§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON'S STATEMENT
§ Order for Committee read
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I cannot help feeling that I have before me this afternoon a far from easy task. I know that there are in this House two diametrically opposed schools of thought who differ with great earnestness and vigour upon the Fighting Services in general and upon the Royal Air Force in particular. Perhaps the divergence between these two schools is more acute at the present time than it has ever been before. On the one hand, there are those who regard the Air arm as an imminent threat to the survival of our present day civilisation and would like to see all military aircraft swept out of existence. On the other hand, there are those who consider that the provisions which His Majesty's Government have made for the air defences of this Island are utterly inadequate and who would like to see a large and immediate increase in the number of our service machines. I trust that hon. Members, to whatever school of thought they may belong, will bear with me while I endeavour to the best of my ability to expound the policy envisaged in these Estimates. At all events, I hope that I shall be able to persuade that body of moderate opinion which is the strength of this House that the Government are taking a proper and reasonable course, in circumstances of extreme difficulty and delicacy. If so, I shall be well content.
The House will have observed that the Estimates which I present to-day disclose, for the first time after the sacrifices of recent years, a modest upward trend. The net figure of £17,561,000 shows an increase of £135,000 only. A truer picture is provided this year by a comparison of the gross Estimates. These, at £20,165,000, show an increase of £527,000. The reason for this is two-fold. In the first place, as a result of the deliberations of the recently appointed Tri- 2028 bunal on Indian Defence Expenditure, we are getting an extra £100,000 from India this year in respect of the initial training, etc., in this country of Royal Air Force personnel serving on the Indian establishment. In the second place, the bulk of the expenditure on the Fleet Air Arm is borne under the current arrangements by Navy Votes, and does not appear in our net total, but only in our gross figures as a grant-in-aid.
For this moderate increase in expenditure the country is going to get, as explained in my Noble Friend's Memorandum, four new squadrons—two for home defence, one new flying boat squadron, and the equivalent of one squadron for the Fleet Air Arm. In addition, two home defence squadrons now forming part of one of our experimental establishments will be reconstituted and given separate entities. Thus, though the nominal increase in our first-line strength will be four squadrons, we shall in reality be getting an effective increase of six squadrons. This increase, moderate as it is, will no doubt be deplored by those Members who are undeterred by our present position of unilateral disarmament in the air, while it will be regarded as wholly inadequate by no small number of others. Before turning to the details of the Estimates I should like, therefore, very briefly to review the circumstances and considerations which have led His Majesty's Government to adopt this particular course.
In the first place, as it is scarcely necessary to remind the House, the pressing need of economy, which has left its mark on all the Estimates of recent years, still persists. Obviously it would be undesirable that the tide of returning prosperity should be checked or thrown back by too early or too lavish an increase in the scale of national expenditure. Secondly, and no less obviously, the world has reached a critical point of extreme delicacy in the matter of disarmament. Last year I expressed the hope that, by the time the next Estimates came round, the Disarmament Conference would have come to some satisfactory agreement for the limitation and reduction of air armaments. That has not yet occurred. I need not enlarge upon the perils and misfortunes which would inevitable follow from uncon- 2029 trolled competitive development in the air. They are present to the mind of every Member of the House, and they are terrible to contemplate.
Throughout all the discussions which have taken place on the subject, we have been foremost in advocating general disarmament in the air to the lowest level on which international agreement can be secured. We have put forward definite proposals to that end. We have followed a policy of studious moderation in regard to disarmament for over 15 years. That period is substantially longer than Jacob served for Rachel, and we have not even had the doubtful consolation of acquiring a Leah by the way. Far from accepting our proposals, and farther yet from following our example, other nations have increased their air armaments steadily, until they far outnumber ours. That is not the whole story. The latest developments are still more striking. The President of the United States recently authorised an additional expenditure of £3,000,000 for the purchase of new aircraft for the American Naval and Military Air Services. Russia and Japan are also largely expanding their air forces. The intentions of Russia are indicated by a Red Army Order of the 18th August, 1933, signed by the War Minister, Voroshilov. It is as follows:Technically equipped, confident of its force, stands the Red Air Fleet at the gates of its future, intently and energetically working on the completion of its historical task—to overtake and surpass the capitalist countries most advanced in aviation.Increased funds for air armaments have also been provided by a long list of other countries, including Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia; while, of our own Dominions, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand have authorised a considerable increase in their air expenditure for the coming year. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government feel that it is no longer possible to postpone further the 10-year old programme of 1923, which is already so long overdue for completion. They feel that we cannot any longer accept a position of continuing inferiority in the air. We have made it plain that this country must, so long as air forces exist, have parity in the air, howsoever that parity may be attained. This does not mean that we have in any way abandoned our belief in the advantages of general air disarmament. We have recently submitted to the 2030 principal European Air Powers a Disarmament Memorandum which would have the effect of stabilising the leading air forces of the world on a parity basis at a figure which would entail considerable reductions in all the leading air forces, including our own. We stand by that memorandum. We shall continue to use all the arguments and all the influence that we can command to persuade other nations to adopt it, or some other scheme framed on similar lines. But the time has come when we can no longer ignore the fact that, whereas all nations talk about disarmament, hardly any other nations except ourselves are doing anything but increasing their air armaments. Therefore, if other nations will not come down to our level, our national and Imperial security demands that we shall build up towards theirs.
These Estimates, therefore, in broad outline, are the outcome of our desire to pursue disarmament and to study economy on the one hand, and, on the other, of our reluctant conviction that the policy of postponement cannot be continued. Resumption of the scheme of 1923 has become inevitable. But we do not want to put forward a programme of construction which might prove to be the starting gun for a race in air armaments. In the interests of world peace, the initial measure of advance which is indicated in these Estimates is designedly placed within the most modest bounds.
Let me now say a few words on the details of the Estimates themselves. Vote 1, which provides for the pay of the personnel of the Royal Air Force, shows a net increase of £100,000. This increase is partly artificial, due to certain bookkeeping transfers between Votes, as has been explained in my Noble Friend's Memorandum. Vote 2, which covers non-technical stores, transportation, etc., has been very largely reduced during recent years as a result of lower prices, and this year it remains static. Vote 3 comprises over 40 per cent. of total air expenditure, and is, indeed, the dominant Vote of the Estimates. It provides for that technical equipment which is so vital to the Service. This year there is a gross increase of £300,000 in the Vote which, I feel sure, will be welcomed by many hon. Members, because £250,000 of it means that we are ordering a larger number of new machines and engines than last year. It will, I hope, 2031 not be unwelcome to the remainder of the House, in that it means also that we shall 1be giving increased employment.
Vote 4, for works, buildings and lands, shows this year a net addition of £65,060, but it is still more than £100,000 lower than it was in 1931. This increase is primarily due to provision for the further development of the new air base at Dhibban, in Iraq, with regard to which it may well be that hon. Members would like a few words of explanation. I should say, first, that Article 5 of the Treaty of Alliance between the United Kingdom and Iraq, of 30th June, 1930, specifically provides for the construction of "an air base to be selected by His Britannic Majesty to the West of the Euphrates." We are bound by that provision; but I may say at once that there are several very great advantages, from the point of view of the Royal Air Force, in the transfer from the present air base at Hinaidi. The site at Dhibban, which is too isolated according to some people, is, after all, only 50 miles from Bagdad, half an hour, that is, by air, and two hours by road, which is considerably nearer, shall I say, than my own constituency of Hythe is to Westminster. It was selected after the most exhaustive consideration of all possible alternative sites. Strategically, it is definitely preferable to Hinaidi. It has an easy line of communication running westwards to Transjordan and Palestine through desert country readily negotiable by modern motor transport and inhabited but sparsely by friendly tribes. It is considered to be materially safer than the alternative line of communication between Bagdad and Basra, which passes through areas closely inhabited by powerful tribes who have been active insurgents in past disturbances in Iraq. Moreover, Dhibban lies west of the rivers which would have to be crossed by hostile tribesmen coming from most quarters of Iraq, and the bridgeheads of which we could easily control—not, of course, that we have any reason to anticipate any trouble under present conditions.
I am glad to add—and this is my last word on this particular subject—that the cost of the change-over is not in reality nearly so formidable as the figure of £1,450,000 at which it stands in these Estimates. The net capital cost, in fact, should not exceed £350,000. If we had 2032 stayed on at Hinaidi and Mosul, we would have been compelled to spend at least another £750,000 at an early date on reconstruction. This does not mean, of course, that when these stations are transferred to the Iraq Government they will have to pay anything like that sum. Their requirements are altogether different from ours, both in kind and in quantity. Moreover, under the arrangements agreed with the Iraq Government, we shall receive for these stations £350,000. In addition, with the concentration of the Royal Air Force at two stations only, there will naturally be a considerable saving in administrative and maintenance costs.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Is anyone more likely to know where the remains of the Assyrians are than the British Air Force? Do you know where they are?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I do not think that I can answer that question. I do not think that it applies to this Debate.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I think that the only other Vote on which I need comment at this stage is Vote 8, for civil aviation, which stands at £513,000, representing the highest level at which it has stood for the past 10 years. I hope to be able to satisfy the House in due course that we shall be getting good value for the increase in this Vote.
If in this brief review I have missed any points upon which hon. Members would like to have further information, no doubt these matters will be raised in the course of the Debate, and I shall have an opportunity of replying at the end of the evening. Meanwhile, I am sure that the House would like to hear something about the work of the Royal Air Force and of the development of civil aviation during the past year. At the outset of this part of my speech I feel that I ought to refer to the tragic loss which the Royal Air Force sustained very shortly after the Estimates were pre- 2033 sented last year. On 27th April, barely four weeks after his appointment as Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond died in hospital. The House, I know, will join with me in deploring the grievous loss of this very distinguished man at the height of his career. As the House knows, my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air has only recently returned from an air tour of all our overseas stations in Egypt, the Sudan, Transjordan, Palestine, Iraq and India, touring as far east as Calcutta. In the course of a very strenuous seven weeks, he covered over 16,000 miles, and came back looking as if he had just returned from an extended rest cure, and completely satisfied with the efficiency, good morale and good health of all the units which he visited.
Perhaps I may now say a few words about the activities of the Royal Air Force during 1933. There have been in the course of the past year several long distance flights by overseas units, in particular between Singapore and the North-West Frontier of India in both directions, and right across Africa. Altogether some 200,000 aircraft miles were covered in these flights during the year. As has been explained on previous occasions, these long distance flights have a very great deal to do in helping to maintain the efficiency of the service, and, without any additional expense, they supply valuable information for the future establishment of civil air lines. It is intended to continue these flights in the coming year, and, as far as possible, to see that they are accompanied by air-borne equipment and supplies. As illustrating the growing range of operations, I may mention, incidentally, that there have been many successful non-stop flights carried out in Iraq by standard land aircraft fitted with ordinary service long-range tanks. Some of these non-stop flights have covered distances of well over 1,000 miles. One particular interesting non-stop flight of a shorter duration was undertaken between Basra and Sharjar on the Persian Gulf. In addition to these more formally organised cruises, machines based on such centres as Basra and Aden have been constantly at work within their own normal radius of action, maintaining and developing communications, and extending those areas within which the Pax Britannica, brings order 2034 and security to replace rapine and oppression.
Last year I sought to emphasise the fact that air power, notwithstanding that it was one of the most formidable weapons of war, also possessed immense potentialities for peace. My reward was that of those who seek to advocate, at a season when it still wears the resemblance of a paradox, something which in a few years' time is destined to become a truism. Those who disagreed with me tried to "blanket" my argument with ridicule, though every year brings fresh examples of the truth of what I said. It is not indeed by fighting locusts or dropping blankets, or even evacuating threatened civilians or carrying medical assistance to the sick and injured, that the Royal Air Force does its only work for peace, though the list of these humane activities is indeed a long one. In the establishment of the rule of law and in safeguarding the life, liberty and goods of the subject on the frontiers of our Empire, the policeman goes hand in hand with the philanthropist.
Perhaps the House will bear with me if I give one or two typical recent incidents to illustrate my argument. Only a few weeks ago the territory of a tribe nominally under our protection in the remote hinterland of Aden was overrun by hostile tribesmen from across the frontier. Hostages and loot were taken, and it seemed as if there might be a danger of the commencement of a regime of oppression from without, such as prevailed over a large part of the Protectorate before the advent of air control. A stern warning was issued that unless the hostages and loot were returned and all molestation brought to an immediate end, punitive air action would be taken against the frontier forts of the offenders. The warning was completely successful, and in the shortest possible space of time the loot and hostages were restored and all aggression ceased—and this without the firing of a single shot, the dropping of a single bomb, or the infliction of a single casualty. Another incident is reminiscent of that immortal combat which is chronicled in "Alice through the Looking Glass." Some of our aircraft were returning from an ordinary routine flight when they saw beneath them a tribal affray in full swing. A strong tribe from across the frontier had started an attack on one of the tribes under our 2035 protection when our aircraft fortuitously arrived upon the scene. At the mere sight of the policeman, miraculously summoned, as they thought, at even shorter notice than usual, the raiders broke off the battle and dispersed with great rapidity. Readers of Lewis Carroll will remember how Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle, when the sudden advent of a monstrous bird so frightened both the heroes that they quite forgot their quarrel. In this case fact has improved upon fiction, because it was only the villains of the piece who were frightened into good behaviour.
It is instances like these, multiplied on all our frontiers, which have led His Majesty's Government to insist that police bombing in outlying districts shall be excepted from any general prohibition of bombing from the air. After all, the dropping of bombs is only the final stage of police action, and peace is usually restored without having to resort to force at all. The policeman's truncheon is infrequently brought into play and usually a mere "Move along there" suffices. On one occasion an address from the air by loud speakers, perhaps I should say very loud speakers, was singularly effective. If that fails, the attention of the offenders is brought to the truncheon before it is brought into play. That is to say, we drop dummy bombs as a warning. It is only after all these preliminary stages have failed to produce the result required that bombing is eventually resorted to. In the course of the past year I had occasion to collect together statistics showing how the use of air power has reduced and almost abolished the "blood bill" which, before the advent of the air arm, we used to have to pay as the price of an uncertain peace along the frontiers of our Empire. I will not weary the House with figures which are accessible to all and known to most, but I think in the light of those figures it is unthinkable that we should go back to the old method after our experience of the new. To do so would entail immense sacrifice of life on both sides—on our own just as well as on the enemy's. Humanity itself demands that, when the new instrument has shown its efficiency and its mercifulness over a period of 10 years, we should not wantonly abandon it.
2036 Before turning to the subject of civil aviation, there are one or two developments in connection with the work of the Royal Air Force at home to which I should like to direct attention. In the first place, there has been going on during the past year an experiment of considerable interest at the present time. Since February of last year one of our squadrons has been operating upon petrol derived from British coal by the low temperature carbonisation process, and the results have been so very satisfactory that it has been decided to accept this particular kind of coal fuel as a normal supply. It is expected that there will be sufficient supplies of this coal fuel for the use of seven squadrons during the year. Hon. Members will rejoice, I feel sure, to know of this new outlet for British coal which, small as it is as yet, has definite possibilities of growth. Other experiments of general interest have been and are being conducted in connection with compression ignition engines running on heavy oil. Two aeroplanes driven by engines of this type were flown at the Royal Air Force display last year. As far as petrol engines are concerned, perhaps the most interesting development of the year is an air-cooled engine operating with sleeve valves instead of poppet valves. Constant experiments, in which our new and reconstructed wind tunnels are proving of the greatest possible service, have been conducted also in machine design with a view to increasing performance and the safety factor.
It is impossible in the time at my disposal to do full justice to the work, which I know interests the House so much, of research and technical development, interesting as it is and absolutely vital as it is in the development of commercial and military flying. But I should like publicly to acknowledge the immense assistance that we have received from outside scientists, and also the readiness with which so many distinguished men have placed their services at the disposal of the Air Ministry, either through the medium of the Committee of Aeronautical Research or by independent work at Oxford, Cambridge and other Universities. I should like also to say a word of praise for the two pilots who are carrying on the work of the great meteorological flight at Duxford. In all 2037 weathers every day, all through the year, they fly to great heights and acquire knowledge of conditions in the upper atmosphere which are invaluable in the compilation of our weather forecasts, It is not at all unusual for one of these pilots to fly to a height of 20,000 feet through clouds all the way, lost in a world of mist, sky and earth equally invisible. He comes down again through the clouds, alights where he can and sends off his report. In the snowstorms of last week at a height of 10,000 feet they found a temperature of 50 degrees below freezing point but higher, at 15,000 feet, it was two degrees warmer, a presage of the milder weather that we had a few days later.
I should like to outline some of the principal new developments for which provision is taken in these Estimates from the point of view of civil aviation and to say something about the encouraging progress that has been made during the past year. His Majesty's Government, in conjunction with the Government of India, and through the agency of Imperial Airways, have organised our part of the route to Australia and now a regular weekly service is in operation as far as Singapore. The Australian Government have got before them tenders for the final Singapore-Australian section, and I have every hope that by the autumn the whole route will be in operation. Turning from East to West, a new project of considerable interest for which a provision of £10,000 is made in these Estimates is a weekly service between New York and Bermuda which is operated by Imperial Airways co-operating with American interests. Apart from its local importance, this new route is of particular interest in that it may very likely prove to be a first link in a trans-Atlantic service though, of course, we are making a close study, in conjunction with the Canadian and Newfoundland Governments, with regard to the alternative direct route via Newfoundland. Coming home, it used to be the fashion to say that there was little scope in these islands for what I might term domestic flying. I think latterly it has been obvious that that must be modified. There was an encouraging increase in internal air services last year, some 12 companies being in operation. I will not 2038 say anything about the very important subject of aerodrome development, because I shall have an opportunity of replying later to an Amendment on the subject.
Generally, 1933 can be considered as a year of distinct progress on the part of British civil aviation. There has been an encouraging increase in the amount of passenger and mail traffic. Some 85 tons of mails were dealt with by Imperial Airways last year, compared with only 64 tons in 1932, an increase of 33⅓ per cent. Of the 91,000 passengers carried by all the Continental air services, Imperial Airways carried just under 50,000. These figures are a gratifying testimony to the reputation for comfort and safety established by Imperial Airways. Accidents must happen from time to time, unfortunately, in most forms of transport, but it is a great tribute to the record of Imperial Airways that Lloyds now accept the company's passengers at the same rate per day of air travel as for land and sea travel. No other air transport company enjoys the same favourable terms. A noteworthy characteristic of the 1933 passenger figures is the increasing use made of the company's services by business men. To give a single example, early in the year a passenger landed at Croydon who had paid business calls on clients in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Uganda, Rhodesia, Tanganyika and South Africa in 80 days. By the ordinary surface form of travel it would have taken him 180 days. The evidence of gradual economic recovery which we see in so many other directions, fortunately, to-day can also be found in civil aviation. There has been a healthy increase in the number of aircraft possessing certificates of air worthiness and the number of pilots' licences issued during the past year. One of them was that issued to the Secretary of State for Air. The light aeroplane club movement has also been showing very satisfactory progress under the improved and revised conditions which I announced to the House last March.
Before leaving the subject of civil aviation, I should like to say a few words on a subject which I know has been very much in the minds of some hon. Members for some time past. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) not long ago 2039 made a speech in which he suggested that the question whether civil aviation should be taken away from the control of the Air Ministry requires investigation. My hon. and gallant Friend's speeches on air matters, as on all other matters, are always stimulating and instructive. The Royal Aero Club has accorded him the proud distinction of having made the first aeroplane flight in this country, and since that day he has never lost interest and has always been an acknowledged authority on all aeronautical matters. I agree that world civil aviation has laboured under the handicap of its association with military aviation, but I do not agree that it would improve things one whit in this country if civil aviation were taken from the control of the Air Ministry. It is abroad and not in this country that civil aviation is an adjunct of military power. In some foreign countries the development of commercial aviation has been coloured by the desire to create a reserve of aircraft and personnel suitable for military use, but the striking fact is that this policy was adopted in foreign countries at a time when civil aviation was still under a civil department and not under a military department at all. That policy has played havoc with economic development abroad, but it is not a policy that has ever been followed in this country.
The one goal that we have always set before Imperial Airways is that they should put their operations on a commercial basis and become self-supporting at the earliest possible moment. With that goal in view, the design and number of the company's air fleet has never been interfered with by the Air Ministry. Those matters have been left to the company and its expert advisers and have been governed solely by principles of strict business economy. The result has been that, with a far smaller subsidy, the company has now advanced towards an economic basis of operation far ahead of its Continental rivals. Therefore, it is clear that British air transport has not been in any way deflected from a genuine commercial basis of operation by the fact that it has been under the control of the Air Ministry whereas, on the other hand, there are powerful reasons why that responsibility should be continued. 2040 In the first place, there are, so far as I can see, only two other Departments under which civil aviation could possibly be placed, namely, the Ministry of Transport and the Board of Trade. The Ministry of Transport is more than fully occupied by its road and rail problems and, moreover, its functions are at present confined to internal transport. The Board of Trade, if I may say so without disrespect, is already the Pooh-Bah of Government Departments. It is responsible for the overseas trade, for industries and manufactures, for patents, for commercial relations, for the mercantile marine, for public companies, for bankruptcy, for mines, for petroleum and a whole host of subordinate activities. It is almost a miracle that it discharges its immensely wide and varied responsibilities so efficiently.
Further, any transfer would necessitate an extensive duplication of staff, a pullulation of technical bureaucrats which I hardly think would commend itself to this House. Such questions as angles of incidence, stagger, streamlining, spinning, buffeting and a host of other aerodynamical problems affect equally aircraft for commercial and for military uses. The same applies to the study of metal fatigue, alloys, corrosion, propeller design, wireless telegraphy and telephony, and meteorology. You simply cannot from these angles divorce commercial from military development, at a time when the whole technique is so fluid. To sum up, I do not believe that there is any theoretical case for the divorce of civil aviation from the Air Ministry. I am quite certain that such divorce is a practical impossibility and is likely to remain so for a long time to come.
Here I may perhaps pause for a moment to pay a tribute to the work which an authoritative independent committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Gorell, is doing on certain civil aviation problems. The original terms of reference of the committee have been extended to cover various important issues on which the Air Council are desirous of having independent outside advice. Not only the Air Ministry, but this House and the country, owe a deep debt of gratitude to the members of this committee, including three members of this House, who are giving up so much of their time to these arduous and complex investigations.
2041 I have now covered, so far as time allows, the main services provided in these Estimates. In conclusion, I want to sound a note which will be familiar enough to hon. Members; which has always been well received by the House and has never more deserved to be so received than it does to-day. My Noble Friend testified on his return from his recent tour to the splendid spirit which he found pervading the personnel of the Royal Air Force at all the stations he visited. The same spirit exists equally at home. It would not have been altogether surprising, if all the talk which has been taking place of recent years on the subject of the total abolition of Air Forces had resulted in a certain discouragement and apathy among those who have chosen the Royal Air Force as their career. It would not have been surprising if such had been the case, indeed, the surprising thing to me is that it has not.
I would ask hon. Members to bear this aspect of a difficult question constantly in mind; I am sure that the House as a whole realises that the Royal Air Force is now, alongside the Royal Navy, the first-line of defence of these Islands and of the Empire. We must look to it that we do nothing to undermine the spirit and courage of that defence, especially when it still remains so necessary to our national security. I believe that no harm has been done as yet; but that is due to the loyalty and devotion of all ranks of a Service which, as I am sure the whole House will agree, has fully proved its worthiness to take co-equal place with the two older services in the trinity of Imperial Defence.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am sure that I shall be expressing the view of the whole House if I congratulate the right hon. Member upon the interesting and admirable manner in which he has introduced the Estimates. It is what we expect of him, because we have had experience before, and I do not think that this afternoon he has fallen in any way below the high standard which he has set himself. We on this side certainly have no complaint whatever about the tone and temper in which he has dealt with the great problems involved in the Estimates. I should like, on behalf of the hon. Members who sit with me, to join in expressing our regret at the loss which the Air Service 2042 suffered through the untimely death of Air Chief-Marshal Salmond, and also in the tribute which the Under-Secretary has paid to the spirit of the men of the Air Force.
I shall not attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman into any of the technical details of the Estimates; I am not qualified to do so. I want to discuss them from the point of view that all defence Estimates must be considered as the result of foreign policy. What defence we need whether in the air, on the sea, or on land, depends on what policy the Government adopt. It is strictly from that point of view that I wish to examine these Estimates. In the second place, I want to view the Estimates as part of the general defence system. We have complained very often in this House that we have not an opportunity of discussing the Estimates of the three Defence Services as one connected whole. We must look on the Air Estimates in relation to the other Defence Estimates, and we are fortunate to-day that we have in our hands the three Estimates. In each of the Estimates we find an increase. There is an increase of rather more than £500,000 for the Air Force, just under £3,000,000 for the Navy and rather more than £1,500,000 for the Army, a total of over £5,000,000 increased expenditure. I shall have something to say in regard to that increased expenditure later. It is an absolute increase.
When we look at the expenditure upon each Service we must be struck, I think, at the amount that we spend on the older Services compared with what we spend on the younger Service. We spend something over £20,000,000 on the Air Service, £56,500,000 on the Navy and just over £40,000,000 on the Army, a total of something like £106,000,000 for defence. That is called by some people our insurance. There are two questions that we have to ask about that. First, is that insurance effective and, secondly, is the right amount paid in respect of the various risks which may come to this country. For the air risks we pay roughly one-fifth. I want to examine the Air Estimates as part of a connected whole. It is impossible to separate the Air Force, the Army and the Navy and to take them as if they were separate and disconnected problems.
All warfare really comes down in the end to two points. The first is the pro- 2043 pulsion of a projectile on to a target, and the second is the defence of that target against the projectile. Everything else is really subsidiary. The delivery of a bomb by an aeroplane on to a target is really, in essence, precisely the same thing as David slinging a stone against Goliath, the thrust of a spear against a shield, the hurling of a shell against an earthwork, the loosing of a torpedo against a vessel, or shooting an arrow from a bow. In essence, the whole problem is the same: how are you going to get the projectile on to the target? Therefore, to think of the Air Force as something quite separate, something entirely new, is wrong. It is merely an extension of the process involved in all warfare. Whatever your form of defence, whether it may be a shield or an earthwork, or an armoured vessel, or whatever it may be, essentially the object is to endeavour to defeat the projectile.
Therefore, when we consider the Air Estimates we consider them as part of an instrument of war, and to my mind the dominating weapon of war to-day. Anybody who has studied the matter from the point of view of making war, any person who is not blind to modern development or not hide-bound in old traditions, will always endeavour to get the most effective projectile he can and to deliver it at the most vulnerable point. To-day, obviously, the dominant projectile is the air weapon. An aeroplane carrying a bomb is a more effective way of getting a projectile to its target than any guns or anything else we have had in the past. To my mind it is childish to discuss the question of aerial bombing as if it were something quite outside the range of what is done by other weapons. We have to consider it as a development, and I hold that the fact of its development is the greatest menace to civilisation. We have to consider what is our position on the Air Estimates in regard to defence, taking the Air Estimate as an expression of the policy of His Majesty's Government.
I take it that it is now an established fact that in any future war the decision will be reached in the air. It is, of course, impossible to argue about that. I can only go by what the experts tell me, and from what little experience I had in the War. It seems to me per- 2044 fectly obvious that in the next war, if there should be another war, you may have your Air Force disarmed before you can get your Navy, or Army into action. Experience has shown that no paper or conventional limitations will prevent the use of the weapon of the air to its fullest effect. That, I think, was made clear in the speech of the Lord President of the Council, and it is brought out clearly in a recent work by General Groves. Therefore the prohibition of air bombing would be ineffective in a war. At the present time scientific developments are such that air forces can destroy whole cities with comparative ease, and also vessels, whether armoured or mercantile vessels.
There is no effective defence against air attack. That is a point we have to consider on the Air Estimates. We have had it from the Lord President of the Council, and it seems to be backed up by every form of expert opinion, that at the present time, whatever you may spend on defensive schemes and aeroplanes of one kind and another, there is no effective defence against air attack. You may be able to get some effective defence at some time. You may get a ray that will play on the engine and upset the engine of the aeroplane. But you have not got it now.
I want to look at these Estimates from the point of view of a realist and not that of a sentimentalist. As a matter of fact in this matter the pacifist is the realist. Soldiers and sailors, perhaps as a natural revulsion from having to train for such a horrible thing as war, are absolute sentimentalists. Take, for instance, the soldier with regard to the horse. In the long tale of centuries you find exactly the same with the sailor, with regard to the traditional position of this country on the sea, the capital ship and so forth. He is a sentimentalist. I think probably the airman is more a realist at the present time. These Estimates are introduced at a time when the Disarmament Conference is still in being, and at the moment there is a British Draft Memorandum which aims at laying down a limitation of armed States within the League. Let me assume that, as we all hope, we get a limitation of armaments. Whatever you may do with regard to defence, guns and battleships, in the way of limitation, in my view you 2045 will not have effected anything unless you have really dealt with air armaments. We have in the Memorandum by the Secretary of State, a statement on disarmament, which says that:The policy which this country has advocated in the sphere of air disarmament has been clearly stated in successive White Papers laid before Parliament. Pending consideration by the Permanent Disarmament Commission of yet more far-reaching measures, His Majesty's Government have made their primary object the attainment of air parity in first line strength between the principal Powers, in order that a race in air armaments may at all costs be avoided.It is their earnest desire to bring the others down to the British level. What does complete disarmament in the air mean? Does it mean the abolition of all military and naval aircraft? I believe that it is ineffective as long as you have civil aviation owned by separate nations. It seems to be established on the evidence that if you cannot draw this nice line between military and civil aircraft, convertibility is inherent in aircraft. Therefore it seems to me that, supposing we obtain more than we get in the Government White Paper, we have not really got away from the danger of competition in air armaments by merely getting rid of actual naval and military aircraft, as long as there is civil aviation which can be supported and is supported by subsidies from each country, and as long as we have chemical and other factories capable of conversion. Therefore to my mind the Government have not laid down a perfectly clear policy.
My second point is this: I do not want to discuss this disarmament question or foreign questions any more than is necessary for dealing with these Estimates. But I think it is clear to all of us that disarmament is dominated by security. Security means the reign of law enforced by sanctions, and the present sanctions that we have appear to be quite ineffective. Looking at these Estimates a realist has to ask himself, Do they really give air defence? In my view air defence in existing circumstances is a contradiction in terms. What every advocate of air defence really means is that he wants to have a force which will be a threat of counter-attack sufficient to deter anyone from attacking his country. That is the meaning of air defence. As long as you have national aviation you will have this 2046 menace of air attack and you will have this competition between groups of States. They will be competing all the time and putting themselves into a position in which they will deter anyone from attack. Air defence does not mean putting a ring of stations round one city such as London, experimenting with anti-aircraft guns, flashing searchlights, and so on. It means counter-attack. To my mind any proposals put forward to the Disarmament Conference by this country have not got rid of competition in air armaments. To my mind anything like that means the utmost possible danger both to this country and to civilisation.
Can we get a defence against an air menace which will destroy western civilisation? That is the question we have to face. The statement of the Lord President of the Council is clearly before us. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a question for young men. I think it is a question for us. We on this side believe that it is perfectly useless and insane to take up a position in which we say, "Well, we will get air parity with every other country." I do not think you can get it. I do not think you can get it unless you are going to deal with the whole question of aircraft, whether military, naval or civil. You have to take in the whole question of aircraft. Then surely the question of air parity must really relate itself to what your general attitude is to foreign countries. Unless you really believe in a League of Nations and regard your Air Force as part of the collected sanctions of the League, you are in effect driven back to alliances of one kind or another, and at any time some temporary alliance may upset your parity.
Therefore, you have to face up to the real question of an air menace and how you are to meet it, and you are simply going in for competition in armaments. We hold that a very grave mistake was made by our Government in not coming to an agreement with the French for the internationalising of civil aviation. I believe that we did not do that because we shirked taking responsibility. On this subject I was reading the other day a passage from a book by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), a passage which struck me as extraordinarily good. The right hon. Gentleman is one of those brilliant and erratic geniuses who, when he sees clearly, sees 2047 very, very clearly; and sometimes he does not. This passage occurs in his book "Aftermath." He was exercising his brilliant imagination with the idea that a great statesman who attended the Peace Conference had actually become sane and had decided in favour of world peace:At the moment when science had produced weapons destructive of the safety and even the life of whole cities and populations, weapons whose actions were restricted by no frontiers and could be warded off neither by fleets nor by armies, a new instrument of human government would be created to wield them. So it was agreed that in principle the Powers of the Air should be reserved to the League of Nations for the purpose of maintaining world peace against aggression. No absolute veto was placed in the first place upon national air forces, but the whole emphasis of the policy of the Great Powers would be laid upon building up the International Air Force with the intention that as general confidence grew only commercial aviation should be developed nationally.I do not think the right hon. Gentleman went far enough. He ought to have taken in commercial aviation. That conception is back up by realists in France. It was backed up by realists in this House, by Members like the hon. and gallant Member for Burnley (Vice-Admiral Campbell), who made a very remarkable speech not very long ago. It it backed up by people of great experience. We ask, what is this menace? Is what is meant an air defence for this country against some possible attack, or is it meant as a contribution to a collective security under the League of Nations? The Government in our view do not seem to go whole-heartedly either one way or the other, and we fear that we are getting the worst of both worlds.
We shall oppose these Estimates not merely because there is an increase, but because we believe that the Government have no adequate and clear policy to meet this air menace. One Member of the Government, the Lord President, laid down absolutely clearly what the menace was, but I do not think that other Members of the Government have followed that up in their foreign policy. We believe that the Government should have worked for the entire internationalisation of aviation and for the creation of an international air force. It is easy to pooh-pooh that suggestion and 2048 to say that there are all sorts of difficulties. I admit the difficulties. But the dangers and difficulties of having no policy are far greater; the danger of having a policy which is going to lead to competitive armaments is greater still. I confess that I am rather disturbed, after the clamour and shouting for an enormous increase of the Air Estimates, to find that it has died away. I wonder whether this Estimate is another smoke screen? I believe that whether the Disarmament Conference is successful at its present stage or not, it is utterly fatal for air defence to stop short, and a mere agreement about parity for fighting aeroplanes without dealing with civil aviation. I believe there is no real air defence.
I do not propose to try to elaborate, and it would be out of place on these Estimates to try to elaborate the details of an international Air Force. But I would say that hon. Members should seriously consider this matter of air defence and not brush aside the suggestion made, not only from this side of the House but from many other quarters, that the only way to get rid of the air menace is by internationalising the air forces of the world as an international police force. I do not put this suggestion forward as a sentimentalist, I am not a sentimentalist on war. Few civilians who fought in the last War are sentimentalists.
We on this side are out for total disarmament, because we are realists and we recognise that war is no longer, if it ever was, "the sport of kings." It is the destruction of the common people. We recognise that in order to get peace it is necessary to have something more than mere reduction or even abolition of armaments. You must have a rule of law and the means to enforce that law. We believe that it is not too late for the Government in their policy to say that the Air Force which we have is our contribution to the force that shall support the rule of law in the world. When the right hon. Gentleman was moving these Estimates he described to us in that fascinating way he has the activities of the Air Force on the borders of the Empire. I think he would get all that enthusiasm which he desires in our Air Force if it were charged with upholding the rule of law throughout the world as against the rule of force.
§ 5.5 p.m.
I am less inclined than I have ever been to address the House of Commons owing to the fact that for the first time in a good many years I find myself forced into disagreement with a Ministry with which I have myself been connected in the past, and which, as far as I have been able to see, has been presided over admirably. But if one has very strong feelings on a subject of this kind I think that one ought to express them. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) that these Estimates fail to indicate a policy, and that is the line which I propose to pursue in my remarks. I submit that these Estimates must be compared, not only with previous Estimates of our own but with the Estimates of other countries, because the problem with which we are faced is an international one. I draw attention to a sentence used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) a few weeks ago, when he pointed out that the 10-year guaranteed peace period had gone.
These Estimates have been claimed by the Minister as advantageous inasmuch as there is an increase in net expenditure of £130,000. But when one goes into them in detail one cannot discover these features. They are almost wrapped in impenetrable mystery. I have looked through the White Paper carefully, and I find increases as follows: technical equipment, £17,000; research, £43,000; works and buildings, £65,000; civil aviation, £23,000 and two minor increases, making a total of £165,000, which is in excess of the figure claimed as the total net increase. I would like someone to explain, too, wherein economies have been effected to the tune of £30,000. Perhaps that can easily be explained, but I cannot find here the new money for the new squadrons. Do these Estimates mean that we are to have a bigger, but a less efficient Air Force or do they mean that the economies which we were told last year were being made have not been found practicable?
I pass from that question to the more general subject of urging the Ministry to settle upon a definite policy. I think the Ministry will admit that the weapon which we have at our disposal in the Air Force is the fist weapon we should have to use in the event of war and that at the present moment it is totally in- 2050 adequate for home defence. As a realist, like the hon. Member opposite, I recognise that one must not be panicky, but because one is concerned about our home defence, it does not follow that one is panicky. How can one as an ordinary reader of the newspapers envisage this upside-down world of ours to-day? I have said just now that the 10-year guaranteed peace period has long since passed. It is therefore clear that the continuity of the period to which we can look forward as a period of peace is a great deal shorter than it was some years ago. Now I do not think that many people will disagree with the view that Germany is beginning to rearm. People may say that we are putting obstacles in her way and that we are attempting to control her by means of our comments and criticisms. If one looks the situation fairly in the face, one is bound to recognise that Germany has every intention of rearming as quickly and as best she can.
I submit also that she has the further intention of annexing Austria. She may not succeed immediately but that is her expressed policy according to what we read in the newspapers. If that be true, it is quite obvious that Italy will interfere. What will be the effect of Italy's interference it is hard to say, but obviously it would bring about international complications of a far reaching character. I submit another simple truth—almost a truism. If anything did happen in the next few years, Ireland would be delighted to side with any enemy of Great Britain, and nobody knows what part she might play from a strategic point of view. I read in this morning's paper of a debate in the Belgian Chamber which indicates that Belgium is terrified. After all, the Belgians are closer to the German menace than we are. If Belgium is frightened, why should we ignore her warning? She thinks that in less than 18 months Germany can, if she persists in her rearmament, be as strong as France is to-day. That is not the statement of a reckless Member of Parliament. It is the view of serious members of the Belgian Chamber, and I think if we are realists, as I understand the hon. Gentleman opposite claims to be, we ought not to turn aside from warnings of that kind.
In this situation, where are our friends? France, presumably, is our 2051 friend, and we hope and believe she will remain our friend. But France is off her balance too. We cannot put the confidence in the French Constitution to-day which we could have put in it 10 or 12 years ago. France is rocking with internal troubles, and we do not know whether in a month's time she will have a Constitution such as she has to-day. There might conceivably be a dictatorship there in less than six weeks. I only mention that to show that in making our calculations for national defence we cannot reckon France as being in exactly the same category as she was in three or four years ago. If we have an agreement with France to protect London—putting the matter as bluntly as we can—these factors must be considered, and we ought to know and to realise what the situation is. When the facts and figures are boiled down, is it the case that we have no means of defending our own capital? Have we any obligations to France or have we any agreement with the French nation to do that for us, in case of necessity? If that is so, the Ministry ought to be brave enough to tell the electorate of this country.
I will not waste time in drawing the attention of the House to what air warfare means. It means that there will be no warning, that there is no defence against attack except counterattack, and it means that civil aircraft are just as dangerous as military aircraft. I think a few minutes may usefully be spent by the House in comparing the expansion programmes of the various countries of Europe during the last 10 years, because it is on such figures that we have to base our views and recommendations. I have already said that our figures must be considered in relation to those of other countries and more particularly to those of our neighbours. In 1923 our Government laid down a programme which they considered to be the minimum for safety, and under that programme the total British first-line defence force totalled 371 machines. It has increased now to a total first line of 850, but it is to be remembered that only 400 of these are at home.
In the meantime what have other countries been doing? It is only by getting these figures well into our heads that we can realise the manner in 2052 which we have been left behind. France, in 1923, had 1,270 first-line machines. To-day she has 1,650, but that is not the whole story of her activities. She has on hand a scheme for the planning and construction of over 1,000 aerodromes, and has already voted £32,000,000—not francs—to be spent in that manner over the next three years. There is definite and continued expansion without the slightest hint of any arrestation of progress. The Russian situation has been mentioned by the Minister in his opening speech. He has pointed out what the Russian intentions are. We gather from the newspapers, presumably in the same way as the Minister does, that the air force of Russia has gone up in 10 years from 150 machines to 1,500; that over 40 factories are in process of being established, and that they are now employing 150,000 workmen.
As to the other countries Italy has gone up from 450 machines to 1,100; Japan from nothing to 800, Poland from nothing to 700. Perhaps the American programme would not interest us so much, but it must be taken into account in any general review of the situation, and we find that the United States have gone up from 560 machines to 1,800, and we hear of a new programme already mentioned in Congress making a further increase which would bring the total up to 4,824. It is only by paying attention to the activities of other nations that we can form a just view of what we require to do.
I have said nothing about Germany from the point of view of aircraft. It is extremely difficult to know exactly how strong Germany is in that respect or how much of a foundation she has from which to make a start. But we know that she has 1,099 civil aeroplanes which are capable of being adapted for military service. The number of her pilots must be almost incalculable. For the last 10 years schools nominally called Civil schools have been training pilots steadily for some future military service. I do not know the number of factories which she has but presumably the Ministry does. Nor do I know what agreements she has with her friends and neighbours. But in considering what we do know about Germany, I come to my complaint against the Ministry, that in our Estimates there is no provision for the future. There is no foundation for any 2053 development which we may afterwards be called upon to make. It is not for nothing that the Germans have 10,000 gliding certificates, while we in England have only 350. It is not for nothing that of the highest class of soaring certificates, which is a super-gliding certificate, Germany has 915 and we have only 78. Whatever way one looks at the matter they are far ahead of us in the fundamentals of the art of constructing an increased military force.
One is bound to dwell upon the defence of London in relation to the safety of our island. I do not think that it is unwise to discuss this sort of thing quite openly in the House of Commons. After all, it is information which is available to anyone, and if it is available to the man in the street you may be perfectly certain that it is available to every other Government. Those of us who were at home at any time during the duration of the War, and more particularly at the end, know well that London was a very easy target. An amusing story illustrates the fact so well that I propose to give it. It relates to an amateur who wished to fly a fairly big machine from Paris to London. He met a well known pilot on the evening before in the hotel. He said "I have never navigated the machine, but I think I can fly it." This very famous navigator, who, unfortunately, is now dead, said "When you get into the machine, you will see a compass, and in the middle of it you will see the letter O. Steer on O until you see the sea, and then turn sharp left and follow the river, and you will find a great city, and in that city two great towers, which are the Crystal Palace. All you have to do is to go round them, get them in line, climb to a height of 3,000 feet, shut off your engine and see what happens." I think that the scene was very amusing when the gentleman did it. He did exactly what he was told and landed in the middle of the aerodrome at Croydon. He landed and bumped 200 feet before he came down.
I use that illustration to point out how easily an amateur can find London. London therefore must be considered in every respect. Not only its accessibility, but its vulnerability and its vitality as regards the life of the nation. The Government is here. Speaking of Governments being able to move, the French did not hesitate to move their capital from Paris 2054 to Bordeaux. I remember arriving in Paris with Field-Marshal Lord French and driving up to the War Office. All we found was the door shut and the Minister, M. Millerand, standing outside with his portfolio in his hand. He said, "Good morning Field-Marshal; we are going to Bordeaux." It was all done, and there was no difficulty. All the archives were taken, and the war was conducted from Bordeaux for many months. Apart from having your capital so easily bombed and having no alternative, as far as I know, where you could establish a capital to carry on your government. All your factories are situated within 15 miles of London. I do not know whether the House realise that almost all the big aircraft factories upon whom we would depend for rapid expansion and development for defence are all within this one small area. I think that the names of the great firms ought to be in your minds. Hawkers, De Havillands, Short Bros., Faireys, Handley Page, Napiers, Vickers, and many others are all within 15 miles of London. Not only that, but you have a whole circle of aerodromes. Every one is within equal distance of the centre of the city. These aerodromes are filled with hangars and are worth a great deal of money. I say, simply boiling it down to a sentence, that the Government ought to tell us if they have an alternative scheme which, if necessary, they can employ if anything were to happen in this way.
I wish to say one or two things about civil aviation. The civil aviation Vote is £513,000, and I rather thought that the Minister was proud of it. In 1921 when I took over the Ministry from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping he had allocated £1,000,000 to civil aviation. The money was never used because the schemes were not developed sufficiently at that time, but it was not thought wrong by the House of Commons at that period, some 12 years ago, that civil aviation should really be properly fed. The sum of £1,000,000 was the total vote to be found in the Estimates of 1921 and for several years afterwards. The Ministry has now laboriously found a way of helping civil aviation to the extent of £513,000. Again, I must ask hon. Members to consider this subsidy in relation to that given by other countries. France had a subsidy in 1923 of over £330,000, which has increased in the 10 years to £1,400,000. 2055 That is not all by any means. She hides her Estimates very closely and in such a way that it is very hard to get at the bottom of them, but we can add to that sum of roughly £1,400,000. For instance, 40 per cent. of the initial cost of private aircraft and one-third of its upkeep, together with petrol free from tax. Those were the inducements in 1930, and the result was an immediate increase in private aircraft of 200 per cent. Russia we know nothing about. Italy gives a subsidy to-day which is far bigger than ours, one of £760,000. America, of course, running into the same class of figures which she always adopts, has a subsidy of over £4,300,000. Therefore, we should not take too much credit to ourselves. We are not the poorest nation in the world, yet we have to be content with the little sum of £513,000.
I wish, however, to deal rather specifically with one side of civil aviation, namely, the practical monopoly which has been granted to Imperial Airways. The House should know that 86 per cent. of the total civil aviation Vote goes to one company. The company, of course, has ordinary shareholders and has to consider their interests. On the other hand, where the House of Commons votes the use of that money, they have a right to know what they do with it and to have come control over how they spend it. I think that the agreement lately made between Imperial Airways and the railway companies has been made behind the back of the Minister. I informed the Minister that I was going to ask him to answer this question specifically here and now. I gave him two days' notice of what I intended to ask him. I hope that he will, for the information of the House of Commons, let me have an answer "Yes" or "No," whether the railway company agreement was made without consultation with, and without the approval of, the Air Ministry?
If the question is to be answered later on, we should like to know a little more still. What were the two Government directors doing if they did not inform the Ministry? I do not quite understand how it could have happened without the knowledge and, pre- 2056 sumably, the approval of the Air Ministry. I submit that the monopoly system of this company is the worst thing for the civil aviation of Great Britain. It has the effect of killing private enterprise. Twelve small companies, started a few months ago, have no hope of getting business this year. They tried last year, and carried on with great difficulty without subsidy, which reflects greatly to their credit. This year they will no doubt have another try, but the lines will be chosen by the railway companies, and smaller people who have ideas of their own will have very little chance of putting them into effect. I think that it will be a case of the canals over again. The railway companies killed the canals because they interfered with some sections of their traffic, and in the same way you will find that, if this monopoly of the railway company is allowed to function, they will kill all small companies who try to oppose them.
One word about light aeroplane flying clubs. The importance of considering this side of our activities is that it is the only reservoir which we have for the supply of pilots. Surely, the House would admit that, with only £16,000 set aside out of £513,000, it is not an unfair thing to describe them as being starved. These 26 or 28 clubs are the only organisation to whom we can look and upon whom we can rely for an increase in the number of pilots. The Ministry have lost a great opportunity in not developing these clubs more actively. These young pilots can fly it is true, but they are not potential war pilots at present. All that they can fly is small light aircraft and machines of that kind. Would it not have been much better if the Ministry had considered subscribing a large sum of money to training those young "A" licence pilots to fly military aircraft? It would be a very easy organisation to manage. It would mean simply the handing over of a number of military machines to clubs, and that in return they must train "A" licence pilots on a military machine. I have tried to work out the cost to the Government of such a proposal. There are 2,800 "A" class pilots. Suppose two-thirds of them undertook a course every year, it would cost on an average £150 per pilot. Surely, if the £1,000,000 devoted to civil aviation was not considered too high a figure 12 years ago, it should not be considered too 2057 high to-day when the need for pilots is ever so much greater.
The House has been patient with me, and it is seldom that I take up so much of its time. I submit that the Estimates themselves are misleading in that the country is really weaker because you are trying to get a larger Air Force and spending less money. I do not see where the provision for the new units appears. By the neglect of civil aviation from the point of view of pilots the chance of creating a valuable reserve has been entirely lost. The allowing of an increased monopoly to Imperial Airways is the most harmful thing that could possibly happen to civil aviation as a whole. Private enterprise is the one thing upon which we can always depend. Is it fair, just when it is beginning to bud and to throw out its leaves and generally to get on to its feet, that it should be crashed by an agreement made with the railway companies against whom it cannot possibly compete. There is a lack of policy which is devastatingly dangerous in these admittedly dangerous times. I think that everyone will agree that, whether we like it or not, we must admit that the word "danger" is written on the wall, and that the policy which is adopted by this country must take that fact into serious consideration. If I am wrong in what I have said, so much the better. If I am right, then God help the Prime Minister of this day.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I should like to join in the words of congratulation to my right hon. Friend who made such an admirable and interesting statement this afternoon. I cannot help thinking that the Government, in view of the situation in the world to-day, and in view of the tremendous pressure which has been put upon them in the last few months to supply many thousands of machines, going up to a maximum of 25,000 at one time, have shown considerable restraint in bringing forward Estimates with such a comparatively small increased Vote. At the same time, I do not think that the present situation can go on for long. I agree with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) has just said. We are in a situation of growing danger. Probably the remedy I 2058 should suggest would not be quite the same as that of the hon. and gallant Member.
The race in armaments has begun. It begun 12 months ago, when the Hitler regime took office in Germany, and it has been proceeding practically unimpeded ever since. It may be that 12 months ago, when we had some grip on the situation, we ought to have taken firm and definite action, for as every month has gone by we have had to give up one point after another until now there is nothing to prevent the complete rearmament of Germany in the air, and in other directions, whenever she thinks fit. The policy of the Government has been one of absolute drift. They have had no clear idea of where they are going, they have not put forward their disarmament policy clearly, nor have they adopted any alternative policy. I say with the deepest regret that the prospects for disarmament at the present time—I am, of course, referring primarily to air armaments—are hopeless, certainly along the lines of policy that has been pursued by the Government up to the present. The hon. and gallant Member has referred to the size of the air forces in different countries, and he pointed out the significant fact that the largest European air force in touch with us has twice as many machines as we have, indeed, four times as many, as France has 1,650 machines whilst we have only 400. That is an astonishing situation. And if you look at the large convertible air liners which are available in different countries, France has 269, Germany 177, Italy 77, and we have 32.
What is the position in Germany? It is difficult to obtain exact information but let me quote a passage from an article which appeared in the "Times" last January on German armaments, from its Paris correspondent:By the Treaty of Versailles Germany was forbidden to possess a single military machine or to train a single military pilot. It is believed here that many so-called commercial German machines are nothing but military aeroplanes in disguise. It is also believed that an adequate supply of pilots is being rapidly trained … It is now thought that there are many potential fighting, or bombing machines. Expert opinion here estimates that 500 of them were ready in 1932 and not unnaturally believes that the figure has increased since then. Even so there is much more concern about the future. From information in their 2059 possession responsible French observers are convinced that within a very short time after the outbreak of war Germany could produce more military machines than the combined output of British and French factories.According to the air disarmament plan of the Government Germany is expected to wait for two years whilst the question of the total abolition of air forces is being discussed. I do not think there is the slightest chance of Germany accepting any such proposal. They have made it clear that they want 1,000 machines, or 40 per cent. of the combined total of their neighbours. I do not know whether we have not reached a position in which to put into operation Article 213 of the Treaty, in order to see exactly what is the position in Germany. To-day we are considering by far the most important of the Service Estimates. If there is going to be any increase, I do not want any increases at all, in any of the Services, I say that the Air Force has a far greater claim than either the Navy or the Army. It must not be taken, however, that I am advocating any increase. I say this with regard to the Air Force because it has been laid down as the view of the General Staff in the post-War edition of Field Service Regulations, that:War can be prosecuted only by the will of a united people. The aim of a nation which has taken up arms is, therefore, to bring such pressure to bear upon the enemy people as to induce them to force their Government to sue for peace.Whatever resolutions may be passed, however reluctant we in this country may be to make use of the air arms for attacking the civilian population of the enemy country, it is absolutely inevitable that we shall, as a matter of reprisal, be obliged to do so. Two-thirds of our Air Force is composed of bombers, which shows clearly that it is our intention in war to go for the capital cities of other countries, just as they will go for our own capital here. What will that involve? In an interesting book which has just been published by an eminent military authority he points out that in the War the largest bomb dropped on London weighed 672 pounds. It was dropped in Paddington, killed 12 people, 28 were wounded and 400 houses were affected in one way or another. Now it is possible to drop a bomb weighing 4,000 pounds. Experiments which have taken place show that a cloud was raised 1,000 feet in 2060 height and a crater made of 64 feet in diameter, 19 feet deep, and displace 1,000 cubic yards of material. During the War only 30 tons of bombs were dropped on London, and 188 people were killed. It has been estimated that the strongest air power in Europe could drop 600 tons daily on London, which on the same ratio would mean a death rate of 37,600. If you were, in addition, to use the weapon of gas even more terrible results would occur. I am not making these statements as an alarmist but as a realist. They are true and unless we face them clearly and have a definite policy with regard to the best way of dealing with this matter we, and the whole of the world, are in for disaster before many years. There is a moral to be derived from these facts. It is this, that the present half-hearted policy of doing neither one thing nor the other is absolutely futile and hopeless and leading straight to disaster. You have to have either a whole-hearted disarmament policy and pursue it with all the vigour possible, or you have to rearm.
§ Mr. MANDER
Certainly not. I mean the Government's own air disarmament policy if they pursue it with all the vigour and determination they can command, as a great national Government, with a majority of 500. My complaint is that they are not using it, and never have. I should be only too delighted if they would press their own policy with the utmost vigour. The hon. and gallant Member has quoted a statement in the White Paper with regard to the policy of the Government. The policy, as I gather, is to arrive at parity with major nations of 500 machines each, and then, as soon as possible, within two years, if agreement can be reached, to come down to no military aircraft for any country at all, to abolish them. The only policy which I believe can save us is to use our influence and prestige with all the vigour and determination we possess as a great nation, leading the world, as we can if we like, and press forward as our immediate object, not as an object to be attained in two or three years time, to the abolition of military aviation all over the world, coupling with it international control of civil aviation. I shall be told that it is difficult, that there are all sorts 2061 of troubles to be overcome; but, after all, what are we here for but to overcome difficulties and find a solution. A solution of this question must be found some day. Why cannot we find it now before further millions have been destroyed? The only effective way of controlling civil aviation is by an international aerial police force. That is the right policy. It is the right objective; and I hope the Government will not neglect the possibilities of proceeding on this line.
A point upon which we shall have to be clear is that of giving security to those nations whom we expect to disarm. You cannot expect France to reduce her armaments unless she is absolutely certain that we shall be there to support her when the moment arrives. It is no good for us, in the world as it is to-day, to say that we have national prejudices, that we are not accustomed to say what we are going to do beforehand, that we cannot break away from our age long habits. We are not alone, we live in a world with people who have different views and perhaps clearer and more logical minds than we have, and they want to know what is going to happen. If we want security and safety we shall have to pay the price. The Government have never been willing to pay the price. We must indicate with clearness that all the obligations we have assumed will be observed so that there will not be the slightest doubt in anyone's mind, as there is at the present time. I urge the Government, as the only sane and possible alternative to a disastrous race in air armaments, mounting Estimates and thousands of machines, to go forward with the policy with more vigour than ever. In that way alone can they avoid the next war which is already clearly visible upon the horizon.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I should like, in what is almost common form this afternoon, to join with Members of every party in complimenting the Under-Secretary of State upon his admirable and lucid speech and the manner in which he has presented these Estimates to the Committee to-day. My right hon. Friend has been a very long time at the Air Ministry as Under-Secretary of State, and it is in my knowledge, which I dare say a good many Members can confirm from their own personal experience and informa- 2062 tion, that he has gained for himself a most important and agreeable measure of respect and good will from the mass of the serving officers and men in the Service to which he has devoted his main interest. There is nothing that I could say which in the slightest degree could in any way enhance the feeling, which I think is general in the House, that the Under-Secretary of State fills the important post which he occupies with efficiency, distinction, and success. I feel, however, that, confined as he necessarily is within limits prescribed by the office which he holds to recount the functions of his Department and to explain to us its projects and its administrative details, it would not be sufficient if this Debate ended without a declaration from some Cabinet Minister upon the great issues of policy upon which the Under-Secretary of State is not entitled to speak otherwise than he has been instructed.
This Debate, so far as it has gone, has revealed an almost unanimous consensus of opinion. There was the speech of the hon. Member for East Wolver-hampton (Mr. Mander) from the Liberal Benches, to which we all listened with agreement in parts, with sympathy in parts, with alarm in parts, and with amusement in other parts. The hon. Gentleman exhorted the Government to work vigorously, really vigorously, for their policy of cutting down all the Air Forces and ultimately abolishing military aviation. But I ask myself whether the Liberal party are not sometimes a little too much inclined to attach importance to pious wishes and a little too reluctant to face the facts which will follow if no notice is taken of the expression of those pious wishes. I am bound to say I think we must suppose a situation in which the Government have worked and are working their utmost to procure the abolition of military aviation, but we must also face a situation in which it is clear that those well-meant endeavours will not meet with any appreciable measure of success.
Nobody imagines for a moment that these requests, these suggestions, which have been put forward—which we had an absolute right to put forward, since we had made these restraints and sacrifices ourselves—will be agreed to at the present stage of the world by any of the great Powers of the world. I am not 2063 going to detain the House for any length of time, but it seems to me that we have reached a turning point in our affairs. It is certain that the endeavours which have been made by the Government to procure a measure of disarmament, not only in the air, from Europe similar to that which we have practised ourselves as an example, have failed. As the House knows, I have never thought, personally, that these efforts would succeed, and I have said so. Perhaps it was unpalatable to say it. I exceedingly regret that they have failed. The Government have admitted for more than a year past that in their desire to procure disarmament they have gone to the very edge of risk. Yes, Sir, and many of us think that they have gone beyond that edge. But I am not going to-night to indulge in any reproaches. I think it is to the present and future that we must look rather than to anything that may have happened in the past.
I have not been able to convince myself that the policy which the Government have pursued has been in sufficiently direct contact with the harsh realities of the European situation, but, of course, I admit most fully that they have made it clear before all the world, not only by words, which are so easy, but by actions, which are so hard, or by inaction, which is so questionable, how sincere has been and still is our desire to bring about that general measure of disarmament especially in the air, to which the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal Benches has referred. That has failed, and nobody can deny it. You could not have chosen in this country anyone more qualified to bring success to his mission than the Lord Privy Seal. It is not his fault that he has not met with success. No one could have stated our sincere case in a more agreeable manner, more simply and effectively, to the different countries which he has visited, but he has failed. It is not his fault, but he has failed, and that is the fact that we have to take our stand upon this afternoon. It is in view of that fact that we must take a new decision. In view of that failure we must now, from this moment, betimes, look to our own safety. That is the feeling which I believe is in the minds of all those, the 2064 most pacific in this House as well as those who are interested in this new great aviation service, that we must now, betimes, take measures to put ourselves in a state of reasonable security.
What are the measures that we can take? First of all, of course, there is the preservation of the peace of Europe. Everything that we can do to that end by our policy we should do, and I am astounded to think that this Government, which has laboured, as I think, far beyond the bounds of practical expectation in the cause of disarmament and peace, should be abused and insulted as if it were an Administration that was anxious to plunge this country into another war. But putting the preservation of peace in the first place, let us see what is the next great object that we must have in view. It is to secure our national freedom of choice to remain outside a European war, if one should break out. That, I put as the more direct and more practical issue, subordinate to but not less important than the preservation of peace.
This is not the time, in this Debate, for us to argue about the duties and obligations which this country may have contracted or her interpretation of those obligations in regard to any Continental struggle that may arise. We all hope it will never take place, and I am not at all prepared, standing here, to assume that it will inevitably take place. On the contrary, I still grasp the larger hope and believe that we may wear our way through these difficulties and leave this grim period, this revision to barbarism almost, behind once again. But there can be no assurance upon that, and I am concerned this afternoon with arguing that we must have the effective right and power to choose our own path, in accordance with the wishes and resolves of the nation, in any contingency or in any emergency which may arise upon the Continent of Europe; and for this purpose we must be safe from undue foreign pressure.
These are not the times when we can afford to confide the safety of our country to the passions or to the panic of any foreign nation which may be facing some grave and desperate crisis. We must be independent. We must be free. We must preserve our full latitude and discretion 2065 of choice. In the past we have always had this freedom and independence. As I said the other day, often have I heard reproaches about the Liberal Government before the War, that they did not make enough preparations or look far enough ahead, but we were in a position where, at any rate, we had a complete freedom of choices, we might lose by delay, but, as far as the safety of this country was concerned, we were not in any danger. We could hold our own here and take what time we chose to make up our minds, and we could hold our own here and take what time we required to raise the whole vast might of the British Empire, month after month and year after year, from a peace to a war footing.
Nothing of that sort exists to-day, and unless we regain that freedom of choice, we are no longer integrally or characteristically the same kind of country in which we have always dwelt and which for hundreds of years has been the means by which we have built up our own special, insular character and culture. We have never lived at anybody's mercy. We have never lived upon the good pleasure of any Continental nation in regard to our fundamental requirements. We have never entrusted the home defence of this country to any foreign Power. We have never asked for any help from anyone. We have given help to many, but we have asked for help from none to make good the security of our own island. I recognise the strong ties of interest, of sentiment, and of modern sympathy which unite the two great, still-remaining Parliamentary democracies of Western Europe. The French and British populations are profoundly bent on peace, and their Governments have nothing to gain by war, but everything to lose. These are great ties which we have in common with the French Republic, but, in spite of all that, we ought not to be dependent upon the French Air Force for the safety of our island home.
My right hon. Friend asked a pointed question upon that subject, and I have no doubt the Government will give a reassuring answer, and have a right to give it; but still, although there may be no engagement, the mere fact that you cannot defend yourselves and that your friend across the Channel has additional power makes an implication and a 2066 whole series of implications which very nearly approach the establishment of the condition of dependence upon overseas protection. All history has proved the awful peril of being dependent upon a foreign State for home defence instead of upon one's own right arm. This is not a party question, not a question between pacifists and militarists but those who consider the essential independence for character of our island life and wish to preserve that from intrusion or distortion of any kind from external forces. We ought to have our safety, but let us see what we mean by safety. It is a word easy to use, but somewhat difficult to explain. Now that the hideous air war has cast the shadow of its wings over the harassed civilisation of the 20th century, no one can pretend that by any measures which we could take it would be possible to give absolute protection against an aggressor dropping bombs in this island and killing a great many unarmed men, women and children.
No one can guarantee absolute immunity. No Government can be asked to guarantee absolute immunity to the nation if we were attacked in this way by this new arm. It is certainly in our power, however, if we act in time, to guard ourselves, first of all, from a mortal blow which would compel us to capitulate; and secondly, it is in our power, I firmly believe, to make it extremely unlikely that we should be attacked, or that we should be attacked by this particular method of terrorising the civil population by the slaughter of non-combatants, which, to our shame and the shame of the 20th century, we are now forced to discuss as a practical issue. For this purpose we ought to use every method which is available. We cannot afford to neglect any method, and I am going to mention what I consider are the four successive simultaneous lines of defence which we should develop. The first, of course, is a peaceful foreign policy. We must continue to strive, as we are striving, by every means, by every action, by every restraint and suppression of harsh feelings and expressions to preserve the peace and harmony of Europe. No one, unless blinded by malice or confused by ignorance, would doubt that that has been the main desire of His Majesty's present Administration, 2067 just as it was of the Administrations which preceded it.
What is the second line? In my view we ought not to neglect any security which we can derive from international conventions. We must get all we can from them. I do not agree with those who say that these international conventions are not worth the paper on which they are written. It may well be that vague, general pious affirmations like the Kellogg Pact do not carry much practical conviction to people's minds, because anyone can see that, the right of self-defence being conceded to every nation, every country which plunges into war will allege that it is fighting in self-defence and will probably convince its own people that it is doing so. Therefore, though I do not say that to make this wide, general affirmation that there will be no more war is not an extremely good thing to do, it undoubtedly has not carried conviction, and thus it has weakened the virtue of these international instruments. When you come to more definite, limited and precise arrangements, I believe that a greater measure of confidence can be reposed in them. At any rate, we should be very foolish to neglect them. Whatever may happen to the discussions now going on about regulating the size of air fleets, we should strive to secure an international convention or a series of treaties confining air warfare to military and naval objectives and to the zones of field armies.
Such schemes would have to be drawn up in full detail, but I do not believe that this would be impracticable, and I hope the House is not going to be led by very easy arguments to suppose there is no validity or virtue in such arrangements. All the experience of the world shows that they have played their parts even in the most hideous quarrels of nations, and any nation that refused to enter into discussions of a convention to regulate air warfare would consequently be left in a position of grisly isolation, proclaiming its intention deliberately to make war as a scientific and technical operation upon women and children by the terrorisation of the civil population. It would be a very wise thing for us to get as many nations as possible to join in a convention which 2068 would exclude, on paper at any rate, this method from the area of recognised warfare. I deprecate anything that is said to assume that such a method is comparable at all with any form of decent civilisation. I suggest, therefore, that we should strive to make such a convention or conventions without delay, and we should do that apart from any larger international instruments or reassurances which may be sought. I think that His Majesty's Government have been perfectly right to make it clear that no question of the convenience of using air warfare for police purposes in savage countries and barbarous regions should stand in the way of such an agreement or convention if that police measure becomes the sole obstacle to the conclusion of an arrangement otherwise generally satisfactory.
We must not balance convenience against safety, and even if we were faced with the old difficulty of expense in maintaining order in the mountain valleys of India without the facilities of an air arm, provided there was a world consensus of opinion against the use of bombing undefended areas, I am of opinion that it would be to our advantage to make the sacrifice in order to secure a much greater gain. I almost heard a smile, as it were, when I referred to these conventions, and it will of course be asked, "Will such agreements ever be kept during the fury and agony of war, when the life of whole races seems to be at stake?" Here, again, it is not possible to speak with absolute assurance. Certainly we should never be justified in confiding our safety to such conventions. We should take them for what they are worth. I believe the lawyers have a term de bene esse. I am not very good at Latin, but I believe that it means "for what they are worth." We should not take them as a substitute, of course, for reasonable measures of self-defence. But after all, every war is not a world war, and every European war is not a general war in Europe. When two Powers are engaged in a narrowly balanced struggle, the opinion of neutrals becomes of immense importance. It may well be decisive in determining which way the balance is finally tipped, and we should not presume that, because practically all restraint was swept away in Armageddon, 2069 restraint will not play a part, and that international conventions will not play a useful and valuable part if another war should break out among various nations.
Even taking the lowest view of human nature, nations at war do not usually do things which give them no special advantage, and which grievously complicate their own position. No convention of the kind of which I have been speaking would be of the slightest use between the great Powers unless it were based on parity. That is the key to any convention which can be negotiated. If one side had an all-powerful air force and the other only a very weak defence, the temptation to use the weapon of terror upon the civil population might well far outweigh any detrimental effects on neutral opinion. If, however, the two sides were in an equality and in the position to do equal and simultaneous harm to each other, then the uselessness of the crime would reinforce its guilt and horror and its evil effects upon the action of neutrals. I hold that we should make conventions to limit and regulate the use of the air arm, and these conventions should be made, and can only be made, on the basis of parity. If both sides feel that they suffer equally from a breach of an international convention and neither side can see how it can gain an advantage over the other, it seems likely that these conventions will be respected. Not only would the danger of our being attacked be greatly diminished, but the character of the attack would be confined within the limits of the convention by breaking which neither side would have anything to gain.
That is the argument for parity, and for immediate parity. I believe that conventions based on parity are the best and only means of shielding the crowded populations of our great cities, and particularly of this enormous London to which my hon. and gallant Friend has so vividly referred with so much striking detail. The best method of protecting them is to have these conventions based upon a parity which makes it certain that there will be no advantage to either side in departing from what has been agreed upon. I do not see how the most sincere lover of peace or the most inveterate hater of war in this House can dispute the good sense and reason of the argument of parity.
2070 There is, of course, one other and ultimate method of defence which we must also develop by every conceivable means. I mean the effective punishment and destruction, by an active and efficient home defence, of any invaders who may come to our shores. I do not pretend to deal with technical matters this afternoon. This is not the time for us to deal with them, nor do I think the House of Commons is the best place in which they can be ventilated with any advantage, but I must express this opinion. It ought to be possible, by making good arrangements both on the ground and in the air, to secure very real advantages for the force of aeroplanes which is defending its own air and which can rise lightly laden from its own soil. I cannot believe that that advantage, properly organised, would not give an additional and important measure of protection. We should be able by those means to impose deterrents upon an invader, impose deterrents upon a potential declaration of war, and gradually to bring attacks upon us, by attrition, to smaller dimensions and finally to an end altogether. In these matters we have, of course, to trust our experts. I hope that they are busy, that they are tirelessly working out methods of defence, and we must trust the Government and the Ministers concerned to guide the experts, to make their contribution, which is an indispensable contribution to any good scheme, to make a complete arrangement, and to make sure that the necessary funds and authority are supplied to carry out a complete scheme of home defence.
Therefore, there seem to me to be four lines of protection by which we can secure the best chance, and a good chance, of immunity for our people from the perils of air war—a peaceful foreign policy; the convention regulating air warfare; the parity in air power to invest that convention with validity; and, arising out of that parity, a sound system of home defence—in addition to all these other arrangements if they all fail. We must not despair, we must not for a moment pretend that we cannot face these things. Dangers come upon the world; other nations face them. When, in old days, the sea gave access to this island, it was a danger to this island, it made it the most invadable place at any point, but by taking proper measures our ancestors gained the command of the 2071 sea, and, consequently, what had been a means of inroad upon us became our sure shield and protection; and there is not the slightest reason why, with our ability and our resources, and our peaceful intentions, our desire only to live quietly here in our island, we should not raise up for ourselves a security in the air above us which will make us as free from serious molestation as did our control of blue water through bygone centuries.
It is not to be disputed that we are in a very dangerous position to-day. This is a very good White Paper. The opening paragraph sets forth a most admirable declaration, but what is there behind it? £;130,000. Very fine words. It must have taken the Cabinet a long time to agree to them—with the Air Minister drafting them and putting them round. They give great paper satisfaction. But what is there behind them? £;130,000. It is not the slightest use concealing the facts. My right hon. Friend has given some of them. The Liberal Member who spoke from the benches opposite gave some, as I thought, most disconcerting and alarming facts about air warfare and the growth of air armaments. And we are, it is admitted the fifth air Power only, if that. We are only half the strength of France, our nearest neighbour. Germany is arming fast, and no one is going to stop her. That seems quite clear. No one proposes a preventive war to prevent Germany breaking the Treaty of Versailles. She is going to arm, she is doing it, she has been doing it. I have not any knowledge of the details, but everyone is well aware that those very gifted people, with their science and with their factories, with what they call their air sports, are capable of developing with great rapidity a most powerful air force for all purposes, offensive and defensive, within a very short period of time.
Germany is ruled—I am going to pick my words, so that there is no word of offence put in—by a handful of autocrats who are the absolute masters of that mighty, gifted nation. They are men who have neither the long interests of a dynasty to consider, for what that is worth—and sometimes it is worth something—nor have they those very important restraints which a democratic Parliament and constitutional system impose upon 2072 any executive Government. Nor have they the restraint of public opinion, which public opinion, indeed, they control by every means which modern apparatus renders possible. They are men who owe their power to the bitterness of defeat, who are, indeed, the expression of the bitterness of defeat, and of the resolved and giant strength of that mighty, that tremendous German Empire. I am not going to speak about their personalities, because there is no one in the House who is not thoroughly aware of them and cannot form his own opinion after having read the accounts of what has been happening there, of the spirit which is alive there and of the language, methods and outlook of the leading men of that tremendous community, much the most powerful one in the whole world. It is in their hands, and they can direct it this way or that by a stroke of the pen, by a single gesture.
I dread the day when the means of threatening the heart of the British Empire should pass into the hands of the present rulers of Germany. I think we should be in a position which would be odious to every man who values freedom of action and independence, and also in a position of the utmost peril for our crowded, peaceful population, engaged in their daily toil. I dread that day, but it is not, perhaps, far distant. It is, perhaps, only a year, or perhaps 18 months, distant. Not come yet, at least so I believe, or I hope and pray. But it is not far distant. There is still time for us to take the necessary measures, but what we want are the measures. We do not want this paragraph in this White Paper, we want the measures. It is no good writing that first paragraph and then producing £130,000. We want the measures to achieve parity. The hon. Gentleman opposite who spoke so many words of wisdom seemed to me to mar the significance and point of his argument when he interposed in it the statement that he was not committing himself to any increase.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
But this is the stage. My argument is that it is the stage—I do not say to-day, but within the next week or so. The turning point has been reached, and the new steps must be taken. There are very special dangers to be feared if any great Power possess- 2073 ing enormous Dominions and connections all over the world falls into a peculiarly vulnerable condition. How many wars have we seen break out because of the inherent weakness of some great empire, such as the Hapsburg Empire or the Turkish Empire when they fell into decay? Then all the dangerous forces become excited. No nation playing the part we play in the world, and aspire to play, has a right to be in a position where it can be blackmailed.
I said I would not dwell on the past, but I must repudiate the unfair attacks which have been made lately upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. He and I have very grave differences, and I, personally, shall carry them to their conclusion, but to charge him, or to charge Lord Trenchard, to whom our small but admirable Air Force owes so much, with having failed in their public duty, is monstrous. At any rate, as Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for five Budgets before 1929 I must entirely associate myself with the Secretary of State for India, then Minister for Air. Next to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, then Prime Minister, I shared the responsibility for what was done, or not done, in those years, and I am prepared to offer a detailed and, I trust, vigorous justification—or, I hope, vindication—if it should be desired in any quarter. But the scene has changed. This terrible new fact has occurred. Germany is arming, she is rapidly arming, no one will stop her. None of the grievances between the victors and the vanquished have been redressed. The spirit of aggressive nationalism was never more rife in Europe and in the world. Far away are the days of Locarno when we nourished bright hopes of the reunion of the European family and the laying in the tomb of that age-long quarrel between Teuton and Gaul of which we have been the victims in our lifetime. Those days are gone, all that comfortable assurance which we felt, and which I think we felt rightly, and in which we may prove to have been right, that no major war need be anticipated for 10 years—we do not feel it now.
That feeling is gone, and we must act in accordance with the new situation. Here I address myself particularly to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, whom I see in his place. 2074 I say nothing in derogation of the high responsibility of the Prime Minister, but I address myself particularly to the Lord President as he is in his place in the House. He alone has the power. He has the power not only because of the confidnce which is placed by large numbers of people of the country in the sobriety of his judgment and in his peaceful intentions, but also because, as leader of the Conservative party, he possesses the control of overwhelming majorities of determined men in both Houses of the Legislature. My right hon. Friend has only to make up his mind what is to be done in this matter, and I cannot think the Prime Minister will differ from him [Laughter]. I do not mean in that sense. It is your mistake, not mine. He has only to make up his mind what has to be done in this matter, and Parliament will vote all the supplies and all the sanctions which are necessary, if need be within 48 hours. There need be no talk of working up public opinion. You must not go and ask the public what they think about this. Parliament and the Cabinet have to decide, and the nation has to judge whether they have acted rightly as trustees. The Lord President has the power, and if he has the power he has also what always goes with power—;he has the responsibility. Perhaps it is a more grievous and direct personal responsibility than has for many years fallen upon a single servant of the Crown. He may not have sought it, but he is to-night the captain of the gate. The nation looks to him to advise it and lead it, to guide it wisely and safely in this dangerous question, and I hope and believe that we shall not look in vain.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
I rise for only a short space of time to intervene in this Debate, and what I shall say I shall say on behalf of the whole Government. I am not going to deal with any of the details of the Estimates or to interfere in the slightest way with my right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air who sits beside me, and who is so admirably competent for the work he has to do. That is not my intention, but when questions involving the policy of the Government are asked, they must be replied to by a Member of the Cabinet, and that is the reason why I propose to say a few words.
2075 I was very interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I valued the moderation of it. We do meet in circumstances of gravity to-day, but though that be true, do not let us at this moment exaggerate them. That would do no good at all, and I will try to be a realist. So many of our military difficulties which afford us so much thought—;both in Governments and in Parliaments—arise from exactly the same source as industrial and political difficulties, and that is, the amazing discoveries of modern science. Indeed, in almost every branch of knowledge, men are under that strange, irresistible urge, are tearing away the veil from the secrets of nature, and those of us who are responsible for the government of the world almost look with dread as to what the next secret may be that may be revealed. To-night we are considering what can be done in face of this potential peril.
I listened with great interest to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest), who I know is so keenly interested in these matters. I would say this at this moment: All the perils of which he spoke are potential; they are not at the moment actual. We have to take care that they do not become actual. He said—or at least I gather that he said, although I think it was a figure of speech—that he was only a man who got all his information from the newspapers. Well, there is information, and information. I, myself, never knew but one paper that was invariably accurate, which I read through from cover to cover, and which I keep in my library bound in Morocco. It was edited by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, and was called the "British Gazette." Just one word more about my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Drake. This is what struck me when he was speaking, and I have no doubt that it occurred to other Members of the House: it is very interesting psychologically. I would never accuse my right hon. and gallant Friend, who is a man of courage and who has been a Member of a Government, of making any remarks with any feeling of panic; but he was moved. What I felt was that the speech which he was making here might have been made in any country of Europe. That is the 2076 curious thing about the psychological effect of this problem which we are discussing to-night.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping; the European situation has changed in the last 12 months, owing to various circumstances in various parts of the world with which I need not deal to-night. It has changed considerably. It has changed in a way which, in some ways, makes it more difficult for us, but I am convinced that, whatever be the ultimate motive that makes Germany at this moment so anxious for her air force—it may be, as some say, militaristic ideas alone, or, as others say, from a feeling of national pride—under all these feelings, do not let us make any mistake, there is the same feeling of apprehension of her people which my right hon. Friend showed that we all feel about London. They feel it about Berlin and about the Ruhr; the Italians feel it about the cities of Northern Italy; and the French are never without that feeling. When we have all got that feeling, we shall be criminal, the Governments of Europe at least, if we cannot arrange among ourselves to limit this terror so far as we may. That is why I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping when he spoke of the Lord Privy Seal's tour as having been a failure. I know that it has been written down everywhere as a failure; I do not admit it for one moment. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was a fact, but it was a fact, as Lord Melbourne said, not correctly stated—facts seldom are.
That tour has not yet brought its fruit. I have by no means given up the hope yet of a convention, something on our lines that will give that equality in air strength which I believe to be the first requisite for avoiding this danger. Why is it the first requisite? It is very simple. The great peril from the air, as all would admit in this House, is the attempt of any given nation, under any impulse, to get a knock-out blow in early, and to decide the war, as some people say. If you get equality, the chances of the knock-out blow almost disappear, and in any case it becomes so risky that people are going to think twice and thrice before they undertake it. The whole problem becomes an entirely different one. The real danger to peace is a very strong air power on the one hand, and a de- 2077 fenceless city on the other hand. I do not withdraw a word of the speech I made sometime ago on the subject of the air, and in which I pointed out the impossibility of complete air defence. That has not been understood by people who have not studied the subject, if I may judge by some of the letters I received at that time. Some people leapt to the conclusion that if what I said was true there was no object in air defences at all.
Obviously that is not the case. It is quite true that the bomber will always get through any defence you can visualise to-day, but it is equally true that the greater the force there be to oppose it the greater the chance of casualties among the bombers, and therefore the more thought before invasion takes place. Added to that, if there is the possibility of retaliation at once, that again reduces the danger. So I say, regarding the world as realists, the only thing that you can hope for, and hope for quickly, is an agreement on these lines. I do not believe, and I think it right to say so here, that the world is ready yet for the international police force. That is an idea that has never been worked out. I do not believe, whatever the advocates of it may say, that it is within range, or will be for some years yet, until the world is far more internationally minded, to set up an international air police force. I do not dread this House being carried away by a phrase, but many have been carried away by a phrase, and what I dread to-day is that while they are talking about this being the means of saving this and other countries from the air menace, the forces will grow at the very time when we ought to be curbing them by redoubling our efforts to get a convention.
Let me add this—and this is my last point: Suppose the convention fails; I would not then relax for a moment, nor would the Government relax, the efforts, if a convention on our lines failed, to start work the next morning to get an air convention alone among the countries of Western Europe, even if we could not get in some that are far away, for the saving of our own European civilisation. I agree most warmly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with regard to agreements for the definition of specified areas for bombing. It may not be a great deal; I do not know: I am not sure. But I feel that coupled with 2078 restrictions and equality—with those two things together—it would be a far better combination for the maintenance of the peace of Europe.
So I am not prepared to admit here to-day that the situation is hopeless, or that within a week or two we may have to come and say: "All our efforts are futile; we must immediately spend vast sums of money." In conclusion, I say that if all our efforts fail, and if it is not possible to obtain this equality in such matters as I have indicated, then any Government of this country—a National Government more than any, and this Government—will see to it that in air strength and air power this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
No doubt the speech to which we have just listened has made all the Members of this House feel more comfortable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I speak for myself. It has been the first speech in the Debate calling attention to the fact of the grave situation in which we are to-day. The speech of the Under-Secretary might have been a speech delivered last year or the year before, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) smacked rather of the time of Marlborough, but the position with which we are faced to-day is the development of a new invention which has revolutionised the possibilities both of defence and of attack, and it is absolutely essential that the defence forces of this country should be reorganised on the basis of the new knowledge. In the excellent work entitled "War Memoirs," by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), there is a paragraph referring to the fanatical hostility shown by the Higher Command to any new ideas. That was the criticism made by the Minister of Munitions trying to move the old lines of warfare on to the new lines required by the Great War. He was up against the fanatical hostility of the High Command to new ideas, and what I welcome in the right hon. Gentleman's speech is the possibility of getting the Higher Command to accept new ideas. I want to 2079 put before the right hon. Gentleman and the House a few of the new ideas.
In the first place, hitherto we have not been in danger, but now we begin to be in real danger. Hitherto the defence forces of this country have been directed to preventing our suffering in any war in any part of the world. Plans have been made for meeting danger from Japan; plans have even been made, I believe, for meeting danger from America; but now that we are in real danger the first thing is that the plans of our defence forces should be radically and completely changed. Everybody knows to-day that our danger is from Germany, and, therefore, all our forces which are being used to protect the sea ways to Australia, or to police Iraq, or in any other part of the world, are all so much detracted and subtracted from the essential feature—our defence against real danger at the present time. If we are to make our money go as far as possible, it must be on those arms that protect us from the real danger now facing the country. The Estimates that have been put before us show a considerable increase in the Army and Navy, and a very moderate increase in the Air Force. If the Higher Command really appreciated the new danger, and appreciated that it was necessary to concentrate our defence on that danger, we should have seen very different Estimates. Therefore, I would say that the first new idea is to cut your coat according to your cloth, and see that you have the best protection against the real danger, so that your insurance is the genuine insurance that you need.
Then it is necessary to realise another fact, which has become gradually well known, and which must be accepted by the two older Services. That is that the old gun has become obsolete. Now, instead of firing a projectile perhaps five miles, or perhaps 50 miles, you have a new projectile, and an intelligent projectile, with a range of 1,000 miles. You have now a projectile which, if need be, cannot miss, and, just as in the old wars the duty of artillery in battle was to smash, not the infantry, but the big guns on the other side, so now the new projectile will be directed in the first place, not towards London, not towards the troops in the field, but towards the aero- 2080 dromes from which the new projectiles are fired. You have an intelligent projectile with an unlimited range, instead of an old-fashioned gun shooting a shell.
What happens with these new projectiles? Having approached invisibly, almost in the stratosphere, 10,000 feet up, they swoop down from there at a speed, when they reach their objective, of 1,000 feet per second—a greater speed, mark you, than the ordinary shell in my time, the ordinary shrapnel shell firing on an objective. You can no more hit an aeroplane travelling at that speed than you can hit a shell, and you might just as well try to defend London by trying to hit shells dropping on London, as try to defend London, or an aerodrome, or a ship, by firing shells from anti-aircraft guns at the new projectile. You have there to meet an entirely new situation. Just as in the old days we tried to sink the ship carrying the gun, because the ship was the platform from which the gun was fired, so now the whole art of war is bound to be the destruction of the aerodrome from which the enemy's aeroplanes come. But it is not only the aerodrome. Besides the aerodrome, besides the parked machines, you have to consider another essential feature, the petrol tanks. If you can put out of action the machines on the ground, or the petrol tanks which must be used in order to make those machines function, you can render the other party to the quarrel absolutely harmless. There was one man in the French Army who was said to have brought down, during the whole period of the War, no fewer than 100 enemy aeroplanes. It took him four and a-half years to do it. But, if you bomb an aerodrome, you get 100 aeroplanes destroyed by one bomb. Consequently, it is of vital importance to any air force first of all to destroy the other people's aerodromes and the other people's petrol tanks. That, too, seems to me to be a new idea which must be realised.
It is no good talking about bombing London. When the Germans attack us, they will not bomb London; they will not even bomb our Fleet; they will go straight to the aerodromes and to the petrol tanks—and you can go down to Sheerness and see the petrol tanks. Therefore, I would say that the first idea should be, if there is any danger, to realise that the aerodromes and the petrol tanks must be scattered about the country 2081 and concealed—that there should be some arrangement whereby petrol can be got from the coast, where it is so obvious, to hidden reserves elsewhere; for, once our aerodromes have been put out of action in the first day, or the first three days, once the machines in the aerodromes have been destroyed and our petrol has been destroyed, the country will be absolutely at the mercy of the enemy. After that, it really will not matter what we do. The Fleet will have to repair to the Falkland Islands—in being, of course, but it will be in being where it will be of no use. The Army will not have a frontier to go to; no troops and no ships will be moved across the sea; and the civilian population can be dealt with at leisure. Therefore, that is the third new idea. The first is to prepare against the real danger and scrap all other insurance; the second is to observe that the gun is out of date, and that you now have the new intelligent projectile with unlimited range; and the third is to take every step in advance to protect the new gun—the aeroplane—at its parking ground, and the necessary ammunition for that aeroplane in the shape of petrol tanks and bombs. This is not panicking; it is so important that we should realise the realities of this new war.
In the next place, when we talk about defence, everybody in the Air Force knows perfectly well that there is no possible defence, in the old sense of the word, against enemy aeroplanes. If an aeroplane is 10,000 feet up and coming down, it is no use sending aeroplanes up; they will not get up in time. There is no defence except one, and that is to attack the other man's aeroplanes before they get off the ground. We should not do it. It is impossible to imagine a country with old traditions like ours doing anything of that sort. But I ask the House, is it impossible to conceive other people taking a step of that sort? The arguments that they would use in favour of it are enormous. They would say, "Our case is perfectly just, but we shall be able to argue the justice of our case much better if first you are settled. We take the step first of wiping out your aeroplanes, and then, we do not propose to declare war, but we will proceed to argue the issue." Bethmann-Hollweg is said to have said, "This is only a scrap of paper," but he probably did not say 2082 it at all. I should not suspect Bethmann-Hollweg of doing anything in the nature of an act of warfare before warfare had been properly proclaimed. But it will be recalled that in 1914 we managed to intercept a telegram from Germany to the German Ambassador here, saying that the British Ambassador in Berlin had asked for his passports and declared war at seven o'clock in the evening; and the British Cabinet sat for five hours between seven o'clock in the evening and midnight, although the Germans had been told that they could start early. It did not much matter then. It will in future, and can anyone who has seen what has been going on in Germany in the last year afford to leave the safety of this country to hang on half an hour? Can we afford to leave it to chance? Therefore, we have to consider the fourth really new idea which I want to get into the heads of the Defence Forces—that we must reckon with the chance of surprise.
How can you counter a flight of aeroplanes travelling in the stratosphere from Germany to this country and seeking to put us out of action in the first half-hour before the declaration of war? I do not know, but I do think that that is one of the problems which really ought to be considered. You could meet the danger, in part at any rate, by scattering your aerodromes—possibly by having them movable. You could meet it in part by putting your aeroplanes in forests, so long as you arranged for a place where they could taxi out. There are ways in which it could be met, but I am absolutely certain that it is essential that it should be met. We may be quite certain that the Germans not only know where every one of our aerodromes is to-day, but where every one of our petrol tanks is too, and, if the situation ever became dangerous at all, it seems to me to be absolutely certain that we should have to shift them with extreme rapidity just before the danger came—which would probably be too late.
The next point I want to make is a point that the Air Force will not like so much. I asked the Minister the other day how many pilots we had in this country capable of driving these very high-speed machines, capable of being made into these intelligent projectiles. He replied that the whole number at that time was only 3,200. I see from the news- 2083 paper that Russia proposes to have a million of them, but 3,200 is much too small a number. You would have to put all those men into the air on the first day of the war to make your counter-attack. It takes much longer to make a pilot than it takes to build a machine, and we must therefore have a larger number of people who can drive one of these high-powered, high-speed machines at 600 miles an hour. It takes some courage as well as skill to do a thing like that. It is infinitely more important to have those men than to have any number of Dreadnought battleships, or, indeed, to have any Army at all. The whole key to our possibility of surviving if we are attacked is the possession of a sufficient body of people who can and will drive those machines.
The Air Force is 30,000 strong, and I think that it might allow people who are merely mechanics but who want to fly, who want to get their wings, who are prepared to take the risks of driving those machines, to do so. Why are they not taught to fly? I know that I shall be told—I have been told already by the officials at the Ministry—that they have their duties on the ground to consider. They have large and exacting duties on the ground; they are all drilled; they all know how to fire rifles; they all march to perfection, and they have not time to learn to drive a machine. I take that with a grain of salt. In my opinion—and I am afraid that here I shall not have the support of the House—this is snobbery; it is the desire to separate the officer from the rank and file. The mechanic is anxious to learn to fight and drive, but that is the privilege of the officer. We cannot afford to have an Air Force which is run for the benefit of an officer class, or to develop the interests of caste. We must give every man in this country who is prepared to take the risks of driving these machines the opportunity of learning how to do so, so that he can become a member of a real reserve, a person whose services to the country may be absolutely indispensable at a critical moment. We could make this addition to our pilot force without the expenditure of very much additional money. There are 30,000 men in the Air Force, of whom 3,000 can drive. If there were 10,000 who could drive, it would still 2084 leave 20,000 others in the Force, and the Force would then be three or four times as strong and useful as it is to-day. That is my fifth new idea, that we might have an Air Force in which the mechanics should be allowed to have the privilege of gentlemen and get killed.
There is one more point: that the next war is bound to be a short war. Of course, they said that of the last War; they said that it could not last, that it would cost too much. Do not, however, let us always judge what the next war will be by what the last war was. It is essential that we should be realists to the extent of understanding that new inventions and new factors may alter circumstances completely. I cannot conceive of any country being able to continue a war for a week after its air force, its aerodromes and its petrol tanks had been destroyed. Provided that its enemy was still in the air, the other forms of warfare could not possibly continue. What would be the use of an army? In any circumstances the Army would have to get underground, and even underground it could not be rationed or moved. It could not be shifted across the sea, for no ship would be safe for half an hour with the enemy in large numbers in command of the air.
The Fleet and the Army are now receiving in these Estimates four-fifths of the money we put up for defence; yet any honest man examining the facts must realise that the decision will come entirely on that one-fifth that we devote to the air. Vested interests in the Army and Navy compel us to go on pouring money into branches of the Service which cannot have any effect on the vital issues with which we are faced to-day. For police duty, for keeping the sea, if we have one of these wards that do not matter, for regulating Iraq, Ibn Sa'ud, or anything of that sort, by all means provide money, but do not spend money on those branches of the Service which in the real issue may possibly be of no help to you whatever.
If we are in danger to-day, it is absolutely necessary that the Committee of Imperial Defence should face the fact that the only defence against an air force is attack; that the gun is obsolete and has been replaced by a living torpedo of infinite range; that war may come so suddenly that your aerodromes will be 2085 destroyed before you have had a chance of retaliating. Your Achilles' heel is always the aerodrome and the petrol depot. The war will be decided, not in five years or in five weeks, but in five days. In those circumstances, living in a world that has gone mad with passionate envy for our Colonies, for our power, and above all for our freedom, do not let us forget that we have our freedom to defend against a danger greater than existed when the Germans crossed into Belgian territory in 1914.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I am sure that we all appreciate the sturdy independence of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. It is interesting, however, to see the lack of unanimity with which his speech was received on his benches. I do not know whether I altogether approve of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) coming down at 6 o'clock, scooping the cream off this Debate and getting a reply from the Lord President, whereupon they both retire from the House of Commons and leave us to continue. This is a very interesting subject, but if they want to talk about foreign policy and disarmament, let them use another Debate for those subjects and leave us an Air Vote in which to talk about air matters.
My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred in his introductory speech to my desire to separate civil aviation from the Air Ministry. It is quite easy to put up arguments that are going to be used against you and knock them out; it is a very old debating device. I have never yet made a strong case against this, but I am going to soon, because I am perfectly convinced that one of the troubles of the world is wrapped up in the too close association between military and civil aviation. I do not accuse the British Government of doing that; I think that they are singularly guiltless in that way, but that it is necessary to separate the two I am convinced, and the best example would be to do it in this country.
We have had speeches of various types: from those two hon. Members of whom I have spoken, which took place in the stratosphere, down to subjects lower and nearer to the ground. We have, however, been spared a good deal of those high- 2086 faluting, long speeches to which we are used, on pure disarmament, which have generally so much disfigured these Debates from our point of view. I propose to make a point which I have made with repeated insistence ever since I first came into this House, about 14 years ago. I maintain, and I do not believe that there is any military expert in the world who will contradict me, when I say that if you lost control of the air at the beginning, you could never win a war. I do not think anybody will contradict me on that. Consequently, if there is one particular service upon which you must not run one vestige of risk, it is the air. Since the War we have spent £2,000 million upon the defence of this country. The last speaker drew from the Lord President of the Council, in a previous Debate, these words. Speaking about my right hon. Friend, the Lord President said:I understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), part of whose speech I am sorry I did not hear, touched on a point touched on by one or two other speakers, and that was the necessity of examining and considering the defence Estimates as a whole. I may say that I am in full agreement with that, and I speak for the Government when I say that they too are in full agreement. In fact, regarding the Estimates of the coming year, which will be presented within a few months now to this House, those Estimates will be examined on that basis, on the basis of the united defence of the country. We shall see what we have to spend, we shall know then what the disarmament position in Europe is better than we know it now, and we shall go very carefully into the three Services concerned to see where we can best repair deficiencies in the defence as a whole. I am sure that that is the right way to work, and it is the way that we are adopting this year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1933; col. 1015, Vol. 283.]It is perfectly astonishing that it has taken 15 years to come to that conclusion: that the great sums that we expend every year on these three Services are spent upon defence of this country and on that basis only. It is an insurance, which we ought to spend in the best possible way. This is a confession that Government after Government, on whatever side, have never looked upon this subject as one. They have allowed the old great Departments to struggle one against the other for their pound of flesh. The Lord President 2087 of the Council makes claim to be an expert on air matters, chiefly owing to the fact that he once made a great speech in which he said that he could not find the solution of the difficulty—on that basis, of course, one might be an expert on many things. He said that he would leave it to the youth of the country, because he had no solution. In practice, as a matter of fact, he has consistently deprived his young Under-Secretary of the opportunity of speaking on the subject at all; that has been his contribution on the youth side.
I cannot believe that under present conditions of defence an expenditure of £40,000,000 on the Army, £60,000,000 on the Navy and only £20,000,000 on the Air Service is a correct proportion. No one is going to persuade me that that is right. There has been mention of blame for the fact that in the past we have been very low in power and that the Secretary of State for India is to blame. I want to acquit him of any blame in the matter, because only a few years ago many people wanted to do away with the Air Force in its entirety. It is interesting to note the "Daily Mail," for instance, to-day pleading for a big Air Force, but what did Lord Rothermere write in the "Daily Mail' in 1923? No one can accuse the Harmsworth family of not being friends of aviation. They have encouraged it in every way. I actually won £1,000 from them for flying a mile. This is what Lord Rothermere wrote in the "Daily Mail," signed with his own name:I advocate the ultimate complete disappearance of the Royal Air Force as a separate unit.That was backed up by that great power, the Admiralty. The House, with its experience, will know what a position the Air Force was in when it was attacked by the Admiralty and the "Daily Mail." That is a very strong combination. It had for years to fight for its life and, although it is true that, owing to the Secretary of State for India, we have not the Air Force that we should like, we have to thank him and Lord Trenchard for the fact that we have an Air Force at all; otherwise, it would have been swallowed up by the older Services, and a nice position we should have been in. If we looked at this subject as if we were a new country, a new 2088 island in the North Sea, with no great Army and no great Navy and we had a certain amount of money to spend on the defence of the country in the conditions that exist to-day, how much should we spend on the three forces? I cannot believe that one single child, man, boy or woman in the country would lay down the proportion of 40 on your Army, 60 on your Navy and 20 on your Air Force.
The Lord President of the Council again to-night has done what was admirably described by the talented editor of the "Aeroplane" as "leading us up the garden of Eden." That absolutely sums up our position relative to the air. I was prepared to-night to vote against the Government if they had not given this definite assurance—I hope it is a definite assurance—that, if the Disarmament Convention goes the smallest bit wrong, we shall immediately introduce a Supplementary Estimate to bring us up to parity with other countries. It is on that understanding alone that I am supporting the Motion that you, Sir, go and have some dinner. I believe the country as a whole is unhappy. It does not feel at all safe. Every Member of Parliament, after all, is a trustee for the country's security and has a perfect right, not blindly to follow the Government, but to weigh these things up. I look upon the words of the Lord President as a definite pledge that we shall have a Supplementary Estimate.
I believe this question of the air is really understood only by the youth of the country. You will preach it without any effect to the old men on the Front Benches on this side or that. You will never get past these great vested interests of the older Services. They have done more to delay the advent of the air than anyone. It is so curious to me when we have a National Government, that although in Germany everyone is proud to wave a flag and is delighted to be a German, and when you see a rise in the spirit of nationalism in Italy, where the people are reviving the great glories of Rome, apparently in England it is not good form to be proud of your country. If you are a Member of the Government, whatever its complexion, this side or that, you are a sort of drab, hermaphrodite internationalist. That is the fashionable attitude for the ordinary Minister, and I resent it very much. I am certain that, if anyone came along 2089 within the national party with a programme of being proud of the English race and not afraid to say so, they would have an immense following and sweep the whole Front Benches away. As I have said before, I do not believe that we are safe. When you get parity, even I admit you will not have solved your difficulties. If we had a bigger Air Force than our neighbours, we should not have solved our difficulties. We have to go further than that. But what I resent is that you are not, anyhow, on equal terms with someone with whom you have to negotiate. The greatest Power in the world at present could be the victim of the air force of a neighbour. That is a position that I am not prepared to tolerate. It is only owing to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-night a definite pledge that I will vote that you, Sir, leave the Chair.