§ LORD TRENCHARD rose to call attention to the development of air power, and having regard to the importance of an adequate and efficient Air Force to the British Empire and its proved efficiency and economy as an instrument of control in the Middle East, to ask the Government for a statement of their policy; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to address your Lordships for the first time and I would ask you to forgive me in advance for my many failures to express myself clearly, for I know full well my limitations as a speaker. Another point that worried me considerably was whether I was right to ask this Question at all in your Lordships' House, but, after twelve years in Whitehall, I cannot help knowing the great interest that your Lordships' House has always taken in matters of Imperial defence. There have been many amongst you who have had very distinguished careers in the Navy and the Army, but I am the first humble representative of the Air Service to come amongst you, and therefore I thought that I ought to say what it is that the Air Force has been thinking and working for during the last ten years.
§ In asking the Question which stands in my name, I think it my duty to point out the rapid increase in the size of the Air Forces of foreign Powers, and to state how, since the War, the Air Service has developed. Recently the Under-Secretary of State for Air, Mr. Montague, in another place stated that the first line strength of the Great Powers in the air was as follows: France had 1,300 first line machines; Italy had 1,100; the United States of America 900; and Great Britain 770; this means that we are fourth. Surely that is a fact that demands very earnest consideration, if we are becoming and, indeed, have already become as dependent for our very existence on the Air Service as we have been in the past, and still are, upon the Navy. I feel that this is a subject that wants careful watching, and I would ask the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, what is the policy of the Government with regard to this matter at the present time, and particularly with regard to that Home Defence Force that was sanctioned after many months' very exhaustive inquiry in 1923 and has been 23 endorsed by three successive Parliaments. Is that Force going to be continued? I feel certain that, so long as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is Secretary of State for Air, he will be no party to one-sided disarmament.
§ To leave that side of the question for the moment, and to turn to the second part of my Question—namely, the efficacy and economy of aircraft as an instrument of control in Middle Eastern theatres—I cannot deal with this point without touching briefly upon air development since the War. I hope that I shall not trespass too much upon your Lordships' patience if I try to explain how the Air Service has developed. It is a very big subject, and I cannot touch upon a large part of it in a short statement to-night. I shall not touch upon civil aviation at all. I feel certain that noble Lords will agree with me that the pilots and mechanics in the last War built up the finest air fighting machine in the world. It was built up to deal with the enemy's Air Force. British characteristics were given the fullest play and the result is the Air Force that you see to-day.
§ But when the War was over the question at once arose of how to organise the Air Service for peace. It appeared to those with whom I served and worked in those days that the Air Service had been developed with a single eye upon dealing with the threat of an enemy Air Force. It was clear to us that, if this was the only way in which we could use the Air Service—namely, against an enemy Air Force—then, during the long years of peace, we should be superimposing expenditure for the Air Service on the already heavy expenditure for the Navy and the Army at a time when the financial burdens of the country were well-nigh insupportable. Those under whom I worked felt that, unless the Air Force could be used in other directions, this expenditure would be the last straw. We considered, therefore, whether the Air Service could take over—as it would have to do in order to justify this enormous expenditure in peace—some of what I might call the humdrum responsibilities of peace that the Navy and Army had performed for so many hundreds of years. If we had no responsibility in peace, all the expense of the Air Service would be simply added to the expenditure on the Navy and the Army.24
§ How was the Air Service to be developed to take over those humdrum responsibilities Mr. Churchill, who was Secretary of State for Air immediately after the War, said that the Air Service must accept in peace some of the responsibility of trying to keep the peace in countries and in waters that had been patrolled in the past by the Navy and the Army, and that, if it could not do so, it would not be bearing its fair share of the burden of Imperial defence. At the same time he proposed that the Air Service should be responsible for keeping peace and order in what was then known as Mesopotamia. The Air Staff willingly accepted that responsibility. Why did we accept it, and why did we think that we could possibly succeed? We thought that, if full use were made of the mobility and the moral effect of the Air Force, it could keep order in these wide spaces of the British Empire. I would ask your Lordships to remember that outside Europe the Empire consists of very wide open spaces. We thought that, if mobility in the air were fully used and if a rising took place 200 miles away, instead of having to take weeks, if not months, in organising and getting to the seat of the disturbance a ground force, within perhaps two hours aeroplanes could be there. There would be no vulnerable lines of communication to attack; there would be no convoys to cut up; there would be no railways and roads to make; and that is what we mean by using to the fullest extent its mobility. In operations by ground troops in these open spaces—I do not want to weary your Lordships—my experience is that in these countries the native knows every inch of the country and can take the fullest advantage of the fact. He is armed and equipped probably with a rifle as good as our own, and can inflict a great number of casualties and cause great delay and great expenditure.
§ I will leave the question of mobility and come to the moral effect of using the Air Force. The natives of a lot of these tribes love fighting for fighting's sake, and for the sake of the glory and loot. They have no objection to being killed, some of them, if they can kill you and take your rifle, and, it may be, some domestic article like your boots, but they do not like fighting if they may only lose their boots and have no chance 25 of getting yours. If I may, I will put it in another way. Many of us do not mind betting half-a-crown if we have a chance of winning the other man's half-a-crown, even if we run the chance of losing our own, but very few of us will bet sixpence if we have no chance of winning the other man's sixpence and may lose our own sixpence. It reminds me of a story of actual fact that happened to me in one of these countries some years ago. A tribe had risen and caused a good deal of disturbance. An expedition, of which I was in charge, was sent to restore order. When we got close we received a message sent in by a native, saying: "If you will leave behind the gun that pumps fire I will fight you. If you bring it I will not." The gun that pumped fire was a Maxim. We took that gun, there was no fighting, no casualties, and the tribe came in.
§ This may sound unsporting or unfair, if you can use such a term as unsporting in such circumstances, but I submit it is not so. If you are going on equality of armament, then we should have given up our rifles and guns at Omdurman, and used spears. It is only just to your own side and others if you can stop fighting by being better armed, or armed with a different weapon, and surely we should do it. What the Royal Air Force have felt for some years is that if the Air Force is used quickly and rapidly, and a disturbance occurs a long way off, and an aeroplane is sent rapidly, there may be no need of dropping one single bomb. The mere presence of the aeroplane, owing to its moral effect, is sufficient. I sometimes feel it would have the same effect as among more highly civilised people if one man had a revolver in each hand and the other had not. The unarmed man would submit without a fight. The Air Force feel that if we could use the air in these far-off distant places quickly, it might stop trouble, instead of having to wait for months while a ground expedition is prepared; and I have known the weeks and months that such an expedition has sometimes taken to prepare. I believe that in 90 per cent. of the cases in which the air has been used in the last eight years no bombs have been dropped. I would ask if it is not possible for the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, to give us some in- 26 formation as to the number of cases in which the mere appearance of the aeroplane has done the work.
§ This brings me to another side of the question, that of humanity. For twelve long years we have often been told that it is a most inhuman weapon; but is it? After the few points that I have tried to indicate to your Lordships, is it inhuman? If a column goes out to restore order with its long lines of communication it is likely to have a number of little scraps, and to be continually fighting. It has sometimes to burn villages. Does the Air Force do any worse? I am not saying for one moment that we are exactly on the same plane, but I say that the weapon by its very nature does not kill so many people. A large number of people think it is quite true that if Olympia were full of people and a bomb were dropped it would create horrible casualties. There would be created worse casualties if Olympia were fired at by a gun under the same conditions. I submit that the Air Force is not more brutal than any other form of warfare, and all warfare is brutal.
§ May I give your Lordships a few incidents without wearying you? I know with regard to India that the question has chiefly to do with the Government of India, but I hope that the Secretary of State for India may be told by Lord Thomson about these remarks. There were some air operations on the frontier of India in 1927, carried out in the Mohmand country. In 1908 there were similar operations in the Mohmand country. In both cases a leader appeared preaching a Jehad against the English and raising lashkars to fight. In the 1908 operations, owing to the unrest and threats on the Indian frontier, columns had to be organised, and this tended to harden the tribes against us—they suspected an invasion; whereas in the 1927 operations there was no movement of troops with the exception of a column which was at Shabkadr in case the air operations failed, as they had not got the faith in the air which I think they have now. In the 1908 operations a column had one month's marching in enemy country to achieve its objective. In the 1927 operations air obtained the same results in two days.27
§ Our casualties in 1908 were 52 killed or died of wounds, 205 wounded, and 185 homes killed. The enemy losses are believed to have been about 450 killed. I am not counting the large number of sick and cholera cases, which practically never occur in any air operation. In 1908 the column had to make a circuitous march through the country, and burn villages and large stocks of supplies. In 1927 we had no casualties, and we believe that the enemy's were very mall—in the neighbourhood of forty or fifty. The Mohmand operations in 1908 cost 1,800,000 rupees, against 23,000 rupees in the air operations of 1927—roughly eighty times as much. There have been many similar cases. I would ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he could not give us the cases in which in the last five years the air has been used on the frontier, and what it cost, and compare it with five years either immediately before the Great War or when air was not used to this extent.
§ I turn for a moment to Iraq. My right hon. friend Sir Samuel Hoare in another place gave full details about Iraq in the discussion on the Estimates, so I will not labour that at any length. But when that question was discussed at the Cairo Conference in 1920 or 1921 it was estimated that the defence scheme would have cost something like £10,000,000 per annum. The air scheme on the other hand was estimated to cost only £4,000,000, with a promise of an early reduction. The actual cost to-day is £1,500,000, and, though I have seen this amount queried, if Sir Samuel Hoare's figures were correct, it includes the whole cost of the Service in Iraq, including money given towards the Iraq Army. Every figure stated in the other House was correct in every detail.
§ A year ago there were many troublesome times in the Southern desert with the Akhwans, and the whole desert was in danger of rising. In fact, some of the telegrams prophesied that there would be a Jehad raised against the British. During those operations the squadrons engaged did 6,000 hours' flying and carried 450 tons of stores to the advanced desert bases, where armoured cars or other cars could not go owing to the soft sand. I would ask you to picture what it would have meant to subdue that rising if it had not been possible to use 28 the air. It would have been like building a railway in the desert, as we had to do for Khartoum, and would have taken months or years. Again, quite recently there were 7,000 troublesome tribesmen who had been in rebellion and had been raiding us. They invaded Iraq and Koweit, and there was serious danger of a conflagration that we could not really set bounds to; the whole centre of Arabia might have risen. By air action and the threat of air action the loss was only two camels, and the whole of the 7,000 tribesmen surrendered to the Air Forces.
§ One other short case. Take Aden. Aden is an awful country, an impossible country. The climate is very bad. There were two battalions and a flight of aeroplanes there, shortly increased to a squadron. The Imam had invaded the Aden Protectorate to a depth of forty miles, and captured a place called D'thala and strengthened the fort there enormously. He mercilessly persecuted the tribes, which were nominally under British protection. For eight years this went on, for eight years these tribes asked for relief, and they got none. It was asked how it could be dealt with. I saw it was stated in the other House the other day that without the use of Air Forces it would have cost £6,000,000 to 210,000,000 to turn the Imam out. The sickness would have been very great, and it would have taken a long time, and probably several battalions of infantry. The affair was handed over to twelve young officers with that squadron, and the two battalions were relieved and they left before the completion of the operation. And I think I am right in saying—the Secretary of State for Air can tell us—that within six weeks the Imam was out of Aden. There was nobody killed on our side, except one man by accident, and only about twenty on the other side. The cost, I believe, was about £8,000, and the Imam has never crossed the border again. There was the case of the Mad Mullah of Somaliland. In the early days when I joined the Service we were fighting against him every other year. At long last aeroplanes were sent against him, and now the Mad Mullah has vanished for ever.
§ I would ask the Secretary of State for Air this question: Is it not possible to have an inquiry and to see what other 29 humdrum responsibility in peace time we can take over? I may be prejudiced and entirely wrong, but is there any harm in inquiring place by place and seeing which is the most economical means to employ, both in money and in life? I am not one of those, however much I may be accused of it by my friends, who want to do away with Army or Navy. Far from it. The idea is absurd. But I do say that we should investigate and find out what other humdrum responsibility the Air Force is justified in taking over in peace time. What about the frontier of India? What about the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Sudan, and other places? All I say is that if after inquiry it is found that one of two points is not satisfied, then there is no justification to make any alterations in the existing system. Those two points are—if the Air Force can do it more efficiently for the same money, or as efficiently for less money. If neither of those two points can be met in any one case, I for one do not want to press for the Air Force to take over the duties, because I am really thinking of the efficiency of defence as a whole. I hope I have not wearied your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ EARL BEATTY
My Lords, we have listened with great interest and great pleasure to what the noble Lord has had to say and I feel sure that the sense of this House and the sympathies of this House are entirely with the noble Lord as to the value and the use of the Service which he represents here to-day. He asks that the question as to the taking over of other duties should be investigated. Amongst them he has enumerated duties in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Those duties are performed to-day by His Majesty's Navy, and if the Air Service could take over those duties I assure your Lordships that there would be great rejoicing in His Majesty s Navy, because the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf are, above all others, places in which they do not wish to serve.
But we have to look facts in the face and we have to recognise what those duties are. What are they? They are principally concerned with the suppression of the slave traffic and the arms traffic. Those are duties which, I take leave to say, can only be controlled by naval forces. Dhows have to be stopped, they have to be boarded, they have to be 30 examined and, if guilty, they have to be towed into port. Those dhows very often fly the flags of various countries. They fly the Italian flag, the French flag, the Persian flag, or the Hejaz flag. Therefore, it is essential that before any untoward action is taken it should be ascertained that they are guilty; otherwise there will be an international incident of a regrettable character. That can only be done by stopping dhows and examining them. It is a simple matter for a, sloop to run alongside a dhow and force it to stop. That is what a flying boat cannot do, without risk of grave damage or destruction, or being rendered useless by the clumsy handling of the dhow—on purpose. Another duty which the Navy has to perform in the Persian Gulf is that of looking after the Resident or the political representative. That requires accommodation to carry him about. It is true that a flying boat can carry him about quickly and to great distances, but it cannot accommodate him. It cannot provide accommodation for consultation with native authorities.
Then there is such a thing as showing the flag, which is a very important service performed by His Majesty's Navy. That consists in the exchange of courtesies, hospitality, receiving the authorities on board and obtaining their goodwill, as well as impressing them with a sense of the power of the British Empire. There is also the administrative question. Flying boats and aircraft could not exist in the Persian Gulf without having ships to assist them, unless it means that large sums of money have to be spent in obtaining bases and equipping them. Therefore, from an economical point of view there would be nothing to gain there. All sorts of duties are performed by His Hajesty's ships which could not be done if the sloops were replaced by aircraft. There are operations, for instance. Operations necessitate a ship remaining for a period of weeks at a port where trouble is likely to occur. On many occasions the actual presence of a sloop has prevented a disturbance from arising. That is a duty which the Air Force could not fulfil. Amongst other things which could be mentioned, I think more important than all is that for nine months in the year the weather conditions in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf are such that flying boats could not alight upon the 31 water; therefore, for nine months in the year the traffic in slaves and arms would continue uninterrupted if the Air Force in this case took over the duties which are now performed by His Majesty's Navy.
THE EARL OF CAVAN
My Lords, I also listened with extraordinary interest to the admirably fair and clear statement made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Trenchard. But in this House he has straight away asked His Majesty's Government for a statement of policy on what I conceive to be a question of vast strategical importance. So vast is it that it embraces not only the control and policing of those territories of the Middle East for whose well-being Great Britain is responsible, but it also embraces our intimate relations with the peoples of those countries. I have no wish or desire to probe any secrets of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Still less have I any desire to divulge anything that has ever taken place in a debate there when I had the privilege of listening. I may be quite wrong, but I should have thought that a question of pure strategy such as this should have been submitted, first of all, to the Committee of Imperial Defence by the noble Lord when he was in the chair that he filled so ably as head of the Air Force for ten years; that then the Committee of Imperial Defence would have referred a question so closely affecting all three Services to the Sub-Committee of the Chiefs of Staff; that they would then have made such recommendations as they could, and that after that it was a subject for debate.
This is only my personal opinion; but that is the rule under which I was originally instructed as to the right procedure. There may have been some change, but I feel that this great question should first of all have been referred there. It is one that does require and should receive the deepest consideration. I would not dare to attempt here to reply in detail to the proposals put forward by my noble and gallant friend, but I would like to say two things. The principles of Imperial strategy are unchanged. Each of the three Services must be interdependent. An Army without aircraft is blind. An Air Force without an Army is unprotected and in proportion as it has to detach ground forces for its own pro- 32 tection by so much does it weaken itself in its proper element; and both Army and Air Forces are dependent on the sea arm.
There is yet one last consideration which I should not have introduced had it not been already brought forward by my noble friend, and that is the whole policy of bombing. Is it not desirable in the interests of the future of humanity that there should be at least some thought given to this mode of warfare? We are bound now by certain Conventions regarding the use of poison gases. We are also seeking at the moment for restrictions in the size and number of battleships, cruisers and submarines; yet the Air Force can still wield a terrible threat of indiscriminate bombing of the peoples—innocent and guilty alike. The noble Lord quite truly said, in the instance he quoted, that in North Asia many casualties were inflicted on the enemy. That may be perfectly true. I have not the slightest doubt it, is true, but those casualties may be inflicted on the wrong people. Bombing must be indiscriminate. Women and children must take their chance.
It has always been rather astonishing to me that this great question of bombing from the air has never yet appeared, as far as I am aware, on the agenda of the Powers at Geneva. I hope that at any rate this debate may have brought it to public notice, and that some inquiry may be made into it. Before the policing and control of any portion of the Empire or Mandated Territories is handed over to the Air Service alone, I simply urge that such a policy be considered in all its aspects, humanitarian as well as economical, and I trust we shall in due course be told by the spokesman of His Majesty's Government that at least this great question will first receive the earnest consideration of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have had the privilege of listening to a very interesting debate, and perhaps I may be allowed to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, on his maiden speech, and to say how much we hope that in future he will take part in our debates. We have listened to two other speeches from noble Earls 33 who are conspicuous ornaments in the Services which they adorn, and I feel that it would be indeed presumption for me to venture to criticise anything that they have said. I can assure them that criticism is very far from my mind. It was very gratifying to me to note the spirit of harmony which certainly exists between the three Services, and as one who, some years ago now, had the honour of occupying a humble post as Under-Secretary in the Air Ministry, it is very pleasing to feel that after these years the policy which my noble friend who initiated this debate began in the Air Ministry, and to which I may perhaps be allowed to say I offered a humble contribution, has been successful, and has reached its present satisfactory position. I am sure that your Lordships welcome this debate, and that you will agree that at the stage which we have reached in international politics and international affairs, it is of the highest importance that in our Legislative Assemblies all these matters, which are of prime interest to everyone in this country, should he regulated, and that we should receive the views and opinions of those who are fully qualified to speak upon them.
I was interested, and perhaps I may say somewhat alarmed, by the opening remarks of my noble friend with reference to the strengths of the first lines in Air Forces and I should like the noble Lord who represents the Air Ministry in your Lordships' House to allow me to ask him to give us if he can some information on those very important matters. It does seem to me that the expenditure which at present is being lavished by various countries on their Air Forces is a matter—I will not say of disquietude but one worthy of discussion. When the spirit of the age is in the direction of limiting armaments we can feel that by discussion in the Legislative Assemblies of those countries public opinion will have its proper force in limiting those forces to the size which we, in the international spirit that prevails to-day, should agree is their proper size.
The noble Lord who raised this question spoke of the formidable Air Force which was developed during the War, and I may perhaps be allowed to pay that tribute to him, which he deserves so much, of saying that it was due to his initiative, his courage and his splen- 34 did industry that we did develop that magnificent Air Force. But while his services in War were certainly second to none, I do feel that his services in peace time, during the period in which he has had to use all his administrative abilities, have placed the Air Force in the very satisfactory position in which we find it at the present moment. The noble Lord spoke very clearly as to the function of the Air Force in War, and said that it was necessary for the Air Force to justify its existence in peace time. I think that in the very eloquent speech which he made, containing as it did so many instances where the Air Force has been highly efficacious, he has shown us that the Air Force has done a great deal in bringing advantages and benefits to various portions of the Empire.
I began by speaking of the programmes of other countries, and it is a question in reference to that matter which I would venture to ask the noble Lord (Lord Thomson). There are the programmes of France and Italy, and also of the United States of America, and they all, I think I am right in saying, show a considerable expansion. They show also a further increase in disparity rather than a movement towards parity, and perhaps the noble Lord will be able to give us some enlightenment on that question. It is quite true that those programmes are on paper, and I should like to ask the noble Lord if he has any knowledge as to whether those programmes are likely to be completed. With reference to our own first line, I think I am right in saying that whereas he has consolidated the units which are in existence, and whereas he has done everything in his power to perfect equipment, still the increase in our first line, if I may use the expression, is of a negligible character really. We have not increased in comparison with other countries. I have been much struck by the greatly increased expenditure which other countries have thought fit to make on their Air Services, and I think the noble Lord will agree that the percentages which were given in another place were very striking. I understand that the United States of America have increased their expenditure by no less than 140 per cent. and that the expenditure of France has increased by no less than 113 per cent., whereas our expenditure on the 35 Air Force is, I cannot say considerably less, but less than it was.
Now the expenditure of various countries is certainly an index and an index which it is our duty to consider, but I do not think that this should detract in any way from the congratulations which I think are due primarily to my noble friend who initiated this debate, and to those who have been associated with him and the Secretary of State for Air, by reason of the fact that whereas they have maintained an efficient Air Force the expenditure of this country on the Air Force has been considerably less in proportion than the expenditure which has fallen upon other countries. This certainly points very clearly to the prudent administration which has been the rule and habit of the Air Ministry for some considerable time. But while economy is of the highest importance, and while it is a prime necessity that we should consider economy, still I should like to have an assurance from the noble Lord, which I am sure will be forthcoming and which I have no doubt he will be happy to make, that the Air Force is efficient, as we know it is, notwithstanding economy. I should like also to have an assurance that it has the advantage of the newest and best type of machine for the purpose of safeguarding the lives and limbs of those engaged in this highly dangerous Service.
I hardly think that it is necessary for me at this stage to touch upon a question which is of a somewhat controversial character, the existence of a separate Air Force. I feel that I am not taking your Lordships into any secret when I say that the noble Lord who sits on the Cross Benches and myself passed many anxious moments in the early days of the existence of the Air Force because of that question and because we considered a separate Air Force absolutely vital to the interests of this country. I would not raise this question except that one does see it mentioned sometimes in the newspapers. I think we shall agree that, by reason of many authorities which have reported and various Committees which have been set up, it is really of the highest importance that we should always have a separate Air Ministry in this country. When we have listened to speeches which we have heard from other noble Lords on the Cross Benches—Earl 36 Beatty and the Earl of Cavan—we have felt, I think, that the opportunities of the three Services are complementary and also supplementary to each other, and that whereas the province of the one is in one part of the universe there are provinces where the activities of the others can be more usefully employed.
Earl Beatty made a most impressive and eloquent statement, if I may say so, with reference to the Persian Gulf. That is a matter on which he speaks with the highest authority. Then there is the question of Egypt and the question of Palestine; matters, which as the noble Lord has said, are matters for the Committee of Imperial Defence. I do feel, and I think your Lordships will agree with me, that in this comparatively new arm—because although it has been in existence for some years still it has existed only for a comparatively short time—there are opportunities and activities in which the employment of the Air Force can not only save money but can be of a more humane and of a more efficacious character than if the other Services were called upon to carry out those duties. I do not feel that I can add usefully to anything that has been said by the noble Lord who initiated this debate and by the two noble Earls who followed him. I hope the Secretary of State for Air will be able to give a reply to the questions I have asked and I will not venture to say any more.
§ VISCOUNT PLUMER
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, I crave the indulgence which is always accorded to those who address your Lordships' House for the first time. In common, think, with the other members of your Lordships' House, I have listened with the deepest interest to the able statement which Lord Trenchard has made regarding the achievements of the Air Force and its progress, and propounding certain proposals with regard to future development. The record is a fine one and is of itself a great tribute to Lord Trenchard and the work which he did during the many years he was Chief of the Air Staff. I can assure him that all the officers of the Army appreciate the splendid service which he has rendered to the Army, but I endorse what my noble friend the Earl of Cavan said when he expressed surprise that this great matter had not been in the first instance 37 submitted to the Committee of Imperial Defence, where it would have been considered and reviewed from all points by the Chiefs of the Naval and Military Staffs and the other members who are the responsible advisers of His Majesty's Government. I think that change of procedure in such an important matter is regrettable.
I am not, and I have not been, a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence and I cannot speak with authority on that point, but I am one of the senior officers of the Army and I have held since the War two rather important administrative appointments in different parts of the Empire. Speaking from my experience in those capacities, I cannot allow certain of the claims put forward by my noble friend Lord Trenchard for the Air Force to pass unchallenged, because there is another side to the attractive picture which Lord Trenchard has presented. I do not propose, and this is not the occasion, to enter into any discussion as to the particular rôle that should be allotted to the Air Force in case of war. The point to which I wish specially to refer is the claim, as I understand it, put forward by Lord Trenchard, that measures for public security and the maintenance of order and the prevention or repression of disorder in certain parts of the Empire, should be handed over to the Air Force. In my opinion the character and nature of the Air Force does not render them the most suitable Force to perform those duties.
Apart from any other considerations I would give just two reasons. In the first place, the Air Force admittedly is essentially an offensive force. Its power lies in its mobility and all the advantages of that mobility, and in its ability to strike quickly and strike hard. But many parts of the Empire, especially the distant parts that have been acquired in the first instance by force of arms, have been and are being consolidated and pacified by a constant daily association and contact with the officers and men of our Forces. The inhabitants of those countries have taken our officers and men, quite rightly, as samples of British citizens and, in consequence of their constant association with them, they have realised that British rule and British administration stands for integrity, justice and humanity. The Air Force 38 cannot possibly maintain such daily contact and association. It is quite true that they can visit, and no doubt have visited, distant localities from time to time, but then they are regarded only as visitants, and the ordinary method of keeping in touch is the sending of an aeroplane to circle over those places. That is taken by the inhabitants as a threat—quite an effective threat, of course, because they know full well the power that lies behind it, and a threat which produces, as Lord Trenchard has said, passive acquiescence in authority. But, if we are to make these people contented, happy and actively loyal, we must inspire them with some higher and deeper feeling than passive acquiescence in our authority.
My second reason is that the principal punitive power of the Air Force lies in bombing. Bombing is a most effective weapon for dealing with raids, aggression across a frontier and so forth, but if applied against the civil population, taking the form of destruction of villages and habitations, it is, I consider, a mischievous power. To my certain knowledge the memories of those bombings will not easily be effaced. It nearly always happens that in these cases women and children are killed or wounded. If it is not actually the case, it is invariably reported that it has been the case. As I say, the memories of those bombings, stirring up as they do, and will continue to do, feelings of bitter hatred and resentment, although those feelings may not be on the surface, will not be effaced for many years to come. Those are the two reasons why I consider that the Air Force cannot possibly succeed in true pacification. I have not made any special reference to Palestine. As your Lordships are aware, subsequent to the recent disturbances in that country in August a special Commission was appointed and has submitted a Report. That Report is still under the consideration of His Majesty's Government, and in the meantime I think it would be improper for one who has recently held the office of High Commissioner in that country, to make any observations connected with the causes of those disturbances, with the disturbances themselves or with the deductions that may be drawn from them.
39 Special attention is paid to the claims of the Air Force on the ground of economy. Certainly the figures that I have been able to see and to hear are very attractive, I might almost say alluring; but true economy must not be gauged by actual figures, but by the value which those figures represent. It is false economy to incur any expenditure for the maintenance of public security unless it is quite certain, humanly speaking, that the measures adopted will be such as to ensure permanent pacification, or at any rate a basis for it. I have the highest admiration for the gallantry, zeal, energy, resourcefulness and readiness to undertake their duty of the officers and men of the Air Force, but, as I said before, I do not believe, from the character and nature of the Force, that it is best fitted to be entrusted with the duties of public security. It is for that reason that I ask His Majesty's Government to review the matter very carefully from all points of view before they finally decide upon a policy which, I am confident, cannot fail to involve us in certain embarrassments from time to time and which may eventually—perhaps in the far future, but still eventually—involve us in something akin to disaster.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, if I crave in my turn your Lordships' indulgence for a brief intervention in this debate, I do so with a diffidence that has been very much heightened by the speeches that have been made by the noble Lords who have preceded me, and I do so only for two reasons. One is that I should like to take this opportunity, if I may, of associating myself, as one who has lived alongside the Air Force in two different parts of the world for the last twelve years, with the tribute that has been paid to my noble friend Lord Trenchard and to the work that he has done for the Air Force. No one who has seen much of the Air Force, of its spirit and of the gallantry of its officers and men, can fail to feel that its existence in its present condition is a marvellous monument to the zeal, the courage and the enterprise of the noble Lord who opened this debate.
Whilst I have no qualification whatever for making any military comment, there are two or three things that I should like to say, if I may, from an administrative point of view. Some of us feel that, in the interests of the Air Force itself, it 40 is essential that it should not claim to do things that it cannot do, or perhaps even to be things that it cannot be. It can do so much and it can be so much that is very fine and great that, when it puts forward new claims to what I might call administrative capacity, or to what the noble Lord called humdrum occupations on the frontier, I think it is only right that those claims should be subjected to close scrutiny. The noble Lord indicated in his eloquent speech—and I think the late Secretary of State for Air also indicated this in another place—that he thought the North-West Frontier of India was an area in which the Air Force could possibly be used eventually in place of ground troops as a primary arm. I must say, having, as I venture to think, some small knowledge of circumstances of the North-West Frontier, that I and many others are filled with grave alarm by that claim.
I may venture to remind your Lordships that it is now for some seventy years past that the portion of the North-West Frontier known as Waziristan that lies south of the Tochi river, which is inhabited as we all know by easily the most combative and aggressive tribes on the whole frontier, has been a constant source of trouble to the Government of India. There was expedition after expedition, raid after raid, and in spite of numerous punitive expeditions, costing very large sums of money, never were we able to give that security to British subjects which they had a right to expect, until we found that our system was completely at fault. We exercised no direct control. The control was indirect from the outside. Such dealings as we had with the people were done mostly through Indian subordinates, and the Army itself was used simply as a destructive weapon, to mete out punishment by killing and other methods.
It will be within your Lordships' recollection that in 1919 matters came to a head. At that time I myself was in India. Our commitments were so grave that we were unable even to exercise effectively the indirect control we had set up there. Some frontier posts had to be given up and one was actually occupied by an Afghan mission and Afghan troops. Soon after that there was a large campaign for the reconquest of Waziristan costing us 3,000 casualties 41 and several crores of rupees. Meanwhile the Government of India had at last studied a new solution, which had immediate effect upon the inhabitants. We penetrated the whole of Waziristan with great military roads, so that we could reduce our military commitments in the country and yet provide adequate security by swift transport. Ever since we adopted that policy of control from within our policy has been one of civilisation and pacification, and no better justification for the policy can be given than the facts which we are now witnessing.
If I am not detaining your Lordships it is pertinent to the point which I am trying to make with regard to the Air Force. The most important element in the whole of the success of this policy is direct dealings by British officers with the Maliks or heads of tribes. Wherever the roads go we have a Resident and a political agent, mixing freely with these Maliks, Mahsuds and Wazirs. Army officers move about the country, shooting, fishing and picnicking, and doing all those things accompanied by tribesmen who were recently our most hostile enemies. We have local sports and race meetings for the people with whom we were fighting only a few months ago. We have learned that the crux of the whole problem is an economic one. Raids took place because the country was too poor to support the people, and therefore they had to come raiding down into British territory to obtain supplies, and our occupation of the country and peaceful penetration has put a stop to all raiding. There has been no single raid into British territory for the last four years, and the mere fact of our occupation is doing a great deal to relieve the economic pressure.
We have established a body of local police drawn from the tribesmen themselves. Road-making and building have given employment to large numbers of tribesmen. The contracts for the construction of the roads and provision of stones have been given out to local people, and the building of locations for the troops similarly brings wealth to the countryside. Whereas under our old system our punitive expeditions left a legacy of hate and created a desire for revenge, under our present system our troops are welcomed on all sides. There- 42 fore I argue that the proposal to substitute air control for ground control is going to involve a complete reversal of our present specific policy, and a return to the old system of indirect control from without, which long experience has shown produces hatred and involves us in very costly expeditions. I venture to go so far as to say that whatever air control can do it can never civilise people nor pacify people. I should like to add my word in support of what Lord Plumer has said about the bitterness of feeling left behind by bombing raids. We heard something from the noble Lord about the successful bombing operation in Ibn Saud's territory. I know something about that. I had letters from Arabs throughout the country, and I know that it was not a feeling of love and friendship which was left by the bombing raids, but a feeling of bitterness and hatred. I feel that before we substitute for our old policy of pacification and friendly intercourse with Oriental peoples a purely offensive weapon, such as the air arm, we ought to take the matter into very careful and grave consideration.
May I make a few remarks about Iraq? I know, for instance, that it is claimed that the Air Force has meant an enormous economy in Iraq. I believe that to be true in the main, but I would suggest that the economy is very much smaller than appears from the figures. It has been sometimes argued, in simple manner, that the military expenditure of £20,000,000 has been reduced to £1,500,000, but it is very often omitted to be mentioned that that £20,000,000 was due to the necessity in 1920 of keeping up a military force to quell rebellion and its aftermath, and at the same time there was the instability of our position vis-a-vis the Turks, which no longer exists, and the important necessity of protecting very long lines of communication for a large force in Northern Persia. So the normal reduction has been very much less, and it also has to be remembered that a large ground force is still maintained. I think something between 12,000 and 14,000 levies are still maintained, to which we give some subscription, but in order to get the true sense of the economy we have to add the cost of these levies as well.
I would now like to say a few words about the position in the Sudan and 43 Africa, with which I have also some familiarity. I do not know whether noble Lords quite realise the lack of security which the air arm used alone in Africa affords. In East and West Africa and the Sudan most of the country is covered by a bush which makes the spotting of forces of the enemy practically impossible. I was myself during the War in a part of Arabia and at one moment was one of the people pursued by aeroplanes near Maan. I remember that the Turks sent a force of planes out against us, and not even the most timid of us felt any sense of insecurity. We had only to pull down our small Bedouin tents and scatter, and the planes passed over our heads without our being observed. It is equally true of the country around Darfur, and in West Africa, and so it is practically impossible for even a large force of men to be adequately seen from the air.
Equally in many African countries the enemy consists practically of a single individual, and not of a number of individuals. If you can dispose of the leader, the mullah, the dervish, or whoever he may be, of the particular raiding or hostile force, the whole rebellion collapses. But there can be no selection from the air. You cannot select even between women and children, still less can you select the man who is the leader of the rebellion, against whom your punitive expedition should concentrate its activities. Therefore before there can be any question of the Sudan being controlled by the Air Force in place of ground troops, I think the matter should have the most careful and prolonged scrutiny, not only by the Committee of Imperial Defence at home but in conjunction with people who are wholly familiar with the local circumstances in East Africa, climatic as well as military.
I feel very strongly indeed on this question of the effect of bombing upon the work of the administrator in the East and in Africa. There is no one of us who has spent long periods of our lives among native populations who is not imbued—and I think rightly imbued—with an enormous pride in the success which our people particularly have in getting on with the Oriental and semi-civilised races. Our rôle right through has been that of the protector of the under-dog in all these countries, and we have done it by the personal intercourse 44 and friendly touch of the youngest of our officers with the people. It has been an absolute gift and a genius which our people have had. And Africa, Egypt and the Sudan—all these countries—furnish ample proof of our handiwork, and stand as a monument to what we have done. The proposals to which we have listened to-day involve in my judgment the reversal of a traditional policy in the handling of these peoples, and to substitute what inevitably must be an impersonal and inhuman agency, whose only weapons, however valuable in war, undeniably can only be intimidation and punishment, for the personal human agency of the administrator, with his free intercourse and example, will, I believe, have a most damaging effect upon our repute all through the East.
Finally, in the service of policing as in the case of war there is ample room for both the Army and the Air Force. But it is by close co-operation and the realisation of each other's limitations that our success will be obtained. To get anything like competition in these fields, for administrative or semi-military predominance, seems to me to be absolutely fatal. It is therefore on the plea of our past repute among all these peoples, and the danger of substituting a menace such as this, that I would pray that this matter be examined very fully and carefully before any alteration of our present procedure is adopted.
My Lords, I do not mean to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into the technical details with which he has dealt, nor have I any authority to do so. I would only like very briefly to associate myself with my noble friend Lord Londonderry, because I think that I am the only other person in your Lordships' House who was privileged in a civilian capacity to be at the Air Ministry for some time with the noble Lord who has brought this Motion forward. It seems to me that we have taken part this afternoon in a very remarkable debate. I have been a member of your Lordships' House now for a considerable number of years, but I do not remember before ever having heard four members of your Lordships' House speak from the Cross Benches. It is rare even to hear one, and I think we may congratulate ourselves that the 45 initiation of this debate has meant that for the first time for a great many years we in this House have heard at first hand the opinions of those who are the great brains and the leaders of thought of the three Services. It is one of the happy things that we have to congratulate ourselves on in welcoming in this House the noble Lord who moved this Motion, that it is the first time that anybody with actual first hand experience of the air has addressed your Lordships, and it is obvious from the speeches that have been made that it has been an inestimable gain in this debate.
The second thing that has struck me in listening to this debate is one to which the noble Marquess also referred— namely, the harmony with which every speaker has addressed himself to what has been for a good number of years rather a controversial topic. It seemed to me in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, that he was wise in his moderation. As far as I could hear, he put forward no claims, but rather dealt throughout his very interesting speech with facts, stating what the Air Force had done, giving us figures which it is very interesting to contemplate, and then asking, I think in almost the same words as fell at the conclusion of his speech from the noble Lord who has just spoken, for an inquiry as to how far these matters might be developed. It did not seem to me at all that he was concerned to put forward claims for the Air Force. In the past there have been many claims made, but this afternoon we have heard, not claims but rather a reasoned statement asking for an inquiry. It will be very interesting, I am sure, to all noble Lords to hear what His Majesty's Government have to say in that respect.
In one thing it seemed to me that the noble Lord who spoke last misapprehended a little what fell from the noble Lord who raised this debate. I did not gather in listening to the noble Lord who spoke first that he was against administration, in the sense of putting forward the Air Force to administer instead of the civil administration. Rather I thought his point was that if punitive measures are called for it may be possible for the Air Force to operate more economically and more humanely than bodies of troops on the ground. I think it will be a pity if the impression were 46 left that in anything that he said he was taken to be speaking against that proud record of British administration to which the noble Lord who spoke last referred. I have no other object in speaking except to emphasise from this side of the House, as the noble Marquess has done from that, that we are glad to be associated with the welcome to the noble Lord, and that there is no question of Party in the observations that he has brought before us, and to draw attention to the fact that for the first time we have really had the case of the Air Force put for the consideration of your Lordships by somebody who has been in it, and somebody who has made it.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I should like to add my tribute of admiration not only to the Air Force but to the immense services rendered by my noble friend Lord Trenchard in the development of that Force during the last ten or twelve years. I think it is very natural, and very right, that a comparatively young force, like the Air Force, should wish to re-examine at different times its relations with the older Services, the Army and the Navy. Other speakers have dealt with the situation in Egypt and elsewhere. I only rise for the purpose of giving my support to the observations made by my noble friend Lord Lloyd. I had at the India Office a considerable experience of the relations with the tribes on the North-West Frontier of India, and had to consider very carefully and very fully the best way of dealing with those tribes—whether by punitive expeditions or by the Air Force, and so on. Only two or three months ago I spent some time on the frontier of India and discussed all these problems very fully with the officers upon the spot. Of course, I know that this is primarily a question for the Government of India, but I would ask that very grave consideration indeed should be given to this question before any substantial alteration is made in the method of administering the Forces or in the Commands on the North-West Frontier.
I do not wish to say anything for the moment about the distribution of the troops or the balance between the security troops and those on the frontier. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Trenchard only dealt, I think, rather generally with the question. I am not sure whether he suggested that the control of the North- 47 West Frontier should itself be put under the Air Force or not. I think he recognises quite well that if that were so it would mean a tremendous disturbance in the distribution of the military forces in India. It would affect the question of the covering troops, the attitude of the covering troops during mobilisation and their duties to secure communications during war. It would raise also a number of very complicated questions about who should command and the relationship between the different high officials.
I leave that aside for the moment because I wish to comment on the point he made of the simple test for which, I think, he asked. The question really was, I think, the same efficiency, or greater efficiency for the same cost. There are, of course, very great ambiguities, as he knows, involved in the word efficiency. I certainly would like to pay tribute not only to their great skill but to the great services that the Air Force have rendered on the North-West Frontier of India; but whether they should be in subordination, in co-operation or in command is another matter. I wish to support my noble friend Lord Lloyd in this, that on that frontier of India it is, so to speak, much more than a military or air question. It is very largely an economic question. During the last few years we have adopted a policy there which is having, undoubtedly, the most admirable effect. Those tribes which were once thought to be practically irreconcilable are now realising the benefit of getting a little money, and their leaders or chiefs and their mullahs are beginning to see the great advantage of a little civilisation and a little money coming into those barren wilds. As I say, it is very largely an economic question that we have to face upon the North-West Frontier. If you travel up and down that frontier you cannot help being impressed by these facts—how good the system is at present, what admirable co-operation there is between the most irregular troops and the regular troops, from the Kassadars, through the scouts and the frontier constabulary—the police—to the troops themselves who are, as it were, the silent protectors of those other troops that deal with the people.
I can bear witness from some personal observation to the admirable relations that exist between the British officers and men and the chiefs themselves. I 48 can bear witness to the immense civilising influence not only of the soldiers but the political officers on that frontier. Indeed, it is not too much to say that a solidarity has been established between the tribesmen and our people upon the frontier. Of course, it may be said that the same thing might exist with the Air Force; but I really hope and believe, and I think most observers will say, that the day of raids and punitive expeditions is over. I do not wish to enter further into the arguments as to the North-West Frontier. I have only made these few observations in order to express my strong conviction as to the admirable nature of the system there at present, and how useful is the civilising work done by our political officers and soldiers, and to urge that before any change is made in that system the subject should at least be very carefully, very fully and very sympathetically considered.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD THOMSON)
My Lords, before I proceed with the few remarks I desire to address to your Lordships, I should like to associate myself with the tribute paid by several noble Lords to my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard. I suppose it has been his lot to have an experience that falls to few men while they are still in the prime of life; in other words, to see his life's work reach such complete fruition. My association with the Air Force dates back only to 1924; but when I reflect what my noble friend Lord Trenchard found when he first joined the Air Force—a nursling among the Services, a nursling that was the object of apprehension and solicitude, perhaps, to her two elder sisters, and which he left twelve years later a sturdy adolescent eager to assume new responsibilities and, in the light of its already great achievements, justifiably confident of its ability to discharge them—it seems to me to be no mean achievement in the life of one man, and as I say, a man in the prime of life. I feel sure that we shall always welcome contributions to our debates on defence questions from such a man as my noble friend out of his ripe experience.
It is very difficult for me to give a coherent reply to the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon. I may say that I am very agreeably surprised at the extraordinary cordiality 49 which has prevailed among all the speakers. I was rather afraid that there might be a little more heat than light in this debate; but the contrary has been the case. It is most gratifying. Generally speaking, I have to reply to two questions from the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, and to a variety of questions from other noble Lords arising out of his remarks. It will be simpler, I think, if I express myself in this way to begin with; that is to say, by explaining what I understand by air power, because that is the question which the noble Lord raises in the first part of his inquiry. I do not regard air power as consisting exclusively of Air Forces. It is conceivable, in my view, that a nation might buy an Air Force and hire pilots and, for the moment, have a very formidable weapon in its hand. But that nation would not possess air power. The function of the Air Ministry, as I conceive it, and the justification for its separate existence is that it is there to develop air power.
The three principal elements in air power, as I understand the situation, are an Air Force of sufficient size to carry out the policy of the country; air communications sufficiently developed with an air transport system corresponding, shall we say, to the mercantile marine, nourished and fed by an adequate aircraft industry; and last, but not least, a highly developed system of aeronautical research. Those three elements in air power are in my humble opinion absolutely indivisible. Divide them, and you lose the whole secret of the matter. It is no small tribute to the judgment of our Government and of our race that as long ago as the later stages of the War we did establish an Air Ministry, and confide to it the development of air power in that extended sense. We viewed aviation as a whole as a new science, and we gave one man and one body of men sole responsibility for its development, as regards the Air Force, with professional experts; as regards the other branches, with the highest talent that the Government could command. And the tribute that has been paid to the judgment of our Government at that time and of our people is this, that in the intervening years three countries, one at least of which I never expected to take that course—namely, France—has fol- 50 lowed our example; another, Italy, governed by a man not lacking in character and vision, the first country to follow that example; a third, Greece, under the leadership of one of the most astute and accomplished statesmen of the East, M. Venizeloe. From the moment almost that he took office he followed the British model.
And when I speak of air power it is here, and perhaps here alone, that I may part company from the noble and gallant Lord. I am thinking of it in a sense—and that point I am afraid I have had to labour somewhat—which will colour all my subsequent remarks. The Air Estimates represent to some extent the air policy of a country, but not altogether. The proposals originally put up by a Department may be compared to the worldly hopes men set their hearts upon, and sometimes they turn into ashes. This year I think I may claim that there are some green oases in the desert's dusty face, there are some patches of sun which I trust will light up more than a little hour or two during the coming year. I am bound to say, speaking as the person responsible for those Estimates, that they do nearly fulfil the heart's desire of my advisers. What do they amount to? A slight increase, perhaps more than a slight increase on air defence, in proportion a slightly greater increase on air communications; and a very slight increase on research.
As regards air defence, here I admit I am faced with a difficult question. I have to answer a question asked by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, and the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. The cost of air defence has gone up. The increase in the size of the Air Force has been very slight. Against those two statements it is of course undeniable that the figures quoted by the noble Marquess in regard to the increase of Air Forces in other lands are absolutely correct. The Air Force in France has gone up, or is going up, this year, and I see no reason why the programme should not be carried out, by four and a-half squadrons. The Air Force in America is being increased by four squadrons. Had we followed exactly the programme laid down in 1923 the increase in our Air Force would have been, say, three squadrons, and it is not as great as that this year, not even on home defence.
51 I may very properly be called upon to justify that action. I think I may say this. We keep an Air Force in this country to defend us and our shores against attacks by Continental Air Forces. They are the only ones within striking distance by air. How can that be done? Personally I believe that the policy which should guide a Government in that respect is to provide a sufficient Air Force—that is to say an Air Force of sufficient size and efficiency to act as an adequate deterrent to any hostile Government. Up to date I am sorry to say no means of purely passive defence have yet been devised for dealing with attack by air. I know that there are some people who hold contrary views, but I have never heard them, in holding those views, meet the real case, the surprise attack. I have not the least doubt that devices could be put up at fabulous cost which would make it extremely difficult for attack by air to be made, but even then, against surprise attack I doubt of their being entirely effective. In any case you cannot put them up all over the country. The defence is reprisals—that is the terrible part about air warfare—reprisals and the interception to some extent of the attacking aircraft.
I do not think anybody ought to boast about their own Air Force. From a national point of view we generally are not a boastful people. But I wonder whether, in view of the efficiency and equipment of our Air Force, it really would appeal to any foreign country to drop a bomb upon this island. Of course one never can tell, but from the study that I have been able to give to the matter I think I can assure your Lordships that the, Royal Air Force of to-day is, so far as human foresight and equipment can make it, an adequate deterrent. If it were twice the size I do not know that it would be more adequate. Anyhow, I personally would set my face very strongly against a considerable addition to its numerical strength at the present time in view of the general political situation. After all, note has to be taken of the call of economy. We all know that there is nothing which gets out of date more quickly than an aircraft. In view of the general political situation to-day and of the efficiency of our Air Force as a deterrent, I personally think it would be waste of money to 52 pile up armaments because of some idea that they would make us safer against Continental Powers. That is not my conception of security, I confess. I do not believe in security which is based solely on force. I believe in security based on political conditions, and though I am the last to deny that there is a low limit below which it would be unwise to fall, I am quite prepared to justify the very slight increase in the size of our Air Force this year for the reasons which I have attempted to give.
Your Lordships may well ask on that: Why increase the expenditure on the Air Force? That can easily be explained. It seems to me that no steps should be avoided and no pains spared to avoid any possible jeopardy to the lives of our airmen owing to shortage or inferiority of equipment. The term "consolidation" in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates covers that. The extra money has been devoted to bringing equipment up-to-date, to making good shortage and to ensuring as far as it is humanly possible to do so that no pilot in the Air Force shall lose his life through inadequate equipment, or through a lack of the most highly developed research with a view to making flying safe. I do not propose to deal with the other two aspects of air power to-night, because I understand that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, is going to put down a Question after Easter and a debate will be raised then in which we can discuss this most interesting side of the Air Ministry's work.
I will now come straight to the speech of my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard and deal also with the speeches of the other noble Lords who have commented on what he said. As I understand my noble friend, what he asked for is merely an inquiry. I need hardly say that when he brought forward his ideas to me I sympathised with them. I am not here in the position of a professional man taking sides one way or the other: but there are several ex-Cabinet Ministers sitting opposite me, and they know perfectly well that no Government which was confronted with a proposition which might ensure economy while not sacrificing security, could fail to give most careful attention to such a proposition. It is a most serious matter, and when advanced by a man with the experience of my noble and gallant friend of course it engaged the serious attention of the 53 Government. But the Government are not committed by that to doing anything at once either on the North-West Frontier of India or anywhere else. All that the noble and gallant Lord asked for is an inquiry, and the Government are, at this moment, giving the matter their most careful consideration. The Prime Minister himself is taking an active part in the matter as head of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and I can assure your Lordships that you will be kept adequately informed of the progress of the investigation, for up-to-date it is nothing more. In fact it has not yet started as an investigation.
The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cavan, suggested that it should be referred to the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think I can assure him that his wishes will be met, although I cannot give him any definite information on the subject. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Plumer, made many interesting comments on the situation and said that he thought it would be very dangerous for the Air Force to have its functions widened. I can assure the noble and gallant Viscount that it is quite possible that his opinion may be asked by the Committee. We are not working on a policy and—I say it with all respect—he is in a sense prejudging the finding of that Committee. For all we know they may agree entirely with him. The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Beatty, seemed to think that as from to-day we might be substituting flying boats for sloops in the Persian Gulf. All this is in the lap of the gods, or in the minds of the Committee, and even then the Committee have to persuade the Government. In addressing an Assembly such as your Lordships' House, I need hardly say that matters do not happen as swiftly as that. It will be matter for grave deliberation, for careful and exhaustive inquiry, but I am sure every one of your Lordships will agree that it is profitable that such inquiry should be made if thereby we can ensure security and save a little money. The times are very hard.
I was much struck by one remark made by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cavan, on the subject of endeavouring to humanise warfare. I sympathise with that, but I am surprised that he who has seen so much of war should still believe that any one can humanise it. I would 54 like to think it were so. Without admitting for a single moment that a bomb is more cruel than a shell, even then I am afraid I am sufficient of a cynic to believe that you will never make war anything but terrible, and that possibly the most insidious way of prolonging war as a means of settlement between nations is to endeavour to make it a gentlemanly occupation. It will always be a brutal and a bloody thing, unlimited, unscrupulous. Therefore, if the bomb acts as a deterrent—and I think it does—I should say that that was an added reason for the employment of the Air Force.
We have had many interesting remarks about the effects of air action on tribes in backward regions. There again the deterrent acts—wonder and fear. I am not able at this moment to give the noble and gallant Lord the information he asks for about Iraq. I could easily get prepared a Paper which would give your Lordships the fullest information and lay it. Only in the last few months a most signal success has been achieved by the Royal Air Force in Arabia. A tribe of truculent character led by one of the most truculent chiefs in Arabia surrendered without a single casualty. Warning bombs were a deterrent. I do not think that any remark has struck my colleagues and me more, coming from a man of war, than a remark made by a certain distinguished Air Vice-Marshal who was sent out on special duty the other day to a disturbed area in the Middle East. He saw two or three of us before he left, and the remark that he made to me was this: "I shall feel that I have failed if I drop a single bomb on human beings." It is the most humane of weapons for dealing with these countries, because it deters and prevents and does not always necessarily punish. This has been proved many times.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, made several remarks about Iraq and the North-West Frontier in India. I do not question his great local knowledge, which is indisputable, but I must correct some of his figures. He said that the £1,500,000 spent on Iraq did not include the levies. The £1,500,000 that we are now spending in Iraq, as compared with the £20,000,000 spent in the past, covers every charge, levies and all, and even a contribution to the Iraq Army. The noble Lord, Lord 55 Lloyd, speaking of the North-West Frontier, said that to terrorise these people was a wrong method, and I think he committed himself to the statement that it was bad politically to employ the Air Force on the North-West Frontier. The fact remains that the political authorities in India in 1927 asked for the intervention of the Air Force. I presume that they knew their business. Both the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Plumer, spoke feelingly and in a manner with which I entirely agree about the contact between the troops and the local inhabitants. That undoubtedly is a, very desirable state of affairs. I should be the first to admit that there is no better ambassador of the British race than a battalion of British infantry. They get about among the people, they walk out with the girls, they are always good-tempered, they spend money and they generally sweeten the atmosphere in any foreign country. But I think it must be admitted that this is a somewhat expensive form of ambassador. Much as one would like to quarter troops about the world in order to ingratiate the inhabitants and spread the popularity of the British, the expense is likely to be prohibitive.
I am not standing here to claim that the Air Force can do everything. On the contrary, I do not think that the Air Force can keep order in large cities and crowded centres. It is impertinent on my part to speak on this point, for I have not sufficient detailed knowledge of it, but I am quoting the published opinion, repeatedly quoted in official documents, of men responsible for the conduct of the Air Force, like my noble friend Lord Trenchard. They have never claimed that you can keep order in great cities, or even in such comparatively small cities as those in Palestine. That is not the claim. That is a case of punishment very often, and not of a deterrent, but I think that certainly the noble and gallant Lords sitting on the Cross Benches will agree with me when I say that to use our troops for police purposes is to be avoided. It is very bad for the troops, it is demoralising to them, and it is bad politics in a mandated area to accustom people to the presence of armed Forces when the object of the Mandatory Power is to train them to be self-supporting and self-defending. Also, as I have said, it is extremely expensive.
56 I am not going to detain your Lordships any longer to-night. I welcome the presence of my noble and gallant friend for many reasons. Among others, I feel quite certain that he will continually draw our attention to air questions. If I may say so, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. They have saved me a great deal of trouble and of what I was afraid might be controversy, which is always a thing to avoid.
In conclusion, I should like to say this. Slight reference has been made to the point to-night and reference was made to it in the speech or my predecessor in another place. I refer to the bearing of disarmament on the Air Force. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord. Cavan, who said that the question of the limitation of Air Forces had never come up at Geneva. That is perfectly true, and I think I can give an explanation. These matters, as the noble Earl knows, have been discussed by Preparatory Commissions, but they have not been raised in the same manner as the naval question, for instance, is being raised to-day. I suppose it would be possible to limit Air Forces, though it is very hard to get agreement on these things, and I need hardly say that His Majesty's present Government, or any future or past Government in this country, would gladly welcome some arrangement for the limitation of Air Forces.
After all, we have in that respect acted with a moderation which is an example to mankind. We have never claimed even a one-Power standard as our air policy. At this present moment the figures quoted by the noble Marquess are correct. We are the fourth strongest Power in the world, and we have not parity. I do not like to quote a certain distinguished Admiral about sleeping safely in our beds, but I think we need not be afraid, for the reasons that I have endeavoured to give. We, of all people, will certainly say: "By all means limit armaments and come down to parity." We may have carried our moderation, in the minds of some of your Lordships, too far. Certainly the policy of the present Government and, as I see it, of past Governments, has been to avoid as far as possible and as long as possible a disastrous race in air arma- 57 ments. I do not think that we have lost any prestige or influence as a consequence. We certainly have a clear conscience in that respect before the world.
But, while you can limit Air Forces, you cannot limit air power. Consider the state of Europe to-day. Germany is building up what one might call the foundations of air power in a large commercial air transport system; France, with a similar administration to our own, a large Air Force and commercial aviation together. Italy is working on the same lines. It is difficult to say which of those countries is stronger in regard to air power. Germany is without an Air Force. It is perfectly true that Germany could be beaten straight off, but in aviation one has got to look at least ten years ahead, and when people talk about disarmament I believe that here is one of the biggest problems which lies ahead, because what is quite certain is this, that whether there is substitution or not, whether you increase your Air Forces at the expense of your other Departments—this is not a, departmental matter, it is a national matter, a European matter—whatever you do you are not going to stop the development of aviation.
I read in the newspapers the other day that aviation had turned the Channel into a ditch. I think it is no exaggeration to say that aviation has turned the Mediterranean into narrow waters. I suppose it is true to say that there is not a nook or inlet in the Mediterranean which might not be bombed by aeroplane. These are facts which we have got to consider, not as departmental, not as Party politicians, not even as Britishers. We have to consider them from a European point of view, and if the aircraft carrier is developed we have to consider it from a world point of view, because if this development goes on there is not a town in Europe which would be safe from bombardment and hardly a town in America.
§ LORD THOMSON
Every town in this country is at the present moment exposed to bombing, and it is therefore one of the greatest and most complicated problems which lie ahead, to consider how we can either restrain the develop- 58 ment of Air Forces, or so organise ourselves that the abuse of aviation shall be no longer possible. My own view is that no country can possess air power that is not a progressive and highly developed country. The countries which can possess air power are very few in Europe. They are the most democratically governed, and they are therefore the most likely to wish to avoid the disaster of another war; but without their political co-operation, and without their agreement, there is no prospect of disarmament in the strict sense in regard to air matters. It can only be with their agreement that the nations possessing air power would be able to say to those which are more backward: "We have got the air power. You may have the Air Force, but you are not going to abuse aviation, and these things shall not be." That, as I say, is the only hope in the matter, but, with the noble Earl, Lord Cavan, I would very gladly welcome any conference on the subject of the immediate limitation of Air Forces. I have kept your Lordships longer than I had intended, but there was a great deal of ground to cover. I have been asked for Papers. I do not know what Papers the noble and gallant Lord wants, but I can only assure him that anything which he desires shall, so far as it is in my power to give, be placed at his disposal. I should imagine that in his head he possesses as many facts with regard to the Air Force as I could put him right on.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, there are only two remarks with which I want to deal, that fell from the noble and gallant Lord opposite. He expressed surprise that this debate had been carried on with such friendly feelings. I feel no surprise whatever. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that on almost the last occasion that I went on board one of the aircraft carriers in the Fleet the first thing that happened to me was that I was heavily attacked by some of the Air Force officers because they felt that it was extraordinarily unfair that they should be living alongside naval officers who did not receive marriage allowance, while they themselves did. That typifies the spirit of the Forces. A much more important point that I wish to raise is this. The noble and gallant 59 Lord, I was glad to find, expressed quite clearly that the air defence of London consists in reprisals. That is a point which I think the general public does not understand. I think I am right in believing that the air defence forces of London are composed of aeroplanes which are bombers and not fighters.
§ EARL STANHOPE
The reason, as I understand, is that the air authorities saw, as appears to me to be obvious, that a fighting machine cannot get up into the air in time to be able to deal with a bomber when it appears by night or by day, and at night would find it extremely difficult to find a, hostile bomber, and might get in the way of our antiaircraft guns. I suggest that this point should also be considered by the Government. If we are going into the question of reprisals at all, we should also consider whether reprisal by naval bombardment is not more effective than bombing by aeroplanes from the air. If the Government, will examine the figures of attacks made in the last War they will find that twenty minutes bombardment by a few cruisers of Blackpool and one other seaside town inflicted one-third of the casualties which London suffered during the whole war from aerial bombardment. It is a rather striking fact, I admit, that naval bombardment did not take place against the nations with which we were at war on the last occasion. The reasons are obvious. The shores of Germany and of one other country of Europe are such that it is almost impossible for a naval force to get near enough to bombard. That is not the case with other Continental countries, and therefore when considering what reprisals are necessary we must consider whether naval bombardment is not only the cheapest but far the most effective.
There is a further point. We are so accustomed to see the almost incredible feats of our airmen that we do not always realise the difficulties with which they have to contend. I am not a mathematician, but I believe I am right in saying that when an aeroplane drops a bomb into a 50 ft. circle, that is the same thing as if one of your Lordships were to take a pellet of bird-shot and at the height of your shoulder try and drop it into an ordinary pencil holder standing 60 up on the floor. Your Lordships will realise how extraordinarily difficult it is to drop that pellet into the pencil holder. Therefore, it is impossible to get accurate shooting from the air by bomb, even allowing to the full for the amazing skill of our airmen. Shooting with a gun is infinitely more accurate, and therefore if you are going to have reprisals at all you are more likely to be able to avoid historical buildings and perhaps private dwellings when you are aiming at factories and such things, if you confine your reprisals to shooting with naval guns, rather than dropping bombs from the air.
The noble Lord opposite talked about the efforts the Government would make in order to limit the strength of the Air Force and to endeavour to do away with the race in air armaments. There is a much bigger point than that, and that is the limitation of the way in which the aeroplanes are used. One of the things that surprises me as much as anything is that this country apparently thinks that The Hague Convention has absolutely disappeared. The Hague Convention, which was, of course, signed before the War, I understand forbade the bombardment of open towns, from the air or otherwise. That, as we all know, was broken in the War, but it has not been abrogated by any of the Powers that signed it, and therefore, so far as I understand, that Convention ought still to be in force. But neither we nor any other country talks of it as if it were in force, and indeed the noble Lord opposite talked quite openly about reprisals on towns if we were bombed.
If the noble Lord opposite really feels that there is substance in the hope of getting agreement between the Powers in regard to armaments, I suggest to him that he might in the first instance go for the stopping of the bombing of open towns by aeroplanes in the same way as Powers have agreed now not to attack each other by means of gas. I frankly say that I personally do not attach great importance to agreements of that kind, because we all know the great temptation that a nation at war will have to break them. But at any rate I think something might be done in that direction, and, as the noble Lord and his Party feel so strongly that everything can be done by international action, that, I submit, is one 61 of the first things we might do; and one which would be most valuable in saving human life.
One further remark. The noble Lord opposite said that war was always brutal. It is. But in the past, war as a whole, has been confined to belligerents. During the last War we know there were most unfortunate incidents at sea and elsewhere, in which non-belligerents suffered. Do not let us extend that policy. Bombing from the air is indiscriminate, and that is why it is more cruel than other forms of attack. I happened to be in the first town bombed in the War in the early spring of 1915, and I well remember brother officers of mine going out and finding women and children lying about in the market square where the bombing had taken place, and how they were upset far more than they were by the casualities that they had seen in their own ranks.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Shelling and bombing of open towns are in each case reprisals; they are not a system of defence. And that is why I hope the noble Lord will not speak of the defence of London when he really does mean reprisals.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, before the noble Lord withdraws his Motion, as I understand he intends to do, I want to be quite clear that he has achieved some object. May I take it that the question raised by my noble friend, Lord Trenchard, will be put before the Committee of Imperial Defence? And in regard to Papers, Lord Trenchard did ask for a particular Return, which I think the noble Lord opposite said he would be prepared to give, of the number of casualties in the air expeditions during the last few years.
§ LORD THOMSON
The noble Viscount may rest assured that the principal matter raised by my noble friend is now being considered by the Prime Minister, 62 for reference to the Committee of Imperial Defence or a sub-committee thereof. As regards the Return, I have no doubt my noble friend will tell me what he wants, but the one I have in mind is one about casualties, and showing how few they have been. That I would be delighted to have prepared, and it can he laid on the Table of the House.
§ LORD TRENCHARD
My Lords, I hope this debate has shown the necessity for an inquiry. For instance, I noticed that my noble and gallant friend Lord Beatty, who has now gone, said a flying boat could not fly in the Persian Gulf for nine months in the year. That is not my information; they fly every day. But still, those are matters for inquiry. I will not follow the last noble Lord who spoke, Earl Stanhope, into all the details of the relative accuracy of bombing and gunfire. That is a matter for inquiry. I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that the air arm is just as accurate as any weapon. There is no doubt about it in my opinion. There is still a little idea that we are more brutal and are bound to be indiscriminate and to kill women and children. I have never been able to understand why we may starve women and children by blockade, but we may not use the weapon of the air. I say again with regard to the air weapon that it can be as accurate as gunfire, and I could have given many instances in which particular military houses of the enemy have been more accurately hit than by rifle fire. I have been out at night with troops with a rifle, and have found it very hard to tell at night the difference between a man or a woman, especially in countries were some women wear trousers and some men skirts, when you are attacking their villages. I say we are just as accurate and careful in the air. But that is all a matter for inquiry, and I hope that the necessity for an inquiry has been shown. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.