HL Deb 05 August 1943 vol 128 cc1100-4

LORD GEDDES rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether Dr. Edridge Green has been consulted by the Air Staff about the possibility of improving vision in conditions of low illumination; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the day is far spent and I am sure many of your Lordships will welcome a cessation of our labours. I will try and be as brief as I can in dealing with this matter. The question I have put on the Paper is aimed at serving the interests of the pilots of our night-fighters and night-bombers upon whose acuteness of vision in low illumination their lives and safety must depend. A little while ago my attention was specially directed to this problem of night vision and shortly after that Dr. Edridge Green placed himself in contact with me. I invited him to come to see me. He did so with great courtesy and at considerable trouble, and I asked him a large number of questions about his views on this particular problem of sight. First of all I asked him if he had been consulted by the Air Staff, and he said, no, he had not been consulted. I asked him if he had been in touch in any way with the men responsible for the actual training and I gathered that he had not had any direct close or recent contact. Then I asked him if he thought from what he knew that everything possible was being done, and he replied that he did not know enough to express an opinion, but he felt he might possibly be able to suggest something if he were consulted.

I spoke to your Lordships the other day in the debate on scientific research about Dr. Edridge Green and the strange course his life has followed as the result of some very regrettable events. What I told your Lordships on that occasion was to the best of my knowledge and belief absolutely correct. There is no modification of it that I wish to make. Every statement I made was based upon official documents which came to my knowledge when President of the Board of Trade and which later were given full disclosure in a memorandum prepared by the Board of Trade at the request of Dr. Edridge Green and published. I notice that in that debate the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell—I am glad to see him in his place— seemed to think my remarks were in the nature of an attack on the Royal Society. I must confess that I feel rather as I imagine my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air must feel, or perhaps the Chief of the Air Staff feels, when he is told that our bombers have been sent out to bomb Cologne Cathedral and cultural objectives. My objectives were two. The first was that there should not be continuance of any public hurt, as there has been for many years as a result of the very peculiar treatment Dr. Edridge Green has received, and that there should be proper full use of any contribution he can now make to our knowledge of sight.

Now if a man in Dr. Edridge Green's position has been subjected to a great deal of unnecessary difficulty in making his views known, I think he tends to get rather shy, and, perhaps, a little awkward in his approach. That I have no knowledge of, personally, but I have been told so, and it may be that Dr. Edridge Green has not had opportunities given to him possibly because he did not look for them in the right way. But I am going to ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he can tell me if Dr. Edridge Green has been approached by his Ministry, and if he will realize that this is no criticism that I am making of the present training of pilots in the matter of night vision. Anything that I know about that seems to me to be most satisfactory and not ineffective. The question I am asking is, can anything more be done to improve it? And I cannot for the life of me see why a distinguished expert like Dr. Edridge Green, who, so far as I know, would be regarded by everyone who has followed the development of our knowledge of the physiology and psychology of vision during the last generation—with possibly a few exceptions in this country— as being in the forefront of those who have contributed to it. If Dr. Edridge Green has not been consulted—and he believes, himself, that he has not been consulted— I will say to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, would it not be a good thing to ask him if there is anything he can suggest, not in any way putting forward, in asking such a question, the idea that anyone has failed so far. The question should rest solely on the idea that a great expert might be able to think of something that would help further.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has raised a matter which is, of course, regarded at the Air Ministry as of the greatest importance—the matter of night vision. I assure him that it is considered by us to be a question of the highest importance in relation to matters with which we have to deal to-day. The problems of night vision in the Service are dealt with by the Vision Committee and the Flying Personnel Research Committee. The question has been put, was Dr. Edridge Green approached? When he approached the Air Ministry in February, 1942, it was suggested to him that he should come and consult fully with us, that he should consult with the Royal Air Force consultant in ophthalmology, a man who is fully conversant with all the problems which have been touched upon by the noble Lord. After Dr. Edridge Green had been approached and it had been suggested to him that he should get into communication with us, there was, so far as I am aware, no communication at all from him.

I quite agree with what the noble Lord has said. If there should be any mis- understanding regarding that approach I should be only too glad if the noble Lord would convey to Dr. Green that if he would get into communication with me, at the Air Ministry, I will certainly see that he is fully consulted and that his views are put forward for consideration in the Ministry. I think your Lordships will realize that no slight at all has been put upon Dr. Green. He has, in fact, been asked to communicate with us, but, as I say, if there should be the slightest misunderstanding I hope that the noble Lord will tell Dr. Green what I have said, and I will undertake that his views are given the fullest consideration, of which, of course, they are most certainly worthy.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, rises to reply, would your Lordships allow me to make one remark in relation to this very important matter of—to use the words of my noble friend's Motion—"the possibility of improving vision in conditions of low illumination." I think your Lordships will recall—certainly those in your Lordships' House who are pilots, and there are two or three here, will recall it very well— that Dr. Brian Matthews, Director of the Physiological Laboratory at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, is doing, and has been doing for many years, very fine work in respect of this matter. I feel that a tribute should be paid to the work which has been done by him and by those associated with him. That work has been of fundamental importance in relation to these questions which are now under review at this moment in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, in view of the very satisfactory reply which I have just received from my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, I shall, in a moment, with your permission, withdraw my Motion. There seems to have been a complete misunderstanding somewhere. Either Dr. Edridge Green never received the letter sent to him from the Ministry, or it was a letter which did not convey to him the invitation which it was intended to convey. One knows that sometimes letters are sent out from big Government Departments which do not always convey clearly and appropriately what is intended. I will most certainly get in touch with Dr. Edridge Green and ask him to put himself in touch with the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood. I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.