§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether adequate steps are being taken towards measures that would ensure a vigorous counter attack against any hostile force, and to ask for an assurance that such steps are not handicapped by devoting too large a proportion of the country's resources to defence works; and to move for Papers.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, before I deal with the subject matter of my Motion, I would like to make a statement that will cover all my remarks this afternoon. It is this: I am not in any way advocating a policy of aggression; I am against all idea of a preventive war; and I am equally opposed to the idea of attacking any nation. My remarks are based solely on the assumption that we and our vital interests are attacked by some other Power, which I hope will not occur, and I do not think it will. But as we are rearming to the extent we are, in order to meet the rearmament which was first of all started elsewhere, I want to see that this rearmament is on sound lines.
It was with some anxiety that I put down the Motion that stands in my name on the Paper, as I do not want to discuss, or to help bring about discussion of, details whose publication would be of disservice to the country. I was, until quite recently, very uneasy at what is going on, but after the two statements that have been made by the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air in another place, I must say I am—and I feel your Lordships will be also—much more reassured than I was a little time ago. You may think, perhaps, that I am out of date, having left the Air Force for ten years, and that the Air Force was small in those days when I was Chief of the Air Staff. But in the last War, in number of personnel it was, I believe, nearly double the size it is to-day. I do not want to bore your Lordships with my experiences, but I would like to emphasize that the Force, 236 when I was Chief of the Air Staff towards the end of the last War, was much greater than it is to-day, and at the end of the War, numerically it was stronger than it will be at the end of this year. In October, 1918, I was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Inter-Allied Air Force, which comprised four nations—England, France, America and Italy. Actually France, Italy and England allotted a small number of squadrons to this Force, and America was going to send a large number of squadrons, but the War came to an end before they were ready. It was my duty, therefore, to work out plans for the use of this Force.
I do not want it to be thought that I am attacking the Government in any way, because at the present moment one might liken the Government to the Royal Flying Corps in France at the beginning of the Great War, when the then Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, described them in some order or despatch that he wrote, as "shot at alike by friend and foe." I feel that His Majesty's Government are in very much the same position now. But, so far as I can see, the chief reason for all this shooting at the Government is to make them do more and more for the protection of our persons, rather than to bring any pressure to bear on them to protect the life of the nation as a whole, and to ensure that we are able to crush any aggressor by the ability to paralyse the life of the nation.
No doubt I shall be accused of being out of date, a die-hard, one who only wants to attack—attack—attack especially as ever since the War there has been a constant stream of literature (though more in the British Empire than in any other part of the world) condemning the mere mention of attack. In every paper I take up I see evidence of the amount of energy, money and material that is being poured into measures for the defence of human life. I readily concede that human life is an important asset of any country, but others would sacrifice human life in order to defend their ideals. What puzzles me, however, is this steady stream of writing all advocating defence and nothing else, except during the last fortnight, when offence was for the first time recommended by the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, and I was glad to see that statement at the beginning of a speech he made.
237 But all the critics seem to think of nothing but defence. Yet, so far as I can see, they disagree with the Prime Minister's great policy of avoiding war, and now, apparently, though not at the time, would have gone to war in the hope of saving Czecho-Slovakia. To me their attitude is quite incomprehensible. How could all these deep dug-outs, anti-aircraft defences and fighters they are clamouring for, ever have prevented the Sudeten Germans from being incorporated in Germany? I cannot believe, my Lords, that even digging a dug-out deep down in the bowels of the earth and so efficient that it is safe from a thousand-pound bomb, would have stopped the Germans from marching into Czecho-Slovakia. The only thing that will stop warmakers is the knowledge that if they attack they will be hit harder than they themselves can hit.
Several factors, in my opinion, have helped to bring about this continuous clamouring for defence measures. The first factor is that it is continually stated, and seems to be accepted as a fact by many of your Lordships and many others, that when a bomber is sent out to bomb, the bombs are always aimed at, and—apparently they are marvellously accurate—they always hit, women and children, or very nearly always. Everyone seems to think that such is the object of the Air Forces of the world. It is not so. The other day it was my lot to preside at a lecture given by a distinguished gentleman, who made the remark that he hoped, whatever happened, England would not bomb the women and children of the enemy. They, of course, would bomb ours, but we should retaliate only by bombing military objectives, and thereby show our moral superiority. I could not help feeling how far from the realities of the situation that statement was; yet it is a firmly held idea of a large percentage of our countrymen. Whatever is bombed in another war, nothing we can say or do will prevent enemy propaganda—and our own—from asserting that women and children were bombed intentionally; because, of course, women and children will undoubtedly be hit.
Let me say here that many of these misconceptions are brought about by that infernal weapon, propaganda, so widely used by all countries, which means the imputing of the most horrible brutalities 238 to your enemy. I fear, however, that there is no getting rid of it. I say to you, my Lords, that if the Woolwich Arsenal were to be completely obliterated by a thousand tons of bombs, probably at least half of them would fall on the outskirts, not intentionally, but from the ordinary inaccuracies of shooting. Yet if this occurred, and the Woolwich Arsenal were levelled flat, all England would be told that women and children living in the houses nearby had been deliberately bombed, and not a word would be said about the destruction of the Arsenal or of any men being killed; for nowadays, apparently, it is no use reporting that a man is killed—he is of no news value. As a man, I am delighted to feel that I am of no news value, though I still see in the papers pictures of a few men who apparently are.
The effect of all this is that the nation has a false idea of the best measures to take, and is apt to concentrate too much on what is thought to be the chief danger—the bombing of civilians. For instance, I read in a paper the other day, and I saw it was stated in another place, that camps are going to be made to which children would be evacuated in war time, and which would be used for certain purposes in peace. That is a very good plan. But I also saw in some paper that they were to be hidden in trees and woods, so that they could not be seen from the air. I cannot think of a more futile and silly arrangement, and I do not believe that the Government are contemplating this. Put them out in the open, show what they are plainly, and no hostile aeroplane will come purposely to bomb them. But if a pilot sees something hidden in a wood, he will say: "Hello, here is a munition dump, or a factory, let's bomb it." Of course, even an open camp might be hit at night, by mistake, or by a man who was having engine trouble or engine failure, but those camps are not going to be bombed on purpose when there are so much more worth-while objectives.
I want to emphasize this point, and I shall refer to it again. In this connection a friend of mine, who is now a member of another place, reminded me only the other day of what happened on the Western Front several times. On one occasion a General complained to the Flying Corps Officer that the Germans were bombing his first aid station continuously, 239 and what could he do about it? In reply the squadron leader asked him if it was marked at all, and advised him to put a Red Cross on it. The General followed his advice, and the station was not bombed again.
I notice the amount of propaganda there is in the papers about the bombing in Spain and China. I may be wrong, but from the information I have got I believe that over 75 per cent, of the bombing has been aimed at acknowledged military objectives, with the consequent killing of women and children in the surrounding area. In many of the towns in Spain the residential quarters have practically not been bombed at all, but a pilot whose engine has gone wrong, or who has himself been wounded, may have off-loaded his bombs, especially at night, over any light or anything that he sees. I remember hearing on the wireless and reading in the papers that a hospital for women and children had been destroyed in China. I believe that was quite true, but it was not mentioned that the power station in the town in question was situated alongside of it and was also completely destroyed.
But I know the popular idea is that every hospital flying the Red Cross is purposely bombed. One heard very much the same about the bombing of the hospitals and camps at Etaples during the War, and it apparently did not occur to anybody that the real objectives there were the railway and the dumps. I would refer you to page 420 of Volume 6 of the Official History, where you will see what the Director of Military Operations at the War Office said about this, namely:We have no right to have hospitals mixed up with reinforcement camps, and close to main railways and important bombing objectives, and until we remove the hospitals from the vicinity of these objectives, and place them in a region where there are no important objectives, I do not think we can reasonably accuse the Germans.I am not saying that women and children are not bombed; sometimes they are; but it is exceptional, and often then by accident. In the Official History of the Great War it is recorded that one of our pilots carrying a 1,600-lb. bomb for the first time, which was then the biggest bomb we carried, developed engine trouble and was forced to get rid of his bomb and get back. He saw lights and he dropped his 240 bomb. Such cases will occur; propaganda made the most of them in the last War and will make apparently more in any future war.
This sort of propaganda has a powerful effect on us, with the result that we are spending more and more energy on protecting people against dangers which are not in fact our greatest dangers. I do not want it to be thought that I am not in favour of the ordered evacuation from the great cities of those people who are not wanted to carry on the life and work of the nation, or that I disagree with the provision of a reasonable amount of protection, as far as is possible, for those who have to work during a war, but it is necessary, and more than necessary, to protect the means and facilities for the carrying out of that vitally important work, and not only protect the personnel. I can understand the propaganda that both we and our enemies carried on in the last War, but I cannot understand the propaganda that goes on now, concerning nations in whose quarrels we are not taking one side or the other, in which we are not actively concerned. I have referred to this at some length and I hope you will forgive me, because I feel this is one of the reasons why everybody is pressing for more and more defence measures to protect the civilian population, instead of bringing pressure to bear on the Government to see that the utmost is done first to prevent a war starting and secondly, if it starts, to hit the enemy twice as hard as he can hit us.
Now I turn to the other side of the question: Are we really putting enough energy into the counter-offensive? As I said at the beginning of my speech, I know I shall be accused of only thinking of attack, like Marshal Foch, who said: "Attack, and again attack." Well, I do not know that I object to being in his company. Someone has written about a tactical defensive and a strategical offensive; I have not the faintest idea what that means with regard to an aeroplane. We cannot put a stop to war by defence measures, much less bring it to a successful conclusion, however well provided we are in this respect, and I would like to emphasize this. We cannot make the Prime Minister and the Government strong enough to stop a war purely by digging holes in Hyde Park. Apart from good diplomacy and the determination that we know the Prime Minister and the 241 Foreign Secretary exercise, the strongest compulsion on aggressors will be their fear that if they attack us they in their turn will be attacked much more severely, and that for every blow they gave us we will give back two.
That is not so impossible as it sounds, vulnerable as London is. There are targets elsewhere. The Secretary of State for Air said recently in a speech that I was reading that attack and defence in war in the air could be compared to two boxers, and in the same speech he likened it—a parallel have often used myself—to two football teams. To my mind that shows a complete misunderstanding of the situation, for the two examples are absolutely contradictory. The boxers may be said to be like two armies at grips with each other, but they are not like the Air Services. The first object of an Army, I have been told, is to knock out the other Army, like the boxer. I am told—the noble Lord who will reply this afternoon knows much more about it than I do—that the object of a Fleet is to knock out the other Fleet. But the object of the Air Force is to knock out the other nation, its supplies, its munitions, and means of life. Air fighting is incidental to it, and not the object. As with two football teams, the object of each is the other's goal, and if one team is so foolish as to put most of its men in its own goal, the other team will always be round that goal—always!—and the ball will sometimes dribble through.
There is another reason why I am anxious that our efforts should not be too largely for defence. There are a number of small nations, friends of the Democracies, who might also be in the theatre of war, and they might, quite conceivably, be attacked by our enemies. What must their feelings be, what are they to think, when they hope that we will come to their rescue and save them from being overwhelmed, and all they read about is our anti-aircraft guns or our bomb-proof shelters? That will not help them. I am glad to see, however, that the Secretary of State for Air, in introducing the Air Estimates in another place, said definitely last week:We have not abandoned our traditional reliance on the value of the counter-offensive as an essential element in air strategy. A powerful striking force is not only a strong deterrent to attack. It is a vital component n any sound system of air defence.I was more than glad to see that.
242 Then I come to another point. We have, rightly or wrongly, published a good many of the official memoranda on the subject of the Great War, and many of them, which were not, however, written by airmen, but by Army chiefs and political chiefs, give a misleading impression of the objects of an Air Force. They have thus strengthened the idea that what is chiefly necessary in war is the protection of the civilian. Many books, articles and letters have been written by those who went through the last War to prove how well they succeeded in carrying out their objects, and only those who did not do so well have wisely refrained from writing. I would like to quote from a memorandum sent by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to Sir Henry Wilson, Military Representative on the Supreme War Council, in January, 1918. This has been published. I am not saying anything that anybody cannot read for himself. This memorandum said:The policy intended to be followed is to attack the important German towns systematically …. It is intended to concentrate on one town for successive days and then to pass on to several other towns, returning to the first town until the target is thoroughly destroyed, or at any rate until the morale of the workmen is so shaken that the output is seriously interfered with.I will not quote any more, but it has a bearing—a very great bearing—on the present agitation for digging deeper and deeper into the ground.
I hope that the noble and gallant Lord who now is Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, and whom I heartily congratulate on his great appointment, will have a clear vision of what the future war will be, and I know that he will. He will be able to examine in the light of his great experience the lessons of the past and show imagination for the probabilities of the future. I hope he will look upon all the Services as parts of one whole, and choose the best weapon, irrespective of Service, to prepare, first of all, to prevent war, and, secondly, to bring it, if it comes, to a successful conclusion quickly. I was much impressed with a remark he made in a debate in your Lordships' House in October, and with your permission I will read it to you. He said, referring to the Czecho-Slovakian situation:What is the good of saying to a man in a tiger's den, 'Never mind if he eats you up—I am going to stop his rations in future'? That is all the British Navy could have done.243 I should have liked to read you the whole of that paragraph, but I will not take up your Lordships' time too much, though it is well worth while re-reading that speech, and I shall return to it in a moment.
Are we doing enough for offence? Your Lordships may remember that in the last War, when this country was being attacked—and only slightly attacked—by the German Air Service, though the Germans bitterly complained of their lack of sufficient bombing machines for this purpose, the pressure on our Government to add more defensive measures was enormous. Yet, up to May, 1918, the greatest number of bombers that came over to Britain for any one raid was only 27, and in the final raid in May only 43 were employed. Only 74 tons of bombs were dropped by those aeroplanes throughout the War, not counting airships. What was the result? We maintained in this country forces which even in June, 1918, consisted of 469 antiaircraft guns, 622 searchlights, over 370 fighting aeroplanes, besides many officers and men. Now it may be argued that this defence stopped these few aeroplanes coming. I agree that this defence, which was very efficient and wonderfully well organised in those days by General Ashmore, did a great deal to stop them, but the intensive battle in France in the summer of 1918, both in the air and on the ground, had a good deal to do with the cessation of these attacks.
If it will not weary your Lordships, I should like to give you a little story of my own experience when I was in France, which gives my views in a nutshell. One day Sir Douglas Haig, as he then was, sent for me and said he had received a bitter complaint from one of his Army Commanders with regard to statements in the newspapers that the British Air Force was superior to that of the Germans. He told me to see the Army Commander. I saw him and asked him to have a meeting with the Corps Commander who had complained, and he agreed. I went out to meet the Army Commander, the Corps Commander, the two Divisional Commanders, and I asked for the colonels, subalterns, sergeants, and men from the front line trenches. It was a bitterly cold and horrible November day with snow and sleet. They came straight from the trenches into a draughty farmhouse. It 244 was a very hostile audience, especially as I went out in clean uniform and in those polished boots of the Generals we heard so much about in those days.
I began by saying that their General had complained that the German Air Service was attacking them in all sorts of weather. I said: "Gentlemen, two years ago at the battle of the Somme you never saw an enemy machine and you were delighted. The German air command changed. They put in a new man whose order was, and it is published in all the histories, We must do to the British what they do to us.' That is what they are doing, and now you are complaining." I went on:Two years ago London was bombed, and you all laughed. London asked for local defence and got it, and it is still being bombed. British G.H.Q. in France was bombed and you all laughed. The G.H.Q. asked for local defence and got it, but it is still being bombed. You Army Commanders are asking for local defence and you are all getting it gradually. You men in the front line trenches are being bombed and asking for local defence, but if you get it you will still be bombed and they will have won. But if we do to the enemy what you say the enemy is doing to you, and they squeal louder and get local protection, then we shall have won, and that, gentlemen, is what is being fought out.After that, under my successor, there was no more air attacking from the German side. They were defending, and in 1918 the Air Force had gained complete supremacy in the air.
Now I come to another question, and without wishing to be indiscreet in any way, or asking for plans, I would say that I hope, if war is forced upon us, that our defensive power will be great enough to enable us to counter-attack upon ground of our own choosing and not of the enemy's choosing. As I have already said, when the noble Lord made the speech I have referred to about only being able to cut the rations, that was because the battle ground was being chosen for us, whereas I feel that if the noble Lord can influence affairs he will do his best to choose a battle ground where he can also use that grand weapon, the Navy, offensively. I hope, therefore, the pressure for defence will not have prevented him from taking all the necessary measures for offence. But I am more easy now, after reading the Secretary of State for War's statement and the Army Estimates.
245 For a moment I will turn to the Army. I hope the reply will be that we are not going to provide every village and town in England with guns, searchlights, aerodromes and sound locators. I would ask the noble Lord to remember that even great towns in the West of England are not in such great need of protection as London or towns on the East coast, for it would be much harder for the enemy to get through to them than to these latter towns. Whatever kind of aircraft you use, every mile that you fly over enemy country becomes more and more difficult. It always was and always will be. That is why the defence of England is so much more difficult than the defence of some other countries. But do not forget, either, that the advantage is not quite against us as much as it was, owing to the increase in speed. I will not go further into that here, but I would like to refer to some remarks I made in your Lordships' House on November 2. I said:I should like to point out that first of all searchlights can only work for 50 per cent. of the year—that is at night, for they are no good in the daytime. Then, again, London and most of the centre of England are under cloud and mist for over 50 per cent. of the total time; and, therefore, you may say that all the money, energy and material you put into searchlights can only be used for 25 per cent. of the time.The same applies to fighter craft. This brings me to a difficult subject to discuss. I do not want to seem over-critical. The question I wish to refer to is that of the relative number of fighters and bombers. All the world over this question is being debated and has been debated for the twenty years following the War. Memoranda and official documents have been drawn up and written by all and sundry. Every little magazine and weekly paper publishes letters on one side or the other, and I say quite frankly to your Lordships that we need fear no danger to the national interests if we discuss this great question, and make both the pilots and the nation realise that war cannot be prevented or stopped until we can hit the enemy harder than he can hit us. Frequently I have met outside people who do not realise that the fighter is a defensive weapon. It must be remembered that fighter aircraft is a defensive weapon in modern war.
If I am not wearying your Lordships would like to quote a passage from the historian of "The War in the Air" who wrote this: 246The aeroplane is an offensive weapon and the advantage in war will go to that side which exploits its offensive qualities with trained imagination and a most determined mood. There must be defence aeroplanes because the people will always demand them and because, in any event, the enemy must be hampered as much as possible, but, used defensively, the aeroplane is little different from any other anti-aircraft weapon.I was frankly uneasy about this question. In The Times of 7th February, 1939, I read the report of a speech made by the Secretary of State for Air in which—and I am trying to interpret the statement fairly—he emphasized the fact that we were building up a balanced Air Force and at the same time said that there was no ideal or fixed ratio between fighter and bomber strength. It seems to me that the Secretary of State was a little confused in this matter as his two statements that there is no fixed ratio between fighters and bombers and that we are building up a well-balanced Air Force, to me are contradictory. If there is to be a balance there must be some relation between what is on one side of the scales and what is on the other. I may be wrong, and nowadays it may be possible to dispense with these elementary laws. But for twenty years we kept to a broad ratio, and I cannot help feeling that the change in policy was due to political reasons rather than to the pure merits of the case.
In the Secretary of State's speech on November 10, in another place, he said:So far as the general nature of our proposals is concerned, the Prime Minister has already emphasized the fact that our rearmament is essentially defensive, and I propose to give the highest priority to the strengthening of our fighter force, that force which is designed to meet the invading bomber in the air.I am glad to say that since I jotted down these remarks the Secretary of State for Air, in introducing the Air Estimates, again referred to this question. This time he did not say that there was no relation between fighters and bombers but did say that you must have a well-balanced force. I welcome that statement whole-heartedly, and it may be that perhaps I have been unduly uneasy on this subject but I think it is all the better for being ventilated. He went on to say that:The number of fighters required was mainly affected by the size and shape of the area they had to defend and the scale of attack against which defence must be provided.That last sentence is very true. I have 247 said it myself several times, but remember, my Lords, that if you have sufficient fighters to complete your requirements to the full, the aeronautical industry will have no time to produce anything in the way of bombers. I would ask the Government seriously to consider that if they want to give confidence to the smaller nations in the world they must be prepared to launch a vigorous counter-offensive. We must be able to do something to help our smaller friends, for even if we do not look at it from the purely idealistic point of view, but from the selfish point of view, by helping them to defend themselves we are also helping ourselves.
As the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, said the day before yesterday, this debate covers general defence questions and not only my Motion. I would like to say a word on that. It must be remembered that, in the last War, the air was of little account. To be quite frank it was very little help in winning the War. The Army and the Navy won the War. The Air Force had very little to say to it. At the end, it may have been of a little account, but very little. At the present moment, the Secretary of State for Air has pointed out that he is spending more this year on the Air than is being spent on the Army and Navy. I do not want that to mislead your Lordships. Of course more is being spent. If the Navy had never existed and we had to build it to-day, it would cost £1,000,000,000 and not £200,000,000. The Air Force has to build aerodromes and barracks and everything connected with the Service. This naturally adds to the expense. But we are now apparently, as far as I can make out—I hope I am not misleading you in any way—only aiming at a force which in number of personnel by the end of the year will be considerably less than it was when it was negligible at the end of the last War. I am counting in pilots, mechanics, auxiliary reserves, and everyone. I dare say the machines will have longer range and will be bigger, but I am speaking of actual personnel. Yet, at the present moment, we are not expending the appalling amount on ammunition and guns that we did in the last War, nor are we supplying those millions of men who served overseas in the last War.
In conclusion, I hope the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government 248 will be able to give the assurance I ask for, and not only to give that assurance, but to give the lead we look for from him. I hope he will strike a note that will make the nation believe that we are still as we were, that once war is forced on us we will take such measures and such action as will cause the aggressors to regret it, that we will use our resources and our power to bring about an overwhelming victory, and that, if war comes, we will put up with the losses and loss of life that are inevitable. Or, to paraphrase a headline I saw in the papers a week or so ago, I should like the noble Lord who replies to be able to say: "Our military force is the terror of aggressors." I feel that the whole country would welcome such a statement of the British spirit from such a well-known figure. I want to impress on His Majesty's Government and on your Lordships, with all the power at my command, that I firmly believe in what I have said, and I only wish that one of your Lordships who has the power of expression could have had the feelings, experience and data that I have, so that what is in my mind could have been expressed more clearly than I have been able to express it. I beg to move the Motion that is in my name.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, on rising to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House, I must ask for the usual indulgence shown to a beginner, and with the more insistence because in my past official life, speech has been silver and silence golden. In breaking the long silence I feel that my first act ought to be to pay a tribute of thanks and admiration to those under whom I have served. I cannot go through the long list of those men in all those thirty years—many of them are in this House at this moment—but I should like to mention those who were in office at the time when I gave up my official post. There was, of course, the Prime Minister, to whom the whole nation owes such a debt of praise. There is nothing I could say that could add to it. There is Sir Thomas Inskip, who as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence did such yeoman service year after year in the reconditioning of the Services, and who passed to another important sphere of duty at the very moment when the harvest which he had sown was beginning to be reaped. There was the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, whom I am so glad to see as Sir Thomas Inskip's 249 successor, who was in my time the most successful Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee. Finally, I hope it is in order if I mention one who was my right hand for years and years and has now become my successor, General Ismay, and the splendid staff of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
This debate is in a sense a continuation of two other debates to which I have been privileged to listen in your Lordships' House. The first was on February 16, and dealt with questions of air-raid precautions and shelters. The second was on February 22, when camps were discussed in relation to schemes of evacuation. I noticed that on the occasion of the first debate, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made this observation quite early in the debate:If we concentrate too much on passive defence it may be to the neglect of active defence and indeed of the powers of offence.Several noble Lords made observations to the same effect. This afternoon, the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard with all the authority of a Marshal of the Royal Air Force and with unparalleled experience in peace and war, has refreshed the House with his powerful advocacy of a vigorous counter-offensive. Passive protection, counter attack—these are the antipodes of the question of air defence, and between them lie all the other methods. There is the defence by fighter aircraft, there are the anti-aircraft guns and lights and balloon barrages and the whole range of air-raid precautions. All these subjects are complementary and inseparably connected, and I hope I shall be in order if, in supporting the noble Viscount's Motion, I approach the subject from the very widest point of view.
The real crux of the question of air defence, looked at from that point of view, is how to distribute the available resources between the different aspects. Vast as those resources are, we cannot afford to waste them, especially because we cannot yet fix a time limit for our effort. We do not want to leave to posterity a monument of loose thinking, comparable, say, to the forts along the Surrey hills, or the immense land defences of our naval ports, to mention only two. At the present time, when we are reconditioning our defences in a hurry, after years of neglect, we are perhaps 250 peculiarly liable to make such mistakes. In dealing with that large question of air defence, if I may speak from experience now of a good many years, I think we all pass through three phases. The first phase is a rather grim phase, when we are sizing up the risks and are rather staggered to discover the extent to which old immunity has been impinged upon. Then there is the second phase, a little more cheerful, when we are seeking the antidote to bombing and we conclude that, with certain precautions of a very widespread character affecting more or less the whole of the population, loss of life can be very much reduced. But to me that phase is rather a dangerous one, because the precautions that attract us at first sight, like the deep shelters, are very slow to produce and enormously costly, so that they may become too great a strain on our resources for use on a very large scale.
Then comes the third phase, which is a much more cheering one. We remember that, though we may have to make sacrifices in a future war and to undergo losses, we are still exempt from the greatest miseries and indignities of warfare, from which all our Continental allies suffered in different degrees during the War. What I refer to is armed occupation. At that second stage the only radical remedy which will shorten the business and bring it to an end, is to turn the tables so that an aggressor—like the noble Lord, I am speaking always of an aggressor against us—will rue the day of his challenge. Our perspective begins to be restored. We begin to see the picture of air defence as a whole. We see a resolute people determined to defeat an aggressor and to see the business through; prepared to make sacrifices, if need be, to preserve its liberties; an instructed and trained people, knowing what to expect and knowing what can be done and cannot be done to mitigate the consequences; a people trusting, I hope, primarily to its active forces, forces into which it has put the very best it has—the best of its youth, the best of its brains, the best of its labour, the best of its material—trusting those forces to bring the sticky business to an end so that peace and sanity may be brought back to the world.
But as a nation the problem is very new to us. It has only been put to the mass of the people quite recently; most 251 of us are still in the first or the second stage, and there is a danger lest we might rush into squandering too large a proportion of our resources on mere palliatives, to the detriment of the radical and sure remedy. I am not suggesting for a moment that this is the present case. I am not criticising the present policy at all. After all, it is only a few months since I was associated with it and doing my best to help to carry it out. But what I am apprehensive of is that public pressure might force a Government—it might be to-day, it might be to-morrow—into a false policy. That, I venture to suggest, can only be safeguarded against completely by the adoption of sound principles. For that there is a good precedent. Before the War the whole of our policy for Imperial Defence was based upon a mobile Navy. That was accepted by the whole nation. The Navy secured our territory from invasion; it protected our communications; it interrupted the communications of the enemy; it provided a shield under which we were able to mobilise our strength, the strength of the whole Empire, to victory. The adoption of that principle saved us a mint of money, especially in coast defences.
What I suggest is that we ought to aim at getting corresponding principles to govern air defence. That is rather a difficult subject, and I approach it with some diffidence, not in any didactic spirit but as one trying to make a contribution as a basis for discussion. Now in searching for principles I begin by asking myself what is the object of our armaments. The reply is contained in part in the White Paper, the first of the series of Statements on Defence, for 1935:They are required to preserve peace, to maintain security and to deter aggression.To that I should like to add one more object: to win a war that is forced upon us. But surely, so far as air warfare is concerned the methods advocated by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, are far more effective for achieving those objects than any means of passive protection. That does not mean that you can ignore or neglect passive protection; admittedly some protection is essential, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said in the last debate, to give the people confidence—to give it to more than the people: to give the soldiers, airmen 252 and sailors, the brothers and sons of the people, confidence that their people are being looked after; in a word, to maintain public morale. Passive protection will do much in that direction; but, as the noble Viscount said, it will never win a war. It can do little to deter aggression or to preserve peace, so we must not allow it to absorb too much of our national resources.
From these considerations, I suggest that two principles emerge. First, we must trust primarily to a mobile Air Force, as we trust to a mobile Navy; secondly, expenditure on passive protection must be the minimum consistent with reasonable security to civilians. In search for that minimum I ask myself a second question: Are we to assume that an enemy will seek his ends by sheer terrorisation of the civil population? If so, I would observe that even camps would not be of much use except in very distant places, because they are the best targets for incendiary bombs, gas and machine guns. The noble and gallant Viscount has, however, given the answer to that question, and I can add very little to what he has to say. I share the view that sheer terrorisation of the civilian population is not likely, and I think it is not likely because it will not accomplish its objects.
You can bomb part of the people all the time, but only a very small part; you cannot bomb all the people part of the time even if you have all the aeroplanes in the world; and least of all can you bomb all the people all the time. So that the pressure of bombing against a determined and, above all, an informed people, is too intermittent to be decisive. Instead of victory, such methods will only bring bitter and obstinate resistance, and a host of additional enemies. The aggressor would surely think of what it might provoke against him, against his weak points—all nations have weak points—and he might be thinking that if used indiscriminately bombs might become boomerangs. So I think bombing is more likely to be directed against targets whose destruction is calculated to affect the result of the war, and the losses to civilians would be a by-product of aimed bombing.
It is reasonable to assume that the heaviest attacks would be delivered against the most vital points. I think the 253 noble Viscount said "the most vital work," and I agree in that. Of course many other highly important targets will not be immune, but being considerably scattered, and very large in number, they will be rather less seriously exposed. Beyond those target areas there will be vast tracts of country where targets are few and far between, and where the most danger is from the unloading of bombs—the more or less sporadic unloading of bombs. That suggests another principle—that the maximum protection should be confined to vital work. The rest of us, if living in less threatened target areas, must be content with less costly protection, and such protection might be comparable, although not identical, with that provided for themselves by soldiers in the field, in the theatre of war, which, as shown by a speaker in a previous debate, is really very effective. I will just observe, however, that self-supporting shelters, garages, etc., even if feasible, would not be in the least inconsistent with that principle. Finally, in tracts of country beyond the target areas protection should be left entirely to local and individual effort. Even in those areas, however, A.R.P. training is desirable in order to provide a reserve to relieve A.R.P. detachments in the more heavily bombarded areas, and to give confidence.
Some such principles—I dare say they could be improved upon—would provide reasonable security, and avert squandering too much money, still the sinews of war, on the least effective forms of defence expenditure. But we ought always to bear in mind that our main defence is our mobile defence, on which our main effort must be concentrated. I want to say just a word about mobile defence and the vexed question of bombers versus fighters. When plagued with wasps, you tackle them either at the nests or the honey pot. Nests are sometimes difficult to find, and I dare say that enemy bomber aerodromes might also be difficult to find. After all, he might change them. Anyhow, they might be powerfully defended, and so it would seem that we must have strong fighter defences, as well as our bombers. Of course, when I say a fighter defence I add to that the ground defences, which, co-ordinated with the fighters, complete the scheme of defence, just as the naval bases and defended ports complete the Navy. The fighters are not open to the same objections 254 as what the noble Viscount called "holes in the ground." They are not mere palliatives. My own impression is that at the present time our lighters, in conjunction with, ground defences, would give the enemy a very bad time. Fighters might even succeed in demoralising an enemy, as our naval measures in the war succeeded in demoralising the submarine attack. Fighters can be transferred to other theatres of war, and so can the guns and lights, and so on. They contribute to winning the war and to security. They are a deterrent, and they contribute to the maintenance of peace.
As to the proportion, I think that must vary at different times. War is not an exact art. Air warfare, particularly, is in rapid course of development. We want a lot of elasticity in our arrangements. If you could imagine a perfect gun with a perfect predictor, you might not want any fighters, but the proportion varies on very technical considerations, and the Government alone have the knowledge to judge at any time what should be the proportion. For my own part I am only too glad to leave that question to the Committee of Imperial Defence, presided over by the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the noble Lord the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence.
To sum up, my Lords, I support in the main the thesis of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, but I support it as a part, a most important part, of a balanced scheme of defence, which is itself a part of a balanced scheme of Imperial Defence, in which all three Services have their parts to play. If I might diverge for one moment, by way of parenthesis, I would like say how much I welcomed the announcement in another place last week about Army developments, for the reason that it does fill in a gap in the balanced defences. The air menace will be defeated, as the submarine menace was defeated, by an immense variety of methods, properly co-ordinated. In the case of the submarine, the methods included increased shipbuilding to replace losses, reduced imports, purchase in nearer markets so as to shorten voyages, reduced consumption and control of food and most commodities, increased home production of food and other commodities, measures for turning ships more quickly in port, putting ships in convoys, the provision in the Navy of numbers of destroyers and small craft, and anti- 255 submarine material, the harnessing of science, submarine mining on a vast scale, in the end right across the Channel and even the North Sea, bombing the harbours of Zeebrugge and Ostend, where they were within reach, and, above all, the skill and enterprise of our seamen and airmen.
In the same way, air bombardment will be defeated not by any one method but by a vast co-ordinated aggregation of methods, which will include all the mass of air-raid precautions, some evacuation, some shelters, some camps, the organisation of food and other materials and of transport, anti-gas measures, fire fighting and many administrative arrangements of the same order, a co-ordinated system of anti-aircraft guns, balloon barrages, fighters, all that the enthusiastic army of scientists have contributed, are contributing, and will still contribute—and I can vouch for it that the contribution is very remarkable—and, last but not least, vigorous counter offensive.
My Lords, I feel it a privilege to follow the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships for the first time, and thus to have an opportunity of congratulating him on his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. The speech your Lordships have just listened to is a justification for an old plea of my own that we should always have a Defence Minister in your Lordships' House. I think we are much enriched by the ennobling of the noble Lord who has just addressed us and the fact that he has joined your Lordships' House. Further, it gives me very great pleasure to congratulate a member of your Lordships' House who started his great public career in that fine regiment, the Royal Marines, and I can only hope, now that he has broken the ice, that he will become a gamekeeper turned poacher and help us who take an interest in Service affairs to keep the Service Ministers aware of our existence.
If I might venture—I hope this is not too unusual—to make a comment on the contents of the noble Lord's speech when he gave us that long list of means of combating the submarine, I do not think that any of them were offensive measures. I heard the echoes of great battles in my ears as one who, from a very small position, used to advocate the offensive 256 against the submarines, and I begin to see now where some of the opposition possibly came from.
§ LORD HANKEY
If I might interrupt the noble Lord, I did mention at the end the bombing of the bases where they were within reach.
Yes, but I was referring really to those great efforts of the last War. However, I am sure your Lordships thoroughly appreciated the speech, as I did. May I also be allowed to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, on his appointment to his great office, and I do it with all the greater pleasure because it is so many years since an Admiral was a member of the Cabinet. If I may say so, we have had far too many soldiers and far too few sailors in the Cabinet in the last generation, and I am sure the noble Lord understands that I am perfectly sincere in saying that his appointment is also a compliment to the Royal Navy.
May I very respectfully support the main thesis of the noble and gallant Viscount, as the last noble Lord did? But I would make one proviso. I do hope that if we should be so unfortunate as to be involved in hostilities with Germany there will be no reprisals against German towns if they, the German Air Force, engage in frightfulness against our civil population. Your Lordships will be quite aware of what I have in mind in making that suggestion. There are plenty of military targets, and if we drop anything on towns, I hope it will be explanatory leaflets. There have been complaints in some quarters that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and the Leader of the House as First Lord of the Admiralty are members of your Lordships' House, on the grounds that, being in your Lordships' House, they are immune from criticisms or interpelations. Well, I think the two speeches that opened the debate are sufficient answer to that. There have been very important debates on defence even in the short time that I have sat in your Lordships' House. We are certainly well equipped with experts, except on this Bench, and I feel sure that your Lordships are prepared to keep a watchful eye on defence. I am equally sure that neither of the two Ministers I have mentioned who are responsible for such an important part of our defence will shirk debate in your Lordships' House.
257 Any observations that I am about to make which may sound slightly critical are not directed at the noble and gallant Lord opposite. He has only been a short time in his post. But during the time of his predecessor, Sir Thomas Inskip, there were two main faults which I think were very fully exposed. There was insufficient separation between the functions of planning and supply, and I seek support there from the very weighty speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, on a previous occasion; and secondly, there has been a lack of real liaison between the three Services. I do not want to develop these two complaints, but they are justified, and I believe the noble and gallant Lord will not deny that. There is a belated, though a feverish activity now in supplying arms and equipment of all kinds, but I suggest that there is an apparent lack of grip or clear planning of their strategic use. I hope I am wrong, but that is the impression that is formed on my mind. I think the speech of the noble and gallant Viscount rather supports that.
Might I put these questions to the noble and gallant Lord opposite? I ventured to give him private notice of them, and I hope he feels it right to reply to them. What authority or executive body in time of war will be responsible for the air defence of our merchant shipping? If what we call A.R.P. is developed in time and we have over-concentrated on passive defence, as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, suggested we may be doing, and if we supply sufficient antiaircraft guns in this country of improved calibre and range, it might pay an enemy to concentrate his long-range aircraft on our merchant shipping, and that will, I suggest, create a very difficult problem. Normally one would say the Royal Navy is responsible for the defence of shipping, but it is not so simple as that. The Naval Air Arm will be with the Fleet, which may be engaged in decisive operations a long way from our ports, engaging the enemy where the enemy can be found. Remember, we shall probably have to put our merchant shipping into convoy against the submarines, which makes them a better target for air attack. I hope we shall have the means of combating that attack and I know there are plans. With regard to distant attack in the far oceans the answer to my question is easy; that is a naval matter. But I am thinking of attack by long-range flights from the 258 shore. Who is responsible for the provision of the forces and the preparation of the plans for dealing with that? It obviously affects the Air Force as well as the Royal Navy, and I should be very glad if we could be informed whose responsibility that will be.
As I am on this point, may I say that the Field Army which we are told is going to consist of nineteen divisions, will need a lot of fighters. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, suggested that we might be building too many fighters. I am sure he has not overlooked the increased Army we are to send to the Continent. If I had time I would rather like to say a word about that, which has rather exercised my noble friends and my right honourable friends in another place. The Field Army will certainly need very heavy Air forces. Who is going to decide between these conflicting claims? I have raised this matter in your Lordships' House before. That was when the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was in another place, and I feel, in the circumstances, it is right to raise it again. Who is going to decide? The Committee of Imperial Defence, that unwieldy changing body? Or the Cabinet, another unwieldy body, and we can be perfectly certain that in the event of war it will be a greatly changed body, for there is nothing like a war to shake out inefficiency in the Cabinet. It seems to be the only thing that can do it. What executive body is going to decide on these claims?
Following on that comes this further specific question: What is the actual executive authority for the air defence of Britain as a whole? We have the Royal Air Force with its fighters, interceptors, and so on; we have the Army with its guns and searchlights; we have the Home Office with its measures; and we have the Admiralty coming in obviously because of the possibility of using naval artillery in air attack and because of the great naval areas, the dockyards, which have to be defended. Who is responsible for the defence of the country as a whole? What executive body? What is the executive staff? Does it exist? Do the people know each other? Are they used to working together? Do they understand one another's mentality? Are they a team? It is, I suggest, a matter of teamwork. Is there a combined General Staff for this duty? I apologise if I am asking what 259 is obvious and should be known to everyone, but I have never heard of it. I should be comforted if the noble Lord would give me some assurance.
The next matter is a little outside the noble Lord's bailiwick. We have been invited by the Leader of the House to widen this debate, and I hope the noble Viscount will not mind if I widen the debate which he has initiated. I am disturbed about the matter of transport. The Minister of Transport is a very able man. Ministers of Transport always are able men, but they are not in the Cabinet as a rule. This is too vital a matter to leave to any member of the "second eleven." I give one example—the western exits from London. We have to evacuate part of the people of London and to move our troops, and the whole question of transport in time of war is of the greatest importance. This matter has been dealt with in your Lordships' House by Lord Howe with great ability, if I may say so, but I do not see any activity in this direction. We are going on with the old system of straightening corners and making by-passes. Whenever there is a Rugby match at Twickenham the western exits are jammed, and that is in time of peace. I was hopelessly jammed the other day. I asked a policeman on duty—I had plenty of time to talk to him—and he said it happened forty week-ends in a year. If that happens in peace time, what would happen in war time I do not know. The noble Lord has his power and prestige and great ability, and I do hope this matter is not being overlooked.
I come to a military-political question which I suggest is of very great importance indeed. There is something in our political strategy which I suggest does not make sense. I refer to the Staff conversations going on with the French, which are very necessary and desirable, but there is an absence of Staff conversations with the Russians. I hope that no noble Lord opposite is going to be upset by what I am going to say. I am not talking politics, I am talking strategy. Surely such conversations are very necessary after the events of the last forty-eight hours, during which the Munich policy of His Majesty's Government has been shattered to pieces, and they know it. My information is that while these Staff talks with the French have gone a very 260 long way, and have been very successful, I am glad to hear, there has been no response to the invitation from the Russians extended at the time of the Anschluss between Germany and Austria last spring, and again last September. No notice has been taken, or at any rate conversations have not been held. I repeat that this does not make sense. We are obliged to support France if she is attacked and threatened with destruction. This is accepted by all Parties in the State. We are obliged to defend the integrity of the Low Countries, Belgium and Holland. No doubt the implications of these obligations have been discussed with the French—that is elementary—but France has an alliance with Russia within the framework of the League of Nations.
I make no apology for mentioning the Covenant of the League of Nations because it is, in Parliamentary language, still on the Statute Book, and despite the Prime Minister's personal foreign policy we have never actually repudiated the League. The machinery exists, and it has been used to a limited extent quite recently in the Sino-Japanese conflict. Under the League Covenant Russia, amongst other nations, is, I believe, entitled or expected to enter into negotiations in the event of aggression, to see how to implement the Covenant. There is no reason I have been able to discover why these Staff conversations with Russia should not take place. I can quite understand the smaller nations for whom we are responsible, the Belgians and the Dutch, being reluctant to come out into the open at this time and annoy a powerful neighbour. Polish policy is also understandable, because they want to remain neutral as long as possible while maintaining their French alliance. But none of these considerations apply to Russia.
Last September, when things looked very black, when apparently Herr Hitler was unaware of his part in the game being played, and when it seemed we might be involved in war after all, Russia was being referred to as an ally. If there is another major crisis Russia's influence can be very important indeed, and she could come into any new dispute as a Member of the League of Nations. Surely it is elementary common sense to engage in Staff talks. We keep naval, military, and air attachés in Moscow. I do hope that no noble Lord is going to jeer, as 261 my noble friend Lord Ponsonby did on a former occasion, and say that there are no Staff officers left in Russia. That is a very silly thing to say, and that is not believed in Berlin. If your Lordships trouble to look at the German Service papers written for professional officers of the German fighting Services, you will there see that the Russian forces are regarded as formidable. Recently M. Stalin complained—it has been published in the newspapers—of a supposed plot to canalise German aggression against Russia in order to preserve British and French safety. That was the complaint. I cannot believe that any sane member of the present Government would support such a plot. It would be as foolish as it would be wicked; but it is what is believed that matters, and that this should be believed and expressed by the most powerful man in Russia, even although he is only head of the Party organisation, is very unfortunate. The best way, I suggest, to remove the impression which has been formed is by accepting the invitation to hold the Staff talks. I suggest also that these Staff talks would have a calming and appeasing effect on would-be aggressors.
I had intended to say a word or two on broad principles about certain Army matters, but I do not want to stand in the way of your Lordships and other speakers, and I do not propose to say anything about them. But I would venture to ask the Government whether a suitable occasion could not be found to make a clear statement on our naval strategy. I understand it would be directed to attacking a naval enemy wherever that enemy is in a position to do us damage. This does not, of course, mean attacking a hostile fleet in it own home, defended waters, especially in view of the growth of the Air Arm everywhere. I ask for this statement because I was recently in New Zealand and Australia, and I found there that a deplorable effect had been produced by a speech last year of the Prime Minister in March. I am quite sure this speech was no: meant to be read as it has been read in the Antipodes. The Prime Minister summarised the three tasks of defence, and I told my friends in New Zealand and Australia that I was certain this was only a numerical summary. They, unfortunately, took it as a chronological summary, and thought the Prime Minister was stating these tasks of defence 262 in order of importance. The three were: the defence of our home territories, the defence of our trade routes, and then any overseas Dominions that were attacked.
I am summarising, and this, as I say, was misunderstood in both Australia and New Zealand as being meant chronologically. They thought that they were going to be the last to be supported in case they were attacked. There is an impression in both those Dominions amongst very patriotic fellow subjects of ours, who believe in and want to help the country and to help themselves, that we may not be able to send them naval assistance if they are attacked. Surely we are strong enough to attack any expedition sent against any part of the King's overseas possessions. I am speaking of naval attack. I imagine we are strong enough for that purpose. I cannot forget that our anxiety in the last War was to induce our enemies to put to sea at all, apart from submarines. I suggested to friends in Australia and New Zealand that if it were heard in Whitehall that a hostile squadron had set sail for the South Pacific there would be great joy, because it would be exactly what we wanted, and we would be after it very quickly. But I think that should be said authoritatively, and that the mischief unwittingly caused by the Prime Minister's unfortunate phraseology should be put right as soon as possible by someone able to speak with authority. If we are not strong enough now to counter-attack anywhere in the seven seas then our efforts are being wrongly directed. If that is so then I suggest there is something unsound in our Imperial strategy. It means we are spending too much money and effort in the wrong direction.
Since the present Government took office there has been a succession of international crises. Sometimes they have brought us almost to the verge of war, and every time some grave weakness has been exposed. Your Lordships are well aware what weaknesses were exposed in the crisis of 1935. I am not disclosing any secrets in referring to them. Malta was weakly defended, and Alexandria was unprepared, while the War Office suddenly woke up and discovered that there was a new land frontier to be defended between Egypt and Libya, which, apparently, they had not heard of before. Statements were made and believed by all sorts of people that there 263 was a shortage of ammunition for the Fleet. That, I think, has been denied, but it is still put about that there was not enough ammunition. So much for 1935. The Government, it will be suggested, had only been four years in office, and no doubt had not been able to catch up. That was the Italian crisis. Then we come to 1938, the crisis of last year. The mobilisation of the Fleet went very well indeed, as we know, but Gibraltar, as we have just heard from the then Governor, was practically undefended against air attack. Most of what is called A.R.P. was chaotic, and there was a criminal shortage of anti-aircraft guns. Certain important points abroad, which I do not wish to specify, were practically undefended.
If our politics to-day were normal, and if the Conservative Party, if I may venture to say so, had done its duty, the Government would have been swept out of office for the weaknesses in defence in 1938. However, there the Government still are and now we have some fresh blood. I have already welcomed the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and he will understand that my welcome to him is perfectly sincere. I do not think I have been incorrect in reference to the weaknesses that were exposed, and indeed acknowledged by the Government, in the last two crises of 1935 and 1938. What weaknesses will be exposed in the next crisis, if one comes? I suggest that it is the Government's duty to remove them. It is not necessary for me to mention to the noble and gallant Lord what those weaknesses are, and to urge him to remove them. I have ventured to suggest and indicate where I think some of those weaknesses are to be found.
THE EARL OF CAVAN
My Lords, the speeches of my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard and Lord Hankey, who followed him placed this debate on such a high plane that I apologise to your Lordships for making, very shortly, two or three observations on a lower plane which, I hope, will be helpful to the Government in their very difficult task of preparing this country to meet an aggressor. I do not think it possible or even desirable that moneys voted for the Services should be divided into watertight compartments of attack and defence, but I support the Motion of my noble and gallant friend in principle because I consider 264 that the public have had their perfectly natural fear of air raids unduly heightened. I have noticed a tendency, not in Government publications but in certain speeches and articles, to prey upon the nerves of the population rather than to give them a clarion call to use those valorous qualities which history proves our people to possess. I perfectly sympathise with this natural fear, but I think it is time that the public were reassured.
Lord Hankey, in his most eloquent and interesting speech, used a very telling phrase when he talked of informed people. There are, I am glad to say, large numbers of men still alive who served in the late War and who know what fear is and who have learned how to behave when frightened. This very precious national asset should not be wasted. These men should be encouraged by Ministers' speeches and by articles in the Press to put good heart into their own households and in those with whom they come in contact. They should be encouraged to put forth in the simplest language the odds against attackers, and to show that every man or woman who enlists for National Service adds a point or two to those odds. People should be told of the enormous odds on the safety of their particular family, far larger than the extremest odds they would get from their weekly football pools or on the double event in the Lincoln and the National.
On pages 9 to 12 of the National Service Handbook you will find forty-five forms of service, open to men and women. In all these but four, you are rejected if you are fifty. Only the Royal Air Force Civilian Wireless Reserve is open to men of fifty-five. The other three are women's services, open for ladies up to sixty-five. I think in these days of vigorous middle age and far longer expectancy of life, this is absurd. For National Service there should be no age limit, only a strict medical examination. I am sure your Lordships will agree that some of us old boys are pretty vigorous. I should like to see a Class Z Service Reserve, and following the example of France in the employment of my old friend Maréchal Petain, I should like to see one of our Marshals in command of the inland section of Class Z, an Admiral of the Fleet in command of the sea and coast section and a Marshal of the Royal Air Force in charge of protection of all aerodromes. You will want us very badly 265 when the battle is joined, for protection of vulnerable points. This is not a job for women, but, on the other hand, it is a waste of men of thirty to fifty. It is a job for the unceasing vigilance of those who have served and will be burning to serve their country again.
I would like to say one word in conclusion about the Expeditionary Force. I do not like this curiosity as to its employment. I hope the Secretary of State for War will divulge nothing further than he has done, remembering that the object of strategy is still to mystify, mislead and surprise your enemy. Let us have plans by all means—yes, and alternative plans—but I beg that they be kept secret, for it is certain that if you keep your enemy guessing you will contain far more of the hostile reserves than you will by taking up an alignment on a fixed frontage to which, once placed, you are perpetually committed.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, like my noble friend the noble and gallant Field Marshal, I rise to make a few observations on the scheme of defence. Although my old friend and colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, devoted his remarks to the Air Service, on which he speaks with such great authority, there are other things in defence. We who in past years, not only in another place, but in your Lordships' House, continually asked the Government of the day to give us co-ordination, not only in protection but in the supply of material, are at last getting what we have long asked for. May I say with what happiness I see the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, in office as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I look upon him as Chief of the grand General Staff directing the united forces of this country.
As the noble Earl, Lord Cavan, truly said, you cannot divide to-day the various responsibilities of the various forces. They all overlap and all must come into one mighty whole. I think there has been a misconception of what the Secretary of State for War has in view. It is wise to think of what the Navy did in the last War. When the Expeditionary Force, of which I had the honour to be one, departed from these shores, the Navy had made sure that it had control of the sea. I venture to suggest that that would be necessary again in any war in which we are engaged. 266 Further than that, we shall undoubtedly have to get control of the air before we can send transports over to France. When we think of the vulnerability of ships and harbours and dumps for stores, surely control of the air will have to be thought out before we can risk such a hazardous enterprise as passing divisions to France. A preconception of the way in which you are going to use your forces before you know what is the situation of the enemy is a very hazardous thing. When the Expeditionary Force went to France in 1914 it suffered at first from a concentration which had been arranged long before war actually broke out.
A second point to be considered in connection with the Expeditionary Force is that the Army has very much changed. We have now got a mechanised Army, and that means an enormous weight of material, an enormous weight of spare parts, replacement vehicles, workshops and everything that pertains to the movement of mechanical vehicles. Then there is the question of the supply of oil. On that I would like to ask the noble Lord who will reply to the debate, whether he is satisfied that our oil supply is sufficient and that it is stored in such places as not to be too vulnerable. I raised this matter in 1935, because I had a feeling that the question is really of tremendous moment to this country. Without oil our machines cannot function and it seems to me that in this country we want to see that our reserves are stored in such places as are least likely to be damaged by enemy air attack.
There is one point of detail to which I would draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War. It is a small one which may be overlooked. In May, 1917, I was brought home from France as Director of Organisation and my task at first was extremely difficult, because it included the reorganisation of the personnel then in the Army. We found that the very finest instrument makers, dental mechanics and all kinds of experienced people were used in a stupid way in infantry battalions, driving wagons and doing menial work. I hope that the personnel will be very carefully indexed as to their ability and their usual task in the commercial world, so that when we have use for experienced personnel, they can give service which they have learnt in peace time. The danger of enlisting generally for the Territorial 267 Force is that many skilled men may get into the ranks. I was discussing this question with an American friend after the War. He said that was one of the difficulties they had in dealing with the fine personnel they had in the American Army, and they were preparing now, in the event of any further use for men of that kind, that they would take the greatest care in card-indexing them. I venture to suggest that the card index ought to consist of one card for the unit to which they go and one card at headquarters, so that any movement of that individual can be recorded at headquarters and there found by means of blowing machines when you pull out any type of particular tray to which the men belong whom you want in your munition production, or for any other work.
The third question I should like to ask is whether the noble Lord is satisfied about our supply. We have this enormous production and enormous expansion in the air. We are getting a great expansion in our Army and, as you well know, we are getting an enormous expansion in the Navy. Is he satisfied that we have sufficient reserves of guns, machines and ammunition? The waste that goes on, especially in modern war, is such that unless we have these very large reserves behind us now we shall not be able to catch up in time of war. It is really of vital importance that we should have reserves of all kinds of arms, down to the rifle, actually in being now, and that those should be available so that when the day comes we shall have sufficient arms, clothing and everything else to equip those who volunteer for service.
The next point that I should like to mention is that we have commitments—unfortunately large commitments—now in the Near East. I have always thought that as air attack has become more and more accurate and more and more dangerous to all kinds of craft and depots on the land, we ought to have a bigger force in the Near East as a permanent part of our defensive forces in the Near East, so that in the case of our wanting to deal with situations either in India or in the Far East we should be able to shunt them on quickly and replace them from this country. The effect of the long delay and the dangerous waters through which they may—I do not say they will—have to go would be very much mitigated if 268 we could have permanent forces—if you like to give them a name—somewhere in Palestine, or somewhere like that, so that they could be used as a shunt in case they are needed.
Just two things more. I wonder if it would not be possible for the Government to look at the unemployment in Barbados. Jamaica, Trinidad and those places and revive the old West India Regiment. They might be a very useful force, and you have the stabilising effects of His Majesty's uniform, which I know from experience in Africa has a wonderful effect on native population, especially the Zulus and others. If you could give them a uniform and found a couple of battalions in each island, give them a force in which they can serve, you might find them of the greatest use, and, I am sure, of very good fighting quality in the case of war.
The last thing I should like to say is that I was very much impressed by, and I entirely agree with, what the noble and gallant Field Marshal Lord Cavan has said about the effect of propaganda and the danger of over-emphasizing the force of air raids in this country. We are not very good at propaganda—at least we do not seem to be. I do not know whether we are so insidious that it is there all the time. But all the same I think the Government might do more in a news service. By a news service I mean a world news service like Reuters, the Havas Press, or something like that. I am sure that if we used such a great organisation, coupled with wireless, which had its distribution all over the world, for a comparatively small expense we could develop a very fine British news service, which would give a British flavour and a British turn to the various forms of news that go out to the world. That insidious propaganda is of the very greatest value, because the continued repetition of headlines in the Press through news services does undoubtedly put people's nerves on edge. It is really a weapon of war, and I think the Government might do something and get good value for small expenditure on that type of service.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the debate this afternoon has ranged over a number of very technical matters in which I have no competence and do not intend to intervene. One 269 matter, however, arises out of the speech of the noble and gallant Viscount to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention. I thought the noble Viscount was very impressive in what he said to your Lordships. I remember very well as a subordinate officer having something to do with the noble Viscount in the War: I found him very impressive then, and I venture to say that he is no less impressive in the manner in which he has addressed your Lordships to-day.
The one point to which I wish to refer was mentioned by the noble Viscount: that is the danger of an unfortunate effect on the smaller nations of any undue emphasis of the defensive nature of our armaments. It is a platitude—I do not know if it has been mentioned in this debate—that offence is the best defence; but if we go on emphasizing that our armaments are defensive, and defensive alone, the smaller nations will begin to wonder if we will help them if they are ever in a position to need our help. The noble Viscount mentioned the point, but it struck me as a layman, knowing nothing about armaments, as one of the most important points in his speech. I hope that the Government will bear in mind, when making pronouncements in future about our strength in armaments, that it is better not to give the impression that we are so defensive that we could not act, and act effectively, to help our friends, be they weak or strong, as the case required.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, this time I am only going to keep your Lordships for six minutes. The noble Viscount in his speech gave the object of His Majesty's Naval Forces if war came. May I more categorically state those objects? The object of His Majesty's Naval Service has always been, and is now, to seek out the enemy's ships wherever they are to be found and destroy them. That does not apply quite so comprehensively to the Royal Air Force, because, as the noble Viscount has implied, one of their chief objects is to concentrate on and destroy munition factories, aerodromes and communications behind the line. He wants, of course, increased offensive power to do so. I have listened with very great respect to the speech made by the noble Viscount from his great experience, and it is with diffidence that I venture to raise one or two points. I 270 agree with him in very much, but there are what I consider limiting factors, and I should be much obliged if the noble and gallant Lord who replies for the Government will say whether I have stated them correctly or not.
The first limiting factor seems to me to be the size of the air striking force which we all agree is essential if the maximum damage is to be inflicted on the enemy's resources for making war on us. First, the increased range of bombing has naturally led to increase in the number and extent of the localities which may have to be defended in this country. I am sure your Lordships agree that it would be bad for the morale of our working population that industrial localities—and, of course, by that I mean the factories which would be there, the munition factories and so on—which are within the range of modern aircraft should be left undefended. One must bear in mind that there would be tremendous loss in man-working hours due to air raids, air-raid warnings and false warnings. This, we know, happened in the last War. If I am right in thinking it is a limiting factor, I submit that the first thing is to provide for the defence of these localities by fighter aircraft besides ground defence. I speak with great diffidence as a naval officer, but I have been inquiring about it, and it is only after these essential needs have been met that we can consider the size of the striking force which is to be provided, and that will, of course, depend upon the amount of money available when these needs, and also the needs of the air fighting services, have been considered.
War in the air, I make bold to say, will be won by the country which is able to keep its industries going the longest against the offensive power of the enemy. Therefore, surely it is vital that the munitions and aeroplane factories which are the sinews of war should be strongly protected before anything else. Again, may I emphasize this, that the country which is unable to keep up a continual supply of munitions stands a good chance of losing the War. The noble Viscount may consider that to be a point in his favour, but I would like to see a balance between bombers and fighters, and I have tried to state the reasons why I think it would be dangerous to sacrifice entirely defence for offence.
271 The second limiting factor would seem to be the difficulty of providing in the proper strategic areas the aerodrome facilities which are necessary in order to allow the striking force to operate. Your Lordships, I am sure, have become accustomed to the outcries which are continually being raised in the Press whenever any land is allocated for aerodrome purposes, and I submit that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find land suitable for aerodromes in this very congested island. For that reason this appears to me to be a serious limiting factor in the development of our air offensive force. I should like to be assured by the noble Lord when he replies that the limiting factors are not so serious as I have been suggesting, because I thoroughly agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that we should have the largest striking force we can afford and for which we can find the necessary facilities in this small country.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I would like to thank Lord Trenchard for having put this very important Motion down to-day, and to say that I strongly support it. I agree with him, however, that since the Motion was put down it has been partly answered by what has been said in another place when the Army and Air Estimates were introduced, because from them we know that a good deal is being done for which this Resolution asks. The particular point that I wish very strongly to call attention to has not been mentioned this afternoon, but it is definitely connected with the second part of the Motion, and that is the question of supply. I find that this question was last discussed in this House about three and a half months ago—namely, on November 1 and 2. Nearly every speaker in that debate, including Lord Trenchard and Lord Milne, an ex-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Lord Swinton, an ex-Secretary of State for Air, asked the Government if they would set up an organisation on the lines of the Ministry of Munitions in the last War, though not necessarily with such great powers as that Ministry had then. This request was refused by the Government spokesman on the ground that it was not necessary in peace time, and that in peace time you could not give compulsory powers to such 272 a body without causing great dislocation of industry.
I would ask that this question should be now reconsidered, because first of all I think no one would deny that we are living in quite unprecedented times and our armed forces must be prepared for any emergency which may arise. Then I think it will be generally agreed that we have a great deal to do in equipping our armed forces. Your Lordships will remember it was stated in another place the other day that the Expeditionary Force is to be increased from 6 to 19 divisions. From such inquiries as I have been able to make, there is general agreement that a Ministry of this kind will be necessary in war time, and I think experience shows that it would have been all the better for us if such a Ministry had existed, even in a modified form, at the beginning of the last War. I would just point out to your Lordships that this Ministry could be formed by amalgamating the supply sections of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It would therefore be amalgamation, and not the creation of a new Department, because such a Ministry under a Minister would be well versed in its duties, and could start work with the minimum of delay. For all those reasons I would ask His Majesty's Government to consider very carefully whether the time has not now come when such a Ministry should be set up.
§ THE MINISTER FOR THE CO-ORDINATION OF DEFENCE (LORD CHATFIELD)
My Lords, we have had a most instructive and interesting debate on the Motion raised by my noble and gallant friend Viscount Trenchard. I warmly welcome his raising this particular question. If I say that I entirely agree, as I do, with the whole spirit of his speech, I think it would probably best give him the assurances that he needs, but I cannot confine myself to merely saying that. I am not quite sure that I am prepared, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, to go so far as to give him the assurance that he asks for in conclusion, that we intend to build up a military force that will be the terror of all aggressors, but I think the Bill that your Lordships' House will debate to-morrow will anyhow show the Government's general intentions as regards our military forces.
273 The offensive and the defensive are never easy to define definitely. They are often very much misunderstood. As the Prime Minister said not long ago, "Our policy is defence—not defiance and not deference." This use of the term "defence" does not mean that we have become defensively minded in the military sense, or that we do not intend to have both the will and the means to strike back if we are attacked. As a peaceful race we naturally speak in peace of defending ourselves rather than of attacking others, and it is for this reason that that great machine, for example, of which I am the Deputy Chairman, is called the Committee of Imperial Defence. As has been mentioned this afternoon, we talk of the noble art of self-defence, but the hallmark of the successful prizefighter is his capacity to attack. Our whole system of Imperial strategy must be founded on having secure bases from which our armed forces, and particularly our Navy, can operate. The most important by far of those bases is the United Kingdom itself, the very heart of the Empire. Any prolonged interruption of the productive activities of these islands or in the flow of food and raw materials on which they depend, would severely strain the heart, and if it were ever to stop beating the whole Empire would collapse. That is perhaps a relevant point to the reference which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made to the Prime Minister's speech last March.
The primary interest of the whole Empire is to ensure that these islands are secure. Like our warships, they must have their armour as well as their guns, so that no irretrievable unlucky blow will prevent their crews from having time to assert their superiority. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said in his maiden speech, nothing would be worse for the morale of those fighting overseas than to have in the back of their minds anxieties for those whom they have left at home. It is for such general reasons that the security of the United Kingdom itself has from time immemorial been a paramount consideration. Before the days of air warfare, the only danger lay in seaborne attack. To-day, the danger that we have most in mind is a different one, and the necessity for providing an adequate defence against it is even more imperative because of the extreme suddenness and rapidity with which it 274 may be developed. There was a time when the problem of dealing with the bomber was regarded by the people of this country with something akin to despair. Such feelings are no longer justified, if indeed they were ever justified. Developments in recent years at any rate have undoubtedly reduced the old supremacy of the offensive over the defensive in air warfare. There is, however, a clear and imperative responsibility on His Majesty's Government to develop fully the efficiency of what may be termed the close defences of the country—the fighters, the anti-aircraft guns, the searchlights, the balloons, and so on—and the intricate technique that lies behind them; and the higher technical and scientific skill at our command is pressing ahead unremittingly with what I consider to be vital work.
But while there would have been no excuse whatever for neglect to carry our close defences to the highest pitch of efficiency and technical development, it must be realised, and the Government have, I think, always realised, that this is only a part—I repeat, only a part, vitally important as it is—of what is necessary for sound air strategy. Let us be careful, however, not to be misled by the very obviousness of our defences, which is always with us. One can imagine the old knights in armour and the fair Rowenas of the day chaffing them for covering themselves in breastplates and shields and helmets. Those things they could see, but what are never so apparent are the deeds that they are going to do in the future if war starts. It is the very obviousness of your defences that of course impresses them every day on your minds. Now we live in these islands in what is practically a fortress, and metaphorically we see all around us the fortifications and the turrets and the ramparts and the trenches and so on. But we must not let ourselves be misled by the fact of these things being so near us in peace. It is to other things as well that we have to trust, but which do not show themselves so clearly in peace.
A sound system of national defence against air attack may be said to have three components. There is, first, the active and static close defences, the effectiveness of both of which has, as I have said, been greatly enhanced in recent 275 years. Then there is the passive defence, which includes not only A.R.P. but also the organisation of the country as a whole to withstand disturbance from air attack, which might upset the very maintenance of our fighting forces all over the world. Last but by no means least, there is the counter-offensive force, which is not only an essential component of air defence—namely, a means by which we can reduce the scale of attack that the enemy can bring to bear against us—but is also a formidable means of countering by similar methods the pressure that an aggressor may endeavour to put on us. No country which wishes to be strong in the air can afford to neglect any one of these three components, and I can assure the noble and gallant Viscount that none of them is being neglected. Mere counterattack as your only method of reply will be, after all, very much of the nature of a timeless test, but principles of strategy are immutable. The way to stop air warfare is to destroy the air fleets of your enemy, just as the Navy's aim, for example, is to destroy his submarine fleets.
The Secretary of State for Air stated recently that our requirements for fighters depended upon two main factors—the size and shape of the area to be defended and the weight of attack likely to be launched against it. A careful appreciation has been made on the basis of these factors and the necessary plans have been drawn up. In accordance with those plans the strength of the fighter force is being considerably augmented. But the adequacy of our counter-offensive force has also been the subject of an equally careful scrutiny, and measures to strengthen it are also actively in hand. As to the quality of our counter-offensive equipment, it may be added that the latest types of bomber now being delivered to the Royal Air Force are believed to be the best in the world. The fact indeed that His Majesty's Government are aiming at a well-balanced system, which includes that number of fighting aircraft which their military advisers consider a proper proportion, having regard to the particular defence problems which confront us, does not for a single moment mean that our strategic policy has been reversed and is being based on a mainly defensive attitude. On the contrary, it is their fixed determination, as has been 276 previously said in both Houses, to build up a counter-offensive force of such strength as may, in conjunction with our fighter aircraft and batteries, deter an aggressor from attacking us at all, or, if it should unhappily fail to do this, as will enable us to use all the necessary means both for attack and defence.
Similarly, as regards our other Defence Services, it would be a great mistake to imagine that in the construction of our ships and other weapons we are not aiming at a proper balance between attack and defence, just as it would be to imagine, as I know my noble friend does not imagine, that in our schools, in our technical training, and in the minds of our commanders, attack and defence are not properly balanced according to the problem that is being studied. Finally, as I have not too much time to deal longer with the noble Viscount's Motion, I would say this, that I am convinced that just as we have been able for many centuries to rely with confidence on our sailors to seek out and destroy the fleets of an enemy, so we shall be able to trust in future to our airmen, supported on land by our soldiers, to defend in a similar manner these islands from the air fleets of any aggressor.
Now, if I may, I shall leave the Motion of the noble Viscount to answer some of the rather large number of questions that have been raised by other noble Lords during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has asked a number of questions which I have no doubt interested the House as a whole. He has asked about the air defence of our merchant shipping—what authority or body is responsible for the air defence of our Mercantile Marine? I know, having been on the Chiefs of Staff Committee for six years, that there is no question which has been more fully considered than this one. It is not, and cannot be, the individual responsibility of any one Service as it used to be. Merchant shipping might be subjected to different forms of attack from what used to be the case. So the Admiralty and the Air Ministry are both responsible for different aspects of its air defence.
But it must not be imagined that they work in watertight compartments. I do not think it is right to say that the liaison between the Services is bad, as has been 277 said this afternoon. Personally I never found it so. You can easily make it bad or you can easily make it good, but you cannot lay down any law which will make it one or the other. Whether the liaison between the three Services is good or bad, I suggest, depends on the individuals who are trying to combine together. The whole spirit of the three Services at the present time is to combine, and everything that we are doing—all the work in training our young officers together—is gradually bearing fruit. They are working in active collaboration in their combined responsibility for the arrangements of the defence of our merchant shipping as a whole, under directions given from time to time by the Committee of Imperial Defence. The problem of the air defence of our shipping is not an easy one. I do not know that we shall ever solve it completely in peace until we have had some war experience to guide us, but I shall consider it my own duty, in so far as it is my duty as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, to pay most particular attention to that aspect of our war preparations.
The noble Lord also asked another question about the air defence of Great Britain—what is the actual executive authority for the air defence, who really is going to be responsible, and are we going to have a really good muddle in the future as we have sometimes had in past history? The plans for the defence of the United Kingdom against air attack are, of course, made and they are kept under constant review by a standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. This Committee has the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Fighter Command as Chairman, and its membership includes the General Officer Commanding the Anti-Aircraft Corps, the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who deals with coast defence and anti-aircraft, and the representatives of the operational staffs of all three Services. Further, the Committee of Imperial Defence ensures the co-ordination of these three Services—that is, the active defence—with the air raids precautionary organisation of the country. There is thus, in effect, a combined General Staff dealing with the problem of home defence against air attack in all its aspects. The executive authority for implementing the air defence schemes as a whole is the Air Ministry.
278 All the component parts of the Home Defence system, including the anti-aircraft guns and the searchlights which are provided by the War Office, are also under the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Fighter Command for operational purposes. In order further to ensure the closest co-operation between all the component parts of the system, the peace headquarters of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Fighter Command and of the General Officer Commanding the Anti-Aircraft Corps are at the same place, and also they are in the very closest touch at all times, as I have myself witnessed. Unified control is similarly effected throughout the whole system of the air defence of Great Britain between the Army and the Royal Air. Force and, where necessary, with the Royal Navy at the various subordinate operational headquarters. By this means the full resources of each Service, which are not and cannot be completely found in any one Service, are, I believe, combined to the best advantage.
The noble Lord asked a further question about our transport arrangements. I am afraid I am rather out of my depth there, but I know more about it than the noble Lord in one respect—namely, that the Minister of Transport is in the Cabinet while he thought he was riot. I may say that while the efforts we are making to improve road matters necessarily admit imperfection, at present at any rate, in war London will be very well served by rail. The Minister of Transport has got the need for improving the road exits from London very actively in mind. A great deal is being done and will be done, and is planned to be done, to improve the present state of affairs, which we chiefly know from our weekend peregrinations, and also to ensure in war that our transport system does not break down through any failure of that sort. I do not think I can say anything that is useful about Staff conversations with Russia. I have noted the noble Lord's views, but actually no exchanges of military information with the Soviet Union exist except through the normal and ordinary contacts that are being maintained through our respective Service attachés.
I think that covers most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. But some other important questions have been raised which I might deal with. 279 Lord Hutchison of Montrose mentioned the question of the strength of the Army and its employment, and, although I do not propose to give your Lordships a dissertation on that, because you probably have all been reading the Army Estimates and know almost as much about it as I do, I would like to reinforce what has been said by the Secretary of State for War in another place by reaffirming that the whole, or any part of the Field Force, will be used, of course, as and how the future may require. As to the size of the instrument our plans are shaping, I will repeat the details as follows:Regular Army, four infantry divisions and two armoured divisions; Territorial, nine infantry divisions, three motorised divisions and an armoured division. In addition, there are two Territorial cavalry brigades, and a number of unbrigaded units, Regular and Territorial, making more than nineteen divisions in all.Of course every British soldier that will fight will have to be transported overseas and every vehicle—and they are very considerable in number as far as I can understand in these days in the Army—also has to be transported overseas. So the shipping problem for transportation is a very big one and is being completely organised. But in any case the various divisions of our Army that are referred to could not proceed overseas simultaneously. Our plans contemplate their proceeding in echelons on a time-table. In order that it may be possible for us to deliver our maximum effort in a Continental war, should need arise, the productive potential which we are preparing in this country, together with accumulated reserves, and the new capacity which could be created and brought into operation, must be made sufficient to equip and maintain each echelon as it is deployed.
The noble Lord, Lord Hutchison of Montrose, also asked me whether I was satisfied about our oil supplies and their vulnerability. I am satisfied that we are taking all steps to make our oil supplies what they should be, and to make them as reasonably invulnerable as they can be made. The noble Lord also raised the point as to whether the proper Territorial recruits should be employed according to their profession—a musician to join the band, a Royal Academician to be able to paint the captain's cabin, and so on. I am sure that every step will be taken 280 to endeavour to meet that suggestion by our Army Council and the Admiralty. I do not think the noble Lord need have any anxiety as to our intentions about our reserves. I do not suppose there is anything in Whitehall which gives more concern and which is more often under consideration than this particular question of the complete adequacy of our reserves.
Now, my Lords, as this is the first time I have addressed you since I have taken up my new duties, I should like to say a few words about those duties as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I should like to thank the noble Lords who this afternoon have spoken such kind words about my appointment. As your Lordships will be debating the Defence Loans Bill to-morrow it may be opportune if I take the time that remains in making a few general reflections. Firstly, I should like to take the opportunity, which I have long been anxious to secure, to say a brief word about my predecessor and the great work that he accomplished. Let me remind your Lordships that when, in 1936, the office of Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was created, it was decided to appoint to the post a man of a preeminently fair and judicial mind, one, shall I say, who would weigh evidence for what it was worth apart from the personality of the individual, however distinguished, who was giving the evidence, and one who, by the very lack of previous experience of the fighting Services, would be entirely impartial, thus enabling him to settle certain outstanding differences which at that time existed between those Services and their protagonists. It is well known what confidence he created in all the three Services, and how successful he was in furthering those harmonious relations for which it is just to emphasize that they themselves have striven and still are striving.
But over and above this task he had suddenly to face the quite separate but immense problem of rearmament. The fact that we expect in the forthcoming year to be able to spend no less than £580,000,000 on defence is in itself, I suggest, a very powerful tribute to what he and his colleagues, the Defence Ministers and their staffs, have accomplished during the last two years in building up our manufacturing capacity. In the short time since I and my colleague, the Chancellor of the Duchy of 281 Lancaster, were appointed to our present posts I have been able to see how immense was the burden which Sir Thomas Inskip so courageously carried during the last three years, and how much the country owes to him and how much my own responsibilities are eased by starting where he left off.
The position generally as regards the allocation of duties between myself and the Chancellor of the Duchy has already been explained by the Prime Minister in another place. I may, however, recall that the Chancellor of the Duchy has been appointed Chairman of the Principal Supply Officers' Committee, Chairman of the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Man-Power, and President of the Oil Board. It is the intention that the Chancellor of the Duchy should devote a considerable part of his time to supply and manpower problems, and thereby relieve me from consideration of those numerous and tiresome day-to-day problems which involve administrative detail under those two headings. Thus we shall be able to follow the well-established practice in day-to-day administration of having both a Staff and material side on co-ordination. At the same time, as Minister for the Co-ordination for Defence, I shall necessarily retain an overriding responsibility over the whole field of duties connected with the co-ordination of defence as laid down in the White Paper of 1936. Broadly speaking, this may be defined as those aspects of defence which arise from a central review of defence problems as a whole and which cannot adequately be dealt with within the sphere of any single Minister concerned with defence from a departmental standpoint. The appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy will thus enable me, while retaining responsibility for co-ordination in the whole field, to devote more time to other and more important aspects of my duties—for example, the general supervision of control from day to day, on the Prime Minister's behalf, of the immense organisation and activity of the Committee of Imperial Defence; the discernment of any points which may not have been taken up or are being taken up too slowly, and taking appropriate measures for their rectification; and personal consultation with the Chiefs of Staff. Further, I hope I shall be able to find time to educate myself properly—as I have already done last week by visiting 282 the two air commands and some of our Air defences—as regards all our defences in general, and particularly the three Fighting Services. So I hope that I may become to be trusted as the protagonist of all and the partisan of none.
The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, has raised a question about a Ministry of Supply. That is a very great problem, and I found when I came to my office that one of the first things I had to do was to go into it all over again. As your Lordships know, the whole thing has been discussed in this House on two occasions. On the last occasion the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, himself gave an exposition of the history of the case and explained one great disadvantage of the establishment of a Ministry of Supply—namely, that it meant that the user of the articles in question, ships, aeroplanes, etc.—that is to say, the Staff sides in the three Services—would cease to be in the same Department as those who were responsible for meeting their needs in design and production. There is a grave disadvantage in a system which involves breaking that chain of responsibility—the chain of user, designer and producer—which it is one of the lessons of the War should be made stronger, if possible, rather than weaker.
The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, also explained to your Lordships that the inter-Service spirit in regard to supply had been completely changed since the last War by the establishment of the Principal Supply Officers' Committee and the organisation which works under that Committee. That organisation has done considerable work in preparing plans for our war supply on the basis of the demands made by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and the three Services have now learned to work together. For developing our munitions capacity, a very large number of firms up and down the country have been investigated and on the basis of those inquiries firms have been and are being continuously allocated to each of the three Departments for their war supplies and also for their war potential. This matter has been under close review by the Government, and we are satisfied that progress, as well as the principles of supply, would best be served by developing the organisation of the material branches of each Defence Department rather than by tearing them away 283 so as to create a Ministry of Supply in time of peace.
This, however, does not mean that the Government have neglected the possibility that circumstances might very well arise in war—and none of us can say what would happen in war—in which a Service might find all its expectations and all its arrangements completely inadequate while another Service might find itself over-insured. That might cause completely different requirements from industry to what even the most careful prewar investigations had envisaged. In those circumstances, it is quite possible that the whole industrial resources of the country for war might have to be almost entirely reorganised. It has been suggested in previous debates that great difficulty would be found in war in establishing a Ministry of Supply if such a Ministry had not been established in time of peace. The Government do not consider that a correct view. We are satisfied that, provided the organisation which would be required for a Ministry of Supply in time of war is fully worked out and organised in detail in time of peace, and all necessary preparations are made, there should be no great difficulty in setting up a Ministry of Supply at the appropriate moment.
Since I have taken up my present office, I have, in conjunction with my colleague the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, taken steps to acquaint myself once again in the greatest detail with the position in regard to this matter. I am satisfied myself that the establishment of a Ministry of Supply at the present time would be unwise and would not be in the best interests of the defence programme. But we have decided to work out completely the necessary plans, so that if war should break out a Ministry of Supply could be speedily and smoothly established if and when this course was found necessary.
Would the noble Lord allow me to ask a question? Do we understand that, if war unfortunately breaks out, the Ministry would automatically be set up or do we wait to see if it is needed?
§ LORD CHATFIELD
That is exactly the point. What we are going to do is to organise so that the whole machine is created—planned to be brought into force 284 at any moment it is considered to be necessary. I cannot imagine that any Government would wish to make any drastic change in peace organisation at the very outbreak of a war when we were hard pressed in every direction. That would be a very unsuitable time at which to grind in a new machine. You would have to select your proper moment. It might not be necessary. I do not myself believe that if we have time to complete our preparations to a stage at which all three Service Departments have had all the necessary capacity allotted to them, a Ministry of Supply will be necessary at all. If, however, it should prove that our antecedent arrangements are out of balance and that the requirements of one Department are far greater than we anticipated and another Department far less, then the plans which are now being prepared should ensure that a Ministry of Supply could be set up if and when the Government considered it necessary.
In conclusion, I should like to say that to-morrow the Defence Loans Bill is going to be debated in your Lordships' House, and the question that we must ask ourselves is, is it really necessary to spend these large sums and what is our object in doing so? Indeed, what is generally behind our defence expenditure? The argument has been used that if His Majesty's Government had acted differently in the past, and in particular if they had shown more moral and physical courage, we should not have now reached the appalling position in which we find ourselves in having to vote £580,000,000 in the coming year for defence.
Of course, we all know that from school days the Englishman has loved to goad his opponent with a taunt of cowardice as the worst insult, the one failing that the Englishman considers to be absolutely inexcusable. During the months that I was in India this winter, I read almost weekly in the Indian papers, often with very large headlines, reports implying that the British Government were acting, or had acted, or were about to act, in a cowardly manner. Strange as it may seem, and it certainly seemed so out there, these accusations came not from other countries but from my own countrymen. I think that such statements are apt to have an unfortunate effect on the mentality of the world at large, and they are eagerly seized upon by those who wish to weaken confidence in the British race, or to 285 believe that we have at last, as they have so long hoped, become decadent. It is perhaps not always realised abroad how ready we are to criticise ourselves, to irritate each other, and to express gloomy depreciation of cur achievements and qualities. But of course, if anyone were to assume from this self-criticism that fear was the basis of our action, he would be dangerously deceiving himself. During the last twenty-five years we have had various Governments in power in this country. I do not believe that in all that period, whatever political Party or combination of political Parties has been in power, any important action that they have ever taken has been influenced by fear, either moral or physical.
But whether we believe, as some honestly may in this House, that by a different type of action and leadership in recent years we could have avoided our present condition, or whether we believe, as I do, that the situation has arisen from causes beyond any one nation's control, influence or action, there is, as I understand it at any rate, no difference of opinion in any quarter that in the circumstances in which we find ourselves the vast expenditure which His Majesty's Government are proposing is unavoidable. For we live in a gravely disturbed world, a world of violent deeds and, what is equally bad, of violent words. I do not suppose that the violent deeds of the present day are much worse than the deeds of past civilisations, or that the violent words that are used so freely are any worse than the words of our forefathers. But unfortunately the violent words in these days have far more serious consequences, because modern science enables things that are said overnight to be placed like mustard gas bombs on the breakfast table of the world the next morning. How important, therefore, if our civilisation is not to be too harshly criticised in history, is self-restraint in word as well as deed at the present time, as I believe is surely every act of leadership, whatever it may be, which strives to put a wish for the peace of the world in the forefront of policy.
I know that in saying those words I am speaking to many who are older, wiser and more experienced than myself, but I feel that for one in my particular position to hold those views is perhaps a greater assurance of His Majesty's Government's intentions than if they were expressed 286 by someone else. May I emphasize, therefore, that the real spirit behind our rearmament is to be strong for peace, and that is what is really in our minds to-day when we are arguing with each other about offence and defence. I hope that what I have said, all too inadequately, in reply to the speeches that have been made, will have satisfied the noble Lords who have raised their points, and in particular will have satisfied the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to whom I am so grateful for what he has said about me personally and on whose valuable Motion the debate to-day has taken place, and that in the circumstances he will not wish to press his Motion.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I should like to say that I think my Motion was worth while anyhow, if only because we have heard that one long and thorough speech from the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. He covered an immense amount of ground, and I will not attempt to say anything about what he said until I have read the report of the debate thoroughly. I am glad he said that he agreed with the spirit of my Motion. There I should like to have stopped, but there is one point on which I feel so strongly and which I think is so vital that, if I did not misunderstand him, I hope he will forgive me for disagreeing with him on it. He said, as I understood him—he called a principle what I call a method—that the object of a Fleet was to seek out and destroy the enemy Fleet, and I think he said that was the duty of the Air Force. If he did, I am afraid I must say that I totally disagree. After all the experience of the last War, after all we went through and after all the discussions and arguments and everything, I feel that this point shows a very serious situation. But after the speech we have heard I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, if I might take up the noble Viscount's point so that there may be no misunderstanding between us at the conclusion of the debate: my thesis is that we have to destroy the enemy Air Fleets wherever they may be, whether they are in the air or elsewhere, whether they are over our country or anywhere else in the world.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.