§ VISCOUNT ELIBANK had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will, 203 in consultation with His Majesty's Governments of the overseas Dominions, consider the desirability of—
- 1, creating an Imperial Air Force for the common defence of the Empire;
- 2, assembling in London at an early date an Imperial Defence Conference at which this question shall receive special consideration;
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apology for raising the issue contained in my Motion and Question to-day, although I am somewhat surprised that it has not been raised before, either in your Lordships' House or in another place. In my belief the day is past when any one can really speak of aviation in terms of scepticism. We know that there are some people still who, like the ostrich, bury their heads in the sands and attempt to ignore that there is such a subject as aviation, but they are growing fewer and fewer, and no doubt in a short time they will disappear altogether. It is only twenty-five years since M. Blériot performed what was then regarded as the marvellous feat of flying across the English Channel. Since then the development of civil and military aviation has been tremendous. Physical and geographical features no longer form any barrier to human intercourse, and indeed mankind has assumed what we may call the direct, swift flight of the bird. Let me give an illustration of this. In October there will be an international flying race from London to Melbourne, and for this race there will be no fewer than sixty-four entrants. I am informed that the competitor who wins that race—and the distance is 12,000 miles—will fly at the rate of over 200 miles an hour, and will cover that distance in order to win in a time of less than four days. That will be a remarkable exploit, and it would not have been conceivable a few years ago.
§ In nearly all the principal countries of the world Air Forces have been formed, and in this country we have founded a Royal Air Force which is second to none in quality, however much it may lack in numbers. From some angles it may be argued that we may be surpassed in civil and commercial aviation by certain other countries, but in any case this country can claim to have established one 204 of the finest and most efficient and safest air services in the world. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, in a speech a short time ago informed us that the operational schedules of these air services were to-day 5,000 miles, but that within a very short time they would be extended to 12,000 miles, and principally within the Empire. Is there any one so simple as to expect, with these existing factors, that it will be possible to prevent the continuous growth of this new development, whether it be for peaceful or for combative purposes? Even if the people of this country and of the British Empire, with their philosophical frame of mind, are prepared to limit what I may call the functional operations of aircraft in war-time—and I believe, like many others, that we must persist in our endeavours to obtain functional limitation of the nature of which I am speaking—I am doubtful whether any really satisfactory solution will be reached along those lines.
Therefore we are face to face with certain realities—realities which I should like to sum up very shortly. To begin with, our nation, amongst all the principal nations of the world, has not yet taken any definite action towards rearmament, in spite of the fact that this country is the most vulnerable in the world. I should like to emphasise that point with regard to rearmament by quoting from a speech made a few days ago by Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the course of which he said:
During the last eight years Italy has increased her expenditure on armaments by 9½ per cent., the United States of America by over 10 per cent., Germany by over 12 per cent., Japan by over SO per cent., France by over 100 per cent., and Russia by over 197 per cent. England is the only country to show a decrease over that period of 16 per cent. It is about time that we woke up in this country and looked to our national and imperial defences, because we could not go on pursuing an international dream of disarmament all alone.
Those are very striking words, and when we add to them the fact, as I have stated, that this country is the most vulnerable in the world, they become more important still.
§ Now why is this country more vulnerable than any other country in the world? For very simple reasons. First of all, it imports more foodstuffs for the 205 consumption of its people than any other country. Secondly, these foodstuffs come from all parts of the world. Thirdly, this country could not subsist for more than a few weeks if those supplies were cut off. There is one other point, which is specially important in view of the terms of the Motion which I am moving, and that is the vulnerability of the British Empire as a whole. This vulnerability is due to the fact that the greater part of the foodstuffs and raw materials that come to this country come from our overseas Dominions and from India and our Colonies, and have to be borne over thousands of miles of trade routes which have to be safeguarded in order to secure their safe transport, and also incidentally to safeguard the economic and political stability of the Empire as a whole.
§ These are the realities, put very shortly, of the situation with which the British Empire is face to face to-day. We have been confronted with grave situations of a similar nature in our history, but conditions of warfare were then very different. Then we increased our Navy and we augmented our Army and we were saved, but to-day we could not and would not succeed if we took those two measures only. The conquest of the air has altered the whole equation of warfare. France, Italy, Russia, Japan, and Germany, all of whom are military-minded, have recognised this, and unless we do likewise in this country and in the British Empire we are doomed as a first-rate Power, and our Empire will be in danger of falling to pieces. It is for these reasons I have put my Motion on the Paper to-day, because it is essential, not only in this country but in the Empire, that every individual who is capable of thinking upon these subjects should turn them over carefully in his mind and decide how they should be dealt with.
There was recently passed an Act designated the Statute of Westminster under which any of the self-governing parts of the British Empire can become free and secede from the Empire if they so wish; but in spite of that Act and so long as there is a British Commonwealth of Nations there is not one of the Dominions, I feel sure, who will deny the fact that Great Britain, this little Island, is the heart of the Empire and provides the pulsating stream of invigorating blood that courses through the veins of the
whole entity. In the course of a recent eloquent and informative speech made by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, in proposing the toast of "The United Empire" at the banquet given on Empire Day, the noble Marquess said this:
Whatever form the universal desire to maintain peace may ultimately take, we have made up our minds that at all events the Royal Air Force, of whose efficiency the whole Empire is so proud, must be strong enough in numbers to ensure our safety and the proper discharge of all those great responsibilities which our position as the centre of title Empire imposes on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Therefore, it is obvious that in the minds of His Majesty's Government there is no desire or intention to evade the responsibilities for defence which rest upon this country as the centre of the Empire.
§ The noble Marquess emphasised, as our leading statesmen always have emphasised, our willingness to shoulder the responsibility which has been accepted by Great Britain ever since the foundation of our Empire. But a new era has arisen. Defence no longer rests solely upon an efficient Navy or a strong Army. It has shifted largely to the air, and except amongst the most prejudiced it is an accepted thesis that at least the opening stages of war will be fought in the air; and who can tell whether the decisive stages may not be fought there also? What does this mean? Owing to the immense development during the last few years in aircraft manufacture and in air services, there is no country which is not within striking distance of another country, of a potential enemy, within anything from a few hours to a few days. The Channel has gone; the North Sea is but a stream between Europe and the United Kingdom; whilst the very Atlantic and the Indian and Pacific Oceans are shrinking as air science develops. London may be half-obliterated over-night; Ottawa and Montreal, Capetown and Johannesburg, Calcutta and Delhi, Sydney and Melbourne, Wellington and Singapore, may be dealt with likewise in not much greater length of time. Lightning stroke may follow lightning stroke until within a week or a fortnight at the outside most of the principal cities of the Empire may be partially laid in ruins and many of their citizens hopelessly demoralised.207
§ It will then be too late to consult effectively as to how the damage is to be made good. I have little doubt that the British spirit of resistance and recuperation will still be there as it always is upon these occasions, but no one can prophesy what will be the result of such catastrophic circumstances as I have attempted to describe. This surely is an occasion when we should be wise and farseeing and co-ordinate our efforts before and not after the event. All this has led me and others to the belief that an Imperial Air Force should be created for the common defence of the Empire, and that this Air Force should, as regards policy, be administered by a combined Imperial Air Staff drawn from the Air Staffs of the Empire, and, further, that as regards personnel and equipment this should be provided partly by effectives drawn from existing Air Forces and partly by Imperial expansion—and this is a very important point—planned by the combined Imperial Air Staff as to machines and personnel and locations, and also, if I may venture to say so, in regard to the cost to be borne by the respective Governments. In a matter of such vital importance I suggest that the cost of an adequate Air Force is nothing compared with the risk we are running without such a force.
§ No one with any knowledge of the subjects on which I am talking will deny that by the interchange of personnel of such a force, the personnel would gain much useful experience in flying conditions throughout the Empire. Canada, for instance, is one of the best flying schools for experience to be found anywhere. South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and India all have their distinct air problems as well, and at the same time in Great Britain we have an accumulated experience of our own both in European and overseas air problems, in aircraft manufacture, in engine design, and in air science generally which would be of the greatest value to our kinsmen and friends overseas. I might continue for a long time expatiating on the advantages of Empire air co-ordination, but it is not my intention to do that this afternoon. My desire has been to lay before your Lordships my general reasons for raising this subject and the reasons for asking the Government to accede to my request to consult the Dominions about it. This 208 is an urgent matter; it is a matter which brooks no delay. It is indeed a matter which, as I suggest in my Motion, should be referred to an Imperial Defence Conference rather than to an Imperial Air Conference, and that Conference might conveniently be convened in this country.
§ The reason I suggest an Imperial Defence Conference as opposed to an Imperial Air Conference is that it is not possible to leave out of account, in considering the air problems, either the Army or the Navy. Both of those aims are intimately connected with air operations, and it would not, it seems to me, be possible to arrive at any final decisions with regard to the creation of an Empire Air Force without consultation with the other two arms of defence. So I venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government and to the Governments of the Dominions that it would be more convenient and more suitable to convene at once a Conference that would embrace all aspects of defence while at the same time paying special attention to the coordination of Empire air defence as being easiest and most practicable of accomplishment and most essential to it.
§ Let me say these few words in conclusion. A strong mobile Empire Air Force capable of defending the Empire from air attack and capable, if need be, of stoutly counter-attacking, is to-day not only a necessity but an assurance and a guarantee of the security of the Empire. The British Empire has neither desire nor need to fight. Its aim is peace in the world, not war. I will go even farther and venture to affirm that if this country and the Empire as a whole had ample protection in all its three forces, the Air Force, the Navy and the Army, it would be the greatest guarantee of the peace of the world that could be devised to-day. It would, in my opinion, transcend Geneva and every treaty of peace that has been signed there. I do not propose to expound that argument today, but to my mind that is the case. These then are the principal reasons for putting down my Motion. I appeal to His Majesty's Government to take this matter seriously. I appeal to the Governments of the Dominions, and to the Government of India likewise, to consider this question seriously, and, before it is too late, to take such steps as will ensure an adequate defence of our Empire. I beg to move.209
§ LORD MOTTISTONE had given Notice that he would call attention to the inadequacy of the air defences of this country, and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to support the Motion that has been made by my noble friend Lord Elibank. It is more than twenty-five years since I was first summoned to the Committee of Imperial Defence and since that time I have given most of my thoughts to these problems. I now know nothing of what the Committee of Defence propose to do, but I do know something about what is happening across the sea, and I have come to a certain definite conclusion after reading all that I can read in the Press, notably in The Times, which has published a great many informing articles, and, most especially, after many visits to neighbouring foreign countries. I am quite sure that if His Majesty's Government wish to do their duty by the country, as I know they do, they ought to announce, not in a short time but here and now, if possible to-day—and why not?—two things: firstly, that they will take the people of this country completely into their confidence with regard to the danger which they run from air bombardment and the measures which can be taken to minimise it; and, secondly, that they will double the Royal Air Force.
§ In my judgment, for what it is worth, and, as I say, I have given consideration to this subject for twenty-five years, if they do less than this I am sure they will fail in their duty. I will endeavour to tell your Lordships in a very few moments why I am forced to this conclusion. First, as to taking the people into your confidence about the dangers from air bombardment. I have no doubt the Secretary of State for War knows that we are the only country that has not done this. I have a mass of information on the Table before me about what has been done in France, in Germany, in Poland, in Italy, in Belgium and in one or two other countries, and of course, in Russia. Information has been circulated by the different Governments of those countries. Leagues have been formed under the auspices of the Governments, and specific instructions sent through the local authorities in the case of all the countries that I have quoted, as to the precautions to be taken and the methods to be adopted to avoid the destruction either of the capital or of its inhabitants, 210 or of other centres of population, in the event of air bombardment.
§ Subterranean shelters are being built in every country that I have mentioned. Indeed, in nearly all of them the people will become again a race of troglodytes, unless an end is put to this folly of living in these vast subterranean shelters with which those of us who had the good fortune to serve in the great War on the Somme battlefield became so familiar. You could have put hundreds of thousands of people into those subterranean shelters, and, indeed, tens of thousands were there, nobody knows why. The whole thing is happening again. From the facts I have here, all of which I shall send to the Secretary of State and to the responsible people, and some of which, I think, are new, it would appear that the thing has gone very, very far. How much has been spent already I do not know, but I hazard the conjecture that our opposite neighbour, France, has already spent no less than £60,000,000 on defensive lines and defensive works above and below ground. Belgium has also spent a vast sum for so small a country. Everyone in this House may say: "But how foolish all this is." I agree that it is, but it is going on, and I do not think it is wise for this country, and least of all can it be wise for His Majesty's Government, to take no steps at all when other countries are taking such astonishing steps for their safety. Here we are concerned with the safety of our country and our Empire, the particular point to which my noble friend drew attention.
§ I challenge one word that fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. He said we were the most vulnerable of all countries and empires and he gave the reasons. I think it is true to say that Great Britain and her Empire are peculiarly vulnerable, but I am sure it is also true to say that unless we are very foolish we are the most difficult country to subdue. It is quite true that air jumps over obstacles, but we are in the extraordinarily fortunate position in the new development of warfare in that we have the Channel. It was Marshal Foch who first pointed out to me just after the War that as time went on Britain would become more and more the centre of confidence, for whereas others would have to depend on frontiers like the Rhine or the great new defensive line which France has built at such vast cost—more than 211 £40,000,000—we have given to us by Providence the Channel and the North Sea. So I believe we cannot be subdued, for though air power can do much mischief it cannot subdue unless the people are prepared to give in. During the late disturbance called the Great War the thing that impressed me most of all was the indestructible courage of the principal combatants, because there were four who entered the War at the start and carried it on to the very end—Germany, France, Belgium and this country.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Yes, but can we say they were in it from the beginning to the very end? They were certainly a brave people. Again and again people were met by intensive bombardment, and again and again attempts were made to make them give in by bombardment from the air. It only made them fight harder. So no doubt it will be, and I think it is folly to go on with these vast preparations as they are doing on the Continent without coming to some agreement to stop the idea that by bombardment from the air you can destroy the morale of a country sufficiently to make the people give in. It cannot be done. But they do not think so. I would appeal to my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air to tell us to-day that the Government propose to minimise the dangers to which we are exposed, so far as they can, by the methods which are well known in foreign countries.
What would happen, suppose some foolish country tries to destroy us by air bombardment and to destroy our morale? Of course if there happened to be an easterly wind and they preferred to endeavour to destroy by fire rather than to destroy by gas or explosives the result would indeed be lamentable. No doubt a great deal of London could be destroyed by incendiary bombs, most of it consisting, of course, of the humble homes of people who love those homes. If any fool on the opposite side of the Channel thinks that by so doing he will destroy the morale of this country let him now clearly understand that the only effect of that would be to make those people determine at all hazards to make the others pay to the full for the wicked deed they had done. Indeed the merit of announcing now that these steps have 212 been taken—and although I know nothing I am quite certain the matter must have been thought out—would be that you would have everybody on your side. Of course in most matters of defence there is controversy. Here there would be none. I am certain that my noble friends behind me would agree to this. Not even my noble friend Lord Snell would reject the proffered gas mask or be other than grateful for being told where it was to be found. Indeed, in that grim and awful day when the aerial bombardment came, I can hear my noble friend Lord Snell, serene as I know he would be, saying: "Well, well, one compensation is that perhaps they will hit Waterloo Bridge."
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Everybody would be on your side. I know that it has been said that this will produce alarm. I am sure it is not so. Our people are not built that way. Tell them just what the danger is and the best way to go about avoiding unnecessary danger. It is going to be a pretty big business. It will mean a great change in the habits of our people and their outlook if anything further is done as it has been in France and Belgium and Germany, countries which I have recently visited. But we had better face up to it. There is no need to be alarmed at all. We cannot be destroyed if we are wise. We can defy the whole world if they are wicked enough to attack us. But we had better be prepared. On the other side I say: Double the Air Force. I have not the least doubt that we ought to do that at once and announce it to this House and to the whole world. I am here to say, though it may sound a non sequitur, that I believe it is true that while everybody wants to re-arm nobody wants to fight. In fact that is why they are rearming. I am sure if the Secretary of State could announce to the House: "We will double the Air Force," his words would be greeted with a sigh of relief not only in France but in Germany too, and, indeed, in every country in Europe except, of course, the eastern country of Russia, about which I know nothing.
It may be asked, why double the Air Force? Passive defence will not do in this matter. Towards the end of the late War we learned a great deal about 213 active defence against air attacks. The noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, whom I see in his place, was in command of the most extraordinarily effective air weapon that has ever been known in the history of man. The Independent Air Force acting against a very powerful German Force did, nevertheless, manage to do immense harm to the industrial production in the Rhineland of Germany. The thing went on and on and casualties were severe, but nevertheless—I was reading the full account of it only yesterday—they did manage, to get through. That is a good many years ago, and since then a great many things have happened. A country that has a really efficient Air Force is capable of making a counter-attack upon those who attack it—I do not mean the burning down of the enemy's capital because they burn down yours—and that has become a much more formidable weapon than it was in the days when Lord Trenchard was conducting those fearful operations against, gallant Germans, who had ultimately to give in to a significant extent because of his operations. He is now, I understand, engaged in other pursuits, but I should be interested to know whether he can deny what I say, for I know he keeps track of these matters, that a doubled Air Force would give us an immense advantage in security against the kind of dangers to which I have referred.
I thought it my duty to raise these points to-day, because I am quite sure that by continued silence we are doing infinite harm to the people of this country, whose reviving confidence, which every foreigner notes and admires, is retarded only by the fear of an aerial attack and the uncertainty as to what they really ought to do. I think that if the Government would announce their policy now they world help the reviving confidence of the country, and I am sure that they would help greatly towards ensuring the peace of the world. If I may respectfully say so, it is just the vacillating policy of a Government which, with the best intentions, has refused to let the people know of their true dangers and the ways by which they can avert them, which has prevented it from carrying through the policy which it has tried so hard to achieve, of getting a more peaceful outlook amongst the nations of the world. I am sure that at this moment Great Britain, and her Empire round her, 214 can render a service to the cause of peace and good will which nobody else can possibly give. But in order that we may do it I think that we must have a people confident and calm, knowing full well that the Government have taken every possible precaution, have taken them into complete confidence, and are sure that the overwhelming majority of the people—practically all of them—are, as always, quite ready to do anything that is asked of them, to fight if need be, and if needs must, even to die, for our liberties.
§ EARL AMHERST
My Lords, in rising to support the noble Viscount's Resolution, I would crave the indulgence of the House, as this is the first time that I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships. I do so now from the point of view of one who for some time has been professionally concerned with civil aviation both as a pilot and on the executive side. It seems obvious that if civil aviation is going ahead at its present rate of speed, the world will shortly be covered by a network of air lines and air routes, much in the same way as it has been covered by railway lines, but with the difference that the air lines will probably connect places to which railways cannot get. If as an Empire we are to keep abreast of other nations, let alone exceed them, we must see to it that not only our equipment but our pilots are the best in the world. As far as air services are concerned, which means the safe flying of passengers, mails or goods, the days of hit or miss, of nosing one's way through impossible weather by the use of that rather intangible quality known as a sense of direction, are over. To-day the pilot has complicated but increasingly efficient instruments to aid him. He can fly blind with safety, he can be sure of his course, his position and his bearings, details of the weather ahead, and a lot of other little details, but important ones, which to the lay mind may not mean much, all by radio-telegraphy or by telephone. Given the necessary ground installation, he can also land blind.
But with the increase in the number of these instruments also comes an increase in the amount of technical knowledge which he must possess. Of course he can learn this out of a book, but it is quite useless to do so; he must know it with the familiarity which is born of actual use under all conditions. This 215 takes time, a lot of practice, and a great deal of patience. Climatic conditions are obviously very much involved in the use of all these instruments. No longer can an occasion when someone breaks a machine and possibly kills himself and a few passengers be put aside with a shrug of the shoulders implying that the weather was impossible and that the situation should be written off against experience. To-day, our air services are to a large extent run accurately, safely and to time. Daily the situation is getting nearer to the point when it will be not only expected but demanded that they will run accurately and safely 100 per cent. of the time, whether the operator is an Empire, whether it is a nation, or whether it is merely a private company. The three cardinal points of this efficiency are good equipment and machines, good maintenance, and good pilots, of which the pilots are the most important. Without these three, all the expert business management in the world will be quite unavailing. Without the good pilots, the good machines and the good equipment, nothing at all can be achieved.
Where do we get our pilots? The Royal Air Force has provided most of these. The old hands—they are getting few and far between—battled their experience out of the pioneering days of the War and before the War. To-day the present generation of pilots flying commercially have gained their actual flying experience in short service commissions in the Royal Air Force, afterwards gaining the necessary additional experience and knowledge for flying passengers and mails by joining the existing air companies whose business it is to fly in all weathers, at all times, and to complete their flights in safety and to time. A very few, at considerable expense to themselves or possibly to their parents, have been able to equip themselves by going through a long course at the one civil school in this country which caters successfully to meet the demands of the would-be professional pilot. But whether they come from the Royal Air Force or whether they come from the school complete with all their licences, it is necessary for them to serve quite a long time as second pilot to an old hand flying passengers and mails on regular routes before they can be considered fit to fly passengers and mails 216 themselves. It is mainly to the Royal Air Force that the commercial operator (by which I mean professional commercial civil aviation) must look to provide the pilots of the future.
Anything that may tend to increase the already high standard of teaching and experience obtainable in the Royal Air Force should be welcomed. The Motion which the noble Viscount has put forward, if adopted, seems to me to help this situation in two ways. An Imperial Air Force would mean a pooling of experience and the methods of instruction now adopted by the Royal Air Force and the Dominion Air Forces, and the pooling of knowledge has generally been found to be a very valuable thing. Secondly, would not an Imperial Air Force mean that those serving in it would have the opportunity of being posted all over the world, thereby gaining what can only be described as a perfect experience of world-wide climatic conditions, which would be an invaluable thing to the future pilot on long distance passenger-carrying lines? On these two points and for these two reasons, quite apart from anything else, I would support the noble Viscount. I recommend his proposal to the serious consideration of His Majesty's Government, and I would venture to hope that perhaps the Dominion Governments would also give it their serious consideration.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I am sure I shall be expressing the views of all your Lordships present in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, on his maiden speech. He has given experiences from his first-hand knowledge, and experiences of one who, to use his own words, has nosed his way, depending on the intangible quality known as a sense of direction. The House is always eager to hear personal experiences, and we all, I am sure, hope that the noble Earl will join in our debates on future occasions.
I shall hardly be expected to take the same point of view as the noble Viscount who opened this discussion, or as the noble Lord on my right. In fact, I had not intended to intervene in the debate, and would not have done so had it not been that there was so much in the two speeches with which I found myself in such profound and fundamental disagreement, and I think in this connec- 217 tion I can speak for my noble friends who sit beside me. In both the Notices on the Paper the word "defence" occurs. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, with great experience, far more experience, of course, than I can pretend to, still maintains that there is defence against aerial attack. I never heard that really maintained by any one responsible—by any Secretary of State—and the devices to which the noble Lord referred, and which he says are being brought about in foreign countries, and the hope he expressed that further aircraft would be used also for defensive purposes, I cannot believe will be of any use whatsoever. We have not heard that further squadrons of aeroplanes are going to make this country safe from aerial bombardment or its consequences. I have never heard that view expressed by any Secretary of State.
No, my Lords, I think that to give a false impression to this country, that there is some possible defence against aerial bombardment, is doing a great mischief, because there is none, and we have got to make up our minds to it. All those devices referred to by the two noble Lords really amount to nothing. You might just as well suggest furnishing the population with new umbrellas. These gas-masks and even new squadrons of aeroplanes will not meet the purpose. When I put this point in another place, before I came here, and pointed out that whereas in the last war something like 300 tons of bombs fell on Great Britain during the four years of the War, should the awful event of another war materialise more than 300 tons of bombs a day will fall on our cities—
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Does the noble Lord mean on successive days? He has just said 300 tons a day, and if we have aeroplanes as strong as other countries most of those bombers will be destroyed after the first or second day.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
That is just what I am not sure about—what will happen before that. I am afraid my noble friend Lord Snell will not have time to reach his gas-mask. As London will be the chief target, Downing Street or your Lordships' House will be the bull's eye, and I do not think there will be much time for us to think about any sort of protection. I doubt whether the Secretary of State this evening can tell us anything to the contrary, and this 218 idea of the possibility of aerial defence ought not to be put forward, because it is founded on no sort of facts. People are searching about, but the inventive genius of destructive agencies is far in advance of the inventive genius of defensive agencies. It is not like what used to go on in my old constituency of Sheffield, where they invented a shell which would penetrate any armour, and then invented an armour through which no shell would penetrate, and then went on all over again. There is nothing of that sort in this connection.
I can assure Lord Mottistone that if his policy of doubling the Air Force was taken up by the Government at the present time it would undoubtedly bring about their very quick downfall. From a political point of view I should not be sorry, but from the point of view of patriotism I should deplore that anybody should come forward in these days and advocate the doubling of the Air Force. The First Lord of the Admiralty made a deplorable speech, which has been quoted by the noble Viscount who introduced this question, in which he seemed to revel in the idea that competition was going on, and that we must go on, too. That was what happened before 1914. Everybody joins in the competition. Doubling our Air Force would only mean that France must double hers, and so the thing goes on, with ruinous expenditure, making the safety of our country still more and more doubtful.
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? It is not my function to defend the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I do not see anything in the words which I read out which show that the First Lord was revelling in any idea of increasing armaments. Rather he was deploring the fact, while he said that as other countries were doing it he felt the time had come when we must do the same. So far from revelling in the idea, he was expressing a rather different view.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I do not wish to use too strong a word, and perhaps the word "revelling" is too strong; but his speech was taken to mean that the competition had begun and we were going to join in. Our joining in, of course, will gradually make the competition still keener, until the other nations of the world, not satisfied, will 219 test their arms on one another. Lord Mottistone said a sigh of relief would go up in this country if the Secretary of State announced to-night that we were going to double our Air Force. I wonder whether that is true. My view of the situation is entirely different. The night before last I was at a meeting in Birmingham, with Lord Cecil of Chelwood, and the Town Hall of Birmingham was full, with an overflow meeting of a thousand. We were not talking about doubling the Air Force, but in an exactly opposite direction and sense. The speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty was heartily condemned, and there was not a dissentient voice in any of the meetings. That, I think, is indicative of the general feeling of the country just now—that instead of stimulating progressive competition in armaments the lead should be taken by this country in the opposite direction.
I am quite certain that this whole question is gradually getting into a dangerous state, and that the population is beginning to be apprehensive. The very fact that such an enormous meeting should gather together in midsummer was a surprise to all of us. It was not old people who were in the audience to any great extent, it was middle-aged and young men and women who composed that very representative gathering, which had nothing to do with political Parties, and was very indicative of the general feeling that there is in this country just now—an abhorrence of the idea that we should sharpen our weapons on all sides and follow in the wake of those who are insisting on further armaments, so making the situation more precarious in all directions.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone told us of some of the devices that are being constructed in foreign countries, and he said he would furnish the Secretary of State with the description of them. I cannot believe that the Secretary of State is not fully conversant with all those devices, and, I should say, has probably had occasion to test them and to realise their complete and absolute futility. I do not suppose that he has anything to learn in that direction. But I sincerely hope that the noble Marquess—and I feel some confidence that he may—will allay our fears in the direction that there is going to be any great increase in the air arm, and will once more dispose of the 220 illusion that protection from air bombardment can be secured by a greater number of air squadrons or by the devices which are being adopted elsewhere. I trust that the Government are not going to strike any alarmist note. I trust that they are not going to make more acute the apprehensions of those in this country who are watching events very closely, and that they will do their utmost to show that the country still wants to maintain the leadership towards sanity and towards the absolute discarding of the idea that there is any gain whatever to be secured, or that there is any dispute whatsoever that can be solved, by the methods of this appalling and barbaric violence.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will desire me to join with the noble Lord who has just spoken in offering my congratulations to the noble Earl who preceded him. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said, your Lordships always welcome any one who comes to this House and speaks with first hand and practical knowledge, and I am sure that we all hope that the noble Earl will make further contributions to debates in this House in the manner in which he has delivered his maiden speech to-day. I can assure him that your Lordships will always be very glad and grateful to listen to him.
The Notices which are down on the Paper cover a very wide area, but I feel that at this time of the evening your Lordships will not expect me to wander over the whole field, which the noble Lord who has just sat down has somewhat enlarged. The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, who kindly postponed this debate from the date when he originally intended to bring it forward, has made a very interesting speech, as he always does, and has shown that enthusiasm which he always exhibits in connection with those great Imperial questions of which he has made so close a study. The conception which underlies the noble Viscount's Motion is one which must commend itself to all who appreciate as clearly as he does, the great and growing importance of the air in relation to the peace and commerce of the world. The idea which he has developed is indeed one which we view sympathetically. We remember the young men 221 from the Dominions and Colonies who flowed into the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the days of the War, some of whom have made their homes in the Mother Country and still serve among the officers and airmen of the Royal Air Force. They were, indeed, only a part of that concord of spirit and loyalty which, drawing us all together in the perils of 1914, flung the whole weight of the Empire into the battle-line and provided an example of voluntary association in a great cause such as has never been paralleled in the course of history. It is small wonder that, when we remember this great example, there should be those who feel the strength of the case which the noble Viscount has put with such force and ability—namely, that we should forge a definite and concrete weapon to guard the freedom of the air for the whole Empire, and to be available for its defence whenever and wherever the Empire may be threatened.
Questions such as these have engaged the careful attention of successive Imperial Conferences, and the noble Viscount's proposal is indeed calculated to implement in the most valuable manner the principal Resolution that was passed at the Imperial Conference of 1923. That Resolution was as follows:It is necessary to provide for the adequate defence of the territories and trade of the several countries comprising the British Empire.Nothing, in my view, is more important for this adequate defence than strength in the air. Nevertheless, my Lords, Then the Conference came to consider further the means whereby adequate defence should be obtained, it passed a second Resolution which diverts the policy into a different channel from that which the noble Viscount is seeking. This Resolution reads as follows:In this connection the Conference expressly recognises that it is for the Parliaments of the several parts of the Empire, upon the recommendations of their respective Governments, to decide the nature and extent of any action which should be taken by them.These two principles of Imperial defence were the result of a very complete and thorough survey of the circumstances which they involved. They were followed by certain corollary Resolutions of which I will quote only 222 two, referring directly to the subject with which we are concerned to-day. The first Resolution affirms "the primary responsibility of each portion of the Empire represented at the Conference for its own local defence." The fifth records.the desirability of the development of the Air Forces in the several countries of the Empire upon such lines as will make it possible by means of the adoption as far as practicable of a common system of organisation and training and the use, of uniform manuals, patterns of arms, equipment and stores (with the exception of the type of aircraft), for each part of the Empire as it may determine to co-operate with other parts with the least possible delay and the greatest efficiency.I have referred to these Resolutions because they show that in matters of defence the representatives of the Empire gathered in Conference were determined to maintain the general basis of free association upon which the Empire rests.
The history of the late war has shown that the policy and administration of any united force are much more efficient when they are controlled by a single authority. Yet such an authority, if instituted, must necessarily be in this case either the Home Government or some Imperial Committee upon which all interests are represented. If the Home Government were to accept full and undisputed responsibility for the control of the Empire Air Force, the Dominion Government must correspondingly relinquish the right to participate in that control. If, on the other hand, that right is to be maintained as the consequence of the contribution made by each to the general upkeep of the Empire Air Force, then the Empire Defence Force would have to be executively controlled by some kind of a Committee. Such an arrangement would be neither efficient nor responsive in time of emergency, and the reasons why it was not recommended by the Imperial Conference are not far to seek. The provision of the necessary funds to maintain such a force would raise questions of the utmost delicacy and difficulty. The self-governing Dominions, as your Lordships are aware, are autonomous in fiscal matters, and for them to undertake contributions towards a single Service over which they have no control might raise budgetary questions of grave importance. Yet without definite contributions known and decided beforehand, to cover programmes which are the outcome of long- 223 range policies extending over many years, the controlling authority—whether it were the Home Government or some Imperial Committee—would be powerless to lay its plans, however reasonable it might appear to other Governments of the Empire, from their own budgetary position, to increase or decrease the financial support given by them to this general purpose.
There might be a modification of the noble Viscount's proposal which does not go quite so far as the formation of a single Imperial Air Defence Force. That is the formation of a Central Air Force additional to the local Defence Forces maintained by the various members of the Empire under the terms of the Resolutions to which I have referred. Such a force might be supposed to constitute a mobile reserve capable of being applied at any point and therefore of reducing the total magnitude of the defences which it would be necessary for the Empire in general to maintain. We are all well aware that to hold a force in reserve which can be thrown in at the right place and at the right moment is a military axiom of the most elementary kind; but in the case of the Empire the creation of such a force and its subsequent administration would raise difficulties of the same nature, though not perhaps of the same degree, as those to which I have just referred. There would be the same material question of contribution: there would be the same problems of policy and control, and the decision to authorise the intervention of such a force in time of emergency would still have to be settled, either by the Home Government or by a Joint Committee. I see no reason for quarrelling with the decisions which the Imperial Conferences agreed to in 1923 and in 1926, nor do I feel that any argument has been adduced to-day, nor that there is any desire shown by the Dominions and Colonies for their reconsideration or amendment. The Dominions are autonomous and sovereign bodies in matters of defence, and they feel, and we feel, that it is incompatible with the self-government of each and the interests of all that any attempt should be made to set up a Central Defence Force for the Empire.
I shall no doubt be asked by my noble friend what is the alternative upon which our Imperial policy is based. My reply 224 to that query is: Co-operation, understanding, and conformity as far as these conditions can possibly be fulfilled. The nerve centre of our system of defence in this country is the Committee of Imperial Defence, of which, as your Lordships are aware, the Prime Minister is Chairman. This body not only considers questions of the defence of these shores, but also the questions of general defence of the Empire, and affords an assembly in which the voice of any Dominion Government can be heard. This arrangement, as I have had occasion to tell your Lordships before, goes back to a Resolution passed by the Imperial Conference in 1911, and since that time representatives of the Dominion Governments have invariably been called into consultation by the Committee of Imperial Defence whenever important questions affecting the defence of the Empire are under consideration.
The work of this Committee, which I think I may say without fear of contradiction is the most important Committee set up by this or by any Government, has been described in public more than once, and I will not refer to it now in greater detail, but I think your Lordships should be aware that the Imperial Conference of 1926, before it reaffirmed the principles of Imperial defence which I have ventured to lay before your Lordships, had the benefit of a careful and most able description of the functions and scope of the Committee of Imperial Defence in a statement by Mr. Baldwin, who was at that time Prime Minister of this country. It cannot be said, therefore, that in coming to the conclusion which they did, the representatives of the Empire were not fully apprised of the machinery that exists to serve their interests in the matter of general defence.
Let me turn to more detailed considerations which specially refer to air defence. I need perhaps hardly remind your Lordships of the very close co-operation which exists between the Royal Air Force and the Air Force of the Union of South Africa in the development of the air route between Cairo and the Cape, or of the facilities granted by the Australian Air Force to the Royal Air Force in developing the air route between this country and their own. As your Lordships also know, a Royal Air Force flight will be attending the centenary celebrations at Toronto in 225 Canada this year. Now, in accordance with the policy recommended by the Imperial Conferences, the training and equipment of the Royal Canadian and the Royal Australian Air Forces as well as of the Air Forces of the Union of South Africa and of New Zealand have been based on the training and equipment of the Royal Air Force. They all use Royal Air Force manuals and text books, and the aeronautical equipment and armament is standard throughout.
As regards personnel, we have the closest relationships between the Royal Air Force and its sister Services in the Dominions. I do not think my noble friend is aware of this. Periodic exchanges are arranged between junior officers. Two such exchanges are at present in operation with Canada and one with Australia. Officers of the Australian Air Force are taught to fly by the Australian Government, and are then granted short-service commissions in the Royal Air Force for five years, followed by reserve service in Australia. At present we take seven officers under this very useful arrangement each year. There is also an Australian officer under instruction at the central flying school and another at the engine repair establishment at Henlow, where there is also an officer from the South African Air Force. These numbers may seem small, but I would remind your Lordships that at the present stage the Dominion Air Forces are themselves not large and that the number of officers whom they can usefully detach for service outside their own country is naturally very limited. As regards staff work, there are at present two officers of the Australian Air Force and two of the Canadian Air Force under instruction at the Royal Air Force Staff College, where, I need hardly say, they are very welcome. Both Australia and Canada maintain liaison officers in London, who have full access to all information at the Air Ministry which may be of assistance to their respective Governments, and for the other Dominions there is a system of transmitting information upon operational and technical matters which enables them to keep in the closest touch with the thought and policy of the Air Staff.
I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that, as regards co-operation, understanding and conformity, every effort is being made to link the Dominion 226 Air Forces as closely as possible with the Air Force of the Mother Country. By this means we are putting into effect in a practical way the policy which has been agreed between ourselves and the other constituents of the Empire. His Majesty's Government do not believe that in any reconsideration of these principles, whether at one of the Imperial Conferences held periodically or at a special Defence Conference held as the noble Viscount proposes, there would be any general desire to retrace our steps upon the path of defence upon which the Empire has progressed so effectively and, if I may say so, with such general good will. We stand to gain more by co-operation than by consolidation. Indeed, as I have attempted to show, the latter is entirely incompatible with the principles on which our Imperial Policy is founded. I am convinced that any attempt to go against these principles will be swept away by a stronger tide of public opinion than if would be possible for us or for any one to stem. His Majesty's Government are unable, therefore, to accept the Motion of the noble Viscount, and I would express the hope that he will not press it.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone, as we would expect from him, made a very forcible speech, expressing those robust opinions of which he is always a master, and he received a reply in exactly the opposite sense from the noble Lord who sits opposite to me (Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede). There was a very wide diversity of opinion between those two speeches. The noble Lord who speaks for the Opposition takes a very long-range view, and hopes that everything may come right in the end, but he nevertheless seems to be seized with the idea that the attack may be so sudden that no one in this country will escape. If he is right in that, the long-range policy which he and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, were probably putting forward at Birmingham the other night, will unfortunately not come into effect. But I am not taking such a gloomy view as the noble Lord is doing. In the speech which my noble friend delivered a few minutes ago he commended to your Lordships the view that we ought to take immediate and substantial steps to remedy the inadequacy of the air defences of this country. The noble Lord represents a body of opinion which has 227 for some time been urging the Government to take drastic action to increase the size of the Royal Air Force. We have been pressed to double the number of squadrons. The noble Lord has this afternoon pressed us to add large numbers of machines to our first line strength, and, in short, to carry out in peace time something of that rapid expansion which we all know would be necessary on the outbreak of war.
The noble Lord also told us that he did not believe that the Government were taking the country sufficiently into their confidence by explaining the situation which he very eloquently developed this afternoon. The noble Lord, with his long Ministerial experience, is no doubt aware that these are matters which have not escaped our attention. The Government are continually considering all these points. The danger to which he referred is one which, I agree, exists, but we have not deemed it necessary at this moment to develop on the lines of the education of the people which he advocated. I am not saying, however, that the warning contained in his speech is entirely outside the point we are discussing. I go a certain distance with him, and I can assure him that these matters are being very closely considered. His speech is one of those contributions which we continually get, and I assure him that I shall transmit the representations he has made to the proper quarter.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Could the noble Marquess tell us—the matter is of great importance—when the Government propose to take any action as a result of the consideration which we are told they have been actively pursuing? I think the House is entitled to know whether they do or do not intend to take the kind of educative action which I say they ought to take. If they are going to take it, I think we ought to be told so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I cannot go into the matter raised by the noble Lord's Notice to-night. I particularly asked the noble Lord not to put it down, and I told him that I was not going to give a definite answer to any of the questions he intended to bring forward because I was not in a position to do so.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
I did not move my Motion. I trust I have not been 228 guilty of any discourtesy; I thought perhaps I had acted rather the other way. The noble Lord said to me when I mentioned the matter a fortnight ago that that was not the time to make a statement, and I told him that I would not move the Motion because I understood he had something to say. That was how the matter stood.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I have no intention of arguing with the noble Lord on these matters. He is well aware that I told him very definitely, in regard to the Motion he was putting down for this date, that I was not in a position to say anything. I do not think the noble Lord can contradict that. He is now asking a specific question to which I say I am not prepared to give him an answer at this moment. But to turn to the point which the noble Lord developed particularly in his speech. I think he is well aware that there are many serious difficulties which arise in relation to his policy. There are great difficulties of supply, of training and of accommodation, when you are asked to double a highly specialised Service such as the Royal Air Force in a short space of time. It could certainly be done by adopting emergency measures comparable to those measures which are utilised in time of war. But, my Lords, in time of peace the Government are unwilling from motives of economy, if for no other reason—and there are other sound and good reasons, as I think your Lordships will appreciate—to undertake an immediate expansion of the Air Force at the prodigious rate which has sometimes been publicly demanded of us.
The question is then asked, why, if it takes a certain period of preparation in peace time to obtain adequate defence in the air, do we not at once set this process in motion so that in a few years' time we may attain the numbers which appear to be required. As the Lord President of the Council has stated in another place, His Majesty's Government are determined to obtain for this nation parity in the air with any country within striking distance of these shores. The Lord President of the Council has further stated that we are making preparations in ample time. If expansion of the Royal Air Force is necessary His Majesty's Government have already begun to lay their plans for such ex- 229 pansion. We have been precluded from taking this course sooner for two very definite reasons. In the first place we have been trying our utmost at Geneva to persuade other nations to reduce their Air Forces to a reasonable level. While this discussion was going on we held our hand in order not to do anything which would appear inconsistent with the ideals which underlay the British Draft Convention for the reduction and limitation of armaments. It is only within recent months—and I regret it very much—that the other nations of the world, so far from doing anything to carry out those ideals of the British Government, have determined to secure their own national defence, not merely by maintaining armaments on the present level but, I regret to say, by actually increasing them. Therefore in our judgment it would be imprudent on our part not to meet the situation which has thus been forced upon us.
A further reason which has operated to postpone even the resumption of that modest programme of expansion which was considered necessary so far back as 1923 was that the Government have been obliged to take note of the very influential school of thought in this country which conscientiously believes—the noble Lord opposite holds this belief—that, as war is a curse upon humanity, the British nation should abjure it altogether. We should disarm and trust to the simple justice of our cause as it will be pleaded before an international tribunal. This opinion was voiced only last Sunday by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham, a member of your Lordships' House. It finds expression in a recent work by that able publicist, Sir Norman Angell. The one takes his ground upon the dictates of conscience, the other on those of prudence and economic law. These views undoubtedly commend themselves to a large section of public opinion. Until recent months the Government have had every reason to believe, and every motive to encourage the hope, that something might be achieved out of the Disarmament Conference which would render unnecessary any substantial addition to the size of our Air Force. Now, as I have already peinted out, the situation has become unhappily all too clear. We can no longer hope that an international convention will solve the problems which agitate the whole of Europe. His Majesty's Govern- 230 ment have therefore decided that they can no longer delay the steps which are necessary to provide adequately for the air defence of these shores.
I should be the last person to quarrel with my noble friend for introducing this matter, nor can I take any exception to the terms of the Question on the Paper or the manner in which he has developed his argument. But he will remember that when he informed me of his proposal to bring this matter before your Lordships, I warned him that I did not think that I should be in a position to be able to give him an answer which could he looked upon as altogether satisfactory for himself or the public. That is the reason why I asked him not to put the question. I regret very much being unable to do so, but I feel sure that he will understand that, whereas there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone that the expansion of the Air Force is in contemplation—and I can refer him to the words of the Lord President of the Council—still at this time it is quite impossible to give him the definite nature of the expansion or the lines along which it will proceed. But I will ask the noble Lord to realise that he need have no apprehensions either that the Government are taking no interest in this very important matter, or that plans and arrangements are not fully under way. While I say this in answer to the noble Lord, I regret very much that I am not in a position to say anything further.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I fully understand now the reason why the noble Marquess cannot say definitely anything in answer to the specific question I put, but I think he might tell the House and the country which view he takes—whether he takes the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that it is useless for us to expand our Air Force to make the country snore safe, or that by expansion we can add to the safety of the country. Which is right?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
If my noble friend had listened to what I said I told him that the Lord President of the Council had stated that expansion of the Air Force was in contemplation.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for the courteous and lucid manner in which he has replied to the Question 231 standing on the Paper in my name, though it would hardly be true to say that I am altogether satisfied with the answer he has given. He has told us that in the year 1923 and subsequently in 1926 certain conclusions were arrived at by the Imperial Conference. I do not quarrel in any way with the conclusions which were arrived at at that Conference or with the basis upon which those conclusions were formed, because I know just as well as the noble Marquess that it is not possible for any matter of this kind to be decided except by the individual Parliaments of the Empire agreeing to do so. But since 1923 and 1926 much water has flowed under the bridges, air development has increased enormously, and the conditions which exist in 1934 so far as the air is concerned are entirely and vitally different from the conditions which existed in 1923 and 1926 when these matters were considered. The noble Marquess in the course of his remarks said something—I was not quite sure of his meaning and I did not wish to interrupt—from which I inferred that the Government had consulted the Dominions Governments with regard to the terms of my Question and that they were not prepared or had no desire to make any alteration in the present position.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I think I have not made myself altogether clear to the noble Viscount. I referred him to the Resolutions which were passed in 1923, and I then pointed out all those arguments which seemed to preclude the possibility of having an Empire Air Force. I had hoped that those arguments which I put forward would have convinced the noble Viscount that such a thing is really an impossibility, but I hardly seem to have succeeded in doing so.
I am afraid the noble Marquess has not succeeded in doing so. I had hoped that the noble Marquess, or His Majesty's Government, in the conditions which exist to-day, would at least have agreed to consult the Governments of the Dominions upon this subject. In the course of the speech of the noble Marquess he seemed further to indicate that, although it might not be possible to go as far as I suggested in my speech, it might be possible to set up 232 a Central Air Force which would be of a peripatetic nature, and which would be superimposed upon or separate from the local defences of this country and of the Dominions. If it were possible to do that, I should welcome such a step, and many of your Lordships would welcome such a step, as being a great forward movement towards the greater ideal set out in my Question. I hope, indeed, that the noble Marquess, as Secretary of State for Air, will further consider the possibility of taking such a step as that.
I presume that in 1935 or 1936 there will be another Imperial Conference. I hope that between the present time and that Imperial Conference, His Majesty's Government will continue to consult with the Dominion Governments with regard to the co-operative and collaborative steps which have already been taken, and, if possible, between this time and then to extend them still further. When the next Imperial Conference is held I trust that the Government will seriously put this question forward once more and see whether it is not possible to secure a greater and more unified form of control in air defence than is indicated by the speech of the noble Marquess to-day. The noble Marquess smiles. If he will only think what the condition of air development was in 1923 and 1926 and compare that with the condition to-day, and endeavour to forecast what it may be in 1936, I think he will see that there is real reason for going forward and not stopping still. I for one venture to prophesy that what I have put forward to-day, whilst it may not be of a practical nature at present, will become a practical subject within the next few years. I shall then be able, I hope, to remind the noble Marquess of this debate to-day, and perhaps to point out to him that it may have been of some advantage. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.