HL Deb 26 June 1923 vol 54 cc570-2

My Lords, I desire to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to make a statement with regard to the Air policy of His Majesty's Government?


My Lords, the question, which is being examined by His Majesty's Government, is obviously one that covers a very wide field, and cannot be pursued to a definite conclusion for a considerable space of time. At the same time, we are well aware that this is a subject which, in its main outlines, excites the deepest interest both in this House and in the country at large, and we thought it desirable to make a statement at the earliest available moment in both Houses of Parliament as to the conclusions which have so far been reached. That is the nature of the statement which I am about to communicate to your Lordships. I will only add that as the policy here indicated is one which will excite a good deal of interest it may not unreasonably demand discussion in your Lordships' House I think such discussion could hardly be taken with advantage to-day, but any time that any of your Lordships like to put down a Question or a Motion on the Paper we shall be prepared to enter into a full explanation of the statement I am about to read.

The Government have come to the following conclusions with reference to British Air power. In addition to meeting the essential Air power requirements of the Navy, the Army and the Indian Overseas commitments, the British Air power must include a Home Defence Air Force of sufficient strength adequately to protect us against air attack by the strongest Air Force within striking distance of this country. It should be organised in part on a regular and permanent military basis, and in part on a territorial or reserve basis, and so arranged as to assure that sufficient strength will be immediately available for purposes of defence, the fullest possible use to be made of civilian labour and facilities.

In the first instance the Home Defence Force should consist of 52 squadrons, to be created with as little delay as possible, and the Secretary of State for Air has been instructed, forthwith, to take the preliminary steps for carrying this decision into effect. The result of this proposal will be to add 34 squadrons to the authorised strength of the Royal Air Force. The details of the organisation will be arranged with a view to the possibility of subsequent expansion, but before any further development is put in hand the question shall be examined in the light of the then air strength of foreign Powers. In conformity with our obligation under the Covenant of the League of Nations His Majesty's Government will gladly co-operate with other Governments in limiting the strength of air armaments on lines similar to those of the Treaty of Washington in the case of the Navy and any such arrangement, it is needless to say, would govern the policy of air expansion set out in this statement.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has spoken of the Air Forces of the Army, the Navy and the Air Service proper. Are we to understand—possibly the noble Marquess would rather not answer the question at this moment—that there are to be three sections of the Air Force governed by three different Departments, or is it to be one Air Force distributed for the benefit of the other Departments?


No, your Lordships must not draw any such deduction from what I have said. The question raised by the noble and learned Viscount—obviously one of the first importance—is still under examination. That examination will probably take some little further time, and consequently the noble and learned Viscount must not draw the conclusion which he suggested.


My Lords, there is a great deal in the statement made by the noble Marquess to which I listened, as I apprehend many of your Lordships listened, with great satisfaction. It is difficult to collect its full effect at the moment and if, hereafter, for the purpose of eliciting discussion and fuller explanation, I take advantage of the noble Marquess' suggestion and put down a further Question upon the subject, the noble Marquess will not misconstrue this either as a sign of antagonism or of discontent with what has already been promised.


Hear, hear!