HC Deb 25 February 1926 vol 192 cc776-813

I now come to the third and last principal objective of our national air policy, the creation of an instructed public opinion upon air questions, and an expansion of air knowledge and air practice in a much wider circle than at present exists. Year after year hon. Members during these Debates have pressed upon the House the necessity of stimulating the air sense of the nation. This is a fine-sounding phrase, but I feel sure hon. Members to-day will desire to know, not what we are saying about the creation of an air sense for the nation, but what we are actually doing, and, with the approval of the House, I will point to one or two directions in which we have tried in a concrete way to get more people to understand about the importance of air defence and flying generally, and to teach more people a knowledge of practical flying in the country.

First of all, there is the attempt that we are making by the creation of auxiliary and special reserve squadrons to interest more people in the problems of air defence. The experiment was started last year. We are not forcing the pace. We think it is much better to build our foundations securely, and not, at the very outset, to try to get in large numbers of officers and men, and rear too quickly an excessively big structure. But the experiment has developed sufficiently for me to say that, in my view, it looks like developing into a big movement. I have visited the great industrial centres in which we have started these squadrons—Glasgow and Edinburgh, for instance; I have also seen some of the squadrons in London, and I have been much impressed by the great interest of these cities, and particularly the industrial communities, in the development of these squadrons. I believe they will be the means not only of strengthening our air defence, and of strengthening it in a much cheaper way than would be the case if we were depending entirely on regular squadrons, but, perhaps more important than that, of bringing the industrial life of our great cities into much closer and direct connection with the problem of air defence.

There is another direction in which we are attempting to develop this air sense. We are attempting to bring air development into much closer connection than it has ever been before with the scientific life of the country. We feel we have got so many difficult problems to solve that we need not only the Research Department of the Air Ministry, but the wider world of science outside to help. In the last few weeks, as an outward expression of this policy, we have brought into being two organisations called "Squadrons" at Oxford and Cambridge, for the purpose of bringing air development into much closer connection with the scientific life of the universities. We have also reorganised the Department of Research at the Air Ministry, and there is now a director of scientific research, whose special duty it is to keep in touch with the scientific development of aviation, not only under the Air Ministry, but in the country at large. I think I can claim that, as a result of this policy, there is already a closer connection between the scientific work of the Air Ministry and the scientific life of the nation outside than there has been in any year since the War. I hope, during the next 12 months, we shall see this close connection even closer, for, after all, we are faced at the Air Ministry with many very difficult problems. Indeed, my advisers tell me that we have reached a turning-point—and a very important turning-point—in the development of aeronautical flying science. There is the problem, for instance, of the control and the stability of the aeroplane—a problem which, every hon. Member will see, is vital in the development of flying, and it is a problem upon which we have reached a very important point. Much theoretical and experimental work has been done upon it, and a great advance has been made. We look forward in the near future to advancing still further, and going far to solve one of the root problems—perhaps the root problem—of flying altogether.

There is another problem which has reached a very interesting stage—the problem of the substitution of metal for wood in machines. It is a problem that is of great importance to a country like ours, which has hitherto had to import so much of its wood from foreign countries, but which has always held a foremost place in the world as a metal-producing country. Then there is the problem connected with what is called the "boosting" and "super-charging" of engines, that is to say, the attempt to get out of an engine a much greater horsepower in proportion to its weight. That is a problem, again, in regard to which we have reached a very important point. Lastly—if I may mention another very important series of aeronautical problems—there are the problems connected with the invention of what is called the "autogiro," which, perhaps, I may describe in rather commoner language as the "flapper" of the air. It is satisfactory to know that the Research officials of the Air Ministry were the first to realise the importance of this invention. We made the first experiment, during the autumn, and without any delay we have given orders for the construction of a number of machines to test fully what may be a really important development in the history of flying.

I have ventured to put before the House these examples of the research problems with which we are immediately faced, to emphasise the importance of the attempt we are making to bring the scientific world and the country outside into much closer connection with the departmental work of the Air Ministry. I pass from that to our attempts to bring flying more within the reach of the ordinary citizen. I would remind the House of the fact that now, at last, we have started the experiment of light aeroplane clubs. I spoke of them in my Estimates speech last year, and I am glad to-day to be able to inform the House that there are now several of these clubs in existence, with a membership already of about 1,000. I can say from my own personal experience that the greatest interest is being taken in them in the various centres in which we have formed them.

The last example with which I will trouble the House in connection with our attempts to create an air sense in the country, is the attempt that we are making to bring the Air Force itself into closer connection with industry. As hon. Members know, a large number of our officers are short-service officers, and, obviously, it would be greatly to the advantage of these officers if we could find careers for them when they leave the Force, just as it would be of the greatest importance to industry as a whole if we did bring into it this new strain of practical experience from the Air Force. We are trying—and I hope hon. Members will help us in this attempt—to make the bridge as broad as we can between the Air Force and the great industries like the engineering industry. I am glad to think that the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has already substantially helped us by counting the training in the Air Force as a part of the training that is necessary for the entrants and associates in the Institute, and I would appeal to-day, if I may, not only to employers, but also to hon. Members opposite, who have great influence with the unions, to help us in making this bridge as broad as we can between the Air Force and industry as a whole. From the point of view of the Service it will be a great help to us and from the point of view of the nation generally. I am sure it will go far to extending the air sense through the country as a whole if we can base this problem of air defence as broadly as we can on the industrial life of the nation as a whole.

5.0 P.M.

That, in broad outline, is the problem upon which we are engaged to-day. Those are the main objectives of our Air programme. Those are the main reasons for the £16,000,000 for which I come to ask the House this afternoon. I think hon. Members will agree that it is a very big programme, and one upon which we need the concentrated efforts of everyone concerned. I say, specially, the concentrated efforts of everyone concerned for this reason, that during the last five or six years—I am not imputing blame to anybody—a great part of the time of the Air Ministry staff and its officials has been taken up with meeting the situation created by sudden changes of Government policy, and also with controversies over our Air organisation. I hope that these sudden changes of policy will now cease; the slowing down of our expansion programme means no change in our policy and nothing more than I told the House it meant at the opening of my speech. So far as the controversies are concerned, I hope that they are ended by the statement that the Prime Minister—I understand with the acceptance of the Leader of the Opposition—made at the beginning of our proceedings this afternoon. From the point of view of the Air Force it would make it far less difficult for us if we could concentrate our undivided attention on the tasks that we still need to complete. The Air Force has now an established place in the life of the nation, an established place in defence—an established place to meet an urgent national need.

We shall welcome the opportunity of devoting our undivided attention to this task, and it will enable us to carry it out much more satisfactorily if we can really do so without much of our time being spent in controversies or attempts to meet changes in policy. May I go further and say, as one of the Service Ministers, from the point of the three Services generally, I am quite sure that when once all this controversy is cut out of the picture, the relations between the three Services will be much closer than ever before. Certainly so far as my advisers and I are concerned, we shall do everything in our power to make this co-operation as close as ever we can, and to apply our policy in such a way as to secure the greatest possible amount of unity of outlook between the three Services as a whole, and by that means combine the keenness of those in the Air Service with the fine traditions and varied experience of the two older forces.


I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very illuminating and interesting account he has given us of his Air Estimates. He has provided us with many points of interest in relating the various incidents in the life of the Air Force. I think the most interesting thing of all, to me at all events, was the revelation that his speech gave of his own outlook and point of view with regard to the whole question of defence. In the remarks I propose to address to the House I want to deal first of all with the broad questions of policy that these Estimates raise and later with certain specific points on the matter of economy.

The first question one has to take note of in dealing with the Estimates is, What is the function of this Service for which we are asked to provide £16,000,000? The Minister gave us four objectives of the Air Force, and he said—and I think we shall all agree with him—that by far the most important was its position as a home defence force, but I think Members will have noticed that throughout his speech he said very little indeed about defence. He did not indicate either what he meant by air defence or against what particular menace we required to be defended. The only reference I found at all with regard to the functions of the force for defence was a rather haphazard reference to bombs. I have always considered bombs to be a very offensive method—I have always found them extremely offensive myself when I have met them—and it seemed to me that what he really meant by a home defence force was a counterattacking force of such size as would counterbalance some hostile attacking force, for an Air Force is not really a defence force at all.

We have here an actual increase in strength, a real increase in expenditure on this Air Force, an expenditure of £16,000,000 on this arm alone, and nearly £20,000,000 when we consider the Middle East Service and the Naval Service. This is a defence force, but a defence scheme, of which we have heard a good deal this afternoon, cannot be considered in vacuo. It must have reference to some apprehended danger. It is obviously necessary from the strategical point of view. Any man, whether he be a military or naval man or an air man, in considering defence questions, must consider what is the menace against which we are to be defended, where it is coming from, and so forth. Any consideration of past controversies with regard to the disposition of our defences will show that they always have reference to the particular international position in which we find ourselves at the time. An obvious instance was the new assemblage of our Fleet which followed on the Entente with France, at the beginning of the present century.

The first question I find myself moved to ask the Government is "What is the potential menace against which you are arming yourselves, and against which you have this defence?" What we are asked to provide in this Estimate is a continuation of a policy laid down in 1923 by the right hon. Gentleman himself, a scheme of development, as he said, starting from a quite small force, and working up, I think he said, to 54 squadrons eventually. He took this to be something that was entirely an agreed policy. He said we had agreed to work up to 1928 on a certain curve of increasing strength, and the only thing he said about these Estimates was that we were continuing that same policy, only we had slightly retarded it. When we look at this bill for defence, we want to have regard to the difference between the position in 1923 and the position to-day. In 1923 we were in a position of considerable international tension. Let me recall it to hon. Members. The French were in the Ruhr. We had had repeated conferences and repeated breakdowns of conferences, and the situation was difficult. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his Estimates in 1923, said: The simple fact that one of the Great Powers should attach such importance to the air arms forces the question upon us whether we, the other Great European Power, are giving the British air arm sufficient support."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1923; cols. 1609–10, Vol. 161.] We cannot get away from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman at that time was thinking of France. He said he was not arming against France, but merely thinking of France. To-day, when he sought for some instances to compute our strength, he again thought of France, and his whole speech was informed with the war mind all through. The most he thought we had at the moment was a breathing space—a breathing space, I suppose, in between the periods in which we were always to live with the menace of imminent war! But what has happened since 1923? After all we are supposed to be living in the Locarno spirit to-day. When we came into office, we had only a month's notice to present Air Estimates, and we found a position of nearly the same state of difficulty as it was in 1923. It has been suggested that we, as a Government, approved of this scheme as something set and fixed, without reference to the international situation at all. Nothing of the sort. We had to take things as we found them, and having to present our Estimates, as we did within a month of taking office, we were unable to anticipate the future successes on the field of peace of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald); we were unable to foresee Geneva, and we were certainly unable to foresee Locarno. I am bound to say that the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has put his case for these Estimates is the greatest belittling of the work of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Minister (Sir A. Chamberlain), that I have ever heard in this House.

It is a very different story from what we heard when the right hon. Gentleman came back from Locarno. Now we are promised, as I understand it, that we are going to seal our friendship anew with the Powers on the Continent who are strongest in the air. Yet hon. Members and newspaper writers are constantly urging us to look at our strength, and compare it with France, or even to compare it with Italy. The general outlook is that we have to work to some sort of a parity with these two powers. But if they are our allies, surely there is less than ever the need that we should be stronger in the air, because we are standing in with them. I am bound to say that I was rather shocked at the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion on this point. Surely we ought to have something better from the Locarno spirit than this estimate of £16,000,000 There is no echo of the Locarno spirit in these Estimates. Apparently, right hon. Gentlemen opposite are now pursuing precisely the same policy in the air as the others. But we have been told that we have got a Pact that is going to lead to conferences on the subject of disarmament. I say, at the present time, that £16,000,000 of Air Estimates' shows to the world the value that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite place on the efforts of their own Foreign Secretary.

We believe that it is absolutely necessary that we should work for disarma ment. We know that we are pledged by the Covenant of the Leagues of Nations to work for disarmament, and that the lead, where we could be extremely influential, is specially given by Section 8 of the Covenant—the right to direct the nations on the road to disarmament, having regard to their particular circumstances. These Estimates are not presented with any regard whatever to this international situation. The position is taken up that someone else has got an Air Force and, therefore, we must have one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is a matter of international snobbery. That is the position hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking up. After all the talk of Locarno, the only thing that counts in diplomacy is the strong hand, so that our voice may be heard in the counsels of Europe. That is not our view of foreign policy. It is our view of the practice of foreign policy by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The remarkable thing about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that he seemed to suggest to the friends on his own side: "Do not blame me if I am not going so far as you would like in increasing armaments.

Doubtless hon. Members have received, as I have received, a little communication from a new league, the Air League of the British Empire. We have known something of the work of these leagues in the past. We knew something of the work of the German Navy League. We know something of the work of the Navy League over here. I looked with very great interest at this document when I got it, because I wanted to see the personnel of those people who were so immensely interested in the air. I found there was Lord Cowdray. He brought oil to my mind. I noticed the name of the ubiquitous Lord Weir, a successful man in bringing forward interesting new developments of policy which, somehow or other always bring grist to this mill; I find on the list, too, those who as directors or shareholders can supply all metals, dope engines, and every other sort of material; the only name that puzzled me was that of the Home Secretary—I suppose he supplies the air. I have a very great suspicion in looking over these concerns unless I see very clearly who is behind them.

The Secretary of State for Air is very careful of the munition makers. He said something in regard the export of munitions. Yes, I gather now we hope to make munitions for the whole of the world. We hope to be able to supply the very best aeroplanes and the very best bombs to other nations. That will be a great satisfaction to us. Many years ago I remember when my parents were burgled, we were assured for our satisfaction that it had been done by experts and now I suppose we ought to be satisfied, if we are knocked to pieces by bombs, to know that we are supporting home industries. We stand against this policy of air expansion, and we are entitled when Estimates of this kind are brought before us to demand what is the policy of the Government? We want to know whether this policy is at all related to the policy of the Foreign Secretary, about which we have heard a great deal since Locarno. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has been very carefully laying the foundations of peace, and, as far as I perceive, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air is very carefully laying the foundation for future wars. I want to see how closely these policies can be co-ordinated. We want to know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite are in earnest, and whether they really stand by their Treaty obligations to work with all their power on the League of Nations for a general disarmament conference. After all, that is for what we are supposed to be standing. We want to know whether instructions have been given to our Air staff, to the staff of the War Office, and the staff of the Admiralty to prepare for disarmament, because, after Locarno. I should have expected the right hon. Gentleman to have devoted most of his speech to disarmament and to have told us that what we are doing in regard to the Air Force is being done in the interim, while we are waiting for disarmament.

A further question arises on these Estimates, a question again of policy in regard to the Middle East Services. We have heard—it was somewhat hinted at in the discussion on Iraq—that the Air Force in the Middle East was only kept there because it was such an excellent place in which to keep an air force. It had all the necessary advantages of good landing places, good targets, and so on. I want to know if the Middle Eastern Services are part of our home defence forces merely detached there for training purposes, or are they not really there because of our policy in the Middle East—a policy of which we on this side of the House disapprove? We look to these Estimates, and we say that what the right hon. Gentleman has put forward in justification of this very heavy expenditure is not related at all to the foreign policy of the Government—is not related to any possible menace. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us very much about our Home Defence Force or scheme. There is expenditure in these Estimates and some expenditure, I know, in the Army Estimates for a ring of defences round the South of England. As I have already expressed, however, I am profoundly sceptical as to the value of what is called air defence. I have always understood that the only satisfaction we could have in the matter of danger from the air would be the satisfaction of knowing that someone else was getting it in the neck at the same time as we were. I am profoundly sceptical of this elaborate building up of these defences in the country.

I pass from the question of policy to a further point in the actual Estimates, for the House is concerned to look into the question of economy. At a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has brought down his heavy hand upon the Education Minister, has brought down his heavy hand on the Minister of Labour, and is pressing for economy all round, it is right that this House should scan these Estimates very closely to see whether the expenditure is or is not properly incurred. Let us look at the Estimates, and see whether the Government are carrying out this programme economically. Is there not some unjustifiable expenditure here? It is very unfortunate that this House is presented with the Estimates of the three Fighting Services entirely separately, and entirely unco-ordinated, because there is always a tendency to think that an attack on the Air Estimates is made because one wants a bit more for the Navy, or that an attack upon the Navy is due to the fact that one wants a bit more for the Army. I have been very temporarily connected with the Army, but I have no sort of prejudice for or against any of the Fighting Forces. I am not prejudiced against the Air Force, and I was extremely glad to hear the Prime Minister declare to-day that there was no intention in the mind of the Government to put the Air Force under either of the other Services, or to split it up.

I look upon the Air Force as the youngest of three sisters. All these sisters have to be looked after. What I am questioning is whether all the sisters ought to have separate establishments. We should keep this co-ordination of the arms clearly in our minds, and consider how much can be spent on this and how much on that. We should consider how much should be allocated to each. This seems to depend very largely on which Minister happens to be the stronger at the moment. It may depend in a sense on which of the Services happens to be the most popular, or is the best known, or if I may use a technicality which the right hon. Gentleman has used—which has the best "booster." When I look at these Estimates, they appear to bear a very, very strong family resemblance to the Army Estimates, which I had to consider very carefully a couple of years ago. It is the recurrence of these same items in the Army Estimates, the Air Estimates and the Navy Estimates that I want to criticise to-day. If I criticise them on the Air Estimates, it is not from hostility to the Air Estimates, but because the duplications to which we had grown accustomed formerly have now become triplications, owing to the growth of the Air Service.

On page 95 of these Estimates we find a "Directorate of Operations and Intelligence," at a cost of some £24,000 a year, and with 44 persons on its staff. If we turn to last year's Army Estimates, we find a "Directorate of Operations and Intelligence," costing £54,000, and with 64 persons. In the Navy, for a similar section, there are 125 persons, and the cost is £100,000. As far as the "G" staff is concerned, the problems of defence are not three, but one; therefore there ought to be only one co-ordinated general staff dealing with them. We find in these Estimates provision for a recruiting staff of 34, costing £18,000. The recruiting staff for the Army has a personnel of 386, and costs £130,000. In the Navy the personnel is 65, and the cost £24,000. Can anyone say that we want three separate recruiting staffs? I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite are deeply in love with competition, but is it a satisfactory thing to have competition between your recruiting staffs? In the Army to-day there is a great demand for technical men and technical boys, and there is the same demand in the Air Force. We have these two Forces going into the market trying to get the same class of recruits. I say that there in another Department, the "A" branch, we have three separate organisations where we ought to have only one.

There are separate staff colleges for the Air and the other Services. Staff work means that we ought to co-ordinate all the various fighting arms. Is it not absurd to have separate staff colleges? Finally, there is the case of the medical services. I find in these Estimates £209,000 for the medical service; I find £2,500,000 in the Army Estimate for the Army Medical Ser vice; and I find a great deal more for the medical service in the Navy, but owing to my unfamiliarity with the Navy Estimates and to the way in which they serve up their accounts, I cannot get it out in detail. We want one Medical Service for the three; one united hospital service for the three.

These four examples, which I have taken out of many, show the need for coordination. Why should we have eight Ministers of the Crown representing the fighting Services? The Chancellor of the Exchequer might say, "My motto is, Divide et impera. If I have three heads of the fighting Services, I can set them against each other, and, while they are fighting, I may run off with the bone." I do not believe that is a satisfactory way of dealing with the question of how much we ought to spend on our defence Services.

I am of opinion with, I am glad to see, certain other Members of the House, that what we want is one Ministry of Defence. I have read a very great deal on that subject, and I know there are arguments for and against it. It is suggested that if we had one Minister of Defence, he might be so strong that he would be too strong for anybody. I do not think so. Now is the time to tackle the question and see. I should like this Government to take in hand this question of the co-ordination of the Services, because they are peculiarly well situated to do it. Surely, in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have the very man for the job. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a man of war from his youth up. He is accustomed to direct warlike preparations and operations in all three elements. If I may vary the words of Rudyard Kipling, he is A sort of a giddy harumfrodite Soldier, sailor and airman, too. He is a man who has sown his wild oats in all the Services, and is now getting more mature; he has exchanged the sword for the purse; and surely he is just the man to take up this job. It would be a job more worthy of his abilities than cutting down education expenditure, cutting down the Ministry of Labour Estimates, and so on, or even than playing about with Silk Duties. He could make a great name if he gave us a co-ordinated Defence Service.

There is one further reason why I specially raise this matter of the coordination of the Services on the Air Force Estimates, and that is because of the enormous difficulty, already hinted at, of dealing with the personnel of the Air Force. The right hon. Gentleman has said, quite rightly, that the Air Force is a short service force, and we have the problem of what to do with the members of it when they are too old. I do not think we have got that seriously at the moment, be cause the Air Force is a young force, but the doctors say we live longer now or they keep us young longer—the doctors, at least, claim they do—and in all the Services we find more and more difficult the problem of what to do with those who grow too old. In the Air Service that problem comes on a good deal earlier than on any other Service. I do not think the right way of dealing with it is to try to get jobs for them in all sorts of engineering establishments I am not very much in favour of people who have been in the service of the Crown moving afterwards into private enterprises, which, perhaps, supply the State. By co-ordination of the Services we should get a better transfer between the three Services, and. not have people tied down to one all the time. That applies to the officers; I think it applies also to the men; and, as I have said, it applies to the recruiting of boy artificers. If we are to get some reduction of the enormous sum we are paying for armaments we must move on the lines of co-ordination, otherwise we shall inevitably have vested interests growing up in each of these Services, and when any changes come there will be an enormous difficulty in shifting the personnel as well as an enormous difficulty in changing the materiel. There would be, for instance, the question of accommodation, of barracks and training grounds, for the three Services in case of co-ordination. I hope the economists are looking very closely at a large amount being provided for building development in these Estimates.

Finally, I would say a word on these Estimates as a whole. We must not look at these Estimates by themselves. The £16,000,000 for the Air Force is expanded to £20,000,000 by the Middle East Services. To that we have to add the expenditure on the Army and the Navy, and the total is unlikely to be less than £115,000,000 a year. I wonder if that is going to pass our economists without a word? A Ministry of Defence could take the whole of that expenditure into consideration, and ought to bo able to make very considerable savings without loss of efficiency. I say, further, that a Ministry of Defence ought to be in the closest possible touch with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affaire and with our representatives on the League of Nations. All our Estimates for armaments must be co-ordinated with our foreign policy, which is bound up with the League of Nations, which itself, we are told, has been strengthened by the Pact of Locarno, and which should, if words mean anything, be directed to a general programme of universal disarmament by consent.

Captain GUEST

The list you have beside you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is so long that I will undertake to be extremely brief, but it is impossible to get into less than 10 minutes the observations I wish to make on a subject of such enormous importance as this. I had no intention of referring to the speech from the Front Bench of the Opposition had it not left me in a complete whirl as to what the attitude of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's party really is, with the exception of his approval of a Ministry of Defence. There was one sentence in which he completely contradicted himself. He said his party is against fixed defences, and almost in the same breath he said he liked to feel that if an enemy were dropping bombs on us somebody else was drop ping bombs on the enemy at the same time.


I never said that. I said that what was put forward as our only satisfaction—the feeling that when bombs were being dropped on us, we were dropping bombs on somebody else. I did not say I enjoyed it.

Captain GUEST

I do not suggest the hon. and gallant Gentleman said he enjoyed it, but I did think he had said that he liked to feel that the other fellow was being hit in the neck at the same time. If I am wrong, obviously I withdraw.

To turn to the Estimates, I would like at once to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on the admirable Paper which he supplied to Members at the same time as the Estimates were sent out. It is a model of what a Memorandum should be, particularly in its frankness and complete absence of camouflage. It has enabled most of us who attend this Debate to-day to come with a knowledge of the subject. In that Memorandum there is one underlying strain of thought—that the Government have decided to call a halt in the speed at which the development programme was progressing. I welcome that very much indeed, though perhaps not quite from the same point of view as other hon. Members. In a minute or two I will give my reasons. The attacks upon the Ministry in the last few weeks have been really, I think, disgraceful in their manner, and show disrespect for one of the great Services of the Crown. It is very insulting to a force that it should be the subject of terms such as we have seen in some leading newspapers in the last few days, and it is something which we ought severely to reprobate and reprimand in the House.

Apart from that consideration, these criticisms are very ill-informed, and unless they are contradicted by somebody, they undoubtedly are misleading. I propose, therefore, in two or three minutes to contradict some of the most noticeable and glaring statements. First of all the Force is contemptuously called a "ground force." May I ask those amateur critics whether they have the slightest idea of the number of duties which, in the last ten years, have been imposed upon and have been carried out by this little Air Force? It has not only to fly. Do they think it would be possible for the taxpayer to have been relieved of many millions of money by the services they are performing in Iraq unless the members of that Force could do a great many more things than fly machines in the air? Not only there, but in other parts of the Empire, they are undertaking garrison duties, as well as police and flying duties, and I submit that unless we have a well-organised and well-trained force—no doubt it does occasionally march past on barrack squares—they will not be able to save us money in the way they are doing to-day.

Before the War, no criticisms were passed in regard to the training on foot of the cavalry, but nevertheless in the War they were called upon to assist in the trenches. I think that completely answers the criticism that this is a ground force, and not an air force, and I am sure that all hon. Members who heard to-day of the astounding performances of flying during the last two years by the Air Force will go away greatly pleased. These critics have attacked the Ministry in a very indirect and subtle way with which I hope the Secretary of State for Air will specifically deal. It is the old line of argument that there are too many men per machine, and they do not suggest exactly how many men per machine there should be.

I submit that when you have got the lives of the men to consider at every minute, and at every point, the best judges of how many men are necessary are the experts who are responsible for the lives of the men who fly. As the machines become more reliable it may be that fewer men will be necessary, but to take up now the line of argument that you must not have so many men per machine shows not only malice, but ignorance as well. In the artillery you find that it takes 44 men to put a gun in the field, and I would like to ask them Is that an inaccurate or an improper figure? Why should a newspaper say-that 50 men per flying machine is too many?

Another line of attack is in regard to the provision of buildings for the Air Force. I have seen a good many of these buildings, and I would ask those who feel inclined to complain of the Vote for buildings to go and see the old war huts in which the men are living before they make such criticisms. The Army and the Navy have had magnificent buildings for many generations, and if the Air Force has come to stay, it must be properly housed. That is only common sense, and you cannot expect a force co-equal with our other fighting Services to be housed in their present buildings, many of which are quite uninhabitable.

We have heard a good deal of the argument that it is now time to call a halt. I submit that the atmosphere created by Locarno might have been a little more stressed, because I am hopeful, if that line of pacification in Europe is followed, that a great deal more may come of it than at present would appear. But to my mind the advantage of the pause is this. Many of the problems which so far have remained unsolved may be studied in the interval, and you can only study these problems clamly when you are not being rushed. I read a statement the other day issued by the Chairman of the Air League of the British Empire, in which he states on behalf of his organisation that "England is undefended." Is that so, or is it not? Time is necessary for the study of these questions in order that the public may be informed as to whether they may sleep safely in their beds or not.

There are other problems which need most careful consideration. In an atmosphere of contradictory chorus, it is very-hard to arrive at a decision as to whether the country is safe under the present programme, or whether the programme is extravagant and unnecessary. These questions cannot be answered by amateurs like the editorial staff of the "Daily Mail," or by hon. Members who sit on my right, because when they held the reins of office they carried out the policy handed down to them by their predecessors, and they did this because they said that they did not know sufficient about it to alter it. I submit, therefore, that they also come under the head of amateurs.

If good can come from this period of cessation of intense activity, I think two essential considerations must be borne in mind. The first is that, unless you get continuity of policy, there is really no hope for the solution of the problems which lie in front of us. Changing Governments seem to feel free to alter the main policy. I will give an instance where, in less than six months, the Air Force was almost destroyed, and then immediately revived. In the days of the Geddes Committee it was whittled down to almost nothing, and within six months of that time the present programme of creating between 25 to 30 squadrons for home defence was adopted. A policy is needed that will outlast the precarious life of any one Parliament, and it must be consistently pursued.

Who is there that can lay it down? What authority is in the land whose opinion would be more or less conclusive in this matter? I submit that the body which is most suitable for the purpose is known to the country as the Committee of Imperial Defence, and I make this submission for the following reason. It is the only body where the political and the expert mind comes together. The best political and civilian minds are brought against the details which lie only within the knowledge of the experts, and the advantage gained on both sides is very great. If we submit to that body the whole problem of the continuity of air policy, and the nation is kept informed of the results, then we should have a sound foundation on which we can build for a generation to come. Unless, also, the international consideration of air matters is attended to, we are running the risk of wandering into fields which may lead us into a dreadful disaster.

We are told that the Locarno spirit is abroad, but more can be made of it if we are practical, and do not merely talk about it. How can we be practical? I suggest that the Air Ministers of allied countries and of all countries, if possible, should meet and pool their thoughts as to the international danger of the air arm. One country may say, "We cannot disarm unless you do." At any rate, someone must take the lead, and suggest getting round an international table, warning each other and the world that dynamite is in their hands. In no other period of history has anything so dangerous been so lightly considered. The warnings which came before previous wars cannot be expected in the next war. The attacks will be so rapid, the machines used so easily put together, and so cheaply produced, that before the countries of the world know where they are, they may find their towns in ruins, and war starting in all directions. There may be suggested something practical that will control this tremendous weapon which the world has learned to use. Let us take advantage of the pause in the programme, hoping that some practical step and example will be set by the Government in this direction.

Major-General Sir F. SYKES

First of all, I should like to say that I do think it is unfortunate that the Economy Bill was not issued and taken before the discussion of the individual Service Estimates. In the second place, I agree entirely with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said in regard to the necessity of having the three Estimates in front of us before dealing with one of them. It is quite impossible to make a reliable comparison between the three Services unless you have before you the Estimates for the three Services, and even then it is very difficult. I have been at great pains to try and arrive at some comparative figures, and I have found some of interest which I propose to place before the House. At the outset, I should like to say that I think it is important that the three Service Estimates should be drawn up in a similar form. As I have already said, it is very difficult, even with the three Estimates before you, to arrive at any general conclusion as to how far they overlap, what Services are being catered for in one set of Estimates, or in the other.

6.0 P.M.

Before dealing with the general survey of these Estimates as far as one can go, there are a few points which I want to bring before the House in regard to the general policy upon which the services must be based. I mean, of course, as has already been brought out, a reduction of armaments, the necessity for stringent national economy, and the fundamental changes wrought in defence from the air. The reduction of armaments with the con-commitant problem of Imperial foreign policy, and economy in defence is in my view the greatest problem now before the country. Locarno and financial stringency and the air are forcing what has hitherto been a somewhat academic seclusion into the glaring light of necessity. A future war is in my opinion inevitable if armaments continue to be piled up, nation against nation, and, though that war may-have small initial beginnings, it is almost, hound to spread to world dimensions, and as the last speaker said, it will cause unparalleled horror and misery, and probably cause the destruction of the civilised world. Passing from that meanwhile, there is also the question of economy. If you maintain great forces in peace as I see it, that expenditure is weighing upon industry to such an extent that you practically cannot recuperate your national services.

You have the extraordinary fact that disarmed nations are really favoured in this matter, and successful armed nations handicapped as trade competitors. This is not the time to develop that aspect of the problem, though I should like to do so, but I do want to say how imperative I think it is that reasonable world opinion should give its verdict upon the whole of this question, and see that its views are enforced, while yet there is time, through the forthcoming Conference on reduction of armaments. In the meantime, I think the reduction of armaments must be very gradual, and the point I want to make is that, alike for the promotion of the reduction of armaments and for the safeguarding of national integrity, there should be a reexamination and re-modelling of our Imperial foreign policy, and a reform of our defence instrument to carry it into effect. It is quite impossible, unless you have a policy to carry out, for your defence instrument to be properly formed. You either have, on the one hand, completely inadequate forces provided for, or, on the other, much too large a margin, and, therefore, great waste.

First, then, there must be a policy, and, secondly, the machinery to carry it into effect should he of the smallest possible size and cost, and of the greatest possible efficiency. The air helps in this question because it really necessitates a greater cohesion of planning for defence than has ever hitherto been the case. Neither the Navy nor the Army, nowadays, is self-dependent, and, on the other hand, those who claim that the Navy and Army are obsolete are, I think, very far from the mark. In any specific problem there is a ratio between the three arms which predominates, but all three arms are directly or indirectly concerned, and the only way that I can see in which a proportioned picture of the whole question can be arrived at is by means of a joint executive General Staff to plan out what is required. I would join issue with the last speaker when he adumbrated the desirability of retaining the Committee of Imperial Defence for this purpose. I think that, while the Committee of Imperial Defence has done excellent work, it is not constituted to carry out this particular function. To be of any use, as I see it, the General Staff necessitates executive power. Without executive power, it is very much what the Supreme War Council was at Versailles; it worked out admirable schemes, which were of the greatest possible value, but, as it had no executive power, it was quite unable to enforce those schemes upon commanders in the field. It would be very much the same if the Committee of Imperial Defence were retained for this purpose.

Turning to the Air Estimates themselves, quite frankly I am afraid I must say I disagree with the policy entirely. The policy in force, as I see it, gives a minute number of skilled men in the air and practically no reserve. Nor, really, as far as I can see, does it stand the test in any direction of fulfilling the functions for which it is in being. Probably other Members will be speaking for the Navy and the Army, but, as far as I know—and I get constant views from both those Services—their requirements are very ill filled by the Air Force. On the other hand, the strategical long-range striking force lags, if that is not too gentle a word to use for it. Then, in regard to true aerial development, upon which, as we all know, the soundness of the structure must depend, we are, in experiment, research and civil aviation, dropping further and further behind other countries.

Here are some figures. Out of a force, including civilians, of some 45,000, we have only 2,200 qualified pilots, and some 1,000 to 1,200 man-hours of work are required per hour of flying. Again, there are three officials at the Air Ministry for every aeroplane in the Service squadrons. Secretarial services cost 3½ times, per head of personnel, more than those of the War Office. Expenditure at Halton is on a grandiose scale, and, while cadets and apprentices at Cranwell are reduced by 33 per cent., the administrative staff is only reduced by 7½ per cent. The hospital staff, per patient, costs in the Air Force double what it costs in either the Army or the Navy; and 3s. in every £ is spent by the Air Force on works and buildings.

The amount spent, on the other hand, on reserves is £406,000, or, say, 2½ per cent. of the total. Research, which should receive, and certainly is entitled to, the greatest assistance, gets £1,266,000, or 8 per cent., and even this includes all airship expenditure, and, I presume, the American engines which were bought—as I personally think, quite wrongly. Civil aviation—the mercantile air service of the future—upon which, with research, the Air Force must ultimately rest, gets £476,500, or 3 per cent. of the total. In regard to reserves, the already almost negligible figure, which was 8,033, shows a decline to 7,830 in pilots and airmen. Last year I criticised the Auxiliary Special Reserves on the ground that they were an unnecessary complication in organisation, and in this regard I should be inclined to say that there are too many packs hunting over the same ground. I have only tried to get at what the Air Force should do and how it is trying to do it, and these figures, if they are correct, as I am afraid they are, are very disturbing.

The best form of reserve is commercial operations, official and unofficial research, and highly skilled men in factories. I think there is a welcome light, in this regard, in the conversion of the Middle East from a military route to a commercial route. It is certainly pleasant to see a gleam of sunshine in that direction. Information on the whole question of commercial operations is, however, very difficult to get, and I hope the Minister will give us more details as to what actually is being done and what it is proposed to do.

The air routes of which he spoke, with the exception of the one to Nigeria, which was flown over the other day, were laid down several years ago, and have not been flown upon recently. I sincerely hope that now, at least, those routes are going to be used again, and I welcome the Minister's statement. I hope that flights, then squadrons, and then wings will fly along those routes. That will be of the greatest possible benefit, not only to the countries to and over which they fly, but also in the actual training of the squadrons themselves. One of the best values, I remember, before the War, was obtained by the Royal Flying Corps from frequent flights between Farnborough and Montrose. I had those flights carried out especially because I thought that combined training would be of immense value in war. That was on a diminutive scale. A squadron flew from Farnborough to Montrose at the end of 1913. This, however, is the same principle, and I hope that the Minister will press the Air Force from the point of view of carrying it into effect. As far as commercial development is concerned, I hope that the comparatively small effort of linking up Egypt, Bagdad and India, will be only the beginning of what we should, in my opinion, try to bring about with the utmost des-patch, that is to say, the development of the commercial aspect of the great routes of the world.

I touched a moment ago upon the question of American engines, and that brings forward the question of research as a whole, and also the question of parachutes, which I do not think has been referred to yet. In regard to engines, I think we can gather that, while engine production is the limiting factor in war expansion, and skilled labour is the limiting factor in production, engine provision is selected for the largest cut in these Estimates. I feel that that is very unfortunate. It is reduced, I think, by one-third, and skilled production labour, the nucleus of war strength, is, in the result, already being dispersed in about the same proportion. Then again, though there is no actual reduction in the provision for research, the Estimates suggest no improvement in the policy and administration which has compelled us to revert to a dependence upon foreign design as exemplified in the purchase of Curtis engines and Irving parachutes, both of which are to me quite inexplicable. After closing down the Parachute Research Section of the Air Ministry for two or three years, the order for parachutes was placed in America, without so far as I can find out, any endeavour to learn the progress of British design and the possibilities of British productions.

I certainly cannot support an Amendment which goes to show that the Air Ministry is redundant, for the reasons I have given. I want one Department for the three Services, and for this reason I could support another Amendment which has been put down to the effect that there should be an inquiry into how best this could be carried into effect. I have been trying to work on these lines since the last year of the War, during which year I wrote a paper trying to arrive at some such solution as is now being talked about. It was at the time of the Haldane Committee on co-ordination. I only hope the work of these years will have the utility of impressing upon everyone that this step is not only inevitable, but is the most useful that could be taken. I should like to impress upon the Government that they should, from the disarmament point of view, set in hand a thorough reconsideration of defence policy and administration as a whole and remodel the machine. They should investigate the subject and do what they can to help it forward. I ask all parties in the House to study it and to give it the greatest possible publicity that they can, because it is only by public opinion that it can be carried out.

I would plead with the Services themselves, recognising that owing to economy, and owing to other factors, they will inevitably be very heavily pressed very shortly and may have to make plans which will be most ill-advised simply owing to lack of funds, and consequently that the security of the country will be in danger. I plead with them to go into the matter and see what together they can arrive at in order to put forward a joint scheme to secure a joint staff with executive powers, a joint administration of the Service for all three Services, leaving the three fighting Services independent within themselves but under that joint staff executive control and, as such, able between themselves to utilise the personnel within their Services to the greatest possible advantage.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Air Minister on his very able statement in presenting these Estimates. I agree with nine-tenths of what he has said, but I think he is making a retrograde step in delaying the expansion of the Air Service. I expect I am one of the few Members who think he does not take sufficient money for that Service. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench made a much clearer speech on Iraq than I thought he made to-day. In the Iraq Debate, he said: What I see to-day as the great danger of the world is this, the danger of a clash between Asia and Europe. What I see to-day, right the way round, through China, India, the Near East, and right up to Egypt, is a great awakening of the Asiatic peoples. We see everywhere, especially in these great river valleys, populations which are pressing up and are held in check by a line of white hosts round the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th (February, 1926; col. 228, Vol. 191.] When I heard that said, I thought we we quite wrong in cutting down the Air Services, as we are doing in these Estimates. I think they ought to be kept up to the standard laid down by four consecutive Governments. If you look at the figures of last year, £120,000,000 was taken for the defence forces of the country. The Navy took £60,00,000, the Army, £44,000,000, and the Air Service, £16,000,000. A great service like the Air Service should have more than a seventh of the total money provided for the defence of the country. The only way we can get these Estimates right is to have a Ministry of Defence, or a controlling body over these Fighting Services. A few months after I entered this House, I introduced, under the Ten Minute Rule, a Ministry of Defence Creation Bill. I do not believe we will ever have these Estimates right until we have a control over these Fighting Services. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) said he believed in a Committee of Imperial Defence. The Committee of Imperial Defence have done well in the past, but now they are getting rather out of date. They have no executive power, and I feel certain that men who study these finances, like the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise), are not satisfied with the way the money is allotted to the different Services. Therefore, I submit that we have a duty before us. In former days Members of the House forced the Government to introduce submarines into the Service and also helped us in the early days of the air development. Every Member has the responsibility before him of trying to get these Estimates in a more satisfactory condition than they are now.

I am against the retardation of this expansion. You can look at it from two points of view. The first is the Air Force point of view. People who want to enter the Air Force say, "It is a little unstable. We cannot put our youngsters into it," or they do not feel inclined to go into it. I think it is very bad for the Air Service to have a fluctuating policy. In regard to the industry, it is worse still. Four Governments have promised the industry stability by this expansion, and what has happened this year? You are going to cut them down. You cannot get the best in the industry if they cannot offer inducements to men to come from the Universities and to train as aeronautical engineers, or get the best apprentices. I think the industry has been very badly hit over this. They have had difficulty in getting their nucleus together, and we give them another slap in the face. I ask the Under-Secretary to give this industry as much work as he possibly can and cut out some of the work at Farnborough and give it to the industry. I do not believe we get anything out of Farnborough but a large expenditure. I think there is some confusion about the number of machines that we are told other countries possess. The Under-Secretary, speaking at Brussels the other day, gave a very large figure of the number of our machines, if the report in "The Times" is correct. I think we ought to get a clear statement of our machines and the machines that foreign countries possess.

I think the explanatory statement is the best we have had, and I congratulate the Minister on presenting it in this way. Ft shows the value of the little criticism which we made last year. There is a point in the memorandum about the Fleet Air Arm. Do I understand that the Fleet Air Arm are going to live on their resources, because you made a great reduction in the money allowed to the Fleet Air Arm. I should like an assurance that the Reserve will be kept up and will be at the right amount at the end of the financial year. I see, on page 3, that Iraq is allowed eight squadrons. Over the page, there is a note to this effect: Following upon the settlement by the League of Nations of the northern boundary of Iraq, it is proposed to proceed with the scheme for the progressive reduction of the Imperial garrison in that country. Does that mean that those eight squadrons are to be reduced, or are you going to train Arabs to take the place of our pilots, because it is not quite clear what you are going to do. I think it is most important that we should have more trained and skilled engineers in the Air Force. When I raised that question last year, the Under-Secretary said they did not have any accidents to engines. That may be so, but we want a higher training for our engineers in the Air Force. if you talk about engine accidents, that is merely mechanics. Any lad who has a motor bicycle is a mechanical engineer. You want to train engineers as really good aeronautical engineers. In support of that statement, may I refer to a paper produced by the Aeronautical Research Committee. The Air Minister, in 1925, set up this Committee, which was to advise the Secretary of State on scientific problems relating to aeronautics. Some of the best brains in the country are on this Committee. There is Professor Glazebrook, Professor Petavel, Professor Bairstow, who have been connected with air development from the first, and are very capable scientific men. There are other representatives of firms, Mr. Fairey and Mr. Wimperis, and Sir Henry White Smith, all well-informed men, also Colonel O'Gorman and Mr. Ogilvie. They are all men I know, very highly trained scientific men, and this is what they say on the subject: The Committee call attention to the need of officers with more technical knowledge, and to the hope expressed in their last Report that it will not be impossible to provide for highly-skilled persons to make a direct technical diagnosis of each plant failure immediately it occurs, and to report it in a manner which will enable the Ministry to take measures to prevent recurrence. They consider it desirable to utilise to the full the knowledge of such officers as possess the necessary technical qualifications. I ask you to reconsider this. See if you cannot build up in your Air Service a really fine corps of scientific aeronautical engineers. That is one of the weak spots in the Air Service.

With respect to helicopters, a question was asked in the House yesterday over the expenditure of £55,000, and hon. Members laughed. I know Mr. Louis Brennan, who is a fine inventor. He was brought to this country by the late Lieut.-General Sir Andrew Clark, then Director of Fortifications. He invented the Brennan torpedo, which was one of the best ever produced. He also invented the Mono rail. If anyone could have brought the helicopter to success, it would have been Mr. Brennan. It is a very difficult matter. It is an almost insoluable task. I am certain that his scientific investigations will be of value, even in connection with the Auto-Gyro machine. It is wrong for hon. Members to think that the money has been entirely thrown away. It is nothing of the kind. I associate myself with what was said by the Air Minister about that great inventor, Mr. Louis Brennan.

Is the Minister for Air satisfied that when he has his two large airships in commission he will have his crews properly trained? There is only R 33, and you can only do a limited amount of training in that. Would it not be possible to have two flexible airships of 400,000 cubic feet capacity, simply to get the men into the air? Such airships are not very costly. That would enable the Ministry to get the men into the air and give them a good training. With respect to cultivating the air sense of the country, is the right hon. Gentleman thinking of having any small airship clubs? I think that is a good point. You can have small airships like the old S.S. airships, which are very useful for getting people into the air for a joy ride.

A few words respecting works. The right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol North (Captain Guest), with whom I should like to associate myself on this point, emphasised the importance of having proper buildings for housing our airmen. When we started the Naval Air Service we had very poor buildings. I said at that time that we must house our men better and give them better recreation, and after a lot of trouble with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, I managed to get billiard rooms for them and also some tennis courts. This recreation helped to make our airmen very much fitter. We want good buildings in order to keep our airmen fit, and we want good recreations for them. It is disgraceful to take up the newspapers and see the bricks that are being hurled at the Air Ministry for housing the men properly. We house our men properly in the Navy; we have good barracks at Chatham, Portsmouth, Sheerness and Devonport. Why should not the airmen be housed properly, as well as the seamen, and why not as well as the guardsmen? It is a difficult job to keep these youngsters fit. They have to go into the air, and there is a certain amount of nerve strain connected with it. The Chief of the Air Staff understands this matter from A to Z, and he is to be congratulated on insisting that the men should be properly housed and given proper recreation.

Another point on which the Air Ministry is being attacked is that they have too many men on the ground. You cannot have all the men in the air every minute. You cannot have them always receiving instruction round the machine, or at their books. They must put in a certain amount of drill. The Air Ministry are to be congratulated on having a very fine, upstanding lot of young fellows in the Air Force. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) says, "What about the engine-room artificers?" We put all these people through a certain amount of drill, and the hon. and gallant Member knows it. It is no use the hon. and gallant Member shaking his head.

On the Order Paper there is an Amendment standing in the name of a gallant general opposite, and other hon. Members. They want to break up the Air Force again. I would say to the gallant general, that he is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. One does not look through the big end but through the small end of a telescope.


To whom was the hon. and gallant Member referring when he said that hon. Members opposite desire to break up the Air Force?

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I referred to the gallant general.

Brigadier-General CHARTERIS


Rear-Admiral SUETER

I was referring to the hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries (Brigadier-General Charteris). I do not think the hon. Members who put down this Motion know anything about the air; they are not airmen. I doubt whether any of them have been up in the air. I would advise them to study what has happened in the United States. I will read one or two extracts from a report of an inquiry by a Select Committee into the United States Air Service. They examined a lot of young flyers of all the eminence they could get. One young officer said: Although an aviation officer, I was obliged to wear spurs. After a while they reversed that order, and aviation officers were not required to wear spurs; but when I came back from abroad I found that they had gone to the old order again and aviation officers wearing boots were once more required to wear spurs. That is in the Military Air Service in the United States. Hon. Members opposite would like us to copy them. Just fancy, if you had to dive out of an aeroplane with a parachute and you were wearing spurs! Hon. Members opposite want us to break up the present efficient Air Service and to run it on United States lines. Further, in the Report, the Committee say: A careful reading of the evidence taken before our Committee convinces us that (outside of the Air Services themselves) there is not in the Army and Navy a proper appreciation of the importance of air power as a combatant arm. This is the most illuminating document I have ever read on an Air Service, and I ask hon. Members who have the leisure to look into it and consider whether we should break up the efficient Air Service that we have now and follow the example of the United States. Take the case of France. France has a separate Naval Air Service, and they had a Committee which went into the question and reported on 12th July, 1925. It may interest the Committee to know that the Finance Commission of the Chamber, which examined the French Naval Budget, passed scathing criticism on the deplorable state of the French Naval Air Service as a result of the mal-administration of the Ministry of Marine. They found much overlapping and waste in various directions, and summed up the position with this caustic comment: Painful as it may be, we do not hesitate to make this criticism, albeit with the full measure of reticence necessary in dealing with a subject of this character, for if there is not energetic action in the early future, the naval aviation will continue to vegetate, and will end by disappearing altogether. Yet we are asked by the "Daily Mall," the "Morning Post" and my hon. Friends opposite to copy France and the United States by splitting up our Air Service again.

I congratulate the Air Minister on having one of the finest and most efficient Air Forces in the world, and I am confident that any people with brains who study the question will not agree to smashing up our Air Service into two wings like we had before the War which proved very difficult to run by the officer who was in charge of the military wing, and myself who was in charge of the naval wing. I hope that nobody will ever have such a difficult time as we had. I shall always back up our having a unified Air Service.


In the days long ago before the War when we were discussing the Naval Estimates, it was possible to determine whether this country was being made safe or not. We had the question of the two-power standard or the two-to-one standard. We knew what ships could beat what, and there was reality about the discussion of safety then which now is entirely lacking. To-day we are discussing Air Estimates when we are completely uncertain whether the 25 squadrons that the Air Service is providing can be regarded as providing safety for the people of this country. There is an air of unreality about these Debates. We do not know—no man knows—whether 25 squadrons or 125 squadrons can possibly (make us safe in the next war. We are, therefore, speaking to-day in an atmosphere of extreme uncertainty. There is probably no man in this House, not even the Minister himself, who can say that it is possible by any expenditure of public money upon the Air Service to make this country safe from air attack in the next war.

The Air Minister knows the uncertainty of the present position and the risks which this country is running, even under his efficient management. He knows that the only chance of real safety for this country is a reduction in armaments and not in a possible increase of our armaments. The only salvation is that we may induce the nations of the world to do away with a large proportion of the air services which they are maintaining at the present time. What step is the right hon. Gentleman taking to bring about the disarmament conference? He talked about the Locarno Treaty, the Locarno Pact, and the Locarno spirit, and how in view of that he had been enabled to spread out over a longer period his reconstruction of the Air Arm, but he did not mention what we on these benches believe to be of value in the Locarno Pact, namely, the possibility of a disarmament conference. What I want to know is, is he taking any steps to bring about that disarmament conference and to apply it to the Air Forces throughout the world? It is all very well to wait for President Coolidge or someone else, but what steps are we taking, we who for the first time are in real danger of invasion in case of war—an invasion against which it is impossible to protect ourselves?

The second point I want to make is this. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Limehouse (Major Attlee) rightly laid great emphasis on the possibility of economy in the three services by proper co-ordination. What steps is the Air arm taking, in view of the fact that it is superseding various branches of the older service? What steps is it taking to see that the development of the Air arm is accompanied, pari passu, with the reduction of the expenditure on the atrophied branches of the older services? I think particularly of the cavalry. In the old days the cavalry were the eyes of the Army; the cavalry screen pushed ahead and found out where the enemy were. Nowadays that work is done entirely by the Air Force. I will not dwell on the fact that the cavalry itself has become really obsolete in warfare, and that the only time in the Great War when the cavalryman was employed was when he got off his horse. Cavalry are as obsolete as the Beefeaters at the Tower. The Air Force and the armoured car are doing the work of the old cavalry. Does the Secretary for Air make it clear to the Committee of Imperial Defence that certain branches of work, which it was necessary should be done By the Army, are now being done by his Department? Is the co-ordination such that the additional expenditure thrown upon the Air arm, not only for that, but for naval scouting as well, and in a hundred other ways, is resulting in an equivalent reduction of expenditure on other arms? We heard at Question Time the other day that £1,750,000 was still being spent on cavalry. That does not look as if there had been the reduction in the expenditure on cavalry which we have a right to expect. There is a third question which I want to ask. We have seen in the last few days that the Defence Force in Palestine has been very largely reduced. The 9th Lancers have been recalled, the gendarmerie has been disbanded, and only the Eastern Palestinian gendarmerie continues to exist. I presume that the situation in Palestine is now absolutely secure, that there are no reasons to anticipate another Arab rising like that of 1920. I presume that the defence of Palestine, just as the defence of Iraq, rests with the Air Force, that the Air Force is in control so far as defence is concerned. What I want to find out is whether we are going on spending more money on the Air Service and on other Services in Egypt, or whether we are developing, as the protection for the Suez Canal, rather that part of the country which is in our own hands. I put in a word of caution about the perpetual investment of our money in works of capital importance in Egypt. Our position there is not so secure and so definite, and not so legally happy, as it is in Palestine, and I would like to know that the reduction of the Forces in Palestine is a real reduction in the Forces in that neighbourhood, and not merely a transference from where we ought to be to. where we ought not to be—in Egypt.

There is one other point in connection with this Palestinian Force. Where are they? Are they in Trans-Jordania or in Palestine? Is it possible to enlist as mechanics in that country, and to train so that they may become efficient ultimately, the Jews who are now settled in Palestine? I am particularly anxious to get that element of the population of Palestine accustomed to defending their own country, so that they may be able ultimately to take the place of the British defensive forces when we are in a position to surrender our mandate and hand over the country to the people. The gradual association, not only in Palestine but in Iraq, of the people of the country in the Air Force and in the defence forces generally, training them to become capable of self-defence, is an essential preliminary of our getting out of those countries and reducing armaments, and it is a perfectly sound way of doing our duty by those lands, and, at the same time, I hope, economising on the expense in which we are necessarily involved.

These are the three questions that I wish to ask: What steps are being taken to call a conference which will deal with the reduction of Air armaments all round and give us the only security possible? What steps are being taken to reduce the obsolescent services of the other two arms, the duties of which are now done by the Air Ministry? What steps are being taken to see that Palestine rather thn Egypt shall be the place d'armes for our troops in the protection of the Suez Canal; and how far can that Force be assisted by Jewish enlistments in that country?

Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY

We are this evening discussing one aspect of the problem of Imperial Defence, but I do not think that we can deal with the subject adequately unless we take into consideration the other two arms of the Service. What I shall have to say will affect probably the Cabinet in general, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, more than it will affect the Secretary of State for Air. I agree with what has been said by other speakers, that it is a great pity that the Estimates for the three fighting Services could not be presented simultaneously. One realises—it is almost notorious—that when Estimates are being framed by the three Services, each of them looks upon a foreign competitor in calculating what it wishes to obtain in the way of funds. You have the Army regarding one foreign power, the Navy another, and the Air Force a third. You have, therefore, no proper co-relation between the three Services. I know that it is understood that these Estimates are co-related and gone into by the Committee of Imperial Defence, but I have never heard it said that the present system was entirely satisfactory, and I cannot help thinking that the Secretary of State for Air must have considerable difficulty in obtaining the funds that he requires in competition with the two older Services. A good deal of the blame for this is perhaps due to the Government itself—not only this Government, but every Government which has been in power since the Armistice. No Government has laid down a definite policy; everything has been left to fate. The only pronouncement which any Government has made is that about seven or eight years ago we were told that we need not expect war for another 10 years. That time is rapidly elapsing, and it is necessary that the Government of the day should give a definite lead to the Committee of Imperial Defence as it is constituted to-day, as to what is expected of the three arms of the Service.

What I want to do more particularly this evening is to focus the attention of the Committee on the desirability of merging the Air Ministry within a Ministry of Defence. I think it is very striking how, almost with unanimity, every Member who has spoken this evening has been in favour of that policy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman for Limehouse (Major Attlee) and the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) were in favour of that policy, as well as Members on this side of the House. It is a difficult problem. It is obviously difficult to start a Ministry of Defence in view of the vested interests and other pitfalls which occur to the mind. Therefore, it is only in the broadest outline that I venture to make any suggestions on this problem. We as a country have a knack of surmounting difficulties, and I do not think it is beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme for compromising with these difficulties and vested interests, and arriving at a sound system of unity, with the three fighting Services under one head.

This year it is necessary that there should be drastic economy in every direction. I cannot help feeling that the effect of the cut made in the three Services must have a corresponding effect on efficiency, and the margin of their efficiency is so slight that if we can find a means of economising in any other direction we should certainly adopt it and not spend money on the triplication of Services which are common to all three of the fighting Services. Quite apart from the larger question of the Ministry of Defence, I cannot understand why it should be necessary to have three Departments for purchasing stores. I cannot understand why there should be three Departments for dealing with Chaplains or Medical Services, or land for the erection of buildings. All these Services, which are common to all three, could, even without a Ministry of Defence, be co-related, and a considerable, indeed a very large sum of money, might be saved and might be spent on the fighting Services. I feel that we are not getting full value for our money. I do not see how we can still further cut down expenditure under the existing system.

7.0 P.M.

The hon. Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) dealt at considerable length and with great force with the expenditure of the three forces. I do not know whether Members of the House would notice the statement which has been prepared and which was in one of this morning's papers showing the enormous cost of the Air Service and some comparative expenditures. I see from that statement that whereas the staff of hospital services abroad in the Navy cost £128 and in the Army £174, that in the Air Force cost £340. I am sure we should like to hear some explanation as to why these costs are so much greater in one force than another. I want to plead for the establishment of a Ministry of Defence. I want to see the establishment of a supreme general staff which would be in a position to consider and correlate those problems of defence, operations, intelligence, provisions of supply, and organisation generally. It would obviate the necessity of having three Services each with the same end in view, the defence of this country, but looking at every problem from a different angle. I am sure we should avoid duplication of services and overlapping, and I am sure we should make considerable reduction in the size of our Estimates. The only way is to appoint a Royal Commission.

I and a few of my friends have got an Amendment down which will not be reached this evening, but I think I can briefly allude to it. We cannot without due consideration avoid those pitfalls and vested interests which I have alluded to, but I think a Royal Commission would do so. Care must be exercised in the appointment of that Royal Commission. I do not myself believe any good will come by leaving it to the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think that would be to continue the state of affairs existing to-day without any advancement, and the whole matter would end in a deadlock. I should like appointed to a Royal Commission men who are not directly connected with either of the three great Forces at the present moment. I believe that they would report in favour of a Ministry of Defence. I believe that it would be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a block grant—of which we hear so much nowadays—to the Ministry of Defence and that the staff under the Minister of Defence could work out where that money should go according to the needs of the moment. That will take time, but I think it is immediately possible to consolidate those Services which are common to all three and to avoid waste which is undoubtedly taking place to-day. It is all the more necessary to-day when we are obliged to cut down our Estimates. I hope the words spoken in this House will not fall on deaf ears, and that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will appreciate that there is a growing desire for the establishment of the Ministry of Defence.