Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 31,176, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923.
§ Mr. RAPER
In view of the lateness of the hour, I shall confine myself to making a few remarks in regard to the actual figures of the Estimates. Taking first of all the abstract of the Air Estimates, effective services, we find an item of £2,193,000 for technical and warlike stores and an Appropriation-in-Aid of £898,000. The figures there are 50 per cent. less than for the previous year. This is a very serious point, because it is one to which the Secretary of State referred in a speech at the Guildhall some time ago when he said how important it was that we should have up-to-date machines and do away with the old material, whereas, as things are at present, we are simply using old machines and old engines. Another point is the question of the money we have down for works and buildings, £1,425,000. That is 10 times in excess of what the amount was last year, and I think 395 we should have an explanation. I understand a large proportion of this amount is possibly going to Iraq and Egypt. At the same time it is an enormous item. We then have an item of £47,000 for civil aviation, and I observe a notice at the bottom of the page that this includes certain non-effective charges in respect of these services. I suggest that all the charges for civil aviation are really non-effective charges because it is quite a non-effective branch of the Air Service. On Vote A I see the number of cadets is reduced from 135 to 100. I should like to ask for an explanation of this reduction. Surely the cadets are the foundation of what we hope to be the men who will make up the Air Force in the future. They are very valuable indeed, and it is only through the cadet school that we can get the right men. On the following page, under Pay and Personal Allowances, I notice allowances to two air marshals. So far as I know, we only have one to-day and we should all be very interested to know that there is to be another appointed. I imagine that refers to the air marshal who is to be given command in Iraq.
I should like to know if that is so. The Colonial Secretary said he thought it possible to save a lot of money by the three Services co-ordinating the accountancy, stores and medical branches. On Vote I the staff of these branches, accountants, store-keepers and doctors, are called wing commanders, group captains, squadron leaders, and so on. These titles in the old days carried a very great amount of respect as far as they applied to flying, and it is not right to give such titles to doctors, dentists, and accountants. Some of the equipment people do go into the air. There are no fewer than 25 wing commanders in the stores, accountant, and medical branches, 79 squadron leaders, and three dental squadron leaders. What is a dental squadron leader? I can only imagine that he is a man who walks about in a wonderful uniform and leads a squadron of people for dental treatment. For the sake of the people who are flying men in the Air Force these descriptions of a purely flying character should be withdrawn from people who are merely doctors, accountants, and storekeepers. If you are going to give these people these very high-sounding titles, why not call 396 the chaplains sky pilots, and call the nurses angels? Give them all flying titles.
Under the head "Allowances" there is an item of £1,300 for language awards. In the Navy and Army, if you pass a certain examination and have certain qualifications, you receive an extra allowance of £50 or £100 a year. It is a very excellent system, but an allowance of £1,300 gives very little scope in that respect. There is an item of £300 for interpreter and schoolmaster allowances. That is a point which I raised on last year's Estimates. That sum does not seem to be very much. I am sorry, and everybody who has the welfare of the Air Force at heart will regret to notice the very dangerous reduction of the recruiting staff. The recruiting staff of the Air Force have done splendid work. The type of man you want for the mechanic or rigger is a very superior and very intelligent type of man, and it is very important that an efficient and sufficiently strong recruiting staff should be maintained. I hope that the very substantial reduction will be reconsidered.
On Vote 3 there is an amount of £1,051,000 for aeroplanes, seaplanes, engines and spares. I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman a few weeks ago with regard to the machines and engines at present in use in the Air Force. He will remember that practically all the machines at present in use are pre-War machines. A large portion of this money goes in what is called re-conditioning. I will read an extract from the right hon. Gentleman's memorandum which is included in the Estimates. He says:Here, however, a word of caution is necessary. The reconditioning of machines (see page 92 of the Geddes Report, Part 1) is not a process of improvement and embellishment, but one of making machines safe to fly. Economies in this direction must be governed by a sense of the most serious responsibility. Apart from this it should be realised that the patching up of temporary buildings and living on stocks is essentially a process of deferment of expenditure which must tend to force Air Votes up again in future years, and is justified only by extreme financial pressure.It is an injustice to people who have to fly to ask them to continue to take the risk of using these old machines when if they go up into the air they may meet a pocket of air which they cannot see or a piece of wire may not be in the condition in which it ought to be. But, according 397 to the Secretary of State for Air this afternoon, it may be possible to make these machines suitable for flying for four years, but then the time must come when all these machines will have to be replaced, and it is far more important that economies should be made in cutting down other expenditure and providing the Air Force with an up-to-date machine, not merely for the safety of life, but to enable us to compete with countries like France, which are so far ahead of us in having modern machines. On Vote 3, on which there is the item of £249,500 for armaments and ammunition, no explanation is given. I presume that it is for Iraq. Further down there is an item of £500,000 for war liabilities, rewards to inventors and miscellaneous claims. I did hope last year that we had had an end of all rewards to inventors, because I think that they received very adequate rewards. If this money were spent on new machines it would be better spent.
Coming to the item, on the next page, of £86,800 for complete engines, I would like some further detail. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) said that the Napier Lion Cub engine, 1,000 horse power, costs £5,000. The cheapest type of modern engine is the Napier Lion, which costs £2,000. The Napier Cub, the Rolls Condor, and the Sidley Tiger all cost between £4,000 and £6,000, so that if we are only going to spend £86,000 on engines, we shall not be able to provide many up-to-date engines and we shall not be giving any encouragement to engine manufacturers to continue as they have done to try to bring out the best types which will be an advantage to the Air Force, and if the time should come again—I hope it will not—when you want a large supply of modern engines at very short notice, if you allow these engine manufacturing firms to go by the board now you may be in a very serious position in the future. The total for aeroplanes, seaplanes, engines and spares is £786,000. On a later page there is an item of £64,000, the cost of inspection of this £786,000 worth of material. I suggest that that is a most enormous charge, especially in view of the fact that, in my opinion, a very large proportion of this' £786,000 worth of material should have been put on the fire heap a very long time ago. On page18, again, you have, an item for 398 machines spares, parachutes and miscellaneous, £186,000, and I should like to ask exactly what this item of parachutes means. How many parachutes do the Air Force own, is every machine forced to carry one, and what are the conditions which govern them? I am sure everybody connected with the Air Force would be very glad to hear that there was some parachute which could be used with security from an aeroplane which is crashing down. Personally, I doubt it very much, indeed, and for that reason I should like to have this item explained.
Then on page 21 again we come to the question of the staff of the Works Services, and that again is a point upon which I feel very strongly. There is a total of £260,000 for staff for Works Services. If you look into the figures you will see 25 civil engineers at something less than £600 a year each. I suggest that, instead of having a large number of cheap people—because you cannot possibly get first-class civil engineers at the present time at something under £600 a year—if you want to effect real economy in the Department in which I think it is essential that economy should be effected, namely, the Works Department, you should engage, instead of a large number of inefficient, or if not inefficient, underpaid, people, a small number of highly efficient people to pull that Department together, which process would result in saving the Air Ministry a large amount of money. There is another item to show the way in which the Works Department draw up their information. On page 22 under "Inland. Andover. No. 5" there is "Provision of Cells in Guard Room and Improvements to Water Supply, £3,570."What on earth is the analogy between the provision of cells in the guard room and the improvement of water supply, unless it is intended to put a supply of water there to entertain the too-festive gentlemen who are given accommodation there? On the same page there is an item of £35,000 for the housing of Civilian Subordinates at Milton. That is a question which has been raised a good many times, and I have joined in the suggestion that you have at Milton a number of empty sheds I only use that term in a descriptive sense, in the same way as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to packing-cases, because we all know that aero- 399 plane packing-cases can be converted into very nice bungalows. There are a very large number of buildings at Milton, I contend, which could be converted into quite suitable living bungalows instead of spending £35,000 on housing civilian subordinates, I am sorry to bore the right hon and gallant Gentleman—
§ Mr. RAPER
At any rate, I think it is up to some of us to try to understand some of these questions, and to deal with them. On page 24 there is an item for married quarters, and that again is a question which has been raised in the House frequently. I do not think sufficient money is being used for providing suitable married quarters for married officers in the Air Force. I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has had a good many complaints on that score, and I ventured to ask him last year, as I do again to-day, if he will give his personal attention to that matter. On page 38 there is a reference to works, buildings and lands, under the heading civil aviation.
That comes under Vote 8. The only Votes we have before us to-night are Votes A, 1, 2, 3 and 4.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENW0RTHY
The Speaker was moved out of the Chair very early on the understanding that we would have a very wide discussion on Vote A. Although the Leader of the House may have been out of order, we acted in good faith in the matter.
I have allowed the hon. and gallant Member to travel beyond Vote A and to deal with Votes 1, 2, 3 and 4. I could not allow discussion on a Vote which is not down for to-night and which cannot be put from the Chair to-night.
In the case of the Navy Vote A is purely a numerical Vote dealing with personnel, but we are allowed very wide discussion on it.
The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
The practice is that on Vote A, which is concerned with the number of men, general discussion is allowed, but general dis- 400 cussion only on the Votes which the Chair is to put at a particular sitting of the Committee. I am to put to-night only Votes A, 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The DEPUTY- CHAIRMAN
The Standing Orders have been suspended to enable the Committee to deal with the Votes I have mentioned, Votes A, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and those Votes I have allowed the hon. and gallant Gentleman to discuss. I am quite willing that such discussion should be continued, but, of course, in taking the general discussion on Vote A it would not be in order to repeat the same arguments when I put the question for Votes 1, 2, 3, and 4. I rose to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member only because he was proceeding to discuss Vote 8, which would not be in order tonight. Another occasion will arise to discuss Vote 8.
§ Mr. RAPER
Those are the points that I desire to raise on Votes A, 1, 2, 3, and 4. The Secretary of State for Air knows, I am sure, how anxious we all are to help him in his task. We know quite well the difficulty with which he has to contend. In certain directions I would suggest manners in which amounts might be saved. For instance, on housing at Milton, and on lands and buildings a large amount could be saved, and the money could be better spent on new engines.
§ 11.0 P.M.
I do not; pretend to be, in any way, an expert in regard to the Air service. The Debate has been in the hands of experts up to the present moment, and I, as a layman, am merely doing my best to understand the Estimates. I would like to point out that in the sketch Estimates presented to the Geddes Committee the Air Ministry gave an Estimate of 3,091 officers and 27,070 other ranks, a total of 30,161, but in the Estimate now before the Committee they are asking for 3,576 officers and 27,600 other ranks, a total of 31,176. If you compare the sketch Estimate with 401 the Estimate now before the Committee, it will be seen that the Air Ministry are asking, three months after the Geddes Committee's Report, for 1,015 more personnel—485 more officers and 530 other ranks. I do not in the least understand why they are asking for 1,000 more personnel than estimated for in the sketch Estimates.
There is also a question in connection with education and training, to which I should like to have an answer. According to the Estimate presented to the Geddes Committee, the numbers engaged in connection with training are 532 officers and 5,669 men, or a total of 6,201. Those who are receiving training number 406 officers and 6,035 men, or a total of 6,501 people. That means that in order to train 6,501 persons you have engaged 6,201 persons, which seems to be an enormous proportion. Another serious point is this. There is indicated in the Estimate a reduction in personnel of between 9,000 and 10,000 compared with last year. In spite of that the item of pay and personal allowances to officers and men has increased by £153,000. There are two Air Marshals in these Estimates, as against none last year, although there are fewer men. Highly-paid officers in the general service branch have increased from 2,165 to 2,186. The stores branch wants 20 officers more than last year. The accountant branch wants 76 more officers, and, what is most extraordinary—I do not understand it, unless the Air Service has become more irreligious since last year—three more chaplains are required although the personnel has decreased.
There are many other points which I could raise, but as it is late, I have no wish to detain the Committee further. Without elaboration, I have tried to put my argument before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, that it is difficult to understand these increases in the number of officers when the personnel has been so largely reduced. I do not understand the added cost and the question of the enormous number of people required to train the men. I hope my right hon. Friend will do his utmost to cut down expenditure. He is cutting it down by £3,000,000 less than the proposals made by the Geddes Committee, and I hope that in the coming year he will do his utmost to see whether further cuts cannot be made.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I think the usual convention is that we do not raise Committee points on this Vote, but keep to the general discussion. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, in a speech which was lightened with mirth and laden with wisdom, if I may say so, found fault with the admirals of his day because they obstructed the development of the Air Service, but he forgets one thing, namely, that when he was at the Admiralty we had no proper War Staff. He never gave us a War Staff, and individual opinions of admirals and generals are of very little value unless they are informed by what is called a War Staff of the middle ranks. Now we have got a great War Staff, the Navy does appreciate the services which the Air Force can render, and it is quite a mistake for hon. Members who belong to the Air Force to think that there is any hostility whatever to that Service. The Navy desires the utmost possible cooperation with that great Service, but it does say this—and the Secretary of State for the Colonies practically granted the demand—that it must control that Air Service when it is operating with it at sea and must have its demands met. Otherwise, let us reflect on this point. It is said that the experience of the War has shown that it is necessary to have a separate Air Service, and no doubt that is so, but I am not sure that it was experience that showed it so much as lack of material and personnel for which the Navy and Army competed, but clearly all the other nations came to different conclusions. The Navy will note that the admiral of an enemy fleet who has always been associated with his part of the Air Service will have it under his control, and the British admiral does not under the present system. This the Committee of Imperial Defence are going to remedy, I am certain, by making sure that he will have the full control of all his own air forces. This is important, for in the near future we may have the admiral directing operations from the air. That is a thing of great likelihood.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies rightly said that what we have to bring about is co-ordination of the Services. There are a great many hon. Members who say they hate that word "co-ordination, "but it is a very old and very respectable word, much used by the Hartington Commission nearly 40 years 403 ago. The Hartington Commission said that want of co-ordination between the Army and the Navy was a danger to the country, and the Secretary for the Colonies favours, as an ultimate solution, the same conclusion that the Geddes Committee came to, namely, a Minister of Defence in charge of all three Services. That is the conclusion which his very distinguished father came to on the Hartington Commission in 1886, and it is one which has my entire support. I have from time to time directed attention to the fact that we have three sets of servants, one for each Service, three sets of accountants, three sets of transport officers, and at one time I was directing attention to the fact that we had separate bakeries for the different Services, and we got that abolished. I hope we will get rid of this overlapping of the services when men are really performing the same duties.
In discussion on the Navy, I directed attention to the fact that the life of an airman in the Air is very short. I want to know what prospect he has in the Air of rising to high command. There are 3,576 officers. In foreign countries, when they leave the Air Force, they still have the opportunity of taking naval or military commands. They can rise to Admirals or Generals, and they bring the knowledge they obtained in the Air to reinforce the Naval and Military side. At present I am very much concerned to know what is the future outlook of our young officers whose flying career soon comes to an end. Have they any great outlook in the future? It is a matter of some import.
I do not think anybody has drawn attention to the fact that the Navy was promised, under a memorandum of Sir Hugh Trenchard, in 1919, control of any airmen lent, and of all its own requirements. That was a Memorandum which was published as a White Paper, but I have not got it by me.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Commander BELLAIRS
We want to get the realisation of the idea that the three services constitute one fighting force. The Secretary of State for Air only referred to the Navy once, except when he mentioned the strength 404 of the Squadrons, and that was at the conclusion of his speech, and it was rather derogatory to the Navy. I think that the argument shows that the Air Department does not really appreciate the Naval point of view at all. He truly said that one bomb could sink a battleship in a few minutes. It is perfectly true, if the aircraft succeeds in placing its bombs within reasonable distance of a battleship, that battleship as constructed formerly—I do not say as constructed to-day—will be sunk, as the American experiment is said to have proved. That would apply to a Dreadnought seven years ago, but I doubt whether it would apply to a modern one. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air said that he believed in 10 years' time "a combat between the forces of the air and the forces of the sea will have become a grotesque and pathetically one-sided affair, "It is not, however, a question of warships versus aircraft, but of warships and aircraft versus warships and aircraft. The same argument was used when torpedoes were introduced, that it meant the doom of the battleship. Similarly with the destroyer and the submarine. But they have not brought about the doom of the battleship. Where the mistake is made is in overlooking the fact that both sides will possess aircraft in addition to warships, and the aircraft of one side will counteract the efforts of the aircraft of the other. What we want is to get the Air intimately associated with the Navy and the Army, so as to get the best teamwork out of the whole three.
§ Viscount CURZON
In the interests of economy, I want to ask one or two questions on the Air Estimates. The expenditure that comes under Vote IV. is very severely criticised by the Geddes Committee, which recommends a certain amount of working with the other two Services, the Army and the Navy. What has the Secretary of State done to carry out the recommendations of the Geddes Committee? On page 95 of the First Interim Report I read:If reductions are also made in the personnel of the Navy and the Army the possibility of using some of the accommodation which these Services have for training mechanics, or existing school buildings to be vacated, should also he explored.What is being done in this direction by the Air Force?
405 In Vote II. (page 15) there is an item: "Cleaning allowances and washing charges. "What exactly does this mean? Take Vote IV. (page 22), there is an item "Sick Quarters."Why is it necessary to provide sick quarters at Lee-on-Solent, which is next door to Haslar where there is a naval hospital fully equipped? Why go in for a separate Air Force establishment at Lee-on-Solent? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this provision, for it appears to me to be quite unnecessary? There is also at the foot of the same page 22, "Sick quarters at Netheravon. "For years there has been an Air Force at Netheravon. Are these new sick quarters, or what? There is also an item that deals with married quarters. Why have we to provide these quarters for officers and a certain number of men—on home stations? The officers and men of the Navy do not get married quarters, and I can't understand why there should be any differentiation in this respect in the Estimates of the Services. Then I want to ask about Ascot? There is a large depot there, but I cannot find any allusion to it in the Estimates. There is at Ascot a large depot of the Royal Air Force. That establishment is in full commission, and there are a number of lorries and a certain amount of valuable material which appears to be suffering severely from the weather. There are also some railway trucks and engines and other material to which some attention must be given. I think there is clearly an error somewhere, because all this does not appear in the Estimates. With regard to pensions, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) said that an air officer had a very short life. Supposing that a flying officer cannot carry on after three or four years' work and he cannot be absorbed into the training establishment, is he pensioned, and if so, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us to what extent the number of pensions are likely to be increased in this way.
Before the Navy Estimates are taken in the House of Commons would it be possible another year to ensure that the Air Force Estimates are in the hands of members before the Navy Estimates come to be considered? There is a very considerable overlapping between the Air Force and the Navy, and it would be of great assistance to hon. Members like myself who are desirous of discussing the 406 Navy Estimates to have a copy of the Air Force Estimates to look at before we come to consider them. I ask whether another year the Air Estimates cannot be placed in the hands of members before the Navy Estimates are taken.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by 1,000 men.
I have listened very carefully to the greater part of the debate to-day. It seems to me that the House has become a sort of debating society, asking questions, such as whether the Army or the Air Force should control Iraq, and it is neglecting its proper functions as guardian of the public purse, although the financial situation of the country is perfectly desperate. Very few hon. Members have spoken in the interests of economy: most of those who have addressed the House, have ignored the fact that although the war to end war is now over, we are still spending over £11,000,000 on the Air Service.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
That is not the total as I read the figures contained in the estimate. I make the proposed expenditure over £10,000,000. I consider that the figure is too high. The Air Service is the one Service on which I would hesitate longest to propose a reduction. It is the coming Service. I do not like to propose a reduction. The Service has plenty of enemies in the Cabinet without the Opposition adding itself to the number. I am sorry that the Minister for Air is not a member of the Cabinet. But the fact remains that we have aircraft in Constantinople where we have no business to be; we are still holding great tracts of territory in Iraq by aircraft, and this at a time when? the Government are cutting down expenditure on vital services, when they are having to stop their housing plans, when they are stopping the grants of the Universities, and when they cannot make adequate allowances for the support of children of unemployed workmen. In view of all this I say there can be no defence of the policy of keeping aircraft in parts of the world where we have no business to be—where indeed we are not in our own territory. I see we are spending £200,000 odd on buildings in Iraq alone, yet within a couple of miles of this 407 House can be seen the worst slums to be found in Europe. I do not intend to let this Vote go through without seeing who are on the side of economy and solvency in the present financial stringency, and who are on the side of wasteful expenditure and national bankruptcy. Therefore I move a reduction of 1,000 men in the personnel of the Air Service.
There is no doubt that if any real permanent economy is to be effected on this Vote it can only be done in the way suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend who has moved the reduction. These estimates have been introduced with a great flourish of trumpets as to the proposed economies. Looking at the Memorandum issued by the Minister for Air I find that in the first part attention is drawn to the fact that a reduction of some 20 per cent. on the Estimates for Air was effected before the publication of the Geddes Committee's Report, and that since then further reductions have been made. My recollection of the Geddes Report generally is that the Geddes Committee were somewhat sceptical as to the economies made by the Departments, and they pointed out that in the majority of cases these economies were reduction which would in any event have had to be made, and therefore they did not indicate any real attempt on the part of the Department to arrive at a real permanent economy. These Estimates as presented appear to me to afford a very striking illustration of the truth of the Committee's comment. It is pointed out to us that a reduction is being made on the Estimates this year, as compared with those of last year, of some £6,400,000. I have been looking through the general items, and should like to show the Committee how this reduction is really effected. In the first place, the War Liabilities last year amounted to £1,471,000, while this year they only amount to £859,500, so that this first reduction of rather over £500,000 has nothing to do with any economy at all on the part of the Department.
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member did not hear the Debate, but I admitted that when I made my statement.
Then we are on common ground as to that. The next 408 item is that of the Appropriations-in-Aid. Last year the Appropriations-in-Aid amounted to £1,370,590, and this year they amount to £4,769,500, so that here again the Department gets an advantage of £3,398,910 without the least effort in the direction of economy. It is a windfall—rare and refreshing fruit which falls into their hands. Nearly two-thirds, therefore, of their £6,400,000 is already reached without any real economy having been made. Then we come to very great reductions that have been made in respect of stores. There are two items, namely, Quartering Stores, and Technical and Warlike Stores. Upon the first, £3,253,700 was spent last year, and the Estimate is £2,214,000 this year, so that a saving has been made on Quartering Stores of £1,039,700. On the next item-Technical and Warlike Stores—a still larger reduction is shown. Last year this expenditure was £4,292,000, and this year it is £2,193,000, so that £2,099,000 is saved this year on Technical and Warlike Stores. The saving, amounting to rather over £3,000,000 on these two items, does seem to be a very substantial one, and one for which the Department might seem entitled to claim considerable credit, but there seems to be room for inquiry into this matter of saving en stores. If it is possible to save £3,000,000 this year, one wonders what it was that happened last year. Was the excessive expenditure last year due to equipping the Force? If that were so it does not seem to me that any credit attaches to the Department for saving this year, because they have not got to spend the money. If that be not the explanation, is it that last year they laid in stores such as they considered it proper to lay in for the use of a Force of this size, and are they this year diminishing those, stores beyond what is proper? Are they not maintaining their stores up to proper pitch, and shall we be faced next year with an expenditure very much larger than is normal, because the stores have been allowed to run down? In all big concerns which have to provide themselves with stores, this is generally done on a kind of programme, and I would ask the Minister what is the real explanation of the saving here. Up to this point we have a saving of £7,049,110 on these items, none of which appears to represent any real and permanent economy. There are two other items. On Civil Aviation £898,000 409 was spent last year, as against £411,000 this year—
Yes, I did, but I am sorry to say that for the moment I was not listening to the hon. and gallant Member. I will listen more carefully for the future.
That is not quite fair to the right hon. Gentleman. I had ruled that those Votes should come on another occasion. It would not be in order to give details.
I had not the slightest desire to be unfair, and if it was unfair I withdraw it unreservedly. I thought the ruling was that we were not allowed to go into detail on these other Votes, but one was in order in referring to the total amounts. I have shown that as against the £6,400,000 which is credited to this Vote in the way of economy there is a sum of £7,049,110 which appears to have been arrived at without in any way reducing the strength of the Force or dealing with it in such a way as to lead to a permanent and continued lessened expenditure. On works, buildings and land, that is to say, on things connected permanently with that Force which call for continuous expenditure there is an actual increase this year.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I should like, before I go into the Lobby, one way or the other to bring to a head one or two questions which have been raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). Is the total cost to the nation going to be, in the following year, for all services necessary to provide us with an Air Force, £11,250,000 odd?
§ Mr. ACLAND
On page 1. Is it going to be that figure, which my right hon. Friend now sees for the first time? I remember a similar occasion with regard to War Estimates some years ago when Lord Haldane had not seen the total expenditure of the War Office, informa- 410 tion which is recorded on page one of the War Estimates as this statement is on page one, or is it £9,000,000 odd, which is the figure mentioned when the right hon. Gentleman interrupted my hon. and gallant Friend? If the expense, as seems to be indicated, is £11,250,000, including all these items which fall upon us under other Votes, the Committee should take a division against so high a figure.
§ Mr. KILEY
I rise to support the proposal for a reduction. One of the effects if a reduction is carried will be to bring about a very substantial reduction in the tremendous figure of Vote 4 on page 20. There is an enormous amount of £3,250,000 on building, and there is an item underneath, as Appropriation-in-Aid, which is a grant under the Middle East Vote. That does not amount, as I read it, to any reduction at all, but it provides for an expenditure of £3,000,000 on buildings. We have been told by another Department that one of the reasons why housing is so expensive is on account of the enormous demand for building materials, but if the Air Ministry is going to spend the enormous amount of £3,000,000 no wonder building material is costly. Therefore, if there is some reduction of personnel it will effect a very considerable saving in the expenditure, and it will also have a very useful effect in keeping down the cost of building material, which will enable us to get more houses built.
There is an item for National Health Insurance £30,000, and National Unemployment Insurance £22,000. If the Air Force had not a medical staff and were not taking money for hospitals I could understand the need for such a sum being voted for National Health Insurance, but why we should be voting money to provide free insurance service and benefits for the men while at the same time the Air Force provides medical staff and hospitals for them seems to require some explanation.
The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. Eaper), whose intervention I have always found helpful, asked me a long list of questions. With respect to the re-conditioning of machines, the Ministry would not have indulged in this process, with some attendant risks, had it not been for the very exceptional financial pressure 411 brought to bear upon it. The point which arises and is of great importance in this connection is that if this re-conditioning was not accepted by our chief experts at the Ministry as being of no more danger to the pilots, than they undertook in times of war with these machines it would have been impossible for us to pursue that course. The next question asked by the hon. Member was about works in connection with the Middle East. I cannot remember whether the question takes exactly the same form as other questions on the same subject from other quarters. I shall not be far wrong if I say that the works programme has been cut down by £1,000,000 since the sketch Estimate was presented to the Geddes Committee, and in view of the conditions of housing under which the Air Force carry on, it is not excessive for keeping in order the number, of stations which we have. The hon. Member also asked me about the reduction of the number of cadets from 130 to 100. This is purely a small step amongst many that we have taken in the direction of economy. No one would be more ready than ourselves to have the full number when better times permit.
The reason why the extra items of pay and allowances are inserted for these two senior officers is that we may have the sanction of the House of Commons to make the appointment as increasing responsibilities devolve upon us. If we find it necessary owing to the responsibilities in Iraq in October that are to be placed upon the Air Ministry we shall then have the permission of the House to enable us to appoint an officer of that rank for that particular work.
The hon. Member's next point was as to the titles given to members of the accounting and medical branches. It is very difficult to abandon these titles. My own service for 20 years has been in the Army. You know how much the title of Captain, Major, Colonel or General is prized by members of the Medical Corps, and that ranks as high are prized by even the Veterinary Corps. To take away from a man the title which would go with the number of years' service is 412 an injury to the service and would do harm instead of good. In reference to the language award that has been referred to I cannot answer offhand why it is so low, but I have made a note to ascertain the reason. Coming to the reduction in the expenses of recruiting, I may say that it was a reduction to which we felt ourselves forced to submit, but I hope that it will be one of the subjects which will come up for, consideration before the Committee on Auxiliary Services which was mentioned by the Secretary of State for the Colonies which we hope will be functioning soon. On that occasion we shall get a good opportunity of drawing attention to the quality of the recruits of whom we are in need in the Air Force and of trying to see that special steps are taken to assist us to obtain them. On Vote 3 my hon. Friend (the Member for East Islington) referred to the items for arms and ammunition. This year we are asking for £139,000, being £100,000 less than last year. I gather that it is to keep pace with the demands of the service abroad and at home on the reduced scale of enterprise and development which is in keeping with our general economy. I was then asked about war liabilities, rewards to inventors. In 1921 it was £700,000. This year it is £500,000. But this is a sum over which we have no control, it being decided entirely over our heads by the Royal Commission on awards for inventions. My hon. Friend regretted to see so limited a sum expended on engines. We regret it too. The reduction from last year is a sum of £345,000 to £86,000. The same answer covers this case also. For reasons of economy we have been forced to abandon many of the experiments that we should have liked to try. As regards parachutes, I understand that we have one for each practising aeroplane. The item of £3,500 which has been referred to, I am unable to explain without having an opportunity for further reference.
The Staff for the Works Services has, I think, swollen this year by reason of the extra accommodation that we have had to get ready in the Middle East for the troops that have to settle down there and take over the country. At Milton the same point comes up that we have discussed on more than one occasion. It must be remembered that these are 413 cottages built by the Ministry of Health, paid for by the Air Ministry and let to civilian workers at economic rents. I think it would be impossible, despite what the hon. Member for East Islington said, to consider for a moment housing civilians in anything like the packing-cases or crates that the young soldier in times of depression is more ready to put up with. Married Quarters and their insufficiency is, I admit, one of our great difficulties. We are very short, we are putting them up very slowly, and in this year's programme a very modest amount is asked for. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) asked why there are more officers and men taken on the strength this year.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I asked why are there more officers and men on this estimate than were presented to the Geddes Committee on the sketch estimate.
The answer is that during the last three months the new arrangement that we have made with the Colonial Office to take over some of these very ancillary services we discussed earlier in the Debate—for instance, armoured cars—have had to be revised in order to take over the country in time. We thought at one time that we should be able to take over the armoured cars from the Army and use their personnel in the form of a loan. Since then, the Colonial Office having arrived at this decision on our behalf has called on us to find the personnel for these cars, so that in Iraq and Palestine we are responsible for finding the personnel.
The next question is as to why there is 9,000 less personnel shown in this year's Estimates, while pay and allowances have increased. The answer is that last year we had to show the extra men who were called up during the dispute at the time of the coal strike. They were between 8,000 and 9,000 men, and that represents the difference in the figure, and why it is not asked for this year. As far as pay and allowances are concerned, it is the number of officers and men whom we are sending out to Iraq, and who come on to the foreign service rate of pay and allowances.
There has been one other point raised; that is, why it takes so many men to train a small number of recruits. The best answer I can give now, without hav- 414 ing more time to go into it, is, as I said earlier, the immense variety of the trades that have to be taught. I admit that on the face of it, and as the question is put to me, it would look as though that answer of mine were insufficient. I will ascertain whether it is sufficient, but on the face of it I would remind hon. Members that the variety of trades which have to be taught undoubtedly increases the number of instructors to pupils out of all proportion to any other Service. If I find on reference that this is an incomplete answer, I will provide another on a suitable occasion.
I hope it does not mean that the morals of the force have deteriorated, but there must also here be some very simple explanation as to that, and at Question Time I will supply my hon. Friend with a reply. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) gave me an opportunity to raise a point about which we are Very anxious indeed, and on which there should be no misunderstanding. It is whether or not there is a prospect of a career for any young officer who joins the Service, and I wish again to emphasise that we have three forms of officers' service—permanent commission, short-service commission, and now the N.C.O. pilots scheme. We give no more permanent commissions than we can guarantee, and out of the 3,000 commissions which have been given the number of permanent officers will never exceed the number of careers that are possible to every member of the Force from the day he joins to the day he comes out of the Force. They have every chance that the subaltern who joins the Army has of becoming a General. I hope the Committee will assist me in making this quite clear outside the House wherever it is mentioned. The short service commission is on a different basis, and not having been asked about it this evening, I will not refer to it again now.
As regards co-ordination, I am anxious that hon. Members representing the Navy should be satisfied that, as far as the Air Ministry is concerned, there is a determination on our part to throw our heart into co-ordination with that great Service, and to do our utmost to make it 415 a success. My Noble Friend the Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) asked some questions which, equally, I am bound to ask for a little time to ascertain the details about. For instance, there is the laundry question. It is very hard for me to say exactly who it is that spends this money on laundry, but there are other points with which I will deal. There was the question of Ascot, which my Noble Friend could not find in the Estimates. Ascot is a packing station where machines are packed for sending abroad. If my Noble Friend can report to me that the station is in a condition of neglect, or that anything is out of order, I shall be grateful to him, and shall make it a special duty to look into it.
§ 12 M.
That is a matter I will have looked into. I am asked a question of greater importance on Vote IV. It is that while there is a saving of £1,000,000 on this Vote there is a complaint that we are spending too much, and that economies could be effected by transferring to some of the now-disused premises of the Army and Navy. You cannot move an Air Force station as easily as you could move, say, a regiment quartered in one town or another. The same sort of accommodation may suit both, but you cannot move an air training unit from a place where you have aerodrome equipment and a workshop to an empty barracks evacuated by the Army or Navy, because you cannot carry on the flying training and produce the efficient unit you wish to have. Such opportunities are very much restricted. I was asked about sick quarters at several places, and why it was that we did not use the naval hospitals. I could not answer that off-hand, but I suggest that on the Navy Estimates the same question might have been asked. It might have been asked, Why the Navy did not make use of the unused sick quarters of the Air Force in the same place? That, again, is one of the subjects in connection with which we must consider how best we can accommodate all our services in given areas, so as to effect economies all round. I was asked why the Estimates for the Air Ministry were not ready in time for the Navy Debate. 416 I think the Committee appreciates that it has been extremely difficult, this year, to get the Estimates ready in time. The Geddes Committee's Report and the Government decision upon it, kept us hung up, week after week, until almost the last moment. I am glad to say that the Air Ministry by a terrific effort have been able to produce the Estimates, almost in complete detail. I hope this state of financial panic and the difficulties attaching to it will not occur again.
I now come to the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who moved a reduction, and also by the hon. and gallant Member for East Newcastle (Major Barnes) who, I take it, feels the same way. Both have proceeded on the strict line of dividing the black sheep from the white, in regard to economy. The 20 per cent. economy obtained in response to the Treasury circular is a fact. Nobody will doubt it, as far as the Air Ministry is concerned. This 20 per cent. economy was effected in July last and must be carried to whatever further economies we have been able to obtain. I only take half as due to actual economics; the other half is due to the fall in prices, but this 20 per cent. saving was effected in July on the Estimates for the year. I must refer to the further economies we have been able to obtain. Member for East Newcastle has more definitely queried. There is an economy of £6,000,000 apart from appropriations-in-aid. It is in fact, £6,500,000, but £500,000 I do not claim, as it is a reduction in War liabilities. The £6,000,000 is a net saving. The normal appropriations-in-aid, and the Middle East appropriations-in-aid, I have deducted from both sides of the account. I explained this very carefully in my statement so as to give the figures plainly in order that there should be no doubt, or no suggestion that there was any juggling with figures.
A question was raised in reference to the saving on equipment and warlike stores. That is attributable to two causes, the first of which is the fact that to some extent we have been living on stock. That is not a businesslike method of handling a business concern in normal times, but as we have been faced with a request for economy, more particularly in the next two years, we have had to show that we are prepared to risk a 417 moderate depreciation of oar stock if by so doing we can obtain economy over the next critical period.
The other cause to which some of this economy is attributable is the fall in prices. The last question asked me came from my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland). I did not, for an instant, mean him to think that I was seeing this document for the first time. I was only anxious to make quite certain that he had gone to no other page except page 1. On page 1 he will see that the first line gives the figure of £10,895,000 as being our net Estimate, after taking appropriations-in-aid. I said the Estimate came under £10,000,000 net for expenditure on air matters, and that figure, as I think the Committee will agree, is reasonably and properly obtained by deducting the war liabilities, for which we are not responsible this year, amounting to £959,000, which leaves a net Estimate of just under £10,000,000. I hope I have succeeded in answering the main questions addressed to me and any which have been left unanswered will be dealt with if brought to my notice.
Without having had opportunity to correct myself, I am of opinion that this is purely following the procedure adopted in the Army; it is the insurance of the troops against accidents.
I must confess that I am not in a position to answer that without obtaining further information on the point.
§ Major ENTWISTLE
I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend is going to divide the Committee on this Amendment, but- if he does I think it is as well that I should say a word or two as to why I intend to vote for the Amendment. I shall do so partly on the ground that the Geddes Committee has recommended a reduction amounting to more than the reduction which my hon. and gallant Friend has himself moved. The Geddes Committee recommends a reduction in the squadrons of 8½, and I under- 418 stand the Government is only adopting the recommendation to the extent of two squadrons. The difference in the number of the squadrons, so far as the personnel are concerned, will come to far more, I understand, than the 1,000 men, which is the reduction moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. The right hon. Gentleman has gone with great detail into the various questions which have been put to him, but he has not dealt with this big, broad question, which after all is the main issue before us at the present moment, in view of the urgent necessity for economy. The Geddes Committee were business men who inquired carefully into this thing, and I am sure they would, not have made these recommendations without paying due regard to the necessities of the Service and the security of this country. A great many of these men are accounted for by the men who are kept at Constantinople and in Iraq, where we think they ought not to be. The keeping of this large personnel is not the thing which will give us the security that we need in the future. We are not going to have a war for 10 years, according to the Cabinet themselves, but when we do have that war the personnel and the machinery which we have to-day will not be of the slightest use.
What we want is to concentrate our expenditure on experiment, research, and science, but instead of doing that the Ministry are reducing that service by £320,000 and keeping on a lot of personnel who will not be of the slightest use to us in a future war, if it is to take place, as a great many Members opposite seem to think it must take place. Therefore the one item of reduction which we can safely embark upon is this reduction in the personnel which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. The Geddes Committee recommends reductions of £5,600,000, and the Government is only adopting that to the extent of £2,500,000, which is a much smaller proportionate reduction than in the case of either the Army or the Navy, and I think we have not had an adequate explanation of that small reduction. The direction in which our future security can be assured lies along the lines of experiment and research, and also in the encouragement of civil aviation. This keeping on of a large personnel in the permanent Air Force is one which will not help us at all in a 419 future war, and it is merely because the men who have vested interests in I this thing cannot see their way to making these large reductions. I am quite; certain that the reduction which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend in no way jeopardises the future