§ The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Prime Minister, in answer to a question by the Leader of the Opposition, made it quite clear that the existence of an independent Air Ministry and an independent Air Force to carry out the air needs of the country is an established part of the programme of every party. I am glad that a statement of that kind should have been made, because I am quite sure that the longer the idea remains in existence that the question is an open one the worse it is for the relations between the three Services and the more difficult it is for the Air Ministry and the Air Force to carry out their already difficult duties. I propose to say a word or two about the relations between the Forces at the end of my speech, but I think the House would wish me, at the very opening of this Debate, to emphasise the importance of the statement just made by the Prime Minister.
The House will see that the Estimates of this year do not differ substantially from the Estimates of last year. On the one hand, there is a gross reduction of about £500,000, and on the other hand, there is a net increase of about the same amount. I think the House will be glad to know that the greater part of the gross reduction of £500,000 is due to a reduction upon the Middle East Vote. It was one of the objects of the flying visit that the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I made to Iraq last year to reduce Imperial expenditure upon the defence of Iraq. The reduction will show that we were successful to some extent, but Sir John Higgins, the Air Vice-Marshal in command, and Sir Henry Dobbs, the High Commissioner, have been even more successful in enabling a reduction in the Imperial Forces to take 766 place at a time when there has been a very difficult international situation and when many people would have thought that an increase rather than a reduction of garrison would have been needed. So far as the net Estimates are concerned, the increase is mainly due to the larger number of squadrons formed under the Home Defence scheme. That increase would have been considerably greater if we had not had the loyal co-operation of the officers of the Air Ministry and Air Force generally and the advice of the Colwyn Committee, which has enabled me to make numerous economies over the whole field of Air administration.
I maintain—this is the question which the House will consider to-day—that upon the whole we have maintained in these Estimates a balance between two needs, the one the need for a stronger Air Force, and the other the need for reducing expenditure at this moment to the lowest possible point, and I am here to-day to ask hon. Members to test the strength of that claim by examining the policy of which these Esitmates are the outward expression. I am glad to think that I need not delay to describe in great detail the main outlines of our Air policy. Upon the whole, they have remained substantially the same for the last three years: First of all, the duty of providing a Home Defence Force against possible air attack; secondly, the duty of carrying out the air work for the Navy and the Army; thirdly, the duty of providing air garrisons in such parts of the Empire as are suited to them; and, lastly, the duty of developing Empire air communications, and, generally, of expanding the knowledge and the practice of air into all sections of the community in this country.
I think those broad outlines of air policy are accepted generally by all parties in the House, and it is for the House to-day to ask themselves these two questions: First of all, are these broad outlines of air policy being carried out in the proposals which I am making to the House this afternoon; and, secondly, are they being carried out in an economical manner and without waste of money? I propose, in these opening remarks, to devote myself to the first of these two questions, the question of air policy, and to await the criticisms and suggestions of hon. Members before I 767 deal with the second question, the question of economy and expenditure. For the moment, I should only like to say that I have been amazed by some of the wild statements that have been made about Air Force administration in the last few weeks, and that I shall hope, before the end of these Debates, to give a full and, I believe, a convincing answer to all these charges.