§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY had given Notice to move to resolve—
§ That this House whilst earnestly desiring the further limitation of armaments so far as is consistent with the safety and the 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.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I should like, first of all, to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his courtesy in removing from the Paper the Diseases of Animals Bill which would have taken up a good deal of your Lordships' time, and thereby allowing the Motion which appears in my name to be discussed in your Lordships' House.
§ The terms in which the Resolution is drawn are, no doubt, familiar to your Lordships by reason of the fact that I have adopted the exact phraseology used by my right hon. friend, the late Secretary of State for Air, when he raised the same question in another place. It will also be within your Lordships' recollection that the answer then given to my right hon. friend was of a most unsatisfactory character, and, therefore, I feel that it is necessary that an early opportunity should be given to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, in his capacity as Secretary of State for Air, to clarify the situation and to acquaint the country 483 with the policy which the Government are proposing to pursue in connection with this particular form of defence.
§ Let me make my position absolutely clear in this matter. This Motion is not designed as an attack on the Government. Having had the opportunity of studying the question from the position of an Under-Secretary, I naturally have strong opinions which I hope are keeping pace with modern developments, and the attitude of the Government, as defined by Mr. Leach in another place, has raised misgivings in my mind which I sincerely hope the noble Lord may be able in the course of his remarks to remove.
§ I will state the case as I see it. Defence in the air is of vital importance. The history of our Air Force is briefly told. There was a vast expansion during the years of war, an expansion so great that, at the conclusion of war, we were possessed of the strongest Air Force in the world. After the peace, that Air Force steadily declined. This decline was the direct result of the policy of saving, and I can make no criticism because that was the task necessarily imposed upon successive Governments after the vast expenditure of war. The Air Service, not being so well entrenched in tradition and material as the older Services, was more exposed to a policy of drastic economy. But, while our Air Force diminished, the march of science has not been checked. The potentialities of air power are now infinitely greater than during the great war. Whereas in the past air raids could do a certain amount of material damage, to-day London, the heart of the Empire, could be annihilated from the air in a very short space of time. This statement has been made before in your Lordships' House, and I do not think that it is, in any sense, an exaggeration.
§ The rapid development of air power, artificially stimulated under the influence of war, can no longer be relied on. The organisation, therefore, of a continuous policy of home air defence is an immediate necessity, because under present conditions you cannot improvise an Air Force to meet a sudden emergency. The organisation of such a force requires time. Your pilots and mechanics must be trained from boyhood. You must have continuity in the development of your air designs. You must keep your commercial 484 aviation in being; but we must recognise that aircraft designers and manufacturers must also be maintained, because civil aviation is an insufficient reservoir for the development of an Air Force. You must build aeroplanes, experimental and otherwise; you must construct colleges, aerodromes, factories, machine shops, equipment stores, all requiring foresight and expenditure over a long period of time.
§ The policy initiated by Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for Air in the late Government, was no hastily devised scheme. It was the agreed policy not only of the Government and of the Committee of Imperial Defence, but it was a policy to which the members of the Imperial Conference gave their most decided adherence. It was designed to ensure that we should have a bare minimum of power in the air, which would suffice to place us in a position of comparative security. I do not even put it higher than a position of comparative security. There is nothing aggressive about a policy that seeks to remedy a position of inadequate home defence. Our Air Force, with its reduced numbers, is responsible for so many commitments abroad, that there is no margin for home defence.
I will ask your lordships not to read into my words any suggestion of hostility to any foreign Power or any suspicion of the intentions of any other country. I am sure that we are all very much gratified by the explicit statement of M. Poincaré, published yesterday, that—
French military and aerial establishments are exclusively designed for the purpose of defence against attempted German revenge.
The reference which I shall make to figures is only in order to show the wide difference which exists at present in two countries like France and Great Britain in the provision made for security in the air.
§ Before I quote the figures I should like to tell your Lordships that when I had the honour to be Under-Secretary for Air, I was impressed by the fact that the value of an Air Force must be measured by the strength of its Independent Air Organisation. We must have aeroplanes to assist the Navy and aeroplanes to co-operate with the Army, but the effective strength of a 485 country in the air must be measured and determined by the size and efficiency of; its Independent Air Force. What then are the figures? I will take them from my right hon. friend's speech in another place. They are not in dispute. They were never questioned in the course of the debate.
§ In October, 1922, our effective force for home air defence amounted in all to but 24 first line aeroplanes with equipment, reserves and personnel. At the present moment these numbers have been increased to 80 machines. In France the total Air Force amounts to some 1,000 first line aeroplanes, of which 600 belong to the Independent Striking Force. That is to say, that the French could probably muster ten machines for every machine that we could send up for defence. In order to remove this striking disparity, the policy of the late Government—the policy which I am hoping that the present Government will adopt—was to initiate the gradual expansion of the Air Force, designed ultimately to secure a strength of 600 first line machines for home defence. Accordingly my right hon. friend, the late Secretary of State for Air, set on foot a programme of construction containing the first stages of this policy, and developed this in the course of the recent debate.
The reply of the Under-Secretary of State to the speech of my right hon. friend was not all that we wanted. Let me quote from Mr. Leach's speech on that occasion. He said:
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 …. The plan for the time being will not be interfered with. Continuity has been agreed to by the Government. This Government has taken over the responsibilities left to it by its predecessors ….
The second part of the Resolution "—
which is identical with the Resolution I have the honour to move—
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 have wondered whether it is a practical proposition …. 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.
We accept that undertaking. We note the pledge of the Government to carry through existing constructional commitments. But we require more than that.
§ We require that the Government shall accept not only the commitments, but also the policy implied by them. We require that thy shall recognise that these commitments are only the first stage of a considered and continuous policy of defence in the air, a policy which is not merely a British policy, but an Imperial policy, founded upon the recommendations of the Committee of Imperial Defence and endorsed by the Resolutions of the Imperial Conference. While I cannot believe that the Government will have any hesitation in recording their acceptance of a policy with so much authority to recommend it, I feel I must press for a categorical reply, because I find myself in a difficulty when I am dealing with the present Administration. a difficulty which seems to me to be of a somewhat novel character and one which is not less apparent in your Lordships' House than elsewhere. Hitherto Governments have been homogeneous, certainly at the commencement of an Administration. If differences have existed those differences have been rather less than more, and usually a mere question of degree.
§ But now we find ourselves in amazing circumstances. One day we find the Prime Minister repudiating the Home Secretary, no novice but a member of three Administrations. He commits some indiscretion and is promptly thrown over by the Prime Minister. Another day we find an Under-Secretary's utterances creating undisguised consternation amongst his leaders. One day the Government relies upon the theory of righteous causes for our home defence, instead of upon aeroplanes. The next day, or the day after, we are comforted by the material protection afforded by five new cruisers. That is what goes on in another place. There is a bewildering atmosphere of contradiction there. Are we any more fortunate here? In your Lordships' House there are noble Lords representing the Government who occupy their honourable positions, as far as we can judge from their own utterances, at great sacrifice to themselves and simply 487 and solely as patriotic citizens, impressed with the necessity that the King's Government must be carried on. We must accept that they are patriotic and that their patriotism overwhelms their political opinions as we have known those political opinions in many cases, and we must trust that the noble Lords who hold office under these conditions will serve at least as trustworthy political barometers, if nothing more. So long as they continue to occupy their place on the Government Bench, we can feel assured that practical and material defence is safe. But the moment their political principles overwhelm their patriotism, we shall have good reason to fear that the pacifist section in the Government has won the day.
§ I know quite well that amongst those who form the Government at this moment are many whose ideas of Imperial Defence and the necessary steps to be taken to maintain adequate protection are identical with those of the late Government. At the same time there are men associated with the Government and exercising varying influences over the Government who, if they had achieved their object during the period of the war, would have effectually brought about the defeat of the Allies and the destruction for all time of the British Empire. It is not likely that we shall forget this, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure, not only your Lordships' House, but also the whole Empire, because, as I have already pointed out, this Resolution embodies the policy specifically adopted a few months ago by the Imperial Conference.
§ It is for this reason that the answer given in another place, to which I referred as unsatisfactory, inspires no confidence in my mind as regards the attitude of the Government towards home defence. I would venture to press the noble Lord, with the greatest respect, to address himself to that particular point. So far as I can judge his colleague, he is a pacifist, and I use the word advisedly, as being the one which best expresses my meaning. I mean by it that the Under-Secretary for Air is apparently prepared to rely upon phrases and theories, instead of upon armed forces. He envisages a nation disarmed enforcing a world-wide policy of universal peace upon nations armed to the teeth. We are all of us working for universal peace ; but we cannot 488 neglect those practical considerations which, if approached in a spirit of wisdom and honesty, as distinct from a policy of competition in armaments or.1 policy of aggression, are far more likely to attain the result which we are all seeking.
§ The policy for which I am pressing is purely defensive. We have no aggressive designs of territorial expansion. Those of us who to-day plead for adequate forces for home defence, who now demand increased Estimates for this purpose alone, are, I believe, the best supporters of the ideals embodied in the League of Nations. We are seeking in a practical way the solution of a common ideal, the solution of that problem which means so much to the world. Whatever our ideals, we live in a world of fact. We must direct our courses by the consideration of things as they are and endeavour thereby to make things as they should be. It is no use blinding ourselves to the fact that the world is not yet ready for the full adoption of the theories embodied by the League of Nations. Foreign policy must still have the backing of material as well as of moral force. We cannot attain the happy state which we expect from the establishment of the League of Nations at a single bound. It is generally agreed—we had it from the noble Lords, Lord Haldane, Lord Parmoor and Lord Cecil of Chelwood only the other day—that the time is not yet ripe for general disarmament.
§ It is my opinion that by the adoption of the policy of the present Resolution we shall be making some contribution towards the attainment of the ideals of the League of Nations, for if the example of such a purely defensive policy is generally followed, it must lead automatically to the limitation of armaments It will mean that the nations have realised the one great lesson of the war—namely, that wars of aggression no longer pay, that they involve both attacker and attacked in common misery and ruin. This is the line along which hope must travel, because I regret to say that there remains still the undisputed fact that hitherto, from the earliest ages, the ingenuity of man has been directed to discovering and inventing and devising new weapons with which to bring about the destruction of his fellow creatures.489
§ Is there any proof that the whole-psychology of man has been completely changed as the result of the great war I turn for evidence upon this point to the eloquent speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, lately delivered to your Lordships on the subject of the progress of the League of Nations. That speech, in my judgment, was one of the most pathetic utterances to which I ever listened. He pleaded for idealism, and I, for one, hoped that he would say something to encourage us and to raise oar conceptions of the future to a higher level. But there was not one word of encouragement in that direction. He spoke of disarmament under mutual guarantee, but his words were vague and unsatisfying. In view of the general agreement that the time has not come for disarmament, it is vitally necessary that we should have an assurance that the Government is alive to the necessity of a continuous policy in regard to air defence.
To sum up: Our present Air Force is deplorably insufficient. We have, roughly, one machine for every ten machines at the disposal of the strongest Power in the air to-day. The noble Duke, the late Under-Secretary for Air, will, I believe, support the statement as to the figures and comparative strength which I have given to the house. We require a force in the air approximately comparable for the purpose of defence to the striking force of the strongest Continental Air Power. That means France to-day. But let no one imagine that hostility to France is implied, any more than hostility to the United States or to Japan is implied by using their strength at sea as the basis of our naval construction I will, if I may, quote M. Poincaré's letter once more, in proof of the friendly spirit which exists between the two countries in regard to their defensive armaments. He writes.
Our Army and our Air Farce are no more a sign of offence to England than the aerial and maritime fleet of Britain are, in your view, a threat to France.
We entirely endorse and reciprocate that sentiment. I will ask the noble Lord: Will ho supply a categorical answer to my question whether the Government accepts the terms of this Resolution with all its implications as to further construction, I logical continuation of the air defence policy of the late Government?
§ Moved to resolve, That this House whilst earnestly desiring the further limitation of armaments so far as is consistent with the safety and the 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.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
My Lords, my reason for rising to-day to support the Resolution proposed by my noble friend Lord Londonderry is chiefly the remarkable speech made in another place on behalf of the Government by Mr. Leach during the air debate on February 19. Mr. Leach, who is the present Under-Secretary of State for Air, distinguished himself not very long ago, when he spoke as an alderman of the Bradford City Council on the occasion of a proposal to confer the freedom of the city upon Field-Marshal Lord Haig. On this occasion he made a most extraordinary and amazing address in moving an amendment to the proposal. He is reported to have said:Lord Haig's duty had been to kill, lay waste, burn, destroy and make widows and orphans and to add enormously to the miseries of the world. Lord Haig, together with Foch, Hindenberg and Ludendorff, played a leading part in the greatest and bloodiest swindle in the world's history. It was interesting to note that upon the day upon which they sought to honour the expert in blowing out brains they were also, in the minutes of the Education Committee, to discourage the work of putting brains in. The motive, as he saw it, was to express their belief and faith in the gospel of force. He was aware that that belief and faith was one which had been fostered throughout generations by the Christian Church, but against the Christian view of things he would put the pacifists' ideal that force was no remedy. To glorify militarism to-day was an offence against humanity. There was hypocrisy in honouring the head of the Army while they failed in their pledges to those who fought. Was this the time to spend money in ornamenting generals? Rather was it the time to sit in sackcloth and ashes confessing their sins.A short time after making this astounding speech, Mr. Leach was specially selected from amongst many others by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime 491 Minister, to act as Under-Secretary of State for Air and Vice-President of the Air Council.
No doubt, with these pacific views, it was felt that he would be a particularly suitable person to rule over the gallant Air Force and to look after their interests in Parliament. He proved himself well able to fulfil those great expectations in another remarkable speech which he made in another place on the occasion of the air debate on February 19. when, as Lord Londonderry has already pointed out, ho told us that preparedness is not the best weapon ; the best weapon is to have a righteous cause. He urged the simple doctrine that we should lead the way in having small armaments, and then other Powers would follow our example. He said that the only true defence was a changed international atmosphere. Mr. Ben Turner here interposed to say that the answer was to be found in the New Testament. Such are the views and beliefs of Mr. Leach, plainly portrayed before all.
The Under-Secretary of State is jointly responsible with the Secretary of State for Air for carrying out the proposed increase in the Air Force, an increase which the Air Staff, the late Government and the Dominion Premiers at the Imperial Conference all believed to be absolutely essential for the safety of the Empire. With what enthusiasm and driving force the new Under-Secretary of State for Air will conscientiously support the Air Staff in carrying out this great purpose we are now fully aware. We know with what absolute confidence we can blindly entrust to him the aerial safety of this great Empire. Londoners can sleep soundly in their beds and no bomb will ever drop from the sky while Mr. Leach is in the saddle to intercede for us, or if a bomb or two do drop by some extraordinary mischance, and we have no Air Force at all to prevent it, the British public must not be annoyed or even perturbed, provided they have a righteous cause.
The Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, however, we find to be a very different type of man, judging from an article from his pen which appeared in the Nation, an American magazine, on January 30, some little time after the noble Lord took office. His feelings in regard to France at the present time seem 492 to be of a distinctly hostile and military character. From him we shall have the strongest support in favour of the Resolution on the Paper to-day, if I read aright his views as expressed in his recent article. He tells us for instance, speaking of the French—The English-speaking peoples would pay the penalty for letting France abuse the Allied victory and flout inconvenient clauses in a Treaty signed by a Prime Minister of England and a. President of the United States.A little further on he says—To them [the French] glory and conquest are of more importance than any markets. They want money and believe they can obtain it at the point of the bayonet. Though trade is to them a secondary consideration they do not forget it, but they think it will follow the flag.Subsequently, he goes on to say—And in all this ugly business France's late Allies have played into her hands. Ever since the Armistice she has ridden rough-shod over Europe; on no single occasion has any Government or statesman dared to call a halt. As a consequence ambitious French generals and statesmen have come to believe there are no limits to their liberty of action; their appetite has increased with eating and they are inclined to gamble on a continuance of our vacillation.He then says—Perhaps the answer to the questions put above is that the French Government will go on bullying a disarmed and helpless Germany as long as the world lets her and until the German people can save themselves, but that the moment they are resolutely tackled and made to face facts, the French people will force their Government to be more circumspect.He also states—It is an odd and paradoxical situation. but it comes to this—that the arrival of some shiploads of munitions in German ports may be the first and indispensable preliminary to negotiations, whose final aim would be the prevention of a Franco-German war. Firmness is needed as well as a desire for peace. The French Government should be made to understand that in the last resort force can be met by force. If, through the efforts of other States, German industry is freed from the trammels put upon it by French vengeance, common equity demands that the industries of other nations should have an equally good 6tart.The noble Lord writes, on January 30, that the French Government must be made to understand that in the last resort force can be met by force, but on February 19, less than three weeks later. his Under-Secretary, and the Government of which he himself is a distin- 493 guished member, refuse to support the most mild Resolution, endorsed by the Dominion Premiers at the Imperial Conference, to the effect that we should maintain "a Home Defence Force of sufficient strength to give adequate protection against attack by the strongest Air Force within striking distance of our shores." How does he propose to meet force by force, as he says in his article, if he has only 100 aeroplanes to pit against 1,000 of the Air Force of his foe ? What is the use of rattling the sabre if he cannot draw it from its sheath when it is required? If the noble Lord really believes what he wrote he should ask for more than a one-Power standard, spurred on, as he must be, by his evident dislike and disapproval of the French nation and their actions, so clearly illustrated by his pen. And this comes from a member of the Government that is now trying most carefully, and I hope successfully, to come to an agreement with France !
We have the spectacle, therefore, of a Secretary of State for Air breathing fire and slaughter against France on January 30, and his Under-Secretary of State dispensing pious texts on February 19. This is indeed a case of the lion lying down with the lamb. Whether the lion or the lamb will ultimately triumph in the quest of the Holy Grail one cannot say. No doubt it all depends on whether the red tail can sting. For my own part, I do not believe that we shall ever quarrel with France or with any of our great friendly neighbours. I hope and believe, on the other hand, that, as time goes on our relations will become more and more cordial with that country. But I believe that militarist and hostile articles, such as those I have quoted, and pacific speeches in another place, will do more harm to our friendly relationship with France than anything else could do.
If, and when, European peace and settlement become more strongly established and the time is ripe for an Aerial Disarmament Conference, no one will welcome such a Conference more strongly than will this country, but it must be remembered that it is much more difficult to distinguish between what are purely civil aeroplanes and what are military machines, than it is to discriminate in this way in regard to naval 494 and military forces. That is to say, by means of civil aviation a country can build up a considerable reserve of machines and pilots that can be used for military purposes in time of war, and yet these machines will not be regarded in times of peace as military machines. Therefore there will be great difficulty in a Disarmament Conference in discovering exactly what are military aerial forces. From an aerial point of view we are no longer an island ; rather have we become a Continental nation, and we must arm as such.
I feel there is no necessity for me to add much to what the noble Marquess has said in regard to actual figures, but I should like to go through the increases authorised during the last two years. First of all, it was proposed to form fifteen new squadrons to be completed by April, 1925. The Under-Secretary for Air gave identical fiures in his speech. Mr. Bonar Law's Government endorsed this policy, and in the last Administration it was decided to make an additional increase of thirty-four squadrons. This is the first stage of the policy which we hope the present Government will adopt. Our final aim and object is to have in being as a Home Defence Air Force fifty-two squadrons, making 600 first-line machines, and the expenditure involved will not amount to more than £6,000,000 a year—the price of a single battleship of the "Hood" class.
The late Secretary of State for Air, Sir Samuel Hoare, made it very clear in his speech in the House of Commons on February 19, what the position was in October, 1922, just at the critical time of the Chanak crisis, when the Conservative Government come into office. At that time we had only twenty-four first line aeroplanes, and when the late Government went out of office we had, I think I am right in saying, eighty first line machines definitely allocated to Rome defence. Compare these two figures with the similar figures of our friends and neighbours the French. In France they have about 1,000 first line aeroplanes, and of these about 600 are included in what is known as the French Independent Striking Force, while another 400 over and above this figure are allocated for duties with the French Army. Speaking generally, and not going into details, it 495 is true to say that there are about 1,000 first line machines in France against a little more than 100 in this country.
One final word about the Imperial airships scheme, destined to fly to India and Australia. This scheme has been the subject of more Committees than any scheme I ever remember. Two years ago a Committee under the Coalition Government, consisting of experts of the Admiralty and Air Ministry, reported favourably on the general outline of the scheme. Throughout the whole of last year the late Air Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself formed another Committee, which was a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, in order to settle, as we believed, this question finally and in its last details. We discovered, after full inquiry and consideration, that much the cheapest scheme, from a national point of view, was a scheme framed on commercial lines, but ready for use in time of war. By this method the Government risked very little until the scheme was a proved success, when they were prepared to assist still further in a businesslike way. I will not detain your Lordships by going into the details of the scheme, but we believed that the final details had been settled by us in a way which was most advantageous to the nation. There is no use for the Air Ministry to build airships in peace time purely for military purposes. It is much cheaper for them to be built by private firms, with private capital, for commercial purposes, with reasonable financial assistance and control on the part of the Government, but to be at the disposal of the Air Ministry and Admiralty in time of war.
I may be wrong, but I hear that another Committee has been appointed by the Labour Government to consider the matter afresh, and I have no doubt that if a Liberal Government succeeded to office in the near future we should have still another Committee to consider this long overdue undertaking. Everybody connected with the scheme is tired of the continual delays and useless fresh Committees. The Committee to which I have referred made an exhaustive Report on the whole matter—a Report which was adopted by the Committee of Imperial Defence and by the Conservative Government, and which was later on heartily endorsed by the Conference of Dominion 496 Premiers Even the Treasury had settled the details, and the only thing lacking was the necessary legislation to put this scheme into force. May I take this opportunity of asking the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, if he can tell us why continued delay is necessary in so urgent and far-reaching a matter—a matter in which other countries such as France and the United States of America are far outstripping us, and which has been so fully approved by representatives of the entire Empire.
My Lords, we have heard two interesting speeches, both addressed to the House from the same point of view. I confess that after having listened to both very attentively I am still without any clear understanding as to the purpose with which the Resolution has been placed on the Paper. The noble Marquess said that he in his speech had no intention of attacking the Government, and he did speak, as I think all of your Lordships will agree, with a great deal of moderation. At the same time, the whole of his speech was at any rate very acutely critical of the present position as left by the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The noble Duke made no such statement that he was not attacking the Government, and indeed the whole of his speech was framed in a spirit of considerable bitterness towards the Government.
It might be well for a few minutes if I, who had the honour of being, between the noble Marquess and the noble Duke, responsible as Under-Secretary for Air, should make a brief contribution from a very different point of view than that of the two speeches which your Lordships have just heard. I confess I had not the advantage of having seen the remarks of the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the occasion outside the House of Commons to which the noble Duke called attention. Possibly because of that, I did not find in reading his speech that it was really quite so unsatisfactory as the noble Marquess and the noble Duke have found it. I did not hear it and it may have been due to some extent to manner that so unsatisfactory an impression was produced, but I think if anybody reads it carefully he will hardly find in it occasion for quite such hostile criticism as it has been subjected to. The Under-Secretary of State for Air 497 stated quite distinctly that, there is no change in the policy of the Government for the time being in this matter. It is the words "for the time being" which seem to have aroused so much hostility in the minds of the two noble Lords who have spoken.
But the Under-Secretary went on to state quite specifically that continuity had been agreed to by the Government, and that the Government accepted the responsibilities with which it came into office. That seems to me a fairly explicit statement. Further than that, in the course of the debate the remarks of Mr. Leach were amplified by the Colonial Secretary, who not only repeated those statements, but also gave satisfaction to those who had addressed questions to him upon it by expressly stating that it was the policy of the Government to introduce the two Bills, the Auxiliary Air Force Bill and the Air Force Reserve Bill. The whole of these pronouncements seem to me to cover a fairly wide ground.
It is true that towards the conclusion of his speech Mr. Leach went off—or went on. whichever way one may regard it—into some idealism, and gave vent to the sentence which has been so steadily criticised—"The only adequate defence that I can see is a changed international atmosphere." I really fail to understand why that particular sentence should have been open to such tremendous criticism. We have heard exactly the same thing from many other people. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, in a speech in your Lordships' House not very long ago, did not use those words, but the whole tenor of his speech was exactly to that effect, and he portrayed Europe as an armed camp. On other occasions the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, has given expression to exactly the same point of view. On none of these occasions has the expression of that point of view been made the target for attack, and I must say that it seems to me that a certain amount of rather unreasonable attention has been drawn to the concluding periods of Mr. Leach's speech.
I agree with a great deal that the noble Marquess said. Undoubtedly it does take time to create an efficient Air Force, and during the time that I myself was in office, with the Secretary of State for War we did secure one increase, fifteen squadrons, and we supported last year 498 the increase which was then announced. We agreed that, in the great disparity which has been made so obvious by the constant quotation of figures, that increase was necessary. We regretted it, but at the same time we supported the Government in the action which they took. But I have noticed that during the debates in another place, and also to-day, there has been constant use of the phrase that this was the first instalment, the first step. In the debate on this subject last year we pressed the then Government in order to find out what their intention actually was and I myself used these words:I should like to ask whether it is the decision of the Government that the increase is sufficient to meet that principle "—namely, the principle which is quoted again in the Resolution to-day—or whether we are to accept the decision as in the nature of a first instalment of increase.The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, replied for the Government, but no answer was given in reply to that specific question. We were left in the dark as to what the actual intention of the Conservative Government then was in making that increase.
At another period—I think in a speech in the country after the announcement of this increase the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who has taken considerable interest in the question of the air since he vacated the Woolsack, made a speech saying that he was quite uncertain whether the increase which had been announced meant that the then Government was in fact subscribing to the one-Power standard. That, again, was never explained by the Conservative Government, and we have been left all this time in the dark as to what, in fact, was meant by the Resolution, and what is actually implied by the word "adequate" in these words—"must maintain a Home Defence Force of sufficient strength to give adequate protection against air attack by the strongest Air Force within striking distance of our shores."
We have never had an answer, so far as I am aware, until to-day, when the noble Marquess, in his speech, said quite clearly that what was really meant was that this country should have a striking force equal to that of France. That is 499 the first time that we have ever known what was exactly meant by this word "adequate." I fully subscribe, and haw done so on previous occasions, to everything that the noble Marquess said as to the complete absence of hostility, when one makes a comparison with our great Ally, between that Ally and ourselves. We have had the words of M. Poincaré quoted by the noble Marquess, and on a previous occasion I quoted the words of M. Flandin about our own increase. saying he hoped we should be free from the suspicion which attached to France when she took the same step.
I ventured, in July of last year, to ask your Lordships to ponder what was meant by this step, and I was followed by the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, who, in words most impressive and grave, and which I could not attempt to imitate, made quite clear the point that, if we really were embarking now upon a policy of steady increase, to match the increase of a neighbour, we were, in fact, beginning a new race of armaments. And in very solemn words he gave his impression of what that must inevitably lead to. It is not merely such a race of armaments as we have seen in the case of naval armaments; it is of a far more deadly character: and no one, I think, has given clearer expression to its deadliness than the late Secretary of (State for Air in another place the other day, when he used these words:—During the war the greatest amount of bombs that was ever dropped on 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 57 tons per day for an indefinite period. That is a very sinister and significant fact for every hon. member to consider.The Conservative Party appear to have considered it only from that point of view—that, unless we ourselves have a force equal to anything that can be brought against us, there is no adequate defence against these things happening to London.
It has been perfectly clear to everybody who has studied the air at all that, if ever the world is faced again with a Continental war, we shall have, in the first place, a war in the air of a character which the late Secretary of State for Air has described. And when the noble Marquess speaks of the necessity for deal- 500 ing with facts, we have to look upon that, even to-day, as a fact. And if this steady rise of air armaments is to go on these facts will ultimately become even more terrible, and there can be little doubt that, if we ever do have another Continental war, there will be bombing of this character continuously, stopping food supplies, and making life, if not literally, at any rate practically, unbearable. Therefore, when we see a great Party of the State pressing forward an increase in armaments and looking upon those as the facts, we are entitled definitely to ask in what direction everything is tending. Are we again going to see one nation after another building up these great and terribly destructive Air Forces, or are we going, while there is yet time, to try to take steps to prevent an inevitable horror, if this goes on, coming upon the, world?
Last July I ventured to move a Resolution asking the Government to take steps to co-operate with other nations in order to see how far it was possible to limit these armaments. As the Resolution stood on the Paper it contained the word "immediate"—" immediate steps ' —and that was objected to. I, therefore, offered to alter it by substituting for "immediate steps" the words "at the earliest opportunity." One would have thought that any Government which was really sincere and whole-hearted in its desire to pursue every possible channel to limit armaments would have found no hesitation in being able to accept that Resolution; but it was refused on behalf of the then Government.
One then looks at the record of the present Government. Last summer the Labour Party unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the summoning of an International Conference to examine into these questions, and the question that I should like to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for State for Air is of a different character, therefore, from that addressed to him by the noble Marquess. I should like to know whether he is able to give us any information as to any steps which are being taken in that direction. One knows perfectly well—the noble Duke referred to it—how extremely difficult disarmament in the air is. The Committee on Aircraft of the Washington Conference went into it in some detail. It is true they were all air experts and, therefore, not concerned 501 with political problems. They decided that it was impracticable; but there was a note attached to that Report by the Italian delegate pointing out that, though it was extremely difficult to limit air armaments without at the same time checking civil aviation, it still was possible to do something with regard to the training of war pilots. Last summer I pressed the Government of the day to find out; whether they were pursuing any investigation as to how far it was possible to place a limit upon the training of war pilots; because the war pilot cannot be trained quickly, and it is much more easy to exercise some sort of supervision over the number of pilots who are being actually trained for war. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us that the present Government is pursuing inquiry in this direction, or to give us some information.
I should be very sorry indeed if, in the attempt to limit air armaments any limitation was placed upon the progress of civil aviation. I fully believe that in the development of civil aviation we have a great and powerful agency for extending international knowledge and peace. We have heard little from the present Government as to their attitude towards the development of civil aviation, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some information upon that. It. is not irrelevant to the subject under discussion, because no securely based and efficient military Air Force can be brought into being except in a nation which has a healthy air industry. The two things are bound up, and that is one of the difficulties in any question of limiting air armaments.
I would therefore ask that question of the noble Lord, and I would once more emphasise that, however difficult this problem is, however difficult it may be effectively to limit air armaments (more difficult even than naval or land armaments), nevertheless it is one of the things which the world as a whole must take definitely and immediately into consideration. It seems to me that unless this question of the development of hostility from the air is really and wholeheartedly reviewed by friendly nations working together, we are really going steadily downwards towards a terror of warfare which, without (he slightest exaggeration, will mean the sweeping 502 away of European cities and the end of civilisation as we have known it in Europe. Therefore it is the most grave international question before any Government to-day in Europe, and I earnestly hope that the noble Lord will be able, in addition to answering the Question addressed to him by the noble Marquess, to give us some reassurance as to the endeavours which the present Government are making in that direction.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD THOMSON)
My Lords, I crave your usual kind indulgence to a newcomer in making his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I would also like to express my indebtedness to the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, for the ample notice he has given me of this Resolution. I will endeavour to deal in the course of my remarks with all the Questions that he has put to me, more especially with the very categorical Question which he asked in reference to the Labour Government's policy as to the Resolution which your Lordships are invited to affirm.
With reference to the Questions put by the noble Duke, I think I had better deal with them at once before going on with the remainder of my speech. I would first like to point out that the greater part of the noble Duke's speech was devoted to reading extracts from an article written by myself, which seemed to me to be quite irrelevant. He tore those extracts away from their context and gave a most misleading impression. But there was one most unfair misstatement made. He said on three occasions that the article was written on January 30.
§ LORD THOMSON
The article was written on Christmas Day, and the date is at the head of the article.
§ LORD THOMSON
The noble Duke said, I think, that it was written on January 30. The article was written on Christmas Day and the date is at the head of the article. There is a very great difference there. On Christmas Day last year I was not a Minister of the Crown. 503 The Resolution before your Lordships' House to-day invites you to affirm a principle which is, in point of fact, an assertion of the one-Power standard. It may easily, and I think it will obviously, initiate a race of armaments. The principle is not a new one. It is only new in regard to air defence. As one who for years was an officer of the General Staff, I am familiar with it in many of its aspects. I know perfectly well how this system works. What it does is to provide a rule of thumb. It gives you a basis for calculation and what really happens is that the strongest Power of any kind is selected. In this instance it is described and qualified as the strongest Power within striking distance of our shores. Who can say, with the development of flight, what that Power will be in ten years? That Power having been selected, a force of sufficient strength is required to give adequate protection. That formula is capable of indefinite extension. I can see many officers of the General Staff spending years arguing as to what is a sufficient force to give adequate protection. There is no limit to it.
Personally I have regretted very much the many references in the two debates to France, but that has been inevitable. It is due to the wording of the Resolution. Franco has the strongest Air Force within striking distance of our shores. Some of the ex-Ministers who have spoken have made comparisons with France, pointed out the amazing disparity which exists between our force and theirs, and described the terrible damage which could be inflicted upon us by France alone among all the Powers of Europe. Why not be frank? Obviously it is France we are thinking about when we talk of schemes of expansion. They urge the Labour Government to affirm a principle whose immediate application could only be to France. They emphasise our present weakness as though the Labour Government was responsible for it.
§ LORD THOMSON
Perhaps it was not suggested, but some of the references to the Under-Secretary of State for Air were 504 a little personal. What strikes me as so curious is that all the time they profess their undying affection for France and all things French, it is as though they saidI could not love thee, dear, so much,Loved I not air supremacy more.It is a most amazing attitude. It is not misunderstood in France, as is proved by many extracts from the French Press published within the last few days. The French make no mistake about it They quite understand that the reference is to them.
But some of the most vehement of the speakers on this subject were the very men under whose administration the strength of our Air Force was reduced. The noble Marquess, who made a speech of marked moderation, was himself Financial Secretary and Under-Secretary for Air during the year when the maximum reduction was effected. In fact, that was the lowest point which our Air Force has ever reached. I do not suppose that any out-and-out pacifist would have done much more, or less. At the time they cherished secretly this principle which we are invited to affirm. Their words were brave enough, but in their deeds they ran away from this same principle. It is very curious to see the noble Marquess and the noble Duke seated side by side, because, as I understand the history of the past three years, the noble Marquess was partly responsible for the reduction in our air armaments, and the noble Duke carried out part of the salvage operations. If there is any blame imputable in this matter, I would suggest to the noble Marquess that he is one of the villains of the piece. It seems to me that the right hon. gentleman who was my predecessor at the Ministry of Air came to the rescue at the very last moment. He pulled out the aeroplane of State, as one might say, from a sort of spinning nose dive. He stopped the drop in our armaments. He did it with the assistance of the noble Duke.
I want to speak quite frankly. If I believed there was any need for the affirmation of this principle, or the application of a rule of thumb, I would try to do far more in the way of expanding our Air Force than has been done, or was even contemplated, by the last two Governments, but I do not believe that the necessity exists. Quite obviously Sir Samuel 505 Hoare did not believe that it existed; otherwise he would have provided sufficient strength to give adequate protection at a much earlier date. If the danger is there, Why should it be more serious five years hence than it is to-day? The disparity is with us now. The disparity has been with us since 1922. My predecessor did. not take that line. He did not provide "adequate protection." He acted, I believe, in a most practical and reasonable manner. He laid the foundations of a scheme of gradual extension and development. With the first stages of that scheme of development His Majesty's Government will not interfere, either directly or indirectly.
With the deeds of the last Government in this connection we do not quarrel, but we do quarrel with the words. When we are asked to affirm a principle which envisages a race of armaments to an indefinite extent our attitude is different. In a later stage of my remarks I will endeavour to make the reasons for this difference a little more clear. Before I come to that, I would like to try to explain to your Lordships, as I understand it, the attitude of the Labour Party towards this question of armaments. We do not dismiss lightly the possible dangers of the situation. Obviously, the Government are fully seized of all the facts. One of my first tasks, self-imposed, was to insist most strongly on these dangers, and to point out exactly where we stood. We took office when the European situation was unsettled. It is unsettled still, unfortunately. What is much more unfortunate is that no one who is not blind to facts can fail to realise that in many parts of Europe the war spirit still survives. That is part of our inheritance, as are the preparations needed in order to ensure that the British point of view shall have due weight in the affairs of Europe and of the world. I can assure your Lordships that the Labour Government is by no means blind to that duty, and those responsibilities.
In regard to Home Defence, does any one of your Lordships imagine that we in the Labour Party, especially some of the trades union leaders, are not fully seized of all the details of what. I might call the home front? There are few people in the world better qualified to judge of that. We do not forget the experiences of the war. and least of all of the air raids. 506 Those are things that bit deep into the memory of the people, and these representatives of the people know it well. We remember that the first Victoria Cross gained within the compass of the British Isles was won in British air. We are also aware of the power which certain organs of the Press hostile to us are able to exert in the way of causing scares and panics. All these features of the home front are familiar to us. We take all these factors into account. We recognise that aviation has introduced a new form of warfare which entirely alters the defence problem of Great Britain and deprives us of our first line of defence—the sea. The attack from the air is sudden, swift and appalling, and because it is the only form of attack of serious magnitude to which we are now exposed we know perfectly well that the people of this country would never justify a. Government which neglected to take proper precautions against a repetition of the horrors of the air raids of the war.
It is the irony of fate that we who are scoffed at as pacifists should be called upon to give effect to a scheme of expansion in armaments which has been rendered necessary by the neglect of some at least of our predecessors; but that is the situation as I see it. We pacifists are taking up the task. I often wonder what a pacifist is. Most thinking men and women are pacifists in deploring the folly and insanity of war and its futility. I know a good many pacifists who, when it is a case of redressing wrong or making war upon the heathen, display a quite suspicious military ardour. Nothing is easier to get than a label. I was once myself addressed as a "blooming pacifist" by a Bristol docker. I do not know why I should be called a pacifist. I have served in five wars. I have done very well out of them, you may say. I have had interesting work all the time, but I do think they are futile and insane and utterly wasteful. Up to that point I am a pacifist. One hardly does justice to the working men of this country in calling them pacifists and using some of the remarks which I heard, not only this afternoon, but the other night in another place, with regard to the men who set forth our ideals. The Labour Party, and I hope the Labour Government, is possessed of considerable common sense. In the mind of the Government the common sense of this 507 question is that, for the present, and until general disarmament is possible, the policy of this country should be to make such preparations as will show the world that it does not mean to be caught napping; that we do not take our desires for realities.
We have in the Labour movement, or affiliated to it, a society called the Fabian Society to which I have the honour to belong. I was once addressing the Fabian Society on the subject of national defence. I said exactly what I thought as a soldier, and somewhat to my surprise in that gathering I found a very general measure of agreement. They recognised that in this matter we must display a certain amount of common sense; even those who differed, the more ardent pacifists, were by no means violent. I had the feeling that they were looking at me more in grief than anger. But this is the common-sense doctrine. It is the recognition of the necessity for some sort of defence of a moderate nature. But this is very far from accepting competition in armaments. To develop our strength and to give the impression that we are mindful of our interests and responsibilities we need, as I see it, a Home Defence Force of reasonable size, reserves of men and material, establishments for training and research, and well thought out schemes for expansion. All these I find already existing in the Department over which I have the honour to preside.
I have inherited an enthralling task; the direction of a Service built up in the war years by an immense expenditure of blood and treasure, with a splendid record of heroism and self-sacrifice. The machine exists, it functions admirably. Its activities include defence, research, and the fostering of every form of aviation. It is manned by enthusiasts who are always seeking for new developments and new ideas. It is essentially a national service and it will become, as time goes on, a vital factor in the national life. It has points of contact with several highly-skilled trades. It enrols growing boys, gives them an all-round training and sends them back to civil employment when they are thirty years of age as highly-skilled mechanics ready to play their part in a growing industry. These are only some of the features of general interest, and as the 508 Air Force expands they will expand with it and will form a basis of security and air progress. In these aspects the Air Force recommends itself to every thinking trade unionist in the country. They see all that, and there is not one of them who would for a moment entertain any curtailment of that training, or of these preparations. Your Lordships may rest assured that the scheme of home defence as initiated by the Coalition Government in 1922, and amplified by the late Government, will be continued without any interference with the administration as it existed when we came into Office. On the contrary, measures will, I trust, be taken to speed up research and civil aviation.
The Auxiliary Air Force and Air Force Reserve Bill is in the list of essential Bills of great urgency that will shortly be submitted to Parliament. The scheme will be worked out in definite stages. but without any break in the continuity of the policy. I stress the reference to stages, and I have no doubt that it may arouse some misgivings, but I do so because, if some such Conference as that held recently at Washington should provide for an all-round reduction of armaments, we might be able, and we should be eager, to take full advantage of its provisions.
In regard to civil aviation our aim is equally distinct. My ambition is to encourage the. air habit in this country for several reasons. In the first place I put defence. Just as our Navy looks to the mercantile marine for its natural reserve in time of war, so, now that the sea no longer affords the same protection as it did ten years ago and the main menace to our security is from the air, we must build upon our mercantile air reserve, consisting of men who can think and act in three dimensions. No effort will be spared to encourage that state of civil aviation, and I hope that this answer is satisfactory to the noble Lord who spoke last.
I have dealt at some length with the common-sense aspect of this question. I will now refer briefly to another side, because, after all, it is on that other side, perhaps, that we may part company. In a recent debate we have been reproached for our idealism. There have been sneering references to the Sermon on the Mount. I do not suppose that any 509 of your Lordships would care to blight the flower of idealism provided its roots "etc in the soil of common sense. I have tried to point out that our policy is a common sense one. and I have be n at pains to show that it is a direct continuation of the policy of our predecessors. I have gone so far as to say that, if I believed in the necessity for affirming this principle. I would do more than their words imply. That, to my mind, is common sense. In my own mind I compare common sense and idealism with two things which we used to study as staff officers—with strategy and policy, which we were taught should always be in harmony and go hand in hand. Possibly your Lordships may think that we are attempting an impossible task when we endeavour to make what is, in point of fact, the strategy of the noble Marquess go with the policy of the Labour Party. I do not think that is so, because I repeat that we mean to continue this scheme of expansion. We do not interfere with it one jot or one tittle for the present, but our policy is to prepare for peace It is by no means so easy to do a thing of that kind as to talk about it, and I hope we shall not talk much about it until we have something to show. I think the Labour Party may claim that it has great advantages in tackling this matter. We should certainly spoil our chances and destroy all these advantages if we affirmed the principle which your Lordships are invited to affirm.
Europe to-day, as your Lordships well know, is war-worn, distracted and bankrupt. The peoples everywhere have a passionate desire and longing for peace. Even in the most warlike countries—in warlike Balkan States, for instance—if you talk to an ordinary man or woman it is always the same story. You find them cursing the wars and cursing the taxation. I do not suppose there will be much difference of opinion when I say that there never has been a period in world history when an appeal to common sense and idealism had a fairer prospect of success. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, spoke about armaments being the way to reduce armaments. I believe myself that bankruptcy lies that way.
We must seem extraordinary people to our neighbours. I suppose we are an enigma. The Ereneh people think us 510 lucky and stupid. Others have various ideas about us, but there is no country in the world that denies to us our strength. It is a curious form of strength and quite incalculable. Personally I am far too proud of being an Englishman to care for our strength being measured by rule of thumb. I often think of the definition of our strength which was given in a famous passage of Kinglake when he was describing the charge of Balaclava. He said it was a strength "other than that of mere riches and other than that of gross numbers, a strength carried by proud descent from one generation to another, a strength awaiting the trials that are to come." That I believe to be our real strength, and that is the strength which impresses foreign peoples.
Having this strength, and being rather in the eye of the world at the present moment—perhaps more so than usual—is it not time that we did make an effort to see that this strength should give forth sweetness ? We are in the position of being strong and safe, I imagine in the opinion of everybody, for the moment, and the world is in the state in which we see it co-day. Why, at such a moment, affirm a principle which, so far as I can see, will not add one aeroplane to your fleet nor one pilot to your personnel? We are being watched. People expect something of us, and we cannot give them this. If we continue in the same old rut, accept the same shibboleths and endorse the law of force, then millions of expectant people, not only in this country but in other lands, will be disappointed, and after their disappointment there will creep into their minds and hearts a dangerous despair.
This Resolution invites your Lordships to affirm a principle which is not new, and I submit that in the light of recent history it is discredited. It announces to the world a mood of helpless, hopeless resignation. It is a challenge to idealism in the acceptance of armed force as the dominant factor in human affairs. Surely this admission is suicidal. If it were carried to its logical conclusion, we and the other States of Europe would rattle into bankruptcy as well as barbarism. These are the reasons why the Government will not support the Resolution. We are determined to give a fair trial to another method, to pursue 511 another line of thought. The task is difficult, no doubt. Much patience will be required and innumerable obstacles will have to be overcome. A year hence our ideas may have to be revised. We may have to admit failure. In the meantime, I have given your Lordships a rough outline of what we propose to do, and we believe that this endeavour is not only higher and more civilised, but that it is infinitely more practical than the alternative presented to us—namely, that of embarking upon a race of armaments. I am afraid I have trespassed greatly upon your Lordships' time, and I thank you greatly for your kind attention.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships must have listened to the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down with the greatest interest. I cannot say that I agreed with every word of his speech, but with a great deal of it most of your Lordships will have been in agreement. One thing I am sure I may say, and that is that in the future debates in this House we shall always be sure that the noble and gallant Lord will be able to take care of himself. He has shown that he already possesses what many of us long to possess—namely, the power of holding your Lordships' attention and of adequately debating the subjects which are presented for our consideration.
The noble and gallant Lord seemed to be rather surprised that my noble friend thought it necessary to submit this definite Resolution to your Lordships, but-really we have some excuse for it. It is so very difficult to know exactly what is the temperament of His Majesty's present Government on these matters. It is not merely that one Minister differs from another Minister in the Government on these matters, but in the very same Department—the Air Department—there is an astounding difference in what I may call the atmosphere in which the Secretary of State moves as compared with the atmosphere in which the Under Secretary moves. We are naturally rather at a loss to know which Minister represents the actual feelings of the Government. The noble and gallant Lord did not seem to see that there was anything very striking in the difference, and he did not. go into detail in respect of the former utterances of himself and his colleague. He complained, of course, that my noble friend 512 had misinterpreted him, because he had made a mistake about the date at which a certain article was written by the noble and gallant Lord. The important thing is not when the article was written but when it was published. Even giving him the benefit of the fact that the American article, which was of a most bellicose description, was written before he became a Minister of the Crown, may I venture to point out to him that you do not part entirely with your past when you become a Minister, but are responsible, at any rate to a limited extent, for what you may have said only about two months ago.
The Under-Secretary, of course, is not at all bellicose. I really do not know how the two Ministers get on in the same office, because the Under-Secretary seems to have spoken of the gallant profession to which his chief belongs as consisting of experts in blowing out brains. That is how he described the noble and gallant Lord's profession. He was not, of course, speaking of the noble and gallant Lord, but of even a greater and more gallant Lord than the Minister for Air. Therefore we may be forgiven if we are a little puzzled, and are anxious to find out the truth about the intentions of the Government. In many respects I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the result. There was a very great deal in the substance of the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, apart from what I may, without being disrespectful, call the trimmings, with which we shall agree. I understand that he is in favour of what he called a reasonable Air Force, that he thinks it must be fully equipped in every respect—matériel, personnel and research—that it must be capable of being expanded, and that, in truth, the noble and gallant Lord and his colleagues were going to carry on to the full a policy of continuity with the policy of the Government to which we belonged, in the matter of the air provision of this country.
That is all very good. Then why does not the noble and gallant Lord accept the Motion on the Paper? I waited with interest for the closing parts of the noble and gallant Lord's speech, in the hope that he would enlighten me. There was a long passage which he will forgive me for saying was designed for other ears than those of your Lordships. After all, he does owe something to the earnest gentle- 513 men among the electorate who thought they were electing a Pacifist Government, and something must be said to them to justify the existence of the Government. But the noble and gallant Lord seemed to think that we on this side of the House, the members of the late Government, were opposed to the policy of the limitation of armaments. I could refer him to any number of speeches delivered by ex-Ministers of the Crown, but I will refer him to the Motion. If he will read it he will see these words: "That this House, whilst earnestly desiring the further limitation of armaments." It is not conveyed quite in the picturesque language of the noble and gallant Lord, but it is to the same effect. Then the Resolution proceeds: "so far as is consistent with the safety and the integrity of the Empire," and it goes on to affirm certain sentiments with regard to the provision almost similar to that which he has announced to-night.
Why then should he not adopt it and vote for it? That is the point to which we must have a reply. I was not certain, from one passage of his speech, whether he was quite sure that he would carry with him his colleagues in providing what is adequate in the matter of air defence, because he referred to a celebrated passage from Kinglake, to the effect, apparently, that we were to rely not upon actual provision of armaments but upon proud tradition. A proud tradition is all very well, and we have done many things in the name of that proud tradition in the; past, but to go into an armed conflict with nothing but proud tradition is an expensive policy. It means emergency provision. It means the pouring out of the money of the country like water. It means running enormous risks, and it does not produce anything like the same adequate results as making provision in due time. I cannot believe that, when the noble and gallant Lord comes to think it over, he will be really in favour of leaving things to take their course until the time comes, and then trust to emergency measures at the moment.
I should like also to remind the Government of another matter. There was a debate in your Lordships' House in July last year, when I was sitting on the other side of the House. In respect of that debate it is important to remember certain dates, because on June 26 of last 514 year there was an announcement made on behalf of the late Government, and that announcement used precisely the same words as are now contained in the Motion submitted by my noble friend—in fact, my noble friend's Motion was drafted merely by copying out the words of the announcement of the then Government. It was with that declaration in their hands that your Lordships' House debated a Motion which was submitted, I think, by Lord Wimborne in July of last year.
How did the House deal with the Motion ? Lord Gorell, who, I think, is not in his place, referred just now to a very distinguished member of your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, who, in the course of that debate, said:At the moment I agree that the Government have no choice but to put forward the programme"—the programme, that is to say, which had been submitted in the terms of my noble friend's present Motion—for increased expenditure upon the Air Force which they have put forward.So that the noble Viscount, Lord Gorell's leader, accepted to the full the policy of the Government as it had been submitted. But there is an even more important member, in this respect, of your Lordships' House than Lord Grey; there is the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. It is a matter of great satisfaction to your Lordships and to myself in a humble capacity to know that the noble and learned Viscount is the Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I felt quite certain, when I knew that that was going to be the arrangement, that Imperial Defence would receive the greatest care at the hands of the present Government, whatever the pacifist trimmings might be which they might think it necessary to put into their speeches. I recommend these observations to the noble and gallant Lord. What did the Lord Chancellor say in that debate ? I think the, noble and gallant Lord spoke with reprobation of what he called the aerial supremacy—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Well, I apologise. At any rate, this is what the noble and learned Viscount said:It is command of the air which is necessary so far as home defence is concerned.That is how he stated the policy which was to be pursued. I have no doubt that that is the view which he takes now. And, in speaking of this policy of the Government, which is the very policy now embodied in this Resolution, he said:I am in favour of that money being spent.He accepted in globo the air policy which we had submitted. I think, in the face of that declaration, there is really no difference of opinion between the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and my noble friend Lord Londonderry. They aproach the subject from the same point of view.
And the truth is there was not a single dissentient opinion in your Lordships' House last year. Whoever spoke, from whatever point of view, whether he was a noble Lord representing Conservative opinion, or Liberal opinion, or Labour opinion, it made no difference whatever. They were all agreed that the want of air provision was a very grave matter, that it was necessary to make it good, and that the provision made by His Majesty's then Government was the least that would be acceptable. Then why not accept the Motion? That is what we say. And the reason why we want your Lordships to re-affirm it, and the Government to accept it. is because, in the face of the ambiguous attitude of the Under-Secretary in another place, the country will not be satisfied that the Government are really in earnest unless this Resolution is accepted and made formal beyond recall. We want an adequate Force. The policy of the late Government, if it erred in any direction, erred in falling short of, rather than in exceeding, what was necessary. It was absolutely necessary that we should be at least as strong as the strongest Power which could attack us.
A great deal has been said by the noble and gallant Lord about the want of proper consideration which the terms of this Motion show for our neighbour and Ally, the great French nation. But nothing is said as to France in this Resolution, and I think it is an absolute mistake to think that it is pointed 516 against France. It is a mistake to think that France is the only Power who could possibly be contemplated. Please remember that the science of air fighting is in a fluid condition, is going through a process of rapid development, and in no respect is it developing faster than in the scope of action of the air machine. At present, no doubt, the air machine is limited to two or three hundred miles from the base, but that will not be so for very long. Every year they will increase in strength, every year they will have a greater scope, and it is only a question of time when other countries, much further off than France, will become potential enemies in the air. And therefore I say it is a great mistake to think in terms of France alone, even if we looked upon France from an unfriendly point of view, which is very far from being the case. But, even as respects France, I was astonished at the noble Lord's language in this respect. I do not want to tie him down too much to his previous utterances, but I think it is necessary to remind him that in an article written at Christmas—two months ago—he made what was really a violent attack upon France.
§ LORD THOMSON
I do not admit that at all. I cannot admit it. I think that, read with the context, it is an attack upon human folly, and not upon France.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There is a great deal of virtue in a context, especially when one is in difficulty in debate. But here is a sentence which I recommend to the noble and gallant Lord's consideration:—The French Government should be made to understand that in the last resort force can be met with force.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It does not very much matter how the noble and gallant Lord describes it; the words speak for themselves. If I may say so, as a rather older Parliamentary hand than the noble and gallant Lord, it was a little rash of him to charge us with being disrespectful to France when he must have known that those terrible words were upon record and were in the hands of his opponents at the moment when he spoke. 517 I do not want to press the noble and gallant Lord too far. I know that men learn, especially Ministers in a Labour Government, and that he is probably by this time extremely sorry that he ever wrote the article. But the plain fact is that the views of the noble and gallant Lord have undergone a change.
I have a feeling of the most friendly character for France: but we are not making an Air Force for to-day or for to-morrow. We are building up a Force which is to be of a permanent character and, even with the friendliest of feelings towards France, one cannot say that at any future period of her checquered history she will be of exactly the same mind as she is to-day. It is really necessary, if you are to follow those dictates of common sense to which the noble and gallant Lord called our attention, that we should contemplate the possibility of a change in French policy. I go one step further. However friendly France is, I do not think it is an injury to her, but, on the contrary, it. is of assistance to her if we have an adequate Air Defence Force. There are unwise people in every country and great pressure is exercised upon a Government by those unwise people. If those unwise people, who may be enemies of this country, are aware that we are quite defenceless, absolutely disarmed in the matter of air strength, it gives them a much greater opportunity of putting pressure upon their Government than if they know we are fully armed.
If I may give your Lordships a parallel, it is just like the case of a Government at home. It is notorious that a Government behaves all the better if it has a strong Opposition to deal with. It helps the saner and stronger members of the Government to do right if they know that there is a strong Opposition. The same thing is true internationally. Therefore I say it is not a hostile proceeding to France but, on the contrary, a friendly proceeding to France and to all the saner elements in that great nation, if we can show them that we have adequate air provision to protect ourselves in case of emergency.
I will not repeat what has been said over and over again— that we are very vulnerable. That is true geographically. As we are placed we are very vulnerable to air attack. That is the great change which has taken place. Until now, with 518 our island position and our strong fleet, we have been almost invulnerable. But owing to the invention of air force that has entirely changed and we have become very vulnerable. I am certain that no country would dare to ignore that change. For the moment, no doubt, there are some mitigating circumstances. We have in our midst what has been left by the great war—a number of experienced pilots who have gone into civil life and who might be recalled to the Colours, if I may use the phrase, in case of war. That, no doubt, is a mitigating circumstance for the moment. But that is a provision which is, of course, a wasting provision and yearly becomes less valuable. Then there is the gradual disappearance of the trained air mechanic who was trained during the war. He is a most difficult person to extemporise; in fact, it is impossible to extemporise him. That is another mitigating circumstance for the moment, but it is a wasting protection to which to look.
There is, therefore, no room for delay. It is absolutely essential to act, and all that we ask your Lordships to do is to affirm a certain standard. Had the noble and gallant Lord and his colleagues said to us: "We do not quite agree with your standard: we differ with this word or we differ with that," we should, of course, have been very glad to consider it and see whether we could not come to an agreement. But we say that we must-have some standard. We must have-something to work to, and this is the lowest standard which can be provided. I am convinced that the country will not think that this House has done its duty unless your Lordships affirm that standard. We are very sorry if the Government do not agree with it. Even at this hour I invite the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to assent to it. I am sure that it does not go beyond his own convictions in the matter, and I am certain that without it the air policy of this country in the future will be carried on in the dark, and that we shall have missed the opportunity which to-day's debate gives us of placing upon record, so far as the House of Lords is concerned, what we believe to be the adequate air defence of this country.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, the noble Marquess has been so comparatively gentle in 519 his use of the formidable Parliamentary rhetoric which he is so efficient in wielding that, but for one circumstance, I should not address you. But I do wish to say a few words upon the question which he has addressed to us—Why do you object to carrying this Resolution if your views are what we understand from you that they are ? Just at this moment the Government is doing its very best to make better, friendlier, more genial relations with France. What that will come to the future has not yet disclosed; but at least we wish to do everything in our power to avoid anything that would look like a continuation of the spirit of challenge which has been in evidence in recent months. Our objection to this Resolution is not to any difference of substance; it goes to its form. This is a Resolution saying in substance that the French have a very threatening Air Force and that we are determined to have just such an Air Force to keep them off."
That might seem very clear to the most highly intelligent of nations, and the French will understand it thoroughly if we confine ourselves simply to building up an Air Force.So long as it is deeds alone that are in question and not words, we get on much more easily than if we import words. "Note," said the noble Marquess "that this very Resolution begins with a warm profession of faith in the reduction of armaments." But it goes on to say that there shall be built up a Home Defence Air Force. I have no objection to build up a Home Defence Air Force. I have, on more than one occasion, said so, and I adhere to what I have said on that point. But I do not like this Resolution being just at this moment published in the newspapers and read on the Continent and all over the world as a declaration of opinion which England has felt herself obliged to make at this time. When I was young there was a song that used to be sung about the streets—We don't want to fightBut by jingo if we do.I have always had a good deal of sympathy with the substance of that song, but I objected to it being sung in the streets then, and I should object if it were sung in the streets now.
This Resolution, with its admirable declaration, rather suggest" that we do not want to build up armaments, but "by jingo if we do" build up arma- 520 ments! It is not that I differ about the substance, but it is because I differ about the language, and about the circumstances in which this Resolution is proposed, that I take exception to it, and that the Government takes exception to it. Of course your Lordships may pass it if you please. You have an enormous majority here, and we are merely a handful, but we feel bound to point out that it is a Resolution which a little embarrasses us, and we would rather be without it. I desire at once to say that we are not lacking in the substance which underlies the Resolution which I distinguish as a different thing from the wording of the Resolution itself. But if the Resolution is passed by your Lordships, other considerations would arise—considerations which would bind your Lordships, holding the opinions which you do, and which I do myself, to take action.
You have heard to-day from my noble friend Lord Thomson what is the substance. I know something of it. I have had the privilege, though a private person, of being a good deal concerned in military organisation, and of being consulted by the late Government about the form of their Air Force. They were so good as to show me the details, and they were details of which I entirely approved. They arose out of the somewhat improvident way in which the country had put an end to the magnificent Air Force that we had after the war. Instead of putting an end to that Force as we did, we should have proceeded gradually. That was not done. The late Government—I think very rightly—finding a state of things in which we had practically no Air Force at home, set to work to build up one, and they adopted Sir Samuel Hoare's plan, which they proceeded to work out steadfastly. It will take some time to accomplish it. It seemed to me a plan that could very well be worked out, and your Lordships have heard to-day that that plan still holds the field. It is as it was.
My noble friend Lord Thomson has taken up the work of Sir Samuel Hoare, and is carrying it on without breach of continuity. But it is a very difficult problem. If I were disposed to be critical, which I am not, I should say this Resolution was a very inadequate one. It falls to me, in the position which 521 the noble Marquess himself occupied, to be constantly looking over the state of things throughout the Empire. It is not only for home defence that an Air Force is required. It is required ten times as much, and is ten times as likely to be used, in three or four places which I could specify were it desirable to do so. As regards that matter the work of my noble friend has to continue also. The problem of the Air Force is a very much larger one than any of which the Resolution before us to-day forms a solution. The work of building it up must go slowly; it cannot go quickly. Any one who has had to do with building up an Army knows that the organisation of military things must take a long time. But this work is going on as it went on under the late Government. In that I do not think there is anything inconsistent with the declared desire of the Government that armaments should be reduced as quickly as possible. That is a very different position from saying that when you have got a certain type of armament yen can afford to let the nation be inefficient in some particular. It is another matter altogether to say that you should reduce armaments as quickly as you can. My view is that while you are doing that you should not let any cogs be lacking in the existing machinery.
Therefore the policy of the Government is to keep armaments in a state of efficiency, and when the opportunity comes—when other nations are willing to co-operate in the great policy which the Prime Minister is pressing at this very time—to reduce those armaments as much as possible. We want the leading nations of the world to co-operate and assist in a policy of getting rid of the tremendous burden which weighs us all down at the present time. I often think that, badly off as we are under taxation, we are better off than those nations who are unable to balance their Budgets because of the huge armaments that they have built up. I have said enough to show your Lordships why we cannot accept this Resolution; but I have also said enough to show that as regards continuity of policy your Lordships may rely upon what my noble friend told you so fully that, to use his own expression, there is "no interference direct or indirect" with the policy to which he succeeded, and which he is now carrying out.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I desire to utter only one or two sentences before the House comes to a decision on the matter. The general case, as it has been put before the House by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, needs no addition or comment from me. I join with him in expressing complete satisfaction at the general statements of policy that we have heard both from the noble and gallant Lord opposite, and from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. We now have it on record from them that there is continuity of policy, and that that continuity is not likely in any circumstances that we at present foresee to be broke". The policy initiated by the last Government, and confirmed by the Imperial Conference, is the policy to which they adhere. Just as strongly as we, they recognise the necessity of an Air Force infinitely larger than anything we have hitherto been able to maintain, and that without the slightest desire or feeling for aggression. In the interest of the country, whose cause is in their hands, they propose to observe that policy. With all that we are satisfied: and, indeed, in the presence of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, we have the surest guarantee that that policy will be maintained.
But the noble and learned Viscount in his concluding words told us why the present Government were reluctant to accept this asseveration of principle on behalf of the House. I venture to think his view is not the right one, and for these reasons. Here is a policy embodied in a formula which was drawn up after most careful and anxious consideration by the Committee of Imperial Defence more than a year ago. I remember it well because I assisted myself in the debates which led to the drawing up of that policy. At no time did it enter into the mind of any one of us that we were framing a policy, or creating a formula, that could be a legitimate cause of any hostility or suspicion on the part of our great neighbour across the Channel. That formula was stated and accepted by your Lordships' House in the course of last summer. Then it came before the Imperial Conference in the month of October or November. It was seriously debated there, and I cannot remember that it ever occurred to any human being that any cause of offence 523 was involved. And let me add this: That neither at the time when the policy was first explained in your Lordships' House nor at the time when it was affirmed and ratified by the Imperial Conference do I recall a single observation in a single French newspaper that this was a weapon pointed at their breasts.
Why, then, should we be suspicious now? Nobody welcomes more than myself, or, I am sure, than the whole of your Lordships, the better atmosphere, if that is the phrase, into which our relations with France appear to be passing. I might say that we have not got beyond the stage of exchanging letters, which it is comparatively easy to write, and that difficulties may occur when you come to business later on, but I do not desire to raise oven such a suspicion now. But supposing, after asking the assent of your Lordships to this Resolution, already passed here and confirmed by the Imperial Conference, we run away from it now. It will be thought that the vast majority of your Lordships' House have receded from the position you took up a year ago. That is not the case. Having had some experience of foreign affairs. I decline to believe for a moment that in reaffirming this Resolution, as I hope you will, any cause of offence will be given to our great neighbour. Rather do I think that there would be some cause of misunderstanding if we receded from it. In these circumstances I hope, if the House proceeds to a Division, that your Lordships will follow the line of reaffirming the Resolution you passed last year.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, may I intervene for a few moments, particularly as I think there is some misunderstanding on the matter ? I have with me a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate of July 11 last year to which reference has already been made and I do not find that on that occasion your Lordships passed a Resolution in any way similar to that which is now before the House. We were discussing other matters. The first Question, raised by Lord Wimborne, was on the subject of the comparative expenditure on the Air Force and the Navy, and that was followed by a discussion on a Resolution moved by Lord Gorell. His Notice was in these terms:To call attention to the recent decision of His Majesty's Government to increase the Royal Air Force and to move to 524 resolve. That, whilst the House admits the necessity for an increase in the air defences of this country, it views with alarm the further burden of expenditure upon armaments, and calls upon His Majesty's Government to take immediate steps to cooperate with other Governments with a view to its limitations.Your Lordships, therefore, did not agree in any way to a Resolution at all similar to that now on the Paper. I hope your Lordships will not proceed to a Division this evening. You are not being asked to run away from any Resolution which you have agreed to on a previous occasion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I interrupt the noble Earl? He has not misstated the position: but the real case is this, that having the policy of His Majesty's Government before them speaker after speaker in the debate agreed that the Government were justified in the line they were taking.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
That may be, but the point to which allusion has been made, and on which there is some misunderstanding, is that a Resolution in this sense had been agreed to by your Lordships' House. I was pointing out that no such Resolution had been agreed to. That is perfectly clear. The noble Marquess who has moved the Resolution to-day should, I think, feel satisfied with the discussion that has taken place. He has had a declaration from the Secretary of State for Air, and also from the Lord Chancellor, that the Government propose to continue the air policy of the late Government. That seems to me to be a matter of so much value that the noble Marquess might very well be satisfied with the result and not press the Resolution to a Division on this occasion. Indeed, I confess that I should find it difficult to vote for the Resolution without having much more explanation upon it. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that there was so much agreement that he wondered why the Government did not agree to it. Even if there is that measure of agreement I doubt whether it really is upon exactly the same thing. Probably it is not. What exactly is the meaning in the Resolution of the phrase "adequate protection against air attack by the strongest air force"?
These are exceedingly difficult strategic questions, to which I doubt whether any answer has yet been given unless perhaps 525 in the secrecy of the Committee of Imperial Defence. When you are dealing with land forces man answers man, and army corps answers army corps. But when you come to deal with submarines I doubt very much whether our sailors would tell us that a submarine is an answer to a submarine. I do not think it is. The way to stop submarines is entirely different from building more submarines. So with regard to the air. I doubt very much whether our best authorities on strategy would say that the best answer to an aeroplane attack is necessarily to build aeroplanes against aeroplanes. There is some other method which could be adopted, and the real answer is not to be found in building aeroplane against aeroplane. Certainly, without being further informed on the subject. I should find myself quite unable to vote for the Resolution.
The Secretary of State for Air will allow me to express my regret that in his otherwise excellent speech he omitted to answer the question which Lord Corell put to him, as to what steps are being taken in the direction of disarmament. My noble friend would have been satisfied if he could have had more information on that point. I was not quite sure whether in the figures the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, gave to the House he included not only the aeroplanes in this country but our aeroplanes in other parts of the world. If I understood him aright, I do not think he included our aeroplanes in Iraq and other parts of the world.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I am much obliged. Therefore he did not include those forces which are to be found in other parts of the world. That was a perfectly fair and legitimate argument to use, but I think, before we pass a Resolution of this kind, all the circumstances should be present to your Lordships. In view of all these circumstances I hope the Resolution may be withdrawn, but if it is not I shall be unable to vote for it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.