HL Deb 19 July 1934 vol 93 cc803-5

My Lords, I think your Lordships will desire to hear the statement—the identical statement—which has been made in another place by the Lord President of the Council:

"Ever since the War, successive Governments in this country have actively pursued a policy of international disarmament. In our efforts to further this policy by example as well as precept we have reduced our own armaments to a dangerously low level in the hope that others would follow our lead. But the disarmament negotiations have been drawn out longer than any one anticipated. The Preparatory Commission lasted from 1926 to December, 1930, inclusive. The Disarmament Conference opened on February find, 1932,' and has pursued its labours ever since. During these eight and a-half years misgivings have arisen from time to time in many quarters at the increasing accumulation of deficiencies in our Defence Services, particularly in view of the increased expenditure on armaments in many other countries.

"Most of the Leaders of all three Parties are familiar with the position in its general outline, not only from knowledge acquired while in office, but also from a Three-Party Conference on Disarmament in 1931, in the privacy of which all the facts of the situation were disclosed in confidence. The Government's policy remains one of international disarmament, and we have by no means abandoned hope of reaching some limitation. As mentioned in the debate on July 13, we are even now making fresh efforts to break the virtual deadlock that exists at Geneva. Unfortunately, however, particularly in view of past experience, we cannot count on an early result, and in view of our commitments under the Covenant of the League and the Locarno Treaty, the many symptoms of unrest in Europe and elsewhere, and the failure of other Governments to follow our example by comparable reductions, we have for some time felt that the time has come when the possibility of keeping our armaments at their present low level must be reconsidered in the absence of comparable reductions by other Powers. This is a situation which I believe Leaders of all Parties have foreseen must sooner or later be reached.

"In the light of these considerations the whole question of Imperial Defence and the part to be played in it by the three Defence Services has been for some months under review by the Government. It is not necessary to-day to give any complete account of our inquiries or of the detailed conclusions at which we have arrived. The deficiencies which it will be necessary to make good are largely deficiencies in equipment and stores which, as I mentioned in my speech on March 21"—

it is the Lord President of the Council speaking—

"have grown up owing to financial stringency and the discussions on disarmament. In these respects the results of our inquiries will be reflected in the Estimates for future years, and can be more conveniently discussed when those Estimates are debated.

"So far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, however, the position is rather different. Here it is a case of the need for further development, which has time and again been postponed, in addition to the need for making good deficiencies. We have come to the conclusion that we cannot delay any longer measures which will in the course of the next few years bring our Air forces to a level more closely approaching that of our nearest neighbours. Moreover, in the case of the Royal Air Force specific undertakings have been given that an announcement will be made before the end of the present Session. Before coming to the programme we have decided to adopt, I would emphasise that many factors which have influenced our decision are still fluctuating and liable to change. This applies equally to the future of disarmament and the whole international situation. Consequently our defensive position will have to be kept constantly under review, and we reserve the right to modify or adjust the programme in the light of new factors that may arise.

"Subject to this caveat, we have decided on a programme covering the present and the four ensuing years under which the Royal Air Force will be increased by 41 new squadrons, including those already announced in the 1934 programme. Of these 41 squadrons 33 will be allotted to Home Defence, raising the existing 42 squadrons at home to a total of 75 squadrons. The remaining squadrons are for service with the Fleet Air Arm or abroad. The rate at which this programme can be carried out within the five years must depend upon various considerations, including finance, which I cannot specify now. We hope, however, so to space out the work as not to make an unmanageable addition to the Estimates in any one year."

Forward to