HL Deb 20 March 1924 vol 56 cc928-41

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Auxiliary Air Force and Air Force Reserve correspond to the Territorial Army and the Army Reserve respectively. Power to raise and maintain the Air Force Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force is derived from the Air Force Constitution Act of 1917, of which certain enactments have already been applied to the Air Force Reserve, but not to the Auxiliary Air Force itself, which is not yet in existence. The purpose of the Bill before your Lordships is to enable the Air Ministry to start recruiting on a suitable basis for thirteen non-Regular squadrons which will form part of the Air Force Home Defence Force.

The need for this Bill is that new powers have to be obtained since it has been found that enactments relating to the Army Reserve and the Territorial Army cannot legally be adapted to the Air Forces in such a form as to enable them to be organised according to the exigences of air defence. Accordingly, power is sought in the present Bill to extend the power of His Majesty in Council in certain definite ways. First, in regard to organisation and administration. As in the case of the Territorial Force, it would be possible under existing powers to establish Auxiliary Air Force Associations on a county basis, but this method has been found to be not sufficiently elastic. At the same time, the Air Ministry are most anxious to take full advantage of the readiness of the Territorial Associations to assist us; and, both from the desire to establish harmonious co-operation and also in the interests of economy, we are going to set up County Joint Associations. These County Joint Associations will be established as a general rule, and the system of County Joint Associations will be adhered to so long as it proves successful. But, alternatively, as the scheme develops, both Territorial Associations and Auxiliary Air Force Associations, functioning separately, may be necessary in certain cases. And, lastly, provision is made for a third contingeney—where the Auxiliary Air Force Association would exist not for one county but for two counties, or for an area, or for a large industrial centre or a group of towns. This third alternative form of association will not be formed in any area within the purview of what I have described as a County Joint Association.

My next point concerns the special needs of air defence. If this Force is to be effective there must be power to call it out with the minimum of delay when attack is apprehended. For this reason the liability of the personnel to be called out before embodiment has to be included in the terms of enlistment and cannot be left to a voluntary offer on the part of each officer and man as in the case of the Territorial Army to-day. Also there has to be some special definition of what is meant by home service for this particular force. Consequently, in this Bill, power is taken, in the first place, to adapt the Act of 1907, which dealt with the Territorial Army, in such a way as to make it an obligation for any would-be officer or recruit to accept liability to be called out to serve within the British Islands, in defence of those islands, against actual or apprehended attack independently of the embodiment of the Force.

Secondly, a definition of a flight on home service is required. Such a flight is one in which the points of departure and intended return are within the British Isles or territorial waters thereof, notwithstanding that the flight may, in its course, extend beyond those limits. Such a flight would be defined as a "flight on home service." It must be quite obvious to your Lordships that an airman may set out on a flight above Great Britain, and find himself at some considerable distance from our shores and over some other territory.

The primary function of the Auxiliary Air Force is exactly the same as that of the Territorial Army—namely, home defence. It is hoped, in the first instance, to raise six squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force for that purpose. We hope to start recruiting for two squadrons in the late summer in the London area, and possibly for a further squadron near Glasgow in the autumn.

I will now come to the position of Special Reservists under this Bill. We are going to form seven Special Reserve squadrons for the Home Defence Force. The personnel of these squadrons will consist roughly, as regards two-thirds, of Special Reservists; the other third will be Regulars. To assist in manning these squadrons a new category of Special Reservists is being created, whose obligations will be confined to service within the British Isles as already defined for the Auxiliary Air Force. The reason for this procedure is as follows. We are endeavouring to throw our net wide and to catch not only men who are willing to serve as citizen soldiers in a territorial force, but also those who desire some closer association with the Regular Army. There is at present no specific power to enlist men into the Air Force Reserve without liability to serve abroad. The Bill which is before your Lordships confers the power to do so.

The enlistment and calling up of Special Reservists under this Bill, notwithstanding anything in the 1907 Act, dealing with Territorial and Reserve Forces, will be applied either to Reservists or Special Reservists, whether or not they have served in the regular Air Forces. This confers greater elasticity. In the old days a Special Reservist in the Army could not be taken on if he had served in the Regular Army. We propose to do without that limited condition. These men—that is to say, the Special Reservists—like the Auxiliary Air personnel, are liable to be called out independently of a general mobilisation. It has not been necessary to deal with officers of the Special Reserve, because, under the Air Force Act of 1917, commissioned ranks are at all times subject to that Act and can be called up under it. At least one Special Reserve squadron will be formed in the autumn. We live in hopes that there may be two, or even more.

The machinery for calling these men up is the next point with which I will deal. The Bill before your Lordships provides for an Order in Council declaring the case of emergency and ordering the Secretary of State to give and, when given, to revoke, or vary such directions as may seem necessary or proper for calling out the Auxiliary Air Force, or the Air Force Reserve, or both of them. It should always be possible to get such an Order in Council out and to issue it without delay. The Order will be kept ready for signature.

The organisation of this new Force, the Special Reserve of the Home Defence Air Force as of that of the Auxiliary Air Force, is to some extent experimental. For the first time a non-regular element is being introduced into the Air Force. Our object in so doing is to identify air defence with the national life, while securing substantial economy as compared with the expense of maintaining nothing but regular units. Just as the Auxiliary Air Force squadrons are associated with industrial areas, so the Special Reserve unite will be raised, and be provided with peace aerodromes, in the vicinity of selected industrial centres. In this way it is hoped that it will be possible to attract skilled mechanics who will require a minimum of specialised training for the purposes of home defence. Those are, I think, the main points of the Bill which is before you, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Thomson.)


My Lords, upon the greater part of the remarks made by the noble Lord I have no criticism to offer, but there is one point upon which I hope he will allow me to make one or two inquiries. No doubt it is my own fault, but I have not quite apprehended the exact position which will be created by this new Bill in its connection with the new County Associations for the Air Force. I am not quite clear to what extent the Secretary of State contemplates creating new County Associations to deal with this new Air Force. The Territorial Associations, which were founded originally by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, are, I think, universally admitted to have been the greatest possible success. They have done admirable work, and I confess that I should be very sorry to see them displaced by new associations created to deal with this one particular work. I should like to be quite sure that the work which is to be done will be done by a Committee under the general Territorial Association of the county rather than by an independent body.

It is a commonplace amongst those of us who are interested now in county administration that it is becoming more and more difficult to find enough people to take up the increased burdens that are being cast upon those who are concerned in such administration. The class of people who used to undertake it is diminishing in numbers, and those who are left have not the time they used to have to give to county administration. Certainly, in the less populous counties, it is increasingly difficult to find suitable people to undertake this work. Therefore, I cannot help feeling that if these associations are created by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air their functions will be performed by exactly the same people as those who are now members of the County Associations. The same people will be doing the work whether the associations are separate bodies or sub-committees of the Territorial Associations. I venture to think it would be very much better if it was altogether done by a committee under the County Association rather than by a separate authority.

In any case I hope that the noble Lord will not press on too quickly the Committee stage of this Bill, so that the various County Associations may have time to consider the matter and that it may be considered also by the Central Territorial Association. If the noble Lord could give us any assurance upon the point, I am sure that it would be welcomed by those members of your Lordships' House who, like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, have a considerable experience of the work of the Territorial Associations in this country.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships have listened to the speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, with great satisfaction and pleasure. Naturally, we must find ourselves almost in total agreement with the Bill which he has brought forward. This is certainly not a political question or, rather, it is one which we all unite in wishing to keep out of the political area. I do not know whether the noble Lord will have any great difficulty with his pacifist colleagues in connection with this measure, because I think he is in a somewhat difficult position. He certainly very adroitly and skilfully skated over the thin ice on a previous occasion when we discussed defensive forces, when he endeavoured to avoid the Charybdis of his own inclinations and feelings and the Scylla of the feelings and inclinations of his Under-Secretary. But I take it from the noble Lord's speech that there is very little difference between himself and myself on the question of defence in the air.

The question of defence is one which it is always very difficult to define, but I do not feel that on this occasion there is any real necessity to claim absolution from any desire to say anything which can offend any foreign country. This is purely a question of home defence. It has in it no sort of element of aggression whatsoever. As regards defence as a whole it is a question which comes before the Committee of Imperial Defence, and it is one which has to be considered by the members of that Committee as a whole. We have to consider the question of defence in relation to other countries, and that is where our difficulty arises when we have to deal in this House, or in another place, with this particular question. But this is a matter which so essentially is confined to home defence that I do not feel that there can be any opposition, either in your Lordships' House or in another place, to the provisions which are included in this measure, although there is one school of thought which looks with suspicion upon any measure that is even remotely connected with war. I do not think, from the opportunity which I have had of reading through this Bill, that there is anything in it of a controversial character.

As your Lordships are aware, this Bill has been in being for some considerable time. I do not think that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Thomson) has either disclaimed, or has taken the credit for, the initiation of it. I believe that it is almost identical with the measure that was prepared by his predecessor, but the privilege has fallen upon the noble Lord of introducing it into this House. This is a matter which certainly came before the Air Ministry when I had the honour of being the Under-Secretary, and since then a great deal of consideration has been given to its provisions, both by Ministers in charge of the Air Ministry and also by the very capable and efficient staff over which the noble Lord has the privilege at the present time of presiding. In addition to serving the purposes of home defence this measure is introduced to tap the enormous expert engineering knowledge of this country, and of using it in the most economical form in the Auxiliary Force and in the Special Reserve. The scheme is a very necessary one.

My noble friend who preceded me hoped that the noble Lord would not hasten on with this Bill, but would allow a certain time to elapse so that Territorial Associations could consider the matter, and put forward their views upon it. I believe there is a necessity that this Bill should be hastened through its various stages; for nothing can be done in the direction of establishing a home defence force until this Bill has passed both Houses of Parliament. I am sure the noble Lord opposite will satisfy my noble friend that there is really very little difference of opinion upon this matter, and that the question has been gone into so closely by the noble Lord and his predecessor that any question which may be raised can be speedily dealt with.

I gather from the Bill that there are two plans. There is the Auxiliary Force, and there is the Special Reserve. I think I may assume that the noble Lord is approaching the subject in a tentative spirit, with a view to deciding which is the most effective, and which can become the most efficient, so that in the future we shall have either the one plan or the other. The noble Lord will tell us, in his reply, whether or not I am right in saying that. It seems to me that in the Special Reserve there is this great additional advantage, that there is ample opportunity for these officers and men to join the Special Reserve squadrons, and for the others to join in what may be called the complete unit. The Special Reserve is not a complete unit; it is called up for training in various ways, such as week-end drills; whereas the Auxiliary Air Force will go out for some definite period every year as a complete unit, and will enjoy the position and privileges which belong to a complete unit. There are objects in view, apart from the actual defence of the country— objects to which we all subscribe, regarding them, as we do. as very necessary and valuable. Training has a salutary effect from many points of view, and perhaps this is one of those points upon which we differ from the pacific section of the noble Lord's colleagues. We believe that military training in itself is beneficial to the citizen, and is beneficial in the training of children. I feel that the country will be benefited to a very large extent if we can stimulate enthusiasm for the Air Force, and encourage a large portion of the younger population to equip themselves with the knowledge that is requisite to become efficient pilots.

The scheme which is contained in the Bill should be of interest to the great employers of technical skill in the country. We feel that we should enlist their assistance, and obtain their good will, further to develop the policy of having a large portion of the Home Defence Air Force provided on what we may call a non-regular basis. The noble Lord has spoken of the County Associations and the County Joint Association, but he has not told us—and I do not know whether it would be advisable that he should tell us—what are the numbers which he contemplates will be raised under this Bill. I understand that the conditions for those who come in under this Bill will be the same as operate in the Territorial Force.


In what respect?


As to discipline. I also understand that the pilots who at the present moment are employed in commercial undertakings will be called upon to join one or other of the Forces. I do not know if the noble Lord has that in his mind.


I will reply to that later, if I may.


It appears to me that it is most important that the Territorial Associations—and many noble Lords in this House are members of Territorial Associations—should do what they can to encourage this Force, and also to create as far as possible an interest in the Air Service in the great centres of population, so that, ultimately, such centres as London and Glasgow should contain their own defensive force to be used for the purpose of defending those great centres from any attack which may be brought against them from the air. It is contemplated in the Bill that a large civilian element should be introduced into these squadrons, and that they should be dependent for their technical services to a large extent, for repairs to machinery and such like works, on the civilian element entirely.

One consideration which we should always keep in mind is that, whereas the Air Force is essentially one for home defence, steps should be taken to ensure that if the Force is called out for home defence the industries of this country should not be dislocated in so doing and individuals rendered useless for carrying on their ordinary vocations which may be, in time of war, as necessary as carrying on their duties in the Auxiliary Air Force. There is also the question of expansion. We look with satisfaction on this Bill as forming the nucleus and foundation of an Air Force which will be capable of expansion in time of war. It is the duty of Territorial Associations to emphasise as much as they can the very intimate relationship which exists between civil life in this country and our home defences.

Aviation certainly makes a very wide appeal, and it is unfortunate that, owing to many circumstances, since the war it has not gone ahead in this country to the extent which we should like to have seen. It is true that this country is not so well adapted to aviation as many other countries. There are not the many uses to which flying can be turned in this country as is the case in those countries which occupy large areas which make it more profitable to send letters and parcels long distances by air. The post can reach the limits of this country almost in a night, and it means that any postal arrangements for carrying by aeroplane really do not give that additional advantage which the speed of an aeroplane ought to give. For that reason, there has not been the interest taken in aviation in this country which we, who were associated with the Air Ministry directly after the war, hoped would have been the case. Therefore, I feel that a great duty is laid on the Territorial Associations to do what they can to encourage the air spirit in this country and give the noble Lord the fullest assistance in their power in achieving success in the application of this measure to their districts.

Enthusiasm in regard to the air is there ; but it requires to be stimulated. We have only to cast our minds back to the war to remember the effect which that stimulus had on this country. In a short space of time, thanks to the efficiency of our administration in the war and to the splendid courage and intrepidity of our pilots, we developed an Air Force which was second to none, and when the war came to an end—I am not exaggerating—we were a long way in front of other countries in relation to all matters connected with the air. We cannot say that this condition exists at the present moment, but if we can assist the noble Lord in bringing this Bill into operation, if it appeals to the various sections of the community in the way we hope it will appeal, we shall have here a continuous and powerful addition to the defensive forces of this country, capable of being expanded to such requirements as the necessity demands. It is the intention of the noble Lord to operate through the present Territorial Associations, but, if it is thought necessary, there can be an association entirely confined to the duties and interests of the air in any particular locality. As I have pointed out, and as I expect the noble Lord will emphasise in his reply, it is vitally necessary that the Bill should be passed at the earliest possible date, and as one who has been closely connected with the Air Ministry in the past, I have every desire to give him all the assistance in my power


My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just addressed the House has expressed his parental affection for this Bill. I go a little further. His affection was that of a father; mine is that of a grandfather. The Bill is the direct descendant of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907. The Act of 1907 proposed to do two things: First, to set up a second line for the Army which should be drawn from military units who had undergone a certain amount of training; and, secondly, to establish a Reserve which should contain a sufficient number of men of special technical training who should act as reservists not merely for the second line but for the first line. In the same way, this Bill proposes to assist in setting up a second Air Territorial line for the Air Force. There will be the Regular Air Force, then the Territorial Air Force and behind it the Reservists, who, with their special technical qualifications, will be able to do work for both the Regular Air Force and the Territorial Air Force. This system has been tried in connection with the Army, and I see no reason why it should not succeed in regard to the Air Force also.

I rose, however, for the purpose of answering the question put by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. He expressed a not unreasonable dislike of the idea that there should be two sets of Territorial Associations. Nothing of the kind is contemplated under this Bill. The Act of 1907 set up Territorial Associations for the Army, and the noble Earl will remember that when that Act was being considered the military elements expressed their decided insistence upon the, proposal that there should be a large proportion of persons on these Associations who had been trained in the Army. Accordingly, the Associations consist, roughly, of country gentlemen, Lords-Lieutenants of the counties, and a considerable proportion of persons who have had experience of the Army. To carry out that proposal it was necessary to do something of the same sort for the Air Force. It would not have been enough to leave the old associations standing as they were without a new Act, because the old associations were the statutory creation of the old Act and. as a new force has been called into existence, it was necessary that those same associations should have additional powers with respect to the air, which powers are conferred by this Bill. I do not think my noble friend need be under any apprehension. The Lord-Lieutenant will be the natural head of the County Association as before, and the only difference will be that the County Associations will have enlarged powers. They will be put by Statute in the position which they would have occupied if the Act of 1907 had originally conferred powers which could have been extended to the air.

As regards the provision for setting up subsidiary associations this will apply only to regions where it is impossible for the County Association to perform these duties. Take, for instance, a large town where work is performed which bears very closely upon the construction of aeroplanes and the provision of material for the Air Force. There it is almost necessary that you should have somebody who is more closely in contact with the work and the people than the County Association could be, and that, as I understand my noble friend's Bill, is the reason for this provision. Under these conditions the position of a Territorial Association is not only not interfered with, but rather glorified. It is a greater thing than it was, and my noble friend, who is Lord-Lieutenant and President of his Association, will have the pleasure of thinking that he is directing the organisation not only of the forces of the land, but of the forces of the air, too. I think I have made it clear why this provision is put in. Without new statutory powers being attached to the existing County Associations, grave difficulties would arise, and consequently this provision is necessary to endow the associations with fresh statutory powers.


My Lords, in reply to the observations of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, I should like to amplify in a very small degree the remarks made by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I desire to express the gratitude of the Air Ministry to the Lords-Lieutenants and to all those people who have been connected with the County Associations for the work which they have done hitherto. Every Association concerned has been approached, and they have all been most helpful and kind in their assistance. With regard to the six squadrons that it is proposed to form, let me say at once that we are going to use the Territorial Associations almost entirely. All that this Bill does is to take power's to set up other associations which will be used if necessary. But that necessity may never arise.

The other point was raised by the noble Marquess who followed the noble Earl, and I must deal with this point in greater detail. As regards the pilots employed in civilian undertakings, we have an agreement with the Imperial Air Transport Company that all the pilots and technical personnel shall belong to the Air Force Reserve. Those men are available by special arrangement.


May I ask the noble Lord if that is a condition of their employment ?


I cannot tell the noble Marquess whether it is a condition of employment, but it is an agreement with the Imperial Air Transport Company, and I imagine it is made by them a condition of employment. The Auxiliary Air Force and Special Reserve units of the Air Force were referred to by the noble Marquess, and he put a question to me as to whether, in future, it would not be a case of one force or the other. To that I cannot give a definite answer. I can only give my personal opinion on the matter, and I am inclined to think that it will always have to be a dual organisation. I have often put the question to my advisers, and wondered why there should be two organisations. It appears that a certain number of young men are not particularly willing to join a unit which is purely territorial, purely volunteer, so to speak, and auxiliary. They like to have some closer association with the Regular Army. I can remember that feeling existing when I was a young officer, and that, possibly, is the explanation. So far as I can foresee, at least for some time to come, the two forces will exist together—the citizen-soldier who enters in connection with his territorial interests and purely and simply for home defence, and the other man, who has, perhaps, a greater spirit of adventure or some sentiment about association with the Regular Forces.

As regards the stirring up of enthusiasm for aviation, I can assure the noble Marquess that no effort will be spared. The connection of these aerodromes and other arrangements with towns like Coventry, Glasgow and London has been specially arranged so as to have them near to the highly skilled personnel working in industries which are either directly dealing in, or indirectly associated with, the manufacture of aircraft. That is the intention, and I sincerely hope that, as time goes on there will be an even greater interest in aviation. I am inclined to agree with the noble Marquess that it will always be difficult in this country, where the distances are so short, but he need have no doubt in his mind about the very great desire on the part of myself and all associated with me to stimulate that interest. We are continually devising plans to get people up into the air. Whether we shall have to do it by means of airships or by means of aeroplanes I have not yet decided. I think that is all I have to say in reply. I hope I have not omitted any questions that were put to me.


May I ask the noble Marquess one question as to the six squadrons ? Does he propose to have them in being this year?


I gave the figures for this year.


Are those squadrons to be drawn from Glasgow, London, and Coventry?


I should imagine that this would apply to the recruiting so far as possible.

On Question, Bill, read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.