§ LORD LLOYD rose to call attention to the situation with regard to Imperial defence; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, only two or three days ago we had in this House an extremely interesting and important debate on a Motion by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. That Motion raised the question of the machinery of our security problem. My Motion to-day is intended to voice, in some measure, the grave and growing anxiety of the country as a 991 whole in regard to the inadequacy of our naval and aerial defences. Anyone who reads the Continental Press must have seen that there has been for the last year or two a growing feeling that there has been a decline in the international position of this country, a decline not less grave because it is superficially difficult to recognise. I mean to say that in many respects, in most respects, we appear to-day an entity as imposing as ever among the nations of Europe. Our political stability seems assured by the National Government, and our financial conditions have been re-established and fortified by the prudent and wise policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have all, moreover, seen in the last few days the magnificent exhibitions of loyalty to our institutions and Throne on the occasion of His Majesty's Jubilee. But amidst all these signs of stability and strength there has been a growing sense of insecurity, and I think the reason is plain.
Whereas in 1929 we were definitely in a position, if need be, to maintain our interests against any conceivable armed attack, to-day we have achieved, or at any rate are drifting into, a position of dangerous inferiority. We look at our naval position and influence in the Pacific; that has seriously declined. Our situation in India has been, from a military point of view at any rate, compromised by recent political dispositions, and our position in the Persian Gulf has certainly been gravely worsened in the last two or three years. Lest any one should think I was tempted to exaggerate the sense of danger or to talk in panic terms—that is the last thing I desire to do—I would make one quotation only from the Prime Minister who, as recently as March 11 last, warned the country that by August of last year its naval defences had been so reduced—and here I quote his words—that
…if, in spite of our efforts to keep the peace, aggression should take place against ourselves, we should be unable to secure our sea communications or the food of our people.
I venture to assert that no Prime Minister of this country has ever delivered himself of so serious a statement as this or one that reflects so gravely upon the discharge of the primary duty of any Prime Minister in this country.
One would certainly have thought the only possible accompaniment to so grave and startling a statement would have been the immediate announcement of a vigorous and energetic programme to recover the lost position. Yet, on the very same day, we have the Lord President of the Council stating in the House of Commons, and here again I quote his words, that,
apart from anti-aircraft deficiences, there is no question of any increase in the armed forces of the Army or the Navy.
I hope my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air will tell us clearly how it is that when the Prime Minister admits that his Government have allowed our naval security to disappear—that is what he says—the Lord President definitely announces that nothing is to be done to restore it The Lord President admitted in the same speech that we had every right under the Treaty of London to put into immediate force that escalator clause which was provided for the purpose, and yet we have no announcement even today that anything is going to be done to deal with the naval situation or the strengthening of the position in regard to ships.
§ How much worse is the situation if it can be shown that we are in even more urgent danger from a definite inferiority in our air defence? If that really is true, then we are actually to-day in face of something like a national emergency. I shall be very surprised if my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air to-day will continue to assert on behalf of the Government, as was then asserted, that we are still to-day in a secure superiority over, or even equality with, the strongest air Power within range, and I shall be still more surprised if he could say that whatever we do now, whatever increases he announces to-day, we shall not be subjected to an increasing inferiority for many, many months to come. The facts are that the Germans, to say nothing of the French, are definitely ahead of us to-day, superior to us, and more powerful, both actually and potentially, than we are in this country in aerial defence.
§ If that is true, if the Prime Minister's statement is to be taken at its face value, as it must, with regard to our naval defence, if it is true that our air position is as grave as the country believes it to be, then we really are entitled to enquire how so grave a position has been allowed 993 to come about. Over and over again in the last three or four years we have warned the Government of the danger, and they have refused to listen. It is twelve years ago—I only mention that in passing, for I do not want to go back too long a way as I am concerned with the future more than the past—since Mr. Baldwin pledged himself immediately to put this country out of all risk of air inferiority, and yet the programme of 52 squadrons, begun in 1924, was actually decelerated in each of the succeeding four years. I admit that there was not very much competition at that time, but more recently, and more often, other warnings have been given. My right honourable friend the member for Epping warned the Government in the House of Commons in March, 1933, and again in March, 1934, when the Lord President repeated his assurances that our Air Force should not be allowed to fall below the strength of any Power within striking distance.
§ In August, 1934, the new Air Force expansion programme was announced, but the Government still maintained the fiction that Germany had no military Air Force. In November, 1934, again, in another place, we asserted that the then German Air Force was rapidly approaching equality with our own. The Lord President strenuously denied this and declared that the German Air Force on that day—in November, 1934—was not "rapidly approaching equality with our own," but "was, in fact, not 50 per cent. of our own." Those statements have some importance now. It emerged in debate that the figures of real first-line air strength, properly computed, were not 880 as the Lord President had said, but 460—a big difference. Again, in March, 1935, the Under-Secretary of State for Air stated that we still had—that is, as recently as March, 1935—a substantial majority over Germany and that we should still have a superiority in November next. I believe I am right in stating that in less than two weeks after that statement the German Chancellor announced that he already had an Air Force of first-line strength equal to ours, or words to that effect.
§ These grave errors, as we believe them to be, are errors of estimate, and I believe my noble friend the Secretary of State will not to-day deny that those 994 errors are indeed grave. But I do not propose to weary your Lordships with a discussion of the exact number of aeroplanes at the disposal of the German Government. I am not in a position to do so. I hope we shall hear an estimate from my noble friend. The Air Ministry has given a figure, I believe, as low as 600, and a noble Lord in this House, who has good means of obtaining information at his disposal, has put the figure as high as 10,000. It is not necessary for my argument to-day to estimate which is nearer the truth. All I wish to say, as I believe it will be said by His Majesty's Government to-day, is that the German Air Force to-day contains more first-line machines that we have available in England.
§ No doubt the Government may say that, if they have more machines, our men are better trained and that our personnel is more equipped for formation fighting. Again, I am frankly not sure; but whether that be true or not—I think very likely it is true from my knowledge of our personnel and their training—no one is going to argue that we have equal numbers. Nor am I concerned to argue as to what would happen in squadron fighting in broad daylight. The real danger with which the country is primarily concerned to-day, over which anxiety is growing, is the danger of night bombing of our great towns and our industrial cities on a large scale. This is a peril which simply cannot be dismissed by talk about training and the length of time it takes to make a pilot. I do not know, but people who are qualified to instruct me tell me that it does not require more than a very small number of hours. During the War, I believe, some of our pilots went out to fight after not more than 30 hours in the air. I believe that for bombing purposes it would not require as long as this to train men to follow their leader until they were over London and then to pull the plug which released the bomb.
§ I make no apology for bringing this matter before your Lordships because air bombing has transformed the international position and I think that anything said in this House ought to be directed to making the public aware of how grave is this change. It is not sufficiently known how grave is the danger from bombing. I need not labour the 995 point of the vast amount of damage which can be done to a capital city by aerial bombing. Even with the small and comparatively ineffective bombs used in the Great War one could estimate some ten people killed, twenty or thirty wounded, and a very large amount of material damage done to buildings per ton of bombs. Here again I do not want to exaggerate. I do not know the actual facts, but I imagine that to-day any hostile Air Force on the Continent might send enough machines to drop probably two or three hundred tons of bombs in a big raid, and possibly more for all that I know—in any case enough to do very grave and serious damage. Then there is all the danger from gas bombing, which is variously estimated, but certainly some ten or twelve machines—so I am informed by experts—could bring over some forty tons of gas bombs which, even if the gas did not lie evenly, allowing for all the difficulties due to wind, would still be a grave menace to a people like ours today who are utterly uninstructed in the use of gas masks, and, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said the other day, not issued with any very large ration of gas masks, at any rate in Hampshire.
§ Then take the question of fire bombs. I expect your Lordships have heard of thermite and the danger provided by thermite bombs. Thermite, as many of your Lordships will know, is a mixture of aluminium and iron oxide which generates most intense heat and which is used encased in a 2 lb. bomb—a magnesium case weighing only 2 lb. These bombs have had a lot of attention paid to them in different parts of the Continent. These bombs, I am assured, can burn their way, except in concrete houses, from the attic to the ground floor, and it is very difficult to put out the fire that results. If, without any panic at all, we consider the possibilities of bombing on a large scale to-day with high explosives or gas, or, especially in London with its highly exposed water reservoirs, with fire bombs, I think we shall see that there is great and increasing danger against which it is absolutely vital and essential that the Government should protect the people of this country. Moreover, they should tell the people frankly and fully what protection they are able to devise and give.
§ It is necessary to speak candidly. It is clear that we have within three hours 996 air journey from London a vast Power arming itself as fast as it can with weapons capable of inflicting untold misery upon the people of this country. Can the Government wonder at the widespread anxiety that is growing around us? Can they be surprised—I do not say it in too critical a sense—if their constant rather complacent assertions of security and superiority, almost invariably falsified within a few months by the crude exposure of accurate facts, has caused a grave attrition of confidence amongst those who regard the safety of the country as the first duty of a National Government? Here let me say that I hope my noble friend when he replies will not criticise me for candid speech. It is the Government's inaction that compels it. Obviously when one discusses armaments their value is relative, and it would be an affectation to pretend that our anxiety is produced by any other cause than the sudden, active, almost feverish, rearmament of Germany. The men in control of that vigorous, gallant people would be, I am sure, the very first to understand that the situation must be discussed with complete frankness. Nothing that I have said or will say this afternoon is intended to convey the slightest reflection on their sincerity or honour. But they who labour under anxieties of their own must realise that their action is one which must give cause for disquiet in this country.
§ After all, we have a great country teeming with young men who have been taught by Nazi doctrines that they have been grievously wronged; that they have had disabilities imposed upon them through no fault of their own; that they suffer great grievances which they alone can remedy. It is natural when that feeling in youth is fostered and fomented by every form of propaganda in every town and village of the country—I speak of what I have seen myself and heard—that such propaganda, provoking a strong national faith of a wronged people, however absurd it may seem to us, should produce 'a danger which we cannot ignore.
§ At the moment when other nations were prepared to discuss the redress of any grievances that Germany had, the Treaty of Peace was repudiated and that country set itself to arm at a rate unprecedented probably in the whole history 997 of any country. We have seen that every material necessary for war manufactures which cannot be produced artificially—I will not go into the whole list of materials—has been imported into Germany at a very great rate. We know that regard to aerodromes there has been enormous expansion. I do not want to give too many figures, but Germany has, I believe, between 300 and 400 aerodromes, of which 22A are said to be ready for military use. We have only 90, I believe. My noble friend will correct me if I am wrong. I should like to know the facts. Germany has in hangars, I believe, accommodation for some 10,000 aeroplanes, and Siemenstadt, the great factory, was expanded from 45,000 men in 1933 to 135,000 now, while I am informed that we only employ some 1,500 or 1,600 men, and perhaps not as many as that, in all our air factories.
If what I have said is in any way true—and I cannot believe that it will be controverted—then we are, I repeat, in a state of something like an emergency. The question is, what the Government call tell us to-day they are going to do about it. I venture to suggest that there are only three possible lines of action, all of which should be pursued relentlessly. The first, of course, is that we should strain every nerve to put our Air Force definitely in a position of equality or real parity, bearing in mind distances and many other factors, with the nearest striking force of another Power, We have also to make rather clearer estimates of the potential strength of any Continental Power within striking range than the Government seem to have done in the last year or two. German factories are in being and, according to all accounts, are capable of turning out machines at very great speed. As Mr. Baldwin said on May 18 last year, even if we increase our organisation very largely at this moment—I will quote his words:
…if Estimates were brought in to-day, or if a statement was made to-day, of any given increase in that Force, it might well be months before a pound could be spent
in enlarging the Air Force. That is the Lord President's own statement, and if we have gravely fallen behind to-day, and if my noble friend, as I am sure he will, announces to this House a large scheme of expansion, we have to re
member to ask ourselves whether we shall ever in fact be allowed to catch up.
§ We must remember too how grave the difficulties are. The jigs, saws and all the other tools necessary for rapid expansion must take weeks and months to prepare. There is, I am told, an enormous shortage of skilled engineers and a complete lack of apprentices. The resources of this country are very great and I believe that these defects will in time be repaired, but I hope that my noble friend will give us clear information as to what the Government think can be done to restore so serious a position. The Government may tell us that it is not wise to expand at any great rate; that we cannot maintain our high standard of efficiency if we do. I am obviously no expert; I cannot judge as to how far the balancing factors of what you must pay for rapid expansion in efficiency have to be taken into consideration. But at any rate, if other countries can produce Air Forces at the speed at which they are being produced to-day, it should be possible for us to produce at the same speed a force which is ultimately quite as efficient.
§ I would also ask my noble friend to let us know what the Government are doing in regard to research into defence; what the Government are doing to discover methods of preventing aeroplanes from reaching these shores. There has presumably never been any weapon produced in the world to which some antidote could not be discovered. It is absurd to assume that the bombing aeroplane forms the only exception to that rule. Some twelve or thirteen years ago expedients like the kite balloon barrage were being developed and studied. This method showed signs, I believe, of being a possible measure of defence. I hope the noble Marquess will tell us what is being done with it. So far as I know, it has been completely dropped for several years. If a mode of defence actually in being and by no means without promise was treated like this, what confidence have we that any efforts were made to discover alternative methods?
§ I noticed the other day that a question was asked in another place what fraction of our research expenditure was devoted to this end, and the Under-Secretary replied that it was not practicable to separate research expenditure in this way. I really think that my noble friend 999 ought to-day to give us a little more information than that. It must be possible to give a reply to that question. Nobody wants an exact figure, but some sort of estimate to give the House an assurance as to how much of our research expenditure is actually being devoted to this particular end in view. I think it is due to the House, and I hope my noble friend will give us some idea about it.
§ This problem transcends in urgency, though not in importance, any other problem that we have to face to-day. I had hoped to say some words upon the naval state of affairs, which I believe is fundamentally more important and graver even than the air question, though there seems, no doubt that the air question is the more immediately urgent. I shall hope, with the permission of the Leader of the House, to raise on another day the question of naval defence, which I believe needs the attention of the country fully as much as the air question. But, I repeat, I hope that my noble friend will tell us exactly what he is doing in the matter of defence research. Nothing could conduce more to peace in the world than to find some method of safeguarding our shores against the air peril. It would be a far more practicable form of disarmament, I venture to think, than some of those advocated by my noble friend who sits below me here. If we could put out of action and out of use one of the most dangerous forms of attack which have been developed in our memory, it would be a great subscription to the cause of peace.
§ The third course, and the last, which I suggest is open to the Government, is that the Government should come to a speedy decision as regards the Treaty of London and the freeing of our Navy from its trammels. I ask for some assurance that we shall make no fresh treaty. I believe the Government have decided their policy; why cannot they tell the country what they are going to do about it? I ask for some assurance that we are not going to repeat once again the folly of scrapping four "Iron Dukes" and the "Tiger" merely in order to prevent one American battleship from being built. I believe that most of your Lordships in this House, far from wishing to prevent another American battleship from being built, would have felt more secure if it had been built. 1000 Those four "Iron Dukes" and the "Tiger" would have done an enormous amount to safeguard the food supply of our people if they had not been scrapped in—as most people, I think, feel nowadays—a most foolish and unfortunate way. Those are two needs, and the other is the urgent need of promptly applying, pending this period and the termination of the London Treaty, the escalator clause, so that we may be free to build that Convoyeur class of destroyer or small cruiser which is so vitally important to the security of our food supply and which other countries, like France, are building in large numbers at the present moment.
§ And here I should like to say that it is very easy for critics to throw blame upon the Air Ministry or the Admiralty for the very grave position in which we find ourselves to-day. But the responsibility for the security of this country is not primarily a Departmental responsibility. It is a Cabinet responsibility, and it depends upon the Prime Minister, and in this particular Government, where the majority is under the leadership of the Lord President of the Council, the responsibility devolves mainly upon the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council, Mr. Baldwin. The National Government have for four years now had an immense and a very reasonably amenable majority behind them. There was nothing they could have asked Parliament to do which Parliament would not have done. It is therefore the Prime Minister and Mr. Baldwin who have failed us in this vital matter of air defence. I hope we shall get a candid reply from my noble friend as to what the explanation is why these estimates have so gravely erred both with regard to the future and the present, and why it has been possible for the Prime Minister of the National Government to have to admit that our naval superiority has actually disappeared, and that we are no longer able to safeguard our food supplies. That is probably the greatest admission that has ever been made on the floor of the House of Commons.
§ I have not had time to study, and am therefore not in a position to make more than a passing reference to, Herr Hitler's speech, and I want to say nothing which could add to the difficulties of the situation; but we are bound, 1001 if speaking frankly, to say one thing at any rate, and that is that, however glad we are to see many of the phrases and passages of the Chancellor's speech, it is still true that until the doctrines laid down in Mein Kampf, the Chancellor's book, are repudiated, we must ask from Herr Hitler's Government not, merely assurances but actual proposals in regard to disarmament. Herr Hitler for Germany to-day claims security. Security against whom? By Germany's own act she was deprived of all the possessions which rightly and previously belonged to other countries, and there is not an inch, to-day, of German territory which anyone in Europe desires, or has shown the smallest signs of desiring. From whom then does Germany fear attack? And against whom does she claim security?
§ LORD LLOYD
I do not think Germany has any real fears of the Russian Army, to-day, or of its mobility, or of her Air Force. After all, the Polish situation has relieved Germany's anxieties a good deal with regard to Russia, and I do not think that the mobility of the Russian Army is a thing which has caused Germany the smallest anxiety so Far. But it is the inevitable result of past history that we should have a graver disquiet about sudden German rearmament, than about that of any other country. Germany's history, let us never forget, for the last sixty years or more has been one of sudden rearmament and shock tactics right 'through. If her history had been otherwise, or her word always been kept, matters would have been different, but from the days of 1864, the Danish War, Schleswig Holstein, the Austrian War of 1866, the Ems telegram of 1870, right up to 1914, Europe has been subjected at Germany's hands to shock tactics and sudden surprises, and to all the grave events which followed. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will address himself to our defence problems in the spirit which this country has always preferred, and that is, that our defences should be built up with as little regard as possible to the situation in other countries, hut rather with regard to the defensive needs of our island people. It is for those reasons that I have not made any further comment on the important speech which has just been delivered in Germany. I do 1002 hope that my noble friend will give us the fullest information that he possibly can to reassure the country to-day. I move for Papers.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down, and who has proposed a Motion of the greatest importance in your Lordships' House this afternoon, has made his speech in his usual eloquent and able manner, and I can assure him that I do not complain of anything that he has said. It will be my endeavour to satisfy him with the reply that I shall have to make to your Lordships this afternoon. I think that the noble Lord will expect me to reply more in particular to the remarks which he directed to the position of our air defences at home, which I think really was the gravamen of his speech, and is the matter in which I know your Lordships are particularly interested this afternoon. It is not that the people of these islands and of this vast Empire have ceased to regard the Royal Navy with the significance and support which it has held ever since the days of the Armada, but that, though we remain an island people, there have grown up altogether newer problems of defence side by side with the old problems which the safeguarding of our sea communications provides. Man's ever-increasing mastery of the science and technique of flight has led to the introduction of the air arm into the forces of national defence and the establishment of air frontiers in addition to the ancient frontiers of land and sea.
Warfare by land and sea is as old as mankind itself; its strategy and tactics have been known and applied in countless campaigns; but the history of air warfare is contained in the last twenty-five years, and for all practical purposes, within the four-year period of the Great War. In 1914 the air arm was yet in its infancy. To-day it still possesses all the elements of conjecture and uncertainty that attach to a weapon whose uses have been so recently discovered, and whose strategy and tactics are the lessons of the campaigns of a single war. But though our experience of its effect in war and upon war is a short one, we have learned enough to know that it possesses in its mobility, in its speed, and in the menace 1003 that it holds for great cities and centres of population, that supreme element of surprise, and that ultimate threat at the very heart of a nation, which have always been held to be of such vital importance to success or failure in war.
As regards our own position, I am certainly not prepared to deny—what I know the noble Lord believes—that the geographical position of this country is, in many ways, particularly disadvantageous as regards our vulnerability to air attack. I appreciate and share the concern of all your Lordships for the development of all means of air defence and counter-offence for our own protection. The noble Lord referred, for example, to the question of the range and bomb-carrying capacity of our aircraft, in relation to what we term parity with other nations. I shall have something more to say later on about the equipment of the Royal Air Force and, for the moment, I will only observe that the choice as between different categories of bomber aircraft presents many difficulties. That is a technical matter and I shall endeavour as far as I can to avoid all technical questions, except those which I think are matters which should be brought before your Lordships when such a Motion as this is before you. I do not want to weary the House with such technical matters and, moreover, I could only do so by entering upon a field in which it is impossible in' the public interest to give full details, but the House will realise that as between different types of bomb-carrying aircraft, their performance runs in an inverse direction, in that the heaviest machines have the largest carrying capacity and the lowest performance, as compared with lighter types. The factor of range is not the only one which has to be taken into account. There are other elements of manoeuvrabilty, fighting power and so forth, which are all very important essentials in the construction, the development and utilisation of aircraft.
Again, the noble Lord expressed anxiety, as he was entitled to do, in regard to the menace of gas bombing, thermite, and fire bombing. I can assure your Lordships that a study of the means of defence against these forms of attack is not being neglected. The noble Lord has spoken of the money allocated to research, and whilst he will understand that I should have a difficulty in expressly dissecting what amount of money was spent 1004 on particular items of research, still I think he knows—it is common knowledge—that a sum of £600,000 is provided in the Air Estimates for research and technical development in addition to the amounts provided for research and technical development on actual aeroplanes.
The noble Lord also suggested that the Government had been remiss in regard to research for new methods of defence. But it is not the case that all research into the possibilities of kite balloon barrage has been dropped. I will not pause to go into details, but it is not correct to say that nothing has been done to 'develop other defences against air attack. It has not, however, until recently, become necessary to provide methods of defence which have been for some years under development. Research has continued steadily throughout the last few years into such matters as sound locators, searchlights and predictors for aircraft gunnery. I think the noble Lord is also aware that the Government have lately appointed—and this was announced by the Prime Minister in another place on March 19 last—a special Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, to enquire into the question of defence against aerial bombing and that in connection with this body there was also at work a small committee of very eminent scientific men. I will now pass on, if I may, to the broader aspects of our air policy.
Nearly twelve years ago, in 1923, it was laid down by the Government of the day, after a very full inquiry into the various requirements of national defence, that our air power,in addition to meeting the essential requirements of the Navy, Army, Indian and overseas commitments, must include a Home Defence Force of sufficient strength adequately to protect us against air attack by the strongest Air Force within striking distance of this country.That was a statement to which the noble Lord alluded. At the same time, it was announced that, to give effect to this principle, a Home Defence Force should be provided, and should, in the first instance, consist of fifty-two squadrons to be created with as little delay as possible. I need not enter on this occasion into the various reasons which caused successive postponements of the fulfilment of that scheme. They were reasons partly financial but mainly 1005 political. They may have rested on overgenerous and over-optimistic expectations from what was going to be achieved at the Disarmament Conference. But I feel that, your Lordships will agree that we have no grounds to be ashamed of the hopes which this country entertained. But when Germany had left the League of Nations in the autumn of 1933, and in view the continued growth of air armaments in many other countries, we were compelled to abandon our policy of unilateral disarmament and take measures to correct our relative weakness in the air.
Speaking as Air Minister in your Lordships' House on the 29th November, 1933, I announced the policy of the Government and coupled with it the reiteration of our continued desire to arrive at a general limitation of Air Forces which would fix the strength of the principal air Powers at a figure which could neither be a threat to the peace of the world nor impose an intolerable financial burden. In July last, in the face of the further deterioration which had occurred in the international situation in the immediately preceding months, a new programme for the air defence of this country was announced. We had had, in the interval, further information of the steps which had been taken by Germany towards rearmament in the air. We were, for example, confronted with an admitted increase of German Air Estimates from 78,000,000 marks in 1933 to 210,000,000 marks in 1934, a scale of increase which it was impossible to reconcile with the requirements of civil aviation for which it was ostensibly intended.
Our new programme of air defence, as then announced by the Lord President and myself simultaneously in both Houses, provided for the expansion of our Home Defence Air Force from fifty-two to seventy-five squadrons and for other additions to the Royal Air Force as a whole, which would bring its first line strength all over the world to 128 squadrons. That programme was essentially flexible. In making our announcement, we gave a specific undertaking to the country that we should keep a careful watch upon the international situation, and that we should make proposals for a change, upward or downward, in the rate or extent of the programme, in accordance with the requirements of national security. I 1006 would remind your Lordships that at that time we only secured the general assent to my proposals upon the assurance that we should be prepared not only to increase, but also to decrease our preparations, if the international situation warranted it, That proved that the temper of the nation and the intention of the Government were in no sense whatsoever a challenge to enter upon a race in air armaments.
What we sought then, what we seek now, what we shall at all times insist upon, is adequate provision for the security of this country from air attack. It matters not from what country the possibility of such attack may come, the air programme of this country must always bear a close relation in strength to the programme of the nation with the greatest Air Force within striking distance of these islands. That is our formula. I would also remind you, my Lords, of a piece of very recent history. In February last representatives of France visited this country and entered into consultation with us with a view to the re-examination of the European situation. The result of our meeting was the London Declaration, which contained an invitation to Germany to enter with Italy and Belgium into frank and free consultation with the French and ourselves on the matters dealt with in that Declaration, of which a pact for air security was an integral part. We sincerely hoped that there would emerge an agreed programme for discussion at Geneva, a programme which would satisfy not only the general requirements of all the Powers for security, but also those particular requirements for the satisfaction of her national honour and prestige upon which Germany had laid so much stress. As your Lordships will recollect, Germany's reply was an invitation to this country to send repretatives to consult with Herr Hitler in Berlin. But, before that visit took place, Germany made the official announcement, for the first time, that she possessed an Air Force, and she followed this shortly afterwards with a declaration of her intention to apply conscription to her people in the autumn of this year.
In spite of these two shocks to public opinion, both here at home and in every other country in the world abroad, we determined, in the interests of peace and in our earnest search for the basis of 1007 agreement with Germany, to allow arrangements to stand. My right honourable friends, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Lord Privy Seal paid the promised visit to Herr Hitler in Berlin on March 25 and 26 last. Here Sir John Simon was informed by the Chancellor, not only that Germany already possessed parity in the air with this country, but, that her aim was parity with the French Air Forces for her home defence—that is to say, with the Air Forces which France employs for home defence. A fortnight later the German Government announced that they were laying down submarines. Let me emphasise the fact that, apart altogether from any question of the breach of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the time chosen for these announcements was the very moment when we, with other Western Powers, were making those proposals to which I have just referred. We cannot but feel that these successive declarations from Germany are an index of the mood and temper, of the mind and aspirations of the German people and their rulers, an index which is of the gravest significance to this country and to which this country must find an answer in terms beyond mistake.
We continued to preach and to practise peace, while practically every other nation was increasing its armaments. We persisted in the hope that, if we abstained to the last from rearming, other nations too might come to see the futility of war, and the waste upon armaments of treasure that might otherwise be of so much benefit to mankind. Great Britain stands for peace throughout the world; in her eyes it is a tragedy that civilised human beings should still need to prepare to defend themselves against assault with the weapons of mutilation and death. Yet she has a duty to herself and to our common heritage of Western civilisation:As long as we remain, we must speak free,Tho' all the storm of Europe on us break.I propose this afternoon to announce the decision of the British Government and the British people—a decision which is no new departure but the simple reaffirmation and implementation of the policy of air defence decided upon and made public as long since as twelve years ago, in 1923.
1008 But before I make this announcement, I would turn for a moment to the question of the present and the prospective air strength of Germany, and to those matters of the equipment of the Royal Air Force to which the noble Lord in his speech has made some reference. I have always regretted the enormous figures which have been attributed to the German Air Force. These figures have been officially denied by the German Air Ministry but, nevertheless, the situation as regards the future is one which must cause us all the very gravest anxiety. I certainly deprecate the painting of an unduly alarmist picture of the present, but that must not prevent us from realising that the future implications of Germany's present air activities call for prompt and vigorous action. Prompt and vigorous action we have determined to take, but our decisions do not betoken any unfriendliness to Germany. Far from it. We have welcomed the announcements made in public by responsible German authorities of their readiness to conclude an international agreement of this vital issue of air strengths. In particular, I gladly welcome the statement which Herr Hitler made yesterday, especially in its reference to the limitation of armaments. In the meantime, whilst we hope that these words will be translated into deeds, we are wholly unprepared to accept a position of inferiority.
I would ask your Lordships to carry your minds back to last November. The Lord President in another place used these particular words:There is no ground at this moment for undue alarm and still less for panic. There is no immediate menace confronting us or anyone in Europe at this moment—no actual emergency. But we must look ahead and there is ground for very grave anxiety.While emphasising the difficulties in the way of obtaining precise figures, he went on to give the best assessment possible of the situation as it then stood, and I venture in very specific terms to controvert what the noble Lord said regarding the errors of our estimates. The Lord President, as I have said, went on to give an assessment of the situation as he saw it at that time, and he gave an estimate of how it would stand in a year's time. He refused at that time—and quite rightly—to look too far ahead, but he was very careful to say that the 1009 estimates he gave were subject to the all-important condition that there was no acceleration by Germany. He laid stress on the elasticity of cur own as well as of the German programme, and finally he emphasised our determination not "to accept any position of inferiority with whatever Air Force may be raised in Germany in the have." That, remains the firm resolve of His Majesty's Government to-day.
There have been certain changes since November. In the first place, the German programme has been accelerated, a possibility of which, I repeat, express warning was given at the time. In March the Under-Secretary for Air in another place stated that the situation had deteriorated as compared with November. Your Lordships will understand that acceleration of the German programme has necessarily falsified those estimates of future relative strengths which were given in November. It could not be otherwise. If Germany last summer had made any estimate of what the air strength of Great Britain would be in the coming months, those estimates would have been equally falsified by the decision which we arrived at in November. They will certainly be falsified again by the further expansion and acceleration of the programme which I am announcing to your Lordships this afternoon. It has been suggested that the figure of 1,000 aircraft which was given in November, with certain other figures, as the total number of service-type aircraft in the possession of the German Air Force, has been proved wrong. It has not been proved wrong, and we have no reason whatever from the sources of information at our disposal to think that that statement was incorrect. It has also been suggested that, in saying in November that the German strength was half our own at that date, His Majesty's Government were wholly wide of the mark. We have no evidence from any reliable source that at that date Germany possessed even half-a-dozen squadrons completely formed.
Obviously, however, the figures relating to the future were liable to be modified by the march of events; and, as I have already said, an acceleration of Germany's programme—which obviously we could not control—has falsified those figures. But there has been another 1010 development quite apart from this acceleration, a development of which we must take serious account in drawing up our future plans. Germany, as it appears from Herr Hitler's words, has decided to push forward into her first line—a term noble Lords understand—a larger proportion of her available air resources: for the German Government have informed us that they now claim to be already near parity with this country on the basis that their first-line strength is between 800 and 850 aircraft. That was the information given by Herr Hitler to Sir John Simon. I must not be taken as accepting that figure as a reliable basis for comparison between the air strengths of our two countries as they stand to-day. I myself think they can only be justified, even superficially, by Germany including in her figure of first-line aircraft a greater proportion of her total air resources than is justifiable or compatible with what is necessary to provide and maintain an effective combatant force.
There is, in short, we believe, in regard to the figures of strength claimed by Germany, a considerable difference between their interpretation and our interpretation of the term "first line." As your Lordships know well you can organise your forces in depth on a narrow front or less deeply on a wide front. I have no doubt of Germany's capacity to organise, and that in no long period, an Air Force to which the term "first line" will apply with all the implications of our own interpretation. But at the present time all the information we possess goes to show that the German Air Force does not include nearly as large a total number of military aircraft as our own. Indeed, if relative assessments given in November of future strengths have inevitably been falsified by an acceleration of the German programme, of the possibility of which Parliament and the country were, I repeat, plainly warned at the time, our estimates of Germany's total resources, as adjusted in March, still stand unaffected, though obviously, if the output of the German industry is further expanded, these estimates will require considerable modification. And here in passing I should say that the organisation of Germany's aircraft industry is a factor which has to be reckoned with most seriously. We are considering what steps are necessary to put our own industry on a still 1011 firmer footing than it is to-day and to ensure that it will be capable, in time of need, of a greatly expanded output.
Let me now say a few words on the all-important question of flying personnel—another vital factor in Air Force efficiency. There are 2,700 fully trained pilots on the active list of the Royal Air Force. There are a further 400 under training and, in addition, there is a reserve of 1,200 fully trained service pilots, which is in course of being rapidly expanded. The noble Lord with his experience of flying has learned of the difficulties of that art as many others who have practised it have done, and I am sure he will bear me out when I say that it takes twelve months to give a military pilot really efficient preliminary training. It takes another eighteen months service in a squadron before he can be called a fully competent military pilot. You can, of course, curtail the preliminary training period—we may have to do so ourselves for the time being—but you will get a proportionately less efficient pilot. That is one direction in which we have at present a great advantage over Germany, though that advantage will pass away in course of time.
Then again, until complete units have been exercised as such in collective training and squadron manœuvres, and have worked in combination with other units, full military efficiency cannot be attained. Still further, as anyone will realise who cares to study all the specialised establishments which the Royal Air Force has maintained for years, both ground and air, such as the Air Armament School, the Central Flying School, the Electrical and Wireless School, the School of Navigation, the School of Photography, and so on, all most important things in air instruction, the personnel of a military Air Force have to go through numerous specialised courses before they can be regarded as fully masters of their art. In the light of these factors we can justifiably claim that, however small our nominal first-line strength may appear to be, we have to-day an Air Force which still possesses a more solid backing behind it than any other Air Force in Europe.
Now let me pass for a few minutes to the question of the efficiency of the machines with which the Royal Air Force 1012 is equipped, a matter to which the noble Lord has directed my attention and the attention of your Lordships. It is true and it is inevitable that the provision of a new type of machine for the purposes of defence is no simple business. It is a business that requires time. I can assure your Lordships that some months ago we had completed the steps necessary to secure a considerable reduction in the period from the issue of specifications to the production of a new machine and its actual employment in our squadrons. As your Lordships realise, after the specification has been given, the design has been brought out, and the tests have been applied, a considerable time—it may be some months and even years—must elapse before that machine can be put into mass production for employment in the Air Force.
Risks will have to be taken, not, I can assure your Lordships, with life and limb, but with money only—risks which the financial state of the country in the early years of our administration precluded our undertaking. That means that when we produce a type of machine which is not a success it must be scrapped and a new type produced immediately. In the state of a science such as aeronautics, which is every day advancing, it remains true that every machine is obsolescent from the moment of its adoption. The German Air Force therefore, which, because it is new, possesses at present the advantage of being equipped with none but the most recent machines, is already losing that advantage. We have newer types already in an advanced stage which will be issued to the Royal Air Force during the contemplated period of its expansion.
As to the position in regard to heavy and medium bombing machines, we are admittedly backward. The explanation is a simple one. In February, 1932, the Disarmament Conference opened and, from the inception of that Conference, proposals were put forward for limiting the maximum size of aircraft. Following on these proposals, the British Government itself tabled at Geneva a definite recommendation, which will be found in the White Paper laid before Parliament in March, 1935, to the effect that the maximum unladen weight of military aircraft should be three tons. Both the Virginia and the two replacement types, largely exceed this figure—the latest by 1013 nearly 100 per cent. Faced with this recommendation, the Air Ministry decided that they had no option but to postpone the design and development of new heavy bombing type 3, which, if the British Government's recommendation (or for that matter, the alternative proposals of other nations) were adopted, would have had to be scrapped forthwith. In the circumstances prevailing at the time, I claim that this was the only decision which could have been taken.
By last summer, however, when the prospect of disarmament had receded, and when, in other respects, the international situation had so much deteriorated, we decided we had no option but to proceed with the design both of new heavy bombers and new medium bombers. Further, we decided that the problem was one which could not possibly brook delay and that resort must be had to special measures to rectify n situation which could not be allowed to continue. Ordinary contractual and technical procedure must be overridden in respect of the heavy bomber. We placed a special order under wholly abnormal procedure. We initiated this action last July. It has resulted in a contract for delivery, not later than February, 1936, of the first of a new type of heavy bomber with a guaranteed performance. I am giving your Lordships these technical details because I feel you should have all information of the activities of the Air Force. Obviously I cannot disclose the details of this guaranteed performance. I will merely say that, on a comparison of all relevant factors, we believe it will be an advance on the heavy bombers at present in service in foreign Air Forces. I repeat that these special measures were adopted by the Air Ministry as long ago as last July, and 'a similar action was taken in the autumn in respect of several other types to which special considerations applied.
We have determined to take no risk's whatsoever with the security of this country in the air. Defence matters have to be considered on their merits and from the point of view of possibilities rather than probabilities. In spite of all those considerations which I have put before your Lordships, we shall accept the German figure at its face value and we shall take those steps which its acceptance imposes upon us, steps which the Lord President on behalf of the 1014 Government made it plain to Germany and the world that we would take in such an eventuality. Moreover, whatever dispute there may be as to the precise calculation of German air strength at the present day, we have had at any rate a clear pronouncement from her rulers of her ultimate objective—parity with the French Air Force available for her home defence.
Here then, my Lords, are the proposals of the Government. By Mardi 31, 1937, that is at the end of the next financial year, the strength of the Royal Air Force based at home, irrespective of the Fleet Air Arm, will be 1,500 first-line machines. This compares with an actual first-line figure of 580 machines at the present day, excluding the Fleet Air Arm, and with a total of 840 which we should have reached by the same date under the programme of expansion announced last July and provided for in the current. Air Estimates. In short, we are nearly trebling the present strength of the Royal Air Force at home to-day.
There follows from this a tremendous expansion of our activities over a wide field. I will give your Lordships some details. We shall require from the aircraft industry within the next two years a good deal more than the number of machines the Under-Secretary of State mentioned in another place, in the course of his speech upon this year's Air Estimates. We have no doubt that our manufacturers will meet our every demand and I am happy to say that I already have received assurances of their full co-operation. This is a problem which will need very special attention, and I have, therefore, with the concurrence of the Government, placed myself in close touch with a noble Lord whom your Lordships know well, Lord Weir, whose experience of industrial problems and, in particular, of the problem of rapidly organising an expanded aircraft and engine output, is unrivalled. Lord Weir will, I trust, find himself able to undertake to assist me by acting in an advisory capacity in regard to questions of policy associated with supply, production, and industry.
As to personnel, we shall require 2,500 more pilots, and a total, including pilots, of nearly 22,500 additional personnel. This year alone, we shall put into training between 1,200 and 1,300 new 1015 pilots, and in addition, we shall retain the services of hundreds of officers and men who would be normally taking their discharge and returning to civil life this year. For training purposes we shall very largely increase the present number of four civilian training schools for the initial flying instruction of pilots and we shall add five new Royal Air Force training schools to the five already in existence. While the exact allocation of the new home defence first-line strength of 1,500 machines in squadrons has been purposely left undetermined at present, the new programme means that we shall form 71 new squadrons for home defence in the present and next financial years—1936 and 1937—instead of the 22 under the present programme, and that we shall make increases in the present establishment of certain types of unit. In addition to the 18 new stations required under the present programme of expansion, we shall require 31 new stations of one kind or another under the new programme. The cost of this new programme will inevitably be substantial, but I am not in a position at present to give any figures. A Supplementary Estimate for the additional expenditure in the current year will be presented during the present Session.
But there is a further aspect of the German measures for rearmament which is perhaps still more menacing to the peace of the world and the safety of this country than the actual steps she has taken, or is at present taking, towards the development of her Air Forces. In time of war—and especially is this the case with the air arm, where wastage is so enormous—the organisation of industry and the mobilisation of the means of production are a factor of immense and quite incalculable importance. I have never accepted the figures given to the public, and indeed announced to your Lordships the other day with so much confidence by my noble friend Viscount Rothermere, as to the numbers of the machines actually in the possession of the German Air Force and in their front line to-day. In this connection I am glad to note that I have confirmation for my views upon this subject from no less a person than Herr Hitler himself. I will quote from his speech as reported in The Times this morning:Germany did not intend to expand her armaments to infinity; they had no 1016 10,000 bombing aeroplanes and would not build them. They would be happiest to have a settlement which would enable the industry of their people to be applied to more profitable productions than the manufacture of instruments for the destruction of human lives and property.What, to my mind, is a matter of the gravest concern is Germany's capacity to multiply the output of her aircraft factories in a short space of time. I gladly recognise the spirit of patriotism which has prompted the noble Viscount, whom I do not see in his place to-day. I ask him to assist the Government and myself by impressing upon our people the vital importance of the capacity of the industry for a vastly increased output.
My Lords, in a country under a dictatorship, the whole country, the whole body of the people, in their every activity, men, women, and children, are controlled and what I might call regimented. Whether this is by their own will or not matters little. The fact remains that, under such circumstances, the people are no longer a free people as we understand freedom here. In a country under a dictatorship the organisation of industry, the mobilisation of all the various manufacturing activities connected with the output of aircraft and aero engines and the munitions of war from the air, is a matter of comparative simplicity. The people of these islands, on the other hand, are a free people, who will tolerate neither dictators nor the semblance of autocracy. But we can and shall discover our own answer to this particular problem. In our own way we shall set about the immediate organisation of our industrial resources and, by the sacrifices willingly self-imposed of a free people, we shall possess ourselves of the means of self-protection in the unhappy event of war.
I have held the responsible position of Secretary of State for Air for nearly four years, and during that period I have seen and have had to prepare myself for some strange changes in public opinion and public policy in regard to the air arm, which must depend ultimately upon that opinion in a democracy like ours. In 1931 the National Government assumed office to guide the country through what is known as the "economic blizzard." That was certainly not the time, and that was certainly not the year, in which we Ministers in charge of the Defence Forces of this country could bring forward any policy of expansion, or could do anything 1017 more than avoid the most perilous decreases in the strength of the forces for which we were responsible. In 1932 the Disarmament Conference assembled, and almost its earliest discussions were centred around the possibility of the total abolition of Air Force, or at least of the abolition of the artillery of the air, the bombing aeroplane, which is the weapon which is the distinctive arm of the Air Force and to which it owes its separate existence.
Through that period, difficult for any Air Minister and particularly for one who, like myself, has always been convinced of the prime importance of the maintenance of an effective air arm to the security of this country, I kept impressing upon my colleagues and upon the country generally the vital nature and place of the Royal Air Force in the scheme of our defences. I had the utmost difficulty at that time, amid the public outcry, in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane even on the frontiers of the Middle East and India, where it is only owing to the presence of the Air Force that we have controlled these territories without the old and heavy cost in blood and treasure. I felt certain that when the ideals of abolition of Air Forces were examined practically they would be discovered to be inapplicable in the state of the world to-day. We could not put the clock back. Limitation, not abolition, was all we could really hope for. Limitation, I foresaw, was the ultimate policy; the policy which I continually urged; the policy for which I and my advisers at the Air Ministry were constantly preparing; and I am indeed gratified to find in Herr Hitler's words a definite acceptance of this docurine.
So it happened that in 1933, when the Germans left Geneva and the British Government decided once more to take up the completion of fie 1923 programme of fifty-two squadrons for home defence, we had our plans ready at the Air Ministry. Again, when in the early summer of last year my colleagues accepted my advice for increased provision for air defence, we were ready with our plans, which I may say envisaged ultimately a far wider expansion than that which was adopted in the 1934 programme of seventy-five squadrons for home defence in five years. In November last the Government agreed 1018 again to our proposals for the acceleration of that programme which was announced in the course of the debate on Air Estimates. Now, yet again, my advisers at the Air Ministry have enabled me to lay before the Government those plans upon which are based our present proposals for further expansion and further acceleration which I have announced in your Lordships' House. I am not recalling these things in any spirit of personal pride or self-glorification. I am simply stating facts. To those of us who ate familiar with our methods of administration, it will be clear that the credit for so remarkable an elasticity attaches principally to the permanent staff of the Department rather than to its temporary political head. I could not allow such ability and such devotion to duty to pass unrecognised, and I have therefore thought it my right to place these facts upon record before your Lordships.
I have, I fear, spoken at length—but not at greater length than issues so vital and momentous require. For we believe that these steps, which we are taking in the troubled circumstances of to-day, are not only essential to our national security but are also the best guarantee for the maintenance of European peace. There are two further points I should like to make briefly before I close. First, I would repeat with all the emphasis at my command the undertaking which was given last November. His Majesty's Government will not, in any circumstances, accept a position of inferiority in the air to Germany. If the programme I have just announced proves insufficient, we shall increase it, cost what it may in money or effort—and we believe that public opinion in this country will give us unhesitating support in so doing. My second and last point is this. I want your Lordships to realise that we at the Air Ministry and in the Royal Air Force have assumed a tremendous task. I do not think any fighting Service has in modern days been asked in time of peace to double its fighting strength in the short space of two years. Yet that is the problem which confronts the Royal Air Force to-day. I do not doubt that Parliament and the country will realise the heavy task imposed upon us and that they will give us their full support. Without that support the task will be well 1019 nigh impossible. To the young men of the country, whatever their walk in life, I say that the time has come for them to see to it that Great Britain is given the Air Force that she needs. Let them enrol freely, so soon as the requirements of the Force are made public. To all those employed in the manufacture of aircraft and engines, I say that the time has come for them to show the world that the British artisan, the British engineer, and the British business man, are as capable to-day, as in the past, of rising to the demands of any situation. The nation at large I ask to give all possible encouragement and help to the Air Ministry and to the Royal Air Force in their great undertaking.Methinks I see in toy mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I think the House is very greatly indebted to the noble Marquess who has just sat down, not only for having intervened in this debate at an early stage, but also for the very clear, lucid and full exposition of the Government's policy that he has given us. It would have been unfortunate if we had continued a debate on merely academic lines, and therefore we are indebted to the noble Marquess for having given us clearly what the Government's policy is, in order that we may turn our attention more specially to it. I am speaking on behalf of my noble friends and the Party to which I have the honour to belong. Whatever individual opinions I may have on the general subject are subordinated on this occasion to my desire to give explicit expression to our criticism of the Government. And criticism it certainly will be.
I wondered what we were going to hear from the Government, but I certainly did not expect anything so bellicose, anything which reminded one so much of the atmosphere of 1914, anything so uncompromising, as the speech to which we have just listened. It was all in terms of armaments, and yet the noble Marquess was obliged to admit that armaments and defence depend on policy. Therefore I wish to turn your Lordships' attention far more to the question of policy than to the technicalities of aeronautics, about 1020 which we, most of us, are profoundly ignorant. I feel at some disadvantage because an important speech was delivered yesterday in Germany which we have hardly had time to consider fully, and because I am immediately following a long—not by any means too long—and full statement of the Government's policy. But we in Parliament have got to put up with that sort of thing, and we must dive into the question as best we can, clinging with very close hold upon the principles upon which we base our policy on this side of the House.
After yesterday's declaration, which was really hardly referred to by the noble Marquess—and yet it is a matter of urgent importance—it was clear that we had come to a turning point, and that there were two paths open to us. One was to take up from Herr Hitler's speech all those points which made us feel that there was a possibility of a change in the rather lowering atmosphere which has been prevalent in Germany recently, and to test the sincerity of what he said by bringing together the nations to examine those particular points and bringing Germany into consultation. That was one course open to us. The other course open to us was completely to ignore Herr Hitler's speech, and to continue our rapid and great expansion of the Air Force. It is the second of these alternatives that the Government have adopted.
During these four years of National Government, pride themselves as they may on their successes in this direction or in that direction—and if any slight improvement has occurred in foreign affairs the Government always have taken credit for it—they have landed us in a dilemma in which the most calm opinion in the country is regarding the present state of affairs with some feeling of panic. That panic will not be allayed by the speech which we have just heard, which in substance, no doubt, is the same as the speech which is being made by the Lord President of the Council in another place. To my mind it is deplorable, and not only deplorable but completely unnecessary. Not one word throughout the noble Marquess's speech was said about the policy which I thought was the National Government's policy—that of collective action and collective security. The whole speech was back to the pre-1914 policy of national armaments, pitted 1021 against one another in competition. If we go up, Hitler goes up, and then we go up again; and so it goes on until there comes the explosion. That is the policy of the Government.
They have abandoned the collective system, and desire to go back to the competitive system of party with the largest force within striking distance, though I do not know what that means with regard to the Air Force, because almost any country in the world is within striking distance in that respect. However that may be, as was the case in 1913, it is against Germany that we are arming, it is against Germany that this policy is directed, and it is against Germany that the country is to be again inflamed, just at a moment when there seemed a prospect of getting agreement, or, anyhow, a better atmosphere. We on this side of the House are not admirers of Herr Hitler. I who am a pacifist and a Socialist would be in a concentration camp in Germany, and I cannot be expected to have any enthusiasm for Herr Hitler. We deplore the rearmament in Germany, as we deplore it in all other countries. It is not because we think that there is a justification for German policy that we take the attitude we do, it is because we are seeking for every possible opportunity, however slender it may seem to be, to prevent the outbreak of war and to keep the peace of Europe. The Government have missed this opportunity. We have been deluged with the figures to which we have been listening, and we have heard bow the Air Force is to be trebled. I pricked up my ears in order to catch what the noble Marquess would say upon the. subject of defence from air attack. And again, as on all previous occasions, nothing satisfactory could be said. There is no defence—we know that. It is simply a matter of saying to Herr Hitler: "If you bomb London we are going to prepare to send large forces to bomb Berlin and Cologne and other towns."
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Although I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord now, I cannot allow those statements to go as if they were absolutely correct. I have contradicted those statements made by the noble Lord before. As he re-asserts them, I only intervene to explain that they are not correct.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
The noble Marquess reminds me that what I am saying is incorrect. Of course I accept that, but I really listened very carefully to what he said about defence from the air, and all could gather was that the matter was being very carefully studied. But it has been studied for a good many years now, and none of the inventors can come to the conclusion that there is any adequate defence from an attack by air. Indeed the Lord President of the Council most emphatically said that in one of his famous speeches. Therefore, what is it all for? What is this trebling of the Air Force for? Undoubtedly, and necessarily, and consequentially it is to attack the so-called enemy. Therefore I do not think that what I said just now was so very inaccurate. It may not be advisable to talk about it quite so much: it is not a very pleasant thing for a Secretary of State for Air to lay down in black and white, but it is the truth and I challenge contradiction.
The noble Marquess said that we stood for peace, that we always have. He wanted to give a re-affirmation of the policy of air defence and of prompt and vigorous action, and at the same time he said he did not want to be unfriendly to Germany. All these phrases are almost verbatim what we used to hear in 1913, and we are creating the same sort of atmosphere. The Government cannot disclaim responsibility for the state into which our international relations have gone. I feel that on this occasion they had a very great opportunity of restoring confidence in the world. We are in a very special position. We have least reason to fear attack. We have good relations with our neighbours and other foreign countries, and we are in a position to take the lead. But are we in this year 1935 to go back to the old equations, the mathematical equations of so many of this class of arms, so many of that class of arms, balancing one against the other, making them into an arithmetical sum, and then drawing the conclusion that if you have got parity it is all right?
The noble Marquess knows perfectly well that the defence of this country does not depend on anything in the neighbourhood of parity at all. Mathematical parity has nothing to do with it. It is decent policy, it is the following out of 1023 a conciliatory policy, it is picking up the slightest hope from the utterances of foreign statesmen and trying to mould them into a way of nations coming together. That is the way to get good relations. We on this side of the House deplore this; we oppose it. In another place I believe we shall divide against it. We want to see this opportunity taken. The Government so often say in international relations that they cannot do this, that they cannot take that line because of the pressure of other countries, because of the need of international unanimity at the League or wherever it may be. They have said that they are not to blame because they have been handicapped by the slow progress of foreign States. Here is an opportunity for them to act where no other country may impede them for a moment. It is merely a matter for them to decide. This is a national matter, a national moment, a national day; and on this day we have taken the wrong course.
We stand for the calling of a conference, whether it be the Disarmament Conference or not, or special conference, to pick up these proposals in Herr Hitler's speech, to test their sincerity and, if they are bluff, then to call his bluff. That is where our initiative can come in. And let us have these conferences without the experts. Experts are very valuable people. The noble Marquess has paid a no doubt legitimate tribute to the experts in his Department. I have absolutely no doubt that what he says is entirely true. But experts must be kept in their place; and there is a suggestion, which is very widely accepted, that this Government are at the mercy of their experts and that their experts are guiding their policy. Their experts and the experts of other countries have ruined the prospects of the Disarmament Conference. We want politicians with minds of their own to get together in order to devise some method, by their policy, of adopting a more conciliatory and hopeful attitude for the appeasement of Europe.
It will not be sufficient to call the Disarmament Conference because, as I have often said in this House, this continual discussion of armaments is going to lead us nowhere. Discussions that we frequently have in both Houses as to the exact number of ships, the exact number of aeroplanes, the exact equality of our 1024 armaments, the exact quantity of our arms as compared with this nation and that nation, are not going to lead us anywhere. We want a conference on the causes that exist of the suspicion and jealousy and disputes of countries with one another. The abortive Economic Conference ought to be called together. I do not know who put the extinguisher upon that, but that was another deplorable exhibition of ineptitude on the part of this Government. These conferences ought to be called together. But in the meanwhile this matter presses because, however hopeful I may be, or we on this side may be, of the result of conferences of that description, there is an interim period during which this process of competitive rearmament is going to continue. We on this side of the House would suggest that at the earliest possible moment the Disarmament Conference should examine these particular questions, and that a system of control and inspection ought to be inaugurated without delay, in the interim before any decisions are arrived at.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, is not at the moment in his seat; but I could not help hearing him ask, when he turned to Germany and German rearmament: "What does Germany want security against?" Germany is surrounded by nations which, rightly or wrongly, she mistrusts. No doubt she is wrong. But against whom do we want security? If we have speeches like the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who says this nation of ours must be made secure by a great increase in armaments, not only air armaments but other armaments as well, are they not an invitation to Herr Hitler to say: "You are quite right and we want the same." We can only carry force by having force behind us. So one body of opinion in one country helps the equivalent body of opinion in another country to rouse suspicion and fear in the population. The noble Marquess said that in this policy of rapid expansion of the Air Force the Government would carry the country along with them. I do not know. I think that was a rather rash remark on his part, because there is a solid block of opinion in this country, quite apart from the Party which I represent or the opinion which I represent, which is not aware that there is any threat of danger but is persuaded that if 1025 you take this line of arming anal rearming and continuing the competition in armaments then you create the danger. There was no danger of war yesterday. The National Government have certainly put into the world a grave suspicion of a prospective danger of war in the future by the policy that they have adopted.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I regret that the noble Marquess on my left, Lord Reading, is to-day unable to speak on behalf of the noble Lords on these Benches, but I am sure that your Lordships will share my hope that the affection of the throat which prevents him from doing so will pass rapidly away and that before very long we shall again have the benefit of his advice which we so much value and respect. Nobody could have listened to the speech made by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, without a sense of depression. It is a sombre thought that after fifteen years of the League of Nations we should once more be in the throes of a competition in armaments, very like that competition the debates on which we used to follow with such anxiety before the War. To-day it is a competition in air armaments, then it was a competition in naval armaments. Every noble Lord who listened to the speech of the noble Marquess must have felt a lowering sense of anxiety that if it goes on the inevitable end must be the same crisis which arose in 1914. To that extent I share the opinion which has been expressed by the noble Lord who has just spoken, and regret that the noble Marquess did not say something to take up the proposals made in the very remarkable speech by the Chancellor of Germany yesterday. I hope that that omission may be remedied before very long. On that point L propose to say a few words later on.
Noble Lords on these Benches are prepared to support the Government in the policy of equality or parity in the air. I say nothing to-day as to what parity means, or as to how it is to be established and defined. These are very large questions on which it is not possible to enter so soon after the speech to which we have just listened; but we feel that air parity is essential, not because we believe it is going to solve the problem of peace, but for two other reasons. On the one hand, we on these Benches are 1026 supporters of liberty, free institutions, and democracy, and I am afraid it is true to say that in the world situated as it is to-day these institutions are not safe unless people are in a position to defend them. In the second place, even under a League collective system, so greatly weakened by the events of the last two years, in the last resort success may depend on the collective system being able to manifest an overwhelming superiority of power against possible agressors. Therefore we are not in favour of what might be called a policy of weakness. Air parity seems to us a sound principle, one which we are prepared to support and one which, I venture to say, is a challenge to no other nation. I do not think our friends to the south, France, have any objection to it, and Herr Hitler yesterday specifically stated that he claimed no more for Germany than parity in the air with the two Great Western nations. We have not had time to consider the figures but in so far as the figures which have been brought forward by the noble Marquess are no more than a claim for parity with Germany, they do not in any way constitute a challenge to Germany at this time.
I venture to think that if the policy of peace to which the National Government so frequently profess devotion is to succeed it must be a dual policy. On the one hand it must secure to this country adequate strength in self-defence or for collective action. On the other hand it is vital we should also pursue a policy which will lead to agreement, both political and about armaments. We are bound to become once more engulfed in a world war unless our policy is a dual one and not simply a policy of maintaining armaments in this country equal or superior to different categories in other countries. I regard the speech made by the Chancellor of Germany yesterday as giving a considerable degree of hope in a situation which in the last three months has undoubtedly been rapidly deteriorating. Contrary to what many people expected, the speech was in no sense vague. It was definite, precise, and, so far as it went, reasonable. There were certain omissions. For instance, it said nothing about inspection, which seems to me an important element in any system of arms limitation. Its phrases about rejoining the League of Nations were not quite so 1027 definite as I could have wished; but I think on a fair interpretation they mean that if real equality is conceded Germany will rejoin the League of Nations. I personally see no other hope for Europe except that its affairs should be settled by the European community sitting at Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations.
I venture to think there is also another ground for hope. There are two ways in which peace may be preserved in Europe. The first is the method by which one side has an unlimited preponderance over the other. That was the system which existed in Europe from 1920 until a very few months ago. The second is one in which all the great nations are given that position of equality to which by nature they are entitled. That is the only method possible to-day. I think one of the difficulties of the last few months has been that we have been in a state of transition from one system to the other. I do not think that in view of the claims to armaments which Germany has put forward and the steps which she has taken to implement those claims anybody can say that Germany to-day has not got equality. She is to-day in a position of equality with her neighbours, because she has established the right to determine her own armed forces as every other nation does. She is therefore in a position, either in the League or in diplomatic conferences, of complete equality. I hope and I believe that this recognition of equality will tend to clear the air.
It should be possible on that basis of equality to arrive at agreements which were impossible before equality had been fully established and one side or the other was trying to establish equality or to avoid recognition of it. Germany has put down certain ratios and I venture to think the definition of those ratios is one of the preliminary conditions for a successful disarmament conference. A disarmament agreement is dependant on agreement as to the ratio between various armed forces and in so far as we now have a definition on the German side of what they want the ratio on their side to be, I venture to hope that there is a basis for a discussion which has not been there before. But in the long run if my reading of history is correct you must get a political agreement before you get an armaments agreement; you 1028 must have an agreement about policy before you get an agreement about arms, because in the last resort arms are the instrument of national policy.
I have ventured to put down very briefly the essential proposals made in the German Chancellor's speech. They cover both policy and armaments. I think there are elments of hope in both. First he says that he accepts the territorial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles subject to the right to bring about revision of the Treaty by pacific means. That does not seem to me to be an unreasonable proposal. A considered statement of acceptance of the territorial provisions of a Treaty which it is well known is very unpopular in Germany, while claiming the right that every other nation has under the Covenant and under Article 19 or, indeed, under other Articles to raise the question of revision by pacific means, is a very important fact. It seems to me that it affords a reasonable basis upon which to enter on a political settlement of Europe.
In the second place, Herr Hitler says he is willing to enter into non-aggression pacts with all Germany's Eastern neighbours and, as I understand it, with Lithuania as soon as the Memel question is cleared up in accordance with the Treaty. He says also that he will enter into an arrangement for isolating any warmaker—a proposal which I may remind your Lordships is not wholly unlike the original proposals of the Covenant, which did not prohibit war altogether but only brought into operation Article 16 in the event of nations resorting to war before they had exhausted the pacific means of the League for settling their differences. He reaffirms the Locarno Treaties without any qualifications provided the other signatories will do the same and carry out their side of the obligations. He proclaims his willingness to enter into an undertaking of non-interference provided there is an agreement as to what non-interference really means. As I said before, he is willing to return to the League when "the pre-suppositions of a really equal legal status for all States members have been created." It seems to me that these proposals constitute a fair foundation for a discussion upon the political pacification of Europe.
Then we turn to the question of armaments. Herr Hitler is prepared to enter 1029 into the Western air Locarno, the proposal which was accepted with such enthusiasm in many countries when it was first announced in the famous declaration of February 3. He asks for no more than parity in the air with other great Western nations, and he does not appear to ask for air parity with Russia. He says that Germany will be content in perpetuity with 35 per cent. of the British Navy. If the Kaiser had been willing to be content with that before the War it is possible the War would never have taken place. He is satisfied with an. Army of thirty-six divisions and undertakes not to increase them. These proposals do not strike me as unreasonable considering that Germany is in a central position. On the one side are the French and on the other the Russians. Then he is prepared to limit air bombing and that limitation of air bombing can gradually be extended into complete international outlawry of all bombing. I personally do not think that limitation of bombing to the war-zone is practicable, and that the only course is to extend it into complete international outlawry of all bombers. Finally, in the matter of material, he declares his readiness to accept any limitation of guns, both military and naval, big tanks and submarines. There are, of course, a great many other important questions to be considered, but I venture to think that that is an offer which this Government should take up with the greatest energy and at the earliest possible moment. The only justification for supporting air expansion is that the Government should be willing to go to the extreme limit in trying at this grave time to arrive at an equitable agreement for the limitation of arms in Europe on the basis of equality at the earliest possible moment.
I will venture in concluding my remarks to recall to your Lordships' attention what the inevitable consequences are of a competition in arms. We have already entered into the zone of arms competition. This may be the last opportunity which will offer to reach an agreement, an opportunity which occurs now that the problem of equality has been got out of the way. Let me describe what the spirit of competition in armaments inevitably leads to. After every nation has raised its Army, its Navy, and its Air Force, step by step, 1030 in face of what other nations are doing and in response to the rumours, suspicions, and fears which surround competition, we finally get to the fatal atmosphere in which the military timetable becomes the dominant factor in the situation. When that situation happens the decision as to peace and war passes out of the hands of the statesmen into the hands of fools, knaves or accidents. Why is that so? Anybody who has studied, as I have studied, a great deal the history of the period which immediately preceded the War, knows that as the war atmosphere arises every General Staff has got to consider how it is going to win the war, if and when that approaching war actually comes. Every nation, every General Staff, begins to think in terms of the speed of its own and other nations' mobilisation, the speed with which it can attack other nations, or other nations can attack it, the speed with which it can paralyse the preparations of the other side and so gain the advantage if war comes.
You gradually reach that situation which in Europe logically and inevitably led to the Schlieffen plan, whereby if war arose it was inevitable that Germany, occupying the central position, should have to attack one of her neighbours with her whole strength before her other neighbour was ready, if she was to have a chance of surviving. Otherwise she would be fighting on two fronts simultaneously. As soon as you get military preparations and alliances up to a certain point, these military time-tables become the dominant factor in the situation. From that time anybody who starts mobilisation tarts a world war and it is not in the hands of statesmen to stop it. In the case of the last War it was the accident of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which started the slide. Some say that this assassination was the opportunity that was seized by the military leaders. Others say that it started everybody down the slope against their will. It does not matter which view was correct. Fundamentally the outbreak was the result of the military timetable. The reason is that when the first mobilisation starts every General Staff goes to its civil Government and says: "if you allow this to proceed without making counter preparations we shall be defeated if there is war."
1031 As soon as one mobilisation begins, every other nation follows suit, and when mobilisation is complete the nation which has completed its mobilisation first inevitably strikes the first blow. That situation is going inevitably to be worse in the future because of the development of aircraft. In future when mobilisation begins there will be a demand to strike from the air in order to paralyse mobilisation and to destroy initiative and the morale of the other side. That will become as inevitable as it was when Germany drove through Belgium in 1914. That is why arms competition is so terrible. It takes the decision as to peace or war out of the hands of statesmen and puts it into the hands of fools, knaves and accidents. Therefore I urge the Government with all the influence at my command, which is not very much, to leave no stone unturned, while making it clear that this country is determined to have air parity, to try to reach agreements both on politics and arms with the rest of Europe before it is too late.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Lloyd for bringing this question of Imperial defence before your Lordships. I do not want to be drawn into the domain of foreign politics, because there is always a danger, when we are dealing with Imperial defence, of being drawn into a discussion of foreign affairs, which of course vitally affect Imperial defence. I remember that in the old days it used to be said: "Tell us your policy and then we will fix what is required for defence." To-day, the terrible development of technique and the building of great new air machines has brought a factor into our consideration which we did not have to deal with in other days. At the time of the South African War the British Navy prevented a combination of European Powers attacking us. In the War which we lately safely got through, it was the British Navy that allowed our food and our various supplies from overseas to reach these shores. That is not the position to-day. I welcome the statement made by the noble Marquess that the Government have gone forward with a definite policy of expansion in the Air Force to give equality with any near Power. It is a sound, just and reasonable policy to adopt. It is a policy which 1032 I believe will lead to an agreement as to the Air Forces to be maintained by the various Powers in Europe.
I welcome Herr Hitler's speech last night. I think, if you examine it with charity and with sympathy, you will see how far he means to go to limit air armaments and to do away with the bombing of cities and of women and children. I think he honestly means, and I believe the German people honestly mean what they say, and I think the first opportunity ought to be taken to come to an agreement with that people. There is no good throwing suspicion on what is intended to be a definite statement. I have had experience of negotiations with German people for years, and I have never yet found that those who negotiated with me and came voluntarily to an agreement ever went back on that agreement. But it is perfectly obvious that negotiations for limitation of armaments will occupy a long time and that to develop our factories, to train the necessary personnel, to construct the various aerodromes we require, and not only equip them but defend them, will take a period of years. During that time, if we did what the noble Lord who leads the Opposition suggests, and instead of beginning now to develop our Air Force relied on negotiations, we should be in a worse position at the end of three years than we are now. That is why I welcome this movement by the Government to get on with a definite policy of equality.
In relation to that I would like to make one or two observations. The first is that I am sorry I was not present when my noble friend Lord Mottistone raised the question in your Lordships' House of a Defence Ministry. That is a question in which I have been interested for many years. I have raised it in another place and also in your Lordships' House and I do not propose to develop it to-day, but I wish to point out that if we had the misfortune to go to war one of the first things which any Government in power would have to do would be to get some form of co-ordination. We could not risk making the mistakes that were made in the last War. The need for coordination and the need for single direction is more apparent to-day than ever before. I say to the Government that it is far better to set up now in peace time an organisation by which you would have one head to advise the Government 1033 and to co-ordinate the Staffs covering the whole of our Defensive Services. If you do not do that, you will only have to improvise in time of war. I am one who believes that you make no great advance in defensive matters until you have such a General Staff.
This policy of air expansion is not going to be an easy matter. I need not tell the noble Marquess, who has presided so well over the Air Ministry, of the difficulties that will have to be faced. I am glad to know that my noble friend Lord Weir is going to be associated with him. One point which ought to engage the thought of the Government is whether our centres of production should be left in such vulnerable places as they are in to-clay. I suggest that if they were on the Clyde, where they would be far removed from direct attack from the Continent, they would probably be less vulnerable than in the places where aeroplanes are constructed to-day. This question of the vulnerability of places of construction is a very serious matter, and now that this programme of expansion is decided upon I hope the Government will consider the question of putting factories in less vulnerable places.
The next question on which I want to touch is that of personnel. This question of personnel is really vital. With great care, with energy, with the combination of your factories you can produce your machines, but I understand it takes three years to produce the trained personnel who are to deal with machines moving at two or three hundred miles an hour in the air in fighting formation. I venture to suggest that it would be easier to produce the men if we had some co-ordinating General Staff. I would take five to seven hundred officers from the Navy and Army, young officers, and give them voluntary enlistment into the Air Service. You would then start with a personnel—not only officers but also men—who had military training, a sense of discipline, and the foundation of efficiency in the understanding of their own arm and the corresponding arms abroad. You would use them, train them in the air so that they were available to take on the new formations when they came along in the course of a year or two years as the machines came to hand. Thereby you would get, I suggest, a very efficient expansion of the air arm. To 1034 start de novo with people who know nothing about the Service at all, and train them from the very beginning, would mean losing at least two years of their training. That is what would happen if you started with new personnel, as opposed to personnel which had already had a training in the two older Services.
The next point upon which I want to touch is that of bases. Here again, I know it is well known in the Air Service that the necessity of bases is overpowering. Our Navy was so effective in the world, before the air arm came into being, largely owing to the fact that it had bases all over the world, hundreds of refuelling stations where the ships could go at any time for refuelling. That was, and is, the great strength of the British Navy. We need the same kind of base for our Air Force; not only flat ground where they can land, but bases well equipped with every kind of device for repair and with the stores of fuel which are necessary, and defended against sudden attack. There you would get the co-operation of the other arms coming in to carry out that defence. We need bases not only in this country but also in all our various Dominions and Colonies. We have a wonderful spread throughout the world where we can get these various bases. This question of bases is indeed one of very great concern. An air squadron, just like a naval squadron, is tied to the nearest base, and unless it has bases to which it can bound from place to place to refuel, its action is very limited. The efficiency of the Air Force would, I am sure, be much greater if we devoted more money to that very essential service.
The last thing to which I wish to refer is the question of supply, a question which I believe is absolutely vital. The production in this country of all the kinds of oil which we use for our aeroplanes—and we use far too many different kinds—is unfortunately very limited. Production by hydrogenation and low temperature combustion, and the various other means, such as the production of alcohol from molasses imported from abroad, gives but a very small percentage of our total requirements. In time of war I can foresee very great difficulty in getting those tanker steamers into our ports. Therefore it seems to me only prudent that we should provide a very large 1035 storage capacity free from attack, such as would be sufficient at least for a considerable period of any war into which we might unfortunately be drawn. This storage, either in steel or in concrete tanks, is a very technical matter, and I know nothing of the difficulties in connection with it. I know, however, that in California they have produced storage tanks of fifteen acres in one place, storing about 500,000 tons of heavy oil in one underground concrete reservoir.
Things like that might well be done in this country. It might be well that we should not only store the heavier oils but also store petrol, at the same time having the necessary refineries working to produce the lighter oils, such as petrol, that we need. We depend so largely upon oil from abroad that we need to do something to safeguard our position in time of war. Just imagine what it would mean if we were suddenly cut off from oil supplies. What about our Navy? What about our aeroplanes or any of our forces? The disaster that would befall us if we were cut off from oil supplies is inconceivable. I do not know how many tankers we have running at the present moment, but I made some inquiry in 1934, and we then had about 400 tankers carrying the British flag. I believe that there are about another thousand carrying oil in different parts of the world. We might well help along, either by subsidy or in another way, the provision of sufficient tankers under the British flag and well protected by the British Navy. I am sure that we should be able to bring supplies to this country, and if they were interrupted for a time, at least we should have the supplies underground which we should have prepared beforehand.
It is rather interesting to know that at one time during the War we were almost entirely dependent upon America and Mexico, which were the two large countries from which we got our oil. Now the situation is rather different. America is a large producer, Venezuela is a very large producer, Rumania has increased her production more than twelve times, and Persia has increased her production by over twelve times. This shows that we have a bigger range of countries from which to draw oil, but unless we make the necessary arrangements beforehand we shall find that it is beyond our reach when the vital and terrible day of war comes. I say this 1036 about our Imperial defence. I feel more and more that, unless you have something to draw together, control and coordinate all the efforts of defence which are so tremendously linked up together, you will not get the best results out of the money we spend in home defence and Imperial defence.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I trust that my noble friend who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow him in the technical observations he has made, because I am quite incapable of doing so and I should therefore only be wasting your Lordships' time if I were to try. But there was one observation which he made at the outset of his speech with which I find myself in complete agreement, and that was when he expressed to your Lordships' House the obligation which he feels to my noble friend Lord Lloyd for bringing this matter before your consideration.
I was indeed very grateful to him, and I find myself in surprising agreement with a great deal of what he said. I fully admit—indeed, if I may be pardoned for saying so, I have spent a good many hours during the last ten years of my life in insisting on it—the urgency of the danger that threatens us. It is amazing that this danger has not been vividly appreciated in the past. We are accustomed to say that this country is no longer an island; that is a very moderate statement of the fact. The air menace is not only a novel thing but far more serious for this country than for any other country in the world. I do not believe there is any place in the world which is comparable to the City in which we are now speaking, for its size, for its importance, for its concentration of every kind of wealth and activity, and for its very unfortunate geographical situation. I need not develop that, because the facts are very well known to your Lordships. Nor is it only London. I doubt whether there is any country in the world where you will find scattered over it such immense concentrations of population. All these are very great dangers, if an air attack takes place, and I am bound to go on and say further that this is not a case in which we can rely upon what has sometimes been attributed to us, the practice of muddling through. The danger may be very acute. The attack 1037 may be very sudden, and the consequences may be very disastrous.
I do not propose to develop that any more, but I come to the remedies which are proposed for those dangers. I think there is nothing gained by minimising the dangers. What are the remedies? There is the remedy which at present is proposed by the Government—by the noble Marquess who spoke after Lord Lloyd—the remedy of increasing greatly our Air Force, trebling it, as I understand him. I understand that he justifies the trebling of it because that is the amount of increase which is necessary in order to bring us to an equality with Germany. It is exceedingly difficult for an individual like myself, without any of the expert information which any Government ought to have, to criticise the details or general plan of an increase of armaments. It may be necessary. It may be the only thing to be done. And yet I cannot help feeling the gravest doubt on the subject. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby said, and I was surprised to hear the noble Marquess contest it, that there was no defence possible against air attacks. I have heard him say very much the same thing in this House. I have it here. He said:That there is no complete defence against air attack is undoubtedly true.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
But the noble Marquess went on to explain that what he meant was that the only real defence was counter-attack; and that has been said by many other people. I rather think the Leader of the House said very much the same thing the other day, when he said something to the effect that counter-attack was what they relied upon as defence against air attack, and he went on to repudiate the idea that it meant dropping bombs on cities, and said that it meant dropping bombs on aerodromes and so forth. I should be delighted to have the Government tell me that there is defence against air attack, and that we have got appliances which will enable us to repel such attacks. I agree that that would be the best possible news to disseminate throughout the world. At present, we have not only the statement to which I have referred, but statements 1038 by expert writers, that apart from counter-attack there is no defence, and therefore, for the moment, I must assume that the only defence is by counterattack.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I do not accept the noble Lord's statement. He has quite ignored what are called "fighters" in the Air Service, and the anti-aircraft guns.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I thought it was generally admitted that, although "fighters" were useful by day, they were useless by night. If the Government can show the House that there is some means of defending the country against bombing air attacks—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I can show some means, but I cannot guarantee that the noble Viscount will accept them.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Of course, you cannot guarantee anything about myself, or whether I will accept anything as true, but the whole question is whether it is true that there is defence against air attack. I should, therefore, be glad to hear what the Government have to say about this, and what it means when they say that we must have a, large force of bombing aeroplanes. Does it mean that we are going to rely upon counter-attack, or that they can prevent any bombing from the air to a substantial extent? Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have such an assurance, and I should regard the whole situation from a different point of view; but at present I am assured that it cannot be done, and there is the speech of the Lord President of the Council in which he said that certainly it could not be done, that "the only defence is in offence"; and he added that that meant "that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourself."
I know that the conclusion that you must bomb cities was not accepted, but I thought it was accepted that you would have to have counter-attack. I know it was said that you would not have to bomb cities as part of your counter-attack. Again I hope that is true, but I am bound to say that I feel great difficulty in accepting that. I do not believe myself that you can hope to bomb aerodromes sufficiently to cripple 1039 the enemy. We were told by Lord Lloyd, I think, that Germany had two hundred and twenty different aerodromes, and we have read in the newspapers that some of these are underground. Evidently, it seems to me, if two countries went into a war, one prepared to bomb cities and everything else, and the other only prepared to bomb aerodromes, the advantage would lie with the country which was prepared to bomb everything. Therefore, I am convinced that, if we really come to it, you will have to bomb everything that the enemy bombs; that will be the only possible way of carrying this war into effect. I remember very well what happened in the late War. We certainly prepared, everybody knows it, to retaliate for the bombing of London by the bombing of Berlin. The whole plan was made for it. The Armistice came just before it was put into force, and we had already bombed places like Karlsruhe as the inevitable result of bombing by the enemy. Therefore that is what you would have.
I think that not only very horrible but a very dangerous situation. It means that if the air war goes on you will have the most wholesale and disastrous destruction on both sides. And what will be the conclusion? Why, if that becomes the accepted method of warfare it will become of the utmost possible importance for the attacker to be able to deliver an absolutely knock-out blow at the very start. The old maxim "Thrice armed is he who hath his quarrel just, but four times he who gets his blow in first," will become inevitably more true than it ever was if we have air warfare. Therefore, if you once accept this kind of prospect the already disastrous prospect of a race in armaments will become redoubled. Every country will be anxious to get well ahead of the other country more desparately that in ordinary armaments races. I may take too gloomy a view about this, but that is the way it strikes me, and I confess that, even if that is not true, I look with great anxiety even on the present situation, because it was not disputed by the noble Marquess—and it was part of his case—that we were engaged in a race in air armaments with Germany; that is to say, we were determined to keep level with her. By that is meant, as one of my noble friends put it, that whenever the Germans increase we have to increase in answer to them, 1040 and so on. Well, I cannot help feeling that, in view of those considerations, my noble friend Lord Lothian is absolutely right when he suggests that increase of armaments by itself is no real remedy for the danger with which we are threatened. I feel that profoundly.
It may be—I would not say the contrary—that we have somehow or other got into such a position that as an emergency measure, in order to ward off the imminence of a danger which now threatens us, we should increase our armaments, not because that will produce peace, but because we may hope that somehow or other it may discourage an attack. I am convinced that that is not the way in which we can really solve this problem. It is not a question of defending ourselves against this attack: we have to prevent this attack ever being made. It is a case in which prevention is better than cure, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Lothian that in view of that the offer made by the German Chancellor ought to be most carefully considered. I am not quite sure that I accept his view that it will be necessary to come to a political settlement before you can touch the disarmament question, because I do not think that any one can read Herr Hitler's speech, or indeed the general case put forward by the Germans, without realising that their principal political difficulty and principal political objection is precisely this question of armaments, and it is the one to which they have attached much the most importance. You will not find, for instance, in Herr Hitler's speech any very great reference to any other grievances he has got. The one grievance he feels is that he has not got the equality in armaments which, in his reading of the Treaty of Versailles—and there is a great deal to be said for it—and the negotiations which led up to the Treaty, was definitely promised to him.
Therefore, I myself think that you have to go straight at this disarmament question. Now what is it that Herr Hitler has proposed? Lord Lothian has given an admirable account of it; I will try to put in very few words the underlying purpose, as I understand it, of Herr Hitler's proposals. They are of course to achieve what he regards as equality. Once he gets equality, he is prepared, as I read that speech, for any amount of 1041 levelling down. I will come to the question of numbers in a moment, but except on the question of numbers he does not desire, as I understand him, to insist on any particular figure as long as he gets what he regards as equality. He is prepared to accept any reduction of armaments which other countries are also prepared to accept. As to the question of numbers, I quite admit that that is a matter of very considerable importance, and I feel personally that it raises very grave difficulties. But, after all, unless I am very much mistaken, it is not numbers that matter so much in modern warfare as the equipment of the Armies concerned. And though, if the equipment is equal, numbers must have some effect, yet I believe that they are not so important as is thought in some quarters. In any case, I do not see how on his own principles Herr Hitler or the Germans can insist on a figure of numbers which will give him, not equality, but superiority, for his whole case is that he is entitled to equality.
Now this seems to me to be an offer which is serious and important, and it ought to be considered, and considered carefully. But I confess I should very much rejoice if the British Government felt able to make a counter-offer equally precise, equally definite, and to make it publicly in the same way that the offer has been made publicly by Herr Hitler. It may be because I am so chauvinistic, but I confess to a little irritation to find that in these matters the initiative is constantly left to Continental dictators. I would prefer to see us taking some initiative of our own. But whether that is done or not it is a matter of method, and not of first importance. I hope that the British Government will lose no time in saying that they are prepared to discuss matters on that basis, and that they will put it forward and press some solution on some such lines, with whatever modifications they think it essential to insist upon, and that they will press it to the utmost of their power. I should prefer personally to recall the Disarmament Conference rather than to try to start a new European Conference, as is suggested in some quarters, because I think it will be much more difficult to start a new conference than to revive the old conference. And I observe with interest that, as far as I could read his speech, Herr Hitler does not reject the 1042 Disarmament Conference, though he does reject the League of Nations, and that seems to me a matter of great importance. I should like to see that done, and I cannot help believing that there would be a very good chance of reaching some solution.
No doubt—and let us say this quite frankly and clearly—you will not get an agreement on this or any other scheme of disarmament unless you are prepared to pay the necessary price for it. I do not believe for a moment that you can get an agreement by which all the other nations will guarantee peace in some form or another and you will stand aside. I do not believe that is a practical policy for a moment. I do not believe there is any public demand for such a policy in this country. I am quite sure you have got to take your courage in both hands and do what is essential to get an agreement. I read with great misgivings the constant repetition of that phrase, "No further commitments." I think it is an altogether unsound view. If you want to get a great result, a result on which the whole future of civilisation depends, you must be prepared for whatever steps are necessary in order to get that result; but I do agree most fully with a passage in that very remarkable speech made by the Lord Privy Seal at Fulham when he said, with perfect truth, that the main thing was not so much to make new commitments as to convince the world that you were prepared to act up to the commitments you have already made. Perhaps not solely due to the fault of the Government, there has grown up in the world a doubt as to whether the British really mean business, as to whether they are really going to carry out the undertakings they have given. Until that is cleared up you cannot expect the restoration of that confidence between nation and nation without which no scheme for disarmament or pacification can succeed.
I wish I could flatter myself that anything I could say would have any influence on the Government, but I do profoundly believe that we are at a very critical moment indeed. I think Lord Lothian was absolutely right when he said that if this moment passes, if we fail to get pacification now, this may be our last chance; I feel that profoundly. I do believe we have got a chance. I do believe that it can only be made effective 1043 by what, for want of a better phrase, I shall call a really vigorous and sincere League policy. I say to the Government with earnestness that in this matter half-heartedness is absolutely fatal, and nothing to-day is less useful than to be apparently in favour of a collective policy and not really to be in favour of it with the energy and vigour essential to carry it to a successful issue. I deplore the kind of facile jeers at Geneva which are popular with Ministerial speakers. I deplore the cheeseparing policy that cuts down expenses at Geneva. After all, it is a miserable sum—£150,000 a year—which we spend, and we are perfectly ready to spend millions in further preparations for war. The Treasury seems to think it is more important to save a hundred pounds at Geneva than it is to save several million pounds in military preparations. All these things produce a disastrous impression.
I listened with great misgiving to the historical passages in the speech of my noble friend Lord Londonderry in which he described what took place in 1932. It seemed to me only too obvious that he and his advisers were not prepared to assent to proposals for getting rid of air warfare altogether, as indeed appeared probable from what took place at Geneva, when their attitude suggested a profound dislike of that policy if not rejection. I feel profoundly we are in face of a great decision. We can face this great menace, which I do not underrate at all, by the old-fashioned policy of rearmament, but I cannot see how that can possibly succeed. It seems to me, if that is all you are going to do, it is bound sooner or later to result in another desolating war, more desolating than that which we entered upon in 1914. The other plan is the plan of agreement. It must he pursued with courage and determination, and without regard to those who preach doctrines about "No commitments" and things of that kind. You must be prepared to see this thing through as a great enterprise in order to save the world, or else you must give up your places and let other Ministers do what ought to be done in this respect.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I must apologise for trespassing on the time of the House so soon after I spoke last week, but I feel compelled to do it 1044 for two reasons. In the first place I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Cecil and my noble friend Lord Lothian that we ought to take into consideration at, once the offer made by the Chancellor of the German Reich on every kind of subject which may cause hostilities between the two countries. To put it in other words, we ought to assume that it is genuine and sincere. The hand that is held out to us should be grasped, and then we should consult, and perhaps it may be that in the long run, and sooner rather than later, we may really come to an agrement among the Western Powers which may prevent the catastrophe which all foresee.
I would only add that in common with one or two members of this House—notably, Lord Noel-Buxton—I have had many interviews with Herr Hitler. I think the noble Lord and all the people who have really met this remarkable man will agree with me on one thing, however much we may disagree about other things—that he is absolutely truthful, sincere, and unselfish. However wrong-headed people may think him to be, they are all agreed on that point. If you add to that that he has a hold over the German people unparalleled almost in our time, and bear in mind the salient fact, for instance, that he boldly states he is prepared to support not only a limitation, but the abolition of submarines—that is a friendly word to England as we all very well know—it does seem to me that far from facing the world to-day with gloom, as my noble friend does, we can face it with high hopes, if only we give up this idea of regarding this particular nation as bur hereditary and perpetual foe, and take the man at his word and see if we cannot come to an agreement.
I would give a little comfort to what my noble friend describes as his gloomy soul in another matter. It is on this subject of rearmament which we are in for and which should be conducted on proper lines. I am not going into the whole question so ably summed up by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, last Wednesday, but I should like to point out to your Lordships how essential it is in making these plans, notably those for the great expansion of the Air Force, that we should regard this whole matter of defence as one; we should see it steadily and see it whole Take the case of defence against bombing. My noble friend 1045 said—and he quoted statements to the effect—that there was no defence against the bomber except counter-bombing. May I respectfully say that that is entirely untrue? I see that the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, is in his place, and he can correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think he rill because I have heard from so many of his comrades in the Navy of the strides that have been made in anti-aircraft defence. They have been surprising and far exceed the advantages to aeroplanes of increased speed and manoeuvrability. I make this statement, which has been given to me on good authority, that after prolonged tests daring the last two or three years it is true to say that the odds against an aeroplane attacking a ship—and by a ship in this case I mean a warship—are six times greater than they were five years ago.
All these matters are naturally, and rightly, kept secret, but the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, referred to them to-day, and named three of the factors. There is, of course, the sound detector, the predictor, and the searchlight. If you combine all these together by day or by night, the poor aeroplane, unless it comes from a very short distance away and can keep zig-zagging all the time, is going to have what my air friends tell me is a "very thin time." But a great many will get through, and there should be no doubt, too, that a great many will be destroyed, and destroyed in ever increasing numbers. Indeed, I go so far as to say that in this matter, as in the major matter, we can approach this subject with some degree of hope. One of the most brilliant brains in this country, well known to my noble friend Lord Reading, from whom I have learned something in this, as I have in so many other things, is sure that within a reasonable time, in the same way as the gun defeated the armour and then the armour defeated the gun, the gun and the Hawk aeroplane are going to defeat the bomber. But even then this brilliant brain thinks it is likely that the whole thing, within a few years, will vanish as a policy, because it simply will not be able to be carried out. That is putting it very high. I do not go so far as that, but I do ask your Lordships to note the fact, vouched for to me by the very brilliant sailors who have studied this question—and studied it impartially more than others 1046 because they have both aeroplanes and ships—that the odds against the aeroplane, or in favour of the ship, whichever way you like to put it, are six times greater than they were a few years ago.
The question now arises which I am going to put to your Lordships: How are we to be sure that, with this vast expenditure of money which has been expounded to us to-day, the thing is going to be rightly done? Since I last addressed your Lordships, I have had innumerable instances brought to my knowledge of the strange way in which the Government speaks with two voices, one side saying: "There is danger; you must all work hard and get ready"; and the other side saying "Never mind about that; we cannot afford this, that and the other." The petty economies which have been brought to my notice, and a list of which I will send to my noble friend the Leader of the House, in matters of vital importance, notably anti-aircraft defence, as well as the other sides of the air arm, are really surprising. Such a thing if done in any business would mean the bankruptcy of that business within a week.
Nothing has been said to-day about the Royal Navy and nothing about the Army, but if we are going to do as Herr Hitler says it is necessary to do for Germany, fill up the dangerous vacuum which really makes for war instead of peace, if we are going to have real parity with those who may attack us, and from that platform proceed to come to agreement, we have got to take into account the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy is not strong. Everybody knows that it is not strong. It may be very inconvenient, but it is not strong. And the Army is not strong. Everybody knows that. Who is going to decide this thing? I must ask my noble friend the Leader of the House if he can remove a misapprehension into which many have fallen, and which is very unfortunate for His Majesty's Government. A very remarkable speech was delivered recently on a Motion which I moved in this House by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in which he attacked the present system of supervising Imperial defence in very emphatic language. He said that it was impossible for the Prime Minister to supervise these vast affairs. He said it must be a whole-time job—the noble Marquess nods his 1047 head—and he gave good reasons for it. The multifarious duties that fall upon the Prime Minister make it quite impossible for him or for anybody but a man with nothing else to do except to be a member of the Cabinet and report to them, to undertake this supervision.
Then came a most extraordinary episode. When everybody in this House having heard the noble Marquess, and having heard the general approval of the proposal from these Benches and from those Benches, assumed that the Government would naturally agree to it, the noble Viscount said, on the contrary, that he could give no such assurance. I must confess that I was astonished beyond measure, as was everybody else. It comes to this, that in this vital matter of Imperial defence, when it is known we are in for a considerable measure of rearmament by land, sea and air, it is laid down as a principle that the supervising of these things is to be a part-time job. I cannot let it stand at that. What is going to be done?? I do not know. I can add to the discussion of last week by saying that I have since learned from all who have to do with this matter of Imperial defence that during the period when the noble Marquess himself was Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and had nothing else to do, that was a time when things went more smoothly and swiftly than they have done at any other time. I would urge this upon the Government. Why not reassure the country, and tell them this is going to be done in a business-like way, as it would be done in the case of any business, and that there will be a man to give his whole time to see that it is properly and wisely done?
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, this, I suppose, is one of the most depressing debates that has ever taken place in your Lordships' House. Everything seems to be conspiring to increase the gloom and gravity of the situation. It is true my noble friend Lord Mottistone has done his best to cheer things up a little, and I will come to some of his observations in a moment. Meanwhile, it does seem to me that the happenings of these recent times, and particularly of the last few days, reinforce the views of those who contend that this is the mad-house of the universe. Could anything be more 1048 unfortunate, to use no stronger word, than that the speech made by Herr Hitler yesterday, a conciliatory speech, should be followed to-day by a debate here, and in another place, in which we announce that we are going to treble our Air Force. I do not altogether blame the Government for this unfortunate juxtaposition—Herr Hitler's speech has been postponed two or three times—but it does seem almost as if some malign fate is at work that such a state of things could happen. Psychologically, could anything be more infelicitous than that that speech should be followed within twenty-four hours by the speech made at that Box to-clay and by a similar speech made in another place?
My noble friend Lord Ponsonby has put forward the view of the Party to which I belong. We hold, and other noble Lords in this House have spoken in the same sense—for instance, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian—that this speech, these efforts of Herr Hitler's should be explored. I remember making a statement in a similar debate to this to the effect that Germany was the only Power in Europe which had unconditionally offered to abolish the Air Force, and a noble Lord opposite said "Yes, offered!" "Yes, offered," I said. "If the noble Lord is so anxious to have a war that he will not even consider an offer there is nothing more to be said." Surely this matter ought to be brought to the test. What is there to be said against that being done? Why have not the Government, even if they wanted to make this announcement, postponed these new things coming into operation until a conference has been held, and the matter has been thrashed out to see whether some arrangement can be come to? I hold that they are almost bound to do that under their own Defence White Paper, because at the end of the eleventh White Paper dealing with defence, there appear these words:The Government desires to emphasise that the measures now proposed are elastic. They will not only be subject to frequent review in the light of prevailing conditions, but may from time to time be adjusted in either direction if circumstances should, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, warrant any change.It does seem to me that after those words it is not asking very much that the putting into operation of this new 1049 policy, this trebling of the Air Force, should be delayed until the offers of Herr Hitler have been thoroughly explored.
He has made similar offers before, but nothing has come of them in conference, and I have never been able to understand why that is the case. I do not know whether the noble Viscount who leads the House can throw any light upon this. It seems to me a very serious matter. These offers of Herr Hitler have been made before, but nothing came of them. So far as I have been able to ascertain no attempt has been made to make anything come of them—no attempt worth speaking of. I may be wrong, but I have held the view for years, and I hold it now, that we are governed in these matters by France. It is French policy which is responsible for these offers not getting any further. That is my view. I do not wish to make any attack on civil servants, but I combine that with the fact fiat in this matter we are very largely in the hands of the Service Departments. Naturally the Service Departments do not welcome this kind of thing. They want their Departments to go on and it is their job to minimise all possibility of coming to anything approaching disarmament.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, in his speech, used words which would convey to the country the impression that this policy of the Government will give complete security against air attack. He did not use those words but I took down several of his sentences. He said they would do this to make the country secure. He said they were determined to take no risk whatever in regard to the security of this country, and he used the words "adequate security." We have had this matter debated in your Lordships' House again and again and we on this side of the House—I hope we are wrong—have contended that there is no security against air attack. We have based that view on expert opinion. I do not know the gentleman whom the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, knows, but I have read books on the question and I have discussed it with people who know. Mr. Fokker, who presumably knows something about it, has said that there is no defence against air attack except retaliation. I have quoted to the noble Marquess selections from a book on the character of 1050 the next war compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva and therefore of very high standing. Expert opinion upon expert opinion has said there is no real defence against air attack.
I have pointed out that in air manoeuvres in this country some years back out of 250 aeroplanes which converged on the capital only 16 were intercepted by the searchlights. I do not say that the situation is as bad as that to-clay. On that occasion the noble Marquess, if he will allow me to say so, rather tried to smooth over that position. He said that a distinctly larger proportion of machines would be intercepted in the future. Later there were further manoeuvres and, although no figures were given to the public, it seemed plain that from the point of view of the defence of London the air manoeuvres had proved to be far from satisfactory. The late Minister for Air in Franco made the same statement in a Committee Room upstairs. So you have piled up expert opinion upon expert opinion. And it does not really matter what proportion of machines you intercept. Suppose you intercept 150 or even 200 out of 250. If only 50 got here and if only 40 tons of poison gas were dropped, that would be sufficient with a favourable wind to destroy the whole population of London. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, shakes his head, but that statement was made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in this House.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The statement was made in July, 1928, it has been quoted in various books since, and it has not to my knowledge been contradicted before. However that may be, even if the amount required was slightly more there cannot be anything approaching real security. That is the point; I am making: To put it at its best, it is very "chancy"—if I may use such a word in your Lordships' House; it is a tremendous gamble. The point I want to put to the noble Marquess is that we are not really achieving any materially greater security by having a one-Power standard in the air than we have at the present time. We are not making any really material difference.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I do not know if the noble Lord wants me to answer him, but I should have thought that if we trebled the Air Force we are going to have greater security than we have now. I should have thought that a logical deduction, but I do not know what it is that the noble Lord asks me to explain.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I said you would not achieve any "materially greater security." I did not say "greater security." You will not have materially greater security. That is the point on which I base my case. A one-Power standard in the air is a totally different thing from a one-Power standard in the Navy or a one-Power standard in the Army, because the immensity of the element, the cover of darkness and the height to which aeroplanes can rise introduce so many difficult factors into the problem. It seemed to me that the noble Marquess, if he will allow me to say so—I do not say it was his intention—was rather deceiving people by giving them to understand that with a one-Power standard they would have security against air attack. I am sure, with great respect to the noble Marquess, that he will not stand up and say that. Nobody can say it who knows the facts. I only wish it could be done. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says he knows somebody who says lie thinks that some day something of the sort will be done. I hope he is right, but at present we are in the position that in Greater London we have a population of nearly 10,000,000 people all crowded together in a few square miles. What better target could any enemy wish for?
I do not propose to detain your Lordships long, because there are other speakers and there is so much ground to cover that it is impossible to deal with all the points. The subject of the debate has been necessarily a good deal deflected from the words of the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. His Motion dealt with the question of Imperial defence. We had a debate of much the same character on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I am not going into that to-day, but I think it is rather a pity that various figures in regard to that matter cannot be more fully explored. There is, for instance, the question of the Navy. The 1052 noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said last week at a meeting of the Navy League that the position in regard to the Navy was more precarious than in 1910 and 1912. That is very difficult to understand, having regard to the fact that the German Navy was put at the bottom of the sea in 1914. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who is an authority on naval matters, wrote an article recently in which he said that the strength of the Navy, looking at it as a whole, had not been reduced since 1922.
As regards the Army, nothing has been said this afternoon, and I think the noble Viscount who leads the House must feel that his task in regard to his own office is a simple one because the Army has been scarcely mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, did suggest that the Army was too small. I would remind him that this year we are spending nearly £43,000,000 upon the Army, whereas in 1914 we spent £29,000,000. Having regard to the changed value of money, that is a greater expenditure to-day than in 1914. The man-power of the Army has not been very much reduced since 1914; it has been reduced from 180,000 to 150,000, but the effective fighting force of the Army has been enormously increased. If I remember rightly, Mr. Duff Cooper made a speech to that effect in another place some time last year. I do not think, therefore, that 'a very good case could be made out in regard either to the Army or to the Navy.
The last point I wish to make is one which has also been made by other speakers. We hold strongly that the piling up of the cost of armaments in this race for armaments becomes in time insupportable. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, said last week that Germany has 10,000 aeroplanes. Let us look at that figure. If the proportionate cost in the two countries were about the same, taking Great Britain and Germany, that would mean that the cost to Germany of her 10,000 aeroplanes would be somewhere about £200,000,000 a year. Added to the cost of that is the Navy which she is building—say £50,000,000 a year. Her Army is to number over 500,000, and probably that would cost in the neighbourhood of £100,000,000 a year. The total cost would be £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 a year, which might be increased if the armament race goes on. When all countries are doing that, the 1053 thing becomes insupportable. No Government can control the situation, and war is the only way out. It has happened again and again. That is why we say that it is a mistake for us to join in this armaments race; that it would be far better, especially with the opening given yesterday by Herr Hitler, for Great Britain to cry "Halt," get a conference, try to come to an agreement, and again press for the removal from Germany of toe injustices done under the Treaty of Versailles. That is surely a more hopeful path than this announcement that we are about to treble the Air Force.
I do not suggest for a moment that the Government want big armaments; I am quite sure that they do not. Still less do I suggest that they want war; I am quite sure that they do not. Nobody outside a lunatic asylum wants war, having regard to what the next war will be. But in our judgment—and we have debated the matter and given our reasons as well as we could in the time—they are taking the wrong path. They have a better opportunity now—possibly this is the last opportunity, as the noble Viscount said—sto come to an agreement about this matter, and if they would only pursue that and achieve it, as they could, then the prospect before the people of this country would be less dark than it is as a result of this debate.
My Lords, I do not suppose that there is anyone in this House or in this country who would not welcome the suggestion that has been made by the four previous speakers, by the noble Lord who has just sat down, Lord Cecil, Lord Lothian and Lord Mottistone, that negotiations should be set on foot with Germany in view of the declaration that was made last night by Herr Hitler. At the same time I take rather a different view from that of the noble Lord who has just sat down or of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. We have to remember that Germany has made proposals before, and that every time she has made proposals she has afterwards proceeded to strengthen her Army and her Air Force. We, on the other hand, have done nothing at all, until we have left ourselves at the mercy, if I may say so, of every important nation in the world. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the only sensible way to proceed with a nation that has behaved 1054 as Germany has is to put ourselves in such a strong position that we are able to negotiate with her upon even terms.
I might venture at this point to refer to a statement which was made by the right honourable gentleman the President of the Board of Trade not very long ago with regard to tariff negotiations and trade agreements. He said quite categorically that until we had the weapon of tariffs it was quite impossible to negotiate trade agreements, and that it was because he had that weapon in his hand that he had been able to negotiate the agreements which are in force to-day with various foreign countries. I think that the great weakness from which we have suffered in the past in these negotiations which have been proceeding at Geneva and in other places in Europe for the purpose of securing disarmament, is the fact that we have been so weak in armaments ourselves. That has been recognised in Europe by those nations who are principally concerned, and we have not been able to pull our weight in those negotiations in the way that we should have been able if we had been stronger.
I for one wish to congratulate the Government and the Secretary of State for Air upon the statement which he has made to-day. I say this quite unequivocally, because I believe that not only do the circumstances which exist today necessitate the increase of our Air Force, but I also believe that without such an increase things might grow very much worse. In the course of the debate various points have arisen, but I should like to refer particularly to one or two matters raised by the Secretary of State for Air himself. He talked about the amount that was expended upon research for air; I think he mentioned the sum of £600,000. I feel, from a little knowledge of that subject, that the amount which is expended in that way—and I understand that that research includes experimentation—might be spent in a more practical manner. The factories which are experimenting in new air machines and new designs do not have the latitude which they ought to have in preparing and carrying out these experiments. I should like to suggest to the Secretary of State for Air not only that they should have more latitude in their experimentation, but also that larger sums should be expended in that 1055 direction. There is very little doubt that Germany is advancing more rapidly than we are in this country in design and in new types of aeroplanes.
The question of pilots was raised: the noble Marquess said that we should require 2,500 more pilots in the Royal Air Force in order to meet the requirements brought about by the trebling of the Air Force. I venture to suggest to the noble Marquess that one way of obtaining these pilots—and from what he has told us each pilot will take some two and a half years to train—is to promote and to assist civil aviation as much as he possibly can in this country, because there is very little doubt that young men who start in civil aviation become enamoured of flying and would be prepared to go on into the Air Force, if they had received that early training in civil aviation which would help them when they arrived in the Royal Air Force itself. That brings me to another point, and perhaps the main point that I wished to make when I rose this evening. During this debate, not one single word has been said with regard to the development of our Empire Air Forces, or of the development of air defence throughout the Empire. We have heard to-night entirely about the defence of this country, but the Motion itself talks about Imperial defence, and I suggest to the noble Marquess that that is a matter of very great concern in this issue which we have been discussing this evening. Everybody will recognise that London is not only the greatest capital in the world, but the most vulnerable capital in the world, from the point of view of its situation, and there is no one who will deny that London is the heart of the Empire. I know that none of my friends, from whatever part of the world they come, will deny that fact. It is equally true that should London be endangered, or anything happen to London through air attack, that would have its reflex throughout the Empire, and would have a very serious effect upon all parts of the Empire.
Nothing has been said about dangers that may come from the East. Obviously, when we are talking about Imperial defence, we cannot leave those dangers out of account. I feel that Australia, New Zealand and even South Africa cannot consider this question of Imperial 1056 defence without taking into account what might happen from the East. Therefore I venture to suggest to the noble Marquess that there should be the greatest co-operation, and the very closest co-ordination, between the Air Forces of the Empire, and I sincerely hope that he is taking the opportunity which presents itself to-day of the presence of the Premiers of our great Dominions in this City, to discuss this question with them, with the object of securing that close cooperation without which, I believe, this country may at some time be doomed. That is a question that is of vital interest to this country, and I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will do all he can to achieve co-ordination.
There is one more point before I sit down. In the course of his remarks, Lord Ponsonby—and this was said in another way by Lord Arnold—made a statement to the effect that the Government was in the hands of experts in this matter. What Government can get on without the advice of its experts? Without its experts, it obviously would founder. But I venture to suggest that there is a sixth sense in this nation, which realises, and usually not too late, that there is real danger in the air, and that the nation is menaced. I think, on this occasion, the nation as a whole is behind the Secretary of State and the experts who are advising him. Therefore I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Government in their proposals. I only hope that nothing will be done to hold them up, and that they will go on with them with all celerity, and bring them to success as speedily and as quickly as they can.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, after the speeches to which you have listened, I do not propose to detain you for more than one or two minutes. There are, however, points to which I would like to refer. I do not take the view of the last speaker, that we should be guided by the experts, because, as we all know, there are experts and experts, and all experts do not hold the same views. When my noble friend Lord Ponsonby tells us that great strides have been made to prevent the bombing of this country, with its consequent devastation, one naturally asks the question: Why, then, does everyone go on building bombing 1057 machines? If that is true, then the Government policy is wrong in not concentrating upon other types of machine, and paying less attention to the manufacture of bombers. The point which I desire to try to bring to your Lordships' notice is that it seems to me that armaments and defence, as several noble Lords have told us, are questions of policy, and I gather from the White Paper which the Government issued a short time ago, that their policy is the establishment of peace on a permanent footing, and that that is a cardinal principle of British foreign policy. I cannot understand how an increase of armaments, and a renewal of the race in armaments, are going to bring about the establishment of peace on a permanent footing. Therefore it appears to me that some other policy is required. Possibly an increase in armaments may also be necessary, but that very largely depends upon the policy which the Government undertake.
It seems to me that there are three alternative policies. First, the policy of isolation, which I gathered is the policy of Lord Lloyd, the mover of the Motion, because I think he said that our armaments policy should be decided quite irrespective of any policies which were undertaken by other countries. Then there is the policy of alliances; and last of all what is called the collective system, which means translating or developing the League of Nations into a real international authority. In regard to the policy of isolation we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and by the noble Marquess who represents the Government that the foundation of that policy was real parity and adequate provision for the defence of the country. I venture to suggest that we also have to take into consideration the question of vulnerability, and if our country is more vulnerable to air attack than other countries, then probably parity will not suffice and we must make provision in order to counter that deficiency. Then there is the policy of alliances. No one in the course of the debate has suggested that our policy should be based exclusively upon alliances, but obviously if it were, the size and strength of armaments would be affected, because if other countries were to pool their resources with our own then our own armaments need not be so great as they would have to be if we 1058 relied entirely upon ourselves for our security.
I come finally to the third alternative, which is now described as the collective system. It has become very fashionable during the last few months to support the collective system and to say nice things about it. What do we mean by the collective system? I venture to think that any collective system which is a reality, which can carry out what we want it to do, will mean that the League of Nations and the Covenant and the Kellogg Pact will be made effective, that war will no longer be regarded as an instrument of policy, and that therefore armaments should and must be limited to the exercise of the police function. It seems to me that we cannot get away from that conclusion. Therefore the great question which we have to ask ourselves, and to which the country should apply itself, is: How do we propose to institute the reign of law in Europe? Obviously two things are essential. The first is to enable peaceful changes to be effected in the relationships of States, in fact to carry out what was the original intention of the framers of the Covenant. I think everyone will admit that that intention, which has not been carried out, was to effect peaceful changes and to revise treaties so as to adapt them to the new conditions which had arisen.
It is very interesting to note that in the speech made by Herr Hitler he said:The German Government are ready at any time to take part in a system of collective co-operation for the safeguarding of European peace, but hold it necessary to conform to the law of perpetual evolution by keeping open the way to treaty revision. They perceive in a regulated evolution of treaties a factor for the safeguarding of peace, but in the throttling down of every necessary change a cause of future explosions.I gather from that that the German Government is prepared to discuss seriously the ways and means of effecting the peaceful revision of treaties. Some of us are of opinion that possibly one way by which this peaceful procedure can be secured is by the establishment of an Equity Tribunal as part of the permanent machinery of the League, to carry out the same procedure which was adopted in the case of the dispute between China and Japan, where the Lytton Commission was appointed to investigate 1059 all the matters in dispute and to recommend a reasonable settlement. I cannot help feeling that if that procedure were applied to the case, for instance, of the Memel dispute, to which reference was made by the German Chancellor, that might be a very useful way of bringing that unfortunate trouble to an end.
But then law is not law unless there are instruments for upholding it. Therefore we suggest that we shall never get rid of the menace of war or of the temptation to nations to take the law into their own hands unless there is some pooling arrangement of armed forces in order to provide not only superiority in numbers but also the maximum deterrent effect upon any nation which proposes to attack its neighbours. I will not develop that point, but we all know that during the disarmament discussions at least one Government, the Government of France, did definitely offer to pool its air resources so as to constitute a police force directly under the control and direction of the League. I cannot help feeling that the real test of sincerity is the willingness of nations to pool their military resources in this way. I have no doubt it will be said that the German Chancellor does not mean what he says in his speech; but the Germans, and the representatives of other countries as well, say the same thing about our representatives. The test for all of us is whether we are prepared to pool our resources in such a way that they can only be used to assert the majesty of the law and to restrain or punish any nation which is convicted of aggression. That, after all, is the federal principle, and the federal principle is really the basis of the League; it is the foundation of the whole conception of the League.
I cannot help feeling that the time has now come when the League might be thoroughly overhauled after a lapse of sixteen years, just as the Confederate Constitution was overhauled and amended in America after ten years experience, with the result of untold benefit to that country. There is this interesting proposal in the Chancellor's speech: he states that the German Government consider it necessary to make a clear separation between the Treaty of Versailles, built on the distinction between victors and vanquished, and the League of Nations, which must he built upon equal valuation and equality of rights for all its Members. That is surely 1060 a question which ought to be carefully considered, and I cannot help feeling that it would be a great advantage for all the Members of the League if the Treaty of Versailles were definitely separated from the constitution of the League.
I must not detain your Lordships any longer, but, in conclusion, I would appeal to the Government, as several of my noble friends have already done, to take the Chancellor's speech seriously. I think it is one of the blots on the discussion this afternoon that the Government have not, at any rate in this House, made any response to the proposals which the Chancellor has adumbrated. Surely we can take this speech as a new starting point? Cannot we try to get back to 1919 and develop the constitution of the League of Nations with the approval, assistance, and co-operation of the German nation? At that time they were excluded from any participation in drafting the Covenant and building up the constitution of the League. In order to secure confidence, which is vital in helping to bring back prosperity, and in order to develop security, cannot we start afresh and by a new conference, to which Germany can be invited, explore all the proposals which have been put forward in the Chancellor's speech? I beg the Government to take the lead in this matter. Surely there must have been many misapprehensions when we opened The Times this morning and saw in one column the headings, "Herr Hitler's Thirteen Points—Limitation of Armaments Accepted," and then in the adjoining column, "Air Defence—Double Debate—Plan to Hasten Production." There must be something wrong. It is time these misapprehensions were removed, and I beg the Government to reconsider this whole question of rearmament, not necessarily to bring the programme they have suggested to a standstill, but at any rate to take the matter into consideration and see what can be done to substitute a system of co-operative armament for the present one of competitive armament.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, what I wish to submit to your Lordships will not take three minutes or, I hope, at any rate, more than four. I have welcomed the Motion of my noble friend Lord Lloyd, and I have heard with great satisfaction from the noble Marquess that we 1061 are pressing with energy all that is necessary to restore us to a situation in Europe which we resigned some time ago with the estimable intention of giving a lead to the rest of the world which none of them was likely to take. But in this debate I have regretted two things, and that is why I have risen. I have regretted in the first place that the whole tone of the debate should appear to have been directed against the one particular country. I should like the debate to have been simply on the large question of whether our position in Europe was assured by the condition of our armaments generally. I have greatly regretted that, and I have also regretted that there should have been in. the first speeches only perfunctory references to the very remarkable utterance which was broadcast last night and which appeared to me, at any rate, to offer a more satisfactory bridge across the gulf by which we might hope to attain to a limitation of armaments, if not disarmament, than any utterance of recent times.
If therefore at once turned, as is my habit, to see what the reactions were in the foreign Press. They were very much what I should have expected them to be. I did notice in a leading journal from across the Channel a new note struck. It was naturally mistrustful and depreciatory of the speech, and did not even refer to all we have done to bring about security, but it emphasised the fact that security as regards France was no use unless it included the security of Russia. I am a well-wisher of Russia. I am interested in the process, perhaps I should say the progress, of that remarkable experiment which Russia is making in social legislation, but I think that vast country, with its resources and its population, is perfectly capable of looking after itself, and I should deplore any attempt to drag us into further discussion even of guaranteeing the security of Russia. Having said these few words, as think there will be another speaker on behalf of the Government to-night, I should like to express the hope that something may be said, before this House adjourns, from an authoritative quarter expressing their hope also of what may come from this offer of the Leader of the German people, which renews the offer of last April that was very unceremoniously and peremptorily turned down, and not only renews it, but goes 1062 a great deal further. Those of us who hope before we die to see peace and good will restored in Europe would deplore a second closing of the door which, in spite of many rebuffs, has been once more opened.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I am rather reluctant to trespass upon your time, but I shall attempt to do so within the briefest possible space indeed. I must crave the indulgence of many of your Lordships if, on account of exigency of time, I am unable to answer in detail many of the points that have been put forward. Those points which concern technical questions of air have been noted by my noble friend who spoke second in the debate. I am sure lie will have very present to his mind the point urged by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, about the desirability of regarding the Defence Services as a whole, as well as the interesting suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Elibank as to possible further co-ordination of the forces of the Empire, and those other more technical suggestions made by Lord Hutchison earlier in the debate. But I rise for a somewhat different purpose, and I do not know that I should have felt it necessary to ask leave to address your Lordships if it had not been that, as the debate has proceeded, I seem to have been conscious that, almost inevitably, the debate has been involved in the difficulty that is almost inseparable, as I suppose, from an attempt of this House to discuss really two sides of a question under one Motion.
The noble Lord put down a Motion with a specific reference to practical questions of defence. It was, of course, quite inevitable, in the circumstances in which that Motion fell to be debated, that the debate would take a wider reference and a wider turn, and that, in the minds of many of those who have taken part and in the minds no doubt of all who have listened to them there would also be the superficial contradiction, or the apparently superficial contradiction, to which Lord Davies, who spoke last, drew your Lordships' attention. I have been conscious of that, but even that, I think, would not have made me think it necessary to occupy your Lordships' time if it had not been for the extreme presentment of that duality of purpose in the 1063 debate that seemed to be made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in the speech that he addressed to the House at an earlier hour. I am bound to say that I think, if he will permit me to say so, the noble Lord opposite, no doubt accidently because he is always essentially fair and courteous in this House, gave to your Lordships' House and to the country a complete travesty of the speech that my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air had just delivered on the particular Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, had put down.
He complained that there had been, as he said, two alternatives before my noble friend the Secretary of State. One was, if I heard him correctly, that he might have picked up Herr Hitler's speech and responded to it. The other alternative was that he might have ignored altogether Herr Hitler, and gone ahead with his programme. And he had, unhappily, he said, chosen the second alternative, with the result that formed his peroration—that there was no danger of war yesterday, but, thanks to the Government, there is danger of war to-day. I am not one of those, I am free to admit, who have ever accepted this imminence of war theory. I believe it has done more to create unease and anxiety in Europe than any other, but, even if I did, I would ask your Lordships, could a greater travesty of my noble friend's position, or my noble friend's speech, have been laid before your Lordships than that? The truth is, as I shall endeavour to show in the few moments that I shall detain your Lordships, that it is a completely false antithesis to endeavour to suggest to this House that there is an antagonism between the policy of making reasonable provision for defence and the policy of active and steady pursuit of peace.
That brings me to say a word about a matter that principally drew my noble friend Lord Rennell to his feet in the speech that he has just made. I do not believe that any of your Lordships would think it either right or reasonable if my noble friend, in speaking early in this debate, had made any attempt to go into the detailed proposals and suggestions made in the speech, admittedly of immense importance, by Herr Hitler yesterday, which, if my noble friend was like me, he had the first opportunity of reading at an early hour this morning. 1064 I am quite free to admit, and I imagine that there will be no one of your Lordships that holds a different opinion, that that speech is perhaps the most important speech that has been made in Europe for many months, if not years. It was a remarkable speech, I think, in itself, and it was remarkable in the circumstances in which it was delivered, and it was remarkable, in my judgment, also for this reason, that it was a notable response to the invitation addressed to the maker of the speech by the Prime Minister of this country a week or two ago in another place. Therefore, I have no hesitation at all in saying, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that that speech, all it contains and its implications, will most certainly receive, as it most certainly deserves, full and sympathetic and careful consideration at their hands.
But if your Lordships follow me that far you will, I am quite sure, also agree that it is impossible to discuss it in detail to-day or now; and, indeed, I do not think that it would be profitable for those who can speak for this country, or for any other single country, to pronounce upon it until the statesmen of Europe all together have had an opportunity of considering it and of realising what may be the possibilities contained in it. Certanly no one of us need be under any misapprehension, and I can assure the noble Lord opposite that no member of His Majesty's Government is under any illusions as to the gravity of the state of Europe to-day, nor are they likely to be unmindful of the fact that I think the noble Marquess opposite mentioned, that each time that an opportunity of advancing the cause of peace by winning through to greater understanding is lost the difficulty of recapturing the ground that has been lost is indefinitely magnified. I would like to record my own judgment, which is also the judgment I have no doubt of every one of His Majesty's Government, that there is very little hope of progress in Europe to-day if, every time an effort is made by a responsible Leader in another country, at once those elsewhere are tempted to give free rein to all the suspicions that the least worthy among their fellow countrymen would be tempted to hold.
Therefore, my Lords, I leave that simply by saying this. As I conceive it, this Government, or any other Government, have always two dominant duties. 1065 The noble Marquess was perfectly right when he spoke about a dual policy—the dual policy of peace, and the other half of it, the obligations of defence—and it is, I think, wholly misleading, as I said just now, to suggest that these are incompatible, or to say, as the noble Lord opposite said if I heard him aright, that parity has nothing to do with peace and that we should only follow a conciliatory policy. Are we only to follow a conciliatory policy and let cur material means of defence he anything or nothing? That is the unilateral plan of which we have found the results to be singularly unfruitful. I would urge noble Lords opposite, in so far as they have influence in the country, to educate those behind them in what they themselves know to be true, that you have got to do both things—to have adequate measures of defence and all the time pursue a constructive policy for peace.
These proposals are made not because we are warmongers—the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, quite generously and truly said that he knew the Government were no more anxious for war than anybody else—but because we believe it is the best way to secure the cause of peace, that being the other half of the plan we seek to promote. I believe that if the noble Lord opposite had been in office he would have acted in precisely the same way in the essentials of the problem as we have acted. Nor are our proposals made because we have given up hope of limitation; but limitation, I would remind your Lordships, must be on figures that every country can accept as reasonably satisfactory for their own security. It is exactly the same for Herr Hitler as for us. He has not yet limited his Air Force and we have not yet limited our Air Force. If he offers limitation and agreement can be reached, it is as open to us as to him at any moment to reduce and decelerate and arrive at agreement on any lower level that may be reached. But I profoundly agree with my noble friend Viscount Elibank when he says that the best way to reach a lower level is to let it be known to the world that you are able and willing to maintain yourselves at a level wherever in default of agreement that level may be put.
I do not claim for His Majesty's Government that they are supermen, but I do say that they are men of average 1066 intelligence, and I do claim that the conclusions they have reached on this question—assisted by the advice of those who know the technical side and not unmindful of the great purpose in which the noble Lord opposite sometimes seems to claim the monopoly—were essentially the conclusions which any other twenty members of your Lordships' House would have reached also. Therefore they are probably about right. We have repeatedly made the claim that our action depends, and must depend, upon the action of others. The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches said he was anxious to see us more frequently take the initiative. I have other friends who complain to me constantly that we take the initiative far too often. Therefore again perhaps our policy is a reasonable compromise between the two.
I can assure your Lordships that in this matter the Government are very alive to the necessity of placing themselves in a position to discharge the obligations they have taken on their shoulders, and therefore I think the noble Lord spoke wisely when he approved the words of one of my colleagues who said it was not so much a question of taking new obligations as of convincing the world that we could discharge the obligations that we had taken. I have always for myself, I must admit, been chary of assuming obligations for this country, but even more chary of seeing this country default on obligations that it had assumed. Therefore, our plain duty is to see that this country is able to make its contribution to the peace of the world by making it plain that we have sufficient force to act as a real deterrent to any one who would disturb the world's peace. The outlook in the world is uncertain and defence provisions must depend upon considerations that have been mentioned in this debate—greater vulnerability of this country, political stability and the like. Your Lordships may feel assured that if the clouds lift and the situation improves, no one will more readily respond to the possibility of easement of these provisions and this programme than will His Majesty's Government. On the other hand, the Government cannot divorce themselves from the plain responsibility, however zealously and strongly they wish to pursue the paths of peace, of seeing that they leave no stone unturned to discharge what the noble Lord who moved 1067 this Motion rightly said was their primary responsibility, to secure to the utmost of their power the adequate defence of the citizens of this country.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships more than a few moments at this late hour, but I should like to say that I feel that after the highly important statement made by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air I have no reason to apologise for introducing this Motion. Indeed I understand that the Lord President of the Council in another place only a few moments ago described the situation as one of emergency, which I think were the very words I used when I first rose to speak. For that reason I would like to say to my noble friend the Secretary of State, who insisted that our strength in the air is superior to that of Germany and who spoke with apparently complete satisfaction about our powers of rapid expansion, that if that be the case I cannot understand why he should call the situation one of grave necessity or why the Lord President of the Council should talk of a state of emergency. I am afraid the fact is that the Government have only just awakened to the realisation that they have delayed their defence protection gravely long. We can only be glad of the statement made as showing that the Government mean to tackle the situation with energy now.
My noble friend Lord Rennell complained that the first speakers—which I imagine include myself—in the debate addressed themselves too specifically to one country—namely, to Germany. I do not think my noble friend can have done me the honour to listen when I explained that I had not been able to digest the speech of Herr Hitler with that rapidity which his great knowledge and experience would make it possible for him to do. I therefore thought it best to say very little about that speech, but it would be mere affectation, as I also pointed out, to discuss this question without reference to the country whose action raised the whole question. I do not believe any good comes of hiding facts. I am glad to say that not one unfriendly word has been spoken of Herr Hitler or of the German people, but we have surely the right in the grave circumstances of to-day, when Treaties have 1068 been broken and other grave happenings have occurred, to speak quite frankly.
I listened with great interest to the speech of my noble friend Viscount Cecil, and I should like to tell him that I entirely agree that our rearmament should not in any way close the door to diplomacy. I agree with the noble Viscount who spoke for the Government just now. Our quarrel has been that the Government have pursued unilateral disarmament at the same time as they have tried to negotiate. We have never thought that a wise policy. I have only to add in conclusion that as my noble friend was not able to answer the questions I addressed to him as regards naval matters I have told the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, that I desire to raise naval questions before Whitsuntide if he will do his best to afford me facilities. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.