HC Deb 14 March 1923 vol 161 cc1621-41

I have taken up a great deal of the time of the House and I apologise for doing so, but before I conclude I wish to say a few sentences on the question of airships. The House will remember the history of airships since the War. In 1920 the Admiralty, in correspondence with the Air Ministry, came to the conclusion that, in view of the financial stringency of the time, it. was not possible to go on with an airship policy. I am glad to say that the question is now being reopened and is at the present moment being considered by the Committee of Imperial Defence. The Admiralty are very rightly emphasising the great value which airships may have from the point of view of long distance naval reconnaisance. The Air Ministry also thinks that airships can be made available as troop carriers and possibly, in the future, as aircraft carriers. From the commercial point of view, it may well be that airships provide the best means at the moment of starting an Imperial air route. Obviously, when the Near East is in a disturbed condition, when Turkey, for instance, and Persia are in the state in which they now are, an airship that can cover great distances without landing has advantages over the aeroplane. On that account, my own view is that, at any rate for the time being, it may be easier to develop the Imperial air route by means of airships than by means of aeroplanes. Anyhow, the two methods need not be. contradictory. It may well be that in the future one will supplement the other, but meanwhile, as I say, I very much hope, although I have put nothing into this year's Estimates for airships, that during the course of the ensuing 12 months we may be able to develop an airship policy, whether it be by means of a commercial undertaking or whether it be by a policy of military research.

I think I have covered most of the important ground, both military and civil. The House has had great patience in listening to a very long speech, and I will end by asking hon. Members, if and when they come to criticise our air policy or our air administration, to remember the very great difficulties with which we have been faced. After all, it is only 20 years since flying became a serious enterprise. It is only five years since the Air Ministry came into being. Since then we have been faced with the task of building up a post-War air service and we have been faced with the task of cutting down our expenditure as a result of the Geddes recommendations, just at the moment when we wished to develop the Service. It is not for me, nor for any member of the Air Force, to say whether or not we have succeeded. I have to ask the House to judge by the facts, by what has happened and by what may happen if we are given a chance. I ask the House not to be continually anxious to dig up the roots of this new organisation. I would ask them not to look back with regret, as people sometimes do, on conditions which have ceased to exist. I ask them to remember that this is a young service, young in the age of its officers and young in the period of its own lifetime. If hon. Men hers keep these facts in mind, and, without prejudice, judge the Air Force on the record of the past and by the results of what it will achieve in the next few years, I believe that it will stand successfully the highest standard of criticism that can be applied to the older Services or to any of the great Departments of State.

Captain BENN

The Secretary of State for Air will, I am sure, excuse me if, before referring to the very interesting speech which he has made, 1 address some questions to the First Lord of the Admiralty who attends here as he promised to do when it was pointed out that this would be a good occasion on which to discuss the unity of the Air Service and the participation of the Admiralty in air matters. Although these questions will be courteous, it is as well to be perfectly plain, because there are those who think that in the course of the last two or three years there has been a steadily growing agitation—I do not say inspired by the Admiralty, but centring round the Admiralty—to disintegrate the Air Force, and many of those who remember the War and the lessons of the War are strongly opposed to any policy of the kind. First, I wish to ask the First Lord about the news which we have read in the papers concerning what is called the Burney airship scheme. Apparently some negotiations have been going on and, in fact, it was stated by the Civil Lord that. negotiations had been going on in connection with this scheme and that is, notwithstanding the fact that during the War and after the War, the Admiralty displayed very little interest in the air at all. I do not think that it will be denied by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs).

Commander BELLAIRS

They had not got a proper war service. We all recognised that.

Captain BENN

The past is relevant to the present. At the beginning of the War there were only five small airships. In March, 1915, the first "S.S." appeared, and at the Battle of Jutland there was one seaplane in the air, and in 1920 they decided they would not proceed with the provision of air material at all. That is the past history of the Admiralty in dealing with the question of the Air Service. Now they are inspired by a desire to be of some assistance and to have a naval air arm, whatever that may mean, and we saw in the "Times" only a couple of months ago that £250,000 is to be found from Admiralty money for the purpose of subsidising what is called the Burney airship scheme. The hon. and gallant Member whose name is associated with this scheme explained at the Air Conference that they went to the Admiralty because the Admiralty had plenty of money, and it was no use going to the Air Ministry because the Air Ministry had not got any money. That is an extraordinary explanation of the distribution of the work of defence between well defined Departments. However, the Admiralty, if this report is to be credited, apparently have £250,000 which they can spend on this service. Is the service in question intended to deal only with war situations? Surely the Admiralty is only concerned with the war side of the question. We know in the Report of the War Cabinet, which was printed as a document and circulated in 1917, the failure of the Zeppelins was recognised, and I take a more picturesque and emphatic description of their work from the late First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Winston Churchill, who says: Forty millions of money was squandered by successive Boards in building British Zeppelins, not one of which on any occasion ever rendered any effective fighting service. That is an extract from the much criticised book of the late First Lord of the Admiralty. If they are of no military value except to transport troops, and possibly as aeroplane carriers, services intimated by the Secretary of State, certainly they cannot become in their war capacity under Admiralty control, because these transportations of troops or quelling of disturbances will always be done in distant-lands, such as Iraq, for instance, where the Admiralty has no access with its ships whatever. If these airships are to be of use, they must be of use in a civilian capacity, and nobody has denied that there are possibilities of useful service for commercial purposes to he rendered by them, but if they are a purely civilian undertaking, what on earth has the Admiralty to do with it? They would have to use the same aerodromes as exist already to some extent, and the same supply depots for fuel, they would have to buy engines of more or less the same type as the aero-engine, and on the routes which they pursue there would have to be arranged radiating services to go with the long distance of the Zeppelin.

Supposing a Zeppelin goes 1,000 miles without stopping, you must have where it stops a radiating service which would bring the passengers or goods to that spot, and not only that, but between the two stations you must have a stopping train, the Zeppelin being the express. These stopping services and radiating services will have to be supplied by aeroplanes, and not airships at all, and so the plan apparently is that the Admiralty should subsidise a civilian airship, which would duplicate the work and have to work side by side with the Department of the Air Ministry which is concerned with a civil aviation route and supplying all aeroplanes, material, aerodromes, maps, charts, signals, and so on, for that route. If the House examines this in an impartial spirit, I am sure that nobody can say that this is Admiralty work. I express no opinion on the Burney scheme, but whatever merits it may have, it is not a piece of work which properly falls to the Admiralty Department to undertake.

I want now to pass to a word about this question of the unity of the Air Service. Two years ago the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Long, said quite clearly in the House: I want to make it perfectly clear, for there has been some misunderstanding, that there is no intention whatever on the part of the Admiralty to attempt to depart from the clear and definite policy laid down by the Government……namely, that the Air Ministry is to he an independent Department, and that we should look to them for developments of air policy in the future, for the best kind of air machine, the way in which the men have to be trained, and so on. Is that statement true to-day? Is it true to-day that the Admiralty accept the existing policy of the Government—that the Air Ministry should be in supreme and unified control of the whole of the Air Service? We all read in the statement of the First Lord a very surprising announcement. He said the Admiralty were training 140 officers and 1,000 men in anticipation of a decision of His Majesty's Government empowering the Admiralty to man with naval personnel the air arm of the Fleet. I do not think such an amazing statement has ever appeared in an official document before. This House allots money and defines duties to the various Departments and, for the First Lord to announce that he is keeping men in reserve for a purpose which has not been authorised, paying them all money which may not be authorised, anticipating a decision of the Government or of the Imperial Defence Committee which may never be made, and which I hope will, if made, never be ratified by this House, is a most amazing state of affairs. It is very interesting to observe that there are 1,000 men and 140 officers of the Navy suitable for manning the air arm of the Fleet. That is very interesting, because it is not two years since the Air Ministry asked the Admiralty if they could find 100 officers who were willing to come forward and volunteer for air work. When 100 were asked for by the Air Ministry, only nine volunteered, and, of those, two were unfit, while of the remaining seven, four were "axed" out in pursuance of the recommendations of the Geddes Committee, so that when you ask for 100 men to perform work which the House has approved there are only nine men, who melt away by being unfit or by being cleared out, but when it is a question of manning the air arm, whatever that may mean, in anticipation of a decision, there are 1,000 men and 140 officers who are to be placed in reserve for this purpose.

Commander BELLAIRS

Surely the hon. and gallant Member sees the difference between permanently leaving the Service and temporarily leaving it?

Captain BENN

I am coming to that. That is to say, you want sailors who do a little flying in their spare time. Hon. Members like the hon. Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) and others who have worked under the Admiralty—and I have, in a subordinate capacity—will know that that is the naval conception of flying. It is a little thing you do in your spare time; you are a good sailor, and if you have time you be-conk a good airman as well. As a matter of fact, the only basis of air power is for a man to be an airman the whole time, for his whole life and his whole career. I am going to attempt to justify that. What are the services that are to be rendered? Dealing merely with this claim that the naval arm should be amputated from the parent body, what are the services? They are air fighting, bombing, torpedoing, reconnaissances, and spotting. Spotting requires the closest liaisonbetween the man doing the spotting and the gunner firing at the back, but reconnaissance, bombing and fighting are pure air services, and the amount of connection that is necessary with a ship or the amount of the naval spirit that the men ought to have are of the very smallest. Moreover, if you did cut off the naval air service you would first of all cut off a great number of people serving in it from a general experience of air work, and thereby reduce the number of men who might be qualified to serve in an air staff college, and you would reduce the number of men available for a reserve of pilots, because a man's whole career is spent in flying in connection with the Fleet or in returning to his duties with the. Fleet, instead of a number of men being passed through, taught to fly, and forming in future a reserve of pilots.

I want now to say a word about the speech of the Secretary of State on the Air Estimates in general. He explained to us that we have no Air power standard at all. That was the gist, the summing-up, of the explanation that he gave. He gave the figures of what it would cost to. have a, one-Power Air standard. He did not mention a thing which I myself would have much liked to hear mentioned, namely, whet-her the Government was making any effort to extend the principles of the Washington Treaty to Air armaments. That is the really useful thing to do, to persuade the great Powers of the world to extend to this most dangerous and growing form of offence the same principles that they are prepared to extend to the obsolescent battleship. But if the Secretary of State says that there is no money for expanding the Air Service, I would direct his attention, and that of hon. Members, to the statement in the Geddes Committee Report to the effect that it was necessary to substitute the Air arm for the Navy and the Army in the performance of certain definite and specified duties; that is to say, that the Air should gradually supersede the Army and Navy in fields of endeavour where it could be appropriately employed. It is obvious that if this it to be done it will never be done with the goodwill either of the Admiralty or the War Office. It is not natural to expect it. No admiral would ever concede that some flying thing could do work better than some floating thing.

Commander BELLAIRS

Why not?

Captain BENN

I do not think it is to be expected—it is trying human nature too high—any more than any cavalry man would ever admit that an aeroplane does most of the work of the cavalry better, more effectively, and more cheaply. It is obvious that we must have a higher authority which can take all three Services and control and co-ordinate the work between them, and that seems to me to be essential if ever you are to get the substitution of more economical, scientific and advanced ways of working for the older Services. It is done in the case of Mesopotamia, where the Air Service has the supreme command, where the ground troops properly come under the control of the Air Marshal Commanding the Forces.

There are other functions, which have not been already allotted, which should be set aside as work definitely to be undertaken by the Air Service, as, for instance, the patrolling of trade routes and the repelling of invasion by sea. That is primarily a work that could be done by the Air Service. The enemy of the ship coming to this country is the submarine, and no one will deny that. the air scout, at some time or another, is far the most dangerous enemy of the submarine. I remember quite well that in the Mediterranean we had old trawlers, going about six knots, armed with one ridiculous little gun, firing a six or 12 pound shot, toiling away, quite unable to check what few submarines there were, whereas the whole Service might have been mapped out and watched by very few seaplanes, or flying boats, or lighter-than-air craft, a scheme which would have made the life of the submarine impossible in those waters. I saw an extract from a diary of a German submarine commander, and it was clear from that diary that the submarines lived in terror of the aircraft. They dared not come to the surface for fear they might be spotted and bombed. Therefore, I say that the patrolling of trade routes and the repelling of invasion by sea are work which should be laid on the Air Ministry. It must also be remembered that people have to get a long distance away from the nearest enemy aerodrome in the next war, otherwise its existence will be very precarious.

Farther than that, the Air Ministry's work—and I imagine this has already been allotted to it—is the repelling of invasion by air. That is entirely an Air Ministry task. Invasion by air must be met by finding and bombing the munition and other centres of the enemy, the aerodromes, and so on, not by waiting for the aeroplanes to come here. That brings me to another point, namely, that the Air Ministry, or the supreme commander of the Air Force, must have the whole of his material under his hand, and mobile. That is the supreme reason why we should not divide the Service, and get it. under the control of Admirals and Generals all over the place.

Captain Viscount CURZON

Would the lion. and gallant Member like to see the Air Ministry able to take away the whole of the Air arm of the Fleet?

Captain BENN

I am not going to answer what is obviously a military question, hut it. is quite clear that the Supreme Air Commander should be the man who is, in the last resort, in control of all things that fly everywhere. It may be absolutely necessary. I suppose, however, it is easy to be led away into making statements that cannot be justified by a particular instance. It is quite obvious that if you have your air carrier or aircraft with the Fleet he must come under the command of the Admiral of the Fleet for the time being. But what I am speaking about is the need for mobility and power in massing the individual, power to strike at the outbreak of war, and this does depend upon maintaining a unity of command.

6.0 P.M.

All this talk about splitting up the Air Force runs quite contrary to all the lessons which the War taught us. There is nothing new about the suggestion that you should split up the Air Force between the Army and the Navy. In 1912, when the air was first seriously considered from a military point of view, there was a Committee set up, presided over by General Seely. It is a very singular thing, but it never met after the outbreak of war. Then in 1916, when there had been keen competition for material and personnel between the conflictings arms of the Service, the Derby Committee went into the matter, and again there was the Curzon Air Board and the Cowdray Committee. These pointed out that unless you had unity of control in the Air Service things would go wrong. Finally, the various parties concerned were housed together, and under stress of the experiences of the War the Air Ministry was set up, there was an investigation, and the whole state of affairs was looked into. If the War taught us that it was necessary that the Air Force should be one, why should we in times of peace forget these lessons and proceed to dismember it on account of an agitation which is set on foot? Whether from the Admiralty or wherever else, the effect is the same.

The Air is now recognised as being our first line of defence. That involves a consideration of the element itself, the mechanism employed, and the mentality of those who use that mechanism. The airman should not depend for his career upon the Admiral or the General. He must be single-minded. His qualifications, ambitions, and goal should be one: his reward to serve his country in the air. He cannot have his prospects of advancement jeopardised by being under the control of another Service. Where a man's treasure is there will his heart be also. Just one other word—not at very great length—on civil aviation which is the real place of air supremacy. The Secretary of State spoke of the existence of his 52 squadrons. The Estimate is £17,000,000 or thereabouts, I suppose, the figure given to the House in another place last year. I think the Secretary of State did not lay sufficient emphasis upon civil aviation, even from the military point of view. It may be perfectly true to say that the kind of aircraft produced for civilian flying is not suitable for war use. That may be perfectly true, but it is not true to say that the pilot who is using it. day by day, and constantly flying his aircraft, is not an excellent pilot for war work, even if it is right to say that the type of machine he flies is not a suitable type for military purposes. That is not the question. The question is, have we the factories and the material which can produce in time of need—places regularly and properly designed? That is entirely a matter for the Air Ministry, and no amount of designing or ability will be useful unless you have the factory and the men and the potential output. Therefore, I say, that to consider civil aviation is not needed, though useful in any other case, seems not to the point, for it is a great source of strength even from the military standpoint.

In looking at these Estimates, although they are figures of last year, it is very disappointing to find that reductions are made in the civilian branches. There is a head of expenditure which concerns civil aviation. The Estimates of the aircraft factory, I know, have been rearranged. As I make out, both the director of civil aviation, the meteorological department and the civil aviation department have all suffered reductions. I note that on page 71 of the Estimate. It looks like a reduction of between £300,000 and £400,000. The result of our effort to stimulate civil aviation—I do not know that we have any recorded results as to research—are not very satisfactory. In 1920 there were 240 airworthy craft. In 1921 there were only 157, and in 1922 there were only 97. I do not know what the figure now is, but I imagine that it is much the same, or perhaps even lower. If you take the number of miles flown; we find that in the three years May, 1919, till March, 1922, which are the latest figures, that civil aircraft flew two million miles, one internally and one externally; while, on the other hand, if you look at France—I am only dealing with the civil, and not the military point of view—in 1921 there were 1,400,000, or roughly a million and a half miles flown. I saw a statement in the newspaper at Christmas with reference to civil aviation in France, and it stated that in 1922 9,000,000 miles were flown in France. I think the number of miles is a good test as to progress.

In America. in the report of which I am speaking—and it is now nearly a year old—in the six months specified the postal service machines flew 1,000,029 miles. The figures of our own civilian flying compare very unfavourably with these. After three years, as I make out, we are send- ing out about 300,000 air mails. In America, during the six months of which I have spoken, 25,000,000 letters were sent by air mail. Of course, the long distances there have to be taken into account, but I do not think there is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained. I think the problem is somehow to root the flying habit in the people of this country and make civil aviation flourish. It seems necessary to do it. We have tried subsidies. We gave £200,000 of the taxpayers money as against France's 43,000,000 francs of total expenditure. We are paying towards civil aviation this year £300,000 against a total French expenditure last year of 147,000,000 francs. I do not know whether these methods are the right methods, but the Secretary of State in his interesting speech told us that they are eliminating from this Vote all these subsidies. The right hon. Gentleman, however, outlined a very interesting scheme for unifying the subsidies to flying companies. By some such methods as this I am convinced you must proceed if you are to maintain security, and a real and permanent air supremacy.

This is not primarily a military problem at all. There are military problems in it, but they are all subsidiary—gunnery, bombing, and so on—these, so far as the air is concerned, are in an absolutely elementary stage. All these problems are not unimportant by any means, but the important problem is of getting a potential output of machines and of having a nation that really is used to the air. Air may be said to have been subdued, but not conquered, and the problems that have to be faced are not military problems; they are the problems of research and so on, problems that might be solved to the very great profit of civilian flying if we were to establish it and had the means to do it.

What are some of these problems Fuel, for instance, engines, and navigation. I put these three points in that way. I see that General Salmond at the Air Conference said that petrol was costing £25 a ton; crude oil was only £4 a ton. And supposing an engine is invented—and I believe we are in prospect of it—which uses crude oil, and we could pay for the oil £4 instead of £25, what an enormous difference it would make to the capacity for aviation! The engines, again, which use this fuel—I do not know whether they are, engines of high power-which are required—but I think General Branker said at the same conference that 350 horsepower was about the power required. As to navigation, can it really be said that we have many people, good pilots, who are really up in all sorts of weather? Clouds are bad enough. Fogs are worse. Even so, can we say that the military pilot has experience compared with the experience of the civilian pilot; that he has the amount of confidence that enables him to fly even through a fog—has the same amount of confidence as a man who makes the, lame journey every day? It is only by that constant flying, this hundreds and thousands of miles of flying, that you do develop the type of man not afraid of adverse and affrighting conditions of atmosphere.

Therefore, I say, that the real problem for the Air Ministry is how to teach the people of this country to regard the element, that is the air, as as much their element as the sea now is. In the old days it is not denied that the British Navy was founded upon the mercantile marine. We were driven to sea because we lived in an island. There was the "urge." .Unfortunately, there is no such "urge" as regards the air. The nations of the world. are in the same position. There is no special privilege to be enjoyed or special handicap to be avoided, whichever you like to call it. It is of this problem I am speaking, and not of it as it will stand two, three, or four years hence, but I wish to take the long view of this problem. I am convinced that the Air Minister who directed his attention to a solution, or a partial solution, of it might bring a blessing to the world, and certainly set up a source of great power to this country.

Major-General Sir F. SYKES

I am proud in speaking for the first time in this House to do so on the great question of national and Imperial defence. As I see it the problem of a sound defensive air system is insolubly linked up with those two other great groups of problems—international affairs and social reform. I start from the basis that, as we all know, this country does not want war. We would do almost anything to ensure peace. Our men and women in field, factory, and home won the War, and in winning it hoped that they were winning the end of war. We all, I think, feel intensely that the greatest gift to all classes and of all countries would be the elimination of war. If war cannot be eliminated root and branch, we hope that either by the League of Nations, or some other machinery, there may be a definite and general reduction of armaments. At all events, I think our Navy and Army Estimates have given a good lead in the direction of a definite reduction of armaments in this country. Personally, I think that the lead which the Navy has given is not too small, and I disagree with the First Lord of the Admiralty when he says that possibly next year it will not be so mach reduced. I hope it will, and I feel sure it will and must, be further reduced.

We are a practical nation. Apparently wars have not yet ceased, and it is obvious that we should still have, on the lowest possible minimum scale, a Navy, Army, and Air Force.

It, seems to me that the defence of our Empire is now even more complicated than hitherto. It is greatly complicated by the factor that we have to save every possible penny, and the difficult problem which the air presents. We cannot carry on our defence on the old methods of expenditure and organisation. We must remodel our system. Air development entails a radical rearrangement. In my view the safety of the, Empire now rests not upon one, of three Services—I think the words, "First line," are now out of date—but entirely upon the corporate cooperation of the three Services in one. Our primary requirements in the matter of defence are the laying down of a sane, safe, economieal, long-dated policy. This is the only way in which any department or business can operate economically and efficiently. That, is, it is a strategically based policy whirl, the three Services or, as I prefer to call it, the unified defensive Service most requires.

I am not one of those who think that the necessity for a Navy and an Army will shortly cease, but I do want to say that the air opens out a new phase, and a new sphere of operations in war. I think that the air will gradually play a preponderating rôle in the matter of defence, going far in peace to help in assisting to avoid conflict as much Ls to ensure victory when war comes. The Imperial Flying Services at the end of the War were the finest in the world. We now know that we no longer retain that lead, and I am quite sure the whole House will agree that at this juncture a misguided air policy would be almost a national disaster for the future. The question involves itself into obtaining some definite correlation on a co-operation, not competing, basis of the Navy, Army and the Air. First of all, we should have one policy. I think, secondly, there is great room for the correlation of the various Services within the three arms in order to secure greater economy and greater efficiency. I have never been able. to understand why in the different fighting departments there should be separate chaplains, doctors, clothing, pay, and supply services for each arm instead of there. being one service for the three. At present each Service says it must have its own. I realise the difficulties, especially the personal ones, bet I think the time has come to face them on practical business-like lines.

The question of Treasury control over the finances of the three Services to my mind is a matter also which requires readjusting. The logical conclusion, as I see it, of all this is that there should be unity of control for the three Services. I do not say that we can definitely and very soon set up that control, but I do think that there are many steps which should be steadily taken one by one, tried and developed. They should all tend in that direction. There is one point which requires very careful improvement before such a logical conclusion is arrived at, and that is that the senior staffs of the three Services want. a much greater degree of education in joint-Service work than they have at the present time. I am entirely against. working in water-tight compartments, whether it be in regard to education or any other service. Therefore, although I welcome the new Staff College which the Secretary of State has mentioned as just coming into being in regard to the Air Force, I think it is of greater importance that there should be a unified joint Staff College for the senior officers of the three Services.

There are three main factors in the air problem. First, long range, independent action and home defence. Secondly, there should be tactical units working with the Navy and the Army; and, thirdly, there should be overseas air communications and reserve force. I think that these three problems or factors in the problem should be very carefully weighed in their various ratios within the air itself and concurrently with the air problem as a whole being considered in regard to the Army and Navy. We all know that the first is of the greatest importance from the war point of view. We know that in the matter of the air, even more than in the matter of any other form of defence, attack is not. only the best but almost the only form of defence. And we shall certainly be in a very dangerous position if we do not develop and organise this Service on a really sound, scientific, concentrated and not dispersed basis.

The second point, about which there has been so much controversy, is that of the actual units with the Army and Navy, and, again, this requires consideration as a whole and not in detail. The Admiralty have a very strong case in this matter and almost the same might be said of the Army. As I understand it, the Admiralty think that reconnaissance machines are just as much a necessity to ships as their own look-outs, and that spotting, and torpedo carriers are as integral and necessary a part of the Fleet as destroyers. The Army also think that reconnaissance machines and observation for artillery machines are also a necessity for day in and day out work and that they must have them as an integral part of the Army. If the Navy claims are admitted the Army will have sooner or later to be met.

The Air arguments are also very strong. The Air argument is that the whole dominion of the air should come under their purview, that the old system of naval and military wings is retrograde, checks progress and only sets up competition, and also that a reversion to the old system would make abortive its true independent strategic action. As I see the question, I think we ought to concentrate, first of all, upon the necessity for the independent arm. If we could ensure sufficient strength of that we ought to give very sympathetic hearing to the Admiralty and War Office views on this matter. Again. I do not think that anyone should dogmatise on the subject, but the new Committee should be able to have the best possible opportunity of really studying the question as a whole and deciding the matter upon its merits. We must remember, however, that in this question the only way in which air attack can be met is by the air, and that to ensure the air having sufficient power to act in that way it requires every possible unit which it can lay its hands upon, of a suitable form, to carry out that work. Another point is that, long before the Navy or the Army can be ready to act in the event of war, the Air will be raining blows upon the opposing country, far beyond Army or Navy reach, so much so that it may be impossible for them to start operations at all. If the Air Force of one country is successful, the Kavy and Army functions will be very much reduced; but if it is unsuccessful, the Navy and Army will be much hampered in their operations. It is quite impossible to defend areas from the ground.

One danger is that if the Navy and the Army get their own tactical units there might be a desire in some quarters to dispense with the development of independent long-range air action, and there might be a tendency for that independent action to be reduced to very little or nothing. It is in regard to such independent action that we should concentrate primarily. There is a deep-rooted feeling on the part of the Air that the proposals of the other two Services are the thin end of the wedge to the assimilation of the balk of the Service Air activities, and their opinion is that this would be a very dangerous step to take from the point of view of Air progress and from the point of view of defence efficiency as a whole. But the whole of this question it will be quite possible. to deal with if it is taken up by the new Committee which is about to sit. One word of warning about this new Committee. In my opinion, it can only operate with real success if it is an independent and very strong Committee. We know that there are points to be dealt with, I hardly know quite the right word to use, but each Department. will naturally and obviously fight for its own hand, and unless the Committee is very strong it will be quite unable to cope with the real necessity of breaking down the barriers between the three Services and. bringing them together.

I should also like to mention the question of experiments, research and design, and also that of the commercial air fleet. I feel that experiments want very much more pushing than they get at present, much more energy to be put into them. There is a great deal which can be done in the experimental field—a great deal which is obviously waiting to be tackled. ft is very important that experiment and research, which is really the basis of all progress, should be tackled with a very strong hand. Then there is the question of the actual flying carried out. The only way that Air progress can be achieved is by flying, and with your experiments you want to carry out the greatest amount of practical useful flying. I should like to ask the Secretary of State a question on this point of practical flying. What is the number of officers who flew as pilots during the year ending 31st March, 1922, the average number of hours flown by the officers during that period, and also what is the percentage of those officers to the total numbers in the Air Force? I think any tendency not to push flying as much as possible must be guarded against very stringently. Again, in regard to the commercial aspect., the great value of commercial flying lies not only in the reserve powers of the industry, and in the experiments which it helps to foster, but also in the training, utility and experience of pilots and other personnel involved. That is a very real factor in the whole question. Numbers at present are obviously very small, but that is no reason why a small beginning should not be made at once. We heard from the First Lord of the Admiralty that he was already starting a naval base at Singapore. I hope the Air Minister will work in with that scheme, because it is not only from the air point of view of great. value to the Service, but also I think it will be of great value in assisting a commercial air route to Australia.

The First Lord also mentioned the visit of naval units to different parts of the world. If Singapore were established as a naval basis, it would do a great deal to help that. It is not possible, unfortunately, this year for the Dominions Prime Ministers to come over by air to the Imperial Conference; but I feel it is a matter of great urgency that we should try to set, our own home defence house in order and have a really sound workable scheme to put before them in order to obtain their mutual co-operation in an Imperial scheme when they arrive. If that is done, I hope that in a few years the Dominion Prime Ministers will be able to come very frequently to this country or our Prime Minister will be able to go to their country in order to confer with them on current questions of Imperial importance.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Amery)

I should like to congratulate very sincerely my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the. Hallam Division of Sheffield (Sir F. Sykes) on what was, not only a most interesting maiden speech, but something very much more— a valuable contribution to a vitally important subject. I rose to answer two questions addressed to me by the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Captain W. Benn), and I shall endeavour to answer them purely as questions of fact without going into the merits of the controversy, which would be far better dealt with by the authoritative consideration of the Committee which has been appointed. The first question was in regard to the Burney airship scheme. My hon. and gallant Friend is undoubtedly under a certain misapprehension, possibly due to things he may have seen in the Press or even to utterances of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Commander Burney). The Committee of Imperial Defence of the Cabinet set up a Sub-Committee to consider whether airships had any defence value. That Sub-Committee took the view, which was summarised very clearly by the Secretary of State, that they had a value in more than one direction. One was for carrying troops; another was to carry aeroplanes; the third, and the only one which affected the Admiralty, was that these big airships, owing to their great range and power to remain in the air for weeks, might be of great value in patrolling large open spaces of ocean. Having come to this conclusion, the Committee of Imperial Defence asked the Admiralty to put the more definite question whether such a service was worth paying for, and the Admiralty, coming to the conclusion that that form of reconnaissance might he of great value to the Admiralty in economising the work of its light cruisers, decided that it was well worth paying for. The further question as to who should pay for and who should control that service is, obviously, just one of those questions which can only be decided by the Committee which is investigating the relations of the three Services. I take it, it would not be of any real advantage to the House, therefore, to discuss it.

The second question which the hon. and gallant Member asked referred to the 1,000 men and 140 officers who have not been discharged from the Navy pending the decision on the question of the control of the personnel who are to do the air work with the fighting fleet. I must remind the House that that. personnel will have to be considerably enlarged during the coming year in view of the fact that three large aircraft carriers will then be completed. Consequently there will be a considerable expansion in that. service. In view of the fact that the late Cabinet had undertaken to appoint a Committee, whose decision might be expected either before the end of the financial year or very shortly after, it surely would have been the height of umwisdom and more than unwisdom, of cruelty, to dismiss large numbers of men from the naval service who might be wanted within a few weeks of the opening of the new financial year. More than that, it was not a question of economy, because the compensation required for that number of officers and men on dismissal would have amounted to something not far from £100,000. Therefore, without prejudicing in any way the decision either in favour of the Admiralty or of the Air Ministry, we came to the conclusion that the wisest course was to keep these men on for the few weeks—the comparatively short time which was likely to elapse before the actual decision was given.

Captain W. BENN

What are the men doing now'? Have they any duties? Did the Cabinet authorise their continuance on air duties?


Of course, this action was approved both by the Treasury and the Cabinet. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the reduction in the personnel of the Fleet has reached such a. point that if for a few weeks a certain number of extra men are spared to the Admiralty, there is plenty of work for them to do. They are not idle men kicking their heels about. The men who would actually be used for the air work are not necessarily the same men who would be discharged. and if the discharge is postponed for a short time, I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend there is no question of these thousand men kicking their heels waiting for work.