HC Deb 19 March 1935 vol 299 cc1015-117


Order for Committee read.

3.45 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave tie Chair."

I have this afternoon to introduce, not only the Air Estimates for 1935, but also a Supplementary Estimate for the current year. This is for the sum of £200,000, and consists almost entirely of the moneys required to get the expansion scheme under way. The largest single item is for the purchase of lands and the commencement of work at certain stations as part of the very extensive but necessary construction programme which will be carried out during the next few years. As a matter of fact, the only sum which we are asking for in this Supplementary Estimate under Vote 4—Works, Buildings and Lands—is for £150,000. This is only the first instalment of a commitment which will eventually amount to several millions. I think otherwise the House will find that the Supplementary Estimate is self-explanatory, but, if there are any questions which hon. Members wish to put to me about it, I shall be glad to answer them at a later stage.

With regard to the Air Estimates themselves, these show a gross total of £23,851,100 and a net total of £20,650,000, representing additions to our anticipated air expenditure for the coming year of £3,685,500 and £3,089,000 respectively. For the first time since I have been privileged to introduce the Air Estimates, I am presenting Votes which show a substantial accession to the air strength of the nation. In past years I have regularly found myself in these Debates on the Air Estimates in the unhappy position of a kind of modern St. Sebastian, assailed indeed by arrows from all sides, but lacking the comforting assurance that I should in due course reap the rewards of martrydom. From one side of the House have come the clothyard shafts of those hon. Members who considered our provision for the air defence of this country inadequate; from another side the barbed bolts of those who would like to see the immediate abolition of all armed forces.

I do not expect to escape a similar fate to-day, and therefore, in anticipation of the attacks of the second category of my assailants, I would remind them that the small increase which was brought in last year was then plainly indicated to be an earnest of our intention to proceed to more serious measures if there did not shortly follow a general reduction of air armaments. A year has gone by and the reduction for which we have worked so patiently and so sincerely for so many years has not come to pass. The failure to date of the Disarmament Conference to achieve agreement made necessary the statement by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council when he announced last year that the Government had no longer any option but to proceed with our very long-delayed programme. Since then, the questions of air strength and the air defence of these islands, have been the subject of much general discussion and in particular of a weighty Debate in this House.

These facts and events must have been present therefore to the minds of Members in this House, and must have prepared the way for these Estimates. We are not warmongers nor are we influenced by warmongers—if such anachronisms still exist in this country. We have deliberately allowed ourselves to sink to fifth place among the air forces of the world and postponed for 10 years a programme which in 1923 was declared to be the minimum one for the safety of these islands. We have done these things in the hope that other countries would have followed our example. We have done it in the cause of peace. What has been the result? We have stripped our defences to the bone, and the result has been that our weakness has not only become a danger to ourselves but a danger even to the cause of peace. We therefore are now pursuing peace by a new road without abandoning the old one. Surely, it is not without significance that the most promising step towards the elimination of air warfare in Europe was taken since the policy of expansion was announced. Until such time as we can persuade other nations to disarm, a stronger British Air Force will enable us to play our part more effectively in this Air Pact which is even now under discussion by the Western Powers.

Let me now deal with the other group of my critics. Are the arrangements for increasing the Air Force adequate? Again, I would refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council in November last. He then went very fully and frankly into the whole question of comparative air strengths and showed that, so far as could be foreseen, the air strength of this country would be adequate for our needs in the immediate future. He showed that it was not practicable to look farther ahead than that. At this point I should like to digress for a moment and correct a perspective which I think has been rather distorted of late. A great many inaccurate figures have been bandied about and an unduly black picture has been painted of our weakness in the air. We have been told that we are eighth among the world's air Powers, and that our equipment is not nearly so modern as that of other European air forces. I have seen public statements to the effect that our air strength is no more than that of Rumania. As a matter of fact, in terms of first-line aircraft our strength is four times that of Rumania. I only mention that to show the lengths to which exaggeration will go.

Another thing which has caused a good deal of confusion in people's minds is the different methods which various countries adopt to state their aircraft programmes. For instance, when the United States of America announced their programme and said they were going to add several hundred aircraft to their air services, that did not simply mean additions to their first-line strength, but the total number of aircraft to be held, including machines for new formations, as well as those to be purchased to displace existing machines that have become obsolescent and those held in reserve against wastage, training machines, and so forth. The 41½ additional squadrons that we propose to add to the Air Force during the next four years have been described as an addition of 500 machines, and have been contrasted with the much greater American figures. As a matter of fact, if we adopt the American method of stating their intentions and include all the machines required for expansion, replacement and all other purposes in one comprehensive figure, we shall be ordering over 1,000 machines for the Royal Air Force in 1935 alone.

The fact is that we remain fifth among the world's air Powers in first-line strength, and we have made it clear that that is a position that cannot be allowed to continue. Of the four nations that outnumber us, there are two, the United States and Italy, which outnumber us by relatively small margins. It is only in relation to the air forces of France and Russia that we find ourselves in a position of serious numerical inferiority. France has a first-line strength of 1,650 machines. I do not know definitely what the exact figures are for the Soviet, but from what we can hear the corresponding Russian figure exceeds 2,000.

There is a further point that I should like to emphasise. First-line strengths form the readiest basis for a simple comparison between air forces, but they are far from being the only criterion. In all those other factors that go to make up a powerful and efficient air force our Air Force can still challenge that of any other nation in the world. Behind every one of our first-line aircraft there is a background of organisation of unrivalled thoroughness. We have always up to now built solidly, and we intend to continue to do so. It would be the height of folly to rush up a mere facade of numbers. If I may take a single illustration. I have just mentioned that two countries, the United States and Italy, slightly outnumber us in terms of first-line aircraft, but, as a matter of fact, the Royal Air Force to-day possesses more qualified pilots on the active list than either the American or Italian Air Forces. We have similar reserves of strength in other directions, while, in relation to France and Italy, our machines are of more modern construction and superior performance, although both these great nations have already embarked on very large programmes of modernisation and re-equipment. There has just reached this country a most interesting report by a powerful independent commission which has been investigating the whole field of aviation in the United States. It contains a passage which is so eloquent that I make no apology for reading it: The past year has been marked by incessant attack, using every available medium of publicity, upon the quality of American military aircraft. It has been alleged that they are in every essential respect hopelessly inferior to corresponding machines of European origin. It is an interesting commentary on the state of the public mind that these charges seem to be essentially similar to those being made at the same time in the very countries which have been held up to the United States as examples to imitate. The Press of Great Britain has rung with assertions of the remarkable qualities of American aircraft and the inability of the available British military types to keep pace with" the American commercial machines. In France a section of the Press has debated furiously the rumoured inferiority of French military aircraft to those of most of the rest of the world. I take some comfort from that fact that our own, stern critics of everything that we do and are, and of everything that we have, have apparently their precise counterparts all the world over. So that, if those critics have their way and we are to be court-martialled because of the alleged deficiencies of the Royal Air Force, we may at least hope to face the firing squad in the excellent company of those who are responsible for the American, French, and other military air services. The House will, I hope, forgive this digression, in which I have endeavoured, in regard to these important matters, to throw a little light into dark places—or places which have at least been much obscured by ill-informed comment. I have done so in no spirit of complacence. Our numerical weakness is serious and cannot be allowed to continue; and we have much leeway to make up.

We have, further, a very strenuous programme of re-equipment before us; for aviation, both military and civil, is going through a period of rapid development. Aircraft which were quite adequate for the needs of yesterday are not adequate for the needs of to-day, still less for those of to-morrow. We have, therefore, had to take special steps to shorten the time hitherto taken to bring new types into production. That the British industry will rise to the occasion, I am quite confident. What the world thinks of their products may be judged from the fact that no fewer than 29 foreign countries use our aircraft and 33 our engines, and that our export trade in connection with these matters rose in 1934 by 31 per cent.

To return to my previous theme. His Majesty's Government are satisfied that, certainly for the present, there can be no question of any reduction of the minimum scheme decided upon last year. It will still be necessary to continue to scan the situation here and abroad with the same watchfulness at all times and to be ready to alter our programme as circumstances may require. The next obvious and necessary question is, Are we making sufficient headway and progress with the July scheme? The House will realise that it is no use providing personnel and technical equipment until you have the aerodromes and the stations for them. Nor is it policy to acquire aircraft and engines beyond the capacity of the personnel. The several tasks of acquiring aerodromes and stations, training pilots and mechanics and providing engines and aircraft each take different periods of time. It follows that the expansion of a highly technical service like the Royal Air Force requires a very delicate process of synchronisation. It follows, therefore, that a very large part of our attention is concentrated at present on the provision of stations and aerodromes, accompanied by a more modest provision for material and personnel. The proposals with regard to the increase of personnel are included in Vote A, but perhaps I may explain that the increase of 2,000 men there shown from 31,000 in 1934 to 33,000 in 1935, is really an increase of 3,500, because we did not reach our 1934 maximum.

As regards the immediate increase of our air strength, as the House knows, we are to have this year an additional 11 squadrons for home defence, and the equivalent of one and a half squadrons for the Fleet Air Arm. That will mean that the home defence force will consist of 54 squadrons in 1935, 13 of which will be on an auxiliary or cadre basis, and there will be 21 squadrons still to form to complete the present programme of 75 squadrons for home defence. The first line strength of the Royal Air Force to-day is 890 machines in regular squadrons, and 130 machines, approximately, in non-regular squadrons, which makes a total of 1,020 machines. At the end of this year, the figure will come up to 1,170, and the 1936 programme will bring it up to a figure of 1,310.

There is one point consequent on the growing strength of the Royal Air Force that I would like to mention. It is in connection with the partial reorganisation of the Service side of the Air Ministry. As the House knows, we have now a fourth Service member of the Air Council. The reason for this addition has been to keep pace with the expansion, and to be able to give more time to the very great increase in administration which the expansion scheme entails. It will enable the Chief of the Air Staff to give more individual attention to the major problems of strategy and training, and the Air member for Research and Development to concentrate more effectively on his own current problems, progress in regard to which is so vital at the present time.

I will turn for a few minutes from the Royal Air Force to that equally vital sphere of air development—civil aviation. The year 1934 has been one of striking progress—a year in which, in fact, plans have been laid which promise still greater progress in the future. As regards our Imperial air services, we have seen, first, the extension of the Indian service to Australia, and, secondly, the duplication of the existing weekly services to the Cape and Calcutta. These are solid achievements, and reflect great credit upon the management of Imperial Airways, which company, while forging ahead with these Imperial developments, has maintained its commanding position among the European services. In fact, in 1934, as in 1933, Imperial Airways carried across the Channel a substantially larger number of passengers than all their foreign competitors—Dutch, Belgian, German and French combined. I submit that this is a striking tribute both to the efficiency of their organisation and also to the remarkable goodwill which they have built up among the travelling public. The weight of letters which was carried was larger than that which was ever carried in one year, namely, 122 tons compared with 85 tons in 1933—an increase of 43 per cent. I am told that 122 tons represents 6,000,000 letters, which shows that people have not given up writing letters for the moment, anyhow. The Christmas mails were also very heavy, and a greater weight of parcels was carried over the Channel than was ever carried before. I should like to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General for the very great assistance he has given the Air Ministry in their task of developing civil air transport, by the forward policy he has adopted with regard to air mails.

Another very satisfactory development of the past year was the formal ratification with Italy of a 10-year agreement whereby Imperial Airways will be able to fly freely over Italian territory on our Imperial services. With regard to France, an understanding of a similar kind was arrived at just before Christmas. Within the next month or two Imperial Airways plan to operate an interim service through to Brindisi with small machines, primarily for the carriage of mails. A full service by large aircraft cannot be brought into operation until their fleet has been augmented. As hon. Members know, a very large demand has been made upon it as a result of the recent decision to duplicate the African and Indian services. The year 1934 also saw a very satisfactory development of our internal air services, no fewer than 17 different companies operating at one time of the year. In non-commercial flying, also, there has been a very satisfactory advance. As this matter is to be raised later in the Debate, I will not say anything more about it except to say that—contrary to the Jeremiads we have heard in some quarters—on a basis either of our respective national incomes, or of our populations, there are proportionately more private pilots' licences in this country to-day than in the United States of America. Not that we are satisfied with these figures. We want to see them very largely increased, and during the year we have taken very active steps to effect that, of which I will tell the House later.

The House will also wish to know something about our air transport plans. As regards the immediate future, we are taking money in these Estimates for a feeder service to connect the West African Colonies with the trunk route at Khartoum, and also to link up Singapore with Hong Kong and Bangkok on the Australian line. I am sorry that we have not been able as yet to inaugurate the Bermudan service, but hope, however, to be able to do it in a short space of time.

Turning to our long-range plans, as I announced before Christmas, the Post Office, the Air Ministry and Imperial Airways have been in co-operation for many months past on a scheme which represents the most far-reaching step forward in our Imperial air communications. Perhaps I may repeat its main features to hon. Members, although I believe they are more or less familiar with them. We aim, first, at a great increase on existing frequencies; secondly, at a striking acceleration of existing time schedules; and, thirdly, at the carriage of all first-class mail matter by air. There will be four or five services a week to India, three to East Africa and Singapore, two to South Africa and Australia, and seven or eight services a week to Egypt. We hope later on even to do better than that, but I may say that no other country in the world has yet formulated schemes for the carriage of the whole of its first-class mail matter by air without surcharge.

Since it has been suggested that this scheme owes its origin to the remarkable speeds achieved in the Melbourne race last October, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say that the Air Ministry, after a very great deal of preliminary spadework, had laid these identical time schedules and frequencies in full detail, together with the proposal for the carriage of all first-class mail matter by air, before the Government a year ago, and many months before the Melbourne race. Not that we have not lessons to learn from such races, and the House and country must indeed have been proud of the magnificent achievement of those two skilful and courageous aviators, Scott and Black. We have received invaluable help from the Post Office in the elaboration of these schemes. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General hopes that, in so far as concerns letters posted in the United Kingdom for Empire destinations, we shall be able to provide these immensely improved and accelerated postal communications in the region of 1½d. per half ounce.

A scheme of this magnitude cannot be planned and brought into operation in a few months. In the first place, we have greatly to improve the existing ground organisation on our Imperial routes, especially for night flying. Plans have been in preparation for many months past in these matters, and will entail a very considerable expenditure. Hon. Members who, later on, are going to complain that we are not spending enough on civil aviation, might remember that. These Estimates provide only for the first instalment of the commitments which we shall have to meet. Apart from that, first and foremost I may say that the scheme depends upon the full and willing co-operation of the Dominions, the Colonies and India, with whom we are continuing in satisfactory negotiations. It also entails the raising of £2,000,000 of fresh money, most of which will be spent, of course, on a new Air Fleet. Therefore, in the light of all these considerations, on the most favourable hypothesis, I do not think that this scheme will come into full operation before 1937. That seems a long time off, but the years have a knack of going by very quickly. The development of our inland services also depends upon further ground organisation. During the course of the past year we have made very great progress with the establishment of wireless and meteorological facilities, and we hope that that progress is going to continue this year. Here, too, and in particular, we intend to make a beginning with the provision of the necessary equipment for night flying. We look for a steady growth of internal services, and here again we hope that the Post Office will be able to help us by giving these services the necessary minimum loads which might otherwise be lacking.

I think there is a great chance for the expansion of those services, but I should like to enter a caveat. Although there is great scope for their expansion it would be idle to expect to sec a development on the scale that we have seen in the United States of America, anyhow in the near future. The conditions there are fundamentally different. No amount of expenditure, even if the money were available, could reproduce them in this country. To begin with, the area of the United States is, I believe, 40 times that of Great Britain and Ireland, and we must not overlook the fact that the very large governmental expenditure of £25,000,000 in the years 1927–33 have left American air transport in a far from healthy condition economically. This huge governmental expenditure is only the beginning of the tale. Over and above it the investing public have put a far larger sum into American air services, and most of their money, I am sorry to say, has gone for all time. If I might quote again from the very interesting official report from which I quoted just now, it puts the capital losses in the aeronautical industries over the last few years at nearly three-quarters of the total amount invested. Those losses are apparently estimated at the colossal figure of 460,000,000 dollars, or £95,000,000 at par of exchange. This vast sum has vanished like gossamer in the sun.

I suggest that while we must go steadily forward we should at all events do everything we possibly can to avoid a similar state of affairs in this country, for despite all this lavish private and governmental expenditure the same official reports brings out that in October, 1934, the latest month for which figures are available, the American air transport industry as a whole was still making collective losses at the rate of about £750,000 a year. Not even the Post Office budget for air mail payments of over £3,900,000 in the current year has enabled the majority of the services to break even or to get anywhere near breaking even. In the light of these figures the Commission sum up the situation as follows: It appears, in short, that financial disaster is in the making for a large part of the present air transport system; whether it makes its appearance in six weeks or six months or longer, we cannot see how it can be postponed indefinitely. Imperial Airways, on the contrary, despite the very much smaller financial assistance from the State, continue to show a reasonable profit. If, therefore, we have not yet seen a development of our air transport system on the scale we should like to see it we can take comfort from the fact that we have built solidly if not showily, and on these solid foundations we plan in the next few years to erect a substantial superstructure. In short, whilst it would be folly to disregard the remarkable progress which American air transport, thanks to unlimited expenditure, has been able to achieve, and from which we have many lessons to learn, I submit that there are other lessons and that there are certain features in American air transport that we should be at pains to avoid in this country. There is one type of aircraft in particular in which American development has been very striking, and that is the fast medium-size commercial transport machine, although the majority, if not all, of these machines produced to date would be incapable of economic operation on our Empire routes. There has hitherto been no real demand for this type in the United Kingdom, but in the near future it does seem that there may be a definite scope for an economic machine of this character, though we shall continue to require larger machines, capable of carrying much bigger paying loads, as the main units for our Empire services. We have, therefore, decided to take special steps to encourage British manufacturers in the development of an economic aircraft of this kind, and I am in a position to announce this afternoon that we intend to offer a prize of £25,000 for the best machine produced by any United Kingdom firm within a stated period of time and complying with certain broad requirements to be formulated by the Air Ministry. Further details will be made public in due course.

Stress has very rightly been laid upon the need of planning for our internal air services, that is to say the forecasting of the focal points of air traffic and the main lines along which it is likely to flow. The need of such planning was foreseen some time ago by the Air Ministry, and we have been in consultation for many months with the Aerodromes Advisory Board of which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) is Chairman. The board has put up a definite proposal to the Air Ministry for an air transport survey of these islands, which is now under consideration. I would like to pay a tribute to the Aviation Committee of the London Chamber of Commerce for all the preliminary work which they also did in this connection. The Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Gorell, which was still sitting when these Estimates were introduced last year, has completed its labours and presented a most valuable report. The thanks of the House are once more due to the three members who served on the committee for the work they have done for civil aviation. The Air Ministry have adopted the major recommendations of the committee, including those for the devolution of airworthiness work to a new and unofficial body and the institu- tion of a compulsory system of third-party insurance.

Civil aviation is so large a subject and at the same time so important a one that it would be impossible for me to traverse the whole of it without taking an undue proportion of the time of the House. Therefore, I will leave it to Members to raise at a later stage in this Debate any further points they wish to question me about, and proceed at once to a short survey of the individual Votes. I have already referred to Vote A. Votes 1 and 2 show no more than the normal increase which one would expect from the additional personnel we shall be entering in connection with expansion. Vote 3 not only provides for technical and war-like stores but also for the experimental and research services and for the purchase of new aircraft and engines. For the first time in our history the gross total of this Vote exceeds £10,000,000. It shows an increase of £1,300,000 on last year.


Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down will he read again the very important figures of British air strength which he gave? He read them so quickly that it was difficult to follow them.


And would the right hon. Gentleman also say whether the figures include the Fleet Air Arm?


I said that this year the first-line strength of the Air Force was 1,020 machines, that next year it would be, as far as we could foresee, 1,170, and the following year 1,310.


Are these machines, or machines as defined under first-line strength?


They are first-line machines. I will repeat what I have said. Vote 3 stands at £10,000,000, an increase of £1,300,000. We shall be ordering this year nearly 100 per cent. more aircraft than were budgeted for in the current year, and a very largely increased number of engines. Therefore, we must expect to see this Vote substantially increased next year. Vote 4 is a vote for works, buildings and lands, and shows the largest increase of any of the Votes. At £3,145,000 it shows an increase of nearly £1,500,000. It provides for the commencement of work at 10 new stations as well as a new air armament school at Manby and for the enlargement, improvement and adaptation of 12 existing stations under the expansion scheme. As I have said, on this Vote must depend very largely the rate of progress of the expansion scheme. Hon. Members will be interested to see under this Vote further provision for the new air base at Dhibban. I had the opportunity of personally inspecting it last year on my way to Singapore, and was very favourably impressed in every way by its suitability for its purpose, the amenities that it offered and the progress that had been made. I do not think there is anything in the next three Votes on which I need comment. Vote 8—

Captain GUEST

Will the right hon. Gentleman refer to Vote 7?


If there is any point on Vote 7 which my right hon. and gallant Friend wishes, to raise perhaps he will do so later. Vote 8, which is one of the important Votes for civil aviation, at a net total of £595,000 shows a rise on last year of 16 per cent., and if we take into account that the subsidy to Imperial Airways is going down it is really an increase of 31 per cent. of last year. I think this ought to give satisfaction to hon. Members, especially when we think that in view of all our far-reaching plans this Vote will certainly show a substantial increase in the future, when these plans, especially those in connection with our Imperial schemes, come to fruition.

The only other Vote I will mention is Vote 10, which makes provision for the Air Ministry. Here again there is a considerable increase. The Department with the greatest increase is the department of works and buildings, where substantial additions to staff have had to be made, so that the expansion scheme may not be delayed. Much of the additional staff, however, will only be necessary for the next three or four years. If there are any other matters regarding the Estimates which hon. Members wish to ask me about I shall be very glad to answer them later in the Debate.

I will now pass on for a few minutes to a review of the activities of the Royal Air Force during the course of the last year, which hon. Members have come to expect on these Estimates. This year it will not be a very long one, not because the activities of the Royal Air Force have been less—rather the contrary—but because the activities have become more systematised and more effective. In 1934 there were very few of those events of news value such as have enlivened the daily papers in other years. I do not know that the personnel of the Royal Air Force or the Ministry are any the worse pleased for that. Hon. Members will have seen in the Press that we propose to construct two experimental aircraft of special interest, one for high altitude and one for long distance flying. If the development of those machines is satisfactory we shall, at a suitable stage, make attempts on the world's records for altitude and distance. That does not necessarily mean any departure from our policy. We do not intend to construct machines solely for the purpose of achieving records, but where, in meeting the general requirements of research and development, an assault can be made, as it were in our stride, on some record, the attempt will be made.

Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force are pressing on conscientiously with their normal and regular work. Last year I spent a certain amount of time in justifying the use of air control in those semi-civilised portions of the world on which so much of our Empire abuts, but this year there is no need for elaborate justification because the methods have justified themselves. In many cases there have been threats of air action, and in almost every case the threat alone has been sufficient. Hon. Members may be interested to know that in one isolated instance, where air action had been taken against a tribe for looting caravans, travellers have since then found the trade route to Aden from the Yemen safer than many of our citizens find their own highways. The peccant tribe to which I referred, the Quteibis, are apparently a peculiarly inquisitive people, and they frequently find it impossible to resist asking travellers what actually are the contents of their caravans, to which inquiry travellers invariably reply with a wink: "An Air Force officer."

The Royal Air Force have as usual been flying a series of long-distance flights by which we may maintain and stimulate mobility and at the same time acquire a great deal of information which is useful and practical for civil and military purposes. Last year the many exercises included journeys by land machines from the North West Frontier of India to Singapore and back, from Malta to the Sudan and back, and by flying boats from Singapore to Hong Kong via Borneo and the Philippines, returning by Indo-China and Anam, and thus making the whole circuit of the South China Sea. This year we propose to extend the journeys and to increase the number of machines taking part. It is also proposed that they should be accompanied by transport aircraft for carrying personnel and stores, a method which was very successfully employed last year in a flight from Egypt to Iraq.

I have now only a few comparatively small points of general interest with which to complete my review. I mentioned last year an experiment which had been going on since 1933 of flying a British Service squadron on fuel made from British coal; I am glad to say that we now have nine squadrons flying on fuel produced by low-temperature carbonisation. The results have been, on the whole, satisfactory. We have made steady progress during the year in the increase of horse power for given sizes of engines, due very largely to the use of fuel of a higher octane number. Special attention has been paid to the reduction of the head resistance of engines, a matter of increasing importance as the power of engines becomes greater. Perhaps the most striking engine advance of the year has been that of an air-cooled engine operating by means of a sleeve valve. This follows upon many years of research and shows great promise. Experiments are continuing with compression ignition engines, and during the last 12 months they have shown good progress. Doubts of those engines being able to operate at high altitudes have been removed. Indeed, in May last, an aircraft fitted with one of these engines established the world's altitude record for compression ignition engines at a height of 28,000 feet. Technical developments in the air service are obviously important and frequently interesting, but their name is legion, and it is impossible to do more than touch upon a very few of them. The success of the Oxford and Cambridge University Squadron has decided the Ministry to continue with a third of these squadrons at the London University.

On more than one previous occasion in presenting these Estimates I have felt impelled to refer to the adverse effect which the uncertainties of the future of the Royal Air Force and the delay in the defence programme might have on the morale of air personnel, were that morale less high and less finely tempered. Today the position is reversed. The Royal Air Force stand on the threshold of a period of expansion, and our difficulty is how to effect the 50 per cent. expansion in four years without deterioration of efficiency and of physical and intellectual standard. I am confident that the problem will be solved and that the expansion will be effected without any falling off in those high standards which the country has come to expect from the Royal Air Force. I realise that by now, the House knows me for an enthusiast, and I remember a characteristic remark in one of the letters of the late Lord Balfour. He wrote: It is unfortunate, considering that enthusiasm moves the world, that so few enthusiasts are to be trusted to speak the truth. Nevertheless, I have good hope that the House will accept my assurance and share my confidence on this occasion that the Royal Air Force of 1938 will be greater in strength and number, but no whit less great in quality and morale, than the Royal Air Force of 1934. The Government and the Ministry have so arranged the various stages of expansion that the leaven of the existing personnel will have ample time to work upon and permeate the new. There is among the young men of Great Britain ample raw material of the best kind, both for officers and men. Great as are the trust and responsibility that must rest upon the air defences of this country and of the Empire, I am quite sure that the Royal Air Force, during and after the expansion, will face up to them with the same fine spirit and the same high skill and courage which have already become traditional in the Service.

4.41 p.m.


I am sure the House will join with me in congratulating the right hon. Baronet the Under-Secretary of State for Air, despite his enthusiasm, on the great success he has achieved in resisting the temptation to indulge in flights of imagination and in making the development of the Air Force easy of comprehension to pedestrian people like myself. As usual, he has given the House a good deal of detailed information regarding the work of the Service which he represents so worthily in this House, but I regret that he was unable to discuss policy to a greater extent than he did. Perhaps he was under the difficulty, to which he referred and with which we sympathise. He said that he was trying to follow a new road without leaving the old one. It is very difficult to wend one's way to one's destination unless one takes a single road. The right hon. Baronet should be warned against the danger that comes of staying too long at the cross roads, because the cross roads is a traditional place of execution. He referred later on in his speech rather lugubriously to the fate which awaits him and people who share his responsibility at home and abroad and I sympathise deeply with him on his anticipation of a sad end.

We are satisfied that there must be some better reason than has been given to the House for the increase in the Estimates, and I hope before the Debate is finished that we shall be told exactly why large numbers of additional men and machines are required. We have listened to speeches from the Lord President of the Council and the Foreign Secretary recently, and in recent Debates we have been discussing problems verging upon policy in the air, but we have not had the advantage of discussing in detail the exact part which the air forces are to play in whatever circumstances are to follow. If there is to be an increase in the amount that is spent and in equipment and personnel for this force, we should have been given more detailed reasons in the White Paper and in the memorandum upon the Air Estimates. The Government have made up their minds to leave the relatively low position in which we have stood in the order of air strength, and to make a direct line for superiority in the air as we have long had superiority on the seas.

The right hon. Baronet is not responsible for the other two Estimates, but this year there is an almost equal addition in expenditure on each of the three arms. No question of policy can be dis- cussed without taking into consideration the part to be played by and the amount of expenditure on the Navy and the Army, as well as the Air Force. We find that there is to be considerably increased expenditure on each of these three forces, and I think the House would be doing itself justice if it tried to assess the part to be played by each and by the three in combination in any circumstances for which armaments are provided. I am not competent to do that myself. I am not a military, an air, or a naval expert, but since the Air Force came into existence these military discussions have never been, and will never be, exactly the same as they were in the days before the War, when these matters were so frequently considered and were indeed the main subject of discussion in this House for many years.

I find in, I think, seven paragraphs in the White Paper on defence references made to the failure of the Disarmament Conference and the need for this rapid expansion of the Air Force. I think it is in paragraphs 10, 11, and 12, and again in paragraphs 23, 24, 25, and 26 of the White Paper that there is this insistence upon the need for a rapid expansion of the Air Force because of certain events that have taken place in connection with the general question of disarmament. We have been told that the Disarmament Conference has failed and that because of its failure it has been necessary to make these additions, which are very considerable. While the amount of expenditure in all these three cases is the same, the percentage addition to the air expenditure is very much higher than the percentage addition on the Navy or the Army. I therefore think the House would be right in following, for a very brief period of time the reasons for the alleged breakdown of the machinery of disarmament and the maintenance of peace, and in asking whether that breakdown is to be regarded as final and whether the machinery has been irreparably damaged.

I think we should not be invited to give our endorsement to Estimates of this kind without being told exactly why these additions are required and what is the Government's version of the causes of the breakdown of the Disarmament Conference. We have, on a number of occasions, taken part in discussions on the question of the provision of an Air Force, and I find that we had as far back as 1930 a Draft Disarmament Convention, which was signed by a large number of States, one of the special features of which draft Convention was to make provision for the discouragement of military aviation and for international co-operation in the development of civil aviation. Then we found that each of the important countries taking part in that Conference took a very definite line. All of those great countries were in favour of the total abilition of military and naval air forces and for the international control of civil aviation.

Having regard to the nature of this force and the appalling consequences of engaging in international struggles with this new and terrible weapon, it is a tragedy indeed that we have failed to come to an agreement with the other countries of the world in a plan whereby this terrible weapon might be kept off the battlefields of the world for all time and this dangerous weapon brought under the control of an international agreement for the maintenance of peace and the abolition of war itself. We found then that there was no difficulty with Germany. Germany took up a very special position, and demanded, by specific requests, the prohibition of all military air forces, and she maintained that position for more than three years, in face of repeated discouragement. She maintained that position indeed until 1933, when changes in Germany of which we are all aware altered her position. In 1933 Germany did not relinquish her claim for the abolition of air forces, but claimed that if other people were to have air forces, she should be given equality in armaments.

France's effort has been much better than our own in this respect. France has been criticised frequently because of her attitude towards peace and disarmament, but I have a very strong sympathy for France, because she is a smaller country alongside a much more powerful neighbour, which she fears very much, and which she has cause to fear in a world such as that in which we live. But France has given a very clear lead to all other countries in this matter. France has urged that the air forces should all be controlled internationally. She has made a demand that there should be an international air force and also that there should be the internationalisation of civil aviation.

As I listened to the right hon. Baronet, I could not help sharing his pride in the wonderful development of civil aviation, which is a great achievement. The impossible has become the commonplace, and great epics are performed day after day by men, undistinguished, unnamed, in the service of this new and most brilliant enterprise upon which man has become engaged. But when one remembers how easy it is to convert civil aviation, carrying its millions of letters a year and passengers in regular service from one part of the world to another, it becomes clear to anyone who desires disarmament in the air that civil aviation should be brought as completely under international control as military aeroplanes themselves. So we have found that the obstruction has not come from France, or Germany, or even from the United States of America. America too has been quite willing to come to an agreement on the question of the internationalisation of civil aviation and the disarmament of the air forces. Proposals were made by Mr. Hoover in July, 1932, and from the United Kingdom statement on those proposals I quote the following: There is no aspect of international disarmament more vitally urgent than the adoption without delay of the most effective measures to preserve the civilian population from the fearful horrors of bombardment from the air. I would like the right hon. Baronet, without attributing to him any lack of sympathy, to say why it is that we all agree upon the frightfulness of bombardment from the air upon European towns and cities, but do not concede the same frightfulness when it comes to bombarding from the air villages on the frontiers of India or in Iraq. In either case we are bombarding the homes of men and women and destroying life. It has been done. The right hon. Gentleman said he was happy to announce today that there had been few air raids on any of those frontier villages, and that the sharp lessons taught to these tribesmen had had their effect. This year, I think he said, there were very few such raids, and they were not very serious. But one air raid on an Indian frontier village is just as much a crime as would be the larger air raid which we might yet see made upon the City of London, with terrible, horrifying results to the population here.

This question of protecting the civil population from bombardment from the air has been discussed at these conferences to which I have referred. The Governments of the United States of America, of France, of Germany, and of Great Britain have been discussing this matter, but after many commissions and committees have been appointed and all these problems have been discussed over and over again, we are no further ahead even now, and the right hon. Gentleman has the responsibility placed upon him of asking for increased provision for our air armaments in order that we may at some future date be in a position to destroy life more fearfully and terribly. That is the object of all this preparation, and it is because we have that heavy possibility in our minds that we shall invite the Government to consider, not the promotion of these Estimates, but an alternative suggestion before we have finished this Debate tonight. The machinery has broken down, and we must try as far as we can to place the responsibility for the breakdown where it lies. I will quote from the "Manchester Guardian," a paper which is known to be fair-minded, courageous, and frank to friend and foe. The "Manchester Guardian," on the 29th May. 1933, said, referring to a Debate in this House: Yesterday's Debate revealed an almost unanimous opinion in favour of the complete abolition of military and naval air forces. It is clear that the British Government has now a great opportunity. If it would drop its exception and propose the complete abolition of military and naval air forces and the internationalisation of civil aviation, it would carry the overwhelming majority of the conference with it. The Conference did not go in that direction, because the Conference was never invited by the British Government to abolish military and naval air forces or to internationalise civil aviation. The proposal was never made. We temporised, we found excuses, and we begged to be excused from all responsibility. On this particular proposal to abolish bombing from the air, the Government, with the Ministers now responsible, opposed in the Conference its abolition. They said they wished to retain the right to bomb the populations of India, Persia, and those borders of civilisation or, to use the euphemistic term used by the right hon. Baronet, the land on the frontier of civilisation, just beyond the limits of human decency. To carry out police duties in those areas the present Minister's chief insisted that we should not abolish bombing.

I would like to invite the Minister and the House to say whether we must go on with this policy. These Estimates refer to the three arms, each of which plays a separate part in defence and in offence, but which part is for offence and which for defence it is difficult to find. Certainly the Air Force is very potent for attack, and it does not play as great a part in the defence of the country as the other forces, but it is true of the Air Force that it fights all three forces. The Air Force fights an air force, an army, and a navy. It is not confined to any sea or land route, it recognises no frontiers, not even neutral frontiers, it takes it own way, it goes where it likes and delivers its attack where it likes, without regard to any obstacle that stands in its way. This Force does differ vitally from the Navy, which cannot go beyond deep waters. The Navy can truly be said to be an instrument of defence, but it can equally be an instrument of offence within its limit. The Army fights on land and can be used either for offence or defence, but the Air Force can go where it likes.

The right hon. Gentleman says that we are now experimenting with new aeroplanes with which we hope to defeat the altitude and speed records of the world. The altitude records are already very high, and there is this new idea of flying with minimum resistance in a rarified atmosphere miles above the earth, which will take the aviator out of sight and hearing, so that he can go just where he likes without the knowledge of the people who are to be attacked and then pounce on them suddenly without being seen or heard. This force is entirely different and carries war on to a new plane. It is not the kind of war we knew where trained men fight trained men. There is no longer any position or lines of defence. An inoffensive civil population may be attacked like a bolt from the blue by the instruments of this force, and damage beyond computation can be inflicted upon the populations of the countries with whom we may be at war. The old ideas of fighting have gone altogether. This force will fight almost always behind the lines. Where there are lines of defence; where there are frontier posts these aeroplanes can easily go over. The air forces will find all the vulnerable points behind the fighting lines, where millions of people may be congregated, as in London, which will be the finest target in the world should unfortunately war occur. The old code of chivalry has been blotted out. There is no longer any chivalry, no standard of honour, no honour in fighting, and no idea of fair play. This new system is ruthless; it is frightfulness to the extreme.

We are now engaged in preparing for an increase of armaments with these terrible weapons with no end in view. The right hon. Baronet told the House that this is only a beginning, but we have not had described the aim we have in view. We are certainly going to be first in order of fighting strength. We have heard a good deal of the war of attrition, where men counted and the conditions under which men lived. In future it is the morale of the nation, the industrial capacity of the country, which will be tested, not the courage of a nation. Victory will go to the country which has the finest manufacturing equipment. As aeroplanes are multiplied, we shall reach a point where one country will cease to be able to secure material and labour enough to build aeroplanes, and victory will go to the country which is able to build an unlimited supply. It is a terrible prospect that we have in view. We would like the Government even now to resist the temptation to join what appears to be a European suicide club. That is the direction in which we are heading, all of us joined in a society for self and mutual-destruction. There are no limits of decency.

We have expressed our abhorrence of this kind of future hostilities, but we must offer our alternative. It is the responsibility that falls upon the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had two kinds of critics. I think that he lingered on the two roads because because he was not sure which of them was the more dangerous. We would like very much if he would come on to a single road, a straight road. We offer that road to him and to the Government. We want them to make a direct bid for peace while there is yet time, and we believe that the line of peace can be found. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council (Mr. Baldwin), whom I often read, I quote sometimes with approval because I believe that he has a great deal of the common sense which is one of the chief assets of our nation. He does occasionally see the light, and occasionally tells the House of his vision. He once said that the most important of all the questions of disarmament was the question of disarmament in the air, for all disarmament hangs on the air. I think that it is true to say that at this moment if you could enter into a compact with the nations of the world not to use these air armaments, and to hand over these terrible weapons to an international body of control and the personnel and organisation even of civil aviation, to be used for transport and other peaceful purposes, you would find the way then to the disarmament of the other two forces. The right hon. Gentleman said also—this, I think, is a lesson that we should give to the House to-day: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2077, Vol. 286.] Not a word has been said about that to-day. Have the Government made up their mind that they cannot make that one bid, that they cannot start even tomorrow morning? We have reached a situation in Europe which is dangerous, not because anybody wants war—no one in this House, no one in this country, no one perhaps in the Parliaments of Europe wants war—but we are drifting, and a Government such as ours, with the freedom and confidence that a democratic system gives to any Government, that is free to speak to its own people and to receive the people's response, such a Government is pre-eminently responsible for making a declaration to the Governments of the world. Our Government, we believe, should now make up their mind to try to get back to the one road that leads to peace, and that road is through the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, through the nations who are already associated, with each other for this purpose but who have for some reason abandoned the pursuit of disarmament in the air, where disarmament hangs. I would like the Government to make up their mind to take that road back straight away, and to propose at a conference the international control of all kinds of aviation. You cannot distinguish between them. When you start making discriminations you get confusion at once. All aviation should be controlled by an international body. We have been committed to the Kellogg Pact and to other undertakings, and I do not think that there would be anything to be lost by asking that next week or as soon as can be arranged all the nations of the world should come together again, pledging themselves not to attack each other from the air and not to use these terrible weapons which must result in chaos and disorder if once the attack is started.

I remember when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs came forward with his idea of a four-Power pact in the air. His speech on the wireless was very interesting to listen to, and I remember that he used the illustration of A, B, C and D, four nations sworn not to attack each other, and that if either A, B, C or D launched an attack the nations represented by the other letters would come at once to their assistance and deliver a counter attack on the offending country as a means of deterring or penalising the country which was the aggressor. When I listened to him and when I read the White Paper that was later published I thought that it was the most foolish thing that could emanate from the mind of any responsible person, and I could not see how a thing like that could work. Try to imagine ourselves, France, Belgium and Germany. The element of surprise has always been a large element in war. Perhaps France would attack London, and then, it is said, Belgium, Germany and England would attack Paris in order to defend London from the French forces. The thing is stupid. What kind of control could anyone expect to have under these circumstances? When a nation is attacked, is it a question of a telephone call to the headquarters of the three other countries: "We have been attacked; will you please send aeroplanes?" or "We will meet you at Paris at five o'clock"? What a ridiculous statement. Why try to dodge the straight course? Why not say: "Here is a terrible weapon forged by human ingenuity, a thing that can carry destruction and destroy populations by all kinds of lethal weapons on a scale hitherto undreamt of. Let us come together to harness, to control this terrible beast, and to prevent it from breaking loose and raining hell and destruction on us all."

I do urge the Minister to make representations to his colleagues in the Cabinet to try once again, by going into a Conference and making the proposal that we shall have control of all international air forces. There is yet time to save Europe, but there is not much time. We are discussing the details of these Estimates leisurely and comfortably here this afternoon, but if we find the 1,310 or a large proportion of these machines taking the air on any day this summer or in the near future we shall find that the world will never be quite the same for some time to come. This is a thing to be avoided. I make this appeal to the Minister, that we shall go there and pay the necessary price for peace. It is not a price in money. We shall not get peace by spending £3,000,000 more on the Air, or £3,000,000 more on the Navy. The price required of us for peace in future years is the price of the surrender of part of our national sovereignty. It must be so. We have already the League of Nations, and we made a surrender there. We make a partial surrender in every treaty or alliance into which we enter with any other country. There have been many partial surrenders already. Let us go the whole way and surrender this arm—surrender our national power and right to control our armaments in regard to this one arm. I feel sure that if we approach this question boldly, and make an appeal to the conscience of the world, the world can yet be roused to the fearful dangers that overshadow it now. I hope that the Minister and the Government, instead of proceeding with these Estimates and others of a similar kind that will follow, will make one bold and brave effort by going to a conference prepared to pay a reasonable price for peace. I believe that peace will then, and in no other way, ensue to the peoples of the world.

5.17 p.m.


I am sure it was a very great pleasure to the whole House to listen to the speech of the right hon. Baronet. His speech was made particularly welcome, to me at any rate, and I think probably to other Members, by our consciousness all the time that, in telling us of the brilliant and gallant enterprises of the Air Service, he was not telling us of anything which he would not be willing, and probably able, to undertake himself. I do not think that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are ever so happy as when they are in that element over which they preside, and in that matter they do well and set a splendid example. The right hon. Baronet told us, and we applaud it and are delighted to hear it, of the marvellous development which he expected to take place on the civil side of aviation in connection with mails and passenger transport. It seems to us, for instance, a most remarkable thing that there should be a prospect, apparently in the fairly near future, of even more than a daily mail service to Egypt, if I took the figures rightly, at a charge of 1½d. for half an ounce, and similarly wonderful services to many other parts of the world.

If I may refer to something which was not in his speech, but which is connected with his speech, it also gave me pleasure to hear the question and answer exchanged earlier this afternoon between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and the Prime Minister. It seemed to us to be of good augury—one cannot say more than that, I suppose—that there should be some possibility of guarding against air attack by some other means than offence. If money is needed for carrying on the experimental work, or afterwards, if that experimental work proves to be justified and steps have to be taken for improving defences of that Kind in this country, we here at any rate shall be very willing to do our best in helping to provide it.

It must be clear to the House that in the air, more definitely than on land or water, armaments, and therefore Estimates, depend upon policy. A country with our Imperial responsibilites must clearly have a small but very highly equipped and efficient Army. It must have a Navy equal at least to that of other Powers. But the strength that it really needs in the air is at any rate more arguable, and I want to show to the House, if I can, how we have arrived at the present position, and therefore the present Estimates, and what the policy at which we have arrived really entails. In order to get a background for that, I venture to make one comment on the position taken up by the Under-Secretary this afternoon, and by other Ministers representing Service Departments, who have told us one after another that in past years we alone have cut our expenditure to the bone, and that we must now increase because no one else has followed our example.

I have been meeting friends of several countries recently, and have mentioned that point to them with complete confidence, but I have found that they do not hold that view, and the sort of figures which seem to be present in their minds, and which I think we ought to have present in our minds, are these: They are very simple. If one compares the last pre-War year, 1913–14, with the latest year for which figures are published, namely, 1933–34–20 years later-one finds that, while the countries which were beaten in the Great War show heavy reductions, all the victorious Powers in that War show very large increases. Japan, in 1934, spent more than three times her pre-War figure. But the interesting point, of which other people seem to be aware, though it was news to me until I came to verify it, is that the other four great Powers seem to have been following very much a parallel line. Italian expenditure was up by a little over 50 per cent., that of the United States was just a little under, and ours and France's was almost exactly on the 50 per cent. increase mark. I know there was a real reduction in the Air after the War; we all know that; but the general idea that we alone have cut to the bone is one that it is not easy to get other people to believe with the intensity with which we believe it ourselves.

With that in mind, I would ask the House to note just four points in this connection. When we look through the record of that greatest of all tragedies in international relationships, the Disarmament Conference, we find that other countries have never been quite so ready to take our view as to air policy as we have always seemed to expect. My four points are these: In the first place, it was notable, and in my view deplorable, that in the early days of the Conference, when it would have been much easier to obtain agreement than it became later, we were never in favour of the abolition of military aircraft. We concentrated our effort on getting other people to reduce to our level, and so, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) has pointed out, we played direct into Herr Hitler's hands.

Secondly, when we became willing to abolish military aircraft, our proposals were handicapped by our reservation in favour of bombing in outlying districts for police purposes, in which we were backed only by Iraq, Persia and Siam, though one would think that Powers like France and Italy would also have difficult hinterlands behind their colonial possessions in which they might want to make use of that arm. Although we offered later to withdraw that reservation, there was a deplorable delay of 10 months between our stating it and our stating that we would be willing to withdraw it, and the withdrawal came too late.

Thirdly, when the Conference got down to the question which the Foreign Secretary so rightly said was vital, namely, the internationalisation or effective supervision of civilian aircraft, surely, on the assumption that we really wanted to do anything, we made a grave error of tactics, if nothing worse, by merely putting all the objections to action without any sort of suggestion as to how any of them could be met. Fourthly, after concurring, at the beginning of June last year, in the Air Committee being called upon by the Disarmament Conference to resume its work and to examine projects which had been put forward by different countries, before the end of that same month we threw in our hand and said that we had abandoned the hope of any effective convention, and must increase our air strength.

Turning our minds back for a moment to that month, there had been, as we remember, a very skilful, assiduous and powerful campaign among those interested in air armaments, but I do not think we have ever been told what else happened between the time when this country concurred in the matter being referred for further examination to the Air Committee and when, only three or four weeks later, we said that no further investigation would really be useful, and we must increase our strength. The epitaph that I fear will be written on all that, when our policy in the Disarmament Conference comes to be finally reviewed, will be the simple words "Too late."

I doubt, however, whether last summer—and here I am following the line of thought suggested by the hon. Member for Gower—it was really too late to make a real examination of the possibility of effective regulation of civil aviation, which would have opened up again the question of the abolition or limitation of military aircraft. At any rate, the Disarmament Conference did not think so, and, as I have suggested, we have never had an explanation why our Government did. After all, one has to remember that it is only in the air that great Powers are really afraid of one another, and fear leads to two things. It leads to a great piling up of armaments when there is no longer any hope of any agreement for reduction; but it also leads to a great willingness to reduce or control, or even abolish, as long as there is any chance of effective agreement. As one reads the story leading up to the present position, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that time after time Germany and France might have been brought together if only we had been rather less hesitant, more anxious to seek out solutions than difficulties, and more willing to take a slight risk in order to obtain a great gain.

The question must be in the minds of all of us now whether there will be another chance in the coming weeks. Let us pray that there may be that chance, and that it may not again be lost. But, meanwhile, we are faced with our present position. I am not one of those, if there be any, who hold that, because no defence can prevent an enemy from getting home with his air attacks, we should therefore have no defence. That would mean that, if we ever came to be attacked, the enemy could do quietly and at leisure, probably in broad daylight, what otherwise, even if he succeeded in doing it, he would have to do on the tip and run principle, probably at night, at considerable risk to himself. If these Estimates stood by themselves and were not the beginning of a startling new policy my feelings and those of my colleagues here would be very different towards them. But the authoritative statement on this matter that we are bound to have in mind when we are discussing the Air Estimates and Air policy, and which will govern future Estimates, is that of the Lord President that 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.

What is going to happen? We on these benches are sometimes told that we are not realists in this matter. I believe that that is unjustified. I should like to consider between which two great countries is war most likely—I know that matters change like a kaleidescope—in the next five years. We have our attention unpleasantly concentrated just now on Germany and France, but I do not think that really the danger is there, but that it is more likely to spring up between Russia and Japan. Japan has a great aircraft programme, and Russia is becoming intensely air-minded and will be building, of course against Japan on the one side and against Germany on the other, and will want to feel that she will be at such strength, if she becomes involved in a war in the East, as to be free from the risk of attack from the West, for which the sudden change of policy of Germany towards Poland opened up a prospect at the beginning of last year. Germany is afraid of Russia as well as Russia being afraid of Germany, and Germany, surely, will build largely in the air, air Locarno or no air Locarno, against Russia on the one side, and against France on the other. France is not afraid of Germany on land, and one expects that she hardly will feel so on sea, but she is afraid, as all countries must be afraid, of this terrible air weapon. France also will be adding to her already large forces, and probably Italy, with already large forces, will be doing the same.

The new doctrine is that we must set ourselves to have an air force as big as that of any of those Powers which may be within striking distance of us. My point is that whereas all our neighbours, inevitably if we look at it from the practical point of view, will be building against attack from two sides, we, upon whom a two-sided attack is an impossibility as long as we preserve our pacific attitude, which we do preserve, towards all the nations of the world, and indeed under the proposed Pact, which I for one hope will come off, even a one-sided attack without calling in other Powers to our help, in spite of being in such an essentially different position from our neighbours, have to have as big an air force as the biggest of them. That is an appalling doctrine, and I really do not think that either the House or the country have realised where that doctrine will lead us. It is not only appalling from the point of view of thinking of Europe heavily armed, but, from the point of view of our country particularly, a sheer financial impossibility.

What ought our Army to cost us in the opinion of those who believe, as the House in general believes, that it ought to cost more if we are to accept the statement of the Minister who put the case before us yesterday that the Estimates of this year were only an instalment and that there would be subsequent increases. There is a large programme of barracks building, more warlike stores to be provided, and all this increased specialisation and mechanisation, and the Army Estimates are now £43,500,000. Will £50,000,000 be found to be a satisfactory resting place? Then there is the Navy. When we begin replacing battleships at £8,000,000 a time, and when we embark upon that absolute programme of cruisers which we are told we must keep up even if there is nothing on the broad seas more dangerous than a jellyfish to attack them—our Estimates now are £60,000,000 with practically no rebuilding and without the rebuilding which the friends of the Navy, in order to maintain our traditional strength on the sea, have in mind—will the amount stop short of the figure of £80,000,000 a year? No one who really thinks in terms of what lies before us can think so. With the Government's policy in front of us and the certainty—and if there is one thing certain it is this—that great Continental Powers will more and more put all their available strength into the air, can we have any reasonable doubt that, if we are to carry out the definite policy laid down for us of being equal in strength to any other Power, our present Estimates of £20,000,000 will be likely to go up to £40,000,000 or £60,000,000. If we really are to maintain that tremendous position, I wonder whether £60,000,000 will do it? I doubt it.

The point I would like to put to the House is that altogether, with say, £50,000,000 for the Army, £80,000,000 for the Navy and £60,000,000 for the Air Force you get a total of £190,000,000 of expenditure on the Services, and when we contemplate that sort of thing—and I think that we have got to do so—I would ask: Who are the realists? Those on this side of the House who realise that it will not be possible to ask the country to bear that sort of armament burden, and it will be far heavier than will fall on any other country, and therefore genuinely seek for some alternative, or those, on the other hand, who are prepared to drift on and on and up and up asking always for higher Estimates all round, reaching a position that will become impossible? I am certain that no one thinks that I am exaggerating the possibilities of the new policy if we are to act, as the Government presumably intend, on this plan.

Continental countries are becoming very rapidly air conscious or air-minded, and they have air pride, air emotions, and, more potent than all, they have air fears, of the possibility of being paralysed by a sudden attack from one side while engaged in a war on the other, with their nerve centres annihilated before anything can be done. That will always be the danger present to their minds, and they will build accordingly. Why should we do the same? Does pool security really mean that we have to do that This is a question which will some day have to come before the electorate, and I shall be interested to know their answer. I am only going to deal with one other aspect of the matter. We find in the Estimates that there are 2,300 flying officers and 23,000 flying non-commissioned officers and men, a total of 25,000. These men are always willing to risk their lives and often are risking their lives day after day in a very difficult element, and surely they are the most gallant forces in the world. The attraction of danger and adventure is such to men of our race that I am sure that if our Air Force had to be doubled or trebled there never would be any lack of recruits. But with the best of machines and the best of precautions there are accidents like that of yesterday. I am sure that no one has ever shirked or will shirk the risk because of the chance of accident. I suppose that there will always be a higher peace death roll in the Air Service than in any other possible profession or employment, and what the position is likely to be in war we all of us know. I ask the House to pause once, twice and three times before, by accepting these Estimates, they commit themselves to the declared policy of the Government, and, before they contemplate an appalling scale of expansion and expenditure which with that policy most certainly lies before us, to think of the gallant lives which that policy will be risking. We on these benches, cannot, with this opinion in mind, support the Motion now before the House.

5.42 p.m.


I should like to join with the other speakers in complimenting the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary upon his lucid compendious, comprehensive and engaging survey of the many activities of his Department during the present year. The Under-Secretary always gives a very good account of the work of the Royal Air Force, and he is in the best position to do so because he has had long experience, and has intimate connection with so many of its activities. We are fortunate to have in this House a representative who takes such a great interest in his duties and is able to speak to us so agreeably about them. However, there are a certain number of aspects of this question on which the Under-Secretary can only speak as he is instructed. Nothing was more notable in his able review than what he left out. After all, we are deeply exercised in our minds about the relative strength of the British and German air forces, and over that vital and crucial part of our discussion, the most anxious and important part of the whole question connected with the air, my right hon. Friend drew, or was inclined to draw, a veil of impenetrable opacity.

My remarks, which, I am afraid, are going to be extremely dry—and I shall endeavour to make them as brief as possible—are to be in the form of a supplement to the speech we have heard, and will, I think, supply a basis for discussion on this the greatest of all matters which now are before us. It is a very complicated subject. In the comparisons of air strength we suffer very much because there is no accurate knowledge and definite terminology by which it can be compared. At any rate, we have one advantage, that happily this difficult matter is not complicated by any differences between those who support His Majesty's Government and the Government themselves as to the objective or the standard towards which we should work, because, as the right hon. Member opposite has reminded us, the Lord President of the Council in March, 1934, laid down, in the most plain and most solemn manner his view, with definiteness and soberness, of what our air power standard should be. I must read what he said from the OFFICIAL REPORT: 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"— He was referring to the negotiations— 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2078, Vol. 286.] Therefore, those of us who accept that statement have no need to go into all the questions of alliances, or the difficult aspects of foreign policy, or questions of international morality and pacifism which have played, and ought to play, a part in these various debates. We have a perfectly definite objective proclaimed by the highest authority on a most serious occasion, and I take that as the starting point of the argument that I wish to put before the House. That was in March last. In November of last year, supported by some friends of mine, I moved an Amendment to the Address representing that: In the present circumstances of the world, the strength of our national defences, and especially of our air defences, is no longer adequate to secure the peace, safety and freedom of your Majesty's faithful subjects. I do not think that the course of events has in any way stultified those who put down that Amendment. I must apologise for quoting what I said in that Debate, but it is necessary to my arguments to-day. I said: I therefore assert, first, that Germany already, at this moment, has a military air force. That is to say, military squadrons, with the necessary ground services, with the necessary reserves of trained personnel, and material—which only await an order to assemble and in full open combination—and that this illegal air force is rapidly approaching equality with our own."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 866, Vol 295.] That was my first statement. I also made certain statements as to the relative strength of Germany and this country, which will appear in the course of my remarks to-day. In reply to the statement which I thought it my duty to make, my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council made a momentous announcement, and confirmed the fact that Germany was forming, or had formed, a military air force. Hitherto, the official view had been that Germany was observing the Treaty which precluded her from having a military air force. But, as a result of that Debate in November, the statement of the Lord President of the Council to which I have referred was made. Subsequent events have shown how true it was. In reply to the further statement which I made, my right hon. Friend uttered very definite contradictions, and it is with those contradictions that I wish to deal. He said: It is not the case that Germany is rapidly approaching equality with us. … Her Teal strength is not 50 per cent. of our strength in Europe to-day. That is to say, half our strength in Europe. That directly contradicted the assertion which I had made. My right hon. Friend further proceeded to say: As for the position this time next year"— That would be November, 1935— .… so far from the German military air force being at least as strong, and probably stronger, than our own, we estimate that we shall still have in Europe alone a margin of nearly 50 per cent. I cannot look further forward than the next two years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 882, Vol. 295.] Does my right hon. Friend adhere to that statement to-day? I wonder whether he will tell us when he speaks whether further information has led him to modify those very striking statements. Certainly, if they are true they are enormously reassuring. If, by any chance, my right hon. Friend has been misled into making an under-statement or an erroneous statement, I am sure that he would wish to correct it at the first opportunity. At any rate, I propose to examine and analyse those two statements. But before I do so I must say a word on the question of terminology. My right hon. Friend the Lord President warned us on that same 28th November of the danger of making false comparisons. He said: The total number of service aircraft which any country possesses is an entirely different thing from the total number of aircraft of first-line strength. The total number, of course, includes the first-line strength and all the reserve machines used in practice and many things of that kind. I would like the House to remember that one may get a wholly erroneous picture in making comparisons, just to mention the aircraft of our own country, when perhaps the figures that have been mentioned are but the figures of first-line strength. That is perfectly true, and we are indebted to my right hon. Friend for establishing, as it were, these definite categories, so that we can carry on something like intelligent discussion upon air matters. Military aircraft and first-line strength are in two categories. I think I am fully expressing what my right hon. Friend meant, but while stating this principle my right hon. Friend immediately seemed to depart from it, because the figures which he gave for Germany were of military aircraft, whereas the figures he gave for Great Britain were the figures of first-line air strength. My right hon. Friend said, in short, that we ought not to compare military aircraft with first-line air strength, and yet in giving this comparison he proceeded to do so. I wish, therefore, this afternoon to examine the air power of Great Britain and Germany in both categories—that of military aircraft and first-line strength. I will deal with the position last November, when we had the Debate, because those figures which had been made public were all that we had to go upon. They dealt with the situation as it was last November. In dealing with the German position the Lord President said: The figures— That is, the German figures— we have range from a figure, given on excellent authority and from a source of indisputable authority, of 600 aircraft—600 military aircraft altogether—to the highest figure that we have been given, also from good sources, of something not over 1,000. The probability is that the actual figure ranges between those two, near which limit I cannot say; but it is interesting to note that in the French Chamber the French Government—and I do not think their tendency would be to minimise figures—gave the figure of the military aircraft at 1,100. I believe it will be found that my right hon. Friend, or those who advised him, mixed up the two classes, that we were asked to keep separate in our minds. Instead of saying that Germany had 600 military aircraft, he should have said that Germany had 600 first-line air strength. The figure of 1,100 which was used in the French Chamber represented, I suppose, military aircraft comprising and supporting the first-line strength, first-line strength being aeroplanes with reserves of different strengths behind them, with pilots, mechanics and establishments all as part of the air force, with its squadrons. Military aircraft represent merely the machines. The figures of 1,100 used in the French Chamber, it seems to me, are the very lowest figures that could possibly be quoted. It is more than possible that the position was very much more serious in November. However, taking the basis of those figures for comparison, let us see what are the comparable figures given by my right hon. Friend for Great Britain. The Lord President said: The first-line strength of the regular units of the Royal Air Force to-day, at home and overseas, is 880 aircraft. Of these, including those of the Fleet Air Arm, 560 are at present stationed in the United Kingdom. There are also at home the Auxiliary Air Force and the Special Reserve squadrons, with an establishment of 127 aircraft,"— To-day that figure has been quoted as 130 by the Under-Secretary— making a total of just under 690 aircraft available to-day in the United Kingdom that could be put into the first line. But the House must realise that behind our regular first line strength of 880 aircraft"— My right hon. Friend seems to have assumed the total figure for the British Empire in dealing with home defence— there is a far larger number either held in reserve to replace the normal peace time wastage or in current use in training and experimental work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols. 875–7, Vol. 295.] I must draw the attention of the House to certain points or defects in that statement. My right hon. Friend says that 560 first-line air strength aircraft were avail- able for the defence of the United Kingdom, and in order to make those figures look larger 127 auxiliary aircraft were added to produce a total of 687. Those auxiliary aircraft are not fairly comparable to the whole-time regular units of the Royal Air Force. There is the same kind of gap between them and the Royal Air Force as there is between the Territorial Army and the whole-time professional Army. I thought it a little disquieting that those 127 auxiliary aircraft, now called 130, should be included and represented as first-line air strength, with all their reserves behind them, as if they were equal to the finest units of the Royal Air Force or, to make the comparison with the Army, as if a Territorial battalion were equal to the finest battalion of the Guards. I cannot think that they should have been properly included in the same category.

The actual facts are perfectly well known abroad. If those 127 auxiliary aircraft are to be added to the British first line strength, then at least 300 fast commercial dual-purpose bombing machines which exist in Germany, ready and available for immediate conversion, will have to be added on the other side, which would alter the count even more to our disadvantage. It is much safer to take the basis of the 660 mentioned by the Lord President as the British basis for the defence of the United Kingdom, including the Royal Naval Air Arm. Therefore, the comparable basis that I can conceive, from a study of all that has been said, is that in November the strength of the German first-line air strength was 600 and the British home defence, including the Naval Air Arm, was 560.

Now I come to military aircraft. The 1,100 military aircraft, or the 1,000 mentioned as an alternative, no doubt include 300 fast dual-purpose bombing machines. What is the comparable British figure? The Lord President of the Council did not mention it; he left it veiled in a re-serve. We have had no official figure until this afternoon, but the Paris correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph," Colonel Turner, who seems to be singularly well informed, and who has made several statements on the subject, the latest of which appeared in yesterday's "Daily Telegraph," says that Britain's air strength is 1,020 first-line aeroplanes, not including training machines. I was going to rest on that figure until the speech of the Under-Secretary this afternoon, who has now confirmed it. He has told the House that the military machines at the present time consist of 890, plus 130 of the auxiliary forces, which makes exactly 1,020. Therefore, the figure which the Lord President of the Council did not give us in November, but which has now been published in the "Daily Telegraph," has been confirmed by the Under-Secretary for Air. On this basis a comparison between the British and German air forces at the end of November would appear to have been as follows: First-line strength, Great Britain 560, Germany 600; military aircraft, Great Britain 1,020, without training machines, and Germany 1,100. Beyond all question these are much the most favourable figures from our point of view which could possibly be cited, and I am sure that they will fall far short of the truth. But even taking them as they are, they altogether disprove the first assertion of the Lord President of the Council on 28th November, because they show the two countries virtually on an equality, neck and neck, whereas the Lord President said: It is not the case that Germany is rapidly approaching equality with us. Her real strength is not 50 per cent. of our strength in Europe to-day. These figures, therefore, require further elucidation from the Government in view of what I have said.

I come to the second and more disquieting stage of my argument. Since our Debate in November four months have passed, and during that period our position has sensibly changed for the worse. On 1st April, that is in 13 days' time, the German Government have announced, formally and publicly that it is their intention to constitute a military air force. They are going to assume all those elements which have hitherto been altogether inferior and unofficial in the strong units of the German regular air force. It involves no great change. It only means officers putting on their badges of rank which have hitherto been tacitly understood. We do not know what proportion of the vast pool of their military, commercial and sporting aviation Germany will declare as their first-line air strength, hut I have no doubt that the very lowest figure they will declare is the lowest figure at which their strength exists, that is 600 first-line air strength, and it may easily be doubled, and more than doubled. I must point out that I have been using only the minimum figures, and although they are minimum figures they are amply sufficient to prove the case. I do not wish to use alarmist figures unless they are forced upon one by the fact that one cannot close one's eyes to them. But I take no responsibility—and I wish to make this quite clear in case there is any inquest afterwards into all these statements—that I am giving even as a private Member any assurce that the actual truth may not be much worse than the figures I have cited.

Last November in the same Debate the Lord President of the Council gave the figures of the German army which has been formed contrary to the Treaty, as 300,000 men in 21 divisions. Only four months after Germany declared, on Saturday last, when we know that there are 500,000 in barracks, for compulsory universal service to sustain 36 divisions. The 21 has grown to 36. It may be, indeed it is, only natural to assume that the expansion of the German air force will bear the same proportion to the new German army as the air forces of other conscript countries bear to the armies of other countries; it will undergo the same expansion; and it may be that an even more unpleasant surprise awaits His Majesty's Government on 1st April than occurred when the German army scheme was declared on Saturday last. But what will be the relative position a year from now, that is, at the end of the next financial year? We are to add during the year 11 squadrons of nine machines each—let us say 100 machines to our first-line air strength. Eleven new squadrons will come into being with all their appurtenances and reserves. The Under-Secretary said, evidently with great pleasure, that the Air Ministry were ordering over 1,000 new machines. We want to know how many new machines are being delivered. The machines may be ordered so late in the year as not really to be anything but paper decisions; and we must deal with realities in this matter. When I looked at Vote 3 I found that only £1,000,000 more was being taken for this part of the construction vote, that is, £6,800,000 instead of £5,800,000, and I do not see how the addition of £1,000,000 can possibly make such a very large addition to our Air Force. Nor does it in fact, because the Under-Secretary, with complete candour, has shown exactly the amount of the advance in British military aircraft during the year, and has told us that we now possess 1,020, and that at the end of the year we shall have 1,170, that is an increase of 150 machines.




But that is not an increase of 150 in the first-line air strength, because the squadrons are not in existence. It simply means that 150 additional machines of the newest pat-torn will be added to our Air Force. What we are comparing in this matter is not air strength with air strength, but the best class of hew machines with the comparable production in Germany. I hope no one will mix up the comparisons, because that is absolutely destructive of obtaining a coherent result. We now know that the financial provisions only permit of an addition of 150 machines of this type and the addition of 11 squadrons, which will raise our first-line air strength for home defence to 659 and our military aircraft to 1,170, exclusive of training machines. I hope that these figures will be found to be right, but it would be of enormous help if we could get a proper basis upon which to argue these vital matters. However, I do not think there is any dispute about the two figures of 659 and 1,170. What, then, will be the German first-line air strength at the end of this year? We cannot tell. We shall learn officially on 1st April, and it is no use speculating on what they will declare as their first-line air strength. I must confine myself to German military aircraft, the other factor.

Here, again, mystery shrouds all German preparations. At various points facts emerge which enable a general view to be taken. Enormous sums of money are being spent on German aviation and upon other armaments. I wish we could get at the figures which are being spent upon armaments. I believe that they would stagger us with the terrible, tale they would tell of the immense panoply which that nation of nearly 70,000,000 of people is assuming, or has already largely assumed. But there are certain things which strike one. For instance, the popu- lation of Dessau increased during last year by 13,000 people. Dessau is a centre of the great Junkers' aeroplane works, but it is only one of four or five main air factories of Germany. There are at least 20 others of a secondary but important character; and 13,000 people are known to have entered the town of Dessau—I do not say that they are all workers—in the course of last year. One can see what the scale of production must be. Further, owing to the fact that the Germans had to prepare their air force in secret and unofficially, there has grown up a somewhat different method of producing aircraft from that which obtains in this country and in France. Much smaller elements are actually made in the main factories than are made over here. Nuts and bolts and small parts are spread over an enormous producing area of small firms, and then they flow into the great central factories. The work which is done there consists in a rapid assembly, like a jig-saw puzzle or meccano game, with the result that aeroplanes are turned out with a rapidity which is incomparably greater than in our factories, where a great deal of the finer stages of the work are done on the spot.

I must assemble these facts because they are very important. According to yesterday's "Daily Telegraph," in this same account which I thought was so Very well informed, between 250 and 300 military aircraft have been added to Germany's total since November. I fear it will be found that the German factories are working up from their present rate of output of more than 100 a month to some unknown monthly increase. It may be 100, 120, or 140 a month; I do not pretend to be able to say. Nothing I have gathered from the newspapers enables me to say what the ultimate result will be, but it seems to me that if you take the next 12 months at an average output of 125 machines a month—I am sure there are a great many people who will scoff at such a low figure, and I may be only making myself ridiculous by using such a figure and may afterwards be mocked at for doing so—even if you take that moderate figure of 125, it will mean an addition to Germany's military aircraft in the financial year 1935–36 of 1,500, of which a portion will go to replace wastage, and the rest will be a net addition to their total military aircraft strength. That is many times larger than any programme of deliveries provided in this Estimate, which we see is concerned with an increase of 150, plus the natural wear and tear and wastage. Therefore, I am unable to accept the second statement of my right hon. Friend the Lord President in November last, which I have read to the House and will read again: As for the position this time next year, so far from the German military air force being almost as strong as and probably stronger than our own, I estimate that we shall have in Europe alone a margin of nearly 50 per cent. On the contrary, I must submit to the House that the Lord President was misled in the figures which he gave last November, quite unwittingly perhaps, because of the great difficulty of the subject. At any rate, the true position at the end of this year will be almost the reverse of that which he stated to Parliament. We must remember also that Germany's scale of reserves, judging by the lectures which are being delivered at different times by those who have been presiding over German aviation development—the scale of reserves of first-line air strength is 200 per cent. The reason is this: It will take them three months to get their peace-time industry working at full blast on a war-time basis and they calculate on a loss of 100 per cent. of aeroplanes per month, that is damage to 100 per cent. per month in time of war. Thus they would have three months' supply at the end of that three-monthly period. They hope to transfer the whole of the civilian industry into the means of getting their air force into permanent being on a wastage of 100 per cent. a month. They have, of course, made preparations for converting the entire industry of Germany to war purposes by a simple order being given of a detail and refinement which is almost inconceivable. I am not particularly stressing at this moment what comparable measures have been taken, but I am certain that Germany's preparations are infinitely more far-reaching. So that you have not only equality at the moment, but the great output which I have described, and you have behind that this enormous power to turn over, on the outbreak of war, the whole great force of the German industry.

I must again remind the House that when the War came to an end as Minister of Munitions I was presiding over an output of over 24,000 aeroplanes in a year, and our plans for the next year went to over 40,000, for a campaign that was never fought. It must be recognised how terribly large these figures are. Although they sound astronomical, they are not entirely removed from probability. I do not wish to complicate this argument on figures which it is difficult to make clear by qualitative analysis of the conditions in the two countries, but I must say this: It is admitted at the present time that the only effective means of defence against air attack is retaliation and counter-attack, and from the point of view of counter-attack the Germans seem to have a great advantage over us. Although they declare that their force is purely defensive, it has a much larger percentage of long-distance bombing machines than any other force—far larger than we have ourselves.

The next point is a matter of geography. The frontiers of Germany are very much nearer to London than the sea coasts of this island are to Berlin, and whereas practically the whole of the German bombing air force can reach London with an effective load, very few, if any, of our aeroplanes can reach Berlin with any appreciable load of bombs. That must be considered as part of the factors in judging between the two countries. We only wish to live quietly and to be left alone. If it is thought that a measure of retaliation, the power to retaliate, is a deterrent—I believe it is—to an outrageous attack, then it seems that we are at a disadvantage in that respect, quite apart from any numerical disadvantage. I was very glad indeed that the Prime Minister to-day, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), spoke about the committee which is to examine defensive measures against aeroplane attacks. That is a matter in which all countries, in my opinion, have a similar interest—all peaceful countries. It is a question not of one country against another, but of the ground against the air, and unless the dwellers upon earth can manage to secure the air above their heads it is almost impossible to forecast the misfortunes and fears which this invention, of which the world has proved itself so utterly unworthy, may bring upon them.

But in regard to this question of counter-attack and retaliation, which we hope to use here as a deterrent to keep us safe, one of the factors is the preparation made by the civilian population on either side to guard themselves against an air raid. Obviously if one side has made good preparations the loss inflicted upon it will be very much less than that inflicted on the side which has made no preparation at all. Great panics may arise if this is not foreseen. Up to the present what has been done on the Continent is incomparably ahead of anything that has been even presented on paper publicly here. In November last I threw out the suggestion that unemployed labour should be recruited to "earth in" our aerodromes. Foreign aerodromes, German aerodromes, are all tucked under the ground. Such a task might well be undertaken here. It would relieve the congestion of the labour market and at the same time put vital plant, without which you have no means of defence, in a state of security not dissimilar from that which other countries think it necessary to employ. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say whether anything has been done about that. It takes a frightfully long time to get anything done in this country. We move like a slow-motion picture in all these matters. Four months is a tremendous period, and there is not the slightest reason why 20,000 men should not have been at work doing that which cannot menace anyone in the world, and which would give us security.

I therefore say, on a general survey, that I do not think my right hon. Friend's solemn pledge, that we are not inferior to any country within striking distance, is being kept, or that it will be kept, because the efforts which are being made will not be made by this country alone. The great advance of German aviation is only now beginning to take its full force. The programme which was announced in this country in August last was hopelessly inadequate. Its leisurely, stinted execution has so far made no appreciable addition to our strength. I do not think there would have been a Supplementary Estimate for the Air Force but for the Amendment to the Address which my Noble Friend and others put upon the Paper. It was only announced after that Amendment had appeared. The provision for this year is equally inadequate, hopelessly inadequate. I know with what satisfaction the Under-Secretary would announce the double or the treble of these proposals, but I have to deal with the facts presented to us. We are told that we are expanding as fast as we can, but that the preparations have to be made, that aerodromes have to be bought, the training schools enlarged, and that all this takes time. There are many arguments which the Government can use to show how slow and difficult the work is. I do not accept those arguments at their face value.

I am sure that if the vigorous measures that the situation requires were adopted to put ourselves in a position of defensive security, very much more rapid progress could be made in every branch. But even if the argument were true and there is to be this great delay, if we can only proceed by such very gradual stages, then I say that the responsibility of the Government and of the Air Ministry will be all the greater. If the necessary preparations had been made two years ago when the danger was clear and apparent, the last year would have seen a substantial advance, and this year would have seen a very great advance. Even at this time last year, if a resolve had been taken, as I urged, to double and redouble the British Air Force as soon as possible—the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) described me as a Malay run amok because I made such a statement—very much better results would have been yielded in 1935, and we should not find ourselves in our present extremely dangerous position.

Everyone sees now that we have entered a period of the gravest peril. We are faced, not with the prospect of a new war, but with something very like the possibility of a resumption of the War which ended in November, 1918. I still hope, and I believe—the alternative would be despair—that it may be averted. But the position is far worse than it was in 1914, and it may well be found to be uncontrollable. We are no longer safe behind the shield of our Navy. We have fallen behind in the vital air defence of this island. We are not only far more deeply and explicitly involved in Con- tinental affairs than we were in 1914, but owing to the neglect of our own defences we have become dependent upon other countries for our essential security.

From being the least vulnerable of all nations we have, through developments in the air, become the most vulnerable, and yet, even now, we are not taking the measures which would be in true proportion to our needs. The Government have proposed these increases. They must face the storm. They will have to encounter every form of unfair attack. Their motives will be misrepresented. They will be calumniated and called warmongers. Every kind of attack will be made upon them by many vocal forces, powerful and numerous forces, in this country. They are going to get it anyway. Why, then, not fight for something that will give us safety? Why, then, not insist that the provision for the Air Force should be adequate and, then, however, much may be the censure and however strident the abuse which we have to face, at any rate there will be this satisfactory result, that His Majesty's Government will be able to feel that in this, of all matters the prime responsibility of a Government, they have done their duty.

6.32 p.m.


It is an invidious task for a back bencher to have to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but on this occasion I can do so, in one respect, with the greatest pleasure. That is in his commencing remarks—which, I believe, will find accord in all parts of the House—congratulating my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on his masterly review of the activities of the Royal Air Force. But I, personally, was bitterly disappointed in one respect by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. Those of us who heard did not find, and those citizens of this country who read it to-morrow in the OFFICIAL REPORT, will not find in that speech one single word as regards the hope of peace coming to this country by any other means than a race in armaments. I feel that those of us who share with him the desire for security, who are supporting the policy of His Majesty's Government in expanding our defence forces, and who will share the political abuse which he says is going to descend upon our heads, have equally a right to receive from him liberty for a point of view. That is the point of view which involves the hope that, while reaching security for ourselves by ceasing unilateral disarmament and expanding our defences, nevertheless eventually we shall achieve world security in a greater sense by some form of world limitation of armaments.

The right hon. Gentleman built up a case as regards the German figures. He himself said, however, that it was no good speculating on what 1st April would reveal as regards military aircraft in Germany. I agree. The right hon. Gentleman built up a case which may or may not be exact and I would say that it is idle to draw any comparisons between our first-line air strength and the first-line air strength of Germany, until the very figures which the right hon. Gentleman awaits are revealed. He built up an argument on premises which he then proceeded to knock down by saying that he was not sure of them. I suggest that we should not draw any conclusions as to the first-line strength of Germany until the figures are revealed by the German Government. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was ample justification of the Government's policy of trying by all possible means to get Germany back among the nations who are willing to try to reach agreement by international means. One may say that it is impossible to trust in the word of Germany, but it is better to make an attempt at reaching some understanding than to face what is inevitable in our expansion programme, in the field of air defence, unless we do reach some sort of agreement.

I think on all sides it will be agreed that these Estimates are within the ambit of the Government's policy of fair expansion and are in accordance with the undertakings given last year by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping gave some figures which I could not follow but which I shall read with interest in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and he seemed to think that the present programme did not implement the undertaking given by the Lord President of the Council. He also said that surely a great national effort in this national emergency, ought to be able to produce a larger degree of expansion during the coming financial year. We have to realise, however, that it is in the period of construction, of putting up bricks and mortar, of training personnel, of growing grass on the fields that the foundations are laid on which we are going to expand, and that the provision of the aeroplanes themselves, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, present probably the least difficult of all the points which have to be covered in our expansion programme. But I share with him his misgivings that in any substantial programme of aeroplane construction, unless we are very careful, some of the new aeroplanes are going to be obsolete before they are delivered.

I was glad to hear the announcement of the Under-Secretary that reorganisation by the Air Ministry was going to allow of the quicker production of new types of machines. The House ought to realise that at present it can take seven years from the first inception of the specifications for a new flying boat, to the general equipment of one squadron with those flying boats. Anyone who has studied the advance in technical aircraft will realise that if this process is to occupy seven years, an aeroplane is bound to be two or three years out of date by the time of its delivery. As regards night bombers, at the present time we have types dating from 1930 back to 1923 in service and they look like being in service for a considerable number of years. I hope the Minister will give us an assurance that re-equipment with night bombers is going to be speeded up and that there will be no waiting for new specifications which, will inevitably delay the delivery of the machines.

I want to devote a few remarks to the position which is likely to exist when the extension programme has come to an end. According to the figures of the Lord President of the Council we shall then have 1,330 regular first-line aircraft, that is in regular squadrons, apart from auxiliaries, and the question arises whether, when that period comes, we shall not be relatively as far behind other European countries as we are to-day. That question arises for two reasons. First, I believe that other neighbouring countries will in the meantime have adopted a policy of trying to build up to the strength of their nearest neighbour. The right hon. Gentleman told us that Russia had now 2,500 first-line aircraft, and in three years time they may well have 4,000. If we base our policy on parity with any force within striking distance, we have to remember also that as aircraft science develops the range will increase and those countries which to-day we need not consider as being within our range, will be within our range by the time this programme has finished, and therefore will have to be reckoned as within the ambit of the Government's policy. Moscow is not at present within range. We need not reckon the Russian air force air a striking force within reach of our shores. But in three years time it may be within striking distance of us. If our policy is based on parity with the first-line strength of any force within striking distance of us we may have to reckon on parity with a neighbouring force of not less than 4,000 aircraft.

If that situation arises, what is our position to be? I hope the Government will indicate that if that situation arises we are not going to be left behind and that we shall face that issue if necessary. I believe that some declaration of our willingness to face the fact that the policy of parity with the nearest neighbour may include European countries which at present are not within range, would be a political deterrent of the first order. I believe that the difficulty in the way of the success, by itself, of the policy of parity with the nearest neighbour, is caused by the fear which is in every nation's mind. If first-class Powers are going to make this parity the basis of their policies, I ask the House to consider that such a policy on the part of each Power postulates world parity, because Germany will want parity with us, and we with Germany; Poland will want parity with Germany and Russia with Poland and Germany; Japan will want parity with Russia and the United States parity with Japan—and so on around the whole circumference, and the puppy will soon be biting its own tail.

I believe that the only hope of success for a policy based on parity with one's nearest neighbour, lies in that policy being coupled with some system of collective security by regional pacts such as the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal are shortly to tour Europe in the hope of achieving. But in the air arm we have a new factor. A regional pact is not going to be sufficient. We must achieve some form of world limitation of first-line aircraft, not excluding Japan and the United States. The world is too small, the projected ranges are too long to allow of a European security pact alone being an effective instrument. Unless it is coupled with an agreement for limitation by the leading industrial nations or with a separate pact to cover the United States and Japan, a European pact would sooner or later become ineffective and insufficient as an instrument of security. I believe that these proposals are not only necessary but practicable as regards world limitation. As to defence I cannot subscribe to the policy of the Opposition which advocates the immediate abolition of naval and military aircraft. That is no more practical politics than the advocacy by the Leader of the Opposition of the immediate disbandment of the Army and Navy.

By the retention of the military air forces we immediately confine civil aviation to legitimate activity. As long as we have military and naval aircraft, civil aviation ceases to be a menace, as the civil aeroplane always remains vulnerable to the specially designed, high performance fighting machine. The abolition of military aircraft, the internationalisation of civil aviation are easy, pleasant phrases to roll off on a political platform, but I do not think they are practical politics at the present time. The most practical step I suggest would be an Air Convention aiming at limitation, and using the unladen weight of military aircraft as a yardstick. Take two types of aircraft, broadly speaking—one the big bomber, and the other the small fighter and reconnaissance type and lay down a maximum unladen weight for each, and provide that beyond those standards military machines shall not be built. Having got that agreement then endeavour to get the first-class air Powers to agree to a maximum number of machines within each limit.

On three points the structure of our air defence policy will have to stand the test. The first is parity with our nearest neighbour; the second collective security by a European regional pact, and the third world limitation. I believe these three points to be so correlated that, if the Government pursue one without endeavouring to pursue the other two, their policy will fail. If all three are pursued concurrently, I believe we shall build up a three-point structure which will satisfy the tests of permanency and security. Therefore I would suggest that a world Convention should be called at no far distant date. The Lord President of the Council last year said he would support the proposal for such a world Convention. Let it be a convention of first-class industrial nations away from Geneva. Let the only terms of reference be to agree to limitation. I am conscious of the many obstacles that stand in the way and the many objections that can be raised from all sides of the House and all shades of public opinion, but the difficulties of achievement are not half so great as the terrible fate that awaits us and the whole of civilisation in the future if we do not succeed in attempting something of the sort.

6.46 p.m.


I cannot help prefacing the few remarks I wish to address to the House by paying the usual deserved tribute to the Under-Secretary of State. He puts a glamour over a sorry story with a regularity which is almost a danger to the community. I have a feeling that the House of Commons has been somewhat swindled out of a debate on the important question how, having been given a certain amount of money for defence, we can best spend it. The Government very kindly after repeated demands gave us a day to discuss that point because it is out of order to discuss other Services upon one particular Vote, but it was taken by the Opposition as an opportunity for a Vote of Censure on foreign policy and the speech of my right hon. Friend sitting on the other side the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) was practically the only speech which was in order on that Motion. We are again going through a Session without a debate on this important point.

I am still of the opinion that I held a year ago. I do not believe in three Services but in one, and the time has come when we cannot look at these Services under a microscope one after the other. We have to look at the broad features of defence and to see that, if we have £150,000,000, we spend it in the best possible way. No one will accuse me of not being an ardent friend of the air. With some of my friends I rescued the Air Ministry at a time when it was nearly eaten up by the older Services, and what has emerged is the astonishing development of status that the air and the Air Ministry has now achieved. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) still has in his head the desire to have his own air force in the Navy. I think that such questions are becoming academic. It is not a live question today, although five or six years ago my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for India fought his hardest to stop this sort of attempt. I feel that the victory has been so complete that the Air Ministry has now become proud and overbearing, big and inefficient, and that all our efforts in the past have been concentrated on creating a sort of Frankenstein that we now almost regret.

There are two main functions of the Air Ministry—the (military side and the civil side. My right hon. Friend has tonight painted a picture of alarm which must spread through the country as to the position in which we stand relative to other air forces throughout the world. I want to go a little more into detail as to the actual equipment of our present force. My right hon. Friend said it was a sorry story and how unworthily man had used the great gift of aviation. That is true, but, although we were the eighth or seventh actual Power some time ago, we were equipped with a wonderful air force from the point of view of detail and equipment. There is a lot to be said for something small but tremendously efficient. Let us look at the present position for a moment, at one department, namely, night bombing. It is an unpleasant subject, but for the moment we must forget the unpleasant part of these things and deal with the question whether our night bombers are of the utmost efficiency. There are six squadrons of night bombers, and of these one squadron is still equipped with a machine called "The Virginia." The specification of that machine was issued in 1923. It is practically 12 years old, and when my right hon. Friend talks about first-line aeroplanes, does he realise and understand, and does the House realise, that we are counting as first-line machines in the Air Force machines that were designed 12 years ago? It is a monstrous thing that in the case of war we should put our young men up in a machine which is junk and nothing else. These night bombers are being replaced by two types of machine called the "Heyford" and the "Hendon." I hope that the last squadron which is not re-equipped will immediately be re-equipped with one of these two types. Even these types are seven years old as the specification came out in 1927.

I want to know really what sort of organisation is there in the Air Ministry that cannot give us to-day something quicker from the time of inception and the issue of specification to the time it arrives in the squadron. Surely eight years is preposterous. These are technical things and I know the House loathes technical questions, but the night bomber is analogous to civil machines. How is it that we do not find incorporated in such machines devices like retractable undercarriages, slots and variable pitched propellers? They are standard equipment on every first-class American commercial machine. I maintain that it is high time that we had an inquiry into the whole organisation of the Air Ministry, because I do not think we are getting our money's worth. The organisation wants going into from top to bottom. We had, inspired by the Secretary of State, a very small inquiry into one side of aviation. It was the Gorell Committee which dealt with private flying. I do not think that even such a body as the Air Ministry could say that we did not bring a breath of fresh air into that subject. It was such a breath of fresh air that there are still officials in the Air Ministry suffering from pneumonia. I go further and suggest that the time has now come when the order of the day should be an inquiry into the Air Ministry itself.

Take the question of the United States. I agree there are geographical considerations which make the United States singular from the point of view of aviation. Possibly the same development will take place there as that which made our mercantile marine and Navy supreme in the world. The internal air lines will develop so wonderfully that such a broad basis of manufacture will occur as to support an air force superior to any in the world. That may be the future, but even to-day they are a long way ahead. America was so upset at their air organisation that the Government had an inquiry into the whole thing. I have in my hand what every body interested in this subject should read with great attention. It is the report of the Federal Aviation Commission. My right hon. Friend has quoted a bit out of it to-day, but he left out an important paragraph in the middle. There are one or two things that interested me very much in this report. It says: The claim of world leadership in air transport for the United States seems to be no idle boast. The volume of air passenger traffic under the American flag now exceeds that of all the rest of the world combined. America was not satisfied with that, however. They had to have an inquiry, and it will be interesting to know what the inquiry recommended. I will tell the House later. The report goes on to say: American operators have pioneered in the quest for speed, and whereas in the winter of 1934 approximately 56 per cent. of all the air transport service in the United States is being rendered with machines cruising at a speed of 160 m.p.h. or better, the latest available report from European countries (a survey by the British Air Ministry under date of 1st May, 1934) shows but 33 machines out of a total of 616 owned by all European transport lines which were capable of cruising at better than 125 m.p.h. and only four (two of them importations from the United States) that exceeded 150 m.p.h. That shows the technical advance and development in America. In view of the annual general meetings of Imperial Airways, when Sir Eric Geddes and Sir Harry Brittain make eulogistic speeches to show how remarkable Imperial Air Services are, I would draw the attention of the House to the following passage in this report: Over the period from 1st January, 1933, to 31st December, 1934, a total of approximately 421,300,000 passenger miles were flown on American domestic and foreign air lines with 33 passenger fatalities, an average of 12,800,000 passenger miles per fatality. No European country appears to have a record even approximately as good, over any volume of operation large enough to permit of fair comparisons. British airlines, everywhere highly regarded for the care with which they are operated and for their devotion to safety, have had a total of 23 passenger fatalities in the last four years with but 50,500,000 passenger miles flown in that time, an average of 2,195,000 passenger miles per fatality, or a record inferior by more than three-quarters to that made by American operations in the last two years and by a considerable amount to the American performance in any single year since 1930. These are very interesting passages, and I think it is only right to read them because I have the greatest admiration for Imperial Airways—they have a difficult and distinctive task different from that in America—but one cannot extol them to the skies always. One must compare them with roughly analogous undertakings, and they have still a long way to go.

I want to draw the attention of the House to something which was said in the Gorell Committee. They were asked to investigate private flying. The composition was such that the members of the committee probably knew more about the subject than any witness who was brought before them. Mr. Gordon England and myself, with an enthusiasm that pushed us a little off the rail perhaps, put in a minority report saying that nothing better could happen to civil aviation than that it should be divorced entirely from the Air Ministry. Lord Londonderry rapped us severely on the knuckles for it, in an introduction to the publication of the report. In the American report it is recommended that a new secretary of commerce should take over civil aviation, road, rail and all forms of transport; in other words exactly the same things that we recommended. In the introduction to this document I ought to point out that President Roosevelt accepts this, and he states: At a later date I shall ask the Congress for general legislation centralising the supervision of air and water and highway transportation with adjustments of our present methods of organisation in order to meet new and additinal responsibilities. I would not ask for this inquiry into the whole of the production and reorganisation of the Air Ministry of the Under-Secretary or of the Secretary of State, but we have the Leader of the House here, and I put it to him that after the speech of my right hon. Friend he will realise how much this question needs investigating. My right hon. Friend once said that civil aviation could fly by itself. You may say it is a good thing to have civil machines and English types flying at public expense everywhere all over the world carrying the flag, or that you can help the industry to start building a machine that will pay by carrying the third-class passenger. There are two separate policies, but I cannot help saying that the nation that first does the latter will win the command of the world in the air. The Under-Secretary of State stated that he was organising a competition for big machines. I only hope that it will be made essential that the Diesel engine be compulsory. It is unfortunate that aeroplanes have to fly with petrol; so many small accidents become bonfires. We are already ahead in this type of engine; it is essential we preserve our position, as in the long hauls that are wrapped up in the proposition of inter-communication between various parts of the Empire, the use of the Diesel engine introduces such economy of fuel as to justify its initial extra weight, apart from its actual economy in the cost of fuel. I should like to say a word on that very important point of the spread of manufactories throughout the country. The Air Ministry have realised that you must not have all manufacturers in one part of the country, because of the necessity for protecting aerodromes and workmen. If we have a sudden conflict, aeroplane manufacturing works will be the first object of attack. The moment you put your enemy's works out of action you can go on with the war quite safely. I no not think the aircraft industry has been organised from the point of view of the possibility of hostilities on a sufficiently broad basis. I think that the future has got to be looked at from that angle, not just first line strength, but that immediately hostilities begin there may be the possibility of building, and building and building. I do not want to take more of the time of the House, but I do hope that these considerations will be followed up by other Members in asking for an inquiry into the whole of the aircraft production relative to the Air Ministry. I would say, as far as the Secretary and Under-Secretary are concerned, that I have such confidence in them that I should be perfectly happy and satisfied if an inquiry such as I have adumbrated were held under either of the right hon. Gentlemen as chairman.

7.6 p.m.


I cannot help thinking that the speech made by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in one sense is really encouraging, for if the alarming statements he made are true, then the nations of the world are in such a situation as must be quite intolerable. With all nations having thousands of aeroplanes which must involve disaster and destruction, they must realise that security lies only in a collective security such as the Government are trying to bring about. The Under-Secretary, in bringing forward the Estimates in his usual graceful and attractive way, made one or two statements to which I should life to refer. He referred to the fact that he was subject to attacks from two sides—those who said we had not enough air armaments, and those who wanted to do away with all military aircraft. Who is there in this House, other than the Leader of the Opposition, who desires to abolish aircraft unilaterally? If this abolishing of military aircraft were to be done by convention, then he must have been alluding to the policy of the Government itself. It is difficult to understand what he meant by that. He also alluded to the fact that in every country in the world some kind of criticism is levelled at the Government in much the same way as it is here, but every country in the world is making claims about the great contributions they think they have made to disarmament—claims we make here, perhaps justifiably, but other countries make them also.

My right hon. Friend alluded, in a passage to which I listened with some astonishment, to the work done for disarmament by the Government during the last three years as something sincerely and patiently carried through. That is his view. I will not express any view of my own, but I will call attention to the views of a lady, Mrs. Corbett Ashby, who for three years was a member of the British Delegation at the Disarmament Conference, and, therefore, had the opportunity of seeing from the inside exactly the spirit in which the Government tackled disarmament problems. What does she have to say? In her letter of resignation she says: For nearly three years I did my utmost to urge the Government to support any practical schemes for mutual security. We consistently passed over every suggestion put forward by the political commission. There you have a statement put forward by one in a position to judge the exact claim made by the Under-Secre- tary. I cannot help feeling that if one accepts the armament policy, the foreign policy of the Government as a whole, the case for increased Air Estimates is absolutely made out. Maybe, they are not asking for enough, for if you are involved in an armament race you have to do your best to win, though the result of winning will be disaster. As we on these benches fundamentally differ with the objects, with the way in which the Government want to use the armed forces and the Air Force, we are proposing to vote against the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. However sincere many Members of the Government are in their policy, it is really not collective security. If ever they were backing that policy, they have abandoned it, and are now working up a system of competitive armaments to which there is no end except another world war. I would not be prepared to trust the Government with any of our armed forces, because they would use them in the wrong way. I would like to see this Government succeeded by another National Government, consisting of Members from each party who really believe in the collective system, and are determined to do their utmost to make a success of it. I believe that that is the kind of Government the people of this country desire to see.


In the event of such a Government being set up, would the hon. Member do what he did before—be returned to support that Government, and then spend his entire life voting against it?


The hon. Lady would not make a charge of that kind, which is entirely untrue, if she were fully seized of the circumstances. When she comes to appreciate them, I am sure that she will apologise. I was returned to support the first National Government, and I supported it without fail. I fulfilled my pledges to the letter, and, when that Government broke up, I was free. I resent such a charge lightly thrown like that.

The one hopeful sign at the present time is the reference at the top of page 4 of the Memorandum to the disarmament policy of the Government, where it says, referring to an air pact, that— it is their earnest hope that it may facilitate the early limitation of the air forces of the world by general international agreement. If the Government are really able to put that through, to use their enthusiasm to-drive it through, then they will have rendered an immense service to the world. I am afraid, however, that it is too late. There is nothing to indicate that they have the ability to put this through. Their recent clumsy introduction of the White Paper will not help. A far more clumsy incident has just happened in Germany. We have a direct chain of most unfortunate consequences. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it does not logically follow from the policy the Government are pursuing in the matter of the Air Pact on which the Foreign Secretary is going to Berlin on Sunday—I am sure with the good wishes of everybody—that there should inevitably be separate consultations, very difficult to envisage and arrange but inevitable, between Germany and France, France and England, and England and Germany as to the objectives. Surely it will be necessary to decide what particular parts shall be dealt with by these different countries. Surely the discussions on limitation which are referred to here by the Secretary of State will take as their basis the Draft Convention of the British Government which was laid before the Disarmament Conference in the early part of 1933. The air part of that Convention envisaged 500 machines each for England, France and Italy, presumably 500 for Germany and 150 for Belgium. Is not that the basis on which the Government will start, and to which they will try to get as near as possible? Under Article 35 of the British Government's own Convention they look forward to a situation when, through the activities of the Disarmament Commission, military aviation will be abolished altogether and there will be an internationalisation of Civil Aviation. I hope the Government will be able to confirm that it is still their policy to work along those lines.

The Lord Privy Seal was asked yesterday why the Air Sub-Committee at Geneva had not met, and he gave what seemed to me a perfectly reasonable reply, that without Germany there it would be difficult to make progress, but if we are able to get German co-opera- tion surely the meetings of that Committee will begin once again, the problem will be threshed out there. I hope we shall give some sympathetic consideration to the French proposal, which I believe is still the policy of the French Government, to have something in the nature of an international air force for the purpose of protection against the danger, when military aviation has ben abolished, of the conversion of civil aircraft to bombing purposes; that we shall not confine ourselves merely to pointing out the difficulties, which are immense and very easy to find, but will see how far it may be practicable to overcome them. If it is found, as a result of those negotiations, that Germany is, as may be the case, though I hope not, unwilling to play the game, unwilling to co-operate in a collective scheme, the right policy would still be to go forward and to assemble in a collective co-operating system as many of the air forces of the world as possible. If we cannot get everybody in, let us get in as many as we can, with a view to creating ultimately a situation in which the whole lot will be included. I see no alternative to that but the mad and fantastic and fatal race in armaments.

Coming to a few comments on the technical side, I would point out that to-day we are dealing with the most important of all the three services, the one that is bound in the years to come to assume a more dominating and commanding position wherever force is used in the world. The Army and the Navy are almost obsolescent, and in course of time, owing to air development, will become of minor importance and tend to decay. I desire, therefore, that while military air forces exist in the world ours shall be as efficient as we can possibly make it. Airmen are the cavalry of the clouds. On peace service they are taking risks every day of their lives in a manner which the men of the other Services, excepting those serving in submarines, are not called upon to take, and I believe we ought to give them every possible support. The type of men going into the Air Force now are better than ever before, and we have every reason to be proud of this junior of the three Services. I cannot help regretting that when the international force was sent to the Saar recently the Air Force was not associated with it. I believe the matter was considered and that those on the spot were not unfavourable. One can well understand that in reconnaissance work, for going round the frontier or seeing whether meetings were taking place, valuable assistance might have been given by the Air Force.

The Under-Secretary stated that there are to be 11 new home defence squadrons this year, made up of Auxiliary Air Force or Special Reserve squadrons. He did not indicate which, and I should be very much interested if he were able to say which of the two they are to be. I imagine there will be a development of the Auxiliary Air Force, as I believe it has been found that there is far greater esprit de corps with them, and that they have been found in practice to be much more successful than the Special Reserve squadrons. I would like to know also whether we are proposing to provide the very latest type of underground concrete hangars, bomb proof and gas proof, as in France and, no doubt, in Germany and other countries. It may be that the Air Ministry take the view that owing to the enormous expense involved it is better to concentrate on other things, but it would be interesting if some information could be given. I welcome the development of the university squadrons. I realise the excellent work which those associated with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have done. It is now being extended to London, and possibly it is intended, in due course, to associate them with the other Universities. So long as young men have to be obtained for work of this kind I cannot help thinking that the Universities are as good an avenue as one could possibly find.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to-experiments which are to take place in high altitude flying—in the stratosphere, I suppose. Could he give some information of what exactly is contemplated, and whether it is proposed to fly at above 30,000 feet? There is an interesting reference to enabling heavily-loaded machines to take off. I would like to know how far we have gone in that direction. I see that it is proposed that a heavily-loaded seaplane shall take off from a lightly-loaded flying-boat, with a view to getting a machine into the air that will be able to break some long dis- tance records. I was glad to hear what was said about the attempts which the Air Force will make from time to time in the course of their ordinary duties to break records, and to let this country be the holder of the long distance and altitude records. That is a most admirable ambition for the Air Force—to enable us to be supreme, as we ought to be, in these developments in the air.

I read with some sadness the passage in page 9 of the Secretary of State's statement in which he referred to airships. I see in the papers to-night that the largest German Zeppelin is to pay us a visit in the summer. What is our position going to be? I gather that beyond gazing up into the sky and admiring this wonderful creation we must be content to know that there is at Cardington a nucleus staff "continuing to make a close study of airship development abroad." That is not very satisfying to me, and I greatly regret that it was found necessary, as an economy, to cut down airship development, and hope the time will come, when we have the money to spare for Civil Aviation, when we shall once again play our part with a view to seeing whether we cannot attain the supremacy which ought to be ours in this realm too. It is regrettable to see that Civil Aviation is absorbing only 3 per cent. of this Vote. I sincerely hope the time will come when military aviation will absorb 3 per cent. only and all the rest will go to Civil Aviation. I cannot help feeling, as I have already said, that the possibilities of the danger of the situation are so great that the world may be brought to its senses sooner than otherwise.


I hope the hon. Member will excuse me for interrupting him again. He tells us he is in favour of all the money going to Civil Aviation, but just one sentence before he said that he was in favour of airships. Is he aware how much an airship costs; and, if he wishes to have airships, how are they to be bought if we are not going to increase our Estimates?


The hon. Lady does not understand that there is no reason why airships should not be used for civil purposes; they are so used by Germany. I was contemplating a development in which we should have British airships going round the world carrying perfectly peaceful passengers, and the hon. Lady's interruption has no relevance to what I was saying. She is very eager to speak, and I am looking forward very much to hearing her speak. Perhaps she will restrain herself for a few minutes longer. I hope the time will come when the Government's own policy will succeed, the policy of limiting military aircraft and finally abolishing them, and that this country will employ its great weight and immense influence to achieve that end at the earliest possible date.

7.28 p.m.

Wing-Commander JAMES

Some naturalists have alleged that only two British mammals, the roe deer and the badger, are capable of suspended gestation, but I feel that there might be included in that unhappy category backbench Members who have, as in my case, sat through four days of Defence Policy Debates without having the opportunity of giving birth to even a very few remarks. When I came down to the House this afternoon I was in considerable doubt as to the latitude which the Rules of the House would allow in discussing the Air Estimates, particularly in their relation to the other Estimates, but since the last speaker was the only one who has dealt directly with the Estimates themselves I feel fairly confident that I shall not go outside the bounds of order in the few remarks I wish to make. Owing to the turn the Debate has taken I regret less the calamity—it was nothing less than a calamity—that last Monday's Debate, arranged to consider the Services as a whole, should in the event have turned into a Debate on foreign policy. It may be that this afternoon we shall be able to some extent to repair the damage. I hope that every Member of the Front Bench read the admirable leading article in the "Times" on Friday surveying that Debate. That article expressed in perfect form the views on defence as a whole which many of us have felt so strongly for so long and have wished to have the opportunity of expressing in this House. I hope that we shall be given another opportunity of doing so.

I am glad that the Debate has ranged rather more widely than the actual Estimates; if that had not been the case, the Debate, so far as the Service side is concerned, would have turned into little more than a technical exercise in political speaking on the part of our very limited stock of obsolete ex-airmen. Hon. Members in all parts of the House join in deploring the fact that the increase in the Service Estimates has been forced upon us by the situation which has developed in the world. The taxpayer sees falling hopes of a remission of taxation. Those of us who sit for industrial constituencies have no doubt whatever as to the pacifism, in the best sense of the word, of the population as a whole. Those of us who spent four of the best years of our lives engaged in the last War, particularly if we have children, as I have, who may be engaged in the next war, cannot be accused of not being in sympathy with the views of the mass of the population. The Government are wise in always keeping before them the objective of a limitation of armaments by agreement. The only point of division is as to how to achieve that objective.

I am certain that the Government were right in introducing these Estimates in the way in which they have, and in putting the situation bluntly before the country. I see no reason whatever, although I know their action has been criticised in many places, for boggling over the fact that it is Germany and the German situation that has forced this position upon us. The action of Germany in the last two or three days appears to have vindicated completely the action which the Government have taken. It may be admitted, in mitigation of Germany's action, that Germany, like the rest of the world, is obsessed by fear. Fear is at the bottom of all the trouble, but who has the greatest cause for fear? Why should we slur over the fact that four times within the memory of living men Germany has aggressively disturbed the peace of the world? If anybody has cause to fear it is the neighbours of Germany and not only Germany herself.

We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) of very disturbing circumstances, and I have no doubt that what he has told us is accurate. Only a fortnight ago I was told by a man who is in a position to know—he is not a man who speaks loosely—that one of the great engineering factories in Germany has been turning out the most powerful aeroplane engines at the rate of 50 a week, and that those engines were not being put into machines but were going into reserve. As the right hon. Gentleman said, when you talk about aircraft you soon get into almost astronomical figures, and the question we have to ask is: For what purpose have the German Government been building up for months past this great reserve of powerful engines? When the Foreign Secretary goes to Germany to seek limitation by agreement he will go with two assets, the first of which is the firm line that His Majesty's Government are taking. He will be able to point to the fact that this country is prepared to face force by force, if the worst comes to the worst. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said the other day, this time, if this country can prevent it, Germany is not to be allowed to get away with it.

When the German Government try to assess the situation in this country, they should not ignore that very good and very important leading article which was published in the "Daily Herald" on 7th December last. That article expressed what I believe is the real voice of sane labour in this country—not the voice of right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they are performing their perfectly legitimate functions of opposition in this House, or which they and their colleagues use in the country upon political platforms. It expresses the sane, common sense view which British labour has always taken in peace and in war, and I am certain will continue to take. I do not intend to quote the article, although I have it in my pocket. I hope that it will be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested.

In addition to the strong, or at least strongish, line which the Government have taken, the Foreign Secretary will I believe have another asset in dealing with Germany, and a rather surprising one; it is the background of sympathy and good will towards Germany and the German people which not even the crass blunders of the German Government for a period of years have been able to dispel. Many people will remember how, even during the War, one was constantly being surprised at the good will which the ordinary British private soldier instinc- tively felt for his German opposite number. That fact should make it easier for a people who are suffering from inferiority complex to come to agreement with us. There is a feeling in this country, however little deserved it may be, that Germany has not been fairly treated.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) used a sentence in his speech to which I would like to make a reference. He said that one of our objectives should be to abolish these terrible weapons and that they must be kept off the battlefields of the world. I have always held the view that in the ultimate, air power will secure the abolition of war, but I believe that it is putting the cart before the horse to suggest, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) did just now, that we must first secure the abolition of military aircraft. We need to abolish the battlefields themselves, not the weapons which make war most terrible and something upon which people are most reluctant to enter. The psychological effect upon the nations of the world of this terrible weapon is to make them more reluctant to go to war. Admittedly, the objective should be the total abolition of war, but do not let us try to get at it from the wrong end. I believe that the air weapon is the best deterrent we have against war.

May I briefly refer to another aspect of the subject? Reference is made in the Estimates to the Imperial Defence College. It is stated: The Imperial Defence College in London was opened in January, 1927, for the purpose of training a body of officers of the fighting services and civilian officials in the broadest aspects of Imperial strategy and the occasional examination of concrete problems of Imperial defence. I make this submission to the House: Both by the creation of the Imperial Defence College and by the Motion that was on the Orders for yesterday week, successive Governments and the present Government have accepted the principle that the Services are one entity, and should be under one directional control. I urge the Government without delay to get on with the job of carrying that principle to its logical conclusion, by the creation of a joint general staff. On Thursday last, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in introducing the Navy Esti- mates, emphasised the point that the Navy and the Royal Air Force were complementary and not in competition with each other. I entirely agree, but it ought not to be necessary for the First Sea Lord to have to make that claim. Parliament ought to know that a detached unbiassed joint general staff is seeing that they are not in competition. The mere fact that the First Lord of the Admiralty feels obliged to emphasise the point is an admission that the claims of the two Services are at present in conflict, whatever anybody may say about it.

On the Navy Estimates we heard an argument between the two hon. and gallant admirals sitting opposite. One argued that the introduction and development of air power had rendered the big ship obsolete, and the other argued that the big ship still remained the main pivot of our defence policy. I am not concerned which of the hon. and gallant Gentlemen was right; they may both be wrong for all I know or care, but that sort of argument should not be possible in this House. That matter ought to be settled, not by argument among members of the House of Commons, but by a joint general staff, whose opinion would be accepted by every one. The "Times" in its leading article last Friday summarised the position very well when it said, dealing with the joint general staff: The longer that the issue is postponed, the more uneasiness will grow as to whether we have the best insurance policy for our needs and for the premium we are paying. I urge the Government to implement at the earliest possible moment the admission which they have already made, and to create a joint general staff, because only by that means can we hope to achieve a balance between the Services. Only by that means can the Government hope to receive non-partisan advice on the matter of the Service Estimates. I did not mean to speak for so long, but seeing the hon. and gallant admirals rather led me away from the point I had to make.

7.44 p.m.


I cannot presume to make a contribution on the technical side of the Service, the Estimates of which we are discussing; indeed, the technical side of the question is relatively insignificant beside the big issues of policy which are embodied in the Estimates. I have listened to the whole of the Debate and have heard one speech which was a very welcome relief to the tragic gloom of the others. Hon. Members on the Government side of the House protest that they detest war, but, so far as I can gather, they are eminently in favour of increasing the instruments of war. I would not impute to hon. Members opposite any more desire than is possessed by any normal individual to have murderous instincts, but there can be no doubt that the policy they are pursuing, as embodied in these Estimates and in the speeches which we have heard to-night, is such that they are not prepared to trust the instruments of peace equally with the implements of war.

Having no particular affection for Germany or for Hitlerism in particular, I have been very surprised to-night to listen to speeches which have seemed to make Germany the excuse for an increase in armaments. Those speeches have been very largely—almost entirely, with one exception, from supporters of the Government—pointed at Germany. Germany has been named as the reason for all the increases that have been made. I am not putting up a case for Germany except to say that, after all, some responsibility rests upon the Government of this country as far as the position in Germany is concerned. This country subscribed to a vindictive, punitive peace treaty. This country refused, it seems to me, to adopt such an amenable attitude towards a democratic Government in Germany as it has now been compelled to adopt towards a dictatorship in Germany, and to-night's Debate has certainly not helped the mission of the Foreign Secretary to Germany, because these speeches and indeed these Estimates have shown the almost complete reliance of hon. Members opposite on unilateral armament and an increase in the armaments of this country in order to defend us.

I listened to the scaremongering speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who endeavoured to make our flesh creep. With regard to his figures, I am not competent to refute them. All the same, I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be able to deal with them. The whole of that speech was a reliance on protection for this country on the basis of a race in armaments. He envisaged not merely a paltry £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 increase. The right hon. Gentleman always speaks in broad sweeps, and I believe he did not even boggle at an increase of £60,000,000 a year. Was ever such a mad policy put before the House of Commons? Was there ever such a policy enunciated, pregnant with bankruptcy for civilisation and indeed with terrible and drastic danger for this country? There was no thought or consideration in that speech for the terrible cost involved—cost in money, cost in trade, cost in human life. The right hon. Gentleman forgot that while we entered on the War in 1914 with an Income Tax of 1s. or 1s. 6d., we should start the next war with a 4s. 6d. Income Tax, that while the National Debt in 1914 was about £800,000,000, we should enter the next war with a debt of somewhere about £7,800,000,000 and with Customs duties amounting to about £186,000,000 a year.

Where are the reserves to fight the next war that the right hon. Gentleman seems so complacently to envisage? We are told that we on this side are not prepared to face realities, that the stark reality is the need for armaments. The realities of the situation, as far as we see it, are not only the realities that hon. and right hon. Members opposite look at. There are other sides of the real situation. One, as I have pointed out, is the economic bankruptcy, the destruction of civilisation, that is involved in the next war. I believe that we have never yet put our faith in the League of Nations, that the post-war period of peace has not been based upon the League of Nations. It is true that the League of Nations has helped in various ways and has given hope to men and women in various countries, but the stark, naked fact of the post-war period has been that it has been a peace dictated in the Versailles Treaty by the military predominance of those who were the victors in the last war and maintained by those who have been powerful since the War. Never yet has this Government, this country, really put its faith in a collective system of security; never yet has it put its faith in the working of the League of Nations.

That system has broken down. The system of a dictated peace has gone. The re-armament of Germany means that, and we are now at the point where I ask the Government, Are they now going to alter their attitude towards the whole system of securing peace among the nations of the world? Are they prepared now, hi face of German re-armament, not to say that we shall go on arming because that inevitably leads to war? There is no security for peace in armaments, and now that this new situation has arisen, it seems to me that here is an opportunity for the Government to come along and say, "We recognise that the bankruptcy of civilisation is in the next war, that in the past the League of Nations has not functioned as it should have functioned. We, the British nation, instead of increasing our Air Force, our Navy, our Army, are prepared to increase the power of the League of Nations and to strengthen the collective system." That cannot be done when the policy of the Government is based upon the philosophy enunciated by the Lord President of the Council the other night, when he said that our moral and material strength would depend upon the force that we could command. I do not believe in such a philosophy as that. I think history has shown that that is completely false.

Will the Government tell us that in their efforts for peace they are prepared to do the vital thing? There can be no peace if Britain is going to build her Air Force bigger and is going to maintain complete national control over that Air Force. The price of peace is the sacrifice of national sovereignty as far as the declaration of peace and war is concerned. We cannot get any farther along the road to peace until we as a nation are prepared to say that we will not reserve to ourselves the right to declare peace and war. We cannot get along the road to peace until that crucial issue is faced, but the Government is not facing it, is not making an effort along that line. I heard the other day of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury making a speech in Norwood, at the by-election there. He said that the Labour party wanted war with weak forces, war and weakness, whereas the Government wanted strength and peace, a big Navy, a big Army, and a big Air Force, all in the cause of peace for this defenceless, helpless little island. The Germans have been saying exactly the same kind of thing, and indeed with infinitely more cause than we have had. The case put forward by Hitler with regard to the compulsory disarmament of Germany is unanswerable. Germany was compelled to disarm to the point of being defenceless for a long period of years. We pledged ourselves that we would see that the compulsory disarmament of Germany should create the conditions which would allow us to disarm. When and where have we disarmed?

To-night we have seen that the position of Germany, owing to the rise of Hitlerism and the development of her armaments, is being used to give our warmongers and the armament people in this country an excuse for the further development of armaments here. As a Socialist, I challenge the Liberal Members, and more particularly the Tory Members, including the National Labour Members: How are they going to get peace under the system of capitalism? The right hon. Gentleman to-night gave us a speech which seemed to me to show that there is no hope in private competitive systems, in systems in which nations fight each other for spheres of trade, for the ownership and control of raw materials, for monopolies, for spheres of influence. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-night convinced me that there is no hope in the capitalist system for any peace security. This is the bankruptcy of capitalism. Every pound up on the Air Force means the bankruptcy of capitalism, the destruction of capitalism, and if hon. and right hon. Members opposite want to preserve and maintain the capitalist system itself, they ought to be very keen indeed on furthering all projects for peace, they ought to be prepared to make the sacrifice which is demanded by peace efforts, the sacrifice which is involved in a true international outlook, the sacrifice which means that a measure of sovereignty will have to be given up.

I have listened to the whole of this Debate. It has been indeed a significant Debate. To my mind it has been a tragic Debate. It shows on the other side of the House a spirit which responds to every appeal for an increase in armaments, and that must mean a response to war which is inevitable in the future unless we get this Government supplanted by another. In order to secure peace we must not only see that foreign policies are right, but we must also see that the capitalism of Britain to-day is changed for the Socialism of Britain to-morrow.

8.1 p.m.


The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) devoted a great deal of his speech to a certain amount of attack on the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). As I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has now come into the House, I shall not feel obliged to defend him. I do not think that when the hon. Member for Aberavon says that we are not making sacrifices, he cannot realise all the sacrifices we have made during; the last few years in the cause of peace. Surely he does not think that we are aggressive. I do not think any one thinks we are aggressive. We covet no people's possessions. All we want is to protect our own people, and how we shall do it by following the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that we should give up our power either to declare war or to maintain peace I do not know. I do not think it would help in the many onerous responsibilities we have in our great Empire. The hon. Member for Aberavon talked about ourselves as a defenceless little island. It is because we are a defenceless little island that we need the protection of our armed forces, small though they are to-day. He said that if we require protection for our little island, how much more did the great German nation require protection, and how much more justified was Germany. Our armed forces are needed not only for the defence of this island but for the protection of peoples all over the world in our Empire.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), who opened this Debate and whose speech, I know, was listened to in all parts of the House with the greatest possible interest, and for whose very kind references to myself I am most grateful, devoted a great deal of that speech to urging the necessity for an international air force. He thought that if an international air force could be constituted, it would solve all the ills which beset us now. An international air force would, I presume, operate under the control of the League of Nations. That is a question which has been discussed for several years now, and in certain aspects is attractive. The French proposals to which he refers did not, in the first place refer only to air forces. It referred to the general idea of a military force under the League. We are discussing it now limited in relation to air forces. The primary object of that proposal would be to change the League into a military body, into a kind of super-national body—I had almost said a supernatural body. It would convert the League into a military machine, a condition which is completely foreign to the original idea of the League of Nations. It would certainly deprive nations entering into it of independent sovereignty.

To these objections of principle must be added other objections, perhaps not insuperable, but nevertheless practical. Several questions arise. How is the command of such a force to be effectively operated by a body, comprised as it must be, of many different kinds of nations, with different training, different ideas, and different interests? How are conflicting national loyalties to be overcome? How is it to be financed? Where is it going to be located? Who is going to command it? How many nations would be represented on the general staff? I am not raising difficulties; I am only putting forward a few of the questions which have interested people very much, questions to which they have not yet found a complete answer. I think, therefore, the idea of this international air force must remain unattainable. Meanwhile, an important pact which has recently been produced by Britain and France for regional and mutual arrangements for common defence against air aggression offers a very practicable route towards that end. I was very glad to hear the excellent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain H. Balfour) in which he developed that so well.

The right hon. Member for Epping asked me certain questions about the first-line strength of the Air Force. Perhaps I might define a little more precisely the figures which I used in my speech, and on which he questioned me. There are, as I said, being formed this year 11 additional squadrons for the Air Force, each squadron of 12 machines, and one and a half squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, which represents 19 aircraft. This gives a total of 151 first-line aircraft. Further to that, he also questioned the other series of figures in which I described the first-line strength of the British Air Force all the world over. If I may take the figure of the current year, a figure of 1,020, that represents the first-line strength of the British Air Force all the world over, including the Fleet Air Arm and auxiliary squadrons, but not including any reserve machines at all, or any machines used for training purposes. I think that answers my right hon. Friend's question. If you deduct the first-line machines overseas, it will give you 690 this year, 810 for 1935 and 950 for 1936.


My right hon. Friend would make it very much plainer if he explained how this relates to the figure of 560, plus 127, given by the Lord President in November.


I do not think that the Lord President was dealing actually with that particular point, but I do not see that it matters. What we want to know is our first-line strength to-day, and if the figure is more satisfactory than the right hon. Gentleman expected, I imagine he is delighted to hear it.


Do we mean the same thing?


I mean the first-line strength of the British Air Force, that is to say every aeroplane in the first line of the squadrons, not including reserve machines, or training machines, or anything. Is that clear? It is a very complicated thing, and perhaps the explanation I gave earlier in the afternoon was very hasty. I am delighted to have the opportunity of making these figures clear. Again, my right hon. Friend asked me how it is that we are going to order nearly 100 per cent. more aircraft in 1935 whereas Vote 3 is only up by rather more than £1,000,000. The explanation is simple. My right hon. Friend has had far more experience of bringing in Estimates than I have had and knows all about them. We shall order 1,000 machines. That does not mean that we shall necessarily get delivery of them all within the year. It may be that we shall not, and that is why I particularly safeguarded myself in my speech by saying, in view of that fact I presumed that the figure for this Vote would probably be substantially increased in 1936. I am firmly of opinion that we shall get the bulk of the machines in 1935.

My right hon. Friend stated that, according to his information, the German Air Force was to-day already as strong as our own, and that by the end of this calendar year it will be 50 per cent. stronger. I do not think that I can follow him into a morass of figures which must be, after all, as he would be the first to admit, very largely conjectural. I notice that the German Air Minister, General Goering, the other day—and he does not usually minimise his achievements—said that the figures which were commonly accepted for the air force of Germany were grossly exaggerated. Anyhow, we will see, as my right hon. Friend says, in the course of a very few weeks what is the figure the Germans themselves put upon their air force. It is hoped that after the visit of the Foreign Secretary to Berlin, we shall know more about it. After all, the Germans are apparently anxious to discuss the whole question with us, and I presume that on his return the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us a clearer picture of what is rather confusing and complicated at the present moment. We have no official statistics, but, according to the latest information in our possession, it is not correct that Germany is already stronger than this country. Even confining comparison to the number of machines we have in this country, in terms of first-line strength we believe that, including the Auxiliary Air Force and the special reserve, which, I think, are far better units for military purposes than my right hon. Friend thinks they are—taking them and the Fleet Air Arm squadrons based on home waters, we have a substantially stronger force. In terms of the total number of military aircraft which we and Germany respectively possess, and all the background of training and organisation which is essential to the efficiency of a military air service, we have every reason to think that we are to-day still stronger than Germany.

To look a little further into the future, on the basis of such information as we have, it is also not correct to say that at the end of the present calendar year the German Air Force will be 50 per cent. stronger than ours either on the basis of first-line strength or on the basis of the total number of aircraft. So far as we can at present estimate, we shall still, at the end of this year, possess a margin of superiority. At this stage when conversations are beginning, when every day the veils of secrecy are being torn more and more apart, when we see more and more clearly where we stand, I will refrain from going into any further figures which might be conjectural, but will merely repeat that, as the Lord President of the Council said in his speech in November, our programme must be regarded as one which can be either increased or decreased as circumstances may require. I say "decreased," because, after all, we have not given up the hope of a limitation of armaments and the possibility of a Convention, and we do not consider that expansion or acceleration has yet been rendered finally necessary, though I do not pretend, and no one else can pretend, that the situation is one which does not give us all cause for grave anxiety.


If I might interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for a moment, there were two points, as it seemed to me, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made in his speech. One was that the situation had deteriorated very seriously since the Lord President's speech last November, and on that the Under-Secretary says that the figures are conjectural, and that, with all these conversations and so forth, we ought not to go into that point. That I can understand. The other point was that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that the Lord President's figures, which he gave in November, were not accurate then, and he challenged the Government to say whether they stood by those figures. Could the Under-Secretary make it quite clear whether or not they stand by the figures given by the Lord President?


As I said in my main speech, we thought that the figures which were given in November were not conjectural, and, whatever was the basis of our information, we thought we might have at the end of this year, as the Lord President said, a 50 per cent. superiority over Germany. From that point of view the situation has deteriorated. There has been great acceleration, as far as we know, in the manufacture of aircraft in Germany, but still, in spite of that, at the end of this year we shall have a margin, though I do not say a margin of 50 per cent. I would only say that as far as I know it is not the case that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said, Germany at the end of this year will have a 50 per cent. superiority over us.


What about the other point, that in November we were, as the Lord President said, 50 per cent. stronger than the Germans? Now I gather that the idea is that we are still stronger, but nothing like double as strong. Is that so?


I can only repeat that we are stronger to-day than the Germans, and we think that at the end of the year we shall be stronger. After all, these figures are all conjectural. We are all after the same object, and quite obviously, when things are more clarified, the Government are preparing to see that no stone shall be left unturned for the adequate protection of this country and the Empire.


I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend.

8.20 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: in order to educate the people of this country in the art of aeronautics and to develop home industries, this House is of opinion that further assistance should be given to the light aeroplane clubs and gliding movements, and that the manufacture of light aeroplanes and gliders in this country should he actively promoted. The Air Ministry and my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have many records to their credit. I am going to put forward another humble record. This is the second consecutive occasion on which I have won this Motion in the Ballot. I do not know whether Sir Erskine May has laid down any provision for what happens if a Member wins the same Motion three times. In the case of a trophy, I understand that the winner can keep it, and so, if I am fortunate next year, I shall be applying, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your guidance as to whether I shall be able to keep the Air Ministry Vote for myself.

Last year I moved an Amendment about aeroplanes; this year I have chosen one on gliders and light aeroplane clubs, and I will tell the House why I have chosen it. In the first place, I find myself rather resembling a glider. I am a machine entirely without power. By the good fortune of the Ballot I have been catapulted off the land—where I have a little more knowledge of political questions—over the precipice into the Department of my right hon. Friend, and know the House will be asking, "How long is he going to keep up?" In gliding we are kept in the air by the warm currents, and I am told that this House is ventilated by warm currents of air, so I am relying entirely upon the ventilation for keeping up. Most Members will know that that is not a very sanguine hope. I recall the fact that the record for gliding was obtained in my constituency, where a glider was able to keep up in the air for 5¼ hours. If I emulate that, I shall be approaching the record set by Mr. Joe Biggar very many years ago. In my constituency we have the finest natural gliding ground in the whole of this country. For two consecutive years the national competitions have taken place at Sutton Bank, and we have already in the constituency two gliding clubs pursuing this sport. It is an important sport. When I recall some of the speeches of Socialist Members of the Opposition denouncing the building of military planes and describing the Government as warmongers, I feel sure I shall have their support in moving this Motion about gliders and light aeroplane clubs, because nobody can possibly accuse me of being a warmonger.

Again, a little time ago I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who confessed that he felt he was gliding down a slippery slope, and I feel sure that, if any of that section of the erstwhile Liberal party of which he is the Leader were in the House at this moment, they would support a Motion upon gliding. The question of light aeroplane clubs I am going to leave as far as possible to my hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside). Gliding is a strictly monastic life on the tops of mountains, and two-seaters are seldom used, whereas my hon. Friend, owing to the domestic domain on which he is about to enter, will probably be more interested in two-seaters.

First of all, may I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to a very important decision in the High Court last week, which has threatened the whole existence of this sport of gliding. There was a case entitled Wenner against Johnson, in which the owner of a sporting right secured an injunction against the Midland Gliding Club, preventing that club from using its gliders in any way because of the danger that grouse might be frightened by the gliding. We all of us wish to respect rights of property, whether sporting rights or any other rights, but I want my right hon. Friend very seriously to consider the effect of this case. If it means that gliding clubs throughout the country are going to be prevented by owners of sporting rights from enjoying this sport, I think that the Government should take steps to prevent that.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that steps can be taken without legislation?


I am sorry, but I was going to explain exactly how steps could be taken which would not require legislation. I want my right hon. Friend to issue instructions or disseminate information that gliding clubs, before they start operations, should make agreements with owners of sporting rights in the near vicinity. That has been done by the Yorkshire Gliding Club at Sutton Bank, and I believe that it is the only gliding club that has made such an arrangement. This agreement is one under which neighbouring owners allow members to glide over their land. If we get a very warm current of air that pushes us out 20 miles, we may get into territory which is not covered by the agreement, but even so we are pretty safe owing to the fact that no one would apply for an injunction if you merely once strayed over his land. I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to alter any law but merely, when he replies, to tell me whether Section 9 of the Air Navigation Act, 1920, which says that no aircraft can commit any form of trespass, includes the glider. I should think that a glider is as much a craft of the air as a little fishing boat is a craft of the sea. If that be so, we are protected by the existing law, which does not require amendment, from trespassing over other people's land.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the very far-sighted and generous decision to give gliding clubs the sum of £5,000 in the way of a subsidy scheme. It is a remarkable decision because the Gorell Committee, most unfortunately in my view, advised the Government not to help gliding clubs financially. If the recommendation of the Gorell Committee—and I see a Member of that Committee present to-night in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard)—had been adopted, it would have meant that we should have continued for long in "the position of being inferior to Germany on the question of gliding.


During the time that the Gorell Committee was sitting, as my hon. Friend knows quite well, there were great differences in the gliding movement. We thought that it was not the right time for the Government to hand over money to that movement until they had reached a position similar to that in which they are to-day.


I am glad that my hon. Friend has made the matter clear. I was merely mentioning the fact in order to explain how much we have to congratulate my right hon. Friend. I hope that my hon. Friend will not mistake any words of mine by thinking that I am seeking to detract from the very excellent report of the Gorell Committee, but he must remember that the Committee made that report, and that it required a great deal of courage on the part of my right hon. Friend to squeeze £5,000 out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for gliding. What is the object of the subsidy? I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us in his reply. May I assume that it is to help the people of this country to become air-minded?

There is a great danger in the giving of this subsidy. There was at one time a feeling among those interested in this sport that the gliding subsidy was to be distributed on the recommendation of what I would call those who glide from the club arm-chair, the old men who have no practical experience in gliding. That would be a profound mistake. This very valuable subsidy should be given to the practical men, and the practical clubs who are carrying out this new sport. It should be used as far as possible to help working men to fly. In the country districts gliding clubs usually have their sports on Sunday afternoons, and it is the one sport in which the agricultural labourer in the country can take part and enjoy and learn to be air-minded, because it does not take up much of his time and takes place in that part of the country where he has his work. Nearly every gliding club has a minimum subscription of two guineas which is far too large a sum for a man who is merely getting an agricultural wage. I have had representations made to me from many of those interested in the position of agricultural labourers in Yorkshire begging me to ask my right hon. Friend to try and devise a scheme under this subsidy for the help of the man who cannot afford the gliding club subscription.

I would suggest that the subsidy be divided equally into capital and recurrent expenditure. Under capital expenditure I would suggest that my right hon. Friend should devote the greater part of this subsidy to the purchase of the gliding grounds outright, or to the purchase of a lease for a very long period of years, like 99 years a lease. It is no good having gliding clubs of mushroom growth. The Yorkshire Gliding Club have the opportunity, if the right hon. Gentleman will help, of purchasing their ground from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for a reasonable sum, and that sort of thing ought to be carried out, if possible, in all directions of gliding clubs. There is also the question of permanent buildings. I should think that the Yorkshire club have better buildings than any other club in England at the present moment, but we must get proper hangars so that we can accommodate visiting clubs from overseas, from Germany, so that the gliders may be adequately housed. There is also the importance of adequate repair shops. These gliding grounds are not in the vicinity of large towns, but usually in rather desolate places.

I will give the headings of recurrent expenditure which should be aided by the subsidy. First and foremost is the purchase of machines. This is a point of great importance to British industry. I hope that my hon. Friend will not agree to one penny of the subsidy being devoted to the purchase of foreign-built machines. We have in this country factories producing English gliders which are as good and even better than any German gliders. A fortnight ago I went to my gliding club ground at Sutton Bank and asked what machine they would prefer to purchase if they were given the money, and they said that they would prefer to purchase machines made at Kirby Moorside in Yorkshire which are designed and made by Englishmen. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will make it clear that some of the subsidy will go to the purchase of machines and equipment built by British labour in England, and also that he will help, not only in the provision of gliders for the expert, but in the provision of the primary glider used in the small clubs for the tuition of those who are learning to glide. The £5,000 grant is quite sufficient for the needs of gliding this year. Whether it will be sufficient next year I very much doubt, because gliding is a sport that is growing. It is a sport in which a great deal of interest is being aroused among the agricultural population. I hope that when the Minister comes to present his Estimates next year he will include a larger sum for gliding, because a greater sum than £5,000 will be required. For the present the £5,000 is entirely adequate.

I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the increase of the subsidy for light aeroplane clubs from £16,000 to £25,000. I regard that £9,000 increase as most necessary, and the House will realise that when it is considered that a venture such as National Flying Services, which was formed for the encouragement of light aeroplane club flying, went bankrupt with a deficit of £61,000. These small flying clubs in the country are doing even worse at the present time. They have a very difficult burden to meet. The Ministry estimate that for an average club the cost per flying hour is £2 15s. I know that in regard to the Yorkshire Flying Club the cost has been worked out at something like £3 15s. per flying hour, and of that £3 15s. they only get a subsidy equivalent to 5s. per flying hour. That is a very low subsidy. When one realises that the tax paid on the petrol is equivalent to 5s. per flying hour, the subsidy does not assume any magnificent proportions. I think my right hon. Friend might help the light aeroplane clubs in this respect.

There is one suggestion that I would throw out. At the present time if a club member is a member of the Air Force Reserve or the Auxiliary Air Force, when he gets his "A" licence the club does not get a single penny of subsidy. That is a great misfortune. Not only is it a hardship to the club but it is a very great hardship to the member, either of the Air Force Reserve or of the Auxiliary Air Force. If he gets his "A" licence he is no use to them and no help to them financially. It would be a very gracious act on the part of my right hon. Friend if he would allow either the whole amount of the subsidy of £25 for a new licence and £10 for renewal or a large percentage of it in respect of members of the Auxiliary Air Force and the Air Force Reserve who qualify for an "A" licence. I hope that on the question of the light aeroplane clubs my right hon. Friend will appreciate his dual capacity. He is Minister of War and also Minister of Transport. Let us not have all our efforts devoted towards the building up of the military side of the Air Force. Let him remember the flying club movement. He can help them not by giving them Belisha beacons but by giving them Neon lights for night flying. That would be a considerable help for the light aeroplane clubs.

I hope that every encouragement will be given to the development of light aeroplanes of low power. The experience of the last few years has meant that the cost of the light aeroplane has increased year by year owing to that love of speed to which both motorists on the road and airmen in the air fall a prey. That is unfortunate because it means that aeroplane flying is going to be a luxury of the rich alone. Lots of people, not well-off, would like to fly, but they cannot afford it. I am told that a 50 horsepower aeroplane is not outside the bounds of possibility. For that reason I hope that my right hon. Friend will encourage flying in that direction. The heavy-powered machine that can carry a great load of bombs to wipe out civilisation is not really the true criterion of the progress of civilisation. I would rather say that a true criterion was the man who without any help or motive power, or with very small help in the case of the light aeroplane, can launch himself into space and imitate the grace and beauty of the bird in movement. The man on the glider is doing what Icarus failed to do at the time of the Greeks. If I were to sum up the beauty and grace of the glider I should like to quote a few lines from Shelley of 100 years ago. In his poem "The Cloud" he wrote: Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion, This pilot is guiding me, Over the rills and the crags, and the hills, Over the lakes and the plains. Wherever he dreams, under mountain or stream, The spirit he loves remains, And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile.

8.42 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I am sure the House is grateful to my hon. Friend for diverting this Debate from an acrimonious and highly contentious discussion upon the needs of the Royal Air Force to the more tranquil sphere of the peace aspect of flying. It will be interesting to note whether there is a single Member of the Socialist Opposition who is capable of speaking coherently on this subject, or whether their knowledge of aeronautics is limited to its war application and to petty party propaganda. I am one of those who have always maintained that both from the point of view of our national security and from that of the future development of the aircraft industry, civil aviation, which originated in the light aeroplane movement, will play a far more conspicuous part than the Royal Air Force. I am not dismayed by the fact that today for every pound spent on civil aviation £35 is spent on military aviation. I maintain my point of view, for, in reply to a question which I put to the Under-Secretary yesterday, he announced that there were already in this country 2,980 civilian pilots, while there were last year in the Royal Air Force only 2,701 military pilots. When the House realises that civil aviation also appeals to the fair sex I am sure it will realise the possibility of expansion in that direction. Added to these two facts there is an increase of £9,000 in the money which Parliament is voting by way of subsidy to the light aeroplane clubs. This will undoubtedly stimulate both the aircraft industry and light aeroplane movement. I should therefore like to draw the attention of the House to the words in the Motion: to develop home industries … the manufacture of light aeroplanes should be actively promoted. There is no great industry in the history of the world that has grown and prospered when it has been dependent upon a Government Department for its welfare. The motor industry would not be employing thousands of wage earners to-day if the leaders of that industry had stood back and waited for orders from the War Office for tanks and ambulances and Royal Army Corps lorries; nor would our mercantile marine have reached its position of pre-eminence if our dockyards and shipowners had waited upon orders from the Admiralty. But nine-tenths of the aircraft industry is entirely dependent on the Air Ministry for contracts for military machines. It has been admitted by statesmen and politicians, economists and industrialists that unless a new industry is taken to the North of England the industrial north is doomed. Those who live in the south do not realise what unemployment means; the full blast of the depression has never hit their industries; the devastation and silence of a derelict area is unknown to them. But in the north there are chimneys which have not smoked for a decade and young men who have never known what a year's employment means; young men whose fathers and grandfathers before them were skilled engineers.

Here is that new industry for which they wait. It is an industry nine-tenths of which is already dependent on the action of the Government for its survival. I hope that the Under-Secretary, in his reply, will state on behalf of the Government that in the future the policy of the Air Ministry will be to give a preference to those companies who operate in the North of England who produce civil as well as military machines. If the Under-Secretary will make that statement he will not only add to the security of the nation, but many unemployed men in my division will rise on the morrow with renewed hope. But ultimately the future prosperity of the aircraft industry must depend upon the number of people who take to the air, either as passengers in commercial machines or as pilots, or as owners of private machines.

May I say one word on the question of commercial aviation. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) made certain criticisms of Imperial Airways, and, indeed, many criticisms have been made during the course of the year on the speed of their machines. I myself have been amongst them, but having seen a little of foreign air liners of late I have come to the conclusion that the policy of Imperial Airways has been right and that both from the point of view of safety and comfort their machines are five years ahead of their European rivals. As to the much vaunted American Douglas machine's, in spite of the fact that the Royal Dutch Air Line have given an order for 14 such machines for their own fleet, I am given to understand that in view of the disastrous accident which occurred in the Syrian Desert the Dutch Government may not grant these machines a certificate of airworthiness. If the Under-Secretary has information on this point I hope he will say whether that rumour has any foundation in fact.


The hon. Member is in order in referring to that matter, but the Under-Secretary will not be in order in replying to the question on this Amendment.


Be that as it may, if this country is to become air-minded, as it is sea-minded, it can only take place through development of the light aeroplane movement. Unfortunately the effects of the depression and the attentions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer have put flying far beyond the pockets of the majority of our people. If we are to become air-minded the cost of flying must be reduced. Are there any means by which that cost can be lessened? There are three; the scheduling of aerodromes as agricultural land, a remission of the petrol tax, and the subsidising of the pilot in preference to the club. Let me say a word on each of these subjects. History has shown that when a new and rapid means of transport is taken to a particular area that spot becomes a centre of intense activity, houses spring up, shops open and crowds flock to it. In due course the village becomes a small town, and that in turn grows into a city. That has been the history of the ports and railway termini of this country; and as it has happened on the land and sea so it will happen in the air. But there is something else happened as well. The value of the land in that particular area appreciated, and with that the rateable value of the land increased. That is the problem which light aeroplane clubs have to face. They start an industry, attract people to the area, and as soon as they have done so, they are penalised by an increase of their rates. If you take the argument to its logical conclusion if there was an aerodrome in the centre of London the rateable value of the land would be so great that not a single aircraft operator would be able to use the aerodrome at all. There is no logical reason why an aerodrome should not be scheduled as agricultural land. The Under-Secretary has probably had the same difficulty as I have had in landing at an aerodrome such as Penshurst, where the chief difficulty in landing is the innumerable sheep which are grazing on the aerodrome. There is therefore a logical reason why an aerodrome should be scheduled as pasture land.

As regards the petrol duty, it has been the intention of successive Governments to give some assistance to the light aeroplane clubs, and in 1933 this House voted a sum of £13,000, to be given as a grant to certain clubs. But they reckoned without the ingenuity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who immediately increased the tax on petrol and recovered from the light aeroplane clubs no less than £16,000 and, therefore, the purpose for which the House voted the £13,000 was entirely nullified. I believe the question is now under discussion, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something to say upon it in his reply. The third suggestion I make is in regard to subsidising the pilot. At the moment there are certain light aeroplane clubs which receive a subsidy of £25 for every "A" licence pilot they turn out, and when the pilot renews his licence they receive a further £10. The House may not realise that in order for a pilot to renew his licence he has only to do three hours' flying during the year. It is obviously a ridiculous proposition that in order to induce a man to do three hours' flying a year the Government and the taxpayer should proceed to pay the light aeroplane clubs £10, nor does it assist the pilot one iota. If he goes straight to the Air Ministry and renews his licence, neither he nor the light aeroplane club receives a penny.

If some system were adopted, such as I understand is adopted in France, it would induce people to take to the air. There a grant is given to a pilot according to the number of hours he flies. Obviously, the more frequently a man flies the more petrol he consumes, the more business is done and the more valuable he becomes, in the event of another war, as a Reserve to the Royal Air Force. The French Government also give a subsidy to assist a man to purchase his machine. If that were adopted in this country, there are a large number of people who would begin to fly whenever possible, and it would be an incentive for them to purchase their machines. It would also stimulate the aircraft industry, and as that is situated in the North it would employ people now in derelict areas; and so help to reduce taxation. If the suggestions I have presumed to make are adopted in principle the aircraft industry would be stimulated and our light aeroplane clubs would play no ignoble part in our industrial development. Indeed, we could look forward to the day when the Blue Ensign of civil aviation will be linked to the Red Ensign of the mercantile marine carrying the tale of the English to every city in the world.

8.55 p.m.


I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) and the hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside) on the terms of their Amendment and on their speeches; but it occurred to me that their speeches were in one sense slightly divergent. The hon. Member for Thirsk was plainly asking for more subsidy, both for gliding clubs and light aeroplane clubs. The hon. Member for South Leeds rather took the line that the flying rules should be freed of restrictions. It appears to me that it is impossible to have the one without the other; if you are to have subsidies you must have restrictions. Personally I should be glad to see the subsidy either reduced or abolished if the flying industry could be relieved of all new restrictions. The hon. Member for South Leeds suggested a subsidy on pilots. I am not quite clear whether he meant a subsidy on a pilot who has got his "A" licence and who after a time renews it, or whether it was to be a subsidy only on private owners who kept up machines, which I understand is the kind of subsidy paid in France.


I suggested that a subsidy be granted according to the number of hours flown, that the pilot should present his log-book to the Ministry at the end of the year, so that the Ministry could see how long he had flown and give a subsidy accordingly.


I quite agree, and I think that that form of subsidy, if subsidy there must be, would be far preferable to the present system. It is the aircraft industry that we want to stimulate too. Companies which keep machines in commission might receive some subsidy as well as private owners who keep machines in commission. That would be assisting both regular flying and the aircraft industry, which is apparently the aim of the subsidy. I wonder how long flying as a sport will last. I agree that the flying clubs have played a valuable part in keeping flying going during the transitional period from the War to the present day. Had it not been for these clubs there would probably be little flying done in this country now. But consider what most of these clubs have been and are. They are run by young ladies and gentlemen living in the neighbourhood who own private cars and who have banded themselves together to take over an aerodrome on probably the cheapest plot of land that can be found, regardless of where it is. They start a club and fly as a sport, for the joy and pleasure of flying and for the fun of taking up a friend of the opposite sex. That was the beginning of the club. To my mind that is all passing away. Indeed flying as a sport will probably not last very much longer.

Gliding is likely to be far more popular as a sport. When gliding has got to such a pitch and gliders have been so perfected that they can stay in the air, and it is possible to have glider races, gliding will become a sport which will compare very favourably with the best forms of yacht racing. But the flying machines, to my mind, are now coming into the sphere rather more of actual commerce. We have only to look at the motoring trade to see that it went through exactly the same phases. At the start a few enthusiasts who were looked upon as madcaps because they liked to live dangerously, banded themselves into small clubs and carried on their pursuit to the horror and disgust of their neighbours, using highly dangerous cars which were without brakes and were likely to catch fire; and then gradually, as the motors improved, the clubs became amalgamated until they developed into the Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association. The next stage was that the motor car became a means of locomotion for everyone who could afford it.

I believe that flying will go through exactly the same phases. It is beginning to get to the second era now. The best way in which the clubs can now help is for the Royal Aero Club to bring them all together under one head. I believe that small clubs working independently cannot possibly subsist for very long. It would be far better to amalgamate them under one head, so that the member of one club can enjoy the rights of membership at whatever aerodrome he lands. The Government would then be able greatly to reduce the subsidy to the clubs and at the same time remove the restrictions that exist. Indeed the only restrictions imposed by the Government on flying should be similar to those imposed by the Home Office on industry, or such restrictions as existed before the days of the Belisha Beacon. The only restrictions should be those which are consistent with public safety. I suggest, curiously enough, the very thing that the Air Ministry up to the present moment has paid very little attention to, that every new aeroplane constructed should by law be turned out fitted with flaps and slots, landing lights, and wheel brakes.


The suggestions of the Noble Lord are outside the Amendment and apparently would require legislation.


To my mind it is highly dangerous that flying clubs should be allowed to use aeroplanes which are not fitted with wheel brakes. A great many accidents occur and are bound to occur because of this very fact. My suggestion is not for legislation, but that by regulation the Air Ministry should insist that all new aircraft are fitted with these particular brakes. I suggest also that the clubs be amalgamated under the Royal Aero Club, and that steps be taken to remedy the one difficulty which has retarded civil aviation more than anything else—the fact that existing aerodromes, started by the clubs for their own enjoyment, were not planned with any idea of quick access to the centre of any town. Take London for example. The available aerodromes are at Croydon, Gravesend, Gatwick, Hanworth, Heston and Hackney, and there is a new one, I understand, near Brighton. The most accessible of these is Heston, a most flourishing concern which has developed without any subsidy at all. It is unfortunately between road and railway and sufficiently far from both to be of little use. It takes an hour for a private owner without a motor car to get from Heston to London. I frequently fly from my own home to Heston and it takes me an hour from the time I get out of the machine to the time when I enter my house in London.

I urge the Government to consider whether they could not assist the clubs to get landing grounds more accessible to the centres of the towns at which they are situated. I strongly suggest that these landing grounds should be sited near railway lines or tube lines. With the volume of traffic increasing and with the imposition, necessarily, of further restrictions such as traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and a 30-mile an hour speed limit, congestion on the roads will get worse every year and the proper way to transport both air line passengers and private owners of aircraft from aerodromes is by rail or tube. Aerodromes should be actually on the railway or tube lines so that a passenger could walk from the hangar to the railway carriage without getting his feet wet. I believe that at Croydon there is an old railway which runs right to the aerodrome and which has been unused for many years. Would it not be possible to get it working again? There is one site in London which I think would be ideal and which would require no legislation but simply permission to buy the ground, and that is Wormwood Scrubs. It belongs to the London County Council and I am sure a progressive body like that would realise the importance of having an aerodrome near the centre of London and would give facilities. If legislation were found necessary of course that is another matter.

Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER

We found in the War that there was a great deal of fog at Wormwood Scrubs.


There is a great deal of fog all round London. At the same time, Wormwood Scrubs is not far from Heston and there should not be much more fog there than there is at Heston. Heston has the advantage that you can go into it by keeping straight along the railway and there is hardly ever a fog which is so thick that you cannot follow the railway. Wormwood Scrubs is also on a main line railway which would assist machines coming in and particularly going out because you cannot always rely on the weather reports from the Air Ministry—


Does the Noble Lord still suggest that he is speaking on the Amendment with regard to aeroplane clubs?


I am afraid that the weather reports have nothing to do with the clubs because most of the clubs were started simply to provide flying facilities round a particular aerodrome or to neighbouring aerodromes and not with the idea of cross country work. However there will no doubt be an opportunity later on in the Debate of raising the question of weather reports. But I would ask the Minister particularly to take note of this question of aerodromes. It is a most important one and any help which can be given by the Ministry the London County Council or the London Passenger Transport Board in the direction of speeding up the means of communication with the aerodromes round London will be much appreciated by the clubs.

9.10 p.m.


I desire to be associated with the Amendment. I have always had a great admiration for the way in which these clubs have been run. As the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) said, people came together in different areas and formed these clubs with very little knowledge in the first instance of flying. If one goes into the records of the clubs one finds that there has been a wonderfully small percentage of accidents, particularly fatal accidents, in connection with these clubs which started ab initio with instructors who were not always fully qualified. To-day we have fully qualified instructors in these clubs, and I think we ought to appreciate the work which those instructors and the people in charge of the clubs are doing. It is a very important work and it is filling up a gap in our flying resources which some of us think the Air Ministry itself ought to be filling to a greater degree. One of the difficulties which faces the Air Ministry is that in spite of the subsidy which the Government are paying for the training of pilots and although we train, I think, about 800 pilots a year, the people who allow their licences to fall out are practically equal to the number who come in every year. In other words although we are spending a considerable sum of money we are not really accumulating a reserve of qualified pilots.

The whole idea of the Air Ministry is that we ought to get, year by year, an increasing number of people capable of and well practised in flying. For that reason I ask my right hon. Friend whether the scheme which, I believe, the Council of Light Aeroplane Clubs is putting up to the Air Ministry will be carefully considered. It is a scheme whereby the subsidy is paid on the percentage of hours flown. A man who renews his licence will get for the first 25 hours £1 an hour and between 25 hours and 50 hours, 10 shillings an hour, taking less account of the actual £25 in respect of obtaining a licence and far more of the training of the man after his licence has been taken out by him. I think in that way you would assist to induce a lot of people to renew their licences who to-day allow those licences to expire.

I would also refer to the question of medical examinations. In the Gorell Committee we carefully considered the question of the renewal of "A" licences and I personally think that it has been made too difficult. The renewal of the licence as regards the medical side might be made much simpler. I know that the Government have some new scheme for appointing a doctor in each area but my personal view is that that will make it even more difficult than it is at present. Considering the expense to which young people have to go, ranging from £2 to £4 an hour, according to the locality, for the purpose of keeping themselves in training I think the Government ought to make it as easy as possible for them to renew their licence both as regards medical and other requirements. I also think that something ought to be done for the provision of more advanced training for those who have got licences. Whether this could be done, by the existing clubs or not is a matter for the Air Ministry. It seems to me that there is a great gap between the man who can just fly a machine and has an "A" licence and the man who can be called upon in time of war to fly a military machine and that gap should be filled up in some way. No doubt the Air Ministry have these matters in mind. A man who today is able to fly a machine of small horse power like a Moth should be capable of being trained to take a long-range bomber up at night in time of emergency. I think some of these young people, without necessarily joining the Auxiliary Air Force but by means of the existing clubs or some analogous organisation, would be willing to learn to fly military types of machines as well as the ordinary civil machines. I believe that in that way we should materially improve the position of those who are, after all, likely to be called upon to assist the Air Force in time of war, and it would be a great advantage to all concerned.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will impress upon the committee which is sitting on aerodrome development the importance of providing suitable facilities for the general public at aerodromes built by light aeroplane clubs and other persons. At similar aerodromes in Germany or any place on the Continent you see large tea and beer gardens and facilities for everybody to watch club members flying on nice Sunday afternoons. That is an enormous advantage in making the general population air-minded. After all, flying is not only for wealthy people. We desire that every person in the country should be air-minded. If it be left to wealthy people the movement will soon die out. It must embrace everybody from the lowest to the highest in the land if we are to be a really air-minded nation. One of the ways in which to do it is to devise facilities at our aerodromes for people to watch club flying or any other type of flying; and even to go further, and to introduce the subject into the ordinary curriculum of the elementary schools, so that the children can see flying going on and learn what an aeroplane looks like, and what it can do from the point of view both of facilities for fast movement and of the dangers which might arise from the military side.

In these ways we ought to use our aerodromes much more than we do. We can very easily take an example from the large aerodromes on the Continent. I am certain we could popularise club flying and every other kind of flying if we did so. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Amendment annually moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), and I hope that the Minister will consider the points I have raised.

9.18 p.m.


I think the House will agree that we have had a very interesting discussion on the Amendment which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I congratulate all those who have taken part on the number of subjects, most of them entirely out of order, which they have been able to introduce. I am debarred from replying to them, much as I would like to do. I was much impressed by the wealth of poetical knowledge and detail and the really technical knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton on the subject of gliding. I am ashamed to say that my knowledge of gliding appears to be now of an elementary character. After listening to my hon. Friend's speech, I think that gliding must be almost as technical or even more technical than actually flying an aeroplane. I must also congratulate him—if he wishes to be congratulated on it—on having won the ballot for the second year in succession which enabled him to introduce this subject again. In fact, he was confident that he would win it for the third year, and he wondered what prize he would get if he did. I should be delighted for him to introduce the Estimates. It would be a suitable prize for him. He asked me if there were any means by which we could help light aeroplane clubs with illumination. I said in my speech this afternoon that we are to make a beginning this year with pro- viding the necessary equipment for night flying at aerodromes all over the country. I have always felt that the difficulties of developing our internal communications, presented to us in this country by short distances, depend for their solution very largely on the possibility of flying by night more than is the case in any other country.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside) asked me several questions, and I was glad to hear the well-deserved tribute which he paid to Imperial Airways. He has travelled in their machines and is able to speak from experience. It is a refreshing thing to hear somebody who has travelled on these lines take the opportunity of saying in this House what he thinks of the amenities and the attention he received, and of the comfort, safety and regularity of those lines. One of the questions which he put to me was with regard to the scheduling of aerodromes as agricultural land for rating purposes, but that is not a question for the Air Ministry. The fact that aerodromes are not scheduled as agricultural land bears, I know, very hardly on owners of private aerodromes. It is a matter for the local assessment committee, and, if my hon. Friend can persuade the owners of aerodromes to make the local assessor realise how valuable the aerodromes are for pasturing sheep, I am sure that the local assessor will be the first to be convinced and do any scheduling that he desires.

My Noble Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) raised the question of the non-accessibility of aerodromes to speedy means of transport. He mentioned the case of Heston, which is between two arterial roads but far from both of them, and other instances of hardship. That is one of the subjects which we expect to be dealt with in the report which the Aerodromes Advisory Board will give us. One of the many reasons why we want to have this early survey of the country is that all these sites and situations will be looked into from every point of view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) talked about the number of licences that lapse every year, and he deplores that fact, which I deplore too. It is not easy to see how you can prevent people giving up their licences if they want to do so. Sometimes it is a question of expense. Very often it is a question of people who, having wanted to learn to fly and having been enthusiastic and keen about it, have then let the pleasure lapse. It is not true to say that pilots with lapsed licences are not useful to the Air Ministry. They are very useful, because what we want to do is to get the greatest number of people to have ab initio training so that in the case of war those who have had "A" licences, even if the licences have lapsed, will be straight away trained on military types of machines, while other people will be brought in and trained ab initio. My hon. Friend's last suggestion, I thought, was the best, namely, that beer should be supplied at all the aerodromes. I do not quite realise whether the Government is supposed to supply the beer or the Air Ministry. I suggest that it should be the First Commissioner of Works as head of the Government Hospitality Fund.

The light aeroplane club movement, originally sponsored by the Air Ministry, I think we can say has been attended by a remarkable measure of success. It has fulfilled one of the principal aims before it, the spread of air-mindedness through the country. It is often suggested that non-commercial flying in this country is very backward. I certainly think there is a great deal of room for further development, but there is no cause for pessimism. In the first place, the number of non-commercial pilots has been multiplied twentyfold since 1925. As I said earlier in the evening, whether on the basis of population or national income, proportionately there are more licences in this country than in the United States, in spite of the many advantages of that great country. A year ago our intention to increase the number of subsidised light aeroplane clubs was announced. At that time 18 clubs were subsidised, but during the last 12 months a number of other clubs have been subsidised, bringing the total up to 33. I hope to see that number raised to 40 very shortly, which would be an increase of 100 per cent.

Members will note that for this purpose there is an increase of from £16,000 in 1934 to £25,000 in the Estimates now before the House. Naturally, clubs vary very much, some being healthier than others, but on the whole the development is very satisfactory. At the end of 1934 the total membership of these clubs was little short of 8,000, with approximately 4,700 flying members. I hope that the total membership will soon be raised to a figure of 9,000. In the light of these figures I think we may maintain that we have made very substantial progress and gone a long way to do what we meant to do originally, to bring flying within the range of the man in the street. There was a suggestion that we should subsidise private owners, but that would not quite meet the case. With only limited funds at our disposal we thought this was the better way. The club movement is essentially democratic and characteristically British, achieving its results by the mutual pooling of all efforts of individuals belonging to it. For those who find the membership of light aeroplane clubs too expensive, we have the new movement of gliding.

Although I am afraid that the progress of gliding has been for a variety of reaasons very slow, I think all those interested were satisfied with the announcement last year that we were going to give £5,000 towards this activity. The several interests concerned in gliding have apparently up to now not seen eye to eye, but I am told that that situation is going to pass and that they are all agreed now on proposals which they will present to us. I hope shortly to be in receipt of those proposals.


In view of the reply, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

The House divided: Ayes, 185; Noes, 53.

Division No. 111.] AYES. [9.30 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Goldie, Noel B. Martin, Thomas B.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Gower, Sir Robert Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Aske, Sir Robert William Greene, William P. C. Mitcheson, G. G.
Atholl, Duchess of Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Grigg, Sir Edward Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Grimston, R. V. Moreing, Adrian C.
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Gritten, W. G. Howard Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Guy, J. C. Morrison Morrison, G. A. (Scottish (Univer'ties)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.
Belt, Sir Alfred L. Hanley, Dennis A. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Borodale, Viscount Harbord, Arthur Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid
Bossom, A. C. Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) North, Edward T.
Boulton, W. W. Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Nunn, William
Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Walter O'Donovan, Dr. William James
Broadbent, Colonel John Hornby, Frank O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Brown, Col. D. C (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Horsbrugh, Florence Palmer, Francis Noel
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newh'y) Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Pearson, William G.
Burnett, John George James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Penny, Sir George
Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Jamleson, Douglas Perkins, Walter R. D.
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Jesson, Major Thomas E. Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.
Clayton, Sir Christopher Kimball, Lawrence Procter, Major Henry Adam
Clydesdale, Marquess of Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Radford, E. A.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Law, Sir Alfred Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Cook, Thomas A. Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Craven-Ellis, William Leckle, J. A. Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Critchley, Brig.-General A. C. Lees-Jones, John Reed, Arthur C, (Exeter)
Crooks, J. Smedley Leighton, Major B. E. P. Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Reid, David D. (County Down)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Levy, Thomas Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Crossley, A. C. Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest Remer, John R.
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) Llewellin, Major John J. Rickards, George William
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Lloyd, Geoffrey Ross, Ronald D.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Loftus, Pierce C. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Dickle, John P. Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Doran, Edward Lyons, Abraham Montagu Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)
Dunglass, Lord Mabane, William Salt, Edward W.
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blk'pool) MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Samuel, M. R. A. (Wds'wth, Putney).
Everard, W. Lindsay MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Seaham) Sandys, Edwin Duncan
Fleming, Edward Lascelles Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Magnay, Thomas Selley, Harry R.
Glossop, C. W. H. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C. Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Goff, Sir Park Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Shute, Colonel Sir John
Simmonds, Oliver Edwin Summersby, Charles H. Watt, Major George Steven H.
Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam) Sutcliffe, Harold Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour
Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East) Tate, Mavis Constance Wells, Sydney Richard
Sopar, Richard Templeton, William P. Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L. Thompson, Sir Luke Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Spencer, Captain Richard A. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles Wills, Wilfrid D.
Spens, William Patrick Titchfield, Major the Marquess of Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)
Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde) Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Stevenson, James Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L. Womersley, Sir Walter
Stones, James Turton, Robert Hugh Worthington, Dr. John V.
Strauss, Edward A. Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Strickland, Captain W. F. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull) Sir Victor Warrender and
Stuart, Lord C. Crichton. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend) Mr. Blindell.
Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F. Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding) Mander, Geoffrey le M.
Banfield, John William Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)
Batey, Joseph Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd) Maxton, James.
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Jenkins, Sir William Nathan, Major H. L.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) John, William Parkinson, John Allen
Buchanan, George Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields) Rea, Walter Russell
Cape, Thomas Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Cleary, J. J. Kirkwood, David Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Cove, William G. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lawson, John James Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Daggar, George Leonard, William Thorne, William James
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, Stephen Owen Logan, David Gilbert West, F. R.
Dobbie, William Lunn, William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Gardner, Benjamin Walter McGovern, John
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Mainwaring, William Henry Mr. Groves and Mr. Paling.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

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