Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 33,000 all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India (other than Aden), during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936.
§ 9.40 p.m.
The difficulty of a Debate on Estimates, if I may submit it to you for your consideration, Sir Dennis, is that it is almost impossible to separate policy from detail. At the request of Mr. Speaker most of us who have given a good deal of time to this particular subject have deferred to his requests, but it is impossible to avoid a considerable amount of detail. These Votes are submitted to enable hon. Members to raise points of detail and try to get a reply from the Minister, and, therefore, although speakers are strictly limited to the details of Vote A, I hope that a certain amount of latitude will be granted to us if references to general policy are not carried too far. After listening to almost every word of this Debate and bearing in mind the events of last week 1118 I find it impossible not to be thoroughly depressed. I am depressed for two reasons. It seems to me that the House, judging by its discussions to-day, does not seem to appreciate the imminence, or the terrible nearness, of international trouble, and the mere fact that the indictment delivered by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has not yet been replied to leaves me still further depressed. It appears to indicate a complete failure to appreciate that this Vote is too small if the indictment be correct, and if the indictment is wrong then I should have thought it ought to have been replied to at once. That poor little Note that was sent to Germany a few days ago was, I think, unworthy of a great country like Great Britain. Why should we apologise to anybody for what we do? No other country apologises or has apologised in its armament programmes during the last two or three years. Great Britain has set an extraordinary example of unilateral disarmament, and yet the apology we sent in the form of that little Note is answered in the most contemptuous fashion.
In dealing with the Vote in detail I will start with a hope that we may get the problems which have been submitted to the Under-Secretary to-day, and which I know he will represent to his 1119 Department, grappled with with a little more determination than has been shown so far. I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary on the admirable style in which he presented his Estimates. He covered an immense field, and I know how difficult it is to cover it and also to answer a great variety of questions to the satisfaction of everybody, but I hope he will accept from me sincere congratulations on the manner in which he performed his task this evening. I welcome, I cannot do otherwise, this very small instalment of increase in the Air Force. I am not going to say one further word, Sir Dennis, than you have allowed me to say about foreign policy, but before I leave the subject completely I would point out that we are only just about as strong as Germany is to-day—that is just boiling down the few figures with which we have been presented this evening. Instead of being twice as strong we are just about level. It is quite obvious that we must have an agreement with somebody else to meet the possible increase that Germany may undertake in the next few years. The only alliance must be with France. If there is one, why not say so? If there is not one, this Vote is a pathetic presentation. I would like to see an alliance like we had in the Great War 20 years ago. I am quite certain that the population of England would be far happier to be told the truth instead of floating almost rudderless upon this dangerous international sea.
We have been told in the last six months that the strength of the British Air Force would be brought up to parity. Parity is an unstable term on which to found any edifice. The parity of to-day will not be the parity of tomorrow, and the frontiers of to-day will not be the frontiers of to-morrow. Parity and frontiers cannot remain indefinitely the shibboleths of the air policy of Great-Britain. We have either to make definite arrangements with some friendly country to help us to defend ourselves against a possible aggressor, or we have to build an air force that we think is strong enough to take on any other single Power, wherever it may be. I was just thinking of a few illustrations. Since the Estimates were presented last year, Germany has proved that she can 1120 bombard Barcelona. No one would have thought it possible a year ago, but German machines have flown from Berlin to Barcelona in eight hours at a speed of over 200 miles an hour. Equally, Japan, if she liked—everything is "if" in these days—could bombard Singapore from Formosa. Germany has developed extraordinarily rapid speeds for the aerial transport of goods and passengers in the last 12 months. Who is going to say how far that will develop in the next 12 months? If we are clear thinkers we will say to ourselves that the word "parity" means nothing, and that the word "frontier" means rather less. The matter has gone past the stage of those simple, little, accurate calculations.
I would like to say one or two words on the territorial movement of the Royal Air Force, and I dwell upon this particularly because it enlists sympathy and support in all quarters of the House. The territorial defence of one's land cannot offend anyone, and it does not need a militaristic turn of mind to recognise that when the time of trouble comes it is the duty of every man and woman to turn out to defend their land. Asking the Minister to think of the possibility of territorial air defence cannot cause offence in any quarter. A small effort has been made in that direction. We have a limited number of squadrons—I have had the honour of being allowed to command one. A limited number of units of young men give up their time, just like the old yeomanry or the territorial infantry, for a certain number of hours a week for intensive training in barracks, a certain number of week-ends at camp, and once a year at a 10-day camp for exercises. That effort should be encouraged a great deal more than it is—not to place it in the front line of what you may call the regular units; that would be a mistake, as I will prove in a minute, but to encourage its development. There should be far more of them. It Deeds a very small contribution from the State in the way of roping in the air-minded thought and desire on the part of the civilian to play his part if and when he is called upon to do so.
The movement has met with considerable success, and it would meet with even greater success if two thoughts were introduced into the counsels of the 1121 Air Council. The idea at the moment is to make those units into a sort of regiment, as well equipped and as well-fashioned as the ordinary line squadron; in other words, we have tried to teach the young lads who come from, say, the Baltic Exchange, the Stock Exchange or the many banks in London, and to train them as regimental officers. I do not think it is humanly possible to do it. We must recognise once and for all that what we need is a great flying school in each of our cities in which all these young men will be taught to fly at no expense to themselves. The return they give to the Government is that they are prepared, as long as their youth lasts, to undertake a certain reasonable amount of responsibility.
I hope this suggestion will be considered in the light of the experience of some of us who have gone through it. We may in the end achieve the ideal of having machinery and equipment kept by the State to train these young men in regimental responsibility; to give them refresher courses; and to teach all the necessary technical details to keep them useful until the day may come. I do not want to elaborate that, because it is very well known to the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not want to weary the Committee by dwelling too much upon it. One point in connection with it I did not mention: I do not think such young men are very suitable for becoming aerial fighters. They are much more suitable as very intelligent bombing pilots. The mere fact that they are so intelligent—I am speaking of the City of London—indicates a quality of brain which enables them to earn a salary probably representing £400 or £500 a year. Their minds can be trained to understand long-distance navigation, which means reading instruments and passing navigation examinations, and it means considerable study. We need to preserve the qualities they have.
I pass as quickly as I can to Vote 8. A good deal of that has been covered by the discussion which took place on light flying clubs. It is impossible for me to avoid treading on the same ground, but I am going to try to prove that civil aviation is the foundation of all military aerial defence. It was not admitted, in my day at the Ministry, that the civilian was of any use at all. It was not 1122 thought that the civil machine would ever be any use for any military purpose, nor was it admitted that the civil pilot was likely to make a valuable contribution for military purposes. Time has passed, and it has been shown that those thoughts were fallacies. Almost everything that has happened in the last 12 years has proved almost beyond dispute that the rapid convertability of fast passenger machines into active bombers is only a matter of a few hours, and that the navigation of a machine can be equally well undertaken by a civil pilot who is accustomed to flying great distances and carrying passengers, as it can by purely military pilots. If those two assertions of mine are right, the two fallacies to which I have referred must be dropped, and scrapped once and for all. We must realise that civil aviation is the foundation of a military aerial nation, and that the civil pilot, if he is properly developed and taken care of, is most valuable and can make the most important contribution to the national defence.
There is another old fallacy to which I want to refer, and that is the fallacy that civil aviation must be left to fly by itself. I can only compare that by saying that free trade is all right in a free trade world, but if you are in a protectionist world, you must drop free trade and adopt some method of protecting yourselves against competition from abroad. Civil aviation will only fly by itself if nobody else subsidises civil aviation. If hon. Members had the time to compare what other countries have done with their subsidies with what we claim to be our performances, there is hardly a Member of this House who would not find himself forced to admit that subsidies have put us three years behind or, to put it the other way about, that subsidies have put other countries three years ahead. I hear a good deal said about what America can do. I went myself to see, and not long ago I took part in a good many flights made by some of the American transport services. I do not decry our British performances at all, but I want to be honest in my own mind in making a comparison between what has happened over there, where money has been spent, and what is happening very slowly over here, where little or no money has been spent. There is no com- 1123 parison between the two. Others can find out for themselves, as I have done, but to pretend that we are not three years behind in civil aviation is really declining to admit that white is white or that black is black.
Therefore, had we better face up to it? If we admit that civil aviation is the foundation of national air defence, had we not better also admit that the development of civil aviation on its transport side is the way in which to move peacefully along the line of self-defence? In seven years the American subsidy for civil aviation was about £25,000,000, and spread over seven years that is about £3,500,000 a year. Let us see what other countries which are not so rich as America was then have found themselves able to do. France, which could not be said to be particularly wealthy at the present time, has found it possible in the last six years to find £7,500,000 for direct subsidies to civil aviation, while Great Britain has found in the same period £1,900,000. If I am right in saying that they are three years ahead of us, then I am right in saying that that money has been well spent. There will be differences of opinion, no doubt, on that subject, but I want to prove that the convertibility of civil machines is now beyond dispute, and that the use of civil pilots, trained and refreshed and brought up to date, is the most valuable reservoir that we could have to fall back upon; and if I have succeeded in doing that and I can only get into the mind of the Ministry that there is wisdom in spending money on civil aviation, I think I shall have achieved a good deal.
The speech delivered on the subject of light aeroplane clubs was intensely valuable and important. The figures given of "A" licences not renewed are very important, because, to my mind, you have to divide flyers into three classes. You have the private owner who flies for fun, and you have the enthusiastic man who saves up money just to get trained and cannot afford to keep it up. Apart from those two classes, you have the would-be flyer, who cannot afford it at all, or who, if he can afford it, can only afford it in a contribution so small that unless he is assisted by the State, he cannot even get on to the aerodrome. I believe that an effort might be made 1124 to divide England into areas and use the existing flying clubs to attract young men to come along with something like £5 or £10 in their pocket, saved up over a period of weeks or months, and that the Government should say to them, "If you will go through with your course, if you will keep up your renewal and refresher courses for five years, we will see you through, and, in return, you must go on the list for reserve in case we ever want you."
I have worked out a scheme, which I have sent to the Ministry, to which I am sure they will give reasonable consideration, and which, if it is not completely wrong in detail, would at the end of five years give us something like 7,000 "A" licence pilots all still within the five years of their flying life. Some scheme, grasped boldly by the Ministry, or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whoever may have the last word, would, without offending anyone outside these shores, enable the country not only to be air-minded, but also to have a great reservoir of potential strength in case war ever came.
I want, in conclusion, to put some questions which, I think, the country wants to be asked and to which I think the country wants an answer. The programme of 1923, as the Under-Secretary of State said this afternoon, is not yet complete. Is it not even more important to-day than it was 10 years ago at least to complete that programme? How can it be possible to sit on the Treasury Bench, responsible for the country's safety, and not be able to answer this question? The 41 squadrons which we are going to be given over the next four years would only just come up to the minimum required for security and safety as far back as 1923. I cannot help thinking that intelligent readers must say to themselves either that that was a foolish remark in 1923, or else that it was unnecessary, or that it was said by an irresponsible person. I, for one, and I think there are many others like me, must keep on saying to ourselves that the conditions are at least 12 years worse than they were in 1923. The disturbance of the last week has shown what the position is, and yet we are told that the speed with which the Government is moving in the direction of air armament is sufficiently fast to meet all eventualities. I cannot believe that 1125 that is true, and if I did not think that, I would not get up and say it.
Another question that I would like to ask is whether the Ministry will ever admit the premise with which I started this afternoon, that civil aviation is the foundation of all national air defence. A remark was made in the Naval Debate by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty which immediately struck me as apposite to what we are talking about to-night. He gave an example of what a German converted merchant ship was able to do on the high seas, and I think he said it was able to destroy 41 of our cargo ships. If the mercantile marine can come to the aid of the navy when the day of trouble comes, it must be equally true that the civil side of the air should be available and ready to come to the aid of the military side also. I will not ask again whether they still consider that civil pilots are useless for air defence. I think it is almost admitted that they have shown such skill that there is no doubt that a reserve of civil air pilots is vital to our needs.
The last thing I have to say is this: It has been admitted on all sides that there is leeway to make up. I think it is admitted that in civil aviation we are at least three years behind—I do not say behind every country, but certainly behind the leading countries. In particular, we are behind America, and there is no question of competition with America, except a competition in skill. There is no question of competition in the international sense of the word. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that this is the only way we can take a barometer as to our civil air performances—by using America as the goal we wish to reach. I will not waste the time of the House by describing the excellence of their ground organisation. It may be difficult for hon. Members to believe that 1,500 miles can be flown in a night with aerodromes or landing grounds every 25 miles and beacons every 10 miles. Such a thing has never been conceived in this country, possibly because it is not necessary; but the fact that they have got so far ahead of us proves what I am saying. We have much leeway to make up both on the civil and on the military side. The only way it can be made up on the military side is by a definite agreement 1126 with an Ally who understands how long it will take us to make up our strength, or by going right ahead by ourselves.
The money that is being spent in this country on things far less important than defence takes ones breath away. The wheat farmers have got an indirect subsidy of £6,000,000 from the Treasury, and the beet-sugar producers have got from the same source a subsidy which has run into £4,000,000. If a comparatively small sum, probably one-tenth of what we have given to various industries, had been devoted to the Air Force, we could have had an Air Force which would nearly have fitted into the "real parity" referred to by the Lord President of the Council. I think the result of such strength would have given strength to the European situation, and would probably have helped to make it more peaceful than it is to-day.
I will finish by quoting a few words of the famous Marshal Petain. He is a man not without experience. He was the man about whom Foch said: "If France gets into trouble, send for Petain." Petain was sent for by the French Government, and was Minister of War last year. Only a few weeks ago he was called upon to give an opinion as to whether it was really necessary for France to extend the period of conscription from one year to two, and he gave his opinion with the greatest frankness. He used words which we Englishmen who went through those days—and I am addressing myself more to those who went through that period than to those who never knew it—cannot ignore. They are words which if they are true bring home, in my opinion, that this Debate must not be unreal if it is to be of any use. The 615 men in this House are responsible for 45,000,000 people outside, and if we let them down we shall be very much to blame. Marshal Petain said:The lack of equilibrium between France and Germany next year threatens to become tragic.The reference to next year is particularly significant. He knows that we are behind, and he knows that France is running the risk of losing the equilibrium of safety. He went on:If there is a weak France, then war would only be a question of date.How much worse would it be if there is a weak England, too?
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Major NATHAN
I beg to move,That a number, not exceeding 31,000, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service.This is the first occasion since I have been a Member of this House that I have ever sought to address it on a question arising out of the Service Estimates, and I think the reason for that is not irrelevant to the subject matter of this Debate. I have always felt in the past that there have been, very likely, material and information in the possession of the Government and the Committee of Imperial Defence which were not available to Members of this House, and that this afforded the basis on which the Government were putting forward their proposals. I have felt it difficult to speak, because I thought I should speak in ignorance of relevant facts. That is no longer the case, for the Lord President of the Council, in explaining the White Paper to the House the other day, stated that he justified it on the ground that it told the truth. It follows that we all now know the truth and therefore stand upon an equal footing. At the end of that speech the Lord President went even further, for he said that he believed in telling people the whole facts, so that they might form a judgment wisely, sanely and well. We now, therefore, have the whole facts before us and we are, all of us, equally competent to form a judgment upon this matter. Whether the determination of democracy to which the Lord President appealled would lead to that which he would desire, or whether it would rather, as I hope and believe, lead to that which I and my hon. Friends would desire, is a matter on which he and those on this side may agree to differ. We have been told the truth, so let us refer to the White Paper for the truth. The first statement I find with regard to the Air Force is:Technical development in the air is taking place very rapidly in respect, for example, of such matters as speed, height, endurance carrying capacity, and potentialities for destruction.The Under-Secretary to-day, in that crisp, brisk, business-like statement he made—on which I should like to congratulate him—referred in words which I tried to take down to the changes in aircraft building, both military and civil, being very 1128 rapid. Indeed he went so far as to say that those types that were suitable yesterday were not suitable to-day, and that those that were suitable to-day would not be suitable to-morrow. How then does the right hon. Gentleman justify taking the risks of manufacturing machines to-day and increasing the Air Force to-day when upon his admission of the truth in the White Paper—in the statement confirmed by the Under-Secretary to-day—changes are so rapid that the development authorised to-day may to-morrow prove quite useless in actual practice? The business method of dealing with a matter of that kind is to defer until the last moment you can the purchase of your material and the preparation of your resources. The only justification for an immediate increase in the Air Force can be that the Government are in immediate fear. But are they? I do not think they are, and I hope to satisfy the House from the mouth of the Lord President of the Council himself that the Government are not in any such apprehension as to immediate danger. There is very little in this White Paper that tells the truth with regard to the Royal Air Force being capable of defending this nation. It says, indeed, that the principal role of the Royal Air Force is to protect the United Kingdom. That is the only statement it makes with regard to defence; and of course the reason is that air armaments are no defence. Once again I call in aid, as on all these occasions, the Lord President of the Council, for it was only in November, 1932, in referring to the next war, when he spoke ofcivilisation being wiped out, as it will be,and in speaking to the man-in-the-street, he uttered these solemn words:There is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]Those were his words. No wonder, therefore, that in this document of truth there is very little about air armaments being an effective defence. There is only one defence against air armaments, and I would ask the Committee to believe that I am not using the language of claptrap or partisanship, but am saying what I sincerely believe to be true, when I say that the only defence against air arma- 1129 ments is an agreement to abolish them. Suggestions have been made for their abolition in times gone by, but, when the annals of history come to be written, I fear that the record of the British Government in that respect is not one of which we may be as proud as we should wish. After all, the French Government proposed that the right of bombing should be abandoned. The British Government, I regret to have to say—it is a sad thing to have to admit—insisted upon the right to use bombs, for a limited purpose no doubt as the Under-Secretary said today, namely, for police purposes on the outskirts of the Empire. But what a small thing it was that we claimed—a thing of small value, hypothetical, speculative, questionable in every sense of the term; and what a real gain we abandoned—a gain actual, immediate, certain. We have obtained and retained something of which we can scarcely speak without blushing for it; whenever we mention it we have to apologise; and we have abandoned that which would be not merely a safeguard for ourselves but for the world, something of which we might for ever have been proud. It is true that the Foreign Secretary, in the debate last Monday, said that bombing had nothing to do with this question of air armaments. His line was a different one. It was high time, he said, that everyone realised what the difficulty was, because it was a very important one. The difficulty, he said, was civil aviation; that was the problem which remained to be threshed out, and which had to be mastered. It would be perfect folly, he went on to say, to pretend that we should be abolishing the dangers and horrors which might result from military aviation if civil aviation were left untouched.
Let us, for argument's sake, accept that statement of the position. What, then, have the Government been doing to get over the difficulty? Lord Londonderry, the Secretary of State, last year cast aside with scorn the proposal that civil aviation should be controlled. He said he was not prepared to hamper the fullest development of civil aviation in every country for civil and commercial purposes. The Under-Secretary of State at the same time or a few weeks later, said that there were grave objections to internationalising civil aviation, because the removal of 1130 competition would hamper its development. In the Debate to-day the right hon. Gentleman discussed almost light-heartedly, if I may say so without being-thought offensive, the suggestion that the Air Force should be internationalised and put under the League of Nations. He dismissed it almost with a gesture, and yet it is the vital problem which the Government of this country and every Air Minister will have to face—the problem of mastering the air arm and at the same time making adequate international arrangements with regard to civil aviation. Of course there are difficulties. There are formidable objections, no doubt. But the prize to be gained is immeasurable, and I ask the Government to seek it.
Although little is said in the White Paper about defence, it is stated that a strong and powerful air force is a deterrent to a foreign foe. We have been told time and again that an air force cannot intercept and ward off hostile aeroplanes, but that the only defence against air attack is the fear of reprisals. The theory goes that we must have as strong an air force as the potential aggressor, not to ward him off, because that is admittedly impossible, but to take from him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It seems to me that it is very much like the much debated question of the abolition of capital punishment. The argument goes that hanging does not prevent murders but it acts as a deterrent, and apparently there would be more murders if there were no hangings. That is a very dubious argument. When we hear Government spokesmen admitting that true air defence consists mainly in the apparent influence of a stronger and stronger air force, and that is an argument valid in the mouth of every Government, then it is not only an argument which seems to me dubious but it is an argument which is circuitous. Is a strong air force really a deterrent? I have drawn the attention of the Committee to the statement in the White Paper in Clause 25 that the only deterrent to an armed aggressor is in the possession of adequate means of counterattack. That is the White Paper. But is the whole of the truth in the White Paper, because the Secretary of State for Air takes a different view. On page 4 of the memorandum of the Secretary of State, his view is as follows, and it seems 1131 to be far more in line with the true position:His Majesty's Government take the view that the conclusion of such a Pact should be of the utmost value in the maintenance of European peace, as affording a powerful deterrent to aggression.Which is right, the truth proclaimed in the White Paper or the truth proclaimed in the memorandum of the Secretary of State, because they are entirely inconsistent? Is it "J. R. M." on the 1st March, or is it "Londonderry" on the 27th February who makes the statement declaratory of Government policy? Is it a strong Air Force or is it an air pact? We are entitled to an answer to those contradictory statements, both of them appearing in Government documents placed before the Committee for the purpose of this very occasion.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must not interrupt unless the hon. and gallant Gentleman in possession of the Floor gives way.
§ Major NATHAN
I have something more to say, and I am anxious not to take up more of the time of the Committee than is necessary. What is it that we have to fear? The Lord President of the Council told us on 28th November:There is no ground for undue alarm and still less for panic. There is no immediate menace confronting us or anyone at this moment, no actual emergency.Those were the words of the Lord President of the Council on the 28th November, and he went on to say:We might easily draw the conclusion that we are not in the front rank in many things pertaining to the air, that the foreigners do things better than we, and that, in fact, we are getting behind all round. That is not the case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 879, Vol. 295.]What then have we to fear? It is not France that we have to fear. She is much too preoccupied, and certainly has no fear of any attack by this country. Is it Holland, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, 1132 the United States? Can it be Russia or even Japan? No, Sir; we fear at this moment attack from the frontier of this country which he told us, is the Rhine. Germany is re-arming. Germany has made her announcement, but it is no surprise to us that Germany is re-arming. That was known when the right hon. Gentleman made his declaration in July last. It was known in still greater detail when he made his statement in November last. That was the reason and the occasion for his making the statement. He invited an explanation from Germany. He expressed the wish that everyone in Germany should read his words, all his words, and among his words were the suggestion that Germany would make clear what in fact she was doing. She has made it clear. We are told as a result that we must have parity. A cross-examination took place between the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the Lord President and the Under-Secretary of State, and I think the Treasury Bench had the better of the Debate. The argument is that we must have parity. What is the position, the statement of the truth upon which British democracy is to form a judgment well, sanely and wisely? I quote again from the Lord President of the Council in his speech of the 28th November. That speech is a brief against these Air Estimates. He said:Germany can produce the aircraft rapidly, if she chooses, and she can rapidly produce men, if she chooses, but a country which has for years possessed no military air force starts under a very severe handicap, and it must necessarily be some time before, from a military point of view, such a force can be equal in efficiency to a force which would have behind it, ever since the War, the whole of the technique of its training under which men were trained in the War and have been trained ever since.That was not all that the right hon. Gentleman said on the question of parity. He said:It is not the case that Germany is rapidly approaching equality with us. …. Even if we confine the comparison to the German air strength and the strength of the Royal Air Force immediately available in Europe, Germany is actively engaged in the production of service aircraft, but her real strength is not 50 per cent. of our strength in Europe to-day. As for the position this time next year, if she continues to execute her air programme without acceleration and if we continue to carry out at the present approved rate …. we estimate that we shall still have 1133 in Europe a margin—in Europe alone—of nearly 50 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols. 880–82, Vol. 295.]It is true that the Under-Secretary of State has to-day made some slight modification of that statement. He states that at the end of the year we shall still have a superiority over the Germans.
§ Major NATHAN
I have the approval of the hon. Member opposite, who is a supporter of the Government. We shall still have superiority. Why then this cry for parity? The right hon. the Lord President said further that we must have a force as strong as the strongest force within striking distance. On his own statement and on the statement of the representative of the Air Ministry we have not only parity now, but we shall have more than parity at the end of the present calendar year. The truth of the matter is that the Government have abandoned the whole post-war conception of the collective peace system and have gone back to the old balance of power. Yet the safety of not only this nation but of the nations of the world depends upon the adoption of a system of pooled security. Parity is the antithesis of pooled security. The Government are acting as if pooled security were an impossibility and as if there were no League of Nations.
I would ask the Government why they choose this particular moment for presenting these increased Estimates? Has not the situation improved since the proposals were first made by the right hon. Gentleman in July of last year? The Saar plebiscite has removed outstanding difficulties between France and Germany, and within the last few days Germany has made a declaration of conscription on the one hand but, on the other, a declaration of her interest and desire that an opportunity should be made to discuss and negotiate a peace, and that she was anxious for the honour of being a guarantor of that peace. That was a great advance. As I understand, the reply of the German Government to the Note of the British Government is that she is anxious to discuss with the British Government the very matters which arise out of the Anglo-French conversations and the Note of the 3rd of February.
1134 Why at the moment, when these conversations are about to begin in Berlin, should the Government choose to bring forward these increased Estimates? Would it not have been better to have awaited the result of the visits of the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal to Berlin, Moscow and Warsaw? Would it not have been better diplomacy to have secured, or tried to have secured, even if you fail, the four cardinal points of European peace. First, a Western European pact, secondly, an Eastern European pact, thirdly, a Central European pact and, fourthly, an arms convention. Would it not have been desirable to have made that attempt before coming forward with this increased Estimate. What is the hurry? Do the Government seriously consider that there is an immediate fear of a sudden air attack by Germany in the west against France and against this country, in both of which cases we are involved. If the Government are afraid of that; let them say so frankly and we shall know how to meet the situation, but if not then I say that the tactics and diplomacy of the Government are unintelligible and extraordinarily unskilful. Let them tell the House frankly what is their information. The Prime Minister, whom I do not quote often with approval but I do on this occasion, once said that increased armaments never yet made for peace. Do they make for peace now? Do they in the air, where we are most vulnerable and where we are more closely linked to the continent than ever before? In the Memorandum attached to the Estimates the Secretary of State for Air refers to the desirability of arrangements:which will facilitate an early limitation of the air forces of the world by general international agreement.Do the Government really think that these increased Air Estimates, brought forward in the circumstances of the moment, are apt to facilitate an early limitation of the air forces of the world by general international agreement? We are at one in seeking that objective, but we fear that the Government may have degraded the opportunity.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
I do not wish to follow the extraordinary speech just made by the hon. and gallant Member for North-East 1135 Bethnal Green (Major Nathan), but I would like to say that perhaps no speech ever made in this House has been more misconstrued than that made by the Lord President, which was quoted by the hon. and gallant Member, or rather misquoted by him, when he said that there was no defence against air attack. What the Lord President said was that some machines would always get through. That is a very different thing from there being no defence whatsoever. If there were no defence all machines would get through and that would leave us in a position very different from that which the hon. Member tried to make out that the Lord President had depicted for this country. The hon. Member asked, Which was the truth? Were we to rely on a strong Air Force or on pacts? Neither contradicts the other in the least. If you are to rely on pacts you must have a certain strength of Air Force, or no one will think it worth while to make a pact with you.
Further than that I will not follow the hon. Member. I do not wish to touch on military aviation, but I would like to say, in passing, that I do not believe that what matters most is the number of the machines you possess. What matters is the efficiency of such machines as you possess, and, most important of all perhaps, your capacity for the mass production of these machines in time of war. At present we have no machine which unskilled labour is capable of producing in large numbers in time of war, and that is the question which has to be faced and conquered by this country. Otherwise the money spent on military aviation will always be largely wasted.
I would like for a few moments to touch on the experimental services, the Vote for which I notice has been increased by £16,000. I am very delighted that this service has received this extra money, but I greatly deplore the fact that part of it has been voted to the extraordinary service, I do not know whether to call it a grant proper or a kangaroo service, which is to allow Imperial Airways to have one aeroplane rising from another aeroplane. That would have been a very laudable attempt 10 years ago, but to-day I consider it both dangerous and entirely out of date. I was not in the least surprised, therefore, that it has the whole-hearted sup- 1136 port of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander).
§ Mrs. TATE
The hon. Member cannot expect me to appreciate the very few occasions on which he honours the Government with his support. I would like to refer briefly to private flying. I believe that the development of private flying is of immeasurable importance. It gives work to our aircraft factories, which badly need it; and it is private flying which is going to give us our potential reserve of pilots in time of war. Many people hold that that reserve of pilots will come from commercial aviation. I do not agree with them. I believe it is the private flier who will form our reserve. A certain amount has already been done to encourage private flying. The Under-Secretary to-day spoke of the satisfactory position of private flying, and said that we had a larger number of private licences in this country, in proportion, than were held in the United States of America. It has been the fashionable thing this afternoon to congratulate the Under-Secretary on his speech. As a brilliant speech and as a soporific it was a very fine performance indeed. Personally, I considered that it was a wonderful misrepresentation of fact. I really believed after hearing that speech that my right hon. Friend has missed his vocation and that he ought to have been a contortionist or an illusionist. I think that the use which he made of the report of the Federal Aviation Commission of America was most extraordinary. He quoted just those passages which suited him and he did not hesitate to leave out even from those passages the bits that were not to his purpose. I have a copy of that report in my hand and it happens to be a report which I know extremely well.
With regard to private licences, I do not think it matters how many private licences are taken out. What matters is the efficiency of the private fliers. This report tells us that it is estimated that in America there are at least 2,500 aircraft in genuine private use. That means that there are 2,500 genuine owners of private aircraft and that, I think, is a figure of substantial importance. The owner of a private aeroplane is a man who is in constant practice and is keeping his licence 1137 really up to date and is probably a very skilled flier. While we are on the subject of private licences, I must refer to the fact that, although, in 1933, 977 "A" licences were taken out, 763 lapsed in that year. There are different views as to why these private "A" licences lapsed, I think that what has been done to encourage flying by making "A" licences easier has not always been to the advantage of the continuance of the "A" licence.
We have for instance provided that an "A" licence shall be granted for three hours solo flying. I would like to press that that figure should be raised to 25 hours. I believe that one deterrent to the continuance of private licences to-day is the fact that a man or woman who has learned to fly and has got a licence, after three hours solo flying, has just reached the stage at which he or she can fly round the home aerodrome but is afraid to go any further. The holder of the "A" licence in those circumstances has simply begun to realise his own abysmal ignorance and that is a deterrent to going any further. I also believe that it should be an imperative condition of every "A" licence that the holder should undergo a course of navigational instruction. In connection with all schools of flying which receive Government grants it should be a condition of the grant that a certain course in navigation is insisted upon before an "A" licence is granted. A knowledge of navigation is almost as important as a knowledge of how to control the machine.
I should also like to say, while on the subject of private flying, that I would be very glad if we could have in this country a standardised medical test for "A" licence holders. I am not pressing either for a more severe test or a more lenient test but simply for a standardised test. At present, any medical practitioner can pass a man or woman for an "A" licence. Their standards naturally vary and very often undue pressure is brought to bear upon them. They very often have no knowledge whatever of what is really necessary medically for the air, and very often have not the necessary apparatus with which to carry out the test if they had the knowledge. It would be an enormous advantage if there were a certain number of doctors set apart as air 1138 physicians who were qualified to pass people for "A" licences and to give the medical certificate. I press that very strongly.
I would like to turn to commercial aviation. I notice that there is an increase of £59,000 on the whole of civil aviation. I do not believe that mere expenditure of money is of any value whatever. What matters is what we are getting in turn for that money. Therefore, I cannot join in congratulating my right hon. Friend simply because there is an increase in expenditure. I very much deplore the fact that, because aviation was given a tremendous impetus by the War, we almost invariably connect aviation with military service. In aviation man was given the greatest power that has ever been bestowed upon him towards peace and an increase in trade. I regard aviation as the greatest potential power for peace that mankind has been or ever can be given. The idea that aviation is mainly militaristic underlies a large proportion of the speeches that we hear in the House and the articles that appear in the Press. I believe that to be a very great tragedy for aviation and the world. With regard to our present commercial services—and when you speak of the commercial services of this country you can only speak of Imperial Airways—it is because I believe they cannot extend our trade interest in comparison with the services of other countries that I wish to criticise them. I know that my right hon. Friend will realise that those of us who criticise the Estimates do so from a genuine love of flying and a belief in aviation, and not from any desire merely to criticise. As the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) pointed out, the speeds of our machines are too slow. I will not give again the quotations he made from the report of the Federal Aviation Committee. I do not believe that we can afford to go on being as slow as we are. One of the grounds on which we always excuse our extraordinarily low speed is that of safety, but, as the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey pointed out, we have not as high a safety record as the United States. He also quoted figures to prove that fact.
It has always been said that we provide a safer and more comfortable service 1139 than anyone else in the world. Of course that is a statement that the English people love to swallow wholesale, because there is nothing that the English nation loves to be told so much than that everything they do and possess is the best in the world. I have a large percentage of Scottish and Irish blood mixed with my English blood, and I prefer to see things as they are, and to examine with the greatest care the extraordinary statements that the English are so fond of making. I do not consider Imperial Airways comfortable at all, and they certainly are not the safest in the world, although they offer a very high degree of safety. We have heard lately that new machines are under order for Imperial Airways which will carry 58 passengers at a cruising speed of 150 miles an hour. The larger and faster the machine the more perfect the ground organisation must be. These machines are not to be ready for two years. Shall we in two years' time have a ground organisation for such machines? If so, where is the money to come from? The sum allotted to ground organisation in the Estimates to-day is not adequate for the purpose. The Federal Aviation Commission have said that the expense of laying down ground organisation in the United States was between £40 and £100 per mile of the aviation route. I venture to say without fear of contradiction that if that is the cost in a civilised country like the United States, the cost for the Empire airways over countries in many parts not civilised with extremely difficult climatic conditions will probably be greater. I ask, again, where is the money coming from? My right hon. Friend in the course of his speech made a most remarkable statement with regard to the expansion of our routes. He said that, of course, they would not be expanded for some years, but after all years have a habit of going by very quickly. I imagine that what the right hon. Gentleman insinuated was that the years go by quickly for Britain and stand still for other countries. I think that is unduly optimistic. I believe if we are going to have air routes we ought to have radio beacons, floodlit aerodromes, and that every machine ought to be fitted with an automatic pilot. We have at present, I believe, the best pilots in the world, and 1140 yet we expect them to pilot their machines with the most extraordinarily primitive apparatus. It is not sufficiently realised to-day how very rapidly the air routes of the world are falling into the hands of foreigners. For some years the United States has run the Pan American services with no harm to any fare-paying passenger since 1929, when they were inaugurated on a route round South America. The French and the Germans also have routes to these countries. Let us not forget that we are allowing other countries to get ahead of us with services to South America where we have no less than £400,000,000 invested. The Pan American Airways were disappointed in not starting the Trans-Atlantic service, for which hangars have been constructed at Long Island in New York. Instead, they propose to run a Trans-Pacific service to China via Honolulu and a ship will be leaving shortly on that mission. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the tremendous effect this will have psychologically on the minds of foreigners, when they see these efficient foreign air lines in their country. The French and the Belgians have run services right across India. Once we lose command of an air route it will be very costly to recapture. I do not believe that any land service is a perfect service to the Empire, for it can always be interrupted in time of war.
I have pointed out the enormous difficulties, but we have got to have rapid communication with our Empire, and I ask how it can be done. I believe the Empire air services should be run coastwise with seaplanes. These services could be run in conjunction with shipping companies who could still retain an interest in the mail contracts and passengers who desire speed. To-day British shipping, which is one of our national industries, has been dealt a terrible blow, and aviation, if we are not careful, is going to deal a still greater blow to British shipping. In the past we have been the carrying nation of the world and we cannot afford to lose that position. I would like to quote that well known saying about Great Britain: "Take away her merchant fleets, take away the Navy that guards them: her Empire will come to an end and Britain will become once more an insignificant island on the North 1141 Sea." It is only by running a seaplane service in connection with shipping companies that we shall be able to continue as the carrying nation of the world and to save British shipping from its death blow. Our ports and harbours lie all over the world. Our Empire has the longest coastline, and we have the finest sea routes, coastal light services and radio services in the world, and radio communications can always be obtained by ships at sea. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I have waited all day to deliver this speech and studied aviation for years, and I intend to make my speech whether hon. Members talk or whether they do not.
If the sea routes throughout the Empire are examined it will be seen that there is no passage from port to port which is too far for the best modern seaplane to traverse with ease with a full load. The saving in fuel costs will be tremendous. Oil tankers could take supplies direct to the seaplane bases. The Diesel engine, too, has arrived, and by its use of cheap oil would enormously reduce the cost of the seaplane services. Such services could become a profitable venture without any Government subsidy whatever, except a just payment given for mails carried. But there is no British seaplane in existence to-day and no British seaplane which could be produced within two years from this date which is capable of performing the service which I have described. There is, I know, a large section of people in this country who believe that the one patriotic thing is to say, "Buy British under all circumstances whether British is best or whether it is not." I give place to no man or no women in my love for my country, but I think it is a far greater form of patriotism to say, "Give this country adequate tariffs, and after that nothing but the best is good enough for Britain." The best seaplanes to-day are not found in this country. [Interruption.] They are not constructed in this country, and the hon. Member's interruption was completely unworthy of any Member of this House.
In order to run a service such as I have described it would be necessary to buy the rights of the best seaplanes manufactured in America and have them constructed in our own British yards. We have the finest aluminium alloys and the finest light steels in the world, and we 1142 could give employment to thousands and, incidentally, save this country millions of pounds. We have been, I believe, and still are, deplorably lacking in technical advisers in the construction of aircraft. It is not for me to attribute the blame, but I say we ought to take advantage of what other nations who have spent large sums of money on constructing aircraft have learned. Let us construct those best ships. We should save our shipping industry, and should have an Empire service which no war could interrupt and which would cost but a fragment of the subsidy that we give already in respect of beet sugar and to that extraordinary and peculiar idea, that enormous Cunarder, We would also render a service to British trade for which future generations would thank us for ever.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. DORAN
I cannot refrain from a little reply to the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan). One of his main points was that the National Government had pleaded for the entire abolition of air armaments. On behalf of those colleagues with whom I have the honour to be acquainted, I say to him: We are prepared to see the entire abolition of air armaments, provided that your foreign friends will follow our good example. I am willing to put my gun to one side when I am assured that your gun is well out of the way, but I would become a Member of the Opposition if I were foolish enough to destroy my gun and leave the other fellow to keep possession of his. I have tried to follow hon. Members' wonderful reasoning to-night and I have noticed that they have referred to other countries. It is always the old, old story, rightly or wrongly. [Interruption.] They are always wonderfully fond of referring to other countries, but it has never yet dawned upon their simple imaginations that the responsibility of Great Britain is five times more than any other country in creation. It has never come to their knowledge that we have got control of livelihoods. [Interruption.] I will put those people just exactly where I want them. So long as hon. Members want peace, the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran) is going to show you how to get it. When these little narrow-minded 1143 Englanders, with their warped ideas of Imperial destiny and defence, endeavour to compare this Great Britain of ours with the insignificant countries of the world, I wonder where they have received their political education. Whether I am right or wrong, I look upon these tight little islands of the Northern seas as the one great depository of the principle of liberty and freedom on which the welfare of the world depends. To-day I have listened very patiently to the usual pacifist piety from the other side, and I have not heard one word uttered against any other country except our own. I suppose, because they belong to it, they look upon it as the easiest means of attack. I suppose because you are allowed to be part of it, you take advantage of the hospitality granted you. I suppose, because you can in name turn round and say you are British, you are entitled—
§ Mr. MANDER
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member in order in addressing you, Captain Bourne, in language of this kind?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I understood the hon. Member was saying that I was a member of the British race. I believe I am.
§ Mr. DORAN
In making that remark, Captain Bourne, I intended to convey to you a compliment, because to be a member of the British race to-day, believe me, is 100 per cent. guarantee of honesty and decency in the world, and if I addressed that remark to you, it was a complimentary remark. I meant to say that those who assumed the honour I tried to bestow upon you and who outraged that principle of hospitality that we had granted to them, were the last people in the world who should bite the hand that fed them, and they ought to be the last in the world to cast a stigma on the only country in the world that gives them sanctuary. I am not going to waste my time on the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan), only when he tells me and the House that we, the British people, shall give to the League of Nations the control of the British Empire, I say that there is something in our Imperialism, there is something in 1144 our way of interpreting the principle of liberty, which the rest of the world has not quite been able to grasp. It has been liberty that has made the British Empire, and it is liberty that is binding it together to-day, and if you think for one minute that we on this side are going to relinquish 485,000,000 people, one-fifth of the habitable globe, four-fifths of the world's population—of every language and every race, of every colour and aspiration—and leave them to a committee of polyglot foreigners, you make a devilish bad mistake.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member's remarks are quite interesting, but I still fail to relate them to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. DORAN
I have heard remarks this afternoon in connection with the Vote. The Amendment is for the reduction of 2,000 men in the Air Force. In other words, it implies: Let us reduce, and reduce and reduce. Let us so subordinate ourselves that the other nations of the world will follow our example. I am going to quote the annual conference report of the Labour party, represented by those paragons of excellence who sit opposite to me. This is what the chairman said in opening the Southport conference of 1934:It is more than ten years since the Italian people became the first victims of Fascist dictatorship. Recollection of the cruelty and brutality by which that bondage was established has become dim with the passage of time. It required only the unleashing of Nazi ferocity in Germany to reopen the eyes of the world to the growing peril of this sinister system of political, economic and intellectual slavery.That is what their chairman said. I give another example:Fascism and Nazism represents the most aggressive form of military nationalism. Mussolini has bluntly declared that war is for the man what children are to the woman, and in a speech at the end of the recent Italian manoeuvres he asserted 'We must not prepare for a war to-morrow but for a war to-day.'This is where I am going to speak very straight to-night. There is an old saying in Ireland—and I am very proud to be a son of that country though born in England, of which I am equally proud. That saying is, that no matter how many singing lessons you give to a pig, all you get out of it is a grunt. We on this side have been gentlemen. We have tried to keep peace; we have tried to use the 1145 ordinary methods of courtesy and the ordinary terms of dignity; but they have been lost upon you, and now the time has come for us to tell you where to get off. This is what I am going to tell you; whether you like it or not makes not the slightest difference to me. You have insulted every nation in the world. You have insulted Italy; you have insulted Germany; you have insulted America; you have insulted France; and, in your blind, low-down, uncouth fanaticism against capitalism, you have never had the brains to understand what you really mean when you speak. After insulting all the nations in the world, the right hon. Gentleman who speaks for the Opposition makes the declaration that the National Government has failed, that Labour is coming into office next time, that he is going to be the Prime Minister—God forbid, but we all know that funny things come up after a shower. You have told the world—I am serious in saying this—that Labour is going to take charge of the next Government. Your own report contains the most diabolical insults against Fascism and Nazi-ism, but the most remarkable thing in all that business is that not one word is said about Bolshevism in Russia. I would like to know the names of your paymasters—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I still cannot see what connection the hon. Member's speech has with the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. DORAN
I again apologise to you, Captain Bourne. I may, in my enthusiasm, have gone beyond the bounds, and I make the necessary apologies to the Chair. I come down to the air—and I will say this: I joined the Army in 1914, and I am old enough to remember the scenes in London when the Zeppelins came over. I am also old enough to remember that my friends on the other side ran like sewer-rats into the Underground, to shelter themselves from the Zeppelins. The very people who to-night are voting for a reduction in the Air Force were the first people to screech out and demand to know where our airmen were. If they were in a foreign country they would be the first to screech out for the Army and the Navy to protect their miserable bodies. There is another time coming, and it will not be long. I have heard iniquitous humbug from that side of the House. I have heard all this talk about those in foreign countries 1146 being such wonderful people, but I have not heard one of you say a good word for the country that gives you sustenance. Whatever happens in the world today, blame it on to Britain. If anything goes wrong in the East, it is our fault. If anything goes wrong in the West, call up his Majesty's Government to explain. Every other country in the world is a paragon of excellence. I am going to say this whether you like it or not. You have spent your lives in creating class war, hatred, enmity, malice, spite and uncharitableness. You have preached friendliness to the foreigner while you have carried on warfare at home. You have undermined the vitality of youth and you have disturbed the equilibrium of decent living men in this country by means of strikes and lock-outs.
§ Mr. DORAN
My words, in conclusion, are a quotation from the famous Irish poet Thomas Moore, who in 1796 had to face what we have to face to-night. His words were these:Unprized are her sons till they learn to betray,Undistinguished they Jive, if they shame not their sires;And the torch that would light them, through dignity's way;Is snatched from the pile when their country expires.And you on that side hope to gain an unenviable reputation by betraying Great Britain and the public of the British Empire.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
After the spell-binding speech to which we have just listened, I am afraid that I must draw away from the general trend of the discussion. I am afraid that my remarks will not be as exciting as those to which we have just listened, but I hope they will be none the less important. My right hon. Friend in introducing the Estimates made a speech which I found most interesting. It was a feat of memory which made me dizzy. I know a great many people who have great difficulty in remembering their own telephone number, let alone a speech of over an hour's duration. My right hon. Friend said—I hope that I am not misquoting him—that we have great scope for an 1147 expansion of Imperial Services and that there is a good chance of this expansion continuing. I welcome such an expression coming from the Government, as it shows that they fully realise that constant improvement and speeding up of Imperial Communications is enormously to the advantage of a wide-spread Empire. Such an improvement is calculated to bring us closer and to bind us closer than anything else could possibly do. One lesson for this generation is that our Empire, which has been founded on the Sea, must of necessity now be consolidated from the air. This century has produced very few proverbs, but there is a new proverb that is pertinent to this particular Vote, and that is that travel breeds travel.
A resolute policy of the Government in encouraging our Imperial air communications may do more than reap an Imperial reward. I think it is likely within a measurable time to prove so commercially successful that I would ask my right hon. Friend—I do not see him in his place, but no doubt my remarks will be conveyed to him—to leave in his calculations and preparations a definite top margin of expansion in the direction of Imperial communications, so that he should not find himself in a position of being positively embarrassed by too much success. That is a state of affairs which might very easily occur. I should like to give a few figures to prove my statement. The latest figures which are available to me show that Imperial Airways at the moment carry 85 tons of air mail per year to Empire destinations. The total air mail to be carried when all first class air mail is put into the air under the projected Empire air transport scheme is 2,700 tons a year. I ask hon. Members to note the difference between this 2,700 tons air mail, the objective air mail of the future and the 85 tons which are being carried at the moment. When this air mail of 2,700 tons does arrive it will, by itself, necessitate Imperial Airways increasing their fleet from the present number of 36 machines to a number certainly not less than 100, and the Minister and the Ministry know better than I do that it takes at least two years to train a satisfactory first class commercial pilot. To train the pilots necessary for such an 1148 increased fleet it is necessary that a start should be made immediately, and on a scale infinitely larger than anything which has been contemplated up to date.
That is not all. These figures rest upon the assumption that traffic other than air mails is likely to stand still. I do not think that we can make such an assumption. I believe that with the encouragement of a wide and constructive Government policy expansion will be continuous and rapid. There is little doubt that where the calculations made have indicated that we should increase our Imperial air strength to over 100 machines the expansion in the future will in all probability show that we shall need at least 200 machines. I do not say that the Minister is unmindful of these considerations, but the steps taken by the Government to inaugurate new policies in connection with new means of transport are necessarily tentative and sometimes hesitant, but after a few years of encouragement this particular aspect of air transport tends, once the chrysalis stage has been passed, to develop very quickly, in fact with giant strides. There are one or two other points which I should liked to have touched upon, but I am banking on the hope that in confining myself to what I consider to be one sound point with the resultant short speech I shall be doing something more calculated to bear fruit than anything else.
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Sir M. SUETER
I should like, first of all, to congratulate the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mrs. Tate) on her well-informed speech. She spoke under great difficulty, but she showed that she was master of a subject which she has studied for so many years. I should like also to congratulate the Under-Secretary upon the way in which he presented this year's Estimates. He is a practical flyer. He has lately returned from a long trip to the Far East and I feel certain that the experience he gained on that trip will be of great value to the Air Ministry in dealing with aerodromes on our great air routes. When we debated the White Paper on Defence last week I said that I thought the money taken for the Air Estimates was far too little. A sum of £124,000,000 is voted for defence and the Air service gets 1149 only one-sixth of it. Even though extra money is voted for defence, we find that the Air comes last; the older services take most of the money and the Air service gets very little indeed.
We have heard a great deal to-day about what Germany is doing. We have had figures bandied about by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and we have been told what the Lord President said last November about the strength of Germany. I always thought that the Lord President under-estimated the figures of Germany. I feel certain that if the Under-Secretary would study what was said in the French Chamber about the strength of Germany's Air Force he would not have given us the figures that he has given to-day. Germany is re-arming in the Air. She is determined to be a first-class Air power. We are told that she has now something like 7,000 pilots, an enormous number of trained men, and they are to be put into uniform shortly. But it is not the number of aeroplanes that counts. What counts is the productive capacity of a nation. Germany can turn her industries on to producing machines very fast indeed—almost as fast as she did in the Great War. That is what really counts.
In the War we found the greatest difficulty in providing personnel and engines. We were told this afternoon that one German firm alone is turning out 50 engines a week. What are they doing with those engines? They must be putting them into machines. That is why I say that the Lord President's figures were too low. As we are such a vulnerable nation we ought to provide for more money for the Air Service. We are the most vulnerable nation of any, and yet we are only the fifth Power in the Air.
I want to say a few words about research. We have heard a great deal to-day about what America has been doing. But we must remember that during the War we gave America the results of all the technical research work that we had obtained in this country through our scientists, and we also gave them our best machines, and that after the War, while we had to economise America put a great deal of money into aviation services. Their laboratories had all the money required, 1150 and the Americans certainly turned out some very fine machines indeed. The Douglas and other machines, with their all-stream-line form, the retractable under-carriage and variable pitch propellors and so on, were all obtained by patient research work. In this country we have just as good firms for producing aeroplanes, as was shown by the way the Comet machine was built. It took only eleven months to build, and, as everyone knows, it won the race from England to Australia.
What I find some difficulty in understanding is this: We have a lot of scientists working at Farnborough. Do they give the right advice to our technical people? Our technical people at the Air Ministry have to place the orders for machines. We have all these gentlemen working, but I doubt if they give the best advice. I am glad to hear from the Under-Secretary that the Ministry are going to overhaul their research services. I have criticised Farnborough for years and years and I have been laughed at by the Under-Secretary for doing so. I do not think that if he were in his place now he would laugh at me, because apparently it has got to such a state that it has been found necessary, as I say, to overhaul these research services. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether we are getting the right type of scientific help in connection with this new industry, whether the emoluments offered are enough to attract the best brains of the universities to this work, and whether, when an invention is produced, the inventor gets any reward. In America a man who produces an invention gets a very high reward in money. I think that our scientists want some incentive and that they can do really good work. I do not see why we should always have to follow America in air developments. When the Prime Minister was good enough to meet the Air Committee, I told him that we wanted to lead and not always to be last. I hope the Under-Secretary will look into this question. Research work is so important that you cannot really put too much money into it. Everything depends upon it. We want to get the best brains of the country to work for our aviation services.
1151 I am very disappointed that more money has not been given for civil aviation. The Under-Secretary paid a great compliment to the Postmaster-General for his foresight in adopting a progressive policy as to carrying first-class mail matter by air whenever it accelerates delivery to do so. But it is no use for the Postmaster-General to encourage civil aviation, as he is doing, if our aerodromes are not more up-to-date, not only the great air routes but also internally. We should have an aerodrome to the north of London for dealing with the services from the north and it is also necessary to reduce the time involved in getting from London to Croydon. At present it takes three-quarters of an hour. With a modern machine you could fly from Liverpool to London in that time. It is perfectly impossible that such a state of things should be allowed to last and I think the Under-Secretary ought to set up a committee to go into the whole question of speeding up communications between the centres of our large towns and the aerodromes and also to examine the proposals made for an aerodrome in London. We must have more efficiency in that respect. I am glad to see the First Lord of the Admiralty in his place. Last year, in introducing the Navy Estimates he paid a great tribute to the Fleet Air Arm and said it was the spear-head of the Navy. As an old naval air pioneer I was glad to hear that because the Admiralty did not always think along those lines. This year again a great compliment was paid by the First Lord of the Admiralty to the air arm, when he said:But of course the finest example that we see of co-operation between the Navy and the Air Force is in our aircraft carriers, and it is a real pleasure to see these craft at work, combining the many allied problems of the sea and the air. Not less is it a pleasure to see the young officers of both Services working together in great friendship and harmony because future development between these two Services must depend on these young officers of both who in time I hope will come to occupy high positions in their respective Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14 March, 1935. Col. 597, Vol. 299.]Many of the Air Committee went to Weymouth and went on board H.M.S. "Courageous" and saw these young officers being catapulted off the deck of 1152 the aeroplane carrier. It was a wonderful sight to see the way in which they were catapulted off and came back and landed on the carrier within six inches of a line down the centre. I found the Admiral, Sir Alexander Ramsay, taking a great interest in the airmen and doing everything he could to encourage them. That was very different from the old days when I was in the Royal Naval Air Service—
§ Sir M. SUETER
With due respect to you, Captain Bourne, on board this carrier there are Royal Air Force men and officers in addition to naval officers, and the whole point I am making is that the Royal Air Force officers and men work with the naval officers and men. They come on this Vote. I was trying to point out how well they work together, and the First Lord bore that out on the Navy Estimates. Then, again, we have the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) coming to this House fresh from the sea, and he says he wants to break up the Royal Air Force—
§ Sir M. SUETER
He wants to break it up and go back to the Royal Naval Air Service; and, if that were done, the Army would presumably want their air service again. We should then have three air services—the Navy, the Army, and the independent air force. When I was running the Royal Naval Air Service we had the greatest friction with the military aid service. We had two lots of inspectors competing for the same engines and the same materials, and we had competition for personnel, and so on. There 1153 was tremendous friction between the two-Services. The gallant Admiral now wants to have three services and to increase that friction.
§ Sir R. KEYES
I never said anything of the sort. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) asked me whether I would do away with the Royal Air Force. I said I would not do away with it, but I suggested that it should havé less to do with interfering with the domestic arrangements of the Admiralty.
§ Sir M. SUETER
That is precisely what I was saying. The hon. and gallant Member wants to do away with the Air Force as it is now constituted and approved by Parliament and let the Navy have back their small air force. Then the Army would want theirs back. We had the greatest friction when there were two air services, and, if we have three, there will be greater friction still. A separate air service has been approved by Parliament, and I am certain that hon. Members will support me in fighting tooth and nail against splitting it up. When the Admiralty did have their air service, they did not know how to use it, and they threw it overboard. The gallant Admiral also made an extraordinary statement in his speech on the White Paper. He was talking about me, and he said:My hon. and gallant Friend deserves great credit for organising our first Naval Air Service, but since then he has been rather out of date. There have been great developments, and I assure him that the battleship to-day has nothing more to fear from aircraft than from the torpedoes of submarines or destroyers or the guns of its like."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March; col. 138, Vol. 299.]This Admiral of the Fleet comes to this House and says battleships have nothing to fear from the air or torpedoes. I pointed out in my speech the other day that the "Marlborough" was hit in the Battle of Jutland and turned into a lame duck, so that Lord Jellicoe had to send her into port. When you have bombs from the air they must do a certain amount of damage, as was shown in America. I have in my hand pictures of the experiment of the bombing of a German battleship. At 12.37 it started to make a plunge, at 12.38 it was lying on the port side, at 12.39 it was taking the final plunge, and at 12.39¾ it was 1154 totally submerged. And yet the gallant Admiral said bombs do not hurt battleships.
§ Sir M. SUETER
But what the hon. and gallant Member said was that battleships had nothing to fear from bombs; yet that ship seemed to turn turtle in 2¾ seconds. The United States battleship "Virginia" was hit by a 1,100-lb. bomb and was totally wrecked 48 seconds after being hit. The "New Jersey" was also struck by a 1,100-lb. bomb and promptly turned turtle. Yet we are told that bombs do not hurt battleships. I leave it to the House to judge whether a bomb dropped in the vicinity of a ship's propellers would not put it out of action. The hon. and gallant Member for Burnley (Vice-Admiral Campbell) said it would not require an explosive charge to reduce speed. When commanding the "Tiger" during submarine practice and torpedoes were being fired at the ship, one torpedo fired went off with a terrific explosion, so that his crew thought it was carrying a war head instead of a practice head. The torpedo had hit the propeller, which cut into the air chamber which exploded with such force that the propeller was damaged and many rivets leaked aft. The ship had to put back for repairs. Even a weapon without an explosive charge will damage battleships. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth is not a torpedo specialist; though he commanded submarines, he never captained one. He knows little or nothing about explosives detonating under water. I have had considerable experience of them in the Service and am not out of date. But I hate to say anything personal in this House. I should like to take this Debate to a higher plane. I think we ought to have a Minister of Defence who would go into the whole question.
§ Sir M. SUETER
I was about to say that the Air Estimates are far too low. I do not think in this House we should vote money for the repair of obsolete battleships.
§ Sir M. SUETER
I bow to your ruling, Sir. I only wanted to make a short reference to statements which have been previously made.
§ 11.55 p.m.
§ Mr. PERKINS
Questions concerning military and civil aviation are, I feel, now being approached in the House and in the country from two entirely different points of view. There is the point of view held by persons who do fly, and the exactly opposite point of view held by the vast majority of people in the country who do not fly. This majority, in their heart of hearts, wish the aeroplane had never been invented. They regard it as a weapon presented to this world which will ultimately bring about the destruction of our civilisation. They remember the great development of the aeroplane in the War, they remember how bombs were dropped on women and children, how germs and gas were spread from the air, and they visualise some war in the future when all these dire abominations are going to be once again let loose. They believe, really, that this weapon has come for our destruction and not for our benefit. Sometimes they even go beyond that: they believe that pilots are, in the main, a bloody-minded people who are simply out to get at each other's throats and to drop bombs on women and children. To a certain extent this mentality has been helped by the Air Ministry, because out of every £30 we spend on the air, only £1 goes for civil aviation and £29 for military aviation.
Luckily, on the other side, there is the outlook of those of us who do fly, who are perhaps only 1 or 2 per cent. of the population of this country: we do not say to ourselves "I wish aviation had never been invented." We take the line, "Thank God it has been invented." We recall life 10 years ago when there was no civil aviation. Only eight, nine or 10 years ago there were no air lines and now we see almost a daily service to Egypt—a definite daily service is promised for next year—and a weekly service to Australia, or two services a week or more. We see two services a week to India and we realise 1156 that in another 10 years we shall have a daily service. There will be services to all parts of the world. We appreciate the tremendous benefits that machines flying right down the middle of Africa or across India will bring ultimately to people who have, unfortunately, to live in those remote areas.
We should also realise the tremendous benefits the private flyer is going to bring to the world. Ten years ago in England and in Europe there was no private flying, there were no flying clubs, whereas we now see them springing up like mushrooms in all parts of the country. In perhaps 10 or 15 years' time, with this development still going on, we shall have a tremendous number of light aeroplanes. I believe that the young men and women of the next generation, instead of taking their holidays on the back of a motor bicycle, or in a light ear, visiting some seaside resort in this country, will go farther afield by the agency of the cheap light aeroplane which they will be able to buy for about the same price as they now pay for the motor cycle or car. They will go to France, Germany, Austria and to Italy for their summer holidays. When that time comes, and I think it will come in 10 or 15 years, we shall really have done something to bring about peace in Europe. These people will demand that all international barriers, all forbidden areas, all irritating customs, must go. Wherever they go they will make friends; they will meet other pilots and will get to know and understand each other's difficulties. Putting it bluntly, they will become thoroughly internationally-minded. There is that different outlook between those who fly and can visualise such a future and those who do not and who regard those who fly as bloody-minded people anxious to drop bombs on women and children. We believe that the aeroplane has come to stay, that it is not going to destroy our civilisation, and that it is finally going to bring untold benefits upon the Empire as a whole.
I want to make one suggestion to the Under-Secretary. I fully realise that for a very long time, and probably for all time, we shall have to have some form of military aviation. Without a police force in the air, there may be all kinds of trouble and abuse of civil aviation. I 1157 do not want the Under-Secretary to think that I am one of those who wish all military aviation abolished. We are now spending £3,000,000 on military aviation. Suppose we had spent that money on civil aviation in this country, should we not be better off now, from the point of view of defending this country? I want to see a large number of new air services started from this country to the Continent, to Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, etc. It is rather a disgrace, and I think the House ought to know it. I understand from the Press that the Foreign Secretary is to fly to Berlin next week. So far as I know there are four air lines by which he can go; he can go by a Dutch, a French, a Belgian or a German machine, but he cannot go by a British machine, because we do not run an air service to Berlin.
I suggest that if instead of spending £3,000,000 extra on military aviation, we developed in this country an air service to every Continental country we should be better off, for two reasons. We should have a very large number of highly skilled pilots used to taking fast machines at 200 or 250 miles an hour and to finding their way across country in Europe in all conditions of weather. The professional pilot has to go, whether it is foggy, snowing, blowing a gale, raining or whatever the conditions he may find on his road, and he has to get to his destination. The Service pilots only fly when the weather is flyable. I do not condemn the Service pilots, who are magnificent, but when the weather is foggy or bad they do not fly, because the officer commanding does not want to risk the loss of machines or personnel. If we could increase the number of dirty weather pilots by increasing our air liners or developing fast freight machines flying every hour to the Continent, we should be much better off. We should have a very large number of potential day bombers. Everyone knows that the fast freight carrier, can be converted into a fast day bomber in from one to three hours, provided that it is properly designed.
I want to jump to another subject, it is our Imperial air routes. We have invested probably hundreds of millions in the development of railways, roads, canals and shipping, but we have practically spent nothing on developing our 1158 Empire air routes. I suggest that the time is ripe when we should raise a big loan of £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 of money and spend it in the next two years on developing our Empire services, on doubling the number of aerodromes, with one for every 50 miles, improving the night flying facilities, providing beacons every 25 miles, improving wireless facilities, better weather reports, etc. The time will come in the next 10 years when we shall be compelled to do these things, so why not spend the money now, when we can borrow it cheaply, and have the benefit of it now.
I want to ask a question on Vote 4, with regard to the position of airmen who find themselves stationed in Iraq. I was over there the other day and I found a very legitimate "grouse". It was put to me that an airman in India, Egypt, Malaya, Transjordania or Palestine, or any other part of the British Empire was allowed to take his wife with him, but when he came to Iraq and was dumped down in the middle of the desert he was not allowed to have his wife. The reason given was that there were no married quarters provided at Baghdad. I see in this Vote 4 that we are spending about £1,000,000 or £1,500,000 on building a new aerodrome near Bagdad. Would it not be possible to spend first a little more and provide facilities for the married airmen in these new buildings? Many of them are young men of 25 or 27, newly married, who go out there for five years on end, and I am told some of them have children nearly five years old at home who have never seen their fathers. Would it not be possible for some arrangement to be made to help these poor chaps?
Another thing arises on Vote 3, and that is the old question of Farnborough. We are spending about £400,000 there. It has been put to me, and I am inclined to agree with it, that the money is largely wasted, that Farnborough is not much use, and in some cases is actually a drag on the manufacturing industry. Can my right hon. Friend tell the Committee of any single, practical, useful invention which has ever originated at Farnborough or been perfected there in the last five or 10 years? I think of four new inventions which have been of the greatest benefit to the aircraft industry, and all of them have 1159 been invented and perfected by private enterprise. There are slots, there is the lifting under-carriage, there are flaps, and there is the variable pitch propeller. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should carry on with the excellent principle announced to-day and give a prize to the industry, and instead of a prize of £25,000 he should give a really big prize and divide this £400,000 into four sections and give four prizes—one to the firm that in the course of the year first produces the best variable pitch propeller, another to the firm which introduces the most successful type of flap, another £100,000 for the most successful lifting undercarriage, and another for the best slot. If he could do that, shut down Farnborough, and let private enterprise get to work aided by a substantial prize, I believe he would get some substantial results with this money.
§ 12.9 a.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I would not trespass on the indulgence of the Committee but for the fact that this is the only day in the whole year when we have the opportunity of bringing before this House, the Government and the country certain matters in connection with our aeronautical development which we think are of importance. On these particular matters I have had the benefit of the co-operation during the last few months of some of the most eminent members of the British aeronautical community; and we had a few weeks ago reached the stage when we thought we might give the benefit, if such it be, of our conclusions to the Government and the country. Therefore, with the indulgence of the House I would like to place the result of such work as we have undertaken at the disposal of my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet.
The matter which we have been investigating is the position of our internal air lines. Virtually we have none. We have one or two running throughout the year, one service per day—but one service per day is not an air line. We have a few which are running throughout the summer, several services a day. But the country at the moment is completely unorganised for this purpose. Why should we have internal air lines? I think there are many very good reasons why we should, but I will quote just a few of 1160 the principal ones. In the first place, we cannot afford to have our commercial air communications—for passengers, goods and mails—behind those of the whole of the rest of the civilised world. Secondly—and hon. Members who impressed on the electors the importance of tariffs will agree with me immediately on this point—you cannot have a brisk export trade if you have no home consumption. That is exactly our difficulty in the aircraft industry to-day.
My right hon. Friend said this afternoon that, although we now have permission from the French Government to fly from Marseilles to Brindisi, it would not be possible for some time—probably not in 1935 and maybe not in 1936—to carry the whole of the passengers on our Imperial route through by air, and that they would have to continue to go by train. That is because we have no large aircraft in production that anybody can buy without waiting for the long period of design and construction—running in some cases, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) said, to seven years and for civil aircraft possibly two years. This position would be entirely changed if we had a well-organised internal airways system. Obviously, there is also the question of emergency. At the moment, we have not an adequate manufacturing industry if we should need immediate expansion. A large number of civil aircraft would employ many more craftsmen who could be utilised for the manufacture of Service machines in case of war. Further, conversion of these aircraft is effected in a few hours, and thus our internal air liners would materially assist us in that matter. What have we done in this respect? Well, virtually nothing. We have had an Aerodromes Advisory Board to which reference has been made earlier in the Debate. Although that committee is presided over by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest), I think he will agree with me that it is not fulfilling its purpose. It is an advisory committee with no executive powers, and unfortunately it has descended to this abysmal depth, that it is regarded by all who think they ought to be in aeronautical endeavour—architects, civil engineers, and a hundred and one other professions—as a means of obtaining 1161 some aeronautical distinction. As a result of that, the extinction of the committee is, I think, only a matter of a few weeks.
I should like to refer to a letter addressed to Lord Londonderry jointly by the Federation of British Industries, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, and the London Chamber of Commerce, in which they said they were impressed with the necessity for the setting up of a central authority, with statutory powers, which should have charge of the planning of the internal airway organisation, and on which the Government Departments concerned, air transport operators, and insurance and commercial interests, should be represented. But that is only one small part of the problem—the equipment of the air routes. The other part, and by far the more important financially and in every other way, is the provision of aerodromes. Some five years ago the Air Ministry investigated this problem and laid it down that every town or city with over 20,000 inhabitants should have an aerodrome. That would mean 275 aerodromes throughout the British Isles. But even working on that figure such important towns as Malvern, Boston, Chichester or Skipton would have no aerodrome, and it would leave entirely beyond the dividing line such aeronautical pygmies—which no doubt are Gullivers in some other walks of national life—as Carnarvon and Epping. If, therefore, we say that 300 aerodromes are required, we shall not be far away from the mark. What, after 16 years of civil aviation in this country, is the measure of our achievement? It is that we have 20 municipal aerodromes in existence, and for 10 more sites have been purchased. After 16 years the surface of the problem has scarcely been scratched—only to the extent of 10 per cent. so far as regards the air routes mentioned in the letter to Lord Londonderry to which I have referred.
We may assume that there are in this country some 2,000 miles of main air routes which need developing and equiping. At the moment there is only the short Continental route from London to Folkestone or Eastbourne, which is not, of course, in the same category. I should not like to omit reference to several municipalities which have taken this 1162 matter up with zest. Among others I can refer to Bristol, Blackpool, Hull, Manchester, Portsmouth, Southampton and Walsall; but, if hon. Members will bear in mind the fact that only 10 per cent. of the problem has been solved in 16 years, they will agree with me that municipal enterprise in this respect has completely failed. It is not hard to see the reason. In the early days a municipal aerodrome was held out to be in some ways—heaven knows how—a financial asset. Those who possess them know perfectly well that an aerodrome is not a financial asset but a liability. If the towns owned the railway stations and the railway companies took the fares, there would be very little satisfaction for the towns in their ownership of the stations. That is exactly the same position.
Therefore we have to start and investigate this problem de novo, and we suggest that here is an opportunity for the Government to apply just those principles which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his recent platform duels with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said are acceptable to the Government, namely, the expenditure of public money on productive public works. We suggest in this particular instance that there should be first-class airports of 200 acres costing approximately, on an average, £150 an acre, or £30,000 for land, preparation of land at £100 an acre, £20,000, building and equipment of the airport, £75,000, or a total for each airport of £125,000. Probably there would be 40 first-class airports, and thus their total cost would be £5,000,000. In the second class, costing possibly two-thirds of this figure, £80,000, there would be 60 airports, and again approximately £5,000,000 would be necessary. The balance of 200 of the 300 which I said would be necessary we may regard as third class airports, costing a third of the cost of the first class airports, £40,000 each, and this would require £8,000,000. The equipment of all the necessary routes both with lighting and radio and with what is most important—and I have heard it mentioned several times here and I saw it in America—the teletype. The way they operate the machine in America enables you to go to any airport and see the teletype printing out the isobars on the 1163 weather map, which is essential if you are to have a regular airline system.
All that could certainly be done at a figure of approximately £2,000,000. It might be much less if one went into details; I think that it should be less than that amount. The whole country could be organised in a first class style, and for ever, for a sum of approximately £20,000,000. If we regard that in the light of our other aeronautical expenditure, it is a very large sum, but if the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members will look a little into the future they will realise that, if we reckon interest at as high a figure as 5 per cent., it is only £1,000,000 per year for that vast national asset. May I recall to hon. Members the fact that if the Road Fund had been inaugurated ten years earlier, and £20,000,000 had then been expended with commendable foresight much money would have been saved in these later years. The sum of £1,000,000, in view of the development in aircraft which I believe will take place in the next decade, will be as nothing, in the same way as £1,000,000 to the Road Fund is nothing to-day.
Therefore, I would say to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and to the Government, that we are here suggesting a sound policy for the expenditure of public money upon productive public works, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has indicated, that he will not fear investigation, so, if our proposals have any merit, we also shall be only too happy to give the benefit of such proposals as we have been able to elucidate. In conclusion, I should like to do what I omitted to do at the beginning of my speech, to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his admirable speech and to acknowledge his graceful reference to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. He has been an inspiration to British aviation, and I greatly appreciate the reference which my right hon. Friend made to the Postmaster-General.
§ 12.26 a.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I should like to associate myself with the general scheme adumbrated by my hon. Friend. It is an extraordinary thing that, although we have so many devices and plans in relation to industry, we have no national air- 1164 way scheme to deal comprehensively with air traffic throughout the the country. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied with the progress that is being made with the ordinary aerodromes in the country to equip themselves to take air traffic. The municipal aerodromes of first class importance mentioned by my hon. Friend are totally inadequate to take night flying, facilities for which must exist if we are to have a proper air service throughout England. We should not hesitate to establish, if necessary, a National Airways Board for this purpose. A municipal aerodrome is to be opened by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or the Noble Lord the Secretary of State in the next month or two in the city of Leicester which, I am glad to say, will be fully and adequately equipped for its purpose. It will be the first aerodrome north of Hatfield—apart from the private aerodrome of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), who has done so much for private aviation—to be properly equipped for night flying. If I am wrong I hope that I shall be corrected, but I believe there are no such aerodrome facilities elsewhere north of Hatfield.
We must get the people of this country air-minded and air-conscious, and one way to do that is to get rid once for all of any idea that air traffic is to be confined to one section of the community. For that reason I hope that at all the municipal aerodromes there will be free outdoor facilities to attract visitors who may go there having for the moment no interest in flying and no desire to fly, but being attracted by the open-air facilities. In that way much could be done to make the public air-minded and air-interested.
I want particularly to direct my remarks to some criticism that has been levelled against our Empire services. It is very easy to criticise and to lose one's sense of perspective in so doing. We ought to derive a good deal of satisfaction from the fact that, however necessary, there may be temptation for the Royal Air Force particularly to establish itself, it is vitally important to see substantial progress in civil aviation. Remarkable progress has been made in the comparatively short time that the schemes have been in existence. I hope there will be 1165 no divorcement at all between civil and military aviation in the department of the Air Ministry. We often hear it said that if it did come about things would be very much better, but nobody ever indicates to what department civil aviation should go or how you could have duality of research, duality of invention and duality of staff. I hope that for the time being and, indeed, for a long while to come there will be no question of divorcing these two branches.
In the ten years or so that Imperial Airways have been in existence they have established a system of air traffic throughout the Empire which I have found on personal examination on a journey from Croydon to Capetown and back is very little short of an amazing achievement, when you consider the difficulties under which they have laboured and the wholly different aspect which any route such as Croydon to Capetown presents as compared with that, say, from New York to San Francisco. There is no real comparison, in my humble view, between a route across one country, without any difficulties of customs and without any distinction of ownership or control, and a journey such as Imperial Airways undertakes from Croydon to Capetown, through varying countries with different climatic conditions and through a diversity of control and customs. I would like to remind the House that the real mandate of Imperial Airways is that from year to year it has exercised its best endeavours to make the service self-supporting and with a very limited and annually reducing subsidy. We know that for the first time this subsidy is going to be slightly increased in 1935 and that that increase is due mainly to the urgent necessity of providing for the improvement and development of the ground organisation on Empire routes and to facilitate flying by night as well as by day. In the service that now exists every night is spent on land. I hope, when the new scheme which my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary adumbrated in the House just before Christmas comes into force, there will be a complete linking up with the Empire by means of night flying as well as by day which will require the beaconing of Africa.
I congratulate the Department on the fact that there is a regular twice- 1166 weekly service to the uttermost extent of the Empire by the all-British Imperial Airways Service, which can hold its head as high as any transport service throughout the world as a masterpiece of efficient and safe organisation, with a perfected system of ground work. It is perfectly true that some of the machines are five or six years old, and I would hope that the subsidy would never be kept up if it meant flying with obsolete machines. But new machines must be ready and available, and, if there be one service in regard to which a subsidy is really worth while and which is a national investment, it is a subsidy to help to bring together more than anything else the far distant parts of the Empire by a regular service, based on a safe and efficient system.
I think we should realise more than ever before what a vital part air transport is playing in the affairs of the Empire and the immense potentialities which it has in bringing nation to nation in common aims and aspirations. The two great trunk routes now operating in the British Empire, one from London right across the Mediterranean and through Africa down to Capetown, and the other through the Near and Middle East to India, Burma and Australia, make a total of something like 21,000 miles, over which regular services are operating with unfailing accuracy. I had personal experience of that accuracy when on my recent journey from Croydon to Capetown and back. The scheduled time of departure was never departed from, and at no time was there any delay at all in leaving any one of the stations according to the time schedule. It is a trait in regard to our outlook on these matters to criticise and try to depreciate home activities, but I do not think we ought to lose our proper sense of perspective. We hear glib talk about 250 miles an hour which other machines are said to do, but it is a totally exaggerated speed. What can be done in an isolated occasional air race cannot be compared with a bi-weekly regular and safe passenger service throughout the Empire.
I believe when the time comes, it will be found that the romance of this century has been the work done by the services of Imperial Airways, fostered by the Air 1167 Ministry, which will be judged to be one of the outstanding achievements, and which has been realised, moreover, in a comparatively short time. We have heard with a good deal of pleasure that it has been decided that within two years all first class mails shall be carried by air mail throughout the Empire. I hope we shall properly appreciate the great step that this means. Imperial Airways, which has been associated with the Department of State responsible for the air service, has received a good deal of criticism, but when that criticism is considered I believe it will be found that nowhere in the world, with such a small amount of public assistance, is there the same reliable service as is now carried on from England right through the Empire by that service. If you begin to compare this small expenditure year by year with the expenditure in America on the pan-American system or with that in any other Continental country, it will be found that this country is running this air transport throughout the Empire at an infinitely smaller cost than that of any other country in which air services operate.
I do hope that while we declare ourselves to be the very first to come into any convention which will bring peace throughout the world by the universal limitation of air armaments, we shall equally see that we are never behind in the matter of inventions or scientific achievements which will help to make more safe, more popular and more efficient and cheap, the air services from this country throughout the Empire, by means of a regular system of air transport lines.
§ 12.40 a.m.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
It is a serious matter that I should feel compelled to inflict a speech on the House at this late hour of the night. I shall not keep hon. Members very long. As the hon. Member for Willesden (Mrs. Tate) is not in the House, I think I can with safety join in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the admirable speech in which he introduced the Estimates He has set a very high standard for his speeches and he is fully maintaining that standard. I am particularly anxious to say that, because there was at least one gap in the statement he made, which I 1168 feel is a serious one, and which was referred to very cogently by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). Before I come to that, however, I would like to refer to the main subject of the Estimates for the defence of this country. We have heard speeches, and we have had one from the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) which suggests that the situation in which we find ourselves is not a grave situation. I believe that public opinion, and the great majority of this House, regard the mission on which the Foreign Secretary is going as extremely grave. I hope that the language which the right hon. Gentleman uses to the Government in Berlin will be very clear, and very precise, and that he will ask for very clear and precise answers. We want to know where Germany stands in this matter of collective security, and, if we do not get satisfactory answers on that subject, I hope we shall make very clear to that Government the course we propose to take. If a satisfactory answer cannot be got from the German Government at the present time, I think that His Majesty's Government may feel assured of the support of the great majority of this House and country on any measure that they may have to take.
I am glad to be able to congratulate the Under-Secretary whole-heartedly on the development of the Empire services which he outlined in his speech. That seemed to me extremely satisfactory, and I congratulate the Government also. Last year I called attention to the fact that the Colonial contribution to Imperial Airways was out of proportion to the revenues of the Colonies, and quite out of proportion to the subsidy paid by the Government. This is a burden on the very poorest taxpayers of the Empire—the African taxpayers. I hope that attention has been given to this matter by the Government. Last year the Under-Secretary promised to look into the matter, and I want to know whether any attention has been given to it.
I fear I shall have to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman, in regard to that part of his speech in which he dealt with the Aerodrome Advisory Board. He failed to deal with what we hope are to be the activities of the new Director-General of Civil Aviation, or the officer promoted to that title and rank. I am 1169 sure that he must recognise that in this matter of controlling and co-ordinating the development of civil aviation in this country, his Department has a record for indifference and inefficiency which has seldom been equalled and never surpassed. So far as I can see, no attention has been paid since the war to the proper development of aerodromes, the co-ordination of aerodromes, the prevention of overlapping in services, and efficiency in every form which should be the business of the Ministry and cannot be the business of anybody else. This has been left to haphazard development, with the result that we are not having the services and the facilities we should have. By this haphazard method a general feeling is being created against the needs of civil aviation and that is extremely unfortunate. This method of trying one aerodrome, and then getting compulsory powers to try another because the first is not in the right place, is creating a feeling which is extremely bad for the interests of aviation, and I hope that before the discussion closes the Under-Secretary will give an assurance that the inefficiency of the system hitherto pursued is going to be corrected. In Cheshire the feeling created on this subject is intense.
The City of Manchester is, of course, entitled to develop an aerodrome equal to its needs. There is no question about that. I agree with the hon. Member for Duddeston when he says that Manchester has shown, in company with a few other cities, activity and foresight in this matter. But since the war the City of Manchester has spent money on one aerodrome after another, never apparently receiving adequate advice. In this last proposal to acquire a large port in the County of Cheshire no case was put forward that the county could understand. I do not wish to comment on the details of the question, because it is the subject of an appeal to the courts, but I am entitled to comment on the methods which have been pursued. When this proposal was put forward an inquiry was held. No attempt was made to show that the proposed aerodrome was part of a system which would benefit neighbouring towns, or that adequate services could be secured for it. There was only a question of some factory chimneys and the com- 1170 parative suitability of the two sites, and, when that was disposed of, the compulsory order was made.
Bad blood is created by action of that kind and that is a serious matter for aviation, which we do not want to be hindered or handicapped in any way. These activities proceed without direction or plan from the Ministry; it is not only that there is no policy, that there is the very serious fact that this kind of thing is telling against aviation in this country, but the Act under which these powers are assumed is not an Act which was originally intended for this purpose. It is an Act intended to create employment. In these inquiries no one says a word about employment. This Act is being used for a different purpose from what Parliament intended. Feeling about it is great and, naturally, there are appeals to the courts. If the Ministry had existed in Biblical times, David would have had no difficulty about Naboth's vineyard, he would simply have said: "I want to turn it into an aerodrome." That is the kind of impression that is being created in different parts of the country. I hope the Under-Secretary understands that in this matter his Department has really a shameful record and that the time has come to put that record right. I hope too that he will now realise that the Aerodrome Advisory Board exists to be used. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) is in his place. I wonder how much use is made of that Board of which he is chairman. I am told that after all these years it has been instructed to prepare a broad survey of the aerodrome requirements of this country. That should have been done years ago, but inasmuch as it is being done now will he assure us that the report will be expedited and that he will desist from these haphazard and arbitrary orders until this survey is carried out.
§ 12.51 a.m.
§ Lord APSLEY
The many points covered in the excellent and constructive speeches which we have had this evening will convince hon. Members that there is something important in these particular Estimates, and that leads me to make a suggestion to the Under-Secretary. In view of the importance of these Esti- 1171 mates which interest all parties with the exception of the hon. Members who may be sitting below me, would they not be better served if in future the Air Estimates were discussed under two headings on two different days. On one day the Service Estimates could be discussed, particularly if Front Bench speeches are going to be delivered on matters of international importance and foreign policy, and then there would be time to discuss questions of detail, Army co-operation, and the Air Service itself. To confuse that with civil aviation, makes it impossible for the Under-Secretary to bring the proper mind to bear on the subject, and it must make an enormous difficulty for the right hon. Gentleman to reply. I must confess I do not know how he does it. He has a wonderful mind for detail, and he gives his reply in a wonderful way, but it must be a strain on his mind, and I would seriously suggest that in future the Civil Estimates should be taken on another day and under a different heading altogether.
I wish to discuss a matter which we have had no opportunity of discussing at all, and it comes under Vote A. I have been sitting recently in the fire of a naval battle which has been waged from one bench to another. The Senior Service have always been able to look after themselves in the House, but the Army never get a look in, and we have not had a word on Army co-operation. There is another matter. On the Army Estimates you can get a complete account of each unit, but on the Air Estimates we never get any such account. We cannot tell how many bombing squadrons there are and how much each cost; we cannot tell how many fighting squadrons there are and how much they cost, nor can we tell how many Army squadrons there are, and there is nothing at all about Army co-operation. I believe that there are only two such squadrons in this country. I do say, as a mere soldier, that when it comes to operation it is impossible to get any Air Force co-operation whatever to be of any value. Sometimes you can get that and sometimes you cannot. We have had great difficulty in getting information from the Army co-operation squadrons when we were operating with them. I notice in Vote A there is mention of a new observers corps, and I 1172 believe that is very necessary as far as the Army is concerned. I suggest that more co-operation with the Army should be encouraged. I believe that a certain number of Air Force officers are attached to the Army for a short time. I am told, however, that when they return to the Air Force they are attached to bombing and fighting squadrons and have nothing to do with the Army co-operation. It takes time to train an observer.
Let me give an instance of what happened at the last manoeuvres. A section of mine was on patrol, and they saw a column of smoke. They investigated and found the house of an officer on fire. They assisted in bringing the ponies from the stables and after a time the butler told them—as the officer was away on manoeuvres—that they had got all the valuable things from the house, that the rest were only wedding presents and that both they and the house were fully insured, that the fire brigade had been sent for, and that nothing further could be done. That was at 10 o'clock in the morning, and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon after the patrols had come in we received an air report stating that a column of dust had been seen indicating a battalion of enemy tanks, and we were asked to confirm it. We did not believe in the column of dust as it had been raining intermittently all day. Such a matter of natural history would hardly cross the mind of a highly trained observer of the Royal Air Force so we asked whether another aeroplane could be sent a little bit lower down to see whether the house was still burning. They sent a machine and found that it was still burning and therefore we did not go out. There are many instances I could give affecting the co-operation squadrons. I do not know how the gunners feel on this matter. That is a department into which I have not had time to go. We have not sufficient contact. They never tell us when the enemy planes are patrolling, whether our camouflage is effective, and where the various units are. I think that these matters should be taken into account without any delay.
There is a further question I should like to raise. It is in regard to autogyros. What is the attitude of the Air Ministry with regard to them. Do they look upon them because they are flying machines as 1173 machines which can only be administered by the Air Force and that the Army cannot have them? Could the Artillery be allowed to run autogyros themselves and be able to pay civilian mechanics to run them as an Army weapon? If it is merely a matter of inter-departmental jealousy, this practice might do infinite harm, but the boot is not only on one leg. I cannot myself see that because it is a flying machine it must come under the Royal Air Force.
I now come to a question that is of great importance, namely, anti-aircraft guns. I have my own view on the subject, but it may be entirely wrong. I believe that the importance of anti-aircraft defence is so great, and its correlation with aircraft work so close, that only one authority can run anti-aircraft defence, and that is the Air Ministry. Everything to do with it should be run in close correlation with the Air Ministry. They are the people who get the information and will have to make the decisions. Does the right hon. Gentleman know whether the anti-aircraft are using shrapnel or high explosive? I do not know whether the Air Ministry take any interest in this matter. Modern aircraft—low-winged monoplanes—is immune from shrapnel, and high explosive is the only thing that can be used successfully. Inaccurate anti-aircraft fire is worse than useless. To delegate this work to the Territorial Army is—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think the Noble Lord has now made it quite clear that this is a matter for the Army Estimates.
§ Lord APSLEY
I bow to your Ruling, but I do want to know whether the Under-Secretary can take it on the Air Force Vote, because if he can it will relieve the country of a very great responsibility. It is just as though the Navy were relying for their submarine protection on the coastguard service. I hope that the Air Council and the Air Ministry will consider with great attention whether some more concentrated system of anti-aircraft defence cannot be brought together and run by the Air Ministry so as to secure efficiency.
§ 1.3 a.m.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
At this hour of the morning, I am sure that the Committee 1174 does not want me to deal at greater length than necessary with the several subjects under discussion. Although we have had a great many speeches, I do not think that very many points have been put. Perhaps the Noble Lord who has just sat down concentrated more questions into his last speech than I have had put to me for some time. His last question is, of course, not one which I can answer, but I can say that there is a great deal of co-operation between anti-aircraft units and the Air Force, and continually we have them coming to our different stations and squadrons and working in the closest co-operation. I have been attacked once more on the subject of this aerodrome at Ringway, and, as the hon. Member who raised the question rightly said, the matter being sub judice, it would not be in any way proper for me to refer to it. I do not want to shirk the issue. The hon. Member said that there has not been enough planning in the past, and that is quite right. Naturally, at the beginning—flying is not a very old science, and civil aviation is not very old—there was not enough planning. But, of course, we have always taken the line that we want as many aerodromes as possible, and certainly big towns and cities all over the country should have their aerodromes. Whether Manchester should or should not have this particular aerodrome is not the question. It is the location that the hon. Member complains about. We have now got this Aerodrome Advisory Board, and we are relying very much on their help. As I have said, we have no desire to hinder local authorities. We give them guidance when they ask for it.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
It is that very important point which I wish to make. If the Air Ministry has not got the powers it requires for co-ordinating development, will the Under-Secretary come to this House and ask for them?
§ Sir P. SASSOON
We are discussing the present situation. I will now pass to the speech of the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), to which I listened with great interest. There is only one point on which I do not agree with him, and that is that municipal 1175 aerodromes are a liability. They may be an expense, but they are not a liability, any more than a railway station is a liability. In the future, people will, I think, go to towns by air instead of by train, and, then, if they cannot get there by air, the lack of an aerodrome will be a very great liability. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) will perhaps allow me to write to him about the question of married quarters. He was, however, wrong about the period of service, which is only two years. If there are any other questions which I do not answer, perhaps hon. Members will let me write to them about them or take the first opportunity I can of giving an answer. The subject of the fast mail carrier was met by the announcement which I made to-day. I was not in the House, unfortunately, when the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut. -Colonel Moore-Brabazon) was speaking, but I was told that he once more repeated his desire to see a divorce between civil aviation and military aviation. We have heard him before, of course, elaborate the theme that civil aviation should be put under the Board of Trade. I remember just before Christmas coming into the House on a Friday when the mercantile marine was under discussion, and Member after Member complained about the position of the mercantile marine under the Board of Trade and described it as the Cinderella of the Board of Trade. Is it into the cruel and callous hands of the President of the Board of Trade that the hon. and gallant Member would like to confide the poor department of civil aviation?
§ Lieut. Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I have always proposed that it should be put under the Minister of Transport, but as the present Minister of Transport seems to be rather anti-motorist he might be anti-air.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
The solution is to leave it under the Air Ministry. The very excellent and interesting speech of the hon. Member for Willesden (Mrs. Tate) must be admired for its enthusiasm and technical knowledge. She described my speech as a soporific, but improved the situation when she described me as a contortionist, so that what I gain on the swings I certainly lose on 1176 the roundabounts. I have taken notice and note of all the things she asked me to look into. Among many things she stressed was that all-important question of speed. I know how important speed is and how essential it is in the development of civil aircraft. I heard only the other day that the pace of transport did not vary from the days of Julius Caesar to the reign of Queen Victoria—that the quadriga of early days was speedier than the post-chaise of Victorian times, which of course, is true. But certainly we are making up for lost time and trying to crowd into a few years the leeway of twenty centuries. Therefore, we have other things to think of, and, as far as the new machines of Imperial Airways are concerned, when she knows it, I hope the hon. Lady will have no complaint about their speed.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) put up some schemes which he had kindly told me about beforehand. It is perhaps rather too late at this hour to go into them, but I will consider them and let him know what we think about these interesting proposals. I think I have now dealt with all the points that require an immediate answer, and I hope I have clarified points where clarification was needed. Let me say I think we have had a most instructive and stimulating debate, and there have been made many valuable contributions upon which we can work. I trust that after the interesting discussion that we have had the House will now give me the Votes.
§ Question, "That a number, not exceeding 31,000, all ranks, be maintained for the said Service," put, and negatived.