§ Message received to attend the Lords Commissioners.
§ The House went, and, having returned,
§ Mr. SPEAKER
reported the Royal Assent to,
- 1. Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916.
- 2. Courts (Emergency Powers) (Amendment) Act, 1916.
- 3. Summer Time Act, 1916.
- 4. Edinburgh Corporation Order Confirmation Act, 1916.
- 5. Gas Orders Confirmation Act, 1916.
- 6. Burnley Corporation Act, 1916.
- 7. Weston-Super-Mare Grand Pier Act, 1916.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I was just pointing out, when our proceedings were interrupted, that, until a month after the declaration of war, the Admiralty had no responsibility whatever for Home defence against aerial attack, and that the War Office claimed, on grounds of principle, sole responsibility for the duty of Home defence. Notwithstanding these views, the War Office had not, up to the time of the declaration of war, provided any aeroplanes for Home defence, but limited themselves exclusively, and as a matter of prior urgency, to the development of the Expeditionary Squadron, and, on the outbreak of war, practically all the Army aeroplanes were sent abroad. I do not say they were wrong in this at all. The dispatch of the squadron for the Expeditionary Army was a matter of vital urgency, but the consequence followed that not only were there no aeroplanes available for guarding all vulnerable points, but none could be found even for the temporary purpose of watching this coast during the passage of the Army to the Continent. The guns which were available then—it is almost laughable, and there is no harm in saying now what was available nearly two years ago, when the whole situation has altered—which were available at the date when the Admiralty took over this duty, I think, were five Service guns and a small number of those quite useless "pom-poms," which have been referred to, with, of course, suitable ammunition for them. That was the state of affairs up to the month after the Declaration of War.
At this point in the argument which I am going to submit it is necessary for me to refer to the extraordinary difficulties before the War of getting money for aerial defence. The Navy and the Army are old and powerful institutions. Behind their demands for money there are organised forces both in the Press and Parliament, and not only are there organised forces of opinion, but the demands of those two established Services are embodied in the shape of large institutions and establishments which must have full activity, and which must be maintained by Parliament whatever its passing mood may be. Nevertheless, the Admiralty, in the years before the War, had to fight continually to secure the necessary increase, and the Army was hard put to it even to hold its 1574 own. But the air was entirely new, and, apart from a few newspapers, and the praiseworthy exertions of a few Members of Parliament, there was no real backing behind any request for money, other than the personal influence of the Ministers at the heads of the fighting Departments. It was always open to anyone to deride aviation as a silly fad, and as another means of draining money from the public purse. Nor was this a sphere in which powerful expert opinion or an accepted body of doctrine were behind the Minister. When General Seely and I went, in 1911 and in 1912, respectively, to the War Office and the Admiralty, the Military Wing was in its infancy, and the Naval Air Service was represented by half a dozen aeroplanes and pilots, and the débris of the airship "Mayfly," which had just broken its back. Soldiers, sailors, and civilian Ministers all started, more or less even, to explore new regions and to endeavour to build up the new arm of the air, and that in less than three years the powerful, efficient, and skilful Air Services with which the Army and Navy began this War were brought into existence was the result of a ceaseless struggle for money and constant personal effort on the part of the Ministers, and devoted and tireless labours on the part of their assistants, General Henderson, Commodore Soutter, and others like Colonel Sykes and Commander Samson in the domain of action. I never had any opportunity of speaking in the House on this subject before, but I am at least entitled on behalf of General Seely to point to the statement which the Under-Secretary for War made on the last occasion in which he spoke in this House when he said that at the beginning of the War we had the supremacy in the air, and indicated that since then this situation had been altered to our disadvantage.
It is pitiful and ludicrous to look back now upon the shifts to which we were put to obtain the necessary money for the air, and it was out of the difficulties of getting the money that the duality originally largely arose. It is always easier for the Navy to get money than the Army. Our Estimates were enormous and increasing, and £100,000 more or less escaped the severe scrutiny from which the Army Estimates suffered. Our Estimates passed each year as the result of a trial of strength between great political forces. After each crisis has been surmounted there was always a 1575 period of exhaustion in which readjustment of the subjects was possible. And in those days the repair to the naval hospital or the matter of coastguard cottages used very often materialise in a fleet of aeroplanes or some other necessary portion of the Flying Service. Those are the facts before the War. I began as early as 1912 to develop the Aeroplane Service outside our normal Admiralty sphere, in order to supplement from another set of Votes the inadequate credits which the War Office succeeded in obtaining. Of course we see now the evils of duality, but at that time the object was to get as large as possible an amount of material and number of airmen into existence in the time available. The naval authorities, although always rather reluctant to add to the ordinary demands of the Navy Estimates, were increasingly anxious about the undefended state of the dockyards and naval vulnerable points, and thus almost clandestinely was built up at the Admiralty an Aeroplane Service of our own which, when the War broke out, so suddenly and so unexpectedly, had already attained respectable dimensions. It was well that we did so. At the outbreak of the War the whole of the War Office went off to the War, taking the whole of their aeroplanes with them, and nothing remained in this country but the Naval Air Service.
A month after the War had begun—3rd September, I think, was the actual date—Lord Kitchener asked me whether the Admiralty would undertake the general duty of Home defence against aerial attack. He pointed out that all his efforts were concentrated on the equipment and maintenance of the Expeditionary squadrons, and that he had practically no resources in guns or aeroplanes for Home defence. The Admiralty, on the other hand, had a considerable supply, with which, in fact, though without formal authority, we were already guarding the vulnerable points of special interest to the Navy. Under the circumstances, I thought it my duty to comply; but I was careful immediately to define on behalf of the Admiralty the limits within which we would accept responsibility. I therefore drew up a printed memorandum, in which I set out the total resources we could spare without prejudice to the paramount needs of the Fleet. I pointed out that those resources were wholly inadequate and unsuitable, but I undertook to do the best 1576 we could with them, and to take the necessary steps to increase them as soon as possible. I carefully stated that the Admiralty could not be responsible for Home defence, but could only be responsible for doing the best possible with the material available. On this basis, which was formally accepted by the Government, the Admiralty undertook, very reluctantly for the most part, the thankless—and as it seemed then almost hopeless—task, for the time being. Our available guns and aeroplanes were forthwith disposed to what we considered the best possible advantage, and overseas air bases in France and Flanders were established, and those have proved an effective and almost absolute parry to the attack of German Army Zeppelins coming from Belgium and the Rhine. The series of offensive enterprises against the Zeppelin sheds began, and on this quest, in spite of their slender resources, the naval arm went to Dusseldorf, to Cologne, and Friedrichshafen, on Lake Constance, and even to Cuxhaven, in the North Sea. Six Zeppelins, it is believed, were destroyed either in the air, or in their sheds by a handful of naval pilots acting, what the First Lord of the Admiralty would now call, "outside their normal sphere." It would be hard to show that all allied airmen and pilots had during all the War succeeded by this method in destroying so many. Moreover, within a few-weeks of the Admiralty becoming responsible very large orders were placed for aerial guns and the proper kind of ammunition, and searchlights, and immense orders were distributed for aeroplanes to the utmost productive limit of every aircraft factory in any part of the world not already occupied with Army work. None of those orders matured during my tenure of office, but they all must have come to hand many months ago. Such were the circumstances in which the Admiralty became responsible for Home defence, and the manner in which we endeavoured to discharge that responsibility, and I think I am justified in telling them to the House and to the country.
The story which I have outlined acquires-deeper significance when the general conditions of aerial warfare are considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has twitted me this afternoon with my phrase about "hornets" I am very glad to come to the "hornets." The main defence of 1577 England against Zeppelins has consisted since the War began in that formidable "swarm of hornets" of which I spoke in 1913—that is to say, aeroplanes with skilful pilots held ready with bombs and guns to attack any Zeppelin which approaches our shores. This defence has been effective, up to date, in preventing any attack by Zeppelins coming here by daylight, or even by moonlight. Thus for the whole of every day and for a large proportion of the hours of darkness complete protection has hitherto been afforded. It was hoped that even in the dark nights the aeroplanes would be able to act effectively against Zeppelins. This hope has not been realised, not because aeroplanes cannot fly at night, not because the aeroplane is not fully a match for the Zeppelin once the encounter is joined, not because properly lighted landing grounds cannot be arranged, but because it has proved very difficult indeed, and almost impossible, to find the Zeppelin in the dark But apart from this, and this is a very important exception, apart from-this exception the conclusions which I stated to Parliament, in a perhaps dangerously picturesque form, have been justified. They are no more vitiated by the occasional raids which have taken place in the dark hours than the strategic conclusions which fix the War station of the Fleet have been vitiated by the occasional chance raids which take place from time to time on our Eastern coast. Twenty-five or thirty days, during the whole of these twenty-two months of war, Zeppelins have raided our shores, and it is to the presence of aeroplanes, at the, outset entirely provided by the Naval Wing, in the absence of Army machines abroad, that the immunity from Zeppelin attack which Britain has enjoyed on the other 600 days and nights is almost exclusively due. But for the aeroplane service we had created before the War there would have been nothing to stop Zeppelins from raiding us every fine day; and if they were able to come in daylight they would be able to find their way with certainty to the vital and vulnerable military points—to our arsenals, to our magazines, to our oil tanks, to our dockyards, to our munition works, and to drop their bombs with accuracy and deliberation from altitudes beyond the reach of any anti-aircraft gun which, at any rate, existed during the first year of the War. Our aeroplane defence has restricted Zeppelin attacks to a few nights in certain months, and even then those attacks can only be delivered 1578 erring and almost blindfold. The proof of the triumph of the aeroplane is that after twenty-two months of war no object of any military or naval importance among the thousands which exist scattered broadcast throughout the country has yet been struck by any Zeppelin bomb. In fact, from the purely military point of view—that is to say, from the point of view of what affects our war-making capacity—the aeroplane defence has so far proved absolute. Even as regards the civil population it has been, and is now, effective over 95 per cent, of the time. This truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.
The second defensive method against Zeppelins is the fire of guns. Within its restricted area, and to a limited degree, this method also has proved effective. But the fire of guns cannot be generally available. Important military points can be so defended. Dockyards, arsenals, the seat of Government, and even perhaps London itself, can be to some extent protected by guns, but the whole country cannot be protected by guns, even by mobile guns. There are not enough guns in the world to do it. It would indeed be a serious danger if the Government were induced by clamour to use anti-aircraft guns for the defence of vague residential or industrial areas. They should be strictly confined to defending points of special importance, and no undue demands must be made which would divert or dissipate our resources in this respect. I hope the House will make the Government feel that they will find in the House of Commons effective support against any reasonless clamour, however natural it may be, as long as they are shown to be adhering to the sound lines of military thought and action.
I wish to refer for a few moments to the question of British construction, to which reference was made by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion to-day. Before the War the policy of the Admiralty was to build airships, both rigid and non-rigid, only for training and experimental purposes. We wished to keep abreast of and informed about the development of airships. We wished to have practical experience of them. We wished to have a nucleus both of personnel and of matériel which could, if necessary, as the development of the art showed need, be expanded and elaborated. But we did not attempt to rival Germany in this sphere, or to 1579 build fleets of airships on which we should rely to play an effective part in our system of naval defence. On the contrary, we looked to the aeroplanes and the seaplanes operating from the shore or from ships to afford us our old characteristic effective counter-measure. In war, if you are not able to beat your enemy at his own game, it is nearly always better to adopt some striking variant, and not to be content merely with doing the same thing as your enemy is doing, only not doing it quite so well or on quite so large a scale. That was the policy deliberately adopted in 1911 and in 1912 and consistently adhered to by the Admiralty; and in my judgment, as far as I can see at present, the teaching of nearly two years of war has not proved that view in the main to be unsound. I shall in a few minutes offer the House some reasons in support of this view, which, after all, was shared by France, who, like ourselves, before the War declined to follow Germany in the wholesale construction of large rigid airships.
But I must now, in giving the story of our airship position, mention the military airships. Up to the end of 1913 the Army also had an airship establishment, consisting of a handful of competent officers and three or four little field airships. Although our Naval Airship Service was purely experimental, its scale was much larger than that of the Army, and it already amounted, I think, to ten or a dozen airships of various types, some quite large, built, building, or projected. It was decided, I think in January, 1914, in the interests alike of economy and of efficiency, that the Airship Service should be unified, and be a purely Naval Service. The Army airships, with their appurtenances, were handed over to the Admiralty on the understanding that whatever airships were required in future for the Army for military purposes, for Home defence for which the Army is responsible, or for the Expeditionary Force, should, on the demand of the War Office, be built and maintained by the Navy and held ready for Army use. That was the arrangement. Up to the outbreak of War no demand was made by the War Office on the Admiralty for airships for either of those purposes, nor since the War began, so far as I know, has any such need been felt by the responsible military authorities. It is part of my submission to the House that the decision of the War Office not to 1580 call on the Admiralty for a large programme of airships, either for Home defence or for the Expeditionary Force, was right.
Let us look into this. No responsible officer at the War Office or at the Admiralty whom I ever met before the War anticipated that Zeppelins would be used to drop bombs indiscriminately on undefended towns and the countryside. This was not because of any extravagant belief in human virtue in general, or in German virtue in particular, but because it is reasonable to assume that your enemy will be governed by good sense and by a lively regard for his own interests. What more mischievous policy to her own interests could Germany pursue than to infuriate large populations against her without being able to injure their war-making capacity? But even if the military authorities responsible for Home defence had known beforehand that this form of attack was going to be made by German Zeppelins, it is not clear to me what preparation they could have made which would have guaranteed absolute immunity to the general public. A fleet of British Zeppelins, for instance, would be no such guarantee. The area open to attack is so large and so various that the assailant would always be able to arrive at the selected point in superior force. All he seeks to do is to drop bombs through the blue upon wide inhabited areas and then escape. The defending airships, on the other hand, would have a very different task, namely, to concentrate on any point in superior force, and then to find, catch, and bring to battle a few dark shapes swiftly moving through clouds and mist, with a free choice of direction and altitude. The invaders would aim at a stationary and located target measured in hundreds of miles. The defending airships would have to aim at a moving and uncertain target measured in hundreds of feet. But who is to pretend that it was in our power, even if we had begun, say, in 1912, to create a Zeppelin fleet approaching in quality or numbers the German Zeppelin fleet—the product of ten years' expense and experiment on the most lavish scale. Why, Sir, even if any Government had entertained the project—and no Government I have ever seen would have done—even if any Parliament had voted the funds necessary, we could not have hoped to compete with Germany successfully in rigid airships in the time available. We had not the art, we have 1581 not the native stores of aluminium which would be accessible in time of war. Our attempts to build experimental machines have been baulked until some months after the beginning of the War by continuous delay and disappointment. Nearly 100 aeroplanes and their sheds can be obtained for the price of one Zeppelin and its shed. What folly it would have been for us to have squandered the hard-won, grudged, and exiguous money which had to be secured for air defence on Zeppelins, fewer in number, inferior in type, and certainly ineffective for the purpose in hand—the defence of the civil population from Zeppelin raids.
What would our situation have been at the sudden outbreak of war if we had been found with a handful of these frail and feeble monsters, so easily broken by the accidents of weather, instead of with an Army Aeroplane Service, out of which the immense expansion of the present time has developed, or of a Naval Wing which in the emergency guarded securely every vital point in our Islands, and set the military free to go abroad? We should indeed have thrown away the substance for the shadow. We are all surfeited nowadays with that kind of wisdom which comes after the event, but I do not in the least shrink from applying that unfair test to the policy pursued by the Admiralty and the War Office, partly under my responsibility and with my full agreement, in regard to the building of a Zeppelin fleet before the War. Suppose by the stroke of a wand we could step back with full knowledge to the year 1912, and suppose that the £8,000,000 or £10,000,000 necessary to establish a good Zeppelin fleet were placed at our disposal as an addition to the ordinary Estimates which were, in fact, voted. Should we be wise to build one? With £10,000,000 you could have had sixty or seventy submarines; you could have had fifty destroyers; you could have had another twenty-five light cruisers; you could have had an Aeroplane Service of absolutely overwhelming strength; you could have had 2,000,000 rifles, which would, perhaps, have meant 3,000,000 more men in the field during the great struggle of last autumn; you could have had 1,000 heavy guns, which, applied in the earlier stages of the War, might have ruptured the German lines in France. Is it not clear that, even if we are going to use the light of our present knowledge on the decisions which should have been taken before the War, a 1582 great many other competing things would have had to be considered before we came to the question of spending £10,000,000 on Zeppelins? Are we quite sure, after twenty-two months of war, that the Germans themselves might not have made a more formidable investment of the large sums of money which they have spent on their Zeppelins? At any rate, the story is not yet finished. Events unfold from day to day, and I, for my part, am quite content to await the final judgment which will be passed on these matters when the War can be surveyed in retrospect as a whole. The true remedy—and the House will pardon me if I give my views upon the subject, because I have been in this business from the very beginning—the true remedy and the only radical cure for Zeppelin raids is either to attack the German Zeppelins in their sheds with aeroplanes, or to station squadrons of aeroplanes at some point, or points, overseas where they can intercept the German Zeppelins during daylight, either going or returning. The second policy, as I have pointed out to the House, was adopted with complete success in September, 1914, by the Admiralty, so far as the German army airships coming from the Rhine or from Belgium were concerned, by the establishment of our naval stations in France and Flanders—I need not mention them by name, but the House knows pretty well where they are. In so far as that policy can at any time be extended to airships coming across the sea it will produce equally decisive results. As to the first remedy, an attack on Zeppelin sheds, I can only repeat what I said three months ago—why has it been discontinued? Why, after a whole year of limitless money, of accumulated experience, and of multiplying resources, has it not been possible to continue this system of attack upon the enemy's air bases? Why has it not been possible to construct the special types of machines that may be required for each particular objective? This has a great bearing upon the proposal which the Government has just put before us. In my opinion the reason is that this subject has not in the last year been studied from a commanding point of view by anyone who was able to give his whole time and attention to it. No doubt the difficulties have increased, and the enemy's means of defence is continually improving. All the more condemnation to you, I say, for losing so much valuable time, and perhaps for letting such precious opportunities slip by! 1583 But there are two other forms of Zeppelin activity which must be considered. They are purely naval in their character. I should not be treating the subject with fairness if I omitted them, and I see no harm in discussing them, because it is absurd to suppose that the Germans are not fully alive to the obvious uses of the Zeppelins which they have made their speciality. What is important is that we should be alive to the counter-measures which are necessary, and which are within practical reach.
First of all, there is the unrivalled power of the Zeppelins for long reconnaissances at sea. I agree with the First Lord of the Admiralty in wishing that at the outset we had been provided with a certain number of rigid airships and sheds which could have supplemented and aided the control exercised so well by our squadrons and flotillas. The repeated failures and disappointments in regard lo the construction of these vessels was one of the reasons why we had none of them available at the outbreak of the War. I do not quarrel at all with any efforts which the First Lord may make in the direction of supplying this lack now that money is no longer an object. Whether any good result will be achieved will depend, of course, on the length of the War. But I urge the representative of the Admiralty present not to delay on that account the energetic development on a great scale of seaplanes. and especially aeroplanes, operating from ships specially adapted or from existing war ships. This policy, which was our original policy, would have provided, and will still provide, a very good substitute, almost immediately obtainable, even for reconnaissances. It is still more true in regard to the second possibility of Zeppelin action, namely, the observation of the fall of shot in the long-range stages of a naval action. It may be well argued that this can be done much more accurately from a great height than from the masts of ships. This raises an important consideration. If you have developed the use of the fast aeroplane at sea, the launching of these from the decks of warships, and the picking up of them afterwards by other vessels, then it will be possible to drive away all Zeppelins from the neighbourhood of our Fleets which are in movement or action, and to destroy any that attempt to approach them. If, on the other hand, you have neglected this obvious and important field, or only de- 1584 veloped it half-heartedly; if you have always contented yourselves with bewailing the absence of rigid airships of your own, and of waiting till you have constructed them, then a serious and preventable disadvantage will have been incurred—a disadvantage which I am bound, however, to state ought not in any circumstances to make a decisive difference, having regard to our margin of superiority. Still, this disadvantage is one which ought to be remedied at the earliest possible moment.
I venture to bring these general conclusions and suggestions to the notice of the House because I have noticed that controversy in these matters proceeds so frequently on wrong lines and at cross-purposes. Take, for instance, the case of the Committee which has been appointed to examine into the charges of the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) The Member for East Herts makes a speech in this House, and in it he used the word "murder." Well, Sir, that is not a charge of murder! "Murder" is an expression which is frequently used by Members of Parliament when they are angry. To take up the time of a judge of the High Court and a number of important persons in setting up a Committee to try to score off a private Member of Parliament whose activities—[Interruption]—at any rate, that is the reason which the Under-Secretary gave. The hon. Member made charges of murder. I believe it is a well-formed Committee for the purpose in view. But, as a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman, so far as I can gather, was leading the Government to suppose that what was needed was an increase in the factor of safety in the machines. I have met many persons of great competence on this subject who think that one of the mistakes we made at the beginning of the War was in not immediately reducing the factor of safety. You may make a perfectly safe machine which the enemy can certainly hunt down and out-manœeuvre. Peace-time risks in aviation naturally tended to the reinforcement to the factors of safety, because people were shocked at the accidents which took place. When the War began other dangers far more terrible than the incidence of ordinary breaking strain and the occurrence of accidents supervened. I have heard that there is a great deal to be said for action in the direction of the relaxation of the factors of safety in constructing machines, in order to get speed 1585 and climbing power which will save the life of the pilot in a hard fight. I only say that to illustrate that we are very much at cross-purposes in these matters. I quite understand the Government being—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have pointed out to the hon. Member for East Herts, more than once, that he is not entitled to rise and interrupt hon. Members in the course of their speeches. If he has a point of Order to raise he is entitled to raise it, but he is not entitled to rise and ask questions, or to give explanations. He must wait.
§ Mr. BILLING
May I put my point of Order? If an hon. Member of this House makes a statement about another Member that is not true, is the aggrieved Member not allowed, in a way which I believe is customary for right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches, to rise and correct that Member?
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I am not in the least desirous of getting into a controversy with the hon. Member. On the contrary I was about to say, when he interrupted me, that I can quite understand the Government being vexed with his varied excursions and activities. I cannot, however, understand their having gone the length of elaborately setting up the cumbrous machinery of a judicial Committee of Inquiry, which will waste the time of a great many hard-worked people at the present time, for the purpose of coping with statements made in Debate by a private Member. I come now to the proposals of the Government, so far as I have been able to gather these proposals from the statement made to us this afternoon. My right hon. Friend was good enough to read them out very slowly, and permit me to take them down. I will venture to offer to the House the observations which occurred to me upon them. The difficulties from which our air organisations suffer arise from two causes—first of all, the duality of effort and organisation and the friction resulting therefrom. I have explained to the House how it was that the two Services 1586 started in the early days. That friction and want of co-ordination has resulted, and on a greater scale as the scale of their operations increased, cannot be denied. I am not fond of giving instances, but I must give one which came under my own personal notice. Shortly after I left the Admiralty the resolve was to navalise the Naval Wing of the Air Service. It was to be navalised from top to bottom, although it was almost entirely staffed by young civilian privates. In the pursuit of this general policy of navalisation, the speedometers in the machines, by which the rate of flight was regulated and the position of the aeroplane located, which were in miles, were all converted into knots. The result over in France and Flanders, where we have numbers of aeroplanes continually flying, was that you had the speedometers in knots, while the maps which the men were using were in miles or kilometres. The naval pilot, with perhaps a Fokker machine in the air above him and bursting shells below him, had to go through a careful, elaborate, and difficult calculation to convert the miles into knots, or vice versâ, to verify his position. That is a typical instance of a hundred small points of friction and petty friction arising from the undue particularism which we had hoped the Government would make proposals finally to remedy. That is the first of the diffities, and the duality and friction arising therefrom.
The second and much more serious was the lack of any commandng initiative and design and overriding authority in affairs of the air. Neither of these difficulties will be remedied by the proposals which have now been made by the Undersecretary, so far as I understand them. They seem to be a mere attempt to parry the demand for an Air Ministry by setting up another Advisory Committee with Lord Curzon, instead of Lord Derby, at its head. There is, I gather, to be a Joint Board, and the members of this Board may advise the president, but he need not take their advice, and the president may advise the Admiralty and the War Office, but they need not take his advice. They need not take his advice whether it is, what you may call, advised advice or unadvised advice. If it should be unadvised advice they are very unlikely to take it, because they would have had their own representative, a member of the Army Council or the Board of Admiralty, on the new Board, and if he has dissented 1587 from the advice offered by the president, he will, of course, have every opportunity, being first in the field, of converting the Department's council or board to the views which he holds. Then we are told that the Board is very like the rest of us—like the hon. Member for East Herts—free "to discuss matters of general policy in relation to the air," and to interchange ideas. And if their advice, suggestions, recommendations, etc., bear no fruit with the two fighting Departments, who, after all, are busy carrying on the War, and apt to give rough answers on these matters, then the president, I understand, may complain to the War Council—
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
May offer advice.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
May refer to the War Office, of which he is not a permanent member, though the two Ministers with whom he may be in difference are permanent members, and these two will, of course, on a difference arising, be supported by the whole massed weight of their two respective Departments, headed, no doubt, by the member of the Air Board representative of each Department. That does not seem to me to amount to very much of a forward step. Even without this top hamper it would, I suppose, have been open to Lord Curzon, as a Cabinet Minister, "to discuss matters of general policy in relation to the air," and even to interchange ideas and make suggestions about these matters, and to raise them in the Cabinet, and to persuade the Cabinet to come to a decision, or even to persuade the Cabinet to refer them to the War Council. Even without any action by Lord Curzon, it would have been possible, I suppose, for the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty to have come together, and to have arranged a common policy for the settlement of these difficulties, or to have set up, if necessary, a standing Interdepartmental Committee to adjust the points of friction between the two services, and to prevent overlapping in the purchase of machines. Such a Committee, with the good will of the Departmental chiefs, would, I am sure, achieve far more than any outside body with doubtful powers and critical faculties. I know the public Departments, and especially the military Departments, of this country well, and I know what their atti- 1588 tude is towards a body which has the opportunity to inquire, to criticise, to offer advice, and to make complaints, but which has not the right to their allegiance and the power to exact obedience to orders. Either the arrangements now proposed will lead to nothing effective, which will be the case if Lord Curzon shows the great qualities of tact which are likely to be required of the holder of the new office which is created, or—I say quite frankly—they seem to me likely to lead to a first-class row. If he is going to make his work a reality, it is perfectly clear there will be very great differences, and much friction—the friction which you have been unable to overcome yourselves in making these proposals—will be created. In both cases, whether they produce no result, or whether they lead to trouble, they will lead to delay in arriving at a proper organisation for the air, and a wholehearted policy.
Can anyone feel that the proposals are put forward by the Government in the sincere belief that they will really open the way for the conquest of aerial supremacy for this country? Yet I cannot think it difficult. No doubt we shall hear from the Government of the difficulties that stand in the way of an Air Ministry, of the resistance of this and that highly-placed official, and the prejudices of the Departments. No doubt we shall be told of the practical difficulties of calling it into existence in the middle of a great war, as if far greater difficulties have not been overcome, and far greater prejudices worn down, in the creation of a Munitions Department. I cannot think it difficult myself either to devise or to bring into operation a unified organisation, or to divide on natural and well-marked lines the services of training and supply on the one hand, from the tactical employment of units afloat and in the field on the other hand. I proposed to the Prime Minister a scheme on those lines nearly a year ago. I agree that a complete amalgamation may not be possible at a single stroke, but the formation of an Air Department with real responsibility and real powers is an urgent and indispensable preliminary. No one can doubt that ultimately—and the sooner the better—the Air Service should be one unified, permanent branch of Imperial defence, composed exclusively of men who will not think of themselves as soldiers, sailors, or civilians, but as airmen, as servants of the new arm, as servants of an arm which, possibly, at no distant date may be the dominating arm of war.
1589 Let the House remember how vital this matter is. I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend who made this Motion to-day. Complete, unquestionable supremacy in the air would give an overwhelming advantage to the artillery of the Armies that enjoyed it. It would confer the greatest benefits upon the Fleet that enjoyed it. You have not got, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that complete supremacy now. You have not even got equality. On the contrary, in many respects the Germans have the advantage, and you have lost the superiority which, at the outbreak of war, it was admitted we possessed. But you can recover it. There is nothing to prevent your recovering it. At sea, the increased power of the defensive in mines and submarines has largely robbed the stronger Navy of its rights. On land, we are in the position of having lost our ground before the modern defensive was thoroughly understood, and having to win it back when the offensive has been elevated into a fine art. But the air is free and open. There are no entrenchments there. It is equal for the attack and for the defence. It is equal for all comers. The resources of the whole world are at our disposal and command. Nothing stands in the way of our obtaining the aerial supremacy in the War but yourselves. There is no reason, and there can be no excuse, for failure to obtain that aerial supremacy, which is, perhaps, the most obvious and the most practical step towards a victorious issue from the increasing dangers of the War.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I venture, with great diffidence, to intervene in this Debate, and, indeed, it has so far been in the hands of those so competent to deal with the matters under discussion that everyone will feel some anxiety in joining in the argument. I do not propose to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Colonel Churchill) over the extremely interesting part of his speech which dealt with the defence of the country against Zeppelins, beyond saying that I had already thought that the attacks upon him in that respect were of an exaggerated kind, and that the policy pursued was one that could be justified by the consideration that we are defended in time of day completely and in time of night partly. The only single observation I may add to what he has said is that I believe I express the better opinion among flying officers when I say that an aeroplane at night is of less value even 1590 than my right hon. Friend represented. He said, and of course with perfect truth, that you can make a landing ground on which it would be possible to descend, but, if you send up aeroplanes at night, the air is so large that the aeroplane may very rapidly pass out of sight of the landing ground, and find itself hopelessly lost, and may be obliged to descend in total darkness, with the certainty of smashing the machine, and with the probability of serious accident to the aviator. Therefore, I really believe it is unwise to use aeroplanes at night for defence against Zeppelins. There is the additional difficulty that, if you have landing grounds lit up, you must have them more or less near towns, where you do not want Zeppelins to drop bombs. The landing-place, of course, is abundantly visible to the Zeppelin, and is very likely to draw just that amount of attention which may lead the Zeppelin to drop bombs on the neighbourhood, and bombs on the very ground you are anxious to defend. Something like that has happened quite recently. I really believe we ought to recognise the immense value of aeroplanes, and their immense superiority over Zeppelins by day. They are far more handy, far more capable of manœeuvring in a fight between aeroplanes and Zeppelins by day. But at night the superiority must depend upon anti-aircraft artillery, and it is not, therefore, a problem of aviation at all. It really depends on the artillery.
But I was anxious rather to deal with the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Brentford and the last few sentences of the right hon. and gallant Member for Dundee in dealing with the position as it stands at the front in Flanders, and of the respective powers of the German and British Flying Services there. I confess I think the hon. Member for Brentford makes a mistake in relying to the degree he does on statements made by officers at the front. First of all, when he relies on the statements of officers who are not flying officers, their opinion is really not so good as his own here at home. They are generally wholly ignorant of the subject, and have not the smallest conception of what aeroplanes can do or not do, and scarcely any conception of the utility of aeroplanes, and their opinion is altogether of negligible importance. Such a theory as that it ought to be possible to prevent a German aeroplane from flying over the British lines is extravagant. Of course, the German 1591 aeroplanes must be able to go over the British lines, and it is obvious that the argument may be inverted, and if it be a proof of superiority to fly over the lines of your enemy, we have that proof in much larger measure than the Germans.
My hon. Friend quoted a very interesting story from a flying officer. Flying officers have abundant knowledge, but they are usually, though not invariably, young men, and they have, of course, the defects of young men. If I had the honour of being an acquaintance of the officer from whom the hon. Member quoted to-day I should like to ask him one or two questions. All young men in all circumstances generally begin by representing that everything is very badly done in the Service to which they belong. Then you go on to put a question craftily, so as not to disturb their amour propre, and they at once turned round and begin to argue on the other side. The hon. Member for Brentford quoted the case of a flight commander in the Royal Flying Squadron as saying that the Germans had the superiority. I should have asked that officer, "Does that mean that the Germans can do a lot of things that we cannot do?" and I think he would have said "No." Then I would have gone on to ask, "Does it mean that we cannot do anything the Germans do not do?" and he would have replied that we do long reconnaissances. Unless things have changed very much within the last month we carry out habitually long reconnaissances that the Germans never attempt at all. I was for three months twenty-five miles behind the British lines, and I never saw a German aeroplane at all, except one that was captured and brought in. If I had been twenty-five miles behind the German lines I should have seen an abundance of British aeroplanes flying.
The hon. Member spoke of the command of the air, and he went on to explain that by command of the air he meant the same sort of command as we have of the sea. There is, however, this fundamental distinction. The air has three dimensions and the sea has only two. The sea has a surface, on the top of which you can swim. In so far as the sea has ceased to be a matter of two dimensions, we have ceased to have complete mastery of the sea. We now have a submarine which goes down into the third dimension, and we cannot prevent German submarines going where 1592 we would rather not have them. Just the same this is true of the tactics of flying. The air is so large that you cannot possibly prevent the Germans flying to some extent over our lines, and the best weapon against them is not really aeroplanes in the main but anti-aircraft guns. The best way of protecting a particular point is to have anti-aircraft guns. The Germans advertise their brilliant officers much more than we do, but we have plenty of officers who do achievements quite as good as those quoted so much on behalf of the Germans. Apart from those two or three very brilliant German officers, I am sure our flying officers would be ready to say that they are more afraid of the anti-aircraft guns than the fast machines of the Germans It has been stated that the Germans have the fastest machine, but I have heard confident statements in the opposite direction. I do not know what is the present state of our aeroplane resources, and no doubt they have been very considerably improved during the last two or three months. Nevertheless, I venture to caution those who are unfamiliar with the subject against believing too readily any statement about the speed of an aeroplane, because that is an exceedingly difficult thing to ascertain. If you could have an aeroplane flying over a measured mile at a short distance above the ground, and time it with accurate stop watches, you might be able to form a fair estimate of its speed, but if all you have to rely upon—and that is generally the case in war—is the impression produced on the mind of another pilot flying in the same neighbourhood as to the relative speed of the two machines, it is evidently an extremely hazardous source of information as to the speed of the machine. If you are considering speed you must know whether both the machines you are making a comparison between are flying level. If there is the slightest inclination downward in the case of one of the machines, of course it will be faster than the other; and it is almost impossible for a pilot flying in another machine to tell whether there is a slight inclination in his own machine or in the other. If they fly side by side for some great distance, it is easier to form a judgment, but even in these conditions it is extremely difficult to form a certain estimate of the relative speed of two different aeroplanes.
1593 When we hear it confidently stated either on the one side or the other that we have, or that the Germans have the fastest aeroplane, it must always be accepted with a certain degree of reserve. It must always be recognised that in a large number of cases you are relying upon the hasty impression of the pilot who comes back saying that the aeroplane he has taken a fancy to is very much better than the Germans produce; or on the other hand, he may get the impression that every thing is going to the dogs, or at another time he may say that there never was such a machine as the one he has been flying in. No doubt it was the case that in the last month of last year the Germans had one or two very fast machines. There was such a consensus of opinion upon this point that no one would deny it, but when you have said that you do not necessarily convey a very serious degree of censure upon the War Office or whoever is responsible for providing machines for the Royal Flying Corps. Consider how extraordinary rapid has been the development of aeroplanes in the last two years. The hon. Member said that we were still using the same kind of aeroplanes as we were using at the beginning of the War, but he is quite mistaken about that.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I was referring to the speed of the machines used principally for reconnaissance purposes, which still have the same engine and the same horse-power, and they go 75 miles an hour.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I know the machine the hon. Member means, but three months ago, at any rate, it had a more powerful engine, and it may have a still more powerful engine now, and I know it has been more urgently sought for. The machine he refers to had an engine 20 horse-power faster than the engine with which that machine was first used at the beginning of the War. I dislike speaking about myself, but when I first went to Netheravon as a pupil, on the 1st of January, 1915, there were a number of machines there. They were the fashionable machines of the hour, used by our brilliant young officers there. Not one of those machines was in use when I went out to France in September of that year. I think there were one or two hanging about, but they were got rid of at the earliest possible moment, but not one of those types of machines was in use at all. It is extremely difficult, when a science is making progress at that tremendous rate 1594 of speed and making improvement, to judge at what point you ought to put in your large order. It is quite true that aeroplanes are used up very much more rapidly than the general public suppose, and the life of an individual machine is very short. Even allowing for that, anything like orders for thousands would have been insanity, because long before you had used up your aeroplanes a new type would have come in. People always say you can apologise for anything, but the broad fact remains that in the second stage of the War you were caught napping, and the Germans made progress quicker than you did.
I think they did that in the second stage of the War. That was not on account of indifference or negligence, because it was always a matter of the most keen anxiety to get the fastest machine and the best engine and develop it as rapidly as possible. All the resources of France were put under contribution for this purpose, and we even went as far as Spain and Italy seeking improvements in aeroplanes and engines. We also went to America, and machines were brought over to try in this country. It would be the most extraordinary injustice to those in control of the Flying Corps to suppose that they were unaware of the difficulties arising through the German improvement, or to say that during the last six months of last year they were not making the most strenuous efforts to meet those conditions. My right hon. Friend has told us that in those efforts we have been successful, and we have developed a machine faster than the German machines, and well able to cope with German resources. It is not satisfactory to rely only upon the experience gained at our training centres, and you have to test all new apparatus on the field of action itself. I think the officers in high command of the Flying Corps deserve signal praise for this, that they have given the best possible opportunities to all officers in the Flying Corps to suggest and develop improvements in France, and try the various improvements in armament and the like. In this respect, I am glad to say, there has been a total absence of an atmosphere of red-tape.
Improvements have been suggested by this officer and that, which have turned out well, and our equipment now is much better than anything the Germans can show. We hear a great deal about fast engines and things in regard to which the Germans are said to excel, but we do not 1595 hear anything about the things in which we have the superiority. I do not think I am committing any breach of confidence in saying that our photography is better than the Germans'. I do hope the Government will take every opportunity of recognising the extraordinarily good work which has been done in photography by the Royal Flying Corps. Then, again, in the matter of machine guns we have a decided superiority. I am speaking of what I have heard officers say and what I have heard foreign officers say as well, when I say that the Lewis machine gun is admired all over Europe, and that our Allies join with us in thinking that it is the best machine gun for that type of work in Europe. We ought to hear these things, and then we can balance them against the things in regard to which it is said the Germans are superior.
We have heard, not perhaps so much today, but on previous occasions much of the unhappy accidents that sometimes take place. There is no more painful thing in the world than these accidents, because they not only cut off young and gallant lives with the tragedy that attaches to the losses of war but with the additional tragedy that it seems such a waste, not at the hands of the enemy, but through the mere operation of accidents, that such valuable lives should be lost. Of course, it is almost impossible to show what is the exact cause of the accident, because it takes place hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet up; more generally hundreds, but at a very considerable height from the ground. The machine is smashed, the officer is killed, and no one quite knows what did take place. No one can quite tell what exactly was the cause of the accident, but the common cause alleged is that either some mistake was made by the aviator, in which case, of course, no one is to blame except the man himself, or that there was some failure in the engine. The hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) produced a very large number of accidents. I went through the report of his speech, and as far as I have been able to examine them almost all of those that resulted from any defect in the machine were cases of engine failure.
I do not believe there is an officer in the Flying Corps who would not say that it is almost an impossibility by any ingenuity to make sure that there will be no failure of engine in the air. but if the officer makes no mistake in the vast majority of 1596 cases it is usually possible to come down without smashing the machine, and almost always without hurting himself. Very often, however, the officer does make a mistake. He tries to get in to some place which he thinks is a better landing-place, he banks too largely, and, his machine not working properly, it is dangerous, and a very considerable number of accidents take place in that way. No one, of course, likes to reflect upon the aviator and point out to his relatives that, however sad the accident may be, it is mainly his own fault, and the relatives not unnaturally get the impression that it is due to defective apparatus. The real honest truth is that it is due to a mistake such as anyone might make and the apparatus in the ordinary sense is as trustworthy as it can be made. If it be not trustworthy, the officer immediately in command, and not the War Office, is to blame for sending up the aviator with an engine dangerously defective. The actual responsibility lies with the immediate commander of the officer who meets with the accident. It is his business not to allow his subordinate to go up if the machine is not in proper order. The blame, on the other hand, may lie with the aeroplane mechanic who reports the aeroplane fit for flying when it is unfit, but in no case can I possibly imagine that any responsibility lies with the central authority at the War Office, or whatever person is directly responsible to this House. It is evidently outside their responsibility altogether.
The conception that there is indifference to human life and indifference to accidents among the higher officers of the Flying Corps is a mistake so flagrant that if the subject were not so serious it would be a ludicrous mistake. I could make the House laugh if it were respectful to do so by describing the state to which the Headquarters staff of the Flying Corps is reduced when an officer who is expected to arrive does not arrive, by describing how agitated they become, the degree of irritability they develop, and the telegraph messages which are frequently sent over to France. I have sometimes been tempted to say, "Whether the young man is in the Channel or not, we cannot do anything now," so great is the distress and anxiety which are evinced. If I appear to deal with it flippantly, it is because there are such a very large number of cases where the officer turns up with nerves tranquil, having suffered nothing more perhaps than the discomfort of having had to sleep 1597 at some French inn. That happens over and over again. There really is no truth in the suggestion that gallant lives of officers of the Flying Corps are sacrificed to anything except the necessities of the War.
The hon. Member for Brentford told a very interesting and picturesque story of an officer who went out flying and found the clouds too low. He flew above the clouds, and, not being able to see he came back to say so. His superior then told him to fly below the clouds, which were 3,000 feet up, and he declined because his machine was too slow. His superior flew, and was shot by an anti-aircraft gun. That is the story. I should like to have some cross-examination. I do not want to hurt the hon. Member's feelings, or the feelings of any person, but I think there honestly must be a little mistake. That is all my suggestion. I suppose, theoretically, there is a slightly greater risk in flying over anti-aircraft guns at 3,000 feet in a slow machine than in a fast machine. At any rate, to fly at 3,000 feet over antiaircraft guns is extremely dangerous, and, if it was done, it was an extraordinarily brave thing to do. I have heard of it being done in cases, but it is extremely risky. The commander would seem to me to be the squadron commander, but, according to the rules, squadron commanders do not fly, so I do not know how he could have flown at all. It is conceivable that it might have been the flight commander.
The truth is that as against anti-aircraft guns the fast machine would gain very little. What do you mean by a fast machine? You do not mean a machine that always, as against the ground, makes a certain speed. You mean a certain machine that flies at a certain pace compared with the air surrounding it. The fast machine always goes slow against the wind. It must do so. Therefore, if this officer flew out with the wind he would have to fly back against it, but if he flew out against it he would fly back with it, but in either case he would have one journey slow, however fast his machine. Therefore, I cannot believe that the fast machine has the importance which my hon. Friend attaches to it, when you are considering the question of danger from anti-aircraft guns. It has the greatest importance when you are considering the possibility of attacks by hostile aeroplanes. It is a most important consideration as between two aeroplanes. As to flying over anti-aircraft guns, I do 1598 not believe that it would make any very substantial difference. I cannot help suspecting, therefore, passing as the story must have done through several mouths, that the hon. Member has fallen into a misapprehension. In any case, the slower machines are not ordinarily used now, and have not been for some time past, for flying far over the German lines. The normal use of the slower reconnaissance machines is for Artillery work, flying along the lines, spotting Artillery on the enemy side, and directing the Artillery on our side. For some considerable time past the faster aeroplanes have been used for reconnaissance work such as the hon. Member has been describing, and therefore I feel that the whole story commands further investigation.
There are two ways really of judging of the efficiency of the Royal Flying Corps. You can take them point by point and incident by incident and you can examine each particular allegation, and you can have a highly technical discussion about the power of machines, the stability of aeroplanes, and the like. Let me say this. The much abused slow machine has done a wonderful service to the Flying Corps in its extraordinary stability and its ease of flying, and, consequently, the confidence which it gives to the young pilots in doing their work. You can have that sort of technical discussion, but you cannot usefully have that sort of technical discussion in this House. To begin with, I do not know how many Members—perhaps I should not be wrong in saying that there are no Members—who can properly engage in a technical discussion of that kind. I am sure that I could not deal with it as it ought to be dealt with. You can, on the other hand, take the broad outline of the subject and say that for the purpose of the scrutiny and control of the House of Commons we cannot go into details, we cannot determine questions about engines and the power of engines, we cannot judge of all the technicalities of aeronautics; we can only look at the main efficiency of the Royal Flying Corps in comparison with the efficiency of other Flying Corps.
I say with confidence that there is no Flying Corps in Europe, or in the world, therefore, that does more than our Flying Corps. You may say, and no doubt it is true, that it is largely due to the gallantry of the pilots. Nothing, I think, in the world is more stimulating than to turn up the tales of the aerial combats as they 1599 come in. They are just simple narratives of the facts of these combats in the air, but they have a degree of individual interest which has been wanting from warfare for six or seven hundred years. You have the thing as much a combat between two individuals as it used to be in the days of knights of old. You read the legends of King Arthur, or the account in the "Talisman" of the contest between William of Scotland and Saladin, but you come across nothing more individual than these battles between one aeroplane and another and one pilot and another You have in addition, of course, all the romance and all the excitement which comes from the reflection that this was all done when flying at 80 or 100 miles an hour thousands of feet above the ground. Nothing in fiction is so inspiring to the imagination or so touches the heart as these thrilling dramas of courage and dexterity played without spectators. Therefore, it is impossible to speak too highly or with too much respect of the gallantry of the officers of the Royal Flying Corps, but I think it is ungenerous to those who provide the machines to assume that it is all due to the gallantry of the officers, and that nothing is due to the efficiency of the machines. These machines—my hon Friend knows them very well—if you look at them, are marvels of finish and ingenuity, and marvels of the resources of mechanical ability in dealing with the great difficulties of the air problem. I am persuaded, therefore, that the question you should ask fairly is simply this: Do we do more than the Germans? The answer is, Yes, we do. Is there anything the Germans can do we cannot do? There is nothing the Germans can do that we cannot. That is sufficient, I think, for such an assembly as this to justify the verdict, not that there is no occasion for improvement, not that there is no opportunity for criticism, but it is sufficient to justify the verdict that, taking all considerations into view, our Royal Flying Corps is the best and most efficient in the world.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The cheers we have just heard indicate that hon. Members have listened with even unusual pleasure to the speech of my Noble Friend (Lord Hugh Cecil), a speech which showed all the usual charm of manner and style which we are accustomed to in him, but which had, 1600 if I may say so, more than is always the case, that element of common sense which has not always been conspicuous in our air debates. The Prime Minister has asked me, as a member of the War Council, which is responsible for the decisions the Government have come to in this matter, to take part in this Debate this afternoon, and my chief purpose is, of course, to give the House as clearly as I can the reasons-and we thought they were weighty reasons—that brought us to the conclusion that, on the whole, the plan on which we had decided was the best. But before dealing with that I should like to say a few words about the kind of criticism of our Air Service generally, of which we have not heard so much so far this afternoon, but of which I have listened to a great deal in the past. On the occasion of the last Debate, in the few remarks which I made then, I said that, after the examination I had given to the subject—and I had considered it greatly—the conclusion to which I had come was that the service was infinitely better than I expected. That impression remains on my mind now more strongly than ever.
I think it is confirmed by the incident referred to by my right hon. Friend opposite, and also by my right hon. Friend near me—the decision of the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) in regard to the Commission of Inquiry which was set up to meet in the main his charges. My right hon. Friend opposite showed very clearly, and with much dexterity, that in dealing with the hon. Member for East Herts he was in a difficulty. He had to justify all the preparations he made to deal with these raids which are the complete staple of that clamour we have heard in connection with that service. His method of doing that was perhaps quite satisfactory, but it is not the method to which we are accustomed. The right hon. Gentleman told us, not of the nights on which the Zeppelins came, but of the other 360 nights on which they did not come, and, in justifying his own previous methods in dealing with them he laid down the very satisfactory doctrine to him that his strategy was not in the least proved to be wrong, because the Zeppelins were foolish enough to come in the night instead of in daylight, and because, in addition., the Germans had been so foolish as to adopt a course which was obviously not in their own interests. That may be an explanation, but it is not the kind of attack which has been made on the Government.
1601 As regards the inquiry the right hon. Gentleman said something with which I do not agree. The Government did not wish an inquiry. It is quite obvious that its strong motive was to avoid it, as it would occupy time which could better be devoted to other work. What was the justification for granting it? It was that a Member of this House, with all the responsibility of being a Member, made charges, not using the word in a loose sense, which implied that the men in charge of this service, and at the head of it, were, through criminal indifference, negligence, and incapacity killing men. Just imagine what the fathers—and I am very interested in this myself—what the fathers of these boys would think when they hear of their deaths, and find it stated on that kind of authority, with no strong attempt made to disprove it, that lives have been thrown away. I think it is something which the Government in justice to the men responsible for the service were right in doing. That kind of charge can be made in this House as everybody knows without the possibility of answering it. You cannot go into the details. The hon. Member was offered the opportunity of going before a judicial tribunal, which would be trusted, I venture to say, by every business man in the country and in this House with the sifting carefully and impartially of any evidence, technical or other, brought before it. But the hon. Gentleman declined to proceed further. Perhaps he is right. That depends entirely on the badness of his case; but I must say for myself—I cannot judge as well as him—it must be a very bad case indeed if it would not be in a better position after going before that Court than it is now.
In judging as to the quality of our Air Service, it all depends on the standard you set up. If what anyone has in his mind is the best possible service under the best possible conditions we could have, then obviously our service leaves a great deal to be desired. But if the standard is a comparison either with our enemy or with any of our Allies, then I am prepared to say, as my Noble Friend said just now, that our service is unquestionably far better than that of the enemy, and, as I believe, equal—I should say it is more than equal—to that of any of the combatants engaged in the War. What is the test? From the beginning of the War we had what is called—I do not know whether the term "supremacy of the air" is an 1602 exaggerated phrase, but it was understood as meaning that the enemy did not dare show their faces at all, and that we had a great superiority in the air. That has continued down to the present moment. But at the end of last year, or the beginning of this year, our airmen, for the first time—they had hitherto made reconnaissances with comparative impunity, hardly ever being attacked—suddenly found that these Fokker machines were waiting for them, and we had heavy casualties. It is perfectly true that the men who were doing reconnaissance work were on inferior machines to the best German machines. But they had never been accustomed to being attacked, and although it is not the intention of those who direct the Air Service that men on that kind of machine should fight, being armed only to protect themselves, yet you could not prevent them fighting. They tucked up their wireless, and went for the enemy wherever they found him. The result was that we had a considerable number of casualties.
But there never was a time in this War when the Germans had a machine which was better than any of our machines, and when they had not a machine which was not worse than the worst of ours. That is the position. The difficulty was not got over by suddenly inventing new machines, but it was got over by our realising that the Germans were waiting for our men on these slow machines, and by sending other machines, fighting machines, to escort them. Now reconnaissance work is done by us with a frequency and regularity of success which is not even attempted by the Germans. The truth is our aeroplanes crossed the German lines oftener than they crossed ours. I have had to get some evidence which goes to prove it, and I have had taken out a return of all those combats of which my Noble Friend spoke so eloquently just now, which took place between the 7th July and the 14th April. Of course there were many casualties that were not the result of real combats. In this period of these contests there were 478, and of these sixty-three only took place on the British side of the line. In them thirteen German machines were brought down and not a single British machine at all. Of course we lost in fights on the other side of the line and over the trenches a large number of machines and men. But we do not know what the enemy lost. These figures, 1603 I think, clearly show the truth of the statement I made to the House that we do use the Air Service for military purposes to a far greater extent than the enemy.
The next charge made against ourselves was in connection with the machines. It is obvious to anyone if you compare one type of machine with an entirely different type it is easy to make out a case that we are entirely outclassed. That is what is being constantly done. This reconnaissance work is done with a slower machine, and in any case, even if you had fast machines, the fact that they have wireless and photographic apparatus makes it a necessity that they must be slower than the machines which are doing nothing but fighting. These machines, then, are slower, but the talk about Fokker machines being superior to any of ours, was absolutely untrue at the time it was made. I am not speaking now of the rate of speed in the air. Fokker machines have been captured, and one of them is being used regularly by our airmen. It is a fact, I am told not only by the heads of the Air Service, but by independent authorities, that we have machines—a number of them of at least two types—which are distinctly superior, from every point of view, to the Fokker, and there are other types which are at least equal. All this idea that we are behind is wrong. I should like further to say this—it would be well if the House could realise to what extent this service has grown. I cannot obviously give the figures, but I will point out two things. In the first place, to enable the service to grow, you have to have simultaneously aeroplanes, parts of aeroplanes, engines, mechanics, and pilots. These all have to be kept going simultaneously. To train pilots alone was difficult. There was a great temptation all through the War to send the largest number of trained pilots to the front, but to have done that would have prevented you developing the pilots here at home. The result of reversing the process, and of making sure that you are training pilots here, is that now we are turning out every month a larger number of trained pilots than the total number that was available from every source when War broke out on the 4th August, 1914. That is all I wish to say on that subject. I have rather a difficulty in saying it, because it seems to imply that if you defend a force in this way you are perfectly satisfied. That does not follow. All that 1604 I wish the House to realise is that the impression which has been sedulously created, that the Service has been muddled throughout, is entirely wrong, and that if you wish to find mistakes and errors in connection with the carrying on of the War, I am certain that it is not in the Air Service that the greatest number of these mistakes will be found.
I come to the main object of the remarks I am making to-day, that is, the proposal the Government has put before the House. In considering what should be done we had three alternatives only before us. One was, without changing the two Services, to do our best to develop them on their present lines. The second was to appoint a fully fledged Air Minister; and the third was, seeing that there is a joint Service, to try to get it used jointly by means of a joint board which would get the best out of both. There was a good deal to be said, in the middle of the War, for adopting the first course and trying to develop more rapidly on the present lines. In this connection what has happened in France should be very instructive to us. It is not encouraging. Before the War, in France the Air Service was entirely in the hands of the War Office; it was in the hands of one man, well known in connection with this subject, Colonel—now General—Herschauer. A year before the War a very strong agitation took place in the French Press, a large part of which was due to the dissatisfaction felt with him by the makers of aeroplanes. Owing to that agitation he had to give up his work. When the War broke out, he was called back and again took over his old duties. That went on until September of last year. Again an agitation was raised against him—it was precisely of the same kind we now have about the air muddle and all the rest of it—and the agitation always became the most effective when there were Zeppelin raids. The agitation was made against him, and he was driven out of his post once more. Now the French Press, at least part of it, has had its way. They appointed a full-blown Air Minister, who was, as it happens, an able man. M. Besnard. He appointed a committee, consisting entirely of men who were experts. That lasted for exactly five months. Another Zeppelin raid came, and the attack began all over again. The Air Minister has been turned out, and they have reverted to precisely the same position in which they were at the begin- 1605 ning of the War. That is not an encouraging example. I do not suggest that the French Service did not go on while all that was happening, but it cannot be good to be always pulling up a plant by its roots. The lesson there has been for us to develop on present lines. There is this difference between the French and ourselves; their Service is not a joint Service like ours, it is largely an Army Service, and an arrangement which is perfectly good for France, with its one Service, becomes not so good, and perhaps bad, when you are dealing with two Services, which ought to work together in the best possible way.
We rejected the proposal of leaving it as it is. The next question is that of an Air Ministry. My right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Churchill) said that we, the Government alone, were standing in the way. As I listened to his speech I could not help wondering what terrible thing had happened in the five months since he left the Government. I think the air problem was there then. It has not arisen since. I would like to say for myself, and I believe for the whole Government, that we had no prejudice whatever against an Air Minister. We are not so foolish—at all events, I have had sufficient experience of the House of Commons not to be—as not to know that if we had announced an Air Ministry it would have been what the House of Commons and the Press would have liked. There is no earthly reason why we should not have done it just as much as what we are doing, if we had thought it as good for the service of the country. We did not. Again, I do not really understand my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am not speaking at all to make a controversial point; I want rather to try to let the House understand the motives which actuated the Government in the proposals they have put forward. I really do not understand my right hon. and gallant Friend. He is in favour of an Air Ministry. Did that never occur to him as a good thing earlier, when he himself was a Member of the Government?
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I put before the Prime Minister early in June of last year some proposals of this character.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If I remember correctly, that was after the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had left the Admiralty.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I really do not understand my right hon. and gallant Friend. If there was one man who, if an Air Ministry was the right thing, had the power to establish it, it was my right hon. and gallant Friend. When the War broke out every Department was over head and ears in work. It is quite true, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, that Lord Kitchener was glad to leave the defence of London to him, because they were all overworked. If at that time he had thought an Air Ministry was the right way of doing it he would have had no difficulty in carrying it out. But there is more than that. When my right hon. and gallant Friend was at the Admiralty there was a joint Air Committee, and the two branches of the Air Services had but one name—the Royal Flying Corps, with a naval and military wing. When the War broke out my right hon. and gallant Friend did, what probably on the whole he was justified in doing. He had one Department in his own hands, and he showed great energy in developing it in the best possible and the most practicable way. But instead of saying then that an Air Ministry with these two services was the right solution, he, for the first time, gave a new special name to the naval wing of the Royal Flying Corps and, instead of making it a joint service, so far as his own action was con, cerned, it was to separate the two services more than ever they had been separated before.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I have not refreshed my memory, but I think the Royal Naval Air Service was a name started before the War.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have not looked it up either, but I think I am right. Every Member of the House must realise that there are great objections in the middle of a War to starting a new service and uprooting everything that has been done. That must be obvious. Even although the advantages will be greater later on, I do not think there is anyone who will doubt that during the period of transition, when you are doing away with the old arrangements, the result will be that the service will suffer for the time being. In this War we cannot afford to let it suffer even for the time being. The idea of those who advocate an Air Ministry so freely is that there is an analogy with the Ministry of Munitions. There is nothing of the kind. The Ministry of 1607 Munitions had difficulties enough to contend with, and I do not think they would have been overcome without great energy on the part of those who were carrying out those duties. But that was a simple problem compared with this. It was taking away from the War Office one branch of War Office work. The business of the Ministry of Munitions is to supply material. It has not to use that material, and it has not to direct the policy and the way in which that material is used.
Remember this! At this moment and for a long time to come, however rapidly you develop the Air Service, the great bulk of the work in the air will be done in connection either with the Navy or with the Army. There is the policy. Now surely, and this is a very strong reason in the middle of a war, it is not very wise to upset all that, to take away the training of the men, for instance, from the Army, who are doing it, and who, I think, are doing it well—to upset it all and put down something new, in the belief that later on you will get better results. I do not think that is a good plan. What is the alternative? Here I am free to say to the House—after the criticisms directed against our proposal and the way in which it was received in many quarters of the House, I say it more readily—I am not defending this proposal from a brief without believing in it myself. My right hon. and gallant Friend smiles. He knows perfectly well that in every Government decisions are taken in which everyone does not agree, but, as it so happens, this seemed to me from the first the best method during the War of trying to deal with this question. Will the House look at it? Is it not common sense? Here you have two services dealing largely with the same materials, and, to some extent, in the same way. Is it not the obviously right course to try to get these partners to work together, to use every possible force to compel them to work together, and so far as I am concerned, even if I believed that an Air Ministry was the right thing in the end—I think an Air Ministry may come out of it—I should say the right way to get it is to make some arrangement of this kind, to let it grow and to gradually let it absorb more and more the work of the Air Services. That is my belief. That is the proposal. What are the grounds of criticism that have been made against the 1608 present system. Indeed they are obvious to anyone who considers them. In the first place, if you have the two services there is likely to be overlapping and competition in buying material. That is bad, in my opinion, not merely because of the waste of money and the raising of prices, it is bad because you will not get the biggest output by that course. That is the first thing one would wish to stop. This Board really has complete power to put a stop to that. Let me deal with the kind of criticism the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made against the Board. I really thought it was not worth while. The substance of it was that there will not be voting at this Council, and he thinks that is a wonderful thing. That is the system on which every one of the Government Departments in this country is carried on now. It is the head of the Department which represents the view of the Department. The idea that the president will take one view and both the services will take a different view is an absurdity. What will happen very likely is that one service will take one view and the other another and he will overrule them. The object of not having a vote is, if possible, not to crystallise the hostility of the two services.
Then you come to what my right hon. Friend says about the chairman only having power to make recommendations; that Lord Curzon, as a member of the Cabinet, could make recommendations now; that he is free to make recommendations and that he has a free hand to bring them to the War Council. The powers which we give by this Resolution are these: That this new Board, which is a Joint Board of the two services—and that is the essence of it—with an outside chairman who is a Cabinet Minister, shall be expected to go into all air problems and to make recommendations to the two services. And then what follows? If these recommendations are not carried out, the president has the right of at once taking them to the War Council, who will give a decision, and whose decision will be final. It is quite obvious, I think, that if the two Departments have made up their minds that they regard this Board as the fifth wheel to the coach, as something which ought not to be there, as an enemy, this scheme cannot succeed. That is quite certain. But the essence of it is that the Board, in essentials, represents the two services. It has on it the men who are 1609 best qualified to speak for those services in their Departments, and surely it is not unreasonable to hope that when these subjects are discussed by such a Board they will come to an agreement in a way they could not in any other way, and that they will look upon the decisions as the real method of carrying out the policy; in other words, that more and more this new body will have allocated to it all the duties, so far as they can be performed, even of an Air Ministry. That is the object of the proposal.
The next kind of criticism which was made in the old days was about allocating machines. That is very important, too. So long as it is the case, as it is to-day, that neither Department can get as many machines as it wants, what follows? They struggle with each other to get them. It does not mean that there is ill-will between the two Departments, but each knows it can make good use of the machines, and each tries to get them. How is that to be settled? Surely the obvious way is by having a Board like this with an impartial arbitrator, who shall say, "The Navy needs these, the Army needs those," and that they shall have them unless the War Council decides it is a bad arrangement, and it is reversed. But the reverse, surely, of what my right hon. Friend suggested will happen. He says the War Council, because the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War are on it, will overrule the Committee. Both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War have approved of this proposal. The fact that they have approved of it means that so far as they are concerned they mean to make it a success, and in addition the War Council would not agree to such a proposal unless they have intended to do what they could to make it a success, and therefore you may start certainly with this presupposition that the sympathies of the War Council will be with the new Committee which has been set up.
Then another kind of criticism which is made—and it is a very strong one—is in regard to services which are neither naval nor military—joint services—what, for the sake of a short phrase, I may call long-distance raids. Perhaps it is a very bad arrangement that each Department should be carrying out these and planning for itself independently of the other, and one of the instructions which are given to this Board specially states that they are to devote themselves to considering that class 1610 of work. In other words, their duty will be to assist in every possible manner in organising these joint operations and making the best recommendations for carrying them out. If hon. Members will look at the difficulties of the present position, and will ask themselves what better plan is available, and when they make criticisms about this, ask themselves would not the same criticism apply to an Air Minister or any other method adopted, I am satisfied they will come to the conclusion that this plan has two great merits. It has the possibility, and I hope more than that, of developing the service in a way it has never been developed before, and it has this further merit, that it does not interrupt the work which has been going on now, but will speed it up at the worst and make it better than it is at present.
Another great object in my mind in getting this arrangement made is this. It is perefctly true that not only imagination but a keen interest in a subject like this is required to develop it in the best and most rapid way. I have thought from the beginning, though I did not see exactly how the matter was to be met, that in the nature of the case neither the First Lord of the Admiralty nor the Secretary of State for War can possibly devote their minds to a subject like this in a way in which it could be done by a man who had no other large duty to discharge. We have got in this arrangement a man whose duty it is to do it, and I think the best answer really to the criticism that the Board will have no power is that the man who has accepted the presidency of the Board has done it with the belief that he can do good work in it, and no member of the Cabinet or anyone of my acquaintance would have been less likely to undertake a position of such great responsibility if he thought he had not the power necessary to enable him to make a success of it. I do not know that I shall say more about all the details of the arrangement except this: It is just the conclusion to which the War Ministry came as to the way this ought to be done. About all these details you can find any amount of fault if you start with the supposition that the thing is not going to have goodwill. Take, for instance, what was said as to the power of spending money. That is quite true. It would be far better financially if the Air Ministry had a spending department of its own. But, as a matter of fact, if they agree on anything they are going to carry out 1611 there is not the smallest difficulty in getting orders placed by the other Departments and the financial arrangements made.
It would not, I think, be proper for me to say anything in praise of Lord Curzon, who has accepted the presidency of this Board, but I ask the House what are the qualities they would like to see in a man in that position? Certainly I should like to see a knowledge of the subject, but I do not think I would put that first. If you could get a man with other qualities, who was also an expert, it would be the best arrangement, though I know that is not agreed to by everyone, for our whole political system rests on the assumption that the man at the head of every Department must be an amateur in connection with it. I do not say that a better system is possible, but I do not go the length of believing that if you have a man of equal administrative capacity, equal ability, and not an amateur, that would be a better man than a man with the same qualities who does not know the subject. It may be said this is a Board of amateurs. So it is. But the very first thing Lord Curzon will do will be to make use of the best expert advice he can get, and in the best way he can utilise it. He has already spoken to me about methods he proposes to adopt to make use of it, but I will say nothing about that. What, apart from expert knowledge, are the qualities needed? I think the ones I would put first are brains, driving force, administrative capacity, and administrative experience. I think these are the qualities which will be most useful, and the result of this Board will be that this service will be treated as something by itself, as something to be fostered by itself and to be pushed forward with the utmost rapidity. Another quality is personality. There are different degrees of influence even in the Cabinet—I am sure I am not coming under the Defence of the Realm Regulations—and therefore it is essential that a man should have a certain amount of personality. I do not think there is anyone who knows Lord Curzon who will deny that he has a fair share of all the qualifications I have put before the House. I cannot possibly imagine any motive other than public spirit and a desire to do some service to his country at this time which would induce either Lord Curzon or any- 1612 one else to undertake this job. The very kind of criticism which has been directed against him showing the difficulty of it would be enough to deter most men from it, and we can judge really of these things by ourselves. Judging by myself, I say I can imagine no office under the Government which I would be less willing to undertake than the post which Lord Curzon has accepted. I do not think it is asking too much of the House or the country to say that they should recognise these facts and give him their good will in starting on his arduous enterprise.
§ Mr. BILLING
I regret exceedingly that this Debate has touched on personal matters. It was not my intention to refer to them in any way whatsoever; but the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tennant) has seen fit to refer in a very sneering and exceedingly unpleasant manner to myself and to my presence in this House, suggesting that I came quite unwanted. I think I can bear that out, and a great number of the Members of the House are quite prepared to substantiate that statement. The extraordinary disorder which takes-place in the House when I rise, sometimes in order, sometimes out of order, gives me to understand that the right lion. Gentleman had at least the sympathy of the House in making the statements which he did. However, I do not think that anything will make me believe that it becomes the dignity, even of a very junior officer of the Government, to make such statements in this House. I had some difficulty in entering this House, but I came here with a very fixed and definite purpose, and it is my intention to carry that purpose, I trust, to a successful conclusion. No amount of annoyance in this House, no amount of slur and insults from the Treasury Bench, and no amount of attack in the newspapers, will alter me one iota from my intention and my goal. I think it is necessary to make this statement. It has been suggested that, either through cowardice or some other reason, I have refused to appear before this Committee of Inquiry. I do not want to deal with this Committee: it has dealt with itself: its fallacy is so perfectly obvious to any right-thinking man that there is no occasion in the public interest to discuss it. As to what this House thinks or what the Treasury Bench thinks does not trouble me that—[snapping his fingers]. I have for this House immense respect, and I have great respect for the ruling of the Chair, but as to the Treasury Bench my respect 1613 is limited absolutely to that respect to which they have entitled themselves, and which in many cases, in my opinion, is a negligible quantity. So we can deal with the position as it really is.
The reason why I did not appear before that Committee I have already given. I stand on the floor of this House a late member of the Royal Naval Air Service. Do not let us confuse ourselves here, because the chaos in the Service has gradually leaked out of the Service until it has confused not only this House but the British public. There is a Royal Naval Air Service, and there is a Royal Flying Corps. The Royal Flying Corps is in itself the only recognised corps in which there are two branches, the Naval and Military Wing-If any hon. Member cares to get the Army List he can read it for himself. I made charges against the Royal Flying Corps, and those charges include the Naval and Military Wing, but the majority were against the Royal Naval Air Service. There are cases which I brought against the Royal Flying Corps, and I am prepared to substantiate every statement I have made in this House about it, but I will substantiate those statements in the presence of men who understand what they are talking about. If they want to make it a legal point and a question of tripping me up on evidence, perhaps they would be so gracious as to afford me the assistance of some counsel, in view of the fact that they have briefed, I understand, the greatest counsel on evidence they can find. In that way they have rather stolen a march over me. However, I am sure that there are other counsel in this country who will be able to deal with this position upon the point of evidence. If they were willing to grant me the same advantage which they possess I do not mind considering that point in the one count. On the other count I believe I am right, although I speak in absolute ignorance of evidence. I am a student of the Bar, but if I thank my Maker for anything it is that I never allowed myself to be called to the Bar, because the lawyer politician in this country has brought great discredit, and I say it without fear of contradiction, upon the whole of this House, both inside the House and outside it. We find nothing but Committees full of lawyers, and jobs, jobs, jobs, right, left, and to the centre, until it disgusts clear-thinking people in this country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. You can laugh; it may be a laughing subject to you, but although it may be a laughing subject to you, it may yet prove 1614 the ruin of our country. On that count, at least, it is not a laughing subject. These men, these Gentlemen, these right hon. Gentlemen, have fought across the floor of the House of Commons for years with nothing more fierce than words. Let them face practical issues.
I have had some little experience. I was to have been allowed to appear before this Committee. I was going to be called on points of evidence about a murder charge. Notice the extremely ingenious methods by which the lawyer politician seizes on a more or less grammatical word. I am not the only Member of this House who suggested that, and I do not withdraw in any sense what I meant when I used those words. I reiterate that statement.
§ Mr. BILLING
It has been suggested that our men are being sent up into the air with machines which are not capable of performing the task which they are called upon to perform. I repeat that statement. I have listened with interest to some of the speeches in this House, and with amazement and sheer despair to others. The Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) suggested this afternoon that when flying at 3,000 feet it did not matter at what speed you might fly relative to the ground, because the speed was constantly relative to the air, and it did not matter whether the machine was fast or slow if you were flying over anti-aircraft guns. That shows an amazing lack of practical experience. Assuming that a machine is starting to go on reconnaissance over the enemy's line, and the machine is capable of flying at eighty miles an hour. The ground, of course, may be still, but there is a forty-mile head wind into which the machine is flying. The result is that the forward speed of the machine is reduced to forty miles an hour over the ground. Therefore, the gunner makes his corrections accordingly for a flight at forty miles an hour speed. Assuming that the wind is fifty miles an hour, and the machine the man is flying has only approximately fifty miles an hour speed, which is not a very common occurrence, but it is certainly possible, it means that the poor aviator has to stand quite still in the air while the gunner is shooting at him, and he never gets any forwarder. If the wind is fifty-one miles an hour, the aviator is proceeding homewards backwards at the rate of one mile per hour. To suggest that 1615 speed is not of the utmost importance to our machines is simply misleading the House. The Noble Lord suggested that it is difficult to tell the speed at which a machine flies. All I have to tell him is this, that if you are in an aeroplane which can only do seventy miles an hour, and another aeroplane is at your tail which can do ninety miles an hour, you very soon discover it, and the excuse that you could make that the other machine was faster would be perfectly true. The most essential thing in an aeroplane is speed in climbing. If you have speed in climbing you always have the advantage, although the machine may be faster. If you have the climb in hand you can generally beat the aeroplane you are engaged with. All these matters are more or less technical, and should not form the subject of this Debate, but they have been raised. Of course, it is very nice to raise one or two points, which gives the impression of some sort of superior knowledge to those who are listening.
§ Mr. BILLING
The point is this: If we have in this country, and we have in this country, the best machines, and some of the best engines, and if we continue, on the other hand, to build machines of design which the Government officially decides, and if we continue to order in large quantities engines which are in the opinion of experts in this country inefficient, then I say we are guilty of supplying our officers with machines that are inefficient, and if they meet their death in consequence of not having the best material, it is very difficult to find a word with which to describe the behaviour or the conduct of those people who are primarily responsible. In regard to a question which I put to the right hon. Gentleman with reference to 2,500 of what are called R.A.F. engines—Royal Aircraft Factory engines—which were ordered quite recently, I got the usual evasive reply that one gets from the Treasury Bench, that the Aircraft Factory did not order them. If they did not order them, all I have to say is that the officer who is responsible for ordering them must carry the entire blame. These engines are of eighty or ninety horsepower. The engines in question have proved something in the nature of a failure, and they were ordered in large quantities before they had been properly tested. 1616 When they came out, the cylinders, which are the most vital parts of the engine, and really should last for the normal life of the engine, were found to be so faulty that they were constantly cracking and constantly breaking, and the result was that these cylinders, which should last the life of the engine, have been obliged to be put on the Army list as consumable stores. On the question of whether it is an act of criminal negligence to send a man out in an aeroplane with an engine fitted with a cylinder of that sort, I leave it to the House. What has been the result? The Noble Lord said there was no need for an accident through engine trouble if the pilot took charge properly. These cylinders are held down, instead of, as in the French Renaud design, by an arrangement which equalises the distribution of the mixture and allows for the expansion and contraction of the metals—are held down by four bolts, with the result that there is unequal expansion and contraction. The result is that the effect of the mixture is weakened by the intake of air. The carburettor catches fire and in many cases the machine catches fire, and the pilot is burnt to death. When we have proved once, twice, or three times that this is likely to happen, and when you ask a man to go up with one of these engines in front of him, practically telling him that he may be roasted in the air, it is not encouraging to the pilots in the Service or to any young ones who may be contemplating joining.
This is as far as my charges are concerned. This Committee is not constituted properly, and they have not the full terms of reference. The First Lord of the Admiralty says, "I will not have an inquiry in my Department" Why? I have been sixteen months in the Royal Naval Air Service, and I can give what even a legal-minded gentleman would have to admit was purely clear evidence about the Service. I can imagine hearing the right hon. Gentleman saying, "What, are you going to take the evidence of this officer and make it into a whip to thrash the Government with, or a stick to beat the Government with?" I think the Government stand in urgent need of that. I think that any stick would be justified, providing we get reform, providing we get something done, which it seems very difficult to get done. This is a Committee which I suggest is a packed Committee. It is the old, old story. They endeavour to discredit me, but that fell through. Then they say, "We will employ men like 1617 Sir John Boraston to write foul letters," which I have read to the House, and there has not been a member of the Treasury Bench who has had courage enough to get up and deny this foul electioneering trick. "Well, he gets us in spite of all. Then he comes to the House. We will ignore him." I have endeavoured in the interest of the services not to be ignored in the House of Commons. "He will not be ignored. We must discredit him. All the papers which support us outside must do what they can to hold him up by personal abuse, and any little assistance which we can give will be given." Then I make a statement which had the fortunate result of bringing about more reforms in the Royal Flying Corps in two months than had ever been effected since its inception. Since I came to the House a certain officer was sent for. He is a complete stranger to me. I never met him. I know nothing of him. I have heard his name mentioned so freely during the last few months that I feel that I know him personally. The reforms which he has brought about in two months would justify anything that I have said or that any man has said in this House. He has completely reconstructed the Royal Flying Corps. He has turned it from a shambles and chaos into some sort of reasonable body. I am referring peculiarly to the Army Department.
The service in France has made a very good show with very bad material. He has reconstructed the whole of the War Office side. They have given him, considering his rank, a very free hand. They asked him to save them from themselves, and nobly he has done it. I heard this not from himself, whom I have never met, not from his superior officers, but from junior officers serving under him. The testimony from the men serving under him is the best testimony that an officer can get. Then I continue my attacks on the Government, and so they say, "We cannot discredit him, or do anything with him. We will side-track him. He has got a certain amount of energy. He is always doing something. We will side-track him." Then they appoint this, I was going to say, comic committee of lawyers, able lawyers, and a gentleman well versed in steam turbines, and another gentleman whose father, I believe, laid the Atlantic cable, and who is an eminent civil engineer, and they expect me to appear before these legal luminaries without any counsel, or any 1618 satisfaction whatsoever in their findings, nor would the country have any satisfaction. I am very sorry if the Government think that I am going to be led aside to dissipate any energy which I have, and which I am putting into the job which I am doing, by such foolish tricks. If they think they are going to put up legal Aunt Sallies of this description to alter my determination they are mistaken. If they care to have a committee consisting of a judge and twelve mechanics, twelve ordinary mechanics who know their job, who are not looking for any cash or kudos, and they care to ask me to appear before that judge and twelve mechanics, I will do it with pleasure, and prove my case. With that I must leave my relationship with the Government. I am sorry that I have had to trouble the House in my efforts to put that matter straight.
As regards the other committee, I still refer to it as a committee. They have changed its name and called it a board. I suppose that if they get driven into another corner they will change its name and call it a council or something, but we do not get any "forrader." The whole cause of all the trouble in the Flying Service is the friction which must inevitably arise between the senior and junior branches. The senior branch of the Flying Service, that is the naval branch, naturally feels that it is the senior branch, and the military wing naturally feels that it is the junior branch. That is responsible for a certain amount of friction, and must always be so. But the duties are so very distinct that it is quite possible, and I have always been in favour of it, for the duties to be carried out by the proper service officers in the respective services. There are certain duties which a naval officer knows how to carry out, and others which a military officer knows how to carry out. Above all there is the need for that which I should have thought the Government could have seen by now. It has been pointed out to them so many times that one does despair of them ever facing the proposition, and grasping the nettle, without which they will never get forward, and certainly never equal such an efficient nation as we are up against.
Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members not being present the House was adjourned at Seven minutes after Eight o'clock till to-morrow (Thursday).