§ AIR ESTIMATES, 1933.
§ SIR PHILIP SASSOON'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The need for economy, which left so clear a mark upon the Estimates which I had the honour to introduce into this House last year, is no less pressing to-day, and has had a similar influence upon the Estimates which are now before the House. The effort to effect savings under every head without unduly impairing efficiency, and, above all, without doing anything which might react upon the safety of flying personnel, has been unremitting. Of the success of this unremitting effort the House can judge from the figures now before them; for, as has been pointed out in my Noble Friend's Memorandum accompanying these Estimates, the apparent rise of £26,000 in the net figure to a total of £17,426,000 actually conceals an approximate further reduction of £340,000. And I would remind hon. Members that this follows on a reduction of no less than £700,000 last year, which made the achievement of additional savings in expenditure this year a singularly difficult task. They have, indeed, only been rendered possible by such drastic measures as the decision to close down for the time being one of the four flying training schools; and I venture to suggest that those responsible for the administration of the Royal Air Force deserve great credit for making an even larger contribution to the financial exigencies of the Exchequer this year than last, which, I am bound to add, they have not done without grave anxiety.
Risks have had to be taken. As the House will have observed, no new units have been formed either at home or abroad during the past year, and no provision is made for new units in the present Estimates. The Home Defence Force remains at a total of 42 Squadrons, of which 13 are non-Regular, and 10 Regular Squadrons are still required to complete 1796 the modest programme which was approved as long ago as 1923, and which is already several years overdue for completion. The decision to hold this ten-year old programme in suspense for another year is a practical proof of the wholehearted desire of His Majesty's Government to promote a successful issue of the deliberations of the Disarmament Conference. Pending the outcome of the conference, they are once again prepared to accept the continuance of the serious existing disparity between the strength of the Royal Air Force and that of the air services of the other great nations.
The House is familiar with the fact that, in terms of first-line strength, the Royal Air Force stands to-day only fifth on the list of Air Powers, although, at the end of the late War, we could with justice claim to take, not fifth, but first place, when all the factors which go to make up air strength were taken into account; for in 1918 we had a larger number of trained flying personnel and a larger total number of aircraft than any other nation. The House will also remember that, while air expenditure in this country has shown a steady decline since 1925, other nations have very largely increased their outlay on air services over the same period. The decision, therefore, again to postpone the overtaking of arrears on a modest programme which was deemed to be the minimum necessary in 1923, when the strength of other Air Powers was considerably less than it is to-day, is a gesture the importance of which will not, I hope, be overlooked.
The House will hardly expect me to review or comment at any length upon the deliberations in which the Disarmament Conference is still engaged. It is most earnestly to be hoped that they will, at the very least, result in a satisfactory agreement for the limitation and reduction of air armaments which will remove the menace of their competitive development. The air policy of this country is, and has always been, as I have pointed out on previous occasions, conspicuously moderate and unprovocative, and, as far as we are concerned, we are eager to cooperate in all practicable measures for removing the menace of which I have spoken from the realm of possibility. Nevertheless, while air forces exist, air power is as vital to our great Empire as sea power, and we cannot afford to neglect it. The House will recall the pro- 1797 nouncement of my right hon. Friend the Lord President, made last November, that the kind of disarmament which would leave the disparity between our air strength and the air strengths of other nations relatively as great as it is to-day does not recommend itself to His Majesty's Government.
The measures of air disarmament which we earnestly desire to see effected are such as will leave civilised countries with the minimum strength of aircraft necessary to ensure, firstly, national safety at home, and, secondly, the maintenance of law and order and the protection and development of communications in more backward territories overseas. For these latter purposes air power has finally established itself as an instrument which is at once humane, economical and incomparably effective, a fact to which all the great political officers who have had occasion to employ it over the past decade have borne unanimous and convincing testimony. The final form that these measures will take must depend upon the outcome of the Disarmament Conference, whose discussions no one will wish to prejudice by anything said in this House.
I do not think the House will expect me this year to offer any very detailed comments on the finance of the several Votes which make up these Estimates. I shall be happy to deal, to the best of my ability, with any questions hon. Members may have to raise at a later stage of this Debate. Meantime I will only offer a few words of explanation in supplement of what my Noble Friend has said in his Memorandum. Before, however, I turn to the individual Votes, I should like to make a passing -acknowledgment of the labours of the Private Members' Economy committee, and, more particularly, the Sub-Committee, which was presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon). I need hardly say that the Air Council have given, and will continue to give, to the recommendations of that Committee the very careful attention which they merit. I should like to say, in particular, with reference to their recommendation that there should be even closer co-ordination between the fighting Services in the obtaining of supplies, etc., that the Air Ministry has always made a very extensive use of agency services. Indeed, if I were to de- 1798 tail in full the various supplies which the Royal Air Force obtains through the agency of such Departments as the Admiralty, the War Office and the Office of Works, I should have to devote a substantial part of my speech to this subject.
The apparent increase in Vote 1—the Personnel Vote—is due almost wholly to a bookkeeping 'adjustment, namely, the disappearance of an Appropriation-in-Aid from Middle East Votes in respect of expenditure in Iraq, in future to be borne directly on Air Votes. Vote 2—Nontechnical Stores, etc.—shows the largest proportionate drop of any Vote, due partly to measures of economy and partly to the ability to budget on a basis of abnormally low prices. Vote 3—Technical Equipment, etc.—shows at first sight a heavy decline of almost £150,000. This is, however, but a small percentage of the net total of the Vote, namely, £7,203,000, and the many hon. Members who follow with close interest the equipment of the force with aircraft 'and engines will, I do not doubt, be relieved to observe that sub-head A of the Vote —which covers the provision of aeroplanes, seaplanes, engines and spares—is only, reduced by the negligible amount of £2,000. It is under other 'and less vital heads that the bulk of the saving has been secured.
The total of Vote 4—Works and Buildings—also shows considerable reduction, despite the provision of £30,000 for commencing work on the new station that is to be built in Iraq under the terms of the Treaty. There is a great deal of overdue rebuilding which will have to be taken in hand when financial considerations allow. On Vote 6 there is also a considerable reduction, especially in connection with the School of Technical Training at Halton, the provision for which is down by £27,000, or nearly 15 per cent. This is due to the far-reaching changes that are taking place in the manning system of the Royal Air Force. A comprehensive review is taking place of the whole personnel of the Service. The most highly skilled trades have been dealt with first, as my Noble Friend has explained in his Memorandum. Actually, the principal change that is taking place is the amalgamation of the two separate trades of fitter and rigger into a single combined trade of fitter-rigger, which is the first 1799 step in a new programme which, I hope, will lead to vastly improved careers for those key men and also to considerable economies in the long run. The introduction of the use of light aircraft at the civilian schools which undertake the training of reserve pilots and other measures, have resulted in a decrease of £52,000 in Vote 7. The apparent increase on Vote 9, like that on Vote 1, is due to a bookkeeping transfer from Middle East Votes. It would otherwise have shown a decline. Apart from an automatic rise in the non-effective Vote, the only Vote to show a true rise which is in proportion substantial is Vote 8, the Vote for Civil Aviation. This is due to providing for the extension of Imperial Airways existing Indian line to Australia to which I shall refer later.
Before passing to the usual review of the work of the Royal Air Force and the development of civil aviation, there is a matter of what I may perhaps term a domestic nature to which I feel sure the House would like me to make a brief reference. At the end of the present financial year the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Salmond, relinquishes at his own request his appointment of Chief of the Air Staff, with the characteristic desire that it will help the flow of promotion throughout the Service. I need not remind the House of the very great services which this distinguished officer rendered to the Royal Air Force and to the country during the War. By his work in the difficult years since 1918, during which it has been necessary, painfully and laboriously to reorganise the whole of the Air Force anew, he ha,8 laid the Air Force still further under his debt and, indeed, has left his mark upon every aspect of its activities.
Nineteen thirty-two has been a year of consolidation rather than of innovation, but it has not been unmarked by incidents of interest and evidence of continued progress. Aviation, like everything else, has had to be ridden on the tight rein—or should I say piloted at reduced throttle?—of the prevailing financial stringency. Nevertheless, when it comes to giving the House a review of the events of the past 12 months, once again the difficulty is rather more what to leave out than what to include. The close personal touch that is maintained 1800 between those who are responsible for the higher control and direction of the Air Force and the units of which it is composed was once again evidenced by the successful tour of the air stations of the Middle East which was undertaken by the Secretary of State at the beginning of the year. Leaving Croydon on 11th January, my Noble Friend, in the course of a three week's journey, visited the Air Force units in Egypt, Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq, covering in all some 8,000 miles. At the same time, he was able to form a very good impression of the ever-increasing importance of civil aviation to those countries of wide spaces and indifferent land communications. It would seem from his experience that business men, officials and others are becoming more and more accustomed to look upon air transport as the normal means of travel to and from England and to find that they not only save a great deal of time by it but money as well. My Noble Friend was also able to bring back a first hand account of the keenness, efficiency and good morale of the Air Force units. To quote his own words on his return,As soon as the boundary into Asia is passed, the Royal Air Force becomes the symbol of British power.Early in the year there occurred in Northern Iraq one of those examples of the police work of the Royal Air Force to which my Noble Friend drew attention. The suppression of a turbulent tribal chief, secure in the savage wild-ness of a district where the mountains go up to some 10,000 feet and where road communications are practically non-existent, presented a very difficult problem. The local ground forces sent to dislodge him failed to reach their objective, and parties of them became cut off from their supplies and found themselves very short of food and ammunition. The Air Force was then called in to co-operate. Its first task was to succour these parties of isolated ground forces. Over l½ tons of food were dropped in a single day by five aircraft for the relief of these isolated forces. The aircraft made repeated journeys to and fro between Mosul and the scene of operations. Two other aircraft conveyed and dropped from the air a further two tons of blankets and other supplies for the use of another marooned contingent. Proclamations calling upon the tribesmen to surrender, and giving 1801 them notice that otherwise air action would have to be taken against them, were broadcast in the vernacular from a troop carrying machine which had been fitted with a high powered loud speaker. As a matter of fact, air operations had to be undertaken later on against a few recalcitrant sections and success was ultimately achieved.
In the course of these operations there occurred an incident which admirably illustrates the coolness, adaptability and resource of the Air Force personnel. An aircraftman, who was acting as wireless operator, had the misfortune to fall through the fuselage of his machine. To say that he rose to the occasion, would be to employ a metaphor hardly applicable to the situation. Anyhow, he managed to open his parachute and landed safely. In no way unnerved by his mishap or by the fact that he had alighted in hostile territory, he betook himself at once, aided by his knowledge of the country, gained on previous service, to the nearest post occupied by the Iraq Army, and there this unpremeditated messenger from Mars took complete control of the wireless station and was able to send information as to the course of the operations which proved of great value to Air Headquarters.
A very interesting flight was that undertaken by five aircraft of No. 2 Indian Wing. These aircraft flew from Risalpur to Gilgit, a distance of some 300 miles, flying nearly the whole time at a height of over 10,000 feet and passing very close to some of the highest peaks of the Himalayas. They stayed three days at Gilgit and took the political agent and many of the local chiefs for flights. Apart from the operational and technical interest of this flight over such extremely mountainous country, its political interest and significance was considerable. Many of the areas which were visited from Gilgit had never previously been flown over by aircraft and they were inhabited by tribes who still held that aircraft were a myth. It is also interesting to observe that the journey between Risalpur and Gilgit occupied two hours and 20 minutes—a journey which would have taken 17 days march on foot.
Another operation which contains interesting and important lessons was the transport of a battalion of British infantry by air from Egypt to Iraq. The 1802 House will remember that in the course of last summer unrest arose among the Assyrian Levies in Iraq, and, as a measure of precaution, it was desired to send a small contingent of British infantry at short notice to that country. Those troops were not required to undertake active operations, but were simply to exercise a stabilising influence on, and, if necessary, to replace the Levies for the time being. Large troop-carrying aircraft from Nos. 70 and 216 Squadrons were employed to convey 562 officers and men of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, with all their necessary equipment over a distance of 800 miles in less than a week. The work was carried out in the height of summer under very difficult climatic conditions, and was accomplished without any untoward incident. In no other way could assistance have been brought in such strength and at such short notice. If I may quote my Noble Friend again, the sudden arrival of this battalion of British troops, as it were from the skies, impressed the Middle East as something almost superhuman, and there is no doubt that the moral effect of this example of the long arm of the British Government was very considerable. I particularly welcome, too, this episode as a very effective piece of close and cordial cooperation between the Army and the Royal Air Force undertaken to achieve a common purpose.
In addition to these activities, undertaken at short notice and for a specific purpose, the Royal Air Force has again carried out a series of long-distance flights for comparatively routine reasons, but which actually have contributed very much to the development of air communications. As these main flights are mentioned in the White Paper, I will not weary the House by recapitulating them. In all these activities the units of the Royal Air Force are performing work which, though it may primarily be inspired by military needs, is yet at the same time effecting results of a far wider and more permanent significance. They are carrying peace and order into distant lands where previously force has been the only rule, and they are opening up the way for civil transport lines of the future. The work that they are doing belongs to the same order of beneficent and creative activities as those which were once 1803 carried out by the road - making legionaries of the Roman Empire. Now, as then, the development of communication means the introduction of the blessings of an ordered society, and of security for life and peaceful industry in areas of the world where hitherto the life of man has been "nasty, brutish and short."
Here, if the House will allow me, I should like to say a few words about an aspect both of Service and civil aviation which, I think, is insufficiently understood. If one pauses to balance the accounts of aviation, one must readily admit that there is a big potential debit. But there is also a vast credit side, too, and that credit is growing day by day. It is not easy to appreciate in these islands where there are ample—some might say too ample—means of communication and transport, the veritable revolution which the coming of the aeroplane has wrought in the life of those whom fortune has taken to the remote corners of the world. For example, settlers in the back-blocks of Canada and Australia have not only been brought into far closer touch with their kith and kin at home, but their daily life has been immensely eased and improved, and the amenities of civilisation brought to the very door. To take a single illustration, countless lives of men, women and children have been saved by the provision of surgical and medical aid where otherwise accident or illness would have entailed fatal consequences.
Nor is it only civil aviation that has conferred and is increasingly conferring, such great benefits upon humanity. In my speech last year I referred to what I described as the "productive" side of the work of the Royal Air Force in those backward territories where, mo doubt, its presence is necessary and essential for the maintenance of peace. It is a fact which is not generally recognised that the Royal Air Force is quietly and without advertisement taking in its stride daily a vast amount of pacific and productive work. I have just been reading reports from the overseas Commands of the flying that has been carried out there during the past year, and I confess I was amazed at the long tale of their variegated and fruitful activities. Let me give a few instances—conveyance of sur- 1804 gical aids: to sheikhs in the deserts of Iraq and on the inhospitable shores of the Persian Gulf, carriage to remote native villages of anti-cholera and anti-typhoid vaccines, reconnaissance to give flood warnings in India and Iraq, the supply of food to famine-stricken tribes in Transjordan, mapping and survey work in Africa, Iraq, Transjordan, Burma, the Straits Settlements, Siam and elsewhere, the discovery of uncharted reefs, locust fighting, fishery protection, searching for lighters adrift in the China Sea, conveyance of political officers and civil mails to isolated British communities. These are but random samples. Moreover, it is the scale of this work that is so striking. Take the single squadron at Aden. In 1932 it flew in all some 430,000 miles; of these, about 176,000 miles—or over 40 per cent, of the squadron's whole time in the air—were flown, not on police work or patrols or active operations, but actually on such pacific and productive activities as I have described.
I pass now to the principal long-distance flight of the year, that by which a few weeks ago Squadron-Leader Gay-ford and Flight-Lieutenant Nicholetts secured for Great Britain the long-distance record for a non-stop flight. The successful flight of 5,340 miles from Cran-well to Walvis Bay was the direct result of careful and systematic preparation on the part of all those responsible for the construction and preparation of the machine and engine, combined with skilful piloting and navigation on the part of the two pilots. I know that the congratulations of the House will go out to all who have assisted in securing this success. As a result of this, Great Britain is now the holder of the three principal aviation records—that of speed, gained after the Schneider Contest in 1931; that of height, gained by Flight-Lieutenant Uwins, who last year flew to a height of 43,976 feet, that is to say, nearly 15,000 feet higher than the top of Mount Everest, in a Vickers "Vespa" aeroplane with a Bristol "Pegasus" engine. Now we have this record of distance. The fact that Great Britain holds these three key records is a final proof of the excellence of British design and construction, and is bound to have a very beneficial effect upon the market for British aircraft abroad. I wish here to 1805 pay a passing tribute to the skill, courage and endurance of those private individuals, both men and women—their names are household words, and I need not repeat them—who, during the course of the last 12 months, have carried out a series of successful solitary longdistance flights.
In the course of gaining the distance record, as of gaining the speed record 18 months ago, a great mass of scientific and technical data have been acquired which will be of immense value to aviation generally. Progress in scientific research and technical development goes on continuously so far as money will allow, and advances have been made in many directions during the past 12 months, in spite of the very heavy handicap imposed by the strictly limited amount of money available. I should like briefly to acknowledge the debt which all those who are interested in aeronautical aviation and aeronautical science owe to Sir Richard Glazebrook. Sir Richard has been associated with the scientific side of aviation since 1909, and ever since the first institution of the Aeronautical Research Committee, which took the place of the Advisory Commitee of Aeronautics 13 years ago, he has been its chairman, as he was of the earlier body. I regret to say that he is retiring from this office at the end of the present month. His tireless energy and his wise counsel have been of immense service to successive Secretaries of State.
The House will remember that last year it was decided, in the interest of economy, to break up the R.100 and curtail airship work to a minimum. Meanwhile a "watching brief" is being held at Cardington by a small staff who collate airship information from abroad. As a result primarily, I suppose, of economic causes, there has been a definite slowing down of airship programmes both in America and in Germany; but both countries have offered every facility to our own experts to follow what they are doing and to take part in the flights carried out by the "Akron" in the United States and the "Graf Zeppelin" in the case of Germany.
Despite the inevitable effect of the financial depression, the past year has nevertheless been a period of definite progress in civil aviation. In 1932 Imperial Airways' services connected more than 100 European cities by air with 1806 London and just over 41,500 passengers were carried by the company's aircraft in and out of Croydon, as compared with approximately 20,600 in 1931. This increase of over 100 per cent, in so difficult a year is surely a noteworthy achievement. On the Empire routes, for the six months ended September, 1932, the passenger traffic showed an increase over 1931 of more than 50 per cent. Mail loads also increased considerably during 1932, the Christmas mails surpassing all previous records. During 1932 Imperial Airways aircraft flew nearly 6,000 miles a day and during every hour of the 24 somewhere along their 12,000 miles of routes a machine was in the air carrying passengers, mails and freight. Since its inception, the company's machines have now flown 10,000,000 miles and have carried over 200,000 passengers and more than 6,000 tons of mails, parcels. and freight. From the aspect of reliability, the figure for flights cancelled has fallen from 23.25 per cent, in 1924 to 2.89 per cent, in 1932.
As regards the future, the question of establishing a regular weekly air mail service between England and Australia in extension of the England-India service has been the subject of active discussion with the Commonwealth and Indian authorities during the past year. A provisional arrangement has been come to with the Government of India regarding the operation of the Indian section of the route, arid, unless unforeseen difficulties occur, it is hoped that the Service will be commenced in the late summer or autumn. Meanwhile the Service to the Cape is increasing both in regularity and in popularity. It is hoped before very long to reduce materially the time taken in transit, and also to increase the facilities offered by feeder lines along the main route. So far, therefore, as concerns British commercial air transport, the year has been one of real advance and that notwithstanding such difficulties as the diversion of the Indian route between Basra and Gwadar from the Persian littoral to the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf.
I hope that I have said enough to impress the House with the extraordinary vitality displayed by civil aviation during the past year. From that the House may judge of the progress that may be expected when normal times return. Air 1807 transport has already become a commonplace necessity for modern life. If in 1903, the year in which Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in an aeroplane, anyone had ventured to prophesy that within three decades a British commercial air transport company would convey 1,200 people across the Channel by air in a single week, and that many normal people would choose this method of travel by preference on the score both of comfort and convenience, what would have been said? What developments, therefore, may we not look forward to within the next generation?
The future of Service flying depends Upon considerations which, as I have said, it is not for me to discuss here to-night. But I am confident I shall have the support of the House in saying that, so long as air forces exist, no Government in this country can disregard its responsibility for the air defence of our great urban populations, or do otherwise than maintain the Royal Air Force at a strength which will enable it to discharge its vital responsibilities. Overseas, an air force is essential to an Empire like ours charged with the trusteeship of territories still in the early stages of development. If it were not for the police work of the Royal Air Force and its power to maintain law and order effectively, economically and humanely, there would be widespread rapine and bloodshed over wide areas of the world's surface.
My last word is to ask the House, in justice to the great Service with which I am proud to be associated, to bear this aspect of a difficult subject constantly in mind. I have spoken already of what I venture to style the credit or constructive side of the work of the Royal Air Force. It is the more important that this should not be overlooked at a time when, for obvious reasons, there is a tendency to concentrate more on the debit or destructive side of its potential activities. The 586 men, women and children of 11 different nationalities evacuated from Kabul amid the snows of winter did not look upon the Royal Air force as a destroyer, but as a saviour in a desperate emergency in which the other Services were, owing to the barriers of time and space, powerless to assist. The pastoral tribes of Southern Iraq, threatened with massacre at the hands of 1808 wild bands of fanatical desert tribesmen who regard it as a passport to Paradise that they should have extirpate with every circumstance of brutality all those who do not adhere to their particular extreme brand of religion, irrespective of age and sex, equally regard the Royal Air Force as their one protector, under the shadow of whose wings they can freely pursue their peaceful avocations. The same is true of the tribes of the Aden Protectorate, liberated by the Royal Air Force, after long years, from the tyranny of the troops of the Imam of the Yemen, who had wrested their lands from them by force and subjected them to slavery. This ability to bring succour to the oppressed, to protect the weak and repel the aggressor is a quality which has made a deep and abiding impression upon all those who have been privileged to see something of the activities of the Royal Air Force overseas; and I am sure that the House will understand the legitimate pride which all members of the Service take in this all-important aspect of their daily work.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
Every Member who has listened to the Under-Secretary of State for Air will agree that only such an enthusiast in aviation as he could have dealt with the subject under discussion this afternoon in the manner in which he has done. He has told us, both in humorous vein and in a serious manner, of the successes as well as of the difficulties of the particular Department over which he has certain control and for which he is responsible to this House. I have listened, as I am certain everyone has listened, to his statement of his stewardship with a feeling that only the individual who has mastered the particular machine with which the Department for which he is responsible is concerned could have dealt with the subject as he has done. He is himself an expert in aviation, and consequently he has shown himself to the House this afternoon as an expert in making his annual statement upon the work of the Department. While appreciating all he said with regard to the success of the Department, I feel that his closing note was not altogether in the same tone, nor did it look upon the future from the same point of view as the Lord President of the Council, in the speech which he delivered 1809 in this House on the 10th November of last year. He spoke of the policing work of the Royal Air Force in different parts of the Empire and of the world where certain tribes had been warring for some time. I am afraid it was at that point that his enthusiasm took supreme control over him, and he seemed to glory in the fact that, compelled by the terrorism which the Air Force could exercise—I am using the word terrorism in the best sense—over tribes who had never seen or known of these things before, those tribes refrained from pursuing warring methods against tribes to which they were opposed. His enthusiasm there, I think, led him into a glorification of what one might call the destructive side of the Air Force rather than the protective side.
I want to deal with the aspect which is presented to us who sit on these benches. We consider that the Air Force to-day, not merely of this country, but of all countries represents the particular terrorism with which the Under-Secretary of State for Air dealt in the closing sentences of his speech. It is not a terrorism relating to a few wild tribes in the barren wastes of Africa, Persia or any other Eastern country, but a terrorism in relation to those we look upon as civilised and consider to be our own kith and kin in this country and in the Colonies. The terrorism from the air which is used to cow certain recalcitrant tribes is the same terrorism which the Lord President of the Council expressed fear might one day be let lose upon civilisation. Therefore, we believe that, that particular side of the Air Force must be placed under proper control, not national control but international control.
I think we shall all agree that, what-ever our views may be with regard to aviation and its uses by the respective nations, the representatives of His Majesty's Government at Geneva have shown a considerable degree of sincerity in their suggestions to the Air Committee of the League of Nations regarding international control and the manner in which it might be brought about. Unfortunately, there seems to be too much discussion, and no policy has yet been agreed upon between the respective nations. Lord Londonderry, the Secretary of State for Air, has put forward certain tentative proposals, but nothing 1810 definite. Already, as the Under-Secretary of State for Air has said, we stand as the fifth Power, and the proposal which has been made is to reduce the air forces of the respective countries to the same strength as the Air Force of this country, and then to reduce the air forces by a further one-third. That will at least be something tangible if it can be agreed upon by different countries. It is a long step forward. I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Air smiles. I do not know whether his Chief, or he himself, thinks that a fantastic proposal has been made by this country to the Air Committee. At least as far as we are concerned, we believe that it is a step in the right direction, just as international control would also be a step in the right direction.
I have before me a pamphlet issued by a body who look upon the future with considerable misgiving. They quote certain statements made by various people with regard to the production of poisonous gases to be dropped from aeroplanes upon the civil population in the event of a war. The booklet contains a collection of statements made by men who are high authorities in different countries in the realm of chemistry and are looked upon as experts in aviation, not only as far as our Air Force is concerned, but as far as the air forces in other parts of the world are concerned. Even the Lord President of the Council made one significant statement in his speech. It occurred to me when the Under-Secretary of State for Air wad making his statement about the Air Force being a defence. The Lord President of the Council said:The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPOKT, 10th November, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]Those were the words addressed to this House on the 10th of November. If they were true, and the manner in which they were received by those sitting around him that evening led me to believe that they also recognised the truth of the statement, that was the possibility, that in any future wars the skies would be raining death upon the civilian populations, and the only defence that one could have would be to have a more effective Air Force than the attacking force. So 1811 the thing. Would go on. I, like the Lord President of the Council, have no desire, and I am certain that no Member of this House has any desire, to see such a possibility becoming a reality, and we can only prevent it from becoming a reality by taking steps with other Government to place this possible horror under proper control. It is madness for civilisation1 to; leave such an infernal machine as aviation under the control of various countries who on various pretexts might declare war against another country,: and thereupon send a fleet of aeroplanes to hurl death and destruction upon the. people by means of explosive bombs or poison gas.
The scenes of the last war we are told were as nothing in comparison with what the next war holds in store for us. That, surely, is sufficient to make people realise the possibilities of these infernal machines that are being operated for purely warlike purposes. Our Government ought to be prepared to take a lead and point out,:' what the Lord President of the Council pointed out, that there is no defence from air warfare. The Earl of Halsbury in last month's Journal of the British Legion makes the significant statement that they could not merely poison the lakes and the water supplies of a country and not merely drop down terror in the form of mustard gas, but they could even drop various forms of infection from aeroplanes to disseminate deadly disease amongst the community. What a horror is being held out before us in the eventuality of another war, and I am right in hoping that Lord Londonderry and our representatives at Geneva are going to make much further progress than they have done in the past. It is not sufficient merely to say that we are producing not more than one-fifth. Let it go out very clearly and definitely that any nation which is going to make use of the air service for war purposes against another nation will be declared an outlaw against civilisation.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Like Japan. I would remind the hon. Member that if he had been in this house in 1921 and had assisted me in endeavouring to get the Government of that day to take the steps that I thought it was necessary to take 1812 against Japan, Japan would not have been carrying on warfare against China to-day. I would ask the Lord President of the Council as well as the Under-Secretary for Air if they are prepared to inform the House of any definite steps that they are likely to take as a Government in submitting proposals to the League of Nations that would limit the use of aeroplanes. International control is one thing. Using the Air Force as an international police could quite easily be done. There is no frontier now of any nation. Formerly we knew when a country was being invaded when a fleet visited its shores, if it had a coast line, or when an army invaded it by crossing the frontier that divided it from another country. But that is not the case to-day. Even in civil aviation we recognise no frontiers. In our flights to India we pass over countries, without let or hindrance, with no objection being taken. There is no frontier when it comes to war so far as aviation is concerned.
Those who have been making statements regarding the prospects of future warfare have pointed out how quickly we have made progress in aviation. That is something to glory at so long as the Air Force is kept for a proper purpose. Reference has been made to the speed at which aeroplanes can travel now. We are told that Paris could be bombed from London within two or three hours and that London could be bombed from Paris in the same time. A declaration of war would not mean the massing of troops. It would not mean bringing troops into various quarters. The very moment that war was declared, fleets of aeroplanes would leave to go to the country against which war had been declared.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I have no doubt the hon. Member could have enough if he cared to go out to the regions which the Under-Secretary has described, where he has told us what the Air Force is doing. If the hon. Member glories in that sort of thing he had better preach it to his constituents.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The hon. Member does not glory in being left without them. I am not glorying in being left with- 1813 out them, but I am asking for a proposal to be put forward by the Government in order to stop the possibility of the Air Force being used for the ill purposes which I have described, and I hope I have the hon. Member's support in that. I am using the arguments put forward by the Lord President of the Council and the Under-Secretary of State. I have no desire, and I am certain that the hon. Member has just as little desire as I have, of seeing any of the possibilities that have been described by various writers and even by speakers in this House of what is likely to happen should there be another war. Civil aviation is one thing, but aviation for warlike purposes is another thing. Aviation for policing and for protecting where protection is necessary is a different thing. For the latter purposes aviation could be legitimately used and civil aviation could be used for commercial purposes, but warlike purposes ought to be made illegal, and nations using an Air Force for such purposes ought to be outlawed. The Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary, together with the Lord President of the Council, whose speech created such an impression last November when he drew so horrible a picture of the possibilities of a future war, particularly from the air, ought to use their best endeavours to prevent anything happening in the future such as we had on a small scale during the last war.
There are one or two points in the Estimates which I should like to put to the Under-Secretary. On page 49, under the heading "Mechanical and other Transport," there is an item of £80,000 for marine craft. Can the Under-Secretary explain that item? I understand that certain motor boats have been built for the Air Service. I should like to be told the purpose for which these motor boats were built, how many were built, and what was their cost. Were any tenders invited from competing firms on the Government list for the building of these motor boats, or was the order handed out to some particular firm who were asked to go ahead with a design submitted to them by the Air Ministry? I should like to know what is the method of promotion in the Air Service. Is it democratic I Can a man rise from the lowest grade in which he enlists and be- 1814 come Marshal of the Service, with a Marshal's baton? Is that the method of promotion? I should like to know also whether in the messing arrangements the officer can live upon his pay or whether he requires private means to meet the expenses of his rank. These are matters upon which information is required.
There is also a point that was made in regard to the skeleton staff that is still maintained at Cardington. Is there any intention, when times become better and finance is a bit easier, to embark again on the building of an airship such as the one which has been broken up and the one in which the lamentable accident occurred a year or two ago? As to the new works that are being taken in hand, I understood the Under-Secretary to state that certain places were being built or were being arranged as defence stations in this country. I do not know whether I misunderstood him, but in view of the statement of the Lord President of the Council that there is no such thing as defence in air warfare, I should imagine that any defence stations set up are calculated to be of no use whatever, and that, therefore, they would be a waste of money.
As regards civil aviation, a sum is being given as a subsidy to light aeroplane clubs. The sum this year is an increase over last year of some £7,000. I should like to ask how many aeroplane clubs there are, what particular purpose they serve, what conditions they have to observe in order to obtain the subsidy, and whether they are under any obligation to the Air Service and the Government to be called upon in the case of, say, industrial disputes or in any conflict that might arise among civilians in the country, whether that is part of the obligations to be observed by these light aeroplane clubs in order to qualify for the subsidies which are being paid them by the Government. I would suggest that in this matter as in other matters some explanations are required.
I would also suggest that the Under-Secretary, his chief, Lord Londonderry, and the Government should press forward as strenuously as they can with the idea of internationalising the air forces of the world as rapidly as possible, of endeavouring to overcome the difficulties that may be put in their way by the representatives of other nations, of trying to meet those difficulties and getting 1815 them, removed, and of getting differences adjusted by putting forward a well-thought-out plan for international control of aviation in order to prevent the possibility of any of those things happening that were described in such vivid language by the Lord President of the Council. His appeal was that the youth of the country and of the world alone could save the world, because it was they who would be required to fight in the next war. His speech closed on that note and with that appeal. Therefore, we who are the old men, as he described us, wish the youth of the country and of the world to realise their possibilities and their responsibilities, and we want to place upon them the onus of any future war and to let them know that they must take part in it and face the horrors. If those horrors were brought home to them, the youth of the world would rise and tell the old men who are in the Government of the country to get on with the work of making peace, so that the youth of the world would not be required to risk their lives in cleaning up the mess left by the older men.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I should like to begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State upon his extremely, lucid, interesting, and agreeably delivered statement on behalf of his Department. We all heard it with the greatest interest, and everyone knows how absolutely wrapped up in the work of the Flying Service the right hon. Gentleman is. But I think that if our discussion this afternoon was confined solely to the topics upon which he thought it prudent to dwell, if, for instance, we were to go away, as we might easily go, with the idea that the Air Force exists to fight locusts and that it never drops anything but blankets, we should undoubtedly entertain incomplete impressions of some of the issues which are brought before the House when the Air Estimates for the year are introduced.
I think this is the time when we may, without injury or risk, discuss generally these questions of the defensive services. I am not one of those who consider that the state of Europe at the present time is in any real degree comparable with the state of Europe in 1914. Although there is the greatest unrest, and hatreds are as 1816 rife as ever, yet I am bound to express my view—I may be wrong—that I feel that there is not the same explosive and catastrophic atmosphere as existed in 1914; and, therefore, I think we may discuss in cool blood and with calm hearts, or at any rate in tranquil circumstances, some of the technical issues which are raised by this Vote.
I must follow the hon. Gentleman who represented the Labour party in turning especially to the speech, the memorable speech, which was delivered by the Lord President of the Council a few months ago. But for that speech, I would not have troubled the House this afternoon. I agree with what I imagine were the feelings of the Lord President when he wished that neither aeroplanes nor submarines had ever been invented. I am sure they have both been deeply detrimental to the special interests and security of this island; and I agree also with his general theme that the air power may either end war or end civilisation. But where I think we are bound to examine carefully the speech of the Lord President is in the feeling it aroused that he caused alarm without giving guidance.
My right hon. Friend—I know he has an engagement of great public importance—swept away many important things in that half-hour. He did not believe there was never to be another Great War; he thought wars would come again some day, but he hoped they would not come in our time, as we all hope. He had apparently no real faith in the sanctity of agreements, such as the Kellogg Pact, neither had he any faith in the means of defence which are open to civilised communities when confronted with dangers which they cannot avoid. He led us up to a conclusion which was no conclusion. We were greatly concerned, and yet we were afforded no solace, no solution. So far as my right hon. Friend made an appeal to youth, it was very difficult to see what was the moral which he inculcated, and as far as I can understand, reading in the current publications, his appeal to youth has been widely misinterpreted in some of our leading universities.
But there is a certain helplessness and hopelessness which was spread about by the speech of the Lord President of the Council from which I hope the House will 1817 endeavour to shake itself free. There is the same kind of helplessness and hopelessness about dealing with this air problem as there is about dealing with the unemployment problem, or the currency question, or the question of economy. All the evils are portrayed, and vividly portrayed, and the most admirable sentiments are expressed, but as for a practical course of action, a solid foothold on which we can tread step by step, there is in this great sphere and in other spheres of Government activity a gap, a hiatus, a sense that there is no message from the lips of the prophet. There is no use gaping vacuously on the problems of the air or on the military problems with which they confront us. Still less is there any use in indulging in pretence in any form. The spokesman for the Labour party, in a speech which certainly presented, in its full coherence, a definite point of view, spoke with great satisfaction of the proposals which the Government have been making at Geneva. The air forces of the world are all to be reduced to our level, and then we are all to take another step down to the extent of 33J per cent. I gather that that is the proposal.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Not satisfied, but as an instalment, as a move in the right direction, it gained the approval of the hon. Gentleman. Well, but is there any reality at all in a proposal of that kind? I mean, we must not allow our insular pride to blind us to the fact that some of these foreigners are quite intelligent, that they have an extraordinary knack, on occasions, of rising fully up to the level of British comprehension. Of course, if all the air forces of the world were to be reduced to our level, as we are only fifth in the gamut, or list, that would be a very great enhancement of our ratio of military strength; and they are bound to notice that. So I could not help feeling that the proposals which were made—I only take this one point as an illustration —would sound very well while they were being unfolded, would give great gratification to the League of Nations Union, who, poor things, have to content themselves with so little. They would give the same kind of warm, sentimental, generous feeling that we were doing a great, wise, fundamental, eternal thing that the recent arms embargo announcement gave 1818 to so wide a circle. But I do not suppose that there would have been anyone more surprised than the Under-Secretary of State or his Chief if, when they had made these spacious suggestions at Geneva, all the Powers had suddenly risen and, with loud acclamations, said, "We accept them." I am sure that even my right hon. Friend would have been at any rate momentarily disconcerted. In fact, there was no chance of these proposals being accepted, not the faintest chance, and no one knew it better than His Majesty's Government when they made them.
I do not think we ought to go far in dealing in humbug. There are good people in this country who care about Disarmament. In many ways I think they are wrong, but I do not see why they should be tricked. I think they should have the plain truth told them, and if they disagree they have their constitutional remedy. It is no kindness to this country to go on stirring up and paying all this lip service in the region of unrealities, and getting a cheap cheer because you have said something which has not ruffled anyone, and then meanwhile doing the opposite, meanwhile proceeding on entirely pre-War lines, as all the nations of Europe are proceeding today in all the practical arrangements which they are making.
Another reason why it does not seem to me that these proposals had any chance of being accepted is their effect upon France. Take the position of France. If we were to reduce their Air Force to the level of ours, that is to say, if we are to reduce it by one-third or perhaps two-fifths, if we were to halve their Air Force and then we were to go hand-in-hand and take one-third off what was left, and meanwhile German aviation, whatever it is worth, remained constant, can anyone suppose that a proposal like that in the present state of Europe, and in the present mood of Germany—there are things happening there which cause even her greatest well-wishers the most extreme anxiety —
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am not one of them, no, I am not; but still I would gladly see Germany advance along the line which seemed so hopeful in the days of Locarno. As I say, in the present 1819 temper of Europe, can you ever expect that France would halve her Air Force and then reduce the residue by one-third? Would you advise her to do so? If she took your advice and did it, and then trouble occurred, -would you commit this country to stand by her side and make good the injury? If we proceed to argue on lines which have no connection with reality, we shall get into very great trouble. You talk of secret diplomacy, but let me tell you that there is a worse kind of secret diplomacy, and it is the diplomacy which spreads out hope and soothing syrup for the good, while all the time winks are exchanged between the people who know actually what is going on. That is a far worse situation. I am as a fact a member of the League of Nations Union. If I were one of their leading authorities I would be far more irritated with people who deceive me than with persona who, supposed to be lost souls, stated the blunt truth, because unless the people know the truth one day they are going to have a very surprising awakening.
I do not think that these proposals which have been made by the Government at Geneva are likely to be accepted, and I do not think there is any single man in any part of the House who thinks, or who has ever thought, that they had the slightest chance of being accepted. So that part of the conclusions which would follow from the speech of the Lord President of the Council has dropped out. You are not going to get international agreement which will completely obviate the necessity of having your defence or which will remove these appalling dangers which have been so freely stated. Let me say that I am most anxious that in anything that is said to France at Geneva upon air armaments or upon military armaments we should do nothing which exposes us to the French retort, "Very well; then you are involved with us." I would far rather have larger Estimates and be absolutely free and independent to choose our own course than become involved in this Continental scene by a well-meant desire to persuade them all to give up arms. There is terrible danger there.
I read in the newspapers to-day that the Prime Minister has been giving an ultimatum or making a strong appeal to 1820 France to. disarm. Whether you deal with the Army or the Air, you are taking an altogether undue responsibility at a time like this in tendering such advice to a friendly nation. No, I hope and trust that the French will look after their own safety, and that we shall be permitted to live our life in our island without being again drawn into the perils of the Continent of Europe. But I want to say that if we wish to detach ourselves, if we wish to lead a life of independence from European entanglements, we have to be strong enough to defend our neutrality. We are not going to preserve neutrality if we have no technical equipment. That reason might again be urged if we were discussing Navy Votes. I am strongly of opinion that we require to strengthen our armaments by air and upon the seas in order to make sure that we are still judges of our own fortunes, our own destinies and our own action.
I now come to the technical issue which was raised by the speech of the Lord President of the Council—a famous speech, I must say, because how many speeches we make in this House and how few are remembered a week after, but here months ago my right hon. Friend made his speech and I am sure that in this Air Debate it is the dominant theme. The right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the bombing of open towns and the murdering of women and children as an orthodox and legitimate means of civilised war. I cannot follow him in two respects. First of all, he assumes that it would certainly be done. Secondly, he assumes that there is no remedy. I do not think that either of those impressions is a true impression which should guide public thought upon these matters. The right hon. Gentleman said, with very great truth, that the only defence is offence. That is the soundest of all military maxims. But, as can be seen from the context of the phrase which was read out just now by the hon. Gentleman opposite, my right hon. Friend had been led to believe that the only method of offence by which you could defend your own civil population from being murdered was to murder some of the civil population on the other side. But that is nonsense. The true offence would be entirely different.
In a war between two States with equal air forces it would not pay—I put it no 1821 higher; I leave out morality, humanity and the public law of Europe and leave out any success you may obtain from forbidding such methods as the destruction of civilian life—it would not pay, from the military point of view, from the point of view of the self-preservation of the parties engaged in the war, it would not pay any Power engaged in an equal fight, with air forces equal on both sides, to waste its strength upon non-combatants and open towns. To use an expression which I have heard, they could not afford to waste their bombs on mere women and children. Essentially a struggle of this kind, which I pray as much as any man we shall never live to see and which I am resolved to do my utmost to avert, any struggle of this kind would essentially resolve itself into a combat between the two air forces. If all of a sudden two Powers, A and B, with equal forces, went to war, and one threw its bombs upon cities so as to kill as many women and children as possible, and the other threw its bombs on aerodromes and air bases and factories and arsenals and dockyards and railway focal points of the other side, can anyone doubt that next morning he would find that the one who had committed the greatest crime would not be the one who had reaped the greatest advantage?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
What I mean is that this horrible, senseless, brutal method of warfare, which we are told is the first military step that would be taken, the killing of women and children, would not be comparable, as a military measure, with an attack upon the technical centres and air bases of an enemy Power.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The moral effect would be far greater if it were found the next day that the hostile air forces were incapable of flying at all. That would have not only a moral effect, but a physical effect of very remarkable strength. But I must say this: While m the first instance in any conflict the air forces would fight and would not be able, if equally matched, to look elsewhere, yet once one side was decidedly beaten this process of torturing the civil population by killing the women and children 1822 might well be used in order to extort abject surrender and subjugation from the Power whose air defence had be n broken down. That is true. Anyone can see that that might be applied. If there were any Power in the world to which it might not be applied perhaps it would be our island, because so much easier methods would be open for reducing us to submission. If we were completely defenceless in the air, if we were reduced to a condition where we could not deal with this form of warfare, I doubt very much whether the victorious Power would be well advised to come and kill the women and children I should have thought that by intercepting all the trade passing through the narrow seas and on the approaches to this island, they could employ the weapon of starvation which would probably lead to a peace on terms which they thought were desirable.
Therefore, it seems to me that the possession of an adequate air force is almost a complete protection, for the civilian population, not indeed against injury and annoyance but against destruction such as was portrayed by the Lord President of the Council, and that, after all, is what we have to think of first. I cannot understand why His Majesty's Government and the, representatives of the Air Ministry do not inculcate these truths, for truths they are, actual truths —to quote a disagreeable word that I have recently learned—as widely, as they possibly can. The only defence is an adequate air force, and the possession of an adequate air force will relieve the civil population from this danger until that air force is victorious or is beaten. If it is victorious then the danger is removed for a long period. Therefore, I do not think that we should; be led by the Lord President into supposing that no means of safety are open to, a vigorous, valiant race. There is means of safety open. While I would not abandon every hope of international 'agreement, I would not base the life of this country upon it in their present stage, but to cut us off from that, on the one hand, and to suggest that no remedy is in our hands in the region of force, on the other, is to expose us to a gloomy vision.
Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national free- 1823 dom and independence. It is all very well to suppose that we are masters of our own actions in this country and that this House can assemble and vote as to whether it wishes to go to war or not. If you desire to keep that privilege, which I trust we shall never lose, it is indispensable that you should have armaments in this island which will enable you to carry on your life without regard to external pressure. I regretted very much to hear the Under-Secretary say that, we were only the fifth air Power. I regretted very much to hear him say that the 10-year programme was suspended for another year. I was sorry to hear him boast that they had not laid down a single new unit this year. An these ideas are being increasingly stultified by the march of events, and we should be well advised to concentrate upon our air defences with greater vigour. Certainly it looks curious that while our Army and Navy have been increased in expenditure this year, I have no doubt absolutely necessarily, because we had disarmed far below what is reasonable, the Air Force, which is the most fit of all, should be the one to be subjected not to an increase but to an actual reduction.
Above all, we must not be led by the Lord President into this helpless, hopeless movement. Our island is surrounded by the sea, it always has been, and, although the House may not realise it, the sea was in early times a great disadvantage because an invader could come across the sea and no one knew where he would land; very often he did not know himself. On the continent the lines of advance are fixed by the mountain passes, the roads, and the fertile plains and rivers. We were under a great disadvantage 1.000 years ago in being surrounded by the sea, and we suffered terribly from it. But we did not give up; we did not evacuate the island and say that we must live on the mainland. Not at all. We conquered the sea; we became the mistress of the sea, and the very element which had given the invader access to the heart of our country, to our hearths and homes, became its greatest protection, became indeed the bridge not the gulf which united us to the most distant parts of our Empire throughout the world. Now 1824 there is the air. The sea perhaps is no longer complete security for our island development; it must be the air too.
Why should we fear the air? We have as good technical knowledge as any country. There is no reason to suppose that we cannot make machines as good as any country. We have, it may be thought conceited to say so, a particular vein of talent in air piloting which is in advance of that possessed by other countries. Perhaps we have greater numbers who would be capable of making the best pilots, certainly it was most cheering to hear the Under-Secretary tell us of the speed records held by this country, the high-speed records and the long-distance records. At any rate, I do not think I am putting it too high when I say that there is not the slightest reason to suppose that we are not capable of producing as good results for money put into aviation as any other country. That being so, I ask the Government to consider profoundly and urgently the whole position of our air defence. I am not going to commit myself, without an opportunity of examining all the technical and financial details, to any particular standard, but this I say, that, in view of the significance which this subject has at the present time, in view of the state of the world, and in view of the speech of the Lord President of the Council, it is absolutely indispensable that the necessary programme of air development should be carried out and that our defences in this matter should be adequate to our needs.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with my fellow member of the League of Nations Union, but I entirely agree with his description of the policy of the Government for a reduction in air power as being utterly impracticable, and in the nature of humbug, because it is inconceivable that any foreign country would agree to it for a moment, or that those who put it forward on behalf of this country seriously believed that they would do so. But the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) stopped short in his description of the policy of His Majesty's Government. The policy of the Government goes a great deal further than anything of that kind. The Government have made it clear that, provided a suitable 1825 scheme of international control of civil aviation can be devised, they are prepared for the abolition of military and naval air forces altogether; and I most heartily and warmly congratulate the Government on that policy. I hope they will press it firmly and energetically, not in a rather hesitating and half-hearted way, pointing out the obstacles and difficulties but concentrating on the necessity for something of the kind being done.
My regret is that this policy was not put forward 12 months ago when it might have had a decisive effect on the success of the Disarmament Conference, which now looks like coming to an end in chaos and failure. I hope the Government will pluck up their courage and, realising that success on these lines is the only thing which can prevent the rearming of Germany and a fresh race in armaments, ending in another war, will in the next few years and months—an adjournment may be necessary in view of the unsettled state of Germany after the present revolution—concentrate all their energies on devising a practical scheme of international control, thereby making possible the abolition of air forces altogether. There are various ways of carrying that out, but I am not going into them to-day. You might for example have an international register of aircraft in every country, which might be open to an international inspectorate and in that way some safeguard could be provided against its misuse for other purposes.
In introducing the Estimates the Under-Secretary of State, for some reason, did not refer to the ultimate policy of the Government. He spoke of a reduction and limitation of the Air Force. I do not know why he did not use tie word "abolition," because abolition undoubtedly is the policy of His Majesty's Government at the present time. The right hon. Member for Epping has referred to the necessity at all costs of keeping out of any conflict which may arise on the continent. He appeared to overlook the fact that there is in existence the Treaty of Locarno and, however, much the Foreign Secretary or the right hon. Member for Epping may desire that we should remain isolated we simply cannot do so under certain circumstances if we are to honour, as I presume we are, the pledges we gave when the Covenant and the Treaty of Locarno 1826 were signed. Who knows on what day of the week we may learn that the Treaty of Locarno has come into force and that we are called upon to play our part according to the promises we have made.
On the question of international control of civil aviation, there is no sphere of human activity which is more suitable for treatment of this kind. You are quickly over the border of any particular country, and we know the difficulties which exist by the objections raised by Persia and Italy in connection with the programme of Imperial Airways. Nothing would do more to develop the future of civil aviation throughout the world than a sound and practical scheme of international control, which need not interfere with national development on national lines. When travelling abroad I prefer to travel in a British machine, because they are safer and sounder and better piloted.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Will the hon. Member tell us what he has in mind when he talks about international control?
§ Mr. MANDER
There are various methods of controlling international aviation, but I do not propose to go into them in detail on this occasion although I shall be glad to discuss it with the hon. and gallant Member. There is the possibility of making an international register of aeroplanes, which could be inspected by an international staff, and in that way you would get a safeguard against an abuse for military purposes. The question is an extremely interesting one and might form the subject of a Debate to which I should be glad to make my contribution on some other occasion. There are some questions of detail which I wish to put to the Under-Secretary. First, what is the policy of the Government with regard to the development of aerodromes? I hope that he will be able to indicate that the Government are anxious to do all they can to encourage local authorities to acquire land for aerodrome purposes, and that they will make representations to the Ministry of Health or whatever Government Department is concerned so that the necessary loans for that purpose may be obtained.
I would also ask him when replying to make some reference to the conditions of the Royal Air Force in Iraq. Up to the 1827 present they have been responsible for law and order both inside and outside that territory. In future they will be responsible only for outside and not for internal order. Obviously there is going to be enormous difficulty and danger if some internal disorder occurred for which we had no responsibility, and we were called upon to assist the local government in putting it down. I understand that the intention and the ruling is that we must not interfere and the Royal Air Force must not be used for order inside Iraq. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us if this is so, and what steps are being taken to ensure that this rule can in all circumstances be observed.
I hope that the Government will persevere with their policy of the abolition of air forces, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that they may fail and that the Disarmament Conference may come to no such conclusion. If we are driven back upon reliance on our own forces in this and other countries it becomes necessary to ask seriously what is our position. It has been said that we are the fifth air Power of the present time. I understand that during the whole of the Great War with the 41 machines available at that time in Germany, only 300 tons were dropped in this country and 1,880 people killed. I believe that at the present time one country alone—not likely, I hope, to be an enemy—namely France, can with her friends mobilise 4,000 machines which could drop in one day as much as or considerably more than the amount dropped in this country throughout the whole of the War. The striking force of aircraft has been increased three thousandfold since that time. I hope and believe that the inevitable horror of war in the air will be such as to make all countries decide that they are not going to tolerate it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said that you would not get this indiscriminate bombing of women and children. I venture to say that you will. Whatever rules and regulations are made the air force of a country will do all it can to break the nerve and resistance and cause a profound psychological effect upon the enemy country and not only the armed forces, but men, women and children will be brought in inevitably. I think it is desirable to recognise that, because I think it will mean that people will not tolerate 1828 it or allow it to continue. It is not desirable to attempt to carry out what is essentially an ungentlemanly performance, namely, war according to gentlemanly rules.
I desire to direct attention to the great economies which could be produced in the defence services, amounting to many millions a year, if for certain purposes the Royal Air Force were made more use of in doing what is now being done particularly by the Army and to a certain extent by the Navy. The economy and success which have attended its efforts far afield in the Empire are well known, but I venture briefly to recapitulate certain examples. In 1925 four tribes in Waziristan had been creating trouble for a long time. The task of dealing with them was handed over to the Royal Air Force alone, and in seven weeks they brought the trouble to an end. The casualties were under 100. That was done by bombing villages, dispersing cattle and placing a constant strain on all the inhabitants of that area, and the local warriors were so disgusted with this one-sided method of warfare out of which they got no kick at all that they decided to surrender. The whole cost of the operation was about £100,000. In the previous four years the Army had been attempting to do the same work and had spent £18,000,000. That operation of the Royal Air Force was not only successful momentarily, but had a lasting effect, and it was found that we had not only an effective Imperial Police, but a very effective Imperial fire brigade also. In 1927, in the Mohmand country near the Khyber, a jehadwas proclaimed against the British by a local Mullah. Three squadrons of the Royal Air Force from Peshawar brought the trouble to an end in three days, whereas in 1908 a similar task had to be undertaken by 17,000 men of the Army with a large cost in men and money.
Iraq, however, is the outstanding case. I am not referring to the time of the rebellion just after the War when the cost was extremely heavy but the period of settlement after that. The War Office estimated that it would cost annually £7,000,000 to £8,000,000. The Royal Air Force has been carrying out the task during the last few years at a cost of £1,500,000 annually. The last case is that of Aden where there was trouble for it number of years in the territory of the 1829 Imam of the Yemen. It became so serious that the opinion of the War Office was asked. They said that the services of a division would be required and that it would cost £6,000,000 to £10,000,000. The task was handed over to the Royal Air Force and one squadron in one month brought the whole thing to an end at a cost of £8,500.
These are examples showing that for certain purposes the Air Force has an immense superiority as regards time, efficiency and cost over the more old-fashioned method which, until the use of the air was discovered, had to be employed. In view of the tremendous natural opposition of vested interests and the resistance to new ideas which the Royal Air Force has had to meet, they have done extraordinarily well and their work on the lines I have suggested deserves to be encouraged. Take home defence for instance. There is difficulty in obtaining the necessary recruits for the Territorial Army. Surely the Royal Air Force would be in an extraordinarily effective position to protect the shores of this country against invasion? They would be able to look far afield, to see the approaching transports and to bomb them and if by any chance the transports were to reach here and foreign troops were landed upon our shores, the Air Force would have no difficulty in making short work of those who had landed and would deal with them, certainly, in a way not inferior to anything which the Army could do. I do not suggest that you would not want ground forces but I believe that you would want them on a much smaller scale and that the total cost would be less if you entrusted the task I have suggested to this new arm.
In all I say I am, of course, assuming what I hope will not prove true, namely, the failure of the Government's plan for the abolition of air forces altogether. I am simply suggesting an alternative but I infinitely prefer the other course and I do not want to be misunderstood but so long as an Air Force exists in this country and other countries I naturally desire that ours should be, as it is to-day, the most efficient of the lot. Whether aviation in this country is developed upon military lines or as, I hope, upon civilian lines, I am sure that British pilots will continue to do as they have done up to the present and lead the world in this wonderful, new sphere of human develop- 1830 ment in which one is always on active service and in which the highest qualities of mind and brain are called upon at every moment.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. HANLEY
In rising to address the, House for the first time I hope that it will extend to me that indulgence which it so regularly gives to new Members on these very trying occasions. We have: heard from the Under-Secretary how the Royal Air Force has "blazed the trail" of commercial aviation to the Cape and Singapore. We have heard how it has carried out survey work and helped district officers in controlling their areas. We have heard also about the air control of the Middle East. On that point I am in disagreement with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and certain other hon. Members who urge greater substitution. One has to bear in mind that substitution is only possible in those cases where you have a primitive population scattered over a large tract of country. I do not believe that it is practicable where you have populations concentrated in small areas. Although we have an air line, an all-red route, running out to Singapore which possibly in the near future will be extended to Australia, there remains one development which I hope will be realised and that is an air line to Canada. I feel rather nervous about one point in our existing all-red route and that is as to the first halt between this country and Malta. I feel that in certain eventualities there is the possibility of that communication being cut, leaving a. big gap between here and Malta. I am not an expert—nor am I a disarmament crank—but I am told by experts that that is a difficulty. I suggest that we. might have experimental flights from this country to Gibraltar. I understand that Gibraltar is not very suitable for this. purpose, but that is the only way, as far as I can see from the map, in which we could ensure an all-red route to the East. Experimental flights might also be undertaken between Gibraltar and Malta. These of course would have to be done by flying boats.
One point which I notice as a layman is the lack of development in amphibian aircraft. Looking at it from a commonsense point of view I feel that there might be greater use made of amphibian 1831 aircraft. I expect that hon. Members who are pilots will rise after I have concluded to point out the difficulties involved in the question of weight. Perhaps I am looking too far ahead, but some years ago it was not thought possible to make an aeroplane engine of 500 horse power of any weight less than 500 lbs. There is no knowing what will be possible in a few years' time and there is a great future in the development of these amphibian flying boats. There might be for instance some possibility in various areas of making landing grounds situated near water. Thus if it were too rough on that water to alight you could bring such a machine down on the land. and when it was refueled it could be hauled down some light railway into the water, where it could have a better takeoff next day in calm weather with its full load of petrol and passengers. That is a small suggestion which I hope may be slightly constructive.
Turning to the question of air defence, a lot has been said about bombing, and I think that everybody must own to the fact that they are frightened at the word "bomb." After all, a bomb is only a shell dropped from an aeroplane, and we must realise it as such. We have also to face up to the very hard fact that all these commercial aeroplanes of the larger type are potential bombers. You can either convert them in a few minutes or take them up and throw the bombs out, as was done in the early days of the War. Therefore one has to count in one's armed forces the commercial aircraft of the larger type. We cannot now abolish all aircraft; that is quite clear. Therefore, if we merely abolished the military aircraft, I venture to state there would be a parallel case if we abolished the Navy and left the Mercantile Marine. That would merely mean that the country with the biggest Mercantile Marine would have the lead. If we abolish military aircraft, civil aviation will still be left, and the lead will be taken by the country with the largest number of machines. By improving military aircraft, one aeroplane against the other for the needs of the various countries, it should be possible to maintain a state of equilibrium.
Some hon. Members and people outside the House have suggested that our policy for economic reasons should be to keep the Air Force low in numbers but high in 1832 efficiency. That is a certain safeguard against the larger numbers of less efficient aircraft possessed by other nations. I am not easy about that, and I think that it is a question of numbers—an aeroplane for an aeroplane, a flying boat for a flying boat. We have gone into the Disarmament Conference and we have said: "If you will reduce to our level, we can all come down by one-third." We have offered that and have given a lead, just in the same way as we gave a lead the other day on the arms embargo. That was not acceptable, so we had to take off our embargo. We hope that the other nations will agree to this. It was hinted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that he did not think there was much chance of it. Therefore, I suggest that we should try something else. It might be possible for the Government to devise some scheme to get a certain amount of international agreement on the question of the definite allocation of what one may call civil areas. They would take areas of large cities which are not in any way occupied by military works and these would be isolated and by international agreement would not be bombed. Thus the civilian population would be protected. It is true that such an agreement might be a scrap of paper, like some other agreements, but we might start by getting some agreement on those lines. I have tried during my few remarks as a new Member to throw out some ideas to act as a target for those Members who are interested in aviation, and I trust that if I have succeeded in doing that I have not failed in my duty as a new Member, but I urge the Government, as they approach the ideal of disarmament, to see that their feet are firmly planted on each stepping stone lest they fall into the treacherous torrent that lies between us and eternal peace.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord APSLEY
The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Hanley) made a speech to which the House listened with great interest. He made one point which I think the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) missed, and it was important. It was that those who are suffering from nightmares about bombing in future wars must remember that the bogy-man of these nightmares is the civil aircraft—the big freighters and the big liners. These are machines which we 1833 must all produce and which we are bound to produce H transport by air is to continue, as it must. They are the machines which count. No matter what inspectorate we may have, no matter what rules and regulations we may produce, if any nation were to enter into a state of war, within a very few hours these aircraft could be converted into bombers which could drop high explosives or chemical gases or poisons such as we have conjured up in our nightmares. The fighting aircraft are good value for they are machines by the possession of which alone we can prevent bombing aircraft from invading our homes. Therefore no inspectorate which could not say what are fighting machines and what are not could possibly protect us. It is the great carrying machines which can really do harm.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), whenever he makes a speech, whenever he writes a book, and, I am told, whenever he paints a picture, is always able to produce a work of art and not infrequently a masterpiece. I believe that our grandchildren will read his works and will look on him as the Herodotus or the Macaulay of the 20th century. For his style and ease of reading, no one can surpass him, but we are told by our tutors always to be on the look-out for one point, the absence or prevalence of which when detected may throw the whole work out of perspective. In the right hon. Gentleman's most cogent and excellent speech to-day there was a point which I am afraid that we cannot accept, and I do not think that he believes it himself really. It is the point that the Government deliberately went to the League of Nations and made the proposition that all other countries should reduce their air forces to the same strength as our own and then cut them down by one-third, in the belief that nobody would accept it, and that therefore nothing need be done. I am unable, and I do not think anybody else is able, really to accept that suggestion.
What foundation has the right hon. Gentleman for believing that that proposition might not be acceptable to foreign Powers Does he himself believe that we have accepted and that all foreign nations have accepted as a fait accompli that we are to be definitely relegated for all time to the position of 1834 fifth among the air forces of the world, that we have accepted that position and are unable and unwilling to get out of it? Does he not think that other nations may perhaps have an idea that possibly we alone financially, of all the nations of the world, if we desire to do so, can easily return to the position of first which we held just after the War? I wish the right hon. Gentleman were here to listen to the rest of the Debate. Does he not think that the possession of a large air force may not be an unmixed blessing? Machines in the air become obsolete very quickly. It is not quantity, but quality that counts. The Under-Secretary said that under Lord Londonderry's proposals France would have to cut their air force down by one-half. I wonder whether the French would not agree to that proposition with some relief. I do not know whether any hon. Members have seen the French air force in all parts of France, but I have seen some of the machines. They have certainly some very modern and good machines, but they have a lot which are costing them a great deal of money, and I am sure that they would be glad of an excuse to get rid of them. That, I believe, applies to other countries. I am unable without. any further definite information, which perhaps the right hon. Member for Epping can supply, to accept the proposition that the Government made these proposals with their tongues in their cheeks knowing that nobody would accept them, and that therefore there was no need for anything to be done.
I would like to make one or two suggestions which perhaps may be of use. I know that when these Estimates are debated, it is the way of private Members to make many suggestions and hope for answers, but the numbers are so great that they cannot all be considered on their merits. But there is one question which I should be glad to hear is being considered by the Air Council. It is the question of short service commissions. It is possible that we cannot commit ourselves to any general policy on that question just yet. I do not know whether even the Cabinet know as yet for what we are aiming in our Air Service, whether we are simply building and training with the idea that there might he a war of world importance requiring ready protection of the greatest amount 1835 of materiel and personnel, or whether we are yet able to put that definitely by the board and build and train a small but;very efficient police force to keep open our communications, and keep peace within the Empire.
I should like to pay a tribute in a small way and to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in that he is the only Minister of the Crown whom I have ever heard standing at that Table and telling the House of the work that is being done all over the world for peace by any section of the British Fighting Services. While the League of Nations is deliberating and talking, action has time after time to be taken by the British Forces, and so far we have only been told in the House what has been done by the Junior Service. The same sort of work is done by the Navy and the Army. Whether there is a typhoon in Jamaica or an earthquake in Salonika or New Zealand, the Navy with its cruisers go to the rescue. Whether there is a riot in Cyprus or trouble between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, or trouble in India or in China, it has been the British Army or the British Air Force or both whose mere presence has sufficed time after time to bring peace when nobody else has been willing to act.
There is this question: Are we training and building for what is, in effect, an international police service, and, if we are, is it not perhaps time to reconsider whether we should not abandon the short service commission, which trains the greatest number of pilots, but possibly not the best quality, or whether we should not go back, anyhow in the case of some squadrons, to long service men? On the Army Estimates the question was mooted by an hon. Member opposite whether Woolwich and Sandhurst should not be amalgamated. I am not sure that I should not like to see a still greater amalgamation in the training of officers, so that we could have a number of Air Force officers trained at the start in colleges like Sandhurst—or Dartmouth for those who are going into the naval branch—and so that they had a grounding in naval and military work before actually learning to fly. I think it will be the experience of many hon. Members that there is great difficulty in getting flying officers with a 1836 sufficient knowledge of military science to enable them to undertake work in cooperation with the Army, and I believe that remark also applies to the Navy, though to a lesser extent.
We should be very glad if there were more co-operation with the Army in peace time manoeuvres, so that the soldiers themselves might know what part the aircraft play. Time after time I have been on manoeuvres and seen machines come flying over—it seems to me flying very much too close, having regard to the power of modern anti-aircraft machine guns. They fly over just as it is getting dark, and then go back, and we never hear what they have seen, or whether they have seen us at all, though it is most important for soldiers to know exactly what can be seen and to know something of tactical conditions from the air point of view. There is a tendency for the Air Force and the Tank Corps to play by themselves and not to co-operate and give information about what they have been able to find out and what they can do for other branches of the Service. If there were more long service commission men I would like to see some of them serving with soldiers and sailors before they are definitely posted to the Army and Navy co-operation service.
These considerations lead up to a question which I think there is not time to develop now—and perhaps the time would not be ripe at the moment—but there is an increasing number of Members in this House who believe that the experimental era of aviation is passing, and that soon the Air Ministry should be placed with the Navy and the Army under a Ministry of Defence. In that event, civil aviation would be taken out of the Service and put with other branches of transportation under one great Ministry of Transport and Communications. Under such a Ministry there would be boards working independently, such as we have in the case of the Electricity Board—and shall have in the case of the London Traffic Board, if it is formed—and perhaps the Post Office and Imperial Airways. Various boards might be set up to carry out the executive work, but all would be working together under one great Department to whom all transport questions, questions of electricity supply, and possibly the Post Office service, would be transferred.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I trust the Noble Lord will not discuss proposals which would require legislation when we are considering Supply,
§ Lord APSLEY
I am afraid I have wandered a little too fat. I see that the Meteorological Office is included in these Estimates, and that it costs the country £60,000 a year. That is an office in which, to my mind, there is too much duplication, and I honestly do not think we get the best results. They may give excellent service to the Air Force and the naval aviation service, but the ordinary individual who flies cannot get weather reports that are accurate with sufficient quickness. There is considerable room for development in that branch. I raise this point because it is essentially an instance of where, if we had one great Ministry, which included the shipping department of the Board of Trade, we should be able to get far more valuable information. Every ship cruising under the British flag ought to send in weather reports regularly to the weather department of the Meteorological Office, and we should then be able to get an accurate weather report whenever we wished for it.
Another point with which I should like to deal raises the question of aerodromes in London. Under one Ministry this question would have been tackled long ago. There are aerodromes all round London, but there are no means of quickly getting to them or from them. Those aerodromes were mostly started as small clubs by a number of enthusiastic gentlemen who no doubt lived in London and possessed their own cars, and there was no idea at that time that they would be used by the ordinary individual who comes up to London periodically from the country, say twice a week, and wants to get to some place in the City of London. No provision is made for such air travellers. For the development of Civil Aviation there must be at least one central aerodrome, or a number of outlying aerodromes, with speedy communication with the centre of the Metropolis. That must be brought about, and one Department would have done it. The Ministry of Transport, if working with the Air Ministry, could have done it long ago. I have seen projected a scheme for a large aerodrome to be built over the top of some houses somewhere near King's 1838 Cross, and to be in the form of a cartwheel. If that is really so I should be glad if we could have some information about the scheme; and if those plans are only in the air, and are not likely to materialise, I would ask my hon. Friend whether there is not some possibility of vacant land at say, Wormwood Scrubs, being developed as an aerodrome and provided with communication by rail or tube or even omnibus with the centre of London. Without some such provision for people to get into London speedily we shall never really make great strides 'n Civil Aviation in this country.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
Tempted though I am to follow my Noble Friend into the very interesting discussion which he has initiated, I feel that I had better confine myself to the theme with which I want to deal, and that is the policy of His Majesty's Government on Disarmament. That policy is referred to very briefly in the Air Minister's Memorandum. It is stated that it is fully explained in a Command Paper, and that no comment is required on the wider aspects of that policy. The manner in which the Secretary of State for Air has dismissed those proposals speaks volumes in itself. It would be very interesting if we could have his own frank comments on the proposition which His Majesty's Government put before the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. Whether the Secretary of State for Air wishes to comment on those proposals or not, I believe the proposals to be so ill thought-out, so unworkable, so fraught with danger to the whole structure of the Empire, that they ought not to pass without challenge or comment in this House.
Let me remind hon. Members of the genesis of those proposals. In November last the Lord President of the Council delivered a very remarkable speech, which interested, surprised and mystified the House of Commons. It was a speech in which he brushed aside as futile all attempts to disarm by the limitation of the size of aeroplanes or to make provision for protecting the civil population against aerial bombardment, and laid down the doctrine that all air war in future would be a mutual massacring of the civil population, because aerial defence is impossible, and that it would end in the wiping out of European civilisation. He came to the conclusion that 1839 if flying itself could not be abolished, which I rather gathered he would like to see, at any rate it was his firm conviction that, if it were possible, all air forces ought to be abolished; and as a corollary to that, and to make it possible, all civil aviation ought to be brought under international control. I believe the House as a whole thought at the time that that speech was just one of those sentimental musings in which my right hon. Friend occasionally indulges when he wishes to avoid dealing too closely with the details of any subject. Unfortunately, we have since learned that those ideas have been put forward to the League of Nations in the shape of a proposal for the complete abolition, by international agreement, of military and naval machines, and of bombingapart from the use of such machines as are necessary for police purposes in outlying places, combined with an effective international control of civil aviation.I believe that that proposal, apart from the fact that it never had the -Slightest chance of acceptance, to be unworkable. To begin with, I suppose the idea is that the proposal safeguards us here at home from the fear of bombing, and yet enables us to carry on our police duties in outlying places like India or Iraq. I venture to suggest that the qualification, the exception, if it were really accepted by other Powers, would entirely destroy the scheme. What is "an outlying place," and what is "a police purpose"? From the point of view of the League of Nations, all nations are at home in their own country. Is Iraq an outlying place from the point of view of Iraq, which is a member of the League of Nations It may be from our point of view. Is it the suggestion that we may keep an air force in Iraq because it is an outlying place, but that the Government of Iraq may not keep an air force at home—perhaps keep one only in the Irish Free State? Again, is India, a member of the League of Nations, an outlying place? And if we are dealing with a problem on the frontier of India, dealing with the frontier tribes there, is that a matter of police work And supposing the Afghan forces join with the frontier tribes, are we to distinguish between the Afghan troops whom we may not bomb, and the frontier tribes whom we may bomb?
1840 Then, what about the position in Arabia —in Aden, which was delivered from aggression by the Yemen some time ago? Is that police work? Besides, are we the only people with outlying places and police work to do? If there is any justification for our keeping an air force in Iraq and in India, are the French to be denied the use of an air force under similar conditions in Morocco. And if France has an effective and adequate air force in Morocco—I notice that the Lord President of the Council said yesterday that we must adhere to our view that we must have an adequate air force for police purposes—is not that air force immediately available for use in France in the case of a European war? It seems to me that if we once admit the exception to which I have referred we drive a coachand-four through the whole scheme, and it is bound to break down. Therefore I must assume, if the Government really honestly believe in this scheme of theirs, that they will be prepared to drop their exceptions and to do without air forces altogether.
The whole safety of the British Empire to-day in the Middle-East depends upon the air arm. The experience that we have had in the last 10 years proves conclusively that, in those arid or semi-arid countries, with a scanty population and limited means of transport, the air weapon is the only economical, efficient and humane weapon for keeping the peace. The building up of the Iraq nation under British protection and assistance would have been absolutely impassible, against Turkish aggression—we drove back a serious invasion by the Turkish troops in 1924—or against the Wahabis of the desert or the risings of the Kurdish tribes or even against unrest amongst the Assyrian Levies. All that building up of security and peace would have been absolutely impossible without the air force, or would only have been possible at an expenditure wholly beyond the capacity of this country to bear. Similarly endless troubles in Somaliland were settled at the cost of a few thousand pounds and in a few days, by a few aeroplanes. At Aden, the humiliation of our territory being occupied for years by aggressive forces from the Yemen, and of tribes to whom we had offered protection being left unprotected, was settled in a few days, as one 1841 of my hon. Friends has pointed out, at the cost of practically no casualties, by the Air Force.
The whole problem of the Indian frontier is intimately bound up with the maintenance of an effective Air Force. It is not too much to say that, in these days, when the virile, war-loving barbarian tribes of the East are all possessed of long-range rifles, and have fairly good access to machine-guns and other weapons of precision, the air arm alone defends civilisation against the resurgence of barbarism. Long ago Kipling, in one of his poems, pointed out that the whole question of Indian frontier defence was one of expense, of arithmetic. He said:The captives of our bow and spearAre cheap, alas, as we are dear.It is only the air defence that enables us with a reasonable measure of economy to uphold civilisation in the Middle East. We are prepared at this moment to embark upon a great and hazardous constitutional experiment in India. I am one of those who believe that we ought to go forward with that scheme, but I am well aware of the dangers, and I believe that, whatever other safeguard you include in your Indian scheme, the one safeguard that matters most is India's knowledge, and our knowledge, that we are capable, beyond dispute, of defending India's peace against disturbance from within or against aggression from without. The proposal that the Government have put before the League of Nations would, if accepted, utterly destroy any hope of success for the future self-government of India. We are told that all that is worth sacrificing in order that the people of this country may sleep safe in their beds. That is a very new notion of Imperial responsibility. The picture that the Lord President of the Council drew of an air war in the future was, I believe, wholly distorted and unreal. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has largely dealt with it. All I know is that, at all times, for every new weapon of offence science has found the answer. I entirely refuse to believe that the bomber, flying from the Continental coast, will not in future be effectively noticed, long before he reaches our shores, and effectively dealt with by our own Air Force.
1842 Even if the danger that is held out were present, is it going to make for peace that wars should be long-drawn-out? Surely the more effective the weapons of war, the greater the prospect of speedy decision and the less damage inflicted. How much less the world might have suffered if in 1914, either side had possessed the aeroplanes or the tanks that they possess to-day. I believe it to be an entire mistake to despair of practical measures for mitigating the terrors of war, and to fly to wholly impossible suggestions that can never be carried out. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Hanley), who made a very interesting maiden speech just now, suggested that if you cannot sufficiently distinguish individual munition factories from the houses around, there is no insuperable difficulty in dividing the country, under modern conditions, into zones, in which military preparation and the movement of troops and the making of munitions are carried out, and, on the other hand, into neutral zones, in which none of those things are carried out, and in which there is a guarantee that the rules of war will be observed. While it is apparently true that, within the military zones, there is some risk of civilians being hit, yet that has always been the case in a bombardment during war-time. A country at war has always been allowed to attack in that way by sea or by land, and there is nothing essentially different between bombardment by long-range projectiles and by a projectile carried by an aeroplane.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I intervene? The right hon. Gentleman says that there is nothing to hinder places being separated, so that some places would be neutral. Are we to carry on war in the future as a nice, gentlemanly arrangement, where we only bomb munition factories and things of that sort? At one moment he talks about a fierce war, and then about neutral zones and of segregating certain areas. I may be awfully simple, but I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain that.
§ Mr. AMERY
I think the explanation is afforded by the whole history of war in the past. The division between fortified places which are places of arms and which it is legitimate to attack, and open and undefended cities, is a distinction that is a perfectly recognised one, and in 1843 the main has been observed. Even in the last war there was no very great attempt to destroy purely civilian centres for the sake of destroying them. The attempt was made to destroy great railway and munition centres. I believe that it is possible to make some distinction in war between the main centres of military activity and those parts of the country in which the civilian population assembles and no fighting work is carried on. Something of that sort is more possible, and more practicable, than the suggestion that we should stop all use of the air arm.
Let me come to the necessary corollary, that the proposal is only possible if you can get an effective international control of civil aviation. I wonder what was meant by that? I noticed that Lord Londonderry put a series of questions to the League which practically all answered themselves. He said, "What measures can we take to prevent the seizure of civil aircraft within its own borders by a State which is determined on war?" The answer is very simple. No measures can be taken, because that State will always seize what aeroplanes are within its own territory and use them for its own purpose. He asks, "What are the conditions to be satisfied to prevent the use of civil aircraft for warlike purposes?" There is no way to prevent civil aeroplanes being used for war, in the absence of military aeroplanes, for conveying troops or bombs. You might as well lay down that motor omnibuses should never be used in war-time for the conveyance of troops or of munitions. Once you have developed a great new form of transport for ordinary civilian purposes, you cannot prevent its use for other purposes.
We are told that we must have international control. What does that mean? Mere registration? If so, by all means let us have it. But what is the use of that? Or does it mean some central, international body, which is to lay down rules as to how many aeroplanes any country may have? Will it lay down that Mrs. Mollison may not try a new flight because she is not to have an aeroplane until Latvia, has had two more? The whole thing is preposterous. As for international administration, that will always be an example of incompetence and inefficiency. Every now and again, 1844 the "Times" newspaper correspondent at Tangier gives us some amusing descriptions of international government at that place. The last I remember was the end of the long-drawn-out dispute between France and Spain, which for years prevented the inauguration of a new fire-engine. It was finally settled by Spain providing the pipe and, I think, France providing the engine, while a third Power provided the wheels. If you have international control, who is to be responsible? All these things, to have any real effect, postulate an international government of the world, and we are very far from that.
Who is going to accept this preposterous suggestion The United States have already announced that they will not have their civil aviation internationally controlled. The United States have 11,000 aeroplanes, more than the rest of the world put together. Will Canada have her civil aviation supervised, and is Australia going to put her rapidly developing scheme of civil aviation, which is doing wonders for the opening up of the country, under the control of some body at Geneva? The whole thing is unworkable, and an attempt to work it would only postpone the development of a great new means of communication which is calculated to contribute far more to an understanding among nations and to the cause of peace than any of the unreal and largely hypocritical discussions at Geneva.
The Lord President of the Council says that there is no immediate hurry for discussing these matters, and that they are not likely to come to anything for a very long time. That is not a, fair way to treat the subject. It does not exonerate the Government from its responsibility for having brought forward proposals which would be dangerous to the security and peace of the British Empire, and which would mean the abandonment of the responsibilities that we have undertaken. They are proposals which show so little real thought, and such an irresponsibility in introducing them, that, in my case at any rate, they have seriously shaken my confidence in the capacity and fitness of the Government to be trusted with the control of our international relations. It is time that in these matters the Government should bring forward honest proposals which they believe can be carried out, and which they mean to be carried out, and should not make gestures 1845 which only help to mislead the public at home, which do nothing for the cause of peace, and which, in the end, lead to disillusionment, if not disaster.
The Secretary of State, dismissing the wider Government proposals as requiring no comment, says that the "practical proposals" put forward for a general reduction are so-and-so, and refers to the fact that we have asked everyone to reduce to our level and then a further 33 per cent. That is a proposal which at any rate is workable in the sense that, if others adopted it, it could be carried out. But is it really any more practical? Here are we, the fifth air Power in the world, and it suits us, with our naval position, being the fifth air Power, to get every one down to our level; and we put that forward as a serious contribution to the cause of peace. Italy is the fifth naval Power in the world. What should we say if Italy came to the League of Nations and seriously proposed that the navies of the world should be scaled down to the Italian standard, and then 33 per cent. below it? We should regard that as a thoroughly dishonest proposal. I am afraid that behind a great deal of our self-righteous posing as the champions of the cause of disarmament and peace there is not a little of the prudence that belongs to the policy of "Disarm your neighbour first." I think it would be far better to omit the first sentences of that paragraph, and to tackle the last sentence, Which records the fact that:The modest defence programme of 1923 is held in suspense for another year.Is it not time that that suspense were ended—that, in view of the admitted failure of the Disarmament Conference, we saw to it that our Air defence, without being excessive, without indicating any aggressive intention, was at any rate adequate to our security? I feel strongly that it is high time that we interrupted the endless circle of gestures and proposals which are not seriously meant, which are not really honest, which do not help forward the cause of peace. Let us get on with the problem of reconciling the world's difficulties, of finding solutions for the political problems which underlie those difficulties. They are individual and local solutions, not susceptible of being dealt with by any cut-and-dried scheme or any method of percentages. Let us work patiently, and, in the meantime, let us maintain at any rate a reason- 1846 able minimum of defence for our own needs, showing both that we are capable of defending ourselves and that we have no aggressive intentions towards others.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I have listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), bearing in mind the fact that he had a very distinguished career at Harrow, and also that he was at one time First Lord of the Admiralty. I sometimes wish that he had supported the views he expressed this afternoon when he was at the head of the Admiralty.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Not always. My right hon. Friend dealt with one or two interesting points with regard to objectives for bombing, and, before I pass to the remarks that I would like to address to the House independently of his speech, I would like to draw the attention of the Air Ministry to the fact that an aircraft factory is certainly a legitimate target for bombing, and it is, I think, the duty of the Air Ministry to see that not too many of our aircraft factories are situated in the south, because they are situated now in industrial centres, where an enemy could quite justifiably bomb them and at the same time cause immense damage to the surroundings.
I would like to pay a very hearty compliment to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the way in which he presented these Estimates. His speech was, indeed, one of the most pleasant speeches to listen to, from the point of view of a back bencher, that I have had the pleasure of hearing for a very long time. Of course, it was remarkable, not for what was said, but for what was left out; but we have to remember that this Debate to-day is really a continuation from the Debate which was finished by the Lord President of the Council the other night on Disarmament from the point of view of the air. It will be remembered that he stopped in the middle of an interesting speech, when there were still 10 minutes to go, a Division was taken, everyone was left gaping with his mouth open, and no one replied. I happened to be standing in 1847 front of the Bar, or I should have said a word, but I could not get forward.
I felt that the Lord President, in that speech, did a grave injustice to many of those people, including many of my friends who are dead, who strove and gave their lives for the creation of aviation. He said that he wished that aeroplanes had never been invented. I think that that was an unjustifiable thing to say. After all, those people who made flying a possibility in this world never thought that they were inventing a great engine of destruction. They thought that they were producing something which was going to be of value to the world, and it is ridiculous to think, in these days, of the possibility that this great gift from God should be done away with and destroyed simply because it happens to be unpleasant during war. I know it is unfortunate that we have the brand of Cain upon the aeroplane, but I think that we ourselves are a good deal to blame in this matter. My right hon. Friend and I, and many others whom I see here to-night, have preached year after year on these Estimates and in the Press the importance of air armaments and the destruction that can be effected through the air. I think that we have over-exaggerated our case, and that, to use an old Air Force term, we "put the wind up" the population to such an extent that they came to think, quite honestly, that a place like London could be exterminated in a few days by aerial bombardment. That is absolute and entire nonsense. We have to understand that all things are relative, and, although a very intense aerial bombardment would be unpleasant, it really would not be so disastrous as that.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
The hon. and gallant Member is certainly an expert on these matters, and Members of the House are pleased to hear what he has to say regarding them, but, surely, we are under a misapprehension if we fail to realise what aerial bombardment could do to London. We read in pamphlets and in the Press of the enormous damage that could be done, and the hon. and gallant Member is advancing an entirely new idea, of which I should like him to give an explanation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I do not know how far I could go ahead 1848 on that particular theme, but I might, perhaps, point out to the hon. Gentleman what happened in the case of Dunkirk. Dunkirk was bombed three times a night for months on end by a squadron of German aeroplanes, which had the easiest task to find the town by flying along the coast. No town was ever subjected to such an aerial bombardment for so long; and yet people lived in it with comparative comfort. It was not destroyed off the face of the earth. And it is quite a small town as compared with London.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Poison gases, I believe, consist to a large extent of hot air. We have not had experience of them from the point of view of dropping them from the skies, and we do not know much about them in that regard. Nor would they be particularly efficacious if there were any wind. We have now to deal with London fogs, and, compared with them, the case of poison gas is very simple. Coming back to the question of Geneva and of the control of aviation, I resent very much the suggestion that we could go into the consideration of this subject at all without including Russia, which is concentrating enormously upon the development of air armament, and without including America. America has put forward some of the most amazing suggestions with regard to her own position that I have ever seen seriously advanced.
I have been trying lately to help this subject by serving on a sub-committee of the League of Nations Union, and some of the dope that is poured out to the people at Geneva is brought to that committee. Really, some of these documents are absolutely the most consummate balderdash that I have ever listened to. There is a Mr. Gibson, who tells us the most amazing things about American aviation. He tells us—I think it has been quoted already—that there are 10,000 aeroplanes in America, only 70 of which can be used for military purposes. Can anyone imagine that to be the case? We are told also that America ought to obtain exemption from control, if there is to be world control, because of her curious meteorological conditions. I hope that too much attention will not be 1849 paid to those two nations and their objections to control. Certainly from our own side, as has been pointed out, some of the best half-baked schemes have been put forward by defeatist half-wits from the Foreign Office that have ever been seen. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if those schemes have been "vetted" by the Air Ministry, or if they have ever said that they agree to them? Or were they just chucked off as a way of passing an afternoon, without reference to any of the experts in charge of the air side?
We have been told that the Air Forces of the world—including, of course, our own—should be done away with, and in that connection I would like to say this to the House of Commons. I have been plugging along every year since the War making speeches on these Votes, and we have not really had any enemy outside. The enemy of the Air Force is not across the Channel, it is in Whitehall. Everybody knows perfectly well that the people who want to do away with the Air Force are the Army and the Navy. That sticks out a mile. When we come to putting forward some question of policy to the Government, the Cabinet are guided by the advice of the right hon. Gentlemen who preside over the War Office and the Admiralty; but they should be out of court and out of the room when anything is to be decided about the Air. They have failed time and again in their frontal attacks with the object of doing away with the Air Force, and now they say that, if they cannot do it by a frontal attack, they will do it by a sweeping movement at the side. When the suggestion has been made that the Air Force should be done away with, was not that exactly what the Admiralty and the War Office wanted Of course it was. It was their suggestion, ably backed up in the Cabinet by half-wits. Some time ago, when the Air Force said that they could take on the administration of Iraq, what was the advice given by the great General Staff to the Cabinet at the time? It was that it would be perfectly impossible, and that a great disaster would follow any such attempt. On the contrary, however, it has been a complete triumph for the Air Force; it saved us millions of pounds. And there are many other ways in which air power can be used instead of other and more expensive services.
1850 I should like to say a word about civil aviation, because on that subject we need a little clear thinking. When civil aviation started, it represented a movement which automatically should have become an internationalising force. In every country in Europe to-day you will find the most excessive subsidies on civil aviation. Those subsidies do not really produce civil aviation machines. They produce war machines disguised as civil aviation. In Germany, which of ocurse is deprived of warlike aviation, they have a most elaborate system of subsidised civil aviation. It is not necessary in any way. It is really only a potential resource for war. We in this country have been, as we always are, the most honest of all people. Our service from London to Paris is the only one in the world that could exist without any subsidy at all. I quite agree that, when we are pushing those big lines right down to Africa and throughout the world, they could not be self-supporting if it were not for subsidies.
One of the troubles to-day is subsidies, and the fear of the use of civil aviation for bombing in the first weeks of a war, the fact of civil aviation being turned into military aviation. I believe that, if subsidies were withdrawn by agreement at the League of Nations, the amount of civil aviation would decrease—anyhow, that type of civil aviation which is really war aviation in disguise. Our defence against commercial aviation disguised as military aviation is a really efficient Air Force of our own. Although we keep on saying we are only the fifth Air Force in the world, it was always our pride that on the technical side our equipment was the highest. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend can tell me that that is being maintained, The Government, as years go on, and as they continue to live in a world of self-deception and flattery in which all Governments live, get their ears off the ground. I hope they will understand that the country is feeling very anxious over the Air Service. They are not content to remain the fifth Air Power. They are not content not to have a basis of a one-Power standard. By all means go to Geneva and try to convince them that they should reduce their air forces, but, if you cannot make them reduce theirs, we ought at least to insist upon equality with them. It is preposterous that we- 1851 should go on for ever in the position of being the fifth Power. I believe equality is vital to us and is desired by the country. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we could have put ourselves in that position by using only a third of the increase on the other two Services. That is a very serious thing for the Government to consider.
I end on a note which I have repeatedly made year after year on these Estimates, that is, that the money that we are spending upon the Air, upon the Navy and upon the Army is only one thing, and that is the defence of the country; and yet year after year the great Departments will not allow the Government or the House of Commons to look at this as one subject. Again, this year I ask the House to notice that it was only by luck that we were allowed to see the Estimates of one Department before we were called to approve those of another. I do not come here to plead for a Ministry of Imperial Defence. That is, perhaps, going too far, but I think the House of Commons has a right to know to what it is committed from the point of view of expenditure on the safety of the Realm. That we should be allowed to debate the relative expenditure on one Service and another on some Vote is absolutely essential. I hope that another year we shall have plenty of time to consider the three Votes, from the point of money, together, and then we shall be able to show how one Service might be curtailed at the expense of another and vice versa, because it is only along those lines that we can see that we are getting true economy and an efficient defence of the country.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
I cannot claim to possess any expert or technical knowledge about aviation, whether civil or military, but I certainly think that our point of view ought to be advanced. If I- am to accept most of the speeches that have been made, it would appear that humanity is doomed and damned and that, if science and technique advance during the next decade at anything like the same rate of progress that they have advanced during past years, we are in fact faced with mutual annihilation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) delivered one of the most jingo speeches that I have 1852 ever heard since I have been in the House. He believes that it is only possible for this nation to save itself by continually increasing the number of aeroplanes, and I presume seaplanes, until we obtain a strength which will be substantially greater than that of any other nation. He asks that we should face up to realities. I ask hon. Members to reflect upon the position in Germany. Germany was considered to have been definitely beaten in the Great War, and the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to place certain penalties upon her by way of reparations. To-day she is in the throes of a revolution. At this very moment it would seem that the Corridor which was founded by the Versailles Treaty is likely to be the cause of another war. Hon. Members are advancing the case for an increase in expenditure upon civil aviation in order that it may be used for military purposes as a protection against Germany, which was supposed to be destroyed as a military nation. When can we reach anything like the end of the tether if by mere circumlocution one is to go from one war to another?
The Lord President of the Council, I think, was positively wrong when he spoke of the consequences that would occur if another war broke out, and the dire effect that aviation would have upon the population. He was wrong when he said that the future depended upon young men. After the speeches that I have heard to-day, I am convinced that the old men are the enemies of human society. Every old man who has spoken has advocated an increase in armaments and in the weapons that the young men will be obliged to use in the next war. The old men are really a serious danger to civilisation and society, and not the young men. I endeavoured to ask myself, when listening to the Debate, why these conflicts are likely to arise which will cause the next war? I do not believe that the populations of the various countries desire war at all. If war takes place, it will probably be because there is definite economic conflict between one nation and another. I can see the possibility of civil aviation being utilised for military purposes. I can see Imperial Airways being utilised as a means not only, of defence but also of offence by this nation, but at bottom the cause of the conflict will be commercial and 1853 economic. Consequently, I can see no possibility of abolishing war until we take control of the manufacture of armaments and abolish the conflicts of interest which obtain as between one nation and another.
I do not wish to impute anything like dishonourable motives. I should not like to impute, for instance, that hon. Members are desirous of maintaining the Army in order that their sons may obtain a profession, or that they are desirous of maintaining these Services not so much to defend the country against an aggressor as to provide an occupation so that their sons may become the rulers of the working classes and keep them in their place. I want to assume that they are quite honest about this matter; that they would like to abolish war; that they look upon war as a danger, and that they are prepared to make their contribution, if possible, towards that end. On the other hand, if I have to do that, I have to analyse the contributions which have been made. From the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) we have had nothing with which I can agree except one thing, that is, his condemnation of the Government for their unfitness to produce a policy for dealing with civil aviation, and for the political circumstances in which we are placed. Apart from that statement, not one word was uttered by him to indicate how it is possible to eliminate the danger of war breaking out. For instance, there is the Locarno Pact, with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had much to do.
If, as now seems very likely, trouble arises in Poland, in which there is a substantial proportion of French capital invested, and if along that Corridor trouble is produced, France will be inevitably inveigled into that struggle, purely on economic grounds. Because we are signatories to the Locarno Pact, we will at once be drawn in in support of France. Nothing has been said in this Debate by hon. Members to place before the Government plans to obviate what seems very imminent at this moment, if we accept what is said in the Press of this country. Surely the suggestion, advanced from these benches, of international control should be considerable. There is, I think, sufficient intelligence in this country—a sufficient number of educationists 1854 and scientists, as well as practical, broadminded men, who would willingly give of their service to this nation—and I believe that obtains in most nations—to propound a plan which would obviate another war. I believe that there are persons in this country sufficiently humanitarian to realise the enormous consequences which will befall this nation if another war breaks out.
Yet there is nothing coming from right hon. Members at all, except jingo speeches. They say we must increase this new defence arm. It is known, as a positive fact, that it is not a defence armat all, but an arm of attack. At a moment when something catastrophic takes place between the nations, that which is seemingly defensive becomes offensive. Certainly anything that can be done to destroy the moral of another nation will be one of the first phases of tactics considered by this nation, as it would likewise be considered by any other. The bombing of the City of London and our industrial centres, the bombing of Paris—these things are considered essential for military purposes to destroy the moral of the people. It is not that they desire to slay innocent people as such, but it will be done to produce effect upon those they consider their dire enemies. I certainly could not agree to a substantial proportion of the remarks advanced by hon. Members, They look upon war as being absolutely inevitable. They say that we must have a force at least comparable with one of the greatest forces in the world. They consider that the only possible means by which we can escape being annihilated in this country. It would seem to me that we are not really living many stages above savagery.
With science and technique at our disposal, and even this greatest and most revolutionary of things, aviation, which is abolishing boundaries and making humanity a fact, we still go back into the depths of barbarism and preach an increase of all weapons of destruction. That means in the ultimate the annihilation of the human race. I wish that hon. Members would put forward some proposals which would make us face realities as we see them to-day. Germany, apparently militaristically annihilated, is to-day in the throes of a revolution. We have to be prepared, using civil, aviation, 1855 to place ourselves on equality with France. This, apparently, has got to go on until we get right back into savagery. As all national barriers have been annihilated by aviation, aviation ought to become a matter of international control. If national barriers do not prevent aviation crossing the world, obviously it is of itself, in factual truth, an international weapon, and it ought to come under international control. It ought to be used as an international weapon for policing the world, and not for defensive, which can be twisted into offensive, purposes that may be used to annihilate humanity.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. WHITESIDE
Having addressed a meeting earlier in the afternoon, I have not been able to listen to all the speeches which have been made. I would, therefore, crave the indulgence of the House should I inadvertently use any of the arguments already put forward in discussing these Estimates. In discussing these Estimates we should bear uppermost in our minds the fact that they are of a dual character. They represent a morganatic marriage between military and civil aviation—a union which, in my view, should never have taken place. It was, perhaps, a little unfortunate that flying first came into prominence during the War. Flight as a means of reconnoitring the enemy's position became of paramount importance. Since the War a new Ministry, surrounded by all the paraphernalia and red tape of a Government Department, has become part and parcel of the organisation of most European Powers. As a. result, civil aviation has been controlled and hemmed in by a military oligarchy. The effect has been two-fold. The public regard aviation almost entirely from the military aspect and commercial aviation has been retarded.
The extent to which this military psychology has permeated the minds of the public is shown by the sustained, almost hysterical, demands that aviation should be controlled by the League of Nations. In my view, any man in his right senses must wish the League of Nations well. But we, who are Members of this House, are responsible for the safety not only of our own nationals, but of our brethren throughout the Empire. It is a remark- 1856 able fact that those who vaunt themselves as the champions of peace make exactly the same speeches, whatever the size of these Estimates may be. If the House will permit me to say so, I think that those who make these criticisms would be doing a far greater service to this country and to the world if they would state outright whether they believe in the total disarmament of this country, irrespective of what other nations may do, or state categorically the level of armaments they consider it necessary for us to bear.
During the last year certain suggestions have been made with regard to the control of aviation. They fall under three heads. The first is the total abolition of all military aircraft. The second is the total abolition of all national military aircraft, and the substitution of a League air force. The third is the control of civil aviation, and the formation of international air lines. Let us briefly examine these suggestions. As long as military aircraft are in existence, there is no danger from civilian machines. Abolish military aircraft and every civilian machine, no matter how inoffensive, becomes a potential danger. Such a suggestion, therefore, if carried out, would not decrease the risk of aerial bombardment., but increase the dangers a thousand-fold.
The formation of a League air arm is impracticable. The machines of such an air force would have to be made in some country, or countries, and, under modern conditions of production, those nations could, if they should so wish, produce an almost unlimited number of similar machines in a very short space of time. The air arm of the League would have to possess a general staff. That staff would be composed of the nationals of some country, because the League of Nations possesses no corporate spirit. The duty of that staff would be to prepare plans to meet every eventuality. Every one of these plans would be known in advance, and would be futile. I read in the "Evening News" of 7th March:Britain had accepted the French plan for the creation of an international air police, to come into being simultaneously with the abolition of military and naval aviation. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs specified, however, that each country's contingent in such a police force should be maintained in its own territory, instead of in some neutral country.1857 What in the name of all that is commonsense is the difference between that police force and our present Royal Air Force? Are we to suppose that the present Air Minister, rechristened by the League of Nations Air Chief Constable, will, if this country is declared by a majority of the League, through the casting vote of Czechoslovakia, to be in the wrong, set out to bomb his own house in Park Lane? Are we to suppose that if the League of Nations find it necessary in the future to send a punitive aerial expedition against this country, our own air police force will join in the slaughter? Or will they oppose it? The Prime Minister can come back from Geneva and tell such tales to the marines or to the League of Nations Union, but he cannot expect us in the Mother of Parliaments of an Imperial Empire to accept such suggestions with enthusiasm. Are we to continue to pay thousands of pounds for the upkeep of the League When we have 3,000,000 starving people on the dole in order that our Ministers shall come back to this country and talk such utter nonsense? I beg, I entreat those who are striving for world peace, those statesmen who are being backed up by the whole of the country, to be realists as well as idealists. We are living in a concrete world filled with many horrors but crowned with beauty, and not in a mythical land of snake-believe.
But is the Air arm a danger to civilisation? War is resorted to by one nation in order to compel another country to submit to terms which the former considers desirable. It is resorted to by force of arms. Those forces are controlled by a central authority. Destroy that central authority and your forces will have no cohesion; peace must follow. It is the very object of aerial attack to destroy the enemy's headquarters and so end the war. The last War dragged on for four and a half years. It was ended not by force of arms, but by the slow premeditated starvation of a great people. It affected every man, woman and child in the enemy Powers, and as a result of under-nourishment and nervous exhaustion it will affect the lives of many yet unborn. For four and a half years none knew from one moment to another whether they were going to be attacked. For four and a half years nobody knew whether their loved ones were dead, alive or mutilated. War does 1858 not affect those it kills. Death is but the passing from one sphere to another in Eternity. The curse, the awfulness of war is that it destroys the soul, the manhood of the living. I say in all sincerity I would rather see a great city like London totally annihilated by an aerial attack for the war to end, than that 42,000,000 of our people should be compelled to pass through years of living hell. The formation of an international air arm is practicable, but what possible security that could be is beyond my comprehension, because in the event of war every one of the machines would be confiscated by the Government of the country in which it was housed.
As for the control of Civil Aviation, the League might just as well attempt to control the production, design, buying and selling of motor cars or matches. Nor is any form of limitation or quota possible. Upon what is a quota to be based? Is it to be upon area, the number of your population, your needs, or the enterprise of the individual people in the country? I can imagine such a quota being put into practice. One of my friends goes into Henly's and says that he wants to buy an aeroplane. The saleman puts on a mournful expression and says, "I am very sorry, Sir, we have already sold up to our quota, but we saw Mr. Smith flying yesterday, and we, think that he will shortly crash and kill himself, and when he is dead and his machine is destroyed we shall be very pleased to sell you another one in substitution."
I will now turn to the Estimates which are before us. They are the result of a compromise between the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Cabinet Committee of Imperial Defence. The ratio between the Army and the Air Force, and between the Navy and the Air Force is roughly two to one and three to one respectively. Is the Navy worth three times the Air Force? The Navy has guaranteed our food supplies in the past, but can the Navy to-day protect London, karachi, Singapore, Malta, Calcutta or any other of our great cities from devastation from the air? What is the use of guaranteeing the food supplies of a great city if your population has been wiped out? Dead men do not eat. It is however impossible to 1859 wipe out a great city by aerial attack, and those vociferous pacifists who go about the country and tell people that sort of thing do not know what they are talking about. The air arm is, however, the most potent of the three Services. I believe that a great many of the duties at present undertaken by the Army and the Navy can just as efficiently, and far more cheaply, be undertaken by the Air Force. Surely the trouble in Cyprus and in other parts of the world has demonstrated that fact amply. Et is often assumed by some hon. Members that the possession of arms makes for war. I do not believe it. Can any hon. Member of this House from the smooth, suave, cultured Member for Oxford University to the intellectual, pertinent, pugnacious Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) seriously get up and say, because we have a highly efficient Air Force and Germany has no Air Force at all, that we wish to attack the Germans: or because France has a large Army and we have a comparatively small Army, that the French wish to fight us? It is not true. It is not armaments which make for war; it is the fear of war which causes the anxiety for armaments. I, personally, do not believe that armaments will give us any security in the future. They merely provide employment.
When another war comes the danger will not be from explosives from aerial attacks. The danger will come from germs and gases. I do not believe that war will even be declared. When one nation wishes to wipe out another nation it will infect rats with anthrax and plague and let them loose, or it will send through the parcel post germs so potent that when the packet is opened that nation will be completely wiped out. That is the danger to civilisation, and no peace pact, convention or any other power in the world can prevent it. I believe that if men and women are not prepared to turn and bow before a wisdom greater than the wisdom of this world, civilisation will inevitably be wiped out. That is the answer which youth gives to the speech of the Lord President of the Council. The danger to world civilisation to-day, as I see it, comes from that great country Russia, whose leaders openly deny the existence of God and look upon Christianity as an idle superstition. But I believe that 1860 man's conquest of the air is one of the greatest tangible advances towards the securing of world peace. What greater power for peace is there than that of enabling men of all nations and races to get together and know and understand one another?
That brings me to the second part of the Estimates, that dealing with Civil Aviation. During the last few months a considerable agitation has been got up to free civil aviation from Air Ministry control. I do not believe that the criticisms are altogther justified. The Air Ministry has been the friend of civil aviation, and I do not believe that civil aviation would have progressed as it has progressed had it not been for the friendly Do-operation of the Air Ministry. On the other hand, I think the time has now come when that grip might be relaxed. I refer to the A.I.D. inspection. I would not, on purely psychological grounds, suggest that the regulations governing public service aeroplanes should be loosened, but I can see no reason why constructors in approved firms should not now be permitted to design and construct light aeroplanes of a seating capacity of five or under without any Air Ministry control. The approved firms have a reputation to maintain, and such a suggestion, if coupled with compulsory third party insurance, would not, in my view, lead to any diminution of the factor of safety.
So far as I can see, the Air Ministry are confronted with one of two alternatives in this matter. Either they assume that the experts of the Air Ministry know more about stresses and design than the industry itself, or else those experts are relying on data obtained from the industry. But, as the science of aerodynamics is not fully known, they are of necessity examining new proposals on data which is out of date, and therefore retarding development. Civil aviation is fighting an uphill battle. It has to contend with this appalling military psychology. The papers are filled with pictures of new interceptor fighters. The Prime Minister, a pacifist, when he travels, charters a military machine. The greatest aerial pageant in the world—Hendon—is entirely military. The long distance and speed records are held by the Royal Air Force in co-operation with firms producing military machines. It is no small wonder then that ignorant men are alarmed at the prospects of future flying.
1861 I mentioned previously that man's conquest of the air was a tremendous power for peace. I will now substantiate that statement. The air is truly international. The machines themselves are often of a composite character. There is the German Klemm fitted with a British Cirrus or Pobjoy engine. You have the Dutch Fokker flying with an American Pratt Witney Wasp engine, all purely a matter of efficiency. Pilots are international in outlook. They recognise no frontiers or barriers. It is the land folk, with their Governments, who compel us to carry passports, carnets, triptiques and a multitude of other intergovernmental red tape. Why cannot we be allowed free to fly where and whence we will? The pilot's job in life is to bring men together.
Let me give one further illustration to make my point. One hundred years ago, before the industrial revolution, each county in England endeavoured to make itself self-supporting. Then came the industrial revolution; men poured from the country into the towns, and the country, as a result, suffered. Later railways were invented and as a direct result business men carried out their business in the cities and had their homes in the country. England became one economic whole, and the whole prospered. To-day, the world is suffering from a similar upheaval. Nations have taken the place of the counties. Is it impossible to conceive that this new means of transport, the air, will not unite first the Empire and then the world into one economic whole in exactly the same way as the railways have united individual nations?
The Government are striving to cure the unemployment problem. I represent a constituency in the North. Although I believe there will be a revival in the iron and coal trade I do not believe that the heavy industries will ever again employ the same number of people as they have done in the past. The North must look for a new industry. Here is a new industry. It is no use going out trying to recapture lost markets. You must cut new virgin ground. The Empire has large tracts of barren land. There are such tracts in Canada and Australia, and they are waiting to be exploited. They will never be exploited until adequate means of transport are provided. Canada 1862 possesses two aircraft manufacturing firms, with four competing American firms. Australia has only two aircraft manufacturing firms. What a market for expansion is waiting ready to be exploited. Here is our opportunity. Years ago, Disraeli bought up the shares of the Suez Canal and his vision has since brought tremendous wealth to this country. What we want to-day is men with similar vision, who will exploit the air.
If I have proved my case and the air is a force for peace and not a peril for war, I humbly submit certain suggestions to the Government. Let the President of the Board of Trade when he enters into new agreements with foreign countries make sure that a clause is inserted saying that in future this nation may be allowed the freedom of the air over those countries. It is impossible to build up great international and imperial air lines if your concessions are liable to be cancelled at a moment's notice. We must have concessions for a period of 30 years. During those discussions I would suggest that the President of the Board of Trade enters into an arrangement with foreign countries with regard to the limitation and the final abolition of subsidies for civil aviation. Sooner or later civil aviation must fly on a proper economic basis, and the sooner the better. I would submit to the Minister of Health that in future when he sanctions any town and country planning Bill he will see that in that Bill adequate proposals are made for the provision of future aerodromes. It is no use having aerodromes which are miles from the center of the cities. I would suggest to the Secretary for the Department of Overseas Trade that he should instruct his Consuls in future to push British machines. The Consuls of foreign countries are nothing more nor less than glorified salesmen, and I would suggest that our Consuls be the same.
The Minister who can do more than any other is the Postmaster-General. The Postmaster-General is a man of enterprise. He, in co-operation with his Department, has produced two types of telephones, which sometimes work. The Post Office is to-day going out on a great selling drive, and the Postmaster-General, with gigantic courage, has given instructions that his officers should paint those 1863 telephones red, blue, old gold and silver. Having done so, he comes down to this House, his face beaming with Pickwickian smiles, expressing: "What a good boy am. I !" But there his enterprise stops. Does the Postmaster-General select slow cargo boats to carry the mail at a very low rate? No. He pays thousands of pounds to buy cargo space in fast ocean liners, tearing through the water at perhaps 20 knots, but he does not charge the public additional postage for that concession. He pays for it himself. But when it comes to the air mail he will not give one penny piece to Imperial Airways to carry the air mail at 150 miles an hour.
If I should suggest to the House that in future when sending a letter from London to Nether Stowey one should be compelled to put a direction on the top of the envelope to show how that letter was to be carried, the House would consign me to Bedlam, but that is exactly what the Postmaster-General expects in regard to the air mail. If any hon. Member will go to the Post Office in the lobby and wishes to post a letter to Australia he will write on the envelope: "Australia Air Mail." But that does not mean that his letter will be carried by air mail to Australia. He will be charged 4d. extra, but his letter will go out to Australia by the normal land and sea routes and will be carried by internal air mail in Australia. If you want to send a letter to Australia by air you have to put a direction on the top of the envelope: "India air Mail, London to Karachi, Internal Air Mail, Australia." You will be charged a further 7d. But if you want to send a letter out to Australia quickly you will not send it by British post at all. You will post your letter to Amsterdam and 'have it carried by the Dutch line KLM to Sumatra. For two and a-half years the Dutch have been running a regular air mail and passenger service to Sumatra in only one day outside our record to Australia. What is the Postmaster-General going to do about that?
In order to stimulate postage within the Empire the Postmaster-General charges one flat rate for all letters in the Empire. It costs no more to send a letter to Australia than to send a letter from S.W.1 to S.W.2. The procedure of the Post Office is to utilise the profit on one service to defray the loss which they 1864 make on another service, but so far as the air mail is concerned every stage of the service has to pay for itself. In order to stimulate postage within the Empire the Postmaster-General charges 1½d. Distance is of no matter. If you want to send a letter to a foreign country, say, France, he will charge you but 2½d so far as the air mail is concerned he completely reverses his policy. He will charge you 4d. to carry a one-ounce letter to France and 2s. to carry it to South Africa, one of our own Dominions. I would ask the Postmaster-General to state the reasons for this complete volte face so far as the air mail is concerned.
I would make a very humble suggestion to the Postmaster-General. If he wishes to earn a public funeral from a grateful nation he should follow in the footsteps of his great predecessor, Rowland Hill. Rowland Hill, in spite of every opposition, decided to reduce the cost of postage and to carry the mail by the then fastest known means of transport. Let the Postmaster-General do exactly the same. Let him charge a flat rate of 2d., 3d. or 4d., and send every letter to the East by air mail. If he will do that he will capture for this country the entire air mail to the East for the whole of Europe and bring unbounded prosperity to his Department. There I will leave the matter. If the Postmaster-General will not give adequate reasons for this extraordinary discrimination against our own Empire and against the air mail services, I shall be compelled to pursue this subject further across the Floor of the House, in language enlivened with a plethora of adjectives. I will not detain the House longer. The Prime Minister has asked for suggestions with regard to unemployment, and I would submit the proposals to him which I have just made. The country to-day is longing to hear more about the air. A generation is growing up to whom the air is no more an unnatural phenomena than the motor car. They have never known a world without aeroplanes, and they are longing to know more about them. I would suggest that the Air Ministry, in co-operation with the air industry, should choose some man of character, personality, courage and enterprise to go round this country and Canada and Australia and explain to the people the truth about the air, so that when the 1865 air comes into its own, they will be prepared to travel by air from one end of the earth to the other, so that men of all nations and races will be able to get together and understand each other; for in the hands of knowledge and understanding lies the future of the peace of the world.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I do not profess to be an expert on air services, and therefore I do not propose to follow the last speaker through the labyrinthine pathways which he has so exhaustively and elaborately explored. Nor do I propose to follow the general trend of the Debate this evening, which has been largely concentrated on a contemplation of what would be the position of our aircraft in the next war, which all parties seem to be agreed is becoming more and more imminent, except to say that it is indeed a most tragic and lamentable thing that in this year of grace 1933 the British House of Commons should be accepting the probability of another world conflagration in the near future with such remarkable equanimity.
I only want very briefly to examine one aspect of the Estimates and to mention two points in connection with them. That aspect is the subsidy to Imperial Airways, Limited, amounting, I believe, to a gross sum of over £500,000 per annum. That is a very large subsidy, and I do not know what measure of control the Government exercise with regard to this company. Indeed, I do not know whether any control at all is exercised. Whatever may be the position in this regard, however, I submit—and I think it will be conceded by the House—that where such a large amount of the taxpayers' money is given to a private undertaking by way of subsidy, steps should at least be taken to ensure that that undertaking is not operated in a wasteful or profligate manner.
There is, I believe, some disquiet in certain quarters as to whether this subsidy is being used by Imperial Airways to the best possible advantage, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he will take steps to satisfy himself that every effort is made by Imperial Airways, Limited, to eliminate extravagance and waste. A subsidised concern is very apt to become overridden with 1866 unnecessary officials, and if the Under Secretary of State will make investigations he will probably find that the number of those employed by Imperial Airways in managerial and official capacities is out of all proportion to the number of men employed on purely productive work. I think the House is entitled to ask that real vigilance should be exercised by the Government in this matter, having regard to the very large sum of over £500,000 per annum which is paid to that company by way of subsidy.
I would like next to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he is satisfied that proper treatment is being meted out to the rank and file of this company's British staff in Egypt and elsewhere. I ask that question because I understand—and here let me say that I am not entirely without information—that the English members of the rank and file of this company in Egypt are worked in such a way that they are contemptuously referred to by the natives as the white wogs of Egypt. It may be in the recollection of some Members of the House that the term "wog" in Egypt means the lowest type of native slave. Obviously, this sort of thing can only be very damaging indeed to our prestige in Egypt, and here again I would ask the Government to exercise real vigilance. Clearly, in any concern where there are too many bosses it is inevitable that there should be inefficiency and hardship created to the rank and file. I have endeavoured to make these two points in very moderated terms, but I ask that the Under-Secretary of State should take notice and make such investigations as will satisfy him, on the one hand, that not only are there not extravagance and waste, but that there is proper treatment meted out to the rank and file of the British staff of this company in Egypt and elsewhere.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I should like, first, to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the able way in which he has put forward these Estimates. We always take great interest in him, because he is a practical airman, and I think he handles air matters very well indeed. But this year I am profoundly disappointed with him and with the Noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air, because they have let the older Services get away with too much of the swag or 1867 with what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) used to call too much of the loot. This year they have let the Navy get away with £3,000,000 extra and the Army with £1,500,000 extra, while the Air Service is reduced, according to the figures given us by the Under-Secretary of State, by some £340,000. They have stopped a school of flying instruction and reduced the number of personnel by some 1,000 men.
When we consider all these defence problems, we must bear in mind that before the War the Navy and the Army were responsible for the defence of this country and the Empire, but during and since the War the Air Force has come into being, and one naturally asks oneself, Can the Navy prevent an aerial bombardment of London; can the Army prevent an aerial bombardment of our great manufacturing centres; can the Army and Navy prevent an aerial bombardment of our dockyards or even our homes? Surely home defence should be our first consideration. We could not carry on a war if our great cities, our manufacturing towns, our dockyards, and our homes were being bombed; and if it is accepted that home defence should be our first consideration, then the air becomes our first line of defence.
If hon. Members look at these Estimates, they will find that £108,000,000 is devoted to defence purposes. The Navy gets £53,000,000, the Army nearly £38,000,000, and the Air £17,500,000; that is to say, one-sixth of the total amount of money allowed for defence purposes:s for the Air. The Navy and the Army cannot protect us in any way from aerial bombardment, and I submit that it is quite wrong that our homes should be open to bombardment from the air without any adequate protection. There is something wrong with these Estimates, that the air should get only one-sixth of the total amount, that we are going to vote £108,000,000 in this House, and we have not even our homes protected. I submit to every Member of this House that there is something wrong in the framing of these Estimates, and that is why many Members join with me in asking that there should be an unbiased committee set up to go into the whole problem of defence. I am certain that if that were done, and they took the air 1868 on its merits, they would see that the air got more than one-sixth of the total amount allowed for defence. I am very disappointed indeed that the Under-Secretary of State and the Noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air have not dug their feet in and got more money this year for the air.
May I approach this problem from a different angle? During the War we lost some 6,500,000 tons Q f shipping due to the German submarines, and on several days in the Mediterranean in 1915 we lost £2,000,000 worth of shipping a day. Suppose we had had our ships open to air attack as well as to submarine attack. We had to feed London by ships going up the Channel, and we could only feed London through its own port. We had these ships going up the Channel, and if hon. Members will look at the chart of our foodships and our trading ships that were sunk by submarines, they will see them all in the approaches to the Channel. If we had had hostile aircraft as well bombing those ships, we should have been in a very bad way in the War. At one time we had only 10 days' provisions in this country, and if we had had air attack as well as submarine attack, if we had had aircraft dropping bombs and locomotive torpedoes on our food ships, we should have starved in this country.
Therefore, I would say to the pacifists that what we are out to do is to try to protect their food coming up Channel, and I submit that at least we ought to have a one-Power standard in the air.' Nobody can say what is going to happen. in Europe. This week-end we were deluged in all the papers with most alarming statements about the Polish corridor, and even in the "Daily Herald" yesterday I saw that war was going to come in Europe in a. very short time. I think it is prudent for us that we should have at least a one-Power standard in the air for that reason alone, because we never know that we shall not have to hold the balance in Europe.
We hear a great deal in these Debates about doing away with naval and military aircraft and having an international air force- at Geneva under the League of Nations. Would that be in the country's interests? I submit that it would not. The League of Nations at the moment cannot define what an aggressor State is, 1869 and one of the delegates at Geneva said, "You cannot define what an aggressor State is, so you had better bomb both sides from the air." It would be against our interests to have a League of Nations military air force. Suppose we had serving in it some of our own nationals. Would they be called upon to bomb Portsmouth, and if they refused, would they be shot for refusing to do their duty? The whole thing is impossible. Also if we did away with the naval and military air forces and had a League of Nations air force, we would abrogate our sovereign rights, and I do not think there is anyone in the House who would agree to give them up.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
We cannot give up our sovereign rights. It would be perfectly suicidal for us to do so. We are told that we should give up our naval and military air force and internationalise civil aviation. What would that mean? It would simply mean that the civil machine would tend towards military design. You could see that very easily last year at the French Aero Exhibition. We exhibited four straightforward military machines, but the French had many exhibits of civil machines which were all strengthened to take bomb rackets and to take guns. Exactly the same thing happens in Germany. There the machines swing towards a military design. It is said, "Oh, but you will have international civil aviation, and pilots would not learn to drob bombs; they would know nothing about it." But the knowledge of bomb sights and racks is in the nations of the world, and they would soon fit up machines for the dropping of bombs. Before the War we did not have any sights at all, and we had to drop bombs by hand.
It is nonsense to say that civil machines cannot be turned into military machines very quickly. The United States delegate at Geneva said that they had 11,000 machines, and that only 74 were of any military use. I have never heard such nonsense talked since I have had anything to do with the Air Service. During the War I fitted up school machines with bombs, and we sent four aerodrome machines to Friederidhshain, and my gallant naval service men des- 1870 troyed one Zeppelin and part of a building there. It is idle for people to say that these machines cannot be easily converted to military use. Of course they can. It is really rather ridiculous to talk about internationalising civil aviation. The only way that you can stop bombing from the air is to do away with the whole of naval and military aircraft and all civil machines. That is impossible, for you cannot put the clock back 25 years. People say, "It is inhuman to drop bombs." There is no difference between a bomb from an aeroplane and a six-inch shell from a ship. It is not considered inhuman to fire a shell from a ship.
Air warfare is very humane indeed. Look at what is happening in Jehol. There, instead of the war going on for a long period, the Japanese are driving the Chinese before them with aeroplanes that drop bombs, and with machine guns. They are driving the Chinese ahead of them, and they will get a better control in Jehol and Manchuria than it has had for the last 50 or 60 years. The Japanese are a. civilising force and will do a great good in the Far East. If the war had gone on for a long time without military control in the air, thousands and thousands more lives would have been lost. It is much more humane to have aircraft for keeping proper control than it is to have them for restoring peace when peace is broken. Would the internationalisation of civil aviation help us in any way with our civil machines in this country? I submit that it, would not. We lead the world in design of machines. We have the finest designers and constructors and engine builders. If they were hampered by international control it might stop development. We have got the three great records in this country, the altitude record, the long distance record and the speed record, and we do not want any interference with our civil aviation.
If we look at the chart we see what a wonderful position we are in for developing great air routes. We have already developed one from this country to Egypt and Africa. We are developing one to Karachi and India, and it is hoped to extend it down to Australia, and thence on to New Zealand, and to have a branch up to China. But I think the Air Ministry ought to allow more money for the development of these great air 1871 routes. What has been done to help the development of the Atlantic air routes It is most important that this country should lead the way in developing these great air routes, which do a tremendous lot for civilisation. I was glad to hear the Under-Secretary say what good they were doing in developing the air lines and linking up the lines in Australia and Canada and Africa. These lines bring people down from up country to the centres where men and women live, and they are doing a wonderful lot of good work in opening up distant trading.
To allow something under £500,000 for civil aviation is not enough. The Ministry ought to send for Sir Eric Geddes, the able chairman of Imperial Airways, and say to him, "You can have a million to develop these great air lines." He told us in Committee upstairs that air travel is becoming so safe that an air accident insurance policy can now be obtained at exactly the same rate as a similar policy for travel by liner or train. That is a great feather in the cap 'of Imperial Airways. I think the Under-Secretary ought to encourage Imperial Airways more than he does. I ask the Under-Secretary to urge the Prime Minister to get back to the air policy that was laid down by the Lord President of the Council when he was Prime Minister in 1923. The right hon. Gentleman then promised us a one-Power air standard, and said that our squadrons for home defence would be 52. But after 10 years' effort there are only 42 squadrons. I ask the Under-Secretary to press the Government to carry out the policy laid down by the Lord President. If we had that and more help for civil aviation, I believe that the whole country would benefit.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I would like to say how completely I am in agreement with the words which have fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter). As he stated, we have in this country to-day the three records which really count in the air, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will congratulate the Air Force and those who are responsible for the manufacture of the engines and machines on the possession of those three records, which are the only records worth holding in the air. I want to state reasons why in my 1872 opinion more money should have been expended on the Air Force for the defence of this country and of the Empire. During the last year I have been privileged to travel by air through Europe several times, and to parts of the Empire where the Air Force is in operation, and I must honestly say, without wishing in any way to exaggerate, that I have been amazed at the extension, in practically all the European countries through which I passed, of their air forces and of their hangars and of other requirements for military aviation.
The people of this country would do well to realise that we are no longer an island Power, that the advent of the petrol engine in an aeroplane has done away altogether with our security as an island. From the point of aerial attack there is no difference whether there is 20 miles of channel between this country and the Continent, or whether there is not. There are aeroplanes capable of flying practically non-stop from Great Britain to the Cape. Of course, the whole complexion of the defence of this country has been altered by the advent of the petrol engine. For that reason I submit that there should be a redistribution of the amount of money which this country provides for defence between the three great fighting Services. I am convinced that the Air Force, being a new and young Service, does not get that credit and that authority in the defence of this country which it rightly ought to have with the Committee of Imperial Defence. At school the older boys can often get the best of the younger ones. It may not be that the older boys are better in any way than the younger.
I suggest that it is of vital importance that. we take steps in this House to put before the Government our sincere belief that this matter should be considered with a view to an alteration of the allocation of money between the three great Fighting Services. I do not think I am over-estimating the opinion of this country, when I say that the bulk of the people are bitterly disappointed with what the League of Nations has been able to achieve. For that reason, because of what we have seen in the recent dispute between China and Japan, and because we know in our hearts that if there is aggression between one great country and another, those countries are 1873 going to fight whether there is a League of Nations or not, this matter must have our urgent attention. It is of vital importance that every person in this country should consider how best we may be enabled to protect ourselves and those people who look to us for protection.
I would use the same argument as the Government used over the tariff question. If we had a one-Power standard, that is to say an Air Force equal to the Air Force of any other great Power in the world, there would be far more likelihood of seeing a reduction of air armaments in other nations than there is while we remain the fifth Power. When the Government got the tariff, they said: "We are going to use the tariff as a bargaining power." While we had no tariff other nations perpetually raised their tariffs, but as soon as we protected ourselves with a tariff other nations came along and said: "Let us come to some agreement for a reduction all round." The same argument holds good in the air. While we are content to remain the fifth Power in the air other countries with larger air forces will say: "Why need we bother? We have a stronger air force than the British Empire, and we can take no notice of the programme put forward for a reduction in air forces." But as soon as we say that we intend to have an air force equal to that of any other country we shall be able to go to Geneva and say that unless other countries reduce their air forces we must, for the protection of our country and the outlying parts of the Empire, build an air force equal to those of other countries. The result, in my opinion, would be a general reduction of air forces throughout the world. It is a good argument and certainly more likely to carry out a reduction in air forces than anything the Government have put forward.
One word on the subject of civil aviation. It is quite clear that if you are going to reduce seriously the small number of fighting aircraft of the countries of the world the large air liners will be of great importance. It is exactly the same thing as when you reduce the forces of a country, as in the case of, Germany you see enormous numbers of so-called police on duty, and, if you do away with the ships of a navy, you see a merchant service able to take their place. So it is with the air force. But 1874 it has a peculiar difficulty for us. If you examine the numbers of large liners of the larger countries we have 33, Germany 186, and France 270. If we deplete our fighting aircraft seriously we are going to hand over air power in the proportion of those figures. Moreover, the British Empire is world wide, and some of our liners may be in one part of the world and some in another. All the great European countries have their air services to a large extent in their own country. France, Germany and Italy would always command a larger number of air liners than it would ever be possible for Great Britain to command at any one time, and, therefore, as far as the British Empire is concerned, it is more than ever important that we should not agree to any proposal which even if it gave us equality, would mean that our units because they were distributed over the whole world would be unable to mobilise in a short time while other countries would have the whole of their resources available for an immediate attack upon this country.
When I was in Transjordan and visit-Mg the Air Force there, I was struck with the precautions which are taken, so far as the Air Force is concerned, for punitive expeditions against rebelling tribes. Reference has already been made to the enormous saving in expense which the Air Force in these districts has been able to make, but I put this point of view to the House. Very seldom, indeed not at all during the last year, has bombing taken place for punitive purposes. Pamphlets are dropped in every case, and very often a loud speaker is used to give warning to the tribesmen that if they do not behave themselves aircraft will take action against them, and when action is taken it is only by means of a machine gun, or two machine guns, mounted on aeroplanes to scatter the rebels who are creating the disturbance. May I say this to the Under-Secretary, that some of his armoured cars in Transjordan, which I understand have been through many campaigns, including the Russian campaign, were getting a little shabby and might possibly be replaced by some of a newer type.
In regard to the civil side of aviation the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked some questions about Imperial Airways. He should know, as I think the House generally 1875 knows, that we pay less than almost any other country in subsidies to civil air lines, and anyone who has travelled in one of the new Hannibal type of Handley-Page aeroplanes which are used by Imperial Airways will agree that there is nothing comparable with them in the world for comfort, silence, keeping time and for general efficiency. Whatever money we may spend, and it is a large sum, £600,000, on the development of these air routes is money well spent, and it is now beginning to give a reward. When I was in Cairo the officials of Imperial Airways told me that they are now carrying over twice the number of passengers they carried in the corresponding period a year before.
Let me put one or two questions with regard to the weather reports. I cannot agree that the meteorological side of the Air Ministry is not good. I think the weather reports are good and easily obtainable, but there is one question I should like to ask from the point of view of civilian flying and club flying. A very valuable service is rendered from the Heston Aerodrome by the air reports which are sent out every few hours. I understand that the Air Ministry is going to provide a similar station at Manchester; there is in the present Estimates a sum of £1,000 for that purpose. Can the Under-Secretary give any assurance that the air reports at Heston will be continued. There is some question as to whether they may not have to be altered in some way, but I can assure him that from the point of view of clubs as far north as Newcastle it is of enormous advantage and saving to be able to listen-in to these reports instead of having to worry the Air Ministry.
Now that we are having a larger type of private aeroplane to carry five or six people there ought, I think, to be some reconsideration of the methods of licensing. They are all right for men who fly themselves and by themselves. The "B" certificate is all right for a man to take one or two people in an ordinary small light aeroplane, but when we get to the larger machines I think there should be some other method of licensing. There are a great many people with "B" licences, some of whom could not easily find their way across country and would not be altogether safe, in my opinion, in charge of a large type 1876 machine carrying six or seven people. Yet in fact there is nothing to-day, except the regulations of the Imperial Airways themselves to prevent a "B" licence bolder from flying the Hannibal machine to-morrow morning. I believe that apart from those regulations the "B" licence pilot is in a position to undertake to fly almost any type of machine.
It is, I think, generally known that in the case of a great many countries abroad, flying permits are required. It is not a bad system. Anybody who wishes to travel abroad by air and to pass over those countries knows that he has to get a permit and the permits are not difficult to obtain. But I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the position of Turkey in this respect. In Turkey a permit is required, but they will not give you a permit in writing. In the case of other foreign countries permits are given, either by the Consulate in London, or by some other office, in writing and on an official form. In my own case I was travelling across Turkey, and, although I had a permit from the Air Ministry to fly there, when I landed at Konya I was told that no permit had been received for my machine. Had I been able then to show something in writing to the effect that I had the privilege of flying over Turkey I should not have been held up in that not very beautiful place for over three hours.
I would also like to ask my right hon. Friend to take steps through the Colonial Office to see what is being done to assist private flying in Palestine and Egypt. Apparently Palestine is to be regarded as the only really rich country in the world at present. I read a wonderful descriptive magazine about Palestine the other day showing how the budget of that country was balanced and how it was the only prosperous part of the world to-day. If that be so, I am sure my hon. Friend will use his influence to see that at least they provide one or two landing grounds for aeroplanes. It is absurd that if any civilian wishes to go to Jerusalem by aeroplane he has to land at the Air Force station 30 miles away from Jerusalem. There is a, smaller Air Force landing ground nearer, but there is a site where a municipal or private landing ground could be made, and in my opinion such a scheme could be pushed on if the Air Ministry took up the matter. 1877 In former years I have raised the question of National Flying Services and have always urged upon the hon. Gentleman the desirability of looking into the arrangements between the Government and National Flying Services. It has not been possible to carry out those arrangements owing to lack of funds, and it will be seen that the subsidy figure does not occur in these Estimates. Personally, I think that is a pity, and I hope that steps will be taken whereby the clubs affiliated to National Flying Services may be able to get this subsidy for training people in their own areas. It would be a great disaster if, in some of the big centres of this country, where National Flying Services have been operating, these clubs should cease to exist. I hope the Air Ministry will be able to make some other arrangements, possibly of a local nature, to enable these clubs to continue.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker for reminding me of that fact, and I do not wish to pursue that subject further. I can assure my bon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I join with other hon. Members who have spoken in offering him congratulations on the excellent way in which he has presented these Estimates.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM - REID
I listened with the greatest interest to the lucid and comprehensive statement which we had from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the introduction of these Estimates but as he progressed I thought I noticed a slight note of restraint. I somehow felt that there were times when he would have liked to have said more to the House, but that in view of his position it might be unwise to do so. Perhaps he would have liked to have said to the House that in the consideration of the total money voted by this House towards the defences, the Air Force is invariably treated as the Cinderella of the Fighting Services. For the few minutes that I intend to occupy the time of the House I should like to attempt to show that this treatment ludicrously resembles the attitude towards gunpowder that at one time was adopted by those people who considered themselves handy with the bow and arrow. The value of the Air 1878 Force in policing difficult countries and, for that matter, seas and the relative economy of air units as compared with other units is already too well-known by hon. Members to need any elaboration.
It is also well known, indeed it has practically become a platitude, that the war of the future will be in the air. Though it is a platitude it is none the less true, and at any rate wars of the future will be settled in the air. My hon. and gallant Friend who spoke a short time ago drew attention to the interesting situation that arose not long ago in Manchuria. I think that example went to show that the aeroplane has come into its own as a war weapon. I, with many others, was surprised at the amazingly rapid advance made by the Japanese only the other day, and I was interested to note that the Japanese themselves attribute their success on that occasion to the efficiency of their air arm and the demoralising effect which it had upon the enemy.
Only the other day I came across some interesting German statistics concerning the last War. I notice that they claimed to have dropped on this country during the War 300 tons of bombs, and no doubt they are in a position to know. I ask the House to consider the enormous strides that have been made in aviation since that time, the technical advance of both machines and engines, the far greater range which the modern aeroplane possesses, and the large increase in the number of machines that are to be found on the Continent; and I think the House will agree that if the Germans were able to drop 300 tons of bombs on this country during the War, such a figure, in the event of any future aerial attack, will prove to be absurdly small. I should not be surprised if that number of bombs could be dropped on the country in 12 hours. This is a fact which is not often disputed, but it annoys me considerably when I hear responsible people blindly telling us that such a contingency would be circumvented because of future disarmament.
There is a great deal of loose talk about Disarmament. I hope that I desire universal disarmament as passionately as any hon. Member, but, on the other hand, I feel very strongly that to make a fetish of words will not help the situation. There has been recently 1879 a great deal of juggling with the word "unilateral," and the juggling theorists are now throwing up what they term "a convincing lead." We have heard a great deal about a convincing lead. If that lead meant that we were going to see to it that we did not poke our noses into the business of other countries, it would be all to the good, but that is not what they indicate. When they glibly talk about a convincing lead, they mean this nation has to continue to give convincing leads in Disarmament to other nations. Why in Heaven's name should we 7 Who cares whether we do, anyhow? Certainly not Germany, and certainly not France, and I presume that these are the two nations on which we have our eye when we talk about giving a convincing lead and an example. Neither of these two countries is in the least frightened of us. They know that the one thing that this country does not desire is war. They know that perhaps this is the only country in the world that could gain no advantage whatever from war. The only country that they are frightened of is each other.
Consequently, I believe that if we were to continue our convincing lead to its logical conclusion and this nation were to disarm itself to the very last man, ship and aeroplane, it would not have the slightest effect upon the arms policy of either France or Germany. On second thoughts, I declare that in all probability those two countries would resent any further disarmament on our part, for they are looking to us for security in any time of trouble. Consequently, I suggest that we finish once and for all with all this humbug and that we leave behind us these Socialist-cum-Liberal day-dreams and that we get down to realities that are more in keeping with the circumstances. Further than that, let us face the fact—and I suggest that hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite should face the facts also—that there is no hope for a long time to come of sufficient international disarmament to prevent war. I have always been led to understand that the main idea of Disarmament is to prevent war, though recently one has wondered whether that is so. But things being as they are, what would encourage a European war in future more than anything else would be a vulnerable and impotent Great Britain, when we should 1880 no longer have to be reckoned with. Though it is a serious statement to make in the House, I am sure that these convincing leads will sooner or later lead to war. The net result has been that our land is now vulnerable from that attack which we fear most.
In what I am about to say, I speak with some slight practical experience, having taken part in one or two raids myself. It is to-day no fairy tale that this city of London could within 20 minutes be reduced to a smouldering collection of ruins over which would hang a cloud of poisonous vapours. Here 1 part company with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) who said that such a contingency was unlikely. I would rather join issue with the Lord President of the Council, who, in his eloquent remarks some time ago, suggested that what I have just said was certainly a possibility. In substantiation of what I have said, I would ask the House to consider the number of aeroplanes that are to be found on the Continent to-day and the number that existed just before or during the War and note the enormous increase. I suggest that we should next contemplate how every one of those machines, civil and otherwise, down to. the smallest single-seater monoplane, can be converted into a bomber in a very few hours. Then I would ask hon. Members to compare the unstrategic position of our capital from the geographical point of view and that of aerial attack, and compare its position on our coast with the central and ungetatable position of large European capitals such as Paris, Berlin and Rome. It will then be seen, taking into consideration the enormous. increase in machines since the War and the unstrategic position in which we find ourselves in this country, especially so-far as the capital is concerned, that if a hostile fleet of bombers were allowed unmolested and in sufficient numbers to bomb this city, the war would be over in no time and we should be lost.
I would point out that we are in a peculiar position. London is the main artery, indeed the only artery, to the whole of this country. All our communications, all our mobilisation orders, go, out from London, and if a colossal fleet of bombers came over London and disorganised it completely what earthly use- 1881 would our Army be then? Modern conditions of warfare make an army in England, at any rate for defence purposes, completely useless to-day, and that being so I suggest that it may be that there is there the germ of an idea for effecting immense economies in the future. I would suggest that if such a saving were effected, part of those economies could be used, with very great advantage to the safety of the nation, in increasing our air arm as a defence against the catastrophies which I have attempted to envisage. My last word is this. Is it not possible for us to eradicate our inherent bigotry on this particular subject? Could we not, for a change, move with the times and turn more completely to our Air Force, both for security and for economy, at home and abroad?
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I think the most forceful, the most eloquent and, if I may respectfully say so, the most inspiring speech to which I have listened in this House fell from the lips of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council when he spoke not long ago upon the horrors of air warfare. In the course of that magnificent speech he placed on the shoulders of old and young alike certain responsibilities. In the light of what has been, occurring at Geneva in the last few weeks I think it is germane for one of the younger generation to voice the abysmal disappointment we feel at the phantasy of make-believe in which all the delegations, our own included, have wallowed at the Disarmament Conference. I turn to the "Times," which reports my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air as saying:In the, view of my delegation any such scheme"—That is, a scheme for control and disarmament generally—must satisfy at least the following conditions. In the first place, it must be so framed as effectively to prevent all possibility of the resources of Civil Aviation being used for military purposes in the event of an outbreak of hostilities.I would submit in all sincerity that that is a frankly futile hypothesis. There are two definite propositions with which I think nobody will for one moment disagree. The first is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) has said, that if 1882 an aeroplane can fly it can bomb. The second point to which I would draw my right hon. Friend's attention, is that however perfect the control of civil aviation may be prior to a declaration of hostilities it becomes worse than futile as soon as hostilities break out. If we bear those two premises in mind it seems that one point alone can emerge when discussing air armament, and that is that if the nations are willing to forego bombing from the air then all our difficulties of the control of military and civil aviation are wiped out, but if that is not possible it is very difficult indeed, unless one is going to fall back on this hopeless phantasy, which can lead us nowhere, to see that these discussions can usefully proceed any further.
I would like to turn from the pseudo-military side to the purely civil side. If we offered the Air Estimates to any experienced foreigner who happened to be in this country and asked him to express some views upon them I feel certain that one point he would make would be this: How comes it about that in a volume devoted almost exclusively to naval and military aviation there is sandwiched in between the two a scant reference to Civil Aviation 7 That, unfortunately, is a story which for this country, and, indeed, for the Empire, is having very bitter consequences. Civil air transport can be divided into five categories. First we have the clubs, which will be discussed later, then we have private clubs, taxi services, inland air services and external services.
Possibly the House will forgive me if I say that in my observations here I am endeavouring to speak with the information which I have culled over the last 10 years first as a member of the Airworthiness Department of the Air Ministry and latterly as an aircraft manufacturer, and therefore that the feelings which I express have been borne in on me in the day-to-day routine of the aircraft world. Clubs and external air lines are the two subdivisions which have been handed over by the Air Ministry lock, stock and barrel to somebody else, and those are the two sides of civil air transport which have flourished. I was sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. McKeag) who spoke from the Liberal benches, casting some aspersions on Imperial Airways, because, 1883 speaking with some little knowledge both as an engineer and as a frequent passenger on Imperial Airways Services, I can find nothing but praise for the magnificent organisation which that company has built up.
The House may possibly be interested to know that in the course of a flight from Paris to England about a fortnight ago one of my fellow passengers who got into conversation with me told me that he was the new Minister for one of the South American Republics. He had just come over from America to Cherbourg by one of the express Atlantic liners and had then gone on to Paris, but although he had not ever flown before the reputation of Imperial Airways was so great in South America that he determined to finish his journey to England by proceeding from Paris to London by our own British air line. I can think of no higher tribute that that a gentleman of such eminence should have his first flight when taking up that important diplomatic position.
Perhaps I might interpose an anecdote which will be of use to those who, possibly, are timid of taking to the air. In the course of a journey which I had to make late last year by Imperial Airways a veritable gale was blowing on the ground. Had I needed to proceed by the antiquated and obsolescent method of transport from Folk stone to Boulogne that day, the report in the "Times" newspaper would have filled me with dismay. What did we do? We took off from Corydon and immediately climbed to a height of a mile and a-half, 8,000 feet, and there we proceeded with absolute peace and calm, and I was able, addressing the soup that was served to me in the course of the excellent luncheon, to observe: "Surely no soup served to me in a railway restaurant-car was ever so peaceful as thou." That is typical of the immense efficiency of that organisation. I am satisfied that, should my hon. Friend the Member for Durham have any real grievance, it would immediately be investigated by the management of the company.
Let me turn from the two happier sides, those that are free from Air Ministry control, in its day-to-day application, to those less fortunate aspects, the air-taxi 1884 service, the inland services, and private flying. These three aspects of flying are suffering from the intolerably rigid interference of Air Ministry regulations and inspectors. We so frequently hear that internal civil flying is unnecessary in this country, that the climate is not quite suitable, that the size of the country does not call for it, or that the train service is so excellent. All these are poor excuses made in an endeavour to cover up our own lack of push fullness in the operation of a new development. The other day I was in a very important center on the North-East Coast, and I required to get to Preston, an important center on the North-West Coast. The best train that I could get to cover the distance which, as the crow flies, is about 70 miles, took no less than six hours, and yet we say that an air-taxi service, which would have got me there in 45 minutes, is not worth while.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
Very likely I was lucky, but I am giving the very best time in which you could do that journey. I dare say that you could take twice as long, if you did not exercise good care. We have this harsh, rigid attitude of interference in civil aviation from the Air Ministry. One may fairly ask what is the civil aviation department of the Air Ministry? Having investigated that question, anybody would come to the conclusion that the department is nothing more nor less than a grandiose filing department, situated hard by in Whitehall at a point where the red tape is thickest, simply purveying the decisions of the military departments, so far as their wishes for civil aviation are. concerned. Let me give a slight example. If I wanted an aircraft investigated as to its strength, I would have to hand it to the military establishment at Far borough. If I want it tested, I would have to send it to a squadron at Martlesham Heath. If I had to discuss a matter of inspection, I would go to yet another military department at Alexandra House in Kingsway.
All these departments deal with what is going to be the lifeblood of our Empire. Not only will the military side of the Air Ministry refuse to allow the civil aviation department to have its own view, but it even prevents that department from co- 1885 ordinating the various military views as they are collected. For this purpose there has been set up in the Air Ministry a special section, R.D.A.C., whose job it is to co-ordinate all the restrictions that can be thought of, and to press them upon the wretched civil aircraft manufacturer. One of the most important duties of that department is to have scouts perpetually traveling over the whole of Europe, finding out any new repressive idea that different countries may have, in regard to civil aviation.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
Indeed, I can tell the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that on the last two occasions in the last four months that I have flown from this country to the Continent, curiously enough, an officer from that department, going to find some new regulation, happened to be a passenger on the machine.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Was that on the road to America, and what did the hon. Member carry in the aero plane?
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
No, this was when flying normally from this country to the Continent. There are plenty of regulations that we have not yet adopted, and I hope that we shall never adopt the one suggested by the hon. Member. Let us look at the matter from the point of view of the motor industry. There is no question that, in a few years time, unless it is completely strangled by the Air Ministry, civil aviation will develop into as important an asset in our national life as the motor industry. Suppose Sir Herbert Austin had to send his next 12-horse-power model down to Allworth Cove to the Tank Section for it to go through a manoeuvring test; suppose he had to send the chassis to Woolwich Arsenal to have it investigated as to strength, the engine to this establishment and the carburetor to that. The whole thing would appear so farcical that it would not be tolerated for a moment. Why then do we tolerate this position in civil aviation? Simply because civil aviation started from small beginnings at the end of the War, when it was not necessary to set up a separate department. Now civil aviation has grown, and it is absolutely essential that the Air Ministry should realize the changed 1886 position. With the repressive attitude, we have unfortunately the consequence that one might expect, and that is, that it is ignored. Very frequently one gets more at the truth if one notices a little slip than if one listens to statements of high policy from a Minister. On the 6th July last, I asked the Under-Secretary of State:The number of British aircraft that have been set on fire since 1918 by night landing flares carried on the aircraft; and the number of deaths resulting there from.My right hon. Friend replied as follows:There has been no recent fatal accident of this kind."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1932; cols. 425-6; Vol. 268.]The "Aero plane" newspaper, dealing with this matter, made the apposite remark:What about the fatal accident at Jack, when two passengers were killed.That, however, was only a civil aircraft. When the Air Ministry refer to British aircraft, they think solely of service aircraft, quite rightly, and when my right hon. Friend was looking up the various accidents that had occurred, it did not strike him at all that "British aircraft" included British civil aircraft.
It is a very keen point throughout the aircraft industry that we are not, on the civil side, getting fair and reasonable treatment from this preponderating military organization. One might fairly ask, is this repressive attitude a definite policy on the part of the Air Ministry, or is it simply the enthusiasm of some junior officials? Unfortunately, we know the answer, because some couple of years ago a committee was set up, on which some of the most able members of the senior Air Ministry staff served, and also some of the most eminent men in the industry, and, as a result of the deliberations of that committee, it was unanimously decided that a certain lightening of the restrictions on civil aircraft should immediately take place. But, as soon as the military mind saw that it was to lose some of its power over civil aviation, the whole report was jettisoned, and today we have a truncated committee which is scarcely permitted to say yea or nay. Therefore, I would, without any exaggeration, say to my right hon. Friend, and to all hon. Members, that the British aircraft industry is thoroughly roused about the manner in which it has been 1887 treated on the civil side. Indeed, the matter was so much talked of in air circles that the Royal Aeronautical Society, the most important aeronautical scientific body in the world, called a special meeting, at which views were very freely stated on this subject.
It is indeed time when the Air Ministry should review its attitude on this important matter. We have had in the last few weeks a Bill—I believe that many right hon. and hon. Members think it is a miserable Bill—for the co-ordination of London transport; but, if London transport needs co-ordinating, no less does the whole attitude towards transport throughout the country. If a Ministry of Defense is necessary for all the defense services, so, surely, is a Ministry of Transport which would cover land, sea and sky. I realise that we cannot get that overnight,but, until we can arrive at that hopeful—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that he is now touching on matters which would require legislation.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I defer to your Ruling. For the moment the Air Ministry could, I suggest, be very helpful if it would take these three steps: In the first place, we should have somebody in authority dealing solely with civil aviation— an Under-Secretary, it may be, but someone who would be thinking out these problems, giving some guidance, and putting some drive into the administration of civil aviation. In the second place, it is essential that the Air Ministry should hand over its present powers over civil aircraft in the lesser categories—I am not here referring to the big air liners —to some body such as Lloyds, or some other organization of that kind, who have certain truncated powers at the moment. I am not here referring to type aircraft, but all subsequent aircraft, after the first type machine has been approved by the Air Ministry, should be taken entirely out of the ken of the Air Ministry organization. In order that that should be effective, we should have to have third-party insurance, which would mean that Lloyds or the underwriters meeting together in some corporation would be able to have their hands on the whole of British civil aviation.
1888 Although I have tried to voice, somewhat ineffectively I am afraid, the fears of the British aircraft industry on this subject of the attitude of the Air Ministry to civil aviation, yet we are not in any way dismayed. Progress has been made in certain directions, and we trust that the co-operation, late though it be, of the Air Ministry may contribute to this immense development, which can not only knit together the different parts of the Empire, but can also, by providing freer communication between one foreign country and another, prevent misunderstandings and enable us to get more together mentally. If my right hon. Friend, during the remaining years that he is at the Air Ministry— and may they be many— would divert some of the energy and some of the constructive mental effort that he has given to the service side into the civil side of flying, both the country and, not least, this House, would indeed be grateful.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Sir ALFRED BEIT
In the first place, may I say I regret very much that, owing to a long-standing engagement in my constituency, I was unable to be in my place when the Under-Secretary introduced the Estimates this afternoon? Consequently, if I should express any fears which he has already allayed, or should ask for any assurances which he has already given, I hope he will treat me with indulgence. I propose very briefly to address myself to certain aspects of civil aviation. The first is one of which I have personal knowledge, namely, the African service operated by Imperial Airways. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) and myself were the first Members of this House to use that service, and, indeed, we were the first individuals who paid for passages in the ordinary way. That was through the heart of tropical Africa at the height of the rainy season, and we were both enormously impressed by the excellence of the aircraft, the comfort, the adequacy of the ground organization, and the skill of the pilots. That trip was taken only a month after the rather lamentable stoppage due to the violence of the weather which caused the first planes to become befogged and the pilots got lost. In spite of that bad beginning, it is gratifying to learn, therefore, that in 1932 less than 3 per cent. of the services 1889 of Imperial Airways were cancelled owing to bad weather.
Since then there has been a vast improvement in the service all round. There are bigger and better aerodromes, and more of them. In the very rainy districts the aerodromes are better drained and better surfaced. There are better meteorological arrangements, and more wireless direction finding stations. The most noteworthy improvements have been made in Rhodesia, but it is to be hoped that Kenya and Tanganyika will shortly follow suit. I understand that a general meteorological survey is planned for the whole of tropical Africa from the Sudan to Southern Rhodesia, and I very much hope that the Air Ministry will give, in collaboration with the East African Governments, such support as they can to this scheme, which I believe to be of paramount importance to aviation in these tropical districts.
A certain amount has been said on the cost of the subsidies. I think the general feeling of the House has been that the subsidy is very modest in extent. That is certainly my feeling. It is not much —£490,000—compared for instance with 217,000,000 francs in France in 1921, say, £2,500,000, or with 23,000,000 marks, £1,500,000, in Germany. In the United States the postal subsidy for 1932 was 20,000,000 dollars for inland services and 7,000,000 dollars for foreign. It is said that only a quarter of that sum ever comes back to the Exchequer in the form of revenue, so that three-quarters of it may be considered subsidy. This is rather in conflict with the statement made by a number of American air lines that they are operating entirely without subsidy and yet at a profit. The subsidy has, I think, enabled our services to be so much improved that it is really possible now to contemplate its ultimate abolition. Its efficiency may be said to have sounded its own death-knell. Lack of accidents brings more passengers and Imperial Airways are now insured by Lloyds at the same rate as surface transport. I would urge greater generosity on the part of the Post Office in the matter of the airmail contracts. I am afraid the Post Office is inclined to snuff out at its start this infant service by demanding a profit, and not to foster it so that in course of time the profits may accrue naturally. Cheaper newspaper rates, cer- 1890 tainly in the African service, are highly necessary. It costs 7s. 6d. to send a copy of the "Times" to Central Africa by air. The only concession that has been made so far is in the rate for post cards.
We supply fuel to commercial machines, both our own and foreign, without duty when they are for overseas destinations. This concession is not reciprocated by Germany and, above all, by Iraq. I feel that in this matter there should be reciprocity all round and the same freedom should be accorded to commercial air lines as is accorded to merchant ships of all nations, which are able to purchase their fuel free of duty.
This leads me to the general question of the freedom of the air. I fail to see why innocent freedom of passage cannot be given to nationally owned aircraft, just as nationally owned merchant ships have freedom of passage outside territorial waters and freedom of passage through territorial waters to any port of their choice. I fail to see why any distinction of nationality should be made in this respect and, in the view of many authorities, the Air Convention should be amended— it would not require legislation— in such a way that complete freedom of passage should only be refused on reasonable and, above all, on stated grounds. There are three lesser, but nevertheless important aspects arising out of the subject of innocent freedom of passage. The first is the postulate which I make, that monopolies should not be granted for flying over territories. To give a small example, it is impossible at present to organize an air mail service between Southern Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa, which is the natural outlet of that Dominion to the sea, because the Portuguese colonies have given a monopoly to France to organise air mails and commercial flying services.
We were unable to continue our services along the Persian side of the Gulf because the Persians wished us to establish an aerial corridor through the center of their country, which we considered impracticable. The result has been that we have changed to the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf. The change over is considered satisfactory, and there is no desire to revert to the original route, but the principle arises that, although Persia is a signatory of 1891 the Air Convention, by her attitude she caused us to abandon our former route, whereas France and Holland are to this day maintaining regular air services to the East which are following the old Persian route.
Finally, I should like to call attention to Italy's chameleon-like changes in regulations. First of all, she does not allow us to enter her territory with our aircraft coming from France, although at the time she laid down that regulation French aero planes were themselves entering Italy from France. She then forbade us to use the Genoa, Naples, Corfu route across Italy and informed us that the only route we could use for our eastern services would be Milan, Brinish, a service which in winter is impracticable because of the bad weather conditions which generally prevail around Milan. We have given Italy rights to fly over Cyprus and Malta, and we have given them our good will to assist them, in so far as we can, to get similar privileges in Egypt and the Sudan. We have given Italy about as much as we can give them, and yet it seems to me that we have not had from them any fair quid pro quo. The right that we have to fly from Brinish or Milan does not seem to me a fair measure of return for what we have given to Italy. The machinery for the modification of the Air Convention exists. I hope it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to bring his influence, and that of his Department, to bear upon the next meeting of the International Commission for Air Navigation in order that some of the irregularities and irritating restrictions may be rescinded and that we may arrive at what I am sure is the spirit of the Air Convention, innocent freedom of passage in time of peace for all irrespective of nationality.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I should be glad if the Minister would reply to two questions. Last year I raised the question of the noise caused by aeroplanes. This year I wish again to ask him what progress he has made in eliminating noise. Noise may not be affecting people inside the machines, but it is affecting people on the surface of the earth below. I have been told by experts that, noisy as the aero plane may be now, they be- 1892 lieve they may be made so silent as to produce no sense of a noise. I was reading the other day a book by a former Duke of Argyll in which he says that when the first steamer, the "Comet," was put on the Clyde by Henry Bell and made its way through the water, the noise was so intolerable that nobody on the boat could be heard. Is there any prospect of a similar transformation in regard to aeroplanes? The other question I want to ask is with regard to something that gives trouble in flying, namely, the formation of ice on the wings and fuselages of aeroplanes. What success has the Minister had in dealing with ice? With those two questions, I make way for the Minister.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I think the House will agree that we have had a most valuable and instructive Debate and one which reveals once again the keen, vital and well-informed interest which hon. Members take in all the varied aspects of Service and civil flying. We have listened to many eloquent speeches. We have heard a good many constructive suggestions and not too much destructive criticism, and I myself have been asked a few questions which I shall hope to try to answer to the best of my ability. As was to be expected, disarmament bulked very large in the Debate. It is a useful thing that it should be ventilated here in all its aspects but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, as long as these proposals and discussions are sub judice in Geneva, it is impossible for me to say anything which might prejudice them.
The hon. Member who followed me this afternoon, the Member for Govan (Mr. N. MacLean) raised a number of points, to some of which I will give an answer now, although I am sorry he is not here. He may, perhaps, read them in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. They were most of them rather small points, as a matter of fact. He asked me about the number of marine aircraft. There is provision for 28 craft used by the Service for a variety of purposes. Then he asked a question about the promotion of men in the Service, and whether it was possible for men to go the whole way up the ladder. It is very possible. In fact, the whole basis of promotion in the Air Force is very broad and democratic. Twenty-five per cent. of the permanent 1893 commissions are given to men promoted from the ranks. The hon. Member next asked me about the pay of officers and whether they could live on their pay. I should certainly say they can. Every effort is made to scrutinise the cost of messing in the different units and stations to see that officers are not charged more than they can afford. As regards the skeleton staff at Cardington, there is, of course, a small staff there collecting information, but it is only holding a watching brief, and we have absolutely no commitments of any sort in the nature of proposals for building any future airships.
We had the pleasure of listening to an extremely delightful and well-informed maiden speech from the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Hanley), and there was nothing in it with which I did not agree whole-heartedly. In fact, he echoed and voiced many opinions which I should have liked to include in my speech had I had time. The all-red route to Malta and Gibraltar is one. These are things we have very much under consideration. Then there is the development of flying boats which we have always done our best to foster and which will be, of course, immensely valuable in that direction. I believe the longest flight which one would have to take in connection with Empire communications would be England to Gibraltar, and if a flying boat would do that particular hop it would be immensely valuable. One of the things about which I agreed with the hon. Member was the unfortunate appellation for the particular weapon which the aero plane possesses. The word "bombs" has a much more disagreeable sound than "shells," and it has been the cause and originator of a great deal of confused thought on this particular problem.
My Noble Friend the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) showed himself rather anxious about the short service commissions and wondered whether it would be possible to have a greater number of permanent commissions. I should like to assure him that short service commissions are essential for a service like the Royal Air Force where there is so large a proportion of officers and competition is extremely keen. The type of men now coming into the Service for short service commissions could not possibly be better. Then 1894 the hon. Member raised some points about co-operation with the Army. In my speech I mentioned an occasion of such co-operation, and said how much the Air Force welcomed that kind of co-operation.
We were very fortunate to have such an extremely interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery). He echoed many of the sentiments which I expressed in my speech. It was particularly interesting to hear these things from him, because he has a first-hand knowledge of them. When he was Secretary of State for the Colonies he was naturally immensely interested in everything which went on in those parts of the world, and he also went there on more than one occasion and saw it all from the air. It was agreeable and encouraging to hear from him how much he welcomes the beneficent and creative side of the work which the Royal Air Force does overseas in the performance and discharge of its essential military duties. I must apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside) for not being in my place when he made his speech. I will read it with care and answer him later on, but I gather that some of the points he made could be made, perhaps, with better and greater effect if they were addressed to the Postmaster-General on the next occasion of the Post Office Vote.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) was kind enough to start his speech with congratulations addressed to myself, but hardly were the words out of his mouth before he watered them down with an expression of disapproval and disappointment. He accused the Secretary of State for Air and myself of what he described as letting the Army and Navy get away with the loot. The only thing I regretted was that there were two Admiralty Ministers sitting on the bench next to me one minute before, but unfortunately they went out and did not hear his remarks. If I have disappointed him he has also disappointed me. This is the first year, I think, on the occasion of the Air Debates that my hon. and gallant Friend has not mentioned the subject of Far borough. I have noticed every year that his criticisms have been getting weaker, and this year they have died out 1895 altogether, which makes me believe that he is entirely satisfied.
The House listens always with the greatest interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), who raised his usual points of interest. I was glad to hear the tribute which he paid to the Hannibal machines of the Imperial Airways Service, a tribute which is voiced and echoed by all who travel on that line. My hon. Friend the Member for one of the divisions of Birmingham left us in no doubt as to his views about the Air Ministry, and especially the attitude they take towards civil aviation and the development of the civil aircraft industry in general. He complained that our measures were so oppressive and so shackling that one wondered whether there was any future or hope for the industry of civil aviation in England at all. But I must say that we have the principal air records, that our Imperial Air Service is the best in the world, and we have the greatest sale of civil aircraft of any country. I know that there is a great deal in what he said, and, when I answer in that way, it is not that I want to be discourteous. I think he was drawing almost too dark a picture, but if there is anything in the suggestions that he has made which may be of any use it will be very carefully considered.
The hon. Member for South-East St. Pancreas (Sir A. Beit) in his very interesting speech, gave us a first-hand report of his experience of the Cape route, and mentioned its great importance and the fact that we were going ahead on that route. We know how much we are indebted to the Trust which bears his name and of which he is a director and how sympathetic they are towards anything which has to do with civil flying in Africa. My hon. Friend the Member for Lich field (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) raised two points. I think that he has raised the question of noise in aeroplanes on previous occasions. We have been doing everything possible to please and to satisfy him in that connection. I do not know whether he has flown lately in the large cabin machines of Imperial Airways— it is after all, in the enclosed machine one suffers most from noise— but if he has, I am sure he will agree that the strides which we have made to 1896 counter this very disagreeable phenomenon have been extremely successful. Whereas one used to have to introduce a large piece of cotton wool into the ears, one can now converse quite as easily as in a motor car or train, and I only hope that he will without delay sample what I am telling him, and realise that the conditions in aeroplanes today will even satisfy his friend the Duke of Argyll. He raised another point in connection with ice. It is very troublesome to pilots flying at great altitudes to have to encounter the formation of ice on the wings and the fuselage. There again we have made very definite strides. New kinds of dope have been tried with considerable success. Dope has sometimes been made of the most curious materials such as treacle, sugar, soap, seccotine and things of that sort. I can assure my hon. Friend that considerable progress has taken place in this matter during the last year or two.