HC Deb 11 March 1924 vol 170 cc2180-2

I now come to a subject which forms the centre feature of the Estimates and indeed of the whole Air policy, and that is the enlargement of the home Air Force. Many friends of this Government are anxiously asking, "How can a Labour Government justify itself in demanding an increase of Air armaments?" They are saying, "We looked to Labour to lead the way to disarmament, and are you not leading the way in the other direction? What about your professions, your conference resolutions, and your speeches?" I for one am rather glad of the chance of discussing this matter. The first thing I want to point out is that we are not increasing armaments; we are decreasing them. It is true we are adjusting them between the three Services, but the net result is a considerable decrease of war expenditure during the coming year. Again, the Labour party has never urged the disarmament of Great Britain irrespective of what other countries might do. That is not a practical proposition, and I do not for a moment delude myself into thinking that the country would ever accept it. That way may be the Sermon on the Mount way—I do not know—but it is a way that is barred to us. A few days ago certain remarks of mine on Air policy in this House were severely criticised. It was represented that the presence of a pacifist at the Air Ministry was incongruous if not, indeed, improper. I cannot see that. I regard it as most appropriate that the policy of the fighting services, which is entrusted also; with the development of peaceful aviation, should have the colour of peace and good will given to its work. Therefore, I have no regrets for what I said. International disarmament is our watchword. Everybody wants it, but the point is that nobody can have it and we must set ourselves to find why. It is not my purpose to render my country defenceless. I am making no proposals to act alone. The field of diplomacy must be explored to induce all nations to see that armaments do not protect. National security is a desirable thing, but we have not got it, and no country has ever had it, and the more we try for it the further we seem to get away from it. Surely the most ardent advocate of great armaments must agree with me in that. I fear also that certain remarks of mine about the New Testament have alarmed hon. Members. I gather that the Sermon on the Mount is not practical Parliamentary politics. I gather its relation to the Air Estimates is remote and out of place. In that view hon. Members may be right or wrong, but if all Europe came to change its mind about the value of armaments because the British Labour Government showed it a better way, this House, too, might come to change its mind and the traditions on the subject are already crumbling. In this connection I welcome the recent declaration by Viscount Cecil of Chelwood: It was surely a great thing that a British Government announced that its foreign policy was to be a League policy and that it intended to do everything it could to strengthen the authority of the League. War was an evil which could only he prevented by the League. If only the League can prevent war then obviously single nation disarmament will not do. It may be that some form of international government is the only remedy. The League of Nations at all events promises that. For the same reason that Scotland will never again go to war with England—


Do not be too sure.


We have finally defeated them.


—it may well be that France will never go to war with Britain. A week ago I was bitterly assailed in this House by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major General Seely) for some remarks on Air defence. I think he imagined a desire on my part to tamper with the provisions of the air defence scheme. I read into his speech a fear that I was a most unfit person to look after this great Department. He spoke with authority. Was he not himself Under-Secretary for Air and Vice-President of the Air Council in the year 1919–20? Was that not also the year in which we virtually scrapped the Home Defence Air Force? It may be that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been eaten with remorse for five years and if I have been the means of helping him to relieve his conscience about it, I feel I have been of service.

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