§ Mr. MONTAGUE'S STATEMANT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. Montague)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The estimated expenditure upon Air Services for 1931 shows a net total of £18,100,000, which is an increase of £250,000 upon the current year's figure. There is a somewhat larger rise in the gross estimate than in the net, the gross increase being £273,400, which is accounted for by an increase in Appropriations-in-Aid of £23,400. As the Appropriations-in-Aid include the provision of the necessary funds for a British entry in the Schneider Trophy Contest this year, it is evident that there would otherwise have been a decline under this item. Hon. Members will realise that gross estimates form the more reliable standard of comparison it we are considering national expenditure upon Air Services from one year to another, and upon this basis our air expenditure is substantially lower to-day than it was six years ago.
Only by the most rigid economy consistent with efficient administration of the Service has it been possible to keep the figures of estimated expenditure as low as those I have given. The rise of £250,000 actually conceals a considerable measure of economy over the whole field of Air expenditure. All concerned have given unremitted attention to the need for effecting savings wherever possible without endangering safety or reducing efficiency. The increase is one of very small dimensions considering the addition that has become due to be made to the strength of the Air Force. When the scheme for Home Defence was promulgated in June, 1923, it was estimated that an additional average cost would have to be imposed upon Air Estimates of no less than £5,500,000. The gross Air Estimates for that year amounted to £18,600,000, so that, if this additional 1888 expenditure had been entailed, it would have meant a gross figure of not just over £21,000,000 but of £24,000,000.
This is not, of course, the whole picture. The Home Defence scheme has been slowed down from time to time, and, consequently, it has been possible to spread the capital outlay over a longer period. But any reduction thus achieved in the annual expenditure under this head has been far more than offset by additional commitments in other directions. Thus since 1923, in addition to progress on the Home Defence scheme, a number of new formations have been brought into being for naval and military co-operation and other purposes. The annual cost of these new formations may be put at about £1,500,000 per annum. This figure, added to the cost of the Home Defence scheme as originally estimated and communicated to Parliament at the time, namely, £5,500,000 as above stated, makes a total of £7,000,000 new expenditure on items for which no provision had to be made in 1923. Yet these Estimates are only £2,500,000 gross in excess of those for 1923, and actually lower than they were in 1925.
These figures will give hon. Members some measure of the savings that have been secured. Of course, the process has been helped by extraneous factors such as reductions in the garrison of Iraq and the smaller provision made for airships in these Estimates, as well as by the fall in prices. Otherwise, the result would have been impossible. But in the main it has only been achieved, as my Noble Friend has pointed out in his Memorandum accompany the Estimates, by the exercise of the most rigid economy on the part of all concerned, and the continuous review of establishments both at home and abroad.
In the forthcoming financial year, three new squadrons will be provided for Home Defence in accordance with the scheme on which the Air Ministry has been working by very gradual stages for some years past. I would remind the House that, when the scheme for the air defence of this country was first authorised in 1923—and it has since been reaffirmed by successive Governments—it was contemplated that A force of 52 squadrons would have been completed in 1930. We are now in 1931. In the past 1889 financial year, one cadre squadron has been added, bringing the Home Defence Force to date up to 39 squadrons, comprising approximately 452 aircraft. But it should be remembered that 13 of those 39 squadrons are organised upon a non-regular or a cadre basis; eight of them belong to the Auxiliary Air Force and the entire personnel—except for a small number of regular personnel and the instructional staffs—is composed of officers and men who are in exactly the same position as the Territorial Army, and would only be called out for service in the event of a major war. This also applies to a substantial proportion of the personnel serving in the five cadre squadrons.
When the three new squadrons are added in the forthcoming year, we shall have 42 squadrons with an approximate first-line strength of about 490 aircraft, but only two-thirds of that complement, as I have said, will belong to the units of the regular Air Force. In other words, in 1931 there will be 10 squadrons fewer than the original scheme authorised for completion by 1930. It is necessary to consider the years as a whole rather than any individual year in analysing the figures I am presenting. The reasons for the slower progress are well-known to the House, and the policy has been justified by successive Governments upon the ground that a major war was a remote possibility. The increase proposed this year was foreshadowed last year. The continuity of policy is in no way inconsistent with those efforts towards international understanding in which this nation has played its important part.
I have no desire to strike a note of alarm in referring to the first line strengths of foreign countries in comparison with the first line strength of this country, but rather to emphasise the point that this country, while it insists upon maintaining a Force of high quality and technical efficiency of the first order, has no desire—even if it were otherwise practicable—to indulge in a race of Air armaments, but looks rather for substantial results to that international understanding which every friend of humanity and progress hopes will be the outcome of the Disarmament Conference. It is a fact, however, that this country stands fifth amongst the Air Powers of the world. 1890 Moreover, in our case, our smaller strength is much more widely distributed and has to bear a much bigger burden in regard to air defence abroad. While it is difficult to give exact figures owing to varying methods of budgetary presentation, it is clear that, whereas British air expenditure may be said to be roughly 1 per cent. lower than it was in 1925–6, there has been a remarkable rise in air expenditure in other countries. Thus, French expenditure is up by between 130 per cent. and 140 per cent. Italians by roughly, 40 per cent., and that in the United States by between 150 per cent. and 160 per cent. In addition, in some countries the figures have been still further increased by extra-budgetary grants, and. as far as the United States is concerned, the figures I have given are for federal expenditure only.
Constant efforts are being made to improve the Air Force in aircraft design and fighting efficiency, and it will be interesting to the House to know that the only two types that are designated "wartime types"—although very considerably modified since their inception—are the D.H.9A and the Bristol Fighter. At the present moment there are no D.H.9A's in squadrons. The Bristol Fighter will still arm No. 6 Squadron, Middle East, but only until the squadron is re-armed on the 1931 programme. The same statement applies to two regular squadrons in India and, in addition, there are two other squadrons in India whose 1930 programme of rearmament will not be complete until June, 1931, when substitution of this type will take place. Thus, by the completion of the 1931 programme, the Bristol Fighter—as well as the D.H.9A—will have disappeared entirely from squadrons. More modern machines which are of course being introduced into the service as rapidly as possible, include the "Fury" Interceptor—an aircraft designed primarily for the defence of London, and one which has a very high rate of climb. The standard fighter for all purposes is the "Bulldog," to which the "Siskin" is now obsolescent. There is a naval edition of the land "Fury" aircraft, the "Nimrod," which has a speed of about 60 miles per hour more than the present type, and a new fighter reconnaissance aircraft for naval purposes is 1891 the "Osprey," which is a suitable adaptation for naval purposes of a new day-bombing machine called the "Hart," which has a better all-round performance than any previous aircraft of this class. I may add here that a number of General Purpose IIIF. machines are being introduced into service this year with air-cooled engines.
Four years ago, the change from wooden construction to metal construction was inaugurated, and this year no wooden aircraft are ordered for squadrons, and only a few of composite construction. Excluding training and subsidiary units, there are at the present moment only 12½ per cent. of wooden aircraft in the Service, and these will, before very long, be wholly replaced by all-metal machines. The term "all-metal" does not, of course, apply to wing fabric, but research has been instituted to ascertain the possibilities and value of metal skin over wings. Technical developments in all-metal construction during 1930 have mainly been practical improvements with a view to simplifying repair and maintenance of aircraft. It is a remarkable fact, and one which indicates the advantages of this system of construction, that the Life of all-metal airframes is, upon the average, double that of the wooden airframe of 1927. Practically every firm is now equipped for manufacture of metal aircraft, and the transition from wood to metal has been almost completed in the short period of four years.
With reference to the work of the Royal Air Force, that force has been engaged during the past year in arduous operations, involving long hours of flying carried out under exceptionally difficult conditions. The serious risings that occurred last year on the North West Frontier of India, called for aircraft action, and there can be no doubt that, if aircraft had not been available, ground operations on a much larger scale than actually took place would have been inevitable. It is unnecessary for me to attempt a recital of these operations and, in any event, that would more properly fall to the Department which is politically responsible. But I would like, in view of possible later discussion, to say just this. Our country is responsible for the defence of India; 1892 defence, if undertaken at all, must be efficient or inefficient; it must be carried out by the most humane methods or by less humane methods, but, in any case, the alternative to the defence of the North West Province, and of Indian villages and citizens would not be peace. It is not a question of the Constitution of India. An Indian Government, of whatever kind of construction, would have to defend the North West Frontier or leave that area to forces of anarchy. I hope that, in any discussion upon this aspect of affairs, the real situation will be borne clearly in mind. If it is a question of humanity or inhumanity, or any degree of humanity, there can be no doubt that, in these border operations, air action is far less an agent of slaughter than any other medium of warfare. It may interest hon. Members to know that, during these operations, the Royal Air Force flew a total of 5,530 hours and in no case did a forced landing take place in enemy territory. These figures reflect the greatest credit upon the officers and men of the squadrons concerned.
During the North West Frontier operations an experiment in provisioning a military force is worth recalling; 1,400 men and 850 animals, moving up from Dargai, were, kept in food supplies dropped from the air during the first two days of their march. Three tons of supplies of ration and forage were dropped daily by 14 aircraft—"Wapiti" aircraft, using a recently designed supply dropping device—each machine carrying several parachute loads weighing up to 56 lbs. and making four journeys daily from the base.
Coming to the work of the Home Defence Force, squadrons were subjected to severe tests in August by intensive warlike exercises. It is true that the attack was to a great extent able to penetrate the defence, but it must be remembered that the modern types of bombing machine were opposed by older types of defensive aircraft. There seems no doubt, however, that air attack, however stoutly resisted, must inflict enormous damage and loss.
I would like this year to make special reference to a subject in which I am specially interested, namely, research, and the valuable support which the Department is receiving from the Aeronautical Research Committee, the Uni- 1893 versities of Oxford and Cambridge—at which, as the House is no doubt aware, we have air squadrons in addition—and from the other universities and places of education and research which have undertaken important and arduous work upon the many problems relating to aeronautics. The main channel through which we receive assistance from the scientific world is the Aeronautical Research Committee, which succeeded the pre-War Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and was set up just 11 years ago to assist the Secretary of State. Since reconstruction into its present form in 1925, the committee has consisted entirely of scientists working in the Government Laboratories and in the universities.
Members of the House have, from time to time, had opportunity of learning of the assistance which the Aeronautical Research Committee is always ready to render on occasion, but they may not fully appreciate the mass of work undertaken by the committee and its various sub-committees. It deals with the scientific investigation of accidents, with problems of aerodynamics, air transport, aircraft noise, phenomena such as flutter and spinning the elasticity and fatigue of metals, wing structure and many other fundamental lines of research. It is through this committee and its sub-committees and panels that the Air Ministry is able to maintain constant touch with various groups of independent scientific workers at the universities and elsewhere, with the result that there is always a large group of the most eminent scientific men—who are acquainted with the problems of present day aeronautics—upon whom the Air Ministry is able to draw when special problems of urgency and importance arise. The assistance rendered by these experts to the Ministry, and also the science of aeronautics generally is of inestimable value.
A considerable amount of important research is also undertaken at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and, if I select one or two lines of development for illustration purposes, it will only be by way of indicating—far from exhaustively—the nature of the work done at Farnborough. The scientific staff and pilots attached to the Royal Aircraft Establishment have been experimenting with one of the most difficult 1894 and, at the same time, important problems of air navigation. That is the question of landing in adverse conditions, especially in fog. The particular experiment that I have in mind is that of fixing the approximate position of an aerodrome by means of a captive balloon let up above a fog bank. Once this approximate position is determined in that way, it is possible for the pilot to reach the ground by means of indicating instruments upon the machine. The experiments have been carried out with very great skill and determination under very novel and difficult conditions, and it is hoped that the knowledge that has been gained will be of value in increasing the safety of flight under adverse weather conditions.
Another problem, affecting civil aviation principally, and of importance to passengers in transport aircraft, transport liners and so on, is that of noise. Experiments begun last year have been actively continued. Comparisons have, for instance, been made with two similar machines, one having geared and the other ungeared engines, with a view to discovering which type is the quieter, and in investigations of this character noise is measured with an instrument called the audiometer, in which a unit of measurement is used which is the smallest difference of strength between two sounds that can be perceived by the human ear. Tests have been proceeding on engine silencers in order to reduce the noise of exhausts, and there has been made a sound-proof cabinet in which different materials are being tested to show ways in which the noise in the cabins of air liners can be reduced by having suitable sound-proof walls.
One of the most important problems in the research programme generally, is undoubtedly that of spinning. The present position is that although the main factors responsible for the behaviour of an aircraft in a spin are known, there is not yet sufficient knowledge of the aero-dynamic forces involved to justify any certain prediction or close prediction whether a design will prove satisfactory in this respect. A possible method of attacking this problem is to have a miniature wind tunnel which gives a verticle flow of air, and in this a model aircraft can be so placed that, if the controls are properly set, it should con- 1895 tinue to spin in the up-draft in approximately the same place in the tunnel, enabling photographs and measurements to be taken of it. Much more accurate results are anticipated by this method than could possibly be obtained from the few spins that a model can give before reaching the ground after being liberated from the top of an aircraft shed—a method of study that has hitherto been adopted. The use of such a tunnel with the vertical flow of air is now under consideration.
The high speed flight during the past year has been engaged on research work in connection with the efficiency of air-screws. A large quantity of scientific information has also been obtained from the machines themselves. The House will appreciate that, when these machines were built at the time of the 1929 Schneider Trophy race, a considerable amount of information was obtained from scale models in the wind tunnels, but there was no time fully to measure the actual characteristics of the machines themselves at full scale. All we knew was that we won the race at a certain measured speed. Since then we have been finding out what the actual aerodynamic characteristics of the machines are and, when these data are fully analysed, they will provide a valuable comparison with the results that were previously obtained from scale models in the tunnels.
These, as I have said, are a number of what may be described as the more interesting subjects which have been under examination and in connection with which satisfactory progress has been made in the past year. Whilst I am speaking upon the question of safety, I would like to give the House some account of what is done as a matter of Air Ministry practice in the direction of engineering reliability in manufacture, in supervision and control and in general control of inspection, particularly with regard to civil aviation. This is a subject which will be recognised as of great importance, in view of the development of air transport in the future. I would say quite definitely that accidents attributable to faulty workmanship or incorrect manufacturing processes are now of the very rarest occurrence. Inspection starts with the raw material and is carried out in one unbroken chain until the complete air- 1896 craft is ready for its trial flight. There is a complete chain of record and responsibility from start to finish.
I have personally seen the A.I.D. system at work and I can speak for its efficiency. Whether it is a question of measurement, torsional strength, elasticity or metallic fault, no test could be applied throughout the work of greater reliability than is the case under this system. I am not able to speak in technical terms or with any great knowledge of physical science, but many illustrations occur to me of a striking character which bear out what I say. One that comes to my mind is the detection of a fine crack in a test piece of metal which I saw in one engineering shop. It may be a common place thing but it struck me as an instance of the thoroughness of the methods of the Aeronautical Inspection Department. Not even a microscopical examination revealed the flaw, but the piece of metal was magnetised and then plunged into a bath of paraffin oil containing iron dust in suspension. Any crack in the metal—however small—formed a gap in the magnetic field and was clearly disclosed by the way in which the iron dust adhered to the metal.
A system has been evolved under which inspection staffs of firms are first of all approved, and I may mention here, as an example of the number of inspectors required, that five Sheffield firms producing steel, of aeronautical quality employ to-day solely on the inspection of that work a staff of more than 150 men. No firm is approved or allowed to take its place in any category—whether in the manufacture of basic material or of detail parts, or of standardised equipment and supplies, or of assembling the complete engine and aircraft—until it has proved to the Aeronautical Inspection Department that its own inspection department is properly equipped and organised, and, therefore, fully qualified to carry out the necessary inspection at each stage. But, in addition to this approval of inspection staffs, an effective overhead system of supervision is organised by the Ministry, and its effectiveness is such that it can be fairly claimed that the control at any approved firm's works is as good as could be secured if all the firms' inspectors were under the direct employment of the Ministry.
1897 The general outline of the procedure is that firms desiring to supply aircraft or aeronautical material of any kind must first apply for and obtain approval of its inspection organisation. The firm's name is then added to the list of approved firms, from which buyers may select the firm whom they ask to quote for supplies. Every firm's name is allotted to one of the area offices of the Aeronautical Inspection Department, and the Aeronautical Inspection Department staff of that office becomes responsible for the supervision of the firm's inspection, making systematic visits, re-inspecting a proportion of output, checking inspection records and satisfying themselves generally as to the competency of new personnel and organisation. Inspection of aero engines is carried out in the same way, and aircraft and engines for the Royal Air Force are finally examined and tested by Aeronautical Inspection Department representatives. An Aeronautical Inspection Department officer and a number of junior ranks are actually resident at each of the aircraft and aero engine maker's works.
This elaborate system of inspection which has been developed has fully proved its worth, and, combined with the high quality of British aircraft workmanship, it puts the British aircraft industry in a paramount position. I can assure the House that no less regard is paid to the care and supervision of aircraft within the Service. The commanding officer of the unit is primarily responsible for the maintenance of all technical equipment; airmen are responsible to him for correctness of the maintenance of the aircraft to which they are allocated. There is a maintenance schedule kept in every hangar detailing the times at which various operations are to be carried out. I have seen this system in actual operation, as well as the method of the daily duty sheet upon which is written the names of persons responsible for carrying out particular work.
The House will be interested to know that of the 35 types of aircraft at present in the Service, 15 are now fitted with automatic slots and four other types are on the point of completion. Slots are being tried out experimentally with flying boats and also with high perform- 1898 ance aircraft of the single-seater fighting type, and, under a recent decision, training aircraft now make use of slots. Taking the proportion of machines so fitted with automatic slots, 80 per cent. of the Service is either equipped or on the point of equipment with slotted aircraft. In addition, as another important measure of safety, a parachute is available for every officer and man in the air, and by the end of this year all types of aircraft in the Service will have been designed or modified to permit of their carriage and use. This applies, of course, to the Fleet Air Arm, and the possibility of doing this for sea-going aircraft is due to the success of the new quick release gear.
I come now to another important branch of Air Ministry work, namely to civil aviation. It is a matter for congratulation, and I think the House will agree with me, that within the last few days 2,675 miles of the 5,700 mile air route from Cairo to Cape Town has been opened. Before the end of the year, the whole of the route will be in operation. Between Cairo and Cape Town there are 27 stations, and this work, together with the development of meteorological and other services, has been a remarkable achievement reflecting credit upon everyone concerned. There are hotels, rest-houses and wireless stations, many in areas that until very recently were rough bush. As an example of the difficulties that have had to be faced and to be overcome, I may mention that where aerodromes have been laid down in the higher altitudes along the line of the journey, the comparative rarity of the air has had the effect of reducing the commercial load of an aeroplane, so that the cost of operation is seriously increased, but, for all the difficulties, there is high hope of the success of the venture and of great subsidiary developments in the future.
The South African service, now partly an achievement, will, it is hoped, be ultimately linked by feeder lines, bringing into air communication with the central line many enormous and wealthy territories. In connection with this service and also the service to India, which are both fed by the service from London to Egypt, I am very happy to be able to announce that the terms of a draft Anglo-Italian Convention have now been 1899 agreed between representatives of the two countries. Under the terms of this convention, Imperial Airways are granted permission to operate with land planes via Milan, Rimini and Brindisi. For a period of one year, Imperial Airways are also permitted to resume operation of the Genoa-Naples-Corfu route with seaplanes, and the permission may be extended for a further period of 12 months. In return an Italian company, nominated by the Italian Government, may operate services to the United Kingdom, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus or Aden. This convention requires ratification, but it is proposed that it will remain in force for 10 years; pending ratification, the services can be operated by agreement. The draft of an Anglo-Greek Air Convention has also been agreed between representatives of the two countries, which will permit of operation by Imperial Airways either by the Italy-Corfu-Athens-Alexandria route or by the Mid-Europe route through Salonica to Athens. It is expected, assuming that the London-Egypt service reverts to the Italian route, that the journey between London and Cape Town will ultimately take 10½ days.
A tentative scheme has been prepared for a weekly air mail service between Calcutta and Australia to link up with the existing passenger and mail service between England and India. The scheme has been worked out on the assumption that the stage between Karachi and Calcutta will be operated as an Indian State Service in conjunction with Imperial Airways, Limited. These proposals are now under consideration by the Governments concerned.
The position with regard to the proposed British air services in the West Indies and between the West Indies and Canada is not in as complete a state as we should like to see. The original proposals which I explained to the House last year have now, in view of financial difficulties, been divided into two sections, the first covering West Indian Islands and penetrating into British Guiana, and the second a weekly service between Trinidad and Montreal by way of Bermuda. The present scheme depends upon the co-operation of Canada in view of their interest in the second sec- 1900 tion of the project; negotiations are proceeding and it is hoped that a practical result will ensue.
The past year has seen the end of the 1924 Airship programme. The R.100 completed her acceptance trials on returning from Canada on 16th August, and the R.101 set out on the flight to India—which was to have completed her acceptance trials—on 4th October. It will, of course, be understood that, until there has been time for the report of the Simon Court upon the accident to R.101 to be considered by the Government, any attempt to discuss future airship policy would be premature.
This is not the occasion to say anything of an emotional character in connection with the terrible accident to R.101 in October. The nation was inexpressibly affected, and those of us who were closely associated with the airship venture and the personnel involved, realise that our own poignant feelings could not be put into words, but I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying how much the sympathy, not only of the country in which the accident occurred, but, indeed, of the whole world, has been appreciated. With regard to the French people, that sympathy was added to by the wonderful helpfulness arid kindness shown in connection with all the sad arrangements that had to be made. When the airship left for India the total staff of the Royal Airship Works amounted to 861. I am sorry to say that the immediate result of the accident was to stop all work connected with the airship, and steps were taken to minimise expenditure which might prove nugatory in the light of possible changes in airship policy. This inevitably meant reductions in the staff at Cardington, but, in order to mitigate hardship, it was decided to allocate to the Royal Airship Works at Cardington certain items of work which normally would have gone elsewhere. Until a Cabinet decision is given airship work at Cardington will continue on the minimum basis consistent with maintaining an effective staff, and the provision made in these Estimates will not cover future development work in respect of which supplementary provision would be required.
I have endeavoured to cover the main features accounted for by the Estimates presented to the House and to give hon. 1901 Members some idea of what is happening under Air Ministry control and supervision. Any further particulars that it is in my power to give to the House I shall be happy to give. I think that it will be agreed that, in view of the natural growth of such a young service as the Royal Air Force, and having regard to considerations of efficiency in national defence and the demands also of the great and really vital modern enterprise in civil aviation which must be encouraged—especially at this stage—in every possible way by the Government the slightly increased estimate which I have had the honour to present to the House will be found to be fully justified.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
My Friends and I on this side of the House associate ourselves with every word the Under-Secretary of State has said about the disaster to R 101. We have already expressed publicly our sympathy with the crew and our sorrow at the loss the country has suffered by the death of these gallant men and by the death of the distinguished Member of the Government, who was the Secretary of State for Air last year when the Estimates were introduced. I say no more to-day than that my Friends on this side and I share in the letter and in the spirit in every word of sympathy and regret that the Under-Secretary has expressed.
Before I deal with the main questions of policy that underlie these Estimates I desire to call the attention of the Under-Secretary of State to what appears to me to be a very serious leakage of Air information. Let me remind the House of the chain of events. I suppose that the question of most interest to hon. Members, in the Air Estimates of this year, is the question of airships, and particularly the report of the commission of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) upon the R101 disaster. Only on Wednesday my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) and several other hon. Members on this side asked the Under-Secretary to give an undertaking that the report of the commission of inquiry should be in the hands of hon. Members before the Report stage of these Estimates is finally taken. The Under-Secretary then said that he could not give that undertaking, that the report would probably not be ready in time, 1902 and we were therefore left in the very unsatisfactory position of having the Debate to-day and the Debate upon the Report stage without this really vital document in our hands.
In view of that it is extremely regrettable that to-day we should find upon the front page of the "Daily Herald" detailed account of what this report is supposed to contain. I have never paid too much attention to what appear to be forecasts of official reports when the absence of details shows that they have been put together only as a kind of jigsaw puzzle, with lots of bits of scattered information, by some intelligent newspaper men. But the Under-Secretary of State, if he will look at the report given in the "Daily Herald" to-day, will see that the forecast is much more detailed than any forecast of a more general kind, and any impartial reader of the account in the newspaper will say that the reporter who produced the information and the writer who wrote it up must have had the report in their hands. I shall not weary the House by reading everything that is set out in the "Daily Herald," but if hon. Members will look at the newspaper they will see that detail after detail is given in such a way as to make it quite obvious that the writer of this article must have had the report in his hands. We should like to hear from the Under-Secretary how this leakage has taken place.
I know something of the Air Ministry. I was connected with it for more years than any other hon. Member in this House, and I feel pretty sure that the senior members of the Air Ministry can in no way be responsible for a leakage of this kind. But the matter is too serious to be left there, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give an explanation, when he comes to reply, and if he is unable to tell us how this leakage did take place, then to advise the Prime Minister to act as other Prime Ministers have acted in similar circumstances, to put the matter into the hands of the Law Officers of the Crown, to hold an inquiry, and to obtain from the delinquent newspaper the information as to how this leakage took place. If the Under-Secretary will consult precedents he will find in case after case that action of that kind has been taken, and in the interests of every hon. Member it is 1903 action which will be extremely opportune in the present instance.
I now pass to the main questions of policy that underlie the Air Estimates. The Estimates do not produce any new or unexpected features. In substance they differ not at all from the Air Estimates of former years. I take this further opportunity of congratulating the Under Secretary upon continuing without any suggestion of any breach of continuity, the programme of air development, military and civil, that he found in existence when he went to the Air Ministry. I do not rise to criticise the Estimates, nor do I wish to take up the time of the House with a discussion of the details that they contain. I wish to deal rather with the main questions of air policy, of which the details are only a minor and outward expression. Year by year we are steadily proceeding with the development of the Air arm. Whither does this development lead? Year by year we are devoting large sums to a programme of home defence against air attack. What is the policy behind this programme? These are two questions that affect every detail of air administration. These are two questions that control the big expenditure of public funds that we are asked to vote. It is quite easy, in these Estimate Debates, in dealing year after year with the details, to behave like squirrels in a cage, making the regular revolutions, voting the money year after year and getting no nearer to the main principles of policy that are really responsible for our expenditure. To-day I venture to ask hon. Members to consider the two questions that I have just put: First of all the question as to the steady development of the Air arm and whither that development is leading, and, secondly, the question as to what is the policy behind the home defence programme that the Under-Secretary of State has described.
Before I answer those two questions I wish to direct the attention of the House to two very significant facts—two facts to which the Under-Secretary has already drawn attention, but two facts that cannot be too strongly stressed in the course of an Air Estimates Debate. First of all, there is the fact that year by year and almost month by month the destructive power of the Air arm is increase- 1904 ing. Although at the end of the War we believed that we had entered a period of lasting peace, the last 12 years have seen a continuous development of the destructive power of the Air arm. I take an instance from my own experience, and I compare the power of the air arm today with what it was in 1923, the year in which we made the first serious start with the home defence programme and in which I went to the Air Ministry. Since then the speed of bombers has risen by 30 per cent., their ceiling has reached 30,000 feet instead of 15,000 to 20,000 feet, and their bomb sights, once notoriously inaccurate, have become as accurate as naval gunnery was in 1914.
In the case of fighters, the development has been still more spectacular. While the Siskin, the service type in 192.3, was capable of 113 miles an hour and took 11 minutes to climb 15,000 feet, the newer type has a speed of over 200 miles an hour, and can climb to 15,000 feet in little more than seven minutes. The Under-Secretary gave other examples of the great increase in performance. Moreover, in addition to the increase in the performance of the machines and engines, there has been a development in a number of other directions, automatic instruments for instance, gas development and so on. I think everyone in the House will agree that during the last 12 years this increase in the destructive power of the air arm has been spectacular.
I come to the second fact, to which I wish to draw attention. Side by side with the spectacular growth in the destructive power of the air arm, there has been an almost equally spectacular growth in the increase of air expenditure. The Under-Secretary to-day gave us some very startling figures, and I ask hon. Members to pay special attention to them. He told us that with one exception the great countries of the world have been increasing their air expenditure at a startling rate. That one exception is the United Kingdom. Let us all remember the fact when critics would make it appear that we have been half-hearted in the cause of disarmament. After the War we virtually scrapped our Air Force. Did our gesture have the least effect upon any of the other great countries of the world?
Since 1923, as the Under-Secretary of State has just told us, we have actually 1905 reduced our air expenditure by 1 per cent. During that period, nevertheless, the expenditure of France has risen by 139 per cent., the expenditure of the United States of America by 159 per cent., and the expenditure of Italy by 40 per cent. Comparing 1931 with 1930, we have this year, in these Estimates, a small rise of 1 per cent.; the French Estimates have risen 11 per cent., the American 4 per cent., and the Italian 5 per cent. Taking another comparison, I have made a rough calculation that shows that France is spending twice the percentage of her total national expenditure upon air power that we are spending, and the United States and Italy nearly as high a percentage as France.
These facts and figures have several lessons to teach us. They seem to show that as things are in the world to-day, the nations do not regard the Covenant of the League and the Kellogg Pact as sufficiently effective to enable them to make them substitutes for national defence. While I regret that this should be the state of affairs, I cannot say that I am altogether surprised. It has always seemed to me that the statesmen who made these Pacts were looking much too much at the past and not enough to the future. They were thinking of wars in terms of past wars and not of wars in terms of future conditions.
Let me give the House an instance of what I mean. The basis of these international agreements was that there should he a period of time, something in the nature of a moratorium, during which the peacemakers could get to work and during which the methods of conciliation and arbitration could he applied. War, after all, in old days was a comparatively leisurely affair. It took time to mobilise armies; there was time for the diplomats to get to work before wars were actually declared. A moratorium, therefore, was of the greatest possible value, during which the methods of conciliation, negotiation, and arbitration could be applied. But with the coming of the air arm and the new mobility of air warfare, that state of affairs has completely changed, and the conditions of to-day, still more the conditions of the future, are, and will be, as different from the War of 1914, as the War of 1914 was from the Napoleonic Wars of 100 years before.
1906 The House will see from those facts how entirely the coming of the air arm has revolutionised the problem of defence. Excellent as these international pacts may be—and I, for one, will say nothing to disparage their value—they cannot in the present conditions guarantee a country from instantaneous attack, though it may be that they may ensure in the long run ultimate victory; and it is this danger of instantaneous attack that is making the nations of the world, and particularly the nations of Europe, nervous and is necessitating the existence of such schemes of national defence as we have heard described this afternoon. We here, in this country, are in a peculiarly vulnerable position. We have two urgent problems of defence that confront us, much more formidably than they confront any of the other nations of Europe.
We have, first of all, the problem of keeping the country supplied with food and raw materials—a very urgent problem, when it is remembered that we are dependent upon oversea supplies for something like two-thirds of our needs. We also have this other very urgent problem, the problem that our capital, London, the nerve centre of the country, is now within 15 minutes' flight of the Channel, and that the Channel is no longer the protection that it was in the past, with the result that the new ring of Home Defence squadrons is really for us in much the same position as the Channel was to the country 20 or 30 years ago. In view of these facts, the problem then is not whether we must have a Home Defence Force, for I think, from what I have said, that every hon. Member will agree with me that in the present conditions a Home Defence Force is essential, but the question is rather how big that Home Defence Force should be.
The Under-Secretary of State to-day gave us the figures and the present strength of the home defence force. The House will remember that in 1923 the Committee of Imperial Defence had one of the most comprehensive inquiries into our defence problems that has ever taken place in the Committee of Imperial Defence, and out of those inquiries emerged the programme of 52 home defence squadrons. The Under-Secretary of 1907 State told us to-day that, although it was intended to complete that very modest programme of defence in 1930, we are still some years off its final completion. Whilst I have no wish to make in any way an alarmist speech, that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs from the point of view of national defence. The Under Secretary of State has told the House this afternoon that although we have more to lose from air attack than any country in Europe, although we are more vulnerable to air attack than any country in Europe, yet we are only fifth in the list of air Powers. The figures of first-line machines are these: France to-day has 1,320; Italy, 1,100; the United States of America, 1,050; Russia, 1,000; and we only 790. Yet nine years after the starting of this programme, we have still only 42 out of the 52 squadrons, and 13 of those squadrons, as the Under-Secretary of State told us just now, are non-regular.
In view of these facts, what ought to be our attitude when we come to discuss the question of the reduction of air armaments at Geneva at the end of the year? I cannot say too strongly that these discussions which are going to take place at Geneva are of vital importance to this country from every point of view. Taking them at their lowest, if they come to anything, they will react in every direction upon the Air Estimates of the years to come. Let me then in a few sentences suggest to the Under-Secretary of State what ought to be our general attitude to this vital question that in years to come will affect every detail of our air expenditure.
I say, first of all, that, speaking generally and setting aside our Imperial garrisons in oversea parts of the Empire, the strength of our Air Force is relative and not absolute. It is so for this reason, that its strength depends, not upon any absolute needs here, but upon the relative standards of the other Air Forces in Europe. In that respect our Air Force differs from our Army. The strength of our Army, speaking generally, is absolute. It depends upon the needs of the oversea garrisons and the small cadre of an Expeditionary Force that we always keep in being, whereas the strength of the Air Force depends, as 1908 I say, upon the relative strengths of the other Powers of Europe; and I say, as clearly and definitely as I can, that we here have everything to gain by an international reduction of air strengths and by a lowering of these standards, provided we have a standard of parity with other great European Powers. We have everything to gain, in the matter of expense, in the matter of international moral, and in the matter of national safety, by a general lowering of Air Force standards, provided that that reduction is international and that we are left with a standard of parity with the other great European Powers.
Holding that view, I venture to suggest to the Under-Secretary of State, and through him to the Government, that when the Geneva discussions open, they should take a very clear line in favour of this general scaling down of air expenditure and air force in Europe. During the time that I was at the Air Ministry, if I may be pardoned this autobiographical detail, I took a very close interest in the question of the reduction of air armaments. Being there in day-to-day contact with air problems, I could not see without apprehension, without anxiety, the constant development of the destructive power of the air arm and the constant increase of air expenditure over the whole of Europe.
I followed with close interest the preliminary discussions which then took place at Geneva, and I formed the very definite conclusion that if we are to succeed in this very necessary task of scaling down air expenditure over Europe, we must not involve ourselves in these discussions in all sorts and kinds of complicated details. We found in previous discussions that the more complicated the question became, the more details were introduced into it. To take one case in particular, certain Governments wished to introduce into the discussion of this question a large number of matters connected with civil aviation. In theory that might have been an unanswerable course to advocate, but, in practice, it had the effect of complicating the question so greatly that no advance at all was made. Therefore, I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that he should maintain, as strongly and definitely as he can, the position which has now 1909 been reached at Geneva, namely, that this question should be kept simple, and that in the comparison of categories there should not be all manner of complicated details which no two countries will understand alike, but the simple comparison of first-line machines with their immediate reserves, and with the further test of their horse power. If the hon. Gentleman maintains that simple position, I think we may see some useful pro press made in these discussions.
Secondly, I venture once again to make a suggestion which I have made to him and to the Government on more than one occasion. I believe that if we are to see a scaling-down of air expenditure over Europe, the most effective line of advance is that of agreement between ourselves, the French, and the Italians for air parity. As things are, we are the three great air Powers of Western Europe, and we set the standard of air force and air expenditure. If we could come to a tripartite agreement to scale down these standards, and maintain parity as between Great Britain, France and Italy, we should see a reaction in the right direction in Europe at once, and we should be saved from the certainty of seeing future Air Estimates going up by hundreds of thousands of pounds if not by millions every year.
The Government have recently made a naval agreement between Great Britain, Italy and France. In my view, the air question is more urgent even than the naval question. Now that they have made that naval agreement, I should like to see the Government giving their serious attention to an air agreement, such as I have outlined to the House. By means of an agreement of that kind a practical method would be found of scaling down air expenditure, and of avoiding what we all wish to avoid, namely, a future race in air armaments. I have ventured to deal with this question to-day, and I make no apology to the House for having done so, because it is the main question upon which our air expenditure depends. It is a question which affects every hon. Member in this House to whatever party he belongs. I appeal to the Government with all the force I have not to waste the months before us but to deal with this question on the lines which I have suggested, and to enable us to avoid the possibility of 1910 seeing, in the future, Air Estimates constantly rising, and the great nations of Europe starting a race of air armaments.
Marquess of CLYDESDALE
I understand it is customary when beginning a maiden speech to crave the indulgence of the House, and I further understand that the House is considerate enough to give such indulgence, and that interruptions are, to say the least of it, restrained on such occasions. I assure you, Sir, and I should like to assure the House, that I require all the indulgence I can get. On the other hand, I feel that speaking under privileged conditions is always difficult and has certain disadvantages which every Member experiences when he rises to undergo the somewhat nerve-racking ordeal of speaking for the first time in this Chamber.
I should like in the first place to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the able way in which he has laid the Air Estimates before the House. Considering the unsettled economic conditions with which the country is faced, I can only regard these Air Estimates as very satisfactory. Without intending to criticise them unduly, I should like, however, to make certain observations upon them. I think it is rather disappointing that there has been no increase in the number of flying-boat units. I consider that flying boats are playing an increasingly important part, not only in linking this country more closely with the rest of the Empire, but also in bringing this country and foreign countries more closely together in better understanding and friendship. I am fully conscious of the fact that flying boats are expensive in comparison with aeroplanes, but I consider that the expenditure upon them would be fully justified.
I understand that three additional squadrons are to be added to the Home Defence Force, and, in view of the state of international armaments at the present time, I think the Under-Secretary is to be congratulated on that decision. It is, however, a pity that there has been no increase in the number of non-regular units of the Air Force. I should like to say something about these non-regular units, and especially the Auxiliary Air Force, from the point of view of economy. I asked the Under-Secretary the other day for figures showing the difference in cost to the Air Ministry between an 1911 Auxiliary Air Force squadron, and a regular squadron of the same type. His figures, which I think be said were only rough figures, showed approximately that an auxiliary squadron cost half as much to maintain as a regular squadron. That means to say that if three non-regular squadrons had been added to the Home Defence Force, instead of three regular squadrons, the cost to the State would have been halved, or, on the other hand, it would have been possible, for the same cost, to have added six non-regular squadrons instead of three regular squadrons to the Home Defence Force.
As one holding a commission in an Auxiliary Air Force unit, it is not for me to eulogise the efficiency or the work of that Force. The Under-Secretary has already done so—in introducing the Air Estimates last year—and reference is made to the high standard of general efficiency in this Force, in the Memorandum which accompanies these Estimates. But in speaking of the non-regular units in relation to economy, it is necessary that I should make some reference to the relative efficiency of the auxiliary and the regular squadrons. In passing, may I say that I am in no wise depreciating the standard of efficiency of the regular squadrons. I, personally, have seen a great deal of their work, and I have the highest admiration for the manner in which they perform their duties. I am greatly impressed with the ability of individual regular officers and airmen, but I should like to make it clear that the Auxiliary Air Force in its work, in its efficiency, in its training, comes much nearer to, and is more akin to the regular Royal Air Force than, for instance, the Territorial Army is to the Regular Army, or the auxiliary units of the Royal Navy are to the Royal Navy itself. In some ways, Auxiliary Air Force units have an advantage and ought, in fact, to be even more efficient than regular units. The reason is that the personnel of the Auxiliary Air Force unit generally live in the same locality and know each other. They are accustomed to working together, and consequently there exists in the auxiliary unit a very high degree of what may be termed the team spirit which is such an asset. The regular squadrons cannot have that team spirit in the same degree.
1912 I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not in any way criticising the policy of the Air Council in constantly posting and re-posting regular personnel from one unit to another. No doubt, that policy makes the service, as a whole, more efficient, but it cannot result in that degree of team spirit which found in auxiliary units. To offset that advantage which is enjoyed by the Auxiliary Air Force, the regular Air Force has the obvious advantage of a more highly trained personnel. At the same time the established Auxiliary Air Force squadrons—I refer to those which were created more than three years ago, because it takes at least two or three years for such squadrons to develop—are pretty well up to full fighting strength and have shown that they are fully capable of working satisfactorily with, and competing satisfactorily with Regular units. Anyone who was at the Royal Air Force display at Hendon may remember that an Auxiliary Air Force squadron—not one particularly chosen from the Force for that purpose—went through various formation exercises which were well up to the high standard associated with that annual display.
I have spoken about the Auxiliary Air Force, because I believe that by increasing these units it is possible effectively to add to the Home Defence Force at a comparatively cheap cost. I realise that there are difficulties in the way; that it is, for instance, more difficult to establish an Auxiliary Air Force squadron than a Regular squadron, and that the allocation of squadrons is an important feature contributing to their success. I would urge the Under-Secretary of State to do all that he can, in the interests of economy alone, to establish more of these non-Regular units.
I wish to refer to civil aviation in Scotland, which lags behind England in flying matters. That may be a rather unusual statement to make. The reason is not that it always rains in Scotland. I think that I can claim that I have flown in an aeroplane in Scotland more than any other Member of the House, and I can assure the House that, if we get our share of rain, we have longer days in the summer and are therefore able to fly longer. I do not think that it is a case of lack of interest or 1913 enthusiasm among Scottish people for they have shown marked enthusiasm and interest in what little flying goes on in Scotland. In fact, the Scottish Flying Club financially is one of the most successful flying clubs in the United Kingdom. The reason for the lag is that people in Scotland have had very little opportunity of knowing anything about flying. They do not realise what an aeroplane is capable of, what it can and cannot do, and to what uses it can be put. Is it not possible for the Air Ministry to give more help and encouragement? I realise the importance of keeping the Royal Air Force and civil aviation segregated, but at the same time, the Royal Air Force should and does to a certain extent set the lead to aviation throughout the country. At various meetings that were held in England last year, regular squadrons gave displays of aerobatics and so forth. No Service machine has helped at aviation meetings in Scotland, and such help is very much required.
Last year a big aviation meeting was held at Renfrew, and it was watched by approximately between 50,000 and 60,000 people. An air liner of the Imperial Airways flew from London to Scotland, and one of the passengers was the Prime Minister. Although there was this vast crowd, no help was given to the meeting from Service machines, although such machines were available. That was a lost opportunity. This year another big meeting is to be held on three consecutive days—the 5th, 6th and 7th of June—and I ask the Under-Secretary of State if it would not be possible for permission to be given for the Service to help. They could help in two ways, which would involve a negligible amount of expenditure. Permission could be given for a fighter squadron to give a display of aerobatics; I do not advocate that any warlike displays should be given, but a display of aerobatics would be a great advantage, and the meeting would thoroughly justify such permission being given. The Air Ministry could help also by giving permission to various types of Royal Air Force machines to be flown over from neighbouring aerodromes, so that an air park could be formed. This would greatly add to the interest of the meeting. I have said this 1914 because encouragement is badly needed in the north where aviation is less advanced than in England. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to do what he can to give us encouragement, and not to forget Scotland. Whatever encouragement he gives will be met with ample enthusiasm and response.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
It gives us great pleasure to be able to congratulate the Noble Lord who has just spoken. He has made an admirable maiden speech, which was full of that fighting persistency for which he is so distinguished in another sphere. He told us that Scotland lags behind England in aviation, but he may take consolation from the fact that that is the only respect in which Scotland falls short of the standard set by this country. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) that it is possible to admire the way in which the Under-Secretary of State touched on many detailed points, while regretting that he made no clear and concise statement of our general policy. Like most laymen, I find myself in some confusion when I listen to speeches upon the Air Estimates from the Government Front Bench, and still more when I read those memoranda that accompany the Estimates. We are shown a great number of diversified activities. We are told a little about research, a little about training pilots, and something about long-distance flights and air routes; we are even treated to some aspects of meteorology; but 'as regards the real central policy we are told very little.
The hon. Gentleman explained that he did not intend to enter into competition with any foreign Powers, and at the same time that he intended to proceed slowly and gradually with Home Defence. What is Home Defence if it has no reference whatever to what foreign Powers are doing? What I want to know from the hon. Gentleman, who always speaks with such charm and ease, is whether he regards the Air Force as an instrument of war or as something else? If something else, as what? If the Air Force is to be regarded as an instrument of war, it is an inadequate force, judging from the figures which the hon. Gentleman gave. How inadequate it is may be illustrated from the size which it attained 1915 during the War, as compared with its present dimensions, and comparing what it did in the War with what it is doing now. In one war year we constructed 34,000 machines. Is the hon. Gentleman's Department constructing more than 1,000 now? We trained 8,000 pilots in one year during the War. Is the Air Ministry training more than 500? We spent £150,000,000 on aviation contracts then. Is the hon. Gentleman spending as much as £5,000,000? It is quite obvious that if the Royal Air Force is intended to be an instrument of war, it is not fulfilling its purpose and the Department is really playing with children's catapults. You cannot afford to keep an air force as an inefficient instrument of war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea, after having claimed parentage of the policy that is being pursued, drew an alarming picture of how we were lagging behind foreign Powers. We cannot catch up to foreign Powers, and, even if we could, what would it avail if the ascendancy of the British Empire depended upon the air? That position which we have gained by sea supremacy would be for ever abandoned. No Power can gain ascendancy in the air; the element is not suitable for that purpose. Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is ridiculous of him to maintain that we should build up a one-Power standard. If that is to be our standard, and we are not successful in attaining a reduction in French building, we shall have to increase our programme and the cost of it to a size which the taxpayers in this country will never support.
What is the alternative if we cannot acquire air ascendancy? The alternative is to spend more money on the peace possibilities of the Royal Air Force. It is a disconcerting feature of these Estimates year by year that only about one-fortieth of the money spent goes to peace and commercial activities. Our grants to civil aviation are only about £500,000, as compared with a total expenditure of £20,000,000, and it always will be so as long as these peace activities are under a war department. The aircraft industry is the best of all industries upon which to spend money. It is the industry of the future, the industry which will level the economic barriers 1916 between nations, and if we divert into war channels the money that ought to go to developing this great industry on peaceful grounds we are failing to take advantage of the most hopeful medium for the peace of the world. If we have an adequate air industry, with an adequate number of trained pilots, we can at any moment transform it into a war industry, if that should be required, and there is, therefore, every advantage in abandoning any struggle to maintain a warlike equality with foreign Powers in favour of a course which will draw the Empire more closely together and pacify the world with greater promptitude than it is being pacified at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman tells us in his memorandum that his policy is to go to Geneva in the earnest hope that the forthcoming Disarmament Conference will bring about a general reduction in air armaments and remove the present serious disparity between the Royal Air Force and foreign air services. I advise the Government not to bother about Geneva. Already we are far too dependent upon Geneva, and if we fix a standard at Geneva we may have to build up to it rather than build down to it. We do not want to take our policy from Geneva, but to conceive it ourselves, and that policy should be the development of the peace pursuits of the air. The hon. Gentleman should hand over to the Board of Trade the civil aspect of his duties, which would then be in charge of a department which could properly exercise them. If he is always to be reproached for not building up to the French standard, then the money will, of course, be diverted from civil to military purposes. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that other nations should be left to follow the eagles and that we should follow the doves.
§ Mr. MATTERS
I would like to join with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in tendering my personal congratulations to the Noble Lord who made his maiden speech this afternoon, and to say that many of us, not so young in years, but feeling just as young in experience, would have been glad to make such a speech at our second or third effort. I also wish to congratulate the Under-Secretary for Air upon the very lucid and detailed statement which he presented to the House this afternoon. I 1917 was pleased to hear him say that the work of the Aeronautical Inspection Department had resulted in the laying down or the maintenance of a, standard in aircraft construction which is, without doubt, unrivalled in the world. The evidence coming from all countries shows that the British aeroplane is recognised as without equal on the part of any other nation which is engaged in the same industry. That same observation applies, so far as my investigations go, to the high standard of the training of our aviators. It may be of passing interest to say that, quite recently, though an American aircraft was used in a flight from the great city of Buenos Aires to Asuncion in Paraguay, the aviator chosen by the American Commission who were dealing with a political trouble between the Republics of Paraguay and Bolivia was an English-trained young Argentine.
It has often occurred to me that it would be wise policy to take into our training schools in aeronautics a much larger proportion of young aviators from Australia, from South America, and, indeed, from all foreign countries. Those young aviators, trained in British methods, would inevitably show a natural desire later to fly in British made machines, and that would be one way in which the export side of our aicraft industry could be considerably strengthened. I do not want to say anything this afternoon about the military side of the service or the Ministry. I have to confess that I have no personal interest in the fate or the future of the military side of the Under-Secretary's activities, but am more concerned with the development of the civil aviation side, and I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Devonport that we would be fortunate if, by either setting the example ourselves or by agreement at Geneva, we were able to devote the major part of our energy and our expenditure to the development of civil flying rather than military aviation.
One very important aspect of the development of civil aviation in this country to which I would like to draw attention concerns the provision of municipal aerodromes. It is probably within the knowledge of hon. Members that the Aerodromes Committee appointed by the Royal Institute of British Architects issued its first interim report yesterday. 1918 Fairly extensive references to it will be found in the Press to-day. That Committee has stated that if we are to develop civil aviation in this country as it should be developed within the next 10 or 20 years we must face up at once to the problem of providing landing places or aerodromes at intervals of no more than 20 miles. I believe that expert opinion in the United States holds that the intervals should not exceed 10 miles. There may be technical points for discussion about that difference, but I do not think there will be any dispute about the necessity for the provision of municipal aerodromes. In my judgment it ought to be taken for granted that if we are to develop a great system of internal air transport for passengers and mails we must primarily provide the necessary aerodromes, and quite obviously they must be in as close proximity as possible to the large towns and cities. The Civil Aviation Department of the Air Ministry has, I understand, been giving attention to this problem for a considerable number of years. I think it entered upon a very active propaganda campaign in 1928, and approached most of the local authorities, chambers of commerce, and similar bodies to enlist their interest in the provision of municipal aerodromes.
Some considerable measure of success followed their activities, but obviously not a sufficient measure. Eight of our great provincial cities already possess aerodromes licensed by the Air Ministry as suitable for civil aviation purposes—Blackpool, Bristol, Hull, Ipswich, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Plymouth. In addition, 18 other towns and cities are at this moment negotiating for sites for municipal aerodromes. Twelve other authorities have reserved sites in their own town-planning schemes, and of 126 other local authorities it can be said that they have taken some active, though not necessarily definite, steps towards meeting this demand. I am given to understand that as a programme suitable for the development of our domestic—if I may use that term—needs in air transport within the next 10 or 20 years we shall require at least 400 of these aerodromes scattered throughout the country, obviously as close as possible to the large towns and provincial cities. The figures I have just given show that so far only 164 local authorities are definitely and 1919 directly interested and have made any measure of response to the promptings or initiative of the Civil Aviation Branch of the Air Ministry.
A much faster rate of progress is needed. Reservation or actual purchase of sites for aerodromes does not mean that the aerodromes themselves must be complete. The ground is chosen, from certain technical aspects, but possibly it still requires levelling and other improvements, and, later, the provision of extensive hangars, and so forth. Municipal authorities are not at this moment being asked to undertake that expense. The sole object of the moment on the part of the Civil Aviation Branch is to get them to reserve or to purchase the site, and there are many very good reasons why they should do so without delay. The minimum area of an aerodrome or a site suitable to be licensed by the Ministry is approximately 75 acres, but I gather that the Ministry rather urges that the minimum should be from 150 to 200 acres. That means an area of ground with measurements ranging from 800 to 1,000 yards—quite a substantial area near a great city or a provincial town. If action be taken now, it is extremely probable that such sites can be secured at a reasonable rate. Those of us who are familiar with the great problem of housing know that the local authorities already have their hands full and their shoulders heavily laden in attempting to secure the areas of land necessary for housing. On the top of all that the local authorities are being asked to secure aerodrome sites for the Ministry of Air, and on this matter, if action is to be taken, it should be taken at once. I have in mind the case of one local authority entering into negotiations for the purchase of a municipal aerodrome site at the price of £90 per acre, and yet when steps were being taken to buy that land the price went up to £200 per acre. That is the usual effect in regard to the price of land when it is known that a certain site is required for an aerodrome, and, therefore, there should be no delay in these matters on the part of the local authorities.
Another very important question about which we have heard many complaints is the danger to which aviators are ex- 1920 posed from high-power electric cables. If the local authorities will make their reservations now and choose their sites, after consultation with the Electricity Commissioners and the Air Ministry, all those difficulties can be avoided. I believe that it would be a relatively simple thing for the Electricity Commissioners, in laying out their great schemes, to avoid those sites which have been earmarked for civil aviation, and so avoid later on all the difficulty and trouble which arise where these high-power electric cables block the approaches to an aerodrome. In conclusion, I wish to stress once more the importance of this particular issue, and if we are to secure a full development and a relatively speedy development of air transport in this country, it is most essential that the local authorities should begin at once actively to co-operate with the civil aviation branch of the Air Ministry to earmark, reserve, or actually purchase the best sites which ultimately will be very badly needed if we wish to keep pace with developments in other countries, and more particularly in Germany, which is far ahead of the provision we have made for ourselves.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
I would like at the outset to compliment the Noble Lord the Member for East Renfrew (Marquess of Clydesdale) on the very interesting maiden speech which he has delivered. I also wish to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air upon introducing these Estimates in a speech which was full of interesting information. The Under-Secretary was, however, very reticent about the future policy of the Air Force as regards its development, and I do not think that there has been a more reticent speech introducing the Air Estimates for many years past. There was in that speech a great deal of interesting and informative technical data, but what the majority of Members of this House wanted to hear was what is going to happen in regard to the policy of the Air Ministry, about which the Under-Secretary said very little.
The Air Estimates are satisfactory from two points of view. We know that the exchequer is empty, or possibly more than empty. We know that the Army and the Navy Estimates are down and the Air Estimates are slightly up, and 1921 that shows that the whole problem of defence is now being regarded by the Government as one whole problem, and not as the perquisite of the older forces, which have always looked upon the air as an enfant terrible. A second ground which is satisfactory is that by the increases and from the information given in the Memorandum issued by the Secretary of State it is shown that the policy initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in 1922 at the Cairo Conference has been fully justified. Hitherto this question of defence has generally been approached with an attitude of jealousy amongst the three forces. Whenever this new arm has come into use it has first been told that certain things cannot be done, and then when it has proved that they can be done, it has been held that that must not do it because air action is brutal. It is then proved that air action is probably the most humane method of warfare.
Finally, the Air Force is told that if the task has to be done, the other services must themselves do it. This attitude is dying slowly, but I noticed the other day that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) animadverted on what he called the dual control of aircraft working with the Fleet, and I was distressed to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty, in replying to the Debate on the Navy Estimates, say that he had had a grouse about this matter, but he should say very little about it. I feel that it is of the utmost importance that the unity of the Air Force should be maintained in regard to our defence. The idea of having a separate naval and military air service in addition to an independent air service could only lead to overlapping and inefficiency, for it would be most detrimental to weaken in any shape or form the present control of the Air Ministry over the Fleet Air arm. I think rather the control of the Air Ministry should be strengthened, and in saying that I am not expressing an isolated opinion. I would ask the Under-Secretary if, in replying to the Debate, he would say whether it was not a fact that in 1925 a committee was appointed to examine most exhaustively this question of Army, Navy and Air expenditure, and whether the result of the recommenda- 1922 tions of that committee was not that the Air Ministry should have an increased power and an increase in the whole administration of Fleet Air arm personnel. I have never been able to understand, and I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us how it is that the report of this authoritative committee consisting of Lord Chalmers, Lord Bradbury and Lord Colwyn was more or less suppressed and not acted upon. I think it is rather by having greater control by the Air Ministry and adopting some of the recommendations of that committee that economy and efficiency can be more fully effected.
The question has been raised as to whether we can afford to be a first-class Air Power. We must not judge this question from the point of view as to whether it is necessary to spend more money on the Air Force to bring it up in numbers to the strength of the Air Forces of other countries, but we should look at the whole defence problem of this country as compared with the defence problem of other countries. It may be that by cutting down the expenses of the older services and applying some of the economies to the Air service in the way of increased grants, we may get a stronger defence force. With regard to the Royal Air Force, those who have done service in it may possibly know more about the matters than other Members, but there are certain things concerning the Royal Air Force which should be said to-night, and I should not be doing my duty to my constituents, some of whom are Royal Air Force personnel, if I did not state certain things to the House. The Memorandum which has been issued by the Air Ministry, shows the economy which has been secured in the Air Force over a period of years, and it also states that the Air Force is doing greater work than it was doing in 1925 and at less cost.
The limits of efficiency and economy, and even of safety, have now keen reached in some parts of the Royal Air Force. There is a policy of economy. Economy is always desirable, but when it is economy at the expense of units, when active flying units are short of establishment in skilled men, then it is an economy at the expense of the efficiency of those units. Again, with regard to the question of 1923 economy in pilots, I submit that the pilots in certain units of the Royal Air Force at the present time are definitely overworked, and that is a definite result of this policy of economy. The Minister has his advisers near him, and I would challenge him on this statement; and if he denies the statement that I am about to make, I will give him chapter and verse in regard to the units concerned. There is in this country a flying training school where flying has had to be carried out on Saturday afternoons and Sundays in order to allow that unit to turn out the number of pupils that it is expected to turn out. That is a definite overworking of instructors and of mechanics, and I do not think that economy at that cost is real and genuine economy such as this House desires to see in the service. Again, there is an Army Co-operation Unit, which has certain pilots, and I know that those pilots have worked all day with the troops, merely coming down to fill up their machines and for one hour for lunch. No pilot should be expected to fly from dawn to dusk continuously for any number of days. That may be economy in pounds, shillings and pence for the moment, but it is not the economy, I am sure, for which the House is looking.
I see from the Memorandum that there is going to be a reorganisation in the Royal Air Force home establishment, so that there shall be one flying training school less; Netheravon is to be closed down. I would like the Minister to give an assurance to the House that the state of affairs which I have mentioned in another flying school will not be allowed to get worse as the result of this reorganisation and the closing down of one of the schools in England. One would be happier still if the Minister would give an undertaking that the matter of these pilots at flying training schools will be looked into, in order to see that instructors are not expected to do more than any pilot reasonably can do. I would suggest that there should be introduced into the curriculum of the Royal Air Force some system of compulsory athletics, counting as duty hours, on at any rate one afternoon in the week, if physical fitness is to be reckoned as an essential factor to be possessed by every officer or non-commissioned officer who is a pilot.
1924 The Royal Air Force can rightly be proud of its record in regard to flying hours and in regard to accidents, and it compares more than favourably with any other service in the world, but there is a line of connection between accidents and overwork and tired brains. That line has not been made yet, and I trust it never will be made. It is a line which we ought never to allow to be made. We must watch that very carefully, and in the future, if ever the Royal Air Force had an unfortunate run of luck and a series of bad accidents, this House would be entitled, and every Member of every party in this House would be entitled, to see whether such a line between tired brains and accidents could be connected; and, if that line could be established, then those in charge of the Department responsible to this House would have to be held responsible for that state of affairs.
We have the finest pilots and the finest equipment in the world, and it is up to every Member of this House who takes an interest in the Royal Air Force to put forward his contribution in regard to seeing that justice is done by this House to those who are in the Royal Air Force. There is one thing which is vital in the Service, and that is confidence, and, if the confidence of those in the ranks of the flying service is ever shattered, the whole moral of the Service goes by the board. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to say that, in this reorganisation scheme for the flying training system, and the reduction of one school, this factor will be taken into consideration, and that the present state of affairs will not, be allowed to become worse, but will be remedied in the future.
I want now to turn to the question of civil aviation, particularly in connection with accidents. In another place, the Secretary of State for Air dealt last week with the question of accidents, and announced that the findings of the inquiries of the Accidents Investigation Branch into accidents to passenger-carrying machines will in future be published. Everyone in this House who has striven for the publication of information which we feel is necessary for the public confidence in air transit, namely, information as to the causes of accidents, will feel grateful to the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State, and 1925 the Government for having taken that decision. But, beyond that good decision, it is difficult to see how we are progressing in civil aviation. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), who is, I think, going to speak later in the Debate, is, I know, somewhat a supporter of the policy of the "tied house"—the Government tied to Imperial Airways, and Imperial Airways tied to the Government. Under that system, however, there is no incentive to speed up the development of civil aviation; there is no incentive to review progress; and there is no incentive to enable people to say, "We have made a mistake in our commencing development, and now we must start afresh." The only incentive which the Government have is to stand by Imperial Airways, and the only incentive which Imperial Airways have in the matter is to make a "safety first" service. That is very desirable as the first item, but progress should be the second, and one must not always forget the second.
I think that we have possibly made an entirely wrong start in civil aviation by trying to run from London to Paris and from London to India carrying passengers. After all, directly you carry passengers, you increase your responsibilities. The human passenger is the most expensive form of freight that you can carry. You have to provide appliances, you have to provide facilities, and you have to provide a useful pay load for the machine, with trimmings like upholstery and one thing and another. The carrying of passengers is not economical, and I would prefer to see a service of commercial aviation developed carrying, firstly, air mails, and, secondly, goods. What I have just stated with regard to the negative results of the present policy of Imperial Airways is illustrated by the fact that, for the last 12 months or more, mail has been coming into Croydon Air Port every night, or at all events on several nights a week, from Scandinavia by a Belgian machine, and not one letter has gone out from England during all of those months. We should undoubtedly follow the example of our continental rivals in civil aviation, and develop this system of night carrying of air mails.
1926 It takes three weeks for a letter to reach Australia from this country. If we could reduce that period to one week, we should speed up the whole business of this country; we should speed up the whole trade between this country and the Dominions; money would be saved which is at present dead while it is in transit from one country to another; and we should also be able to carry precious freight which is now shipped, and which takes three weeks for the voyage. We should speed up the whole industry of the country. Anyone who studies industry knows that there is a ratio of plant value to output. Supposing that the ratio of turnover to plant is as four to one at present, if you could speed up the wheels of industry so as to increase that ratio of output to plant, looking at this country as a national industry, then you would increase the efficiency of your business. That, I think, is the object of civil aviation. Under our present system, all civil aircraft are out of operation for 16 hours out of the 24; the average time of flight is eight hours per day. I cannot see why a night mail service should not be started in the near future between this country and India, and between this country and Australia, if we would realise that the capital expenditure involved in lighting and organising the route is something which must not be reckoned as a capital investment for that service only, but as a capital investment for the whole country.
I repeat that, as regards civil aviation, we are starting at the wrong end in carrying passengers instead of freight. Light aeroplane clubs are excellent, but we ought to go beyond light aeroplane clubs—we ought to start with gliding. If we could in this country increase the democratic interest of the mass of the people in flying—and, after all, we cannot impose a new industry or a new art on people unless they are receptive, and wish to receive that new art or new industry—if we can get them interested, then the thing will go ahead with the national good will behind it. A light aeroplane is very much out of the reach of most average citizens of this country, and even joining a light aeroplane club is somewhat out of their reach, but modern motorless flying is not out of their reach. Germany, I think, gave last year a subsidy of £16,000 for motorless 1927 flying; France has given £6,000 for motorless flying; and if we could spare a small contribution of money for this system of motorless flying, I believe we should lay the foundations, on the widest possible basis, for building up a national interest and pride in aviation.
In every new age there is one new development. We had the iron ship, we had the steam engine, and we had the internal combustion automobile engine, though we gave that away to America. We are the leading shipbuilders of the world; we are the leading steam engine builders of the world. There is just one new chance in every age and generation, and our chance in this generation is to be the leading country in air matters. This is a matter which is so vital that I trust it will never become a counter of party politics. It is a matter for which any Government of any party is vitally responsible, because the Government have in their power the furthering of the greatest gift which this House can give, and that is the gift of development and progress to future generations.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the very able way in which he has put forward his Estimates this year. He says that he is not a technical man, but he placed technical matters before the House exceedingly well, and we are very grateful to him. I was much interested in what he told us about the increases in the Air Forces of other Powers, and I do think that we should really expand up to the number of squadrons approved for home defence as quickly as possible. We are on too low a scale at the present time. The Under-Secretary's remarks about the working of our Air Force on the North-West Frontier of India were very interesting, and I think he might tell us also a little about what has happened at Aden. About two years ago we took over the responsibility for air control at Aden, and it would be very interesting to hear how that experiment has been carried out. I noticed in the Press a short time ago a very fine letter from Sir Henry Dobbs, praising the work of the Royal Air Force in Iraq, and I think that some hon. Members opposite who are always running down the work of the Air Service would do well to read that fine 1928 appreciation by Sir Henry Dobbs, and his explanation of the fact that they do not bomb these hostile raiding tribes unless they are compelled to do so, and then they give them very good warning. There was a very fine complimentary letter from the Air Force appreciating his good work very much indeed.
I should like to ask if the Farnborough experimental staff are going into the question of developing the Autogyro, and how that type of aircraft is getting on. I notice that there is again an increase in the money allowed to Farnborough, and we ought to have an assurance that it is well expended. I see they are reorganising Farnborough, and we should like to know something of the details of that reorganisation. The Under-Secretary tells us of the progress made by Imperial Airways on the Cape to Cairo air route and also in the West Indies, and he touched upon Singapore. I hope that those air routes will be speeded up. I did not quite understand when he mentioned Malta and Gibraltar and an Italian Convention that was going to be signed. Do I understand that the Italians are to run an air service to Malta and Gibraltar? If so, I am sure we should like to know whether we are working up Malta into a first-class air base, and how we are to protect these large seaplanes of the boat type when they land on the water there in very heavy weather? It was suggested a short time ago that a breakwater should be built across one of the harbours, and the late Air Minister said it would cost something like £15,000,000. I believe that sum has now been whittled down to some £3,500,000. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us whether anything has been done in that direction to develop Malta as a first-class seaplane base so that flying boats can land there in safety?
I should like to say a word about the Schneider Trophy. I was very glad that the Government saw their way to give help for the race this year, and we all appreciate Lady Houston's great generosity in coming forward with that magnificent sum of money to enable that race to be carried out. Her husband used to sit on the lower bench below the Gangway next to me some years ago. He always took an interest in our air Debates, and we are very grateful that some of his money can be used to advance the cause of the Schneider Cup race. It 1929 has done an immense amount of good in the past. It has helped us to increase the speed for many years of our aeroplanes and it also brings good orders from foreign countries, because it raises the whole prestige of our aeronautical industry, particularly when we win the race.
The Under-Secretary touched upon the very fine work of the technical staff—I know they do good work—and he said they continually went in for very fine inspection, and did everything they could to minimise accidents. I know the Aircraft Inspection Department have some exceedingly splendid men. When machines are turned over to the Service, I understand the inspection comes under the commanding officer of the station, and he is responsible to see that they are perfectly airworthy. For years I have asked the Ministry to establish an engineering staff of skilled men so as to have a trained engineer at all these aerodromes. I have never had much support for that. I saw the other day that a report was issued by the British Science Guild, of which Sir Richard Redmayne is the chairman. He dealt with certain points in connection with the Navy and the Army and went on to say, dealing with the Air Force:The report states that the absence in the organisation of the Air Ministry of an officer with qualifications and duties similar to those of the engineer chief of the Fleet is a distinct source of weakness and must make the Ministry dependent in relation to matters affecting the construction of aeroplanes and their engines on those engaged in the industry connected with aeronautics to a greater extent than is desirable from the point of view of national efficiency.I think we ought to establish in the Air Force an engineer chief with expert engineers in exactly the same way as we have in the Navy. The Under-Secretary says that we very seldom get an accident by aircraft breaking in the air or any engine defects. But there may be one or two accidents from that cause and, if you have these very skilled technical people, it might prevent some of them. We are told that sometimes the vision is not very good and an aeroplane goes into a telegraph post. There was an accident the other day with a boat type of seaplane at Plymouth. I understand that the pilot did not quite appreciate that he was so near the sea. He had a 1930 very big smash and most of them were killed. There are many accidents that one could name, and I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether he is going to do something to try to reduce them. There are far too many. There is all this research work going on. Is the knowledge that is gained by it imparted to the proper people? I saw in the technical Press the other day that the Americans say we have 70 per cent. more accidents in the Royal Air Force than they have in their army and naval work. That is a tremendous amount. There must be something wrong if we have all these accidents and they do not have so many.
I would like to ask the Under-Secretary whether we could not have an international conference in London composed of civil experts and army and navy flying experts from all the nations that fly, to thrash out all the causes of these accidents. Italy the other day sent a very fine fleet of 12 machines to South America. It won the admiration of the whole country. It was a very fine flight, and they must have had great experience of landing seaplanes. We might be able to get something from them and something from the United States. I know there was an Air Safety Conference last year in Paris at which we were not represented very well. Could not the hon. Gentleman get the approval of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to summon an international conference in exactly the same way as we had an international conference for the safety of life at sea in 1929? I feel certain that something might be done to prevent some of these accidents. After all, all the nations of the world want to prevent their flying men from being killed, if they possibly can, in peace time.
I understand there has been an international conference sitting for some years on third-party policies, and I should like to know if any decision has been come to. It is a very intricate matter. A machine recently fell on a house at Brixton, and another came down in another part of the country and the petrol tanks went all over a house. That ought to be gone into to see exactly the position of third parties. It is very important that third-party policies should be put on a proper footing. The insurance companies ought to be companies of 1931 some repute, and the Government ought to guarantee that they are good companies, particularly when foreign machines come over here. Perhaps the Under-secretary would tell us exactly the position.
I associate myself with all that he said about the loss of those gallant people in R 101. Many of them I trained in the Royal Naval Air Service, and they were most efficient. I am sorry indeed that that leakage in the Press has come out, and I think the Prime Minister ought to contradict it if it is not accurate. It is most unfortunate that the impression should be raised that there has been leakage going on with regard to that report. I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing the disaster on another occasion.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
I do not know whether it is true, as the Noble Lord has told us, that Scotland has lagged behind England in the matter of flying. If it is so, it certainly is not his fault, because there is no private individual that I know of who has done more for flying than he has. I should like to associate myself with the very admirable maiden speech which he made to-day, and which appealed to the House so much. I associate myself with everything he said in the matter of auxiliary squadrons. Like him, I was very glad to see the well-merited tribute that was paid by the Secretary of State in his memorandum to the quality and the general efficiency of the reserve and auxiliary forces. No praise could be more thoroughly deserved. I am also in the fortunate position of being a member of an auxiliary squadron, and I, therefore, know from personal knowledge of the quite remarkable keenness of the officers and men of those squadrons. Drawn, as they are, from many different forms of civil occupation, they have a common interest and a common bond in doing everything they can to promote the efficiency of those units. Their service entails a considerable sacrifice of time and leisure, and demands a real love of flying and a real pride in the reputation of the units to which they belong. In the annual air exercises the auxiliary squadrons not only took their part with the regular squadrons, but showed up ex- 1932 tremely well, and no higher praise can be given than that. These squadrons have done so well in the air exercises that I feel justified in pressing once again this year for the formation of auxiliary seaplane squadrons. I am convinced that an experimental squadron of this sort based on Southampton, for instance, and operating, say, from Lee-on-Solent or from Calshot, would draw many recruits, and there is certainly admirable material to be drawn upon in that part of the world. Such a squadron, I am sure, would soon reach to that high standard of efficiency which is shown by the land squadrons.
I should like to see, generally, a great deal more money spent upon flying boats, not only in the way that I have indicated, but also in increasing the air strength of a branch of the Air arm which I have always thought was peculiar suited to the needs of our Empire. If future policy should lead to a saving in money previously spent upon airships, I do not think that some of that money could possibly be better spent than in developing multi-engined, long distance flying boats, and in the formation of auxiliary flying boat squadrons. Personally, I think that the auxiliary squadrons should be preferred to the cadre squadrons. There is a corporate spirit, a consciousness of individual existence as a unit, about the auxiliary squadron, which is absent from the cadre squadron. The reason for that is quite simple, because in the cadre squadrons the regular element is not large enough to permit of the formation of the squadron spirit comparable with that which exists in the regular squadrons. On the other hand, it is too large to allow of the formation of a corps spirit among the non-regular personnel. So that, to my mind, the cadre squadron is inclined to fall between two stools. I know that originally the intention was that the cadre squadrons should be in greater numbers than the auxiliary squadrons, but there are more auxiliary squadrons in existence to-day than there are cadre squadrons. I am very glad to see it, because, I think, that is the right way along which this movement should develop.
There is less room for congratulation when we look at the strength of our Air Forces as a whole. We have in the Memorandum the information that there 1933 is to be an addition of three regular squadrons this year. That will bring us up to 42 squadrons for home defence, which is a long way behind, as my right hon. Friend has said, the 52 squadrons that were promised in 1923. When I look abroad and survey the increases that have taken place in foreign Air Forces, I can see no reason for considering that our requirements for air defence to-day are in any way less than was foreseen seven years ago. It is by no means reassuring to see it laid down in the White Paper that this year we again hold fifth place among the Air Forces of the world. I am one of those who think that Air Power is every bit as important to the people of these islands as sea power. What an outcry there would be, if our sea power were to drop to fifth place! I fail to see how the general reduction in air armaments which is contemplated in the Memorandum will reduce the disparity which the Government regard as so serious. If the Government think that foreign Air Powers are going to reduce their Air Forces without a corresponding reduction in our Air Force, I am afraid that they will be disappointed. It is neither fair to our Air Force nor wise in our own interests to rely upon superior efficiency, to make up for numerical inferiority. For one thing, we can never reach finality in the performance of machines. It is only to-day, as the Under-Secretary of State has told us, that we see disappearing the last types of the war time machines. Twelve squadrons are being re-armed with newer types. This step is long overdue. The time we have had to wait for it illustrates how precarious a thing it is to rely for safety upon retaining a lead in types of machines, to the neglect of the maintenance of adequate numbers.
Our comparatively small Air Force has duties to perform in all parts of a worldwide Empire. The mobility of air power has been well illustrated in the Memorandum, in the reference to the eight machines of No. 36 Squadron operating at Singapore. The example illustrates how widely distributed are the interests we have to protect and how valuable is the flying boat for the purpose. In that connection, I am delighted to see that progress is being made with the sea-plane testing tank. That, and the large wind tunnel, to which the Under-Secre- 1934 tary of State referred, are two items of equipment which are urgently needed, and, I think, that they will pay for themselves many times over. We have had another example of co-operation between air forces and land forces in last year's operations on the Indian frontier. There we were confronted with something new in the history of frontier operations. For the first time the frontier was disturbed from one end to the other, chiefly by the propaganda of agitators operating in India itself. The trouble was so widespread that ground forces alone could scarcely have dealt with it. Action had to be swift to prevent a blaze which would have run from one end of the frontier to the other, and the Air Force were able to provide the all necessary speed, whereby the trouble was kept within limits and could be adequately dealt with by the ground forces. The mobility of the Air Force can do much, and will do a great deal more. Garrisons need no longer be locked up in small frontier stations or in forts. Smaller ground forces, co-operating with Air Forces, at a great saving of time, of lives, and of money, can do work which a few years ago would have taken very much larger forces many months to perform at very great cost. If these widespread interests of ours are to be adequately protected, and if full advantage is to be taken of Air Power, we must have an Air Force numerically adequate to the enormous demands which the very nature of our Empire makes upon it.
I will turn for a few moments to civil aviation. The Under-Secretary of State has given us some information about the Australian service. I had hoped that he might have told us that it had progressed more than it, apparently, has done. If it is true that the financial situation in Australia is holding up matters at that end, would it not be possible to carry the line forward at least as far as Singapore? I ask the Under-Secretary of State, how long is it proposed that the complete service shall take for the journey from London to Port Darwin? Can he give us any idea of the charges which will have to be made, and how great a proportion of the subsidies paid will fall upon Great Britain? Is the Indian section going to be flown by an Indian organisation or by the Indian 1935 Government? I cannot remember exactly what the hon. Gentleman said. The question has been under consideration for the past five years, and, surely, it is time that some decision was come to on the matter. I hope that the Government are going to press very strongly the advantages of unified control. It is very satisfactory to see figuring for the first time in these Estimates an item for contributions from Dominion and Colonial Governments. In this particular case it is for the Imperial Air Service to Soutn Africa. It is a very healthy sign because it shows that at last the Empire is pulling together for the formation of Empire air routes, and it, is a principle which I feel sure the hon. Gentleman will agree deserves all possible encouragement.
With regard to the Air line to India, I am sure that the House must have been very glad to hear that the difficulties with Greece and Italy have been smoothed out apparently for one year. These difficulties have to be faced, and the Under-Secretary of State did not say anything about the link over Persian territory and down the Persian Gulf. I believe that the present arrangement we have with Persia is supposed to last for another year. What arrangements have been made for continuing and making permanent that arrangement? That section of the line, however well and smoothly the service may run until then, as far as the England-Indian service is concerned, is an important one. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us later on what is going on with regard to that very important question.
The long-distance flights which have been carried out by Air Force machines have, obviously, done very excellent pioneer work for our Empire air routes. They have shown, and are showing, what are the real difficulties in the way of necessary ground organisation and the acquisition of meteorological information, and how those difficulties can be overcome. These routine service flights, aiming as they do at regularity rather than records, do far more good to civil aviation than the non-stop stunt flights, which, after all, add little to the sum of aeronautical knowledge, helping, as they do, towards regularity of civil air lines. But the regularity for which we look will not be achieved unless we can 1936 make quite certain that the whole organisation is not liable, at any moment, to be put out of gear by international misunderstandings with the countries over which they have to fly.
Coming nearer home, I should like to say a few words about the surface of Croydon aerodrome. I am very glad to see that the Government are fully aware of the fact that something ought to be done towards improving it. I feel that there is a great deal more that could be done to it without entailing any great expense. After all, Croydon is the principal air port not only of this island but of our Empire, and it ought to be made worthy of the role it fills, and not be left as it is now, with a great hole in the middle of it. The hon. and gallant Member for Hert-ford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) has mentioned the Schneider Trophy, and I should like to associate myself in congratulating the Government upon having allowed themselves to be moved from their first decision. I think everybody will agree it would have been a thousand pities if we had let the contest go by default. While we congratulate the Government on their final decision, I think we must also congratulate ourselves that the prompt and patriotic action and superb generosity of Lady Houston has made it possible for the Government to come to that final decision without swerving a hair's breadth from the strict path of national economy. I am certain Members of all parties will agree that we must now concentrate on one thing and one thing only, and that is on wining the Trophy this year.
There are one or two small points of administration about which I should like to ask. Incidentally, I welcome the reference in the White Paper to the improved opportunities that are made available for airmen to rise to officer ranks. Obviously the better the career which is open to airmen, the better stamp of airman we shall get. Can the Under-Secretary give us any information about the progress which is being made in the building of a new cadet college at Cranwell? The cadets are still living in War-time hutments and, from what I can gather, very little progress has been made since last year in the building of this college. I do not know whether the Minister can give us any definite date 1937 when the college will be completed, but I should like to urge upon him the very great necessity for pushing on with this work as fast as he possibly can.
I notice that there is a substantial increase in the Estimates for the cost of petrol and oil. Assuming that we can exercise proper control, which I suppose we can, the increase is significant as showing the efficiency of the more powerful engines we now use in our aeroplanes and as being a sign of a very satisfactory increase in the number of hours flown. There can be no two opinions about the importance of frequent and regular flights. A steady increase in the number of miles flown is one of the most reliable signs of the maintenance of efficiency. It is probably true that the increase in the number of miles flown in the year does give greater opportunity for accidents but that is unavoidable and, as Lord Trenchard pointed out in a letter to the "Times" the other day, accidents have a curious way of coming in batches. He also pointed out that if you take an average period and calculate the number of hours flown and the number of accidents, you will find that the percentage of accidents to the number of miles flown is decreasing every year in the Royal Air Force.
I hope that I have not overlooked information which is already included in the Estimates, but I should like to ask the Under-Secretary for a little information about light aeroplane clubs. Can he tell us the number of clubs now in existence both in Great Britain and the Empire, how many members they comprise, how the membership compares with last year and how many licences have been issued both to members of light aeroplane clubs and other clubs? I, myself, lay far greater store on "A" licences than "B" licences, because it is "A" licences that make the country air-minded. This light aeroplane movement is a distinctly British movement and one which we should he proud of and encourage as much as we can. I believe I am right in saying that we have in this country far more private flyers in comparison with the population than any other country in the world. I doubt if anything contributes more to making the nation air-minded than the light aeroplane club movement. As to gliding, 1938 about which I confess I know very little, it seems to me admirably fitted to work in with the light aeroplane movement. It is extremely cheap and makes people who could not possibly afford an aeroplane keen on flying, and provides excellent preliminary training for power flights. I do not know if the Under-Secretary can tell us if the Government have any intention at any time to give any backing or encouragement to gliding? Perhaps he will be able to answer some of the questions which have been put to him in the course of the Debate when he replies.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I should like to begin by dealing with the point raised in the first place by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) in reference to the statement. made in the column of a daily newspaper this morning concerning the probable or possible contents of the Simon Report. That point is quite new, and I was not aware of it, as a matter that would be raised in the Debates. It is, of course, rather difficult to say much on the subject, except this. Whatever there may be in the statement made in that paper, I do not know and I can say nothing at all as to its accuracy or otherwise. What I can say quite definitely upon the subject is that the Air Ministry has not yet received a copy of the Simon Report or even an advance copy. That is really all I know about the subject, and all I can tell the right hon. Baronet at the moment. That statement I make quite definitely, and what there is beyond that to be said on the matter I do not know.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Surely the hon. Gentleman can give an undertaking that an inquiry will be made by the Cabinet into the way in which the paper got hold of the information, for it is quite obvious that the paper had the report in its hands.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not think it is reasonable that the right hon. Baronet should ask me to give him such an assurance without more notice on a matter of this kind. I can only say that the Air Ministry has not received a copy of the report or an advance copy and that the leakage therefore, if it is a leakage—and that is a matter of presump- 1939 tion, of course—could not have been a leakage from the Air Ministry itself.
§ Sir S. HOARE
It seems to me amazing that where there is an obvious leakage of an Air Ministry document, the hon. Gentleman should not at once give an undertaking that there will be an inquiry, but as, much to my surprise, I cannot get an answer on the point, I shall put a question to the Prime Minister on the subject on Thursday.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I think that the only statement the right hon. Baronet can reasonably ask me to make is that I shall personally look into the matter myself and see what there is in it. It is rather unreasonable for him to ask me to make a decision of this kind without consultation. I have said all that I can say on the subject, and I am exceedingly sorry that there should be an appearance, at any rate, of a leakage of information on that important matter.
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and other hon. Members have touched on the question of policy. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) referred to the question of the Air strength of this country as compared with that of foreign nations. I do not want to go into the large question of policy or to discuss it now, especially in view of the fact that I have announced to the House that an important increase in the Home Defence Force will be made this year and that we hope, of course, the question of Air power and Disarmament will be satisfactorily dealt with and settled at the Disarmament Conference. I should like to say that the policy of which the Home Defence increase is part is a policy that has been continuous over a number of years, and goes back to 1923. It was based not upon the question of a comparison with the Air Power of foreign countries but rather upon the general political and peace situation of the world. The policy of retardation, which was accepted and carried out by the past Government as well as this, was a policy based on the assumption that it was unreasonable to expect a major war within the course of a considerable number of 1940 years. That attitude, after all, is the only one which is really possible with regard to the development of the Home Defence Force or the Air Force as a whole.
It has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Devonport that the idea of an international race in armaments is quite foreign to anything which would be accepted by this House or by the country. Really, the question of efficiency is very important, and the question of defence is also very important, and it is quite impossible to contemplate the beginning of a contest for air supremacy on the part of this country as against other countries or combinations of countries. It would be beginning a race of armaments, and it certainly would not be merely a question of speeding up and increasing our own forces in order to reach the level of the other forces or combinations of forces. It would be definitely a race of armaments. It appears to me that really we have to consider this question not from the point of view so much of what the other nations are doing, and comparative first-line strengths, as from the point of view of the international position politically. It is because the international position is better than it was, and because it is a position which is bringing hope to the minds and hearts of the people of this country and, I hope, of the world, that we are justified in carrying on the policy of the past Government and going slower than was originally contemplated when the Home Defence scheme was inaugurated. I put these points of view forward, because I am sure that we should be going entirely on wrong lines if we thought that comparative strength is the one or the only consideration that we have to bear in mind in regard to the efficiency of the Air Force. It is true that the British Air Force has worldwide responsibilities, and it is true that we must look to defence, and it is purely on the question, or mainly on the question, of defence that I have had to say what I have said this evening in regard to the increase in the Air Force. It is an increase in the Home Defence Force coupled with the highest possible standard of efficiency that we are justified in making and defending, resting our full and final hope upon a better 1941 political situation in the world, and the results of the Disarmament Conference.
I should like to join in the congratulations to the Noble Lord the Member for East Renfrew (Marquess of Clydesdale) on his maiden speech. Apart from its efficiency as a speech, it indicated pretty clearly that he has a very great interest in aviation as well as an interest in his native country. He asks us not to forget Scotland. I do not think that it is an easy thing to forget Scotland at any time. As a matter of fact, the Scottish Flying Club is one of the most vigorous and one of the most efficient clubs in the whole kingdom. We are anxious to extend flying clubs and a knowledge of aviation generally throughout the whole of Great Britain, and certainly we do not desire to neglect any section of it.
With regard to the question of municipal aerodromes, which was raised by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Matters), I should like to give him and the Committee information as to the position at the present time beyond the particulars that he introduced into his speech. During the year the Air Ministry has issued circular letters calling the attention of municipalities to the danger to aircraft from overhead electric cables near aerodromes, and to the necessity of carrying out complete surveys before deciding upon a particular site for an aerodrome, even if such sites may have been approved by the Air Ministry, in order that the best available sites may be obtained. I would like to stress the fact that the Air Ministry is working in close liaison with the Electricity Commissioners, and I would like to impress upon municipalities all over the country the importance of having a vast network of aerodromes and, if we are to have a quick and valuable development in Air Services, to look further ahead than many of them are doing.
It may not be possible for the local authorities in various places to lay down aerodromes, because considerations of many kinds, including finance, may prevent that at the moment. Moreover, it may not be considered just the time to do it, having regard to the stage of development of aviation in this country, but, if municipalities will go so far as to get the best advice from the Air Ministry 1942 that the Ministry can give, advice which will be given without any question, and earmark areas of land suitable, and the best kind of land, for the future development of aerodromes, say, within the next five or ten years, it will help considerably. The question of electric cables is an indication of the help that can be given. If we can in conjunction with the Electricity Commissioners get some idea of the necessities of civil aviation throughout the country a great many difficulties may be smoothed over and a great many future difficulties may be prevented.
The hon. Member for Devonport spoke on the subject of air defence policy. I do not want to follow him on those lines. To some extent, I agree with what he said, but the policy of the Ministry is a continuous policy, based upon the real needs of the Service, with the larger view of the development of world peace. The hon. Member also spoke on the subject of the control of civil aviation and suggested that it should come under the Board of Trade. That, of course, is a matter of opinion on the part of the hon. Member. Other hon. Members may have other opinions upon that subject. The hon. Member knows that there are many reasons that could be put forward against such a policy as that which he proposes. The matter has been thoroughly investigated, and the general conclusion is that, at any rate at the present stage of civil aviation, having regard to research and development from the scientific point of view, the Air Force and civil aviation are so entwined that a proposal for making civil aviation part of the activities of the Board of Trade and taking it entirely away from the Air Ministry is hardly a practical proposition. That indicates the question that was also raised with regard to the amalgamation of common services. There was a committee in 1922, of which Sir Alfred Mond was the first chairman, and later Lord Weir, which exposed the fallacy of the idea that substantial economy could be effected by the simple amalgamation of the common services of the three fighting departments.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) raised the question of flying training schools, and indicated his view that those schools were overworked. He suggested ways in which there might be substituted other 1943 forms of work in order to give the men physical relaxation. The standard of work expected of Air Force units is rightly high, but no abnormal strain is placed upon the units in question. Apart from unavoidable fluctuations caused by weather, the work of the flying training schools follows a regular syllabus, and no instruction is given on Saturday afternoons or on Sundays. Special care is taken to see that flying instructors are not employed for too long a period on that somewhat exacting duty.
§ Captain BALFOUR
Will the hon. Member deny that at the flying training school at Grantham, at the Digby Aerodrome, instructors have flown constantly on Saturday and Sunday afternoons? If he desires, I can give the actual dates on which they have flown for many weeks.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I shall be glad to have any information that the hon. and gallant Member can supply to me. I have been at the Digby Aerodrome and have seen the plan of work there. Whatever flying takes place on Saturday or Sunday, it does not indicate overwork. I will, however, look into the question. The normal period as a flying instructor is three years. The abolition of the No. 1 flying training school, which has been referred to, will not increase the strain on other flying training schools, as it has been made possible by successive economies in the use of officer personnel and, therefore, in the number of entrants requiring flying training.
The work of Army co-operation is certainly strenuous during the collective training season, the summer months, but not more so than is advantageous in the interests of the Service. It involves the movement of squadrons to other stations to take part in exercises and manoeuvres in co-operation with Army units, but the mobility of the Air Force is one of its most characteristic features, and officers and airmen recognise such movement as a natural and normal part of a life in the Service. During the winter months a squadron remains at its normal station and is fully occupied carrying out the programme of duties allocated to the individual training season. During these months each member of the squadron is brought up to the standard necessary to 1944 raise the squadron to its full efficiency in the coming collective training season.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) raised a number of questions. He referred to the Anglo-Italian Convention, some particulars of which I gave to the Committee, and asked a question in regard to Malta. The Anglo-Italian Convention includes permission for operation to Malta. There are reciprocal arrangements with the Italian Government. Nothing beyond the permission has been asked for, because it is not a practical development at the present time so far as Malta is concerned. The statement that was made by the hon. Member with regard to expense, was true. It will be remembered that that matter was discussed fairly fully last year, and the expense of the breakwater was an impossible amount to consider so far as the Central Government was concerned. I hope that in time Malta will develop as a very important station in the Mediterranean. It certainly is geographically important, and in view of the development of aviation generally and such developments as I have indicated, one can hope that in the near future there will be very important developments in that direction.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
If the Italians are going to use Malta as a flying station, perhaps we might have some money from Signor Mussolini to develop Malta.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
In regard to the question of Australia, I was asked if I could give information how long it would take for the air mail service to get to Port Darwin. The time is approximately 11 days. I was also asked a question about light aeroplane clubs. During last year there was an increase over the previous year of 61 per cent. in the number of Class A pilot licences held, the total figure being 1,708. The bon. and gallant Member also asked about Cranwell College. It was designed by the Office of Works, who are superintending the construction. Work on the site commenced during 1929, when a contract was entered into for excavation, foundations and drainage, and for carrying the walls up to the ground floor level. A further contract for structure was entered into in December, 1930, and work has commenced upon that. A sum of £90,000 is allowed in the Estimates to be 1945 expended on payment of contracts and certain incidental work in connection with the water supply not included in the main contract. It is anticipated that the college will be ready for occupation during 1933.
I think it is well that I should repeat the announcement of the Secretary of State with regard to the question of the publication of reports of accidents:In future the conclusions will be published in cases of all accidents in this country to British civil aircraft plying for hire which involve loss of life or serious injury. Accordingly, the conclusions will be published, not only in the cases of accidents on regular air transport services, which is the class of accident round which discussions have so far centred, but also in the cases of all accidents to 'taxi' or 'joy riding' machines, whenever they are plying for hire or reward in the normal course of civil aviation. The inspector's conclusions will also be published in all cases, other than those failing in the category mentioned, which presents special features, or in which it appears that there were any useful lessons to be learned from the point of view of practical flying, technical development or aircraft construction. Interested parties as hitherto, can always have the gist of conclusions communicated to them. Where an investigation has been held by a Court of inquiry, or an investigation has been made by such a body as the Aero- nautical Research Committee, the present practice of publishing these reports will be continued.With regard to accidents in the Royal Air Force, I must point out that the number of fatalities is not altogether a criterion. A more correct criterion is the ratio which the accidents bear to the amount of flying or the size of the Air Force. With the increase in the Air Force in the last 10 years there has been no corresponding increase in the number of accidents., and during the 10 years there has been a considerable increase in the size of the Air Force. The present year has seen nine fatal accidents in the first 10 weeks, but even that rate taken with the larger amount of flying gives 47 accidents for the year, which is the same as in 1930 although more than in 1929. The hours flown per fatal accident shows an increase of ever one-third over previous years except 1929. Taking 1929 and 1930 together the hours flown per accident are nearly three times those for 1923–1924, and four times those for 1921–1922, and within that period of 10 years the speeds of aircraft have been increased by nearly 50 per cent., and the kind of work that 1946 has to be done to-day is of a much more advanced description than it was a few years ago. Formation manoeuvres, inverted flying, rolling, and so on, were attempted only by a few individuals 10 years ago.
Although there is a much higher standard, the accident rate has actually decreased. Everything is done to minimise accidents. I mentioned in my first speech this evening that I have personally paid some attention to the question of safety, and as one who is not a pilot I say that in my view there can be no ground for any serious criticism on the score of what is being done to prevent accidents. Unfortunately, the majority of accidents are due to errors of judgment on the part of pilots, and I do not see that these can be avoided altogether because it is impossible to produce an efficient fighting force entirely on the principle of safety first. I think these figures will be of interest to the House upon a very important subject which has occupied public attention to some considerable degree recently. A number of other matters have been referred to during the Debate but I have already taken up more time than I should have done. If there is anything I can do to give hon. Members further information I shall be pleased to do it on Report stage, or in any other way, as I want the House to have the fullest information I can give.