§ AIR SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE, 1939.
§ SIR KINGSLEY WOOD'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
On a point of Order. May I ask whether, in the case of Vote A being taken to-day with little or no discussion, we shall be allowed on Vote A on the Report stage to have a general discussion?
§ Mr. Speaker
If I remember aright, that was the procedure adopted last year, and if the House has no objection, that course might be followed on this occasion.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
For reasons of security the amount of our Service Estimates is not disclosed, but I can say that the Air Estimates of this year are of an unprecedented character and involve by far the greatest effort and expenditure ever made by this country in any year in relation to our air defences. Although the Estimates are presented as token Votes only, the House can be assured that the paramount need for the strictest economy has been and will continue to be impressed on all concerned, both at the Air Ministry and throughout the Commands of the Royal Air Force. I know only too well that expenditure, whether on equipment or personnel, which is applied to non-essential purposes or does not add directly to the fighting efficiency and the power of the Royal Air Force, must obviously weaken the country's war effort.
May I say in this connection that the Select Committee on National Expenditure, recently appointed by this House, and, in particular, the Air Services Sub-Committee presided over by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Sir W. Jowitt), can certainly count on our full and frank co-operation in their important task. The Air Services Sub-Committee have already examined officers of my Department and paid a number of visits to aircraft establishments, and I am anxious, of course, 596 to facilitate their inquiries in every possible way. It is also well that I should say that these Estimates represent only in part the further action that we are taking and propose to take in conjunction with the Empire overseas and with our Allies. For our expenditure and efforts cannot be limited to this year but must be continued and intensified until we have achieved our fixed resolve—the establishment of mastery in the air.
In the six months since the outbreak of war the Royal Air Force have not, of course, been operating at full intensity. Rather it has been a period in which we have been developing and consolidating our strength in the light of the operational experience that has been gained. We have also been engaged in preparing that further great expansion of strength which we know will be required. But, as the House knows so well, our pilots and our aircraft have already given a great account of themselves on numerous occasions in combat with the enemy. Much of their task has indeed been perilous and arduous. Already the aircraft of the Bomber Command and of the British Air Forces in France have carried out by night and day over 1,000 sorties well into German territory, while our fighters in France—a great many of them in action over the Siegfried Line—have taken off more than 2,000 times for patrol, pursuit and combat.
The role of the Fighter Command has not been confined to the defence of Great Britain against attack from the air; it has extended to the coastal waters and has included the protection of convoys, fishing fleets and neutral shipping near our coasts. Our fighters have amply proved their worth. Already, without a single loss on our side, they have brought down some 40 German aircraft round our coasts, and we know that many more of the enemy have been forced down in neutral territory or in the sea on their return flights. Units of the Coastal Command have now flown more than 5,000,000 miles on reconnaissance or convoy duty. Since the outbreak of war they have sighted submarines on more than 100 occasions and have delivered more than 60 attacks. More than 700 convoys have been successfully escorted by aircraft of the Command. But, Mr. Speaker, it has been over the North Sea and in hourly co-operation with the Royal Navy that the Royal Air 597 Force has up to the present been mainly engaged. Even during the arctic weather of January—a month which provided the most severe flying weather ever known—not a day passed without finding the aircraft of the Coastal Command at their ceaseless task: sighting and bombing submarines; escorting convoys; shooting down or driving off enemy aircraft; destroying mines and accompanying leave ships safely to port.
During the last two years machinery has been built up for the closest co-ordination of naval and air operations. The naval commanders-in-chief of the various naval areas and the air officers commanding the groups of the Coastal Command share the same headquarters, and their responsibilities extend over the same areas. The closest liaison also exists between the Admiralty and the Coastal Command and also with the commanders-in-chief of the Bomber and Fighter Commands. It is only a matter of seconds to put the First Sea Lord or the Naval Staff into direct touch with these commanders-in-chief. The closest connection between the two Services is also ensured not only by constant meetings between my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself, with our respective Chiefs of Staff and representatives of the Naval and Air Staffs, but by the special appointment of an air-marshal and of an admiral, whose task it is constantly to review together the operational situation in the North Sea and round our coasts, and to advise their respective Chiefs of Staff. In fact, I can say that there has never been such close co-operation, joint endeavour and mutual understanding between the two Services. While speaking of the value of co-operation, may I also say that our co-operation with France in the air is of the most intimate character. In staff matters there is the closest contact. We have a comprehensive scheme of pooling information; production problems we study systematically together; secret equipment is exchanged and new developments are shared.
It is, of course, the case that detailed figures of personnel do not appear in the Estimates this year and I may say that such figures would, particularly in the case of the Air Force, give the enemy a clue to operational strength and to the increases which have been achieved since the outbreak of war. But I can, this 598 afternoon, safely give the House one figure which provides a general indication of our progress. When I introduced the Air Estimates for 1939 I told the House that, as a result of our recruiting efforts, the total strength of the Royal Air Force was approaching 100,000. Today, the strength of one Royal Air Force Command alone, has nearly reached that figure. The quality of our recruits has been and continues to be of the highest. I asked the commander-in-chief of the Training Command the other day what he thought of the quality of the young men who were now entering and passing through the training centres and units in his Command. He told me that he had never known it higher. Great as was the training organisation that we had built up in peace-time, it has not been possible to absorb at once the many thousands of applicants for Air Force service. We have therefore devised a scheme of "deferred service." The men accepted under this scheme retain their civil occupations and form a pool on which we can draw.
I should also say this, because I know that many hon. Members are interested in this side of our work. At the outbreak of war we had in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve a large reserve of trained and partly trained pilots carrying out training at a number of centres all over the country, indeed at practically every aerodrome which was near a large centre of population. I think it has always been accepted that many of them would require further training after the outbreak of war and that this training would be a first charge on our war training organisation. Some were, of course, able to proceed at once to advanced training and are now serving in the line; others have been given courses as instructors. The remainder have been posted to initial training wings for ground instruction, but already over 60 per cent. have passed on to flying training, including all who had a considerable number of flying hours to their credit. I wish to tell the House this afternoon that the initial training wings will remain a part of our war training organisation and all future entrants for flying duties will pass through them before going on to flying or observer training. All will come in through the ranks: some will receive commissions at the end of their training and the rest will have chances of being recommended when 599 they are in the Service. In fact, I can say that every man in the Service, whatever his rank or his trade, whether he is employed on flying duties or on ground duties, will, if he has the necessary personality and ability, have the chance of being recommended for a commission. On the subject of technical training, I would like to say a few words to the House on the manner in which we are organising this very important part of our work
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
The right hon. Gentleman said that there were too many recruits for all to be taken into the Air Force at the present time, and that some were being sent back to their occupations. In those cases, have the other Forces any claims upon them? Have they to go into the Navy or the Army?
§ Sir K. Wood
I was about to say something on the subject of technical training. We are so organising our technical training that the man who is unskilled on entry will have the opportunity of learning a skilled trade; the man who is semi-skilled will have the chance of becoming skilled and the skilled man may become more highly skilled still. At this moment more than 20 schools are in operation and others are being rapidly provided. In this way I hope we shall be able to reduce to a minimum our demands on industry and we shall also be ensuring that everyone who enters the Royal Air Force and is suitable will have an opportunity of being selected for technical training and of leaving the Service with useful qualifications.
There is also, of course, a matter of great moment in connection with the Royal Air Force and our air strength, namely, the question of training overseas. We are engaged in building up a great flying training organisation overseas. When in full operation the schools in Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the Empire Training Scheme will produce no fewer than 20,000 pilots and 600 30,000 air crews every year. In addition, the Government of the Union of South Africa have most helpfully offered to train pilots for the Royal Air Force, and there will also be schools in Rhodesia and in Kenya. I am also glad to tell the House that, with the ready agreement of the French authorities, we are establishing a number of Flying Training Schools on French territory.
I now come to production, and before I attempt to assess achievement or to discuss our future plans, I would like the House to consider for a moment what are the main factors which determine the scale of output. I think it can be said that they are labour, materials and floor space. Let me say a few words on each of those important matters. A very considerable labour force has already been built up. Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war we passed the peak figure of labour employed on aircraft production that was obtained in 1918, but there is an enormous programme required and an even greater effort ahead of us. I am, of course, in the closest touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour on all these questions, and the Air Ministry has been associated with the discussions which have been proceeding with the employers and with the unions. We hope that these discussions will result in extending the field of recruitment and in increasing the supply of labour available for the aircraft programme. I should like to say again, because I think it cannot be said too often, that the country undoubtedly owes much to the hundreds of thousands of men and women in the factories. These have made and are making a great contribution to our air defences.
In the case of materials, too, we have to build up our supplies on a rapidly increasing scale. Before the war the Air Ministry had taken steps to extend the supply of the virgin aluminium and the special steels required for the air programme. I am in constant touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply in regard to all those raw materials—steel, aluminium, plywood, cotton for the balloon barrage for example—which we need. Our own special problem is in the field of light alloys and it must be borne in mind that it has been a case of creating and building up an industry for which there is only an extremely small commercial demand. 601 Not so very long ago the total output of these light fabricated materials was a matter of a few thousand tons a year. This, I am glad to say, has already been multiplied many times over. New factories have been built and existing factories extended, and every month new plant is coming into operation. Future production has been planned on a scale which should enable us to attain our objective with something in hand.
As regards floor space in the aircraft industry, this, too, has already been increased many times. We have many more new factories coming into production, and still more are being built. But it is the practice of sub-contracting to the maximum extent that has done the most to provide us with the floor space we require. What we have achieved and shall achieve will be due in no small measure to our having sought eighteen months and more ago—we were in fact the first to do so—the assistance of thousands of small firms who had suitable labour and plant available. I may add, in dealing with this aspect of production, that the plans which we have made for production in the Dominions are beginning to bear fruit and the first aircraft manufactured in Canada have already flown. Large additional orders have recently been placed both in Canada and in the United States.
The progress made in production to meet the needs of the Royal Air Force gives us cause for confidence. Nevertheless I would like to say this to the House that at this stage of the war we must husband our resources and use them in the fullest support of our military effort. First things must come first, and I am afraid, much as we would wish it otherwise, that the progress of civil aviation must inevitably be retarded. In spite of the exigencies of war, the Empire services of Imperial Airways have been carried on without interruption. In conjunction with the Australian and New Zealand Governments, we have decided to link up New Zealand with the Empire air routes, and to start in April a weekly service across the Tasman Sea. The North Atlantic programme last year was completed without a hitch, but the resumption of this service must depend on the inexorable needs of the military situation. In Europe we have our regular services to France and Scandinavia, and we hope that the difficulties which 602 have so far prevented a regular service to Lisbon will shortly be overcome.
We have also considered what we can do to safeguard the position of civil aviation after the war. There are two important steps which I propose to take. The first is to set up a strong Civil Aviation Advisory Committee to keep under review the position of civil aviation in the light of the present situation and to plan for the future. Secondly, I propose that this committee should have associated with it a small body of experts whose task it would be to keep in close touch with all phases of technical development in the field of civil aviation abroad. Thus the aircraft industry of this country will be enabled to keep abreast of technical improvements on the civil side and be ready when peace returns, or sooner if circumstances permit, to devote its skill and its strength to the development and production of civil aircraft. I should also like to say a word about the British Overseas Airways Corporation. This corporation has been established, though with reduced membership. It has adopted and ratified the provisional contracts for the acquisition of Imperial Airways and British Airways, and a date will be fixed in the near future as the "appointed day" on which these undertakings will be transferred. In succession to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information, I have been fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. Clive Pearson as chairman of the corporation.
I would like now to return to the Royal Air Force and the progress that has been made in the last year. What has been achieved since the Air Estimates were last presented? Production has been greatly increased. The numerical output has been doubled, but the effective increase in output has been even greater. For to assess the true measure of advance we must take account not only of numbers but of the quality and performance of the aircraft passing into service. Each new type involves an increase in the number of man hours of construction; the Spitfire, for example, represents double the number of man hours spent on the Gladiator and the same is true of the Lysander compared with the Hector which it replaced. But these increases in man hours are far outweighed by the great advantages achieved in operational efficiency—in range, in speed, in bomb load, in armament and in the aggregate 603 of all these factors. I would sooner have 100 Wellingtons or 100 Spitfires or Hurricanes than a much larger number of their German counterparts. If, therefore, we are to assess the effective measure of our advance in production, we must compare like with like. It will interest the House to know that in the last six months the output of the single-seater fighter types, that is the Spitfire and the Hurricane, has doubled; and that the output of the larger bomber types, which of course involve a far greater number of man hours, has been increased over the same period by more than 50 per cent. Good progress has also been made in the output of engines and it was a matter of satisfaction to us the other day when the output of a new type of engine reached and passed at one factory the figure of 100 a week. Moreover, as the House knows, we are able by the embodiment of fresh devices and modifications to go on improving our engines throughout their life in the Service. A substantial measure of re-arming has been carried out in the Service. Not only have squadrons been re-armed with more powerful types, but the types themselves have been continuously improved in armament and in performance. Thus the long-nosed Blenheims have not only far better navigational facilities than the earlier model, but something like a 50 per cent. increase in range. The top speed of the Spitfire has been further increased by 10 per cent. as a result of various developments subsequent to its introduction into the Service.
When we take into account the progress that has been made in the formation of new squadrons, in re-arming, and in the building up of reserves, it can safely be said that the fighting strength of the Royal Air Force has been increased by at least 100 per cent. during the last 12 months. In addition, we have been able to give substantial help to our friends abroad. During the same period Germany has no doubt also been expanding and improving her Air Force, but we know that she has not been without her difficulties and that many of her aircraft types must have proved disappointing in the light of operational experience. I therefore take the view with some confidence that even on a numerical basis the output of aircraft now accruing to us and to France is to-day in excess of that of Germany— 604 and, as I have pointed out, there are other factors besides numbers.
But—and I will close with this observation: Germany has undoubtedly a strong and powerful air force, and if enemy attacks come we must certainly not assume that they can be beaten off without casualties and damage. No air defence organisation can ever be an impenetrable barrier. If all our fighters could be sure of intercepting and all our anti-aircraft guns could be sure of hitting their targets, there would be little or no air defence problem. But we have only to look at the manner in which our bomber and reconnaissance aircraft have flown the length and breadth of Germany to see how different the facts are. If and when serious attacks are made on this country, considerable damage may be caused, but we need have no doubt that our people will endure with the same high courage as other peoples have recently shown. Moreover, we can be sure that the powerful and efficient air defence organisation which we have built up will take a heavy toll of the enemy and that our bomber force for their part will be both ready and able to hit hard, hit often and to keep on hitting.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very interesting speech to-day. I am sure we are all glad that he has recovered from his influenza, and for another reason I am particularly glad that he did not deliver his speech last week—because I should not have been here to hear it. The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute, which we all know to be abundantly deserved, to the men of the Royal Air Force for their courage, their high skill and their endurance. My right hon. and hon. Friends wish to be wholly associated with that tribute; we are never unmindful of those qualities possessed, and whenever necessary shown, by the men of the Royal Air Force. It may well be that the greatest test of all of that gift of endurance is the test of waiting month after month for Goering to dare. We wish also to pay our tribute to the work of those great numbers of men—and now, I think, some women—whostand behind the Royal Air Force in the workshops and who are engaged in producing this output of which the right hon. Gentleman has 605 spoken and on which I shall have a few detailed observations to offer in a moment.
I should also like to pay a tribute—and I think others will agree with me—to the work of Charles Gardner, who broadcasts from France for the B.B.C., and who has, I believe, contributed to making the conditions of life of the men of the Royal Air Force in France and the problems which confront them understood by listeners in England. I remember hearing one broadcast a week or two ago in which he remarked that many people asked what was the use of our bombers in France, and he replied that our bombers in France were protecting London, by constituting a threat to German targets within the Reich in the event of Goering daring. That, I think, is a true point; but I want to ask the Secretary of State for a definite assurance that all the plans are completely prepared, up to the last detail, for our bombers to take immediate action against German targets, within the frontiers of the Reich, in the event of any attempt being made to bomb London or any other objective within these islands. So far, restraint has been exercised by both sides in regard to the bombing of objectives within the frontiers; but I ask for an assurance that plans, up to 100 per cent., are prepared for immediate counter-action should Germany depart from that passivity.
§ Mr. Dalton
Certainly; I mean military targets. I cannot define those targets here exactly, but I include aerodromes, aircraft factories, means of military communication, and so forth; but the hon. Gentleman is aware that near all military targets civilians may be straying; as somebody once said, it was unfortunate that the sergeant-major's daughter happened to be walking across the square at that particular moment; but there it was. And so the distinction may become less sharp in practice than it is in theory. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman wants to cross-examine me further on the subject.
§ Mr. Dalton
I turn to the question of production. The House has been concerned for many years about this question of our output, both in an absolute sense and relatively to Germany. At a certain stage, a gap, favourable to Germany, between our strength and theirs was opened. Under Lord Londonderry, Lord Swinton, Lord Baldwin, and others who are still members of the Government, that gap was allowed, first to open, and then to widen. Hon. Members on this side of the House and on the other side, have frequently asked whether that gap has been narrowed, and we have very seldom got any answer to that question. In many parts of the country doubts still remain as to whether that gap is even now being narrowed. Therefore, it was with great satisfaction that we heard from the right hon. Gentleman that, in spite of the faults of his not altogether lamented predecessors, the current production of Britain and France to-day is greater than the current production of Germany. That will be noted with great satisfaction in many quarters.
I do not want to press too violently against a slowly opening door, but will the right hon. Gentleman amplify the statement he made with regard to types? [An Hon. Member: "No!"] My hon. Friend need not say "No," before he knows the question I want to ask. I think I might ask this with reasonable safety: in this total production, does the right hon. Gentleman include a substantial number of aircraft which are not of real and direct value for operations in the war? Are we still producing quantities of those rather ancient "Battles," for example; and are they included in the total? I hope that the answer will be that at present we are turning out only machines which are really effective for use under the full strain of war conditions to-day, and nothing which I might call semi-antiquated junk, which does not make a real and direct contibution to our air power. It would be interesting, and I do not think it would be going too far, if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some assurances about the quality of the machines included in the total of which he has spoken. It is only right that I should strike a warning note at this stage, and say that there are a number of people connected with the production of aircraft in various capacities who are 607 not satisfied, even yet, that we are getting the maximum output which should be obtainable with our existing resources.
I will, in a moment, read a letter from a well-known authority, which appeared in the "Aeroplane"; but, first, I will say a word about material. We hear a good deal about aluminium and light alloys. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply gave answers to-day to Questions about light alloys, and those answers were not altogether satisfactory to his listeners. He said that before the war steps were taken in connection with the matter. "Before the war" is not long ago, and I have some doubt whether the Government were quick enough in getting substantial quantities of aluminium. I am afraid that behind this there is a story of dilly-dallying, which I hope is being made up for at this stage. I will now read a letter which, I think, has some importance. It comes from Mr. Gordon England, who is a well-known and efficient manufacturer of aircraft. This letter, which appeared in the "Aeroplane" last week, shows that he is very much concerned as to whether, even yet, we are getting the full benefits in our output programme of standardisation of components and elements in construction. He says:The period of unexpected quiet with which the present war has opened should prove to be of inestimable value to the air effort of this country.He says that he is afraid that full advantage has not been taken of the opportunity provided, and then he says:To retain the big advantage we have thereby gained, however, it is important to realise that it is on the numbers of aircraft available, as well as on their individual efficiency, that the outcome of hostilities is likely largely to depend. Consequently, it is essential that the cutting out of redundant types should be followed by equally intensive efforts to co-ordinate and standardise, as far as possible, the construction of those aircraft likely to be required in very large numbers. Constructional sections, in particular, should be standardised if the industry is quickly to realise full production potential.Then he says, in comment upon the present state of affairs:At the present time, so far as the writer is aware"—and he knows the industry thoroughly—practically no standardisation exists in this important respect. As a result, production is 608 seriously retarded. Moreover, because of the use by aircraft designers of sections of complex and specialised forms, the Royal Air Force is dependent to an entirely unwarrantable extent upon individual producers of alloys in semi-finished forms. It will be of little avail"—this is a serious statement—to have achieved economy in aircraft types if, as the result of bombing operations against this country, the production of an urgently needed aircraft type is held up through a failure in the supply of some non-standard components. It would surely be unwise and foolhardy in the extreme to allow such an unfortunate state of affairs to continue un-remedied.I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has already had his attention drawn to that letter, but it seems to me that, coming from such an authority, it is disturbing, and should be noted by those organising the output programme.
Another matter has been raised in this connection. My hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) was kind enough to hand me a note and to tell me that the Leeds Chamber of Commerce have been concerned—like my hon. Friend, who is following these matters in his own constituency—with regard to sub-contracting. The point is whether, where all this sub-contracting is going on, the wages and conditions of men employed by the sub-contractors are as good as those employed in the Government factories. We want to be assured of that for two reasons. First, there is the point of view of the men concerned. Skilled men should be just as well paid if they are working for sub-contractors as if they were working for the Government directly. But this question is important, also, because, according to information which reaches me, there seems to be some tendency at the present time for sub-contractors to be supplied with orders, and then to reject them, owing to difficulties arising through labour conditions. Therefore, we should like to be assured that there is equality as between the conditions of men employed by the sub-contractors and those employed by the Government; and, secondly, that sub-contracts are not being refused owing to difficulties in regard to labour conditions.
I want to say a word about quality and types of machines, following upon the letter that I have read. Fears are being expressed—and I think the right hon. Gentleman would do well to say some- 609 thing on the subject—as to whether we are not slipping back again into the state of affairs which prevailed when Lord Swinton was at the Air Ministry, when there was too great a multiplicity of types being produced, and mass production and rapid flow of output were retarded in consequence. We are told that there are now too many types, both of bombers and of fighters, being constructed and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that we are not getting back into that unsatisfactory situation. I want to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers are fully aware of the need for closing what I might call a gap in types—not in numbers—so far as long-distance fighters are concerned.
We are all, I think, aware of the very fine performances of our Spitfires. We appreciate that for their purpose they have done remarkably fine service, but notoriously they are designed to be a type of low endurance, and capable of remaining in the air for a comparatively short time. The Messerschmidt 110 is now being talked about a great deal, and it should not be the case that in regard to any type at all, whether fighter or bomber or reconnaissance plane, the Germans have a better machine than we have. It is not a situation that ought to be allowed to exist. Yet at the present time we have not got, for all I know, in use any fighter which has the qualities of the Messerschmidt 110. It is argued by persons of technical competence who have been kind enough to speak to me on the matter that we ought now to be producing two-seater long-range fighters armed with cannon and capable of doing at least 350 miles per hour. We have not got that. If the Germans can do it, we ought to do it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that he is taking steps to get level with the Germans with regard to this type as well as with regard to other types.
Now I pass from numbers and output to the question of liaison. Here again it is important that a warning note should be struck, because it cannot be the case that all the stories one hears about lack of liaison are untrue. Some may be exaggerated, and some may be based on misunderstanding, but there is too much evidence circulating concerning lack of liaison in various directions to make us feel completely at our ease. There is the 610 question of liaison between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, and the Army and the Air Ministry, and, not less important at any rate in to-day's Debate, the liason between the different commands within the Royal Air Force. First of all, as between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, it is a pity, I think, that we cannot sometimes have a Secret Session where the discussion is completely frank and in which speeches will be made by one Minister and answered by another. I think it might add to the interest of our proceedings if we were to have a Secret Session in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite might be asked how good the liaison was, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) would get up and say how good it had been in his day, and then the First Lord of the Admiralty would say how bad it is now.
Speaking seriously, there is a good deal of concern as to whether there is that quick transmission of information, and that quick uptake of orders that are required in these days. It has been put to me that too many German bombers are bombing our ships and getting away. Why? Why do we not catch more of them? In the early stages of the war certain Scottish Auxiliary Air Force units went up and caught, and brought down several German bombers which had penetrated to the neighbourhood of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. Those Scottish auxiliaries did a splendid piece of work, which was much praised at the time. Why cannot we do equally well further South? Why has it been left to these Scotsmen to set an example which lately has not been followed? I do not want to press the matter to unreasonable lengths, but surely when day by day these German bombers chase and attack our trawlers and ships of all kinds, including lightships, it ought to be a much more frequent occurrence for some of them not to return home. How far the blame lies with the Admiralty and how far with the Air Ministry is a matter which they could discuss between themselves, and upon which I think the House ought to have a general assurance. The same is true with regard to other events which have been happening lately. I was rather shocked by the way in which the "Domala" was attacked without any reaction only eight miles from Plymouth by a German machine which had had to 611 travel a great distance by sea and remained either undetected or, if detected, was not effectively attacked and so got away. Therefore, I hope we shall not merely be told by the right hon. Gentleman that the machinery for co-ordination—I am myself deliberately avoiding that abominable word and am speaking of liaison—is very good. From what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon it does not look like it in these daily incidents that are occurring.
With regard to the joint working between the Air Ministry and the Army, I am not disposed to be critical. I understand that the appointment of Air Marshal Barrett is thought, at any rate for the time being, to be a good solution, subject to what future experience will show. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport is going to take part in the Debate later, but if so, I should be very interested to know whether he will say anything on the matter I am referring to, as to the Air requirements of the Army. It is common knowledge that controversy has been going on about that. The suggestion has been made that it is desirable to produce in great quantity cheap aircraft manned by half-trained pilots to be wholly under the command of the Army commanders without any reference to the Air Force at all. I am putting it in a simple way, but that is the suggestion that's made. It would be a pity if this Debate were to close without the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, now that he is free from excessive chains upon his tongue or his pen, telling us what it was he thought ought to be done when he was at the War Office and whether he is still of the same opinion. This is clearly a matter to be debated and discussed, and I say frankly that for my part I am not convinced by the version of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals which has been made public. It appears that so far as joint working between the Air Ministry and the Army is concerned, we have for the moment reached a reasonably good solution, at any rate on paper.
I now turn to the question of joint working between the different Commands—the Coastal Command, the Bomber Command, and the Fighter Command. There is a lot of talk going on to the effect that things are not as good as they 612 might be. It is said that the Bomber Command is sometimes rather insensitive to suggestions that some bombers might be used for performances suggested by the Coastal Command. It would be interesting if we could have a little detail on that. I understand there is some provision whereby the Coastal Command has some bombers under its own direct control, and I think some fighters too, but apparently those are not enough to perform the necessary duties resulting from the work of the Coastal Command. When reconnaissance machines detect some bandits—I believe that is what they are called—or some other good target, apparently it is not always possible immediately, under the existing arrangement, to produce either bombers or fighters. The reconnaissance planes are not able to perform these more strenuous functions, and consequently German aircraft get away, or other good military or naval targets are missed. If this is true, it suggests that there is a lack of effective joint working between the various Commands in the Air Force. This is a matter about which there is a good deal of talk in these days in many places. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree in principle with what I am saying; the only difference between us would be whether we have what we want. The Royal Air Force ought to be a most flexible instrument. There ought not to be watertight compartments with silly little petty esprit de corpsin each. There ought to be a flexible instrument, with no stiffness of the joints between the Commands. There is some evidence that there is stiffness of the joints at the present time. How that should be remedied is the question. It may be partly a question of rearranging personal responsibilities. I do not want to go into that, but it is a problem, and we are not satisfied that it has been solved.
To summarise what I have been saying, I think the two principal matters pre-occupying the minds of Members who endeavour to follow these questions are, on the one hand, the problem of production in its various forms, some of which I have indicated, and, on the other hand, the problem of liaison both between the Royal Air Force and the other sections of the Fighting Forces, and within the Air Force itself. These seem to be the two big problems which the right hon. Gentleman should solve, and satisfy this 613 House and public opinion in the country that he has solved. He spoke of his fixed resolve to establish mastery in the air. In so far as he takes action which is effectively directed to that end, I think he will have the support of the whole country and the whole of this House behind him, but we cannot wait indefinitely long for that to be done. We are endeavouring to catch up with errors committed in past years when we allowed these fellows to get ahead of us. The Germans have not got mastery of the air to-day. Clearly not. All the evidence disproves it. But we have not got it either. All sorts of doubts remain. We lack a basis for judgment due to the comparative inactivity of these first six months.
We desire to see the great productive power of the Dominions and of the United States thrown into the balance. We must not rely unduly on it, so that we ourselves relax, but with the aid of their productive power and of the magnificent man-power which the Dominions are contributing, it will be much more easy to obtain that mastery of the air without which complete and final victory cannot be gained. The right hon. Gentleman is being watched with close attention in many quarters. It would be a great exaggeration to say that everyone in this House is satisfied that all is being done that can be done and should be done. We have been interested to find that he has gone a little further to-day in revealing certain facts and certain situations. I do not believe that that revelation has been in any way excessive or can do any harm at all; rather the reverse. I ask him to go a little further and reveal a little more on the matters on which I have ventured to address the House.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely (Berwick-on-Tweed)
I think the right hon. Gentleman is the only one of the Service Ministers to produce Estimates this year who was in the same office last year. He holds his position still, whereas the others have fallen by the wayside. I know that in war-time it is more difficult than on other occasions to criticise, and indeed it is very difficult for people in the Services even to speak on the Estimates. I only say this because it was hinted to me that one in the Services should not speak in a Debate such as this. I spoke to the Secretary of State himself, however, and he agreed that I 614 should speak, and indeed said he hoped I would do so. I join with the Secretary of State in the tribute which he paid to the men in the Air Force to-day—the pilots, observers, machine gunners and ground staff. Too high a tribute cannot be paid to the Air Force when one thinks of the great difficulties that it has, as compared with the other Services, because we have to deal with all the various inventions and all the new things that happen, and until war comes no one can say whether we are going to be stronger in the air or not. It is one of those things which are almost impossible to prove during peace-time. There is no yardstick by which you can measure it. I pay tribute to all those who have built it up, with the anxieties and difficulties that they must have had when war came upon them. The greatest tribute that can be paid to the Air Force is that we have had no Blitzkrieghere. There is no tenderness or mercy in the German rulers. There is only one thing that has kept them from bombing open towns here, and that is the fear of what might happen to them. People now walk about without their gas masks and in many cases have forgotten the way to the air-raid shelters, and that is a great tribute to what has happened in the building up of the Air Force. The strain has been great, and is great now, because you have to have instant preparedness to repulse the enemy in the air all the time. Before the war it was not an easy thing to obtain the training for this.
Tribute should also be paid to all in those control stations who thought out the scheme of the fighter defence, which has proved effective, and to the people who are largely forgotten, the Observer Corps, who during one of the longest and coldest winters have sat out in bleak places, alone all the time, and without any hope of reward other than the knowledge that people have not been bombed in towns not distant from the cold fields in which they were sitting. I was very glad to hear the figures that the right hon. Gentleman gave about production, and I hope it will be borne out that the production is of genuine machines and not older machines. I do not ask, because I should not be told, but I wonder what the proportion is between England and France, because England and France were the two that he joined together. After all, the French are our 615 Allies, and our duty is to see that our production is to be the highest possible, and not to be relying on some other country.
The last time that we had these Debates I called attention to the question of cannon. I hope this is being attended to far more than one hears or has reason to believe. I do not know what the difficulties may be, but we know that German machines have cannon mounted in operational squadrons, and at present I do not know that we have reached that stage. I have reason to believe that we have not. I hope we shall, because we have seen the great success of the Spitfires and the Hurricanes, and the greater success than many thought it might be of the multiple gun. But, when this develops, everything in the air will have an answer to it, and, if you get one weapon against the enemy, he will try to get some defence against it. You always have to be keeping ahead, and I hope this will be pressed forward in the strongest possible way.
The biggest question of all is that of training and of keeping these operational squadrons that you have now in the field, whatever casualties they may have, supplied with the finest possible type of pilot trained up to the last moment. I have never been satisfied on this. At other times I have prophesied that, if war broke out, no training at all would be possible in this country owing to the demands of the Fighter Command and the needs of the Bomber Command. I thought you would have none. As it is, we have had some, but have we yet quite realised what may happen if we have real bombing raids on this country? Undoubtedly we should have greater demands from Fighter Commands that they may have greater scope to deal with repulsing these raids, and we should have Bomber Commands asking for it also, because retaliatory measures have to be taken. We are not satisfied that this has been considered and dealt with.
I should like to say a word about the Volunteer Reserve, because there are no great secrets about it. The figures have been given. They run into many thousands, and these people were half-trained, and perhaps trained more in flying than in other matters, when the war broke out, yet when the war came that training was cut off, and there was no hope of their 616 getting it. Six months have gone by, and many of these people have not had any flying training in the air in that time. The Minister has told us the difficulties that there are, but they should have been seen before war came. You knew what your demands would be from Fighter and Bomber Commands, but it cannot be denied that no arrangements were made for the training of these men when war broke out. The Secretary of State himself has said that if a young man wishes to join the Air Force now, he may be told to put his name down and wait for a year. I know of a young fellow aged 24, the captain of his school, captain of football and cricket, a university Blue—he represented England in the international team. He enlisted as A.C.2, and he was told to go back to his civilian job as he would not be required for a year. You are losing there one of your best types of what you were asking for—pilots. There is no hope for anyone who enlists as a pilot to be trained for many months to come. It has been stated in the Press and confirmed by the Minister. It is no good dealing with this in a patching-up way. How is it going to be dealt with? We on this side are not satisfied to leave it where the Secretary of State left it.
With regard to training abroad, it seems to me that that should have been considered before. There may be difficulties, as there always are in peace-time. If you start too soon, people say you are preparing for war, but I do not think that is any excuse. We knew what was coming. We had plenty of warning. No preparations were made, and there have been very few during the last six months, and it is only now that there is going to be some training for people in this country in parts of the territory of France. I am not satisfied with that. We want to know a great deal more. It is no good saying you will have a few schools in some parts of France. You must have large areas, and you want continuous training, which means 12 hours a day for 12 months of the year if you are really to push through intensive training. You want cheap labour for constructing aerodromes and hangars. You may have to go abroad to get it. You may have to go to Northern Africa, where it can be done at a not prohibitive cost, and you have to ensure that the training will not be interfered with by your own needs for defence or by enemy action, or by the 617 cutting-off of any of your supplies of oil and things like that. It must come from a bigger idea than merely talking of a few aerodromes or a few places in Southern France and sharing them with the French. The training of these pilots is the biggest scheme that we have to get going.
With regard to the Canadian scheme, which I welcome, everyone pays the greatest tribute to Canada. It should always be known that, since the time when it became clear, after Munich, that war might come, an amazing number of Canadians came here to join up in the Air Force. They are as air-minded from the British Empire point of view as any part of any country in this world. But I am a little alarmed because the Minister said that some 20,000 pilots were to be trained, and undoubtedly too much has been made of the statement that this training was to be for British pilots in this country. I read it in the papers which gave particulars of the scheme that only 10 per cent. of that number were to be English, and that the rest were to be Canadians. I understood—and I am quoting now from the point of view of the Canadian paper—that the 10 per cent. would only be required if needed in order to fill up. That is what the Canadian Press thought the first agreement to be. The second agreement may have been thought to mean that, in order to make it Imperial, we were insisting upon our 10 per cent. By this means you are not adding to the total number. You are only taking away from the number of Canadians who will be trained out there. I believe that they have over 25,000 names of young men on their books who are ready to be trained as pilots, and in sending out people to train there you are not adding to the number of pilots, but only taking away from the number that they themselves can produce. We ask that the whole question of training should be gone into not only by the Minister, but by the War Cabinet. This is not a single question, and it is not entirely a Service matter, but one which affects the whole security of this country.
There is one other point in connection with which, in the last Estimates, I asked the Secretary of State to do something. I refer to the question of the reorganisation of the Air Ministry itself. In the last Air Estimates the Minister announced that there were to be three new Commands—a Maintenance Command, an 618 Operation Command, and a Reserve Command. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Reserve Command would be responsible for the training of all sections of the voluntary reserve and of the elementary training schools. That was a peace time measure. The voluntary reserve consisted of part-time fliers. They were civilians at that time and therefore needed a separate Command. But once war breaks out, you are all in one unit, which is the Air Force. There is no question that it was wise to have separate Commands for dealing with semi-civilian, semi-air pilots, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go into this question, because, as it operates to-day, there are most absurd results. A boy entering the Air Force can go to three or four training Commands, none of which is responsible to the other. No one is directly responsible for his training in moving him from one Command to another Command. We have to-day—and anyone can see this from any old Royal Air Force List, because it is not secret and is not giving away anything—a system of training in which we have a director of training, who is in many ways a junior officer tucked away in another department, and he is not in the position of being really responsible for the training of the cadet until he goes to an Operational Centre. There is not one person, Command or unit responsible. One cannot get away from the fact that it is producing confusion and extraordinary results, and it is not satisfactory. You get, and will continue to get, complaints, when a man is moved to another Command, that he has not been properly trained because there is no continuity running through the whole of the training, which is absolutely vital if you are to build up fully qualified and trained pilots to fight in these machines.
I know the difficulties of the Secretary of State. I am not making any attack upon him, but until this system of training is remedied and reorganised, not with very clever or high officers, but with ordinary officers, with proper continuity, you will not really get the results that we all need. I congratulate the Secretary of State upon being the Minister who has introduced these Estimates and upon all that he has done. I know the anxieties with which he has had to contend. They are perhaps far bigger than many people realise. One might almost compare his 619 office with that of the First Lord of the Admiralty during the last war, when at any moment something might have happened which would have brought disaster to this country. That sort of thing is always present with the Air, and we press the right hon. Gentleman to go into these matters so that they can be made to work smoothly and so bring about the creation of the largest Air Force in the world to fight and win the greatest cause.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson (Hitchin)
May I join with the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely),my very senior officer, in congratulating the Minister upon his statement to-day, and may I congratulate him at least as much on his reticence as upon his revelations? I hope that he will not be too ready to make the further revelations which he has been invited to make by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), and that reticence will be strictly observed however good the news may be, as I do not think that this is the time and place to announce it. There is much that might usefully be said on the Minister's statement which cannot usefully be said in this House, where we have many ears listening, and much which might be usefully said, though not by a very junior serving officer.
I spend most of my waking hours in the process of communication and working alongside N.C.O's. and men, and I wish to draw attention to matters of particular interest to them. The first is the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute. That is an enormous concern. It has an effective monopoly, particularly at Royal Air Force stations and military camps which are far away from even a small town. I am not satisfied that at the present moment it is being properly controlled by the three Forces who benefit, and they benefit, I freely admit, very greatly from its administration. It is subject to some of the temptations which assail the co-operative societies, namely, the making of dividends rather than the reducing of prices. It is very highly centralised. Unlike the co-operative societies, which have their own local constitution. I have noticed a tendency in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute to concentrate upon a limited number of standard brands and of standard goods which tends to 620 create fresh monopolies in industry, and to pass by smaller local centres of production which might be very usefully developed in the various regions in which the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute operates. Being fully centralised, I do not think it is doing full justice at present to many sources of supply, and it is essential, from the point of view of the production of all sorts of materials, that local supply should be looked after. Prices are high. They are sometimes higher in the institutes than they are in the open market, and I am told upon what I believe to be good authority that it is not infrequently possible for men of the Navy to buy on their own ships goods supplied by the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute at lower prices than they can be bought by regular soldiers or Royal Air Force men on shore owing to the very large discounts which are allowed, and this quite apart from any drawback on tobacco and alcohol, which, by custom and by law, are allowed to the Royal Air Force. I ask the Minister to make inquiries and to consider whether something might not usefully be done. A penny here and a penny there every day has a very direct effect upon a very large number of men in the Royal Air Force.
The second is a small point, but it is one, again, which has been borne in upon me in the last five months. I refer to the conditions which officers and men of the Royal Air Force find when they are travelling from station to station; and it is equally true of troops at railway stations. I have had for my sins to spend a great many midnight hours in a good many stations, such as Liverpool Street, King's Cross, Euston and the junctions, apparently forsaken by God and forgotten by the railway companies. The railway waiting rooms, lighted but not heated, with a dying fire, crowded with men, are convenient, like this House of Commons, for men who are sitting up and awake, but wholly unsuited for those who want to sleep, and they may have to wait for many hours, until the next train comes in. The refreshment rooms close just half an hour before the last train leaves, when it is filled perhaps with many hundreds of men. They find the door closed not merely at midnight but 10 minutes before in order that the staff may leave punctually at midnight. The railway companies to which I have written have 621 replied very courteously that they find it impossible to get sufficient staff, and that influenza has prevented the recruitment of the necessary staff. The railways are under a great obligation to the Government, and the Government have assumed certain obligations to the railways. I beg of the Secretary of State for Air, who is as much concerned as anyone, to consider with the Minister of Transport whether there should not be some further instructions and some stimulus given to the local authorities to give us not merely waiting rooms and refreshment rooms at some places at least for 20 hours a day, if not the 24, but cheaper and better food. It is not every man who can afford to pay 5½d. for a cold boiled egg. Lord Stamp has assured us that every item on the London Midland and Scottish Railway is costed down to the last farthing, and the cold boiled egg seems to have been passed by the costings department. There is often no bread and butter to be obtained at all, and some people want bread and butter. We do not draw rations while travelling short distances, and we are entitled to ask the railway companies to be a little more compassionate. In Argentina each truck which carries cattle is labelled, "Seá compasivo con los animáles," which means, "Be kind to dumb animals." A soldier in uniform is the most patient of cattle, and deserves from the railway companies as much compassion as is vouchsafed in Argentina.
There is a third point that I wish to raise, which has been referred to already, namely, training. I have recently left the Training Command, and I feel justified in asking the Minister whether the Schedule of Reserved Occupations is not keeping out of the Air Force men who would be better employed in keeping existing machines in the air than in making new machines. The machines we fly are terrible in their strength, masculine in their power, but feminine in the demands they make upon and the reward they vouchsafe to those who love and tend them. Maintenance is a matter which requires just as much skill and affection as manufacture. It is a job which demands, and is tackled with, the fullest enthusiasm and energy in circumstances of the utmost depression. There is no more uncomfortable place in which to work than in the hangar of an aerodrome, where a bitter wind 622 whistles through, and where you cannot even smoke a cigarette for 12 hours on end. It is far worse than in a workshop, and I feel sure that a good deal of expenditure on training would be reduced if the machines we fly were tended by more and better mechanics. I do not believe it is possible to rely entirely on training. We shall have to draw more from industry in order to keep machines in the air—
§ Sir A. Wilson
Industry has an insatiable maw, which will take any number of men, but the Air Force want their share. Industry has proved its ability to look after itself in that respect. There is also the question of spare parts. It has never been more necessary than to-day to adapt the peace-time methods of industry to the needs of war. I am not entirely convinced that all possible is being done to meet spare part requirements. We bend a good many things in the process of training, and the supply of spare parts is just as important as the supply of new machines and, on the grounds of economy, perhaps even more so.
The hon. Member who has just sat down took a line for which I profess sympathy, but which I shall not follow. I do, however, wish to utter a word of caution as regards the possibility of training pilots, non-commissioned officers and men under the sunny skies of France or the Mediterranean. The place for training men is the country in which they live. The blacked-out earth, the stormy seas and cloudy heavens of Central and Northern Europe and England are not ideal, but they are by far the most practical area in which men can train. A man can learn more in three months of training in such circumstances than he can in six months under the sunny skies of France. I do not know where a man would get as much practical experience of things that might go wrong in the air, and how to meet them, as he would in a February in this country. I believe our system of training to be fully worthy of the magnificent personnel of all ranks and the eagerness which permeates them, despite the long period of relative inactivity and the incredible weather from which we have suffered. The Service would not be healthy if it were satisfied with its own achievements, but those 623 outside the Service should not interpret self-criticism as implying the smallest lack of self-confidence.
If I may say so, as a newcomer, the morale of the Service is exceedingly high. The tradition which was forged in the white heat of the Great War has been re-annealed again and again during the past 20 years in fiery furnaces and is now being tried afresh. The product is as pure as gold and as hard as hardened steel. We need have no fears on that ground. Let no one think that the men of the Air Force claim the smallest superiority of achievement, or functioning, over the Royal Navy, the Army, the Mercantile Marine, or the fishing fleets. There is one glory of the sun and another of the moon, and the stars. To the Army belong squalor, tedium and difficulties for 24 hours of the day; to the Navy, Mercantile Marine and fishing fleets belong long hours of ceaseless vigilance, discomfort, and the terror that flieth by day—and by night. The Air Force will win battles over the land and sea, but when they have done so it is the Navy, Army and civil authorities who afterwards advance to organise peace. We are well prepared at any moment to play our part. Horace tells us that:It is decorous to die for one's country.Officers, non-commissioned officers and men are perfectly instructed and very anxious that we should take the offensive at the earliest possible moment against an enemy whom they do not underestimate but do not fear. Men are doing in their heavy machines work no less magnificent than the pilots of our tiny single-seater fighters. They ask that they may have their chance of showing that they are able to do those same things, and more, that their fathers did in those terrible years of 1914–18. To us older men they say what I can best describe in four lines which Kipling wrote long ago:One service more we dare to ask,Pray for us, comrades, prayThat when Fate lays on us her task,We may not shame the day.The tradition of the Air Force is safe in their hands, and their morale is no less strong because they hope that action will soon come.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
It was my intention to address my remarks to the question of allowances, but as this opportunity will better present itself next week, I will not touch upon this matter now. What I have to say will not be so much in the form of a speech as some specific references to one or two points. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), in his speech, made reference to what I think can be generally accepted—that if this conflict continues, there will be more pressure on the Services than there has been up to the present time. That being so, the question of production is one of the greatest moment. I am inclined to believe that there has been, in the past, a tendency for the technical gentlemen who guide the Ministry to look askance at what they term the smaller production units of the country. At one time the smaller units were not associated with great efficiency but I want to assure the Minister that any small unit which is in production to-day may have a greater degree of accuracy and precision than may be found in larger plants. Therefore, I ask him whether it is not desirable to review the possibility of many of these plants getting at least something that would prepare them for greater production, should their services be needed in the future.
I think a review might be made of the contracts already placed in order to ascertain whether firms with unfinished contracts also have on their books contracts that have not yet been started. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who has intimate contact with the Services, spoke with authority on the question of spare parts and if, as he says, they are necessary, small units might be looked upon as capable of helping to fulfil requirements. I am aware that in this arm of the Service we have departed from wood and are now in the realm of all-metal machines, but I have been advised by important producing plants in the country that wood and certain metal components can be wedded. If that be the case, I take it that plywood will be one of the forms of wood used. During the last war all my activities were directed to the production of aircraft as an operator, but the plywood components then were nothing in comparison with what can be attained 625 under present day conditions. Then, ordinary glue was used, but to-day, with resinous adhesives, the plywood is far better and stronger than that which was produced in those days. At the present time the right hon. Gentleman's Department requires tremendous quantities of plywood, but I would point out that even so it is not necessary to have firms in certain parts of the country working three shifts per day and their machinery working for 24 hours a day while other plant more efficient, and with greater pressure per square inch in their presses, are lying idle. At the present time you are producing plywood under conditions which require one sheet to be pressed in three parts. That is certainly not good production of plywood, and in addition to this taking place, firms which previously were only employed in compressing cork are producing plywood. I think some attention should be directed to the very efficient presses which are now in existence and which can press all the sheets you require in one operation.
The other point to which I desire to make specific reference is the question of research. I am not stupid enough to assume that no research is being conducted, but I wonder whether it is possible for the right hon. Gentleman or the Under-Secretary of State to give some indication as to what researches have been undertaken along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely). I have not read deeply on the matter, but I am conscious of the fact that a new and very important science has been introduced, the science of plastics, into the production of aircraft components in an increasing degree. While I am not prepared to say what can be done I have read technical articles which indicate that in America plastics are applied to such an extent that they are pouring the whole fuselage in eight hours. I am not making any claim on this point but one may be inclined to laugh at things to-day which to-morrow may be accepted as quite efficient methods. I should like to know that we are keeping abreast of these matters, and a little reassurance may do good.
The same applies to screws and aircraft propellers. I am informed that we are rather wedded to the idea that it is necessary to have a metal propeller but there is a possibility that much of the 626 training might be given behind wooden propellers. I think I am right in assuming that the right hon. Gentleman's Department have contemplated the issue of certain machinery for the production of air propellers under certain specified conditions. If that is the case I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the possibility of using the wood-working firms and their machinery with the highly skilled men there, who can do everything connected with jig work. I do not want to say anything more except to ask one question in regard to packing cases. I notice from papers in Scotland that a person not connected with the Department has been asked to ascertain what potentialities exist in Scotland for the making of packing cases. I am rather astonished that the Department, who have had persons representing them in Scotland for months and months, have to appeal to an individual outside the Department to collect the necessary information as to the potentialities of packing case production in the country. I should like to know whether the Department has at its command all the necessary guidance and machinery necessary for collecting essential information, not only in regard to packing cases but of other factors which may be required.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes (Portsmouth, North)
I only intervene for a few minutes to appeal to the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary of State, indeed, to the whole Cabinet, seriously to consider some suggestions which I propose to make for a more efficient co-operation with the Navy on the part of the Air Force in the protection of our fishing vessels and British and neutral ships in the North Sea. I hope the House will bear with me in raising this question again, but I hope it will be the last time I shall feel compelled to do so. There is nothing more important for the successful prosecution of the war than the safety of our ships and our seamen, on whom the very life of Great Britain depends. I must apologise to the Secretary of State for Air for missing the earlier part of his speech. I had a longstanding engagement to speak at a meeting in the City, and I arrived just after he had concluded his remarks. I understand that he paid a great tribute, and very rightly, to the splendid young airmen of the Coastal Command and told us of 627 all the brilliant things they have been doing. He could not tell us some of the things they have not been able to do for lack of equipment, and, obviously, I cannot say anything about it.
I too am full of admiration for the youth of this generation and particularly for our young airmen who fly so gallantly. I have confidence that the endurance, the courage and the enterprise of our youth in all branches of His Majesty's Service will carry this war to a successful and glorious issue. But experience does count for something in the conduct of war. We in the Navy are very fortunate in having a First Lord of the unrivalled experience of my right hon. friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and a First Sea Lord who, although only a young captain in the last war, was closely associated in the staff work connected with many offensive operations and enterprises towards the end of the war. It is not generally known that he was actually the Director of Operations in the Admiralty when the war ended. It is thus that the Admiralty have been able to win the confidence, not only of the Navy, but of the country and of our Allies and friends all over the world.
It is therefore with a good deal of diffidence that I venture to suggest that my right hon. Friend the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty have left themselves open to some criticism for not yet having obtained control over all the air weapons they need to fulfil the responsibilities of the Navy in giving protection to our shipping. It is here that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air can be of enormous assistance and help. It is true that it is not the fault of the present Board of Admiralty that their predecessors, and those responsible for the co-ordination of defence, failed to provide the Navy with the naval air service it should have had and which they should have known would be absolutely essential to the exercise of sea power in war. We have now been at war for six months, and war experience has proved what we, who had experience in carrying out operations with ships and aircraft in the narrow seas, knew to be absolutely vital—namely, that the personnel of all aircraft which work with and against ships must be specially trained under naval directions to carry out their naval func- 628 tions, and must be under the undivided control of the Admiralty or naval officer who may be deputed to carry out operations, upon whom the whole responsibility for success or failure must lie. Any other course is not only unfair to the airmen who have to do the flying and the fighting, but might well jeopardise the success of the operations and results in disaster and confusion.
It cannot be denied that unarmed ships have been attacked and some destroyed within sight of our own shores, and that the lives of our seamen have been sacrificed and golden opportunities of attacking enemy ships and aircraft have been missed because the Navy does not control the Naval Air Force required to fulfil its responsibilities. It is a torment for me to reflect on what might have been, but that is in the past, and we must look to the future and try to make the best use of our available resources. We must correct the vital and fundamental error which was made 20 years ago and in a succession of compromises which have failed to give the Navy what it needs. The last compromise was the most disappointing of all. The principle that the Navy must control its own Air Force was accepted, but a number of flying boats and other shore-based aircraft which were necessary to carry out purely naval functions were left in the Coastal Command under the complete control of the Air Minister. The Admiralty were thus deprived of any say whatever in the nature and strength, the training and operation, of the aircraft which were essential to their success in carrying out their naval functions. When that decision was made in July, 1937, the "Times," in a leading article—I believe I have mentioned this before—likened the decision to a judgment of Solomon.
In the Biblical story the right mother got the whole baby, but this time the wrong mother, who had her own children to look after and provide for, starved the poor little naval baby, and the Coastal Command started the war utterly unprepared to provide the co-operation which the Navy needs to protect our shipping and perform other naval operations in the narrow seas. This is no reflection on the gallant personnel of the Coastal Command. They have done their best to co-operate in difficult conditions and circumstances, but they are de- 629 pendent on other independent commands of the Royal Air Force for assistance which has not always been forthcoming, at any rate in time to be of use.
When the Navy Estimates were debated last week, I explained to the House the vital importance of sea-borne aircraft to a fleet with great ocean spaces to watch and control. I pointed out the inability of these aircraft to compete in battle with the infinitely more powerful and faster aircraft which the enemy operate from their shore bases in the Heligoland Bight.
I suggested that in view of the fact that Germany does not possess a sea-going fleet or sea-borne aircraft at present, a certain number of the naval pilots might be spared to fly shore-based aircraft armed and equipped to carry out naval functions, which are to protect our shipping and deliver attacks on the enemy ships and aircraft in the North Sea. Of course, that is a limited number and a very small proportion of the output which is now being produced in the country. The Secretary of State for Air can help the Admiralty very much in this matter. Obviously, it would be impossible for the Navy, at this late stage, to build up from nothing the naval air force which they require. I suggest that, as a first step, the Coastal Command should be placed under the complete control of the Admiralty and strengthened by the addition of bomber and fighter squadrons, which ought to be trained in their naval functions without a moment's delay.
At the most critical time in the last war, in the Spring of 1918, the Naval Air Service was transferred to the Royal Air Force, and although it remained under naval operation and control throughout the war, the naval organisation was broken up, and officers and men of the Navy had to adopt military titles and uniforms.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
Why was the Naval Air Service broken up? I have always heard it spoken of as having been most efficient.
§ Sir R. Keyes
It is very often stated that it was a result of war experience. That is absolutely untrue. It was transferred to the Royal Air Force by certain people who had great influence in the Government. It was transferred because it was too efficient, because it possessed aircraft which the Royal Flying Corps coveted. I do not want to introduce any 630 controversial matter. I do not suggest for one moment that anything so drastic should be inflicted on the Royal Air Force as was inflicted upon the Navy. All that is needed is to follow the practice that is followed when a naval brigade lands to work with the Army. It has no independent status and comes under the complete control of the military commander-in-chief responsible for military operations. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who, I know, is doing what he can to help, and I sympathise too with my right hon. Friend the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty in the titanic task they have to shoulder; but it is impossible for the Admiralty continually to fight another Ministry for what should be their sole responsibility. It is only natural that they should seek by appeasement and negotiation to get what they want, and deprecate what I am doing to-day. I am among the unemployed, and I am free to fight for those things which I know to be essential for the successful conduct of the war. I have had unrivalled experience in the operation of aircraft in war and peace from the sailor's point of view, and I know that the time for negotiation and compromise has passed. Immediate action is necessary to organise the naval air service so as to regain complete control of the narrow seas. If my right hon. Friend tells us—and I trust he will not—that the Air Ministry cannot fulfil the Admiralty's requirements, then, of course, that is a matter for the Cabinet; but the country will not easily forgive a Government which neglects to profit from experience and fails to give to our shipping the protection which it has every right to expect.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomeryshire)
I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) will forgive me if I do not follow him, except to express my admiration, and I am sure the admiration of all hon. Members, for the care and attention which he has given to what I hope he will forgive me for calling his hardy annual, and the courage and persistence with which he has followed that subject.
We all realise that in this matter we have to speak with the utmost care. I would not have intervened in the Debate 631 had it not been for some of the things that were said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). This is the newest and most scientific arm that we have for offensive and defensive purposes; it is the one in which changes take place quickest; and, therefore, it is, above all, the one in which secrecy is of the utmost importance. I wish to echo what has been said by other hon. Members, that it is undesirable, even should my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary be tempted to do so, for him to give us any precise figures, or any information which would enable any calculation to be made, as to the amount of production which there is at present in this country. There is only one thing I want to ask. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in speaking of the production in this country and in France at the present time, gave us the very heartening news that the production of the two countries combined is greater to-day than the production in Germany. I take it that he is referring to the production actually in this country and in France, and that he does not include such purchases as may have been made from America or elsewhere. I do not intend to enter into any controversy with regard to the quality of machines, except to express my view that, however good America may be in industry, however wonderful she may be in production, she can never produce as good quality as we can produce in this country. We require for our young men who are undertaking these enormous risks on our behalf machines of the very first quality, and in any figures which the Secretary of State has in mind, I hope he will confine himself on almost all occasions to what we can produce ourselves—especially ourselves—together with the production of our ally, France.
I did not rise to speak about production, but rather about training. I wish to emphasise the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely). Training in this country at the best of times must be difficult, but in time of war it is all the more difficult, because there is a part of the country—and I should imagine about half the country—where training is almost impossible for any length of time, and should the war in the air come, training will be rendered almost impossible in this country. Moreover, the training grounds 632 here are ill-adapted for the young men who are just beginning their training. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin said that the right place for training is a place which bears the greatest similarity to the conditions under which the men will ultimately be called upon to fight. That is quite right. Those are the ideal conditions and the best conditions when the man has reached his final act of training. When he has gone through the fledgling stage, when he has done all that is required of him, when he understands the machine, when he knows what happens in daylight and in darkness, when he is a fully trained pilot and can take his place in the battlefield, then is the time for him to return to this country, and meet the conditions to which the hon. Member for Hitchin referred. But surely, in the early days, it is better that he should have vast open spaces upon which to train, and not be compelled to come down on spaces that are, after all, only like pocket-handkerchiefs when compared with the vast spaces to be found elsewhere.
We are deeply grateful to Canada for her most generous offer, for the help she is giving us day by day, for the promise she is making to us through her young men; but I deeply regret that the Government saw fit to confine themselves to the offer that was made to them from Canada. I should have expected them to have had plans in existence for training elsewhere than in this country long before the war broke out. Apparently, the only place they considered was Canada. During the winter months Canada must be quite unsuitable for training. I do not know what kind of training these young men could have undergone in Canada if they had there anything like the weather we experienced during January and February. But there are other places. My hon. Friend referred to places where there are 12 hours of daylight and more or less certainty as to what the weather will be. Let us be more precise. One need not mention any particular location, but Africa is a very vast continent. In Africa, there are possessions of this country and of France which, I should have thought, would have been eminently suitable for the purpose of training these young men until they were ready to take their place in the front rank of battle. Africa has several advantages. It is very far re- 633 moved from the enemy. He cannot easily get across to Africa, without, of course, disregarding neutral territory—which, of course, he is quite capable of doing—but it is very convenient for us or for France. It is also very convenient from the point of view of supplies. It is in an area which is not liable to attack from submarines or from the air. The ships can come and go without running the great risks which they run in coming to this country, and, in addition, if required, they could come back from North Africa to France or this country in a few hours, whereas Canada is so far removed. I beg the Government to consider not only training overseas, but to consider widening the training, because it is of no use having production and getting the young men to offer themselves for training when proper training is not provided for them. These two matters must be closely co-ordinated.
There are two other matters on which I want to touch. The Secretary of State very properly referred, as everybody else has done, to the gallantry of these men. We all desire to pay our tribute to these men, but I want to know why they are called upon to undertake the enormous risk of these flights over Germany. Why at this time should the Government be risking, first of all, the planes? They must be sending our best planes; they would not be justified in sending anything except the best. They are sending them for some purpose which they have in mind, but which it is difficult for us to understand. What effect can it have upon the Germans? It cannot frighten them. Even if the machines are not fired at, I suppose the Germans say, "Oh, we could deal with them if only we did fire at them." But, if the machines are fired at, what are the losses and why do you risk your best planes and your best men at a time like this, and to what end? They do not go there to bomb. They do not interfere with anything except, I understand, the German radio for a few hours or moments. If they went there to interfere with munition works, transport, or the railway systems, then I could understand it; but why do you risk it when no useful object as far as one can see is attained? Assuming that there is a useful object, will the Government say that the advantage outweighs the disadvantage of the risk of losing these machines, and, still more, these fine young 634 men who are unable to retaliate, except perhaps with their machine guns.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to civil aviation. I hope this will not be lost sight of. During the last war we ceased to a very large extent production of motor cars for civil work, and the result was we lost the export market. It took us a very long time to recover, and we recovered it, as usual, only by the better quality of our machines. I dare say we can recover it again, but let it be remembered that civil aviation is the transport of the future. I implore the Government to continue the work, because I do not think it will in any way interfere, or at any rate unduly interfere, with the production of war planes, which, of course, must come first. I hope they will bear this in mind and enable us to keep in touch with other countries of the world through the use of our civil machines. I conclude by thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement to-day. I would also like to congratulate him on his recovery to health.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I should like to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down and the pleasure it has been to the House this afternoon to listen to the statement of the Air Minister. The thing of most importance in the statement was the manner in which production has been improved, but that does not mean that all our apprehensions in this regard have been removed. Neither am I persuaded that the Air Ministry are using to the best advantage the trained men and skilled craftsmen they have at the present time. I happen to be associated with a trade union organisation which has a large number of its members in the Air Force, principally in the Volunteer Reserve. They are skilled craftsmen. I am willing to admit that there is a great deal of difference comparing the construction of the aeroplane of to-day with the construction of the areoplane during the last war, but the skilled craftsmen to which I am referring, the joiners, played a great part in the construction and in the difficulties which confronted us during the last war. These are skilled men, and they can readily adapt themselves to metal work on the modern aeroplane. Some say that the joiner is quite incapable of working 635 on metal, but if you go down Regent Street and other main streets of this city and look at the shop fronts, you will see some of the metal work which has been done by the joiners.
The metal work of an aeroplane is no more difficult. I am persuaded, in my own mind, that the technical experts in the Air Ministry have not made themselves sufficiently acquainted with the ability of these craftsmen; otherwise they would be using them to a greater extent than at the present time. I have a letter from the general office asking me to raise this question to-day. These men have been persuaded to join the Volunteer Reserve of the Royal Air Force, and others have been taken in under conscription. The head office of the union ask that I should impress upon the Minister the need for his keeping up to the promise made to these men in treating them as craftsmen and giving them craftsmen's work to do. I make this appeal across the Floor of the House this afternoon, and I hope that some regard will be paid to it and that the best possible use will be made of these skilled craftsmen.
I pass from that to the question of production, and in this connection I was very pleased to hear that the facilities offered by sub-contracting were being embarked upon to a greater extent than hitherto. In the last war we should have gone under if we had not engaged in subcontracting to a great extent, and to an increasing extent; but it can be done only when we have a simplified method of production and when we are prepared to disseminate our blue prints, spreading them over wholesale with the subcontractors and so permitting the adoption of mass production. I should be happy to know that that was being engaged upon to a greater extent than at the present time. There is a tremendous amount of machine-power and man-power lying idle, and if such a method were adopted, it would avert having to send work to Canada and America. There are thousands of skilled men whose labour could be used for this purpose, and I hope that the Air Minister will at least give some indication that his Department are making a complete review of the potentialities throughout the country where sub-contracting can be engaged upon to a greater extent than it has been. If this were done, we should then be getting down, as it were, to mass production.
636 The Minister this afternoon spoke of the need for more labour, unskilled and semi-skilled, to be trained in the production of aircraft. But already we have a tremendous amount of skilled labour in the country readily adaptable to this kind of production. Therefore, I suggest there is no need at the moment to bring in and train semi-skilled or unskilled labour. I hope that point will not be lost sight of, because in our union we have thousands of men at the present time who could readily adapt themselves to aeroplane production. Twelve months ago it was not possible, because the majority of firms engaged on the production of aircraft insisted upon conditions of labour where payment by results was the rule, and the union to which I am referring refused to permit their members to engage on that kind of work. They are averse to it, and there is, I think, a strong case against it. Some of the results are exceedingly bad, but that is by the way, and I am prepared to argue it at another time. A large number of sub-contractors who have been brought in are prepared to work on a paid time basis, and the result is that the joiners are being employed in these establishments. Many at the top responsible for imposing the system of payment by results do it because it gives them good commissions—it is two for the employer and one for the employé. I appeal to the Minister to appreciate the fact that there are skilled joiners capable of adapting themselves to metal work. Their labour is available, and by spreading the work out to a larger number of subcontractors facilities will be given for these men to obtain employment. Therefore, I hope my appeal will be given consideration by the Air Minister.
I hope that we shall not make the mistake we made during the last war, when it was no uncommon thing in a number of aircraft factories throughout the country to find as inspectors men unskilled and who had received no training in the trade. I have an instance of the same thing happening at the present moment and I have sent a letter to the Minister's Department about a case where a bus conductor has been appointed as an inspector in one of the Air Ministry's departments. That kind of thing brings nothing but contempt upon an establishment, and I appeal to the Minister to see that those who are responsible to him 637 do not permit this practice to grow to the same dimensions as it attained during the last war. It brought to many of the Government Departments and factories ridicule and contempt. When inspectors, foreman and managers are appointed, let them be picked from men who understand the work, and let them be picked on their merits. I know sufficient of the good work of the Minister to know that he would not condone it. Therefore, I feel that I am justified in making this appeal in the initial stages of this growing industry so that we shall have people in charge of the departments who know their jobs from A to Z and are competent to hold them.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
A little while ago we witnessed an interesting naval occasion when the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) floated into the House, delivered his broadside against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, and very soon floated out again. I do not want to take up a great deal of time on this subject, but I would not like it to pass that those of us who have tried to understand and to look at the problem of the Admiralty with a sympathetic eye should be thought to approve what the gallant Admiral said. I recollect a certain dictator who was going to be satisfied if he absorbed a certain little country. When he got it he wanted another, and even a third was not enough for him. I am satisfied that, although it might not be the view of the Board of Admiralty, many gallant admirals would like to treat the Royal Air Force in the same way. I would like to say en passantthat when my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that it is monstrous that the Admiralty should not have the Coastal Command aircraft, which are, at any rate, stationed ashore, and finds it seriously detrimental to the Service, what about the position of the Air Force being responsible for the defence of the coast if these naval aircraft were to take off over the coast every time they went to engage in air action? The Navy has been given full and fair consideration for its claims in connection with the Naval Air Arm, and those who look at this matter dispassionately and are not connected with one Service or another will feel that for the period of the war, at any rate, 638 this discussion might be put into cold storage.
With regard to the speech of my right hon. Friend, as the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said, we can congratulate him that he is once again placing these Estimates before the House. I am satisfied that if he will take all the good advice that has been given him this afternoon he stands a good chance of being able to present them in 1941. He comes to us in a dual rôle. He is, in the first instance, the Secretary for military aviation, and, in the second, Minister for civil air communications. If I do not wax enthusiastic about the role he has fulfilled with regard to civil air communications, that does not blind me to the fact, which I think will be readily accepted in the House and the country, that while we leave in his hands the responsibility for military aviation he continues to have our confidence. When we say that we say a great deal, because he has been in charge of a Service which has been growing at a vast rate and which has acquitted itself well and gallantly in the face of the enemy. I think, also, that the House would not like to forget the practical service which has been rendered to my right hon. Friend by the Under-Secretary. Both in the east and in the west he has been flying in fulfilment of his duties, and I can well understand the great value it has been to the Secretary of State to have by his side a man who has interested himself in the flying and the engineering side of aircraft.
Several hon. Members have referred to the special functions of the Royal Air Force and the way in which it has been distinguishing itself, but I should like to emphasise the work of the Coastal Command. We do not realise how these men have been flying during the war many millions of miles on land planes, going hundreds of miles from our coast in the bitterest weather this winter. No praise is too high for the way in which they have carried on in the face of these meteorological difficulties. A great deal cannot be said on the Floor of the House about production, yet it is obviously a matter which greatly interests the House and the country. When I am anxious to measure whether a man has fulfilled his obligations, I feel it is convenient to look back and see what he promised. My right hon. Friend, speaking in the House in March, 1939, used these words: 639In November last…I said that by May of next year the output would show a 400 per cent. increase over May, 1938, and I am very hopeful that this fourfold increase will in fact be achieved by the end of the present year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1939; col. 2393, Vol. 344.]I have many opportunities of gauging what the aircraft production of this country is, and I believe that the Air Ministry did more than reach the four-fold production by the end of 1939 which my right hon. Friend promised. I also believe with him that the Allies' production is greater than that of Germany. In regard to the inquiry of the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed, I would say that, according to my information, the increase in production to a figure greater than that of Germany represents an increase in effective air striking power. It would not be fair to say that we are building a vastly greater proportion of training machines and other types, so that, although our numbers might be greater, our air striking power would be less. He suggested that he would not like it to be felt that, although our efforts with France were greater than those of Germany, we were relying on France to drag us along to this satisfactory position. I have the honour to be a member of the French aircraft industry and I can say that nobody in France would ever suggest that this country was doing less than its full part in the aircraft production programme of the Allies.
I hear from time to time that there is disquiet in the minds of certain hon. Members about our aircraft production, and I have tried to analyse that feeling. Although one cannot say on the Floor of the House all that one might wish, I can say two things which I think hon. Members will understand. The first is that when we hear that there are certain delays and a certain lack of production compared with what had been anticipated, we only see a small portion of the whole production picture. I went to a large aircraft factory not long ago and was told that at the time they were lacking a substantial percentage of the material which they thought they ought to have. I went into the matter and found that, although that particular company was enthusiastic about the type of aircraft which they were about to produce, the fact remained that the Air Staff had given to that aircraft a relatively low 640 priority in the production programme. It is obvious that manufacturers who are making aircraft of No. 1, 2 or 3 priority must, when there is any shortage of raw material, get that material in preference to the company whose priority is ninth or tenth.
If hon. Members hear that there is a serious hold-up from time to time, as there must be, in the production programme at some given works, that does not represent what is going on all over the country; it represents what is happening, and will always happen, in a factory which at the time is on a low priority in the programme. The fact that aircraft are becoming more and more complicated every day has been emphasised in these Debates each year. A modern aircraft draws its supplies from hundreds of different sources, so specialised are the different component parts, and it is inevitable that there should be some fall off here and some increase in production there. This tends to throw out the general production programme. I believe that my right hon. Friend has delivered the goods in that he has done what he said he would do by the end of 1939.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Gentleman has sought to criticise the disquiet felt by certain hon. Members on this side on the ground that their apprehensions are based on a partial picture and circumstantial evidence. Surely the hon. Gentleman's own assurances are based on the same kind of evidence. The hon. Gentleman manufactures only a limited number of parts for aircraft and the fact that his output is very large—at which we are satisfied—is no indication that the completed aircraft are being turned out in corresponding volume.
§ Mr. Simmonds
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because I would like to clear up the point in his mind as completely as I can. In what I say now I am not depending upon anything which any company with which I may be associated may produce. I happen to have the confidence of a large number of people in the aircraft industry. I visit aircraft manufacturing works and I know what I am being told by people who are anxious to give me the truth of the situation. Therefore, the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that I am basing what I say merely upon a 641 slight portion of the total manufacture of components is not the case. I was not suggesting that Members of the Opposition in particular felt disquiet. A number of hon. Members on this side have put questions to me which represented disquiet in their minds. I have tried to show that when I have looked into the cases that have been put to me I have found that the question of priority has nearly always been at the bottom of the problem. While I do not contend that there should not be changes—and I propose to indicate them—I say that substantially the programme is going through.
Where would I suggest there should be changes in the organisation of production at the Air Ministry in order to improve the flow of the programme? First, the Air Ministry would do well to pay a little more attention to the advice which is given to them from time to time by the practical men in the aircraft industry. I could tell my right hon. Friend of half-a-dozen men with first-class practical experience. They are not the gentlemen who are the financial heads of the aircraft manufacturing companies, who do not see these detailed problems coming until the work's managers tell them they are right in front of them and have to be met. There are certain trends which first-class brains in the industry see coming. Those trends in the case of a light alloy were pointed out to the Air Ministry time after time several years ago; but the Air Ministry Production Department knew better. Will my right hon. Friend try to find half-a-dozen of these people—he knows them personally because he knows the sterling work they are doing—and listen to what they say?
Secondly, since the war began there has been a growing sense of frustration in the industry, due to the muddling and meddlesome interference of new co-ordinating departments which were set up ostensibly to assist but which actually clog the wheels of production. I give one example which was brought to my notice a few days ago by the head of a company supplying a number of large aircraft manufacturers. He wrote:In a recent conversation with X (a well-known aircraft manufacturer) I ascertained that some time ago they had been requested by the Air Ministry to furnish a list of all the materials which they bought outside, and it is apparent that the Air Ministry have been 642 urging supplies for this list without any reference to the aircraft manufacturers' actual requirements.Again:This position is corroborated by Y (who is the works manager of another large aircraft works). He called yesterday, and in the course of conversation it transpired that he had provided a similar list some time ago and annoyance had been caused to many of their very good friends amongst their suppliers by the Air Ministry urging them to deliver items for which they themselves were not pressing.I agree that some co-ordination was necessary, but for heaven's sake do not let us have the industry continually interfered with by Departments which are behindhand in their knowledge of the requirements of aircraft manufacturers or, alternatively, are urging the production of articles which, as has often happened, had already been delivered. There is really need there for an investigation by my right hon. Friend.
I turn now to another side of my right hon. Friend's duties—Civil Aviation. An hon. Member besought my right hon. Friend to take a greater interest in this problem. What is the position to-day? What are other countries doing? Since the war a new feature has come into the civil air communications of Europe, and that is that Lisbon is the terminus of the Pan-American trans-Atlantic line. Holland is about to run a line there. Germany is proposing one viaSpain. Italy already has a line to Lisbon. We are still waiting to connect up with the Pan-American service. I was pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend that he hopes it may come about soon, but I think he will forgive me for saying that he has hoped for the last two and a half years to have an air line to Lisbon and I am not certain whether the hopes expressed to-day are of any different calibre from those we have heard so frequently in the past. Italy has recently established a service across the South Atlantic. She is about to operate a line to Tokyo. In the United States of America there is a tremendous boom in civil aviation, and instead of one being able to book a seat at the last moment, as was the case a year ago, seats now have to be booked well in advance. The Scandinavian countries are making a bid. There is a joint commission from Norway, Sweden and Denmark in New York at this moment negotiating with the American Government for a Scandinavia-New York service.
643 In the light of all these developments elsewhere, what is the British outlook for civil aviation? I think it was succinctly put in an answer which the Under-Secretary gave me last Wednesday, when he said that on 31st August last there were 63British civil aircraft operating on overseas air routes, and on the 27th February last 45. That shows almost a 30 per cent. reduction in the aircraft we are using. Here is one of the saddest stories of all in so far as it affects British air prestige, particularly in America. In November, 1938, the Cavalier flying-boat, operating on the United States-Bermuda service—a dual service, with first an English boat and then an American boat—crashed. The Americans constantly expected us to re-open that service. Fifteen months have passed, and it is being noted in the United States that still the Cavalier is not replaced. We must not open services, particularly from other great countries to parts of the British Empire, unless we are prepared to maintain them even if we meet with some bad luck.
Again, I noted with interest that my right hon. Friend suggested that the Empire services were operating satisfactorily. All the information that comes to me is that they are operating intermittently, and I should like to have some more information on that subject. Pan-American are operating a Transatlantic service. We have no Transatlantic service. My right hon. Friend observed that the programme last year proceeded without a hitch. I do not know what programme that was, because certainly part of the programme was the operation of large "G"boats, the flight of which across the Atlantic was promised us so many times by the Under-Secretary last year. Altogether this is a sorry picture, and we have to add to it the recent deplorable decision about internal air lines. I will not dwell upon that because I know other hon. Members will, but there has been a ruthless striking down of many young aircraft operating units which could have done valiant work both in war and in peace time, and I am left wondering about the direction of British civil aviation.
What are the possibilities of to-morrow? These obviously depend upon our designing and manufacturing new types of aircraft to-day. This problem of the manu- 644 facture of British civil aircraft is a hardy annual. We have had committee after committee upon it. Let me recall what a committee, whose work I think was endorsed by the whole House, said in March, 1938. The Government's comments on the Cadman Committee's report, in paragraph 35, was:The Government accept the view of the committee that British aircraft constructors should play a vigorous and creative part in the development of civil aviation.Again, in paragraph 38 of the comment it says:The Government are also fully in agreement with the committee as to the desirability of stimulating the development and production by the aircraft industry of suitable types of civil aircraft.In June, 1939, my right hon. Friend appointed a further technical committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Harold Brown, and they reported, inter alia:It cannot be too strongly emphasised that British aeroplanes will only attain a prominent position in the world market if they are of outstanding merit and if development proceeds according to a well considered plan.I would emphasise those words "according to a well considered plan." The report continued:Unless the Government is prepared for many years to come to furnish considerable sums for civil aircraft development and even to subsidise the airline operators there is little or no hope of this country winning a leading place in civil aviation.The committee then refer to the Civil Aviation Development Committee, which, they say, should be given a high status, with direct access to the Secretary of State, and go on to say that they would view with serious misgivings the creation of a committee with a lower status or more restrictive terms of reference than those proposed. The whole of those recommendations have running through them these two thoughts: first, that there must be a plan, and, secondly, that there must be continuity. What is the position to-day? The Under-Secretary told us at Question Time last Wednesday that on account of the altered circumstances due to the outbreak of hostilities my right hon. Friend did not proceed with the appointment of this committee which was recommended by the Harold Brown Committee last June.
I am glad to see that he is now proposing to set up some committee, but let us be clear on this point: the setting up of this Civil Aviation Development Com- 645 mittee will do no good unless there is a new attitude of mind towards the development of civil aircraft on the part of the Air Ministry and the Air Council. Of all the technical personnel in the Department of Civil Aviation which is stressed as being so essential by the Cadman and Harold Brown Committees only the dead wood remains. My right hon. Friend became quite lyrical in the House last year when he told us of the marvellous new type of planes he was having manufactured by the Fairey Company and by Short's. These have been dropped, at any rate for the time being. Only the Flamingo air liner being manufactured by de Havilland is proceeding. Those machines about which my right hon. Friend was so enthusiastic, as he had a right to be, which were being designed and produced by the Fairey Company and Short's were being made for this reason, that to-day we are at the beginning of a new epoch and era in air transport. We have ceased to be in the normal-pressure-cabin era and have come to the sealed-pressure-cabin type, which, as many hon. Members know, can fly at an altitude of even 35,000 feet without the slightest distress to the passengers. We are taking no action with regard to the devlopment of those essential machines. We are leaving it to the United States of America to perfect their manufacture at our expense.
It is a fair question to ask, Why should civil aviation be allowed to continue in time of war? I thank Heaven that the Admiralty has never debated whether the Mercantile Marine should be allowed to continue in time of war, and is it not absolutely true that the civil air marine is as essential to our export trade as the Mercantile Marine? Speedy mails are essential if we are to take seriously the export drive about which Ministers so often speak and about which they seem to do so very little. Further, in time of war, air transport means prestige. I have heard with dismay of the effect produced by German air liners in the Balkans, where not one day in the week do people see British aircraft. The right hon. Gentleman will have a grave responsibility if he cannot at the end of the war turn over a large number of the workers in this colossal industry to the manufacture of civil aircraft. He has said himself, and I agree with him, that civil aircraft can become a great exporting industry. History may repeat itself. Dur- 646 ing the years 1914 to 1918 we allowed the American mass-produced automobile to get into the European and Empire markets, and we have never been able to get them out. With the great orders for military aircraft which we are placing, enabling manufacturers on the other side of the Atlantic to write off their plant and factories, we are running the risk of the same thing happening with regard to civil aircraft after this war is ended.
What is needed? There are men in the Department of Civil Aviation whose personal qualities I admire, but I regret to have to say that there are one or two of the heads of that department who have not the drive and energy that will put us at the head of civil aircraft manufacture. In the second place, we must have the restoration of a balanced outlook towards civil aviation among the members of the Air Council. The spirit of war induces us inevitably to uproot all that is unwarlike, and unless we hold ourselves very firmly in hand, we shall destroy a great deal which ought to be allowed to remain. I believe most firmly that civil aviation ought to be maintained in lively existence. The military members of the Air Council may say that they cannot allow any great proportion of the productive capacity of this country to be diverted in time of war from military to civil aircraft, but it is not a question of 10 per cent. or 5 per cent. or even 1 per cent. If the Air Ministry would agree to a fraction of 1 per cent. of aircraft production capacity being retained for civil purposes, that would enable civil aviation to go on. Intense loyalty to military aviation can becloud one's vision as to what is necessary for the ultimate development of the civil air services. That is the position we have to face.
I should like to conclude by recalling what my right hon. Friend said in a speech which he made on this subject in March of last year. He said then:In my opinion the problem most in need of attention and quick solution is the development and production of British civil air liners which, in merit, reliability and performance, can compete with the best that is now being produced in other countries. That is certainly not the position to-day and that is why American aircraft have to be purchased by the operating companies.…The objective…is the production of British civil air liners of outstanding merit and performance which can be used by the operating companies and, what is even more important, can be sold in the markets of the 647 world. It would be great satisfaction to any one of us, and to myself, to assist in the production of a British machine which was sought after on its sheer merits in the markets of the world, and which on those merits gave rise to demands for its successor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1939; cols. 2397 and 2398, Vol. 344.]My right hon. Friend had the right idea last year. I ask him now to do all he can to see that some fraction of our aircraft manufacturing capacity is devoted to civil aviation.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)
I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the clear and precise and also very satisfactory statement made this afternoon. As a serving officer I had not intended to say anything relating to the work of the Royal Air Force, but I feel that I must say one thing because of a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) in regard to the expansion of training and particularly the Empire training scheme. I thought he was a little unfair in criticising the Air Ministry for not getting ahead with training outside this country. He pointed out, quite rightly, that is was impossible to make arrangements of that kind prior to the outbreak of war, but one of the very first actions of the Ministry on the outbreak of war was to get facilities in Canada which have resulted in the Empire Air training scheme.
If I remember rightly, the Secretary of State when he announced that scheme said that very large numbers of men from this country would actually go to Canada to be trained there. Surely we cannot grumble if the response of the Dominions has been so great that it is now found that they can get all the pupils who can be trained there without our incurring the expense and the danger of sending our pupils over the Atlantic. Therefore I think that criticism was unfair. I was particularly interested to hear from my right hon. Friend this afternoon that now that we are unable to use the resources of Canada for that purpose, we are looking round for other equally suitable grounds. I do not propose to say anything more with regard to the Royal Air Force this evening. That does not mean that I could 648 not make some criticisms, but I think that during war-time there are better avenues of approach to my right hon. Friend than across the Floor of the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is always most receptive of suggestions made to him and that, I think, is the better way at the present time.
I should like now to say a few words in support of the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). It seemed to me that hon. Members did not receive his suggestions in too enthusiastic a manner and I think they were wrong in adopting that attitude. We should at the present time give a great deal more attention than we are giving to the development of civil aviation. I was rather disappointed to hear that that matter was to be dealt with at the present time only by the appointment of yet another committee. For years past we have had nothing but the appointment of one committee after another, and every committee has reported in the same way, criticising the lack of drive on the civil side of the Air Ministry. I think we all felt when my right hon. Friend took office and started as he did to put a tremendous amount of drive behind the development of civil aviation that at last things were going to be put on a better footing.
It was quite natural that, on the outbreak of war, there should be a complete cessation of all civil aviation, because we all supposed that from the very outbreak of war there would be continuous air raids upon this country. In those circumstances it would be quite unthinkable that we could go on working civil air liners. But I suggest that we have had time to reconsider the matter and to readjust our ideas. Not all of us in peace time believed that we should have continuous air attacks on this country. Some of us thought that when we had developed our methods of defence the Germans would think twice before launching attacks indiscriminately upon this country. I, myself, expressed that view in this House when advocating the balloon barrage and other methods of defence. In any case, if attacks were made it is likely that they would be directed in the first place against our shipping and against East Coast ports. Should we, for that reason, think of grounding all our merchant shipping 649 on the East Coast? If we should not think of doing that, I fail to see why we should ground our merchant fleet of the air.
Before the war we were at least three years behind other countries in the development of civil aviation. My right hon. Friend has said that we were beginning to alter that state of affairs. We were beginning to see air ports that were real air ports created in this country—air ports properly equipped for flying in all conditions of weather, both day and night. We were beginning to produce air liners, and we had produced the world's finest flying boat. De Havilland, I believe, at the beginning of the war were embarking on a large programme for the production of the Flamingo. The Flamingo is an exceedingly good and useful machine, which certainly compares favourably with the Lockheed Electra. As is well known, British companies were compelled to use the Lockheed Electra because we had not got down to the job and produced a suitable machine ourselves. It was, on the whole, I think, comparable to the Douglas D.C.5, a machine which carries something like 12 to 20 passengers at about 200 miles an hour.
In my view de Havillands should be encouraged and even assisted in every way possible to go ahead at once with a large programme for the production of Flamingos. They will meet the requirements of practically all air line companies. They will certainly be able to produce sufficient to deal with replacements and, above all, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend, they will supply a much-needed want for our export markets. I would remind my right hon. Friend that we are just about to pay a very heavy price for the acquisition of Imperial Airways and British Airways, and I think that, as we are paying that price, we should be very careful to see that we do not allow the whole thing to be dissipated and that we do not lose all those assets which we heard described in such glowing terms when we passed the British Overseas Airways Bill not so very long ago. I would also like to utter a word of criticism because—I did not know this until the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it this afternoon—we have not yet arranged what is to be the appointed day, and that means, I am afraid, that not 650 only are we paying this very high price for those assets, but we are actually continuing to pay 4 per cent. on the money which is outstanding. Surely we could have borrowed this money at something like 30s. per cent. and paid it off a long time ago.
To come back to this question of British Airways and salving something out of what may be the wreck of this large and costly transaction. British Airways have only a very limited number of Lockheed Electras with which to carry out and maintain services to Paris and, we all hope, to other cities on the Continent. If we do not take steps to replace these machines we shall find ourselves, in another two years, absolutely without machines and the services will come to a finish. The only other alternative will be to help still further our great competitors in this market by buying more American machines, whereas the production of the Flamingo, which need not necessarily greatly interfere with the vast programme of aircraft production in the country to-day, would solve that question and would take care of all our needs for the future including, as I say, a very large export trade.
My next point is with regard to that splendid Empire boat which, of course, has made world history on the Empire routes. We must remember that that boat was designed in 1934; that is was actually put into service, I think, before the end of 1936, and that on ordinary programmes it will be obsolescent if not obsolete before 1942. What are we doing to replace it? I understand that five of the new Golden Hind type were on order at the beginning of the war. I believe that unfortunately two of those were cancelled, thus leaving only three. I was very disappointed to hear the answer which the Under-Secretary of State for Air gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston only a few days ago with regard to the use of those three machines. He said that although it was hoped these machines would be used for the purpose for which they were built—that is the transatlantic air service—it of course would depend upon technical difficulties and upon the position of the war. I could not help reading into that answer that the transatlantic service had very little chance of the use of those three machines and that once again the military side of the Air Ministry had won the 651 battle and would probably take them over for services which could be carried out by their own type of flying boat. I hope we shall not forget the lessons of the past. As I have said, committee after committee has criticised us for our lack of foresight and lack of drive. If we do not start now then by 1942 or 1943 we shall be left with a worn-out fleet.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
We shall then be in the position of having to try to tackle the vast competition which will take place in this new form of transport—for which there will be an enormous demand in the future, certainly immediately after the war and even if the war is not finished then, we shall still need these boats for our Empire communications. I hope that we shall not repeat the mistake we made with the Hannibal class; after 10 years we find ourselves trying to compete with the London-Paris traffic with machines which would do only 100 miles an hour, if that, against American machines which would travel at 150 miles an hour.
What about the South Atlantic route of which we have heard so much? Surely the North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes might be of importance to us in the very near future. Funnily enough, the war has made these two routes, which were looked upon as rather a hazardous undertaking, the safest way of crossing the Atlantic to-day. From that point of view alone, we should consider this matter very carefully. Of course, the Bermuda route which has been referred to is a real tragedy. That is probably the most lucrative air line in the world and because we had a crash in which we lost the Cavalier, we have allowed the whole thing to go by default to Pan-American Airways. That is a dreadful thing for the prestige of this country and for its future trade.
I do not believe that it is impossible to continue to work internal airways. After all, with the railways so congested and with motor transport practically non-existent the air might be very attractive to-day to a large section of the public who want to travel perhaps to the North 652 of England or to the North of Scotland. With the improved information which we must obviously have, if one judges by the example of the small number of balloons we see in the air nowadays, we must be in a position where we feel we will have much longer notice of an intended air raid; and if that is so, why cannot we run our internal lines? Surely, the small amount of wireless which is used by fast travelling machines cannot be of any great value to the enemy. Surely, in the time which we have at our disposal any aircraft travelling at reasonable speed would be able to make its way to an airport before danger arrived. If we really feel that the East Coast is dangerous why not let our patrolling aircraft keep an eye on the liners? I do not believe for a moment that if we had at the top of the Civil Aviation Department that proper drive and desire to get on with the job, we should fail to get a great deal more than is being done to-day.
There is another point I would like my right hon. Friend to consider very seriously. Is he really satisfied that it is wise to break up entirely the organisations of these smaller firms in this country? Is it really wise to hand over ruthlessly the whole of our assets and experience to the railway companies which have not always been too sympathetic towards the development of air line transport in the past? I can see the difficulties and I am very sympathetic with my right hon. Friend in dealing with a very difficult question, but I think that he should consider it.
Finally, I want to put forward three points for his consideration. The first is that we should order at least 100 Flamingo machines to be built between now and say 1942. I mean machines not for the R.A.F. but for the development of civil aviation. Even if they are not used we shall have them there ready when we most want them, when this transport again develops. As I have pointed out, there is a very big export market which we cannot afford to neglect. It is just as important to look after the export side of the aircraft industry as any other form of export trade in this country. The Royal Air Force side of the Air Ministry must realise that and must not grab everything away from the civil side. I have said this before in the House; I believe that we should get on faster if the civil department of the 653 Air Ministry were divorced altogether from the control of the Royal Air Force.
One can understand—it is perfectly natural—that the defence of the country must come first, but I think that people in loyalty to the services in which they are serving, are apt to be carried away and to look upon the other side of the question as of no importance at all. We have seen the same thing in the Ministry of Supply. We are now having to insist that our export trade shall get the raw materials which it needs and we have exactly the same picture to-day in the aircraft industry. My first point was that we should order at least 100 Flamingo machines. My second point is that we should order 50 of the new Short flying boats. My third point is that we should take steps to see that these organisations of skilled personnel who have priceless experience in the running of air transport are not entirely scattered and dissipated beyond recall.
I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman would consider those matters, he would find that it can be done, and that when we come to the end of these hostilities we shall be in a position to tackle the economic war which may then be greatly intensified. People talk to-day as though the economic war were just a part of this war, and that it will end when hostilities end. We can make no greater mistake. It is when hostilities finish that the economic war will start and it is then that we shall need to be really well equipped in civil aviation.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The two last speakers have clearly stepped out of a different age. They seem to forget that we are fighting a war for our very lives. We have only one enemy; that is, Germany. We cannot waste petrol running aeroplanes up and down the East Coast of England in order to encourage civil aviation, and we cannot afford military aeroplanes to accompany these liners. I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) was wrong, too, when he said that is was better not to bring the difficulties we saw to the notice of the Minister for Air or other Ministers. The essence of this House is that it should provide some opportunity for the public to get their difficulties expressed in public, and show, at any rate, 654 that other people observe the same difficulties. The only way by which democracy can hold up its end against autocracy is by having Debates such as this, by means of which we can find out what is going on, and enable other people to see that we appreciate the difficulties of which they are aware.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
I should point out that it is different when one is wearing His Majesty's uniform and serving in the Forces. Then, one has an opportunity of getting information which is not available to the ordinary citizen. Therefore, while trying to keep a happy balance, I suggest that the attitude I proposed is the best.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I know; in the last war I was in the same position as the hon. and gallant Member is in now. But there is some difficulty about following two different lines. Not being in uniform now, I say, it is as well that the Air Ministry should realize that there is, in this country, not only an enormous admiration for the men in the Air Force, who are doing the fighting, but also a serious amount of criticism of the Ministry itself and of the way in which it is conducting the war. It is no good slurring over the fact that people have been desperately shocked by the failure of the coastal patrol to protect unfortunate ships from being bombed and riddled within sight of our shores. It has become worse week after week, and people are saying, "Surely the Government will stop this." All the time the Admiralty say that it is the Air Ministry's fault, the Air Ministry say that it is the Admiralty's fault, and nothing is done
. It has been said that these troubles in the North Sea and the Channel have arisen owing to dual control. I am not a specialist, and I do not know whether that is so; but when the Navy took over part of the Air Force they were then considering a war on the high seas. They were thinking of using their aircraft carriers for these comparatively slow-flying aeroplanes. Now, if they have an aircraft carrier left they had better send it over to New York, to join the "Queen Elizabeth." Aircraft carriers are too dangerous, and the aircraft on these carriers are no longer the sort that could be used for fighting the German bombers. It is a different situation. Anything that we can use to drive off these raiders from 655 Germany must come from a fixed aerodrome on shore. Those moving platforms on the aircraft carriers were never any use, in my opinion; and now they are quite out-of-date. As the Navy are responsible for protection on the narrow seas, they had better have the means of protection in their own hands, and not be given this opportunity to make the excuse, "Please, sir, it is not my fault." That is one question which is really exercising the minds of a great many people. This House may adopt the attitude, quite naturally, that we must not swop horses when crossing the stream; but it may be that the time will come when we shall have to swop horses.
I come to my next point. Do hon. Members think the country likes seeing every day in the evening papers that another lot of aeroplanes has flown over Berlin or North East Germany, dropping confetti? People are sick of it. We are making ourselves the laughing-stock of the world. These aeroplanes are going up in squadrons; I do not know whether they are all coming back. We are risking £30,000 in each of these bombers, with their equipment and the lives of the men in them; and all for nothing whatever. All we hear afterwards is that the Bremen radio closed down. Could anything be more silly than sending out expeditions of this sort, risking at least £1,000,000, and wasting capital which really might be better used for civil aviation? Whose idea is it that we should go on doing that, long after the Germans have discovered that these planes do not do any harm? Then there is the daily patrolling of the Heligoland Bight, in order to prevent German aeroplanes coming out. You cannot prevent them coming out; and this is the most expensive way of trying to do something, when it should be left to the coastal patrols to shoot them down when they do get out. The people regard these long flights over Germany as a farce, and as a sample of our lack of earnestness in fighting this war. I hope that soon our aeroplanes will raid Germany with something more serious than leaflets; that we shall tackle the Germans with their own weapons, on their own ground—against military objectives, of course. Meanwhile, let us stop wasting these lives and valuable machines and petrol, which we shall need later.
656 Then there is the question of evacuation. Do you think that the people of this country do not know that this evacuation bluff, this panic which was caused in this country in September, was the work of the Air Ministry? Everybody knows that it was the Air Ministry's extraordinary estimate of the number of casualties that would be caused by German air raids that "panicked" this country into such a disgraceful state of funk. Why did they make that estimate of 200,000 casualties? Why had they not the courage to revise that estimate, and save us from the waste of money caused by the black-out and evacuation? Finland has been raided constantly for three solid months, with more bombs being dropped than would be dropped in raids on London; and the result, I saw the other day, is that 400 people have been killed. Where did these experts of the Air Ministry get their estimate, which nearly emptied this House?
§ Commander Locker-Lampson (Birmingham, Handsworth)
London, by being evacuated, provides less of a target.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Government evacuated all the people they could get away, and left the working classes behind. The trouble is not so much the inconvenience caused by evacuation and the money spent on air-raid precautions. The real curse is that it has destroyed the morale of this country. Every night that this black-out continues, the people become more discouraged. Business is up set, the railways are handicapped, transport goes, the troops find that there is no life in the country, and the workers have nothing to do except either go to their homes or to the public houses, unless they want to be run over in the streets. I do not believe that the experts who perpetrated this state of panic have any idea of the loss they have caused. They are ruining half the business people of London. They are reducing the productive capacity of this country and reducing our export trade, by which, alone, we can pay the enormous cost of this war. If we ask questions about it in the House, we are told by the Minister of Home Security that he has nothing to do with it and that it is the Air Ministry; and if we go to the Secretary of State for Air, he says that he has nothing to do with it and that it is his experts. The country is "fed up" with the experts of the Air 657 Ministry, the more so when it hears that those experts differ amongst themselves and that they are not a happy family. We ought to have a statement from the Air Minister as to what he intends to do about the black-out and evacuation.
Surely we can assume now that the Germans will not raid us until we raid them. If it is true that we keep the black-out, not in order to save the civil inhabitants—because in that respect the black-out has been proved rather an expensive matter—but solely in order to prevent the German aeroplanes from finding somewhere else to hit; that it is navigation that they are thinking of, and nothing else, then it is time the Air Minister brought his experts to heel, and told them that this country cannot have its trade and its morale destroyed because they made a wrong estimate of the number of casualties which might be suffered. It seems to me that here we have a young, new Department, anxious to show the importance of its particular arm. When we are plunged into a war, they immediately think, "If we can draw a lurid picture of what will happen in England, unless our arm is taken seriously, we shall then have the opportunity of building up a really strong Air Force."
That is sheer ignorance. There is not a man in this House, there is hardly a man in this country, who was not ready at the beginning of this war, and for two or three years before this war, to spend all the money we had on building the Air Ministry. We would have strangled the Army and the Navy rather than strangle the Air Force. We know the money was available for the purpose; as far as this House was concerned there was an unlimited supply. The difficulty has always been in the Ministry itself—slowness in increasing production. The country is worried about those things. There is no complaint against the men, but there is complaint against the method by which the Ministry is conducting the defence of this country, and the way in which these raids are going on. The Germans are shooting down our ships. I do not know why they are not stopped from doing it. The other day we had the worst case of all—the bombing of a lightship. Then you have the squabble between the Navy and the Air Force, and you have the stories about lack of co-ordination in the Air Ministry.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Where is the squabble between the Navy and the Air Force? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making statements which may be very harmful to this country. He is a very responsible Member of this House, he has himself taken part in many Debates in this House and he ought to know the consequences of what he says.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I do not intend to be taken to task by the hon. Member. This question has been brought up in this House constantly to my knowledge for the last three years, and it has been brought up in the Press over and over again. Day after day, it is being brought up, not only by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) but by every other thinking person in the country. It is a question that ought to be decided, and it is a question that can only be decided if the Air Ministry is ready to suggest a method of stopping these sinkings and shootings in the North Sea and the Channel, and to confer with the Admiralty about how best those things can be stopped. The country is only too well aware of the trouble that is going on. It is our business here to regulate that trouble, and to see that the Ministry put it right. The duty of this House in time of war is very clear. It is to voice the views of the public and to see that the public get all the information they can. We do not give away information, and we do not ask the Front Bench to give away information which would be in the slightest degree damaging to this country. The only advantage democracy has is that whenever there are questionings, they shall not be suppressed, but shall find a voice in this House. We hope, as long as the House of Commons endures, we shall be able to support our country in the best possible way by getting the public behind the Government.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Commander Locker-Lampson (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question; and to add instead thereof:this House, while gratified at the satisfactory health and comfort of the Royal Air Force personnel serving at home and overseas, recognises that the maintenance of a high standard of general fitness depends upon the 659 continued operation of effective medical services, which must be encouraged and extended.I would not like to move this Amendment without saying how personally pleased I am and how glad everybody else must be at the restored health of the Air Minister. May I also say how much we value his coming down to-day and speaking at considerable length and with great effect despite his recent illness. As he is not able to remain at this moment in the House, I welcome the presence of his colleague, who is of special value to us because he served in the last war most gallantly, and he knows the Air Service inside out, and answers questions with circumspection and truth. I remember the day when there were only two Services, namely, the Naval and Military Services. One of them was spoken of as the senior Service. I do not know whether "senior" meant "superior," but who could make use of such a term to-day? What detached observer could deny that the Air Service is to-day unique in the quality and range of its new emotions, strains, and risks? It is paramount. Bravery, we know, is always in fashion, and no one will belittle any form of it, but if I had to choose between two classes of men whose courage I most envied, I would select the man who goes like a dolphin under the sea in a ship and the man who soars skywards like an eagle. I take off my hat to the submarine and the aeroplane.
In this connection, may I have the temerity of advocating the use of a new word in the Air Service? There is no generic term to cover flight generally by man, as there is when we speak of operations on the sea or on the land. We have for the Army and the Navy the words "afloat" and "ashore." Might I humbly recommend the use of the word "awing" to correspond for the Air Forces? It is simple, and it is comprehensive. These Air Forces have to be adequately armed, and nothing in the world must stop that, but why stop at arming men? It is common sense as well as humanity to care for their well-being. There should be healths well as homes for heroes. What was it that lost the war for Germany last time? We have had many explanations. Some say it was the German generals, and certainly generals 660 lose more wars than the troops they mislead. Other people say it was propaganda that lost Germany the war, but that is propaganda. I. think that what lost Germany the war was the health, or rather the unhealthy, of her people. It was not that our blockade deprived the Germans of fats, for instance. It was that the Germans calculated food values exclusively in terms of calories; that is to say, in the heat values of food. They refused to believe in certain new other subtle substances, which English professors were discovering, and the Germans suffered calamitously.
This is a perfect example of the punishment of the country, which ignores science, and it is typical of Nazi intellectual isolation and voluntary encirclement. That was a self-imposed blockade far more deadly than any imposed by the Allies in the last war. Twenty-five years ago German scientists and professors refused to study diet in relation to disease, when Frederick Hopkins was unlocking vitamins from his magic box in a little garret in Cambridge and revolutionising research. Why did the Germans after and during the last war suffer from oedema of the legs or swollen legs? It was because they lacked vitimin A. Why did they suffer from corneal ulceration of the eyes? For the same reason. What saved the stamina of our generation? Was it the foresight of any admiral or general? Alas, a general had turned down the tank and an admiral had turned down the convoy. It was not my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), because he more than any other Member of the House was responsible for the tank. It was not he. We had a body of selfless scientists, and we used them. Let other people praise butchers and hangmen; I reserve healers for my praise. There is an eminent society whose first President, Isaac Newton, sat in this very House. That Royal Society has recently compiled a register of 1,200 eminent scientists, the pick of British brains made available for work in this war, whether paid or unpaid, whether uniformed or not. I am sorry to hear that these services are being sparingly used by the Government. Sir William Bragg the other day, at the annual meeting of the Royal Society, lamented Government neglect. This is very serious. Only in the Admiralty have 661 physicists, as far as I know, been used. Where else? Alas, some of our offices are full of semi-scientific jacks-in-office who plead secrecy and other standardised forms of obstruction in order to resist and keep out new ideas and genius. Some officials indeed are suffering, not so much from swollen legs as from swollen heads, and we must cure even that.
Is not this true of this war more than anything else, that it is an experts' war? I therefore invite the right hon. Gentleman, with his colleagues, to appoint a body of outside scientists if only to study the diet of the troops. How helpful I am in making this suggestion. He will be creating a body on a popular basis which will stand between him and public opinion. Few of us can be aware of the complexity of the medical side of the Air Force, for the Air Force suffers from illnesses unknown to other Forces. It is common knowledge that a young pilot pulled his Spitfire from a dive of 650 miles an hour into a climb of 400. He lost consciousness because gravity tried to drag him through the cockpit. Seasoned test pilots regularly dive at 550 miles an hour, and what do the doctors do? Doctors are waiting to plug these heroes' ears and bind their limbs to avoid the pull of the earth. What a terrifying task you now offer the medical world. Again, airmen suffer from night blindness. Night blindness is due to the loss of a pigment in the retina. It is called visual purple. This pigment cannot possibly be built up in the absence of vitamin A. Another illness common among airmen is fatigue at high altitudes, which again is overcome if pilots are properly fed and get oxygen.
I hear at times that airmen are supplementing their rations with visits to N.A.A.F.Is. No doubt they are admirably run. I have nothing but good words to speak of them, but the Government ought to try to give airmen more and not less than they need. The most essential of any single food is that which is popularly called by airmen "cow juice." Cow juice was our first meal in life, and it will probably be our last one. Compare it with what the Germans are getting to-day. I have taken the trouble to purchase a pint of German beer brewed for the Munich Brown House, and I find that it contains no proteins, no fats and not a single vitamin. Even the calorific content is less. English milk is composed 662 not only of proteins, fats, sugars and several minerals, but six vitamins besides. It is a food by itself. It is the equivalent of nine ounces of white bread and of nine eggs. I am very pleased to see that Herr Hitler taunted our airmen the other day as being milk sops. Meanwhile do not let the Government suffer from diet deficiency them. I notice at times a general intellectual fatigue in high places as well as at high altitudes, and a suggestion also of blindness, not only at night. Napoleon said he won his campaigns upon the stomachs of his troops. How true to-day! This is a war of well-being. Our slogan might be, "March upon Milk," and our motto, "Vitamins for Victory."
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Sir M. Sueter (Hertford)
I rise to second the Amendment so ably but before the House by my hon. and gallant Friend. He served under me in the Great War with much gallantry when he was in command of an armoured car squadron with the Royal Naval Air Service. He always took very great interest in the welfare of his men and used frequently to consult me on anything which would be good for their well being. The only complaint ever made against him was this. One day one of his chief petty officers came to me and said, "The commander has led us very well indeed at Dunkirk, in Russia and in Rumania. He fed us very well. The food was commonplace, but it was the best he could get. There was always plenty of milk, tea, and cocoa, but he never gave us a tot of rum. Ought he not to have given us a tot of rum in Russia, where it was freezing hard?" I said, "Yes, you certainly ought to have had it." The chief petty officer said, "What happened to it?" I said, "I think the ship carrying the stores must have been torpedoed or struck a mine." After listening to my hon. and gallant Friend's speech, I am certain that he must have exchanged that rum for milk. That would account for the popularity that he had at Dunkirk, in Russia, and in Rumania. In Russia they showed his picture with the armoured car squadron on every screen. He must have squared them with good naval rum.
I quite agree with what he says of the value of milk. I have been very fortunate in my own home that my wife 663 keeps a small herd of Jersey cows. We get good milk and very good cream and butter, and I am certain that my family have benefited by it. I agree that the Air Force should have every possible necessity, like milk. I have been told in the Navy that milk is all the better with a dash of rum in it, and when you go to shoot bear and deer in Canada or British Columbia they always give you milk with a dash of rye whisky. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend to consult the scientists and the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) to see whether vitamins are not made more lively by a dash of rum or rye whisky. I agree that Air Force officers and men should have the best food possible, but the best food can be spoilt by bad cooking. I heard the other day of a young airman who took a great interest in this cooking business and he was sent to the different sections of his station to report. He met representatives from the different sections with the sergeant cook once a week, careful minutes were kept, and they went through the menus for the next week. The men of the air station do not have an official caterer, but they like an officer whom they fly with and whom they can trust to look into the question of their food. This officer did not pay regular visits to the cookhouse, but every now and then, he dropped in to see if the meals were being served properly. His station was a very happy one. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he could not encourage that. Officers should pay attention to the creature comforts of their men.
I would also ask the Under-Secretary whether he is quite sure he has enough physical training officers and instructors. When we first started submarines in the Navy, and aircraft for the Royal Naval Air Service, we found that the fittest men were the best. They came to decisions rapidly, and they were the masters of an emergency if any emergency arose. I would ask him whether physical fitness is given enough attention in the Air Force. They cannot quite give the attention to it that they do in the Army because of the scattered stations, but I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he has sufficient welfare officers, and also physical training instructors, to go into the whole question of building up the physique of 664 their men. We found in the early days of the Royal Naval Air Service that swimming was one of the best things we could put the men to, water-polo, and, of course, Association and Rugby football, hockey and other games. I notice that an officer who has just come across with the Canadian Force is introducing a new game called "Softball." It is like baseball, but is played with a soft ball. I hope the airmen will take it up and will be able to get matches with the Canadians. We have many football and cricket clubs in my constituency, and when I send them a subscription, I beg them to keep their club going and to try to get matches with teams from the Services, because that is what you want, to relieve the monotony at these stations and give the men as much exercise as possible so that they are thoroughly fit when they have to go up into high altitudes.
My next point is the care of the health of our flying men. In peace-time some pilots suffer a little strain when they are waiting to go up for night-flying exercises and a fog comes on. In war-time the duty pilots have to be in full kit and may be called upon at any second to go up. They may have to fly long distances at high altitudes and engage the enemy. They have to fly in variations of temperature, and it is quite a strain on them, and, as the war progresses, it will be found that some of our airmen suffer from stress, as they did in the last war. I know the medical service is very well developed. They have their air-conditioned hospitals, and they have a call on the best psychologists and neurologists in the country. Naturally they are at the disposal of the Air Ministry to deal with their pilots who become overstressed.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary how he is going to prevent these young lads from getting over-stressed. In the Naval Air Service we had at East church a very fine doctor. He was a staff surgeon called Dr. Hardy Wells. He used to mix with the pilots, fly with them—I believe he obtained his certificate—and go with them in the armoured cars, and he looked after their health. If he saw a pilot showing signs of stress he would come to me and say, "I think that that man ought to be sent on a little leave." The pilot was usually sent on leave, or we would change his work from one 665 station to another, and perhaps take him off flying and put him on to other work. That is the kind of prevention we ought to carry out, and I ask the Under-Secretary whether that prevention is developed as much as the medical care for young pilots who get neurosis and perhaps go down the slippery slope to being invalided? We want to prevent that all we can, otherwise at the end of the war we may have a large number of young pilots suffering from neurosis and having to be invalided out of the Service, at a young age and pensioned. We want to avoid that, and it can be done by this kind of prevention.
The Under-Secretary ought to obtain the services of a large number of young doctors and have them properly trained by men who understand this prevention. There are not a great many people who do understand it. We went in for it in the Royal Naval Air Service, and it can be done if you obtain young doctors to take it on and to mix with the flying officers. If they see any youngster showing the slightest sign of distress they should send him on leave or get his station altered and give him new surroundings, and so on. Everything possible ought to be done to prevent these lads from getting over-stressed. When the Under-Secretary goes round the air stations, I hope that he will look into the sick quarters and see that they are made bright. A little paint here and there may make these places bright, and it makes such a difference to a patient when he is in bed to have bright surroundings. He ought also to look into the question of the orderlies and see whether the right class of orderly is looking after these sick men, as it is very important that they should have the best possible treatment and have good order-lies to look after them.
My next point is the after-care of pilots. During the last war many pilots, some having crashed, others having been brought down by enemy action, had neurosis, fell sick and so on. The Under-Secretary may remember that there were a good many accidents and that we rather discarded these pilots afterwards, and some of them, I think, did not get a fair deal. There were one or two cases in the Naval Air Service of men who certainly did not get a fair deal. It is the same in peace-time. Here is the case of a young officer. The hon. and gallant 666 Member who moved the Amendment will remember that we went to the Prime Minister, then Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, and obtained approval for the last Schneider Cup race. We persuaded Mr. Ramsay MacDonald to hold that race. There were five young pilots chosen for the race—three to take part in it, and two to act as stand-by pilots. That shows what a fit pilot this particular young man was, for he was one of the five chosen for the Schneider Cup race. This young lad, in the course of his duty, was sent from the Royal Air Force to the seaplane carrier, the "Hermes," in China. When flying 100 miles from his ship he suddenly felt ill. He brought his machine back to the ship all right, and he was afterwards sent to sick quarters in Wei-hei-Wei, but they did not understand what was the matter with him, and he was kept for six months before he was sent home. He was treated in a Royal Air Force hospital, but they could not do very much for him, and he later went to the Middlesex Hospital for treatment. He was suffering from some gland trouble. There everything possible was done for him, and he got a little better for a short period. He became worse again, and unfortunately he died. His father had to stand the expense of all that sickness. I believe the disease was called Hodgkins disease, which has something to do with the glands of the throat. It almost made my blood boil to think that this young lad should have had to go through all that trouble—they did not understand what was the matter with him in the first instance—and that his father had afterwards to spend hundreds of pounds. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he cannot set upon after-care health board, with an independent chairman, to look into these cases, because, depend upon it, there will be plenty of them at the end of the war where pilots will be suffering from the effects of crashes or enemy action or neurosis. The matter wants looking into, and I am certain that everybody in this country would like to see the pilots get a fair deal. That is all that they want.
I believe that I am the oldest living Service airman, and I want to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air, the Under-Secretary, and the Chief of Staff, and also all these excellent fellows, who have put up such fine flights. The gunners have done wonderful work in 667 shooting down the Dorniers, the Heinkels, and the Messerschmidts. Their shooting has been carried out with remarkable precision. They have done great work in carrying out these long distance flights. I think these flights do good because they show the heads of the German nation that our machines can be flown over German territory. These long distance flights are carried out by these young lads. They also have to search for submarines and attack them. They search for mines, and they sink them by gunfire. They warn ships of mines. They located the "Altmark" the other day in that wonderful action, in which the "Cossack" took part and rescued three to four hundred men. The observers always have their eyes skinned looking out for men who may be on a raft or in a boat. They also look out for German crews, when their machines have been sunk and they have taken to a small boat, and I hope that we shall always rescue them. These men have to do all this work. They have to make long flights in the Sunderland boats, and I congratulate the observers upon the work that they have done. They stick to their work in a wonderful way, and I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether these men who are engaged in this humanitarian work of saving life—they must have saved hundreds of lives by now—cannot be decorated in the same way as those gallant fellows who bring down enemy aircraft. They are doing a grand work in the saving of lives. Now that I have paid a compliment to the Royal Air Force for the great deeds that they are doing, I must remind hon. Members that we owe a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I must remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we are discussing the Amendment, which deals mainly with fitness and medical services, and that he must not introduce matters which are not germane.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was only just remarking that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs deserved much gratitude for taking the wise counsel that was given to him by a hand- 668 ful of airmen, who proposed to the late Marquess Curzon and Lord Sydenham that we should establish a separate Air Force free from all Admiralty and Army control. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that decision, but as you have ruled me out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I cannot pay further compliments to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs for his great work in the war, and for making that very wise decision.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Captain Elliston (Blackburn)
We are much indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) for the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State some matters affecting the health and welfare of the Royal Air Force. I will refer, first of all, to the great disappointment, expressed by medical women, that, so far, they have been given little or no share of the work of the Air Force Medical Services, especially in connection with the Auxiliary Service, popularly known as "Waafs." In the last war medical women were given important work in the Services and were mainly responsible for the health and well-being of the women in these Auxiliary Forces. In spite of the fact that they never had appropriate rank or authority, they were able to do valuable work, which was recognised in the "History of the War," and elsewhere. It is contended that women medical officers are especially fit to advise and look after those young girls who are serving in the Auxiliary Forces. In some cases these girls are sent to stations where they are billeted in any accommodation which is available, and when they are ill or run down, and require attention, it would be a great advantage if experienced women medical officers were available to look after them.
Above all, I urge the Under-Secretary to recognise how desirable it is that a senior woman medical officer should have the supervision of all these Auxiliary Services. We hear that we are definitely approaching a shortage of men medical officers. Already there are parts of the country where there are not enough private medical practitioners to look after the needs of the civil population, and it would be a pity not to make use of our 6,000 women medical practitioners. There are many hospital duties which they 669 could perform well, for example, as bacteriologists, radiologists, pathologists or anaesthetists, and it seems unreasonable that they should be excluded from doing their part, as they wish to do, in the winning of the war. I would ask the Under-Secretary to report this matter for consideration by the Air Ministry. There is a very strong feeling on the subject, and I suggest that this is not the time when we can afford to neglect such a valuable source of medical officers as is afforded by medical women.
I will mention another matter, of which I am reminded by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter)—the important work to be done in the prevention of disease. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told us how psychologists and others detected early signs of failure among pilots. I wish to refer to one source of ill-health common to military forces, namely venereal disease, and, happily, the Air Force, in this respect, has an uncommonly good record. The incidence of venereal disease is governed very much by civilian conditions surrounding camps and munition works, and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether they have taken account of the dangers to which some of our airmen are exposed in stations around London, in the Home Counties and in our industrial areas. A typical example may be seen in a town 12 to 15 miles away from London which until recently had a small population. Now it is an important centre of 50,000 people, and it can be shown that provisions for the prevention and treatment of venereal disease in that area is wholly inadequate. The Minister of Health quite recently sent out a circular calling upon local authorities to provide adequate treatment and suggesting that where necessary they should establish traveling clinics to meet war conditions. But the Ministry offer no financial help to these local authorities, and those of us who are familiar with their work know how unlikely it is that, at a time when, they are beset by the anxieties of evacuation and air-raid expenses, they will incur extra expenditure to meet conditions arising directly out of the war. There is a general feeling among local authorities that a special grant should be made for that national work. The particular area to which I have referred is under the administration of a great county council, but there are no clinics in the near 670 vicinity; people in that area who want treatment have to go all the way to the London hospitals because the Home Counties have a joint scheme with the London County Council for the provision of treatment. What protection is it for the population in that area, for the working girls in that area, 4,000 of them, if they have to go 15 miles to get treatment? I suggest that the Ministry of Health should not be content with a polite circular telling local authorities what they can do with their block grant, which is already earmarked over and over again for essential services, but should provide an additional grant for this essential war service.
There is one other point. The Ministry of Health refer in their Circular, very justifiably, I think, to the great success which has been achieved in reducing the incidence of this disease. In the last war 400,060 men were infected, meaning a serious loss of fighting strength. The incidence has been greatly reduced, and is being reduced, almost entirely by education. Instruction in the Royal Air Force is being given admirably by medical officers, but the Ministry of Health realise that we must do something more.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The hon. and gallant Member has given rather startling figures. Does he mean to say that 400,000 men died?
§ Captain Elliston
No, nor do I say that more than a percentage of these were invalided out of the Army. The Ministry of Health Circular recommends the resources of the British Social Hygiene Council for the important work of public instruction in regard to this disease. I mention this because the work of education in connection with this disease is a very difficult matter. It requires highly trained teachers who are able to illustrate their lectures with very instructive films which have been prepared by the council. But once again the Ministry regret that they cannot make any financial contribution towards this work, although they suggest that local authorities should use the council. They commend the council as a competent body for the purpose, but leave the council to spend their time collecting funds for work directly, affecting this very urgent matter. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that the Air Force should make use of these trained teachers and that they should show their films in the 671 aerodromes and training establishments and thus contribute very much towards the protection of these men against infection. The occurence of infection, even in the Air Force, where it is at such a satisfactory figure, varies very largely in different stations, and the incidence becomes heavy in Malta, the Middle East, and the Far East, where disease is rife. It is necessary that these young fellows should be prepared not only for the dangers they encounter here but for the dangers they will encounter on foreign service. In conclusion, I think both the matters I have mentioned are important. Firstly, let us take early advantage of the desire of women medical officers to serve in the Royal Air Force Medical Service, more especially in connection with the Women's Auxiliary Force, and secondly let us realise that education is of prime importance if we are to maintain the health of our flying men in the difficult work they are doing.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) on having given us an opportunity of discussing the health and comfort of the personnel of the Air Force. No more important subject can be discussed by this House. If the Air Force personnel are not fit and healthy it is impossible for them to be efficient. Without being properly fed and warmly clad, they cannot carry out their work with the spirit and the high morale with which they are now doing it. The effect of good food and good clothing has been shown in the Finnish war. The great spirit with which the Finnish troops have opposed the Russian onslaught, could not have been shown by troops who were not physically fit, and their spirit could not have been shown by men without good food, proper clothing, and a healthy mode of life. We have seen the wonderful results which they have achieved in defending their country against the ill-clad, and ill-fed troops opposed to them. It is not to be surprised that there is a very great difference in spirit between the two armies.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) earlier in the Debate referred to black-out conditions. The present 672 system of black-out is, undoubtedly, affecting the health of the air personnel. During the past winter for some 14 or 15 hours the living rooms and sleeping rooms of the Air Force have been blacked out and no fresh air whatever has been allowed to enter the huts or rooms. That is bad for the health of the personnel, and I hope the Under-Secretary will use the coming summer months to devise proper means of ventilation for the living rooms and the sleeping rooms before the long dark hours of next winter come upon us. I am sure that some of the sickness which has been prevalant throughout the country has been due in no small measure to the lack of ventilation at night.
Returning to the Service of the Royal Air Force after a considerable lapse of time, it has been intensely interesting to me to compare the conditions now with what they were a number of years ago. I have been struck by the great improvement in the quality of the food and the presentation of the food which exists now as compared with a few years ago. I should like to congratulate the Minister, his predecessors, and all those responsible for this great improvement. The lay-out of the kitchens is beyond praise, and it enables properly-cooked food to be served hot and in a proper manner. The serving of good quality food in the proper way undoubtedly contributes very greatly to the comfort, health and well-being of the personnel. The variety in the menu for the week is highly satisfactory, although, perhaps, more attention could be paid by the medical authorities to a suitably balanced diet. I do not think there could be any better propaganda than to drop some of these menus over Germany, so that the German people could see the sort of food our troops are getting. I do not know what is included in the leaflets that are dropped over Germany. I do not know why there is such secrecy in this matter. The Germans read the leaflets, if they are not shot before picking them up, and if they are allowed to read them, I do not see why we should not be allowed to know what they contain.
I should like to urge upon the Under-Secretary the need, during the coming months, for greater cultivation of the wasteland in and around aerodromes. If the variety of food, and particularly fresh vegetables, is to be continued, I think it is essential that every camp should be 673 made as self-contained as possible in the production of fresh vegetables and food. At aerodromes and camps there is an immense amount of ground available for this purpose. I ask the Under-Secretary whether the perimeter of aerodromes is being ploughed up and potatoes and other vegetables grown there. It would be possible for this purpose to use a margin of 15 or 20 yards all round the aerodromes without interfering with the flying. There is there valuable space for growing fresh vegetables and food. Is a real effort being made by the commanding officers to get the troops to grow vegetables of all kinds outside their huts? I hope that competitions of one kind and another will be instituted in order to encourage the growing of vegetables. I hope that the gardeners who in peace time may be usefully employed in growing ornamental flowers, will have their attention turned, not to the growing of flowers, delightful though that may be, but to the growing of useful food.
In connection with the health and comfort of the troops, the activities of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes must of necessity loom very large. The N.A.A.F.I. have a monopoly at all camps. Married airmen, and indeed all airmen, must obtain all their supplies from this monopoly, and, therefore, it is of vital importance that the food supplied by the N.A.A.F.I. should be of good quality and the right cost. I regret to have to say that my experience over a wide area has been that the troops are not being satisfactorily catered for by the N.A.A.F.I. I have had a number of examples of high prices and unsatisfactory service. I think there is a general feeling, particularly among the executive officers of the N.A.A.F.I., that they have a monopoly, and that this causes them to adopt a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude. They have not a real feeling of service. Because they have a monopoly, they have a very great responsibility. I feel that there is not the right sort of drive on the part of the executive body of the N.A.A.F.I. in giving service, and I should like the Under-Secretary, together with the other Departments concerned, to have an inquiry made into the running of this body. It seems to be an independent body under nobody's rule or guidance. It has a monopoly and it is not discharging its duties in the way that 674 it ought to do. The area supervisors and council supervisors—
§ Mr. Wakefield
The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes supply, or are supposed to supply, food; and the health, well-being and comfort of the men depend on good food being supplied at the right price. If the men are overcharged or are not supplied with proper food, they will not be in good health and will not be comfortable. I may be accused of talking generalities. It is always well to support generalities with actual examples. I have brought with me certain items which I have recently obtained from the N.A.A.F.I. to show that there is overcharging and unsatisfactory service.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The House is not discussing the N.A.A.F.I., but the Amendment, and therefore, the hon. Member would not be in order.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I should be obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you would advise me whether it would be in order to discuss articles of food which concern the health and well-being of the personnel.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Certain illustrations may be given, but it would not be in order to discuss the matter in detail, The hon. Member may discuss whether the articles of food are good or not, but he may not discuss the organisation of the N.A.A.F.I.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understand it would be in order for me to give an example of two eggs. The egg which I hold in my right hand is a foreign egg sold by the N.A.A.F.I. for 2d. At a shop in the neighbourhood, the egg which I hold in my left hand, a British egg—hon. Members will see the difference in size—was also sold for 2d.I think this illustrates the difference in prices and quality between the N.A.A.F.I. on the one hand and the local shops on the other. As a further example, I have here two mugs. At the N.A.A.F.I. a pennyworth of tea is contained in the smaller mug, and at a local shop a pennyworth of tea is contained in the larger mug. This illustrates the general point I am making, that there is overcharging. The health and well- 675 being of the personnel cannot be maintained unless a proper service is provided by the N.A.A.F.I. I think that one reason for the lack of proper service is to be found in the long hours and underpayment of those who have to provide the service. The N.A.A.F.I. canteen staff work long hours and they are paid 15s., 16s. or 17s. a week.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The terms under which the N.A.A.F.I. staff work may not be discussed in this Debate.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will pass from that subject by saying that I hope I have shown there is a very real need for an investigation into the operations and running of this monopolistic concern. I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the efforts he has made in providing entertainment for the personnel. There is no doubt that their comfort is well looked after in this direction but I would suggest that greater encouragement should be given in stations to the formation of choral and debating societies and the like. Many men have voluntarily given their services to the Air Force and have left civil life for a period of time, feeling that there is a great gap in their lives. We should do all we can to lessen the blow by giving them the opportunities they have in civil life for carrying on hobbies and bringing out any special qualities they may have. During peace-time opportunities were given to personnel in the Royal Air Force for educational advancement. Obviously, under the stress of war it has not been possible to give the same opportunities, but I hope the Minister will do his utmost to see that there is a return of opportunities for educational advancement. Many of the personnel will have to return to civil life after the war and it is only right that they should be given every possible opportunity of continuing their education.
I would now refer in particular to that part of the Amendment in which attention is called to the maintenance of a high standard of general fitness within the Royal Air Force. Everyone knows that in peace-time every encouragement was given to the personnel to play games and take part in recreational activities. It was fully realised that the strain of flying demanded physical exercise and that there 676 was no better training for them than playing games, which maintain the stamina and skill of the aircraft crews. But, unfortunately, since the outbreak of war, owing to the rapid expansion and the fact that many of the recreation grounds have been covered with hutments, the opportunities which existed in peace-time are no longer available for games of various kinds. I hope the Minister realises the importance of this, as indeed I believe he does, because I have just heard that a policy has been developed for providing physical training officers in various stations. I congratulate the Air Ministry on this development and also on the type of personnel they have chosen for the task. Full opportunity should be given to these officers, many of whom are very experienced in this kind of work, and I hope they will meet with no restrictions in their efforts to develop physical recreation.
In encouraging physical training and recreation I suggest that "physical jerks" at 6.30 a.m. should be avoided. I myself always loathed that practice, and most people do. It is useless to try and keep personnel fit by pulling them out at an early hour, and it will not achieve the result required. Physical training and games should be at reasonable hours of the day. Prior to the war, the National Fitness Council carried out many tests with a view to establishing throughout the country a fitness campaign and Colonel Campbell, first of the Army and then of Edinburgh University, devised agility tests which would be admirably suited to the needs of the Royal Air Force. In the National Fitness Council we realised that for the tests to be successful they would have to be suitable for small club-rooms or small yards and that the measurement of those tests by factual results must be easy. All the information is available at the Board of Education and I hope that it will be utilised for the Royal Air Force. Opportunities could be given for competitions on the tarmac, or in the crew rooms.
I congratulate the Air Ministry on a recent publication which points to the importance of physical training for maintaining high morale. It points out that we are opposed to a highly disciplined, brave and determined enemy, renowned for his thoroughness and efficiency in the whole practice of war. If our airmen are to maintain, throughout a long war, the 677 clear eye, quick movement, the alertness of mind and the steadiness of heart with which they entered this struggle, no opportunity must be neglected of providing regular periods of recreation to offset the strain of war-flying and, above all, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) pointed out, the waiting which inevitably takes place prior to a flight. I congratulate the Minister on this new policy he has inaugurated for developing physical and recreational training in the Air Force, but at the same time a great deal remains to be done before the peace-time level of activity is reached. I hope he will leave no stone unturned to equal, and, if possible, exceed that peace-time activity, in order to offset the strain of war-time flying. Whatever he may consider best to do in this direction, I am sure will have the support of the House.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
This Amendment, as you have pointed out, Sir, is circumscribed in its scope, but it is important, and we on this side would not like to allow it to pass without expressing our agreement with the sentiments expressed in it. I could have wished that it had not been used quite so much as a peg on which to hang congratulations to the Government. I have been reminded by the course which the Debate has taken of the story of the reasons why the Puritans did net approve of bear-baiting; it was not on account of the pain it gave to the bear, but on account of the pleasure it gave to the spectators. I am led to wonder whether the Amendment has been moved in order to contribute to the comfort of the troops or to the comfort of the Government. We must be frank about it. We know that this Amendment falls into the class which the Government Whips on ballot days are wont to hand out to their supporters. It expresses gratification and says to the Government, "Here is something you are doing well; keep it up."
Although we are able to identify ourselves with the wording of the Amendment, I know of no other sphere of Air Ministry administration—and I say this with responsibility and great regret—about which we could identify ourselves with a similar compliment. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary has first upon his notes, "Welcome the Amend- 678 ment." I venture to say that no switching Amendment which has ever been moved in the House has been more heartily welcomed than this diversion of the Debate from the vast and important problems with which it began. I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few moments, on account of the unanimity of opinion on the proposition which is before us. That does not, of course, mean that we think that all is well with the health and comfort of the Royal Air Force personnel. The remarks made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), which, as you pointed out, Sir, began to depart from the Rules of Order, were as important as any that were made. I will not go into the matter in detail, but there is a vast amount of discontent in the Services in regard to the operation of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Institutes. The prices are high, the courtesy which the troops receive is in many cases conspicuous by its absence, and that spirit of service which ought to animate this organisation is definitely lacking. It is not said that there is any large profit made by this concern, but it is possible for vested interests to arise without their being distributed in the form of dividends. There are such things as salaries. I really think it is the duty of the Under-Secretary, on behalf of this large force for whose welfare he is responsible, to go very closely into the complaints which have been made by the hon. Member for Swindon and which are shared by all who are in close contact with the troops.
I want to make two suggestions as a contribution to the health and welfare of the Services. First, a word about the sick treatment of that large class of serving officers and men who are not ill enough to be sent to hospitals, but, nevertheless, are unable to go on duty. I happened to be travelling North to my constituency with a serving officer home from the Front, and he gave me a long and interesting description of the efforts which have been made by the unit of which he is the battalion commander to provide for the health of those large numbers under his command who suffer from such things as colds and influenza. This may appear a comparatively unimportant aspect of the health of the troops, but the amount of days lost and of insipient ill-health and disablement which in the aggregate are caused by these two 679 diseases would surprise most hon. Members who have not studied the statistics.
These diseases would become all the more important if we were unfortunately devastated with an epidemic of the magnitude of the influenza epidemic that swept the country at the termination of the last war. In the prevention of this disease—I speak with deference as a layman—the all-important factor is early isolation of the infected person. Frequently a man with a cold or influenza is hardly able to report sick and he remains in his billet, or camp, or even in his tent, where 20 or 30 other men are sleeping, and within a week or two an epidemic ravages the whole unit. I suggest, not an extension of the medical services, but the organisation, on the initiative of unit commanders, of sick bays without any special medical treatment in order to provide for the isolation and comfort of persons suffering from these respiratory diseases in their minor form. The same remark would apply to certain skin affections and infections from which troops on active service are particularly inclined to suffer.
The next question upon which I wish to touch is one that affects the Royal Air Force and has to do with the relations between the instructors and the pupils. An enormous number of young officers, cadets and non-commissioned officers all over the country are receiving flying training. A considerable volume of complaint is arising, about the treatment which some of these trainees receive at the hands of their instructors. I do not wish to magnify it or to say that the instructors treat them with undue severity, but I know the kind of spirit which is arising, because I have a vivid recollection of the same sort of experience, and no doubt the Under-Secretary has too. It is perhaps long enough ago now for the House not to think it too personal a subject. I well remember when I came home from flying in France as an observer in order to be trained as a pilot with many others, that we experienced the most intense resentment against the kind of treatment we received from instructors who had never been over to France at all. In the end this feeling can be detrimental to the efficiency of the instruction. The instructors had the utmost contempt for us because we lacked as much dexterity at that stage as they possessed in controlling 680 the machine, and we developed the greatest contempt for them on account of the fact that they had never been at the Front, and they called us "Huns." This complaint exists throughout the Air Force to-day, and I will read something in substantiation of what I am saying and in support of my suggestion that the Under-Secretary should look into the matter. This passage comes from a well-known organ of the aircraft industry which circulates and is widely read among officers and men in the Air Force:Strange little tales come now and again out of the flying schools of those who are made to feel that they are accepted on sufferance, not as comrades preparing to give their best in a common cause, but as unworthy members of a Service which they had thought only to use for their own base ends and the obtaining of free week-end flying.….The Service is in some snobbish danger of making the volunteers being less than welcome.I think that is a little exaggeration. I would not put it as high as that; but there is a tendency to segregate pupils from instructors, to give instructors better mess facilities, even in some cases better food, and a great many of those pupil-pilots are beginning to feel the same dissatisfaction as we used to feel in the old days. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary will think the matter of sufficient importance to look into it, in the interests of efficiency in flying training, because there must be more sympathy between the instructor and the pupil, a greater spirit of comradeship between them. The martinet system will not teach a man how to fly. It is a time of great strain for the pupil, the nervous tension is acute particularly when a man first takes a solo flight, and instructors should be informed that what is expected of them is patience and sympathy and a spirit of comradeship with their pupils. Finally, I would say that we on this side concur strongly with the wording of this Amendment, and we also congratulate the Government on escaping with a discussion on this subject rather than one on production or some other vital matters which interest the whole House.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little (University of London)
I had not proposed to speak upon the Amendment, but it was moved in such unexpectedly eloquent terms, that I feel compelled to do so. It is not often 681 that one gets a plea for scientific assistance put so well, and it is really that fact which has brought me to my feet. The Mover of the Amendment made rather a good, and, in this House, a very unusual suggestion, that scientific assistance should be invited in regulating the diet of the Fighting Forces. It may not be known to the House that in the last war the rations which were prepared for this country were prepared on the advice and under the direction of a committee of the Royal Society, and that the work was done so well that we had by far the best ration system of any of the belligerents. I fear that the Mover of the Amendment was too optimistic in thinking that the Germans are not entirely familiar with dietary principles as we know them. I do not think we should minimise the enemy's knowledge on that matter. It would be imprudent to do so.
However, I wish to discuss one or two more strictly medical questions, and if I am rather the candid friend than the thrower of bouquets, I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will not quarrel with me on that account. There is a good deal which needs to be looked into at the training depots of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. I have close personal knowledge of one of those stations, at which there are some 2,500 young men, some of whom have been there six months or five months and none less than three months. They have not had any contact whatever with flying. Quite a large proportion of them have come from Canada with certificates for flying gained in their own country. They came over here with the idea of getting into the operative branch at once, some of them having been given an assurance on the point in their own country, but find themselves undergoing tuition in branches of work which they learned five or six years ago, and that is producing a great degree of unrest and dissatisfaction. Moreover, this very large collection of young men are stationed in a seaport where no Sunday cinemas are allowed. On Sundays they can only walk about the streets or frequent the "pubs." No effort is made to help them to pass the time.
Next I should like to say a word about the medical personnel. A little book, which can be obtained at the Stationery Office, has been issued which gives useful instruction to persons who are in the medical and dental departments of the 682 Royal Air Force. The persons it is meant for are orderlies and what one might call auxiliaries. If one looks through that little book, one will see how very special is the knowledge that is required for Royal Air Force medical work, even among the humbler types of assistants. There is, moreover, a distinct and very regrettable shortage of medical officers. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) was right in saying that skilled and close observation of the early symptoms of disease was important in order to prevent worse developments. That cannot be undertaken unless there is more adequate medical personnel. I admit that the lack of medical personnel is not the fault of the Air Ministry, and that there is a very serious lack of doctors at the moment. The Royal Army Medical Corps is some thousand short, and what can be done in that connection I do not know.
Let me give an illustration of what happens. There was recently an epidemic of influenza at one station, and a very large number of the young men there contracted the disease. Fortunately it was of a very mild type, but mild types none the less can have quite serious results. I myself know of a case in which a young sergeant had a severe attack of influenza. He was sent by the Air Force medical officer, who told him to go to bed in his own dormitory, which he shared with six or seven other men. He had a temperature of 103 for two nights. He was seen by nobody, had no nursing and was served with food by his own friends. The only instructions he received from the medical officer were that he should go to bed and report again two days later. Fortunately he was a man of some character, and he said, "I am not going out at 8 o'clock in the morning with a temperature of 103 to walk through the streets," which were then covered with six inches of snow. Everything should be done to prevent any repetition of that kind of thing. I am sure that the medical officer is not to blame, because he is overworked and has not enough personnel to asist him, but it is a matter which ought to be looked into and is really very urgent.
Some three or four days ago I asked a question in the House on the incidence of cerebro-spinal fever in the Army. It is an exceedingly infectious disease, and according to the Registrar-General's latest 683 reports there has been an alarming spread of it throughout the country. It is assuming the character of a severe epidemic. If that epidemic extended to closely-inhabited quarters such as are found in many stations of the Royal Air Force most appalling results might follow. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the epidemic of influenza, after the last war, in 1918 which killed more persons than the Great War itself, and all the prognostications are that a similar epidemic may follow in the wake of this war. Persons expert in the compiling of statistics have in fact, to my knowledge, warned the Ministry of Health that the portents are in that direction. If there was not an adequate medical service in the face of a great epidemic of either of those types, I fear the reaction would be very serious indeed in the country. I do not think too much importance can be attached—I may, of course, be prejudiced in this matter—to the provision of a proper, experienced medical service, adequate in numbers, for the Air Force.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) has, if I may be allowed to say so, not lost any of his political sense by his translation to the Front Bench. He was right in his anticipation of my first words. We welcome this Amendment, and we are grateful for the opportunity of being able to debate the medical work connected with the Royal Air Force. I suppose that to win the war in the shortest time, in the most positive manner, and with the least loss, is, broadly speaking, the objective of our Fighting Forces. To do that we must achieve superiority in every sphere and in every direction of the war effort against a powerful enemy, not excepting the sphere of physical fitness. I submit to the House that in this sphere of physical fitness so far as the Royal Air Force is concerned we have nothing to concede to the enemy. We are glad to accept in principle the substance of this Amendment, because the medical standards of the Royal Air Force are high.
We have heard to-night various valuable suggestions, all of which will be 684 examined, but I would like to tell the House that I do not believe there is any progressive step in medicine or in surgery during recent years that is not applied to the Royal Air Force medical service. We have endeavoured to keep pace with the advance of medical science since the war of 1914–18. The task of the medical service is twofold. In the first place, it is concerned with the selection of new entrants, both for flying and ground duties, and, secondly, it is concerned with the maintenance of a state of physical and mental fitness of all the personnel required to perform the many duties which the Air Force has to perform in various parts of the world both on the ground and in the air. This work must, of course, cover medicine, surgery, diet, and accommodation. All these things have a direct or indirect bearing on health.
Since the war the Royal Air Force medical service has expanded greatly, and we have been able to get within its ranks many distinguished members of the medical and surgical professions. There has been an increase also in the dental and nursing branches of the Service. I would like to answer at this point a question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Captain Elliston). He asked why we did not employ women doctors. He is out of date in his information. If he were up to date, he would know that we are employing a considerable number of women doctors to look after the W.R.A.F., and that we are also employing women as sick quarter, attendants and in dental surgeries. In regard to all the flying personnel, most careful examination and selection take place, based on the knowledge gained by long research and investigation. Anyone who wishes to become a member of a flying crew, either as pilot or air gunner, has to pass severe tests which, I guarantee, will bring to light any defects.
The House may wish to know the answer to this question: Is the standard for flying personnel lower owing to the war than it was in peace time? I can give an assurance that the standard is not lower medically than it was in peace time. The problems connected with personnel are fascinating and complex. We rely very largely upon a committee which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State established some time ago, called the Flying Personnel Research Committee, of 685 which Professor Sir Edward Mellanby is chairman. That committee deals with research into the medical aspects of all matters conducing to safety and efficiency in flying. Two lines of research are particularly necessary if we are to maintain the efficiency of flying personnel. There is physiological research on the working of the human body, and there is psychological research as to how the mind is likely to react when faced with certain problems.
Parallel with the development of new aircraft there is the problem of making the human frame able to cope with the difficulties arising from the piloting of those aircraft. I think the House will be interested to know that the human frame can stand any speed provided it is in the horizontal plane. It is only when you deflect the human frame from the horizontal plane and try to turn or climb or dive that you come up against some medical problems. This Flying Personnel Research Committee has to look into problems of altitude and speed and other factors connected with modern aircraft. When you realise that the pilot of a modern fighter aircraft has to look after no fewer than 42 instruments, you can realise how the human mind is being strained, especially when the machine may be travelling between 300 and 400 miles an hour. It is the task of various branches of the Air Ministry to produce aircraft to give the maximum performance, and it is the task of medical research to give the crews the best possible aid to get the best out of their aircraft.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
May I ask whether any use is being made of the psychological tests which have been found so very useful?
§ Captain Balfour
The research committee contains eminent men of science, including the Professor of Physiology at Cambridge University, the Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, Dr. Witts, Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, and other distinguished persons of whose knowledge we are glad to take advantage. This Flying Personnel Research Committee has been working on problems such as the design of glasses to counteract glare, the prevention of deterioration of hearing and fatigue due to noise, the solution of problems connected with high altitude 686 flying, how to administer oxygen and how to improve oxygen equipment.
At Farnborough we have an experimental chamber in which we can put an embryo pilot and, as it were, in a few seconds shoot him up to the maximum operational height into the rarified atmosphere of 30,000 or 40,000 feet high and watch how that particular man will react through those conditions. It is interesting to note that the sense of responsibility is the last sense to get out of control of the mind. One man was recently put into the chamber and, as it were, shot up to an atmosphere corresponding to an enormous altitude. He was told before he went into that chamber, "The one thing you must not do is to drop that pencil; hold that pencil in your hand." He was inside that glass chamber, and those outside watched him being shot up 15,000, 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000 feet; they watched the effect of the altitude, the distress caused by the lack of oxygen. Nevertheless, he held on to that pencil and only as he relapsed into unconsciousness did he drop that pencil from his fingers. I believe that that determination to hold on to what they are told to do and to retain their sense of responsibility is typical of the spirit which we see in our pilots in their everyday work in the war. Hon. Members and I sit in a chair, and we say it is very comfortable, but we do not realise that that chair has a medical aspect if you are a pilot, in that its very design must be so as to give the minimum fatigue if you are going on a long bombing raid. The colour of the instrument board in relation to the instruments themselves so as to give you the minimum fatigue when you are looking at the instruments or when you look up are all fascinating problems which the Flying Personnel Research Committee are examining.
I would like to say a word here about the care of the sick. The hospital service in the Royal Air Force at home and abroad is complete and well equipped and all the time we are gaining experience. I will assure the hon. and learned Member who has already spoken that we are willing to adopt new methods and to learn new lessons. We have a special system for diagnosing and looking after the treatment of flying personnel who become fatigued or stale through the causes of the war. We employ many outside consul- 687 tants. A week or two ago I had an opportunity of visiting one of our main hospitals in the middle of Iraq, and there I found a splendid hospital, well equipped, with two operating theatres which might be the envy of any hospital in London; and, incidentally, an air-conditioned room where any heat stroke cases could be put—an invention, I do not mind saying, which we copied from one of the leading oil concerns in that country. I quote that as an example to show that in the Royal Air Force we do not hesitate to adopt new methods so far as the welfare of the personnel is concerned. I would like to say a word of tribute to the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service for their loyal help, because I do not believe that the high standard of hospital service to which I referred just now has been achieved without their help. As well as curing the sick and looking after the flying personnel there is the question of preventive steps.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen spoke just now of the incidence of the influenza plague through the country. We are endeavouring to give special attention to preventive measures such as hygiene, diet, housing, sports and games; and by this policy I think we have reduced very considerably the loss of efficiency through sickness and fatigue. As an example of looking ahead I would like to tell the House that the influenza epidemic which spread through the country after Christmas was anticipated by our medical service and arrangements were made for prevention and treatment in advance. These measures included an expectation of cerebro spinal meningitis and I am glad to say that as far as the Air Force is concerned the incidence is no greater than can be expected in peace time under more favourable conditions.
As regards mortality, the recovery results have been no less than five times better than was usual in the country previous to the introduction of the new drug which aims at curing this disease. I should say that stocks of this drug were laid in at the stations before the epidemic started so that the drug would be available in case this disease broke out. We had laboratory diagnosis arrangements made so that we could get the earliest possible treatment for those who were suspected of suffering from this disease. 688 We have recently appointed at the Air Ministry a Director of Hygiene with representatives of the various Commands to watch hygiene, sanitation and diet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) spoke about food in the Royal Air Force, and he said he had found that it was a well fed Service. I have been round many stations and at nearly every station that I visited I was told it was the best fed station in the Air Force. I always said "I am sure it is," and passed on to the next station where they made the same claim. The more they make that claim the more delighted I am. I think hon. Members who have knowledge of this subject will agree that the standard of cooking and of food in the Royal Air Force is one of which we can all be satisfied and proud, provided we retain it, which we are determined to do.
The hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson), in his eloquent speech in moving this Amendment, spoke about calories and vitamins. I am advised that a calorific value of approximately 4,000 calories a day is necessary for a man doing heavy work. We assume that all our men in the Air Force are doing heavy work, and we give them that minimum diet. As far as vitamins are concerned, I will assure the hon. Gentleman that due attention is paid to the agency of butter, margarine, green vegetables, liver and kidneys. He also spoke about milk. All the boys and aircraft apprentices receive half a pint of fresh milk per day and in this country we aim at all our units buying fresh supplies of milk locally, provided it can be passed fit by the medical officer. We have a big boys' school at Yatesbury and it may interest the House to know that 200 gallons of fresh milk a day from local sources are consumed there. When you get abroad, with the dangers of contaminated supply, the problem is rather different.
For a moment I will touch upon the question of sports and games, to which reference has been made by the hon. Member for Swindon and the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter). We were asked whether we fully realised the importance of that aspect of the training. I can assure hon. Members that we do realise the importance and that the opportunities for physical recreation 689 and sports are part of the regular curiculum at our stations. Since the war we have increased our physical training organisation. We aim to have a splendid record of sports for our men, not in order to achieve great individual distinction, but so that all men shall be able to take part in and enjoy them whether they be particular experts or not. As regards the National Fitness Council, I was interested in the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon; but in the Air Force we have organised a specialized "P.T." course and syllabus, with which we are pleased and which aims at providing uniformity.
As regards the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker ruled out of order certain exhibits which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon wished to show the House, including two eggs, the small one being a N.A.A.F.I. egg, and the large one being an egg bought outside. The N.A.A.F.I. canteens are not the property of the War Office, the Admiralty or the Air Ministry, but of an organisation worked under a special charter, and it might be that that organisation would find it difficult to buy sufficient eggs, of the size of that produced by my hon. Friend, to meet all their requirements at that particular price, whereas someone who has produced a few eggs on a farm might find it possible to retail them at that price. But I have taken note of the prices charged at the canteen, and, even before this Debate, with the consent of my right hon. Friend, I had arranged with members of my Department to go into various N.A.A.F.I. questions, in order to make quite sure that an organisation which has an advantageous monopolistic position shall render the service to the Air Force which we feel we are entitled to attain. I do not say that that organisation is complacent, or that it is unyielding in negotiations; but if any organisation holding that position did have either of those attributes, the Air Ministry would be determined that those attributes should be wiped out, in order that our men should have a fair deal. Beyond that I do not propose to go, and I do not think the House would expect me to go.
In conclusion, I should like to refer once more to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen. He said that we had chosen this Amendment because, of course, we knew of no other 690 sphere of Air Ministry work upon which he and his party could congratulate the Government. But that is not the real reason why we chose this Amendment. We chose it for two reasons: first, because we were glad to welcome such an Amendment, since it gives the House an opportunity of reviewing the health and recreational facilities of one of our great Services, and, secondly, because we wish to achieve that unanimity which we value. In this House there is a large pool of achievements, out of which one could draw many fish, but we knew that the hon. Member would be glad to associate himself with this particular morsel, and to pay tribute to the medical service, without any thought of party or of controversy. I have tried, briefly, to survey the questions of the physical welfare and the medical care of our Service. Although proud of what we have done, we are in no way complacent. We are willing to adopt new methods, and anxious to listen, as we have done to-night, to all constructive suggestions from any source. We look at these questions from the point of view that the medical service provides a specialised contribution to the efficiency of the Royal Air Force, which is the object of everyone in this House, from whichever part of the House he speaks.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
On a point of Order. The Government have accepted this Amendment; is there any reason why it should not be adopted?
§ Mr. Speaker
The reason is that if the Amendment were adopted, I could not get out of the Chair, and the House could not get on to the Votes in Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
The Minister referred to the question of economy, and I am sure that we are all delighted to hear that that is one of the principal questions in his mind. It is not a matter of how much money we are spending, but of the value that we get. Debating this Vote on a token sum, we have an admirable opportunity to put forward the necessity for economy. Un- 691 fortunately, the demand for aircraft now exceeds the supply. Therefore, the Minister has considerable difficulty in forcing economy upon his various departments. His economy has to be obtained by supervision. One of the difficulties with which he has to contend is the labour shortage. This shortage of labour increases the competition for labour, and, therefore, increases the price of the commodity. I have been elected a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I am serving on the Air Committee; but I am not using any information that I have obtained in that capacity in the course of any remarks that I may make in this House. The Minister will agree that one man fully equipped is worth a dozen without equipment.
It is obvious that, under present conditions, labour will not be available to supply the equipment required by the Air Ministry. There are more machine tools idle at night at the present time than there are at work. It is very necessary that the Minister should see that those machine tools are put to work before more money is expended on the importation of further machine tools from abroad. Machine tool makers in this country are inundated with orders, yet we are still importing; and using our foreign exchange in doing so. I have personal experience of this. Two months ago one of these instruments was for sale, and the offer made for it was £25. Within the last week that same instrument has been sold second hand for £285—not on a competitive basis, but to a dealer who bought it privately. That shows the demand for machine tools. They are absolutely essential for the manufacturers of aircraft. We have the plant standing idle at night, and I believe that, if the Minister were to relax certain regulations, that plant could be put into operation. I understand that the Government and the trade unions are agreed that during the war regulations regarding the employment of women and young persons at night might be suspended. If that were done, it would be possible to employ at night many of those who are now employed by day. This is a very important point on production. The aircraft factories could dilute their labour more by doing so, and it would give us the greater production that is so 692 necessary. Semi-skilled workers are quickly learning their trade, and it is not only machine tools that should be made more use of at night but the jigs and so forth which are a very expensive portion of the plant.
Night work may be unpleasant, but we have to remember that women to-day are working in the black-out under similar conditions to night work, and there is no reason at all, provided there is proper supervision, why women and young persons should not work at night and the law be suspended as it was during the last war. With the regulations as they exist the limit for persons under 16 is 44 hours a week. These young persons help the gangs. If a young person between 14 and 16 is working in a gang, the other people in the gang cannot continue with their work without that young person. If we could only suspend regulations of this description for the time being, I feel convinced we could get a considerably greater output. I know a White Paper has recently been issued, from which I understand that only 57 orders have been made throughout the country, whereas there are about 10,000 persons to-day making aircraft parts. We have to make a greater effort. We had the restrictions moved during the last war, and before we conclude this war we shall have to do the same. Why not do it now, and take action before it is too late? Soldiers are useless without shells.
I would also refer the Minister to another difficulty that industry is experiencing, and that is the enticement of labour from one firm to another, quite unnecessarily. We are getting some glowing advertisements in the Press which should not be permitted to be inserted. One which appeared in a local paper read as follows, abbreviating it slightly:We found a nice little place at a cheap rent just outside Coventry and easy to work. Mary and the kids were O.K., and they were all glad they came. Plenty of good sport and plenty of beer.And so the advertisement went on. If we get competition of this description, and take skilled men off the particular operation where they have been working for years and move them to another factory, we are not going to maintain the efficiency of output which is so essential at the present moment. I know of a factory in my own locality where the trade union rate is 1s. 7d. an hour, but they pay 693 men 1s. 10d. an hour plus 10 per cent., plus 10 per cent. increase every six months for the duration, plus one pound for everybody they can induce to go into their factory from other factories. I am not objecting to the just reward for labour; I am not objecting generally to the remuneration that is given to labour; what I am objecting to is the expensive rates that are being paid in the aircraft industry to-day. The other workers who are not receiving those rates are dissatisfied. I abide by trade union rates. I agree to 25 per cent., 50 per cent. or 75 per cent. bonus as the case may be on piece work. But I do object strongly to wages being paid of the order of £10 and £15 a week. There is no justification for it in the industry. The aircraft industry is the culprit, and other industries are suffering by it. Aircraft factories are often located adjacent to agricultural districts where labour is paid for of the order of 32s. to 40s. a week. It is not just, it is not reasonable, and unless something is done about this wage ramp we are going to have very serious difficulties in all other industries. We cannot bring the rate of other industries up to that which is being paid in the aircraft industry to-day.
I know it is exceedingly difficult for the Minister to tackle the problem, but the nation has to tackle more difficult problems than this before the war is over. Unless the Minister says something about it, unless he brings some pressure to bear, we shall have inflation far more rapidly than we have it at the present time. I had a personal experience the other day where a man operating a machine was earning £4 or £5 a week and turning out 1,000articles on his particular lathe. He was induced by an aircraft factory to move, and the man who was put on that lathe to take his place turned out 300 articles a week and was paid the same rate. The firm lost, and I do not think the man gained much from it. We have had experience of cases where the increase has gone up 25 per cent. and the output has gone down 25 per cent., entirely owing to the enticement of labour from one factory to another. This labour award is not just for the railway workers, for instance, for clubs, for shop assistants. They are getting no increase in rates, and yet the aircraft industry is settling the rate for all these other industries and set- 694 ting a pace which we cannot stay. If the Minister would express his dissatisfaction at these high rates of wages, I think it would have a considerable influence upon those people who are responsible for paying them. It is often Government Departments which are paying them, and unless something is done in those Government Departments, as has had to be done in industrial departments when we feel competition, we shall get this ramp increase continued, and, as I have already said, add to inflation.
Owing to the late hour, I will cut out the remainder of my remarks and will conclude by reminding the Minister that every Department in the Government is emphasising the necessity for export trade. Our main exportable commodities are coal and the products of labour. The products of labour often resolve themselves into engineering problems, and if these rates are paid in the aircraft industry, which is a typical engineering industry, those same rates have to be paid in exporting industries, and therefore our British prices will rise at a higher rate than the world prices, and no selling organisation in the world will dispose of our product unless we are giving value for money. This is a most important factor. I have not heard the matter brought forward in the House before, and I hope other hon. Members will follow it up and realise the importance of it. I am very pleased indeed that my hon. Friends opposite have not interjected and suggested that the rates were not too high. I agree that the cases to which I am referring are probably only 1 per cent. of the engineering industry, but they are setting the pace for the others. I hope that the Minister in his reply will have something to say on this important point.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
Does my right hon. Friend suggest that the aircraft industry is paying a rate of wages in excess of other industries? Does he really think he is serving any useful purpose in making the denunciation he has made in regard to the rates paid in the aircraft industry?
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) earlier in the Debate laid great stress upon civil aviation. He praised the Air Ministry for the splendid record that it had, but the second part of his speech was a condemnation because of civil aviation not having made the progress that it ought to have made. He said it was almost as necessary as the Mercantile Marine. The Mercantile Marine is more essential than ever at present for supplying us with the necessaries of life. Civil aviation may be one of the things that are wanted, but there can be no comparison between the two.
§ Mr. Simmonds
We have to bear in mind that one of the most important functions of the Mercantile Marine in the very early future, if we are to pay for the war, is to carry the export trade, and you cannot have an export trade unless you have an air mail and an efficient air service.
§ Mr. Tinker
I quite agree, but I want the hon. Member to recognise that now is the vital moment, and we must not relax at all from the work of the fighting Services. Civil aviation may be necessary at some time or other, but at the moment I hope the Air Ministry will not be diverted from providing all it can for the fighting Services. I can understand the feeling of hon. Members, but surely this is not the time to urge anything like that upon the Air Ministry, which has enough to do without being led away on that point. I was rather surprised at the hon. Member, because as a rule he is good on these matters, but his enthusiasm carried him away in the wrong direction. We want to give the Air Minister all the help we can, because the main thing that we are concerned with is winning the war as quickly as possible and I want the Air Force to play an all-important part in it.
The Air Minister in his statement gave great credit to our airmen for the splendid work they are doing. I, too, am pleased with that, but I wonder whether it is not being carried too far in the flights they are making over Germany. We have shown the Germans that we can get over their country whenever we want to. Why we should keep going over, risking both aircraft and men, I do not know. I can- 696 not see us going over there continually without losing some of our best men, and we get hardly any return for it. Another point is with regard to publications in the Press from time to time, giving out what we have been able to discover. I have here three newspapers giving to the country, and, of course, to Germany, the sketches that our airmen have been able to get. The first shows vulnerable points over Wilhelmshaven. If we have been able to find them out, why in heaven's name should we tell the Germans? If we are able to get information of that kind, let us keep it, and, when the time comes to make use of it, we have it ready. Imagine what would happen in this country if the Germans could come here and find some vulnerable points and publish the fact. What should we do? We should make those vulnerable points impregnable. Why is this being done? Surely it is not to keep up our spirits by showing what we are able to do. We have confidence enough in our Air Force and in the Air Ministry. We should not give the enemy any information at all. Let him be in doubt as to what we have been able to pick up by going there.
I have to confess that I have only been up in the air once, and I was as frightened as I have ever been in my life, but I wanted to say that I had been up. They fastened me in, and I was glad they did, because I was afraid of being thrown out. I am more used to being below ground, and I feel safer there than up in the air. I have only risen to put to the Minister the feeling of the common man in this respect. I have been asked scores of times how it is that we are giving this information to the enemy, and it wants some explanation. One cannot understand it. I trust that in future, unless there is some very good reason, whatever information we get we shall keep for the crisis which cannot be long delayed. When that takes place, all the information that we have can be used effectively and the Germans will not know what we have.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
I want to reinforce and support the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), because I believe the matter to be one of immense urgency to 697 the country. I want to press upon the Minister the consideration of that plea and, if possible, something being done to restore to the Admiralty control of aircraft employed on the sea service. I join with my hon. and gallant Friend in paying a tribute, which has indeed been paid in all quarters of the House, to the officers and men who man our aircraft for their magnificent efficiency, for their steadfast disregard of danger and adverse conditions and, above all, for their invincible and unshakable courage. An hon. Member opposite spoke of my hon. and gallant Friend's plea being a hardy annual, but the fact remains that my hon. and gallant Friend is right. The Royal Naval Air Service was a magnificent and efficient Force which should never have been amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps into the Royal Air Force. Indeed, many distinguished soldiers say that Army flying should belong to the Army but that is a matter which they must settle with the Air Ministry. About 20 years ago I heard the late Marshal Foch, one of the greatest soldiers and strategists who have appeared during this century, say, with regard to the amalgamation of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Flying Corps, that it was a fundamental mistake in policy and one to which he would never have agreed. He said that the aerial arms should never be amalgamated and that naval flying should remain naval flying, and that Army flying should be under the control of the Army officer engaged in a military operation. We have only to look across the ocean to the United States of America to see the magnificent Naval Air Service which has been built up there quite separate from the Army Service. If it be true that production is as great as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air has said, it ought not to be impossible to provide the Admiralty with sufficient machines of the right type to carry out the duties which the Admiralty wish to have carried out.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed to-day the perturbation which undoubtedly exists in the public mind at the ordeal which is the lot day by day of our fishermen, and of those men who man our lightships. Their work is done comparatively close to the shore. They are attacked from very low altitudes, and it seems to me that they ought to be capable of protection. Failure 698 to afford adequate air protection to the fishermen and the lightships seems to argue either a faulty direction or faulty co-operation. The responsibility should be that of the Admiralty, who ought to be provided with the necessary aircraft to enable them to discharge it.
I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and also by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and I confess that I too wonder at the continuation of the flights over military objectives and naval bases in Germany, where no other action is taken other than photographing and reconnaissance. From Heligoland, Wilhelmshaven and Borkum come the aeroplanes, the seaplanes and the submarines which are making life for our fishermen and our inshore trade well nigh intolerable. From there come the aeroplanes to carry out the dastardly machine-gunning and bombing of our lightships, and yet only this evening in the paper we read that our aeroplanes have been over Wilhelmshaven and Heligoland. One day we shall have to smoke out these nests if we are to win the war. One day, in the interests of our own people, we shall have to take more action than merely flying over these German bases. If these continued attacks from the air, close to our coast, are not dealt with sooner or later the apprehensions of the public on this matter will become very great.
Already people are saying that if we can fly over these German bases, from which their machines and submarines come, we ought to do something more than just fly over. I am not suggesting the bombing of undefended towns, but of purely military objectives. If we can fly over Borkum and machine gun it, we ought to bomb the sheds where the machines, which are used to attack our fishermen, are stored. In the interests of efficiency and in justice, both to the Navy and the Air Force, it is essential that the Admiralty should be put in full control of all aircraft which are engaged on sea operations, and that suitable machines should be given to them to enable them to carry out their duties. The present position is neither fair to the Secretary of State for Air nor to the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
I am very grateful to the House for the contributions which have been made to this Debate and for the admiration which has been expressed in all quarters for the performances of Royal Air Force officers, non-commissioned officers and men. I am also grateful, and so is my hon. and gallant Friend the Under Secretary, for the expressions of good-will made to us personally in connection with our work. I want to assure the House that I shall very carefully examine every suggestion which has been made with the idea of improving the efficiency of our Service and that I hope to profit by this very useful Debate. Several hon. Gentlemen who could not remain for the concluding stages of the Debate have intimated to me that they would be satisfied if I communicated with them in regard to their criticisms and suggestions, but I do feel that I should say a word or two in reply to some of the points raised, lest those outside the House should think that I thought that no reply had been called for.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and two or three other hon. Gentlemen have raised the major question of the conduct of the war in the air. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) expressed vehement criticism of the black out and evacuation, which were Government decisions. It is true that they were arrived at on the advice of military experts, but, nevertheless, they were Government decisions, and I do not feel it is necessary for me again to go over the reasons which led the Government to their conclusions on these matters, for I think the great majority of Members of the House and the country feel, that in all the circumstances, the Government's policy was the wisest and the best.
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken, and one or two other Members also, criticised the flights which have been carried out over Germany. They suggested, or, at any rate, expressed their own opinions, that these flights were futile. One of the principal reasons for these flights is, of course, to obtain information which is exceedingly valuable to us, and although it would not be wise for me to go into detail as to what this means, a moment's reflection on the sub- 700 ject will show, apart altogether from the dropping of leaflets, how valuable is the information which can be obtained. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) drew my attention to certain photographs. These are two or three of a very large number of photographs which have been taken, and I can assure the hon. Member that these particular photographs were issued only after we had come to the conclusion that they would convey no information of value to the enemy. I could not say that of a large number of the photographs.
§ Sir K. Wood
We shall not give him anything of value. At the same time there has been considerable demand from people in this country to see some of these photographs, provided they do not give any information, and a number of German photographs have appeared in the Press of this country. These flights undoubtedly provide us with valuable information. They also give most useful training to our pilots and crews in finding their way by night to selected destinations in Germany, a training which may be of considerable value later on. A moment's reflection will enable hon. Members to see how in fact the Air Force may be called upon to undertake operations and flights of this kind. Another point upon which I hope hon. Members will reflect before they readily engage in criticism is that we have direct evidence that these flights have not been without their effect, both upon production and morale in Germany. Briefly, these are three reasons which apparently have not occurred to the hon. Members who have criticised these flights.
I will not discuss the value of the leaflet policy. I have seen many observations made upon it not only from this country but from neutrals who are able to report the effect they have in Germany. Germany is a country where the freedom of the Press is denied, where the people are told what they have to believe and what they have not to believe, and I can say that there is a considerable body of evidence that these leaflets are read by members of the German public who are glad to read them, notwithstanding the severe penalties with which they are threatened. Undoubtedly they may be 701 of considerable value in that way. The only other matter I want to discuss again from the point of view of the public is the criticism with regard to the coastal attacks by the enemy. That has been linked up with a suggestion of reversing the decision which was carefully arrived at with regard to the position of the Coastal Command and the Admiralty, a point upon which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has been very consistent.
The first observation I will make on this matter is that the Admiralty are not making any such suggestions to me. The Admiralty and the Royal Air Force have been endeavouring to conduct this war, not by fighting one another, but by fighting the enemy, and I am sure the First Lord of the Admiralty, if he were here to-night, would say the same thing as I do. Neither he nor I want to indulge in a controversy of this kind. The suggestions that have been made to-night by my hon. and gallant Friends have been made by them entirely on their own behalf, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth indicated that his criticisms and proposals were not made in any way with the support of the First Lord.
§ Sir K. Wood
Therefore, I hope hon. Members will leave the matter with the arrangements that have already been made between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry; not because those arrangements are necessarily perfect, but because we believe that in present circumstances they are the best that can be adopted, and we intend whenever we can to improve them. The advocacy of this particular policy has been linked up with criticisms in regard to the coastal attacks that have been made recently, and I should like to make two or three brief observations on those criticisms. One cannot discuss a matter of this kind in great detail, but as I stated in my opening speech—and I think no hon. Member has dissented from what I said—it is obvious that no air defence system can be an impenetrable barrier. I do not think that anyone, on reflecting on the position, could possibly expect the Royal Air Force to be able to attack and destroy every aircraft that came over or approached our coasts. That would be an impossible task to set to any force, however strong and numerous it might 702 be. If that is the position in regard to attacks on this country, I hope the House will appreciate how much more difficult it is to intercept every tip-and-run raid delivered by the enemy in ones or twos on vessels off a coastline some 700 miles in length, with the aircraft taking every advantage of clouds and darkness. Just as the First Lord of the Admiralty said that he could not undertake that every attack made by the Germans on merchant shipping or the Fleet could be resisted, no more can anyone occupying my position give an undertaking of that kind with regard to attacks of the sort to which I have referred, and conditions are worse in the winter.
It should be said to the credit of the Royal Air Force that, notwithstanding the difficult conditions which I have indicated, they have brought down many aircraft, and many more have been driven off. We have also to remember that every day our fighter defences are increasing in efficiency. Therefore, I suggest to hon. Members who have perhaps been rather carried away by the topic in the Debate, to give a little thought to the problem which faces the Royal Air Force, just as it faces the Navy, at the present time, and not to say if one of these attacks get through, "Was it the Navy or the Air Force that was responsible for this?" We have to approach this as being a joint problem that faces the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, which I believe we are endeavouring to combat with success. If you put yourself in the position of the enemy and survey the results of the operations of the first six months of war, I at any rate would not feel that from their point of view it has been particularly successful.
I have had a very large number of points put to me in the course of the Debate, and I was, and I am, prepared to give a reply to each one of them, but I do not think I should be right in trespassing again too long on the House. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked me whether all the plans were ready and prepared in the event of it being decided that the bombing force of this country should undertake operations against military objectives. I can give the hon. Member and the House an unqualified assurance in that respect. The personnel of the Royal Air Force are not concerned with matters of strategy and policy. They obey orders, and they 703 would be only too willing to undertake any duty with which they were entrusted by the Government and the country. There will be no holding-back on their part. The question was put to me whether in the comparison I made between ourselves, France and Germany I had had regard to the quality and the type of our machines. Certainly I have had regard to that.
Another question was whether we were in possession of a long-range fighter. I think my best answer is that, as I have already stated in this House, there are a number of new and more powerful types of aircraft now in production. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into details of those types. I think all Members of the House will agree on the question of quality. Indeed the lessons of these first six months of the war have been that we have no reason to be ashamed of the policy we have adopted of insisting always on quality in British aircraft. I remember the days when I used to hear criticisms about the number of modifications made in machines and of the considerable time that it took before they could actually come into production. It seems to me, in the light of events of the last six months, that that policy of insisting on the very best quality in our aircraft has justified itself again and again. I can assure the House, as far as that particular policy is concerned, that we intend to pursue it.
On the question of the number of types, it is and will continue to be our policy to reduce the number, although we do not want to sacrifice the advantage of having a number of new types coming into production, because you always want to give the enemy credit for embarking upon new types too. It may well be that if this war continues for a long period there will be very different types in operation, both fighters and bombers, from those of today. Although we want to go in for standardisation and to reduce the number of types, we cannot afford to sacrifice the development of new types.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) put a number of points to me. I welcome his intervention and the constructive speech he made. He mentioned a number of points about the Training Command, which I regard 704 as important. I will carefully examine all the suggestions he made, for I am always anxious, if it is possible, to make improvements. I wish I could say more about civil aviation. I have been very disappointed that the war has meant such a blow to the plans which we had made so carefully during the last few months before war broke out. It has been a tremendous disappointment to me and to members of my Department, but, anxious as I am about what the position may be at the end of the war, I do feel that it is my duty to put first things first and to put every ounce that we can into our military effort. After all, everything depends upon that, for if that goes civil aviation and everything else goes too. I can assure my hon. Friends that I shall have regard to all they have said, but with the responsibility that rests on me to-day I cannot take any course but that which is directed to winning the war in the quickest possible time. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not give any more detailed answers to their questions, but I will gladly reply to them or see hon. Members about them. I thank the House for the response they have given to our Estimates.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [COLONEL CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]