§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I beg to move:That this House, whilst earnestly desiring the further limitation of armaments so far as is consistent with the safety and integrity of the Empire, affirms the principle laid down by the late Government and accepted by the Imperial Conference that Great Britain must maintain a Home Defence Air Force of sufficient strength to give adequate protection against air attack by the strongest air force within striking distance of her shores.In moving the Resolution. I should like to make two over-riding observations, which I would ask hon. Members to read into everything I am going to say. The first observation is this: In the course of my remarks I shall have to make certain comparisons with the Air Force of the biggest air power in Europe, our friends and Allies the French, and I wish to make it quite clear that in these comparisons there is no suggestion, disguised or undisguised, of hostility towards our friends and Allies, and that in making the comparison I am not suggesting that a breach in the friendly relations between the two countries is likely, any more than I suggest that a breach between ourselves and the United States of America is likely in comparing the strength of the British Navy with the strength of the Navy of the United States. I would ask hon. Members to remember these observations in connection with any comparisons that I may make between British air power and French air power.
There is another over-riding observation that I would venture also to make. I am just as anxious as any hon. Member in any part of the House to see a limitation of armaments. I am just as apprehensive as any Member of the House in seeing a possibility of a new armaments race starting in the world, and provided that in the meanwhile no risk is taken with our national defence, I am prepared 1661 to look most sympathetically at any attempts that this Government, or any other Government, may make to bring about a general reduction of armaments, whether it be by international conference, whether it be by treaty of mutual guarantee, or whether it be—and perhaps this is the most efficacious of all methods—by a mobilisation of public opinion in the various countries of Europe. In this connection, I see on the Paper two Amendments to my Resolution which directly raise the question of an international conference and a treaty of mutual guarantee.
As to the first, I think the Prime Minister was very wise the other day when he said that an international conference must come' at the end and not at the beginning of negotiations, and I think hon. Members will agree with me when I say that the history of post-War Europe has been a history of failure after failure at international conferences, owing to the fact that the ground had not been sufficiently prepared and that a sufficient measure of agreement had not been reached before the conferences sat. As to a treaty of mutual guarantee there again I would like to say a word of caution. There is a risk and a very real risk that in entering upon a treaty of mutual guarantee we may be increasing and not, diminishing our commitments. I will not say more than that this evening, but hope that I have said enough to show that the first sentence of my Resolution expresses the view of hon. Members upon this side of the House just as it does the view of hon. Members of the Labour party or hon. Members of the Liberal party. We are just as anxious as they are to see a limitation of armaments, provided that that limitation can be general and provided also that it is consistent with the safety and integrity of the British Empire.
A week ago the Prime Minister was asked certain questions by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with reference to the attitude of the Government upon the question of national defence generally. Among the observations which he made, he said this:For some time to come the bargaining power of a British Foreign Secretary is not to depend upon military force but upon the reasonableness of the policy which he presents.1662 I am not prepared to go so far as to say that diplomacy is always successful in proportion to the force which is behind it. At the same time 1 cannot help thinking that the Prime Minister, when he enters upon the many difficult negotiations that are before him, will find that it is not a disadvantage, at any rate, to have behind him a supreme Navy, and that it is not an advantage to have behind him an Air Force which, while it is excellent in quality, is altogether insignificant in quantity. But I do not want to linger on that phrase which was used by the Prime Minister. I would pass rather to his other observations. The Prime Minister said, in answer to the Leader of the Opposition:My Government is making a general survey of defence problems. Not only is it doing that, it is making a general investigation of the inter-relation between foreign politics and national defence.I think that that is a very natural action for any new Government to take. The right hon. Gentleman is following the footsteps, certainly, of his immediate predecessors, and, I should imagine, of most of his predecessors, for it is exactly the kind of survey that the late Government undertook when it came into office in 1923; I have, no objection whatever to make against it. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that there is everything to be said in favour of it, provided that, while this general survey is being carried out, the more urgent and necessary aspects of national defence are not ignored or even delayed. But I wish to-night to press the Government to define their attitude somewhat more clearly on what I regard as the most urgent, and I believe to be the least controversial aspect of national defence, the question of air defence. I say, advisedly, the least controversial and the most urgent question of national defence, because t cannot believe that there is any substantial section of Members in this House, or any large body of public opinion in the country, that can regard with equanimity the fact that the capital of the Empire and the shores of this country are in so vulnerable a condition against the most terrible of modern attacks.
Let me in a very few sentences summarise the air position as I see it to-clay, or rather let me go back to the time when the late Government took office 18 months ago, and carry on the story until the pre- 1663 sent time. I became Secretary of State for Air in October, 1922, just at the most critical time of the Chanak crisis. At that moment—this fact may surprise many hon. Members—we had within these shores only 24 first line aeroplanes, trained and available for home defence. I mean by first line aeroplanes the machines themselves, the reserves, and the personnel that go to keep them in the air. Owing to certain action which the late Government took we have now about 80 first line machines definitely allocated to home defence.
Compare those two figures with the similar figure of our friends and neighbours the French. At the present moment there are in France about 1,000 first line aeroplanes. Of these about 600 are included in what is known as the French Independent Striking Force. Then there are another 400 over and above this figure that are allocated to duties with the French Army. But speaking generally, and not going into details, it is true to say that there are in France at the present moment about 1,000 first line machines against a little more than 100—for that I take it is the comparable figure—in this country. If you take the figures of the French Independent Striking Force you have 600 machines as compared with our 80 home defence machines. If you add a certain number of the army cooperation machines the comparison is between 1,000 and 100. Every hon. Member will agree that that is a striking disparity, and I wonder whether all hon. Members realise fully its significance.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many of these French machines are bombers and how many merely scouts?
§ Sir S. HOARE
I cannot say off hand, but I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the figures which I have given are comparable, that in each case there are a certain percentage of bombers and a certain percentage of fighters, and whatever that percentage might be the figures that I have given are comparable. I was saying that I wonder whether all hon. Members realise fully the significance of this disparity. Let me put it in another form; and here again let me remind hon. Members of the observation which I made 1664 at the beginning of my speech, that nothing which I am saying is intended in any way to convey the idea that I think that a war between the two old friends and Allies, England and France, is in the least likely. During the War the greatest amount of bombs that was ever dropped upon these shores in the space of a single month was 12 tons. Eight hundred machines could drop 170 tons of bombs upon London, not in the course of a month, but in the course of 24 hours, and keep up a bomb attack of 75 tons per day for an indefinite period. That is a very sinister and significant fact for every hon. Member to consider.
If further details arc needed in this connection, I would draw attention to a most interesting book that has just been published by a most distinguished French airman. M. Rend Fonck, not only a great war pilot but a very influential member of the Chamber of Deputies, the Chairman of the French Aeronautic League. M. Fonck calculates that a force of 500 aeroplanes could, in the space of a single right, obliterate from the face of the earth a city a kilometre square. He calculates, further, that a force of this size could wipe off the surface of the globe a city as big as Paris in the course of a fortnight or three weeks. I think that those two or three examples should be sufficient to impress upon every hon. Member the gravity of the question and the extreme urgency of this aspect of this problem of national defence.
As soon as I became responsible for the Air Force, I put these facts before the then Prime Minister, Mr. Bonar Law, and the result of my representations was that, without delay, we set in motion the comparatively small scheme of expansion that was initiated in the time of the right hon. Member for Stroud (Captain Guest). But it was quite obvious that that expansion was not sufficient. On that account Mr. Bonar Law appointed a Committee of investigation of the Committee of Imperial Defence. If right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench will look at the voluminous evidence that was offered to that Committee, and at the piles of minutes and memoranda that were circulated in connection with it, they will agree with me that there was never a, fuller or more detailed inquiry into any question of national defence. The result of that inquiry was announced to the House last June. The Government 1665 accepted the principle embodied in my Resolution, that, however improbable war may be, none the less a country like ours cannot afford to be in so vulnerable a position, and that, therefore, an Air Force must be built up sufficient to defend these shores from any possible air attack.
That was the principle announced to the House last June. On the strength of it I at once took action and set on foot a programme for carrying the principle into effect. As a first stage of expansion we agreed upon an increase of the Air Force for the purpose of home defence which would bring it up to a strength of 600 first line machines. That is a strength of 32 squadrons, devoted primarily to home defence. We worked out this programme as quickly as we could. We took the preliminary steps, and I was authorised to spend a substantial sum of money in bringing it into effect.
The first question that I wish to ask the Government is, are they going on with this expansion for home defence or are they not? Are they proceeding with the same expedition that I was attempting to apply to it last year? The House must keep in mind the fact that, however insistently we press on with this expansion, it must, in the nature of things, take a considerable time. It is very difficult in peace time to double one of the great fighting forces. You have none of the methods of war time, with which you can hastily, in a few weeks, extemporise a great fighting force. Let me give a single instance. The greater numbers of the skilled personnel of the Royal Air Force arc recruited as boys. A boy's training takes three years. That in itself shows that, however much one presses on with this expansion, it must take considerable time before it is completed. The moral of that is that no unnecessary delay must be placed in its way.
I, therefore, want to ask the Government whether they are going to press on with it as speedily as I was attempting to press on with it while I was in office? Are they going on with my programme of buying aerodromes? Are they going on with my programme of enlisting larger numbers of boys? Are they going on with my programme of ordering machines? On all these points I should like as clear an answer as the Government can give me. Then there is another question. Is the Government going to adopt the general 1666 principle which I was attempting to apply to the constitution of the force This, I would remind the House, is a force for home defence, a force that it is not intended to take to the more distant parts of the Empire on garrison duty, and because it is a home defence force based upon these shores you can apply to it methods of recruitment and training that you would not apply to a force that might be going, say, to India or Iraq. On that ground I embodied in my programme large elements of what I will call non-regular personnel for these home defence squadrons. In my programme there was to be a nucleus of regular squadrons, but there were also to be squadrons rather in the nature of territorial squadrons, to be called auxiliary Air Force squadrons, and, in addition, there were to be Special Reserve squadrons. Besides that, we intended to carry out as much of the non-flying duties as possible by civilian labour. I think those proposals were wise for more reasons than one. In the first place, 1 believed they would be economical from the point of view of finance. Secondly, I believe they were wise from the fact that by diffusing knowledge of the air and of aviation, in the great industrial centres of this country, you would be strengthening the general air sense of the country.
I should like then to ask the Government, as my second question: Are they going to continue this general framework of non-regular personnel in addition to regular personnel and, if they are going to continue it, are they going to introduce without delay the Auxiliary Air Force Bill? We included the Auxiliary Air Force Bill in the King's Speech, and, had the Government of which I was a member remained in office, one of our first acts would have been to introduce that Bill. It is a Bill upon which depends the development of these non-regular elements in the Home Defence Force, for without it we cannot create Auxiliary Air Force squadrons and a Special Reserve for the Air Force.
I come to my third question which is concerned with another branch of the subject, namely, civil aviation, I am aware that there are certain people who take the view that civil aviation can be a substitute for military aviation. A time may come in the future when civil aviation will have so far developed that 1667 it may almost be regarded as a substitute, but my belief, for what it is worth, is that the time is still far distant and that the most we can hope for in the near future is that civil aviation should be, not a substitute for military aviation, but, if properly developed, be a supplement, and on that account very valuable to military aviation For that reason, while I was in office I did what I could, side by side with this military expansion, to develop civil aviation in various ways. Perhaps the most conspicuous way in which I attempted to develop it was by bringing together the various small civil aviation transport enterprises into one strong company. Before I left office, an agreement was signed between the Government and the new enterprise. I think anyone who looks at the conditions of that agreement with an impartial mind, will say that no obstacles should be placed in the way of carrying out the agreement, because under it there is every chance of civil aviation developing extensively and of British civil aviation taking the lead in Europe. I have no reason to suppose that the present Government have any intention other than to support, in every way in their power, the launching of this civil aviation enterprise, but I shall be re-assured if the Under-Secretary of State for Air will confirm my belief, namely, that this Government is just as anxious as the last. Government to see civil aviation developing, and to see it put upon such a basis that in the future it will no longer be spoon-fed and dependent upon subsidies —in many ways most objectionable—but will be built to stand upon its own footing and develop, just like any other economic enterprise, and gradually drive its lines across the whole face of Europe.
Lastly—and I do not wish to labour this side of the question, because I am not sure that it comes very definitely within the terms of my Resolution—I should like to say something with reference to the development of airships. There, again, I believe, if civil airships are developed just in the same way as civil aeroplanes, I hope, are going to develop, you will gradually build up a reserve both of skilled personnel and technical material which may stand you in very good stead at a time of emergency. For one of the first conditions upon which we insisted, both in the aeroplane agreement and in the agreement we were on the point of 1668 making with reference to airships, was that both the personnel and the material should be at the command of the State in time of national emergency. The Prime Minister, yesterday, said the Government were reconsidering the question of airships. I will not say more than this at present—that we should think it most regrettable if, after these months of investigation and years of negotiation, the scheme of airship development upon which we were virtually agreed when we went out of office should be held up, and that there should be another long period during which no airship development was taking place.
These are the specific questions that I venture to ask the representatives of the Government. I hope that they will be able to satisfy all sections of the House in the answer that they give, and I hope further that they will accept the Resolution which stands in my name. The Resolution, as hon. Members will see, is very moderately worded. It is a Resolution which asks for the bare minimum of Air Force necessary for the immediate defence of the country. It is a Resolution that will not involve the Exchequer —I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the bench opposite—in very great expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head, and I am not sure whether he means by that that he agrees with me or disagrees, but if he disagrees with me, let me point out to the House that the whole of this programme, a programme under which the British Air Force is going to be doubled, is, when the full expenditure comes into being—not this year, but in future years—not going to amount to more than between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 a year. That may be a. great sum, but at any rate it is a very small sum as compared with the far larger sums spent upon other branches of national defence.
Perhaps morn important than that, this Resolution is almost word for word the Resolution agreed to by the Imperial Conference, and I can tell the House that in all the field of national defence that was surveyed by the Dominion Premiers, there was none that excited more interest, there was none that occasioned more anxiety, than the question of air defence. Therefore, I would press upon the House that they should accept this Resolution this evening, a Resolution which, as I 1669 say, calls for the very barest minimum of Air Force defence, a Resolution which was agreed to by the Dominion Premiers at the Imperial Conference, and a Resolution that, in my view, embodies a policy and a programme that is more vitally urgent to the safety of the country than any other phase of national defence at the present moment.
§ 9.0 P. M.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. W. Leach)
I have listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). It must be clear to the House that he is a master of his subject, and that he speaks with a sense of very deep conviction. I must admit that he has put his case with very much temperance of speech, and I shall seek to meet, so far as I am able, his request for information from the Government. He has drawn a very alarming picture of the disparity of the Force between ourselves and France. Whether that be so or not, the responsibility does not lie with us. It is our legacy and not our responsibility, but for the moment I must decline to be alarmed about it. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman tell us of his earnest desire for a further limitation of armaments, consistent, as he puts it, with the safety and integrity of the Empire. Everybody wants a decrease of armaments, perhaps even the armament makers. I came into this House one night recently, and I heard a Member on the opposite benches saying that what he wanted was a clean bill of health without slaughter. It struck me that I had stumbled into the Debate that was clown for to-night. Everybody in the world wants less armaments. The extraordinary thing is that what everybody wants nobody can have. The one thing that was knocked on the head during the War was the doctrine that in order to get peace we must be prepared for war. All the nations in the world that prepared most got the most war. Preparedness is not the best weapon in diplomacy. The best weapon in diplomacy is to have a sound and righteous cause. I always think that preparedness indicates a fear of one's neighbours, a disbelief in the righteousness of the intentions of those neighbours. Well, I am not a disbeliever in the righteousness of France's intentions.
1670 I am reminded by this Resolution, which is divided into two parts, of an ancient military slogan: "Trust in God, but keep your powder dry." It was a cynical motto. Perhaps there may be something to be gained out of this Debate to-night if we can learn which to rely on ourselves most. Moreover, about 2,000 years ago, a great reformer laid down the principles for solving this problem of national defence. Most unfortunately, nobody accepted his views on the matter. They were buried with Him. I want to see some new excavation works to raise the lid of the Sarcophagus of the New Testament. Perhaps the Churches may yet oblige in this matter, and not leave it wholly to the statesmen of a Labour Government. I believe a new Gospel is needed. I suggest that if you want peace, you must prepare for peace. This Government is preparing for peace. We can already see a break in the clouds.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants me to define the attitude of the Government towards national defence. He asks in plain, explicit terms are we going on with the expansion scheme? I am going to tell him in plain and explicit terms that there is no change in the policy of the Government for the time being on this matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] Let us examine what those expansion proposals are. First, there was the increase for home defence authorised by the Coalition Government in August, 1922. It was then decided to form 15 new squadrons, to be completed, approximately, by April, 1925. At that time we had only three squadrons allotted for home defence. The total by April, 1925, will thus be 18 squadrons. This decision was re-affirmed by Mr. Bonar Law's Government. A further increase of 34 squadrons was approved by the late Government in the way that the late Secretary of State for Air indicated. This announcement was made to the House on 26th June of last year. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want me to go more closely into the details of the expansion scheme than that, and I think the House will agree that wisdom lies in the barest of statements on these proposals at this juncture. That plan for the time being will not be interfered with. Continuity has been agreed to by the Govern- 1671 ment. This Government has taken over the responsibilities left to it by its predecessors.
The scheme itself is being worked out in definite stages, and it will not, and does not, debar us from taking full advantage of any new movement in the direction of disarmament, or in the reduction of armaments. We should welcome a new Washington Conference. We shall do what in us lies to make such a Conference possible. As the House knows, the Treaty of Mutual Guarantees proposed by the Temporary Mixed Commission of the League of Nations is already in draft. It is now being considered by the various Governments. If that Treaty be approved, reductions will presumably be practicable. I think His Majesty's Government can be trusted not to be slow or backward in all efforts towards such an agreement. My predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman who has moved this Resolution to-night, has pointed out the difficulties which stand in the way of quick increase of air squadrons. Let us not forget them. You have, for instance, to remember that there is the provision of stations for the accommodation of these squadrons. There has to be the acquisition of land, and the erection of buildings. There has to be the enlistment and training of men. There has to be the increase in the numbers of boy mechanics, and facilities for their training. All this, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, takes time. The scheme is going forward, and any deviation from it, if contemplated by this Government, will be brought before this House, and will have to he sanctioned here.
The right hon. Gentleman put to me the question, what are we doing about the Auxiliary Air Force? He also laid stress upon the non-regular side of the Reserve Force. What I have to tell him is; that that scheme is going forward. The Auxiliary Air Force and the Air Force Reserve Bill is on the list of essential Bills to be submitted to this House. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it will require legislation in order to establish those forces. He then asks me, what steps are being taken in regard to ordering machines of a new type to meet the requirements of this new force? I have to say that the whole scheme is growing up 1672 in regular and definite stages, and sufficient machines are being ordered to equip those squadrons that will come into being during the coming year. It must be borne in mind that during the formation of the squadrons, and pending the delivery of the new machines, some of the squadrons will, for the time being, have only training machines and present types of service machines. Time will remedy that.
Then the right hon. Gentleman asks me in regard to civil aviation, what are we doing with reference to the proposals that went through the House while he was Minister for Air, bringing four companies into one Imperial Transport Company. That agreement, as he says, has been signed. It is a fait accompli. This legacy, also, so far as the present Government can do so, will be properly fulfilled. We are anxious to foster civil aviation. We shall take whatever measures that are open to us to do so. In regard to airships, I can add no more to the Prime Minister's answer on the subject of that scheme which is associated with the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). We are vitally interested in seeing that the lighter-than-air ships shall be explored, encouraged and fostered in every proper way that is open, to us.
§ Captain W. BENN
Will they be kept under the Ministry of the right hon. Gentleman and not handed over to the Admiralty?
§ Mr. LEACH
That is another of those problems about which a decision has not been reached. A solution may possibly be discovered. The Admiralty are fine, stubborn people, with whom it is good to argue. The Noble Lord the Minister for Air is having great joy in his discussion with them.
The second part of this Resolution calls for a home defence Air Force sufficiently strong to provide an adequate protection against the strongest air force that is likely to be within striking distance of our shores. I suppose that on that as a pious declaration little criticism can be made; 1673 but I have wondered whether it is a practical proposition. I have wondered what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman envisaged, supposing you have the unhappy event of war. Say our signallers warn us of the approach, say, of 100 fighting aeroplanes upon London. Are we to have 100 to go up to meet them? [HON. MEMBERS: "TWO hundred!"] Two hundred ready! [HON. MEMBERS: "Five hundred!"] is each man, each airman, to single out the individual that he proposes to attack, and set the thing going in that way7 What is adequate protection? Suppose there is an attack on Portsmouth, or Harwich, or Plymouth. Are aeroplanes to be stationed in the expectation that all these places are likely to be attacked?
Can aeroplanes give adequate protection against aeroplanes. Everybody knows they cannot. If we had 50 machines to one against the strongest air force within striking distance, we would not be adequately protected, in the opinion of some people, and if we were ringed round from the Humber to the Thames, and around the South Coast to Cornwall, with machines every hundred yards, there would be somebody still saying that this was not adequate protection. Totally adequate protection is like the totally honest man, it has never been discovered. The air force is an attacking weapon, not a weapon of defence. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman disavows any intention of embarking on another armaments race, but this Resolution almost seems as if there was a desire for another armaments race. It asks, or seems to ask, for a new one-Power standard Air Force. When you have got that, some lunatic will demand a two-Power standard. Then the hysterical Press will back him up and probably demand a three-Power standard. I am not a great military strategist or an expert. I can see that an army can keep another army off, and that a navy can prevent another navy landing men, and also that an air force, so far, cannot prevent an air raid. It is not pleasant to contemplate it, but up to date—and the Resolution ignores it—the only adequate defence that I can see is a changed international atmosphere. If we continue to put fear at the helm and folly at the prow we shall steer straight for the next war.
Major - General SEELY
We have listened to a most astounding doctrine given at the close of the speech of the Under-Secretary, a doctrine which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would really mean the disbandment of our Army and of our Navy, and of our Air Force, too. Surely, with all respect, Sir, we must challenge the Government on this point of view. I will only detain the House for a little while, but I will endeavour to show that this matter is of vital importance to us. The Under-Secretary asks: "What is the defence against aeroplanes?" He answers that by saying, a Change in the national spirit. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] He said "the national spirit." [HON. MEMBERS: "The international."] Well, the international spirit. He did say "national," but let, it stand—a change in the international spirit. Who are the aggressors? Who have been the aggressors? [Interruption.] This country or others? This country has not been, and is not now, an aggressive country. We were forced into the late war.
Major-General S EELY
We have throughout endeavoured to pursue a peaceful policy, and shall continue to do so, but if we are to be told from the Treasury Bench that we are to rely for our national safety on a change in the international spirit without the provision of adequate defence provided by this House, then, I say, I challenge the Government. Let us see what the danger is. There is a real danger to this country owing to the new methods of air attack, a subject which I have studied to the best of my ability for many years. So far as I have been able to ascertain from every source the facts are these: During the late War, as the late Secretary for Air said, the greatest weight of bombs dropped upon this country in any one month was 12 tons. I speak now of France, not because there is any chance that France will attack this country. Indeed I am quite sure that if this Motion were accepted by the Government and acted upon, that no one would be more delighted than the French nation and Marshal Foch. Since they maintain such defence forces as they consider necessary and in face of certain possible 1675 dangers let us take them as an example. What would happen suppose a force similar to that which France has now were to be employed against this country'? What are the facts?
A year ago the French had it in their power, if, instead of being our ally and our greatest friend, they had been our enemy, to drop upon any selected point more than 10 times the weight in bombs in one raid which the Germans dropped on us in one month. When my hon. Friends in this House look back upon the effect, in the month of September, 1917, of the dropping of that small number, and when they realise that the new force, easily created, can drop at least 300 times as much, and when they reflect on how people fled into the Tubes, and how all works stopped for days on end, surely they ought not to minimise this danger.
Let us consider it in the form of casualties to human beings. We are told the matter has always been exaggerated. That is quite true, but it can be said with certainty that not less than 100 casualties will follow every ton of bombs dropped. I challenge contradiction on this. It follows as a consequence that, assuming the force to which I have referred to be capable of dropping 90 per cent. of its available bomb dropping power in the first raid, 75 per cent. in the next, and from 45 to 50 per cent. for successive days, in the absence of an adequate force to prevent it, in the first raid there would be 12,600 casualties; in the second raid there would be 10,000 casualties, and for an indefinite period thereafter, in the absence of an adequate Air Force, which is asked for in this Motion, there would be from 8,000 to 9,000 casualties daily, certainly and unavoidably.
Supposing that this force were employed to set fire to a town. The London County Council retains a certain fire brigade. It is known how many fires can be put out in a given time. It is quite certain that, if it were decided to set the place on fire, instead of destroying human life, by the ordinary method of dropping explosive bombs, in the absence of an adequate Air Force the whole of London would certainly be set on fire. If, to take a third case, it were decided by this very modest force to attack railway centres, it is quite certain that trains would cease to run and that London could not be fed. We 1676 therefore come to this conclusion, which I think will not be disputed by any impartial authority, that the result of an attack of this kind, in the absence of an adequate Air Force, would certainly be that London would have to be evacuated within a few days. The Under-Secretary of State said: "But what is the defence for this? Are you going to have an aeroplane every hundred yards all round I What about Portsmouth What about Harwich?" Surely he must see that in this new and disastrous phase—and nobody thinks it more disastrous than I do; in fact, I was Chairman of the Limitation of Armaments Committee, and I care as much as anybody else about the limitation of armaments—that this is, alas, a matter of reprisals. If it is asked, "Is there an answer to an aeroplane?" the reply is, "There is no other answer but another aeroplane."
I have only two other points to make. This Motion contains two sections. First, the limitation of armaments, and, secondly, an adequate Air Force. I say that unless you accept the second you will never get the first. How was it we managed to come to an agreement with America on the limitation of naval armaments? Because everybody knew we had nothing to fear. We shall not get the Powers of the world to agree to limitation of air armaments, which is more necessary even than the limitation of naval armaments. unless we can say in regard to the air, as we have said in the case of the Navy and still can say, that we have nothing to fear. We are in a situation of grave danger, and we must put that right before we can appeal to the, Powers of the world.
My third point is this, and it is much less controversial. We make this appeal in the interests of Imperial safety. It is the fact that the British Empire cannot survive if this country is destroyed. It is an Imperial question, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who I know cares for this and kindred questions, to see whether the Dominions and India cannot co-operate with us in. this question of an adequate air defence, and then as a united Empire, fearing nothing, we can appeal 1677 to the world at least to abate armaments and to put an end to this senseless struggle.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman as an extraordinary one. We have just listened to another extraordinary speech from himself. The picture he has drawn is an exceedingly deplorable one. He might just as well have conic face to face with the facts of the situation, and have recognised that the only possible nation from which could come about the dire effects to which he has alluded, is the nation that he has referred to as "our dear friends." I will ask succeeding speakers to tell me from whom they apprehend this danger. Is the danger to come from Germany? Even the most militant of the anti-Germans in this country is compelled to admit that the Treaty of Versailles has effectively disarmed Germany. There can be no danger apprehended from that quarter if the Allies maintain the Treaty of Versailles in its entirety. Therefore, under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany can be wiped out as a possible danger so far as an attack by air force is concerned. Is the danger to be apprehended from the Scandinavian countries, or from Switzerland, Belgium, or Holland? You cannot say that any of these countries constitute a danger to this country, and I do not think anyone will argue that there is a danger of these small countries uniting against us. If that be so, then the only possible danger which you apprehend is France, to whom hon. Members have been referring to its our friend. Let us face the situation. I come back now to the plea of the Under-Secretary for Air for an international understanding. If you can eliminate in Europe all your possible opponents, and leave only our present ally France, surely it ought not to be outside the realm of common sense, statesmanship and diplomacy to so arrange matters between. France and ourselves that all possible danger of such a terrible holocaust shall be removed entirely from the realm of international possibility.
It is all very well to refer to the Labour Party as idealists, but in this matter some idealism is necessary and badly wanted. It seems to me that unless some of that idealism can be translated into action we shall never make any progress, and no 1678 hon. Member of this House ought to deplore the fact that such an attempt is being made. Surely we ought to encourage any attempt that may be made in that direction. Hon. Members opposite during the last War preached that it was a war to end war. You took young men from their homes and appealed to their moral sense. You told them on your recruiting platforms and in your propaganda that you were appealing to them by every sense of decency to help you to crush the militarism of Germany in order to lay the basis of peace in the future; and now when the Under-Secretary declares that a Government has come into power which will make an effort to establish international relationships upon common sense and not upon common fear, the idea is ridiculed.
I am aware that it takes more than one to make a bargain, but somebody has got to make the attempt. From what the last speaker has said it is obvious that we arc hopelessly inferior to France, and it is exceedingly doubtful if we could possibly catch up to France if we started on the race for aerial supremacy. Suppose France goes on building aeroplanes. She will complete the race almost before we begin, and by all we can do we do not alter the ratio, which remains actually what it is at the present moment. I say that it is time that from this House a gesture should go forth to indicate that at least we are prepared to act, and not use mere words. I believe with all my heart that if this country were definitely to begin by making a courageous attempt to bring about. by international relationships, first of all a diminution of armaments and a stoppage of this infernal race, that would lead up to the establishment of some poker that would take the place of armaments and war, and our country would go down to posterity as one of the greatest countries that ever existed.
§ Captain EDEN
May I, at the outset, ask for the usual courtesy and indulgence which is always extended to a maiden speech. The last speaker made great play of a little geographical tour, and he asked us from what quarter we expected an attack from the air. I do not know, but I do not think that is the point we want to discuss. Surely, the point is rather that we should prepare to defend ourselves against an attack from any 1679 quarter. There can be little doubt that this question is of exceptional interest in this House, and the reasons are not very far to seek. In the first place, it is not in the nature of things possible to provide hastily and at a moment's notice for air defence; and, in the second place, the very heart of our country, the city of London, is especially vulnerable to attack from the air. For these reasons, I hope that the Government will not be tempted too much by sentiment, and will rather act, as we gather from the speech of the Under-Secretary, not in accordance with his principles, but in accordance with the programme he has inherited from other parties, and that the Government will, as a matter of insurance, protect this country from the danger of attacks from the air.
The Under-Secretary asked what was meant by adequate protection, and he said he believed preparedness was not a good weapon. That may be, but unpreparedness is a very much worse weapon, and it is a double-edged one, likely to hurt us very seriously. The Under-Secretary quoted an old military maxim, and I will quote one which is that "Attack is the best possible form of defence." [HON. MEMBERS "No, no!"] I expected hon. Members opposite would be a little surprised at that doctrine. I was not suggesting that we should drop our bombs on other countries, but simply that we should have the means at our disposal to answer any attack by an attack. It is a natural temptation to hon. Members opposite, some of whose views on defence were fairly well known during the years of the War, to adopt the attitude of that very useful animal the terrier, and roll on their backs and wave their paws in the air with a pathetic expression. But that is not the line on which we can hope to insure this country against attack from the air. I believe and hope that hon. Members opposite will carry out the programme which they have inherited, and will safeguard these shores, so far as they may, from the greatest peril of modern war.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Several points emerge from this very interesting Debate, for example, the well known point of the horrors of aerial warfare. Everyone who has studied it knows how horrid 1680 it was in the last war, and how infinitely more horrid it may become in the next war. That is agreed, but it is further to be pointed out that there is no real way of preventing what my lion and gallant Friend described as the events which might happen in the event of a future war. If those things happen here, there is no way of preventing them. The Under-Secretary asked, would we have aeroplanes round the coast, and so on. Of course that is not the way to prevent it; the only possible way of preventing it is by doing the same thing to other people. If it be the fact that aerial combat merely means the duplication of these horrors on one side and on the other, we have to consider the subject extremely seriously.
In the first place, I understand the Government to accept this Resolution. It surprises me, although I applaud it, that they are prepared to go on with the programme which the right hon. Gentleman initiated. That was stated in terms by the Under-Secretary. I think they are right, although I am surprised, because the Labour party only six months ago pledged themselves in their Conference to oppose it. That is their view, but I think they are wise, and I am not throwing that in their teeth. It is, however, a very impotent conclusnon, because no one pretends that the program of the right hon. Gentleman was an effective answer numerically to the French programme. Thirty-nine squadrons, which, I suppose, we have now, arc no answer to 126 French squadrons. It is not a race in armaments. It is a stimulus without being an effective race, and what I missed from all these speeches was, if I may say so with great respect to the House, any practical suggestion as to how this terrible situation is to he faced.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who, I understand, is to reply, whether the Government accepts something like this theory—that there is a pool of money for national defence which is limited in character, and that, if it appears that modern warfare is better conducted by air than by sea or land, are they prepared to see that any necessary increase in air expenditure is not met by increased taxation, but by economies in the other Departments? That is the first point. I am not advocating increased expenditure, but am only asking whether the 1681 Government accept this principle. It was a point made by the Geddes Committee, and I think it is a perfectly sound one. The second point about which I want to ask is, are the Government taking practical steps to utilise the existing Air Force to the best advantage? There are eight squadrons in Iraq; is it the intention—and the right hon. Gentleman is the best qualified Minister to answer—to bring those squadrons home at the earliest possible moment, and, if so, when?
Then we come to the really important point, namely, what steps are the Government taking—not by vague aspirations such as those, laudable enough in a sense, expressed by the Under-Secretary on peace—what practical steps are they taking to put this policy into operation? The right hon. Gentleman said, I think quite inaccurately, that the best bargaining force was an enormous Air Force in hand. I understood him to say that we were in a strong position at the Washington Conference because we had an undefeated Navy, but I do not think that that was an asset at all. I think that in point of fact the Americans knew quite well that in course of time they would beat us, and I do not believe the number of ships counted at all, but that it was the noble impulse of the President of the United States and also of our own representative, whose work was brilliantly useful in the service of humanity. What practical steps are the Government taking?
There is the Pact of Mutual Guarantee. I do not know whether it has been announced in this House what the Government is doing about that. Have we replied? Some countries have replied; have we replied? Have we examined it? Are the Government proposing to examine it, and are they inclined to use what appears to be the only practical method which has yet been suggested for meeting a really urgent situation—I mean that in the Schedule to this Pact there will have to be a table of the Air Force which we propose to permit to ourselves. That, again, is a difficulty. How are you to distinguish between the civilian machine and the fighting machine? I venture to say that, if you do something which cripples civil aviation, you take a step against peace, because, in my judgment, aviation is capable of becoming one of the 1682 greatest agencies for peace in the world. Secondly, the Government in this Schedule will have to go over again all the discussions which took place in the Committee of the Washington Conference, and a very hopeless Report it was, as the right hon. Gentleman remembers quite well, which was issued by that Committee. They laid down five ways of testing air power, and each in its turn was rejected as being impracticable.
These are the practical questions. I have always been moved by appeals to idealism, and, speaking for myself, I earnestly hope that the last War did something to bring war to an end. It would be a disgraceful betrayal of many men who went out and laid down their lives unless the Government took practical steps—not merely talking in a vague and optimistic way—in the direction of bringing about disarmament. I would ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies to tell us what practical steps they are taking in the directions I have suggested, or in others, to bring to an end a horror which, if it is permitted to grow and comes upon us in another war, will certainly destroy civilisation itself.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Of the points which have appeared in this Debate so far, the first is the reply of the Labour party, "Who is your enemy?" With regard to that, the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) appeared to think that he could take a fully developed Air Force out of his head in exactly the same way as a conjuror. An Air Force, however, must be built up over a series of years. If one refers to history, one realises that we were not very friendly with France ever Fashoda, although now we are the greatest friends, and that 10 years after that we were fighting Germany. One has to look, therefore, upon the provision of an Air Force exactly in the same way as upon paying one's fire insurance premium, and until the Labour party will admit the ordinary common sense of that premise, I do not think they will ever go very far in a Debate of this character.
Two other points appeared to emerge. One was that raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), and the other was raised by the last speaker. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight stated that we had in some 1683 manner to bring the Empire as a whole into this matter, and the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Bonn) pointed out that the appalling consequences of not meeting and dealing with this problem of air warfare would bring civilisation down in ruins unless it could be dealt with in some adequate way. I think all those who devote their time to devising air machines and war machines are more sensible than other people to the great gravity of this question. I should like to impress upon the House, to the best of my ability, the extraordinary gravity of this issue, because we appear to be between two courses. One is, that we have got to maintain our supremacy until such time as we can get disarmament, and the other is to develop some system of Government throughout the civilised world in which disarmament will be possible. The might of this Empire, the wealth of it and its economic power in the world were built up by virtue of the fact that we could have a cheap Army and a comparatively cheap Navy for our overseas work. Hon. Members know that the Navy used to be the cheapest form of fighting force that could be obtained, and it is because we have not had the burden of a Continental Army to keep up that we were able with a cheap Army and a relatively cheap Navy to build up our Empire at comparatively small cost.
Now science has brought in a new element, and we have to bear the continental burden and the Imperial burden, and unless we can relieve ourselves of half that burden, we shall put upon this country such an economic strain that we shall not be able to afford it. As far as the continental burden is concerned, we shall have to support that until such time as hon. Members opposite are successful in developing their disarmament policy. I, for one, heartily hope that they will be speedily successful, but, pending that time, we have got to support the double burden of a continental system which will now be transferred entirely to the air, as well as our Imeprial burden. It seems to me that the most urgent problem we have before us to-day is the development of our Empire, because we have got to make the Dominions do their share of the economic upkeep of our defence forces. They do not do it to-day 1684 in any respect in comparison with the taxation upon this country. I believe the best method we shall have of carrying this burden during the transitional stage, that is, between the time when we get disarmament and that in which we have to keep up our forces to the extent of making us safe, will be by developing our Empire as speedily as we possibly can, so that our Dominions will share with us the necessary burden of armaments during this transitional period. Therefore I. would direct the attention of the Under-Secretary for Air to the absolute importance of speeding up our air communications, which will be one of the vital factors towards binding our Empire together in such a manner that we can make political control coincide with economic dependence.
§ 10.0 P. M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I do not think that the House will regret the Motion we are now discussing, because, while there have been, and will be, legitimate differences of opinion upon this subject, it would he a reflection upon this country and all that was said and done in the War, if we found in a Debate of this kind that this House was indifferent to the great ideal of peace. Indeed, I could conceive of nothing more disastrous, more dangerous, nothing that would he so much calculated to destroy all hope, than to assume that the last word in this question is either air, naval or military defence. While we must endeavour to be practical—and I will endeavour to show in a moment that we are practical—we must, at the same time, keep clearly at the back of our minds That the object of all people and all parties must be in the direction of peace and disarmament. We are not going to ask the House to accept this Motion, and I am going to give reasons which, I believe, will satisfy even my right hon. Friend who moved it. In doing that I would be wanting in my duty if I did not pay a tribute to him not only for his speech to-night—everyone who heard it appreciated at—but for his remarkable ability and efforts in connection with this particular problem. As one who has given some consideration to and read of his work in connection with the Imperial Conference, I wish to pay him publicly that tribute. But in doing that I would 1685 point out that his own Resolution or Motion which he asks the House to accept is absolutely inconsistent with his own policy. What does the Resolution say It says:That Great Britain must maintain a Home Defence Air Force of sufficient strength to give adequate protection against air attack by the strongest air force within striking distance of her shores.My right hon. Friend knows that that is impossible. He knows perfectly well that if there had been no change of Government and he was standing at this box to-night and giving effect absolutely to his own policy and the policy he submitted to the imperial Conference, the latter part of this Resolution would not be fulfilled.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I would like to make it clear that that is not so. Our policy was definitely to make the Air Force adequate. This increase was to be the first stage, and, when it had been carried out, we would have surveyed the position and if necessary we would have gone on. But it was only to be the first stage.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I know that, and I will deal with that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Air has already given an assurance that, so far as the first stage is concerned, we are continuing it. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman and also to my right hon. Friend (Major-General Seely), who, I think, misrepresented what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said. I think he did misrepresent it. My hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that it was the Government's intention to give effect to the first stage. My right hon. Friend knows that and acknowledged it while he was speaking.
When the right. hon. Gentleman says "misrepresent," I suppose he means unintentionally. I had no intention of misrepresenting it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
On the contrary, I should be the last to suggest it. I can only conclude that the right hon. Gentleman did not hear my hon. Friend. I want to come back to the Motion, and I want the House to understand the reasons why the Government could not possibly accept it. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman opposite was still Minister for Air, supposing full effect was given to the policy which he laid down and which was accepted by the Government, in four 1686 years' time, assuming that France did not build one solitary additional aeroplane, when full effect bad been given to his policy and all the money had been spent, we should then be in the possession of something like four-fifths of the striking force of the French. I want to be quite fair to the House. I will not pose as an expert on this. I am merely endeavouring to state the factors which have influenced the Government in coming to their decision. After all, that is what every hon. Member has to do. It is not a question of party. It is a question of trying to do the right thing. Therefore I repeat that the Resolution the right hon. Gentleman has now submitted would not be given effect to, even if full effect was given by this Government to his own policy. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quite correct in saying that whilst we are talking about the danger in this matter and France is mentioned, nothing would be so unfortunate as for the mention of France to be construed as an attack upon her. I think there is general agreement on that. But that must not blind us to the fact that it is France that we are dealing with. What other conclusion could anyone listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech come to, when he stated this short fact, that France at this moment could drop 175 tons of bombs in 24 hours? He went on to say a great French expert anticipated that such a development could take place that whole cities could be wiped out, all of which we must accept, and all of which is perfectly true. But do not let any of us deceive ourselves that if this is going to be the result of the progress of science and development in this connection, it is money or aeroplanes that are going to save us; we have to face the cold, hard fact that the only adequate protection is, that nations realise their obligations and that their obligations and their duties lie in the direction of peace. But the Government position, whilst keeping that in mind is precisely the same as that of the late Prime Minister last June. In answer to a question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he said that so far as he was concerned, he would give a general outline of the defence, but that the House would have a full opportunity, when the Estimates were submitted, of discussing it in detail. The Government's position is identical with that. 1687 First, we say clearly and definitely that there is no break in the continuity of our policy. That is to say, the first stage is going on and there has been no break whatsoever. The two Bills are being introduced and pressed at an early stage, and their importance is fully recognised. But the Government want to survey the whole question, because this is not alone a question of the air. The Navy and the Army are involved in it, and the Government not only want to survey the question as a whole, but they want to be free to bring about disarmament if they can. My hon. Friend asks how they are going to do it, but no one can say yet. The most we can say is, that there will be no disarmament until confidence is established, and our first effort and our first aim ought to be, and will be, to establish confidence. He asked me, what is the position of the eight squadrons in Iraq. I do not think that arises on this Motion. To deal with that aspect of the question a number of factors must be considered, and, obviously, it does not come within the category of home defence.
§ Mr. THOMAS
You cannot possibly, and I am not going to be baited into bringing in this very difficult problem of Iraq in connection with home defence. But I would ask the House to remember that my hon. Friend has given the maximum assurance. He has clearly demonstrated what is the policy of the Government. It is the legacy handed down to us. The Air Estimates will be put down at any date when the Opposition feel that they would like them discussed, and a full, definite statement on the whole policy will be given. But the Government ask the House not only to realise their difficulty, but to realise that their clear, definite policy is to have a free hand, and whilst recognising defence, whilst realising the Colonial aspect of the question, whilst giving an assurance of a continuity of the first stages of this programme, to reserve to themselves the absolute right to do nothing or to be committed to nothing which would prevent them working for disarmament in future.
§ Rear - Admiral SUETER
We have listened to some extraordinary speeches to-night. As an old airman, I am exceedingly surprised at the speech of the Under Secretary of State for Air. Here we have an hon. Member concerned with the fighting forces giving us such a speech as that which he delivered to-night. I do Dot know what is happening to hon. Members in this House when they talk so much about disarmament, in view of the extraordinary condition of Europe at the present time. Can any hon. Member tell me what is likely to happen within the next 20 years in Europe? Notwithstanding, they come to this House and talk about disarmament. If we had carried out before the War the policy of the Under-Secretary for Air we should have lost the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "There would have been no war!"] We should have lost the War, and some hon. Members opposite would have felt the German bayonets.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
My point of Order is this: that the hon. and gallant Member opposite must be Rip van Winkle, because he is referring to the Air Force before the War. There was no Air Force before the War.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
rose—[HON.MEMBERS: "Sit down! Shut up!"]—Do not tell me to shut up. I will shut you up.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
If the hon. Member who has just interrupted will get are interpreter, I shall be able to understand what he says. Before the War, we had very great difficulty in building up an air service. During the War be built up an Air Service, and at the end of the War we had the finest Air Service in the world. As an airman, what I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Air, the Under-Secretary of State, the ex-Secretaries and Under-Secretaries of State—the House bristles with them—what they have done with that wonderful Air Service. We hear that we have only eighty first-class aeroplanes for the defence of 1689 this country. What has happened to the fighting machines that we had at the end of the War? The fault is that the Secretaries of State for Air have never pressed their claims properly on the Government. In this financial year, £122,000,000 of the taxpayers' money are to be devoted to defence. Have we a defence of these islands? We certainly have not from the air point of view. The City of London, great commercial centres and other towns could be bombed and we could not put up an adequate defence. The reason is that the Secretaries of State for Air have not pressed for the right amount of money for the defence of our homes. In the current financial year, out of the £122,000,000 for defence purposes, the Air Service only gets £12,000,000, while the Army and Navy get the remainder. I submit to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and I ask him to pass it on to the Secretary of State, that he must press for an equal proportion of the money available for the fighting Services. I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is smiling. I do not know what amount he will give this year for the fighting Services, but if he gives £100,000,000 the Air ought to get 33⅓ of that amount in order to bring it up to the right standard.
The former Secretary of State for Air mentioned airships, and the Under-Secretary of State for Air said the Government were interested in airships and were going to develop them. I saw in the Press to-day a statement that it was intended to scrap the Burney airship scheme, and experiment with old airships.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I am only telling the hon. Member what I saw in the Press, and I want to warn the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Under-Secretary of State for Air on this point and ask them to press on the Secretary of State for Air that if he risks men's lives in old airships it will be a disastrous policy. We have had an example of that just now in the Mediterranean. The French took over one of the Zeppelin airships, and lost the "Dixmude" with about 35 men on board. She was getting to be an old airship. I happened to pass 1690 the airship shed near Toulon when she went out over the Mediterranean. She had a long cruise and the morning after she was lost I picked up off the shore near Cannes great pieces of ice, salt water frozen on the shore. [Laughter.] If hon. Members can afford to taught at 35 people being drowned, all I have to say is God help them. The great fall of temperature, during the night before the morning when she was lost, reduced her buoyancy. The gas contracted, and she came under the lee of the coast of Sicily. No doubt she had not enough buoyancy and a squall caught her and drove her into the sea. That comes of using old airships. I do hope that the Government are not going to use old airships. If they do they are sure to lose their crews.
I should like to say a few words now on the subject of accidents. We are having far too many accidents with aeroplanes. I cannot take up my paper without seeing an aeroplane accident. During the early days of the Air Service we had far fewer accidents in the naval wing than in the military wing. I attribute that to the skill of our mechanics in looking after the machines. Every time that I see that an aeroplane has been lost through an accident, I think it is probably the fault of the mechanics, who do not look after the machines properly. I would like the Under-Secretary for Air to give his attention to this point. We have heard some extraordinary speeches to-night. At times I really thought that I was in church. If we are going to be defended in this Empire by sermons on the Mount, then God help us!
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I listened with interest to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) and the proposer of the Motion, who has brought forward the most important question which a private Member could bring up. But I would ask all these three pundits how they expect to defend London or Birmingham or any other great city by aeroplanes from the attacks of other aeroplanes at night? I believe that it is a fact that aeroplanes have fought aeroplanes at night, and shot each other down, but just as it is extremely difficult for destroyers to find other destroyers at sea at night, working 1691 in two dimensions, so it is only by a sheer fluke that working in three dimensions two aeroplanes can find each other at night in thick weather. I would also like to point out. to the Under-Secretary for Air that while you are defending one city—if you can defend a city by aeroplane which I doubt—the enemy will probably find out where your defences are. It is not difficult, after all, to find out where our aerodromes are, or our mechanical workshops, and to attack places where aeroplanes are not concentrated. That is not an unfair argument.
The conclusion that I reach is that the only sound strategy that can be adopted is to attack the other people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I notice that I have the support of hon. [embers opposite. Therefore, it comes to this: that we cannot defend our cities by aeroplane. We may invent other scientific devices, and experiment with a vast network of captive balloons and aerial mines and various poison gas devices, but by aeroplanes we cannot defend our great cities, our munition centres or our railway centres. What do we do? We build up a force sufficiently strong to threaten the nerve centres of possible enemies, and then we get people in the French Chamber or the Belgiar Chamber starting debates like that in this House to-night, talking about defending hearths and homes, and pointing to the Air Force we have raised here from the hard-driven taxpayers' money in England, and again piling up armaments. Once more we start on the wicked race of armaments which has always ended in war. At, present there are three Staff colleges where the young idea and the middle-aged idea are taught the outlines of strategy and tactics in their various arms. There is one at Greenwich, one at Camberley, and one at Andover. Incidentally, there ought to be only one Staff College, because all war is one to-day. But I do not press that point now. The next best thing is done. There are friendly visits between the staffs, and they play war games in which each staff takes part. Two favourite war games are studied to-day. One is in connection with the defence of Singapore. I need not spend much time about that now. The second is aerial war. Against whom? The strongest air Power. 1692 That is against France; it is no use blinking the fact.
Right through this Debate to-night, beginning with the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), followed by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), there has been the motif that we must arm against France. France in her turn will make a note of the new air arms advocated by the right hon. Member for Chelsea. I notice that he is apparently dissatisfied with the very modest contribution made by the Conservative Government to this armament and that he is now egging on the Labour party to out-trump what he did. These preparations will be used by the scaremongers in France, by the newspapers in France, supported in turn by the private armament makers in France, as a reason for obtaining still further French air armaments, and as the French are able to build up, for the same amount of money, much greater forces than we are—they pay their men less and they borrow men from the army—they will either outbuild us or run us into an expenditure of money which we simply cannot afford commensurate with an all-powerful Navy and the very expensive Army that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite demand. There is only one remedy and that is public opinion. If the speeches to-night, especially those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight, were broadcast and were explained to and understood by the masses of the people in this country and in France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Russia, you would, eventually, after a few lectures of that sort, educate public opinion to such an extent that a remedy would be demanded and there is only one remedy and that is all round disarmament and an international police force. [Laughter.] It is very easy to laugh and to say other countries will not do it.. How do hon. Members know they will not do it?
Rear-Admiral SU ETER
The representative of the United States the other (lay said the time was not ripe for universal disarmament.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If the hon. and gallant Member looks at the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper but which I do not intend to move 1693 at this time, especially as the Government arc not accepting the Motion, he will see that 1 suggest a conference of European Powers. The United States are not within aerial striking distance of these shores and can be left out. But let us have a United States of Europe in aerial matters. This is going to come, but the difference is that it may come before another great war—with Bolshevism—or it may come afterwards. If we are going to nave another great war, we shall get Bolshevistic internationals and I hope hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will emphasise that fact. If the peoples of Europe are again to experience the horrors of modern scientific aerial warfare in an intensified form, I am convinced they will rise in sheer desperation and overthrow the existing system of society. Then we shall get internationalism after a catastrophe which will probably mean the end of civilisat ion as we know it. The alternative is to be sensible and to educate public opinion. I hope the Government will do what they can to influence public opinion by sane propaganda and education on this point. [HON. MEMBERS: "We always did!"] Hon. Members say they always did so, but they are in a much better position to do so now, and I hope they will use their power in that direction. A little money spent on advocating this cause would be of more use than a great deal more money spent on aeroplanes of doubtful utility. These are the only lines on which we can go, and I look upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman as well-meaning but mischievous.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir PAGE CROFT
Will the hon. and gallant Member state what he would do in the meantime?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I will certainly tell the hon. and gallant Member what I would do. While we are compelled to have an Air Force, let us have an efficient Air Force. When we reach the Estimates I hope to have a word to say upon that point, but this is not the time. We must recognise the unfortunate fact that at present we cannot absolutely lead a race in disarmament, but, in the meantime, let us explore every avenue to see if we cannot get this matter arranged by agreement. With a falling French franc and a falling Belgian franc and an active public opinion in this country and in other countries, I believe something can be done.
1694 When hon. Gentlemen opposite are talking of preparation for war and are seeing nothing but inevitable war, let them consider how necessary it is that we should be on good terms with the greatest country in Europe, Russia. Russia to-day is in the mire, but she has a great population and she could become the greatest air power on the Continent of Europe. Apart from air power, she has tremendous potential military power, and if we have to go to war, she could be an extremely valuable ally to us. If war is inevitable, if all our efforts to bring about universal disarmament by consent fail, then we have to look for a fresh balance of power. We cannot get away from that conclusion, and that balance of power lies on the line London-Berlin-Moscow.
Lieut.-Colonel MOO RE-BRABAZON
I ask the indulgence of the House for the first time I address it from this Table, because, owing to circumstances over which I had no control, I had no opportunity of addressing the House from the Government side of the Table. I am exceedingly happy that the first time that I speak from this Table is upon a subject which I have very near to my heart. It is at the same time a shock to one, or to anybody who took part in the early days of aviation, to see the horrors that have been brought into an already troubled world. I have myself spoken in this House many times on aviation questions, and the Air Force itself had to fight for its existence even in this House. At one time we were nearly swallowed by the War Office, and at another time almost by the Admiralty, but we have escaped them both, and we have not been shot down yet. The question of the air has never really been appreciated by the public in this country, but if there was one thing which really was of transcendent importance to be derived from the late War, it was the change from two-dimensional to three-dimensional warfare, and the public and the Governments before then always seemed to look upon this change rather as a cow looks at a passing train, with no appreciation of the wonder that was coining into being.
To-night I was somewhat surprised to hear from the benches opposite a cheer when the right hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) said that this country had not been aggressive. The only aggressive speeches that I have 1695 listened to in this House, during the last few years, were delivered by Members of the party opposite on the question of the Ruhr, against France, in the last Parliament, but to-night we have had appeals for moral gestures with regard to disarmament. I hope the present Government will give all the moral gestures it can, but I think it is a little unfair to the past Governments to deny them their moral gestures in regard to disarmament, because, if we take the three Forces one by one, were we not the first to give up conscription and to get back to our prewar Army? With regard to the Navy, in which we were pre-eminent, did we not immediately comply with the Washington Conference? And what was the position with regard to the air? Surely everybody knows that at the end of the War we had an Air Force by a great deal transcending any air force in the world, and within 18 months it had shrunk to be almost insignificant. Those were great moral gestures towards disarmament, but what has been the re suit from the point of view of the air on the part of France, our nearest neighbour? Those great moral gestures of disarmament brought about a proportion of power of 12 to 1 against us. On that basis it seems to me that moral gestures are not a very efficient way of getting disarmament, and I think it ought to be known to the whole country that, even with the present programme going through, we shall still be in the position of only having half the force which is across the Channel.
Hon. Members opposite dislike spending money upon armaments, but, after all, it is an insurance policy, and all their social programme, and all their aspirations with regard to better conditions for the people of this country, will necessarily fall to the ground, and be wasted, if by any chance this country might be defeated. It is surely the duty of any Government, and still more the duty of a Government which professes great interest in the social advancement of this country, to ensure, at any rate, that it is secure. There are two ways of limiting armaments. One of them is to stop your opponent building against you. We on this side of the House welcome everything the Government can do in order to stop Powers abroad building these big armaments against us. But if you can- 1696 not stop it, what else are you to do as a great nation but build against them? There are only two ways of meeting it, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight that by building against an opponent you do influence him in coming to an agreement on the question of armaments. I do not say that hon. Members opposite have anything but the very best intentions with regard to limiting the Air Force, but do not let us forget that the silliest mistakes in history have always been done with the very best intentions, and, although I am not referring to Members on the Front Bench, it seems to us that many hon. Members opposite appear to live in a world where there are not hats, but only halos. Some of the halos do not fit very well, and have slipped down, and they seem to be looking at the world through a fog. Hon. Members on the Front Bench now have the emoluments of office. [An HON. MEMBER: "Did not your people have them!"] I am not complaining. I am congratulating them on having them, but, now that they have got them, I warn them that should they ever receive a letter from Spain regarding a certain prisoner, not to part with any of their hard-earned money. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are too many Scottish Members!"]
I see with great pleasure opposite to me a row of Parsifals. But I should like to remind this row of Parsifals, though we in this country may be of a moral integrity better than any other country in the world, that outside this country we have to compete in the world with men and not with angels. One word in regard to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are clever in their effort to escape the Resolution by trying to point out that my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for Air put down a programme which the Government arc pursuing, and which completely exonerates them from having to accept, in principle, the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for Air did in an interruption explain that the programme was a step towards an ideal, and that was—
§ Mr. THOMAS
Is it not true, looking at the Bill, that this programme was to have been accomplished in four years, and that there was no indication by the late Government that they would go further?
§ Sir S. HOARE
If I may have the opportunity again of putting the matter right, may I say that that was not the intention of the late Government? The late Government made it perfectly plain that this was the first stage in a much bigger programme, and that they hoped, when they had carried through the first stage, that they would find that change in the atmosphere of Europe that would make it unnecessary for them to go on to the ultimate. The Government definitely admitted the necessity of carrying out a complete policy.
§ Mr. THOMAS
That is exactly our position. We accept the first stage, and in going on with the first stage we want to be free to see, when the change comes to which reference has been made, what can best follow.
§ Sir S. HOARE
That is exactly the object of this Resolution. That is what this Resolution carries out, and I should like to think that I shall have the support in the Lobby of the right hon. Member.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in any arrangement with foreign countries at any time a new condition of affairs would immediately arise? What we do want to get from the Government, and the Minister, is to accept the principle that the late Government accepted; that was the principle laid down that Great Britain must maintain a home defence air force of sufficient strength to give adequate protection against air attack by the strongest air force within striking distance from her shores. It is for that reason that we are going to divide the House to-night upon this Resolution, because we want to be satisfied that the programme initiated by the late. Government is being pursued. We want it perfectly clear to what end it is being pursued, and what is the ultimate of the programme which the Government are now carrying out.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I confess I view the position of the Treasury Bench and the attitude of the Government towards the Air Force with a. certain amount of misgiving. I did think we might expect from a Labour Government that, in whatever other things they might compromise, there would be a certain firmness of principle in regard to this matter of disarmament.
1698 We are told they are to stand by the programme which has been laid down by the past Government. There is, in my opinion, no justification whatever for a Labour Government, pledged as the present Treasury Bench is pledged to the principle of disarmament, taking up an attitude of that kind. As I look at the Treasury Bench, I imagine there must be a number of uneasy consciences on it. When I think of the right lion. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) and other right hon. Members, who I know are definitely and firmly pledged to the principle of disarmament and who are connected with an organisation which is pledged up to the hilt to oppose Votes for Services of this kind, I do consider that we have every reason to expect a different kind of attitude from them than this one.
I want to put a new point of view to this House. It is somewhat heterodox, but it is worth while the House considering it. The whole idea of this air defence force is to get into the minds of the people of this country the thought that they are to a certain extent secure from air attacks. I submit to the House that it is undesirable that the people of this country should have that idea in their minds, because it has been pointed out that it cannot be a real guarantee in any case, and a false sense of security of that sort in my opinion has very serious disadvantages. I conceive, in view of the terrible effects which are going to result from future war, that there may be in war itself its own antidote. If the people of this country can get into their minds what the results of war in the future will be, and that not only the fighting forces will be involved but practically the whole of the population of the country, I believe they will think very hard and very long before they decide upon war.
There is one point which has not been emphasised in this Debate, and that is that one of the fruitful causes of war and the prolongation of it is the fact that in war there is a divorce as -between the fighting men and. the non-fighting population. In the last War they were burning Jingoes in this House; they were burning Jingoes in Fleet Street, but those who were in the fighting line and in the heart of things were up against the reality of war, and there was not that Jingo spirit to be found in them. The Jingo spirit was exorcised by the experiences through 1699 which the men went. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] I was there. Some of my blood stained the fields of France, as well as yours. If by some means the experiences of the non-fighting population could be made approximately equivalent to the experiences of the fighting population, war would be viewed in a very different kind of way. If you get the possibility of these tremendous air raids spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman as being likely to destroy whole cities and produce enormous casualties in a single night—if you have that kind of feeling implanted in the hearts, not only of people of this country but of other countries, that will tend in the direction of peace.
I have only two or three words to address to the House on this subject. The Debate, in my opinion, up to the present is certainly unsatisfactory. We have listened to a most moderate statement by the late Secretary of State for Air, and the claims he pressed forward and the promises he asked for from the Government were by no means excessive. I think the Under-Secretary for Air replied in terms which left us in grave doubt as to what the Government were going to do, and we got the impression that the Government were not going to oppose the Resolution. We have heard from the Colonial Secretary that the Government intend to oppose it, and therefore we must scan the reasons why the Government are offering this opposition. I am dissatisfied with his specious argument. I do not consider that the best case has been made out by the late Secretary of State for Air, and we find a considerable difference of opinion even on the benches which usually support the Secretary of State for the Colonies. When a Government is divided between its followers and its leaders, it makes it much easier for the rest of us to support the Resolution and vote for it. I agree that the Air Estimates is the proper time for going into many of these matters, but as I intend to vote for the Resolution I thought I would just give my reason- for doing so.
§ Captain BERKELEY
I wish to say that I am very much astonished to hear any approbation for this Resolution coming from a quarter so well versed in 1700 foreign affairs as the last speaker, for to me this Resolution seems to be a piece of tremendous folly on the part of the right hon. Gentleman who proposed it—
§ Sir S. HOARE
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Captain BERKELEY
The whole of the information which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has asked for in his Resolution could have been obtained by correspondence with the Ministry. The Government have made it clear—[EON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide!"]—I hope the House will not divide on this question—
§ Sir S. HOARE
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ 11.0 P. M.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Had the hon. Member risen before—I was looking for him several times—I should have given him the opportunity to ask his question.
§ Sir S. HOARE
On a point of Order. I moved the Closure twice before eleven o'clock. Did you not accept it, Sir?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I noticed that the right. hon. Gentleman moved the Closure, but. I did not accept it for the reason that, in my opinion, the Debate, on a matter of this magnitude, which has been given such a short period of time, ought to be resumed when the Air Estimates for the year are before us.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.