§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The House might have been expecting my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to introduce these Estimates, but I think that on reflection they will realise that, after only a very few days in the Department, it would have imposed an unfair strain upon him, and for that reason I introduce the Estimates myself.
The estimated expenditure this year, including £30,000,000 to be defrayed from the Defence Loan, amounts to £103,500,000. This figure is nearly six times as large as in 1934; twice as large as in 1936—which was a full year in the expansion period—and represents a 25 per cent. increase on last year. This figure is at the same time a measure of the work already undertaken, and of our determination to push forward to whatever objective may be deemed necessary.
Although involving, as compared with last year, an increased expenditure of £21,000,000, of which the largest item is £17,000,000 for technical and war-like stores, the Estimates this year disclose no specially new features. They demonstrate continuation of a policy and programme already decided upon, well known, and towards the implementation of which consistent progress has already been made. But the situation is essentially dynamic, firstly, because the programme is still in process of completion, and, secondly, because, in our rearmament, requirements are necessarily determined by circumstances.
Recently the Government, as part of a comprehensive review of the programmes and plans of all three Services in the light of the present situation and future needs, had approved a further progressive expansion of the Air Force. This involved an increase of personnel, increases in the number and size of squadrons, of Royal Air Force stations, in 226 recruitment and training facilities for pilots and other personnel, in orders for aircraft, and in factory output, including the Shadow Scheme. The House would therefore, in any case, have had to be prepared for a Supplementary Estimate to cover the additional effort required, and in this connection it should be realised that the Estimates I am presenting contain, not only provision for the current programme, but the foundation of further expansion.
The measures now in process of execution, together with the additions which I have already forecasted, call for a very great effort indeed. But, as the House will remember, the Prime Minister indicated yesterday that, following on the events of the last few days, His Majesty's Government were engaged upon a fresh review of the situation. I am not at present in a position to say what result this review may have in the acceleration or extension of the Air Force programme now before the House, but, of course, any further expenditure which may be necessitated will, in due course, appear in the form of Supplementary Estimates. My noble Friend's Memorandum accompanying the Air Estimates this year contains a wide survey of the scope and progress of expansion as a whole. I will, therefore, for the most part confine my remarks to amplifying it, and shall follow its sequence.
First, as to strength and organisation. The Metropolitan Air Force at present contains 123 squadrons. There are in addition 26 squadrons overseas and the Fleet Air Arm represents the equivalent of another 20 squadrons. We possess, therefore, in all 169 squadrons. As regards numbers of aircraft, hon. Members are familiar with two objectives which have been mentioned in connection with our expansion programme—1,500 first-line Metropolitan aircraft aimed at for March, 1937, and reached shortly afterwards, and approximately 1,750 first-line Metropolitan aircraft, by March, 1939, coupled with rearming with up-to-date types. It is between these two points that we stand now.
In addition to the reorganisation of Commands, Fighter, Bomber, Coastal, and Training already carried out, this year a new Maintenance Organisation will be formed to administer the maintenance units. This organisation will in itself make for greater administrative 227 efficiency and will enable a considerable measure of decentralisation from the Air Ministry to be undertaken. But I would like to emphasise its importance in another sense. A Defence Service must concentrate necessarily on what is the acid test, namely, operational efficiency. There may be in a Defence Service in peace time a tendency for commanders to get increasingly snowed under with administrative details. It is our object to try and avoid this as far as possible. Already the appointment of an air officer in charge of administration at each Command Headquarters has done much to relieve the Commander-in-Chief, and a channel of communication by which units can correspond on many subjects direct with Command Headquarters has in turn done much to relieve Group Commanders.
Carrying forward this conception to training, the aim is not to let elementary training impair concentration on advanced and operational training. For example, the policy of having elementary training carried out in civil flying training schools is to leave the Service training schools free for advanced work previously undertaken in squadrons. This in turn leaves squadrons free for operational training. If I have strayed thus early from the realm of administration into that of training, it is merely with the desire of illustrating the whole chain of effort leading towards maximum operational efficiency.
In accordance with the decision of His Majesty's Government last July, that ship-borne aircraft should pass from the administrative control of the Air Ministry to that of the Admiralty, active steps have been taken to make the necessary arrangements for the transfer. As it was generally realised and explained at the time, the change could only be carried out gradually and subject to the consideration, which both the Admiralty and the Air Ministry accepted, that there must be no break or lowering in the standard of efficiency during the period of transition. The Air Ministry will still remain responsible for training pilots up to the point when specialisation in naval duties begins.
As to planning, policy, and programme, these three must be considered together. Take first planning and policy. Have they shown, are they showing, and will they show in the year ahead, satisfactory results as reflected in completion 228 of programme? In the work of expansion difficulties there have been, but they have been and are being steadily surmounted. The real test is—Were the broad plan and the general conception right? The answer is "Yes." In the light of experience to-day, would one have planned differently? The answer is "No." Initial orders to bridge the immediate gap, large orders for machines of improved type, great expansion of the regular industry, progressive simplification of types, large-scale production orders, the reinforcement by the shadow factories. These were the elements of the plan and the policy, and these are standing the test in the work of fulfilling the programme.
The Memorandum under the heading of "Planning of Programme" draws attention to the necessity forthe closest co-ordination and balancing of all parts of the programme.In this connection let us examine two criticisms—firstly, that the production of airframes is behind that of engines, and, secondly, that the production of instruments and armament is behind aircraft. It is admittedly very difficult in a programme of such size and variety, proceeding as it is with such speed, to ensure absolutely level progress all round. But there is no harm in some items being ahead of others if, on any particular item, there is no serious delay. Let me take the first criticism. Both in the regular industry, with its great extension and increasing momentum, and in the Shadow scheme, which was designed as a reinforcement and an insurance, engines are somewhat ahead of airframes, but the airframes situation itself is encouraging.
The shadow factory scheme includes the two big main factories of Austin and Rootes, from which completed aircraft will be turned out. Rootes' factory at Speke, owing to the change of its location, with which the House is familiar, will not be in production as early as it otherwise might have been, but good progress is being made. From the Austin works, however, completed aircraft will be delivered to squadrons by the middle of this summer. This output when it starts will represent a steady, genuine production flow. I emphasise that, because it would have been possible already to have put, so to speak, an aircraft from the Austin factory in the shop window, but we have preferred to wait until the production, once 229 it starts, will represent a genuine production flow.
With regard to the second criticism—that aircraft are ahead of instruments and armaments—there are also no grounds for complaint. Let me give some instances illustrating three of the chief functions of Service aircraft, which concern flying, fighting, and communication, respectively. Take blind-flying instruments. These instruments are being fitted to all new types, that is to say, all types which are now being produced. They are not being fitted to obsolescent types, because the alterations involved would not be worth while, but I should like to draw attention to the fact that these obsolescent aircraft are not being used for flying in conditions of cloud or bad visibility.
Thanks in part to improved production methods, there is no lack of instruments. But I should not be stating the case fully or fairly to the House if I did not deal with the question of operating mechanism for these instruments. The system of employing a Venturi tube, which operates by means of the airstream past the aircraft, had its drawbacks, and this system is now being supplanted by a system of engine-driven vacuum pumps. When the change was decided on between these two systems, there was no pump of British manufacture available. An American type of pump was therefore tested and approved, and an order was placed. Whilst indeed it would have been preferable to have had a British type of pump from the start, had one been available, the fact that a foreign order was placed is proof of determination to leave nothing undone to achieve actual efficiency as quickly as possible. It has undoubtedly been right, both in this and in one or two other cases, to use foreign experience and to place foreign orders to bridge gaps until British production, which is always arranged for, becomes readily available. Arrangements are now well forward for the local manufacture of these pumps, and a satisfactory supply is definitely in view.
From the fighting standpoint, let me take the case of guns and turrets. Gun supply is satisfactory, and the method of operating many of these guns represents a notable advance in the progress of armament. Owing to the greatly increased speeds of aircraft, it is now no longer possible for men to expose themselves, 230 nor have they the necessary strength to turn the guns by hand against the great rush of air. Power-operated revolving turrets, enclosing man and gun, have therefore to be used. The complex mechanism of these turrets necessitated extensive experiment in design. All the turrets have been designed and are being made in this country, and the production flow is now satisfactory. We are not complete with turrets at the moment, but the time when this will be achieved, as in the case of the instrument driving pumps, is not speculative but definitely in view. In this essential requirement, which illustrates so well that you cannot gauge relative strengths merely as a matter of counting what are apparently complete aircraft, there is every reason to believe that, stated on a conservative basis, we are as good as any other country, and probably better.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
If the hon. and gallant Member will allow me to interrupt him, as this is an important point and one which goes to the crux of the whole question, did I correctly understand him to say that, for the front-line strength of aircraft, we were as good and as far advanced as any other country? If not, what does he mean?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I hope the hon. Member is under no misapprehension on this point. What I said—and I think the House will bear me out—was that in this essential requirement—and I had been dealing with turrets—which illustrates so well that relative strengths are not merely a matter of counting what are apparently complete aircraft, there is every reason to believe that, on a conservative basis, we are as good as any other country, and probably better.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
In quality and quantity. For communication, we have evolved a wireless set which is not only a satisfactory operational type, but, what is very important, a good and simple production type as well. We are ahead of our requirements.
Our whole programme of production did from the outset demand speed, and does so still. The House knows well that in the early days of expansion the policy was necessarily adopted of placing production 231 orders for several types of aircraft direct from the drawing board. There is now a possibility that, with the fuller development of the aircraft industry on a broader basis, and with good machines now in production, it will be possible to adopt again the system of prototypes—but an improved system which it is hoped will combine efficiency of type with speed of production. Hon. Members are naturally concerned with anything which may indicate unnecessary slowness in production. With the speed at which scientific and technical development is taking place, the problem must be to keep proper balance between speed of production on the one hand and being up to date on the other. Numbers of machines of obsolescent types, though still of quite good performance, could be turned out quickly. On the other hand, if you waited for the perfect machine, ensuring that when it was finally produced it embodied every known improvement, it would never be turned out at all. Between these two extremes a balance, not always easy to secure, is necessary.
There is not time for me here to detail the many and various stages between the conception of an aircraft and its delivery to a squadron. They cover design, manufacture of prototype, manufacture on a production basis, and numerous and varied tests at many stages. In conjunction with the industry, we do not cease to take steps to see if manufacture can be speeded up. Developments and improvements in aircraft have been so big and rapid, and of such a fundamental character, that machines now being turned out are actually and not nominally new types.
In this connection, may I reflect for a moment on the speed of scientific and technical progress in relation to modern aircraft conception and production? It is interesting to remember that a balloon was first used, and successfully, in battle at Fleurus in 1794. Yet during 20 years' incessant warfare which followed, in the course of which one of the leading combatants—the Duke of Wellington—said that a great problem was to know what was going on on the other side of the hill, balloons were apparently ignored. This has always seemed to me astounding. Look at the present time. Compare the performance of some representative operational types as between the end of 232 the War, 1932, and to-day. Of single seater fighters, the Martynside during the War, with a top speed of 114 miles per hour; the Fury in 1932, with 206 miles per hour; compare with Hurricane of to-day, with a speed well known and an increased rate of climb. Of the medium bombers, the D.H.10 had a top speed of 117 miles per hour; the Sidestrand six yers ago was very little better; the Blenheim to-day has a top speed of 280 miles per hour. Before I leave the question of production, may I welcome the appointment of Sir Charles Bruce Gardner as independent executive chairman of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors—an appointment of real value both to the industry and the Ministry?
As a further instance of "the coordination and balancing of all parts of the programme already referred to," let me take the question of armament. Increased performance of aircraft and the general trend of modern aircraft development bring numerous problems which are being actively investigated. For instance, improved performance of aircraft brings with it new tactical developments, which in turn call for a new type of machine-gun. The great speed of aircraft now means that the moment of effective contact between two opposing aircraft will tend to be more fleeting than before. An increased rate of fire, for machine-guns to take advantage of these moments, is therefore necessary.
Acceleration of bomb-loading methods— "bombing-up" as the phrase is—is another instance. To meet this increasing importance of armament and its progressive nature, armament development at the Air Ministry has been placed under a separate Director.
In addition so that the training may keep pace with development, armament training camps, which numbered three in 1934 and now number seven, are to be increased in the course of the year by four additional ones. A new air armament training school is being established. The question of comfort in aircraft has been closely studied. Do not imagine that this means luxury, but a reasonable degree of comfort conducing to greater operational efficiency of personnel, when faced with long journeys under trying conditions. Arrangements for heating axe now included in the specifications of all machines which will be required to remain 233 for long periods—say six to ten hours—in the air.
In the fascinating realm of research and development it is tantalising to have time to mention only two or three items. Take what is known as the drag of wings. The air immediately adjacent to the wing surface oscillates violently instead of flowing smoothly over it, and is known as a turbulent boundary layer which retards the speed of aircraft. Experiments are being made to get rid of it by artificially drawing the air away, and thereby producing a smoother flow of air over the wing surface. We are apt nowadays to look at progressive increases of speed as a matter of course. Looking ahead to a possible air speed of 500 miles per hour, you come up against a new range of problems. At speeds of 500 miles per hour and over, approaching the speed of sound, the question of compressibility of air assumes new importance, which does rather particularly call for practical experiment. For that reason we are installing a new wind tunnel at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, 100 octane fuel is being experimentally used, and, compared with the 87 octane fuel now normally used, this may give from 10 to 15 per cent. increased power output from the same engine. The past year has been notable in marking the advent of engines, both air and liquid cooled, in the 1,000 horse power category; certain of the air cooled engines deriving immediately from the steady development of engines which a few years ago gave only 500 horse power.
In the matter of research and development, there is a close and constant cooperation—and on a wide scale—between the Air Staff and the scientists. This ideal combination—of operational requirement and scientific knowledge—is always at work in particular on the problem of defence. Some new results of great value for defence have recently been obtained, and I am only sorry that their nature prevents my mentioning them to the House.
I turn now to the question of prices. The general policy of the financial arrangements made with firms in connection with the supply of aircraft under the expansion programme has been frequently explained to the House.
This policy was designed to facilitate speedy production, and at the same time 234 have due regard to the public purse. Hon. Members will no doubt, by this time, wish to see the results of that policy in action. Let me put it shortly. Of the contracts in connection with the expansion programme, in 63 per cent. prices have already been settled; in another 12 per cent. quotations have been received, but not yet accepted. These two categories together, embracing 75 per cent. of the contracts, cover 50 per cent. of the actual expansion aeroplanes ordered. In another 12 per cent. of the contracts, batch costing has been resorted to without prices being actually settled or quotations made. One important case has already been settled by arbitration, and progress is being made in the negotiations with the firms on all outstanding cases ripe for such discussions.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
When the hon. and gallant Member says that in relation to a certain percentage of the contracts, the prices have been actually settled, does that refer to new type aircraft or all types, including what may be termed obsolescent?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
All types ordered under the expansion programme. The policy can thus be said to be working freely and satisfactorily. I have spent a long time on the material side of the expansion programme. Of equal importance is the personnel side—the provision of personnel, its training and its welfare. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said the other day, to this aspect of the programme I turn with pleasure and satisfaction.
Between April, 1935, and March, 1938, 4,500 pilots and 40,000 airmen and boys entered the Royal Air Force. That means an average per year of 1,500 pilots and 13,000 airmen, compared with a typical pre-expansion year of 300 pilots and 1,600 airmen. The Cranwell programme for 1938 comprises 75 entrants, compared with an average pre-expansion figure of 56. This entry includes a number of aircraft apprentices and of nominated Dominions candidates.
235 As regards the short service programme, in the year 1937–38 all our requirements were filled by January this year. In the forthcoming year we estimate for an entry of 1,368, compared with 1,190 in 1937. The continued response of entrants from the Dominions—many of whom come here on their own initiative—has been very satisfactory and is indeed gratifying. The 1938 programme for airmen stands at 17,000, compared with 14,700 in 1937, and our 1938 requirements include an increase in apprentices and boys and entrants for the fitter group. These figures show the demand which is being made in the field of eligible candidates. The standard of education and personality has, so far, been maintained both for officers and airmen. In the forthcoming year, the age for boy entrants is to be reduced from 15¾ to 15.
I wish to emphasise strongly the need for skilled men. The need for skilled men is not confined to productive industry. Maintenance and repair of machines continues to be a matter of highest importance. With the need for skilled men in view, another depot equivalent to that at Halton, for fitters, fitter-armourers, instrument makers and apprentices is being established at Cosford. Although requirements in the past year have been satisfied, I would urge the importance of public support being continued to the full.
I now come to the question of pay. I was glad to be able to announce last week a change in the married emoluments of married airmen over 26 on similar lines to those announced for the Army by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. At present, married soldiers and airmen over 26 years of age receive, if not on the married establishment, marriage allowance of 7s. a week, or 10s. a week if on low rates of pay, plus allowances for children. Entry to the married establishment does not normally take place until the completion of 12 years' service, and entitles the man either to married quarters and fuel and light if quarters are available, or, alternatively, to special allowances plus allowances for children. In place of this dual system it has been decided that all married airmen over the age of 26 shall in future receive a family allowance consisting of 17s. a week (except when provided 236 with quarters) and additions for children at the present rates. The allowance will be slightly higher for flight sergeants and warrant officers. This change will take effect from the 28th April this year. Regarding pay, the existing rates are generally considered adequate, but certain increases in the rates for the lowest trade group (Group V) in the ranks of corporal and below will be introduced with effect from the 30th April. Certain small improvements will be made from the same date as regards other trade groups—broadly an extra 3d. a day for aircraftmen first and second class with some other minor adjustments.
I should like to say a word in particular about the Auxiliary Air Force, and to give them credit for the amount of work which they perform, far in excess of any obligations which they may undertake. The Auxiliary Air Force squadrons occupy a proud position as first-line units. The need for operational efficiency is correspondingly high. Anyone visiting these squadrons can see that the members realise it, and work accordingly. All the conditions in connection with the Auxiliary Air Force are now being carefully examined by a committee at the Air Ministry. The Balloon Section, which forms a part of the Auxiliary Air Force, has, I think, in the public estimation at the moment a special operational interest. It is necessary first of all to get somewhat numerous regular personnel trained. Both regular personnel and the equipment are now ready. Sites for all the four centres have been chosen and the establishment of the first centre is imminent. Recruiting for the auxiliary personnel (over 5,000) will start shortly, and indeed preliminary registration of applicants is taking place already.
Another problem of co-ordination and balancing the various parts of the programme is with regard to reserves. The more our Air Force expands, the more reserves we shall want. But equally, the more the Air Force expands the greater is the necessity for retaining certain people in it, with the consequent adverse effect on our reserves. What might otherwise seem a vicious circle is being successfully broken by the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Compared with the forecast for last year of 800 pilots, well over 1,000 joined. The Volunteer Reserve shows a definitely encouraging prospect.
237 The strain of the expansion programme raises special questions of the welfare of personnel, and much praise is due to the spirit with which the men in many of the stations are meeting conditions attendant on life in temporary accommodation. The steady increase in permanent building contributes perhaps more than anything to relieve these conditions. One of the most difficult problems of temporary accommodation has been, in many cases, the absence either of married quarters at the station, or anything like suitable accommodation in the immediately surrounding district, often isolated and rural. Consequently an arrangement has been made during the past year whereby, under certain conditions, either transport has been provided or necessary allowances to cover transport of airmen travelling to and from their homes.
With regard to training, the House already knows that elementary training of short service officers—the term "elementary" takes the place of ab initio—is carried out at civil flying training schools. Between the inception of this scheme of training in August, 1935, and 31st December, 1937, a total of 3,330 pupils have passed through these schools, of whom approximately 84 per cent. passed on to Service flying training schools. The average standard of pupils passing out from Service flying training schools in 1937 was higher than in 1936. This is due partly to improved equipment at the schools and partly to the experience which is being gained of this system of training.
Great importance is attached to navigation and blind flying. The supply aspect of instruments has already been dealt with. Instrument flying is now taught in the normal sequence of flying instruction at flying training schools. So also, is night flying. No matter how expert a pilot may be in instrument flying, constant practice is necessary if he is to retain his efficiency. With this end in view a very satisfactory adjunct to actual practice in the air has been found in the Link Trainer. A considerable number of these instruments have been ordered and are in course of delivery to stations. By the end of March all flying training schools, Cranwell and a number of other schools and stations will be equipped with one. Eventually at least one trainer will be provided for every flying station at home and overseas, including India and aircraft 238 carriers in the Fleet Air Arm. It is proposed to send the majority of pilots posted to bomber squadrons through a 10-weeks' navigation course on leaving flying training schools. When the expanded organisation comes into being at the School of Air Navigation next month the total output is estimated at nearly 700 a year.
A word on the subject of accidents, and I know the sympathy of the House goes to the relatives of those who have lost their lives. Let me dispose at once of the suggestion that they are due to lack of instruments. That is not so. Close examination as to the causes of accidents last year—and they are varied—discloses no predominant cause, nor does it indicate any particular variation from conclusions drawn in previous years. It is recognised that there is, by comparison, a dangerous period of his flying career through which a pilot necessarily passes, and this period can only be bridged by experience itself. Naturally everything possible is done to minimise accidents consistently with the performance of training. For instance, pilots posted to a squadron are not called on to fly an unfamiliar type solo without a prior period of dual instruction on that type. There is nothing to suggest that there is either more or less risk of fatal accidents on modern than on older types.
I have referred to the progress in permanent building. During 1937–38 permanent construction or reconstruction was completed at 12 stations and started at 24 more. During the forthcoming year 22 stations will reach completion, and at 18 more permanent construction will begin. The task of selecting numerous sites for the Royal Air Force expansion in such a comparatively small and highly developed island as ours has presented great difficulties. Sites either acquired or required for the current programme at home number several hundred. Some are big, some small; some very important, others less so—but each does constitute a potential difficulty. The Air Ministry authorities do, however, make every effort to consider other interests, both local and national. As a reinforcement to their efforts, the Ministry is fortunate enough to have lately secured the services of Professor Abercrombie, well known in the realm of town planning and rural preservation. This in itself should be a guarantee of endeavour.
239 With regard to works services abroad, progress has been made in the provision of accommodation in the Far East. In Iraq, in accordance with the treaty with the Iraq Government, all units have now moved into the large station at Dhibban, except those which will remain at Basra and Shaibah. At Nairobi, where the squadron has the distinction of being the only one in the Royal Air Force stationed "south of the line," a new aerodrome is being provided. Both the stations at Nairobi and in Iraq I had the good fortune to visit during a tour of inspection last autumn in the Middle East.
I would wish to say a word covering the operational work of the Royal Air Force abroad. On the North-West Frontier of India, apart from the normal duties of co-operation with the land forces, the Royal Air Force were employed extensively in transportation duties in South Waziristan. At one period Valentia aircraft were employed in carrying provisions, kit and mail to the garrison at Wana, comprising some 4,000 men and 1,000 animals. During the period from April to December a total of 260 tons of supplies and 4,400 personnel were transported by these aircraft. Not least was the advantage of being able to transport a number of sick and wounded in connection with these operations. In Palestine the Royal Air Force has co-operated with the authorities in locating and rounding up armed bands, and has also supplied protection to commercial road convoys. As I am now dealing with events overseas, may I express our gratitude for the generous gift of 2½ million dollars from the Rulers of the Federated Malay States towards the cost of additional squadrons to be stationed in Malaya.
At the end of my Noble Friend's Memorandum comes meteorology, but that is not meant to signify its place in the order of importance; on the contrary. The increasing recognition of the value of meteorological research and information is shown by the fact that of all the various heads the estimate for this service shows the biggest percentage increase. By the end of the present financial year 21 new meteorological stations will have been opened. This has involved, and indeed is largely dependent on, the provision of additional staff and, as few new entrants have specialised knowledge of meteorology, 240 is it necessary to train them before they can be placed in charge of stations or entrusted with the responsibility of issuing forecasts. The collection and collation of information is one thing, its speedy dissemination in a form easily understood and applied is another. This practical problem is being met by greater frequency, over a longer period, of broadcasts and the use of such devices as the teleprinter. The amount of valuable meteorological information at the disposal of pilots is nowadays not only extensive but increasing. The success of the Transatlantic flights is a proof of this.
In the old classical story of the first legendary flight, Icarus, who was warned not to fly too high lest the sun melt the wax which cemented his wings, or too low lest the water damaged them, received in effect a meteorological warning, by the neglect of which he met with disaster. He had little excuse then; he would have less now.
With regard to civil aviation, a full discussion will take place to-morrow, and hon. Members will no doubt prefer to confine their remarks to-day to Service questions. As these Estimates, however, cover civil aviation, I should like to deal briefly with it here. Further progress has been made with the Empire air mail scheme, and on 23rd February the second stage, which extends the scheme to Singapore, was commenced. It is anticipated that the full scheme, with through services to Australia, will be brought into operation during the forthcoming year. Survey work has been carried out in connection with the Trans-Tasman route, and negotiations between the Governments concerned are in progress.
It is confidently hoped that the extension of the main Empire scheme to Sydney will be followed by a regular air service therefrom to New Zealand. Since December last Bangkok has been substituted for Penang as the junction on the main Empire route for Hong Kong. It is proposed to provide a more efficient service between Bangkok and Hong Kong by increasing the frequency of operation from once to twice weekly in each direction.
Very successful experimental flights were carried out on the North Atlantic route during 1937. Five round trips between Hythe and New York were successfully completed by Imperial Airways, 241 using modified Empire flying boats. Pan-American Airways also carried out two round flights. These flights, which, incidentally, included record crossings of the Atlantic, were without incident and provided a very considerable amount of useful data. It is interesting to note that the total route mileage of regularly operated British Empire routes during 1937 amounted to almost 80,000 miles—an increase of some 12,000 miles on the figure for 1936. The figures include regular internal routes in the United Kingdom.
With regard to the recommendations of the report of the Maybury Committee, a comprehensive scheme for meteorological, wireless, and traffic control facilities, including the training of the necessary staff, is being proceeded with as rapidly as circumstances permit. The preparation of the Order-in-Council, required in order to set up the licensing authority for internal air routes, has involved consideration and solution of many legal and other problems. Further consultations have taken place with aerodrome owners and operating companies and the draft Order has now reached a final stage. Finally, substantial provision—amounting to £200,000—has been made to cover existing items of development of civil aircraft, and to proceed with new items during the year.
I must now refer to the expenditure for the current financial year. It has been necessary to proceed with certain new works services for which provision was not made in the original Estimates for 1937, and whose start could not be delayed. The details of the works services in question are set out in the Estimate which has been issued, as well as certain variations from the original provision for other services. Savings are anticipated on various services, sufficient to meet the additional provision required. I accordingly present to the House a token Supplementary Estimate for £100.
This brings my review to an end. Throughout this review there must have been in the minds of hon. Members, as in my own, a realisation of that which cannot be directly assessed in terms of money or material, but without which money and material are of no avail. I refer to the spirit of all who have helped during the past year in this great endeavour. It is not for me to attempt 242 to detail those to whom I refer, when such a task is impossible. I would rather let it go forth that the House recognises with gratitude, as I do, the untiring efforts and loyal services of those who have helped, in high position or in humble.
In conclusion, let me say that the Air Force which we need with its functions of defence, counter-offence, reconnaissance, trade protection, and co-operation with the Navy and Army at home and overseas, must be viewed not merely in any mathematical computation but objectively in relation to the tasks which it has to perform. The Prime Minister in answer to a Parliamentary question last Thursday said:The policy of the Government is to create an Air Force of such character and size as, having regard to all relevant circumstances, including the nature of our war problems and the extent and availability of our aggregated resources, will constitute an effective instrument for our purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; cols. 2106–7, Vol. 332.]Our aggregated resources have many times in the past enabled this country to perform successfully heavy and difficult tasks, and will do so again. It is in that faith that to-day I present these Estimates to the House and give indication of further demands yet to come.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
The speech to which we have listened was an amplification of the Memorandum issued by the Secretary of State. The hon. and gallant Member told us very little more than the Memorandum tells us. His speech was more notable for what it left out than for what it said. We are called upon this afternoon to consider Estimates amounting to a huge sum of just over £100,000,000, part only of the total expenditure upon armaments of all kinds and military preparations during the forthcoming year. The speech of extreme gravity that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday indicated to the House that this is only a fractional amount of what we may expect as the proposed expenditure in the near future. It is an appalling sum. The present sum is appalling enough, but one wonders what the Supplementary Estimates will amount to when the policy of the Government has been settled.
Whatever our view may be as to the ultimate virtue of force as the solvent of human difficulties, most of us in this 243 House and most people in the country feel compelled to recognise the necessity for military preparations. I accept that necessity. It is not part of my purpose, and it would be entirely out of place for me, to discuss the relationship between these Estimates and foreign policy; but if we are to have air expenditure at all, or military expenditure of any kind, it is essential that the way in which that money is being used shall imply efficiency. From that standpoint, without touching upon any question of high policy, I should like to say a few words in criticism, not so much of the Minister's speech, but of the details of the statements that have already been made in reference to administration. We propose to criticise administration, realising some of the difficulties confronting us in the present situation of public affairs.
We are bound to put a number of questions connected with the efficiency, or lack of efficiency, of the military preparations concerning the character of Air Ministry methods and their handling of the expansionist programme. There has been recently a great amount of exceedingly strong criticism of the Air Ministry, both upon the civil and the military side. It was extraordinary that the Under-Secretary made no mention of those criticisms, because they have not come from irresponsible persons but, to a large extent, from people whose views are of importance, and command respect. There is no doubt that the public mind is seriously troubled about the present situation and the question of Air Ministry organisation, and there is a growing and widespread conviction that all is not well. We have demanded, or, if the softer term is desired, we have requested, that there shall be a competent and full investigation of the military side of the Air Ministry, with all the elements of secrecy that may be considered necessary; but that demand has been ignored.
Saying too much may not be in the public interest, but there is one thing that is less in the public interest, and that is tolerating procedure which may lead to embarrassment to the Government and the country in times of emergency. It would be safer to disarm and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the world than to engage in a race for supremacy or even to compete for comparable strength, and 244 fail. For that reason, with all the emphasis that we can express, the Opposition calls for an investigation—a logical development of what has already happened in the matter of civil aviation—by a committee of inquiry that shall be, whatever its composition, in all respects equal in authority and public estimation to the committee which investigated the subject of the Air Ministry's conduct of civil aviation in this country.
We make that request, and I know that it is supported in every quarter of the House. It does not mean a party demand, based upon mere partisanship and the desire to score against the Government. The question is an exceedingly serious one at the present time, and I sincerely hope that whoever replies, whether it be the Under-Secretary or the Prime Minister, will not treat this demand in a cavalier spirit. It has been suggested that to make a demand of that character is tantamount to having a court-martial of high Air Ministry officials. That is absurd. Even if it were true, the court-martial has already taken place as far as half of the activities of the Air Ministry are concerned. Not only so, but upon many counts the verdict has been one of guilty.
The Under-Secretary says that the Committee's report on civil aviation will be discussed in full to-morrow, but there are some aspects of it which have a serious reflection upon the military situation in this country and upon the military side of the Air Ministry's management. According to the report defects in Air Ministry organisation are the primary cause of faults in productive organisation and of the failure to arrive at a far-reaching Government policy. The Cadman report says:Such a system is quite unsuited to the rapidly developing technique of the problems of aeronautics, which is still in its infancy. It may indeed account for many of the difficulties in meeting the present demands for equipment for the Royal Air Force.That is our case and that of Members in all parts of the House for the logical extension of the Cadman inquiry to the other side of the Air Ministry's activities. If it is true that present demands for equipment in the Royal Air Force have made that difficulty because of the system involved at the Ministry itself, the Cadman Committee has definitely called for 245 an inquiry into the military side as well as into the civil side. The report says "may." The case for specific inquiry is that we should find out whether it does, and the Government must accede to that demand.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State made an interesting speech. It was a review amplifying the Memorandum of the Secretary of State which is before Members of the House. Both are intended to sooth, but neither will satisfy, the public mind, for the reason that I have given that they leave out too much, however interesting the review in itself. If hon. Members will turn to page 7 of the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for Air, they will find the following statement, which has something to do with one part of the speech of the Under-Secretary this afternoon. It says:… large orders were placed for types of aircraft already available in production, and deliveries were made at a rate which enables Service training to proceed without interruption or delay. Simultaneously. … arrangements were made for the large scale production of more powerful types, re-equipment with which was a cardinal feature of the programme. …Re-arming will, however, be substantially completed during the coming financial year, and full operational effect will be rapidly achieved with the more powerful types of aircraft "—Then, at the bottom of the page:… new types of aircraft have, in general, equalled or exceeded the expectations formed of them in the design stage, and the Air Council are satisfied that they bear comparison with any aircraft in production abroad.When a question was interpolated during the speech of the Under-Secretary, he did not seem quite so confident about that statement. The question had to do with whether the aircraft of which he speaks, those that are in substantial existence in the squadrons, can be said to be equal either qualitatively or quantitatively with any aircraft in production abroad, but the specific statement is made. I have looked up the meaning of the word "substantial" in the dictionary, and I find that it means "real, solid." That statement is contrary to the opinion of many high technical people in this country, and we ought to go a little closer into the actual facts of the case.
§ Mr. Montague
I allude to the answer to the interpolation of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones).
§ Mr. Montague
No, it is not a question of turrets, but the Under-Secretary was so very careful to say that his statement had to do with turrets only, and that is the kind of answer to which I refer.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
May I be allowed to correct the hon. Member? I was dealing with turrets, and I was not concerned with wireless, with men, or with weather reports. I was dealing with turrets, and I want to be quite specific on that point. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) asked me whether the situation was satisfactory in numbers and in quality, naturally I had to take these two things together as constituting the definite whole. That was intended to be the purport of my supplementary answer on the matter. It is no good having a lot of a bad type, and it is no use having a very good type, if you have none of them. My reference to the satisfactory situation referred to the situation of the comprehensive whole.
§ Mr. Montague
I do not think that quite so much time need have been spent in correcting me. I am aware of the fact that the answer of the hon. and gallant Gentleman had to do with turrets, but the question had something to do with something bigger than that. I was surprised that the opportunity was not taken at least to emphasise the statement made in the memorandum of the Secretary of State. It does not matter very much, because it is the fact that high technical opinion in this country does not agree with the Secretary of State. The House will require more than the facile optimism of the Under-Secretary, or of the Secretary of State himself, if it comes to that, before their fears can be dispelled. That statement ran counter to answers to questions in this House. I asked the Under-Secretary a question a short time ago whether he would state upon what date the prototypes of the Spitfire, the Blenheim, and Battle aeroplanes were originally prepared; and when the desired 247 deliveries would be made of the finished classes of machine, and this was his answer:The Spitfire and Battle prototypes were first flown in March, 1936, but it will be appreciated that, as a result of trials of the prototype aircraft, various changes of design are usually necessary to secure that production aircraft will meet Service requirements.No one disagrees with that.The Blenheim was re-designed as a military aircraft from a civil aeroplane which was first flown by the Royal Air Force "—presumably at the end of its civilian existence—in July, 1935Then he said:I cannot undertake to forecast when delivery of the full number of aircraft now on order will be completed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1938; col. 376, Vol. 332.]The Under-Secretary is quite sure that there is substantial progress being made, and that at the end of March, 1939, that substantial progress will still be substantial progress. Take the question of aeroplanes. The Under-Secretary says that the situation is encouraging. I do not go so far as to say that the situation is encouarging. During 1937 Britain exported £2,641,000 worth of fighting aircraft, an increase of £700,000 on the previous year. In 11 months of last year more than £3,000,000 worth of guns, explosives, munitions, and military and naval stores were sold abroad, and in August of last year we started exporting arms at the rate of £500,000 worth a month, and yet it is admitted that we are short of airframes. It is not a question of skilled labour, instruments, or anything else, because the same kind of labour, experience, and skill are required to make areroplanes, whether they are of an obsolete type or of an up-to-date type. One of the charges which is made against the Air Ministry in respect of the efficiency of the Air Force is that the Air Force is living upon repeats, and it is no answer to that charge to say that large orders of types already available and in production have been executed.
The Secretary of State talks about the second phase, that of rearming with new and more powerful types, which is now in operation. Substantial numbers of aircraft of the following expansion types are already in the squadrons: Harrow, Blenheim, Wellesley, Whitley, Battle, and 248 Hurricane. I understand—and my understanding comes from authoritative persons and literature—that the kind of substantial numbers in the squadrons is very much like the commercial traveller's samples in the shops. There is very little more than sample aeroplanes, and it is not true that substantial numbers in any practical, real, and solid sense of the word are actually in the squadrons at the present moment. The Minister does not know when deliveries will be completed, and yet he knows that at the end of March, 1939, the results will be substantial. In the meantime, he speaks about training machines, obsolescent machines, for which large orders have been given, and these are put before the House to be regarded as adequate equipment for the 124 squadrons, not counting the overseas squadrons and the appropriate Reserve organisation. The fact cannot be denied that these high-powered machines are not in the squadrons in sufficient numbers. One critic has expressed himself satirically in this way:Five post-war types. Marvellous! Not one of them more than 20 years old.I believe that some kind of exception can be made in respect of the Hurricanes. The Ministry has cashed in upon the excellent performance which was made by Squadron-Leader Gillan. It was a fine performance, and the flight in question was well timed in more senses than one. I am rather surprised that nothing has been said about the previous flight of three Hurricanes of the 111 (F) Squadron, which did the same journey, the same distance, without anything in the nature, as far as I understand, of advantage in respect to wind, in only 10 minutes more. But the question remains, What is that intended to convey? What are we to be convinced about? Shall we candidly be told, or is it against tbe public interest, whether this aircraft is capable of doing the job it is supposed to do as well as stunt flights? We shall not win a war by means of stunts. This aeroplane is of a fighter type, and we know that direct high speed and high manoeuvrability are not necessarily the same thing.
There is a number of other subjects perhaps of greater importance than those upon which I have touched this afternoon. I realise that, under the existing condition of world affairs and our relationship to world affairs, it is not desirable to go very closely perhaps into 249 some subjects connected with our rearmament. But I would say to the Prime Minister that, after all, these things have to be considered somewhere. If very experienced critics and people who are qualified to state their views upon the position of rearmament make serious statements about Air Ministry management and the condition of our defences, then, in one way or another, those statements must be investigated, if not in this House, by a committee of inquiry, upon the lines that I have suggested. I am not making a challenge. I do not want to make a party or a debating point at all. I am quite series in what I suggest.
Will the Prime Minister answer this question? If he will interrupt me—and I invite him to do so—will he say that the Government will take what is virtually a recommendation of the Cadman Committee in reference to the military side and expand the idea of an inquiry from civil aviation to military aviation so as to include the whole administration of the Air Ministry? If he will answer that question, I will pass on from what I intended to say in connection with our defences. As he does not do so, I am afraid it is necessary for me to deal with some of these questions and to raise issues which some hon. Members will say ought not to be raised at this time. We have asked for an inquiry and it has been refused. There is no logical justification for the refusal, and for that reason we are bound to go on with our criticism of the position. What about the high-powered bombers we were promised and have not yet got, except as samples? What is their range? These are technical questions asked by people in authority and in official journals; they do not come from me. I do not pretend to be an expert on these technical matters, but statements are made and the public, as a result, is greatly perturbed about Air Ministry administration.
It is asserted that our bombers, in spite of the Secretary of State's statement, are inferior in range to those of other countries, that not one of them can command the industrial and munition areas of Germany. The final range of the best of them, the Bleheim, is 1,000 miles, with no margin for manoeuvre, detours or considerations of weather and wind. Even flying over Belgium and 250 Holland we are told that they could not reach Munich, Dresden or Koenigsberg, three cities which are German air headquarters—and by reaching them I mean getting there and back. I shall be surprised if the Prime Minister will argue that the Rhine is a natural as well as an expedient frontier for us. After all, the foreign situation and foreign policies are apt to change, and sometimes to change rapidly. We are told that we have no machines which can do a journey comparable to the performance of the Italian Savoias which made the famous flight from Rome to South America. There is a delay in the supply of aeroplanes, although this point was more or less glossed over by the Under-Secretary of State.
I am assured that there are many hon. Members who are convinced that there is unnecessary delay in the supply of aeroplanes. I have already given figures of our aircraft exports and despite the Prime Minister's lame argument that foreign trade must be considered and must not be interfered with, we cannot get away from the fact that there is a delay in the supply of aeroplanes. When questions of this character are raised it is a matter of serious concern to the layman, who has a profound suspicion that the Ministry hangs on to the methods of the past and that reactionary conditions prevail, which the present Secretary of State is either unable or unwilling to alter.
As a matter of fact, the Ministry has for a long time been a hotbed of dissatisfaction, of intrigue and of something like scandal. I do not want to use extravagant language, and I think that language is justified by what many of us know is happening at the Air Ministry. The industry is controlled by officials who work individually and in jealous isolation. One Department issues an order which is immediately cancelled by the next. It is easier, says one critic, to alter an aeroplane than to alter the wording of a chit, and the result is that time and money are wasted to a shocking degree, due to lack of business and commercial aptitude. Equipment is ordered without any general reference to the actual position of the factories and the supply of raw materials. Adastral House and its subsidiaries appear to be a warren of little departments, with little or no more power except that of veto over each other, 251 naturally the manufacturers are very exasperated, although they are doing well out of it. They are using the muddle at the Ministry in order to justify their objection to what they call ministerial control. They want freedom from official control. The principle appears to be, "Here is a design; let us muck it about." Orders, counter-orders, and cancellations ensue, and by the time that 3,000 or 6,000 modifications upon an original design have been passed on the prototype, the design, is out of date.
The Under-Secretary of State says that perfection cannot be reached. That is perfectly true, and one, of course, realises from the nature of the industry that there must be modifications due to practical experience in the air after the prototype is delivered. But the idea that 6,000 modifications are required in an absurd attempt to get perfection in this or that prototype seems to me to be entirely wrong. The tide of criticism is high and cannot be ignored. In the middle of the Great War we were told of a lack of shells. I think we had better not wait until another war "begins. It is not financial control that is lacking but the ideal of public service, and that complaint affects the industry as much as it affects the Ministry. The House will remember that a Commission reported in 1936 and said that:War and the preparation for war ought not to be the occasion of private gain. We are confident that the public feeling on this matter, which we believe to be widespread, intense and genuine, ought not to be disregarded. We recommend that measures be taken to restrict the profits of armament firms to a reasonable scale of remuneration, designed not only to prevent excessive profits but to satisfy the public that they do so.What happens? When the Air Ministry wishes to introduce a new type of military machine it prepares specifications on the basis of which the selected firms submit general designs, and a few are usually asked to build prototypes. One of these is selected for quantity production, but the Air Ministry pays all the unsuccessful competitors for their work and generally buys the unsuccessful prototypes for research purposes. All the competing firms can therefore submit prototypes without financial loss. In the case of civil aviation that is not so. Although operating firms are subsidised the production side is not and, therefore, the Cadman Committee gave this advice in respect of civil aviation— 252In the event of the aircraft being commercially successful, the State should obviously be entitled to recover the whole or part of its contribution to design and manufacture. We suggest, therefore, that in this event a proportion of the sums paid should be refunded by the constructor in respect of each aircraft sold in excess of a pre-determined number.If that is good enough for the civil aviation production side, to which a subsidy is not given, it should be good enough for firms which are making military aeroplanes. And when we are considering questions of numbers and design it is not merely big firms but a host of small subsidiary firms who are having money shovelled into their pockets in huge profits without any real control, because the costing method is not control. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has said that the proper thing is a strict commercial accountancy, but that is not done by a peripatetic method of costing. I am not arguing against capital. Capital has to be paid for, its use has to be paid for, and risks have to be paid for. But why bodies of shareholders, who provide no more capital, or if they do get the same rate of returns, and who accept no more risks, should benefit by an excess of national expenditure, is something which we on this side at any rate cannot understand from the standpoint of public service and public patriotism.
The Vinson Troumel Act in America limited to 10 per cent. the profit on sales to the Navy, and in that country aircraft manufacturers and the manufacturers of instruments have kicked at this restriction. I do not know what the result has been, but they have disagreed with this limitation of profits on the ground that greater risks are involved in construction and research. That does not apply to this country or to our aircraft manufacturers, because they are guaranteed by the Government right through. Considering what is asked for in times of emergency from people who have no capital, let me give some figures to the House: Handley Page, 50 per cent. dividend, and 100 per cent. bonus shares; Armstrong Siddeley, a gross profit of over £750,000; Vickers, £243,000; Camell Laird, £73,000; Baldwins, £118,000; John Brown, £140,000; Bristol, £86,000; Fairey, £188,000; Hawker Siddeley £154,000; Armstrong Siddeley £133,000; Engineering Steel, £200,000; Hadfield's, 253 £100,000; and Tube Investment Company, £200,000. I could go on with a list of people who are filling their pockets at the public expense at the present time, and there is no method by which it can be prevented or altered.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Does not the hon. Gentleman think it is possible that, by paying those profits, the State is purchasing this equipment more cheaply than it could itself manufacture it?
§ Mr. Montague
If the hon. Member wants an answer to that question. it is in the negative. I do not wish to indulge in an argument with him on the virtue of public control or the organisation of the aircraft industry. The hon. Member will see what will happen if war comes; the nation will have to take over this industry, because private industry cannot cope with the needs of wartime or of an emergency. Let me compare the figures I have given with the treatment of labour. I do not intend to make any charge about badly paid labour as a general rule, but I wish to give one instance in order to show the Government the attitude of mind when it is a question of labour and not of capital.
There is in course of construction a huge aerodrome, the name of which I will not give, which will cost a large amount of money, and on which a great deal of skilled and unskilled labour is employed. It is in a part of the country where there is little organisation among skilled workmen. The aerodrome is miles from a town, and there are no amenities, and for that reason it is difficult to get skilled labour. The small wage of 1s. 5½d. an hour has been increased to 1s. 8½d. an hour by the contractor responsible. There is, however, a large number of unskilled labourers employed, and there is no shortage of them. They come from all parts of the country, from the distressed areas and so on, and many of them are compelled to send home part of their wages. In their case, the Fair Wages Clause is put into strict operation. They receive the local rate of 1s. 1d. an hour, and they do not even get extra money for Saturday afternoons and Sundays, which the skilled workmen get. I am not grumbling about that operation of the Fair Wages Clause, but I mention the instance to show the attitude of mind when it is a question of labour. As a last word on that point, I ask when there is to be a 254 Fair Wages Clause for the aircraft industry?
I wish now to refer to a rather painful matter, to which I should not have referred were it not for something else which has been said about it. The Under-Secretary referred to accidents, and he will remember one unfortunate accident of a painful character on which the coroner made a certain comment, which has, in turn, been commented upon in the following terms:Fighter pilots, in particular, are expected to be men of high spirits and daring character.I take no exception to that remark, but it must be associated with a speech that was made by Air-Marshal W. G. S. Mitchell in a discussion at the Royal United Services Institution. It is a curious fact that, although a great deal has been made about that part of the speech in which he dealt with the lack of blind-flying instruments, a much more important statement which he made has been glossed over or neglected. He used the following words:We have inexperienced pilots "—that statement runs counter to something which was said by the Under-Secretary this afternoon—turned out in 10 months and put into squadrons where they fly high-speed machines. They are not really experienced in these fast machines, for experience only comes in time.I want to know, as I am sure other Members will, whether that statement, made by the Air-Marshal responsible as far as personnel is concerned, is true? If so, what is the justification for putting men who are admittedly inefficiently trained into high-powered and high-speed machines? What is the justification for that in peace time? The public conscience is very much concerned about that statement.
§ Mr. Montague
He said they are insufficiently trained. They are not experienced in flying fast machines. I end as I began. An independent inquiry must be granted, otherwise the country, which is already perturbed by persistent allegations, will come to the conclusion that there is something to hide. If it can be shown by an independent inquiry that 255 there is nothing seriously wrong, we shall all be delighted.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I do not propose to deal with the various criticisms which have been made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), but the hon. Member concluded his speech by repeating the request for an independent inquiry into the work of the military side of the Royal Air Force, and it is for the purpose of dealing with that point, and that alone, that I have risen. The hon. Member based his request on what he represented to be virtually the demand of the Cadman Committee. I must say that I find nothing in the report of the Cadman Committee which justifies any statement such as that. One casual observation in a single paragraph out of the 124 paragraphs in the report was taken by the hon. Member, and he put on it a weight which was evidently far greater than it was in itself intended to bear. If, indeed, it had been in the mind of the Committee that an inquiry of this kind, or of the kind described by the hon. Member, were necessary in the public interest, they would certainly not have dismissed it in that brief sentence, but would have supported that demand by an adequate buttressing of evidence.
The hon. Member, in giving his own ideas of what were the charges which would have to be investigated by such an inquiry, appeared to me so completely to overstate his case that I cannot think those who heard him were at all convinced, and I can say from what I personally know about the activities of the Air Ministry that his representations of a state of muddle and chaos, of a state in which manufacturers had all set themselves to muck about with the designs submitted to them, is really fantastic. I should at any time find it extremely difficult to accede to a request of that kind. I do not admit that there is a parallel between the inquiry into civil aviation and an inquiry into what is, and must always be, the main purpose and function of the Air Ministry. There may be different opinions about the importance of civil aviation to the prestige of this country and to the facility with which its communications can be maintained, but there can be no question 256 as to the vital nature of the relations of our Air Force to the security of the country. For that security, the Government of the day must bear the responsibility. They cannot share that responsibility with any committee. If the development of civil aviation has lent itself to criticism for its lagging behind or its slowness, that is largely due to the very fact that, by the necessity of the case, the whole energies of the Secretary of State and his staff, and the aircraft industry itself, have been devoted to the pushing forward of this enormously accelerated Air Force programme.
Can anybody suppose that it was possible to multiply four-fold the Air Force in this brief space of time without any accidents or errors of judgment in the carrying out of this vast programme? When we had to start almost from the beginning; when we had to deal with new designs which were so different from the old ones that they might have been said to be new inventions rather than the development of existing types; when we had to buy sites and to erect buildings on them; when we had to import personnel and train it at a speed which was almost necessarily beyond the capacity of those who were competent to instruct—when we had to do all those things, could it be expected that there was never going to be some disappointment or that some part or other would not be found wanting when the time came? When new factories had to be built by manufacturers who had never touched the manufacture of these things before, and had to be shown how to do it and to learn from their own mistakes what to do, and what was wanted, of course there would be delays and disappointments.
§ The Prime Minister
Anybody who has read carefully the Memorandum which accompanies the Estimates must, I think, pay tribute to the energy and ability of the Secretary of State and his staff for all that they have done in carrying out that programme. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman opposite would like us to imitate Germany in the methods which she has employed in regimenting the country for the production of armaments.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member says we may have to, but at any rate, we are not going to do so until we are convinced that nothing else will serve our turn. While, as I said, at any time I should find it very difficult to accede to this request, which in fact amounts to instituting a court-martial upon the Air Ministry, I put it to hon. Members that they could not find a more inopportune moment than the present to institute an investigation which must distract the attention and occupy the minds of those who are engaged, not only in administration, but also in the production of our programmes. This is not the time to harry them to answer questions which do not sound to me as though they were based on any very competent authority. Let us all put our efforts together, get on with the job, and supply this country with the Air Force which it requires in the shortest possible time.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
I think that the Prime Minister, in his reply to the request by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) for an inquiry into the Air Ministry, rather missed the point. What hon. Members on this side consider to be the seriousness of the matter is that the Cadman Committee reported on the Minister in charge when it was not in the terms of reference that it should do so.
§ The Prime Minister
Surely, the hon. Baronet must have read the passage of the report in which the Committee point out that we cannot entirely separate the military from the civil side.
§ Sir H. Seely
I do not mean to question the right hon. Gentleman on that. What I say is that the report contains definite criticism of the Secretary of State. It says:It devolves upon the Secretary of State to stimulate the development of research and design and the production of civil aircraft… This responsibility appears to have been neglected in many respects.That is a definite statement about the Air Ministry by the Committee, which was not asked to deal with the question of the Air Minister, but which reported against the Air Minister. I am not saying that I agree with the Committee, but that there is on this side a definite feeling that the report goes further than the 258 mere civil side of aviation. We are dealing with the Air Minister, who is responsible for military aviation. If he is to be censured by this committee, outside of its terms of reference, on civil aviation, surely we have a right to ask for a further inquiry into military aviation, a matter of far higher and greater importance. We may not get it, but the feeling remains.
§ The Prime Minister
May I reply to what the hon. Member has just said? The passage which he has quoted deals with civil aviation and civil aviation alone, and the censure of which he speaks, of neglect of responsibility, is in relation to civil aviation. That is specifically mentioned.
§ Mr. Montague
Will the Prime Minister allow me to read the paragraph?Such a system is quite unsuited to the rapidly developing technique of the problems of aeronautics, which is still in its infancy. It may, indeed, account for many of the difficulties in meeting the present demands for equipment for the Royal Air Force.
§ The Prime Minister
I know. That is the sentence which the hon. Member has quoted already, but that is not the passage which the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) quoted. He quoted a passage from paragraph 23, whereas what the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has quoted is paragraph 26. I am speaking of paragraph 23. I say that the censure upon the Secretary of State had reference to civil aviation and that the answer to that censure is that it is true that this matter was neglected, but the reason is clear and obvious to everybody, namely, that the Secretary of State was obliged to give his whole attention to the question of military aviation until that, at any rate, had been put on its feet.
§ Sir H. Seely
The Prime Minister has explained now, that the Secretary of State was to blame on the civil side.
§ The Prime Minister
I must not be interpreted as saying that the Secretary of State was to blame. What I said was that civil aviation had necessarily been neglected while our whole resources were being devoted to military aviation.
§ Sir H. Seely
I accept that. Still it was not in the terms of reference of the Committee to deal with the Secretary of State, and yet they do so. Whatever one 259 may say about the question, to the effect that it refers only to civil aviation, there is undoubedly a feeling about this matter both in the House and in the country. One must remember that in the Debate on civil aviation the appointment of the committee was opposed very strongly by the Air Ministry. We were told that it was unnecessary. It is impossible to divide the Ministry in this way and to say that because they have developed the military side they have had to neglect the other—that they had to be inefficient on the civil aviation side because they were super-efficient on the military aviation side. I do not think anyone knowing anything of any Ministry or any business could take the view that if you are inefficient on one side, you can be super-efficient on the other. We certainly do criticise the Department and this is not the first time we have said that, having regard to all the criticism, and the money that is being spent, and the figures that have been read out by the Under-Secretary, we ought to have a Minister in this House responsible for this Department.
I am not saying anything except by way of congratulation to the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate. I congratulate him on his position, and he could not have been clearer than he was in presenting these Estimates and explaining and re-explaining the White Paper. We all know him in this House as a stone-waller—and a very adept one in the Air Ministry at the present time—but a stone wall that moves about is apt to become slightly ludicrous. We are now to have the Noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to deal with one side of air affairs in this House. I am not certain whether it is that the Air Minister is so perfect at the Air Ministry that we cannot have him here and that we are to have a sort of super-Under-Secretary to help us here. It is a most extraordinary method of dealing with what is not only one of the most expensive of the spending Departments, but certainly the most important at the present time. I ask the Prime Minister why we cannot have a Minister in this House responsible for this Department and why, when an alteration has to be made it should be made in this extraordinary way. Why should we be given a sort of super-Under-Secretary without any knowledge of whether he is going to direct policy, 260 or whether his fellow-Minister in the Cabinet is responsible there for policy? I do not think that is the way to deal with this matter at the present time.
The Under-Secretary went through the Memorandum which has been supplied to us, amplifying it in some respects, and I would like to follow him. I am not satisfied, nor can anyone be who reads this Memorandum, that it is sufficient. It is all very well to put down on paper that we have so many squadrons and bombers and fighters. The country is led to believe that we have complete security because there is an expansion from 52 to 123. They are not allowed to go deeper into the question of what that expansion really means. Of course, we cannot know, and it is impossible to find out from the Ministry, exactly what these squadrons are, but I am certain that of these 68 bomber squadrons not more than 27 have modern aeroplanes, and of the 41 squadrons which remain 31 are equipped with Hines. No one can pretend that these represent efficient and proper defence for this country. The figure of 68 bomber squadrons does not give the true picture that ought to be given, if you are going to tell the country that your answer to an attack from the air will be to bomb the other country. You have not the means, and it is no good pretending that you have.
Of those 68 squadrons, 31, as I say, are equipped with Hines, and, as everybody knows who has seen them at the terminals and at Hendon, or who has read about them in the papers, they have a range of not more than 160 miles if they have to come back to their base. They have not modern equipment, and when you have 31 squadrons of these machines, how are you to pretend that your answer to an air attack will be to bomb the other country in retaliation? We read further down in the Memorandum about 30 fighting squadrons, and then we get propaganda such as we find in descriptions of the Hurricane going at 412 miles an hour and pictures in the "Times" of these Hurricane squadrons. People think when we speak of 30 fighter squadrons that we have 30 of these new Hurricane squadrons. I suppose we have not more than two of these squadrons fitted with monoplanes. The others are ordinary Furies such as we had before. There is also a reference to, 15 squadrons for general re- 261 connaissance, and, of course, people think that these will be used for bombing. It sounds very great, but they are Ansons and cannot be used as bombers.
Again there is a reference to 10 Army Co-operation Squadrons. These are all biplanes. I cannot believe that it is wise to hide, in these figures, the facts about our fighting force in the air. It is no good saying that secrecy is essential and that the enemy do not know the facts. They either know them or can find them out, and there is no need for all this pretended secrecy. But there is one great danger. You are asking the people of this country to make a grave decision in the belief that they have adequate striking power against any other nation, when in fact they have not really got that striking power. You say that it is coming along. We were told that last year and the year before. We find the same method running through the whole of this statement. I was interested to see, on page 5, that the post of Inspector-General of the Royal Air Force has been revived and is at present filled by the former Chief of the Air Staff. I wonder whether it is possible in human nature for him to provide an unbiased criticism of what is, in effect, his own policy in his own administration. There is no question about the feeling which exists that there is a gerat deal of muddle going on in the Air Ministry to-day. You have people working on machines up to 18, and you may then have them working on the replacement of those machines up to 12. There is no co-ordination.
Reference has already been made to the question of the Hurricane and the Spitfire. It is no good thinking that calling it a new machine and sending it out on trials and writing it up, necessarily means that you have the best machine. The Hurricane is not a modern machine. I think it was in 1933 that it was first designed. Afterwards it was rejected. It is now being brought forward, and at the most you have 12 or 20 of these out to-day. The Spitfire is not even out yet. Its prototype, we were told, was brought out about 1935. Since then this type of machine has not gone forward, and you have not any of them now. It is no use pretending that these are the most modem machines there are to-day and that they are modern compared with the standards in other countries. On page 7 of the Memorandum 262 it is stated, with regard to these new types of aircraft:The Air Council are satisfied that they bear comparison with any aircraft in production abroad.Can we say that? Have we anything comparable with the four-engined bomber and the new Boeing turreted fighter? Have we really got the quantity and the quality which are comparable with those of Germany?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I thought I had made myself clear in answering the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). You must consider quality and quantity together. It is no good having a large number of inefficient turrets, and it is no good having very efficient turrets if you have not a sufficient number of them. I want it to be clearly understood that when I said that the situation was satisfactory, I said so having regard to the combination of circumstances in which both numbers and quality have to play their part.
§ Sir H. Seely
The Minister now seems to be going away from the question of quantity, about which he was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I am certain that what was in the right hon. Gentleman's mind was that quantity meant numbers. It is no good saying that quantity is equal to quality if you have only one and it is the best there is. I am convinced, unless I am wrong in my knowledge of what they have in Germany, that we have not more or better turreted fighters than the Boeing type that they have there. The calculation that now comes from the Minister that we must not take quantity as meaning numbers is a very curious one. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence wags his head, but I think that what came out in the Debate the other day on the question of parity in fighting machines is a serious matter. I presume that the reason why the Government are going to get away from the question of parity is that they know full well that they cannot possibly reach it on a question of numbers. If every question of quantity in regard to machines has to be qualified by the statement that our quality is a little better and that, therefore, quantity is increased, it will be found to be a bad system on the day when we have to oppose other machines in the air.
263 The question of instruments is dealt with in this document very simply, but are the facts quite so easy? Not many of the instruments on the modern panel are being made here. The instruments on the blind-flying panel are American and the fog-land apparatus is German. I do not believe we are producing them here. With regard to the variable pitch propeller, the only one in the service is American, and it is called the Hamilton. It is not being made over here yet. We asked last year whether these things were going to be produced here during the coming year. We expected that great efforts would be made to get the various instruments necessary for flying these new modern machines produced here, and it is certainly disheartening to know that we are not even yet making them. We are told that perhaps at the end of this spring we may produce more of them here. There is no mention of de-icing in the memorandum. It is dealt with in the Cadman Report, but one feels that it is not having the full attention it should have considering the conditions that have to be met when these machines have to be flown in any weather under Service conditions.
The hon. Member also dealt with the question of the Link trainer. These are now, I admit, being delivered and are appearing in the stations. This Link trainer has been going in America for two or three years. It did not cost a great deal of money—I believe only about £1,500. It was usually shown there in fairs, and places of amusement where people wanted to fly. It has been reported on again and again as being the most suitable method of teaching people to fly. Yet there has been delay in bringing it forward here, and the Minister now mentions it as though it were a new invention instead of one that has been pressed for in the air stations by anyone who has been to America and seen what use is made of it there. I am glad it is coming but the way in which it has been dealt with is not such as will give great confidence in the Air Ministry.
With regard to accidents I do not want to question anything the Minister said, because one knows that accidents will always happen. He said that in the expansion there are bound to be more. It is not, however, quite so easy to answer 264 as that. To my mind, although it has been denied by the Minister, the instruments for flying in bad weather have not improved during the two years of the expansion. Therefore, the figure of accidents still remains proportional to expansion. I am certain that when we get proper instruments in which a pilot has confidence there will be fewer accidents. The putting of young pilots who have not real confidence in their instruments causes accidents. The hon. Member denied that practically every accident is due to instruments. I agree that the eventual result may be that the unfortunate pilot runs into some high tension cable or crashes somewhere, but in many cases, where the pilot has lost faith in his instrument, he breaks from the formation in which he is flying and runs off on another idea, and then, becoming scared, as one does under those conditions, he has to come down. I am certain that when we get better instruments and the pilots have greater confidence in them, there will be fewer accidents. With regard to the new aerodromes, the hangars which are being built seem to me to be of enormous size and out of proportion to the necessity of such machines as we are ever likely to have. There is no gas proof arrangement for them and no camouflage, although I doubt whether it would be of much use.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Auxiliary Air Force, and I will deal with it, because I happen to be in it. Although it is a serious matter, he dealt with it in only one sentence and did not treat it fairly. As under the present scheme of training it has to be up to first-line standard, the officers and men have to be present practically every week-end in the year. Otherwise, they cannot be efficient. They are only paid as if they they were ordinary Territorials, which means that they are paid when they go to camp. If you ask a man to join your squadron as an officer, you have to tell him that it will cost him £50 a year out of his own pocket. That is wrong. They do not want to make money out of it, but it means that we are not getting the kind of persons we want in the force. An officer has to wear a uniform when on duty, and as he only gets one, he has to bear the expense when that one is worn out. I want to ask what exactly is meant to be the function of the Auxiliary 265 Air Force in the Air Force. We have asked this several times. There are certain to be 21 squadrons, some being fighters and other bombers. Are they training to remain as separate units to be filled from some other source, because they cannot fill up their casualties themselves; or are they to be drafted to some other system in the Air Force? The training which one has to give is bound to be vague unless we know where we are going to fit in with the general scheme in the Air Force. It is a very expensive method of training; it is one of the most expensive systems there is.
I would like to say a word about flying training schools. The Minister says that the Government are going to put modern machines into the field, and yet at all these training schools the men are trained on old machines, and when they go to a squadron they have to be retrained. The Minister tried to say that that did not happen, but I cannot think of one case where it does not, because at all the training schools they have not got the modern type of machine. There comes a question of expense, about which we have asked in the House. We cannot get to know what are the hours flown in the Royal Air Force, because we are told it is not in the public interest to give it. It is, however, given in other countries. One wonders whether it is because, if you take the number of hours flown and divide it into the amount of money that is being spent, you will find that the present cost of an hour's flying comes cut at between £50 and £60. That is a very high figure.
It is no good pretending that there is a feeling of security in the country as regards the present Air Ministry. It is no good thinking that propaganda put out through the "Daily Telegraph," the "Times," and papers like that will really help. We must build up real confidence, not only in the country, but in the Air Force itself, that the heads of the Air Ministry are going to help in every way. Nothing is more disheartening to young pilots in the Service than to read how wonderful the Air Force is, how wonderful our new machines are, and how they are all equipped with the latest inventions, when all of them know that what is said does not apply to themselves nor, most probably, to anyone else in the Air Force whom they know. I feel very 266 strongly that the Air Force is the most vitally important of all our Forces, and that it is a weapon of very great power. We have only to listen to the words of Field-Marshal von Goering, to my mind very powerful words. There ought to be the same motto in this country, in the Air Force and the people in it, that when the time comes for that force to be used it will have to be used, worse luck, ruthlessly and recklessly.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
I hope the House will extend an unusual degree of patience to me to-night, since, as hon. Members may probably be aware, I suffered a little misadventure elsewhere. In a Debate of this sort it is extraordinarily difficult to know how much to say and how much to refrain from saying. To a large extent I agree with what has been said by the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), although the numbers which he gave in dealing with the programme, if not containing any serious error, were not, perhaps, wholly correct.
Perhaps, we had best start by getting clearly in our minds what is, in general terms, the present position of the Air Force in this country. My excuse for presuming to formulate that situation in general terms is simply this: that during the last 2½ years I have had quite unusual opportunities of associating with the Air Force in all parts of the country and of ascertaining, as far as an outsider and a civilian can do so, what is the state of the feeling and of the efficiency of that Force. I think it would be fair to put the result of my observations into these words: that if at the present time we were to be attacked by air without declaration of war or other warning by—I will not mention names—the most powerfully air-armed country in Europe, we should overcome that attack, but at the most appalling cost, not only to our civilian population but, more particularly, to our Air Force itself.
The whole of my criticism of the Air Ministry in respect of these Estimates is based upon that fact. It is not, as some speakers have hinted, that we are absolutely powerless, for that is very far indeed from the truth, but, due in some degree to the fault of the Ministry and of the Secretary of State, though in some degree only, the casualties in meeting such 267 an attack and successfully beating it off would be something beyond anything the world has even known in warfare before. Surely the function of a Service Ministry is to secure that in any terrible emergency such as I have suggested we shall call upon our personnel to perform only what is within the reasonable limits of human courage and human endurance, and I feel that at the present time we should be calling upon the personnel of our Air Force—and mark this, I believe from what I have seen that they would answer to that call satisfactorily—for sacrifices beyond what any civilian population has a right to call upon those young men to make. That is the whole basis of any indictment which I have to bring against the Air Ministry in respect of these Estimates.
If I may now turn to what is, after all, the true foundation of this Debate, the question whether we are getting the supplies and the personnel we need, and getting them at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, it may be of interest to the House to see how these things appear to one who has been engaged for the whole of his life in the manufacturing side of the engineering industry. To some extent any attack upon the Government in connection with a matter of this sort must of necessity be a personal attack upon the Minister and the Minister's colleagues, and I hope that the House will bear in mind throughout this Debate that the Secretary of State himself has, of course, no knowledge or experience of these matters with which he has to deal, these great questions of policy in manufacture and buying. Still, I think it is fair to criticise him to some extent, because he has insisted upon dealing with these problems himself when it was absolutely essential that they should have been dealt with by somebody who had some real knowledge and experience of the subject. That sounds, perhaps, a rather heavy indictment, and I would bring to the attention of the House one or two particular instances of what I think are the failures of the Secretary of State to use the power and the position he has to save the taxpayer on the one side and, on the other side, to provide the Air Force with suitable equipment at the earliest possible moment.
I hope the House will not think that these are carping criticisms based upon 268 the backstairs tittle-tattle that so freely comes to Members of this House, and particularly to Members who happen to be on the Opposition side. I have no doubt that we shall get plenty of what I call servants' hall tittle-tattle later in this Debate. I wish to put forward simply the observations of an ordinary man of business, who has been engaged in industry for a very long period, and is anxious to see that the equipment of the Air Force should be carried through as efficiently and as cheaply as is possible. The first thing that happened when this enormous expansion was decided upon was that the aircraft industry was positively encouraged to make out that such an expansion was a most gigantic industrial feat, that to produce 5,000 to 10,000 first-line aircraft was something almost superhuman in its magnitude. Anybody who knows anything about the industry of this country knows that it is a mere fleabite, that the manufacture of 5,000 to 10,000 aircraft is really nothing for the industry of this country to undertake. We started in the wrong atmosphere, the atmosphere of thinking that we were attempting something which had never been approached before, when really we were tackling a very small thing.
Next, we produced a totally wrong atmosphere in the minds of aircraft manufacturers themselves. One may reasonably say that, on the whole, aircraft manufacturers have a pretty high standing in the industrial life of this country. We are not dealing with a lot of rogues. Whether some of the gentlemen who were subsequently imported into that business had such a high reputation as the aircraft manufacturers themselves is another matter which I will not touch upon, but the worst one can say of the aircraft manufacturers is that they are business men. I have heard a business man defined as a man who would skin his grandmother alive if he thought the price of leather was going up, and it is suggested that a business man is, therefore, an undesirable person, but I do not think so. The mere fact that he so regards his grandmother, or her epidermis, simply shows that he regards her from the business point of view. But the extraordinary atmosphere which was produced at the beginning of this expansion of the Air Force was that all aircraft manufacturers were poor, simple folk, who had 269 to be very carefully watched by the Air Ministry or they would be begging their bread on the streets. The one thing to do was to protect those poor fellows from the results of their excessive patriotism, to see that they did not get robbed by the wicked taxpayer. Everything was to be arranged to make certain that we did not see the scandal of the aircraft constructor begging his bread on the streets. I can assure the Secretary of State, being one of that particular type of business man myself, that he need not have had the least lack of confidence in us. We are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves, and he need not waste his sympathy or energy in making sure that we shall not be buried in a pauper's grave.
Surely the next mistake, and a very great mistake indeed, was to turn down Lord Nuffield's suggestion that he might be of use in this matter. His offer was an absolutely Heaven-sent opportunity, because, knowing something of that very big man Lord Nuffield—and a very big man he is—I feel it to have been an utter tragedy that when he offered his services he should have been told by the Secretary of State, "Run away and play, I have not got the time to talk to you." Lord Nuffield is a man of immense power as an organiser and with enormous wealth, and without any regard whatsoever for that wealth, having more than he wanted. He was perfectly prepared to be made use of if only he had been treated, if I may put it in that way, with a little common courtesy. I trust that even yet it is not too late to make use of that very remarkable man whom this country has been fortunate enough to produce.
The fourth point that occurs to me as a simple manufacturer is that the expansion has been based upon a totally unnecessary multiplicity of types and designs. If we want a bomber, we want something to fulfil certain requirements, and there is one design, and one only, which is the best design. Yet what do we see? We have a number of types, and quite different types. The reason, surely, is this, and it is a point which I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider and to put forward to the Secretary of State if he thinks it is any good: The reason for the multiplicity of types is that there is not at the Air Ministry a body technically strong enough to sit upon the manufacturers and to tell them what you 270 want and what you are jolly well going to get. The Board of Admiralty is in a much stronger position. The Naval Construction Board has a technical status sufficient to enable it to talk to shipbuilders. If the Naval Construction Board has a difference of opinion with the naval contractors' people, these people know that there is probably something worth studying in what the Naval Construction Board areee putting forward.
I do not altogether blame the Ate Ministry, because its growth has been so rapid that it has made no definite attempt to get a strong enough body technically to enable it to say, "The way to make this particular type of bomber is so and so. It does not matter whether it suits you or whether it is more profitable to make it another way or not. You have either to make it our way, or you shall not make it at all." As it is, we are far too much in the hands of the contractors in this matter. Suppose that we want a medium bomber. One company comes along and says, "This is the way to make it." Another comes along and says, "No, this is the way to make it. A third company comes with a third design and a fourth company with a fourth design. The Air Ministry can only say, "You know better than we do-Make it your own way." It therefore has to put up with a multiplicity of types, which, in the course of the year or two, will add gigantically to the expense of keeping up the Air Force. The more types of machines you use, the more reserves of material you will want, and the greater will be the cost to the taxpayer. At the risk of boring the House, I want to go right through to the bitter end with this examination. My criticisms are not carping criticisms, and whether they are right or wrong there may at any rate be a germ of something useful in them, because they are the criticisms of one who sees the things from the outside and is able to compare them with his experience of analogous matters in the ordinary walks of life.
It seems to me that the whole idea of the Secretary of State relating to cost accountancy is based upon a fallacy. It appears that he was of the opinion—I hope he is not now—that the cost-accounting system can control costs, but they can do nothing of the sort. A cost-accounting department can merely ascertain and 271 register, but has no means whatever of controlling costs. It can merely tell you what is happening and register the facts, but cannot affect in any way whatever what is happening. The result has been a very great increase in the total cost to the taxpayer of this air force expansion. Another direction in which I think the Secretary of State admitted that mistakes were made is that it is practically impossible in the case of aircraft construction to ascertain the true costs right through. The clerical staff in an aircraft manufacturer's office can ascertain the cost of each unit of construction, including labour cost and material, but they can ascertain only what price was paid by the manufacturer to the person from whom he bought the materials. They cannot ascertain what the cost was to the man who supplied the materials. Here again we come up against the absence of a fully qualified technical department of the sort I have mentioned.
I find that the number of specifications of steel, for instance, used by aircraft manufacturers and admitted by the Air Ministry is something enormous. I speak from memory, but I think the number is about 130 different specifications of steel. I venture to say that if an examination of those steels were made, a very large number of them would be found to be exactly the same as one another. The advance of metallurgical science in recent years, particularly in relation to the manufacture of steels, has been enormous and very rapid. When one is dealing with material requiring very high tensile and compression strengths for use in the production of such things as aircraft, one can get a suitable alloy steel under different names. One manufacturer will sell that particular alloy under one name and another steel manufacturer will sell the identical steel under another name. Mark you, the aircraft manufacturer specifies the particular trade name of the steel he wants, and the Air Ministry is not strong enough technically to be able to say to the manufacturer: "If you get such and such a steel—using the trade name—from so and so, you are paying a lot more than if you got such and such a steel—with another trade name—from so and so." All that costing does is to ascertain that the aircraft manufacturer has paid such and such prices for such and such material, and it cannot ascertain, 272 unless it goes right back to the very raw material itself, whether those are prices that ought to have been paid or whether they were excessive.
Probably hon. Members are aware of the general system by which the prices paid for these new types of aircraft are ascertained. In general terms, it is this: Suppose that we require a new type of bomber, which has been decided upon. The Air Ministry gives instructions to the aircraft manufacturer in question to construct a few of that type. The Ministry very carefully ascertains the cost per unit of this few, and we may take that cost as the figure X pounds. Then the Ministry says, "Now make 300," and it ascertains the cost per unit of the 300, which is naturally very considerably less than the figure X. We may take that less cost per unit of the large quantity as figure Y. You then substract Y from X, and you get a quantity Z, which is the difference between them, and which is shared between the taxpayer and the contractor.
That system seems at first sight to effect the very object that we are after, namely, to secure our aircraft at the very lowest possible price, without skinning the contractor alive, but it is based upon the supposition that the contractor's whole object will be to make the figure Y as small as possible so that the figure Z shall be as big as possible. It misses the point that the contractor can get the same effect of a large value for Z by making the value X as big as possible. The contractor is not a rogue, and he does not deliberately go out to make X as big as he possibly can, but everybody in the place knows perfectly well that the more the first few machines cost, the better it is going to be for everybody for years and years. There is not very much spur, therefore, to economy in construction of the first few of those aircraft. It is very much easier to make the difference value Z very large by making X very large than by making Y very small. The figure X refers only to a few machines and the figure Y refers to 300 machines. There may be safeguards of which I am not aware, but, on the face of it, the system does not work because it does not effect the desired economy or make it in the interests of the aircraft manufacturer to save the taxpayer's pocket.
I have never yet been able to ascertain whether we pay royalties or patent fees 273 for the patents we are using. If we are, I say that it is a shame and a disgrace that we should be doing so. I do not suppose anybody in this House has taken out more patents than I have. The first condition in the granting of a patent is that it may be used free of charge by any Government Department. I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary of State would let us know definitely when he replies on the Debate whether or not we are paying royalties on patents. We ought not to be doing it, and if we are, it is a shame, particularly in the case of certain types of aeroplane fittings, that we should have to pay from 10 to 15 times the actual cost of production. It is a shocking thing that the taxpayer should have to pay that.
Perhaps I might finish upon a more cheerful note. So far as I can see at present, we are paying perfectly preposterous prices for aircraft. The prices that I have ascertained myself are such as to make one's hair stand oh end or one's mouth water, as the case may be. Having regard to what we get, I assure the Under-Secretary that the prices are really preposterous. That being the case, something ought to be stirred up to see that the taxpayer, particularly upon the increased programme, is not fleeced as he was fleeced in the glorious old days of munitions:When every morning brought a noble chance,And every chance brought out a noble knight.The more encouraging note upon which I want to finish relates to the question of personnel, to which I have devoted my attention to the best of my ability for a long time. I must congratulate the Air Ministry on the short-service system of commissions which is working remarkably well, and far better than anybody could have anticipated at the start. The credit for that is due to a large extent to the Air Ministry, but it is due also to the civilian contractors who run the civilian training schools up and down the country. I would also congratulate the Air Ministry upon another reform, in dropping that awful term ab initio and using an English term instead. I hope that the Ministry will go through its files and see whether they can find anything else of that type which will admit of a similar improvement.
274 The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed remarked that civilian training schools were not equipped with the latest types of aircraft for instructional purposes. That is not quite a fair criticism, because the training at the civilian schools is not of the advanced type, and it is not really desirable that the more modern types of aircraft should be available for the cadets at that period of their training. When they go forward to the Royal Air Force training schools it is then necessary that a liberal supply of modern aircraft should be available to them. There has been considerable lack, necessarily, in the provision of those types of aircraft at the Royal Air Force training schools, but I was very pleased to see at one of them the other day that they were beginning to get such machines.
The only really unsatisfactory point-about the short-service scheme is that it does not provide a future for the boys themselves. I refer to those who do not go forward for a permanent commission. The Ministry might set to work to see whether it could make the prospects of these short-service boys a little more promising than they are at present. Many of the boys come from the Dominions, who send us a very good type indeed. These boys, I find when I question them, nearly all intend to go back to the, Dominions on the expiry of their serviced and they do wisely, because their chances of a situation in civil aviation are much better in the Dominions, while the nucleus or embryo air forces in the Dominions will certainly afford openings for a large number of them. But our own boys from this country, after the expiry of their short-service commissions, find themselves at 23 or 24 with nothing but a gratuity, and haying acquired nothing useful for civil life except the easy use of a cheque book, which is of little advantage on an income very much less than they may have expected. It will be a disgrace to the country if it turns out that they have not been properly provided for in after life.
I find, too, when I go up and down the country, that the conditions under which some of these young commissioned officers have to live on Air Force stations are simply indescribably sordid. There is no other word for it. The conditions are a disgrace. These boys, in many instances from comparatively poor homes, 275 come from the grammar schools of the country, or very often from public secondary schools. They go to a civilian training school, where everything is done just right. There is no luxury; the buildings are built just as they should be, the very furniture is carefully selected, and is plain and substantial; it gives a sense of orderliness and cleanliness to a boy, perhaps from a comparatively poor home, and the effect is good.
Everything is done at these civilian training schools exactly as it ought to be done for the boys. They then leave the civilian training school, and go into the Royal Air Force as commissioned officers, and there they find themselves in some instances crowded together in perfectly filthy surroundings, with food fit for swine and general conditions to which they never ought in any circumstances whatsoever to be subjected. Why? "Because, says the Air Ministry, "the Treasury is digging its toes in, and will kick up all sorts of rows if we ask for a quarter of a million or something of that sort to give our boys decent food and conditions all the time." At the same time, we who are interested in sailing are anticipating that at the end of a couple of years or so the Solent, Southampton Water and Spithead will be absolutely unnavigable owing to the reduplication and multiplication of the steam yachts of the aircraft contractors.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), on whatever theme he may speak. I think it is rather wonderful that, not as an old man, but as a man not in the prime of youth, he took to flying and indulges in it as a private hobby to-day. I sincerely hope that he will have no more serious misfortunes than he has had up to the present, because we should miss him very much in the House of Commons. I do not know whether I can quite agree with his description of himself as a simple business man, nor do I entirely agree with him when he criticises the aeroplane manufacturers. I am not one of them, but I feel that, if the Mines Department came along to my hon. Friend, as a manufacturer of coal cutters, and spoke to him in the official tone that he suggests, he 276 would not be very pleased. He also assumes that production engineers should be produced by the civil service, but that is very far from being the case. Production engineers one day must have a part and a place in our government offices, otherwise it is very difficult for a government office to dictate to a manufacturer how he should make his article. I liked my hon. Friend's "x, y, z" example; I thought he was going into quadratics and talk about x squared, but he did not get as far as that.
I must add my congratulations to those of others on the speech of the Under-Secretary. It was, of course, in a minor key, but why should it not be? It is a minor subject and a lachrymose theme, and I think that my hon. and gallant Friend, as an Under-Secretary, would have done very wrong had he bolstered it up in, so to speak, a jolly speech. Underlying it all was a sense of the difficulty of his position and of the national position on the whole subject, and, in a Debate which is open to the whole world, it is difficult sometimes to speak as definitely as one would like. I can scarcely be described as a grammarian, but there is, I think, a new form of speech called the assenting negative. It started in America, and two examples of it are known. One is, "Oh, yeah"—which must never be confused with "Oh, yes"—and the other is "Sez you." These are examples of the assenting negative, which represents the attitude that I adopt towards this Air Ministry Vote.
Nobody, so far, has done what I would like to do, namely, to congratulate the new member of the Cabinet who is to represent the Air Ministry in this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). Before he says it, I will say that he has been a Member of this House for 34 years, and I address him, with 18 years' service, as an absolute youngster. But I would like to remind him that, when he was trying to get into this House, I was serving my time in a motor works, and had already become a balloon pilot. There were not any aeroplanes in those days, but I did what I could. It is curious that a couple of old buffers like us should now be engaged in discussing this question of aircraft supplies. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not going to speak to-day—not that we would not like to hear him, but because it would be too early. He has 277 been brought in to clean the Augean stables, and I feel that, if he spoke tonight, he would, by virtue of his position, describe them as an ideal stud farm. We have such hopes about what he will do that I trust that, if possible, he will not speak to-night. I have been looking up words of wisdom that have fallen from his lips, and I would like to quote to the House some remarks that he made on 22nd May, 1935. He then said:I should like to say that on a matter of great moment at this time, a matter, as I think, of the greatest gravity that we have had to deal with since the War, it is the duty of every Member of this House to present the facts as he believes them to exist and to tell the truth as he sees it, irrespective of fear and favour, irrespective of the fear of political punishment and of the anticipation of political favour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1935; col. 396, Vol. 302.]Those are very wise words, and I must say it redounds to the credit of the Prime Minister that, although my right hon. Friend has been one of his severest critics on this particular matter, he has brought him in to help him in this time of trouble—that those speeches of criticism have not been used against him, but that in a time of difficulty his great services are brought to the help of the Government. Of course, if the progressive increase in our Air Force goes on, we shall one day have a note from Herr Hitler asking that Sir Oswald Mosley should become Home Secretary in charge of our police, and perhaps he would select Mr. C. G. Grey to be Air Minister. Mr. Grey is undoubtedly one of the greatest journalists in England. He is, as the House knows, the editor of the "Aeroplane," and he is extremely Nazi. "Nazi" is just the right word. In this week's "Aeroplane" he describes the Air Council as:As brilliant a body of men as any that the King's Service has had the good fortune to produce.I do not know what is wrong with the other Services that they should get that slap in the face. I would like, however, to impress upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham what a very distinguished gathering he has joined.
We had a little argument to-day about the organisation of the Air Ministry, and what Lord Cadman meant or did not mean. The Prime Minister did not seem to agree as to whether, when he wanted a change in the two Air Members, he was referring only to the civil side or only to 278 the military side. I have been looking at the report very carefully, and do not quite know who is right, but, anyhow, I have my own opinion and I think that the organisation is definitely wrong. At present we are engaged as a nation in producing very highly technical instruments, namely, aeroplanes, which change in design from day to day. We are trying to do it on a mass production basis, and in charge of these two great Departments are two serving officers. If a serving officer were capable of taking on such a job, it would only be a matter of absolute good fortune and of extreme ability on his part. If I or anyone else were running a great factory, in which electrical or technical difficulties had to be dealt with, and were trying to produce things in a mass way, should I take any serving officer from any force, put him in charge of my factory, and, after three years, when he had learned how to do it, send him away and get somebody else?
That is the way in which we are trying to solve this problem. I cannot believe it is right. Although the Government, in their Preamble to the Cadman Report, throw out the suggestion that they will not have anything to do with it, I would ask them to reconsider the matter a little, because on the Navy side, where the same sort of thing occurred, they found great difficulty in getting the right man on the technical side, but, having at last found one, he was so good that they are keeping him on for more than three years. That shows that what has been done in the older Service has proved to be correct, and I hope it will be copied in the newer air organisation.
As to the production of aircraft, I think it is right to say that the industry, qua industry, has produced more or less what was expected of it. I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain H. Balfour) was right the other day when he said that the industry was working up to capacity. My information is that its production capacity is not fully employed, and that some factories are not even working overtime to cope with the existing programme. I think it is well to correct that impression as early as possible.
I should like to say a word about the Shadow factory organisation. We must remember that the engine side has done well. We have got more engines than 279 airframes. But there is one criticism I would like to make, and that is as to the position of the Rolls-Royce works at Derby. In the case of the Bristol engine not only the manufacture but the assembly are distributed over several factories. Engines can be produced and assembled in more than one factory. That is not so with the Rolls-Royce engine: that is altogether assembled at Derby. If I were an enemy airman I would concentrate my attack on Derby; that would put out of action 50 per cent. of the engine production. On the engine side the Shadow factory organisation had much to commend it, because the people who were taking on this job were engine manufacturers and understood their job; it was not an assembly job, and the result is that that has been good. But on the airframe side I think we started with trouble from the first, because instead of going to the aircraft industry and asking them to reorganise themselves we went to the motor manufacturers and asked them to organise Shadow factories and to make something which they had no idea how to make, with the result that we are very far behind. If we had been short of motor cars, should we have gone to the aircraft industry, and asked them to organise Shadow factories to produce them? That is the sort of thing that has occurred, and that is why we are so short.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to interrupt? He queried some statement I made in the Debate the other day, but whereas some of the smaller firms may not be fully occupied, he would not dispute that the big combines—Hawkers, Vickers and Faireys—are working on full time and in the majority of cases work overtime to-day. In the main the aeroplane industry is working to full capacity
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
My information is that the manufacturers say they could do more, but we are not entitled to look on the manufacturing companies that are "approved" firms as being the whole industry. In the statement relating to Defence by the Prime Minister occurred these words:One of the two airframe shadow factories is expected to begin production a few weeks hence and the other later in the year.The Under-Secretary has postponed the "few weeks" to the middle of the 280 summer. My information is that there is absolutely no chance of the Austin works producing even in a few months, and it will be only with drastic reorganisation that it will be possible to produce at the end of the year. That is a very serious position, because that is our only shadow factory for airframes. The one at Speke which is sponsored by Rootes will not blossom for years. Unless the Austin factory is reorganised from the point of mass production in a different way from that in which it is at present we are not going to get airframes from them till the end of the year.
I come to a subject about which I want to ask my right hon. Friend a question. What is a first-line machine? If it is an aeroplane which will fly from England and bomb Berlin and return, then we have no first-line machines of that type. On the other hand, if it is an interceptor machine which will take on a Dornier, then we have no first-line machines of that type either. That is a serious position, and I do not think what I say can be controverted. One has to think of hypothetical enemies when we are talking about these questions, and one always takes, I hope without offence, Germany as the hypothetical yard-stick. I want to know how we stand with regard to the quantity of machines that are being produced. First of all let me refer to certain promises which were made some time ago. On 22nd May, 1935, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham spoke after the late Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, and used these words:At the end of my right hon. Friend's speech, which, as usual, had an immense effect, he used these very pregnant and important words:'All that I would say is this, that His Majesty's Government are determined in no conditions to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future.'If ever a pledge were given in this House which had a definite and distinct meaning in a matter of the utmost gravity and importance, it was that pledge, which meant that never would Germany be allowed to have an air force superior to our own. I submit that in all essentials she has got it to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1935; col. 399, Vol. 302.]That was in 1935. I submit that she has got more superiority now than she had at that time. That is the serious part of the charge against the Government. With all our sacrifices, with all our money, with 281 all our efforts, where do we stand to-day? How does our Air Force compare with Germany to-day? Are we better off now than we were two years ago? No, we are worse off. And does the pledge of parity with Germany mean anything at all, or nothing? Has it been thrown overboard? If we are going to compete with a great country like Germany is not it worth while trying to get equal? It is no use being second to a country like that. Yet there is no pretence of trying to get on to a basis of parity. I was told that the production of aeroplanes in Germany is going to get up to 500 a month. Where are we to-day? We are not up to 100 a month. I do not say they are producing 500 a month now, but they are producing 350, and we are producing not 100. The complete reorganisation of our production will be needed before we can say that we are producing aeroplanes at a similar rate to Germany.
An inquiry has been asked for. God knows, if it was wanted on civil aviation it is wanted a hundred-fold more for military aviation. The House of Commons has got certain rules of the game. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and myself, because we moved for an inquiry on civil aviation from this side of the House, were lucky enough to get it. The moment a similar request comes from the Opposition it is not the defence of the country that we think about, it is the defence of the Government. That is the absurdity of it. Here I am, more enthusiastic than anybody in the world to try to re-organise the Air Ministry in order that the country may be strong. I find myself in the position of having to vote for the Government for this reason, because the whole is more important than the part; I disapprove of what has happened, I am alarmed, and anxious. It is a very irksome thing that Parliamentary procedure compels me, however, to support the Government by giving them a mock vote to-night.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I desire to make a few observations on the position of the employés in the aircraft manufacturing industry. I was astounded to hear that the Air Ministry are in constant consultation with the organised employers' association, and I want to ask why this policy is not adopted towards the trade unions catering for aircraft workers. I find that 282 the closest possible contact, collaboration and consultation take place between the Air Ministry and the organised employers, and several times I have been asked to take up questions on behalf of the various unions which cater for workpeople employed in the aircraft industry, and I have found that the same policy has not been adopted in that case. For example, until a short time ago there was what was known as the National Council of Aircraft Workers. That has now been merged in the engineering and shipbuilding trade.
Before I continue I ought to make it quite plain that so far as the Under-Secretary is concerned he had not taken over his position when I was asked to deal with several questions to which I am now referring. I found during that time that when a number of national representatives of the unions approached the Air Ministry, raising various questions, they did not meet with the reception that one would expect, and in these days of the expansion of the industry, if the workpeople are to have their troubles considered and their grievances ventilated, it is most important that there should be the same contact, collaboration, and consultation with the organised trade union movement as there is with the organised employers' association.
As a result of the present serious international situation the amount of expenditure on aircraft is bound to go up still further, and this will produce a continued expansion of the aircraft industry. This is sure to create new problems, and I want to ask whoever is going to reply to-night whether the Air Ministry have considered the provision of machinery in the industry in order that this expansion can be carried through as smoothly as possible. Because, with the ever-chnaging designs and the ever-increasing improvements which are taking place in the production of machines, problems of demarcation are sure to be created, and problems of labour will arise which ought to be dealt with immediately if friction is to be avoided. It is in the interest of the nation, as well as of the workpeople and of the industry, that this machinery should be provided as soon as possible in order that labour problems can be dealt with promptly on a scientific basis, instead of being left to be dealt with as they are at the present time. I find that there has been some unofficial 283 movement and that men have been obliged to take prompt action, and it is not fair to the men that they should be forced to take this action. Because they themselves do not want to take it, and yet they would be cowards if they did not, owing to the situation in which they find themselves. It is important, therefore, that the Air Ministry should be in constant consultation and contact with the engineering and shipbuilding trades and the Amalgamated Engineering Union who cater for workpeople employed in the aircraft industry.
I want to refer now to the Fair Wages Clause. I have raised this matter on several occasions in the House, and have never got satisfaction. So far as the organised employers are concerned, generally speaking, they administer the Fair Wages Clause as generously as could be expected; but, owing to the fact that the aircraft industry is expanding, orders are now given not only to the organised employers, but also to unorganised employers. More and more capital is being sunk in the industry, shops are shooting up in various parts of the country, and many of the firms are not members of the employers' federation. It is in these shops that we have our greatest difficulties. I want the Ministry to consider this question, because otherwise it is bound to lead to grievances, to friction, to unofficial movements and strikes. When we are involved in this serious international situation, that should be avoided as much as possible.
The Under-Secretary said that a problem which was very serious and which still faced the industry was the need for an increased supply of skilled labour. A large number of trade unionists are getting very concerned about the number of trainees. While they realise the necessity for more trainees, they say that some understanding should be reached with the trade unions on the matter. Despite the need for skilled labour in the aircraft industry, there are still thousands of skilled engineers signing on at the Employment Exchanges. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) will substantiate this. If that is so, there must be something wrong. I know it will be said that these men are not the type of skilled worker required; but the answer to that is that the average skilled engineer is very adaptable to the requirements of the 284 engineering industries, and it would only require a very short time to adapt this labour to the requirements of the aircraft industry. I suggest that this is a question of organisation, and that there ought to be the maximum of consultation with the workpeople's representatives in order that this skilled labour which is available should be adapted to the new requirements. In addition, I find that at Speke and one or two other places the policy of trainees is going to be adopted on a larger scale than ever before. One would think that these men who are signing on at the exchanges—I have in mind one trade union which caters for a class of men who are generally accepted as being amongst the highest skilled workers employed in the engineering industry—would be looked upon by the people managing the aircraft shops as being just the type of labour that could be easily adapted to the ever-changing needs of the aircraft industry. Yet that union has hundreds of men signing on. These men could be put into the aircraft shops, supervising and training the trainees who are necessary.
Those hon. Members who know anything about the management of engineering shops will know that piece-work is bound to have some effect on the type of production. Unless prices are fixed so as to enable the men to obtain a relatively decent return, the quality of the product is bound to be affected. Owing to the serious effect of piece-work on the aircraft industry, it is most important that piece-work rates should be fixed on a different basis than they have been up to now. To give a concrete example of what I have in mind, I will mention something that took place, not recently, but at the end of the last War. There was a certain shop in this country where piece-work prices had been fixed so that the men could hardly earn anything on a piece-work basis, and the tendency was for the men to take it out of the product that they were manufacturing. We cannot blame the men, because when men are employed on a piece-work basis, unless the prices are fixed mutually between the representatives of the men and the employer, men can be depended upon to take it out of the product.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Earl Winterton)
The hon. Member knows, of course that I have limited 285 knowledge of these matters, but I will see that my hon. Friend has a note of all the questions the hon. Member asks. The hon. Member will realise, of course, that he is speaking of matters for which the industry itself is primarily responsible. Is he suggesting that the Ministry should lay down these conditions as part of the contracts?
§ Mr. E. Smith
I thank the Minister for what he has said, because it is helpful. I do not want any misunderstanding. I realise that there should be the most harmonious relations between the Air Ministry, the manufacturers, and the workpeople, if we are to get the best results. I am not raising this in any hypercritical spirit, but in order to put the workpeople's point of view, so as to get the best results. This matter cannot be considered within the limits of any special section. It is a national question, and, having regard to the very serious international situation, that situation must outweigh any sectional consideration. In this serious situation we cannot afford to leave these matters to be settled according to the general ideas prevalent in industry. Pilots' lives are at stake when they are going up in aeroplanes; so it is more important that the Air Ministry should take account of conditions in the aircraft industry than it is for Departments to do so in connection with most other industries. I know that the Government auditors go to these places and make the most minute investigations into what is taking place. I am asking that the Ministry should see that not only is the Fair Wages Clause operated, but that the rates are fixed on as generous a basis as possible, so that the employés shall get the best rates under relatively decent conditions, and not that the rates should be fixed on low a basis as possible, in order to enable the manufacturers to get the maximum profits.
Time after time, during the past 12 months, there have been reports in the newspapers of sabotage in the aerodromes and aircraft factories. I want to appeal to the Air Ministry to take steps to bring out into the open whoever is responsible. You can depend upon it that, so far as the workpeople are concerned, they will have nothing to do with any action of this character. Whatever the organised workpeople produce, they look 286 upon it as being their own lives. They take a pride in their own work, and, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who are skilled engineers, would be the first to admit, no matter what the ordinary political opinions of the men are, in no circumstances would they be parties to any destructive work which could be interpreted as sabotage. Our men are under a cloud of suspicion because this has been taking place. Workpeople employed in factories where hundreds and, in some cases, thousands are employed are under suspicion because of the rumours that have been prevalent I appeal to the Air Ministry to take the earliest possible steps to remove this suspicion. My final point is that the young men who are now coming into the industry and being trained by the Air Ministry should be given some guarantee that they are not going to be dealt with as others were a few years ago. When this air expansion comes to an end there will be thousands of young men who have given their lives to being trained in the aircraft industry. It will not be fair to them to be thrown overboard and subjected to the means test and all that sort of thing. Steps should be taken to prevent that.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander James
I am certain the whole House has listened with approval to the helpful speech of the last speaker. It displayed that unity of purpose that these dangerous times demand above party politics. I joined the Flying Corps 23 years ago and served in it for 10 years, and another year with the Auxiliary Air Force. I have perhaps as wide an acquaintance among serving officers as most people, and I desire specifically and categorically to state that there has not been in my recollection any Secretary of State for Air who has so enjoyed the confidence of the Service as the present Minister. I am quite unable to understand this campaign against him. I know nothing about civil aviation, but as far as the military side is concerned he has done marvels, and he enjoys the complete confidence of the Service. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has resisted, and I hope he will continue to resist, the demand for any inquiry at the present moment. I am not saying that because he is a personal 287 friend. I hardly know him. I do not think that I have spoken to him since he left this House, and I am not in the habit of being polite for politeness sake to Ministers. The Minister for the Coordination of Defence will bear me out on that, because for the last few years in public and in private conversation with him I have criticised what I regard as his lamentable failure in respect of strategic co-ordination.
With regard to the demand for accelerated expansion, the need is obviously great, but when I hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) demanding an immediate and enormous increase in first-line aircraft I am inclined to think that he is under a misapprehension as to how efficient service mechanics and personnel are and can be turned out. What takes time is producing fully-efficient war pilots. I believe the Government have given the Air Ministry such powers and such support that, without any bullying or worrying by the House, the maximum of efficient service pilots is being produced now, and no amount of expenditure is going to increase that. Undoubtedly there is scope for acceleration in supplies in certain directions, but it would be a great mistake in these very grave times if the country had its confidence shaken in the present staff of the Air Ministry, which is, I believe, extremely efficient. After all, the executive staff were all war-time fighting pilots. I am also shocked at the way in which the House demands the production of figures. I listen with horror to the demand that the Government shall show exactly how many of this and how many of that they have got and are going to get. We are up against a potential aggressor, to use the current phrase, who works in strict secrecy, and if our democracy is going to demand publicity in respect of all our resources, we are going to be at a terrible disadvantage. I cannot help wondering whether in this very grave emergency it might not be possible for some system to be devised whereby the Government could keep the responsible heads of the Opposition informed of figures which it cannot be in the public interest to broadcast across the Floor of the House.
I am not going to question the decision that the Fleet Air Arm should be separated from the Royal Air Force. There 288 were strong arguments for the separation, and there were strong arguments against it. What I want to refer to are the dangers inherent in that decision if it is not controlled and supervised with the greatest possible care. It is surely common ground that the next war is likely to be very violent in its earliest stages, and it seems to me that what we want above all things is to avoid the dispersal of our resources. I cannot help being apprehensive when I remember what happened in this very connection in the last War, and I would remind the House of it as a warning against what might happen next time. I do not know the official figures., but I accept for the purpose pf argument, those given in the House by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). He said that in the last War the Admiralty had built up an Air service containing 2,800 aircraft of all kinds, with a total personnel of 55,000. Assuming that to be the case, the point is that that enormous force was practically sterilised. It was a largely wasted reserve of duplicated strength. The Admiralty control was jealous and extravagant. I trust; that it is different now. So far as the squadrons on the Western front were concerned, the general standard of efficiency was not as high as that in the Royal Flying Corps squadrons.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
The people who served in the Royal Naval Air Service were as eager as anyone to get a unified service.
§ Wing-Commander James
I agree. I wish to suggest to the Minister that what we need now is the strongest possible centralised Air Arm. We want to avoid dispersal at all costs. What we want is an Air, Arm capable in emergency of the maximum of immediate action. The Fleet Air Arm change-over cannot on its merits, be slow—a long term change-over. It is a gradual long-term policy. It has to be done gradually. It is not the decision that I am questioning but the application of the decision. Already there are most disturbing rumours—they may not be more than rumours, but they are very widespread—that the Admiralty is showing a reluctance to accept the limitations of the Cabinet decision in this matter. There have been previous occasions as we know from Debates in the House, when the Admiralty' have been reluctant to 289 accept Cabinet decisions and they ultimately got them overthrown. We were told, at the time when this division was made, that the Admiralty were to be responsible for seaborne aircraft, and already there are stories of shore bases. Some may be necessary, but I hope that will be watched. We have been told that the Air Ministry are going to be responsible for ab initio training. Already I see evidence that the Admiralty are not regarding ab initio training in that light. We have understood that supply was to be centralised, and already there are disturbing rumours from the industry that officials from the Admiralty are making inquiries about supply. I hope that will be carefully looked into. I have no knowledge what estimates of costs were put forward by the Admiralty in their argument in support of the transfer of the Fleet Air Arm. I am not asking now—it is too soon—but later on I will ask what relation the cost of the Air Arm bears to the estimates that were put forward by the two Services. I shall be very surprised if the new system does not prove to be very much more costly, even allowing for any expansion, than the service provided by the Air Ministry or foretold by the Admiralty. Let me repeat, it is not the decision, but the application of the decision, that I am questioning.
Above all, I want the new system to be a success. We have now two Ministers concerned with the Air Ministry, both of whom have wartime experience as fighting soldiers and as staff officers. I hope that between them they will manage to get what we have, never had in the past, and what I can detect few signs of in the present—real strategic co-ordination between the three Services—having regard to the fact that the paramount immediate need is a centralised overwhelming force of air striking power.
§ 743 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton
I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary on his admirable and interesting speech, and also the Chancellor of the Duchy on his elevation not only to the Cabinet but also on his appointment to the Air Council. We know that he is a man of courage and energy and also of great vigilance. The House is therefore, given confidence by his appointment. It is clear that the lesson that we have been taught by the 290 fate of Austria—I hope we have learned that lesson—is that Germany respects force and force only, and the moral of that is that we must do everything in our power to increase our forces and to increase the speed of our armament programme. On 8th March, 1934, Mr. Baldwin, then Prime Minister, told us that the Government would see to it that the air power of this country should no longer be in a position inferior to that of any country within striking distance of our shores. I am sure everyone will agree that this is the very irreducible minimum below which we must not fall.
There has been a great deal of criticism, in different parts of the House, of Lord Swinton. I should like to say here and now that we on this side, at any rate, are fully aware of the great things that he has done for the Air Force and the great skill that he has shown since he has been in charge of that Department. He found only a very small force, almost a window-dressing show, as a result of the 10 years' rule under which our defences were being controlled. In a very short time he has created a great Air Force, under difficulties of which we in this House know nothing. This is no time for criticism of the past, except in so far as it may bear upon the future, and the reason that I am addressing the Committee to-night is that I wish to plead for an increase of our Air Force. We all heard the other day the speech of the right hon. member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in which he told us once again of the formidable and alarming air power which had been built up in Germany. The time has now come, I submit, when a vastly greater force should be provided than is considered in these Estimates.
It will be said that this increase cannot be accomplished without taking very extreme measures, but I think the country is both willing and ready to see those extreme measures taken. I do not propose to go into great detail but, broadly speaking, I should like to put forward two sets of suggestions, one on the side of personnel and the other on the side of production. On the side of personnel, I would suggest that crew efficiency should on no account be subordinated to other considerations. It is lack of experience which leads to many crashes, and it is partly due to men not being long enough in any one job. The continual general post which goes on is very hard to avoid, 291 and I believe that steps are being taken to reduce it, but even more might be done to subordinate the complications of careers and promotions to the question of efficiency. This is a matter in which I have no doubt the Treasury could be very helpful.
I would suggest that a change of policy might perhaps be examined in connection with the matter of mechanics. Trained mechanics are very valuable men, and they become more valuable as they get older. Machines as they get older become less valuable, but mechanics become more valuable. I believe that the fear of increasing the non-effective Vote through pensions has been the cause of our losing valuable men to the Service at a time when, although they may not be up to the infantry standard, of physical fitness, they are nevertheless of the greatest possible value to the Service. A large number of men might be employed in the Air Force as ground engineers only, to the great gain of that Service. It costs a good deal of money to train a mechanic, and when we have trained him it seems a pity not to use his services as long as possible.
But, broadly speaking, it is not personnel but production which is the big problem that faces our air expansion at the present time, and I would ask the Government whether the time has not arrived when it is essential for the production of aeroplanes at any rate to go over on to a semi-war basis. It seems to me impossible to compete with dictator countries in this direction unless we employ methods very different from those which we now use. Mass production has become a vital necessity in this country, and in order to make mass production a success, we must give huge and resounding orders. The machines will then be turned out at far less cost, and, of course, a much smaller number of types must be used. As an example, take the question of engines. Let the authorities determine which is the best engine for any particular purpose, and then concentrate on the production of that engine. That will mean that manufacturers will be obliged to manufacture types of engines which another firm has designed, but I suggest that if the national need is imperative, those manufacturers will loyally co-operate to carry out such a policy. I agree with the hon. Member for Mossley 292 (Mr. Hopkinson) that it is fantastic that we should at any time and under any circumstances use the second best if the best can be obtained. I very much doubt whether, owing to the large number of types in use, we are getting the best value for our money.
It will, I know, be objected that to take such drastic steps would not only involve a very great financial burden but also an enormous dislocation of trade and industry. Nevertheless, the problem must be faced. I would beg the Government also to consider the question of developing a great productive capacity of aeroplanes in Canada. The strategic protection which the situation of great units of production in Canada would give to this country would be something which no potential enemy of ours could possibly have, and there might well come a time in a European war when resources of this sort might enable us to win the final victory.
There is one small point to which I would refer, and that is that there might be a much greater flexibility in regard to the question of minor alterations of machines. I refer to machines already in use. If it is desired to make alterations of machines already in use, the greatest difficulty and delay are experienced in getting permission to make those alterations. A little less red tape and Treasury control in that particular respect would be very helpful to the Air Force.
Finally, I feel certain that the whole country would welcome a vast increase in our Air Force and in our air power. We in this House are willing to give the necessary authority to the Government. We are ready to bear steeper taxation than has already been imposed. We can tighten our belts if necessary. We can pour out our treasure and our wealth. We are ready to give our services and, if need be, our lives, and we beg the Government, we implore them, nay, we demand that they should see that we have forces strong enough to resist attack, to preserve our freedom, and to preserve the safety of this realm.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), it is 22 years since I joined the Royal Flying Corps, and I am still serving in the Auxiliary Air Force. I have a son 293 in the Royal Air Force. I merely mention these facts because I want to explain that I have been and am in close touch with a great many serving officers, and, like my hon. and gallant Friend, I hear everywhere nothing but the highest possible praise for the present Secretary of State for Air. I cannot understand why this personal attack should be made upon him. As a brother officer, I must say that I listened with absolute amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely). It seemed to me that he was almost laying himself open to the charge of using his position as a commissioned officer to find out things and to repeat them in this House. Apart from that, he was entirely inaccurate in his statements. I realise that he has only been as many months in the Auxiliary Air Force as I have been years. He might at least have got such facts as he did refer to, correctly.
He talked about it being necessary for an officer in the Auxiliary Air Force to spend £50 a year in order to join that Force. It all depends on what you include in arriving at the £50 a year. If you are going to include everything that the officer spends on himself, that which he spends on refreshments, on entertaining guests, on running mess dances, and so on, then it will probably cost him that amount, and perhaps more. The hon. and gallant Member said that the officers of the Auxiliary Air Force got nothing but their pay when they went to annual training. That is not so. They get 12 days' pay for training during the year, and it is a fact that the money drawn by a young officer will cover, more or less, all the absolutely necessary expenses to which he is put. The hon. and gallant Member also criticised the Under-Secretary and said that in his review he had passed over the Auxiliary Air Force in a very curt way may have misunderstood him, but I think the Under-Secretary went out of his way to pay a very graceful compliment to the Auxiliary Air Force, and I feel certain that all ranks in that very fine force will very much appreciate the compliment which he paid them.
There have been some rather extraordinary statements made to-night on the question of the training of pilots and the connection between training and the disasters which have been occurring. I have had a long experience of training 294 pilots to fly. If you expect that you are going to do away altogether with fatal accidents, then you are expecting something that you will not get. Nearly all these accidents arise from exuberance of spirits, the pilot being too dashing before he has gained the necessary experience. But how is he going to gain experience except by flying? The step from one machine to another is not nearly so great as is generally supposed.
The whole House must have listened with interest to the very full, very capable, and, on the whole, very satisfactory review which was given by the Under-Secretary of State, and I should like to add my congratulations to him. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said that the public were seriously disturbed by what is going on in the Air Ministry. I do not suppose that there is anyone in this House who does more talking to the public on questions connected with the air than I do, and I can honestly say that I have come across no sign of their being seriously disturbed. Even if they were seriously disturbed this morning, I suggest that when they read the very capable statement which the Under-Secretary has made to-day, they will not feel so disturbed to-morrow. I do not think that anything the hon. Member for West Islington said is likely to upset them.
I want to say a few words on a subject which has only been touched on in the briefest way by the Under-Secretary of State, and that is the question of the balloon barrage. The balloon barrage ought to receive a great deal more attention than it has received this afternoon, because from the airman's point of view it is undoubtedly the most formidable form of defence of the whole lot. When we consider defence against attack from the air, we should not overlook the wisdom of hammering away at the weakest link in the chain of the attack. The more we think about this problem the more we must be convinced that the weakest link in the chain is the human element. By that I mean the moral of the attacking pilot.
The feelings of a pilot engaged in an air raid as he gets, hour by hour, further away from safety are something akin to that feeling that we used to have at school when we were waiting for the gun to go off at the start of a race or the whistle 295 to be blown at the start of a match. The pilot expects on all these trips to be interfered with by fighting machines and by anti-aircraft guns. Actually when he meets these the tension is to some extent released, and he meets attack with methods of defence with which he has provided himself, and certainly a successful issue from an attack of that kind definitely increases his moral. We want to do all we can to decrease the attacker's moral. What is our best method of doing this? First and foremost, the obvious one. We must have an overwhelming superiority in bombing machines so that we can bomb him every hour of the day and night at his own aerodrome, see to it that he does not have any rest when he is there and does not have proper time to make his preparations for his offensive against us.
The other way in which we can shake his moral even more effectively than by bombing, is by the provision of proper balloon barrages at the targets which he is going to attack. As I go about the country I am absolutely astonished at the lack of knowledge about this balloon barrage. People do not realise that its effect upon an airman is like blindfolding an ordinary person and asking him to walk through a forest of trees and expecting him to get through without bumping into one of them. That is the effect of a balloon barrage on the mind of the pilot. Perhaps one needs to have been a war pilot and to have gone on bombing raids in order to realise the effect on the nerves of a pilot of the mere thought of this unseen horror. Do not forget that his nerves are already stretched to breaking point, and it comes to him at the end of his long journey when he is coming towards his target. Try and imagine his feelings when he wonders whether he is going blindly to crash into a balloon barrage, with the horrible death that must follow, because he is bound to crash, and it probably means a horrible injury resulting finally in death by burning.
The fear of collision in the air is the greatest fear of any airman. Any pilot in this House who has ever had the experience that most of us who have flown have had, of being obliged to edge away to safety when one has suddenly got into the middle of a snowstorm or into conditions of really bad visibility, knows the dreadful fear of colliding with some 296 obstruction. That is the effect we want to produce in the mind of the pilot when he is coming over to attack us. A properly constituted balloon barrage will reduce the possibility of a raiding machine getting back to safety to "a two-to-one against" chance, and I suggest that after one or two raids, when the squadron has returned, having lost at least one-third of its strength on each occasion, it would be extraordinarily difficult to get pilots who would carry out the job at all. I firmly believe that.
A short time ago we had a Debate in this House on the question of the abolition of aerial warfare. I hope that the events of the last two days will have cleared our minds on that subject. There are only two ways in which aerial warfare can be abolished. The first is by abolishing war altogether, and I am afraid we would be optimists if we were to think that we could do that at the present time. The second is to make our defences so strong that the enemy will feel that he just cannot keep up the rate of wastage which will happen.
I believe that we can to-day make any given attack practically impossible from the air, but it must be by a combination of all our forms of defence, and undoubtedly the balloon barrage must come into the last lap. We have had the opportunity of observing the effect of modern air attack in the war in Spain, and those of us who have studied it intelligently have perhaps got some comfort from it. I think that we must come to the conclusion that a good deal of the horror of air attack is exaggerated. We have discovered that the public are not unduly panic-stricken by attack from the air, and also that, in spite of the fact that air defence as I understand it simply does not exist in Spain, we are killing more people on our antiquated road system to-day than are being killed by bombing in Spain.
If we do provide these defences, and I really feel that we must, I hope that we shall receive an assurance from whoever is to wind up the Debate that the balloon barrage is to receive serious consideration, and then a great deal of the danger from air attack will disappear. Our large industrial areas must have this protection. They are the only worthwhile targets for an enemy to attack, and I know from personal experience that 297 several of these areas are getting very seriously worried because no step apparently is being taken to make provision of this kind for their defence. I hope that we shall be given an assurance, particularly in view of the happenings of the last few days and of the necessity we all must realise of providing ourselves with the best form of defence, that this balloon barrage will receive much better treatment in the future.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, taking note of the admitted delay in carrying out the Government's programme for the provision of aircraft, is not satisfied that the existing arrangements are either administratively efficient or financially sound.Before I pass to the remarks which I propose to make concerning this Amendment, I hope that the Under-Secretary, although he is not in his place, will allow me to congratulate him upon his speech to-day. He made what I thought was a very workmanlike statement indeed—there were no frills, it was very clear and very fair—and a statement which revealed his intense interest in his job. I hope that I may also be allowed to join in that part of his speech in which he paid a tribute to the officers of the Royal Air Force. I do so with all the more feeling because a few weeks ago I was involved in a little controversy with the Prime Minister late at night about the advisability of the Secretary of State for Air being in this House, and that led the Prime Minister to pay a very glowing tribute indeed to the Secretary of State for Air. I very much regretted that when he paid that tribute he did not include in it the officers of the Royal Air Force, who certainly deserve just as much credit as may attach to the Secretary of State for Air in the work that has been done in building up the Royal Air Force. I enjoyed very much the reference of the Under-Secretary to Icarus, who was warned not to go near the sun because it was feared that if he did so, the heat might involve him in a crash. It seems to me that the Secretary of State for Air has been warned not to come too near the House of Commons because the heat engendered by his appearance here might equally cause him to crash.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
He has, but we have to console ourselves for his absence from this Chamber by the presence here of his twin angels who represent his godhead, which remains brooding in another place. I propose to deal solely with the question of production, and to leave it to my hon. and learned Friend, who is to wind up this Debate, to deal more particularly with the question of costings and prices. In what I have to say I may make some criticisms of the Air Ministry and of the Government, but I would beg the House to believe that my main preoccupation is not with party criticisms of the Air Ministry or of the Government, but with the security of this country. The events of the past few days have certainly emphasised the dread responsibility which falls upon those who are responsible for our air defences. My remarks are necessarily handicapped by the fact that, although I have been given facts and figures relative to aircraft production, obviously it is extremely difficult to quote ail those facts and figures in this House, because, if I did so, it would be extremely easy for the Air Ministry to identify the source from which I have received that information. Therefore, I am necessarily, and in fairness to my informants, precluded from giving too many details. But I would beg the House to believe that I have scrutinised most carefully the evidence which has been put before me and that anything I may say will be based upon what I believe to be reliable and authentic information.
If we have some apprehensions about the situation at the present moment, the history of the Air Force gives us full grounds for them. In 1923 it was decided that we should increase from 32 to 52 squadrons by 1929. That decision was followed by a period of vacillation and procrastination. In 1930 we had still only 36 squadrons, by 1931 we had only 42, and by 1933, 10 years after the decision to increase to 52, we had still not reached that number. In 1937 it became apparent that out of the 124 squadrons which were due by March, 1937, we should only have 100, and that 25 per cent. of that 100 would be on a skeleton basis only. In these figures I have not introduced the question of adequate reserves. Former statements of Ministers 299 also lead us to ask whether the present statements are reliable. In November, 1934, Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, said:Germany's real strength is not 50 per cent. of our strength in Europe to-day. As for next year, so far from the German Air Force being as strong as our own, we estimate that we shall still have a margin in Europe alone of nearly 50 per cent.When he made that statement Mr. Baldwin was completely misinformed, and in making it he started a very remarkable trend of events which led to considerable heartburning, to put it no higher, in the Departments concerned, and eventually led to the fall of Lord Londonderry from his office as Secretary of State for Air. Four months later we found that it was Germany which had the margin, not this country; and it was a margin of nearly 100 per cent. We have had plenty of brave words. In 1933 Lord Londonderry said:We have made the attainment of parity one of the main planks on our programme.A year later, in March, 1934, the Noble Lord said:We cannot accept a position of continuing inferiority in the air.And Mr. Baldwin followed that up by saying:The National Government more than any, and this Government, will see to it that in air strength and air power, this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.Mr. Baldwin at that time was using language which the Conservative party now regard as belonging to what I would call the early red sandstone period of Conservative policy. On 30th July, 1934, Mr. Baldwin said:The measures I announced on 19th July do not bring us up to full parity, but without this increase we shall certainly not be capable of effective co-operation in any system of collective security under the League of Nations.And later he added:Without the additions now proposed to our air defence we should be unable to carry out in such a world as would then exist the Locarno commitment.These are echoes from that strange prehistoric period when the Tories believed in collective security and when they actually dreamed of fulfilling commitments undertaken by their Government. That dream has gone.
300 Then we come to Mr. Baldwin in a mood of really inconceivable simplicity. On 28th November, 1934, he said:I think it is correct to say that the Germans are engaged in creating an air force.The news had positively leaked through to him. On 22nd May, 1935, he said:With regard to the figure I gave in November, 1934, of German aeroplanes I was wrong in my estimate of the future. I was completely wrong. The only facts that I have are those which I have had from Herr Hitler himself.I will quote just one more utterance from Mr. Baldwin's obiter dicta. On 27th May, 1935, he said:No Government in this country could live to-day that was content to have an Air Force of any inferiority to any Air Force within striking distance.We have climbed down from that position. The other day in the House of Commons the present Prime Minister abandoned first-line strength as a criterion of parity. The fact that he did so shows that the position is not satisfactory. Had it been satisfactory, he would have claimed numbers as the test of parity And, after all, numbers are not such a bad comparison when you are dealing with air forces. Equality in numbers is something to be going on with. Temperament and racial characteristics, the blood pressure and sex appeal of pilots, no doubt have a bearing on parity, as we were told by the Prime Minister, but I think numbers are more concrete and more satisfying.
Delays certainly exist. The "Times" on 13th January of this year said:Output is beginning to overtake the schedules of delivery.There is proof from a Government organ. A fact that is often lost sight of is that rearmament is in process as well as expansion. Squadrons are having their old types replaced by new. In this connection I was delighted to hear the Under-Secretary say that we are reverting to prototypes. Ordering off the drawing board may have been necessary in an emergency but as a general system it will not obviate all delays. Troubles and defects are bound to occur, and if they are not cured in the prototype, they must be cured some time. You cannot hope to get a machine into the air off the drawing board 100 per cent efficient.
301 If I may revert to Ministers on the question of delays, I would point out that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said, on 15th January of this year that the Air Ministryhave not reached anything like the production they expected to reach.and added that hesaw nothing to regret or deplore in what had been done or left undone in the last few years.I picture the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence saying, "Thank God, I am not as other Ministers are," and then sending for his one lady typist to tell her to bring the office Prayer Book and strike out the words:We have done those things which we ought not to have done and have left undone those things we ought to have done.That confession apparently does not apply to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Compare that with what the Prime Minister said to-day, "Can anyone suppose there have been no errors." The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence went on to say: The shadow factories were onlysubstantially complete.There had beenobstacles and delays in the production of air frames.There have been obstacles and delays in production.Difficulties have delayed the volume of delivery we should expect.Every time the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence explains away the delays, he heightens our apprehensions and makes us fear that the situation is even worse than we suppose. But let us come to the voice of the faithful, the chosen, the Conservative Air Committee. After having had the great benefit of listening to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, a statement appeared that theyexpressed themselves as still dissatisfied with the rate of progress in the delivery of certain types of machines and equipment.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
Although I have not the cutting by me at the moment, I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it was extracted from the Press. I shall be delighted to give him the exact reference.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I apologise for interrupting the hon. and gallant Member, but I am chairman of the Air Committee, and I have never heard of any such statement being issued.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I at once accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's assurance, but may I be allowed to say that that statement appeared in the Press and if it was not authentic, I think it is a great pity that, as chairman, the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not have an authoritative denial of it issued. I have no doubt he will do so in the course of the next day or two if indeed it does not represent what took place. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has glossed over delays in the production of airframes by saying that aero-engine production had gained a certain lead. The shortage of airframes appears to be far more serious than the Minister was prepared to admit. I have been informed that the firm having the largest aero-engine production in the country may knock off its night shift because thousands of engines are in stock waiting for airframes. Why is it that the production of airframes and the production of areo-engines have not been kept in step? Can nothing be done to keep them in step? Does the Under-Secretary regard this situation as serious? If so, will he tell us what he is doing to repair it? After all, every delay, if inquiries are made, can be traced down to some act or to some person. I think that it is probably fair to say that every section of the aircraft manufacturing industry is efficient, but more co-ordination is required to keep them in line or to marry them as the case may be. I think there must be lack of Air Ministry co-ordination when we find such lagging of one section of the industry behind another.
I am told that machines ordered two years ago are not yet in production. What is the position with regard to the Super-marine S. Spitfire machines. Are they yet in production? At what date was production to begin? When will it begin? What is the reason for the delay? How many squadrons of Hawker Hurricanes have we yet got? I saw the other day that there was a demonstration by the 111th Squadron at Northolt with Hurricane aircraft. I understand it was a complete squadron as regards initial equipment. Was it also complete as regards 303 immediate reserve? We have all been duly impressed by the recent flight of a Hurricane from Edinburgh to London. It was entirely impromptu, although it was being talked about six weeks before it took place. Oddly enough, that flight coincided, quite accidentally of course, with a barrage of criticism against the Air Ministry and a 6o-miles-an-hour wind astern. What a coincidence! We were told it was a normal Service flight. If that was so, how did it get such great Press publicity? Do Royal Air Force pilots always ring up the Press Association the moment they land? If criticisms of the Air Ministry are to be met by Royal Air Force officers doing record flights, we shall get up to some very high speeds indeed.
To what are the delays due? When Lord Rothermere was ordering the Britain First machine, he was told:The Air Ministry's orders for new designs of military machines stipulate many requirements which it sometimes takes years to satisfy. Before the final model is approved, Other countries have evolved better machines.The most circumstantial charges have been made of complaints by the aircraft industry against the methods of the Air Ministry. There are too many of these stories, and they come from far too well-placed sources, for there to be nothing in them. Manufacturers appear to have great difficulty in getting instructions out of the Air Ministry in a clear, straightforward manner. They complain that specifications are continually altered, instructions held up, revised, and countermanded, in a manner which reveals departmental inefficiency and confusion. There is an absence of smooth working and good and easy relations between the industry and the Ministry. I quite agree that design and progress generally in regard to aircraft proceed so rapidly and so continuously that there must often be a temptation—and for very good reasons—to postpone the production of a type in order to improve it; but there seems to be or to have been an inability to decide when such delays must cease in order to get a required type into production. Production ought not to be held up indefinitely while the experts make innumerable alterations and additions.
The most serious aspect of the matter is that if the existing machinery cannot 304 deal efficiently with the present expansion programme, obviously it is going to, break down completely in time of war. Orders appear to go through a series of departments in the Air Ministry, and one department does not always seem to know what another is doing. As a result of that, forms multiply like rabbits. It is no good asserting that everything is all right. It is now admitted that at one time it took seven years to get a new design into production; it may be that the period has now been reduced to three years; but the men who were responsible for that state of affairs are still at the Air Ministry. Why should we believe that everything is better? It also appears to be the case that orders are given without sufficient thought as to the problems of raw materials and labour which are involved.
If half of these things is true, the centralisation at the Air Ministry into one pair of hands of all that is involved in-getting out orders is urgently required. I will give a few examples of the muddles which exist between Air Ministry departments. In relation to a particular component, a certain firm was too busy to supply it. The equipment and production departments therefore agreed to give the order to another firm. They gave the order on the telephone and promised the "Instruction to Proceed," but at that juncture the department of contracts stepped in and held up the matter because the firm had quoted no price. The firm then asked for drawings to enable them to quote a price. They could not get any drawings. They appealed to the department of production, and the department said that they were sick and tired of fighting the contracts department and were not going to take on another of those fights. The order was passed to the original firm. Sure enough, that firm was too busy to supply, while the second firm had to pay workmen off.
In another case, a firm outside the ring was offered a contract for certain machines. They consulted a firm inside the ring, and then tendered a price, at which they thought they could just get home, and they were willing to do it because they hoped to get more orders. The Air Ministry said, "You must reduce your price, or you will never get another order." The firm lost on each machine. They showed all their figures to the Air 305 Ministry, but they got no help from the Ministry. I suppose the Ministry decided that they were tiresome, because they also never got another order. Another firm was given a sub-contract. The Ministry issued a Minute which said in effect, "You must accept no other work now that you have undertaken this sub-contract." They could not carry it out because of delays caused by the Ministry and the head contracting firm. Their overhead costs were running on; they could not get on with the Air Ministry work, through no fault of their own, and they were not allowed to take on any other work although other firms were willing to give it to them. The Air Ministry declined to discuss the matter with them or to compensate them.
We hear a great deal about costings A firm had a contract of which it had delivered part. The costings officials of the Ministry suddenly came down on them and demanded a reduction. The firm produced every account in connection with the job and showed that this reduction would mean a loss to them. The costings officials insisted. The firm then recollected that, through carelessness, the Air Ministry had never formally accepted their original tender, although they had been accepting deliveries. The firm then very wisely withdrew the original tender and submitted a higher one, which covered the reduction on which the costings officials had insisted and a little bit more. In the case of another firm with a sub-contract, they had no drawings and nothing to enable them to fix a price. They consulted a ring firm doing similar work and then put in their price. The costings officials ultimately arrived and told them to knock something off it. They agreed, but at the same time put in a new tender which excluded an allowance previously made for insurance. So, once again, the Air Ministry paid more, thanks to the proceedings of their costings officials.
What is the position at aircraft works? In many cases the works organisation and administration are inefficient, and there are complaints about the Air Ministry inspectors. Cases have been brought to my notice of inspectors rejecting work only to be proved wrong when the blue prints were consulted. I have been told of a certain firm that, "if it were a private firm it would go bankrupt, but they take advantage of being a Govern 306 ment firm." This firm has been as much as 12 months behind contract schedules. They have been threatened by the Ministry with loss of contracts if they do not speed up. They are at present behind on a contract for aeroplanes, and yet there are men being sacked from the night shift because, they are told, there is no work for them. I have particulars of another firm working a night shift by order of the Ministry although they do not want to do so. The Ministry are told that more men are at work than is actually the case. Falsification is practised by order of the firm. If there was proper supervision of the wage sheets, the facts would be known. On one occasion the return given to the Ministry's inspector showed that there were 43 fitters at work when, in fact, there were only six.
In the case of a very famous firm it is common knowledge that the head of the firm is never seen at the works and that everything is left to subordinates. Another firm has been described to me as the most tricky in the business. In fact their trickiness, I am told, is the standard by which other firms are judged. My informant said that "the works administration of this firm does not compare with that of a third-class firm in the United States." The fittings designed by this firm for machines made in 1916 have been adapted to successive models right down to 1928, instead of new fittings being designed. I have particulars of a contract given to this firm for reconditioning machines. It ran to four figures for each machine. The specification was not fully carried out. The figures of working hours and of metal used have been given to me. Making the most liberal allowances, including overhead charges, the cost of the job cannot have been more than £300. An employé of this firm was asked to pass some ground skids in a hurry late at night. They were part of a lot which had been sold back to the firm by a man who buys scrap machines from them. The employé declined to pass them. He was shifted in consequence of his refusal, and later heard that there had been an accident due to the use of those old skids.
In connection with these cases and these practices at aircraft works, I ask the Under-Secretary whether there is any system in force at the Air Ministry analogous to that employed by the Admiralty, who put an engineering officer in charge 307 of a contract for the building of a ship from the moment that the keel is laid. Is there any similar or analogous practice by which an officer of the Royal Air Force is given an office at a firm where big Government contracts are being carried out and stays on the job until it is completed? If these things are true, I would like to ask whether the Under-Secretary is not prepared to recommend that a Government director should be appointed to the board of each firm inside the ring which is handling these big, lucrative Government contracts.
I should like to say something about the Shadow factories and the relations between the Air Ministry and Lord Nuffield, but my time is limited, and I must pass to a consideration of the steps which the Government have taken to avert the gathering storm which threatened them. We have had the Cadman committee of inquiry and the Ray committee of inquiry, the appointment of Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner, and the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. All these steps were taken to avert the wrath of opinion in this House and outside. The very fact of Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner's appointment being necessary proves that lack of coordination existed at the Air Ministry. I am sure it was an admirable idea, and I understand that it came from the Prime Minister, but I would like to know whether the whole membership of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors was consulted before the appointment was made. It is a clear indication that the situation was not satisfactory if such an expensive man could be induced to leave the Bank of England to take up this appointment. May I ask whether his salary is to be borne by the whole Society of British Aircraft Constructors or by only a few of them?
There is a widespread feeling, which must be based on more than mere suspicion and rumour, that the development of new types is hindered because members of the Air Council have little experience of flying or of technical matters. I do not believe they are in close touch with flying officers. The Director of Research, for instance, is not a man with any particular technical knowledge. The Air Council should be composed of men of quick insight and judgment able to 308 come to rapid decisions. This is necessary because the Royal Air Force is the most highly mechanised of all the forces, and designs and accessories are constantly changing. The members of the Air Council should be continually guiding manufacturers and designers along the lines of new development. That guidance has not been given in the past. That it has not been given is proved by the fact that when the great rearmament expansion began our aircraft industry was faced with two enormous problems simultaneously—the doubling of the speed of machines and the need for changing to stress skin construction. That alone proves that there had been absence of guidance from the Air Ministry in the past.
May I ask one important question? What has the Under-Secretary to say about German output? One leading aircraft manufacturer estimates it as three times our own. Another estimates the German output capacity at 600 machines a month. Can the Under-Secretary give us any facts as to how German output compares with ours? The Germans are supposed to have carried mass production to a high pitch of perfection and to have a far better organisation than we have for replacing wastage. Will the Under-Secretary say something to us on the subject of blind landing? Why has this lagged behind? Germany is years ahead of us in this respect. Even civil aviation has made some progress with it. Why is the Royal Air Force still without blind-landing equipment? It is impossible to say that the Royal Air Force is efficient until all machines and all aerodromes are equipped for blind landing. It is utterly unfair to our splendid pilots that they should be left without this equipment. In view of the weather conditions of these islands, they may in war often have to go up in fog when the absence of blind-landing equipment will make their safe return to the ground an absolute gamble.
In dealing with this question of delays in the supply of aeroplanes, we are dealing with a matter upon which the whole security of this country depends. It is far too serious a matter for any responsible person to indulge in the whitewashing of subordinates about what is wrong. Huge sums of public money are also involved and there is undoubtedly 309 uneasiness in the public mind about delays. There cannot be so much smoke without some fire. It is no good fobbing us off when we inquire about these matters by telling us that it is "not in the public interest" to reply or burking our inquiries because "We do not want to let dear old so-and-so down." It is not the honour of the old school tie which is at stake. It is the national security which is at stake. We in this country are engaged now in a very grim race indeed. Events in Austria point that moral.
Speed and long-distance records indicate the tremendous technical mastery required in order to keep ahead in this race. We dare not falter for a moment. The slightest slackening of endeavour may be fatal to this country. We never know what accident of research or design or invention may put another country months ahead. The race in the air is to the swift. The energy, determination, and courage called for from the Royal Air Force are almost superhuman, and what we ask is whether the efforts of the Air Ministry are commensurate.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has made a very powerful indictment in moving the Amendment. What has been said by him, although I have no doubt it will be deplored by the Minister with his usual anxiety to protect himself and his Department from charges of inefficiency, has been in the public interest. Moreover, it has only been an addition to a large number of other serious criticisms which have been made by almost every speaker in the Debate. It is lamentable that the Prime Minister, who came here to-day presumably with the object of ascertaining what was the true position and the true opinion of the House with regard to the administration of the Air Ministry, took upon himself to rise after only one Opposition speaker had addressed the House in order to reject the demand for a private inquiry into the administration of his friend, Lord Swinton.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut. - Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said that he was gravely concerned about the efficiency of the Air 310 Ministry and the progress of rearmament; yet he did not intend to give his vote against the Government, because there was an unwritten rule of the House that where a critical Amendment was proposed by the Opposition, Members of the Government ought to support their Leader rather than the principle involved. That was forming rather a low estimate of the traditions of the House. We recognise that if there is no vital principle at stake there is, in order to preserve a certain amount of unanimity, without which the Government of the day cannot be carried on, a certain latitude allowed as to whether Members should support the Government or the Amendment; but where such a vital principle as the whole safety of the country is concerned, as in this case, Members of all sides of the House have a duty to vote according to what they consider to be the well-being of the State.
There can be no doubt that something has gone radically wrong with rearmament in the air. I am persuaded that these errors began long ago. I remember that in the House between 1924 and 1929 the present Home Secretary, in almost every Air Debate, in his usual bland but, I must say, rather unconvincing manner, was always assuring the House that his idea was to have a Force which was small but efficient and which, moreover, was organised on an extensible plan so that it could be expanded almost without limit if the need arose. We have found that these periodic expansions have never been carried out according to plan. In fact, I think it is true to say that no Air Minister has ever succeeded in keeping up the programme of air expansion, small or great, which has been promised and laid down as the policy and intention of this country; a programme, moreover, which has had behind it all the authority of the Prime Ministers of successive Governments as being essential to our safety. Surely in the light of those successive failures some suspicion must have been aroused that something was wrong with our system, and yet year after year we have retained the same old methods which have produced the unfortunate position in which we find ourselves.
Moreover, the extent to which we have actually fallen behind is still unseen, because Ministers do not scruple to make a specious plea of the public interest in 311 order to protect themselves and their colleagues, and even to publish figures of squadrons on paper which do not represent our true Air strength. There has only been one speaker to-day who appeared to be satisfied with the progress of Air rearmament, and that was the Under-Secretary of State, and I give him the warning that if he continues to offer the House the false consolation that the progress of Air rearmament is proceeding satisfactorily I shall publish to the House figures which will completely demolish that contention. It has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) that certain of the great aircraft firms are working to capacity. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey that that is an absolute travesty of the facts. There may be two or three who, within the limits of their peace-time organisation, are using their utmost efforts to produce aircraft, but to say that the whole of the aircraft industry and the vast body of skilled workpeople available are fully employed, completely misrepresents the position.
I am going to challenge the Minister—because I believe it is in the public interest that the House and the country should realise it—to deny that the front line air strength of Germany is at least 50 per cent. greater than ours to-day, and that the rate of expansion of German aircraft production is greater than ours to an extent which has been variously quoted but is not less than 50 per cent. greater in the number of machines turned out. It was in these circumstances that the Prime Minister, a week or so ago, executed what can only be called an evasive manoeuvre. He abandoned the comparison of front-line strength and cited as the dominant criterion of Air power a number of collateral factors such as war potential, industrial capacity, skill of pilots and other points intended to comfort himself and the country. I do not believe that this country will thank any statesman for that kind of false comfort. There is only too much reason to fear that both the evasive manoeuvre which I have mentioned and the White Paper which has been offered to the House were contrived not with the desire to give the country a true and realistic appraisal of our Air strength but with the object of defending the Prime 312 Minister's friend Lord Swinton from well-merited criticism of his administration.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am speaking about first line strength, which represents the number of first-class machines available for the prime strategic object for which they were built, and which in our case undoubtedly represents machines able to travel, carrying a useful load of bombs, to the vulnerable centres of our potential enemies. The Prime Minister's attempts to minimise the value of front line strength can be completely demolished by citing certain disadvantages which, so far from reducing our comparative disadvantages with Germany, increase them, and I propose to mention two or three. Every layman knows that the targets which are offered by this country are immeasurably more vulnerable than the targets which are offered by every other country in the world. Our industrial centres, our large factories—like the Hawker Factory at Kingston and the Handley Page at Cricklewood—power stations, railway stations, the Air Ministry itself, are all concentrated in populous areas.
Quite apart from the actual vulnerability of this country itself, there is the vulnerability of our lines of communication and our sea routes in the narrow waters. That is a feature which, according to Lord Trenchard, has always been hotly disputed by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence but upon which they have never been able to reach a unanimous opinion. During the last War we lost more than 3,000 ships. That number of ships represents about half of our mercantile marine to-day and the mercantile marine is manned by fewer sailors than in 1914. Further, in any future war we are much less likely to get the aid of the shipping of all the neutral countries, especially if the Prime Minister continues to reject the system of collective security under which that vast war potential can be utilised.
We must realise, also, that geographically this country is in a far less effective position to bomb our potential objectives than our enemies would be to bomb ours. We think that we need have little fear of a 313 bombing attack from Italy, and yet London is as vulnerable to the Italian bomber as Berlin is to the British bomber, and more so. Geographically speaking, it is an easier task for bombers to come here from Italy than for our machines to go to Berlin. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that if we fairly weigh all the associated factors which strengthen or weaken the figure of front line strength with the number of our aeroplanes, we are in a worse and not in a better comparative position than if we consider the number of front line machines alone.
When we come to treat of the actual causes of our inferiority in front line strength it would be unfair to make comprehensive strictures upon a body of men the majority of whom—with the exception of the Ministerial direction—have given able and devoted service to the rearmament programme. Their task has been a stupendous one. The Air expansion programme coincided with a number of collateral difficulties such as a great increase in speeds, different methods of production, change in design to the high-wing monoplane, and last but not least the provision of hydraulic-powered gun-mountings. Even allowing for all these difficulties, which surely are not greater than the difficulties which were encountered in Germany, there have been serious shortcomings in Ministerial direction, and it should have been obvious that there was something wrong with the system under which the member of the Air Council for Supply and Production was a man who had never had any practical experience of production at all. He was not even a specialist in production.
We are not discussing the Cadman Committee Report to-day, but what it said about this system deserves careful note. I propose to quote, from page 10 of the report, what Lord Cadman said. I do not think that he and his colleagues are given to exaggerated language. They said:The Member of Council responsible under the existing organisation is a military officer also appointed for a short period. Here again, however distinguished an individual officer may be, the problems of aircraft production on a large scale are, with modern processes, so specialised that it is contrary to all sense to expect a military officer without previous knowledge and experience of such matters … to deal effectively with the situation.314 He says later on:It may, indeed, account for many of the difficulties in meeting the present demands for equipment for the Royal Air Force,and not only on the civil side.
In the Force as it is to-day I say that this officer is not even exclusively specialised in production. In the Royal Air Force the system of specialisation is a very queer one. Everybody is a multi-specialist, and where that is so, everybody is an imperfect specialist. What happens is that they all, from Air Marshal to private officer, go through their career in the Royal Air Force encouraged to specialise in as many different branches as possible. They get additional seniority for every particular branch in which they specialise. When they have specialised in one branch for a year or two, and are just beginning to get a grasp of it and of the duties involved—this applies to officers high and low—they are returned to their ordinary flying duties. Then, when they have just become rusty in the knowledge which they had previously learned they are returned to specialise in some other subject. When, as a result of repeated specialisation, they achieve high position as a member of the Air Council, they have a certain amount of knowledge about a great many things but they are deficient in concentrated experience for their supreme task, that is the position for production and supply on the Air Council to-day.
An example at the other end of the scale is that of the very spearhead of the attack of the Royal Air Force, the sergeant air observer. He is the man who navigates the bomber, mans the gun and drops the bomb upon its objective. He gets a three months' course as a specialist. We all recognise that the human factor may prove fragile, but at least the very spearhead of the attack ought to receive such a measure of specialisation that he has every opportunity for carrying out his task with efficiency. That is not the case in the Royal Air Force, as I know. I shall close with a few suggestions. I am very anxious that it should not be thought that we wish on this side of the House to discredit the Government in this matter. I would gladly have refrained from making any of these speeches if the Minister had adopted some attitude other than the complacent one which has become characteristic 315 of speeches from the Air Ministry. I want to have the ear of the Under-Secretary of State for these suggestions. He is the only man who has favoured us. I was hoping that the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence would be here. The speeches to-day well merit their attention at the present juncture.
I am going to suggest, firstly, that the whole aircraft industry should be excised from industry as a whole and brought under Government control. That is my first practical suggestion. Moreover, it should be launched on its full war potential immediately and given priority in supply. I make that suggestion in the interests of efficiency and in view of the fact that the Prime Minister proposes to call upon all sections of the community for concessions and sacrifices. Unless it is felt that there is to be equality of sacrifice and that this vital industry is not to be brought under Government control, a bad start will have been made in the further measures that we propose to undertake. In bringing the Air Ministry under public control we do not want to confine it to the approved list. There is an enormous number of young and enterprising firms who have never had a chance. The old trout of the aircraft industry snap up every contract that comes along, and they succeed in preventing the new firms from developing. They seldom or never absorb them and add them to the productive capacity of the industry of the country, but they freeze them out.
My second suggestion is that we should change the Ministers in charge of the Air Ministry. I make that suggestion in all sincerity and without an atom of party bias in the matter. It is something that has been said not only by this party but outside the House in every quarter where this position is studied. When I suggest that we should remove Lord Swinton, I do not think that we should gain by putting in his place the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who comes into the category of Ministers whose attainments are greater than their abilities. I am such an attentive admirer of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence that I cut out his speeches. Looking through my file the other day I came across a report of what he said 316 to the Fleet Street branch of the British Legion in 1936. It was:I sometimes wish I was back in the law. I do not feel very well-equipped for my job,"—Up to that point I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was really being modest, but he went on to say, speaking to those ex-service men—any more than you felt well-equipped when you went off to do a bigger job 22 years ago.That was rather a flattering simile for the right hon. Gentleman. I suggest that we should put into the Air Ministry a minister who is really capable of doing the job. I am not going to make any suggestion, but in the minds of every Member of this House are the names of people who ought to be handling this task at the present time, but who, on account of prejudice or for some other personal reason, are being kept out of the administration.
The third suggestion is that we should order a completely new supplementary Air Force of less complicated machines. I do not put this suggestion forward exclusively upon my own technical authority. There is a widespread opinion that, after the first few months of the next conflict, it will be impossible to maintain an adequate quantity of the extremely complicated machines which are in production to-day. The task of night bombing can be done with reasonable efficiency by machines far less expensive, whatever that matters, much less complicated and far easier to produce. I do not know whether the Government have utilised the resources of the Dominions and of the United States, but they ought not to hesitate to do so. The types of machine which I advocate to be added to our strength could be handled by firms which are not on the Air Ministry list.
I suggest, finally, that we should organise the war potential of other nations which are members of the League of Nations. Their power is always despised in comments, but in any future campaign the war potential, shipping and food supplies, of all these members of the League, would be of decisive importance to us. I think it is a blind policy on the part of the Government to refuse to organise that power. I have one or two more suggestions to put forward, but I will keep them for another occasion, and will conclude by saying that the time has come, 317 in my view, when every purely financial interest, every cramping protection for the beloved system of private capital and private profit, ought to be postponed for the protection of our liberties and, if possible, for the preservation of peace. I believe that an immense calm preparation—preparedness, material and moral—is the way back to sanity, to effective negotiations, and to a rehabilitation of our strength and influence in the world.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State on the able way in which he has presented the Estimates. He made a very good survey indeed. It is a difficult task for the Under-Secretary, but I think he carried it out most efficiently. I should also like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on his memorandum. It is very clearly laid out this year and shows all the progress in rearming, training, research and development, and so on; I think it is one of the best statements that we have ever had
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) has just suggested that we should nationalise the whole aircraft industry. I submit to the House that we should do nothing of the kind, and I will tell the hon. Member why. Before the War, the Royal Flying Corps depended on the Farnborough factory for its machines, and the best machine that they produced was the B.E.2.C. machine. The result was that in the early days on the Somme we lost the air to the enemy; the Fokker machines destroyed most of our B.E.2.C. machines, and I had to send out 150 Sopwith 1½-strutter high-performance machines to help the Army at the front. We regained our supremacy. Those Sopwith machines were produced by a private firm. The national factory at Farnborough failed us in the War, and I submit that we should never go in for national control of the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
We were not relying solely on the national factory at Farnborough. There was a fair amount of private enterprise, and that was so unsuccessful that, as well as the machines produced at Farnborough, we were using French machines, which were less satisfactory than those from Farnborough and which were made by private enterprise in France.
§ Sir M. Sueter
It was certainly the case that we had so few machines that we had to get a certain number from France, but the Royal Flying Corps, in the main, depended on the national factory at Farnborough, and gave very few orders to the industry outside. I kept the industry going with the small amount of money I was able to obtain, with the result that, when war broke out, we had a certain number of private firms ready to produce aircraft, and they were more efficient than the aircraft produced by the national factory at Farnborough. I sent 150 out to General Henderson for the Royal Flying Corps at the front, and they regained the air for us which we had lost owing to the Fokker machines. I hope that this country will never go in for national control of the aircraft industry.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) quoted some extracts from the Press to the effect that the Parliamentary Air Committee had said that we were not satisfied with the Under-Secretary's speech in the Committee upstairs. I do not know where he got that from, because we were most satisfied. The hon. and gallant Member said that I, as chairman, ought to have contradicted it, but I have never seen the extract, so I could not possibly contradict it. If he will send it to me, I shall be very much obliged. I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member taking an interest in air matters. If he adds air knowledge to his great knowledge of naval matters, I am certain that it will benefit his party, for very few Members of the Socialist party have taken an interest in the air in the past. There is the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who was Under-Secretary of State for Air in the Socialist Government, and a very able Under-Secretary, if I may' say so; and there is the hon. Member for North Aberdeen. I think they are the only Members of that party who have taken much interest in air matters in the past. The more Members we have who take an interest in air matters, the better for the State.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen said that the errors from which we are suffering now date back to long ago. I agree with him in that. I also would go back to long ago and say that we have all these errors now because the airmen were not sufficiently backed up before the War. My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley 319 (Sir P. Hannon) will agree with me that we had great difficulty in getting any money at all for the air, but, thanks to the support that my hon. Friend gave me, we managed to get a certain amount, though only with great difficulty. When war broke out, there were great demands for aircraft, not only from the front but from every theatre of war, and General Henderson and myself had the greatest difficulty in meeting those demands. We had no reserves and no pilots, because this House had never voted any money for either. This House is to blame for that. When the War was in full progress, the aircraft industry came up to scratch, and, at the end of the War, we were producing 300 machines a month. That was our production capacity at that time; I think the actual figure was 3,400 a year. After the War we scrapped most of the machines, keeping only about 1,000.
Then the aircraft industry was practically starved for many years. If hon. Members will look at the Air Estimates from 1929 to 1935, they will find that the air only got one-sixth of the total amount allotted for the whole defence of the country. Time after time members of my Air Committee protested that we were only getting one-sixth of the money available for defence purposes. Two years ago the country woke up and said that we had not a sufficient Air Force. Lord Londonderry got approval for the expansion scheme, and Lord Swinton came into office and carried out the first expension scheme. But no sooner was that scheme in full swing than a second scheme was forced upon the industry, and a Shadow scheme as well. How the industry stood up to it, I do not know. It is very difficult for them to train these manufacturers, and I, for one, think that the industry has done uncommonly well. If you visit these factories you will find the Handley-Page factory at Cricklewood, the Bristol factory, the Gloucester factory, and the Short factory all running very well indeed. I am afraid that as regards skilled labour they are filled up with a good many youngsters, and the delays with which the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton finds fault are largely due to the lack of skilled labour.
If this House had voted more money in the past for the Air Service we should have had more skilled labour and more factories. It is the responsibility of this 320 House. It is no good finding fault with the Air Ministry and the Under-Secretary of State; it is largely the fault of Members of this House, because they did not vote more money for the air in the past. When I visited these factories I remembered how difficult it was for us during the War, particularly in the engine factories, when the key men were often taken away to go into the trenches. It is almost impossible to get a good engine output if you have your key men suddenly taken away. I ask the Under-Secretary or the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to look into that matter of keeping the key men, particularly in the engine industry, in their position if an emergency should ever arise again.
Then there is the question of priority. In the War there was a certain class of steel which we wanted for the linings of the cylinders of engines, and we could not get it. We found that the Army Service Corps were taking all the best steel when they could quite easily have used some inferior steel. I ask the Under-Secretary to look into that question of getting priority of steel; it is a very important point in engine production. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) say what he did about sabotage, and how the best workmen in our country resent it. Of the hundreds of machines we had built in this country for the Naval Air Service, with some from France and some from the United States, we never had a single case of sabotage. The only incident that ever happened was that we found that one of the spokes of the landing wheel of one machine had a message tied round it hoping that this machine would land in Germany. That was one of the American machines. That question of sabotage wants looking into, and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether we could not have very severe penalties, and if necessary legislation, and the nature of those penalties put up in the factories. [An HON. MEMBER: "Send them to Stalin!"] A very good idea. But I think that wants looking into, because it is terrible to think of our pilots being sent up into the air on machines that have been sabotaged. I think we might also look into the same question as far as submarines are concerned.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I do not often get a chance to speak. When I visited these large factories I was very much struck by the area they covered. The Bristol engine works cover some five acres of land; the Handley-Page works cover eight acres. Could we not do something to camouflage those factories, because they are a tremendous target from the air? The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. J. G. Kerr), whom I see opposite, is a great expert on camouflaging, and I should like to see him on a committee to go into the question of whether the appearance of these factories from the air could not be broken up a little by painting them, or whether you could have mounds or trees, or something like that, to hide them and make them less of a target from the air. We are vulnerable enough in this country as it is; we do not want our air factories destroyed, because the damage would be immense if an air bomb dropped in the middle of the Handley-Page factory. It would not only destroy valuable machinery, but it might destroy the skilled labour, the drawing office staff, which is so difficult to replace in a war.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I have not much experience of muck stacks. No doubt the hon. Member will develop that argument later. I see the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) in his place. He has always taken a great interest in our defence debates, and I congratulate him very much indeed on receiving Minister's rank and joining up with the Air Council. I know he will give great sympathy to the air industry and the pilots, and under his guidance I am sure we shall do better in air development. There is, however, one thing I want to ask him. I want him, if he will, to counter the loose criticism made of the Air Ministry. The hon. Member for West Islington will not mind an old air pioneer pulling him up, but he did say some rather bad things about the Air Ministry. He said it was a hotbed of discontent. He said the departments lived in jealous isolation, that one department issues an order and another cancels it, and he said that the departments had little more power than that of veto over each other, and that 6,000 modifications were required 322 to get perfection in a prototype machine, and so on. Then he dealt also with the profits of the industry, but he never told us about the lean years of this aircraft industry. I know for a fact that the Handley-Page Company could only just keep going—it was doubtful whether they would not have to shut up. I think most people would agree that, having had a very lean time for many years, they should be allowed to make reasonable profits. Whether they do make reasonable profits, or whether they make too much now, I am afraid I do not know. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson)—I am sorry he is not in his place—talking about the Royal Air Force stations, said that the food was unfit for swine. That, surely, is an exaggeration.
§ Sir M. Sueter
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton said that there is a storm brewing over the Government. I submit that all these criticisms are too wide. They have a very bad effect on us in foreign countries. I was speaking the other day for the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division (Colonel Baldwin-Webb), and I went into the Conservative Club. There was a man there who told me that a friend of his had just come back from Switzerland, and that they were talking there about a dreadful air crisis in England, which was all due to this loose criticism.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Does the hon. arid gallant Member remember the Under-Secretary standing at that Box, and saying, "Do not let us be mealy-mouthed"?
§ Sir M. Sueter
I am very sorry, but I do not recollect the incident, and I cannot possibly speak for the Minister.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Then we had the Debate that led to the Cadman Committee being set up. There were some loose statements made then; and in the Dominions the newspapers had great placards saying, "The World Laughs at British Aviation." All that does harm to us. It harms our export trade, and men are thrown out of work. I ask the Noble Lord to do his best to counter this loose criticism. I had a tremendous amount of it when I first created the Royal Naval Air Service. The 323 old admirals used to criticise me; and they could not put up a single creative suggestion. I am certain that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and the Noble Lord will welcome creative criticism, but I ask them to counter this destructive criticism. It takes the heart out of the people at the Air Ministry and in the Royal Air Force; and it is high time that it was stopped.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has made, as he always does, a very strong case. Among other accusations which he made was an insinuation that we had planned a record flight with the "Hurricane" in order to distract attention from the criticism brewing against the Air Ministry. I think that was hardly fair, but I did touch on the question to-day of how speed was approaching the speed of sound; and it is just possible that when the next criticism comes along, if we have anything fast enough, we may be able to fly at such a pace that the sound of the criticism, however loudly expressed, will not be able to catch it up. The hon. and gallant Member produced a lot of cases in support of his argument. I quite appreciate the reason which led him not to enter into details on those particular cases, but of course, while they made, from his point of view, a very strong argument, he will realise that one cannot answer cases when specific instances have not been brought to one's notice. I think a good many of his criticisms went back to the days before this Government were in office. They certainly went back to those days when all Governments, whatever their political complexion, were trying to set a practical lead to the world on the question of disarmament. It was a genuine effort, genuinely continued until it became patent that the Disarmament Conference had broken down. The accumulation of those years had left the aircraft industry in a comparatively slender condition—certainly a slender condition for responding to the very, very serious demands which were suddenly put upon us when we decided to go in for rearmament.
The hon. and gallant Member said that we tried to explain some of the delays, 324 but that that had only been the means of heightening apprehension. One is always in a difficulty in a case like this. Undoubtedly, under a programme of expansion of this size and rapidity, there are difficulties and delays. If we admit it, people at once take that as proof that everything is not well. If, on the other hand, we try to explain some of our difficulties, people say that we are being complacent, and the mere fact that we explain the delay heightens apprehension. I think it is difficult to steer a middle course between those two extremes, which will carry conviction in the minds of people like the hon. and gallant Member. He said that taking a machine straight off the drawing board would not obviate all the delay. I am sure that my Noble Friend never claimed for a moment that adopting a policy of producing machines straight off the drawing board obviated all delay. The fact is that, given a situation such as he was faced with, having to undertake expansion from very slender beginnings in a very short space of time, it was essential that some such experiment should be made. I think that that experiment has been well justified in the light of results.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I took down the hon. Member's words. He said that taking machines off the drawing board would not obviate all delays. While I am not suggesting that he made a point of that, I wanted to explain why this method was adopted. There has been a great deal of criticism about the lack of coordination at the Air Ministry. That theme runs through a great many of the individual cases which the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton brought forward. Of course lack of co-ordination is always an easy criticism to make and, without having specific details, one can neither accept nor rebut it, but every week at the Air Ministry the heads of the various departments collect round the same table and beat out the problems that need decision. Another point on the subject of co-ordination brought forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman was that we did not consider the question of raw materials or labour supplies, and it was fortified by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. 325 Garro Jones) who suggested that we ought to give the aircraft industry priority as regards material. I can assure them that a very great deal of consideration is given to the questions of raw materials and labour supplies, and a very substantial measure of priority already exists.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
No. The Minister for Co-ordination tells me that there is priority over the War Office but not over the Admiralty.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if my right hon. Friend, who will reply to the general Debate, deals with that subject.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Yes, but I think the hon. Baronet will agree that in the matter of priority as between the three Services, which is essentially a matter of co-ordination, the best authority naturally is the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. The appointment of Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner was criticised to some extent by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton. He said the appointment must indicate an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Whenever you make any reform or improvement you lay yourself open to the charge that affairs must have been unsatisfactory or you would not have done it. There was a need for improvement and we recognised the need, and he was appointed. The fact that the appointment has met with the approval of the industry and of the Air Ministry does not in any way affect the merit of the appointment. On the question of technical knowledge and experience it is said that the Air member for Supply and Organisation is not technically qualified in production matters. The Air member is not an industrial manager and does not profess to be so, and in point of fact that is not his role in the appointment.
Then the hon. and gallant Member said that the Director of Research had no 326 technical knowledge. The Director of Research is an M.A., a Doctor of Science, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), in challenging the effectiveness of our Air defence proposals generally, drew attention to the vulnerability of the country. No one recognises the vulnerability of the country more than those responsible at the Air Ministry. Here again I draw attention to what I said earlier that, particularly in defence matters, we are in very close touch with the scientific world. I draw particular attention to that on the subject of defence, because I think people are often apt to think that we devote the whole of our attention to matters of offence. It is true that strategically you cannot divide matters of defence from counter-offence, which indeed is part and parcel of any defensive system, but it is particularly in the realm of defence that the scientists with whom the Air Staff are in such close collaboration have recently been making various discoveries and producing results which are of very great benefit.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Immediate is perhaps not altogether an easy word to define, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that on such a very delicate matter as this I prefer not to be drawn into any further definition. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North put in a claim for less complication in aircraft. In the intention behind his suggestion I, and I am sure everyone responsible for the affairs of the Air Ministry, will be with him. I assure him that the whole question of simplification is constantly in the mind of the responsible head of the Ministry. We are always striving to see, for instance, how we can obtain simplification of types. The last thing we desire is to have more types than are strictly necessary. There are, of course, a number of different operational requirements and one requires a certain number of types, but, consistent with the fulfilment of those operational requirements, we aim at obtaining simplification of types to the greatest extent possible.
327 When we started on the expansion programme firms were very ready to cooperate in a system of manufacturing from each other's designs. It was not simply a question that a firm would not do any work except in the manufacture of its own particular type. There have been many instances in the expansion programme where firms have manufactured not their own designs but the designs of other firms. That was the early stage in the production and simplification of types.
Take another question, that of modification. It is very easy to draw what looks like an alarming and scandalous picture on the subject of modifications. In regard to modifications which are essential nobody suggests that you can dispense with them altogether at any stage of aircraft production, and they cannot be judged simply on a numerical basis. An enormous number of modifications are necessarily brought in between the design and the production stage. You may very often get a number of modifications which in themselves have the very smallest effect on the construction of a particular type. I should like to emphasise the policy which the Air Ministry adopts in regard to modifications. Except where questions of safety or operational efficiency are concerned, the Air Ministry do not demand any modification which is likely to slow up the flow of production. That applies not only to the complete aircraft but to the ancillary equipment as well. It refers also to cases where aircraft has already been delivered to squadrons. Although some modification may be required aircraft are not sent back for modification if by sending them back they are likely to hold up the flow of further machines coming out. Therefore, I would ask the hon. Member and the House to believe that in this question of simplification, whether it is reduction of type or whether it is modification of type in the various stages to which they belong, we fully reciprocate the desire expressed for less complication in aircraft production.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North and the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton both raised doubts as to whether our defence forces were strong enough for the particular tasks which they may be required to meet. The Prime Minister the other day laid down a statement regarding the question of our Air 328 strength, the conditions which underlay it, and the factors which have to be taken into consideration, so that it is not for me to-night to attempt to amplify the statement. The statement he made last week, which was made with the highest authority the Government possesses was, I think, clear, and indicated the particular standard which the Prime Minister wished to set before the House. To-day, in speaking on the Estimates I quoted the answer which the Prime Minister gave to a Parliamentary question last Thursday, laying it down that, having regard to the relevant circumstances, we were designing an Air Force to meet the particular tasks it is called upon to perform. The Prime Minister added the remark, which I did not quote, that the Government were satisfied that the Air Force was sufficient for this purpose. I think, with that assurance from the Prime Minister, I can ask the House to agree that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton's Amendment, stoutly argued though it was, and stoutly supported by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, is not one to which the House can agree.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
It is bad enough to have a Government which by its foreign policy is driving us into a war of isolation and neglecting every opportunity of getting any assistance for collective security from other nations, but when to that is added inefficiency in the most important department of Defence, matters have indeed become critical in the country. This state of affairs of which we and so many other people are complaining is not one which has arisen in the last month or two, but one that has been going on for some years. It is childish of the Prime Minister to intervene, as he did in the early stages of this Debate, and try to scold people for being critics, and talk about this being the most inopportune moment for such criticism. No moment is ever inopportune for criticism, if its object is to convert inefficiency and muddle into efficiency as far as some vital service of the State is concerned.
If there be efficiency, then it will be all the better for this country and for other countries that it should be fully proved and demonstrated. No harm can possibly come from demonstrating, either in this country or as far as other countries are concerned, the fact, if fact it be, that 329 our Air Ministry is being carried on in an efficient manner to-day. The protestations of the Prime Minister, in the vague phrases in which he made them, led one to the inevitable conclusion that there is something behind; that the state of affairs is such that he dare not risk even a private inquiry into the state of the Air Ministry at the present time. We realise, as the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said, that those on the Government benches will vote against this Motion, many of them not because of their convictions or their satisfaction with the conduct of the Air Ministry but because the Whips will be in their places. The country will have to suffer as a result of that action, once again, in order to keep in office an admittedly inefficient and negligent Cabinet, at a time when negligence and inefficiency constitute a crime against the State.
All the criticism which is being made is of far too great weight and much too well informed to be so easily brushed aside as the Under-Secretary has sought to do in his speech. That criticism does not come wholly from this side of the House, as anyone who has listened to the Debate will appreciate, but comes from some of the best informed Members of the House on all sides, and it might have come from other well informed Members if they had cared to voice their knowledge. The criticism is aimed, as it should be, at the Minister, who must carry the responsibility, and not at the civil servants and officers for whose actions the Minister is solely responsible in this House. The speech of the Under-Secretary to which we have just listened certainly gave me the impression—I do not know what impression it gave the House—that he was not very well-informed of what was occurring in the Air Ministry and certainly gave me the impression of a very unco-ordinated direction in the Air Ministry itself.
The problems that we particularly seek to raise in this Amendment are two—the problems of administrative efficiency and of financial soundness of the schemes that are now being carried through. A great many individual matters have been raised both by my two hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Amendment and also through the course of the whole general Debate as examples of the unsatisfactory 330 state of the Air Ministry to-day. It is impossible for the Opposition or any private Member of this House to give chapter and verse for these numerous complaints. However reliable the source of information may be, it can never be quoted. Indeed, the more reliable it is the less possible is it to quote. Therefore we are always at that disadvantage as against the Government, and that puts all the greater onus upon the Government that where these matters are raised seriously they should answer them specifically, and not, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman sought to do just now, ride away from them. He only wished that he had a much swifter aeroplane in which to get away from them, as he told us at the beginning of his speech, and hoped that on the next occasion aeroplanes would be fast enough so that criticism could never overtake him. On this occasion his mind has not been sufficiently swift. It has overtaken him, and, judging by his speech, overwhelmed him as well.
Where there is this general atmosphere of dissatisfaction, suspicion and criticism, it must be quite obvious that there is something behind it, and I suggest that nearly every Member in this House knows himself that there is something behind it. Nobody who has taken any interest in this subject matter at all in the last few weeks can have failed to appreciate, whether it be a very serious matter or a less serious matter, that there is certainly something the matter at the Air Ministry which requires immediate investigation, and great force is given to that criticism by the report of the Cadman Committee. It is quite true that they did not, and, indeed, they could not, go into matters of military aviation. They were outside the scope of their inquiry. But incompetency of administration cannot be kept in watertight compartments. If you have incompetent administration of a Department that covers two sections, it is quite certain that, if it is found conclusively to exist in one section, it will pervade the other section as well. The findings of the Cadman Committee are very specific as regards the incompetency of the Air Minister himself, and in these circumstances it is really quite right for the Prime Minister to suggest that he was incompetent in his management of civil aviation because he was so busy with military aviation.
331 Can there be any greater proof of incompetence than that statement itself; that the person who is in charge of two Departments allows himself to be so busy in one that he is incompetent in the other, and that he never takes any steps whatever to see that he gets further assistance in order to cure the incompetency? He tries to set up a packed committee in order to investigate, is driven from that position and, then, not until the very adverse report is brought out against him, does he suggest alterations in the administration, which, if he were competent, would have been suggested months and years ago. It is very largely because the Cadman Committee Report is so conclusive on the incompetence of the Air Minister that we are very much reinforced in our belief, drawn from many other sources, that there is grave incompetence at the present time at the Air Ministry on the military side as well as on the civil side. The position is, therefore, that the Minister is responsible for what has happened as regards military aviation.
A great number of points have been raised to-day challenging the action of the Ministry in all sorts and kinds of matters, important and, indeed, vital matters. It is of no assistance to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to try merely to deal in a general way with one or two of these matters, and, when he comes to the most vital matter of all, to say in a few words that he does not wish to attempt to amplify the statement of the Prime Minister. What is the object of these discussions in the House of Commons? It is in order that we may test the Estimates and the conduct of the Departments, and when a number of specific points are put on the question of delays in production and the present operative strength of the Air Force, the Minister does not do either himself or his Department any good by trying to slide out by answering these questions by some reference to a perfectly vague and general statement of the Prime Minister. He said that the Government were satisfied, and, therefore, he asked the House to be satisfied. The whole object of these Debates is to test whether the House ought to be satisfied when the Government are satisfied.
If we are to be reduced to accepting the satisfaction of the Government whenever it is expressed from the Treasury 332 Bench, then let us go on vacation for the rest of the year, because we are wasting our time. It is not doing justice to the House when the hon. and gallant Gentleman refuses to answer perfectly straightforward and simple questions. Let me remind him of some of the points that were put to him during the course of the Debate. What has happened as regards the "Blenheims"? Is it true, as was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), that we have no bombing aeroplanes now which can go to Berlin and back. Is that true or is it not true? Is it true that none of the "Spitfires" have yet come into production at all? Is it true, as was again stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey, as well as by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), that the German production today is round about 300 machines a month whereas ours is round about 100 a month? If that is true, it is the gravest possible consideration. Why is it if, as we are told—and again it has not been denied—aeroplane factories are not working up to full production? All these questions have been asked, but to none of them does the Under-Secretary care to give any answer. How can we be satisfied as he wishes us to be, and as the Government are satisfied?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I was replying exclusively to the Amendment, and perhaps the hon. and learned Member does not realise that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will reply to the general Debate.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am dealing exclusively with the Amendment. I am dealing with the administrative deficiencies of the Department. All these questions have been raised this afternoon.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Not by name, but the whole question of the comparative production of this country and Germany was mentioned, the question of types was mentioned and whether these types had come into production. But not one word was said by the hon. and gallant Member in regard to them. I rather gathered that the attitude of the hon. and gallant Member was that he knows nothing about it, and that he was leaving his right hon. 333 colleague to answer. He merely got up to say a few vague things because it is the habit, and did not intend seriously to enter into the Debate. I am sorry he did not, because I think it is a great mistake and pity. I must proceed on the basis that he told us all that he knows and all that the Air Ministry know about the subject-matter we have been discussing on the Amendment. It would seem to be the final proof of Air Ministry inefficiency, that none of these questions is answered because, apparently, they cannot be answered in spite of the loud conversation carried on, disturbing the entire House, between various backbench Members and members of the Air Ministry.
Then there was the question of continual change of plans and designs. It is not what is done in these matters but the way in which it is done. Organisation can be framed which will enable you to make 10,000 changes in plans before they come into production, and organisation can also be framed which will not enable you to make two changes before they come into production without getting you into an intolerable muddle. The accusation is that the internal side of the Air Ministry on these matters is in a state of muddle, and that is not perhaps entirely surprising when we appreciate how many departments in the Air Ministry are staffed by persons who have no particular training in the matter, who are there for only a few years and who leave just at the time when they might have become efficient to carry out the job.
I was fortunate, or unfortunate, in the last War, during one period, to be in charge of one of the largest factories in this country. We were closely in touch with the Ministry of Munitions. It was easy to experience then what a vast difference an effective and proper organisation at the headquarters of the ordering department meant. They could in 24 hours get you into such a muddle that however efficient your organisation on the spot might be, it was entirely messed up by the efforts of the headquarters Ministry, such as the Air Ministry in relation to the production factories to-day. We are not accusing the factories of being inefficient. What we are saying is that you cannot mobilise their efficiency as you ought to do because you have not at the 334 Air Ministry the technical nerve centre which you ought to have.
I would like now to say a word or two about the technical direction from the Air Ministry, and the lack of co-ordination which is apparently being shown there. As I understand it, the truly technical man never reaches any high office in the Air Ministry. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke about the Director of Research as being a technician, but I understand that he is a scientist, which is, of course, a completely different thing from a technician. The true technician has no opportunity of rising to the really important and higher posts. The key department, perhaps, the department of supply and organisation, is under an Air member who, the hon. and gallant Gentleman told us with great pride, is not an industrial manager, and does not profess to be so. I think it might be an extremely good thing if he were and did profess to be so, because then at least he would appreciate the problems of technical production. That officer, however brilliant he may be, who is put into the job for a year or two, and then, when he is getting efficient, is removed from it, cannot be expected to give the central nerve direction, admittedly a very difficult and complicated task.
Everything that has been said, and all the criticisms one has heard in the course of the Debate and otherwise, seem really to come down to the fact that the Air Ministry is not so organised as to make it capable of itself organising throughout the country the vast production that is now necessary for the Air Arm. The distressing thing about the Debate is that apparently the past is justified as being excellent. The self-satisfaction of the Air Ministry is the chief feature which is displayed. They do not admit that everything has been wrong and unfortunate, that they are going to have a thorough organisation and to get the place straight, that they see this, that and the other thing and are grateful for this, that and the other suggestion. Instead, they say, "Everything is all right; the Air Minister is perfect, and all his Department is functioning in a most marvellous way." As far as I remember, during the last War it was precisely that sort of criticism which made it essential to have a Ministry of Munitions and to take production out of the hands of the 335 Service Department and put it into the hands of a highly specialised set of technicians who could co-ordinate it and carry it through.
I would like to make one suggestion to the Government. It seems to me that, if we have reached this critical stage of affairs generally and if we have to increase our Air Force—and our other Forces as well, I suppose, but first and foremost, and most critically, our Air Force—it is essential that this matter of production should be put into different and more competent hands than it is in to-day. That can be done, I believe, only by starting again on a system such as the Ministry of Munitions was during the last War. In itself, that was perhaps not perfect; many people who were associated with it could make many suggestions as to its improvement; but it did have the great merit that it did not suffer from the defects that the Department which is staffed by serving officers does suffer from, and was found to suffer from acutely during the last War.
Then one comes to the other side of the problem which is the question of private manufacture and profiteering. The Government must not underestimate the effect of profiteering generally on the psychology of the country. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) spoke rather picturesquely about his sailing exploits on Southampton Water and said that he and his friends were reaching a stage where they no longer cared to sail in Southampton Water because those waters were now polluted by the steam-craft of the aircraft manufacturers. That is only expressing what a great many other people feel. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not say 'polluted'."] I thought he did, but what does it matter. Surely there is no worse pollution to one who sails, than that which comes from the funnels of steamcraft. What the hon. Member meant and what a lot of other people mean is that this display of profiteering, both in the published returns of the profits of these companies and the expenditure of those profits upon luxuries, is something which makes every ordinary person in the country resentful that they should have to participate in building up those profits at their own cost.
That is one very good reason why something much more effective should be done than the costing system which, if I 336 am correctly informed, gives the most glorious opportunities for every conceivable kind of dishonesty. It includes, I understand, to take one example, a percentage allowance for depreciation of machinery and buildings of 7½ per cent. in the case of machinery and 2½ per cent. in the case of buildings. The valuation upon which these percentages are taken is whatever the manufacturer likes to say. There is no capital valuation upon which they are taken; in many cases they are being taken on exorbitant figures, without any valuation whatever, therefore allowing a very fine profit on the real figure. That, no doubt, is one of the reasons why these vastly swollen profits are displayed by the aircraft manufacturers.
There is another very good reason why something should be done as regards taking over private enterprise and that is because it is impossible to co-ordinate all the enterprises required, unless they are taken under control as they were during the last War. I see no reason why a small group of powerful companies should be regarded as either the primary or the sole source of supply of aircraft. There are many other companies outside the ring which could add very valuable productive strength to the aircraft industry in this country. As long as the ring is allowed to control production and make these vast profits, they will doubtless oppose any scheme by which others might be drawn in, but if the whole were taken over, as it should be, by the country, one could eliminate this very bad psychological feature of profiteering and at the same time accomplish a much higher degree of efficiency, by co-ordination, than is being accomplished at present.
Those are the main points which we bring against the Air Ministry and the reasons why we say that it is essential that something should be done. We are not satisfied, and we are convinced the country is not satisfied, with merely carrying on under the present Air Minister, with the present organisation and the present disastrous results of that organisation, because, until it is denied by somebody from the Box opposite, we are bound to accept the fact, which has been stated in the House two or three times this afternoon and not denied, that at the present time our production 337 numerically is something like one-third of the German production. If that is anywhere near true, it obviously discloses a disastrous and unanticipated state of affairs, judging from the statements that have been made from that Box in past years. It is not satisfactory in those circumstances to say that all is lovely in the garden, that we have the most wonderful Minister and we do not propose to make any changes in the military side of the Air Ministry, nor will we allow any private inquiry, nor do anything to
§ reassure the people in this country. It is because of that that we demand that either a private inquiry should be set up, or that some definite precise step of reorganisation with regard to the production of aircraft should at once be initiated by the Government.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 253; Noes, 139.339
|Division No. 135.]||AYES.||[10.32 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Dodd, J. S.||Hunter, T.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Doland, G. F.||Hurd, Sir P. A.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Dower, Major A. V. G.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.|
|Apsley, Lord||Duggan, H. J.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Assheton, R.||Dunglass, Lord||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Eastwood, J. F.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Eckersley, P. T.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Ellis, Sir G.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Elmley, Viscount||Kimball, L.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Emery, J. F.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Latham, Sir P.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Errington, E.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Leech, Sir J. W.|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Everard, W. L.||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Fildes, Sir H.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Fleming, E. L.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Levy, T.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Lewis, O.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Liddall, W. S.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Little, Sir E. Graham-|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Gledhill, G.||Loftus, P. C.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gluckstein, L. H.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Burghley, Lord||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Gower, Sir R. V.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Caine, G. R. Hall.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Granville, E. L.||McKie, J. H.|
|Cary, R. A.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Magnay, T.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Marsdan, Commander A.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Grimston, R. V.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.|
|Channon, H.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mayhaw, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Christie, J. A.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Hambro, A. V.||Moreing, A. C.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Hannah, I. C.||Morgan, R. H.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Harbord, A.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Munro, P.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Nall, Sir J.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Cox, H. B. Trevor||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Hepworth, J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. A.|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Higgs, W. F.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Patrick, C. M.|
|Cross, R. H.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Howitt. Dr. A. B.||Petherick, M.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Dawson, Sir P.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Porritt, R. W.|
|De la Bère, R.||Hulbert, N. J.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Denman, Hon. R. D||Hume, Sir G. H.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Radford, E. A.||Shakespeare, G. H.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Shaw, Major P. S, (Wavertree)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Ramsden, Sir E.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Rankin, Sir R.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Spens, W. P.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)||Wise, A. R.|
|Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Rowlands, G.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Wragg, H.|
|Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Sutcliffe, H.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Tasker, Sir R. I.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Salt, E. W.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Samuel, M. R. A.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Captain Hope and Captain|
|Savery, Sir Servington||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Dugdale.|
|Scott, Lord William||Touche, G. C.|
|Acland, R. T. D (Barnstaple)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Groves, T. E.||Owen, Major G.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Paling, W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H' Isbr.)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Parker, J.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hardie, Agnes||Pearson, A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hayday, A.||Price, M. P.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Batey, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hicks, E. G.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hills, A- (Pontefract)||Ridley, G.|
|Benson, G.||Holdsworth, H.||Riley, B.|
|Bevan, A.||Hopkin, D.||Ritson, J.|
|Broad, F. A.||Jagger, J.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bromfield, W.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||John, W.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Buchanan, G.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Cape, T.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Chater, D.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Shinwell, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kirby, B. V.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Daggar, G||Lathan, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Leach, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Day, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Stephen, C.|
|Dobbie, W.||Logan, D. G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lunn, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Ede, J. C.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McEntee, V. La T.||Thurtle, E.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||McGhee, H. G.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||McGovern, J.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Foot, D. M.||MacLaren, A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Frankel, D.||Maclean, N.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gallacher, W.||Mander, G. le M.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Marshall, F.||Westwood, J.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Maxton, J.||White, H. Graham|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Messer, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Milner, Major J.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Montague, F.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Muff, G.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Charleton and Mr. Mathers.|
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair?"
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmonds
As I listened earlier this afternoon to the Under-Secretary of State for Air I could not help feeling that there 340 was a good deal of substance in some of the observations that had been made, and that his speech was unrelated to the most important aspect of this Estimate, namely, the question whether we have parity with the strongest air force within 341 striking distance of this country. In my observations I propose to dwell exclusively on this question of parity. On Monday of last week the Prime Minister, in introducing the general discussion of the Estimates, made, as many hon. and right hon. Members then said and as I thought too, a most disquieting observation. He said that he proposed in future to throw overboard the consideration of first line strength as a measure of air defence. I wonder what the hon. and gallant Members for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) and South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) would have said if the Government had announced that it was not proposed in future to deal from the Floor of this House with the number of capital ships because they did not give an exact representation of naval power. I wonder what hon. Members, especially those coming from industrial constituencies, would say if the Minister of Labour said that in future he would not publish the unemployment returns because they did not give a full and complete picture of the improvement in employment.
Although it is true that the number of capital ships and the number of unemployed do not give a full picture, yet they are convenient yardsticks, perhaps not complete, but none the less significant; and I think it may be claimed in the same way that first-line strength is an important yardstick in connection with the Air Force. Indeed, from the moment when Lord Baldwin in 1934 gave to the House and to the country his pledge on parity, he consistently developed his theme in connection with first-line strength, and, what is very pertinent to our present consideration, he developed that theme in connection with first-line strength and reserves. He said that the House must realise that behind our first-line strength of 880 aircraft there was a far larger number held in reserve. There is, indeed, abundant evidence that when we refer to first-line strength we are not referring only to aircraft, but to their pilots, their instruments, their fuel, their oil, and their armament, in fact, to all these things imaged over and over again in reserve.
But the Prime Minister on Monday of last week introduced a number of other factors, such as the war potential of our manufacturing equipment and access to raw materials. While it may well be that these are important considerations, 342 they are only important as long-range considerations. The crucial matter, if we are dealing with a short war or with the early months of a long war, is first-line strength, and, if we have not superiority in first-line strength in the first few months of war, it will be of no avail if in the long run we have ample access to raw materials, a long purse, or adequate manufacturing facilities. There is thus a fundamental difference, and I respectfully ask the House to observe it. In this matter of our air security, first-line aircraft means security if we have superiority in the first few months of war. Parity in air power is, as the Prime Minister said, an entirely different point, and is the long-range factor.
I would like, in examining this point, to take a state of affairs least satisfactory according to my contention. If I consider an aircraft works which has been engaged for a number of months or years before the outbreak of war on the manufacture of a certain type of aircraft, which has all the jigs and tools, all the staff and workmen conversant with that type of aircraft, then it will be obvious that there might be many other works which are not so well equipped. If, therefore, these works were given an order on the outbreak of war, they would be in the best possible position to fulfil that order quickly. But it has become perfectly obvious that before any of these aircraft manufactured after the outbreak of war were available to go into the squadrons, we should have to wait from six to nine months. Until they are available neither resources in raw materials, in finance, or in manufacturing plant are going to assist us at all, and we shall be obliged for this initial period to rely exclusively on the first line aircraft and their reserves, which we had available prior to the outbreak of war.
For every country, I believe, this initial period will be one of critical importance, pregnant with the gravest possibilities, but in our own country, with our centres of population and production, this situation has a peculiar peril. I beg leave to suggest that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister threw over first line strength as a yardstick he had possibly not fully apprehended the importance to this country in the first few months of war of our possessing, not air power of equivalent strength to 343 foreign countries, but a first line strength equivalent to that of other countries, which can defend our shores until our war potential comes into operation.
But whatever may be the merits or demerits of first-line strength, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was unable to answer the question either of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) or myself, in which we both asked him whether the Government claimed that its present programme would give us parity with Germany, being the strongest Power within striking distance. His preference for silence on this matter gives melancholy point to the oft-repeated warnings which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has addressed to this House for the last three or four years. As long ago as November, 1934, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) was observing only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping warned the Government that the German Air Force in 1937 would be as strong as our own. On 27th January of last year when I had the honour of introducing a Debate on a Motion in this House, I gave the 1937 strength of the German Air Force as 3,000 first-line aircraft, and I note that in the brilliant speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping last week, he referred to some figures recently published by the French General Weygand, who gave these figures as the first-line strength of Great Britain and Germany at the end of last year: Great Britain 1,500, Germany 3,000. Although to hon. Members who have not made a careful study of this subject it may appear extremely difficult to arrive at any conclusion or that the figures are highly problematical, on the other hand I would say that those of us who have endeavoured to visualise this picture have received information from many sources, and the figures given by my right hon. Friend and those that I gave last year tally exactly, curiously enough with the figures given by General Weygand.
We thus have, from three sources, entirely independent, this unpalatable fact, that at the end of last year—and I am not now dealing with the manufacturing output of this country and of Germany, which has been discussed by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down— 344 we had only half the first-line strength of Germany. There is another point which has been referred to by many hon. Members this afternoon—the question of quality. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) suggested that, in regard to modern aircraft, we had virtually only travellers' samples in the Royal Air Force to-day. It is, in any case, the fact that the technical Press from month to month publishes pictures showing certain new types of aircraft. I have here a picture of the Hurricanes going into service in No. 111 Squadron; this is the new aircraft blazed in print as at last going into a certain squadron of the Royal Air Force. It is thus obvious that, although he may be minimising the position, the hon. Member for West Islington was not so very far wrong; and it was noted by an hon. Member from the Liberal benches this afternoon that the bulk of first-line squadrons of the Royal Air Force are still equipped with Furies, Harts, Hinds, Heyfords and Gauntlets, the designs of which are five to ten years old.
Empire Air Day will soon be with us, and all hon. Members, and, indeed all air attachés from foreign Powers to this country, will have the opportunity of going and seeing for themselves to what extent we have modern aircraft in the Royal Air Force. I shall be amazed, and I know that hon. Gentlemen on both the Socialist and Liberal benches will be more amazed than I, from what they have said, if out of the 1,500 first-line aircraft more than 500 are modern first-line machines of the Battle, Blenheim, Hurricane, or Wellesley classes. At a time when the German air force in quick time filled the skies above Vienna with squadron after squadron of hundreds of modern aircraft, this is a lamentable and distressing truth which confronts the Government, the House, and the country: that, according to General Weygand and others, we have only 1,500 first-line aircraft, compared with Germany's 3,000, and of this 1,500, only 500 are of modern type. I pray that the Government may be stirred by the Debate to-day to review this matter afresh. Since I have had the honour to be in this House, I have never felt that there has been such a sense of the perilous position in which we stand. It is not too late, if the Government will really bend to the task; but the sands of time are running out.
345 There is one other point in this matter of parity to which I would refer; that is the reserve of aircraft. Parity depends on first-line strength and reserves. But when each new aeroplane, as we have seen, is swallowed up by the squadrons in their desire to cast off their ancient armour and to get some of this new paraphernalia of war, what hope is there of seeing in reserve any of this modern equipment?
It appears now to be widely accepted by air strategists that during the first few months of war the first-line strength of all major contestants will be completely wiped out as to 50 per cent. each month. That means to say that a country with 100 per cent. reserves could maintain its full strength for two months and would have exhausted its equipment at the end of four. Similarly, if we have 200 per cent., we should be able to maintain our first-line strength for four months and we should be completely exhausted after six. But we have seen that six to nine months is the minimum time during which the new wartime manufactured aircraft could be in the squadrons. Unless, therefore, we have in fact 200 per cent. reserves on the first-line strength of the Royal Air Force, we may in the fourth, fifth, and sixth months of war well-nigh starve for equipment and become grounded and immobilised. As is manifest from the published reports in the technical Press, we certainly have not yet any reserves. What a humiliation it must be that a great Power such as ours cannot say to-day that it has the parity that was promised to it. When the Government has succeeded, as I think it will be agreed it has succeeded amazingly well, in its creation of a new personnel, both flying and non-flying, it is a mournful fact that it has failed so dismally in this matter of equipment. But will it not awake even yet? Will it not, without face-saving compromise or evasion, completely reorganise its department of supply and appoint new men with drive, experience, and vision to overhaul its ill-conditioned machinery and revivify and reinvigorate the whole of the manufacturing enterprise of air rearmament?
In certain quarters—I say this with a feeling of deep gravity—I discern that faint hearts, men from whom I should not have expected it, are saying, "We are doing our utmost. Maybe we have 346 nothing like parity with Germany. What more can we do?" I thought even the Prime Minister appeared to think that we had reached our maximum industrial output without serious dislocation of our export trade. As has been said by several hon. Members to-day, that is not true. I can state from such experiences as I have had, and such information as has been given me by friends in whom I have the utmost trust, these two or three points which I hope will satisfy the Government and the House that that is not true. First, suppliers of raw materials are inviting the aircraft industry to accept delivery of its raw material at a much greater rate than the aircraft industry can absorb it; (2), sub-contractors are ringing up manufacturers of aircraft and beseeching them to give them work, because they have so little on hand; and (3), companies applying to the Air Ministry for work are put off, as I think, on the scant plea, if there really be any urgency in rearmament, that they are not on the King's Roll. Yet when these companies apply to the Ministry of Labour or to the British Legion for disabled men they may take on in order to get on to the King's Roll, they are told that such men are not available. I heard of one factory manufacturing wings for aircraft, where in the course of the last few months not tens but hundreds of hands have been dismissed.
It is not true that we cannot do better than in present circumstances. If we had correlated, co-ordinated control in place of unimaginative, overburdened bureaucracy, if we had enlightened control, miracles would be worked. I can well understand that it was exceedingly difficult for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to accede to the plea from the Opposition benches this afternoon for a committee of inquiry into the Air Ministry, so far as service aircraft is concerned; but there are ways and ways of doing these things, and I believe that, sooner or later, the country will demand such an inquiry. I would ask leave to make this appeal to the Secretary of State for Air. When he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT he must be aware that from every bench this afternoon valuable suggestions, important complaints and observations have been addressed to him on the work of his Department. Each one of the assistants of the Secretary of State for Air is overworked. If the Secretary of State will 347 not do more than this, will he not surround himself with two or three competent scrutineers who can investigate every one of the complaints which have been made to-day? If he could do that, rather than having complaints pressed upon him from outside, I think that might be a solution which would meet with the approval of the House and the country.
I should like to recall to the House, because I feel and I know the House feels, that this is a matter of crucial importance, the searching question which was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping to Lord Baldwin, on the 28th November, 1934. This is what my right hon. Friend said:I submit to the House, that we ought to decide now to maintain, at all costs, in the next 10 years an Air Force substantially stronger than that of Germany, and that it should be considered a high crime against the State, whatever Government is in power, if that force is allowed to fall substantially below, even for a month, the potential force which may be possessed by that country abroad.Those were strong words, but Lord Baldwin took no exception to them, appreciating as he did then the seriousness of the position. Nor did he, in reply, fail to make a most precise statement, which did not suffer from any of the ambiguities from which I think the statement last week of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister suffered when he started to refer in place of first-line strength to air power and air strength. This is what Lord Baldwin said:His Majesty's Government are determined in no conditions to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols. 863–884, Vol. 295.]"No inferiority"—those were the words of Lord Baldwin. The thought of a two to one inferiority then would have stupified the House and the country. It was, as my right hon. Friend said then, to be a crime against the State if we did not have this parity. I hesitate to say it, but has this crime been committed? The House and the country must know the truth. It is not enough to say that we have 123 squadrons which the Government announced for this year. Lord Baldwin promised parity with the German Air Force and the country will relentlessly demand it.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I want to ask only three practical questions of the Minister before he replies. We have been dealing with the power of the British Air Force and taking as the measure, quite rightly, the strength of the German Air Force. It is not only a question of numbers but of capacity and performance. We had an illustration on Friday of an air force in action for a political purpose. To-night I read in the "Evening News" this paragraph:An official statement of the Government of Barcelona to-day says that Franco has received 20 German air squadrons and five German anti-aircraft batteries.The statement gives the names of the officers in charge of the planes and the guns—all German Army men.I want to ask the Minister, when he replies, whether he has taken into account facts such as these, and what does he propose to do about it? The way is clear by Order-in-Council to repeal the Carriage of Munitions Act. He can give assistance against the new invasion and so prevent Barcelona from becoming a second Vienna.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
There is unanimity in this House on the need for more aircraft. Personally I feel the need for more aircraft every week-end of my life when I go to join my auxiliary squadron. The need cannot, in my opinion, be fulfilled by any reorganisation immediately of the manufacturing industry in this country. The need is even more urgent than that, and His Majesty's Government might do very well indeed to consider the advisability of purchasing aircraft, immediately if possible, from the United States of America. I believe that in Spain to-day the Russian aircraft are immensely superior to the aircraft of the other side, and the reason is that the majority of those Russian aircraft are not actually Russian at all. They were put together in Russia on American patents with a great deal of American material. The American aircraft industry is highly developed in every way. In civil aviation they are 20 years ahead of anybody here or in Europe. I believe that we can solve our difficulty quickly. It is very pressing as the danger in Europe and to this country is really profound to-day.
There is another point to which I want to call attention. It has to do with the 349 inquiry which it is proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite should be held into the affairs and conduct of the Air Ministry. To hold such an inquiry to-day would be immensely prejudicial to this country. I say that because I believe such an inquiry would have the worst possible effect on the moral of the Service and would be prejudicial to discipline as well. I am a junior officer in the Auxiliary Air Force. I have been brought up for the last five years to look upon the gentlemen who sit on the Air Council as the gods of aviation in this country; what they say must be done and must be obeyed by my brother officers and myself and by all ranks of the Service without question. The dangers to this country to-day are immense, and anything which would be prejudicial to the moral of this great fighting Service would be most reprehensible. I hope that these considerations will be borne in mind. Let me turn to what was said by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). He was of the opinion that the Hurricane aircraft issued to 111th Squadron were not all that they should be; they were not easily manoeuvrable, and that the persons using them were not entirely satisfied.
§ Mr. Montague
What I said was that if the flight of a Hurricane from Edinburgh to London was put up as an example of what could be done by that type of aeroplane, the question of manoeuvrability was not the same as that of flight.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I have discussed this aircraft with pilots of the 111th Squadron, and they said that it is satisfactory in every way, and I can assure the House that they have never flown anything so satisfactory for its purpose which is a fighting aircraft. The hon. Member also referred to the range of the bomber aircraft at our disposal to-day. He said that they could not reach the industrial districts of Germany and return. That story is not a correct statement of the facts. It is entirely a question of tactics, the load you take, the amount of petrol you take, and where you start from. Obviously you start from the nearest point, and the statement that our bombers cannot reach a likely objective falls to the ground.
I turn to the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), who commands the County of Nottingham Squadron. The 350 hon. Baronet made one or two rather amazing assertions. First of all, he said that a great many of the accidents which occur in the Royal Air Force at the present time are caused by lack of confidence in the instruments which the pilot is using. If the hon. Baronet thinks about this, I am sure he will see that he is wrong. When a person is learning to fly, he is told to think about one instrument only, and that is the air-speed indicator, because it is lack of air speed which kills a pilot. As far as I can remember, when I was learning to fly, I always kept my eye on the air-speed indicator until I had done about 70 or 80 hours' flying. I do not think it is lack of instruments or inadequate instruments which kills pilots in their early days of flying. I am sure that if these young gentlemen are given too many instruments, as is the inclination with modern developments, it is much more likely to make them rely too much on the instruments and not on their common sense.
The hon. Baronet was treading on rather dangerous ground when he referred to the number of hours flown by the Royal Air Force at the present time. The hon. Baronet and I have access to the numbers of hours which are flown at any rate by bomber commands, and I am not at liberty to divulge them anymore than is my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary or the hon. Baronet; but if the hon. Baronet will take the trouble to look at those figures which he has available, and also which the other squadrons have available, he will see at once that the number of hours flown by the whole Service in this country is colossal. That is a fact which I think ought not to escape the attention of the House.
I wish to turn now to one or two matters affecting the wellbeing of the Service. With regard to the education of airmen's children, I think hon. Members will agree that one of the greatest traditions which the other two Services have is that the sons follow their fathers into either the Navy or the Army, and a great family tradition is built up to the ultimate good of the nation as a whole. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will bear this in mind when he is thinking of the education of airmen's children. If airmen's children are to go into the Service as their fathers have done, it is absolutely essential that they 351 should have not only an elementary education, hut a secondary education. In outlandish aerodromes all over the country, it is very difficult to provide that, but I think it is something to which attention ought to be given. We have heard stated to-day the number of entries into Cranwell. I think my hon. and gallant Friend said that 75 people passed through Cranwell during the year. In these days of expansion, I do not think that is a big enough number. I think there ought to be more vacancies, and that can be achieved only if the standard which is required for boys to enter Cranwell is lowered to some extent. The standard is exceedingly high, and I feel sure that it rules out a great many excellent applicants; so I hope that my hon. Friend will turn his attention to that matter.
Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) to the subject of short-service commissions, and some assurance was asked for by him as to what happens to these officers when they come out of the Service at the end of their time. That is a matter which has worried me considerably. During the last few months I have been giving short talks to boys in schools on the advantages of the Air Force as a career, and in all cases headmasters have asked me: How can you recommend a boy to go into the Air Force on a short-service commission when you cannot guarantee him a livelihood at the end of it? I went to the Air Ministry and elicited from them some very satisfactory figures. I found that for the year 1937, 78 per cent. of the officers leaving the Royal Air Force on short-service commissions and applying to the Air Ministry for help to get employment, did in fact get employment, while a further 7 per cent. who did not apply to the Air Ministry for help also got jobs. Therefore 85 per cent., at any rate, of these officers found employment when they left the Air Force.
May I refer to the Auxiliary Air Force of which I have the honour to be a member? We are suffering very much from the old bogy which has been complained of to-day namely shortage of aircraft. I suggest that as we are considered, rightly or wrongly, to be the first line of defence we should have every consideration and every help so that the force can be made as efficient as possible, bearing in mind 352 the time which is available for training. Therefore I suggest that the Auxiliary Air Force should be provided with the new types at once so that we may be able to get used to them as soon as possible and fit ourselves to fly them with the greatest possible accuracy. In the past the Auxiliary Air Force has been the Cinderella of the service and has always flown the oldest types of aircraft. If we are to be considered as the first line of defence we should have more consideration shown to us in that respect.
There is an excellent scheme for the granting of commissions to Auxiliary Air Force airmen if their commanding officers consider them to be of a sufficiently high standard. I have known a great many airmen in the force who would make excellent officers and I believe that this scheme under which these men will have a chance of getting commissions, will redound to the credit of the service as a whole. I was going to say that we had reached a time in which the Auxiliary Air Force should be regarded not as the first line but as the second line of defence bearing in mind the difficulties under which the personnel of that Force labour. But in the light of present events in Europe and particularly after the closing sentences of the Prime Minister's speech yesterday. I assure the House and the Government and the Prime Minister that the Auxiliary Air Force—I am sure the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed will be with me in this—will redouble their efforts to make themselves efficient to meet any rate emergency with which the country may be faced.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
I feel that the House will almost expect me to begin with an apology for asking hon. Members to listen to me after so long and full a Debate, especially as I must ask for the indulgence and patience of the House in view of some of the comments and observations that were made by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) about my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary. It is not that I am going to reply to those taunts and criticisms. I feel that if the hon. and learned Gentleman and his party were of opinion that an insufficient reply had been given to many of the questions that had been raised, it would not do for 353 me to fall into the same error, if error it be. Apparently the hon. and learned Gentleman approves that intention on my part, and that must be my apology for making some demands on the patience of the House at this late hour. I am sure the House will agree with me in thinking that the speeches which have been delivered to-day by hon. Members who are serving in the Auxiliary Air Force have been among the most important and informative. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) is one; my hon. Friend who has just spoken with such an intimate knowledge of the work of the auxiliary squadrons is another; my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright), and my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton), all of them speak with knowledge and experience of flying and of the machines in which they fly.
It is not a little remarkable that with one exception—that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed, who belongs to the party opposite—each of them has spoken with appreciation of the efficiency of the Ministry and of the services of my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air. [Laughter.] I do not mind a bit hon. Members opposite laughing. If that is the only way in which they can express their opinions they are at liberty to do it so far as I am concerned. I am in no mood either to be provocative or to be provoked this evening. I have, I am afraid, as many other hon. Members in this House have, an underlying feeling that there are serious and grave events at the present time which make it wrong that any of us should unnecessarily engage in personal controversy.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I hope that the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) will follow my example. The criticisms which have been made of the Air Ministry and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air have been general, and not particular. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol recognised that, because he said in his speech that it was impossible 354 for the Opposition to give chapter and verse for statements they made. He gave as his reason the fact that to give chapter and verse would be to disclose the sources of their information. I think I am entitled to reply to that by saying that if the hon. and learned Member is precluded from giving particular details, it makes it the more difficult for me to track down the statements and to test them by the facts which are within my knowledge. But I can follow that up by promising that if any hon. Member has a fact which he can trust me to treat with confidence he can be assured that that fact shall receive as good and fair consideration as I or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air can give it. I hope the House will think that is a fair way of dealing with what I have called the general criticisms and not the particular criticisms.
Some particular criticisms I can deal with, and I think effectively, not because of any capacity on my part but because the facts are in my favour. I can dismiss very briefly some of the observations to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) called attention. He spoke of loose criticism of the Air Ministry as being harmful to the interests and reputation of this country and its great Defence Services. I join with him in what he has said, and I regretted it all the more when I heard the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who has held a position in the Air Ministry, refer to it in words which described it as a place full of scandal and intrigue.
§ Mr. Montague
If we cannot have a general inquiry and cannot discuss the matter in this House, where can we ventilate it?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I was sorry to hear the hon. Member make that statement, and I follow that up by saying that I do not believe there is a single fact which he could bring to the support of that accusation. It is one thing to charge inefficiency and inattention, and another thing to charge the civil servants and Air Force officers, who form the Ministry, with being in a nest of scandal and intrigue, and I should be doing less than my duty in defence of both if I did not repudiate that charge which has been made from the Front Bench opposite.
§ Sir T. Inskip
We have all heard about the animal which was so wicked as to defend itself when it was attacked, and it seems that it is regarded as almost as wicked to defend those who cannot defend themselves. I need not say anything more about it, especially as the hon. Member thinks that I browbeat him when I addressed to him no more than what I think were a few perfectly proper remonstrances. Coming to the particular statements which have been made this evening, the most important of them, perhaps, is the request, which I recognise has come from more than one quarter of the House, that there shall be an inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said with truth, as even hon. Members opposite must recognise, that such an inquiry would be certain to interfere with the everyday work of the Ministry, and, I would add, with the working of the industry. Who are the people who would have to attend the inquiry? Those at the top of the Service and at the head of the different aircraft manufacturing firms. That is a consideration worth a moment's notice. It is not the whole of the answer to the demand for an inquiry, but it is an important consideration to bear in mind, that an inquiry would interfere with the work of the Ministry and of the industry.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that if the Government, in reply to every request made for an inquiry, are to reply that they do not believe it is necessary, no mismanagement will ever be made the subject of inquiry; I reply to that by saying that if the Opposition were to have every request granted that they made for an inquiry, whenever they chose to make an allegation of incompetence, we should never be doing anything else at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I thought that would give satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is a perfectly good statement in reply. They know as well as I do that if any Government were to yield to an Opposition whenever a 356 request were made for an inquiry, they would not be a Government worthy of the name they held or of the office they occupied. [An HON. MEMBER: "Well, they are not!"] If hon. Members opposite do not wish to pay much attention to this part of my argument, I nevertheless commend it to hon. Members in other parts of the House, who may be able to give it more impartial consideration.
I should like to commend this to hon. Gentlemen opposite: What sort of inquiry do they suggest? [An HON. MEMBER: "The Cadman Committee."] The Cadman Committee; in other words, the Government are to put into the hands of an independent body of gentlemen who are not Members of this House and not, I suppose, even Members of His Majesty's Privy Council, all their most intimate secrets. Hon. Members opposite surely recognise that there are some matters of confidence in Government Departments. Are all such matters of confidence and secrecy to be disclosed to some gentlemen outside this House—that they are people of integrity and credit I absolutely agree—with the result that the Government who have been placed in power as a result of the suffrages of the electors are to be criticised and turned out of office, presumably as a result of the inquiry by those persons?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am putting the case of hon. Gentlemen opposite as high as it can be, and I have assumed everything in their favour. The course which they propose is one which they must see no Government worthy of the name could possibly accept. I go a great deal further than what I have said. I do not admit for a moment that there is anything in the charges which have been made to-day, so far as they can be identified and pressed home. Not one fact has been mentioned to-day which would justify any hon. Member voting in favour of a proposal for either a secret or a public inquiry. That is not to say that there have been no mistakes in the administration of the past two years. I do not believe for a moment that my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air would make any such claim; my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary would not make it; the devoted servants of the Air Ministry would not make it; and I do not suppose that any Member 357 of the House would listen to such a suggestion for a moment, any more than we claim that we have a right to be immune from criticism or that the speeches that have been made to-day do not afford plenty of material for our reflection and for amendment if amendment is needed.
The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) asked that there should be some scrutineers to help my Noble Friend the Secretary of State to consider some of the suggestions and criticisms that have been made. I do not know who or what my hon. Friend had in mind, but I can promise him that, whether there is anybody from outside to assist my Noble Friend or not, whatever has been said in this Debate will find a ready mind and will to consider the criticism on its merits and to make those amendments which the case seems to require. If any hon. Member opposite says, "That is a fair promise, but how do we know that you will perform it?" one thing I would say is that, in reply to the Report of the Cadman Committee, the Government showed a ready willingness to accept the criticisms and to make amendments in response to them; and I believe that that is one reason why there has been in all parts of the House a general recognition of the fact that the Cadman Report has done good work, and that the Government are to be congratulated upon having accepted so much of it. [Interruption.] I cannot understand hon. Members opposite laughing at this sort of thing, because yesterday we had from the benches below the Gangway a request for a Council of State. I should have thought it was characteristic of a Council of State that the Government, without standing on privilege or any idea of saving its face, has in its observations on the Cadman Report made a frank admission of matters on which it might have been in error. All that I say is that that is the spirit in which the criticisms to-night will be listened to by my Noble Friend the Secretary of State.
Let me now come more closely to the allegations which have been made. The first was a suggestion that the statement in the White Paper that we have aeroplanes which will bear comparison with any aircraft in production abroad is not well founded. I have referred again, to refresh my memory, to information at my disposal, and I am satisfied, and I must assure the House, that the statement in 358 the White Paper is absolutely well founded. Let me draw attention to the fact that you must, of course, compare aeroplanes in production with aeroplanes in production—that you must not compare aeroplanes that are only in development with aeroplanes in production. Naturally it may be possible at any given moment for one country to say: "We have much better aeroplanes than you have, but ours are in development, whereas yours are in production." If you take aeroplane for aeroplane in production on both sides, I say unhesitatingly that our machines, in range—according to the type of the aircraft—in speed or in capacity, will, as the White Paper says, bear comparison with any aircraft in production abroad. An hon. Member asks me how many. Although hon. Members may laugh at this reply, I do not propose to disclose the numbers of the particular aeroplanes, and I am sure that the Front Bench opposite would support me in declining to give those figures.
I can, however, answer the question whether there is a competence of these powerful machines with the squadrons, and I say "Yes" to it. I can give one illustration by saying that one of the most up-to-date types of aircraft now with the squadrons is that of which an order was recently completed for over 120 new machines. All of them are now with the squadrons. That is only one of the types. We were asked—and I rather deprecate the form of the inquiry although I do not complain of it—whether our aircraft could bomb Berlin. I take the mention of that city merely as a measure of distance. There are types of machines—I do not say merely a type—that can go out and come home, and do the task that is appropriate to their character. One hon. Member referred to the Blenheim and said that it has a range of 1,000 miles. He was quite right; but I do not know why he should have selected the Blenheim, the chief character of which is not its long range but its speed. The Blenheim is inferior in range to the other machines to which I referred. It is a high-speed machine. I believe the hon. Gentleman asked whether we could produce an equal to the Italian Savoia. We can.
The House is not obliged to receive anything I say without testing it. There are hon. Gentlemen who can check all my statements from their own knowledge. 359 My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston said a few moments ago—I forget his exact words—that a great number of squadrons were not equipped with up-to-date machines; that, of course, is true, but I explained the position to the House a week ago, and nobody in to-day's Debate challenged my statement or referred to it with disapproval. I reminded the House that the country was promised that 1,500 first-line machines would be available by March, 1937. That promise was not accompanied by another promise that they would be modern machines. It was well-known to everybody that they would be to a large extent of obsolescent types, but they were perfectly adequate to the training of the squadrons, and if those obsolescent machines had not been produced and supplied to the squadrons, to that extent the training of the Royal Air Force would to-day be behind. It was a decision which my right hon. Friend deliberately and properly took, in ordering machines which could come at once into peak production in order that the training of the Royal Air Force should not be retarded and that they should be prepared to use the more modern machines which are being increasingly produced at the present time.
The Government did not stop there. I explained that the promise made for 1,500 machines of first-line strength would be increased to 1,750. That was the promise made in March, 1936, and the promise was that they would be provided—modern machines this time—by March, 1939. That is the position to-day. Is it quite fair, as a matter of controversy, for my hon. Friend behind me to suggest that there is something wrong with the Air Ministry, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air provided the machines that were suitable for training of the squadrons? Those were the only machines that could be put into large production at that time, for no fault of the Secretary of State for Air, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) would no doubt say, because the task had not been begun earlier—but that is to go back and apportion blame for failures or omissions in the years that are past. I say unhesitatingly, on these facts, which are within the recollection of the House, that we ought not to yield for a request 360 for an inquiry. Some of the squadrons—a substantial number of them—are at this moment equipped with the latest types, the facts being what I have described to the House.
§ Mr. Simmonds
May I point out that I did not criticise the Secretary of State for Air because these old machines were still in the squadrons? I was simply stating the fact, so that when we hear about our 1,500 machines we might have a clear understanding as to how they compare with the 3,000 relatively modern German machines.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I quite see the value of that point, and, if I have misunderstood my hon. Friend, of course it was my fault. But I do not think that I did misunderstand his criticism, that the squadrons are at present largely armed with obsolescent types. He spoke with regret, and suggested that that was one reason for having the inquiry he advocates. I say that that is not a matter which anybody can use as an argument for an inquiry, because, as is well known, these machines are machines which were to be used for training purposes, and the whole of them were to be replaced later by up-to-date machines.
§ Mr. Churchill
My right hon. Friend was suggesting that the Government programme would be fulfilled if, by 31st March, 1937, the Air Force had been equipped only with training machines. I differ from him on that altogether. But, at any rate, we are not now in March, 1937; we have reached a very late date in March, 1938.
§ Sir T. Inskip
My right hon. Friend has not, I am afraid, followed my argument. I pointed out that the promise made in 1935 was that the machines would be available by March, 1937–1,500 machines—but there was no promise about modern machines. In fact, the machines in question were only available for squadrons in July, 1937—four months late—but the subsequent promise, made in March, 1936, is the one we are now in course of implementing by the production that is going on on a large scale at the present moment. Those are the machines that we promised would be up-to-date machines, and, make 361 no mistake about it, they will be up-to-date machines. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"] When they are delivered, machine by machine, the whole of them being with the squadrons by March, 1939. It is no use hon. Members thinking this is anything new or anything to be laughed at, because it was stated in the Defence Debate, and no one has challenged it to-day. Let me refer them to the OFFICIAL REPORT if hon. Members want to check up the dates.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed asked whether any instruments are being produced in this country now. As far as blind flying is concerned, the instruments are being produced in this country. So far as fog landing instruments are concerned, they are not actually in production now but they will be in a few months. They are being obtained from other countries. I hope no one will suggest that there is anything improper in obtaining equipment of which we are short from other countries. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says he wishes we were obtaining more. Perhaps there is more than he is aware of. A good deal of equipment is being ordered from America and other countries. The hon. Baronet is, of course, quite right in saying that a good deal of this equipment is difficult to get and has to be obtained from abroad, and it is very desirable that it should be got in production in this country. I can assure him that arrangements made by the supply committees for finding out the capacity and of getting the people in the industries to increase their capacity so that we may get these things at home are being fruitful and will produce the result which he and the whole House desire. He asked why the Link trainer had been so long in being used. In fact we were the first Air Force to use the Link trainer. The United States Air Force has followed our example.
Someone asked why it was necessary to erect hangars of such enormous size and height. May I suggest one or two simple considerations which will show how the Air Ministry, so far from being shortsighted and unable to make a long range plan, has looked ahead and done the right thing? The hangar has been designed of a height to give sufficient clearance to allow engines to be shifted in the most convenient method possible. There is another consideration that 362 has been borne in mind, that with aircraft altering in type, developing in size and in all sorts of characteristics, it was thought right, as these edifices had been erected in a form that will last for generations, to prepare for developments that are coming along very quickly indeed in this comparatively new industry.
I am afraid that I cannot take all these questions strictly in their logical order. I must deal with them as I noted them down. I was asked about the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons and whether they were first-line units. The answer is that they will be dealt with in exactly the same way as any other first-line units in the Royal Air Force. As to flying hours, my hon. Friend who spoke last has given a satisfactory answer. The fact is that the cost per flying hour is nothing like the figure of £60, which somebody suggested. I have some calculations which show that that is a fantastic figure. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the figure?"] That is precisely one of those things which I cannot disclose.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I have given a great deal of information. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) expressed great concern whether the Government were paying royalties upon inventions. They are not. No manufacturer who sells a machine to the Government with any invention of his upon it, receives any royalty in respect of that invention. He gets the bare price of his machine, calculated on a basis to which I will refer in a few moment. There is a Section in the Patents Act, 1929, which provides that inventions are always at the disposal of the Crown upon fair remuneration being paid, which has to be assessed by some form of arbitration by the Treasury if the parties cannot agree. That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley, who said it was a scandal that royalties were being paid for inventions.
Reference has been made to the diversity of specifications, not only of aeroplanes but of steel and of various raw materials. I assure the House that such criticism should reinforce the determination of my right hon. Friend to reduce 363 those types of specification, and that it will add strength to the policy which has already been initiated of diminishing the number of types of aeroplane in production to the smallest number possible so as to assist in accelerating that semi-mass production which is so desirable. As with the types of machine, so with kinds of metal and of steel.
I must say something about the cost of this programme. The hon. and learned Gentleman who referred to that matter said there were two main points upon which he based his case; one was efficiency in administration and the other was costs. The House has heard a great deal of criticism of the costing system, but that is the system deliberately approved by the House or by its representatives. I shall not go into details of high technical accountancy but I would remind hon. Members that the system has been employed as the best in the circumstances to ascertain the right prices to be paid without extravagant profits to the producers. Why do I say that it is approved by the House? Because the Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have both said so. I refer to the report of the Estimates Committee to see if perchance any hon. Members belonging to the Labour party served upon it. I find a very forcible statement that they are glad to see the costing system applied to these contracts, and they believe that it will be the right system. Let there be no mistake. The report was a unanimous one, and hon. Members opposite—there were no fewer than seven of them upon the Estimates Committee—recorded their assent to the validity and efficiency of the costing system.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
I gather that the right hon. Gentleman says that the Public Accounts Committee has similarly endorsed it. Can he put before the House any statement made in the Public Accounts Committee to that effect?
§ Sir T. Inskip
No, as I have not a quotation by me. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is the chairman!"] I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, if he tells me that the Public Accounts Committee has expressed no such opinion.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I have not got it, but I am speaking upon information received. But, so far as the Estimates Committee is concerned, I speak not upon information, but with authority, because I have armed myself with the report. It is to be found at the top of the paragraph in the Second Report of the Select Committee on Estimates for this Parliament. I am pointing out that that is the best method of finding out the proper sum to be paid for these aeroplanes. I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley were here while I deal with one of the most interesting arguments he made, and one which was based upon a wholly false and non-existent finance. He told the House that the method by which the contractor obtains an extravagant profit is by getting 50 per cent. of a figure which he called "Z," being the difference between "X" and "Y," "X" being the figure calculated upon the first batch of machines, and "Y" being the ascertained cost of the big order of say, 300 machines. He told the House that the producer, by making "X" a very big figure in his first batch of machines, gets a very extravagant profit because he gets 50 per cent. on the difference between "X" and "Y." My hon. Friend was really incorrect. The actual position is that the contractor gets a share, 30 per cent., or less, of the savings below the estimated cost of producing the machine, plus the fixed profit. The figure "X," which is what we call the batch figure, does not come into the calculation at all. There is no figure of "Z" equalling "X" minus Y." Therefore, there is no inducement on the part of a contractor to make "X" a very big figure, as my hon. Friend presumably suggested.
We all know my hon. Friend, and we are all fond of him, and he would not say what he did not believe, but that really was a misstatement, or perhaps I should say that he was guilty of a slight error. I would invite any Member of the House in all seriousness to suggest any better method to prevent any profiteering which the House had earlier expressed its determination to prevent. I heard the figures which the hon. Member opposite gave of profits made by some of the big firms. I remember one or two of them. He said that Vickers made an increased profit of £243,000 in a particular year. Before I could decide about that I should 365 want to know what the profit was in a previous year, what relation it showed to capital and how much that capital had already been reduced. You really will not get any information about profits merely by quoting such figures. They represent profits which have to be distributed among a very large number of shareholders. The hon. Gentleman described those companies as filling their pockets at the public expense. That sounds like a familiar platform commonplace which I seem to have heard before.
All I can say is that if the hon. Member has any way, be he chairman of a committee or not, for finding a better interim price and preventing excessive profits, I should be very glad to hear it. At one time I was the recipient of complaints from people which said that extravagant and minute inquiries info the finance or producers was delaying production because contracts could not be settled, and my right hon. Friend himself initiated all the main contracts, under the eminent advice of Sir Hardman Lever, with the one object of seeing that the contractors got a fair profit, that the country got a proper return for its very large expenditure, and that excessive profits were not made out of the rearmament programme in which we are engaged.
As to personnel, I am very glad to have the approval of hon. Gentlemen for what has been done in the way of recruitment. I was asked what had been done by the Air Ministry to enable short-service officers to obtain positions, and an hon. Gentleman below the Gangway gave the figure as 85 per cent. of those who applied. Reference was made to quarters, which were said to be a disgrace. I have no doubt that many of those quarters are not so comfortable as we should like them to be and as they will be made. The personnel of the Royal Air Force have shown great patience in putting up with conditions which are almost inevitable in the circumstances of this great expansion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley made a statement which he asked me to correct; he suggested that the food was not fit for swine. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am dealing with this matter at the request of the hon. Member and I hope that it is not improper to do so. I should be guilty of a dereliction of duty 366 if I allowed him to go away and not reply to his request. He said that the quarters were a disgrace and that the food supplied was not fit for swine.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I think it is unnecessary for me to reply to that observation. I have withdrawn the statement of my hon. Friend, on his behalf, because he was not able to be here himself. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Colonel Moore-Brabazon) spoke about the production of airframes. He was quite right in saying that the production of aero-engines is in excess of that of airframes, but when he asserts that the production of airframes is well under 100 a month, I am afraid I must correct his statement. That is not the case. In saying that, I do not mean that it is just over 100—it is a figure which is very different from 100. I do not propose to give the figure, for two reasons. First, if I were to give the figure for a particular month, it might be very misleading. It so happens that at the present moment we are largely in a state of transition in some of the aircraft firms, from orders which have been completed of the older types, to orders for the newer types. It will be realised that at such a time production is likely to be slowed down. The production of the new types will progressively increase. Perhaps a still better reason is that it would not be proper for me to advertise these figures in open Parliament. Every hon. Member must sometimes be astonished when he thinks of the reticence of other countries and the extent of the information which is given in our Air Force Lists and in Parliament. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not press me for information of that sort.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey then said what many other hon. Members have said, that the whole organisation of the Air Ministry is wrong on the supply side because the Air Member for Supply is there only for three years and is not a technician even to start with. The Air Ministry does not work to a three-year period in connection with this matter any more than the Admiralty does. The officer concerned at the Admiralty has had his period of office extended because he had singular gifts 367 and experience in carrying out his duties. I have no doubt that if an Air Member for Supply showed particular gifts for the work, his services would be extended. There is nothing in the practice of the Air Ministry to preclude that.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that there has never yet been a case where such a person has been in that position?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that there has never yet been a case where there has been someone there for three years who was fit to be continued?
§ Sir. T. Inskip
Certainly I do not, bearing in mind the names of the officers who have held this position. All I am saying is that I am informed that the Air Ministry do not work on a three-year rule. An officer may be appointed for three years, but it is not a rule that at that time his services must necessarily cease in that particular capacity. I can understand hon. Members thinking, as I myself have thought, that it would be by no means a bad thing if one of these technicians, one of these production engineers, would take over some of the duties of the Air Force officer who might hold the position of Air Member for Supply or Air Member for Research and Development. But I have come to the conclusion, and I offer it to the House for their consideration, that there are very good reasons for following in the Air Ministry what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who has greater experience in this matter than I have, thinks is the right procedure. I suggest to the House that it is not the function of a State supply department to assume responsibility for saying how a contractor should plan the execution of a Government contract. The State department would carry a heavy responsibility if it attempted to do so. Planning of that sort is the main responsibility of the works manager of the contractor concerned. If production is falling behind, the Government and the Air Ministry should, no doubt, help them to get a competent works manager. But I suggest, and I am myself convinced, that if the 368 Air Ministry, or, indeed, a Ministry of Munitions, were to take on the responsibility of directing a contractor how a contract was to be performed, the almost inevitable result in a number of cases would be to defeat the very object which both parties had in mind.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Cadman Report described this system as being contrary to all sense? Is he further aware that while taking the estimates of the works managers in private firms the Government have never once been able to forecast with any accuracy what production would be on any given future date? Does not that state of things call for some more competent head of the supply department of the Ministry?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I will answer the last part of the hon. Member's question first. The function of estimating production is, surely, primarily the function of the contractor or producer. The hon. Gentleman said they had always been wrong. He is right to this extent: that they have been almost invariably what I would call optimistic. They have made forecasts of delivery which they have not been able to fulfil. It does not follow that there has been any fault in the firms. It may be that they have been, as I say, unduly optimistic and it has been most disappointing—I make no concealment about that—but it does not indicate inefficiency on the part of the contractor. Do let us remember this: that the task of the production of aircraft, and airframes in particular, is not like the production of motor cars. Motor cars are the standardised product of an old-established industry. These airframes that are being produced are altering from day to day in design and type, and the technique is rapidly altering. We have no basis for what is generally called mass-production on a large scale. The inexperience of the aircraft contractors has to be taken into account, and I use the word "inexperience" in the sense that they lack the experience which any motor manufacturer has, as the result of 30 or 35 years of production. If any hon. Gentleman suggests that any aircraft contractor has been inefficient because he has made a forecast which cannot be fulfilled, then I say that an opinion of that sort is only possible if insufficient attention has been given to the peculiar circumstances of this industry.
369 The Air Ministry has not neglected constructive planning in connection with the output of the firms in question. My right hon. Friend has appreciated, and we have appreciated, the value of experts and of getting the most advanced practice and using the best methods in production. I have come to this conclusion upon a perfectly independent survey, and I offer my opinion of the position for what it is worth. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen asked whether the Cadman Committee had not arrived at a contrary conclusion. Much as I respect the distinguished chairman of that committee, and the three other members, all of whom are known to most of us, I am bound to say that I still retain the right to form and to hold my own opinion. I commend it to the House and I suggest that if the Air Ministry was to attempt to have a production engineer or a technician who was to be a separate manager over all the works production firms, you would not obtain the same results—the comparatively satisfactory results—which we have attained to-day. I can understand many different opinions being held on this question of management, but surely nobody is going to say that because the equipment or a design of the Air Ministry is not exactly what he would have made it if he had had to create the organisation, the Government must yield to his request for an inquiry? I do not think I need trespass on the indulgence of the House to say anything more on this point.
The only other important point on which I must say a word is that of the Prime Minister's statement a few days ago—upon what is generally called parity.
§ Mr. Montague
Will the Minister say something about the extraordinary statement made by Air Marshal Mitchell?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I did not hear the statement referred to, and I have only read a report of what the Air Marshal said. I think he said, as reported by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that inexperienced pilots were sent up after only 10 months flying. I do not think for a moment he intended to suggest that there was anything improper or too brief in the period of training which these officers receive. Obviously when reference is made to inexperience, that is right in relation to the machines which they will be called upon to fly. One should bear in mind that 370 when the Air Marshal said that they went up in flying machines—powerful machines—of which they have not previously been in sole charge, he was only stating as a practice something which is inevitable. The time must come when pilots have to take charge for the first time of powerful machines and as I understand the Air Marshal—and I am entitled to read it as much as any other hon. Member and put a fair interpretation on it—what he said was not making a criticism but stating a fact.
§ Sir T. Inskip
He was explaining accidents, if you like, by stating the facts. In the nature of the case the comparatively inexperienced pilots have to begin at some time or other to fly these fast and powerful machines. What he was stating was not a criticism but a fact in explanation of accidents.
I know there are other points which I have left untouched. [HON. MEMBERS: "Priority."] I will say a word about that. So far as air defence is concerned with the building of aeroplanes, the Air Ministry has a plan of priority which extends, that is to say, to the War Office. So far as the Navy is concerned, the priority is one which, in practice, gives the Air Ministry all the materials it needs. I make bold to say there has been no case where the Air Ministry has been short of materials owing to demands for the same materials by the Navy. So that, to that extent, the Air Ministry has not been deprived of its requirements.
My last point is that of parity. The hon. Member for Duddeston complained very much of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister did not throw over first-line strength, as the hon. Member for Duddeston suggested. What he said was that first-line strength was only one of a number of factors which go to make up air strength. The hon. Member suggested an analogy between aeroplanes and capital ships. It is a false analogy and one which will not hold water for a moment. Can he suggest that there is any real comparison between two aircraft merely because the extent of their wings might be the same? Of course, you cannot take into account merely the existence of aeroplane against aeroplane as you can in the case of a capital ship with 16-inch guns 371 against another capital ship with 16-inch guns. I think the Prime Minister is only doing what most men of common sense would do in saying that if you attempt to take first-line strength as the one yard stick in determining parity, you are proceeding on a wholly deceitful basis.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am not responsible for that; I am stating the facts. The right hon. Member for Epping says it was the one the Government chose. But the famous statement which Lord Baldwin made was that of 8th March, 1934, and there was no reference to first-line strength at all in it. What Lord Baldwin then said was that the then Government would see to it that in air strength and air power this country should no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores. The present Prime Minister has made it plain that he is not prepared to interpret that in terms solely of first-line strength.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he tell us by what date we are likely to reach parity with Germany by any reasonable standard which he likes to take?
§ Sir T. Inskip
No, I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman that, for a very good reason which I give to the House, though it may be used against me or against the Government. Undoubtedly, the German capacity and the German production are progressive. I am not going at this moment to say what I believe to be the German output. Figures have been given by some hon. Members to-day. I do not know from where they get their information; but it is not altogether the same information as I have. It must be a matter, to some extent, for guess-work; but I am not in a position to say when,
§ with first-line strength as the basis, we shall reach parity. All I say is that when the hon. Member for Duddeston says that the Prime Minister threw over first-line strength, he was not quite giving the Prime Minister full credit for the statement which he has made.
§ I have occupied at this very late hour a great deal of time but I hope, in spite of the way in which hon. Members opposite were good enough to receive some of my early remarks, that I have kept my promise to try to give the House as much information as I could, without being either challenging or provocative in my statements.
§ We all realise the gravity of the general position and the importance of the Air Force as an instrument in the defence of this country. I should not think anybody would taunt any hon. Member belonging to a different party with any indifference to the interests or the efficiency of the Air Force. If I had been minded to do so, I might have used quotations, one, indeed, of which was supplied to me this evening. I refrain from using that quotation, or even considering making debating points, or trying to score points. I have welcomed the help of hon. Members opposite to-night, and their making common cause with us in trying by criticism—and even constructive criticism—though some of it seemed not to be quite that—in helping the Government to do its best in making the defences of this country efficient. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government will spare no efforts to complete that task, a fair beginning of which I venture to think the House will agree we have made.
§ Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 243; Noes, 92.375
|Division No. 136.]||AYES.||[12.40 a.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Baxter, A. Beverley||Burghley, Lord|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Butcher, H. W.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Beechman, N. A.||Campbell, Sir E. T.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Bernays, R. H.||Cary, R. A.|
|Apsley, Lord||Birchall, Sir J. D.||Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Boulton, W. W.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Assheton, R.||Boyce, H. Leslie||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Bracken, B.||Channon, H.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brass, Sir W.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Clydesdale, Marquess of|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Hepworth, J.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith. S.)||Higgs, W. F.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Cox, H. B. Trevor||Holdsworth, H.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Cross, R. H.||Hulbert, N. J.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hunter, T.||Rowlands, G.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Hutchinson, G. C.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Dodd, J. S.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Salt, E. W.|
|Doland, G. F.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Dower, Major A. V. G.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Keeling, E. H.||Scott, Lord William|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Kimball, L.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Latham, Sir P.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Leighton. Major B. E. P.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Levy, T.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Emery, J. F.||Liddall, W. S.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Spens. W. P.|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Loftus, P. C.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Errington, E.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Everard, W. L.||McKie, J. H.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Fleming, E. L.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Foot, D. M.||Magnay, T.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Makins. Brig.-Gen. E.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Fyte, D. P. M.||Marsden, Commander A.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Thomson. Sir J. D. W.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Gledhill, G.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Gluckstein. L. H.||Moors-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Morgan, R. H.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Granville E. L.||Munro, P.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Nall, Sir J.||White, H. Graham|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Owen, Major G.||Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Palmer, G. E. H.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Patrick, C. M.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Petherick, M.||Wragg, H.|
|Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Porritt, R. W.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Hambro, A. V.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hannah, I. C.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Radford. E. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Harbord, A.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Captain|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Cooks, F. S.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Green, W. H. (Deptford)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Daggar, G.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)|
|Barr, J.||Day, H.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Dobbie, W.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Ede, J. C.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)|
|Bevan, A.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Hayday, A.|
|Broad, F. A.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)|
|Bromfield, W.||Frankel, D.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Buchanan, G.||Gallacher, W.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)|
|Burke, W. A.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Hicks, E. G.|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Montague, F.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Jagger, J.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Muff, G.||Stephen, C.|
|John, W.||Oliver, G. H.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Paling, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parker, J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Leach, W.||Parkinson, J. A.||Thurtle, E.|
|Logan. D. G.||Pearson, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Lunn, W.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Price, M. P.||Watkins, F. C.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Pritt, D. N.||Watson, W. McL.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Quibell, D. J. K.||Westwood, J.|
|McGovern, J.||Ridley, G.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|MacLaren, A.||Ritson, J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Maclean, N.||Sexton, T. M.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Marshall, F.||Silkin, L.|
|Maxton, J.||Silverman, S. S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Messer, F.||Simpson, F. B.||Mr. Groves and Mr. Mathers.|
|Milner, Major J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]