HL Deb 27 July 1922 vol 51 cc902-44

THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether His Majesty's Government realise the anxiety of the nation with regard to the alleged deficiencies of the Air Service in all its branches, especially with regard to its naval and home defence sides; and whether he is in a position to make a statement.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I desire to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Paper. I feel there is no necessity for me to assure the noble Lord who so ably represents the Air Ministry in your Lordships' House that I have no sort of intention or desire of embarrassing the Government. I have long felt, and this was my firm conviction when I had the honour of being Under-Secretary of State for Air, that it was of paramount importance that both Houses of Parliament should be made familiar with the Air Service in exactly the same way as they are familiar with the Army and the Navy. Memories are very short, and the miraculous developments of aeronautics during and by reason of the war seem to have suffered from a reaction which, if allowed to continue, may result in paralysing that branch of the Service whose potentialities it is impossible to contemplate in anything like their entirety. I hardly think I need disclaim warlike intentions, though I am not, perhaps, so imbued with a belief in the efficacy of the League of Nations as to feel that it is possible for us to lay aside our armour and our weapons. I look upon the money spent on these as an insurance which we are in duty bound to maintain.

It is for these reasons that I would venture to ask the noble Lord for information on the general question of policy, and on certain particular aspects which are causing special anxiety at this moment. Until the war we were regarded as a maritime nation, and we were and are, I presume, capable of successfully resisting any attack which may be made upon us from the sea. The war introduced and developed this new factor of the Air, and it is imperative, to my mind, that there should be a real co-ordination between the three arms of the Service and that the separate functions and the combined functions of each and all should be very clearly understood and very clearly defined. To-day our attention is confined principally to the Air, although it is impossible to discuss that subject without reference to the other branches of the Service, and I would ask the noble Lord, first of all, whether there is any serious menace to this country from the air, and whether that menace is as great as, or greater than, the menace from the sea. I have noticed recently that a journalistic war is being waged against, the Air Ministry. I do not know how far this disturbs my noble friend. The criticism, as usual, in my opinion is intended to injure the Government rather than to benefit the Air Service, but if it serves to re-interest the people of this country in the potentialities connected with aeronautics I certainly have no desire to quarrel with these enterprising if somewhat unscrupulous editors.

In these days of necessary financial stringency it is idle for anyone in making any criticism to ignore the vital question of cost, and whereas many of us might like to see all avenues of development in aeronautics and other sciences followed to their fullest extent, the considerations and the energies of our rulers and of our Air experts must be devoted to using the sum of money at their disposal to the best possible advantage. These critics seem to take no notice of this whatsoever. We hear of an Air Service that cannot fly but which exists mainly on the ground. We hear criticisms of the proportion of machines to men. We hear comparisons with France and other countries. We hear of the dissatisfaction of the Navy and Army. We are told that there are no modem machines. We hear complaints of the exposure of London and the country to attack; and so on. I have deliberately taken this opportunity of ventilating in your Lordships' House a subject with which I have had the honour to be closely connected; and I may say from my knowledge, and it was very intimate knowledge, of those responsible for the Air Service, that I have no doubts or misgivings as to their power to refute all these criticisns.

I have studied the Estimates for the three Services, and I find that less than one-tenth of our expenditure on those Services is devoted to the Air Force. This may or may not be a correct proportion, and I hope the Government will be able to tell your Lordships the relative importance of these three arms of the Service. One would imagine that the financial provision should follow the degree of importance which is attached to each branch. When I had the honour of being Under-Secretary of State for Air I always felt that the Air Force was in danger of starvation; I felt that the plant was a delicate one, and I was always under the apprehension that before we could arrive at the stage of maturity various considerations and criticisms and the lack of money would have been instrumental in destroying it. Still, my endeavour, knowing as I did the vital importance of rigid economy—and I was loyally and most ably backed by Sir Hugh Trenchard and the staff at the Air Ministry—was to secure the highest possible development from the sum which was placed at our disposal.

I feel justified in saying that when the expenditure on the Services is analysed it must be obvious that a far larger proportion of the expenditure on the Air Force, which is a new Force, must come under the heading of capital and nonrecurring expenditure than is the case with the expenditure devoted to the Army and Navy. This should most certainly be taken into consideration when we I criticise expenditure on the Air Force. If I might make my point a little clearer I would say that in relation to barracks, depots and schools, the Army and Navy are in he position now of making use of barracks, schools and depots without that capital expenditure which has had to fall on the Air Service and so has made their Estimates appear of a swollen character in comparison with the others. Everyone is aware of the recent developments in aeronautics, and also of the proposed increases in the aerial forces of other countries. I ask the noble Lord whether these considerations have led to a re-assessment of the relative position of the Air Force, and whether it is proposed to reallocate funds earmarked at present for naval and military purposes, and devote these funds to making adequate provision for meeting an increasing air menace should such a menace be considered to exist.

There is also a very natural anxiety as to the distribution of the units which are actually available. I know that Imperial necessities make very heavy demands upon our resources, and also make an accurate comparison with other countries a very difficult matter indeed; but I would ask the noble Lord whether it is a fact that the majority of these units are serving overseas in Iraq, Trans-Jordania, Palestine and Egypt, and if this is so, what provision exists at the present moment to meet the very pressing needs of home defence. In this connection perhaps the noble Lord can tell us whether air units have been used in place of more expensive ground troops, and whether money saved in this way has been allotted to the Air for home defence, or merely saved against the Army Votes. I should like to have a full answer, if the noble Lord is able to give it this afternoon, on the question whether the money at the disposal of the Air Ministry is unduly allocated to what we may call general overhead, capital, and non-recurring expenses, instead of being used to maintain the fullest number of active squadrons which it is possible to maintain. In other words, are we maintaining a ground organisation of too elaborate a nature, and out of all proportion to the size of the operative force?

I think it would be possible best to demonstrate the true position if the noble Lord could give us some indication of the actual cost per squadron on the present basis if the force was increased by some fifty or one hundred squadrons, though perhaps it would be simpler if he could state the effect of such increases on the percentage cost of the overhead organisation. Similarly it would be of value to know the true position in connection with the provision of permanent accommodation for officers and men of the Air Force. Objections are repeatedly raised that too much is being spent on bricks and mortar at the expense of other urgent necessities. What is the actual extent to which such accommodation has already been provided, and what are the future intentions of the Government? Do they consider that the personnel of the Force can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely in the temporary hutting accommodation which they have hitherto occupied? I would ask the noble Lord on this very important matter to state what are the actual facts, and whether the shortage of accommodation has in any way created discontent or curtailed the flow of recruits into the Service.

I have noticed that grave doubts exist as to the adequacy of the provision made for units to co-operate with the Navy. Certain information was given in another place as to the actual number of machines earmarked for this purpose. I am not clear myself as to the extent to which these numbers are varied with need, or whether they are rigidly fixed and invariable. It is generally recognised that the auxiliary services required by the Navy and Army are important functions of the Air arm, and must be met to the fullest extent possible, and I therefore invite the Government to give us an assurance that this matter has been thoroughly investigated and the necessary provision made.

I do not propose on this occasion to enter into the controversy as to whether there should be a separate Air Service or not. The arguments in favour of a separate Air Service appear to me to be overwhelming, and I fail altogether to understand how, as subsidiary branches to the Army and Navy, the immense and as yet undeveloped potentialities of an independent Air Force as a factor, and I. believe a decisive factor, in war, can be developed from the subordinate position which some desire to establish. I base myself on the statement of the Leader of the House of Commons in his speech on the Navy Estimates on March 16 last, when he stated the final decision to maintain a separate Air Service, concluding with the observation that "the Government believe that to abolish the Air Ministry, to re-absorb the Air Service into the Services of the Army and the Navy, would be a fatally retrograde step." I feel sure that opinion is a correct one.

I saw it stated in another place that the seconding of naval officers to the Air Force was involving some difficulty, owing to the fact that the Air Ministry could not accede to the Admiralty conditions, and therefore officers would not go to be seconded. I hope this is not some petty point, and that the Admiralty now, in view of the great reductions that have been made, are giving every opportunity to officers for secondment. If we cast our minds a few years hence when these combined operations, as I have no doubt they will be in the future, are to be carried out by a Commander in-Chief, it is of paramount importance that the Commander-in-Chief should have a full knowledge of the Air, which it will be quite possible for him to gain if, in these early years of development, the Services do what they can to second officers from the various branches to the Air Force.

Some statement also appears to be desirable as to the present equipment of the Air Service. Is it true, as is sometimes alleged, that practically the whole force is equipped with war stock aeroplanes and that all the types are standard war types? It would also be interesting to know what progress has been made in the development of aircraft as a fighting factor, as well as in the general capacity of the Royal Air Force to undertake in a larger measure the protection of the Empire, such as the protection of this country from invasion by sea. What progress has been made in the evolution of the many weapons of attack and defence, and is this country keeping well ahead of the progress which is being achieved elsewhere? It is perhaps unnecessary to observe that the country which keeps well ahead in such matters will have the greatest pull if war should ever, unhappily, be forced upon the world again; and we must, therefore, look to the Government to ensure that our flying service is in no way behind in these respects.

The whole question of the substitution of the Air arm for the Navy and for the Army comes under the heading of co-ordination, which, naturally, is the duty of the Committee of Defence, and I sincerely hope that no Press campaign, so virulent, usually so uninstructed, and frequently fallacious, will influence the Government to deviate by one hair's breadth from the line which they propose to adopt. So far as my limited vision reaches, the three branches of the Services are an absolute necessity, but there is some proportion, which the expert can decide, which utilises these three branches to their maximum capacity, and in no sense endangers the equilibrium of the combined offensive and defensive power of the whole. I do not want the Air Force unduly developed at the expense of the Navy or the Army, or rice versa, but I do want the money which we can allocate, and have to allocate to the Services, until the League of Nations exercises powers and functions which I am quite incapable of envisaging, to be apportioned with close regard to the actual services which each can render.

The employment of the Air arm can in many instances be employed at less cost than the older and more elaborate methods by land and sea, and perhaps the Government can tell us how, and where, effective substitution can be utilised. There are illuminating accounts of results achieved in this direction. There is the highly successful campaign against the Mullah in Somaliland in 1920, as well as the other successful experiments which have led to the introduction of air control in Palestine, Trans-Jordania, and Iraq, thereby contributing largely to the saving of £14,000,000 on the Colonial Office Vote. Then there is the question of research and development in the implements of war that go to make up the aeroplane. Have we made progress in this connection? Is the accuracy of our bombing or air torpedo work improving?

As one who has been immersed in these interesting subjects, I can assure your Lordships that there are numerous questions of interest I should like to ask, but I have endeavoured to confine myself to those subjects on which I think the public are entitled to information, and on the correct handling of which so much in the future depends. I have no doubts about our Air Ministry. I have every confidence in the Secretary of State and in the noble Lord who represents the Air Ministry in this House, but I am not prepared to ignore the assailants of the Air Ministry, and I feel that these assailants are best defeated and destroyed by a full and comprehensive statement of the facts which the Air Ministry has been invariably capable of giving.

There is also the question of civil aviation and its bearing on the fighting Service. How far can civil aviation be the reservoir in time of war for the Air Service? How much would it cost to raise a large reserve through the instrumentality of civil aviation? Would it be less costly than providing regular squadrons? These are all questions which I hope the noble Lord will answer to the best of his ability. There is a certain amount of criticism, criticism which appears to be uninstructed, and I hope that these critics will to-morrow receive the answer they deserve. I have ventured to trespass on your Lordships' indulgence at undue length, but I plead as my excuse the vital importance of clearing away the misapprehensions which undoubtedly exist.


My Lords, I rise to add what weight I can to the Question asked by the noble Marquess. I, too, have taken a great interest in aviation and the Air Force, and although I have not had the same official connection with it as he, I had the advantage in the spring and summer of 1916 to sit on the War Air Committee and help to decide there, with Lord Curzon and Lord Derby, the beginnings of the independent Air Force. I think the Air Ministry has been very unjustly blamed by some of its critics for not doing certain things which, in reality, it wanted to do but had not the money to do. Like other great Departments of State it has had to limit its expenditure to those things which have been considered to be vitally necessary and leave undone many things which, although desirable, it had not the opportunity of carrying out at the present time.

I am sorry to say that I have noticed a recrudescence of jealousy on the part of the Navy towards the Air Service, and to a certain extent on the part of the Army, and an attack made on the independence of the Air Ministry. This subject was thrashed out at great length and in detail during 1916 and 1917, and under the, stress of war it was then decided, for reasons which I think were absolutely adequate, that an independent Air Ministry and Air Service was vital to this country. I have not, so far as my experience is concerned, seen any reasons to change my opinion in regard to that. In fact, as time goes on I think there is all the more reason for maintaining a separate Air Service.

This country is no longer an island, and every improvement which is made in airships and aeroplanes, every improvement in the accuracy of bombing and in the deadly science of constructing bombs and producing death or injury by gas or explosives, makes it the more important that we should realise that if war should unhappily break out a very terrible attack in the air will be the first sign of what this country will receive from abroad. The Navy and the Army in the future will not be able, however great their bravery and their skill, to ward off that attack, and, as a first attack must come by the air, and might be of a very terrible nature, it is absolutely vital to us that we should have an independent Air Force, that we should continue the Air Ministry, and that we should regard the Air Service as our first line of defence.

I notice that critics have forgotten that this subject has been considered by the Committee of Imperial Defence on more than one occasion, and that they have agreed to the continuance of a separate and independent Air Force, and to the Air Ministry being in control of all the units. They have reached that decision in consequence of the lessons learnt in the war, and independently of any pressure, Parliamentary or political, from outside. I think there may be something to be said for those critics who maintain that an insufficient number of pilots and observers is being trained for, let us say, artillery work or for naval purposes. That criticism may be well-founded or not; but it is merely a question of training and of the number of pilots you allow for these Services. No doubt, if the Air Ministry had more money, it would be able to allow more pilots and more machines to each of these Services, for what, I admit, are in one sense rather special duties. But I think it would be a thousand pities if we gave way to those who desire to reconstruct separate Air Services for the Army and the Navy as before.

There is no noble Lord in this House at the moment, I think, except Lord Sydenham, who, like myself, had experience of that wartime Air Committee, but I can tell the House that, through the spring and summer of 1916, there was a most, deplorable quarrelling between the two Services. There was overlapping, there was waste, in some cases there were more pilots than there were machines, and in others there were more machines than there were pilots, and nobody who was behind the scenes at that time could, I think, con- template with equanimity the restoration of the Services into the former twin branches, one under the control of the War Office and the other under the control of the Admiralty.

Training for the Air Service is quite, a thing apart from any other form of training. The air is an element so unlike land or water that men who are trained in its ways and for service in it must have a very special training. The idea that you can take a naval officer or, for the matter of that, a military officer for a time, and then return him to his Service without continuing his training as an air officer, is, I think, a fallacy. I think you must get your flying officer young, train him hard and skilfully, and give him all the experience you possibly can. I am sure that experience in the air is one of the most valuable assets we could possibly have, either in civil or in military aviation.

I have seen some of the work of the Air Force, not only during but since the war. I have been in Somaliland, and am acquainted with the case quoted by the noble Marquess, where some aeroplanes went from Aden across to Somaliland, bombed hostile forces there and dispersed them in every direction. They created such an impression that practically no further operations were necessary, and, at a very moderate estimate, that one action of the Air Force saved this country about £1,000,000 sterling. I can speak from personal knowledge of another part of the world, the North-West Frontier of India. Although the aeroplanes on the North-West Frontier have not been able, in all cases, to produce quite the effect for which we at one time hoped, they have had a very important influence, taken as a whole. They have been effective, not only in dropping bombs, but in saving our troops from very serious surprises, and have, prevented many casualties. They have given information about the movements of the enemy behind the rugged hills of the North-West Frontier (movements which are so difficult to investigate, even with the cleverest of scouts) that has enabled us to carry out operations there at less cost and with fewer casualties than we have ever done before. In Mesopotamia, again, as was mentioned by the noble Marquess, the Air Force has done excellent service, and I think, seeing how it has been starved for money, it is a wonder that it has so many achievements to its credit.

I am sorry to tell noble Lords that when I left India three or four months ago, the Air Force there was in an extremely bad state. It did not possess a single spare propeller, and it also lacked other important spares. In fact, if it had been called upon in the month of May last to carry out a serious operation on the North-West Frontier, it would hardly have been able to do so. I understand that the Air Ministry have brought pressure to bear upon the Government of India since that date, and that many deficiencies have now been remedied. I hope that the Government of India will from time to time receive a reminder from the noble Lord about the importance of its Air Force, and that such a state of inefficiency will not be allowed to recur.

I do not desire to detain the House any longer. I really rose only to support the request made by the noble Marquess, and to say that, in my humble opinion, the Air Ministry has done extremely well, considering the limited means at its disposal. I hope no decision will be come to by the Government in the direction of upsetting the very well-considered decisions in favour of an independent Air Force and an independent Ministry. I am sure that noble Lords will realise that more and more as years go on the Air Force must become our first line of defence, that we are no longer an island, and that, however gallant the Navy may be, it cannot preserve our shores inviolate, even though it be given many times the grant it receives today. I hope the Government will be able to give a satisfactory answer to the Questions raised by the noble Marquess, and to assure the House that the Air Ministry will receive their fullest support.


My Lords, I agree partly, though not entirely, with what has been said by the noble Marquess, and by the noble Lord who followed him. There is undoubtedly a growing anxiety on the part of all the thinking portion of the public as regards the state into which our air defences have drifted since the time of the Armistice, and I feel that, though there may have been exaggerations in the Press, this anxiety is fully justified. I think it is justified, in part, by some of the official statements that have been made. Already, as it seems to me, we have quite lost the strong position that we won in the war, and the present situation is distinctly a dangerous and deplorable one.

It is quite probable, as has been already said, that there may be no great war for several years to come, but it is only a dreamer of dreams who will believe that all wars have ended. The Conference at Versailles alone sowed the seeds of half a dozen wars, and, as the result of the Covenant of the League of Nations, we may find ourselves involved in unknown quarrels with which we have no concern whatever. Even if we assume that there is no probability of the near approach of war, the fact remains that unless we make full provision now, in times of peace, we shall find ourselves forced to reconstruct the Air Force in a hurry, with all the grave disadvantages that haste always involves, and we shall also find ourselves behind other nations in organisation, in training, and even, perhaps, in technical achievement.

The development of air power in these late years has completely changed with reference to the defence of this country and of the Empire. We are now virtually part of the Continent, and naval defence, which was our supreme advantage ever since the days of the Saxon kings, is now no longer available to prevent attack from overseas. Aircraft will never carry an Army across the seas, with all its heavy impedimenta, but the devastating bombing raids which can be carried out may be almost as disastrous to the country as an invasion itself. It seems to me that we have to revise all our old ideas, and that is never very easy for some of us. Another new condition is that Navies and Armies now depend upon the Air Force, and both are, helpless without it, unless the enemy has none.

The experience which I gained when I was a member of the first Air Board led me to the same conclusion as Lord Montagu, that an Air Ministry was definitely necessary. I found confusion, competition, some overlapping, and certain friction between the naval and military forces, and at that time there were very great changes in matériel going on, and constantly in progress, and it seemed to me that only an Air Ministry could deal effectively with those changes. Since then we have advanced far, and conditions are now different in many respects. I have been forced to reconsider in part the conclusions at which I arrived in those days. Under the present arrangements, as I understand them, the Air War Staff practically dictates one of the most vital and important parts of the whole policy of Imperial Defence. The Air War Staff cannot possibly be fitted to carry out a duty of that kind. Until the end of the war we had no real Naval War Staff at the Admiralty, and we suffered accordingly, but now that is all changed and we have a competent staff, capable of determining the requirements of the Navy and representing those requirements effectively before the Cabinet.

But the Navy is now incomplete, and it is dangerously handicapped, if not provided with an adequate Air Force—not only adequate in numbers but thoroughly well trained, and trained at sea. That Air Force must in my opinion be an integral part of the Navy, just as much as are light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, which go to make up the modern fleet. It seems almost as logical to put underwater attack in charge of a separate Ministry, as to put the naval air branch under a separate Ministry at the present day. To my mind the drawbacks to the present system are obvious. The Navy is already being starved by the Air Ministry. That is not the fault of the Air Ministry, of course.

Our fleet is now equal to that of the United States, and its requirements must be the same. The other day it was proposed in the Senate of the United States that an Air Ministry should be set up. Of course your Lordships are aware that the Navy has always had a separate Air Force, as has the French Navy. This was the reply to that suggestion by the War Department of the United States— Naval training and qualifications are so closely woven into those attributes which make a successful naval aviator, that to divorce his schooling from the direct naval associations into a separate air-training establishment is considered most detrimental to the Navy's interests and to the purpose for which the Navy equips its aviators. An efficient naval aviator must be thoroughly trained in all naval subjects, including ordnance, gunnery, scouting, tactics, types of ships, tactical movements of the fleets and their units, customs of the sea, etc. He must be conversant with the problems of the officers and men who direct and handle the surface naval ships. His duties, which are, and will continue to be, closely associated with the tactics and strategy of the fleet and its various units, require an intimate knowledge of the sea, of naval conditions, and of naval warfare. The actual piloting and manœuvring of a 'plane represent only a small element of the work and experience required of him. The close cooperation required between battleships, cruisers, submarines, destroyers, and the Air force will require a knowledge which can be gained only by service connected with all the various elements which go to make up the Navy. I cannot help thinking that the First Lord of the Admiralty would go pretty far to agree with that statement.

The proposed strength of the United States Air Force for 1923 includes 86 fighting planes and 73 spotting planes, and some other classes. Our provision is six fighters and eighteen spotting planes. The difference there is enormous and illustrates that from the naval point of view we are in a position of very dangerous deficiency which extends also to other classes of planes. But if the Admiralty asks for more the Air Ministry says: "Of course we are very sorry, but we have not got the money on our Estimates to give it to you." And then it goes and takes the planes that the Navy wants and packs them off to Mesopotamia. It is obvious that only a Naval War Staff can say what the Navy must have, and that the Air Staff cannot be regarded as an authoritative body on a question like that.

The present system, incidentally, must be most extravagant. The life of a pilot professionally is not a very long one, and it varies very much with individuals. When he is no longer of use in the air an air officer must either retire on pension or gratuity, or must be promoted to swell the ranks of the superior officers to an inordinate extent, and that is what is going on. But if the naval pilot was also a trained naval officer he would merely fall back into his old place, and if he were a good man he would rise to the command of a fleet. I agree with the noble Marquess that it is most desirable that some at least of the admirals of the future shall have had personal experience of work in the air. Then again, for the repairing of the aeroplanes the Ministry must maintain and employ a large number of artificers. But the Navy has available ratings who can do all that work perfectly well. Further, if the Navy discovers some particularly apt air officer who has distinguished himself in purely naval air work the Admiralty can do nothing for that officer except commend him to the Air Ministry, which may at any time take him away from the Admiralty and keep him on land.

I could say very much more about this question, but I think it must be clear that this system cannot stand. The Navy must necessarily recruit, control and train at sea its own air branch just as it trains the submarine branch, and the Admiralty ought to be responsible for the strength and efficiency of its air branch, and that air branch ought to be paid for out of the Admiralty Estimates. This does not in the least mean the abolition of the Air Ministry, but only giving the Air Ministry work which we are sure that it can do. It should give to naval officers their training as pilots. It can continue to provide aircraft for the Navy if, as in the case of naval ordnance, the Navy is well represented on the body which deals with construction and research. It is quite easy to imagine circumstances in which the Navy might not be actively engaged, and the Air Force under the Ministry might require reinforcement, but in such cases part of the naval air force can easily be transferred by order of the Cabinet to any special work which circumstances demand. There is no difficulty whatever in that, and it was proved in the war that a naval trained force can at once take up any duties on land. But the force which is trained on land is wholly useless as a unit with a fleet at sea.

Again, what is called the Independent Air Force, intended to protect the country from raids and also, I believe, to carry out raids on an enemy's country, can perfectly well remain under the Ministry. But attack is the best form of defence, and the best defence is to be in a position to attack the raider in the air. The heavy bombing machines of which we have heard so much in recent years will always be cumbrous affairs, and they can be effectively attacked in the air by light fighting machines which are ready and trained to do it. Raids on an enemy's air base may be important, and seem to inc to be perfectly legitimate operations of war, but I do not like the idea of bombing enemy towns, an operation which may give no protection whatever to our own.

I sincerely hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government will consider what I have said as regards the Navy, and that the Government will not commit itself at the present moment to the system as its exists, because. I believe that system to be impossible, extravagant, and certain to break down. I do not think it can be denied that it is vital to the Navy that it should have an adequate and well trained air branch, and that this is really one of the aspects of the great question of air defence. The old idea of a small, highly trained standing Army, which could be sent across the sea is now untenable in the case of the Air Force. Now that we are part of the Continent, as we are in respect of the air, we require in this country an Air Force which is capable of large and very rapid expansion, analogous somewhat to the pre-war Armies of the Continent, and that expansion must, of course, rest entirely upon civil aviation. That is another aspect of this great question of air defence which the noble Marquess has raised with so much force to-day. But the whole great question of air defence must be studied as a whole, and means must be found—and I hope that the noble Lord will say that they will be found—to remedy the very grave position in which I believe we now stand, before it is too late.


My Lords, I wish to support what has been said by the noble Lord, because I believe that the noble Marquess who raised this Question was entirely wrong when he stated that this was merely a Press campaign. It is, I believe, very widely felt in the Navy that the Navy needs, and should have, its own Air Force. If that is not so, there is at all events a general impression abroad that that is the feeling in the Navy, and until it is contradicted definitely by the; Government, and until they can state that the naval officers who, after all, are responsible for our sea communications, are satisfied that the organisation is efficient, I do not believe that the country will be content.

I do not know how far it is well founded, but I see it stated that there is good reason to believe that misgivings are felt in the Navy. The first thing that everybody is told when the question is raised from the naval side is that we have forgotten all the lessons of the war, which proved conclusively that a separate Air Force was the only efficient arrangement. The Ministry of Munitions and many other Ministries were set up during the war, and were found to be absolutely necessary, but, luckily for the taxpayer, some or most of these Ministries have now been abolished, and no one would suggest that they should be retained as permanent organisations in case of war.

But, apart from that, the late war had two very special conditions so far as aircraft are concerned. The first was that all aircraft were in their infancy when the war broke out. In the very nature of the case the Services had not been able to develop their organisations for these forces by 1914. In those days the question was to get a machine which could fly at all reliably. They certainly had not got so far as to evolve the organisation which should be used for utilising those forces, and, indeed, everything had to be improvised in the forcing house of war, which brought on aerial development at an enormous speed.

There is another special condition attached to the late war which it is particularly important to bear in mind for future use, and that is that the war was fought, so far as all the most vital parts of it were concerned, within a radius of a few hundred miles, ft does not follow that that state of things will be repeated in any future war. I believe it has been said by historians that when the Crimean War broke out we were prepared for Waterloo, and that when the South African War broke out we were prepared for the Crimea. It may well happen that if another war be sprung upon us that war will take place in the Pacific. Supposing that happens what will the position be? The position is that your military forces, whether you like to designate them as a fleet or by any other description, will consist almost entirely of naval and air forces. Those forces, operating at the other side of the world, instead of being under one control will be under two. There you have the exactly opposite condition from that which prevailed in a war which was fought on the plains of Belgium. The difficulty which always attaches itself to combined operations would at once be felt, and I believe you would get just as quickly an agitation for the Navy to have complete control of the Air Force—or, if you had sufficiently advanced by that day, for the Air Force to have complete control of the Navy—as you did for the two forces to be amalgamated during the last war.

The result of the present organisation is that every future operation which takes place must be a combined operation. In the past it was notorious that combined operations between the Navy and the Army were specially difficult—far more difficult than when the Navy or the Army were operating separately; but by this organisation we are assured that every future operation of any kind undertaken by any Service must be a combined operation; that is to say, you must always have at least two Services co-ordinating and co-operating, and in some cases you will have three, as, for instance, in a case like Gallipoli or similar operations.

I do not want to dwell on the technical side of the question, which has been mentioned by Lord Sydenham. The difficulties on board ship, and as regards training and so forth, where you have aircraft carriers and aircraft which are kept on board battleships and cruisers, must be obvious to anybody who considers the question at all. But when it comes to the planes which we see described in the answers of the Air Ministry—such planes as spotting planes, torpedo-dropping planes, reconnaissance planes—all that work and those duties have absolutely no relation whatever to anything that can happen on land. The work is totally different. Anyone who knows anything about gunnery afloat knows perfectly well that it is a totally different thing to spot the fall of shot at sea from the spotting of the fall of shot on shore. The training required is quite different, the work is different, the whole business is different. And it is true, as Lord Sydenham has said, that these weapons are integral portions of the fleet, and must be considered as such.

If it is true, as I believe it to be, that no other nation which has these forces has adopted the system that we have adopted, and that it has not been adopted by the United States, who were in a position to observe impartially the best method of conducting these operations during a great portion of the war, surely it should give us pause before we continue with an independent Air Force. It is commonly assumed by the protagonists of the Air Ministry in this argument that everything progressive is confined to the Air Force, and that the Navy consists of no one but old fogies who cannot develop with the times. There is nothing hostile, I believe, in the Navy to the development which is going on in the air and will continue to go on. But they believe that that development will take place better by evolution, if the Navy evolves from the sea into the air, than if there are two rival forces who are always at each other's throats in order to get control of their work. It may be that what I would call the extremists in this matter—those who believe that the Navy is practically effete already—may be right and that a few years hence that may be the case. I venture to think that the development of which I speak will not happen so quickly if the present organisation continues, nor will it happen so smoothly or so efficiently, and it will certainly be much more ex- pensive under the present system than if the evolution which I have tried to describe took place.

A year or two ago I asked a friend of mine who is particularly well qualified to judge of this matter whether he thought that the Navy would be entirely obsolete in a few years and entirely succeeded by the Air Force. His reply was: "Not while we have an independent Air Force." I believe that he was right, because it is essentially a question of evolution, and just as different types of warships have been evolved, so I think that in time the Navy could evolve itself into the Air.

The most vital function of our fighting forces is the maintenance of our sea communications. That is just as true to-day as it was before the invention of aircraft. Nothing will make up for that, and the Air Force obviously is not in a position to-day to guarantee to the country the safety of her sea communications. Unless and until the Air Force is in a position to say: "We can be responsible to the country for the safety of your sea communications," I believe the country will desire that all the forces which are necessary to maintain those communications shall be under that single and undivided control which at the present time can only be the control of the Admiralty.


My Lords, as I had the honour of being First Lord of the Admiralty when the separate Air Ministry was set up, and as I went through those two years during which the various conferences took place, over many of which I had to preside, I ask leave to say a few words on this occasion. I am not referring now to the very interesting and, if he will allow me to say so, the very able speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, who speaks, as a naval officer, with all the knowledge which a very devoted prosecution of his carreer when he was a sailor enabled him to acquire. I do not follow him into what I may call the naval aspect of the case pure and simple; but I find myself in entire agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, in the recommendations he made. I believe that he put the whole case for the future of the Air Forces of the Crown. I say "Air Forces" because I became convinced in the early stages of the conferences in 1919–20 that the proposal to set up an Air Ministry which should have absolute control over the Air Force either of the Navy or of the Army, or of both as it has now, was one which was doomed to failure.

The noble Marquess who opened this debate in a most illuminating speech suggested, I think, that attempts are being made in the Press and elsewhere to create the impression that there is jealousy and ill-feeling as between the different Departments. I cannot say, of course, what may be going on now, but up to the time I left I can answer for it that although, as the noble Lord opposite said just now, not only the Admiralty but the Navy of that day were united in their belief that the new system would not work, they accepted it and threw themselves with the utmost loyalty into the task of trying to make it work. Therefore, if it does not work it is through no fault of theirs, and I do not believe that the Air Ministry ought to be in any way criticised. I do not believe that it is the Ministers or the distinguished officers, whether naval, military, or air force, who form the various staffs of this Department—I do not believe it is the men at the Air Board who are to blame in any way. I do not believe that it is merely a question of money. Having examined this question at the time with the utmost care, having followed it since, having continued my inquiries, having watched what is going on in other countries and discussed this question with Ministers and others in France or in the United States of America who have the same end in view, I do not believe that this system can possibly work.

I am not going to trouble your Lordships with facts or figures because they have been given already in sufficient number by the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, but I believe that an impartial consideration of the figures from the point of view of finance will show that we are spending a great deal more money in this country than is being spent in other countries and that we are not getting anything like the same provision in the shape of fighting squadrons or machines. If that be true, there must be some good reason for it. The reason is not to be found in the simple answer that you must remember that we have a voluntary Navy and Army in this country, and that in France the Services are conscript and, therefore, the comparison of expense is a misleading one as we have to pay more than they do there. From the small examination I have been able to make of the figures, and they do not lend themselves very easily to examination, I say that this answer dealing with the conscript in one country and the volunteer in another, does not touch the question at all. The difference in the cost per man or per machine goes far deeper than that.

If I may venture to say so, I believe that if you are going to secure not only economy, which I put second, but efficiency as well as economy, you must have the Air Force which is part of the naval system under the control of the Navy, managed by them, trained by them, and run by them. Surely we have been living in a fool's paradise whilst we have been trying to create the other system. Your Navy, your Army, and your Air Force exist, after all, for the purpose of defending the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, said just now, the best form of defence is offence. Therefore, those forces must know how to fight. If they are to fight effectively they must be under a proper commanding officer, who must be in a position to train his forces whether on sea or hind long before they are likely to be taken into action. Is it conceivable that any Commander-in-Chief can make his fleet a really efficient lighting force if he has not responsibility for the different parts of the machine which he controls?

I spent a portion of this winter on one of our great naval stations, and I had the opportunity to see for myself, in the Mediterranean, what was the flying provision made for the equipment of the Fleet. I do not blame the Air Ministry—it is the system that is to blame—for the fact that that provision was absolutely inadequate. I am not expressing this opinion to your Lordships on my own authority; it would be an impertinence of me to do so. Let anybody get the facts and figures as to the provision of flying forces for the Mediterranean Fleet, and he will find that they were ridiculously inadequate, and that it was impossible for any naval commander to view the possibility of offensive action without the gravest misgivings. Is the Commander-in-Chief of your fleet, charged with the protection of your snores and the ultimate defeat of your enemy, to be independent in his command, or is there to be a separate air command and a naval command also? It is no use pretending that you have settled the question when you have simply laid it down that your Air Force is to be maintained by an Air Ministry. You cannot evade the necessity of coming to the Commander-in-Chief and considering his position in relation to the whole of his fleet. I believe that Lord Sydenham has put the question unanswerably before your Lordships, and I do not want to attempt to add to it. I desire simply to support what he said, and to support the case put forward by the noble Lord who preceded him.

I cannot help regretting that the form this debate is taking is one that makes it a little difficult for the views of Lord Sydenham and others to be fully considered. I say that for this reason. This is a Question by the noble Marquess opposite, who speaks with so much authority, being an ex-Under-Secretary of State for Air, asking for information which, apparently, can be given only by the Air Department. What we really want is a review of the whole situation, naval, military and air. I do not regret the Question, however, because of the noble Lord who will reply, for, short as is the time I have been in this House, I have been here long enough to appreciate not merely the industry and the power of speech but the very great ability with which the noble Lord who will reply discharges those duties that fall to his lot in your Lordships' House. I do not think the debate could be in better hands, but my noble friend is connected with the Air Department, and he will be bound—he would not be human if he did not do so—to approach this Question with a great sympathy for the Air Ministry. He can hardly come here and suggest the breaking up of his own Department, or the lessening of its powers, or anything in the direction many of us believe we must follow if we are to have the results we desire.

I therefore ask leave to support what Lord Sydenham said at the end of his speech—namely, that the Government will not commit themselves either to-day, or immediately, to the final adoption of the plan that is working at present, but that they will wait until they have heard, it may be in the course of another debate in your Lordships' House, or perhaps in another place, the views of those who can speak with real authority on this question from their personal experience, and who feel very strongly, as I happen to know, that there is a danger in the continuance of the present system of a separate Air Ministry. You must, of course, have an Air Ministry, and it will have plenty of work to do. It will have charge, as Lord Sydenham said, of civil aviation, and it seems to me—I do not know whether this is right or not—that it must be charged with the selection of the type of flying machine, and with the purchase of raw materials, etc., and, indeed, with the whole construction. That work I believe ought to be in the hands of a single Department, because, so far as my experience goes, it is the only way in which you can avoid overlapping and undesirable competition in the purchase of material, etc.

But I think the Navy must be responsible for their own Air Force, and they must have full control over it. The Navy's air equipment should be a part of the Naval Estimates just as guns and armour plating or anything else are a part of the Estimates. It seems to me to be asking us to accept statements which are at least exaggerated when we are told that the Navy cannot look after their Air Force because they are wedded to the sea, and, therefore, are not fit to control a machine that flies in the air. That seems to me to be absurd. You might as well say that the War Office were not fit to control artillery or engineers. The Naval Air Force is now a well-recognised part of naval equipment, and I am quite convinced that any Board of Admiralty can be trusted to see that the air part of their fleet is sufficient and efficient.

The noble Lord who preceded me said that there are some people who maintain to-day that a ship of war, above all a battleship as it is called, has ceased to be worth maintaining, because it is no longer necessary. I do not know how large is the school that believes that. All I have been able to observe; from the newspapers is that there is one distinguished admiral who holds this view very strongly, and he tells us that there is one midshipman who holds it. The admiral we know, but the midshipman's name has not been disclosed to us. It does not appear to me that there is any large number of people who believe that the battleship should be scrapped. It fell to my lot before I left the Admiralty to discuss this question with great authorities on the sea in more than one country, and I could not find, either in my conversations with them, or in articles in newspapers written by men who understood what they were writing about, the slightest authority for what I regard as the ridiculous view that the day of the battleship is over. The battleship, modified and altered according to modern war requirements, is as much with us to day as it has ever been.

In making their future plans for securing the efficiency of our righting forces I would ask the Government not to be in a hurry to commit themselves finally to a system which they were quite right to try. The Air Department has been honestly tried, and in my humble opinion, and in the opinion of most people who can speak with authority, its working has proved to be a failure. It ought, therefore, to be substituted by something which will be not only efficient but more economical.


My Lords, I want to say what I can in support of the view put forward by Lord Sydenham. The matter is so vital, so fundamental to our national defence, that I do not apologise to your Lordships if I have to repeat some things that have already been said by the noble Lords who have preceded me. I hope that before this debate closes we shall not only hear my noble friend, Lord Gorell, but also something from the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord Lee of Fareham). Those of us who still believe in sea power do not thereby become enemies of the Air Force. I entirely agree with my noble friend, Lord Londonderry. The experience of the war showed the absolute necessity for an independent Air Force. England cannot be defended from the air, nor can our enemies be attacked from the air, by the Navy. I do not think the Army could do it. You want an independent Air Force for independent air operations.

Then you come to the consideration of the best method of co-operation either with the Army or with the Navy. I shall say nothing about the Army to-night; I am going to confine my remarks exclusively to the Navy and Admiralty. It seems to me just as reasonable to say that the Navy should be dependent for its supply of airmen and aircraft on the Ministry for Air as to say that it should be dependent on the Royal Artillery for its supply of gunners. If anybody suggested that the Royal Artillery should be the universal depot for naval gunners nobody would regard that but as an absurd suggestion. And why? The gunner belonging to the Royal Artillery shoots from a gun; so does the man on shipboard; but the conditions under which they have to shoot are wholly and entirely different. The Navy is nothing but one great conglomeration of specialised trades—and the naval airman can be no exception.

A man might be the most experienced pilot by land, the most experienced observer and artificer, he might have conducted the most wonderful flying feats, and still be of no use whatever to the Navy in war if he had not been trained with the Navy. This is what I ask those who are the eloquent and convinced exponents of the view of the Air Ministry to understand. The Navy does not want naval airmen who are interchangeable with land airmen. It wants naval airmen who are interchangeable with other branches of the, naval service, who know the naval service through and through. It is no use to the Navy to send a pilot to work with it for four or five years, then take him away and send him back again afterwards. That is not what the Navy wants. It wants a man absolutely steeped in naval training and naval conditions.

Take the question of how a pilot starts on his work when he is with the fleet. He starts from a carrier, and he has to come back to a carrier, if he can. The conditions are wholly dissimilar from a man starting on laud, or coming back to land. As the noble Lord behind me (Lord Vernon), who spoke with the experience of a naval officer, says, it is only the literal truth that artillery spotting at sea is absolutely distinct from artillery spotting on shore. And so it goes on through the whole gamut of the temperament, the training, and the psychology of the personnel, and the technique of the instruments. I cannot imagine that any Board of Admiralty will permanently sit down and be content to remain responsible for the fleet as one great fighting unit if it is to have no direct control over the training of the personnel and technique of its air unit. This is what I want to emphasise—that the naval aircraft operating with the Navy are just as much a part of the Navy as is a destroyer flotilla or a cruiser squadron. Again, I repeat, that there is no antagonism between that idea and a belief in the ever increasing importance of an independent Air Force.

I agree that my view is not compatible with the view to which the noble Viscount has just alluded: the view of those who think that the Navy is a back number. Like him I am wholly incredulous of any such thing. I believe that the Navy has its work to do in maintaining our sea communications in the future just as it has had in the past. I do not believe that either the submarine or aircraft will drive the battleship from the sea; much less the cruiser and destroyer. But if the Navy is to fulfil its functions it cannot be dependent on any independent Ministry, or any separate Service, for what must be an essential part of its fighting strength, and I hope the Government will accede to the request that they should reconsider the whole position in the light of what is said here and in another place; reconsider it on a larger and wider scale than that suggested by my noble friend. I hope that this reconsideration will take place before long, that the Services will be told where they stand, and that we shall be given an opportunity of a further discussion when we know the decision of the Cabinet, taken, presumably, on the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence.


My Lords, it is nine months to-day exactly since any Question concerning the Air was raised in your Lordships' House, and personally I welcome very much the extremely valuable speeches which have been made this afternoon. One reason why so long an interval has elapsed since your Lordships took an interest in the Air must, I think, be evident. There must be at least one hundred noble Lords who have had experience of and with the Navy and Army to one who has had any experience of or with the Air, and that has to some extent been obvious in the speeches to which we have listened.

The noble Marquess who introduced the debate spoke of the fact that the Air Ministry has been suffering under a journalistic war. I do not myself go quite so far as to endorse that expression. There has been a very great deal of attention paid to the whole question of the Air Force lately, and it is a very hopeful sign. Some of it has been of great assistance, but the bulk of it I am bound to say has been very uninformed; in fact, I agree with the comment made by Lord Weir, who, I suppose, is one of the best brains that has been connected with the question of the Air. Speaking at a banquet the other day, he said that in his view most of the comments he read daily in the Press were "usually uninformed, frequently futile, and sometimes arrant nonsense." I will add for myself that there is no doubt that in certain quarters not only were many of these comments uninformed but there was deliberate misrepresentation.

I was asked yesterday by a friend why it was that certain journals seemed to have been inspired by personal animus in their attacks upon the Air Ministry, and I gave then the reason which I will give to your Lordships—that there are certain journals controlled by the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, who was for a short time in charge of the Air at the Hotel Cecil, and, whilst there, was in daily contact with one whom I think may be described as one of the most inspiring figures of the whole war, the man to whom the Royal Air Force owes an unpayable debt, our present Air Chief Marshal, who is certainly distinguished for saying frankly and straightforwardly what he thinks. I think it may be presumed that that straightforwardness and frankness may have ruffled the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, and he is not now able to forget and to take a wider view than the personal. When I explained those facts to my questioner, he at once replied: "I thought from the tone of the attacks that there must be some personal animus of that kind." When the noble Marquess asks me whether attacks of that kind are disturbing to me I reply that I think on the whole one can trust the common sense of the British people, who react quickly against such animus and realise that there is something at any rate to be said on the other side.

Before I pass from this question of the amount of interest in the public Press, I should like to say that while there are certain writers who show a great deal of experience and knowledge, it is at present the case that a great deal is written by way of comment, and sometimes even by way of technical comment, in the Press by those who know extremely little about the air, and one may venture to hope that, as all the ramifications of air problems become more and more understood in this country, it may become worth the while of important journals to place experts upon their staffs to deal with these questions.

One hears constant repetition of inaccuracies that one had thought were entirely exposed. I am sorry that one has heard them again, to some extent, this afternoon. On the last occasion, for example, on which there was any question concerning the Air, on October 27 last year, I went very fully indeed into the cost of a separate Ministry, and also met, so far as I was able, the comments that there were a large propor- tion of people on the ground in the Air Force, people who never flew, and that it afforded no profession for those who were entering into it. No answer was attempted at the time nor has one been attempted since, but we see again the same criticisms repeated, without taking any account whatever of the answers. I attempted then to show that, so far as costs could be estimated at all, the separate Air Ministry was less costly than two Services would be, and no answer has ever been made to the figures that I then gave. I particularly welcome the remark by the noble Marquess that he, at any rate, was not asking the many Questions that he put from the desire to embarrass the Government. I am afraid the same cannot be said of many critics whom we have to face. They are out, not merely to embarrass the Air Ministry, but to destroy the Air Ministry and to do all that is possible to harm the Government, and I welcome exceedingly the experienced and helpful criticisms which have been made, in a very different spirit, this afternoon.

I have been invited specifically by the noble Marquess to endeavour to make a full and comprehensive statement in reply to the various Questions he asked me. I am afraid that the later speeches have all been directed to one subject, but perhaps your Lordships will allow me to come to that in due course. The first Question that the noble Marquess, my predecessor in Office, asked me was whether there was a menace to this country from the air, and whether it was greater than the menace from the sea. I think one can say quite definitely, in answer to the first part of that Question, that there is now undoubtedly a great potential menace from the air. During the European War, the people of this country had experience of air raids occasionally, during which factories were often closed down and took many hours to re-start, and during which our train services were stopped. But these raids were sporadic. I think it may be taken for granted that, if there should be, unhappily in the future, the outbreak of another great war, we can confidently rely upon it that the air will play a very much greater part than it did in the last war. It is probable that raiding will be continuous on arteries, docks, factories, food depots and places of mobilisation, and this fact does undoubtedly call, as the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, said, for a revision of our ideas.

I cannot, I think, do better than quote what is the weightiest pronouncement upon this subject that is known to me. It has been brought once to your Lordships' attention, but it is so important that I think I should repeat it. This is the opinion of Marshal Foch, who writes:— The military mind— and, if a distinguished Marshal says that, I think I may, without any suggestion of controversy, add, the naval mind— always imagines that the next war will be on the same lines as the last. That has never been the case, and never will be. One of the great factors in the next war will obviously be aircraft. The potentialities of aircraft attack on a largo scale are almost incalculable, but it is clear that such attack, owing to its finishing moral effect on a nation, may impress public opinion to tie point of disarming the Governments and thus become decisive. I think one might also add that it is fairly obvious that it will be the endeavour of every belligerent Power to put out the maximum air effort in the very first days of the war.

The noble Marquess went on to ask whether the menace from the air was greater than the menace, from the sea. I think I may frankly say that there is considerable divergence of view upon a question which must, to some extent, be hypothetical. We are all familiar with extremists who say that the fleet is obsolete. Personally, I do not agree with that view, and shall not attempt to represent it to your Lordships. I will speak in a few moments as to the points raised with regard to the Navy by many speakers. As to the question of the sea and air menace, one can only say that, except for the fact that the German Fleet is at the bottom of the ocean, the old menace remains, and one can go no farther in any claims with regard to the air than to say that to the old menace has been added this great and almost unknown new menace, and further, that nothing that the land or sea force can do can prevent this menace from the air.

The noble Marquess went on to ask whether, if there was a great air menace, I could say anything to-day as to the allocation of funds to meet it, and whether I could make any pronouncement upon the relative importance of the three Services. I had thought that it might have been possible to make, a definite statement as to some funds to-day, but, as I think probably most of your Lordships are well aware, the meeting which was expected to give a decision upon that matter has; been postponed until Monday next. All I can say, to-day, is that this question has been before the Committee of Imperial Defence for a long time, and that they have been giving to the question of increased funds the very gravest and most careful consideration. They have had before them those-who can speak with much force for the various services, and I can at any rate assure Lord Sydenham that the Government are fully aware of what he described as the disadvantages of decisions in haste. This is not a matter which can be decided quickly.

Whilst I am on this subject of menace, I think I should say one thing more, which is the complement and balance of what I have just stated. It is that we have seen —not heard, to-day, but seen in the Press—comparisons between the air power of this country and the air power of France, I would ask your Lordships in that connection whether there is one member of the House, or even one person in this country, who has had any experience of the past war, who regards the air power of France as a menace to this country. We are not in the habit, if our best friend were to go out and buy a revolver, of regarding that as a menace to ourselves, and I refuse to apply the word "menace" in this connection. I cannot think it is cither just, or generous, or statesmanlike, to put up comparisons of fear with a country beside whose soldiers so many of us fought, and in which so many of the people of this country sleep their last sleep. I prefer to think of the two countries in the words which the Prime Minister wrote to M. Barthou, when he referred to "our two great democracies upon whose partnership the peace of Europe so largely depends," and when any one mentions the strength in the air which our French Allies think it necessary to maintain, I prefer to say that their strength is added to ours, and that together their strength and ours will if necessary, maintain peace and establish it.

Bearing upon this same question, I will try to give an explicit answer to the question of the noble Marquess about the distribution of squadrons. I cannot do better than give your Lordships the exact position—

In the United Kingdom:

Home defence squadrons 3
Co-operating with fleet 4
Co-operating with Army
Reconnaissance and communication 1
Reserve squadrons 2
Making a total of 12½


In the Mediterrannean (co-operating with the fleet)
Egypt and Palestine
Iraq 8
India 6
Making a total overseas of 20
And a grant total of 32½
It has been suggested by those familiar with such distribution that we are deserving of grave criticism for having so many of our squadrons overseas.

There I must ask noble Lords not to confuse two entirely different issues. One is the question of the distribution of the squadrons, and the other is the question of the policy of this country as regards Iraq, Palestine and so forth. It must not be forgotten that the squadrons in the Middle East have been paid for by an appropriation-in-aid out of the Middle East Vote, and so, but for that policy which called them into existence, they would not be there at all. The first figure I gave was that of three squadrons for home defence.


Do the figures include India?


The total I gave includes India. It has been said that three squadrons for home defence is an utterly inadequate number. In that connection I ask your Lordships to cast your memories back for three years. I myself was then at the War Office, and I can remember perfectly well what clamour there was, throughout the entire country, for speedy demobilisation, and I ask your Lordships what would have been said had we, when the war had come to an end, retained a large number of squadrons in existence. There was, and, so far as we can judge, is, no big war on the horizon, and whether it be a peace, as Mr. Fisher recently said, of lassitude or not, at any rate we are confronted with, peace. In retaining no more squadrons than we did we were not following the Air Ministry's policy, or the Government's policy, but obeying the demand of the nation that we should meet the commitments of the British Empire, and no more. The noble Marquess asked me whether, in view of the present state of affairs, I am in a position to give a re-assessment of values, a reassessment of funds. I cannot say more than that the whole subject is being reconsidered by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and that we may hope that they will come to a decision as to whether more funds and more squadrons should be brought into existence, on Monday next.

I turn now to the next point of criticism of the noble Marquess—namely, that the ground organisation of the Royal Air Force is on much too elaborate a scale. I did attempt in October last—and the position has not changed in respect of this matter since that time—to explain as far as I was able the necessity in so complicated and technical a force of retaining a large ground organisation. Just as flying is harder than walking, so fighting in the air is harder than fighting on land. To give one example, in any practice of bombing in the air, even with dummies, most elaborate precautions have to be taken. The Air Force has a very highly trained body of mechanics, and further, it is necessary to go through elaborate training in flying. During the war it was found necessary to keep eighty-six men on the ground in order to keep one machine in commission in the air. There is a considerably reduced number in its present organisation, but the figure must always be large.

The noble Marquess passed on then to ask me to give him some figures so that he could judge of the overhead charges on a hypothetical basis, and I will endeavour to do so. It is obvious that if you have a small, highly trained technical force the ratio of overhead charges must always be higher, and that these come down as you increase your force. The figures which I can give—though I must give them with all reserve, because many of them are on a purely hypothetical basis—are as follows:

The total estimated expenditure of the Royal Air Force, including India, in 1922–23 is £15,177,500, and for thirty-two squadrons that gives a rough figure of £474,300 each.

It is estimated that if we add twenty squadrons at home to these thirty-two it would cost a total sum of £17,227,000.

That is to say, if we would have a total of fifty-two squadrons the cost per squadron would be £331,300.

If, again, it is increased still further to a total of one hundred squadrons—an additional sixty-eight—it is estimated that the total cost would be £21,000,000, and that would work out for each squadron at £240,000.

So that the larger the organisation is the less relatively are the overhead charges.

The noble Marquess then passed on to ask me whether I could give any answer to the criticism, so commonly seen in the papers, that the Air Ministry are spending far too much on bricks and mortar and not enough on keeping actual squadrons in the air. I think the noble Marquess, from his experience, admitted that with a new force like the Royal Air Force there must be a fairly high capital expenditure. I will try, without evasion at all of the facts, to give exactly the figures. In the war practically the whole of the Royal Air Force were living in hutted camps. An estimate of rebuilding permanent homes for them worked out at £16,000,000, and it was obvious that that was impossible to achieve. The policy that was adopted immediately after the war was to prolong the life of the existing accommodation, poor as it was, as far as possible; and to make it reasonably habitable. Roughly, the sum of about £700,000 had been spent with that object.

I have noticed that since the Works Vote in the Estimates for 1922–23 is £3,251,000, it has been commonly stated by the Press, and generally assumed, that we are spending that sum on new buildings. I could, if it were necessary, give details showing exactly how that sum is being spent, but I do not think I need go into that amount of detail here. I would mention merely one item which must always be very large, and that is the upkeep of the big sheds and buildings which are essential to an Air Force. I do not know—I should like to know—what, for example, the upkeep of such a building as Waterloo station is. The Royal Air Force has to keep up many large buildings of a character comparable to that. The actual figures for new works are as follows:—Abroad, mainly under the Middle-East Vote, the total is £769,000, and at home for new works only £200,000.

I think it is not too much to say that a great deal of the accommodation in which Royal Air Force officers and men are living to-day is simple to a degree. There are examples of officers who are living with nothing more than packing cases in tents There are married families with not a single washing place except tents. And the Air Ministry has planned as far as possible to steer between extravagant expenditure on building and making the conditions of life tolerable for those in its charge. It has, therefore, adopted the policy of building here and there married quarters. The one and only big permanent building it has put up is the boys' training establishment at Halton. I believe that after the Crimean War then were officers and men in huts for forty years. We may hope that we shall not place anything like that strain upon the contentment of the Royal Air Force. The noble Marquess asked me whether, in consequence of the accommodation, there was discontent. There is no discontent in the Royal Air Force, but we must be careful not to strain conditions of life for them, but, as far as finances will allow, to make their quarters better mid better.

I come now to the point to which so many of your Lordships addressed the principal portion of your remarks, namely, the relations of the Royal Air Force with the Navy, and the adequacy of the provision of aircraft made for the Navy. I shall endeavour to avoid all suggestion of controversy. I do not think that it is any way the rôle of the three Services to be controversial one towards the other. One has noticed in the Press and in other quarters a desire to set the Admiralty against the Royal Air Force and vice versa, and to speak as if the Royal Air Force had no other rôle than to destroy the British Navy. I do not propose to say a word upon the very highly technical subject of aeroplanes against battleships, but to pass straight to the question of the co-operation supplied by the Air Ministry to the Navy. And I am able, though I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, in his place, to give him the correct figures, exclusive of Egypt, Aden, Somaliland and India.

With the Navy, employed on reconnaissance, spotting, torpedo-carrying, and bombing there are sixty-two machines, and employed upon training and development twenty-one machines—a total of eighty-three. In addition, there are re- serves of machines to recover replacements —immediate reserves, 46, reserves in store, 229, making a total of 275, and a complete total with the Navy of 358 machines. With the Army there have been definitely allotted at the present time twenty-eight machines. There are forty-five units on which the Army can call for co-operation, an additional eighteen units available in urgent circumstances, and twenty for training, making a total of 111. In addition there are sixty held as a first reserve, and six more available for assistance over field training.

These are not figures which are in any sense rigidly fixed; they can be varied according to the requirements of the Army and Navy, as need be. And I must here correct definitely one misstatement which has been, very frequently made. It must be clearly understood that both the Army and the Navy have the very fullest operational control over units which are allotted to them. It is an entire travesty of the facts to suggest that naval and military commanders have no responsibility over them. But I do not wish to say more, upon tins subject, because the question of how best to secure co-operation between the Air Force and the Army and the Navy is now under the consideration of a Cabinet Committee.

The Air Ministry, in circumstances of great difficulty, has managed to maintain in existence the art of each particular type of aircraft in co-operation with the Navy. That has not been, under the pressure of economy, by any means an easy job. If your Lordships will bear with me I want to read the relevant portion of the Geddes Committee's Report. It is very material to the proper understanding of this subject and is not very long— We have continually before us the view of the Cabinet that no great war need be anticipated for at least ten years, and in these circumstances suggest that the question of a considerable reduction in the number of squadrons should be considered. We recognise that a sufficient nucleus must be maintained for training personnel, and, further, that the germ of co-operation with the other two Services must be kept alive. We consider, however, that all expenditure beyond this minimum should be eliminated unless the Service requiring a further allotment of Air forces for co-operation with it can show that such allotment will result in savings in other directions. For 1922–23 six and a-half squadrons are shown as working in co-operation with the Navy, and three in co-operation with the Army in the United Kingdom, and we feel that, having regard to the circumstances referred to above, those squadrons should be reduced in number. We suggest that they should be reduced to one squadron in co-operation with the Navy in the United Kingdom; one squadron in co-operation with the Navy in the Mediterranean: one squadron in co-operation with the Army in the United Kingdom, which would give a saving of six and a half squadrons. If the Navy and the Army require further Air units we feel that they should be able to show reductions in their own provisions which would justify the supply of these units. I invite your attention to the meaning of that paragraph.

It means that the Geddes Committee recommended that the aircraft available for co-operation with the Navy should be cut down from six and a half squadrons to two squadrons, a cut of four and a half The Navy at present have five and a half squadrons with them; that is to say, a cut of one squadron. The Geddes Report recommended that the aircraft with the Army in the United Kindgom should be reduced from three squadrons to one, a cut of two. The Army has two and a half squadrons of aircraft with them; that is to say, a cut of one half. In fact, your Lordships will observe that there are more squadrons allocated for co-operation with the Navy than there are for independent work. In ideal circumstances the Ministry would have liked to have, had more squadrons for independent, work than for cooperation with the Navy, but they have given preference to the requirements of the Navy. And when the noble Viscount, Lord Long, says that he does not blame the Air Ministry for the position, I think he is really damning us with very faint praise.

I cannot understand how those who have an admiration for consistency can at one and the same time cry out against the Government for having whittled down in any respect the Geddes recommendations and also raise the cry that the Navy is being starved of aircraft by the Air Ministry. It is perfectly obvious from, the figures I have given that but for the existence of the Air Ministry and the fight winch it always will make for air power, there would not have been so many aircraft available for the Navy. When the criticism passes from saying that the Navy is being starved by the Air Ministry to the definite statement that it is being starved because of the existence of the Air Ministry, I say that attack is absolutely unjustified by any circumstances which can be proved, and I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, should have lent himself to it to-day.

I will not say that we have been suffering under a journalistic war, but, at any rate, a campaign of inaccurate suggestion on this particular point has been directed against the Government by what one might, describe as a body of irregular snipers. I wish entirely to dismiss the idea that I am criticising the Admiralty in this respect. I think my noble friend, Lord Lee, must often have said to himself: "Save me from my friends," when he heard the remarks made by those who advocated the claims of the Navy in this respect. I think it was my noble friend Lord Sydenham, who began to follow up his statement that the Navy was being starved because of the existence of the Air Ministry, with a general attack upon He existence of that Ministry. He stated that the present system cannot be regarded as permanent. It was, in fact, rather an insidious attack, not nearly so straightforward as that developed by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon; because the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, claimed that he was not in any way advocating the abolition of the Air Ministry, only that he would wrest from it that half of it which is concerned with co-operation with the Navy. And when the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, follows him up by saying that he is not in any sense an enemy of the Air Ministry, I cannot understand how that can be reconciled with his support of a proposition which would deprive it of half of its existence.


I do not admit that.


It is perfectly obvious that there is on the part of certain noble Lords, backed up by certain organs of the Press, a definite intention of doing all that they can to undercut the Government's decision. My noble friend, Lord Long, begged the Government not to commit themselves in a hurry. I must, therefore, recall it to his attention that this is a case which has been, argued and reargued by experts and by everybody concerned, not merely for mouths, but for several years, and that the Government have taken a definite decision upon it from which they have no intention of departing.

I think it will be well, therefore, if I remind your Lordships of what that decision was. It was announced by Mr. Austen Chamberlain in the House of Commons on March 16, in the following terms— … However elaborate the machinery for co-ordination, whatever the good will and the desire to co-operate between the different Departments, it was found during the war supremely difficult to achieve full efficiency in the Air Services so lung as those Services remained divided, part under the War Office and part under the Admiralty. Ho lung as the supply of machines and engines remained under the two Departments there resulted only a disastrous and wasteful competition. Then he concluded his statement, which gave the history of the formation of the Air Ministry and the reasons for it, in these words— To sum up what I have said, the Government believe that to abolish the Air Ministry, to re-absorb the Air Services in the services of the Army and the Navy, would be a fatally retrograde step. Even if it removed a little friction and improved and facilitated the co-operation between the Air Services and purely naval and military operations, which is very doubtful, it would unquestionably retard the development of the Air Services in their own element, in which it may be that the future of national defence lies. To take this step would le to bring back also all the evils of divided control which existed in this matter in the early part of the war. That position was re-affirmed by Mr. Austen Chamberlain in the House of Commons as recently as July 19.

When noble Lords rise up and say that this system has failed, and that in order to get efficiency and economy we must go back to the old system, one must express surprise that memories are so short. I took occasion, in October last, to refer to the damning indictment drawn up by Lord Curzon of the working of the two separate Services, in which he spoke of it as "waste of power, time and money." Yet in spite of all that, in spite of the fact that the necessities of the war made the taking of this step even in the midst of the war absolutely essential, we still have to face the criticism. I saw it stated only the other day, by an organ which calls itself responsible, that in war we should have to revert to the old system. It is pleasant to read, and to know, that the Admiralty have no intention, as stated by Mr. Amery in the House of Commons, of challenging that Government decision.

I wonder if your Lordships who spoke so emphatically about the Navy this afternoon can have any idea of how difficult it is to make a Royal Air Force efficient and contented if there is to be no finality in this matter. Ever since the war there has been this constant attempt to break up the Royal Air Force again. Can your Lordships imagine the effect upon recruiting, the effect upon the minds of those who are going into the Royal Air Force, if there is this constant suggestion that the force to which they belong is going again to be torn in two? We in the Air Ministry get letters now from parents asking whether there is any truth in these constant suggestions, which they see in the newspapers, and to which some of your Lordships, on behalf of the Navy, have lent themselves this afternoon, speaking from the point of view that the air has no other rôle than to be subordinate to the land and the sea.

Those who have studied the actual achievements of the air, and know what it may in the future, and in the near future, achieve, believe that it has a much greater role than that of a subordinate two halves, and it is just as reasonable, and it would have as disintegrating an effect upon recruiting and upon the minds of people in the Navy, if we were to suggest that the Navy should be torn in two, and half of it given to the Army for co-operation in land and sea manœuvres, and half of it given to the Air Force for work over the sea. That suggestion may strike noble Lords as ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than to suggest, that you should place the air, as different an element as possible from the land and the sea, under the forces from which the necessities of the war forced it to emerge. I hope that in view of the extreme difficulty of maintaining efficiency we may hear no more of the suggestion which would revert this country to the expensive and disastrous duality.

I pass from that point to the question raised by the noble Marquess as to the equipment of the Royal Air Force. Our policy of re-conditioning old machines has been harshly criticised, but I ask your Lordships to cast your minds back to the end of 1918, and to consider how the country was situated then. The Air Ministry had a vast war stock. I think most of your Lordships can remember seeing in the newspapers constant complaints of wasted aeroplane propellers, wasted machines, and so forth. I would ask your Lordships seriously whether there would have been any support, or indeed any justification in the financial condition of the country, for scrapping the whole of the war machines and equipping the Royal Air Force from the beginning with the newest and latest machines. The policy of the Air Ministry then was to eliminate as many types as it could, and to use up the best of the war stock to meet the commitments of the British Empire, with which it was faced, and also for training purposes, ft must be recognised that a policy of this kind naturally had a serious effect upon the aircraft industry. That is undoubted, but I venture to say that this was not Air Ministry or Government policy, but the national demand for economy, and that no other policy could possibly have been tolerated in the circumstances.

There is another consideration in this connection. The Air is still a very young Service, and there are constant developments. I noticed in one of the expert papers the following comment by Mr. c. G. Grey, who at any rate is an expert on technical matters — Designs and the ideas of designers are changing as quickly to-day as they did during the war, and before it. We do not oven know whether our machines should be cantilever monoplanes or braced biplanes or cantilever biplanes. Without necessarily agreeing with Mr. Grey that we do not know so much as that, I think it is quite obvious that a policy of ordering machines on a large scale which would go out of date quickly could not possibly have been justified to-day.

Another side of the same question is that the efficiency to which the Royal Air Force has come has made these reconditioned machines last longer than at one time was thought possible, and if any of your Lordships doubt that, then you cannot have seen the remarkable exhibition of flying given during the Royal Air Pageant in the worst possible weather. The policy of reconditioning is beginning naturally to come to an end, and in the near future, and constantly, we shall have to ask for money for the purchase of new machines, but so far as the past and the present is concerned, we have obeyed the national orders. I think I may go further and say that in this matter the Royal Air Force has most distinctly played the game. It would have been very easy for them to have said: "No, we must have new machines; you cannot ask us to go up in reconditioned machines." They have never taken that line, and I think praise and not blame is due on that account.

The next, question the noble Marquess asked me was as to the development of aircraft. That is naturally, to-day, a slightly controversial question. I can only say that the Air Staff, and the Staff College now established are constantly examining how far air power can deal with surface-borne craft. I would repeat Marshal Foch's words that "the potentialities are almost incalculable." I do not know that I would not go further and say that I think, as a general truth, it can undoubtedly be accepted that offensive progress in the air must go faster than the defensive power of the land or sea, and even to-day I think the air could, fairly claim that it could prevent any invasion on a large scale by sea. It is obvious that if such a thing were attempted, once in a war the whole of the Air Force at the disposal of the belligerent country could be withdrawn from actual air attack and concentrated upon sinking the surface-borne craft that were bringing the invading troops.

On the general proposition we can fairly say that this country is ahead, both in thought and design; that; as far as our experimental types are concerned the position is absolutely satisfactory as regards other countries; and that very great progress is being made. As an illustration of the possible, progress in the near future may I be permitted to quote a few lines from the forthcoming Report of the Civil Aviation Advisory Board which is now being signed. They say: It must be recognised that an all-red air route cannot yet be mapped out from England to India, but it is anticipated that soon this will be nearly, if not entirely, achieved by the production, of a machine which can make the trip from London via Paris and Marseilles to Malta, 1,330 miles, in one Might. That will give some idea of the kind of progress that is now going on. Put graphically, during the war, in matériel and personnel, the Air made fifty years' progress in five, and in thought it made a hundred years' progress.

The noble Marquess spoke about the policy of substitution. Here I should like to ask: How far did that policy of substitution—the substitution of the Air Force for land and sea forces—go under the Army and Navy? And how far would it ever go? How far is it for human nature to suggest the substitution of something on which your whole career depends? Instances have been given by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu of substitution in Somaliland, Palestine, Trans-Jordania and Iraq, by which last alone a sum of £14,000,000 has been saved. That is not bad progress for a year. But we must be careful not to go too fast; we must make sure of our progress.

There must be two principles to justify any change: (1) that the new must be more efficient for the same expenditure, or (2) that it must be equally efficient for less. Where those conditions operate it is assuredly the intention of the Government to use aircraft. Do not let it be thought for a moment that I am attacking the older and senior Services. I agree entirely with the remarks which fell from a distinguished admiral, Sir Roger Keyes, at a dinner at which I was present. He said: As long as aircraft return to earth or to seaborne vessels there must be land forces and there must be sea forces. I will add, that as long as there is the air to go into there must also be air forces in it.

The noble Marquess raised, almost by way of parenthesis, a large question into which I cannot go fully now—mamoly, the relations which should subsist be-I we in Service aviation and civil aviation. I think morn nonsense, on the whole, is talked about civil aviation than about almost any branch connected with the. Air Ministry. I will give you one example. I saw it-stated the other day, by someone win in one would have thought quite responsible, that obviously people trained in civil aviation would be more useful in war than those who had been trained in the Royal Air Force, because in civil aviation they fly every day. He ignored the fact that in civil aviation you fly at 5,000 feet at the highest, with all the conditions of safely possible. If there is any danger in the route it is at once laid at the door of the Ministry to remove. The airman who flies in war will have to be trained specially in formation flying, in flying at great heights, flying by night and without lights.

Although it is undoubtedly true that we want to see a healthy civil aviation, from the industry and machine point of view in this country, the first question is: How far can it help the defence of the country? If a great number of pilots are flying they will be a valuable reserve with a little training. We have to ask ourselves the question whether civil aviation is going to pay, and, if it is not, how much is it-worth paying towards it in order to make it a reserve for Service aviation. To-day it does not pay. I have had under my consideration the question of the services across the Channel, where the total number of passengers expected last year (when we considered the question) has not been fully realised. It is probable we shall have to come to some new arrangement in order to obviate the loss.

Speaking from the point of view of helping the aircraft industry, I took occasion the other day to ask some one prominently connected with the industry whether it would be more serviceable to them, on the supposition that more money was available for air, to spend it on Service or on civil aviation. He said, without any question, that he should prefer it was spent wholly on Service aviation. We have, therefore, to beware of critics who suggest that we can by subsidising civil aviation promote at once an increase of the power of this country in defence. None of us wish to pay for flights of empty machine, and it is not unfair to compare the divergent types, which will diverge more and more, of Service and civil machines with the tramp steamer as compared with the battleship.

It is alleged that the Government have no-air policy. I have suggested not only that we have a perfectly definite policy but that it is the only sane policy this-country could have taken up—namely, to meet our commitments after the war, avoid expense as far as it was justifiable to do so, and build up the nucleus of a very efficient organisation which will be capable of expansion when the time comes. The whole criticism, really, can be put in a single sentence—that not enough money has been spent upon the Air. I had hoped to be able to give some definite pronouncement upon this. The question of how much, and by how much, the Air Force shall be increased are matters which are not being settled in haste. They are-being considered constantly by the Committee of Imperial Defence, who I hope-will come very soon to a definite decision.

I am afraid I have troubled your Lordships with a very long speech, but I was invited to make a full and comprehensive statement, and the issues are undoubtedly of supreme importance. Morover, it is a hopeful sign that they are arousing that public attention which they deserve. I have tried to meet one by one all the various questions that have been raised, and I can only say that the Government have no desire whatever to evade the issues.