HC Deb 11 March 1924 vol 170 cc2189-207

May I say a work now about a Department of which I am rather proud? By arrangement made some five years ago, the Air Ministry provides the meteorological service of the whole country. The importance of this Department is not sufficiently realised. The public thinks of it in terms of daily newspaper weather forecasts, but its chief work is connected with aviation, shipping, agriculture, public health, and military and naval services. It is a mighty and beneficial international engine. Co-operative observations are taken simultaneously all over Europe. These are collected at a few centres and broadcasted by wireless telegraphy. Almost at once every meteorological office in Europe knows weather conditions from Spitz-bergen to Cairo, and from far out in the Atlantic to Ekaterinburg. As an instrument for prevention of accidents in aviation, it is a splendid life-saving agency. Moreover, 4,000 public-spirited observers all over the country supply us voluntarily with rainfall records; 255 of our 306 climatological stations are maintained at the cost and trouble of scientifically-minded private citizens; and 500 scientific officers on board our merchant ships supply us with observations from all parts of the world. Our own staff is only 270 alert, competent people doing valuable scientific work. Our debt, therefore, to this voluntary army of public-spirited people is incalculable, and may I take this opportunity of expressing the gratitude of Parliament to them? In two Votes £119,000 is put down for this work. After deducting receipts, £12,500, the net cost is £106,500—a remarkably cheap and productive investment.

At the risk of going on a little too long, I feel I must pay my tribute to the Departmental chiefs of this great organisation, the Air Ministry. Their advice, their criticism and their help are being freely rendered. I see them as superbly skilful, experienced men, fulfilling very important duties in the spirit of love of their country. They are fast becoming my friends, and I shall hope to stand by them. This survey misses out many things; it could not be otherwise. Personally, I am in a strange position. I find myself, a pacifist, pleading with the chosen representatives of my country to strengthen its Air Force. I cannot lose sight of the fact that only by agreement among the nations will the purpose that I seek be achieved. My country, in a world of fear and distrust, seeks protection in preparations of force, like all the rest pf the countries. I cannot ask it to disarm. That must come mutually, but our hopes of it continue to burn brightly. There is a world demand for it which must be met. We owe it to the 35,000 splendid young men whom we are enrolling not to lose any opportunities of exploring the possibilities. Though we may prepare for war, our motto is, "No more war." We must move towards reconciliation and the final abandonment of armaments. Scepticism, I know, still rules, but I believe its power is visibly waning. The air weapon, which it is my hard duty to ask the House to burnish and sharpen, is now become for its purpose the most dreadfully effective of them all. It is wielded by the flower of the nation's young manhood. The most supurb of our stock alone can be employed in its use. Therefore, though we are organising them, and increasing their numbers, we owe to them a sacred duty, and that duty is inseparately connected with our foreign policy. If our policy be aggressive or pugnacious, we play the game of treachery to these young men. If, knowing their willingness to die for their country, we took the course of arrogance, our baseness would be too great for measurement. The more we ask them to serve us, the more pacific must be our course. I am proud to belong to a Government which seeks religiously the good will of all the world.


Will the hon. Gentleman say something more about research?


The hon. Member can put a question at a later stage.

Lieut-Colonel Sir SAMUEL HOARE

I can sympathise most sincerely with the request of the Under-Secretary of State for Air for the indulgence of the House in making his Estimates statement. I found myself in the same position last year when, shortly after taking office, I had to deal in detail with the very complicated service of the Air Department. I feel sure that the House will desire me to express to the hon. Member our appreciation of the way in which he has put the facts before us clearly and comprehensively, and I think, at any rate, hon. Members on my side of the House will have noted with no little satisfaction how fully and unreservedly he identified himself with the traditions of the great service that he is called upon to represent. It was a great satisfaction to me to hear his words of praise of the esprit de corps of the officers and men and the officials of the Air Ministry and the squadrons serving both at home and abroad, and, particularly, may I say, I noted with interest the remarks that he made with reference to the operations of the Air Force in Iraq. I remember so well when I sat in his place how, day after day, I was attacked for the bombing that was supposed to be going on in Iraq, and for the lives that were supposed to be sacrificed by the Air Force of the British garrison there. It was a satisfaction to me to hear the other day in the House, in answer to a question, and to hear that answer reaffirmed to-day, that there was no truth whatever in any of these charges, and that the present Government is continuing in every respect the policy that I maintained during the years in which I was in office.

These Estimates are curious in one respect, for although they have been introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, they are, with a single exception, to which I shall draw attention in a few minutes, my own Estimates. In fact, during the last two or three years, the representative of the Air Ministry in this House has introduced not his own Estimates, but the Estimates of his predecessor. As these are substantially my Estimates, perhaps the House will allow me, without accusing me of being egotistical, to say a word or two about one or two matters contained in them. I remember a year ago that, in introducing the Air Estimates, I gave the House two or three definite pledges with reference to my policy. I said, first of all, that, in my view, the Air Force was inadequate in size for its primary duty of home defence, and that it was my policy to increase it. I am glad to say that the expansion programme that I initiated is—at any rate, so far as its first stages are concerned—being carried on by my successor, and I think it is worth noting that the Air Force is being doubled, and the Home Defence Force is being increased tenfold, for a sum that is only going to add, even when the full expenditure comes into operation in three of four years' time, 30 per cent. to the total Estimates, and only 30 per cent. to the total Air personnel. I think that shows that the programme initiated by the-Government of which I was a Member was not only effective, but was certainly economical. So much for the expansion programme of the late Government, and I shall refer to one or two other features connected with it at the end of my speech.

5.0 P.M.

Let me now say a word about another pledge I gave to the House. I told the House that, while I was in office, I would attempt to develop in every possible way civil aviation simultaneously with the expansion of military aviation. I was successful, after many long and complicated negotiations, in bringing together the four small civil air transport companies and in helping them to amalgamate in a big and broad enterprise. I remember that, as in the case of Iraq, so in the case of the agreement with the Imperial Air Transport Company, I was attacked several times by hon. Members who now sit behind the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who thought that I was pushing through some gigantic financial ramp out of which a number of private people were going to make large sums of money, and as a result of which the State would suffer. It was interesting to me to hear that the Under-Secretary had no criticism to make of this arrangement to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too late!"] I do not know if the hon. Member implies that the arrangement was a bad one. If he thinks the arrangement was a bad one, let me remind him of its salient features. In the first place, the now company is to fly an average, not of 500,000 or 600,000 miles, which is now the average mileage, but 1,000,000 miles. That is an improvement. Secondly, before this arrangement, the State was giving in a kind of haphazard, hand-to-mouth manner £200,000 a year in subsidies. Under my arrangement I gave £100,000, repayable out of the profits of the future, in other words, no subsidy at all but simply a loan of £100,000 a year. I venture to think that was an improvement. Thirdly, I insisted that, as evidence of the bona fides of the undertaking and the public interest in it, no less a sum than £500,000 of private capital should be invested in it. Lastly—and here again this was a new condition—I insisted that all the machines and the personnel upon them should be available to the State in any time of national emergency.

I think those facts are sufficient to show that, so far from having made an arrangement which merited the criticisms of hon. Gentlemen behind the Under-Secretary of State for Air, we were enabled to carry through an agreement not only economically but one certain to lead to great aviation developments over the face of Europe in future at a very small expense to the Treasury of this country. That brings me to the third undertaking that I gave last year. I told the House that, so far as I could, I would develop once more the policy of airship operations. Let me remind hon. Members of the position of airships as I found it 18 months ago. Airships had been set aside in 1919, but from 1919 onwards there had been a whole series of inquiries as to whether it would not be possible to resume their operation, not as a part of the military operations of the Air Ministry, but by means of commercial enterprise. One of the early acts of the late Government was to appoint a further Committee, composed of myself, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to see whether financial arrangements could not be made to make possible the resumption of airship operations by means of commercial enterprise. We had a great many meetings of this Committee, and I may say in passing that we were not pledged to any particular scheme. We had alternative schemes put before us. After a very careful inquiry, an inquiry that I would remind the House had upon it a representative of the Treasury in the person of the Financial Secretary, we eventually accepted in principle the scheme connected with the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney).

If I may, I would remind hon. Members of the main conditions of that scheme. There is no secret about it, as I described it in the autumn at the Economic Conference, and a report of my speech was published in the Press. The financial arrangements were, speaking generally, as follows: The new company was to show its stability, just as we insisted in the case of the Imperial Air Transport Company, by finding from the pockets of private investors, a sum of £500,000. The State undertook to give, not, indeed, subsidies, but, rather, loans, repayable from subsequent profits, to the amount of £400,000 a year for a period of seven years. To safeguard the State against entering into commitments for which it was not getting its money's worth, we took the precaution of breaking up this period of seven years into three stages. We decided to make no payments for the subsequent stages till the conditions of the earlier stages had actually been carried out. That meant, in practice, that we were prepared to give a sum of £400,000 for the first stage, under which the company was called upon to build a 5,000,000 cubic feet airship and fly it between here and Cairo. When that stage had been completed the next stage was to begin, under which a weekly service was to be set in operation between this country and India. For that period, we were prepared to make further payments of £400,000 a year for a period of three years. Then came the last period, also three years, under which the company was required to have, not a weekly service to India, but a bi-weekly service to India. At the end of this period, during which these payments would be made, we were prepared, for a further period of eight years, to pay up to a maximum of £250,000 a year by results, and by results we meant that a service of six 5,000,000 cubic feet airships should be in bi-weekly operation between this country and India.

That was the scheme at which we arrived after months of inquiry. It was the scheme that I described at the Economic Conference to the Dominion Premiers. It was a scheme that was attractive in very many ways. Commercially, if it proved to be successful, it was going to be the means of expediting communications between the Mother Country and the Empire in a way that would be quite impossible, owing to the expense and other reasons, by any other means. If the scheme proved successful, it would be possible to reach Cairo, in not from five to eight days, but in two days. It would be possible to reach Bombay, not in 14½ days, but in 4½ days. It would be possible to reach Singapore, not in 28 days, but in 8 days. It would be possible to reach Perth, supposing the service was extended, as it was intended, to Australia, not in 28 days, but in 11 days. I think hon. Members will see from that comparison how great would be the advantage to the Empire from the commercial point of view if a scheme of this kind were put into operation without delay. There was another side to it. There was the Naval side. The representatives of the Admiralty were unanimous in thinking that, if airships were developed, it might be possible to make big economies in the cruiser programme. The airships could undertake much work now carried out by cruisers. For the purposes of Naval reconnaissance, airships have a big advantage. From the Air Ministry point of view, we were quite certain that airships, if they were developed, would more and more play a part as troop carriers as well as aeroplane carriers, and would be especially valuable in such questions as the disposition and interchange of troops and machines in the Near and Far East. Hon. Members will see at once how much easier it would be to arrange for this disposition if you could move substantial numbers of troops and if you could move aeroplanes quickly from one point to another by means of airships. These considerations will, I think, show hon. Members how very important and how very urgent this question of airships is. On that account I do regret most sincetely the omission of any provision for airships from these Estimates. Before I left office I had included in these Estimates the sum of £400,000 for bringing into operation at once the first stage of this great enterprise. That sum has been omitted in the Estimates, and to-day the Secretary of State tells us that they are going to have another inquiry into this question, about which there has been inquiry after inquiry during the last five years! It is the more regrettable from the fact that I am quite certain that, when this further investigation finishes, it will be found that there is no quicker and no cheaper way of getting six gigantic airships into the air for the service between here and India than upon the lines of the agreement at which we had virtually arrived before we left office.

I hope that before this Debate ends, we may hear something more as to the intentions of the Government than the mere fact that an inquiry is to be held into a subject which has been investigated over and over again. Let me give a word of warning. I am quite sure that if they decide that the State should operate the airships, not only will it be a very dangerous plan, but they will find it is a very expensive plan. I had some calculations that showed me where it cost £250,000 a year to pull one of the old airships out of one of the hangars that we have at the present time. Compare that £250,000 a year for one military airship operating with that of six big airships for a commercial enterprise—airships several times the size flying between here and India, and I think the House will agree with me that the programme with which I started was a great deal relatively cheaper than the military operation of one airship would have been.

Let me pass from the question of airships, and let me come to what, after all, is the central question, not only of this Debate, but of the whole policy of the Air Ministry. I refer to the question of air defence. We have had two Debates now on the subject of air defence, one in this House and one in another place. Whilst it is some satisfaction to hon. Members on this side of the House to know that the first stage of our expansion programme is being carried out, I cannot disguise from hon. Members that we have a good deal of anxiety as to the amount of enthusiasm that is going to be put behind the carrying out of that programme. The Under-Secretary himself, and the Noble Lord in another place, hedged round their acceptance of this programme with so many excuses that many of us on this side of the House wondered really whether it was going to be pushed through in the way we desire. We were told that they had to go on with the programme because the country was not sufficiently educated not to have it. We were told that, although they accepted the first stage of the programme, they did not bind themselves further. It seemed to me that they were quite unnecessarily making excuses—if I may say so—for carrying out what I should have thought was the elementary duty of any Government, that is, the duty of national defence. I should have thought that no excuses were at all necessary. I could not help thinking to-day that the hon. Gentleman opposite protested too much as to his pacifist opinions.

Let no hon. Gentleman be in any doubt upon this point; that we on this side of the House are just as anxious as is the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary to see a reduction of armaments. But we do not think that a reduction of armaments is going to be brought any nearer by statement after statement that seems to imply that the Government have no faith in the adequacy of national defence. Take the case of the Under-Secretary. I think the most serious part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the other evening was not so much his pacifist obiter dicta, but the confession that he made that air defence could not be adequate. The hon. Gentleman pointed to the fact that the Air Force was an attacking force, and he then made a kind of reductio ad absurdum in which he told the House that adequate defence was out of the question, because it would mean placing innumerable aeroplanes in every coast town in this country. Local defence is never the best means of defence in any Service. However strong the Navy is, for example, you would never be able to ensure in time of war the security of every square inch of Imperial territory. But none the less, you adopt a formula of adequacy for the Navy, even though you may not prevent isolated raids, say, on Scarborough and other places. You none the less say that your naval defence is adequate. So is it also in the case of the air.

In the event of war the main duty of the Air Force will, no doubt, be to search out the enemy and to attack him, and to achieve air superiority. But it is an entire misrepresentation of the case to say that, if that is so, adequate air defence is unattainable. Adequate air defence is obtainable, and if my programme is carried out in detail, and if simultaneously with that programme antiaircraft defences under the War Office are also fully developed, adequate air defence is certainly obtainable in this country. Let me give the House a couple of examples of what I mean by an effective air defence. During the War one of our pilots had a forced landing behind the enemy's lines. Fortunately he was able to escape and for several weeks he lived in hiding upon Belgian territory. He found himself near an aerodrome that we were continuously bombing. Being a very intelligent person he took note of what was happening, and he made a very interesting report of it afterwards. His report showed that as the air defence of the Germans became more effective as their guns shot better, and their aeroplane defence was stronger, so it became more and more difficult for the British machines to get over the aerodrome, and to drop their bombs. That was a very good instance of the effectiveness of a well-arranged air defence.

The second example happened towards the end of the War. Two fighting squadrons were trained to fight at night, and were organised for the defence of our general headquarters. The result of that was remarkable. The German raids that had previously taken place in great numbers and in great strength diminished. I believe that great developments are possible in this direction, and that if the Government would push on with the programme and simultaneously develop the anti-aircraft side and evolve or rather push on with the schemes already in existence for combined defence with scout lights, sound locators, and the various mechanical means at their disposal, I believe it will be quite possible—providing, as I said, the big programme of air expansion is carried out—to make our defence so effective that the enemies' raids, even though periodically they may penetrate, will become fewer and fewer, and you will be able to drive them high up in the air to fight, and from there the aim of their bombs cannot be accurate. The result of that will be that you will be able to have what the hon. Gentleman opposite has declared to be impossible: you will be able to organize an adequate air defence for these shores.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Are we to understand that hon. Members opposite left office without any scheme of the co-ordination of air defence with the Army?


No, Sir, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is to understand nothing of the sort. There was a fully worked out scheme, and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite will see that it is carried into effect at the earliest possible date.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

A scheme, yes, on paper?


Not only on paper, but in its initial stage. I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not read the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War issued with the Estimates. If he did so, he would see that such help is obtainable from anti-aircraft organization. I have said all this for a definite reason. I have said it to reinforce the demands that I am making to the Government, that having twice refused a Resolution that describes the kind of programme that I have put before the House, they should accept it this evening in the Resolution that I understand will shortly be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny). It is something more than a pedantic abstract Resolution, for it contains a sound workable formula which I should have thought any Government would have welcomed, namely, that our Air Force here should be adequate to defend these shores against the strongest Air Force within striking distance. I should have thought that was an expression of opinion that any Government would have welcomed. If I had been the Under-Secretary for Air or the Secretary for Air, I should have welcomed the acceptance by the House of Commons of a formula of that kind, because it would have strengthened my hand against the Treasury, and it would also have strengthened my hands against any colleagues in the Cabinet who disagreed with me. It would have been a very useful and workable formula accepted by the House of Commons and adopted by the Government for any Secretary of State to have up his sleeve. It is more than that. It is not only a formula of words, but it contains an important point of substance. The Government say that they are prepared to accept the first part of the scheme of expansion, but they are not prepared to go further.

Captain BENN

When the late Prime Minister made this announcement in June last year about expansion, did he mention anything about a first stage? I cannot remember it.


I have got the words the Prime Minister used, and I am coming to that point. The Prime Minister was careful to say that it was the first step, and that subsequent stages would depend on the international situation. But the first stage, and this is the important point, was to be so worked out as to make the subsequent stages easier. That is an important point because you cannot isolate one stage from another. You have to so make your preparations now so that you can proceed automatically and economically to the subsequent stages if it is found that those stages are necessary. If the hon. Gentleman and his Government restrict themselves to the first stage and do not look ahead, it will be much more difficult to carry out the subsequent stages.

Let me give the hon. Member an example of what I mean. If you buy aerodromes now you ought to have in mind the possible necessity of increasing your Air Force still further in two or three years' time. If you build barracks you ought to so build them that it is possible to make additions to them easily if you find that you want more men. That shows that you cannot isolate one stage from the other stages, and you have so to carry out your first stage that if it is necessary you can go on to the second stage without having to pull down barracks or buy new bits of land to add to the size of your aerodromes at an exorbitant price. That is a point of substance, and it confirms my view that it is most important that when the Member for Kingston comes to move his Resolution the Government should accept it and show by accepting it that they are prepared both in the spirit and the letter to carry out the expansion programme of the last Government and carry out the first stage in such a way as to make the carrying out of the subsequent stages both economical and expeditious.

Major-General SEELY

My right hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down has told the House that he is not satisfied with the attitude of the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I feel bound to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman is hard to please, because never, in all my experience of this House, have I seen so complete a change in the direction in which we hoped he would travel. We recognise in the Under-Secretary of State the angel of peace, as he has been portrayed in "Punch," and by his speech to-day, I think, we saw that he was the angel of peace. But never before have I seen an angel put the olive branch in his pocket, if angels have pockets, and bring out the sword. The Under-Secretary stated that, while he was still convinced that disarmament was essential, it was no good for one side to begin by themselves, and he stated that it was essential to protect ourselves from an air menace. He pointed out that was a policy of expansion, and a large policy, both of men and material; and, last of all, he pointed out that the education which those who joined the Air Force would get would make them not only good soldiers of the Empire but good citizens.

As a matter of fact, I do not believe that if my right hon. Friend had made the same speech, that one single voice would have been uplifted against him for being unduly pacific. His special reference to myself went further than that, and he appeared to say that the Under-Secretary of State was the strong, stern Minister determined to maintain our defences, and that I was the pacifist who reduced our defences. I accept the rebuke, and I rejoice that it should have been made from that quarter. I hope I shall have many more rebukes of that kind from the same quarter. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that I resigned my position because I thought Mr. Churchill was sacrificing the Air Service to the Army, and because I thought our Air expansion was not rapid enough. I accept the statement that the Under-Secretary wishes to expand the Air Force, and in that spirit I accept his assurance that he is determined to see the Air Force through, and as long as he is going to do that he can rely upon my support. The Estimates which the Under-Secretary presents to us do represent a substantial increase both in men and material, and I submit that even in times when we are economising it is necessary that there should be that increase. It is true a great part of it is due to my right hon. Friend opposite, but some parts of it are due to the present Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary. There are certain reasons which have not been touched upon which render this increase really essential, and if I may be allowed to address the House for two or three minutes on that point I will do so. It is quite true that the air menace has all along been very formidable. On this question I would like to quote the words of Marshal Foch which he used to our representative in Paris and permitted it to be published. They were as follows: The potentialities of aircraft attack on a large scale are almost incalculable, but it is clear that such an attack, owing to its crushing moral effect on a nation, may impress public opinion to a point of disarming the Government, and thus become decisive. In those words one recognises the precise meaning of the speech of Marshal Foch, who says that the results are almost incalculable and may be decisive even in the initial stages of the war. That statement was made in January, 1921, only three years ago, and since then the advance in the potentialities of aircraft have been quite enormous. In speed we may say that we have almost doubled, and in the power to rise to great heights we have recorded a great advance. But above all, in the weight-carrying capacity of these death-dealing instruments, whether explosives for the air, firing, or gas, the defence has been extraordinary. I was reading only four days ago the report of the United States Ordnance Corps on bomb-dropping experiments. The dropping of their latest bomb, weighing 4,300 lbs., is illuminating.

Many hon. Members who have seen bombs dropped during the recent air raids will appreciate what the advance is when I say that in the case of this large bomb the earth was thrown up to a height of over 1,000 feet, and the bursting effect was estimated to have displaced more than 1,000 cubic yards of hard sand. When that is translated into terms of bombardment of towns, ships, docks and railways, it gives one some idea of the immense advance in destructive power which has been achieved since Marshal Foch used those words. That justifies even a pacifist Government in asking for this increase. It is quite wrong and altogether untrue to suggest that this increase of ours is an answer to the increase in the Air Force in France. The exact contrary is the case and I have good reason for saying so. The first thing is that when it was proposed quite recently to have a neutral pact France openly stated that if we increased our forces, that is, our land forces, they were prepared to reduce theirs, and if we increased our naval force that that would be a reason for them to reduce theirs. But they go further, and although it is not officially reported, I have seen it stated in various publications and on good authority, that in point of fact, the French seek really only safety in this matter, and if we could make ourselves stronger in other directions, even in the air, they would feel themselves justified in reducing their own air forces.

The Under-Secretary stated that very shortly a delegation from the Air Ministry would be going to inspect the Air Forces of France—a return visit for the visit that the French Air Ministry and Air officials paid to us. I venture to prophesy, and I say it quite openly, that, when the Under-Secretary brings us the report of what those officers have seen, they will say it is apparent, for various technical reasons, that the increase of French air power cannot be directed against this country, but must be directed to defence against the menace which they apprehend, rightly or wrongly, from their eastern borders. Moreover, the last time I had the honour of addressing the House on this subject, I pointed out the number of actual casualties that could be caused by a surprise attack upon this country by an Air Force as large as that of France. But be it observed that, if we are to use that argument to say that the extension of the French Air Force is a menace directed against us, the French would be equally entitled to use the same argument that any extension of our Fleet, and notably the five cruisers, was directed against them.

Of course, a moment's examination will show that, if either of these nations, who are so close together, were to do anything so mad as to try to find out how many people could be killed by a surprise attack, while the French Air Force could kill some 10,000 a day by dropping bombs from the air, we could undoubtedly, by a similar surprise attack, kill an equal or greater number by bombardment from the sea. Every Frenchman knows that, and every thoughtful man must realise it, and I ask the House seriously to say that in this expansion of our Air Force we have no idea whatever of replying to a menace from France. We are simply deciding to make this country reasonably secure, not against a near neighbour who for every reason could not make a surprise attack against us—such a crime is unthinkable for any reason—but, viewing the absolute necessity of maintaining our air power in such a state that it can be expanded at any moment to meet the manifold chances of this life, we are justified in making the expansion that I have described.

I see that the Prime Minister is in his place, and I venture to make two appeals to him on this subject. The first is with regard to a statement made by the Under-Secretary, in his interesting speech to-day, that, although this is an expansion of the Air Force, it is not an increase of the fighting forces as a whole, or, at least, of the expenditure upon them, because, although there is an increase in air power, there is a decrease in other fighting services. How far has the Prime Minister ensured that there really is co-ordination in matters of defence? How far has he made sure that this very difficult problem of defending the heart of the Empire and its circumference is viewed as a whole? We are told by the Under-Secretary that there has been a reduction in other forces and an increase in the Air Force. How far is that really scientifically considered? We have been told that Lord Haldane has been appointed Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence—I do not think it has been officially stated, but it has been stated in the newspapers—as a substitute to the Prime Minister, who, of course, must always have the last word and be technically the President of that Committee. The substitute does, in fact, attend the meetings. Has he the power, as I submit he ought to have, to have all Estimates presented to him before they are finally reviewed by the Cabinet, so that he may gather together the best brains of all the staffs, in order to apportion properly, not only the money, but the method of defence by land, sea or air?

I have ventured to urge this upon the House on many occasions, and, if a step forward in that direction has been taken, I congratulate the Government, and beg them still to continue on those lines. I have good reason for knowing how bitter is the hostility of each Department to being reviewed by others. Having served in many, one knows this well, and, therefore, it requires the strong hand of a strong Prime Minister to insist that the Estimates shall be reviewed as a whole by a man giving his whole time to the job, who shall say, "Surely it is madness to pour all that money out in that direction, necessary as it may be, when either air or sea or land power can do what is required." I beg the Prime Minister to continue that and to extend it, if not to forming a Ministry of Defence, at least to ensuring that what has already been done, as we are told by the Under-Secretary, shall be done as a matter of regular routine, and not on some chance Motion, when someone says, "Are we not spending too much in one direction and too little in another?"

The next point that I would ask the Prime Minister to take up, in connection with the Air, is to try and secure that the same interest which the Dominions have taken for years past in the Navy in time of peace, and in the Navy and the Army in time of war, they should take also in the air. Is it not curious that this Empire is probably indestructible except from the air? Supposing that we were defenceless, it might be almost destroyed from the air, for its heart and centre could be wiped off the nap, as we all know. The Dominions, so far, have taken no part in this problem, but I have discussed the question with some of their leading men, and I believe it to be possible that they might render us inestimable service in this direction. What is really going to come from the air is the result of research. We are bat on the fringe of the real problem of the mastery of the air. The rapidity of our advance in the last three' years, when we have been spending very little money on it, shows that we are only on the fringe of an advance which at any moment may become extremely rapid, and those who are going to be masters in the air are not those who have the most aeroplanes, but those who have learned best and have got the best results. No one knows better than the Prime Minister, or, indeed, than my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time when this was before us, that, while the Treasury may be a wonderful body of men, they are very bad at new ideas. With deep respect I say it to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasury official regards new ideas as dangerous things—they lead to extravagance; and it is the fact that in this matter of air research devoted men have been working hard on a particular line, and have spent, perhaps, tens of thousands of pounds, and the Treasury has come down and said, "Stop !" "Oh," they have said, "but we are just on the verge of a great, discovery," and the Treasury official replies, "That is what you always say; go away." That has happened again and again, and it is a fact that the Treasury control of air research, although directed with the most benevolent intentions, has been a sterilising influence.


The right hon. Gentleman says it has happened again and again. That shows that the Research Department has got this money again and again for research, promising within a limited time that the research would mature.

Major-General SEELY

Exactly. My right hon. Friend has told us just what the House ought to know. The Treasury says, "Yes, you shall go on, but if, by the 31st March next year, which is the end of our financial year, you have not got a helicopter, or an under-wing which does what you want, then, sorry as we are, the end of the financial year has come, and nothing more is doing." It is not really made for the job. I believe that if the Prime Minister were to invite the Dominions and India to join in forming an Imperial Board of Aerial Research, he would get a surprising response from some of the Dominions and from India. We want the newest and most original brains. During the War, as no one knows better than my hon. and gallant Friend, No. 1 Flyer, the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), men from our Dominions—from Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand—were foremost in research and in novel ideas. If, then, we could bring in their best brains, and if they could have their headquarters, as they must have, at the greatest research laboratory of its kind in Europe, that at Teddington, if they could be freed from immediate Treasury control by bringing them under Imperial control, if they could be given a great increase of money to enable them to pursue experiments, not up to the end of each financial year, but up to the conclusion of the experiment, which is the only scientific way of doing it, then I believe we might make a great step forward, and although it would not be very spectacular, although we could not say at any one moment that we had far more aeroplanes than anyone else, we might be building up a power for the future which might be of inestimable value to us in time of war, and, should war not come, as we hope it may not, which might be of real value in time of peace.