§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE moved to resolve, That this House regrets that a policy of increased armaments has been announced by His Majesty's Government before the termination of the Disarmament Conference, and after the recent conversations with France; and considers that such a policy is not calculated to give greater security 893 to this country, but by encouraging further competition in armaments is likely to endanger world peace.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion on the Paper in my name, on behalf of the Opposition in your Lordships' House and after consultation with my honourable friends in another place who are moving another Resolution at a later date very much in the same terms but further elaborated. I am on this occasion voicing the opinion of the Party with which I have the honour to be associated, and do not desire for a moment to inflict on your Lordships the views which I hold personally and which may differ in degree from those held by others. The course I am taking on behalf of my noble friends is one which we thought appropriate, as we have in your Lordships' House the Secretary of State for Air, who is chiefly concerned in the very grave announcement that was made by the Government last week. We have therefore lost no time, as we considered that your Lordships' House was the appropriate place in which to make the first of our charges against the Government's action. I hope very much that nothing that I shall say will strain too much the well-known and disarming courtesy of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, but so grave is the situation caused by the Government's announcement that we felt that without delay our attitude with regard to it should be laid before the country.
§ The subject divides, itself really into two parts: the policy declared by the Government and the occasion for the announcement of that policy. The policy declared by the Government involves an increase of forty-one squadrons in the Air Force which, when complete, will mean that thirty-three squadrons will be added to the total number available for home defence. That is an increase of 75 per cent. Eight extra squadrons will be available for service overseas, and provision will be made for four new squadrons in this year's Estimates. The total increase in strength will be aproximately 460 first-line machines when the whole programme is completed. The total expenditure, comprising a great number of new aerodromes, it is estimated, though we cannot say with what accuracy, is likely to be in the region of £20,000,000. There is a tendency, in dealing with the 894 Forces to consider that the air arm can be dealt with in a similar way to the military and naval arms, and we very often fall into error in that respect because the capacities of the air arm are, to a large extent, still unknown, but as we go along we are learning certain facts which are sufficient now to allow us to make a very clear estimate of its value and capacity.
§ The first question that arises is: What is the object of this increase, this sensational increase, in the air arm? Is it for defence? I shall lay aside any suggestion that it is for aggression. Nobody that I know in his senses in this country desires any aggressive policy, or wishes to arm or increase armaments for the sake of aggression, so that is a matter that need not enter into our discussions. Therefore we come at once to the question: Is it for defence? In the course of my remarks I shall have occasion more than once to quote the words of the Lord President of the Council, because he has made himself responsible for a series of very important speeches ranging over two years, dealing almost exclusively with this very grave problem. And as he is a leading member of His Majesty's Government we are therefore obliged to take what he says as authoritative, and we are justified therefore in quoting from his speeches.
He answered the question with regard to an increase in the air arm meaning defence, when he said in November, 1932:
I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through.
§ The noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air, has in none of his speeches denied the truth of that, and the Undersecretary for Air has confirmed it in his speeches. Therefore we can dispose of the idea—
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUES OF LONDONDERRY)
I do not think the noble Lord said I had confirmed that?
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
No, I said that the noble Marquess had never denied the truth of that, although he never, as I quite admit, made the same assertion. We may, therefore, dispose of the idea that this is for defence, and indeed it would be very wrong to delude the people of this country into supposing 895 that it was for defence. But it may be argued that attack may be the best defence and that the question with air warfare is who gets the rapid blow in first. We then come to the question of defence by threat of retaliation. Again the President of the Council said:The only defence is in offence, which means you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in a recent debate emphasised this point by saying that the threat of retaliation would have the effect of preventing an air attack. It has become an almost favourite doctrine and I wish to say a word on the subject. The argument is this, that if nation A desires to attack and drop bombs on the capital of nation B, nation A will hesitate to do that if it knows that nation B will retaliate by dropping bombs on the capital of nation A. That seems very plausible and a very good argument on paper. It visualises neatly arranged war between two nations where this offence is going to take place and is going to be thwarted in that way. Anybody who follows the course of international relations and looks at the world of to-day knows that a war if it comes— I used to say "if it comes"; I think since the present Government's announcement, I should say "when it comes"—is not going to occur in that way at all.
The network of treaties, assurances, obligations, engagements, commitments, tentative proposals, friendly conversations between one Power and another makes it impossible that a war is going to break out by the isolated aggressive intention of one nation A against another nation B. There are obligations under Article 16 of the Covenant; there is the Kellogg Pact; there are a number of treaties of non-aggression which have been concluded by the Soviet Government; there is the Little Entente; there is, I believe, a Balkan Pact; there is a Turkey-Persia Entente; there is the Nine-Power Pact with regard to the Far East; there is Locarno, and recently there are the regional pacts which have been called the Eastern Locarno. So it is perfectly clear that the next war, if it arises, will not be a matter of military strategic alignments, but of complex diplomatic entanglements. And in these conditions this clear-cut proposition of one nation being deterred from dropping bombs on 896 the capital of another nation by the threat of retaliation is simply no argument at all.
We come next to a third possibility as a reason for this policy and that is the desire for parity. The noble Marquess, I think it was in June of this year, said that the Government were determined to obtain for this country parity in the air with any country within striking distance of these shores. I rather hope he is not going to repeat that to-day after M. Barthou's recent visit, but at any rate the Government have got parity in mind, and the quest of parity is really a new fangled method of talking of competition. It is the quest of parity that must lead to competition in armaments. "I have one, you must have two: then you have three, I will have three," and so it goes on. It is this quest for parity that leads to a wholesale competition in armaments. When this programme is carried out we shall have approximately 1,300 first line machines; France has now about 1,650; Russia and Italy have each 1,500. We shall not have reached parity. But why parity? Is there safety in parity? There will be far greater safety in preponderance. If any Government could guarantee the safety of this nation by spending vast sums on a huge Air Force then the matter would be different, but we know that this Air Force is no defence; that it is not going to be used for attack; that defence by retaliation is an argument that will not hold water. The mere desire for parity really is an idle and insufficient reason for alarming this country with the declaration of this new policy.
Again I go back to the Lord President of the Council. When he was examining the three possibilities with regard to the question of disarmament he mentioned first the idea that all nations should disarm down to the level of Germany—a proposition which His Majesty's Government never pressed. He then pointed to the possibility of a limitation of armaments, which excludes large offensive weapons, and added:The third alternative is competition in armaments. Those are the three possibilities. What I say there is that in no circumstances must that third alternative be reached.But it has been reached, and the Government have been the first to lead in that direction. Mr. Baldwin and his 897 Government have gone steadily down the path which he, in the most eloquent terms, has warned the country to avoid. We are now in the full flow of re-armament, and this is what he said about rearmament:If re-armament began in Europe you may say good-bye to any restoration of cuts, to any reduction of taxation for a generation. And it is just as well to face these things. We may have to face thorn, and let us realise what it is we are up against. … Psychologically WES should be back again in 1914, and with more knowledge than we had then, and I have never disguised my own view that another war in Europe would be the end of the civilisation we know.Those are very grave words which moved the country very deeply, and here we find the Government, a few months afterwards, drifting precisely down that very steep precipice.
I am not alone in thinking that the present situation resembles the earlier months of 1914. There is the same idea of competition, the same vague, undefined suspicions, the same feeling of insecurity, the same absence of a bold, courageous lead in the right direction. Although it may be a side issue one must consider the question of money. In recent debates which we have had in your Lordships' House on housing, on education, and on questions like the provision of public works and unemployment, we have found the Government necessarily held back by want of money, by reluctance to impose further taxation, and this real national defence is to be sacrificed for a system which so far the Government have not defended as being national defence at all.
One wonders what in recent months has induced the Government to take this step. I do not know if it is to satisfy the clamour of a very articulate but utterly negligible section of public opinion. I do not know whether it is to help people such as those who call themselves the Air Defence League. I dare say other noble Lords have received, as I have received, a leaflet with the portrait of a, gentleman on the outside of it—a very hideous character, who has apparently lost most of his teeth and so wants somebody else to bite for him. In that leaflet we are told that there must be created "a new winged army of long-range British bombers to smash the foreign hornets in their nests." Is that the sort of clamour to which the Govern- 898 ment are giving in? If so, they will find that it is a negligible minority, who are actuated by motives so low and who seem to glory in the use of these diabolical methods of destroying human life.
Then there is the argument which I have seen used—I am not sure that it was not used by somebody last Saturday—that this policy of ours announced last Thursday is going to encourage other nations to disarm. That is a most surprising theory. It may go down in Han-well and Broadmoor, but it will not go down in Parliament. We, who have the least cause of almost any nation to be nervous of any prospective attack, say that our rearming is going to reassure the world so that they will begin to disarm! The truth is that the Government have created a very anomalous situation and then they will point to that situation as a justification of the measures they have taken.
But, my Lords, under the second heading of the occasion they have chosen for the declaration of this policy, still graver charges can be brought against His Majesty's Government. Where is the imminent danger? I would venture to assert without contradiction that in the history of Europe there can hardly have been a time when the nations and their Governments were more intent on internal reconstruction and the adjustment of things in such a way as to get rid of the terrible dislocations of the recent War. I do not believe there has been a time when nations have been so intent on internal policy as they are to-day. You see that wherever you turn. We find that the various changes that have been going on in Germany are of such a character as to make internal questions the one interest of the moment. And unfortunately in France the same may be the case with the internal troubles that they have. Italy wants to reconstruct her national life The Soviet Government are intent on so testing their past experiment as to prove it, if they possibly can, a success, and they know that the whole of the experiment depends on world peace. The tension even between Germany and France recently seemed to have been very much loss strained.
At the same time the long-drawn-out attempt at disarmament which, under the auspices of the League of Nations, has been going on in the Disarmament Con- 899 ference has not yet terminated. Surely it is premature on the part of the participants in the Conference to make a declaration that that Conference has failed. That the British Government should take it on themselves openly to declare the failure of the Disarmament Conference before the doors are closed, when as often as not, as we know, at the last moment after great differences some solution may be found, we regard as a malevolent act of diplomatic sabotage without any parallel—a wanton act of mutilation at a critical moment which only indicates the insincerity of the pretended support the Government have given to the League as the appropriate body to deal with these grave international problems.
Not only that, but hardly a fortnight has passed since the French Foreign Secretary was our guest here in London. Regional pacts were discussed, and Sir John Simon in another place made a long statement in which he expressed his approval of the steps that were being taken and he assured us that no further obligations had been undertaken by this country. My Lords, I hate the sound of "no obligations." It reminds me as much as anything of August, 1914. We are not, as a nation, famous for our diplomacy. The French are rightly very famous for theirs. When will our diplomats learn that an obligation may not depend on any written and sealed document or on any treaty or formal engagement, not even on any verbal assurance, but that it can become binding as an obligation of honour founded merely on a friendly expectation of co-operation in certain circumstances where you find yourselves committed to some possible form of intervention?
This Eastern Locarno, these regional pacts, sound very plausible and one is naturally desirous of supporting anything that will bring Russia and Germany back into the League of Nations. Any friendly intention on the part of Powers to work together co-operatively for the sake of peace is a policy which very naturally we should be inclined to approve. But we must regard these questions a little more closely. This Eastern Locarno is linked to the Western Locarno by France. If France is committed to support Russia against a possible German attack, it is not inconceivable that a war might break out on Germany's Western frontier, and 900 then we are involved. You cannot detach these matters. But, as I pointed out just now, the entanglements in Europe are so complex that we must regard the possibility of here or there some commitment turning up of which we were not aware. The assurances of the Foreign Secretary were such as to make us think that this was all to the good—that there was no new commitment; but when, within a fortnight, the Government declare out of the blue that they are going to increase their air arm by 75 per cent., then we are inclined to wonder whether there are not some hidden obligations of which the country is unaware. Certainly the announcement of the Government has done very much to make us very suspicious of these recent conversations with France, unless they can explain it in some other way. We are wondering. There is a lot still to be explained, because the country, and the world, are somewhat mystified as to this step on the part of Great Britain.
Somebody—I do not know who it was— declared that this Government believed in faith, hope and parity: faith in the efficacy of the new and diabolical weapon of aerial bombardment, hope that threatened retaliation would prevent an attack, and parity, this fruitless pursuit which is the surest way to encourage competition and endanger world peace. As I said just now, we have a lot more to learn. The noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air, has in your Lordships' House always very clearly and very explicitly put the point of view of the Air Force for which he is responsible. He has not indulged in any rhetoric, and I think he has often been very much embarrassed by the eloquence of the Lord President of the Council. However that may be, there is a lot that requires explanation before the nation will be satisfied. By the declaration of this policy at such a time the Government have done much to damage the reputation which they imagined they had gained for wisdom, sanity, and judicious economy. The great mass of the electors, who are inarticulate, will take note of this. Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the policy of the Party to which I have the honour to belong, we all know that when it comes to an Election it is the failures of Governments and not the promises of Oppositions which turn the scale. A Government which has de- 901 liberately sowed discord in the world when it had, with its large Parliamentary majority, an unrivalled opportunity of taking the opposite course, the path of peace, is a Government which the people of this country in their present mood will show that they will no longer tolerate.
The Government are creating a scare quite inexcusably. They are authoritatively damping down all prospect of disarmament. They are suggesting that their recent approval of regional pacts may involve indirect obligations to draw us into Continental wars. They are devoting a large part of the country's resources to destructive purposes when every penny is required for the arduous work of reconstruction; and they are showing their complete confidence in the imbecile doctrine that by devastating violence you can settle international disputes. That is our indictment against the Government, and we are making it because we know that we are voicing the opinions of many millions of our fellow-countrymen. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House regrets that a policy of increased armaments has been announced by His Majesty's Government before the termination of the Disarmament Conference, and after the recent conversations with France; and considers that such a policy is not calculated to give greater security to this country, but by encouraging further competition in armaments is likely to endanger world peace.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbreae.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the interesting speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is in accordance with the views he has often expressed in this House and also in agreement with those of his Party. I do not propose, to-day, to travel into many of the points which were raised by him, but hope to confine myself to the precise matters before your Lordships in the present Motion. It cannot be doubted throughout the world that this country and the successive Governments of this country in late years, ever since the War, have devoted their energies and abilities to the promotion and maintenance of peace; certainly they have done what they could to prevent wars in the near or immediate future. In relation to dis- 902 armament in particular, I think we must bear in mind, in view of what has been said by the noble Lord, that for some eight and a half years now successive Governments of this country have been engaged in promoting disarmament, in allowing their own armaments to fall to a level below that which has been considered quite secure, and have gone, as some have thought, too far in that direction. I myself cannot accept that view, but nevertheless there has been definite criticism in this respect.
It has been said again and again that a time would come when the Government would be bound to take action in order to remedy the deficiencies which have been allowed to happen during those years, owing partly to the financial position of the country and partly also to the discussions on disarmament. Eventually, only a little while ago, we reached a condition of affairs in which it was thought, so far as I can gather, by all who had studied the international situation in relation to the Disarmament Conference, that there was little hope for this Conference. I have no desire to recapitulate various statements that were made, and various indications that were given, not only by the Government but by others, and I am perfectly certain by some members of the Opposition Party as well as, I have no doubt, by some members of my own Party. I am not for a moment suggesting that they declared the Conference was at an end, but what I think we all thought not so long ago was that the prospects of the Disarmament Conference were just about as bad as they could be, and that it would surprise nobody to hear that within a very short time the Conference was to come to a conclusion.
As your Lordships know, all who are engaged in a Conference, and all the nations who are taking part in it, are anxious to avoid as far as they can anything like a complete failure and the announcement of the dissolution of a Conference without having reached any result. It was thought, certainly so far as my reading and discussion helped me, that that had happened only a little while ago and, as I gather, there have been discussions by the Government, with, I should imagine, the Committee of Imperial Defence and with those whose advice they were taking on this subject, as to what was to happen in the event of the Conference being declared at an end, and 903 of stock having to be taken in relation to the Defence Services. I do not hesitate to say, and I am sure your Lordships will all agree whether you are in opposition or not, that no Government, of whatever Party composed, could possibly have held the position of an executive Government during the last two months, to take only a short period of time, without giving care, thought and time to the consideration of the defences of this country—to the three defensive Forces—in the future, and particularly if the Disarmament Conference should come to a conclusion. I am perfectly certain that nobody could blame the Government if, for some time, and it may be for a long time, they had been considering all these possibilities. I gather that the Government did come to a conclusion in regard to the Air Force, and that has been followed by the declaration made by the Government in the last few days.
We are concerned to-day with that declaration and what it means. That it is a highly momentous statement of policy by His Majesty's Government, and that it must have an effect upon the international situation, apart altogether from our own national situation, cannot be disputed. It is a very important statement to have made. It is confined in its definite policy to an increase of the Air Force, but I notice that in the statement that was made by the Government it proceeds rather further. It is true that the Government confined the statement in the main to deficiencies of stores and equipment, but nevertheless what they had to say in this respect affects all three Services. The material words in the declaration are: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 … 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.The only point I wish to make, to-day, in debate upon that, is that I would ask the Government to give us some indica- 904 tion of what that means. I have been myself somewhat perplexed by it, because "equipment" is a word of wide meaning. It is a term which can be extended and expanded, and in relation particularly to our naval forces, and also the Army, one would like some indication—I cannot ask the Government to be precise about it—of what is in the mind of the Government in regard to this.
It is a very definite statement and has been most carefully thought out, but it gives no idea of what will be involved in relation to expenditure. After all, we must consider the question of finance. It has a very material bearing on the situation. I doubt whether it has been stated, but I have seen it estimated that the increase in the Air Force will cost over the next four years, when this programme is completed, from £20,000,000 to £40,000,000. So far as I can judge, and I have not, of course, the same opportunity of forming an opinion as the Government must have, £20,000,000 will be nearer the figure, but I hope we shall be told what is meant by that statement. I hope the Government will give us some idea—I understand there is much to be considered—which will enable us to form our own opinion as to what will be involved in the future by increased Estimates which will be brought forward in successive years in order to make good what are called the deficiencies in equipment and stores.
We are at the present day spending money rather freely. Even with a very careful Chancellor of the Exchequer we have been piling up burdens. We have not been able to spend money in a direction which most of us would have desired—namely, in education—as explained quite recently by the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, as well as in other matters, whereas we are becoming used to subsidies. From week to week we hear of new subsidies which have either been granted or will have to be granted in the forthcoming year. I certainly am not going to take up time in discussing details of the matter, but I only refer to it in order to press upon your Lordships what I submit cannot be left out of consideration, and that is that the Government's statement as it stands does mean serious expenditure, apart altogether from what may be necessary for the Air Force.
I can quite realise that in view of the various new conditions that prevail 905 abroad, with the possibilities of terrible destruction and devastation both of life and property that would ensue from attack from the air, the Government have been particularly concerned about the Air Force. Perhaps it is easier to point to deficiencies in our Air Force, as compared with some countries in Europe, than in the other Services. Whether it was necessary to increase the Air Force I cannot pretend to argue: it is the Government's responsibility. The Government have all the advantage of knowledge and advice on this subject, and I am not disposed to quarrel with their statement that it is essential now to increase the Air Force in order to keep pace. As I understand, what the Government are proposing now is an increase of 41 squadrons, including the four that have already been provided in the present year's Estimates, so that, if this policy is carried out, there will be an increase of 75 per cent. in the number of the aeroplanes which will be available in this contry.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Marquess speaks of 75 per cent. I am not sure what figure he refers to.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I will tell the noble Marquess. As I understand, we have hitherto had 42 squadrons. Ws are increasing by 41 squadrons, of which 33 are to be for home defence. That increase—I mean the addition of 33 to 42—would make an increase of 75 per cent. in home defence. There is just a little confusion because it makes a total of 75 squadrons as well as an increase of 75 per cent. The extra eight, of course, are to go to the Fleet air arm, and there the increase is only 20 per cent. I have no doubt that the Government had ground for coming to the conclusion that that increase would place this country in a better position for defence than has hitherto been the case. I imagine that little can be said against the fact, although there may be a difference of opinion in regard to the time or the measures that are taken.
The difficulty that I find in the Government's pronouncement is not so much in the declaration that they will have to increase the Air Force as in the moment they have chosen for the making of the announcement. I say, in all seriousness, that I cannot conceive a more inoppor- 906 tune moment to choose for this declaration than that which was selected on July 19 last. I have no desire to press the Government on the point but I cannot but come to the conclusion, having regard to all that has happened, that the Government made that announcement merely because at an earlier stage it had given a promise that it would make the announcement before the present Session came to an end. To put it perfectly plainly, the moment had arrived when it was thought the Disarmament Conference was bound to fail, although it was still kept alive and the failure had not been declared.
I have no doubt that the Government then formed conclusions as to what they should do, and thought that there would be no objection—especially as there must have been pressure put upon them from those who thought it necessary in the interests of the country to increase the Air Force—to an announcement being made before the end of the Session in order to relieve the apprehensions of those who were disturbed by the present state of deficiency. But in the interval there was a very important debate. I need not discuss in any detail the arrival of M. Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, or the discussion that took place then. But I would beg your Lordships to observe that on the occasion of that debate it was made quite clear by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that a real change was taking place in the situation; that there was reason for encouragement; and he made the very definite assertion that we should seize this opportunity with both hands to bring about the better condition of things which, according to his view, was bound to supervene if what has often been termed the Eastern Locarno Pact became an accomplished fact.
It is in this respect that I am troubled by the announcement that the Government made some very few days after that, because from that moment it was thought there was a change in the European situation. I think the Leader of the Opposition has made much of this—and, as it seemed to me, rightly—that from the mere fact of the announcement made in the House of Commons by Sir John Simon on that Friday there had been an improvement in the situation, and an improvement which it was hoped would continue from day to day and grow in strength, and that if it eventually re- 907 sulted in the treaty—perhaps not with all the various terms which were suggested, but with some of the important terms incorporated—it would be a great gain, and would eventually lead to agreement, at the Disarmament Conference, or, if that is putting it too high, let me say to a greater possibility of reaching agreement at the Disarmament Conference to take place at a later date.
That happened; and I have been troubled, as I have indicated, by the Government's action in making this announcement on July 19 just at the moment that it had set everything moving by declaring its approval of M. Barthou's proposal, coupled with the statement that we are not as a nation entering into any new commitment but using our influence as far as we possibly can, as we declared we would and as we have done, to bring this pact of mutual assistance, this regional pact, into operation. Of course, as your Lordships will see, the position in Europe would be entirely different if that pact succeeded. Russia would be a guarantor to France and Germany, Germany would be a guarantor to Russia and also to France and other countries which I need not name, with the result that an entirely new situation would be created, with the consequence, as it was hoped and believed, that Russia would enter the League of Nations and, as it was also hoped, that Germany would be induced to re-enter the League of Nations.
If these things could be pictured as possibilities, as they were, by the statement of Sir John Simon, undoubtedly a new situation had been created which materially improved the outlook as compared with what it had been but a few days before. Now one wonders why, in face of this and of the communications that the Government have undertaken to make and have made, it should have been necessary to make the declaration to which attention has been drawn, only six days after. So far as I can see the only possible justification for it is that the Lord President of the Council had said at an earlier stage and before this improvement had set in, before the question of the Barthou treaty negotiations had ever been suggested, that he would make a statement before the end of the Session. One cannot but think that it might have been preferable if the Government had, in view of the new conditions, postponed the statement until later 908 in the year. It would not have required the eloquence of the Lord President of the Council or of the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air, to persuade the public that in view of the new circumstances it was really undesirable that the Government should make that statement before the end of the Session. That really is the position as I understand it and as I follow it.
I am not suggesting, and I hope it will not be thought that I am suggesting, that because the Government took the view that conditions were improved they were absolved from giving further consideration and further devotion of care and thought to the problem of the Air Force. Not for a moment. I quite realise that they were bound to give all their attention to it, especially in view of the apprehensions that had grown up and in order to provide for greater national security. But I would like to ask the Government certain questions, and my mind and the minds of those who are associated with me will really be affected by the answers the Government may make to the questions I am putting to the noble Marquess. I am certainly not pressing him to make any statement which he would think contrary to the public interest. I can quite realise there may be circumstances which he would think it not only undesirable but contrary to the public interest to announce in this House, but I do want him to give his attention, if he will, to certain statements that are made and which leave us in some doubt.
One of the Government's statements is:The Government's policy remains one of international disarmament, and we have by no means abandoned hope of reaching some limitation.It is to be observed that in this statement of policy the Government did make reservations, and indicated that in consequence of the fluctuations in the course of events it might be necessary to modify or adjust their programme, and they reserved all right to do it, as it seems to me perfectly rightly, because it does not follow, if they have the authorisation to increase the Air Force by these forty-one squadrons, that it will be necessary to do it. Supposing—and I can do no more than suppose—the Eastern Locarno Pact were to eventuate, or something approaching it were to eventuate, ob- 909 viously, it would seem to me, and I hope to the Government, that it might not be necessary to go as far as they have at present indicated because the result would be that you would have got rid to a large extent of the difficulties in Europe. You would have got agreements both on the Eastern and Western sides of Germany, with the consequence that there would be a far greater hope of reaching agreement at the Disarmament Conference than ever could have existed before.
That is why we are so impressed by the inopportuneness of the moment of the statement. I would ask the Government whether they would be a little more explicit than they have been in relation to the Disarmament Conference. I observe that they have not abandoned hope of reaching some limitation, but I would ask them to be more explicit than that, and to give us an assurance—I hope I am not asking too much—that they will use unremitting efforts to reach a Disarmament Convention, that they will not be content with not abandoning hope, but will continue to do all they can in order that we may reach a disarmament agreement with the consequence that we might then prevent the rearmament of other nations as well as ourselves. I pass over altogether those questions relating to finance, which are important enough because, if all these alterations have to be made and increases such as are indicated in the Air Force have to be made again in the Navy, the finances of this country will be seriously burdened. That, however, is a burden which we shall, of course, have to face if the necessity for it arises.
I would ask the Government and the noble Marquess who is to reply to give us some indication of the Government's views in this respect, and I would put one further question which I hope the noble Marquess will be able to answer, I trust favourably. In view of the time selected, the result is that we are at this moment dealing with this new policy of the Government's of increased armaments at the moment when negotiations have been set on foot for bringing about this most important change in the condition of Europe by what we call for convenience the Eastern Locarno Pact. I must assume—I cannot conceive that in view of the statements that the Government make they would be unready to agree—that a 910 reasonable time must be allowed for these negotiations to take place in relation to that pact. I do not mean by that an undue length of time. On the contrary, I use the word "reasonable" purposely, because one knows well that otherwise it might be that you would have a prolongation which would be very unsatisfactory and the Government would not know how the position stood. I submit that it is not pressing them too far to ask, whilst talking of steps that may be essential at the moment for the purpose of getting themselves ready for the defence of our coasts and of our country, that nevertheless they will stay as far as they can more active steps in carrying out this policy until at least a reasonable time has been allowed in order to see whether the negotiations will be successful.
I would ask them to go as far as they can in that direction, so that we may know that we shall not be unduly spending large sums of money when we are ourselves seeking to bring about, by giving our approval to it, this very new pact which has been called the Eastern Locarno Pact. I would ask the Government to help us upon that, and, as a last question, to tell us also what is it that they have in mind in relation to the conditions that must be fulfilled before they would be prepared to stay their hand in this new increase of the Air Force. I do not think that is an unreasonable question to ask, because the noble Marquess will have in mind that in the announcement which he read, and which was made in another place by the Lord President of the Council, he definitely indicated that they are not at all sure that this will have to proceed, and, indeed, that they hope it will not. That is the whole burden of the announcement which was made by them. They have reserved the right to modify or adjust the programme in the light of new factors that may arise. I would ask the noble Marquess to give us some indication—I cannot of course ask him to give us a long pronouncement upon it—of what is in the Government's mind, and what are the conditions, or something approaching the conditions, that they will require to be in existence before they can be satisfied.
Those questions, I believe, are of great importance. I am well aware that the 911 Government—and here perhaps I am differing from what has been said by the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, at least so far as I was able to follow his argument—cannot stand still when they have before them the possible dangers of an attack such as might be contemplated from the air, and it does not satisfy me to tell me that there is no immediate risk of such attack. I am in entire agreement with the Government view in that respect. I can only say that if I were myself a Cabinet Minister again and I had to face possibilities of this character I should think it would not only be right but it would be my duty to give my attention to this matter in order that we should be prepared to meet the risk when it occurred. Nothing is more unsatisfactory than the argument, Why do this when there is no immediate risk? The answer to it is: What is the good of doing it when there is the immediate risk? The time will have passed. For that reason I am not prepared to oppose the views which the Government have put for the increase of the Force. On the other hand, for the reasons I have given in relation to the moment which they have chosen for the statement and to the effect of it upon matters relating to national security as well as to international security, I do ask the Government to tell us as far as they possibly can what they have in mind, in order that we may be in a better position to exercise a judgment on this matter than we are at present, and may be able to form some view as to what the Government intend when they say that they make reservations for modifications and adjustments.
After all, in all these matters, the Government have very special responsibilities, and they possess knowledge not open to all of us. They probably have knowledge which they cannot disclose to us, and we must, therefore, be prepared to go some way with the Government, although we cannot be quite satisfied that their view is right. For myself I will make this final observation, that if the Government can satisfy me in relation to the questions that I have put to them, if they can satisfy my mind to the extent that I am relieved of some anxieties which I now have because of the situation created, I would then be prepared to go further than I have indicated and to give them support; but I do ask them 912 to go as far as they possibly can in that direction in order that we may be enabled to form a real opinion upon the situation and not to have to depend upon mere conjecture.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, my noble friend has just said, I thought with great truth, that the decision of the Government was a momentous one and that its effects were not in any way confined to this country but might go far beyond it. That, I think, is profoundly true, and your Lordships will feel that the matter ought to be considered as far as possible apart from all Party prejudice and merely with the desire of seeing what opinion ought to be given by this House at this moment. The Motion before usregrets that a policy of increased armaments has been announced by His Majesty's Government before the termination of the Disarmament Conference, and after the recent conversations with France; and considers that such a policy is not calculated to give greater security to this country, but by encouraging further competition in armaments is likely to endanger world peace.That is described, and no doubt rightly described, as a Vote of Censure, but I think it worth while to point out to your Lordships that a Vote of Censure in this House has not quite the same significance as a Vote of Censure in another place. It is in some respects regrettable that the decisions of your Lordships' House have not the same effect as the decisions of the House of Commons, but they do not have the same effect, and that does enable us, as it seems to me, to consider any proposition put forward on its merits, because we need not consider that any vote that we may give will result in endangering the existence of the Government of the day.
I had hoped, I must say, that before I should have the honour of addressing your Lordships we should have had some exposition from the Treasury Bench of the meaning and purpose of this very important Government departure. I observe that the Lord President of the Council, the acting Prime Minister, said recently that the Government had a case which they desired to put before the House and the country, and speaking of the debate in the other House he said that he thought it would be for the convenience of the House if he spoke at the 913 beginning of the debate and tried to make clear the whole position of the Government and what they were driving at. I cannot help feeling that that was a just appreciation of the situation. I confess that I a little regret that the Government do not think it as necessary to put this House in that position which they apparently think is necessary in the case of the House of Commons. It makes the position difficult for some of us. I should have been very glad to know before I spoke whether there is anything that the Government desire to say substantially beyond what they have already said. Indeed, I think I am entitled to say, because I asked my noble friend whether I might, that I did ask whether they were prepared to make any fresh statement and they said they did not desire to make any statement at the beginning of the debate but wished to reserve their statement for the end.
In those circumstances it is necessary to take the Government case as it stands at the moment without speculating on what else may be said in its defence. What is the Government's policy as disclosed in the statement made in this House and in another place? It was in two parts. They said with respect to some part of the armaments of the country that there had been deficiencies gradually growing up, and they would have to be repaired. That is quite a separate matter from this proposal to increase the Air Force. As for the deficiencies, the reason for repairing them was said to be due to all sorts of things, like the increase in our obligations under the Covenant, Locarno and things of that kind. There was apparently no immediate urgency felt by the Government with respect to those things because they thought they could be deferred to the time when Estimates would be brought in. As to the second part of the statement, the increase in the Air Force, the reason alleged was that we were out-numbered by our nearest neighbours. They regard that as a matter apparently of immediate importance and relatively precise. There is nothing new about that circumstance. It has been so for years past and we have constantly heard that we are, in point of fact, outnumbered. Whether numbers are all you have to consider in regard to the Air Force may be ques- 914 tioned, but as far as numbers are concerned there is no change so far as I know in the position between this country and France.
It is no use talking about "nearest neighbours." France is the only one to which the argument applies. There is no difference in the comparison between this country and France as far as I know, or no substantial difference. Therefore we must assume that it has always been an urgent matter of anxiety to the Government. Yet until quite lately, indeed until this announcement was made, the policy of the Government was substantially different. I need not quote the statement—it was quoted by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby just now—made by the acting Prime Minister. He was not acting Prime Minister then, but the Lord President of the Council, and leader of the larger part of the majority on which the Government depends. His statement was that the Government's object was to achieve abolition of naval and military aircraft throughout the world, apart from some special exemptions which do not affect this particular discussion. He went on to say, either in that speech or in a later speech, that failing that they would seek to achieve parity in the air. Even then they would immediately proceed to try to get a further Air Convention—I suppose to achieve their original object, the abolition of naval and military aircraft. That was a perfectly intelligible policy, one which I can quite understand and, as far as I can see, I should have been quite ready to support. They said they would seek to achieve parity should there be a definite failure to achieve that object or anything like it—to achieve some definite and substantial reduction; that was the immediate, the essential part of that policy. As far as I can see no such definite failure has taken place.
I observed the other day—I am sorry I have not got the exact words here—that the Lord Privy Seal in a speech protested strongly against the doctrine that the Disarmament Conference had failed, and said that on the contrary he thought there was good ground for hoping that it would reach some result. I quote, from memory, but I believe that is substantially what he said. Others have said the same kind of thing. I cannot see why the Government should have at this 915 moment despaired—if they have despaired—of any possibility of getting such a substantial reduction in the Air Forces of the world, even if they cannot get immediate abolition, as to make unnecessary a policy of this kind. We know that as long ago as the spring of 1933 the French Air Minister professed his willingness to accept a policy of that kind on certain conditions. That has been endorsed, as far as I understand it, by Russia and Italy and certainly by some of the smaller Powers of Europe. I believe, unless the English language means different things on different sides of the Atlantic, that the President of the United States has also endorsed that policy. It may be that I am wrong. I have only the ordinary means of informing myself. I can only get what is reported in the newspapers. I am satisfied that that is the substance of what has been reported in the ordinary newspapers.
It is quite true that there has been always the reservation that something must be done to deal with civil aviation. That is no doubt a difficult proposition. I do not underrate the difficulty of it. I have tried to consider it myself, and with others, and we know it is a difficult proposition. But what is the position? A Committee of the Conference was appointed as long ago as the spring of 1933. I believe it has never met. It was reappointed the other day with two other Committees. The others have met and have arrived at certain conclusions, but the Air Committee has never met. Why not? What is the reason? Why have not the Government pressed for it? I really do not know why. Then in that state of things where you have, as it seems to me, as far as public statements go, a fairly favourable—I will not put it higher—atmosphere, at that very moment of a reference to a Committee to discuss the matter in order to reach some agreement about this one difficult point of civil aviation, suddenly we have this pronouncement by the Government that they can wait no longer, and that they must therefore proceed immediately to take the first steps towards enlarging their Air Force by 75 per cent.
It is admitted that there is no threat of war from any foreign Power. Indeed, the only Power they mention as one with whom they have to reckon is France. 916 That is the only Power that they have mentioned right through. They need not have mentioned any, but they have mentioned one—"our nearest neighbours." I should have thought that as a matter of policy it was quite safe to say that the chance of France making any aggressive war on this country was infinitely remote. Anything may happen in the world, I admit, but certainly that is not more probable now than it has been at any time in the last two or three years. If this (as I think) desperate resolve really becomes the only thing to be done, I cannot believe that a short delay would have added in any degree to the dangers of the country.
It is not really that the Air Force stands alone. The First Lord of the Admiralty made a speech the other day in which he demanded some unknown but considerable extension of our expenditure on the Fleet, and he used the remarkable phrase, which has been quoted more than once—"this dream of international disarmament." I see my noble friend the Secretary of State for War present. I do not know, but I think it is most unlikely that the Army will be content with filling up a few deficiencies and will not require, or think it requires, a substantial expenditure on increasing its strength in a number of ways. I really do not see how you can possibly hope that to sanction a great increase in one arm will not involve considerable increases in the other arms also. And observe that this increase is advocated quite definitely as a matter of competition with another country. That is the whole case put forward. The whole argument is that there is another country whose Air Force is so big that we must have a bigger Force. That is a definite acceptance of the principle, or the practice, of competition in armaments which many of us think so disastrous to the peace of the world. I cannot help feeling that this decision of the Government, taken at this moment, bears a suspicious appearance of a reversion to the pre-1914 policy in armaments and consequently in all external affairs.
The last thing that I want to do is to make any unfair attack against the Government. That is far from my desire. I give the Lord President of the Council, if I may say so without impertinence, full credit for his very precise asseverations that this means no slackening in 917 his pressure for a disarmament policy and that he is going on with it. Indeed, I see in this morning's Times that he is reported as going so far as to say that he thinks that to increase air armaments will positively make the policy of disarmament easier. He is reported to have said that:his conviction was that such action on our part would make it not more difficult but less difficult to proceed with our own efforts to secure some limitation of armaments.I am quite certain that anything that my right honourable friend says is absolutely what he believes, but I think it will be very difficult to convince foreign observers that that is really the purpose and the object with which the Government have sanctioned an increase of armaments. I cannot help feeling that what the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air, said towards the end of last month is the real and true account of what has happened. Your Lordships will remember that he then said in effect—I have his words here—that the Government had long hoped that success at Geneva would enable them to avoid any substantial increase—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I will with pleasure:Until recent months the Government have had every reason to believe, and every motive to encourage the hope, that something might be achieved out of the Disarmament Conference which would render unnecessary any substantial addition to the size of our Air Force.I think my noble friend will agree that I have not so far misquoted him.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am, much obliged. I am always anxious to receive assistance from anybody. I had better read it all. He goes on:—Now …. the situation has become unhappily all too clear. We can no longer hope that an international convention will solve the problems which agitate the whole of Europe. His Majesty's Government have therefore decided that they can no longer delay the steps which are necessary ….and so on. That is the case which the noble Marquess made. He said: Geneva has tailed, the Disarmament Conference 918 is no good, therefore we must arm ourselves further for safety. I am very glad to see my noble friend Lord Hailsham here. I think he spoke in very much the same language on Saturday, unless he is misquoted in The Times. May I read just one sentence of what he said?As we had been unable to persuade other people to lay down their arms, we had determined that we could not remain altogether defenceless.It is the same case—that the attempt at disarmament had failed, and therefore—
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
Had not yet succeeded.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The distinction is extremely ingenious. I do not think that in this particular instance there is a great distinction between having failed and not having succeeded. Evidently it might be, said not to have succeeded at the very outset of the Conference—it certainly had not—but I think the expression will be generally understood to mean that there has been a failure, and that the time has come when the Government have got to rearm. That is the case, and one is forced to ask the next question: Assuming that that is really the case of the Government, or at any rate of the section of the Government whose policy has been adopted, are they going to get safety in this way? I am not going into all the well-known ground of how far it can be said that there is any possible defence against air attack, but I think it will be admitted by my noble friends on the Government Benches that they have never suggested that you can make a complete defence against air attack. Their whole case has been that if you have a sufficiently large force to threaten immediate retaliation—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
If the noble Viscount will pardon my interrupting, that is not a, statement which we have ever made.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am very much surprised to hear my noble friend say so. I certainly have understood that the Government have said so. Certainly the Lord President of the Council has stated in the most specific language—my noble friend Lord Ponsonby quoted it just now—that there was no means of defence, that anybody 919 who thought there was was labouring under a very grave delusion, and that the only thing to do was to have sufficient power to make such retaliation as would frighten any aggressor off. I am a little relieved, and very much surprised, to hear my noble friend suggest that that is not the policy of the Government. I have never understood that, and I do not think that anyone else in this country has ever understood that. The threat of retaliation, the increase of numbers—that has been the case that has been made for the increase of the Air arm. I think that is a most hazardous view. My noble friend may not hold it, but I am satisfied that that is the view continually put forward. I rather think it was put forward in substance by my noble friend Lord Hailsham. Yes! he said:The belief that Great Britain was in a position to defend herself was the surest guarantee that the world would remain peaceful and that Great Britain would not be attacked.That is substantially the same thing. I am delighted if my noble friend says "We do not believe in retaliation," and still more delighted if he can assure us that he really thinks you can prevent an attack by air by means of another Air Force. I doubt very much whether he will say that to your Lordships, and I am quite sure he will find it very difficult to get his professional advisers to support him if he does.
The theory that you can defend yourself by retaliation is unsound. The theory is that you are going to be subject to sudden attack by the air arm of another country. It will begin by attacking your aerodromes, and crippling your means of making the attack. Therefore it is exceedingly doubtful whether you would be able to make your counterattack, even if your counter-attack might otherwise have effect. I do not believe there is any means by which you can be secure from air attack except peace, and, as a means of peace, the abolition of naval and military aircraft. I believe that is the only way in which you can secure it. I do not believe there is any highly skilled adviser of the Government who will disagree with me on that point. If that is so it does seem to me to follow that until every possible step has been taken, and every conceivable step has been taken, to try to secure that means of safety for this country, the abolition of 920 naval and military aircraft and the maintenance of peace—those two things will secure our safety and nothing else will secure it really effectively, and really without doubt—there is no justification for coming to Parliament and asking for extensive rearmament.
I agree that if after taking every conceivable step to secure that object you are driven at last to the decision that it cannot be secured, then, while the amount of security you will get from it will be very small, though it may be that it is better than nothing—I do not know—an increase of armaments may possibly be defensible, but I am quite sure it is not defensible until you have made that tremendous effort. The fact that you have not made it, and the fact that you are proceeding with this present step without it, does seem to me to be a most regrettable advance in the direction of abandoning the whole policy of attempting by collective agreement to maintain peace and security throughout the world. I know what the Government have said, or at all events, what the Lord President has said, about international disarmament. I hope they will go on with it, but I cannot help feeling that this step will make it much less likely that they will succeed. I believe that the section of the Government which believe that the Disarmament Conference has failed, if they were not right when they said it will be right as soon as this policy becomes known.
After all, you may know what our motives are, and that we do not contemplate anything wicked, and are not out for aggression, but if everyone imitated us would you consider that it gave a better hope of success at a Disarmament Conference? I do not believe it. I cannot understand why the Government should not have gone to the Conference—it only meant waiting for five weeks before the Conference meets—and said: "Here are our proposals"— I hope there will be proposals—"for the abolition of national armaments, and we are quite prepared to consider whatever measures may be necessary with regard to civil aviation, but let us have a definite decision upon the matter. If the Conference decides against us then let us adjourn the Conference, because it is evident that nothing worth doing can be done with regard to the Conference." I could understand that policy, but to ask 921 your Lordships and the other House to sanction this policy, which as Lord Reading has truly said is a very momentous step, until every conceivable step has been taken to give us the only real security, is what I individually cannot approve.
My Lords, we have listened to three speeches this afternoon from three of the most distinguished members of the House. Two of them have been in utter condemnation of the Government's policy as announced last Thursday, and the other, if I may say so, damned it with faint praise. I rise to support the Government in the policy they have announced. I welcome the policy that has boon stated because I believe that such a declaration is absolutely essential to-day, if Europe is to become aware of what our final attitude is to be in connection with armaments. The noble Viscount who has just sat down has told us that what the Government are doing is a retrograde step. I for one cannot understand why a step taken by this Government should be retrograde when the same step is being taken by many of the principal Governments of the world. I go even further. I should have welcomed this statement sis months ago, because I believe that we have been taking part in the Councils of Europe without sufficient weight behind us. We had no armed weight behind us, whereas all the other nations which have been participating in the Disarmament Conference, which has been going on since 1932, have not only had their aimed forces behind them, but they have been increasing those forces all the time, and have to-day in some cases reached a state of armaments almost approaching those of 1914.
The noble Lord's Motion suggests that the announcement of a policy of increased armaments at this moment is not calculated to give greater security, but encourages competition in armaments. What would have happened supposing we had waited, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has suggested, until the Disarmament Conference was finished? If that Conference ended in failure—and there is no reason to believe that it may not end in failure, in view of everything that is happening in Europe and in the East to-day—I can conceive that there would then be such a mad rush of competition in armaments as would lead us almost imme- 922 diately into war. But I hear from all my European friends—and I have no doubt the noble Lord has heard the same, although he does not seem to believe them—that the greatest guarantee of security that we could give to the Disarmament Conference to-day would be by increasing our Air Force to the level of any other strong Air Force in the world. I hear that on all sides. They know that we as a nation are not aggressors, but they realise that, should war break out in Europe, we should possibly find ourselves launched into that war. If before that war breaks out we are in the position of giving advice, with armed force behind it, possibly we might prevent the outbreak of such a war. I believe that there are a great many statesmen in Europe to-day who desire that we should rearm, and who are glad to see the announcement that has been made by the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, seemed to indicate in his speech—and he has done so before—that it was absolutely no use increasing our Air Force because we should not be able to defend ourselves against any Air Force that might attack us. What he suggests is that in the event of any nation wishing to attack us we should allow them to attack us, that we should create no defence for that purpose, in fact, that we should allow ourselves to become a doormat for any nation that liked to wipe its feet upon us. That is not a policy which this country is likely to agree to, and I believe that the nation as a whole will welcome the announcement which has been made by the Government, as showing that they appreciate their responsibilities for the defence of this country.
While I welcome the Government's announcement, I should like to say something with regard to certain details of it. The statement said: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.I should have liked to hear a clear clarion note struck in this statement. I should have liked the Government to have said, as they have indicated in past statements, that they would put our Air Force on a parity with that of the 923 strongest air Power within striking distance. I have no reason to believe that the Government have departed from that policy, but I hope that the noble Marquess in his reply to-day will be able to re-affirm it. My further reason for wishing that this had been said is that I believe that if it were known by other nations who are increasing their air armaments from week to week that we intended definitely to have parity with the strongest nation within striking distance, that would go a long way to stop the competition in armaments. If they know to-day that we are going to increase our air strength by forty-one squadrons, they do not know what will be the increase to-morrow—it may be another twenty, it may be another thirty squadrons. They will go on increasing proportionately. But if they knew from the commencement where they stood so far as Great Britain is concerned, I believe that that knowledge would act very largely as a deterrent against their increasing their Air Forces.
There is another point to which I should like to refer. The Government statement says: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 all agree that finance must have consideration in these matters, but there is a time when finance has to some extent to be put aside. I believe that the moment has arrived when somehow or other we have to increase our Air Forces in this country, and therefore I hope that His Majesty's Government, when considering this subject, will not take finance into consideration as if the matter were an ordinary item of the financial Budget. I am going to make a suggestion. I notice that the proposals that have been put forward imply that the whole cost of any increase of the Air Forces shall be borne out of annual income. I have long believed that this sort of expenditure, whether for the Navy or the Army or the Air Force, should be charged, if not wholly, at any rate partly, to capital account, and I suggest to His Majesty's Government that when they are considering the arrangements for financing this increase or any increase in the future, they will consider my proposal that this should be paid for partly out of income and partly out of capital account. After all, the other nations who are increasing 924 their Air Forces are all the time charging the cost to capital account and are raising loans for it. That is no reason, I agree, why we in this country should do the same, but nevertheless I suggest that that would be only a fair and reasonable way to meet the additional charge which would have to fall upon the taxpayer.
There is just one other point before I sit down, and that is with regard to the Imperial side of these proposals. Personally, I am very sorry to see that the statement contains no reference at all to the Imperial aspect. It is true that out of the forty-one squadrons thirty-three squadrons will be utilised for home defence and eight squadrons for overseas, but the point is that the time has come, in view of the position with regard to air development, when the Empire has to consider working together in this matter. There was a debate in this House only a few weeks ago in which I ventured to put forward some proposals for an Empire Air Force and an Imperial Defence Conference. I was very disappointed, as I said at the time, at the reply given to me by the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for Air. I venture once more to-day to suggest to him and the Government that they should take this question into consideration. Upon that occasion the noble Marquess pointed out that at the Imperial Conferences in 1923 and 1926 certain resolutions were passed which were not sympathetic towards such proposals, but these resolutions were passed a long time ago so far as air development is concerned, and I feel certain that if His Majesty's Government would only approach the Dominion Governments in this matter they would receive a very much more sympathetic hearing to-day than they did six or seven years ago.
My noble friend says, "Far from it." I do not know what reason he has for saying so, but I have consulted and talked with certain influential representatives of the Dominions, and I find that there is considerable sympathy in this matter. At any rate the position to-day is that all we have is the interchange of certain Dominion flying officers and certain equipment, and over and above that we have the Imperial Defence Committee 925 who advise the Government with regard to such co-ordination as there may be. That is not enough. We have to go further than that. I can assure His Majesty's Government that there is a strong feeling in this country that we have got to go further, and representations will continue to be made on this subject until we obtain much greater and closer co-ordination between the Air Forces of the Empire than exists to-day. If this Motion goes to a Division I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Government and going into the Lobby with them.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, His Majesty's Government, for anything I know, may be grateful to the noble Viscount who has just sat down for the support he has given to their case, but I confess that I do not feel sure that he has strengthened their claim for the approval of your Lordships' House. The noble. Viscount made the astounding statement that European statesmen were positively glad that we were going to increase our striking force, as if these aeroplanes which are to be built were joyous toys for people to look at, as if we were building them merely to create international pleasure. Are we undertaking this vast expenditure to please European statesmen, or are we doing this thing in order to gain some additional internal security? The noble Viscount also said, what other speakers have said before him, that in this proposal we do not intend any kind of aggression. That is what we think. It cannot be what other nations think. Let us remember that all nations say that. It is common patriotic form. Germany said it before the War, and other nations have continuously said it. The noble Viscount was claiming that we should be put on a parity with other nations in the air and perhaps so far as other forces are concerned, and lucre, it seems to me, is the hidden policy behind this matter. We are asked to build to a degree which will equal what other nations think is necessary for their safety, not what we think may be necessary for our own. In regard to the matter of finance there is the usual optimistic view that future generations will be glad to pay for our follies—do not let us trouble to take the money out of current account, let it pass to capital account and prove a very nice investment for those who have the money so to invest.
926 The method of our Parliamentary discussions requires that this matter should be discussed more or less in the form of a Vote of Censure, and His Majesty's Government have chosen this time to enter upon a policy which no Opposition, no number of independent, thinking Members of Parliament, could possibly let pass without serious challenge. We have been told that we are in a state of danger, but we have not been told precisely what the dangers are which have caused His Majesty's Government to enter upon this alarming and dangerous policy. We in the Labour Party have always supported the policy of a pooled security. We should be glad to support that at all times. We have always advocated disarmament by agreement, but we have never advocated rearmament in isolation. I have never understood, I cannot understand now, why in regard to civil aviation, which has been mentioned this afternoon, the Government will not endeavour to promote the internationalisation of civil aviation, in entering upon this discussion I do not propose to criticise the opinions or record of any Minister, and I am far from wishing to make a mere debating attack upon His Majesty's Government, but we on these Benches cannot do less than assert, in the most emphatic way that is open to us, that His Majesty's Government owe to Parliament and to the conscience of mankind more explanations of their programme and of the reasons for adopting it than they have hitherto felt it necessary to offer.
They are certain in advance to have the enthusiastic support of those who sit behind them, and it may be that the opinions and desires of those who sit opposite to them do not interest them, but I want with courtesy to put one or two questions to His Majesty's Government in this matter. What precisely is their programme? Why have they at this juncture chosen to enter upon it? Why, at this time above all others, has this new policy been adopted? Was there no other way open to them? Had all the other alternatives been adequately considered and for sufficient reasons been rejected? Is the step that they now propose to take irrecoverable or is it subject to review, and, if it is, when is that review to take place and under what conditions? These are the things that we 927 ought to be told and we ask that His Majesty's Government, as far as they possibly can, should respond generously to our desire for information. Parliament ought not to enter upon this slippery path with mere patriotic blinkers about its eyes. If this dreadful prospect of competition in armaments is indeed inevitable and justifiable, we have the right to have more evidence of the justification than we have yet received.
We may, for anything we know, be at the beginning of a great new peril, for it still remains one of the eternal truths that those who rely upon the sword perish by the sword. We have our gravest hesitations about the policy which His Majesty's Government are about to embark upon, and, with such evidence as we have, which we can get only from the newspapers, we cannot exclude from our thoughts the gravest suspicion that the habitual and probably designed procrastination of His Majestys' Government in regard to the general policy of disarmament, the tepid and inconstant support that they have given to the Disarmament Conference, and their obvious lack of a clear-cut and creative policy to secure the peace of the world, have had their part in the crisis that has now been reached. If we are mistaken in holding these views we should be informed precisely where, and why, and to what extent, we are mistaken. It seems to me, at any rate, that because the pedestrian efforts of the Government to secure international agreement have not hitherto been successful, and because they are unwilling to remind the Fighting Services of our country that Parliament and not they are responsible for national policy, they are deserting those who believe that with faith and with patience and insight and devotion and wisdom a more excellent way can be found, and they come here with a partly coerced and partly panic-stricken policy of rearmament. It seems to me, therefore, that the Fighting Services have once more had their way. Another Government has bowed itself to their will.
Well, they will get their forty-one new squadrons, but the nation will get therefrom no increased security; and the other Services in their turn will demand that their own appetite for more of the playthings of war may be appeased. We cannot afford to pay for the cost 928 of an increased age of leaving school for children, but we can afford to pay for this. The Lord President of the Council, in a speech in October, 1933, to which my noble friend behind me (Lord Ponsonby of Shulebrede) has referred, used words which I will venture again to repeat.If rearmament is begun in Europe you may say good-bye to any restoration of cuts, to any reduction of taxation for a generation.We cannot, therefore, on this occasion accept the proposals of His Majesty's Government in any authoritative declarations of that kind without the most serious misgiving and without demanding as emphatically as we possibly can the information which will justify the action they propose to take.
We are asked to build against our nearest neighbour. Who is our nearest neighbour? It is France, in whose soil abide the bones of nearly a million of our countrymen. Now we are to consider her as a potential enemy. I cannot think that we should enter upon a course of that kind with a light heart and without demanding, with what sincerity we may command, that His Majesty's Government should ask if there is even now no other way. If that is impossible then the issue passes from Parliament to the people, not to those whose age protects them from reaping what they are sowing in their policy, but to the youth of the world who are the destined victims of any folly we may commit, and if their spiritual courage is equal to their physical bravery I believe that they will stand as a moral witness against the indefensible sacrilege of war. Therefore I only desire to say in conclusion, let the need for, and justification of, this proposal be proved. Let it be established that the safety of the nation can only in this way be secured and then the Government can rely upon the united support of the nation. But we cannot accept assertions for proofs nor mere prejudices for facts. Therefore until the Government justify their demand by giving us the evidence for which we ask we shall to the extent of our powers oppose their demand.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, I must not be tempted to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken in the, if he will allow me so to describe them, somewhat dogmatic utterances which he made about disarmament. If I were to do that I 929 should be tempted to say that I do not think that history would justify him in suggesting that those nations who have taken the sword have perished by the sword. I would rather say that defenceless nations who disarmed prematurely and neglected defence died and came to a terrible end. Nor will I remind him that it might not have been necessary to throw up a rampart of our dead in Flanders behind which to make preparations if we had acted betimes and made preparations for national security. It is a little difficult to follow the noble Lord's argument about pooled security. As I understood him he would be willing to contemplate additional defence resources for what he calls pooled security but none for the mere sordid defence of our own country. But I thought we had got pooled security in the shape of Locarno to-day. Are we then not to have the wherewithal, as Mr. Baldwin reminded us the other day, to give effect to our pooled security? A pretty poor partner we are in the Locarno settlement if our support is going to be confined to disarmament on the day that demands are made.
I did not come here to do more than ask the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State, to give me an answer to one or two questions, so I shall be brief. I think he will possibly agree with me if I say that the real anxiety which the country has felt about national defence is due to the fact that people have been frankly and honestly puzzled—and here I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down—by the Government's attitude towards all disarmament questions. I should like to ask the Secretary of State to give a clear answer to one question. He must be in a position to do it. Will he please tell us what would be the conditions which would enable the Government to decide that the death of the Disarmament Conference had taken place place? Many of us feel that the Disarmament Conference is already dead. We feel that quite honestly. The wish is not father to the thought. We do think that this Disarmament Conference is as dead as a conference can be. Therefore we think that the time for the fulfilment of the pledge of the Lord President of the Council, that at that moment we should be given parity or an Air Force which will be as large as any within striking distance of our shores, has 930 already arrived. At any rate he must agree that the Disarmament Conference, if it is not dead, is very sick indeed.
Do the Government really think there is a chance of the survival and success of the Disarmament Conference, as Mr. Baldwin indicated the other day? If that is so, I think it is natural for all Parties to wonder a little why the Government have chosen this particular moment to announce a new policy rather than at any time in the last six or eight months. Those who want rearmament think it is tardy and those who do not want rearmament think it is premature. I think we are entitled to have the Government tell us what they think are the signs of death. People in this country want to know that. They do not quite trust the Government's judgment in the matter. If they think that the chances of its success are very remote and very slight then there are two things to be said. The first is that this programme seems to us to be very slender and ill calculated to fulfil Mr. Baldwin's pledge. The second thing to be said is that I think both Houses of Parliament in such circumstances are entitled to know a great deal more as to what exactly are the Governments plans—how much money is going to be spent on preparations, how much is to be spent on machines, and on personnel, what on aerodromes and on the organisation of the industry, and what on training.
The exact number of machines to be provided is a matter on which the Government are probably far better qualified than anybody else to judge. It may be said that he who builds last will probably build best. He will have the latest type of machine. But we ought to know how much is going to be spent on preparation, on aerodromes, on machines, and on personnel. I do not know how long it takes to get a pilot effectively into the air for Government purposes, but it takes a considerable time. There is a great deal of other preparation which even the most uninitiated can appreciate to a certain extent. I repeat that this question is all-important.
I do press upon my noble friend the Secretary of State to give a clear answer as to what in Government eyes will constitute the zero hour that is the death of the Disarmament Conference. As a matter of fact it does not really depend 931 —or very little—upon Mr. Baldwin's statement of conditions. We all know that our policy of disarmament was pursued as an example to the world; an example which we now know no single nation has followed. That it was no doubt right to make that attempt and to show that we were in earnest few will be concerned to dispute. But when so many years have passed and every other country has rapidly rearmed itself, it is not to be wondered at that public opinion in this country becomes gravely alarmed as to the Government's real mentions. My noble friend Lord Cecil, who spoke this afternoon, asked for more delay. How much more delay does he want, and why? He sees, like the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who, I notice, is no longer here, no value in air defence at all. In that case I would ask any noble Lord sitting on those Benches to tell us what they propose to substitute. My noble friend here said there was no security from attack in the air except, as I understood him, peace and the abolition of military aircraft. But suppose you abolish military aircraft, what about civil aircraft? What are their substitute proposals? If military aircraft cannot be abolished and if the danger is very grave what do they propose to do to give us the necessary security?
Lastly, I would ask my noble friend the Secretary of State what he is going to do—or rather I would ask the Government, as a whole, what they are going to do. They have admitted that in greater or less degree a change, a definite change, in the situation—they do not measure it—has taken place. It is the only defence of their policy. I think their policy is dangerously weak. I think we need much greater and more rapid expansion, but that is merely my point of view. In any case, what are they going to do to give us balanced armaments? I do not deny—I should be the last to deny—the enormous importance of an increase in our air strength, and I would be the last to agree with Mr. Baldwin when he goes so far as to say that there is no defence against air attack except retaliation. There is a measure of truth in it, but it is an exaggeration. There is more defence in a strong Air Force apart from mere retaliation.
That is another matter, but I would ask the Government, now that they have 932 admitted a change in policy, what they are going to do to give us balanced armaments? Air Forces are not sufficient. How are they going to give us the fuel? How are they going to guard the sea routes? How are they going to give us the oil which is going to get the machines in the air? They may hope to get increasing quantities of oil from this country by divers methods—I do not know-about that—but the main sources of supply of fuel which alone can make the Air Force effective, quite apart from the food which feeds the people who fly the aircraft, are utterly dependent upon our sea routes. In my judgment the Government by their admission of a change in the situation have committed themselves to a reconsideration not only of our air strength, but of the whole of the balanced armaments which are necessary for an island people such as we are.
In conclusion, may I put the question which primarily I want to ask? I am sure that the secondary question as regards aerodromes, personnel, and training, if my noble friend has not time to answer it to-day, will be answered in one place or another in the course of the next few days, but specifically I am begging him to-night to give us, if he kindly will, a clear answer—because I think it will be of advantage to the debate which is to be held in another place in a few days—to this question: What are the factors which are going to decide the Government as to the moment of success or failure, the demise or the resurrection, of the Disarmament Conference?
§ LORD ALLEN OF HURTWOOD
My Lords, I will ask your attention for only a very few moments, not while I make the speech which I would like to make in reply to my noble friend Lord Lloyd, but while I put one definite question to the Government which I hope the noble Marquess will try to answer: Is it possible for the two Houses of Parliament and for the country at large to have a White Paper setting down in chronological order, with precise dates and exact quotations, the record of the Air Commission and the General Commission so far as it dealt with air armaments at Geneva? If the country is to sanction this grave step of increasing Air Forces, it seems to me imperative that we should have simultaneously an 933 accurate public record of what has been done in the matter of air negotiations by this Government at Geneva. The noble Marquess and myself have before now debated in this House the facts of the Air Commission. We have differed. We have had other White Papers dealing with other aspects of the Disarmament Conference. When the Lord Privy Seal has been upon his tours through the Capitals of Europe the results of his tours have been published in White Papers. On this question of the air we are without precise knowledge. I myself have seen minutes of the Air Commission, but I think it is most important that there should be brought out in publicly documented form a record of the events which have taken place on that Commission.
May I explain the reason I say that? So far as I am concerned I do not attack the Government on the precise decision to increase the Air Force. The gravamen of my charge against the Government is that they have decided to increase Air Forces without producing an alternative scheme to prevent that. May I remind the noble Marquess of the record of his own Government, which is now being spoilt by the decision at which the Government have arrived? The Government began by unilateral disarmament. The air armaments of this country have been brought down from the first position in the world to the sixth position, and we brought about that unilateral air disarmament without asking for security in the same way as France has done with regard to her disarmament. That step was a fine step. It was a noble act of leadership, and we owe it to the Government to give them credit for that step. The Government then went further; they produced a Disarmament Convention, and in that Convention they asked for the abolition of military and naval aviation. They quite properly made that demand conditional upon the control of civil aviation. That particular contribution to the Disarmament Conference was as admirable as the unilateral action of disarmament which the Government had previously taken. To that Disarmament Convention the Government attached an annexe and in that annexe they set out an illustration of how civil aviation could in the opinion of the Government be controlled. That is the first record of the Government.
934 Now we come suddenly to a period of uncertain vagueness and lack of knowledge. What has happened at the Disarmament Conference with regard to those schemes? Have they been rejected? Have we rejected the scheme of France, and the much more elaborate scheme of Spain? Have other countries rejected ours? We do not know. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, I venture to think, actually made a mistake in point of fact when he told your Lordships in this debate that the Air Commission had not met. If I understand the documents correctly, the Air Commission, has met. So far as I can tell—the noble Marquess will correct me if I am wrong—the last meeting of the Air Commission was in the month of April, 1933. The month of April, 1933, was fifteen months ago. How can you expect to produce an agreement upon armaments in the air if your Government do not see to it that an Air Commission deliberately set up to deal with air armaments meets during the period from the month of April, 1933, up to the present? Then they come to the nation and they say: "We are sorry, but we do not expect to get out of the Disarmament Conference anything sufficiently secure to enable us to avoid substantial increases in armaments."
Where has been the initiative of the Government? Why has not the Air Commission met, and why have we not before us a record of what has happened in the Air Commission? We do not know the arguments that have been used against cur own scheme. I propose, therefore—and I hope the noble Marquess will not avoid replying to it—that a White Paper should be published so that both Houses of Parliament and the country at large may have a record of the facts of the Air Commission and the discussions on air armaments in Geneva, when they are asked to make this grave decision. Having a record as good as the Government's record has been up to that point, it seems to me to be deplorable now to call upon the nation to enter perhaps upon an air race when we have not taken adequate measures at the Disarmament Conference itself for providing against it.
I come to my last point. We have heard over and over again about the speech of the Lord President of the Council in which he pointed out that there is no defence against attack from the air. 935 I heard my noble friend Lord Lloyd in an earlier debate try to deal with that, and miserably he failed to do it. I have never yet heard any speaker in this House explain, and I do not believe the noble Marquess himself will explain to-night, accurately, precisely and in a practical way what is the defence against air attack. Mr. Baldwin tried in the House of Commons to modify his speech. He said that people had taken his words too literally, and that there was a means of defence against attack from the air, which was that possibly if you strengthened your own Air Forces then the fear of casualties might prevent the potential attacker from attacking. If the only defence against air attack is a fear of casualties, then all I can say is that it is a complete delusion.
What nation has ever abstained from attacking because of fear of casualties? Seven million men were killed in the last War and there were 25,000,000 casualties. Did fear of casualties prevent that War? Take our own brave men who went to their deaths in that War to block the Zeebrugge Mole; every man amongst them was perfectly willing to go to certain death if he believed that thereby he could serve the interests of this nation. Fear of casualties is never going to prevent brave men serving their country. If, therefore, the only modification of Mr. Baldwin's speech can be this mutual fear of casualties, then Mr. Baldwin is making an attack upon the bravery of men of every race, and I think therefore that that argument will be heard no more. But there is in fact, unless the noble Marquess can enlighten us with his expert knowledge, no defence against bombing by air. I hope, therefore, before this country is committed to a step which is a danger to economy and a danger to peace, we may have a White Paper placed before us giving all the data of how we have attempted to bring about mutual disarmament in the air.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a moment. When I read the subject for debate today I thought for a moment of making a speech which might have been perhaps not uninteresting, giving certain historical facts in defence of the policy of the Government, but it is too late in the afternoon to go very deeply into that. At the same time I should like to express my 936 surprise because the debate to-day has not been only on the issue of the increase in our aerial armament, but has also been very largely an attack upon the Government for having no policy, no vision, and a number of other charges. I fail to see the reality of any of these charges. It appears to me that the Government have most loyally endeavoured to interpret the spirit of the country, which was wholly in favour of disarmament. Every step they should have taken they loyally took. When a crisis occurred last spring, that was got over by the concession of the German Government and the MacDonald scheme was universally adopted. If criticism could be made, I think a little criticism could have been made of our Government for having themselves become the mouthpiece of the prolongation of the probation period for Germany, which was one of the causes of her going out of the League of Nations, but since then I can see no complaint to make of any of the steps which the Government have taken in the same direction. My noble friend Lord Lloyd has asked as to when the Disarmament Conference died or is going to expire. There was no doubt in my mind—
§ LORD LLOYD
If my noble friend will pardon me, I did not ask when it was going to expire, but when it was recognised that it was going to expire.
§ LORD RENNELL
I beg my noble friend's pardon. There was no question to my mind that it did expire very definitely when, after all that had passed, we had a very definite statement from the German Government, accepting five years probation and not demanding any diminution of the armies of France, and offering, moreover, the entire suppression, so far as she was concerned, of aerial bombardment in every form, and agreeing to remain in what she had described as a period of humiliation for another five years. When that proposal was definitely made to the whole public, and somewhat cynically I might say thrown to the winds, I myself felt there was no more hope for the continuance of the Disarmament Conference.
However, while defending warmly the policy of the Government, what I really rose to do to-day was to answer a point brought forward by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby with which I am in complete disagreement. He has criticised certain 937 members of the Government for having stated that they thought an increase in our Air Force might even be of value in assisting in the future fate of the disarmament issue. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby said that if we increased our Air Forte we should be restarting competition in armaments. I venture to think that in that he is entirely wrong. If I have any right to speak to you in this House at all on such a subject it is that I have a pretty extensive knowledge of the Continent of Europe, and am in continual contact with men of other countries who tell me what is in their minds. Therefore, so far as somebody in a quite unofficial position may be said to know what is in their thoughts, I may say that I have a pretty shrewd idea of it.
They say that the prestige of this country has increased enormously in the last few years. They say: "You have established a credit which is the envy of the world; you have dealt honestly with every country and earned universal respect; but you are weak. Your word stands so long as it is a question of ethics, and economics, but your word is weak in the Councils of Europe. You have tried to give the world a lead in disarmament, but the rest of the world has very positively, though never in so many words, declined to follow. So long as you continue to be weak, instead of being a strength to Europe you become almost a danger to Europe." There is hardly anybody with whom I talk in other countries who does not consider that the best hope for Europe is in the strength of the British Empire, and the knowledge that she will make good what she has undertaken to do. I therefore do not believe that any increase in our Air Force, or for the matter of that in our Navy, will do anything whatever to start off the competition in armaments in other countries. I know there are a great many countries that will welcome it, and. I do not believe there are any who are opposed to it. We have done our best to convert the world, but that is no reason for leaving our front door open.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, this is the mast depressing debate I have listened to since the War. We are back again, on the authority of the Lord President of the Council, in the 1914 atmosphere, 938 but the outlook is infinitely blacker than it was in those pre-War days. The first reason is that in those years the aerial danger was unknown. It has since emerged with all its appalling possibilities. The second reason is that there were then people who thought war would end war, but apparently if the policy of the Government is going to be pursued we must say good-bye to any hope, of that kind. The mad race in rearmament has begun, and it is only a question of time before the next war comes. That is according to the teachings, of history, and I am afraid it will be true that in these fateful days the decision of the Government is going to lead to a course of things which, to use the words of Mr. Baldwin, will mean the end of civilisation. I am only going to speak for a few moments, because we all wish to hear what the Minister for Air has to say. I will refrain from making a Party attack on the Government.
§ LORD ARNOLD
One says one thing and one says another thing, but whereas some Ministers purport to be in favour of disarmament, and anxious for it, we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the reason why we have not up to the present taken our place in the race for armaments has been the fear that we might go bankrupt. Then we have the First Lord of the Admiralty talking about disarmament as an "international dream." But the point which I wish to put is this—it really follows upon the very important subject matter of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Hurtwood—Why is not any further attempt going to be made, or is any further attempt going to be made, to secure an Air Convention? Because Mr. Baldwin, speaking as recently as March 8 in another place, said:Suppose the Convention fails; I would not then relax for a moment, nor would the Government relax, the efforts, if a Convention on our lines failed, to start work the next morning to get an air convention alone among the countries of Western Europe, 939 even if we could not get one in some that are far away, for the saving of our own European civilisation.Is anything going to be done about that? Has the Government policy changed completely to one of rearmament and a bigger Air Force? I think we are entitled to have some reply about that.
The truth is that the Government, like all weak and irresolute Governments, have yielded to pressure, a tripartite pressure. First, from an irresponsible section of their own supporters militaristically inclined, who gloat with ghoulish joy over the demise of the, Disarmament Conference. Lord Lloyd is one of them: he revels in the death of the Disarmament Conference, his eye glints with joy when he talks about it. That is the first kind of pressure. The second is from Press clamour; and the third, and the most important is this—it is what always happens to weak Governments—they give way to the pressure of the Service Departments. That is the real, main operative force behind this lamentable decision on the part of the Government. No case whatever has been made out for urgency. What is the reason? What is the war? I will not discuss France, but, if it is Germany, it is only right to point out that Germany is the one Power in Europe which has unconditionally offered to abolish air warfare. Germany has done that.
§ LORD ARNOLD
If the noble Viscount is so anxious to have a war that he will not even consider an offer, nothing more is to be said. Why is not some attempt going to be made to get this Convention? Germany has said quite unequivocally that she is willing to have it. I saw that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, militaristic as ever, speaking this week-end, said that we are again at the edge of risk. But, if the risk is against aerial attack, Lord Ponsonby pointed out very powerfully that, as we know very well, there is no effective defence against air attack. And in that connection I would like to call attention to a very important book published not long ago called What would be the Character of the Next War? published by Gollancz, a collection 940 of reports got together by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva. I wish every statesman in Europe would read once a week the chapter in that book on chemical warfare. No expert there holds out hope of defence against gas attack and aerial warfare.
It is pointed out—I do not say these figures will always apply, I hope they will not, but they are the Latest figures I have seen—I am not giving anything away, Germany knows all about this—that in air manoeuvres over London out of 250 aeroplanes converging on the Capital only 16 were discovered by the searchlights, and 234 got through and were free to roam over the Capital. And this was when presumably the defence knew that some attack was coming. What a perfectly hopeless and lamentable position! Here we are in London, 10,000,000 people, nearly as many people as in the whole of Canada, crowded together in a few square miles. There was a powerful article the other day by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in the Evening Standard, headed "There is no defence against gas attack." The only possible defence is to get a convention, so that it shall not take place. And the Government have apparently given up that object.
I want to say something about the Locarno Treaty, because the Government have cited the Locarno Treaty as one reason for doing what they are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke about the Locarno Treaty. Some of our statesmen are very fond of saying that our word is our bond. If our word is our bond, what has happened to the Kellogg Pact? Under the Kellogg Pact we undertook to renounce war as an instrument of policy; we put our hand solemnly to that, and solemnly pledged ourselves that thesolution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be which may arise among them shall never be sought except by pacific means.Having set our hand to that the Government now go in for rearmament. Then they come along and say: "Oh, of course we always keep our word." Well, why is not our bond to the Kellogg Pact to be kept?
It is almost incredible that the Government can cite Locarno to justify them in what they are doing. Locarno was signed some years ago on two main con- 941 ditions. The first was that Germany, as a result, would come into the League of Nations, and the second was that it was to lead to disarmament. Germany was brought into the League of Nations by Locarno; Germany has gone out of the League of Nations, and it is now very questionable, in the opinion of many authorities, whether Locarno has any legal validity whatever. And even Sir John Simon, speaking in another place, said: "Well, it is two years before Germany finally goes out of the League of Nations." He hopes she will come back, but, if she does not, he has admitted that at the end of the two years the whole question will have to be considered in conference with the Powers as to what the position then is. But the Government, without waiting for that, come forward and quote Locarno find our commitments under Locarno as something which we must now provide against; whereas it is very likely that within little more than a year now Locarno will be as dead as a door-nail.
In my view it is as dead as a doornail now, because the other provision has never been kept by France. The other provision was perfectly clear. In the Final Protocol of the Locarno Conference the signatories affirm that the Treaties wouldhasten on effectively the disarmament provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations,and undertook—to give their sincere co-operation to the work relating to disarmament already undertaken by the League of Nations and to seek the realisation thereof in a general agreement.France has not done that. France has not disarmed. Ever since Locarno France has been rearming as fast as she could, as fast as her finances would allow. France has broken the contract, and in those circumstances Locarno, for this country, has no legal validity, and we have no right to contemplate sending the young men of England to be maimed and killed in a hell of mud and blood under a Treaty like Locarno which has been broken by France.
If the Government have no better case than that, they are indeed in a poor way. I say that no British Government will find it possible to mobilise an army to go and fight on a battlefield of Europe 942 because of the Locarno Treaty. Nobody can do that. Locarno is dead. All I will add is this, that the policy of the Government is one which entirely leaves out of account that the real risk which this country is running is in rearmament. That is the risk, because it makes the next war as certain as anything can be. It is only a question of time. Much the lesser risk will be to go on other lines, to try and secure conventions, and pursue persistently and carry out our policy of disarmament whatever other nations do. I honestly believe that is the lesser risk. Big armaments have been tried and have failed. Disarmament has never yet been tried.
§ LORD MELCHETT
My Lords, before the noble Marquess replies there is one point of some consequence I wish to raise. We have been talking about aeroplanes for hours, and most noble Lords have spoken rather with the idea that you can put your money into a slot machine and get your aeroplanes without any difficulty. The first point about having aeroplanes is to be able to make them. I should like to hear from the Government that this country is in a position to turn out aeroplanes and aeroplane engines at sufficient speed for the purposes of the defence of the country. I am not raising the question of whether we can or cannot make good aeroplanes and good engines; our engines and machines are first-rate. The point I am raising is whether in an emergency the industry can be expanded at anything like a sufficient rate to keep up with what Continental nations can easily do. Noble Lords opposite have made a great deal of play with the question of why steps should be taken now. If they had on their Benches one fully-trained mechanic he would probably have given them the answer. You cannot have an air fleet, you cannot provide aeroplanes in the numbers that would be required if war broke out, unless you have the men trained in the making of aeroplanes and aeroplane engines. It is on that point that I should like to hear whether, in the Government's opinion, full provision has been made for the organisation of the aeroplane manufacturing industry so that we shall be in a position, in case of war, to extend our forces with adequate speed for the purpose of defence.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has asked me a very specific question as to whether this country is prepared in the directions which he has named. I can inform him, as he probably knows already, that it is the policy of the Government, if I may use the expression, to make good deficiencies. At the present moment I am bound to say we are not up to date and ready with the full developments of which the noble Lord has spoken, but I can assure him that these matters are being closely investigated by the Government, and we hope as time goes on to place ourselves in a position to carry out all these matters of which he has spoken in the very brief time he occupied in addressing your Lordships.
This debate has ranged over a considerable field, and has assumed the usual complexion of a Vote of Censure. I think it was intended by the noble Lord who opened this debate to move a Vote of Censure on the Government, and he brought to bear on that subject his eloquence as to those delinquencies of which he has been continually accusing the Government. He was supported by Lord Snell in a speech of something less than the accustomed temperate manner in which the noble Lord addresses this House, and he has been supported by other noble Lords. I find myself standing between what I might term cross-fire: I am upbraided on one side for not going far enough, and I am upbraided on the other for going too far. When one receives attacks of this description it usually makes one feel that the course which one is adopting on behalf of the Government is not such a very bad one. One feels that with public opinion in this country as well instructed and as powerful as we are always proud to think it is, when one receives attacks on either side from those who are men of affairs and with high reputation, one feels that the course one is endeavouring to steer is a course that probably satisfies the bulk of public opinion in this country.
I am bound to confess, however, some surprise at the terms of the Resolution moved by the noble Lord on behalf of the Party which he represents, for the reason that we have been given to understand that the Socialist Party have explicitly rejected the policy of unilateral disarmament for this country—I think 944 Lord Snell made that point to-day—and they have explained that nothing is further from their intentions. Yet the noble Lord who leads the Opposition has chosen this moment, this precise moment, when the Government have abandoned the policy of unilateral disarmament because of its failure to achieve the results for which we have so long and so persistently hoped, to move a Vote of Censure. The Socialist Party continually set themselves up as the particular champions of peace, when their propaganda, if I may say so, invariably bristles with military phrases, their doctrines definitely ensure the dragooning of their fellow-countrymen, and, if I have correctly understood some of their latest pronouncements in another place—I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, is very anxious to do this—they are willing to fight in any part of the world in support of the League of Nations. It seems to me a curious paradox that at the same time they should deem it proper to set every obstacle in the way of our placing our defensive forces in a state in which they can, if necessary, repel foreign aggression and afford protection to the population of these islands.
The whole question of disarmament has been so frequently debated both here and in another place that I do not think it necessary to trouble your Lordships with any detailed exposition of the history of the Disarmament Conference since it first assembled more than two years ago, in February, 1932. But I think many of us will be very interested to hear, and I am sure my colleague Sir John Simon will be interested to hear, that Lord Snell considers that we have given but a tepid and inconsequent support to the Disarmament Conference. I am not proposing to go into these matters to-day or to give a detailed narrative of the successive endeavours which His Majesty's Government have made to achieve a far-reaching measure of disarmament, culminating in the British Draft Convention presented by the Prime Minister at Geneva in March of last year. These are matters which, I am sure, are clearly within your Lordships' recollection. That draft contained very definite proposals for the reduction and limitation of armaments, but though this draft has been accepted in principle by every 945 nation represented at Geneva, we can, I regret to say, point to no tangible result at present.
We have by no means abandoned the hope of ultimately reaching a Convention. The noble Lord who sits on the Cross Benches (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) has reminded me that prospects at this moment are dim, but we have by no means abandoned the hope of ultimately reaching a Convention. While this is not a moment at which I desire to cross swords with the noble Viscount on this very important matter, still I venture to suggest to him that if at the beginning of these proceedings he had taken a slightly more practical view than he did, if he had gone not on idealistic theories, but on action for the limitation and reduction of armaments simply and solely, we should have come to a result which would have given satisfaction to this country and to the whole world. That time has gone by, and we find the Disarmament Conference in a condition at this moment which the noble Lord who sits on the Cross Benches (Lord Lloyd) is actually desirous that I should diagnose. I can only say to him that I am not in a position to diagnose the present vitality of the Disarmament Conference, but I can assure him that I should regret very much if that Conference came to an end without some Convention. I do not say a bad Convention would be in the interests of the world, but if we can reach a Convention, and if chat Convention is on the lines of the Draft Convention which was presented by the Prime Minister, I am sure this country and the world in general would have every reason to be grateful.
Your Lordships are aware that by reason of the state in which the Disarmament Conference is at the present moment, His Majesty's Government have reached the conclusion that, in the light of developments abroad, they can delay no longer. The noble Lord who sits behind me, Lord Allen, asked a specific question as to the publication of a White Paper upon the activities of the Government itself in connection with the Disarmament Conference. I think a White Paper on that subject has been published on more than one occasion. I should like to point out to him, in relation to the Air Committee, that that Committee is called together by the 946 Chairman of the Committee itself. I would also like to point out that while this Committee may sit, and I have no doubt it will sit, he will find that the absentees will be such countries as Germany and Japan, two of the most important countries of the world in this connection. I should have thought that for the settlement of such a matter it would have been wise to have their opinion and to know exactly what they were going to do.
It is plain that in the matter of the Defence Services generally, and of the Royal Air Force in particular, His Majesty's Government, in their desire to further the cause of disarmament among the nations, have not only preached, but also have practised, a degree of restraint which has in fact placed us to-day in what amounts to a position of unilateral disarmament. One would imagine from the speeches to which we have listened that we alone of all nations had increased armaments, and that we were creating a departure from what had been done in practice quite different from what really has occurred. As I informed your Lordships last November, we were at the end of the late War—and it has also been quoted in this debate—if what I may call the relevant factors are taken into account, the strongest Air Power in the world. To-day it is recognised on all sides that air power is as vital to our national and Imperial security as sea power. We have for some years ranked fifth among the nations in terms of first line strength. The noble Viscount seems to think nothing of that. He seemed to suggest that we have had a smaller Air Force than France for a number of years and that we should allow that position to continue indefinitely. I do not know if the noble Viscount is familiar with air matters. France is close to our shores, but he knows probably as well as I do that this country is within reach of other countries from the air and that we have to consider all these matters.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I must point out that I was quoting from the statement made by the noble Marquess in this House and by the Lord President in the other House, who spoke of "our nearest neighbour."
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
If the noble Viscount refers to our nearest neighbour as France he is entitled to do so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
When the fifty-two squadron programme of 1923 was announced it was expressly stated by Mr. Baldwin, who was Prime Minister at that time, that this programme was but a first step towards rectifying a weakness which had become intolerable. He added that the fifty-two squadrons were to be created with as little delay as possible. He went on to say:The details of the organisation will be arranged with a view to the possibility of subsequent expansion, but before any further development is put in hand the question should be re-examined in the light of the then air strength of foreign Powers.That is a statement, I would ask your Lordships to observe, which was uttered by a Conservative Prime Minister, was accepted, and the policy was continued by successive Governments of which two were Socialist Administrations, Governments of the Party now represented by the noble Lord who moved this Vote of Censure. Since 1923 completion of that modest programme has been continually postponed in the interest of disarmament, though air developments and air armament have been proceeding at a very rapid rate. In consequence, in 1932, when the Disarmament Conference opened, the programme of 1923, which was already overdue for completion, was still ten squadrons short of its total complement of fifty-two squadrons, which, it was agreed at the time I have mentioned, was the minimum required for our defence. Nevertheless, I would like your Lordships to mark, for the first two years of the Disarmament Conference the programme was once again held completely in suspense. We did not move in the matter at all.
What is the situation to-day? Substantial programmes of air development are in hand at this moment in almost every country, and the expenditure of large sums has now been authorised, amongst others by the United States, by France, by Italy, by Russia, by Japan, by Sweden, by Switzerland, by Belgium, by Yugoslavia and by Turkey. Those are the nations which have authorised expenditure. Yet the noble Lord thinks we have taken a departure of our own in deciding to extend 948 our Air Force. Of developments in Germany I am not proposing to say anything on this occasion. The first four countries which I have mentioned already have Air Forces which largely exceed our own. The numerical strength of the Air Forces of France and Russia is indeed twice that of the Royal Air Force. I can say without hesitation that no responsible Government, with any regard for the overriding duty to ensure by all means in their power the safety of the people of this country, could allow our Air Force to remain any longer in a position of such tremendous inferiority.
As I informed your Lordships last November, His Majesty's Government, recognising that adequate air defence is vital to our national and Imperial security, have decided that parity with the strongest Air Force within striking distance of our shores must in future be a cardinal feature of our defence policy. As I said on that occasion we can achieve the parity we seek in four ways. The first is by a complete abolition of naval and military aviation, subject of course to adequate safeguards that civil machines will not be used for the same purpose—parity, that is, at zero. Secondly, by other nations reducing first to our level, and thereafter by reduction to such lower figures as we may all agree. That is embodied in the Convention which we put forward. Thirdly, by our building up to the level of the strongest Air Power within reach of these shores. Fourthly, by a combination of the second and third alternatives. That is the way we can reach parity. We have shown in the British Draft Disarmament Convention our willingness to go to any length in the matter of disarmament. We have done all we can, by discussion, deliberation, consultation, at home, at Geneva and in various foreign capitals, with the end in view that practical measures for the limitation of armaments should emerge. We are not for a moment suggesting that those efforts may not be ultimately rewarded or that they should in any degree be relaxed.
The noble Marquess who spoke earlier in the debate agreed, I think, with the noble Lord who initiated this debate in saying that the moment we had chosen was not an opportune moment and that we should have delayed longer than we have. That is a point which was raised 949 by the noble Viscount who sits on the Cross Benches. He spoke of five weeks delay and said we could then have made up our minds. My Lords, these decisions are not arrived at in a moment of time. They are the result of deliberation over a very long period of time. I think that the noble Viscount, with his great Parliamentary knowledge and with the desire which we all have that Parliament should be informed at the earliest possible opportunity of the decisions at which we arrive, will realise on reflection that it was necessary that some statement which was the result of our deliberation in relation to our air armament should be made before Parliament rose for the Recess. If the noble Viscount will consider the matter from that point of view I think he will see that it was impossible for us to part for the holidays without that statement being made. That statement is the considered policy of His Majesty's Government and I feel that on reflection your Lordships will realise that it is a statement which had to be made before Parliament adjourned for the Recess.
As I have ventured, to say to your Lordships before, it seems to me that the time has come when, without relinquishing ideals, we must face realities, and when we are entitled to ask all political Parties to do the same. We have been, I believe, the last nation to face them. Within, the past two months the French Chamber and Senate have voted an air programme which contemplates the expenditure of some £15,000,000 during the next three years; and Italy has announced an expenditure of £16,500,000 over a somewhat longer period. Extensive programmes for the increase and reorganisation of the United States naval and military air services have also been announced of recent months. So I hope your Lordships will see that we have not been moving in haste without, as we had to do, and as it was right we should do, taking full stock of what is going on around us all over the world. Does the noble Lord who has moved the Resolution seriously suggest that His Majesty's Government can afford to ignore these developments, when, as I have said, we are now at this moment in a position of unilateral disarmament in the air, a position which, I venture to repeat, the official spokesmen of his 950 Party have, in the past, expressly repudiated as quite foreign to their intentions? How, without an Air Force adequate in relation to the size of foreign Air Forces, would the noble Lord propose to implement his Party's policy of lending effective and armed support to the League against an aggressor State or States? I do not know the noble Lord's opinion of that.
We are committed by Locarno—which the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, repudiates—and in relation to our obligations under the Locarno Pact surely it is necessary that we should have some force which can carry out those obligations under which we are placed at the present time. My noble friend behind me, Lord Rennell, who spoke in most practical vein, told us what opinion is abroad. We are supposed to be weak, and although, in economic matters or political matters and many other matters our word is listened to with great interest, still we desire to be a little stronger so that we can make that word more effective in the councils of the nations. Again, if at some future date, we should be called upon to protect our shores; against hostile attack, would the noble Lord and his friends be prepared to contemplate with equanimity the launching of our pilots against an enemy who outnumbered them by two to one? That would, to my thinking, be an indefensible betrayal of the trust with which we as a Government are charged, and for which I, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Air, am particularly responsible.
The noble Lord and his Party must not forget that Air Forces cannot be organised in a day, nor can machines and engines be constructed, and pilots and mechanics trained, except on a basis of an ordered long-term programme. The Royal Air Force is second to none in quality, whether of men or machines, but, when the testing time arrives, quantity too must inevitably tell. The most efficient force in the world, if unduly weak, would be borne down by sheer weight of numbers. I, personally, would never take responsibility, by the neglect of reasonable precautions in peace, for sending into action, in the unhappy event of war, pilots half trained, in aircraft defective because they were the products of hurried improvisation.
The noble Lord seems to regard the Government's action as threatening a 951 new race in armaments. He even suggests that it may endanger the world's peace. It is my sincere belief—and I think most of your Lordships will agree with me—that the decision we have taken will have exactly the opposite effect. The clear and practical indication we have now given that this country is determined to have an Air Force as strong as that of any other nation within striking distance of our shores will, I am convinced, strengthen our influence for peace, and help to avert a race in armaments. I hope, indeed, it may effectively hasten the day when we shall be successful in concluding that international agreement for the limitation of air, as of all other forms of armament, which we so earnestly desire.
When I spoke on this subject last November, I ventured to remind your Lordships that the strength of Great Britain has invariably been thrown into the scale upon the side of peace, and that there could be no greater encouragement to the aggressive policy of any nation than the knowledge that the sword of Great Britain was no longer heavy enough to tip the scale against aggression. It is with satisfaction that I note that a leading Continental journal has remarked, on the announcement of His Majesty's Government's policy in this matter, that "all true friends of peace can congratulate themselves upon it, for everyone knows that the might of Great Britain is a pacific might." It seems to me the noble Lord, as the friend of peace, the champion who is ready to support the League of Nations with armed force should need arise, who, with his Party, repudiates the policy of unilateral disarmament, should be the first to welcome the strengthening of what the foreign journal to which I have alluded has styled our "pacific might." The whole world agrees that the British Empire has the will to peace; it is surely essential that we should have the means, if need be, to make that will effective.
The noble Lord's Resolution suggests that the strengthening of the Royal Air Force will not give us greater security. This is a proposition which I find some difficulty in following, but it may be that he has in mind the doctrine which he has on innumerable occasions stated in the course of past debates, that there is no 952 defence against air attack. He quotes certain statements made by my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council in another place, but surely the noble Lord is aware that isolated statements can be turned into meaning almost anything. The noble Lord has continually told the country that there is no defence whatsoever against air attack, and we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that the only possible defence is retaliation. I am not quite clear what the noble Viscount meant by retaliation because he did not develop his argument, but when retaliation is spoken of one hears of it in the crude form as meaning that if our towns are bombed our only policy is to proceed to the towns of our enemies of that day and retaliate with bombs on their population. I can assure him that there is no such plan or idea in the whole strategic library of the Air Force or of any Force of this country as that of waging war on women and children. The noble Lord did not say it, but I have on many occasions seen it alleged that the only form of defence that we have is retaliation on the civil population. I can assure him that that does not come into the category of the defence of this country in the Force which I have the honour to represent nor in the other Forces, which perhaps are not in the same position of being able to deliver such blows on the civil population.
There has been so much misrepresentation on this subject that, though I venture to think that ordinarily discussions of the technical details of air strategy and tactics are out of place in your Lordships' House, I think it is only right—and indeed I think the noble Lord will welcome it—that I should make some brief reference to the assertion which he is continually making. I have referred to the speech which was delivered by my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council in another place—a speech which was made two years ago and from which the noble Lord has quoted certain passages in isolation. Those passages and the quotations of them have been, if I may venture to say so, very much misunderstood throughout the country, and my right honourable friend himself had indeed occasion to remark only a month or two ago that "some people have leapt to the conclusion that, if what I said was true, there was no object in air defences at all." It seems 953 to me that the noble Lord is one of those who have leapt to such an erroneous conclusion. That there is no complete defence against air attack is entirely true. But I know of no form of warfare throughout the ages in which measures of defence have been able to give complete immunity. If our present cruiser strength was multiplied ten times, that would not prevent the enemy inflicting heavy casualties on the mercantile marine and the foodships on which these islands depend in time of war. But an adequate force of cruisers does minimise the damage which can be done.
It is undoubtedly the case that air defence constitutes one of the most difficult problems which have yet confronted mankind, because, as we know, aircraft move in three dimensions. It is however, entirely wrong to suggest that there are no defensive measures by which the danger of air attack can be reduced. It may be true—at any rate in the early stages of a war—that nothing will prevent a proportion of the enemy's attackers penetrating the defence. It is equally true, however, that a determined defensive force of up-to-date fighting; aircraft will intercept a substantial proportion of the raiders. I do not know from what source my noble friend Lord Arnold got his figures, but I am not prepared to accept them in toto.
§ LORD ARNOLD
If the noble Marquess will allow me to say so, the figures were given in the report which was got by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva and published in the book to which I referred. There can be no doubt about the figures at that time, I think.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I do not know quite how long ago it was. The book was published in the spring. It is not very long ago.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
In the course of the debate in this House last November some interesting figures bearing on experience in the late War on this point were cited. It is the case, as a noble Lord then stated, that in the last great air raid of 1918 the defences were successful in turning back some 60 per cent. of the raiders before they reached London, and that roughly 27 per cent. of the aircraft which crossed our 954 coast line were destroyed. It is also true that, according to a French publication based on official sources, only 7 per cent. of the enemy aircraft which attempted to raid Paris in the year 1918 succeeded in penetrating the defences. That was as long ago as 1918. Recent developments have certainly not made the task of the defensive organisation any easier, but I may say that, out of some hundred practice raids delivered during the course of the air exercises of the last three years, a very substantial percentage were intercepted on their inward or outward journey. It would, of course, be wrong to draw too comforting deductions from peace exercises, and I should be the last person to think of doing so. Accordingly figures obtained in such a manner must be very substantially discounted. It is at least clear, as I have said, that a material proportion of the enemy's raiding forces will normally be intercepted and that they will suffer heavy casualties. But that is only one side of air defence; it is, if I may revert to an analogy drawn from primitive warfare, our shield. But the shield without the spear is a wholly unsatisfactory defence and it is impossible to rely solely on a force of fighters.
The noble Viscount who sits on the Cross Benches says that this can be obviated by peace or by the complete abolition of Air Forces. I think that what he says in the first respect is probably true, but while I have not the time to argue with him at present I do not know how ho or anybody else is going to abolish Air Forces. Air Forces are the newest weapons which we have devised—some people say unfortunately. How he is going to obtain a Convention by which it is agreed that the newest weapon is not going to be used in some form or another is something which I do not understand. So long as Air Forces exist, a vital element in any scheme of air defence must be a force of aircraft which can deliver a continued and continuous counter-offensive. I mean an offensive by attacking aerodromes and the stations from which the enemy aircraft take off, because that is the counter-offensive, or that is the retaliation (if I may use a word which can be misunderstood) in which we believe, and which we believe will be as effective as any counter-measure can be effective as applying to any arm to which the noble Lord can refer. The object of our Air Force is, 955 as I have said, to deliver attacks against such targets as the enemy's aerodromes, depôts and wherever his aircraft are concentrated. This will gradually establish what is called air superiority, and we feel will render it impossible for the enemy to maintain anything approaching the full scale of his initial attacks. Moreover, adequate Air Forces must assuredly tend to deter an aggressor from gambling on the effects of a sudden attack. On the other hand, a weak Air Force can be neither a reliable deterrent nor an effective means of defence. Nor can an adequate defensive organisation be hastily improvised on the outbreak of war and under the assaults of the enemy.
I do not seek in any way to minimise the very great seriousness of the problem of air defence. I should be failing in my duty if I offered easy words of reassurance. But so much has been said on the other side that I feel it only right to point out that there is no need for counsels of despair. The view of those who suggest that the menace is such that we should make no attempt to meet it is wholly untenable. Almost as well might they argue that, because the enemy's submarine campaign in the late War gravely imperilled our food supply, we should, if we do not succeed in abolishing the submarine by international agreement, neglect provision for all those counter measures with which our naval experts attained such outstanding success and which are being steadily improved year by year, and rather, as the noble Lord would seem to suggest, sit with our hands idly folded awaiting starvation.
Your Lordships have expressed the desire that at this stage I should say something as to the programme itself, in amplification of the brief statement which I made last Thursday. The programme provides for the addition of forty-one new regular squadrons by the end of the year 1938, including the four squadrons the formation of which I announced earlier in the year in my Memorandum accompanying Air Estimates. Of these squadrons, as was stated the other day, thirty-three will be allocated to home defence; the balance are for the Fleet air arm or will in due course proceed to oversea stations. I am not in a position to announce full details of the programme, which is still in course of elaboration, but I may say that next year, 1935, we hope 956 to begin with a substantial instalment of new squadrons. We are also taking steps adequately to increase the reserve of pilots, upon which the Force will draw in time of emergency. The total cost of the programme up to and including the financial year 1938 will be approximately £20,000,000.
Expenditure, as your Lordships will understand, will vary from year to year, but it is hoped so to arrange its incidence that the expenditure in any one year will not be unduly excessive. I noticed in one journal the surprising statement that the programme would entail an addition of sixpence to the Income Tax. It would be more accurate to say that the average cost over the financial years 1934 to 1938 will be the equivalent of about ¾d., or nearly one penny, on the Income Tax, the necessity for which we must all regret, but which does not seem to me a disproportionate insurance premium in the circumstances of the world to-day.
Might I ask the noble Marquess whether he will consider the proposal which I made in my speech, with regard to the payment for this partly out of income and partly by way of loan?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I must apologise for not having referred specifically to that point. I do not know whether the noble Viscount is aware that this is a matter which has exercised most Governments for many years. It is based on a principle which is accepted by some and not by others. It is a financial problem which is not really within the ambit of the discussion we are having to-day. I shall be very glad to refer the noble Viscount to the Treasury, who will give him the particulars for and against the policy he has advocated.
Finally I would say a few words to those who fear that we have delayed so long that we are not now moving far and fast enough. New squadrons cannot be improvised unless there is to be inefficiency, waste, and grave risk to life and limb. It takes a full three years to train a skilled mechanic, and three to four years to bring to final completion a new station and its aerodrome. Moreover, the 41 new squadrons represent an increase of over 50 per cent, on the present regular strength of the Royal Air Force. His Majesty's Government see no need for panic measures. We intend 957 to go steadily forward with this programme on a basis which will ensure the continuance in the new units of the high degree of efficiency which the Royal Air Force has always maintained. With a Force thus efficiently organised, and built on solid and secure foundations, further expansion can be safely and expeditiously accomplished, should parity in the event prove unobtainable save by our building upward—a contingency, however, which we must all hope will yet be avoided by international agreement. A programme of improvisation could not give us these solid and secure foundations upon which to build. An ordered programme such as we contemplate will enable us to watch carefully the course of the international situation and the further progress of disarmament, and we shall, by allowing a reasonable degree of elasticity in our plans, be able to control development. We can accelerate our programme if necessary—I hope it will not be—or we can cut it down as circumstances demand.
The maintenance of peace still requires the existence of national defence forces. On the sea, happily, we have arrived at an international understanding which assures limitation, but for defence in the air such international agreement is still in the making. We have suggested a scale which has not been accepted. The very fact that, owing to our present weakness in the air, this suggested scale means a greater reduction of strength for other nations than for ourselves, has certainly not assisted its acceptance. This present proof of our determination to secure the balance we advocate, far from being, as the noble Lord opposite suggests, a danger to the peace of the world, and an encouragement to a race in armaments, provides the best ground for hope that we can see of the ultimate acceptance of that policy of reduction and limitation of armaments in the air for which we are so anxious, and to secure which we have already done so much.
I do not pretend to understand the present attitude of the noble Lord and his Party, on this plain matter of national defence, unless I associate it, and I am very unwilling to do so, with those methods of Party warfare, in which it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose whatever is put forward by the Govern- 958 ment of the day. I had always, hoped that, however bitter the Party strife, in these matters of great national importance we could propound a policy accepted by all Parties in the country, instead of the world contemplating divided opinion in this country. Fortunately for him and for this country there is, so far as I can judge, no immediate prospect, while they are in this mood, of the transfer to his Party of those serious responsibilities which are now exercised by the National Government. This country is the greatest centre of international trade in the world. Upon the confidence of our people, in the stability of our institutions, in the safety of our homes, and in the security of our world-wide activities, depends much more than the future of our nation or the future of our Empire. That real confidence, which our attitude here can radiate abroad, influences far more than is generally realised peace and good order and the progress of the whole world.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, the noble Marquess has replied to the debate to the accompaniment of a squadron of aeroplanes above our heads. I do not know whether that was officially arranged, but I believe London is being bombarded to-day. I had not expected that the noble Marquess would be able to meet our charges and the charges that have been made throughout this debate, but I did expect something more than the repetition of mere assertions. A more disappointing reply and explanation of the Government policy I do not believe could have been given. It is terribly tempting for me to make the noble Marquess's remarks the theme for another speech, but I only want to detach one or two points from his speech. It is parity that the Government are aiming at, and I can find no refutation at all of my interpretation of parity as the aim. The noble Marquess and my noble friend Lord Rennell both say that our rearmament will help disarmament in Europe. Lord Rennell said that foreign countries liked to see us rearming. Really, do let us try to put ourselves in other people's shoes. If France rearms it is a danger; if Germany, Italy, Russia or Japan rearms then our Press is full of the menace to world peace; but when we rearm then everybody says: "Splendid; we can begin to disarm."
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
The noble Viscount says it is quite true. I am afraid he gets his information from people who agree with his particular view. I am afraid that Lord Rennell naturally associates with personalities in foreign countries as eminent as he is himself. But if the real opinion of the rank and file of the people in foreign countries were ascertained, I think it would be found that when any nation begins to rearm a certain panic and alarm is bound to seize the whole of the world. The noble Marquess kept on twitting me with what the policy of the Opposition was—pooled security under Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. My Party desire to participate in any steps that the League may take towards corporate action to secure peace and to punish an aggressor. In fact, in the declaration of that policy we go a great deal further than His Majesty's Government, who showed the greatest reluctance in the Far East to take advantage of Article 16 of the Covenant. And their reluctance was not due to the inability to supply a sufficient number of aeroplanes, but to their inability to support the League of Nations.
The noble Marquess, I am glad to say, repudiates the idea of threatened retaliation, and he keeps on saying that nobody has stood for it. I think he must have been out of the House temporarily when I quoted the Lord President of the Council, who said:The only defence is in offence, which means you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.
§ The noble Marquess must really compose his differences with the Lord President of the Council. I see there is a good deal of conflict between the two, and between now and this day week, when the Lord President of the Council is going to make another speech on this subject in another place, I think the noble Marquess had better get beside him to prevent any great disparity in their remarks.
§ The increase in armaments is undoubtedly going to lead not only to an increase elsewhere, but to fresh demands on the part of the other arms of the Fighting Forces, and we are now on the edge of this slippery slope. No defence has been made for the occasion for announcing this policy. What was the defence? That we were going away for our holidays and we ought to have some statement before we went. Is that seriously put forward as a reason for making a momentous, world-important statement? Really, I hope the Lord President of the Council will find a better reason for making this statement than has been given by the noble Marquess. I ought not to detain your Lordships any further. It has been a very serious debate. There have been very important speeches. Two opposing points of view have been very sharply defined. We are a very small minority in your Lordships' House, but I am not at all sure we do not represent a considerable majority in this country at this moment and on this point. With that view we shall certainly challenge a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 9; Not-Contents, 54.961
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)[Teller]||Sanderson, L.|
|Allen of Hurtwood, L.||Snell, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Feversham, E.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Elibank, V.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Mar and Kellie, E.||Falmouth, V.|
|Bath, M.||Morton, E.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.|
|Landsdowne, M.||Plymouth, E.||Hailsham, V.|
|Salisbury, M.||Powis, E.||Halifax, V.|
|Zetland, M.||Stanhope, E.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Aberdare, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Bayford, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Astor, V.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)|
|Derby, E.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Clinton, L.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Iliffe, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Darling, L.||Jessel, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Forester, L.||Lloyd, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Gage, L. (F. Gage.) [Teller.]||Merrivale, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Middleton, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Harris, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.||Wakehurst, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.||Rankeillour, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.962
§ House adjourned at a quarter before eight o'clock.