not know, but they did come; they came in large numbers. Some of them spoke. I remember my hon. Friend who is now Patronage Secretary of the Treasury (Captain 1338 Guest) taking an active part in the Debates on compulsory service. I do not see him in his place. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is at the Bar!"] I do not see him in his place. He is just beyond the limits of proper Parliamentary vision. They came here; they spoke, and they voted. I see no objection to the course they took; I am sure they were performing to the best of their judgment and conscience a public duty which they felt they owed to their Constituents and to the country. In these matters do not let us get into a sublimated atmosphere, beyond the reach of commonsense or public expediency. So long as a Member of this House does not utilise directly or indirectly information which, as a man of honour as well as a servant of the Crown, it is his business to keep to himself, in my opinion he should have the fullest latitude to exercise his Parliamentary duties, and the duty he owes to his Constituency and to the State.
I pass from that to say a word or two, and they shall be very brief, about the particular subject of this discussion. Let me say at once, lest I should fall under suspicion, that I have not, and I regret it very much, the honour of the personal acquaintance of General Trenchard, but I know a great deal about him. I have followed the history of the Air Service from its cradle onwards, and in those infantile days, long before the War, we owe an enormous deal to men whose services in that respect are now hardly remembered, particularly my right hon. and gallant Friend now fighting at the front who was then Secretary of State for War (Brigadier-General Seely), and I will add, and very gladly add, General Sykes, who has now been appointed Chief of the General Staff of the Air Force. When I was Secretary of State for War, some time before war broke out, I was brought into full cognisance of his great expert knowledge in these matters. The Air Service in those days was what I described, I think truly, as almost in its cradle. Its development was very largely due, more perhaps than to almost any other military officer in the State, to Sir David Henderson, a very distinguished officer, who, as my Noble Friend said, and said truly, knows probably more of the inside and the outside of aerial matters and their technical military application than any man now alive. But when it had reached man's estate, and was actually organised in the 1339 shape in which we now know it, to our pride, in which it has acquired in France practically the mastery of the air, there is not a man in the Air Service—and I speak for myself, for I was then in office and had ample opportunity for first-hand observation—there is not a man in this country to whom it is under such a debt of obligation as Sir Hugh Trenchard.
When people talk with that superficial and often colossal ignorance to which we are accustomed in certain of our critics, when they speak of General Trenchard as a man deficient in powers of organisation, they are talking what anyone who knows anything of the Air Force or of General Trenchard knows to be absolute nonsense. I have seen a great deal of organisation, military, naval and civilian, and I say without hesitation I have never come across a finer organiser than Sir Hugh Trenchard. He was appointed, and I think wisely appointed, Chief of the Staff. That appointment was not made, I presume, without full consideration of the claims and qualifications of possible competitors. Without a dissentient voice, so far as I know, in the Army, Navy, or Air Service itself, he was nominated to that post. We do not know how it has now been discovered that his special qualifications were not particularly fitted for that post, unless it be that it has, in the opinion of some authorities at any rate, acquired some mysterious and nebulous functions. My right hon. Friend has suggested that Nelson would not be a good Chief of the Staff, or Wellington. Perhaps he might have said Napoleon. I do not know what his conception of the definition of Chief of Staff really is, but I would have said—and I am sure he was of the same opinion, otherwise he would not have sanctioned the appointment—that there was nobody in the Air Service who had the same eminent claims to that post as Sir Hugh Trenchard. Something has happened, which still remains undisclosed, something has happened which convinced—whom? —convinced Lord Rothermere, who was then head of the Department, that whatever other qualifications General Trenchard might possess, he was not the right man to be Chief of the Staff. General Trenchard tendered his resignation on 19th March. It was before the outbreak of this great battle, but I suppos—I know nothing, of course, 1340 beyond what I read in the answers to questions given in this House—for some reason or other, General Trenchard withheld his resignation for a time. It became definite some time about the 12th April. That was when we understand it was sanctioned by the War Cabinet. It appears from an answer given to a question on the 24th of April—last week—that no member of the War Cabinet had seen General Trenchard in regard to the matter. That we must presume to be true. My right hon. Friend, I rather gathered, said it was referred to General Smuts in the first instance. General Smuts is a member of the War Cabinet, and a denial therefore that General Trenchard was seen by any member of the War Cabinet must apply to General Smuts as well as to the rest. It would appear that this resignation, held over for more than a fortnight, was, in the middle of this great battle, accepted by the War Cabinet without any communication with General Trenchard himself. I must say I think that was a regretable proceeding, particularly are we do not know and are still in ignorance of the points of difference between General Trenchard and his civilian superior. I should have gone a good deal further in the way of criticism if, as was commonly reported, the result of the acceptance of that resignation was going to be that the Air Service was to be deprived during the remainder of this battle and of the War of General Trenchard's counsel and action in the particular Department in which he was admittedly without a superior. It is a consolation, but not more than a consolation, to the House and the country to know that, at any rate, that calamity has been averted, and that in some capacity—I hope, as I said at the beginning, a capacity adequate to his abilities, his experience, and, above all, his unrivalled authority in the great Service he has done so much to build up at the War Office—we may still count on General Trenchard as an effective fighting factor in this terrible crisis of our history. But I should not be speaking my full mind, or be candid with the Committee, if I did not say that I regard this as a regrettable incident which I could have wished the Government should have avoided.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I do not profess to know a great deal about the Air Service, nor do I feel very enlightened after the speeches which have been made as to what 1341 was the reason why General Trenchard was driven out of his appointment. I know the distinction is drawn between resignation and dismissal, but, believe me, the line is very narrow. I know this much: I know that a great, fierce, courageous, patriotic soldier like Sir Hugh Trenchard would never have chucked his job when the great battle approached unless he felt himself driven to it. I do not think in all my long experience in the House I have ever known a case which has created such universal anxiety in a Service as the retirement of Sir Hugh Trenchard has in the Air Service. I know very few of those gentlemen, but I have heard in the past week or ten days a good many of them talk upon this subject—and I do not suppose the Prime Minister objects to officers talking to Members of Parliament—and one and all—men I had never seen before—told me the same thing, that the soul had gone out of the Air Service when Sir Hugh Trenchard had gone. What did that mean? This is not an old Service with a large reserve of living officers. It is a young service which cannot appeal to its Nelson, its Wellington, or anybody else. It is a service almost made by Sir Hugh Trenchard—a service in which youth, nerve, courage, trust, are everything, and from what they told me I believe the whole of our superiority in these qualities was derived in the main from the great confidence they had in Sir Hugh Trenchard being at the head of the Air Service as Chief of Staff.
This is really a very serious matter. I agree with my right hon. Friend who has just spoken that it is some consolation to know that the Debate is not in vain, as we do know that Sir Hugh Trenchard is to be retained in the Air Service, and we are grateful to the Government for it. We would like to know what is the position he is to have. It is now four or five months since, in the announcement of the dismissal of Sir John Jellicoe, it was stated that means would shortly be taken to make use of his great ability in the service of his country, but the last we heard about him was that he was hanging pictures in his private house. May we hear before the Debate is over what the Government contemplate? It cannot be some petty position. It must be some were where the public are assured that the appointment to which General Trenchard is to go is a reality in which he will vitalise, as he did in the past, the whole Service over which he so ably presided. That is essential, 1342 from what I am told, in the interests of the Air Service, particularly at the present moment. For my own part, I greatly regret that Lord Rothermere, for reasons-with which we all sympathise, had to retire from his great post, and as all we know is that this retirement of Sir Hugh Trenchard happened merely through disagreement with Lord Eothermere, it really would seem to be common sense that, as Lord Eothermere has gone, and he is no longer there to disagree with him, the man who was so essential up to the day of sending in his resignation might again be equally essential without any friction whatever.
I am bound to say I did not at all follow the criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he said, after investigation by General Smuts—whose great ability in reference to the air I gratefully recognise, because I knew something of it when. I was in the Cabinet—it was found that somebody else was more suitable. Why was that never found out until after he retired? Why was it that those working in the Air Service never found out there was a vastly superior man for that post who was not in it? No, Sir, that does not do, and I really think the Government would have been acting, not only generously but rightly, if they had put an end to the whole of this discussion and have come down and said, "Well, much as we regret Lord Rothermere having gone, and much as we were bound to support, and would have supported, him, we now think that, as he has gone, no reason exists"—and certainly none has been given to this House—" why Sir Hugh Trenchard should not be restored to his former position." May I say this? These discussions about these constant dismissals lead to very little result. I am not saying they should not take place, but if the House or the Committee ever expect to get much information out of them they will always be disappointed. The Prime Minister has been good enough to come here this afternoon. He has not told us, or given us the slightest idea, as to why this great officer, just on the eve of the battle, was driven to leave his post.
I think it is well that the public should know and recollect, when these matters, arise from time to time, how exactly in our constitution the case stands, because—let this be remembered and thought about—when a dispute arises between the Civil head of a great Department of the State and its great expert, in that dispute 1343 the Civil head is the judge. If a man goes to the Admiralty as First Lord, and has been there only a week or a fortnight, he can dismiss at his own will his expert advisers, and let the public know that when it comes to be a question whether an indispensable expert adviser, or an ignorant civilian who has only been there a fortnight, is to go, the decision rests with the civilian. That is the constitutional position. It is a very serious one, and I think that when these things happen it is at least the duty of the Government thoroughly to investigate on a case of this kind what has been the real cause of the State in its throes, as it is at the present moment, losing a great and an efficient soldier. As I said before, I hope before this Debate closes we shall hear something more of what is to be the future position of Sir Hugh Trenchard, and I believe the Government would do more to encourage the Air Service in their grave and pressing difficulties at the present moment if they would tell them now that they were to have for their benefit and for their guidance, as in the past, the service of the man whom they look upon as the father of the Air Service.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
In response to the appeal from my two right hon. Friends, perhaps I had better read the very words in which the new head of the Air Ministry refers to the employment of General Trenchard:He is not prepared to allow the Air Force to lose the great qualities and unique experience of General Trenchard, and proposes to offer him a position in which these qualities and experience will find an outlet of the greatest value to the force. He asks that the House will not press for a definition of the position at the present time, and asks me to say that it is not a position created for General Trenchard, but one directly associated with his own aerial policy.
§ Major Sir JOHN SIMON
I only desire to say a very few words, and in saying those I should like the Committee to believe me when I say that I am very anxious to preserve my impartiality in this matter. I have not spoken in the House or Committee for eight or nine months, but, when I thought it my duty to offer to take such service as I could, I certainly did so under the impression that I could at the same time discharge my duties as a Member of Parliament. I was encouraged in that belief by what I had frequently observed in this House in the case of other Members, namely, that many other Members of this House, holding commissions, came 1344 down and made speeches, not all of them, I am bound to say, speeches which I should have thought were limited by their own knowledge, but speeches in which they claimed to speak of the experience or feeling of large bodies of men at the front. I, of course, do not claim to speak of the feeling of the whole Air Force. Nobody can do that except, perhaps, General Trenchard. I do, however, feel that it is quite impossible for a Debate like this to be carried through if there are two or three Members of this House—andpossibly only two or three—who, as it happens, have been in actual and daily contact with the squadrons at the front, and who certainly have the duty cast upon them of, not breaking confidences—nothing could excuse one for breaking confidences—but to see that the House, of which they are Members, should be, as far as in them lies, and in so far as is consistent with their honour, is informed as to what is the real state of the facts. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take up. In the few remarks I shall make to the Committee—if the Committee will bear with me—I shall transgress no rule—a thing I should never contemplate for a moment—but I cannot discharge the duty which lies upon me as a Member of this House if I sat silent throughout this Debate and did not endeavour to indicate to the Committee what I certainly must observe is very necessary that the Committee should know. I apologise very much for seeming to be egotistical about this, for I really tried, so far as possible, having undertaken in France to abstain from anything that might be thought could be of a partisan or political action, not to take part in Debates, and this is the first time I have ventured to stand at this box and make any such remarks.
The position, so far as I have been able to see it—and, of course, I am only speaking within the limits of my own knowledge—is this: The Air Force, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College says, inasmuch as it is quite a new force, depends, as anybody who lives among those squadrons can see every day, depends more than any other force under the Crown on the confidence which those very young men—and they are extremely young men—have in the people whom they regard—and there are a very limited number of people—whom they regard necessarily as the heads who control them. The question is very largely a question of psychology. Your 1345 pilot goes up in the air. He is under the constant temptation of finding something in the working of his engine, or some change in the atmosphere, or some sudden difficulty about finding his way is a circumstance which will justify him in turning back. They do not turn back. They do incredible things. But the extent to which the people actually employed in this work will proceed and carry on in spite of the constant difficulties with which they are faced, depends, and depends entirely, upon the feeling they have that the man whom they adore is the head of their Service. I do not for a moment claim to speak on behalf of the force. Nobody can do that, least of all a mere amateur who has been trying to do his best amongst them for a few months. I do, however, speak, and I am entitled to speak, in view of the close personal daily knowledge of what is said by these young men in these various squadrons in France. It is no exaggeration to say—and I assure the Committee I am not saying this from any desire to be controversial or unpleasant—it is no exaggeration to say that the news of the recent loss of General Trenchard struck these young men as nothing less than an almost deadly blow. They wholly failed to understand it. If you want to make them laugh go and tell them that General Trenchard does not understand Staff work. They one and all know the real nature of the work that he has done. If comment was to be made upon that distinguished soldier that comment would much more likely be that when he was a General Commanding-in-Chief at the front he took too large a part in the Staff management here at home. A further comment would be to suggest that he was a man of extraordinary quality and character from the point of view of organisation and imagination. I am not saying anything that can be controverted or that can be gainsaid when I point out how the matter has developed during the last two or three years in France. It has been a work of the most intense interest to me, and I have never regarded it as controversial, and I am not speaking controversially now.
When this distinguished soldier first went out to France it was not very long after the War began. He commanded the first original wing, which is now one of the subordinate units in this great fighting force. At that time the force was not big enough to have a brigade, still 1346 less to have a general commanding. There was a wing consisting of a limited number of squadrons, and he commanded them. At that time nobody had worked out what were the various uses to which aircraft could be put. It is the commonest thing to hear people in conversation speak as if all aircraft did the same thing, that you, so to speak, turn the handle and take the whole fleet of machines and send them to bomb Germany to-morrow morning. As a matter of fact, the varieties of aircraft and the different types of work they do are almost as multifarious as the varieties of sea-craft, and the kind of work these different machines had to do was a matter to be worked out largely by exercising the most acute imagination. During the last two or three years—and I am going to say what cannot be gainsaid or contradicted—there has not been a single development of aircraft at the front in which you cannot trace the active and acute imagination and organisation of this distinguished soldier. I well remember when I first went out to France learning that it was thought that what was called low flying would come shortly into play. The idea had been that an air machine was a machine that worked at a great height. Low flying, which had developed very much by us in the battle of Cambrai—and that saved the British Armies in the great recent battles—low flying was anticipated, worked out, developed, and organised by General Trenchard in the course of the last year or two. Exactly the same thing applies to photographic reconnaissance, bombing, and all sorts of uses to which these machines have been put, and it is therefore really the height of absurdity—there is no other word which can be used—to speak of him as if he were a person who had got merely qualities of leadership in the field, and did not understand what is called the strategy of the air.
There is only one other point I venture to make. I hope the Committee will see I am not trying to make a point by breaking confidences or exploiting what I regard as a most unhappy mistake. I have been in the Lobby during the last week or so while at home, and nothing has surprised me more than to hear the suggestion made that this distinguished soldier is a person so self-willed that other people cannot get on with him. Let me point out—it is only common fairness that it should be pointed out to 1347 the Committee—how matters, in fact, stand in that respect. In the first place, the work of the Air Force with the Army is in itself an operation which requires a vast deal of tact. The army commander and the corps commander have got their own work to do, and so have the commanders in the lower ranks. Many of them do not understand either the opportunities or the limitations of aircraft as well as the people actually engaged in the air, and there is therefore the constant possibility of misunderstanding between, the Infantry on the one hand and the Air Force on the other. There are complaints that the machines are not in the right place, or there at the right time, and that the people in the trenches are being "strafed" by the German machines when our own machines ought to be driving them away. There is constant opportunity for misunderstanding. I do not claim any overwhelming knowledge about it I can only say that I have never failed to hear in 'any quarter, or at any time, from any Army officer of any rank, any other verdict than this: that the manner in which the distinguished soldier at the head of the Air Force has tactfully adjusted and managed difficulties between these two branches of the Service compels the admiration of everyone. In their cooperation with other branches, and with the Infantry, it cannot be said to the Air Force: "You take so many miles of trench and we will take other portions of the front." You cannot divide up the air like that, as hon. Members know very well; and it is not a very easy thing to co-operate, in view of the constant pressure, and perhaps misunderstanding, even with the most gallant and devoted Allies. It is well known out in France—I do not know how many Members here know it—that when General Trenchard left his command in France and came over here by Lord Rothermere's own invitation to accept the place which Lord Rothermere assigned to him, he, on that occasion, wrote a letter to the French Flying Corps. The distinguished French general who is at the head of the Flying Corps made that letter an order of the day and paraded every French air squadron in order that it might be read to them. That was the way they regarded the position General Trenchard had in our own Flying Corps.
I take as a third example the co-operation of the Americans. There is not an 1348 American, in the Flying Corps who would not tell you that whatever criticism may be made on this distinguished man, in organisation and in tact he has exhibited great qualities. Let me mention the mistake—which was a ridiculous mistake—made a while ago, when the Prime Minister said something about the Navy, and I thought that he was referring to myself. I desire to apologise. I hope I am the last who wish to take for myself any compliment not intended for me. At any rate, the reason why I thought for a moment the right hon. Gentleman might be referring to me was that I had joined and for the last few weeks have been working at the Air Board in London, though I never wished to do it, and am only too glad that I am going back to France in a couple of days or so, and during that time I myself have heard those who had authority to speak on behalf of the Navy and Army refer to the extraordinary skill with which the late Chief of the Air Service persuaded the Army and the Navy to come into line in the Air Force. It was not a very easy thing to do. It is not a very easy thing to take a sailor who has a pride in the Navy, who wears a different uniform, gets a different pay, is paid at a different time, calls his superior officer by a different name—well, I say it is not very easy to persuade that great Service to come into line with other people. It was a great achievement. I hope we shall all do honour where honour is due to Lord Rothermere. But I do think that in the exchange of letters which took place the other day, and which contained a long list of the splendid achievements effected at the Air Board during Lord Rothermere's tenure of office as Secretary of State, it would have been fair, and it would have been generous, and it would have been just apart from being generous, to have stated whether all these great changes had not in fact, as its most valuable adjunct, along with the Secretary of State, the distinguished man of whom I have been speaking. I hope the Committee sees that, whatever faults I may commit, I am not endeavouring to make mischief out of this unhappy quarrel. That is the last thing I have any right to do; but I do not believe that it could be right for a man to remain a Member of Parliament knowing that there are facts which he ought to disclose to the House, and yet be in a position in which he cannot properly disclose, them. That does not apply to the pledge of honour 1349 and preservation of confidence. It is just as wrong to disclose confidences of that sort to the House of Commons as to disclose them to the daily papers, but it will be, I think, a matter of very great importance to know exactly within what limits Members of this House—who one and all desire to do nothing but their duty at this time—and to what extent they are really disqualified from discharging their duties as Members of this House because they desire to do what little they can in the active service of the Crown. I want to continue to do both, and I hope a practical rule will be laid down to enable that to be done.
My last word is this. What has made the real gravity of the situation—though it must be present to the minds of hon. Members here, it does not appear to have lain quite always at the back of their speeches—is that when you are having the British line driven back, as it is being driven back now, you are putting a strain on the squadrons of the Flying Corps which no one who has not seen it and taken part in it can properly describe. They are giving up their aerodromes, they may have to burn their stores, they are flying all day and possibly coming back at night, and then they may have to take their machine down in an open field. Under these circumstances they depend all day and every hour and moment of the day on that steady confidence which only comes from being sure that they are being wisely led by the man in whom they are placing their trust. My criticism, if I may venture to make one, would be this: that surely it was a terrible disaster that in the middle of this great battle, when so much is happening, such a distinguished soldier felt it his duty to offer his resignation, and that we should have lost the services of a man who has been, whatever else we may say about him, the idol and inspiration of this great Service.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I did not speak in the earlier part of the Debate because I wanted to hear the speech of the Prime Minister upon the very grave question which has arisen in regard to the administration of the Air Force. Unlike my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), or my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, I have not had experience derived from serving in the Air Force, nor have I been officially connected with it. Many hon. Members are now taking a great and intimate pride 1350 in the work of the Air Force, but years before that I had the honour to interest myself in this House in the formation and promotion of the Royal Flying Corps, and I can say without undue pride that I am in a position to-day to know the real feelings of the young men at the front who formed the Air Service. I must confess that everything that has been said in regard to the absolute disaster of General Trenchard's resignation is correct. Compare what the Air Force has become under General Trenchard with what it was three and a half years ago, when the War started, when he went out early with some three squadrons consisting of forty or fifty machines; compare that with what we have been told to-day in regard to an enormous force running into far more than six figures of officers and men, when we have a most wonderful air organisation that the War has developed, when we have great aircraft factories in France, which the hon. Member for Doncaster and myself had the opportunity last year of viewing the whole organisation in France. We went over these even more wonderful testimonies to the organising power of General Trenchard; we went over these great aircraft factories and depots, as well as visiting the squadrons, and I should be acting wrongly as a Member of Parliament and not in accordance with my duty and privileges as a Member if I did not frankly say to the Committee that during the whole of the work and the organisation and strategy of the Air Force during the last three and a half years in France there runs the magic personality of General Trenchard. The enthusiasm of these young men has been inspired by General Trenchard. Their bravery has been developed, and their devotion and willingness is the result of General Trenchard's teaching and training. I felt that I must hear from my place some time during this Debate their testimony to the feelings of these young men with regard to the wonderful work he has done in building up this great force. I have had a letter put into my hands by my colleague who went with me last year to France from a young man at the front. I have had several myself, but may I just read one or two words quite typical of the feeling of the men at the front with regard to General Trenchard:The one man we need, the one man who has been produced by the War, and the man whom we really need now, is General Trenchard, because 1351 he is honest and strong and a hustler. You have no notion what the effect is upon the Corps both in France and in England.So much as to the feeling with regard to General Trenchard. I think, in fairness, one ought to say that in General Salmond, who succeeded General Trenchard at the head of the force in France three months ago, when he came over here, you have a magnificent officer, who was trained under General Trenchard, and who is rapidly acquiring, and, indeed, has acquired to some extent, the compliments, and, I hope, will acquire the devotion, of these young men in the same way that General Trenchard did. After all has been said, I think I should testify also to the work of the officer who commands the Air Force at the present moment. What steps ought I to take at this juncture? I hate personal quarrels of this kind. It is perfectly easy for any Member of Parliament to get up here and create difficulties or enlarge upon them between Ministers and their technical advisers. I have done it in the past: but I have not done it during the War. There is a very great deal of difference in utilising the personality of an officer in time of peace as a means of criticism and doing it in time of war. The Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that a position is being found for General Trenchard in the Air Force. We must remember that he has not been in command in France for two or three months, but he has held a position here of great responsibility, and though he was not Chief of the Staff, he may very well be called the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force in this country. We are told that a new position is going to be offered to General Trenchard. May I say that, knowing General Trenchard's devotion to duty, if this is a post which affords him scope for his unrivalled talent, I am certain that in the interests of the country he will forget all the past.
I should have liked, although it is rather at a late hour of the Debate, to have described more of the work of General Trenchard at the front. The hon. Member for Doncaster and myself were with him over a week last year, and we were brought into the closest contact with him, and I may say that this general was never a friend of mine. I think he had the idea that he did not love politicians, and that the speeches 1 bad made in previous years with regard to the Air Service were not, perhaps, quite pleasing in their criticism of him, 1352 but at the same time my hon. Friend and myself could not live as we did in cuose daily contact with General Trenchard without seeing his extraordinary mastery of detail and ability and his extraordinary effect, both moral and spiritual, upon the force in France. We were with him during part of the Battle of Messines, when the Air Force was fighting with wonderful success, and when almost for the first time low flying took place and our airmen charged the German Infantry. General Trenchard was not galloping about on a white horse. He was in the upper room of a chateau far behind the lines, surrounded with maps, with telegrams pouring in, and the telephone going, and there we had the opportunity of sitting, without interfering, of course, while the battle was in progress, and watching the effect of every movement made by the enemy as it came in, and we had the opportunity of watching the effect of the orders given by General Trenchard and observing the extraordinary grip and mastery of that man over every detail of the fighting that was going on in that country. That made a great impression on both our minds, and I feel that General Trenchard must be saved for the Flying Corps.
I am ready myself to accept the statement made this afternoon by the Prime Minister that a position is going to be offered to General Trenchard that will be worthy of his acceptance. It would be impossible, after the eulogy which has been crowded upon him this afternoon, not merely from my Noble Friend and others, to do anything else, and no higher words of praise could be spoken than those of the Prime Minister. There is scope for General Trenchard in the Flying Corps, if the work of the Chief of the Staff be confined to the work of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff dealing with the strategy of the war in the air. I think we may take it from the statement of the Prime Minister that the work of the Chief of the Staff will be quite different to that which General Trenchard has carried on during the last few months. If General Trenchard is not to be Chief of the General Staff, I know no man better able to succeed him than General Sykes. He has had a great deal to do with the original organisation, and he is an officer with whom I have, on previous occasions, come into conflict in discussions and attacks upon the organisation of the Air Force, but 1353 though I have come into contact with officer after officer in this War, I have still been able to realise the great ability and the great determination and devotion to duty of this officer. After General Trenchard, there is no officer I would sooner see Chief of the General Staff than General Sykes. If my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary would -consider a suggestion from an humble outsider, I would suggest that the whole training and discipline of the Air Service here needs a strong hand. My Noble Friend (Lord H. Cecil) spoke of the discipline of the Air Service. It may not be a popular thing to say it, but the very qualities which my Noble Friend says go to make for all the gallant deeds done by these young men make for difficulties with regard to discipline. The general in command of training is, we understand, giving up his particular post, and is now in France, and the whole of the training here, quite as important as the work in France, is in the melting-pot. You could not do better than hand over the entire management—the training, discipline, and the recreation—of these young pilots to General Trenchard. He would in a very few weeks or months instil into them exactly the same esprit de corps and exactly the same spirit and devotion to duty as he has instilled into the young men in France.
I would also ask my hon. and gallant Friend to consider the question of recreation, which is bound up with the question of discipline. You cannot teach a pilot for more than an hour and a half a day. You cannot send a young man up into the air for more than an hour and a half a day. You cannot give him lectures for more than four hours a day. That means, after he has had eight hours' sleep, that he is about eight or ten hours unemployed. You cannot train him more than that; it is physically and mentally impossible. That leaves these young men in their hundreds all over the country with eight or ten hours a day with nothing to do. In most of our aerodromes there is no provision for recreation. They have not the old barracks that our Infantry have, they have not the old arrangements for recreation that there are in our Infantry barracks; their time is not taken up, as it necessarily is in the Infantry, with manifold duties and drilling. I am betraying no confidence if I say that Lord Rothermere was himself exceedingly anxious in regard to this matter. There are no football fields, no cricket fields, no tennis clubs, no billiard 1354 rooms, and nothing whatever for these young men to do during their off-time but to sit indoors in the ante-rooms of their quarters reading, smoking, or playing cards. I am speaking of what I know and of what I have personally seen. Here is a tremendous opening for some officer in the Air Force to take charge of the discipline, the training, and the recreation of these young men who are even more important for the future than the young men in France. I commend that suggestion to the new Air Minister who has taken Lord Rothermere's place. May I express the hope, quite frankly and candidly, that there will be no more resignations of the position of Air Minister. The Air Force has been too long the sport of the politician. Lord Curzon, Lord Cowdray, Lord Rothermere, each in their turn tried to do their best, but neither in their turn were there long enough to get a complete hold and grip of the Air Force. I trust that Sir William Weir will remain there for a long time to come to exercise his ability, his organising power, and his determination, and that above all he will take to himself General Trenchard and will utilise, as the Prime Minister this afternoon said they would utilise, his power, which I say without hesitation is the greatest asset of the whole of the Royal Air Force in this country or in France.
§ Brigadier-General McCALMONT
I venture, as I originally raised this question of discipline by a question in the House last week, to say a very few words on the subject. The various right hon. and learned and gallant Gentlemen who have discussed this matter this afternoon have rather missed the point. The question whether a Member of this House is entitled to come back here and discuss matters which affect his service is entirely one of discipline. There are certain subjects which an officer of the Air Force or of any other force is perfectly justified in coming here and discussing, but, when he comes to this House and discusses the conduct of his superiors or the conduct of the administration of the force to which he belongs, then he puts himself entirely out of court, and it is in that respect that I hope that the officers and members of the Air Force who happen to be Members of this House will place upon themselves a voluntary restraint which is necessary if the traditions of the Army and the Navy are to be maintained in the Air Force. I listened with great regret this afternoon to the remarks of the 1355 hon. and gallant Member for Buckinghamshire (Colonel Sir H. Verney). He came here and told us that he more or less represented either the Army in this country or the Army in France—it does not matter which—and he then proceeded to give the opinion of the Army on an officer. If I had returned from France two or three months ago, and had proceeded to give my opinion of the present Chief of the General Staff or of the late Chief of the General Staff of the Army, I should have at once been told that it was not the soldier's business to interfere. That is where we have missed the point. The right hon., learned, and gallant Gentleman who has addressed the House this afternoon (Sir J. Simon) made a great effort to avoid criticism, but criticism is just the same as praise in this matter. I do not think any member of the Air Force has any right to come here and praise the present Chief of the General Staff or the late Chief of the General Staff. I do not know anything personally of Sir Hugh Trenchard—everything that I have heard inside and outside this House is entirely to his credit—but the last people in the world who ought to come and say that are the people who have served with him, whether in the Air Ministry offices or at the front.
This is not a matter which affects this House only; it also affects the individual. It is rather a two-edged business. If it is going to be generally understood throughout the three Services that Members of Parliament who hold commands are to be entitled to come here and repeat what they hear, officially and confidentially or not—it does not make any difference—it naturally follows that they will not be welcome in a great many branches of the Service. May I put it this way? If I were appointed to a command in a certain division, and the divisional general looked it up and saw who was coming, he would say, "I do not want Members of Parliament spying on me. If I go and do something wrong, the whole House of Commons and the whole country will hear of it." Vice versâ, another man will say, "I do not want a Member of Parliament commanding a unit under me, and praising me up to the skies." Some people dislike being praised as much as being criticised. I therefore hope that the Air Ministry will take care in this respect, and that the officers in the force will follow the tradition which has been handed down by 1356 the officers of the Army and Navy. I cannot recall having heard a single officer of the Army or Navy in this House criticise his superiors, or, for that matter, praise his superiors, and I can see no-reason why that same custom should not be handed down to the members of the new Air Force. I quite understand that it is a difficult matter, but I heartily endorse everything that the Prime Minister said this afternoon on the subject, and I hope that it will be made absolutely clear, because, if not, there is only one way out of it, and that is that members of the force must be prevented altogether from making protests or giving praise in this House. I would like to support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) on the subject of recreation. I have had some experience of young officers, and I know that recreation is a very important matter. If it should be possible to appoint Sir Hugh Trenchard to a post such as would make him responsible for the whole discipline, training, and recreation of the Royal Air Force, I hope that it will be done. Discipline is a very important question, and, if General Trenchard is put in charge of it, I hope that he will see that discipline in his force is not interfered with by Members of Parliament discussing his force in the House of Commons.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr HARCOURT
I have listened to all the speeches in this Debate, and I confess that I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) laid down some very questionable doctrines with regard to the position of Members of Parliament who are also officers. If I remember rightly, he said that when he, at a comparatively late stage in the War, accepted a commission in His Majesty's Service, he did not for a moment suppose that it would seriously limit his freedom of action as a Member of this House both in regard to his duty to his constituents and to the public at large. Speaking for myself, when I joined a branch of His Majesty's Service in October, 1914, I did so under precisely the opposite impression. Having regard to the enormous number of Members who either voluntarily or by compulsion go into the Army, it would naturally be assumed that any person, whether a Member of Parliament or not, who went into His Majesty's Service would give his whole-time to that Service if it were required by the exigencies of the Service.
1357 In my own case I was serving in the Salonika area and could not discharge my duty to my Constituents, because, obviously, I could not be here. The precise point of delicacy raised by the last speaker and also by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith)—both of them ex-Secretaries of State for War—was a point that came up for discussion when I was employed upon anti-aircraft work and when I had occasional accidental opportunities of coming down to this House. Criticism was freely made by gentlemen who had only a comparatively limited knowledge of the particular matter in hand. I thought it proper to put to my own commanding officer the point whether or not I should be entitled to come down to the House of Commons and endeavour merely to give correct information on certain points. My commanding officer said he would obtain the view of the Admiralty, whom I served. I am not now revealing any information, because the answer I received seemed to be eminently sensible and in the public interest. It was that while neither the War Office nor the Admiralty could prevent a. Member of Parliament from making a speech in this House, they would necessarily feel obliged to scrutinise his observations, and if, in the course of his observations, he criticised his superior officer or revealed any information which had come to him in his capacity as an officer, more especially if it were of a confidential character, they would obviously have to consider the way in which they would treat that officer. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Bucks (Colonel Sir H. Verney) made a claim which I hope will not be made again. It is eminently undesirable that any officer should come into this House and profess to express the opinion of the Army, the opinion of the men at the front, and the opinion of the fighting forces.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
If that doctrine is once admitted the authority of Parliament will be greatly impaired.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
It would be impertinence on my part to say whether or not the hon. and gallant Gentleman for North Bucks is entitled to use such 1358 language, but I hope that that class of speech will not be made. I say this in the interests of commanding officers in general. I have had the good fortune to serve under a commanding officer who did not love Members of Parliament, but he treated me in the fairest possible manner. I wish to emphasise the point made by the preceding speaker. If we do exceed the ordinary rules of tact in these matters we are making the position very difficult for ourselves and very difficult for our colleagues who are on active service.
I only desire to put one point with regard to the subject matter of the Debate I should not have spoken on that topic for the very excellent reason that when I was immobilised I came for the purposes of discipline under the Naval Air Force, and for all I know I now come under the Royal Air Force. One argument put forward by the Prime Minister was not made plain. I will not mention the two names which have bulked very largely in this Debate. So far as I understood his argument it was that he bad two generals, General A and General B, at his disposal. The argument which he suggested to the Committee was that it might well be that a particular general was more suited for a given command at the front, whereas the other general was more suited for Staff work. The Prime Minister suggested that the Air Minister or the Government gave consideration, at some time not specified, to the respective merits of General Trenchard and General Sykes for the position of Chief of the Air Staff. As I understand the matter, they did nothing of the kind. General Trenchard resigned, and they decided to put, shall I say, the next best man into the position. I do not understand that the Prime Minister intended to suggest to the Committee that General Sykes was put there on a general consideration of all the circumstances and because out of the available generals for the purpose he was considered the best for the particular job. I do not know whether the Undersecretary of State will think it desirable to deal with that point, but to me the Prime Minister's argument was neither clear nor convincing upon a point which seems to me to be fundamental.
§ General CROFT
I should like to say a word or two with regard to the very difficult question of the speeches of Members of Parliament who are in the Services. We want to be very careful in 1359 dealing with this matter that we do not make it quite impossible for Members of Parliament to remain in the Services. That would be a. most deplorable thing. I do not believe there is a civil Member of this House who does not agree that we get great value from the speeches of officers in the Army and Navy on broad questions which have nothing to do with individuals. Up to the present the rule in the Army has always been extremely strict on this question. I desire to associate myself very largely with what the Prime Minister has laid dawn this afternoon. May I give the experience of a humble Member of this House to show how stringently this rule has been maintained in the Army? At Christmas, 1914, I wrote a letter, a sort of pastoral to my Constituents. It was a New Year's greeting. I had done so for nine or ten years. There was absolutely nothing of party politics in that letter. Within three days I received a letter from the Secretary to the Army Council, in which I was told that this was most improper conduct, and that it certainly must not occur again. On another occasion, when home on leave, I had the audacity to speak about some technical matter to a member of the War Cabinet. Unfortunately, apparently, he thought it was interesting, and others thought it was interesting, but I was actually censured by my superior officer for having spoken to a member of the War Cabinet on that subject. It is impossible to serve God and Mammon in this connection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which is God?"] I leave hon. Members to discuss that. It will do the Air Force a great deal of harm if, in its infancy, officers take a different point of view on this subject from that which is taken in the Army and Navy. With regard to my New Year's message, it did not deal with party subjects at all. That was afterwards admitted, and they thought that, perhaps, the criticism was a little bit hasty.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) said that he was going to be completely detached. He has evidently regarded this question with a certain amount of levity, because he not only came here to praise a general, but when on the active list he went to his constituents at Walthamstow in order to praise the official Leader of the Opposition and to make a speech, which was published in all the papers, although it was a private meeting, on the subject of the restoration 1360 of civil liberties. If you are on the active list you cannot make political speeches; it cannot be done! The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that many officers who came home on leave made speeches in this House. If you read through those speeches you will find that the most elaborate precautions were taken to say not one word of criticism or praise, which is even worse, with regard to senior officers in the Service. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) just now interjected the name of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire (General Sir A. Hunter-Weston). I read the speech of that hon. and gallant Gentleman with the greatest care, and there is no member of this Committee who heard that speech who will say that it contained a single word of criticism or praise. It was a speech delivered on the Army generally, and a more detached speech could not have been made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) said that criticism was necessary in order to allow officers on the active list to come into this House and make speeches. He was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for East Antrim (General McCalmont):Even about superior officers?And the right hon. Gentleman replied:Yes, even in the case of superior officers, if that affects the situation as a whole.That is an impossible idea altogether. Politicians are not too popular in the Service as it is, but that would make their position absolutely unbearable. May I say one word on the general subject of this Debate? The Prime Minister said that Sir Hugh Trenchard, for reasons of chivalry which we all can admire, did not want to displace another officer and do him out of a job. That point of view ought not to weigh with the Government. At the time Sir Hugh Trenchard was appointed to the Air Board some of my friends very much regretted that he was going from supreme command of the Air Force in the field. If he is the best man, there ought to be no question of etiquette, chivalry, or anything else. Even though we all admit the splendid qualities in the other officer who is there, this is not the time for these small differences. We want the man who has been thinking about this question, who has considered the question of the new aerodromes and retirement or advance. We want him back in his supreme position in the field if his quali- 1361 ties are not sufficient for the work of the Chief of the Air Staff. I would throw out this suggestion to the Under-Secretary of State, and I hope he will convey it to his colleagues in the Government. You have now many of the most brilliant brains of the Army and Navy lying derelict. We were told that Lord Jellicoe was going to be speedily re-employed. He has not been employed. Sir William Robertson is employed on the Eastern Command—a most important command, but one hardly sufficient to do justice to his great abilities. We now have the difficulty with regard to Sir Hugh Trenchard. I throw out this suggestion to the Committee, and I hope the Government will consider it: that as the thing we desire above everything else is that the Government should retain the confidence of the country, it would be better to bring these men into the War Cabinet, so as to take advantage of their brainpower and knowledge of war to concentrate on all these questions of war, and so that there will be some element in the Cabinet which is not for ever obsessed with questions such as the nationalisation of the liquor trade, of Home Rule, or any other questions. An admirable opportunity has occurred to strengthen the War Cabinet by the inclusion of these tried and proved servants of the State, whom we know will keep their eyes steadily fixed on one goal, and one goal only—the decisive defeat of the enemy.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
I neither desire nor am I qualified to go over the grounds of policy which it is desirable for Members of the House to follow, whether they are serving with the Colours, or, like me, unfortunately compelled to be but private Members. I have listened with great interest to the arguments laid down on one side or the other. I was struck by some remarks made by the Prime Minister and the ex-Prime Minister betokening their general agreement with the suggestion that they had both, for some considerable time prior to the formation, or even the consideration of the formation of an Air Board for the control of what had hitherto been two separate and distinct forces, entertained a very high opinion of the suitability for such an office of Sir William Weir, and yet after that two other names were given, both were appointed, and he who they now say was undoubtedly the best man then, as now, available for the headship of this joint Board was passed over. If Sir 1362 William Weir in those bygone days twelve months ago was the best man, one wants to know—I speak with all the limitations laid upon me necessarily by the knowledge that the man is ill and in domestic trouble, yet in the interests of the public service let it be asked why Sir William Weir was passed over, first for one and then for another, and that other a journalist and a member of a family which some think has had by far too much influence in the Government of this country. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) put his finger upon one matter very carefully but very surely, as is his wont, when he said that as between his chief and Sir Hugh Trenchard something had happened. I do not want to probe into that too closely or find out what it was, but I suggest that what was the matter was a thing that mattered all through the office. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Baird) will be able to reassure the Committee that under its new chief the general disquiet and unrest of the Air Board will cease. I want to ask him how many resignations have been offered within the last six months? We have only dealt with this big outstanding figure, General Trenchard, but he is not the only person of importance who has resigned. How many others? Does the list include the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself? Is he going to resign, or is his resignation on the Table unaccepted or not withdrawn? I hope, as we are now sweeping up the House, we shall manage to evict the last particle of dust from it, and that the general conduct of all its affairs will make for the comfort of those who are housed there, and that its business will be carried on in a wholesome, healthy, progressive fashion. These gentlemen want to feel that they are being treated with not so much backstairs intrigue as has happened in the past. Fortunately, this mishandling and discourteous treatment of gentlemen—I hope so unlike the practice that generally obtains in Government Offices—has passed away with the advent of a business man and a man of affairs to the chieftaincy of the Department. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be able to assure us that the Government has not lost the service of anyone now who matters, that resignations, unless there is good and sufficient reason, have been gladly withdrawn, and that the whole staff now, its troubles over, being assured of kindly, sympathetic, courteous, candid, gentle- 1363 manly treatment, will be able to get on with their work and to carry to still greater heights of perfectness and success the splendid record of service with which this comparatively new force has been credited in the recent past.
§ Mr. BILLING
The Debate seems to divide itself under two heads. Half of the time has been occupied in deciding questions of etiquette and only half has been concentrated on the real issue that we are here to discuss. On the point of etiquette, the Prime Minister laid down the very excellent rule—I thought he was going a little further and was going to stand by it—that no Member of this House should try to enjoy a dual capacity both as a soldier and as a Member of Parliament. There are many of us who would like to be in the Service to-day, but hon. Members should remember that there is a duty that they owe not only to this House but to their constituents, and if they had been returned to represent the views and wishes of their constituents they are taking very great liberties with them in deliberately absenting themselves from the House without giving them an opportunity of appointing someone in their place. So far as betraying, by criticism or praise, any information which they have obtained in their official capacity, surely there can be no two views about that. If this Debate does no more than make the position of a Member of Parliament absolutely impossible on any staff or in any regiment it will have accomplished much, and after what we have heard to-day I certainly think that the General Commanding will think not once but twice before he accepts the services of a Member of Parliament if the procedure that we have listened to this afternoon finds favour with the Government.
But, as I see it, we are here to decide on the future of the Air Service under the present Administration. Sir Hugh Trenchard is the man who, during 1914, 1915, 1916, and some part of 1917, under the most impossible or seemingly impossible difficulties, kept the Air Service going in France. It would be most interesting to read his dispatches during the time he was Commander-in-Chief in France. One of the most unfortunate things that occurred was bringing him back to England. He is a man of great directness of speech. That disqualifies him from meeting politicians at all. I 1364 have never struck a politician yet who liked directness of speech, least of all from a military adviser. It was, perhaps, because certain members of the Air Service knew of this, what may be regarded as political failing, that he was-chosen to approach the Air Minister to discuss the various points at issue between Lord Rothermere and many heads of Departments. Whether General Trenchard knew when he went to Lord Rothermere's office that he was likely to fall in with those views by causing a breach between Lord Rothermere and himself and many members and heads of Departments I do not know. From what I know of General Trenchard, I should be inclined to think he was utterly ignorant of it, but that there was intrigue on foot to bring about the removal of Lord Rothermere from the Air Service there is no possible doubt. When the interview took place Lord Rothermere requested General Trenchard to tender his resignation, not from any reason of his failing to appreciate the extraordinary ability of that officer but on account of what I believe were almost unforgivable exchanges of opinion at that interview.
Lord Rothermere, with all his faults, promised to be a strong Air Minister. He went in there determined to clear up the Air Service if it were possible to do it. He determined to cut down a great deal of the waste, overlapping, and intrigue that still existed, and lie came up against heads of Departments. It is only reasonable that he would. Anyone who knows heads of Departments will appreciate that. If only the Prime Minister had said that Lord Rothermere had got up against the heads of Departments, that the heads of Departments persuaded General Trenchard to represent their views to Lord Rothermere, that an interview took place which rendered it impossible for these two gentlemen any longer to remain in direct control of the Air Service, that General Trenchard resigned, that having regard to the importance of the issue the matter had been reconsidered, that Lord Rothermere had resigned, and that under the circumstances it was quite possible for General Trencbawl to come back! It only wanted the pocketting of a little pride by the Government. General Trenchard could be back in command to-day, not as Chief of Staff, not as monitor of the recreation-rooms of the Air Service, but as commander-in-chief of the military side of the Air Service upon which this country 1365 so greatly relies. I am sure General Trenchard does not wish to interfere with or take any control of the naval administration of our Air Service, and I am sure he has no interest in the Air Service so far as what we might call its independent fighting units by raid are concerned; but he has the ability and the military knowledge which is absolutely necessary for any officer in supreme command of the military wing operating with the General Headquarters Staff in France. He has the experience and the ability for that, and whether he was Chief of Staff in command or Commander-in-Chief would matter little. As Commander-in-Chief in France he might carry his way with infinitely less opposition in regard to anything he desired than as Chief of Staff here in England acting in direct contact with politicians, and his requests, which in many instances in the past have amounted to demands, would be much much likely to be met.
About the other resignation, I wish to say nothing. We all hold our views about the various abilities of various persons, and I am glad that very little time of the House has been wasted in any question other than that of General Trenchard himself, and I do appeal to the Government to give this matter serious consideration. Of course, they may have decided to bring General Trenchard back by penny numbers. It is quite a political habit, I believe, to reinstate a man by stages. General Trenchard's ability has never been called into doubt. The only thing that has happened and that has robbed this country of his services is that he lost his temper with the Air Minister on one occasion. I do not think the subject matter which they discussed had any real or direct bearing on the battle now being waged on the Western Front. It seems to me a tragic pity that we should lose this brilliant man for that reason. I am exceedingly sorry that we have lost Lord Rothermere. I think he was making a really strenuous effort to knock the other side of the Air Service as distinct from its active side into some sort of order. The Hotel Cecil, which is generally known as "Bolo," although it contains many able men, is crammed with utterly useless officers, who are doing utterly useless work.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the AIR MINISTRY (Major Baird)
That is a gross calumny upon officers who are doing admirable work in the Air Service.
§ Mr. BILLING
Thanks for the interruption. I am glad that I have "drawn blood." There are hundreds of officers in the Hotel Cecil who can be well spared. There are hundreds of officers here in London engaged in public service work from which they could be well spared, whose work could be done by women, and in some cases, I might almost say, by children. Lord Rothermere appreciated that, and he was endeavouring to clear out quite a number of men into more useful occupations when he, unfortunately, had to resign. My advice to the Government to-day is the same advice that I offered them two and a half years ago, and that is that they will never get an amalgamation between the Fokker naval man and the Fokker Army man. The difference between the Air Service of the Army and the Air Service of the Navy are fundamental. On the top of that there is a separate and distinct Service, which we have a. right to expect from the Air Ministry, and that is raiding pure and simple. The types of machines which these three Services require are different: the types of pilots they require are different, and the types of training are different. If we could look to one head in this House of the three particular Services, as we could do, if General Trenchard were in supreme command of the military branch, responsible directly only to the Minister; if a naval officer with adequate nautical experience were found to be placed in supreme command of the naval branch; and if another officer were found to be put in supreme command of the third, and in many ways the most important branch, I think you would abolish once and for all the friction, the intrigue, and the wilful waste of material and personnel which is going on to-day. The system of amalgamation between these two Services has been very rough on the naval side, and there is not a naval officer who does not feel that in this amalgamation the naval side has got decidedly the worst of it. While they are all willing, I am sure, to sink any personal feeling, there is that feeling existing in the Service to-day. I think it is necessary that the Government should: review the position of the Air Service.
A new Minister has been appointed with an extraordinary record for efficiency and his appointment seems to meet with the approval of the whole House. I sincerely hope that we shall not be herein a few weeks' time debating why it was 1367 necessary for the Government to get rid of his services. I see no possible objection to the Government, having heard the -expression of feeling in this House, acting in the way I have suggested. Finding myself speaking on the side of the majority almost robs me of words; it is such a surprise, but it is a fact that there is no Member who has said one word except in praise of General Trenchard. Yet the Government wilfully disregards the opinion of the House, and say only in extenuation of their action that they hope to find him some little job of more or less importance in the near future. I think the Government should here and now state what they intend to do with General Trenchard. I think that the position which would give him the best opportunity of employing his great faculties would be to put him in supreme command of the military wing of the Air Service as Commander-in-Chief. When the story of the Air Service comes to be written, and when the history of the Air Service comes to be read, I think it will be found remarkable that when we were discussing this Service, when the Bill was before the House for its creation, there were only about six Members who were sufficiently interested to take part in the Debate, and now we are seeing one of the results of the lack of intelligent criticism of the Bill in its early stages. We are seeing the extraordinary personal appeal that any question of personal feeling has on Members of this House, and that far greater interest is being evinced in one incident of friction than in the formation of the entire force.
I should like to know whether we are to see the new Air Minister in this House. I am quite sure that an opportunity could be easily made for finding a seat for him in this House. There are many Members, I should think, who are due to go to -another place quite shortly, any one of whom would make provision for the entry of the present Air Minister into this House. That is, I think, an excellent suggestion, and it would meet with the approval of this House. I hope the Government will not take seriously the suggestion of the hon. Member for Brentford that Sir Hugh Trenchard should be found a position in this country, which, to put it mildly, in the words of one hon. Member, would be something in the nature of the formation of a Sunday-school class, giving him facilities for opening recreation 1368 rooms and things of that description. We have seen so many of our military and I naval experts relieved of their command, and given positions enabling them to open bazaars, and so forth. I should very much regret the decision of the Government to offer General Trenchard a post of that description. I do not think it would be taken seriously. I hope before this week is out that we shall hear that General Trenchard has returned to France to take over the supreme command of the Military Wing of the Air Service there, and that an officer has been appointed under the Air Minister to take supreme command of the Naval Wing of the Air Service, and that the question of Home defence and general raiding squadrons are put under the supreme command of another officer. That is a policy I have pleaded for during the last two years or more, and I honestly think it is the only solution of the present difficulties. It seems to me an awful pity that this Service, which may yet have to solve this War, should have been made, as it has been made, the plaything of politicians and the plaything of the Army and the Navy. If the Government want to do a big thing just for once, even though it might well prove to be a valedictory effort in their career, I would urge them to grasp this nettle with which they are playing. They should pocket their pride and put the best men in the best places, irrespective of Service etiquette or anything else, and make up their minds that they have made a mistake in this wholesale amalgamation, that they will have to give the Navy its own Air Service sooner or later, and that they will have to give the Army its own Air Service. Until they arrive at that conclusion confusion and chaos will continue in the citadel of the Air Service, no matter and despite the bravery and sacrifices of all men, from General Trenchard down to what has been referred to as the "boy in the air."
§ Major BAIRD
The subject under discussion is the Vote for the Secretary of State, who was only appointed yesterday. Of course, this discussion was arranged when the previous Secretary of State was holding office, and the particular point arising out of his action in accepting General Trenchard's resignation has been very widely discussed. I would like, if I may, in a very few words, to draw attention to what the Air Force has done since the last occasion when I had the honour of bringing the matter before the House. I 1369 can do it very concisely. I think the House will appreciate a letter which General Salmond, the officer in command, wrote to General Trenchard on the 6th April, after the German offensive had been continued for a fortnight. These are General Salmond's words:I wish you would express to the President, members of the Air Council, and all concerned, my thanks, and those of all serving with me, for the wonderful promptness with which all our heavy demands have been met to the full. It has helped us to keep going, and the knowledge that we are so strongly backed from home gives us the utmost confidence in the future.The reason I wanted to quote that was to dispel from the minds of hon. Members any doubts, should such have been harboured, as a result of what the hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Billing) said a few minutes ago. There could be nothing more scandalous than that a man without knowledge of what he is talking about should accuse hardworking officers and officials of laziness and idleness, and in view of this testimony to their work I say it is disgraceful for a Member of this House to say such things either here or in public. I am glad to have this opportunity of giving him the lie direct, and of quoting in contradiction of what he says this letter from the Commander-in-Chief in France. It proves most conclusively that the staff and the organisation at the Hotel Cecil is doing good work.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
Is an hon. Member entitled to give the lie direct to another Member of this House? Is that a Parliamentary expression?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is not a Parliamentary way of expressing the hon. and gallant Member's opinion.
§ Major BAIRD
What I meant to convey was that the statements of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire were wholly inaccurate, and that the version I have given is completely and wholly accurate. Perhaps I may put it in that way without offence to anyone. There is another point to which I would like to invite the attention of the Committee, and it is this, that this work has been carried out by the officers and officials of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service at the Hotel Cecil at a time when the amalgamation of the organisation of the two forces was proceeding. They have not only been able to meet the tremendous demands that were sent from the 1370 front, but they have been able to carry out the amalgamation of the two Services with the minimum amount of friction. Of course, it is not perfect, but they have done these things in such a manner that the hope I ventured to express when the Estimates were before the House that the amalgamation might be brought about early in the financial year has been more than realised, as it became actually effective on the first day of the year. That ought to be borne in mind, because, in speaking as we do rightly and naturally of the great gallantry of the officers and men at the front, do not let us forget that their efforts would be of no avail were it not for the manner in which they have been supported by the officers and officials working in the different departments at the Hotel Cecil. There is another matter I must touch upon. The quality of the pilots has steadily increased. The number has, of course, increased, and we have met all their demands. General Salmond told me this morning that the quality of the pilots has constantly been going up. At the start of the offensive a large number had to be rushed across, but there has at the same time been a continuous; improvement in their quality, and there are interesting figures I should like to give the House dealing with that, figures which show, I think, in the most conclusive manner the growth in our superiority over the enemy. Our losses in the air during the month of March last—losses of all kinds, killed, wounded, missing and prisoners—were almost the same as the losses we suffered in the month of April last year from the same causes. Hon. Members will remember that in April last year we were engaged in winning supremacy in the air in the Battle of the Somme. In March this year we have again been engaged in a tremendous battle, and, as I said, our losses from all causes were practically the same in both months, while the number of German machines definitely ascertained to be destroyed—known to-have crashed—is three and a half times as large as the total for last year. I think these two points are quite enough to convince hon. Members of the value-of the work done.
The new Secretary of State has taken over a very difficult charge. He has the complete confidence of every man and woman connected with the Air Force, 1371 and I beg hon. Members also to give him the same full and complete confidence and thus afford him a chance of justifying the appointment. There is only one other point on which I wish to touch. General Salmond tells me that never during the whole of these operations which have been in progress, on any single morning, has the Royal Air Force been short of more than three machines, and when hon. Members consider what that means, what organisation is involved in getting the machines out and securing pilots to take them out, they will realise that it is really a gigantic and colossal undertaking. Of course, I cannot give the figures, or the Committee would more fully appreciate the extent of that undertaking. I have
§ mentioned these facts in order to endeavour to impress on the Committee that, though everything may not beperfect—indeed, nothing can be perfect—there is every ground for the belief that the Air Force is progressing on sound lines. It has complete and absolute confidence in its Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State has asked me to say that, although he is not a Member of this House, he hopes that, when he has got into the saddle, hon. Members will give him an opportunity of meeting them in a Committee Room, when he will be able to explain his position and policy.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 37; Noes, 127.1373
|Division No. 29.]||AYES.||[7.56 p.m.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Arnold Sidney||Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Hogge, James Myles||Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Holt, Richard Durning||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allesbrook|
|Brunner, J. F. L.||Hudson, Walter||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||King, Joseph||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Clough, William||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Outhwaite, R. L.|
|Glanville, Harold James||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Pringle and Mr. Leif Jones.|
|Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Mackinder, H. J.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Macmaster, Donald|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Fell, Sir Arthur||McMicking, Major Gilbert|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Barlow Sir Montague (Salford, South)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Maden, Sir John Henry|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||Marriott, J. A. R.|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Goldsmith, Frank||Middlebrook, Sir William|
|Bathurst, Capt. Sir C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Newman, Major John R. P.|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Bigland Alfred||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Norman, Rt. Hon. Major Sir H.|
|Bird, Alfred||Haslam, Lewis||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Pease, Rt. Hon. H. Pike (Darlington)|
|Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid)||Hills, John Waller||Pennefather De Fonblanque|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hinds, John||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Philipps, Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Hope, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Midlothian)||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvon, Arfon)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Cheyne, Sir W. W.||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Roberts, Rt. Hon. George H. (Norwich)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon.)||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Rutherford, Sir W. (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J, (Down, E.)||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Kellaway, Frederick George||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Croft, Brig-Gen. Henry Page||Larmor, Sir J.||Shortt, Edward|
|Currie, George W.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Denison-Pender, Capt. J.||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Sir A. H. (Asht'n-u-Lyne)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Stewart, Gershom|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||M'Calmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Swift Rigby||Wedgwood, Commander Josiah C.||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Thomas, Sir A. G. (Monmouth, S.)||Whiteley, Sir H. J.||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Thorne, William (West Ham)||Williams, Ansurin (Durham)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Tickler, T. G.||Williams, John (Glamorgan)||Younger, Sir George|
|Tryon, Capt. George Clement||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Walker, Col. William Hall||Wilson-Fox, Henry||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Capt. Guest.|
|Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Wardle, George J.|
Question put, and agreed to.