§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, made yesterday by Lord Strabolgi, to resolve, That inasmuch as the extent of the armed forces of the Crown depends mainly upon national policy and the purpose they are designed to serve, this House calls upon His Majesty's Government to furnish full information to Parliament as to what measure of rearmament has already been achieved and as to what is the programme for the immediate future; and at the same time to make an explicit declaration of the policy in relation to the League of Nations and foreign affairs which they are pursuing as a justification for the heavily increased expenditure on armaments.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, the Resolution which your Lordships have now to consider is one which has been drawn, and I have no doubt deliberately drawn, very widely so as to admit of the discussion of a considerable range of subjects, but in fact the debate yesterday was divided, I think, into two main portions. There was the discussion of what may be called the technical aspect of the question, as to what is actually being done and what ought to be done technically, and there was the discussion of the question which, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, very rightly said, underlies the whole matter, the question of policy. I am not competent to give your Lordships any kind of assistance on the technical aspect of the matter, though I shall have one or two questions to ask for my own enlightenment.
The main object of my remarks will be to ascertain from the Government whether the House has rightly appreciated the general purpose of their policy. I understand it to be a policy essentially of defence. I do not think there is any doubt or question about that. We are not arming for anything except our own defence. The reason why we have had to propose this great increase is also quite clear. It is due to the great increase 202 of armaments that has taken place on the Continent. I do not know which of the Continental Powers began it. Some people think that Russia and some people think that Germany began it, but in any case they are now, and have been for a long time past, building more or less against one another. The ordinary phenomena of a race in armaments are in full blast. I understand from what has been said by the Government in another place and here that they are very anxious not to join in a mere race in armaments. Their main purpose is just to make what may be called emergency provisions for possible dangers that have arisen.
No one has put that more strongly than the Prime Minister. In a speech that he made at the Guildhall only a little time ago, he developed that in language which, if I had used it, would have resulted in very odd motives being assigned to me. He used the most violent language about the dangers and folly of armaments. I have often been reproached for conducting an agitation which left out of consideration everything except the desire for peace. However, he did that and I personally was grateful to him. At any rate I shall be grateful if those admirable sentiments find expression in action by the Government. But, beyond that policy of necessary rearmament in order to meet a danger, I understand from the Government that their main policy on foreign affairs remains as it was. Indeed, they have been reproached by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and others with the fact that they still believe in the League of Nations. I was extremely glad to find that in spite of that admonition from the noble Marquess—I do not know whether he speaks for the Liberal Party, that is a little difficult to find out, but he speaks from the Liberal Benches—my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air stated the main lines of the policy of the Government without any modification. Secondly, the Government, as the Prime Minister's speech in the Guildhall emphasised, are anxious to bring about as soon as opportunity offers a system of international reduction and limitation of armaments on the lines for which great efforts have been made for many years past.
Now I come to the little group of questions which I should like to put to my 203 noble friend. We are arming strictly for defence. That is understood. Therefore, I imagine that our first business is to make ourselves less vulnerable than we are at present. It is evident that that ought to be, and I imagine it is, our first business, because obviously we are under great disadvantages, particularly in regard to air attack. There is nothing new in what I am going to say. It is unhappily familiar to all of us that what the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, called the heart of the Empire is unpleasantly near to the boundaries of these islands. Therefore it is easier for a foreign enemy to reach that critical point than it is for us to reach any equally critical point in his territory. That means that he can carry heavier bombs, I presume, because he will have to carry less petrol, that he will have a shorter journey and therefore can make more frequent journeys. In that way he has a great advantage. We cannot reply to him by bombing with the same effect and with the same force as that with which he can attack us, and therefore we must always, in bombing, be at a considerable disadvantage.
I hate to put it in this way, but really the news that we read daily in the newspapers of what bombing means makes one perfectly sick to think that we have to be making preparations for inflicting this horrible damage on apparently unarmed cities—because no city is now safe, according to the rules of war as it is now waged. That is a horrible state of things, and I was intensely relieved to hear my noble friend say that what we used to be told a few months ago—that there is really no defence against bombing—is not in his opinion any longer true, but that there is some defence which can be made and some useful measures which can be taken for defence; that is, not merely by counter-attack, but some means by which it can be made more difficult—I do not put it higher than that—for a bombing expedition to get through and destroy this City.
It is just on that point that I should be very grateful for any further information that my noble friends feel it possible to give. I should like personally, if it were possible, which I know it is not, our preparations to be mainly strictly defensive. I have no doubt that I shall be told immediately that offence is necessary for defensive operations in any circumstances, and particularly in the air. I do 204 not imagine that it is possible for us to dispense with preparations for offence. I do not imagine it for a moment, but I think that in every way that we can we ought to lay the emphasis on our strictly defensive operations. That is clearly advantageous from every point of view. It makes it quite clear that we are not arming in order to attack anybody, and also, if it could be carried to a certain point, it would make it very much less likely that we should be exposed to a knock-out blow and very much less likely that any attempt at a knock-out blow would be successful.
I do not know how much my noble friends think it possible in the public interest to say, but I hope, and I have no doubt, that they are giving very great attention to all the new developments of which we hear in anti-aircraft guns and so on, and also in preparations for defence against gas attacks. I am a little nervous about that, and I should be very grateful for any reassurance we could receive on that point. I know there are same people who think that you ought not to make preparations for defence against gas attack because that seems to assume that war is going to take place. I do not think that now. If that argument ever had any force, it cannot be said to have any force at all now, since every other country is making preparations of that kind. Now I have seen in the newspapers, and we have all seen it—I do not know whether it is true or not—that the conception of the Government is to leave the preparation of shelters and to some extent, if I understand it rightly, the distribution of gas masks, if that is a possible precaution, to the local authorities. I should like very much, if I might, to know a little more about that and to feel sure that local authorities are not going to be allowed to proceed without some general direction and assistance, which I am sure they will receive, from the Central Government.
That is one thing, but nowadays we are told that gas, horrible and disgusting as it is, is not the chief danger, but that fire is a much greater danger. We are told that with these new thermite bombs, as appears to be the case in Madrid, you can set a town on fire, and that there are very great difficulties in dealing with such a fire; that it is not like an ordinary fire and that the mere application of water is an insufficient 205 measure. I do not know whether that is true or not, but that is what is said. I should be glad to hear—as I dare say is the case, but we have not been told it, and there may be reasons why we have not been told it—that plans have been worked out for dealing with fires, possibly a great increase of fire brigades, possibly the provision of something other than water, if they consider that that is essential—I do not know. I should be very grateful if my noble friends felt it possible to give us any reassurance on this kind of point without disclosing undesirable details in the matter.
Then there is the question of food. I was very much interested, if I may be allowed to say so, in the speech made by my noble friend Earl Howe yesterday about road transport, but there are many other questions concerned with the supply of food to the population which will have to be dealt with. Evidently there must be storage, and evidently storage in one place or in a few places may be an exceedingly dangerous expedient. I do not know whether it is contemplated to have a great number of stores scattered over the country, so that if one or two of them were destroyed there would still be enough to feed the population. Personally it seems to me that this is a matter in which there ought to be no stinting of expense. It is a purely defensive measure, and whatever is necessary ought to be done to provide food against a possible danger. Those are the only questions I wanted to ask. I hope my noble friends will forgive me for having asked them, and I am sure they will give me any information they can.
I pass now to what may be regarded as the permanent policy of the Government apart from rearmament and which no doubt must underlie any policy of rearmament. First, there is the possibility of setting on foot again some effort for international disarmament, which evidently is what the Prime Minister desires. I know that the House will remember that at the last Assembly the French Government made certain proposals which it was understood could not have much more than a moral effect at that stage, but which did have a certain moral value, because they proposed to set on foot again some part of the disarmament machinery. I did not feel as if the Government welcomed those 206 proposals with great enthusiasm. I may have been wrong, and the reports that were printed in the newspapers may have been misleading, but I should be glad to be reassured that the Government are determined to take every possible advantage of any movement of that kind and help it forward, and that, even if they do not think that a particular proposal is likely to have a very good result, at any rate they will not throw cold water on it.
I do not feel quite so hopeless on the point as many people do. Of course there has been this menacing atmosphere hanging over the debate, that we may have to face terrible events even in a few months, but I am myself rather of an optimistic turn of mind, and I doubt very much whether any such terrible disaster is going to happen. At any rate let us hope it does not. I am confident that if it does not, the financial pressure of keeping up these enormous armaments may very well dispose the Powers to consider again whether some means of avoiding this folly, as I think the Prime Minister called it, of competing armaments cannot be devised. I hope that that may take place, and that then we shall have another chance. I may be too sanguine, but I cannot help hoping that these latest Spanish horrors may really show people, even the most bellicose of the advisers of the most absolute Governments, that war is really a most beastly and devilish thing now and that some effort at the reduction of armaments by the general international community ought to be made.
I do not know whether my noble friends will be able to give us any information about what is going on in Spain; I dare say not; but certainly the news that was told me just before I came down here is too horrible for words. There is, apparently, no doubt that the insurgent forces—at least that is what I am told, though I do not know whether it is true—are not able to advance very rapidly, or at all, and are concentrating now upon destroying the capital of their own country by fire. Very valuable buildings and works of art have been destroyed, apart from the much more serious loss of life. If that kind of example of what war means does not really frighten us—I say "us" in the sense of the international community—into coming to some kind of terms about 207 disarmament, one must despair not only of the goodness but of the sanity of human nature.
Apart from disarmament what other steps can be taken?—for I am now dealing with the permanent, the long-range policy of the Government. There has been very considerable pressure, as your Lordships are well aware, led by a distinguished clergyman and supported by other persons of eminence in literature and otherwise, for complete passivism, and quite recently—I do not know whether it is actually published yet—a book has been written by a member of your Lordships' House who, as I understand he does not think it decorous to assume his title, I must therefore call Mr. Bertrand Russell. He has written a book in order to explain what passivism in his conception really means. I have not been able to read the whole of the book, but I have read the parts which describe the positive policy. I understand it is this, that we should abandon all our armaments—Army, Navy and Air Force. He says that as a consequence of that we could not hold any of our Dependencies and Crown Colonies, because we should have no means of defending them if anyone wanted to take them. He therefore proposes to dispose of them—I think that is his phrase—including India. He also goes on to say that in those circumstances it might become inevitable that we might have to do what some foreign Power might tell us to do, because we should have no means of resistance, a position which he describes by what seems to me to be the inadequate adjective "humiliating." I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I say that that never has been any part of my political creed, and I very much regret that it is having a certain vogue at this moment. I very much regret it because it seems to me an impossible creed, apart from any other objection to it, and it a little divides and weakens the forces, which I am sure the Government wish to see as strong as possible, which are working more or less sanely for peace.
Putting that aside, because I do not think there are many people in this House who would support that policy, we come to the policy of what may be called the policy of armed isolation, and I do not know whether I was right in following as closely as I could Lord Lothian's 208 speech, but I rather think that that is what he desires. I am very sorry I have to make these observations in his absence, but I am bound to reply, if I can, to what has been said in debate. I did not appreciate that he made any very definite constructive proposal in his speech. I am not sure that he made any, but his arguments seemed to lead up to something like isolation, coupled with rearmament. I am afraid that the only result of that policy would be to leave us to face some future complication, some future war, let us say quite frankly, without any allies and without any assistance, and I do not think there is the slightest probability that it would be successful in avoiding hostilities. I cannot believe that by professing isolation, for instance, we should be quite certain that Japan would not occupy Singapore on a favourable opportunity, or that if by, as I think, misfortune, the Fascists conquered in Spain, they would not demand the restoration to Spain of Gibraltar, or that the Italian Government might not feel that the time had come, having failed to obtain the island of Corfu on a previous occasion, when they might obtain, it may be, one of the Balearic Islands, or when Germany might demand back her Colonies, when she found us unaided and unable to call anyone to our assistance. It seems to me that the policy of isolation, without precautions at all, is one of the most dangerous policies you can pursue, although not so dangerous as the policy of passivism, nor, to use Mr. Bertrand Russell's word, so "humiliating." It is not however a policy which is definitely recommended by anybody in this House.
Then we come to pacification by the old system of alliances, or by some new system of international agreement. As to alliances and the old system, so far we have had nobody in this debate who recommends a return to that system. I was relieved to find that Lord Stone-haven, who on the last occasion he addressed the House said definitely that he would prefer to go back to the old system, did not go so far in the debate yesterday, and I do not think any one will. Then there are two forms of international agreement. There is the Locarno form and there is the more general provision. I have no objection very much to either of them, but I confess that I did think that on that point Lord 209 Lothian's observations about Locarno were very formidable. He pointed out that in any difference that occurred between Germany and Russia, for instance, Germany would say: "Can we be sure that if we get involved with Russia our western neighbour will not attack us?" Even although France did not feel forced to go into war immediately by her treaty with Russia, I think Lord Lothian felt that her treaty would compel her to do so; but he said that the Germans would probably turn and attack France first, because they would have more time for preparing to defend themselves against Russia, or for carrying the attack into Russia. In that case your Locarno agreement, I suppose, would operate and you would be involved in your war without, as it seems to me, any great advantage accruing.
I have further great difficulties about it—two difficulties of a practical kind. If you make your Locarno agreement I think it is almost inevitable that you will weaken your general agreement, even though, as I understand, those who are in favour of it do not propose to make it a substitute for your agreements under the Covenant but merely an additional agreement. Still, I cannot help feeling that it will diminish the force of the general agreement. If that is so, it will make economic pressure extremely difficult. Economic pressure to be effective must be, if not universal, at any rate as universal as you can make it. And though I do not myself think that economic pressure can ever be relied upon completely to stop a war that has begun, I think it may possibly be a very useful weapon to prevent preparations for war. There was something that fell from my noble friend which I hope meant that he thought that the League ought to intervene, if it is going to intervene, before war breaks out, and not necessarily wait till after war has broken out. That seems to me one objection to it.
Another objection is that as long as you leave open, so to speak, the possibility of war anywhere, you make anything like general disarmament impossible, because these things are in a chain. Germany arms because Russia arms; France arms because Germany arms; Italy arms because France arms; we arm because everybody else arms. And as long as you leave the possibility of war open in any part of Europe, I do not see 210 how you are ever going to achieve any system of general disarmament. Of course, I know that the answer is that you leave the League as it is and you add this special provision. But I have already said that I am afraid that that will in practice prove rather a difficult position to hold.
As to the League itself, I am encouraged, I must say, by this debate. The only two speakers who so far have spoken on the other side have been very careful to avoid condemnation of the League in the whole-hearted and complete way that some people were fond of adopting a little time ago. The truth is that when you come up against the real dangers and realities of things you do see that the alternative which the Chancellor of the Exchequer very properly put between alliances and the League is the only alternative, as I know that my noble friend who leads the House has said more than once. And when you come to compare one against the other it seems clear that, if you can have the League, it is a far better plan that a policy of alliances. Therefore I have no criticism to make about the principles laid down by the Foreign Secretary. I am not quite so happy about everything said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I like to believe that he did not mean anything different from what the Foreign Secretary said, and if that is so, then I have no kind of objection.
May I, just in passing, point out to Lord Stonehaven, who I am glad to see has been good enough to come this afternoon, that he really is in error in thinking that membership of the League in any way fetters our sovereignty, or in any way prevents our having a policy apart from the League. He might have remembered that last summer, very unfortunately as I thought, the Government decided to abandon sanctions, and announced that abandonment before they had had any opportunity of consulting the other Members of the League. And there is nothing to prevent them from announcing at any moment "Our view is so-and-so. We cannot carry that fully into effect without the assent of other Members of the League but we shall certainly press that view on the first opportunity we get at Geneva." It may be a desirable thing, or not a desirable thing, to do, but it is a possible thing to do, and there is nothing in membership of the League that prevents it.
211 My only criticism of the Government's declaration is this. They did not quite go the full way. They said: "Our policy is to support and strengthen the League and" (to use my noble friend Lord Swinton's phrase) "to make it more effective." Very good. But does that mean, or does it not mean, that, subject to our receiving, of course, adequate support from other Members of the League, we are prepared to put the whole force of the country behind the Covenant of the League of Nations? That seems to me to be the really crucial question, and it is the answer to that question for which the whole world, as I see it, is waiting. I hoped that the Foreign Secretary would have been ready to go the whole length, but he just did not go that length, and I must say I am frightened at not going the whole length. My right honourable friend Mr. Churchill in his remarkable speech made it quite clear what he thinks. There was no ambiguity at all. His view was: "Certainly we go in"—I forget his epigrammatic phrase—"if the others go in; if they do not go in, we do not go in."
That, I think, is the right view. It must be a joint action, and I was delighted to find my noble friend Lord Swinton saying on that that it is very important that the League should be consulted early enough and should determine what it means by intervention. I think that is a most important change in the procedure of the League, which I hope the Government will be able to carry through. But once they have got that, once they have got the sufficient promise of support which they can rely upon from the big countries—I think there has been a little too much said about the unimportance of the smaller countries: some of them at any rate command very considerable force, the Little Entente for instance, though I quite agree that it depends mainly on the larger countries—once they have got that support, then I want very much to hear the Government say that with that support, assuming that we are satisfied that a breach of the Covenant has taken place, that there has been aggression or that aggression is threatened, we are prepared to put every strength we have got behind the enforcement of the League Covenant. Naturally, if the theatre of war is in some more or less inaccessible place our part may probably be to act principally 212 with the Fleet, and the land fighting will have to be done by others. That is quite possible; I do not know anything about that. It would be a matter for the General Staffs. But the important thing is to have this assertion to which I have ventured to refer.
This has been pressed from different points of view by several previous speakers. I press it very strongly because it does seem to me that history shows that the most dangerous thing, the most fruitful cause of war and danger and difficulty is misunderstanding as to what some great Power means. We all remember the visit of the late Lord Haldane to Germany two years before the War. I have never said a word attacking Lord Haldane as to that matter, but it is perfectly plain that though, if you read carefully his own account, which I have no doubt is perfectly accurate, of what he said, he did say all, or almost everything, that was strictly speaking necessary for the Germans to understand where we stood, he did not say it with that clearness and definiteness and completeness which would get inside the German skull; and it is that danger that I fear most of all. If you do not believe in the League, say so; but if you do believe in it, and if you do trust to it as the great instrument for peace, then I bog the Government to make it perfectly and abundantly clear.
Several noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Stonehaven very clearly—pointed out the great loss of credit we have suffered, rightly or wrongly, over the Abyssinian affair, and therefore we must make it very clear indeed in any of our statements that we are not indulging in an effort of bluff which, as my noble friend Lord Lothian rightly says, is the only possible explanation of that speech made on September 10, 1935. We must not make speeches of that kind or give undertakings of that kind unless we mean them; but I am sure that unless we are prepared to give undertakings of that kind clearly and definitely, which people all over the world will understand and appreciate, and unless we mean to carry them out really and fully, we are running the very gravest risk of misunderstanding and ultimately of war. I venture to press this—I hope not with undue emphasis—because I feel it to be the real centre of the present situation. I beg 213 the Government very seriously to consider whether they cannot make the thing more abundantly clear. I believe they think they have made it clear; my noble friend Lord Swinton said so. I beg them to believe that they have not yet made clear to the world at large, not even to their own countrymen, where they stand in this matter. I beg them to make it as clear as Mr. Churchill made his position clear on this very crucial, vital, and, it may be, catastrophic question.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, you will not expect me to follow the noble Viscount who has just spoken into all the political sides of this question, but there are one or two technical points to which I shall refer in the course of my observations. I have listened to all the debates in your Lordships' House for the last six months on defence questions. I have listened to a good many in another place, and I have read all the numerous articles and letters from Admirals which have been appearing in the Press on various subjects connected with defence. I was for eleven years Chief of the Air Staff in Whitehall. Nearly all the points that have been raised and discussed are of great interest, and at one time or other I had something to say about them. You will not expect me to touch on all these points to-day, nor do I want to weary your Lordships by doing so; therefore I shall make my remarks this afternoon only on a few of them.
The first thing I would like to say is that I was a strong believer in the appointment of the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. I do not refer to that appointment in any spirit of criticism. I want to do anything I can to strengthen the Minister's hands. But I would like to ask: Has he been able to deal with all these great questions of policy or strategy, and those points which I know are very difficult to settle where the three Services disagree? I do not expect the Government, in answering, to tell us how these points are settled and what are the plans for defence; but have they got strategical plans as far as is possible? The, object of appointing this Minister was to provide a whole-time Minister without constant departmental responsibilities to help the Government to decide what are our most essential requirements, and not to go into a lot of small points. I sometimes feel, 214 from the criticisms which are directed at him, that he is being driven more and more to examine how many guns we have, and how many aeroplanes, and not, perhaps, to examine the great question of how to use them. There is the question of man-power and material, and in "material" I embrace everything. Is that sufficient to meet all the demands of the three Services in detail? Priority is bound to come in even if it has not yet done so.
There is another point I would like to touch on: Is the power of the air overrated or under-rated? I put that question the other day to a distinguished foreign officer, and his reply was something like this: "If I knew the answer to that, I would know how the next war would start." Are the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and everybody else concerned examining that question? Is there anything we can find that would give a clue to the answer? We have had many small campaigns, but I would ask your Lordships to consider the fact that I think I am not far wrong in the view that the few bombs which were dropped in this country in the last Great War—in the whole of the four years—would be dropped in six hours continuously, for five or six weeks, and not by two or three hundred aeroplanes but by thousands. What effect will that have?
A further point is this. I have seen the number of squadrons which are going to be produced, according to the White Paper, by 1937. Is that enough? The other Powers are going on increasing. I do not doubt that the Government are fully alive to the question, but I would like to say at once on that point that I know there is a limit to what can be done in the time with all the impatience in the world. Sometimes I have been impatient myself, but I feel there is something in the saying, "More haste, less speed." Not that I want the Government to go slow in any way. But, I ask, do you see far enough ahead? Do you appreciate that you will have still to increase when you have carried out this expansion? Do you recognise that this is not the end?
I was much interested in the three points made in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. With two of them I thoroughly agree, and with the third I shall deal later. Regarding the question of the London docks, that is a question 215 which concerns more than the use of the London docks. It concerns all the docks on the East coast and South coast at any rate. Will they be used? It is not only a question of whether, as mentioned by the noble Lord who introduced this Motion, ships can defend themselves in docks and fire their anti-aircraft guns, though that is important. The question also arises of whether any repairs or supplies will be carried out in these docks while the ships are there. I would ask all naval people to consider most deeply these two questions together. The noble Earl also referred to the question of road motor transport. I thoroughly agree with him. I think he described a most dangerous situation, and I hope the Government will watch this question of the railways, with the best intention of trying to keep the roads from being overcrowded. I hope they are considering it from the defence point of view, and with regard to the problem of having to deal with heavy goods traffic, which could in the ordinary way go by rail, by means of road transport when war breaks out, because the railways are vulnerable.
I have seen one or two other points referred to. The only point at which I must disagree with the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is when he talks about the first-line defence. I do not understand that. There is no doubt that the Navy has been the sure shield of this country for many long years, but can anybody, does any one of your Lordships, really feel that the Navy is our sure shield now? What is the sure shield of this country is the Navy with its ships, the Army with its anti-aircraft guns, its searchlights and balloon aprons as referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the Air Force with its aircraft. That is our sure shield; the three Services in co-operation. No longer can you say that one Service is the first-line or the second-line or alone the sure shield. I feel that is not always sufficiently recognised in some of the articles in the newspapers that I have read.
I have also seen it stated in many articles, and referred to in the other place and here, that an artery is vital. It is said that the oceans in the Far East and the Mediterranean are arteries which, if cut, would mean that we bleed to death. What about the heart being smashed first, and what is the good of an artery afterwards? An artery may have 216 a ligature put on as a temporary measure. But why have these debates taken place during the last six months? They have been due to the danger of this country from the air. I firmly believe that if ever we are forced into war and could stave off the enemy for the first ten weeks then we should win. There is another point to which I would like to refer. I think a Treaty was made with Germany not long ago dealing with the ratio of naval power between Great Britain and Germany. I would ask your Lordships in regard to this matter to consider this in any decisions you may come to or in any speeches that you may make. It has a great bearing on the matter. If this Treaty affords a reasonable measure of security then it helps us.
I want next to refer to something that has been written about in many papers, the question of morale. I think that up to now the men who fight in the trenches, the sailors who fight on the ships, and the airmen who fight in the air have all felt themselves a little bit better than the other man, and the other man has felt himself a little bit inferior. But what is going on? I am not referring to all the attacks and reminiscences that are being written. Some are plainly fair. But is it right to try to sow distrust between the men who fight in the trenches and their leaders? I do not mind them calling the leaders stupid. I dare say we are stupid. Still, having seen service in both the Army and the Air Force I feel that, while it is right to criticise, it is wrong to sow distrust by saying that Generals and Admirals and even Air Marshals are, by stupid actions, responsible for having millions killed in order to aggrandise their own commands and hold them.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
That is what is so unfair, and I say it is going to do untold harm. I saw that the Secretary of State for War was speaking the other day about there not being sufficient troops. Why is that so? There are many people who say outright: "We are not going to put men in the Army if they are going to be mangled up like men have been in the past through this stupidity." If I could write, which I never shall be able to do, I should like to be able to disclose a good deal of what I listened to throughout the War and after the 217 War, not only from Generals and Admirals and Air Marshals, but others. If I did that it would make an interesting book for some people.
Another matter that I wish to mention has reference to what the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Air said about balloons. I was glad to hear him say that. He requested that none of the older men should apply at once to join the balloon section. I must disobey him and would like to offer my services at once. As a result of the courtesy of the Secretary of State for Air I have had an opportunity of going round and seeing five or six or even more aerodromes and of talking to a lot of the new pilots who have joined the Force. I also saw something of the conditions of the aerodromes, and talked to some of the younger as well as older instructors. There are bound to be exceptions in everything, but I would like to say at once that generally speaking the class of young man who has come in shows the greatest keenness and is suitable for the work. I am not saying there are not exceptions. There have always been exceptions, but generally speaking the work I saw was infinitely better than ever I thought would be possible with this great influx of new men. I say that the men are as good as were those who joined before this scare came.
I am now going to refer to a subject about which I have not spoken for seven years. I only spoke of it once in answer to an inaccurate statement in the Press, and only once did I mention it in your Lordships' House. I have in mind the Fleet Air Arm. Before I say anything further upon that I would like to appeal to your Lordships for sympathy. I know that when we formed the Royal Air Force eighteen years ago, we were interlopers. We were new. We are a conservative nation and we do not like new things. I am not complaining about that. It takes time to have a real feeling of sympathy for the difficulties of that force. If your Lordships had seen what I saw when I went round these aerodromes I feel that you would have some sympathy. I know that a large number of your Lordships do sympathise. An air service requires help from everybody. As I stated I have only once referred to this question of the Fleet Air Arm before, but I did in March this year ask the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for 218 Air if there was any truth in the suggestion which had begun to appear in propaganda in the Press that the Government were reconsidering the reorganisation of the Air Service and the Army and control of the Fleet Air Arm. I asked him to assure us that the answer was in the negative. The noble Viscount will remember that he said: "I give that assurance at once." That answer was given on the Prime Minister's direction.
Upon that I said nothing more. For seven years I have not spoken on this subject, and I would like to speak fairly freely now, but I hope not too warmly. This is not a question of the Air Force versus the Admiralty; it is a question of the Government versus the Admiralty. It was the Government's decision, it was not an Air Force decision. The Air Force had no part in the decision. All they did was to give evidence, and they have lately, as they did during my time, tried to carry out the decision. But there has been unceasing propaganda against it. I have seen in letters and in reminiscences threats of resignations from the Board of Admiralty. I feel it is impossible to carry on argument on that footing. During the last three months there have been incessant letters in the Press from ex-officers of the Navy and others, and this propaganda has been going on. Surely each of the Services has its hands full of work at the present time. The menace of the air, as I said just now, is surely more immediate than any conceivable naval war.
I want now to come a little more to the point. Many people have said that keeping it as one Service makes it much weaker than it was when it was formed. I jotted down a few notes the other day, and I would like to refer briefly to what was contained in the Balfour Report more than thirteen years ago. It is argued that the Fleet Air Arm has now reached a state of adult maturity and it should be allowed to set up on its own. The truth is that in the past thirteen years air developments have taken place which have greatly reinforced the reasons for preserving the connection between the Fleet Air Arm and the rest of the Air Force. Thirteen years ago the effective radius of shore based aircraft was very much less than it is now. Since then shore-based aircraft have become heavier and larger and the area over which they 219 can operate much greater. Aircraft operating over the sea from aircraft carriers or from other ships, on the other hand, must be limited in size for various reasons connected with the hangars, the lifts, and the ships. Shore-based aircraft are increasing at a great rate all over the world—in this country, in Germany and everywhere—but apart from the question of numbers the performance of shore-based aircraft must be twenty or thirty per cent. more efficient than that of carrier-based aircraft because of the limitation of deck space and lifts. It must be remembered that we are talking of a war in Europe and not a war out in the wide ocean. Therefore, the danger will be from shore-based aircraft.
Another point to be borne in mind is that one reason for the formation of the Royal Air Force was the acute competition for the supply of aircraft. That, however, was only one of the small reasons. There was a much bigger reason and that was that the problem which had to be dealt with was how to use aircraft all over the world. That is still the biggest reason. When, in 1919, the Royal Air Force was set up in peace time, Mr. Winston Churchill was my first Secretary of State for Air. After that—I do not want to go through the whole list of the Secretaries of State—I served under Sir Samuel Hoare for six years or nearly seven years. I tried to help them both in the establishment of the Royal Air Force. We had to take into consideration this very difficult problem of how to work the Fleet Air Arm and of Army co-operation. One point that they were very emphatic about was that we should do everything we could to make the points of contact between the three Services as small in number as possible. After much thinking I, in my small way, advised—and both the Secretaries of State supported me through thick and thin—that the point of contact should be through the Air Ministry and the Admiralty.
I knew that there would be a good sounding board in Whitehall and that we should hear it reverberating all the time. But my view was that surely the point of contact should be with the administrative Services and not with the fighting part of the Services. I. felt that it was vital that the point of contact should be where it would do least harm. There are protagonists now writing and talking about the necessity for a 220 separate Fleet Air Arm. I read sentences like this: "… the Navy should have undivided control over its own air forces which are now as indispensable to sea power as guns." Again: "There is a clear distinction between the defence of the approaches which to an island like ours are all either through or over the sea and local defence over land." It appears to me that if that means anything at all—it is difficult to understand—it must mean that the Fleet Air Arm must have a large number of shore-based aircraft. With aircraft increasing at the present rate the Fleet Air Arm would necessarily have to be increased, which I am all for, and you will have to have at least fifty aerodromes within a very few years in this country alone without taking into account Singapore, Malta, Hong Kong, Aden, and other places.
I ask you, if you divide the command of the air into two in this island what is going to be the result? Will it be possible to have an organisation that will be able to notify all the Air Force squadrons which squadrons are going up. You can imagine on a dark night or in bad weather a squadron going up and asking: "Are those other machines our own?" In the last War there was a good deal of fighting between our own aircraft, and there will be continuous fighting between our aircraft in a future war if you have a divided command. It is more dangerous than some people may think. I would ask your Lordships to think of the morale of these pilots. What can damage morale more than being killed in the trenches by your own guns by mistake? Nothing. People who have to fight in the air will be saying: "Look at the hopeless disorganisation. We do not know who is up." Fighting is very individualistic in the air, much more so than fighting in a ship or on shore. A machine may go up with two or three others but fighting is much more individualistic. You may have a squadron going up thinking another squadron is our own and being shot down from behind. I am not exaggerating this aspect of the matter one bit.
The noble Earl referred to America, which he said has no separate Air Service. I am really surprised. Has America to be taken into consideration? If it has, it is not analogous in any way. No shore-based aircraft can possibly touch America. The fighting between the Army 221 and the Navy is much greater in America than in this country. They nearly went to war the other day. America is not analogous. You might as well refer to Ecuador. Who are the great nations whose action to a great extent has brought about this debate? I hope I am not being indiscreet when I say they are Germany and Italy. Both those countries have absolutely independent Air Services. What do I care about Ecuador? France has not got to the point that we have reached, but it has set up an Air Ministry.
The noble Earl and others have said that you must have a naval training to carry out your air duties at sea. What are those air duties at sea? Fighting in the air does not require any different training, whether you are fighting over the sea or over the land. When I last crossed the Channel I never knew when I was over the land or over the sea; it was all mist. There is no frontier between the sea and the land in the air. What is the difference between bombing a still target and bombing a moving target? We have bombed moving targets before now. Even in the early days of 1914 I remember young pilots shooting up cars going at thirty miles an hour. I dare say it did not help the war very much, but it added to the morale. Then there is the question of reconnaissance and the carrying of naval observers. It is necessary to have a man to do the reconnaissance, because if you are going to pilot a machine with a lot of enemy about and do not have an observer, you can do nothing. The sentiment, I grant, in favour of not having an airman on a ship is very great, but the command of the air, I should like to say with all the emphasis I can, must not be divided.
The claim by the Admiralty shows that, instead of realising the importance of the air, they are still thinking in terms of land and sea power. There is no getting away from that. The crux of the matter is that the dominant school of thought among the senior officers realises that it is no longer possible to run its own show without help from, or co-operation with, the other Services. The views put forward by the naval partisans obstinately ignore the inescapable consequences of the fact that the operations of the air know no frontier between the sea and the land. I disagree entirely that air 222 power makes naval power unnecessary. I have served for over forty years in two Services of the Crown, and if your Lordships will pardon me I should like to say that I know what the Navy has meant to the Empire, and that the prestige of the Empire is bound up with it. I for one feel in the same way. But I say again that I hope that there will be no more threats of resignation, that we shall work the question out in time and that the efficiency of sea power and of air power must rest on partnership between the Services and not on rivalry, nor on separation.
One personal note: I shall, unfortunately, not be able to attend your Lordships' debates for another two and a half months. I would earnestly stress, with all the power I can, that no hasty decision should be taken on this matter. If war is forced upon us it will be all we can do to hold our own. We can do that, but we must not attack the morale of the forces. So I do hope, my Lords, that you will watch with a jealous eye and see that no hasty decision is taken on this subject.
THE EARL OF MORAY
My Lords, my only apology for making a speech to-day is the shortness of the time at my disposal. It has usually been said that a maiden speech should be made only when a subject comes up about which the speaker knows something. I have waited now for some years before addressing your Lordships' House, and I have come to the conclusion that I might have to wait for ever before such a subject was raised! There are one or two points in the present debate to which I should like to draw particular attention. It is particularly difficult for me to speak after the noble Air Marshal who has just spoken and who was my chief in the last War. I might almost say that the aeroplanes of death were abroad in the land and that I could hear the booming of their propellers!
In the Royal Flying Corps in those days there existed among the ordinary flying officers and observers, apart from the usual contempt which they had for Staff officers, a real confidence in the heads of Departments at the War Office that they were doing their best for us. Later, when the Services were being amalgamated into what later became the Royal Air Force, I was on the Staff myself, and 223 although I knew that the same contempt was naturally felt, I was not entirely out of touch with the ordinary flying officers. There definitely existed among them at that time a feeling of distrust in what was going on. In the early days apart from one unfortunate purchase of aeroplanes by the Admiralty from America—I think they were Curtis machines which, on being unpacked, were found to be so bad that they had to be given to us to learn to fly on, and the engines of one of which fell out on the ground while the late Sir David Henderson was inspecting our squadrons at Montrose—there was no serious anxiety felt among us about the technical side of the design of the machines we had to fly. The Air Ministry was, of course, formed hurriedly in the stress of the War itself and was housed in what was then known as the Hotel Cecil and by us as Bolo House. I do not know what it is called now, but I doubt if the name is any more respectful than it was then.
As I said, the Ministry passed through, as far as I know, an unfortunate period and was unlucky in some of its heads of Departments, both on the civilian and on the military side, particularly as regarded personnel. Those facts are well known among many of the senior officers in that Service to-day. Some of your Lordships will still remember the case of Miss Douglas-Pennant and the difficulty of getting a fair hearing for that lady or of getting the Air Ministry to give any satisfactory information on that subject. A somewhat similar situation would appear to have arisen to day in connection with the technical side of the supply of aircraft and aeroplane engines. On this subject I know little except what has appeared in the Press and has been published in the Government White Paper, but something has been said in this House by the Secretary of State for Air and also in the White Paper about the readiness of His Majesty's Government to encourage private manufacturers of aircraft and aeroplane engines. I should very much like to know what exactly was done to encourage the production of the "Comet" aeroplanes which won for us the race to Australia, and also where they now are. My information—of course it may be incorrect—is that nothing was done and that none of them are now in this country.
224 It has been said by the Prime Minister that our frontiers are on the Rhine, and that the bomber will always get there. These two statements are both true and have apparently even shaken Messrs. Goering and Goebbels. In war, as in love, there are apparently no rules. The Prussians taught us that in the last War and they will see to it again. There is no use blinking the fact that we are not going so far as to wish success to the Moors in Spain. I feel that the coming war will be even more horrible than some people in this country imagine it will be. The Dictator of a modern State like Germany no doubt regards this country as the chief obstacle to European domination, and will, when the time comes, like Caesar in Gaul, divide his striking force into three parts, one to bomb London, another to bomb the Fleet, if he can locate it, and the third to bomb the most important centres of munition production. This attack will probably come out of the blue, and the only possible reply on our part will be to strike back at them directly with all available long-distance aircraft. The protection of the civil population is, I imagine, from the Air Ministry's point of view, a matter of secondary importance. This will be primarily a matter for the police and for such short-range aircraft as can be spared for that duty.
I will not weary your Lordships by going into details of the bigger and heavier helmets and masks which will be required to meet the better and nastier bombs and gases which are in store for us, except to remark that I hope the gas masks which asphyxiate their wearers in the quickest and most painless way will be provided in this House for those of us who are unable to afford our own. The speech of the noble and gallant Air Marshal showed that the real danger will come from incendiary bombs. These pencil bombs, as I think they are called, filled with some form of hematite, cause fire, but here we are fortunate in that we are within easy jumping distance of the Thames. I will not go so far as the noble and gallant Lord opposite who introduced the Motion. He, no doubt, belongs to the Blue Water school, and on naval matters I am not qualified to speak. But if His Majesty's Government are sincere in their desire to get at the truth in this matter of the supply 225 of aeroplane engines, I would like humbly to make the suggestion that a Committee of Inquiry or a Commission be appointed, and that the following gentlemen be asked to give evidence—namely, Mr. De Haviland, Mr. Sopwith, and Mr. C. G. Grey the editor of the Aeroplane. If they tell what they know about the Air Ministry and some of its methods I believe it would do much to clarify the situation and relieve the minds of those who will shortly have to take the air in our defence.
THE MABQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think your Lordships are always glad to welcome a maiden speaker in your Lordships' House, and we, are very glad indeed to listen to the noble Earl. He told us that he had had some difficulty in making up his mind to speak, but luckily for us he decided in the affirmative. I hope it will not be the last time that he will address us. I would like to begin the very few remarks with which I intend to trouble your Lordships this evening by referring to the remarks of the Secretary of State for Air. To him an apology is due, which I have already given him privately, because I was absolutely prevented from being present during his speech yesterday. I took, however, the greatest care to make myself familiar with every word he uttered, and I venture respectfully to congratulate him upon his speech. My noble friend seemed to be full of a great energy. He seemed to be seized with an enthusiasm for his task, and I thought be showed a grip of it and a promise for the development of the great Service over which he presides which was very encouraging. I may take in special illustration an observation which he made about pilots. He was not content with merely assembling and training the pilots actually required, but was ready to welcome pilots who would be required as the Air Service develops. That is the kind of spirit in which I am quite sure this problem ought to be approached.
The noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, who introduced this Motion, referred to the past. Well, there have been occasions when I too have referred to the past on these defence issues, but I really think, if he will allow me to say so, we have already said all we have to say by way of criticism about what was done in the past, and we have now to deal with the present actual state of 226 things and the future. The impression which anybody must have drawn from this debate is that there can be no question whatever as to the necessity for rearmament as quickly as possible. Whatever speaker we listened to that emerged. Take the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who I know cannot be present this evening. He drew a most lurid picture of our international position. I am not going into the foreign policy part of his speech. I only draw the moral. If the situation is as bad as he made out, and I venture to think it is not quite so bad as that, all the more reason there is that we should be as fully armed as possible.
The same, I think, really emerged from the speech of my noble friend and relative, who commenced the debate this afternoon, because although he has taken a great part in the question of disarmament he is quite evidently in favour of rearmament at the present moment. Moreover, Lord Strabolgi in his speech was clearly in favour of rearmament, and he drew a picture of the situation which he said might grow worse. He spoke of the possible issue of the Spanish trouble, and he said that the issue which he thought probable, of the victory of the rebels, would result in our position in the Mediterranean being still worse than it was before. All the more reason to rearm. Indeed you cannot listen to a single speech, wherever it comes from, without drawing that inference. That being so, let us clear our minds from any reluctance in this matter.
The noble Lord, I know, has a difficulty. I think he bore witness to the divisions in the Labour Party. He had to speak for the whole of them, I understand, but he admitted that a quarter of them—I think he said that—did not agree with the point of view which he was putting forward. He wanted, of course, to approach this dissentient quarter as nearly as he could, and he said therefore that his advocacy of rearmament depended in degree upon the policy of His Majesty's Government. Apparently, if he thought the policy a good one he would be in favour of full rearmament, but if he thought the policy a bad one then only a partial rearmament. All distinctions of that kind are to the last degree futile. The real truth is that we are so behind that whatever policy is going to be pursued it would 227 be our obvious duty to rearm as fully as possible. I do not of course share the view of the noble, Lord that the policy of His Majesty's Government is open to these criticisms, but if I did share his view then I should be all the more in favour of rearmament, and that as quickly as possible, because it is evident that the danger to the country would be still greater with a bad policy than it is with a good one. Therefore I say that wherever you look you will find the same obvious conclusion. Whatever speaker addresses your Lordships—and I believe it was the same in another place—they are all in favour of rearmament as quickly as possible. And that is why I think your Lordships will have been very glad to listen to a speech like that of my noble friend the Secretary of State, who showed no hesitation at all in his advocacy of rearmament to the fullest extent of the efforts we are capable of putting out at the present day.
Of course war is odious. I do not repeat that, because it really is agreed on all hands that there is nothing so horrible as modern war. Of course it is, but let us have a little simplicity in considering this matter. If we are in favour of rearmament at all do not let us boggle about it; do not let us make limitations and conditions. Let us imitate in that respect—and I was almost going to say in that respect alone—the simplicity of the German character. I think it was my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who said something of this kind at Margate—that once you are in favour of a particular policy, go in for it without hesitation. Do not let the noble Lords on that Bench say they would be in favour of a little rearmament, but not a good deal, or subject to this condition or subject to that. Once we realise that the country is in danger let us all be united, in whatever part of your Lordships' House we sit. And let us be prepared to allow our young people in this country once more to learn the old lesson of patriotism and self-sacrifice. Is it really a good thing to teach the children of this country that war is unacceptable in any circumstances? Is it not right to tell them that there may be a necessity to fight in defence of their country, and for a just issue, and that if they do so fight then they may be able to imitate the heroic 228 deeds and self-sacrifice of their fore-fathers? Why should we be ashamed of those things which have gone before? I wonder whether the Minister of Education has thought about that aspect of it. I am afraid I have no knowledge of how these subjects are dealt with in the elementary schools of this country, but I hope the Government will reflect, when they realise how difficult it is in some parts of England to recruit for the Services, that a good deal depends upon the way it is put to the boys of this country in their elementary education.
It was for that that I rose principally this evening. But I cannot omit saying a word about an issue which has been dwelt upon with such wealth of illustration and such knowledge by my noble and gallant friend who sits on the Cross Benches, because many years ago I was in a way responsible for the decision not to create a separate Fleet Air Arm. I have no technical knowledge like my noble and gallant friend, I need not say, but I can bear testimony to the principal reasons which I think governed us in that decision. The first was that we were starting a new Service, which was being rapidly developed, and that that development would take a very great number of years; and it appeared to us that to split in two a Service which required every atom of skill in its development would be a most suicidal policy. Every kind of new departure takes place as things are invented and experience teaches them in the development of all these Services. But it is specially true of a Service like the Air Service which is just beginning. Its experience is all yet to be found, and therefore we thought it was a very great mistake to break it up.
Well now, have we passed that period? I am sure that no one who listened to the speech of the Secretary of State will arrive at that conclusion. It is evident that every kind of development is going on, and that to deprive one large division of the Air Service of the experience in development which had been obtained in the other branches of the Air Service would be the most uneconomical method you could pursue. At any rate, so long as this great development is going on, let us leave things alone. Why should we disturb them? Why should we, on account of certain professional feeling among sailors, which I dare say is very good in its way, interfere with all that is 229 being done in the development of aeronautics and of fighting in the air? Those were the kind of reasons that governed us all those years ago, but I cannot help Haying that the period in which that seems to be true is continuing to this very day, and it would be very unwise in ray humble judgment to disturb it rashly.
The Government may have information which I do not possess, which may lead them to another conclusion, but as far as my information goes I hope that will be so. And I think further that, all that my noble and gallant friend said just now of the impossibility of dividing up the Air Service because there is no frontier in the air is true. How can you say that a sea Service is to act at sea and a land Service is to act on land? It is quite obvious that they must interchange perpetually, and unless there is some kind of unity of training and unity of practice and unity of command, how can you expect useful results in those Services? Therefore I earnestly hope that my noble and gallant friend's speech will be very carefully considered by the Government.
Now I want to say a word about recruiting. I am very much interested by the efforts which ray right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War is making in the matter of recruiting. Your Lordships will have observed that my noble friend Lord Swinton, speaking last night, did not touch much upon the Army. Well, how could he? He had his hands full. I make no criticism on that point; but I should be glad, and I think your Lordships would be glad, if some other Government speaker in the course of this debate would fill in the very few omissions which were left by my noble friend. We should like to know how recruiting is going on. I hear good accounts of Territorial recruiting. I should be glad if that could be confirmed. I hear bad accounts of Army recruiting. I should not be glad if that were confirmed, but I think your Lordships' House ought to know what the facts are, because, if that is so, we ought to be all putting on our thinking caps and considering how recruiting for the Army can be made better. That seems to me very important. I suspect that the War Office have got plans on this subject of how to improve recruiting, and I suspect that they will, in due time, communicate them to Parliament. I am the last man to desire to press the Government 230 to anticipate the time when they think it is judicious to reveal these plans, but I hope they will realise that Parliament is very interested in this point and wants to know what is being done. It is said that it is peace propaganda that has stopped recruiting. That may be so. It is a serious consideration, but what leads one to doubt it is that there appears to be no difficulty in recruiting for the Navy or the Air Service, though peace propaganda should evidently affect those Services as well as the Army. One would like to know the reasons for the distinction.
I should like in this connection just to say one word again—I have already troubled your Lordships about it before—regarding the Army Reserve. I cannot pretend to follow everything that is said, but there has been nothing said yet, as far as I am aware, as to how the wastage of war, if we were to go to war, is to be made good under the present system which prevails. The Regular Army Reserve will be absorbed the moment war is declared. It is not designed to deal with wastage at all. It is absorbed at once. How is wastage to be dealt with? Of course, people will say that there is the Territorial Force. In the White Paper of March 3 of this year it was specifically laid down that members of the Territorial Force, when they are on active service abroad, will only act in their own units. That is in the White Paper. If that is so, they cannot be used for making good wastage. There is a lacuna, that is to say, in the system which the Government have put forward. It may be, of course, that what they hope is that the men of the Territorial Force will volunteer away from their own units to go into the ranks of the Regulars. That may be so, but do you not think it better to say so if you really mean that? Would it not be better not to try and attract the Territorial soldier into the Territorial Force on the statement that he is only to act in his own unit when you really intend him to act in the units of the. Regular Army?
I submit these observations to the Government in the hope that some subsequent speaker will tell us what they are going to do about the Reserve. Personally, of course, I have a very great feeling for the old Militia, as the noble Lord opposite was kind enough, in very civil language, to remind your Lordships yesterday. The old Militia had great 231 qualities. It had no limitation at all about serving in its own units. I am speaking of the old Militia as it was when the War broke out. It was then called the Special Reserve, but it was the old Militia to all intents and purposes. In the situation as it then was there was no limitation at all. The men could be called upon to serve anywhere. Then they tapped a source of recruiting which no other military body tapped, and they were trained on regular lines. They had the discipline of regular soldiers, they had the training of regular soldiers, though they were not, of course, up to the standard of regular soldiers. We were not so vain as to presume to have reached that standard; but the method of training was exactly the same and the discipline was exactly the same, and therefore they could be absorbed in the regular ranks without the slightest difficulty. That had great attractions.
I admit that in the circumstances of the present day the situation has, to some extent, altered. If that is the answer of the Government let them by all means make it. If it is that modern rates of wages make it unlikely that men will join the Militia, or that they prefer, when out of work, to be on the "dole" rather than in the Militia—if that be the answer, then let us understand the fact. It will only be one more proof of the great objections to the "dole" system which everybody feels. But I am not satisfied that that would be the reason, because I do not think men like being on the "dole." That is the truth. I think much better of the class to which these men belong. All the evidence which reaches me from the Distressed Areas is that the men are not satisfied with being on the "dole." They want work. They want to do something for their money, and I cannot help wondering, if the recruiting sergeant approached men on the "dole" and suggested to them that for a month of their year they could work for their country in the ranks of the Militia, whether they might not be very glad to do it. After all, it is not at all an unpleasant experience. They were very well clothed, very well fed, and they had a very jolly time, if I may use such a phrase, and there is no reason why they should not be approached. What is being done in the Distressed Areas? Of course, our hearts are wrung by reading the 232 stories of despair amongst these people, their despair at having nothing to do. But how do they feel when the recruiting sergeant comes along? Does he come along? That is what I want to know. I never see a recruiting sergeant about now. I do not know whether there are such people. I want to know what is being done on these points.
I am quite sure my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War has all these subjects most closely at heart, but perhaps, before the end of the debate, we may have a little light thrown on them. I should like to end as I began—on a note of profound satisfaction with the policy of the Government as it was displayed by my noble friend last night, and with a feeling of gratitude that even though it has been a little late in the day, yet the lesson has been learned, for within a very few months, whatever happens, however much we hate war—and we all loathe it—we may be quite content that, at any rate, this country will be safe.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, may I begin by joining in the congratulations which were offered to the noble Earl, Lord Moray, by the noble Marquess who has just sat down? I think all of us welcomed that maiden speech for its freshness and its originality. No doubt the noble Earl, like many of us who took part in the War, had occasions when he was more than frightened, but I do not suppose he had a more nervous attack than when he first addressed your Lordships' House. At any rate all of us who have been through that ordeal can assure him that all future occasions will be much less terrifying than the one he has just passed through with such great success.
I have I fear on many occasions had to address your Lordships on subjects connected with Government Departments in which I myself was not serving, but on this occasion, so wide are the terms of the Motion, that at least five Government Departments are concerned with it, and I am not serving in any one of them. I have, however, this small advantage that I have served in three of them in the course of the past ten years, and with the exception of the Ministry for Co-ordination of Defence, which perhaps comes into all the other Ministries, the only one which I have not served 233 in is the Ministry for Air. The House is fortunate in having had a very full and a very clear speech from my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air and, therefore, I naturally need not say very much about that Force, but there are two or three points which have been raised subsequently to his speech. One is the question of the Fleet Air Arm. All I can say in regard to that is, as was stated by the Prime Minister in another place, that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has already been devoting his attention to some aspects of this subject, and I am not in a position to make any statement in regard to it until his inquiries and proposals have been considered by the Government.
There were two other points, perhaps, that I might touch upon. The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches suggested that we should emphasise the defence side of our air policy. I can assure him that we are doing everything we can on the defence side. There is nothing, I think, which is not being considered in regard to the defence and danger from the air. There are committees considering every aspect of it, studying and experimenting with every conceivable idea, and I think the House will be gratified to know that amongst others who are giving the very best service to the State on this aspect of the question is the noble Lord, Lord Rutherford, with all his great knowledge and experience. There is one further point perhaps before I leave the question of the air. The noble and gallant Viscount on the Cross Benches (Viscount Trenchard) asked whether we should have to increase our Air Force further when we came to the end of our 1937 programme. That of course will entirely depend upon what other nations are going to do, but I think he need have no doubt whatever that if we find it necessary to increase the Air Force of this country in order to keep pace with those who are within reach of it, then we shall not hesitate to have a large programme and go further ahead than the figures which have been so far announced.
May I now turn briefly to the question of our foreign policy? I intend to be brief upon that to-day because my noble friend the Leader of the House (Viscount Halifax) will deal with it more fully tomorrow. More than once during the Abyssinian crisis I had to deal with the 234 charge that His Majesty's Government should have made their view on the Abyssinian question known at an earlier date, and over and over again, or at any rate on two or three occasions, I told your Lordships that we had in fact made our views known at the very earliest possible moment, but that we had done so through the ordinary diplomatic channels and as a result the matter had never got into the Press. Really the charge came down to this, that we ought to have broken with diplomatic precedent and have broadcast our views at an earlier stage in that crisis. The proposals which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made to the League of Nations should meet this point. He has proposed that unanimity under Article 11 of the Covenant should no longer be necessary in regard to the consideration of dangers that may be beginning to appear above the horizon.
This would enable nations to state their views publicly at Geneva on any coming dispute at an early date. If nations are prepared to take action by economic sanctions or otherwise against a nation which is thinking of becoming the aggressor, it enables that nation to recognise the weight of opinion and of pressure which may be brought to bear against it. On the other hand, if nations are not prepared to take action, it will at any rate prevent us from drifting into the position we found ourselves in over the Abyssinian dispute last year. Then, with some fifty nations behind us, and very few in line, we found that the action of the League was not collective and security was not obtained. As we know, failure was the result. I think to some extent the proposal made by His Majesty's Government goes some way to meet one of the points that was made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in the speech which interested the House so very much last night.
Lord Strabolgi asked if we would be prepared to take the same action on behalf of Russia as we would for other countries. In regard to that the noble Lord, Lord Stonehaven, remarked, as I thought quite rightly and perhaps rather contrary to the views expressed by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, that that was a question that had really better be put to the League of Nations than to any Government in this country.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
How can you put it to the League of Nations? The League of Nations consists of Governments.
§ EARL STANHOPE
It is put to the League of Nations by the Governments composing it, but no one Government can give an answer to that question. The League, as the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches will agree, was founded not for the benefit of any one country nor with the idea of encircling any other country, but in the hope that it might be the means of preserving the peace of the world. Therefore, if member nations so decide, the League will act on behalf of Russia or on behalf of Italy or, if she will rejoin it, as we all hope she may, on behalf of Germany. I may point out that there is a very great difference made in the Covenant between action which should be taken in the economic sphere and action which would be taken in regard to war. It is in a separate sub-paragraph of Article 16, and while there is an obligation on the nations, provided unanimity is assured, to take collective action in regard to economic matters, there is not an equal obligation in regard to measures of a warlike character.
In saying even that His Majesty's Government will join in any action on behalf of Russia, Germany or Italy, I must make it plain that of course His Majesty's Government will go only so far as other nations and no farther. The whole object and essence of the League of Nations is that action should be collective. The mistake that has been made by many people in this country, and I am afraid sometimes by members of your Lordships' House, is in saying that this Government should take the lead, that we should go ahead of all other countries and always act in front of them. That of course brings us to situations such as were deplored by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and others last night. May I make this further observation? His Majesty's Government dislike the idea of opposing blocs of countries. We dislike any ideas of countries being formed upon one side or the other, either because of their methods of government or anything else. When it is a question of blocs being formed of those nations which are inside the League and those nations which are outside the League our dislike persists, and personally I am convinced that in the interests of peace we should 236 obtain as universal a membership of the League as possible even if it is necessary to reduce the obligations which the League finds it necessary to impose on its Member States.
Let me turn from that very brief reference to the foreign policy of the Government, which I hope I have made clear, although the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches shakes his head—
§ EARL STANHOPE
—to the question of our preparations for defence. One additional Ministry was added in the course of the Speech of the noble Viscount. He brought in the Home Office in addition to the others that had been mentioned. I am afraid I am not in a position to give him very definite replies to the questions he asked, but I believe I am right in saying that His Majesty's Government are preparing the manufacture of gas masks at a very rapid rate and that the idea is that, while they should be provided by the Government, distribution should be attended to by the local authorities. I think he will agree that that is probably a wise provision because obviously the central authority could not keep the masks in a proper state or distribute them rapidly if occasion should arise. All I can say in regard to fire risks and the necessary stores of food and measures for distribution is that these are among the matters which are being considered, and daily considered, by His Majesty's Government and that measures are being taken to meet the situation should it arise. How far actual preparations have been made I am not in a position to say, but I do know that work is being, and has been for a considerable time, put into the solution of this question. I know that the subject is very well advanced.
I am not in the least prepared to stand in a white sheet at this table in regard to the criticism that is made that our preparations ought to have started sooner. There are few people in this country who three years ago did not believe in collective security. They thought that we could get security on the cheap and that we need spend very little ourselves on defence. No Government could have obtained support for even a small increase of rearmament until that system of collective security had been tried out. May I give my own experience? Among 237 the economies which we found to be necessary because of the economic crisis, all camps for the Territorial Army wore cancelled for the summer of 1932. The result of that was that practically no Territorials re-engaged at the end of their four years term of service and very few recruits joined the force. In fact the Territorial Army was rapidly disappearing. As a result I, as Undersecretary at the War Office, and the then Director-General of the Territorial Army, started a recruiting campaign in the spring of 1933. We made speeches all over the country from the West of England up to the North of Scotland. We succeeded by our efforts in stopping the rot and in getting an increase of some 4,000 Territorial recruits over the previous year.
We were rather pleased with ourselves, but I can assure your Lordships that the amount of support that we got from people all over the country was infinitesimal. There was one big city in which the Lord Mayor—I regret to say he was a member of my own Party and not of the Party of noble Lords opposite, so I am not making any political charge—refused to take the chair at our meeting because he thought it was a political matter and that therefore the Lord Mayor should not interfere. As a rule the Lord Mayors and Mayors were good enough to preside at our meetings, although I found that they took very good care to adopt a hedging attitude and show that they were merely taking the chair and were not in the least committed to anything we proposed. As a matter of fact, I think we succeeded at the end in winning them over. I do not recollect getting any support from any member sitting in another place. I think I did get some support from some of your Lordships who are Lords-Lieutenant, and I remember a valuable speech from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, at Portsmouth, but I cannot say I got much other support. Certainly I got none from those who are now attacking the Government for having been dilatory in regard to rearmament.
I wish I could say regarding recruiting that it has been completely satisfactory since 1933, but in that regard I am afraid I must give some information to the noble Marquess now sitting on the Cross Benches which he will dislike as much as I do. The 28,696 recruits obtained for 238 the Territorial Army in 1933–4 dropped to 23,815 in 1935–6, and although I am glad to say the War Office has hopes of obtaining some 40,000 recruits for the Territorial Army this year, that is still going to be very much less than is required to bring the Territorial Army up to its establishment. The Secretary of State, as your Lordships know, has been making strenuous efforts all over the country on behalf of recruiting for the Territorial Army, and recruiting has been assisted by further financial provision for officers and men which has encouraged more to join, but the fact remains that owing to the conversion of two divisions into anti-aircraft divisions the required establishment has increased by 14,000 to a total of 191,500. Bringing that 14,000 into our calculations means that instead of 40,000 recruits being necessary the actual number required is 86,000, and I am afraid we see little hope of getting that number this year.
The situation is no better, and indeed I am afraid it is somewhat worse, regarding the Regular Army. Recruits are not coming forward in sufficient numbers to make good the wastage of those leaving the Army at the end of their engagements. Although 35,300 recruits are required in the year 1936–7 the War Office only expects at the present rate to get 21,500. In other words, the deficit in the Regular Army is increasing. The noble Marquess asked me some questions about the Militia. I am going to leave the greater part of his questions to my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War, Lord Strathcona, who will address your Lordships to-morrow, but I might perhaps say that the view of the War Office is that conditions have so largely changed in the country that it is unlikely that we shall be able to get the same type of man, if the Militia is reconstituted, as we were able to obtain before the War. Moreover, the Infantry Supplementary Reserve, which was recently established and which has an establishment of 17,000, does something towards taking the place of the Militia.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Can my noble friend tell your Lordships how many of the 17,000 there are in being?
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am informed that recruiting began on the 1st 239 September and that up to the 1st November only 850 had been recruited for that Infantry Supplementary Reserve. I am afraid therefore that at present it does not look very hopeful. Lord Strabolgi said that voluntary enlistment was failing, or indeed, I think, he said it had failed. I am bound to admit that under present conditions of service the voluntary system is obviously in grave danger. Now may we all of us realise this, and I do not think the country has realised it in the very least: that voluntary service is undoubtedly a luxury, and therefore, like all luxuries, is bound to be expensive. We have to realise that, in order to get young men to join the Army, we must either make the Service much more attractive than it is at present or—perhaps even more—we must ensure that service in the Forces is made a stepping-stone to good and permament positions in civil life afterwards.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I very much hope that all Parties may co-operate in this work, and in particular the trade unions who could do so much to assist men who have been in the Services to get suitable positions in civil life. I think my noble friend asked why it was that men would join the Navy and the Air Force but apparently would not, at any rate in sufficient numbers, join the Army. May I point out to your Lordships that the conditions of service, of course, are very largely different. The Navy is lucky enough to catch its men young. I think they are taken in at sixteen, if I remember rightly, and the noble Lord opposite will probably correct me if I am wrong. Apparently it is easier to catch young men at that age than it is at eighteen or nineteen. Further, the Navy is, on the whole, a long-service profession, and therefore the majority of men know that, as long as they are well-behaved, they can extend their service and eventually leave the Navy with a pension. The Air Force has a different set of conditions. The whole idea of the youth of to-day. as I see it, is speed and excitement, and there are certainly chances of both for those who join the Air Force.
Moreover, both the Navy and the Air Force are in their essence technical Services. Those who join them get instruction in all sorts of technical subjects—electricity, engineering and the like— 240 and therefore find it very much easier to get employment after they leave the Service. It is not yet realised how greatly the Army is changing in that respect. The amount of mechanisation now being introduced into the Army makes a very different thing of it from what it was before. There are tractors, caterpillars and anti-aircraft guns and all the rest of it. I can say from my own knowledge that if anybody feels that an anti-aircraft gun is a dull weapon, he has only to go down to the annual practice camp at Watchet, or one of these other places where anti-aircraft practice is carried out with live shells, to see how exciting it is to do what I have heard called "trying to shoot a pheasant with a single bullet." It is amazing to me how extraordinarily good these Territorials are who only get their fortnight's annual training and such drill as they can get in barracks with miniature apparatus.
The Army has been described very often as a body which has to serve in any part of the world and under every kind of condition. It has that great disadvantage in comparison with both the Navy and the Air Force. There may be differences of visibility or of heat, cold and the like, but when we consider That the Army, or a part of it, has had to do quite recently I think it will be brought home to us how varying the conditions are under which the Army has to serve. There were men who were serving at Aldershot, or perhaps in the Southern Command, who went out when the situation was becoming rather difficult in the Mediterranean and found themselves in Egypt, a flat and sandy country on the whole. From there they were taken to Palestine, a land of jumbled hills with a geography which, as I viewed it from the air and when I crossed it by motor not very long ago, struck me as a problem which would cause any map-maker to turn in despair from the attempt.
I am sometimes asked, and I think it has been asked in this House, will the Army ever have to serve on the Continent? That is exactly the kind of question to which every possible enemy of this country would very much like to know the answer. I do not often, I am afraid, get the support of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi, but I think I may enlist his support on this occasion. He was, I believe, in his earlier years 241 noted as a great amateur boxer. I do not imagine that before he entered the ring he ever said to his opponent, "I intend to hit you on the point of the jaw, but never in any circumstances, will I indulge in body blows in our fight." Obviously not, because his opponent would cover up the point of his jaw and would be at an enormous advantage if he knew that there was only one part of his anatomy that the noble Lord opposite was going to attack, instead of any part above the belt. That is exactly the kind of thing that a foreign country would like to know. If it could be assumed that we were only going to attack him in one way and not in others, he would obviously find his difficulties very much lessened. Therefore that is not a question which any Government could possibly answer, either in one way or the other. It. would be contrary to the public interest if they did. But let us all realise that the situation in any future war is going to be a very different thing from what it was in 1914.
Now I will turn for a few brief moments to questions that were put in the course of the debate in regard to the Navy. May I at once reassure the noble Lord opposite that tare story which he was told, that there was a shortage of heavy-gun ammunition for the Fleet last year, is absolutely untrue and without foundation. There was no such shortage at any time. He criticised the Government, I think, for not having modernised the defences of Malta. I admit that the defences of Malta certainly had not been brought up to the condition in which they now are, but no one ever dreamed that our historic friendship with Italy would become endangered. The situation, as he knows, arose suddenly, and you cannot modernise a port, as he also knows, simply by pressing a button. We have every hope that the friendship which has always existed, except for that short interlude, since Italy first became a nation, will at no distant date be restored. So, too, with Spain. The noble Lord referred to the question of Spain. That country has already changed its form of Government once in the course of the past few years from a Monarchy to a Republic without in the least altering the friendly feelings which existed between Spain and the United Kingdom, and I see no reason, whatever form of Government may emerge from the terrible struggle now going on in 242 Spain, why our relations with that country should be any less good than they have been in the past. He asked me whether a dock could be made bomb-proof, and I am assured that the Government's technical officers are, at this present tune, giving active consideration to that problem and that all possible methods of achieving the desired end are under investigation.
The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches seems to think that we showed some lack of enthusiasm when disarmament was proposed at Geneva recently. That perhaps is true, and for this reason: that we have not the faintest intention of disarmament being started from the position in which we stood then, or, in fact, in which we stand to-day. We have disarmed and other people have not, and therefore there is no question of any disarmament in this country until we have brought ourselves up into line with those who have long since put rearmament in hand and have therefore made themselves much stronger in relation to us than they were in former days. Once that situation has been corrected, as I believe it is rapidly being corrected, then no doubt we shall be anxious to urge on disarmament for everything and everybody. If other nations can be persuaded to disarm now, so much the better for us and, as we think, for them, but we are not prepared to consider general disarmament, in which we shall be considered pro rata with others, until the deficiencies are made good which are due to our taking action when other countries have not done so.
May I intervene for one moment? I am delighted with what the noble Earl has said about heavy gun armament for the Fleet, but would he please answer the other question I put to him, which has also been publicly stated, about the alleged shortage of bomb ammunition for the Air Force last year?
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am informed by the Secretary of State for Air that the alleged shortage of bomb ammunition for the Air Force is equally untrue. May I deal now with what Lord Howe said last evening, when he talked about possible destruction of the London docks and railways? He seemed to think that if they were attacked from the air the roads would escape. I am exceedingly 243 doubtful about that, having regard to the way in which shell fire fell in the war, and in which forces were brought to a standstill in the advance of 1918 owing to lack of supplies once they got a certain distance from their railheads.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Yes, but if the roads are destroyed the heavy motor transport cannot get over them. The probability is that if the docks and railways of London were destroyed London itself would be almost untenable. A Government Committee has long been considering questions of the supply and distribution of food, and how it is to be brought to our great cities, including London. The matter has been by no means lost sight of in the general preparation for defence which the Government are making.
Lord Strabolgi seemed to be somewhat afraid. that I was going to attack him and the Labour Party for their lack of policy in regard to rearmament. I admit that perhaps, as the surest means of defence, I did think of attacking him, because when he began to talk of coming down to this House dressed in a kilt and armed with a claymore to attack Lord Plymouth I thought the best means of defence was attack. I should have attacked him if the policy of the Labour Party had been now the policy which was enunciated at Edinburgh, but obviously it is not, and I thought the noble Lord was much happier in making his speech yesterday than he has sometimes been. It has been difficult for him, with his knowledge, to kick against the pricks. I rejoice that the Labour Party now also see the necessity for rearmament in this imperfect world, and realise that an England which is not only strong, but which is known to be strong, is bound to exercise a far greater influence for peace than she could hope to do when in the position from which she is now, with the agreement of all Parties, happily emerging.
One of the happiest things which have emerged from the debate is that from whatever quarter speeches have come we are all agreed that it is not only essential for the safety of this country, but also of real value to the peace of the world as a whole, that England should rearm and make herself strong, and be recognised 244 as being strong, at the earliest possible date. On behalf of the Government I am glad to welcome that consensus of opinion from so many different quarters, and I can assure your Lordships that we intend to the best of our ability to press on with rearmament, and thus achieve what we believe the nation desires.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, war is a very terrible word, and war is a very terrible thing, but it has to be faced as a possibility, and I was very much struck with two passages in the speech of Lord Lothian yesterday. When he was talking about war he said this:The danger of war in an armed world, in a world in which the military time-table has once more been carefully framed, in which hours, even minutes, may make the difference between decisive advantage or decisive disadvantage in the early days of tie war—the risk of war arises from acts or events over which nobody has control, or the consequences of which nobody can control.That is quite true, and for that reason one has got, in the words of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, this afternoon, to realise that you must have rearmament at once, without any delay, more especially as, again to quote Lord Lothian:If a war is started anywhere it will spread all over Europe, and it will be directed straight at Paris and this country.That being so, one would have thought that the Government would have used every effort, without any hesitation what-soever, to do their best to see that rearmament was carried out without delay, without any condition, as quickly as possible. Yet that is not being done.
The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Air confessed as much yesterday. He said that he had got a particular scheme which he thought was better because it would not interfere with the civil industry, but he pointed out that it might be altered, and he then said:That must mean very serious upheaval to civil industry and to the economic life of the country. I am certain that this country would not shirk even a grave up-heaval of that kind if it were necessary, but it would wish to avoid it if it could be avoided.Does he dare to tell us it is not necessary? Does he dare to ask the public to believe that it is not necessary? The public were told in another place only 245 last week that they had been gulled by this Government, and they may think that they have been gulled again. I wonder whether the noble Viscount was thinking of the advice which he said was given to him by Lord Balfour that it is always desirable to tell the truth, but it is seldom or never necessary to tell the whole truth. Is he telling the whole truth now?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (VISCOUNT SWINTON)
That is not the correct quotation. What Lord Balfour said was that it was "seldom or never necessary to tell the whole of truth," and what Lord Balfour meant was that you need not discuss every subject under the sun. That was the point of my observation.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I have the OFFICIAL REPORT here and the interpretation which the noble Viscount gives may be, one interpretation, but mine is another.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
The programme of the Government is not being carried out up to date. That is admitted, but it is qualified by this, that it is going on all right, whatever that may mean. There are many reasons why, one would have thought, it should have been brought up to the time-programme, but it has not been, either in material or in squadrons. We were told the number of the squadrons. We were told that some of them were skeleton squadrons. The question was asked in another place, "What does a skeleton squadron mean—does it mean two officers arid a batman?" I should like to call attention to the fact that there is not, and there never has been, any organisation for research outside the private research of private firms. It is true that the National Physical Laboratory test certain things, but there is not really any organisation for research work.
I am sure the noble Earl does not wish to make a mistake on this point. There is a whole series of Research Committees under the 246 Lord President of the Council attached to the Cabinet. It is not correct for the noble Earl to say that, and it ought not to go forth from your Lordships' House. The Admiralty has a very extensive experimental research department in connection with torpedoes, and the Committees I have mentioned are engaged, for example, in research into fuels and chemicals.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I am talking about the air and nothing but the air. A very well known American gentleman who personally knows a very great deal about the air has just clone a lengthy tour of Europe, and has made an important report which has been published. He says he was absolutely astonished at the wonderful work that was being done on the air question in research laboratories in Russia, Germany, Italy and France, and from these laboratories one learned the way in which aircraft ought to, and would, develop in the course of the next two years or so. The result was that they are laying down their programmes for two years hence for machines which would make the whole of their present machines obsolete. It is going ahead as quickly as that. Unfortunately, it is not going anything like so quickly here. There have been complaints by a great many manufacturers on this very point. The Government have got an idea that at all costs—no matter apparently whether the programme is carried out or not—every conceivable thing must be done to prevent what is called profiteering over armaments. The result is that a Committee has been formed to consider what would be a reasonable profit. Unfortunately that Committee did not take into consideration, in seeking to ascertain what would be a reasonable profit, anything that might be spent on research and the running of research laboratories. That is undoubtedly putting us very much behind, and there is a risk that when our new machines do come into the squadrons they will be obsolete.
The Secretary of State said he had taken the step of ordering machines from the drawing board. I sincerely congratulate him on doing so. It was a very bold move to take. A lot of people would have criticised it, but it was undoubtedly the right thing to do. It was said by the Prime Minister, I think, that democracy was almost two years behind a dictator, 247 and up to now the Air Ministry has been three years behind democracy, because it has always taken about five years from the prototype before the machines got into the squadrons. Although ordering from the drawing board is sound, it is not enough. There is still too much delay, and still too much of producing machines which are obsolescent, if not obsolete, before they get into the squadrons. It is a very difficult subject, I know. There is a delay to a certain extent at Martlesham on the testing of air performances and air efficiency, and the difficulty about that is that when you have got a new type of machine and you have to test it, you cannot make that go any quicker by merely increasing your staff. You are to a great extent bound by weather conditions. If weather conditions are bad a certain amount of time will inevitably be lost however much you increase your staff. There is a very great difficulty, and therefore one cannot rightly criticise that too much.
But the point I want to make very strongly is this. The programme put forward is far too small, and has not been properly thought out for the requirements of the country. In that programme there is no provision made for the manufacture of a heavy bomber, which is about the most important thing to-day. When one sees what is happening elsewhere one cannot but feel that this is a mistake which should be rectified at the very earliest moment. I can give some figures. They are figures which are known to every Air Staff throughout Europe. The bombers which are put down in our programme are the "Battle," the "Blenheim" and the "Harrow." The "Battle" is a short-range gliding bomber. It has no connection at all with the heavy bomber. The "Blenheim" is a medium bomber. That has nothing to do with the heavy bomber. The "Harrow," I suppose, will be said to be a heavy bomber. It is not. Last week there was a Russian machine shown at the Paris Show. That was really a heavy bomber. It is an all-metal monoplane, with a cruising speed of just under 300 miles an hour and a range of 3,000 miles. There was also a French machine, a heavy bomber, with a speed of about 250 miles an hour and a range of 2,400 miles.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I am not giving the ceilings. As a matter of fact they have all about the same ceiling. I was merely dealing with speed and range. I can get the ceilings quite easily, but I have not got them here. Let us sere how that compares with the "Harrow." The "Harrow" has a cruising speed of 160 miles an hour and a range of 1,100 miles. That is not in the same class as the two machines I have mentioned. And they have got equally good machines, of exactly the same class and about the same speed, in Germany and in Italy. Here we have nothing, and the only one they are putting down is the "Harrow" with a speed of 160 miles an hour and a range of 1,100 miles. I think in ought to be widely known that with our long-distance bomber there is not a chance of getting to Berlin or Rome, yet both of those countries could get to London quite easily with the bombers they have got. As a matter of fact, just before the Armistice there was an idea of bombing Berlin from this country.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE)
Not from this country.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
From this country. And we had the latest type at that time of Handley-Page bombers on the Norfolk coast. They were going to bomb Berlin from there. I knew the pilot in charge of that squadron, and was talking to him. Furthermore, I have seen the actual operation orders given to him, and the operation orders given to him were to do it from the coast of Norfolk and from there go to Berlin if possible. It was recognised, although it was said that eleven hundred miles was their range, that they had not a chance of getting home, and their orders were to come down and surrender in Holland on their way back. That never came off, because the Armistice came along at that moment. It is absolutely absurd for an eleven hundred miles medium bomber to try to get to Berlin and back. Besides that, we who have taken an interest in the matter—and there is no difficulty in getting these things—know the sort of strength that these other nations in Europe have got.
249 I can only say that I am afraid that the hope expressed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, this evening that in a few months we should be in a perfectly sound position again with regard to other people, is very far from being fulfilled. There is not a chance of it in a few months or in a few years. Furthermore, with these people increasing at the rate they are increasing as against us, and increasing the types of machines, getting them better and bigger than ours, we shall be, at the end of two years' time, in a very much worse position than we are in to-day unless we have a programme of rearmament very different to the one the Government has in hand at the moment. I do not understand it. We are told that they have a shadow organisation for manufacture. What for? A shadow Air Force by a shadow Government, or what? There must be some alteration. Things are too serious to let the matter go on like this, with talk, talk, talk the whole time and no action. We know that when Rome was burning Nero was fiddling. The only redeeming feature of that lamentable story is that the Romans got rid of Nero at once and put somebody in his place better suited to get on with the job. The same thing ought to take place here, and the people who are in charge ought to be told: "That is your job—get on with it or get out."
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, before going on to the subject to which I shall devote most of my remarks, there are two points on which should like to say a few words. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his speech yesterday, alluded to a combined General Staff and said that the sooner we had one the better. With these words I cordially agree. I do not mean a combined General Staff consisting only of officers of the three Services. What I should like to see, and what I believe this country wants, is a body of men from the fighting Services and also from the Civil Service, who will be quite immune from all the petty worries of the day, who will be there to think ahead and not get immersed in all the details and routine of departmental offices as so often happens. I cannot but believe that if we had a body of men of that kind thinking ahead, thinking of all the implications of every action, we should not get into the kind of mess we were in recently. Another remark I should like 250 to make is this. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, spoke about the importance of roads in relation to railways. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, pointed out that roads are just as vulnerable as railways; but, as I pointed out to your Lordships the other day while discussing the position of coastal shipping, you may drop a good many bombs on the sea but you cannot spoil the surface. Coastal vessels will still be able to get round, and I submit that the more coastal vessels we have for the work the better.
The remarks that I really wish to make this evening are more or less by way of answer to those made by my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard with regard to the Fleet Air Arm and the divided control exercised over it. Being, as I believe, the only member of your Lordships' House who has had to work under that system, I consider it would be disrespectful if I did not detain your Lordships for a few moments to express my opinion, for what it is worth, based on personal experience. I would like to say that I am not going to adopt a Navy versus Air Force attitude. I hold the opinion very strongly that we are both branches of the same Service, the Army making a third. We are all three branches of the military service of the Crown, and the closer we are together the better. I fully agree with all that Lord Trenchard said on that subject. Times are too serious for idle recrimination such as was made in the speech in the other place mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Nor do I wish to reflect in any way upon the officers of the Air Force, senior or junior, with whom I worked very happily for two years while in the Home Fleet. From the senior officers I got nothing but help and encouragement, and the readiest consideration, and I have the greatest admiration for the junior officers. Both naval and Royal Air Force officers did their utmost to make the system under which the Fleet Air Arm has to work as efficient as possible, but with the best will in the world you cannot turn a system which is fundamentally bad into a good system, and the system under which the Naval Air Service is now administered is fundamentally bad.
I submit, further, that if you wish to achieve results it is a fatal mistake to have dual control. It is all very well in peace time when, with a certain amount 251 of tact, forbearance, and an ability to drop a subject if it is going to cause friction, you can get on very well. But war will not stand that, and I am perfectly sure that this dual system will come to grief in war. The late Lord Beatty, in addressing your Lordships' House in June, 1934, used these words:I am disturbed beyond measure at the unfortunate circumstances which surround the administration of the Naval Air Arm. I did my best to prevent the present. régime from being accepted, but I was over-ridden. It was stated then that the Admiralty was not sufficiently air-minded to have charge of this integral part of its equipment.That last remark may or may not have been true, but supposing for the sake of arugment it was true, that system was imposed on the Navy in 1924 and we are now in 1936. Even if Admirals have changed their minds in the interval, would they be the only people who have had to face up to realities in the last twelve years?
Lord Beatty said he was "disturbed beyond measure" at the position, but I can assure your Lordships that every Admiral who has succeeded Lord Beatty, whether at the Admiralty or in the Fleet at sea, has also been gravely disturbed. One generation of Admirals makes way for another, and as each successive generation comes to the top and assumes responsibility, they also become anxious, for they feel that when the moment comes they will find themselves handicapped by shortcomings in an important part of the Fleet over which the Admiralty has not had full control. I was very glad to find myself in complete accord with my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air when he spoke yesterday. He used these words:But what I believe is really impossible is to have somebody saying how the Service Departments ought to do their job, while leaving them with the entire responsibility for doing the job.That, my Lords, exactly defines the position of the Air Ministry in regard to the Admiralty and the Fleet Air Arm.
If the Fleet fail it will be the Admiralty and the Admirals who will have to bear the whole responsibility. Yet in preparing to shoulder their responsibility and do their work they are cramped in the means for doing it and they are not 252 allowed to proceed along the lines that they think necessary. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, talked about recriminations. If we live through another war the recriminations will be far worse than those that have gone on for eighteen years, and which even now show no signs of declining. To-day it is certainly not the Admirals who lack air-mindedness. They recognise that aircraft, after ships of war, are fast becoming almost as necessary as the guns, and that no naval force, whether it be a single ship or a great fleet, is properly equipped unless it has a proper quota of aircraft. The Navy wants to get on with its flying, to introduce it into its everyday life, to develop the Fleet Air Arm to the utmost, and not to look upon flying as some "black art" only to be carried out by men in light blue. That may appear cheap and far fetched. But is it? I will try to justify it.
The Navy wishes to train some of its selected petty officers as pilots. It is not satisfied with its air reserve at present and wants more qualified pilots. It is not allowed to do this, however, for some strange reason, although the brothers of these men who happen to have chosen the Royal Air Force as their Service are so trained, and 407 non-commissioned officers up to July last year, as your Lordships' House was informed by the Secretary of State for Air, had already been taken from the ranks. I suppose there are a good deal more now. I think it. would be just as reasonable for the Admiralty to say to the Air Ministry: "You are not going to train your own men as coxswains of your speed-boats." It is evident that if two or three petty officers in every ship were qualified pilots a ship would be independent, and if a ship's pilot fell ill or was injured, or for some reason could not take his machine into the air, there would be other men in the ship who could do it. It is exactly the same with the mechanics. Every aeroplane embarked in a cruiser or battleship is under present arrangements accompanied by an air mechanic. Each mechanic is accompanied by two aircraftmen. You get then, in some cases, two men in Royal Air Force uniform in a ship's company of hundreds, a quite unnecessary addition. Where there is only one man to one machine and that 253 machine crashes the airman has nothing to do and becomes a passenger.
Your Lordships know that in every ship there is a strong body of engineers and electrical engineers, and the very excellent engineer artificers supply the Navy with many of its engineer officers. These officers and petty officers are quite capable of dealing with the aero-engines, only requiring a small addition to their curriculum of training to enable them to do so. The Admiralty wish to take over gradually the upkeep of the Fleet Air Arm aircraft when embarked, or at any rate those embarked in battleships and cruisers. They could not do it at once, but they can do it gradually, and every man they added to their staff to look after the machine could also be a reinforcement and a source of strength to the ship. The Admiralty have done their best to provide against the contingency of an air mechanic dying or falling ill because, by Admiralty drafting regulations, one engine-room artificer who has been through an aero-engineering course is carried as part complement in every ship that carries a plane. That appears to me quite reasonable, but the Air Ministry stipulate that he has not to touch the aeroplane in times of peace. He only comes into play in actual war. That is not the way to keep reserves efficient and up-to-date. It is easy to see the reason for that. It is because they do not care to take the responsibility. That is the system of dual control. I could go on citing other instances of this sort showing the anomalies and overlapping which exist; under the present system of dual control.
Then there is the question of delay in getting anything through. Many of your Lordships have had much experience of the delays that appear inherent when dealing with a Government Department. Here we have to deal with two and, my Lords, "just think what two can do." I come now to a rather more important question. I have been dealing hitherto more with matters of detail. Part at least of the present reserves for the Fleet Air Arm is formed on paper of Royal Air Force officers who have had Fleet Air Arm experience. Is it really to be supposed that at the mobilisation for war the Royal Air Force squadrons will be combed through and many good officers he taken from them and sent to the Fleet, thus reducing Royal Air 254 Force efficiency? Of course they will not. It would be wrong for them to do it and so reduce their squadrons. They will have plenty to do if war comes without interfering in any way with the Navy. Service in the Fleet Air Arm for Royal Air Force officers is supposed to be for four years, but in practice it works out at very much less, or did fifteen months ago. The reason given was that it was in order to build up a reserve, but that reserve has never really functioned.
My noble friend Viscount Trenchard dealt me some hard knocks. He warned me that he was going abroad for two months, and he said that when the time came that he was back again he was sure that I should have forgotten and forgiven him. I can assure him now that I forgive already, and hope that he will have a happy trip. But I do not gather what he means when he says that he does not understand the difference between flying at sea and flying over the land. There is all the difference in the world. Machines may have to fly two hundred, three hundred or four hundred miles out to sea, and that is a very different thing from flying out, say, towards a city which you know will be there when you get to it. There is all the difference between that and finding before you a waste of waters and nothing on it. What has a machine to do then? Has it to go back, or has it to keep flying about like a cuckoo trying to find a place in which to lay its eggs?
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to the United States Naval Air Arm, and gave your Lordships figures comparing it with our own. After reading those figures can your Lordships really think that the Admirals have not some justification for anxiety and in wondering whether parity is being maintained? In another place the First Lord of the Admiralty said that the British Fleet was stronger than any other, and challenged anybody to deny it. Nobody did deny it, but I confess I have grave doubts about it. I do not think it is so strong as the United States Fleet because of the Air Arm, and I am also beginning to doubt whether it is as strong as the Japanese. It is not as efficient as it ought to be because it has not the up-to-date means for becoming efficient and cannot get that which it wants.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
When the noble Earl says that I remember what a great tribute he paid to its efficiency after the manoeuvres which he commanded.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
I did pay a great tribute to its efficiency, and I should be pleased to do it at any time. They were splendid, but you must remember they were not so well equipped as is the United States Naval Air Force. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, showed how easily we might, under present conditions, find ourselves at war with both an Eastern and a Western Power, calling for a great naval effort on the one hand and a great air effort on the other. I do not think that in such an event there would be many of the Royal Air Force available for the Fleet Air Arm. The Navy would have to function with what it has got, and start the most difficult campaign at a great disadvantage. The noble Earl referred to flying boats. I agree with him except that I would point out that when flying boats do exercise with the Fleet it is not by accident but by previous arrangement. I have seen flying boats whenever the Fleet was returning to its home ports, and on one or two other occasions, but never over blue water in company with the Fleet. When anchored at a British West Indian island, however, the "Nelson" was surrounded by a large number of flying boats, all marked "U.S. Navy." They were commanded by a Rear Admiral and formed an integral part of the United States Fleet which was cruising in those waters. I hope I may be forgiven for the jealousy I felt when I saw that. It is not only Admirals who notice these things and feel anxiety, but think of what the senior officers feel when they see how handicapped we may be in this respect.
The Prime Minister has warned us that when war comes it will come suddenly. To the Royal Air Force may fall the honour which in the last war was taken by the Royal Navy of being first in action. If we believe the prophets, air fighting will develop on a very large scale and will be continuous, supposing of course that the war is with a near neighbour. Casualties will be very high and the most highly-trained officers will have to bear the brunt. In those circumstances, can it be wondered at if the Fleet Air Arm is treated rather as 256 an illegitimate child by the Air Ministry? I say an illegitimate child because no one can pretend that it was the offspring of wedlock between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. The Fleet. Air Arm is only of subsidiary interest even in peace time, and I suspect that it would cease to be of any interest in war time.
To illustrate my meaning as regards peace time I would say that the Fleet Air Arm has no aerodrome of its own, nowhere to which the squadrons when disembarked will go as a matter of course and carry on their training under the same supervision as when afloat. On the contrary the Fleet Air Arm is treated as a poor relation to be shoved in wherever you can find room for it. The units are scattered, they come under different orders and they have to fit in with whatever happens to be going on at a station to which they are attached. That is hard on officers and men. The Fleet Air Arm has no armament training camp. Units may or may not happen to hit off the training they particularly want to do at a camp to which they are sent. If they do not happen to hit it off they may not get an opportunity again of doing that training. Considerable time is spent at sea in trying to make up that deficiency. Theoretically these handicaps are admitted. I am speaking now of the time before the present crisis, of a period eighteen months ago. Compare this with the United States Navy which has a large fleet aerodrome, a flying boat base, a naval air force training camp at each harbour and every facility.
I am not suggesting for one moment that these delays are due to anything but the pernicious system under which we have now to exist. The Navy does not want to attack the Air Ministry. They have not the slightest intention of interfering with the Air Force. All they ask is that the Fleet Air Arm should be under their control and under their training. It is not very much to ask. Noble Lords have spoken this afternoon as if all the fighting was going to be round these islands. That is not the fighting we foresee. In exercises in regard to which I have paid tribute to the Royal Air Force and which I am glad to repeat, battleships never met. They were fighting ninety miles distant from each other. 257 Ships were attacked at 100 miles from the base from which the aircraft started. All that is out of the range of even the longest bomber. There is no question of the long-range shore-based aircraft. It is fighting between the aircraft of the two fleets. That is why we want to be efficient because we may be out of the range of help of the long-range bomber. I submit that it is only fair that we should be allowed to have control.
I feel confident that the Royal Air Force will dominate the air over this country and drive back the attackers and carry the war into the enemy's territory if the country at war is near. But it may be one far away. If the Air Ministry is allowed to interfere with the Fleet Air Arm they will run a grave risk of causing a great naval failure for which the Admiralty and the Admirals will be held responsible. What would be the value of the greatest series of successes in the air if the country was slowly starving and the morale of the nation was being sapped by want of food? I say again that the present system is not good. I imagine that very few of your Lordships, if you were running a business, would run it under a dual system. If you did you certainly would not give one of the directors with least interest in the business more power than the one with a vital interest in it. The present system has lasted twelve years. It has not succeeded in obtaining the efficiency it might have done, and what it has done is to cause considerable friction between two departments which ought to work together in the closest friendship and the closest co-operation.
My Lords, at this late hour I shall not detain you many minutes. I do not know whether it, is the intention of the Government to put up a Front Bench spokesman every day in a long debate, but I would venture to say that the innovation in this debate is one which might be established as a practice. It is a very long time since I heard any speech which has given me such relief and such comfort as I have derived from the speech of the noble Earl the First Commissioner of Works. I understood him to be enunciating the policy which would be put into force unless the recruiting of the Army greatly improves. That is a matter which. I think has not been sufficiently dwelt upon in defence 258 debates. After all, when the Navy and the Air Force have done their work they still cannot be effective in occupying ground which must be occupied before a war can be won. That side of the military problem seems to me to have shrunk rather far into the distance. It is therefore essential that our Regular Army should be kept up to its strength.
I should like to add the remark that the recent foreign policy of His Majesty's Government seems to have averted a good deal of trouble that might very well have been incurred if we had shown less restraint and if we had continued in a policy of publicity versus the old diplomatic method of managing affairs. I will not dwell on that point, but I would like to express heartfelt relief at the speech of the noble Earl. After all, during these years when according to the Prime Minister a complicated mental and political process has been going on until the tail was wagging the dog rather than the dog wagging the tail, it must not be forgotten that many of us have been torn with apprehension for our country. Those of you who are in the know perhaps thought that that apprehension was excessive, but we who are not in the know have really undergone some suffering which I think we might have been spared. I will not say anything more on that subject., but now that we appreciate that this question of defence is going to be taken seriously, I think it right that I should press on you the subject which I raised last July: that is, the question of food supply in time of war.
When I initiated that debate I pointed out that the adequate provision of food supply in time of war was an essential part of defence, and the noble Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, then said:Of the three possible solutions which seem to me to deserve consideration there is first of all an increase of production in this country. … The second is the free importation of necessary food supplies from abroad. … The third is the question of storage.…Later he said:I want your Lordships to realise that no method of storage is going to save us so long as we do not keep command of the seas, and now of the air.Well, my Lords, I retired somewhat crushed from his answer, but only two days afterwards I was a little comforted 259 to read that the First Lord of the Admiralty, who presumably has rather strong views on this subject, said:If our sea communications are cut, we have a supply of raw materials that will last our industries for three months. But that supply would be more than we should need, for within six weeks we should be dead of starvation.I cannot help feeling that the answer of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the speech of Sir Samuel Hoare are somewhat difficult to reconcile. Whether that be so or not, it seems to me that the case for adequate food supply in time of war has not yet been met.
My object in speaking now is to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who I understand is going to reply to the debate, to give us all the information he can as to what progress is being made on this question. I might remind him that when the Prime Minister spoke in another place last week he said that this most important question of food supply was not yet completely solved but was "in a partial state of solution." What a partial state of solution exactly means I suppose no one knows. It sounds to me rather like a soothing syrup which, I suppose, is partially dissolved. But in the course of his remarks on this subject he went on to point out that various plans for the protection of our food supplies were in progress, that coast defence and anti-aircraft defence of our ports had been considered, and also machinery for the distribution of imports, and finally, I think, a scheme for rationing the people's food. Noble Lords will not fail to observe that none of those processes, none of those considerations, touched the real question of whether there would be food or not in sufficient quantity in this country in the event of war. Arrangements for distributing what there is are one thing; arrangements for providing the food are another thing.
The last paragraph of the Prime Minister's speech in regard to this matter was as follows:The Ministry of Agriculture has drawn up a general scheme for increasing production in the event of war and they are now engaged in working it out in detail.Well, the speeding-up of production, once a war has begun is, of course, an extremely difficult thing, as we found out in 1917 and 1918, and the planning of speeding up production in time of war is a very insufficient measure of defence.
260 If we are really going to have an increase of production of food in this country, at least five years' preparation ought, if possible, to be given to the subject, but a great deal can be done in less tine than that provided that the persons engaged in this task are told what is expected of them and helped to realise their duties. In fact I am going to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House if he cannot tell us that the production of an increased food supply in this country and the heightening of the fertility of the soil which that involves are going to be a permanent part of the Government's programme for the defence of this country.
I do not know whether he can carry the matter any further than that. I will not press him on the matter of storage, although that is comparatively a quick aid simple remedy. I would just remark this: that when I advocated storage it would have cost us almost half what it will cost us to-day owing to the increase of prices. I have not any particular claim to press this question upon you, but I have myself done something for the defence of the country since we last met, and something which many of you have also done. I have put in eighty acres of wheat.
§ LORD STRICKLAND
My Lords, I intervene in this debate because my lot is cast in the great fortress of the Empire overseas which will certainly suffer the earliest and the most drastically if war should unfortunately break out. The noble Viscount who opened the debate this afternoon pressed the Government to state whether they would promptly and effectively support the League of Nations if it were again to be rejuvenated and to function or try to function as it has heretofore. May I point out that, under democratic institutions, it would be very rash for any Government to state now how far democratic assemblies would or would not support a future policy by armaments and taxes, in any hypothetical circumstances at an unnamed date. That is the insuperable difficulty as regards the rejuvenation of the League of Nations. Nevertheless we can all join, whether domiciled in these islands or overseas, in adding to the incentive of loyalty to the Crown a clearly formulated and understood determination to support democratic institutions for 261 reasons of self interest, which means willingness to fight and suffer for the maintenance of the highest possible standard of living for the workers, in contrast with the objectives of despotically-governed countries. There the objective is to increase extravagantly the population in order to accentuate the struggle for living room on the face of the earth. The peace of the world is endangered by this method of propping dictators.
I would beg leave to call attention to three points not yet dealt with in this debate, and to put before your Lordships my views thereon from a Mediterranean standpoint. Those three points are, first, the transfer to Europe of African troops; secondly, the inadequacy of the provision made for security services and propaganda of British culture; and thirdly, the importance of preparing now, without restraint of prejudice, for that use of poison gas which will certainly decide the issue of any great war.
Firstly, as regards the transfer of African troops to Europe: how to ensure or impede this has been the carefully considered key of Mediterranean strategy. Inasmuch as the French have been able to have reckoned in their favour in the Chancellories of Europe that they hold out the possibility of bringing over to Europe not merely hundreds of thousands but even millions of highly trained, efficient, and inexpensive African troops, the possibility of preventing such transfers and food supplies has been the principal objective of possible rivals in the Mediterranean since the Great War. The strategy of a nation which might feel that the chance of being opposed to France could be equalised, and improved, certainly prompted Italy to gain a commanding position in bargaining with Germany. It was certainly such an inspiration of her great statesman that has now enabled him, as the conqueror of Abyssinia, to say to other rulers that, in the event of a great war, Italy will be able to set off and stake as a bargaining counter on the green cloth of a Council of War or conference a counter-weight of the value of the troops she will be able to throw in, at the stage where numbers count, countless troops from Africa. France alone to-day could bring across the Mediterranean similar forces from West Africa.
262 Your Lordships may give weight to the argument that the principal reason for which Abyssinia has been conquered is the acquisition of prestige and the command of cheap man-power. Those who have tried to find out now know that Abyssinia produces scarcely anything but man-power. We know that the oil and gold and a small quantity of platinum in the territories that Italy has conquered in Abyssinia are not worth the sacrifice of staying there. Abyssinia has been conquered for the purpose of prestige and for the purpose of enabling the conqueror to promise to put into Europe perhaps 800,000 men. Up to a certain point it has been held that it was impossible, in defiance of a superior Navy, to bring across the inland sea any appreciable number of East or West African troops to Europe; but what has been proved recently in Spain as to the achievements of air transport must have opened the eyes of all observers. Magnificent strategical roads have been constructed by General Balbo in Lybia from Tripoli right up to the Egyptian Sudan in a most able and careful manner for strategic purposes, and should war come—I do not believe it will happen till some exceptional opportunity may offer in a few years—then it will be possible to ship competing African troops across the Mediterranean from the East as well as from the West. I do not say that Italy wants to attack France; it seems to me a question of acquiring ascendency in the councils of possible belligerents in Europe. Italy can now promise to bring into Europe hundreds of thousands of men of the best fighting material from East Africa across Lybia into Sicily.
That is the master key of future Mediterranean strategy—the ability to add to man power from Africa. In those circumstances it is obvious that to consider how the peace loving nations may prevent the possibility of easy transit by air of large numbers of East African troops into Europe is a paramount necessity. There should be no delay, amid no false economy, in developing the potentialities of Malta for air defence to a point that will deter such attempts. This will be good not only for the defence of our Empire but also of the peace of Europe. Alighting places for flying boats have to be sheltered. It is notorious that the accommodation in Malta for aircraft, and 263 especially for aircraft that alight on the water, is inadequate. It is also notorious that the possibility of providing safe alighting and taking off places for aircraft can be achieved at quite moderate expenditure in Malta, if a beginning is made on existing plans without delay. The noble Earl who commanded the Atlantic fleet pointed out this evening how a flying boat at the end of its mission might be like a cuckoo trying to find a place in which to lay its eggs. That was a weighty argument to show that it would not be the case if the flying boats were manned by naval officers with such experience in navigation that they could in the open sea meet at any established point a friendly submarine, or know how to find shelter in the waters of a neutral Power.
The second point to which I wish to refer is the inadequacy of our secret service, called the Security Service. It is quite pathetic to see on the front page of The Times this week the announcement of so small a sum as £15,000 a year being allotted for the propaganda—in competition with France and Italy—of "British Culture" where that propaganda would be substantially useful, in such places as Egypt, Palestine, Malta and so forth. In all democratic countries the question of secret service is always one of outstanding difficulty, and that has been increased in these days when enormous sums are spent with less scruple against us for the secret service of other countries. Heretofore patriotic Englishmen have been expected to perform these services often for nothing, with the certainty of repudiation if they fail, and of no thanks if they succeed. In the Great War we had reluctantly to meet the submarine with the submarine. So we must to-day meet the spy system of other countries with similar methods and at least equal expenditure. Our system is to rely upon knowing the spies of our rivals so as to be able to round them up when war comes. But our opponents have learned from the Great War how to duplicate and triplicate the agents on whom they rely, so that it is futile to hope that all spies can be caught. The most efficient will in future escape if enough money is not spent from now onwards.
The third point is the question of recognising the use of poison gas. It is a commonplace that the most merciful method of war is that which brings it to 264 an end quickly. Poison gas is barred wit h exaggerated sentimentality, and is decried by every party in this country, especially the old women of politics and those who appeal to sentiment. Yet incendiary bombs are much more hateful and kill and maim more people. The number killed by poison gas is comparatively small and the suffering is less. When we know perfectly well that "the other fellow" will use poison gas and will know how to use that gas, it is of the greatest importance that on our side there should be equal knowledge and training. Trained men will use it in the greatest quantities, and win forthwith. It cannot be doubted that half a second after the declaration of war, or more likely several hours before war is declared, our opponents in the next war will use gas. Then it will be too late to tell our people that we are going to break our promises against the use thereof. We now say we are going to retaliate only after we have suffered. We have factories for producing poison gas here in a transcendent degree. We ought to have more in the overseas Empire, but we must also have officers and men trained in the use thereof, and not trained to believe it is wrong or merciless to use it. If we do not prepare thus, we are done for immediately the war starts.
In Spain they have begun to use poison gas. They have also begun with greater Effect to use incendiary bombs and high explosive bombs.
§ LORD STRICKLAND
That is another question. I should be delighted to argue hereupon, but it would be out of order Lt this stage of this debate. Why did lot the combatants in Spain begin to use that weapon early in the present war, and why have they not used it more copiously and efficiently? Because they have not got the staff, or enough of it, and because they are not sufficiently trained to do it. And it is not merely the drill and mechanical training, or the discipline that is wanted; the concurrent psychological training to dispel prejudice is absolutely necessary. And it is absolutely necessary also that we at once denounce all treaties, pacts and promises that restrain this Empire from training our Defence Forces in the proper use of all and any of the very best weapons which we know exist or that may be developed.
265 In conclusion, I wish to refer to the great difficulty under which all democratically governed countries must essentially labour when pitted, in the preservation of their superior standard of life and their very existence, against aggression arising from the jealousy of despotically governed countries—I use the word "despotic" following its Greek derivation, which is by no means disparaging. In the despotically governed countries there is continuity of action, continuity of policy, and when a promise is made by the ruler de facto, all may rely that it will be kept, provided that the men who have made the promise are still in power of office. But in democratically governed countries those who have to reckon on the value of pacts and treaties have to speculate on the survival of the Parliament in being at the time the promise was made, or on the prospect of the continued good health of whoever may have been the leader of the majority of political supporters in a popular assembly that makes and unmakes Ministries and gives value to the promises they make. With all that uncertainty we are now in England labouring under most severe handicaps which react throughout the Empire. A remedy has been suggested by the noble Earl recently commanding the Atlantic fleet, when to-day he suggested the organisation of a body of experts dealing with war preparation, a body of picked intellects entirely separated from the worries of everyday administration.
Then let us have the courage to organise and pay for propaganda in this taxpaying England to persuade our own people of the necessity of submitting cheerfully to the increased taxation which is inevitable. It is of little use talking of preparing effectively for war unless we are prepared to pay for it, and it is no use expecting that the people of England will be ready to pay for 266 preparation unless our leaders explain beforehand what will happen if the taxpayers do not pay enough and willingly. To those who have something to lose it should be easy to explain that, for if the wealthy had, as of old, to provide their own private armies to protect castles and properties and the inviolability of the family, it would cost much more than it costs to-day under a co-operative system. But it must also be impressed upon the minds of the workers by propaganda that, if we do fight, we are fighting to maintain, if not to increase, the superior standard of living of the British people, and that that higher standard has to be paid for, and paid for cheerfully, if it is attacked.
To fight successfully there must be a common objective, not only for us in England but for all who think and care for prosperity throughout the whole of the Empire. Let us never cease repeating that we have to defend the superior standard of living of all classes. It is this superiority which has made dangerous the jealousy of our prospective attackers. That jealousy is at the bottom of the present apprehension and danger of war. To fight for a high standard of living is a common objective for the workers in Malta, as it is a common objective in Westmorland, or in London, or in the Orkneys arid Shetland. To fight for an object cherished in common is the secret of success, and to have the necessary psychological training for such an object beforehand is that for which we should all pray and strive.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned until to-morrow.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock.