HC Deb 11 March 1941 vol 369 cc1173-217

Order for Committee read.


The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)

I beg to move: "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair."

This year, like last year, the Estimates are presented to the House in token form. There is, however, a difference in the transfer to the Vote for the Ministry of Aircraft Production in the Civil Estimates of the greater part of the provision for Vote 3, the Vote for those technical and warlike stores which form the bulk of the equipment of the Royal Air Force. Air Estimates are accordingly relieved, but not, I am afraid, the patient and ungrudging taxpayer, of a burden of some hundreds of millions of pounds; but provision remains for heavy expenditure on these Estimates, which increases as the war develops and the Royal Air Force expands. I can assure the House that those who are responsible, both at the Air Ministry and in all Commands of the Royal Air Force at home and overseas, insist and will continue to insist upon obtaining full war value for public money spent. None, however, will underestimate the difficulty and complexity of the task under war conditions. We therefore respectfully and gratefully receive the vigilant criticism of the House of Commons. The Select Committee on National Expenditure and, in particular, the Air Services Sub-Committee, receive our fullest collaboration. During the past year the Air Services Sub-Committee have conducted a number of important inquiries. Their conclusions have pointed the way to improvements in various directions.

I do not propose to-day to dwell at length on the fighting achievements of the Royal Air Force. The world knows them, and the House of Commons has been generous in its tributes of praise. In the last 10 months, in two theatres of war, the Royal Air Force has fought against very great odds, but not without success—as the destruction mainly by our incomparable fighter squadrons of some 4,250 German and 1,100 Italian aircraft with a loss in combat of fewer than 1,800 aircraft of our own, the security of our shores and the part played by the Royal Air Force in the disruption of the Italian Empire, combine to testify. In speaking of the part played by the Royal Air Force in breaking up the Italian Air Force, I may perhaps mention to the House a battle, which took place only the day before yesterday in Albania, which is typical of many other battles which have taken place in the air over that country, when 15 of our Gladiators engaged 15 G.50's—one of the best Italian fightersC15 C.R.42's and 15 Savoia 79 bombers and B.R.20 bombers over Klissura. Our 15 Gladiators —which, as the House knows, are not the most modern of our fighters—destroyed six G-50's and one B.R.20, and probably destroyed one G.50 and one B.R.20, that is to say, they destroyed seven and probably destroyed two others for a loss of one Gladiator, the pilot of which baled out and descended safely behind our lines.

Our bombers have made 260 raids on aerodromes and seaplane bases, 300 upon docks and shipping, 470 on railways and communications, and 630 on industrial targets, all of these in Germany. In addition, very many heavy raids have been made on those objectives like the invasion ports and others in territories now occupied by the Germans. So much for the fighters and bombers, but those of us who live near the sea are perhaps more vividly aware than other hon. Members of the hard, dangerous and invaluable work of the Coastal Command. In all their varied activities of reconnaissance across the sea, convoy, patrol, attacking warships, U-boats and merchant vessels, and photographing and bombing enemy bases, in the last 10 months aircraft of the Coastal Command have flown 16,000,000 miles.

The air war is not being fought on our side by the squadrons of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm alone. The squadrons of Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the Rhodesias, squadrons manned by men from India and Newfoundland and from all the Colonial Empire, are playing their part in the battle. Day by day, in the Middle East and at home, the achievements of these squadrons redound to the honour of their own lands and of the Empire. Moreover, a great and increasing element in our strength is contributed by the Air Forces of our Allies, the squadrons of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, and the Free French, Belgian and Norwegian airmen who are fighting with the Royal Air Force. And there is another squadron of which I venture to prophesy that hon. Members will hear more before long, the Eagle Squadron, mounted on Hurricanes and manned by American pilots. The Royal Air Force welcomes these brave men into its ranks. Many of the squadrons I have mentioned have already proved their mettle in brilliant actions against the enemy, like the famous 303 Squadron of the Polish Air Force, which in the last six months has destroyed nearly 120 enemy aircraft.

The number of officers and men for which provision is taken for the coming year is not, of course, shown in the Estimates, but I can say that the strength of one Royal Air Force Command alone exceeds the total peace-time strength of the Royal Air Force by nearly 50 per cent., while two other Commands have a strength equal to more than half the peace-time total. This expansion will be enormously accelerated during the year 1911–42. The man-power problems which arise in conditions of modern war bear with peculiar force upon the Royal Air Force, which requires a very high physical standard for its air-crew personnel and which employs so many skilled tradesmen for maintenance. The Minister of Labour and National Service has been very helpful to us. He has agreed that, broadly speaking, the Schedule of Reserved Occupations shall not operate to prevent any man, whatever his occupation, from serving as a pilot or observer. In addition, I have particular reason to be grateful to the Secretary of State for War, who has agreed to release for air-crew duties with the Royal Air Force a very generous number of Army officers and other ranks.

The Women's Auxiliary Air Force has proved itself an essential adjunct of the Royal Air Force. The high morale courage and devotion to duty of these airwomen in the face of bombing attacks have won the highest praise. Airwomen have made an unqualified success of every trade in which they have taken the place of airmen, and the range of ground duties on which they are employed continues to increase. I ask for the support of hon. Members in appealing to the women of this country to swell the ranks of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

I think hon. Members will expect me to say a word about the problems of welfare. The unforeseen congestion of these Islands with immense forces of fighting men has invested the problem of welfare with unusual urgency and difficulty. Deprived on the one hand of a great number of aerodromes by the collapse of France, we were faced on the other hand with the need for finding room for our rapidly expanding Force. Many of our aerodromes are in out-of-the-way places; our pilots, crews and maintenance personnel must be dispersed away from the station buildings, often some distance away. Accordingly, the Air Council has paid special attention to the Questions of welfare, games, physical fitness and education. Yes, for officers and men who are fighting the enemy day by day from this country, we must have these amenities on the stations. But, especially during: period? of intense fighting, we also want to get them away from the stations, into quieter and more restful surroundings, where they can rest for brief periods, undisturbed by enemy attack. We take houses at some distance from the aerodromes for that purpose; but I have also to express my gratitude to members of the public, and, in particular, to many hon. Members of this House, who have generously entertained in their own homes officers and men of the Royal Air Force and of the Dominion and Allied Air Forces.

Several hon. Members have impressed upon me their sense, which I fully share —I see the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), the chairman of the Medical Committee of the House of Commons, in his place—of the importance of our medical services, and have helped me with useful advice. Let me, therefore, say a few words on some aspects of these services which aid our flying crews. Special attention is being paid to the very great problems of cold, to the supply of oxygen at high altitudes, and to night: vision. The development of aircraft tends towards flying at great heights, and research is continuous to find a solution to the physiological problems involved. This is the kind of experience which our bomber pilots meet: Immediately we touched the cloud the whole of the inside of the cockpit, including myself, became coated with nearly an inch of frost. Every instrument in the cockpit was covered, and I had to turn by instinct out of the cloud, getting an approximate check from the navigator. When clear of the cloud, I attempted to scrape this frost off the instruments, but could not do so for approximately five minutes, owing to the frost being frozen solid on the glass. The House will feel, as I do, that we must find means of removing that menace to the safety of our crews. The scientists have come to our aid, and this problem of c old is being firmly tackled by the sealing-up—a very difficult technical problem in a fighting aircraft—and the heating of cabins, and by the provision of equipment, boots, gloves, helmets and underclothing of special design.

The psychological care of pilots is not less important. The early detection of signs of flying strain forms an important part ofthe duty of our medical officers. The fighting spirit of our pilots is so strong that unless they are closely watched they keep on flying long after they should have been rested from operations. The doctor's duty is to catch them in time, so that the squadron or station commander can make them rest. Good results have been achieved, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that the incidence of flying strain has been considerably lower than was expected before the war. I believe that our four orthopaedic centres are second to none in the country to-day; and behind them are rehabilitation centres, situated in the healthiest parts of the country, at which the most up-to-date methods are applied to secure recovery as swiftly as possible. In addition, centres with the most modern forms of treatment for severe burns have been established. The progress in the treatment of burns in recent years—I think I am right in saying, even, in recent months—is quite astonishing. For my part, however, I have been mainly concerned to match it with progress in prevention, and there are good grounds for hope that self-sealing tanks and other devices which we have recently adopted will substantially reduce the risk of burns. The friends and families of officers and men in the Royal Air Force, who risk life and limb against the enemy, are entitled to this assurance, that Britain stands in the forefront of aviation medical research today, and that the most up-to-date methods of prevention and cure are continuously applied.

I come now to the organisation of flying and technical training in the Royal Air Force. The importance of this question needs no emphasis from me. As Secretary of State, I have, from the first, made it my particular care. The House will recall that an additional member of the Air Council—an Air Member for Training —was appointed last summer. It is his responsibility to ensure that a supply of trained men, air crews, and specialists of all kinds, is available to keep pace with the supply of aircraft which they have to man and serve. Flying training in this country meets with many difficulties, as it has to be carried on within the war zone. Nevertheless, we accept no reduction in the standard of training. Much has been achieved by adjustments in the training organisation. For example, specialisation as between fighter and bomber pilots begins earlier, so that each more quickly learns his special duties; and we have transferred a great part of the ground training to the initial training wings, so that at elementary and Service flying training schools the pupil can concentrate to the maximum on his flying training. By these and other measures, a marked acceleration of output has been achieved, although an inevitable set-back to training has been caused by bad weather during the winter, more particularly at the elementary and Service flying training schools; for it is at these schools that the pilot first learns to fly, while in the operational training units it is part of his training to fly in bad weather conditions, if they are not so bad—as they have often been in recent weeks—as to make flying almost impossible.

In the field of technical training also a very large expansion of output has been achieved. Courses have been shortened, by reducing the time spent on drill and by cutting out all items not essential for the requirements of a trade. In some schools training is now being carried out not only in double shifts, but even in four shifts. Technical training, like flying training, has been specialised. Trades where lengthy training is required have been split into sub-trades; for example, trades of welder, coppersmith, and sheet- metal worker have been introduced, to share the work previously done by a metal-worker skilled in all these trades. As a result, many men from civil life have been able to go directly or after a very short period of Air Force training, into an Air Force trade. Arrangements for re-mustering and re-classification have also been greatly extended.

The success of the Empire Air Training Scheme has surpassed all expectation, and, together with the other training schemes in the Dominions, it is making an increasing contribution to our air strength. In Canada the output of pilots and crews is well ahead of schedule and there has been a great extension of training in Australia and New Zealand. Men trained under the scheme are now daily flying against the enemy, and in the battles of this year our cause will be sustained by Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and men from this country trained side by side. Men trained in the great organisation in South Africa and also in Rhodesia are fighting to-day brilliantly and successfully and will continue to do so in increasing numbers. The Colonial Governments too, the Governments of Malaya, Trinidad and Bermuda, have themselves devised arrangements for giving elementary flying training. A full-scale training organisation is being formed in India to train pilots for the Royal Air Force in India, and also for the Indian Air Force, and in Burma also a flying training organisation has been established.

In addition to these schemes, we have transferred abroad a number of our own Royal Air Force schools from this country. Our training is being carried out all over the world, unhindered, in those countries across the sea, by enemy action and black-out conditions. Every instructor and every pupil is able to concentrate on the job and nothing but the job. Weather conditions there are better than in this country, and each of these transferred schools should be able to put in a greater number of flying hours each year than schools in this country. Experience gained in this country is made available overseas, and we learn from our partners. Regular liaison is supplemented by personal visits. The Under-Secretary of State for Air and officers of the Royal Air Force have visited the Dominions, and we have been glad to welcome here recently such distinguished visitors as the Minister for Defence in Canada, the Chief of the Air Staff in Canada and the Director of Air Training in South Africa, while only last week the progress of the Empire Air Training Scheme formed one of the subjects of a most valuable discussion with the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Menzies.

The House will, perhaps, permit me to refer very briefly to the Air Training Corps. The scheme was launched on 1st February with the double purpose of providing boys of between 16 and 18 with a basic training which will be of value to them in the Royal Air Force, and of bringing up to the standards of entry into the Royal Air Force boys who would otherwise be unable, on physical or educational grounds, to reach them. It was the first scheme ever launched to cover the youth of.the country as a whole, and to-day, after 5½ weeks of the Air Training Corps' existence, the number of units formed is 1,051, of which 661 are local units and 390 are school units. The total number of boys enrolled is over 130,000. Considering that the total number of boys in the country aged between 16 and 18 is about 750,000, I hope hon. Members will agree that this is a good beginning.

For the progress of training much credit is due to the instructors and to all those who devote themselves to the laborious, unspectacular but indispensable service of training, and do it so cheerfully, loyally and resourcefully. They have fully earned their share of the tributes of praise which the House has so generously accorded to the Royal Air Force.

The production of aircraft is not a matter for which I am responsible to the House, but I hope hon. Members will allow me to say this—that we in the Air Ministry and the Royal Air Force recognise our debt to those who, in the crisis of the Battles of France and Britain last year, served us so well behind the line. Sometimes it happened that we lost dozens of aircraft in a single battle, but the pilots who baled out nearly always found fresh mounts waiting for them in the stable. For this strong and timely flow of aircraft into the Royal Air Force we must thank, first and foremost, the workmen in our factories. The man who gave un- grudgingly of his skill, who worked long hours and seven days a week cheerfully, whose careful and unerring industry never flagged and who went on working after the sirens had sounded—he is a comrade and fellow-worker of the Royal Air Force, and their victories were his too. The executives, too, and the scientists, and designers, and the civilians and airmen in the Aircraft Storage Units and the other groups of the Maintenance Command who worked all hours equipping aircraft for battle and repairing them—I would ask hon. Members to agree with me that they have all deserved, as much as a victorious general, the thanks of Parliament.

In the air war, as the House knows, the importance of quality is paramount, and I feel sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production will agree, that the efforts of his Ministry, under the dynamic leadership of Lord Beaverbrook, are now devoted, not only to increasing the flow of production but to bringing on, as rapidly as possible, those new types of bombers and fighters with which we shall engage the enemy this year. Later models of Spitfires and Hurricanes are now in service fitted with more powerful engines which have considerably increased their speeds and provided the ability to fight at much greater heights, while heavier armament has increased their fire power. The new Hawker Tornado is equipped with engines of nearly twice the horse-power of the fighters which bore the brunt of the Battle of Britain and can carry still heavier armament and yet obtain speeds well in excess of 400 miles an hour. Other engines of as great or even greater power are coming on. Then, in the new twin-engine fighter types we have the Whirlwind and, for long-range fighter operations and for night fighting, the Beaufighter, each with a very heavy armament.

Of the bombers, the Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys have in the past constituted the main offensive armament of the Royal Air Force. The latest models of these are fitted with more powerful engines which give them increased performance and striking power. Some of them, indeed, although the name remains, are really quite different aircraft from those which flew under the same name last year. But these are being replaced by a range of very much heavier bombers, including the Manchester, Stirling and Halifax. All three of these have already shown their worth against enemy targets. These bombers are more than twice the size of any earlier type. They are faster and carry not only a heavier defence armament, but also three times the weight of bombs for the same distance as their predecessors. Quality will also be maintained in the coastal reconnaissance types and in the types of aircraft employed in co-operation with the Army. And not without careful thought and study, I can give the House this assurance—hat unless Herr Hitler has up his sleeve a more effective secret weapon than any he has yet managed to produce, our technical superiority, with the moral superiority which accompanies it, will certainly be maintained throughout the year 1941.

So far I have dealt with the need of the Royal Air Force for the purposes of expansion of men and of aircraft and equipment. But we must also have aerodromes. I am keenly conscious of the conflict between the continually increasing requirements of the Royal Air Force and the very important need of food production. The problem is not a new one and, as the House well knows, not an easy one. More than half of the British Island is mountain, or rock, or marsh, or land which is in other ways unsuitable for aerodromes; and the land we have to use for aerodromes, which has to be level and well drained, and of a kind which will produce quickly a firm grass surface, is also, because of these very same qualities, likely to be good agricultural land. In these flatter parts of the country—in this part, which, as I have said, is, broadly speaking, suitable for the provision of aerodromes—3,700 miles of electric grid have to be avoided, and avoided with a wide safety margin—not to mention canals and railways, smoke from industrial areas, balloon barrages and other obstacles. An aerodrome must be less than 600 feet above sea level, otherwise it may be in the clouds for considerable periods. Moreover, the development of aircraft tends towards a longer take-off run, so that our aerodromes now have to be bigger than ever before. Heavy bombers and night interception squadrons cannot use aerodromes to which the approaches are not fairly level for miles around. If hon. Members will consider that, in addition to all this, each aerodrome neutralises an area of 20 to 25 square miles around it in order to avoid congestion of the air space, they will, I think, begin to have some appreciation of our difficulties in providing aerodromes for the Royal Air Force without trenching upon the interests of agriculture.

I can assure the House, however, that the Air Ministry is taking no rigid attitude; there have been cases—and I will tell the House this quite frankly—particularly last summer, when immediate Defence requirements drove us to ride roughshod over other interests, but, although indeed our programme now is one of colossal proportions and great urgency, the Air Ministry respects agricultural needs. I have myself recently gone very closely into this problem with the Minister of Agriculture. As a result, I hope that an improved liaison will be achieved between the Air Ministry lands officers and the county war agricultural committees, whereby the interests of the farmers will receive an additional safeguard. The progress of construction of our stations has gone on well throughout the year, and a great number of new stations have been opened. Still more are in progress.

And now, I think, the House will expect me to say just a very few words about civil aviation. The effect of the war on civil aviation has inevitably been restrictive. With the entry of Italy into the war the direct flying-boat link between this country and Egypt was severed. The flying boats have accordingly been restricted to a service running from Durban to Khartoum and Cairo, thence across India to Australia. The link between this service and the United Kingdom is maintained by flying boat via Lisbon to West Africa, and thence by landplane across Central Africa to Khartoum. Across the North Atlantic last summer a series of round trips was completed without incident; and it is hoped that in the near future it will be possible to resume these flights.

Internal air-lines in this country have suffered the most severe restriction, for none but those which are essential to our war effort can be retained. No nation involved in total war can afford to maintain in civil aviation a single aircraft which is not directly helping to win the war. Our sea and air communications with Africa are the arteries of our armed forces in the Middle East. The importance of the link with the United States of America needs no emphasis. As the number of aircraft ferried across the Atlantic increases, there will be a corresponding demand for the transport by air from East to West of the ferry pilots. In the face of increasing difficulties British Overseas Airways Corporation have maintained their existing routes as far as possible and have shown great energy and resource in the development of the Central African route. In addition, they have lent pilots and crews to bring back aircraft to this country from America. The experience gained in operating and developing these war-time services will be precious to us in the future. For we must not repeat after this war our failure after the last war to foster and stimulate the development of civil aviation.

The Royal Air Force is now on the threshold of its period of greatest expansion. During the next 12 months we shall be absorbing in rapidly increasing numbers the products not only of British but also of American industry. The Harvard trainer, built by the North American Company, and the Lockheed Hudson general reconnaissance aircraft have proved by long and arduous service the excellence and robustness of American design, and the latest mark of Hudson shows improvement upon its famous predecessor. The types of American aircraft which have reached units of the Royal Air Force throughout the world include such fighters as the Brewster Buffalo, the Mohawk and the Tomahawk built by the Curtiss Company, whose products are comparable with our single-engined types. The remarkable performance of American aircraft is well instanced by the Glenn Martin Maryland, a medium bomber which has shown its ability to outpace Italian fighters attempting to intercept it, and another medium bomber, the Douglas Boston, which is sufficiently fast and manoeuvrable for night-fighter operations as well as its designed function. Despite their speed, both these aircraft are capable of carrying much heavier bomb loads than comparable bombers in the service last year, while the Consolidated Liberator type of heavy bomber will give us an aircraft with high speed and huge bomb-load capacity. The Consolidated Company also gives us the P.B.Y. Catalina flying boats, which with their great range form an essential reinforcement of the Coastal Command.

Herr Goebbels tells his German dupes that American help for Britain will arrive too late. But I tell the House that these formidable aircraft, the choicest fruits of American design and craftsmanship, will get here and will get here in time, and I hope the House will not have long to wait for further news of American aircraft which arc now in service or coming into service overseas, and in all four Operational Commands of the Royal Air Force at home.

For I would remind the House that besides the Balloon Command, which renders such invaluable and indispensable service in the defence of industries and population in this country, we have now four Operational Commands in the Metropolitan Air Force. In the centre there are the Bomber and Fighter Commands, and on either wing, linking us to our two sister Services, the Coastal and Army Co-operation Commands. In consultation with the Army Council the Army Co-operation Command was established in December in order to secure the most effective basis of co-operation between the Army and the Royal Air Force. Its primary function is to organise, experiment and train in all forms of joint undertaking between the two Services. The operations of the Royal Air Force in Libya and East Africa in support of the offensive on land were a pattern of effective partnership.

On the other wing the Royal Air Force spares no effort to help the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm against air and undersea attacks on our trade. The Coastal Command, whose operations have always conformed to the requirements of the Admiralty, has been strengthened, and is being strengthened further. Aerodromes have been developed from which our aircraft may guard more easily the Western approaches. Aircraft of greater endurance and longer range are being brought into service, and the technical apparatus which enables aeroplanes more readily to hunt the U-boat is being steadily improved. Equally by bombing attacks on the bases of the U-boats and Focke Wulf, the dockyards and naval bases, the Royal Air Force aims at destroying at its sources the means of attacking our shipping.

The predominant theme of our policy in the Air Ministry is attack—attack upon the very sources of German military power. To attack effectively, however, we must attack from a secure base, and there are two dangers against which we are constantly strengthening our defences—the attack upon our shipping and the night bomber. Even here we never forget that the best form of defence is attack. Neither of these tasks is easy, and both call for unremitting effort on the part of scientists, designers, engineers, Air Staff, Command, pilots and maintenance personnel alike. The story of the achievements of the scientists, whenever it may be possible to publish it, will be found little short of miraculous, especially in the field of radio. But the field covers almost every conceivable sort of weapon of offence and defence schemes of every kind of deceiving the enemy and destroying him. I have held regularly week by week a series of conferences at which all developments which may be of value—and, I may add, a certain number which have proved to be of no value—are discussed, decided on, and, where necessary, have a drive imparted to them. Then there is the training of the maintenance staff, who look after the delicate apparatus of many different kinds, and those who have to use them in the dark against the enemy. I will not be optimistic about this menace of the night bomber. I have warned the country, and I repeat the warning, that attacks more severe than any that have yet been experienced may well come upon us. But I know that our methods of defence and counter-attack are gradually improving. Last night, the House may be interested to know, we destroyed by fighters and anti-aircraft fire four enemy aircraft and damaged two. As our equipment on the ground and in the air is developed and multiplied, and as our training progresses, we shall exact from the night bombers, as we have already begun to exact from them, an increasing toll.

How then do we stand in our air power against our enemies, and what are our prospects? In the first place, the House must remember that we have been fighting, and to some extent have still to fight, not one Air Force but two. By the amount by which we have had to strengthen the Middle East and do battle against the Italians, by so much has our strength been diminished against the Ger- mans. Leaving out of account reserves, we have destroyed half the Italian first line, and we have certainly destroyed much more than half the first line with which the Germans entered the war. But the Italian output is not entirely negligible, and some part of our Forces will continue to be contained by the Italian Air Force. Meanwhile, the German output continues at a high level and augments the German Air Force. The House will not expect me to give any indications of how our output with the very substantial and increasing aid coming from America may compare with that of our enemies. I will only say this, that the strength of the Royal Air Force, in spite of tremendous battles and a continuing offensive, is very much greater now than it was when the Battle of Britain began last August—greater in numbers of aircraft and pilots in the front line, greater in the number of aircraft in reserve and of pilots under training, greater both absolutely and relatively to the air strength of Germany.

Nevertheless, I will not conceal from the House my own belief that the war is about to enter a grimmer phase. It will be no easy task to defeat Nazi Germany, but it can, it must, and it will be done. My confidence is primarily based on the achievements of the Royal Air Force and of their sister Services in the last 12 months. The Metropolitan Air Force has secured the mastery of the skies over Britain by day, and secured it against odds greater than it is ever likely to have to face again; while its defence against the German night bomber and its attack on Germany itself have both been increasingly effective. The individual ascendancy of our pilots over those of the German Air Force—an ascendancy won in the battles of last autumn at heavy cost but with brilliant courage and skill— is so far maintained that their chief difficulty to-day is to bring the German pilots to battle. Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal Longmore's squadrons have swept the Italian Air Force from the skies of Africa, while in Greece, where the Greek people by their heroic resistance to a powerful invader have renewed the ancient glories of their race they have played their part alongside their brave Greek comrades of the air, and played it well. In Malta a tiny force, brilliantly commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Maynard, admirably supported by the Royal Navy and the Army, and especially by the anti-aircraft gunners, and by the indomitable spirit both of the Maltese and of the British population of the island, has met and broken repeated attacks by overwhelming numbers of Italians, of Germans and of Italians and Germans combined. These are sound grounds for confidence as we look forward to the future—for the power of the Royal Air Force is growing and its spirit will never fail.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

Before the Debate begins, 1 think I ought to call attention to the fact that obviously it will be difficult in the Debate to avoid references to matters which come under the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I am sure it would be the wish of the House not to tie the Debate too strictly in so far as it is reasonably necessary to deal with aircraft production. I only ask hon. and right hon. Members who deal with that question to be careful to avoid going into matters of administrative detail that come entirely under the Ministry of Aircraft Production and which could not be properly dealt with by the Secretary of State for Air.

Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)

The House has heard a speech of great ability—and, if I may say so, one that was more than usually informative—from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air. I feel that one of the first things my hon. Friends in this part of the House would wish me to do would be to associate us with the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the gallantry and courage of the Royal Air Force, and particularly to its flying members. When you leave the Chair to-day, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the House will have had its last opportunity, perhaps before the greatest events in our history, of drawing attention to certain aspects of our security, and asking for those last assurances and precautions which it is not too late to take in our general Air administration. I said that the right hon. Gentleman gave us a good deal of informtion, but at the same time, he was not able to touch in any detail on the fundamental aspects of the comparative strengths of the German and British Air Forces. I feel that the House will not wish to cavil at that, but there are one or two points about which I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman for some further information.

The first is with regard to the liaison between the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman was very specific in his expressions of gratitude to the Minister of Labour and the Secretary of State for War, and perhaps not quite so specific—I do not wish to make any invidious deductions from his remarks—in his references to the Minister of Aircraft Production. 1 wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentlemen is quite certain that on this vital question of production the liaison between his Department and the Minister of Aircraft Production is all that it should be, and that there is that absence of friction which co-operation between those two partners demands in the situation in which we find ourselves to-day. If there is any weakness in that quarter, it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, which I am sure he will not shirk, to bring the matter to the notice of the highest authorities in the War Cabinet.

I want now to say a word on the question of the conflict between aerodrome requirements and the agricultural re-quirements of this country. I was glad the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this matter, because the absorption of agricultural land for aerodromes has reached a scale which is causing the greatest concern to the Ministry of Agriculture and to all who are students of our position. It is very difficult to decide how the problem can be overcome, but there are two suggestions I wish to put forward to the right hon. Gentleman which were suggested to me by the speech that he made. For example, he stated that the electric grids are a great obstacle to the taking of certain areas. I hope he will not overlook the fact that electric grids can be put underground in a very short time, and that there must be vast lines of electric grids which could be put under ground in order to make available for aerodrome use land which is less suitable for agriculture than certain land which has been taken.

The second suggestion I wish to make in that connection is that the taking of land for aerodromes does not necessarily completely deprive it of agricultural utility if the most modern methods are used. I have been given to understand that the Air Ministry has set its face against the mowing of aerodromes for the provision of dried grass. Authorities are able to compute enormous figures of production of dried grass from aerodromes if the Air Ministry will lend a more sympathetic ear to the mowing of aerodromes for that purpose. I put forward these two suggestions in the hope that they will be of some help to the right hon. Gentleman in reconciling the undoubted difficulties he has with the Ministry of Agriculture.

I wish to mention a matter, of some delicacy perhaps from a political and secret service point of view, namely, the publication in technical journals of facts and opinions of operational value to the enemy. Our enemies, Germany, Italy and Japan, have drawn an effective blackout against all printed and other facts which might convey information to us. Yet we permit to our own technical journals what is. to me, a most inexplicable freedom to publish almost any kind of fact and opinion about operational tactics, about progress in training and production, especially in the United States and the Dominions, and, most important of all, about technical information, I am not at all sure that the question of intelligence and counter-intelligence has received its proper measure of attention from the War Cabinet and the heads of the Departments concerned. Every elementary student of war knows that it is a factor comparable in its importance, though perhaps not so easily measured, to questions of production and supply and training. One of our greatest soldiers—I have not had time to look up the reference—said that the whole art of war consisted of knowing what was happening on the other side of the mountain.

When I remember what happened in Norway, our ignorance about the strength of the Maginot Line and of the intentions of the Soviet Union and other neutral countries, such facts as are within my own personal knowledge in regard to our own air intelligence service, and particularly the erroneous statements which have been made to this House in years gone by about the strength of the German air force, then I feel entitled to ask the Air Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister whether our intelligence service and counter-intelligence service have received the attention which their importance warrants in comparison with the question of production and supply, training and so on. I want to ask the Air Minister himself whether he is satisfied that he has the staff and whether he is able himself to devote the time necessary to this vital aspect of our war effort. When I first raised this question a year ago, I received replies from the Under-Secretary which I can only describe as of an "airy-fairy" character, and when I subsequently raised it with the Secretary of State I received replies which were no more helpful. I was told that the British aviation journals were the finest in the world, that they were great advertisements for our technical progress and our aviation products, that they were circulated in every part of the world and were a magnificent help to our export trade, and that, therefore, it would not do to impose undue restrictions upon their circulation or their export. All the time, every week, those journals were being exported to our prisoners of war in Germany or to neutral countries, and their contents cabled direct to our enemies.

I was not at all satisfied to allow that matter to rest where it was, not only because I was anxious about the matter, but because I knew that high officers in the Royal Air Force, whose names the House will not expect me to divulge, and eminent technicians associated with the Royal Air Force, were extremely perturbed about the amount of information which was being conveyed to the enemy through the freedom given to our technical journals to publish information of this kind. I therefore took the matter up privately with the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I want to say candidly that I received from him the greatest courtesy and consideration and that he investigated the submissions I made to him with great thoroughness. I am bound to add I felt in the discussions which I had with him an attitude on his part of a certain reserve which indicated that he had not—although he gave me no specific information about this—the necessary power or authority to prevent the publication of information of the greatest value to the enemy in these technical journals. I want to ask the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary whether they are prepared to give some further attention to this matter. I cannot expend Parliamentary time in giving a list of every item to which I have drawn the attention of the Air Ministry, but I must impart some reality and substance to my remarks by telling hon. Members some of the things which are allowed to appear in these journals. For example, there was a detailed analysis of the defects of German incendiary bombs and the reasons why they have failed, pointing out how those defects could be remedied. Information which has been collected as a result of an enormous amount of research by all the resources of a skilful technical Press has been placed in the hands of the Germans within a few weeks. Obviously that is a matter which ought not to be allowed to be published. Then there were reports of production figures carefully culled from American and other sources all over the world tabulated in these journals and presented on a platter to Goering or whoever is the head of the German intelligence service.

Then there was an indication of the types of German fighters and bombers destroyed in this country, and the addresses of Air Ministry contractors were published. We all know that in the production of aircraft there are certain bottlenecks. Let us suppose, for the sake of example, the case of carburettors, although that does not happen to be one. It would have been possible from this long list, extending over nearly a dozen pages, to find the addresses of every carburettor manufacturer for the Royal Air Force. It seems to me that that is carrying the interests of our export trade, in comparison with the interests of our own security, a little too far. Then again we find long articles on technical manufacturing operations and performance tests of the most up-to-date kind. Let me give an example—I think it is a matter to which attention might be properly drawn — in connection with an issue of the "Aeroplane" this month. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air say that the development of flying at great height, as everyone who is associated with this problem knows, is a development which is proving of ever-increasing importance. This week, in this technical journal, there is an article which shows that they have had access to the most detailed scientific tests made at the Royal Aircraft establishment on the question of the supply of fuel to aircraft engines at great heights. I will read the preamble to this article, because I want right hon. and hon. Members to judge for themselves whether they think such information ought to be allowed to be published: The article which follows reports the result of comparative tests of a Junkers JV211D motor and a Rolls-Royce Merlin X." Hon. Members know that the Rolls-Royce Merlin motor is the engine which powers our Whitleys and other most modern aircraft. We mentioned the test briefly in last week's issue of 'The Aeroplane, and stated summarily that its result was to show greater supercharger efficiency and slightly better consumption rates for the Merlin, but since the article tends to present these facts in answer to the popular belief that certain German aeroplanes have a slight advantage in height, we feel it desirable to suggest here that the Daimler Benz DB601E might have been chosen with greater effect for the test as a motor of better rating at height." The reason for any disparity in output between British and German aircraft at height is a point which the German technicians would be most delighted to have settled; yet here we have the result of Government experiments, carried out at the Royal Aircraft establishment with all the detailed scientific drawings, published over three pages, made available for cable direct to neutral countries, and through them to our enemies to assist them in their experiments along these vital lines. A few weeks ago minute descriptions were given, covering many planes, of everything that has been ascertained in this country about the towing and operating load-carrying liners. That was published in the "Aeroplane."

One of the journals concerned obtains high-quality paper to publish about 100 pages per week packed with information of the greatest value to the enemy or hindrance to ourselves. Some of it, I am sorry to say, is of a political character. For example, there is a strong bias in this journal against all American aircraft production. 1 think I can claim that I was one of the first to press the Air Ministry to utilise the aircraft production of Canada and the United States. From the beginning these journals have made the most bitter comments against aircraft produced in the United States, and have opposed with all their influence—and it is not small —the placing of orders in the United States. I am of the opinion that that is a matter which ought to receive the attention of the Air Ministry, because quite obviously they are partly acting in the interests of those from whom they obtain their advertising revenue.

I will give two further examples. Take the training of Observer Corps in the identification of different types of aircraft. That is a matter which has been left almost entirely to these journals, which give sketches and details of various types. Such information should be circulated only to the members of the Observer Corps and others whose duty it is to identify these types. The information which is publicly broadcast in these journals is available not only to us but to our enemies. To my amazement, sandwiched in an article a few weeks ago, was a statement that all our gold had been exported to the United States. Whether that is true or not, I do not know, but if that had appeared in a British daily newspaper, I venture to say that it would not have been allowed.

It may well be asked how the Air Ministry's intelligence Department could be so obtuse as my remarks would appear to indicate. For my part, I cannot answer, but I will give the House three partial reasons why I consider that this is allowed to go on. Firstly, the journals concerned are extremely powerful and resist restraint; indeed, throughout they have successfully resisted restraint. Secondly, as I have said, the Undersecretary does not appear to have the necessary power to impose restraint on these journals. Thirdly, there appear to be certain pedantries in the Intelligence Department concerned—they have existed for many years. Where it is thought that if a thing has appeared before, or if it ran be shown that the enemy knows it, or if a certain item of information shows strength, or if it be only an expression of opinion and not of fact, there is no danger in allowing it to be published again. I will not develop at length answers to those half-truths or the reason why those pedantries can be shown to be fallacies, except to say that where there is an expression of opinion in a journal about future tactical operations and future tactical developments which has been written by an author known to be in daily contact and to have the closest friendship with the highest officers of the Royal Air Force, then I say that that expression of opinion about aerial tactics can be as valuable as a statement of fact and should be subject to the same restraint in wartime. The Secretary of State for War, when he made his speech last Thursday, was very careful to say that one of the methods of the Intelligence Service is to piece together items of information like a jigsaw puzzle in order to make a complete picture. Indeed, in the "Aeroplane" of this week the same principle is acknowledged, because there I find, on page 218, this statement: Those who assess the strength and efficiency of the Japanese military and naval air arms and the work of Japanese air transport lines must gather their information in small fragments and put it together bit by bit if they are to form a reliable opinion and prepare a useful survey. There follows an article on Japanese air strength, a matter which perhaps will become of growing importance to us. Despite the black-out which Japan has imposed upon its military information leaking out by this same method of piecing together, this journal has been able to publish a most informative article, covering several pages, exposing in full detail the strength, performance and so on of the whole Japanese air force. How much more so must that be the case when in this country practically no black-out is imposed? No restriction is placed on what can be said in aviation journals. No prosecution has been launched. One journal has published a statement of the greatest importance which it has been requested by the Air Ministry not to publish, and no action has been taken, while you get a pettifogging prosecution against a journal like "Reynolds" for publishing information which was of minor importance.

It is not only in Britain that this difficulty occurs. I am not saying it is an easy problem to solve. There are American aviation journals. In this country we do not publish damage that has been done to aircraft factories and aerodromes, but, owing to facilities granted to American newspaper correspondents, American journals are able to publish in the most minute detail damage that has been done to military objectives in this country. Everyone who knows anything at all about the United States knows how difficult it is to impose any restrictions upon the Press in war-time, let alone in peace-time. Even the law of libel there is practically non-existent, and therefore it would be exceedingly difficult for any restraint to be placed upon them. This journal tells us precisely how many aerodromes have been knocked out in regard to their hangar and repair facilities. Of course, that information is cabled immediately to our enemies. Is the Minister quite certain that among all those American journalists, to whom such generous facilities are given, there are none who do not abuse that confidence? I do not wish to make any charges against them, because the tone of the articles is favourable to this country. Everything they can possibly say favourable to this country is said, but journalists always have a bee buzzing in their bonnets, which is to publish and get into print facts which they have learnt, and it is almost too much to ask, in a case where there is no patriotic feeling involved, that they shall abstain from publishing information of that kind. I could read out from this journal a list of aircraft factories which have been hit by enemy action.

My object in raising all this is not, of course, to make difficulties for the Ministers, whose energy and ability the House admires. We wish to give them our support and encouragement in the tremendous responsibility which they are shouldering. It certainly is not to criticise the Air Ministry Intelligence Department, but many people feel that there is something wrong somewhere, and my opinion on that matter is shared by people who are in a better position to judge than I am or than the two Ministers themselves are, who in their many distractions are not able to give the time and study necessary to this aspect of our war effort. The House is entitled, and I think bound, to demand from the Minister an assurance so unequivocal on this subject as to bring home to him, unless events should prove it to be unfounded, the full measure of his responsibility in this sphere. Even if only the lives of our gallant and skilful pilots were at stake, the House would have a practical obligation to satisfy itself. After all, the House speaks for the many who, in the historic phrase, owe so much to so few.

I want to ask the Air Minister whether he will not consider setting up some small committee of two or three Members of the House to investigate this matter and to reinforce such submissions as it might be found necessary to make to the War Cabinet if such powers as they already possess are found to be insufficient? I wish God speed to the efforts of the Ministers and those for whose efficiency and well-being they are responsible to the House and to far wider circles. There are signs that intense activity is not far off. New British, American and German types are lining up and being tuned up on the hangars and on the runways. New tactics are already worked out—unknown tactics. Combined submarine and air attacks on our shipping have only just begun to mount towards their peak, and at such a time it would be appropriate that I should say that the Royal Air Force of all ranks, and especially the air crews, as they go into action in the months to come will carry with them the heartfelt goodwill of the many for whom we in this quarter of the House speak. We shall have sympathy with them during their difficulties and dangers. We shall have unflagging confidence that their skill and valour will play a great part in bringing to the British people the guerdon of victory and freedom.

Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)

I should first like to congratulate the Secretary of State on his very able survey of the whole work of the Royal Air Force. I was disappointed that he did not say something about reprisals. I have had to live in London a good deal in the last 18 months, and I know a little about the air bombing of this great city, and other cities are feeling the effect of this indiscriminate bombing. I should like to ask the Secretary of State what we are going to do about it; and are we going to have reprisals, because that is the only thing the Germans understand? If they hit us, we have to hit them back more heavily. One of the chief points in the speech of the Secretary of State which I was pleased to note was the reference to the co-operation between the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, in particular in the Mediterranean. What he said about that co-operation was very gratifying to those of us who, in the early days, pressed for an independent Air Force. We always said that such co-operation was possible, and it has been carried out, and those who in the past sought to break up the Air Force were wrong. The Secretary of State gave us a short account of what the fighters, the Gladiators, were doing in Albania, and also what the Coastal Command and the Bomber Command were doing in the great work which they perform. There is also the great work which the fighters have done over this country in the battles of last autumn.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that enough is being done for the pilots, those gallant men who carry out this brilliant work. I had to raise a question the other day about the rewards given to our pilots for the Battle of Taranto. The First Lord of the Admiralty said that two D.S.O.s and six D.F.C s were given for that great battle, in which we had knocked out half the battleships of the Italian Fleet, two cruisers and two important naval transports. It seemed to me to be a very inadequate reward for that very brilliant victory at Taranto. Since then my letter-bag has been swollen considerably by communications from people in different parts of the country saying that I am perfectly right and that not enough has been done for our pilots. I know that good rewards are given, but the whole country is grateful to the Air Force for the wonderful way in which they beat off the enemy in the air attacks last autumn, for the great work they have done in their bombing attacks upon Germany, and the great work of the Coastal Command in sinking supply ships with their torpedo-carrying aeroplanes, the Beauforts, and helping to hunt submarines, and there is a feeling that not enough is being done for these gallant men.

I should like to submit to the Secretary of State for Air that something exceptional should be done. The highest authority in our land has recently introduced a new Order, the George Cross and the George Medal, and the recipients of that Order appreciate it very much indeed, and so do their relatives. I think the whole nation would welcome something new for these gallant airmen, and I would submit for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Cabinet that high authority in our land should be approached to see whether we could not perpetuate the memory of the great work of our airmen by creating a new Order, Knight of the Air, with, of course, companions of that Order. I think that would show our airmen in marked fashion how much we do appreciate their valuable services. We live in new times, new men are carrying through this new work and it is high time we recognised it in a new way. I put this suggestion forward with great diffidence to the Secretary of State for Air, but, after all, I am one of the air pioneers in this country, as I started the Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1909, a good many years ago now; and I would not have put it forward had I not really felt that something more ought to be done to recognise the great work of these gallant men, who go up and risk their lives at all hours of the day. They live an uncomfortable life, and something ought to be done to show how much we appreciate their bravery and their great help. I hope the Secretary of State for Air will look into this question to see whether something cannot be done to express further the nation's gratitude.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I cannot help thinking that it is very appropriate that my right hon. Friend should hold the position of Secretary of State for Air at the present time, in view of the words he used in making his maiden speech in this House on 21st March, 1923.

He said, among other things: One of the characteristics which distinguishes air power from sea and land power … is its capacity for rapid expansion. That is why we must lay the foundation well in the meantime, for—-given the plant, pilots, mechanicians, draftsmen—it is a dangerously flexible weapon; we must be prepared, therefore, to expand at least as rapidly as any likely hostile power … We cannot, I submit, consent to remain indefinitely and permanently in a condition of inferiority to any Power, certainly not to any other European Power, in the air." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1923; cols. 2613 and 2615, Vol. 161.] In that speech he showed remarkable foresight with regard to what was likely to happen and should be done in the future. My right hon. Friend has given an extremely interesting and eloquent account of a number of the aspects of this vital national problem during the last few months. He has described the activity not only of the Royal Air Force of this country but of the Air Forces of our Dominions and of the various Allied air contingents which have been fighting so gallantly with us. He has, in effect, been describing the operations of an international air force, something that was often discussed in pre-war days and declared by some to be quite impracticable because of the difficulties of command. It is interesting, therefore, to find that in practice, in war-time, such a scheme is working very well indeed, and I venture to hope that it will form a permanent part of the international organisation under the command, for choice, if we have to make a choice, of some gallant British Air Marshal.

My right hon. Friend referred to interesting and encouraging developments in the defence against night bombing. About that I would make only this observation, that I am sure he has in mind the importance of two points which have particularly struck me. One is—I know that here we are on territory belonging partly to the Army and partly to the Air Force—the importance of seeing that the men on the ground engaged with the searchlights and the anti-aircraft defences are men of the highest intelligence. The very best technical qualifications are required now; it is not a job that anyone can be put to, because there is no branch of the Service which requires better training or higher mental powers. I am sure that aspect of the matter is being borne in mind. Then there is the importance of continuous and close co-operation between the searchlights on the ground and the night intercepters in the air.

Reference was made by the Secretary of State to the question of training, and I was glad to hear the various announcements that he made about what the Minister of Labour and the Secretary of State for War were doing to help in the supply of pilots. I understand, despite all the training that we are doing, that there has been no falling off in the standard. We have obtained a great superiority over the Germans in that respect, and it has been very well worth while. It has enabled us to do what the Germans never seem to be able to carry out—an attack right into that part of the country where are the real objectives, an oil refinery or a dock or something of that kind. To bomb that kind of thing is infinitely more important than to go to a town and possibly scatter terror among people for a short time. This does no permanent damage, compared with the direct, precise form of attack. which we are able to carry out on every occasion that our aircraft go to Germany. If my right hon. Friend could introduce a psychological test for pilots to find out, before they actually go in for training, whether they are likely to be fit for the work, we could avoid their being trained for some months and then having to give up the work. Such tests are used in industry and are very effective. Possibly they are already in operation, and they can be very useful.

I would like to mention the Observer Corps, which has been on active service since the beginning of the war. The members of this corps have most responsible and arduous duties to carry out, and they are not particularly satisfied with their status, their uniform and various other matters. I believe that the Secretary of State is aware of the difficulties and is looking into the matter; I hope he will be able to make a statement before very long. Compared with other Services which are doing splendid work and wearing uniform, the Observer Corps can claim to be doing at least as much. They have to go out in all weathers, sometimes all night long, in rain, hail or snow. They do not feel particularly enthusiastic about the boiler-suit type of uniform which they get at the present time. They deserve the gratitude of the nation, and if anything can be done for them on the lines which I believe are being considered, in order to settle their status and give them the satisfaction to which they are entitled, it will be in the national interest to do so. It will be greatly appreciated by this splendid corps of hard-working volunteers.

Then there is the Air Transport Auxiliary, commonly referred to as the ferry pilots pool. It is composed of those who, for one reason or another, while they may be excellent flyers and very enthusiastic, are not eligible for the Royal Air Force. Admittedly, actual fighting does not come their way, but their task is, apart from this, in many respects even more arduous than that of the Royal Air Force. A pilot in this corps may have to fly any one of 20 or 30 different types of aircraft, and to go at any moment to any factory in any part of England in order to fly, possibly in bad weather, a machine to some aerodrome which he may never have visited before and which will be well camouflaged. The pilot has to find his way there and to land the priceless machine on the aerodrome, as instructed. One of the greatest difficulties with which they have to deal, and their greatest enemy, is the balloon barrage. They have to find their way over, round or through those obstacles, which vary from time to time, and great skill is required if they are to get home with their valuable machine. A word of praise should be given to them for the services which they are rendering to the nation at the present time.

An eloquent speech was made on the Army Estimates from one of the Government Benches on the subject of red tape. From the accounts which have reached me I have formed the impression that the Royal Air Force is not entirely without excessive red tape. There might be a greater delegation of authority to station commanders, and others lower in the scale, to give decisions on small matters. For instance, I understand that a station commander, no matter how senior his rank or how important his other responsibilities may be, is not considered responsible enough to sanction overtime pay in excess of six hours a week to a storekeeper who is trying to do the work of six men. That is an example of what I believe is actually happening. Could the Secretary of State say whether the question of red tape is being considered in the Royal Air Force as it is in the Army?

On the question of unnecessary expense and control, I would call attention to accountancy. When the war broke out, I understand that the checking and accountancy for stores and equipment of various kinds was abandoned in all operational units as quite unnecessary under warlike conditions, but it is none the less operating at present in training units. Numbers of auditors, and still greater numbers of storekeepers and clerks, are being maintained to check every transaction. If this process can be abandoned in the operational units, cannot something be done on the same lines in training units, in order to save money and man-power?

In the last war, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) referred to the Air Force on one occasion as the cavalry of the clouds. We know how well they then deserved that picturesque description. How much more they deserve it now for the magnificent services that they are rendering to this nation every day and night. When next they go into battle on a big scale they will carry with them the good wishes and confidence of every Member of this House.

Lord Apsley (Bristol, Central)

The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) will forgive me, I hope, if I do not follow him in detail, as I wish to make two or three points, and I desire to be as brief as I can, as the time is short. I would, however, refer to a matter to which the hon. Member referred. I thoroughly sympathise with his point about the Observer Corps, and I think that the matter might possibly be improved if they were given a uniform similar to that of the Air Transport Auxiliary. After all, there is ample precedent. Sailors, trawlermen, and sea pilots wear their oilskins and seaboots on duty, but when they come ashore they wear a reefer jacket and a proper sailor's hat. I think that the Observer Corps certainly deserve to be treated in a similar way by the Royal Air Force.

The points that I wish to make are these: first of all, the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) referred to the difficult question of aeodrome siting with a view to agriculture and to congestion. In his speech my right hon. Friend showed that he was fully alive to that difficulty, and that it was a problem which needed careful thought. This problem has been present for some time. I myself was alarmed at it as early as 1935 and 1936, when I could see these new aerodromes going up. Two points began at once to make themselves clear to me: first of all, that the construction of the buildings appeared to be on a permanent basis. They were made of bricks and mortar and concrete, were spread over a considerable area and were obviously there for a long time. It appeared to me that there were only two logical outcomes of this rearmament programme at the time. One was a disarmament conference, and the other was a war. In the case of a disarmament conference, of course, all construction of further aircraft and aero-domes would cease, and, indeed, we should have to do away with many of those already existing. In the case of a war, there were two logical outcomes— either that we should lose the war, in which case we should be compelled by the enemy to dismantle our aerodromes, or that we should win the war, in which case we should insist upon a disarmament programme to enable us to carry on our economic life.

I wondered whether we ought to build aerodromes which were obviously permanent fixtures and which made good targets for the enemy, when buildings of a more temporary character could have been put up. After all, the Army at the time were in many cases still living in temporary buildings put up in the last war, and I would have preferred to see money spent on that type of aerodrome, the more important parts being put underground. Aerodromes had to be on level ground. Formerly they had to be 800 yards by 800 yards, and then I believe the size was increased to 1,000 yards by 1,000 yards. We had of necessity to choose land which must be valuable agricultural land. I do not know what acreage has been taken, but I do not think that I would be conservative if I said that the country has lost well over a quarter of a million acres of agricultural land. I know full well that the Minister of Agriculture is much disturbed by this fact. I wondered how that difficulty could be surmounted. At that time, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), the hon. Member for Melton (Sir W. Everard) and other hon. Members who were civilian pilots, I used to travel a good deal about Germany, and, what with making forced landings, I saw a great deal of that country. There appeared to me to be two puzzles as far as German aviation was concerned. One was that, despite the large quantity of machines which we knew they had, we hardly saw any flying, and the second was the very small number of aerodromes. If you wanted to see German machines flying, you had to get up early in the morning—in fact, before sunrise, and then the air was full of them. To do that, you had to start from a private aerodrome or come in from a neutral country. They saw to it, with Customs restrictions and weather reports, that no pilot was allowed to fly before 10 o'clock, and that was when they were doing all their practice.

The other point which puzzled me, was how they managed to put so many machines in the air with so few aerodromes. That was solved when one saw where their aerodromes really were. The German conception of an aerodrome was very different from ours. They had their machines hidden away in forests, and their hangars and workshops under- ground, the machines being brought up on lifts. A good deal of North Germany is sandy soil; the machines are carried on railways on to the runways, which run in a straight line for a mile or two, taking full advantage of the country so as to give a downhill take-off and an uphill landing, and not bothering about the wind. They often take off across-wind, and not infrequently down-wind, so long as they have a downhill run for taking off. That was the German conception of an aerodrome. At the time, I urged that we should do something like that ourselves, instead of spending these large sums of money on these 1,000-yard aerodromes with these great permanent buildings on the best agricultural land. When the Estimates came before the House the cost was £400,000 to £500,000 per aerodrome, and in almost every case the cost was doubled and will have to be doubled again.

One other criticism that I made at the time was that if you take 1,000 yards by 1,000 yards of good agricultural land in any part of this country, somewhere in that area you will find patches of clay, and those patches of clay will render operations very difficult in the wintertime, as I have found here and in France. They have to be concreted over. Therefore, the cost of an aerodrome would be more than treble the original estimate. There is ample opportunity for taking advantage of the large areas in this country where there is light soil, where runways can be found for downhill take-offs and uphill landings, where it is possible to put machines and workshops underground, and thus make them safe from German bombing. Indeed, I suggest that it is one of the most important problems at this juncture, if only to leave anti-aircraft guns and balloons to defend other parts.

I now come to my next point. As the House is not in Secret Session, I will not ask my right hon. Friend to give us any indication of how many Army co-operation trainer squadrons there are per division. No one knows better than I, as a soldier, the valuable co-operation which has been achieved between the Air Force and the Army in operational areas. Naturally, my right hon. Friend will not say how many squadrons per division will be required. I know full well the difficulty of production and the importance of concentrating everything at this stage of the conflict on achieving the mastery of the air. The Metropolitan Air Force, the Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm must drive the Huns from the sky—that is the phase we are in now—before we can start other operations, and all our efforts must and will be devoted to that. Naturally, the production of large numbers of Army co-operation squadrons at this moment would take much of the supply potential that is concentrated on other branches of the Air Force. But I would lay stress on the need for training the Army in Army co-operation.

Over a year ago a colonel at the War Office brought forward a scheme by which light aircraft were to be commandeered from all over the country and further ones made so that, by using retired pilots and others, a potential might be built up to allow of the allocation of a few light aircraft as trainers to every unit of the Army in the country. That scheme seemed to have very hopeful chances, but I do not know what happened to it. Certainly nothing has come of it as yet. I suggest that it should not be difficult to achieve if we use our Empire resources. There is in this country a big potential for building light aircraft engines, and a similar potential can also be found within the Empire. Further, a by no means negligible number of these engines are made in America, and their purchase would in no way affect the production of war engines. I am certain that light aircraft engine production could be expanded both in this country and out of it with the resources available without harming the war effort in any way. So far as construction is concerned, most of these machines would be made of wood, and if the resources of Canada were used, I am sure there would be no shortage of that. Thus it should be possible to arrange a considerable production of machines for the job. As for pilots, the Home Guard could be used, both retired pilots who have kept themselves fit, and young men.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the help that the War Office had given him in regard to officer pilots. I am sure the War Office have done all they could, but I do not think anything is happening as a result of their efforts. I myself applied and passed my tests—and passed my medical test, for which I was stung for three guineas—but that was in January, and I have heard nothing about it since. I do not know whether I am likely to. There are many other officers who have done the same, and neither have they heard anything more. I suggest that if this effort is to be built up into something, it is time a start was made.

My last point is an important one and refers to the question of troop carriers, in which I include all air transport for the Army. We are told that the Germans are able to transport four fully-equipped infantry divisions, and not only transport them but supply them from the air by dropping the necessary supplies on parachutes until landing grounds have been taken over. After that they can land supplies. We know from the example of New Guinea, where a great transport industry was built up on Junkers aircraft which carried everything from grand pianos to cattle, what those aircraft can do. We also know that for this purpose the Germans used the ordinary type of Junkers 5-2 with which all of us who have travelled in Germany as passengers are familiar. Instead of scrapping aircraft as soon as the design was improved, having made a good machine they went into mass production, and they are turning them out at the moment in large quantities without any modification. They also turn out others as well, but the Junkers 5-2 is still in production. It is a sound and useful machine which can be landed and taken off easily, and can carry a good load. That is the machine they use for troop carrying.

What have we done comparable with that? I would not, even if the House was in Secret Session, dare to ask my right hon. Friend whether the number of troops which we can transport can be counted in hundreds or in thousands with our existing potential of civil carrying machines. What is the reason? The Germans have a genius for centralisation and monopoly. They put all their efforts into one organisation, the Lufthansa, which never made any money, nor ever looked like making any money, but which did function. The reason they were able to make that organisation function is that they are ruthless in their methods, particularly in the way in which they deal with their civil servants. If a German civil servant falls down on his job, out he goes at once. In our country our ways with civil servants are much more polite and kind, and we expect and receive adequate service from them, but in any war you have to take risks. You cannot get men to take those risks unless you treat them in the way that commercial companies working in competition treat their employés. It is no use putting a man in charge of a State monopoly if he knows he is in a safe job for ever, no matter how much he slips up, and that at the worst he will only be moved from one branch to another.

In this country we have never yet made a success of a State monopoly unless it consisted of an absolutely safe routine job in which no enterprise or initiative was required, and we never shall. Our genius lies and has always lain in competition among many units working together. That cannot be done in wartime; you must have centralisation, but, where that centralisation exists, it must be made as ruthless as the German organisation. Now is the time, if we are to develop what was formerly civil aviation under State control, for it to be done properly, and the men who work it must see to it that whatever the risks the job is carried through. The Army is very short indeed of aircraft both for carrying troops and for supplying them. Even the personnel in the East are not able to travel by air as do the Germans, because there are not enough machines. The number available could be largely increased, and I would suggest that the Air Ministry should turn their minds towards this point and do the best they can to build up, with American help, a great fleet of commercial aircraft. It will not be an expense on which we shall lose, for after the war it will be essential for us to take a foremost place among the great commercial flying fleets of the world.

Many people from time to time give us their views on what our war aims are. There is only one war aim for me, and I think it is a good enough one, and that is freedom. That is what we are fighting this war for—freedom. The freedom of the sea was built up by this nation, and the freedom of the air is going to make it greater and keep it safe. We must see that there is freedom of the air, so that we shall be free from German attempts at domination, and let us also see to it that there is no attempt at strangling efforts to develop the air as it should be de- veloped, as I am afraid was done, as my right hon. Friend admitted in his speech, in the years before the war. I do not mean only by building the amount that we are potentially capable of building up during the war, but by providing in future great fleets throughout the whole Empire, so that we shall be a great nation in the air.

Wing-Commander Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)

I want to intervene only to say how pleased I was at the reference by my right hon. Friend to civil aviation. As one of that small band who in this House year after year always bring up the same subject, I was particularly pleased at the changed attitude displayed by the Secretary of State to-day. Twelve months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) and I were, I think, the only two Members who referred on the Estimates to civil aviation; and we did not get a very sympathetic hearing from the then Secretary of State for Air, or, I am afraid, from the present Under-Secretary. I hope that we are now really going to give to the development of civil aviation the attention which it requires. During the last 12 months the vital necessity of quick aerial communication in time of war has been emphasised by what has taken place on the Continent. It would not be far wrong to say that in the months to come that will be even more strongly emphasised. But we cannot carry on civil transport without the machines and the pilots. I was pleased, therefore, to hear that the Secretary of State hopes to resume shortly the cross-Atlantic passage. He announced that about a month ago, of course, in answer to a Question which I had put down.

I should like to think that he was going further. After all, the British Overseas Airways Corporation was sold to the public at a high price. Some of us who supported the Bill which brought about that purchase felt that there was a good deal in the criticism from the Opposition as to the amount of money that we were paying for the two concerns; but, since it was put to us as a fait accompli, and if we had not supported the Bill, it would have meant losing control of civil aviation. I felt that the thing that mattered was that we should get control of civil aviation without haggling about the price; and I think the Opposition felt that, too, as they gave the Bill a passage without a Division. Nevertheless, that high price was paid, and it is up to us, as representatives of the taxpayers, to see that the Corporation gets a fair deal now that we have bought it. I was disturbed at the fact that when we had a great opportunity to develop this organisation as the obvious instrument for ferrying machines across the Atlantic, there was no intention of doing that. Civil aviation, as represented by the British Overseas Airways Corporation, has naturally been the Cinderella. The Fighting Services are a bottomless pit financially; and as that can never be filled, nothing can spill over into what seems less important. I am one of those who have always said that, for that very reason, we should divorce civil aviation from military aviation. The military side will always assume the greater importance, and the civil side will be neglected.

The Air Ministry has been Ugly Sister No. I, and has merely displayed her cruelty by neglect. We now find Ugly Sister No. 2 being represented by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and in this case the cruelty takes the entirely different form of trying to get a stranglehold on Cinderella, and to strip her of all that she has left of value to her—that is, her pilots and machines. If we are to maintain this vitally important war service of intercommunication—not forgetting that it is only by a civil corporation that you can travel to neutral countries at all—we must look after the British Overseas Airways Corporation. We must see that it is not stripped of its machines and its pilots. I would ask my right hon. Friend to look into the question of the Ensign machines. We had eight or nine of these very good aircraft, which were unsatisfactory only because the engines were not sufficiently powerful. I believe that the proper engines have been in this country for many months, but, for want of a comparatively small expenditure on material and labour, these machines are not being used. If those machines can be brought into service, they can provide replacements which will be required shortly; and they might even enable us to look further ahead and open up some of the services which should be opened up now.

Particularly important is the need for a service to South Africa. If we do not establish that now, we may never get the opportunity again. We have at the head of the Government in South Africa one who is very friendly to this country; and while he is in control, it should be very easy for us to get that service going. The time may come when he will no longer be there, and it might not be so easy for us then to get in first. The country which gets in first has the best chance. I have always maintained that in civil aviation it does not matter what machines you use: in what country they are made; what really matters is getting your line established and known. You can increase the machines, the pilots, and the services as the opportunity arises. But if you let somebody else get in and build up a goodwill, it is too late. To come back to the British Overseas Airways Corporation—I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will look into the matter, because it is the duty of the House to insist that this Corporation, which we have purchased, shall be used for its rightful purpose. At the present moment that is not happening, and the House must apply all the necessary pressure to see that it is brought about.

Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)

Although many may feel that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) has devoted a great deal of his interesting speech to the question of civil aviation in these times of war, unless I am quite wrong, when it comes to times of peace again and hon. Members stand up in this House and criticise the Secretary of State for Air for not having taken sufficient initial steps during the war to safeguard British civil aviation after the war, I think he will come into his own and receive a due meed of praise. I do not want to follow him on this subject at any length to-day, but I would emphasise this point. At Question Time recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air gave the House an assurance that he would not reduce the activities of British Airways in so far as their route served areas of military importance. That promise could be interpreted in a narrow spirit and would mean almost nothing, or it could be interpreted in a more generous spirit and add to the safeguarding of the future of British civil aviation, to which my hon. and gallant Friend has just been addressing himself. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary, when he replies, whether he can give us a little more qualitative assurance of the attitude of the Air Ministry to British Airways during the war. He could help in many ways by bearing in mind, for example, transport aircraft for the Royal Air Force or the Army, with regard to which the Noble Lord has just spoken. He could bear in mind the needs of British Airways for transport aircraft during the first 12, or may be 24 months, after the Armistice, when it will be exceedingly difficult to turn over to modern types of air-liners. That type of foresight, if we could weave it into our military decisions, would be of inestimable value to the Empire after the war is over.

One of the most important and interesting parts of my right hon. Friend's speech, in opening this Debate to-day, was his reference to the position of this country in the forthcoming air battle. In amplifying what the Secretary of State has said, I would like to add these observations from my own knowledge and experience. So far as aircraft are concerned, I believe we are actually stronger in fighters than the enemy, and that that is so without calling upon aircraft such as the Tornado and the Whirlwind, which even the enemy knows are not yet in the squadrons in very large numbers, but if we have these newer types coming into greater service during the spring and early summer—unless, as seems vastly improbable from all the information we possess, the enemy has some quite extraordinary surprise for us in fighter aircraft or fighter-aircraft devices—we shall have a most definite superiority on the fighter side of our air strength. Once we have an adequate number of fighters, it is, of course, bad policy to increase that strength overmuch, as we are clearly not yet so strong in bombers as the enemy, though I believe that on an average our bombers are much more modern and are becoming faster than those of the enemy, and, above all, our bombers have the enormous advantage of the turret-driving apparatus which the enemy bombers greatly lack. I hope, therefore, that we shall not overstep the mark of prudence with regard to our fighter strength by pandering possibly a little to our fear of invasion or other prospects by concentrating on the fighters and allowing our bomber strength to remain below that of the enemy. I would press upon the Air Ministry and the Ministry for Aircraft Production the importance of our developing in this country a really fast day bomber. That is part of air equipment which at the moment we all find seriously lacking. I trust—and I do not ask for any reply to this—that the two Ministries will take that matter more earnestly into consideration. So much for the fighter and the bomber aircraft.

How do we stand with regard to the fighting personnel? I listened to the figures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air gave in his speech, and I thought that possibly he could have amplified what he said much more to our advantage than in fact he did. He told the House that we had brought down 4,250 German and 1,100 Italian planes, that is, 5,350 pilots, and that we had lost in combat some 1,800, of whom, I am informed, some 450 pilots wore saved, so that, in fact, we lost 1,450 pilots against 5,350 pilots of the enemy. The enemy thus lost 4,000 more pilots than we did. The point I want to make is that the enemy lost 4,000 pilots who at that time had a considerable degree of air training and experience. Our pilots have, since the battles of last year, been gaining in experience and in morale as a result of the great victories which they themselves and the great Force to which they belong have had the benefit of securing against the enemy, and the fact that the enemy has lost 4,000 more of his best pilots than we have gives us a degree of experience in our Fighter and Bomber Commands this year which must have an outstanding effect upon the air battles.

I would now like to address myself to two operational questions. The first is with regard to the news that we have been receiving recently about what are known as offensive sweeps in France and Belgium. To me, there has come nothing so sweet in the development of our activities in the air as the news that we have started these offensive sweeps over the Continent. They are the beginning of our air superiority over the Continent of Europe, and I hope that even though we may have set-backs from time to time —as, indeed, we had recently when we lost six fighters—the Air Staff will concentrate on the development and forcing forward of this vitally important matter, and that at no distant date we may have the aid in these sweeps of the high-speed bombers to which I have referred.

The second point to which I wish to refer is the question of night interception. The Government may say, as they recall the situation in this country when the German air bombardment was at its greatest, that they did not speak too optimistically about the interception and bringing down of the night bomber, but, quite frankly, my own recollection is that there was a tinge of optimism in the pronouncements of Government speakers. The danger now, as I see it, is that with greater dispersal of the civil population, greater experience of air bombardment and more adequate shelter protection there may not be the same outcry, particularly in the daily Press, that there was last autumn, when night air raids start in earnest once again, and that, therefore, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production may tend to concentrate a little more on some other matters which will give possibly quicker returns and which do not possess so many headaches as this question of night interception From the point of view of increasing our night production and not only stopping the destruction of factories, I would like to see this problem of the night bomber effectively tackled so that workers can be encouraged to work during the night. I know perfectly well that the Air Ministry have put a great deal of work into it, and I know that they have had setbacks to which they were not really entitled, but the answer is that they must keep on, because in the coming months we must build up production at night in our factories to a much greater extent than we have done in the past. The appeal recently made by the Minister of Labour for. I believe, 500,000 new women in industry must be backed by the Air Ministry in providing that calmness at night so that these women may be put to work. There is no additional machinery for all these women to work on during the day, and they must work at night on the machines which are at present being used.

Now I would like to come to a point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) at the beginning of his speech. He asked whether the co-operation between the Air Ministry and Aircraft Production was as close and harmonious as might be. It seemed to me that that was a pertinent question. He did not answer it very fully, and, indeed, it is very difficult for any hon. Member to answer such a question. But it should not be difficult for the Cabinet to satisfy itself on the matter. It is in the same sense of an appeal to the Government to make sure that we are proceeding on sound lines here that I make the same request. Perhaps I might indicate shortly to the House the type of problem I have in mind. When we were discussing the Air Estimates last year the Air Ministry was wholly responsible for its supplies. The present Undersecretary was, I believe, largely reponsible for the supplies side in the Air Ministry. With the formation of the present Government the production of aircraft was taken away from the Air Ministry and given to the Ministry of Aircraft Production under the dynamic leadership of Lord Beaverbrook. Any hon. Member will see immediately that unless great care is exercised, the fact that the Air Ministry lost that side of its activities to another Ministry is pregnant with future trouble and difficulties unless the whole matter is handled with the utmost care.

Here are some problems which affect the two Ministries and one wonders whether they are being sifted and decided upon on a 50-50 basis. There is the question of the ratio of fighters to bombers. I can well understand that the Air Ministry might say, ''We want more fighters for this and that reason," and the Ministry of Aircraft Production saying, "No, we find it much more convenient to continue building bombers in that factory where we are jigged up in a certain way, and, therefore, we press you not to go forward with so big a fighter programme." That type of problem must surely be arising in some form or other, and if the Under-Secretary could say that it is being dealt with amicably by both Ministries, I, for one, would be entirely satisfied. Is there full discussion, as between equals, on a great problem of State such as that? There is also the question of spares in repair depots; whether, for instance, we ought to keep all our spares centrally or build them into new aircraft and let those aircraft which are damaged remain damaged for the sake of getting aircraft out, or reduce the number of components by 15 or 20 per cent. and send bits and pieces out to the Middle East and Far East and other parts of the world where we are flying?

Again, there is the question of types becoming obsolescent. I presume that at a not very distant date even the Hurricane will be obsolescent. When is it to go out of production? That is a matter on which the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production may have diametrically opposite views. Are those views being carefully sifted and given due weight so that in the national interest a right decision is made? As is known by anybody who has been involved, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) has been with the question of the production of aircraft, one of the most difficult and yet most important points in the development of aircraft production in time of war is when to allow a major modification to be introduced into the production. Is that point always being sifted out between the two Ministries in a way that will give us the most satisfactory results? In a word, I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister for Aircraft Production have a weekly conference at which all these problems are sifted out over the table, or whether, instead, they write each other, or shall I say, add their names to memoranda prepared by their staffs which go across to the other Ministry. I would like the Prime Minister, who is Minister of Defence, to be quite sure that in all the difficulties of this situation there is the utmost collaboration and co-operation for the national good.

Lastly, we are apt to think of the air history of the last year in terms of so many aircraft shot down, so many pilots killed or captured, so many crews put out of action. But I think we should be more accurate in thinking of the achievements of the Royal Air Force in terms of the break-up of the Italian Air Force and all that that meant to the Fascist regime, and the break-up of all the plans that Hitler had for the domination of this country from the air. First, there was the attempt to put the fighters out of action by bombing the fighter aerodromes; secondly, there was the attempt to destroy the aircraft factories so that the squadrons could not be reinforced; and thirdly, there was the attempt to destroy transport. Then, when the Air Force had been forced on to the ground, the swarms of day bombers were to come over and lay low each of our cities in turn, as parts of Southampton and Coventry have been. This is the measure of the work of the Royal Air Force in the last 12 months— that they have prevented this occurring, that they have enabled our war effort to continue almost as if there were no interference from the German Air Force, and enabled this House, as it has done for so many centuries, to continue to meet in peace.

Back to