§ "That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 70,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938."
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker for the guidance of the House on the scope of this Debate? You will recollect that last week Vote A was taken in the Committee stage, by arrangement without any discussion at all. You were good enough to indicate that you would allow a wider discussion than usual on the Report stage today. May I, therefore, take it that the discussion to-day will be comparable with the discussion that might have taken place on the Committee stage?
§ Mr. Speaker
The House will realise that it has always been the practice of the House on the Votes for the Defence Forces to give a wide discussion in Committee on Vote A, but occasionally, in exceptional circumstances, a wide discussion has been given on Vote A, on the Report stage, which is usually confined to the subject matter of the Vote. On this occasion, there being exceptional circumstances, I will allow a wide discussion, if the House agrees, on Vote A.
§ 3.43. p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I beg to move, to leave out "70,000," and to insert instead thereof "69,000."
I present this Amendment in order to draw attention to certain phases of administration of the Royal Air Force compared with which a strength of 10,000 men more or less would be of small account. I want to begin by saying two or three sentences in support of the plea that has been put forward by hon. Members on this side of the House for what has been called the democratisation of the 2580 Royal Air Force and of the other Service Forces. I have never thought that that word is a happy one, because it does not describe precisely what we intend and mean. It enables some hon. Members to draw erroneous conclusions and to imagine that we propose some sort of system, such as the election of officers and the abrogation of discipline. We mean nothing of the kind. All we desire is the removal of those barriers of wealth and class which, although they have been in part removed in some of the Forces, are still an effective barrier against promotion to the higher ranks in the Services. The Government would do well to pay attention to our plea, because the day has gone by when this nation can fight a war on the basis of blind obedience on the part of one class to another class, and, moreover, will never be able to fight another war successfully, at any rate without the support of those elements of the community which are represented on these benches. Not only that, but I am convinced that the Royal Air Force would lose nothing in efficiency, courage and organisation if it removed the barriers of which we complain.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) speaking the other day, cited the example of the greatest army of its time that ever fought in this country or on behalf of this country abroad, and he told us that the colonels who charged by the side of Cromwell at Naseby were not gentlemen in the ordinary accepted sense of the term; they were shoe-makers, shopkeepers, tailors and the like. Similarly, in all our history, the great deeds of heroism and achievement which have been done afloat have been carried out by men who had a robust sense of democracy in their relationships with their men. Remember the great example of the courage and enterprise of Drake, the greatest sailor, who said "Let the gentlemen fall with the mariners." But I do not want to be drawn aside to the other Forces, because we have an even stronger case to make in the Royal Air Force for the destruction of those barriers which still remain. There was Major Edward Mannock, V.C. In all the volumes of air literature which have been published since the War, it has now become increasingly clear that he was the greatest of all the air fighters of any nation, and the total number of 2581 enemy aircraft which he destroyed represents but a small part of the contribution which he made by way of the destruction of the enemy morale and so on, to the success of the British Royal Air Force during the War. He was the son of a corporal and, I believe, was born in barracks. The second greatest of these airmen was Major James McCudden, V.C. They are relevant to our plea. He was promoted from the rank of air mechanic, and the pioneer of all those heroic pilots was Captain Albert Ball, who was also promoted from the ranks. Therefore, we say, though discipline there must be, we want it to be founded more and more upon the character and efficiency of those who possess these powers, and natural leadership, which may sometimes crash through in war time, but who find it very difficult to gain recognition in peace time to the immeasurable loss of this country should we ever have to engage in war again.
I now want to ask the attention of the Minister to a very serious matter affecting promotion in the higher commissioned ranks of the Royal Air Force. Despite the undoubted skill of the pilots which, I believe, is second to none throughout the world, I say with regret, there exists in the higher ranks of the Royal Air Force, from squadron leader upwards, a sense of grave dissatisfaction and discontent with the system of promotion which exists in that Force for the higher ranks at the present time. The system, as the House knows, is one of selection from qualified grades. If officers are not selected, they are passed over. Admittedly, any system of selection must give rise to discontent, and, therefore, I make no apology in stating the case of two or three officers who have been passed over. Where the system of selection is based upon unknown criteria of merit, and when there exists in the Force a feeling that it depends more upon the humour and caprice of senior officers than upon any factors of efficiency, then the system of selection is worse than a hide-bound system of seniority. I ask the Minister whether he will look into that matter? I do not wish to make statements here which would do anything to increase the difficulties of the Minister in this direction. I know he does his best to keep in contact with the officers of the Royal 2582 Air Force, but I can assure him that there is grave discontent. If I wished to detain the Committee I could take the Royal Air Force List and show examples of officers with the highest war record and the highest peace record, who passed the Staff College and passed the Imperial Defence College, who have been passed over for no reason whatever that they can understand. Again, there is what is known as feminine influence in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
It seems a strange place for petticoat influence, but it will interest the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to know that there is one station in the Royal Air Force where when the commanding officer appears on parade murmurs go round to the effect: "Here comes the commanding officer and her husband." [Laughter.] I, at any rate, do not wish to treat this matter lightly. There have been echoes in the civil courts of discontent based on these grounds. I can assure the Minister that this is a matter which warrants his immediate attention. The regrettable fact is that large numbers of officers who are passed over enjoy no method of appeal, and no reasons are assigned to them. I suggest that there should be a tribunal of appeal set up in order to give these officers confidence, so that they can have reasons assigned to them why they have been passed over. There is no reason why they should not be told. It may be that they would resent any criticism that was made upon them, and if that were so they would be poor officers, but no worse than if they allow themselves to labour under a rankling sense of injustice which may perhaps affect their work. Therefore, without putting forward a cast-iron suggestion, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter. He knows that I am speaking about a state of affairs that exists, and I would urge him to see whether he cannot do something to remedy it. It would be very unfortunate if war came, which heaven forbid, and we found that, with all the speed of our aircraft and the efficiency and strength of our armaments, we failed on account of the lack of resolution or discontent among the leaders of the Royal Air Force.
2583 Let me say a few words about the system of purchasing raw materials and contracting for Air Force supplies. There is reason to believe, in spite of all the promises and all the assurances which have been given, and in spite of all the lessons we are supposed to have learned in the last War, the nation is going to pay for its armaments hundreds of millions of pounds more than they ought to cost. Let us look at three raw materials which the Air Ministry are buying. There is copper, the cost of the production of which, I am informed on unimpeachable authority, is about £25 a ton. The price on the market to-day is£75 to £78 a ton. Take tin. The cost of the production of tin is £90 in some tin mines, and up to £150 in other parts of the country. These are costs that one can test and examine. Although they have to bear no high charges such as overhead charges for publicity, tin is selling at £303 to-day.
There is an even stranger position in the case of steel. Ministers have told us that steel prices are factors of world prices and that it is not possible to interfere, but I noticed the other day from a statement by one Minister that the price of steel is supposed to be controlled and restricted, and in turn controlled by the Import Duties Advisory Committee. If the Minister has been watching the newspapers lately he will have found that the supposed check and control of prices by the combines which is exercised by the Import Duties Advisory Committee is absolutely illusory, because when the duty was reduced by 10 per cent. in order to let in some foreign steel at a lower price, the British Iron and Steel Trades Federation instructed the International Cartel that they were not to be allowed to pass on the diminution in price to consumers in this country. Those of us who read the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to this House have come across some very strange information in regard to the Air Ministry's supplies of steel.
The right hon. Gentleman's Department invited tenders for £500,000 worth of steel for the construction of hangars. Forty-one firms tendered, and 40 of them tendered precisely the same price. Naturally, the Air Ministry were a little puzzled to know what to do, and they settled it by delicately pointing out to the firms concerned that they would have 2584 considerable difficulty in certifying to the Treasury that this was a fair and reasonable price, having regard to the fact that 40 out of 41 firms had tendered the same price. They resolved the difficulty by inspecting the books of two steel construction firms with a reputation for efficiency, and found that in their case the price was fair and reasonable. If it was fair and reasonable for two firms with a reputation for efficiency, how many firms with a reputation for inefficiency were going bankrupt? It is impossible to test the costing of steel on any common ground between the efficient and inefficient firms. Any manufacturer will tell you that the difference between the cost of production in an inefficient and an efficient firm is so wide as to make any fixed test absolutely impossible.
I have a statement by Sir S. F. Mendl, who was on the War Office Advisory Committee on Army contracts during the War, and therefore has had wide experience of these matters, and, unlike some of those who are now being employed by the Minister, he is in an independent position to-day. He says:My experience in two Government Departments during the War convinces me that no scrutiny of costing can be trusted to prevent large firms benefiting largely from increased turnover when they are allowed a percentage of profits which is only just enough to keep many smaller businesses in existence.Therefore, I think we have some grounds for complaint that the Air Ministry is not tackling this question. The Minister told us last week that he was making a careful review into the essential supplies of raw materials. That is two years after the Government had decided on the rearmament programme. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has also made some statements which are worth examining. He has strange ideas. He said that the old law of supply and demand is what governs this question, entirely leaving out the fact that the supply is restricted and controlled in unified hands while the demand is not unified and scattered between the Government and the contractors. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech in which he said very confidently—and we know how confident the right hon. Gentleman can be when he is in the wrong:It has been suggested that the rise in prices has been caused by speculation. Nothing of the sort. It is due to world shortage.2585 On the same page of the newspaper which reported that, I was very interested to read this further statement. It is by the City Editor of that paper, and he presumably knows something about these topics:City gamblers take advantage of the Government's Defence programme to spread rumours of an acute shortage of supplies and of huge pending orders for rearmament, to foreshadow still further price increases. These are the usual methods adopted when rigging a market.This was in the "Daily Express." Hon. Members opposite will find similar material in the "Evening Standard." Those are newspapers which hon. Members opposite are very pleased to rely upon during the week before an election. Of all the statements which have been made from the Government Front Bench on the question of raw materials and armaments, I come back to that made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) last week. This is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:The position is being carefully watched"—Of course we have had that statement daily for weeks from the Front Bench:but the hon. Member attaches an exaggerated importance to the demands of the armaments programme of His Majesty's Government.Really I wish the Chancellor would spare us from such nonsense as that. This boom is called on the metal markets "The White Paper boom." That is how it is, described, because that is what gave rise to it. The truth of the matter is that the demand of the Government has drawn in the multiple demand of contractors and speculators all over the world, and that multiple demand applied to a market where supplies are restricted and selling is unified, has sent the price of these raw materials up to wicked heights, which the taxpayer will have to pay eventually. I wonder what would have been said if a great industrialist like Henry Ford or Lord Nuffield—despised at the Air Ministry, I believe—or the Dunlop Rubber Company or the Imperial Tobacco Company, about to embark on a vast programme of expenditure and expansion, were to announce to the world that it was to come out with this programme without first taking care to cover the supplies of raw materials. Yet that 2586 is what the Government did. They announced in the White Paper an expenditure which made it compulsory for them to spend unprecedented sums, and yet they had not taken the elementary precaution to go on the market and take options or by other means cover their requirements.
When the Government say that they are watching the situation, watching events, our answer is that events are rushing fast out of their control. No moment has seemed to them the right moment at which to take action. The kind of watching they have been doing reminds me of the type of watching done by a herd of old cows watching a passing train. That is the effectiveness of the watching they have been doing. In the case of the purchase of manufactured goods the position is no better. The system on which the Air Ministry proceeds is what is known as provisional instructions to proceed. Simply stated, that means that they are deferring the fixing of prices on a rising market. What is the consequence? I know of examples where the Air Ministry has sent out for a tender for aircraft and has been quoted a certain price. Of course what happens is that the firm invited to tender rings up the suppliers and gets quotations for the raw materials, and then it submits a tender. The Air Ministry, under its scheme of provisional instructions to proceed, defers fixing the cost, but by way of a haphazard guess tells the firm that it would be compelled to supply aircraft at a lower figure. Time passed. Prices rose. The time came for fixing a price, and then the Air Ministry had to pay this firm between £1,500 and £12,000 more than the firm offered the machines for about five months previously. That is the effect of the system known as provisional instructions to proceed.
Of course, the explanation which the Air Ministry offers is that it desires to have some experience in small batches to see what the costs are, but I can assure the Minister that the system of instructions to proceed is not looked upon with respect in commercial circles, and moreover, where manufacturers and financiers are gathered together they wink at it as a safeguard against excessive prices. Of course, the reason is quite obvious—because costs, as every manufacturer knows, are very funny things; they can be changed and shuffled about beyond all 2587 ascertainment. I am not going to give the House a lecture on costing. That can be found in all sorts of text books. But we know that there will be long disputations, and in the end no system of costings which the ingenuity of the Government accountants will be able to devise will overcome the ingenuity of the system which the manufacturers are able to devise. The only thing about costings of which we are certain is that in some businesses the expense of costing is proving a very large proportion of the total cost of producing an article, and what it is going to cost the Government to inspect these elaborate costs systems and outmanoeuvre the private enterprise contractors will be a large sum for the British taxpayer to pay, and in the end the Government will have gained nothing by it.
"But," the Minister says, "We are giving them an incentive, an incentive for saving. We are letting them turn out a small batch first, and then, when we are satisfied with the cost of the small batch, we will fix a basic price and any savings which they later make on the larger quantity will be shared between them and the Government." Surely that is a childish expedient, because the amount of saving must depend on the cost that is originally fixed, and if the cost originally fixed is an unreliable one, it is obviously to the interest of the manufacturer to fix it as high as possible; the principle still remains that the higher the cost, the higher profit made by the manufacturer.
This is not our first experience of these problems. In our lifetime and memory the people have already had an initiation into the amount of profits which can be made by armament manufacturers. The Government alone seem to have forgotten. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman sitting opposite remembers that during the last War, after all the costing, after all the Income Tax and Super-tax, after all the Excess Profits Duty, the Board of Inland Revenue reported to a Select Committee of this House that 360,000 people had enriched themselves by no less than three thousand million pounds during the last War? That accounts for as much as it would have cost to wage that War for 500 days. That shows the value of their system. We were relying then on precisely the same method of checking the cost of manufacture.
2588 In certain well-informed quarters it has become a jest, rather a grim joke for the taxpayers, that precisely the same men in the Departments are checking these costs as failed so lamentably on the same job during the War. I asked the right hon. Gentleman last week who was responsible in the Air Ministry, and he told me it was the Hardman Lever Committee. I wish to say nothing against Sir Hardman Lever on the ground of efficiency. I think that everyone who knows his record knows that, whatever may be his faults, inefficiency is not one of them. But he was the man whose ideas of what was right and just were utilised as a costing accountant at the Ministry of Munitions during the Great War. He is 20 years older, but I doubt whether he is 20 years wiser. The Minister concealed from me the fact that the other Member of the Air Ministry Committee which is now going to advise the Air Ministry upon principles, which is going to arbitrate between the Air Ministry and the Society of British Aircraft Constructors—
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
Is the hon. Gentleman charging me with having concealed something from him?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
In point of fact I was charging the right hon. Gentleman with nothing. What I was that the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air withheld certain information from me, when I asked him who 'constituted this Committee. He told me that Sir Hardman Lever was the Chairman of the Committee, and he gave me the names of Mr. H. O. Judd and Mr. P. Ashley Cooper, but although he told me that Sir Hardman Lever was at the Ministry of Munitions he did not tell me that Mr. Judd, C.B.E., was Sir Hardman Lever's assistant at the Ministry of Munitions, and therefore, I say he withheld that piece of interesting information from me in his answer I make no charge of dishonesty at all against these particular accountants, but I want to ask whether it is right that men with this record, who hold large directorships of private enterprises, some of them steel-producing companies, should be in this authoritative position at the Air Ministry to advise on costings and arbitrate in disputes between the Air Ministry and private contractors. I would very much 2589 like to put before the House solutions which, I believe, would avoid these questions, but I feel that on this occasion I should not be in order in doing so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) will have ample opportunity for that this week. Therefore, I shall say only that all these difficulties have been brought upon the Government, and will remain with them, because they are trying to make the economic machinery of the nineteenth century, machinery which is rusty and rotten, do the modern work required of it to-day.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not refrain from making any constructive suggestions if he can assist the Government.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that our solution of this question would be to bring the whole of this armament manufacture under public ownership, and if we fell short of that we should take 90 per cent. in Excess Profits Duty, or more, and we certainly would not do what the Secretary for War has done, when he got an offer from the firm of Ransome and Rapier, of Ipswich, to make armaments and shells without profit, and refused the offer on account of the embarrassment it would cause to other contractors. It is a poor compliment to the intelligence of the taxpayers, who have to find these vast sums, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of workers who for a pittance are breaking their backs to produce these things, to offer them these sham safeguards and then make a great secret of the prices you are paying for shells, aircraft and raw material. We do not intend that the nation's mind should be quieted by these assurances, and I would remind the Government that when all this is over it may not be they who will conduct the inquiry which will follow. Of course we do not expect brilliant administration from the Secretary of State for Air, or let me say quite inoffensively, from the Under-Secretary of State for Air or the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. Those who speak of them most favourably have never, as far as I am aware, ventured to claim for any one rich intellectual gifts, but I hope the House will, without expecting too much from them, support the Amendment, if only as an alarm bell to awaken 2590 the Government from their indifference and rebut their smug pretentions.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I do not propose to follow the last speaker in the remarks he has addressed to the House on various matters. I envy him his gift of speech, and I think it is a pity that he uses it to foster discontent and class prejudice. I had not intended to intervene in this Debate and, in fact, should not have done so, if my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing - Commander James) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) had not raised the question of the Fleet Air Arm, grossly misstated the Navy's case and attacked me personally. I feel impelled to deliver a counter-attack on my hon. and gallant Friends, and also on others who are striving to arrest the development of naval aviation. I consider that they are enemies to the best interests of the country and to the security of our sea communications. I have had to fight for a good many things in a somewhat stormy career against a good deal of opposition. Before the War it was for the development of the Submarine Service, and to try to make the Navy realise their great potentialities and also their definite limitations when countered; during the War it was to attempt to force the Dardanelles in pursuance of a great strategic conception; and, later on, when the German submarines were dangerously threatening our sea communications, it was to stop their unrestricted passage through the Straits of Dover and attack the enemy's bases on the Belgian coasts. But I have never had to fight for anything I consider more vital to naval efficiency and the security of our sea communications than the development of naval aviation.
My three opponents are distinguished flying men and their statements might be regarded as authoritative if they are not challenged and their ignorance of the naval case exposed. I am sorry they are not all present this afternoon. I have a profound admiration for men who fly, 2591 and particularly for those who flew during the War, and, above all, an unbounded admiration for the holder of Pilot Certificate No. the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey, but I must tell him—I hope he will read my speech—that his views on naval strategy, on battleships and on the use of air power in the exercise of sea power bear no relation to the realities of to-day. It is a pity that he did not confine his remarks to questions of production and technical matters, about which he seems to know a great deal. At the same time I am grateful to him because he produced evidence of inefficiency, which is one of the reasons why the Admiralty are so anxious to control their own air arm. For instance, he told us that no machines came into the Service for six years. Like the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), having damned the Air Ministry from A to Z, he hoped that the Air Ministry would continue to resist the demand of the Admiralty for the control of its own air service. That is not very logical. He made the time-honoured jest about the silent service.
§ Mr. Simmonds
May I put a point to the hon. and gallant Member which seems to be rather important? He seems to suggest that the Admiralty wanted the Navy to supply for the naval Air Arm. If that is so, it seems to me a new contention.
§ Sir R. Keyes
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to pursue my argument in my own way. As I was saying, the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey made the time-honoured joke about the silent service. No one who has heard me speak in this House can doubt that I find it exceedingly difficult to express myself. But speech is the only weapon left to me to fight with for those matters which I know are vital to the security of the country and the Empire, also to fight against the ceaseless, insidious and dangerous propaganda and intrigue which have been going on ever since the War to belittle the Army and Navy, and claim for the Air, powers which it does not possess. Events in China two years ago and in Spain to-day provide abundant proof that decisive military results will never be achieved by air forces independent of the Army and the Navy. The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough is a faithful disciple of the 2592 high priest of the dangerous school to which I have referred. That school does not include the gallant airmen who fly with the Fleets. When they have learned something about the sea and its ever-changing moods, they realise their difficulties, and like the submariners of another decade realise their limitations and do not subscribe to the boastful claims made on their behalf.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough told the Committee that my demand for an impartial inquiry was inspired. Who does he think inspired me? I was a member of the Board of Admiralty when those now in office were occupying junior positions. The case I am making against dual control is the case I made when I was Admiral-of the Dover Patrol in 1918, as I will prove by quoting from a letter I wrote in May, 19 years ago. It is also the case made by the Board of Admiralty when I was a member in 1923. They considered that the findings and recommendations of the Balfour Committee were foolish and dangerous, and that if they were put into force it should be only as an experiment. Further, they said that, in view of their vast responsibilities, they could only carry out the policy if they were allowed to have all the costs of the Fleet Air Arm on the Navy Vote. This Committee was known as the Balfour Committee, but at the time when it met. Lord Balfour was a very sick man and he attended only a few meetings. The evil genius of that committee was Lord Weir, who, under the inspiration of Lord Trenchard, was responsible for so disastrously hampering the development of naval aviation. From all accounts he is trying to influence the Government now and to prevent an impartial inquiry.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough objected to my saying that he and his friends had no case. If they have a good case, why do they object to an impartial inquiry? The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey said that we had had inquiries every two years. That simply is not true. The last so-called inquiry was held nine years ago, when Lord Salisbury was asked to decide on two details on which there was a difference of opinion. He decided one for the Admiralty and one for the Air Ministry. The one he decided against the Admiralty was the claim to be allowed to train lower-deck pilots. There is a 2593 deplorable shortage of experienced pilots to-day. Imagine how much better off we should be if we had been allowed for the last nine years to train splendid young lower-deck pilots. However, in announcing his decision Lord Salisbury made it quite clear that in his opinion the time would come when the Navy should be given complete control over its own air service. I submit that that time is long overdue. The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough paid a generous tribute to the efficiency and excellent equipment of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons under the command of the Admiral of the Dover Patrol and then went on to say that during the great battle of Paschendaele that splendid force remained inactive.
That was before my time, but from 1st January, 1918, the day on which I took command of that splendid Air Force of 15 squadrons which I inherited, it was used to the full and most offensively. It bombed German submarine bases at Bruges and Ostend day and night, and it also co-operated with the Belgian army and with the Fleet on the Belgian coast, where it directed the gunfire from the ships. When the great German offensive started on 21st March, 1918, on my own authority I sent all my fighting Air force into the battle, which raged for several days, and there they won imperishable glory. Very few of those squadrons came back, for on 1st April, 1918, the Royal Air Force was formed, and although the Royal Naval Air Service remained completely under naval control until the end of the War, the squadrons on the Belgian coast—or rather the few that were left to me—were placed under the control of the General Officer commanding the Royal Air Force in the Field —the title of Air Marshal had not been invented in those days—and they were under my control only for operations.
I would like to refer to a letter which I wrote in May, 1918, to the Admiralty. After describing the confusion and inefficiency which had resulted from the dual control, I went on to say:Although the Port of Bruges has been closed to traffic since 23rd April, and a very large number of destroyers, torpedo boats and submarines have been locked up either in the harbour of Bruges or in the canal, yet owing to having only a few Handley Page machines and practically no day-bombing machines, until quite recently, the full fruits resulting 2594 from these operations have certainly not been gathered, owing to the inadequacy of the bombing force at my disposal. I am very strongly of the opinion that the present situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory and becoming more so from day to day. I submit that their Lordships may be moved to take the strongest possible action without further delay to insist on the Royal Air Force units of the 5th Group being maintained at the required strength without further interference from the General Officer Commanding the Royal Air Force in the field, who does not seem to understand the elements of the Naval requirements on the Belgian coast, nor the great importance of their bearing on the general conduct of the War. The fine force which was built up by the Admiralty for service on the Belgian coast has been thoroughly disorganised and the value of the few remaining units is rapidly decreasing in consequence.I would explain, to the House that after the operations which took place on 23rd April aerial reconnaissance had shown that there were a great many destroyers, torpedo boats and submarines lying tied up in threes and fours in the basins at Bruges and the neighbouring canals. They offered a wonderful target for mass bombing. Photographs showed that 23 destroyers and torpedo boats and seven submarines were lying outside the massive concrete shelters which could hold another 12. I ordered attacks to take place day and night, but owing to the small force of aircraft which I had, we did not obtain the full results. In a few days those craft were scattered singly up and down the canals, and thus offered a much more difficult target, and so the opportunity passed. The Handley Pages referred to were the most powerful aircraft in the world at that time, and the Admiralty was entirely responsible for their production, but they were placed under the control of the general officer commanding the Royal Air Force, who had been appointed to command the only independent Air Force which ever operated in the War. These machines were taken away at a time when they ought to have been bombing naval targets to deliver attacks on the civilian population of Cologne, and it is an interesting fact that when the War ended not a single bomb had been dropped on Cologne. I have not referred to this in order to revive an old grievance, although it is a tormenting one, but to try to prove to the House that the Admiralty must be allowed complete control over the aircraft which the Navy needs to carry out its responsibilities. The dual control in- 2595 stituted on All Fools' day, 1918, was of great value to the enemy.
The hon. and gallant Member for Thanet also attacked me and was kind enough to give me advice. He warned me to be careful. I am always careful. He condoled with me for having as an ally my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who had changed his mind. He quoted from a speech made by my right hon. Friend in 1919, which had no bearing on the dual control of the Fleet Air Arm. Personally, I think I am much to be congratulated on having as an ally my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, who is recognised throughout the country as an unrivalled expert on matters of Defence. Both the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet and the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey attacked the First Lord of the Admiralty for having changed their minds.
§ Captain Harold Balfour
Did the hon. and gallant Member say that I attacked the First Lord of the Admiralty?
§ Sir R. Keyes
The hon. and gallant Member ridiculed the First Lord of the Admiralty for having changed his mind. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and the First Lord of the Admiralty would be blind if they failed to see the dangerous follies of this system of dual control, and they would be failing in their duties to the country if they had not the courage to recommend the termination of this system. Having bombed my three hon. and gallant Friends from the very insecure position which they had taken up, I will now try to explain what the Navy's case is, I am not inspired by the Admiralty, and I only hope that the Admiralty are prepared to go as far as I would in this matter. The case I am making is based on my experience as Commander of a powerful Air Force during the War, both while it was completely under my control and afterwards under my operational control, when dual control was introduced, very much to the detriment of operations 2596 against the enemy. It is also based upon my experience as a Member of the Board of Admiralty and as Commander-in-Chief of the principal Fleet, ill equipped with obsolete aircraft.
I hope the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will not think I am trying to put the Naval case to him, for I am sure he knows it from beginning to end, but after listening to the versions of my three hon. and gallant Friends, I think I may be allowed to put before the House my version of the case, so that the House may judge between the two. I may be optimistic, but I believe that a learned and distinguished lawyer, trained to weigh evidence, cannot fail to decide this matter in the only way which will satisfy the Navy and put an end to this 18 years' old controversy. I hope the evidence of those who are responsible for originating this system of dual control and who are so anxious to perpetuate it, but who bear no responsibility for the defence of our sea communications, will be weighed against the evidence of those who bear all the responsibility for the exercise of sea power and the control of our sea communications.
I ask hon. and gallant Members, Who would have to bear the blame on the day of battle if the Naval air force were overwhelmed and destroyed by a more powerful, more efficient and better equipped air force of an enemy? The Board of Admiralty would be to blame, because they had failed to provide the Fleet with a sufficient Air Force, and the Government, because they had been deaf to the advice of their Naval advisers, who had told them over and over again of the dangers into which Naval aviation was drifting. It would not be the Secretary of State for Air, nor the Noble Lords, Weir and Trenchard, or the Air Marshals at the Air Ministry; they could not be expected to take responsibility for what occurred in a Fleet action. But the aircraft over which they claim complete control—except when actually embarked—might fail and might well decide the issue against us in a Naval action.
I wish to stress the ever-increasing importance of Naval aviation, which is fully recognised by the Board of Admiralty, which includes two members who have commanded aircraft carriers. The Admiralty and not the Air Ministry are responsible for the safety of our sea com- 2597 munications and they, with the Government, will bear all the responsibility on the day of battle, if they fail to provide the Navy with what it requires. Responsibility is an absolute dividing line over which there can be no compromise. The Admiralty is the responsible authority and must have complete control. It cannot be divorced from the complete control of the administration, training, strength and nature of the aircraft, including flying boats, which the Navy needs to carry out its responsibilities; in fact, all aircraft which work with and against ships.
It is almost incredible that the British Navy should be denied flying boats, and that the Admiralty should have tolerated this handicap so long. Flying boats have immense possibilities as French, American and other seamen have proved; but the Air Ministry has shown no enterprise, no skill and no ability in developing this service, which is of vital importance to the Navy. Indeed, the Air Ministry is incapable of developing it as the Admiralty could. All other maritime nations have flying boats which are vastly superior to those which the Royal Air Force possesses, although our aviation designers have proved that they can produce flying boats for Imperial Airways which are second to none. Does anybody imagine for a moment that if the Admiralty had been free to develop its flying boats since the War, when we had the very best in the world, it would not have kept the lead? The Navy must have flying boats and a flying boat which is not manned by seamen cannot be of value for naval work. Any boy or girl can learn to fly but it takes time to make a seaman, as the Air Ministry have evidently realised, because they are advertising for mercantile marine officers. In fact, they are competing with the Admiralty for officers to man craft which are essentially naval but over which the Admiralty has no control whatever. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) stressed the need for airships. I would remind the House that the Admiralty used airships and kite balloons which co-operated most valuably for the protection of our trade during the War. The Admiralty also built a large airship which flew to America and back just after the War and it was some years before this feat was repeated by a German Zeppelin. But, unfortunately, our airship service was also handed over to the Air Ministry, 2598 with disastrous results, and it simply does not exist to-day.
There can only be one end to this 18year-old controversy. As I have said, responsibility is the dividing line over which there can be no compromise. If war breaks out before the Navy is given time to reorganise and restore its air service, which was the finest air service in the world during the Great War, the Navy will be fighting under a tremendous handicap, and those air protagonists who have been responsible for misleading the Government so long will deserve heavy retribution; but it will be the men of the Fleet who will suffer and who will pay with their lives on the day of battle for the deficiences in the Navy's air service.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
I wish, in the first place, to take up a point which was made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) when he said that his party wanted every industry to be nationalised. I can only say to him that when the War started we had a State factory at Farnborough. Before the War an effort was made to have all aircraft built in that factory. That was opposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and it did not "come off." We then managed to keep a few of the private firms going, with the result that in the War we came to the assistance of the Army with naval machines, because the factory machine did not turn out to be a great success.
I desire also to take up a point made the other day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. He accused me of saying that it was easy to drop bombs down the funnel of a warship. I never said such a thing in this House, and I am the last person in the world to make a statement of that kind. Before the War we had no bomb-dropping sights in the Royal Naval Air Service. I got out the first design for bomb-dropping sights with Commodore Samson. I knew the factors and worked them out, and the right hon. Gentleman himself congratulated me on the accuracy of my sights when Sub-Lieutenant Warneford destroyed a Zeppelin with a bomb and the right hon. Gentleman also congratulated me when the Royal Naval Air Service men dropped their bombs on the Dusseldorf sheds and destroyed a Zeppelin. Therefore, I do 2599 not consider that that statement came very well from the ex-First Lord of the Admiralty in view of the fact that I was director of his Air Department when he was First Lord.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that dropping bombs down the funnel of a warship was like putting salt on a bird's tail and indicated that he had employed his youth in trying to do that. Can one imagine a rather precocious boy stealing salt from his father's table and going out to the garden trying to catch sparrows with it? The sparrows must have laughed. The right hon. Gentleman's reminiscences in that respect only bear out what I have been trying to teach this House and the country for the last 26 years, and that is the value of wings.
I have not had an opportunity previously in these Air Debates of congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the way in which he has put forward these Air Estimates. I would also like to say that the explanatory statement of the Noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air is the best one that has ever been presented to this House in connection with the Air Estimates. In it he deals with the position in the aircraft industry. I should like to congratulate the industry on the way in which they have faced the demands of this expansion. Criticisms have been made of the aircraft industry to the effect that there is a big lag in the production of machines. It is to be remembered that before the War we had great difficulty, as I have already pointed out, in keeping this industry going. During the War we built up a great industry, but after the War that industry was knifed to the bone. Now we ask them to expand, and expand and expand, and I think they are meeting the situation uncommonly well. I have visited the Short Works, the Bristol Works and the Gloucester Works lately. I think the way in which the Bristol Company are turning out engines is splendid and reflects great credit on the managing director and the other directors of that establishment. The way in which they are giving of their knowledge to the shadow factories sets a very good example.
There is one point in the White Paper about which I wish to ask a question. Is the balloon barrage proposed in the case of London to be extended to the other great cities? I hope the co-ordinating 2600 Minister will give an answer to that question. During the Debates on the Army and Navy Estimates we heard a great deal about welfare work. I wish to ask either the Under-Secretary or the coordinating Minister to say whether anything is being done to help welfare work in connection with the new aerodromes which are being established. Young officers and aircraftmen are being sent to aerodromes many of which are situated long distances from towns. The men have no facilities for getting to towns and have very bad accommodation. I would ask the Under-Secretary to look into this question a little more closely and try to make the conditions better for these young fellows and enable them to enjoy their leisure hours. It is a very important point. The Air Force has set a very high standard and has a very small crime record, but everybody knows that when there is nothing for youngsters to do they may get into trouble. I have had some experience in connection with the building up of the Royal Naval Air Service. We established aerodromes and aeroplane stations at different parts of the country, and I know the necessity of looking after the welfare of these young fellows when they are scattered about places which are often far away from any large towns.
I now turn to the subject of the Fleet Air Arm. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) would not give way to me on that point, which, I thought, very unkind of him, but I am used to being badly treated by the hon. and gallant Admiral. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he has not got stripes over me in this House. May I take the memory of the House back to the period before the War when the naval and military wings of the Royal Flying Corps were established? Gradually, when the Admiralty was under the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, the naval wing developed into the Royal Naval Air Service, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that when he was First Lord we did very good work in searching for mines and submarines, destroying Zeppelins and so forth. But when the right hon. Gentleman left that office, the Admiralty turned against the Royal Naval Air Service. We had built up that service so that it was of the Admiralty, but a little different from the Admiralty. We had our own contracts 2601 branch, our own technicians for going into questions of the stressing of machines and the like, and our own stores branch. After the right hon. Gentleman's departure, the Admiralty in their wisdom adopted another course. The Sea Lords said, "No, we cannot have this going on any longer; we must break it all up," and so each part of the organisation was turned over to the Admiralty. The various departments of the Admiralty each got its bit—contracts department, stores department, and so forth. The consequence was that things did not run very well and the Naval Air Service became a sort of Cinderella.
The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth referred to the efficiency of the Handley-Page machine at the end of the War. I can tell him that I was sent for at the Admiralty and called the biggest damn fool in it for ordering that machine. They said it would not fly, but it did fly. The Admiralty were not keen on developing the Air Service. There is abundant evidence to show that, given before the Marquess Curzon when he was made President of the first Air Board. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), whom we are glad to see back in his old place, knows very well that that was so. The Marquess Curzon went into the whole question of the Royal Naval Air Service being retarded in its development by the Admiralty, and he also went into the whole question of friction between the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. There was friction about the supply of machines and about inspections of the works. A naval inspector would reject a machine and an Army inspector would take it. It was difficult to prevent them fighting. They fought over engines, they fought over the steel that was required for the engines, they fought over everything that was required. In regard to machines, engines and personnel we had this friction going on all the time, and that was one of the factors which led Marquess Curzon to advise the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to set up a separate Air Service.
I ask any Member of this House to say whether the air arm could have been developed as well as it has been developed, if it had remained under the older Services, the Army and the Navy? 2602 It would have been perfectly impossible. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth did not come into contact with these matters as intimately as I did. I knew all about the friction that was going on, and I think if the hon. and gallant Member had been as much in contact with these affairs as I was he would not have made the speech which he has made. There was always difficulty when we had only the two Services, the Navy and the Army, but in that case, fortunately, the line of demarcation was the high-water mark. That had to be recognised and it worked very well, but even then, there was friction between the Services at times and I have read of some dog-fights between them in the past. But if you introduce a third arm and have three lots of people fighting over these matters, I ask hon. Members to consider what the result must be. I ask anybody in this House whether it is desirable to break up the separate Air Force and to have a weak Air Force for the Navy and a weak Air Force for the Army, or to have a separate Air Force to carry out its own mission of protecting these shores from air attack? It is an impossible thing to suggest. You would have competition all along the line, for raw material, engines, personnel, and everything, and with the breaking up into three Air Services you would have worse friction than you had in the War.
The hon. and gallant Member has rightly stressed the disastrous competition which took place between the Services in the initiation of the Air Force, due very greatly to the question of the supply of materials and machines. Will he not agree that it would be very much better in that case that, so far as the supply of all the machines was concerned, there should be set up an Aerial Board on exactly similar lines to that of the Ordnance Board which has worked so well for the supply of guns?
§ Sir M. Sueter
No, I would leave it exactly where it is, because the air industry is working well with the Air Ministry, and they have turned out some very efficient machines. I hope this House will not allow the Royal Air Force to be broken up, because that is the logical conclusion of the hon. and gallant Member's argument. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth 2603 told this House that the Navy was seething with discontent over this question. I went out to Malta in January, and I mixed with many of the young flying officers and naval men. In fact, most of my month was spent in their company, and they worked uncommonly well together.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I went on board the "Glorious" and saw them working together. A Royal Air Force officer explained to me the whole inside of a machine in which I was particularly interested, and there he was, working side by side with the naval airmen, and they all got on very well together indeed. I talked to many of the senior officers, and they never said that the Fleet was seething with discontent about this matter.
§ Sir M. Sueter
They said there were difficulties of administration, and that is why we have appointed the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, to go into these questions and try to smooth them out with the three Chiefs-of-Staff of the fighting Services. I submit that that is what his appointment is for, to get better co-ordination and to smooth out these little difficulties. Those who try in this House to create friction between the Services are, I submit, doing a great disservice to the State. We want to get these Services to work together and to consider themselves as parts of the armed forces of the Crown and not as working in the watertight compartments in which so many naval men will insist upon working. Surely, the Members of this House should lift this question to a higher plane, and not encourage friction between the fighting Services. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence ought to say to the Chiefs-of-Staff, "The House of Commons does not vote money for the emoluments of the officers of the Fleet, the Army, or the Air Force so that they can fight each other." The Minister ought to say to the Chiefs-of-Staff, "You have to see that your people work together." We do not want all this friction. We do not want to see it encouraged by Members of Parliament. We want to get these officers to work together for the highest efficiency of their respective arms.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
As I am not an Admiral, I do not propose to continue this discussion regarding the Fleet Air Arm, but I think it must be clear to the House that the sooner a decision is taken in this matter and, when it is finally taken by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, loyally adhered to by the Services, the better it will be for the defence of this country. There are only one or two points that I want to bring up, and one is the training of the new men under the expansion scheme. There is going to be a great many more pilot officers coming in during the next few years, and there is a feeling that if this expansion is made too quick with the men who are coming in, you will not necessarily get efficiency or safety or the best Air Force that you should, because even to-day, with the expansion that you have had which has been considerable during the last year, you are getting to this, that where before only flight commanders could order a flight, now pilot officers can order a flight, and you are getting people promoted—and you will get more—after only perhaps two years' service, to become flight commanders. It takes much longer than that properly to train people for the high efficiency that you want when you get to the higher grades of command, and it is a matter which I hope will be watched, both for the safety of the men whom you are training and for the efficiency of this expanded arm.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) also mentioned a matter about the aerodromes which are being built and the accommodation at them. There is no doubt—I have mentioned it before—that the accommodation at these new aerodromes is not satisfactory and that in many cases the conditions are very similar to what they were during the War. The hutments and the married-quarters arrangements are bad, and unless you get proper accommodation and proper arrangements, even for the hangars, you will not get a really efficient Service. It was, I think, only last November when some seven big machines were very badly injured in a gale because they were not even in hangars, there being none available, and it is a highly important part of this Service to get proper accommodation and not merely to think that by expanding 2605 the number of machines you will get efficiency.
There is only one other point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member who moved the reduction of the Vote, to which I would refer, and that is the question of profits. Of course, it is a fact that there will be large profits made, and there is a feeling of great uneasiness. Take even a minimum. If you are going to spend in four years £1,500,000,000— and I know, being in industry, that you are not going to get less than a 10 per cent. profit allowed—it means a minimum of £150,000,000 going in profits, and there will be a very strong feeling, unless this matter is dealt with now, to see that those profits are cut down. This is a national emergency, and the Government must see that these profits do not grow to a figure even higher than I have mentioned.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I should like to assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) that in any illustrative badinage which I may have used in debate, I have never had the slightest desire to reflect upon the great services which he rendered to the Navy and to the Air Force in his professional career. No one was more full of enterprise and audacity in the creation and in the implementing of ideas than he, and when I referred to him the other day, it was not in any personal sense, but only with a view to deprecating what I think are the undue claims put forward by the air, claims which really are now pushed to a point far beyond what the interests of this country warrant or indeed could sustain, claims which, taken at their full value, would seem to declare that that great source of our strength, the Navy—the battle fleet, and all the ancillary weapons and vessels in it—was obsolete, as it were brushed aside at a time when this is our main stock-in-trade, at a time when we are defenceless but for the gigantic strength of our naval force. It is against that kind of proposition, deployed not only by him but by many far less competent to speak than he, that I ventured to point out that recent experience, as far as we can measure it, in the Spanish civil war seems to show that navies have still a great deal of life in them.
2606 Curiously enough, I came across the other day a letter which was written when I first went to the Admiralty, in 1911, in which I was warned of the folly of building ironclad ships any longer, because in the next war, whenever it came, the lamentable position of Lord Fisher and Lord Charles Beresford, with their fleets, would be shown when they would be lying helplessly on the surface of the water while the deadly bombs descended in a continuous rain from the air. Well, it has not happened yet, and I am sure that one may be a good friend of the air, one may think that indeed it is the most important branch of our defences at the present time, and certainly the one to which the greatest efforts should be directed, without in the slightest degree diminishing the prestige of the Royal Navy, on which me must rely, at any rate, until our Air Force has reached some strength comparable to that of the Air Forces of European countries. Indeed, I may say that I have the greatest sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I do not think my sympathy has ever been more readily forthcoming than during the recent naval engagement which we have witnessed, when, just as the hon. and gallant Member was making head against the Dreadnought salvoes fired by the gallant Admiral of the Fleet behind me, he was so forcefully attacked in flank by the flotillas of the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor).
I hope that the urgency of a settlement of this question of the Fleet Air Arm is realised both by the Government and by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. It is all very well for the gallant Admiral opposite to say, "You must not raise these matters, because they only make ill will." What he means by that is that only his view must be expressed and that the opposite view must never find expression. But nothing will prevent this controversy going forward. It will go forward steadily until it is settled, and I do not believe that it is at all incapable of settlement. I hope it may be settled by the application of some clear principle and by drawing the necessary line of division in accordance with that principle. I have never thought for a moment that the Fleet Air Arm would be a rival of the Royal Air Force. It is more like divisional cavalry compared to a cavalry 2607 division—something like that proportion. You must give to the Fleet an air service over which it has full control, and which is intimately associated with it and with its special uses. I tried to suggest the other day what the line should be.
Certainly, I am no friend to extravagant claims on the part of the Admiralty. In my view, the Fleet should have only that air service which it requires for operations from ships of war at vessels floating on the blue water, and I would certainly give it the whole of the recruitment and training for that particular limited service. It seems to me that that is absolutely necessary if we are to have satisfaction and proper responsibility. I would urge that just as much on account of the Air Force as on account of the Fleet Air Arm. At the present time an enormous effort of expansion is being made. A great number of squadrons are skeleton squadrons, and above all things they want the leaven of experienced air pilots and air officers, men of several years' standing, men who have had the Cranwell course, the professional element, which is absolutely necessary when an enormous process of dilution and expansion is going forward. Owing to this unhappy controversy, the two Departments are fighting each other so keenly in time of peace —it is the only war that is going on at the present time—that I am informed that the Air Ministry, in their natural desire to placate the Admiralty and to give them satisfaction if they can, are taking an undue proportion of the most experienced officers and sending them to the Fleet Air Arm.
There is another function for these officers, a function which is most urgently needed. If hon. Members will take the trouble to find out about the condition of the different squadrons, they will see how important it is to have senior men, or men, at any rate, of three or four years' service, with these great numbers of new pilots who have been taken on. It would be an enormous benefit to the Royal Air Force if the Fleet Air Arm were self-supporting and developed from the Navy by itself. We should have a new addition to the air resources of this island and not a diminution. In no way would the authority and prestige of the 2608 Air Force suffer from such a division. The principle which should be applied may be called the principle of operational integrity, for want of a better term. You must give the Navy all that it requires and the kind that it requires, but only for its specific and highly specialised functions. The application of a similar principle would naturally be the key to the arrangements which should be made for the defence of fortified naval harbours and the defence of London. Under whomsoever the Air Defence of naval ports may be placed, it cannot be placed under the Navy, because it is seldom there; it moves from one port to the other. Therefore, it must be given to some other authority.
It would seem to me, therefore, that perhaps the application of this principle in two directions at the same time might afford a means of satisfying both the contending parties. If we could in some way bring to an end this tiresome, long-drawn controversy, in which so much feeling has been insinuated, it would enable a happy and satisfactory solution to he reached. Therefore, I hope that we are going to have this inquiry and that the Minister will come to a conclusion. I do not believe that there will be any difficulty in deciding particular hard cases, certain border-line cases. They will have to be decided. There are ways, in every matter of this kind, certain border-line cases, but in principle, if you simply give to the Navy what it requires for the naval operations that I have spoken of, reserving to the Air Force the whole control of air war in its larger sense, I believe that an arrangement could he come to which would be beneficial to both Services and to the Defence of the country.
I was a little disturbed to see a statement and to hear it referred to in debate that Lord Weir had threatened to resign, and that in consequence there had been a change in the procedure to be adopted by the Government on which the Government had already decided. We were told that there was to be a Committee and the names of the Committee had become public knowledge. They were Lord Halifax and the Minister of Education under the Presidency of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence—a worthy, competent, pious trio who, I should think, could be absolutely relied upon to give a thoroughly righteous verdict upon this 2609 technical question. When all this was settled, it was stated that Lord Weir said he would resign unless it was altered. We are told that it was altered and that my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, is to have another one of those conferences with the Chiefs of Staffs of the three Services which, I suppose, have been going on continuously since he took office and which have never moved one inch from the condition of deadlock. I hope that right hon. Friend will clear up the difficulties of this question and will remove from the minds of the public and the House any idea that the Government would be deflected from their course by any threat of resignation. I do not quite understand how a man who has no official position, except that of an adviser, and no official responsibility, has anything in particular to resign, but anyhow, I do not think this matter ought to be settled by threats of resignation on the one hand or the other. I should highly deprecate, and so would the House, any similar threats of resignation from the Lords of the Admiralty. We cannot have that. The matter has to be settled in a reasonable manner by authority after hearing the arguments fully. I have the greatest regard for Lord Weir and well know the value of the services he has rendered, and I hope that we shall hear from the Minister a statement which will show that these newspaper reports are without any foundation.
That is all I wanted to say upon the subject of the Fleet Air Arm, but I cannot sit down without referring to the general progress which the Air Force is making in its expansion programme. I would be the last to under-rate the enormous difficulties of a scheme of this scale undertaken so late in the day and having necessarily to be pressed forward at extraordinary speed. In addition, it is right to remember the great dislocation which was involved in the movements to the Mediterranean, which took place at the end of 1935. One must, however, take the actual facts from the published figures. In 1935, when this expansion was decided upon, the so-called Metropolitan Air Force—you could hardly select a more misleading new term to describe it—or Home Defence Force, which would be a much better name, consisted of 52 squadrons. It was proposed to raise it by the 31st of this month to 123 squadrons, that is to say, 2610 an increase of 71 squadrons was to be made in that period. Actually, we are told, we have now 100, but that is obviously not true, because 22 of them are upon a skeleton basis; they each consist of only a single flight. However, some credit should be given for that force. As there are three flights to a squadron, these skeleton squadrons are equal to seven squadrons. Adding them to the 78, we have a total of 85 altogether. Deducting the 54 which were in existence two years ago, we have an increase of 31 squadrons out of the 71 which were promised should be added. Forty squadrons have not yet even approached the skeleton formation stage.
Therefore, we are bound to take note of the fact, which has been given to us candidly by the Air Ministry, that the programme of expansion is substantially less than half completed by the date promised—something like 44 per cent. only has been accomplished. I would not attempt to throw any blame on the new Secretary of State, who has worked himself as hard as any man and who has employed his distinguished talents on this question. But still, the fact remains that less than half the programme has been carried out by the date promised. This is the only date about which promises have been made. On all the rest of the vast programmes which have been going forward, the Government have been well advised not to give any dates. They have never said that such and such a stage will be completed at a certain hour. Consequently it is always possible to say that everything is going forward according to schedule. The schedule never having been written in the first instance in any definite sense, it is always capable of modification. In regard to the expansion of the Air Force, it was a decision taken at an earlier period than that of the general expansion of the Defence forces. A definite date was fixed, and we find that less than half of what was hoped for by that time has been accomplished.
I hope and trust that we must not take such a figure of 44 per cent. as typical of other programmes or hopes which are going forward behind the scenes and about which we have no definite details. If the full programme of the expansion of the Royal Air Force projected in 1935 had been executed by the 31st of this March, and we had 1,500 machines in 123 squadrons, then I assert that it would 2611 still not have meant parity with the leading air Power within striking air distance of these shores, nor anything like it. My right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister contradicted me the other day—well, it was in November, six months ago, but time passes so quickly that it makes one feel how remorselessly the months slip away—when I said that the very minimum strength of the German effective fighting air force was 1,500 first-line machines. They said that the real number was substantially below that. I cannot accept that statement; I do not believe it. Of course, I do not challenge the bona fides of those who made that statement, but I cannot believe that it represents the true position; or indeed that 1,500 was in November an excessive figure, because it was probably far below the mark, and the increase which has taken place since must certainly have raised the effective fighting force of Germany to a figure which at the very least is more than 1,700 or 1,800 machines capable of going into action and being continuously maintained in action during the course of a war.
I contend, therefore, that every effort should be made to catch up this lag, because evidently the conditions which the Government thought two years ago would be necessary for our safety have not been maintained and are not being maintained; but there is one thing which I do hope that my right hon. Friend will enjoin upon the Air Ministry. On no account should they try to make paper squadrons merely to maintain an idea of parity in Parliament or the country. We all know that they are trying their utmost now, and if things are not what they hoped or what we hoped, it is no longer suitable or necessary to use reproaches upon the matter. Let the Air Ministry address themselves solely to the military merits of the problem, and not endeavour to form a single squadron, for the sake of saying they have got so many, before it would be natural to form it in the ordinary course of their departmental duty.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
The Minister for the Ca-ordination of Defence must sometimes feel very thankful that among his duties is not the task of coordinating the opinions of the professional naval officers in this House—I am afraid 2612 that the apostles of the united front would find very few recruits among them; but I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) upon his battle practice. I thought he carried out a remarkably fine shoot, and he did a thing which is very rare, he hit the target with his first salvo, right on the water-line or the bulges of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and he continued to hit throughout his practice. Before I go on to the matters I wish particularly to deal with I will refer to one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) relative to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) and replied to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his reply the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather discounted the idea that undue profits were going to be made because of our armaments programme. I have here an extract from the leading article in the "Financial Times" of Saturday, 20th March, which says:Armament demand, again, has exerted powerful pressure upon various commodity markets. Yesterday's irregular movements were associated in large part with reactions from the excessive gambling operations which undoubtedly have helped to force the pace of advancing prices.I commend that extract from the "Financial Times" to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is repudiating the idea that there is gambling and excessive profits. I can only say that I wish the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence could co-ordinate his various schemes half as well as a small group of industrialists co-ordinate theirs when there is a national emergency. A national emergency means wealth to them. They plundered the country during the War, and they are going to plunder the country again now. In the Debate on this subject last week it almost drew tears to my eyes when I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) defending the right of firms to make these high profits and telling us harrowing stories about the difficulties they encounter in doing so. Every word that the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey said on that subject reinforced the arguments of my hon. Friends on these benches for State control of armaments.
To come to the matters which I really rose to refer to, I should like first to 2613 congratulate the right hon. Baronet the Under-Secretary of State for Air upon his recovery from chicken pox, but it is a very curious thing that only a short time ago the Foreign Secretary was suffering from the same complaint. It makes me feel that there is some kindergarten to which members of the Government go in order to learn their policies out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. I suggest that they might look about for a rather less infectious kindergarten. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence described himself as a babe the other day, and it may be that he is the carrier of infantile diseases, since, as we know, a carrier is one who conveys the disease but does not contract it himself. It is really getting rather alarming, because if what the newspapers tell us is true an event will take place very shortly which will reveal to the country that in the short space of about two years two Prime Ministers have retired from their office on account of old age. What sort of a Front Bench is this which begins with chicken pox at one end and works up to senile decay at the other?
I hope that in his reply to-day, the Minister will refer to two questions raised in a very able and valuable speech—if he will allow me to say so—made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely). He asked whether we have bombing machines of sufficient range to carry out a bombing attack upon Berlin, and also inquired about some unsafe types of machine in service in the Air Force at the present moment. I wish also to refer to two questions which I put recently in this House. I asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the fact that the Air Ministry is now the second spending Department among the Defence Departments, he would consider putting the Air Minister in this House. The Prime Minister made a most extraordinary reply: that because the Air Minister has so much work to do, because his work involves a great deal of strain, therefore it is more suitable for him to sit in another place. I thought it an astonishing thing to say that the more a Minister's Department is spending and the more his work gives rise to inquiry and debate the greater the reason for his not sitting in this House. It is not a reply that I can accept, and I do not think my 2614 friends on these benches are prepared to accept it either.
The head of a huge spending Department should be in the House of Commons to answer to Members, and I also think it is due to the status of the Air Ministry that they should be represented in this House by the head of the Ministry. I assure the right hon. Baronet the Under-Secretary that I wish to make no personal criticism of him. I admired very greatly the speech with which he introduced the Air Estimates last week, but my memory goes back to last year, when the Navy was in a similar position, because the First Lord of the Admiralty was not then sitting in this House. Nobody who took part in the Debates on the Navy Estimates last year and who took part in them this year would fail to agree that the Debate was enormously improved this year by the fact that we had the First Lord on the bench opposite to reply for his Department.
Now I come to another question which I recently put to the Prime Minister, and to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence about the Fleet Air Arm. I had what I consider to be very unsatisfactory replies, unsatisfactory not only to myself but, I think I may fairly say, unsatisfactory to many other Members of this House. I do not wish to complicate this question of the Fleet Air Arm because I realise the delicacy of it and that difficult personal questions are involved. I have no wish to add any fuel to any fire which may be smouldering, but I consider that the present position is unsatisfactory if not discreditable, and that the Government should come to a final decision on the subject. I was told that an inquiry was to be held. The Press indicated that the Lord Privy Seal and the President of the Board of Education would hold the inquiry. I do not know that another inquiry is necessary. I think the facts must be amply on record. What is wanted is not so much an inquiry as a decision, and a decision which will be enforced. But after this announcement the next thing we read in the Press was that Lord Weir had protested against the composition of the inquiry. The Secretary of State for Air had gone on sick leave, and in a very carefully worded statement that Lord Weir issued to the Press he carefully refrained from contradicting the allegations that he had protested about the composition of 2615 the inquiry. Now we are told that the committee is not to consist of Cabinet Ministers, but is to consist of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and the Service heads of the three Defence Ministries.
If all this is true, and I am not assuming that it is but quoting what has been said, then I ask who is Lord Weir to dictate about these matters? I do not think that any man, however eminent, should be allowed to play such a part in a matter like this unless he has some direct political responsibility to this House or to the Government. I do not understand why the Government should be so afraid of what Lord Weir may say about the matter. Let the Government remember that no man is indispensable. Listening to the reply which was given to a question to-day by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, it occurred to me that if Lord Weir is discharging so many responsible duties as he appears to be doing at the moment, and if those duties are so interwoven and inter-locked with the Government's armament programme, then the sooner he occupies a position of political responsibility the better.
The position about the Fleet Air Arm is discreditable. The Admiralty and some of the commanders-in-chief and admirals are not accepting whole-heartedly and loyally the decision of the Government which at present governs the situation, and they keep up a ceaseless barrage in order to get their own way. I consider that that conduct is very bad for discipline in the Service. It is bad to see the Admiralty and naval officers of high rank obstructing, where a Government decision is concerned. What do the Admiralty want? They already have complete tactical control; do they want their own research department or to run their own air supplies or their own air training establishment? If that is their demand, we should have inevitably waste, overlapping, expense and inefficiency. Are the Admiralty putting in a claim for their own shore-based air squadrons and are they prepared to accept responsibility for safeguarding merchantmen, oil tankers and auxiliaries from aerial attack in time of war?
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
Perhaps we shall hear an answer to our questions from the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. I hope somebody will answer them. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not know!"] They will know still less if we are to have divided air control in these matters. If the Admiralty and the Air Ministry are at variance and if the Service chiefs are to decide this question it means, in effect, giving the casting vote to the War Office. We need not an inquiry but a Cabinet decision, and an intimation that that decision has to be loyally accepted and carried out or something very serious will happen to those who obstruct in the future. I would ask the Minister to tell us whether the committee of inquiry over which he is to preside will have before it the minutes and expressions of opinion of the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject when he was Secretary of State for Air? I would remind the Minister, with all due respect to the Admiralty and to the admirals, that these are people who hate anything and anybody who is not under their thumb, body and soul and lock, stock and barrel. If he needs proof of that he has only to look at the grudging treatment which has always been accorded to one of the finest bodies of men in the world, the Royal Marines.
I am fully in sympathy with what was said by my hon. Friend about the democratisation of the Air Force. I agree with him also in objecting to that word, but, like another hybrid abortion "unilateral," it expresses what we mean, in regard to the officering of the Air Force. In speaking on this subject, I make no adverse comment upon the present officers of the Royal Air Force. On the contrary, I can say sincerely that I have the highest admiration for their courage, efficiency, energy and zeal. If this country, however, is being asked to find enormous sums of money for Air Defence to which everybody in the country will have to contribute in some form or another, we have the right to ask that the Force should be democratically officered, and that there should be an end of the pernicious, self-interested theory that the whole of the governing classes must always come from the public schools. The suggestions of snobbery made in the Debate the other day were very much resented. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence 2617 quoted stories of Dickens and Thackeray on the subject, and was at great pains to assure us that no Royal Air Force officer could possibly qualify for inclusion in Thackeray's "Book of Snobs." I have read of an incident about a presentation at Court which would not bear that out. If the Minister approaches the subject with an impartial mind he will find that there are vestiges and traces of snobbery, and that much might be done in the direction desired by hon. Members.
In his speech on this subject in the Debate last week, the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence showed all over again that there is a complete lack of understanding about what the duties of such a Minister should be. If hon. Members want a good illustration, there is the fact that, during the diplomatic absence on leave of the Minister for Air, the co-ordinating Minister takes charge of the Air Ministry. Nothing could be more inconsistent with the idea for which the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence was appointed.
Again the questions which are put every week to the Minister about profits and prices, and so on, clearly show that he is now regarded as the Minister not for the Co-ordination of Defence but for the co-ordination and regulation of production and of supplies. A very typical speech was made in the Debate last week by the Minister. As I listened, I felt that he was the spiritual successor to the late lamented Lord Haldane, of whom it used to be said that nothing was really obscure until Lord Haldane had explained it in two fat volumes. Over and over again, the Debate showed how much we needed a Minister to settle this question of the Fleet Air Arm. I am shy of quoting from speeches made in the country by Cabinet Ministers because the Prime Minister always explains to us that they have been misreported, but I would remind hon. Members that, in a speech made in the country, the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence told us that he was acquiring confidence in the performance of his duties. I interpret that as meaning that he is acquiring what the Americans call "sales resistance" to the various pups which the heads of the Fighting Services no doubt attempt to sell him. It would be very interesting to know how far the Minister has gone in acquiring confidence in the performance of his duties.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we are discussing the Air Estimates. I do not quite see what that has to do with the duties of the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
It appears to me that the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence is in charge of the Air Ministry.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
It would be interesting to know how much time he is giving to the Air Ministry at the present moment, and how much to the other duties which he has to perform. Is it in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to pursue that line of argument?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. and gallant Member pursues it very far I think that he will get back to where he started.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
If that is the case it is clear that the Minister is not devoting very much time to the Air Ministry. You have assured me that if I pursued that part of his duties I should quickly get back to where I was. If that is so he cannot be doing anything very important at the Air Ministry. I will therefore return to the remarks which the Minister made during the Debate on the Air Estimates last week. I noticed that he said he resented very much that we should name any country as the objective of this vast re-armament programme for the Royal Air Force. That statement divorces a great deal of what the Minister says and does from a sense of reality. There is a saying: "I named no names but she knew what I meant"; it is rather that type of remark.
After what the Minister said about the possibility of defence against the bomber, it is evident that he is completely at variance with the Prime Minister, who told us that the bomber will always get through. The Minister told us in his speech last week that he did not think that that was at all the case. On this very essential matter the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence is at loggerheads with his own Prime Minister. Co-ordination, like charity, ought to begin at home. We shall have to find somebody to co-ordinate the co-ordinator and 2619 to bring his views into line with those of the Prime Minister on this vital subject. Although I quote the Prime Minister, I feel that his obiter dicta on Defence matters will not rank very high in the future. He has told us that the bomber will always get through, but the Minister does not agree. The Prime Minister has told us that our frontier is on the Rhine, whereupon, very naturally, Hitler marched into the Rhineland to defend the Rhine against us. He gave us completely misleading information about the German Air Force not so long ago. The Prime Minister told us also that democracy must always be two years behind dictatorships. If that be so, it is rather a waste of time to spend all this money. These obiter dicta of the Prime Minister are not impressive. The truth is that the Prime Minister in all these matters has been a non-playing captain. Apparently, shortly he will be found in the Lords Pavilion watching members of his team making ducks and getting clean bowled in the good old way, and be able to enjoy the fun without having any responsibility.
In conclusion I would refer to a matter which was mentioned in the Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), who asked whether the Air Ministry were paying full attention to the views of the scientists in the matter of air Defence. I share his feeling that the views of scientists are probably not always welcome at the Admiralty, the Air Ministry or the War Office. Scientists are rather like gadflies in this matter. Socrates lost his life for being a gadfly on the back of the City of Athens. The Ministries are rather apt to regard scientists inimically and as gadflies, and not to encourage them more than they can help. My right hon. Friend also quoted Lord Haldane as having said that thinking costs nothing. I do not agree with Lord Haldane about that; I think that thinking which costs nothing is probably also worth nothing. Thinking costs much time, a great deal of searching of heart, a great deal of mental strain, and the thinker is worthy of his hire. He ought at least to be worth as much as, say, a Sea Lord. I resent the idea that you should get the product of men's brains, of scientists' brains, for very little indeed. Good thinking ought to cost something if it is to be worth anything.
2620 The speech of the right hon. Baronet in introducing the Estimates was remarkable inasmuch as he did not make one single complaint of being stinted for anything in these Estimates. Everything that he wanted—men, money, material, advice, assistance and so on—he admitted at that Box that he was receiving in full measure from everybody concerned. If he is being so well treated about his Estimates and about the work of the Air Ministry, I should like to ask him whether, in return, he could not treat the House with a little greater frankness in replying to questions which are put to him by Members who really have the greatest wish to co-operate in these matters now that we are committed to the expenditure. They only wish to co-operate with him and with the Air Ministry in producing the best and most efficient results for the money that is to be spent. Could not he co-operate a little more fully and frankly in his replies to questions which are put to him? Really, in regard to questions which are put to the Front Bench opposite, I feel that the Government are like "strip-tease" artistes; they keep on giving you a little, but you never arrive at the ultimate satisfaction of the naked truth and nothing but the truth. I wish that the Minister, in return for all that, as he so freely admitted, is being done for him, would in future do a little more, by way of answers to questions, to co-operate with those who are sincerely anxious to co-operate now in the work of producing an efficient Air Force.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I cannot say that I agree with very much that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has said, but I do agree with him whole-heartedly when he says that the Secretary of State for Air should be in this House. It is extraordinarily difficult to have to ask questions of, and to have to attack, a Minister who is not the one that is responsible for his Department. I have spent the week-end reading the speeches which the Under-Secretary of State for Air has made on civil aviation since 1933; and, of course, I am bound, when I quote them to-day, to quote them as his and not as those of the Secretary of State for Air, to whom I should be only too delighted to express my feelings.
The House, the Press and the country now realise the importance of military aviation, and they also realise that this 2621 country is peculiarly vulnerable to attack from the air. They realise, too, that this deadly modern weapon is being developed very efficiently in many capitals of the world to-day. But all of us hope that the war is not coming; we hope that, even though late in the day, sanity may prevail and the armament race be abandoned. Should that be the case, however, and should we avoid a war, this country will still be faced with very difficult problems. When we have to go back to normal naval, military and air production, and when other countries start turning men from armament factories to civil life, there will then be a type of economic warfare and a race to capture world markets, and in that economic warfare one of the most powerful weapons is going to be aviation. When we look at our civil aviation, which is the weapon that we shall then have to use, we cannot but feel intense and profound depression. This country, which has such an enormous Empire and Empire air routes, is lagging behind in a most serious and terrible way where civil aviation is concerned—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must point out to the hon. Lady that there is another Vote, to be taken later to-night, for civil aviation. If the House is willing that the whole of that Vote for civil aviation should be discussed on this Vote, it must be on the understanding that the matter is not raised again on the other Vote which is to come before the House later.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Lady must understand that that can be done only with the consent of the House, and it is my duty to ascertain whether the House supports that suggestion.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I have consulted with the Patronage Secretary on the matter, and that method would certainly suit myself and my hon. Friends.
§ Mrs. Tate
As I have said, we are very much behind in our development of civil 2622 aviation. Words have been described as the most powerful drug in existence, and nothing proves that more clearly than a perusal of the speeches of the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I am going to quote from a speech which he made on 8th March, 1934—three years ago—three years in which other nations have been extraordinarily active. The right hon. Gentleman then said:Turning from East to West, a new project of considerable interest for which a provision of £10,000 is made in these Estimates is a weekly service between New York and Bermuda which is operated by Imperial Airways co-operating with American interests. Apart from its local importance, this new route is of particular interest in that it may very likely prove to be a first link in a trans-Atlantic service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2937, Vol. 286.]I think that anyone who read that, or heard it, would be quite justified in thinking that that line was operating. That was in March, 1934. I should like to ask where the New York-Bermuda service is to-day. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is perfectly right; it is in the air. With regard to that service, the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech on the Estimates this year, said:It is expected that the Bermuda-New York service will begin operations this year. It will entail non-stop hops over 80o miles of water."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1936; col. 1680, Vol. 321.]That is four years later. Every year we have had references to this New York-Bermuda service—in 1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937—and still it does not exist. Some of us have beard of a certain "Bellman" who said:I said it twice;That alone should encourage the crew.Just the place for a snark.I have said it thrice.When I say a thing three times it's true.The Under-Secretary of State for Air is not in the happy position of the Bellman, because he has said it four times and still it is not true. "His words, like so many nimble and airy servitors, trip about at his command," but I very much regret to say that some of them are little more than air.
I turn now to 20th December, 1934, the date on which we had described to the House the new Empire Air services, which the whole House welcomed, feeling that they were overdue. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said about 2623 the new Empire Air services on 20th December, 1934:As regards schedules, the scheme as suggested to the other Governments concerned envisages a schedule of just over two days to India, two-and-a-half days to East Africa, four days to the Cape, four days to Singapore and seven days to Australia.He went on to mention frequencies, and then he said:I can as yet give no date for the inauguration of the scheme. The provision of the necessary fleet, ground organisation, etc., will require a period of something like two years before a project of this magnitude, constituting, as it does, the largest step forward which has yet been taken in the development of Empire air communications, could be brought into full operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December, 1934; cols. 13291330, Vol. 296.]That was said on 20th December, 1934. We are now in March, 1937, and of the 29 flying boats ordered for the inauguration of that Empire service we have had delivery, I think I am right in saying, of five. We all know that there is not the smallest hope of that service being in operation by the end of 1938. I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I very much doubt whether it will be in operation before the end of 1939. A scheme that sounded satisfactory, progressive, rapid and wonderful when it was outlined in 1934, may prove to be far from rapid, far from progressive and far from satisfactory if it does not come into operation until 1938 or 1939, for other countries believe in action, while we, apparently, believe in words. To-day, for instance, is it not a very serious thing from the point of view of our prestige abroad that we have to read in the Press "that Indian princes and merchants coming to England for the season are flying to London by the Dutch Air Line, K.L.M.? They would prefer to travel British, but cannot spare the time."
Whenever we criticise Imperial Airways in this House we are told that we are unpatriotic, that we are lowering British prestige abroad; but does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that other countries have no knowledge of the time schedules of our services? Does he think that it is not a by-word throughout the world that our machines are obsolete, that they take many days longer to fly the same route and distance than the Dutch service? Are we going to pretend that this great country, with its vast wealth 2624 and its colossal Empire, ought not to be able to do as well as Holland?
I turn to the Atlantic. Many of us believe that a closer relationship between this country and America is very much to be desired, and certainly, if we look at South America from the financial standpoint alone, we can ill afford to neglect our trade with that country. What did the Under-Secretary of State say about the Trans-Atlantic service? On 17th March, 1936, he said:We have for a long time past been engaged on plans for a Trans-Atlantic Service. Certain long range machines are already on order for this purpose and others are about to be ordered. We aim at making an experimental beginning this year, if possible, or at any rate early in 1937."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1936; col. 272, Vol. 310.]Of course, I do not know what people call "early in 1937." The spring has been mentioned, but I do not know by what people judge spring.
To me spring is now here—the crocuses are out in St. James's Park—English lambs are shivering in English fields—a few farmers still having the courage and optimism to believe that the Government will one day show some signs of wishing to save the agricultural industry—birds are mating. Those are usually regarded as signs of spring. Yet we know that no attempt to cross the North Atlantic has yet been made, although Germany has not only carried out the experiment but a very successful flight. What of the South Atlantic? The right hon. Baronet said in May, 1936:As an illustration of the way in which Sir Warren Fisher's Committee will normally proceed, when considering the inauguration of a new service, I may say that it has at present under review the possible operation of a service across the South Atlantic. Inquiries have indicated five different interests or undertakings who are interested in this service and who may like to be considered for it. All five have been asked to submit proposals. I take this opportunity of giving the very widest publicity to our intentions in this sphere.I should like to call attention to a most moving paragraph in the Monetary Memorandum which accompanies the Air Estimates:The machinery of the Inter-Departmental Committee which was set up in May, 1935, under the chairmanship of Sir Warren Fisher is enabling all Departments of State concerned to deal rapidly and in concert with current questions of international and Imperial air communications.Hon. Members may have a different idea as to the meaning of the word "rapid," 2625 but, when those five companies were asked to tender for a South Atlantic service—I know what I am talking about for I was one of the people approached—we were told to submit a scheme which could operate in the spring of 1937. I have since resigned all interest in the company which I was previously concerned with, but the House has not yet, nor has the country, nor have the companies concerned, even been told which company has been selected to run the route. Really, words are indeed a powerful drug—if the House on facts considers our position as compared to other countries satisfactory. The House realises the importance of military aviation. I only wish that hon. Members were more air-minded, and would realise more clearly, as the Germans and French are realising, the vital importance of civil aviation. We are very fond of abusing dictatorships, and I am the last person, either temperamentally or politically, to be suited to be living under a dictatorship. Nevertheless, when we condemn the German policy of guns before butter, are we so very sure that they are not building up in their air lines a very effective means of getting butter later on, whereas we have built up a high standard of living and are not taking means by adequate development of civil aviation of retaining or even of keeping up our export trade, upon which alone our high standard of living and our costly social services are to be maintained?
Germany and France have been operating a weekly or fortnightly service across the South Atlantic for two or three years, and we, who have £400,000,000 invested there, have not even made an experimental flight. In 1935 we paid them £100,000 for carriage of our mail. If you look at it from a military point of view, it is by our long-range flying boats that to a very large extent we shall keep our trade routes safe in time of war and ensure our food supplies. Much as I admire the work which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) has done for air in the House, I do not agree with him. I believe the incompetence of the Air Ministry is such that it would be a very great mercy if we could have the Admiralty with its own Fleet Air Arm. On these long-range flying boats will depend our security for food in time of war. The Government is doing very little 2626 to ensure that we shall maintain, let alone increase, home production. The farmer to-day is one of the most neglected and hard-hit members of the community. In 1921 you had more than 800,000 people employed in agriculture. To-day you have 600,000, and they are the old people. The young people are not going into agriculture, and no wonder, when you note the Government's present lack of policy, and apparently of interest.
We are very far behind with civil aviation. I believe we are behindhand in our military programme, but not as seriously as we are with our civil programme. To turn to another subject, usually, when we have the Air Estimates we have wonderful figures of the increase in pilots' licences and in our own internal air lines. We had no word of it this year, but is it not partly because of the scandalous policy pursued by the railway companies in refusing to advertise any other air lines than their own? We have voted a subsidy for British Airways for a Scandinavian service. We all want to see it successful. We welcome the fact that Imperial Airways is not the only civil line to which we have given a subsidy, yet to-day you cannot take a ticket to travel by British Airways nor any British air line other than Imperial Airways at Cook's, because of the line pursued by the railway companies. I hope that whenever any question of facilities for the railways comes up we shall remember the policy that they are pursuing. The Opposition are always wanting to find grounds on which to criticise the Government. It is a very curious thing to me that they have not used this. I do not know what the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) is thinking about. He was once Air Minister. I do not understand figures, but my "Financial News" would seem to tell me that this year, if you look at the trading accounts of Imperial Airways without the subsidy, there is a trading loss of £66,000, and yet they paid a 6 per cent. dividend and a 2 per cent. bonus. The taxpayer is paying the dividend.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Is the hon. lady aware that we have been making that point repeatedly for a large number of years, and have pointed out that every penny that Imperial Airways has paid, and not only the dividend this year, has 2627 been paid out of the subsidy, but on the occasions when we have invited the hon. Lady and her friends to support us in resisting that subsidy she has not favoured us with her support in the Lobby.
§ Mrs. Tate
It is a great pity, before the hon. Member makes these extraordinary statements, that he does not bother to see that they are accurate—not that I expect the Opposition to be accurate. If they were, they would not be able to make speeches in the House defending their policy. If the hon. Member looks up the Air Navigation Bill of last year, when the subsidy to Imperial Airways was decided for another 15 years, he will find that I voted with the Opposition.
§ Mrs. Tate
I do not expect an apology from the Opposition for inaccuracy. If we did, we should seldom be able to make speeches on this side of the House because of the time taken up by hon. Members in apology. I believe Imperial Airways should be given a large subsidy. I believe that one of the reasons why they are behind other air lines of the world is that they had to start on the idiotic line once so popular "that civil aviation must be made to fly by itself." I do not believe that to-day they are in a position to pay a dividend, and it certainly should not be allowed to be paid with the taxpayer's money.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
There are one or two aspects on the productive side of aviation that ought to have some consideration. It may be that there is not great satisfaction at the progress that has been made with the building of the Fleet, but there have been some very unfortunate disputes recently. There was in particular one at Wolverhampton, which might not have arisen if the employers had taken the men into their confidence. More recently there have been other disputes which have very largely arisen through the management of factories not having consultations with the workers. In reply to a question by the Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence indicated that it would not be advisable for him to consult with trade union leaders or advise 2628 them in any way, and I am fully in agreement with him, but I think that either he or the Under-Secretary ought to have gone a little further. New methods are being adopted in the factories and trainees and being instructed. The Under-Secretary or the Minister for Co-ordination might give some advice to the management of those factories to be a little more explicit.
We have not entirely forgotten what happened in the processes of dilution enforced upon craftsmen and skilled workers from 1914 to 1918, and the effect of that dilution still exists in the factories and workshops to-day. The management of the firms producing aero engines, in their efforts to increase production, should at least have consultation with those engaged in the industry, and not necessarily the officials of trade union organisations. There are representative stewards who can speak on behalf of their organised fellow workers and can negotiate in the direction of making adjustments essential for bringing the best out of the productive elements in factories and workshops. It is for that reason that I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air, if he is still finding difficulties in regard to the rate of production of aero engines and other equipment, to appeal to the management of the various firms to keep on the best side of the men. The Ministry are demanding an adequate personnel for the flying fleet, and it is, therefore, necessary that superior machines should be built so as to safeguard the lives of the men who fly them. In order to obtain these machines, the men employed in their manufacture should have the necessary skill, and it is from that point of view that I appeal to the Under-Secretary not merely to depend upon the Ministry of Labour, with its conciliation department, when disputes arise, but to take some foresight and consult with the management of the factories engaged in these very necessary services. I trust that that matter will not be overlooked.
More than 12 months ago I put a question to the Under-Secretary with regard to representations that had been made to him with reference to the establishment of a Royal Air Force aerodrome on Cannock Chase. I am not raising the point merely to elicit information, but because, in another direction, the National Parks Committee have recommended that this 2629 should be a playground for the Midlands. I am rather hopeful that, even if it should be that the Air Ministry require it, it will be only temporary in character. It is essential that in this huge industrial area this site should be a playground for the people. But there is also a reminder that from 1914 to 1918 this was actually a military camp. We are not allowed to forget it in the district, because there is what may be termed an international cemetery where the remains of men from Canada, Australia and other Dominions and Colonies lie side by side with the remains of German prisoners, and people from all parts of the country come to see it still. I ask the Under-Secretary to give an indication as to whether they are actually going to reserve that area for the purpose of establishing an aerodrome. There would have to be the linking-up of such an aerodrome with engineering factories and essential services, and it is because of these factors, that I impress upon the Ministry to make up their minds as early as possible. I trust that, on the question of personnel and machinery for the avoidance of disputes in the aircraft factories, both in the interest of the Department and the nation as a whole, they will take into consultation the management and the men, and see that the men get a fair and square deal.
§ 6.37 p.m.
I shall not intervene in the quarrel between the Fleet Air Arm and the Air Ministry; in fact, I shall not deal at all in military aviation. I want to say a few words on civil aviation. The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) sees no good in Imperial Airways; it is obsolete, it has no sort of advantage at all. It is very difficult to know from the nature of some of the hon. Lady's charges whether she was attacking the Air Ministry or Imperial Airways. For example, she said that the Empire services were not started to the full amount that the Air Ministry promised. There are two services, at least, running now. The England-India and Australia line is running a two-weekly service. I who, for business reasons, depend on the Australian mail, find that it is extraordinarily regular, and just as up to date as used to be the case by steamship. That service is to the credit of Imperial Airways. The England to South Africa service is running. It is not flying to Cape 2630 Town because the South African Airways did not want that section flown, but Imperial Airways are ready to extend from Durban to Cape Town at any time the South African Government wishes. So there are two great services actually in operation. The hon. Lady said that instead of 28 flying boats Imperial Airways had only seven. Until the terms of the subsidy were settled, it was impossible for the company to order these flying boats, and I believe that they took the risk of placing an order before the actual agreement was signed, but that was really a great financial risk.
They had not enough to pay for these new boats, and they could not get the 28 flying boats until they knew that the subsidy was to be paid. This brings me to one point with which I am entirely in agreement with the hon. Lady. The company have been hampered all through by insufficient subsidy. Like her, I want to see an extended Empire and world air service run by this country. I realise its great importance, but this House realises, I am sure, that no substantial air service can carry on by itself. Every aeroplane that goes into the air has to be subsidised, and the Government can have just as big an air service as they choose to pay for. I would also point out to the House that in every country excepting this Imperial Airways are held up as a model.
Indeed it is so. I have flown in every service in Europe, and it is only in this House of Commons that Imperial Airways are so bitterly attacked. Take the case of one great improvement that they have produced—Empire flying boats. There is no doubt at all that flying boats will gradually replace the big land machines, and especially is this so in our Empire. It is clear that the larger land aeroplane will be superseded by flying boats. We are well ahead in this matter, anyhow, and the hon. Lady will not disagree when I say, that we have realised that the flying boat is the carrying aeroplane of the future.
2631 Let me give some of the facts of the performances of Imperial Airways. During the last completed year they flew 6,500,000 miles, and during the current year they will fly 8,000,000 miles. When they started, their routes were only 1,760 miles in length; in 1936 they were 19,000 miles, and in 1937 they were 27,000 miles, and the goods and passengers that they have carried have increased proportionately. I do not say that a great company like this enjoying a subsidy should not be criticised. Of course, it should be criticised, but do criticise it fairly, and compare like with like. The average flight of a passenger by Imperial Airways on the Empire service is something like 2,000 miles. Show me a service that can compare with that. You must look at the difficulties with which the Empire service has to contend and, above all, you must recognise that safety is the one thing that matters. A man who books a passage to New York should not have to consider whether the sea is more safe than the air. He should consider convenience. Safety combined with convenience is by far the most important thing in civil aviation. Stunt flights and excessive speeds are all very well as trimmings, but the final thing and the vitally important thing is safety for passengers and safety for the carriage of goods. In both those respects I submit that we are a long way ahead of any other country.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
There is one question that I should like to raise, and that is the peculiar position in which British Airways have been put by the attitude of the railway companies.
I agree that the position is a difficult one, but I do not think that it is due to the railway companies. I think it is the Clearing House. I do not think the railway companies are responsible.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I am very glad that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agrees that in any case British Airways are being most unfairly treated. I wish to explain to the House why I am interested in the subject. It happened that last summer I wanted to go to Denmark, and I went in the ordinary way to get 2632 a ticket. I found that tickets by all manner of foreign air companies were pushed at me, but I never heard of any British ticket. Not being extremely well versed in these affairs, I did not receive an explanation until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), who raised the subject a fortnight ago. The House ought to understand clearly the circumstances which appear to me to be scandalous in the extreme. The circumstances are these that, if you like, the Railway Clearing House has taken this line that it has a hold over Cook's and the other tourists agencies and has said to them, "We forbid you to book any passengers for British Airways."
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
What, then, is the position? The first thing that we did when this Parliament met was to pass an Act allowing the railway companies to raise an enormous loan, with a Government guarantee behind it, so that we indirectly gave the railway companies a subsidy far larger than that which is given to British Airways. We have the position now that the railway companies themselves accepting a subsidy from Parliament, are pursuing an anti-national policy, the purpose of which is to stultify and nullify another subsidy which the Government gave to another line. That cannot be permitted to continue. I was not at all satisfied with the line that was taken by the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the subject the other night. The answer of the Air Ministry is that this is no concern of theirs, that it is merely a quarrel between two commercial companies and that they have not the power, although they might have the desire, to intervene. I do not think that that is the case at all.
The reason that this policy is adopted is because the railway companies are objecting to the possible competition of British Airways along internal routes. That is the sole reason of the policy. They object to competition with the railway air services, and in the railway air services the Government have a responsibility. The railway air service consists of the four railway lines and Imperial Airways. Imperial Airways have two directors nominated by the Government, and I should like to know whether the 2633 Government have instructed their directors on Imperial Airways to raise this issue and either to agree with it or protest against it. The Government cannot, as long as they are part of Imperial Airways, take the line that this is merely a matter between two commercial concerns, in neither of which they have any interest. I am sure that now that the House as a whole is coming to understand the situation, such a situation cannot last. I do not believe that the House will accept it. My experience is that in the long run it is impossible to fight the House of Commons. I raise the matter at this stage because I suggest to the Railway Clearing House that it would be very much better for it to deal with this issue and to meet the policy of the Government and the wishes of the House gracefully while it can do so of its own accord.
I had intended to deal with one or two minor issues which would be specially the concern of the Under-Secretary of State for Air, but I gather that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is to reply, and therefore I will raise issues which are more particularly in his sphere. I shall not make a controversial speech, but I should like to put before slim certain considerations which he might bear in mind in making decisions. A little time ago I raised the question of the ground service for aerial defence, such as searchlights, sound detectors and anti-aircraft guns, which are now in the hands of the War Office instead of the Air Ministry. I stated that that showed a lack of co-ordination which was improper and unscientific, but in his speech last week the right hon. Gentleman in replying to me on that point said that it was a reasonable arrangement because as other ground artillery was in the hands of the War Office so all ground artillery should be in the hands of the War Office. The Secretary of State for War argued on the same principle when he said that men engaged in the same occupation ought to be under the same Department.
It is a point of considerable importance when the principle of the allocation of functions is being laid down that the Services should be divided up according to the weapon that is used. On the same principle, if artillery is to be in the hands of the War Office, aeroplanes and 2634 everything appertaining thereto should be in the hands of the Air Ministry, and so on. I hope that the Minister for the Coordination of Defence will not make up his mind on this matter too early. He has pronounced already on the question of the ground defence of the Air Force and has stated that it should be left to the War Office. There is an alternative which appears to me on general grounds to be a better one, and that is that operations of any sort connected with the air should belong to the Air Ministry, that those connected with the Navy should belong to the Admiralty and those connected with the Army should belong to the War Office. There would be certain exceptions but, broadly, that should be the line of division of different functions between the Services. I would ask my right hon. Friend not to make up his mind too soon, because, obviously, in coming to his decision about the future of the Fleet Air Arm, these considerations will be very important. The fact that he has not come to a decision on that subject means that he has an open mind as to which course he is going to adopt. If he adopts in the case of the Fleet Air Arm the principle that he has laid down in regard to the ground defences against air attacks it will lead him to the decision that all aeroplanes whether they fly from ships or not should be under the Air Ministry.
I raise this point because I should like the right hon. Gentleman to realise that his decision in regard to the Fleet Air Arm will decide a number of questions. If he follows the advice that has been given to him by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who adopts the alternative principle that operations connected with the Navy should belong to the Admiralty, he will adopt the principle that aeroplanes which fly from ships for naval purposes should belong to the Admiralty. Although training, research and supply might still be left to the Air Ministry, for all other purposes the aeroplanes would belong to the service mainly concerned with naval operations. If he adopts that principle, which seems to me on the whole a reasonable one, he will realise that it will lead him to this decision that all weapons which are connected with fighting in the air should belong to the Air Ministry and all searchlights, sound locators and anti-aircraft guns should belong to the Air Ministry. 2635 That will also lead to another decision which has not been much discussed lately but will be raised soon. If the right hon. Gentleman comes to the conclusion that aircraft working for the Navy should belong to the Admiralty, it will be difficult to resist the conclusion that aeroplanes working for the Army should belong to the War Office although, again, research supply, etc., would belong to the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
Supply, training and research. This question has been discussed by one who is regarded not only as a great soldier but a very profound thinker, General Sir Edmund Ironside, Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Command. I will read what he says, because this is a question which will come to the front. This is from "The Study of War," page 133:In my opinion the Army suffers greatly in that some of its essential services, artillery, observation, reconnaissance, are in the hands of another Service. I believe that one might just as well take away the mechanical tractors of the artillery and place them under the Royal Army Service Corps as take away the Army's aircraft and place them under the Air Force.The Minister will see that he has a certain doctrine to decide. His decision on that doctrine will determine his decision on the Fleet Air Arm, and on the other two points I have raised. I am not going to enter into the controversy, but I believe that in determining his decision he can make a great contribution merely because he is a politician, and from his knowledge of the working of Departments. It is not only that he is free from all service prepossessions, but anybody who has had experience of Departments realises one fact, that is, the immense influence of the force of Departmental pride and Departmental patriotism on the conduct of Services. It is a force which may become rather one-sided, but it is an immense force and why not use it? The result of that force is that you generally find that a Department works with tremendous concentration on anything connected with its own main purpose, but is apt to be rather indifferent if it is only doing ancillary work in the main sphere of another Department.
For that reason all the operations connected with one Service should be under 2636 the control of the one Department. In point of fact, if the right hon. Gentleman is guided by experience, I think that he will find some valuable lessons in his experience of attempting to allow the control of the ground Services for the Air, of the searchlights and sound detectors which have to find the aeroplane, to be an ancillary service to another Department, the Army. The results of that have been notoriously as bad as they could be. It is never denied. Until this new sense of urgency came along, until a year ago it was notorious that the Army kept all its old searchlights and motors for the Air Force, and that until about a year ago the searchlights, motors and sound-detectors working for the Air Force were known to be the derelict ones which the War Office did not need for its own main purpose. It is true that that has been corrected, but it has been corrected because there is a great sense of urgency, because all the Services have all the money they want for any purpose. But there is no guarantee when this present excitement has passed away that the ordinary departmental temperament will not show itself, and that once again the Army will prefer the interest of its own Service to the interest of the Air Ministry. For that reason I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not make up his mind yet on the special issue which I have now raised once or twice. Indeed, I think that by examining that issue carefully he may find lessons of great value in connection with the larger investigation in which he is now taking part.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the helpful manner in which he has approached these questions. I may say quite sincerely that we welcome every such helpful discussion on these matters and the Service Estimates afford an opportunity when we can get the help Of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have their own experience and many of whom give time and thought to these questions. I cannot possibly refrain from comparing the tone and temper and helpfulness of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with what proceeded from his hon. Friend behind him, who chose in a Service Estimate Debate, where I think we are all engaged in trying to find the best solution of these questions, to refer to the 2637 absence of any sincerity in the Government, described us as guilty of a smug pretentiousness and made personal suggestions which may have gratified himself but were not helpful to the House.
Perhaps I may deal with the point which the right hon. Gentleman has been discussing, not with a view to giving a final answer at this stage, because I conceive that it is possible that at a much later stage in the completion of the Government's programme the subject might be considered again. That is the subject of the control of the land part of these anti-aircraft operations. But I want to make it perfectly plain that in this case there is no difference of opinion at all between the two Departments concerned. The Air Ministry not only do not desire that the responsibility for the guns and searchlights and detectors should be transferred to them, but they are at this present time very much opposed to any such suggestion being adopted. The reasons are not quite what the right hon. Gentleman suggested I had indicated last time. He has rather put upon me an argument which indeed I did not use but which I suggested to him as a counter-argument to a suggestion he made, because his case last time was that it is surely logical that you should put under one Ministry everything that has to do with it. You should put under the Air Ministry everything that has to do with the Air Ministry. He illustrated his argument by saying that you put everything to do with health under the Health Ministry and everything to do with transport under the Transport Ministry.
My answer to that was that the right hon. Gentleman was in danger of a little too much logic, because he might find, when he had put the ground part of the air defences under the Air Ministry because it had to do with the air, that he had produced a state of duality of control in respect of the gunnery, part of which would now be under the Air Ministry and part left to the War Office. But I do not go so far as to say that those who deal with the same weapons must be under the same Ministry. I put it upon the practical utilitarian grounds, that the War Office are responsible for producing the guns, searchlights, and so on which are necessary for anti-aircraft Defence in connection with precisely the same operations for the field force, and that inasmuch as the War Office has to 2638 equip the field force with these weapons and instruments it would seem rather absurd at first sight that the Air Ministry should be duplicating these supplies, because that is what it would amount to.
I gave another reason, for we are in the stage of reorganisation and re-equipment. I said that the organisation is in existence and the effect of a changeover at this very moment would be to cause a certain amount of confusion and delay, and then I pointed out that the War Office, who have their own regular personnel, training staff, instructors, and training schools, would have to hand over part of that organisation to the Air Ministry at a time when there is a great deal of confusion or unsettlement owing to the necessity for reorganisation. My argument was rather of a practical than a logical character, and, having discussed it with the Chiefs of the Staff responsible, I have their authority for saying that they agree with me, or that they advise me that at this present juncture it is better and perfectly satisfactory, from the point of view of efficiency, that the War Office should be responsible for providing and training the men and for providing the ground equipment.
The right hon. Gentleman may feel assured that, although it is not likely that the decision will be changed for some considerable time while all this reorganisation is continuing, the Chiefs of the Staff and the Departments will always, I am sure, be prepared to consider this question on its merits. None of these questions can be considered as final. When the right hon. Gentleman suggests that if we retain the existing system with regard to anti-aircraft defence it will in some way affect my decision on the Fleet Air Arm inquiry, again I think he is in danger of forcing me into too logical a position. In this country we are never in the habit of applying things as logically as our Latin neighbours. They argue from one position to another because logic demands you should get there. We do what is best and let logic take care of itself.
I will pass on and say a word about the Fleet Air Arm. I repeat what I said last time, that my hon. and gallant Friends who are protagonists in this question make speeches to which I listen with respect, but I am bound to go a little deeper than merely the rather first-sight views that are expressed on this 2639 question. There really is a great deal that is difficult, not merely because two great Departments are at issue, but you have to try to decide certain strategical principles before you can arrive at a sound decision. When the Balfour Inquiry took place some years ago, of course the Air Force was not what it is to-day. Mr. Balfour, Lord Weir, and the other members of the committee found it necessary to engage in a great deal of very detailed examination of what were then the principles governing the operation of the Air Force. I do not think it is at all unuseful or unnecessary that I, with the help of the Chiefs of the Staff, should investigate some of those basic principles which underlie the use and the control of the Fleet Air Arm. I am aware of the urgency.
I entirely agree with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) that it is desirable that a decision should be given and that once given, it should be understood by everybody that it must be applied in the letter and the spirit and with good will, even by those who may not altogether agree with the decision. Although I say that I can assure the House that there will be no delay, I must not be pressed for a decision next week or immediately after Easter. Indeed, when I have obtained, as I shall obtain, some sort of a statement which may be satisfactory as to basic principles, I hope that I shall be able to proceed with the practical questions on which I am sure I shall have the assistance of hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Epping asked me what was the position with regard to Lord Weir and the report which had appeared in the public Press. The right hon. Gentleman rather suggested that I had announced a committee to the House. The only announcement that has been made to the House is that which I made on firth March:As a result of my consideration of this question, I have decided with the aid of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee, and the other responsible authorities concerned, to conduct a systematic investigation of the important factors involved in this matter, including the allied and wider considerations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1937; col. 133r, Vol. 321.]I announced no committee, and the statement that appeared in the Press that 2640 Lord Weir had resigned, or had threatened to resign, on file day following that announcement, is quite untrue. It is, however, true, and I want the House to understand quite clearly the facts, that Lord Weir was consulted. There is no reason at all why the Government should not discuss a matter of this sort with anybody, especially with someone who has had Lord Weir's wide experience in connection with the Air Force and the administration of the Air Ministry. Having said that, I must not be asked to give other and further information as to the discussions which took place or what passed before I made the announcement in the House of Commons. No Government could ever be called to account for steps which may be preparatory to a certain decision it announces to the House and to the country. What is important is that when the Government have made a decision and announced it to the House of Commons it should not be deterred from carrying it into effect by any threats of resignation, from whatever direction they may come. To that position I adhere fully this afternoon. Having made that announcement on 11th March the Government intend to carry it out, and I am already engaged in investigating, and I have every hope, however optimistic that may seem, that if we proceed in a thorough way and without taking too facile and shallow views about the issues involved, we may, with the help of the two Services, arrive at a settlement which will make it unnecessary in further Service Estimates to discuss this old contentious issue.
I pass from that to some other matters which have been discussed. The first in point of interest is the question of costs. The House has no doubt been informed or has informed itself concerning the report of the Select Committee on Estimates. In the White Paper issued a year ago a statement was made as to the steps which would be taken to prevent undue profiteering. I have repeated those assurances in other words several times in this House, and I am gratified to find that the efforts which the Government have made to prevent profiteering in very difficult circumstances have been thought successful, so far, by the Estimates Committee. Let me quote one sentence:They are satisfied that the methods followed are soundly conceived and are fair both to the taxpayers and the contractors, 2641 and they are of opinion, so far as an estimate can be formed, that they have been effective up to date in preventing profiteering at the taxpayers' expense.That report does not conclude the matter. As the Committee themselves point out, it is most necessary that perpetual vigilance shall be exercised and they suggest special steps which may be taken to make it still more probable that no undue profits shall be made out of the country's necessities. I will not, however, content myself with quoting the opinion of the Estimates Committee. Let me remind the House of the steps which have been taken, and then I will say a word about the criticisms made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). As soon as the Government entered upon this large and expensive programme a Treasury standing committee was set up, about a year ago, and to that committee is submitted every contract of an abnormal character. It has laid down certain rules or principles with the assent of the Government, and I think that all of them will commend themselves to hon. Members. Let me mention one or two. The old time-and-line contracts were prohibited, ruled out. A time-and-line contract is a most unsatisfactory way of allowing people to get undue profits; we shall be all agreed upon that; and it was also decided that there should be in each case, arrived at by different methods, a fair profit but not a particular percentage of profit. That immediately diminishes the possibility that people will get more than they ought to get out of a particular job because it happens to be an expensive one. It was also decided that there should be an incentive to economy by giving the contractor who exercised economy and reduced contract prices some reward or share in the saving which he had effected. These and other principles were laid down by this committee.
What has been done to put them into effect? In every case where possible a competitive tender has been called for. In a great many cases a competitive tender is not possible because the equipment is specialised in one particular firm, but in cases where competitive tenders are obtained they can be checked in many cases as to costs by the experience of the Royal Ordnance Factory. But in cases where competitive tenders are not possible there is a most elaborate examination by competent accountants, by the costings 2642 staffs of the Services, and really I did not understand the criticism of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen. He was good enough to say that he made no charge against Sir Hardman Lever, Mr. Judd or Mr. Ashley Cooper. I am sure those gentlemen will be glad indeed to hear what the hon. Member has said, but he suggested that because they had been concerned with the examination of accounts in the last War they were not a competent body to advise the Government on matters of costings.
Sir Hardman Lever was Assistant Financial Secretary in charge of contracts and finance in the Ministry of Munitions, Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1917 for two years, and Treasury representative at the Ministry of Transport for several years after the War. His reputation and ability need no words from me. Mr. Ashley Cooper was a member of the May Committee on National Expenditure in 1931 and I do not suppose that any hon. Member opposite has any prejudice against him so far as his technical ability is concerned because he happened to be a member of that committee. He is a member of the London Passenger Transport Board and a director of the Bank of England. Mr. Judd was the Director of Contract Finance, and Deputy Controller of Contracts at the Ministry of Munitions, and he is a very well known member of an eminent firm of chartered accountants carrying on the profession in many commercial centres of this country. There must be many accountants who would do equally well in this position, but I doubt very much whether any hon. Member would say that the Government made a bad selection when they asked these three gentlemen to undertake the task of advising the Government on all questions of principle and in holding themselves ready to arbitrate on any disputes which might arise between a firm and the Government as to the ultimate price which should be fixed for the exact costs, plus a fair profit.
Mr. Cerro Jones
The right hon. Gentleman has missed my point of criticism. These three men, about whom I was perfectly frank in spite of his sarcastic remark, are closely connected as directors with firms engaged in private enterprise—one of them is a director of steel producing companies—and their records with 2643 the Ministry of Munitions during the War show that their idea of what are excessive profits is not a sound one and that, therefore, it would be foolish to expect them to save the nation from excessive profits at the Air Ministry.
§ Sir T. Inskip
The hon. Member, besides charging them with dishonesty which he disclaims, is now charging them with incompetence for their task, and I ask the House to say that neither charge has any foundation. The hon. Member is going back 20 years and says that because during the last War at the Ministry of Munitions unhappily there were cases in which people made undue profits, these three gentlemen are not fit to be entrusted with this task. I do not believe that line of reasoning will appeal to any unprejudiced person. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite must form their own opinion as to who is unprejudiced. In spite of what the hon. Member for North Aberdeen said, I think that is the best system that could be applied in circumstances where competitive tenders are not possible. A batch of deliveries is taken, and there is then an examination of the books of the manufacturers by persons who are very competent accountants and who are precisely the same class of persons who would be engaged in these costings examinations even if the armaments firms were taken under the charge of the Government. They are civil servants. When the hon. Member for North Aberdeen demands that all armaments production shall be taken over by the Government, he cannot suggest that our accountancy staff is not competent to perform its duties. The Government accountants have been trained for this very purpose. The hon. Member and his party are the last people in the world who ought to say that these accountants are not fitted for their duties, because their theory is that as soon as one becomes a Government servant, one can do everything properly. The hon. Member asked whether there was not any profiteering during the War. We did not have during the War the same system as the Government have now imposed, and it is idle to go back to the War.
§ Sir T. Inskip
Apart from the suggestion that the Government should take over the whole of the armaments-producing firms in this country, the hon. Member for North Aberdeen did not make a single suggestion as to how we should prevent profiteering. As hon. Members know, that question was considered by the Royal Commission on the private manufacture of and trade in arms, and their third recommendation was that:The abolition of the private industry in the United Kingdom and the substitution for it of a system of State monopoly may be practicable; but it is undesirable.They gave a number of reasons, which hon. Members can judge for themselves, to justify that opinion.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I felt sure the hon. Baronet would take the opportunity of asking that question. The Government are in accord with a great many of the recommendations and no doubt very shortly a full statement will be made; but whether the Government are in agreement with the other recommendations or not, one cannot escape the finality of that particular recommendation, which was really a decision on the main question submitted to the Royal Commission. I think all hon. Members on both sides of the House are most anxious that there shall be no undue profiteering, and if any hon. Member has any suggestions to make—ruling out for the moment the one about the transferring of private firms to Government control, because I do not regard that as even practicable at the present juncture—they will be welcomed by the Government.
§ Mr. Walker
During the War the Government created a national shell factory for the purpose of ascertaining the costs of making shells. Those costs were fixed as the basis for the prices of private firms.
§ Sir T. Inskip
My experience of the War is that the prices of shells were not always fixed at as low a level as subsequent experience showed would have been the right one. No doubt all that information is available to the Government costings departments.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman asks for suggestions, and when one is made, he simply sweeps it aside.
§ Sir T. Inskip
No doubt it has its value and will be taken advantage of by the costings staff that is responsible for this particular task.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
As the right hon. Gentleman has quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission, do the Government accept the proposal of the Royal Commission that the Royal Arsenals should be greatly extended in order to produce all kinds of armaments which they do not now produce? Do they also accept the recommendation that something better than machinery for controlling the prices of individual contracts shall be adopted and that there shall be a general machinery for controlling all prices and profits as a whole?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I do not know whether the hon. Member was here a few minutes ago when I said that the Government will shortly announce their conclusions on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I am sure he will find then that a complete answer is given.
§ Sir T. Inskip
Questions can be addressed to the Prime Minister as to when the announcement will be made. It would cause a great deal of anxiety in the country if it were thought that the Government were not doing everything that is practicable. I venture to think that in very difficult circumstances the Government have taken every step possible, and I repeat that, as far as we have gone, the Estimates Committee of this House has justified the confidence that we have shown all along in the steps that we are taking.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I can deal with only one thing at a time, and I was about to come to that question. It was suggested that the Government have been in some way neglectful in controlling or regulating the prices of raw materials. I believe I was right when I said a short time ago that the effect of the Government's programme on the prices of these materials is insignificant. Speaking not in this House but in the country, I said that taking, for instance, the case of copper, the Government requirements were less than 10 per cent. of the whole demand for copper at the present time, and that the argument that had been made was not capable of supporting the contention that we have been responsible for increasing the price of copper.
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is not what I was told. I believe it is right to say that the world demand, including the revival of prosperity in the United States, is responsible for a world shortage in many of these materials. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen said that the world shortage is partly due to the arrangements that have been made for the limitation of production, but that does not alter the fact that at this moment there is a world shortage, and if the Government were to attempt to specify a price which was to be the limit of what they would pay for the raw materials they needed, the only result would be that they would not get the materials for the armaments programme. Nobody likes to see the prices of these materials jumping. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody?"] I am speaking of those who are in the House listening to me. The suggestion was made that the Government ought to forestall these rises in prices by making forward contracts. Naturally, the Government make forward contracts to meet their requirements, and it is largely due to the foresight they have exercised that these tremendous rises in prices have so far not affected the cost of the contracts into which the Government have been entering. I hope that will be the case for some little time to come. If anybody suggests that the Government should not make forward contracts to meet the requirements that they can foresee, but should enter into a gamble, that is not a course which the 2647 Government, or this House, I am sure, would approve. The Government cannot make forward contracts beyond a certain time, and I do not think hon. Members opposite would expect them to do so. On the other hand, we cannot control these prices. We deprecate the speculation that has taken place, but as I have already said, speculation is not the main reason for the rise in prices. The main reason is that the demand has greatly outgrown the capacity of production.
I pass now to the question of promotion in the Air Force. I was very sorry to hear made once more the statement that there is class prejudice in the selection of officers for promotion. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen told a story, which I heard when I was a great deal younger than I am now, about a commanding officer and her husband, and he put that ancient story into the form of a statement of fact about a particular air station in this country. We all know the habit into which we fall of giving an old story an appearance of verisimilitude by adding to it dates and names and places. If it be suggested that there is any undue influence exercised over the Air Council or the Secretary of State for Air, the charge is a wholly unjustified one. As far as promotion is concerned, it is a matter of selection within the establishment. The Selection Board is composed of service members of the Air Council. The records and the confidnetial reports are before the Selection Board. I was very sorry to hear the hon. Member for North Aberdeen say that promotion is made upon unknown criteria of merit. The hon. Member must bear in mind that every officer is entitled to see, and does see, his confidential reports. He suggested that there should be a tribunal of appeal which would tell officers who were not selected the reasons they were not promoted. What would happen if the tribunal of appeal did not agree with the Selection Board? Would it be a non-Service or a Service tribunal?
There is no foundation for the suggestion that the proper regular practice, of which this House would approve, is not followed in the Air Ministry. There are facts which entirely refute charges that there is snobbery in the selection of officers. Of the whole body of officers, a substantial majority come from the 2648 secondary schools. Among the permanent officers, well over one-third come from the secondary schools. There are already squadron leaders who were boy-apprentices 15 years ago. Bearing in mind that the system of recruiting at an early age and promoting from the non-commissioned ranks was adopted only after the War, one could not have got very much further than that at the present time. To clinch matters—and I think this will convince the House that the hon. Members charges are ill-founded—of the 2,166 candidates selected by the Interview Board since 1st January, 1935, for training as pilots, 45 per cent. were educated at what we know as the public schools and 55 per cent. came from the secondary and other schools. That is a complete answer to the suggestion that any preference is given to talent merely because it has been educated at the public schools or the old universities.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I have been tempted to intervene several times, and since the right hon. Gentleman says that his statement refutes my suggestion, I must point this out to him. I recognise that in times of stress and emergency these barriers are broken down, and therefore since 1935 there has been a considerable increase in the number let in from the secondary schools. But many of these are of the same class as the others. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give the House a true test on which to form a judgment on this matter, let him state the number of permanent commissions as squadron-leader or flight-lieutenant which have been given.
§ Sir T. Inskip
When the hon. Gentleman seeks to shelter behind the suggestion that he is complaining not of what goes on now, but of what used to go on a few years ago, I need not trouble any further about it. But that, indeed, was not the suggestion underlying his speech. Any hon. Member who heard him will, I am sure, confirm my recollection that he made his charges as charges which could be proved in the circumstances existing to-day. I say that the selection of officers in the Air Force is not based upon the snobbery which he alleged to prevail in the Air Ministry.
Let me now pass to another matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping spoke about the number of 2649 aeroplanes available for the squadrons that have been formed. The right hon. Gentleman made a calculation that at present we were very much short of what we had promised in the White Paper last year. He said I think that if the intention had been to bring the number of squadrons up to 123 that we were short by some 44 squadrons. Now the White Paper recently issued stated that there would be, by 1st April, 100 home squadrons and I can tell the House that that expectation has been slightly exceeded and that by 1st April there will be 103 squadrons at home. To-day, 22nd March, 102 have been formed. But I want to qualify that statement, first by saying that the position changes from week to week. For instance there are bombing machines and machines of other types at the aerodromes belonging to the factories which are awaiting full tests. With favourable weather and favourable circumstances they would at once be brought into the squadrons and the figures would be better than those I have stated. Of the 103 squadrons that will be formed by 1st April the whole of the regular squadrons will be at full strength in pilots and mechanics but 10 of them will be under strength in aircraft.
As I say the position is changing from day to day—but I want to make this statement. If the scheme mentioned as the one which was going to produce 123 squadrons with approximately 1,500 first line aircraft, by 1st April, 1937, had been completed as a subsisting scheme, and if there had been no necessity for imposing upon it another scheme, we should, substantially, have completed what we expected to complete by the date named. I mention one factor which the House will appreciate at once. In consequence of what is known as Scheme F, mentioned in the White Paper, being superimposed upon Scheme C, it has been necessary to keep in existence a larger number of training establishments than Scheme C required. These training establishments have absorbed aircraft and personnel which, otherwise, would have gone to the formation of a number of squadrons and those squadrons would have been included in the figure of 123.
I am fully conscious of the desirability of maintaining output at the highest possible rate that the ingenuity and energy of the Government and the manu- 2650 facturers can achieve. I do not want to compare this figure with the figures which my right hon. Friend gave of the German air force, partly for the reason which I mentioned last time and partly because the best information as to the air force of any other country, as of our own, must be in the possession of the Government. We are satisfied that the information we have is the best that can be obtained. No one would expect the Government to lay these calculations on the Table. I do not pretend that we are yet in the state of equipment which it is the Government's object to attain. If we were in no inferiority to any other air force within striking distance, we would not be spending so much energy and money upon attaining that happy position. It is because we have been behindhand that we have had to make this gigantic effort. All I can say is that, in spite of difficulties and disappointments, the effort is being made and I am not aware that any step which my Noble Friend can take or which the contractors can take to increase the rate at which machines are being produced is being overlooked. It must be recognised that as far as personnel is concerned the position is as satisfactory as anybody could possibly desire. I do not think I need detain the House further with an examination of these numbers. I merely emphasise the assurances I have given that we are conscious of the necessity for producing the machines and we are not sparing any effort in that direction.
§ Sir H. Seely
With regard to those squadrons which are under strength, can the right hon. Gentleman say anything as to the number of flights or single machines?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am not prepared to discuss the question of the number of flights in particular squadrons and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press me to do so. He may take it that the 10 squadrons which I have described as being under strength are not fully equipped with aircraft at the present time. I wanted to make that statement in order to qualify what I said about 103 squadrons being formed. I am fully alive to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said as to the undesirability of creating paper squadrons in order that the position should look well and I can give an assurance that that 2651 is not the course which is being taken by us. At the same time, according to our method which is not the same as the German method, you may have the pilots and the equipment and the ground personnel in some cases, as in the case of these squadrons, in advance of your provision of aircraft. When we say that squadrons have been formed but are not fully equipped with aircraft what we intend the House to understand is that the process of the formation of the squadrons is only partly completed. It is not a question of the creation of a paper organisation for the sake of appearance. We should never be guilty of such deceit as that.
As regards the question of hutments raised by the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely), I can assure him that we would much rather have provided the men with the kind of quarters which they deserve, but at the same time I must say that these hutments are much better than the hutments of the War period. They are constructed on better lines and are draught-proof to an extent which one does not usually associate with hutments and they will not be used a day longer than is necessary. They represent merely one indication of the speed with which we are being forced to carry out this programme. There is one other subject to which I must refer, and that is civil aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) made some rather sweeping statements in reference to this matter. I am informed that flying boats on the Empire Air routes are at least equal to, if they are not better than any others. The hon. Lady said they were a laughing stock.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am told that the number is nine. At any rate, I think the hon. Lady did make some rather sweeping statements in disparagement of British aircraft which were not, I believe, justified. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) made an im-
§ portant reference to the question of safety. I think everybody will admit that as far as safety is concerned our British airlines can compare with any others. As regards the railway companies, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be glad to know that after the last Debate negotiations were taken up with the railway companies upon this question in the hope of reaching a satisfactory decision. I am speaking perhaps without my book on this question, but I take it upon myself to say that the House would not be content with the state of things described by the right hon. Gentleman, and I believe it would be in accordance with the wishes of Members in all parts of the House that arrangements should be made which would not operate to the prejudice of our British air lines.
§ The hon. Lady the Member for Frome also referred to the South Atlantic service. The Government felt unable, after full consideration, to accept any of the proposals submitted for that service, but it was decided to encourage an experimental service to West Africa. The parties concerned have been seen and the financial considerations involved have been thoroughly considered. Sir Warren Fisher's Committee recommended that British Airways should be selected to carry out the progressive development of the service. Subject to satisfactory terms being agreed to, the Government have accepted the selection of British Airways Limited as the company to operate this proposed experimental service with a view to developing ultimately a South American service. I do not think there are any other points on which I need detain the House. I hope that all our discussions upon this vital question, so much affecting not only the pockets of the people but the safety of the country, will be conducted in the same spirit as that shown in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, whom I most sincerely thank for his contribution.
§ Question put, "That mom 'stand part of the Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 202; Noes, 106.2655
§ Ordered, That the Resolutions which upon the 18th day of March were reported from the Committee of Supply, and which were then agreed to by the House, be now read:
§ "That 112,000 Officers, Seamen, Boys, and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea Service, together with 895 for the Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships, at the Royal Marine Divisions, and at Royal Air Force Establishments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938."
§ "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 168,900, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of India and Burma, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938."
§ Ordered, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide, during twelve months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and Air Force; and that Mr. Duff Cooper, Sir Samuel Hoare, Sir Philip Sassoon and Sir Victor Warrender do prepare and bring it in.