§ 5. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Air Services for the year."
|—||Sums not exceeding|
|Supply Grants.||Appropriations in Aid.|
|1.||Pay, etc., of the Royal Air Force||Cr. 126,000||50,000|
|2.||Quartering, stores (except technical), supplies and transportation||304,000||—|
|3.||Technical and warlike stores (including experimental and research services)||100||200,000|
|4.||Works, buildings, and lands||836,000||*—373,000|
|6.||Technical training and educational services||61,500||—|
|7.||Auxiliary and Reserve Forces||Cr. 393,500||—|
|8.||Civil aviation||Cr. 390,000||*—57,000|
|9.||Meteorological and miscellaneous effective services||Cr. 292,000||—|
|Total, Air Services (Supplementary), 1937 £||10||*—180,000|
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
I beg to move, to leave out "83,000" and to insert "82,900."
My object in moving the reduction is to raise a discussion on various points, several partly arising out of the last Debate and others partly new points, to which I hope the Under-Secretary and the Noble Lord will be able to give a reply. I do not intend to speak in any party sense. I regard the present situation as much too serious to allow us to indulge in any tilting, which is such a delightful occupation in this House. We have to make our speeches upon information received. Some of us have more and some have less information in our possession. My first point is on the question of training. Lord Trenchard said that the Air Force consisted of engineering and flying, and it was laid down by him many years ago that all serving officers in the Air Force, however high their rank might be, ought to understand engineering—I do not mean engaging in engineering—and also the practice of flying. I am told—the Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—that this rule, laid down some years ago, has gradually fallen into disuse. I am further told—I shall accept correction with pleasure if I am wrong—that practical flying and a knowledge of the technical side of flying among the higher ranks of the Air Force to-day is not at all what it should be or what was laid down by the dictum to which I have referred.
I am told that in the United States the very reverse is the case. I am told that there every officer has to complete a minimum of 100 hours flying every year and has to complete one flight of 1,000 miles. This side of the Air Force is of extreme importance. The Navy faced a similar problem about 30 years ago when Lord Fisher was First Sea Lord and Lord Selborne was First Lord of the Admiralty—the same problem of having an executive branch that knew little of the practical side of what was then ceasing to be a sailing ship and becoming an engine box. The question was considered by the Board of Admiralty and the famous Memorandum of Lord Selborne was published in 1902 to deal with a point cognate to that which I am raising now. I would like to read a passage from Lord 865 Selborne's Memorandum. I imagine that it was composed by Lord Fisher. It gave an entirely new turn to the training of the naval officer, with the best possible results to that Service:No seaman however practical will be fit to rise beyond a certain rank unless he has thought out the problems of his calling as a student and has omitted no opportunity of acquiring the knowledge that makes up the science of his profession.The officer's task will be impossible unless the Navy is kept abreast of the scientific, intellectual and physical progress of the age. It is they themselves who must keep it there.The executive officer has been taught but a small amount of engineering, although the ship on which he is serving is a huge box of engines.My point is whether the dictum of Lord Trenchard, about the necessary combination to produce a good Air officer with a practical knowledge of engineering and flying, is still holding the field in the higher ranks of the Air Service.
The second point that I would like to make is as to the failure of the Government to take the action which is recommended by the Cadman Committee in relation especially to the member of the Air Council responsible for production. There were two references in the Cadman Committee Report. I observed that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in his speech the other night tried to meet this point by saying that the Cadman Report was a report on civil aviation, whereas the point that I am raising is concerned with military aviation. But I do not think that the Cadman Report bears out the argument which was put forward by the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. The Cadman Report says:In our view the problem of the air is one—two sides of a single coin—and the military aspect of aviation cannot fundamentally be separated from the civil aspect.It goes on, in dealing with the case of production: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 wihout previous knowledge and experience of such matters, and holding office for a limited term, to deal effectively with the situation.That is what the Cadman Report says on the point. As I hope to show later, the enormous developments which must take 866 place in the production of aircraft make that recommendation far more weighty even than it was at the time it was made. The covering Memorandum, and the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence in dealing with this matter when it was debated in Committee, rejected the recommendation of the Cadman Report. I think he was wrong. I do not think his authority could possibly be set against the authority of the Cadman Committee. I would press the Noble Lord or the Under-Secretary of State to deal with the point, because we are face to face with a very serious task. It is not only a question of producing the sort of aeroplanes or the number of aeroplanes that we have been producing in the past. It is unfortunately a question of multiplying our programme very greatly. It is not to be supposed that a military officer who has been appointed for a short term and has no experience of anything of this kind, can possibly carry the responsibility of the enormously increased production that will be required.
The argument has been used that if we do not put a military officer at the head of the production department, the people in the squadrons will not have confidence; they will say, "Some manufacturer has invented this, and it is not safe to buy it," but that if a serving officer were at the head of the production department, according to the Minister, that would inspire confidence among the airmen. There is something in the argument provided that the Air Council includes a flying officer in touch with engineering and with flying experience; but if my first point is right, and if appointments have become more a question of seniority and what is called the power of command, then the confidence of the men who have to fly the machines will be shaken. I am not sure that in the past the, flying officer had quite that respect for the higher command in these matters that perhaps they should have had.
In connection with this subject and some remarks made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in our last Debate on the Estimates, I would call attention to some sentences in the report of the tragic court-martial on the loss of a Blenheim in an accident. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Dr. Peters) was defending the unfortunate pilot. Speaking about the Blenheim he said that it was 867 the machine in which the Germans have a special interest. I believe it is the type of machine for which Lord Rothermere was originally responsible. The report states that the bomber was sent to Ireland on a practice flight. It got into difficulties and came to grief. The hon. Member for Huntingdon, who was defending the pilot, questioned Squadron Leader Freebody as to whether the weather conditions were too severe. He asked:Do you not think it was unwise to risk this flight?The answer to that question was:I do not agree.The report goes on:Dr. PETERS: But there was anxiety with regard to these aeroplanes in difficult weather?—WITNESS: Well, yes.Dr. PETERS: Was the squadron down in flying time, and did headquarters expect more to be done?—WITNESS: Not more than we could do. It was understood that we could not fly a lot as we had not many machines.Later, on the second day of the trial, there was the speech of Flight-Lieutenant Somerhaugh, who was acting as prosecutor, and it contained this sentence from an order relating to flying under which the first charge against the accused was made:No excuse will be taken for disobedience of this order."That order," he said, "was not published in the book for fun. The Blenheim, until certain modifications were made, in the opinion of the authorities was hardly suitable for promiscuous flying." I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to reassure us on the point, because a war will not wait for the weather. It is disquieting to hear that a machine in which much pride is felt has failed in these circumstances.
Now I come to the major subject which occupied attention most when the Estimates were in Committee. That is the simple question how we stand in strength face to face with the German Air Force. I am not saying that in any aggressive sense. It is ridiculous to pretend, and that is what we are all thinking about. The German Air Force and to a large extent the German Government are under the control of General Goering, who is passionately an airman and thinks in terms of the air. He is a technician if ever there was one. Another thing to be 868 remembered is that under their system of government the Germans are able to put all their technical labour under control. General Goering said only recently:The German people have been able to raise themselves in a few years to new and unimagined power.It was reported on 3rd March that a new decree of the German Government had mobilised and regimented every type of German labour. I fancy that even boys at school have to register. So that the whole thing is planned. For what purpose? In facing the German question we have to remember the type or organisation in Germany and the supreme passion of the man who is at the head of the German Air Force. I am certainly not going into the question of whether pledges were given by the British Government and whether or not they have been kept; that is immaterial. But are we going to be equal to achieving parity? The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) gave some figures the other day: If we were 100, the Germans were 350.
§ Mr. Benn
Even if we put it at 200, with a possible rising to 300, can the Minister tell us whether the German capacity is anything in the nature of the 350 rising to 500? The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who has been at this subject in every Debate, at times when many of us were taking quite a different view, speaks with great authority. The country was very much indebted to him, as Minister of Munitions during the War, for helping Britain to win the War. The right hon. Gentleman made a financial calculation, in which he said that whereas we were spending £100,000,000 on the Air Force he estimated that the Germans were spending £240,000,000. He deduced from that calculation that probably their output was twice ours. I should have thought that £240,000,000 sterling would go much further in Germany than in this country, considering the conditions of manufacture there and here. I should like the Minister to reassure the public in some way, as it is a matter of real, serious concern. Nobody wants to know any secrets, but we want to know whether if we are not in a position of parity, we are on the way of reaching a position of 869 parity. There was one remark the Minister made which I thought was significant. The Leader of the Liberal Opposition asked him to give a definition of parity, and he said:I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman for a good reason, but undoubtedly German capacity and German production are progressive.Does that mean that they are progressive in the arithmetical sense or in the geometrical sense? We remember that in 1934 Mr. Baldwin, who was then Prime Minister, told us that the German force was half our own and at the end of the year we should have a 50 per cent. advantage still. When we came to the end of the year we found in fact—I am not blaming Lord Baldwin—that we had hardly got parity, and that bears out the fact that the German force is progressive and that its capacity to produce is also progressive. We do not press the Government to accept some definition of parity as to first-line strength. Personally I do not think you can set machine against machine, and I agree with the Government's argument. When the Prime Minister said that the definition of capacity to secure parity was a complicated affair, he was absolutely right. Air machines are like the top brick of a pyramid. You have machines in the air and below them your ground organisation, below them your steel and material, and below them the taxable capacity of the people. You have many things to consider, but the Government ought to give us some assurance that judged by any yardstick we care to take, this parity is going to be secured.
In order to examine air power, you have to go into many other matters, and it is for that purpose that I propose to consider the German standard in the wider sense which the Prime Minister indicated. I have pointed out that the German force is under the control of a man who is passionate for air power and has the advantage of regimented labour, but up to the present we have considerable advantage because of the German shortage in raw material. If anyone glances through the pages of the "Times" for last year he will find this fact referred to time and time again. In March, a year ago, the "Times" Berlin correspondent reported the increasing problem of iron ore supplies. In April, a month later, he reported: 870To-day the German aeroplane industry is still largely dependent on imports of raw material.In July again he reported in connection with the four-year plan a shortage of iron and steel, and a little later, in July, he referred to the shortage of iron and steel and said:All industries are rationed except for armament purposes, and do not receive their full quota.In July, the Germans took the problem of steel production seriously in hand and set up the Hermann Goering steelworks. That was put into operation in July, and by September an order had been issued that new works could only be set up by special permission. In October the quarrel between General Goering and Doctor Schacht came to a head, and the "Times" correspondent said:Dr. Schacht has been calling attention to the worsening supply of raw materials.Dr. Schacht went, and the four-year plan was put under the control of military officers for the one purpose of securing supremacy especially in the air. Then, only a month ago, in February, the "Times" Berlin correspondent reported:The Germans no longer appear to have a choice between cannons or butter; for she was in sore need of both.I say that in dealing with the German capacity of output we have to remember that she has been faced with severe difficulties in securing raw materials for her production. That brings me to the political events in their bearing on our Defence programme. About the middle of last year, in July, an agreement was made between the insurgent Government in Spain and the German Government. I believe my figures are right—I do not suppose they are false—but in January this year 152,000 tons of metal were exported to Germany from Spain. The great advantage of dealing with Spain from the German standpoint is that you do not have to find foreign exchange to buy goods; you can pay for your raw material by sending squadrons or troops. The great advantage the Germans have in dealing with the Spanish supplies is that they can buy it on terms of barter, that is, they can give personal service to the insurgent cause and in return get material to make German aeroplanes.
After the Spanish agreement came another German movement which also 871 brought, I will not say immense, but not inconsiderable quantities of raw materials—I mean the invasion of Austria which took place about a week ago. Almost within a day it was announced that the Austrian administration political and economic was to be controlled from Berlin, and I see in the "Times" of 19th March, that is, last Saturday, that the four-year plan is to be applied to Austria with full intensity, so that a country which was short of raw materials receives a welcome accession of new materials from Austria. Incidentally, I should imagine that the conversion of the currency in Austria from schillings to marks puts in German hands a considerable quantity of free foreign exchange for the purpose of foreign material. Some may say that millions may be represented by taking over the free exchange in Vienna.
But let us apply ourselves to the raw material which is available to General Goering for increasing the manufacture of aeroplanes. I will take two sources. The first, I believe, is that Austria is the largest producer of magnesium, which is an essential ingredient of the manufacture of high-speed alloys, important in the manufacture of steel. There are some small armament works in Austria still, but in order that the information may be quite correct I will read passages relating to this matter from the last speech made by the Austrian Chancellor; Dr. Schuschnigg—a very gallant speech. This is what he said about production:We do not work wonders but here are the facts. The production of pig iron amounted to about 88,000 tons in 1933 and is now 389,000 tons. This means an increase of more than 342 per cent.I am told that the resources are much greater but that they have not been exploited to the full by the Austrian Government. Dr. Schuschnigg continued:The steel production was about 226,000 tons in 1933. It has gone up in 1937 to about 650,000, an increase of about 188 per cent. In 1933 the petroleum production amounted to 855 tons. Up to 1936 it amounted to about nine times that quantity, or 7,466 tons, while in 1937 it has gone up to 40 times the 1933 figure, to 33,000 tons.I saw a figure mentioned by Commander Stephen King-Hall who said that Germany's need in oils for a big war would total 3,400,000 tons annually, and that for air purposes 1 per cent. would represent the needs of the German Air 872 Force—he was talking in millions of tons. If Commander Stephen King-Hall is right, and that 100,000 tons of petrol will keep the German Air Force in the air for a year, obviously, a production that Dr. Schuschnigg puts at 33,000 tons annually is a considerable addition to their strength. We have to take this into account when we are dealing with our own defensive measures, or, to put it another way, to maintain parity with the German Air Force. I will not go further than that. But the Spanish supplies and the Austrian supplies are realised facts. One could go further and wonder what will happen supposing not that Czechoslovakia is invaded, but is subjugated economically, which is a serious thing from our point of view. The Skoda works in Czechoslovakia employ from 30,000 to 35,000 people. Although one must not over-emphasise this matter, I am sure that the Defence Ministers will take into account the serious accession of strength in raw materials which has already come from the German policy and the great increase which may come if that policy is still further pursued.
I think I am right in saying that, for the first time, German air power has appeared in the Mediterranean. In referring to this question, I do not wish to get into any controversy with those from whom we on this side differ very acutely on the Spanish conflict, and I will deal with it purely from the point of view of Defence. There are, of course, Soviet forces and probably French forces in Spain, as well as German and Italian forces, but I am speaking here only of the German forces. The view of those who support the Government is that, at the end of the war, the Spaniards will not want the German forces, and they will go away. That may be so, but in the meantime, they are there, with the most modern types of German aircraft. Those machines are based there and it is commonly known, although the Government have no official confirmation, that the bombardment of Barcelona is being carried out by those machines. I hope that no hon. Member will get angry with me for saying that, for it is the common understanding. To-day it is Barcelona, and it may be Gibraltar to-morrow. Gibraltar is not far away, and I do not know how it is going to be defended.
In the Estimates there is a sum of £112,000 for a landing ground at Gibraltar. 873 I am told by naval officers that, under such intensive air attack as has been made on Barcelona during the last few days, it would be impossible to keep ships in Gibraltar Harbour. If that is the case, will that landing ground be a sufficiently safe base? There are some who say that in the case of difficulties, we can get land from the French, but if a base is made at short notice, it cannot be done effectively, and it is not the same thing as a fixed base. I do not see how, if the German air power, or any hostile air power, is to remain in the Mediterranean, the Government propose to deal with it in these Estimates. The Government may say that the Germans will go, and perhaps they will, but in the meantime we are engaged in very close competition with them, and it is not conceivable that, with this great advantage in their hands, they are likely to withdraw until at any rate they have made some bargain in which their Spanish pivot will be one of the most important factors. The Prime Minister, in the Debate on Austria, said that the Government have decided to make a fresh review, and in a sense the Estimates with which we are dealing today cannot in any way be considered as ordinary Estimates. The Supplementary Estimates which must come cannot be considered as ordinary Supplementary Estimates. The prospect is disastrous, but let us be clear that in the light of what is happening, there will be a second set of main Estimates and not merely Supplementary Estimates.
In conclusion, I wish to say a word or two about morale, and on this I wish to mention profits. In a recent Debate, one of my hon. Friends spoke of the profits that are being made. I am not making any attack on profits, but I say that if people, who are being called upon to make a sacrifice and who may be called upon to make a great sacrifice, feel that while they are making that sacrifice, other people are making profits, there cannot be national unity. This was put in the clearest way by Sir Austen Chamberlain when he gave evidence before the War Wealth Committee in 1919. I will quote his words, for they express exactly the sentiment which I wish to bring to the notice of the House:The widespread feeling that immense increases of wealth had been obtained during the War—and often in consequence of the War—by certain citizens whilst a large number were either not better off or absolutely 874 impoverished, raised a feeling of unrest and of disquiet and a sense of injustice.Therefore, in arguing against the making of excessive profits out of war, I think the strongest ground on which we can base our arguments is the depressing effect which such contrasts have upon the morale of the country. I ask the Government not to forget the heart—I do not like the word "morale "—of the country, for it is extremely important. If I may indulge in a word of criticism, I will say that the resignation of the ex-Foreign Secretary appeared to us to mark a change not so much of policy, but of heart. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) appeared to us really to strive after ideals. We criticised him and we did not always agree with his policy, but he seemed to us to have an ideal and to be striving for something. That seemed to me to be lacking when the Prime Minister, in his speech about Austria, said:I imagine that according to the temperament of the individual the events which are in our minds to-day will be the cause of regret, of sorrow, perhaps of indignation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1938, col. 52; Vol. 333.]The right hon. Gentleman was using an intense sobriety of expression which may be temperamental with him, but which is depressing on the national spirit. Realism may be a very dangerous thing, at any rate in a time of national emergency. The Prime Minister gave notice to the small nations that they must expect no protection. I can understand exactly why he said that; he was intending to be absolutely frank with them and to avoid making commitments for this country. But let the Government remember, that when the ideal of the League of Nations goes, you are taking from many who suffered in the War and who lost their dear ones the one consolation which they have, because they thought that, although their dear ones had gone, there was something which they had achieved by their sacrifices. If they believe that that is gone, the courage of the nation will be paralysed. The Prime Minister said that the small nations must look after themselves and that we cannot be concerned with their protection. Anybody who casts his mind back 24 years will remember that the people who were shoving their way into the recruiting booths in 1914 were doing so because they believed 875 they were going to rescue a small nation. It was not a dreary catalogue of material interests which took the best people into the War, but the belief that they were making a sacrifice. Therefore, I say to the Minister and the Government that, in making their calculations for the strength of the country, they must not underrate the value of honour in nerving the nation's arm.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I would like briefly to support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) on the question of morale, and I would like to refer to it both in regard to the public and in regard to the pilots and flying officers in the Royal Air Force. As to public morale, I do not think anything is to be gained by making optimistic statements to quieten the public mind, such as have been made here and particularly in another place during recent Debates, and then expecting people not to falter if ever they should be called upon to undergo a terrible initiation. It is far better, when dealing with the people of this race, that one should prepare their minds for the ordeal which they may have to undergo and not try to satisfy them that everything is progressing favourably, and then put them to a sudden test.
With regard to the morale of the officers of the Royal Air Force, I know very well that they are incomparable, but there are one or two sources of weakness which apply only to a small proportion of the officers, and to which I drew attention many years ago. I propose to do so again, despite the risk of my being misunderstood. I refer to the consumption of alcoholic liquor. When last I raised this matter, I was overwhelmed with a flood of misrepresentation. I said that there was an excessive amount of drinking in Royal Air Force messes, and the Under-Secretary of State for Air at that time stated that I had proposed that there should be prohibition in the Royal Air Force., I was subjected to every kind of misrepresentation. My statement is that unless that source of weakness is carefully watched and kept under control, in a certain percentage of cases it will affect the efficiency and nerve of the pilots in the Royal Air Force.
I have noticed that there have been one or two very unfavourable reports. 876 For example, I have here the report of the court-martial of an officer—I have no desire to mention any names—in which it is stated that a certain flight-lieutenant had four glasses of sherry before dinner, two pints of beer during dinner, and a glass of port and a liqueur brandy after dinner. On the same occasion, the following consumption took place: at an hotel, three whiskies and one sherry; in the mess ante-room before dinner, four sherries; at dinner, shared a bottle of Sauterne; and after dinner, two whiskies and two or three beers. Called for the defence, the medical officer of the squadron said that after considerable drinking by everybody present, a cock-fight was taking place. The flying officer appeared to be very much under the influence of drink, but otherwise very cheery and full of high spirits.
I do not wish to paint an exaggerated picture, but consumption on that scale, which occasionally occurs in Royal Air Force messes, demands the attention of the Minister, for unless it is watched, it has a very insidious effect upon the nerve and skill of the pilot. I make no apology for raising this matter, despite the risk of my being misunderstood. I am not suggesting that there should be any form of prohibition in the Royal Air Force, but I want to state what has been stated on one or two occasions. For instance, Air-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, addressing the cadets at Cranwell College, stated quite frankly:When you leave here you may get into company where it is considered manly and sporting to get drunk. It is neither. It is ruination to your nerves and your judgment for flying. I hope you will never get drunk.I commend the courage of the Air-Marshal for saying that. It is not so much the actual consumption, as the tendency in some quarters to hold it up as an example of manliness, to glorify it as a habit without which one is not a real man, or something of that sort. I should like it to be a little less fashionable to be able to carry a large quantity of drink. [Laughter.] It is no laughing matter, and I hope that hon. Members will sympathise with me in raising it, because I have no desire to raise it merely for the sake of doing so. What actually prompted me to raise it was a report of a speech made by Herr Hitler to an enormous gathering of pilots in Germany. This is what he said: 877It is not the man who drinks the most beer who is most to be admired. That is not manliness. Give your admiration to him who keeps his mind and body under control and fit at all times—fit to work, fit to march and fit to stand blows.
§ Mr. A. Hopkinson
Does the hon. Member repudiate any idea of making a general accusation against the officers of the Royal Air Force? Undoubtedly, the newspaper reports of this will bear that interpretation and I want him to say definitely is he making any accusation that the officers of the Royal Air Force, junior and senior, and particularly junior, are in any way different from the officers of any other branch of His Majesty's Service or different from the civilian population of equal standing and education? The hon. Member has mentioned one particular case, but that was a case in which the officer concerned was court-martialled. Unless he repudiates absolutely the idea that he is making a general accusation, he is allowing to go out to the world at large a gross and infamous slander on the personnel of the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
We all know the fondness of the hon. Member for superlatives. I have chosen my words, and they stand in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If they are misrepresented, either by him or by anybody else, that is no fault of mine.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
If the hon. Member is trying to magnify what I have said, nothing will prevent him from doing it and nothing will prevent the Press from doing it if they wish. I have endeavoured to choose my words with care. I would like to see that spirit which has been inculcated, I would say, in most branches and in most messes of the Royal Air Force made universal. Unless that is done I think we shall find here a source of weakness to the morale of the Force.
I have been reading a speech by the Noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air, made in another place. That speech was an almost hysterical defence of his own work in the Air Ministry, but it seemed to me that he relied almost entirely upon general statements. He did not favour the other place with any figures or any specific statements at all. The speech consisted of remarks of this kind: 878No inventions thought of! Why there is a mass of the most secret inventions— some of the most valuable I cannot speak oforI assure him, not in any spirit of complacency, because the better one gets the thing, the better it gets, the better the results, the more keen one is to get them better still.There is something almost reminiscent of the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in that statement by the Air Minister, I have read through that speech, and it consists of nothing but a hysterical defence of his own position in the administration of the Royal Air Force. It gives no concrete facts whatever to meet the charges of incompetence which have been brought, and which have not yet been answered. As against that, I propose to give just one fact to the House. I could give a large number, but I have no desire to labour the matter. We know that types of machines which were in the Royal Air Force display two years ago last June, have not yet begun to be delivered to the squadrons. At any rate, there is one such type. That being so, there can be no question about the fact that there is cause for public anxiety, and unless something drastic is done in three or four months' time, the Minister will be called upon to render a more exact account of his administration.
§ On the question of costings I observe that the Secretary of State for Air in his speech called upon the aircraft industry to testify to his efficiency and to the satisfactory working of the rearmament scheme. Throughout the industry and in all circles which are in touch with the development, it is an almost unanimous criticism that the industry has been crippled by the methods of the Air Ministry in insisting upon modifications of details, and alterations, tests, and so forth. These points were dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) and by other Members. They have been described as "fantastic," but that is an adjective which leaves us unmoved because outside this House it is common talk that the methods adopted by the Air Ministry are making it impossible for the aircraft industry to produce on an adequate scale. Yet the Secretary of State for Air calls upon the industry to testify to the efficiency of the Air Ministry. What I want to ask specifically is this: Has the 879 aircraft industry, or have any members of it, jointly or severally, made representations to the Air Ministry complaining about the various rules and restrictions, costings and financial systems, which are crippling their productive capacity? It would serve a good purpose to get that point made clear.
§ It is common talk that some aircraft manufacturers are afraid to draw the attention of the Air Ministry to any of these defects lest they should be penalised. If they are asked "Why do you not go to the Air Ministry about these matters?" they reply, "We have to go to them for orders." Unless the industry have, jointly and severally, made representations about the system to the Minister, then I believe they cannot be absolved from responsibility for the difficulties which have been encountered in production. I would like the Minister who replies to tell the House whether the aircraft manufacturers have made such representations or not. I feel that no question of public interest can arise in this case. I am informed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) that he has already asked that question and has not been able to get a reply, but I am sure that we shall get a reply to it to-night.
§ With regard to the actual costing system, there can be no doubt upon this point. This scheme is costing the country twice as much as it need cost if the matter had been properly administered. To begin with, we had the Government's announcement, before they embarked upon their expansion scheme, that they proposed to spend £1,500,000,000. We all remember the enormous increase in the price of raw materials which followed. That was merely the foundation of the increased cost. It was called the "White Paper boom" in the commodity markets. If you compare prices of basic raw materials now with prices which existed before the Government made their announcement, you will find an increase of £100,000,000 or more in materials over the whole range of production.
§ Apart from that aspect of the matter, we have the figures of the profits which are being made by the aircraft firms. I had a list of them the other day, and it seems to me that the system which the Air Ministry have adopted cannot fail to lead 880 to vast and excessive profits being made. The system appears to be this: First they are given a price based upon the costing of a small preliminary batch of machines. That remains throughout the productive stage, subject to the sharing of subsequent economies, a proviso which, in my contention, is ineffective. That cost is the basic figure which the Government will pay—the cost plus a percentage of profit. The more rearmament costs, the more profit the aircraft manufacturer is making, and that is reflected in various statements which one hears in aircraft circles.
§ We are told, for example, that there is tremendous competition for some raw materials or some jigs or tools. There is very little check on the prices because the aircraft manufacturer will say, "If the sub-contractor is making money, I am making money," and put his cost on the percentage. I have even heard it said about wages. I may say in that case I was rather pleased to hear it. It is said, "Why should we obstruct increases in wages? If the employés make more money, we make more money." The amount of the subsequent saving which they share with the Government by reducing costs is in no wise sufficient effectively to offset or countervail the enormous prices which are being paid. In the case of jigs and tools. I believe that about 9,000 separate jigs and tools are required in the manufacture of a modern aeroplane, and there is considerable competition between the main contractors in exercising their demands upon the sub-contractors. For example, there is one subcontractor who makes certain jigs and tools. Half a dozen manufacturers will be pressing him for delivery, and finally he will be offered excessive prices for delivery. That obtains throughout the whole range of sub-contractors with the exception of a very limited number who are supervised by the Air Ministry.
I asked the hon. and gallant Gentleman the other day to what extent investigation by Government accountants into the costs of the primary manufacturers of aircraft covered the costs of sub-contractors who supplied the Government contractors. It appears that only in a very limited number of such cases is there any supervision at all over the sub-contractors, whose output, in the aggregate, must represent an enormous figure in the air expansion programme. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told me:
Investigations are carried out in cases where the Air Ministry directs the main contractor to sublet work to a particular subcontractor and where orders for components are placed with a specialist firm by a number of main contractors.
A great deal depends on what is meant by "specialist firms" in that connection. The hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to say:
The normal practice in cases of subcontracting is for competitive tenders to be called for by the main contractor whose responsibility it is to satisfy the Department that the prices paid are fair and reasonable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1938; col. 1722, Vol. 332.]
§ What is the use of a competitive tender if the competition on the part of subcontractors is not to supply, but to avoid supplying, because they are overworked and have not the time or the material to turn out the commodity required? Are we to find, in the ultimate inquiries which will have to be made, at the end of the rearmament programme, the same figure which was given before the Committee on War Wealth, I think it was, which was that in the last War some 270,000 people enriched themselves by no less than £3,000,000,000? It was a Board of Inland Revenue Committee which made that report. I believe that we are on the way to a similar scandal, and I hope the Minister will take grave note of what was said by my right hon. Friend, because once that gets about in the country again, there will be a tremendous outcry, against which the Government will find it hard to stand.
§ I feel a little concerned about what I said in regard to alcoholic excess, which was my main object in rising, and I hope hon. Members will do me the justice not to read into the statement that I made anything which was not in it. It is a very difficult and delicate subject to raise, but I raised it out of a sense of public duty, and I hope the Minister will deal with it in the same spirit.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I desire to take up the time of the House for only a very little while this afternoon, and only to touch upon two points. The first one concerns my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, but I understand that he has public duties which make it difficult for him to attend the Chamber this afternoon, and I will therefore make my point to the Under-Secre- 882 tary of State and to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and rely upon their good offices to convey anything they may think of the slightest interest or value to their colleague. Last Tuesday night the right hon. Gentleman made the following statement: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.MR. CHURCHILL: That is the one the Government chose.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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1938; cols. 371–2, Vol. 333.]But we really must look back in this controversy and see what the truth of these matters is. On 28th November, 1934—that is, three and a half years ago—I and some other gentlemen, including my right hon. Friend who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, put down an Amendment to the Address calling attention to the dangers that we ran by neglecting to re-arm, and I made a quite definite forecast of the growth of the German Air Force, which was then officially supposed not to exist, declaring that in 1937 it would be nearly double, and so on. I will not trouble the House with that; that is only to introduce the point. In reply to this statement of mine, of which I had sent a précis beforehand to the Prime Minister, the late Prime Minister the present Lord Baldwin, gave us a definition of the standard which ought to be adopted in regard to relative air strengths. He said:I am convinced that a great many of the figures we see in the Press to-day, and the confusion of figures, arise from the fact that sufficient account is not paid to what I am going to say. The total number of Service aircraft which any country possesses is an entirely different thing from the total number of aircraft of first-line strength.That was the first time we heard this statement, and it was his own chosen term. He went on: 883The total number, of course, includes the first line strength and all the reserve machines used in practice and many things of that kind. I would like the House to remember that one may get a wholly erroneous picture in making comparisons—just to mention the number of aircraft of our own country—when perhaps the figures that have been mentioned are but the figures of first line strength.We might examine the figures of this country first. The first line strength of the regular units of the Royal Air Force to-day, at home and overseas, is 880 aircraft.There is not the slightest doubt of what was meant by that. Then, in the course of the same speech, speaking of the increases proposed, he said:This means that our first line strength, as I said, will be increased by 300 aircraft."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols. 876–8; Vol. 295.]He proceeded, of course, to deny the forecast which I had made and said:Such investigations as I have been able to make lead me to believe that his figures are considerably exaggerated." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 882, Vol. 295.]Here is a declaration—and I hope the attention of the Minister for the Coordination of Defence may be drawn to it—which was given in this very same speech where first-line aircraft is prescribed as the criterion: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.My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence seemed to suppose that nothing was said about first-line air strength on the occasion when Lord Baldwin gave this pledge. It is true that he gave another pledge too, but here is a perfectly definite pledge, and it was made very precise. The Debate continued as follows:Earl WINTERTON: When my right hon. Friend spoke of Europe, did he include the Mediterranean?Mr. BALDWIN: The Mediterranean, I think, is generally recognised as part of Europe, but—Earl WINTERTON Not merely for home defence?Mr. BALDWIN: I referred to machines available for home defence which are stationed in the United Kingdom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 883, Vol. 295.]It is impossible to have anything plainer than that. First-line air strength was the 884 criterion, and first-line air strength in respect of machines stationed for home defence in the United Kingdom, and it is with regard to that that those calculations and pledges of parity were definitely made to refer. I find that in March, 1935, the next time we had a Debate on these matters, it was admitted that the Germans had already obtained air parity, but still the calculations of the Government were all presented on the basis of first-line air strength. For instance, the then Under-Secretary of State for Air said:What we want to know is our first-line strength to-day, and if the figure is more satisfactory than the right hon. Gentleman expected, I imagine he is delighted to hear it.I said:Do we mean the same thing?The right hon. Gentleman replied:I mean the first-line strength of the British Air Force, that is to say, every aeroplane in the first line of the squadrons, not including reserve machines, or training machines, or anything."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1935; col. 1091, Vol. 299.]Then, finally, we came to the general exposure of the Government's error, the concession of the Government's grave miscalculation—how grave we shall learn as the years unfold—and Lord Baldwin's definite admission that the responsibility is the responsibility of the Government as a whole. "We are all responsible, and we are all to blame" —that very well known and celebrated speech. But in regard to that, the right hon. Gentleman made his statement, and afterwards I criticised these figures, again proceeding entirely on the basis of first-line air strength. I drew attention to the fact that this was a matter of terminology, that he had established this principle of first-line air strength, and that in regard to that there was now an admission of failure to make good the pledge. Those statements were made to us three and a-half years ago, and I think it is very unsatisfactory that now, this having been deliberately adopted as the standard by the Government, we should be invited to adopt an entirely new and vague standard. I am quite certain that we should not have been invited to adopt that standard unless it was impossible for the Government to show that they had maintained their pledge upon the standard which they formerly prescribed to the House. I hope that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will read this other speech, of which he evidently 885 was not aware, and will see that the statement which he made last Tuesday night to the House was one which rests on no better foundation than an extremely inadequate and ill-considered brief. One might say, when we are dealing with this question of terminology, that this is really a case of terminological inexactitude.
I have only one other point to make this afternoon, and it was a little suggested to me by the reference in the speech of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) to a certain court-martial which have occurred in the Royal Air Force. I quite see that the hon. Member did not intend to cast any general slur at all upon the pilots of the Royal Air Force. Still, the prominence which he assigned to it, and the fact that he picked it out as practically his sole topic in regard to the inferior economy and life of the Royal Air Force, might lead to misunderstandings outside, and I cannot feel that the severity with which the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) fell upon him, however to be deprecated from the point of view of human charity and indulgence, was at all out of place, having regard to the importance of correcting the impression that there is any general, abnormal tendency to alcoholic abuses in the messes of the Royal Air Force. All that I have been able to learn would certainly support the view that there is no ground for any exceptional stigmatization of the habits which prevail—
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I interrupt? The point is that it is not a case for comparing the consumption, even in that limited number of cases, with that of other classes of the community. We are dealing with a force of pilots, the efficiency of whose task requires the finest and most precise judgment and the keenest and strongest nerve. Therefore, it would not be right to apply the same standard of conduct to them as to the other two Services even, let alone to the general public.
§ Mr. Churchill
No, but I would submit that, after all, many Members can testify from their own personal experience that even on the exceedingly high standard required, there is no reason for any anxiety, and certainly no ground for founding a general aspersion.
886 The only other observation I wish to make is about this great number of young short-service pilots who have gone into the Air Force. I have the warmest sympathy with them. I have a feeling that we owe them a deep debt of gratitude. They come forward in time of peace and run risks of an abnormal character. They are the essential shield and buckler of their native land, and the House of Commons ought always to be particularly careful in looking after their welfare and seeing that the conditions under which they live are up to the level of the services they render. Complaints have been made about food, and I have some confirmation of them from another quarter apart from those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite. Undoubtedly, with a force expanding as fast as this, there will be great inconveniences at the new aerodromes, and they must be expected in the early days. That is not entirely satisfactory, however, judged by the standards of the long established Fleet and Army, and I would urge that money should not stand in the way of giving a thoroughly healthy life under agreeable conditions to the pilots and to those who care for the machines in which they fly. If extra money is required, I am certain the House will not grudge the comparatively small sum required to make it certain that this is regarded as a corps d'élite and that it is enabled to do its work under conditions which make for the highest morale and efficiency.
Is the career offered to the short-service entry adequate? Is it a good career? I am bound to say that I think it requires substantial improvement. These men engage for only four years' service, their pay is nothing remarkable, and the gratuity at the end of the four years is £300. That is not very much to give to a man from whom you take four critical and keen years of his first manhood. I know we are told that they find no difficulty in getting jobs in civil life after they leave the Air Force, and that they then form a large reserve. Those ideas, however, are taken from a period when very few people were leaving, when only a few hundreds left each year. Now that you have engaged over 2,000 pilots in a very short time you will find great floods of men coming out. I understand that there are 900 due to leave next year. I doubt very much whether the conditions of employment which were applicable to 887 small numbers will necessarily be so good as applied to a much larger number.
Why do you let them go? You have had great trouble in teaching and training them. Many must be showing aptitude. Experience and maturity are needed, for one may be too young to fly these great modern machines. We require experienced and mature men. Why should not those men who are considered satisfactory be kept in the Air Force? The reason they leave early is that when the Air Force expansion was started three years ago under a complete misreading of the situation of the world which characterised almost every aspect of the rearmament programme at that time, the idea was that the expansion was only temporary, that we should not need it for long, and that therefore the men need be engaged only on the short service system. Now, when we look upon the world, can we doubt that, as far as we can see ahead, we shall require to retain in a permanent condition the Air Force as expanded on this basis? We should, therefore, give a larger proportion of permanent posts to these men. Not only let them extend their service, but give permanent commissions to a far greater number.
Suppose in two or three years' time we have 1,000 or 1,500 more men with permanent commissions than we would have had under the present system, and suppose that by a blessed event, because there is a general disarmament, we have to pay these men substantial compensation. What will that liability be compared with the enormous relief that will follow from a cessation of this hideous race in armaments? I say, make a very large proportion of the Force on a permanent basis now and face the consequences of having to pay compensation if at a later date, by the mercy of heaven, we are in a position to disarm. I am not satised that we are doing enough to increase the strength and maturity of our Air Force cadres. I took the trouble to make some inquiries the other day. I know it is said that, taken throughout the whole of the Air Force, the proportion of professional permanent officers to temporary officers is as one to two. That may be true if you bring in India, all the foreign stations and all the people who have a military status although they can hardly fly.
888 If, however, you go down to some of the squadrons on the home establishment in the home defence force and the Metropolitan Air Force—I have not, but I know those who have—and take the lists and run through the proportion of professionals to short service pilots, you will find there are only two or three professionals in a whole squadron and that the others are short service pilots. They are very good and excellent material, but what we want is maturity and a strong leavening of older men and men of longer service. I think that a proportion of the long-service pilots serving in India could be brought back to give more strength and solidity to the squadron formations. Besides that, we should keep all the men who are giving good service and wish to stay in the Air Force. Let them know that they can make it their home and their career, and that if they give this service to the country the nation will see that in return they have a lasting and honourable profession.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has fully confirmed the attack that has been made on the question of parity in first-line strength, and we agree with him that the reply of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence hardly dealt with the seriousness of the question. The Prime Minister himself tries to decry the idea that there has ever been this yardstick for dealing with the Air Force. The right hon. Gentleman has proved successfully that it was the yardstick in which the country believed and which we thought the Air Ministry and the Government were following. What sort of yardstick are we to have now? As the Government have thrown over the yardstick of first-line strength, there ought to be some other yardstick so that we may know whether the Government are falling short of it. I do not believe that the present idea of having a programme laid down in various White Papers is the right way of dealing with the question. It is not entirely a matter of first-line strength; there are other questions such as petrol, reserves, the rebuilding of machines and the replacing of casualties. These are factors in considering the strength of the force. Until we get some yardstick we shall not get the feeling that we are aiming at parity with Germany, which is the only 889 country with which we are concerned to get parity. Until we get that parity we shall not have a feeling of security.
With regard to what was said by an hon. Member earlier about young pilots, I am certain that he did not mean that they were drinking too much. Anyone who knows anything about the Air Force knows that that idea is completely wrong and that there is nothing but the one court-martial upon which to found it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping mentioned an important thing when he spoke of the way in which we are building up squadrons. I know one squadron, one of the best there is, in which the leader had 30 young pilots posted to him in 12 months. He could not build up a squadron in that way. He could not build up any idea of discipline or esprit de corps in his squadron by that system of changing people about all the time. When squadrons get abroad where there can be control of them, we get a stronger force than we get at home with these continual postings of young officers. On the question of aerodromes, most of them are in places which are almost inaccessible and away from any amusements. Many of them are in desolate places. Men are put there in the prime of their lives doing something which is high endeavour and which brings out great eagerness of spirit, but we are doing nothing to build up any amusements for them. It often surprises me that the Air Ministry do not find difficulty in getting them. There are the strictest rules and discipline in the Air Force. For example, if a young pilot is caught low flying he is turned out of the Force immediately. That is pretty well an accepted fact, because there has to be such a rule. I know of several cases where these pilots have gone low flying. There is no other amusement. They are set their job and they return to the aerodrome, and they find there is nothing in the way of amusement for them except, perhaps, one tennis court. If we are to build up a really efficient Air Force it is most important to look after the interests of these young pilots.
In the course of my speech last Tuesday I referred to a court-martial regarding the four Blenheim machines, and there is one point which I should like to add. I referred to it in connection with accidents, and another Member made the comment that I had said that I believed 890 that with the requisite instruments the number of accidents could be considerably reduced. I know nothing more concerning those four Blenheim machines than was stated at the court-martial. Four Blenheims were sent up, two of them force-landed, one crashed and one managed to get back to its own aerodrome, and at the court-martial it was stated that a question of instruments was involved. I am absolutely certain that unless we get proper instruments for flying we shall not build up the Air Force we ought to have. It is doing harm to the pilots, making them lose their confidence. If we have not the instruments we shall not get the requisite experience in flying in bad weather in this country. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence told me that they were going to get the ordinary panel of instruments made here, with the exception of the Lorenz, which had to come from Germany. But they are not being produced at present. No doubt they are coming, but it is idle to think that we can go on with the present system year after year. We shall only be running the risk of accidents and not building up a sense of security in our pilots.
A good deal has been said about the cost of the expansion of the Air Force, and there is no doubt that an enormous sum of money is being spent, and there is no doubt, also, that a great deal of profit is being made. Something was said on this point by my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I am not going to quote cases, although I could. I know instances of large expenditure where the public is not getting value for its money. It is not a case of the money being lost, but there is the feeling that people are making money out of this expansion scheme, and I do hope the Government will go into this matter far more strictly than in the past in order to ensure that enormous profits are not made. It is no good the Government contenting themselves by saying they have a costings system and do not want people to make money out of rearmament. There is a feeling about that money is being made, and it is causing a good deal of unrest at the present time. I have nothing more to say, except that we feel strongly, as was emphasised by the right hon. Member for Epping, that as parity as a measure of what we are to attain to in the future has been scrapped, we 891 ought to be given—it is the same request as is now put forward in connection with foreign affairs—some basis, which we can understand, by which we can judge whether we are attaining security and approaching the position of other countries.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
All of us who have a real affection for the Air Force will, I think, regard the course of this Debate with unmitigated satisfaction. The Debate, from the time it was opened by the right hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench, has developed into one regarding the personnel, and the position of the personnel, in the Air Force, and it has enlisted the immense influence and ability of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), a question which, to my mind—and I gather the same view was in his own mind—is of the most urgent importance to the Air Force. In dealing with the personnel of the Air Force we have a number of problems which we do not meet with in the Army or in the Navy. If a young subaltern is sent to a regiment they take one good look at him and they can tell from that good look whether he is likely to make a good officer or not. I think the right hon. Member for Epping will agree that that is the case—that a young subaltern can be told almost at sight in the case of the Army. I believe it is the same in the Navy, that in the case of a new junior officer you can tell pretty well at first sight whether he will prove to be a good officer or not. In the Air Force it often happens that the most unpromising of young officers at first sight turns out to be exactly the sort that is wanted. In the course of my experience when going up and down the country in the last two and a half years I have found case after case of really first-rate junior officers—according to their squadron leaders, who ought to be in a position to judge—who would have been condemned by any decent regiment or any decent ship.
In the Air Force they want something different from what makes the best class of Army officer or the best class of naval officer. We see that when we come to examine the results of the short service campaign. The young officers of the Air Force are drawn from every class in the country, some from the public schools, 892 some from the middle-class schools and some even from the public elementary schools, and when they have passed their training and are posted to squadrons it is extremely difficult to say that any particular source of supply, any particular strata of society, has produced the best and that some of the strata have produced an inferior type. I would commend this to my hon. Friends of the Labour party, because the Royal Air Force is doing more to get that sense of unity among the classes than any other organisation in this country. After all, if you are in a two-seater fighter and the other fellow has got control, you do not care tuppence who his people were or from what school he came. All you care for is that he should be a good, stout fellow and not lose his head when a crisis comes. To share desperate perils together is the best method of breaking down class distinction in this country. So far as my experience goes with both commanding officers and senior officers, indeed, right to the very top of the fighting side of the Royal Air Force, there is a thorough realisation of the truth of the points which I have put before the House. There is no suggestion that they must have the cream of the best public schools. That idea just does not exist. Any young fellow who goes into the Air Force and is lucky enough to get a commission, whether permanent or temporary, will be judged as he is judged now on merit, and merit alone.
That links up with another point with regard to commissions, and that is the commissions given to the aircraftmen trained at the great school at Halton. That school has been run by a series of enthusiasts who are very able men indeed. It is a magnificent school, and the education and the training which the boys get there are as good as they get at any of the best public schools in the country. The result is that a considerable proportion of the boys who pass out of Halton are really qualified to take commissions, and there is, I know, in the minds of some of the senior officers, a strong feeling that Halton boys ought to have rather more commissions open to them than is the case at the present time. After knocking about with members of the Air Force of all ranks for several years past, I can certainly bring my own testimony to bear. I have come across a considerable number of those boys who are fit to have commissions and ought 893 to be given better opportunities of obtaining them. I know the present position is partly due to the fact that they cannot be spared from their present duties, but Halton itself must be enlarged in course of time, and I hope that it will be.
With regard to a point made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), he has already told us that he did not mean to bring any general accusation against the officers of the Air Force and I accept that explanation, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Epping in thinking that his method of introducing the subject was rather unfortunate, and might lead to considerable misapprehension outside this House. One of the things that impresses one most, particularly now that the squadrons are largely officered from the short-service class, is that most of those young fellows are so hard up that they really could not afford to get drunk if they wanted to. What is most noticeable in an Air Force mess is the immense quantity of cold water that is consumed, and how small the quantity of alcohol. Again, there are many brilliant youngsters who will make most admirable officers, and may be of immense value to us in time of war who are so constituted that occasionally they kick over the traces; and I venture to say that there are a large number of young men who can have "a real good blind "—if I may use a vulgar expression—about once or twice a year and be none the worse for it in health or nerve; but any suggestion that a boy can come to any good as a flyer if he indulges in alcohol must be repudiated once and for all. I have seen case after case in civilian flying where young fellows who have taken to the air like a bird have been completely ruined through having been persuaded by foolish elders to screw up their courage when they did not want to go up, by taking alcohol.
Everyone who flies knows perfectly well that there are some days when one has "cold feet" and does not want to go up. Fortunately they are not very frequent, but they do occur, and you can well imagine that if any youngster who is feeling that way meets with some ass of an older fellow who suggests that he should "have a tot of whisky" and he takes it and discovers that it makes him feel as bold as brass, then the next time he has "cold feet" he has another tot, 894 but you can just write him off as far as flying is concerned, and the sooner he stops the better.
I am afraid I have been rather more disjointed than usual, but I have felt strongly about the need, which has been pressed upon the Ministry from all sides of the House, for the most generous treatment for the personnel of the Air Force. There is one final point. The right hon. Gentleman who initiated the Debate said the morale of the civil population will suffer if it is thought that a lot of people are making huge fortunes out of this rearmament. He carefully refrained from saying that the morale of the Royal Air Force would suffer. The Royal Air Force, young though it is as a fighting force, has learned to hold its tongue and not to grouse. Time and time again I have known of grievances that have developed in the Force about which nobody in the Force ever said a word. I give them all the credit for being able to hold their tongues, but a time will come when even the Royal Air Force will begin to murmur at the way in which the personnel are being served in order that vast sums may be paid to contractors and appear in the form of profits of public companies. Although that time may be long in coming it will come sooner or later, unless the Air Ministry really gets down to the matter and makes sure that it does not pay excessive prices.
One or two further points arise out of the Debate that we had the other day. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence denied that we pay royalties in respect of new inventions used on aircraft, but the terms of his denial make me a little doubtful as to his meaning. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Gentleman said:No manufacturer who sells a machine to the Government with any invention of his upon it receives any royalty in respect of that invention.Why did the right hon. Gentleman put in those two words, "of his"? Did he imply that if a machine embodies some gadget or fitting which is subject to a royalty which belongs to someone else and not to the manufacturer himself, then we pay a royalty? That is the point upon which I want information. Suppose a manufacturer puts into a machine a variable-pitch propeller made by another firm. It would be true to say, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we were not 895 paying a royalty upon any invention put into the machine by the main contractor, but is the price paid by the contractor for the variable-pitch air-screw a reasonable price or is that price vastly increased because of royalties paid to the maker of the screw and not to the main contractor? That is the point which, I hope, the Under-Secretary of State will investigate.
Another point is that the right hon. Gentleman said, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT that the description I gave of the general system on which contract prices were based was wholly false. He said:He told the House that the producer … gets a very extravagant profit because he gets 50 per cent. on the difference.I did not mention any percentage at all. I simply said that it was a share of the figure which I called "Z." I need not recapitulate the whole of what I said. I suggested that the first few machines made by a particular company were costed and that the result formed a basic price with which the unit price of the product in construction was subsequently compared, and that upon that was based the rate of profit which was shared between the two. What the right hon. Gentleman said was: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1938; cols. 363– 65, Vol. 333.]I am asking for information and not trying to be critical, but I would ask whether that does not really amount to what I said. The object of making a few machines first of all is to get a basis for estimating; otherwise what is the reason for making those machines? It is surely done in order to get some sort of check upon the estimate of a contractor of what the bulk cost will be. I cannot see any particular reason for putting those few machines through first of all without going on with production, unless that is the case. If the Under-Secretary can still find that I was wrong and that the system does make it to the interest of the contractor to save the taxpayers' pocket, I shall be only too glad to admit my error.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Last week the hon. Gentleman made certain statements about the food and did not come back to the House, and then the matter was referred to by the Minister for the Co-ordination 896 of Defence. I would like to ask him where he obtained the information that the food was not fit for swine?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Perhaps I may be allowed to explain. On the day in question I had to go home rather early as the result of having an unsuccessful adventure with a motor-car. I found at the end of my remarks that, in my enthusiasm and indignation, and in my desire to compare the condition of the personnel of the Royal Air Force with the condition of the contractors for air machines, I had made statements which, although they might have been justified on the ground of poetic licence, I nevertheless thought were unkind and unfair. So I sent a note to the right hon. Gentleman, and I think I was right to do so, in which I called attention to those unfair statements of mine and said:I cannot be present. If you will be good enough you might withdraw it for me.That is the whole story. In actual fact, what would have been fair to say was that in at least one of the stations I visited, the methods of preparation—I do not say the staff, because they were all right—the materials and the apparatus which the staff had, in order to prepare meals for the officers, was suitable only for the preparation of meals for pigs, and I stick to that statement.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
I want first to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) on the able speech he has made on the Air Estimates. He served under me in the War and was a very gallant officer. He served on five fronts, and I am glad to see that on his return to the House he is going to take up air questions again. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) has raised the question of excessive drinking by some of the members of the Royal Air Force. I am sorry to have to clash with him again—I clashed with him in the last air Debate—but I can assure him that there is nothing new in the criticism about pilots drinking. I will tell him how I stopped it in the Navy. When I was at the Admiralty I was sent for by two Sea Lords who said to me, "Your pilots are drinking at the 'Goat.' "So I said to them, "What is the 'Goat'?" They said that it was a disreputable place in Regent Street where my pilots used to 897 loaf about and drink and smoke. I said to those two Sea Lords, "I am very sorry, Sirs, but this morning my pilots have shot down two Zeppelins, one at Evère and the other at Ostend, and that is the work on which they are engaged in this War. They do not drink incessantly." I did not have any more criticism from the Sea Lords.
I visited the Provost-Marshal, and I asked him to take me to the "Goat." He took me to the "Goat." It was a small place in Regent Street which junior officers used as a sort of club. They were not at home in the Senior United Services Club or in the R.A.G. or any of those other big clubs, and they used this place. I said to the Provost-Marshal, "Will you raid this club one day and see who is there? Do it unknown to me." One day he raided the "Goat" and found two naval doctors, three Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers, but no pilots at all. I reported this matter officially to the Sea Lords and I never heard another criticism about my Royal Naval Air Service pilots drinking. I can assure the hon. Member that when I was in Malta last year for a whole month I spent a great deal of time in the messes, and that I did not hear of a single incident which would have shocked the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) or his hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter). He can take it from me that, speaking generally, throughout the Royal Air Force messes there is no excessive drinking.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he and his Noble Friend are satisfied with the number of pilots being trained. I am told on very fair authority, and I have had it from three different sources, that Germany has 50,000 trained pilots. In this country we are very vulnerable to air bombing, and the high-speed air bomber is likely to get through our interceptor fighters. We want to be in a position to make a counterattack with as many bombing machines as possible, so that it will not be worth the while of an enemy to attempt to bomb this country. If Germany has 50,000 trained pilots, are we doing sufficient in this country to train more pilots? A certain number go through the Air Force and the light aeroplane clubs, private clubs and so on, but all the municipal aerodromes are more or less idle. Why 898 do we not put up schools there and train some of the young men in our cities to learn to fly? If the Government did this so that the young men could fly without any expense to themselves, we should be training a large number of men in this country and should have a sufficient reserve.
I am glad to notice in the statement made in introducing these Estimates that we are going to the Dominions for pilots. In the early part of the War General Henderson and myself drew on the Dominions, and they produced some of our best air fighters. They turned out quite good "aces." I am delighted to see that this policy is being continued. I would like the Under-Secretary to tell me whether, after the Dominion pilots are trained, they have to take a turn for this country with our Air Forces on the North-West Frontier, in Palestine or other places. If that suggestion were looked into, I am certain that young pilots would join up and be willing to share the responsibilities of helping with the Empire air defence. I would like the Noble Lord to look into the question of the air defence of the Empire with regard to pilots. We have lately been told that foreign machines have been flying over Australia. Could he not set up an Empire Air Defence Council to look into the question of personnel and to see whether we are training sufficient pilots for the defence of the Empire? We have our great air routes to protect now, as well as our great cities. This question of pilots requires to be looked into in much more detail than has hitherto been the case.
I want to say a word about Gibraltar. If we are to put money into the building of an aerodrome at Gibraltar, should we not give some protection to the machines, such as by making the aerodrome hangars under a portion of the rock? We must give good protection, or our machines might be very much open to damage by air bombing of the aerodrome at Gibraltar. With regard to Malta, I would ask the Noble Lord to set up a committee to go into the question of seaplane harbours for flying boats. I have already said that I was at Malta last year. We had a gregale blowing, and four machines arrived just after five days of it. If they had arrived at the time of the gregale, those machines might have been broken up. 899 They cost £40,000. In future, flying boats may cost £100,000. It is too great a responsibility to ask flying officer pilots to fly machines on rough water such as you may get in the unprotected harbour of Marsa Scirocco at Malta. The same applies to the harbour at Cyprus. I think that Lord Strickland is perfectly right in pressing for a breakwater at Malta, and the same question wants looking into at Cyprus. I would ask the Noble Lord if he would set up a committee to look into the whole matter of seaplane harbours, with a view to seeing whether some protection can be afforded to these flying boats.
The hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) spoke about kite balloon protection. Some time ago some of our kite balloons broke adrift in a gale, and trailed their cables all over the country. One, I think, went over to France and did a good deal of damage. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether Farnborough has not produced some automatic release apparatus so that these cables would be released as soon as the tension became excessive. We vote some £500,000 a year to Farnborough, and I think it looks very bad indeed that these kite balloons should trail all over the country if they get adrift in bad weather with a long length of cable attached to them, which might do a tremendous amount of damage. I saw in the Press the other day that a balloon came to grief by running into overhead electric wires, and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether that matter has been looked into with a view to putting these wires, wherever possible, underground. We do not want to lose a lot of pilots through their running into these high tension wires. Is the Air Ministry consulted when new cables are put up? This is a very important question, because there will be more pilots flying about the country in the future than there have been in the past, and we do not want to lose valuable lives because of these high-tension electric wires all over the country. I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary can give me information on the points I have raised.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Perkins
I merely want to ask the Under-Secretary three simple questions. If it is not in the public interest that he 900 should answer them, I shall understand, and shall not press for an answer. The first is connected with the export of British military aircraft. I was interested in a question raised by the official Opposition one day last week, when they asked for details of the 300 military aircraft that were exported. My hon. and gallant Friend could not give the figures, but he said he was perfectly satisfied that the vast majority of these aircraft were of an obsolete type. I have, however, read in the daily Press that last year we exported Blenheim bombers, and also that we have exported Gloster Gladiators and Gloster Gauntlets. I do not know the numbers of Blenheim bombers or of Gauntlets and Gladiators that have gone, but it seems to me that if we are exporting these machines, and if in the view of the Under-Secretary they are more or less obsolete types, it stands to reason that a considerable proportion of our Air Force at this moment consists of obsolete machines. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he can reassure the House by giving chapter and verse in the shape of the total number and types of up-to-date machines that have been exported during the last 12 months. I suggest that the time has come when a stop should be put to the export of military aircraft. Things are getting very serious in Europe, and I think we ought to keep all these machines in this country, at any rate for the next 12 months.
A suggestion was made last week that we ought to start manufacturing in Canada. I know that the policy of the Air Ministry is to try to persuade our manufacturers to take their workshops away from London and distribute them as far away as possible from the northeast coast. I welcome that policy, but it seems to me that, however far they may be taken in this island, they cannot be placed outside the range of a modern longdistance bomber, and, therefore, I would respectfully suggest to the Air Ministry that the time has come when they should seriously consider manufacturing in Canada. For many years to come, as far as one can see, Canada will be outside the range of any bomber, and, if we could only get two shadow factories started in Canada, one for engines and one for airframes, it would mean that, however heavily bombed we might be here, we could always draw supplies from Canada. They would not come by boat, but would 901 fly over, carrying, not bombs, but extra petrol tanks which could be quickly transferred. I would even go further and suggest that this summer we should send over a squadron of Wellesleys to Canada by boat, and fly them back from Canada to this country, simply as a demonstration to show Europe that we can draw from that source of supply, and that, however badly we are bombed in this country, we shall always be able to get machines from Canada.
My last question is one to which, I dare say, the Air Ministry will not reply, but I should like more information about our relative position with regard to Germany. I am not interested in the number of first-line aircraft that we have in this country, or in the number that Germany has. I do not mind if we have 3,000 and Germany has 4,000, or if Germany has 2,000 and we have 1,000. To my mind that seems to be immaterial, because it is very difficult to define what is a first-line aircraft. I want to know what is the potential output of this country and what is the potential output of Germany. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour), speaking about 10 days ago in the House, stated that Germany was on a one-shift basis. I believe that that is true, and that Germany, working on a one-shift basis, is producing monthly the same number of machines as we are producing in this country. I do not think it is in the public interest that I should mention any figure, but I will call it x. It means that both Germany and this country are producing, per month, x aeroplanes.
Germany is working on a one-shift basis now, but, as the House knows, only a year ago Germany was working on a three-shift basis. If Germany was working on a three-shift basis a year ago, or two years ago, that means that she has the men and the machines at any time to go on to a three-shift basis again, and that, therefore, if Germany is now producing x aeroplanes, the moment Herr Hitler gives the order she can, almost in a night, suddenly start producing at the rate of 3x. Am I correct in that assumption, and is it possible for this country to treble its output of aeroplanes, or to double it? If not, we are in a very serious position indeed.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) compared the selection of officers for the Army and Navy with the selection of air pilots. He said that, when you were selecting an officer for the Army or the Navy, you could tell by looking at him whether he was likely to become a suitable officer, but that you could not do that with an air pilot. He did not state the reason for that. The reason is that an air pilot has right at the start to show the possession of intelligence. But in the case of an aspirant for the Army or the Navy, you look at him to see whether he wears the old school tie, and the result of the selection that is made is evidenced by the flotsam and jetsam that are washed into this House from the Army and Navy. It is a demonstration of the awful character of the selection, of the complete lack of intelligence that exists in the Army and the Navy. In the Air Force an attempt was made at the beginning to keep it of the same character as the Army and Navy, with an officer caste. They were trying in this country to keep the air fleet a small, select fleet, with selected people as pilots, selected from the most restricted circles in the country. That is why the Air Force in this country is so backward so far as machines and personnel are concerned.
There is the story of a young man at Oxford who went through all his courses and examinations, and who had not a mark of any kind against him—he was thoroughly qualified. He then went up before the brass hats, and the brass hats put the question to him, "If you go up in an aeroplane, have you any intention of dropping leaflets?" He said he did not know what they meant. They said, "We know your political associations." He had some political ideas different from those of the Conservative party, and so he was turned down. Every effort has been made to keep this Force completely restricted, with officers chosen from the most limited circles possible. Now we have a situation which is one of the most dangerous situations that can confront any country, and what do we get? We are told in the Secretary of State's memorandum thatthe process of rearming has been slower than was hoped when the programme was planned, as delivery of new-type aircraft has been affected by three important factors.903 It goes on to give all kinds of reasons why there should be a slowing up in the building of aeroplanes, but we ought not to be prepared to accept that. There is no reason at all in this country, where there is such a high degree of industrialisation and engineering skill, why the Government should talk about slowness of production and the lack of this, that and the other thing.
The hon. Member for Mossley, as others have done, took exception to what was said by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones); but no one took exception to the statement of the hon. Member for Mossley that "a good blind" once or twice a year would not do anybody any harm. How is it possible for anyone who is supposed to be responsible to use such language? Of course it is possible that, if a pilot got drunk in January, it would not much affect his driving in December, but would any hon. Member here, if he knew that a pilot had had "a good blind" the day before, want to go up with him the next day? Here we have an hon. Member sitting in this House who is prepared to recommend people to go up with a pilot who the day before has been blind drunk.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I want to support the view of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen that the Air Ministry should encourage in every possible way the most absolute sobriety on the part of their pilots. No encouragement should be given to pilots to have a "blind" at any time. Nothing could be more dangerous from the point of the pilot, and from the point of view of the responsibilities he has. I want to get back to the important point that this country, with the highly developed industrialisation and the high engineering skill that exist, should have no difficulty whatever in getting the greatest Air Force imaginable, with the most highly developed aeroplanes. If we take a view of the manhood of the country, the working-class manhood—not the restricted manhood, the old school tie manhood that has produced the majors, generals, and admirals of the present time, and the General Staff we had during the War, about whom the people who had any dealings with them had so much to say in their memoirs—there is an enormous field for pilots of the very highest worth.
904 I want to say, in all seriousness, because we cannot discuss this in any other than the most serious tones, that, with the situation that exists and the danger that confronts us, it is a tragic situation we are in, from the point of view of air strength and of air pilots. The people of this country will never pull their weight until they are satisfied that there is a Government concerned with using the Air Force and the other Forces for the very best and most pacific purposes. It is an absolute fact that the country, with its engineering and industrial skill, will never pull its weight behind this Government. It is obvious that if we had a Government built around this side of the House—a people's Government, built around the Labour movement—the forces of the trade union movement, the whole great forces of the working classes, could be marshalled in such a way that all these difficulties could be surmounted. There could be built up in this country at the shortest notice an Air Force second to none, and the working classes could provide a body of pilots that would stand out among pilots everywhere. The essential thing is to get back confidence among the great masses of the working classes of this country that the Government is one upon which they can depend to do the right thing, not only by the pilots—and I am also prepared to support the proposition of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill): I want to see the pilots treated fairly—but by the people as a whole. That is not the case with this Government, and if they want to see in this country an Air Force second to none, they can give the greatest possible assistance by getting out and letting a better Government come in in their place.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Captain Harold Balfour
I would like to associate myself with that curious political unity that we have seen this evening between the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in their plea that we should give these short-service officers in the Air Force the best possible treatment, and that the House should discharge its responsibility to them in the best way it can. I am not satisfied with the physical and recreational facilities that are given to young pilots, commissioned or non-commissioned, in the Air Force, particularly at the new 905 stations. I questioned the Under-Secretary of State for Air recently as regards the physical training facilities—the provision of tennis courts, squash racket courts, football grounds and other recreational facilities—for pilots, and I was given answers which left me, and, I think, the House, thinking that, while these matters were being attended to, nevertheless more important matters were to be taken first. I submit that that may be a wrong conclusion for the Department, and a wrong policy to follow, because physical training is just as important as the actual flying.
Unless these young men are given every opportunity of keeping physically fit, it is unfair to expect them to discharge their flying duties. The Under-Secretary told me that, where possible, squash racket courts and gymnasia were being built, but subsequent to other buildings. I would ask whether they could not be built parallel with other buildings, so that there should be the necessary recreational facilities. I think the Air Force is forward in many directions, but somewhat backward, as compared to the Navy and the Army, as regards physical training. You have but to look at the establishments for physical training in the Navy and Army Estimates, and at the wonderful, world-wide known physical training school at Portsmouth for the Navy, and then look at the comparatively small provision we have for the Air Force, and it will be seen that the Air Force has some way to go yet.
I want to mention shortly the very delicate matter raised by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). We all accept the statement that he had no wish to cast any general reflection on the Service, but I submit that the Air Force could hold its head high, even taking into account its special duties, in sobriety and good conduct, compared with any other section of the community. No doubt the hon. Gentleman is aware of the rule which exists in service stations, that there shall be no drinking at all until duties are over, so that no young man has even a glass of beer with his lunch. The old idea which once prevailed in the Air Force that you had to be a dare-devil sort of chap, and that to drink was rather fine, is all gone. As some of us know, in the old pioneer days that was the attitude of mind; but to-day the Air Force has be 906 come a highly technical service, where nerve, while necessary, is almost secondary to high technical ability and knowledge. I have in my constituency thousands of young men who attend the school of technical training at Mansion, and hundreds of young officers living in the mess; and I believe that my experience, as a representative of two areas of local government, is similar to that of hon. Members on all sides who have young airmen stationed in their divisions. The local authorities in my division cannot pay high enough tribute to the behaviour of these young men when they come into Margate and Ramsgate; and convictions for even the smallest offences are exceptional. There is the highest good feeling between my local authorities and these young men, and a similar statement could be made by all who are fortunate enough to represent in this House districts which contain big Air Force stations.
I want to mention only one other thing: that is our relative first-line air strength and the need for building up armaments. I believe we are going to be faced with the need for a new programme of expansion to be superimposed on the present expansion programme. That is going to be enormous, so that our resources of raw materials and labour are going to be strained to the utmost. I want to ask the Under-Secretary, is it not possible to swing back to wooden construction of aeroplanes for a limited period during the expansion programme? There are hon. Members here who, with me, have first-hand knowledge of wooden aircraft. You can speak of their disadvantages as against all-metal aircraft. Nevertheless, the wooden aircraft is an efficient instrument. In May, 1935, I sent a communication to one of the right hon. Gentlemen in the Government, who was dealing with air expansion at that time. I was so bold as to foresee that the aircraft industry, with skilled men and raw materials becoming more difficult to obtain, might be incapable of producing the number of aircraft we required; and I said that as we built metal aircraft, could we not build wooden prototypes, so that we could mobilise the furniture and joinery trades, as we did in War time? That was considered not necessary at that time. I take no exception to that decision. Here we are faced to a greater degree with the situation we had to face in 1935, and to-day the Air Ministry are ordering one 907 or two prototypes in wood of certain aircraft which are being made in metal.
If I may be allowed to make a criticism, I believe that the question of developing wooden aircraft, in order to obtain rapid expansion of Service aeroplanes, has been left in the hands of those who earn their bread and butter, and have been brought up, technically, in the metal school. It is hard to expect them suddenly to turn round and desert their own particular baby and adopt some other form of baby. I would like some sort of assurance from the Under-Secretary that the matter of wooden aircraft—and I am sure that the House will admit that we have enormous potential resources of manufacture and labour in this country—should be reviewed not by the technical people in the Air Ministry who are responsible for the present production of metal aircraft, but by some other impartial persons; or alternatively, if it has not been done so far, that he will give an assurance that the matter will be reviewed not along the usual official channels, but, if necessary, by an ad hoc committee in his Department. The terms of reference should be to make a review in an unbiased way and to find out whether the advantages of first-line strength would be commensurate with the disadvantages, or whether it would outweigh those advantages by swinging over to wooden construction for the next three or four years, abandoning it afterwards when we got back to the more normal conditions which we all hope to see.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
I want to take advantage of this Vote before the House to-day in order to raise a question with the Under-Secretary which I have put to him on several occasions during the last few weeks, and in regard to which I have not succeeded in getting a satisfactory answer. I know that I am not alone in considering that the answers received from the Air Ministry and also from the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence were unsatisfactory, and that the very fact that the answers have been unsatisfactory has led to a good deal of misgiving on the part of people living in the area in which I myself reside—in the City of Edinburgh. The point I am raising—and I must limit it to Air Ministry responsibility—is the question of the defence of the City of Edinburgh, the naval base at 908 Rosyth, the Forth Railway Bridge, and of the whole of the Firth of Forth area, where there is concentrated a very considerable proportion of the population of Scotland. This is not my usual field of activity, but I feel impelled to raise this matter simply because of the fact that I have failed, up to the moment to get anything in the nature of a reassuring reply from any Department of the Government.
We learned in the later months of last year that the Air Ministry were taking away from Donibristle and Turnhouse the units which have been stationed there for a number of years. They are being brought South within the next week or two, if they have not already been moved. I think that the date for them to be brought South is about due, and the impression given was that these units are to be associated directly or indirectly with the defence of this great Metropolis of London. I know that immediately I make reference to these units being used for defence the Under-Secretary has a very appropriate answer that they are bombing squadrons, and that bombing squadrons are not used for Defence. But the object I have in raising this matter is an endeavour to get some assurance in regard to Defence by air of the area to which I have made reference.
In taking away those units from Donibristle and Turnhouse it is quite evident that the units which are to replace them are to be of very considerably less importance and value. It has been indicated to me, in reply to questions I have put, that from Turnhouse the services of 35 men of the staff will be dispensed with and from Donibristle they are to dispense with the services of another eleven of the personnel. It is rather a commentary upon the talk that we hear to-day of Air Force expansion to have to record that, in answer to questions put by me as to what was to happen to these people who were being dismissed—the answer was given very courteously but somewhat obscurely by the Under-Secretary of State for Air—these people would have the normal channels of finding employment. He really meant that they would go to the Employment Exchange, which is rather a curious position to be adopted by a Service which at the present time is expanding very rapidly, and which one would think could quite easily employ 909 all the people who have had some experience in it during the last few years. I am concerned about the addition of those numbers to the list of unemployed in that area, and I hope that instead of dispensing with their services some indication may be given that an effort will be made by the Air Ministry to absorb these people in other employment in the Ministry itself.
I wish to stress the point that, in the area to which I have made reference, there is considerable perturbation in the minds of many people as to the position in which that area will be placed in the event of hostilities breaking out. Having made mention of the matter in the House, and having endeavoured to get, unavailingly up to the moment, some re-assurance for the people who are concerned in this matter, I would like to give this opportunity to the Air Ministry to say what their efforts will be or what plans they propose, from the point of view of Defence over which the Air Ministry have control, to deal with this particular matter. I do not think that any one will question the fact that the capital city of Scotland, the most modern of British naval bases, and the great link in the railway system that is formed by the Forth Railway Bridge, are important to this country. There are a number of docks as well—Leith docks and other docks—in the area, that would naturally be of very great importance in the event of hostilities breaking out. More than has been said up to the present time should be said by the Air Ministry to give some re-assurance to the people in that area who are very much concerned about the position of affairs as they see it.
I made a suggestion—because I realise clearly that in matters of Defence of this kind it is impossible to go into great detail—to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence that he or someone connected with his Department or with the Air Ministry should take into their confidence the editors who are in charge of the very reputable newspapers that are published in the City of Edinburgh. The leading newspaper in Scotland "The Scotsman," the "Evening Dispatch" published from the same office, and the "Edinburgh Evening News" are all papers of reliability, and I am certain that those in charge of them could be trusted to give a reasonable indication to 910 those whom they serve with news that things were all right, if in their judgment they considered a statement made to them under pledge of secrecy as to details was one which they could commend to those among whom their newspapers circulate.
I do not know what answer can be given to me to-night. I recognise that this matter covers a much wider scope than the limited scope of the Air Ministry itself. It is a general matter of Defence—ground defence and other defence—altogether apart from the Air Ministry, but I believe it to be my duty to take this opportunity of endeavouring to obtain a further statement. I hope that it will be possible from the Government Front Bench to-night to have a statement that will give reassurance at least to the people who have indicated to me very clearly how very much perturbed they are about the failure of my previous efforts to get anything in the way of satisfaction from any Government spokesman.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead)
I think that perhaps it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak now, and points which subsequent speakers may wish to raise can be dealt with later. May I join with others, perhaps rather particularly as the Government spokesman, and express my appreciation of the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) initiated this Debate? He gave a lead which certainly has been excellently followed by other hon. Members. I had intended to say that he approached this great matter of self-defence in the way that one would expect from a right hon. Gentleman with such a gallant and efficient War record, but, fortunately, he obtained praise from a better source, namely, from the mouth of the hon. and gallant Member under whom he actually served. The point that has been satisfactory in this Debate is that there has been a great deal of insistence upon what we might call the human side of Air Force expansion. Numbers of hon. and right hon. Members have alluded to the human side, and particularly to the short-service officer system. In my speech on the Air Estimates I said that I followed the lead of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in turning with a sense of relief from the purely mechanical and 911 material side of Air Force expansion to the human side. I am sure that he meant it, and I certainly do myself.
Perhaps it would be best if I deal, in the first place, with the question of parity and the strength of the Royal Air Force. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) went through a careful historical survey of various definitions of parity and of various statements made on the subject during the past three or four years. Probably hon. Members will agree that we cannot approach this problem from a more practical point of view than from the point of view of whether we are in an inferior position compared with any other Power within striking distance of these shores. That was the particular aspect of the case which was stated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. He quoted what Lord Baldwin said, namely, that the 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. From the practical and comprehensive point of view of air defence as a whole, one could not really have a better standard than that.
§ Mr. Churchill
I read Lord Baldwin's further statement, which was equally effective and equally strong, and was exclusively based upon first-line air strength.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
If the right hon. Member for Epping was considering this question from the practical point of view of Defence and quite apart from any statements that have been made, I am sure that he would agree that we could not get a better standard than that. If he were considering this problem de novo, I think he would agree that the definition given by Lord Baldwin and adopted by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was practical and satisfactory.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Is it not a fact that if you are dealing with the first few months of war, before you can bring your manufacturing potentialities into full effect, first-line strength is the strict measure of Defence, while air power is not; that is the longer consideration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Even in the first few months of war there are other considerations apart from purely first-line strength. The statement by Lord Baldwin was, I submit, satisfactory. If that statement is regarded strictly I think it must appear to be a satisfactory definition. Let me deal with the question whether, in point of fact, we are acting up to that particular definition. I was severely taken to task the other evening by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) because in talking about the question of whether our Air Force was satisfactory or not I quoted such an authority as the Prime Minister of this country. I think hon. Members will agree that, from the governmental point of view, you cannot quote a higher authority than the Prime Minister. Therefore, I should like to repeat the answer which he gave, with all the authority at his command, on 10th March, in reply to the hon. Member for Duddesdon (Mr. Simmonds). He said:I gave no definition of parity. Indeed, I gave reasons which showed how impossible it is to frame any definition that is not misleading. 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. They are satisfied that their plans are calculated to give effect to this policy.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; cols. 2104–5, Vol. 332.]Hon. Members may say that nothing short of definite figures on our side and on the German side will satisfy them. If they say that, all that I want to say is that those figures cannot in the public interest be stated in this House.
§ Mr. Montague
What does the Prime Minister mean by "war problems"? Does he mean strategic problems as war problems?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Certainly. The whole range of problems which we have to consider in connection with a war or wars against possible enemies.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I dealt with this matter at some length, but was not able to get any reply. If the Prime Minister 913 is going to take into account those factors which mitigate the importance of first-line strength as a standard, has he also taken into account those factors which accentuate its importance by detracting from our air power in other respects, namely, the vulnerability of our targets and our lines of communication?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
The right hon. Gentleman has kindly taken the words out of my mouth. Hon. Members might be disturbed if the Government simply took a sort of flat-footed attitude and said: "We have decided to have so many aeroplanes on a particular date; that is what we said some years ago, and it is good enough now." If the Government showed any lack of flexibility and adaptability I think hon. Members would have an opportunity to bring a serious indictment against the Government. Let us, however, look at the matter in its proper light. The Government laid it down that by March, 1937, there should be a first-line strength of 1,500 aircraft in the Metropolitan Air Force. As a matter of fact, that figure was not actually achieved in March, 1937, but was arrived at a few months later—in the middle of the summer. I want to be quite clear on this point. It has been emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Coordination of Defence more than once. There was no guarantee that those aircraft would be of the most modern types. In point of fact, if hon. Members will look at the White Paper which accompanied the Estimates they will see that that is stated more or less in terms. It is stated on page 7:For this purpose large orders were placed for types of aircraft already available in production,that refers to the 1,500:and deliveries were made at a rate which enabled Service training to proceed without interruption or delay.That was not the last word and was not intended to be the last word of the Government. For in the following year the Government made a statement that by March, 1939, they proposed to have approximately 1,750 aircraft, referred to as first-line Metropolitan aircraft. It was indicated that those aircraft, which were 914 to be available by March, 1939, were to be of the latest types. The Memorandum proceeds to state:It is the second phase, that of rearming with new and more powerful types, which is now in operation.There is no reason to believe that in numbers or up-to-dateness of type, these aircraft will not be ready by March, 1939. I want to get these two statements very clear in people's minds in order to get out of their heads the idea that what was promised to be available in March, 1937, would not in fact be available until March, 1939. They were two quite distinct objectives at which we were aiming in those two years, both in numbers and in what I may term modernity of aircraft. I should be sorry if anybody continued to entertain wrong ideas.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am speaking now of the spring of 1935. At that time, when this story of first-line aircraft was brought up, we were told how much better our machines would be because we had started late and we should have the advantage, and how much larger our reserves would be. All that was in relation to the machines for the 31st March, 1937. I cannot charge my memory with the debates, but I will make a search of them. I have, however, little doubt that the impression left upon the House was, and it was intended to be left upon the House, that by 31st March, 1937, we should have an Air Force of 1,500 first-line strength, equipped with good modern machines. That was the idea. That was the plan.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I do not think, really, that it was the intention of the Government to create that impression. We are at the present time, in March, 1938, concerned with the second objective, that is, the objective of March, 1939, towards which at this moment we have made substantial advance. I am particularly anxious that the House should be clear both as regard numbers and modernity of aircraft and that there should be no confusion. If people think that we are only going to get in 1939 what we promised to get in 1937 they will, ipso facto, be liable to think that the machines we get in March, 1939, will in up-to-dateness be two years behind the times. I want to disabuse the House of any such idea. There is every reason to believe that the machines we shall have 915 in March, 1939, will compare with the machines of that date in the possession of any country, and that they will be fully up to the comparative standard.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Yes, that is the 1,750 machines, approximately, in March next year. The Memorandum says on this point:Rearming will be substantially completed during the coming financial year,
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Yes.and full operational effect will be rapidly achieved with the more powerful types of aircraft.Hon. Members may say: "If that was your objective a year or two ago and that was the limit of your output and adaptability, there is reason for complaint." That is not so. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said in the Debate on 15th March:Undoubtedly, the German capacity and the German production are progressive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1938; col. 372; Vol. 333.]I said in the same Debate that the situation was dynamic, not merely because our present programme was in course of completion but because our rearmament was dictated by circumstances. And therefore before the Estimates were introduced this year the Government had already undertaken a reconsideration of all the plans and policies and requiries of the three Defence Services, and as a result had already decided upon a substantial increase of the Air Force. I forecast that within a comparatively short time a Supplementary Estimate would be introduced to make provision for that increase, but I wish also to impress on the House the very constant review which these problems are always undergoing in the light of circumstances.
Even in the light of the events in connection with Austria in the last few days the Government are prepared to review these questions, and although, as I indicated in my speech on the Estimates, I could not say what the effect of the reconsideration would be on the expansion of the Air Force, hon. Members can rest assured that the position is being reviewed in the light of these very recent events. That has some bearing, I think, 916 on the question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton in connection with Austria. He mentioned the accession of raw materials to Germany from that country. I think the estimate which he gave of 100,000 tons of petrol being adequate for Germany during the first year of war was an under-estimate, and therefore the accession of strength in the way of additional tonnage which might come from Austria assumed a rather higher proportion of increase than would in fact be the case. But the point that he made is being borne in mind, and I think it is covered by the fact that the Government in the light of events is undertaking a reconsideration of the whole problem.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton raised a number of other points. One of the points he made was that high officers in the Air Ministry were not technically qualified. I think it is necessary to realise, in the case of officers who occupy such high positions as members of the Air Council, that, whilst it is true that they are charged with specific responsibilities, they are at the same time as members of the Air Council charged with a general responsibility for the Air Force as a whole, and therefore other considerations of a far wider nature, such as general service efficiency, have to be taken into consideration as well as purely technical qualifications. As a matter of fact the engineering course was only instituted in 1922, and therefore officers on the Air Council would probably be at the time too senior to have taken that course.
But to come to the question of Directors—I do not want to burke this issue—let me take the various Directors at the Air Ministry. The Director of Organisation is not technically qualified; Director of Personal Services—not technically qualified, and there is no reason why a person holding that position should be; Director of Repair and Maintenance—engineering qualifications; Director of Staff Duties—not technically qualified; Director of Signals—a signals qualification; Director of Postings—again not technically qualified, but there is no reason why he should be; Director of Training—not technically qualified; Director of Technical Development—an engineering qualification; Director of Armament Development—technically qualified; Director of Equipment—not technically qualified. These 917 are not members of the Air Council. They are Directors, and that is a subordinate position.
But I think on this point there is a certain amount of confusion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the member of the Council who was responsible for production, and the same phrase was used by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher). There is an Air Member responsible for supply and organisation. It is not a quibble by any means, but there is a very substantial difference between supply and production. The Air Member for Supply and Organisation is responsible for the main problems of supply, but the question of actual production is primarily a question for the firms themselves.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman was quoting from the Cadman Report, but he will forgive me if I do not accept the Cadman Report as absolutely the last word on this particular point.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
No, there is a very substantial investigation department at the Air Ministry, which is constantly watching the whole progress of particular contracts put out.
§ Mr. Montague
I understood that so far as general production was concerned inspection was left very largely to approved firms, and that the investigation generally was concentrated upon engines. My question was, "Does what the right hon. Gentleman says imply that there has been an extension of the number of approved firms?"
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Production is primarily the job of the firm which undertakes the production, but the hon. Member is quite wrong in thinking on that account that we accept without question or inspection anything that a firm happens to do for us.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I really think the hon. Member is on a wrong tack. We 918 look very carefully indeed into the material that we get from the firms, but that is quite another matter from being responsible for undertaking the actual industrial production itself. That is primarily a matter for the firm. On another point there is evidently a confusion between the Director of Research and the Director of Technical Development. I rather thought I detected a confusion in the mind of the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton the other day, when he said that the Director of Research had no technical qualifications. You have there working side by side the Director of Technical Development, an officer of the Royal Air Force with an engineering qualification, and the Director of Research who is a very distinguished civilian scientist with good qualifications. That is a very suitable combination—the Air Force officer with an engineering qualification and the civilian scientist qualified on the research side pure and simple. They work side by side under the Air Member for Research Development.
Then the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the recent accident to the Blenheim, and I do not blame him in the least for raising that question, in view of what he has seen in the newspapers. He will remember that in introducing the Estimates I was perfectly candid on the subject of the supply of instruments. I said there was no lack of instruments but, as regards the operating mechanism for those instruments, the supply was at the moment not fully adequate. Therefore in the case of machines such as the Blenheim, which have their instruments operated only by the Venturi system, as a matter of precaution it was thought a good thing to issue instructions that the pilots were not to fly in fog or bad weather conditions, where the vacuum pump operating mechanism would be desirable in place of the Venturi system. It was entirely on that point that the particular instruction was issued to this aircraft. I should be sorry if the House thought from what appeared in the papers that there was any defect in the construction of the machine. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the pump situation will be satisfactorily solved by the end of this month.
§ Sir H. Seely
The hon. and gallant Gentleman went a little further than that 919 in his statement in which, dealing with the question of accidents, he said:Let me dispose at once of the suggestion that they are due to lack of instruments. That is not so.This case is surely one in which there was an accident due to lack of instruments, and what we are criticising is that this lack of instruments has not been made good as quickly as we hoped.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
It was because of this particular lack, not of instruments but of operating mechanism, that the order was given not to fly in fog.
§ Mr. Benn
In justice to this unfortunate airman I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman realises that he was ordered to make a flight, and it is not fair therefore to speak of difficult conditions. He was not responsible for them. What he did apparently was to go too high. I think that was the case. It may be that stress of weather forced him. Apart from that, what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the pumps is satisfactory if they are going to be supplied by the end of the month.
§ Dr. Peters
In this particular case it was not lack of instruments, but Sergeant Smith, the pilot, had never flown such an aeroplane before with instruments at all, and he had never been in that particular aeroplane before that day. It is not a question of lack of instruments.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I do not want to become involved in the details of the court-martial. I do not want to shirk the matter, but I do want to assure hon. Members that there was no substantial defect in the aeroplane which might require modification, but that it was simply a lack of this operating mechanism and I am able to assure the House that the supply of this operating mechanism will be completely satisfactory by the end of this month. The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of profits, and that was also mentioned by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) and the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). The right hon. Gentleman said that any suggestion that people were making money out of national Defence, or out of war, was damaging to our morale, and any of us who were in the last War must have felt occasionally 920 such a feeling in our bones. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to stress too strongly the comparison of the last War with our present expansion programme. After all, expansion in the War was undertaken in circumstances of exceptional stress and with comparatively no experience of expansion of that nature behind us.
Although there is stress and speed in the present programme, no one will suggest that the stress and speed are comparable to that in the last War. We have laid down machinery which we believe to be satisfactory for getting our programme completed expeditiously and at the same time with due regard to the public purse. I would also like the House to remember that this machinery has received the strong approval of the Estimates Committee. There is now machinery for arbitration. The general lay-out of our procedure and machinery for arbitration is such that I think hon. Members may rest assured that, as far as it is reasonably possible, anything in the nature of unreasonable profit is being avoided. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen suggested that industry was afraid to approach us with complaints or to make suggestions because we got annoyed with them and penalised them by refusing to employ them. I can assure the hon. Member that no such thought exists in the minds of those at the Air Ministry. My Noble Friend is anxious to get the programme implemented as quickly and as effectively as he can. We have conversations with industry. Whether they come under the head of complaints or not I do not know, but I do know that on both sides they are simply regarded as conversations in the ordinary working of business, to present difficulties which may be there and to clear them away at the earliest possible moment in order that production may proceed.
The hon. Member mentioned the question of officers drinking. There have been so many opinions, so many insinuations and so many explanations bandied around, that I feel almost muzzy myself. The question, however, has been satisfactorily dealt with by hon. Members who have spoken but have more practical experience of the Royal Air Force than I have. I would like to say this, because the point has been raised with me 921 privately by a number of people who are very anxious to know whether there is every possible check on the physical, and with it the mental, capacity of pilots, and whether every possible step is taken to ensure that any possible deterioration in their morale or capacity is noticed. If hon. Members will read some of the regulations and instructions to medical officers in the Royal Air Force they will see that one point stressed is the necessity of medical officers having the most constant contact with pilots in their work, in their ordinary life and in their games, so that any deterioration in morale and efficiency can be noticed at the earliest stage. I am sure hon. Members will like to be assured on that point.
Then the hon. Member for North Aberdeen referred to the question of the relationship of the cost of the first batch of machines to the final cost. The hon. Member proceeded on quite a wrong assumption that if you make the cost of the first batch very high it necessarily makes for a bigger price throughout the order. Let me detail the arrangements for arriving at this price. If possible one likes to arrive at a fixed price with the firms at the earliest possible stage, but if that is not possible one then proceeds to allow one or another batch to be manufactured. Such batches having been manufactured it is then thought desirable to go for a fixed price, which we prefer, if it can be arranged, or failing that to agree to what is known as the basic cost. The basic cost means that the Air Ministry fixes a target price, and if the firm manufactures below that target price there is machinery to share the saving involved between the Air Ministry and the firm; not however as high as on a 50 per cent. basis. Hon. Members are quite wrong if they think that we base our target price on the cost of a particular batch or batches which may have been turned out. So far as we fix the basic price it is entirely on the basis of what we think is a fair and reasonable price for straight production, and we are not influenced by the fact that the cost of the original batch may have been high.
Referring again to the arbitration machinery, if one cannot arrive at a reasonable fixed price with the firm, and if alternatively the firm is unwilling to accept what we consider to be a reasonable target price, then there is arbitration 922 machinery which can be invoked to deal with the matter. On the question of subcontracts the hon. Member is wrong in thinking that the Air Ministry's detailed investigation is confined to cases where we either direct that purchase shall be made from a particular firm or where we are dealing in a particular article. Then I come to the question where sub-contracts are put up for competition. Where a sub-contract is put up for competition and we consider that the competition is sufficiently wide, and are satisfied that the lowest priced tender is accepted, normally we are prepared to take that as a reasonable price. I say "normally," but if we are not satisfied that it is a reasonable price, we have a perfect right to undertake a more detailed investigation into the actual cost. The hon. Member need not think that our investigation is confined to the two instances suggested.
The right hon. Member for Epping raised a point which justly found a ready response in the minds of many hon. Members, and that is the question of short-service pilots. I should like to join other hon. Members in endorsing the eulogy which he paid them. To a great extent I had short-service pilots in mind when, in introducing the Estimates, I paid a tribute to the spirit in which the personnel accepted the accommodation provided under temporary circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman was largely concerned with opening up a prospect of permanent careers for these pilots. Our sympathies are entirely with him. It is known, of course, by the short-service pilots when they enter, that only a number, not however an unsubstantial number, of permanent commissions are open, but nobody can talk to the short-service officers without recognising how sad it is in many cases where an officer has good service, good conduct, and has acquired a desire for a permanent commission, which he may not have had when he entered the service, is unable, owing to the fact that there are not sufficient vacancies to get a permanent commission. I have always been sorry when I have met cases of that description, and I can assure the House that this matter is being carefully considered. I think they can rest assured that out of the officers who entered in 1935 and subsequently for a period of four years that a larger number than formerly will be retained for permanent commissions. We shall proceed on the 923 assumption that a considerable expansion of the Air Force will take place and that in granting permanent commissions we shall not play for absolute safety.
The Air Ministry is indeed well aware of the need for increased experience among the officers of the Air Force and this will be kept largely in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) dealt with the subject of the granting of commissions, and raised a point about the shortage of a variety of technical men in the Air Force, which makes training very difficult. As my hon. Friend will remember, the new depot which we are setting up at Cosford will be in many ways a reproduction of the one at Halton. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) raised the question of the number of pilots, and asked whether we have enough pilots. The programme for the forthcoming year provides for 1,368 short-service pilots as opposed to 1,190 last year. I hope those figures will indicate to him that we are aware of the need for increasing the number of pilots as the expansion of the Air Force proceeds. I would also draw my hon. and gallant Friend's attention to the position and prospects of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Last year, we estimated for 800 pilots and we got over 1,000, and everything points to the future success of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Is my hon. and gallant Friend satisfied that we are doing all that is necessary in this country, when a nation within striking distance has 50,000 pilots? In the early days of the War, there was a tremendous wastage, and we ought to have a maximum of young fellows under training in this country. All that is necessary is to make it cheap for them to learn to fly and they would be splendid men to man our bombers if the emergency again arose. I ask my hon. and gallant Friend and the Noble Lord to look into this point, because I am not satisfied that there are enough men training as pilots.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I do not necessarily accept the hon. and gallant Member's figure of 50,000 pilots for Germany. I merely put it to him that the figures show that both with regard to Regular officers in the squadrons on the active list and on the Reserve, we are not merely content with maintaining 924 the numbers, but are taking active steps to increase them.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I apologise for interrupting the hon. and gallant Member, but this is a vital point. I had the honour of being in the United States during the last year of the War, and they trained over 11,000 pilots. In view of the figures given by my hon. Friend and the fact that the hon. and gallant Member is talking about 2,000 pilots, I am certain that the extent of our shortage in that direction is not even yet realised.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I am not talking about 2,000 pilots. During the last three years we have trained 4,500 pilots, an annual average of 1,500, compared with an annual average of 300 prior to the expansion period. I wish to impress on the House that, both with regard to the active list and the voluntary channel, we are taking active steps to take on the additional pilots that may be required. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford asked whether we are in constant touch with the electricity authorities in order to see whether overhead wires can be put underground. I may say that our contact with the electricity authorities is very constant, and that as far as possible wires are placed underground.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) raised the question of exports, and asked what types, and particularly what numbers of the types under construction, are exported. It is not customary to give information with regard to foreign business of particular firms, but I can assure my hon. Friend, as I assured the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well) the other day, that the proportion of types of new construction exported is very small indeed. In point of fact, the majority of the military aircraft which have been exported were not taken from orders which we placed with firms, but were additional to those orders, and new types form a very small proportion of the exports. My hon. Friend then raised the question of the possibility of manufacture in Canada. The utilisation of Canada is a point which, like the utilisation of Imperial resources generally, has been considered. In a case such as the present one, it was a question whether, in point of fact, manufacture in this country would not secure more speedy delivery.
§ Mr. Perkins
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer the second part of the question which I put on that subject? Would it not be possible for a squadron of the Wellesleys to go to Canada and to fly back this summer, in order to show people in Europe that it is a possible course?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) asked a question about wooden construction. I assure him that the question of wooden construction, especially with regard to the stress of the expansion programme, has been and is being considered very closely at the Air Ministry. I take note of my hon. and gallant Friend's remark on that subject. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) raised a question which he has raised with me several times before, namely, the transfer of bomber squadrons from his native county and my ancestral country. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has said, Defence cannot be considered in watertight compartments. We have to consider strategical problems very widely, and there is no cause for a particular part of the country to complain because it does not happen to have bomber aircraft upon its doorstep. In the last War, it seemed to me that Scotland had its full share of the Grand Fleet, but I lived in the South, except when I was abroad, and I did not raise any very great complaint on that score. These questions of big strategical importance have to be considered not in watertight compartments, but from the point of view of the Defence of Great Britain as a whole.
§ Mr. Mathers
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves that point, will he answer a question which is very near to my heart? What is to happen to the people who are dismissed from Turn-house and Donibristle? Is there no possibility for them, where they have had experience, to have employment under the Air Ministry?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I apologise to the hon. Member; I did not wish to shirk that point. When I replied before that the ordinary means of obtaining employment would be open to these people, the hon. Member said that he supposed I referred to the Employment Exchanges. That was what I had in mind. After all, there is 926 now no slur whatever on the Employment Exchanges, and they simply indicate a very wide, comprehensive and successful system for obtaining employment for all and sundry. I cannot hold out any particular hope for special employment for these people, but it seems to me that as far as people lose their employment by the moving of the squadrons, the machinery of the Employment Exchanges will be open to them. I appreciate the hon. Member's concern for his constituents. I think I have ranged comprehensively over many of the questions that have been raised in the Debate so far, and although I do not suggest that on this occasion I have satisfied everybody—indeed, perhaps the proportion of my successes has been small—I should like once again to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton for the spirit in which he opened the Debate and other hon. Members for the spirit in which they have continued it.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I have listened in vain for something to be said about the men who are most important, namely, the engineers who produce the engines which drive the aeroplanes. It is stated in the Memorandum that:There has been a shortage of draughtsmen and skilled labour.… No effort has been spared to minimise the effect of these factors, and no measure which foresight could suggest as likely to accelerate production, has been neglected.I hold, with all due respect to the Under-Secretary of State, that this is something which has been neglected and something to which I have drawn the attention of the Government time and time again. What I fear is that there may be behind it all the idea of introducing conscription. I know what happened when the last War was on, and I know what the Defence of the Realm Act was. I know the price I had to pay in defence of engineers who were forced to go under the Defence of the Realm Act, and I do not want to see the same thing happen again. The engineers will not stand for either military conscription or industrial conscription. I was the guest of the engineers on Saturday night, and the engineers who run all the factories in and around London which produce aeroplane engines empowered me to tell the House that there will be no conscription for them. They also want me to say that the engineers have demands which they have been 927 making for a long time. Those demands are not outrageous, but reasonable ones, and they can be met if the Government are prepared to meet the workers in the same kindly, considerate fashion as they are prepared to meet the officers or the employers in the industry. The interests of the officers have been gone into to-day and the rights of employers of labour have been put forward, but the most important section, namely, the engineers, has been overlooked. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Minister of Munitions, I told him that one engineer was worth a dozen even of his kind, and at the moment engineers are more valuable than lawyers. They will have to be considered because I believe that free men are better than slaves, either in peace or in war.
I have not, as you know, Mr. Speaker, taken a large part in the Debates in this House for some time. I have been requested by my doctors not to do so, but I would be failing in my duty if I were to sit quietly here when, on the Clyde, discontent is abroad because of the present Government's mismanagement in their handling of the situation. In my constituency of Dumbarton men are on strike at the aeroplane factory and in Parkhead Forge at the other end. Discontent is rampant. Officials of my union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, at the present moment are using all their influence to keep the men from coming out on strike. I have warned the Government for over a year about this. I have done everything I possibly could to get them to use their influence in order to avoid trouble. What are they doing? They have not mentioned anything about the men here to-day.
I listened to the elaborate and painstaking reply of the Under-Secretary. Undoubtedly it was painstaking. He evidently tried to meet all and sundry, but not a word was said about the men, although he knows that what I am stating is the case. Why is nothing being done to meet the just demands of the men? We are told that there is a shortage of draughtsmen and skilled labour. I deny that there is a shortage of skilled labour. That statement is not true. There is no shortage of skilled engineers in this country. I told the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer that 928 it was a mistake to make a statement of that kind in the House of Commons. I said that if Germany were our enemy, it was playing into the hands of our enemies to tell them that there was a shortage of our most valuable asset. We have more skilled engineers in this country than any other two countries put together.
Why does it appear that there is such a shortage? It is because, against all the influence that my colleagues and I could use, the engineers gave up their trade rights at the time of the last War. We maintained then that those trade rights were not ours to surrender, but were ours to defend. The engineers gave them up and pledges were given to their leaders. Their leaders at that time were as good men as the engineers ever produced—as good as the men who are leading them now. But I wish to warn those who are leading the engineers now, against falling into the same trap as that into which George Barnes and company, fell during the War. Those men were in earnest and believed that they were serving the best interests of the working class of this country, and they got all the pledges that it was possible to get that those trade rights would be respected after the war was over. Were they respected? Certainly not. The engineer was driven down and down until his wages were lower than those of the scavenger in the streets. The result was that the best men, the most highly-skilled men, left the industry. We have them in Glasgow to-day, as drivers and conductors of trams and buses. Some of the best turners that were ever on the Clyde have gone from the trade. They would be most valuable men in engineering at the moment, but they are earning in other occupations double the wages which they could get as engineers. They are acting as commission agents for the co-operative societies and other organisations. They have left the engineering trade because of the scandalous wages that are being paid in that trade.
Every effort to raise the status of the engineers has been thwarted. The officials of our union have stated an irrefutable case to the employers of labour and have appealed time and again to their patriotism. All has been of no avail. No other industry in the country has been treated in the matter of wages as the engineers have been treated. What advance were they offered? A farthing an hour. That is an engineer's rise—a farthing an hour. 929 We thought we had destroyed all that kind of thing 25 years ago when we got them an advance of 1d. an hour, but here we are back to it again. There is no shortage of skilled labour if the engineers are treated properly, and again I make an appeal to the Government. I do not want to go out and raise all the discontent which I can raise.
I honestly believe that the people of this country, irrespective of their political opinions, are anxious that our Air Force should be as efficient as possible. What annoys me is that every section connected with the Air Force or the Navy is being looked after at the present juncture except the engineers. It is not my fault. I have gone out of my way as I am doing now to try to get the Government to face up to certain employers on this question. I am not going to stand it much longer. The Government have said to me, "You know so-and-so and the type of employer he is." I know the type of employer but what is the use of a Government which is afraid of an employer of labour. I am not afraid of him and the men are not afraid of him. The Government have to face the situation, which I know is very serious at the moment. It is very serious not only in its foreign aspect but in its home aspect also. We know what is going on at the moment on the Clyde.
I am not desirous to see that business spreading if we get half decent treatment—which up to now we have not done. We are simply being pushed to one side, but the Government can take it from me that I will not be pushed to one side, and neither will the 340,000 engineers whom I represent in this House. The time has come for straight speaking. I want a reply, and that reply will go back to Scotland to-morrow. I have promised that. It is all very well to talk about the personnel of the Air Force and the conditions of this, that or the other section while at the same time the Government leave out of account what is, in my opinion, the most important section. But they cannot do what was done at the time of the last War. The men who sit on these benches have been sent here for the express purpose of voting in the interests of the working classes and not to make friends with the Government. They are sent here with a definite purpose, and the workers will hold them to that purpose.
930 If the Government act half-decently towards the engineers they need not think about conscription. If they make any attempt at conscription or even a suggestion of it, there will be serious trouble in this country. It is not that the engineer is any less patriotic than any other section of the community. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) is here because he said something last week which annoyed me very much. I spoke to him personally about it afterwards, because I did not want to interfere with his speech in case he might misunderstand my interjection. He referred to sabotage, and he asked that notices should be posted in the works about the terrible penalties that would be inflicted on engineers who indulged in sabotage. I hope the Government will do nothing of the kind.
I reiterate that there is no more patriotic section of the community than the engineers. No man loves his country more than I do, and I say that a suggestion emanating from this House that the engineers were capable of sabotage, is the very thing that would bring into force "ca' canny" in no uncertain fashion. The idea of sabotage has never entered the minds of the engineers. They are too proud of their trade and their craftsmanship to entertain such an idea. Certainly I have been among individuals who were prepared to do anything, and it is quite true that time and again there were rebels among us, but these are the conditions that produce the rebels, when you will not treat the men properly. These men are good men, men of character and ability, men who do not fear to do what they think right, and when they believe they have right on their side, nothing will stop them from accomplishing what they feel to be right. I hope I have said sufficient to make the Government get a move on in no uncertain fashion, because it is a very serious matter, otherwise I would not have risen at this time.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
I feel that the whole House will have heard with considerable satisfaction the very clear statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air with regard to the recent court-martial arising out of the abandonment of a Blenheim aeroplane. It was very unfortunate that the order relating 931 to the flight of these aeroplanes should have been published in the papers in the way in which it was, because, although we who are connected with the Air Force thoroughly understood the reason for the order, unfortunately it has caused a great deal of alarm throughout the county, because the reports of that case evidently gave the impression that the Blenheim was only a fair-weather machine and was unsafe for flying. It is unfortunate that probably more people will have read the reports of the court-martial than will bother to read the very clear and interesting statement of the Under-Secretary of State, and so I hope the Press will give some prominence to his statement on that matter, because it would be most unfortunate if it really got abroad that this very excellent bombing machine was in some way unsafe to fly.
I want now to turn to a question which I raised on the Air Estimates last week, to which I did not get an answer, probably owing to the lateness of the hour. I refer to the question of the balloon barrage. I spoke particularly for Birmingham and the Midlands, but the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) referred to the same state of affairs as existing in Edinburgh and on the Clyde, and it is a fact that people living in the large industrial areas throughout the country are seriously disturbed, because they cannot understand why a balloon barrage should be set up for London and denied for equally vulnerable and perhaps even more likely targets in the country. I do not wish to go into the question at any length, but to an airman this is undoubtedly the most terrifying form of defence and, properly sited, can be a really valuable deterrent. I hope the Under-Secretary of State or whoever replies for the Government will give some assurance to these large industrial areas that in the increased expansion greater attention will be given to this particular form of defence.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
This Debate is largely of a technical character, and although I shall touch on at least two items that are in the Air Estimates, even though they be indirectly referred to, yet I feel it incumbent on me to intervene and, in the first place, to comment on the fact that, inasmuch as the Estimates have grown from £17,761,000 in 1934 to £73,500,000 932 in 1938, there has been no intimation or indication as to when this steady expansion is to cease. I mention this because in this Debate and in other similar Debates on the fighting Services there has been more than one reference to the assumption that if only we can build up our fighting forces, there will be no need for us to link ourselves up with any other Power in the world, and certainly no need to pay more than lip service to the conception of the League of Nations. I will merely say, therefore, in passing, that it seems to me that if we are trying to secure something like air parity with Germany, seeing that she had some 65,000,000 people, or something like 75,000,000 to 80,000,000 people now that Austria has been merged in greater Germany, it will be a very severe task on us ever to have anything like air parity with that particular State. We, with our population of approximately 45,000,000, surely cannot hope, save by severely cutting down expenditure on our social services, ever to come within any degree of parity with so numerically vast a State as Germany.
I should like, therefore, to hear from whoever replies for the Government some indication as to when our air expansion is likely to cease. Is there no limit? Are we to go on expending at the same rate indefinitely, and, in the happy avoidance of war, are we to anticipate that in four years' time relatively the same expansion has been achieved? If so, I will merely say that inevitably it will mean, rightly or wrongly, for good or for ill, not only a limitation of our social services, but very severe inroads upon them. We cannot have our cake and eat it at the same time. If we are going to spend £150,000,000 in four or five years' time upon the Air Force, then that will undoubtedly have a very severe effect upon the expenditure on our other services.
I was interested too in the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) respecting the need for maintaining morale. He referred to this at the conclusion of his interesting speech, and if I may, with some temerity, say so, it seems to me imperative that that factor, that rather intangible but to me most important factor, should not be lost sight of. Though there may be some who are prepared to join a fighting force merely for the sheer fun of learning how 933 to kill, I am persuaded that the great majority of people will only undertake such a dreadful task because they believe it necessary for some great cause or purpose. There are some, I know, who feel that an appeal to the Empire and Imperial interests is sufficient, and in some cases no doubt it is. Equally I am persuaded that in many other cases it is utterly inadequate. This may be a minority, but there is, I am positive, a considerable minority of men in this country who will not respond merely to the Imperialist appeal. They may respond, according to their conscience, to an appeal to uphold law, democracy, the League of Nations, or some conception of international rights, and if hon. Members opposite really desire to secure 100 per cent. efficiency in technique and morale, I earnestly suggest to them, while not deprecating, from their own standpoint, the Imperialist appeal, that at the same time they should recognise there are vast numbers of people to whom that purely Imperialist appeal no longer has the strength that once it had. I would suggest to them that along with their appeal to the people of this country to support this expanding Air Force, they should mingle a little of the League of Nations stuff with the stimulant they offer to the country, otherwise there will arise a growing scepticism among large numbers of people as to the ultimate purpose to which this vast and terrifying machine is likely to be devoted.
I observe that there is an item of £15,000 in the Estimates set on one side for the benefit of the chaplains in the Royal Air Force, and I suppose it can be assumed that nominally at least one should look to them to encourage the morale of the officers and of the rank and file of the Air Force. I have nothing to say against the chaplains in the Air Force. I am quite prepared to admit that in many respects they must render very good service to the men among whom they work, though there may be frequently a bias among them to associate much more with the officer class than with the ordinary rank and file. But although I have nothing to say against them and although I believe that in a social way they perform very valuable service from time to time, I would nevertheless point out that there is a certain embarrassment in the functions that they are expected to fulfil. It must be extremely 934 difficult for chaplains at times to undertake to preach sermons on the higher ethics of the New Testament shortly before the men to whom they are preaching go out prepared for the most ingenious form of modern destruction.
I mention that because I want to ask, quite frankly, whether this £15,000 to be spent upon our chaplaincy is really justified. I am not saying that there should not be spiritual ministrations to those who are in the Air Force. It is quite likely that many of them require some kind of consolation for the task which society is imposing upon them, and I admit that there may be the necessity for spiritual ministrations to those who may be called upon to do the same dreadful deeds that airmen are now performing in some parts of the world in dropping bombs, not only upon combatants, but also upon the civilian population. If such a spiritual ministry is necessary, I suggest, first of all, that it will be better if there is no element of coercion or of compulsion to secure the attendance of the men at services which these chaplains may organise. Why should it not be recognised that men in the Air Force are just as entitled freely to choose whether they should go to church as men who are not in the Air Force? I would offer encouragement to those who feel so disposed to enter into a service of worship, but equally I am positive that it is a form of blasphemy, inconsistency, and hypocrisy to coerce men into doing that which, in their heart of hearts, they have no desire to do. Such a forcible worship of the Deity, I suggest, is the very thing that breeds agnosticism, cynicism, and scepticism in the men's souls.
Why should the chaplains be paid for by the State? Why should we not ask the various denominations to supply the chaplains and to be responsible for them? They should not be looked upon as just the religious department of the fighting forces, but should be there as representatives of the acknowledged religious denominations of the country. There are other State services in the land besides the fighting services. There is the Civil Service, and I have never yet heard of compulsory church parade for those in the Civil Service. It may be that they need it more than those in the fighting services, but I am persuaded that if such a suggestion were made half the clerks in Whitehall would walk out in protest.
935 If there is no suggestion that there should be compulsion and coercion in religious matters among civil servants, why should we not exercise the same respect for the individual consciences of the men in the fighting forces? We have a service here every afternoon. Members may come or not as they please. As we are free to come or not, and as most do not come without, I trust, any obvious reflection on their consciences nor any sign of degradation thereby, why should we not apply the same principles to those of our fellows who conscientiously join the Air Force? Surely there is no suggestion that those in the Air Force, in order to become fiercer fighters and more efficient fighting men, require doses of religion now and again. Surely it is not suggested that that is the particular nature of the spiritual ministrations of the chaplains? If it be not, we might very well establish the principle, which I am convinced would be appreciated deeply by the Air Force, that while there should be facilities for worship, only those need go who wish to go, and there should be no kind of penalty if they choose not to go. I mentioned just now the question of morale. I endorse the plea of my right hon. Friend for a recognition that morale should be encouraged. I mentioned the diverse causes and ideals which are held out to those in the fighting forces. The one undoubted ideal which will encourage morale is the ideal of democracy and yet when we look at the structure of the Air Force we find that, although it is slightly better than the other forces, approximately three-quarters of the officers are drawn from one particular class. I was chided when I mentioned this factor in another connection by a Noble Lady who declared that there was no question of class consciousness in it at all. That is a denial of facts. We only have to look at the figures to realise that approximately three-quarters of the officers are drawn from one class. Although there are certain forms of State financial assistance all the incidental expenses in the training of an officer for any of our fighting forces made it impossible for any child of the working class or lower middle class to anticipate entering the Air Force save into the lower ranks.
I would, therefore, press on the Government that, if they wish to vindicate their claim that our fighting forces are a regretable 936 necessity to be used by the State to preserve democracy, the surest way to do it is to start progressively to apply the principle to the Air Force. I am not suggesting anything rash or hasty, for I know there are great difficulties in the way. The suggestion made by one hon. Member the other day that the reason why in another Service more men have not been promoted to the officer class is that they were limited in their intellectual abilities, is false. It is not true to suggest that the possession of the old school tie alone can indicate intellectual capacity or administrative ability. Given the right sort of training, the children of the working-class and lower middle class can be as good administrators as those who pass through by way of the public school. If we believe, as I admit the great majority of the people believe, that it is necessary to have an expansion of our fighting forces, let us not drive steadily to the stage where we shall merely be subject to blind forces on the one hand or the old class structure on the other. Let us preserve some kind of relationship between these dreadful instruments of destruction and those principles which the best men endorse, and let us apply the principle of democracy in such a way that those who want to enter the Air Force will not be confined, because they belong to working-class and lower middle class stock, to the ranks. Let us make it easier for them to enter the officer class. If that means expenditure, and even if it means cutting down the expenditure on the chaplains, we shall derive more ethical benefits by bridging the gulf between the two classes than if we went on spending money on chaplains.
I have little to say regarding the technical questions which have been argued so interestingly by Members this evening. One listens to debates about this and the other forces with amazement as if one were present at a post-mortem examination or some terrible preparation for a dark and grim deed to be done in the near future. We are becoming more and more conditioned into accepting the dreadful position in which we are spending a staggering amount of the nation's wealth in preparing for war. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong or that it can be avoided. I am saying, however, that our concentration on preparations for war and our absorption of the psychological 937 atmosphere of fear are almost as damaging to civilisation as war itself. If these terrible instruments of destruction are to be endorsed by the great majority of people I plead that they should be linked up with some principle, some ideal, in order that, while we are preparing them, we may preserve some semblance of our souls.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Tufnell
I do not intend to go into questions of air policy, which have been already dealt with ably by other Members. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend and the Air Ministry are doing their best in the difficult task of bringing the Air Force up to adequate numbers. I want to raise a point in regard to the Australian and New Zealand pilots who come over to do training in this country. They come a long distance for a training of something like five years. During that period they are allowed during a year leave of a month or two months, but it is not sufficient to enable them to return, if they wish, to their own countries in order to spend their leave in their homes. The journey there and back would use up all the leave which they are granted. If my hon. and gallant Friend could enable these officers. should they wish to do so, to save up their leave for two or three years, so that they would then have four or five months in which to go home and return, such a concession, which could be easily arranged, would be a great encouragement to officers to come over from Australia or New Zealand, because it would make them feel that they were being well treated by this Government. That is all that I have to say, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will consider this suggestion.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
I imagine that the Debate is drawing to its close, but if I add a few sentences at this moment I do so without any desire to restrict Debate if hon. Members should think fit to carry it on. One great difficulty faces any hon. Member who attempts to criticise the Government upon these Estimates. With conditions in world politics in the nature of a crisis, and in view of the importance and necessity of rearmament, there is likely to be some embarrassment if things are said in this House which can be repeated to our potential enemies. I have 938 had something to say about the Air Ministry, and the Prime Minister as well as the "Daily Telegraph" seemed to think that it was rather bad manners, and hardly in the public interest, to bring forward certain matters for the Minister to answer, but I do not think I have said anything more, or anything likely to be more embarrassing, than has been said this evening and on other occasions by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and this evening by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins). The problems are there, but no attempt has been made by the Under-Secretary or by the Prime Minister to answer the questions which have been put in earlier stages of these Debates. Both have taken refuge in the right of the Cabinet and the Government to preserve secrecy.
When an inquiry was asked for into the charges made against the administration of the Air Ministry we were told that although the Cadman Report did have some reflection upon the military side of the Air Ministry the difference lay in the fact that civil aviation was not a matter of Government responsibility to the same extent as is the direction of the Air Force. I realise the value of that distinction, and I think upon reflection there is something in it, but it is no answer to the demand for an investigation. The Under-Secretary will remember that when it was first proposed to investigate the civil side of the Air Ministry a committee was set up which was not acceptable to the House, because it consisted of civil servants. I think there is something in the objection that it would not be desirable for outsiders to investigate questions affecting the Air Force side of the Ministry, but I suggest that a committee of civil servants, though not adequate for the purpose of investigating civil aviation, might be acceptable as regards the allegations about the conduct of the Air Ministry.
The Under-Secretary has made his usual long and meticulous speech. He has gone very closely into the items in the Estimates, but always he speaks in the same bland fashion. The same air of complacency is evident whenever he defends a Department, whichever it may be. It was so when he was responsible for another Department. I do not mean by that that there has been any neglect on his part of the points brought forward, but his assumption that his words quietly 939 expressed are quite sufficient to dispose of any criticism. I am afraid that is not so. Nothing could be more definite in support of the demand for investigation than the statement of the Under-Secretary today that there was no guarantee that the 1,750 aeroplanes promised for the squadrons would be of an up-to-date type. That is the gravamen of the charge of neglect against the Ministry. They are training machines. There is nothing in the nature of parity with Germany about them, and all that we know as to the bombers of a high speed and great power such as would be required for use in the event of war. No guarantee is actually given us, although a date has been stated; we are only told that there will be substantial progress in the delivery of the machines, not in the development and the operation of the service, by the end of March, 1939.
We hear a great deal about the first line of defence. Both the right hon. Member for Epping and the Under-Secretary have reverted to the little quarrel between them as to whether first line of defence means this, that or the other. I suggest that the question facing the Government and the country to-day is something very much bigger than what first line of defence actually means. I do not want to enter into questions of high policy or foreign politics, but when we are discussing the administration of the Ministry, the competence of pilots, the number of machines and their qualifications, surely we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have not merely the Metropolitan area, speaking in an Air Force sense, to defend, but also our far-flung Empire, and long trade and food routes, and it also has to be considered in relation to the situation in Europe, which goes far beyond any consideration of parity or what is first-line and what is not. While the Rome-Berlin axis is being hardened and tempered and is revolving, while all these problems relating to the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, to Italy, to Germany, to Czechoslovakia, the supply of materials for war and for armaments, are in front of us and we face the fact that the dictators of Europe are beginning to make themselves invincible in Europe, I suggest that there should be something like a war mentality in the administration and production sides of the Air Ministry.
940 When I spoke last on this subject I pointed out that there has been a large increase this year in the export of military aeroplanes to foreign countries. That statement must have been misunderstood or mis-heard, because it has been asked in reply why we advocate the sending of military aeroplanes to Spain. That is no answer to the question. We are not concerned with sending military aeroplanes to Spain, but with giving the right to the Spanish Government to buy aeroplanes from whatever country they please, and from whatever markets there might be. The fact is that we have vastly increased our export of military aeroplanes to foreign countries at a time when one of the reasons given for the delay in the supply of air frames is the shortage of supplies and of skilled labour, and the absence of the facilities for the production of the various component parts. We ought to be told why private firms who are asked to re-arm this country, and are paid handsomely for the privilege of doing so, should be allowed to spend time, material and skilled labour upon the manufacture of aeroplanes to be sent to foreign countries. Even if they are off the secret list, it does not matter.
The Under-Secretary has spoken about reasonable profits, and has once again told us about the safeguards which exist to prevent private firms making too much money out of national necessities and to keep the cost down to a reasonable figure. What does he call a reasonable figure and what is a reasonable margin of profit? Let us remember the situation. The nation demands rearmament at a rapid pace and pays handsomely for all the stages up to production. There is a national emergency which we are told may lead to a demand for conscription. Yet we find firms making 50 per cent. profit, other firms making as much as £500,000 more profit this year than they made last year, and a vast increase generally in profit and in the market value of shares of aircraft firms. Why should any shareholder get any more profit out of the necessities of the nation than he is getting to-day? I am talking about the rate of profit. If more capital is required, more profit must be made in order to meet a reasonable demand for dividend upon the new capital, but this is not a question of new capital. It is a question of the rate of profit. We maintain that there is not the slightest justification 941 for huge profits being taken, not only by aircraft production firms but by every subsidiary firm supplying, or carrying out sub-contracts, and so forth.
I have one or two points of a narrower character. One is a question which has always been raised, and which arises out of the tragic court-martial. I am sorry to have to refer to this again. I have no intention of entering into the merits of the case. I refer to it because of what was stated in an answer given to my own remarks about the admission of Air-Marshal Mitchell that untrained pilots were sent up to fly heavy and high-speed bombers. The answer was that inexperienced pilots must at some time or other be put into these powerful machines. That is no answer. It is wonderful what the substitution of a word will do to an argument. I did not say "inexperienced" pilots; I used the words that Air-Marshal Mitchell used— "untrained" pilots. If it is true that untrained pilots—not inexperienced, because it is obvious that someone has to go first into these machines, however powerful and however high-speed they are—are sent up, we want to know what justification there can be for doing so in time of peace. I have referred to the court-martial because the defender of the unfortunate officer who spoke in the House a little while ago stated that the pilots had been sent up inexperienced in those machines. He used that word. I do not want to make assertions or convey implications which would be misunderstood or would be untrue, but it looks as though too much unnecessary risk is being taken. I appreciate that there must be some risk in the training of pilots, and that they must have experience approximating to what they may have in war, but they ought to be trained. When we come to the exigencies of war there may be excuse for sending up untrained men, but I hope there will never be such an excuse. That excuse is not a justifiable one in time of peace and at the present moment.
In a very powerful speech my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) dealt with the subject of the treatment of labour. He was justified in what he said. The simple fact is that engineers are working for less than an up-to-date municipality would pay its dustmen. They are working on aircraft, but they are regarded as so much merchandise. The idea is that their labour 942 is some kind of commodity to be bought and sold on the market without any consideration of the human aspect of the matter. I do not know whether the number of engineers available is greater than the number required, but I should not think so, yet the engineers referred to are paid extraordinarily low wages. There ought to be no justification for that state of affairs while firms are able to boast about vast increases in their profits, and while the Stock Exchange can talk about the White Paper boom.
I refer to that, although I cannot add very much to what the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs has said, because the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) raised the question of the treatment of officers, as, indeed, did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed said that no amusements were provided for officers and that very often these aerodromes are a long way from towns, and it is very difficult for the officers to get reasonable amusements. I do not know whether that is put forward as an excuse for occasional indulgence in what are called "binges "—another term has been used in the Debate this evening—but whether that be so or not, I would remind the Under-Secretary that I have previously referred to this subject with regard to the workmen. I notice that no hon. Member has referred to the workmen in connection with amusements, but I pointed out that there was an aerodrome, miles away from anywhere, where the strict operation of the Fair Wages Clause resulted in hundreds of unskilled workmen with no amenities at all, drawn from all parts of the country and having to send part of their wages home, being paid a ridiculous low rate of 1s. 1d. an hour, with nothing for overtime on Saturdays or on Sundays. Nothing was mentioned about that, of course, because they are just workmen. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping spoke about what would happen to the officers if by some kind of blessedness—that was the word he used—we should be able to disarm. Surely the workmen who are employed in the aircraft industry and in the armament industry are entitled to ask the same kind of question. We have asked what is to happen to them when the armaments boom is over, and we have never been able to get a reply. It has been suggested 943 that to talk about slumps coming is unpatriotic, but it is good enough on the question of the officer and what is to happen to him, though it never seems, except on this side of the House, to be good enough to regard the same question as equally important from the point of view of the workers employed in the industry.
Finally, I am glad that the question of the democratisation of the Air Force and of the services generally has been raised. When we have war, if we do, which God forbid, we shall be in much the same position in every branch of the Services as we were during the last War. We shall not be able to depend upon the public schools; we shall have to draw officers from other classes. We had to do that during the last War. They even collared me.
§ Mr. Montague
Did we win? I am not sure whether the chance of losing a war might not be worth trying another time, to see if we can do a bit better out of it. Anyhow, I was one of those drawn from the ranks for a commission, and that will have to be done in the Air Force and in the other Services if war comes. Why is it still so difficult for members of any other class but the public school class to become officers in the Royal Air Force? I know, of course, that there are airmen pilots. A few of them can get through into the reserve, and I suppose that, through the reserve, they have some chance of entering for the examinations and getting training for more substantial posts as officers. That may be true, but we do not want just a ladder from the bottom to the top by which a few may painfully climb; we want a broad highway open to everyone. There is no reason why the officers of the Air Force should be drawn from one class in the main, and why that Service should not be open to merit from whichever class merit may be obtained. I am not going to argue whether one class is intellectually superior to another; that would come out in any examination and method of choice by those responsible for handing out the commissions. What we ask for is that the Services shall be democratic. We are supposed to be looking forward to fighting a war for democracy; let us begin 944 with democracy in the Services, for democracy in the Services is the best guarantee for civilian liberty that a nation should possibly have.
§ 8.52 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
Having sat through this Debate, I feel that I should like to say a word or two before the Minister finally replies. I entirely agree with the complaints that have been made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) as to the treatment meted out to that class with which he is more directly associated than any other, the engineers who are employed largely nowadays on the production of munitions. Some time ago, only after prolonged negotiations between the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the employers, there was a wage increase of ¼d. per hour, or 2d. per day, or about 1s. per week. I know that that gave rise to great feelings of discontent throughout the industry. It is true to say, and I speak with inner knowledge as a member of that union, that in the trade union branches to-day the main subject of discussion is that of wages in the factories. It is a point of sore discontent, and I think that in the general interests of the community, particularly in this period of relative pressure and uncertainty, it ought to be dealt with, and a gentle hint given from the Air Ministry or the Government itself to the employers in our engineering industry.
§ The question of balloon barrages has been touched upon slightly in the course of the Debate. At the instance of important interests and, in addition, of my own constituents, I raised this matter last week, but I must confess that I received no satisfactory reply, and I am almost bound to conclude that no satisfactory reply was possible because of the un-preparedness of the Air Ministry in this regard. We have on the North-East Coast, as elsewhere, important industrial centres whose time is wholly occupied in the production of munitions. Many thousands on Tyneside are engaged in that necessary work, and it is natural that both they and the employers who are the owners of these great works, in which many millions sterling are involved, should be very gravely concerned as to the question of adequate protection in the matter of balloon barrages or other means at the disposal of the Government. I have been specially asked, on behalf of 945 those interests and populations, to express the hope that the Minister will tell us something, not remote and visionary, but definite, as to this necessary protection.
§ I was surprised and disappointed that there should be any discussion on the morale of our Air Services. It seems to me that the world has long since accepted the view that the British people are ideal airmen for a substantial number of reasons—and I think particularly because of our phlegmatic outlook regarding everything on earth, and because, I think, to a pre-eminent degree, we have a simple and elementary love of country, innate sportsmanship and innate courage. These qualifications equip the British airmen, I will not say above the rest of civilisation, but certainly sufficiently to ensure that the question of the morale of our airmen ought never to be mentioned. In my judgment that morale to-day is ideal The hon. and gallant Admiral who has spoken just touched on the question of the expansion of our Air Force and the creation of additional pilots. I think the Air Ministry will be well advised to turn their serious attention to creating an air-minded population. We are neglecting our municipal and private aerodromes. There is ready there to the hand of the Air Ministry a great deal of assistance which would be given without cost—I speak as a member of a municipal aerodrome committee—merely at the word that patriotism would require sacrifices, monetary and otherwise, so far as our aerodromes are concerned, and the training of the civilian population in aeronautic experience of the air. I am certain that our aerodromes could be made attractive centres in many regards. The new technique which we are learning of patriotism could be expanded there, and we would have money pouring into our municipal and other aerodromes, so that they could be training grounds for pilots and technicians, who would supply the defence forces in due course.
§ It would not be in order, I believe, for me to refer to the internal air lines, which are being so sadly neglected, and which a little financial support would stimulate. But even there, the potential airmen of the future could be encouraged by the creation of this spirit of air-mindedness. I put these suggestions forward, without any idea of criticising the Minister. I am grateful for that explanatory statement which he made so clearly in dealing with 946 this broad and paramount problem of air defence, and I hope that these small points that I have raised, which are of great importance so far as the north-east coast is concerned, will bring forward a satisfactory reply, so that the future will not appear to us so blank in these matters as is the case at present.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I speak again only with the leave of the House. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for withdrawing his Amendment. I think it would be better if I spoke again, rather than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said I had made a long and meticulous speech. I am afraid it was rather long; but, if it was long and meticulous, it was merely so out of consideration for the House. Seldom have I heard a discussion in which so many points of real substance have been raised, and if I kept the House long on matters of detail it was out of consideration and respect for the House and not for the fun of hearing my own voice. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams), with his very practical and patriotic experience of municipal life, has now raised a consideration of which I assure him I shall take note. The hon. Member for West Islington mentioned questions of trade defence, which seems to come into our purview to a greater extent, perhaps, than into the purview of other nations. That is a case in point which shows tremendous diversity of factors which have to be considered. You have certain factors which operate in respect of this country and not in respect of others, and other factors which operate in respect of other countries and not so much in respect of our own. It is this diversity of factors which makes the question of parity so difficult to reduce to numerical form.
On the subject of exports of aircraft, I must say that we have, of course, exported aircraft of military types, but in the interest of our export aircraft trade, which it has been necessary to keep going 947 during the period of expansion. When it is said that there is no guarantee that, when we have this up-to-date aircraft, we should be no better off from an operational point of view. I will reply that we have stated in the White Paper the tremendous improvement in our operational results which we do expect to get. The hon. Members for West Islington and Consett both raised the question of the balloon barrage. Without committing myself in any way to the possibility of an extension of that, I can only say that it is desirable to get a measure of experience in the working of the balloon barrage before making plans for its extension elsewhere.
The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) put a practical point about the question of leave for Australian pilots of which I have taken note, and I will certainly look into the suggestion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who lifted the Debate from the plane of practical points put by so many hon. Members on to a high and interesting ethical plane, entered into a great dissertation on some chaplains and their use, their misuse, their remuneration and other points in which I was interested, but I do not know that I intend to follow him in detail at this late hour of the evening. Then there was the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirk-wood). I am sorry that he is not here, and that his doctor has interfered with what, I am sure, is one of his chief pleasures of life, which is making speeches in this House, and I only hope that the characteristic speech which he made tonight in this Debate will not have done his health any harm. He mentioned the very important question of the workers who are helping in the expansion programmes, and I should like to say how tremendously those responsible for the expansion programme recognise the valuable, loyal and hard work done by the numbers of employés, now expanded three times over, in the aircraft industry in connection with the expansion programme. I am glad that the hon. Member has given me this opportunity to pay that tribute.
The hon. Member for West Islington, in criticism of myself, said that I appeared to be complacent. I may not have been built upon very excitable 948 lines, but I should be sorry if it went out that I was complacent in the rather indifferent sense in which the word "complacency" is very often used. I feel that upon most of these points I have given an answer which is in some measure satisfactory, but I should be sorry if it were thought for a moment that by complacency it was intended to insinuate that, even in the junior position which I hold, I was not fully conscious of the immense issues involved in this question. Certainly I have no lack of that sense of responsibility, and by the tone of the whole discussion to-day hon. Members, quite obviously, share that responsibility.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
May I now once again ask the Under-Secretary whether he will deal with the labour question in respect of the huge amounts which are being spent upon aerodromes? I have twice brought forward this question and other labour questions, and, although the Under-Secretary has made an interesting speech in reply, I cannot help feeling that he has not attempted to answer a single argument brought forward from this side of the House. Here is one specific case, and, as we are on the particular Vote, may I ask him whether he is satisfied with paying the workmen doing this heavy and responsible work 1s. 1d. an hour?
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
The question of the remuneration of workpeople has been raised, and it has been insinuated that reduced rates of wages are being paid. There is the machinery of the Fair Wages Clause, which I do not think that the hon. Member has disregarded, under which complaints can be raised. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who is now dealing with these matters assures me that he will look into this question himself, and will consider the point which the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has raised.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
I am very pleased to hear that this matter is to be given attention. It is incumbent upon this House to see that the good spirit and the good feeling of the workmen are maintained. It is true, as the Under-Secretary has said, that there is the Fair Wages Clause, but it is by no means watertight. I have frequently taken up this matter with various Government Departments. The Fair Wages Clause worked fairly satisfactorily in well-organised areas, but in the outlying districts there is the utmost difficulty in getting employers to recognise a reasonable standard of wages and conditions of labour. That arises by virtue of the fact that many of the employers are not members of any federation of employers and are as isolated as the workmen, with the result that there is no reasonable standard of wages or conditions obtaining in those areas. If any of the Government Departments found themselves in a difficulty, it would be far better if they were prepared to meet representatives of the trade unions and try to come to some common agreement. It is invariably found that Government Departments fob off trade union representatives on the plea that the Fair Wages Clause obtains, but in isolated areas it is impossible to obtain an understanding because there is usually no organisation in existence. The Government themselves should take the responsibility of fixing the rates by taking into consideration the conditions which obtain in the nearest surrounding areas, and by so doing they would be able to effect a compromise and retain the good will and the good spirit of the workmen concerned. I merely want to make that suggestion.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Earl Winterton)
The House will not expect me to deal with technical subjects, obviously, after four or five minutes' experience. I would like to say to the hon. Gentlemen opposite, without committing myself in the early stages of my career as a Minister, that I will give an undertaking to discuss the matter personally with my right hon. Friend. I will, of course, take into consideration what hon. Gentlemen have urged in this connection. I really did not rise so much to make that observation as to pay tribute to the way in which civilian labour in all branches of rearmament in connection 950 with the Air Force has contributed to the results obtained. Nothing could be better than the spirit which has been displayed by them.