§ Order for Committee read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Estimates which I have the honour to introduce to-day bear in every part the imprint of a sincere and, I venture to submit, successful effort to contribute substantially towards the urgent requirements of the financial situation, without permanently impairing the high standard of efficiency of the Air Services. The net Estimates, at £17,400,000, are down by no less a figure than £700,000, a particularly heavy decline on the comparatively small total expenditure of an expanding and developing Service. There is also a large reduction in the gross figures due to decreased Appropriations-in-Aid in respect, primarily, of the Royal Air Force in India, the re-armament of which is now virtually complete, and also of the Fleet Air Arm for which, as for the rest of the Air Force, there are no new formations to be provided in the coining year. As the House will realise, to effect so large an economy with a minimum of injury to the Service has been a difficult task, and one to which the Air Council have devoted long and anxious thought. That has only been achieved by a variety of expedients, many of them admittedly makeshift measures which it will not be possible to repeat another year.
The reductions in pay both of Service and civilian personnel decided upon by His Majesty's Government last autumn, as part of a general reduction in public salaries and wages, have, of course, contributed towards the economies effected. As, however, the numbers of Air Service personnel are comparatively small, the saving under this head is necessarily small also. I should like in this connection to say that the cuts bore very hardly upon individuals, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to all ranks of the Royal Air Force for the splendid spirit which they displayed 2008 when they heard of the decision of His Majesty's Government in regard to this matter. There was a ready recognition of the country's needs and of the fact that it was the duty of the Royal Air Force to bear its part in the sacrifices required of the nation.
The fall in the prices of commodities has enabled us to budget on a materially lower scale under Vote 2, and to a lesser extent under certain other Votes. Vote 3, representing as it does over 40 per cent. of the total Air expenditure, has necessarily had to make the largest individual contribution towards the reductions demanded of the Air Ministry, but it will be noted that the reduction in the net figure is proportionately lower than on other Votes, as, for instance, the Vote for Works and Buildings, which is down by nearly 8 per cent.
I need not dwell upon the importance of an adequate expenditure upon technical development and continued experiment and research to the efficiency of the Air Service and the safety of its personnel. The Air Council have been most careful, in making their economies under this head, to ensure that adequate provision shall be left for the proper maintenance of machines and engines and their ancillary equipment, because no measure of economy could be justified which would add to the risks which are taken by the personnel of the Royal Air Force in the performance of their duties. It is that over-riding fact which has made the task of the Air Council in allocating the economies which have been demanded of them in the interests of national economy so difficult. It has rendered it necessary to make many sacrifices in many directions in which, in happier days, the maintenance or even an increase of expenditure would have been desirable. In this relation I may refer to the decision to break up the R, 100, from which a substantial saving is expected, and also the cancellation of the 33-ton flying boat which was designed to carry passengers and mails across the Mediterranean. Firm believer as I am in the future of flying boats—and I am sure many hon. Members in the House share my views in this respect—I confess to a personal regret at the inevitable necessity for abandoning this big civilian boat with its capacity for carrying 40 passengers, long range and good 2009 sea-going qualities. The fact remains, however, that the £100,000 which its construction would have entailed would have exhausted all the money now available for the development of other designs of more immediate importance and necessity to civil aviation.
Another enforced economy which hon. Members will see in the Estimates is under Vote 4. The saving of £140,000 on Works, Buildings and Lands has been achieved only by postponing renovations and improvements which are urgently needed. The cost of providing works, buildings and lands for a new and growing Service is necessarily heavy, and although the expenditure under these heads during the past 10 years has been considerable, the fact remains that many units of the Air Force are still housed in temporary buildings of War-time construction. Apart from any question of the health and comfort of the personnel concerned, these temporary buildings have long outlived the period of service for which they were designed, and they are constantly in need of being patched up, and, therefore, are exceedingly uneconomical to maintain. The decision, therefore, to postpone for this year the replacement of certain of these temporary structures has only been arrived at as being the lesser of two evils. It is a policy that could not be repeated indefinitely.
Having regard to the very full explanation given in my Noble Friend's accompanying Memorandum, I do not think that there are any other financial features in these Estimates to which I need specifically invite the attention of hon. Members, but I would like to remind the House, as they were reminded when the Air Estimates were presented last year, that last year's Estimates, despite a steady growth in the size of the Royal Air Force and continuous improvement in its technical equipment, were actually lower in total than the Estimates for 1925. The minute supervision and the vigorous pruning of all heads of expenditure which made that result possible have necessarily added to the difficulty of finding the further savings which have been required and realised in this year's Estimates.
I will now, with the permission of the House, turn from the narrow, though 2010 more than ever vital field of finance, and will attempt to give the House, as is customary on these occasions, a brief survey of some of the major activities of the Royal Air Force and of the development of civil aviation. It was my privilege and good fortune to make, during the recent Recess, a comprehensive round of British overseas air stations, in the course of which I covered some 8,000 miles by air in a variety of service and civil machines, and revisited units of the Air Force stations in Malta, Egypt, Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and India. The journey brought home to me, even more forcibly than did my former official tour, the far-reaching character of the revolution, for it is no less, which air transport is effecting in the sphere of world communications. For, whereas the stages of my former tour were specifically worked out beforehand and the tour itself was really in the nature of a test or experiment, my last journey was one which might have been carried out by any private individual who was sufficiently interested in the different places to which it took me.
I was greatly struck by the remarkable progress that has been made during the last five years. I wish that it were possible to put before the House a large-scale map of the world, which would bring home clearly to hon. Members a picture of this progress. They would then see, if I may employ a term which is used in quite different though not unconnected circumstances, that this map is being steadily and methodically covered by a network of "thin red lines," the lines, that is, marking the course of air routes which have been developed, or are being developed, by the pioneer enterprise of the Royal Air Force and followed, or being followed at no distant interval, by regular civil air transport. Once again, trade is following the flag, but by new routes and routes no less romantic, even in these days of ever-growing scientific attainment, than in any period of our history. Everywhere that I went I found those responsible for administering the far-flung territories of our Empire profoundly impressed by the rapidity with which the mobility of the Air Arm is increasing, and, if I may so style it, with the ubiquity of British aircraft.
2011 Everywhere is proof of that interesting and, to my thinking, most satisfactory feature to which I have referred, namely, the way in which military and civil activities have followed each other and fulfilled complementary roles. It is a feature which seems to have come into being naturally and spontaneously at the very beginning of things. In the early years after the War it was the Royal Air Force which blazed the trail across the desert areas which lie between Egypt and Iraq, to be replaced in due course by the weekly civil air service which today carries our mails to and from India. Similarly, the series of regular annual flights by Air Force machines in formation from Cairo to the Cape has gradually opened up the very difficult countries in Central Africa for a regular civil air service. Despite a number of adventurous private flights, the successful accomplishment of which has moved our admiration and wonder, the geographical and climatic conditions of Central Africa present an obstacle to regular civil air transport which the present resources of civil aviation would have found insuperable without the aid so given. It is to the friendly and helpful co-operation of military and civil flying that we owe the fact that to-day we have between London and the Cape a regular weekly civil air mail service.
I need not dwell upon the commercial value of this quicker system of communication which has been established between Great Britain and India on the one hand, and the Dominion of South Africa and all the Central and East African administrations on the other, nor upon the great benefits which are likely, in due course, to accrue there-from in the fields of politics and trade alike, but I should like, in passing, to pay a tribute to all the African administrations concerned in the development of the African route, and especially to the Government of the Union of South Africa for the friendly co-operation and also for the substantial financial contribution they are making towards this new link in the chain of our Imperial communications.
It is proper to point out that this pioneering work, whereby the Air Force is clearing the trail for future civil air routes, is not the cause of any 2012 special expense to the taxpayer. The efficiency of the Service and the strategic needs of our Empire alike demand that long-distance Service flights should be carried out at regular intervals so that our aircraft and personnel may at all times be prepared efficiently to carry out their military duties. It is our good fortune that these experimental Service flights, so necessary for the training of the Air Force, can so readily be turned to such good account also as a means of opening up new civil air routes for the future.
This pioneering role is by no means finished. A flight from Egypt to West Africa is now a regular annual feature in the programme of the units of the Middle East Command. Hon. Members will have seen in my Noble Friend's Memorandum a reference to the flight which left Egypt last October for a cruise to Nigeria and the West African Colonies. They will have read of the unfortunate interruption of that flight due to the outbreak of yellow fever in the Gold Coast. That interruption, however, is only a temporary matter. The flight will be repeated in due course, and I hope that in time a branch civil air line will be brought into being which, connecting with the Cape-Cairo rouse at some point in the Sudan, will bring the West African Colonies—Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Gambia and Sierra Leone—within a few days' journey of this country.
One of the squadrons of the Middle East Command is at the moment engaged upon a flight in East Africa, visiting Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda, the itinerary of which will cover some 7,000 miles. Again, Air Force machines now fly regularly along the barren coast of the Persian Gulf between Basra and Muscat, and experimental flights have been undertaken eastwards from Muscat and thence along the southern coast of Arabia towards Aden. To link up with these operations, the squadron at Aden is extending its activities north-eastwards and is gradually opening up the little known territories of the Hadramaut littoral. Some time ago, the Air Officer Commanding in Iraq flew from Basra, a distance of over 1,700 miles, by flying boat to Murbat on the South Arabian coast and there joined hands with the Officer Commanding at Aden, who 2013 had flown 750 miles north-eastwards with a flight of land planes to meet him. In the reverse direction a flight has just been concluded from Aden to Egypt and back, and a unit of the Royal Air Force has already started from Egypt on a return visit to Aden. So the whole vast perimeter of the Arabian Peninsula is being encircled by air. As I have informed the House, I myself was able only a few weeks ago to fly along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf and visit the little known and desolate Trucial coast between Bahrein and Muscat, passing en route over the boldly jutting lion's paw of the Musandin Peninsula. It is a surprising seascape, with steep and rook-bound cliffs, but with many inlets in which flying boats can take temporary shelter.
Farther east, beyond India, the squadron of flying boats based on Singapore has, in the course of the past few years, cruised far and wide both southeastwards via the Dutch Indies towards Australia, and north-eastwards to India, exploring alternative routes along the coasts of Siam and Burma and via the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. On the 15th of this month three Southampton Flying Boats are due to leave Singapore on a training flight to Port Darwin, where they will be met by six land planes of the Royal Australian Air Force, and thus initiate liaison with the Royal Australian Air Force similar to that already established with the South African Air Force in the series of regular annual flights from Cairo to the Cape to which I have referred. The experience which is being gained by these cruises, and the knowledge acquired of favourable or adverse climatic and geographical conditions are very useful and indeed essential for Air Force purposes, as well as being invaluable to the organisers of our new civil air lines.
Besides long-distance flights of this kind, which are undertaken for the double purpose of making the Air Force overseas efficient to meet any military eventuality and at the same time for opening up fresh routes for civilian enterprise, the Air Force is now continuously engaged in innumerable minor activities of what I may call a "productive" character. In all parts of the world, it is constantly being called upon to perform innumerable miscellaneous 2014 jobs, such as searches for parties lost in the desert, the conveyance of medical assistance to remote stations, or the transport of serious cases from such stations to some centre where they can receive skilled medical treatment.
It was the custom to say, in the days when the world was larger than it is now, that wherever one went in the world one was sure to find that a Scot had got there first, but nowadays, when the world has so far contracted that men of all nationalities can get themselves into trouble in its most remote corners, it is equally true to say that, wherever in the world one may get into difficulties, the Royal Air Force can always be relied upon to arrive in time to extricate one from the worst consequences of one's misfortune.
Whether it is the discovery of a touring car belonging to the Egyptian State Telegraphs lost in the sandy wastes of the Libyan desert; the giving of a helping hand to a district commissioner in the collection of taxes from semi-nomadic tribes whose sense of public duty is not so keenly developed as that of the British Income Tax-payers; the carrying of water and supplies to an East African trade expedition stranded north of Wadi Half a with only one small bottle of water left between them; the conveyance of supplies and mails to, and moral support of a political agent on tour in the North West Provinces of India; the location and provisioning of an Italian aircraft forced-landed on the coast of Somaliland; the escort and evacuation of sick members of a column operating in the hinterland of Aden, or the conveyance by flying boat from Ras-al-Khaimah to Bahrein of the Sultan's brother for treatment for eye trouble—at all times and in all places the deus ex machina is a unit of the Royal Air Force.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
Those are some of the minor things they do. The demands of that kind are indeed so frequent that they are considered as a matter of routine. They do not often figure in the reports; but they are, in spite of the hon. Member thinking them but small activities, helping to maintain the prestige of the British flag and the good 2015 name of Great Britain in all parts of the world, and they are bringing peace and order and civilisation to many backward people. They are the means, directly and indirectly, of saving a great many lives, both European and native, and, what is no mean consideration in these days, saving the expenditure or the loss of large sums of money. I confess that I find this aspect of the work of the Royal Air Force peculiarly fascinating, but I must have regard to the feelings of hon. Members and pass on to other matters with which they will expect me to deal before I resume my seat.
During the past year there have been no exploits of the kind which give public prominence to the work of the Royal Air Force overseas, but I should like to mention the operations which were very skilfully and successfully carried out by the Air Forces in Iraq in conjunction with the Iraq army, which ended in the surrender of Sheikh Mahmud and in the elimination thereby of a constant source of unrest and disturbance in Kurdistan. I might also mention the conveyance of troops to Cyprus at very short notice which was interesting as being the first occasion on which a very large body of troops had been conveyed across a considerable width of sea, but which, apart from the significance of that feature, was a comparatively small affair. This year one must look at home to find the exploit for which the year will be remembered.
The facts and figures concerning the winning of the Schneider Trophy and the setting up of a new high speed record for the world, are set out very fully in my Noble Friend's Memorandum, and I do not think that I need refer to them any more. But it is my wish and, I think, also my duty to pay tribute in this place and on this occasion to the supreme skill and thoroughness of the designers and constructors of the engines and machines which brought us the victory, to the technical staffs of the Air Ministry and the National Physical Laboratory who collaborated with them, to the high courage and remarkable physical and mental efficiency of all members of the High Speed Flight, from whom the winning pilots were chosen, and to the splendid public spirit and generous patriotism of Lady Houston, without whose munificent 2016 gift there would have been no British entry.
There can be no doubt that such notable proof, in the three successive victories, of the outstanding excellence of British design, British material, and British workmanship Las been of real assistance and value to the British aircraft industry, and in maintaining the high reputation of British workmanship in general. The experience gained in the making of the winning machines and engines has also been of real value in the designing of new equipment for the Royal Air Force. The result is, that although reckoned by size alone we still take only fifth place among the air forces of the world, it is satisfactory to know that the air force of no other nation is better equipped than our own and that the standard of training and efficiency in our Air Force is higher than that of the air force of any other country. But it is my plain duty to enter a warning that to maintain this standard we shall inevitably require in 1933, and in future years, substantially more money than the House is being asked to vote in these Estimates.
By the end of 1932 the equipment of all regular units with machines of comparatively recent design will be practically complete. We should have carried the process of rearmament a good deal further if it had not been for the financial crisis, which entailed so big a cut in the Vote for technical equipment to which I have already referred. But when this year's programme is complete, 33 squadrons will be equipped with types introduced into service in 1930 or later. Practically all the remaining squadrons in the First Line will be equipped with machines introduced into service not earlier than 1926.
The turning over of fighting aircraft from wooden construction to metal is now virtually complete. Apart from many other advantages, a substantial lengthening of the life of aeroplanes between overhauls is expected to result from the change. With the exception of single seater fighters, for which, naturally, manoeuvreability is of prime importance, flying boats and certain obsolescent or experimental aircraft, all aeroplanes in service have been fitted or are about to be fitted with slots.
2017 4.30 p.m.
The taxpayer is given an opportunity to judge of the general efficiency of the Air Services on the occasion of the annual Air Exercises, which in the year now under review took place in July and completed some 2,000 hours flying without untoward incident. A feature of these exercises was the part taken, for the first time, by Cadre Night Bombing Squadrons, which are composed partly of Special Reserve personnel. Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons also took part again in the day bombing operations. That the standard of flying and general training of the regular squadrons should be high is only in keeping with the fine traditions which the youngest of the Fighting Services has already made its own. No pains are being spared to increase that efficiency still further, particularly in respect of "blind" flying, with the aid of special instruments, deck landing and armament training, in all of which directions definite progress is being made. It is, however, peculiarly satisfactory to know that the units containing non-regular personnel, both Cadre and Auxiliary, are able to take part in large scale exercises with Regular units, not only without discredit, but with an efficiency which actually exceeded the expectations of those who were responsible for the experiment of introducing this element into the Home. Defence Force.
There has been a satisfactory increase of strength in the Cadre and Auxiliary Squadrons during the year, and the general standard of flying remains high. As regards the University Squadrons, the number of hours of flying has again increased. For the first time formation flying has been introduced for the more experienced members of these units. Both squadrons were maintained at full strength throughout the year, and each has a long waiting list. The country may rest assured that it is getting very good value indeed for the money spent upon the units with non-regular personnel. During 1931, a number of officers who joined the Auxiliary Air Force in its early days completed their initial periods of service. Of these, some have relinquished their commissions and returned to civil life; others, I am glad to say, have found it possible to re-engage for further service; yet others have trans- 2018 ferred to the Reserve of Air Force Officers. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all officers and airmen who gave their support to the Auxiliary Air Force at the beginning of its career for the part they have played in making it the success which it is to-day.
I may now turn, by a natural transition, to say a few words about civil aviation. I have already referred to the inauguration of the through service to the Cape. That is a step taken to build up on solid foundations the network of Imperial Air Routes which will one day link together all parts of the British Empire. Despite substantial reductions of mileage flown in Australia and Canada, as a result of acute financial depression, the total mileage flown in the British Empire during 1931 upon routes in regular operation shows an increase of some 9 per cent. upon 1930. Proposals are on foot for bringing into operation, it is hoped in the near future, another 12,000 miles and more of Empire routes. When these routes have been opened, the Empire will possess over 37,000 miles of organised air routes.
The total mileage of Empire lines compares very favourably with that of all other countries except the United States of America, which, owing to her geographical size and position, is so well suited for the development of air transport. In fact, with the exception of the United States of America, the British Empire mileage is the largest. We have always pursued in this country a policy of avoiding undue coddling of air transport by State financial assistance, and have followed conscientiously the plan of encouraging air transport in such a way that it may be able, at the earliest possible moment, to "fly by itself" The result is that, though it is clear that the process will take much longer than was at one time hoped, few other lines, if any, can show so satisfactory an approach towards a commercial basis for their operations as do the air lines of the British Empire.
Another eminently British and satisfactory feature of civil aviation in the Empire is the continued growth of amateur flying through the medium of Light Aeroplane Clubs. There is a substantial increase in the number of flying 2019 licences and certificates of registration current during the past year. No doubt, a revival of general industrial prosperity would result in a marked improvement in this direction. There has also been an increase in the number of aerodrome licences issued during the year, due principally to the big development in the activities of "joy riding" companies. As an example of growing air-mindedness, this is all to the good; but it is very desirable that greater progress should be made in the provision of, or at any rate the reservation of sites for, municipal aerodromes. The day cannot be far distant when every city of any importance will have its permanent aerodrome; and delay in securing convenient sites can only result in increasing unduly the cost of providing them. At the present moment there are no more than 57 licensed permanent aerodromes, landing grounds and seaplane stations in Great Britain. It may be that, in view of the existing financial stringency, it is too much to expect munipalities to embark upon the comparatively heavy expenditure involved in the establishment of a permanent aerodrome, but I do urge that the authorities concerned should decide without delay upon the location of their aerodromes and secure sites from being built over. I hope that other municipalities will be quick to emulate the foresight and enterprise of those which have already taken in hand work of this kind.
Outside Great Britain, a large number, some 16 in all, of private long-distance flights have been carried out during the year with a very satisfactory freedom from serious accident. Outstanding among them, though all were remarkable performances, are Squardron Leader Bert Hinkler's solo crossing of the Southern Atlantic from west to east in a Puss Moth, Miss Salaman's and Mr. A. G. Store's record flight to the Cape in less than five and a-half days, Mr. J. A. Mollison's record flight from Australia to England in under nine days, and Mr. C. A. Butler's record flight from England to Australia.
I will reserve what I have to say on certain very important issues—more particularly disarmament and airship development—until a later stage of the 2020 Debate. Nor can I deal, as I should have wished to do, with technical development and research. These are subjects which in themselves might easily take up more of the time of the House than I have already occupied. No doubt, hon. Members will refer in the course of the Debate to any points in which they are specially interested, in which case I will endeavour to deal with those points later. For the moment, I content myself with pointing to the high standard of performance of British machines as proof that the problems of research and technical development are being tackled earnestly, continuously, and on the whole successfully.
The Air Service is a young service; young not only in the years of its existtence, but in the years also of the great majority of those who serve in it. It is likely that the last feature will always remain to characterise it. It is to be expected, therefore, that so long as the spirit of the Air Service is sound, it will be a spirit of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a catching thing, and it would be unreasonable to expect that those of more mature years who are connected at all closely with this essentially young Service should altogether escape the spirit of enthusiasm which to-day pervades it, and I trust will always pervade it. I do not remember an Air Estimates speech in this House the tone of which has not been instinct with enthusiasm for the Air Service in all its branches, and particularly for the Royal Air Force. I do not expect mine to be regarded as an exception. I ask the House to believe that the closer one gets to the British Air Service, the more clearly one realises that it is indeed a proper subject for enthusiasm. I have claimed for the British Air Service that it has the best of machines, the best pilots, the most efficient ground organisation and the best technical skill and workmanship behind it. It is a large claim; but I believe it to be justified.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The House will, I am sure, desire me to offer to the right hon. Baronet our cordial congratulations upon the very excellent way he has presented the Vote. If I mistake not, this is the first time that he has discharged the task. I could not imagine it being discharged with greater efficiency than it has 2021 been done this afternoon. There is no doubt about his enthusiasm concerning his Department, and I have no doubt that he has been able to communicate some of that enthusiasm to the various ranks of the Service.
I will ask the House to consider with me one or two aspects of the Vote in regard to which the right hon. Baronet made little or no reference. A perusal of the White Paper gives rise to many emotions. For instance, there is the romantic story which the right hon. Baronet told of the achievements in various parts of the world of individual members as well as collective bodies of the Air Service. Listening to the story, so dramatically and romantically given, I naturally felt, like everybody else, whatever may be my private views concerning the Air Service as such, some sense of legitimate pride in the achievements which stand to the credit of the British Air Service. They have displayed a daring and endurance which is beyond praise. When we are told in the White Paper that they have been able to fly at the rate of 407 miles per hour, it conjures up visions of the long hours devotedly given by experts, technicians and others who have made such achievements possible. I need hardly say that an achievement of that sort is one of which we are enormously proud. Moreover, there is the further fact that our airmen have flown across trackless forests and over pathless oceans carrying letters and other communications whereby people in the uttermost parts of the world are able to interchange their thoughts and greetings.
These reflections naturally give us a sense of exhilaration, because they show that man is to an ever-increasing degree enlarging the scope of his mastery over physical nature. We are very glad indeed that our own people are pioneers and leaders in that particular department of activity. But there is another emotion which is generated by a consideration of this White Paper, for not only are we introduced to the story of grand achievement within the realm of physical endeavour, but we also have a sense of apprehension generated by reading some other portions of this official document. For instance, we find a record of natives being bombed from the air in some parts of the world; we have stories of 2022 the first time transported suddenly by air across a stretch of sea to participate in the task of suppressing rebellion or not in some portion of the Empire.
It is singularly striking that an instrument which is comparatively new among the instruments at the disposal of man, an instrument so capable of good in the world, with infinite potentialities from the standpoint of extending the bounds of peace and understanding in the world, has so suddenly and completely become an adjunct of the war machine. In the statement of the hon. Baronet and in this White Paper this juxtaposition of civil and military activity, through the medium of the air arm, is ever present and should be ever present to our minds. I am not complaining against the Government, as such, at this point. If we examine the matter we find that this association of civil and military aviation is practised in all countries of the world, and therefore it is not a fault that I can attribute to my own country alone. But it is of great moment to those who watch the development of this new activity of mankind. Indeed this association of civil and military activity under the aegis of one Ministry is indicative of the great change that is coming over the very nature of war itself in the world.
Aerial warfare, in the very nature of things, must be more ruthless and more ruinous; it must become more destructive and more deadly, and its weapons, unlike the weapons of the land Army or of the Navy, are to a far greater degree the weapons of offence than of defence. The use of these weapons is such that in their operations whole nations, not belligerent armies only, will be involved. I notice that the right hon. Baronet sought to comfort us with the reflection that this service is a comparatively cheap one. Well, of course, it is, compared with the Army or the Navy. But if we test the potentialities of the Services, however divergent and however remotely apart may be the actual amounts expended, the air arm is infinitely more deadly than either of the other Services. I will put it in another way. An expenditure of £1,000,000 upon land forces or naval forces would not produce an instrument nearly as deadly as the expenditure of a similar sum upon aerial development. 2023 Therefore we ought not to take undue comfort to ourselves on account of the fact that the Air Force is to cost only £17,500,000, compared with the larger expenditure on the other Services.
The appalling thing to which I want to direct attention is this—that even though you are able, as this year, to point to a reduction in the expenditure upon aerial development, the actual reduction of expenditure on the military side is in nowise a comforting thing from the standpoint of future warfare, for such is the nature of aerial development that the civil side of it may be made applicable and adapted to war purposes within a small measure of time. Therefore, a limitation upon the more military side of it is not at all comforting. We must be assured that the reduction, if at all, shall be a reduction arising from a definite desire to remove military warfare entirely from the air. Of course it is quite clear to us all that the world cannot afford at this moment to limit the development of its civil aviation. On the other hand, while we have to develop civil aviation, we must try to limit the development of military aviation if we are to make tracks towards Disarmament in the world. Therefore it is small wonder when we see this enormous development of civil and military aviation in the world and reflect upon how easy it is to convert from civil to military purposes—it is small wonder that the people of the world are saying, "What shall we do to be saved?"
I am extremely sorry that the right hon. Baronet did not devote some portion of his speech to a, discussion of the attitude of the Government to the question of Disarmament, and did not elaborate, in some degree at any rate, the paragraphs relating to Disarmament on pages 1 and 2 of the White Paper. There is now meeting in Geneva a Disarmament Conference, and this country is amply represented there. I have studied the various proposals that have been put forward at that Conference on behalf of the countries represented. I think I am right in saying that, while there are differences of detail in the various schemes advanced, there is, singularly enough, present to nearly all of them—our own country, I am sorry to say, excluded—a proposal concerning either the abolition or the 2024 internationalisation of the control of aerial warfare for the future. I must say how very disappointed I am to find that our own Government, through its representatives at Geneva, has not found it possible to make far more challenging, bold and courageous proposals at Geneva in regard to this particular section, namely aerial equipment, than has in fact been the case. The almost universal reference to this particular point about aerial warfare, indicates that the people of the world are beginning to realise that aviation cannot go side by side with mere nationalism. That is understandable.
If an airman goes up into the air for a journey, as the right hon. Baronet has done recently, in his flight he must pass over the territory of other nations, and that implies that if aerial development is to take place to an ever-increasing degree, the interest of all nations becomes automatically involved in the conditions under which aerial development shall take place. State separatism obviously cannot meet the requirements of tomorrow. Take, for instance, the flight to which the right hon. Baronet referred. There have been several flights from this country to Australia, or the other way round. Each of those flights must have involved traversing French territory, some part of central or Southern Europe, the crossing of some part of the Near East, or the traversing territory which is not usually regarded as part and parcel of our own Empire. That brings us automatically up against the question whether ways and means cannot be devised whereby this kind of development, inevitable in the future, shall take place without regard to Imperialistic, or nationalistic considerations. In the old days we used to speak of the Imperium Romanum. Now we speak of the Imperium Britannicum in regard to the sea. But you cannot visualise a condition of affairs where any particular nation can with safety and with confidence anticipate the period when it and it alone can exercise unchallengeable domination in the realm of the air.
That brings me to this proposition: The Noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, uses this singular expression in the White Paper: 2025Meantime, despite general recognition of the growing dependence of the British Empire on air power as on sea power".5.0 p.m.
I do not understand the phrase, unless it be that there are people in charge of this particular arm of our national activity who visualise the exercise by Britain of a form of power in the air comparable to the power which we have exercised in the past on the sea. If it be true, clearly this country had better know precisely to what it is being committed. It conjures up a form of rivalry so dangerous, and in the end so destructive of our best national resources, that when the people realise it they will speedily take steps to repudiate it. It is because people in all parts of the world, people of all parties and of no party, realise the international character of aerial navigation that we are impelled to press for some form of international control of civil aviation. I emphasise the word "civil." It is little use concentrating simply upon the international control of military aviation, even if you can get it, because it is so easy to adjust and adapt civil aviation in a time of stress and struggle for military purposes. It is not enough merely to have control of military aviation, you must have control, international control, of civil aviation as well. Obviously, this cannot be secured except through the medium of some international body. I am not putting forward a purely party point of view, or even a new point of view in any way; for the need for some international control of aviation was mooted as long ago as 1889 at a congress convened at the invitation of the French Government. Although the delegates were not officially appointed delegates of the Governments they consisted of people from all parts of the world, and at that congress, as long ago as 1889, the idea of international control of aviation was discussed.
In my judgment we cannot allow civil aviation to go on without some sort of inter-state activity in this direction. If civil aviation is not to be made an adjunct of the air machine by any country in any part of the world then clearly the corollary which follows on that proposition is that we must end the liaison between civil and military aviation. When I reflect on the fact that civil aviation is largely controlled by the Air Ministry I feel a sense of apprehension, 2026 not because I have a suspicion that the Air Ministry and its staff are not favourable to the development of civil aviation but because I fear they regard civil aviation and its development purely from the standpoint of the convenience of the military machine; and we cannot afford to minister to that kind of mentality in these days. But if we press for a divorce between civil and military aviation then the question arises, how are we to tackle the question of the reduction and elimination of military aviation? Varying standards are offered whereby we may judge the strength of the respective aerial forces of the nations. Some people want to budgetary standard, others want a different standard, but, I repeat, so long as it is possible for a nation legitimately under international law to equip and train and pass into reserve and ultimately into its civil forces people who have been trained for military purposes by the military arm, then, clearly, a mere limitation of military aviation will be wholly ineffective.
Moreover—I do not want to stress this point unduly although there is something in it—whatever conventions we may have, when nations are driven to war and are fighting with their backs to the wall in a death struggle as it were there will always be a tendency to override conventions, as indeed has been done in another part of the world at the moment. But if you can get agreement amongst the nations of the world that civil aviation is to be exempt from this incursion by the military side there is some chance of the people being rid of the horror and apprehension they entertain concerning the future.
§ Mr. JONES
There are some differences of opinion regarding that, but whether we are first, or fourth or fifth, is irrelevant to my argument. I want to urge that this country should be bold and courageous in its proposals to the Disarmament Conference, that all nations without distinction should press for the complete elimination of military aviation throughout the world. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. Member will follow my argument. I am not asking, as he seems to imagine, for something that is revolu- 2027 tionary or new. I would remind him that we are committed in honour, by word, by written document, to the proposition of Disarmament. When we assembled with other nations around the table at Versailles we imposed almost complete disarmament on Germany, but we did so on the express assurance that that disarmament was to be the precursor of disarmament on the part of other nations. We are committed in honour to disarmament, and I submit that I am not asking this House to do anything other than what it has already endorsed when it endorsed the Treaty of Versailles some 10 years ago. Why do I press a positive proposal so much more in regard to Air Forces? The reason is obvious to everyone. First of all, air forces, when used in times of war, can be the most deadly and destructive of all implements of war. The effect of their use cannot even be limited or confined to those who are actually belligerents. Not only cannot their use be confined to the belligerents but, in point of fact, the Field Service Regulations themselves contain these words:The aim of a nation which has taken up arms is therefore to bring such pressure to bear on the enemy people as to induce them to force their Government to sue for peace.In other words we are now face to face with a, new instrument which, when vigorously applied, can so strike terror not only into the hearts of the belligerent forces but into the hearts of the noncombatant people to such a degree that in their terror and apprehension they will bring pressure to bear on the Government of their country to sue for peace. I need not trouble the House with what this means for non-combatants, but I should just like to give one quotation from a military source, from a book entitled "Tanks in a Great War" by Lieut.-Colonel.
In the next war fleets of fast moving tanks, equipped with tons of liquid gas against which the enemy have no possible protection, will cross frontiers and obliterate every living thing in fields, farms, villages and cities of the enemy country. Meanwhile, fleets of aeroplanes will attack the great industrial and governing centres.
§ Mr. JONES
Not only does this form of warfare involve the belligerents but it is of such a character and so terrifying and staggering in its potential con- 2028 sequences that a whole people, not to speak of villages and towns and cities, might by the development of this form of warfare be almost completely obliterated from the face of the earth. This new weapon, this deadly and destructive weapon, is one which it seems to me, now in the earliest days of its development, we ought, in co-operation with other countries, to bring to an end and banish it from warfare of the future. I have almost completed what I desire to say. I have tried to avoid making a purely party speech and to direct attention to this question in its international aspect, regardless of party issues altogether. The party to which I belong is strenuously in favour of Disarmament being vigorously prosecuted by this and every other Government of this land. During the time that we were in office we strove to make adequate preparations for the conference which is now meeting at Geneva. I venture to think that not only the party to which I belong, but the people of the whole country will be gravely disappointed if, out of the discussions which are now proceeding at Geneva, there does not eventuate a general agreement among the nations of the world that this, the most deadly weapon which man has yet devised, shall be abandoned as an instrument of warfare among men.
§ Captain KNATCHBULL
In rising to address the House for the first time, may I plead for that indulgence which the House always most generously gives to those who are undergoing that ordeal. To be perfectly frank, I admit that my feelings at this moment bear a remarkable resemblance to those which I experienced on my first passenger flight in an aeroplane, in 1912, just 20 years ago. As this is a very technical Debate in which to make a maiden speech, may I be allowed to give a very short personal reminiscence to explain why I venture to do so. As far back as 1915, I was one of the small band of soldiers who were lent to the Navy in connection with air operations at Gallipoli, and at the end of the War I was brigade-major of one of the brigades of the Royal Air Force in France. After the War, I was staff officer to the Inspector-General of the Royal Air Force, and later on I was connected with the financial side of the aeroplane industry for a considerable 2029 time. I may therefore claim to have some slight knowledge of the subject. If there is one branch of the subject, however, in which I can claim to be an expert it is the behaviour of an ordinary land aeroplane when it falls into the sea. Icarus, we are told, disdaining parental admonition and advice, flew too high so that his wings were melted by the sun. He fell into the Aegean Sea—so did I.
If one examines the reasons for maintaining a State-aided Air Force and civil aviation system one finds at once that the subject falls under three headings, namely, defence, communications and, very much in the third place, sport. Until wars are made impossible by agreement between the nations, defence must, of necessity, come first. Here I differ from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), who said that the aeroplane of to-day was really a weapon of offence more than of defence. In the late War the chief method of defending oneself against air attack was to attack the enemy aerodromes and destroy the machines in their sheds. To defend yourself you must have offensive aeroplanes. It must be the daily prayer of any right-minded person Plat such a catastrophe as another war should not happen, but, if it does happen, the existence of an efficient Air Force in this country at the beginning of that war might save this country from the first brunt of attack by an enemy Power. It would certainly do a great deal towards keeping our frontiers safe. If we look at the frontiers of India we see how, day by day, our squadrons fly over those mountain ranges, making absolutely certain that they cannot be surprised by an enemy. Surely that is a good reason for keeping an efficient Air Force.
If one is going to consider the possibilities of a future war one must be allowed to base one's conception of what it is likely to be on the experiences of the late War. That War, in all conscience, was horrible enough, and the only thing that we can say with certainty about any future war is that it is bound to be unutterably worse than the last War. Anybody who has read the first volume of the "Official History of the War" will remember the paragraph which describes how in 1917 the Army Council sanctioned plans for the production of 240 squadrons of aeroplanes. It was only the interven- 2030 tion of the Armistice which prevented this terrible plan from being carried out, and as the History says saved the world from that carnival of destruction.
The expansion of an Air Force, from a. peace footing to a war footing, necessarily takes a fairly long time, and the main question which we have to bear in mind is: Are there any means by which we can shorten that period should an emergency arise I In the consideration of any possible future war, obviously the essence of the matter is the efficiency of machines and personnel, and it is of these two points that I wish to speak. I take first the question of equipment and machines and I go back again to our experiences in the late War. We cannot help remembering how air power swung like a pendulum from one side to the other. One can never forget the terrible casualties suffered red by same of our squadrons on the active sectors of the front when the enemy had the upper hand in the air. When squadron officers collected night after night in the mess and found that they were four, five or six short, a feeling almost of helplessness was created. Precisely the same thing happened to the other side when we had the supremacy in the air. In the last two months of the War all the captured enemy letters and diaries were full of references to the German Air Force "letting down the infantry." It was doing nothing of the kind, but we had a technical supremacy in the air then and were driving the German Air Force out of the air. Surely what we have to aim at, should any future war arise, is to have a, technical supremacy at the beginning. That I believe we shall have, because our machines to-clay are magnificent, but we must take steps to retain that supremacy once we have achieved it. Any steps in that direction must of necessity be among the most important considerations for this country all the time.
I, therefore, ask the Government not to carry too far the policy on which they have embarked of reducing the number of types of aeroplanes in each branch of the service. I feel sure that, if that policy is carried very much further than it is being carried to-day, the result will be to drive a large proportion of the aircraft industry clean out of business. Should an emergency arise, we shall 2031 require not so much the workmen who are engaged in the building of aircraft as the technical staff, the designers, the draftsmen, and these can only be maintained by an industry spurred on by the incentive of competition. Obviously, if the industry knows that four or five different types of single-seaters are going to be employed, then four or five firms will be striving to keep those up-to-date and to make improvements. If you reduce the number to two, obviously it means that only two firms will be carrying out that work.
Turning to the question of personnel, there again one can but look to the late War for one's lesson. If an emergency arises we have to remember that our first line to-day is very small compared with that of any other country. We need not go into an argument as to whether we are a first, second, third or fourth-rate air Power. The fact remains that we have vastly fewer aeroplanes in our first line than any other big Power. Therefore, anything which we can do to build up and to keep in being a reserve, which can be drawn upon, is essential. We have in this country now organisations which we had not in the past. I speak here of the light aeroplane clubs. Their record is well known to most hon. Members. During the last seven years 23 of these clubs have turned out no fewer than 1,554 new pilots, quite apart from the large number of old pilots who are kept in training by these clubs. As long as these clubs are maintained and kept efficient and up-to-date they form the ideal pool for future pilots in the event of war. I do not claim that these clubs can turn out fully-trained war pilots. Obviously that is impossible, but they do turn out a large body of men with a very sound knowledge of piloting and with a considerable smattering of ground training, and, above all, they spread the cult of airmindedness which must be an enormous asset to any country in the future.
If these clubs are to be kept going in the future, however, they will have to be enabled to live. By that I mean that if they are going on, they will have to be able to give their members cheap flying. They will have to be able to teach cheaply and to supply their members with cheap flying once those mem- 2032 bers have learned to fly. That can only be done at the expense of a Government subsidy as to-day, but the subsidy as it, stands, namely, that they can earn up to £2,000 a year—£10 for new licences and £10 for renewals—is, to my mind, quite useless. No club can possibly earn anywhere near the maximum figure. It does not seem much use offering a club £2,000 a year and then making it impossible for the club to earn it. I believe there is only one club which earns over 50 per cent. of the maximum, and nearly all earn something nearer a quarter than a half of that £2,000. I would therefore ask the Under-Secretary what the Government propose to do for the light aeroplane clubs in the future. Personally, I would like to see them getting a larger sum for new licences and so much per flying hour on club machines, or, in other words, payment by results. When you boil it down the results can only be measured in actual flying hours. Furthermore, I ask whether, when the time comes—and I hope it may come to-day—for the Government to announce their plan, they will formulate that plan in such a way that the flying clubs will be able to know where they stand for some years to come and that they will get certainty of tenure, instead of being left as they are to-day, with the subsidies ending in July.
There are two other points which I desire to mention, and the first is the Australian extension of the Indian service. I realise the importance of economy to-day, as everybody must, but we have to-day a South African service and we have an Indian service, and until we get the Australian extension we cannot claim to have completed the main trunk line of inter-communication inside the Empire. Until we have this trunk line, the smaller lines cannot grow out of it as they will, I am convinced, in the future. The future air lines in the Empire will grow up as the railways did, the main lines first and the branch extensions afterwards. I would urge on the Government, as soon as possible, to get busy with the Australian extension, because there is a danger which I foresee, and that is that if we delay very much longer, the Dutch will very likely start that service for us, and I think it would be rather a calamity—one might 2033 almost say rather a disgrace—if the main trunk lines of the British Empire air services were not entirely flown under the British flag.
There is one other point that I would like to mention, and that is to say how very glad I was to read in the Memorandum issued by the Secretary of State for Air telling us of the altered conditions for short service commissions. It is of enormous importance in this country to see that the age limit has been reduced to 21, because you will now get a large body of young men who will be leaving the Service not very much older than the young men who have gone through the universities and who will have, not only the ordinary, general education, but also a sound technical education and that, to my mind, priceless boon, a sound training in the handling of men. I should very much like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he can tell the House how they are getting on with finding occupations for these officers when they leave the Service, and whether the economic crisis which has hit us so badly to-day has in any way affected our getting suitable numbers and types of applicants for these short service commissions.
In conclusion, I should like very much to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on that sentence in the Memorandum which says:In particular, no action has been or will be taken which might in any way adversely affect the safety of flying personnel.I think that in these days of economy it is a great thing to feel that no stone will be left unturned to look after them. One must remember that the flying personnel of the Air Force takes very much greater risks in peace time than any other branch of His Majesty's Service, excepting the submarines, and I feel sure that the House will agree with me when I say how very glad I am to see that statement, and that I feel that it should be the first duty of the nation to do all that it can to look after the safety and general well-being of these gallant officers and men.
§ Mr. MANDER
I trust that I may be allowed to offer the very warm congratulations of the House to the hon. and gallant Member for Ashford (Captain Knatchbull), who has just spoken. I 2034 am, sure that there is no more danger of his getting into a flat spin in this House than there is outside, and we shall look forward with the very deepest interest to the many contributions that I am sure we all hope he will make to the discussion of this and other subjects in this House. He spoke on a matter of which he has the closest personal knowledge and in a, manner that was both effective and exceedingly graceful and delightful.
I should like also to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for the most interesting and able account which he gave of the year's activities and on the pride that he very rightly showed in the great Service that comes under his control, and in which, at one time, I played a very humble part. I share with him regret that, owing to the economies that have had to be carried out, many of the activities of the Air Ministry have had to be curtailed, and I agree that it is most regrettable that the great flying boat which was being constructed, and which would have done a great deal for the prestige of this country, has had to be given up for the time being. I hope the Air Ministry will take the earliest opportunity of proceeding with it again.
The right hon. Baronet told us that later on he proposes to deal with the question of airships, and there, too, I must say that I think it was most deplorable that the R 100 had to be abandoned before we had had any chance of flying it. It seems to me that it is our duty to be pioneers of airship development, just as we have been in all other kinds of development, whether on the water, under the water, on the land, or in the air, and, personally, I believe that airships have a very great part to play in the future of transport in different parts of the world. After all, the R 101 had nothing wrong with it; the disaster did not take place because of anything that was faulty with the ship, and I hope the Government will keep a nucleus staff going in this country, so that, when they have the money available, they will once again take up the task and see that we are not falling behind Germany, America, and other countries, which, I believe, are still going on with airship development in spite of the fact 2035 that we are too poor at the moment to do it ourselves.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State a question with regard to the Schneider Trophy. I should like to associate myself with all that he said in praise of those who contributed to the great success of this country in that competition, but does he not think that the time has now come when the Schneider contest in its present form ought to be reconsidered? We have got to the end of an era. The trophy is finally, as I hope, settled in this country, and I would ask whether he does not think that steps should now be taken—possibly they are being taken—through the proper channels to consider whether the contest ought not in future to be conducted along quite different lines. It is difficult to see that this continual striving for greater speed is of very great value, or is of the same value as we might get from progress in other directions. Will he consider whether a contest for a long-distance flight, or something of that kind, would not be more appropriate to air development? Perhaps in his later remarks he will be good enough to deal with that matter.
I entirely agree with his remarks about the provision of municipal aerodromes. I am sure that before many years are passed every one of our great cities in this country which desires to be up-to-date and abreast of the times will see that it is essential to have a municipal aerodrome, so that people can readily get from their city to others, and I think the municipalities, although they may not be able at the moment to find the money with which to buy the land, ought to be looking around and, possibly, by means of options or in other ways, securing land before it becomes too expensive and before it is built upon and is no longer available for this purpose. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us something satisfactory on another point, which was dealt with by the last speaker, and that is the provision of light aeroplane clubs, and putting them on a permanent basis, so that they will know for some years to come exactly what programme they can place before themselves.
I want to make a few remarks with reference to a subject that was dealt 2036 with by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), and that is disarmament from the air point of view. There is a number of proposals before the Disarmament Conference at Geneva at the present time. There is, first of all, the French plan, which is realistic, like all. French plans are, and has as its two. main points the handing over of all heavy bombing machines to the League of Nations itself, as a start of international air force, and the leaving of the medium-sized machines in the possession of the several States, provided they are made available for use by the League of Nations if called upon far any purpose. I think it will strike most people that that particular proposal errs in the direction of asking for maximum French security and thinking, first, foremost, and all the time, of French interests in many different ways, and that it does not have sufficient regard for a reduction of air armaments throughout the world and for equality of armaments between one country and another, in particular between disarmed Germany and other countries. But I have no doubt that there is matter in that French proposal which deserves the very careful study of all who are considering these matters at Geneva, and I have no doubt that the Government will be considering it to see how far they can draw out of its proposals something that can be of permanent value. There is another proposal that has been placed before the Conference by several States, and that is nothing less, than the complete abolition of naval and military aviation, and by that, of course, I mean. the air forces in different countries. I am interested to notice that the Secretary of State for India, who was in the House just now, when be was speaking in the Debate on the Air Force Estimates in 1924, used a sentence which exactly fits in with this proposal. He said:The only practicable solution of the problem is not a reduction of air armaments but a prohibition of aerial warfare altogether."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1924; col. 728, Vol. 171.]If those are still his views, as I hope they are, I trust that he will use his influence with the Government to see that consideration is given to supporting proposals of that kind when they are brought before the Disarmament Conference. No 2037 doubt anything of that kind would have to be carried out very gradually and over a long series of years, and no doubt provision would have to be made for countries like ourselves with Colonial responsibilities, which would for police purposes obviously have to have aeroplanes along the North West Frontier of India and other places to carry out what is police work and what is nothing really of a military kind at all.
It may be said that if we were to abolish naval and military aviation, there would be the danger of civil machines being taken over and armed at the very earliest possible moment. To meet that, another proposal has been put forward at Geneva, to the effect that civil aviation should be placed on an international basis. That, of course, gets up against various national feelings, and I am bound to say, personally, that I always prefer, when I fly, to be in the care of a British pilot, but I have no doubt that it may be possible in any international scheme that may be adopted to make provision for detailed matters of that kind. It is no doubt true that civil machines, in certain cases and with certain adaptations, can be used in due course for military purposes, but you would get a certain time lag, and you would prevent the immediate advance of countries oversea, which is so dangerous and which is so much feared.
If you want to look for an example of the internationalisation of a means of this kind, you will find a very interesting one in the International Sleeping Car Company, which owns the well-known compartments which go from one end of Europe to another. It is owned internationally, it has international shareholders and an international staff, and if, for example—and this is very pertinent—any one particular country wanted to make use of the sleeping cars that we know so well on the Continent, and adapt them for military purposes, to instal machine guns or anything of that kind, they would very soon be given away by their conductors, of various nationalities, who would know exactly what was going on; and I think it is through an international staff that you do get information which would absolutely prevent any secret preparations, either in the instance that I have just given or in civil aviation, taking place.
2038 I read with very great interest the speech that was made in that same Debate in 1924 by the present Foreign Secretary, when he dealt in a most informed and comprehensive way with the whole of this problem in a manner that I think is well worth the study of hon. Members of this House at the present time. I hope the Government are going to give their serious attention to these and various other proposals which are before the Disarmament Conference. I hope they feel that the actual proposals of the Preparatory Commission are much too small and will not take us very much further forward. The proposals are, practically, that there should be a limitation of the numbers and horse-power of aeroplanes, and I think that if we were to limit our progress in disarmament to that alone, we should have done very little indeed. I hope the Government's representatives at Geneva will feel that it is possible, out of the various proposals which have been brought forward, to drive some sort of useful bargain.
After all, the French are right when they say, "We are prepared to disarm if we know that we can rely on the pooled security that is promised to us by the League of Nations." They are very doubtful whether they will have that pooled security, and in putting forward their proposal for an international air force, in a very inappropriate form, as it is in some respects, they are putting forward something which will have to be dealt with in a realistic way at some time, and the sooner the better. If in exchange for an embryo air force at the disposal of the League of Nations of an international kind we can obtain a substantial reduction in the Air Force of France—and in other things too—we shall take a great step forward. It will be well worth setting one thing against another and making what may appear to us in this country to be a certain sacrifice in order to set it against the advantages which we should get from the reduction in French armaments, which I imagine are the greatest obstacle to progress towards a successful issue of the Disarmament Conference.
Dealing with another aspect of the same subject, I want to make reference to chemical and bacteriological warfare. Things of this kind, while they may not come on this Vote, are borne by the 2039 aeroplanes that are provided by the Vote. A number of proposals have been put forward for a prohibition of the use of this kind of warfare, but I submit that it is not enough simply to prohibit the use; we want to prohibit the preparation—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member recognises from what he himself said that this item is not borne on the Vote and is not a matter that can be discussed now.
§ Mr. MANDER
I was making only a passing reference to it, and I was hoping that it was in order because warfare of this kind would be carried out by aeroplanes.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member was getting on to a discussion of the manufacture of these things, and that cannot come within this discussion.
§ Mr. MANDER
On the more general question of air warfare, we want to be very careful that we do not in the Disarmament agreement simply arrive at a means of carrying out air warfare along certain polite lines of a gentleman's agreement. If we are to have aggressive warfare in future—which I hope we shall not—I hope that it will be as horrible and brutal as it can possibly be. I hope that it will affect every man, woman and child in the world. The more horrible and widespread it is, the more people are likely to sit up and say that they will not tolerate it, whereas, if it is limited to certain special lines, people will not take the same notice of it. If, as I hope, we shall limit any activities of this sort to defence, that is a very good ground for making the limitations of the kind to which I have been referring.
If it is found, as a result of the work at Geneva in the next six months, that no really satisfactory agreement is arrived at, the Estimates that are brought forward next year will have to be of a different kind from those which we are now discussing. The hon. Baronet has pointed out that they are modest; they are 10 squadrons below the programme of the Air Ministry some years ago. If we find that the machinery of the League and the Disarmament Conference break pooled, and we have to rely, not on the full security of all nations to which we are looking forward, but to the 2040 strength of our own right arm alone, it will be necessary for the Government to bring very much higher Estimates before the House, and it will be the duty of the Government to bring the question or our air defence before the Committee of Imperial Defence and ask tie Committee if we are really in a position to maintain ourselves against any possible combination of States abroad. If the post-War system of co-operation fails, the old pre-War system of every man for himself will be realised, and I hope therefore that we shall do everything we can at Geneva to make triumphant the system of co-operative effort for which the War was fought. I hope that this wonderful new achievement of aviation, this marvellous example of man's mastery over matter, will be used for the service of mankind and not for his destruction. I am certain that if that is done our pilots will prove themselves the most gallant and efficient of all those who travel upon the wings of the wind.
§ M. WHITESIDE
I crave the indulgence of the House for my maiden speech. I would not be so presumptuous as to rise if I did not hope that as a pilot I might be able to contribute some practical suggestions which might be of interest to the House and of some assistance to my brothers of the air. I believe that we are now at the turning of the ways, and that this Government will see the end of this tragic post-War period of depression. Now is the time, therefore, when we must decide once and for all what place, if any, commercial and civil aviation is to take in our industrial life; whether we are to follow haltingly in the footsteps of other nations or to lead as of yore. If I might be so bold as to express one observation, which has occurred to me as one of those bright young things to whom an hon. Member in the Opposition so scathingly referred at the beginning of this Parliament, it is this: There is a section in the House to which the hon. Member belongs, who are for ever voicing their pacific intentions, but are apparently quite unable to regard any new invention apart from its possible powers of destruction in time of war.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) has tabled an Amendment suggesting that civil aviation should 2041 be placed at the disposal of the League of Nations. Why? Because the hon. Member is thinking of the next war. Civil aviation is a means of transport. The hon. Member might with equal intelligence suggest that we place our mercantile marine at the disposal of the League of Nations, because it is as easy to transform a merchant ship into a vessel of war as to turn a civil aeroplane into a military aircraft. It is, however, a fact, which no hon. Member even of the Opposition can deny, that the League of Nations has no corporate spirit. It is the happy hunting ground of foreign Ministers, and the very pilots who would have to fly these machines, if placed at the disposal of the League, would be the nationals of some country. The whole idea is so preposterous, so ridiculous, that it could have emanated only from the Opposition. I am a believer in the League, but I am convinced that all this talk about future wars is not in the interest of peace. If, however, armaments are necessary for the maintenance of national security, I maintain that the encouragement of civilian pilots is the cheapest and most effective means of gaining that objective. As long ago as 1925, the present Secretary of State for Scotland, in a very able speech in a similar Debate, said:it is quite true that in 1914–18 the Navy was still our sure shield. Aeroplanes could come over London and drop bombs, and cause a great deal of alarm, inconvenience and damage.… To-day the Navy holds supreme command of the seas, and yet London can be destroyed without the Navy being able to fire a shot.… Every one of our great cities would be liable to similar visitations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1925; col. 1569, Vol. 181.]In the same Debate, the Under-Secretary for Air said:We are fully alive to the importance of establishing and encouraging commercial air routes, and of not letting this country fall behind its neighbours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1925; cols. 1591–2, Vol. 181.]What is the result of that? The total Air Estimates for military and civil aviation amount to £17,000,000 odd—the cost of three battleships, which are incapable of firing one shot in the defence of London. We are to encourage the development of commercial air routes, and the total estimate for civil aviation amounts to £473,000. Civil aviation is in a parlous state. I believe that I am correct in saying that if it 2042 were not for the profit which light aeroplane clubs make on their social amenities, not one of them would be solvent. Our light aeroplane clubs are the envy of the whole world, but since they were formed in 1925 we have been suffering from an abnormal depression—a depression which has fallen most hardly upon civil aviation, for, unfortunately, flying is still considered a rich man's hobby and not a national necessity. The public are sceptical of the safety of flying, the assurance companies exaggerate its dangers. The country is, in fact, taking the same attitude towards aviation that our ancestors took when it was proposed to run stage coaches. Let me give one or two quotations to make my point plain. In the latter part of the 17th century, when it was proposed to run stage coaches between London and Edinburgh, Sir Henry Herbert rose in this House and used these words against the Motion:If a man were to propose to convey us regularly to Edinburgh in seven days and bring us back in seven more, should we not vote him to Bedlam?We can now travel to Edinburgh in safety over night. What reception did the railways receive? Again let me quote, this time from the Quarterly Review of that date:What can be more 'palpably absurd and ridiculous than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stage coaches? We should as soon expect the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochet rockets as trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine going at such a rate. We will back old Father Thames against the Woolwich Railway for any sum.One writer 'became so alarmed that he said:This invention would prevent cows grazing, hens laying, and would cause ladies to give premature birth to children at the sight of these monsters rushing through the countryside at the rate of eight miles per hour.If locomotives could do that, what of the Graf Zeppelin? If I were to suggest to the House that before many years are past we shall be transporting people through the stratosphere at the rate of 300 and 400, or even 500 miles an hour, I, like my predecessor, would be voted to Bedlam. But these things will come to pass. In my opinion, 20 years hence the distribution of passenger traffic between the railways, the roads and the air will 2043 be altered out of all recognition. If we are to remain a great nation, we must look ahead.
Let me turn to the difficulties with which civil aviation is confronted. They are primarily economic. Civil aviation is divided into two distinct groups, commercial aviation and private flying. Let me deal with private flying first. As I have mentioned, the light aeroplane clubs are at the very root of private flying. Those clubs are in receipt of a subsidy which is granted according to the number of licences issued. I do not in any way wish to criticise our chief instructors, nor do I question their judgment, but I maintain that it is neither right nor profitable that the subsidy should be granted, not according to the proficiency of the pilots turned out, but according to the number. There are in England to-day many pilots who are of no potential commercial value, and, from the point of view of defence in time of war, are quite useless. I believe that if the subsidy were given according to the number of hours flown instead of the number of licences issued, it would assist private flying immeasurably. I would go further and say that if a drawback of the 8d. a gallon petrol tax were allowed to those civilian pilots who would sign on to be called up for military service in the event of war, we should do much to build up a strong Royal Air Force Reserve. Private flying is, in my opinion, unnecessarily expensive. I am given to understand that as much as 30 per cent. of the cost of an aeroplane is in respect of the charges paid for the A.I.D. inspection. I do not suggest that that inspection is not necessary, but as more and more competing aircraft manufacturers spring up the very power of competition will ensure a high standard of workmanship. I believe the price could be materially reduced to-day. Private flying will, however, never pay until there are regular landing grounds all over the country.
The Air Ministry has urged municipal authorities to set up aerodromes, or at any rate to reserve suitable fields for future use, but what is the position today? The original Air Ministry basis for municipal aerodromes provided for 400 to be set up, that is, every town with a 2044 population of 20,000 or over would have flying facilities. To-day there are 11. The municipal authorities say they have no money for the purpose, but if they would look to the future they would see that money spent on these aerodromes to-day would be well spent in view of the business and the traffic which would be brought to their towns in the years to come when aviation has come into its own. If one wishes to fly to Newcastle—I take Newcastle merely to illustrate my point, and could repeat the illustration over and over again—one has to land at Cramlington, which is nine miles away. The aerodrome there is maintained solely by the Newcastle Light Aeroplane Club. While I am on the subject of aerodromes I would add that I believe I am correct in saying the Air Ministry laid down in their regulations that aerodromes should not have a gradient of more than one in 50. I have often stood at Croydon and watched Moth machines taxi-ing over the ground and seen them actually disappear in the dip. I do list know what the gradient at Croydon aerodrome is, but it cannot be less than I in 40. Exactly the same remark applies to Stag Lane. The levelling of the ground at aerodromes is of the utmost importance, because when an aerodrome is lit up by floodlight at night any undulation comes out as a black spot to the pilot, and unless he knows what that black spot means he may easily lose his life.
Further, commercial flying will not go ahead until we have lighthouses all over the country. It is sheer waste of money to subsidise aviation if the full benefits are not reaped, and they cannot be reaped until night flying is as popular and as common as day flying. If I may be so bold as to make one further suggestion, and in doing so to quip the Under-Secretary, I would draw his attention to an answer which he gave to a question suggesting the feasibility of placing the names of railway stations on their roofs. He said that such a proposal would not be feasible, as it would cause low flying. I agree with him that it would not be feasible, but the reason for that is that station roofs are notoriously dirty, and it would cost a considerable amount of money to clean them. If, however, the name were written in concrete, or even 2045 in white pebbles, upon the platform, that difficulty would be overcome. But whatever method of ground marking is adopted, it must be established on some system, and not allowed to develop in the present haphazard manner.
I must apologise for keeping the House so long, but I would like to say one or two words about commercial flying. At present we are subsidising Imperial Airways, whose policy is to fly giant 42-seater luxury air liners to Paris, and also to carry the air mail to India and to South Africa. I will deal with the air mail later. We have no aerial transport between London and Hamburg, or between London and Berlin or Amsterdam or Vienna, no means of aerial transport, in fact, to the very places to which business men would most wish to get in normal times. I believe we should get a far greater yield on our money if, instead of subsidising giant air liners, we set out on a policy of subsidising fast 9-or 10-seater air taxis, not running three times a day, but running at regular intervals of every two hours to all those Continental places. Such a thing has been tried in America. Their large Argosy liners did not pay their way, and so they put on smaller and faster machines running at regular intervals of an hour, and now they have a profit on those services.
So far as the air mail is concerned, speed in delivery of the mail is of the very utmost importance from a business point of view. To-day the air mail goes to India once a week, and takes a week to reach India. That is twice as long as it need take. If a route were selected from London to. Sofia, Sofia to Basra, and Basra to Karachi the journey could easily be completed in three clays by day and night flying, and nothing is needed for that except efficient ground organisation. Such a route would at any rate have the advantage of not being liable to dislocation through the efficiency of the Persian soldiers, a consideration which the Under-Secretary must appreciate. We all know the desire of the Postmaster-General to speed up the mails. Does he not subsidise the fastest liners by buying cargo space, and paying thousands of pounds to the railway companies for the carriage of mails? But what does he do for the air mail? Subsidise it? Not he! He charges addi- 2046 tional postage—which is not all handed on to Imperial Airways. He takes a percentage and retires chuckling to his roost in, Mount Pleasant. I hate to attack a Minister behind his back, but I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Air will approach the Postmaster-General and speak to him as users of the telephone would wish. In 1930 the American postal authorities subsidised their airways to the extent of £4,444,000. If we leave out the millions we have almost exactly the figure at which we are subsidising commercial aviation in this country.
One of the greatest difficulties with which commercial flying has to contend is the fog element, and that prejudices aerial transport in the eyes of the public. The difficulty of fog is being rapidly overcome by means of a combination of the compass and directional finding wireless, and it is now possible to fly to Paris through almost any weather. When the radio beacon now being established at Croydon is completed, flying to Paris will be simplified beyond conception. Blind flying is making enormous strides. The point I wish to make is that encouragement and assistance ought to be given to such aids to aerial navigation. I should say that almost 70 per cent. of the efficiency of an air line is dependent upon its ground organisation. The risk of collision would remain, but, if I may be Jules Vernian for a moment, I see no reason why in the future machines should not give out some kind of electric aura which would notify other machines of their approach. Indeed, I believe experiments on these lines are being carried out in America to-day. If we look to the future it may well be that when civil aviation has come into its own we shall be able to build up an enormous entrepot trade in this country, bringing us as much wealth as is brought to-day by our mercantile marine.
I have spoken too long. If I have transgressed or abused any of the privileges which this House extends to those of its Members speaking for the first time, I apologise. If I have been in any way indiscreet, it is because I have spoken on a subject on which I feel deeply; and I would also plead, in mitigation of my offence, a youthful enthusiasm. I realise that these Estimates have been cut 2047 according to our present financial position; but I believe that in spite of all the disadvantages with which aviation is faced in this country, we remain the greatest aeronautical nation. Our commercial machines may not be the fastest, but they are the safest, and our pilots are the finest in the world. Under the able and enthusiastic leadership which we at present possess I look to the future not with misgiving but with hope. I believe that through the bonds of fellowship and understanding which will spring up between the pilots of the Mother country and of our great Dominions, Crown Colonies and Protectorates, we shall do much to strengthen still further those ties which unite us in the greatest League of Nations history has ever known.
§ Mr. BATEY
I want sincerely to congratulate the last speaker upon a well-delivered maiden speech. He did a wise thing; he waited until he was able to talk upon a subject which he thoroughly understands. I was rather sorry to hear, according to what he said when he began, that he has such a poor opinion of the Opposition, but I can only say that when he knows us better he will alter his opinion. The latter part of the speech of the Under-Secretary was a very interesting part, but the idea left in my mind was that he was impressed with the spectacular splendour of the Air Force. He talked about the Air Force seeking for lost people in the desert, being used to search for Egyptian cars in the desert; but we are not attending a banquet to the Air Force at which speeches are being made congratulating its achievements we are here to consider these Estimates, and we are entitled to ask the Minister to face up to them.
I wish the Minister had given us explanations of certain of the items in the Estimates. He said he rather regretted that the Estimates had had to be cut down this year. We have been told that these Estimates are below normal and that next year they may have to he increased. I would like to remind the Secretary of State for Air that the National Government were returned pledged to a policy of economy. We have before us now Estimates for the Air Force amounting to £17,000,000, and these are being 2048 put forward by a Government pledged to economy. There is not mush room for congratuiation upon that fact. We are now voting £17,000,000 for the Air Force, and with the Estimates for the Army and Navy we shall have voted the sum of £103,000,000 for national defence.
The Minister claims to have saved £700,000 on these Estimates, but I think he might have saved a good deal more. We go on year after year subsidising Imperial Airways, and I think the Minister should be asked to give some reason for the increase of this subsidy. I would like to ask if the time has not come when Imperial Airways should be in a position to do without a subsidy altogether. We ought to be told more about that subject, and I hope the Minister will give us some further information upon it. With regard to light aeroplane clubs, I understand that the grants are paid according to the number of licences issued. This year the Estimate for this purpose is £8,500, as compared with £15,000 last year. I think some further explanation is required as to the basis upon which this money is paid to light aeroplane clubs. I agree that it is better to train men to fly in this way, because it seems to me that what men need most of all is to learn the habit of flying, and then they can be utilised in war time. I do not complain of the subsidy to the light aeroplane clubs, but I think we should have a clearer understanding as to the basis upon which these subsidies are paid. These payments go on year after year. This year they amounted to £1,500, and last year the amount was £5,000, and I would like to know how these subsidies to the national flying services are calculated.
The same criticism applies to the grants to county associations. The Estimate this year is £21,300, as compared with £21,000 last year. I would like the Minister to tell the House what the county associations are doing, and how their services can be utilised. I notice that there is an item of £4,500 under the heading "Entertainments." I see from a note in the Estimates that grants are made to officers in command of certain formations in aid of the cost of official entertainment. At present the amount varies from £30 to £270 a year according 2049 to the official position occupied. Seeing that the Government last year had to make drastic cuts in various directions, I do not see why they should spend £4,500 on entertainments and at the same time cut down unemployment benefit. That is an item which ought to claim the early attention of the Minister. I do not claim to be an irreligious man, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that the Air Force has a chaplain-in-chief who is paid £1,205 a year. There are 25 other chaplains in the Air Force, and they are paid £404 each. There is also au allowance to ministers of religion of £7,500, and these services cost no less than £20,000 a year. In view of the great need for economy, I think the Government might have economised upon those items, because these men are simply limpets.
The Estimate for the retired list this year has increased by no less than £27,000, and this is quite a new departure. One can understand a retired list in the Navy and the Army, but this is quite a new department in the Air Force. The Estimate is for £147,000. I notice another item of £672,000 for petrol and oil. The Minister has told us a good deal about our preparedness for war. I submit that although in these Estimates we are providing £672,000 for petrol and oil, if a war broke out the supply of foreign petrol and oil would be our most vulnerable point, because the enemy might intercept our supplies, and the £17,000,000 we are spending on the Air Service would be useless, because the aeroplanes would never be able to take the air without petrol. When we are spending all this money year after year upon the Air Force I think it is our duty to make sure that the Force would be of some use if war broke out. In order to secure this object, I suggest that provision should be made in this country for the extraction of petrol and oil from coal, in order that the Air Service would be sure of a petrol and oil supply in case war broke out, and foreign supplies were stopped. In the interests of the Air Service, I ask the Lord President of the Council seriously to consider the question of making provision for the extraction of petrol and oil from coal.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
I think that Members of experience will have 2050 noted a very significant fact about this Debate, and that is that during the last hour and a half we have heard from this aide of the House two maiden speeches which I think all old Members will agree have been very remarkable speeches in deed, particularly as first efforts. The significance of the fact is that both of those speeches, each so very remarkable in its own peculiar style, were made by men who were actually skilled air pilots. What I want to impress upon the Government in connection with these Estimates is the point which has been raised in both of those maiden speeches, and which will probably be raised by other speakers in the Debate, as to these subsidies which are given in order to foster civilian flying—not, so far as I am concerned, commercial flying, but what we may call amateur flying. To my mind, the sooner commercial flying gets on its own feet, if I may use a metaphor which is singularly inapplicable to that art, the better.
On the question of light aeroplanes I speak with some little personal knowledge, because, if all goes well, and my skill improves with sufficient rapidity, I shall myself be qualified to call myself a pilot within the next week or two. In the case of the club of which I have the honour to be a member, the position, to put it quite plainly, is that that club cannot continue on the present basis of subsidy, and, if I may be forgiven for making a threat to His Majesty's Government on this matter, I would tell them that, so far as that club is concerned, they will not economise in the very least by stopping the subsidy to it, and for this reason. Owing to the fact that I have said such nasty things about Members of Parliament receiving salaries, I have been unable to accept that salary myself, but, if we cannot get His Majesty's Government to restore the subsidy to a reasonable basis, I can only inform them that, so far as one £400 a year is concerned, it will be drawn in the future, although it is not drawn now, and will be handed over to keep that club in existence. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will save nothing whatsoever if he cuts us down in that particular instance. Furthermore, one of my hon. and gallant Friends behind me has the honour of representing the 2051 constituency in the middle of which our aerodrome is situated, and there is little doubt that, rather than let the club perish, he himself would be willing also to draw his salary and pay it over to the club.
I appeal to His Majesty's Government to take note of the very large body of opinion which, as is obvious from the course of this Debate, really exists on this matter, and to restore the subsidy on some basis which will enable these light aeroplane clubs to survive. The reason, apart from those already given by previous speakers, is that these clubs are obviously of immense importance to the future of this nation. Let me deal briefly with their importance in time of war. I have talked the matter over recently with experienced members of the Royal Air Force, and they all tell me the same thing—that the success of our Air Force in those very short and very bitter operations which we anticipate will be the course of all wars in the future must depend upon our being able to draw upon a large reservoir of more or less experienced pilots within the first few weeks. For the first week or two, no doubt, they will be able to provide the necessary pilots, but a period will come, within three or four weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, when they will have to depend very largely, for their success in the defence of the nation, upon such civilian pilots as they can draw upon and turn into war pilots within a reasonable time.
In this connection, not having been a member of the Royal Air Force, I may perhaps draw the attention of the House to one of the greatest tragedies of all the tragedies of the late War. The Royal Air Force is young, but it has already learned the lesson of the two other branches of the Services of His Majesty—the lesson of keeping its mouth shut about its own tragedies. But, whether they like it or not, it is only right in this connection that the House of Commons and the public of Great Britain should understand something of the tragedy of the Air Force in the War. I refer to a period during the hostilities in France when the whole of our Army fighting on land was absolutely blind, was pursuing its manoeuvres and fighting its battles without any real information from the air; and the reason was that we had 2052 not got the pilots. As a previous speaker in the Debate has said, technical superiority had been established by the Germans, and our pilots were being wiped out one by one as quickly as they were being trained. It so happens that a friend of mine had some responsibility for the training of pilots at that time, and he has told me that the matter was so terribly urgent that the Army was fighting, as I have said, absolutely blind, and that it was absolutely necessary to send up men as pilots who really ought not to have been put in that position at all. There is no tragedy like the tragedy of the young man who is sent into action, as an airman must be, absolutely alone, and knowing all the time that he has not a dog's chance to escape being shot down the very first time he goes up. That, I say, is the great tragedy of the War. It might have been avoided if the progress in civilian aviation in this country at that time had been such that we could have had a large pool of skilled pilots, skilled in civil aviation and capable of being turned into fighting pilots within a comparatively short time.
To turn to one aspect of the use of civilian aviation in peace time, if the House will pardon me and have patience I should like to point out that, in the opinion of many of the greatest thinkers of this age, the whole human race is at a crisis of its existence—that many great thinkers now are of opinion that it is quite possible that the future of humanity may be a retrogression rather than a progression. Already there are very great organised forces in Europe and throughout the world, determined to suppress the individual mind of man and to make a mass mind for nations and even for the whole of humanity: and that, in the opinion of many, means the end of civilisation as we know it, and a definite retrogression. It may be the great and high destiny of this country to fight against that retrogression, that reversion of mankind which many thinkers fear to-day. To my mind, if this country is to do that, one of the first things it must do is to look to the training of the young men who are coming forward, and to give them those opportunities of developing the individual mind, as against the mass mind, which may be the salvation of mankind against reversion to the very beasts themselves. 2053 My own short experience leads me to believe that no young man who has been put through his course and has learned to know the air, can be anything but an ally of the forces of real civilisation and real advance if that struggle comes to a head within the next generation or two. That has long been my feeling, and for that reason, although I can but ill afford it, and although my age might seem to forbid it, I myself, in order that I may take part, if I am spared, in such a movement, have taken to the air.
Marquess of CLYDESDALE
I congratulate the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) on his most excellent speech and his practical enthusiasm on air matters. I would like to endorse all that he has said with regard to light aeroplane clubs. I only intervene to put forward one suggestion, but before doing so I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the very able and efficient way in which he has laid the Air Estimates before the House. I cannot, however, honestly congratulate him on the nature of the Estimates themselves. This country at the present time is appallingly weak as far as our home defence forces are concerned. I am one of those who believe that the advent of air power in the world has considerably handicapped our sources of home defence. For example, London, which is the centre of communication, of food supplies, of government, and of the administration of the country, has become a, very vulnerable target, which is not easily defended against air attack, and I think we have reason to fear that our home defences in their present state are not capable, from the point of view of sheer numbers —I am not casting any reflection on their efficiency—of protecting this country against hostile air attack.
The Under-Secretary has told us that this country now holds the fifth place among the Air Powers of the world. Other countries have been increasing their war Estimates, whereas we have steadily reduced ours, and this process has been going on since the War. At the end of the War we were the first Air Power in the world; we had the largest Air Force that the world had ever known at that time; but now, I repeat, we are the fifth Air Power in the world. It seems to me that this policy 2054 of benevolent self-righteousness on our part is not going to have the effect of tending to bring peace to the world. I distrust the effete theory of disarmament by example. If we are to have disarmament, it must be true disarmament, and true disarmament is all-round disarmament. I believe that we could best use our influence effectively to obtain that true all-round disarmament by increasing our bargaining power, and I would again emphasise the point that at present we are absurdly weak in the air, and that this country, of all countries in the world, has every good reason to increase rather than reduce its air power.
At the present time we find that we are 10 squadrons behind the 1923 programme. If it is not possible to complete this programme for economy reasons and I think there is considerable doubt whether it can he completed, for I understand that this is the fourth time it has been retarded—I would suggest that, these 10 squadrons should be provided by an increase in the Auxiliary Air Force. I think the House knows and appreciates the fact that the Under-Secretary of State has a very intimate and real knowledge of the Auxiliary Air Force, and anyone with knowledge of these matters certainly appreciates his valuable services as a member of the Auxiliary Air Force. In making this suggestion I do not wish in any way to draw an undue comparison between the Auxiliary Air Force and the Regular Air Force. No one who knows anything about the Regular Air Force could fail to have the highest opinion of the efficient way in which they carry out their duties, but I should like to emphasise the point that the Auxiliary Air Force is indeed composed of efficient and effective units. These units carry out perfectly efficiently the work, for which they are provided, of single-engine day bomber squadrons, and they cost approximately one-half of what regular squadrons cost. It seems to me that that is a great point in favour of this suggestion.
I fully realise that the formation of an auxiliary squadron is not as easy as the formation of a regular squadron. It takes time. It is two years at least before an auxiliary squadron becomes an effective unit. I think this suggestion is perfectly practical, that the Air Ministry should change its policy and establish, in place of these 10 regular squadrons 2055 that we are behind the 1923 programme, at least 10 auxiliary Air Force squadrons. As far as Scotland is concerned, I would commend to the Ministry seriously to consider the possibility of establishing additional squadrons at such places as Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and possibly Edinburgh. The Under-Secretary last year expressed a wish that auxiliary flying boat squadrons should be established, and I should like again to suggest to the Ministry the possibility of establishing a squadron at Glasgow, Edinburgh or Dundee, where I think they would find that there were excellent facilities in that respect. I should like to draw attention to the unprovocative and unaggressive nature of the Auxiliary Air Force. Its object is to defend the people of this country against hostile air attacks. It is true that, in defending this country, it might be necessary to attack the enemy's air centres, but the Auxiliary Air Force cannot be sent abroad and therefore cannot be used as an aggressive expeditionary force. I should like to urge on the Under-Secretary that he should seriously consider, in the interest of national safety, economy, and of increasing our effective influence with other nations, to seriously consider going ahead with a programme of establishing Auxiliary Air Force squadrons in the place of the now non-existent regular Air Force squadrons for the 1923 programme.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
You, Sir, must already have come to the conclusion that no young Member of Parliament is any good unless he is a pilot, because we have had the most distinguished speeches from people who have taken to the air. I rather wanted to stress that point in view of what fell from the hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition, because he rather conveyed the impression that aviation was entirely wrapped up with militarism. I want to dispel that idea. If you go into any of the modern social clubs, instead of the conversation being about hocks and spavins and hunting, it is about nose dives and flat spins. You have to appreciate that aviation appeals to youth very much, and has nothing whatever to do with war. Just as people like hunting for hunting's sake and not as in any way wrapped up with the future of the 2056 cavalry, so people like flying for flying's sake—nothing to do with militarism whatever. The hon. Member who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench thought there was a possibility of abolishing aircraft. There is something to be said for abolishing submarines, because they do not really contribute any good to the world. They are a destructive force. But those who started and endeavoured to get flying a possibility had a greater vision than that they were just creating a war machine. Here was a great opportunity of linking one nation with another, a great new form of transport, and the idea that it should be abolished and that mankind should be deprived of the privilege because there is a potentiality towards war, and because this new means of transportation has a destructive force, is quite preposterous.
We have had difficulties in the internationalisation of aircraft. The hon. Member mentioned that there were no boundaries between nations. That is true. That is a reason why aircraft, of all things, should be encouraged. But we have not been the nation which has stopped that. We have been stopped flying over tin-pot countries all over the world because they thought the old law of the air belonging to themselves prohibited this free intercourse of aircraft from one country to another. Before we get to the conception of an internationalising force such as is unveiled in Kipling's A, B, C, it seems to me that, before we get to restriction, we want a little more freedom in the air. As soon as we get that free flight from one country to another and true internationalisation of communication in the air, from that point on we might start doing a little limitation and disarmament along that line, but we have not got to that yet, and we have a long way to go.
No one yet has paid a tribute to the long list of Air Ministers that we have had, luckily enough, since the War. They really have been a very remarkable lot. You do not hear of a First Lord of the Admiralty going round the Horn in a battleship. I do not know whether he ever goes to sea at all. But all our chiefs of the Air Service have been real practical flying men. We know how the Secretary of State for India flew to Bagdad when he was Secretary of State for Air, and the present Under- 2057 Secretary is commander of one of our squadrons, and no one is more in touch with the practical side of flying. It has been of inestimable value to us. There is only one thing to be said against it, and that is that we lost our great Air Minister, Lord Thomson, through his very keenness on the practical side. That was a great loss. But I think our Air Ministers deserve the greatest credit.
I have taken part in these Debates on the air from 1918, when they started, and we have had a great fight. We are now strong. If the Army or Navy tried to interfere, there are enough people in the House to tell them what we think of them and put them in their place. But there was a time when we were absolutely trembling because at any moment we might have been swallowed up by the Army or the Navy, and we were nearly swallowed up by the Navy. It was only the vote of the late Lord Balfour that saved us from extinction. That has passed, and we must not abuse the strong position we are in. I hope we are not to have any of this interservice wrangling. I noticed certain questions the other day about whether the Air Force should run its own armoured cars in Iraq. The history of that is very simple. After great difficulties, the Government gave the control of Iraq to the air. The air naturally wanted to get a certain amount of co-ordination between aircraft and armoured cars, and the War Office was asked to supply them. They would not have anything to do with them and, the Air Force having its own transport, it was easy to supply and man them. It does not mean that they are becoming an armoured car unit. They are quite en, titled to run the cars. I do not like that kind of criticism. The Army ran a lot of gun boats in Iraq, yet the Navy did not come 'bursting in and say, "What are you doing running ships?" It was only a temporary measure, so it is to-day with the Air Force in Iraq.
There are one or two points that I should like to emphasise from the point of view of civil aviation. The flying boar is no one's friend. The light scouting aeroplanes which land on ship are looked after by the Navy, but the big seaplane does not seem to be anyone's friend. I do not believe any country depends more on seaplanes than we are going to do. I regret very much that we 2058 have had to cancel the order for one in particular. We have not been given the reasons—I have no doubt they were adequate—but it is a point that we must follow up, because, of all countries, we are more dependent on seaplanes than any other. Let us go gently. We do not want a stunt machine like the DoX, because that was all talk and no flying. La us go quietly along and get something good. There are other ways in which the Air Ministry can help, for instance in encouraging the auto-gyro—it is not a revolutionary machine but it will help—and things like the Diesel engine want help. They all want great encouragement in the first instance, because the Air Ministry must remember that at present we have a fine export trade in aircraft. It is a very remarkable thing. No one thinks of buying American aircraft. The only couuntry that sells aircraft abroad is this country.
I want to plead, finally, for the science of meteorology. I do not think the Air Ministry gives it the attention it should If more had been known about meteorology, Lord Thomson would be with us to-day. The R101 was wrecked because of lack of knowledge of weather. That was the chief reason. No one can predict the weather 12 hours ahead. They guaranteed 12 hours ahead that there would be a wind of 20 miles an hour only at 3,000 feet, and yet the ship had only left 1½ hours when they got a message that they would meet a wind of 60 miles an hour. I have always thought it a remarkable thing that, whereas scientists can tell you the exact second of an eclipse 150 years ahead, they cannot tell us whether we should take our umbrellas out this afternoon. Is not that a preposterous position to be? I believe, if we really concentrate on this science and get the right people in it, not only shall we know about the future of the weather, but we shall be able in some way to control it. As an ordinary Englishman knowing the climate of this country, it seems to me that the possibilities that the Air Ministry might confer upon the nation by controlling the weather would be immense indeed, and well worthy of intense research.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
We have all read with great interest the Memorandum accompanying these Estimates. In it the Air Secretary has told us about experi- 2059 ments that have been made and about research that is being carried out. There is one line of research that I would appeal to him to follow up. I make the appeal as a layman who does not pretend to know anything about aeroplanes. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to turn his efforts in research on the subject of noise. The noise accompanying aeroplanes is enormous. Noise is measured by decibels. It is said that the noise from an aeroplane cabin is from 80 to 110 decibels Church bells are represented by 60 decibels of noise, thunder is represented by 65 decibels of noise, and the loudest point on the Falls of Niagara is marked by 85 decibels. The noise in an aeroplane cabin is equal to the noise at the loudest point of the Falls of Niagara. Those are very striking figures. The noise in the ordinary aeroplane cabin is so shattering that a large number of people who go up in an aeroplane once never go up a second time. I suggest to my hon. Friend who has been speaking of the difficulty of getting men to operate aeroplanes, that one of the difficulties is the terrific noise and the shattering effect of the noise of the aeroplane upon the nerves of those who fly in an aeroplane. Noise affects us very seriously. One scientific man after another—one may read their speeches in the "Times"—have impressed upon the country the importance of considering the question of noise. One hears people say, "Oh, you get used to noise. I used to feel the noise in such a place very much but now I have become used to it." What does that mean? It means that in the effort to eliminate noise and its effects a person has become unconscious of its presence but his vitality is still used up and wasted. Noise affects the nerves, the capacity for thinking, the capacity for effort, and has a very deleterious effect upon those who are subjected to it.
We are looking forward to a large increase in the number of aeroplanes and aerial machines. When the sky is covered with aeroplanes I do not know what life on this planet will be like. We have now motors of the roads, we have speed boats on the rivers, and when we have the sky covered by aeroplanes—well I really do not know what life will be like. An hon. Member who spoke from the benches opposite said he hoped that some 2060 day we should have an enormous entrepot traffic through the sky. I appeal to those responsible for increasing the number of aeroplanes to take the matter of noise into their serious consideration and deal with it. Some large towns—I think Sheffield is one—refuse to have aerodromes because they shrink from the noises which accompany them. There is no escape from the aeroplane. If you find that a particular district is noisy to live in you can leave it, but the aeroplane is above you and there is no escape. I ask the Minister to include among the subjects of research, the subject of noise. If the Minister is able to do anything in the way of reducing noise it will redound to his advantage, the Air Service will benefit by it, and the nation as a whole will benefit.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
The moment when we open the throttle and embark upon our first solo flight is a landmark in the life of each one of us, and certainly no less a milestone is the occasion when, for the first time, we spread our Parliamentary wings and rise to address this House. As I engage in this venture, I thank the House for the assurance given to me by tradition that I shall fly in a calm atmosphere. First may I be permitted to strike a personal note? As I have the honour to represent here an industrial Division, it is with some regret that I have not succeeded in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, when the subject before the House was one more intimately connected with the welfare of my constituents, many of whom at this moment are facing the rigours of unemployment with the utmost fortitude. The reasons for my intervening in this Debate are twofold, first, because Birmingham has a special responsibility with regard to the materials and accessories of aviation, and, secondly, because it is to aeronautics, both in the Air Ministry and in the aircraft industry itself, that so far I have largely devoted my energies. But this intimacy is not without its difficulties, for I believe that one of the characteristics of a discreet maiden speech is a freedom from the contentious. To speak of the difficulties in which we are immersed without a flavour of contention is, I fear, to say nothing, and I trust, therefore, that I shall be doing right in assuming that a House which has already generously 2061 relaxed its conventions will grant me some tolerance in my dilemma.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the keynote of these Estimates is economy. This is unimpeachable, in the circumstances, but let us see the major effect of these economies. By far the greatest cut is on Vote 3A—Aeroplanes, Seaplanes, Engines and Spares, where we have a decrease in the Estimates of 1931 of over £750,000, or 12 per cent. The Vote is further explained to us in page 35, where we see that the whole of the amount of over £750,000 is to be saved on one item, Complete Machines. As I understand it, the complete machines referred to in this item consist of the two main classes, as we know them, in the aircraft industry, the production or adopted machines, and the new or experimental types. If the cut of over £750,000, representing 23 per cent. of the Vote, is spread equally over the production and the experimental types, it is regrettable enough, but if, on the other hand, the cut is greater on the experimental types, it is a most disturbing position indeed.
It has been said, year in and year out, both in this House and in the country, that a strong aircraft industry is essential for this nation. In 1931 our aircraft works were a mere shadow of their former selves, but now, apparently, we are to suffer a. reduction of 23 per cent. of our shadow. The fact that hundreds of men will be dismissed from our aircraft works on this account is most serious. Good aircrafts cannot be commanded; they are evolved; evolved from the fertility of minds continuously applying themselves without interruption to the manifold problems of aeronautics. Of course, the aircraft industry must bear its burdens in the general national sacrifice, but has not this 23 per cent. cut in our aircraft manufacturing industry too highly mortgaged our future aeronautical development? Even the hardest man of affairs to-day realises that technical development and research cannot be purchased over the counter like so much merchandise. The ground has continually to be tilled and rendered fertile. This precaution, it seems to me at any rate, we have decided to omit, and we shall inevitably pay a very heavy penalty. I would, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend, when he replies, how these Estimates are subdivided as be- 2062 tween production and experimental types and also whether it has been realised the extent to which this cut will lacerate our aircraft industry? Economy may conveniently be developed from two distinct standpoints, the strategic and the tactical—economies of policy and economies of administration. I wonder whether the Air Ministry is applying itself very assiduously to the tactics of the matter.
I will give one or two brief examples of what I have in mind. I recently had the pleasure of seeing many Royal Air Force machines land upon the deck of one of our aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, two of them ran off the deck into the nets. I expected to see some kind of crane brought forward to lift the machines back on to the deck. What did I see? Huge baulks of timber were brought and placed on the top of the machines and tied together to form shear legs, and actually the use of those baulks did more damage to those machines than the original crash into the nets. I asked one of the senior officers on board the ship why the implements at his disposal were so elementary, and he told me that time and time again they had suggested that better equipment should be purchased, and that no notice had been taken on the ground of economy. With some knowledge of aircraft construction, I say, without fear of contradiction, that the damage, due to those baulks of timber being placed upon those machines, was in excess of the cost of a piece of apparatus which would have removed them efficiently and replaced them upon the deck. That is just one type of economy which possibly, in a review of the tactics of the situation, the Air Ministry might be able to multiply many times.
Mass production is being emphasised as a national necessity, and I agree entirely. Yet many of the components of our air-craft are being designed and manufactured in ones and twos when they might be manufactured in grosses. Here, again, in such things as rudded bars, control columns, throttle levers, tail skids and manifold other parts of the aeroplane great economies could be effected, and I feel certain that the aircraft industry would be willing to co-operate with the Air Ministry in this respect. The Air Ministry, as a great technical Department, should have a better system of 2063 examining new ideas. It is with the greatest regret that I have to say that a new idea in the air world in this country needs big business behind it before it stands much chance of adoption. The one principle upon which all new ideas should be examined is efficiency, and if, as my right hon. Friend may think, there is machinery in the Air Ministry for dealing with these matters, I can assure him that that machine is rusty, and possibly if he could have it taken out and lubricated, it might be for the good of us all.
On the technical side, I will mention briefly two points. The first is refuelling in the air. This American development is suffering, I am afraid, in this country under a severe handicap—and if the Noble Lady who usually sits in the corner below the Gangway should read my remarks, I sincerely trust that she will not think that this remark could possibly apply to her—in that the emanations of America are not, in this country, taken very seriously. But I submit that refuelling in the air, in spite of the fact that in the States it has been raised to the nth degree of fatuity will in time be a most important factor in Service and in civil aviation. I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he replies, if he will say whether he will have some experiments carried out in this direction? Secondly, I would like to ask him what success he is having with the Central Electricity Board. In America, the grid has become a regular roaster, and many people are killed every year through coming into contact with the power lines. What is being done in connection with the lighting of pylons at night?
Turning to civil aviation, the slight increase in the Estimates is certainly to be welcomed. Imperial Airways maintains its unrivalled international reputation for soundness of mechanical operation, but I would like to see a little more flair in their publicity and advertising methods, and, if their energetic managing director could find time to devote himself to this matter, it would certainly benefit his company. So far as the light aeroplane clubs are concerned, this Debate has stood out among all the Debates on the Air Estimates in showing 2064 absolute unanimity that the clubs are not being treated in a way best to suit the national requirements. Suppose we consider that in the long run civil aviation and Service aviation are of approximately equal national and Imperial importance, then I submit that the light aeroplane clubs are an important part of civil aviation. Yet we find that only 1–2,000th part of the money voted for the air is devoted to the light aeroplane clubs. From the standpoint of the necessities of the nation in private flying, this small amount cannot possibly be substantiated. Having had myself for a brief period the responsibility of one of these clubs in my hands, I can say without fear of contradiction that, unless the Air Ministry can find a more reasonable and a more generous system of payments, there is nothing for it but for the clubs either to close down or to become part of commercial aviation concerns.
Bound up very intimately with both the light aeroplane clubs and with private flying is the question of insurance. The Noble Lord who represents the Central Division of Bristol (Lord Apsley) has during this Session put to my right hon. Friend a considerable number of questions on the subject of aircraft insurance. The innuendo has always been that our insurance is too expensive and that we do not get benefit for it. It is, therefore, important that we should know the exact position of aircraft insurance. As a matter of fact, by dint of perseverance and brilliance of general commercial operation London is now the aircraft insurance market for the world. London was the only place where the Germans could insure the Graf Zeppelin and the Do. X. Even with the great trans-continental air lines in America the risks have to be re-insured in London as the only market that will take them. That shows not only that our rates are exceedingly reasonable, but, more important possibly with a new type of risk, that, when we snake a claim, the claim is being considered sympathetically on the basis of principle rather than on the letter of the policy. That is indeed a most important point.
Whereas in that respect the Air Minister can afford to let well alone, there is another aspect of insurance to which I wish to direct the attention of the Under-Secretary, namely, person insurance. 2065 There is nothing in my estimation which is so holding up flying for civil purposes in this country as the attitude of the life insurance companies. Granted they have permitted us to fly on regular air lines, but, if you want to fly as a member of a light aeroplane club, they ask you for approximately 25 per cent. extra annual premium simply for this additional risk. More than that, if you pay that premium for a short period and then cease to fly and write to them, as the policy holder who received this letter did, this is the reply you get:The extra premium payable is a continuous one under which the society is unable to grant any rebate for the year in which aviation has not taken place.In other words, if you are the policy holder and you get mixed up in this nasty business of aviation you will there and then have 25 per cent. excess premium put on your policy, and you can try to wriggle out of it in the future if you like but you will not have any success. Curiously enough, exactly the same state of affairs existed in France a few years ago, and the French Government saw that it was a bar to the development of private flying. They therefore approached the great life insurance companies of France, and, as a result, today once a pilot has a certificate of proficiency be is allowed to fly without extra premium. I cannot think that the British insurance companies will take a more narrow and less patriotic view than the French. I would particularly ask my right hon. Friend if he will approach in such manner as he thinks best the insurance companies with a, view to their modifying their action in this respect.
With regard to the British certificate of airworthiness, a little before his death Sir Sefton Brancker asked me my view of an idea he then had of a special mark on machines to which the Air Ministry had allotted a British certificate of airworthiness, British in the sense that they were wholly British and not merely validated foreign certificates. That is a very useful development and one which in particular would help insurance by enabling those in insurance to know which are pedigree British aircraft and which are only British by adoption. I would like to know from my right hon. Friend that he proposes to adopt the suggestion which originally came from 2066 General Brancker. General Brancker, when he was with us, was the very mainspring of British civil aviation, the very embodiment of inexhaustible energy. We could not pay a greater tribute to him than to see that his name is perpetually connected with British civil aviation. We have our hall-mark for silver, and, as this mark on an aircraft would be the hallmark of aviation, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it should be known as "The Brancker Mark."
With regard to the Air Navigation Acts, the Air Ministry has immense power under these Acts, which in general has not been abused. In connection with the correspondence recently in the "Times" on the subject of advertising by searchlight, I thought one very sinister aspect was revealed. One night, when one of the operators of these searchlights, who was well known to the Air Ministry, was operating this light displaying the name of some proprietary article in the skies, the Air Ministry, knowing perfectly well who was displaying that light, did not take the precaution of writing to the actual operator but wrote to his client whose name was in the sky. That is beyond all the canons of decent Government. I would like to know from my right hon. Friend that this will not be treated as a precedent and that, in fact, quite on the contrary, so long as he remains in his office—and I hope it will be for many a long day—he will fake steps to see that this does not occur again.
Aviation was nurtured in the atmosphere of war and of governmental control—from Alpha to Omega a rigid bureaucratic regime. When civil aviation first put in an appearance, the Government of that day unfortunately succumbed to the clamour of officialdom that it should be treated in exactly the same way as its older brothers, military and naval aviation. Recently, by the wisdom of some of its foster-parents at the Air Ministry it has been able to escape some of these bonds. We noted with pleasure the Approved Firms' Scheme, and the authority granted to Lloyd's Register and the British Corporation to undertake the renewal of certificates of airworthiness. Since last summer an ominous inaction seems to have descended on the Air Ministry. Nor can this be because the next move is uncertain and contentious; it is quite the re- 2067 verse. There is a phenomenal agreement between those at the Air Ministry and those in, the aircraft industry, who are most entitled to speak on this subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who considers aircraft safer than taxicabs, stated many years ago that civil aviation must fly by itself. It is to this very end that the aircraft industry is asking for its freedom. Is it an unreasonable request? Of course, my right hon. Friend, if he desires, may take shelter behind one hundred and one conventions, but is not this a matter worthy of a bigger outlook and a better purpose? This industry, which has secured for this country the vast majority of the export aeronautical contracts of the world, which has given her the Schneider Trophy and the world's air speed record, which has given her engines which have brought to these shores the land and sea world speed records, this industry is asking my right hon. Friend for a practical acknowledgment of its manhood. He has here, indeed, a great opportunity and I ask him to seize it.
I have spoken at some length. but I have endeavoured to indicate ways in which without extra expense our air power may be strengthened. I trust that some at any rate of my suggestions are worthy of adoption. The National Government is facing great problems with commeasurate opportunity. The air is no exception. So may I close with the sincere hope that my right hon. Friend, though he may not command success, will do more, deserve it.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I feel sure the House will like me to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken, on his very able speech. He has shown great knowledge of the technique of the air, and I hope that he will remain long a Member of this House to take part in our Air debates. I should like to join my colleagues in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the very able way that he brought forward the Estimates. He has shown just as much skill at that Box as he showed last year at Hendon, when he took his squadron of aeroplanes and manoeuvred them in the air so skilfully. I always feel that our Air questions are in good hands when 2068 they are run by the right hon. Baronet. He has come back to office after 2½ years absence, and I know that he will deplore with me the large number of air accidents last year in the Royal Air Force. There were 43 accidents and 72 lives were lost. I read in the Press that some of those accidents were due, perhaps, to the Handley Page safety-slot not being fitted properly, or a pilot may have learned on one machine and been suddenly put into another machine, or as another hon. Member in his maiden speech suggested, the aerodromes are not levelled properly. I read in the Press the other day of an accident at Malta, When two seaplanes collided and both pilots. were killed.
I have earned the right to criticise on this question of accidents, because I did the pioneer work for the submarines in the Navy, and we never lost a man. When I started the Royal Naval Air Service and ran it for many years we had far fewer accidents in that Service than they had in the Royal Flying Corps. I hope the Under-Secretary will consult with the Secretary of State for Air and go into these accidents and see if something more cannot be done to prevent them. It is no good telling us that everything possible is being done and that the flying hours rate of mortality is less than ever before. The fact remains that there were 72 deaths in the Royal Air Force last year. On behalf of those gallant officers who gave their lives in the air and on behalf of their parents, I ask that the Air Ministry should go into this question a little further and see if something more cannot be done.
The Under-Secretary said that he had a great flight the other day to the Far East, and called at Malta. I cannot think that he could have been satisfied with the air defences of Malta. We want another aerodrome at Safi, and we want protection for our flying boats in one of the harbours there. Only 10 days ago there was a gale blowing at Malta, and the officers could not get to their ships and had to stay ashore. If we had had three or four flying boats lying there they would all have been wrecked. It is not fair when we have a station at Malta and our flying boats have to use it, that proper protection is not provided for the flying boats. Therefore I hope the Air Ministry will look into 2069 the question of providing suitable protection for the seaplanes that use Malta. Then there is Gibraltar. I was there a short time ago and I found that there is no protection there for seaplanes. The year before last they had grand manoeuvres in the Navy and one fleet was stationed at Gibraltar. I noticed in the Press that three seaplanes were to go out there and take part, but I do not think they went, because there is no proper seaplane protection at Gibraltar. This matter needs to be looked into. I would ask the Under-Secretary to consult with the Air Minister and see if he cannot this summer spare the time —it only takes a few days to go—to go out to Gibraltar and Malta and examine the Air defences. The Naval centre of gravity has shifted from the North Sea to the Mediterranean and I feel that we are neglecting our Air defences in such important places as Malta and Gibraltar.
With regard to flying boats, I am sorry that the large flying boat was abandoned. The Under-Secretary says that it was abandoned for the sake of economy. I do not know whether or not that is the reason, but the boat had been ordered. I think they ought to have gone on with the experiment, because we want to be the first nation in the world in the building of these flying boats. There is one hope for us in regard to flying-boat design, and that is that we are told in the Memorandum that Farnborough has got a tank and that a large tunnel is to be constructed. I hope that the Minister will see that we get something out of Farnborough. Farnborough has been like the League of Nations. It takes the money and does not give us very much. I recollect placing an order at Farnborough for the Admiralty for a, torpedo seaplane. We paid the money, but we did not get the machine. I would ask the Under-Secretary to give instructions to Farnborough to get out a design of a large flying boat with 10 per cent. better performance than any other flying boats in the world, and to see if they cannot do something to improve the design of flying boats.
Remarks have been made about the Schneider Cup machines, and I join with my colleagues in everything that they have said about those machines. It is only 22 years since we started with a seaplane in the Navy. We got a machine 2070 and put floats on it, but we could only get it into the air for a few seconds. It would only go a few feet in the air. We had an Anzani engine of 60 h.p. and with a weight of five lbs. per horse-power and a speed of 45 miles per hour in the air. In those 22 years we have produced a machine that will go into the air with an engine of over 2,000 horse-power, with a weight under lb. per horse-power, and a speed round the Schneider Cup course of over 340 miles per hour. That is a tremendous advance. Everybody connected with the air, the aeronautical industry, the design staff, the aeronautical engineers and the pilots are to be warmly congratulated on that great achievement of the Schneider Cup machines. When I saw the great pageant at Hendon and saw the Schneider Cup machines, I could not help feeling that Parliament. was right in having a separate Air Service, because we never should have got that development if the older Services had been in charge of the Air Service. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will protest with every fibre of their being should anybody come forward again and try to split up a most efficient Air Service between the two older Services.
The Air Ministry ought to go into the question of noise, which was raised by an hon. Member sitting on the Liberal Benches. I have had many letters sent to me about the noise of aircraft, but I have not sent them on to the Air Ministry. Something ought to be done about it. I know that the noise inside the aeroplane has been reduced considerably, but the complaint is about the noise outside, from the engine, from the exhaust and from the tips of the propeller. The Under-Secretary might consider the advisability of offering a prize of £5,000 for the best suggestion for making our flying machines more silent. In the early days of the development of the air engine we offered a similar reward. It would be a good thing to do, and it would be appreciated by a tremendous number of people in this country who complain about the noise of the machines flying over their houses.
When I look at the Memorandum I have to congratulate the Air Ministry on reducing their Vote by £11,000. I think that is due to the very able efforts of the Permanent Secretary to the 2071 Ministry, and I know that he will always run the Air Ministry as economically as possible. The Memorandum is admirably drawn up, but I think there is one snag in it. On page 2, it says thatHis Majesty's Government would view the situation witty, anxiety"—that is in regard to the number of our Air Force—but for their earnest hope and expectation that the Disarmament Conference now in session at Geneva will bring about a reduction in air armaments.I have looked at the figures of our machines. The Under-Secretary says that we are the fifth Power in the air, but when I look at the figures of other nations, including Russia, I find that we are the sixth Power in the air. That is far too low. If we are leaning on the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference for what air machines we are to have for our protection, we are leaning on a very weak reed. I do not think that the Government, the Air Ministry, the Committee of Imperial Defence, or the Chief of Staffs Committee should shelter themselves behind the Disarmament Conference. Many nations gave advice to the Disarmament Conference before it assembled at Geneva, but I think that Turkey's advice was the best. His Excellency, Kemal Pasha, said that a nation should have the army that it needs. I submit that we have not the Air Force that we need.
Looking at the matter from the financial point of view, the total amount of money provided for defence purposes this year in the Estimates work out at something like £104,000,000, of which the Air Service gets only £17,000,000. They only get one-sixth of the available money. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) said that the whole of the people could be obliterated from the earth. Well, we are the sixth Power in the air, and we are only allowed to have for the Air Service one-sixth of the total amount of money available for defence purposes. Therefore, I think he will agree with me that if the whole population could he wiped out from the air we should provide more money for giving us air security in this country.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The hon. Member says that we cannot get it. Some £104,000,000 is provided for defence purposes, and the Air Service only gets one-sixth. That is totally inadequate, and I protest against it most strongly. The other two Services get away with the money. I have heard the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) say that the Services all fight for the swag. All I can say is that the Secretary of State for Air did not get a very big share of the swag. I hope that the Under-Secretary will submit my views to him and ask him to dig his feet in next year and to get a little more of the swag for the Air Service.
The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who spoke on the Army Estimates, made an excellent speech, in which he brought up the hardy annual of a Ministry of Defence. But the hon. Member for Limehouse is one of the best read men in the House, and he studies these subjects very carefully. He thought that we should have a Ministry of Defence. Ten years ago I introduced my Ministry of Defence Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule. I agree with every word that was said on this subject by the hon. Member for Limehouse. To have such a Ministry is the only way to get these Estimates right and to get the money divided in the right proportions between the three fighting Services.
I listened with very great interest to the excellent speech which the First Lord made in introducing the Navy Estimates, but there was one point on which I disagreed with him. He said that he was going to bring an aircraft-carrier home from the Mediterranean. I hoped he was going to say that he intended to send more youngsters up aloft 5,000 feet in aircraft to get their eyes skinned for war, or that he would put them underneath the surface of the sea in submarines and train them there. But not a bit of it. He said he was going to bring an aircraft-carrier home and to pay her off; and then he said that training was to be given in sailing ships. I am one of those—there are not many of us left now—who was trained on a royal yard. When I was in the training ship Britannia we had a tender, and I was often No. 1 royal yard and No. 2 top-gallant yard. I went to the Pacific in a sailing ship—
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I only wanted to make the point that the First Lord is bringing an aircraft-carrier home and the money he is going to save he is going to put into a ship with masts and yards. As one who was trained in masts and yards, I am protesting that that training is not the slightest use for a man in the modern Navy.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are not concerned with the modern Navy at the moment. We are considering the Air Force Estimates.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I, of course, bow to your Ruling, Sir, but I want to protest that any reduction or economy resulting from air carriers should not be put into training ships with masts and yards. We want every bit of money for developing our flying services. That is the point that I wish to make. We can only get these Estimates right if we have a Minister of Defence to go into them very carefully. There are many Members in the House who are pledged to make all economies possible, and I ask them to back up the creation of a Ministry of Defence for the more efficient administration of our fighting services.