§ [REPORT, 14th March.]
§ Resolutions reported,
§ AIR ESTIMATES, 1923–24.
1. "That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 38,000 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, 1924.
2. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,508,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of His Majesty's Air Force at home and abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924.
3. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,799,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Works, Buildings, Repairs, and Lands of the Air Force, including Civilian Staff and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924.
4. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,351,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Quartering, Stores (except Technical), Supplies, and Transport of the Air Force, which wilt come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924.
5. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,870,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Technical and Warlike Stores of the Air Force (including Experimental and Research Services), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I should hardly have ventured to intervene for the first time in the Debates of this House on a question of such importance as that which we are about to discuss this afternoon, if I had not been assured of that generous indulgence which the House always extends to speakers in such circumstances. Let me say at once that I think it is impossible to regard without grave disquiet the position of inferiority to which our Air Forces have sunk in relation to those of other European Powers. It is not that I am apprehensive regarding the existing strategic situation—I am coming to that—but what 2610 I think is alarming is the slow awakening of public opinion, and of those who study strategic questions rather from the naval and military points of view, to the growing power of the air as a factor in war. After all, the fundamental strategical conception on which our power has been maintained in the past, and is now maintained, is that our shores can be rendered inviolable and our trade protected by the Navy. That is the protection of our merchants on the coasts of every country in the world, and the safety of our homes. That is the reason why the people of this country insist on the maintenance, and, in my opinion, rightly insist on the maintenance, of a one-power naval standard. But the development of aviation, I submit, has now reached a point when we have to consider whether air-power will not in the future neutralise, or even destroy, sea-power. Let us assume that a hostile aerial force obtains the mastery of the air. Consider some of the objectives—the seat of government, great centres of population, naval bases, oil fuel depots of the Navy, workshops— all of which lie at the mercy of a force which has attained ascendancy in the air. What then will it have profited the Navy to have held its air forces in reserve while the decisive air battle was being fought out elsewhere?
It may be objected that, in point of fact, no decision will be obtained in the air in the next war. I think those who take that line have not fully considered the rapid developments which have taken place, and are continuing to take place, in the range and power of the modern aeroplane. In 1914, London was safe from aeroplane attack. In 1918, we were planning, with every prospect of success, an attack on Berlin. In 1920 the Atlantic was flown, and I am confident that this year, or next year, aeroplanes will have encircled the globe. Therefore, I submit that in the next war there is no reason to suppose that we shall not be exposed to aerial attack from East of the Rhine or even East of the Vistula. Even with the comparatively small air force employed in the last War a local mastery in the air was attained in two campaigns, first of all in the Italian campaign, where, for some time, the Italians had a complete mastery over the Austrians in the air, and also in Palestine, where our airmen had a similar mastery over the Germans and Turks. 2611 Therefore, it has seriously to be considered what would happen if a hostile air force obtained the mastery of the air over these islands. What would be the objective, in the first place, of a hostile air force which believed itself to be stronger than our Air Force? I am quite sure that, on the expiry of the ultimatum, or the declaration of war, enemy aeroplanes would immediately cross their frontiers, and they might aim their first blow straight at the heart of their enemy's country. They might come straight to London, but, I am inclined to think, all principles of strategy would impel them to smash up our Air Force, and destroy the aerodromes and factories, on which they depend, so as to give it no chance to recover. If it were able to do that it would at once enjoy all the fruits of unchallengeable air power.
What would be the strategy of an inferior Air Force? Let me say at once that I have no faith in defence from the land. Let research go on, but, in the last War, I submit that it proved to be costly, and, with the exception, possibly, of some influence on the moral of the invading airmen, it was wholly ineffective. It may be contended that if we have a very email, highly-trained air force, with great superiority in technical equipment, it will be able to repeat the same sort of daring tactics by which Drake brought the Spanish Armada to confusion. That may be the best way of attacking a hostile air force greatly superior in numbers. On the other hand, it may be that counter attack will be the best form of defence. All these questions arc for the Air Staff, and not for this House, to consider. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), in his brilliant and suggestive speech—if he does not think it impertinent of me to say so—which he made on this subject the other day, said we must not wait for the invading aeroplanes. We should not have to wait very long. The moment war is declared, if we are involved, I am convinced that the enemy aeroplanes will be in the air over this country, and the beet we can hope is that our air force will be as quick off the mark as the enemy air force. But whatever strategy, or whatever tactics our air force may pursue, whatever may be their plan of operations in such circumstances, one thing is certain, that 2612 an inferior air force cannot shelter itself in canals or behind islands and minefields. A decision will be forced, if not in one battle, then in two, three, or successive battles.
Therefore, I think we have to consider, if we are to estimate the extent of the gravity of this peril, what objective will lie before an air power which has mastery in the air. I hope it has been considered that it will be very difficult in the next war to carry on the Government, to make London the headquarters of our fighting operations, and to carry on all the affairs of the administrative and supply Departments, if we are going to be subjected to a great aerial bombardment day after day, night after night. There are also our communications and munition factories. In the last War, it often happened that our factories had to bank-up their fires and stop work, and that will happen on an infinitely greater scale with a larger air force. Therefore I am inclined to believe that operations will be dominated, to an increasing extent both by land and sea, by air power. If this be correct, it follows that the establishment and maintenance of an independent air service is of vital consequence to this country. Only in that way can you get this problem considered by airmen, who have been trained in the air, who have extended their experience by fighting in the air, and in future years by men who have learned from those men who fought in the War. We require an aerial organisation capable of rapid expansion on foundations which will have to be laid, and we require an independent air force to meet the strategic needs of the Empire. Whether it be right or wrong that we should be in Iraq does not arise on this Debate, but, if we are there, I think the Air Minister has already proved that there is no better way of holding that country and maintaining our power there, and no more cheap or more efficient way, than by the Air Force.
Consequently it is of paramount importance that nothing should be done to weaken the Air Force, or to circumscribe the functions of the Air Staff. The control of such forces as will be assigned to the naval or military commanders will. of course, be absolute for the purpose of operations. The Secretary of State in his speech made it quite clear that the Air Staff would not attempt to controvert that principle. But the doctrine of air 2613 warfare must be expounded by men who have learned the business by fighting in the air, and promotion must be determined by efficiency in air work, not by efficiency in naval and military work, and not merely by seniority in the naval or military service. Research, design and supply must all be under the trained Air Staff. The unconscious tendency of naval and military officers must inevitably be to cramp the development of a service which threatens the supremacy of their own in their own element. You might as well entrust the development of tanks to cavalry officers. No longer are aeroplanes the handmaiden of the older Services. No longer can the Air Force be regarded as an ancillary Service. It must be managed by men who are resolved to make it a dominant factor in war, and it can only be developed by an independent Air Staff. I ventured just now to refer to design. I would like to stress that point. I think that, so long as we are in a position of inferiority in numbers, it is of supreme importance that we should give to our airmen the best possible technical advantages. The Secretary of State, in his introductory speech, stated that research was going on on certain lines. I, personally, would have preferred to see a larger proportion of the Appropriation devoted to research. But I hope the Secretary of State will be able to assure us that more is going on, perhaps, than he was able to explain to the House in public.
One of the characteristics which distinguishes air power from sea and land power, to which I wish to invite the attention of the House, is its capacity for rapid expansion. That is why we must lay the foundation well in the meantime, for—given the plant, pilots, mechanicians, draftsmen—it is a dangerously flexible weapon; we must be prepared, therefore, to expand at least as rapidly as any likely hostile Power. That means, of course, that civil aviation is the only possible foundation for such an expansion as I am suggesting. I know the difficulties are considerable. It is easy to make facile comparisons with what is done in Canada, or the United States, or in European countries, but they do not lead us anywhere. Here we are faced with the competition of a highly organised and, on the whole, a wonderful efficient system of transport. There is the Manchester to 2614 London service, which shows us what can be done, and it seems to me that much can be done by careful extension. I hope that, in every way they possibly can, the Air Ministry, seeing they cannot organise a service of this kind themselves, will encourage civil aviation. Why should we not have a service from London to Glasgow, from here to the Highlands of Scotland, and round the coast In all these ways there is every opportunity for civil aviation. As people take more to the air there are great opportunities which I hope will be encouraged to the utmost by the Government. In the meantime, the sporting side should not be neglected. On this ground I welcome the announcement that prizes are to be given for flying, for you are encouraging in that way men with a scientific mind, and men with a sporting kind of character, but with slender resources, who cannot afford to fly in the ordinary way. This will encourage them to take up the science of aviation.
The principal development, after all is said and done, and after all these ways have been explored, as they ought to be explored, "in order to get the nation into the air," as the hon. Gentleman said—it remains true that it is in the Imperial and European services that we have our best hopes of constituting this mercantile service in the air. On such a mercantile service the aviation industry would rely for its development: it would be a nursery for our aid pilots, draftsmen and mechanicians. Just as the fishermen round our coasts and the mercantile marine are the foundation of our sea power, so such a mercantile service in the air would be the foundation of our air power. There is a great future for civil aviation, but I am not going to discuss that now, except to say that it appears to mo that the Department ought, in view of all the circumstances, to give civil aviation all the encouragement in its power. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Report of the Hambling Committee with its valuable and instructive suggestions, and I hope that action will follow that Report. Civil aviation must be the bone and sinew of our aerial power just as the Royal Air Force, and its scientific establishments will be its eyes and brain.
While, however, expressing the view that there is urgent need without loss of time to lay well and truly the foundations 2615 of our security in the air, and that this need imposes upon this House the obligation to give full support to the Air Ministry and the Air Force, I would still like to say that I do not share the apprehension which has been expressed in certain quarters regarding the present strategical situation and present relative strength—I have been dealing with the future up till now—the present relative strength of the French Air Forces and our own. It has been suggested that we are being overshadowed by France, that she is building up a great Air Force with which to bully us into submission to her policy. Frankly, I think such talk is nonsense, and the idea of competition is foolish and dangerous. I am glad the Secretary of State has made it clear that he, on his part, will be no party to such a policy. We cannot, I submit, consent to remain indefinitely and permanently in a condition of inferiority to any Power, certainly not to any other European Power, in the air, but the French make it clear that their armaments at the present are designed to meet a particular international situation in Europe which they hope will find a solution in the near future, and which will give them that security to which they feel their stupendous exertions in the War entitle them.
France regards herself as the warden of the new Europe, the upholder of the Peace Treaty, and she is greatly concerned for her security, and for the security of her Allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia, who fought on the side of the Allies in the Great War. To my mind it is preposterous to think in the immediate future of an outbreak of hostilities between France and us. We are bound to France, not only by ties of sentiment, but also by ties of actual interest, and it seems to me that if we were to contemplate the possibility of hostilities between France and ourselves, the outlook would be so dark, not only for this country, but for Europe, that abstract discussion on military and aerial strategy would seem to be almost beside the point. But if such a catastrophe should happen and the Powers of Europe were ranged into two groups with France and ourselves on opposite sides, it must be remembered that France has no independent air service. Her air services would be allotted to the units of 2616 the Army, so many squadrons, or groups, to each corps or army in the field, and they would be watching the frontiers of France. The 2,000 aeroplanes of which mention has been made will not suddenly one morning appear over London. In the meantime the Navy—and I am talking again of the existing situation, which I think is altering—the Navy would not accept that passive rôle which was forced upon it by the circumstances of the late War.
Those who complain of French militarism should remember that to a Frenchman—conscious of no aggressive intention—it seems that the French army can be of very much less danger to this country and the interests of this country than the British Navy can be to the interest of France. From that standpoint it seems to a Frenchman even more absurd to believe that the French Army is a menace to British interests than that the British Navy is a menace to French interests. As I say, however, seeing we cannot contemplate the permanent maintenance of the present relative strength, the question then arises: is France more likely to reduce her air strength or we to increase ours? There are two factors making for reduction in French aircraft. Firstly, there is the work of the League of Nations which I hope will have the strong support of the Government. In September last a Mixed Guarantee Commission was appointed to consider the possibility of drafting an agreement whereby the frontiers of the European Powers would be for the future guaranteed and that some measure of disarmament would follow. I remember that proposal was accepted in principle by the French delegate and it was made quite clear that, if security could be assured to France, she would accept, at any rate, the principle of the proposed agreement. There is another factor that will make for reduction in the French Air Forces and in French armaments generally and that is the economical and financial situation. After all, the financial position in France has not yet been boldly faced. German Reparations, it is quite certain now, will provide no solution to the French Finance Minister's problem. Undoubtedly the French taxpayer, when he has been assured of security, will be no more willing than the British taxpayer to maintain and support unnecessary armaments. The French tax- 2617 payer will be insistent upon reduction of French armaments. One factor, obviously, making for an increase rather than a decrease in the French Air Force would be that we should enter into competition with them, for then the whole national pride of France would be ranged behind her Air Force which would become a symbol of prestige to France and, in my humble submission, we would never be able to catch them up. The Secretary of State spoke about it taking £17,000,000 to be where France would be in 1925. If we were to compete we should not find them there in 1925 any longer. They would have passed on. Such a policy would never be assented to by the people of this country. It would damage the relations and dissolve the ties between this country and France, would nullify the efforts of the League of Nations, and I am quite convinced it has very little support in this House. Great is the responsibility of the Secretary of State in deciding and in striking a balance between the strategic needs of this country in the air and the no less imperative demands of economy. Long and bitter will be the conflicts which await him in the Council Chamber of the Committee of Imperial Defence, where the representatives of the Air Ministry will encounter the prejudices antagonistic to the claims and aspirations of the Air Force and a majority of military and naval officers of high rank and great experience and prestige. I believe that be will receive the consistent and active support of this House and of public opinion in the country in his plans to avert that which of all war perils will be the swiftest in its approach and the most devastating in its effects. The instinct of the British people for peace and disarmament will not be satisfied unless the Government puts itself consistently behind the League of Nations initiative for peace and disarmament and strongly behind the action of the mutual guarantee sub-Commission. It is not in spite of this love for peace and disarmament, but because of it, that the British people have prospered in the past. Profound and living military truths may be illustrated from the earliest battles of recorded history. In resuming my seat with grateful appreciation of the patience with which the House has listened to me, I would like to invite its attention to that epoch-making battle, the 2618 Battle of Cressy, where the lightly-armed British bowmen met and vanquished the flower of the chivalry of Frence. Those French knights were armed cap-a-pie by the finest armourers of France and Spain as they struggled to charge through the Cressy marshes. The nations of Europe are engulfed to-day in a financial and economic morass. They are exhausted by their exertions in the War. Their cumbrous weapons are heavier than they can wield, except for a limited time, against an almost helpless foe. Their glittering armaments are less formidable to their enemies than they are to themselves. For my part, I believe that the path of wisdom is rather to build up and restore the health, strength, and vitality of the nation, and, while carefully watching the changing value of the air power factor in the strategical equation, to put our trust less in iron and steel than in the unconquerable spirit of the British people.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
We have all listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member, I do not, however, propose to follow him in his survey of European politics, or possible combination of Powers, because I think it will be better to discuss this matter from the point of view of the general organisation and the general policy to be pursued by this country in co-ordinating our fighting Services. The problem, it seems to me, is the consideration of how best we may move forward to an organisation which will be mainly aerial, without at any period having to reverse our organisation. That is the goal at which we want to aim. If we do that, we should look far ahead, for throe main reasons. Firstly, we have the careers of the officers to consider. Provision has to be made for their future careers. We do not want to take on a large number of men and officers, and then throw them out on the streets, more or less as we have had to throw them out, owing to the economies imposed upon us by the War. Secondly, we have to form a large General Staff. It takes many years to train officers and to form and develop the necessary Staff colleges for training. Thirdly, there is the necessity for saturating the minds of the senior officers with the air spirit, if that is what we conceive to be the fighting of the future. It is for those reasons that I think any organisation which is set up for the control of 2619 our fighting Services should be an organisation which should look many years ahead.
In regard to this matter, I should very strongly deprecate looking upon it merely as a squabble between two Services. This House is responsible to the country and to the taxpayer for the spending of their money in such a manner that it will give them the greatest efficiency possible. Any friction there may be existing between Departments should be removed as soon as possible, because with friction there must be loss of efficiency and loss of money.
In order to study this question I will, if the House will allow me, endeavour to start from the beginning, and in that connection I would take weapons as they have developed throughout history. We have heard this afternoon of the battle of Cressy. I would like to go further back than that—to the beginning of civilisation. How did we start? think the first weapons which a man had were his fists and his teeth. He did not get enough range with those. Then he had a stone dagger. Then he mounted that stone dagger on to a shaft of wood and made a spear—more range. Then he lightened it and made a javelin and threw it—more range. Then he lightened it still further and made a bow and arrow—more range. Then gunpowder was invented and we had the gun. In the War we had a gun with a range of 40 miles. To-day, I understand, France is building a gun (for what reason I cannot conceive) with a range of 70 miles, which could shell London from the coast of France. Now we have a further development of science, which is the aeroplane, which has increased the range to perhaps 500 miles. Since the invention of explosives the purpose of the machine has been to transfer from ourselves to the enemy a certain weight of explosives, and transfer it in such a manner that it may do the enemy the greatest possible damage. That damage used to be done by the gun, which, until the invention of the aeroplane, gave us the greatest range. Now we have the aeroplane, which, by utilising gravity, is able to do away with the gun, and has increased our range to 500 miles, and perhaps more.
2620 If we consider the whole question on that basis, the next thing we have to do is to consider the functions of the fighting Services, because they must, necessarily, use the weapons which science has invented, at any certain time. Therefore, until we have investigated what duties the fighting Services have to perform, we cannot consider how the organisation of those fighting Services should be conceived, in order to use the weapons which science has produced.
I will turn, first of all, to the Navy, because, until recently, that has been our first line of defence. One may say that the Navy has two main functions to perform. One is to secure the sea to our own vessels; the other is to deny the sea to the vessels of the enemy. Those are the Navy's only functions. It does not exist to fight the enemy on the battlefield. That is a supposition which is generally made, but it does not exist for that purpose. That is the military method by which it carries out its political object. The political object of the Navy is to maintain the seas. The military method by which it performs that function is, and has been, to fight the enemy battle fleet. I would stress this point, because I think it is of great importance in the consideration of the whole aerial question. If one takes that point a little further, one finds it is a fallacy to argue that, because we transport merchandise upon the water, it necessarily follows that our military method of protecting that merchandise, or destroying the merchandise of the enemy, should also travel upon the water. I am sorry the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here, because I venture to disagree with what he said in his speech, namely, that because the water would always support more weight than the air, therefore the military method was always connected with water. I do not think that follows. I submit, with all deference, that he was confusing the political object with the military method. If one agrees to that point, the vital question we have to consider is whether or not the aerial machines which we have to-day contain the possibility of development to such a degree that they may eventually be able to fulfil and carry out the political object for which the British Navy to-day exists, and which the British Navy performs by travelling upon the water. That seems to me the vital issue.
2621 I do not want to enter into any technical discussion, but I would say that the aeroplane to-day, as we know it, is comparatively useless for Imperial purposes, and war on an Imperial scale, as opposed to war between highly civilised and contiguous countries, because it is so limited in its range of action. Until it has a range sufficient for the great ocean trade routes, it can never, in my opinion, be anything but a more or less ancillary device in so far as naval purposes are concerned. Taking that situation, and investigating the position of the Departments to-day, we have the Admiralty responsible for the trade routes, but we have. I think, in prospect a combination of aerial machines, namely, the airship and the aeroplane, which would remove the defect from the aeroplane, and give to it that range of action which has so far militated against it being able to fulfil the political object. If that be so, and I assume it is so, or certainly will be so in the near future, we have this condition. We have a Department of State, the Ministry of Air, which is responsible for all aerial machines, but which is not responsible for the political object, namely, the defence of the trade routes. We have the Admiralty, a Department of State responsible for the defence of the trade routes, but not responsible for, and not concerned with, the development of aerial machines which are to operate upon those routes. That, no doubt, is the reason for the clash between the two Departments. The hon. and gallant Member for Rochester (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said that this question was a hardy annual. To my mind, it will remain a hardy annual, because inherently the organisation does not agree with the capabilities and the possibilities of the weapons controlled by these Departments, and it is to the removal of that to which I would respectfully suggest we should turn our attention.
The solution is difficult, unless one comes to a complete combination, from a staff point of view and from an operational point of view, of those Departments which control the activities of mechanical appliances which can operate at great distances, whether those mechanical appliances are aircraft or whether they are watercraft. That would mean, to my mind, a combination of the Admiralty and the Air Ministry in so far as staff work is concerned. It may be the inauguration 2622 of the Ministry of Defence, which may eventually be brought into being.
There is one point which has been made which I should like to take up, that is that you cannot combine two Departments, or two sets of officers and men, with such different conditions of service as those which exist in the air and those which exist in the water. The right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) made a very interesting speech on those lines during the last Debate. The argument he put forward. if he will allow me to say so, is just as good as saying that no man can be a sailor unless he is born with webbed feet If one investigates the actual facts in regard to the air—and here I think the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) will probably disagree with me—one finds that it does not take at all long to become a first-class pilot. If we investigate the actual facts, and not suppositions, we find they are these. The four foremost pilots during the War who brought down the most machines were men who had never had more than six months' training. I have taken the trouble to get out the careers of Major Bishop, Major McCudden, and other officers who were the foremost officers. One officer brought down 57 German machines, and the other officer brought down 47 machines. Major Bishop was four months an observer, and under six months in training. Major McCudden had two hours' instruction before learning to fly; he was under six months in training when he brought down a machine. It does seem to me that when we get these facts it is rather absurd to say that you cannot make a pilot, a flying officer, or an observer unless he is born with wings.
I would like to refer to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes). He made a point which is very important, namely, that what we have to consider are two main arguments: one is the necessity for an independent air striking force, and everybody recognises we do want such a force, and the other is the necessity for co-ordination with the other fighting Services of their tactical units. If one could settle the difficulties between the Services, by giving to each their tactical units, the whole question, to my mind, 2623 would be relatively simple, but I do not think we can settle on these lines, and I do not think any final settlement could be arrived at by merely transferring to the existing Services the control of their tactical units. The question goes deeper.
I would revert to the question of the range of the gun, which we were discussing before. Let me take a case. Take the case of an aircraft carrier under naval command. It is possible now to increase the range of its guns from 15 miles to 400 miles, which is the range of the seaplanes that carry them. We can have no question of a three-mile limit here. Therefore, the aircraft carrier could carry out the operation of bombing a town or a railway centre, or anything else 400 miles inland. If that were done under the existing organisation, we should be told that was an operation immediately for the independent air arm to carry out. Therefore, as the range and power of the aircraft increases, it must also increase the overlapping of your Services if you have them organised separately. Supposing we do not get any formal amalgamation; what is going to happen? The determining factor must of course be the range of your aircraft, and therefore first of all the narrow seas will be mostly controlled by your Air Department. Your range will increase as each year passes, and what is to happen then? I would ask the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air to visualise the serious controversy in which they would be engaged to determine at what limit their respective responsibilities ceased. I do not see how a system of that character can possibly go on.
Eventually, as the range of your aircraft increased, your Fleet would be operated further and further from your coast so far as your air functions were concerned, and accordingly you would have continual difficulty between your naval and air staff. If that is the final stage, what is the intermediate stage to be? The staff work would be a little breathless, because supposing an operation had to be carried out from the air, I presume the Air Ministry would have its own aircraft carriers and an air officer would be in command of the fleet, and if it were a naval operation it would be under the control of an Admiral. The Admiral and the Air Officer would be dancing to an aerial tune wirelessed from "White- 2624 hall." If the ultimate development is to be an aerial future, it appears to me that what we want is to have such an organisation that the vested interests of the old Services will be not inimicable to the growth of your aerial weapons, but will help them. You have to give them an interest and a future, because if you are to take a small Department—a Department which has to fight for its existence against the vested interests of the older Services—if you are to have a type of organisation which must entail continual controversy as to the duties these Departments must perform, a great deal of effort and time will be wasted. Whereas, if a type of organisation could be achieved which would allow the three Services to co-ordinate and work together, so that it did not matter how much was transferred to aerial control, then I think you would get the efficient service which would work towards the common goal, with the careers of officers and men provided for, and with its own staff work provided for. I would like to see the Secretary of State for Air and the First Sea Lord the political counterparts of the Siamese twins, rather than the political counterparts of the Kilkenny cats.
§ Mr. TURNER
I am not interested in the technical points which have been so fully dealt with, nor do I desire to deal with this question from the hardy annual point of view; neither am I concerned for the moment with careers for officers. I am wondering where the Washington Convention comes in in connection with the Air Service. I was attracted first of all in the dark days gone by with proposals that came to us indicating 14 points towards peace. Then I was further attracted by the declaration made at the Washington Conference on disarmament of naval, military, and air forces, and I am becoming shocked somewhat by the talk of returning now to the days of brabarism, and the proposals now being made to establish air forces that are going to decimate populations and towns, and to undo any progress there was towards civilisation. I am one of those simple-minded men who believe that force is an evil, and therefore I am starting on the assumption that this development of the Air Force shows a lack of attention to disarmament. Force never civilised anybody; wars have never civilised any nation; and it does seem to 2625 me that in the talk that is taking place all over the world, not only in our own country, that we have forgotten many of the evils of the late War.
When the first bombing raid took place, when the Germans in their wickedness came across and bombarded our towns and our people, a shock went through the whole of the population who were not in the War. When civilians were being destroyed, when the bairns were being killed, when homes were being shattered we were fierce in our denunciations of the vileness and wickedness of the Germans. It seems to me that if bombing was wrong by Germany it is wrong at all times, whether it is done by ourselves or anybody else. I am sorry to find that there seems to be, despite all the talk about a League of Nations and about peace, no real talk about peace. This very House of Commons is infatuated with the desire to prepare a strong Air Force. What is that Force to do? It is bound to be for destruction. We were told in the old days that if you wanted to have peace you must prepare for War. That doctrine is now null and void, because if you prepare for peace by warlike methods you bring about war. I am one of those who believe that a good example is worth setting by any nation, and I therefore want to hear less talk about air forces and naval forces, and a good example set to make towards peace. A bad example is not worth following, and to my mind it is a bad example to develop aerial machinery of destruction. All this talk of preparation for the next war makes me shudder, and wonder whether the ancient doctrines have been forgotten and the wicked examples of warfare have been lost sight of. It would make the old statesmen of the middle of last century turn in their graves to think that we are spending scores of millions upon preparations for war. If Bright and Gladstone came back they would imagine, not that we had got on into the twentieth century, but that we had gone back into the seventeenth or eighteenth century.
I was reading just now a speech made by one of the members of the Ministry in this House, I think in February of last year, in which he declared that the next war, when it comes, will be a war of nation against nation, and a war of the most cruel and destructive character, in which women and children will suffer just 2626 as much as men. I remember the shudder that went through the nation when we were told that the Germans were bombing our women and children. Are we going to continue a policy of wickedness and violation of human life? It seems to me that the whole of the talk on our Air Estimates is based upon that wicked fallacy and that wicked idea. It is time that we had more talk about peace, and less talk about preparation for war. Life is a godly possession, and the destruction of life is an ungodly policy. I want to see the godly policy pursued by this House of Commons, the greatest and the best Parliament in the world, with the best traditions in the world. I want to see those things developed which make towards peace and not towards warfare. Working folks, of course, do not make war; they have never done that; and I wish sometimes that working folks would declare that they would take no part, in warfare on any account whatever. All wars have been failures. You can talk about the old Crusaders, about Cressy and other battles, about naval battles, and so on, but the wars themselves have not been successes as regards what they attempted to do. The enemy may have been beaten, but there has been no success. I would sing at any time, with the old conscript of France who, in 1847, sang that great song:If I were King of Franco, or, what's better, Pope of Rome,There'd be no fighting men abroad, nor weeping maids at home.All the world should be at peace, or, if Kings would show their might,Let those who make their quarrels be the only ones to fight.There would be no wars if that were followed out. I do not understand the blue-water school, nor the school of naval force; I do not understand the Army, nor do I understand the technique of the Air Force; but I do understand the moral principles of life, and to my mind the preparation should be, not towards armies of destruction, but towards the creation of motives of peace in general.
§ Captain BRASS
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). He told us that the Atlantic had been flown in 1920, and he seemed to think that, because the Atlantic happened to have been flown in 1920, we were going to have fights in the air now 2627 instead of fights on the sea and fights on the land. I think he is going a wee bit too far. I do not think there is any analogy between the position of the Navy and the Air Force to-day and that of the tanks and cavalry to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. After all, the Navy is one force and the Air Force is another force, but the tanks and cavalry are merely adjuncts of one particular force. I have listened to the Debates on the Air Estimates, and it seems to me that no one has up to the present explained the reason why the Navy want the present position changed. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut. -Colonel Moore-Brabazon)—I do not see him in his place at the moment, but I hope he will come back in a minute—said that this Debate was a hardy annual, and he referred to my Noble Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) as "the noble and reactionary lord." I do not know that he was quite accurate in that statement. I want to know why the Air Board was formed in 1916, and why the Air Ministry was formed in 1918. I think the Air Board and the Air Ministry were formed to avoid competition between the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service at that time, because at that time there was very considerable competition between those two Services. The machines used by both at that time were almost identical; they were machines which flew from the land and landed on the land. Things have changed very much since then, and it was only because the same kind of machine was used by the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service at that time, that it was necessary to have an Air Board or an Air Ministry. The hon. and gallant Member said that the Noble Lord was reactionary, because he always tried to get for the Navy its own Air Service. I contend that it is the hon. Members who oppose that who are reactionary, because they do not realise the difference that has come about since the Air Board was instituted.
Why is it that the Navy want control? They want control because they find that at the present time it is impossible for them to do anything as far as construction is concerned and as far as personnel is concerned. They have to ask the Air Ministry whether they may 2628 have certain officers or not. I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty to-day who pays for the Air Force which is attached to the Navy. The Navy have to ask the Air Ministry whether they can have certain machines or not, and that seems to me to be quite a wrong policy. Personally, I think the real solution of this problem, if there be a real solution, is in the end to have a Ministry of Defence over-riding all three Services. It seems to me to be absurd, as was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), that we should have separate chaplains' services, separate medical services, separate pay and separate clothing services. It would be very much better that there should be a Ministry of Defence over the whole of these other Services. We were told in the Debate last week by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) that the Air Force was our first line of defence. I am afraid I do not. agree with the hon. and gallant Member, except in so far as four or five nations in Europe are concerned. As regards France, or Germany, or Holland, or Belgium, I do agree that our first line of defence is the Air Force, but if you consider the other nations of the world, and try to think what we have a Navy for, I think it will be found that if, outside Europe, the Navy is to defend this country, keep open our trade routes and defend our Dominions, then the Navy, except for those few countries which are round this country, undoubtedly is our first line of defence. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith referred to the conditions which obtained in the Mediterranean Sea, and I should like to quote from his speech. He said: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 twelve-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.He went on to say:The submarines…. 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th March, 1923; cols. 1628 and 1.629, Vol. 169.]2629 I have no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member has been up over the sea and has tried to spot submarines from the sky, and, if he has, he will realise as well as I do that it is extremely difficult to see a submarine in choppy water, and to see it at any distance away. I have been up over the Mediterranean and have tried to find submarines, and I found that it was a very difficult thing to do. I contend that, if you are going to have aircraft coming from a land base and going over the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in all sorts of weather, and are going to do away with the Fleet, it will be found extremely difficult to spot submarines and keep our trade routes open by aircraft instead of by the Navy.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to ask him a question? He will admit, I assume, that it is far easier, even in those circumstances, to spot a submarine, and especially a submarine on the surface, from the air than it would be from the deck of a trawler or other small ship?
§ Captain BRASS
Yes, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member, but I think the trawler would be able to stay out in very much rougher weather, and would be able to remain out very much longer, looking for submarines, than would be possible, in present circumstances, for aircraft. I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member is going a little too fast. I agree with him that in the end, probably, we shall have practically the whole of the fighting forces of this country in the air, but I think we want to go a little slower and go step by step and try to organise our fighting forces so that we have the most efficient force we can possibly get together to combat any other force which is likely to come up against us in the future. If we concede, and I think we should concede, that except for a few countries round this island our Navy is undoubtedly our first line of defence for our Dominions and other places, we ought to look into the question whether the Navy, being deprived of control of its air arm as it is at present, is going to be less efficient for that reason than if it had complete control of that arm. Why does the Navy want an air force at all? Obviously they want it for spotting purposes, for reconnaissance purposes, for torpedoing, and so on. But the chief object they 2630 want their Air Force for is for observation purposes.
Undoubtedly the Air Force represents what are termed the eyes of the Navy. Should the eyes of the Navy be under a different control? Should the eyes of the Navy, the people who go up in aeroplanes and seaplanes attached to the Navy, be under the control of another Service? It seems to me to be the wrong thing to do. The Air Ministry at present are able to take away from the Navy the observers and pilots of the seaplanes or aeroplanes which really are part of the Navy at present. At the same time they may control the construction of aircraft. The construction of aircraft is a very big problem. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Admiralty desire a flying boat, which may possibly in the future be able to fold its wings and dive into the sea and may become a sort of submarine. It may be possible in the future. One does not know. Is that boat going to be under the control of the Admiralty or of the Air Ministry? It seems to me it ought naturally to be under the control of the Navy itself, because it would undoubtedly he part of the Fleet.
Another point which has been raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) is the question of airships. In the future we may have airships which take the place of cruisers. The Admiralty may say they find it easier to observe from airships than from light cruisers. Are those air cruisers going to be part of the Navy or part of the Air Force? I contend they ought to be part of the Navy. I do not believe in this theory of floating in the air. I do not believe, because a thing happens to be floating in the air, therefore it must of necessity belong to another force. Look at the position of gun ranging. First of all you have the ordinary gun ranging, where you can stand on the ground. You have gun ranging with the Admiralty where they go into the turret of a ship because they get a little higher up and can see a little further. The officers who observe in the turrets of the ship are naval officers, and they observe as naval officers. You get them a little higher up. You put them into a balloon, and because the balloon happens to float in the air and to be tied down to the deck of the ship by a steel cable, you say the officer in that 2631 balloon no longer belongs to the Navy but is, perforce, an Air Force officer. You put him a little higher up in an aeroplane, and again, you say he is an Air Force officer. But he is doing exactly the same thing, whether he is in the turret of a ship or in a balloon or up in the air, when he is trying to observe for the gun ranging of the Fleet. It seems to me that is rather an absurd position. I was told the other day—I do not vouch for this—that if the Air Ministry wish to make an experiment with aircraft carriers they get the aircraft carriers from the Navy and may possibly go out for two or three weeks making experiments, landing on them and taking off from them, and when they come back the Navy debit the Air Force with the amount of oil that has been used in the experiments which have been taking place to try to make the Navy more efficient.
Another thing I was told, which I believe is perfectly correct, is that a seaplane when in the middle of the Channel had a forced landing. It was towed in by a destroyer. Obviously, a seaplane could not be attached to anything except the Navy, and the Air Ministry was sent in a bill for the oil used by the destroyer in pulling the seaplane back to port. That seems to me to be an absurd position of affairs, and no wonder you have very great difficulty between the Admiralty and the Air Force. It seems to me there is only one solution to this problem. I am not in the least anxious to do away with the Air Ministry. I think it has done a great deal of good and it should continue. But I think the machines which are used by Navy, machines which land on the water or land on or take off from aeroplane carriers, and those only, should be under the control of the Navy and should come under the Navy Estimates, so that the Navy should be able to say what it wants as far as its own particular machines are concerned, because the number of machines the Navy can want is very limited. It is limited by the Washington Conference, to a very large extent, because only 80,000 tons of aeroplane carriers are allowed by the Washington Conference, so it is impossible to have many more than four because they displace about 20,000 tons each. If you gave over to the Navy just the machines they 2632 use on the sea, that is those landing and going off carriers and landing on the sea, you might be able to solve this very difficult problem. I do not think the Navy ought to have a large number of land machines, with a large number of stations all over the world. That part undoubtedly belongs to the Air Force. But I think the Navy should have that very limited amount of aircraft given to it and should be allowed to have it under its own control. If we had good will on the part of the officers of the Air Force and of the Navy the problem, a very difficult one, which concerns the efficiency of our fighting forces, might be solved.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Secretary of State for Air, when he introduced the Estimates, performed a public service in telling us exactly what our air strength was in regard to neighbouring Powers. There is nothing so hateful as to talk of the possibility of future wars after the awful tragedy of the past few years. But here we are, spending enormous sums of money, and it is essential that we should see that the taxpayer is getting value in defensive power for the money he spends. To-day someone ought to be sacked. There is no doubt about that. We are spending scores of millions on defence. The sum to be expended this year is much less than it was last year, and last year was much less than the year before, but I should hesitate to say how many almost hundreds of millions have been spent during the last four years, and yet this city, which is the heart of the Empire, is vulnerable to the attack of a neighbouring Power. I do not say for a moment that France would attack us. I should deprecate very much any policy which would be in the slightest degree inimical to France. I think a peaceful atmosphere between France and ourselves is necessary for the peace of the world and for the benefit of civilisation. I am, however, an Englishman, and do not wish to live on the sufferance of any of my neighbours. When we are spending such enormous sums of money we have a right to ask that the heart of the Empire should be adequately protected.
A very able maiden speech was made just now by the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), and he said—I am sure he did not say it truly— that supposing such an inconceivable thing happened as that war took place between Britain and France, the seat of 2633 Government would have to be removed from London somewhere out of the range of aircraft. The Air Minister told us that on a peace basis the French have 1,260 machines and Britain has 371, and for home defence purposes we have five squadrons—I fighting squadron and 4 bombing squadrons—whereas the French have 32 fighting squadrons and 32 bombing squadrons. There are employed in the Air industry in France 9,250 men, and in Britain 2,500. There were built last year in this very vital industry 3,300 machines in France, and only 200 in Britain. Something is wrong when we are spending £128,000,000 a year on defence and we have neglected this vital arm. Someone ought to be sacked. I am certain we are not getting value for our money.
On 8th February Admiral Mark Kerr said the Government had just spent millions on two battleships which in all probability would never come into action. Ten millions of that money would have made Britain safe in the air. The First Lord of the Admiralty compares our Fleet with that of America, America is 3,000 miles away, and war between us and America is unthinkable. We must look nearer home. We are surrounded by the sea, but the characteristics of an island completely disappeared in the last War. I ask the Government that this new Committee which is to be appointed to co-ordinate these Services should get to work at once, and that it should be a strong; Committee, because it has to take the Departments by the scruff of the neck and knock their heads together. Someone said just now there were vested interests. There are very great vested interests, and not only in the way my hon. Friend meant. The dockyards are a very serious matter. You cannot throw these men at once out of work. You must have a policy. You must have a co-ordinating policy. To let each Department go spending wildly in any part of the world upon any arm that it likes is madness. There must be coordination. I cannot understand why the Committee was not appointed long ago. The hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) dealt with that subject last week. He knows something about the air. He is one of the very few hon. Members who has had practical experience. We shall have to deal with that ancient unit the naval officer, who wants 2634 to keep the capital ship in order that he may walk up and down the quarter deck. The hansom cab had to go, and the taxi cab has taken its place. The Navy cannot protect London against an aerial enemy. That will have to be the duty of the Air Force. I do strongly protest, and I shall protest as long as I have a seat in this House, that we are spending £50,000,000 a year more than we did before the War in defence, and yet we leave London, the heart of the Empire, vulnerable to invasion.
Now I turn to a matter which interests me very much, and that is our policy in regard to the Air Force in Mesopotamia. I do not know really who is controlling the Air Force there, but we are committing all the faults that were committed during the War. During the War we sent our troops everywhere that it was possible to send them. If there was any God-forsaken place, there the British troops were sent. This scatter-brain policy and scatter-brain strategy has given us 34 air squadrons. Out of those 34 air squadrons, 18 are in Egypt and Mesopotamia, 6 in India, 4 are with the Navy, I with the Army and 5 are left for home defence. With respect to the squadrons in Mesopotamia, the Air Minister replied to a question the other day about the camp near Bagdad. We have spent nearly £1,000,000 in establishing an Air Force camp there, and there is something like £320,000 more to be spent. Does the Air Minister mean to go on with that? Do let us have a little sense of proportion. Are we to spend £1,300,000 on an Air Force camp at Hinaidi, five miles from Bagdad and hundreds of thousands of pounds in establishing other Air Force camps all over Mesopotamia? The right hon. Gentleman said that one of the items in connection with the Air Force camp was a hospital.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I should like to know from the Secretary of State for Air whether there is an item on this Vote for this work?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. Hoare)
Vote A deals only with the personnel of the Air Force, but I understood from Mr. Speaker that he was prepared to allow a general debate on Vote A, I think, on the assumption that details which were raised upon Vote A would not be raised on the sub- 2635 sequent Votes. The camp comes in a subsequent Vote, and I suggest that you should allow the general debate to be taken now.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman has given me a complete answer to my question, and resolved any doubt in my mind, so that the right hon. Member for South Molton is in order.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The hospital to be erected will provide 600 beds for British and Indian personnel. What sort of a camp is it intended to have there? How many men is it intended to keep there? I know it is an extremely unhealthy place, but 600 beds means that this is to be a permanent institution. What about our evacuating Mesopotamia? That is a question which I hope my right hon. Friend will answer. I understand that all the military and air forces in Mesopotamia are under the Air Ministry. I was very much interested the other day to see a report of the hardships that our men arc suffering in being sent to Mosul. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is responsible, but I remember that the first intimation that we had of the terrible sufferings of our wounded troops on the journey from the Battle of Ctesiphon down the Tigris was contained in private letters from private soldiers to their homes. The authorities kept it very dark. Here is a private letter published in this morning's Press. It is from a man telling of the march of 100 miles the other day from Bagdad towards Mosul:Never shall I forget the march, from nine o'clock in the morning till after midnight, across country like a quagmire, a terrific wind blowing and rain and sleet beating down. The cold was awful. Miserable! I was never so miserable for some years.The letter goes on to say:Before saying more I must really comment on Churchill's scheme for large troop-carrying aeroplanes to rush troops up at any emergency. There are quite a number of them in the country, but how they were utilised in this present affair is a mystery to the average soldier. We all of us knew that none of them carried us up to Mosul, and none of us has yet met anyone who was carried up by them.He goes on to describe Mosul, the place where we are so ready to send our troops:All the population are extremely dirty and verminous. Seventy-five per cent. of the people are disease carriers.2636 If we can find a spot which is a disease area we send British troops there. That was done during the War. The right hon. Gentleman answered a question about the tax collector. There are 100,000 armed tribesmen in Mesopotamia and the taxes have to be collected from them. The Air Force is in charge and as the local police are quite incapable of dealing with these tribesmen, it has to be done by the Air Force. Are you going on with a policy under which in order to collect taxes bombs are dropped on innocent people? That is the only way, I suppose, you can do it. My right hon. Friend denies it, and I am sure it is repugnant to him. How are you going to do it otherwise? These men will not pay their taxes. How are you going to deal with them by your Air Force if you do not compel them? Why should the Air Force be put at the service of the civil authority as they are in Mesopotamia? I do not blame the Air Force officers in Mesopotamia. It is a horrible duty. My right hon. Friend and the Government could obviate it by taking the Air Force away. It is surely not the idea of British justice to kill and maim the innocent. I should have no hesitation whatever in bringing the Air Force away; but I realise that it may not be possible to do that for some time. I hope that we shall have the Committee set up in order to bring the whole forces together, and to ensure that the taxpayers' money is properly spent. I hope the Committee will be set up at once. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us the names of the Committee I Has it been appointed? It is a long time since it was announced.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone knows, but the Air Minister does not know. I have asked the Air Minister, and apparently he cannot give me the names. I press the point that the Committee should be a strong Committee, that it should be appointed at once, and that the taxpayers' money shall be spent to the best advantage for defensive purposes.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is very significant of the trend of public opinion that in the three Debates we have had on the fighting Services nearly every speaker has supported in some form or 2637 another a Ministry of Defence. Everybody seems to be persuaded that we have to reconcile the three Services and bring them together. That is a very significant change of opinion. This was first proposed by Lord Randolph Churchill on Lord Hartington's Committee in 1888. The right hon. Member for South Molton speaks of this Sub-Committee as a new Committee. We had it promised to us last year, and we must insist on a speedy decision, and against its being put off from year to year. The Committee of Imperial Defence is being used largely as a means of getting rid of opposition in the House, and not attaining results. I do hope that under the present Prime Minister we shall obtain results.
The right hon. Member who has just sat down has attacked the Estimates from the point of view of Mesopotamia. I want to attack them along the whole line, to some extent, because no other speaker has done so, and perhaps my doing so will draw an answer from the Secretary of State. In the first place, if we deduct the military expenditure in Mesopotamia which properly belongs to the Army, there is a total air expenditure for Great Britain of £17,689,000. I have added together the French Army Estimates for the year, the French Navy Estimates for the year, and the French Civil Estimates for the year, and I cannot make them more than £5,656,000, at the rate of exchange of the moment, or £6,303,150 at 70 francs to the £. We are, therefore, spending over three times as much as France on Air Estimates, and only getting one-quarter of the results, because we are told that France is four times as strong as we are in the air. The stock answer is that France has conscription.
But that does not account for the whole of this difference. There are three main causes. First there are the overhead expenses. If a private firm goes into business its object is to keep the overhead expenses as low as possible, but we have seen in connection with one or two Ministries—one was called the grandiose Ministry—that the object was to put up the overhead expenses. The overhead expenses are very great in the case of the Air Ministry. The hon. Member for Chatham spoke of the Admiralty as the biggest bureaucracy in the world. Had 2638 I been able to get into the Debate on a previous occasion I could have shown by a comparison between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry that the Admiralty costs less than double what the Air Ministry does, but the Admiralty administers four and a half times as many men. In addition to that it has much greater reserves. In addition to that it has a tremendous non-effective Vote of £7,899,000 as compared with £131,000 for the Air Ministry. That is a Vote you cannot get over. It is a legacy from the past. And with all that extra administration which the Admiralty has if the Admiralty is the greatest bureaucracy in the world, what are we to say of the Air Ministry when it costs so much? Then take recruiting, the expenses for the whole Navy, with three times the naval personnel, are the same. That is, £24,000. Why should it cost three times as much to get an airman as it does to get a sailor?
Then there is another cause. In the air personnel there is the exact opposite of what we were promised under a single Air Ministry. We get great duplication of personnel. In France, working with the army, a great deal of the duties of the groundmen is done by ordinary army service men. That is not the case with our personnel from the Air Ministry. In the navy those who go on board the aircraft carriers, in connection with French or American naval personnel, do not carry their own mechanics. The mechanics are there. We should not increase our mechanics in the least degree if we administered our naval air force. We would just train up some of the men who are there to deal with the air work. The result is that the personnel associated with the total French naval and military air force is almost exactly the same as the personnel associated with the British Air Force, although France has four times as many planes. The personnel to which we are working is 33,000 on these Estimates. The personnel for the French air force, army and navy is 33,516.
The third great cause of expenditure is that the Air Ministry seems to have gone in for a tremendous policy of bricks and mortar. Instead of putting expenditure into the air they have put it down into the ground. Take only one item. In the home station, Great Britain, for the school at Halton and for the married 2639 quarters we are spending no less than £2,147,000. I do not wonder that the Air Minister, in dealing with the works question, said, "I need not dwell on this part of our administration," and he passed to where they had scored conspicuous success, for they have scored success in Mesopotamia. I cannot find either in the Air Estimates for 1922 or 1923 anything about the Staff College at Andover. We know that there is a Staff College there, but I cannot find it either under the head of "Andover" or of "Staff College." These Estimates are not at all clear. You are bound to have your three Staff Colleges together, and yet you have deliberately gone away from the Army and had your Staff College created at Andover. You will have to scrap it. The Navy itself long ago recognised that as soon as expenditure allowed it has got to remove the Naval Staff College from Greenwich to Camberley, so as to be in intimate touch with the military staff.
While I am on the subject of administration let me also point out that the Navy is now spending less on staff work than the Air Ministry. The total expenditure on the air staff is £116,000, and on the naval staff £94,000. The duties which the Air Ministry has to meet in the way of staff work are not commensurate with what the Navy has to do, with all its vast responsibilities. The Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) fell foul of us who believe in a separate Air Force for the Navy. Ho said that we were guilty of insanity. I do not believe that my Noble Friend represents Oxford in that matter. When he issues his Papal bulls against us, he is excommunicating not merely individuals but whole communities, not merely the Navy, because the Navy are unanimous on the point, but he is excommunicating every other country in the world that has got an air force, because all these other countries have a separate air force for the navy and for the army. The United States, France, Japan, and Italy have separate air forces for the navy and for the army. I have here the Report of a Committee which was appointed by President Harding, representing civilians, the services, and the different Government departments. It was appointed in 1921, and reported very 2640 quickly on this important question, and here is what they say:Aviation is inseparable from the national defence. It is necessary to the success of both the army and the navy. Each should have complete control of the character and operations of its own air service.My Noble Friend says that that is insanity. We were constantly told that our present organisation, which differs from that of the whole world, is based on war experience, but the House must remember when we are told that, that we have got General Trenchard, as Chief of the Air Staff now, and the House was supplied with a memorandum by him, dated 19th November, 1919, with a covering note from Mr. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the Air, and in that memorandum General Trenchard expressly lays down that ultimately there may be a separate naval air force. He says:The principle to be kept in mind in forming the framework of the Air Service is that in future the main portion of it will consist of an Independent Force together with service personnel required in carrying out aeronautical research. In addition there will be a small part of it specially trained for work with the Navy, and a small part specially trained for work with the Army, these two small portions probably becoming, in the future, an arm of the older Services.That is the whole of our case. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Captain Brass) pointed out just now, the reason for the creation of an Air Ministry was that the Navy and Army were competing for material together, and the resources of the nation were not equal to it. At this moment the Navy, and I believe the Army, are willing that the Air Force shall continue to administer the supply of material. All we ask, and all that the Navy ever has asked, is that its requirements shall be maintained, that it shall be able to say what are its fighting requirements, and that those fighting requirements shall be attended to. If I did criticise the material supplies, I would say that the Air Ministry is not paying nearly enough attention to civil aviation, and is thereby starving the resources of the nation, so that we have only got about a quarter of the people employed in workshops on aircraft that France has at this moment. According to one estimate which I have seen published, even when the Navy works up to the 84 aeroplanes towards 2641 the end of the year, they will only have half the aeroplanes which the United States Navy possesses. In the critical part of our negotiations with Turkey last year, when hostilities might have occurred at any moment, the Navy on the spot was all right so far as floating capacity was concerned, but it had only six aeroplanes with it. That is the kind of thing that causes naval officers to be profoundly anxious as to the future.
The gravamen of our charge is not in connection with material. It is that the present Air Force as trained and organised will look for promotion and approval to the Air Ministry, and is not in full communion with the fleet. It has not got that which the fleet desires and which is necessary to true comradeship. For the winning of victories you want to get the most perfect team work on the fleet, and if you have another Navy in which the Air Force does belong to the Navy and looks for promotion to that Navy, that fleet will have a tremendous advantage on the day of battle. When hon. Members say that this proposal will wreck the Air Force may I point out that it is a very small proposal. The Navy at this moment is retaining 1,140 officers and men to take over the naval air craft, after they have been trained, in the event of the decision of the Cabinet going in their favour. But suppose that they amount to five per cent. of the Air Force. Five per cent. of 33,000 is only 1,650, and no one can pretend that the transfer of five per cent. of the Air Force is going to wreck the Air Force in any degree.
The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) last year spoke of the Air staff and said it was essential that they should have complete control so as to allow of concentration on one spot. As I listened to the Secretary of State for Air I heard him urge and reiterate that the great problem was one of air defence. So that is the spot we are to concentrate on. If, like the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he is extremely alarmed at the possibility of London being attacked and that the great problem is one of air defence it seems to me almost an echo of the old invasion scare of the past transferred to regions that Cæsar never knew. We know what can be done in the direction of invasion scares. It only wants some telling phrase such as Peel and Palmerston passed into the currency of 2642 our thoughts when they invented that mischievous phrase, "Steam has bridged the Channel." We may hear some such phrase as "Airmen have bridged the sea." But what is there to show that there is any danger of invasion, as we understand invasion? The Secretary of State for Air referred to Mesopotamia, and said that in Mesopotamia they had transferred 300 men and two machine guns by aeroplanes. But if you multiply that five times or ten times it does not constitute an invasion. It constitutes something that can be taken care of by proper arrangements. It does constitute a raid, and a dangerous raid, when they bring bombs to bomb our workshops and break down the moral of our people, but it does not constitute an invasion such as the Navy takes care of, by which vast bodies of troops are transferred by sea. That danger does not arise.
I am very glad that we have not heard on this occasion anything about the capital ship. On previous occasions we were told that the capital ship was dead. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) went so far last year as to say that the American experiment showed that a battleship could be mined by a mine dropped from an aeroplane, though the mine missed the ship by 200 yards. If he calls the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) a reactionary, he was certainly a very progressive Member when he said that because I doubt very much whether the biggest mine that could be carried by an aeroplane would vitally injure a battleship at 15 yards. It is a matter of experiment how much it would endanger a battleship at 10 yards. At 200 yards it would not hurt a battleship in the least degree. If, instead of taking his records of the American experiments from the Hearst newspapers, he had read General Pershing's report—he was put there to eliminate the bias of profession—he would know that General Pershing's report practically summed up against the aeroplane. It said that very few bombs hit, and that the risk was practically negligible, had there been pursuit planes and the ship a moving target, and so forth. I have the report with me.
The hon. and gallant Member for Leith and several other speakers have made great play with the bias of 2643 profession. I acknowledge that there is bias of profession, but I cannot recognise their picure when they represent the battleship as though it was an old aristocrat who was fighting for his existence in a world which no longer needed him or had any use for him. That is not the case with regard to the battleship. The war staffs of every country have pronounced in favour of the battleship. General Pershing's committee did so. The Prime Minister himself, when he was a Minister of the late Government, presided over a Cabinet Committee that went into this question of aircraft versus battleships, and that Committee pronounced absolutely in favour of the battleship. Therefore, it is not really bias which makes us say that the battleship is still a supreme element on the ocean. In fact, the aircraft carrier it-self would not be able to exist in face of an enemy fleet including battleships if it had not battleships to which it could retreat and which would defend it. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith went so far as to say that no Admiral would ever concede that some flying thing could do work better than some floating thing. Is that true? All the battleships operating at the end of the War carried an aeroplane which they were not designed to carry. The whole of naval thought at this moment is being engaged in this matter, because they wish to be able to experiment properly with these things, they wish to see how far the destroyer can be superseded by aeroplanes carrying torpedoes, and how far cruisers can be superseded by aeroplanes and dirigibles. If we can do these things, a very great economy will be made. That is what the Navy means when it talks about lifting the Navy into the Air.
I ask hon. Members to put out of their minds this idea of professional bias. I acknowledge that the Air people did not receive proper treatment at the beginning of and during the War. The reason is obvious. The Navy had no proper thinking staff, no War Staff. Therefore, it was a matter of prejudice to a large extent. The whole business of a War Staff is to think ahead, to look into the future, to get rid of bias, Constantly to challenge its own opinions; and it is for that reason that the War Staff working on these problems is most anxious to accelerate the day when aeroplanes and 2644 dirigibles can supersede floating craft. We had hoped by this time that the Government would have reached a decision. I do not mean this Government, but the late Government, because when we had a Debate on these lines last year, the Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) promised us a Committee of inquiry. The Committee was re-promised to us by Mr. Winston Churchill five days later. The first promise was on 16th March and the second promise on 21st March. Mr. Churchill expressly asked us not to prejudice the discussion of the Committee by coming to any conclusions in this House before the Committee reported.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham attributed to the Admiralty a great propaganda campaign. If there were such a campaign in existence the first people whom the Admiralty would inform that the Committee had never sat would be the naval Members of this House. But we remained in entire ignorance from March of last year to March of this year that that Committee was not sitting. As a matter of fact the Committee never sat, and it never took any evidence, and I know now that repeated protests were made from naval quarters against the fact that the Committee had never sat. I return to the point which I made at the beginning: We must not be fobbed off by so-called Sub-committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence, if they are meant simply as delays. There has been a great breach of faith, not only in regard to naval Members of this House, but in regard to the whole of the Members of this House, in having promised that Committee and the Committee then not having sat and taken evidence. I protest against such a state of affairs.
§ Mr. NICHOL
I wish to deal with one or two points on the general policy of the Air Ministry and the general defence policy of the Government. An hon. Member opposite gave us a short history of the evolution of weapons, starting from the bare fist until we have aeroplanes with a range for bomb-dropping of 500 or 600 miles. It appears to me, however, that while there is a certain amount of evolution so far as the material side of fighting is concerned, there is no change in the moral side of it, and no change in the atmosphere. I can recollect reading 2645 histories that gave an inkling of debates in the Roman Senate and in the Carthaginian Council Chambers, the equivalents of our House of Commons, and there we had the same fundamental argument that is carried on in this House to-day—the argument that there was no possibility of the existence of either of those nations in the world unless they had greater armaments and greater forces than their rivals. The pre-War atmosphere in this House is reproduced exactly to-day. We had at that time the question of rivalry in naval affairs between Great Britain and Germany. And we had the demand, "We want eight, and we won't wait," from the deep-water school. They got their eight from the Liberal Government of the day. Here we are, certainly with a material change, for we are discussing, not the question of the battleship, but the old policy with a new weapon of slightly different range. The pre-War discussions were smothered over with the idea and the continued reiteration of the phrase that we were not preparing to fight anyone, and that Germany was not the enemy. Look back over the pre-War Debates on defence. Every second speaker who got up maintained that he had absolutely friendly intentions to every nation in Europe. But they were piling up armaments all the same. Here we are to-day, a few short years after the greatest War in history, in the same smothered and ineffective way, discussing the question of piling up more armaments.
Cant apart, I think it is a commonplace to say that in a discussion of the Air Force in this House the one idea that is behind the minds of every Member is the very great disparity between the Air Force of this country and that of our late Ally. There has been a change caused by the War. Germany has been displaced as the bogey. A very ineffective bogey it was before the War, but like most bogeys it gains a very great reality if we are never to speak about it honestly and we are all going to carry on until it does become something, not only a reality, but an obsession in all our minds. There is that change, a change with our late Ally. I say late Ally advisedly, because there is war in Europe now, and that war is against the wishes of all sections in this House. I suggest that, perhaps, if the interests in this country— there were interests behind the late War—decide that 2646 France is not going to get ahead in Europe in the air, some of the aeroplanes may be conveniently sold to Germany to arm it for fighting the French. A hundred years ago we subsidised the Russians to fight Napoleon. The quick change artist is more evident on the stage just now than at any other time in our history. I want to question the fundamental idea on which this discussion has been continued— the idea that countries must go on, that we must develop another race for armament, not a race in capital ships and cruisers, but this time a race in aeroplanes, although the last speaker, it seems, still pins his faith to the idea that capital ships count.
Even at this stage in the development of invention we have an opportunity of doing something for world peace. We have been very good at losing opportunities in the past. Probably the greatest opportunity ever put in front of the. Governments of the world was the opportunity which came after the Armistice in 1918, but we must all recognise that the opportunity was then wasted. It was wasted, in my opinion, not so much because of any evil in one man's mind or in one country's mind or in one Government's mind, when they were represented at the Versailles Conference. That great opportunity was thrown to the winds mainly because of the thousands who gathered in Paris, both the men who carried on the inner negotiations and those on the outer ring — each individual was obsessed with the fundamental idea that the only way to progress for his own nation lay in having more force and a stronger strategic position than his next-door neighbours. I desire to maintain the thesis that if we are going to have a race in armaments there is no use in discussing housing subsidies or house building schemes. If we are going to have a race in armaments which are designed for bombing raids, we ought to be discussing the question of constructing rabbit holes and dug-outs for the population. Let us get down underneath the ground, whether it is to be 200 yards down or only l0½ yards down—but let us discuss the technical problem of where we are to live when threatened by such armaments. I am going to put against the policy of armaments, the proposition that if we are going to differentiate this moment in history from the history of the last 2647 2,000 years, what is required is for some nation in a strong position and with big armaments, to decide for its own part that it is not going to have those armaments any longer. It does not matter if a small fourth-rate country does so. It does not matter if Switzerland decides not to have an overwhelming air force, nor does it matter particularly whether or not Belgium decides on that course, but it would matter very materially if one of the great first-class Powers, as we call them, one of the great nations as far as financial and commercial power is concerned, were to pin its faith, not to force, but to the policy of living at peace with its neighbours.
What are we going to lose by such a policy? We are going to lose our defence. We are going to live in a much more dangerous position. I am not advocating, from any cowardly point of view, that our nation should go in for disarmament. I think it would be a dangerous experiment, but I feel that we have got to live dangerously in the future—much more dangerously than we did in the past— and the only alternative is that we are going to use all our substance in war preparations and in the ambulance work which comes after war. A question recently asked in this House by the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. T. Johnston) elicited the fact that in killed and wounded the British Empire alone lost about 3,000,000 men during the four years of the War, and in treasure—a much less thing, but involving, nevertheless, a burden that is weighing down the nation—we can actually record a loss of £10,000,000,000 or £12,000,000,000. When one takes into consideration all the extra cost thrown on to the nation as an indirect consequence of the War, the amount is much greater. When we wish to borrow money for anything now, the rate of interest is double what it was formerly as a result of the War. If we wish to carry out any scheme, the cost is greatly increased in consequence of the War, and in all probability, adding in the cost to the Dominions and to India, the late War cost the British Empire a total sum not far short of £30,000,000,000. Why, it will only need another two wars like that and, as a matter of simple arithmetical computation, we shall find ourselves doing nothing else in Great Britain but prepar- 2648 ing for the next holocaust and bandaging up our wounds from the last. We will have no other preoccupation in life. In my belief, life should be something better than a constant preparation for fighting. Therefore, I bring forward the view that we ought to set out and show an example in disarmament. Reference has been made to the disarmament of Germany. That was forced upon her and, in my opinion, was in direct contradiction of the terms of the Armistice, under which, in good faith, she laid down her arms. I am not going into that question at all, further than to say that, as an object lesson to the world, the forcible disarmament of a country and then the treacherous over-running of that country, in order to force her to carry out terms which everybody in their senses knew to be—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is introducing a subject which is quite alien to the Vote that we are now discussing.
§ Mr. NICHOL
I agree with you, Mr. Speaker. I merely wanted to point out that the forcible disarmament of a country is no object lesson for the world and represents no moral advance. On the other hand, if a nation such as ours decided on moral grounds to take this dangerous course—and I admit it is a dangerous course—if it were to say, specifically, that it was going to run the risk of having no armaments at all, then I believe that would be the beginning of a new era in the history of the human race. I think it is appropriate that this subject should be raised in a Debate on the Air Estimates, because in the Air Estimates we see the beginning of a new race in armaments. We are beginning afresh; we are beginning in the air, in exactly the same way as we began the other competition in armaments which brought about disaster. We did not gain from the war anything either from the moral, commercial, financial or social points of view. We are beginning another such race as led up to that War, and no matter who wins this race in the air the world will be poorer, and the world be an even worse place for the great mass of the people to live in than it is to-day. That is the reason why I bring this matter forward at this stage. We have had suggestions put forward to-day as to possible future developments. There was a suggestion of some curious amphibious machine 2649 which could dive into the sea, carry torpedoes into the air and drop back into the sea again and could fire off torpedoes in any position. I am not sure, but that it was to be capable of existence in three spheres—under the water, on the water and in the air. Things like that have been hinted at in this Debate.
Without going into any of these fantastic propositions, I suggest here that we, with our late Ally, should consider the situation as I have presented it. Let, us honestly face the fact that France is the only country which this race of armaments in the air can concern. Here we are, not yet out of the mess of the late War, contemplating the beginning of another rivalry on exactly the same lines as our rivalry with Germany. Speaking personally, I say what we ought to aim at is a demonstration to the world that we actually believe in the principle of disarmament. Reference has been made to incidents in Mesopotamia. I think it was in the same country angels appeared in the sky, as we are told, on a certain night about 2,000 years ago giving to the world a message which we all sing and all believe in for at any rate one or two hours on a certain morning of each year. The message was "Peace and goodwill to men." Two thousand years afterwards something else appears in the sky, a new sort of angel, but the only thing it can drop is a bomb upon some poor villagers —either on their flocks or, as was admitted in the last Debate, on the human beings themselves. That is the only thing that comes from the sky nowadays, and it comes as a present from this House and from the ratepayers of Great Britain.
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has last spoken in the arguments addressed by him to the House on the subject of disarmament. There is no one in this House who wants to see a race in armaments, or who would not like to see war abolished altogether, and none are more averse to war than those most conversant with war and who know its horrors. I wish to say a few words on the question of the co-ordination of the three Services. Personally, I am glad to see the sense of the House veering round, if not towards the necessity for a Ministry of Defence, certainly towards the establishment of 2650 some machinery for co-ordinating the work of the Services. If anything would make the House come to that conclusion it should be some of the partisan speeches to which we have listened during these Debates. In fact, I was rather surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) did not go so far as to demand that the Tank Corps should be incorporated in the Air Force. I have been pressing the question of co-ordination on the Government for the last three years because I believe it is the only way of securing efficiency and economy, but I have always been met with the same rebuff and the same remark, to which reference has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). We have always been told that the Committee of Imperial Defence is dealing with these matters. As a matter of fact, I know that the Committee of Imperial Defence only sat once during the first two years after the Armistice, and it is not a body suitable for co-ordinating the three Services.
Another argument against co-ordinating the Services has been put forward, that there are constant conversations between the Chiefs of the various Services. That is no good at all. In fact, it is worse than useless, because it is throwing dust in the eyes of everybody. It is obvious that those conversations cannot be of any use, and no machinery that is set up can be of any use unless it accepts combined responsibility. That is the crux of the whole matter. I sympathise entirely with the Secretary of State for Air and with the Chief of the Air Staff if they are trying to get everything they can at the expense of the Admiralty and the War Office. The responsibility for the air lies on them, just as it lies on the Admiralty in regard to the Navy. It is this question of responsibility which is of first-class importance, and if any machinery is set up, I hope the Committee that is setting up that machinery will bear this question of responsibility in mind.
In studying these Estimates, I do not feel at all happy as regards the Air Force. I think it is too meagre altogether, and that we run a very great risk with an Air Force of the size for which we are estimating to-day; but at the same time, I think-that for £120,000,000 or more to be expended on defence altogether is probably an excessively large sum. I do not know 2651 whether anybody in this House is satisfied that the allocation of the funds— £58,000,000 to the Navy, £52,000,000 to the Army, and £15,000,000 to the Air Force—is correct. I do not believe that it is, and I do not believe that we are getting the best out of the money by not having these matters co-ordinated. If one looks through the Debates during the past four years on the subject of co-ordination, one sees a remarkable thing, to which I drew the attention of the House a year ago. Every single Minister connected with any Department, the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, or the War Office, when speaking on this subject, agreed as to the necessity for having some machinery, but nothing has been done, and, to my mind, we have lost very considerably during the past three years, not only in money, but in efficiency, by not having it.
If not a Ministry of Defence, certainly some machinery of co-ordination was forecast by the Esher Committee which established a General Staff a good many years ago. It is the logical sequence, and it is bound to come, in my way of thinking, in the long run, but I do not advocate necessarily a Ministry of Defence at once. I think it has got to come by stages, and the first stage is to have the Committee which the Prime Minister told us is going to be set up to decide what should be the first stage towards getting a Ministry of Defence, but I feel more convinced than ever—and I have felt convinced ever since the War—that we shall get neither economy nor efficiency until we get the three Services properly co-ordinated and working in close co-operation with each other.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Many hon. Members will agree with the hon. Member for East Renfrew (Mr. Nichol) in what he said about disarmament, but the state of Europe is not fit for general disarmament now. We are now debating the Air Estimates, and I wish to congratulate the Air Minister on the able way in which he has put the Estimates forward this year, and also the hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) on his very able maiden speech. Last year many Members of the air industry came to me and said the air industry was in a bad way, and what could they do? The Parliamentary Air Committee met, and we saw the Prime Minister, and got £2,000,000 more for the 2652 Air. I think this year the Air Estimates are far too low. We want a better division of the money provided for our fighting forces than we get now. It is not right that the Navy should take all the money and the Air Service get so little. I begged the late Prime Minister, who was in the House just now—I am sorry he has withdrawn—to stop building these two battleships and give the money to the Air. I wrote to him, and I asked him verbally to do so, but he decided against the airmen, and gave £10,000,000 for those two battleships. Those battleships are perfectly useless, and all airmen know it. Many old naval officers admit it, amongst whom is that very able officer, Sir Percy Scott, who has written frequently to the "Times" to point out how useless battleships are. I will give the opinion of Admiral Sims, and I know the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) would like to hear this. Speaking in the United States a short time ago, Admiral Sims said:It has been said in the past that the battleship was the backbone of the Fleet, but I believe it is so no more. A battleship has no defence against an aeroplane but small anti-aircraft guns. On the Western front, one hit in 1,000 was considered a good average, with massed batteries firing at a plane, with plenty of observations to determine the range. The best experts now agree that the results of anti-aircraft firing from a ship are negligible.The Admiral went on to say:In my judgment, it matters little whether the big ships now in the world navies are scrapped or left as they are, because in any case they will be of no further use.Further towards the end of his address, the Admiral was asked by one of his auditors, "Will the battleship become obsolete against an aeroplane?" to which he unhesitatingly replied "Yes." That is the opinion of Admiral Sims, one of the greatest Admirals of our day.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Admiral Sims was the President of the War College of the United States, and his opinion is of great value among all thinking men. I would like to see the large amount of money provided for these battleships and the money provided in giving them large crews, keeping them in commission, and so on, given to the Air Ministry because it is not right that our Air Force should be so much below that of France. At any 2653 moment there may be frictions in Europe, and who can tell what will happen? This town of ours, London, cannot be protected in any way by the Navy or the Army. You have got to rely on a very efficient Air Force, and therefore I would like to see the Air Minister's Estimates extended by another £10,000,000. We want an Air Force just as efficient as the old Expeditionary Force. We want a very strong Reserve, and I submit that the Air Minister is not taking enough money for his reserves. We also want a very efficient civil aviation, because civil aviation should bear the same relationship to the Air Force as the mercantile marine in the past has done to the Navy. I submit to the Air Minister that he must help civil aviation all he possibly can, and I think he puts too low a value on civil aviation, because the other day, when introducing his Estimates, he referred to the machines not being efficient. That has little to do with it, because it is the whole ground organisation, the engineers, the drawing office staff, the workshops, the pilots, the riggers, and so on that are so valuable in time of war, as we found when the late War started. Therefore, I submit that he ought to encourage civil aviation all he possibly can.
There is one criticism I should like to make in regard to what I will call the £2,000,000 scheme. I am afraid that it is giving too much of a monopoly, and we do not like monopolies. We had a monopoly in the early days of the submarines in the Navy, and it rather restricted their development. I should like to know from the Air Minister what he proposes to do with these pioneers of the air industry who have been carrying out all this pioneer work in establishing the airways. Only lately the Daimler Company, I understand, started an airway between London and Birmingham, which is running most successfully, and I would like to know whether, under the new scheme, all these pioneer firms are to be crowded out, or are they to have a ring? I do not like the idea of a ring in the air industry, because competition is so valuable.
I should like to say a word, as an old pioneer of the Naval Air Service, and I might tell some hon. Members that I started the Naval Air Service in 1909 with one officer and one man, and my opinion may be of some use to the House. The Noble Lord the Member for South 2654 Battersea (Viscount Curzon) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone have put before the House that the Navy should have its Air Service again. In the Naval Air Department we tried to give the Admiralty the best air weapons we could, and what use did they make of them? I will take the torpedo machine, which is the machine that drops the locomotive torpedo. Just before the War we carried out very successful experiments with that machine, and when the War broke out we sent a flight of these torpedo machines to the Dardanelles and told the pilots to destroy any enemy ships they could. They fired three shots and got three hits. You would think the Admiralty would have developed this machine after that, but not a bit of it. When I asked them to build 200 torpedo machines, seven months before Jutland, it was turned down. If we had only had torpedo machines at the Battle of Jutland we would have got a good many of the enemy ships the morning after Jutland. We also ought to have had Zeppelins at that battle. Why did we not have them? The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) the other day quoted from Mr. Churchill's book, where he says that £40,000,000 of the taxpayers' money was wasted in building Zeppelins, because they were never any use in the War. That is right, but why were they not of use in the War? Mr. Churchill, in his own book, says that he went against building these Zeppelins, and that is the reason we did not have them at Jutland, because Mr. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, turned them down, and they were developed too late to be of any use. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith says he does not value the Zeppelin very much, but if anybody saw the wonderful network of wireless intercepted signal charts we had at the Admiralty, showing how the whole of the North Sea was observed by the Zeppelins, I think they would appreciate their value. We ought to have had Zeppelins and torpedo machines at the Battle of Jutland, but we were prevented by the short-sightedness of the Admiralty, and my gallant comrades in the North Sea were deprived of their fruits of victory because we did not have proper aerial reconnaissance.
The Sea Lords of the Admiralty, all the time we were developing the Naval Air Service, were blocking us. Every- 2655 thing we produced, they blocked. Take administration. The naval airmen asked for a good sound Air policy, and we eventually got the Derby Air Board set up, under Lord Derby. They had nine meetings and they all resigned. Then Lord Curzon's Board was set up, and I ask the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone to read Lord Curzon's Report on how the Admiralty blocked the administration of their Naval Air Service. It is a secret Report, and I cannot quote from it, but I ask those hon. Members to read that Report before coming down to the House and asking that the Navy should have back its Naval Air Service. What is the remedy for this The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said it was a hardy annual, this friction between the Navy and the Air people. It is so. What is the remedy? The remedy is to set up a Defence Ministry, such as was provided for in the Bill I presented to this House last year. The question of a Ministry of Defence is not a party one. I had supporters from all sides of the House. The Chief Labour Whip, the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) supported that Bill, and I had Liberal support, Independent support, and the support of several Conservative Members. The only solution for this friction between the Navy and the Air people is to set up a Ministry of Defence without delay; to have a Minister in charge, with an Under-Minister in direct charge of the Admiralty Office, the Army Office, and the Air Office. If you do that you will save the country millions of money which is being spent on the duplication now. Instead of having three systems of recruiting, Medical Services, Armaments, etc., you would have one, and instead of three systems of indenting stores, you would have one, if such a Ministry were set up. I feel perfectly certain you would not have any Minister of Defence depriving the Fleet of its eyes. The late First Lord, Mr. Churchill, said, "I much prefer aeroplanes to Zeppelins, because it is so like riding on a broom stick when on an aeroplane." That was the reason we did not have Zeppelins at the Battle of Jutland. I should like to paraphrase the Noble Lord the Member 2656 for South Battersea, who read from a paper the other day some extracts headed "Hands off the Air Service." I say to the House, "Hands off the Royal Air Force by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty."
§ Sir S. HOARE
The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who opened the Debate this afternoon, made one of the most attractive maiden speeches which I have ever heard in this House. There was one sentence, in particular, with which I found myself in complete agreement. He said that the path of the Air Minister through the Committee of Imperial Defence was strewn with very long and difficult controversies. I can assure him that he is absolutely right, and it is not only within the walls of the Committee of Imperial Defence that those controversies exist. I think he will admit that even this afternoon we have had several examples of some of those heated controversies pressed upon our attention—questions for which there is a great deal to be said on both sides. Take, for instance, the most important question that was raised during the course of the Debate to-day and during the Debate last week, the simple direct question of what our air standard ought to be. This afternoon we have had a variety of opinions expressed, with a view to giving an answer to that question. First of all, there was the cautious answer of the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness who said we ought not, in a moment of panic, to be driven into any wild scheme of expansion, when there was no possibility in the immediate future of the danger of war. Then there was the opinion expressed by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) that on no account ought we to find ourselves in the position of having the capital of the Empire defencelcss against hostile air attack.
There was a third opinion, expressed in two very interesting speeches from the Labour benches, that we ought not—so far as I understood the argument of the two hon. Members—to have an Air Force at all; that we ought to show an example, in depriving ourselves of the defence of the air arm, to the rest of the world with a view to bringing about general disarmament. With reference to that last opinion, I think the two hon. Members were really over-stating their case. They seemed to 2657 assume that we, on these benches, were opposed to disarmament. Nothing of the kind, of course, is true. We are as anxious as any hon. Member in any part of the House to see less money spent upon fighting expenditure over the whole of the world. We may claim that we have shown that is our view by the attitude we took at the Washington Conference. I can assure the two hon. Members that nobody would regret more than myself seeing the Government and this House embark upon a new race in the old race of armaments. It is on that account that I ventured, a week ago, to put the whole facts before the House, with a view to hon. Members in all parts of it helping me to come to a reasonable answer as to what our air standard should be and how we can avoid, as we all wish to avoid, being driven into a competitive air programme against any of the other Great Powers.
I agree with a great deal the hon. Member for Eastern Renfrew (Mr. Nichol) said about the horrors of the warfare of the future. I say, quite frankly, I should like in every way possible to avoid it. I agree, in that connection, with what the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness said, when he reminded the House of the efforts that are being made to avoid— if it be possible to avoid—by means of some general guarantee a return to the old and vicious race of armaments in the past. The difficulty, it seems to me, with these guarantees, is really a practical one, for a guarantee that does not mean a promise of some definite force in the way of intervention is of little worth. It really is a practical question for the General Staffs of the three Services to consider, and for the Governments of the Great Powers to consider, as to what kind of commitments it is possible to enter into in the nature of a guarantee of that kind. Speaking generally, I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member said. I should very much like to see some general arrangement come to, under which any chance of this old race of armaments could be done away with in future. That was the first question raised in the course of the Debate to-day. Another question, which has often been raised in the course of our Debates, was as to what ought to be the proper line of air development in this country. Should it be the line that is adopted by certain of the Great Powers, under which air development is almost 2658 entirely undertaken by the two old fighting Services, the Army and the Navy? Or should it be a development on the line upon which we have gone since 1918, that of an independent Air Force?
The House will not expect me to enter at length into that argument. I should have hoped that the lessons of the War, and the events of the last four years, would have proved that our line, judged by results, has on the whole been very successful. Several hon. and gallant Members, during the course of the afternoon, have urged arguments to show that the line of development we have adopted has led to a considerable amount of friction between the fighting Services. I am afraid that as long as the world goes on there always will be a certain amount of friction between all great Departments of State. In this particular controversy, I am inclined to think that the extent of the friction has been very much exaggerated, and that any impartial Member, who inquired into the question at the present time, would find that the friction, in actual practice, did not amount to very much. Anyhow, I do not want to be led into a general Debate that might appear to raise controversial issues with the hon. and gallant Members who have put the Admiralty case. I am glad to say that an impartial inquiry by a Sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence is going to consider that part of the problem, and will, I hope, settle it once for all. There are one or two statements of fact, however, that do not enter into the controversy, to which I must allude in passing. There was the statement, for instance, of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), who said that we are spending much too much money in overhead and non-flying charges. He quoted, in particular, the amount of money we are spending in bricks and mortar. I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the opposite of what he said is really the case. The Air Force at the end of the War, as I told the House a week ago, had no permanent building of any kind, and the result has been that, even to keep the rooms waterproof over the heads of the air officers, we had to recondition these buildings, and we had, in certain cases, to build permanent buildings to replace the old war-time huts; but, so far from having been extravagant, I should be inclined to say that we have 2659 spent too little money rather than too much. One particular case he did quote. He quoted the case of the Air Force Staff College that we have recently opened at Andover. That case exactly illustrates what I am attempting to say to the House. In the case of the Staff College, we contented ourselves with war-time huts. We did not build a permanent building of any kind at all, and that is the reason why the Staff College at Andover does not appear as a separate item in our Votes this evening, as we made use of war-time huts, and have spent no money at all upon a permanent building. The hon. and gallant Member also quoted the ease of the permanent buildings that we have undertaken at Halton. Halton is to be the principal centre for the training of boys for the Air Force. It is to contain about 2,000 boys. If the hon. and gallant Member will make a calculation of the amount we are to spend in fitting it up for the 2,000 boys who are to be educated at Halton, I think he will find it compares extraordinarily favourably, shall I say, with the building of schools, or of colleges, or of any other comparable institution of this kind under any Department of State or any great municipal authority.
A further point was raised as to whether we supply the Admiralty with the aircraft that they require, and whether the arrangements as regards personnel are satisfactory or not. There I must decline to get into the controversy, and 1 must leave that to the inquiry of the Committee of Imperial Defence. But there was one other phase of the subject to which several hon. Members have alluded. One or two hon. Members, particularly the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), who is probably as well entitled to speak upon air questions as any. Member in the House, implied that they did not think I had fully appreciated the potentialities of civil aviation, and that I ought to be doing more for it. I will tell the House that I am second to no Member in the view that I take as to the potential value of civil aviation in the future, and I hope, during the next 12 months, whether it be by some such scheme as the Hambling Committee scheme, or some other scheme, to put civil aviation in the way of developing itself better than it has been during the last four years, and if any hon. Member can make any sug- 2660 gestion to me as to how further I can assist civil aviation, I hope he will give me the benefit of his advice, for I can assure him that I am most anxious really to put civil aviation on to a road in which it can develop, and can in the future provide a really valuable asset to our air-power altogether. Therefore, do not let any hon. Member think, because I have not included any large additional sum of money in these Estimates for civil aviation, that I do not wish to develop it, or that I regard the question of civil aviation as in any way one of secondary importance.
Several hon. Members have asked what should be the relations between the three fighting Services upon air questions. Hon. Members can argue that question almost indefinitely from the point of view of any one of the three great fighting Departments, and that really is the trouble, and that really is the case— a case in which I am in full sympathy—for some co-ordinating machinery in which we shall find an answer to a question which is otherwise unanswerable. I can assure all the hon. Members who have alluded to this subject that I do look for an answer from this National Defence Committee. Let me reassure hon. Members who seemed to think that this question was again going to be shelved. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert.) pressed upon the House the urgent need for this Committee starting work at once. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, that while I am not entitled to give him the names of the members of the Committee, for that is not usual with a Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, I can tell him that this Committee has actually started work, that it sat yesterday, and that it is sitting both to-morrow and the next day. That, I know, will be reassuring to the effect that the question is not going to be shelved, and that we hope for definite recommendations from the Committee, both upon the general question of co-ordinating national defence, in the first place, and upon the narrow issue of the controversy between the Admiralty and the Air Force in—I must not tie myself down to days, or weeks, or months —but in a comparatively short time.
I think that I have dealt, as far as I can, with the more general questions that have been asked me during the Debate. 2661 But there are one or two specific questions that have been put to me, to which I ought to refer before I sit down. For instance, there was the question—and a very important one—put to me by the right hon. Member for South Molton with reference to the Hinaidi Camp at Bagdad. I would like to give the House the facts of this case, and to let hon. Members judge whether or not I am right in the course that I am taking. Two years ago it was decided that this camp, which is a few miles from Bagdad, should be the principal camp of the British garrison in Iraq. Work was started upon it, and the War Office, which was then in control of the military forces in Iraq, spent nearly £300,000 upon it. It was subsequently decided, as a result of the Cairo Conference, that Iraq should become an air command, and that the principal military force should be eight Air Force squadrons. In view of that, it became necessary to make alterations in the Hinaidi buildings, with a view to making it a proper centre for the greater part of the eight Air Force squadrons. When I had to consider these Estimates, I found that of the more important parts of the Hinaidi work, between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. of the work had already been completed. I can give the right hon. Gentleman figures in a moment, if he likes. I found that the work that was still necessary was just the work without which these buildings and this expenditure would be virtually useless. I found, for instance, that the barracks had been built, but the flooring of the barracks had not been completed. I found, for instance, that while it was absolutely necessary for the health of the garrison to have electric fans and a hospital, neither the electric fans nor the hospital had been completed. The result of my inquiries, therefore, was generally to show that, unless one spent something like the money that I have in the Estimates for this year, the expenditure of £700,000 or £800,000, already spent and already agreed to by this House, would have been rendered completely useless. Moreover, the garrison in Iraq would have been left in an almost impossible position. You could not expect them to go on living month after month, year after year, under canvas, and the whole object of these buildings was to give them barracks in which it was fit for them to live. I have scrutinised the items of this 2662 expenditure with the greatest care of which I was capable. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have used and are using every possible economy. The buildings, as I say, are to be the centre for the Air Force squadrons. He suggested that we were going to build barracks for the Air Force all over the country. That is not the case. This is to be the one great centre.
Let me further reassure him, if he is anxious as to whether or not we are going to stay in the country for ever, that the buildings are not permanent; they are only of a temporary nature, and if one compares them with the corresponding buildings that we might put up in this country, they are far cheaper. I hope the House will see, in view of these facts, that it was really necessary to complete the work, 90 per cent. of which had already been done. I can further reassure my right hon. Friend as to certain parts of the work that have not yet been begun. They are not included in this year's Estimate at all. I am looking into those items of expenditure. I am in communication with Air-Marshal Salmond on the subject, and I am seeing whether they cannot be cut out altogether. 1 am impressing upon the authorities in Iraq that we desire to embark upon no expenditure whatever that is not absolutely necessary for the health of our troops. I hope I have said enough in this connection, not, indeed, to reconcile the right hon. Gentleman with our remaining in Iraq— I could never do that, and it would not. be in order for me to try—but, at any rate, to show that we are only completing work already almost completed, and we intend to get out of any expenditure, particularly new expenditure, that might be found on further consideration not to be necessary. There was one further question the right hon. Gentleman asked me in connection with the health of the troops.
§ Sir S. HOARE
In Mosul. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a letter that I myself had not seen, and that is the first I have heard about the suggestion I am quite ready to make inquiries.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Neither there nor have I come across it in my office. My information is that the health of the troops is excellent, but I shall certainly look into the matter. So far, however, as I know, the complaint is an isolated one. I do not think there is any foundation for it. I hope, now I have dealt with the various questions that have been presented to me, that hon. Members might now allow me to have the first of these Votes, and, should it then be necessary, to continue the more detailed consideration of the various items on the other Votes when we come to them.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir GUY GAUNT
I should like to have a chance of dealing with one or two matters which have come under discussion, and about which I do not entirely agree with hon. Friends who have spoken. With some of what has been said of the Admiralty I am in agreement, for it was so in my time, but I have forgiven them so far as I am concerned. We were all young and wayward in our youth—so was the Admiralty—and have made blunders, and very bad ones sometimes. The Admiralty had a very able officer to run the thing if he had been allowed. They let him, more or less, down. I am quite sure that that accident will not occur again. I refer to the Battle of Jutland. There are one or two points brought forward with which I should like to deal. One was that of aeroplanes on board ships. What about the protection of our trade routes in this matter? We have got food supplies coming home from South America, and how on earth are you going to get the ships through unless you have something to protect them? You can call your ships home by wireless, and if it is very thick weather they will not be seen by the enemy aeroplanes, but the matter of keeping your ships together is a most serious one. I do not think I am very far wrong when I say that my old friend goes on the principle that when thieves fall out honest men come into their own, and that when sailors fall out the landsman gets some of what is his own and discovers what is the proper course to follow. I do urge very strongly that the Admiralty should have responsibility for the control of their own men in the Air Service. I do not want the material at all, because I think it is very much better that somebody else should have charge of that 2664 material. I think the soldiers and sailors in this House will agree that as regards the Air Service they are all thieves. I have been one of them, and I know how this Service is served. When men ask for 100 per cent. they hope they will get 80 per cent., and are very glad when they get 30 per cent. of their requirements. You must have the men trained by those who will have to use them in war.
I could give two cases in point. Take, for example, the late War in the North Sea. A very distinguished Admiral told me the other day that he was steaming north with several battleships when he was hailed by a man above from the Royal Air Force who asked him if he was the Curacoa, a lighter vessel. I put it to hon. Members that it is the same as if some hon. Member went out of this House and hailed a K 'bus and asked him if he was a wheelbarrow. One can imagine that what the Admiral said inside would be similar to what the 'bus driver said outside. It is most important that the men we use in the War and in critical times should be the men to whom we have been used to giving orders. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) the other day drew a doleful picture of the Navy running their own airmen in their spare time. I put it to hon. Members that that hon. and gallant Gentleman could not have been on board a modern battleship recently because the one thing they have not got is spare time. I leave that for a moment, but I have a horrible fear that the hon. and gallant Gentleman must have strayed aboard one of the aeroplane carriers of the Navy and saw one or two spare men who were under the command of the Royal Air Force. You must have the captain of the ship must be in supreme command. Nobody, I think, will question that. We all want economy and here you are duplicating everything. The same hon. and gallant Gentleman drew pictures of the Royal Air Force, how men were going into it, and what they were going to be, and what a magnificent force it was going to develop into. I agree to a large extent, but I think flying men would agree that the actual flying age, that is the years in which the man is fit to fly, will probably be from eight to 10 as a general rule. I am rather sceptical on this point. As I do not know I will not pursue it except to say I believe that is so. That means that you will have men in the Royal Air Force 2665 flying between 20 and 30 and then after that you will have a tremendous number of men on their feet. Your regiments will be chock full of sergeants. We shall have some wonderful developments.
Under my scheme the youngster goes into the Navy in the ordinary way and as he comes to 19 or 20 he is specially selected because he is the best man for the Air Service. You put him into the Air Service, certainly, when the actual flying time comes, and subsequently, when it is finished, you bring him back again aboard ship. He will thus have acquired a good knowledge of the flying service and of the Navy. The sailor is a queer animal. You have got to catch him young and then you will get the thing into his system which he will get nowhere else. I hate to speak about myself, but one of my family went into the cavalry and I into the Navy. We never met for many years. Then he was a major in the cavalry and I was a Commander in the Navy, and we disagreed on every blessed topic that we discussed—or perhaps, I should say we saw things differently—[Laughter.]—I am not speaking now to make laughter, but to show that it is absolutely necessary that these fellows should get the atmosphere into their system. Suppose an Admiral sent to the Air Force for a dozen men to do a piece of work. No doubt he would get a dozen apparently very capable men, but what they might do was seen by a case that happened when we were after the Goeben when she was at Constantinople early in the War. The senior naval officer decided to investigate, and he sent over a very gallant airman to make a reconnaissance, but when he came back he could not tell the Admiral what he wanted to know, and what a sailor would have been able to perceive at once. If you train a man in the Navy in the way I suggested you will get a 100 per cent. man. It is just the same if you sent me to inquire into an Army matter, and ask me something about the cavalry. I would not be able to say whether it was the 10th Hussars or the Royal Army Service Corps. I put it to hon. Members it is the right thing that the Admiralty should have sole responsibility and control of these men, and I for one hope that that matter will be considered. I may be accused of propaganda, but I think anyone in close touch with the men who are at sea will support everything I have said to-night.
§ Captain BENN
I should first of all like to congratulate very heartily the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down upon his speech. If he were not a distinguished officer in the senior Service, I should say it was a "breezy speech." It was an admirable speech from his point of view, and from the point of view of the speech of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Captain Brass). I want to deal with those two speeches. We are engaged to-day in what is called strengthening the hands of the Air Ministry. The Air Minister is subject, there is no doubt, to be attacked suddenly, and particularly by the naval interest, and it is the duty of this House and those who believe in unity and the value of a unified Air Service to make that point of view quite clear and to answer the arguments, especially of the soldiers and the sailors on that point. It has also to be remembered that the Secretary of State for Air suffers under a great disadvantage, which I am quite sure this House never intended he should labour under, in that he is not a member of the Cabinet.
Dealing with the great financial burdens of armaments, the hon. Member for South Molton said that the solution was to be found in taking duties away from the older Services as soon as those duties were able to be more efficiently performed by the newer Services. We who believe in the Air Service say definitely that there are certain duties which should be taken away from the Army and Navy and handed over to the Air Service. If the best form of defence is counter-attack, that is obviously the right way to go to work. I think myself—I do not know whether experts will support me—that all anti-aircraft defence should be handed over to the Air Force. After all, the anti-aircraft gun is only one part of anti-aircraft defence. The only anti-aircraft defence is aeroplanes. That is the major part. The gun is an incident, and the signal is an incident. Anyone who has spent any time in an aeroplane knows how extremely uncomfortable it is to be out of liaison with the man who is firing the gun. He may be firing at you instead of at the person he is intending to attack. The closest liaison is desirable, especially from the point of view of the observer or the pilot in the machine.
2667 Further than that, I say that camouflage should be taken away from whoever does it and given to the Air Ministry. Camouflage is an attempt to deceive the airman. That is its aim. There may be certain forms of camouflage which are intended to deceive the ground observer, but, in the main, camouflage is an attempt to deceive the airman and the aerial photographer. The only person, therefore, who can know whether camouflage is effective or not is the man who is an airman, or, more particularly, the man who is an expert in aerial photography. Not only is there the negative side—the concealing side—but there is the positive side to camouflage; that is to say, making things look what they are not. I think that side of the matter would be much better developed by the Air Ministry than by any ground force.
So much do we hear of counter attacks by the other Services, who are always making the life of the Air Ministry so hard, that I would like to say a word about disarmament. I agree most cordially with the hon. Member who spoke about the necessity for disarmament. The difficulty about disarmament is this. It is very difficult to lay down a scale of military Air Force without hindering the development of civilian aviation, because you cannot say exactly where the line between a military and a civilian machine is to be drawn. That was the difficulty at the Washington Conference. That was the difficulty in drawing up the German Treaty. It was impossible to say how far we could permit the Germans to have a civilian Air Force without giving them the power to build up a military Air Force. If you say, "We will agree that no Power shall have more than a certain strength in Air Force because we wish to disarm," you may at the same time be aiming a crippling blow to civilian aviation, and definitely retarding a great, progressive civilising and pacific force.
I now come to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Sir Guy Gaunt). The candour with which he speaks very materially assists those who wish to oppose him. He refers to aeroplanes as stores. He says "Indent for stores"—it may be for dungarees, or paint, or an aeroplane. They are stores, he says, and he wants to have nothing whatever to do with them. What chance 2668 would there be for a great scientific force like the Air Force to develop under conditions of that kind? The thing is impossible. In speaking as he did, the hon. and gallant Member gave a typically Admiralty view of aeroplanes; they are just stores, and nothing else.
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Captain Brass) thought there should be a dividing up, and that the Admiralty should be given the control over their machines because they are of a different type of machine from the type of machine required by what I might call the land Air Force. But are they different in any respect? Are the engines different? Does not the hon. and gallant Member know that all the problems of material which apply to one class of aeroplane apply to all classes of aeroplane? You cannot say that the aeroplane which the Navy is going to use should be handled by the Navy, and, as I understand, constructed by the Navy because they know the type they require. If you were to adopt any such system you would go back at once to the old days of competition, and you would amputate from the general body of thought the whole of the Naval Air Force, greatly to the detriment of that Service; whereas that force should be in touch with every advance, every little change and improvement, and all the great triumphs which are to be hoped for from the Research Department of the Air Ministry.
§ Captain BENN
I do not care very much. I do not know. Coming to the question of personnel, the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) gave some very interesting illustrations. He took the careers of one or two of the most brilliant pilots of the War, and pointed out that they had achieved their marvellous exploits after a very short period of training. That is quite true: but I cannot think it is true to say that the real flying man, the man who is eminent in the air. can be trained in a short period at all. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Admiral Sueter) agrees with me in that. You want a man who is constantly in the air, who is not afraid of fog and clouds, and who is not afraid of testing with instruments.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Surely, if you take the careers of the four best pilots we had during the War, they are proper airmen? Even if they did only have six months' training, surely they are not afraid of clouds?
§ Captain BENN
I disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend. I cannot speak from very great experience, but I think that those who know will agree that all that flying was flying by sight. It was all done by sight. It was not done by instruments. They probably said: "There is a church. There is the river. If I go over the river I shall come to the railway bridge, and that is where the enemy will be." But that is not navigation in the air. My own experience is that "stunt" pilots—I am using the word with the greatest admiration for those very gallant fighters—were very often themselves a great obstacle to advancing navigation in the air. They were so interested in the artistry of the work that they had no room for admiration for the science of the work. All they thought about was, "How much does this thing weigh?" I was an observer in the War, and I was always interested in taking up any new instrument in order to test it. It might have been a cinema to take films, or a new camera. I found that the brilliant pilot was always an obstacle. He would say, "What does this wireless thing weigh? It will interfere with my freedom of action. I do not want it. It will interfere with my personal manœuvring of the machine." That is an excellent quality, but it is not any step towards the navigation of the air.
§ Captain BENN
I cannot speak of submarines. I can only express my opinion, with great deference and without technical knowledge, that it requires years to produce a man, and it would require a generation to produce a race, who would figure as much at home in the air in difficult weather conditions as they do on the land or on the sea. Both hon. and gallant Gentlemen who spoke on this point seemed to forget that the discipline of the men who are serving in the Fleet is under the control of the naval commanding officer. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckrose also 2670 seemed to forget that if you wanted to identify a vessel you need only send a naval observer up in the aeroplane. You might have an Air Force man who had been so carefully trained in his naval duties that he was able to do the work, but, if there was any doubt, it would be quite easy to send up a naval officer of experience who could identify the vessel by noticing all those small points which are of so much value in making effective reconnaisance reports.
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe spoke as if you could take the pilots of the Navy and isolate them because they are going to work with the Navy; but what about refresher courses in flying? What about keeping them in touch with all the great body of thought in flying, which must be centred in the Air Ministry? There, again, it does not matter whether it is material or personnel. If you amputate one Service it will be greatly to the detriment of the air arm of that Service, The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose illustrated that very well indeed, because he said a man in the Cavalry and a man in the Navy developed separate points of view, and he gave an instance of family discord of a minor type. He said he and his brother did not agree about anything. If that is true about a cavalryman or a sailor, how much more true must it be about an airman? If you want a man whose whole career, interest, thought and activity is centred in the air, and you handicap him by making him into a sailor—
§ Captain BENN
The hon. and gallant Member constantly defeats me with his homely similes. Suppose you did divide the personnel into a naval personnel and an Air Force personnel? Who is going to train those people? Is there going to be a navall training school? Is there going to be an Air Force training school? And. having passed the training school, are they to be cut off and sent in to the Navy for good? You must draw the line somewhere.
§ Captain BENN
In that case there is very little difference between the suggestion my hon. and gallant Friend 2671 makes and the conditions of affairs as it is to-day, and exactly the same is true of the material. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe referred to the Air Board and to the happenings at the beginning of the War. I gathered from him that he wanted to go back on our tracks. I contend that the best place to test a war machine is in war, and in its service which it renders in war. During the War, by the inexorable force of circumstances and by no desire on our part—in fact, it was forced on the Government against their will— we learned that, in order to make this country powerful in an element on which so much in the future will depend, it was necessary to build up a unified Air Force, controlled by an Air Minister acting independently of both arms. I suggest that it would be unwise, having learned that lesson, to go back upon it.
§ Sir S. HOARE
May I appeal to the House to let me have this Vote now, as we have had a very full discussion?