HC Deb 07 March 1929 vol 226 cc595-655

Order for Committee read.

The SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

4.0 p.m.

The net Estimates for the year are £16,200,000 as against £16,250,000 in 1928. They, therefore, show a reduction of £50,000. When, however, the Appropriations-in-Aid for the Fleet Air Arm and for services in India and other parts of the world are taken into account, the gross expenditure, being £19,645,100 as against £19,135,100 in 1928, shows an increase of £510,000. The solid fact, however, for the British taxpayer to note is that whilst expenditure upon Air armaments has been bounding up in other parts of the world our net expenditure—after taking into account the recent change in the presentation of the Estimates—for the fourth year in succession shows an actual decrease. There are some hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House who would like to see an increase rather than a reduction in Air expenditure. There are hon. Members on the other side of the House, to judge from their Amendments on the Order Paper, who desire to see little or no expenditure upon this new arm of defence and this revolutionary means of communication. Let me say to my hon. Friends on this side of the House that I wish as sincerely as any of them that the country could afford a more generous expenditure upon our Air services, and let me say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that as the Debate develops we shall be able to show that in the matter of Air disarmament, our record is unassailable. We should welcome a reduction in Air Estimates provided that reduction is general, and does not leave this country in a vulnerable position.

There are four novel points in these Estimates, and I desire at the outset of the Debate to call the attention of the House to each of them. First of all, there is the increase of seven squadrons in the strength of the Air Force. These units will be allocated to the three principal branches of our air activity, Home Defence, Imperial Security and the Fleet Air Arm. The seven new squadrons will make our total strength 82 squadrons, as against 75 in 1928.


How many aeroplanes are there in a squadron?


The bombing squadrons have 10 or 12 first-line machines according to then type, while the fighting squadrons have 12.


Are the Naval squadrons the same?


I think I had better refrain from going into fine details. Let me say, in a single sentence, that the Naval units are organised in a somewhat different way from the Army squadrons, but speaking generally, the strength of the Air Force will be 82 squadrons, as against 75 in 1928. Even so, our strength will be definitely inferior to the strength of certain other great Powers. Secondly, these Estimates show a notable advance in the development of our Imperial air communications. The route to India, as hon. Members already know, will be actually in operation in a few weeks' time, and I hope in the course of the next few months to be able to take the necessary steps for starting in due course with the other great trunk line of the Empire, London to the Cape. I shall deal in greater detail with this part of my subject at a later point in my speech. Thirdly, we have made definite provision for a further advance in technical and scientific development. Leaving out of account the larger super-cut, the Vote for technical and warlike equipment shows an increase of no less than £615,000 over 1928. On the completion of this year's programme the whole Air Force, with the exception of four squadrons in India, will be equipped with new-type engines and machines. The four Indian squadrons are due for re-armament in 1930.

Upon the civil side we are concentrating on the development of new and up-to-date types of machines for civil transport. Among the first items in our programme are a boat of new type with twin floats, a larger flying boat than any we have yet constructed and two aircraft which we hope will enable us to test the rival claims of monoplanes and bi-planes for civil purposes. In the meanwhile, a further advance will be made in a field in which we already have the leading place in the world, the field of metal construction. Four years ago the Air Ministry was ordering only one metal machine to every 19 of wooden construction. Today, we are ordering seven metal machines for one wood. So swift has been the revolution in the methods of construction during the last four years! As far as engines are concerned, these Estimates embody a special effort to bring the progress in engine design level with the remarkable progress that has been achieved in aeroplane design during the last few years. Recent experiments go to show that pre-eminent as British aero-engines are in the world, there are very notable improvements within our reach, both with air-cooled and water-cooled types, while the heavy oil engine—the engine we are using in the two new airships—is also a development of great promise.

A further effort is also being made to apply the data that we have now accumulated upon the risks of flying whether they be due to the structure of the machine or to the human element. The brilliant work of the experimental pilots at Farnborough and Martlesham and the special efforts of the Aeronautical Research Committee are increasing our knowledge of wing-flutter and the stresses to which high-speed machines are subjected, whilst concentrated attention is being given to possible developments of that great safety invention, the slotted wing. Indeed, I believe that the more the Vote for equipment research and technical development is studied, the more it will be clear that we are concentrating upon the essential problems, and that we are trying to solve them with the fullest possible help of scientists and engineers both inside and outside the Air Ministry.

I now come to the fourth of the new and outstanding points in these Estimates, namely, the proposal we are making to stimulate the air sense of the nation, and to give opportunities for flying to individuals and districts who do not at present possess them. I refer to the proposed grant to the National Flying Services Company. I feel sure that in the course of this Debate I shall have an opportunity of going into this subject in greater detail, but let me say here in a sentence or two that we are proposing to make a grant to this company for two specific purposes. First, to obtain a larger number of pilots—and we are proposing to pay the company £10 per pilot as against £40 or £50 we are paying to the light aeroplane clubs now; and, secondly, we make it a condition of the agreement that the new-company should provide, directly or indirectly, 20 new aerodromes and 80 new landing grounds. We have been careful to interfere in no way with the existing arrangements with the light aeroplane clubs, and no change whatever is being made in the agreements, many of which have still some time to run, in force between the Government and these clubs.


Has the Minister consulted with the pilots?


It will be much better if the right hon. Gentleman is allowed to make his speech without interruption.


Of course, we have discussed the scheme with the clubs. I have talked the question over with them at great length, and have already informed the House of this fact on several occasions. These are the four novel points in the Estimates—the increase in the Air Force; the proposed development in air communications; the step forward in technical and scientific development, and this effort to diffuse air knowledge throughout the country and give freer and fuller facilities to the young men and women who wish to fly. No doubt in the course of the Debate we shall have an opportunity of going into much greater detail on all these four proposals, but, for the moment, let me pass from details and direct the attention of the House for a few minutes to one or two broad questions of air organisation and air transport. Let me begin by asking hon. Members a very simple but very important question: is the organisation of our air services efficient? Are we, or are we not, keeping abreast of new ideas and modern developments and improvements?

Take the first question: Is our Air Service efficient? Granted the obvious differences between a fighting service and an undertaking which is carried on for private profit or as a public utility service, I am most anxious that a new service like the Air Service should not be left in any hole and corner of the national life, but should freely avail itself of any improvements in method and management that are being introduced into business and industry. There is no reason why what is known as rationalisation should be restricted to businesses for private profit or to public utility services. If by rationalisation is meant a sound division of labour, the avoidance of waste and an opportunity for ability to get to the top, a fighting service like the Air Service has everything to gain by its application and introduction.

Let me take rationalisation as my text. Let me suggest to the House one or two ways in which we are attempting to make use of improvements in the world at large in their application to the Air Force Take the personnel side of the question, the staff side. The very basis of any sound scheme of rationalisation is the existence of a contented and efficient staff. On the personnel side, we have had many difficult problems to face during the few years of the existence of the Air Force. We had, first of all, the difficult problem of forming from the very beginning, a new fighting service in time of peace. We had the difficult problem of forming a new service which needs many younger men for flying and at the same time does not require a proportionate number of senior posts at the top. I think that we can now claim that we have made some progress in dealing with these problems, and the record and spirit of the Service during the last 11 years shows at any rate that we are not guilty of any general failure. Be this as it may, we have now accumulated a great deal of data and have obtained a great deal of experience, and we believe that we are in a position to take a step forward and make great improvements in the serving conditions of the Force generally.

During the last few months we have introduced a new promotion scheme. I need not go into great detail just now, but I may tell the House, in a sentence, that we believe that under this scheme we shall insure a freer stream of promotion for ability in the Force. We are throwing open to the non-commissioned ranks a number of posts which have hitherto been restricted to officers and are introducing, upon a larger scale than before, civilian labour wherever we think it will be more efficient and more economical than service labour. In all these three directions the new promotion scheme, when it comes into full operation—obviously it must take some months, it may be years—should enable us to give a better career to officers and men in the Force and make it easier for merit to rise freely to the top.

Then there is also the problem of the short service officer; the officer who comes into the Air Force for five years and then goes back into civil life, remaining on the Reserve. We have never undertaken any definite obligation to find the short service officer employment when he leaves the Air Force, but being, as we hope, good employers, we have done what we can. I am glad to say that we have now been able to take a further step in order to make it easier for him to find employment when he leaves the Force at the end of five years. We have started an organisation on the lines of the Cambridge University Appointments Board. We have a whole-time official acting as secretary, and we make it our business to keep in close touch with firms and industries with a view to finding opportunities for employment for the considerable number of men who leave the Force every year. Although this organisation has only been in existence for a comparatively short period, suitable appointments have been found for no less than 90 out of 120 officers who have left the Force luring the past 12 months. Of the balance of 30, some have found employment on their own initiative and others have been placed in touch with what appear to be suitable openings. In view of what I have said I claim that in these two directions, namely, providing a better career for the permanent officer in the Air Force and finding employment for the short service officer when he leaves the Force, these Estimates mark a definite step forward. So much for the personnel side.

Let me come now to the scarcely less important material side. In a very technical service like the Air Service it is all-important to take every opportunity of avoiding waste and unnecessary expenditure on valuable material. Let me suggest to the House in a few sentences one or two ways in which we are trying to avoid the waste and the very heavy expenditure, which would be inevitable in so expensive a service as the Air Service unless we were constantly trying to check waste and extravagance. I think we have not been altogether unsuccessful. Take one or two instances. We have been trying to close down uneconomical stations. We have been trying to combine stations where we think economy and efficiency would result, and it is significant to note that although the first line strength of the Air Force has more than doubled since I first presented these Estimates in 1923, the number of personnel on Vote A has not increased at all. If hon. Members will scrutinise the Estimates, they will see that we are transferring our principal wireless training establishment from Flowerdown in Hampshire to Cranwell in Lincolnshire. That is an example of an attempt at economy by the concentration of two important establishments at one station.

Hon. Members again will notice in the details of this Estimate that we are making a further economy in the very expensive item of spare parts. We have been able during the last year or two to make continuous reductions in this expenditure. Not only does that show that we are saving money, but it shows that the number of crashes and the wastage of material are becoming on the whole less and less each year. There is a saving this year of no less than £156,000 upon this single item of spare parts. When that is taken into account with a corresponding saving of £200,000 in this same item last year, hon. Members will see that at any rate in this respect year by year we are improving our record and are more successful in avoiding wastage of machines and engines and the various instruments which the flying service requires.

There is another item in the Estimates bearing on this same point. It refers to the more technical devices for avoiding waste. An instance may be found in the provision in the Estimates for what is known as a flowmeter, an instrument invented at Farnborough for the checking of one of the biggest items in Air Force expenditure, the consumption of fuel in the air. Let me give the House an illustration of the value of such an instrument. Five Horsley machines were twice flown in formation at a height of 15,000 feet for two hours, once without flowmeters and again later fitted with them. With flowmeters fitted, the consumption of petrol was materially reduced, and further there was very little variation between the individual machines. In fact, taking as a basis of comparison the lowest of the 10 consumption-figures, the consumption of the other four machines with flowmeters in no case showed an excess of more than 7 per cent., whereas when the machines were without flowmeters, the excesses were as much as 27, 29, 32, 36 and 60 per cent.

There is, further, a most important provision for another labour-saving instrument, a seaplane tank and a variable density wind tunnel, by means of which we are enabled to make tests upon model aeroplanes rather than incur the expense of making the experiments upon full-sized aeroplanes with their crews. If I had the time I could develop this part of the subject and satisfy the House that we are constantly, day by day and week by week, attempting to introduce the kind of labour-saving device of which I have just given the House an illustration, and by that means avoiding unnecessary expenditure and any possibility of waste. But I think I have said enough, at any rate to interest the House in this aspect of our work, and to satisfy them that we are on the right lines.

Let me now come to a further question. I have attempted to deal with the first question that I put to the House, is our organisation efficient and are we trying to keep abreast of modern methods and modern improvements? I come now to-an equally important question, are we successfully carrying out our main duties of air defence and Imperial air communications? I will deal first with air defence, and the most urgent part of our air defence, the defence of these shores. I regret to say that our home extension programme is not yet completed. We have only 31 squadrons out of the 52 that we are gradually building up. I wish that we had been able to make a quicker advance during the last few years, but we can say that year by year, judged by any standard that any hon. Member likes to apply, these squadrons are becoming more and more efficient, not only compared with a year or two ago, but compared with any other squadrons, I care not from where you take it, over the face of the world. It is also satisfactory to know that our experience during the years in which we have been engaged upon building up these home defence squadrons, goes to show that the Territorial units, the Auxiliary squadrons and the Special Reserve squadrons are more than justifying the hopes that were placed upon them. Indeed, so fully is that so and so efficiently are they carrying out their duties, that we are making a substantial increase in their number in this year's Estimate. So much for the main duty of the Air Force at home, the duty of home defence.

Let me come next to the duties of the Air Force abroad, the activities of the Force overseas. There, I think, I can point to several instances during the last 12 months in which the Air Force has shown itself as the most humane and most efficient instrument for ensuring peace and security in various parts of the Empire. The Air Force has been on active service during the last 12 months in the Middle East, in the Sudan, in the Aden Protectorate and in the North West Frontier of India. I hope that because the Air Force has been on active service for many months during the last year, no hon. Member will think that we embark lightly upon military operations. There is no officer on the staff, there is no officer of any unit in the territories to which I have just referred, who does not desire to use to the full every possible peaceful method and only to use military force in the last resort. Those men, officers or laymen, who have to do with the Air Force, realise that the Air arm is so fine that its misuse or its too constant use will altogether blunt it and make it of no effect. So during the last 12 months it is only in the very last resort that military operations have been undertaken.

In the case of the military operations in Iraq it was the encroachment of certain tribes many miles over the Iraq frontier, and the butchery of large numbers of men, women and children, that brought the Air Force into operation. In Aden it was the kidnapping of two sheiks friendly to Great Britain. In the Sudan it was the murder of a British Commissioner, a Greek trader and several natives that compelled the Air Force to take action. On the North-West Frontier it was the kidnapping of several peaceful Indian subjects. On all these occasions the Air Force went into action, and the operations were carried out successfully, with scarcely any casualities amongst either the Air Force or the native population. In the case of the Air Force there was only one death in action during all the operations. As for the native population, they were saved long drawn out military operations with all the casualties that these inevitably entail. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Lady not agree?


It is comforting for the people who have been killed.


Does the hon. Lady mean to imply that she would rather have columns of infantry and artillery engaged in these operations?


The hon. Lady means to imply that she does not know what we are doing there at all. These harmless native tribes have a right to their own land. We would not be there at all if there was no oil there.


I cannot be drawn into an argument with the hon. Member. These harmless natives, harmless British subjects, were butchered without any provocation, and it is the duty of the Imperial garrison to protect them and inflict punishment.


If the right hon. Gentleman has a moment to spare in the course of the next few Weeks, would he go and see the play at the Court Theatre, "Rumour," which deals with this exact point, and he will see how much truth there is in the stories of unprovoked attacks?


I am stating the facts, and I challenge any hon. Member, whatever side of the House he or she belongs to, to study in detail the history of the operations that I have just described, and come to any other conclusion than that there could not have been a more humane or a more economical instrument of the Pax Britannica than the Air Force in these various territories. So far as money expenditure goes, it is interesting to note that in the Aden operations the total cost was £8,000, whereas it has been calculated that under the older conditions of welfare the expenditure would have run into perhaps £6,000,000.

Let me pass from that side of my speech. I hope I have said enough to show that, assuming that military operations are necessary in these areas, the Air arm has efficiently and economically carried out its duties. I pass to the other side of the question, the very important side of Imperial air communications, almost as important as the side of air defence and security. When I say Imperial air communications, I have in mind the whole field, military and civil—military in respect of the many pioneer service flights that during the last few years have opened out the great Imperial airways, both by the landing grounds which they have laid out, and the experience which they have accumulated; and civil in respect of the regular services that have already been started, the many flights that have been made by civilians, airmen and women, over long distances, and the air knowledge which they are diffusing over the world.

As long as I have been at the Air Ministry I have always regarded, as the first need in any civil aviation programme, the need for starting an air route to India. The Air Ministry is full of evidence which bears out what I say when I tell the House that scarcely a week, indeed scarcely a day, has passed since I have been connected with the Air Ministry—now I am afraid many years—that I have not been attempting to get this air service to India started. The House may say, "You have been at the Air Ministry for six years and that is a long time for starting a route of this kind." So it is, but, looking back, I do not suppose there ever was a project of this kind that was faced with so many obstacles—the difficulty first of finding the money and the difficulty, again, of making arrangements with the various countries over which we have to fly. Why, Sir, I believe that if I had the style of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I could write as picturesque a narrative about the starting of the air route to India as he has just written on "The Aftermath of the War." Anyhow, I am glad to think that these difficulties have been at last overcome. The service is going to start. Hon. Members know the details of it and I need not repeat those details to them. The service is being started in a few weeks. Satisfactory agreements have been made with all the Governments along the route, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Governments with which we are going to co-operate.


It is by agreement?




In each case?


In each case. I should like to express my satisfaction to the whole series of Governments concerned—to the French and Swiss Governments over whose territory the first stage of the journey will be made, to the Italian and Greek Governments in regard to the second stage, to the Egyptian Government in regard to the third stage and last of all to the Persian Government in regard to the stage between Iraq and India. I believe that not only shall we here at home, and our fellow citizens in India, find the route a very great advantage but I believe that each of the countries over which it will pass will find it of great benefit to themselves. The route is going to open in a few weeks time and I venture to suggest to hon. Members who want a complete change before the General Election that they might very well take a passage by air to and from India. They could be back in this House within a fortnight and I think we might have an arrangement during that fortnight that there would be no by-elections.


What is the cost?


I have not the figure in my mind but it compares quite favourably with any other method of transport. So much for the India service. I come now to the other great Imperial trunk line, the route from London to the Cape. The effort to start the India route was made first for the very good reason that several parts of that route had already been organised between Egypt and the Persian Gulf by the Royal Air Force. But we have always had it in mind that as soon as the India route was started our next objective should be a London to the Cape route. I am glad to think that during the last few years we have accumulated a great deal of very useful data which will help us in our efforts to start an African service. We had, as the House remembers, a series of long-distance service flights carried out both by the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. We have had the landing grounds marked out. We have also had a series of pioneer flights carried out by private individuals over the same route—by pilots like Sir Alan Cobham, Lady Bailey, Lady Heath and Captain and Mrs. Bentley. I think the House will allow me to pay a tribute to them and particularly to the ladies who, during the last 12 months, have made these very enterprising flights from one end of Africa to the other. We have, as I say, accumulated a great deal of data without which it would have been impossible to organise so ambitious an air line as an air line from one end of Africa to the other—a distance of 6,250 miles. We have the data and we believe also we have the demand. There is not a territory in any part of Africa which would not gain almost inestimable advantages from the starting of this service.

I will give the House, as an illustration of what I am saying, a few examples of the time which will be saved between one point and another showing how great will be the advantage to the various British territories along the route. The time taken to-day to travel from Cairo to Khartum will be halved. Whereas with present communications it takes seven to 14 days to get from Cairo to Sudanese centres as far South as Malakal and Mongalla, the air service will reach both of them in three days or under. Entebbe in Uganda, and centres such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar-es-Salam and Tabora in Kenya and Tanganyika are at present from 12 to 15 days journey by rail and sea from Egypt. The new air service will reduce this time by a full two thirds. North and South Rhodesia will be brought within 10 days of London, whereas now the voyage and subsequent journey take three weeks. To get to Johannesburg or Pretoria will take only 11 days instead of 18 or 19, whilst further South the Union Parliament at Cape Town will be brought within 12 days of Westminster.

Can we find the money for so useful a project? I believe we can. I have included in these Estimates a small sum for making a start. It is designedly small for, with the best will in the world, we cannot hope to organise a regular service of this kind in under 12 months. But we have included this small sum to show our goodwill. I am in communication with the various Governments concerned and on behalf of the Government here I have informed the Government of the Union of South Africa that we are prepared to make a substantial contribution in the form of subsidy to this London-Cape Town service.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

On what page is that sum?


I will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman afterwards. It is under "Civil Aviation." As I say, I have informed the South African Government that we are prepared to make a substantial contribution to the expenses and it should be remembered in this connection that we are already bearing the whole of the expenses of that part of the service which goes from this country to Egypt. But, over and above that, we are prepared to make a contribution to the section from Egypt to South Africa. I would say to the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) that we have a detailed scheme worked out by the various interested parties. As he no doubt will remember, there is more than one interest connected with the question. I am glad to say the various interests have now agreed. We have a combined proposal and it is on the basis of that proposal that we are now negotiating with the other Governments on the route. I think the House will agree that while it is the duty of the British Government to take its share in a project of this kind it is none the less the responsibility of the Governments along the route to take their part in it as well, and I have every hope that the negotiations will proceed satisfactorily and that by each Government playing its part we shall be able to set in operation the second of these great Imperial air trunk routes.

5.0 p.m.

What a thrilling project. It is a project to combine no less than seven Colonial and Dominion Governments in Africa in a common endeavour to destroy the great enemy of the Empire—distance. What a chance for these Imperial Governments to form in the air a co-operative commonwealth of transport—transport which I am certain will be of the greatest value to the Empire as a whole and of the greatest value to every single one of these territories along the route. In any case the House can rely upon me to spare no effort to bring this project to a successful termination. If we succeed in organising these two routes, the route to India and the route to the Cape, and if in addition to that our great airship experiment is successful, we shall have made ourselves without fear of rivalry the great air carriers of the world.

I am now drawing to the end of another long Estimates speech, the sixth that it has been my duty to address to the House. For more than five years, the main interest of my life has been the progress of British flying. Looking back to-night, in this last Air Estimates Debate of the present Parliament, I cannot help thinking a little of what has been done, and a great deal of what might have been done, during these critical years in the life of a new service and the development of a new science. I suppose that there is not an hon. Member in the House this afternoon who could not easily make out a long list of what might have been done during these last five years; but I can assure the House that there is no hon. Member who could make a longer list than myself. Be that as it may, we can, however, look back over the last five years with some satisfaction, and, however much we may think of mistakes and of missed opportunities, we can point to a certain definite progress which stands beyond the reach of disputation. Where there was no organised Home Defence Force, there are now 31 of the most efficient squadrons in the world, trained to the highest point to protect these shores from the most terrible of all attacks.

Where few realised the value of air power in the Empire, the achievements in Iraq, Aden, and India have now convinced public opinion of its inestimable importance. Where there were no Imperial air routes, the work of the pioneers and the organisation of regular services are already succeeding in bringing the Empire closer together. New-types of engines and machines have taken the place of the older material; metal has been substituted for wood; safety appliances, like the parachute and the auto-slot, have been introduced. The finest flying boats in the world have been built; the Schneider Cup has been won, and the fastest aeroplane in the world constructed. Two great airships are nearing completion after a unique effort of scientific inquiry and technical experiment.

Perhaps best of all, the spirit of a great service, first kindled in the testing times of war, has been made stronger and more stable in these days of peace—the spirit not only to act but also to think, the spirit not only to conquer the air but also to surmount the difficulties of the world below, the spirit cheerfully and at the same time intelligently to accept the tasks that are imposed upon the Air Force and the determination successfully to carry them out. These things I mention, not because I have the right or the wish to take credit for any of them, but because I desire the House to realise the progress that has been achieved and the good fortune that I have had in tying my wagon to the flying chariot of the British airmen.


I am quite sure that I am expressing the opinion of everybody who has listened to the most interesting address of the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating him upon maintaining his usual standard of lucidity and interest in the statements which he has now made to us for several years in succession; and I should like, if I may, to add that as an Air Minister he has introduced a new conception by being a flying Minister; and that quality is not confined solely to himself, but is enjoyed by other members of his family, whether against his wish or not I have no means of knowing. Further, I think I am right in saying that this is the last year in which the Air Force will have the services of Sir Hugh Trenchard. Is that so?




If that be so, remembering his work during the War I should like to say what I am sure very many members of the Air Force feel, that that service is about to lose the services of one of the greatest pioneers the Air Force has ever known, and that people, whenever they speak of the origins of the Air Force, will say with very great truth of Sir Hugh Trenchard, that "There were giants in those days."

If I may say so with very great respect, the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman was extremely interesting as far as facts were concerned, and showed industry and assiduity, but it really did not show that he had tackled the problem which ought to be tackled by Ministers to-day. The Minister in charge of any defence Department has at the present time a very difficult task. The public is sick and tired of the notion of war, and is completely indifferent to any proposal to make any provision for war; and if it is hard for a Minister on that side of the House, who can find among his own supporters perhaps some neutrals, and on the other hand some defeatists, at the same time as far as this side of the House is concerned, if at any time a Minister in a Labour Government were called upon to discharge the office which the right hon. Gentleman has discharged with so much distinction, the task would be infinitely harder, because his supporters on this side are determined to put the engines in reverse, and see whether it is not possible to get a limit set to the thing which we believe, brilliantly conceived and nobly served as it is, is one of the most destructive and dangerous weapons which exist in the world to-day.

Fortunately, the Air Minister is in a totally different position from the War Minister or the First Lord of the Admiralty, because there is a positive side to his work; it is not concerned solely with the work of destruction. It is not only that he may be engaged in the police work to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred; there is a definite and positive side to it because the Air Minister represents in this House a Ministry which is charged with the development and encouragement of what I believe to be one of the greatest potential aids for the service of humanity that science has provided; and so, although it is necessary in the first place to deal with the military side of the right hon. Gentleman's duty, certainly later on I propose to devote some remarks to what I call the positive, more human, and certainly, to me, the more agreeable side. The right hon. Gentleman said: "Given that I can get no agreement about air armaments"—and he dismissed that in a sentence, as he has dismissed it in a sentence on every occasion since he took office—"given that I can get no agreement, I have a certain problem to face, namely, that I must see at any rate that we have some shelter from the blows which might come to us at an hour or a couple of hours' notice." That problem would exist for Labour if it were in office to-day, and until policy is so correct that that situation is altered, there is no doubt that whoever sat on that bench representing the Air Ministry would have to be prepared to answer the question: "In the absence of any international agreement, what are you doing to protect us against what might be a blow delivered in a moment at the heart of our country?"

The first question that I would ask the right hon. Gentleman is this: Is there anybody in the Cabinet who, when the service Estimates come forward, looks at all three and decides how the money is to be distributed between them? That is a very important question. Of course, here we are limited in a way; we have a certain amount of scope in this House on this Vote, but it is a limited scope. We seldom have an opportunity of discussing the thing as a whole. But, at any rate, we could ask the Minister: When the Cabinet meets, is it a case of first the Admiralty by virtue of seniority, then the War Ministry by virtue of pertinacity, and then the Air Minister last of all for what he can get that is left? Are dress allowances to be made for both the ugly sisters, and is the Air always to sit among the cinders? It is quite conceivable that given an agreed and striking reduction in the total amount voted for defence—a reduction of 10 or even 20 per cent. in the figure—it might be desirable that the Air Estimates should grow. I am dealing with the thing as it stands to-day, and I am coming to what I consider to be the real defence by the Minister of these Estimates, and therefore I would like to ask the Air Minister what is done about that. Does the Committee of Imperial Defence, does the Prime Minister, or does somebody, sit there to deal with the Estimates, and does the Air Minister, with his charming and, I am afraid, too concessive manner, always have to take third place to others who are more obstinate and pertinacious in raiding the public Exchequer?

I think we realise, in common with everyone, that there is no safety—there may be victory in the Air Force, victory only a shade worse than defeat, but there is no safety either in the Air Force, or in any other form of armament. The only safety is in disarmament, and, therefore, one at once addresses to the Air Minister the question: What has been his contribution, and, though he is not of course responsible for the Cabinet, what has been their contribution to what is the vital question to-day for us and for every other country in Europe? What are we doing to reduce these most dangerous and most devilish of all the weapons of war? We have the Geneva Preparatory Commission; but I do not know what has happened to it. I used to think of it as a lame man, but it is a lame man who is halting. As far as one can make out, nothing has come of that. I will go further, and I will ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: He says that the difference between protection against an army or protection against a navy and protection against an air force is this: You get some warning of an invasion and you get some warning about the movements of naval forces, but you get no warning about an air attack, conceivably; and therefore he says: "It is my bounden duty to see that the heart of the Empire is protected Against a blow that might be struck without notice—we do not for a moment imagine that it will be, but which might be struck without notice—at our vitals."

That being so, it becomes really a question of geographical limits. You do not conceive that the Chinese are going to bomb Woolwich at an hour's notice. It is a question of geography and it is a question of mileage. We know perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman's defence, although very wisely in this House he says very little about it, is that within a certain distance of our own country there is an Air Force which is vastly superior in strength to our own. That is his real defence; that is the defence for this programme which was started in 1923, and which year by year has added squadron by squadron. Are we not entitled to ask him what the Cabinet has done? If they cannot do anything at Geneva for general disarmament, what have they done in reference to our Gallic neighbours? Have they done anything at all? We have a Foreign Secretary who is both a Francophil and a Francophobe. As far as I can judge, the only French word he ever uses is the word "Oui." At every stage we pursue a Francophil policy. There is nothing that he has not done. We have entered the Covenant of the League of Nations; we have forgiven the debt, or a great part of it; we have signed the Kellogg Pact; we have undertaken under the Locarno Treaty to defend French territory. What have we in return? Is it impossible to conceive that we could have made some agreement which at any rate would have relieved us of what I admit is a potential danger, against which the Air Minister is perfectly right to place us in a condition of adequate defence? It is not as though nothing of the sort had been attempted. In the future people will regard it as something of a joke that, in this matter of the relative strength of the two Forces, in view of the fact, which is not denied, that the Government have negotiated a Treaty about warships, with the only result of greatly prejudicing our relations with the United States, in this precious Treaty, which might have contained one good thing, namely, an agreement to produce a détente in this competition of air armaments, not a single word has been spoken on that subject.

I am not laying the whole burden of the charge by any means on the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think the Government as a whole can escape conviction upon that charge, when looked at in the light of the public interest. The Air Minister and the War Minister—and I have no doubt the First Lord of the Admiralty will say the same—say that every other country in the world is increasing its Air Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say these Estimates are increasing, but he is not disarming; he is adding to the Air Force.


The Estimates are decreasing.


I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not take shelter there, because he is not as frank as his own printed statement. There is an increase of armaments and of squadrons. But all these Ministers say, "We are doing all this, but look at the foreigner. Every foreigner is adding to his force." The Air Minister said it to-day, the War Minister said it last week, and no doubt the First Lord of the Admiralty will say it next week. Do they not see that every time they explain that foreign countries are increasing their Estimates they are condemning their own policy, because we ourselves undertook at Locarno heavy obligations on the distinct understanding that the price we should get for them was a general disarmament in Europe, and there is not a shadow of hope that any of the fruits of that Locarno policy are going to come our way? The Air Minister might say, very reasonably, "It is all very well, but agreements are two-sided affairs, and I would be very willing to do what I can, but other people have to be consulted." All I can say is that there are many people in Europe, quite independent of supporters of this party, who are hoping that we may see again that happy conjunction which we had in 1924 of Labour and Socialist Governments in office in France and England, which resulted in the greatest détente in the strained relations of Europe that has been known ever since the War.

I say that the work of the Air Ministry—and that is what makes it so different from the other Ministries—is not confined merely to the negative side, the side of repression and of the use of force, but there is a positive side, namely, the encouragement and the fostering in every way of flying. I believe that it would be a disastrous thing if the pursuit of disarmament led us to do anything to lame or hamstring this enormous human development. I do not think you could in any case, but all who have considered the subject, including the Preparatory Commissions at Geneva, have always come to the conclusion that we must do nothing to interfere with the progress of civil aviation. Its potentialities are immense, and no one has spoken of it better than has the Air Minister himself. I saw a statement which might interest the Minister of Health, to the effect that in a town in Connecticut there had been disclosed by an aerial photograph 1,863 houses which up to then had paid no rates. It might help them in the morass of the De-rating Bill.

We are entitled to ask, despite what the Air Minister said about the development of Imperial routes to India, how we really stand in relation to other countries. I believe in civil aviation, and I want to say, subject to certain safeguards, that I believe we ought to have the air leadership of the world. We are an Empire which is more scattered than any other Empire in the world, and it is essential for us that we should be in free and open communication with every part, not only of our own Dominions, but of the whole world. That has been the past history of this country, that we have always taken a lead in world communication. Exactly where do we stand now? These figures were supplied to me, and I believe they represent the facts. I am going to give, first of all, the air mileage of commercial routes. These figures, of course, will be very strikingly modified when the right hon. Gentleman can say he has an air route to India or the Cape, but I am taking the present figures, and including the Cairo to Basra route, the link which is at present in operation, Great Britain has 2,000 miles, United States 13,000, France 12,000, Italy 3,000 and Germany 18,000. That is the number of miles of commercial routes open to-day.

Let us look at the number of aerodromes. I do not know whether this is right, but my statement says that Great Britain has 19 and the United States 425 municipal aerodromes and 415 private and commercial aerodromes. Of course, the United States is a vast tract of country compared with our island, but the figures certainly show a striking disparity between the two countries. France has 15 aerodromes, and whereas we have 18 aerodromes and one seaplane station, according to this information, Germany has 89 aerodromes and seven seaplane stations. When we come to the civil air craft, actually flying, employed on regular air transport, we find that Great Britain has 19, United States 250, and Germany 240. If these figures are accurate, I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he is doing, not to meet this immediate problem, but to secure for Great Britain the air hegemony to which we are entitled. I am not by any means criticising what has been done, and I acknowledge the efficiency of our service and the spirit of our men, but I notice that in the United States night flying is a regular part of their service, and in Germany too, and that in both these countries there is a train and air combination. I mention this, because in both countries that I have mentioned the railway companies are working jointly with the air companies, or are perhaps controlling them in this train and air combination.

I am not saying or recommending that we should increase the subsidy we give to civil flying, but I will give the figures of the subsidies in respect of the various countries. I am not sure about the United States at all. I presume they give a subsidy to those who carry their air mails, but whether their startling air development—I am told that £20,000,000 is sunk in the air industry in the United States-is due to subsidies, I cannot say. As regards Germany, it is stated that the State grant, independent of grants from the municipalities and towns, is £840,000 a year, in France £1,370,000, in Italy £534,000, and in this country £385,000. I am not necessarily recommending that we should give money, but I am showing that in this, which is by far the most important side of the Air Ministry's work, we are some long distance behind the other countries.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Imperial air routes, and I applaud what he said. It is a splendid thing that has been done, but what is going to be the character of the routes, aerodromes, and so on? Are they intended, so to speak, to be a trench to defend the Empire, or are they an open highway for the use of all the peoples of the world? There is a vast difference between the two conceptions. That we should contribute our part to making air highways in the world for the use of everyone, of course, with proper charges and so on, is in striking harmony with the principle on which we have built up sea routes, with their ports, in which we have received the commerce of the people of all nations. That is a noble conception, worthy of our race, but if the Imperial airways, of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks, merely mean concealed military approaches, I say that be is entirely out of harmony with the spirit of the times and with the traditions of our own country.

That brings me to another and the last of the points with which I shall trouble the House. I do not take the view that the real question, even from the point of view of defence, is the matter of having squadrons ready to be put into the air to retort if any attack were made upon us—because that is what we mean by defence; it does not mean filling the sky with aeroplanes, but it means being able to hit back at the man who has attempted or is going to attack you. But what of the development of civil flying generally from the military standpoint? I believe they call it, in the jargon of Geneva, the "war potential." Supposing you were to look round Europe to-day, and you saw France, with her. £1,300,000 being spent on civil subsidies, and her enormous Air Force, and you saw Germany, which has had the incalculable blessing of the Peace Treaty, that has protected her from the waste of money incurred by everybody who is free from military obligations, and you saw her 18,000 miles of air routes, and you saw Franco with her immediately ready machines, and you saw Germany a network of aerodromes, with her 250 machines, with her trained pilots, which country would you say in 20 years' time is likely, from a military standpoint, to have the air leadership of Europe? I do not think many would hesitate to say that it is Germany, disarmed as she is by the Clauses of the Peace Treaty, and that war potential from the air standpoint is far higher to-day in Germany than in France.

What is going to be done about that? I believe there are two companies in France and in Germany one, the Lufthansa. I am using Germany as an example, because no one will be offended if I talk of Germany, but if I speak of ourselves, people will say that I am a friend of every country but my own, so I will take Germany. You have Germany, with an enormous civil flying machine, you have potential accumulations of stores, potential mobilisation arrangements of pilots—there are hundreds of trained pilots there—and you have, what is much more important, practised pilots. This Lufthansa has its connections, I believe, to Warsaw, Moscow, the southeast of Europe, Barcelona, and away down towards the coast of South America, and everybody who has engaged, even temporarily, in this pleasing Christian business of bombing from the air knows that the secret is to know the road. The difficulty is not to drop the bombs, it is not to fly the machine, but it is to know the road. If you are going to have a great civil organisation like the Lufthansa—I am still keeping to Germany for the purposes of my argument—if you have a vast organisation with pilots flying from day to day and from week to week to Vienna, or Rome, or Barcelona, or Madrid, or London, how on earth will you prevent that becoming potentially the most powerful air weapon that any country could possess? That is what you are faced with.

I turn now to our own position. I do not know about the Imperial airways. But the same thing could be said, mutato nomine, about our own force. That appears to me to be the real problem facing the Air Ministry to-day. What are you going to do to promote the development of civil aviation, that great civilising force, and yet to prevent it being turned to the purposes of war? That is the real problem, and it is to that problem that we should like the Ail-Minister to give a little attention. The matter has been discussed, needless to say, in the councils of Geneva. I am certain that, unless it is solved, you will never get the development of civil aviation, because as long as you associate civil flying with night bombing, no one will wish to see the thing encouraged. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in a famous phrase, "Civil aviation must fly by itself." It can carry its petrol, its engines, its passengers, and its load, but it will never rise from the ground so long as it has the curse of humanity on it from its association with bombing. I hope it may some day be relieved of that curse.

We believe that by some form of inter-nationalisation this problem, which is the main problem, can be solved. We are at the moment—it will not last for ever—when it might be possible to convince the Germans that it is to their interest to come into such a scheme. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman read the speech in this morning's papers by General Von Seeckt, who gave a perfectly plain warning that the unilateral disarmament of Europe, that is to say, the disarmament of Germany, is not going to last for ever. It has been put in a Treaty, but it will be observed only until such time as they are strong enough to throw it aside. The only way in which you can possibly disarm Germany is to disarm Europe, and the time to disarm Europe is now; and I ask the Minister for Air seriously to consider this question.

After all, the problem is not one of military air forces. The problem is the growth of civil flying, and its potential use for war purposes. People cannot fly over this country without a treaty. I asked a question the other day on the subject: People cannot fly over other countries without a treaty. Is it possible to have some universal treaty which would give freedom of the air to those who are prepared to accept in return the obligations of internationalisation, and to keep their particular machines, their particular lines out of the power of their own national war offices, so that if a war did break out we should be certain that, at any rate, the great international air lines could take no part in it, because their pilot? were internationals and the whole framework, of their staff, machinery and the rest, would be swept aside out of the control of the War Ministers in every country? Till that is done, I am perfectly certain we can never hope to see either the development of civil aviation at the rate that it ought to go on or the effective disarmament of the world. I suggest that it is to problems of this kind that the Air Ministry should devote its talent and the right hon. Gentleman his undoubted ability. It is a difficult task, but the public will be with you if you do it. The public is yearning for something of this kind to be done, but you are face to face with interests, you are face to face with fears and you may be at the mercy of the gutter press; but I do suggest that such a policy, if adopted, would give a new and nobler meaning to the words "per ardua ad astra."


My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn), in his journey from Leith to Aberdeen—not a great way—changed many of his opinions, but we are very happy to see that he is still a great expert on air matters. To-night we have listened to by far the best speech on air topics which has ever come from the Labour Benches. I want to pay my tribute to him for that speech; and I also think the House ought to pay him a tribute in this respect. In the old days there was no interest in the air at all, and if it had not been for a few of us on these benches and on those, acting together, there would have been no Minister of Air to-day. It is not so very long ago that eight of us used to sit there, alone, arguing for an Air Ministry and for an Air Minister, and although we may disagree with the actual Minister on points of detail, anyhow we of the old brigade can congratulate ourselves that such a gentleman exists to-day. I want also to associate myself with the eloquent remarks which fell from my hon. Friend with regard to Air Marshal Trenchard. This is a big step. This is the dropping of the pilot—of the great pilot. I served under him for three years, and it would be an impertinence for me to pay him a tribute. I know that he has cursed me as roundly as anybody could be cursed—and I deserved it—but all the time I loved him, and I believe in him. He is a great man. Now that he is leaving the Air Force I hope he will be used by the Government in some other capacity for the benefit of the Empire at large.

May I say a word on the position of Air Force officers? This is a Force which was created all at once. Many officers from the other Services came into that Force at the one time, and consequently we have a whole conglomeration of senior officers all of about the same age, and all that happens from year to year is a sort of general post. Senior officers are moved from one point to another, but there is a general blocking of promotion. I say to my right hon. Friend the Air Minister that if we are to do justice to the many brilliant squadron leaders and flight lieutenants who did so well in the War we must clear the top of the tree, in order that they may get in time the promotion which is their due. It is going to be a difficult task, and there will be many heartburnings. The present position arose through the sudden formation of this Force, all the senior officers having more or less the same period of service, but it is a position which must be faced in order to clear the way for the future.

Before I get on to the other broader topics, just a word on what is called the national flying services. I support them from the bottom of my heart. In this House, in 1924, I advocated, to the best of my ability, the formation of flying clubs. It has been my privilege to see my right hon. Friend introduce them and make a success of them, and I am sure he will agree that they have been an enormous help. But though flying clubs are all very well in their way and teach a certain amount of flying, after all there are only a limited number of people who want to go up in the air for the mere pleasure of flying. If there is one person who will go up for joy flying there are 50 who want to get something out of it in the way of flying from place to place, and that is the next step in the development of this branch of flying. The possibility of exploring the whole of England is opened up, and I hope that the old flying clubs, which have done so much service, will not put a spoke in the wheel of the advance. I am not so much interested in the military side of aviation as I am in the civil side. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen said, no country wants to develop the air for purely peaceful reasons more than we do. That is the way to get air sense—first to fly about England and then to go further afield.

There are many points of detail which I might discuss to-night, but many hon. Members wish to speak. I believe most hon. Members will agree that within the-ambit of the Air Ministry the right hon. Gentleman and his Under-Secretary do their duty extremely efficiently, but I have a criticism against the Government as a whole. We have been promised a day to debate national defence in its entirety. When are we going to have that day? Time and again we have thundered at the Front Bench to give us a day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to run away, because it was he who promised it, and this is a question which affects him as much as anybody. We as taxpayers want a reduction in national expenditure, and we do not see any way of getting it except along this line; and as the people who vote the money we are going to have it. I do not say that it is necessary to have a Ministry of Defence, that is a thing to be inquired into, but I do say that the Commons of England have a right to talk about defence in its entirety. That is the whole problem to be solved. Who among the Members here can tell us how much we could take off the expenditure on the other two services if we spent £10,000,000 more on the Air Service? Does anybody know that? Do the Government know that? Can they tell us anything about it?

In 1921 my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with great imagination, gave the Air Force charge of Iraq and Transjordania. I wonder how many millions we saved in that way? It was a wonderful thing to advocate at the time, it was a leap in the dark, but it was a great success, and we have saved millions. In 1928 the Air Force took over Aden. I want to know "What about the Sudan, what about Somaliland, what about the Indian Frontier and what about coastal defence?" Along all those lines, surely, there is a possibility of economy in the national expenditure on armaments, if the Air Service will only pull its weight. To spend £140,000,000 a year, year after year, against a potential enemy in the United States, is really the most laughable thing in the world. Ask the right hon. Gentleman if you are safe in your beds to-night from Europe? You are not. It is a pure waste of money, it is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Sometimes I really think the Government are out for a fall. It may well be that in their great wisdom they think that the next Government should be Labour, so that it cannot do a lot of harm, and that we can come back again. That is the only way I can explain the Home Secretary's speeches.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting a little wide of the subject under discussion.


I am sorry if I am going a little wide, but I think this is a Debate in which one can bring in the Army and the Navy from the point of view of the national expenditure, and I was just touching outside that point for the fraction of a second only. The Prime Minister said at the beginning of this Parliament that he had the finest youth behind him. What has he done with them? He has broken their hearts. He said that with them he was going to hack through the vested interests that lay in the way of Britain. Does my right hon. Friend the Air Minister not realise that from his point of view the two great vested interests are the War Office and the Admiralty? What has he done to hank his way through them? If he had hacked his way through we should have had a general lessening of the expenditure on armaments to-day, even though the expenditure on the Air Service might have been higher. After all, peace in our time does not necessarily mean somnolence on the Treasury Bench. The snores of the Government resound throughout the country. Elections are not won by snores.

Captain GUEST

I rise for the fifth time to take a small part in the Debates on the Air Estimates. I confess that in annually considering these proposals you cannot always see the wood for the trees, but on this occasion I think we can see the whole five years in perspective. The military side of this question has been largely covered by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). An attempt has been made in this Debate to try to force from somebody a statement as to whether the Air Force is to be a type of national defence and what is the relationship of the three great fighting forces. From the point of view of the Air Ministry, I submit that in view of the additional duties they have taken on their shoulders these Estimates are an absolute model of economy. The Air Ministry have in recent; years undertaken greater responsibilities, and they have had to provide additional barracks and other impedimenta from the very start, and I think I can rightly claim for the Minister that considering these vital factors the Estimates are very moderate indeed.

I will now deal with the question of substitution. In 1922 a gamble was undertaken by the Air Ministry in Iraq and Transjordania. The question has been asked, what has been the economy to the taxpayer of that decision since that time? The experiment has been completely successful and no less than £40,000,000 has been saved to the taxpayer since 1922. That is a very considerable sum. The next day-to-day policy of substitution occurred a few months ago in the form of two additional flights being sent to Aden to replace two battalions there. What will be the economy to the taxpayer of that decision? I asked a question on this point and I was told that the saving by this replacement would be between £200,000 and £300,000 a year. The Sudan offers an excellent opportunity for further national economy and substitution and a squadron has been sent there. I am satisfied that this policy of substitution will be successful. I think someone should examine this great problem more closely and the House should be told what is the long distance policy by which the defence of this country will be safeguarded. These substitutions are nearly always Army replacements. Why should we not have some substitution for the Navy. The taxpayer can be saved untold millions by the Air Force taking over Malta. That is perfectly possible and worthy of serious consideration. On one occasion I remember suggesting to the Imperial Committee of Defence that Singapore should be handed over to the Air Force, and I was nearly blown out of the room by the big guns of the Admiralty for making that suggestion. So much for the policy of substitution.

I want to put in two caveats before I leave the military side. Ten years ago we planted the tree, or rather the Chancellor of the Exchequer planted it and handed it on to me as a shrub. It was carrying a small burden of about 20 squadrons, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Let us make it strong enough to carry a larger number later on." I ask, are the Government sure that they are watering and manuring that tree properly, are they sure that by these super-cuts they are not starving the roots of the tree upon which they will depend more and more in the future. I fear that an unwise economy in regard to the Air Force will spoil this beautiful tree which you have created. My second caveat is in regard to the programme for 52 home defence squadrons, of which I understand two-thirds have been completed. I understand we have 31 squadrons for home defence, and they have to perform the dual duty of home defence and Imperial reserve. They are the backbone of the fighting power of the Royal Air Force. Is the Secretary of State for Air satisfied that those squadrons are sufficiently mobile to undertake this dual duty? Those squadrons may at any moment be called upon to perform a much wider service, and we do not want to find that they are not sufficiently mobile to undertake such service. I will pass from the military side with the observation that I think, looking back, these five years of work do the Air Minister very great credit indeed.

The remarks made by the Secretary of State for Air relating to civil aviation are of particular interest to me, more particularly in regard to the Cape to Cairo service which I pressed for last year. I was then told that I should have to wait three more years. I am glad to learn that that service is now being pressed forward. I congratulate the Minister upon the courage with which he has faced this problem and upon having brought together the pioneers of this enterprise. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the way in which he has negotiated with the various Governments through which the Cape to Cairo route will pass, and I think that marks a, very fine milestone in the programme of Imperial Airways.

Several questions have been asked about an organisation which I have been attempting to launch in this country. May I state quite frankly to the House that I felt that it was not fair to argue here year after year in favour of civil aviation unless I was prepared to take off my coat and try to do something for it myself. May I state here that the success or failure of this national flying service scheme means nothing to me financially in any shape or form, and I shall get no fee, however much profit they make. I did feel, however, that as I had some time at my disposal, I should try to do something in the direction of providing for this national need. Consequently, I am quite justified in criticising as well as enthusing upon this subject.

The London area struck me as being wholly unprovided with proper flying facilities. There was a long waiting list of men anxious to fly, but they could not obtain either accommodation or equipment, and this seemed to be true of most of the flying clubs. Consequently a few of us put our heads together to see if we could not start a larger organisation. We stumbled across premises and got our scheme a little bit under way. During our negotiations I heard of a wider proposal which was in the hands of Colonel Edwards. We got together and very quickly amalgamated our schemes which have now taken the form of the National Flying Services referred to in the White Paper. Broadly speaking our scheme is to provide an additional number of training schools to the number of about 25 and at least 100 convenient landing grounds. Having got so far, I thought the next best thing to do was to go to the Secretary of State for Air in order to find out how the Air Ministry regarded this scheme. I was aware of the assistance already given by the Ministry and I was anxious not to tread upon the toes of any other useful flying organisation. The Air Minister carefully scrutinised the figures and eventually came to the conclusion that our organisation could produce something which would be of real value, namely, aerodromes and flying grounds. The right hon. Gentleman saw that it would be an advantage also to have an additional reservoir of trained air pilots as a reserve. The result was that an agreement was arrived at which is described in the White Paper.

I would like to remind the House that the amount of money involved is not so large as might appear; always presuming that the scheme has been well conceived and has a prospect of making money on its own. For the first three years, irrespective of any profits they may be able to make, they will receive £10 per pilot, if they can train them, up to a limit of £15,000. If in the fourth year the company is making 5 per cent. profit, irrespective of training fees it will get nothing at all from the State. Comparing the advantages which the country will get from this scheme, I do not think the assistance given by the Government is very great.

I pass now to what has been spoken of by some hon. Members as the squabble between my organisation and the light aeroplane clubs. That is one tiling which I wanted to avoid from the very start. I presented my scheme to the general council of the light aeroplane clubs six months ago and I asked for an opportunity to explain it to them. They granted me that opportunity, and I left with them all the information I possessed on the subject. I say that what they wanted most was an assurance that we should not trespass upon the provinces which they had already marked out. We gave them every possible assurance that we would abide by our definite undertaking and that there should be no interference or overlapping. I went so far as to offer the chairman of the clubs council a place on our board in order to give a guarantee that nothing would he done detrimental to the light aeroplane clubs. I offered them further, the use of every aerodrome we made and every landing ground we created. They could affiliate or not or they could ignore us altogether if they liked.

6.0 p.m.

There has been some little rift in regard to this agreement, but I do not know where it comes from. I think, however, that it can be allayed and hon. Members can rest assured that we have no intention of interfering with the light aeroplane clubs. I have received letters from the chairman of the council of the light aeroplane clubs and from the secretary, and both those officers assured me that the assurances we have given were understood and have been accepted and they wish us the best of luck. They have also promised to do everything they can to help us with our scheme. Why that statement has appeared in the Press, I do not know. It may be because those clubs are now pleading for extended assistance from the Government, and I hope that they will receive that assistance. If they continue to serve a useful purpose in holding together a nucleus of enterprising men enthusiastic in the training of pilots, or in encouraging the aircraft industry through the purchase of machines, I suggest that they are a valuable organisation, and that it would be a great pity to let them disintegrate for want of a few thousand pounds at the end of a few years.

I should like to say one or two words, in addition to what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham, as to the value, if successful, of the organisation that I have been trying to set on foot. It has two main objects. The first is to meet the need of the private owner. I do not think that that is the most important side of the matter, but still it is a very important side. We hope, first of all, to establish schools at which the private owner can learn to fly. Then we hope to sell him machines, and we hope to take care of his machine for him, and to turn him out as a first-class pilot. Also, we want to develop the internal services in this country by means of what are known as commercial taxi services. This is more than a question of joy-riding. When it is remembered that a salesman can be carried to different parts of England by cross-country routes in about a third of the time that it takes by train, it will be seen that safe cross-country flying in this way is of real value. I was struck by this aspect of the matter only recently, when, on one day, I had to attend two meetings on the Continent, one at Brussels and the other at Paris. I attended both those meetings and returned home the same night. It seems to me that, if a commercial traveller whose home was, say, at Bristol, could visit Birmingham and, perhaps, Liverpool, then go across to Yarmouth, and be home again the same night, he will have done a bigger day's work than in the ordinary way he would be able to do in a week.

If one allows oneself to wander over the possibilities of cross-country flying from a business point of view, one becomes more and more convinced that there are advantages in connection with the somewhat large scheme that I have in mind, which, perhaps, have passed unnoticed. They have not been unnoticed by the editors of the four great flying papers, whom we may regard as pioneers of aviation in this country, namely, Mr. C. G. Grey, the editor of the "Aeroplane," General Groves, the editor of "Air," Mr. Stanhope Sprigg, the editor of "Airways," and Mr. Stanley Spooner, the editor of "Flight." All of them thoroughly agree in approving of the general principle of the scheme, and I think that critics who, at first sight, may have thought that we were out to get money from the Government to divide among the shareholders, will be inclined to withdraw their criticism in the light of the views of these four very experienced editors. They all think that we are on the right lines, and that the country as a whole will benefit.

Large orders are obviously of great advantage to the aircraft industry. They mean more employment, more money for research and experimental purposes, and greater variety of types. The advantages to the State are also important. The scheme would provide a reservoir of pilots uniformly trained to the same high standard of efficiency, because at these schools there will not be different systems of training as there are to-day. In the next place, employment would be provided for many short-service officers. These are a most deserving class of young men, and I tender my sincere congratulations to the Minister on his being able to inform the House that, of 150 men who went out last year, he has already found civil employment for over 90. We, I think, should be able to find employment for a good many more. Then there will be the advantage that more aerodromes will be available for military use as well as for our use. The advantages of standardisation, bulk insurance, and bulk purchases also come to one's mind.

I thank the House for the patience with which they have allowed me to develop the scheme and refer to so many points in connection with it. I felt that there might be misunderstanding unless someone who really knew it from the beginning, and was in a responsible position in regard to it, took upon himself the duty of explaining it somewhat in detail. As a result of what I have said, I hope that those who thought that light aeroplane clubs had any grounds for anxiety will no longer think so, and that, if necessary, they will come back and meet us again with a view to the establishment of such safeguards as they may think wise.

I cannot close without saying a word of tribute on the passing of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham so aptly described as the pilot from the Air Ministry at the end of this year. I had the honour and pleasure of serving with him for 18 months, and, therefore, perhaps, my statement that, but for Sir Hugh Trenchard, there would be no independent Air Force in this country to-day, may be taken as correct. I went through 18 months of what was, perhaps, the most anxious and alarming period of our independent existence. The Geddes axe fell upon us, our Estimates were cut down to almost nil, the wolves were at the door, and, but for Sir Hugh Trenchard's persistence and unbending, inflexible determination to proceed with the scheme which he knew to be right, I have grave doubts as to whether the independent Air Force might not have passed out of existence. Just as the names of Cardwell in the case of the Army and Nelson in the case of the Navy have gone down to history, so, to the officers and men of the Air Force, and to everyone in the country, the name of Trenchard should go down in the history of the Royal Air Force.


I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) in his very interesting remarks, because I want to approach this question from a somewhat different point of view. The whole question of an adequate defence of this country has, as I see it, developed into a vicious circle, and I endorse every word that has been said on this subject by the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). I expect that most Members have received, during the last few days, communications from various organisations that to some extent represent the three Services. The Navy League, in a circular letter, tells us that further reduction of our Navy without reciprocal reduction of armaments amongst other nations would be dangerous to national security; and the same claim is made by those championing the cause of the Army. The Air League of the British Empire tells us that, so long as defence expenditure is necessary, the primary essential for national security, namely, air defence, should be given priority. In other words, given the slightest opportunity, all three Services would be prepared to embark on a programme that would mean a considerable increase in their size. But, as it is the unenviable duty of this House to provide for this country both security and economy at the same time, it is incumbent on us to decide, consistently with economy, whether all or any of these Services are justified in their claims: and, if we are able, to come to a decision definitely to give up the policy which has been the policy of this country Tor too many years now, namely, the policy of laissez faire.

Let us go a little more into this question. The Air League of the British Empire further tells us, in its recent circular, that: The greatest barrier to the building of adequate air defences is public apathy. I disagree profoundly with that statement; I do not think that public apathy has anything to do with the neglect of our air defences, or of any other defences. The fact of the matter is that the public as a whole do not want to hear any more about the War. They are entirely "fed up" with such matters, and they think that they can leave the contemplation of such questions to the proper quarter, which, after all, is the Government of the day. But in this they make a mistake, for they forget that the Government of the day have already too many troubles of their own, and, consequently, are not anxious to attend to such a controversial matter as this. If there be any apathy at all, it is to be found in successive Governments, who, somewhat justifiably, have been loth to take an interest in matters so thorny as this.

In my opinion, the root of the whole trouble is that the two Ministries representing the two senior services, that is to say, the Army and the Navy, have of recent years dug themselves in very comfortably, and, consequently, have conveniently refused to learn any lessons from the War or give way one inch to modern conditions. They have carefully forgotten how the population of this Metropolis spent night after night cringing in cellars and tubes in an agitated attempt to avoid hostile bombs. I should like to read to the House a statement that was made by the Secretary of State for Air only a short time ago. He said: Whereas in the late War some 300 tons of bombs were dropped in this country by the Germans, air forces to-day could drop almost the same weight in the first 24 hours, and continue this scale of attack indefinitely. Such an attack on London would be sufficient to end a war immediately and to our disadvantage. As a country we should be completely disorganised, and what then would be the use of the millions we have spent on the Army and the Navy? Geographically situated as we are, this country, of all countries in the world, is the most vulnerable to air attack. Putting this together with the fact that go-ahead civil aviation is essential to sound defence in the future, the following figures are somewhat significant. Great Britain possesses to-day a total of but 21 commercial machines, while Germany and France each possess several hundreds. Of the 42,200 miles of air routes in Europe, Germany has 18,000 miles, France 12,500 miles, and Great Britain only 1,080 miles. During the summer of 1928, German commercial aircraft flew 40,000 miles daily, against our daily average of 3,000 miles. These figures speak for themselves.

As I have been intimately connected with the Air Force, it might well be thought that I am biased in my views; but for years I have discussed this question with innumerable people, and I find that the consensus of opinion is of my way of thinking. I could appeal for a thorough examination of this question from an economy point of view alone. By spending more on matters appertaining to air, and considerably less on those of the Army and Navy, not only would the national Exchequer greatly benefit, but so also would national security. I am convinced that such a policy would appeal, not only to the purse, but also to the common sense of the majority of English men and women, as would also the political party that had the courage to carry it out.


I enter into this Debate with great diffidence as one who does not share in the technical experience that is possessed by practically all the speakers who have preceded me. I enter the Debate, as I have on other occasions when the Air Estimates were being discussed, in order to ask again, especially after the speech which we have just heard, what good we shall do, even from the point of view of defence, by the spending of this money in the provision of 32 so-called home defence squadrons? What good shall we do, indeed, if we secure what the Air Minister has envisaged, the 52 which he believes to be the ultimate programme towards which he is working? I cannot speak of Air-Marshal Trenchard in the way in which those who have known him so much better have spoken, but I can at least thank him for making a frank and courageous statement regarding the use of aeroplanes in war, and particularly for the way in which he said that in any event the aeroplane could not be used as a weapon of defence. It might be used as a weapon of offence. Indeed, it would seem to me that what you have proved by all your exercises that you have been recently asking the public to witness is that in any case London is vulnerable to attack. You have proved that you can do to other States what an enemy will be able to do to London if ever we go to war again. You have proved your capacity, indeed, to spread the method of the mad-house broadcast throughout the world.

Our naval, military, and air commanders have been instructed—indeed, two or three years ago in one of these Debates I read from an instruction that one of the points of strategy in war is to bring to bear such pressure upon the enemy civilian population that at an early moment they will press their Government to sue for peace. We know that what we are discussing to-night is the building up of a weapon which, when it is put to the test, can only be used for pressing the civilian population so hard on their side as the enemy will press our civilian population hard on our side as will make the next war, whenever it comes, infinitely more ghastly than the last one. I feel, therefore, compelled knowing, I admit, very little about the technical details of this thing, which has been described by the Minister himself as a terrible weapon, to warn the House, at any rate those who are willing to listen to me, that we are drifting into a state of things in which we shall provide no defence at all, in which we are providing for an extension of destruction which in the long run will make the expenditure we are incurring of practically no value at all. I hesitate to go into those questions with which some hon. Members have dealt, as to whether we should not do better, perhaps, if we transferred the ratio, as it now exists, of three, two, and one as between Navy, Army and Air Force the other way round. [Interruption.] I am taking it in round figures—£60,000,000, £40,000,000, and £12,000,000. I hesitate to go into the question whether yon could do much good if you had £60,000,000 for the Air Force, and £20,000,000 for the Navy. I do not believe in the long run any money spent upon the air can ultimately secure for you the defence that you pretend to place before yourselves.

You may ask what is the way out. I have said I can see no valid reason for supporting, either now or at any time, any further expenditure upon the Air Force. I believe we ought, as a House of Commons, to realise that we are in such a situation that we should press with greater vigour, not upon the Prime Minister who, after all, is not responsible, but upon the Foreign Minister, for that agreement, particularly, as my hon. and gallant Friend has reminded us, with our nearest neighbour, whom all the time we have in our minds when we are dealing with this matter. It is a tragedy from my point of view that our First Lord of the Admiralty and our Foreign Minister should, in the couple of years which have gone, have caused the nation to preoccupy its mind with the problem of naval relations with America, and by all they have done apparently they have made those relations with America worse. If America is determined to tread her path in the direction of big cruisers, we could afford to let her travel along that path if we could secure between ourselves and France, and between ourselves and Germany, with its new civil air arm, that sort of agreement which would make it impossible, or at any rate unlikely, for the weapon to be used in the way it is now likely that it will be used. I beg the Government, although they will not have very much time now, to deal with the matter. I beg them in the short life that is still left to them—


This Session.


This Session and perhaps for all time—whether they cannot consider a rearrangement whereby more emphasis can be placed by the Foreign Secretary on the relations with France in particular for the securing of that air agreement by which both they and we could go forward with greater rapidity in order not to increase but to decrease what are called our air defence weapons.

One other word. The Air Minister assumes that we on these benches are not particularly interested—I think he used the phrase that we object not only to the Air Force as a war weapon but we object to it as a revolutionary means of communication. Not at all. All of us on these benches are very much interested in that part of the work that he does which uses the Air Force for civil ends. If I may speak for myself—and I am usually regarded in these debates as a mere pacifist butting in amongst the militarists—when I went over to Canada last year I was profoundly interested in what I learned there from the Canadian Air Minister of the tremendous strides they have made with their Air Force for civilian ends. They use their Air Force to deal with various affairs. They use it for investigating ice-bound waters, like the Hudson Straits, in order to find out whether there is an opportunity for developing their commercial routes between Hudson Bay ports and Liverpool and Southampton. He informed me that they hoped even to use their Air Force for making surveys. They actually use aeroplanes to assist them in preventing poaching in British Columbia waters, and in all manner of means they are using their Air Force to assist them in a very wide development of civilian ends.

As far as I and every other Member on these benches are concerned, if we felt that the money that was being voted had for its purpose the greater development of routes and communications, or all these other things that are being discovered by some of our Dominions, we should make no more objection whatever, nay more, we should give the Minister our hearty support in all the work that he is doing, but because we realise that his Department is mainly a war Department, we are compelled to examine with the very closest scrutiny even this, part of his work in order to satisfy ourselves that these beneficent purposes will not be departed from, and that the Air Force will not be used only for warlike ends. I again plead that more consideration should be given by the House to the simple truth that when you have spent all this money on your Air Force, and when you have spent more still, you will not secure that defence which the Minister states to be the aim of all the expenditure we are making.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I should like, first, to congratulate the Air Minister on the way in which he has presented his Estimates for the fifth time, and also for the clearness of his Memorandum. It is difficult to criticise, but I should like to do it from this point of view. In spite of what we have just heard, and of what was said by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn), I am one of those who do not think the Air Minister has obtained enough money for his Air Service. I cannot ascertain to-night the amount of money the Navy is having this year, because it is not in the Vote Office, but I assume that they will take about £57,000,000. The Army has taken, 641,000,000 and the Air Service £15,000,000. That makes a total of £114,000,000. For the third year in succession, the Air Minister has taken a seventh of the amount allowed for the Fighting Services. That is not enough. He said that the country could not afford more generous expenditure on the air. The country can afford to spend more on the air. I cannot understand how it comes about that year after year the Navy takes half the money that is allowed for defence purposes. They take pound for pound what is allowed for the Army and the Air. I know it is a difficult thing for the Air Minister to get more money. This is a case where we want a Ministry of Defence to go into the whole question of this expenditure of public money. I agree very much with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said about it. Here we have the Kellogg Pact for the outlawry of war, and yet we keep all these battleships in commission that we are allowed under the Washington Agreement. Each first-class battleship of modern type costs £500,000 a year in upkeep. You have only to pay off three or four battleships and you get £2,000,000, which ought to be employed in the development of civil aviation.

We have the right hon. Gentleman, who is doing all that he can to develop civil aviation with these new companies, He will not make anything out of it. He is doing it for the national good. Money is wanted all round to develop civil aviation in this country. We have at Milford Haven a wonderful aeroplane station that could be developed. We want to develop civil aviation in the West Indies. Only last week I saw in the United Services Magazine that the United States were undertaking the carrying of air mails to the West Indies and also to British Guiana. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air to say when he comes to reply, what we are doing out in the West Indies and in British Guiana to develop civil aviation. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air said that he was encouraging as much as he possibly could this all-African air route, but we want to speed it up. Civil aviation in Africa is crying out for development all over. Only the other day. I received letters from people in Africa asking that it should be speeded up. There is the case of Singapore. We want to develop civil aviation out in Singapore as much as we possibly can. I submit that it is high time that the Navy were forced to give up some of the money, so that we can devolp civil aviation throughout the Empire wherever we can. I do not believe that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) would agree to keeping all these battleships in commission. Some of us think that they have only a slight potential value and that civil aviation is being starved.

Commander BELLAIRS

Let them got it out of the military side of the Air Estimates.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

Out of the military side? I can reply to that in one second. The military side, I believe, is most efficiently run. The mechanisation of the military side is going slowly on. Indeed, the progress in the development of tanks and so on is perfectly wonderful. They run it as economically as possible, which I do not think is the case on the Admiralty side. There are one or two points in the Memorandum to which I should like to call attention. I should like to ask whether the Air Minister gives encouragement to our firms to carry out orders in foreign countries. That is a point that ought to be looked into. It would help the industry very much if the maximum amount of encouragement was given to the manufacturers, so that they could sell their goods in other parts of the world. We have the finest aeronautical engineers and firms in this country, and I think that we ought to help them all we possibly can. If we could have a programme for the development of the important multi-engine machine and large flying boats extending over a period of years, whether we could have it extending over a period of three years or even five years, I think it would help the industry.

I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he was going to help the officers to get employment in civil life. I receive a tremendous number of letters asking me to try and find billets for ex-flying officers. If the right hon. Gentleman can only help them to get some employment outside I think it will be a splendid thing, but I would ask him whether he cannot help some of the older officers, some of the men who have borne the heat and burden of the day. Many of them are out of employment, and they ought to have billets found for them if possible.

I want to ask a question about the automatic slots—the Handley Page slots—whether they have decreased the number of accidents in the Royal Air Force, and also whether the parachutes for seagoing aircraft are being developed speedily, and when they are likely to be supplied? I notice in the Memorandum that the right hon. Gentleman is saving £11,000 on Farnborough. I have pressed the Air Minister for many years to save money on Farnborough, and he is now saving £11,000. I should like to have seen him save £110,000 on Farnborough, because I am one of those who have not great faith in the Farnborough factory. During the last five years, they have had something like £2,000,000, and the Minister to-day tells us that they have evolved a flowmeter. I think that they really ought to have produced something bigger than a flowmeter. I should say that it is very beneficial for checking the consumption of petrol, but I should like to see them do bigger things. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State replies, he will be able to justify the expenditure on Farnborough.

I should like to say a word or two about the airships, and to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether, in erecting the State airship, the large girders that were constructed have remained true during the erection of the forepart and the midship part of the airship. I understand that the stern part, with the horizontal and vertical runners, has not been erected, but I should like to know whether in erecting the forepart the girders have remained quite true, because it is a new experiment. I should also like to know whether they have incorporated any gas bags into that new structure and whether the wires which are used to hold the gas bags down have been successful. I should also like to know, in regard to the private airship associated with the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), whether in inflating that ship, if they have inflated it, the girders have remained true and undisturbed. These are a few small technical points. I think the whole House would like to know in some detail how these great airships are behaving during erection and whether all the "mock" experiments are coming out true in the erection of the final structure.

I would like to ask the Minister whether he is contemplating taking over any other places besides Aden, because I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North that we might extend and take over more places. I should like to congratulate the Air Minister on the wonderful performance of the handful of machines in evacuating the whole of the British and foreign nationals from Kabul. I was talking with some military people the other day, and they said that a whole Brigade was massacred on the Afghan frontier in 1842 and that it would have taken the whole of the Indian Army, reinforced by units from the British Army at home, to carry out a mission like that to a successful conclusion. When the Under-Secretary of State for India read out those very congratulatory remarks from Sir Francis Humphrys, our brave Ambassador in Afghanistan, I noticed that the Conservatives all cheered and that the Liberals cheered, but not a cheer went up from the Socialist benches.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is so fair as a rule that I am sure he does not wish to do an injustice. I was here when the answer was given and I heard my friends cheer, and I certainly applauded myself. I think that this is an unfair personal attack.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

The general comment of the hon. Members where I sat, not very far from the Labour benches, was that those hon. Members did not cheer; that there was almost complete silence.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY


Rear-Admiral SUETER

I have heard many pacifist speeches in this House from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald) and from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson), and I should have thought that the pacifists of the Socialist party would have got up and cheered when they heard those remarks read out by the Under-Secretary of State for India, because here you have a new arm—the Air Service—which rescued 580 lives from Kabul and probably prevented a bloody war. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield—I have always admired his sincerity in this House—would have jumped on to his stool and cheered.


I had no capacity to jump on to a stool in this House. I think I did express in every ordinary way I could my approval of the news that came through, and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept my statement.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I am delighted to accept it, because it was not the impression that some of us had at the other end of the Chamber.


How could you see?

Rear-Admiral SUETER

We could hear. While congratulating the pilots on that wonderful performance at Kabul, we must also remember the manufacturers who produced those aircraft to enable the pilots to carry out that work. The Vickers Victory machine, developed from the Handley Page machine, did uncommonly well in flying that great distance from Iraq to Peshawar and then rescuing these people. I should also like to associate myself with what other hon. Members have said about the Chief of the Staff. I have known Sir Hugh Trenchard for many years. He has worked magnificently in creating and moulding the whole of the Air Force. I hope he may be enabled, perhaps from another place, to give his wise counsel on air matters. I should like to congratulate the Air Ministry and the Under-Secretary, who is an old airman, upon the wonderful way they have worked for the good of the Air Service during the last five or six years. I hope that when the present Prime Minister comes into office again—which I know he will; I noticed in the Press the other day that he was coming back with a working majority of 60, but I think he is going to come back with a working majority of 120—he will not have the right hon. Gentleman as Minister for Air. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I trust that he will find time to have the whole of the administration of these Fighting Services overhauled just in the same way as the Minister of Health has overhauled the whole of the local government services and the health services of the country, and that he will do away with these hundreds of committees which now run our Fighting Services. I hope that he will select the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air as Minister of Defence and give a good billet to his Under-Secretary, and then the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State can impose his knowledge on the other two Services. It is only in that way that we can really run these Services with efficiency and with economy.


Every speech in this debate has been critical of the Government, with the exception of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North (Captain Guest). That is in accordance with the usual course of these debates. There is so much criticism that it always has to be sweetened with a little congratulation; but it is criticism that forms the body of most speeches. That, however, never seems to disturb the Secretary of State for Air, because when he replies—I suppose we shall have another half hour of reply to-day—he always ignores the main body of criticism, and replies to the compliments. I want to say a few words in regard to his policy as to the development of certain branches of civil aviation at home. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol is responsible for the inauguration of these new plans, and he has already given to the House his views on the plans which he has put forward. Towards the conclusion of his speech he expressed the hope that any opposition that had been aroused by his original proposals would be finally allayed by his speech. Before I proceed to criticise the proposals of my right hon. and gallant Friend I wish to pay to him a very sincere tribute for the work which he has done for civil aviation, both in a financial way and by the equally practicable way of flying himself, and encouraging other people to do so. Any opposition which I and other aviation interests feel towards his plans is not inspired by any personal opposition to him—there is considerable admiration for him—but by the belief that if his proposals are carried into effect the cause of civil flying in this country will suffer a severe setback. If the House will bear with me, I will endeavour to give reasons in support of that contention.

The proposal of the right hon. and gallant Member was first made to a number of representatives of civil flying clubs last summer. That was the first notification of this vital departure from our previous policy in regard to civil aviation. He called the representatives of the flying clubs together. I would like to remind hon. Members that there were 13 light aeroplane clubs, producing pilots at the rate of some hundreds a year, receiving the most beneficent financial contributions from public-spirited citizens in every part of the country, to a total amount of more than £30,000. That movement has for some years been our great hope for the producing of civil pilots. The representatives of these clubs were called together by the sponsor of the new scheme. He said to them: "The Secretary of State for Air has agreed to give me a subsidy and I intend to set up flying stations in practically every part of this country. I intend to turn out pilots and to run taxi services, and I invite you to consider your position." The situation was a painful one, and they proceeded to consider it in dismay and pressed the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make some sort of concession to them and to allow them to live side by side with him. The outcome of that suggestion was, that he did agree—whether it is a firm obligation or not I am not yet clear—not to open branches of his enterprise alongside those public-spirited efforts which were already flourishing so well. Even if he gave that undertaking, my submission is that the scheme still contains many defects which ought to be put right before it is proceeded with.

The Secretary of State for Air, in dealing with the matter, made a point, which was his most trenchant point, that he was going to get pilots at £10 a time from the scheme of the right hon. and gallant Member, whereas it was costing him £50 a time in getting pilots from the light aeroplane clubs. That leaves out of account the fact that under the new proposal the new company will get a subsidy of £10 not only for new pilots but for pilots who re-qualify. A certificate of flying can lapse in a few days, and if the right hon. and gallant Member's company has trained a pilot and he allows his certificate to lapse for three or four days every year and the right hon. Member then puts that pilot back on his books again, he will get the £10 again. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that. It has been stated quite succinctly. Moreover, if the National Flying Services, with its new organisation of country clubs and other social amenities, goes to the pilots now on the books of the light aeroplane clubs, and says to them: "If you allow your certificate to lapse, you can join this club," the right hon. and gallant Member will get £10 for each of these pilots, whose training was carried out by the light aeroplane clubs. I think that fact ought to be stated when the Secretary of State for Air compares the two figures of £10 and £50. He is getting the pilots from the light aeroplane clubs, but there is no guarantee at the present time that he will get them from National Flying Services, Limited.

The Secretary of State for Air has said that the most important condition attaching to the subsidy which he is giving to National Flying Services, Limited, is the provision of 20 aerodromes and 80 landing grounds. He says that if we can get those things, this company will be performing a most valuable service, and they will have well earned the subsidy. My contention is that that is a benefit conferred upon the company in the guise of an obligation. I can prove that statement in a few sentences. Even if National Flying Services, Limited, did not lift a finger to deal with this question of providing aerodromes, I say with confidence that 100 aerodromes would be provided in this country, without any steps being taken by them, within the next three years. The Air Ministry has just completed an active campaign among municipal authorities with the object of prevailing upon them to provide aerodromes. There exists a company called Alan Cobham Aviation, Limited, which has been doing hardly anything else during the last few years except persuading municipalities to provide aerodromes. The 25 aerodromes which are in the first few years to be provided by National Flying Services, Limited, are already in existence and available for their use. There are 75 municipalities at the present time actively addressing themselves to the provision of aerodromes, and the Association of Municipal Corporations is providing a model agreement which will be signed by National Flying Services when they take over these aerodromes. The proposal of the new company is to go to these existing aerodromes, to lease a number of them and take over control and then present them to the Air Ministry and say: "Here are the aerodromes which we provide for you under our obligation." These facts ought to have been stated by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, and they might have been referred to by the right hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol.

I object sincerely to this scheme, because I believe it is going to fail. If this new company is allowed to secure this subsidised monopoly in civil aviation in England, it will destroy its competitors, and when the Secretary of State for Air looks for civil aviation development in five or ten years' time, he will find that the company upon which he has leaned and relied has failed, if I may use a colloquial expression, to deliver the goods, and the other subsidiary organisations will have been destroyed by its operation. I hope that it is not yet too late. I do not know whether the agreement has been signed. It is being opposed by practically every aviation interest—by the light aeroplane clubs, the aircraft manufacturers, and by independent interests in every sphere of aviation. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the four aviation newspapers support him. I have here the only reference to the scheme that there is in the civil aviation newspaper, "Air," and it consists of a very brief and formal announcement of the formation of the company. That is very feeble and halfhearted support. In regard to the leading air newspaper, the "Aeroplane," I know that the attitude of the editor is one of complete neutrality. He says that he will support any scheme that will produce an active development of civil aviation. He is not wedded to the support of National Flying Services, or any other scheme.

I will now turn to the question of civil aviation in other parts of the world, but before doing so I am anxious to quote something which the Secretary of State for Air said in a speech which he delivered to the Cambridge University Conservative Association on the 1st March. I will quote his speech in the form of a question, because it is my intention to provide an answer in my subsequent remarks. He said: Can the Conservatives adapt themselves to the new conditions and keep a hold upon the thought and action of the new world? I admit that they are often muddle-headed, and often mentally and physically lazy. I compliment the right hon. Gentleman on his candour. That is a criticism couched in terms which I should never use in speaking of the right hon. Gentleman. I should be very much interested to learn which of his colleagues he counts amongst those who are "often muddle-headed and often mentally and physically lazy." The question which I wish most directly to answer is whether the Conservatives can adapt themselves to the new conditions and keep a hold upon the thought and action of the new world. His particular promise is the development of civil aviation in different parts of the world. In our overseas territory and in the internal territory of this country there has been no development of civil aviation during his regime. There has not been a single new line started within the borders of this country during the five and a-half years that he has been at the Air Ministry. There is not a single regular seaplane service flying in the home waters of these islands. One would have thought that of the possible lines of development for us, a maritime nation, always depending upon and proud of our sea power, we should have done something to develop the seaplane services. There is a higher ratio of speed as between the seaplane and the steamship than there is as between an aeroplane and a train. Therefore, there is much more time to be gained by going by seaplane rather than by steamship than there is to be gained by going by aeroplane rather than by train.

7.0 p.m.

It is not as if development is not taking place in other parts of the world. In Germany they are building seaplanes with engines that total 6,000 horse-power, which are going to fly along the ocean routes. Take the very type of seaplane which the Secretary of State used on his trip to the Baltic, and which the Under-Secretary of State took on his adventurous trip to India. With those very types, manufactured by the same firm, the Americans have now secured a concession to inaugurate an air service over British territory in the West Indies. Why is the Air Ministry giving a concession to an American line to inaugurate a seaplane service in the West Indies? Was there any attempt made to induce a British company or the Imperial Airways, Limited, to establish this service? If not, I think the House ought to have some information as to why it was not done. If I may summarise the position so far as civil aviation is concerned, I can say that in every part of the world, whether in Africa. South America, or across the South American Ocean to the Far East, we are being left behind by every other country in the development of civil aviation. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) gave some figures, but I did not notice that the Minister took any notes of them. I hope the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply, will deal with the vital figures which show our relation to the foreign countries in matters of aviation. There is no use coming here year after year smugly and complacently making a speech or completely ignoring what is being done in foreign countries. Our position can only be gauged if we take the figures of other countries. Great Britain has a commercial air route mileage of 2,226, the United States has 13,133, France has 12,570, Italy 3,634, and Germany 18,000. Of aerodromes, Great Britain has 18 and one seaplane station; the United States, 425 municipal and 415 private and commercial aerodromes; France has 15 aerodromes and four seaplane stations; Italy has 13 aerodromes and 13 seaplane stations; and Germany has 89 aerodromes and seven seaplane stations. These are shameful figures from the point of view of anyone who has civil aviation at heart. As to the number of civil and commercial aircraft, Great Britain has 438, the United States 5,200, and Germany 750.

These figures are only a selection. They are not chosen to condemn or indict the Minister, but are a sincere effort to show those Members who have listened to the Debate that, so far as civil aviation is concerned, we are in a most lamentable and shameful position, and I wish to know what plans the Minister has in hand to deal with that position. If I may summarise the case very briefly, I should like to say it is due to the very principle which the Minister is about to extend from the Imperial Airways to another great monopoly for the development of civil aviation in this country. The monopoly system has obviously failed in the case of Imperial Airways. I know they run their lines very efficiently and economically and very safely—safer than those of any other country. I am very willing to pay my tribute in that respect, but that is not the whole thing. As a monopoly, they have failed. Their extension in the South African plain brought about by the enterprise of another company would not have come about if it had not been under pressure of the Air Ministry that the company was absorbed. I believe the Minister has refused to pay a subsidy to any company which proposes to develop a British route abroad, without consultation with Imperial Airways. I think the Minister has laid that down as a principle. Does it mean that any company which brings forward practical plans for a British air line abroad can secure a share of the subsidy from British Imperial Airways? Otherwise, there is no reality in his contention of fairness.

Commander BELLAIRS

May we have an answer? It is rather important.


In considering any proposal, I should naturally take the best.


At any rate, the Minister is relying upon the subsidy to stimulate these people to activity, and the difference between the granting of a subsidy in this country and the granting of a subsidy by foreign countries is that ours is administered in such a way that it does not lead to any good results at all. One could compare it with the case of a man who lives in club land in the West End on a private income of £500 or £600 a year, his father allowing him that but not more, because he thinks it is bad for him and will prevent him from showing enterprise and initiative to enable him to get on in the world. That man has a private income of £500 or £600 a year, and, with the aid of kind friends and other agencies, he can keep his head above water. That is the position of Imperial Airways. They can just keep their head above water if they can keep their feet on the bottom, but they cannot make any extension of their services at all. I say that, if you are going to give a subsidy, you cannot give it without making some provision for sharing profits as well. The Minister seems to be terribly afraid of Government control, but I would point out that subsidising is the unprofitable half of socialising. If you are going to subsidise a project, you ought to get some share of the profit, and, if you are sharing a loss or a profit, you are a partner in the industry, and you must insist on some control of its affairs.

I do not know what is going to be the fortune of the forthcoming General Election. These things are very uncertain. But whatever is the result, I hope that whoever comes to the Box as the Secretary of State for Air will make drastic alterations in our air policy. When we were developing our Colonial Empire in years gone by and sending our ships to chart unknown seas and planting the Imperial flag, there were other nations and Ministers in other countries in just as smug and complacent a mind as the right hon. Gentleman is now. They were either sceptical or scoffing at unprofitable areas, but are we quite sure that the place we are losing under the regime of the present Minister will not prove to be an irreparable loss to our future trade and prestige? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider it from that angle and do something to build up a policy worthy of our great traditions and posterity.


The interesting part of these Debates is that practically every Member comes into this Chamber with the intention of speaking and catching the Speaker's eye. For that reason, I will not indulge in any attempt to emulate the oratory of those to whom we have been listening with great interest, but will just endorse one or two points made by previous speakers. I have every sort of admiration for the Secretary of State for Air and for economy, and I believe most firmly that the Secretary of State, if he could get more money for civil aviation, would do so. But I look on this as an opportunity—we are an extremely happy band from all parts of the House—to give him some backing to get more money from the Treasury. In the long run, it would not be a waste but real economy to see British civil aviation at the head of all the other countries in the world. Most of the rest of the world agree that in personnel and material British aviation is second to none, but it has dropped most painfully from its record at the head of other countries, and we have had a series of very interesting figures given to us by different speakers in that respect. The last speaker, the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), has asked for a reply to them.

I would like to add to the figures already given, those of a country which I know well from one side to the other, and which was but a few years ago as behind as we were in civil aviation; that is, the United States of America, The figures of civil aviation to-day in America are amazing and cannot be repeated too often. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) referred to the amount of capital investment in the American aircraft industry to-day, which he put at £20,000,000. That is not one farthing too much. It has gone up from 5,000,000 dollars to 100,000,000 dollars in six years, but, in addition to this sum, another 50,000,000 dollars is invested under private enterprise. With regard to the output of aircraft: In 1927, 1,600 machines were turned out; in 1928, 5,000 machines: and it is expected that in 1929, 12,000 will be the output. We have had it stated that some 12,000 miles of air routes are in operation there, but it has not been stated that over 8,000 are open for night flying. We have had the number of aerodromes, but we were not told that over 2,000 cities have air ports or land marked for the purpose, and throughout the country over 400 chambers of commerce from San Francisco to New York have aviation centres, and that they are putting in tremendous work in developing aviation. I was only too pleased to learn that the London Chamber of Commerce had made a move in the same direction, and I hope it will be taken up by the chambers of commerce in this country.

I would like to ask the Air Secretary a question with regard to the West Indies, a subject which I have raised frequently during the last four years. Is it still too late to get a British flying boat service there? I was told on the last occasion that this was a job for the West Indian Government and not the Imperial Government, but may I point out that in these centres of population, 50 miles apart it is very difficult to take the lead. They are not a Dominion. On the few occasions they get together they have to do so by boat, and it is a very long and tedious operation. I do not know any part of the world where a seaplane service would be more useful than in the West Indies, which are the nearest link between North and South America. A little incident occurred in the Leeward Islands which will illustrate the position. The Governor was going to start a tour of these islands, taking three or four weeks. A United States warship was in harbour and it happened to have a seaplane on board. The captain loaned the Governor the use of the seaplane for the tour, which he made in one day.

We must let the people of these islands realise what flying boats can do. The perfectly splendid flight of the Royal Air Force to Australia, round Australia, up to Hong Kong and back to Singapore, certainly the finest flight ever made by any squadron, shows what magnificent machines British flying boats are, and if we could only get a squadron to go out there and show the West Indies what flying boats can do they would, I think, make a start in this direction. But cannot we also give them help from the Mother Country? With all the admiration I have for the United States of America it is pathetic that we should hand over to the Americans the possibility of contracting for flying from one end to the other in one of the most patriotic series of islands in the British Empire. I should like to be quite clear with regard to Imperial Airways. I have the greatest possible regard for Imperial Airways, in whose planes I have often travelled; and I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that the first thing to consider is safety. We shall all agree that there are no safer machines anywhere than those run under the aegis of Imperial Airways; and with that we get courtesy and punctuality. But it is impossible for one monopoly to develop the possibilities of flying over every section of the British Empire. I quite agree that you save overhead charges, but in my humble opinion there is room for more than one concern, under the backing of the Air Ministry and Government, to develop civil aviation within the Empire.

Last, but not least, may I again ask the Minister for Air to do all he can to encourage flying boat services from this country—it was urged by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and myself last year—from the mouth of the river upon which stands the great Yorkshire city of Hull. I know of no finer port from which to connect the great industrial north with the Continent, from the River Humber to Holland and Hamburg. It is a service which is badly wanted and which, I think would pay handsomely for itself in a very short time. Then from the Port of London to Antwerp a service would be just as successful. We are a scattered Empire and should not allow other nations to go ahead of us, as Germany is doing to-day, because we have proved to the whole world that there is no flying boat on the sea or in the air better than the British seaplane when manned by British men.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain) has been good enough to mention the possibilities of the Humber to Hamburg service, but he was not quite accurate when he suggested that municipalities had not considered the provision of aerodromes. In Hull we have marked the local racecourse for our aerodrome. Strictures have been passed on the company which I may refer to as the Guest company. It did really get a move on and managed to arouse some activity and interest in the city which I have the honour to represent. We co-operated with them, and we hope to see something done in this respect. The Minister for Air must really look ahead. The great route of the future will be from New York to Galway Bay, then across Ireland to Wales, and then by way of the Humber to Hamburg, where it will join up with the great European and Asiatic systems on to Pekin. That is undoubtedly the way in which mails and valuable samples will be carried in 10 or 15 years time. Along the east coast of England you have the great estuary of the Humber which is not crowded like the Tyne and the Tees. It is suitable in every way. We had hoped to have had the Schneider Cup contest there this year. We are hoping it will take place there on the next occasion. There is no more suitable place for seaplanes around the coast. The only other place is the Wash, which is not near to any large railway or commercial centre. The Firth of Forth is too far North. Nothing has been done by the Air Ministry during the last six years to give us any help in this matter at all. The Minister for Air has been approached again and again by hon. Members of this House, and by Chambers of Commerce, to give a lead in developing this great waterway. It is not the fault of the citizens of Hull; it is simply because civil aviation is absolutely secondary at the Air Ministry, and is neglected.

If hon. Members will turn to page 91 of the Estimates they will see the Vote for Works, Buildings and Lands. I want to draw their attention to the figures. You have "Singapore; construction of station"—this is a military station—total estimate of £576,000, probable expenditure up to the 31st of March, 1929, £206,500. And we have the announcement "to be voted in 1929, £100,000." Then we come to the "Air route, Calcutta to Singapore, landing grounds"; and the amount to be voted in 1929 is £1,000. Compare that with the £100,000 for the military station. From the military point of view I should have thought that it was far more essential to get your landing grounds and route prepared so that if necessary Singapore could be reinforced from India, I am astonished at what I find. Surely the next step, when we have got the air route to India, is to extend it to Australia. The right hon. Gentleman spoke hopefully, some time in the future, of having a route to the Cape of Good Hope. May I ask him when he anticipates that we shall be sending our mails to Sydney in 10 days' time instead of six weeks. This was referred to as a possibility seven or eight years ago; and nothing has been done since. The right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot get the money. Why is he content to adorn the Cabinet for six years when he is unable to get the money for an imperial need; a project which would give employment to a large number of men? Why does the right hon. Gentleman year after year complain that he cannot get the money to develop these services and yet continue to hold office? While I congratulate a small and gallant nation on being the first to institute a regular mail aeroplane service to the East Indies, the Dutch, I was very disappointed that it was not a British service. I have here the explanatory memorandum issued by the right hon. Gentleman on the Air Estimates in 1926. This is what be said then: In connection with the operation of a regular fortnightly air service, with three-engined machines, between Egypt and Basra via Baghdad and to Karachi, an agreement has been entered into for this with Imperial Airways, Limited. That has a rather familiar ring about it. He went on to say: The service should be commenced not later than the 1st of January, 1927. That was his explanatory memorandum in 1926, and here we are in 1929 and no further forward. The right hon. Gentleman says that we have had diplomatic difficulties with Persia. Again, from the military point of view surely it would be desirable to have an alternative route to India without having to pass over Persian territory at all, because in time of trouble that road might be blocked by a hostile Persia. Surely we ought to develop a route south of the Persian Gulf in friendly territory. The same thing, of course, applies from the point of view of civil flying. I find no signs in the Estimates, or in the right hon. Gentleman's speech and memorandum, that there has been any change of policy as a result of the ratification of the Kellogg Pact. It is no use, as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) has said in his brilliant speech, saying that other nations are increasing armaments. That is a matter for their own taxpayers; we can only speak for our taxpayers. I want to put this question: Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the ratification of the Kellogg Pact is going to make any difference at all in air armaments, and if so, what? Secondly, have we any plans for a mutual reduction of air armaments for the forthcoming Preparatory Commission on Disarmament? Has the right hon. Gentleman worked out any plan? Has he approved of anything? Have the Admiralty been in consultation with the Air Ministry on this matter? The most economical way of strengthening our actual defensive forces would be by an extension and encouragement of civil aviation. There we are up against the danger referred to by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen. I think we shall have to proceed along the lines of a great International Air Corporation controlling the air routes of Europe; but that is a matter for the future.

It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.