§ 1. "That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 36,000, 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, 1926."
§ 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £3,412,000, 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, 1926."
§ 3. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,572,000, 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, 1926."
§ 4. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,459,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Quartering, Stores (except Technical), Supplies, and Transport of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926."
§ 5. "That a sum, not exceeding £5,650,000, he 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, 1926."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare)
Before the Debate begins, may I ask, for the guidance of the House, whether you, Mr. Speaker, are prepared to allow a general Debate upon Votes A and 1, upon the assumption, of course, that the general Debate is not continued when the actual Votes come on afterwards, but that on Vote A a general Debate should be allowed?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The House will remember that the rule is that on the Report stage of Supply, discussion should be confined strictly to the matter contained in the Vote. The general discussion on Vote A, according to the practice of the House, is really confined to 1568 the Committee stage, but the point was put to me when these Votes were under consideration a short time ago—and I recognised it to be reasonable—that if the Votes were disposed of by the Committee on the same day on which the Speaker was moved out of the Chair, I should allow the general discussion to be continued on the Report of Vote A, and that is the course I propose to follow on the present occasion.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I presume your ruling does not preclude questions of policy being raised on the Air Minister's salary, which is not one of the Votes being taken to-day?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Oh, no. The salary is, I think, in all the Services kept open till a later period in the Session, in order that there may be future opportunities of discussing questions of general policy.
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I beg to move, to leave out "36,000," and to insert instead thereof "35,900."
When these Estimates were under discussion on the Committee stage, the Debate centred mainly round the question of disarmament, and, again, when the Foreign Office Estimates were discussed on the Vote on Account last week, several of my hon. Friends and I myself dwelt again upon the urgent need for disarmament. I do not, therefore, propose to traverse again ground which has already been covered, but I would make this my point of departure, that we cannot approve Estimates of the Fighting Services which, in all, amount to an increase of 50 or 60 per cent. over pre-War figures, when the dangers of foreign aggression, to protect us against which the Fighting Services exist., are less formidable than in 1913, and when the financial, economic and social needs of tile country are greater. The Government are always referring to the Estimates of 1913, as though they were the irreducible minimum. There are risks which have to he taken, but there are greater social, financial and economic risks involved in heavy expenditure on the Fighting Services.
I confess it is not on the Air Estimates that it is possible to take these serious risks, and my reasons for this are twofold. It is quite true that in 1914 to 1918 the Navy was still our sure shield. 1569 Aeroplanes could come over London and drop bombs, and cause a great deal of alarm, inconvenience and damage. How much alarm and damage, it is dangerously easy to minimise at this distance of time, but, still, so long as the Navy held the mastery of the seas, our vitals were protected. To-day that is no longer true. To-day the Navy holds supreme command of the seas, and yet London can be destroyed without the Navy being able to fire a shot. It is quite possible, within a few hours of the declaration of war, for a fleet of aeroplanes to appear over London, to drop high explosives and incendiary bombs 10 times as many in one visitation as were dropped by the Germans in the worst month of the War, and the Navy, although it held command of the seas, could do nothing to prevent that. And every one of our great cities would be liable to similar visitations.
Therefore, I think there is no hon. Member in any quarter of the House who will dispute this statement, that it is quite possible for our industries to be entirely deranged, our great cities to be shattered by incendiary and high explosive bombs, our people demoralised by incessant bombardments and the terrors of gas, and reduced to the verge of starvation by the destruction of communications, our Government paralysed, and all this while the Navy still holds command of the seas and yet incapable of firing a shot in our defence. Therefore, I say that the only possible defence against such formidable contingencies as I have ventured briefly to describe, is that which can be provided by the Air Force, and by no other fighting service. In the second place, there are few Members who will not agree that the relative value of the three factors, the Air Force, the Army and the Navy in the strategic equation: s constantly changing, and that the Air Service is gaining rapidly at the expense of the other two Services.
I daresay hon. Members have follower the controversy in the United States of America, which seems to have reached its. climax when the Chief of the Air Force offered to drop bombs from a single aeroplane and sink one of the United States warships, even although the other ships of the Fleet brought anti-aircraft batteries to bear while he was carrying this out. The challenge was met by the Secretary to the United States Navy, 1570 who said he would gladly stand like Casabianca alone on the deck of the battleship while the Chief of the Air Staff was trying to bomb it. Unhappily, I am afraid there is very little chance of this interesting experiment being permitted to take place, but undoubtedly the United States ship "Washington" was sunk by aircraft bombs, and although it is not possible to say how far one can go with the inference, the time is inevitably coming when aeroplanes will be able to dominate operations by sea, at any rate in the narrow seas, and will be able to make it impossible for surface ships to exist within their radius of action a radius which is constantly increasing.
I do not contend that that is what would happen, if by any misfortune we were to be engaged in war in the near future. I do not suppose if we were fighting a great Air Power in Europe, that sinking battleships would be the principal task of aeroplanes. Aeroplanes would strike the first blow. They would come over the docks and bases, the stores and communications, and the main fleets at sea would find themselves paralysed and incapable of effective action, on account of aeroplane bombardments of their bases, docks and stores without their being able to fire a shot, or without their having seen a hostile aeroplane. These are the contentions upon which I base my belief, not only that the Air Force is gaining rapidly and enormously at the expense of the other two Services, but that it is one of the duties of the Government to make it clear that it is even now our first line of defence. It follows from that. that it is of paramount importance that the development of the Air Force should not be cramped or hindered, or in any degree obstructed by the conservative tendencies and prejudices of the chiefs of the other two fighting Services, and that control over the expenditure of any money we may vote to-night should not be entrusted to officers of the other Services, whose view of the Air Force is merely that it should be ancillary to these older Services, and that the officers responsible for the training, promotion and discipline of Air Force units and of the officers and men composing them. should not be men who are soldiers and sailors, who, in my hon. and gallant Friend's phrase, do a little flying in their spare time, but they should be keen 1571 airmen—airmen first, last and all the time—who look to the Air Service for their careers, and are determined to make it play a preponderating role in any war. No naval officer who does an air course like he would a gunnery course or submarine course is going to accept the Air Force point of view on these questions. He is only interested in the ancillary services which the Air Force can render to the Fleet, and if the admirals have anything to do with promotion, they will naturally prefer the man who is interested in that Service rather than the man who is determined to seek means to destroy the huge, formidable and costly, but happily obsolescent battleships which it is their pride to command.
It is for these reasons that I, and many of my hon. Friends, have been alarmed at the new departure which we see in the form of the Estimates. It appears that the Admiralty is going to be responsible for the expenditure on the Fleet Air arm, and that the Air Ministry is to receive an Appropriation-in-Aid in respect of the expenditure. The First Lord of the Admiralty does not even attend the Air Estimates Debate, or if ho looks in for a moment or two as on the last occasion we were discussing these Estimates in Committee, he remains lurking in the gloomy recesses of the Tory back-benches. I would, therefore, put to the right hon. Baronet who, I understand, is going to reply, these questions on the relations between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty: First, whether the recommendations of the Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence which considered the relations between the Air Service and the Admiralty have been carried out in full: secondly. whether the relations between the Navy and the Air Service, as explained by the Sub-Committee in Part 2 of their Report, have been altered in any respect other than in accordance with their published recommendations; thirdly, whether the Admiralty accept without, reservation, except as to the tactical control of Air Force units at sea, the principle of the absolute and unified control of the Air Force by the Air Ministry; and fourthly, are the Ministry free to develop the Fleet Air arm without hindrance or interference from naval authorities, and in such directions, for example, as in the attack upon ships at sea by aeroplane?
1572 Believing, as we do, that the true line of development in the organisation of our national defence will be something in the nature of a Ministry of Defence, with the Air Ministry as the dominant partner, rather than in the absorption of the Air Ministry by the other two fighting Services, we have observed this departure in the form of the Estimates with some apprehension, and I hope the Government will be able to allay our anxiety. When we are asked to vote this very large sum of money, the first question that arises is, Are we going to get security? The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), in one of the most eloquent, earnest and moving speeches I have heard even from his lips, when we were discussing this matter in Committee, made it clear that he was against armaments altogether. He said that the only logical alternative to complete disarmament was efficiency, and, therefore, he was not going to move a reduction of so many thousand pounds or so many hundreds of men; he went the whole hog, and declared for the complete abolition of the Air Force. We who disagree with him in thinking that it is possible, in the existing state of the world, to do without armaments altogether, agree with him, however, that the logical alternative is that you must have efficiency in your armaments, and, therefore, we want to be more satisfied than we were from the extremely interesting, informative and valuable, but necessarily discursive speech of the Secretary of State in introducing the Estimates, that we shall obtain efficiency and relative security in the air.
Speaking in this House nearly two years ago on the same stage of these Estimates, I referred to the fact that a great deal of the French Air Force is ancillary to the French Army. The French have an enormous army, and, naturally, have to have the ancillary services which aeroplanes can afford them in proportion to the size of their army. A very large part of this French Air Force is, therefore, tied up with the French Army on the Eastern front. It is out of the question for those machines to be moved en mass from the Eastern Frontier to the West, nor could they form an effective striking aerial force if that were done. To a very large extent they are composed of scouts, artillery spotting machines and reconnaissance machines, and they would be 1573 quite unsuited to form part of an independent air striking force. Therefore, I would ask whether it is not possible to suggest to us, as a standard of air strength, some standard which would be more exact than that of the total number of aeroplanes at the disposal of the French Government. Speaking in this House two years ago, the Secretary of State for Air said that he welcomed the inquiry that was going to be conducted by the Committee of Imperial Defence into the whole problem of national defence. He said he would look to that Committee for guidance as to the duties of the Air Force, and he put to them the following questions.What Imperial responsibility is the Air Force to undertake? Is there some standard likely to be the one standard at which we should aim?Has the Secretary of State received answers to those questions, and, if so, will he communicate them to the House? We know that this Committee has reported, because it is upon their recommendation that this expansion scheme has been decided upon; but these questions which were put by the Secretary of State go to the very root of our Air policy. They have never been answered, and I hope the Secretary of State will be able to give us the answers now.
In his introductory speech he referred frequently to the strength of the French Air Force, not because he feared the incalculably remote contingency of war with France, but because the French have the strongest air force in Europe, and, therefore, it is the natural standard by which the air forces of other Powers must be measured. It should not, however, be regarded as a proportion of three to one, because that involves calculating all the aeroplanes at the disposal of the French Government; but some effort should be made to ascertain the maximum striking force at the disposal of the strongest air Power, and our comparison should be with that striking force. Then the question arises: If we can attain to the strength of the strongest air force in Europe, what means of defence have we, and what is our best means of defence? On this I would ask the Secretary of State, firstly, whether research is proceeding on measures of defence from the ground? I confess I have not very much faith in these methods 1574 of defence, but I would gladly be converted. I was a little puzzled by a passage in the right hon. Baronet's speech in introducing the Estimates, and I have read it since without much further enlightenment. After speaking of the various means of defence, and the control of ground defence units by the Air Ministry, he said:I am aware that a number of people say that in the way of air operations defensive operations ale of little use, and that the air is essentially an offensive arm. I agree; but that does not mean that a system of defence such as I have just outlined cannot be very effective."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1925, col. 2200, Vol. 180.]Can it be effective? I think we are entitled to a clear answer to that question. I would, therefore, further ask, is there any prospect that an effective defence against air attack can be organised by the Air Ministry, with aeroplanes and ground defence units under its control, or must we rely almost entirely on the offensive power of our striking force—on being able to inflict reprisals upon the enemy by seeking out and bombing the enemy's air base? If so, think the fact should be clearly stated. and the issues squarely faced, and I think they would help to mobilise public opinion in every country of the world in favour of a great measure of disarmament which would save civilisation from the great risks to which it is exposed by the growth of air armaments. After all, France is by far the largest Air Power in Europe. She is bound to us by many ties of common interest and sentiment, and she has many uses to which she might be devoting the money which she is spending on building up this great Air Force. For example, she might be restoring her own national credit. Therefore, I suggest to the Government that in these circumstances it must be possible, to come to some arrangement with the French nation, by which the necessary standard of equality can be attained between the Air Forces of the two nations, and at the same time a halt called to that wasteful and unproductive expenditure.
There is one other point, on the military side, and that is the strength of the Air Force reserves. Figures have been given as to the strength of these reserves in previous Debates, and I think it is a very important point, bemuse our Air Force is comparatively small, and 1575 we shall rely on a great power of expansion. If war came, it would be vital to have some power of expansion, and, therefore, I would ask the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply, to let us know how we stand in respect of reserves—not the reserve units, but reserves to supply wastage of personnel in war and to provide the means of expansion. I welcome what the Secretary of State said about research. With our small force, it is vital that we should proceed as fast as we can with research and experiment, so as to aim at the highest standard of quality, and in this connection I should like to ask as to two lines of research to which the Secretary of State did not refer in his introductory speech—in the first place, with regard to research on aeroplanes controlled by wireless without pilots, and, secondly, with regard to helicopters. I remember, in 1919 and 1920, hearing about a helicopter down at Farnborough, to the expenditure on which the Treasury was constantly contributing, and, as some hon. Members will recollect, it came before the Estimates Committee of this House about two years ago. We found that even then the Treasury had been giving for three or four months final instalments of grants to enable those experiments to continue. Since then, I understand, at regular intervals these final instalments have been continued to he handed out to the inventor of the helicopter at Farnborough. I should like to know whether any result is in prospect from these experiments.
Now I come to civil aviation. This is surely the most important of all the activities of the Air Ministry but nevertheless, as was pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), on the Committee stage, only 2 per cent. of the expenditure of the Air Ministry is devoted to civil aviation. Civil aviation is not only vital to our economic interests, but is the foundation upon which our air power must be based, just as the Mercantile Marine and the fishermen round our coasts are the foundation of our sea power. Of course, there are great natural difficulties in this country. In our small country, with its highly developed system of communications and its foggy and uncertain climate, it is very difficult to get civil aviation, in the phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to fly by itself. There- 1576 fore, it is all the more important for the Air Ministry to foster and encourage and stimulate it, by every means in its power.
The Secretary of State, speaking on this question a year ago, said that under the agreement with the Imperial Airways Company there was every chance of British civil aviation taking the lead in Europe. Does he still adhere to that statement? Can he say that this agreement is enabling British aviation to take the lead among the countries in Europe, and overtake its rivals who were earlier in the field? The Under-Secretary, in his all too brief but most interesting speech at the close of the Debate on the Committee stage, referred to the enterprise of certain ex-air officers who were going round with aeroplanes of their own and giving people trips. That is obviously of great importance in developing the air defence of the country and getting people to understand and take an interest in the air. What help and encouragement does the Air Ministry give to these ex-officers? I think it is obviously a thing which every Member of the House would like to see encouraged. Then, what prospect is there that the Imperial Airways Company, with the encouragement and stimulus of the Air Ministry, will open up more lines in this country? I know the long-distance lines are more economical, and, from many points of view, more important. At home it is difficult to get support, but if we are to get the people into the air, and get them really interested in aviation, it is of tremendous importance to get these air lines, connecting up the pleasure resorts on the coast, the Highlands of Scotland, and so on, started, and to get the largest possible number of people interested in them.
I would ask, how is it possible to justify the comparative neglect of civil aviation in this country compared with the large sums that are spent on it in foreign countries? In the current year we only propose to spend £357,000, while France is spending the equivalent in sterling of £1,758,000. Again, on air line subsidies we are only spending £137,000, in spite of our much greater difficulties as compared with other countries. Even Germany is spending £244,000, and France, £652,000. As has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Hallam, 1577 civil aviation is too likely to be the Cinderella of the Air Ministry. We should like to know how the matter of the negotiations with Germany stands, so that we can get the air line to Prague. Several of my hon. Friends have raised that question before, and it has been hanging fire for years—indeed, ever since the Armistice, ever since civil aviation was seriously tackled. It is high time now that we got some satisfaction, so that the whole of the vast area of Central Europe should not be practically blocked against the enterprise of British air lines.
Finally, I would ask, is anything being done to encourage a scheme of which I have heard, but to which there may be many objections of which I am quite ignorant—a scheme to encourage cooperation between the French and ourselves in carrying the mails by air to India? I do not in the least press this point, but I think we are entitled to mention it. I do not know what objections there may be to the scheme, but the mere fact that it involves co-operation with France is, I suggest, by no means a disadvantage, but rather a most attractive feature of the scheme. In the development of civil aviation there will be many instances of co-operation between different countries in regard to the services which civil aviation can render to humanity. It seems to me that there are three principal tasks confronting the Air Ministry at the present time. The first is to build up a Service which should not be numerically stronger than the total aeroplane strength of any other foreign Power, but which must be not less powerful than the striking force of the strongest Air Power in Europe. The second is by no means less important; indeed, it is far more important, in my view, though, perhaps, it less directly concerns the Air Ministry, and may be said to be within the purview of the Foreign Office. It is to seek by every possible means disarmament, so as to avert the frightful perils to which civilisation is exposed from the growth of armaments. The third task is to promote by all possible means the growth and development of civil aviation. It is this last task which the Air Ministry has seemed to me to have been sometimes inclined to neglect, although I do not wish to disparage what the Secretary of 1578 State himself has done, following on the Report of the Hambling Committee, to encourage civil aviation in this country. I think, however, that far more should be done than the wretched 2 per cent. of the whole expenditure of the Air Ministry. If this task is effectively performed, I think it will be the most fruitful, the most enduring, and the most renowned task with which any Secretary of State for Air could be charged.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
We have had a very interesting Debate on the Air Estimates, in which we have wandered all over the compass and have dealt chiefly with disarmament. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley ((Mr. Lansbury) gave us a very interesting speech, going back to Tudor times, then proceeding to the Napoleonic Wars and the late War, and, finally, threatening us with the Yellow Peril. I submit that the hon. Member quite forgot to tell us that the Roman Empire was lost because the efficiency of its legions was not kept up, and that, therefore, it would be more prudent for us to have a really efficient Air Force. Is our Air Force really efficient or not? I am one of the few Members of this House who think that these Estimates are not adequate, and that we should not be so far behind France. I think the Secretary of State for Air should dig his heels in and demand more of the money that is available for the defence forces. He ought to get at least a third of the money that is available for defence, and should not he whittled down as he is at present. He told us that the French have three times as many aeroplanes as we have. I submit that that is a very unsatisfactory position, and that we ought to increase our Air Estimates.
No one in these Debates has gone into the details of the Air Estimates. and I should like just to probe them a little. In the first, place, I think the White Paper issued by the Air Ministry is the most muddling document I have ever seen. I do not know which bright brain under the Gallery is responsible for this Memorandum, but it starts by dealing with the Fleet Air Arm, then it goes on to the regular squadrons for home defence, then to the Fleet Air Arm again, 1579 and then to squadrons for home defence work. I submit that in this White Paper we ought to have a clear policy of the Air Minister laid down, on the lines of his speech, and then he ought to say what is required for home defence and what is required for the Fleet Air Arm, the India Office and the Colonial Office. Then we should be able to understand a little more what he is driving at. What is the test of an efficient Air Service? It is whether the organisation is ready to expand quickly, whether it has the very best material, and whether enough money has been devoted to research. The number of men provided in Vote A is quite inadequate for a really first-class Air Force. I think it ought to be increased.
The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Manchester criticised the number of flying men as compared with the number of non-flying men—the number of fighters as compared with the number of people on the ground. He cannot have studied the air question very deeply, because if you had 1,000 men looking after the machine, and that machine brought in the right information at the right time, they would not be wasted. You have only to consider the Battle of Jutland. If Lord Jellicoe had only had proper aerial reconnaissance to bring in the proper information where the German Fleet were a day or two after the battle it would not have mattered if 1,000 men had looked after the machines. We can well leave that to the Air Minister. He is not likely to overload We Air Force. I should like to ask the Air Minister to go into the question of accelerating the promotion of the younger men. The people at the head of the list are rather blocking promotion, and the young men feel that 'hey have not a good career. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to give us some assurance that he will put the older men on a reserve list and so help the younger ones. Under Vote 2 I see large sums down for barrack services, fuel and light, which come to nearly £250,000. I think the Air Minister should put the axe into those items and go into them thoroughly to see if all that expenditure is necessary, because I believe he should put as much money into the air machine and try to save as much as possible of 1580 these items which are not really of great value.
Now I come to Vote 3, under the heading of aeroplanes, seaplanes, etc. I cannot ask the number of machines he, is going to purchase because that is confidential. But I should like to ask how much of that money is to go to the Fleet Air Arm and whether any old type machines have been purchased under these Estimates and whether any machines are being re-conditioned, because I think everyone will agree it is time the old machines were wiped off the list. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about the seaplanes of the Boat type. Are they being developed? Is he responsible for that, or is the Admiralty responsible now, and is the torpedo aeroplane being developed properly? Whose responsibility is it, the Air Ministry or the Admiralty? If he will give me a little information on that I shall be very much obliged.
I should like to say a word about the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, for which there is an item of £37,000, but if you turn over the page you find it is £439,000 all together. I have taken the trouble to look up the Estimates for the last few years. In 1923–24 it was £380,500; in 1922–23 £424,000; in 1921–22, £364,000; in 1920–21. £342,000. So in the last five years the factory at Farnborough has had £2,000,000. I ask hon. Members to look into this figure. They do not produce any machines. What have they produced for £2,000,000? I ask the Secretary of State to look carefully into that because the Naval Air Service would not have anything to do with Farnborough. We did not believe in their work, and we got better results by going to private firms. May I remind the House that we hold no records of any description in this country. We have no world trophies. What is the reason of that? It is either that our industry is inefficient or too much hampered. It is not inefficient, because in the War we produced the best machines in the world with our aircraft industry, and therefore I submit that the industry is too much hampered. At Farnborough they produce all sorts of rules and regulations. These are passed on to the industry and they cannot turn out as efficient machines as they should. I think the money goes in the wrong direction, and I would ask the Air 1581 Minister to look into that carefully to see whether Farnborough is not hampering the efficiency of our machines too much. I heard a case of an official arriving at a firm with a dynamo, and he wanted to put it into one of the new machines under construction. The official of the firm said, "We have already got two dynamos in that machine." He was asked, "Cannot you put a switch and a little wiring and use this?" The official said, "No, that is not my department." We are overloading our machines with too many gewgaws, and they are not efficient. I ask the Air Minister to look into that. May I say a word about the Aeronautical Inspection Department. They are very efficient, hut I think they tie the firms up too much, and they ought to be given a freer hand. We gave our inspectors in the Royal Naval Air Service a free hand, and they could do as they liked.
Last year I raised the question of accidents with the Under-Secretary, but he had only just got into office and did not know very much about it. During the year, we have had a very large number of accidents. They had a. Debate the other night about accidents, and it came out that we have a great number. When we first started the Naval Air Service we had fewer accidents than the military had. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) will agree with me that the reason we always thought we had fewer accidents was because we drew very skilled artificers from the Navy. We had torpedo artificers, hydraulic artificers and engine-room artificers, and they were skilled in handling different types of mechanism, and we soon taught them to handle new engines and new aero-engines. I ask the Minister if he could not introduce into the Air Service a pure engineering branch—men given a much higher training, not hauled out for every parade that happens to be wanted at the aerodrome, but these men should be selected and well trained, and I guarantee you could reduce the accidents 50 per cent. if you trained a real engineering personnel inside the Air Force.
I should also like to ask the Minister, what does he do to help the trade to sell their air machines'? We cannot sell battleships or cruisers nowadays, but we could sell aircraft. The French encourage their firms to sell as much as possible abroad, 1582 and I should like to know if the Air Ministry do the same.
I come now to the Aeronautical Research Committee, £5,000 and £2,500. Do the experts on this Committee give enough of their attention to the requirements of the trade? I should like the Air Minister to look into that point, whether they really help the trade or are they always going in for research with machines that are out of date and not looking far enough ahead. I think the gentlemen on these Committees should really try to improve the machines which are going to be built and not carry out research work with machines which are passed away and finished. Have the firms any representatives on that Committee? If the Air Minister will look into that I should be very much obliged. I was struck by a. remark made by the hon. and gallant Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Brigadier-General Warner), that you ought to standardise machines. That is the very last thing you ought to do. Improvements are coining along every day. They tried to standardise the BE2C before the War, and the Army officials got into difficulties over that. The last thing we want to do is to standardise machines in the present state of aeronautics.
I should like to pass to airships. I went to Cardington the other day, and I congratulate the Air Minister on what we saw there. It is a very efficient station, They have got rid of all the muddle they had before, and R.33 was covered with her outer cover and looked very efficient. I have never seen an outer cover put on an airship more efficiently. It was like a kid glove, and the staff who put it on and the officers responsible for it ought to be congratulated. One thing I was disappointed about was the experiment I saw on girders. I only say one experiment on a box-shaped girder under compression. I ask the Air Minister to give more money to carrying out experiment on girders. These are very frail structures—these rigids—and when a rigid is in the air and is going at speed and her rudder is put hard over you may get torsional stresses on the girders, and if they are at all weak you may get a fracture and an accident. That happened with 37 rigid, due to the faulty design of the Admiralty constructors. I hope the Air Minister will 1583 not allow them to have anything to do with the design of these ships in the future. They failed in that respect. My point is that if you get heavy torsional stresses you may get an accident, and I ask the Air Minister to devote more money to that, to give the officer in charge of these experiments more money, and he can carry out proper experiments with torsional stresses these girders may have on them in the air.
I should like to say a word about fabrics. I hope the Air Minister is sending samples of the outer cover, and perhaps a whole gas-bag, out to India or Egypt. You want to test them out there by experiments on the inflated gas-bag. I think he could do that better by sending these ships out to India or Egypt. I should like to ask him what he is doing about having a substitute for the skin lining on the gas-bag. Is he carrying out research work to get a better lining, a better and more efficient lining than skin? If you could get a good substitute it would save a tremendous amount of work in putting the skin on such a huge surface as the gas-bag of a rigid. I am glad to see the Minister is going to have a shed and mooring mast at Kurachi. That is a very good position if we develop an air station in India. There is level ground there, and it ought to he a good place for running an airship. I should like to ask the Minister whether any research work is being done with helium. The Americans have developed a supply of helium, but we cannot get it from there We get a little from Canada, but has he tried any other part of the Empire to find out if he can get it? With regard to the training of pilots, would it not be advisable to have two or three flexible airships of 400,000 cubic feet or so, simply to get their spare crews up in the air for training? They have not had any training in this country in the airships for some three or four years, and I think the spare crews ought to be sent up in the air. It is not necessary to risk a rigid every time, but we could have two or three flexible airships.
May I make a remark about the airship that is associated with the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). I saw in the Press the other day that he had got 1584 out a very fine design with the navigating chamber in the keel, very much on the lines of the Formalini that we experimented with in Milan in 1913. I would ask him to consider this. Before he goes in for a departure like that, will he consider whether in getting a greater speed of two knots or more, as he will in this design, he will be able to control the airship as well as if the navigating gondola was further aft. It is an important point, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend values it as much as I do, because he is an old sailor. Are the pilots who are responsible for these airships in the air going to have any say or to be allowed to make helpful criticism of the design of the Airship Guarantee Company, because these men have to take the airship in the air. They are responsible for her safety and for the lives of the crew. I do not mean that. they should criticise it destructively, but if they see that she is not as manageable as she might be, looking through the design, they ought to be allowed to say so. I would ask the Air Minister if he would look into that point. I agree with every word my hon. Friend behind me said about civil aviation. I do not think we are devoting enough money to it, and I should like to ask the Minister has he any check over this million miles supposed to be flown by Imperial Airways Limited, and also whether he has any check as to whether they fly their latest machines? Do they go on flying old machines, or are they compelled under the subsidy scheme to provide new ones every few years? That is a point that ought to be looked into, because otherwise the airmen and the passengers may he unduly risked by not having up-to-date machines.
May I make a remark about the Fleet air arm. It is a hardy annual, always coming up on every Estimate, as to whether the Admiralty should have control over their air arm. The Admiralty used to have an Air Service, and what did they do with it.? They smothered it in its infancy and then threw it overboard. We are never told in these Debates that the Admiralty had an air arm. But they did, and they blocked it at every turn. Then we had an hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Manchester coming here at the last Debate and saying:The point I want to put is that just as the Navy has found that an independent 1585 Air Ministry has absolutely failed to deliver the goods, 60 an independent Air Ministry is absolutely failing to provide for the air requirements of the Army and I venture to suggest that if the Admiralty were made completely and entirely responsible for the Naval Air Service it would be able to adjust and create that service to meet requirements.I challenge the hon. Member to justify those statements. He did not tell the House that the Admiralty had an air service and blocked its development from start to finish. They would not allow us to have Zeppelins at the battle of Jutland. They blocked the creation of the torpedo machine, and they blocked the creation of aircraft carriers. Lord Graham came to the Admiralty in 1913 with the design of a seaplane carrier. Of course it was turned down. Everything the air service tried to do was blocked by the Sea Lords of the Admiralty. Then they get people to come to the House and demand that they should have a naval Air Service again. I submit that the Air Minister should resist that all he possibly can. Do not let the Admiralty have a single thing to do with the control of the Air Service. Keep them out of the rigids all you can, and simply supply their requirements. I know some of my comrades of the Navy do not agree with me in all this, but I ask them this. There is my brother Admiral there, who is a great gunnery expert. Before the war, right up to 1914, did any of the captains of the "Excellent" ever try to help the Air Service to develop aerial spotting to spot for the shooting of the guns to make it inure accurate? I notice that. Admiral Bacon, in his book, says the shooting of the cruiser squadron was deplorable. I should like to know if the First Sea Lord, Lord Beatty, ever did a single thing to try to help to improve the shooting of his squadron by developing aerial spotting. I apologise for having occupied so much time, but I am very interested in this air work, and have devoted a good deal of my life to it.
§ 5.0 P.M.
Major-General Sir JOHN DAVIDSON
I want to touch on one aspect. of this question which has not been sufficiently dealt with and that is the aspect of Imperial defence. We had a very interesting statement from the Ail Minister a fortnight ago on the subject of home defence and the establishment and expansion of the Air Service at home. 1586 But while I think this statement was very satisfactory, I cannot help agreeing with the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that construction should proceed at a quicker pace if possible so as to bring us up to a standard of equality with any European Power. It is rather with the question of Imperial Defence that want to deal to-day. The Secretary of State made one very important remark in his speech on 26th February, and I would like to read a sentence of it:I would ask lion. Members to keep constantly in their minds the potentialities of air power for Empire defence. if we could make our Empire defence more mobile than it is now, might we not save large numbers of men and great sums of money."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 26th February, 1925; col. 2199, Vol. 180.]I wish that the Minister had had time or opportunity to develop that statement, and his theory and ideas. It is on that line that I want to speak briefly this afternoon. I have an uncomfortable feeling that the Air Service in Imperial defence is not getting proper recognition either from this House or from the public, or, what is perhaps more important, from the two Services, the Army and Navy. I do not think that it will ever get that proper recognition from the Army and the Navy until we have a much more effective system of co-ordination. I am very glad to hear in all these Debates hon. Members mention this question of co-ordination between the three Services, because it is of vital importance. We see quite clearly the Navy and the Air Service, as represented in this House. still taking views opposed to each other.
Co-ordination of the three Services has been the subject of Debate in this House for the last five years, and many of us have pressed the Government to do some thing in this direction, with the result that in 1923 a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was set up to consider the whole question. It made its report and certain recommendations, which go a long way to assist in getting the desired result. I would like to remind the House of what those recommendations were. They were, in the first place, that the Committee of Imperial Defence, instead of being a nebulous body consisting of no recognised members, should have a proper membership, that the three Chiefs of Staff of the 1587 three Services should he members of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and, what is more important still, that each Chief of Staff of each Service should be not only individually responsible for his own arm of the Service, but that also he should have collective responsibility for what is required in regard to defence in all three Services together. I would like to read to the House one paragraph, because I think it is of great importance:In addition to the functions of the Chiefs of Staff as advisers on questions of sea, land, or air policy, respectively, to their own Board or Council, each of the throe Chiefs of Staff will have an individual and collective responsibility for advising on defence policy as a whole, the three constituting. as it were, a Super-Chief of a War Staff in Commission.That is what I and many of us want to see—a real super Chief of War Staff in Commission, with power to co-ordinate the work of the three Services. Although that recommendation has been made, I doubt whether this collective responsibility is more than imaginary; I doubt whether it is real. I do not want to deal with the great questions of establishment for war or plans for war, but, I do want to deal for a moment with what I consider to be the basis of Imperial Defence, and that is the system of defence of those many points which we hold, scattered all over the. world—coaling or oiling stations, defended ports, bases, strategic points and so on. Personally I feel very strongly that we are defending those points in a wrong way, in an expensive way, and in an inadequate and inefficient way. Let me take an example to illustrate what I have in my mind. We have in the Mediterranean three points which have been hitherto of very great importance in the shape of Gibraltar. Malta and Egypt. The Mediterranean, so far as I gather—I hope my naval friends will correct me if I am wrong—is the centre of gravity of the Navy at the present moment. It is in a central position, and it is, in fact, the centre of gravity of the Navy. The Mediterranean, therefore, of great importance, and the defence of those three points, Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt, is of equal importance.
Take Gibraltar. We have certain fixed defences there. I think it is of very little value, because we can neither get aircraft on it nor off it. I doubt very 1588 much whether the armaments there are of any great value. But it is quite certain to me that if there were any modern howitzers on the mainland, it would be utterly impossible for any of our ships to go into the port of Gibraltar. I also think it is very improbable that they could make use of that station, if there was a considerable aircraft force opposed to them. Take Malta. There we have fixed defences; we have guns and fortifications, and searchlights and minefields, and submarines. I want to know from the Minister why we have no aircraft there. I believe I am wrong in saying that we have none at all; we have four or five machines. Surely, if the Mediterranean is the centre of gravity of the Navy, we ought to have a strong force of aircraft stationed at. Malta? What is the use of these fixed armaments? Take, for instance, the long-range gun, the heavy gun. It has to fire at an object which cannot be seen or which can be seen only from the air. The gun has a limited range, and it cannot be shifted from one place to another, whereas if we had aircraft there, reducing part of those fixed defences, we could co-operate with the Fleet, operating 250 miles distant from that base, and that would form a mobile defence, which could be shifted elsewhere.
Let us imagine, for example, that the theatre of operations was not in the Mediterranean at all, but Eastward. What is the use of our fixed armaments in places like Malta and Gibraltar? I am not suggesting that we should do without. those fixed armaments altogether, but I think we have adopted them too much in the past, and that it is time that we kept up to date with scientific development by encouraging aircraft defence rather than fixed armament defence. Take the case of Egypt. We have all realised the importance of the defence of the Suez Canal, but here, again, I think aircraft ought to play a much more important part in defence. We are told that the defence of the Suez Canal is a question for the Army primarily. I doubt that very much. I think it is primarily a question for the Navy and the Air Force. You have a wide desert in front of the Canal, and it is most important that the defence should be met as far as possible in front of the Canal. The Air Force can do that better than anyone else. I 1589 am not, again, suggesting that we can do without the infantry battalions and the cavalry that would be required for defence. I do suggest, however, that there should be a proper balance between the three Services in the defence of these important places abroad, that there is not that proper balance now, and that we shall not get it until we have co-ordination between the three Services. I believe that we could get that co-ordination sufficiently for the moment if real responsibility, collective responsibility, were put on the three Chiefs of Staff. That is not so now. Collective responsibility is not real. I hope that the Air Minister will do his best to see that it is made so. We would then get that greater measure of efficiency and economy which we so greatly require.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Major Sir Philip Sassoon)
Sympathetic recollection of the events of the Debate of a fortnight ago will no doubt have prepared hon. Members for my intervening in this Debate at the earliest possible moment. The very admirable speeches to which we have just listened give me an opportunity of which I can fairly avail myself, for many interesting points have been raised, to which, no doubt, the House will desire an early reply. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who proposes to speak later in the evening, will deal with any other points that may arise, or any with which I have not dealt adequately. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sutter) that the Air Minister is fully alive to the importance of doing everything he can to foster and stimulate—I believe those were the words used—civil aviation in this country. It is a definite part of our policy. We look to a healthy civilian service to act as a ground-work for our military air service, and we look forward hopefully to the time when civil flying will occupy the same relative position towards the Air Force as the mercantile marine now occupies towards the Navy. So that from every point of view civilian flying is hound to take a leading place in the general air policy, and, indeed, in the life of this country.
But when comparisons are made between what we are actually spending on civil aviation, and especially when 1590 comparisons are made between the subsidies we propose and the subsidies spent. by other countries, there are certain important considerations that should be taken into account. After all, there are limits to the amount that even the most enthusiastic and determined Air Minister can ask this House to vote. We are engaged upon a progressive scheme for the expansion of our defence forces. Therefore, the greater part. of the money which is voted annually in these Estimates must be devoted to the completion of that scheme. It. follows that the moneys that are available for the development of commercial aviation roust be strictly controlled by the prior claims of home defence. In France, on the other hand, the development of the military Air Force of our Allies has progressed at such a pace during the last few years that the necessity for the development of defence does not exist in such an imperative fashion. It follows, therefore, that more money is available for commercial flying. Therefore, it is not quite fair, I think, to compare the £135,000 that we spend a year on civilian flying with the £600,000 or thereabouts that is spent in France on it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness referred to the amount of money that is being spent. in Germany. There, I will say that the restrictions that are imposed by the Allies on the military development of German aviation make far more money available for civil aviation. We in this country are, in so far as civil aviation is concerned, paying the penalty for the neglect of air defence which took place in the years immediately following the War. I might here say, in passing, that although we spend £135,000 a year in the encouragement of civil aviation, I believe that there is only a sum of about £400,000 on the Navy Vote, which amounts to over £50,000,000, for the assistance of the Mercantile Marine. I understand that the Secretary of State proposes to deal with the speech of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) at a later stage, and, therefore, I will not refer to any of the remarks he made about the cost of the Air Force. in future years, but what I should like to emphasise specially is the great capital expenditure with which we are faced at the present moment. This capital expenditure is bound to swell the Air Esti- 1591 mates annually until the home defence expansion scheme is completed, but we hope that when that is completed these large sums will not recur. Meanwhile, we ere compelled to cut down expenditure rigorously in every other direction.
I think that this consideration wilt supply an answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hallam (Major-General Sir F. Sykes), who put many pertinent questions to us in the course of his speech a fortnight ago. It is obvious that, in the initial stages of this home defence expansion scheme, there should be a very disproportional ratio and relationship between the figures for work on the ground—aerodromes, land and buildings—and the figures for petrol consumption and matters of that kind. I think this same consideration will answer the complaint that nearly three-fourths of the personnel under the Chief of the Air Staff are concerned with works and buildings. For administrative convenience the Directorate of Works and Buildings is under the Chief of the Air Staff, but the greater part of the personnel employed by that Department are employed temporarily on work during the expansion scheme. At the same time, it is only fair to point out that, whereas in 1918 81 men were required to keep one machine in a service unit, in 1923 that figure had dropped to 65, and in 1924 it had dropped to 51. The same gratifying improvement is noted in the number of hours flown per machine during the last four years, and if you take the figures throughout all the units of the Royal Air Force, including the training schools, you will find that the figures for hours of flying are two-and-a-half times greater than the corresponding figures for 1921.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I hope the House will not press me on that matter, because it is a figure which, after all, is a variable figure, and it is not one which it is to the public advantage for me to give. I will turn for a moment to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness, in which he pressed the claims of civil aviation, and reaffirm the intention of the Air Ministry to do everything they can for civil aviation, having due regard to the large financial expenses that we are put to in other directions. We are 1592 fully alive to the importance of establishing and encouraging commercial air routes, and of not letting this country fall behind its neighbours.
§ Captain W. BENN
Could the hon. Baronet say a word about the suggestion made in the "imes" this morning that Imperial Airways is to take over the Cairo-Bagdad service?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I should like to say, from that point of view, that the Air Ministry have a very watchful and a very friendly eye to developing all the services in the Near East, and not only that, but—the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend—schemes of co-operation with our neighbours in other parts of the world, such as Syria and the route to India. All these schemes are having the consideration of the Director of Civil Aviation, who, as the House knows, is studying the whole matter actually from the air, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend would not press me to give any reply upon that matter until the Director has returned which will be in the course of a very days, when we can hear what he has to report on the whole matter. Another criticism that my hon. and gallant Friend made was to the effect that the statement of three to one as the relative strength of the French and British air defence is not a fair one, as leaving out of consideration the military demands of the French land and naval forces. I can re-assure my hon. and gallant Friend there. Exclusive of overseas aircraft—and I might say that the overseas aircraft of our French allies are far more available for service in Europe than are our own—exclusive of that, the figure of three to one is arrived at after making full allow ante for all the demands that may be made upon the Air Service, whether naval or military, and including the reserves. Therefore the figure of three to one is an absolute like-to-like figure.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Does the hon. Member mean to say that, after deducting all the machines required for ancillary services with the armies of France, the artillery spotting machines, the recon naissance machines, and so forth, there still remains available for the independent striking air force of France a number of machines that would be in the proportion of three to one of our available machines?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
Yes, that is so; that is absolutely so. I think I might even give figures to the hon. and gallant Member. I believe that the gross number of machines in France is 1,000. If you take away 400 machines for the purposes which he mentioned, that would still leave 600, whereas we have 300 machines it this country, or 200 if you take away all those that would be employed with the Army co-operation squadrons and that sort of thing. Therefore, however you look at it, whether at the gross or the net figure, the proportion of three to one is actually a fair one. But I should like to say that, although allowance is made for that, the machines to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, the spotting machines, the reconnaissance machines, and so forth, would, after all, he to a great extent available in case of need to join and to swell the striking force that he mentioned. I think he will agree with that.
Now I come to another important point which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, and that is the financial arrangement in these Estimates in connection with the Fleet Air Arm.
§ Captain BENN
Who invented the term "Fleet Air Arm?" I cannot find it in the Air Force Act. Has somebody baptised some of His Majesty's Forces with a new official name?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I did not invent the name and that, had it been left to me, I would have found something far more suitable, and I would certainly have consulted my hon. and gallant Friend in regard to it. This matter was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend himself, if I remember aright, in the course of the Debate a fortnight ago, when he described it in telling and bloodcurdling language as a breach in the citadel of an independent air force. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the Air Ministry are as unwilling as he is that any such unpleasant operation should take place in their flank, but I can reassure him, or at least I will try to do so. No change has taken place whatsoever. The arrangement is that the Admiralty and the Air Force settle before the Estimates what the Fleet Air Arm, as I can call it by no other term, is to cost. This sum is then placed in 1594 the Navy Estimates as a Grant-in-Aid to the Royal Air Force, and it is found in the Air Estimates as an Appropriation-in-Aid from the Navy Votes. This arrangement is the direct result of the fourth recommendation—and I should like to reassure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness, who asked me a question on this matter—of the Balfour Committee, whereby the financial arrangements between the Navy and the Air Force relative to the Fleet Air Arm were referred to the Treasury, in consultation with these two Services, to settle.
It is left, as it was considered fair to do, to the Admiralty to prescribe and to justify to the Treasury and to Parliament the scope arid scale of the requirements which they think necessary for the Fleet Air Arm, but it is the duty of the Air Force to supply them with the whole material. The actual accounting is not affected at all, and no point arises which calls for consultation with the Public Accounts Committee. The actual accounting of expenditure in detail is shown on the gross Air Votes as heretofore. I should like to emphasise that this recommendation of the Balfour Committee and the consequent alteration in the Estimates involves no new change of principle at all. It merely crystallises a scheme of co-operation and coordination which existed before. The Admiralty remain solely responsible for deciding how many machines and how much Air Force materiel are to be placed on these carriers, and we have to furnish the full complement to be carried. It has nothing to do with shore babes or anything of that sort, but has to be limited to the three or four carriers. They have to decide what they want in. these carriers and they have the responsibility of the operating and control of them. Duplication is thus avoided by the Air Force having, as it has always had, undivided responsibility for material, construction, and design, and for the training and organisation of the units. I think I have covered all the points raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
May I inquire whether the Admiralty accept without reservation the absolute and unified control of the Air Force by the Air Minister?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
And it is fully laid out in the Report of the Balfour Committee. Perhaps I might just read the concluding paragraph of that Committee:We earnestly trust that no mere technical difficulties will be allowed to stand in the way of a settlement which in the public interest is most urgently required.I am sure the Admiralty would never put technical difficulties in the way of anybody. Then there was a question put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hallam as to whether post-War development of British machines was keeping pace with the developments of machines abroad. A good deal of caution must be exercised in making comparisons between British machines and machines made in other countries. The matter does not end with comparisons of reported performances of a more or less spectacular nature. There are other matters which come in, especially the purposes and types required to meet the special necessities and needs of this and the other countries. For instance, I may say that in France the question of the landing grounds it not so acute as here. In that great open country they can find ample accommodation for landing grounds, and forced landings, particularly, are less risky than in our own restricted country. Therefore, hon. Members will find that you can land in France at a greater speed than you can here. Again, the design of the aeroplane is often a compromise between several conflicting requirements, and superiority in one particular at the expense of others is not always the best policy. Conditions of testing, too, differ. Therefore, comparisons are often inaccurate and misleading. For instance, the same kind of aeroplane might be tested under British and French conditions and produce strikingly different results. For all these reasons, I should say that one has to proceed with caution in making comparisons between the machines of different countries. But making allowance for all this, I see no reason to believe that our own machines are not just as good as the machines of any other country. But 1596 the Ministry have no false pride. They are perfectly willing and ready to accept hints from any quarter, and to profit by them. The fact that we have bought an American parachute is a proof of what I am saying.
The results of experiments that we have undertaken enable me to answer another question put the other day by, I think, the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). That relates to the matter of flying by night and landing by night and in foggy weather. We have had extremely good results from our system of directional wireless, which operates best from the ground to the machine. By this means the location of an aerodrome can easily be discovered. The problem of landing at night is being tested and tackled with every prospect of, I may say, almost immediate success by a system of lights and what we call the leader cable. This cable is a wire sunk around the aerodrome below the surface of the ground charged with alternating current which produces a magnetic field around it, and which connects with instruments in the machine. The system of lighting illumines the upper surfaces of the fog to a distance upwards of 800 yards. The machine is guided by these lights, or by the illumination, until it gets within the scope and guiding sphere of the leader cable, and, knowing its exact position and height, can then drop down until it comes within sight of the lights on the aerodrome, and effects a safe landing.
Another question was put to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley). The position is as follows: At the time when the Southampton-Channel islands service was inaugurated, negotiations were entered into with the French Government with regard to operating a service to Cherbourg. But at that time the French naval authorities objected to the use of the port by commercial aircraft. Meanwhile the Channel Island line was absorbed into the Imperial Air lines, who do not propose to continue the service to Cherbourg at the present time. I am informed that further experience of the seaplane service is needed before. any more ambitious schemes are undertaken. Therefore, the Channel Island service is shutting down temporarily, to be reorganised in the light of last year's 1597 experience. These considerations also apply to the sea plane services in the Mediterranean. The Imperial Air lines, however, did run a service to Ostend last year on the Cologne route. Short services to Deauxville, and other French watering places depend upon various economic factors which are not considered favourable at the moment. The immediate commercial establishment of such lines as were suggested would entail very large subsidies on the part of the Government, and funds are not for the moment available. It is a great pity that matters relating to the air are tied by the terrestial shackles of finance.
What, however, the Air Ministry can do to help they will do. It is the considered policy of the Ministry to put at the service of civil aviation all its experience and all the results of the costly research that it undertakes, and to help in many ways that are not described by specific figures. It is not always taken into account the many indirect though important ways in which the Air Ministry does all it can for the service of flying I might, perhaps, mention what the Imperial Airways, Limited, are doing. It was considered that the principle of giving help to one company was better than giving a number of small subsidies to several different companies for short periods of time. It was felt to be far better to make an important experiment by subsidising one great amalgamated company with all the resources available for a period of years. The machines of that company are flying 1,000,000 miles per annum. It has been objected that there is no means of checking those figures but there are, and the mileage is checked. The company are flying up to the schedule of their contract. I see every reason to believe that Imperial Airways will take a leading part in commercial flying in Europe in the future.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I put a question to the hon. Gentleman about the company having up-to-date machines. Do we insist when we pay the subsidy that they have to get new machines and not fly from year to year with the old machines? That is a very important matter from the point of view of the safety of the people flying in the machines.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
No actual conditions of that sort are made, but, of course, we do insist upon the service being efficient. 1598 I assure the hon. and gallant Member that the company are building new machines and are keeping up-to-date in every way. I should like to refer to one or two other things. People do not, I think, realise what the Air Ministry is cluing for commercial flying. Communications are run for the benefit. of commercial and service flying alike. The meteorological office—this will perhaps surprise hon. Members who only know of its appearance in the newspapers, and the sad messages it has for us there—is carrying out work that is increasing in importance and scope every year to the great mutual advantage both of commercial and civil flying. The practical and scientific side of the meteorological department is growing pari passu greatly to the advantage of both sides. Again, the work done by the Training Schools, and particularly now that training of new material ab initio is becoming increasingly necessary as the supply of war pilots diminishes, is valuable not only to the Royal Air Force by way of the establishment of reserves but as a direct aid to civilian commercial flying. Then also the inspection and control insisted upon by the, Ministry establish a standard of safety that the public can trust. Therefore, I do think that the Air Ministry is entitled to credit for all the unobtrusive assistance that it gives the civil flying.
I do not think that the development in the Dominions should be forgotten, and the Air Ministry are keeping in close touch with it in Australia they arc flying daily over routes of 2,500 miles which makes a 300,000 annual mileage. In Canada, as I said the other day, they are doing important survey work and important work in other directions. In South Africa there has been established an experimental service from Cape Town to Durban. All this goes to strengthen British commercial flying experience.
§ Major-General Sir FREDERICK SYKES
May I ask the hon. Baronet whether any data in respect of commercial flying has been obtained as the result of the flying operations between Cairo and Bagdad? Has any definite information been forthcoming which may help commercial flying?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I do not quite understand what my hon. and gallant Friend means, but anyhow the Secretary of State 1599 will deal with it if I cannot satisfy him. That has never been run as a commercial service. It has been run merely as a staff exercise for the service machines in that part of the world, and as such it has been extremely successful.
§ Sir F. SYKES
The service was originally started with the object of trying to obtain operational data, and information as to costs, in case a commercial service should fly on the route later on, and I wondered if any such data had yet been obtained.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I have always heard that it has been run as a staff exercise. Perhaps he has information to the contrary which he will produce later on; but in the recollection of those whom I have consulted on the point, it has always been run as a staff exercise.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I think it was. I have already occupied a great deal of the time of the House, but there are one or two questions still left over which I may deal with seriatim. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Bear-Admiral Sueter) was very anxious to question us about the efficacy of Farnborough, and levelled some rather stringent criticisms against it. I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that it is purely a Royal Air Force establishment. If it were done away with it would be a very severe blow to aeronautical research. It is the chief place where we undertake research, where full-scale tests are undertaken, and most successfully undertaken. It is no part of the policy of the Air Ministry to go in for anything in the nature of aircraft construction there, none whatsoever. It is intended solely for experimental and research work.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
My point was that during the last five years they have had about £2,000,000, and I think the House ought to know what we have got for that £2,000,000. They do not build new machines; they go in for research work. Of course, some research work is perfectly all right, but there is a lot of other perfectly unnecessary research work which I am quite certain we could do 1600 without. But the point is the £2,000,000—it works out about £2,000,000. What have we got for it?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
It is the centre for research work of all kinds. If the hon. and gallant Member has any particular advice to give in the matter, or if he could show. in what way the money is not being adequately spent, I am sure if he came round to the Air Ministry and expressed his views it would be an immense help to the technical staff of the Air Ministry. Another hon. and gallant Member raised the point of the small number of observers provided for in the Estimate. It is no part of the policy of the Air Ministry to supply observers for Army or for naval work, but the pilot of to-day is trained in reconnaissance, and, therefore, every pilot is in the nature of an observer—every Army pilot, all those pilots naturally employed in the Army co-operation squadrons. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Mid-Bedford (Brigadier-General Warner) raised a point about the vacancies at Cranwell. There are 20 vacancies at Cranwell for boys recommended for such cadetships by the Governments of the Overseas Dominions and the Colonies. The House listened also with great pleasure to the speech by my hon. and gallant. Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), who has been associated with flying ever since its teething stage. He expressed anxiety about the anti-aircraft arrangements, which were administratively under the War Office and, operationally, under the Air Ministry. I think they will work quite satisfactorily, and I should like to give him the converse parallel, if I may use such an expression, of the Army co-operation squadrons, which are operationally under the War Office and administratively under the Air Ministry. In conclusion, I think I should like to emphasise the point—
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
May I point out to the hon. Baronet that he has not answered the questions I put about research into defence from the ground, about helicopters and wireless-controlled aeroplanes.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
The research into defence from the ground is showing extremely good results. It would be very difficult for me to tell the hon. and gallant 1601 Gentleman across the Floor of the House all the different methods that have been attempted, but the matter is being pushed forward with great care and with great success. With regard to helicopters and wireless-controlled aeroplanes, work is also going on steadily in those matters. Of course, the hon. and gallant Member will be the first to realise that I cannot give information of a secret character, the most secret character, over the Floor of the House, but I should like to say that work is steadily going on.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the right hon. Baronet be good enough to tell us anything which it would not be injurious to the public interest to disclose? Would he tell us if they have had any results at all that are worth while in regard to the helicopters. We get the same answer year after year—"very satisfactory," "progressing enthusiastically" Has anything ever gone on?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I think I may say that it has made definite limited strides and I hope, if I am fortunate enough to be in this position next year, that I shall be able to give the hon. Member an even more favourable account.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Are these official grants still being made at regular intervals to the inventor, and are these strides on the ground or in the air?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I do not think the hon. and gallant Member will press me any further on that subject. The experiments are successful and the grants are at present being continued. I should like, in conclusion, to emphasise something which I think underlies many of the speeches in these two Debates, and that is the reliance that is placed, and must necessarily be placed, upon the youth of the Empire to guide the new and improved aeroplanes with which man is every day establishing more and more the mastery over the air. I think I shall carry the House with me in paying a tribute to the splendid young men in service and civilian flying who are carrying on the wonderful traditions of our airmen during the great War. The men are of the right material. Rights or wrongs of armaments apart, l know it would be the common desire of the House to see that these men are adequately provided with training, equipment and machines.
§ Mr. AMMON
I do not propose to intervene for more than a few moments, as I make no pretention of having any expert knowledge on the subject under discussion, but last year it was my fortune, or otherwise, to be placed in a Department where at least some of, shall I say, the controversy on the question of control played a part. But before I come to that, I want to make one or two general references to the extremely interesting speech on a fascinating subject delivered just now by the Under-Secretary. He made some references to the large amount of capital expenditure, and I think he deplored the fact that we were behind France in the question of civil aviation. We cannot afford to let slip the opportunity of emphasising the particular point that we find ourselves in this adverse position because France has been building up a large air defence force out of the money she owes to this country. We find ourselves in this adverse position, that France has an extremely large striking air force and is now able to spend money on civil aviation, while we having been deprived of money that is rightly our due, find ourselves very far behind in defence, and able to go forward but very little in civil aviation. One is bound to emphasise that, because the extraordinary thing is (much as we might like to camouflage it) that we are actually going to build an air force against another Power which has built an air force against us, out of our money. If that is denied, one can only refer to the speech delivered by the Noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal in another place yesterday. He said:My Noble Friend who has just sat down has spoken of our great friend and ally, the French Republic, with, I think, a very proper respect, and if one has to speak of France in this connection it is only because she has the strongest Air Force within striking distance of this country. Really, it is hardly necessary to say that there can never be, as between ourselves and our French friends, any idea of friction. We have no aggressive designs"—
It is not in order to quote from speeches in another place in order to answer them, but a brief reference to information in another place may be made.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. AMMON
That is a reference in support of the point I am trying to make, that we are actually now engaged in building an Air Force against our old Allies, as admitted here, at the expense of the money that ought to be paid to us. and surely this is a case where to excuse is to accuse. One deplores very much the spirit and tone in which these Estimates have been introduced, for it brings before us very vividly that we are evidently being committed again to a great armament race, as we were prior to the days of 1914, and with that historic contest so fresh in our mind we cannot but face the future with some alarm, thinking that the upshot is bound to be upon somewhat similar lines. We have now, as I understand, or will have at the end of the current financial year, 26 squadrons in our Air Fleet, and our squadrons have 12 machines as against the nine of France. I think I am right in saying that by the end of 1929 we shall have 52 squadrons, giving us just over 600 machines. We are building up to the French standard. We have again entered into the competition we knew so well in the old days, which ended so disastrously The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Admiral Sueter), who spoke earlier in the Debate, made some reference—the Ender-Secretary has touched upon it—to what he called the wholly unsatisfactory position with regard to Farnborough. Then he went on rather to contradict himself after he had stated that nothing could be turned out satisfactorily from State-owned fatcories by saying that during the War our best machines were produced in State factories, or at any rate under Government control.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The machines I referred to were Royal Air Force machines produced by private enterprise.
§ Mr. AMMON
What I stated was that they were produced under Government control. The hon. Member then went on to state that there was a, certain amount of conflict during the War between the Admiralty and the Air Service, and that the one gave no help to the other. On this matter which is in dispute we have to face the facts and arrive at a definite understanding and set up one sole control for the Air Force. During the short time I was at the Admiralty I saw something 1604 of the difficulties that arose in this connection. My own view is that we want a unified control with one Board of Direction, all the men wearing the same uniform under one direction.
The most the Air Ministry can do will be to act as a supply agency or a medium for finding the equipment for the Air Force itself. That point will have to be considered before we go very much further. Whatever one might say with regard to the loyalty of our different Services, there is not the slightest doubt that they have been going on under divided control, and if it continues we shall find ourselves in very great difficulties. The defence which is being provided may be all right for narrow waters, but we shall find ourselves in quite a different position in the case of the very wide seas. It seems to me that civil aviation should he under the Board of Trade, just as is the ease with merchant shipping. Aviation should not he considered solely from the military side.
My chief purpose in rising this afternoon was to make a reference to that of which I know a little, and it is the great danger of the great amount of friction owing to the present divided control, and I hope the Air Ministry will take their courage into their hands and get away from this divided authority, and have under one control the sole direction of the Air Force.
May I congratulate the Minister of Air upon again resuming office as Air Minister, and if the emptiness of the benches in the House at the present time shows the confidence hon. Members have in the Secretary of State for Air, he ought to feel gratified. We have heard a very interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). I suggest to him that he took a very much too insular view as to the difficulties before us and our methods of development. I think what we have to do to-day is to have an Imperial stock-taking. We have to consider the whole of our methods of defence and our organisation and expenditure. I call it Imperial stocktaking, because we have been asked this afternoon to vote money amounting to £21,000,000, and that amount cannot be considered apart from the £90,000,000 we 1605 shall shortly be asked to vote. We have also to consider it along with the fact that since the War we have spent £1,000,000,000 on armaments, and that to-day our expenditure on armaments is at the rate of 2s. in the £on our Income Tax. At the same time we have to remember that this country is overburdened with taxation. Trade is bad, and we have much unemployment. The Chancellor of Exchequer has told us that unless taxation can be reduced, he sees very little hope of any improvement. We have to consider all these questions together. If we had had an Imperial stocktaking at more frequent intervals before the War, we should have saved countless lives and hundreds of millions of money, because there is nothing so expensive to a country than to have a false doctrine and a false organisation based upon that false doctrine.
Before the War we had a false doctrine in regard to our Army. In the past we have relied mostly on our Navy for our defence, but there has always been much controversy between the blue water school and the Army authorities. The Army authorities also spent millions on great defensive works, although the Navy used to declare that they were perfectly safe in this country from invasion because of the Fleet. Therefore, on account of the fact that our organisation was based on a false doctrine we have been spending hundreds of millions of money. It is not only by expenditure on war appliances that we find a false doctrine expensive, but if we turn to the part it plays in commercial activities, we find there is some interference in that respect also. As far back as 1844 we find the Duke of Wellington protesting against the building of a railway between Portsmouth and London because, he said, if an army invaded this country the transport of that army to London would be more easily accomplished. We see two things that can happen from this false doctrine. There is the wasteful expenditure on inefficient armaments, and the hampering of civil and commercial activities. I was very much interested in the remark made by the Under-Secretary in which he stated that he hoped civil aviation would develop in much the same way as the mercantile marine, and he hoped that the Air Ministry will assist in that development. 1606 That is why I think to-day we lack a sound doctrine. What is a fighting Department doing in the way of interfering or trying to assist in commercial development? Commercial aviation is small, but the Air Ministry to-day employs inspectors to inspect all commercial machines, and in every way they perform what ought to be the functions of the Board of Trade. For instance, we do not find the Admiralty running turbine destroyers between Malta and Gibraltar for the purpose of testing destroyers upon a mail route—but we do find the Air Ministry running aeroplanes for that purpose between Cairo and Bagdad. Similarly, we do not find the Admiralty interfering with a Cunard liner when it is being built by Messrs. Harland and Wolff. Why, then, is this fighting Department (the Air Ministry) interfering with civil and commercial activity? That is a very dangerous occupation for a fighting Department.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
Do I understand the hon. Member is opposed to the giving of any subsidies to commercial or civil aviation?
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I did not say that, but what I do say is that it is more the function of the Board of Trade because that Department is accustomed to deal with trading concerns. I have been giving all these as examples of what I believe to be the results of a false doctrine. I think the present day requires a more imaginative analysis than in any stage of our history. To-day we are in competition with the resources of Continents like America and elsewhere. We are considering the provisions of new types of fighting machines, namely, air machines, and the first thing we find is a clear demarcation between the type of defence required for this country and the limbs of the Empire, the Dominions. The defence of these islands to-day, as we have heard from other speakers, is an aerial defence; whilst the defence of the limbs of the Empire is a naval defence.
To-day we are having a competition for the money devoted to defence, first of all for this country and secondly for the Empire. Previously we have never had that competition, for what was provided was a mobile force which would serve for the defence of this country or the Empire. 1607 To-day we have to decide how much money we have to provide for the defence of this country and how much for the defence of the Empire. I will just go back to what happened under the Labour Government last year. Almost at the same date that the Singapore project was turned down by the Labour Government this House voted more money for the air defence of this country. That action was not understood in the Dominions. Therefore it seems to me that unless we devise some clear and consistent policy we are unlikely to acquire and retain the financial cooperation of our Dominions. We have to satisfy them that we are working on some consistent policy. The other side of the question is the expense. I do not think there is any possibility of lightening the expenditure upon armaments unless we treat our armaments as a whole concentrate upon that which is vital and ruthlessly scrap that which is not vital It is obvious that we have not the money to get all the armaments we would like. Therefore, we have to go through a selective process, and concentrate only upon those that are vital. Unless the Government can investigate this matter very carefully, we shall again be wasting a great deal of money.
There is one further point in regard to, what. I would call Imperial stocktaking, and that is, that the results of the War have weakened this Empire very considerably. We have taken on responsibilities in the mandated territories in all parts of the world, and not one of these countries at present contribute, or are likely in future to contribute, towards their own defence. It is an extra burden upon this country. economically, and upon our fighting forces strategically. It is obvious at the present time that we are not so strong as we used to be. We have no two-Power standard to-day, and the result is, in my opinion. that there are signs that the great distances separating our Dominions from the Mother Country are tending to a lessening of our bonds, and are imposing upon these Dominions the necessity of turning their eyes in other directions. For instance, take the Dominion of Canada. Canada to-day subscribes but little to our Imperial Forces, and if the utterances of public men in Canada arc studied, it will be seen that they advise against this 1608 country asking for any further contributions from Canada, for the simple reason that they feel that their contiguity to the United States of America is their defence. They feel that America would never allow a foreign country to invade Canada. Therefore, they are turning towards a Power which is not the home Power of England.
Take the case of Australia. Very shortly, a great American Fleet will be visiting Australia. Australia still remembers the reversal of the policy in regard to the Singapore project, which I believe is going to be reversed again. We have to realise that in Australia the circulation of American papers is greater than the circulation of English papers. If we allow certain feelings to develop throughout the Dominions, those Dominions may turn to other possibilities. To-day we cannot live without the Empire, but the Empire can live without us. One hundred years ago we had 12 millions of people in this country. whereas to-day we have 45 millions of people. Therefore, it is essential that we should do everything possible to strengthen the bonds of Empire.
Hon. Members may ask how we can assist in that matter in regard to aerial defence. We can do it in two ways. First of all by making perfectly clear to the Dominions the doctrine upon which we are working, so that we shall not have any more of these difficult matters, such as Singapore, to explain. Secondly, we should ensure that such expenditure as we have to make is made upon vital points. In putting these considerations forward. I would suggest that it is not a question, as the hon. and gallant. Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) stated, of whether the Fleet should have its own Air arm, nor is it a question of the individual training of men as suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). It is a matter as to how we are to demarcate as between expenditure for the defence of these islands, and expenditure necessary for the defence of the Empire as a whole. That is the very vital difference there is to-day from what there has been in the past.
During the last two years, in the Debates in this House, I have endeavoured to point out how a great deal of money is being wasted in our 1609 present organisation, how the problem is entirely a financial one, that we cannot afford to get all the forces we want, and that we must, therefore, ruthlessly scrap those that are inefficient. But there is great difficulty in giving effect to that policy: great executive and practical difficulty. There is to-day no authority outside the Committee of Imperial Defence which can decide which Services are essential and which are not essential. On that Committee of Imperial Defence are the heads of the three great Services, and when there is a Conference of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the heads of the three great Services go there, backed up by the technical experts of their own Departments. They fight hard, each for his own Department, with the result that any Conference of the Committee of Imperial Defence always results in a compromise: a compromise extremely expensive to the taxpayer.
It is for that reason that I do not believe we shall get any satisfactory solution of this problem of the disbursement of money for the fighting Services, unless we have a combined staff of the air staff, the Navy staff and the Army staff, so that no part of the Services shall overlap. The point towards which I wish to move is to show how it is necessary to combine. the Admiralty and the Air Ministry in one unit, one Department. I should like to develop that point, because it is of vital importance. If we admit that the defences of these islands are aerial, we must at once realise that, as we are an island, we have to demarcate where our defence is going to start. Is it going to start by aeroplanes sent out from aircraft carriers, far out at sea? Is it going to start from seaplanes, sent out from our own harbours, or is it going to start from aeroplanes sent out from aerodromes in this country? It must start from one of these three places. Obviously, it will start from as far out as it possibly Can.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air a question as to who would be in command if aeroplanes vent up from the outer defences. He said that my question was in the nature of a riddle, and he went on to say that if it was a Naval operation, it would he under a naval commander, and that if it w as an Air Force operation it would be 1610 under an Air Force commander. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) asked who would decide the point, and the right hon. Gentleman said he would leave it to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. I have a great admiration for the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, but it seems to me that he would, in that event, be usurping the functions of somebody—I do not know whether it is the Committee of Imperial Defence or who it is. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct that remark. If we say that the defences of these islands are aerial, what possible use is there for the Admiralty keeping up out-of-date stations like Chatham and Sheerness? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have put this question before. Chatham and Sheerness are only dockyards for the maintenance of light naval craft, and if light naval craft are a luxury in regard to the defence of these islands, which they are, and if we admit that the defences of these islands are aerial, what possible use is there in keeping up, at enormous expense to the taxpayer, these perfectly useless out-of-date dockyards. That is why I say it is impossible lo consider these questions of expenditure if you look upon your fighting forces separately. You must consider them together.
I would ask the House to look even further ahead than that. The more aircraft is developed, the more the functions performed to-day by naval craft will be carried out by aircraft. That is a truism. But until we have a combined staff of the Naval Staff and the Air Staff, we cannot have any combination of evolution as to the interchange of the duties to be performed by aircraft and by naval craft. I ask the House to look at the matter on a still broader basis. Our fighting forces to-day are divided into two main classes—the carrier force and the holding force. The carrier force consists of aeroplanes, or the Naval Fleet, which are self-contained fighting machines which transport and act independently, but cannot hold, whereas the Army can hold.
In exactly the same way, you station a Naval Fleet in the Mediterranean or on the China Station, and an Air Fleet in Mesopotamia. They perform the same functions. The Secretary of State for Air gave an instance the other day. He 1611 told us how this carrier force, the Air Fleet, had flown in the oceans of the air over Mesopotamia and had transported soldiers to certain places in order to attack and to hold those places. In exactly the same way in a Naval Fleet, you transport troops in troopships to hold certain places. Therefore, the more your aircraft is developed, the bigger they get, and the more they are kept in such a manner that the crew can live on board and can carry their stores and so forth, the more will they become, in essence, like naval vessels. Therefore, unless the two forces are absolutely combined, we shall never get true development.
I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford, who took a single instance when the majority of our best naval officers were all at sea. As he knows well, during the War the Admiralty was filled with a lot of dug-outs. I am not casting any reflection upon the hon. and gallant Member. It was only when they got into considerable difficulty that more efficient officers were brought back from the sea.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The hon. and gallant Member refers to what occurred during the War, but before the War, right through from 1909 to 1915, the Admiralty opposed the work of their airmen. It had nothing to do with the War
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
That was hardly my experience. I had a seaplane down to look for a submarine in 1911.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Not in 1911. What I suggest is that we want one unified Air command, but it must be in command, and it may either be that the Admiralty may swallow the Air Force or the Air Force may swallow the Admiralty. It does not matter in the slightest which it is so long as they coalesce. Unless they do I cannot see how we are going to cut down this unnecessary expenditure. I believe that we can save from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 and get as efficient service as we are doing to-day if that were done. I do not agree that it is only those who think that there should be a system such as is maintained to-day who are working for the best interests of the air. I believe 1612 that I am working for the best interests of the air, but I suggest that the organisation should be put into a form in which it can be used unhampered by these continual fights year after year. I believe that our organisation to-day is definitely hampering the development of our air power. It is, in my opinion, upon the air that the future of this Empire depends. That is why I hope that the Government will take this question very seriously in hand. For these reasons I press the Prime Minister, and I hope that other hon. Members will also do so, to set up 8. Committee to investigate this matter and report to the Cabinet upon it, so that we may find out, first of all, how we may become strong at the vital points, and in the second place, how we may save perhaps from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 a year, and third, how we may stop this continual bickering between our fighting Departments. I make these remarks in no unfriendly spirit to my right hon. Friend who sits below me, but because I believe that he has the best interest of the air at heart, as I have myself.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I apologise to the House for intervening in a Debate of this character because I do not profess to have any special knowledge, or any knowledge at all, of the subject which has been discussed. It is very interesting to listen to the speeches that have bean made, but I should be at a disadvantage in debating the points of view that have been put forward. My purpose in rising is to call the attention of the House to a very simple question on the Estimates. That is the question of marriage allowance. I have no fault to find with the amount which is found in the Estimate for marriage allowance. My point is with regard to the age when the officers become entitled to a marriage allowance. I think that I can make out a case for the marriage allowance to begin at a far earlier age. First, I think that I could make out a good case on what I might term natural grounds. Everybody would agree that. the age of 30 is not the age which we should like to make the general age for marriage in this country. The age in the Army is 26. Why there should be this distinction between the two Services I cannot understand. However, it is 30 in one Service and 26 in the other. I submit that 26 is far more the natural age than 1613 30, which for some reason or another has been made the age when the officers in this Service can receive the marriage allowance.
But it is not upon that ground that I base my case. My reason for intervening is that I have had the opportunity during the last, two or three years of being brought into contact with some of the married officers. During the last two or three years there have been two or three crashes of aeroplanes, and there happened to be in those aeroplanes officers with whom I had been in personal contact. The Air Service regulation is that before a man can obtain marriage allowance he must attain the age of 30, but you have in the service officers who are married at 24 and 25 years of age, and by the time they reach the age of 30 they may have two or three children. We all know that in time of peace this service is far more dangerous to the officers than either of the other two Services.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke very much earlier in the Debate referred to the many accidents that were taking place in the Air Service. So far as fatal accidents are concerned, the great majority are among officers, and if you have a crash and an officer gets killed he may be 29 years and 11 months old and may be leaving a wife and two or three little children. The service does not recognise that man as being married, and the man who is facing danger every time he goes up in the interests of the country is not recognised as having any other responsibility than for himself. I submit that after the speech of the Under-Secretary, who has rightly proclaimed the great ability of the young flying officers, this country is not doing its proper duty to these officers unless we make reasonable provision at a reasonable age for the wives and families of those who are killed in the discharge of their duty. I may put forward this very simple case, in simple language, for those flying officers who are called upon from day to day to go up in all kinds of conditions for experimental purposes, and who are constantly meeting with accidents, some of them, unfortunately, fatal, and then leaving a wife and children behind with no provision whatever made for them.
I know that the question of marriage allowance in another Service is under consideration. I do not know whether 1614 it is under consideration in all the three Services, but I submit that whatever is the marriage age for one Service should be the age for all Services. There should be more or less uniformity about these things, and I hope that the Committee that is sitting to consider the question in another Service will also consider the question in the Air Service and try to arrive at something like uniformity, and uniformity at an age which would more or less meet the responsibilities incurred by men getting married. You cannot and ought not to stop men getting married at 25 or 26 years of age. If that is a reasonable age to get married, the age at which you expect your young people to get married, the Government should recognise that as a reasonable age, and accept that through the whole of the Services, so that when there is a crash in future and a flying officer over the age of 26 gets killed and leaves a wife and children, that wife shall have a right to expect the Government to pay her a pension because her husband has rendered service to the country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir ALAN BURGOYNE
The House will, I think, have listened with great sympathy to the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer), and it is indicative of the type of speech that has been delivered during this Debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will congratulate himself, I am sure, on the line that has been taken. He cannot say that on the whole there has been anything but helpful criticism. One could only wish that this may continue, looking back on years gone by when we suffered either from apathy in this House in all matters touching Imperial defence, or else from criticism of Imperial defence, which should he entirely outside party, which introduced it into the arena of party warfare, and it is an earnest of what may happen in the future that we should be able to say that the course of these Estimates is likely to be particularly smooth. One or two speeches in the Debate a few weeks ago from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on those benches were not correct not only in the interests of the Service but in the interests of the country.
After all, speeches made from the Front Bench, even by right hon. Gentlemen on those benches are read by other 1615 Powers besides ourselves, and if they are going to suggest to people outside that we on this side, merely for the sake of spending money, are seeking to build more ships, and to increase our Army and extend our Air Force, they are doing a great dis-service. After all, we are all just as keen on peace as they, only we are wise enough to know that a country built up as we have built up ours cannot be maintained unless the forces for our defence are both sufficient and efficient. The only differences that ought to exist are such as are based on whether or not the policy laid down by the Executive differs as each Administration comes into power. Obviously, if policy is changed, and if that policy, having been settled, is given to the expert advisers to decide what is required to maintain it, it can be appreciated that the strength of either of our fighting forces should go up or down, but why in this case there should be any criticism from those benches except support I fail to see.
These Estimates are nothing more or less than a, continuity of the same policy spread over three different administrations. Even the increase has already been outlined by Lord Thomson. What a difference it would make in the whole situation if we could be as one while leaving open criticism individually upon the various Votes, or upon particular questions of detail, and if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in this House having examined the Estimates, had given them their blessing without any suggestion of Amendment or going to a Division on the proposals made.
So much for the general side. I do not intend to deal with matters of detail. By your permission to-day, Mr. Speaker, we are permitted to deal with policy. We can deal with mail matters as the Votes arise, but I could have wished, since matters of detail were introduced at all—perhaps it is ungracious to the Under-Secretary of State in view of the full speech which he did make to say so—that he had dealt with one or two points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) and the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). The only big point which has arisen in the speeches, to which we have all listened with great 1616 interest, is: what is the position of the Air Force in relation to our general Imperial policy of defence? There is obviously a growing desire among men here, who are interesting themselves in this question of our national defence, to see a unity of purpose through the whole sphere of defence. It is true that there is a great difference of opinion as to how that shall come about. For instance, my hon. and gallant Friend has stated that we cannot permit our Air Force to go back again under the Admiralty. I absolutely agree with him. He knows the extent to which the development of the Air Force was hampered by the Admiralty at that time.
On the other hand, I certainly do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), who suggests that there should be a wedding between the Admiralty and the Royal Air Force. I do not know which would swallow which, but I am prepared to believe, as things are to-day, that it is the Navy which would be swallowed. The situation has changed in a remarkable way. Before the War the Navy was everything; the Army was considered to be just a small striking force to which we could add as circumstances arose, and, as for the little Flying Corps, it was the handmaiden of both the Army and Navy, and they fought over it as two dogs would fight over a hone. What do we find to-day? No longer can we proudly claim the hegemony of the wider seas, and the Army has shrunk from the millions which were created during the War, until now it is almost forgotten. The Navy and Army, after the great inflation of war time, have been and are being decreased under the necessity of economy, but we have stopped the decreases in the Air Force and are slowly building it up to our requirements, which means, in effect., that the Air Force is going to be the arm of the future. If there is one thing we do not want to start again it is internecine warfare between the new Force which will be the great Force and the older Services. It is no use saying there is no danger of that; the seeds of it are there and one cannot speak to Admirals or Generals or even lesser fry without seeing the jealousy which exists between the older Services and this newer one which is making such rapid strides. 1617 We have to remember this, that giant as have been the strides made up to the present it is really as yet only in a state comparable to that of the solid tyred bicycle of the past when contrasted with the motor cycle of to-day. That is one of the features of which I think enough was not made by my right hon. Friend when he said that part of the additional expenditure in these Estimates at the present time is due to the fact that the reserves from the War no longer exist. I think it is a very dangerous thing that until this moment we were utilising reserves from the War, most of which were already out-of-date when the War ended. The House is to be congratulated that we are now able to take advantage of all the new developments in construction and other matters which will bring to us new types of a more efficient character.
What we have to aim at surely is a central Ministry of Defence. I remember deciding to put a scheme forward in this House before the War, and also, I think, in 1920, and I would like to tell my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge that a Committee was formed by the Cabinet at that time to discuss the question of whether or not we should have a central Ministry of Defence and, under that Ministry of Defence, have Under-Secretaries of State for each of the three fighting Departments. I am not going to outline this scheme in detail. I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), who has more right to talk upon practical flying than any Member in this House, believes it is an ideal which cannot be carried into effect, but it has been carried into effect in other countries and it could be carried into effect here. In view of the additional power which has just been granted to the right hon. Gentleman who has been placed on a parity with other Secretaries of State for the fighting Services, may be he is the one who would be selected to control the three great Services, and I am sure I should like to congratulate him. It is an example of the extent to which his own Department is making headway that the House should have thought fit to extend the slight financial insult with which he is rewarded for his labours. I want to add that I only say that out of a spirit of personal jealousy.
1618 We cannot gain anything out of the present position while the three Services are tearing at one another to see who can get the largest piece of meat off the chop, and when you have three great Departments each of which thinks itself the most important. If you can concentrate these three Departments obviously you gain an immense advantage in administration, and, secondly, you are bound to gain an advantage in regard to economy and you can do what you cannot do at the present time, you can say to the Minister of Defence, "So much you are going to be allowed for the protection of the country and no more." I can quite see where the difficulties will come in. We shall have arguments from every side on the occasion of the first Debate on the Ministry of Defence, first from those who believe in the Navy and then from the Under-Secretary in charge of Air affairs against the Navy and the Army. Yet I feel this has got to come. At the present time ibis is a crushing burden, and despite what the right hon. Gentlemen opposite say, we do not like it any more than they do. It is an utterly unproductive expenditure, hat what we say is that. if we are going to defend ourselves, we must do so efficiently and sufficiently. There is no use trying to build a bridge across a chasm and making it four feet short. We might as well leave the chasm unbridged, and yet that is the attitude which hon. Members opposite are taking up on this question.
I turn from that to the, subject of civil aviation and I take a line somewhat different from that which was taken by my hon. and gallant Friend who has last spoken from this side. I certainly do not believe it is right for a fighting service to continue to look after something which is purely commercial. I have taken the opportunity of getting in touch with a number of the officers in charge of our civil flying and if there is one thing they ask above all others, it is this, "Why do you not put the record of our work not in terms of flying, but in terms of making profit?" I know hon. Members will hate that view, but what these officers mean is that this is business and has nothing whatever to do with the Secretary of State for Air. They have an anxious desire to see the scheme develop, but they claim that it is being developed on wrong lines. It seems to me that these are the things which they want more than 1619 anything else—first, that it shall be safe; second, that it shall be paying and third, that because it is paying it shall help to build up an aircraft industry utilisable, if war should come along, for the rapid development of our air arm. There was a very regrettable accident on the day before Christmas when a large number of people were burnt at Croydon. As a result of that accident the number of passengers fell off and scarcely anybody at all would go up. There are two or three comments which I desire to make upon that circumstance. I think accidents should be reported sooner than 24 hours afterwards as they are reported at the present time by the officials in charge
§ Sir S. HOARE
Our desire is to allow the relatives of any person who has been killed to know about the accident first, as we think it better that they should know in this way before they see the announcement in the Press.
§ Sir A. BURGOYNE
There is something to be said for that. At all events the minimum lapse of time should take place before the accident is announced. My second point is that an appeal should he made to the Press not to make too much of accidents of that description. We all know it is an extremely lamentable thing, but if we are going to scare people we are never going to get forward with civil aviation. Taken in conjunction with the total number of miles flown, the percentage of accidents is extremely small, and that fact should be broadcast. From that I pass to the commercial side of the subject. One hears people ask why do you only have machines that carry nine or ten people? Why do you not build them larger? That can be done, but it cannot be done on a commercial basis just now, and here we reach a little point of difficulty. If they could build these machines, if they had more money it is true they would get better machines, but they would have greater losses, and on that score I claim the right hon. Gentleman is not allowing sufficient for civil aviation in these great Estimates.
There is another point that is essential. You should as quickly as possible get rid of the single-engine machine for civil aviation. There is no doubt that the multiple-engine machine of the large type is one that must come along. A smash in an aeroplane is different from 1620 a smash in a train. You can have four or five smashes in a train and yet sit up and eat your breakfast, but if you have a crash in an aeroplane you do not want another. I am trying to put this in a way which will cause it to be appreciated. You want to have aeroplanes of such a. nature that you can rely, not upon one engine only to keep you going, but, if you happen to be losing height, you should have something in reserve to rely upon. I think, if I may say so with all respect, that an answer which was made upon this point was a very poor answer in regard to the type of machine which we are flying. I do not want to say anything in the House, but. I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have heard of a machine which was built in the early days of 1919 and is still being flown from one of our civil aviation stations. I think that is too old. When I heard of it I asked if that machine was not too old to be flown, but I was told, "Oh, we recondition it entirely now and then." It seems to me that that is a most important thing and one that should be looked into. Putting it in terms of cars, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he wanted to go somewhere very often, and if he could only get there in a car which was just able to make a poise and get along, would he not want to have a. nice new car to get him there a little more expeditiously and safely?
§ Sir A. BURGOYNE
I have two old ones and cannot sell them. I do claim that we must have first-class machines. hut I desire to say in passing, lest any misconception should arise, that I think the efficiency of all these air stations is very remarkable, that the inspection could not be made more perfect and that everything is done to ensure safety at the present time. It is only fair that this should be made as clear as possible. I do not wish to detain the House longer and I only emphasise the two points which I have already made. First, the Government should again take into consideration the possibility of combining all the Services under one single united Ministry of Defence, and, second, civil aviation, as speedily as may be, should be divorced entirely from the Department of the right hon. Gentleman. It should be regarded purely as a commercial con- 1621 cern and aid should be given it so that it can develop upon the lines, first, of safety, and, secondly, of the maximum efficiency. I believe that if these things are done they will result in the great progress of flying as an arm of our military forces and, at the same time, will lead to great benefit to this country and to other countries with which we shall be brought into touch by the development of civil aviation.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat clown must have been for some time absent from this House, and while we all deeply regret that circumstance his speech has brought back some of the antedeluvian political atmosphere which existed in former Parliaments. Therefore he felt that in making his remodelled—his reconditioned—maiden speech he should, every five minutes, turn from his argument to go for my right hon. Friends on these benches. I know that is perfectly good old-fashioned form, but we have a new attitude and tone in politics to-clay. This is a House of gestures, and we are co-operating with each other, and those who sit on these benches claim ail the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite as collaborators in an attempt to secure economy. Had the hon. and gallant Gentleman listened clearly to the speech of his colleague the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) he would have appreciated that the hon. and gallant Member is as anxious as we are to have real economy so far as the Air Estimates are concerned. We know that economy depends primarily on two features. In the first. place there is the point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised as to securing one common Ministry of Defence so as to prevent the old Services still demanding the old financial resources, and there. is also the prevention of a new struggle in armaments in competition with foreign countries. We want no more competition in armaments and we want real economy in the Departments. That is what we stand for, and the hon. and gallant Member is not entitled to get up in this House and accuse us of cheeseparing economy and of turning down our own Estimates when we are really doing that which he should be doing, and that is trying to secure efficiency at a moderate price. I know 1622 perfectly well that in a month's time the hon. and gallant Member will be jumping up in this House and protesting that there is not a shilling off the Income Tax
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am very glad to know beforehand that that is not so. It is absolutely inconsistent for hon. Members to be defending the new race for air supremacy and at the same time to complain that their Income Tax is not reduced when the Budget comes in. I think we have taken up a perfectly sound attitude. We want to get economy through the three great spending Departments, and by pressing upon the Government the urgent necessity of pointing out to the French Government that it is not well to have this race in naval expenditure—largely due to their expenditure of our money—between our Allies, old Allies in the past, people whom we may expect to be Allies in the future, that it is not well to build up this rivalry at an expense which neither country can possibly afford.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
With regard to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), it is needless to say how much I agree, for I have been hammering at the principles he mentioned for many years. I used to point out in the old days the false doctrine of coast invasion. Any point with regard to the 50,000 miles of Empire coast line produced the same argument about invasion which the military used in regard to this Island. The whole question of economy is to be found in the suggestion of one supreme Minister who will be able to say to experts, "Is it vital or usefull If it is useful, we cannot have it; but if it is vital we must have it." That means the Minister of Defence at the head of all the Services. The idea of a Minister of Defence is not quite so young as the hon. and gallant Member for Aylesbury (Sir A. Burgoyne) thought. We owe the idea to Lord Randolph Churchill and the Minority Report of Lord Haiti rigton's Commission in 1886 which he signed. I am quite certain that if that is done and we have some sort of stocktaking with the setting up of a roving Geddes Committee you will find 1623 it will save an immense amount of money. As an example, I drew the attention of the Conservative Government in 1923 by letters, and I think once or twice on the Floor of the House, to the parade ground of the military at Hong Kong. The last Government had the wisdom to sell that piece of property, which was right in the centre of the business community of Hong Kong. They got £2,000,000 for the parade ground, and a suitable ground very much cheaper elsewhere. That is only one instance of many where we could raise a lot of money. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) raised the old tale of his unhappy differences with the Admiralty in the past. I wish he could forget these old unhappy things of long ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I do not see why Lord Beatty and Sir Roger Keyes should be punished for the sins of Admirals years ago. We never had a War Staff in those days, and we all had differences with the Admiralty. You have a War Staff now, and you can hope—
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Will the. hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what they did up to 1915 to help the Air Service?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is never too late to mend. Anyhow, there were two points the gallant Admiral made which tell in favour of associating the Navy and the Air together and having them under one control. He made a point of the promotion of air officers. The life of an air officer is not much more than eight or nine years. Well, perhaps it is more now. What is the outlook for that man when his flying time comes to an end The Navy would benefit very considerably from the experience he had as a flying officer, and as a naval officer he would be able to reach to many posts in his profession. It is the same with regard to the Army. The hon. and gallant Gentleman made another point: he said our mechanics were so good in the Navy that the old naval flying force seldom had accidents. If the Air Force were 1624 associated with the Navy by giving a little supplementary training to our own mechanics they would do the work, and, as he said, they do the work extremely well, whereas the Air Force has to create its own separate body of mechanics.
The hon. and gallant Member for Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), who moved the reduction, referred to the necessity of a conference on the question of the reduction of armaments. I agree with him entirely. I think the sooner we have it the better. It ought not to be complicated with the land armaments as well. Unfortunately he prefaced it by an argument that we are utterly at the mercy of an attacking air force. I do not believe for one moment that we are at the mercy of an attacking air force, and I do not think it is going to help us if we bring in the cry of mercy at the very first. It reminds me too much of the arguments of the old Liberal party in 1906, when it was said we were being driven to bankruptcy, and, therefore, we ought to induce Germany to disarm. It had the reverse effect.
Another argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Sutherland was that the increase of the Air Force should be provided for by the reduction of the Navy, and in that argument he is supported by the hen and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I wonder if hose hon. and gallant Members ever visualise what are the services the Navy renders to the Air Force Every drop of petrol that the Air Force gets, all its lubricating oil, the steel—of course we have to import large quantities of steel: n excess for shipbuilding—the aluminium, the flax and the rubber, they all have to come over the sea and they depend entirely on naval defence for the rapidity with which these supplies reach this Island. Therefore just as it is true that whenever this country goes to war every soldier who goes abroad to war goes on the back of a sailor so every man who goes into the air does so in virtue of the successful defence the Navy affords to the merchant ships which carry aeronautical supplies by sea. It is a fact that the life of a bombing airplane in war is only a few hundred hours and 50 per cent. of bombing aeroplanes will be worn out in a single month and have to be replaced. So we see those supplies depend vitally upon the ships that bring them. I am glad 1625 the House is realising that this Air Force is by no means cheap. One of the arguments constantly put forward about the Air Force weapons was that they are very cheap. I cannot put the matter better than by quoting the hon. Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Ponsonby), who, in a speech on 23rd July, 1923, pictured a zone of some hundreds of miles in this island as a no-man's land bombed by 1,200 machines three times in 24 hours. He went on to say:To begin with, the Air Service is a great deal cheaper than the cost of any other forms of armament. The cost of a standard bomber is not very large, and 200 squadrons would only cost about £2,500,000 and that is less than half the cost of a battleship.As a matter of fact the cost of a bomber is £5,000, which would make the cost of 200 squadrons £12,500,000. But we get the real truth of the matter when we take these Estimates of £21,000,000. What are they going to provide us with? I think with about 54 squadrons. That is very different from the figure given by the right hon. Gentleman. France has actually 50 squadrons of British dimensions apart from those required for her Eastern Army and her Dominions. I think this picture of 200 bombing squadrons coming over to this country and maintained for a very small cost is an absolutely untrue picture of the state of affairs. Actually we obtain 54 squadrons for £21,000,000, so the House can easily picture what it would cost to maintain 200 squadrons. Again, as I have said, the average life of a bomber is only a few hundred hours, and the wastage in war would be about 50 per cent. per month, so that we see how very soon they would perish compared with the battleship, the average life of which is 20 years. The whole comparison is really childish. There ought to be no comparison at all of that nature. When I turn to these estimates of cost, I want to ask, why is it we never get an answer to this plain question as regards cost. Why, with three times the expenditure of France, we get only one-third the result. The Secretary of State does not agree. I would like to get the exact figures of the expenditure in this country and in France in regard to Air expenditure. If you like; cut out the civil expenditure and give us the war expenditure. I think ours would be three times higher. At any rate France gets much more than three times the results. 1626 That is a point the House has got to bear in mind. I know the familiar argument about conscription, but that does not explain it.
Again, we were promised that the Air Ministry would save overlapping, and that was going to be an economy. As a matter of fact, why the Air Ministry is so extravagant is that there is overlapping. France has her ground men in the Army; the Air Ministry provides its own ground men. In the case of the Navy France has it, mechanics in the Navy itself, and it has not got to provide extra mechanics, as the Air Ministry has. In fact, the complaint of the Navy is that the aircraft carriers have on board a number of people who are quite redundant, and that they cannot provide accommodation for other things because of the redundant air personnel provided by the Air Ministry. We have heard in this Debate that civil aviation is starved, and it has been one of the strongest arguments in connection with the Air Ministry that an Air Ministry would not be prejudiced, like the two War Ministries, the Navy and the Army, in regard to civil aviation. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of the Navy, which has an intense sympathy with civil aviation, just as it has with the mercantile marine, civil aviation is being starved.
I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) referring the other day to General Mitchell's agitation in the United States. What is the basis of General Mitchell's agitation? He says that nine-tenths of the expenditure ought to go in civil aviation. He indicts the Navy and the Army for not having devoted enough to civil aviation. He also differs from our Air Ministry, for he holds that civil aeroplanes are of great use for fighting. The hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), in his speech the other day, said that only 2 per cent. of the expenditure of the Air Ministry goes to civil aviation. I believe he is right, because I have taken out the figures for the administrative side of the Air Ministry, and it works out at just over 2 per cent. devoted to the Directorate of Civil Aviation, out of the whole expenditure of the Air Ministry. Then, taking the actual expenditure on civil aviation, it is £369,000 out of a total of £21,000,000. 1627 That is very different from General Mitchell's stipulation of 90 per cent.
I will take the airships as a case in point. The Admiralty wanted airships simply as mercantile ships, to supplement naval work. They did not ask for anything in the way of fighting power. They tried to keep airships going in 1922, but the Air Ministry turned it down. Then the Admiralty kept on agitating, largely as the result of the work done by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), and it was only when there was a danger of these airships falling under the direction of the Admiralty that the Air Ministry took an interest in the matter at all and brought forward their scheme. With flying boats the story is the same—they have been neglected. They are not neglected in America. Both America and France have airships attached to their navies and there is a steady progress in regard to flying boats. Out of 42 classifications of records that the National Aeronautic Federation have established, 33 are held by the United States of America, and there the navy controls its own air force. That does not look as if we were getting greater progress under an Air Ministry controlling the whole of air matters, as compared with another nation in the case of which the Air Forces are under the Navy and the Army respectively.
When we examine that point, we find that there was a one-man agitation in the United States, on the part of General Mitchell, to get a separate Air Ministry, but President Harding appointed a Commission, including civilians, in April, 1921, to inquire into the subject, and the Report of that Commission is thatAviation 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.When we visualise the only two possible, enemies we may have to fight—I only use the word "possible"—namely, France and Japan, we find that in both those countries the Navy has its own air arm completely under its own control. The only country that has imitated our practice—the French tried it and abandoned it—is Italy. Signor Mussolini has done so for his own reasons. The Italian naval 1628 manœuvres were held only last year, and they resulted in a most damaging report in regard to the question of combination between the air and the Navy, where the Navy vitally depends on the assistance given it from the air. It has been repeatedly stated, I think, by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith, that this arrangement of a separate Air Ministry is the outcome of experience. I deny that altogether. The experience of the War was that we wanted a single Supply Department for the Army and the Navy. It was a temporary expedient, because the Army and Navy were competing against each other for limited supplies, and the demands of both could not be satisfied. This Ministry was, therefore, created, and I can prove it by quoting what was said by Lord Rothermere, the First Secretary of State for Air, in an article in the "Daily Mail" of the 30th July, 1923. He then said:The Royal Air Force was thus constituted purely as a war expedient. I never contemplated its continuance after the War but always thought it would revert to its former subordinate statue under the two older fighting arms. I never imagined that the arrangement would he permanent. Today, the Navy has fleet airmen trained by the Royal Air Force by Army methods.Air Marshal Trenchard himself submitted a Memorandum to this House, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Secretary of State for Air. It was circulated to every Member of the House in 1919, and there Sir Hugh Trenchard said:In addition there will be a small part of it [the Air Force] specially trained for work with the Navy and a small part specially trained for work with the Army, these small portions"—and I want the House to attend to this point—probably becoming in the future an arm of the older services.I may add that, had we known in 1923 that the Cabinet Committee that was going to investigate this matter had Lord Weir on it, we should have protested very strongly, because Lord Weir was at that moment Chairman of the Air League, and committed to that view of maintaining a separate Air Ministry. We should not have considered him an impartial member.
The point that emerges from the present situation is that the Admiralty 1629 have virtually told the Cabinet that they cannot obtain an efficient Fleet unless they control their own Air Arm. The Cabinet have shouldered the responsibility; that is to say, the Admiralty have a scrap of paper which exculpates them from responsibility if any disaster arises in a naval battle as the result of that arrangement. That is reproducing a very disastrous situation which occurred in regard to Russia in the war with Japan. Anyone who has read that very interesting book "Rasplata," by an officer of Admiral Rodovensky's staff, will remember an interview which the staff officer had with Admiral Rodovensky, when he told the story of Admiral Stark, who was in command of the Fleet at Port Arthur when it was torpedoed. Admiral Stark had represented that certain precautions should he taken, and on the Memorandum were inserted by the Viceroy the words "Not yet." Stark kept this paper in his pocket, and, whenever there was talk about court-martialling him, he used to tap his pocket significantly and say, "I have ray defence," and they never dared court-martial him. Admiral Rodovensky's comment on that was, "No, my boy; what is written is sacred. If you possess something in black on white, you stand there as pure as snow."
But that will not satisfy the country in the event of a disaster. I venture to make a forecast. Years before the Battle of Jutland I made a forecast in articles on the naval manœuvres that, if the turning-away tactics of the British admirals were persisted in, there would be a furious controversy after the next naval battle. That forecast was verified. I say that there will be, after the next, naval battle, if this arrangement is persisted in, a controversy, not merely convulsing the Navy, but one which will convulse the whole political field. I do hope the Cabinet will reconsider the whole matter, preferably on the lines of amalgamating both Air and Admiralty together. I do not care two-pence for the predominance of one over the other, but I do care for unity of control and unity of command.
If the House will bear with me for a few moments longer, I want to put before them the principle in reference to the continual comparisons that are made between airships and battleships. There 1630 never can be any fight between airships and battleships by themselves. What will happen in war is this. There will be a fleet of all arms fighting a fleet of all arms, including aircraft on both sides. When hon. Members are saying what aeroplanes will do to battleships, I ask them to visualise that there will be continual interference by other aircraft with what aircraft can do to battleships. That is how General Pershing's Committee visualised the matter. When the experiments took place on American battleships, they were not sunk by bombs. Damage was done by bombs, but the ships ultimately had to be sunk by gunfire. And what General Pershing reported on the 18th August, 1921, was this:A very small percentage of hits [by bombs] was secured against stationary targets;and, on the question of the probability of hits, his committee reported—and they were unanimous—that it was—practically negligible if the target is protected by effective pursuit planes.I think that that knocks on the head all the talk about battleships being useless. Every War Staff of every Navy agrees in the opinion that battleships are the main source of sea-power in the future, as they have been in the past. They do not decry in the slightest degree the importance of the service that aircraft can render; they all recognise more and more that the air will become a decisive factor as things advance.
There is a wider question than the mere question of aircraft as against fleets—namely, where the target is our whole island. I want to ask, is the attack an air problem? Not necessarily. You have to take your aircraft away from military purposes, and, therefore, it is a military problem also. Whatever you do in the way of wasting aircraft on attacking civilian populations, you have always to remember that you are handicapping your military forces as against other military forces which, keep their aircraft intact. Is the defence purely an air question? Hon. Members who have spoken say that air defence is of no real avail against aircraft. If so, it cannot be a purely air question. These short-lived bombing planes, as I have pointed out, are expensive because their life is so short. They are very valuable for military purposes, and ought not to 1631 be used to any extent for attacks on civilian populations. But the result of what has been said by Member after Member, even by such level-headed men as General Seely, about London being wiped out, has created a scare among the population which has led to an entirely erroneous policy of home defence. The whole effort of the Air Ministry, as far as I can see, is now concentrated on home defence, and on a defence which they themselves say cannot do its work.
If the Navy had been associated with the Air Ministry, I venture to say the problem would have been very much simpler. In the first place, any defensive system ought to be very much cheaper than the offensive system. The Navy has solved two of the problems, to my mind, in connection with this matter. In the first place, we long ago solved the problem of wireless control of moving bodies without any personnel on board; and, in the second place, we solved the problem of a moving body steering itself in a magnetic field towards any iron mass. If we bear in mind that point, I think that by experimental research it ought to be possible to get very cheap wireless planes controlled from the land, which. the moment the attacking planes bring their magnetic field to bear on these small, cheap wireless planes, the wireless planes will go straight for these great masses of expensive bombing planes, carrying 10 tons of bombs, such as we read of in the newspapers. On these lines, possibly, we may see a cheap defence, but, at any rate, I believe in the doctrine that no weapon of war is ever created which does not meet with its match and its remedy. We have always found that to he the case in the Navy, and I believe we shall find it in the air also. I do appeal, however, for combining the services of the Navy and the air. If you get a wrong doctrine scaring the people, you will get a much worse state of affairs in the future than was brought about by the erroneous doctrine of Peel and Palmerston that steam had bridged the Channel. It was a false doctrine, and led to the expenditure of millions of pounds. If we are governed by these false heresies, we shall again go into expenditure on armaments which will be millions of pounds poured into the sea and wasted. I do hope the Cabinet will con- 1632 sider this problem, will bring the three Services together, and will save us from this wasteful expenditure in the future.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
In intervening in this Debate, I should like to put forward a few points bearing on the urgent necessity for a change in the present system in connection with the responsibility for the control of aircraft. Several speakers have remarked on the undesirability of war, and I need hardly say that, as a lifelong pacifist, I entirely agree with them. I think, from everything that has been said, that there is a, great body of opinion, with which I entirely agree, that a Defence Ministry is the best possible thing we could have for controlling the great spending Departments of the fighting forces. I have heard it said that prejudice is inclined to come in where a naval, or possibly a military, officer expresses opinions with regard to the Air Ministry. I do ask to be acquitted of anything in the nature of prejudice in that respect, for I can say quite truthfully that I consider the question only from one point of view, and that I am very strongly prejudiced in favour of the unchanging laws which govern the conduct of war.
So far as the Navy and the control of its own aircraft is concerned, I think it is sometimes forgotten that the air is superimposed over the sea, and, as we know, it is also superimposed over the land. It does not seem to me that it can be right to describe it as a separate element, and to deny to the Navy the use of an element which for hundreds, if not thousands of years, it entirely relied upon as its propelling force. The Navy has never been able to exist without the air, and it cannot exist without it in the future. The Navy should, as it does, work in the sea and on the sea, and it ought also to work above the sea. I would say the same thing so far as the Army is concerned, namely, 'that it should work in, on and above the land. The necessity for a separate Air Ministry has never been clear to me, and I say that it is not proved at the present time. The existence of an Air Ministry now not only complicates Imperial defence, bat it adds very largely, and quite unnecessarily, to our financial obligations.
To revert for a moment to the Navy, what has been the definite ambition of 1633 every ship that has sailed the seas as a man-of-war? It has been to extend by every possible means the limits of its vision. At the present time fleets stretch out, with their screens of cruisers, to as great a visual distance as they possibly can, and they also extend to as great a wireless distance as possible, with one object only, namely, to extend their limits of vision. In the Army it is the same. If the naval commander, Commander-in-Chief, flag officer, or whoever it may be, is to be denied the use of the air, he is being told, in fact, that while he can control such craft as he possesses in a 'horizontal direction to any extent that he likes, he is not to be allowed to control anything vertically. That will not hold water. No naval commander can face with equanimity for a moment anything except absolute executive and administrative control over every ship and every weapon with which he has to carry out his duties. We are all aiming at unity of command, and, as I said at the beginning, that can be approached by means of a Ministry of Defence. But the more you add to your various Departments, as in this instance with an Air Ministry, the more you complicate the question of unity of command. We realise only too well and remember, as I am sure we all do, what Marshal Foch had to say in regard to an independent air force. He was totally opposed to it during the Great War.
I should like to quote from a speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leith (Captain Benn) the other clay, whose experience and gallantry has not been surpassed by anyone connected with the air. He said:There is no similitude between the services rendered by the people who fly with the Fleet and the people who serve in the ships.I am entirely and absolutely unable to agree that that is so, for the reasons I have already advanced. He says a little later on:Is there anything in a warship comparable with photography?if that line of argument is to prevent the Navy controlling its own aircraft, the Navy would never have had mines, electric light., or submarines. Up to the time they were introduced—mines, electric light, submarines, and many other things—they had nothing comparable to the engines and the details with which they were 1634 asked suddenly to deal. A. little further on I see:There is no similarity between the services of the naval officer and the flying officer. They are working in different elements.I did my best to clear up that point in regard to vertical and horizontal scouting. A little later on I see:If the Navy gets an Appropriation-in-Aid, why not the Army?I say, why not? Many other points have been advanced against the Navy having its own control of aircraft, and one of the things I have heard very often said is that there is the subject of aero-dynamics, which is the science connected with movements of air, and so forth. Even at present, it is perfectly truthful to say that no projectile is ever fired from any gun in the Navy without a deep study of the effects of aero-dynamics. So it is not an unknown science in the Navy. It is perhaps worth recording the fact that the Navy must have looked into the future in connection with flying, and Daedalus was considered a suitable individual to name one of His Majesty's ships after.
I should like to refer to the question of comparing aircraft with artillery. At present the artillery, both of the Army and of the Navy, is provided and designed for specific purposes by the Ordnance Committee, a mixed military and naval Committee, and it seems to me clear that you might just as well ask that artillery should be provided as a special arm by a special Ministry for the purpose of the Army and Navy, as is done at present in regard to aircraft. Exactly the same thing, to my mind, can be said in regard to submarines. Submarines are a very exceptional form of craft in every sort of way, and they undoubtedly require very special knowledge, but we have no more right to have an Air Ministry than to have a Submarine Ministry. In my experience in the Navy, every new invention, everything that is new in the way of a weapon, has invariably resulted in the same thing happening, and that is that you build up a specialist branch. It does not matter whether it is torpedo craft, submarines, mining, gunnery, electrical work, or torpedo work, you create a specialist branch, and the one ambition of every naval commander is to encourage by every possible means specialist branches. and all naval authorities do every- 1635 thing in their power to prevent anything in the nature of an unduly circumscribed service. To give an example, there was a tendency in the Navy some years ago, and it exists a. little even at present, that officers and men in the submarine service get the feeling that they belong to a separate service from the rest of the Navy, and, although they work very well with the Navy, and that sort of thing, the tendency is a bad one, and the Admiralty very properly have always done all they can, first of all, to encourage specialists, and, secondly, to make quite sure that they do not build up too great a condition of independence.
I should like to make one or two further points in regard to the duties of aircraft in connection with the Navy. At present the Navy is concerned with the watching of coastal areas, with coast-line defence, with the defence of their fortified bases and dockyards, and, thirdly, with the necessities of the fleets and squadrons that are at sea. Those are the three main requirements of the Navy in regard to aircraft. At present no one of those requirements is adequately met. Take the coastal units' work alone. The work of coastal units is a very important one indeed. The aircraft have to scout, they have to look for mines, they may have to fire torpedoes at enemy war vessels, they may have to convoy merchant ships, and they may have to drop bombs, and many other things. At present the Navy possesses, according to the Navy List, which I have studied to-day, something less than 30 aeroplanes to carry out all these duties for the whole of the United Kingdom. That to my mind—and I think many hon. Members will agree—is altogether inadequate.
When we touch on the question of the protection of bases, we come to what is a very important thing, what has been described as the Fleet air arm. I did not coin the expression, but I think it serves, and we all realise what it means. One must remember that the day of long-distance flying from the land has not yet arrived so far as aeroplanes are concerned, and it is clear that, as things are at present, great aircraft carriers are essential. A nothing thing that is absolutely essential is that when you have those craft away with your Fleet, you have to realise that, their protection 1636 depends on the ships they are working with. They have no connection: n the slightest degree with any aerodrome on shore, or any aircraft station, and that is only one more reason why they should be intimately part and parcel of the Navy with which they are working. Their duties are enormous and essential, and in every respect naval—the question of aerial fighting against aircraft belonging to the enemy, scouting, and generally keeping the flag officers informed on the movements of the enemy. All the things they have to do are vital for the Naval Service, and at present they are not under the control of the Admiralty. We have a sort of partial scheme whereby there is 70 per cent. of naval personnel. I say in the strongest possible way that is an inefficient system. it must be one thing or the other. You cannot possibly have a sort of half-and-half scheme of that kind. The main sea requirements, as they appear to me, in regard to naval aircraft are that we must first of all have craft of our own design. We must have a personnel naval in sentiment and in feeling so far as their careers are concerned, and we must create and build up our own reserves. At present none of these things exist, and seamen who fly and airmen who go to sea do their best, and a very good best it is, in a job that is not theirs. What is wanted is that the Navy should provide its own flying men, and that when they have finished their flying careers, whatever the age, which may vary, they can still continue as seamen, and it does not seem to me that it is possible for airmen in their short careers to become seamen. The question of airmanship—I am prepared to be corrected on the question of learning airmanship—is not a lifelong study. That of a seaman most certainly is. The fact has been referred to that certain countries have their own aircraft attached to their own service. The United States has, and I believe Japan is in a similar position.
I come now to the question of airships. Here the problem, so far as regards the working of the Navy, is exactly and substantially the same as in regard to the heavier than aircraft. There is only one thing at present, it seems to me, which really differs altogether, and that is the burning question whether we can or cannot afford to launch out and expend a great deal of money on airships. The 1637 answer is that we cannot. I should like to put forward the following points with a view to doing our utmost to build up a merchant air fleet. After all, the British Navy as it exists to-day was unquestionably built up by reason of the fact that we had a very wonderful merchant fleet scattered all over the world. In fact, the first men-of-war that ever existed in the Navy were converted merchant ships used for scouts, and gradually a type of ship was developed which is essentially different from the merchant ship. That should be our policy at present. We have the will, we have the enterprise, and we have the money—not our money. I am speaking of money that firms outside are prepared to put up. All those things are at our command, and we should make a very great mistake, if we did not, even by providing some small subsidy, 80 our utmost to encourage and use these valuable assets. I think it can be done by subsidising and helping the firms which are prepared to take these tremendous risks, and from that we can build up not only a great merchant fleet of airships, but ultimately it will become, as it invariably has become, necessary in the past to provide extra insurance for them in the way of Protective aircraft, which may ultimately take a different form and he of different design. The call for merchant airships at present is unquestionably an insistent one and there can be no question that there is a great future for them in regard to mails, passengers, and so on. But there are certain things which we must not do to complicate their activity. One of the things we must not do is to spend immense sums on bases in places abroad where we are not sine that those bases will ultimately be found to be the very best. for commercial interests, and that being so, I cannot help thinking that we should do something—I believe a scheme has already been thought out—in the nature of providing what in the Navy we describe as buoys at which big ships are moored in harbours, namely, moving mooring masts, attached to large ships, and that, would enable the craft to be moved about until such time as the commercial aircraft have found the best possible routes for carrying out their activity.
I hope the Government will see their way to drop the scheme introduced by 1638 their predecessors. The scheme that is at present, I understand, under discussion should be pushed forward by every possible means, and private enterprise should be fostered to the utmost. The cost to the country is naturally not a very small one, but in looking at it, as far as I have been able, as I understand the figures, the cost of the subsidy for this great and splendid work is very little more than the value of one modern cruiser, and if for the value of one modern cruiser we are capable of building up in the course of a few years a vast and efficient merchant air fleet, that money is very admirably spent. After all, I think it has been proved pretty conclusively that anything in the way of State control of craft has distinctly failed, and we have only to turn to the Commonwealth line of ships, recently put up for sale, to see what the result of that form of State control is. Anything in the nature of State control of aircraft must be avoided by all possible means. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will allow me to press very strongly that the Air Ministryship should unquestionably be dropped, and not be proceeded with, and we should do all we possibly can to encourage private enterprise to the full for aircraft, and to do everything possible to institute an inquiry at the earliest possible moment with a view to the absorption of the Air Ministry under the War Office and the Admiralty.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Captain BENN
May I first of all thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his kind reference to myself. Secondly, may I say it is very difficult for a civilian to feel at all at home in discussing these highly technical subjects with such eminent experts as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. My experience was limited to being a civilian in an aircraft carrier, but perhaps from the bottom end of the ladder one makes observations and notices things which the eminent high command do not see. If I felt uneasy about expressing any opinion on these matters myself, I should be fortified by the fact that I have the support of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), under whose command I served, and who can certainly express an opinion on air matters and naval matters, which is unequalled for authority in this House or outside. The first thing to observe in this Debate is that the con-
1639 cessions, big or little, that the Air Ministry have made to the Admiralty have not satisfied their demands. The only effect of carrying out the resolutions of the Balfour Committee has been to produce such speeches as we have heard to-day demanding more and yet more. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just. resumed his seat do not make any bones about it. They regard this change as the first step towards the disintegration of the force. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says a Naval Air Force and an Army Air Force, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone said the same thing. Really it seems to me there is no answer to this plain argument. Under the stress of war, we were forced to unite these Services. It was not a theoretical expedient invented by people who had some passionate and unaccountable love for an Air Force. It was forced upon us in the face of the greatest difficulties by the necessity of inventing new schemes in the hope that they would give us the victory. The hon. And gallant Gentleman speaks as so many distinguished Admirals have spoken in this House about the Air Force. With very great respect and humility I say that I do not think he appears to understand the beginning of their aspirations or of their outlook. He talks as if anything the Air Ministry did merely added unnecessary financial burdens to the country. Does he mean that if the Admiralty had an Air Force they would not spend so much on it?
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I do mean that. I think that if the War Office and the Admiralty had their own aircraft, we should spend less money on the fighting forces than we do now amongst the three.
§ Captain BENN
That. means that the force of all forces (if you are to have defensive forces) which deserves encouragement and ought to have more money at, the expense of the senior service and of the Army, if given back to the Navy would be more economically managed. My own view is that the amount of money we spend on defence should be reduced, but that the amount of money we apportion to the Air Force 1640 should be increased at the expense of the other services. Of course, in dealing with technical subjects any civilian speaker is at a very great disadvantage in attempting to controvert the arguments of one who is so eminent a professional authority. The hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks of the duty of the Navy being to watch their bases. Suppose that the enemy sent over from their land an air force. The Navy might never see it. The enemy would bomb the bases out of existence, and the people in the ships, pursuing their lawful 'occasions, would never even know that the thing had been done until they went to the bases and found nothing but ruin. The hon. and gallant Gentleman threw sonic light upon the point of view of sailors in this matter, when he said that the seaman's career is the career of a lifetime, whereas the airman's career is only an interlude, a passing thing. That we deny. You will never get an Air Force in this country so long as you tell people that their experiences in the air are merely an interlude to a career in some other profession. That is my complaint against the whole of the change which has followed the putting into force of the Balfour recommendations.
I will say one thing with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman will cordially disagree. Why should the Admiralty be the body to design an aircraft carrier? An aircraft carrier is a ship, of course, but lots of people can design ships besides the Admiralty. The aircraft carrier is not primarily a ship, but an aerodrome. It comes within the technical knowledge of the Air Service and not of the Fleet or the Navy at all. There are the cranes and the shops. I remember being in a ship, and the best thing the sailors could do was to ask us to develop glass plates directly under a battery, which was hardly an ideal place for a photographic studio. The developing of air photographs is a specialist subject. It is not merely snapshotting. Reading is highly specialised and so is the taking of photographs. Whatever branch of the Air Service you examine you will find that it has nothing to do with the sea at all. It is a different thing, a different element. Fighting in the air is different, flying is different, and so is reconnaissance, except the reconnaissance of naval objects, which 1641 should be done by naval officers. Until you make that a root principle of your defence you will never get an Air Service, and you do not deserve to have one.
There is the question of the command of aircraft carriers. This is supposed to be the real Ark of the Covenant. Who is to command Why should not an Air Force officer be the supreme officer? Most of the duties are to do with the air. The ship has to be navigated, but that is not; the most important thing to be done. There are all sorts of technical details that the commander has to understand, such as turning the ship so as to make a lee in a rough sea for an aeroplane to get off. Such a ship is a floating aerodrome, and would be far better under the command of an air officer than under the command of a naval officer. When you examine the recommendations of this Balfour Committee they are subtle. The changes appear to be small, but they all seem to me to be instinct with the wrong spirit. They are all aimed at making the career of the man who flies in connection with the Navy a naval career instead of an Air career. It does not matter whether it is leave, reports or uniform. They want to get a man to look to the Admiralty for his career instead of to the Air Ministry. That is wrong. You can do it of course you can! The Air Ministry once offered the Navy plenty of opportunity for the sailors to have four or five years in the Air Force to learn that side of their duties, in order to keep the harmony and to have the blend of information which ultimately might give us a capable defence Ministry. But the Navy refused. When the offer was made no officers were forthcoming, because the Admiralty would not have anybody mixed up with the Air unless the Admiralty had control. The Admiralty wished to make a man turn his eye in the wrong direction. They wished him to be wrapped up with the sea, whereas to be successful he must be wrapped up with the air.
§ Captain BENN
Because they understood it would not pay them to volunteer. They knew very well what their fate was to be when promotion came along, because the Admiralty had said, "No, if 1642 you want to be a sailor you can stay here and look to us, but if you are going to mess about with this toy, that is another matter." I would not for the world speak disrespectfully of the Admiralty or of Admirals, but I saw a station inspected once. The Admiral looked at the men, saw that they were shaved; he looked at the mess room and at the tents and at the flagpole, and it was not until he was about to withdraw that some air officer suggested that he should go into the shops and see the aeroplanes. I do not want to speak disrespectfully, because I have the greatest admiration for Admirals—on the sea. But this Admiral did not even know the name: of one of the types of machines we had, although they had been in existence long enough before they were handed to us. The Balfour Committee, having tried to get the carrier and the officer into the hands of the Admiralty, has now come along with this transference of the Estimates. What the hon. and gallant Baronet said may be true—that it is only a bookkeeping account. I understand that the Air Ministry said that they regarded it as inconvenient. But it seems to me that the man who pays the piper will call the tune.
§ Captain BENN
I notice that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants that, and he believes it is going to happen. He thinks that if the Admiralty say, "We are going to spend so much on the Fleet Air Arm"—a term of art invented by some Estimates clerk, apparently, and never heard of before—if the Admiralty decide how much money is to be spent, ultimately they will get control of everything. They already have the young officer under their control and they hope to have control of design and of everything. When that happens it is the beginning of the end, as far as the unity of the Air Service is concerned.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Does the hon. and gallant Member know the exact proportion? It is only 4 per cent., and it is getting less and less.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Naval Arm associated with the Fleet is only 4 per cent, of the whole Air Force. How can that ruin it?
§ Captain BENN
The appropriation-in-aid in these Estimates amounts to about £300,000 or £1,400,000. If it is only small, that seems to me to show that they are not showing the proper regard for their own Service. If you give the decision of the amount to the Admiralty, ultimately they will get the control of the thing. It is because I sincerely believe that the integrity and unity of the Air Force is necessary for this country that I criticise the change which has taken place in the Estimates.
§ Captain REID
I ant afraid that I cannot crave the indulgence of the House by stating that this is my maiden speech, because in that respect I am somewhat of a spinster, having spoken in this House in 1923 on one or two occasions and that is a long time ago. Therefore, though a spinster, I again experience all the pangs and timidity of the maiden, and consequently I hope I may crave a slight measure of indulgence from the House. I have ventured to rise now because I think I can claim some slight reason for taking part in the Debate, for I have spent most of my career, or a great deal et it, in the Air Force. I have listened to the speeches to-day with great interest, and especially to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and also to the speeches on the same subject a fortnight ago. In consequence I have come to the conclusion that these Air Estimates have been exhaustively treated' from the technical and financial point of view, but not so much from the point of view of those people who actually have to carry out the result. of this legislation. I am referring to the personnel of the Air Force and in particular to the pilots. Hon. Members will agree that our pilots deserve every possible consideration that we can give them. When I was a miserable pilot I used to think that it would be a very good thing if on occasions those in high authority could hear what the pilot had to say about the decisions of the mighty. It might have proved beneficial and even have proved an eye-opener.
During the War I often heard remarks, and I am afraid that I myself used to make them, in something like this form: "If only so-and-so"—mentioning one of the powers that were—" could himself actually do some flying with us and go 1644 through the same experience as ourselves, we feel that soon a far more satisfactory state of affairs would exist." I would like to emphasise that particular aspect. I will give one example. Hon. Members who have had any knowledge of practical flying will agree that what the average airman dreaded more than anything else on active service was flames. The idea of his machine becoming alight and him coming to earth in flames was always subconsciously at the back of his mind. I contend—and I do not think I am alone in this contention—that this fear, this danger, could have been overcome if only we had been supplied with parachutes. We used to see the German airmen leave their burning machines and jump to ground in comparative safety, because they were supplied with parachutes, and we used to see our own friends go to earth in flames, and we were powerless to do anything to prevent them meeting a dreadful death. We were resentful, not because we minded an individual German life being saved, but because our own friends did not have the same opportunity of saving their lives.
On that particular question, I myself, with one or two others, made somewhat violent representations, but the only result was that we nearly got into very serious trouble. We were always met with the same answer. We were told that if a. machine was fitted with a parachute, it would detract from the speed of that machine; we were even told that there was not sufficient silk in the country to provide for all the parachutes which would be required: and, last, but not least, we constantly got the answer, which I believe originated in this House, that if pilots were supplied with parachutes they would be jumping out of their machines on the slightest provocation. Is it likely, I ask, that any reasonable man, two or three miles up, would, on the slightest provocation, jump out of his machine and trust himself to a flimsy bit of material? I do not think it is. If we had been supplied with parachutes during the War, I maintain that it would have increased the moral of the pilots by at least 50 per cent., and we would have fought 50 times better, and the results, especially the fighting results, to the Force as a whole would also have been greatly increased. In consequence, I can assure the 1645 House that it was with a great deal of relief that I heard, in title admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air two weeks ago, that it had at last been decided to supply, as standard, all machines with parachutes. I think that every consideration ought to be given to the improvement of the moral of our pilots, because there is no getting away from the fact that the pilot will always be the main factor of safety and also the main factor of danger. I was very interested to notice one particular aspect of my right hon. Friend's speech, and I would like to quote his words, because they will somewhat bear out my point. He said:I will give the House a few of the questions upon which the Aeronautical Research Committee and other scientists working for the Air Ministry are at present principally engaged.Among those questions was the following:How can the pilot prevent a spin following on a stall—prevent, that is, his aeroplane diving nose first in a steep and narrow spiral, and how, should his machine start to spin, can he recover and resume normal flight?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1025; col. 2248, Vol. 180.]Unfortunately, this is a matter that all the scientists in the world would he powerless to prevent, and it is no good looking at it from the technical point of view, because it depends entirely on the mind of the pilot himself. A spin is a very easy thing to get into, and it is equally easy to get out of, providing you keep your head, but if you do not keep your head, it means that you follow your instinct, you do what is most natural to you, and, strangely enough, if you follow your instinct on this occasion, you are doing the wrong thing. The way to get out of a spin is to centralise all your controls—I will not go into many details—and, instead of pulling the machine out of that spin, as you might imagine you should do, you must push it even more into the spin. If you do this, you dive straight to earth, but without spinning, and it is then easy to pull up your machine on to its even keel, and to resume normal flying. During the War I have known many young pilots lose their lives simply because they got into a spin, lost their head, forgot: what they had been taught, and hit the ground, with disastrous results, before they had been able to regain control. Therefore, I trust I have 1646 shown the House that no scientific research could ever overcome that. Nevertheless, the progress of flying in other directions since the War has increased enormously. This may appear somewhat of a platitude, but, nevertheless, war, I think, has advanced the progress of flying by at least the equivalent of 50 years, and, as a result of our enforced progression, at the end of the War we led all other nations as pioneers of the air. The question that myself and others are asking at the moment is whether the same could be said of us now, and I am afraid that the answer is a somewhat dismal negative.
I agree entirely with the Minister when he says that quality is far more. important than quantity, but how can we get quality if we do not keep abreast of the times? I am frankly perturbed when I see the present condition of our Air Estimates. I find that on experimental work we are going to expend out of the total amount of the Air Estimates only a matter of 6 per cent. The best means of providing for a reserve of pilots and of continuing practical flying experience is undoubtedly through the encouragement and the resultant expansion of civil aviation, but I again look at the Estimates, and I find that, out of the total amount, only 2 per cent. has been allotted to civil aviation. I know it has been amply emphasised on all sides that France is numerically superior to ourselves, as far as machines are concerned, and I believe the figure mentioned has been three to one against us. Therefore, I hope I am not being too presumptuous when I say that, as far as that is concerned, I should be inclined to take a chance for one or twp years, and, with the finances that we have at our disposal, to concentrate on experimental work, and when we are far enough advanced in that direction, then to commence to make up our numerical inferiority with the perfected types of machines that would have been brought about as the result of our experimental period.
It is agreed, I think, by a great many people—I have heard it said only to-day of two occasions in this House—that the war of the future is going to be decided in the air, and that applies more particularly to this country than to any other, situated as we are, for it 1647 perfectly true—though we have been told that this is a scarist story, but is obvious to those who have a practical knowledge of bombing—that if a colossal hostile fleet of bombing aeroplanes were allowed to come over this city unhindered, it would mean that the metropolis could be wiped out in a very short time. That would mean, as far as we are concerned, that the war would be over within an hour, because all our communications would be destroyed, and the whole country would consequently be in a chaotic condition Yet there are hon. Members opposite who will persist in suggesting that we should reduce our Air Service to a negligible size. Several of them went into the Lobby two weeks ago with that in their mind.
If I may be allowed, I should like to make a very homely comparison in a futile attempt to bring my point home. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Thurtle) is not in his place, because he suggested that a hundred men would be adequate for the Air Force. Might I suggest that the hon. Member for Shoreditch would not go down the Shore-ditch main street with a parasol. This may seem somewhat a strange thing to say, but he would not do it, because a parasol would not be adequate protection against the elements. He would, no doubt, use an umbrella. He would use that umbrella not because he thought it was going to rain, and not necessarily because he thought, it would rain, but because it might rain. I maintain that if all the eloquence even of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch, coupled with the persuasiveness and persistency of the hon. Gentlemen that usually sit around him, were eventually to persuade the people of this country to do without umbrellas altogether and also persuaded them to do without an Air Force, I contend that that would sot necessarily mean that, "It ain't gonna rain no mo," or that we are not likely to be again attacked in the future.
But I am inclined to agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite on a different matter up to a certain point. I consider that eventually we should be able to reduce armaments in this country. As I have already contended, the wars of the future will be decided in the air. And it is not only the destructive factor but also the moral factor in aerial warfare that is 1648 going eventually to cause the older services, the Army and the Navy, to take less prominent positions in the future.
I look forward to the period when, after considerable time and money has been spent on air experimental work, we shall then greatly increase the size of our Air Force and at the same time, maybe, decrease the size of our Army and Navy. I consider that this would not only be more economic from the point of view of the nation, but in the remote event of hostilities our position would be enormously improved, taking into consideration modern conditions of carfare, and not only would our position be very much improved, but, without parading the fact, we should be far in advance of any other country.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The discussion this evening has been taken up very largely by experts on each side on this purely technical side of this problem. I should be very sorry if this discussion came to an end without some, at least, on this side of the House putting in a plea for a further limitation of armaments. Some time ago the Government, in face of a great financial crisis, appointed a Committee to inquire into various forms of national expenditure in the hope that proposals might. be put forward for the limitation of that expenditure in various directions. I refer to the famous Geddes Committee, whose recommendations are well known to every Member of this House. Throughout to-day's discussion the one idea that seems to have obsessed the minds of speakers on the other side has been this idea, that sooner or later, it things go on as they are doing, we are bound to come to some kind of international crisis leading ultimately to war. Anyhow, at the back of the minds of most speakers has been the idea of the possibility of war. Because of the existence of that idea we. are invited, not to consider a decrease of the Air Force Estimates, but rather an increased Estimate. I should like, if I may, to remind this House of a passage in the Geddes Report. I find it on page 88. It reads as follows:We have continually before us the view of the Cabinet that no great war need be anticipated for at least 10 years In these circumstances we suggest that the question of a considerable reduction in the number of squadrons should be considered1649 As a matter of fact we are to-night asked to contemplate, not a reduction in the number of squadrons. The proposals of the Geddes Committee was that they should be reduced to something like 32½ squadrons. In the White Paper circulated for our discussion to-night there is actually a proposal for providing 54 squadrons in various parts of the world. Obviously the deduction we are entitled to make from this proposal is that there is something in the mind of the Government to-day which has induced them to, believe that the conditions now prevailing are different from the conditions which prevailed at the time the Geddes Committee reported. The Government of that time—the Coalition Government—had in their minds the impossibility of there being any war within 10 years, yet now we are asked to contemplate, not merely an increase of the Air Force as compared with that time, but something that is much nearer double the strength of that suggested in the Geddes Report. I think that is a very grave menace to world-peace. After all, I am entirely prepared to admit that the last speaker was entirely conscientious in his point of view, that in order to have peace you must he prepared for war. From my point of view, however, I simply do not see how such a proposition can be maintained after the experience of the world in, the last war.
It has been repeatedly stated in this house, and not controverted, that there were plenty of preparations for war on all sides before the Great War broke out. It has been repeatedly argued that the German nation was guilty of excessive preparation for war before 1914: Let ns accept that argument. Did that excessive preparation for war prevent war? Obviously not! It created in the minds of a large number of thinkers in our own country a feeling of insecurity, and that feeling of insecurity created in them the desire for increased preparation of our sick. The consequence of all that preparation on all sides was not the preservation of peace at all but the creation of a situation which made war inevitable. Hence I rise to-night to put in my simple plea—an honest plea—to the Minister for Air that he will carefully consider whether this proposal, which is being made to us to-night, is destined to give the world that sense of security in 1650 the direction of peace that the world is entitled to expect in these days! I observe that a paper has been circulated to-night giving the purport of a speech which has been delivered to-day at Geneva by the Foreign Secretary Obviously that speech of the Foreign Secretary will, necessarily, be interpreted in the light of these new Estimates now presented
Those who have pinned their faith, rightly or wrongly, to the Protocol, when they find that the representative of Great Britain rejects the Protocol, reading side by side his statement and the presentation of these Estimates to the British House of Commons, will make the simple deduction that Great Britain is so far from being anxious to help forward any well intentioned movement in the direction of establishing world peace, that she is, as a matter of fact, once again preparing the instruments of war. The consequence will be, I fear though I hope it will not be so, that they too will he encouraged on that sonic headlong march to destruction. A leaching diplomat of the last generation in this country, said in regard to our naval rivalry that we were "rattling into barbarism." If it is possible to rattle into barbarism by a more rapid method than the one practised before the War, surely this preparation of air armaments is that method. Therefore, I pray the Government to hold their hand rather than to embark on an increased air force, so that we may give that gesture in the direction of international peace for which the world so much longs.
Having said that on the general policy underlying these Estimates, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend one or two questions on particular matters. In these Estimates we contemplate a certain expenditure upon educational services in connection with the Air Force. I am not going to traverse the whole ground of controversy as to whether we are spending enough or too little upon educational work in the Air Force. All I want to say is that we were told in the Geddes Report that the average cost of educating a cadet at Cranwell amounted to the colossal sum of something over £700—nearly £750. I am not going to question that expenditure at all, nor compare it with to-day's expenditure—if I knew it—but I want to ask what sort of arrangements are being 1651 made in the Air Force for the education not of the cadets, who I presume will be the future officers of the Force, but of the ordinary rank and file members? These people are devoting a good part of their best years to the national service. For about seven or 10 years—I do not know what the actual period of service may be—they are drawn away from all the educational institutions provided for other people up and down the country, and since they are withdrawn from those facilities it is the bounden duty of the State to provide them with an equal form of educational service in the various centres to which they are attached.
It is well within the knowledge of most Members that these men when they are demobilised are often at a loose end. They have lost touch with the movements of their locality. They have lost touch with all kinds of educational activities and the consequence is they feel more or less lost when they return to civil life. That is an unfair handicap to place upon these people, and I would urge upon my right hon. Friend that the most complete form of educational provision should be made for these people so that when they return to civil life they may be able to take up their civil duties with as little interruption as is possible under the circumstances.
I will not detain the House further except to reiterate the hope that these Estimates will not he allowed to be inflated beyond what is absolutely necessity, interpreting the word "necessity" not in the direction of increased armaments or the creation of a. new rivalry, but in the direction of preserving what is usually regarded as the ordinary security of the State.
I rise with some diffidence to address the house this evening after all the expert experience that has displayed itself on the various benches, but I feel that I may be able to contribute slightly to the information of the House from my previous experience in the matter: and I hope to allay the suspicions which have been freely expressed as regards the extent to which the various Services have contributed to building up what is now the Air Force. I was somewhat interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for 1652 Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) criticise Farnborough. I am going to deal briefly with Farnborough, because having done civil ballooning—taking up ballooning in 1906—I went there to do an Army course. I would like to mention the surprise I feel that a very large number of my gallant friends in the Navy seem rather to disagree with the Air Force as at present constituted. I am glad that I do not reckon my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) in that category. and I note that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) almost apologised for having been a civilian. What I hold is that we all built it up; it is not a question of one or the other having done it, but the Army, the Navy and civilians all have done it. We regard him one of the leading lights of the flying world, and so we regard also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), as one holding No. 1 certificate as a pilot. We need not really quarrel as to whether the Navy should have this Service or anybody else. The great thing is to have an efficient flying service.
In that connection, I think, I will put in a word for the Army, as I believe only one member of my profession has spoken up to date, and I think we can claim to have started the Air Force. We began in very curious circumstances in the Royal Engineers, and I will ask the House to allow me to relate my experiences. It will open the eyes of a few when they compare the state of things then with what we find them now. I joined the Army Ballooning Factory about the time that the first airship took the air—the "Nulli Secundus," I think it was. We built that ship on experimental money, which at that time amounted to only £500 a year. That ship was built by the savings which Colonel Capper and others in charge accumulated to enable it to be put together. We had no motor-cars in the Air Factory. Colonel Cody, whom everyone will remember, had one, and I had a small one of my own. It is rather a curious fact that the State did not supply motor-cars, but with two of us at least, to help we got the "Nulli Secundus" on her first trip to London. My car broke down in London, and the "Nulli Secundus" broke down at the Crystal 1653 Palace on the way back, and the net result was that we got "told off" by the War Office for having advertised, and we were told that airships were never to go east of Aldershot after that day. However, that was probably a good thing, hut it seems rather absurd that we should have started aviation in this country under conditions of that description.
I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford will appreciate my remarks, because he said he got very little help from the Navy, and we got very little help from the War Office. In discussion afterwards with a distinguished officer at the War Office, whom I knew well, he said, "You know Capper rather well. You might give him a tip not to talk about throwing bombs out of aeroplanes, because we consider that is not possible." In fact, he tapped his forehead as indicating that there was some derangement on the part of anyone who took up ballooning at that time. I think that rather indicates the amount. of help we got from the War Office. That is why I agree in saying it is desirable that there should be an Air Force on its own. The whole development has come about with the rapidity that it has since it started on its own.
We began, as I have indicated, in a small way, and it has now developed and become the Air Force, and I feel sure we can, if we try, do away with this jealousy on the part of any branch of the Service to take it over. I was surprised at some of the remarks made by hon. Members on these benches, because the Air Service is essentially an arm of its own. After all, anybody accustomed to flying can go up just as well from a. ship as from the shore. It does not follow that a man must be amphibious because he is flying. What it does mean is that you are not going to limit your operations to the Navy. The Services must be interchangeable, and you must have an Air Service on its own. Besides this, we have to consider the cost of these things, and it is absurd to have three Services when one will do. The question of how much you have of it is quite another matter. I think in the end a large and a strong Air Service is going to be the cheapest solution for the 1654 defence of this country and of the Empire.
I do not say that with any idea of criticising the functions of the Army and the Navy because naturally they can never disappear. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) in not understanding why we arc developing fixed armaments in the Colonies. In view of the prospects before us which the Air Service gives, I think we should attend much more to having these places abroad strengthened in the way of the Air Service. This brings me to a point in which I am more interested. My experience in flying is practically nil although I was a pioneer in the old days and that led me to be appointed to the Anti-Aircraft Service. During the War I was brought into the service in 1916, when the raids were becoming serious, and I started in the anti-aircraft organisation in London. It seems to me that that. Service might well be co-ordinated more closely with the Flying Service. I am sure it would help us to solve the problem as to what we are going to do with our pilots when they have passed through their flying time, as they could be put to antiaircraft work. In this service it is a great advantage to know something about flying and the aircraft you have to deal with. It would he a great opportunity for those gallant men who have suffered much strain and stress in the ordeal they have had to undergo to be able to feel that they can come back and do a bit of what I will call shore work.
The two Services can be intermingled in a way that is highly desirable, and there should be closer co-operation in that direction and I hope the Air Minister will be able to further that object. I understand that in this respect the closest co-operation is being arranged. I know all this is in its infancy, but I do not think that its importance is sufficiently realised. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last pointed out that it would be a comparatively small matter for a city to be destroyed in a few minutes by bombs, and therefore what I am suggesting is not an expensive form of defence. By co-operation with the Air Force a great deal can be done. This matter of defence by anti-aircraft cannot, however, be left chiefly to Territorial units, because that. Service corresponds very closely to a fire brigade. If a raid 1655 comes in this country it will be a very sudden affair, and it will be necessary to deal with it at once and it would be rather difficult to call up Territorial units in that way.
Now I come to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham about the co-ordination of staff control. That clearly shows the desirability of the Air Force being independent in the same way as the Army, and it is quite hopeless to consider any sort of competition in this matter. When an operation becomes serious the great feature in modern warfare is the rapidity with which troops can be got together and destruction made effective. It is quite hopeless to start organising at the last minute to arrange for any particular defence or attack. I think it is absolutely essential that the efforts of the Prime Minister should be directed towards co-ordinating the whole of our fighting services and to leading up to the establishment of a Ministry of Defence. This point has been very ably dealt with by those who are more experienced than myself, but my own small experience in the Army and in the Air leads me to speak freely on two branches of the Service. Co-ordination is better on the part of all the three Services than for each to act independently.
I do hope that the result of this Debate will at all events be, in the first instance, to retain the Air Force as such and to enable the other forces to recognise that their best interests are served by having a sound Air Force where all the training and research and the best knowledge is concentrated on that one line and which can be placed at their disposal for any particular operation. Secondly, there should be some form of coordinated defence to place us in the best possible position. Those are the points which led me to intervene, and, in conclusion, may I say that although this is not my maiden effort, I have only had one previous experience of addressing this House.
§ Mr. WELLS
I propose to deal with matters relating to airships. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) a short time ago stated that the late Government turned down the Imperial airship scheme because they wanted competition between the company 1656 and the Department. I am not sure that competition to-day will solve the problem, which is at present in its infancy. When I say that it is in its infancy, I mean that the Government and the Airship Guarantee Company have a scheme for producing an airship twice the size or more than double the size of any airship that has ever been produced in any country before. It will be more by consultation and co operation that we shall get more quickly forward at the present stage. This was foreshadowed by the Secretary of State for Air when he told us two weeks ago that we could pool more easily the airship knowledge between the Air Department and the Airship Guarantee Company, and that if the Air Ministry had the better design the Ministry would be prepared to adopt it, or, on the other hand, if the Airship Guarantee Company had the best design the Air Ministry would be prepared to adopt that.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who will judge which is the best design, because I think all experts on airships are, practically, in either the Ministry or in the Airship Guarantee Company. I should also like to ask him a question in regard to airship sheds. If we have two airships of five million cubic feet capacity produced, and the heavenly twins, I might call them, come out at the same time, will there be sufficient airship sheds not only to store these giant airships but to enable us to go on building more airships if there is a demand, as there probably will be, it these airships are successful? I understand that there are two airship sheds at Hawden, and that at Cardington the airship shed is being enlarged. Is the airship shed at Cardington being enlarged sufficiently to take the largest airship that may be laid down? We ought to take a long view, for it is possible that larger airships may come shortly.
I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when it is proposed to lay down the Government airship at Cardington, where the airship shed is being enlarged. I understand that the enlargement of the airship shed there is not likely to be finished until the winter. Will it then be necessary to dismiss people who are working at present on R.33, and thereby cause considerable un- 1657 employment at Cardington, which has just got under way. They are now reconditioning R.33. In this country we have the R.36 and R.33, both of them of about two million cubic feet capacity, with a range of, perhaps, something under 2,000 miles. We may anticipate that the new airship to be produced will have a far greater radius, something like 3,000 miles, if we can be guided by what the ZR.3 did when it flew from Germany to America. It is important to keep one's eye on what is being done in America. I understand that to-day in America they have 14 airships, but only two, the ZR.1 and the ZR.3, which are big airships and have a large radius. I have seen in the Press lately a statement that it is proposed to send an airship from America to this country with mails in the summertime.
I should like to ask a question in regard to mooring masts. I have seen a. new design of a mooring mast with a double arm, which has been brought out recently. Some arrangement might be come to, if possible, between the company and the Government, so that they should not fall out in regard to mooring masts. It is most important that whichever airship comes out first it should be able to moor at any mast, in any place. I understand from the Press that the company airship will probably come out in about 15 months' time, or perhaps a little later. I do not know when the Government airship is likely to come out, but I do not think it will be so soon as that.
I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could inform me whether the bases abroad have been chosen from the strategical point of view or from the commercial point of view. It is of great importance if sheds are going to be built abroad for these giant airships that they should be built, if possible, at the end of the journey, so that the airship can refit before returning, say, from Australia to, this country. There. is a great opportunity for a new industry in this country. if the Government and the company can only press on and prove to the world the stability of the airship. In that case, it is possible that we might get orders, not only from the Dominions, but from other countries, and so help to solve the question of unemployment. Airships are vital to this country in order to bring the Dominions into closer connection with us, and I hope the Government will press on 1658 and do all they can to encourage the building of these airships.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Colonel DAY
I begin my remarks with a sigh of relief, because I have risen persistently since 4 o'clock, and, consequently, I had almost commenced to imagine that my attempt to get into this Debate was hopeless. I had almost hoped that when I saw the Air Estimates they would have shown a large decrease, but they show a substantial increase. The might hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air has missed a most wonderful opportunity of proving himself a benefactor to humanity by showing that Estimates for a fighting Service such as the Air Service should, so many years after the War, start to decline instead of increasing.
I would have liked to have seen the Estimates for the research department of civil aviation on the increase. As long as we have the Estimates for the ammunition and the armament operations of the Air Service increasing, we have the terror of another war at any time. In the cause of humanity, the Estimate should have shown a marked increase as regards civil research. There can be no question that our pilots are among the finest in the world. The records of last year show that over one million miles were flown, and we should see that civil aviation is sufficiently encouraged by the Government. Was sufficient support given to that glorious expedition of Squadron Leader MacLaren in his attempt to fly round the world I do not think that anything like the support was given to Squadron Leader MacLaren which should have been given.
We are fast falling behind in the encouragement of civil aviation. Other countries are showing a much better example than we are in this respect France has voted nearly £600,000 for the, purpose of encouraging civil aviation. There can be no doubt that we must keep more in the forefront as far as civil aviation in the world is concerned. I would not cavil so much at the increase in the Air Estimates provided that there was a substantial decrease in the Estimates for the Navy and Army. Our experience in the late War was that the co-ordination of the flying services of the Navy and the Air Force was not at ail 1659 successful. Why attempt it again? I should think that the lesson of the War would have been sufficient, and that the Air Ministry should be run absolutely independently. I and other Members on these benches would like to see considerably less money spent on all the Services. The crux of the situation is: What is the present Government doing to reduce armaments? What is being done? What is happening to the Protocol and to the Washington Treaty? There is not now any very great disparity between France and ourselves. We have advanced while France has been standing still, and my opinion is that while the franc is where it is in the exchange we have nothing to fear from France. My own opinion, though I see the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) laughing—perhaps it is because he is thinking of the speed at which he travels himself and believes that the Air Force could travel in the same way—is that we should press France more to pay the debt which she owes us than to build aeroplanes which are a menace to the world. We on these benches would like to see not only the Air Estimates reduced hut also those of the other Services. While the Estimates for the fighting Services are increasing in this manner they are a glaring menace to humanity.
§ Sir F. SYKES
I would first like to read from the OFFICIAL REPORT a short statement of the Secretary of State for Air in 1922, to allay a misapprehension under which, I understand, the tinder-Secretary of State is at present labouring in regard to the Cairo-Bagdad service. On the 21st March, 1922, the then Secretary of State said:Dining the year we have established a line by air as a communication between Cairo and Bagdad. Both from the operational and the trading view this is a great advance.Later on he said:In the flying sense we have almost continuous territory from Europe to Australia with great distances unbridgeable excepting by air. for example, Cairo to Bagdad or Basra-Karachi. These 2,000 miles have been flown in 13 hours. What we are doing now is that we are making this the practicing field for future and further developments of the experience we have obtained in regard to these links in our Imperial chain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1922; cols, 239 and 308, Vol. 152.]1660 On these two statements I base my statement that this service was largely in order to gain experience to help commercial operations. I felt that that was a point which I would like to put straight. I spoke two weeks ago on the subject of Air Estimates, and I should like to add one or two words to what I then said. I think, as has been shown to-day, that the House as a whole is very indulgent to the air. It is not only because it recognises that in future these islands will be largely dependent upon the air for their defence. It is also partly owing to the technicalities involved in consideration of these problems. But I feel most strongly that it would be for the interests of the country, and also of the Service itself if these Estimates received very careful scrutiny year after year. This year we are voting £21,000,000 for the air. We want to know whether the policy being carried out is a sound one, and whether the money that is being allocated to it is being allocated in the best way to carry it into effect.
With regard to the policy there are three alternatives. The first is, irrespective of other considerations, to build up as rapidly as possible the numerically largest uniformed personnel you can collect. The second is to expend your time and resources on the improvement of the technique of actual air operations, personnel and material. The first of course is the most human. It is the easiest, but I think it is a very short sighted one. It would only have any justification if it were believed to be possible by this means to attain to a reasonable degree of safety. It does not, and cannot, achieve real safety. The second alternative is to expend all our resources on the cultivation of flying ability. That is to achieve a constant extension of technical, operational developments. This unfortunately is an ideal which cannot yet be achieved. A purely aerial development of policy would leave us without any organised air defence force for immediate action. On the other hand both development in airman-ship and the creation of natural services would be directly responsive to such a policy. It would fulfil pacific and useful purposes of considerable imperial and international importance. The third policy is one of compromise between the two. The Secretary of State has shown 1661 in his speech that he is very much alive to the necessity for such a compromise, and we shall wait for next year's Estimates to see whether the promises which he has made are carried into effect. We are all absolutely convinced of the necessity for such action.
Before sitting down I would like to call attention to one or two points. The first is in regard to the expansion of squadrons. I have no criticism other than that I should like to see more, and for less money. The money position is of great importance in this regard, and I am not very clear' upon the subject. It will be remembered that the Secretary of State when he made his statement two years ago, on the 26th June, 1923, on the expansion of the home defence force to 52 squadrons, forecasted an additional expenditure for the third year, covering both capital and maintenance, of £5,500,000. At the end of this year, the third year, we are to have, as I understand it, 25 of the 52 squadrons, and the Estimates show, I believe, an increase of £4,500,000 over those of two years ago. This leaves £1,000,000 of the amount forecasted for the further 27 squadrons. I would like to know whether there is any additional ground expenditure incurred in this connection or whether the original Estimate is still maintained? In regard to the squadrons themselves, for all reasons I should like to see that the actual flying effectiveness of the squadrons was of a higher standard. My reason for saying so is that I am of opinion that it is basically unsound to increase until you have achieved a sound standard of efficiency. Until you have done so, expansion should not take place. In this connection I think I agree with the hon. Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), who raised this point, that it is most important that the Air Force should have its own engineering branch. It is becoming daily more important that the efficiency of the mechanics should be of a higher standard than could be reached under the old system, and I feel that the only way is to introduce a specialist engineering branch for the purpose.
There are many other points, but the only one on which I will touch is that of the reserves. The Estimates show that there is a quadruple organisation for reserves, and these reserves are largely to teach civilians flying. There is the 1662 reserve proper, the special reserve, the auxiliary force, and the flying clubs. We all know that, ultimately, the only economic and efficient reserve is that which can be drawn from industrial life, but in the meantime the Estimates rightly provide for the State maintenance of reserves. Curiously enough, from having no reserves at all—there was not even an assessable record of the number of qualified pilots demobilised after the War—we have suddenly developed, and are going to pay for, four organisations, each apparently to do more or less the same thing. I cannot under stand why such a complicated, uneconomical and overlapping system was accepted when we could have adopted a simple organisation for the purpose. The civilian schools are those which in the past have given and still are giving refresher courses to qualify pilots with, I think, freedom from serious accident. They are admirably suited for the purpose, they could expand to almost any extent, and—a very important point—with expansion could be made to accept from the Government a lower fee per pilot. There is certainly room for the flying clubs, though it is my opinion they would do better to keep to flying for those who have already learnt to fly rather than attempt to teach flying. The success of the clubs depends upon safety, and it is very much better they should not embark upon a very difficult form of activity such as the teaching of flying.
What about the other two forms of reserves—the Special Reserve and the Auxiliary Force? The Vote for these two forces provides £33,000 for permanent staff, and £5,000 for outfit, while I take it there are probably costs for land and buildings as well, and only £4,000 is taken for the reservists themselves. I think these two forms of reserves have other disadvantages in addition to their considerable cost, and the very small return from it. For instance, if you are going to enrol men who have a knowledge of the maintenance of aircraft, you are taking the men who, on mobilization, are most wanted in the factory. If you are riot going to enrol such men, you have to teach others to maintain machines, and you are teaching them on machines on which you are also teaching 1663 flying and therefore there will be great danger in the actual flying of those machines. In fact, you are inviting the disaster which follows the all-too-well known description of accidents—Engine failure, followed by error of judgment on the part of the pilot.I think, therefore, for these reasons the Secretary of State would do well to concentrate his reserve training in the reserve proper and in the flying clubs, and cut out the other two. It is a point which I put to him for his consideration, because it seems to me that at present the position is one of overlapping, and is not an economical arrangement. They are only two more military organisations without commensurate return, and if we can have simplicity of organisation we should strive to attain it. I should like, in conclusion, to say, now that the Secretary of State has an extended period of office before him, I hope in view of this Debate, and of all that is going on, he will consider a question which almost every Member who spoke to-day has raised, that of a re-allocation of the funds at his disposal in the direction of greater research and experiment, and extended civil flying throughout the world. Enormous economies are, I believe, available if the right hon. Gentleman will institute a careful and searching inquiry into the whole of his organisation, and these economies, I hope, he will he able to throw into the scale on the side of research, experiment, and operation throughout the world in o order to develop flying as a whole, and to develop those communications which are of such vast importance Imperially and internationally.
§ Sir HARRY BRITTAIN
This very interesting and most important subject has been discussed to-day from almost every angle, and the few words which I shall utter will I hope be entirely noncontroversial. Whatever Britain's status in the air may be, there is no denial of the fact that we take the greatest possible care in training the finest material it is possible to obtain as pilots, in the organisation of our aerodromes, and in the manufacture, the testing, and the retesting of our aeroplanes and engines. It is universally agreed that no country pays more attention to these all important details. I am quite convinced, as I think the House is, that the formation of light 1664 aeroplane clubs will do much in advancing this great science, and will obtain for this country a steady output of trained pilots of the right kind who may be of enormous use in the future. As far as the civil side is concerned, that seems to be the side which, apart from certain discussions on the position of the Navy, seems to have interested the House most to-day. On the civil side, although there are countries which may have flown more miles than we have, there is no country, I think, which has reduced the risk to a minimum as much as has this country in the flying of civil planes. The engines used in our planes for civil flying are all made for war service. I do not know' whether all the Members of the House are aware that every one is fitted on a war basis. Every engine which flies a civil plane from Croydon or any other part of England has to do an extraordinarily strenuous test of 100 hours. That may be one of the reasons why civil flying in this country has been so reliable.
I should like to see more money spent on civil aviation. As far as I have been able to see on more than one visit, the system carried out at Croydon would be very difficult to improve. The engines and planes are overhauled every night and after every journey to and from Croydon. But I should like to suggest—I do not know whether it is impossible to make any alteration—that Croydon does seem to be a very bad site, and if it were possible for the Ministry to find a site nearer the heart of London, where less time is wasted in getting away and getting up, it would be of enormous advantage to the civil flying of this country. As in the quality of our output in the air, both in the pilots and materials we need, I want to make sure that that policy is maintained.
In France there is a huge output in the manufacture of engines and planes. I personally know of one firm in France which had an order last year for over 2,000, which makes it very easy to keep up the continuity of work, and the reason I have got up to-night is to ask the Minister—and I believe we have his whole-hearted sympathy in the suggestion—if it is possible to guarantee some similar continuity of work in this country, so that orders can be sent out on something like a three years' basis. At 1665 present what happens is this: Orders are sent out by the Air Ministry, and the firms carrying out those orders are under high pressure to complete the orders before the end of the financial year, which is roughly at the end of March. When these orders are completed, there is a lull throughout the whole of the manufacturing firms in the country and a gap in the work, which must tend towards unemployment. It is, at the same time, from the point of view of the works, uneconomic when these rush orders are put in. In these circumstances we know we cannot buy on the same basis as when orders are spread over a wider period.
From every point of view I am quite convinced that., if some method could be arrived by which a certain continuity of work could be carried on, even without asking for more orders, if the firms concerned can only know what they were likely to get spread over a term of three years instead of as it is now some seven or eight months, it would be better from the point of view of economy in buying and still better for the skilled workmen employed in these places. Let me assure the House that the skilled mechanic takes a deal of training and is very difficult to replace, and it is only fair to a man of that calibre that he should be able, when he takes on a job, to feel more or less certain that the work will go on throughout the year. Finally, may I venture to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on again taking to the air, in the forthcoming Recess, in his visits to the Near East. I have had the opportunity, on more than one occasion, of being at different parts of the Continent when he has arrived, and I assure the House that his visits and the fact that he did fly instead of going by train and boat did much to draw attention throughout the Continent to the very high efficiency of the Air Force, and added very much to the prestige of Britain in the air. I am convinced this will be carried further in his coming trip to the Near East, and I wish him bon voyage.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his personal references to me in his speech. We are drawing to the end of what I think has been a very interesting, and, certainly from my point of view, a very useful Debate. I should like at the outset to thank the House for the very sympathetic attitude they have 1666 shown. During the time—I hope it will be a short time—during which I am going to occupy the attention of hon. Members, shall attempt to deal with the greater part of the very numerous questions which have been raised in the course of these two Debates. I can assure any hon. Member that if I fail to deal with any particular question at this time, I will see that a full answer is sent to him from the Air Ministry in the course of the next day or two. Let me begin with the speech which was made a fortnight ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), who followed my opening observations. There were two things I rather regretted in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which on the whole was, as all his speeches are, a very admirable one and not unsympathetic. The right hon. Gentleman, the House will remember, dissociated himself from what I said as to the continuity of air policy. I vent need to say that in the field of air defence there had been a most remarkable continuity of policy shown by all three parties concerned in it, and I did not think there had ever been a question of national defence of great importance in which so conspicuous an agreement had been shown. The right hon. Gentleman, in reply to my observations, said that I overstated the case, and that so far as he was concerned it would be his duty to get the hon. Members behind him to vote against the Motion before the House, that he and they took no responsibility for these Estimates, that they would throw the responsibility on Members of this side of the House, and that he and his Friends protested against them. Well, I have taken the trouble to look up speeches that were made by Members sitting on this bench a year ago when Mr. Leach and Lord Thomson introduced the Air Estimates for last year. Time after time these two Gentlemen and the right hon. Gentleman who was then Colonial Secretary said that, as far as the first stage of the home expansion scheme was concerned, they took full responsibility for carrying it into effect. Further than that, not only did they say time after time that they were continuing the expansion scheme that I had initiated the previous year, but actually during the remaining months between the Estimates and the General Election they took decision after 1667 decision, approved by the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, upon the main items of expenditure in this year's Estimates which are directly responsible for the increase in the greater part of them.
If the right hon. Gentleman will investigate the contention I am now making, he will find that, in almost every case where there is an increase of expenditure in this year's Estimates, it is due to decisions that were taken when Lord Thomson and Mr. Leach were in office and when the right. hon. Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I can give him case after case—aerodromes bought, beginnings made with the formation of squadrons—the decisions for which were taken when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and when Lord Thomson was my predecessor. That being so, I am inclined to think that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in a Debate that took place last night, spoke a very true word when he said:I do not wish to interrupt, but surely no one knows better than the Parliamentary Secretary"—that was his hon. Friend who was last year the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health—the change in frame of mind that occurs on a transference across the Floor of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March; col. 1425, Vol. 181.]We have had speaker after speaker from the opposite benches, and no fewer than four speakers from the Front Opposition Bench, holding up their hands in horror at this increase in the Air Estimates, pointing to our military extensions, and the hindrance we are creating to the cause of disarmament, when almost every single item in these Estimates was approved by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the benches opposite.
There was another contention that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley, on which I should like to say a word. He said to me, "Look at these Air Estimates—£21,000,000 to-day, 26 Home Defence squadrons. They will continue to rise and rise, and eventually, when your programme is complete, we shall be asked to spend no less than £50,000,000 a year upon Air Estimates alone." I am glad 1668 to be able to inform the House that there is no foundation whatever for a statement of that kind. First of all, the £21,000,000 that the House is now asked to authorise is not only for the Home Defence programme, but for the Fleet Air Arm, the services in the Middle East, the Army co-operation squadrons, and the other squadrons in other parts of the world. Secondly, it surely must be obvious to every hon. Member that, as the Force expands, so the overhead charges will tend, as they always do, to decrease. There is another reason why what the right hon. Gentleman said is altogether inaccurate, and that is this: In the early years of an expansion scheme of this kind, you will have large outlays upon capital expenditure, for the buying of aerodromes, for instance, and the building of barracks: and there comes a time, after a. year or two, when you still have a capital expenditure going on, and you also have going on the maintenance expenditure for the squadrons you have formed. But gradually the capital expenditure comes to an end, and then you only have the maintenance for the actual squadrons. The right hon. Gentleman again shakes his head, I do not know on what account, because I think what I am saying is quite unanswerable.
So it comes about that in these early years we obtain the aerodromes and the barracks, but in a year or two's time these items of capital expenditure will fall off, and we shall only have the maintenance expenditure to meet. The result will be that., while I admit that the Air Estimates are bound to rise to some extent as the home expansion scheme develops—as Lord Thomson, in the White Paper circulated last year, himself said they would rise—they will rise to nothing like the £50,000,000 suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, the figure which was mentioned just now by my hon. and gallant. Friend the Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) a ill be much nearer the mark. While I am not now going to tie myself down to any definite figure for the future, I will say this, that the Estimates should not rise even to half the amount suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I hope they will be less even than that.
Having made these observations on the contentions of the right hon. Gentleman 1669 the Member for Colne Valley, I now come to a number of other questions that have been raised during the Debate, but first let me say how glad I think we have all been, during the course of the Debate, to have had not only so many interesting speeches, but so many interesting maiden speeches. There was the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage); there was the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Brigadier-General Warner), and, really, there has been almost a record number of interesting speeches made on these Estimates. A number of miscellaneous points have been raised, and I propose now to deal with a certain number of them. Then, having dealt with those miscellaneous points, I shall hope to say a word or two at somewhat greater length upon some of the bigger questions that have emerged during the discussion.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hallam, whom I am glad to see in his place, is, perhaps, of all Members of this House, as well worthy of attention in an Air Debate as anyone. The hon. and gallant Member raised several very important questions. He asked me whether we were not going too much for numbers and not enough for quality and technique. It must be a matter of opinion as to what kind of increase in quantity one should adopt in any particular year, but I should have thought that, so far as quantity was concerned, no one could accuse us of going too fast. If hon. Members will recall what is happening this year, they will remember that we are only forming a very limited number of new squadrons, and that, at the end of this year, we shall still have only half our home defence squadrons actually formed. We are going slowly intentionally, not only on the ground of expenditure—and quite obviously there must be a limit to the increase in expenditure which this House would tolerate—but we are also going slowly with the definite intention of making the foundation as sure as we can, and of ensuring that the technique and the quality shall be as high as possible. I am inclined to think that we are fairly holding the balance between quantity on the one hand and quality on the other. I should like to go into greater detail on the question with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I think I can show him that 1670 we really are keeping in mind what he wishes to keep in mind, and what we all of us wish to keep in mind, namely, that quality in the Air Force is more important than anything else.
Then my hon. and gallant Friend raised a further point about reserves—again a very important question, probably more important for the Air Force than for any other of the fighting Services. He asked why it was that we had four reserves instead of two. The Special Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force Reserve are, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, reserves of a different kind altogether from the other two. They are much more in the nature of, shall I say second-line, or shall I say a territorial line, for the Air Force, and I should have thought that there was everything to be said for having this variety of formation of reserves—the reserves of the Civil Aviation Schools, the reserves created by the light aeroplane clubs, and then, again, reserves in the form of units, whether Special Auxiliary, Special Reserve, or Auxiliary Air Force units. In questions of this kind, with a Service such as the Air Force, I admit that we have to make experiments, and I am not prepared to say that any single experiment is necessarily going to be successful, but I do think that on the whole we have been wise to have this variety, if only for the chance of proving out which of these four kinds of reserves is the more useful from the point of view of air defence.
Then there was another of our great air experts in this House, the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), who is as well qualified to speak on air questions even as the hon. Member for Hallam. As is always his habit, he asked me a number of very important and technical questions. He asked me whether we were promoting young men. I think he would find, if he would go through the Air Force list with me, that the age of Air Force officers, even in the senior ranks, is much lower than it is in either of the other two Services, and I believe I could satisfy him that we are promoting by merit, and that youth is having its full share in the higher appointments. Then he made some serious criticisms upon the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. I am quite aware that, to 1671 anyone who is not following very closely the work of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, the sums that we are spending on it may appear to be very high. But it is my firm belief that that money is being very well spent, for, after all, it is at Farnborough that the greater part of the practical air research of the Service is being carried out, research into questions of safety, research into the speed and manœuvre-ability of machines, and it would, in my view, be an irreparable blow to research and to aeronautical progress, both military and civil, if the activities of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough were restricted or abolished. I would ask any hon. Member interested in the question who wishes to investigate it further whether he would not at some time convenient to himself go down to Farnborough, and I think he would then judge that I am in no way overstating the value of that institution both to military and civil aviation.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I should not like to go back five years. I should like to restrict myself to this, that on the two occasions upon which I have introduced the Air Estimates I am quite confident that the money I have asked for is going to he well spent.
Then the hon. and gallant Gentlman the Member for Hertford asked me whether the time had not come to set up in the Air Force a special branch of engineers. That is a question to which a great deal of attention has been given ever since the Air Ministry was started, and upon the whole we have come to the conclusion that, with a small service like the Royal Air Force, it is better not to have too many Departments, very often watertight Departments, of specialists, and it is better, therefore, to get the knowledge of aeronautical engineering diffused as widely as you can through the whole force. On that account We have up to the present been opposed to the institution of a special engineering branch. I think we can point, as evidence of the justification of the policy we are pursuing, to the undeniable fact that 1672 accidents due to engine trouble are tending to decrease at a greater rate than accidents due to other causes. That being so, and for other reasons into which I could go if I had time, we have on the whole, I think, been wise not to set up a special Branch of that kind.
Another series of questions was put to me by the hon. Members for Hertford and Bedford with reference to airships. We are taking the greatest precautions as to tests, and we are actualy breaking up one of the older airships, R.80, for the express purpose of making tests. With reference to fabrics, there, again, we are sending one of the re-conditioned older airships out to Egypt at the end of the summer for the express purpose of seeing if a tropical climate is injurious to the fabric. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bedford, who is naturally and rightly interested in airship development, sitting for a constituency in which the great airship port of the future is going to be situated, put a number of questions to me with reference, for instance, to employment. He said, "Are we taking steps to ensure that the men we are employing at Cardington at present should not be turned adrift when a particular stage of airship travel is reached?" I am already taking steps to make the transfer from one stage to another as easy as possible and to avoid the risk of turning adrift men, many of them experts, who are at present engaged upon airship construction and development.
Some other questions were asked me with reference to the double experiment which is being made, that is to say, the building of the two airships, one by the Air Ministry and one by a private company. We are doing everything we can to pool all the available expert knowledge and make it as easy as possible for both sides to make use of it. I am also doing everything I can to give the freest scope possible to the experiment. I f I may give the House a single example of what I am doing, I have only in the course of the last few weeks set up a technical committee, composed of three of the best known aeronautical experts in the country, to whom questions can be referred for impartial decision—for none of the gentlemen on the committee will be officials of the Air Ministry—by both the Air Ministry and the construction company.
1673 There was a series of questions put to me by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan, Jones) in connection with the education of the boys in the Royal Air Force. and he asked me whether we were taking adequate care and trouble with the education of the boys who are going to be the mechanics of the future Air Force. So far as I can judge the education which is being given to the boys at Haltoo is as good as any education which is being given to boys of a similar age in any school in the country. I spent several years of my life upon the Education Committee of the London County Council, and I remember the first time I went to Halton I went feeling that one might discover a good many gaps in the system of the education we were giving our boys. I was amazed by the excellence of the two or three years' training they had, and I would ask any hon. Member, particularly the hon. Member for Caerphilly, to do what several hon. Members on those benches did when I was in office before and make a visit to Halton, where they can judge for themselves whether or not I am justified in giving this testimony to the excellence of the education that is given.
I now come to a series of very important questions which were raised by a number of hon. Members in connection with home and Empire defence generally. There was, for instance, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). I am sure the House was deeply interested to hear a distinguished staff officer like my lion. and gallant Friend give his views upon some of the great problems of home and Empire defence with which we are faced. Particularly must the House have been interested to hear what he said about the necessity of making our Empire defence much more mobile than it has been in the past. In my opening speech on the Estimates I made a suggestion or two upon those lines, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that we are investigating very carefully this very important problem of a more mobile defence for the Empire, and by means of a more mobile defence, of saving large quantities of men and money now tied up in immobile defence. May I remind him of the example I gave a fortnight ago when I pointed to the advantages of mobile air defence in Iraq and in the Middle East. So far, there- 1674 fore, as his observations upon mobile Empire defence are concerned, I can assure him that he will have the most sympathetic attention of the Air Staff and the Air Ministry.
Then there were a number of other Members who raised a no less important question as to whether we are making the best use of our financial resources, and not for the first time in one of these defence Debates more than one hon. Member has said, you will never be able to make full use of the money available for home and Imperial defence until you have a single Ministry of Defence which will co-ordinate the expenditure between the three Departments and, what is not less important, will co-ordinate the policy between the three Departments. I am not going to say that at some time or other the country will not come to a single Ministry of Defence. I think if there were no past history, if one was starting entirely afresh in a new country, one would probably start with a single Ministry of Defence. Here I have always taken the view that any great change—and it will be a very great change—of this kind will have to come about from below rather than be super-imposed from the top. By that I mean that it will have to come about as a result of better co-ordination between the three Departments, closer association between their staffs, better pooling of knowledge between them, a more constant intercourse between them, whether it be at the Committee of Imperial Defence or whether it be in a number of other Departmental Committees that arc constantly sitting to consider questions that concern all three Departments. As a result of this closer association between the three Services, you will, stage by stage, build up a fabric that will gradually come much nearer to a Ministry of Defence and a single control than anything that we are likely to get by suddenly creating a new superman or a new office of supermen for the three existing Departments.
It is significant that when, in the Committee of Imperial Defence, we went very fully into this question two years ago, I think I am right in saying that not a single well-known expert nor a single public man who had been directly associated with defence problems was in favour of setting up, here and now, a single Ministry. That being so, I hold 1675 the view that the right course to take is to help on every step that is likely to bring the three Ministers more closely together, that is likely to bring their three Chiefs of Staff more closely together, and is likely to bring their three Departments more closely together. So far as I am concerned, I have done what I could to carry that policy into effect, and I am glad to say that in the Air Ministry we have now a certain number of distinguished Army officers working in the Department and we have also some Naval officers. So far as the Committee of Imperial Defence is concerned, again as the result of the so-called Salisbury Committee of two years ago, there is now a. much closer association between the three Chiefs of Staff than there ever was before that Committee came into being when we were last in office. I am not giving away any confidential information in saying that on more than one important occasion the three Chiefs of Staff have taken collective responsibility for the advice on some big strategic question that they were offering the Government.
I think, therefore, that the House can rest assured that the closer intercourse, the closer association between the three service Departments, is upon the whole getting better and better. That leads me to say that, whilst I sit by and listen with interest and sometimes with a certain measure of amusement to the annual battle that goes on when Navy and Air Estimates are discussed, upon the question of what is called the fleet air arm, I take the view that that question has become obsolete. I have never regarded it as one of the more important questions of military aviation, and I always regret the prominence that has been given to it in these Debates. I take the view that, however much the battle may continue in Whitehall, however much it may continue in this House, actually upon the spot, upon the aircraft carriers, the difficulties are getting less and less, there is growing up a better understanding between the officers of the two Services and between the staffs of the two Services, and if we can only let the controversy be, and not constantly year by year bring it into great prominence in this House, the difficulties that loomed so large last year, two years ago and three years ago, will cease to exist altogether.
1676 There were several specific questions put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A Sinclair) in a very interesting and able speech, if he will allow me to say so. They were questions connected with the bigger problems of air, military and naval defence. The hon. and gallant Member alluded to some remarks that I made two years ago, as to the responsibilities of the Air Force. He asked me what those responsibilities actually are. Let me refer him to the Report of the Salisbury Committee and the Report of the Balfour Committee. He will there find that the responsibilities of the Air Force are set out, shortly, I admit, but none the less clearly. I will answer his question in a single sentence. The responsibilities of the Air Force are now three in number: In the first place the defence of this country against air attack; secondly, the provision of Air Forces for the Army and Navy and the garrisons abroad; and thirdly, the independent Air Command in Iraq. Those are the three responsibilities that have been imposed upon the Air Force by the Committee of Imperial Defence and by the Cabinet. There was another question I was asked in this connection, and a very important one, as to what is the standard of the Air Force up to which we are now building? Was it, the hon. and gallant Member asked, a one-power standard? I have always taken the view that a phrase like "the one-power standard" is a somewhat dangerous and objectionable phrase. After all, with aeroplanes you are comparing machines that may differ in size, in speed, in manœuvrability. On that account I have never taken the view that this House or the country ought to adopt in so many words what is called a one-power standard.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I hate to interrupt because the right hon. Gentleman is answering me so courteously. As a matter of fact, I did not use that phrase. I suggested that mere comparison of the gross number of machines in one country with the gross number in another was very misleading.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am sorry I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Member. If that be so, he and I are in full agreement on the question, and I do not think I 1677 need pursue it further. I can assure him that we are carrying that view into effect, and that we are not attempting to set up actual numbers against actual numbers. We are trying to do what we said we would do, and what the Imperial Conference agreed that we should do, two years ago, namely, set up an Air Force adequate to protect this country against the strongest Air Force within striking distance. There is a question that comes back to my mind, as I am dealing with the question of Imperial defence, that was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Commander Burney), who always, and very rightly, interests this House with the most important speeches that he makes upon the Service Estimates, and I am sure that everyone who listened to him must have been greatly interested with the views that he put before hon. Members.
There was one conclusion with which, I may say in passing, I did not find myself in agreement. It was his view that the Air Ministry and Admiralty should be, here and now, combined. I am not quite sure whether he informed us if it was the Admiralty to absorb the Air Ministry, or the Air Ministry to absorb the Admiralty. I am inclined to think. knowing a good deal about the Air Ministry and a little bit about the Admiralty, that either the one or the other would be much too indigestible for the other to absorb, and I should have thought if there was going to be an absorption of Service Departments, that that absorption could come about when the ultimate ideal of a Ministry of Defence is actually carried into effect, and we have, whenever that be possible, a single Department and a single Minister dealing with these various questions of defence and strategical policy.
There are only two other questions to which I should like to allude before I sit down. One or two hon. Members have alluded with regret to the fact that we have been very unfortunate, as a country, in regard to winning any of the international air races in recent times. I am very sorry that that is so, but, at the same time, it should be remembered that, if you are going to set yourself to win one of these international competitions, it does mean the expenditure of a very large sum of money. The sum, for instance, as 1678 I understand, that was spent by the United States Government last year in winning the Schneider Cup was a sum that really was a very big figure, and, unfortunately, I find myself in the position of having to pay, and to pay heavily, for a great number of absolute necessities in regard to national defence, with the result that I am left with very little money for prizes and competitions, either national or international. But I admit that, if we had the money, we certainly ought to do more in the way of encouraging British competitors, and I hope that, as the finances of the country become less stringent, we shall be able to do more in the future. [Interruption.] I would remind my hon. Friend that in some countries of Europe more trouble is taken than in others to balance the Budget. What I am going to try to do this year is to give support to certain long-distance flights within the Empire. Last year there was a gallant attempt made to fly round the world by Squadron-Leader MacLaren. I am sorry that attempt failed. This year I hope to be able to organise one or two long-distance flights within the Empire itself. The two flights which I contemplate are in Africa. It will take some little time, but at any rate during the year I hope to be able to organise one flight between Cairo and Capetown, and another between Cairo and Lake Chad. That is only a beginning, and year after year it is hoped we may make these long-distance flights and show the Lag in the air over a great part, of the British Empire.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has alluded to the flight that I myself am going to make in the course of a few weeks. As the House knows, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and I are going to make a journey to Iraq. We shall make use of all the flying facilities available. In the course of eight or nine days in a series of journeys we hope to cover a distance which, I suppose, but for the invention of flying would take us almost as many months, and even then one might not have been able to penetrate the places that we shall visit. I think I have dealt with all the questions that have been raised, at any rate, with all the more important. If I have failed to deal with any, I shall see that my hon. Friends receive full answers from my Department.
§ Sir S. HOARE
My hon. and gallant Friend has raised the question of help to civil aviation, and seems to take the view that we should he doing more than we are. He quoted the figure of £300,000 a year, and said that that was only something like 2 per cent. of the total expenditure under the Air Estimates. Other hon. Members have taken the same point. But that is not the full story. If hon. Members will go through the Estimates in detail they will find that we are spending a great deal more money on civil aviation than this £300,000 a year. For instance, we are spending a large sum upon airships, a great part of which is directly civil aviation expenditure. We are spending a large sum upon research, a great part of which is for civil aviation. I think I should be right in saying that, so far from spending only £300,000 a year on civil aviation, we are spending much more like £1,250,000, in one way or another. But, even so, I am quite prepared to admit, and I readily admit, that I should like to spend a great deal more money upon civil aviation. However, I am in the unfortunate position of not having all the money I should like for the encouragement, of aviation in every direction. I very much hope that as the urgent necessities of home defence are gradually met year after year, there will be more funds available for what, I admit, is almost as necessary, namely, the encouragement of British civil aviation, whether it be by subsidies to civil air transport lines or whether it be in any other direction. I have now, I think, dealt with the greater part of the questions raised during the Debate, and I would venture to suggest to the House that we might now get this Vote and proceed to the next three Votes before the House.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
I wish to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman arising out of two points which have been made perfectly clear to me during this Debate. The first point is that it is perfectly clear, I think, to the person usually called the man-in-the-street, that there has been a tremendous increase in the destructive powers of air armaments, and the second point is that the air 1680 defence is really an attacking force. Arising out of these points the question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is, Has he had any conversation with other State Departments as to the necessity for providing shelters for the civilian population, so that they will have some protection from the increased destructive powers of an invading air force? I understand that the best advice would come from the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides, and I want him to tell us whether any arrangement has been made, or is likely to be made, for that purpose.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers I want to ask another question. Last year, I understand, Lord Thomson visited the Middle East. I do not know what was the object of his visit. Are we to understand that it will be an annual sort of business for the Air Minister to have a trip to the Middle East to see how things are going on? I should also like to know how many aeroplanes will go with the Minister, what will be the cost and on what Vote the charge will be borne?
§ Sir S. HOARE
With the permission of the House I can answer those questions. The Air Ministry is considering the question raised by the hon. Member opposite as to shelters in time of emergency, but I cannot specify the exact form. In reference to the question by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), I should certainly say it will not be the practice of Ministers to make a journey of that kind every year. I imagine Lord Thomson went for very much the same reason that I am going, namely, to see for himself on the spot how far the policy of garrison by air is succeeding, and also to see whether it is possible to make any savings in the very large expenditure that is now falling on the British taxpayers in that connection. Those are the objects. As to what Vote this expenditure will fall upon I am not able to give that information off-hand. I would point out, however, that I am not asking the House on this occasion to vote my salary, and therefore the hon. Member will have an opportunity of raising this question again if he wishes to do so.
§ Question, "That '36,000' stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.1681
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Second Resolution read a Second time.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to leave out "£3,412,000," and to insert instead thereof "£3,411,900."
I move this reduction in outer to raise a matter with regard to the pay of the Air Force, and particularly the question of the Air Force cadets. A very fine type of man has entered for this cadet force, and according to an answer that I received in February last, they receive a daily rate of pay more than the gentlemen cadets at Sandhurst, and certainly more than naval cadets, because they get no pay at all until they go to sea. The point I want to raise is that I understand the rate of pay and the messing allowances they receive are not sufficient to maintain them, and, consequently, it is necessary for their parents to supplement this to a considerable extent. The amount is such that in a year, taking the cost of uniform and equipment, a. poor man whose son does riot obtain a prize cadetship is not able to put his son into this Service.
This is a very undemocratic system, and it does not obtain in the American Air Service or the Japanese Air Service, where there are no fees for the cadets, and I see no reason why poor lads of great promise should be debarred from these positions because their parents have not the means of keeping them during their training. For these reasons I consider the pay and other allowances should be raised so that the most efficient boys may be able to enter the Air Service. I press the Air Minister for an answer and a declaration of policy on this matter. I may say that I have been addressing successive Governments on this point for two or three years past, and I find the only way to get anything done is to keep on pressing this matter. I hope in what I am doing I shall have the sympathy of hon. Members in all parts of the House, because I consider that this matter should be put right without any further delay.
§ Major CRAWFURD
I beg to second the Amendment. I do so for the reasons which have just been given by the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Sir S. HOARE
With respect to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member that we do not give a chance to parents of limited means, I can assure him that we are doing a good deal. While one does not wish to compare one Service with another, I think he will find that in the Air Service we compare very favourably with the two other Services. Let me give a single example. Roy mechanics are trained at Halton, while cadets are trained at Cranwell. Every year we take a certain number of the most talented boys from Halton and give them a free education at Cranwell That, in itself, shows that we do offer an open career to boys of talent. We give six free cadetships a year at Cranwell, and we give free places to boys of promise and talent at Halton.
With respect to the question of pay and allowances given to the cadets at Cranwell, I may say that that question is now being considered by a Government Committee which is going into the whole question of pay and allowances in the three Services. As far as I know, I do not think that there is evidence in proof of the contention made by the hon. and gallant Member. I have had no cases brought to my attention where parents Lave been debarred from taking advantage of the opportunity of their boys being educated at Cranwell. If the hon. and gallant Member would give me any particular cases I will look into them. We are considering the whole question of pay and allowances at Cranwell, but it is a question which cannot be considered by itself. It has to be taken into account in correspondence with the pay and allowances of, say, Sandhurst, Woolwich and Dartmouth. Until the Government have come to a decision upon the recommendations of the Committee, I cannot give a more definite answer than that we are fully alive to keeping fees down as low as we can, and giving an open career to talent in whatever walk of life it is found.
§ Mr. P. HARRIS
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us the amount which it actually costs the parents to enable their boys to go through the course? Can he also tell us' what percentage of the young men come from ordinary council secondary schools? The House will agree that if we are to get the best possible Service to compete with similar Services in other 1683 countries, who are concentrating enormously on the efficiency of the Air Service, we must be sure that we are getting the very best young men available: young men who have the necessary character, courage and stamina for this most important Service. The House ought to be satisfied on this point before it passes the Vote.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I take a very different view from that which has been expressed from the other side. We have at the present time an Income Tax of 2s. in the £ because of the upkeep of our armed forces. If we have in this country a certain number of persons who are prepared to pay for the privilege of serving the country, I see no reason why the State should not take advantage of that fact. It is quite obvious that we want boys of talent, but if there is equality of talent as between the person who is prepared to pay for the privilege of serving the State and the person who is not able to pay for the privilege of serving the State, I see no reason why the State should not benefit. I very much deprecate the Government giving way to what the hon. Members on the other side would term the democratic spirit. The state should make the best bargain that it can, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will not be led away by the sentimental fallacies of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull.
§ Major GLYN
Before this Vote is disposed of, I would like to say a word about the system of education in the Air Force, because I think that the Air Force has set an example to the other Services in establishing at Halton and Cranwell a system of training boys who come from elementary schools and passing them into the cadet service. If the other Services would follow the example set by the Royal Air Force, we should be able to get a larger number of entrants from all classes of the population of boys eminently fitted to serve their country I think that the action of the Air Ministry in encouraging boys from the elementary and secondary schools is one to be followed, and I hope that they will have an increasing number of entrants from the elementary schools to go into the Royal Air Force, because those who know the system cannot but 1684 recognise the enormous progress made by the educational branch. One small advantage is that those engaged in the education of the boys and cadets do not pretend to be officers. They are civilians and are proud to be civilians, but they bring an atmosphere into the education of the cadets and the boys which is very healthy. I think that that is a matter which may well be copied by both the Navy and the Army.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am inclined to think that the right policy for the Department is something between that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. P. Harris). It is that a large number of the cadets should come in from families who can pay for it. The amount is not very high. At the same time, as in the secondary schools there is a certain number of free places given to scholars from the elementary schools, so also facilities should be given for clever boys from Halton to get to Cranwell. If the hon. Member were to discuss the question with me I think that I should convince him that we are in very close touch both with the Board of Education and the local education authorities, and that we are getting a substantial number of intelligent boys from the secondary schools.
§ Sir S. HOARE
The actual cost is £75 a year, but apart from that we provide a number of free places for intelligent boys.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want to put the House to any trouble, in this matter. I agree with what the Air Service has been doing, but if I have the fortune to catch your eye when the occasion arises I hope to raise the matter in connection with the other two Services next week.
§ Question, "That '£3,412,000' stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Third Resolution read a Second time.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to leave out "£2,572,000" and to insert instead thereof "£2,571,900."
1685 I would first like to ask the Minister why he cannot find anything in this large sum for works buildings and lands for defences for the new naval base at Singapore? The hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Burney), I am sure, will support me in this matter. I will not argue as to the advisability or otherwise of the naval base at Singapore. I am going on the assumption that a base will be constructed there for the Navy, and it is obvious that any base in a possible war zone, if it is to be defended at all, must have powerful air defences. This applies peculiarly to Singapore, where, as a matter of fact, the Straits could be made perfectly secure by a combination of air defences, submarines and long range artillery without the need for any large surface ships at all. Such a combination would prevent raids either by day or night through the Straits of Malacca. I have raised this matter in questions, and as far as I can gather from the official 'answers no allowance is made in the Estimates for the establishment of an air station at Singapore; if such allowance is made, I cannot discover it. We are commencing to build this great naval base, and it is self-evident that we must have air defences there, and I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman why no provision has been made for works, lands and buildings for any aerodromes or other aerial stations at Singapore?
I wish to raise another point on this Vote. A war with the greatest air Power in the world is, of course, improbable, but nevertheless we take it into consideration as a justification for this great expenditure of money. In the first hours of any such war the principle objective would be the opposing side's aerodromes and aerial bases. Therefore, fighting bases and refitting bases for the Air Force should not be in the South of England, as they are at present. It is strategically wrong. The main aerial bases should be well up North, and the only stations in the South should be refuelling stations or stations where aeroplanes could land to take on supplies of bombs, additional crew and so forth, and these stations should be of a temporary nature, capable of being moved about in the event of their locality being discovered. I ask for an assurance 1686 that this matter is not being overlooked. Experience in the Admiralty shows that there is a sort of inertia which leads to the continuance of existing base establishments. As an example, for some years after the end of the War we continued to spend money on certain bases on the North-east coasts of Scotland and England, still aiming at a potential enemy, who had become impotent as the result of the War. It was only after some years it was realised that the centre of naval power had shifted first to the Mediterranean and then to the Pacific, and it took years to convince the Admiralty that it was useless to provide these bases on the North-East coast, but that the provision should be made in relation to the Mediterranean and the Pacific. The same thing may apply in the case of the Air Force, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to fight for recognition of the fact that the first consideration in connection with an aerial base should be the strategical consideration and not the fact that a base already exists in a certain place, that the officers have settled down in the neighbourhood and know it well and that they find it troublesome to move further up north. The whole policy of the Government in air matters is based on the possibility of attack by the strongest air force in Europe, and we should place our bases in the most suitable strategical position to meet that contingency.
§ Sir A. BURGOYNE
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies I would like some information with regard to the expenditure Which is now proposed. I happen to know Halton camp very well, and I realise that we have to have expenditure before we can get efficiency in the Air Service. At the present time a great number of the personnel is housed in separate buildings and I should be grateful if the Secretary of State should inform us in his reply how much of the sum now asked for is to be devoted to permanent buildings.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I rise to ask a question with regard to the item of £3,800,000 included in this huge amount. I should like to ask what steps are taken by his Department in the purchase of land for aerodromes and to be assured 1687 that they buy land which is suitable and at the right price. It will be within the recollection of the House that some years ago a big tract of land was bought in Scotland which proved to be utterly unsuitable for its purpose. The money was lost entirely, and I think the House should have some information and be assured that not only that the lands now being purchased are suitable, that they are being bought at the best low market price and that estate agents and valuers are employed to conduct negotiations, or whether the purchasers of these lands are officers of the Department who may not be qualified to judge of their real value.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention has been drawn to the projected French air place at Cherbourg, and he replied that his attention had been brought to it, and that the total force of the station there was one fighting squadron. It is a very vast affair. I wish to ask whether in any of the aerodromes which are to be bought under this Vote he has taken steps for protection against bombing attacks. If these aerodromes are to be situated on the south coast within an hour's reach, it seems preposterous they should have no protection whatever. Is the right hon. Gentleman conducting any experiments to guard, not only against heavy bombs which may be dropped by ones or twos, but night bombs which may be dropped in their thousands near the hangars?
§ Sir S. HOARE
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) asked for information about Singapore. The position is this, that it is not proposed to involve ourselves in any expenditure at the moment, for the time has not yet come.
§ Sir S. HOARE
No machines either. But in due course, as the programme for the defence of Singapore develops, an item will appear in the Estimates for the air defences necessary there, and for the equipment of the aerodrome. Then the hon. and gallant Member asked a question about the location of our squadrons. I can assure him that we take into account the points he has raised, and so 1688 far as possible we are getting out of the fighting area training squadrons and organisations of that kind and are basing the fighting and bombing squadrons in the area which will be most convenient for their operations. I agree that that is one of the most important questions to be taken into account in a scheme of this kind. We keep it constantly in mind, and I think we are carrying out very much what the hon. and gallant Member wishes to see carried out. The hon. and gallant Member for Aylesbury (Lieut.-Colonel Burgoyne) asked me about expenditure at Halton. I am glad to be able to inform him, though it may not be pleasant news to the taxpayers, that we are spending £107,000 there this year. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that these improvements are most urgently needed, whether it be as regards the hospital or as regards accommodation for the boys and men. They should no longer be expected to live in war-time huts, but should have permanent accommodation. We have a big scheme with that object, which we hope will be carried out in the course of a few years.
Then the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) asked with reference to the protection of aerodromes. Of course, that is a question that we constantly have in mind, but I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member realises the kind of expenditure that would be involved if we made underground hangars at aerodromes. As far as I remember, the experiment was made at an air station, Manston, during the War, and it ran into millions of money—in fact, it was so costly that it was never completed. [An HON. MEMBER: "It fell in!"] I did not know that. I am very much afraid that, if we adopted a general policy of that kind, my Estimates would not be £21,000,000. but would be something nearer the £50,000,000 about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) spoke a fortnight ago. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member, however, that. within reasonable limitations we are taking what action is possible to protect aerodromes in our defence scheme.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. We take great pains with the purchase of aerodromes, as I know to my cost, from the difficulty that there is in getting past the eagle eye of the Treasury any proposal to buy new aerodromes at all. I can assure my hon. Friend that the kind of scandal to which he refers—and I think I have the case in mind—would be inconceivable in present conditions, with Treasury control as it is, and the expert advice that we are bound to take, and do take, in the selection of the aerodromes we have to buy.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Major CRAWFURD
Like my hon. and gallant Friend, I am unable to share the hilarity of hon. Members opposite, because this is a serious question. [A laugh.] I thought this was one of the questions which hon. Members opposite did regard as serious. I only rose to make the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that, at any rate, a measure of protection might be afforded to aerodromes by re-adjusting the places where bombing and training squadrons are placed and by removing the latter from the possible area of attack.
§ Question, "That £2,572,000' stand part of the Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Commit-tee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Fourth Resolution agreed to.
§ Fifth Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I do not think this Resolution, even at this late hour, ought to go through without some protest against the Government adopting the scheme of the opposite party, after we had protested in the Division Lobby and by speeches against the scheme. I still protest against that scheme. I believe the Government ship will be a failure, and that we shall be tarred with that policy. I do not believe in Governments building 1690 commercial airships. I am sure the result will be disastrous. Let me recapitulate very shortly the expenditure that we are letting ourselves in for. The original scheme of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) which we had adopted, provided only for a Government initial expenditure of 1'400,000, and in the event of the failure of that scheme the Government foreclosed on the whole value of the sheds and everything. and the ship which was built. They all became the property of the Government. Under this scheme you have already got £79,470 for staffs under Vote 3. That is only the beginning. The annual expenditure represents a. capital sum of £1,750,000. Add to that the cost of the ship's mooring masts and sheds, and the ships, and you have another £1,350,000. Altogether we are risking about £3,000,000 of the taxpayers' money. We have the Director of Civil Aviation flying about India discovering sites for bases. My hon. and gallant Friend has already announced' that he has increased the radius of action, of the ship and the consequence is that the bases will be obsolete. He is the only man who can speak for the Commercial Air Line. He says he does not want a base in India. It is more' likely to he a base in Ceylon that he wants. The probability is that the Government base will be obsolete from the very start. The mooring masts, we know, are obsolete. They want to put mooring masts on shore. The Admiralty and my hon. and gallant Friend want mooring masts (,n board monitors which they can shift about and find out which is the best position for the mooring masts to be placed. When the Government scheme was brought forward I said it would inevitably be a failure, and I instanced the. point that the Admiralty have never built merchant ships. Here we have the Air Department embarking on a merchant ship of the air. Had the Admiralty embarked upon building merchant ships we should never have succeeded in shipbuilding. If both these ships had been entrusted to a mercantile company the company would have been strengthened' and been able to compete in the market for building for foreign Powers. I believe in one company at the start. The Cunard was one company at the start. Elswick was the first, of the armament companies. 1691 Courtaulds once stood by itself in the manufacture of artificial silk. If my hon. and gallant Friend's company had succeeded there would inevitably have come rivalry into the market.
The Minister of Air said he was having a pooling committee. Is he getting the benefit of the private company's inventions for the Government airships? If so, they may succeed in building a good ship, but I doubt very much whether the private company will part with its inventions for the Government airship. It is not business. Will he publish the contract for the private built ship, because it is very important that we should know what sort of ship it is. When the discussion took place we understood there were to be special precautions against lightning. Is there anything in the contract on that point? Is there going to be an outer envelope of inert gas? We ought to know. The reason I am anxious is this. The Germans before the War lost two ships by lightning, and we lost one. The Germans lost six ships and four sheds by fire before the War. We know the military airships were lost because they abandoned the margin of safety in several directions. Is there to be a proper margin of safety in these two ships? I think the Government might have put in a very much stronger demand in their contract for many things. They might, for instance, instead of asking for 70 knots, knowing what the Germans have done, have asked for 90 knots. Anyhow the hon. and gallant Gentleman's ship is to be a 90-knot ship in spite of what the contract says. I think the Government contract was put low because the Government felt they had to enter into rivalry with the privately owned ship and they did not hope to succeed in getting more than TO knots out of their own ship. I deplore the fact that the Government have abandoned their original scheme. It is all very well to say this scheme of the other Government was in being. The ship has not even been commenced, and it seems to me it could quite well be abandoned even at this stage.
§ Captain BRASS
I think the ship, which will be started at an early date, will be very useful indeed as far as this company is concerned. My hon. and gallant Friend says a mooring mast on land is no good, and that we should have 1692 a mooring mast on a monitor. I do not know if he has ever tried to land a balloon. A balloon is considerably smaller than an airship, and if you try to land a balloon with one cable it jumps all over the place and you cannot get hold of it at all. But when an airship is landed at a mooring mast you have a triangle. It bas three cables, so that the nose of the ship does not dive about. The result is that they can get hold of it and put it on to the mooring mast. This would be quite impossible on a monitor, and I do not think a monitor would be the least use to try to anchor a big airship to. I think the Government are right in going very carefully as far as airships are concerned. "R33" has just been completed for experimental purposes. It is coming out very shortly from its shed at Cardington, and it will be of very great value, not only to the private enterprise airship scheme, which is going forward, but also to the Government ship which is being built. There is a very big advantage in building a ship of 5,000,000 cubic feet as against one of 2,000,000 cubic feet, which is the size of the "1133," because, instead of having about a 60 tons lift, which the 2,000,000 cubic feet ship has, this new ship will have about 175 tons lift. Consequently the ship can be built very much more strongly than the older ship. If we do not have the experiments which are suggested by the Air Ministry, I feel that these ships may be built with the wrong design, possibly slightly too long and not of the right shape. The experiments which are to be made will be of very great value to this country. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will go very slowly with these airships. We do not want any disasters like those which occurred to the "R38" and the "Dixmude," in the one case a ship being broken in half and in the other case being struck by lightning. For all these reasons the Ministry would be very wise in going slowly and experimenting very carefully before launching forth on a big scheme.
§ Sir A. BURGOYNE
There is only one point on which I will not join issue with the last speaker, and that is that we do not want any disasters. After all, we are starting out on a very big experiment upon a type of vessel with which we have not dealt for a very considerable period. 1693 Apart from that, we were not very successful when we did deal with it. The Air Ministry are going to build one type of airship, and they have asked a private firm to construct another. They have seen the designs of that firm. They have accepted those designs, and they are of such a nature that the masts which are now being put up by the Air Ministry cannot possibly be used for anchoring this privately-built ship, and the designers of that privately-built ship have themselves put forward a design of a mast to be placed on a monitor—a design that has been accepted by Dr. Eckener, of the Zeppelin Company in Germany, who has made 2,500 flights in Zeppelins. Obviously this private design was not accepted until passed by the experts of the Ministry. What we have to consider is which is likely to be the successful design. Is it to be the one designed officially or that designed by private enterprise? If the latter is a failure, what is the type of expert who has passed it for acceptance? If the one designed by the officials is a failure, we have masts erected to take that failure which are incapable of mooring the vessel designed by private enterprise. The matter is a very important one, and we ought to have some sort of explanation from the Secretary of State before we decide on this very important Vote. One other point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) in regard to the testing of these airships in hot climates. I am going back to the time before the War when I was closely associated with him. The suggestion to send one of these old airships out to Egypt to test it has no hearing whatever on the value of the fabric of an airship used for constant passages backwards and forwards between this country and hot climes. In those clays they had sections of the material placed in the hottest possible position arid kept there for months to test the effect of the actinic rays on the fabric, and I would like to know whether such experiments are being made now, for otherwise we shall get disaster after disaster. Vickers built a ship at one time which broke its back like a chocolate eclair. We do not want to have anything like that occurring, for if we do we shall set back the march of progress with these 1694 great vessels which, if dealt with on right lines, are bound to have a great effect on the development of flying. I hope the Secretary of State will tell us something to satisfy the minds of those of us who desire to give him the Vote, and who appreciate the work he is putting in, and who want the Air Service to go forward.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I have spoken to many flying officers in the last week or two, and there is very great danger of putting two many complexities in these machines. I am told the latest type of machine has as many as 20 different levers and gadgets, as they are called, for the pilot to work. This is a very serious point. There is considerable and increasing dismay at the increasing complexity of the pilot's cock pit. I should like also to ask where is the Vote for parachutes and whether it comes under this or some other Vote. We understood it had become part of the standard equipment for every machine that it should have a parachute, and I should like to ask where the item is to be found.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I do not want to intervene in this controversy, because I do not think it would be fitting that I should, but I wish to make some remarks from a technical point of view. In the first place, the question of lighting in regard to these ships was raised. In the conference I had with Dr. Eckener, he told me his ship had actually been struck by lightning 12 times, and that there was no undue damage done to the vessel. There was one thing asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), and that was with regard to the question as to whether we had any pilots or expert pilots advising us as to the position of our controls. We have had five pilots of rigid ships who have expressed their view on this matter and who entirely agree with this design.
I want to put on record a public protest against sending the R33 out to Egypt. I feel that if I did not do that I might be associated with that experiment. I do not consider that the lessons that we are likely to learn from that ship are in any way comparable to the risks that we should run by sending an old ship of slow speed and small radius of action out to Egypt. I do not want in any way to 1695 inconvenience the Air Ministry in their policy, but I feel that unless I put on record, as I am now doing, this protest, in so far as my own opinion is concerned, I might be associated with the idea of sending that vessel out to Egypt.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I want to make a slightly different protest, and that is to draw attention to page 19 of the Vote in connection with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, and to ask the Ministry without further delay to look into the pay of the writing assistants, of 17s. a week. There is a war bonus, but even so it seems an absolutely scandalous wage to pay. There is a great contrast between the Superintendent, with his £1,000 a year and his bonus, which I do not grudge him, and I am sure he earns it, and the third-class writers with their pay of 28s.—and these are men—the shorthand typists, with Ms., and the writing assistants, with 17s. I think the Government should be a model employer, and these wages are scandalous, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman—I do not expect an answer to night—to look into the matter, and if he can do anything to persuade the Treasury to pay more generous rates, I am sure the country will be agreeable.
§ Sir S. HOARE
In reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) I would say with respect to the cases he quoted that they are girls of 16, that the bonus nearly doubles the wages, and that the wage paid is not peculiar to the Air Ministry. but prevails in the Civil Service generally. Another point put was the complexity of the machines. That is perfectly true. It is very difficult to combine the various demands for safety, performance, and protection, and it is becoming a great problem. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member who raised it that I am fully conscious of that problem. The difficulty is to combine in a single machine the various demands made upon it. I come to a much bigger question that has been raised—that of the question of the airships. This is a very difficult and technical question. It is one that I do not think the House would at this late hour wish me to go into in great detail. But I should like to say enough to remove some of the doubts and suspicions of my 1696 hon. friends as to our policy. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) asked: "Why build two airships?" That is a very good question, if I may say so—it is a question that I asked myself when we were considering the question of airships last summer. Since I have been back at the Air Ministry I have gone fully into it, and I have satisfied myself that there is a good deal to be said for building the two ships: on two grounds. First of all, there is the ground of safety. That, after all, is the most important ground. The double experiment is, in my view, after hearing what my experts have said, going to be much safer than a single experiment. When we are building a new type of aeroplane we should never think of building a single machine, but two or three machines. On this ground—the ground of safety—it is my considered view, after going very fully into the question, that a double experiment is much safer than a single experiment. There is another reason that I think must impress every hon. Gentleman who investigates this question. That is the question of the potentialities of air-ships. I am very anxious to test out some of these potentialities in full—their potentialities, for instance, in connection with Empire and Home Defence. If successful, this experiment may lead to great economies in our future expenditure. By having an Air Ministry ship over which we have got full control rather than being dependent upon the use of a commercial ship for a few weeks in the year, we are able to make those tests. For those two reasons, and I will not develop them at great length tonight, it is the considered view of the Air Staff, and of the research experts connected with the Air Ministry, that the double experiment of the two airships is better than the single experiment of one airship only.
There is the other question that my hon. and gallant Friend put to me, Why could we not go back at once to the scheme associated with the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney)? I wonder what would have been the view of the majority of hon. members if I had come to the House this evening with a proposal to scrap the several hundred thousands of pounds of public money we have already 1697 spent, and ask the House to go back without further delay to a scheme that, whatever might have been its merits, and they were great merits, in my opinion, would certainly involve the country in a very big financial commitment? My own view is that what is wanted above all other things with airship development is some continuity of policy, and that it is much better, having got the experiment started, and money actually spent upon these two airships, to go on with the experiment, and not once again to throw the whole question of airship development into the melting pot. Hon. members who know the past history of airships will know that it is a long history of continuous inquiries and reversals of policy. In view of that and of the danger of once again throwing it into the melting pot, it would be much better to go on with an experiment that is actually going to produce two airships within a not unreasonably far distant time. As I told the House the other day, we shall take every step to make the double experiment a success.
Let me assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir A. Burgoyne) that the greater part of the money we are spending is going to he useful, whatever may he the ultimate development of airships. The actual amount to be spent. under the present scheme is about a million and a quarter. Out of that £1,250,000 only about £200,000 to £250,000 is being spent upon the Government airship. The rest of the money, anyhow the greater part of the rest of the money will be usefully spent, whatever may be the future scheme that is adopted for airship development. The mast to which my hon. and gallant Friend alluded can be transferred from one place to another. The place we have selected in India has been selected upon commercial and not on military grounds; and furthermore, in order that the experiment may be as full as possible, we have offered to refer the design of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) to the Technical Committee to which I have already alluded this evening. If they say the design is practicable, we will give every facility for its being adopted that we can give. We have no wish to smother what may be a great development in connection with airships by any act of 1698 bureaucratic interference. We wish to make the Air Ministry experiment with the Air Ministry airship, but we wish to give the greatest possible scope to the development associated with the hon. And gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) provided it is found to be reasonably likely that that design is going to be successful. I think I have said enough to convince the majority of hon. members as to the wisdom of the policy included in this Vote.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.