§ Order for Committee read.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Hon. Members will notice a conspicuous change in the form of these Estimates. The old Middle East Vote has been practically abolished, and Air Votes have absorbed the greater part of the expenditure which has hitherto been carried by the Colonial Office. I think hon. Members will welcome the change, which will enable them to obtain a fuller and clearer view of the total amount we are spending upon our Air Services. Further, I think they will be glad to note the fact that although Air Votes have absorbed about £2,000,000 of Middle East expenditure the net amount which I am asking this afternoon is only £700,000 more than the amount for which I asked the House a year ago; that is to say, we have absorbed about £2,000,000 of the Colonial Office expenditure with no more than a net increase of £700,000 in Air Votes. If hon. Members will look at the gross figures, that is to say, the total amount we are spending on the Air Services from all sources, they will find that I am asking for £850,000 less than a year ago. There has thus been a reduction of no less than 4 per cent. in the total expenditure upon Air Services as compared with the expenditure last year. If these Estimates are accepted by the House, at the end of the year the Air Force will have been substantially strengthened by an increase equivalent to four squadrons, and no less than 70 per cent. of the squadrons will have been armed with new type machines, while at the end of the year the bill will be 4 per cent. less than the bill of 12 months ago. We have only been able to reach this result with drastic cuts, and with a sacrifice of many items which my advisers and I would have wished to include in the Estimates. We feel, however, that at a time when there 1534 is an urgent need for the retrenchment of national expenditure we must take our share; a new and progressive service cannot isolate itself from the civil life of the country. When the country urgently needs the retrenchment of its expenditure, the Air Force and the Air Ministry must do their part.
I have a wide field to cover, and with the approval of the House I propose to plunge at once into the centre of the subject, and to deal at the outset of my speech with two questions which I believe will become very prominent during the ensuing 12 months. I propose, first, to say something about airships, and next to deal with certain developments which I shall outline in connection with civil air routes, and then I propose to deal, so far as time permits, with questions connected with military aviation. During the next 12 months the two airships upon whose construction we have been engaged for some considerable time should be flying and carrying out their tests, and I ask hon. Members to take a close and a sympathetic interest in what is a very difficult but at the same time a very great and interesting experiment. I particularly ask hon. Members to be as dispassionate as they can in considering this question. Unfortunately, the question of airships has been in the past the centre of many bitter controversies. On the one hand, there have been the fanatics who believe that in the future everyone will travel by airship and no one by ships on the surface of the sea, and, on the other hand, the fanatics who believe that we are breaking the Ten Commandments in attempting the experiment at all. This afternoon I would ask the House to turn away from the fanatics and to look coolly, soberly and dispassionately at the problem which we are trying to solve.
The problem before us is that of quicker Imperial communication. How can we lessen the time that is now taken in journeys between London and the capitals of the Empire? How can we give the Empire a physical unity which it has never possessed before? I have discussed the question of shipping with several important shipping authorities, and it does not seem to me to be likely, at any rate for some years to come, that shipping will be able completely to solve 1535 the problem of quickening the journeys over the longer distances of the Empire. Shipping authorities tell me that over these longer distances the cost of expediting the services would be so great as to make it an uneconomical proposition to attempt it. I do not believe that the aeroplane, invaluable instrument that it is for the shorter distances, will alone, for some years to come, be able to solve the problem of shortening the longer distances between London and the various capitals of the Empire. The aeroplane is an instrument of comparatively short range. At present, it cannot fly regularly by night. There is a further difficulty in the need of landing in foreign territories, and while I, myself, believe that the aeroplane will be invaluable for shortening the time of journeys of comparatively short range, I do not believe for some years to come it will be able to deal with journeys the range of which will be 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 miles. The airship, on the other hand, if it can be proved to be safe and dependable, has a range of several thousand miles. It need not, therefore, land on foreign territory. It can fly by day and by night, and, provided the weather reports are favourable and comprehensive, it can use favourable winds such as the "trades" and other winds in passing from one part of the Empire to another.
Supposing we can achieve those results, are not the advantages so great to the world, and so great to the Empire, as to justify—I will go further and say, as to compel any progressive Government to attempt the experiment? For the last three years we have been developing our programme, and while I will not disguise from the House the fact that there are still difficulties to surmount, and that the way is not altogether clear, I can tell the House that we have made substantial progress, and that for the first time in the history of airships we have made a concentrated and simultaneous attack upon all the principal problems connected with the subject. We have analysed the lessons of the past. We have carried through a long and an intensive programme of research and experiment. We have consulted outside scientists upon the complex questions of stresses and their reaction 1536 on design. We have organised a new section of the Meteorological Office for dealing with the all-important question of charting the currents of the air. We have improved our wireless installation. Indeed, there is not a single direction in which we have not made substantial progress during the last three years.
I believe that we could have built these two airships in a little more than a year. Instead of that, we have devoted the best part of three years to experiment, research and investigation of every kind. I believe that the designs of the two new airships show the value of this long period of intensive research and experiment. Their designs show a considerable advance upon the designs of former airships. They are bigger, and, therefore, it has been possible to use stronger and heavier girders in their construction. The problem of weather warnings has been greatly advanced as compared with what it was a few years ago. The wireless installation, as I said just now, is much better. Mooring towers have been developed, and this development means that we are no longer faced with the constant inconvenience of taking one of these great ships in and out of its shed. This has very much changed the problem for the better.
When I have been to Cardington and to Howden, the two stations where the airships are being built, I have been struck by the sober and resolute way in which the designers are facing their task. They know that they are up against a very difficult problem. They are not rashly optimistic, but they are confident that they will surmount the very formidable difficulties. I would ask the House to-day to leave these men to finish the experiment, and to judge its advantages, not by the claims of the fanatics on either side, but by the actual results that it will show. In the meantime, I am glad to think that we have the sympathetic support of the Dominion Governments. One and all, they are giving us what help they can, whether it be by building mooring towers to make it possible to carry out flights between London and their capitals, or whether it be by the scarcely less important step of developing their meteorological services. I am human enough to admit to the House that I attach much greater value to the support of the Dominion Governments than I do 1537 to the critics who, if they had lived 200 years ago, would have opposed the introduction of stage coaches, and if they had lived a century ago would have voted against the introduction of steam and iron ships in the Navy.
§ Sir S. HOARE
If that were correct it would only show how much wiser they are than they were, but it is not correct.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is this a case, on the other hand, of going back from railway trains to stage coaches?
§ Sir S. HOARE
I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to follow the advice I have just given, and to wait until the experiment is completed and judge by its results.
I pass from the question of airships to the question of civil air routes. I take this question at the outset of my speech because I wish to draw the attention of the House particularly to certain developments we propose to carry out during the course of the next 12 months. The House will note that although the amount asked for under the Civil Aviation Vote is somewhat less than the amount asked for a year ago, the sum which is devoted to subsidy of commercial air lines is greater. We have had savings due to the completion of certain stages of our building programme, and I am glad to think that these savings are to be devoted to further subsidies to civil aviation. The House, it is evident, will desire to know what are the objects for which we propose to make these additional grants. I will state them very shortly.
We hope this year to make a beginning with the biggest civil air route in the world—a weekly mail service to India—a service by which it will be possible to send letters from London to Delhi in seven days and from London to Calcutta in nine days. I tell the House how we have arrived at this conclusion. We have now a not inconsiderable experience of the working of civil air lines. The contract with the 'Imperial Airways Company has been in existence three or four years, and we are in a position to assess the results, and to judge of the lessons that our experience 1538 has taught us. There are two lessons that stand out pre-eminently from the experience of the last three years. The first is that our policy should be mainly Imperial, not mainly European. Obviously, the more Imperial the routes the more likely we are to give the Empire the physical unity we desire, and the longer the route the more likely we are to obtain revenue.
I come to the second lesson that we have drawn from our experience of civil air lines. It is, that if civil aviation is to become self-supporting, the company that is operating must be in a position to substitute new types for old types of machines at comparatively short intervals. Let me give the House an illustration of what I mean. When Imperial Airways started their flying operations, the running costs per ton mile for one of their normal aircraft was 4s. 2d. The new types now operating on their routes are costing only 1s. 10d. per ton mile. That is to say, the new types are covering their "prime costs" of operation as distinct from standing charges. If in a space of two or three years the substitution of new-type for old-type machine has made these results possible, it seems clear that if the company is in a position to make further changes to newer types, we may look forward to a time—I hope a not too far distant time—when civil aviation will be self-supporting, and not subsidised at all.
When we went into the existing agreements with Imperial Airways, we came to the conclusion that they needed readjustment. First, the time was too short for these developments to take place, and, secondly, there were not funds available for this regular change to new types of machines from the old types of machines. Accordingly, after a full inquiry into the whole question, we have decided to substitute a new agreement for the old agreements based upon these three basic principles: In the first place, the development of an Imperial route, namely, a weekly mail service to India; secondly, there will be a subsidy under the agreement that will make it possible for the company to substitute regularly new types for old types of machines; thirdly, the right of the State to share in any ultimate prosperity that the company may achieve. 1539 The details are not yet complete, and we are still discussing them with the company and the Government of India; but I thought it right to announce to the House at once the outline of the agreement we are attempting to make, and to tell hon. Members that as soon as the details are worked out I will lay a White Paper, as I did in the case of the original agreement with the company.
Hon. Members may ask when it is actually proposed to start the weekly service to India. I cannot give a definite answer for the very good reason that we must advance stage by stage. We have to consult various countries and authorities in connection with this service, but I can tell the House that we hope to make a beginning this year, and I am not unhopeful of getting over such difficulties as at present exist. There is one difficulty to which I would like to make a passing allusion. Unfortunately, the Persian Government have objected to granting flying facilities over the Persian section of the route. I am sorry that is the case, and I cannot help thinking that it must be due to some misunderstanding, because it seems to me that the air route is manifestly to the advantage of Persia. Unlike other foreign companies, we are not asking for any subsidy from the Persian Government. We are offering the Persians for nothing an air route over a very inaccessible part of Persia, and providing them with landing grounds and aerodrome facilities. These obvious advantages seemed at one time greatly to appeal to them because they actually signed an agreement with us. Persian officials helped us to mark out the route, and an agreement was actually signed between the British and Persian Governments. That being so, I cannot help feeling that there has been some misunderstanding which I hope we shall be able to put right.
Meanwhile, I may tell the House that we are making investigations as to the possibilities of alternative routes, and, although I cannot give to-night very definite details on the subject, I say again that I am not unhopeful that in the course of a year we shall be able to get over these tiresome difficulties that so far have held up one section of the route. If we can only get this air service into operation between London and Delhi, I believe 1540 we shall have set on foot an air route which in the course of time will be so attractive to the business man and the traveller who wishes to save time, that we shall receive a substantial and increasing revenue from mails and passenger traffic upon it.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I certainly hope that at some time it will, but for the moment we are dealing with a service to Delhi.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I cannot say that we are negotiating with them, but we have had some very friendly talks with the Dutch, and once we get to India we hope we shall pass on to the Dutch Indies and Australia. I pass now from the civil air routes to the wide field of military aviation. Unless the House wishes it, I do not propose to deal in detail with the many items that are described in the White Paper. I will merely draw the attention of the House to one or two prominent features in the programme for the year. Let me, first of all, say that we are augmenting the strength of the Air Force by the equivalent of four squadrons. We are increasing the Air Force in several directions. We are increasing the strength of the land machines by two new squadrons for India. We are increasing the strength of the deck-landing machines by forming two new units for the Fleet air arm. We are also making a very interesting development by forming two new units of flying boats.
There is one significant fact in the Estimates to which I would draw the attention of hon. Members, and it is that as a result of the introduction of new types of machines we are requiring substantially less spare parts, and a sum of no less than £200,000 is being saved this year in the cost of spare parts by the introduction of new types. On the experiment and research side we are asking the House approximately for the same amount of money that we asked for 12 months ago. There is an interesting development on this side, namely, the provision we are making for a tank for testing model seaplanes and a variable density wind tunnel for testing the air flow upon model aeroplanes. If these contrivances prove satisfactory, I believe 1541 they will be the means of making our aeroplanes and seaplanes even more efficient than they have been in the past.
For the moment I will leave the details of the Estimates, and no doubt hon. Members will raise some of them in the Debate. I will come back to the principles which lie behind those details, which are guiding us, and which are the foundations upon which the Air Force is built. This is out an unsuitable moment at which to make a survey. The Air Force has now been in existence for 10 years. It is almost exactly 10 years ago that, by an Act of Parliament, an independent Air Force was created responsible to a single Minister and to a single Department. In considering these Estimates, I ask hon. Members to test our experience over a period of 10 years and to put themselves two questions: Firstly, was the country justified in creating an organisation of this kind; and secondly, has the experience of the last 10 years justified the decision that was then taken? As to the first of those questions, I do not think I need say more than that the creation of an independent Air Force and an independent organisation to administer it came about, not as a result of the claims of theorists, but, as the result of a most definite demand from public opinion. It was demanded, first of all, for the purpose of avoiding the duplication of organisations, and, secondly, to ensure unity of command and unity of effort in meeting the menace of air raids in London and in this country. Since then many inquiries have justified and emphasised the wisdom of the decision which was then taken.
I pass now to the second question, and as I said I want hon. Members to ask themselves whether the experience of the last 10 years has justified that decision. If hon. Members view the question as I do, I imagine they will ask themselves three questions. Firstly, has the expense been justified; secondly, has our air organisation provided a suitable and sound career for the officers and men in the Air Force, and is it making them capable of carrying out the duties imposed upon them: and thirdly, is our air organisation turning out safe and powerful machines and engines, and is it keeping abreast of the aeronautical developments of other countries? Let me suggest to the House one or two facts that 1542 may help hon. Members to give an answer to each of these three questions, and let me begin with the question of cost.
Every flying service, however it be organised, will always cost considerable sums of money. We are dealing with human lives, and we cannot take unnecessary risks. Moreover, we are dealing with a Service and with a science that is constantly developing, and it is impossible to stereotype and standardise material when almost every day changes and improvements are taking place. Moreover, in our own case, when the Royal Air Force was created 10 years ago, we started with no permanent organisation of any kind. We had no barracks, we had no cadres, we had none of that organisation, the creation of many generations, which is possessed by the older Services. We had, therefore, to start in this way, involving heavy and exceptional expenditure. I can say, looking at the figures, that we have faced these great financial difficulties, and we have been not altogether unsuccessful in overcoming at any rate some of them.
Let me give to the House one or two examples to illustrate what I mean. Since I first became Secretary of State for Air, in 1922, the number of squadrons has been more than doubled, and yet the increase in personnel has been only one-fifth. In 1922, we were spending only £2,000,000 upon technical equipment; we were still living upon War stocks. Now the War stocks have come to an end, and we are spending nearly £6,000,000 this year on machines and engines, and yet we have an increase in the gross Air Votes of only 22 per cent. Thirdly, in 1922, the Air Force had just taken over the responsibility for the garrisoning of Iraq and Transjordan. The Geddes Committee had recently reported and showed that, at the time of their Report, the expenditure upon our garrisons in the Middle East was £27,000,000. The Air Force took over the responsibility, and, in the course of a year, the £27,000,000 was reduced to £13,000,000; and I am glad to think that year by year since then we have made further reductions, with the result that to-day the expenditure upon the garrisons in Iraq and Transjordan is, not £27,000,000 or £13,000,000, but only about £2,000,000.
§ Sir S. HOARE
There is no question of reinforcements. These illustrations, to which I could add if I had the time, justify me in claiming that year by year we have made a substantial and not unsuccessful effort in reducing expenditure to the very minimum.
I come now to the second question that I suggested just now to the attention of hon. Members—Has the Air Force, during the last 10 years, justified its existence in providing a stable and honourable career for its officers and men, and is it turning out officers and men who are capable of carrying out the tasks that are imposed upon them? As to whether the Air Force is capable or not of carrying out the tasks imposed upon it, I think hon. Members are just as competent as I am to give an answer. I can only say, in a sentence, that it seems to me that the Air Force, during these 10 years, has never failed to carry out the very difficult duties with which it has been faced. At the present moment it is carrying out the task of repelling the raids of rebellious Arab tribes on the borders of Iraq. It is possible that in the course of this Debate hon. Members will require further information on that subject. Let me only say, in passing, that I am fully confident that the Air Force will carry out those duties just as successfully as it is carrying out the equally difficult duties with which it has been faced in Iraq and Transjordan during the last three or four years.
Let me now pass to the other side of the question, and look for a moment at the Air Force as a career for the officers and men who are members of it, and I ask the attention of the House to this side of the question for the definite reason that it is often said in ordinary conversation that, for one reason or another, the Air Force is not a stable career—that young officers are turned adrift at the end of two or three years' service, and that it is not as stable a career as it should be. The Air Force is bound to have its peculiar risks, just as any other profession has its risks, but I am glad to be able to tell the House to-day that last year was the best year, taking into account the proportion of 1544 flying hours to fatal accidents, that we have ever had. Hon. Members will have noticed in the White Paper the allusion that I make to two safety devices that we are introducing into the force. They will have noted, I hope with satisfaction, the fact that by far the greater part of our units are now equipped with parachutes. I have analysed the fatal accidents very carefully, and I can tell the House that more than one fatal accident has undoubtedly been avoided during the last 12 months by the use of parachutes. Then, again, there is the safety appliance known as the "slotted wing," an invention of which Mr. Handley Page and those who have worked with him may be justly proud. It is an invention to enable the pilot to keep control in a "stall." During the course of the winter, my wife and I made a flight in one of these experimental machines equipped with the "slotted wing," and I would advise any hon. Member who wishes to do acrobatic feats in the air without any risk to himself to follow our example and make a similar experiment. It is a matter of great satisfaction to all of us——
§ Sir S. HOARE
It is an invitation. If the hon. and gallant Member will accept it, I shall be delighted to arrange a flight for him. I think it will be a great satisfaction to the House that this British invention should now be in process of adoption throughout the whole British Air Force, and, more than that, should be taken up, as it is being taken up, by practically all the great countries of the world. There is another side of the question to which I should like to make an allusion while I am speaking of the Air-Force as a career for the officers and men in it. We are most anxious to bring the Air Force into as close and as constant connection as we can with the intellectual life of the country at the Universities, and with the industrial life of our great towns. That is the main reason why we started what are known as the University Air Squadrons. Hon. Members will have noted with satisfaction the progress of those squadrons which is described in the White Paper. They are extremely valuable organisations from the point of view of encouraging young men to enter the Air Force, 1545 and, in my view, they are even more than that, in that they bring the Air Force and the problems of the Air Force into the very centre of University life.
That, again, is the reason why a short time ago we started what are known as the Auxiliary and Cadre Squadrons. We started the Auxiliary and Cadre Squadrons mainly to bring the Air Force into close contact with the great towns and with the principal centres of population in the country. We wished to interest the great towns and the great industries, particularly the metal industries, in the progress of the Force, and, just as in the past certain regiments were connected with certain Service families or with certain counties, so we wished to connect these new Air Force units with the great industries and the great centres of population. The problem was particularly important for us for this reason, that, as a result of our short-service commission system, about 150 comparatively young officers leave the Air Force every year. While we cannot accept responsibility for finding these young men employment, we naturally do everything in our power to obtain for them suitable appointments.
During the last year I have had several interviews with representative employers, and with representative employers' organisations, with the object of bringing these young men into even closer touch with the business and industrial world than has been possible in the past, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that in these Estimates I am asking for provision for the expenses of a full-time official, whose object it will be, acting on the lines of the Appointments Boards at Universities, to bring these young men, as they leave the Force, into touch with employers who are ready to give them appointments. Although this new organisation has only been in existence for a comparatively few weeks, already we have achieved not inconsiderable success in finding appointments for quite a number of these young men. So far as the permanent officers of the Air Force are concerned, as distinguished from the short-service officers, there again, this year, we are trying to make a step in advance. The Air Force, as I said just now, has been in existence for 10 years, and we feel that the time has come for making a survey of the whole position, and for 1546 doing what is possible to make it an even more open career than it has been in the past for young officers of outstanding ability.
There is another feature of the Estimates in this connection which is worthy of attention. We are at last, after many years of delay, taking provision for starting permanent buildings for the cadet college at Cranwell. Cranwell is a training ground for all the young men who will be the permanent officers of the Force. It is the most important station in the country, yet the cadets are still housed in war-time huts, and hon. Members who have been there have told me it is little short of a public scandal that they should have no permanent buildings over their heads. I regard it as essential to the stability of a career in the Service that they should be properly housed, and on that account we are making a modest provision, only a few thousand pounds this year, for starting permanent buildings which are long overdue. Taking the question as a whole—I could add, of course, indefinitely to the illustration I have given—I think I can claim that in the course of these 10 years, a Service has been created in which the career of the officer and the man is becoming stage by stage more stable, and even more honourable than it was at first.
I come to the last of my few questions, the question as to whether or not the organisation of the Air Force has justified its existence in providing powerful machines and engines and in keeping abreast with aeronautical developments all over the world. I suppose anyone who is connected for several years with a great organisation is bound to see in large focus the development and the progress that is being made, but setting aside any bias that I may possess, and discounting any prejudices, I believe I am justified in claiming that over these 10 years we have made not unsatisfactory progress. Let me give an illustration or two to point the claim I am making. There is the well-known illustration of the Schneider Cup machine, an illustration which probably occurs to the mind of almost every Member, and the fact that in the first contest held after the War the speed at which the race was won was 107 miles an hour, whereas this year it was 280. 1547 An attempt to pass the 300 miles per hour mark is being made this afternoon at Calshot, and I hope, if all goes well, a world's record may be established. Then if you compare the performance of our engines to-day with the performance of our engines a few years ago, there is the fact that both air-cooled and water-cooled engines develop to-day more than twice the horse-power they did four years ago, and the weight per horse-power has been improved by 25 per cent. Thirdly, there is the fact that the period between the overhauls that are necessary for engines has improved by 300 per cent. These are only illustrations. Hon. Members can add to them from their own knowledge.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The Minister having given the ton-mile rate as having improved from 4s. 2d. to 1s. 10d. for heavier than air machines, can he give any figure for ton-mile of lighter than air machines?
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am dealing with aeroplanes at the moment. In the case of airships, the hon. Member seems to forget that we are making a great experiment which is quite incomparable with the past. The airships we are building, to take one particular instance, are a great deal bigger than any airship we have built in the past. The engines we are using for them are very different from those we had before.
These illustrations are sufficient to show the kind of progress we have made over the last 10 years, and I think they justify me in claiming that, taking the general average of our machines, our standard is higher than the standard of any other country. In these Estimates, there are two directions in which we are making very noteworthy technical progress. There is first of all the programme on which we are engaged in connection with metal machines and there is the development we are making in increasing the number and improving the performance of our flying boats. I am not sure that these are not the two most noteworthy features of the research programme of this year. First of all, there is the progress we are making with metal machines. I think hon. Members will agree with me that in this country we have a great deal to gain from the 1548 development of metal machines. The metal industry is one of our greatest staple industries and the development of the metal machines will in course of time make it more easy to standardise parts and to ensure mass production. Although, therefore, at the outset the production of metal machines must be very expensive, it is worth embarking upon a development which obviously possesses such very great advantages.
It is satisfactory to note that we have surmounted many initial difficulties connected with metal machines, and during this year we shall have no fewer than seven all-metal types of machines in general use in the Air Force. Hon. Members may have noticed the very remarkable flight now being carried out by four flying boats to Singapore and the Far East. These are all-metal flying boats and the flight will provide us with very valuable data in connection with our future programme of metal development. To-day we are quite definitely ahead of any other country in the matter of metal construction. We are quite definitely ahead of any other country, for instance, in the use of stainless steel for our metal machines, and I believe also we have gone further than anyone else has gone in providing safeguards against what is the chief danger to a metal machine, the danger of corrosion. The fact that in these Estimates we are providing a substantial sum for the further development of the metal machine shows what importance we attach to the need of substituting metal for wood wherever it is practicable.
Then there is the other interesting side of our development programme, the proposals we make for adding to the number of our flying boat units and building a number of new types of flying boats. After the War our resources had necessarily to be mainly used in providing land machines for the urgent problem of air defence. Since then we have made some progress with our defence scheme and the result is that we now have funds at our disposal for developing the flying boat. I do not think I need argue the advantages of the flying boat to an Empire whose communications are mainly sea communications. During the summer I had an opportunity of gaining direct experience of flying boats. I made a flight to the Baltic with four flying boats in probably the worst 1549 fortnight in the worst summer we have ever had. I had ample opportunity of testing their stability in the air and their power of riding out heavy seas. It was a very interesting experience. I had flown many thousands of miles by land and this was the complementary experience of making a long flight over the sea. We flew in this very bad weather, information, carrying out our programme, landing in heavy seas, riding out heavy seas, at one time refuelling on a very rough morning in the harbour of Esbjerg in Denmark at the rate of 300 gallons an hour, and finally, at the end of the flight, flying not over the sea, but over the land, for the whole breadth of Denmark, in the face of a heavy head wind. It was interesting to fly over the sea in a flying boat, but it was still more interesting to fly over the land. My own experience was as nothing to the experience of the four Southamptons which have recently flown to Singapore. These are flying boats, with the hulls of boats, with portholes and anchors and many of the properties we associate with a ship upon the sea. They flew over the Syrian mountains, over the whole of the Mesopotamian Desert and across Mesopotamia to Basra. What better example can we have of the mobility of the aeroplane, of the machine that can fly swiftly over land and sea alike than the land machine, for instance, in which a year ago I flew over 700 miles of sea, and the sea machines that during the course of the last few weeks have flown many hundreds of miles over mountains and over the land? I hope I have said enough to interest hon. Members in the flying-boat side of our programme. This is the biggest flying-boat programme that we have had since the War, and I regard it as one of the central and most important items in the whole field of our air development. I hope I am not wearying the House with these many details that I have ventured to give them. I have chosen these illustrations, as I wish to give the House some idea of the progress we hope to make this year and of the progress we believe we have made in recent years. I have been looking back, and I believe we have made substantial progress, but it has not always been easy. We have been faced with a period of financial stringency. We have often had to go more slowly than my 1550 advisers and I would have desired, yet none the less we have made not unsatisfactory progress.
I think I may be pardoned in my last sentence or two for making an observation that I would not make upon any ordinary occasion. This is the end of the first ten years of the life of the Air Ministry. I know how sensitive, and how rightly sensitive, the House is as to the introduction of the name of any permanent official or any serving officer in the Debates of this House, but upon this occasion I feel that I must make a passing reference to the man, who, during the whole of these ten years, has watched over the life of the Air Force and to whose sound judgment and resolute purpose so much of this success is due. There has never been a fighting service so closely identified with its chief as has the Air Force during the ten years it has been identified with Sir Hugh Trenchard. To-day I do not mention his name in order to bring it into the field of parliamentary controversy. I mention it solely with this object that if in the course of this Debate hon. Members think that we have made not unsatisfactory progress, they should give credit to whom credit is due, and they should remember the sound judgment and the resolute purpose without which the progress that I have just described would have been impossible in the first ten years of the life of this new service.
§ Mr. DALTON
The right hon. Gentleman has given the House one of those clear and precise and highly competent expositions, to which we have become accustomed from him while he has been Air Minister. I am sure that much that he has said has been of very great interest to all parts of the House. May I take a preliminary point which was raised during question time by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and express regret that this Memorandum which we are considering this afternoon was not available to us at the Vote Office before it reached the Press. The right hon. Gentleman was a little touchy, I thought, in answering my hon. and gallant Friend, who suggested that there had been a leakage of information from the Air Ministry. We are apt to be a little on the alert at this moment against possible leakages from Government 1551 Departments, and though this is a small peccadillo compared with other suspected lapses, and is free from moral turpitude, I think we are entitled to express regret and some concern that it is not possible to secure that whatever information is contained in these Estimate should first be made available to hon. Members of the House before it is made available to the "Daily Mail" and other papers outside. I hope that stricter control will be kept in regard to this matter, in order to check the garrulity of persons who should hold their peace for a few hours longer.
I now come to matters of substance which were dealt with in the right hon. Gentleman's address. He referred, first of all, to the merits of airships as against aeroplanes. Several of my hon. Friends behind me have spent a considerable amount of time and study on this technical matter, and I do not propose to attempt to forestall what they may have to say on the subject. But I understand that there is already running—and this may be said on behalf of the aeroplane as against the airship—between New York and San Francisco a day and night aeroplane service, and I am told that it is running highly efficiently and with great regularity. If that be so, it would seem that we ought, at any rate, not to give up hope that we can achieve regularity in long distance flights by means of aeroplanes if airship communication should present those difficulties which some of my hon. Friends consider that it does present. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about subsidies to civil aircraft, and he expressed the hope that before long civil aviation would become self-supporting. I hope that he is watching carefully, in the interests of the taxpayer, the way in which those organisations which receive the subsidies are organised and conducted and concerning which there have been rumours of extravagance. In connection with Imperial Airways, for example, it is rumoured that their staff is on a somewhat large scale at Croydon. I merely quote these as rumours, and I do not associate myself with them. I hope the Air Ministry is continually watching to see that these subsidies are really being well expended and are not being to any extent frittered away on unnecessary and grandiose details.
1552 I have acquired the impression, partly through my membership of the Estimates Committee and partly through common talk, that there is a tendency to do things on a very lavish scale in the Air Force. It has been said that the Army do themselves moderately well, that the Navy do themselves very well, and that the Air Ministry do themselves very well indeed. That is the common impression. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of keeping a continual watch upon what I might call frills and unnecessary elements in expenditure. I am sure we were all very glad to hear what he said about a reduction in the proportion of fatal accidents to flying hours, but he will agree that fatal accidents are still much too frequent and that a very great deal still remains to be done in order to safeguard the lives of some of the best and most gallant members of the community to which we belong from any unnecessary risk. We were glad to hear that research has been actively proceeded with in order to attain that end. Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the increase in the Military Air Force, and, as to that, I shall have another word to say later on. It will also be dealt with in an Amendment that will be moved later on in the Debate. With regard to the expenditure, I notice on page 2 of the White Paper that, although some decrease can be shown this year, it appears that that means that in future years there will be a more than proportionate increase. That is at least what I take the following sentence to mean:Of the gross decrease of £851,000 about £500,000 is found under Vote 1 (Works and Buildings). The slowing down of the expansion of the Royal Air Force and in the provision of permanent accommodation has its maximum effect on this Vote in the coming year.I take it that that means that in future years there will be almost automatic expansions, and, consequently, the right hon. Gentleman must not take too much credit for showing us a decrease this year if it is to be obtained by means of making increases in the future.
He spoke about Iraq and no doubt this question will be further discussed later in the Debate. Iraq is evidently a land with troubled frontiers, but I notice the right hon. Gentleman did not say much about this in his speech. I 1553 notice, however, a statement here that six Iraq cadets are at Cranwell being trained. I hope that that is an indication that the time is not very far away when Iraq will be able to undertake its own defence at its own expense, and that the flying necessary to be done for the defence of Iraq will be done by natives of Iraq. Possibly later on, the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the Debate, may give us a little more information as to how soon it is hoped to train sufficient Iraq cadets to man any flying force stationed in that country. I also noticed, in a speech of Sir William Birdwood, reported in the Press, I think, yesterday, that it is proposed by the Government of India to send Indian cadets to Cranwell to be trained. Possibly we may be able to obtain some information as to whether it is yet known when this scheme will start, and how soon and how fast Cranwell can absorb cadets from India. The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the relations and contacts between universities and the Air Force. That put into my mind an incident which occurred, I think, last year when it was proposed to have at the beginning of the May week celebrations at Cambridge an exhibition of the bombing of a native village. Owing, however, to the protests which came from many quarters both in Cambridge and from outside, and including the Vice-Chancellor of the University, that project was very properly abandoned, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman can assure us that in future it will not be found necessary to stimulate contacts between Oxford and Cambridge and the Air Force by providing demonstrations of this character.
Two general reflections suggest themselves to me in connection with these Estimates. The first is, that one cannot but admire the tremendous progress in adventure, enterprise, and daring which is going on in regard to air communications. It is one of the most amazing things in the scientific life of this age. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The hon. Members on the other side who applaud that statement will, I hope, also agree with me when I say that it is amazing to contemplate the maldistribution of scientific achievement which is taking place at the present time. We have so much in the air and so little 1554 on the ground; so much in the air and so little, in particular, the coalfields and in other basic industries. The enormous progress of which we are capable is illustrated by this State-aided enterprise, by this great public enterprise organised by a Department of State in Whitehall. When we see how much is possible, the drive and determination which are put behind achievements of this kind, we can only draw the moral that tremendous things could be achieved in other spheres if they were equally desired by those who control the destinies of this country.
My second general reflection is this, and I come back to the question of the increase in the military force. I come also to the frontiers of the discussion which will take place later on on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes). Therefore, I will touch only lightly upon this matter. I ask myself for what purpose has the right hon. Gentleman doubled, as he told us, the size of the military Air Force since 1922; for what purpose does this military Air Force exist? Why is there this continued increase in the number of squadrons and this continued increase in the one weapon in the whole range of modern weapons which is mainly useful for offensive purposes. He told us nothing this afternoon as to whether we had yet made any discovery of a defensive aerial weapon. On previous occasions he has told us that if an aeroplane of some foreign country should endeavour to bomb London by night our only response would be that we should send aeroplanes to bomb them in return. Cold comfort both for Londoners and those living in the foreign capitals! Since he told us nothing about the development of new defence weapons, it remains, I suppose, as true to-day as it did on previous occasions, that, great though our scientific progress in the air has been, we have yet completely failed to develop any technical device of a purely defensive character against hostile aeroplanes. I do not know whether there is much collaboration between the heads of the various fighting departments in His Majesty's Government with regard to policy, but I have been reading also the Memorandum of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is the corresponding Memorandum to that which is under discussion this afternoon. I find in the 1555 First Lord's Memorandum a statement which, if it be true, has application also to the air no less than to the sea. The First Lord of the Admiralty says:In the preparation of these Estimates, the continued placidity of the general Naval situation has been constantly in our minds, and many important services have either been deferred entirely or are being provided at a leisurely rate which the expectation of a prolonged period of peace alone warrants.The First Lord of the Admiralty anticipates a long period of peace, and bases his Estimates upon that expectation. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Air Minister anticipate a long period of peace?
§ Mr. DALTON
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman does. If he contemplates a prolonged period of peace, why does he ask the taxpayer to pay for four new squadrons, and why does he claim that he has had to slow down the rate of development which he would otherwise have regarded as desirable? If he looks forward to a long period of peace, then I cannot imagine why the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept, at any rate, the first part of the Amendment which is to be moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South. I forbear from trenching upon that topic.
We on this side of the House view with grave concern the continued growth of offensive forces in the air. We view it with grave concern not only in this country but in other countries which, likewise, are increasing their Air Forces. We regret that the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, while he indulged in many interesting, stimulating and encouraging talks, did not hold out any hope of disarmament this year, and he is not, apparently, seeking to reduce in the years that lie before us the burden which is resting on the taxpayers of this country for the purpose of building up military forces in a period when, according to his own admission, he fears no war and anticipates no enemy.
For three years in succession I have had the pleasure of listening to the introduction of the Air Estimates by my right hon. Friend. I have had great expectations, which were encouraged by the way in which he and 1556 his staff have appeared to grapple with the problems which face them; but I must admit that to-day I was very much disappointed. I, like others, was nearly charmed into silence by the persuasive and delightful manner in which we were led over the alluring paths of aviation, but I must pull myself together and return to the attack. I felt a lack of reality in the statement of my right hon. Friend, and a failure to present to the House the real inner meaning of the deep underlying responsibility which rests on the Air Force itself. By that, I mean that it is a Department of dynamite over which my right hon. Friend presides, and he presents it to the House as though it were a chocolate cream. I do not believe that the House has been really and truly informed of the development of the science and of the increased menace that this weapon may become if improperly handled; nor has the House been properly informed as regards the foundations upon which the Air Force rests, or fails to rest. I think the comparisons between our activities and the activities of other countries ought certainly not to have been avoided. We must consider machines and pilots in our comparison, and there must be a comparison between our activities and the activities of other nations; otherwise, we cannot get a standard by which to judge ourselves.
There are a few questions which I should like to address to the Secretary of State. First of all, with regard to the money. I make no complaint about the size of the Estimates. I am glad to see that there are to be two more squadrons for India, particularly as that will give us a better chance of seeing how the use of the Air arm can reduce the number of mounted or foot troops. I am glad to see that there are to be two more flights added to the Navy. That will show to what extent the Air arm may save the taxpayers in regard to cruisers and such like vessels. A further question to which I would like an answer on the military side, is what has been the experience that the Air Force has gained in remote parts of the world where it is functioning as a military police, in Iraq during the last 12 months, for instance? Nothing has been said about that. The newspapers are full of what is going on there. A great deal of service 1557 has been undertaken by the Air Force in the last 12 months of which I should like to be informed. What comparisons can be made between the work done in Iraq and the work done in Waziristan in 1925? To what extent has that development been satisfactory or unsatisfactory? What has the Secretary of State for War to tell us of what he saw of the co-operation between the Air Force and the Army in India? What experiments have been made and with what result with smoke clouds in the air and gas clouds from the air? What have the Navy to say about some of the manœuvres in which these gas clouds have been used and experimented in?
These questions bring me to the two main considerations which I think should be placed before the country. In the first place, can the Air Force replace the older and more expensive arms, namely, the Navy and the Army, with equal safety to the citizen and with advantage to the taxpayer? That is one of two big problems that must be studied by this House, and it is on that subject that I would have liked to have much more guidance from the Secretary of State than we have had to-day. Secondly, to what extent are the joint staffs putting their heads together and working out these problems? Do they still meet round a table, neither of them prepared to give way to anyone, or are they prepared to see the problem from each other's point of view? Unless we do get a joint staff which can weigh up dispassionately the advance that science has made, and it is obvious that in this branch of the Service science has made the biggest strides, we shall miss the vital secrets which lie in this new weapon. Incidentally, it requires no alteration of the machinery of the Committee of Imperial Defence. It is a matter which requires to be closely watched by the civilian Ministers who are on the Board. If it is to be left too much to the trained specialist mind, I fear that the secrets which we are trying to find out will never see the light of day. The following is a problem which it is obvious the Board has to think out. I read somewhere that Marshal Foch had, sometime since the War, given a lecture to senior officers, and said:I must impress upon you, gentlemen, to forget the last War; not to imagine that the next one will begin where that one 1558 left off. The next one will be as completely different from the last as the last one was from the one before.Unless we have a combined staff prepared to realise that the air fighting which took place over the lines was entirely due to the fact that the lines were there before the aeroplanes made their appearance on the battlefield, and that the next complication—call it war if you like—will not be fought over trenches, the truth will never be found. Equally, it seems to me true that contact between aeroplanes and fighting squadrons will only be by mutual consent or by accident. The policy on either side will, obviously, be not to attack the armed forces of the enemy, but to avoid them and make the best with this new weapon by striking the nerve centres of the civil population. These are the kind of problems that should be given to the Board for impartial investigation before you can decide upon the policy or even the amount of money required for the Service we are discussing this afternoon.
There is an axiom which has been held up as gospel truth in this Service for nearly 10 years, which I am absolutely convinced is wrong, and that is that, first of all, civil aviation must be left to fly by itself, and, secondly, that the military side is in no way dependent upon the civil side. I submit that the military side will depend entirely upon the civil side. I have suggested that the nerve centres of the enemy will be the ones which will receive first attention. That, consequently, has changed the units of the fighting Service from 75 per cent. of fighters, which used to meet over the old trenches to 75 per cent. bombers. If we accept that, and I think we must, we see at once that an entirely different class of machine is needed for this long distance service and an entirely different type of trained pilot is needed for the work.
I may be asked, why is there a connection between the military side and the civil side? Why should the military side rest on the civil side? It is because these civil machines are convertible to a degree which was not possible five or six years ago. These machines can carry 20 passengers at 110 miles an hour, and are driven by the most experienced pilots as capable of flying by night as well as by day as any service pilot, and can be within 1559 a week converted into bombing planes. If you have a lot of these ready at a moment's notice, surely you have a potential air force which can carry out the very duty which, I submit, is almost the first which it would have to undertake in case of war. I think the Secretary of State should have touched upon these problems and shown us that the proper balance between civil and military aviation is receiving constant and fresh consideration. The old shibboleths of the past have worn out entirely, because the demands made on the Air Force for offence and defence have entirely altered.
I ask hon. Members to consider whether really we can be so proud of ourselves in regard to our civil aviation activities. We are almost asked to pat ourselves on the back, because one new line is going to be run—I admit over difficult country—which will carry a certain number of mails, employ five or six machines, and eight or 10 pilots. That is not a big performance; and when you remember that the total number of our commercial machines is only 20, we have not much foundation for that reserve which will be necessary if any of my premises have any reality or truth. For a minute compare our position in this connection with that of our neighbours. I think we ought to do so. We do it in respect of our military forces, and why should we not do it in respect of our civil machines as well? Take the military side first. Our next door neighbour has 1,300 planes in full service commission. Three hundred of them I admit are in the North of Africa, but that is within flying distance of their own home bases. We have a total strength of 750, of which 270 are in India and Iraq, a very long way from home if troubles should break out. If it is entirely unsatisfactory on the military side, it is still more unsatisfactory when you compare our civil side with that of any other country. If you compare it with America you get a shock. It may be said that they have advantages in America, that it is an exceptional country, but, there are over 300 small companies running air services, and something like 3,000 or 4,000 privately owned machines. whereas in this country there are only 30 privately owned machines. There is a great disparity between the air sense of the people in America, the 1560 determination of the people in America, and the people in this country.
Then, within 200 miles of London the activity which is going on in civil aviation is amazing. Hon. Members know and have probably visited the net work of air routes which has been built up in Germany during the last six or eight years, and if, as I submit, a civil machine is convertible within a week into a bombing plane, with much more deadly purposes, I do not see how this can go on without this House being informed of it and taking it into serious consideration. I will not say anything about the French civil aviation except this, that if France, who was hit very hard in the War finds herself able to provide a subsidy for civil aviation twice as big as our own, I do not understand how we can accept the position without some investigations, or indeed without some wonderment. Half of our subsidy of £260,000 is being taken for the Basra route; and all we have to live upon here is £130,000 a year. What Germany is spending we do not know, but they have an enormous number of machines which are flying every day and every hour. The Secretary of State referred to night flying, and I want to say how far we are behind other countries in this form of flying. In America there is a service which has been flown every day and night for the last two years between Chicago and San Francisco.
A friend of mine once made this journey and he told me that there was a well-organised landing ground every 24 miles except where they had to cross the mountains, which meant a gap of 30 or 40 miles. I asked him whether he was frightened, and he said. "No, we came down with the greatest ease, and our pilots seemed to have complete confidence." This service is carrying mails and passengers across the continent every night and day from Chicago to San Francisco in 23 hours instead of 3½ days.
Why do not we do something like this in this country? It is because we have not the money, or the stimulus and encouragement which should come from the Ministry. What would it cost if we developed all our Imperial air routes? A great deal might be made of the air route to South Africa, and there are an immense number of routes which could be made arteries of Imperial air activity. 1561 I have been told by a very good authority that if we only had the courage to spend £3,000,000 over three years these routes could be equipped and running in that space of time. If you once got these routes in full activity you would have enough machines to supply you with the reserve power for defence which may be necessary.
I come now to a question which relates to officers. I was staggered when I heard the Secretary of state say that the short service system was a success. I submit that it has not proved a success at all. I am not blaming him. He has kept it going and I must be prepared to accept some of the blame myself, because I was at the Ministry when it was started. I want people however who are able to see when a system has been a failure not to be afraid to change it. I have heard many complaints in the last four years from short service officers who cannot get a job at all. Many are simply in the streets doing commissionaire's work at clubs. That is not a good system, and I say that we should change it. You may say, how are you going to get your officers if you do not do it in this way, as it is impossible to provide permanent careers, and that it is equally necessary to have some system whereby you will be able to get officers for the purposes of reserve. I have a suggestion to make to the Secretary of State, which I hope he will turn over in his mind. In the first place the civil air routes must be developed as speedily as possible, and with as many machines as are necessary to catch up with our neighbours.
My suggestion is this. At the present time a short service officer costs the State in the region of £2,000 a year. I do not think I am far wrong in that calculation. He flies for four or five years. About one per cent. get permanent commissions. I understand that about 150 have to leave the service every year and try to find a job in civil life. If they are unable to do this they are in a very sad state. I believe that the particular class of pilot which we need for these reserves, that is long distance bombing reserves, can be trained in another way and can remain as pilots not only for four years but for the 20 years between the ages of 20 and 40. This is my idea. Pay Airways, or whatever civil company you like to entrust it 1562 to, £1,000 a year to take a young man of 22, train him for the purposes of commercial flying, but teach him perhaps a certain number of other things more than the ordinary pilot will learn, and then give him a holiday. Then for three months let him come back to a service squadron, and let that be his reserve training. If that was done you would in less than three years, presuming your air routes are thoroughly developed, have a method of keeping in permanent flying activity as big a reserve of pilots as you have now, and in a much more humane way, as an alternative to the short service commission.
I have put down this scheme very sketchily, but I think it is worthy of the consideration of the Secretary of State, and I hope he will turn it over before he turns it down. I implore the House not to think of me as an alarmist, because I take a practical view of this subject. I think we should ventilate time after time not only the good side of the Air Force but also the dire side of this newly developed service. The development is going on so fast that we cannot keep pace with it. We need agile minds, not sterotyped minds. Anyone who does not realise the great advance which science is making should be got rid of and those people who realise the possibilities of aviation and the way we are going should take their place. Unless this is done we shall be surpassed by all our neighbours. D'Annunzio found such a state of things in the Italian Air Force, so in a speech he said, "We should get a blacksmith and free the eagle from the Roman shield." We have had an Imperial reputation on land and sea. Let us have it in the air too. I hope the Secretary of State will prove to be an efficient blacksmith.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
We have heard a speech from the right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol North (Captain Guest) to which it will be very difficult for a private Member to reply. We must remember that it is a case of a former Secretary of State for Air asking questions from the present Secretary of State for Air, and it is not fit for me to butt into a battle of eagles. I am more like a wasp. I cannot help congratulating the right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol on the very good work he is doing to-day as the commander 1563 of a reserve squadron. He is setting an example to many, for which he deserves the greatest credit. It is only a few years ago, from this actual place in the House; that I pleaded with the late Prime Minister (Mr. Bonar Law) for the inclusion of the Secretary of State for Air in the Cabinet. As Ministers go—and the trouble is most of them will not go—the present Secretary of State for Air has been a great success, and I have always congratulated myself that it was through my own eloquence that the Secretary of State for Air is in the Cabinet. But I have my own bone to pick with the right hon. Gentleman.
I want to know why it is that, after the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some years ago, we still are not allowed one day to debate national expenditure upon armaments in their entirety? Year after year goes by, and we have presented to us separate Estimates, which we have to examine in detail, and not one bearing upon another. There was a time undoubtedly when you could say that armament related either to the Army or to the Navy, and there was a line drawn clearly between the two, but to-day there is no possibility of any operation of a military type in which the Air would not play a part. If it were a great naval operation the Navy would have to be helped by the Air, and if a great Army operation the Army would have to be helped by the Air; and it is a possibility that there may be such a thing as an Air operation by itself. We have only a certain amount of money to spend on defence. Although it is true that this great question is probably debated very seriously by the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think the House has a right to ask for one day in which it can discuss the whole question of national defence to see whether the expenditure be wanted more for one service or another.
After having read the pamphlet of the Secretary of State I want to ask him what he is doing with regard to what I call the freedom of the air. Here we are situated in this glorious island, wishing to run services to various parts of our Empire, but always having to cross a foreign country in order to do it. Although there is, I believe, a sort of understood right that a civil machine 1564 may cross the territory of another country, yet the country over which you are flying has the right to prescribe the route. That seems intolerable in these days of peace. It is intolerable to think that Persia can decide what route we are to take over her territory. What has Persia ever done to help aviation except to invent the magic carpet? Yet we are to be told that we are not allowed to go to India a certain way and that we have to go another way. It is high time that this great question of the freedom of the air, at all events for civil machines, was taken in hand by some international body, say the League of Nations, and that in that way this handicap on free transport was for ever freed.
May I say a word or two to the Secretary of State on the question of the trade? The trade in this country, upon which we have to rely for any sudden expansion in the Air, is dependent really, because of the lack of other orders, upon the Government. Yet there is a constant struggle between the military side and what I call the enterprising side of the Air Ministry. It is quite understandable that anyone running squadrons of the Air Force wants a standard machine. He does not want a lot of different machines, with the necessity of carrying about different parts. His idea of perfection is one machine which never changes and which no one will ever be able to beat. But as inventions and developments occur the only person who really can reward the inventor or firm is the Air Minister. I have a case in point. I will not mention firms, because I think it is a pity to give names in these Debates. There was one firm in England who outstandingly developed the all-metal machine. It may be very tiresome, from the Air Force point of view, to have to order that type of machine and include it in their squadrons, but the net result has been that, although this particular firm developed these machines, another firm has been given the orders along the lines of the firm with which the machine originated. I think that is extremely hard on those firms who are trying to get work through initiative. I know the difficulties of the Secretary of State, but I suggest that he must earmark a certain sum of money for the encouragement of those who invent new types of machines.
1565 One word regarding metal construction as a whole. Metal construction to-day is chiefly wrapped up with aluminium. Although my hon. Friend the Arch-ohm the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) is not here to advise me, I understand it takes 2½ horse-power, working for a whole year, to make a ton of aluminium. Consequently, the supply of aluminium is strictly limited, and if it came to a need for quick expansion we could not get it. When we do turn to metal construction it is important that we should concentrate on steel, which is as strong after a certain size as any other metal in the world for its weight. I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend has got what I call a penchant for boats. I have pleaded the case of these flying boats before, but not with great success. We are now getting on in the boat line. I ask my right hon. Friend to look even further ahead, for to this country, as he has said, the flying boat is more important than to any other country in the world. We must let our imagination go right ahead in this matter. Our flying boats, although bigger than land machines, are not big enough to weather an ordinary sea in the Atlantic. It is time that we built a seaplane of enormous size. We have already got a land machine on the very big side. I have never seen the advantage of great land machines. Aerodromes are few and far between, whereas the sea is the most marvellous aerodrome in the world. It is certainly big enough. We ought to have seaplanes that will be able to sit out and weather a storm. I hope that before I am gathered to my fathers I shall see a really big seaplane, big enough to have a billiard room inside it—a really stable machine.
I will say a few words on civil flying. I know there are those who dislike the idea of a subsidy for civil aviation. I would point to a phase of the question which is not sometimes considered. In many parts of the Empire there are tracks of land which are not inhabited by English people, not because people would not go there to explore and develop the country, because the communications are impossible. It is impossible to live there, to take your wife there, because it is impossible to get from one place to another. There are many areas in the 1566 Empire which are capable of enormous development. It is not fair to look upon the civil aviation lines which serve remote areas from the one standpoint of whether they pay or lose. We should take a wider view of the matter and say that the prosperity brought to a particular country by an air route should be on the credit side of the company that runs that service. No Empire in the world requires so much development in civil aviation. If we look at this question only from the point of view of the pounds, shillings and pence of the actual lines which run these services, we shall not go ahead as quickly as we should.
One final word to my right hon. Friend. He of all people lives a double life. He is a type of Jekyll and Hyde. On the one side he holds in his hand weapons of destruction, the like of which have never been seen since the world started. On the other hand he has great powers for peace, for construction and amity between nations—great powers for civilisation. He must exercise those powers more than the military side during the next few years. We plead with him to show imagination and to get this country, not solely on the war side but on the peace side, ahead of every country in the world. I warn him against the technician. I do not know how old I look, but I am a historical character in aviation: I have seen my name mentioned on the same page as Leonardo da Vinci. Although my right hon. Friend was a monitor at my school and I have always had a great respect for him, yet I hope he will take these words of advice. Let him not forget that at the beginning of aviation Lord Kelvin said that dynamic flying was impossible. I ask my right hon. Friend not to be put off if the technicians say that this is impossible or that is impossible. We are still at the beginning of the whole thing. We want imagination, more imagination and more imagination to get ahead, and the people who stifle development are the technicians at the Air Ministry.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSE
Since the historic occasion on which certain Members of this House held one of your illustrious predecessors, Mr. Speaker, in the Chair by physical force, there has been no occasion when that memorable precedent has been more justified than now. I do not think 1567 that the House ought to grant these Estimates. The object of this discussion, I understand, is to decide whether the House should go into Committee for the purpose of granting certain specified sums for certain specified purposes. Later in the evening my hon. Friends on the Labour benches are to move a certain Resolution. I hasten to propitiate them by saying that I am determined to vote for that Resolution. I may add that I do so from emotional rather than intellectual promptings. Because I have said in this House for many years past now certain things about one particular item that is contained in these Estimates, namely, the item that is known as airship development, because I have consistently opposed this Vote, it is possible that a misapprehension may have arisen in the minds of some hon. Members that I am hostile to aviation. As a matter of fact I am nothing of the kind. I am a great believer in aviation's possibilities, and no one more than myself would like to see the Empire linked up and its component parts brought nearer together. What I do protest against is the idea that you are going to link up the Empire with goldbeaters' skin gas bladders. Of all the phases of aeronautical dementia, that known to the faculty as gasbagomania is the most virulent and the most malignant.
I should think that the people who have talked most about the possibilities of the airship are the people who have talked after dinner. With regard to the present airship scheme, I do not know whether right, hon. and hon. Members have forgotten or whether they have never known, but at the risk of telling them something they do know, and, in the case of those who do not know, something that will be new to them, may I be allowed to state a few facts? There was a scheme known as the Burney Airship Scheme, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Commander Burney) was said to be the author. It was produced in 1923, and tacitly accepted by the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Air at that time. It proposed to build six monster airships—capacity unstated—at a cost of £4,600,000, to be spread over a certain number of years in the form of subsidy 1568 and direct payment. The Government of the day went out of office, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition came in, and one of the first things his Government had to do was to consider the Burney scheme. They turned it down—or thought they did—and for it they substituted the present scheme. Parliament was then solemnly assured that the whole scheme, including two airships, one to be built at Cardington under State auspices, and one to be built at Howden under private enterprise, together with the necessary air sheds, mooring masts, depots, gas plant and so forth, would cost no more than £1,200,000. The time allotted was three years.
That was in 1924 and I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to these figures. On account of this scheme, Parliament granted in 1924, £200,000; in 1925, £440,000; in 1926, £332,000; in 1927, £362,000; and we are now asked for 1928 to grant a further sum of £380,000, making a total of £1,714,000. There is an additional £160,000—apart from the first £200,000 I have mentioned—which is in respect of payment to the Airship Guarantee Company, so that the total cost to the nation, when the present Estimate has been passed and spent—if it has not been spent already—will be £1,874,000. The time was to be three years. During the Debate in 1924, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) put a question to Mr. Leach, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Air Ministry, asking what was the time limit for the scheme? Mr. Leach said it would be three years at the outside, but he was confident that it would be finished in less. Thus, three years was the period then named to cover the building of the ships, the provision of the necessary accessories and the trials. In three years the ships were to be in service. It is now four years since that statement was made and let us see where we are. In the White Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman has issued, he makes this comment in reference to the Cardington Airship:The main girder work for R.101 (which is being built at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington) is being manufactured by Messrs. Boulton and Paul, Limited, of Norwich. Certain difficulties arising out of the novelty of the design have caused a 1569 delay but the manufacture is now approximately 60 per cent. complete.That is four years after Parliament has sanctioned this scheme. What are we to say to such a state of things? How can the right hon. Gentleman have the temerity to come to this House and ask for more money to carry on this fantastic folly. I wish to say something generally about this particular form of dementia. Lord Thomson, who was Air Minister in 1924, caught the complaint in a very malignant and virulent form. He saw visions. Here is one of them:They will take a pay-load as big as that of an ordinary train across lofty mountain ranges.According to the figures of the right hon. Gentleman the pay-load of one of these ships, of 5,000,000 cubic feet displacement, is under 20 tons. Therefore, to take a pay-load such as described, across lofty mountain ranges, would require a ship of 35,000,000 cubic feet displacement. It seems to me that Lord Thomson, in 1924, only negotiated one distinguished eminence—Snowden—for, by some means, he induced my right hon. Friend the Member Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) to fork out £200,000. But Lord Thomson had another vision. I ask the House to listen to this:In fancy one can see them floating like monstrous insects over a hostile land while from their flanks, winged offspring would emerge like angry wasps, to fight defending aeroplanes or to rain death and destruction from the skies. An air encounter between two fleets of these aerial mammoths can be more easily imagined than described.Rather!No conflict on land or sea could approach it in terror or sublimity.If the Noble Lord had made this pronouncement one night after dinner, we could have attributed it to post-prandial exuberance, and said no more about it. But he wrote it down and caused it to be published in a printed book. It has been said:Oh that mine adversary had written a book.I have written books myself, to the dismay and despair of my few friends, and the exultant delight of an ever-increasing circle of enemies. I do not want to pursue or even to accompany Lord Thomson in his entomological researches.The quality of mercy is not strained1570 and so I pass on. Another eminent technical authority has made a statement in reference to this matter, namely, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions. In this House he said:Not six but 60 or 600 commercial airships with all the apparatus of masts, bases and sheds developed in the ordinary way of commerce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1924; col. 507, Vol. 174.]I wonder whether these eminent technicians have read the subject up at all. This is more or less a financial Debate. We are not to go into technique; rather are we to stick to the finances of the question. May I ask, did it ever occur to the right hon. Gentleman that 600 of these vessels at current prices would cost £182,000,000 for ship construction only? Is that how it is proposed to link up the Empire? Apart from that, you would want hundreds of air sheds, thousands of mooring masts and many hundreds of gas plants. The total cost in running expenses, operating charges and maintenance for two years—at the end of which time all your ships would be out of existtence—would be a sum of money which could very comfortably liquidate the National Debt, big as it is. That is the sort of nonsense talked to the people of this country and to this House of Commons, by great statesmen, who, surely, ought to know better if they know anything at all. Let us see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say. This is what the right hon. Gentleman wrote:I rated the Zeppelin much lower as a weapon of war than almost anyone else ….In 1915, I gave orders that our only rigid experimental ship should be scrapped and the plant broken up. Had I had my way no airships would have been built by Great Britain during the War (except the little Blimps for teasing submarines). After I left the Admiralty, this policy was reversed and £40,000,000 was squandered by successive Boards in building British Zeppelins—not one of which on any occasion ever rendered any effective fighting service.These six ships are not for fighting; they are for commercial service, but the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke words of wisdom. I do not mean to say that they were characteristic, but they show that, at least one Member of His Majesty's Government, had, at some period in his amazing career, a lucid interval. But what about the commercial capacity of these airships? 1571 First let me refer briefly to their flying possibilities. We were told in the first place, that these were to be sister ships—that the Howden authorities and the Cardington authorities were mutually and amiably picking each others brains. As a matter of fact, the two ships are not alike. They are not the same length, nor the same diameter. We are told that certain things are being done at Cardington which are not being done at the other place, and certain things are being done at the other place that obviously are not being done at Cardington.
The one wise thing that Lord Thomson's administration of the Air Ministry did was to tell off one of the ships, R.36, for mooring-mast experiments in the tropics. I put it to the commonsense of Members of this House: Was that not an essential, a vital essential? Who knows anything of the behaviour of lighter-than air ships, filled with hydrogen gas, in a tropical climate? But after spending £13,000 on reconditioning that ship, the arrangement was all cancelled, and the ship, I suppose, is somewhere, in some hangar—I know not where. The Air Ministry to-day is proposing to send the Cardington ship to Egypt without the slightest knowledge of how she will behave, and although these ships were designed, or assigned, at all events, to the tropical service, one of them is going only across the Atlantic now. I wonder why those experiments, so essential and so necessary, were abandoned. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman why. It was because he dared not make them. The prodigious expansion and contraction that will almost certainly occur in these ships under the constant variations of temperature in the tropics, or at least in Egypt, make it absolutely impossible for them to be of use, because hydrogen gas will not behave as you want it to behave; it will do what it likes.
Let me get back to the financial aspect of the question. There is one man in this world who knows more about airships and airship construction and possibilities than do the right hon. Gentleman and all his experts, and his name is Eckener. Dr. Eckener is the person upon whose shoulders has fallen the mantle of the late Count Zeppelin, and this is what he says—and remember that his living 1572 depends upon it, so that he is sure to say the best that he can about it:Construction has so far advanced that airships can be built to-day to have 15 tons of paying load."—Let the House remember that paying load, or commercial load, is the only load that counts—Calculated on the basis of a service employing three large airships and an average of 100 trips a year, 50 each way, each single voyage would cost £10,000.In other words, the operational cost alone would be at the rate of nearly £700 per ton, including in this tonnage passengers, freight, and mails. If the concern were established on a commercial basis, the revenue, according to Dr. Eckener, should be £15,850 per single voyage. Reckoning for full load, the rate charged would have to be £1,200 per ton, or 8d. per ounce. So much for the financial possibilities.
I want now to call attention to something that happened last year. Speaking in Committee on this particular Vote, the right hon. Gentleman challenged me to go down to Cardington to see how they were getting on. When I asked him for a date, he said the preliminary was that I must pledge myself to secrecy with regard to technical details. Well, I knew all about it except the technical details, and I knew most of them, and all that I did not know then I have got out of the right hon. Gentleman by questions since. Let me warn the right hon. Gentleman against flinging out challenges. We old fellows are apt to be a little reminiscent sometimes. Once, when I was much younger and when my temper was less mild and accommodating than it is now, I had a row with a chap. He annoyed me, so I said, "Come outside," never imagining for a moment that he would be mean enough to do it. I expected him to say he would fight me another time, but that that night he had promised to stop at home and mind the baby while his wife went to the pictures, or something of that sort. Instead of that, he came out with alacrity and also with a certain amount of physical vigour which was exceedingly disconcerting. I prefer to draw a veil over the subsequent proceedings, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have never issued another invitation of that kind from that day to this.
1573 I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman wanted me sworn to secrecy. I know that one of the best ways to catch a bird—at least, a very wise woman told me so—is to put a bit of salt on its tail, but a profounder ornithological study and a vital experience have shown me that it is only very young and very callow birds that are amenable to that method of capture. Maturer specimens are usually a bit quicker on the uptake, so I did not go to Cardington. That is why, and I do not want to go to Cardington. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman this, however, and I am not going to challenge him at all. He has admitted to-night that these ships are not going to fly this year.
§ Mr. ROSE
He has admitted, at least, that he expects that by this time next year they will be ready. I hope they will, but what I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman do is this: When 400, 500, or 600 men lug the stupid thing out of the hole in which they have been building it, let him load it with sufficient petrol, oil and ballast for a 4,000 mile voyage. Do not put anybody alive on it—that would be cruel—but put on it the weight of a crew of 140 or 150 persons, with their baggage, food, drink, beds, and bedding, and that ship will weigh 28 tons more than her gross lift, and the pay load lift, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is 20 tons. Here is a very simple calculation. The Howden ship is to cost £300,000, although it has cost a bit more than that already, and the Cardington ship is to cost £400,000, so that the gross lift of the Howden ship is being constructed at £2,000 per ton, and the Cardington ship is being constructed for £2,666 per gross ton, but the pay load is only 20 tons, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own figures. Therefore, the Howden ship is to cost £15,000 per pay load ton and the Cardington ship nearly £20,000 per pay load ton, and what sort of tariff for freights and passengers is the right hon. Gentleman going to charge?
The one thing that these experts have not done is to calculate, not only the possibilities, but what they can do with the possibilities. Nobody is going to dispute that you can lift 150 tons with 5,000,000 cubic feet displacement, but that 1574 150 tons includes all fixed weights and three-fifths of the disposal lift as well, and the only thing that counts in a commercial ship or vehicle of any sort is what its passengers and freighters are going to pay for the transport of themselves or their goods. That is exactly where it stands. It does not matter what the right hon. Gentleman's technical advisers say; there is a physical law which says that all that you can lift is 16 times the weight of any given quantity or volume of hydrogen gas. All the technique in the world will not alter that fact, and I want to suggest this to the House: However much they may agree with developing aviation, civil or military, let them be warned against any further airship construction, and let the right hon. Gentleman remember that, whatever his experts say, he is clean right up against a dead end. This thing is commercially impossible and technically ridiculous. It has no foundation either in science or in practice, and all that I want to see is, not that aviation or its progress and development shall be retarded in any degree, but that these bubbles shall be pricked before they involve, not merely the loss of a couple of million pounds sterling—we are rich people, with not many taxes to pay, and what do a few millions matter to us?—but that monetary loss magnified by the loss of precious and gallant human life.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) into the shady paths to which he has shown the way; it would lead me too far from the subject of Debate. I desire to add my congratulations to those which the right hon. Gentleman has received. During the year, steady and enlightened progress has been made in the organisation of the Service, especially in those branches of scientific research which are its background. The Service has been highly economical. As compared with the Estimates last year, these Estimates show a greater absolute reduction than any other Service, and a far greater proportion of reduction considering the amount of the sums involved. The economical mind in a Minister is not a blessing to be lightly decried, but in adding my congratulations to those of other hon. Members on that score, I do it with a divided mind. I cannot help asking the question which my hon. 1575 and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) has asked, and wondering whether our defence problem is really being considered as a whole to-day, or whether it is still in watertight compartments. We are spending annually £120,000,000 in defence. That is the insurance premium we are paying for a measure of security. I call it a measure of security, for, obviously, security cannot be complete and all the risks cannot be insured against, as that would involve a premium far beyond our national purse. Therefore, we must be very certain that this imperfect security, for which we are paying a high premium, really covers the vital necessities of our defence.
What are those necessities? The War, which established the Air Force, has taught us many lessons. It compelled us to modify the old Napoleonic maxim about seeking out the enemy's forces wherever they are to be found and destroying them. That maxim really belongs to an old world, when the nation was not the intricate organism that it is to-day. I fancy that to-day most people would revise that maxim, and say that the object of war was to break the enemy's moral and to break his will to resist at the lowest cost to ourselves. Cost is a vital matter. Our experience since the Armistice has taught us how vital an element cost is in any victory. Like everybody, I hope the day may come in my lifetime when the risk of war will be enormously diminished, and ultimately cast away. But that day is not yet and in the meantime we must prepare for possible war. One thing is very certain: any war of the future will not be a mere bludgeoning thing, not a mere contest of brute force to be won by the largest weight of men and material; it will be a far subtler thing, for it will be directed towards the nerve centres of the opposing peoples.
That is exactly where the importance of the Air Force comes in. It is directed especially towards nerve centres. The more intricate a civilisation becomes, the more brittle it becomes, the more easily you can destroy the machine by damaging some small, vital part. No one but a lunatic can welcome the air as a new theatre of contest. As Sir Hugh 1576 Trenchard said at Cambridge, one would be glad if the air could be abolished, but it is there and we cannot get rid of it. The air is the most vital point of our problem of defence. However you may picture any future war, it seems pretty certain that the first stage will be a conflict in the air for the mastery of the air. Suppose in such a war that the contest went against Britain, what would happen? The mobilisation of any expeditionary force would be hopelessly crippled; the whole initial activities of our Army and Navy would be handicapped; the intricate task of providing munitions, and the whole of the food services of the nation would be imperilled. That is why the Air Force, and the whole question of the air in any scheme of defence, is so vital. It is almost certain that the first bout would be in the air, and on the result of that contest would depend any future success by land or water. That is not my private speculation. It is the view of most students of war on the Continent, and it is the view of an increasing number of people in this country. When I turn to the Air Estimates, I find that the Home Defence Force—it is really an Imperial Defence Force—has not been increased by one single squadron, in spite of its admitted inadequacy, as compared with the fighting strength of several foreign powers.
The second point that I want to put before the House is that the Air Force provides a real means of economising in military, defence. It provides a means of undertaking the guardianship of savage frontiers and of policing remote uncivilised countries, thereby displacing much more expensive military garrisons and a certain type of naval craft. Therefore, it stands to reason that, if we want to economise, the air is the real sphere of economy. There is another point connected with economy, which I hope will commend itself to hon. Members opposite. The initial cost of defence in the air is much lower than the initial cost in either the Army or the Navy, and it can be reduced without so great a wastage of national assets. We all hope that the time may come when it will be possible drastically to reduce British armaments owing to some international agreement—a reduction consistent with perfect security. But there is a disinclination to scrap readily what is costly. There is a 1577 bias in human nature against reducing that which costs a great deal of money, and, therefore, the more we can entrust our defence to the comparatively uncostly mechanism of the air, the easier it will be to disarm. There is one further point connected with economy. The Army in a high degree, and the Navy in a less degree, are divorced from the ordinary economic life of this country. The money spent on them, in a narrow view, is economic waste, however justified it may be on other grounds, but the air remains close to our economic life. Civilian and military air work go hand in hand. The Air Service teaches a large number of young men a multitude of crafts, which are most valuable in civil life; far less is it a dead end, and there is far less gross wastage than in any other service.
If I am right in these views, it would seem that it is our business to hand over to the Air Force other duties of Imperial defence which it can reasonably manage. It has already taken over many. It has done admirable and most economic work in Iraq, on the Indian frontier, and in Somaliland. In the case of Iraq, before the Air Force took over the defence of that province from the Army, the cost to the British taxpayer was £22,000,000. In the first year under the Air Force that cost sank to £7,000,000. In the current year it is down to £2,750,000. A very large part of military defence can be economically conducted from the air, provided you have proper air bases up and down the Empire. Every year we are improving our machinery for this purpose. We have now got the flying boats. Everyone was interested in the recent successful flight of four flying boats to Singapore. These boats passed over a great extent of desert country between the Mediterranean and Iraq. Most people in the past have thought of the flying boat as a purely marine kind of aircraft, but it has proved its usefulness for land purposes many hundreds of miles from the sea wherever there are inland lakes or rivers. In the Air Estimates we provide for this class only two new units. I should like to have seen at least four new units provided in a class, the value of which has been so abundantly proved.
In these circumstances, I am bound to regard with a little disquiet the otherwise 1578 praiseworthy economy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air. The Air Force at this moment, as far as I can calculate, receives 16 per cent. of the total defence Vote. That is to say, it gets rather less than half what the Army gets, and only about one-third what the Navy gets. That 16 per cent. includes the expenditure upon the Flight Air Arm, which does not appear in the Air Estimates at all. In the last three years the Air Estimates have been steadily declining. In 1926 they were 2 per cent, lower than in 1925, 6 per cent. less in 1927, and in the current year they are 10 per cent. less than the 1925 figure. That might be very well if the responsibilities of the Air Force were declining, or even if they were stationary, but they are increasing every year. This year Aden has been taken on.
The amount of money spent in the Air Force is small and out of all proportion to the responsibilities laid upon it. I should have thought that the Army and the Navy Estimates would have come down heavily, and the natural thing would have been for the Air Estimates to increase, but the opposite is the case. This year the Air Estimates show a greater absolute reduction than those of any other service, and a far greater proportionate reduction, and this in spite of the new responsibilities the service has taken on overseas, in spite of the cost of new buildings in this country for this extended service, and in spite of the large expenditure upon more expensive craft to replace old war-time types. That is why I congratulate my right hon. Friend with a somewhat divided mind. I should like to be assured that he is really satisfied that he is not running any undue risk. I should like to feel that the total insurance premium for defence is really being laid out in the best possible way. I should like to be certain that our defence problem is being considered as a whole. I believe most firmly in a single, unified Air Service, but I believe not less firmly in a single, unified defence system, under which the total expenditure will be allocated to the really vital purposes, and a system, moreover, which can be readily and economically contracted in the event of a limitation of armaments by international agreement, which I, in company with other hon. Members, would gladly help forward.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I am very glad the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) has taken part in one of our Air Debates, and I agree with him in almost everything he has said. I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on the very able manner in which he has presented his Estimates to us this year, but I am sorry that he has not added to the home defence squadrons. They were approved by Parliament in 1923, and the scheme provided for a modest expansion, and I think he ought to fill out those squadrons as soon as he possibly can. We have heard some alarming figures from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest), and I would ask the Air Minister whether he could not give us a return similiar to the Dilke Return of naval ships. We do not ask that there should be anything confidential in it, but it should show the number of squadrons available for the defence of the homeland and also the squadrons abroad, and the machines should be divided into aeroplanes, seaplanes and airships; and he might also consider whether we could not have the machines available for commercial work added to that list and compared with those belonging to foreign countries. I think everyone in the country would be relieved to see these figures set out, so that we might understand the true position of the Air Force of this country in relation to foreign countries. During the Debate on the Address one hon. Member said that while the Navy economised and the Army economised, the Air Force did not economise. I have looked up the figures, and I think the House would like to learn that the Air Service has economised more than either of the other two Services. The figures according to my calculations, based on gross estimates, are roughly as follow: As compared with 1925, the Navy Estimates showed a reduction of just over 3 per cent. in 1926, or just over 2 per cent. in 1927, and of rather less than 5 per cent. in 1928. The corresponding figures for the Army showed reductions of 3½ per cent., 6 per cent., and a little over 9 per cent. The figures for the Air Force showed reductions of 2 per cent., 6 per cent., and rather more than 10 per cent. Those figures prove that the hon. Member's criticism was unwarranted, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman 1580 upon economising to that extent, although I do not agree with many of his economies.
Mention has been made of the long-distance flight of the four flying-boats which went out to Singapore. That was a very fine achievement of Wing-Commander Cave-Brown-Cave, and he and his crews deserve to be heartily congratulated on their performance. In connection with the subject of long-distance flights I would like to say a word about Atlantic flights. I would ask the Air Minister whether he and the Aero Club cannot control people who want to fly the Atlantic? We ought to have a doctor's certificate respecting any man or woman who wants to fly the Atlantic, and this certificate ought not to be six months or 12 months old, but issued as the result of an examination made just before they are going to fly. Could not the Minister arrange, also, that aircraft which are to fly the Atlantic, should be made to carry a fabric float-box, or kites, or wireless telegraphy equipment—all three if possible? Such supervision is necessary. Then, if they have to make a forced landing, there will be a chance of saving the crew from disaster. I would very much like the Air Minister to look into that question, and see whether he cannot come to some arrangement with the Aero Club about it. The Air Minister made a reference to slotted wings, and said he hoped they would prevent accidents. I, too, hope that Mr. Handley Page's great invention will prevent accidents, but I would like to ask the Air Minister how we are to control slotted wings in high altitude flying, and whether any mechanical device to do that is being prepared, and also any device for use when machines are taking off in a high wind. Are the Research Department of the Ministry looking into this question of controlling slotted wings? A means of control would help fliers tremendously.
I wish to refer once again to Farnborough. Farnborough is getting away with too much money. Farnborough is always nibbling. Every year Farnborough gets a little more and a little more. I have asked in this House before whether we get quite enough out of Farnborough in return. I believe that all at Farnborough work hard and do well, but I would like an assurance from the Air Minister that the increase from 1581 £390,000 to £407,000 is fully justified, and I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State replies he will be able to tell us there is no waste of money going on at Farnborough. The Air Minister ought to keep a closer watch on the Farnborough expenditure, and try to keep it down more. I am sorry the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) is not in his place, because I wanted to reply to his observations about airships. He gave us a damning account of airships, but it was all stale. We have heard it so often. From the days when I was supervising the building of the first naval rigid airship at Barrow, in 1909 to 1911, we have heard that same sort of condemnation of airships. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen says the airship is a fantastic folly.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
An hon. Member says, "So was the Barrow experiment." When the "Mayfly" was wrecked I showed a distinguished Admiral the wreck. He had never seen an airship before, and he remarked, "The work of a lunatic." People in the Press, like the hon. Member for North Aberdeen, said the airship would never fly, was useless and a rotten experiment. They had their way, and no more airships of the rigid type were built. What was the consequence? During the War the Germans had Zeppelins keeping the whole of the North Sea under observation. Whenever we made a sweep with our battleships or cruisers we could find nothing, but a couple of Zeppelins told the Germans where our Fleet was. Whenever we laid a mine field, the German Zeppelins went out and located it, and every mine was swept up. That was the work of the lunatics! The morning after the battle of Jutland there were German airships in the air. They signalled to Admiral Scheer the position of the groups of the British Fleet. The British Fleet, on their part, were ignorant of the whereabouts of the vessels of the German Fleet, and consequently the German Fleet got away. That was the work of lunatics!
I feel that the Air Minister and Lord Thomson are to be congratulated most warmly on taking up the airship experiment once more, and trying to bring 1582 about success. We have only got to look at what is happening in America. There, a big, rigid airship "Los Angeles" recently made a trip to sea, and when 90 miles off the coast she landed on the deck of a carrier, re-fuelled and went back again. That shows what great voyages will be possible with airships in the future. Further, the "Los Angeles" had lately done a trip of 4,000 miles from New Jersey right down to the Panama Canal. She worked round there, went on to Cuba, tied up to the mooring mast of a patrol vessel, and then went back to New Jersey. There was a successful trip of 4,000 miles, and yet hon. Members in this House and many people in the country speak of the work of lunatics! I hope the Air Ministry will continue this work and try to bring airships to complete success. The builders and officials concerned deserve congratulation on the manner in which they have set about producing a really satisfactory airship. They are not hurrying the work, everything in connection with it is being tried out, and I hope their efforts will be crowned with great success when the vessel is completed.
Leaving airships, I want to say a word about the Schneider Cup. I saw the Schneider Cup race in Venice this year. To see that youngster, Webster, flying a machine at a speed of nearly five miles a minute was a very fine sight. Some 250,000 people watched that race, and were very much interested in it, and I do hope the Air Minister will give every support to the Schneider Cup race next year, so that we may arouse the interest of a great many people here. I should also like to congratulate the constructors of the winning machine in that great race. In his references to civil aviation the Minister told us that he was going to have a service to Delhi in seven days and a service to Calcutta in nine days. Is he going to do anything to develop flying in the West Indies, in British Guiana, Singapore, and all round there; and will he tell us how the Kenya-Khartum route is getting on, and also tell us about any other developments, because I think he ought to extend his air influence as far as possible? One other point with which I wish to deal has already been touched upon slightly by the hon. Member for the Scottish 1583 Universities and the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). Taking the Army, Navy and Air Estimates together, we find that in 1927 we had £115,115,000 allocated for the defence forces. Of that, the Army took £41,575,000, the Navy £58,000,000, and the Air Force £15,550,000. In 1928–29—that is, the current Estimates—the sum of £114,600,000 is allocated for the defence forces, the Army taking £41,050,000, the Navy £57,300,000, and the Air Force £16,250,000.
That shows that last year and this year the Air Ministry got one-seventh of the total amount. That is far too little. We in this country have only half the number of first-line machines that France has. The whole of these Estimates should be placed under a Minister of Defence so that he can go into them carefully and allocate the money for each Service. He would at once ask the Navy what they were doing with 20 battleships, which now have very little value and which cost about £7,000,000 to keep in commission. That money could be expended in much better ways. Every Member of this House goes on platforms in his constituency and says that he is out for economy. Yet what do we do? We let the Navy run away with £7,000,000 of money on obsolete battleships with only a slight potential value. We will never get these Estimates right until we set up a Minister of Defence to deal with them, to control them, and to look into them. I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) or any other naval officer in this House, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone), whom I am very glad to see back in this House, for he was a very gallant officer in the Royal Naval Air Service, how battleships are going to be used 3,000 miles from their base? I have asked this question in the House of Commons and on public platforms, but I have asked in vain for an answer. It is a waste of public money keeping these 20 battleships in commission. That money ought to be used to provide more cruisers and also to help the Air Force. I hope every Member will support the establishment of a Ministry of Defence to go into 1584 the whole question of these Estimates for the greater efficiency and economic administration of the Fighting Services.
Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
The question of a Ministry of Defence, to which the last Member has just referred, is of course a very important question, but it would be more appropriately discussed in a special Debate allocated to that subject. I only rise to refer to two technical questions which were underlined by the Secretary of State for Air in presenting the Estimates. In presenting the Estimates, he was rather inclined to prejudge any of his critics who might arise during the course of the Debate as fanatics. I am quite prepared to take that risk. Those of us who 20 years ago were associated with the business of flying in its infancy were all regarded as fanatics when we suggested to the then Board of Admiralty that there was a possibility of flying at all.
I want to refer to the two technical questions which the right hon. Gentleman underlined—the question of airships and the question of civil aviation. I feel my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) was a little bit hard on Lord Thomson. After all, it must be remembered that the Burney Scheme came to Lord Thomson as a legacy. A legacy can be either something useful or a burden on the legatee. In this case, it was a burden, and we must say that, when that burden was eventually passed on, it was a far smaller burden than when it originally came to Lord Thomson. At the time when the scheme was being put forward, there were proposals and prophecies as to what it would do. Many years have now elapsed, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the time has come to discuss whether the whole of this airship question is really a sound policy or not. The right hon. Gentleman told us, when he was speaking about the airship policy, that the Air Ministry had made concerted attacks on all the problems connected with airships.
I was rather surprised to hear that the first two branches that came to his mind were meteorology and wireless. He did not tell us at all about any progress in regard to the construction of the airships, of the hulls, of the gas bags, or of any new non-inflammable gases, or of 1585 the engines, or of any of the technical parts associated with the airships themselves. He only told us that they had overcome the problems of meteorology and wireless. It is certainly to be doubted whether at this stage the construction of airships is really going ahead and is an advance, as steamships were an advance on sailing ships, or whether going ahead now with airships would not be putting back the clock. I am not at all sure that on purely scientific and engineering grounds it cannot be argued that airships are an invention of a past age. The right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly listened with great interest to the technical arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. He presented to us a very clear and wellthought-out case, but his case is not the only case that has been put forward. There has been published a book by a naval constructor, Mr. Spanner, which goes into these grounds very fully. If we do not accept all the arguments he puts forward, at least those arguments merit very careful consideration from those responsible for spending such large sums of public money.
I do not want to argue this question of airships on mere technical grounds, although technical grounds in themselves are sufficiently strong to merit investigation. I would like to discuss it from a rather broader and perhaps similar aspect. First of all, the whole question of airships has been rather lamentable history in the past. I yield to no one in my admiration of the work done by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) in the construction of the "Mayfly," but the mistake made there was not a mistake by those responsible. The mistake was made by discontinuing that work and allowing all the experienced energies assembled there to be dissipated. If it had been pursued at that time, it is possible that we should to-day have an efficient airship service, as efficient as that of Germany or of any other country, but we have not got that, and we have to consider this whole question from the point of view of the world as it is to-day and not of the world as it might have been if we had done something 18 or 20 years ago.
The first question that occurs to my mind is: Why are the Air Ministry building two airships? With all these 1586 changes in airship policy in the past—we have discontinued the construction of airships three times—you have collected staffs, built up highly-trained bodies of scientists in this very unknown science of airships, and then you have allowed them to go back into civil life. With all these difficulties of getting men who know anything about airships, how can you expect, when you start again, to build two airships in two different places under two different staffs working in two watertight boxes without, if my information is correct, any co-operation between the two? I suggest that if you are going to build two—and there is something to be said for that—you should build two of the same sort, so that, if damage or accident occurs to one, you can go on with the experiments on the other. In dissipating the very limited knowledge and research over two airships, you are reducing your chances of success by 50 per cent.
Something was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford in relation to the use of airships during the War. I am not at all convinced that the great flights made by the Zeppelins over the North Sea were as useful as they have been made out to be or that they could not equally well have been carried out by long-range seaplanes and with much greater regularity. We have to consider what is wanted to-day. The Secretary of State for Air undoubtedly desires to organise airship services between different parts of the Empire. It is no use organising these services unless they can be organised with regularity, and unless you can organise those services with at least as little irregularity as you experience in a steamship service. You must know, for instance, when you are going to set out from the airship station in England to India, that there is some chance of the airship sailing within a few days of the advertised time and getting to India within a few days of the advertised time at the other end. To do this, you will not require one or two airships but a dozen airships, and that will require, in my estimation, tens of millions of pounds.
I had the honour to be associated with this work 15 or 20 years ago, and no one will accuse me of wanting to cripple any scientific research work, but it is largely now a question of money and of getting the work done. I will give the 1587 House an analogy. We will assume that you want to get from London to India and to get there regularly. Take the analogy of trying to get across Whitehall. You know perfectly well that there is a fairly certain chance of being able to walk across Whitehall every day on foot as often as you like. Instead of that somebody says, "We will not do that, we will spend some money in trying to get across Whitehall by a Pogo." That is exactly what the Air Ministry are doing in trying to get to India by airship instead of by heavier-than-air craft.
The Secretary of State for Air knows perfectly well, from his experience whilst flying to India—I congratulate him upon taking such a practical interest in his work—that it is quite possible with sufficient money to run a regular service from this country to India. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman requires more money for these air services he should take the £500,000 which is being wasted on airship experiments, and this money would enable him to provide a regular by-weekly service to India and probably to other parts of the globe. I suggest, in view of all the criticisms, technical and operational, that the very least the right hon. Gentleman should do is to appoint a Committee to go into the whole question. Many of these questions are long overdue, and it is due to the taxpayers that they should know how long the Air Ministry is going to be in delivering the goods.
I am ready to argue the question of civil aviation on the right hon. Gentleman's own ground. You can argue the need for further developments from the point of view of the warrior who wishes to produce weapons for bombing this or that Arab tribe, or you can argue it from the point of view of the pacifist. Whichever way you argue the point, you must come to the conclusion that it is necessary to build up the civil side of your air service. If you want to have an efficient air service, you must get the industry going, and you must support it. If you take the pacifist view, then you must support the development of your great international air routes. I believe that the development of air routes stretching across the great countries of the world will bring the nations nearer together, and may prove one of the best pacifying influences in the world. The 1588 development of civil aviation should be encouraged upon all sides of the House. When we come to consider what has been done, we find that this country is far behind every other country that possesses any air service at all. The Secretary of State for Air has shared the credit of his Department together with the other gallant officers under him for what has been accomplished. I am not going to apportion the blame to others who are under the right hon. Gentleman, because he is responsible.
If you take the map of the air routes of the world, you find that those which are marked red are run by this country, and they are no credit at all to the civil administration of our service. If you take the figures, it will be found that Germany—a country we were supposed to have defeated in the Great War to end war—has now 14,800 air miles, the United States has 9,000, France 8,300, little Belgium 3,000, Australia will soon have over 8,000, and we have only 2,226 air miles. If hon. Members want any indication of the lack of interest which the Air Ministry is taking in the civil side of aeronautics, they only need turn to the Report of the Air Minister, and on page 5 they will find that of the experimental ships which are being constructed under the guidance of the Air Ministry only one is intended for civil purposes. Therefore, if we take it mathematically, the Air Ministry apportions its interest between military and civil purposes in the proportion of 14 to 1, and that is too small a percentage so far as civil aviation is concerned.
The money which we are spending on airships would go a long way towards building up great trans-Continental routes. We must not forget that every day we are losing by the work which is being done in this connection by other countries.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) referred to the international aspect of this question. The Germans are already running their lines across France into the middle of Spain, and why cannot we run our lines across Europe just as our late enemies and our allies are now doing. Surely, this is only a question of international agreement. You could do this with the money that you are proposing to spend on airships, or you could do 1589 it by devoting the £7,000,000 which you are proposing to spend on an obsolete warship, which one seaplane carrying a torpedo will be able to send to the bottom of the sea. By taking the money you are proposing to spend on one Dreadnought you can put civil aviation on a proper footing once and for all. There is something in the argument that £1 spent on the Air Force is equal to£5 spent on the Army, and £10 on the Navy. An hon. Member has alluded to the possibility of subsidising pilots. That is only one suggestion, and there are many others. You could also develop the civil side of aviation and assist firms by giving them longer programmes.
I have heard complaints from manufacturers and from those who work in aeroplane factories about the practice of the Air Ministry in giving out their orders from year to year, and I suggest that this is not in the best interests of the industry as a whole. Certainly, it is not in the interests of the manufacturers, because at one part of the year they fill up their staff, and at the end of the year they have to sack them. It is not in the interests of the workers. There are hardly any of the skilled trades which require greater proficiency than that of building aeroplanes and seaplanes. Not long ago, I went over one of the biggest aeroplane factories in this country, and the manager showed me a list of his employés from which I discovered that 800 out of 1,000 of those workers were passing part of the year on the dole because the order programme of the Air Minister is only carried on from year to year. I suggest that in future we should try and spread the orders over longer periods, and they should be spread over two or three years.
I have now raised the two questions which the Secretary of State for Air underlined in presenting the Estimates, namely, the question of airships and the question of civil aviation. I suggest that these are two respects in which the Air Ministry have failed in the last three years, and I contend that they will continue to fail, because it seems to outsiders that the Air Ministry is dominated by the military minds, by red tape, and by red tabs. The Air Ministry will continue to fail in those two branches so long as the right hon. Gentleman is dominated by those influences, and so 1590 long as he allows himself to proceed on those lines. What is wanted at the Air Ministry is a replacement of the military mind by the air mind.
§ Major HILLS
I do not agree with some of the arguments which have been used by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone). The hon. Gentleman has made a very interesting speech. He has said a good deal which gained my assent, but I cannot agree with his last two statements. I do not agree that the Air Minister is dominated by the military mind, nor do I think that civil aviation is in a bad way. You can look at civil aviation from two points of view. You can regard it as a thing in itself to be encouraged for commercial or business purposes, or you can regard it as a sort of reserve to assist the military arm. The hon. Member for Northampton seemed to take the latter view, and he regards the civil arm as a reserve in case of war.
I said that it could be argued from both sides, but I stated that I was a supporter of the pacifist side.
§ Major HILLS
At any rate, I can lay that charge at the door of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest), who expressly said that the civil arm ought to be regarded as the reserve for the military side. I take the opposite view, and I disagree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman and all the reasons which he gave showing how badly we were doing in civil aviation—all the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman seem to prove just the opposite. First of all, I want to see this great business of civil aviation developed as an agency spreading all over the world, because I believe it would be a great instrument for peace. We have been told that we have only 20 aeroplanes for civil aviation. If you are going to regard civil aviation as a business, you must get the industry going at small cost. If necessary, the industry must be subsidised with a view to it becoming profitable in the end. Ours is the only country looking at this question as something which will pay its own way in the future. The French pay a subsidy many times larger than ours, and the Germans do the same. Besides this, a large number of big towns in Germany develop the aeroplane industry. Consequently, we start in face 1591 of the fact that much more money is spent in this direction on the Continent of Europe than is spent in this country.
Then you come to a more pregnant fact still. We in this island shall never fly commercially for more than 60 miles over the island. It will never pay us to fly from London to Glasgow, commercially, and so all our commercial flying has to be from London to the Channel, or from London to the North Sea, and then over Europe. We start, therefore, with the disadvantage that we have no home Air Service upon which we can build up our foreign Air Service. The Germans—and I want to pay a tribute to the enterprise shown by Herr Junker and the great firm that he controls—the Germans start with a valuable home service, a means of home communication, and upon that they can build up a service over the rest of Europe. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Northampton quotes the small number of miles of services that we fly, do not let him forget that very essential fact, and do not let him forget, also, that the main outlet for British flying lies first in Imperial communications, and those Imperial communications will probably be carried more in flying boats than in aeroplanes.
I do not wish to enter into the conflict that has raged so fiercely between the airship and the aeroplane, but, although I have flown in every air service in Europe except in Russia, when airships start to carry passengers I shall not go on the first journey. As between the aeroplane and the flying boat, however, there is no conflict, and it is, surely, quite obvious that we, with our island position and our Imperial communications, ought to develop the flying boat as much as we can. On that I want to ask my right hon. Friend a question. Can he tell the House, or can the Under-Secretary tell the House, whether there is any good commercial flying boat? We all know that there are very good flying boats, but a good commercial vehicle must have a high useful load. It must have a lift of, say 3 or 4 lbs. per horsepower, and, until that is possible, we shall not have a boat that is much good for carrying passengers or mails, at any rate without being very expensive.
Next, my right hon. Friend told us that he is starting a commercial service 1592 to India. I am delighted to hear it, and I agree that he could not spend money more usefully than in starting that route. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can tell us, when he comes to speak, what route will be followed through Europe on the flight to India. In order to get out to the East, we must cross Europe, and there are several ways of crossing Europe. I do not know whether this question can be answered yet, but, if it were possible, I should like to know. The difficulty with Persia is one of those annoying things that will occur sometimes. I suppose my right hon. Friend is quite satisfied that no European Power is trying to block the route? I am not sure that that might not be so, because there is a great deal of competition in the air, and it might be that some of our European rivals are behind the inexplicable refusal of Persia to let us fly over her territory. There is a third question that I should like to ask my right hon. Friend. It is as to how far night flying, for mails and parcels, at any rate, has been developed. British flying is suffering a further handicap in this respect, because, since we cannot fly at night, the aeroplane is of very little use for carrying short distance mails. For instance, the Paris mail might go quite well by air, but it goes now by boat and train because we cannot fly at night. I believe that the whole of the route to Paris is lighted, and some of the routes over Europe are lighted, and, although it is perhaps questionable whether we ought to carry passengers by night—though no doubt that will come very soon—still, we might carry a very large amount of letters, and it would be a very remunerative traffic.
The hon. Member for Northampton said that too much attention was paid to meteorology and wireless telegraphy, and too little to developing the type of aeroplane. I am not sure that I agree with him. He has an authority that I cannot command, but I would put to him this point, that the great progress in civil aviation will not be in the air, but on the ground the great difficulties that we have to overcome in civil aviation are the difficulties of pilots in finding their way in the very foggy and difficult climate in which British pilots are compelled to fly, and, above all, in avoiding snowfalls, which are so very dangerous. All that is, I believe, more important at 1593 the moment than the type of plane and the type of engine used, for it all comes back to this, that in civil aviation, where passengers are carried, nothing matters except safety. You must be safe, and we in Imperial Airways have had an extraordinary record of safety. We have run this service with very small loss of life, and we have run it with great regularity. It is much safer to fly in a British aeroplane than to travel in a French railway train, and I want it to become fixed in the mind of the ordinary man that, when he is going to the Continent of Europe or to India, he should, in discussing alternative routes, consider that the air is not more dangerous than the sea or the land. I believe that we are getting to that point, with the slotted wing, the three-engined machine, and all the numerous inventions that are near completion—we know them, we can almost see them, they are quite near. These inventions, which tend to enable an aeroplane to land for safety when in a difficulty, are by far the most important part of civil aviation.
It is sometimes said that, the more you increase civil aviation, the more you militarise the country, and that, by increasing the civil arm, you are really increasing military power. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol that the contrary may take place. If you go back 300 years, you will find that the merchantman and the warship were interchangeable types. Now they have differentiated so far, and are differentiating so much further, that the use of the merchantman in war, although it may carry some weight, can never be decisive. Will not the same thing occur in the air, and is it not really in the interest of peace to spend all the money that you can on civil aviation, since, the more it is developed, the more it will differentiate, and the more it will become a great commercial service, linking up the British Empire and also the rest of the world, and becoming a great civilising and peace-bringing force?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In approaching the Air Estimates, I always feel rather like Sir James Barrie, who said that he had another personality, Maconochie. I feel that I am in two minds. In the first place, I realise that air warfare is becoming so terrible that, unless nations do away with it, they will 1594 be mad, and those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. That is the Kenworthy side. The Maconochie side says this, that, as long as we have an Air Service, I would rather see it 100 per cent. efficient. I am not satisfied that it is 100 per cent. efficient, and I will give the basic reason why. In the first place—and this is Maconochie speaking—if we have to spend £115,000,000 on defence, there is no doubt at all that at least £60,000,000 ought to be spent on the air arm, the money being taken correspondingly from the Army and the Navy. We ought to take away the Army of Occupation on the Rhine as well, which would be a further saving, and do away with the cavalry, because the aeroplane can do everything that the horse-soldier can do, and much more efficiently.
May I also put this to some hon. Gentlemen here who visualise with equanimity a future air war? I do not believe that warfare is anymore destructive to-day than it was in the old days. Genghis Khan, for instance, was one of the most destructive warriors that ever lived, and he had a democracy on horseback. His Tartar horsemen had tremendous mobility, corresponding with the aeroplane to-day; and, if there should arise a real democracy in the air, as may happen in 20 years' time, if you have not come to some agreement for international peace, you may as well, to use a naval expression, stand from under. Genghis Khan destroyed everything in his path, so that his lines of communication should not be attacked from walled cities. Although, however, modern warfare is no more destructive than that kind of warfare was, there is more to destroy, because, after all, in the days of Genghis Khan people could still till the soil, the survivors could grow crops and carry on; but to-day you destroy something that did not exist in those days, namely, the complicated system of credit by which we live, and deprived of which we should return to the condition of savages. That is what is going to happen if we are so mad as to allow another great air war. I am extremely disappointed with what was said by the Secretary of State with regard to the aeroplane. He seemed to me to praise the airship, but I think his argument has been blown to smithereens by successive speakers since. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) 1595 referred to the Germans' use of Zeppelins at the Battle of Jutland, but, as a matter of fact, when they wanted Zeppelins most, they had not got them, and they made their escape during the night before the Zeppelins came into play.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Surely, when they wanted Zeppelins most was when they wanted to escape, and their two Zeppelins told them the actual position of the British Fleet, so that they were able to escape.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
On the other hand, Von Scheer's squadron was not up in time for battle. They did not know that our battleships were at sea, and they did not know that they were so far from the battle cruisers. That, however, is only a small matter which does not affect the main argument. A good deal has happened since, and the aeroplane has improved immensely. When I hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the aeroplane is unsuitable for long flights, I wonder if he has ever heard of what has been going on in America for three years. Every day and every night an air mail service starts from New York and plies to San Francisco, and simultaneously an air liner starts from San Francisco for New York and they beat the excellent trunk mail trains. The distance from San Francisco to New York is approximately the distance from London to Bagdad. They have been flying for three years with 99 per cent. efficiency. Last year, they did not kill a man and did not lose a letter.
The right hon. Gentleman stands up at that box and charms half the House and drugs the other half with his gentle perambulations and says it is all right from London to Paris and Bagdad to Cairo, but we have to have these costly airships if we are to link up the Empire. He told us that he was hoping to get an air mail service to India. For three years he has been making the same speech, and now once more he hopes to establish an air line to India. When I ask him if he is consulting the Dutch authorities as to extending the link to Australia to join up with their excellent civil aviation service and if unofficial conversations have been going on, the 1596 whole Air Ministry on this question of Empire communication is fast asleep. We shall have a rude awakening. What is being done in flying from Khartum to the Cape of Good Hope? A lady is doing it now in a little Moth aeroplane. For seven years it has been possible to fly a regular mail service from Egypt to the Cape, of course with feelers to the West Coast and so forth. That would do much to help our trade.
Last year, this precious Government voted £1,000,000 for the Empire Marketing Board, and could only spend £500,000 of it, mostly on beautifying our hoardings with pictorial geographical lessons. I think they were fine pictures and useful for geography lessons, but that was all. The Empire Marketing Board was only able to spend £500,000, and £500,000 went back into the maw of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That £500,000 would have established a fortnightly air service to Sydney from London. It is most astonishing that this matter has been neglected. I do not want to enlarge upon it, but I should like to quote Sir Eric Geddes as against the hon. Member for Ripon (Major Hills). They are both directors—I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman was a director—of Imperial Airways. This is from a Conservative newspaper—therefore it must be true—the "Birmingham Post" of 30th November last. Sir Eric Geddes said that the trouble was that there were not enough subsidies paid, and that the impoverished German, in 1926, paid in subsidies for their civil aviation £760,000, and last year, with subsidies paid by the municipalities, £1,300,000. France is a poor country compared with ourselves, and with not so large an Empire, but her air lines in 1927 received £634,000, while the figure for subsidies in these Estimates is £266,000, flying only 2,000 miles of regular lines as against over 13,000 for Germany and over 9,000 for France. No people in the world would benefit more by linking up the scattered distant parts of our Dominions than we would by this heaven-sent invention of the aeroplane. It would link the Empire together and prevent it falling to pieces, if only it could be developed, and the right hon. Gentleman stands again and again at that Box and says that the year after next we are going to begin developing the line to India, but we are not even 1597 officially consulting with the Government at the Hague for linking up with the East Indies, and possibly on to Australia. Except that the right hon. Gentleman always disarms us with his charming manner and is so ready to give information, I could suggest impeaching him for his neglect of the most vital need of the Empire to-day—Imperial air communication.
There is no thinking staff at the Air Ministry. They are all engaged in administration. [Interruption.] Now I am talking of a matter of which I have some small knowledge, and the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir G. Butler) shows by his laughter that he has very little. I know something about the organisation of staff duties, and that is the weakness in the Air Ministry. My suggestion is constructive, and I hope the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Air Minister will pay attention. I have been looking at the organisation of aerodromes, and they are organised for one purpose, and that very inadequately—for the defence of London. I do not see any organisation for the defence of the principle shipping ports, and the greatest disadvantage that we should have to face in a war with a great Continental Power would be attacks on our docks, wharves, harbours, and docks. Anyone who looks at a map showing the aerodromes and the stationing of the squadrons will see that they are concentrated practically only for the defence of London, and, as far as I can make out, there are no real preparations for two dangers of the greatest magnitude. One is attacks on the docks and harbours, and the other is attacks on merchant ships at sea.
In the late War, we were taken absolutely by surprise by the use of the submarine against merchant shipping. No one thought the Germans would break the ordinary rules of international law at sea to that extent, and we were taken unprepared. If there should be another war the surprise would be the use of aeroplanes and seaplanes against merchant shipping. They do not even need torpedoes for this purpose. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman has been informed of the experiments carried out in America when the "Virginia" and an ex-German cruiser were sunk. The sinking was done by bombs dropped a few feet away in the water. Water 1598 being incompressible, the explosion drove it like a great hammer through the hull of the ship. They sank the "Ostfriesland," an up-to-date super-Dreadnought, by a 2,000 lb. bomb dropped in the water alongside her. The experiments were very remarkable, and both the Admiralty and the Air Ministry ought to observe them. It will be easy to sink merchant ships in the same way by small bombs dropped alongside, or to gas their crews, or other devilish devices which I need not describe.
I do not see any real preparation by the Air Ministry to meet this menace. It is not the business of the Navy, and you cannot look to the Navy, because the Navy aeroplanes will be required for tactical purposes with the Fleet. It has to be done by aeroplanes flying from land, which is a much cheaper way of flying aeroplanes than from aeroplane carriers, and all along the Mediterranean sea routes, wherever there is a large force, in Spain, Italy or France—they will understand, if they hear I have made such a remark, that I am not suggesting a war with them—we shall be open to attack from every aerodrome along the shore. I do not believe the Air Ministry are considering the matter at all, and I know they are not considering the broad needs of the Empire, because they have only just begun to arrange for aeroplanes to be at Singapore. Our position at Iraq is extremely vulnerable. We have only 75 first-line machines. We are at present threatened from the Desert, from the South-west, and we have had to concentrate our forces to defend Koweit. On the North you have a formidable military power, Turkey, and on the East, Persia, a power which could be formidable under a military leader, and you have this wedge of territory into the heart of the Mohammedan world with three intensely hostile peoples round it. You have 70 or 75 first-line machines to defend this huge territory.
I therefore think the staff side of the Air Ministry is weak, and by staff I mean a thinking staff. As far as I can make out, there is nothing in the Air Ministry corresponding to the Plans Division in the Admiralty. It took two years of war, and a position of extreme danger—we were within an ace of losing the War by submarine attack—before a Department was formed at the Admiralty to consider 1599 plans ahead, a Department that was divorced from the administrative side, and that is the key of real staff organisation. One of the few mistakes the late Earl of Oxford made in his career was to send Lord Haldane to the War Office instead of to the Admiralty. He is one of the few men who at that time understood what staff organisation meant. If he had gone to the Admiralty and organised the Admiralty staff as he organised the War Office staff, the War would have been over in less than a year without that immense expenditure of life on the Continent. However, after two years of War, we got a thinking division in the Admiralty without administrative preoccupations. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who organised the staff at the Admiralty, was a failure, because he did not understand it any more than does the hon. Member for Cambridge University apparently understands it.
I should advise the Air Ministry to study the organisation of the masters of this side of warfare on the German General Staff under the original Count Moltke. He organised a chief of the General Staff, who had only to do with the higher control of policy and the preparation of plans in conjunction with that policy, and the whole of the administration of the Quartermaster-General, the Major-General of the Ordnance, Adjutants-General—all that side of it—was put into a separate department, and the two buildings were separated from each other in Berlin. We have Adastral House and Gwydyr House, and they are separated by a mile. I wish they were separated by 10 miles. In Gwydyr House there should be only the Chief of the Staff and the thinking department, and perhaps the Intelligence Department as well, but in Adastral House should be all the departments dealing with all the day-to-day routine work which in peace time always swamps the Air Council or the Board of Admiralty or the Army Council, as it must do unless you have this arrangement.
What do we see when we turn to the Air Force List? I see the Department of the Chief of the Air Staff, who is Sir Hugh Trenchard, to whom the right hon. Gentleman paid, of course, a very deserved compliment. He has under him a directorate which is called the Directorate 1600 of Operations and Intelligence. That alone damns the whole scheme. You should not have your intelligence and operations in the same department, run by the same people. The two are absolutely distinct. That alone damns it. Secondly, he has his Directorate of Organisations and Staff Duties, and I make no complaint there. Thirdly—and this another damning piece of evidence—he has under him a Directorate of Works and Buildings under the Chief of the Staff! The Chief of the Staff and those under him should be dealing only with questions of stategy, and the organisation of our forces for every conceivable avolation in the world, and how best to defend our interests. They should be entirely divorced from all administrative work, such as the provision of works and buildings. Heavens, Almighty! Are they keeping themselves busy with designs for the building of a new super Dartmouth on land at Cranwell. Are they dealing with barracks and married quarters for the airmen?
Where is your thinking department which has the duty of looking 12 months or 18 months ahead and making plans? We have such a department in the Admiralty. As to the War Office, I have not sufficient knowledge. Have you any such department at the Air Ministry? If you have, I should be very glad to hear of it. I am not accusing the right hon. Gentleman, but I am asking him a question of some importance. If he has not such a department at the Air Ministry, he has no excuse. The Air Force is not a new service, it has no bad traditions, and it has had time to learn. It grew up in the War, and should have learned from the War. I strongly suspect that the real trouble is that the men who count in the Air Ministry are immersed in day-to-day administrative detail, and have not time to think except the right hon. Gentleman who is, after all, political chief, and it is not his business. If that has been allowed to be the case, it must be altered, and altered very quickly. If the right hon. Gentleman can reassure me on this matter, when he comes to reply, I shall be very glad indeed. I end as I began. I am trying to make an efficient administration, which, I hope, by the wise sanity of the younger generation and by mutual agreement with all countries, eventually will be swept out of existence as a fighting machine.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) as to the extreme importance of staff thinking in war. But the difficulty in regard to the Air Force was very much the difficulty in regard to the Navy before the War. They had to get away from the material and think in terms of war. The instance which the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave is a case in point. The Navy would have been bound to consider the question of merchant ships being bombed and torpedoed. It is the declared policy of France to torpedo and bomb merchant ships in precisely the same way as Germany submarined them in the late War. There is no getting away from it. They refused to ratify the Root resolutions of the Washington Convention. These problems of a Defence Minister and the reconciling of the fighting forces are too great to be solved in this House. The Committee of Imperial Defence have absolutely failed. They devised a scheme by which the three chiefs of the staff met, but they only meet to discuss questions on which they do not vitally disagree. Questions of vital disagreement they never discuss at all. The only way I can suggest to remedy our difficulties, in view of the attitude of the Government, is that the Government should set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question of defence. We have never had such a Royal Commission, but we have had a Commission on Food Supply and, I think, the Carnarvon Commission sat as long ago as 1881 on the defence of the Coaling Stations. We also had the question of administration inquired into by the Hartington Commission a good many years ago, about 1886.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) invited me to discuss the question of a naval battle 3,000 miles away from the base. I know I shall not have your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I travel 3,000 miles away from the Air Ministry. He had a difference of opinion with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull over the question of airships. He is an expert and I am a student, and so I am glad to be on his side in that matter. Airships have shown that they have a naval use. I think the 1602 Air Ministry is right in building one, and the hon. Member on the Socialist Benches who attacked the Air Ministry for building two, and at the same time tried to justify Lord Thomson, must remember that the Conservative plan was to build one airship. It was Lord Thomson who superseded that plan by deciding to build two airships. I think that it is a great mistake to build two airships at the same time.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The Conservative scheme which the Labour party superseded—I was not in the party then—was to build eight.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
One ship was to be built and that was to be tried, and, if a success, we were to go on with fresh ones but, if a failure, we were to stop. Of course, if it is a success, we shall build a great many more airships. There is no doubt about that. They will be commercial airships built by private enterprise. But the real difficulty, as I see it, is the question of lightning. I have not yet been reassured that we have provided absolute safeguards against lightning. There is no doubt that the Americans are going ahead, and I think the Americans adopted a better plan than we did. The Air Ministry is designing its own ships without consulting the Admiralty who were the original designers of airships. The American Government offered a prize of £10,000 to the whole world to compete with designs of airships, and it is the winning design that is now going to be built in America by some company over there.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) in his violent condemnation and scientific experiences of the mystery of these airships, reminded me somewhat of the way in which steamships were treated in the old days. The President of the British Association in their annual meeting at Bristol about 100 years ago devoted the whole of his subject to the question of the "Great Western" crossing the Atlantic, and he proved to demonstration, mathematically, that it was scientifically impossible for the "Great Western" to cross the Atlantic. The next year the "Great Western" actually crossed the Atlantic. I think that very much the same thing will occur with regard to airships. The Secretary of State himself used the example of people 1603 being opposed to railways and steamships, but I think he forgot that the Air Ministry itself scrapped the airship resources, got rid of all the paraphernalia connected with airships and was opposed to airships until 1923. When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Air in 1923 the Government were listening to the urgent representation of the Admiralty, that they were willing to take on the building of airships themselves, and then the Air Ministry started on a policy of airships again. So it is a case of repentance on the part of the Air Ministry.
A great deal has been said about civil flying. I think it is an extraordinary state of affairs, after 10 years of the Air Ministry, that we have only 15 commercial flying planes, or 20, if we add the five in the Middle East. It shows an almost inconceivable failure. Various hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that Germany has about seven times as much air route, America about 10 times as much, and France about four times as much, and even little Belgium is ahead of this country. We have not a single air route in the whole of the continent of Africa. This is a matter which really demands some explanation from the Ministry, especially after the extravagant ideas which were encouraged immediately after the War, that we were going to have commercial aeroplanes all over the place competing with the ships plying on the seas. As a matter of fact, the whole of the merchandise now carried in commercial aeroplanes during one year is as much as you can put into a Suez Canal ditcher, which would carry it with the greatest ease. The Secretary of State for Air cannot absolve himself from having encouraged some of these extravagant expectations. In regard to his own trip to India, he said in this House last year, on the 10th March last:I wanted to show, to the world, and particularly to the British world £ that the modern civil machine of to-day can carry out a long-distance flight of this kind with every reliability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1927; col. 1401. Vol. 203.]Surely that trip never showed that. We had destroyers strung out along the route in case the aeroplane tumbled into the sea. We could not do that with all aircraft on a daily voyage. Take the 1604 short distance trips which the Imperial Airways carry out to the continent of Europe. Of these, in 1927, 15 per cent. were interrupted passages. That is not thoroughly reliable. The results are, of course, very good, but it is not what we in connection with merchant shipping would describe as something that has "every reliability," to quote the Secretary of State for Air. That is only in regard to short distance trips
You call them commercial aeroplanes, and yet you give a subsidy of £10 for every passenger carried. A passenger going to Paris pays the Southern Railway a sum of less than £3. To the £10 subsidy you have to add the amount that the passenger pays. I rejoiced to hear the Secretary of State for Air say that we are getting things nearer to a commercial basis with the new planes; that the petrol consumed is going to be less. But are you going to get rid of the subsidy? About half of the mileage to which the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull referred in connection with America, is done without subsidy. It is a paying proposition, without any subsidy. Why should not we get our commercial aeroplanes on the same basis, instead of allowing them to become parasitic on the State?
The Secretary of State for Air referred to the great difficulty in connection with the Indian route, owing to the attitude of Persia. So long as you have commercial machines controlled by a military Department, you must expect suspicion on the part of foreign Governments. You must take you civil flying away from the military Department altogether. If you consider the views put forward by the League of Nations Committee on civil aviation, you can see the suspicion that animated all those representatives. You can note the fears which they entertained in regard to civil aviation being applied to military purposes. Moreover, when you examine the stringent provisions in regard to German civil aviation in the Agreement of the 7th May, 1926, you find how strong were those suspicions in regard to civil aviation. First of all you have it laid down that the military authorities of Germany must in no way be connected with civil aviation. Secondly, only 36 members of the Army and Navy are allowed pilotage certificates 1605 for sporting purposes, and, thirdly, military instruction of any kind whatsoever is forbidden.
In view of these circumstances, consider the remarks made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol North (Captain Guest), a former Secretary of State for Air. He discussed the question of these commercial aeroplanes almost entirely from the point of view of their ability to drop bombs when the next war breaks out. How do you expect when such remarks are made that other nations will not be animated with suspicion in regard to our commercial aeroplanes, so long as those commercial 'planes are under a military Department? The remarks of the Secretary of State in regard to bringing the Air Force into the intellectual and industrial life of the country were significant. The President of the Board of Trade might make those remarks, but they are bound to be regarded with suspicion when they are made by the head of a military Department. I should like to quote a very important pronouncement which was made by the Morrow Committee in America, which was appointed by the President and took a tremendous lot of evidence. They examined 99 witnesses and also examined the evidence of witnesses before many other committees. That Committee in dealing with the question of civil aviation unanimously reported in these terms:The peace time activities of the United States have never been governed by military considerations. To organise its peace time activities on what it is thought may ultimately be one large branch of them, under military control or on a military basis, would be to make the same mistake which, properly or improperly, the world believes Prussia to have made in the last generation. The union of civil and military air activities would breed distrust in every region to which our commercial aviation sought expansion.I think that puts the case in a nutshell, and I ask the Government to face the issue. If, for instance, when the steam engine was invented—it was a greater revolution than the invention of the aeroplane—we had said: "We must advance under one Ministry, because steam engines must be applied to warships as well as merchant ships therefore we will put the whole show under the Admiralty, "does anybody think that the merchant marine would be in the position that it is to-day? Had that been done, the Military 1606 Department would have starved the whole show. Therefore, I do implore the the Government to get these two things, civil aviation and military aviation, separated as soon as possible.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North, dealt with a very wide subject when he referred to the Air Force attacking the nerve centres of nations and said that that would be their principal business. He quoted Marshal Foch as having said so in a lecture. I think the quotation—I know it well—was one given just after the War in conversation with and on the authority of General Groves, who is at the head of the Air League in this country. The only way that we can judge on this matter is by the exact war plans of the French Army, and what they intend to do. Their plans were revealed in 1923 by the American military attaché in France, in a publication in America. They propose to mobilise their Army in 72 hours and their Air Force in 36 hours. In the remaining 36 hours before the Army is fully mobilised, they propose to use their Air Force entirely against the military communications of the enemy army. After that they rejoin their military units. There is nothing whatever said about attacking defenceless towns, and the reason is obvious. The wastage in the Air Force is tremendous. Sir Hugh Trenchard has stated that the wastage will be 80 per cent. in the first month of the war. Therefore, if you use your aeroplanes against defenceless towns the wastage will be so great that it might easily happen that the nation which wastes its force like that, may find itself defenceless in regard to that force within a month. That is the reason why the French do not intend to do that.
The Secretary of State for Air said that the Air Force was formed on the unanimous demand of public opinion during the War to prevent duplication and to establish unity of command and unity of effort. I can only say in regard to that, that it was established to prevent duplication because the Army and the Navy were competing for an inadequate supply of aeroplanes. There is not a single naval officer nor, I believe, a single soldier who would oppose a Department which exists for the purpose of supply, just like the Ordnance Department. We have the authority of the first Secretary of State for Air that was ever appointed 1607 in this country, Lord Rothermere, that there was no other reason for the formation of the Air Ministry but to prevent duplication, and that the intention was to revert to the old plan of an Air arm for the Army and an Air arm for the Navy, and that for the purpose of civil aviation there was to be a different Department. Lord Rothermere stated that it was purely a temporary expedient. There is no nation which has copied us in this respect.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Italy attempted to copy us, but the first naval manœuvres which followed resulted in a farce, and Signor Mussolini was so struck with the failure of having a separate Air Force that he re-introduced the system of the Navy training its own pilots and having its own Air Force. The Secretary of State for Air says that the present system has been justified by a number of inquiries. There has been no public inquiry of any description. The public have never been reassured. There have been no public inquiries like there have been in America. There have been Departmental inquiries on limited matters and Terms of Reference, of which the public and this House knew nothing except the conclusions reached. After 10 years, there ought to be a general stocktaking, if not of the Air Service alone, then of the whole three services, so that we may know how we stand in regard to offence and defence and that we may secure real economy in finance.