§ Order for Committeee read.
The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Captain Guest)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I will as shortly as possible review the operations, activities and prospects of the Department over which I preside. The House will remember that last year, on the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair, a general statement was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. At that time he was unable to remain for the Estimates and committed them to my charge. My right hon. Friend went on a mission to Egypt, where he presided over the Middle Eastern Committee, the results of which we are beginning to see to day. On 1st April, shortly after the introduction of the Estimates, the Air Ministry was for the second time given a separate Secretary of State, and to-day it is the first time that the Estimates are being presented by a Secretary of State who is responsible for that Department. My first observation in presenting these Estimates is to give expression to the satisfaction which has been felt, not only by those in charge of the Department, both Ministers and senior officers, but by the whole of the Royal Air Force, with the announcement made last week by the Leader of the House in connection with the separate and autonomous existence of the Ministry.
At the risk of wearying the House I will mention two of the foundations upon which in future we shall rest. The Air Force must be autonomous in matters of administration and education, and in the case of defence against air raids the Army and Navy must play a secondary role. In this connection I think the House would be interested if I elaborated by a very little only the remarks made by the Leader of the House last week on the question whether it is peculiar that we alone of all the nations of the world have decided to establish or have approved of the existence of a separate Ministry. 286 There are two great countries where this subject is causing a great deal of anxiety and, I might say, almost of consternation, due entirely to the unsatisfactory state of affairs which exists in those countries. In America I understand that the highest opinions are divided, and that some of the most influential are very much impressed by the separate organisation that we have in this country. In France, where aviation has been given a great impetus by the Government, I notice that a Commission which has been reporting to the Chamber Committee on military affairs has found it within its province to recommend that in its opinion aviation will never have its proper influence and take its proper place until it is given complete autonomy and independence.
Therefore it is quite clear that what we have done is being very closely watched, and I for one shall not be surprised if our example is not very shortly followed. I turn now to a short résume of our activities during the past year, and I think it would be most useful if I began by giving an outline of the allocation of the forces under our control. Previous to the economies effected under the Geddes Committee, the Air Force consisted of 32½ fighting units. Some of the units are sections of squadrons, and therefore I can give the facts only in somewhat broad figures. The reduction in the service strength which we have effected under the Geddes Committee recommendations are the equivalent of two squadrons, and the reduction in our training schools may also be considered by those who understand the service to be equivalent to two more service units. So we are in fact the equivalent of four service units weaker than we were before the Government went into the question of economies under the recommendations of the Geddes Committee.
The equivalent. We have still at our disposal 31½, and of these 19½ are abroad. I am very anxious that the House should appreciate what that means. They are allocated as follows: India, 6; Iraq, 8; Egypt, 3; Palestine, 1; and in the Mediterranean doing naval co-operation work, l½. At home we have 12, but the 12 have a variety of functions to perform and may be best divided as follows: One is 287 doing miscellaneous work, and is a communication squadron at Kenley; one is definitely allocated, practically permanently, to Army co-operation; three are in reserve; and three, under the new scheme which I shall outline later, will be our first modest preparation for home defence. A criticism may be raised some time this evening, and it would perhaps be simpler if I replied to it now in anticipation. As far as the cost of the Air Force is concerned it may be objected that the squadrons in India are paid for by the Indian Government, and those in Iraq by the Colonial Office. That is true, but in order to provide these units it is necessary to have additional training establishments and increased stores and depots at home.
The House would be interested were I to quote a few examples of what the Air Force is doing in different parts of the Empire. These examples will also serve to illustrate the fact that Air Force action is less temporary than Army action, and the object of my quoting a few of these stories is to prove two things. One is that under certain conditions, such as the patrolling and policing of semi-civilised portions of our Empire, the Air Force is not only quicker in its action, but that in its cost it is far less, and I think also that in its action it is more humane. Secondly, the effects are certainly not less lasting than those obtained by military expeditions. Everyone knows enough of the history of the Indian frontier to know that military action there has never achieved finality. Similarly, in the new Dependencies in the Middle East, we have already had evidence that even strong military action does not bring about final settlement. I do not suggest that we have yet proved that the results of air action are more lasting than the result of army action, but, if properly carried out, they are certainly no less so, and, in addition, where suitable opportunity is afforded for air force action, the evidence would seem to indicate that air action is as effective. The incident of Somaliland in 1920, will still be in the recollection of the House. On that occasion a considerable military expedition had been undertaken and a great deal of money had been spent in the attempt to quell the Mad Mullah. At last, somewhat late in the proceedings, an independent air force was invited to 288 assist, and they were able within a very few weeks to completely destroy the rebellious rising and to bring not only the penalty, in the form of fines, into the Government, but to entirely disperse the enemy forces. The money which was spent was a fraction compared with the cost of the military expedition.
Curiously enough a further incident has arisen in the same country within the last few weeks which is to a certain extent an Air Force romance. Trouble arose somewhat similar to that to which I have referred, and the governor considered it necessary that troops should be dispatched. The flight commander at Aden was asked to send out the two only aeroplanes there to see whether peaceful conditions could be restored, and to assist, as far as he could, the military. There was some anxiety as to whether this was not a considerable undertaking for so small a unit, but they went, and I think I am right in saying that within two days the tribe had surrendered and had passed into the Government three thousand or four thousand head of cattle and the two aeroplanes were back at Aden within a week. The flight across the Red Sea was certainly not less than 80 miles.
In Iraq, of course, there are more object lessons to support what I have set out to prove. There it is now a question as to whether the effect of Air Force control, is not at least as valuable, and permanent, as that which is obtained by military expeditions. In Iraq there have been a number of opportunities of proving the value of the Air Force as a means of policing large unsettled areas. In this' connection operations in the districts of Sularmaniyah and Halabja provide a striking example of the effectiveness of the Air Force in suppressing disorder. In May of 1919 a coup d'etât was attempted by Sheik Mahmud. It took an expedition of two brigades to suppress that outbreak, and it took them two and a-half months to do it. An almost exactly similar outbreak occurred in January this year, less than three years after the first. This second outbreak was dealt with by the Air Force and was suppressed in a week by eight aeroplanes. There are also great tracts of country in these particular areas, with which we are dealing, which are almost inacessible, except with great preparation and at 289 great cost, to ground forces. The marshy lands lying between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the mountains, which in many places are devoid of roads, could only be dealt with by a military force after long and costly preparation. These areas can be, and are being, daily patrolled by the Air Force and its success in the suppression of disturbances where necessary has been frequent and effective.
There is another point which I think the House will appreciate, and it is, that in these countries the only way in which military forces can keep tribes in subjection is by placing garrisons. In semi-civilised countries that is just asking for trouble. It offers the one opportunity that the natives are looking for, and that is, something to come and sit round and strike at, in the hope of eventually getting some rifles or some loot. We have, I regret to say, had several detachments cut off in this country, but we propose in the future, when the transfer takes place, to adopt the more modern method of patrolling the country from a distance, and of keeping our base well back among our friendly tribes and far out of reach of any marauding bands.
In Iraq, also, an opportunity is afforded of carrying out one of our operational performances which may bring in its train an opportunity for civil aviation there, and that is the development of the desert route. During the year we have established a line by air, as a communication between Cairo and Bagdad. Both from the operational and the trading point of view, this is a great advance. By this means quantities of official and public mails are carried from Cairo to Bagdad, and it is used for reinforcements of aeroplanes. It will be of enormous advantage, as will be appreciated by those who have suffered in these hot countries. Besides that, it provides a considerable economy. It enables us to send to the eight squadrons of Bagdad all their spares, new machines, and impedimenta by this route in two or three days, instead of packing them all in crates and sending them round by the Persian Gulf and taking 24 days to do it.
The whole of this route is covered in two flights, one from Cairo to Amman and the other from Amman to Bagdad. The total distance is about 900 miles 290 and the record flying is seven and a half hours. There is a story of a forced landing in connection with this route which will interest those who have played some part in flying matters, and it shows that we are rapidly becoming the handy men which our sister Service has claimed to be for so long. It appears that some time ago an aeroplane fell from the formation owing to some kind of engine trouble. It came to the ground somewhere in the desert hundreds of miles from anywhere. The personnel were picked up by another aeroplane and the disabled craft was left in the deseit. In a few hours, by means of air transport, the necessary spare parts were brought to it by another machine. It was repaired in the middle of the desert and within three days from the time of the accident the aeroplane had flown away to its original destination. We have also to draw the attention of the House to the operations which are taking place in Trans-Jordania. Amman is the headquarters of that section and we keep two aeroplanes there for the purpose of the desert service and forwarding mails. There the prestige of the Air Force is very high as was proved on a recent occasion when the Emir Abdullah found it necessary to send a force to visit the district of Kerak where there was constant faction fighting and no taxes were being paid. The Emir asked the Air Force to help; the aeroplanes arrived just as the political officer with his gendarmerie was entering the town. The aeroplanes merely manœuvred over the town and fired a few Verey lights. So startled were the opposing factions that they fell into each others arms, took refuge in each others houses and, in face of the common danger, very soon settled their differences.
From the few examples I have given, the House will gather how quick, effective, and cheap can be the use of this new arm. I pass from that, the romantic side of flying activity, to the more solid but equally necessary department of training. It must be remembered in this connection that the Air Force has been built up almost entirely in the last three years, and that the period through which we have gone has had to be devoted to consolidation and regulation. As hon. Members who have been in the Army or Navy will know, a new service requires immense quantities of books, regulations, manuals, 291 and treatises of every size and description. Upon them any organised force must rest. From the point of view of the Air Force, the subject is, if I may say so, even more complicated and technical than those subjects with which the other services have to deal. Manuals, regulations, and books of instructions have had to be most carefully provided, although it is not sought to bind the service by too much red tape. That has been carried out actively during the last year. With these merely general introductory remarks I may proceed to give some details of several Very important training centres upon which we depend.
We have first of all the college at Cranwell in Lincolnshire built luckily for us during the War by the Admiralty who were famed for the excellence of the bricks and mortar which they provided during that period. That is the home of our future chiefs of the Air Staff. It is in that college now that we are training from earliest youth, in the secrets and science of this complicated Service, the young men upon whom Britain in the next 20 years or for the next two generations will have to depend. The college turned out its first draft last year of 29 officers and we regard that as a milestone of some importance. There are still 91 pupils in the college and another 49 will pass out in the course of the year. The reports which I have received from there are extremely high, and to give an instance two of our officers whose names and whose service were not known to the judges, received the first and second prizes in an open competition for an aeronautical essay. The second school of importance is the training school for boy mechanics which is at Halton and at Cranwell. When Halton is completed, we shall have nearly all of them there but at present they are divided, there being rather more at Cranwell than at Halton, The work undertaken by these boys can be best outlined if I may draw the attention of the House to one or two notes on that subject. The school opened in 1920. For some time the entries were not very large, since parents wished to wait until the system had proved itself. It is gratifying to be able to announce that in the course of the last 12 months candidates of the very best class have been coming forward in large numbers, and there is already considerable competition for 292 entry. The boys enter by examination, and the majority have to obtain nominations from their local education authorities. It is not surprising that competition for entry is keen, since the technical and general education given is of a very high standard. This training school was inspected during the summer by representatives of the Board of Education, who spent three days going closely into the details of the instruction given there. This report was very satisfactory. They considered that its operation would do much to remove the objections that are frequently urged against the effects of military training upon young boys. There is no doubt that this training is proving a benefit to these boys who at the impressionable age of from 15 to 18 are given a first-class education, intellectual, moral and physical. The number of boys now under training is 1,700, and the first draft will pass out this year. When they pass out they are normally classified as leading aircraftmen, but those who have done exceptionally well will pass out direct as corporals, and those of outstanding superiority may pass direct into commissioned ranks.
Passing from those three fountains of our flying inspiration, there are besides some new schools that we have opened this year for intensive flying training for older officers. We have, for example, the courses at the flying training schools for short service officers. We have more than 160 officers and airmen now learning to fly in these schools. The course is 10 months. In connection with the economies which have been made, one of these schools has been abolished, and the training hitherto undertaken there will now be distributed between some of the service squadrons in England. We hope that to a certain extent we may make up for the loss we sustain in the abolition of the training school, by distributing pupils amongst other service units and trying to teach them as well as we can with the spare aeroplanes of those units. We have, how-over, opened a school for which the service has been waiting, and from which we hope and expect the greatest things, and that is the Staff College at Andover. The urgent need for the establishment of such a college has made itself felt for the last two years. The Staff College is quite a new departure, and it is the first of its kind in the world. We are the only 293 country which will have the advantage of a highly-trained Air Staff, and I can assure the House that the Air Force can no more be run efficiently without a trained staff than can either the Army or the Navy. The problems are just as complicated, just as far-reaching, and quite different.
A new school for which we have been waiting a long time we have at last found ourselves able to start at Eastchurch. It will be a school of armament and gunnery, and now for the first time since the War can we go ahead with the training of that great potential weapon, the aircraft bomb. This school will enable us to bring our efficiency in using and in aiming the aircraft bomb to a standard hitherto un-attained. One other movement I would like to mention, because it occurred in the Debate on the Supplementary Estimate last night, and that is what has 'happened at Biggin Hill. Two things have happened there. We have moved the instrument design school from there to Farnborough, which is our great factory, our great arsenal, or shop, upon which so much of our experimental work depends, and we came to the conclusion that it would be economical and practical to shift our instrument design school from Biggin Hill and to quarter it upon Farnborough and thus enable us to economise very considerably in many ways. But in the place of that instrument design school we have been able to make economical use of Biggin Hill for a service which has been entirely neglected since the War, and that is the art of night flying, without which the home defence squadrons would be absolutely useless. Therefore, for the purposes of night flying, the antiaircraft co-operation school, as we call it, at Biggin Hill has been opened.
Passing from those operational schools, the House will be anxious to hear about what we are doing in the way of technical training. We have made tremendous efforts, in the face of the very proper and reasonable demands made by the Government upon us for economy, to preserve at all costs the research and scientific foundations upon which we rest, and great progress has been made with the technical education of officers. I would like to direct attention to the fact that the method of technical training adopted in the Air Force is on quite new lines, and that, instead of spending large sums of money in building technical 294 colleges, we are making use of the great civilian Universities and Colleges. This system has been in force now for some little time and is proving very satisfactory. We have, with the help and valuable assistance of the authorities of the University, organised a course for engineering officers at Cambridge University. Special courses for higher training in aeronautical engineering are carried out at the Imperial College of Science and Technology at Kensington. The instruction given at these courses at Cambridge and London provides the best possible training for our engineer officers, and we are most grateful to Professor Inglis and the staff of the engineering laboratory, Cambridge, and to Sir Richard Glaze brook, of the Imperial College of Science and Technology at Kensington, for the trouble they have taken in the arrangement of these courses, and for the sympathetic and helpful way in which they have dealt with the special requirements of the Air Force. One word more on the subject of education, which is an innovation on our part as far as service training is concerned, and one upon which we place very high hopes. It is quite on different lines from that adopted by other services, and is framed to meet the special needs of the Air Force. The educational machinery depends mainly on the organisation of a nucleus of civilian teachers, and this system also tends to prevent us from getting too narrow or too professional in our views. We are not depending only on our own resources, but can draw on those of the whole educational world. Our education comes from outside, and not from inside. Moreover, the system is very economical.
I pass to a short review of the developments in the realm of research during the last 12 months. The House, of course, will appreciate that we have been curtailed in our activities very considerably by the shortage of money, but still we have, I think, made considerable progress. Research has been directed very largely in the last 12 months to securing greater safety and comfort in travelling by aeroplane. A Committee, under the presidency of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Seely), sat to study this matter in 1919–20, and made certain recommendations, very many of which have been carried out in the course of the last year, through the activities of research. Take, 295 for example, air navigation. A number of most important instruments for the safer navigation of aircraft have been invented and brought into use, notably the gyro turn indicator, and also an improved aircraft compass and an improved aircraft sextant. In a similar way we can record great advances in fire precautions. Extensive tests have been carried out, resulting in the determination of the best method of preventing petrol tanks from bursting in the event of an accident, a very fertile cause of fire and sometimes of loss of life. Another trouble was unreliability of petrol circulation, due to perishing of the rubber joints, but now we have found a new substance, which will replace rubber for these purposes and which resists the rotting effect of petrol. We are also developing air-cooled engines, which have great advantages, from the point of view of safety, over water-cooled engines. It is clear that there is no water to freeze and none to boil, and there is no water to leak, and if we could develop the air-cooled engine to the pitch to which we wish to get it, we should have made a very great advance towards simplification and, therefore, towards safety. Advance also has been made in the direction of silencing engines, and we are now busy at work studying how we can silence the propeller.
The new types of machines brought out this year are not many, but one is very important, and it is very hard to determine what place exactly—either the first place possibly, or what place exactly—the amphibian will play in aerial performances in the future. This was built on the direct recommendation of the Seely Committee, and there are also large multiple-engine aeroplanes and seaplanes of various types in process of trial. A point in which some of the hon. Members of the House will be interested is this, namely, the difference between scientific research and ad hoc research. Of course, our practical methods of dealing with these problems must be described more or less as ad hoc research, but behind that is going on a great deal of the highest form of scientific research, and I would like to say that it is receiving much attention, and I am trying to arrange that scientific research shall be carried on continuously, chiefly by scientific bodies outside the Air Ministry, 296 with financial assistance from us, and that experiments as a result of research and the work on modifications, which are so necessary for the development of machines and engines, shall be carried out under Air Ministry supervision. That is a short review of where our units are, what they are doing, what we are trying to do in the way of producing personnel of the highest quality to fill those units, and what efforts we have been able to make in the direction of science and research during the last 12 months.
I will deal with meteorology when I come to civil aviation. During the past 12 months the Air Ministry have been asked to undertake certain new responsibilities. The first one, although of immense importance to us, I will only devote a very few words to, because the subject has been so completely covered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his speech on the Middle East Estimates. In October the command of the forces in Iraq will pass from the General Officer Commanding to the Air Officer Commanding, and we appreciate fully the immense responsibility and the opportunity which is thereby afforded to us. It is the first practical experiment in the economical substitution of one arm for another. We cannot guarantee success, as my right hon. Friend said, and I must, naturally, warn the House that we may get our set-backs, just as other arms of the Crown have had reverses in the past, but we think we can satisfy those who reside in that land that those set-backs will be only temporary, and that they need have no fear that, because of this substitution, their lives will be in more danger.
The second responsibility which has been placed upon us is of a more serious character, and one which will cause us all to think and to study. It is the decision of the Cabinet to hand over to the Air Ministry the responsibility for air defence against air attack. There are very good reasons for that decision, which, of course, the House will appreciate as soon as I mention them. It struck me at once that at night time it would be quite impossible to form a line of demarcation between the land and the sea, and 297 that unless you unified the command you would have both the Army and the Navy each feeling it incumbent upon them to have their own system of defence against air raids, so, from the simplest point of view, it has been handed over to us. The second reason is a more technical one. It is that the only defence against air raids is by fighting in the air. It is no good imagining that surrounding your cities and coasts with batteries of antiaircraft guns is going really to serve the purpose that you require. It is the last line of defence, not the first line of defence. The first line of defence is carrying the fighting into the enemy's area. That, coupled with air fighting in its highest form, is the only method by which an invasion of that character can be overcome and repelled. It would not be unnatural of the House to require at some stage during the Debate some information as to these modest attempts we are making, and I thought it would be of interest to them to hear that we have taken a good deal of advice, and certainly followed the example of other countries. In one way they are following our example in studying the advisability of an independent Air Ministry, and, in this case, I think we are taking advantage of their experience in this matter. Other countries have made provision on a somewhat greater scale for home defence, but, of course, their conditions in each case vary considerably one from another. The American situation is really of little or no guide to us. Still, they have a very considerable force of squadrons within their own areas—roughly 27 squadrons—although their Service is in its infancy. Italy is beginning to rebuild her industry and her Air Force. Something like 400 machines is about what she has to-day. In Japan there is also considerable development. But the big development is in France. France, which has always had the danger of invasion in the last fifty years, is quite determined that it shall not occur again, if air power can stop it, and the French force suitable for home defence last year, and, in fact, now, ranges between 60 and 70 squadrons, apart from those which she has available for Army and Navy co-operation.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Can my right hon. and gallant Friend tell us "whether the squadrons of America, 298 France, Japan, and England are comparable?
Roughly speaking, they are. The American squadrons range about 18 each. In France there are 10 machines for a fighting squadron, and eight for a bombing squadron. Our strength is 12 machines, and, with some slight variations, the squadron is the comparable unit between all countries. Of course, then you get to higher formations, which we call groups, and which, in France, I think, they call regiments, and, above the formation of the regiment, they call air divisions, but, getting down to a term we all understand, I think it may be taken that the word "squadron" is comparable more or less in all countries. It is a unit, and a unit probably capable of expansion in case of war. Our squadron in time of war was 18 and we have contracted it to 12. The home defence preparations in France, as I say, seeing that she has a great frontier to her eastern side, are such that she has already 62 squadrons, apart from those co-operating with the Army and Navy. But, further than that, there are reports of a very largely increased programme. There is no doubt that the article in the "Times" to-day, by a distinguished late officer of the Flying Corps, will be read with great interest.
There is another point in connection with this force. I think it is going to help, and not hinder, the relationship between the other services. I think it will form a link between the other two. It cannot help itself being the apex of the triangle, because it looks down from a considerable height above the activities of those who move on land and sea. But it is the only one of the three services which can act independently. The Army and Navy are dependent for assistance in the air for all their future manoeuvres, but the Air Service can act perfectly well without either. If it can lift the veil which has hung like a curtain between the two services; if it can break down some of the barriers which have existed for so long; if it can provide a common meeting ground, I think it will be an advantage to both the older services, and I am sure to the nation as a whole. But its functions are very difficult to handle because they are dual, they are independent and they are co-operative. The-independent side of their work is easily 299 understood, but the co-operative side is more difficult, and the Leader of the House, two nights ago, intimated that a conference would be held between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry to see whether it is possible to improve the cooperative side, and the co-operative assistance which we can render. I am convinced that we shall succeed in solving that problem, as good will between the services is from now henceforth most important. Friction is not very harmful so long as it does not get beyond healthy competition.
I will now ask the House to consider a few figures. Without dealing with all the recommendations of the Geddes Report, I would like to explain to the House the three main recommendations which the Committee make with which the Government have disagreed. They are recommendations as to policy, and not as to detail. The first one was the total abolition of the eight and a-half squadrons at home which are used for Army and Navy co-operation. That must seem, at first sight, a very remarkable recommendation to have made. Incidentally, I would like to point out that the economy which the Committee thought would be effective was arrived at in the most rudimentary fashion, and by a series of most unsound arguments, as I think I can satisfy the House. The total Vote of the Air Force was divided by the number of squadrons, and a figure was thereby obtained which was supposed to represent the cost of one squadron, and it was suggested that if eight and a-half squadrons were knocked off, you would immediately effect an economy of £2,500,000. That entirely ignores a very fundamental argument. You have to take the illustration of the tree and the fruit. Your foreign commitments are your fruit, and they demand a certain sized trunk. The cutting away of the eight and a-half squadrons at home would mean cutting too deeply into the trunk of the tree, which at the moment is only just big enough to carry its foreign commitments, because the eight and a-half home squadrons are the only reservoir from which we can supply the reliefs, both of men and of officers, and keep up the training to a sufficient pitch of efficiency to make those squadrons which are overseas able effectively to perform their duties. But apart from that, the 300 abolition of eight and a-half squadrons would mean the total destruction and loss of Army and Navy co-operation, and perhaps its irretrievable destruction. It seems to me that no such recommendation could have been put forward without there being some reason for it. I have sometimes thought the real reason was that, unless the recommendation was put in the form it was, in other words, that the co-operation squadrons should be taken from the Army and Navy, there would be no inducement for either of those Services to study substitution, which would involve a surrender of something which cost them money, and if it has the effect of causing people to study more deeply what substitution may lead to, the recommendation itself may do no harm, and possibly good.
The second recommendation with which we find ourselves bound to differ was the abolition of the boys' training school at Halton. The foundation of the service rests on the training school, and the best answer to that recommendation is that we have tried the other method, and we cannot get the men. Engineers, fitters, carpenters, riggers are all men drawing high rates of wages in industrial life, and I believe it is true to say that, in spite of the trade depression from which we are suffering, there are very few of the highly skilled categories who are out of employment. But there are other reasons, apart from that. There is the variety of technical knowledge required. There are 54 trades which have to be learned by various members of the Air Force. Then there is the advantage of the discipline, and the advantage of the general education which we are able to give these boys between the ages of 15 and 18, and I would submit, also, there is a national advantage, because their service with us is not very long, and, before the age of 30, they are in' a position to go back to civil life, equipped with the highest form of technical knowledge on an infinite variety of subjects, and quite certain to obtain employment wherever they go. On the other hand, the expenditure already at Halton must not be forgotten. We are within completion of about 20 per cent. of all the buildings. About another fifth of the money has to be expended, and then the organisation which we have wanted ever since the end of the War will be complete. But we have done 301 something to meet the financial side of the recommendation, and that is prolong the service by a couple of years. We hope it will not have the effect of interfering with our recruiting, but we think we can effect considerable economy by reducing the number we have to train by prolonging the service after they leave the school and join our force.
The third recommendation, I think, must be based on a misunderstanding, but it is an important one. It was suggested that by "reconditioning" was meant making the machines pretty, and was largely a waste of money. I can assure the House reconditioning is nothing of the sort. Reconditioning is prolonging the life of war stocks, instead of giving new orders. There is great responsibility in reconditioning war stock. It was built at a time of emergency, and, perhaps, in a hurry, and before the technical officers responsible can prolong the life of a machine by reconditioning, they have to satisfy themselves, by taking the thing to bits piece by piece, to see if it has further life in it. The Chief of the Air Staff has taken the responsibility of increasing the length of the life of the aeroplanes from three years to four. The economy immediately appears so far as this year is concerned, but there are disadvantages attached to it, which the House will perceive. First of all, if there are no new orders, it means the collapse of the industry. Secondly, our stocks of aeroplanes will always be growing less and wasting, so that it will become necessary to place very large orders for replacement' to replenish our reserves in 1924–25. With these main differences of opinion with the Goddes Committee's recommendation we have carried out nearly all which they suggested to us.
The House will be patient with me, for I should like now to deal in very general terms with the Votes themselves. Nearly all the Votes show reductions, which is a good thing. Vote I shows a reduction of £660,000. Vote 2, quartering, stores, and equipment, shows a saving of £1,110,000. Warlike stores show an economy just under £2,000,000. This is on the sketch estimates prepared some time ago. Works are cut down by nearly £1,000,000, and the Air Ministry by £225,000, which is rather more than 25 per cent. of what we had last year. Coming to the non-effective Votes, only one, I think, shows a 302 very slight increase of about £50,000. Civil aviation shows a reduction of £516,000, and research of over £500,000.
There are four Votes with which I would like to deal, as they bring in new policy. They are the first Vote, dealing with personnel; Vote IV, with works, buildings and land, which I know the House has taken a considerable interest in in the past; there is Vote V, the Air Ministry, which will enable me to outline to the House the scheme of re-organisation which we have in mind; and Vote VIII, Civil Aviation, which deals with a subject about which, I am sure, the House will be anxious to hear. It includes the cross-Channel services and subsidies. A few words are necessary on this and on the figures of the Estimates. I have noticed in listening to ether Debates, naval and military, that the House usually provides itself with a copy of the Geddes Report, and then compares with those figures of the Geddes Report the Estimates put forward by the particular Ministry for the coming year. I have, for the better understanding of the House, and as being more simple, prepared my statement in that form, and also put together what I thought the House would most like to know, and that is as to what is the net economy that has been effected through the acceptance or otherwise of the Geddes recommendations. I therefore have arranged figures that are comparable in every form so that the House may more easily see how they compare. From the total in the Geddes Report of £19,033,000 for 1921–2, the comparable figure in our Estimates is £15,666,000. From both these figures I deduct normal and Middle East Appropriations-in-Aid amounting to £1,753,400 in the first case, and I arrive, under the column in the Geddes figures, at the sum of £17,280,000. I make exactly the same calculation on the other side by deducting £4,771,500. I get £10,895,000, and therefore the exact economy effected under the recommendations of the Geddes Committee is £6,500,000. But we do not want to take advantage of, or credit for, anything we do not deserve, and I must inform the House that £500,000 of that is an economy consequent upon a reduction in war liability, and, therefore, we cannot claim more than £6,000,000, or 37 per cent., of our original estimated expenditure. I told the House that on the first new Vote there was an item of considerable interest. 303 I want to take this opportunity of reaffirming to those outside the House this fact, that we are granting no more permanent commissions than we can guarantee careers for. Our second formation of special officers for the force is by short-service commissions, and I may mention, as I have been asked several questions on the subject, that is one way by which we can build up a reserve of trained flying officers.
Oh, yes. A new point which I submit to the House is that we are about to make a fresh experiment by re-introducing the non-commissioned officer pilot. The new scheme is one which opens up the attractions and prospects of distinction attaching to the flying duties of the Royal Air Force to noncommissioned officers and airmen of the force. Roughly, the scheme is as follows: The men must be under the age of 25, and not above the rank of sergeant or below that of leading aircraftsman. Airmen are recommended, within certain limits as regards numbers, by area and other commanders. Final selections are made by a Committee of the Air Ministry. Those selected are sent to training schools, where they learn to fly and qualify for the privilege of wearing the wings which are the insignia of an Air Force pilot. On qualification they are at once promoted to the rank of pilot-sergeant, if not already of that rank. When they have finished their flying- service they return from flying duties to the trade they came from prior to qualification as pilots. They, however, retain the rank of sergeant which they obtained by virtue of their qualification as pilots. This is a scheme which the Ministry think advisable to reintroduce and to give another trial. I was not connected with the Air Ministry in any shape or form during the War, and I am not able to give an opinion as to how the scheme acted in that time. There is no doubt, however, conditions are very different to the conditions of war, and there are good reasons for making a further test now under our present conditions of service.
The Vote which is next in interest, judging from last year, is the Vote for the money tint is to be spent on works. 304 I would again caution the House, if they thought that we spent too much money on bricks and mortar, to bear in mind that we practically have no permanent buildings at all, and never have had. There are buildings at Cranwell which were bequeathed to us by the Admiralty at the end of the War. There are at Halton buildings which are nearly finished. There is also in course of erection certain other buildings; otherwise you can go the length and breadth of the land, from one aerodrome and one squadron to another, and you will find the Air Force living in huts, and, abroad, under canvas. In this connection I would say that I have had to authorise and sanction in some stations houses made from packing cases which are being lived in at the present time. But the Air Force do not complain. They have been putting up with immense inconvenience for the sake of the Service, but the hut question will, sooner or later, like the reconditioning question, come upon us in the form of a very considerably increased charge under this head.
I now come to Vote V—the Air Ministry. Here I may outline the scheme of organisation which has become due. The Geddes Committee criticised our expenditure on our overhead charges, but pointed out at the same time that our system is very different from that of the War Office or Admiralty. Owing to our being a very small force, it had been economical to centralise the majority of the senior officers in the Air Ministry instead of having commands with their great staffs dotted about all over the world. We have tried to reduce the number of commands with their staffs and senior officers to a minimum. The Service side of the Air Ministry has been represented on the Air Council by the Chief of the Air Staff, and an additional member was appointed in Admiral Lambert, who was lent by the Admiralty to assist on the personnel side of the Air Force, but did not sit on the Council as Director of Personnel. In addition there was the Director-General of Supply and Research, whose activities were confined to that work. It might, therefore, be said that in reality the Service side was represented by one member only. It is now considered advisable, in the interests of economy, still maintaining the principle of keeping as few big commands as possible, owing to the small size 305 of the force, to alter the organisation somewhat. This is considered advisable for the following reasons: During the organisation of this force it was necessary for the Chief of the Air Staff to be able to control the great mass of detail that had to be gone through in the formation of a new force, and in view of the fact that during the first two years we had practically no great responsibilities in the defence of the Empire, it was possible for him to carry on this work, and it was in the best interest of the force also.
Now, however, with the assumption by the Air Ministry of definite responsibilities in the defence of the Empire and in order to relieve the increased work that is thrown on the Chief of the Air Staff, I propose to place the Council more on a footing with the Board of the Admiralty and the Army Council, and to broaden the basis of responsibility. I propose that the Chief of the Air Staff shall continue to be the First Senior Member of the Council, and shall be responsible for advising me on all matters of policy. In addition, he will have actual control of operations, intelligence, and training, and also the Works Department, but he will be relieved of all duties connected with discipline, personnel, organisation, and also equipment and transportation. In other words, the Director-General of Supply and Research will assume the duties of the Director of Equipment and take charge of Votes II and III and be responsible to the Council and to me for these, in addition to Vote IX, and the Votes will be re-arranged for the following year to meet this altered organisation. The Director of Personnel will take over all duties connected with Vote I, and the Works and Buildings shall at present and for another year remain under the Chief of the Air Staff. This will relieve the Chief of the Air Staff from an almost intolerable burden of detail and give him more time to deal with that part of the work which is being left immediately under his control.
This reorganisation of the Air Ministry involves the first important changes which have been made in the headquarters administration of the Force since the beginning of 1919. It was at that time considered that continuity of tenure in the higher staff appointments and commands was essential to the very difficult task of building up the post-War Air 306 Force, which, unlike the two senior Services, had no pre-War organisation. We were, fortunately, able to maintain this continuity for a period of nearly three years, although it was broken last December by the retirement of Admiral Sir Cecil Lambert, who was up to that time Director of Personnel and a member of the Air Council. The Air Service owes a lasting debt to the shrewd judgment and wide knowledge of this distinguished officer and we are under an obligation to the Admiralty—which I am glad to acknowledge—for enabling us to benefit by his services. Air Vice-Marshal Sir Edward Ellington has relinquished his appointment as Director-General of Supply and Research, on taking over command of the Air Force in Egypt. Under his direction there has been built up an organisation for the advancement of research which is not, I think, equalled anywhere.
The Air Ministry is also losing in the near future the Director of Training and Organisation, on whom, in a special degree, the task of devising the new organisation and methods of training has devolved, and the Director of Equipment, who has had a heavy burden of work, particularly in connection with the immense stocks of material of all kinds which had accumulated under war conditions. Both these officers have done the most valuable work, and have contributed in no small degree to the successful development of the post-War Air Force.
There is one further piece of organisation in contemplation, caused by the contraction of the Civil Aviation Vote, which has been progressively reduced during the last three years from £1,000,000 to a little more than £350,000 to-day. The bulk of that expenditure is taken up by £200,000 for subsidies and £80,000 for meteorology. As it ydll take a considerable time to bring this Department into conformity with the reduced scale of the other Departments, I have invited Sir Frederick Sykes, the present C.G.C.A., whose appointment would have normally temminated on 1st April, to retain his present post for a further period of one year. My ultimate intention, however, is to reorganise the Department as a Directorate, the administrative and Parliamentary responsibilities for which will be borne by the Under-Secretary of 307 State on my behalf. Here I would add in this connection that the contraction of Civil Aviation is in no way the fault of the Department over which Sir Frederick Sykes has presided. It is due to the difficult times in which we live, and to the fact that to a certain extent commercial aviation in England finds itself in opposition to highly developed forms of other mechanical transport. It may be that in time to come this side of our work will expand, and the decision as to the best time to do this is among the problems which I submit to the House. The amount of savings it is hoped to effect by these economies in the year with which we are dealing is reflected in the saving shown on Vote V. All the details have not yet been worked out, but they are now in course of careful examination, and it will take most of the year to bring it about.
I feel that the House will be dissatisfied if I do not say a word or two as to how the airship business stands at the present time. The House will remember that in July last, at the Imperial Conference, the future possibilities of utilising the air fleet for Imperial communications was closely considered. At that time an order to dispose of the airships had been recommended by my predecessor, and I was in process of following that policy, but the order was withheld until the Dominion Premiers had had an opportunity of consulting their Parliaments in order to see what contributions could be obtained from them, and which, added to one by ourselves, would have been sufficient to set on foot an Imperial Air Service.
Since then replies in the negative have been received from New Zealand, South Africa, and India. From Australia a more hopeful message came, but even if that individual contribution had materialised, the inability of the other Dominions to contribute has made the scheme impracticable. Neither has any proposal, during this period of many months, emanated from private individuals which did not involve heavy subsidies in one form or another, and in consequence could not be entertained by the Government. We have therefore reluctantly commenced negotiations for handing over the entire outfit to the Disposal Board. This postponement has 308 extended over a period of nearly 12 months, and I think it is at any rate sufficient proof of the reluctance with which we have had to abandon a service which is not only attractive in itself, but with which so many expectations have been connected.
With regard to civil aviation I will explain in a few words to the House what we have done since last year. During the year, we have held a very important conference on civil aviation at the Guildhall, when a series of valuable papers were read by experts on every aspect of the problem of commercial aviation. The papers and the discussions which followed them were most helpful, and the Air Ministry is very grateful to all those who took part in making the conference such an undoubted success. The further experience of the last 12 months in the British Isles has shown that they are perhaps the least suitable of any country for successful internal commercial aviation. I am, however, strongly in favour of the maintenance of the London and Continental air services. They act as a demonstration and an advertisement of what is now possible, but in appraising the success already achieved by these services it must not be forgotten that they are being run in competition with probably the most highly organised boat and train service in the world.
I must confess that I regard these cross-channel services in some degree as the practising and initial stage in the future development of schemes of Imperial communication. As an Empire we are more vitally interested in the success of aviation than any other country. In the flying sense, we have almost continuous territory from Europe to Australia, with great distances unbridgeable except by air, for example, Cairo to Bagdad, or Basra-Karachi. These 2,000 miles have been flown in 18 hours. What we are doing now is that we are making this the practising field for future and further development of the experience we have obtained in regard to these links in our Imperial chain. It is, therefore, the definite policy of the Air Ministry to steadily develop this and further links in the Imperial chain, and as soon as the separate stages of the various routes are safely opened, to hand them over to civil aviation to be progressively developed along commercial lines.
309 The House has been very patient in listening to my statement. I hope at a later stage of the Debate to have an opportunity of answering any questions in regard to points I have not already covered. But I feel, in conclusion, that it is my duty to look beyond the horizon, and to try to probe the future. When you consider the rapidity of the advance of aviation during the last 10 years, which is patent to all, it would be foolish of us not to indulge in some flights of imagination. Speed, radius, carrying capacity, and air-worthiness, including safety, have increased in spite of all financial restrictions, and 200 miles an hour is quite a usual speed, and 560 miles continuous flight is now an ordinary performance. Weather, with the exception of fog, is now a negligible consideration, except for comfort. There is no mechanical limit to the size and carrying capacity of aircraft.
With these facts in mind one is forced to look into the future from the point of view of national defence. The defence of these islands against air invasion has already been entrusted to us, and we maintain that aircraft is already powerful enough, if sufficient in quantity, to defend our shores against either invasion or naval bombardment. The possibilities of controlling unmanned surface craft filled with explosives from the air; or pilotless aircraft from another aircraft, or from the ground, cannot be ignored when considering our claim. It is my belief that within the next few years powerful aircraft will progressively expand the areas in which enemy ships cannot move with impunity, and in which we can afford effective and economical protection to our own commerce. As these controlled sea areas increase in size and number, so the remaining ocean areas in which fleet action can take place become more and more restricted. This brings with it possibilities for further economy in ships of war.
The possibilities of the bomb are only very partially explored. A few months ago I indicated that for the first time since the War we are starting a bombing school. It is already proved that one bomb can sink the most powerful battleship in a few minutes. A battleship may survive a direct surface hit, but you cannot protect it from the explosion of a bomb underneath its water-line. It is 310 merely necessary to perfect the bomb sight, which is purely a matter of practice and experiment. To show the power and superiority of the bomb over the shell—the accuracy must be greater, as apart from the fact that the former is dropped from a height of, say, two miles, while a shell must traverse, say, 20 miles, the error inherent in the gun itself is completely eliminated. As regards range, there is no comparison. The range from a ship can hardly be more than 20 miles, while the flight of the bomb-dropping aeroplane is something like 200. In 10 years' time I believe that a combat between the forces of the air and the forces of the sea will have become a grotesque and pathetically one-sided affair.
And, finally, in the field of transportation I can see the aeroplane conveying small forces of artillery and infantry for minor operations, dispensing with vulnerable and expensive communications. There is no mechanical limit to the size to which aircraft can be developed for such purposes when the finances of the nation justify the capital expenditure, a capital expenditure which will give ample return in the decrease in the amount of blood and treasure now poured out in the minor campaign wars in which the Empire is so constantly and so inevitably engaged.
This is the story of the Air Force of Great Britain after less than three years of independent and concentrated development. I have watched it from the inside for a year. It is a wondrous creation—mechanically and psychologically. It has created a psychology peculiar to its aims. It has had a short but a rich and crowded life. It is a service of young and enthusiastic men, led and inspired by an incomparable chief. This is the service which will certainly have to meet the first clash of war should it ever come again. The air front—possibly 200 miles away—? may be joined before the army reservist has reached the nearest station, or the battleship has got up steam. It is with these details and this forecast that I confidently submit the Estimates to the House of Commons.
§ Major-General SEELY
I think the House would wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his very lucid statement, which is the first statement he has made with all the authority of an independent Minister, and with the find- 311 ings of the Committee of Imperial Defence behind him, and I think all this will ensure him the continuance of his high office. I think we may all congratulate him upon his very lucid statement which was of extraordinary interest in many parts. We do congratulate him and the Ministry and the Royal Air Force on the result of the careful inquiry made by the Committee of Imperial Defence, which has at last, and I should hope finally, disposed of the attack made upon it by-other services, and other ill-informed persons who do not realise that the maintenance of such a service is vital to our national safety and is a necessity of economy. What the Secretary of State for Air has told us to-day is proof positive of economy so far as we have gone.
The right hon. Gentleman drew a very pleasant and interesting picture of the way in which the Air Force controls the different areas which are now under our sway, especially in Iraq and Palestine, and whatever view may be taken as to the expediency of our stay there—I see the Field-Marshal present who takes the view that we ought to restrict our activities there, because we cannot afford to maintain the force necessary to control—it may be right or it may be wrong, but supposing we do stay there, I think the Secretary of State has made out an unanswerable case for administering those countries by air power rather than by other means.
The astonishing result which we achieved in Somaliland the other day shows conclusively that the effect of air power properly used lasts longer than the effect of ordinary military operations. The Field-Marshal was absolute in this country when the Mad Mullah was finally disposed of. Whether he is alive or not we do not know, but there was a time when he was a great anxiety to the War Office and the Director of Military operations of that day. Other means had to be found of coping with this danger, and as regards the use of the Air Force I only need to mention that in this part of the world the other day the presence of two aeroplanes was sufficient to bring in a whole tribe with 3,000 cattle. There can be no doubt that the claim that has been persistently made as to the economical results following the use of air power in this way has been substantiated and made good.
312 I would like to say a word or two as to the decision of the Committee of Imperial Defence that the Air Ministry shall be separate and autonomous like the other two services, and especially in the matter of administration and education it shall have all its own way in the education of its own people. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) presided over a Committee to consider the education of the officers of the Royal Air Force, and they gave us some very remarkable conclusions, a great many of which have been embodied in the recommendations now in force. I do rejoice that the Lord President of the Council, and the Committee of Imperial Defence over which he presided, decided in accordance with the view of the Noble Lord that the education of the airman is to be wholly distinct from the education of other people, and must proceed on wholly different lines and be devoted to wholly different things. I would plead with the Secretary of State that he should try to prevent that standardisation of thought which has been the curse of military and naval education manuals. He told us that the manuals were increasing in number. Let him keep his eye on them to see that they do not increase too fast. Everyone will know how the unfortunate officer is beset by manuals nearly always out of date and constantly laying them down things as eternal verities which are only the views of some Chief of Staff 10, 15, or 20 years ago. An officer of the Royal Air Force in this House had to study a manual quite towards the end of the War in which it was carefully laid down that it was better for him to use a carbine rather than a rifle in the pit of the areoplane, because, being somewhat shorter in the barrel, it was less likely to catch the propeller, and this advice was given at a period long after mechine-guns had been introduced for these operations. I could given many other instances of out-of-date manuals—of manuals which ought never to have been written. Let the right hon. Gentleman try to keep the education of the Royal Air Force what it should be: a thing constantly seeking new methods and new ideals, realising in this so rapidly moving science that it is hopeless to standardise anything, and least of all to standardise the thoughts of those who are learning.
There is one thing the Committee of Imperial Defence did not lay down and 313 which has not been done, and that is to put the Secretary of State for Air in exactly the same position as the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War with regard to the Cabinet. At the present moment the Secretary for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty are Members of the Cabinet, while the Secretary of State for Air is not. That must be wrong. It has in fact, I know, caused great inconvenience and probably considerable loss of effort and money during the past few months owing to the failure of the Air Ministry to know Cabinet decisions as soon as they were known by the other two Departments, thanks to the presence of their Chiefs in the Cabinet. I know I am voicing what everyone interested in the administration of the Royal Air Force is saying, namely, that it should be the rule that all should be in the Cabinet or that none should be in it. If you are to have a Minister of Defence to represent all three Services well and good, but if you have two heads of a Service in and one left out the latter will not have the same chance of making his views prevail as is possessed by the other two. That is particularly unfortunate in the case of the Royal Air Force, because the whole thing is so novel that unless there is such pressure old-fashioned views are apt to prevail to the great detriment of the Service.
The Secretary of State told us he had carried out a great deal of the Geddes Report. I notice there are very few of those who claim a desire to see economy carried out present in the House at this minute. I presume it is because they think that the Air Ministry have economised as much as they ought to. It is probably true that they have done so. As I have endeavoured to show, we have probably gone quite as far as it is safe to go in this matter. Let us see what reductions have been made, and then let us consider what other countries are doing, and what is our real strategical position now as compared with what it was in days gone by. First, we have abolished all airships. I do not say that that affects our strategical position for the moment, because the airship has been found to be a very unreliable weapon in times of war over the land, and probably in connection with the Fleet as well. In this House we have a man who has given much of his life to the study of 314 this science—the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), to whose services to aviation in general everyone would wish to pay a tribute. For effective action it was thought that airships would be of enormous value, but my information is that further developments in the way of anti-aircraft defence at sea have made the airship less formidable at sea than it was in the middle of the War. Still, there are developments of the airship which might come along and make it an extraordinarily valuable weapon, not only for War, but also for peace, and therefore I think it is a very serious thing to have given up all practical research into airships while other nations are carrying on such research. I cannot believe it is wise to completely abandon all experiments in this matter, and I urge the Secretary of State that he should not take such a course, and that in a science of this kind no man is justified in finally declaring that the airship is useless and should be scrapped. With all the experience of the past behind us, and with the opinions of eminent men of science before us, we ought not to come to such a definite conclusion.
We have reduced our squadrons from, 33 to 31½. I understood from the Secretary of State that we have 19½ squadrons abroad and 12 at home. Of the 19½ abroad three are in Egypt, six in India, eight in Iraq, one in Palestine, and one-and-a-half in the Mediterranean. The right hon. Gentleman has also told us that he has taken over, by a decision of the Cabinet, the air defence of the Empire, and I presume he is going to do that with the squadrons he has at home, nearly all of which are required for purposes of training. I have been furnished with some very remarkable figures as to what the French are doing. They fear an attack from Germany. Their apprehensions may be justified. As to that I cannot say, but they have a real apprehension of a very formidable attack from Germany. The figures I have here differ very little from those given by the Secretary of State, and only in one particular from the extraordinarily interesting article in the "Times" this morning by Brigadier-General Groves. The French had at the end of last year 126 squadrons of eight or nine machines as compared with our 12 squadrons at home, and of these nearly four-nineteenths were abroad. 315 If their present programme is carried out they are to have 220 squadrons, and th.3 proportion abroad will be about the same or slightly less. This will, therefore, mean that the French, for the purposes of their home defence, will have from 165 to 170 squadrons of aeroplanes of which a proportion, which has yet to be settled, will be abroad. These figures are in print in France, so that in quoting them one is not disclosing any confidential secret. The book containing them may be purchased at the bookstalls over here, and therefore they are not confidential in the least, although here we regard such information as confidential.
I hope I may be allowed to point the -extraordinarily interesting position in which we now stand. We are told, and I believe it is true, that unless we economise we may go bankrupt. At the same time, we are all agreed that we will maintain the integrity of our country and of our Empire. The problem resolves itself into how far we can economise on our fighting forces consistently with maintaining the integrity of our country. The French, in order to maintain the integrity of their country, are proposing to have from 165 to 170 squadrons. At the end of last year they had 126, of which nearly 100 were at home. The Secretary of State for Air tells us that for this specific purpose he has practically three squadrons. I think on that fact we may say that whatever 'criticisms we are going to direct at the Secretary of State or at the Air Ministry, we had better not call them extravagant, because, if a man says he is provided with three squadrons to protect this country with a population of 45,000,000 and its material wealth, while they in France think it wise to have anything from 100 to 140 squadrons, it would be juggling with words to call it an extravagant proposal.
Be it observed that no one has ever seen what an air attack would be like. We were going to have air attacks in the campaign of 1919, and as I was partly responsible for preparing them I know of what I am speaking, and I can say that the figures given by Brigadier-General Groves in to-day's "Times" are perfectly accurate. Nobody ever attempted to bomb a place with more than 50 aeroplanes during the War. The biggest air raid on London was, as a matter of fact, 316 conducted with 36 aeroplanes. It will be quite easy, and no doubt it will be done if ever we go to war again, for an enemy to bombard, not with 30 aeroplanes, but with 300, and those aeroplanes will not carry the little bombs which were carried by the 36—and they were quite small bombs which were used in that daylight raid upon London—but they will carry bombs at least ten times as weighty, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, those bombs will have at least four or five times the effective power per weight. The real fact is that we stand here in the House of Commons to-day with our eyes opened to the fact that an entirely new era in warfare, and in the relations of States to States, has come about. It used to be said that the best form of defence was attack. In the new warfare which Marshal Foch and others foresee, the only form of defence is attack. It is hopeless to attempt to protect yourself against this raid of 300 aeroplanes. It took 32,000 men to protect London against the raids of the 36 machines. An hon. and gallant Member tells me that they did not succeed, but still they made it rather difficult for them, although they did not prevent them from flying over.
It will be seen at once that to attempt to prevent an enemy from bombarding your town, by preparation in time of peace in the way of land defence, is, frankly, impossible. All that you can say is, "If you are going to destroy my town, I will destroy yours." From that I deduce two lessons. The first is that we must be sufficiently prepared to enable us to meet this kind of danger when it becomes imminent. We must have the most highly qualified staff and the most highly qualified men, and we must have the power of expansion. We have got the highly qualified staff, and we have got the highly qualified men. We have a very much greater proportion of qualified pilots than any other country in the world, and I believe our technical skill is as great as or greater than, that of any other nation, even the Germans, who, we are told, have made great advances. In our power of expansion, however, we are at the moment ludicrously short of other nations. At the end of 1921, the production of machines in France was 150 per month, that is to say, 1,800 per year. The Secretary of State, of course, will not be able to tell us that we can produce 317 anything like that number. Therefore, I believe that one of the first things we ought to do is by some means or other so to encourage civil aviation—if that be the reserve on which the Secretary of State means to rely—as to ensure that our possible production of aircraft shall be very greatly increased. That is our real danger.
The next thing, I think, that must occur to one is that the whole thing is becoming so complicated, so terrifying to civilisation, that it is high time, while preparing to avoid the consequences of an unprovoked attack, to try to get the peoples of the world to agree to make peace, for assuredly, from what we now know, if we do not make peace between ourselves, it is quite possible and, indeed, quite easy, for us to destroy each other altogether. In conclusion, I would congratulate the Secretary of State on his success in securing a separate Air Force and an autonomous Service. I beg him to keep his research up to concert pitch. I would assure him that he will not find in this House any criticism if he takes steps, even at some added expense, to ensure that the power of expansion is there, and I beg him to appeal to the Cabinet, as a Minister of the Cabinet—as we hope he soon will be, for whoever occupies his place ought to be in the Cabinet—to bring the nations together and say, "We are not afraid, but we see the truth before us; let us agree to make peace."
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I somewhat regret that the Secretary of State, in his opening statement, attacked the Geddes Committee, because, while the Geddes Committee were not particularly complimentary to any Department at all, they did happen to give the Air Ministry a good character. We have to approach these questions from the point of view of economy to-day, and it is interesting, in reading the Report of the Committee, to see that the expectation of the amateur economists has not been realised. The expectation of the amateur economists was, of course, the instant abolition of the Air Ministry and a return of the Air Force to the two older Services. Far from that being the case, one or two of the Committee's statements are particularly interesting. They say:Economies to an increasing extent ought to result in the older Arms from the advent of the Air Force. … We have in mind 318 not only the substitution of aircraft for certain other arms of the older Services, such as light cruisers or cavalry, but a revolution in the method of carrying out certain operations"—and also—it can no longer he denied that by the intelligent application of air power it is possible to utilize machinery in substitution for, and not as a mere addition to, manpower.If we are going to substitute aircraft for the older Services, it is essential that we maintain that independence of the Air Ministry in virtue of which it can look at these problems from a detached point of view, and not from the point of view of an arm of an older Service. We cannot deny that there have arisen lately very strong attacks against the Air Ministry and the Air Force, and I think that even you, Sir, have found difficulty in the overlapping which occurs in Debates in this House on the three Services. We have already had a Debate on the Army which was slightly diluted with Air. We have had a Debate on the Navy, also diluted with Air; and now we have a "neat" Debate upon the Air itself. But those advocates of a return to the old system of the Air being a service of both the older Services must remember that, if we ever made such a mistake as to recur to that, the overlapping would be just as bad, or even worse.
The duties of the Air Force are threefold. Firstly, they have to look after the tactical side of the Army. Then they have to look after the tactical side of the Navy, and they have to provide an independent Air Force. That is an organisation which has the admiration of other countries, and it is, perhaps, significant to note that America is doing her best to adopt the same form of organisation. It is, however, extraordinary to me that the organisation is not really as well understood as it should be. Only the other day, when the hon. and gallant Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir It. Hall) delivered a philippic against the Air Force, and pleaded for the Navy, he seemed to be entirely ignorant of the organisation whereby the Air Force fits into the Navy. It is, roughly, this: In the Air Force there are 2,000 officers, and, of those officers, 1,000 are what are called short-service officers. They come to the Air Force and serve a term of four years, 319 after which they go back to private life. But of those pilots, 500 should be seconded from the Army and from the Navy—250 from each. In that way you get the Navy officer flying, with all his experience of the Navy, and when he goes back to the Navy he takes with him all his experience of flying. Consequently, when he becomes an Admiral, he is not ignorant of flying, but has gained an actual experience of and intimacy with that subject. But what happened when that proposal was put forward? Both the Army and the Navy refused to co-operate. That is the trouble in regard to the present position. The Navy and the Army refuse to co-operate. They have always at the back of their minds the idea that there is a possibility of getting back their own air services. I maintain that it is essential to have a compelling power, transcending those of the three Services, to compel one of them to fall into line with the others.
Why have these attacks revived to such an extent during the last year? It is because the Air Ministry have put forward three claims towards economising from the point of view of national expenditure. The first claim they put forward is that they can provide partially against invasion by sea. The second is that they will take over the responsibility of invasion by air; and the third is that they are prepared, by part substitution, to garrison abroad. Probably the point in regard to invasion by air will be granted us, although the Army still keep anti aircraft guns. But on the question of the sea, and on the question of garrisons abroad, the Air Ministry run right across the older Services. If you call the Air Force the Cinderella Service, then certainly the other Services are now its stepsisters. There have been many attacks, some delivered by hon. Members in this House. It was Jacob's voice, but the hands were the hands of Esau. We could see through most of their attacks. Take the case of the Navy alone. Here the Air Force is up against one of the most autocratic bodies the world has ever seen. The Admiralty for 100 years has been the spoilt darling of this nation, but it was the spoilt darling of this nation for one reason, and one reason only, and that was because it could defend us. But a very vast change has come about. If the Channel had dried up, would the Navy 320 still have taken on the defence of England? It would have passed to the Army. But a bigger miracle that that has happened. The air has been conquered, and consequently, from this moment, the Navy cannot be responsible for the defence of these islands. I heard the hon. and gallant Member for the West Derby Division say the other day that the Navy alone should be responsible for the commerce of this country upon the high seas. I cannot understand his contention. During the War the Navy showed that they practically could not look after our commerce on the seas without the assistance of air power. Is it logical to put a Service which cannot do a thing over a Service which can? That is the proposition which the hon. and gallant Member for the West Derby Division advanced.
I know it does us immense harm to exaggerate the powers of the Air Force, but I do ask those hon. Members who are interested in the subject to read up what happened in America with regard to depth charges. It was not a question of hitting a ship, but only a question of dropping a depth charge near, or even within 200 yards of, a big vessel—not a very difficult thing to do, even from a height of 10,000 feet. The results were very convincing. We heard the other day, on the Navy Estimates, that we had deteriorated, and had become less than a one-Power nation on the sea. I heard no protest from anybody. Surely at last people are realising that such a change has happened in the world that the Navy to-day is obsolescent. France, a friendly Power, can put within 20 miles of our coast 240 squadrons. Do not let us enlarge on what 240 squadrons can do to this country. What could our first line of defence, the Navy, do against that? They would have to sit in the Channel and look on and smile.
Having given the Navy what they deserve, let us turn to the Army. The Air Force clashes again with the War Office. The Mesopotamian scheme has been a bitter pill for the War Office. I am really surprised a little at some of the attacks which have been delivered by the Army, because I thought the co-operation between them and the Royal Flying Corps during the late War was very intimate and as good as the co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army. We always expect that opposition from very-old generals wearing the Crecy and Agin- 321 court medals. That, of course, is to be expected. But when we get an attack from an ornamental and distinguished Member of this House, the gallant Field-Marshal behind me, that, I think, is going too far. May I read something which he said when he was not a Member of the House? When you are a Member of this House you can say anything. He said this when he was Chief of the Staff.
Speaking at Amiens (according to Reuter), the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff said it was for those who governed the actions of the world to consider whether, if they wanted to limit the horrors of future wars, it would not be better to limit aeroplanes rather than submarines. The development of the aeroplane movement seemed to him to be on the whole a development of the movement for killing women and children. I resent that very much. First of all, it is a most disgraceful thing to say, and is not true. Secondly, as Chief of the Staff, I maintain that no officer has the right to go about stumping the country, saying how we are to spend our money, when he occupies an official position in one Department of State. I have tried to show the difficulties the poor Air Force find themselves in, attacked from every side. They know really that they are a power for economy, and that though you spend what you like and have the finest Army and the finest Navy, you cannot use either of them if you are defeated in the air first, and it is in the air that the next fight will take place first. I think I have shown the impossibility of getting the three services to co-operate on this question. We must have an overruling power. I do not care what it is. You can call it the Committee of Imperial Defence, you can call it your Ministry of Defence, or whatever you like. We have a certain amount of money to spend on defence, and we must use it to the best advantage.
I should like to say a word with regard to the aircraft industry. You cannot expand, as we should have to expand the Air Force in case of trouble, very quickly without an industry, and the keeping of a designing and construction staff is not a question of economics so much as a military consideration. Can the Secretary of State show us that the very important military consideration of keeping alive in this country firms who can make aeroplanes is going to be kept in mind? We were promised on the Navy Votes a Com- 322 mittee of Inquiry to co-ordinate the Navy and the Air Force. I hope that under the blessed word "co-ordination" the Navy will not use that Committee as a stepping stone to force their old claim of a separate air service to themselves. The Committee was promised on the definite understanding—that was, the co-operation of the Air Force and the Navy—and its terms of reference should not go beyond that. I was brought up on Power standards. It does not sound a good diet, and probably is not, but it meant that we knew where we were relative to a potential enemy. I have explained that, from the point of view of defence, the Air Service must take first place. What is the position with regard, to the Air Force to-day? A friendly State next door can put 240 squadrons at Calais, and we are going to defend ourselves with 12. One of our famous admirals said we could sleep quietly in our beds. Does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that we can do that to-day? Is he prepared to match 12 English squadrons against 240? Is he satisfied with that? It is an absolute, disgrace that we are spending to-day £130,000,000 on Army and Navy and only £10,000,000 on our first line of defence. That is the position to-day. It is, is it not, because the Government will not look upon this question from a big point of view. Every service here has pressed upon them the essential necessity of having some co-ordinating influence in the Committee of Imperial Defence, or Defence Ministry, and here we are to-day still thinking in three Services, dribbling away money in three separate ways instead of looking upon the thing as one problem—spend the money we have and can spend in the very best way. I have spoken very strongly. I shall have to apologise if I have given any offence to anyone, but I feel very strongly on this. I have seen all this grow up, and I should regret very much to see it all wasted. But the Air Force must not be looked upon by the country or by the House as an extra. It is not an extra. It is a substitution for other arms, and when you look upon it from that point of view it is our duty in this House to see that we spend the money on defence in the very best way.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down objected to the description of aero- 323 planes as a means for killing women and children. I think it is right. The House and the country should realise that in the next war it will be a case of women and children unavoidably, and not only that. In the last war, when the Independent Air Force got to work down at the south-eastern corner of France bombing the towns of Germany, though ostensibly we were bombing the munition factories in those towns, it is perfectly certain that the effect created on the morale of the German soldiers in the trenches was the result of the bombing of women and children. Horrible as it may be, a very distinct effect was created in the German trenches by the ruin and destruction and the cruelty and barbarity, whatever you like to call it, which was inflicted on the women and children in Germany, and the hon. and gallant Field-Marshal was perfectly correct in his description of the effect of aeroplane war even in the last war. What will it0 be in the next war? You have, as has been admitted, vast fleets of aeroplanes coming over our towns or going over the towns of the enemy, not with little ten or a hundred pound bombs, but with bombs containing four or five thousand pounds of high explosives and poison gas. Do you think you are going to get rid of poison gas in the next year. Do you think any Hague Convention or any League of Nations in the world is going to stop poison gas? Do you think you are going to prevent, not merely poison gas, but cholera germs? You may say you would like war with limited liability. That takes you back to the time of the bow and arrow. The first man who invented something more effective in Warfare than a club was the lineal ancestor of the man who invented poison gas. So it will go on. You will find that the man who invented gunpowder was just as bad in his day as the man who invented poison gas. We refused to use it until we were forced, and when in the next war some enemy bombs our towns with two or three hundred machines containing bombs of four and five thousand pounds of either high explosive or poison gas, or still worse than that, do you mean to suggest that we are not going to use the same thing? The next war, whenever it comes, will be a war of nation against nation, and a war of the most cruel and 324 destructive character, in which the women and children will be bound to suffer just as much as the men.
That brings me to the point whether, as that war will break out in a moment, probably without any possibility of knowing even 24 hours beforehand with any certainty, we are sufficiently prepared, as France is being prepared to-day. The right hon. Gentleman who made that very interesting speech from the Treasury Bench told us frankly that we only have half a dozen service squadrons. It is perfectly ridiculous that we should attempt, even now, after the Great War, to say we are prepared for the future with half a dozen service squadrons here. You may say there is going to be no war. France apparently does not think so. France is at least as wise a nation as ourselves and is no more vulnerable in the air than we are. There is very little difference between an enemy attempting to invade Paris and an enemy attempting to invade the south-eastern part of England, including London. We are just as vulnerable, and while France thinks it necessary to have 140, rising next year to 220 service squadrons for defence and, what is the real defence, for attack, we have, he told us, six squadrons.
There are one or two other questions I should like to ask in regard to small details. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned one about Cairo being an essential position in all matters of air connection with ourselves and other parts of the Empire. Can the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the Middle East tell us what, if any, arrangements have been made with regard to the new Kingdom of Egypt for our hold upon Egypt so far as an air centre is concerned? Without an air centre in Egypt we are cut off from Africa, from Mesopotamia, from Palestine, and from the future of an air service to India or Australia. I have raised this point previously, and I have never had any satisfactory answer from any member of the Government. They always said nothing had yet been arranged. We now understand that an arrangement has been arrived at. There is a King over Egypt instead of a Sultan subordinate to us. I should like to ask the Secretary of State to the Colonies what are the arrangements with regard to the position of affairs in Egypt to-day so that our rights not merely for civil, but 325 for military aviation may be maintained. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Air has left the House. I should have liked to ask him a few questions in regard to short-term officers and sergeant pilots. I remember years ago speaking in this House and advocating the appointment of non-commissioned officer pilots. At last, I am glad to hear that a real definite effort is being made in the Air Ministry to have sergeant pilots. I wish my right hon. Friend could have told us—there is no reason why we should not have the information—a little more as to the success of these two schemes. We know how many officers we have, and I should like to know how many short-term officers we have and how many sergeant pilots we have.
My main point is as to the allocation of the £11,000,000. A sum of £11,000,000 is being spent on the Air. I gather that that is in addition to the Grants-in-Aid received in respect of Iraq and other parts of the world—on 30 squadrons. France has 140 squadrons, four times as many as this country, and France is spending four times as much money. Is France spending her money differently? We are spending our money, not on squadrons, not on fighting machines, but on Air Staff colleges, on officers' colleges, and on training schools for boys: all perfectly admirable, but do let us realise that the first thing an Air Force wants, if it is to be a fighting force—if it is not to be a fighting force, there is no reason in having an Air Force at all—is fighting squadrons. The first thing that the Navy wants is battleships, destroyers, and submarines. The first thing the Army wants is not colleges, not bricks and mortar, but a fighting, striking force. The result of the arrangements made by my right hon. Friend is the provision of colleges and schools and very little fighting force.
I do not want to go into details on the Estimates, but we find in one of the Votes £86,000 provided for engines during the current year. Engines are the be-all and end-all of the aeroplane. The whole fight during the last 10 years, and I have made many speeches in regard to it, has been for higher and ever higher powered engines. We have frequently asked the Minister for Air during and since the War what he is doing in regard to the provision of high-powered engines.
326 He has not told us a word about it. He has not told us about the 500 horse-power engines that exist or about the 1,000 horse-power Napier Lion Cub. There is no secret about it. Many Members of this House have, through the courtesy of the hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain), seen the trial of this 1,000 horsepower engine, which cost something like £5,000. A sum of £86,000 gives you a matter of 20 engines, if you are going to use engines of that calibre, and you are bound to do so. You cannot stop in this hideous competition between nation and nation. The Air has come, and it will go forward to more victories, and those victories can only be based upon higher powered and still higher powered and more efficient engines. Yet out of the sum of £11,000,000 which we are to spend on the Air, a beggarly sum of £86,000 is to be spent on engines, which will only provide about 20 of the higher powered engines.
I am not saying this in any hostility to my right hon. Friend or his Ministry. I believe that, from many points of view, the Ministry is doing its best, but I am afraid that it has been got hold of by a section of the Air Force who are in favour of these wonderful schools and colleges. I want some, explanation in regard to the higher power engines. My hon. and gallant Friend, who preceded me, told the House something of the possibilities of the Air. The real difference between us in this House, between the Naval man, the Army man, and those who have devoted a great portion of their lives to the study and support of the Air Service is this: The Navy man and the Army man believes that the Air Service is a useful adjunct. The Navy regards the Air as a kind of useful destroyer and a good submarine catcher, and in the Army it is looked upon as very useful for scouting, for spotting for artillery, and various operations of that kind; but we, on the other hand, believe that the Air is destined in the future very largely to supersede the Navy and the Army. The question between these schools of thought have to be settled one way or the other, and I think it should be decided in the near future. It is very easy to prophesy in regard to the Air. Many of us have made prophesies in this House in the last 10 years, and everyone has come true, because the Air has advanced 327 more marvellously than it was possible to believe in those 10 years.
The Secretary of State for Air to-day has prophesied in regard to the Air of the future. I do not believe that his prophesy is one whit beyond the mark. You will have in a very few years aeroplanes that go 500 miles an hour. You will have fleets of aeroplanes carrying bombs of 5,000 lbs. A bomb of 5,000 lbs. is quite different from a shell of 5,000 lbs. A bomb of 5,000 lbs. contains at least four times as much high explosive as a shell of 5,000 lbs. When hon. Members interested in the Navy think that when a warship fires a shell of 5,000 lbs. that it is equivalent to an aeroplane bomb of the same weight, I say that it is nothing of the kind. They are only firing a shell which is one-fourth as effective as an aeroplane bomb of the same weight. [An HON. MEMBER: "How can an aeroplane carry two tons?"] It can and does. I speak with some little knowledge of the manufacture of aeroplanes, though I have no financial interest in it, and I say that the Air is prepared to carry a higher-powered bomb or shell than the Navy can fire, or that a submarine or torpedo destroyer can fire, as a torpedo. We shall make aeroplanes big enough, strong enough and powerful enough to carry any bomb or any shell which is used by either of the other Services. My right hon. Friend who represents the Air Service will admit that fact. That being so, knowing all that the Air Service did during the War, knowing what those of us who believe in the Air have prophesied, and knowing what the right hon. Gentleman has prophesied to-day, I want the House to approach this question from the point of view that the Air in the next few years is going to be the paramount Service, and is not going to be looked upon merely as an auxiliary. The question will be, how much money it is desirable to transfer from the Navy and the Army to the Service which will gradually take the place of these two great Services.
Field-Marshal Sir H. WILSON
The few remarks that I shall address to the House will be in order to try to make out a case so that the Committee which the Leader of the House announced last Thursday he was going to appoint may include the Army in the purview of its 328 inquiries. If in the course of my remarks I may say something that seems to disparage an independent Air Force, I hope the House will believe me when I say that we soldiers and sailors are fully as alive as anybody in the Air Force to the coming power of the air. It is because we want to have all the force we possibly can from the air that we dislike an independent Air Force, and not because we disparage the air. On Thursday last the Leader of the House made a speech in which he said that the Cabinet had come to a certain decision. At the commencement of that speech he reviewed the coming of the Air Force from 1912 up to the day, last Thursday, on which he spoke. He showed beyond all question that in the years 1914–16, owing to what he called the force of inter-departmental competition, there was a great loss of power, a great loss of money and a great amount of overlapping.
In 1916, therefore, a co-ordinating authority was set up to try to co-ordinate the Air Service as between the Navy and the Army. In 1918, in the month of June, the air was given for the first time its independent status. It was a little contradictory to say that the air was independent, because twice in the same speech the Leader of the House said, quite correctly, that the Air Force was under the orders of Marshal Foch. The Air Force, therefore, was not independent in that sense. It was placed under the Army. The War was won with the air placed under the orders of the Army. That it is absolutely essential to co-ordinate the working, or rather the supply of air machines and even of personnel as between the Navy and the Army is certain, but that because you do that, you must go another step and have an independent Air Force, independent of both the Navy and the Army, I challenge.
The Leader of the House then went on to say that other Powers might be thinking of changing in the direction of having an Independent Air Force, and that the Powers were anxiously examining the problem. The right hon. Gentleman's information may be later than mine, but I think that the other four countries that have navies and armies have distinctly decided not to have an Independent Air Force. Those countries are France, 329 Italy, Japan, and the United States of America. We are, so far as I know, the only country that has or means to have an Independent Air Force. The Leader of the House went on to say that the decision reached by the Cabinet was based on the work of a Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and also on war experience. As regards the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, I have very little to say, because the workings of a Committee like that are, of course, secret. As regards war experience, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can quote the name of a single eminent sailor or eminent soldier, either in England or France, Italy, the United States, or Japan, who has taken part in war, and who is in favour of an Independent Air Force. If that is so, and I think that it is so, on whose advice are we acting when we have an Independent Air Force?
The Leader of the House informs us that the Cabinet had reached given decisions. They were first that the Air Force were to be autonomous in administration and education. I do not think that I know what that means. I looked up the word autonomous, and I find that it means self-determination. What is happening, in fact, is this, that in order to become autonomous the Air Force is duplicated in every service practically by the Navy and by the Army, and that at a time when we are really very hard up. The Air Force has got its own Ministry, and a big Ministry. It has got its own Chief of Staff, its own Adjutant-General, Quarter-Master-General, and so on, its own Army Service Corps, its own ordnances. It is going to get its own bases, and now it is getting its own armoured cars. It will presently have its own infantry. In one theatre it has taken over the duty of the Navy. I would not have thought that this was the time to duplicate services which are already in full action either in the Navy or the Army.
The second decision of the Cabinet is that in the case of defence against air raids the Army and the Navy are of secondary importance. I presume that means only the air raids in Great Britain. There might be air raids in a theatre of war, and I do not know that the Army would be of secondary importance there, but in the case of Great Britain in the 330 defence against air raids the Army and Navy are to be of secondary importance. I wonder what that means. Does it mean that the head Air Marshal would take command of both the Army and the Navy? Does it mean that the Air Marshal in charge of the air over England can move the troops about, tell the Aldershot Command that they must go to the Chiltern Hills and hide, and tell the Salisbury Command that they can go to the hills in Wales? What does it mean? Does it mean that the Air Marshal is in command in England and that he is in command of the coastal defence and of the Navy and the ships supplying it? May the Air Marshal say that no ships of war may put into port? May he clear the harbour at Dover of supplies? What does it mean? The third decision is that in land operations and sea operations the general and the admiral will be in command. That is very sound ruling and I hope that it will be carried out. It is what was done in 1918 when Marshal Foch was given general command, but I was a little puzzled over that because while the Leader of the House tells us that in military and naval operations the general and the admiral shall command, I am confronted with this that in two theatres of operations at the present moment, one in Palestine and one in Iraq, the War Office is handing over operations to the Air Force. If operations on land are to be under a general, then why do we hand them over to an Air Marshal in Palestine and in Iraq? In that connection I would like to say that for every airman there are certainly from 15 to 20 or 25 groundsmen of sorts. For every airman you have to have 20 soldiers, army service, ordnance, lines of communication and so forth, and that is on the basis of the operations in the air. But if the rule is laid down by the Cabinet that on land operations are to be directed by a general, then why at the same time do we have to hand these two theatres over to the Air Force?
The fourth decision again I find it difficult to follow. I think that it was this, that in the protection of commerce and in offensive operations against enemies' harbours and inland towns, the Air is not to be under the Army or the Navy, nor is the Navy to be under the Army or the Air, nor is the Army to be under anybody except itself, but they are to co-operate. 331 The word co-operation translated into action is the way to lose war. The French and British armies co-operated from the beginning of August, 1914, until the 21st March, 1918, four years ago to-day when the Germans made their great attack. Five days later we passed from co-operation, which had been proved fatal to victorious war, to one command. Marshal Foch was given command. The difference between co-operation and command is the difference between the loss and the winning of war. Why then do we go back to co-operation when it has been proved fatal to victory in time of war?
The fifth decision is another one which again I am afraid I do not understand. The Air takes over the anti-air defence at home. It seems to me that here again we are duplicating a complete service of its own. It is certain that in any theatre of operations, whether we fight in France, Germany, Palestine or Afghanistan, wherever we may fight, there would have to be anti-aircraft. Then it seems that the Air is given one set of anti-aircraft for home and the Army and Navy other sets for abroad, duplicating the whole thing over again, and I do not see how in practice it can be worked. To explain this, I would have to go into detail, and I will not weary the House with that. I have tried in these few remarks to make out a case why I would like the Leader of the House to include the Army in the terms of reference which he is going to put before the Committee which on Thursday last he said he was going to appoint.
May I conclude by saying that there is one thing which is very much lost sight of We are spending a great deal of money, as the hon. Member for Brentford (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) said, on bricks and mortar schools and colleges duplicating services, but one thing on which we are spending very little money is civil aviation. One thing certain is that if a big war comes we will require an enormous expansion. We cannot get that expansion from the small number of squadrons which we have to keep or which we can work in times of peace. Therefore I plead very strongly for a big sum of money to be devoted to civil aviation. I could not help smiling now when I heard the French figures when I remembered that the French can now 332 send 120 squadrons in the field and will be able to send 240 squadrons a year hence and we can only put four or eight or 12, while in the meantime the French have not got the blessing of an independent Air Force.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I feel a little presumptuous in endeavouring to controvert anything that has been said by the distinguished and respected Field-Marshal who has just addressed the House, but I am encouraged by the observations which I have been able to make during the War when I was for some time a very subordinate officer in the Air Ministry, and though I was subordinate owing to the circumstances that I was almost junior in rank, yet as I was second oldest officer in age next to Sir David Henderson in the Air Force, I was often admitted to the confidence of very distinguished officers, and I had some opportunity of observing how the various systems of operations worked. I observed very early that soldiers, no matter how very distinguished, or admirals, no matter how distinguished, never understood the ABC of air matters. They were always quite as ignorant as civilians, and a great deal more self-confident, and therefore their opinion was a great deal less valuable than that of an intelligent civilian who was content to ascertain the facts before expressing his judgment.
Encouraged by that reflection, I venture to oppose some arguments to those which my hon. and gallant Friend addressed to the House. He spoke of the evils of duplication, and he dwelt on the defects of co-operation as opposed to unity of command. In respect of duplication, there is no need to duplicate, because you have a separate Air Force, except in so far as you want knowledge. I am not sure myself that there is a particular branch of the Air Force Service which is absolutely comparable to the Navy and the Air Force or the Army and the Air Force. Such a branch might no doubt be treated administratively as comparable, but if you want knowledge in respect to any particular branch of the Air Force, even if you do not have an independent Air Force, you will have to duplicate and must have an air officer who understands it at the head of the service and subordinates, experts 333 in air matters, who would have to be added to the staff of that Department, of the Army or Navy, or whatever it was. Duplication really does not arise out of the independence of the Air Force. It arises out of the fundamental condition of the problem, namely, that the Air Force and its problems are so different from those of the Army and Navy that if you want the intelligent authority and organisation you must have air officers in charge of the matter. You must have airmen to manage air matters.
My hon. and gallant Friend spoke of co-operation and command. I suppose it is common ground that in respect of any particular operation of war it is desirable that somebody should be in chief and supreme command of all the forces of the Crown that are at work. That, I suppose, to be conceded by everyone, but I observed that my hon. and gallant Friend took up a position which appeared to be inconsistent in itself. He saw no difficulty about a distinguished soldier commanding the Air Force in certain operations, but at the same time he thought it so extravagant as to be treated almost with derision that a distinguished air officer should command soldiers. He asked whether you were going to tell them to go into the Chiltern hills or the Welsh mountains. I am not going to contest details of Army movements with him, but there is no greater absurdity in allowing an air officer to order about an army corps or division of men than there is in allowing a general to order about squadrons of aeroplanes in the air. If the air officer were much too ignorant and ill-informed to be a good judge as to what an army corps should do, so the Army officer would be equally ignorant and ill-informed in judging what it is wise to do with an aeroplane.
With regard to co-operation, my hon. and gallant Friend said with truth that co-operation—by which he understood and I understand to be something less united than different bodies acting under one command—was a very dangerous thing. I have no doubt he is perfectly right, but that applies to the Army and the Navy to-day. Have we forgotten the famous distich:Lord Chatham, with his sword undrawn,Is waiting for Sir Richard Strachan,Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,Is waiting for the Earl of Chatham.334 That was co-operation between the Navy and the Army. You have to put up with that sort of thing. You have to work them sometimes together, and the difficulties of co-operation have to be overcome. So it must be with the Air, and you must get over the difficulties just as you do with the Army and the Navy. I wonder whether my hon. and gallant Friend has ever considered whether there is any argument that his brain can devise against an independent Air Force which is not equally good against an independent Fleet. I know that what lies in the minds of so many distinguished generals is that a pilot in an aeroplane is merely a soldier in the air. Apparently, by the same process of reasoning, a captain on a man-of-war is a mere soldier on a ship. Nobody thinks that. Everyone says that you must have a distinct Navy and Army, and that they must be separately organised.
If it were proposed that my hon. and gallant Friend should take command of the Channel Fleet, I am almost sure he would refuse. Lord John Russell said he felt quite able to command the Channel Fleet, but he was a civilian. I believe my hon. and gallant Friend would refuse; yet, why, on his principles? I suppose he would say he did not know about the material organisation of a battleship. Neither does he know anything about an aeroplane or the organisation that goes to build up the efficiency of air work He would say, I suppose, that he did not understand the temperaments of sailors, their discipline, or how you could command and manage them, and that therefore he would not trust himself in command of a battleship or of the Channel Fleet. That is even more true of aeroplanes than of the Navy. I have asked very distinguished officers who have served in the Navy, and who have afterwards become officers in the Air Force, and every one of them to whom I have spoken has agreed that the difference between the Air Force and the Army and the Navy is greater than the difference between the Navy and the Army. The point of view of the fighting officer in the Air Force is more difficult, and everybody knows how extremely difficult the question of discipline was during the War in respect of the Air Force. It was because of the intense individualism of 335 the men of the Service. The officer in the Army has the importance of discipline driven home to him because of the conditions of his service. He sees that you cannot work an army without discipline. He sees that you have to command others and be commanded by others obviously for the efficiency of all that he does. It is not so in the Air Force. With the individual pilot in the air it is much more difficult to bring that home. There he is, relying on himself for everything—an exaggeration of self-reliance, an exaggeration of self-confidence, successful, very largely, in proportion as he becomes self-confident, and almost too self-confident, as he undertakes risks disregards dangers, relies on his own judgment without regard to any outside consideration.
You cannot help flying officers looking down on people who do not fly. If my hon. and gallant Friend came down to inspect some air squadron, after he had inspected it, and when the young pilots met in the mess-room afterwards, he would be treated with contempt. They would say, "Who is this ignorant person of the lower classes who cannot fly and comes here to instruct us?" As I have said, I had the advantage of being in age very old, but in rank very junior, and therefore I used to associate with the aged of the Service and with the very young officers. I used to hear what they said, and that was their attitude of mind to the men who did not go into an aeroplane. If you did not go into an aeroplane and fly, and you were middle-aged, well and good, but if you were not middle-aged and did not fly you were degraded. The attitude of the soldier and the sailor would be absolutely different. I am satisfied that the management or discipline of the Air Force is impossible if you do not have it separately controlled, and I hope the Government will not fritter away their decision on that point in the name of co-operation, and that they will not concede any control of discipline, promotion, or training, or the administration that relates to discipline, promotion, or training to the Navy or the Army. If they do they will only destroy what is a most difficult thing to build up in the Air Force, esprit-de-corps and pride in the Force, and they will get very inefficient 336 management of those wings that they hand over to the Navy and the Army.
There is one thing I wanted to say about what fell from my hon. and gallant Friend regarding the organisation of the Cabinet in respect to national defence. I see very vividly the arguments that have been put forward for organising the three services in one Department. I am not able to offer any very precise criticism, but I would suggest that as far as it is possible to observe from outside—we sometimes get lurid gleams of the interior of the Cabinet, as by a flash of lightning from the lips of ex-Secretaries of State for India and others, these revelations of the unspeakable world beneath our feet—I think what really is wrong with the control of Cabinet organisation is that the Prime Minister—I do not mean particularly this Prime Minister but any Prime Minister—has too much to do, and that what you want is three or four deputy Prime Ministers, one of whom would have care of these branches of defence and perhaps some allied branches—that is a matter which might be considered—and break up the Cabinet, as I understand it is already largely broken up—not merely by disagreements and temperamental differences but by the organisation of Committees. You would have your deputy Prime Minister at the head of the Cabinet Committee who would act to a large extent for the common interests of the Departments as a separate Department.
There was one thing in the speeches to which we have listened which must, I think, fill every intelligent person with grave alarm. The Secretary of State said that he was going to make a beginning of home defence, that he proposed to have the few squadrons necessary for training, and only, as I understand, three squadrons for actual defence. I believe there are only two possible policies—indeed that there is only one—in respect to home defence in the air. You must either compete with the Continental nations or you must make no attempt whatever. I do not believe there is any advantage in having these three squadrons. Personally, I should have none at all, except in so far as it is a part of training, and it is possible that these three squadrons might be necessary from the point of view of training in order to give 337 officers practice in a particular class of machine. But I should not have home defence, so-called, at all. France is to have next year, we are told, 220 or 240 squadrons, and obviously three squadrons would be no use against those 240. Personally, the arguments used fill me with the conviction that the whole thing in impossible, and that an air struggle between two great European Powers could only result in the total destruction of both the Powers engaged, and, indeed, of all civilisation.
We are told by those who advocate a large extension of the Air Force that you will have quantities of air machines able to carry bombs far heavier than any used in the last War, bombs containing high explosives which will destroy all the buildings, or poison gas which will kill all the people, met, women and children. Therefore, this great city of London could be totally destroyed, and by way of consolation we are recommended to have corresponding aeroplanes to destroy Paris or Berlin in their turn. Some people say that we should then sleep easier in our beds. I do not think I would be any the more comfortable, because of the consciousness that the French and Germans were going to burst out a day later, after my own demise, in circumstances of great suffering and terror. Surely the truth of the matter is that any great nation can destroy civilisation if it pleases, if it really gives its mind to it. There is not the least doubt that with the improvement of mechanical science you could send up such a quantity of aeroplanes and bombs and devices of deadly destruction that you could wipe out your enemy. The only chance would be to be the first to act, and since everyone who knows the British Government may be quite certain that we would not be the first to act, the prospect is not a very prepossessing one.
I see no choice except that of retiring to New Zealand or Tristan da Cunha, or to become, as I am, a supporter of the League of Nations. Do not let me be understood to say that I am satisfied it could not happen. I think very likely it might happen. The only way to stop it is by convincing all the civilised nations that it is not in their own interests to bomb London into non-existence. If we bomb Paris and Berlin into non-existence we should have to ask ourselves whether 338 we would be any better off after the operation than we were before. If you are not to pour forth destruction on this scale, you must fall back on one consideration, and that is that it is not the interest of any nation to destroy the whole of the civilised world. It is very easy to show in imagination that if one nation 'were destroyed in this way and in turn other nations were destroyed by the same method, there would soon be nothing left but a lower standard of civilisation and we should be back to a stage of barbarian development. It is to that we would be driven.
It is so obviously true that I cannot believe that the nations of the world will persistently ignore the truth. They must fall back on some diplomatic, quasi-federal organisation like the League of Nations to solve the problem. Otherwise, what have they to look to but absolute ruin and destruction? Be that as it may, I do not think we should be wise—not looking to the remote future, but to the financial year with which we are concerned—in spending some of the money on small measures of home defence. It is true that if you cannot be formidable the next safest thing is to be insignificant, even on the militarist's theory. No one proposes to bomb Berne or Geneva, or even the Hague. Therefore we shall be better off. We might be less offensive to our neighbours if we had no squadrons for home defence. I would prefer to leave home defence to be considered in the future. Then we may have a time of less financial stringency, and we shall certainly have some means of estimating how far mechanical and scientific development have gone. We shall by then, perhaps, have attained to something like a static condition. Some day it will be with the aeroplane as it is now with the railway engine, which cannot be greatly improved. Your machinery will have been so far developed that no very great improvement would be possible. What you are doing now is certain to be obsolete in a few years.
I support the Air Estimates in every respect except that I would leave out of them every sum that is actually spent on home defence, and I would confine the work of the Air Force to what it does more safely, as efficiently and much more cheaply, namely, the policing of the 339 Empire against savage or uncivilised warfare, and by assigning to it that large sphere of usefulness you would both support and sustain the fabric of civilisation and practise a wise economy.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
After listening to the Noble Lord it seems to me that this is a matter which interests the Labour party. I shall not pursue the mangling of the gallant Field Marshal with which he began his speech, but apart from that it seems to me that the Labour party are almost in entire agreement with his speech. I want to draw attention to the main value of this Debate. Service Members will not disagree with me when I say that the ordinary naval or military officer is essentially conservative, and that the whole of the direction of those Services is conservative in tendency. At the War Office and the Admiralty they prefer to go on the old lines, and it requires the shock of something like this Debate to put new ideas before them and the public in order that the nation may start afresh on thinking out these problems of defence. There is no doubt that at the present time if you went to 99 people out of 100 or 99 newspapers out of 100 and asked them what was Britain's first line of defence, they would say the Navy. After to-day's Debate there will be more people who realise that the Navy is not our first line of defence but that the Air Service is. Really the proportion in which we should assist these two Services ought to be precisely reversed if we are to get the maximum amount of defence.
What we have to realise is what would happen if there did come a fresh war, and with what the next war would begin. Undoubtedly, whenever that calamity does occur, it will begin by one power or the other securing the control of the air. Anybody who knows anything about aviation knows that the only possible way of defending yourself against air raids is by fighting aeroplanes, and that antiaircraft guns are valueless, and dangling wires hopeless. Therefore the first struggle in the new war will not be to secure control of the sea, but to secure control of the air. That Power which can overwhelm its rival in the air will not start by bombing London. If it did that it would very likely lose the advantage of the first onslaught. It would 340 start by bombing aerodromes and factories, and by preventing us from making the aeroplanes that are necessary for defence. You must secure absolute control of the air. It is not only in its importance as compared with the Navy that the Air Service is so vital to us.
In the case of the Army also, the Air Service is now revolutionising our views with regard to armed forces. We have had descriptions both from the Secretary of State for Air and from the Secretary of State for the Colonies of how the aeroplane is taking the place of ordinary pedestrian troops and of those cavalry regiments which some people are seeing disbanded with such great reluctance, and of how the aeroplane is taking the place even of the armoured cars and ordinary motor transport. The Air Service in the new portions of the Empire is replacing the Army just as in the defence of this country it is bound to replace the Navy. For those reasons I am very glad we have had this Debate, because that view has not been controverted. There is one point to be made clearer. The Air Service has been developed probably more in the United States than in France. There they are experimenting very largely in the carrying of heavy bombs, directed not so much to destroying buildings or aerodromes or factories as to wrecking ships. They are dropping bombs as an experiment on some of the captured German ships, and they have found that by dropping bombs, not necessarily on the ships but within 100 yards of them, the mere dropping of the bombs is sufficient to send a post-Jutland battleship to the bottom of the sea.
That is making the capital ship completely out-of-date. The French did not start constructing capital ships. We, unfortunately, spent £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 last year on starting the construction of more capital ships. What we have to do now is to reckon with this entirely new force. We must instil into the minds of the Admiralty and War Office some conception of the power and capacity of the new arm. It is for that reason that this Debate is of importance. We have to look at the Debate from another point of view also. It is perfectly true that as we have three squadrons of aeroplanes, and the French 168 squadrons next year for home service, we are completely outmatched, and that 341 we are absolutely at the mercy of a foreign Power at the present time. It is perfectly true, as has been said, that even if we had 168 squadrons of aeroplanes to match the French any struggle between the two nations would end in the destruction of civilisation.
Whether we have three squadrons or 200 squadrons will not make very much difference, in the long run, if these two countries ever go to war. I have felt more to-day than ever before, the vital necessity for our Government really backing up the League of Nations. The only alternative to the horrible future which the development of these arms of assassination brings before our eyes is to back up the League of Nations. Nothing, not even the expenditure of hundreds of millions of money, can save civilisation in another war. We are brought to this impasse, that the conquest of the air means either the cessation of conquest altogether, or the destruction of civilisation. I wish I could see, not only in this but in other countries in Europe, a realisation of what this means and of the necessity for a real League of Nations, including not only the victors in the last War, but Germany and Russia as well. That seems to be the chief lesson in ultimate strategy to be deduced from this Debate. In the first place, the aeroplane has completely taken the place of the old first line of defence; in the second place, it has revolutionised and will gradually supplant the army as a policeman for the world, and in the third place, the development of the aeroplane makes war itself either suicidal or impossible.
Let me turn from that to another point which has been made clear in this Debate and another motive which has arisen. It has been made quite clear that the French are overwhelmingly strong in air force. I can conceive it possible that in the next year or so, when the public realise the relative position of ourselves and the French in connection with aeroplanes we shall have started in this country an aerial league similar to the Navy League. We shall have started in the Press a gigantic agitation for a one-power standard in the air. We shall have pressure brought to bear, not only from interested parties, but from the ordinary public, nervous lest they should be blown to bits, for this country to join in competitive building 342 with other countries. The old armament ring is getting a little feeble and flaccid owing to the slump in their particular engines of destruction. You will have a new armament ring springing up. Every body interested in aeroplane manufacture and motor manufacture and so forth will be behind this movement, and we shall have the usual expert engineers advising us, and before we know it we may find ourselves in exactly the same feverish competition with the French in building aeroplanes as we were in previously with the Germans relative to the building of battleships. We shall have changed one engine for another. We shall have changed one dangerous enemy for another. We shall have changed the object of our envy and suspicion, but the newspapers which back up the enterprise will be the same as they were previously.
I do not see that we can stop that feeling, I do not see that it is possible to prevent the people of this country clamouring for an enormous increase of expenditure on the Air Service, unless we can develop the League of Nations on sound lines. It seems to me utterly useless to try to compete in building, and utterly degrading to go back to the old hideous frame of mind in which we were continually suspecting the man across the Channel, because he did not happen to speak the same language, of desiring to assassinate us. You have either got to change that completely and realise the international solidarity of the world, the international solidarity of civilisation, or else go back to the brute beast conditions of competition in arms, with the sure and certain knowledge that when, as inevitably happens, that competition liquidates in war, the war which will follow will be a disaster which will obliterate civilisation entirely, conqueror and conquered alike.