§ Debate on the Motion of the Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, to resolve, "That this House considers that the development of aviation for purposes of war can no longer be efficiently carried on under the present system of the divided control and responsibility of two separate Departments; and that the time has now arrived when the supply of men and materials should be concentrated under single control, at the same time leaving the executive power over naval and military aircraft with the Army and Navy as at present," resumed (according to Order).
My Lords, I am sure that the country at large greatly appreciates the value of the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House on this subject in thus drawing attention to the Government's aviation policy and to the great importance of this matter to the nation at large. Personally I am in cordial agreement with the main lines of the speeches of Lord Montagu and Lord Derby, and if they press the Motion to a Division they will have my support for what it is worth. It is sad to think that we are in the twenty-first month of the war before His Majesty's Government have arrived at even an approximate idea of the value of aviation, and that we should now be asking them to declare what their policy is, if they have one really settled.
There are two points to which I should like to call the attention of your Lordships' House. One is with regard to lighter-than-air machines. Some time ago the late First Lord of the Admiralty promised that if there were any attacks by Zeppelins on this country there would be a fleet of airships here ready to meet them. As far as I know—everything is kept very secret—that fleet of airships is not in existence. Whether that is owing to difference of policy between the military and the naval authorities I do not know. Possibly it may be that the versatility of the late First Lord of the Admiralty diverted his attention entirely away from the question of airships to that unfortunate Expedition to the Dardanelles. But whatever it may be, there is no doubt that at the present moment we have not the fleet of airships that we were promised.
Some three and a half years ago, when I was in Germany, I went up in a German Zeppelin and was five hours in the air. 129 What struck me very much at the time was the steadiness of the airship, the case with which the huge monster seemed to be steered, and the rapidity with which it attained a greater altitude, without any circling round which I understand is necessary for aeroplanes before they can get up to a great height. Certainly this Zeppelin went up rapidly at a very great angle. It is curious, in connection with a remark made by Lord Montagu about carrying mails, that on that occasion the German Government tried the experiment of sending by this airship the mails of the day. Although there was a fairly strong breeze blowing the ship was able to remain perfectly stationary over a drill ground (on which the troops were drawn up) for about a quarter of an hour, daring which time it dropped the mail bags by means of small parachutes. Then we resumed our journey. In view of the great qualifications of various sorts which these ships have, I would strongly urge on the new Board to consider whether some more use ought not to be made of lighter-than-air machines.
At one time there was an airship in this country—I think I saw it flying over Windsor—called the "Beta." What has become of her I do not know. I suppose she is somewhere in the clouds. However that may be, it is quite possible that we are building a certain number of airships, but the public are nut informed. It may be that the Government think it wiser that the public should not be told of what is going on, but I cannot help thinking, considering the number of German spies there are, that whatever we do in this country is pretty well known to the German Government. Would it not be better if our people were more informed as to what is being done with regard to airships in this country? I should like to congratulate the noble Earl who has been appointed chairman of this new Board on the fact that he has not got a lawyer on his Board. I do not know whether that is an indication of an awakening on the part of His Majesty's Government to the fact that the public at large have not the same consummate belief in lawyers that they seem to have themselves.
One thing which struck me in the debate last night was the reference in the speech of Lord Northcliffe to the great block in the Inventions Department and the long time it took for anything to get through. I believe there are several Inventions Departments, 130 and I do not know to which he alluded. But whichever Department it may be, after what was stated by Lord Northcliffe last night, which I think approval in different quarters of the House showed to be perfectly correct, I hope that Lord Curzon will take it upon himself to institute a Board of his own connected with his own Department to which every invention that is calculated to assist the Aerial Service of this country should be submitted, without the fatal delay involved in its having to go before three or four Committees one after another.
The Aerial Service is entirely a new Service. Therefore for carrying it out we must look to the young men of the day. In our Flying Corps we have a body of young men second to none in any country in the world for their courage and ability, and I am sure that the more they are trusted to carry out this onerous duty the greater will be the result in the way of benefit to the country. What I cannot help thinking is this. An elderly gentleman who never goes out of a trot may be a very good judge of a hunter on a show ground, but the man who rides the horse straight across country for thirty or forty minutes is a better judge of that horse's capabilities and its true worth. And it seems to me that what is applicable in that field is applicable in others. In order to know what, the value is of any invention and what practical use it is likely to be to the country, you must trust the men who are experts in flying and know their job. I therefore trust that the noble Earl who is at the head of this new Department will take care to consult the experts in every possible way, and will not allow himself to be hampered by the prejudices of elderly men, who are possibly opposed to all reform, and who are too frequently, if I may say so, put upon Committees which have to do with a new science. The enemy will not wait. You want prompt decisions in this matter, and prompt action taken. I hope that the noble Earl will take every step, not only to consult these young men, but to hasten on in every possible way inventions that are likely to be of use to the country.
I confess I heard with some surprise the concluding remarks of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House last night. He said he did not see his way to accept the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Montagu. I cannot understand on what 131 grounds he bases his opposition to this Resolution. What does the formation of this new Board mean except that the Government are thoroughly dissatisfied with the whole management and the difference of opinion between the two bodies which has gone on up to now? They have now formed an Air Board to try and unite these two great bodies, the naval and military aircraft. Therefore I cannot see where the difference comes in between the Resolution proposed by my noble friend and what the Government have themselves done. I am so anxious to see the aerial service of the country promoted in every possible way that I hope my noble friend will press his Motion to a Division if it is not accepted by His Majesty's Government, and I shall have the greatest pleasure in voting with him.
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
My Lords, I am not, nor do I imagine myself to be, an air expert, and I should not have ventured to intervene in this debate were it not that a certain point has been strongly impressed on me by certain officers in the Air Service to which they think public attention ought to be directed. There seems to be a growing conviction of the necessity for a separate Air Service. A step undoubtedly has been taken in that direction by appointing this Air Board with Lord Curzon at the head of it—an appointment which I think we all heard of with much satisfaction. If the success of the Air Board depends, as Lord Montagu suggested, upon the noble Earl who is chairman being master in his own house, I think we may regard the success of the Board as thoroughly assured.
In the infancy of the Air Service it was quite right that it should be under the tutelage of the Army and Navy, but it has now grown so rapidly to man's estate that the time has come when it should set up an establishment of its own. Before the war it occupied a position of comparative insignificance, both in point of numbers and the scope of its opportunities, and it could be easily handled by the personnel of the Departments. But since the war the demand for aeroplanes has so largely increased, their scope and radius of action has been so widened, and they have become so much greater in speed, power, and importance that it is beyond the capabilities of the existing Departments to handle the Air Service in such a way as the interests of the country demand. 132 Aviation has firmly and finally taken its place by the side of its sister Services as one of the three great fighting Services, and I think we may say that every day emphasises its importance to Great Britain beyond any other of the Great Powers of the world. For us supremacy in the air has become as essential to our safety as supremacy at sea.
The rate of expansion in the Air Service since the outbreak of war has been extremely rapid. The Royal Flying Corps has ten times the strength that it had at the beginning of the war, and the Royal Naval Air Service has thirty or more times the strength it had. Yet notwithstanding this enormous expansion it can hardly be said that in relation to the enemy we occupy the position we did three months after the outbreak of war. The Commander-in-Chief told us very soon after the war started that we had established our ascendancy over the enemy in the air, and this was confirmed by the raids which took place into Germany with such brilliant results. But now it seems to be agreed—and this point was emphasised by Lord Montagu—that we have temporarily lost that ascendancy. Why have we lost it? It is not that there has been any change in the quality of the pilots. The pilots are as daring and skilful as ever they were. Therefore if we do not occupy the position we had a year and a half ago it must be due to the conditions of the Service itself; it must be due to the inability of the authorities to gauge those conditions and to confront the expansion which has occurred by the proper methods. Of course, there has been expansion in the other Services, but that was a comparatively simple problem even in the Army, because expansion in the Army proceeded upon well-known lines—established models were before them—and they had only to be developed according to the experience and knowledge already gained.
But the problems which confronted the Air Service were not of scale and degree but of time and order. They were entirely new. To cope with these problems officers were introduced from the Army and Navy and made senior officers mostly for disciplinary purposes. In consequence of that, and owing to the novel features and factors in this air problem, a most anomalous state of affairs has arisen. It is this. The senior officers know less of the nature and character 133 of the duties they have to perform and of the way the Service should be run than the junior officers who have to take their commands. The junior officers have acquired their experience in a practical way—as Lord Galway pointed out in an admirable illustration—but the seniors have not acquired that experience. The Air Service calls for such totally different training that officers coming into it who have had training unsuited to it find that their knowledge and experience, so far from being an advantage, is a hindrance and a disadvantage to them. Not being equipped with the necessary training and knowledge they have not the understanding of and sympathy with the new science which is absolutely necessary, and not having that understanding and sympathy, they are incapacitated, through no fault of their own, from taking an intelligent part. I do not say this as any reproach to these officers. They cannot help it. I may say that the broad-minded amongst them recognise it themselves, and frankly admit it. But it is a serious matter.
This promotion by seniority goes to the very root of the question, What happens is this. Officers in the Army and Navy are promoted by seniority, which sometimes means by merit and sometimes not. At all events they are presumed to know something of the duties they have to undertake, and they do know it. But here you have them transferred from duties which they know into a Service of which they know nothing, and knowing nothing they are put in command over the heads of people who do know. The result is that there must be inefficiency, friction, and misunderstanding in every aspect of the Service. I am informed by people who understand the conditions that this is what the Service is suffering from. Imagine any other Service directed on those lines. It must lead to disorder and inefficiency. You can conceive the stultifying effect it must have on all the people concerned. What are the senior officers to do with experienced men under them? They have either to take advice from their junior officers—and if they do that it is not very pleasant for them, although it is wise—or, on the other hand, they have to disregard the advice of their junior officers and issue orders according to their ignorance to people who have knowledge. You can well understand that this is not a state of 134 affairs which contributes to the efficiency of the Air Service. As a matter of fact, it is an astonishing thing that under such conditions our airmen have done as well as they have done.
As Lord Galway said, the Air Service is a Service for youth. The air is the element and the domain of youth. It is necessary that the officers should be young men; consequently they are of the lower grades of rank, and it is difficult, I admit, to promote them into the position of senior officers. But that is a problem which has to be dealt with, and dealt with speedily, because in the present condition of affairs the Air Service is exposed to disaster and certainly is not what it ought to be. There is another point. A junior officer, feeling that the senior officer does not understand the need of decision and of initiative and of the rapid improvisation which the Air Service requires, is naturally unable to show or to do all that he can do. The senior officers regard these qualities, which are absolutely essential to success in the Air Service, as being, from their training in the sister Service, wrong and not required. Therefore they are repressed, and I may say that if those qualities are repressed our Air Service must steadily go down.
But it is not only a question of the officers. There is the question of officers and production. Lord Galway referred to the matter of inventions. A little time ago, in bringing up this question of inventions, I asked the noble Marquess whether it was true that the Fokker machine had been offered to our Inventions Committee and refused by them; but my question was not answered. Anyhow, that is past. It does not matter so much now, as I understand that we are going ahead with other inventions which will shortly supersede the Fokker. But in the matter of supplies and production the attempt to run the Air Service upon the same lines as the sister Services has again stood largely in the way of that rapid expansion taking place which we require. Immense delay has occurred by the Departments making scrutinies and investigations and inquiries similar to what they would make if they were buying a battleship or a battery of artillery. The trained minds of the permanent officials and others of the Admiralty and the War Office are slow-moving in such matters; and in connection with the air they have to deal with a Service in which the conditions 135 are changing almost every day and rapid developments are occurring on which you have to make up your minds very quickly with a thorough understanding of what is required. If this is not done we shall be behindhand with our supplies. We should have been still more behindhand with our supplies had it not been that France was ready to make good our deficiencies to a very great extent.
The noble Marquess yesterday said that he did not view this Motion very sympathetically. He said that there were great difficulties in the way, and he also let drop a sentence which I think ought to be preserved. He said—These questions are obviously of very great difficulty, and it certainly seems at first sight that to attempt to solve them in the middle of the war would be an act of great rashness.I think that sentence is typical of what has been the attitude of the Government in regard to other matters, not only with regard to air, and I thought it ought to be rescued from oblivion. When you talk of difficulties, of course there are difficulties inseparable from a new Service. Such a matter bristles with difficulties. But the only question is whether those difficulties are insuperable. If they are not insuperable, it is not a good argument to say they are difficulties, provided that by removing them you achieve an object which everybody thinks ought to be achieved. I venture to think that Lord Curzon will not be daunted by difficulties. Then we are told that, whilst willing to pay certain sums for national defence, people will not pay an unlimited sum—that, I believe, was in regard to times of peace. But in times of peace or in times of war, as long as the people are convinced that the sum is required for making the Air Service as efficient as it ought to be, they will readily find the money that is wanted.
It is borne strongly on my mind, from conversing with officers who understand all the conditions of the Service, that it will never reach a high standard as long as it remains a subsidiary Service. It must be a separate Service governed by a body untrammelled by ideas and thought engendered by the traditions of a Service totally different from that of the air, and it must have freedom to appoint to high commands officers of approved competence, so that they can use their training and ability to the best advantage. Under the 136 prevailing system that is only partially possible. Instead of being partially possible it ought to be made the rule and practice; and unless it is made the rule and practice I you may appoint Committees and Ministers, you may examine experts and issue Reports, but you will never have a Service such as the safety and welfare of the country imperatively demands.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, the speech which my noble friend has just made points to the enormous difficulties that attend the creation of a new arm. My noble friend said that the difficulties arise through senior officers taking command who do not know their subject. That is a serious matter in any Service. But these difficulties will be surmounted. They are inseparable from new organisations and they will not militate against the Air Service very long. I agree that we can produce in this country the very best class of men for the Air Service. They are sportsmen, gallant and plucky, and all they want is to be properly trained.
I agree with nearly all that my noble friend Lord Montagu said, but there is one point on which I should like to utter a note of warning. The Motion says—The time has now arrived when the supply of men and materials should be concentrated under single control.I think everything points to that, and I believe it wall eventually come. I would like to point out to my noble friend Lord Curzon that there have been great difficulties on similar lines to these connected with the Services. In the 'eighties we had a ship called the "Camperdown," which very much wanted to have the pennant hoisted—to be put into commission. In those days we got the guns through the Army from Woolwich. We were months sometimes before we could get them, and sometimes we did not get the pattern we wanted, and we had no control over the matter whatever. Then there was a Committee appointed, and the Navy were allowed not only to design but to order their own guns where they liked, either at Woolwich or anywhere else. After that we were never hung up for guns, although we were often hung up for gun mountings. I merely mention this as a warning. I think the difficulties in the Air Service will also be overcome. For one Service to be dependent on another Service is never a good plan.
137 In this case, we are going to have an Air Board that will, I conceive, differentiate between the Services and have a separate Department of which they will have entire charge, and so make the Air Service efficient. It is very easy to promote friction between the Services. I have had the honour to serve both in peace and war with both Services, and I know how easy it is to provoke friction. But I also know how easy it is to promote good comradeship and to make everything work together. The natural wish of the Services is to work together, but where their ideas or orders clash, or where one is dependent on the other, it promotes friction, which is deplorable and much regretted by the Services. I could exemplify the point in this matter. I saw that Mr. Bonar Law on May 17 said, in reply to Mr. Churchill, that so far as Mr. Churchill's own action was concerned he separated the two Services more than ever they had been separated before. He did not do that through malice. He was working as hard as he could for the Navy, but the line of action he took really did separate the Services and cause a good deal of friction. My noble friend will find it now in regard to orders, to getting machines first, or getting this or that pattern; and no doubt he will see his way to get that all altered. It must be also remembered, with regard to the Air Service, that the function of the Army with regard to it is totally different from that of the Navy. You will have to train the men in a totally different way. There, again, I think it would be better to have a separate Air Service; although there is no reason in the world why you should not take officers and men from the two Services or from any position.
Some remarks have been made as to our shortage of air vessels. That shortage is more dangerous to the Fleet than it is to the Army. These air vessels, as far as the Fleet goes, are most useful as scouts, the Zeppelin particularly. The Zeppelin can go up very high and can remain there; it has a stationary platform and can observe very easily; and it is a serious thing for an Admiral to know that his enemy can tell the allocation, formation, and numbers of his Fleet whilst he cannot tell the same with regard to that of his opponent. We should increase our Air Service for the Fleet as soon as ever we can.
I agree very much with Lord Northcliffe as to the Air Board having its own Board 138 of Inventions. Everything connected with the Air Service or with the scientific side of it ought to be under the Board, clear of all other Committees and the other Services. It should be able to buy its own material, make its own designs, do all its own construction, and have the entire training of the three people who are necessary for every aeroplane—the pilot, the observer, and last but not least the artisan, the man who has to have particular and peculiar training as to the structure of these vessels. I think the Air Board is founded very much on the lines of Lord Montagu's suggestion; anyway it is a distinct move in the direction he has advocated for many years. I think the House will be pleased that Lord Curzon is the Chairman, also that Lord Sydenham is on the Board, and that Captain Baird will represent the Board in the House of Commons. I should like to know whether my noble friend Lord Curzon will be able to tell us who the other members of the Board are. No doubt he will do that.
There is one thing that is imperative. I hope the noble Earl will not allow anybody on the Board who has got it into his head that the Air Service is not going to be a success. It is imperative with all new inventions that the people who are going to govern and manipulate and organise them should be confirmed in the idea that the thing is a good thing and a coming thing and only wants organisation. In all new inventions you get a tremendous amount of setbacks, disappointments, and failures, and the man who starts as a pessimist is always in the position of being able to say, if a thing does not succeed, "I told you so." It is imperative that on this Board the noble Earl should have men who are enthusiasts, who are determined to make the Service a success. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he will kindly let us have the Reference to this Board. That would be interesting. It must be very different from the Reference to the Committee on which Lord Derby and Lord Montagu sat. Both of those noble Lords are enthusiastic in making this new weapon a success. They found they could not do it on the old Committee, and the most patriotic thing for them to do was to resign. The result has been, I imagine, quite a new Reference, and a Board with more power and responsibility. I remember Lord Derby telling us in this House that he had no responsibility, that he was there as a sort of figurehead; and I was 139 not astonished to find that he quitted the office shortly after. I would also like to ask my noble friend Lord Curzon whether he is still chairman of that important body the Tonnage Committee, because if he is chairman of the Tonnage Committee and of the Air Board, although he is one of the hardest working men in the world, it appears to me to be too much to put on one man. The tonnage question is one of the most important, if not the most important, before the country at this moment.
Then I would ask my noble friend whether he could see his way to scrapping at once all useless and ineffective machines. You should not keep them and bolster them up in the hope that they will be some good some day. Inventions come along so quickly that a machine which might be very good to-day is out of date in four months time. For instance, we ordered 850 Curtiss machines, the American machine, but in the contract there was no date mentioned for delivery. We have not got them yet, and even if we had them they would have been obsolete six months ago. That sort of thing is inexcusable. You are sure to buy bad things in a panic, but to do what we did particularly with the Air Service seems to me to be simply lunacy. Then there is another type of machine, the Handley-Page giant machine. Is that scrapped? The Sparrow machine was condemned, but I hear there are some on service. I suggest that the whole of these should be scrapped at once. It is the wisest thing in the world to scrap any tool or any machine that is inefficient. Keeping these machines is only expensive, and there is a chance of losing life thereby, which is worse. Then there were the "SS" airships. Are they being used? They are perfectly useless for fighting, but they might be used for training.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My noble friend says they are being used on the coast. I do not think they would be any use at all for fighting purposes, but they may be for patrolling and training. Then I would like to ask my noble friend Lord Curzon what has become of all the armoured motor-cars, costing millions, that were attached to the Naval Air Service. They were never any good; they had no reserves, and whenever they expended their ammunition they had 140 to go back for a fresh supply. The amount of money spent on them will, I suppose, come out after the war; but this was one of the reasons why the Naval Air Service went back compared with the Military Air Service. All their time was devoted to these armoured motor-cars, which had nothing whatever to do with the Air Service and nothing whatever to do with the Navy. The Navy should do its own work, and the Army should do its own work. We have no right to send naval airships to do military work, nor to send naval armoured motor-cars to do military work. We have to use foresight now; we have not used it up to date on a single occasion. Let us begin by making out the respective duties which the Army and the Navy have to do, which are quite distinct; train the Air Service as a whole and then draft the men into the Army and the Navy as and when required—I understand that my noble friend recognises that they must be under the executive of the naval and military officers—get the best designs you possibly can and prove the worth of the machines before ordering so many as has been done in the past; and then I think we should hold as prominent a position in the air as we do on the sea. I am sure your Lordships will give the new Air Board all possible support. Warfare in the air is new, and the organisation and administration of the new Board will be filled with difficulties. But, as my noble friend Lord Grimthorpe said, there is no reason why the difficulties should not be faced.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I have listened to nearly the whole of this debate, the moral of which was brought out in the speech of the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down. He gave us various illustrations of what comes when you do things first without thinking of them beforehand. I think the moral of the whole situation with which we are confronted is the consequence of the neglect of the maxim "Think first before you act." The noble Lord who introduced this Motion, in a speech full of energy, referred a great deal to science; but it is just science the meaning of which in this connection we need to understand. There has been a great deal of talk about the application of science, as though by going to somebody you could get ready-made ideas and then use them. But it is not so. Scientific teaching is no use unless it is applied to minds receptive to scientific teaching. It is the 141 trained mind that you want, and that can only be got if you give up the national habit of paying no attention to ideas. We lack receptivity. The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, who is not in his place now, wrote a criticism a little while ago of something I had written. I had said that this nation suffers more than anything else from a lack of ideas. He said, "What a confession from one who has been a Minister!" I have been a Minister, but I have not spared myself in trying to get ideas into the heads of certain people in this nation. But it is the want of receptivity and the want of ideas amongst the people themselves that make the task so difficult, and nowhere has it been so difficult as in the application of science to the things we had to do in connection with naval and military matters.
I have read speeches in which it has been said recently that the War Office and the Admiralty make no adequate use of science; and with deference to the distinguished Fellows of the Royal Society and other people who have said these things, a great deal of nonsense has been talked. For instance, I saw it stated that the War Office knew nothing of tri-nitro-toluol until the outbreak of the war. Why, one of the most interesting illustrations of the practical application of science to the art of war is recalled to me, by seeing the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) sitting there. When he was Secretary of State for War he took up the question of the erosion of the guns in South Africa, and be appointed a Committee which was called the Explosives Committee. It was presided over by Lord Rayleigh, and it had on it distinguished men of science, amongst whom were Sir William Crookes, Sir Roberts Austin, and Sir Andrew Noble. I had the honour of being a member of that body, and I remember at the beginning the noble Marquess took me to Lord Goschen, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and discussed the basis on which we should proceed. That Committee also recalls another figure, to whom Lord Derby referred—Sir Henry Brackenbury. He was our official chief on that Committee, and no finer chief could have been found. He was full of ideas: he was inspired by them, and was receptive in the best sense of the word, in the sense I have been using it.
One of the discoveries of this Committee—and it is years ago—was tri-nitro-toluol, 142 which was discovered by the chemists of that Committee. I do not think even the distinguished scientific men who sat on it directly discovered a great deal, but our idea was to stimulate interest and guide our experts. The result was that great improvements were made, and, as I say, they discovered tri-nitro-toluol, amongst other things. I might add that I have the secret formula for that at home now. Tri-nitro-toluol was introduced into the Army and Navy almost at once. It was manufactured in large quantities; and at the outbreak of the war, so familiar was the whole topic of high explosives owing to the scientific work of those days—whether it was tri-nitro-toluol, or picric acid, or ammonal and other forms of the nitrated carbon compounds which have been the basis of all high explosives in this war—that this country was certainly as far forward as any other. We were quite as well off as Germany was, I have reason to know. More than that, under the scientific guidance of Lord Moulton, who was the Director of Explosives, an enormous development of the production of tri-nitro-toluol and other high explosives was made, which has enabled this country to send large supplies both to France and to Russia. I give that as an instance of the kind of nonsense—I say it with all deference—which has been talked about the want of science in this country and the disposition to apply it. Where it has not been applied is because people have not eared, and I have not been able to get at them and stir them up. And that is essentially true of the air problem. I am glad that the Government have taken the course, not of setting up a Ministry which has to do something without distinctly knowing what, but a Board which is to survey the ground and determine the function of an Air Minister not concerned in the hierarchy of those who control the Air Service.
I agree with what Lord Derby said about the tremendous importance in the future which the Air Service will assume. I do not think that this war is likely to see anything like the expansion to which that Service may attain. The noble Earl spoke of the vision of Sir Henry Brackenbury. I think with even more appropriateness he might have spoken about the vision of Mr. H. G. Wells when he wrote his "War in the Air." There you have the picture of what some day we shall have to face, 143 perhaps sooner than is supposed now; and we have to set ourselves to think how we are to prepare for it. But it is not in the course of this war that we shall be faced with the extremely formidable things which will confront us at no very distant date" hereafter.
Now let us see where it is we have been deficient. There is nothing like surveying the field before you embark on the answer to a question such as is before your Lordships' House. First of all, who must handle the question of what machines, whether lighter-than-air or heavier-than-air, we are going to use? Obviously not an Air Minister. That must be done by the War Staff of the Navy and by the General Staff of the Army. There is an excellent reason for that, and I will give your Lordships an illustration. I will take the case of the Fokker machine. The Fokker machine is a machine of immense rapidity, as you know, but what is not so well known is that its immense rapidity is brought about by a large consumption of petrol, with the result that the Fokker can make only a very short flight, its function really being to attack enemy aeroplanes coming within the lines and not to make prolonged flights which would enable it to go over the enemy's lines and attack his machines there. It is for the General Staff to say what machines they want for resisting inroads over their lines, and what provision they want for attacking enemy aeroplanes at a distance; and that must depend on the state of the enemy's munitions in these regards and other things, and no other body can tell you what should be provided. Exactly the same thing is true of the Navy. The noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken has made that abundantly plain. He put his finger on the real point. The machines are wanted for scouting and other purposes, and it is only the War Staff of the Navy who can tell you what is wanted, and the number. If I have made that point clear—that it must be for the War Staff of the Navy and for the General Staff of the Army to say what kind and what quantities of machines are wanted—I will go to the next point. I submit that equally the Navy and the Army must train their own men. I do not say there is not a certain amount of training of a general kind which can be given earlier, but the flying training which is to result in organised corps must be done by the Navy whose men have to act in connection 144 with ships, and by the Army which has to use them in connection with bodies of troops. If that is so, we have cut out a good deal which the noble Lord did not exclude from his Motion. And what precludes me from voting for his Motion is that it covers too much—it covers things which it seems to me ought to be ruled out of the competence of any Air Ministry.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
Has the noble and learned Viscount read the end of the Motion about executive action?
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
There the Motion stands. It does not exclude either the determining of the kind of machines or the training of the men; on the contrary, it covers, as he introduced it, the whole field. I think it is better that we should be quite precise about these matters.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I have never claimed any executive power for an Air Ministry. My idea has always been that the Air Board's function should not be executive. It should be the provision of trained men and completed machines to be handed over to the Army and the Navy to do with what they like.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Executive function has now become obsolete, because as a matter of fact nobody knew what meaning was to be attached to it. We now use the expression "training." From what the noble Lord said, I think it is plain that he means to include the training of these men within the scope of the Air Ministry's functions. To a certain extent there should be a common basis of training, which could be given by an Air Ministry with proper places for the purpose; but the training which is to result in organisation for corps must rest with the two fighting Departments which have to use the men; otherwise you will not get them of the quality you want.
I come to what I think the functions of a possible Air Ministry should be; and this is what I am in great hopes the noble Earl with his Board will define and mark out. The scientific basis and the question of distribution of construction, at all events, ought to contain a great deal that is common to both Services. Lord Northcliffe yesterday said, very truly, that there was great waste owing to one manufacturer making 145 the whole of the parts, and that you should have the parts distributed to be made on standards so that you might construct with great rapidity. I think that is very important. But see what it involves. It involves that you know exactly what the pattern is which you wish to be reproduced in each part. Take the question of the internal combustion engines, which all these machines use. The engine is quite a different thing from the construction of the aeroplane. It has to be made by somebody different, and the pattern is a matter of the highest importance; and you cannot have engines made by various manufacturers and varying in quality and energy. Then, again, as regards the various parts. There is much that can be used in common and standardised, provided always you know exactly what the pattern is which has to be adopted.
Now I want to say a few words on what has really brought me to my feet. This matter has been discussed as though these things had never been thought of. They were thought of very much. I stand here having been War Minister, and although very slow progress was made in these things I had to do with them some six years ago, I wish the progress had been quicker. But I have to tell you that the want of ideas and of scientific knowledge at that time was appalling. People talk of the inventors whose inventions were not taken up. I had these inventors before me, and talked over their things personally. I saw some very distinguished inventors.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Yes, I had an interview with the two brothers Wright. I admired their skill, and the energy with which they had developed a primitive machine, primitive according to our notions now. But what I saw was that their machine, no more than the other machines, was based upon that accurate and extensive scientific knowledge which you must have before you are sure that you are making the last development. It is the want of that kind of knowledge which leads to large orders being given for machines which look admirable at the time but which turn out to be obsolete in a few months. The noble and gallant Lord was quite right on that point.
146 I saw not only Messrs. Wright, against whom I say no single word—they were pioneers and did admirable work—but I saw others, and read specifications by the pound. I saw the best people, and I was driven to despair. What I saw was purely empiricism. It was the construction of machines that would fly, but with no promise or principle in them. We took in those days what I venture to think was the right course, and the course which I think will be resuscitated if it has been neglected, and at any rate very much developed now. I went to the Treasury and got them to allow us to add a wing to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. We got Lord Rayleigh to agree to preside over a Committee of the first experts assembled in the country for the purpose of working out the problems concerned with machines not only lighter-than-air but heavier-than-air. On that Committee were not only men of immense theoretical knowledge but highly practical men like Mr. Lanchester, Mr. Mallock, and others. We had as secretary an expert, a very highly trained mathematician and physicist, whose business it was to collect the scientific publications of all over the world to see that all the knowledge was up to date. We had then to get somebody to make the patterns, and after looking about we chose a very distinguished and brilliant engineer who is still at the head of the Farnborough Factory, Mr. Mervyn O'Gorman, probably the greatest living authority on internal combustion engines.
I have heard a good deal of criticism of the factory at Farnborough, and I believe there is a Committee sitting on it now. For anything I know its administration may be perfect or not, but it was not for administration that Mr. O'Gorman was chosen. He was chosen because he was just the kind of person we wanted, who had the power of developing new inventions because he had behind him not only his own knowledge but an enormous body of scientific investigation which the Rayleigh Committee was constantly carrying on at Teddington. When a battleship is constructed, it is constructed by the Navy comparatively easily; it is constructed easily because the Navy has an immense tradition of construction behind it. The noble and gallant Lord knows how valuable is the naval skill of construction. He knows the work done by men like Mr. Froude, and by men who have 147 brought the highest science to bear on naval construction. He knows that no battleship is launched until its lines are worked out, not only theoretically, but practically in the experimental tanks. We tried to do that at Teddington. You do not have water tanks for airships, of course, but you have the corresponding air tanks. There were air shafts in which currents were produced analogous to those in the air, and the distinguished physicists and authorities who worked upon that worked out the problems connected with all sorts of things you do not hear of because they have been resolved. In those days air pockets were a terror, but we have learned how to deal with air pockets now because we know how to balance the machines, but the balancing was a highly technical problem.
I could enumerate several of the problems that come to my mind now. There were a score of them which the Committee worked out. There was the structure of the atmosphere, the relation of speed and weight in the machine; and last but not least, over and above design and questions connected with design, there was the question of material, materials particularly for Zeppelins but hardly less for aeroplanes, which was a problem of the greatest intricacy and importance. I believe that Committee exists now, and I believe it to exist with the same capabilities of work that it ever possessed; in fact, I suspect that it is doing much more work than it could have done then. I do not know what is going on. I believe that at Farnborough designs are being made in the way in which they were intended to be there, and I am sure, from what I know of some of those engaged there, that the designs are most ingenious. Farnborough was never intended to be a great factory to produce aeroplanes: it was intended simply to work out the most modern and recent patterns. There is, let us say, a problem which has engaged people's attention very much in the medical world. The bedside practitioner of great experience is admirable in dealing with ordinary disease, but now and again something new comes up, and thereupon, unless he is highly trained, he cannot grasp the new situation. So it is in the design of airships and aeroplanes. Unless you have the knowledge and training behind you, you will not cope with the new situations which are constantly being imposed upon you by an enemy who is as 148 fertile in science as you and who is working at the same problem.
People will ask, "Why is it that if those things were there they have not worked better?" There, I think, conies in the value of the Board over which the noble Earl is going to preside. I think there has been too little apportionment of functions and responsibility. There have not been lines of demarcation. You have a gallant and distinguished officer at the head of the Flying Corps—General Henderson—and I am glad to hear that he is to be on the Board. But what has General Henderson to do with Farnborough, and what has he to do with the Rayleigh Committee? I dare say a great deal, if he chooses to ask. But what is the authority which distributes the work that is to be done by these various people? I do not know. One of the things which the Board may bring to light may be how-responsibility ought to be apportioned and how functions ought to be distributed. That to some extent, I think, accounts for progress as regards aeroplanes not having been more rapid. I do not admit that it has not been rapid. As far as I can gather, we started in the war—thanks to these people and to the enterprise of the manufacturers, too—with as good a set of aeroplanes as anybody else. But in airships we have been miserable.
Why is it that we have been a complete failure with airships? I will tell you why I think it is. The Navy, as I have said, is magnificent in the construction of its ships, because it has a long tradition of construction behind it and a great accumulation of scientific knowledge, but it knew nothing of airships, and when the Committee of Imperial Defence came—I think it was while I was still in office—to hand over lighter-than-air ships to the Navy, it found the Navy, which is so thorough and admirable in science where it has tradition and experience, totally unprepared to deal with the situation. And now I am going to criticise the Navy a little. Why did they not say, "We have not got this science. But here is Lord Rayleigh's Committee, and here is Farnborough. Let them advise us: let them make patterns for us and we will work with them"? In my time—I do not know what has happened since—the Navy would not do that. The senior Service does not like learning from the junior service; and the Navy did not consult the National Physical Laboratory 149 in those clays, nor did they consult Lord Rayleigh's Committee, still less did they consult Farnborough. What was the result? They made their own airship. They gave a commission to the Director of Naval Ordnance of the day to go and construct an airship out of the blue. He was a very clever man, and no doubt he did his best and employed very clever contractors. But what was the result? The airship went to pieces at the very beginning; and such was the damping of the courage of such a daring Service that they have not dared to construct another. That was an instance of acting before thinking. What I want to see is the habit of thinking first and then acting developed in connection with the whole of this matter. Why I am against the immediate constitution of an Air Ministry is that I think you would get some active man who wanted to do something. I want him to do something, but I want to know first what it is he is going to do; and unless you have the field surveyed and know what science you have at your command and know how to make the best use of it, satisfactory results will not be attained.
I am afraid that the difficulty which has brought us face to face; and which makes your Lordships speak as though there were some double dose of original sin in all those connected with the Air Service is one which is generally prevalent throughout the country. In this House we do not realise what problems are in front of us, from our habit of neglecting ideas. One only I will mention, because it is germane to this discussion as illustrating what I have in my mind and what I have been trying humbly but with all the energy and conviction I possess to impress on your Lordships this afternoon. We are face to face with a situation in which, after the war, we shall have to encounter things even worse than our deficiencies in airships. For years before the war, Germany to my knowledge, was forging an engine against us more formidable to my mind than the shells and high explosives which she has employed during the war. She has been training her artisans on a scale and in a fashion of which we know nothing here and do not realise. I know it because education has been with me a passion for years past.
What Germany does is this. She sees that what is called the educational ladder is very narrow, and that very few can go 150 from the democracy to the University. That is true of Germany as well as here. She has set herself the problem of how to make the best of both worlds, how to educate the 90 per cent. of the democracy who cannot go up the ladder, in order to get the better of rivals in manufacture and commerce generally. A boy towards the second period of his elementary education, say in his fourteenth year, as it is in Germany—his last year—is taken across to the workshops of the special training schools over the way, and they say to him, "What do you want to be?" He does not know; he has not thought about it; nor have his parents. But these ingenious people say to him, "Are you fond of knives?" "Yes," he replies, "but I have never had a knife." "Would you like to make one?" "No, I cannot." "Oh, yes you can." And an expert commences one, and the boy is encouraged to make the largest part of it. As he walks off with it proudly, he says, "I will be a cutler." And by an arrangement, which is now compulsory in twenty-two out of the twenty-six States in Germany, he is taken to an employer who undertakes to teach him his trade for four years; it is a substitution for apprenticeship. He gives the boy only a few marks a week, but the employer not only binds himself under penalty of punishment to teach the boy, but also binds himself to send him during part of the working hours to the special training school, where he receives all the knowledge that can be imparted to him while he is also learning his trade. He is taught, if he is to be a cutler, by master-cutlers in his trade, and he is taught other things by school-masters. The result is that Germany hopes to overwhelm us by creating a class of skilled artisans which we shall have nothing to match except in Sheffield and Newcastle, where, of course, great technical ability has been developed. In Munich and Cologne there are fifty-six of these schools. Birmingham people have been to Munich to see these things, and they are much alarmed at the prospect. This has been going on without interruption during the war, and when we find ourselves up against these things your Lordships will say you have not been warned about them. I think you will have been warned. The London County Council has been doing its best to warn people, and so have other big municipalities who have realised the gravity of the situation. But the indifference all arises from the absence of ideas and want 151 of receptivity amongst the people of this country.
I trust that the air question is going to teach us the practical value of science, and that it is going to be an introduction to receptivity, not merely about the air problem, but the one I have touched upon last, and which I have referred to because it is only symbolic of a large group of far-reaching questions on our capacity to solve which depends the power of preparing the coming generations of our children who will have to carry on the Flag and maintain the prestige of this country, and to whom we must look if the Empire in the future is to be maintained.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend who opened the proceedings this afternoon for not having been here at the beginning of the debate. Not knowing that the debate was going to be prolonged from yesterday into to-day, I had arranged for a meeting of the new Board over which I am presiding and witnesses had been summoned to attend to-day from a distance. Therefore I hope my noble friend Lord Galway will acquit me of any discourtesy to him in not being present when he delivered his remarks.
The greater part of the debate yesterday and to-day has related to the future and to the organisation for which I am called upon to speak this afternoon. It is a debate that has contained many interesting and even remarkable speeches, including that to which we have just listened from the noble and learned Viscount, to whose admonitions about the value of thinking before acting and of scientific training I, at any rate, in connection with this Board will pay particular attention. In so far as the debate has referred to the future and to the Board I am directly concerned to reply, and to the best of my ability I will answer the various questions that have been put to me from so many quarters of the House. May I say, in passing, how grateful I am—and the same remark applies to all my colleagues—for the very kind and even generous reception that has been given to the creation and to the composition of this Board by, I think, every speaker without exception who has taken part in the debate. It is impossible for us in so far as this House is concerned to start under better auspices than we apparently do, and I offer my sincere thanks to those noble Lords who 152 in their remarks have speeded us on our way.
Something has also been said about the past. With all respect. I conceive it to be no part of my duty to stand here and answer for the action of any Department in the past. My functions really start from to-day, and the questions which the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Beresford) put to me about machines which ought to go on the scrap-heap and about responsibility for armoured motor-cars—about which he really wants no answer from me, because he knows all about them himself—might more profitably have been addressed either to the Board of Admiralty or to the War Office; they might, indeed, in some cases not altogether inappropriately have been addressed to Colonel Churchill. But, as I have stated, I have nothing to say to the past.
Before I pass to the question of the Board and its work in the future, may I say a word in reference to what fell from several speakers yesterday afternoon? I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Derby—and I think Lord Northcliffe used the same language—speak in glowing terms about the natural aptitude that has been shown by British airmen for service in the air. I was glad to hear, too, the tribute paid by Lord Derby to the work of the Air Service up to date in every theatre of war, and to the extraordinary development, in view of our humble beginnings, which the Air Service has attained. I think that any one who has studied the debates in both Houses of Parliament on the subject—and there have been a good many—notably anybody who reads the debate that took place in another place a week ago, will have arrived at the conclusion that our Air Service is one of which the nation has every reason to be proud. From almost nothing at the beginning of the war it has risen to very formidable strength, employing tens of thousands of men, and thousands of machines; great things have been accomplished by it, and in respect of initiative, enterprise, and courage, our aviators are second to none in the world.
Further as regards aerial work at the Front, where a ceaseless interchange of aerial amenities is going on, any one who reads the bulletins from day to day—I may particularly instance the bulletin that appeared in the newspapers yesterday morning—will see that our airmen need not fear comparison with German aviators 153 or any others. Daily a series of Homeric combats are going on in the air, as a rule unrecorded, often unseen, each one almost deserving a chapter in an epic. In these combats our men are showing that the mastery of the air—a phrase which I may say in passing I particularly dislike, and which I shall use as little as possible—is a thing which oscillates from side to side, but if it expresses anything at all, rests as often, if not oftener, with our men as with the enemy.
Similarly as regards the defence of our own shores. While the enemy has not desisted at all from the murderous raids he has from time to time carried out on England, while for all I know he may be contemplating something bigger than anything he has done up to now, yet at the same time it cannot be denied that the defences of London and the country generally are much more formidable than they were a short time ago. The enemy's pilots are more chary about visiting vulnerable places, particularly places which they know now to be well defended. They fly at a great height, they often retire without having effected anything at all, and an increasing number are brought down. These are, I think, causes for satisfaction. At any rate, they are reasons why nobody speaking for the Air Service should be either apologetic or despondent. That is all I have to say about the past.
But it is obvious from all that has been said in this debate, that there is a great deal that still remains to be done, particularly on the administrative side, in co-ordinating effort, in the supply of machines, and in the organisation of material. Here I come to the point specially taken up by the noble and learned Viscount, the practical application of scientific knowledge to this arm of war. That is a branch of the work with which I and my colleagues will be concerned, and here my responsibility begins. On the last occasion when the question of the air came before your Lordships' House, an attempt had been made by the appointment of an Inter-Departmental Committee to introduce greater co-ordination into our system, to prevent the competition and overlapping that were known to exist between the two great: fighting Departments, more particularly in respect of designs and supply. Two members of that Committee addressed your Lordships' House last night—its chairman (Lord Derby), and Lord Montagu. 154 Both of them spoke, if I may say so, with becoming self-restraint but with perfect candour, and I own that I entirely agree with them that the Committee was hampered from the start, and, in my belief, was foredoomed to failure from the start, by the exceedingly restricted nature of the Reference under which it was appointed. Anyhow, after meeting I think on seven occasions, and sitting for a period of some weeks, the two noble Lords retired.
I think it was a misfortune that this Committee lost the services of my noble friend Lord Derby, who had thrown himself into the matter with characteristic energy, and the application of whose abilities and powers to air work would, I think, have been attended with great value. The same applies to my noble friend Lord Montagu, although from him I shall continue to hope for—indeed, he promised me—great assistance in the future. But I should not like your Lordships to carry away the idea that Lord Derby's Committee, because it fell to the ground or because those noble Lords retired from it, did nothing. On the contrary, it accomplished real and valuable work. I happen to have seen the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee and the reports of the evidence to which they listened, or which they collected; and I must inform your Lordships that they amassed an amount of information of value, that they cleared away much misunderstanding, and, in a way which certainly meets with my gratitude, prepared the work of their successors. It seemed to me, from the reports of their proceedings, that Lord Derby was always seeking as chairman to guide the Committee in the right direction, and that the Committee themselves were always hovering on the brink of larger decisions. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Derby that it is more than doubtful whether the Committee were empowered or expected to discuss policy. They certainly had no effective authority and no right of decision. Accordingly when these noble Lords realised that their work could be attended only with disappointment, they both resigned.
It was in these circumstances that His Majesty's Government were called upon to review the situation and to find a fresh solution. Several alternative methods of procedure were before them. It might have been possible, although in my view it would have been futile, to reconstitute the Committee under another chairman, 155 with a slight expansion of powers and perhaps under another name. I say that I think it would have been futile because I am pretty clear in my own mind that the same causes would have led sooner or later to the same result. Again, it might have been possible, though I think it would have been inexpedient, to revert to the status quo ante before Lord Derby's Committee was appointed and to dispense with a Committee or Board altogether. In that case the defence of the existing system would have rested, as it has hitherto done, with the two Departments of Government concerned—the War Office and the Admiralty. And here let me say, in passing, in reference to what has been so often said in this debate, that I think that in many respects these two Departments could put up a much better defence of their administrative action than a good many of their critics believe. However, as I say, I think that would have been inexpedient. Moreover, I think it was impracticable, because undoubtedly the examination which had been given to the existing system did reveal a good many flaws in its dual nature, and the knowledge that had been acquired clearly pointed to the desirability of appointing some external authority with time to think—again I come back to the point of my noble and learned friend—with power to co-ordinate and to supervise, and with a really effective appeal to what is after all, in these circumstances, the final tribunal—namely, the War Committee of the Cabinet itself.
There were in reality only two solutions before the Government from which to select. One was the creation straightway of a separate Air Department with an Air Minister at the head—a point upon which I shall have something to say in a moment; the other was the creation of a new authority with substantially larger powers than those enjoyed by Lord Derby's Committee and with much wider instructions. Several noble Lords have, in the course of this debate, asked why the larger solution was not adopted. The answer is really very simple. There was not that measure of agreement between the two Departments principally interested—namely, the War Office and the Admiralty—which would have rendered such a solution feasible. It would have been, and indeed it was, resisted by them. The introduction of so large a scheme could, I am convinced, only have 156 been accomplished at the present time at the cost of dislocation, of friction, of the rupture of long standing ties and associations, which would not have been desirable at any time, and would, I think, have been perilous at this stage of the war. I note that these views were taken very strongly by Lord Derby himself, both in his speech last night and in other statements which he has made upon the subject. Ardent reformer though he is, he has always laid it down very clearly that in his view the introduction of so complete a change at the present time was not to be thought of. My noble friend Lord Montagu last night anticipated that there might have been considerable difficulty in doing so; and the utmost that he had to say for the adoption of this larger plan was that it was better to be too soon than to be too late. As a general proposition that is perhaps true, because if you are too late you may find yourselves plunged into disaster, whereas if you are too soon you may escape that particular fate. But I submit that, in war time more especially, there is a mean between the two, and that it is better to be neither too soon nor too late but to choose the right moment. The whole of my contention in this part of my speech is that the present, at any rate, is not the exact moment at which that large change could have been introduced.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, said something just now—and Lord Beresford used the same words earlier in the debate—about the views entertained by the Army and the Navy with reference to the use of aircraft by them, and of the close connection which that branch of the Service bears to their work. Although I do not altogether share those views, I think it is only fair in this matter that the point of view of the Departments concerned should be borne in mind. Both these Departments point to the fact that the great bulk of the work in the air is not done, as people sometimes seem to suppose, for or in conjunction with the Army and the Navy, but is done by the Army and Navy and by officers and men who are under their own control. They look upon air work as an integral part both of military and naval policy and of military and naval organisation.
Take the case of the Navy, which the noble and learned Viscount mentioned. Almost every naval operation in this war has involved a combination of naval and 157 aerial effort. Allusion has been made to the part played by aircraft in patrolling, in looking out for the enemy's ships and submarines. Again, they are constantly engaged, as we know, in scouting for the Fleet and in reconnaissance work for the ships; they are frequently employed in observing fire during bombardment by the Fleet; or, again, they are to be found destroying coast batteries, as in the operations, for instance, of which we constantly read as proceeding on the coast of Belgium. In one or other of these capacities air work has played a part in every naval undertaking in this war, both off the coast of this country in the North Sea and in such distant fields of action as East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Dardanelles. The Navy in this way have come to regard air policy as an essential part of naval policy, and air requirements as an essential part; of naval requirements. And remember, too, that for these naval purposes, where you have a very mobile Fleet and long distances to be covered at sea, quite a different type of machine is needed from that required on land. I mention these points in order to enable your Lordships to understand the reluctance of the two Departments to undertake a great change like this in the middle of a big war, or to surrender the control of a Service and personnel and machinery which has become interwoven, as they regard it, with the warp and woof of their existence, and which has played so large a part in then-operations. The same with the Army. I think the Army, though in a less degree, is disposed to look upon the air forces as part of the Army and to be controlled as such. These are substantially the opinions entertained by the two Departments.
There was a further difficulty in proceeding to more drastic solutions. The task of setting up a new Department, with full executive authority, with large financial powers, with complete control of the personnel of the two branches of the Air Service, with full responsibility for contracts, design, and supply of machines, with an independent organisation and staff, would have involved very great and tremendous effort in the midst of a war which strains every energy to the utmost, and might, I think, have exercised a disturbing influence. I may point out, in passing, that there is no analogy whatever with the creation of the Ministry of Munitions. The Minister of Munitions was 158 appointed as a Minister of Supply for a particular class of article for the Army. Qua Minister of Munitions he has nothing whatever to do with strategy or policy, a distinction which marks off his case very sharply from that of the Air Service. Then, further, there were the practical objections—on which stress was laid by Lord Derby last night—arising out of pay and discipline, to the organisation of a single Air Service at the present time. These were, in the main, the reasons which decided the Government against embarking upon so great an experiment in the middle of a war.
Having said so much, I should like to add for myself that I think such an Air Department is destined to come. I see before myself, before many years have passed—it may be even sooner—I paint to myself a dream of a single Service under a single head, under a single roof, with a single organisation. Such a unification I cannot believe to be beyond the administrative genius of our race. But if I am right in that, I would sooner see it come—as in the past few months I have seen military compulsion come—as the result of a concordat between all those who are interested in the matter, as the result of a cordial acceptance of the principle by both Services and both Departments, and with the avowed support of the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. The Board which has been appointed will undoubtedly hold this consummation in view. It is one of our duties to explore the ground and to examine the possibilities of such a solution. One day it will be our business to report to His Majesty's Government upon the matter. But in the meantime I think I can show the House that we have more immediate and more pressing duties to perform. For the reasons I have stated I am afraid I cannot accept the Motion of my noble friend Lord Montagu. His Motion is really one, rather cleverly disguised, for the immediate creation of an Air Department or an Air Ministry.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
I particularly disclaimed any idea of an Air Ministry at present. All I want to see is the noble Earl in the position of a Minister of Supply.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for desiring to extend my powers, and apparently the more autocratic I become 159 the better pleased he will be. But if I may take the terms of his Motion, he is really proposing that there should be no longer divided control or responsibility of the two Departments, and that both men and material should now straightway be concentrated under a single control.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Lord said that he would be content to vote for his Motion even if he stood alone. I dare say that many noble Lords sympathise with Lord Montagu in the matter, but I do not think he needs the testimony of voting for this Resolution which he has drawn up to establish his own reputation as a prophet. I would really ask the noble Lord to consider the position of the Board and myself in the matter. He has told us that he means to give us every support, that he does not want in any way to embarrass us, and at the same time he is going to ask you to vote for a Motion which practically condemns the organisation of the Board for which I am responsible, and pronounces in favour of a complete revolution which, for good reasons pointed out by myself and others, it is impossible at the moment to carry out. I do not want to dictate to the noble Lord what measures he shall take, but if he presses his Motion to a Division I shall ask the House, out of regard for the work which we have undertaken in circumstances of great difficulty, to be kind enough not to follow the noble Lord into the Lobby.
Now as to the new Board. I will endeavour to reply to some questions about the Board. As to its difference from Lord Derby's Committee, it differs in composition and intention and powers. It is not merely for the co-ordination of design and supply, but it is directly charged with thinking out and formulating a policy and making recommendations to the War Committee of the Cabinet. It was for this reason that it was decided to place the Board under the presidency of a Cabinet Minister, not because a Cabinet Minister knows more—many people think he knows less—than other men, but because a Cabinet Minister would be able to examine impartially and to arbitrate between the claims of the two Departments, because he could confer on equal terms with the Parliamentary chiefs of those Departments, 160 could take his case and argue it in the Cabinet, if desired, and in the last resort could appear and defend it before what I have called the final court of appeal—namely, the War Committee of the Cabinet.
I have noted with some amusement, as a common feature of every scheme for an Air Board that has been put forward, that the reformer has desired that a Cabinet Minister should preside; and inasmuch as nobody is particularly anxious to see the Twenty-three increased to Twenty-four, it followed that the choice had to fall upon some member of the existing body. It was in those circumstances thut the Prime Minister asked me to take the post. It is not a post which any public man would welcome, but I venture to think that it is not a post which any public man could refuse. I am bound to say that among the letters I have received since my acceptance of the office, there have been far more letters of condolence than of congratulation; and I am well aware that I shall need all the sympathy and support which noble Lords have been kind enough, so far as this House is concerned, to promise me. My right hon. friend Colonel Churchill in another place has predicted that the future of this Board will either be one of harmless impotence or a continuation of first-class rows. Well, time will show. Anyhow, one chance of disturbance has been eliminated by the disappearance of my right hon. friend from the ranks of the Government. For had I come into collision with a Minister with so vivid a personality, with so great an interest in the Air Service, and with such memories of contributions to that Service himself as are enjoyed by my right hon. friend, I shudder to think what might have been my fate.
It has very naturally been pointed out that I do not possess and cannot claim any special knowledge of the air. But if that be the test that is applied I err in good company, because it is not the test we have ever applied in this country to ministerial or departmental administration. We do not as a rule take an Admiral—I will not say whether rightly or wrongly—to be First Lord of the Admiralty. It is very rare, indeed, that a soldier becomes Secretary of State for War. Again, a man who has become a retired Indian official or an ex-Viceroy of India is never put in the India Office; he is supposed to be affected by the prepossessions or prejudices of his previous office. And even if we take a 161 commercial analogy, I do not know that a chairman of a Railway Board is ever required to have driven an engine himself. With these apologies for my own connection with the matter, I will pass on. But may I say that, whatever my qualifications, in interest and enthusiasm for work in the air I am second to none. Ever since the beginning of the war I have felt convinced that the Air Service has a great future, not merely in determining the issues of this war, but in the part which it will play in the defence of this country and in the warfare of the future. I look far ahead. I believe that a time will come when the air arm will play a part in warfare, if rot equal to that of the Army and the Navy, at any rate on a scale scarcely conceivable now; and I rejoice at being able to take any part, in a work which I think may have so potent an influence, not only in shaping the issues of this war, but very likely in larger proportion in the future as affecting the fortunes of this country and its position in the world.
I have been asked to say something about the composition of the Board and to give the names of the members. It was decided that there should be placed upon it two representatives respectively of the Admiralty and the War Office, and in order that those representatives could speak with the highest authority on behalf of the Departments which sent them it was agreed that the senior officer representing the Admiralty should be a member of the Board of Admiralty, or, if such a one were not forthcoming, should be attached to the Board of Admiralty for the purpose; and, similarly in the case of the War Office, that the senior representative should be the Director-General of Aeronautics who has a seat on the Army Council. Accordingly the two representatives of the Admiralty now sitting on the Board are the Third Sea Lord (Admiral Tudor), and Admiral Vaughan-Lee, who has been for some time Director of the Air Service at the Admiralty. The senior representative of the War Office is Sir David Henderson, whose association with the work is well known, and who has been for long Director-General of Aeronautics in that Department. The second representative—who may, both in the case of the War Office and the Admiralty, be changed from time to time according to the nature of the subjects that are coming up—is at the present moment General Brancker, 162 whose association with the Air Service both abroad and in England is well known.
Then I come to the independent members. In the constitution of this Board I laid great stress upon the association with the chairman and the Board of independent administrative experience, and I may say for myself that I should have been very reluctant to accept the office had I not had the advantage of the co-operation of my noble Mend Lord Sydenham. If there is any man in this country of whom the kind of administrative experience of which I speak can successfully be predicated it is my noble friend. I need not enlarge on a career which has included service in great administrative offices in many parts of the Empire, the chairmanship of important Commissions dealing with naval and military organisation at home, and, above all, the secretaryship, I think for three years, of the Imperial Defence Committee. I cannot say how fortunate I think the Board is to obtain the services of such a man. Another point of distinction between this Board and the previous Committee is the presence in its ranks of a representative who will speak for us in the House of Commons. For that purpose the Prime Minister has selected Major Baird, a well-known Member of Parliament who has himself served at the Front, and who, I am sure, will be as acceptable and valuable a representative in that House as it is possible to find. We have secured a habitation for ourselves, in close proximity to the Admiralty and the War Office, at No. 19, Carlton House Terrace. There a modest secretariat has been already started, the chief of which, as Permanent Secretary, is a well-known and very capable civilian, Sir Paul Harvey, who has had service, with which my noble friend Lord Lansdowne is thoroughly familiar in former days, in the War Office, in Egypt, and elsewhere; and as Assistant Secretary to him there has been nominated Commander Groves, who has an almost unique experience of flying on the naval side, and who has been brought back for the purpose from Dunkirk, where he has recently been the right-hand man of Admiral Bacon.
In this house we have commenced to hold our meetings. There we shall take evidence from those authorities who are willing to come and place their views before us. I am very glad to say that, as Lord Northcliffe told you last night, he is one of the first of those who are going to place 163 their views before us. My noble friend Lord Montagu is going to do the same. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, is coming to elaborate the views that he placed before us this afternoon. I hope we shall at once establish contact with all those authorities, experts in different senses, who have taken an interest in the matter, and who may have views to place before us; and I can assure your Lordships that we shall take early steps to establish close connection with those scientific bodies to which the noble and learned Viscount referred. He spoke more particularly about the Committee that has been sitting at Teddington under Lord Rayleigh. One of the instructions to us is to get in touch with the various bodies on inventions who have been exploring this matter since the beginning of the war. If there has been any inattention to the work of that Committee, which I can hardly believe, I can assure my noble and learned friend that immediate steps will be taken to redress the error, and we shall regard it as one of our foremost duties to explore the paths of invention and get the assistance of all those best qualified to advise us.
One word as to the powers enjoyed by the Board. I hardly think it necessary to read out the terms of Reference, as they have been given in the House of Commons. I think it preferable that I should expand the matter as I am now trying to do. As regards the powers of the Board, and perhaps more particularly of the chairman of the Board, my noble friend Lord Montagu drew last night a rather distressing picture of what would happen if the chairman disagreed with the Board, and he depicted in rather gloomy colours the difficulties I should experience, first with the Board itself, then in the Cabinet, and afterwards in the War Committee, where apparently I should find myself assailed by the heads of the two great Departments with their assistants behind them, with the result that I should be sat upon and reduced to impotence. He asked that the chairman should be master in his own house, and to that my noble friend Lord Crewe very pertinently remarked that this was precisely the desire of the Government, but that I could not expect to be master in other houses than my own. That position I accept. The Board is really intended to be an advisory Board. No question will be decided by voting. The situation therefore cannot arise in which the president will be 164 overruled by his colleagues, nor indeed can a situation arise in which the Admiralty and the War Office will vote against each other or come to a direct issue.
What, I take it, will happen will be this. The president, acting in close consultation with his colleagues, will endeavour to arrive at decisions on the various subjects that come before the Board. If the representatives of the Admiralty or the War Office on the Board feel that the decisions to which he conies are inconsistent with the prerogatives, or functions, or conception of duty entertained by their Departments, there will be nothing whatever to prevent them from acquainting the bodies to which they respectively belong—namely, the Army Council and the Board of Admiralty—with the matter, and if they find that their action is supported there by their chiefs, the Secretary of State for War on the one hand or the First Lord of the Admiralty on the other, I imagine that the next step would be for those high officers to discuss the matter with the President of the Board; and then, in the event of their not agreeing, the reference to the War Committee as the final court of appeal would take place. The procedure as I have endeavoured to explain it is, I think, simple, and ought not to be productive of friction if worked with a reasonable amount of tact. Anyhow, it is sufficiently elastic and is not tied down too closely with narrow rules of operation.
Another question has been asked and must certainly be answered. It is this—What is the character of the work which the Board is going to undertake? We shall certainly exert ourselves to continue the work already begun by Lord Derby's Committee in preventing rivalry and overlapping between the two great Departments of State. Then our desire is to examine—indeed, we have already commenced to examine—one by one such questions as these: the position in respect of machines and men at the Front and in the various theatres of war; the organisation of long-range offensive operations, a matter about which Lord Montagu complained last night that no real policy had been worked out and no final decision arrived at—
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
Supposing the naval and military representatives disagree, what course does the noble Earl propose to take?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Lord must not create pitfalls for me from which I might find difficulty in emerging.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I hope to be able to deal with the question when it arises. To continue the subjects with which we hope to deal. The defence of this country by aircraft and guns against hostile air raids, the use and development of lighter-than-air craft—a point which I believe was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Galway, in a speech which I was not fortunate enough to hear—the supply of the best types of aeroplanes and engines to both Services, the armament of aircraft, a national air factory, new inventions, and provision for flying grounds and training facilities. Those are the questions which I think we shall attempt to examine at a very early date. Arising out of this will, of course, spring the necessity for attempting to formulate a policy for the two Services and the two Departments and to provide them with machinery for carrying it out.
I pass to a rather more remote category of questions. In the background we shall certainly hold in view, although I think it would be unwise too rapidly to pronounce upon them until we have acquired a good deal of experience, such questions as those raised by Lord Derby last night—namely, the possibility of the amalgamation of the contract and designing branches, and of the inspecting staffs of the two Departments. The formation of a National Air Service was strongly recommended by Lord Montagu.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Yes, he expanded it into an Imperial Air Service, with contributions from all parts of the Empire. Also there was the institution of a joint factory. All these are questions requiring careful thought and study, upon which it would have been not only unwise but absolutely dangerous for the Government to arrive at a conclusion before they had set up the Board. They can only arrive at a conclusion on these matters when the Board has sifted the evidence and is in a 166 position to advise. In the further back-I ground will always be the question of the desirability or possibility at a future date of creating a single Department under a single Minister, which was so strongly advocated by my noble friend.
I think I have answered every question that has been put to me; and your Lordships will, I am sure, agree that the task which I have sketched is one that will give us plenty to do. I hope that noble Lords will not expect too much of us. The Board is an experiment, but it is a sincere and honest experiment which its members mean to turn, so far as they can, to the best advantage. In the meantime we solicit from noble Lords patience and a reasonable measure of confidence. In particular I should like to say that I solicit the support of the two great Departments of the Army and the Navy, the Admiralty and the War Office, with whom the Board have neither desire nor object in coming in any way into conflict, whose battles we shall in many cases be fighting ourselves, and whose interests we desire to serve. Finally, I ask for the sympathy both of the experts who know so much and of the public at large who know so little in fortifying us in the endeavour to make the Air Service of this country one which shall not merely contribute to success in the war in which we are now engaged, but shall be a potent instrument of national strength in the future.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I think this has been a very useful debate, even if it has done nothing else than produce the very-clear speech of the noble Earl. We know at any rate what his views of the Air Board are, to which he will hope to give effect, and I congratulate him on the way in which he has put his views forward. But I am bound to say that I think his difficulties in administration will be greater than he anticipates. I am afraid I cannot take quite the same hopeful view of his relations with the Admiralty and the War Office that he takes. Perhaps he may be successful if he remembers the old Latin maxim, divide et impera. If he can keep one Department on his side he will probably carry his point.
Some think that those of us who have been critics of the system of aviation have been somewhat rash in our statements, but I can tell your Lordships this, that, when many who, like myself, enjoy the 167 confidence of the personnel of the Flying Services receive those confidences we can hardly remain silent. We get many letters which show that a very bad state of things still exists, and I will give an example of the kind of thing that one receives. A few-days ago I was given in confidence a letter from a young officer about whom I know very well, showing what a heart-breaking state of things these young officers have to contend with. A short time ago a certain squadron of scouts left for the Front, and I will read what the young officer writes—The machines left Gosport last Saturday—twelve in number—at the present moment three remain intact. They set out for Dover in fine weather. One blew off a cylinder head, which Crashed through the planes, shortly after starting, but it managed to struggle to Shoreham on the other eight cylinders and landed safely. Another developed engine trouble and turned back, but had to land on the way and was smashed. A third had engine trouble further afield and, landing on unfavourable ground, was wrecked completely. A snowstorm overtook a fourth, which was also damaged—extent unknown. Three more had engine breakdowns—two being entirely 'done in,' but the other was more successful and only smashed the under-carriage. An eighth arrived at Dover without trouble, but was smashed to atoms on landing. This was our best pilot, too. He is in hospital now! Four landed safely at Dover and crossed the Channel nest day. Three of them got to G.H.Q. without mishap, but the other dissolved itself into a heap of wreckage in the middle of the aerodrome! So that's that! Twelve started—four arrived—three only are still able to fly! Two, possibly three, can be repaired. The rest are gone for ever, and one pilot (the best) in hospital. Oh! listen to my tale of woe! Heaven knows what will happen to us now. Perhaps the 'powers that be' will begin faintly to realise what the youngest subaltern in the R.F.C. has known all along—viz., that a certain engine" [which he mentions] "is no good.I read that only to show the sort of letter we receive, and one cannot possibly ignore statements of this nature. I could read other letters of the same kind to illustrate the point. I may add that I have not read the whole of the letter. This shows that there will be plenty of work for the noble Earl to do. I think that one of the best things he can do when he sets his Air Board into working order will be to have one particular officer told off to trace the reason for failure in certain types of machine. I could help him in that direction. I suggest that this should be one of the most important functions of the Board.
As to the personnel of the Board, I understand that Admiral Tudor, the Third Sea Lord, is going to be one of the naval representatives, and the other is to be Admiral Vaughan-Lee. Without wishing in any 168 way to reflect upon either of those gallant Admirals, they cannot claim to have any technical knowledge. Admiral Vaughan-Lee has told me frankly that he has no technical knowledge. I suggest that one of the naval representatives should have some technical knowledge. General Sir D. Henderson has technical knowledge; but about him there is this anomaly, that he is General Officer Commanding the Royal Flying Corps and at the same time a member of the Army Council. I think his position is rather a difficult one. I suggest that General Henderson is already very much over-worked, as he has to do both the thinking and the administration work. The Government should let him do one thing or the other. I do not think it is possible for him to do both perfectly. The Army Council, I am given to understand, is one of those delightful fictions in our administrative life—one of the phantoms which is said to exist, but really does not. It is said to meet very rarely. The Board of Trade has the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of its members. In the same way as the most rev. Primate adds moral weight to the Board of Trade, perhaps Sir David Henderson may be called the "sky pilot" of the Army Council. But General Henderson cannot possibly combine the functions of doing the thinking and also the staff work, which is most important at the administrative end.
There is one feature about the expenditure on aviation which is unlike anything else in the war. Millions of money have been spent on guns, ships, and munitions, and most of the expenditure on war is utterly wasted and is for the destruction of mankind. The expenditure on aviation in war will accelerate the progress of aviation generally, and is therefore not only for the purpose of destruction, but will be for the benefit of humanity afterwards. That is an important point of difference, and one which I am sure will not escape the attention of the noble Earl, who has imagination and power of prevision.
With regard to taking a Division on my Motion, I do not think I can withdraw now from the intention I have had all through. In framing this Motion I particularly excluded from it any mention of Ministers. I will not say that I knew exactly what was going to happen, but I thought something like this Air Board might be set up, and I cannot see anything in my Motion which clashes with that. 169 If you look at the Motion, what does it say? It says that the present system of the divided control and responsibility of two separate Departments is undesirable, and that the time has now arrived when the supply of men and materials should be concentrated under single control. That is the noble Earl's own Air Board. He has become a Minister of Supply. It is quite true that he has not power to order supplies, but he has power to co-ordinate. I do not see any reason why the Government should not accept this Motion. It may in inference go further, but in the actual words it goes very little further than the noble Earl's Board. Therefore if I can find one noble Lord to act as teller with me I shall divide, because I think this House will do well to place on record that the Air Board as it is at present constituted, although we acknowledge it to be a step in the right direction, is not the proper immediate solution of the question, and therefore we ought to ask that the Board should be given more power.
§ The House was then cleared in order that a Division might be taken. But before the Question was put,
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU said: My Lords, as I find that the sense of the House is against me on the question of a Division, I shall not press my Motion.
§ On Question, Whether to agree to the said Resolution, resolved in the negative.