§ Order for Committee read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
There are three very significant features in these Estimates to which I should like at the outset to draw the attention of hon. Members. In the first place, there is a proposal to increase the strength of the Air Force by almost 10 per cent. over its existing strength, at a cost that is 3 per cent. less than the sum for which I asked in the Estimates last year. Secondly, there is a further move made in the carrying out of the considered policy of the Air Staff and the Air Ministry of replacing old machines by new types. Thirdly, there is a substantial reduction amounting to nearly £¾ million in the expenditure on the defence of the Middle East. It is not often in these times that you can get more of what you want for less money. I hope, therefore, hon. Members will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that we are able to make a substantial increase in the strength of the force at a less cost than last year. I may say I could only have achieved that result with the fullest cooperation of my staff, both military and civil, from the Chief of the Air Staff and the Secretary of the Air Ministry, down to the most junior officer and the most junior clerk in the Department. I should like also to say a word of warning, that although I have been able to show this reduction this year, yet as the Air Force expands and as commitments become due, expenditure will almost certainly increase in the years to come. None the less, for the time being let us be thankful for what we have got and for the fact that, so far as this year is concerned, we have a bigger Air Force for a smaller sum of money.
Then there is the move which we are making in our general policy of replacing old types of machines and engines and buying new types. I have never withheld 1396 from the House the fact that for several years past we have been living to a great extent upon war stocks of machines and engines. The taxpayer may naturally regret that those stocks are now upon the point of exhaustion. I cannot, however, help thinking that hon. Members who are interested in air development will feel glad that those stocks are now exhausted and that we may make a definite step forward in the replacement of old by new types. As things are to-day, all home defence regular squadrons are armed with the new type of machines and engines, and I hope at the end of this year two-thirds of the whole force will be similarly armed. At any rate, the House ought to know that henceforth it is our intention not to order any old types of engines and machines. Vote 3, which makes provision for technical development and research and in which provision is also made for new types of machines and engines, shows this year a net rise over the Vote of last year of £330,000 and if the overhead cut is taken into account, it shows a net rise of no less than £630,000. I hope, therefore, it will not be said that, in making the reductions which I have made in the Air Estimates, I have sacrificed this very important Vote 3, under which provision is made for scientific development and new machines and new engines.
There is also the third feature to which I have just drawn the attention of the House, namely, the large reduction which we are making in expenditure upon the defence of the Middle East. That is a reduction of no less than £680,000. I am glad to think that, while, year after year, I have given pledges to the House to reduce our expenditure for defence in the Middle East, I have succeeded in accomplishing what I told hon. Members I would do. Year by year we have been able to make substantial reductions in the Defence Vote for the Middle East. Let me compare the present position with what it was only a few years ago and let me point out what a testimony this comparison is to the increasing stability, the better law and order, and the more stable administration in the Middle East, as it is also to the efficiency of the Air Command in Iraq. In 1921, when it was decided to transfer control to the Air Force, the Imperial Forces comprised no less than 33 infantry battalions, six cavalry regiments, 16 batteries and 1397 various miscellaneous army units, in addition to five squadrons of the Royal Air Force. In 1927, over and above the Iraqi units and local levies, there will be not more than five squadrons and two Indian battalions. I hope that that comparison is sufficient to justify the experiment of the Air Command in Iraq, and shows that I have been able to carry out the pledges which I have given in former years to the House by making, year after year, substantial reductions in these items of expenditure.
Important as are these three features of the Air Estimates, there is one aspect of the policy embodied in the Estimates this year that I think deserves even closer consideration from the House than the points to which I have just drawn their attention. For the first time in the Air Estimates, proper emphasis is being given to the necessity of developing an Imperial Air Policy. Hon. Members will notice in the White Paper which I have circulated with the Estimates that I draw attention to the interesting discussions that took place on this subject in the Imperial Conference, and as I shall show in the course of my speech, we are in more directions than one making an advance towards carrying out the policy to which we were all agreed last autumn. If air policy is to be of any value, it must be on a big scale. It must be imperial and not local; it must be mobile and not static. We must have Empire air routes over which we can move quickly and safely, both our civil and our military machines. That fundamental doctrine of air policy was fully accepted by the representatives of the Imperial Conference. It was fully accepted there, I think, that a policy of that kind could be carried out successfully only upon a system of co-operation between the various Governments in the Empire, and in these Estimates, for the first time, we are making provision for a co-operative Empire flight from one end of Africa to the other, a flight in which the South African and the British Air Forces will both take part, and in which the link in the central section of Africa will be completed by a civil company subsidised by the Governments of the East African Colonies and the Sudan. That is an illustration of the way in which I hope to see this system of co-operation carried out in the future.
1398 There is also a move in the direction of co-operation in the matter of airships. At the Imperial Conference we had a number of most valuable discussions upon the future of airships from the point of view of commercial lines for the benefit of the Empire, and I am glad to say that the Prime Ministers of South Africa and Canada have both agreed to include in their Estimates for this year substantial sums for building masts without which it would be impossible successfully to carry out this programme of airship development. So fully was this principle of co-operation accepted at the Imperial Conference, that it was agreed that some time during the next two years there should be held a special Air Conference at which would be represented the Governments of the Empire. That Conference would probably be held at Ottawa in Canada.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Some time during the next two years. The adopting of an Imperial air policy has its reaction upon every field of air development. It turns our eyes, for instance, to the need for the interchange of personnel between the various Air Forces of the Empire. It concentrates our attention upon airships and aeroplanes of such performance and endurance as will enable them to pass from one capital of the Empire to another without having to alight upon foreign territory. It emphasises over and over again the fact that air power is a concentration of force rather than the collection of small isolated fragments. On that aspect of air policy, it seems to me there is great resemblance between the doctrine of the air and the doctrine of the sea. The doctrine of the sea is a great channel of communication that encircles the whole Empire and by which you can concentrate your naval force at any threatened point. It is the same with air policy, with this added fact, that the aeroplane and airship can pass equally over the land as well as the sea. Just as naval strategy does not tie up its force at a number of small isolated points but concentrates it upon two or three great centres from which it can be quickly reinforced at threatened points in various parts of the Empire, so it is with the Air Force. There also yon should have your concentration rather 1399 than your small localised units. You should be able to bring this concentration to bear by means of Imperial air routes upon any point that is desired from one end of the Empire to the other.
If air policy be applied from that point of view, I believe it might be used as an instrument of economy in our system of Imperial Defence rather than as an additional form of expenditure. When you have your air routes organised from one end of the Empire to the other, when you have your three or four great concentrations of air force, perhaps here in the circle of the British Islands, in the Middle East, and in the Far East, when you have your machines with alternative under-carriages that will enable them to fly quickly over either land or the sea, and when you have them armed with alternative armament, may it not then be possible to economise upon some of the localised forms of defence that now cost so much money in our scheme of Imperial Defence? I quite agree that that is a principle that can be applied only gradually and very cautiously, but I mention it to-day to emphasise the fact that, if your Air Force can be applied in that way, if by that means full value can be obtained from the great mobility of the aeroplane and the airship, I believe there is a chance in the future of making economies in our scheme of Imperial Defence.
In that respect, I should like to say that the success of our Airship Policy has a very direct bearing upon the carrying out of the policy that I am now attempting to outline. The two airships that we are building, and which we hope will be completed during this financial year, are capable of carrying 200 fully-armed men, or alternatively, a whole squadron of aeroplanes. Hon. Members will see at once how airships of that kind, if they prove to be successful, should speed up the concentration of your Air Force at any threatening point in the Empire. I look forward to seeing in the future an aeroplane squadron that is to-day training upon Salisbury Plain, flying next week in the Middle East, and upon the North-West frontier of India the following week. If we can obtain that kind of mobility, I think we may claim that the airship and the aeroplane will not only help to solve our defence problems, but 1400 will help to solve them at less expenditure than is involved at the present time. In these Estimates, there is provision for a number of proposals by which we intend to carry a stage further this doctrine of Air Force mobility. We propose, for instance, to make long-distance flights—flights such as those carried out by Wing-Commander Pulford and other Air Force officers last year—as an ordinary part of the training of the Air Force Squadrons. We propose, again, in these Estimates to make provision for landing grounds on the route to Singapore, and we propose, further, to form a flight of flying boats upon Far Eastern waters, one of whose duties it will be to co-operate with the Royal Australian Air Force from Australia. These proposals may seem not of very great importance at first sight. They are none the less important as an illustration of the policy of mobility which, as I say, is the essential principle of any successful British air policy.
But I should be misleading the House if I implied that the military aspect of aviation was the only aspect considered by the Imperial Conference. We had a number of equally important discussions upon the civil side of aviation, and those discussions all went to show that this principle of mobility is not only true of service aviation, but is equally true of civil aviation. Just as we must have our air routes organised, if we are to give full value to the mobility of the military machine, so we must have our air routes fully organised if we are to get the fullest advantage of civil aeroplanes over the existing means of communication, and I am glad to think that in the Estimates of this year I have included provision—£93,600—for the section of the Indian air route between Egypt and Karachi. It is only a section of the route that we hope to see completed, but none the less it is the first section and a very important section, a section that, though incomplete in itself, still enables letters to go from this country to India in a week's less time than was formerly the case. I attached such importance to the formation of this section that I felt it was worth while making the first journey upon it, with a view to emphasising its importance. I will not trouble the House—it would he egoistic, if I attempted to do so—with a detailed account of the 1401 journey, but I will only allude to it in so far as it illustrates the particular points that I am trying to make to hon. Members in connection with this year's Estimates.
I made the flight with three definite objects. I wanted, first of all, to make the opening journey upon the first section of a great Imperial airway; secondly, I wanted to discuss with the Government of India a number of questions connected with the increase of the Air Force in India and also with the development of civil flying; and, thirdly, I wanted to show to the world, and particularly to the British world, the advance that had been made during the last two or three years in civil machines, and to show them that the modern civil machine of to-day can carry out a long distance flight of this kind with every reliability. As regards the opening of the route, I am glad to say that the service is now running with passengers and freight between Baghdad and Basra, and it is interesting to note that the business men of Karachi are already sending their express communications by this service, and that on more than one occasion during the last two or three weeks there have been straphangers in the machine between Baghdad and Basra. Then there were important discussions with the Government of India, discussions of very great value to me, and whilst I should be the last person in the world to suggest that anything that I said or did in India influenced the decisions taken by the Government of India, it is worthy of note that during the last 10 days proposals have been accepted, both by the Government of India and the Assembly, that will be of great value to India and also, as I believe, of great value to the Empire as a whole, as helping us to form another link in the chain of Imperial air communications.
Then there was the third object of the flight, namely, my desire to prove to the world the reliability of British machines, and what better proof could there be than the fact that my wife and I were able to make a journey of 10,000 miles, in the face of every kind of weather, flying through all kinds of climate, and to make that journey not only without the need of a single spare part for either the machine or the engines; but without keeping anybody waiting at any landing 1402 ground where we attempted to land? So confident indeed were we in the pilot and the navigator of the machine that we flew just as confidently over the sea as over the land, although, as hon. Members will remember, we were flying in a land machine. I remember one day in Particular, when we were flying from Italy to Malta, through, very bad weather, with very indifferent visibility, so bad, in fact, that the pilot thought it best to fly below the clouds at a height of only 500 feet above the sea, we passed from time to time over the destroyers of the Fleet at Malta that were there to look out for us. We exchanged with them wireless messages, and the message that came back from the commanding officer of one of the destroyers ran as follows:You may think it bumpy up there; it is nothing to what it is down here.We flew not only during the daylight, but we flew quite a considerable distance in pitch darkness. For instance, our flight from Palestine to Egypt was carried out almost entirely on a perfectly starless and moonless night. The whole way through this journey we never had the least anxiety, and we felt complete confidence in the personnel and the machine—we felt complete confidence also in the three engines that went on, the whole of this 10,000 miles, purring like three kittens It is this regular arrival up to time, this keeping of a scheduled programme, that I think impressed public opinion in the countries through which we passed, and I think it is that fact that lent a distinctive character to this flight, namely, that for the first time an ordinary civil machine, not built specially for this particular flight, but for carrying on the ordinary service of a private company, could carry out a programme of this kind without a hitch and without a delay.
And, Mr. Speaker, was it not fortunate that at one period of our flight we found, on a landing ground upon the Persian coast, those true sportsmen, Messrs. Stack and Leete, members of the Manchester Light Aeroplane Club, showing the paces and the power of the tiny Moth to the world, just as we were showing to the world the performance of the City of Delhi? I remember very well upon the landing ground at Bushire going up to these two young men and introducing myself to them, and on looking into their 1403 cockpits, which hon. Members know are about the size of a perambulator, I said to them: "What do you do about luggage?" Their answer was: "We have taken an attaché case each and a ukelele between us." Has there ever been a better example of the mobility of the modern British aeroplane of whatever size? At the end of this journey one of the most satisfactory and pleasant features was that amongst the first congratulations that I received were congratulations from the Prime Minister of Canada and from the Air Forces of Australia and South Africa. That made me think that perhaps this journey was something more than a picturesque incident of travel, and that it may in the future have some small influence upon developing Empire air routes and carrying out the policy of mobility to which I have just drawn the attention of the House.
Hon. Members may say: "All that is interesting, and the programme sounds attractive, but how are you trying to carry it out in a practical way? Is your personnel capable of meeting these great Empire tasks? Is your materiel capable of carrying out these long distance military and civil flights?" Well, as to the personnel, I do not think I need speak at any length. It is a fact accepted by everyone, British and foreign, that British pilots are the best in the world, and if I had needed any further proof of that fact, I could not have found it better than in the experiences that I gained during my flight. There our civil pilots never failed us. There again, when I arrived in India and made an extensive flying tour over the North-West frontier, the military pilots never failed us either. I think that sufficient attention may not in the past have been given to the very remarkably high standard attained by the Air Force in the very difficult conditions of the North-West frontier of India. Not so very long ago many people would have said that that mountainous and rugged country made aviation impossible. Not so very long ago the activities of the Air Force in India were so closely restricted as to make them of little importance in the system of Indian defence. That state of affairs is now changed, and the Air Force to-day plays an integral part in the defence of the North-West frontier. Pilots 1404 are showing that they can carry out their duties quickly and effectively in this rugged and jagged country of high mountains, tiny landing grounds, and difficulties of climate, with as much success as they would under far easier conditions in other parts of the world.
Last year, I remember alluding to the fact that, for the first time in the history of Indian defence, the Air Force was given the opportunity of carrying out independently a military operation. They carried it out so successfully and so quickly that it was suggested by certain people that it should not be treated as a campaign, because there were no, or scarcely any, casualties, and that they should not receive a medal, because it had been so quickly concluded. I saw one of the officers who took a prominent part in this campaign, and I asked him how it came about that the Air Force was able to finish, in the course of a few weeks and with scarcely a casualty on either side, a campaign that in other conditions would have cost much treasure and human life and might have lasted many months. His answer was a rather surprising one. He said, "We first drove the enemy into their caves, and the fleas were so bad that they drove them out of the caves and made them surrender." Fleas or no fleas, the campaign was successfully ended, and, as I say, with scarcely a casualty on either side.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I will certainly give attention to the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion. Then there is the other question as to how far we have made progress with material. Can it be said that our material is adequate for the Imperial task for which we wish to use it? In the matter of material, if I am asked, I would never give a categorical answer. There is no finality in the field of aeronautical science, because new discoveries are constantly being made. All one can say is that, comparing the present state of affairs with a few years ago, a definite and substantial progress has been made in most important directions.
Let me give one or two examples. First of all, there is the great progress we have made in airship research. Both in their design and in their construction the two 1405 airships that we are building are very far in advance of any airship built during the War or since the War. The use of stainless steel and heavy oil engines, and new methods of bracing and girder construction all differentiate these two airships most definitely from any airships formerly built. Now, as to aeroplanes. In 1919 the best type of civil aeroplane took six passengers and went at a speed of 90 miles per hour. The new types now take 20 passengers and fly at a rate of 110 miles per hour.
With regard to military machines, a few years ago a military machine took as long to climb 5,000 feet as the newest type of machine takes to climb 20,000 feet to-day. As to the engines, in 1923 the average weight of engines for every unit of horse power was over 2 lbs.; now that has been reduced by over 25 per cent. If you take the question of overhauls, which is a very important question from the point of the economical working of machines, whether for military or civil purposes, an engine in 1923 required to be overhauled after 75 hours' running, but the latest types can be relied upon for 250 hours' running. Therefore, although we may be a long way from finality in this matter, we have, at any rate, made substantial progress in very important directions during the last two or three years.
Then there is another field of development that is scarcely of less importance, and that is meteorology and wireless, which bear so directly upon aeronautics. I do not say that here we have made any spectacular advance, but we have made very definite and useful progress. Time after time during my recent flight I have had impressed upon me the immense value of good weather reports. Whenever we were in wireless communication with our neighbours and received prompt and clear weather reports it was in a literal sense plain sailing, but when our wireless failed or our reports were inadequate we felt, bewildered and uncertain. I remember, Mr. Speaker, Wing-Commander Pulford, after his flight from Cairo to Cape Town last year telling me that the inadequacy of weather reports was one of his chief difficulties in his flight across Africa. Even when you have reports you do not always get the kind of report that you want. For instance, on one occasion in Central 1406 Africa, when Wing-Commander Pulford telegraphed an inquiry asking what the weather was like in the country where he proposed to land, the answer he got back was, "The roads are very muddy." Of course, the pilot was anxious to know the weather conditions in the air, and therefore that kind of information was not of very much value to him. I have had a similar experience myself, because when we were debating at Delhi as to whether or not we should start in a thick fog, we telegraphed in many directions, and one of the answers we got was "Everything is up to time. The express just went through 21 hours late!" Of course an answer of that kind was not of any great value to me, because I was wondering whether or not I should start that morning from Delhi to Karachi. I am glad to think that the principal Governments of the Empire, including India and the Dominions realise the importance of improving the system of weather reports, and the Meteorological Office in London is in close touch with them with a view to making the system much more complete than it is at the present time.
I hope that I have now given to the House a general picture of the, lines on which we are moving. I have purposely not attempted to go into great detail in regard to particular items in these Estimates. I have already circulated a White Paper drawing attention to the details, and, as hon. Members will see, I have published the Estimates for the first time in a new form, with a, detailed explanation in the interleaving. I hope, I say, that I have said enough to emphasise the essential features of our air policy, mobility of the air arm, and the need to get the fullest possible value from that mobility whether in the case of the aeroplane or the airship. I think if we develop our policy on those lines we shall find that aviation will be of real value to the Empire. It will be more easy to concentrate our Air Force at a particular point and on the civil side it can be used as a great instrument for making Imperial intercourse closer than it has ever been before.
For the air can bring the capitals of the Empire nearer together than ever before. There is no technical reason why you should not by means of aeroplane and airship bring England within two days of 1407 Canada, five days of India, six days of South Africa, and 11 days of Australia. Our policy, whether it be expressed in the training of pilots or in the scientific and technical improvement of machines and engines, ought to be focused upon this objective. On the one hand, the Air Force must be made as mobile as possible; on the other civil aviation must direct its aim not on to the enclosed spaces and the storms and fogs of Europe, so much as to the boundless expanses and wide horizons of the British Empire. By this means I see a prospect of using the Air Force as an instrument of economy and not as a stimulus to greater expenditure. I see a prospect of making aviation an asset and not a liability to the British Empire. It is from this point of view that I would ask the attention of the House to these Estimates. It is with this touchstone that I would ask hon. Members to test air policy.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement to the House which has been interesting from the beginning to the end, and it is as clear as his statements from the Treasury Bench always have been. The story of his travels which he has told us shows that he has evidently been gripped by the fascination of this new epoch in human adventure, and from what I have heard, his travels have stimulated the professional pride and spirit of all the air services in the land. The right hon. Gentleman commenced by explaining that he had been able to effect a saving in expenditure and by thanking his staff at the Air Ministry for their co-operation in this direction. The Air Ministry is, I think, an adventurous, progressive and competent body but it is certainly not an economical Department. I have been reading the Report, issued a few days ago, of the Public Accounts Committee for last year. The Air Ministry was under examination in that Committee, I think, on four different occasions, and if Members will read that four days' cross-examination, they will realise I am not exaggerating when I say that not for a generation has the Public Accounts Committee dealt with any Department as it dealt with the Air Ministry six months ago. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman himself will contradict that.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman, having contradicted that fact, I make bold to say that Members of the Public Accounts Committee, either this week or in Debate on Votes next week, will pursue this subject, and express the very grave apprehension which the witnesses raised in their minds. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by saying that this expenditure on the Air Ministry must not be regarded as a net addition to the expenses of the country, because it was met, or was being met, by corresponding reductions in the military expenditure, and, in particular, he referred during his speech to expenditure on the confines of the Empire in such places as the North-West Frontier of India. Any expectation that the expenditure on the Air Ministry has led to a corresponding decrease in military expenditure is, I am afraid, shattered if you look at the Army Estimates. In 1913, there was, of course, no substantial expenditure on the Air, but the expenditure on the Army was £28,000,000. Since then the expenditure on the Air Force has risen, and the gross expenditure on that Force this year is, I see, about £20,000,000. But the expenditure on the Army has not diminished. It has increased to £42,000,000, which, taking into account the rise of prices is just about equivalent to the expenditure in 1913. So that this £20,000,000 upon the Air Force has not up to the present resulted in any corresponding diminution in military expenditure, but must be regarded as a net addition to the burdens of this country as of other countries in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman has announced this afternoon a further moderate, but still a genuine expansion programme, and that expansion programme is, I see from his White Paper, to be increased next year, and to be subsequently increased to a further indefinite extent. The question that we put to ourselves on this side of the House is, where is all this finally going to lead? I have been trying to get some picture of the progress in the last few years of the competition in Air Force development between this country and France. In 1919, the Air Ministry laid it down that the normal pre-War situation had been established, 1409 and they put before this House their final scheme for the permanent organisation of the Air Force, for an expansion scheme which gradually was to increase up to a total maximum of 31 squadrons. A couple of years later that scheme was thrown aside. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest), when he was Air Minister, got permission, I think, to increase it by 15 squadrons, and the present Minister of. Air followed him. He absorbed his 15 squadrons, and announced in 1923 a programme adding a few more. Then later on, in 1923, the Prime Minister, referring to the French Air Fleet and to the French expansion Estimates, which were then going through the Chamber of Deputies, announced a great new expansion programme for home defence, and the results of that expansion programme are now showing themselves. In 1925, the number had increased to 54, in 1926 to 61 and this year, according to the White Paper, at this moment the number is 63. Next year, according to the White Paper, it will be 69, and then there will be an indefinite increase which will finally give us, I calculate, a number well over 80, which the Prime Minister in 1923 regarded as a figure which would put us more or less on an equality with the Air Force of France.
That is one side of the picture. While our expansion programme has been carried out, what has been happening in France? The French programme, upon which this present expansion is based, was to have been completed in 1925. It has not been completed. It has been decelerated. It is disintegrating. It is falling to pieces. Last year the Rap-porteur on the Air Force to the French Chamber issued a report to that Chamber containing, as far as the general public can obtain it, by far the fullest information that has yet been forthcoming with regard to the Air Force of France. This is what he said:Two-thirds of the observation machines date from 1918, and the remaining one-third are insufficiently armed. The fighters date from 1920 and do not fly high enough or fast enough to cope with an enemy. The day bombing machines were originally intended for observation purposes, and have serious defects of bombing. The night bombers have, so small a range that in Morocco it was necessary to borrow machines from the Navy fitted with British engines.1410 The correspondent of the "Times," in dealing with this report and with the Debate upon it which followed in the French Chamber, sums it up by saying:The report and the debate in the Chamber ought to demolish many of the delusions with regard to French aviation which are cherished in certain quarters in England.It is clear, then, that the original programme in France, on which this whole series of Estimates is based, has, in fact, broken to pieces, and when our expansion programme is complete, we shall be the first Air Force in the world. Then, when the French are stimulated by that fact into taking up their programme once again, the whole process will begin over again.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Would the hon. Gentleman say one word about that very vital fact—the number of pilots in the respective Air Forces of England and France?
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
The question of the efficiency of Air Forces depends on pilots, and it also depends on machines. I have dealt with the extract from the French Rapporteur on the Air Force. I have dealt with the Debate in the Chamber which covered pilots as well as machines, and I have dealt with the general conclusion of the "Times" corespondent that, taking the two together, our anxiety with regard to the French Air Force need no longer be entertained. What does all this mean? The right hon. Gentleman has said that there are great similarities between the strategy of the Air Force and the strategy of the Navy, and there are great similarities in the speeches of the Ministers at the head of both of the Services. I listen to both sets of speeches, and each year I find the Minister of Air arguing for an expansion of the aeroplane programme, and the First Lord of the Admiralty arguing for an extension of the cruiser programme. These speeches, to anyone who was in this House before the War, are absolutely identical with the speeches which used to be put forward in the years leading up to 1914. The same expansion programme, the same race in armaments, the same competitive building—against Germany then; against our allies to-day—leading eventually and irretrievably to the same final result.
1411 5.0 p.m.
As a matter of fact, it is not only Members who speak from this side of the House who utter warnings and predictions such as this. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken to-day about certain operations in air warfare, where, apparently, the greatest inconvenience amounted to biting by a number of fleas. But he has not always, in previous speeches from the Treasury Box, spoken of air warfare in that sense. I have listened practically to all the Air Force Debates for some years, and I have noticed that each Air Minister, behind his statement with regard to the Air Force, appears to be almost terror-stricken at the horror which, if one more war occurred, would be unloosed upon the world by the instrument which he is building up day by clay. The right hon. Gentleman himself has said that in another war, owing to the Air Forces and the instruments which they would use, our civilised life might be completely blotted out. The Prime Minister has spoken in the same terms. Sir Hugh Trenchard has said that the potential horrors of air warfare are greater than the advantages we are securing, and that, if it depended on his vote, he would abolish every aeroplane in the world. What impresses us is the difference between the terrible pictures which were drawn by the right hon. Gentleman and others, and the timidity and the poverty of any efforts which they suggest by which these evils can be defeated. In a few weeks there will be open the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference, and, by this time next year, Europe will have definitely selected the part which will determine whether aviation is or is not to become a new scourge and infamy to mankind. We wish the British Government to go to that Conference with bold, dramatic proposals by which, as the United States did at Washington, they can, right at the beginning, capture the imagination of the world. The question of the reduction of aeroplanes for naval and military cooperation, for reconnaissance, for wireless, for photography and so on, will be dealt with as part of the discussion on military and naval limitations. But when one comes to the independent Air Force and the fighting machines of which it so largely consists, we realise that the only object of fighting aeroplanes is to fight 1412 other fighting aeroplanes, and, if our purpose is to achieve equality with France, then we would be equally safe if we had no fighting aeroplanes at all, provided France were in the same position as ourselves. Therefore, this is a matter in which, in our sphere, we must be as bold as the airmen are in their sphere.
We hope the British Government will stand for the abolition of the fighting aeroplane and accept limitation and reduction only as a step towards that result. The Secretary of State for Air has, in the last two or three years, I am glad to say, devoted a part of his speech to a discussion of the possibilities in this direction, and he has explained to the House what the difficulties are. The subject will be fully dealt with later, and I do not wish to go into it at great length. The right hon. Gentleman has explained, as it is his business to explain, the difficulties in their technical aspects. I would first say this, that the difficulties which he puts forward were difficulties attaching to proposals for limitation, and most of them were not difficulties which would exist if you had complete abolition. They would be met by the bolder step. But he has based his case upon one difficulty which, I admit, under present: conditions, provides no answer, and that is the difficulty presented by commercial aviation. I understand that a bombing machine requires, broadly, two capacities; it requires speed and it requires weight-carrying capacity, and these, I am told, are the two main qualities required by commercial transport machines, with the result that a commercial machine can be turned into a bombing machine in a few hours or a few days. What does that mean? It means that this competition in the development of civil aviation, in which all nations are taking part, is in fact a competition between the different nations for the provision of a reserve of bombers in the contingency of the next war. As long as that is the case, it is quite clear that a limitation in fighting aeroplanes will not necessarily lead to any corresponding limitation in the aeroplanes which could be utilised for war, and the whole of our case in this direction would be blocked at the very commencement.
There is only one solution, which is that these Air services should be transformed into an international service 1413 under the League of Nations. The Air services, as a matter of fact, are almost by nature marked out for international control. The right hon. Gentleman's speech has shown that. How could he develop his Imperial air service except by international assent? By their very nature, Air services, in order to be developed, need long routes, and these can only be provided by international arrangements which ignore national frontiers. I remember someone explaining that we ourselves experienced that difficulty and could not develop our air route to Prague because, owing to the international situation, Germany could not come into the necessary agreements. As a matter of fact, there is now an international commission for the regulation of aviation, and I think the Air ports, such as that at Croydon, are under international arrangements. I notice that some hon. Members on the other side seem to be amused, but it is not anything very revolutionary to transfer a system from national to international ownership and control. If that were done, the air traveller of the future would travel as he does now by the service provided by the international company which is under British control, with headquarters in Brussels, and with an international staff. It ignores national frontiers and takes you right across Europe and into some parts of Asia Minor. The fact is that this problem can be solved. There are no insuperable technical difficulties in the way. It is a problem of polities, and it is in the hands of politicians. If hon. Members are amused and think that the difficulties are so great that the idea is fantastic, I can only say that if, in their sphere, the members of the different Air forces had not overcome far greater difficulties, then the right hon. Gentleman would not have been discussing the route to India to-day. On Monday, the representative of the War Office in this House said that this country is not going to consider any reduction of armaments until other countries took the came step. That is not a good enough reply. We want to know whether this country itself will accept this plan, and whether it will take the initiative in suggesting it to the other nations. If it will do that, then it will be the greatest step towards the reduction of armaments that has ever been taken yet, because this country, with its unparalleled position, if it took the 1414 lead and steadily maintained the lead, could eventually lead the nations of the world on to that road where, in fact, the majority of their people already wish them to move.
I think the House will not blame me if I do not follow into the realms of thought and speculation to which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down devoted his time. Although there may be many things in his hopes, and perhaps in his fears, they will be a long time before they are achieved, and in the meantime we have to deal with practical politics. The Secretary of State for Air has been so modest in the account which he has given of his journey that it is not unreasonable for speakers who follow him to congratulate him on the performance. It was a much bigger performance than is understood, I think, by the average man in the House of Commons, much less by the average man in the street, and I would like to add my congratulations to the gallant lady who accompanied him. I have never flown myself at a stretch more than 900 miles, and it seemed to me a very long way; but, when you multiply that by 10, I think it must be regarded as one of the finest performances that have been undertaken for many a long year. I feel that the personal contact which he established in India and all other places through which he passed will be invaluable to the Ministry in the future.
The Secretary for State touched lightly upon the greatest performance of the Air Ministry since its inception, and I think an extra word on that point would not be amiss. I refer to the situation in the Middle East. Not so many years ago the Middle East was costing this country, apart from India, between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 a year. The Air Ministry was told that it would be very dangerous to entrust such a responsibility to it. I can remember that it had some misgivings in undertaking the task, but, having plucked up its courage, it faced it. Not only has it saved the taxpayer well over an average of £14,000,600 a year—and we are now down to a figure of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000—but tie success of the enterprise is demonstrated by the fact that only five squadrons are left there. Some hon. Members may say, as was hinted more or 1415 less by the last speaker, that the Air arm is an additional extravagance. I would answer that by pointing out that since the War the responsibilities of the Empire have increased also, and if anyone can suggest any method of carrying out more cheaply the responsibility of the Mandates in the Middle Eastern areas we accepted under the Treaty of Versailles I would be glad if he would make a practicable suggestion.
I would like, in a, sentence, to congratulate the Ministry on its economy in administration. It may not be great, but it is apparent. If you can get a, bigger service at less expense, and with a reduction in your overhead charges, I am quite satisfied that you are on the right lines. The news that the War-time stocks are exhausted is, of course, perhaps the greatest news to those of us who look into the future. The five or six years during which the Ministry has been trying to economise, and living on almost obsolete machines and obsolete weapons, has been a heart-breaking period. I think it will be found that, as it has done so well with that material, when it gets new material and designs it will advance by leaps and bounds. Further, I think the Ministry is to be congratulated on having got through a difficult period in relation to the other Services. It has kept its head up and has gained respect from both the older Services, largely due to the manner in which the personnel, both officers and men, have behaved during the last six years.
I must pass now to a slightly more serious side. We in this country, and the parents of flyers in this country, have heard alarming reports of air accidents. We must face that issue, not burke it. We have got to train the country to understand that it is a dangerous game, and it is no good pretending it is not. But we must also satisfy people that the utmost possible safeguards are employed to protect the lives of the pilots and those who are learning. I want the Ministry to be adamant on one point, and on no consideration to give way to Press pressure, which is in the direction of trying to pillory the young squadron leaders, whoever they may be, in some particular squadron where unfortunate accidents have occurred. The responsibility must be borne by the Secretary of State and 1416 by him alone. The defence must be made here in the House, where proper attention will be given to it, and the country will be reassured as to what is being done. A year ago the Secretary of State was good enough to listen to some suggestions I made as to the supply of parachutes. I am delighted than, he responded so rapidly to that suggestion. They are in use, and although accidents still occur, several lives already have been saved by their compulsory employment. On the question of insurance, I am not yet satisfied that the most strenuous efforts have been made to assist flying officers in this connection. It is more a Committee point than a point worthy of this occasion, but it is so closely linked up with the question of accidents that I hope it will receive attention from the Ministry.
From that I turn to another point to which I think we can usefully give some little thought in passing. It is intimately connected with the question of economy, and I hope it will receive support from the hon. Members on the Labour benches. I refer to the estalishment of the Auxiliary Air Arm. A citizen army should, I think, receive the support of even the Socialist party, because it is not asking a great deal of a man, whatever his walk of life may be, to give a reasonable number of days each year to learn how to defend his home. The Territorial Army does not go abroad until several weeks or months after the outbreak of war, and the bullets are a long way off from the home centres and the great industrial districts. That is not so with the Air Arm. The enemy bombs may he on our heads much more rapidly than some people realise, and therefore I suggest that it is right and patriotic to support the Auxiliary Air Army. It should not be in any way compared with the Territorial Army. I take it that the Territorials would have a reasonable time in which to perfect themselves and proceed to their allotted places. There would no time in the ease of the Auxiliary Air Force. It has at once to take its place in the home defence squadron arrangements. It cannot be ready to go off within, perhaps, 24 hours to play its part unless it has the efficiency of a regular squadron. If it has to be left behind, through lack of efficiency, it would be like a division going off and leaving its guns behind. I only bring 1417 this question up because I wish to impress upon the Secretary of State, now that we have launched this policy of auxiliary squadrons, that it is up to him to make them perfect, and to supply them with the highest possible supplementary personnel he can afford to spare. Then, I think, he will find that he has cast his bread upon the waters.
The Territorial movement has, in the past, received great help from those who could afford to support it financially in their respective areas. At one time or another most of us have been to Territorial messes and Territorial headquarters and have been struck with the generous way in which the movement has received financial support locally. The result is that young officers have not been afraid to join lest they should be called upon to put their hands in their pockets to pay for this, that and the other. They knew they would be able to mess cheaply and would be in decent conditions. This consideration applies also to the men. There are five auxiliary air squadrons, two in Scotland—at Glasgow and Edinburgh—one in Birmingham and two in London, and they are absolutely destitute, on the doorstep of fate. I do not think they have got enough crockery to go round I may have put that a little extravagantly, but it is very nearly true. I wish to enlist the support and help of any well-to-do and well-meaning Londoner who would like to become the patron of one of these London movements. Other towns must do their own propaganda. I think we ought not to make it difficult for any man, either officer or man, however small his means, to join these auxiliary squadrons, upon whom some day we may greatly depend.
Civil aviation will be dealt with by other speakers, and I do not want to take up more time than is necessary, but I would say that I think it depends more on public support than anything else. I ask myself "On what does public support depend?" It depends on the public liking of flying. That public liking depends upon the dissipation of fear; and that, in turn, depends on the growth of air travel. From that I am going to draw this conclusion, that the more assistance that can be given in the way of subsidies to civil aviation the better. We welcome the 1418 additional grant this year; if more could be given so much the better, because every passenger carried is a propagandist in flying. Every year more and more people are able to say, "I flew with complete safety from London to Brussels in 2¼ hours. The weather was good, it caused me no inconvenience and I did my business quicker." We cannot spend too much money on Civil aviation, because every man or woman carried helps to dissipate the fear which surrounds the parents of the young people from whom we wish to obtain recruits. I would prefer to have seen more money spent on Civil Aviation and less on airships. I know that airships are a controversial subject. I retain the views I held five years ago, when I was at the Ministry. I think they are a luxury, but there they are, and I will not go so far as to attack the policy at the present time.
That we have managed firmly to establish a separate Air Ministry is a matter upon which every supporter of air development must congratulate himself. Every one of us tried in his little way to make it impossible to divide the Ministry, and every year that it stands by itself it gains in stature and in fame. It is through this permanence and continuity of policy that the air sense of the Force has had the chance to develop. It has gradually become a race of bird-men showing that the Britisher is the most adaptable person in the world, and that just as he learned the art of the sea so he can learn the art of the air. It is only because the Ministry has been allowed to stand uninterfered with on its own feet that this great development in the Air Service has been achieved. The esprit de corps of the Force is wonderful. We see in daily life the deportment and behaviour of the men and the type of officers who wear flying uniform. We know the esprit de corps is tremendous, and the quality of the Service is now long past discussion and is admitted all round. To whom, very largely, is this magnificent position due? In my opinion it is due entirely to the service, inspiration and record of a most remarkable officer, Sir Hugh Trenchard. The fact that he has been Chief of our Air Staff for nine years, under five political chiefs, shows the enormous value of continuity of service to continuity of policy. The 1419 prestige achieved by the Air Force, both among the public and in successive Cabinets, is largely due to the efforts of this great public servant, who has won for himself, in the administration of the Fighting Services, a position fully comparable to that of the great heads of the civil Departments; and what greater praise can one give?
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
My right hon. Friend envisaged a future rather like Rudyard Kipling's "A.B.C." —an Air Board Control. There is nothing to be ashamed at in that; there is nothing to laugh at in that. After all, anyone who has a knowledge of aerial warfare must agree that that is the eventual state of affairs which must undoubtedly ensue, just as we must deal, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) said, with the position as we have it to-day. I somewhat regret that the hon. Member for Keighley introduced into the Debate a little party spirit, because this particular subject has been very free from it up to now, and it is, I think, quite impossible to pretend that our programme of aerial development is an aggressive one in any way. Nor do I think it really does good to compare what we are doing with what is being done in France. We steadfastly tried to refuse that comparison when it was somewhat dangerous. The problems of France and ourselves are entirely separate, and, if we do develop in the way that we think wise, I think no one will misinterpret it, and think that it is directed against any country at all. It is a police force of our own.
I rather regret that the Government have not given us a day to discuss the big question of national expenditure from the point of view of armaments. We are, I understand, going to spend £115,000,000. The baby service, the Air Force, gets £16,000,000, the Army £41,000,000, and the Navy, £58,000,000. There are some very important subjects to be discussed on the relationship of these figures and the totals, and yet it is not the right time to discuss them on the Air Ministry Vote; but I think it is right that, before we get down to the details of the Air Force, the details of the Navy, or the 1420 details of the Army, we should have a general discussion of the relation of one arm to another.
I have, perhaps, an exaggerated respect for the Secretary of State for Air. That is because, when I was a boy at Harrow, he was a monitor, and one never gets over that wholesome respect, not for one's schoolmaster, out for something much more important, a monitor. Consequently, it is to me a very great pleasure to think that my right hon. Friend, net only in a political sense, but actually, has contributed to the advancement of civil aviation by his great journey. If he and his wife had been two cinema artists, like Douglas Fair banks and Mary Pickford, they could have got £10,000 for taking that trip; but the only thing they are going to get is an attempt to reduce their salary by £100. That is the difference between the two jobs. I often think of the Secretary of State and his wife, in their home, saying, "Well, that was the most uncomfortable thing we ever did in our lives." I do hope that, after travelling those 10,000 miles, he will realise that the only gentleman's way of travelling is to go by airship. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to talk about three 600 horse-power engines, with open exhaust, purring like kittens. We have had some of them, we know the discomfort and the noise The sooner we look upon this question of Imperial communications as really an airship problem, the sooner we shall get down to real travelling between one part of our Empire and another. In taking part in these Debates in the past, I have often had a very wholesome scrap with my, Noble Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). He takes the naval outlook on air questions, while I take a purely air outlook. We have had many Debates on the matter, and, although an all-wise Government has decided that this almost garrulous Member should be mute, I think we ought to congratulate him that he is not permanently mute; because, while tobogganing is an excellent pastime, and motoring also is an excellent pastime, when you combine the two it is very perilous.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. and gallant Member 1421 appears now to be referring to matters that did not happen in the air, but on land.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I only wish to draw attention to two points on these Estimates. The first is in regard to what I consider to De by far the most important side, that is, supply and research. On the research side, there is an enormous field for development to take place. Even such a primary matter as the inherent stability of machines is not really in any way understood. When a strange gentleman from Spain can come and entirely upset people's ideas of aeroplanes, which were getting on standardised lines, by introducing a horizontal type of windmill, it is very refreshing to know that we are right at the beginning of these things. The supply side, from the administrative point of view, is one of the most important matters for which the Air Ministry is responsible, because the industry really exists to-day on the wise administration of the Air Ministry in regard to the placing of orders, and, if we should want an expansion suddenly in the Air Force, it is very important that there should be the nucleus of an industry always ready to expand all over the country.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State drew attention to the fact that we are no longer going to use war-time designs of machines. I must say it is a cynical reflection on peace-time progress that, the War having been over for nine years, we are to-day making this enormous decision not to use war-time machines, when it is remembered that during the War we changed from one design of machine to another after about three or four months. It has taken us now nine years to change from a war type to a peace type of machine, and I would ask my right hon. Friend if be is really satisfied with the machines he has to-day? Is he satisfied that his scout is faster than any American scout? Could he answer me that question with confidence? Is he satisfied that his best reconnaissance machine is as good as the best French reconnaissance machine? Can he answer me that question with confidence? I very much doubt it. If we are behind in those two very important respects, is it not due to the 1422 fact that we have not spent money on new designs for the last nine years, but have been sitting down using up scrap stuff which ought to have been burnt immediately after the War?
There is no doubt that the supply side of the Air Ministry organisation is by far the stickiest. It is very difficult for manufacturers to make complaints to the Air Ministry, because they exist entirely on the Air Ministry. It is very difficult for them to air their views. But there is no doubt that there is a very great lack of imagination on the supply and technical side. Just take the instance of the Schneider Cup, which, as hon. Members know, is the blue riband for really fast scout machines. After the Americans had won that cup, the Air Ministry technical side said that, with difficulty, they might, in two years, produce a machine which would be 5 per cent. faster than the American machine. What did the Italians do? In six months they did it. It is a very serious thing for a great country, which pretends to be ahead in aeronautics, not to have a shot at it, but to be beaten by the Italian method—a private method—in six months. I hope we are not going to have that very Civil Service outlook on the design of new machines.
Then I am going to say a thing which I am sure will be rather disturbing to the pundits—though I am not quite sure what a pundit is. That is that the supply side of the Air Ministry should not always be the job of an officer. It seems to me to be essentially the job of a civilian just as much as of an officer. After all, as is well known, it is not necessary to be a hen in order to be a good judge of an omelette, and one need not be a flier to be a very good judge of an aeroplane; nor need a man necessarily be a member of the Air Force to be a good head of that particular side of the Air Ministry. The answer to that is, of course, that he may be a civil servant, and that would be rather worse. I quite agree. The whole designing side is really not a Government function at all. The more the Air Ministry can let the private firms go ahead from the point of view of design, the better it will be for everyone. There must not be that sticky hand of the Government on free experiment all over the country. Our engineers are quite clever 1423 enough in their own department, without any stimulation or otherwise from Government Departments. One more point. Can the Secretary of State one day make us a programme, instead of spending from year to year? The same thing happens every year. In the last few months of the financial year, everyone is paid, and they cannot as a rule pay enough, so that some money goes back to appropriations. In the Navy we have a programme of ships; cannot we have in the Air Force a programme of aeroplane construction? It would, indeed, be very welcome in the industry, which is very hardly hit at the present time.
The second point to which I desire to call attention is that of accidents. Of course, I admit that this is a subject about which there has been a good deal of scare. I am referring not only to military accidents, but to civil accidents, and on this point I must apologise for being, perhaps, a little technical; but since the advent of the motor car we are all technical. There is no doubt that about 70 per cent. of the accidents which take place are due to stalling, and that particular difficulty is being dealt with on three separate and interesting lines. There is the Handley-Page slotted wing; there is the tailless machine, an attempt to keep a constant centre of pressure; and now we have the rotary windmill. I hope the Air Ministry are not going to take sides in one of these very interesting developments. I do hope that the last one I have referred to, the Cierva windmill machine, will really be tried out in a very big way, because it appears to me to show possibilities which are not present in some of the other types. It is, however, so revolutionary, it so shocks the investigators and mathematicians, that it might have been killed before it ever got up into the air.
With regard to accidents, let me say, in the first place, that there was a scare a year or two ago as to the number of men employed on the ground for every one that flew. I hope the Air Ministry were not frightened to the extent of reducing by too many the men on the ground, because safety in the air is very much dependent on sound groundwork. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that in spite of the attacks on the Royal Ground Force, as it was 1424 called, they were not frightened into diminishing the number of men on the ground from the point of view of the safety of those in the air.
The differences between civil and military flying are things which I dare say are appreciated very much by Members of the House, but they are day by day becoming two entirely separate kinds of flying. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) said bombing machines and civil machines were really the same. I do not believe any country has taken a more divergent view of military and civil machines than our own. We have seen in France military machines camouflaged as passenger machines, but in this country one cannot really pretend that our modern civil machines have anything to do with the military side at all. They are going along an entirely different line, and I am certain it is wholesome that they should do that. The two problems are entirely different, and our business on the civil side is to develop the civil machine entirely apart from militay requirements. The commercial pilot has his regular route, he has his communications from the point of view of weather; he knows his lights, he knows his aerodrome, and he is not asked to do any stunts at all. He flies quietly from one place to another, avoiding as many bumps as he can. That is a good type of flying, but it is not in any way comparable with what the military aviator has to do. He has to be an expert from start to finish. Some pilots are asked to fly at very high speeds, very near the ground. They may have to deal with human beings at that height. Some of them are asked to fly at 26,000 or 27,000 feet, and they are asked to do every form of manœuvre that is possible—every stunt—upside down, rolling, and all these different forms of flying—and they are not and never will be equipped with machines that have the ordinary elements of safety that we have in the commercial machines, because in the warlike machines manœuvrability, field of fire, etc., must always be prime consideration. Consequently the two things are really not in any way comparable at all. I hope, just as it was rumoured that there had been an increase in flying accidents, we shall not be told some very misleading statements by people who compile statistics. For instance, I am quite interested in the number of accidents there are for the amount of flying that goes on. 1425 I am not interested in the number of deaths for the amount of flying, because an accident is an accident. You may kill six people, but it is only one accident. It is very regrettable, but you are going to give an entirely misleading idea of the whole problem unless you do it by miles flown per accident. I see in the papers that the Secretary of State asked the Prime Minister if he would investigate this subject of accidents occurring in the Air Force. We do not ask him to give us full statistical returns, but I ask the Prime Minister, if he has looked into the subject, whether he would not say a word to us as to what he feels about the whole matter. It would be extremely interesting. I do not think pilots are affected in any way by the accidents. They do not worry about them at all. They are not upset or discouraged, but sometimes in the minds of the relations and friends of those who fly there is the idea that perhaps all is not being done that could be done, and that they are being asked to risk their lives when perhaps they need not do it. I do not believe it, but think a word from the Prime Minister to tell us what he found out in his investigations and what his feelings on the matter are would be of interest and would be appreciated by the House at large.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I will reiterate what the hon and gallant Gentleman has said, and I hope the Prime Minister will be able to give us a full account of what he has found out in his investigations. I also wish to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the recovery of his freedom. His expert knowledge in aviation matters has been denied to the House while he occupied a position on that bench, and from a Parliamentary point of view we gain what the Ministry of Transport loses. I find it almost embarrassing to be so much in agreement with a prominent Conservative, but I am in comparative agreement with him when he points to the fact that, while we are spending £116,000,000 on defence, the Air$ Ministry only takes £15,500,000 of that. I am all for the reduction of expenditure on armaments, but while we spend money on armaments, I would have it spent to the best possible degree of efficiency, and it is impossible to study the strategical position of the world to-day without realising that we are spending far too 1426 much on the Navy—and the Army, for that matter, but particularly the Navy—and far too little, comparatively, on the Air Force. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about the Royal Flying Force, if he had spoken of the Royal Office Force, there would have been a great deal in that. It is not the ground personnel we object to, but the people who swarm in the Air Ministry and who hinder efficiency. The young buck ought to be a flying man to-day, as he is in America. He is hampered by the multitude of officials, who issue these ridiculous regulations, making his pass absurd, useless examinations. At present only three people in this country have their own private aeroplanes, where in America there are something like 5,000. I regret very much that we cannot fully discuss the necessity of a Ministry of Defence for the allocation of this £115,000,000. I believe we could get far better defence for under £100,000,000 with far greater efficiency. At any rate, we need a general staff functioning on defence problems, and that we have not got. The Committee of 'Imperial Defence is not suitable for the detailed examination of defence problems, and the Prime Minister knows it better than anyone. It is composed of men who have their hands full trying to keep the Cabinet in order.
With regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) said, if I were to-day in the position of the Prime Minister I should bring home to the people of the country and the world the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves owing to the development of the aeroplane and the terrible peril of the civil population of the country. I would ask for an appropriation for the supply of gas masks to the whole population south of the Trent, and I would begin by serving them out to the youngest of the population, the most valuable part of the population whom we wish to preserve. The old people can look after themselves; the young cannot. I would make my first issue—I believe only one would be necessary—to all the nursing mothers for the use of their babies, because the damage is going to be done by the dropping of gas bombs and the use of heavy gas which will hang about for days and will go down into the cellars and sewers and underground tubes where the people will take refuge. That is where they will be gassed. If 1427 you do that you will bring home to the people of the country what they are faced with if we continue, as we are at present, building up a military air force against France perhaps and France building one possibly against ourselves—but these vast sums being spent on armaments and at the same time a policy is being pursued which will lead inevitably to another war. Until the people have that brought home to them they will continue to think only of the latest film in the picture house, the latest method of dancing the flat Charleston, what is going to win the next racing event or whatever particularly attracts their attention. You have to do something and that would be a very sound thing to do. In any case the gas masks will be needed, and it is just as essential to provide gas masks for the civil population as to provide fighting aeroplanes for the Air Force. [Interruption.] I have got mine. I have the one I had during the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Put it on!"] I am sure it is quite useless for the kind of gases we use here.
May I remark on the extraordinary view of civil aviation and its future that is taken by the head of our Air Service? I also joint with others in congratulating him on his great enterprise and patience and courage in undertaking that great flight. I watched the proceeding with the greatest interest. I was in America at the time, and I was glad to see the accounts in the papers. It was reported that he had gone to Australia. I wish he had.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
There is no technical difficulty in the way, as the right hon. Gentleman told us himself, of the extension of the Cairo-Karachi air route, first to Burma and presently on to Australia. At the Imperial Conference it was talked about and in answer to a question of mine the Under-Secretary told me certain preliminary flights will be taken, but we are lagging years behind. This present link between Karachi and Cairo should have been in constant use five years ago at least. There is no reason at all why we should not also five years ago have linked up Cairo by way of India with Australia. I always thought the Conservative party prided itself on its 1428 Imperialistic outlook. I am sadly disappointed in their lack of appreciation of this problem. I should have thought the memories of Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes, with his dream of a Cape to Cairo railway, would have induced them to pat into force the Cape to Cairo air route long since. We talk of experimental flights and we hear the right hon. Gentleman tell us that preliminary flights will take place, but there is no technical reason why this should not have been done some years ago. I believe the great need of Imperial development to-day is transport, and of all means of transport the aeroplane is the most valuable.