HL Deb 10 December 1919 vol 37 cc819-39

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU rose to call attention to the recent resignation of Major-General J. B. Seely, M.P., the Minister specially in charge of the Air Ministry; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before alluding to the Motion on the Paper, might I be allowed to refer to the very remarkable feat which has just been accomplished in the flight from England to Australia. Captain Ross Smith and his brother have reached Port Darwin, a distance of 11,294 miles from their starting point, in just over twenty-seven days. It is interesting to note that the time taken is about twenty-four to thirty-six hours less than the fastest journey ever accomplished by the short route viâ Marseilles and the fastest steamer to Australia. It marks another epoch in the development of the Air Force, as both these officers served with that Force during the war, and it is a triumph for aviation which even the most sanguine could not have anticipated.

My object in placing this Motion on the Paper is two-fold. First, to inquire as to the reasons which led to the resignation of General Seely, an event which naturally alarmed those of us who were more than confident in his power and ability to administer the Air Force; and, secondly, to inquire whether there is any intention on the part of the Government to revert to the former system—a bad system—by which the Air Force was separately under the Admiralty and War Office. The principle involved is as to whether there should be an independent Air Force.

I am sure the Government will have no objection to a short debate on this subject if it makes clear the future of the Air Force. The independence of the Air Force and its administration is not in any sense a political question. It is a subject on which there must be more than one opinion; and speaking for myself and some of my friends, many of us were at one time uncertain as to whether there should be an independent Air Force or whether it should be under the Admiralty and the War Office. Experience has proved, however, that it is very desirable that there should be only one administration.

Before going into the question of principle I would like to ask the Government to explain, if they can and as far as they can, the reasons which led to the retirement of General Seely. I am quite certain that they must have been fairly serious in character. I know he was immensely interested in the work. He flew more miles in the air, if that is a recommendation, than any former Secretary for the Air Force, and he had practical experience in the war and afterwards of the value of the Air Force. I say frankly that some of us are afraid that his resignation means that there has been an attempt by the Government to go back to the bad old system of dual control, or that the Government are considering that question. I know that both the Admiralty and the War Office have never accepted with any great cordiality the independence of the Air Force. That is no secret. I do not say that officially they have not accepted it, but many of the most powerful and distinguished Admirals and Generals think that the Air Force is one which should be a subsidiary arm to the Navy and Army. There are those who think with me that the Air Force, probably more than any other force, can stand on its own basis and is by no means dependent on the Army or the Navy.

Disquieting rumours reach me also that, in the Cabinet itself there is a section which has never accepted the principle of the independence of the Air Force, and that constant efforts have been made in the past, and are still being made, to return to the former system of dual control. The question of single or dual control is one susceptible of many arguments. As far as I can make out, and from reading the speeches of various members of the Government when the original Air Ministry Bill was introduced in this House in November, 1917, it is quite clear that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and Lord Crawford, who introduced the Bill, were of opinion that it was not only a war measure but a post-war measure. I think I shall be able to satisfy your Lordships that it was looked upon as a permanent arrangement.

Whatever arrangement and form of administration you may have, there are really only two points to be considered. The first is, what is the best way of training the Royal Air Force as a fighting force in war; secondly, what is the best method of administering the Royal Air Force in peace as well as war. The second of these two points—its administration in peace—is not so important as its administration in war. I hold strongly, however, that, if you do not have a sound system of administration in peace, when war comes and a strain is applied, the administration will break down unless it is capable of being enlarged and expanded to meet the necessities of the war. I remember when I was on the War Air Committee that all kinds of interesting strategical questions were discussed. There was one question which, however, was never answered except in one way. It was the question what single force was responsible for repelling air raids from across the Channel, and what force was responsible, naval or military, for carrying out independent raids. That is a question which was never answered until the establishment of the independent Air Force.

It would be ridiculous to say that in an independent Air Force you should have no special training. I fully admit that, however independent the Air Force is, you must have special training to enable it to work with the Navy and Army, and probably training for long distance bombing raids, where the aeroplane really becomes for all practical purposes a long range gun besides being a flying machine. I admit that there is something in the naval contention that an officer trained for work with the Fleet must have some knowledge of naval work, but that does not militate against the fact that above all it is essential to have one single Minister responsible for the Air Force and to be responsible for all work in the air.

Take the question of raids. In the old days, under what I call the bad old dual system, the seaplane or aeroplane operated by the Navy was supposed to keep off an enemy until he reached the coast, and the work was then taken up by a machine under the control of the Army. I do not think anybody could defend that system to-day. After all, the air is one element. There are no frontiers or boundaries. The air goes round the earth, there is nothing except height and depth which matters, and there are no artificial boundaries which make any difference. From that point of view I think that every strategical consideration is in favour of the maintenance of the Air Force as an independent organisation. Then, again, I must point out this, that it is almost inevitable that if you are to divide the Force and if you are to put it to a certain extent under the War Office, I see no reason why the Admiralty claim to put a portion of the Force under the Admiralty is not justified. If the two Departments are to divide the Force, who is to carry on the general work of research and of superintending civil aviation? In time of peace civil aviation is becoming more important than any other question, and we are advancing with considerable speed towards the time when aviation will be used for the mails between distant parts of the world. The organisation and control of all those developments cannot be undertaken by the War Office, or the Admiralty, but must be by an entirely separate and distinct Ministry.

Then take the case of the Air Force in war. In war, and especially at the beginning of war, everybody knows that nothing is more valuable than the element of surprise; and I maintain that to-day, with the ramifications of commerce and communications between countries, the Air Force is the only force which can be used with ally success as an element of surprise. There is nothing to prevent a large force being concentrated in a Continental country and suddenly attacking this country. Equally there is nothing, if there ever was a desire to surprise an enemy, to prevent an Air Force of our own being concentrated in and flown from various aerodromes near the Channel, and concentrated upon any point on the Continent. The only force which can operate without any assistance from the Navy or the Army, and without a single man crossing the Channel or a single ship leaving our ports, is the Air Force. That is a very remarkable new condition of things, and the working out of the problems connected with the element of surprise in air warfare cannot in my humble judgment be done except by a War Air Staff, in consultation with a Minister for the Air and a distinct Air Ministry.

I know it may be said with regard to this that any change which may be contemplated or may take place has been dictated not by reference to war and peace but in the cause of economy. As far as I can see, the only economy in doing away with a separate Ministry would be the saving of the salaries of a Minister of the Air, because whatever department you attach the Air Force to, you would have to have liaison officers between whoever represents the civil and military heads of the Air Force and other Departments. That would mean greater expense than you would save by not having a separate Secretary of State. I doubt in any case whether there would be any advantage, because you must have one single person responsible for the efficiency of the Air Force. Either in this House or in another place, if you want to criticise the Air Ministry you have someone to answer you. The noble Marquess who answers for the Air Administration in this House is always here in his place when occasion arises, but in this House and in the other place if matters had to go through the War Office it would be a distinct disadvantage, and I am not sure that the Admiralty would not claim to reply to questions with regard to seaplanes. I think the mere elimination of the salary of a Secretary of State or Under-Secretary cannot be seriously considered as a contribution towards the reduction of the great expenditure of this country, and I should be surprised if the Government even claimed to base the alteration on the ground of economy. Even if there was any great economy, it seems to me that it would be better to have a small Ministry costing, not possibly £50,000,000, which I understand is proposed for the Air Force this year, but £10,000,000 or even less—it would be much better to have a small Ministry independent and separate, rather than place the force under another Department.

Then again I ask—it is a rather personal question with regard to Mr. Churchill, but we all know his energy and ability—there is no member of the Government who works more diligently at his office—is it in the power of any Minister, even so energetic as Mr. Churchill, to give real consideration to air problems, with all the enormous pressure of work that he has to undertake in connection with the War Office in these days of demobilisation, etc.? It seems to me quite impossible for any Minister, though he be a combination of Hercules and Solomon, to give adequate consideration to matters connected with the War Office and problems relating to the Air Force. I believe that General Seely devoted the whole of his time to air matters, and now that he has gone I do not doubt that the noble Marquess opposite does what he can; but it seems to me that unless you keep the Air Force entirely independent, with a separate Air Minister to represent it, there will be danger of neglect, and if there is neglect other great Powers will soon come abreast of us—because I think we can legitimately say we are leading to-day—and then we shall have to fight to regain our supremacy.

The Government may say, in reply, that while in war a separate organisation is needed, it is not needed now. My Lords, in the speeches of Ministers on the introduction of the Bill in both Houses they both laid stress upon the fact that it was a post-war as well as a war measure. Since then T think the necessity of an independent Air Force and Minister is more evident than ever. The progress that we have made lately shows that aviation is going to be one of the biggest developments of the coming decade, and I think it must inevitably force itself to the front to such an extent that an Air Minister, if he is not appointed this year, will in a year or two have to be appointed.

I ask your Lordships to look at what has been done within this year. The Atlantic has been flown four times, first by an American aeroplane, secondly by a British aeroplane, and finally both ways by a British dirigible. We have going on practically every day our London-Paris air service, in which the record is nothing short of marvellous. About 95 per cent. of the journeys undertaken have been accomplished, and the average speed has been over 100 miles an hour. There have never been more than two or three cases of engine trouble during all this autumn and winter with its strong gales and severe weather. That is an extraordinarily fine record, and it is a record which, compared with any of the other great developments of locomotion in the world, is superior to any of them. In the early days of the railways in the late 'thirties and 'forties you started out from stations and you sometimes got to your destination. We know also about early steamships, and how they had always to carry a full complement of sails because their engines were constantly breaking down. Coming to 20 years ago, when the first motor cars were on the road, some of your Lordships will remember when there was a procession from Northumberland Avenue to the Metropole Hotel at Brighton. I believe that about fifty cars started and less than half arrived within reasonable time. Compared with all these experiments in the development of other kinds of locomotion the success of aviation stands out most favourably. This, I think, tends to show that it is far too big a subject to be handled by any Department which has other matters to attend to, and that one single brain should be responsible for it.

When the Prime Minister formed his Government a year ago many of us acquiesced in the arrangement by which the two seals of office were held by the present Secretary of State for War as a temporary post-war arrangement, but many of us are alarmed to-day at the seeming permanence of this arrangement. We have not so far had any light thrown on the future policy of the Government in this respect. I believe that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is going to reply, and I hope that he will be able to give us some inkling of what the Government propose in this respect. It is a curious circumstance that since the formation of the independent Air Ministry four years ago it has—I will not say suffered from numerous heads, because they have all been able—had no less than four separate heads. It first had Lord Cowdray, then Lord Rothermere, then Lord Weir, and then recently as a sub-head General Seely. I do not believe that a single one of those Ministers would differ from me in thinking that the Air Force should be independent.

I would like to read to your Lordships one or two of the most salient passages in the debate of two years ago in order to refresh your Lordships' memories as to what was then said by the Government. The Air Force Bill was then introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, and he said— Aircraft can no longer be regarded as a sub-Department of the Admiralty or of the War Office. The air is one. It is a unity far more than the sea is, and a hundred times more than the land is; and the conditions of fighting in the air are similar even though the airman be attached to the naval or to the military side of the Air Force. That to my mind describes exactly the true position. Then Lord Cowdray, who afterwards became the First Secretary of State for the Air, said— If the Air Forces are to remain—which God forbid—as units only of the two great fighting Services, then the proposed legislation is not necessary. But if your Lordships agree with me in realising that an independent Force is needed and that one must be formed forthwith with full powers, complete organisation, and equal in rank with the Navy and the Army, then the Bill before the House will receive your Lordships' full approval. With those sentiments I entirely agree.

I will pass on to a more important declaration made by the noble Earl the Leader of this House. He stated then that he was a firm supporter of an independent Air Force a long time before that day. Referring to a previous time at which he had spoken he said— I said on that occasion that there were many, of whom I was one, who would gladly have seen an Air Ministry created at that time. He went on to say— 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. Later on in the same speech he said of dual control— It is an invaluable thing to have got rid of that by this Bill. He was referring to the friction between the two Departments, and he went on— And if for no other reason than the cessation of departmental friction this Bill would be a most valuable thing in itself. The noble Earl concluded by saying, and to this I call your Lordships' special attention— He (Lord Haldane) told us that this is not only a war measure but a post-war measure too. Nothing could be more true than that remark. I echo that sentiment—"Nothing could be more true than that remark." The noble Earl proceeded to say that this Force must be permanently a necessary part of our Imperial organisation. I have ventured to quote those passages in the noble Earl's speech because they so entirely fit the position to-day, and are so completely the sentiments that I would wish to impress upon your Lordships now.

It may be asked, What are other countries doing in the matter I have been at some pains to collect statistics about that, and I will shortly explain that in France a separate Department has been formed, reporting direct to M. Clemenceau as Prime Minister but not as head of the War Office. In Germany a separate Department has been formed, and great attention is being devoted to civil aviation; how much attention can be gauged from the fact that over thirty new civil companies have been subsidised. In Italy the intention so far revealed is to have a separate Ministry. In regard to the United States, the Report of a very able Commission is in your Lordships' hands in the form of a White Paper, which shows that they were strongly in favour of a separate Air Service, but at the moment Mr. Baker, the Secretary for War, opposes the separation of the Services because some officials of the Admiralty and War Office resent the change. That is what happened here. You have, therefore, all the great countries of the world almost unanimously working in the direction of a separate Service.

I often think that the real difficulty lies in the fact that it is very difficult to get the individual soldier or sailor to think of aircraft in terms of the air. They are always thinking of aircraft in terms of the Navy or in terms of the Army as subsidiary machines to those great Services. There are a great many passages in the American Report which are very appropriate to what we are discussing to-day. The Report says that without a separate department no sudden creation of aerial equipment to meet a national emergency already at hand is possible. That is a subject I have already dealt with. Then they go on to say that in the future, as in the past, if the aircraft activities remain dispersed among the several Governmental Departments, it will be impossible to get decisive action. The Report is well worth reading and contains arguments better than I can put them in favour of an independent, united air service. That Report was the Report of a special Commission which went all over Europe, and I think the very fact that it reported unanimously in favour of an independent air service so recently is a very strong argument in favour of our retention of such a single air service.

Before I conclude I should like to say one word about General Seely himself. I feel certain from my knowledge of him that it must have been something serious which compelled his resignation. I know that loyalty to the Government and to his Office would very likely make it impossible for him to reveal the exact points on which he differed from them, but I hope the Government will be able to tell us the real reason for the difference of opinion and the real reason for his resignation. All of us who are keen on this question and have studied it are most anxious to help the Government in the study of this most difficult problem. We admit that the problem is by no means easy, but better have a small Ministry, independent and responsible for progress in the air, than have it attached to and under the control of any Department, however powerful, and however well presided over by the ablest of Ministers. I have raised this question to-day with the fullest sense of the importance of the issue, but I feel certain that your Lordships will agree with me that it is desirable that the Government should let us know what their policy is and, if possible, reassure those of us who think that an independent Air Service is a vital necessity for this country.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has raised this question has confined himself almost entirely to its military aspect. It appears to me that the military or the naval aspect of this question is but a very small part of the great problem that has been opened up by what is called the conquest of the air, and the action of air forces in military operations is a very small matter indeed as compared with the immense functions that will be performed by aviation and a general aerial service all over the world. It appears to me, therefore, that my noble friend by confining himself to one particular aspect of the question has hardly impressed your Lordships with the necessity of the Government's considering (though I hope the Government have already considered it) what is going to be their policy with regard to aviation generally as a great world-power. I do not think it is necessary for me to labour this point, but I will ask this one question—What would have been our position in the railway world had our forefathers grasped the idea of what railway locomotion was going to be? I think we might have found ourselves with a Department of Railways, and possibly we might not have had to face some questions which are before us at the present time.

Then with regard to the other—what I will call, with all respect, the narrower—aspect of the question, namely, whether the control of aviation should be in the hands of the military and naval or the air authority, I am sure the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will remember, and some of my other friends who were in the other House with him, will remember the position I always took up in discussing Army Estimates, namely that it was impossible for the House of Commons ever thoroughly to discuss either military or naval questions because they were separated from one another and put in watertight compartments. It seems to me that all the elements of defence or offence which this country possesses should be controlled by one great Department—possibly it might be called a Department of Defence, or something of that sort. That does not in the least prevent a separate administration of each of these arms, but it would co-ordinate and correlate the preparation which has been made by the nation for great emergencies such as we have just gone through.

I am sure that when the history of the late great war comes to be written and examined from the point of view of its causes and the condition of our preparations beforehand, the critics will fasten upon that absence of any correlation between our great defensive forces. I hope that the noble Lord on the Woolsack when he replies will give us some indication of the view of the Government on both these points—the future of the great problem that is opened up by the international movement which will take place through the air and the control of the various elements that go to make up the defensive forces of this country.


My Lords, I ask your Lordships for that indulgence which it is your custom to extend to one who addresses you for the first time. I desire to enter a special plea on behalf of the Navy that they should be allowed to have their own Air Force, in contradiction to the arrangement which is at present in force. At the beginning of the war heavier-than-air craft were in such an experimental stage that no method had been found of using them in co-operation with the Fleet, but they are now an integral part of the Fleet and just as much a weapon of the warship as is the gun. I would ask your Lordships to consider that although in those times when they were still in the experimental stage it may have appeared a superficial reason for amalgamation—they had to be lent to the Army which was then short of aircraft—that condition no longer exists.

The training and work of the Air Force in the Fleet would be simplified if they were under one head. I would rather consider the position of a captain of a special aircraft carrier attached to the Fleet who has his ship's company composed half of members of the Air Force and half of members of the Royal Navy. He cannot possibly have in those circumstances that close control over the Air arm which is so necessary on board ship—while the whole upbringing and training of that portion is foreign to the training and upbringing of the Navy. Such a system does not make for unity. The noble Lord who has put down this Question dealt with the matter on the broad grounds of strategy. There is one fact about strategy in the air which I think must be obvious—namely, that, with the possible exception of bombing raids on civilian towns, all aerial activity must be directed towards some naval or military objective. If that is the case, then surely the direction of that activity should be in the hands of the Naval and Military authorities.

If you take design and supply, it is suggested that design would be co-ordinated by having one Air Force, but if the aeroplane and the airship are to be weapons to assist the land and the sea Forces then they are in the same position as the gun. No one would suggest that the gunnery arm of the Navy or that the Royal Field Artillery should be independent Forces. The question of design is got over by the Ordnance Corps at Woolwich being officered by personnel from both Services. They ensure that all arms are provided with the proper weapons. The supply difficulty was got over by the Ministry of Munitions and by liaison between the two Services. As far as the development of civil flying is concerned, surely this is a matter which should not be mixed up with the fighting Services. It has never been successful when the fighting Services have become mixed up with commercial matters, and there were one or two cases of that during the war. The status of civil aviation, I suggest, is. somewhat similar to that of the mercantile marine, which latter is not definitely under the orders and control of the Admiralty. If you consider the peace time organisation and the war time organisation, I submit that there is more complication in having three Services instead of two, as well as a considerable increase in expense.

Lord Montagu talked about liaison. Three lots of liaison would be required instead of one lot; where you have one liaison between the Navy and the Army you would require three. As the Air Force becomes more and more independent it will be increasingly difficult for the very close liaison work which will be required between the Air Force and the other two Services to be carried out. The Army and the Navy can co-operate only on certain specific occasions, but it will always be necessary to have close co-operation between each of them and the Air Service. You will, therefore, considerably increase this liaison work, increase such things as paper work (already an evil in the fighting Services); there is bound to be overlapping; and I submit that the expense will be more than merely the salary of the Minister in question. There are such things (to use a commercial phrase) as overhead charges. That really means that with a separate organisation you require extra things which are a duplication of things in other Departments, and which are bound to be expensive. You will require three Intelligence Departments and three Operation Departments. That type of work, if the Services had their own Air Force, would still be done by this Department.

It is primarily on account of the Navy that I have advanced this plea; because the Navy works on a separate element, and it is an element to which everyone is not accustomed in the same way as they are accustomed to the land. Although you may say that the air covers both, the base of operation from which they work is not the same. There is all the difference between taking off from and alighting on the deck of a ship and taking off from and alighting on a flying ground; just the same difference as looking for a hostile submarine and looking for a hostile column of troops. Although it may be important with regard to the Army it is far more difficult with regard to the Navy; and since the Navy has always been our greatest weapon I submit that it should have its own Air Service.


My Lords, I desire to say only a word in part reply to the speech to which we have just listened. I was a member of the first Air Board, at a time when the two Air Services were independent—one under the Admiralty and one under the War Office. That state of things was inconceivably deplorable, and I am convinced that this division in the early part of the war to a great extent hampered our operations during the war. More might have been done if there had been an earlier amalgamation. If it is absolutely necessary that the Air Service should be placed under one of those Departments of State I agree that it had better be under the Admiralty; because, though I do not admit that there is any affinity between the Air Force and the Army or the Navy, such affinity as exists is closer to the Navy than to the Army. I hope that there will never again be a separation of the Air Service into two parts. If the inside history of the earlier years of the war ever came to be written I think you would be surprised at the mistakes made and at the competition which existed between the two Services at that time. I maintain, as Lord Montagu does, that a Service which has to fight in three dimensions is a Service distinct in every possible way from the Services which fight in only two; although, of course, the submarine may be said to fight in three. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be able to assure us that the change with which we have been threatened is not to be brought about.


My Lords, I am sorry that your Lordships should have to listen to me so frequently, but the Leader of the House is unable to be present to-day as he has important public business elsewhere; and as the matters raised are of importance and relate to a Cabinet decision it was thought desirable that such answer as must be given here should be made by a Minister who happens to be a member of the Cabinet. If any question of detail arises, or any suggestion that administratively the present arrangement does not work well, no one is more competent to deal with the matter than my noble friend Lord Londonderry, who so efficiently replies for the Department of the Air, and he will gladly supplement, with a greater knowledge of the detail, the few observations that I have to make.

I think my first duty must undoubtedly be to congratulate a new and a young member of your Lordships' House upon having made to-day a maiden speech of great interest and promise. Your Lordships always welcome here with pleasure the representatives of the fighting services; and while I am unable, for reasons that I will presently give, to assent to all the views expressed by the noble Lord, his speech did give vigorous and intelligent expression to a point of view which was head by a very great many people and is still held by a considerable number.

The Question which is addressed to me by the noble Lord who moved for Papers relates, in the first place, and indeed almost entirely, to the reasons which led General Seely to resign, and the noble Lord asked whether there was not some more serious cause than that which had hitherto been made public. I have no reason to suppose that these is. I myself very much regretted General Seely's decision. He is a very old friend of mine, and everybody in this House admires both his character and his distinguished record in the war. Certainly no one will refuse assent to the claim made by Lord Montagu, that he showed a high degree of efficiency during the period that he was at the Air Ministry.

No; we must not look for an explanation to supposed Cabinet dissensions or to real reasons in the background, whereas unreal reasons are ostensibly put forward. We must look, and that alone, to the explanation which General Seely himself gave when he announced to the House of Commons that he intended to resign his position. I have General Seely's speech here, and I may perhaps summarise very briefly my understanding of the grounds on which he based his resignation. He said that when he was offered the position he appreciated clearly that a difficulty might arise because there was duality of control; control, that is to say, was shared between himself and. the Secretary of State for War, though, of course, the more influential position—greatly the more influential position—was enjoyed by the Secretary of State. General Seely, however, accepted the Office, though, I rather gather from his speech, with some misgivings because of that situation, and, having had some months' experience of the Office, he came to the conclusion that this duality of control was injurious to the public service, and thereupon asked to be relieved of his Office, and was so relieved.

I think the noble Lord may take it that there is no other explanation at all which would repay search in order to account for what took place. I am in agreement, and the Government is in agreement, on the issue which has been raised, with the views put forward by Lord Montagu. In other words, we definitely took the view, and this House definitely took the view some two years ago, after long war experience, that it was desirable that there should be a single and an independent Air Service. Lord Vernon stated considerable reasons to the contrary, based upon his naval experience. All those considerations were put forward with very great force by experienced and distinguished Admirals before the decision was taken. Similar arguments were put forward by many representatives of the War Office. All those arguments were weighed in the balance, and it was decided—and decided with a degree of unanimity which in these circusmtances is not; very often attained—that the balance of advantage in war time enormously inclined to the establishment and maintenance of a separate and independent Service.

Lord Montagu is perfectly entitled to point out that the speeches that were made by myself, who assisted to pilot the Bill through the House of Commons, and by the Earl of Crawford and Earl Curzon and others in this house, made it quite plain that the decision reached was not merely to establish during the war an independent and separate Air Service, but that it was to maintain that independence and that separation as a permanent part of our defensive arrangements. The anxiety felt by the noble Lord who moved is, I imagine, occasioned entirely by the circumstance that at the present time the same Minister holds the seals of both Offices, and he sees in that circumstance a ground for apprehending that the independence and the separation of the Air Force are to be abandoned. I say in the plainest way that the policy of the Government is to maintain the separate and the independent character of the Royal Air Force.


Hear, hear.


You may take it that it will be so maintained in peace as distinctly as it was in war. Every step that has been taken in the course of the present year has been taken with that end in view. There is no question at all of subordinating the Royal Air Force either to the Army or the Navy, or of splitting it into two and dividing it between the Army and the Navy. In order to emphasise the distinct and the independent character of the Service uniform and ranks and titles have been deliberately differentiated from those prevailing in the Army and Navy, and only Service men know how important are matters of that kind, which sound relatively insignificant. The whole organisation of the Air Force as a separate Force, and of the Air Ministry as a separate Ministry, has proceeded since the Armistice was signed without interruption.

A complete scheme for the post-war organisation has been elaborated during the past year and it is already very considerably advanced. When the Estimates for next year are introduced it will be possible to lay before the House in full detail the steps that have been taken, and it will be seen that all the varied functions of the Royal Air Force and its complex organisation have been fully provided for, including its work with the Army, its work with the Navy, and its work as an independent strategical factor. We have aimed, or the Minister has aimed, throughout the year, at creating an entirely separate permanent Air Service, which affords as good a career and as good opportunities of advancement to officers and men as either the Army or the Navy.

Now the question may be asked—in fact, it has been asked—Was it in these circumstances a wise or defensible arrangement that the seals of this independent and separate Service should be held by the Minister who is at the present time head of the Army? and your Lordships will expect that I shall explain the circumstances in which this decision was taken. The Prime Minister reached the decision—it is, of course, for him to decide whether or not two Offices can usefully and wisely be taken over by one Minister—he reached the decision, in forming the present Administration, that the scale, size, and cost of the Royal Air Force in the years immediately following the war would not be sufficiently large to justify the appointment of a separate Secretary of State.

Many arguments have been used to show the importance of restricting as far as possible the number of Ministers who form the Cabinet. Already the complications of necessary business and the increase in the number of Departments have raised the total number to a point which many critics consider to be undesirable. A separate Cabinet Minister for a Force which cannot in the immediate future be in size or cost more than a sixth or a seventh the size of the Army or Navy would not be justified, and certainly this, I suppose, is clear—that you could not possibly justify the exclusion from the Cabinet of the Minister who would be able to speak with special knowledge and authority on aerial problems. The choice was between the appointment of a Minister who already had a portfolio and the appointment of a separate Secretary of State with Cabinet rank on behalf of this new and relatively small Force.

No one must suppose that a decision has been taken which binds the Government in the future or necessarily for a very prolonged period. It may well be that in the years to come the importance of the Air Force will grow at the expense of the other two Services. The noble Lord has reminded us how unwise it is to make predictions in these matters; how deceived those who went before us were by the swift and incredible development of railways, and how mistaken even many of us were as to the rapid development in the efficiency and reliability of motor cars. I certainly should not be willing to be treated as one who was excluding even the most amazing developments in aviation in the future. There are many who think, and give good grounds for their opinion, that within the lifetime of those of us who are not particularly young the time will come when the air will take the primary place in our defensive organisation. Therefore it must be assumed that the decision which has been taken is one which is taken for the moment. If circumstances alter, the present arrangement will lapse; and I especially ask the House to notice that nothing has been done which is inconsistent with an immediate separation of the two Offices. If events decide that it is expedient at a given moment that a separate Minister should be created for the air, that separate Minister could go into his Office the next day and find absolutely nothing compromised by the temporary association of the Office with the War Office.

The importance of economy and moderate establishments during the next few years is well known, and certainly members of the Government would have no excuse if they were not aware of your Lordships' strong views in this direction. The admonitions which so often have been addressed to us on this subject certainly point to the Air Force being restricted to limits which quite clearly do not justify a separate Secretary of State, and to appoint such an Air Minister and include him in the Cabinet would create a most anomalous position in regard to at least half a dozen other Offices which, for practical purposes, have just as great weight and importance at the present time.

There are two other very important reasons, special in the present year and the next, which render a combination of the Offices desirable at this moment. Your Lordships will not forget that the demobilisation of the Army and the Air Force necessarily proceeded simultaneously. They were intermingled in the fighting forces in every theatre of war, and their general demobilisation problems were completely identical. Uniformity in practice was indispensable in dealing with these demobilisation problems. A difference in practice would have multiplied the already large but inevitable list of grievances and the hard cases which the processes of demobilisation in so many different theatres of war had entailed. The Navy in this respect was in a different position. It was not mixed up with the Army, and the expansion of the Navy during the war was relatively moderate. The Navy was entirely self-contained and the difference of practice in regard to demobilisation did not cause hardship and complaint to anything like the same extent as in the Army and the Air Force. Even so, some difficulty has been experienced. That is the first special and peculiar argument which is deserving of consideration.

In the second place, we have not only to demobilise the Army and the Air Force, but we have to reconstruct and redistribute the fighting forces by which our Empire is maintained. The garrisons of Palestine, Mesopotamia, and India have to be reconsidered from the point of view of the new technical inventions which the war has produced and the general advance in the science of war. This is a problem which cannot be studied in separate departments; it must be studied in its integrity. If we are to derive the economies in man-power and consequently in expenditure which should follow an increase in the power of scientific weapons, especially from the great usefulness of aeroplanes in maintaining order and suppressing revolts in large Oriental regions, it is essential that the problem of the new distribution of our fighting forces both on land and in the air should be considered as a single problem in the period which lies immediately in front of us.

It must therefore be assumed that the view taken by the Government has been determined by the considerations which I have attempted shortly to summarise. It must by no means be assumed that a decision has been reached which may not be modified and would not be modified by unexpected developments in the actual situation. No one, not even his strongest critics, has ever denied to the present Secretary of State for War extraordinary capacity and an unparalleled degree of industry, and those who know him, however much in other respects they may differ from him, know the conscientiousness which he brings to the discharge of his public duties and will be satisfied that, if he found himself unable to carry out his own high standards of industry in these matters, he would not consent to hold the seals of the two Offices for a day longer.

I have one further observation to make in regard to the speech of the noble Lord who spoke second in the debate. He dealt with the great question of civil aviation and expressed anxiety lest under the existing arrangements this important branch of the enterprise might be overlooked or neglected. I am sure the noble Lord is aware of what has already been done in this direction. He knows, I am sure, that there is at the Air Board a department to which has been exclusively assigned the field of civil aviation. At the head of it is a most distinguished member of the Air Force, General Sykes, who is surrounded by able assistants; experiments are carried on, and the importance of the subject, great as it is, is certainly not under-rated. The noble Lord must not think I am claiming that as much is being done as might be done under circumstances which justified expenditure more readily. I am making no such claim, but I am attempting to bring the facts in relation to this part of the case and in relation to my main argument that the Service is not suffering in any way in this respect by the arrangement which I am attempting to explain, and that more would not have been done if a separate Minister represented the Air Force than has been sanctioned under the existing arrangement.

Lord Vernon made an interesting observation in this connection, and one with which I have a great deal of sympathy. He said it would be right, or perhaps he said it is right even now, to look upon civil aviation much in the same way as one looks upon the mercantile marine in relation to the Navy, namely, civil aviation is to combatant aviation as the mercantile marine is to the Royal Navy. I am not sure there is not a great deal to be said for that. I am not certain that its adoption would be beneficial to the Air Service; but I suspect the noble Lord is thinking that the day will come in which the Board of Trade will assume control and responsibility for civil aviation, much in the same way as it has by long practice assumed control over the mercantile marine, and then no doubt the position of civil flying craft in relation to military and naval flying craft, will be identical with that which now exists between the mercantile marine and the Royal Navy.

I have only one other observation to make, and it is this. Many acute critics—I pronounce no opinion upon it myself, because I have no great knowledge of the proper strategical considerations—are most strongly of opinion that the interests of this country would be best served by having some kind of amalgamation for defensive purposes of the three great Services on whose joint efforts the safety of these Isles ultimately depends—namely, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. They point to the prospect, and they allege the desirability, of a great Joint Staff, which would bring to the problems of war and to the problems of defence not a partial and limited knowledge, either of the air, or of the land, or of the sea, but bring to a reinforced and a much more fully-informed Staff the special contribution which it would be in the power of each to afford. Whether that scheme is one which will ever be realised I do not know, but it is at least worth recollecting that as long as this arrangement lasts we can bring to bear upon immediate problems which confront us, and which seemed likely to produce rather territorial situations in which we shall be involved in small wars rather than great ones—that we have at least produced from this arrangement a system by which the best brains of the air and the best brains of the Army will be readily marshalled in council, in order to apply all the resources both of the air, and of the Army with the greatest precision and the greatest degree of unanimity.

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