Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 32,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India (other than Aden), during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by 30,000 men.
Personally, I am sorry that I feel obliged to move this Amendment, especially in view of the fact that my hon. Friend who is in charge of the Estimates has had a very arduous day and has been quite unsupported. I think he will recognise that inside the movement to which we both belong there has always been a distinct division of opinion on this issue, and he will be at least as well aware as I am that the point of view which he has very consistently represented and that with which I and my associates are represented have fluctuated at Labour party conferences and elsewhere in a ding-dong way. Sometimes those who believe that modern armaments are essential to this country were in the ascendency in the Labour movement, and sometimes those who believe that moderate armaments are ridiculous because they are not enough to defend you but are enough to bring trouble on you, were in the ascendant. But it always has been a well understood thing that both sections which held these contrary opinions had a right to express their point of view either at conferences or in the House of Commons or anywhere else.
It has been the custom, almost ever since there has been a Parliamentary Labour party, for an Amendment similar to the one that I am moving to be 2030 moved, so that the feeling of the Committee might be tested on the matter. We have a good precedent for moving this Amendment. That generosity of mind and appreciation of opposing points of view is perhaps not quite so marked of late as it was in the early days of our movement, and, indeed, it is suggested that we are doing something wrong in bringing forward this Amendment. On the other hand, an hon. Member for whom I have more respect perhaps than for any other hon. Member, whose charge it is sometimes to see that I am shepherded into the right Lobby on every conceivable occasion, who has the extremely unpleasant task of seeing to my political orthodoxy and morality—he sits for one of the East Ham Divisions and is now on the Front Bench—had a little to say on the question of the Air Estimates himself in 1928. He moved an Amendment in these terms:In view of the peril to civilisation latent in air warfare, this House regrets that His Majesty's Government did not advocate bolder proposals for aerial disarmament at the meeting of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, and urges them to take the initiative in putting forward a programme containing the abolition of military and naval air forces and the establishment of the international control of civil aviation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1928; col. 1607, Vol. 214.]My Amendment at least leaves the Under-Secretary 2,000 men with which to clear up the debris, but the hon. Member, when he was dealing with the right hon. Baronet opposite, was not so merciful, he wanted total abolition. If I may say so, the Under-Secretary of State scored one white mark in his record when on that occasion he went into the Lobby in support of that Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] He was accompanied by the Prime Minister and by nearly every occupant of the present Front Bench. They said, "Never mind what we are going to do when we are in power. We call upon you to abolish the military and naval air forces of this country." That "was the view at that time, the united view, of the Labour party in the House of Commons. It was the view of the present Prime Minister, who voted for it, and it was the view of the Whips of the Labour Opposition at that time. I regret that I lack that elastic intellect and political dexterity which enables me to say that an Air Force which should be 2031 abolished when the right hon. Baronet governed it is an Air Force for the good of humanity when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State controls it.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I have read it once, but I will read it again. The date is 12th March, 1928:Mr. BARNES: I beg to move, to leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:' in view of the peril to civilisation latent in air warfare, this House regrets that His Majesty's Government did not advocate bolder proposals for aerial disarmament at the meeting of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, and urges them to take the initiative in putting forward a programme containing the abolition of military and naval air forces and the establishment of the international control of civil aviation.'Have you taken that initiative? I do not want to labour this particular point. I want to put to the Committee the real issue behind this difference of opinion between what I willingly concede is the view held by the majority in this House and those of us who take the opposite point of view. Our point of view is this, that however much money you spend, however many aeroplanes you build, however many pilots you get, however many dangerous tricks you teach them at considerable lose of life, however much brain and ingenuity you devote to the problem, there is no safety, no safeguard, no hope whatever in building up armaments of this kind. There are only two conceivable points of view on this problem. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) has said that there may be no war within the next 10 years. I am glad that so well known an expert as the hon. and gallant Member gives us 10 years' freedom from war—
§ Commander BELLAIRS
That is the Government point of view, confidentially given to the Admiralty, War Office, and Air Force.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Member, and I 2032 believe it is a fairly reasonable forecast of international relations. Very few Governments would be able to drag their people after them into a firsts-class war, and I think we are safe until a few more of the generation who fought the last war have been taken from us. But suppose there was a dangerous war within the next 10 years, expenditure on armaments of this kind is not going to help in the slightest and is not going to provide the slightest modicum of safety. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) said that the French have nearly seven fighting aeroplanes for every one that we possess. The figures he gave were something like 4,000 in France to about 600 in this country. I do not profess to be an expert on this matter and I do not know whether the figures are correct, but I do know that the French at the present moment have a considerable excess over us in the number of fighting aeroplanes.
There seem to be only two logical alternatives in the circumstances—either to expand our Air Force until we have more fighting aeroplanes than they have, or to "chuck" the competition altogether. If there is going to be a war in 10 years we run very great danger, however much we spend on our Air Force, and however large an Air Force we have. If, on the other hand, there is not going to be a war in the next 10 years—and I sincerely hope and believe there will not be—then we shall have spent on the Air Force since 1921 a sum of £168,000,000, and I suppose that in the next 10 years we shall probably spend an almost equal sum. There is £300,000,000 which would have meant an enormous difference to the whole outlook and condition of this country wasted on building up an Air Force which is not going to be used if there is not going to be any war.
There is an even more ridiculous side to this question. I will say this, both for the Noble Lord who is the Secretary of State for Air now and for the right hon. Baronet whom he succeeded—that whatever else may be their sins in this respect, neither of them has attempted to obtain money from the country under false pretences. They have both said candidly and brutally and in the most outspoken way, "Whether you give us £300,000,000, or £600,000,000, or 2033 £1,000,000,000, we can build you a big, strong, efficient Air Force, but we cannot build an Air Force which will effectually protect you in case of war." The right hon. Baronet who was Secretary of State for Air in the last Government early in 1929 said:Whereas, in the late war over 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.Speaking at an earlier date the right hon. Gentleman said:After five years' experience of the Air Ministry he felt that the invention of the aeroplane had, at the beginning, done more harm than good to the British Empire.It is very difficult to know why he has changed his opinion of the aeroplane in that respect, as far as its use as a military weapon is concerned, because while it runs us into great cost it is the most difficult weapon against which to protect a civil population. Then we have the Noble Lord speaking at a League of Nations Union meeting:Tests carried out by the Air Force 6howed that there was no defence whatever to any determined aerial attack. He insisted that the only defence would be to threaten reprisals, and he urged that our strength should be such as to make the reprisals as deadly as possible.I appeal to hon. Members, is that the kind of future which they care to envisage? Are we to vote millions of pounds of badly needed money and thousands of the best of our young men in order that, if some foreign nation smashes 1,000 British homes or kills 1,000 British women and children, we shall be able to go over to their capital and smash 2,000 of their homes or kill 2,000 of their women and children as a reprisal. Once we get to that stage we have only to go a step further and say that we will not wait for the foreign enemy to kill our women and children. It will be the duty of any Secretary of State for Air, or any Air Marshal, to see that we get our blow in first. Twice armed is he who gets his blow in first. Armies and navies are to my mind brutal, useless and unnecessary things, but in comparison with these new weapons, this new barbaric conception of how to carry on our duty towards our neighbours, they seem almost to pale to the ground. At any rate, under the old system of armies and navies the men went to fight their battles.
2034 I quite believe the Under-Secretary when he said that we do not want to have to expand the Air Force, but my view is that once we start having an Air Force for military purposes, once we build fighting aeroplanes and bombing squadrons, once we have them stationed all over the world to enable British Imperialism to remain steady in its saddle, once we do that, be the hon. Gentleman twice as wise and twice as clever as he is, he cannot stop it. Once he yields to the popular clamour for a large Air Force, built to strike and to defend by reprisals, there is no way in which he can stop it. I ask the Committee really to see whether there is not a way out of the dreadful impasse into which the rival air forces are getting us. We propose to-night the only way that we see to get rid of this dreadful future by abolishing in this country the means to bring it about. We do not believe that this country undefended could be any worse off than it will be in the next war, even if it is defended in the way that battle squadrons and bombers are able to defend it. We do not believe that. We believe that we are in for red ruin and chaos in the event of war, and so we appeal to the courage and wisdom of the nation to refuse to be drawn into a state of world anarchy, and to seek that safety of defence with which only the courage of the unarmed man can safeguard himself.
§ Major GWILYM LLOYD GEORGE
I need hardly tell the Committee that I do not rise to support the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Beckett). My purpose is to ask the Under-Secretary whether he can let me know what provision he is making for the air base which the late Government announced was to be established at Pembroke Dock. The Committee will remember that the reason that base was to be established was because the dockyard, which had been in existence for over 100 years, was abolished by the late Government. Two days, I think it was, before the Dissolution of the last Parliament—a pure coincidence, I feel sure—it was announced that an air base was to be established there instead of a dockyard. I have been searching this year's Estimates very carefully, and have been unable to find any provision for any money to be expended there. I ask the Under-Secretary if he can let me know whether that work 2035 has been abandoned or just postponed. If it has been abandoned, I suggest that the Government have a very serious responsibility towards this community, which has only come into existence because of Government action and has also been brought to its present state by Government action. If they intend to abandon the project they ought to provide some alternative, but I hope that is not the case. If it has only been postponed, I ask the Under-Secretary to reconsider the postponement, because the creation of a base of that character will mean work to-day for a district where it is wanted, and not for next year or the year after.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In the Debate on the Navy Estimates last night it was ruled that on Vote A hon. Members could discuss policy, but could not go into too great detail about the Votes, and the same must apply in relation to these Estimates. I just want to draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Member to the fact that a Vote will come up later covering the purposes of which he is now speaking. I do not wish to rule him out of order on that account, and I will allow a general discussion on Vote A, but we cannot go into too much detail, or we may be going into details on all the Votes included in the Air Estimates.
§ Major LLOYD GEORGE
I can assure you, Mr. Young, that I have no intention of going any further into details. As I understood that on this Vote we could go into general policy to a certain extent, I just wanted to ask the Under-Secretary whether that work has been abandoned or is simply postponed until next year or the year after I can assure him that in that district over 50 per cent. of the male adult population is out of employment at the present time—I believe that in the town itself 75 per cent. of the adult population is out of employment—and if the Air Ministry are considering the erection of a base there now is the time to do it, when employment is wanted, and not two or three years hence. If it is postponed for a year or two I appeal to the Under-Secretary to get that decision reversed, and I can assure him that if that is done he will have earned the gratitude of a very sorely stricken community.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
Anyone who has listened to this Debate must be conscious of the fact that everybody who has taken part in it has instinctively turned his mind to one or two of the other Services. We have been told that we must confine ourselves to the Vote itself and it is because the particular subject which I desire to touch upon affects the policy in the widest sense that I make those remarks. The question of the relation of the three Fighting Services was once considered to be an academic question, but it is now very definitely marked in the Estimates of the three Services. The fact remains that each of the three Services votes a certain sum towards a specific common object and that is the Imperial Defence College. On all three Votes, it seems to suit each Department to make use of identically the same language. It says that the object of that college is to train students to study the broadest aspect of Imperial strategy and the concrete problems of Imperial defence. I raise this question on the Air Estimates because they do bracket the policy of the other two Services. An air officer has been appointed as commandant of that college.
I think we are forced to ask ourselves three questions. Firstly, what are the broadest aspects of Imperial defence? That is a phrase which is used by the three Services. Secondly, what machinery exists at the present moment for implementing the results of the studies of the students of that college, and is the machinery which exists for that purpose adequate? I consider that these three questions are really fundamental to the whole question of the general policy of the Air Estimates. I do not wish to enumerate the details of what I consider to be the broadest aspect of Imperial defence. What I want to do is to emphasise the question of strategy as opposed to administration, and, when I say administration, I mean administration in detail, because one of the details of broad administrative policy is an integral part of strategy as a whole.
When we discuss the question of coordinating the three Services, and when we consider their policies, strength, and requirements we have in mind three different questions. First of all, there is the question of coordinating the pure strategy of the three Services. Secondly, 2037 there is the question of coordinating or implementing the question of Parliament ary responsibility for the administration. Thirdly, there is the question of coordinating the Service question as a whole, if I may use that phrase, with those vast and varied civic interests which are of such importance in time of war. Now that I am getting to the subject of machinery, it seems to me that the machinery in existence for the last type of co-ordination, that is coordinating the Service question with civilian interests, is pretty adequate. The Committee of Imperial Defence, in its reconstructed form, with its channels of communication and consultation, does extraordinarily good work and is extremely valuable, and I feel satisfied on the question of co ordination under that head—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member is now going into a discussion of the co-ordination of all the Services, but he must remember that we are now discussing the Air Estimates travelling and he is rather wide of the purposes before the Committee.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling, as I am aware that, perhaps, I am embarking on a rather general discussion, but my point, as I tried to make plain when I started, is really that the consideration of such a question, for instance, as the Amendment which has just been moved to reduce the Air Forces by 30,000, cannot be considered in a watertight compartment. It is impossible for us to arrive at the good ness or badness of that proposal in detail without considering the requirements of the other Services, and I should not have raised this question but for the fact, which I tried to emphasise at the beginning, that we do get in each of the Estimates money voted for identical objects and in identical wording. It was on these grounds that I felt that I should be in order if I discussed this question—
§ The CHAIRMAN
In so far as the Navy Estimates cover a certain proportion of the Air Forces, that particular section is under the control of the Navy, and, therefore, the hon. and gallant Member might urge that the Navy section of the Air Force should be co-ordinated; but I understand that he is asking for a general co-ordination, which is wide of the Estimate before the Committee.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
I was taking my stand on the question that the three Services vote money to a particular college, and that the whole object of that college is to train students to consider the broadest aspects of Imperial strategy; and I think it must be agreed that one of the broadest aspects of Imperial strategy is the question of the strength of the Air Force.
§ The CHAIRMAN
We cannot discuss that matter now. It would involve a discussion of each of the three Services, and that would be rather wide of the purposes before the Committee, for it would mean that hon. Members would be at liberty to enter fully into the Navy Estimates and the relation of the Air Force to the Navy Estimates. I think that the hon. and gallant Member must not go so wide as he is going in connection with this Vote.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
I must confess that, in view of your ruling, I find it rather difficult to proceed, but possibly a better occasion will arise, and I can assure you, Mr. Young, that I had no wish at all to intervene improperly in this discussion. I can only bow to your ruling and hope for better times.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
In supporting the Amendment, I desire to draw attention to the inconsistency of those who now represent the Government of the day in voting in the Lobby against a former Government pursuing the very same course which the present Government are pursuing to-night. With that inconsistency many Labour people in the country are, I am confident, becoming more and more impressed. This is the second occasion on which the Labour party have been in office, and on this occasion they have a considerable accession of numerical strength, but morally they are giving evidence of remarkable weakness. I know that certain individual Members of the party derive a considerable amount of amusement from these proceedings, which is the only way in which they can endeavour to assuage the conscience that is troubling them. In 1924, the hon. Member who occupied the same position as the present Under-Secretary, who has been doing laborious duty in the House to-night, was on that occasion highly complimented from the Opposition Bench on the fact that, representing the Labour 2039 Government, he was pursuing the very same policy which the Tory Government had previously pursued, and to-night history repeats itself. It may be advisable to stick to office like a leech. [Interruption.] It is not considered proper to name any Member in the House.
The situation, I quite frankly recognise, is attended with considerable difficulties. So great are they that on one occasion, during the occupancy of office by the Conservative Government, I happened to be drawn in the ballot for one of these Votes, and we chose to put in an Amendment such as has been submitted to-night concerning the Air Force. Along with two or three others who hold similar views tenaciously, and stick to them on all occasions, an Amendment was drawn up very definitely presenting the case. It was submitted to the party and the answer came: "We could not think of supporting that on any account." I said, "I did not expect you would, but I was advised to submit it to the party for consideration and we will just go on with the job ourselves." Judge of our surprise when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty got up from the Front Opposition Bench to announce that the party had decided to go into the Lobby in favour of our thorough-going Amendment. It was a remarkable development. They were then, of course, not in office.
I look at this thing altogether differently from what is considered to be the orthodox political point of view. I can see that this or any other Government is in the position of being part of a vicious circle. Choosing rather to be within the political ring, especially among those who have the foremost part in managing the ring, they decide to stay within the vicious circle. The price cannot be paid. My submission is that for those who stand in this position, impracticable as it may be to those who desire office and appointments, there is only one way in which the job can be done, and that is definitely, tenaciously and consistently to stick to it at all costs. That, I frankly recognise, in the main can only be done in that much more important position of the back benches rather than the Front Bench. I sympathise deeply with any man, whatever may be the prize he gains, when he loses 2040 his soul. I am glad to find that the Church is beginning to rally to the situation. Large bodies of working people have decided definitely that they will have none of it.
One of my constituents, an ex-magistrate, has repeatedly reminded me that I ought to stick to this point of view. There is a much more effective way than even that proposed by Mr. H. G. Wells, and it is, in any prospective war, to make certain that the Ministers shall go into the front line trenches, or into the first aeroplanes which may set off to attack another city, and to ensure that, whoever comes down, they will be the first to come down. If that step is taken, I am confident that the courage exercised on that occasion will be more like that of the Irishman, who, desirous of fighting for his liberty, makes for home.
When one comes to home defence it gets me in the grips when I think of it, especially in regard to the use of the machine, which Lord Trenchard, a former Air-Marshal, submitted was no machine at all as far as defence was concerned. It was valuable only for attack. Consequently, the Service Vote which we are asked to pass to-night will in no sense be a Vote for home interests at all.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman by saying that I think anybody who studies strategy realises that the first principle of defence is attack, and, therefore, we are voting to-night for a force for the defence of this country?
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I accept the interpretation of the Noble Lord's idea, and it fits my argument splendidly. This is for attack and not for defence at all. It may not fit in with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's way of presenting the matter. I want to point out the absolute absurdity of talking about home defence when masses of the people cannot get a living. A sum of £17,000,000 to £18,000,000 is being spent for the alleged defence of home interests when masses of our people are practically starving! Reductions of wages are being forced upon the workers of the country and yet we are being asked to vote £17,000,000 or £18,000,000 on a proposition which we know, if it comes to be exercised at all, will mean devastation for men, women and children. The situation 2041 is appalling. I think that we are down in the very depth of degradation from the national standpoint. I submit that Germany, now so-called defenceless, is in a better position as a defended nation than our country or any other country. In the paper which I have in my hand reference is made by the Ministry to the idea of avoiding competition in air armaments. Then, after referring to the consolidating of the home defence force, they say:We shall thus have a breathing-space in which to watch the development of the new spirit which informs pacific international instruments, such as the Treaty for the Renunciation of War and the Optional Clause.While we were passing the Navy Vote last night, Viscount Cecil was addressing a meeting of the League of Nations Union upstairs. He described very explicitly a variety of recommendations by the Committee, in which he is taking a very active part, for filling up the blanks in the Covenant to make it fit in with the Pact. Most of those recommendations had been unanimously arrived at, but the question of how far they may go when they are considered by the Council is another matter. The one thing which did impress every one of us there was the fact that all our nations are still in the position of being, in the true sense of the word, defenceless. Notwithstanding all the vast expenditure of money, there is this terrifying fear that exists amongst the people of the countries because they feel that those who are supposed to be in control are so weak and frail in their attitude in facing the vicious circle by which they are surrounded, that there is no real confidence amongst the peoples of the world that they are free from the impending crash that will come one day sooner or later.
There is the call that we have made to-night to the Committee, coming from a small group. Let no man in the Labour party smile because a small group gets up and proposes something. Let it be remembered that the man who was largely responsible for building up the Labour party once stood alone and faced things courageously and openly. In other parts of the world, in America, the same movement is finding expression in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the different nations of the world there is this consolidation of which 2042 we have heard, theoretically, from among those who are quite keen about air armaments, that war is a grand consolidating force. When we come to deal with applications for pensions—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are dealing here with the Air Force Estimates and an Amendment. The question of pensions does not arise in this matter. We must keep to the Air Force Estimates.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I believe your Ruling, Mr. Young, fits into the situation, because pensions do not come into this aspect. I hope ex-service men and every prospective soldier and sailor will bear that in mind, when they see such a message as "Join the Air Force and see the world." That means "See the other world." I hope they will remember what the Chairman said—and it is quite correct—that when you are dealing with—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member has no right to bring my position as Chairman into the matter at all. I ruled that the question of pensions did not arise under this Estimate, and therefore he should have left the question of pensions immediately.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
With due deference, I think I am entitled to take your decision, which you make publicly here, and to utilise it—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The only thing the hon. Member is entitled to do is to obey the Ruling of the Chair while this discussion is going on.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Order! It is not competent for an hon. Member to argue with the Chair. I am asking the hon. Member to leave the question of pensions alone, as it does not arise on this Estimate.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. This is the third occasion on which you have called the hon. Member to order, and you said that it was not competent to argue with the Chair. I ask where it was Chat the hon. Member was arguing with the Chair.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It was obvious that the hon. Member was contesting my Ruling. He referred to a sentence which I had used and said it ought to be 2043 utilised, and I was pointing out that it ought not to be utilised, in this House at any rate.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I agree with you in the second case that it was correct, but on the third occasion all that my hon. Friend did was not to argue with the Chair but to make the statement "So I am," which was in agreement with you, and is it on that that he is to be told he is arguing -with the Chair?
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I will leave it alone. As to this Estimate, it is a momentous one, and it has to be considered apart altogether from any of those who may be identified with the proposal. It has to be looked at from that wider point of view which I am confident the Prime Minister and others representing the Government have in some degree at any rate in their hearts, and in proportion in their minds, when they are seeking to accomplish something as an outcome of the Naval Conference. Behind that Conference millions of people, as we know, were led to contemplate the possibilities, when it opened with the speeches, some of which we had the pleasure of hearing, at the other end of the building. Masses of our people were then, and are even yet, in the crisis, waiting to see how far that Conference will go.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but we had this matter of the Naval Conference looming largely in our discussion yesterday. The Motion before the Committee, however, is to reduce the complement of the Air Force by 30,000, and consequently it is not in order to reopen the question of the Naval Conference.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Then we are confined undoubtedly by the proposal before us to-night to the Vote for the Air Service, and the Air Service is the most dangerous of the three Forces. Every organisation associated with the prevention of cruelty to children and to animals, and to all mankind has got to be concerned about this. The old system and' plan of a battery of men going out to conflict with another is set aside, and this development which takes place and is going forward is a matter of simply getting at the non-combatants, with a view to exterminating as many as possible in the most cruel and relentless and cold- 2044 blooded fashion that any mortal man or woman could possibly conceive. Taking a stand at whatever cost in the backing of the position that is submitted here for voting in the Lobby—I submit that those who go along another line are wrong indeed, and especially with a Labour Government in office, which raised hopes in the hearts and minds of masses of workaday people as to what would be the new developments. The dawning of a better day; a new heaven! What sort of a heaven is there to be? None. They were responsible for raising hopes, for cherishing aspirations and giving an impression to their mass of followers that by the return of a Labour Government there would be a staunch, solidified force of pacifism. In stead of that, what has happened? I wish there was an opportunity of the "Daily Herald" stating the facts of the case; but I do not expect that—because it is a thorough-going party organ and paper, the same as other newspapers— unless it is in the interests of the party. I only wish that the "Daily Herald" would give—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Will the hon. Member try to keep to the question before the Committee, and deal with the Air Force and not with the "Daily Herald"?
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
Is it not the Rule that when a Member has been called to order three times he is requested to resume his seas?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That point has been raised more than once. I think hon. Members might leave it to the Chairman.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I have a deep-seated satisfaction in backing this proposal. The no-war movement have an effective illustration of the fact that an alliance with the Labour movement is one thing, but when it comes to asking for the support of the Labour Government in a really effective way, it is a sorry failure. I stand here—as I stood on platforms in the days of the War, when there were difficulties in putting our case—and ask that men and women of the churches, clergymen and others, shall see that their declarations for peace should be fulfilled straight away by the creation of a definite, genuine political force that will stand for the defence of 2045 the country by the advancement of Christ's Kingdom and the doing of His Will upon earth as it is in Heaven.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The question of the Pembroke Dock has been raised. It is the intention of the Air Ministry that Pembroke Dock should be used primarily as a station for a flying boat squadron. It may be possible also to locate at that dock one or two minor units. The total number of civilians who will be directly employed by the Air Ministry at Pembroken Dock is not likely at first to exceed 40, rising to 60 or 70 as soon as the Air Force unit is stationed there, which cannot be for some time. Some indirect employment may, however, result before the Air Force unit arrives, from work on structural adaptations, and afterwards from the ordinary local requirements of the unit. The answer to the question may not and probably is not wholly satisfactory to the hon. Member. I am sorry that the question is one to which, at the moment, I cannot give a very definite reply. The matter is under very careful and sympathetic consideration. The question involves matters such as the transfer of Pembroke Docks from the Navy to the Air Force, and it is under the consideration of all the Services, both separately and together.
The Amendment before the Committee would, if carried, have the effect of abolishing the Air Force. That, I understand, is the intention of the Movers. As I have said before, it is a logical proposal—much more logical than a great deal of the pacifism that we hear. I cannot understand the kind of pacifism which says, "You must reduce; you are not called upon to abolish, but I will not fight. I will pay someone else to do my fighting for me." This particular Amendment is certainly a logical one, and it does call for the abolition of this arm of the Service, preparatory, I presume, to the general abolition of all means either of defence or attack. I want to say, especially to the last speaker, who seems to imagine that "pelf and place," as we used to say in one of the old Socialist hymns, is what compelled the Labour Government to carry out this particular policy upon Service matters, that I do not think that idea is justified, for the reason that the policy indicated in these Estimates is the policy of the Labour party, a policy 2046 that has been put to the country by the Labour party, a policy that has been accepted by the trade unions of the country, and a policy which is accepted by the Independent Labour Party. The only organisation of avowed Socialists, if they can be called Socialists at all, who stand for the abolition of the British Army, Air Force and Navy but not for the abolition of Russian or any other military forces, is the Communist party. The recognised bodies of organised Socialism and Labour in this country do not accept the policy of abolition.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Would the hon. Gentleman state his authority for saying that it is the policy of the Independent Labour Party, in view of the conference decision at Carlisle to vote against all war credits?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
My authority for saying that is the official publication of the Independent Labour Party before the General Election of 1924.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
That particular publication had for its author the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Brockway).
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
As I have been mentioned I may say quite definitely that since then the Independent Labour party has declared absolutely for the policy of disarmament and has decided to vote against war credits.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am not going to apologise for not being able to follow the changes in the policy of the Independent Labour party, but I understand the position of that party at the present time is to vote against all war credit" as a manifesto and not as a serious objective. [Interruption.] If I am wrong then I disagree with the Independent Labour party. It is certainly not the policy of the Labour party and it is not the policy of the majority of the organised workers of the country. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Beckett) has said that the two alternatives were to have more fighting aeroplanes than other nations or do away with the Air Force altogether. I suggest that there are other alternatives. There is the alternative of reprisals, which does not mean a method of defence by attack. There is the point of view—I am not suggesting 2047 that it is the only point of view—that if you have an effective Air Force, strong enough and efficient in numbers and quality to make it perfectly plain that whatever may be done to London would be done within an hour or two to another country, it is an effective method of defence against the possibility of a future war. I am not arguing that point of view, I am only putting it forward as a point of view to be considered. There is the better point of view, and that is the point of view of international agreement. We as a Government, and this nation as a nation—I am not making a party question of it at all—are doing our best to obtain peace by agreement. It applies to all services, including the Air Force. I am a realist, and we have to get down to realities. Hon. Members know that to go to the country with the flag of no defence, no Army, no Navy, and no Air Force, would mean absolute defeat. Those who have put forward this Amendment know that public opinion is far from being in that state which would make it practical politics to talk for a moment about the abolition of the Air Force or any other force, and for that reason I cannot, on behalf of the Government, accept the Amendment. I hope the Committee will now let us have the Vote.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I rise to support the Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] It is not my intention to cast any reflections on any hon. Member or on any previous Governments. I am not the keeper of their conscience; I am the keeper of my own conscience. I believe in the principle of disarmament, and because the Amendment is framed on those lines I shall support it. I believe that the present Government have done more for peace than their predecessors, but a Vote on this question is not a party Vote. It is a Vote for a certain principle in which some of very keenly believe. Some nation, sooner or later, will have to give a lead on the question of disarmament. We have had many attempts, since the signing of the Armistice, to bring about disarmament, but, with the exception of disarming the enemy whom we defeated, we have not made much progress. I believe that the way to get disarmament is by educating the people, 2048 and then governments will follow. The more we can bring before the House of Commons proposals which involve the principle of disarmament, the more progress we shall make in the country. This disarmament proposal relates to what I regard as the most important of the Fighting Forces. Disarmament in regard to the Navy will not be very effective from the practical point of view, though its value from a psychological point of view might be very great. Disarmament in regard to the land forces will not be very effective, because everyone admits that the next war will be fought from the air. The Air Force will be the chief arm of the Fighting Services, and whatever proposals for disarmament may be made in other directions, while you are increasing or maintaining your present expenditure, in this form of warfare, instead of coming nearer to peace you are only camouflaging the position as far as the general public are concerned.
We as pacifists are not desirous of embarrassing a Government which is, generally, striving for pence, but we must, when the occasion arises, go into the Lobby in support of our convictions. Some of us here have helped to create an anti-war psychology in this country. I will not say that all of us have devoted all our lives to that cause, because, unfortunately, some of us were engaged in other directions in our earlier years. But we have had experience of what war means. We have been through it, and when our souls have been seared and our bodies marked by war, then we feel that we ought to do something to repair the wrong which we helped to perpetuate. Having created that anti-war psychology we must stand for the principle. Some of my friends went to prison for their anti-war attitude and I admire their courage. I fought against war as a private soldier from 1914 to 1917—and then I went to prison because I fought against war as a civilian. I think that entitles me to say that it is from no animosity to the Front Bench, no desire to make myself conspicuous, that I am speaking in support of this proposal but because it expresses a conviction which I hold very deeply. My contention is that all war is wrong, whether it is fought by the Air Force or any of the arms of the Services. All killing is 2049 murder, even when done by orders of a Government.Ef you take a sword an' dror it,An' go stick a feller thru,Guy' ment ain't to answer for it,God'll send the bill to you.During the War to end war, hundreds of thousands of my young fellow countrymen fought for the same ideal. We did not fight for the wages which we were given. We did not fight to get oil wells for rich Jews in Mesopotamia; we did not fight to get the mineral wealth of the Ruhr and Saar for French and German capitalists to exploit after the War. We fought for a principle, the principle of pacifism, to make Air Forces unnecessary. I am proud of my countrymen that when the War came in 1914, when the appeal was made for recruits, they responded to the appeal, for they went in order that their offspring should not have to go through the conditions which were growing up around them, and should not know the horrors which they themselves were prepared to endure. That was the underlying motive of tens of thousands of young men whom I was proud to call comrades, and with whom I fought side by side; many of them were broken and maimed, mentally, morally and physically, and all this so that there should be no need for armies or navies or air forces, and so that war should go for ever.
I feel that we want to get to the bottom of the sentiment that is talked about war. We have two minutes' silence in memory of these men who gave their lives; there are War memorials in every town, village and hamlet. The "ghosts of the slain" are still walking our country, and could they speak to us, could we but attune our ears and hearts to hear their ghostly voices, they would be asking us for War memorials not of perishable stone, but of the imperishable achievement of the ideals for which they laid down their lives. Though they made the sacrifice, and the War finished in 1918, in 1930, 12 years after the finishing of the War, here we are, meeting in the British House of Commons to discuss the passing of Air, Army and Navy Estimates. Can you wonder that some of us get bitter and ask what was the sacrifice made for during the years from 1914 to 1918? What did that War give us? Widows and orphans, broken cripples like myself, unemployment, low moral 2050 standards for this country, and poverty. What a harvest! Disarmament may mean risks, but can the risks of peace and disarmament be greater than the risks of war? That is the question which this House ought to face. It is the greatest risk we have to face. We have faced the risks of war in various directions. Some of my friends faced the risks of war behind prison bars. Some of them died behind prison bare for principles and ideals.
Those of us who faced the risks of war in the trenches and on the high seas faced those risks cheerfully, believe me, because we felt that we were enduring them in order that those who followed us should not be called upon to suffer in the same way. We were disillusioned. We belong to another army to-day—to the army of disillusioned men who put their heart and soul into that War because they believed it was going to bring a new era, believed that it was going to mean that when it was over the new world would dawn. Some of us who have found our way to this Assembly with that experience behind us have delivered to us huge tomes—this is not the largest of them—giving us the expenditure of this nation on armaments and war.
I believe a disarmed nation would be the safest in the time of war. An hon. and gallant Member opposite said the best means of defence was attack. I thought that idea was exploded long ago, and belonged to the nineteenth century and the Mid-Victorian era. The statement that the best means of defence is attack only shows the risks and the dangers we are inflicting on this country by the continuance of the principle that armaments are absolutely necessary. The Under-Secretary said he thought the best method would be by way of reprisals.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I did not say that. I said there were alternatives and I enumerated them. I said the best method was agreement between the nations.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
Did not the hon. Gentleman say one of the best means would be to make it clearly understood by agreement that we should go over to the other country and bomb the other capital and people if—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I have no wish to misrepresent the Under-Secretary, but I suggest that some of the defenders of the Air 2051 Force do say that. They believe that if we are bombed the best means of preventing a recurrence of that bombardment is to go over to the other country and bomb them, and bomb them better than they have bombed us. I suppose the gentlemen who believe in that principle would believe that the departed spirits of the people who were bombed in this country would be very glad to see in the regions of the other world the spirits of those who had been bombed because they themselves were bombed in the first place—a truly Christian spirit for which our militarists have been famed in the past.
Some of them are still living in the light of the Old Testament idea of "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but some of us on these benches are living in the light of the New Testament, living in the light of the Nazarene, and we want to try to bring that spirit into this country. I say that a disarmed nation would be the safest nation in the face of war. It would be the safest nation because it could offer no provocation; there could be no aggression, either committed or contemplated. It would be impossible to stir up the war fever in an enemy country against a disarmed country; they could not use a disarmed country to incite fear among the people, that fear which is so necessary to rouse the war passions and to keep the fires of war burning. We say to those who are trying to reduce our war commitments from an official point of view, God speed you in the work you are trying to do. We hope that the Government of the day will have every success in the efforts they are making. They are abreast of the times. We ask them not to condemn a few of us if we are ahead of the times.
§ We are making the pace. We are clearing the ground upon which they will be able to build to-morrow, and when they are building we want to be a bit ahead pioneering and clearing more ground on which they may be able to build. I appeal to those who desire peace above all else to give us a vote in the Lobby to-night. We cannot win by numbers, but we know that we can make an impression upon the public opinion of this country and other countries if we can show them that there is a volume of opinion in this country in favour of the principle of complete disarmament.
§ We are not hampering the Government Front Bench, but we are helping them in the work they are carrying on at the present time. The movement for disarmament is going up by leaps and bounds up and down the country. It is no use talking about parity and tonnage, and things like that. There is a great body of opinion in the country which is ready to respond to a bold lead which, although it might involve risks, would be more likely to catch the imagination of all nations and usher in a new period of world peace. Therefore, I appeal to those who believe in the principles of peace to go into the Lobby this evening with my hon. Friend who has moved this Amendment, if they want to make a gesture in favour of complete disarmament from the Floor of the House of Commons. The greater our strength in the Lobby to-night the greater will be the power of our Government when talking about the principle of disarmament with other nations of the world.
§ Question put, "That a reduced number, not exceeding 2,000 all ranks, be maintained for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 22; Noes, 226.2053
|Division No. 227.]||AYES.||[11.33 p.m.|
|Ayles, Walter||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Sandham, E.|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Kelly, W. T.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Kinley, J.||Simmons, C. J. Stephen, Campbell|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Longden, F.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Forgan, Dr. Robert||Matters, L. W.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Owen. H. F. (Hereford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Haycock, A. W.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Mr. Beckett and Mr. Buchanan.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Arnott, John|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Aske, Sir Robert|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Ammon, Charles George||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Hoffman, P. C.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Hollins, A.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Hopkin, Daniel||Raynes, W. R.|
|Bellamy, Albert||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Remer, John R.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Richards, R.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Johnston, Thomas||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y. Ch'ts'y)|
|Blindell, James||Jones, F. Llewellyn(Flint)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Ritson, J.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Boyce, H. L.||Kennedy, Thomas||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Romeril, H. G.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Brothers, M.||Lang, Gordon||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Lathan, G.||Rowson, Guy|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lawrence, Susan||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Lawson, John James||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Butler, R. A.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Scott, James|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Leach, W.||Sexton, James|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Chater, Daniel||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Church, Major A. G.||Lindley, Fred W.||Shield, George William|
|Clarke, J. S.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Shinwell, E.|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Logan, David Gilbert||Sinkinson, George|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Longbottom, A. W.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Compton, Joseph||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Cowan, D. M.||Lunn, William||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Daggar, George||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Dallas, George||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)|
|Dalton, Hugh||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, V. L.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McKinlay, A.||Snell, Harry|
|Dickson, T.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Dukes, C.||Marcus, M.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Duncan, Charles||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Sullivan, J.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Marley, J.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Marshall, Fred||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Mathers, George||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Egan, W. H.||Millar, J. D.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Eimley, Viscount||Mills, J. E.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Milner, J.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Foot, Isaac||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Toole, Joseph|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Montague, Frederick||Tout, W. J.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Townend, A. E.|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Morley, Ralph||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Morris-Jones, Dr- J. H. (Denbigh)||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lanes. Mossley)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Gill, T. H.||Mort, D. L.||Walker, J.|
|Gillett, George M.||Moses, J. J. H.||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Glassey, A. E.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gossling, A. G.||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Gould, F.||Muirhead, A. J.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Murnin, Hugh||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline).|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Nathan, Major H. L.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Noel Baker, P. J.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Oldfield, J. R.||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Hall, F. (York. W. R., Normanton)||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Palin, John Henry||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Paling, Wilfrid||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hayes, John Henry||Palmer, E. T.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Phillips, Dr. Marlon||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.|
|Herriotte, J.||Potts, John S.||William Whiteley.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Price, M. P.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.