§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Question which stands on the Order Paper in my name.
[The Notice standing in the noble Lord's name was as follows:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether a statement can be made as to the expansion and acceleration proposed in the Royal Air Force and the steps which the Government intend to take to give effect to such proposals; and to move for Papers.]
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (VISCOUNT SWINTON)
My Lords, I think the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord for having put this Question on the Order Paper, because it is obviously right that when important Government decisions are taken your Lordships should be informed as early as possible both of what those proposals entail and what steps are to be taken to give effect to them. The decision of the Government which the Prime Minister announced shortly before the Recess involves two things. It involves in the first place acceleration of the existing programme and it involves a considerable expansion of that programme, a programme itself on an unprecedented scale. In those circumstances I think it will probably be convenient if I remind your Lordships of the character and extent of 1043 the existing programme on which we are engaged and the progress which has been made. I will then come to the expansion of that programme and the steps which have been taken to carry that expansion into effect.
The present programme entails increasing the Metropolitan first-line strength, that is, the squadrons at home, to 1,750, which is more than trebling the Metropolitan Air Force. There are of course also increases in the Fleet Air Arm, and increases in the Air Forces overseas. It is, I think, important to mention those, because it would be entirely wrong to treat the Air Force in water-tight compartments. Nobody ever speaks of the Navy as being divided into sections, and with an Air Force, and particularly with the increasing range of machines, which is always getting larger, it would be entirely erroneous to suppose that an Air Force ought to be divided in that way into water-tight compartments. An expansion on that scale of course implies a great deal more than the numbers I have given for first-line strength. It carries with it all the reserves, and it carries with it all the training machines. Orders on a large scale were placed to meet the requirements of that programme, existing factories were enlarged, new factories, in-chiding all the shadow factories, were created.
On the personnel side the increase has been arcery great. I can most conveniently express it, I think, if I take the normal pre-expansion entry into the Force and compare it with the entry in 1937. When I use a year I follow the ordinary convenient practice of taking the financial year running from April to March. In the pre-expansion days the entry of pilots was approximately 300 a year. Against that, more than 1,850 were in training in 1937. Before the expansion the average intake of airmen was about 1,000 a year. Last year that intake, which includes, of course, men for training in a great variety of trades, had gone up to over 11,000. In apprentices and boys, the number before the expansion was about 600. The intake last year was 3,200.
That of course has meant a very great Increase in training establishments of all kinds. Before the expansion there were no civil training schools. It has been 1044 found possible to use, and use very effectively, officers who had passed through from the Air Force and could do the whole preliminary training in the civil schools, incidentally thereby giving not a little help to a number of civil aerodromes. Thirteen of these training schools have been established and are working at full strength. Flying training schools—Service schools—have been increased from five to eleven, and the capacity for trade-training airmen and boys has been increased sevenfold. I need not deal—your Lordships are familiar with it—with the very great increase that has also been necessary in operational stations, depots, and stations of that kind, but that of course has involved the creation of aerodromes on a corresponding scale. Finally, in that connection, I should mention the creation of the Volunteer Reserve, the new plan for bringing training to young men who are willing to give their spare time, with ground training in the great towns and flying training as near the towns as possible. Twenty-two centres are now operating, and over 1,200 of these volunteer pilots were entered for training last year and are doing extraordinarily well.
The House is well aware that there were serious initial delays in the output of aircraft. The scale on which orders were placed—and the industry had never had large-scale orders before; it could not have them—was such that much time was necessarily spent in constructing new shops and in arranging for the supply of jigs and tools necessary for large-scale production. Expansion also coincided with the development of an entirely new technique in manufacture in which British industry had had little, if any, opportunity of taking part—the development of large all-metal skin-stressed types of aircraft. Also, as the House is well aware, there was a great shortage of skilled labour, a shortage all the more serious because the great demands of the aircraft industry coincided with a great expansion of ordinary civil industry, both alike making demands on the same kind of labour; and the policy was being pursued at that time, and reasonably pursued, of interfering as little as possible with the ordinary trade of the country which was then entering upon its expansion.
But the Air Ministry, in making their plans, looked forward, and were indeed 1045 bound to look forward, to the probable need of a larger programme and of acceleration, whether the larger programme or the existing programme held the field. They therefore planned on a large scale. Factory extensions, new factories, shadow factories were created of a size which would not only cope with orders which were then given, but which, with little further extension, would be on a scale and of a size to cope with a much larger output. If that had not been done it would not be possible to-day to place orders and get going immediately a much larger programme than that on which we have been at work. I emphasize that because it was that preparation, that laying-out of factories on an extensive scale, which alone makes possible much that we are putting in hand at the present time.
The industry itself has expanded enormously. The numbers employed have gone up from something like 30,000 in 1935 to well over 90,000. I see it said that here and there men are leaving employment in this or that firm. These things are not very easy to check, but there is surely one test which one can apply in seeing whether employment in an industry is changing, and that is the aggregate number of people employed in that industry. The threefold increase in the amount of labour employed in the industry is, I think, a very solid answer on that point. It will always happen here and there that a firm cannot employ the same number of men at all times, and inevitably, when a firm is changing over from the manufacture of one type of machine to another, it cannot employ to the full the same number of men as it employs when it is in the full flow of production on a particular type. But particular care has been taken so to place orders that dislocation during a changeover may he reduced to the minimum. That figure of 90,000 that I gave, which was the return early in this year—I have no doubt the figure is considerably more now—does not include a large number of sub-contractors and suppliers of material working indirectly for aircraft, nor does it include a number of workers in many firms who are engaged on armament and equipment.
And just as the Air Ministry planned the factories on a larger scale than was required for the initial programme, so 1046 they also planned to have the training establishments within the Air Force larger. A second Halton will come into being at Cosford in Shropshire in the course of this year, and the great training establishment at St. Athan, also started a considerable time ago, will come into being. The Air Ministry also planned the orders which would be necessary if the programme were extended. The result of that preparatory work—preparatory work which it obviously was the duty of the Air Ministry to undertake—was that, when a decision was taken that the expansion should go further, it was possible to take immediately effective action.
The objective of the Government in the decision that has been taken is twofold. It is both to speed up and to enlarge the programme. The House would not expect me to give—there never have been given—detailed figures of numbers of aircraft. I think it would be a very good thing if every country in the world would agree to the most complete publicity about strength and programmes. The greater the publicity there could be in that respect the better, arid, if every country would agree to do that, we would be among the first to respond. But disclosures of that kind cannot be one-sided. I can, however, give, and I ought to give, a reasonable indication of what this increased output means in general terms. In aircraft the acceleration of the new expansion orders which have been given should mean an increase in output in this financial year of well over 5o per cent., and doubling this year's output during the next financial year. That is a very great increase of production, which is already substantial, and it is the considered opinion of those in the industry that that production can and will be obtained, on one condition, and that is that the necessary labour is available.
I ought to explain how that output is estimated. It is based on careful estimates made within the industry, both the regular aircraft firms and the shadow firms, estimates based by them on the definitely known capacity of their factory in plant and equipment and on output which they have obtained and on the labour possibilities which they think ought reasonably to be realised, given, as I am sure it will be, with greatest good will, wholehearted co-operation to 1047 meet the labour requirements both in the main aircraft works and also in the many works which are engaged in sub-contracting for aircraft factories. I have explained the method adopted to assess the capacity; I have shown how the Air Ministry and the industry have prepared and planned factories on a scale to take a much larger output, and to take that output in the great majority of cases with no further extensions and in other cases with relatively small additions which can be and will be rapidly put in hand. We also knew precisely the types of machines which it was desired to order and which firms could produce within the period.
And let me just say this in passing, though I think it is unnecessary to say it in your Lordships' House. It would indeed be entirely wrong to suppose that the aircraft which are on order and which are coming out are not highly satisfactory in quality. They are, and the best evidence of that is the keen desire of foreign countries all over the world to purchase these very machines even if they have to wait until the great proportion of Air Ministry orders for a particular type have been met. The firms in the aircraft industry have presented their careful estimates of capacity, and these have been checked by the Air Ministry. All the material was, therefore, ready for prompt executive action. In order to combine such prompt action with proper Treasury control, which I agree is very important, the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to a new departure, but, if I may say so, a most wise, practical and helpful one. He agreed that a senior Treasury officer should, if I may use a colloquial expression, "sit in" with the Air Ministry with full authority to approve of orders required to fulfil the programme and to approve any financial assistance properly needed, and justified, for further extensions and plant.
Moreover, in order to ensure that the Air Ministry requirements over the two years were fully appreciated, and that the capacity of the industry—and this was most important—was fully but fairly assessed, and that the plan was therefore thoroughly practicable, we invited Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner to work throughout in the closest touch with the Air Ministry. The aircraft industry had 1048 appointed him to be the independent Chairman of the Association; he is, therefore, able to bring in individual and collective knowledge of what the industry can do and, if I may say so, he adds to that a very unique and valuable industrial experience of his own. Combining the Treasury officer and Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner with senior officers of the Air Ministry, a small Committee was formed, under the Chairmanship of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy, which is in continuous session. This Committee thus embraces in an executive body all the elements for effective action—the operational requirements of the Air Staff, the technical and supply organisation of the Ministry, the authoritative assessment of the capacity of the industry, and complete financial control. The plans which we proposed have been fully checked by that Committee and discussed with the firms concerned, the Committee has been satisfied and the approved orders have been issued.
As a result of the preparation which went before, and that practical method of giving effect to the preparation, firms which can produce the aircraft required by the programme—and it is the right kind of aircraft which it is necessary to have and not just any aircraft which you can order anywhere, as your Lordships will fully appreciate—have received additional orders which will fill them to the maximum of their capacity in plant and labour for the next two years. The great production must come from the factories of a size and capacity to work on that scale. Large-scale orders running into hundreds in a factory of a single type must be placed with factories which have both the experience and the works capacity to execute them. Smaller works can perform and are performing most valuable services in sub-contracting, and I know it is the policy of the firms to sub-contract wherever they possibly can, and can get good results, in order to increase the output of the works. We are also using some of these smaller firms to do repair work and that is proving successful. It obviates the expense and the delay of creating additional repair facilities within the Air Force itself; it keeps the main firms in a steady flow of production; and it enables the smaller firms to undertake repair work on damaged machines—one particular type going to one particular factory 1049 —work which they are doing very satisfactorily. It is a system which we should wish to expand. I have shown, I think, that there is no case of placing orders in driblets. The policy has always been to give the largest orders which are authorised by the programme. That policy has been and is being fully carried out by my noble friend's Committee, and I would invite any of your Lordships to visit the great aircraft firms and to see for yourselves the scale on which these orders have been placed.
We are also steadily avoiding and reducing the multiplicity of types. I will give your Lordships, without mentioning names, three figures. I will take first one which I will call Machine A. There are on order 1,750 of this aircraft, these orders having been placed with three firms. Of another machine 1,500 are on order, these orders being divided between two firms. Of another type 900 aircraft are on order from a single firm. I think that will show that the large-scale orders are a very definite reality. We are often contrasted with America and with American practice, and we are all anxious to learn anything we can from that practice. I was interested, therefore, to see an article written by the Chief of the Air Corps of the United States Army, in the March number of the paper called Army Ordnance. In the course of that article he said:Another of our procurement problems concerns tooling up for aircraft production. Recently we let a contract for more than 200 airplanes of one type. The manufacturer is experimenting with tooling for this production. For the first time in recent years we have let one order of sufficient size to permit the factory to tool up for it.That is what is said by the Chief of the Air Staff of the American Army.
Nobody who is Air Minister, nobody who is at the head of a great aircraft firm, will, I hope, ever be satisfied, but will aim at improving the whole time. There certainly is no sense of complacency in the Air Ministry, nor do I believe there is in the aircraft industry or in the great motor-car factories which are working within the shadow scheme. But when we read that in America it is regarded by the Chief of the Air Staff as a great achievement to have placed an order for 200 planes of one type with a firm, and when we have 900 modern machines on order with a single firm 1050 tooled to give rapid large delivery on that scale, then I do not think that either the Air Ministry or the aircraft industry can be charged with failure either to place orders on an adequate scale or to undertake orders on an adequate scale.
There is one matter to which I should like to refer because I think it will interest your Lordships in a new experiment. The technique of aircraft construction in all great manufacturing countries has turned to the all-metal stressed wing type of construction, using mainly light alloys as the basic material. It has been found in practice that this type of construction makes the most efficient bomber and fighter. The British aircraft industry has developed that both in design and production, and it is right that the great orders now under execution for Service aircraft should be of this construction. I am speaking, of course, of the military machines. Training machines which are on order in great numbers have deliberately been designed and are being made of wood or a mixed construction not involving great demands on the light alloys. Machines of this kind can be turned out rapidly and comparatively cheaply and are wholly suitable as training machines, drawing upon labour and material not specially required for the all-metal types. While it is right to utilise to the full the capacity of the aircraft industry on the most efficient all-metal aircraft, and indeed also to provide, as we shall, for increased manufacturing and material facilities for these all-metal types in case of war, it is most desirable that we should know that in case of war we could rapidly bring in additional machines the labour and material for which would be readily available in this country, and that in peace time that labour and that material are used on other work not connected with the aircraft industry.
In order that both the design and the process of manufacture of aircraft of this composite construction may be fully tested in peace-time, the Air Ministry have ordered the manufacture of an aircraft so designed that it will embody in its construction materials which are not used in the ordinary Service aircraft. It is hoped in this way to secure both a satisfactory type and an approved method of construction which in war would enable us to obtain large numbers 1051 of aeroplanes of this kind from firms wholly unconnected with the aircraft industry and employing material and labour neither of which cut across the production of all-metal machines. You would get in this way a machine designed to be the most effective fighting machine that could be made of this mixed construction, and you would prove not only the design but also the best method of using that material. In addition to the great orders which have been placed, it is intended to go further and, just as factories were planned larger than the immediate programme required before, so we shall extend what has been called the "shadow system" and increase the potential factories against the possibility, which I hope may never have to be realised, of a still bigger manufacture than that which has been set on foot at present.
I will say one word about the Mission which has been sent to the United States and to Canada. It is not the first time we have considered the possibility of purchase in America. It has been considered before, on information as to possibility of delivery and types which were available. Such purchase would not, of course, be attractive unless both conditions were present: effective delivery at the right time, and a type of machine of genuine value to the Service. Sending that Mission, making the inquiries which they are making, has implied no reduction whatever of British orders. It is not a case of either ordering in America or ordering in this country. As I pointed out, the British factories have been filled to capacity. It is a case of seeing—and it is a right thing to do—whether it is possible to reinforce that great production in this country by suitable purchases across the Atlantic.
When you come to Canada, where actual production to-day is comparatively small, there is a very important wider consideration. In war, Canada might, and would, become a very valuable source of supply for this country. With the great range which aircraft are now attaining, it would be more than possible to build in Canada aircraft which would not need to be taken to pieces, put on board ship and brought here with the risk incidental to sea passage, but which it would be possible to fly across the Atlantic. I believe that to be a very real possibility, 1052 and it is most desirable that we should have full information as to the capacity, actual and potential, of the Canadian factories so that in case of need there might be a full, carefully-worked-out plan by which these facilities, extended here and there if need be, could be used in a combined effort, one factory probably being used as the central place of assembly, others for making parts, to concentrate on the manufacture of a proved British type which would be of great value to the Service in time of war. That is the dual purpose of sending this experienced Mission to the United States and to Canada, and I feel sure that, on that explanation, your Lordships will agree that it was a wise, prudent and proper thing to do.
I apologise for the length of this statement, but I want on this occasion to cover as concisely as I can, though it must be at some length, the whole field. It has been said—not, I think, in great industrial quarters—that it is the function of the Air Ministry to make itself responsible for production—that is, manufacture—in the aircraft industry. That is a matter on which the Government have very definite views and have expressed them. I should like to state the functions of the Air Ministry and the industry, not just as the Air Minister but speaking for the Government, as we see them. It is the duty of the Air Staff to formulate operational requirements in aircraft. Those requirements must be based on a forward strategy of defence and counter-offence, taking advantage of the best results obtainable from. the aircraft industry in design and construction. Design of aircraft has always been the function of the aircraft industry. Even in the War I think that was so: design was not in the Air Ministry or the Ministry of Munitions, it was in the aircraft industry itself.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I speak for those who are much more competent to speak on this subject than I am. I think I am right in saying that design was originally in Farnborough, but one of the decisions—I am not sure that it was not a decision of the noble Lord—was to take design from Farnborough, give it to the firms, and let Farnborough co-operate with the firms. I believe that was the War practice.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The noble Lord will speak on that. But of one thing I am certain: that ever since the War the design has been carried out by the industry. I think it is wise that that should be so. You have an industry, the least static of all industries, in which the brains, the design staffs of the different firms, are always working on new designs. We have undoubtedly obtained wonderful results in design, both in aircraft and in engines, and we have obtained those results by having these competing designers working in their industry with the production people in the firms. That has given much better results in design than I believe would ever have come out of a Government design shop. It is the duty of the Air Ministry to further technical development by research, experiment, and tests, working, as it does, closely with the industry and with scientific bodies. It is its duty to be satisfied with the safety and the performance of machines. It is, and must he, responsible for inspection. The combination of the Air Ministry, industry, and scientists has given and is giving in aircraft, engines, and equipment, results which are second to none.
It is the duty of the Air Ministry to assess the capacity of industry to fulfil orders which are required by the programme; to decide what aircraft should be ordered and in what numbers; to secure the necessary extensions of factories and new factories; and to place orders. In this it must work very closely with industry. But I do say most emphatically that this being the function of the Air Ministry, production—manufacture—is the function of industry. It is right that it should be so. That is how British industry has succeeded. If you take the firms to-day—aircraft firms building up great experience, great motor firms bringing their full experience to bear in the management of shadow factories, electrical and other firms engaged in productionising and manufacturing equipment, armament firms engaged on guns—it is on these firms, these great experienced firms, with their production staffs and their production managers, that there must rest responsibility for manufacture.
1054 I would like, particularly as Lord Lothian is present, to refer once again to a matter which he mentioned in our last debate. I have described the preparatory work and speed with which the Committee has been able to cover the ground. I think that shows that the organisation has provided full and coordinated plans. And the experience of the Air Ministry and of industry, I think, confirms the wisdom of the Government's carefully considered decision that a Service Chief is necessary, and that a suitable one can be found, as we have always been fortunate enough to find one. The Service reasons are well known and were fully stated, but I have found that the industry is insistent on the value of working with a Service Chief who can bring to bear what they have called "user's experience." There is, however, one matter of internal organisation on which I find myself much nearer agreement with the noble Marquess. I said then that I had always held the view that the better form of organisation would link research, development and supply under one head, and that I should myself have so constructed this organisation. But I shared, and I share, the view expressed by those immediately responsible, that it would have been a mistake to change over while all the plans were getting under way and in the stress under which all departments have been working.
The aggregate volume of work will not grow less but probably greater, but we are reaching the stage where, though production is much greater, the supply side is a less complicated problem. The problem which the firms have undertaken, while calling for vast effort on their part, is a clear and straightforward programme. It is the execution of large orders, with all the help that the Air Ministry can give in overcoming snags which every country, without exception, encounters. Future decisions as to the introduction of new types will involve consideration of both quality and quantity, technical efficiency, conditioned by facility of production. At the same time, while in that way the supply problem becomes, I think, simpler, the organisation problem becomes more complicated. The expansion in numbers and size of the squadrons of the Air Force, with the creation of repair depots and maintenance units, and the increase in the training units, all that organisation side—what I may call the "Q." 1055 side of the work—becomes larger and more complicated. I feel, therefore, that we are reaching a stage at which a change, which I have always regarded as theoretically sound, becomes administratively practicable and desirable, and I propose therefore to make that change in due course. That is a thing in which my noble friend and I have been in theoretical agreement and are now in practical agreement, as to the thing being a practical and convenient thing to do.
§ LORD ADDISON
May I ask the noble Viscount if he will a little more precisely say what the changes are which he proposes to make?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I thought I had done so. I think it is quite simple. Hitherto in the organisation of the Ministry, supply on the one hand and research and development on the other have been under separate chiefs. I propose that when the details of placing these orders and so on are through and the immediate work of what I may call the Winterton Committee is finished, the orders to manufacturers shall rest with one officer responsible for design and production. The moment the machine is received from the factory, it will pass under the officer responsible for organisation. I believe that to be, and I have always thought it to be, a sound division in theory, and I think we have reached the stage at which it is right and convenient in practice. The increase in the aircraft programme will, of course, be reflected in very considerable increases in the strength of the Royal Air Force. The expansion in the Metropolitan Force under the existing programme will, I hope, be completed in advance of the date proposed. The strength of the Royal Air Force will be further progressively increased both by forming additional squadrons and by increasing the size of the squadrons.
It is right that I should state broadly the size of the Force which it is intended to establish within the two years. The Metropolitan Air Force, that is the squadrons at home, will attain a first line strength of approximately 2,370. Overseas squadrons will be increased during the same period to a first-line strength of approximately 490. That gives a total of first-line strength for the Royal Air 1056 Force itself of 2,860, or just under 2,900. I should also mention—arid it is of importance that these matters should be treated together and that we should look at Air effort as a whole—that provision is also made for the continued expansion of the Fleet Air Arm in accordance with the Admiralty programme of shipbuilding, and the first-line strength of the Fleet Air Arm will be increased to not less than 500 as ships and carriers are ready to take them. It is important that this increase should be built up, so as to secure the maximum efficiency in the force. In the initial expansion squadrons had to be created and expanded very rapidly, and though initial training has reached a higher standard than ever before, a squadron with a large proportion of new men takes longer to become a completely efficient unit.
We have now reached a stage when in the Air Force it is wise to time the actual creation and expansion of squadrons in the manner which will conduce best to the operational efficiency of squadrons and the Force as a whole. I have given figures of first-line strength. I felt it was reasonable to do so because similar figures have been given in regard to earlier programmes. But I would point out that a mere statement of first-line strength does not at all represent the industrial effort involved or the number of aircraft on order. The programme and the orders involve very much more than that. They include the whole of the reserves which represent a much larger figure than the first-line strength. They also include the whole of the aircraft, both training and Service types, required for the training of this greatly enlarged Air Force and of the Volunteer Reserve. This further expansion will necessitate a great increase in personnel—in pilots and in airmen for all trades. To carry out this programme the Air Force will need to recruit in the two years approximately the following numbers: Pilots, 4,700; airmen, 33,000; boys (which includes apprentices for the full Halton course, and the boys for the shorter course of skilled training), 6,000. Those boys will be taken from the age of fifteen. The larger numbers will be required during the first year, and required in a steady flow so as to take the best advantage of the training facilities.
In the training of pilots not only of course will the existing schools, Service 1057 and civil, be kept working at full pressure, but four more Service flying training schools will be established and the equivalent of eight new civil training schools. I say "equivalent" because I think it may be possible to expand the training establishments already in existence on civil aerodromes for the Volunteer Reserve and use them and those civil aerodromes for the additional flying training schools. The Air Force must always be a highly skilled force, and that is more than ever true to-day, with the development of modern aircraft and armament and equipment. That means that a very large proportion of the airmen as well as of the boys require special training in a number of skilled trades, and it is all the more necessary in that it is very difficult to-day, with the great industrial demand, to recruit fully trained skilled men.
I have already indicated that the training capacity of the schools has been expanded sevenfold and that new schools are coming into being, but considerable further extension of the technical training schools will be necessary to cope with this large entry. All the pilots, airmen and boys I have mentioned are required for the regular Air Force, but in addition the Volunteer Reserve, which has proved itself so well and is doing such excellent work, will be further extended and increased, and new training centres will be required. In what I am afraid has been a very long speech—but I felt your Lordships would wish me to deal fully with the matter—I have confined my observations, as indeed the Question was confined, to the expansion and the acceleration of the Air Force, but air defence embraces everything—embraces not only the aircraft and the balloons, but the guns and the searchlights, the essential counterpart of all the work on the Air Force, and on which it is no less necessary to concentrate. Of that I will say nothing on this occasion. I would only add this. We have had the help of great scientists in the work of defence. The last thing your Lordships would wish would be that I should in any way disclose the nature of the work that has been accomplished and the experiments that have been made. But I can say this with confidence, that at a time when, rightly, people are anxious and know the growing power of an offensive and the growing strength of bombers, the means of defence are quite un- 1058 doubtedly becoming progressively more effective.
Carrying out a programme on this scale means not only tremendous industrial effort, a great Service effort in recruiting for the Force and training in all its stages in operations; it means, as your Lordships will realise, adding greatly to the bill. Extra taxation has already been introduced. It means, and must mean, some dislocation of industry. This programme is to be met, as it will be met I am sure, by industry—by employers and workers in industry. Defence requirements in man-power and material must come first. All this great effort is necessary, it is the necessary insurance for the safety and security of this country. But, while I believe every one of your Lordships will agree that that is so, while I am quite certain that the country will be quite determined to carry this programme through, one reflection surely must be present to all our minds. It is melancholy that in all countries defence programmes, as they are called, pile up—and indeed are rightly so called, because fear and suspicion breed the need of those armaments; those great armaments pile up, and we have to take our part, and we have indeed reserves, both in this country and across the seas, which will enable us to take that part to the full, and to maintain for any length of time that may be necessary a burden however great.
Yet surely, not only in this country but in every country in the world, when a programme of this kind is presented, when a bill of this kind has to be met, when great efforts which might be turned into productive enterprise have to be turned, inevitably in the circumstances of to-day, into the making of munitions of war, it must surely confirm every one of us, not only Governments but peoples, in the resolve to pursue by every means in our power negotiation, approaches—any means which can bring the peoples of the world closer together, and which can establish a sense of security and peace, based on justice and understanding, for which every people in the world must surely long to-day.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I do not propose to discuss the character of the programme which the noble Viscount has set before us. It is the result of a policy pursued by this country during the past seven years which, for its deplorable 1059 ineptitude, has no parallel in British history since the time of the loss of the American Colonies. However, we are presented with this situation. My friends are not wishful to put anything in the way of the execution of this programme. What I shall ask your Lordships to inquire a little more closely into is whether the noble Viscount has said anything to us to-day which will justify us in the expectation that this programme will be fulfilled in the time stated. It is not simply the provision of machines which is concerned. These machines are used by flying men. They require a large collection of ancillary equipment, scientific apparatus, guns, and all the rest of it, and they have to be "married-up," so to say, and assembled in the appropriate forms.
We are right, I think, in looking at the programme that the noble Viscount has set before us, in the light of the past performances of the Air Ministry. I hope he will not resent my referring to his difference with me in another place three years ago. At that time we had the first programme put before us, and the method of carrying out that programme, which has been followed since, was then explained by the noble Viscount to the House of Commons. I questioned then, in 1935, whether the method proposed to be adopted would, in fact, enable that programme to be achieved. I expressed the view with a good deal of confidence that it would not, and that not only would it not lead to the fulfilment of that programme, but that it would involve the country in a good deal of needless cost. We were informed three years ago the day after tomorrow as the calendar year goes—namely, on May 14, 1935—by the Secretary to the Air Ministry, before the Committee on Public Accounts, that the orders then being placed would require the whole maximum possible output of all the firms in the industry. That was three years ago, the day after to-morrow. We know what is the output. I shall not mention figures which in my judgment it would be improper to mention, though I shall mention some facts which are common knowledge and of which we must take account.
Many of us are well aware of the magnificent engineering resources of this 1060 country, and to say, three years after that statement, that the trivial output of last month represents the complete engineering capacity of this country is to speak without regard to the meaning of words. We know the engineering resources of this country. I know how they were developed even when we were at the same time manufacturing immense and unheard-of quantities of other munitions. We had nearly ten times the output in 1918 compared with last month, and that is after three years of the pursuance of the methods which, as far as the noble Viscount has told us, he does not propose to alter. There is going to he a Committee, and I wish it well, but the mere super-imposition of a new Committee under the Chancellor of the Duchy, with one or two very able men upon it no doubt, will not remove the essential defects, will not enable us to carry out this bigger programme, for the very reason that the causes remain which have led to the present failure. The present failure is great, and it is undeniable. I shall not trouble your Lordships with the details of the different programmes which have been announced—the second on May 22, 1935, and the White Paper of 1936 when the shadow factory scheme was announced—that is, two years ago. I wonder how many machines these shadow factories have produced in those two years? Now we have this much larger programme. The misgivings which have been expressed and justifiably entertained are very widespread. They have been voiced in no uncertain terms in the Press which supports the noble Viscount and his Party, and I would recommend him to read the leading article in to-day's Daily Telegraph.
In the light of what I consider are the essential defects in the Air Ministry's methods, which there is no promise whatever in the noble Viscount's speech will be removed, let me examine the record. What is it we are aiming at? We are aiming at the provision of machines fully equipped with the best and most modern apparatus, to be taken into the air by young men who are familiar with that apparatus and know how to use it in cloud and in darkness, and land safely, which means they must be thoroughly familiar by long usage with that apparatus. It must have been provided in time for them so that they could become efficient in its use, because these 1061 young men are landed in the unknown—say, three of them by themselves. That is the objective. Three years ago—I pray your Lordships to keep that date in mind!
Let me test the vision or, as I contend, the lack of vision, which has been displayed so far in this matter by looking at two or three of the results. There ought to be in the main machines, a crew of at least three—pilot, wireless operator, and navigator. You cannot train the pilots unless you have sufficient machines to train them in, and I gather from what the noble Viscount said that training machines are fairly easily produced; but the fact is that for some time past it has not been, and is not now, possible to give the pilots adequate training because of a deficiency of machines with which to train them. Then there is a deficiency of the necessary blind-flying apparatus. There is a lack of provision for navigation. One of these men should be a navigator. Let me ask the noble Viscount if he will inquire from his Department what steps have been taken to provide a sufficiency of wireless operators. A trained wireless operator is an essential part of this crew. May I say without giving the figures, which I know, that the establishment is seriously short, that the Department is not equipped with adequate provision for training wireless operators. And it is worse still, as your Lordships will see in a minute, when we come to the lack of vision which has been displayed in the provision of what should be known as wireless operator mechanics.
Now let us look at the question of navigation. If these young men are to fly by night in the clouds and over the sea, or wherever it is to get to their objective, they must have a competent navigator. The noble Viscount mentioned an order for 1,700 of certain machines. I ask him is it not a fact that when those machines were first designed they were designed for a crew of two? There was no provision for a navigator, consequently they have had to be recalled, and a lot of the machines have had to be altered. For those that have not been manufactured a new specification will of course be required. But this vast order for 1,700 machines was given without adequate provision for navigators in the machines, and now that the accommodation is provided it is exceedingly inconvenient. I 1062 could mention two other groups of squadrons—medium bombers—where the provision for the navigator is even worse. So far as the heavy bombers are concerned the story is no better.
In our last debate I asked the noble Viscount something about blind flying apparatus and he took a certain measure of pride, I thought, in the fact that he was ordering some apparatus from Germany and some from America. Well, I do not blame him for that, seeing that his Department had not taken measures to provide them at home. It was better for him to get them from Germany or America than to go without. I agree. But there are two essential parts of the apparatus to enable a man to fly safely blind in fog or cloud, and another apparatus to enable him to land properly in those circumstances. Now the blind landing gear has not been provided at all. The machines have not been equipped with this blind landing gear, and what provision has been made for its manufacture in this country I cannot say. I am sorry for these poor fellows if they have to go up and are compelled to land in those circumstances.
So far as the blind flying apparatus is concerned a certain number of the bomber squadrons, less than half of them, have been equipped with a blind flying apparatus of sorts, but it is a bad sort. In order apparently to enable this apparatus to work you must have a machine that prevents icing of the wings, and that comes into operation directly the machines leave the ground. It occurred to somebody in the Air Ministry in November, 1937, that they ought to order some of these things, and they were ordered in America. Now just fancy, this scheme was started in May, 1935, and in November, 1937, two and a half years afterwards, for the first time adequate orders are placed to provide the necessary navigational assistance apparatus. I make no further comment, though I could tell a story even worse if need be. I know that one important firm three years ago asked whether they should not fix a necessary alteration to the engines in order to enable them to operate a vacuum pump which motives a certain part of this apparatus, and no reply was received to that.
Turning from this dreadful story—because I have not told your Lordships the worst of it—about the deficiency of navigational provision for these machines, let 1063 us look at one or two of the machines themselves. I ask the noble Viscount how many of the fighter squadrons are monoplanes. He knows that the biplane is more or less in these days antiquated. It cannot climb so fast, and has not the same speed. I know the figure, I hope he does, but all I say is that seeing that this thing has been in action for three years we ought to have our fighter squadrons betters equipped with up-to-date machines than we have now. Now let me ask your Lordships to look for a minute or two at the state of affairs in the medium bomber squadrons. The Battles were originally designed for two, and therefore there was no room for a navigator in them. Every one of those machines ought to have a twin engine, so that in case one engine fails the other could work the machine. The Battles were designed for a single engine, so was the Wellesley. It is not fair to the men who go up in the air in the dark with all this willingness, not to provide the best apparatus for them that they could have. So far as the heavy machines are concerned the story is no better in regard to navigation than with the medium bombers.
The noble Viscount told us in the course of his speech that, apparently for the first time, the Air Ministry has begun to think about care and maintenance. I have here a synopsis of the personnel and machinery of the Air Ministry, obtained of course from official documents, and I have been interested to look and ascertain where maintenance is. Now, clearly, when a machine is ordered, especially in these large numbers, you ought to have provision for the ordering of spare parts. If the efficient firms that we have had used their capacity to the full we should not be having this debate to-day. The efficient firms, when they supply motor cars and so forth up and down the country, supply spare parts, and they supply also a sort of book of words to the repairers, telling them what they ought to do with the spare parts and of the facilities for repairs and so on.
In the first place, so far as a large number of these orders are concerned, no spare parts were ordered. Spare parts are in a separate Department in the Air Ministry, and the noble Viscount has at last begun to think about it. There 1064 should, of course, be at every station, a maintenance staff. Up to the present we have had to rely on these young men who were trained as pilots and wireless operators and so on, and they no doubt do their best, but there is no maintenance staff in the stations, there is no maintenance even at the groups, and the suggestion that you can use advantageously a certain number of the smaller firms for executing repairs is no solution of the question at all. If adequate skilled men were available on the spot, when a machine was damaged to some small extent it could be repaired in the local repair shop. There is inevitable delay and consequently vastly increased costs if you have to send the machine away somewhere else.
I will carry this analysis only one little stage further, and then I will invite your Lordships to discover what is the cause of this state of affairs. This programme has been before us all this time and there has been a multiplicity of design. There are thirty-four different patterns of gun turrets and fifty different bomb racks. There is no co-ordination of design, and all this multiplicity of patterns is confusing to the men and of course it involves serious risk. Here is one example of what happens when there is separation of design from production and lack of proper departmental association between the departments of supply and production. It is not long since that millions of links for cartridge belts were supplied and the whole lot had to be scrapped because they were out of true. That means that somebody had made a serious mistake, to put it no higher than that.
The noble Viscount passed lightly over the fact that some very reliable and capable firms have complained that they have had a shortage of work and have even had to dismiss a certain number of workers. I ventured to say in your Lordships' House when this matter was under discussion on a previous occasion that if the Government approached the unions and asked for their co-operation they would no doubt receive it, but that they would have to answer a considerable number of important questions in advance in some suitable form. These men know what is happening in the shops, as lots of other people do. Some very reliable and important firms have had to stand men off during the past month. Output in the past month has 1065 not been rising. As a matter of fact it fell off a little as compared with the month before! That means that the carrying out of the orders has not been provided for in the organisation of the Ministry. Skilled men in the shops, finding themselves on short time, are not likely to assent to altered working conditions and the introduction of dilution, as we call it, unless they are assured that there is going to be full-time employment for at least their own members.
This is only a very small verge of the facts that could be stated, and of the deplorable shortage which characterises the present programme, but I would ask your Lordships to consider in the light of this the suggestion I put forward, that before we give our blessing to this very much enlarged programme we are entitled to be assured that better methods will be adopted for securing its execution. What are the elements of supply and how does the Air Ministry afford them? One of the first things, of course, is the association of design with supply. I do not know who informed the noble Viscount about what happened at the Ministry of Munitions, but he is seriously misinformed. I was responsible for the instructions, so I know. Before the Ministry of Munitions was asked to take over aircraft manufacture and supply that had been undertaken partly by the Air Board, partly by the War Office and partly by the Admiralty. There had been for many months a controversy between the Air Board and the others as to what the patterns should be. The same thing was going on then that has been going on in the last two years. Somebody had a very good idea, and somebody said "Make that." Somebody else had a good idea—quite a good idea—so somebody else said "Well, make that." The result was that when the work was taken over by the Ministry of Munitions output was negligible and, in fact, discreditable.
The first thing we did was to set up a single body to deal with the question of design. We said, "Let us see what is happening." This body did not disregard the designers employed by the firm. Of course not. We brought them into our counsel, brought them into our central body in charge of the whole thing, and gave them a better chance than they had had before. But the whole scheme was centralised. What was the result? 1066 The immediate result was a great reduction in the number of designs. Orders had been distributed all over the place, one factory making a piece of this and another factory a piece of that. There had been egregious confusion because of the way it had been dealt with. It was only when we brought design under one central organisation—using all the time, of course, the ability of the designers of these great firms—it was only when the thing was directed from the Ministry, so that overlapping was avoided and direction was secured, that the first step could be taken to secure large-scale supply. That is the first step and that must be taken now or we shall never get out of the present disorder. Thirty-four different kinds of gun turrets and fifty bomb racks! The thing is obviously absurd. Of course it means confusion and overlapping.
What is the next requirement of ordered supply? Surely there should be proper arrangements to see that specifications are got out. This does not mean that the actual work that goes on in different firms will be interfered with, but it does mean that if you are to bring in other firms which are now acting as sub-contractors to larger firms, if you are going to give everybody a chance, you must get your specifications right in terms of material—non-ferrous metals, ferrous metals, chemicals and the rest of it—instead of letting different manufacturers scramble to get their materials as well as they can. Except in the case of chemicals, of which the noble Viscount opposite has cognizance, there is still that scramble for materials, and it is bound to be so. Under the system that is now adopted, what applies to materials applies equally well to machinery. Somebody ought to have foreseen the delay that would occur in the provision of these jigs and gauges. Of course they ought. If we had had a proper thinking Department in the Air Ministry, that would have been foreseen. There are plenty of gauge-makers employed by these different firms, and plenty of good firms would have been anxious to make the gauges. But unless you have your headpiece at the top properly equipped to deal with these things, they do not get the necessary information and orders. That is what has happened: That is why there was all this delay in the provision of jigs, gauges, and so on! 1067 The same applies even more so in a case like this to scientific instruments, and I suppose that is why it did not occur to somebody until November, 1937, that we ought to order a proper navigational apparatus. If the matter had been dealt with properly and adequately in the Central Department from the start, a thing like that could not possibly have been overlooked.
If I were satisfied that the noble Viscount had offered some vestige of a suggestion that he was going to alter the machinery in the Air Ministry itself, I should feel comfort, but now may I direct your Lordships' attention for a few minutes to the Air Ministry? The idea is, of course, the noble Viscount said, that you will use the separate firms. In fact, he went out of his way to emphasize that supply should be separate from production. I see that the Air Council member for supply and organisation is responsible for supply but is not responsible for production, which is primarily a question for the firms themselves. Of course, the actual operation of the shop is a matter for the firms themselves. Their management and all the rest of it, of course, is their affair, and the more competent the firm the better they will do it. But no competent firm, none of these great concerns of which we are, happily, possessed in this country, would have adopted the method of the Air Ministry. They would have placed large orders with large numbers of sub-contractors; they would have assembled their requirements in terms of materials, metals; they would have got the parts supplied in the proper order of priority so as to ensure that manufacture was in proper priority and that afterwards, as the supplies came forward, they had assembly in a proper priority order, so that the issue to the Force could be made of an assembly completed outside. There is nothing original about that; it is what every competent business firm does, but it is the very thing which the Air Ministry cannot possibly do. They have no machinery for doing it.
I do not know whether the Air Council member who is responsible for research has any work in design or not, but as I understand it the position is this. The manufacturing firms are to deliver to the Ministry of Air what sort of aeroplanes they require. I well remember the fierce controversy that went on through a large 1068 part of 1915—and I must really be pardoned for these personal recollections, because this is exactly the same story over again—because the design was in the War Office and the testing and inspection were somewhere else. I myself was responsible for the drafting of the document which transferred the whole business to the Ministry of Munitions, and the procedure, from then to the end of the War, was that the soldiers were to tell us what they wanted and the Ministry of Supply was to be in command of all the services from design to final testing and inspection, so that we delivered to the soldier, where he wanted it, when he wanted it, the thing he said he wanted. That should be the principle adopted here, and unless it is adopted you will never get out of this confusion. This man who is responsible for research and development is responsible for repair and maintenance. Do you wonder that there are no spare parts, or maintenance, or organisation in the staff of the air stations? As such, he has no necessary cognizance of what happens on the air station. It is not his job. Somebody else is responsible for supply, but this somebody else, this man, is responsible for ordering spare parts and for seeing that they are sent out to the air stations or somewhere or other—though as a matter of fact they have not been sent out up to the present. That is why the machines cannot be repaired.
The reason is that the thing is not being managed at headquarters. The noble Viscount, converted, I am glad to say, by the lavish persuasions of my noble friend below the Gangway, the noble Marquess, appears to be repenting a little bit. I am glad to see it; but it needs a different order of direction from anything that has been indicated to us today if they are to get out of this mess. The departmental scheme of the Air Ministry is wrong in itself. It is not a central organisation that can take cognizance of the requirements, that can arrange them in a proper form, that can secure their due assembly and deliver them to the forces. There is no machinery of that kind in existence. I say with great respect that it is no good blaming the private firms; it is no good blaming labour. I notice that in one place the noble Viscount said that this would all be done if labour were forthcoming. The labour will be forthcoming, I do not doubt, once the workers are convinced 1069 that there is an efficient headquarters management which will make the best use of their labour; and they are entitled to have it. It is not giving the great firms a chance.
I hope that it will not be thought that I am grinding any political axe. I am not. This matter is much too serious for Party political differences, and I would not for a moment seek to introduce them. I am not actuated by any Socialistic theories at all. The only question is that which we had to answer with infinite trouble in the War: What is the best way of doing this job? That is the question, and so far there is no sign that I can see at all that either the noble Viscount or the Air Ministry have even thought to acquaint themselves with, much less to make use of, the bitter lessons we had to learn in the War. Many noble Lords now in this House are as well acquainted with them almost as I was myself. We ought to fashion a new type of departmental organisation suited to this great task. There is no indication that I can see in the noble Viscount's speech that that is going to be done, and until it is done we shall have a prolongation of contusion. We shall not make the best use of our splendid industrial resources, as compared with which this production is a flea-bite. It is nothing compared with what the engineering firms of this country could produce if they were given a fair chance and the business were properly handled. For my part, while I would not question the need for the enlarged programme in the deplorable circumstances of to-day, I suggest to your Lordships that the mere paper alteration the noble Viscount has mentioned and the superimposition of a very nice Committee do not in the least remove the causes of our present defects, and until they are removed we shall continue to be in a position of inferiority.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the last speaker in his detailed criticism of present production. I would rather deal with the character of the effort which is required of us if we are going to reach the proclaimed standard of parity with the nearest Continental Power within striking distance, which it is the declared object of the Government to maintain. And in what I say I do not mean to imply any political consequences as far as foreign 1070 affairs are concerned, because I am convinced that in the age in which we live to-day, while negotiation is the right course, negotiation from weakness is fatal if you want to produce disarmament. If you are going to produce satisfactory results from the negotiations it will be because you can negotiate with perfect fearlessness and perfect confidence in your own strength.
I think the Government from the beginning have hopelessly underrated the nature of the German effort in the air. I think they utterly and completely underrate it to-day, and I think I shall be able to give some evidence for thinking that the expanded programme, if it is attained, will be less than 50per cent. of the programme that Germany will have in production, not two years hence—if we get it in two years—but next year. Of course, all these figures are necessarily uncertain. I have to get the evidence from what quarters I can, and I submit them for the House to consider as noble Lords think best. In the debate in another place in March a very distinguished Member of Parliament who has had great experience both in flying and in the air industry estimated that the production of first-line machines in Germany was then 300 a month, and that before the autumn it would be 500 a month. If that is so—and the evidence which I have got leads me to believe that it is so—the German production next year will be 6,000. As a matter of fact, as I understand it, the German production next year will more probably be 8,000 machines, with all the accessory machines, training machines and so on, necessary to maintain a front line of 8,000. They will have a total of machines of all sorts and kinds between 12,000 and 15,000. General Goering not so very long ago said that his object was to have in a short time 50,000 pilots, and in the speech of Herr Hitler, made only last February, he said there were 600,000 members of the Flying Sport Union, of whom 50,000 were active flyers, partly trained in gliders.
I think nobody can go to Berlin and look at the Air Ministry and then look at the scattered and trivial offices in which the equivalent Department is housed in this country without realising that the scales and standards of the two countries are absolutely and completely different. In addition, you have the fact that in the 1071 one country you have a totalitarian organisation in which Government orders have priority from beginning to end. No doubt they make just the same kind of mistakes as other people, but still when priority is concerned the Government always get what they want; and in this country, perhaps inevitably because we are a democratic country, we find Government enterprise and private enterprise competing. Therefore, quite apart from the question as to whether the expanded programme will or will not be ready, for reasons given by the last speaker, I venture to suggest that the programme itself is hopelessly inadequate if we are going to carry out the principle of parity which has been declared by the Government.
That programme, as the noble Viscount who represents the Air Ministry has said, in substance proposes to expand the Metropolitan Air Force as from March next, when it will be 1,750 machines, with certain machines for the Fleet Air Arm and certain overseas squadrons in addition, to 2,370, with some 490 overseas machines and 500 Fleet Air Arm machines in addition. That is something over 3,000 machines two years hence—if they are ready by that time. As against that the German production next year is certainly going to be 6,000 front-line machines, with all the necessary reserves, and it is more probably going to be 8,000. Now you may ask why should we set the standard of parity. The late Prime Minister, in 1934, said:The National Government will see to it that in air strength and in air power this country shall no longer he inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.And the year following he said—what I think is true:No Government in this country could live to-day that was content to have an Air Force of any inferiority to any Air Force within striking distance.There is no dispute about the inferiority to-day, and a still greater inferiority next year, and there is nothing you can do now to prevent it.
Now it is difficult, I think, for an old country like this to realise the change in its fundamental position which has followed the development of the air arm, and still more has followed changes both in the political configuration and the methods of government in the rest of the 1072 world. The peace of the last century and the pre-eminence of this country depended on two things—its invulnerability at home and the fact that it had a Navy which no other nation in the world could challenge. Behind that double shield liberty developed because liberty only develops under conditions of stable peace. It developed here steadily, it developed in the Dominions, in India and elsewhere, and it developed all over the world under the protection of the British Navy.
That has completely gone. Not only have you to consider the possibility of naval warfare on three fronts—I hope that will not come about, but it is a possibility—but your home base is going to be highly vulnerable. There is not a factory or a port in this country which may not be liable to intense bombardment from the air. When you remember the strength of modern equipment, blind beam flying in clouds—which enables one to pass over a country without seeing it and dive within a mile or two of his objective while the conditions make it extremely difficult to detect or destroy the oncoming aeroplanes—and the speed of the modern bomber, it means that you have to consider the possibility of attack in every one of our vital centres, and every one of our vital industries. That is, at any rate, vulnerability. Other countries are equally or, perhaps, more vulnerable. But one of the great deterrents to war is the realisation by all the great Powers that none of them are able to defend themselves against one another. When they make up their minds on that, which I hope they will do, then they may agree that in no circumstances will they go to war. But as long as there is any possibility of one side attaining either at the outset or later, because their power of replacement is immeasurably superior, such a superiority that they can compel others to make peace on their own terms, I personally do not think we can get either disarmament or a state of peace.
I am not sure that it is not true to say that the choice before this country is either parity or conscription. I am not sure that France will be able to maintain its position unless we can either assure it of an Air Force at least equal to any possible opponent or that we can provide forty divisions behind the line. I personally think the principle of parity is vital. It is vital to the Empire, it is 1073 vital to ourselves, it is vital to peace. I do not think there is the slightest doubt, if our organisation is correct, that the industry of this country can produce whatever number of machines is required without any difficulty at all. That is the fundamental truth. If we consider what was done in the last War, the equipment of an Air Force equal to that of any other country within striking distance is easily within our power. It is not a question of money, because, fortunately or unfortunately, if you look at the cost of the individual aircraft, it does not bear comparison with the cost of naval vessels. It is a comparatively cheap form of organisation in relation to the resources of this country. Therefore the question I ask the noble Viscount who represents the Air Ministry is whether, assuming my diagnosis is correct, assuming the present programme of expansion will be delivered on time, is there the slightest prospect of our reaching parity or of not further falling behind than we are to-day, even assuming what he says comes to pass?
My own view—and on this I do not speak as an expert, but merely as one having some familiarity with the way in which the higher direction of the last War was conducted—is that in this matter it is not possible for the Services to organise the industry of this country properly. That is an entirely different problem to the one with which they are mainly concerned. In the last War it was not until 50,000 Britons had been killed because no shells could be fired in return, that this country realised it had to have a separate organisation of supply, entirely separate, an organisation which was based on the bringing together of all the experience of the industries of this country. The professional Departments said what they wanted, and after discussion as to types what they wanted was provided by the people who were responsible for the manufacture. It was realised that the people responsible for manufacturing could not possibly be also responsible for the constant professional and technical organisation of the Service departments. But when it comes to production, which, after all, is a thing for which no professional training in any of the Services equips a man properly, you have to bring in the business men with great experience in industry, raw material producers, acces- 1074 sory producers, bring them all into line, so that they can tell you how to produce, exactly as was done in Germany and exactly as was done in the United States.
As the prevention of war now turns on being prepared beforehand, because you are not going to have time afterwards, it seems to me that the adoption of the principle of a Ministry of Supply is absolutely vital if we are going to deliver the goods now, still more to catch up with the arrears. If you are going to produce the existing programme, still more if you are going to produce an enlarged programme, that seems to me essential. I notice the noble Viscount said something about all the existing plants being full to capacity. The capacity of the existing plants will not produce anything like what is needed. You have at least to double your equipment and your plant. I would like to ask him whether he has yet made arrangements to produce the total amount of fabricated aluminium, without which you cannot produce the aircraft. Can the aluminium rolling mills of this country at present produce anything like what is necessary for the expanded programme? It is not wise to rely on supplies from other countries. If we rely too much on the United States, we must remember that under the Neutrality Act, in the event of war, they are bound to stop the export of every single aeroplane. That is the position to-day.
I do not mean to be critical. I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Viscount who is at the head of the Air Ministry. I am aware of the immense amount of work he has done, but in my opinion the fundamental mistake was made at the time when the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was appointed. That was the moment when a Ministry of Supply should have been created. The Minister is now being asked to do something beyond human capacity. He has an expanded Service to control and direct, and an immense programme, and the whole thing is so gigantic that to expect him at the same time to organise the industries of this country is to ask him to do something quite beyond human capacity. I hope he will go to the Government in due time—the sooner the better—and say he has come to the conclusion that, in spite of all the efforts he has made recently, the right plan, if we 1075 are not going to fall back, is to adopt the principle adopted in the last War of creating a Ministry of Supply, getting all the manufacturing firms, raw material firms, and the whole lot together, and getting them to organise production under suitable leadership and control, and leaving the Service Department to do the professional and technical direction of the Air Force or, as the case may be, of the Navy and the Army, as in the last War. In conclusion I would ask him earnestly to weigh that whole point and see whether it is a new programme or a new Committee that is needed, or whether, as the last speaker said, it is not a question of organising industry now so that it can produce under the same conditions fundamentally as we produced, and successfully produced, in the Great War.
§ LORD WEIR
My Lords, about three years ago, at the joint request of my noble friend Earl Baldwin and the present Prime Minister, I agreed to make myself available to the Air Ministry and to the Committee of Imperial Defence in an advisory capacity, particularly in regard to industrial problems arising out of national defence plans. Accordingly, although I have no executive or administrative responsibility, I am conscious of a certain degree of moral responsibility for defence policies so far as they relate to the industrial field. As an adviser, I have hitherto refrained from taking any part in public controversy on these matters, but to-day I feel that your Lordships may reasonably expect me to make some contribution to this debate.
My noble friend the Secretary of State has dealt so comprehensively with his subject that I must ask your Lordships' pardon if I cover some of the same ground that he has covered. First of all, I would like to direct your Lordships' special attention to the very important difference between the two main decisions made by His Majesty's Government in regard to national air strength. Rather less than three years ago, His Majesty's Government decided to increase British air strength in numbers of machines and quality to a particular level, and to do so as rapidly as possible, but without any special priority and without interference with normal domestic and foreign trade. During this period, practically every 1076 branch of the engineering industry was or became exceptionally busily engaged, and aircraft engineering is, of course, an important branch of the engineering industry. Such then was the background in which was launched the first Air expansion effort and programme.
In the last few weeks, His Majesty's Government has made a second major decision, which is, not only to accelerate the existing programme, but also to expand it considerably, and both acceleration and expansion are to be secured under conditions of first priority in labour, material and facilities. As I understand it, nothing is now to be allowed to stand in the way of achieving the maximum rate of progress. Now your Lordships will appreciate that this does not imply the exact equivalent of war conditions, which presumably would mean compulsory control of man power and facilities, but it does mean a general tempo of action as rapid as can be secured in times of peace. Such then is the background under which the second effort is to be conducted.
Three years ago, the British aircraft industry—and I have in mind more particularly the air-frame part of the industry—was, broadly speaking, weak and inexperienced so far as production experience was concerned, although in the field of scientific and technical design it was definitely progressive. For many years, due to our disarmament policy, it had been given no opportunity of learning how to produce aircraft on any real scale. Furthermore, as my noble friend has told you, the date of this first effort coincided closely with the advent of the monoplane in place of the biplane, a technically drastic change in design. Then came the use of the new materials, the light alloys in place of steel, and the advent of the stressed skin structure also entered into the picture. Your Lordships will appreciate that the new techniques associated with these concurrent novelties presented the industry with a series of very real problems both in design and production, and many new lessons had to be learned. Further, the solution of these new problems also coincided with the necessity for large expansion in the building of factories and the supply of new equipment. This then was the background of conditions in the industry at the initiation of the first effort.
1077 Faced with this situation, the Air Ministry decided to adopt a policy of encouragement and assistance to bring about the creation of a strong, healthy and capable aircraft industry rather than to attempt to take on itself the burden of designing, constructing and operating new national aircraft factories. In January, 1917, when my noble friend Lord Addison asked me to become responsible for aircraft supply in the Ministry of Munitions, one of the first things we did—and it is seldom remembered to-day—was to bring to an end the designing of aircraft and aero-engines by the State at Farnborough. We did this because we carne to the conclusion that in that almost virgin field of scientific and technical development it would be wiser, and in the ultimate national interest more valuable, to try and create a strong and healthy industry through encouraging the variety of brains in the country to adventure in this new field rather than to encourage the concentration of effort in the single field of State design.
§ LORD ADDISON
May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, as this is so important? I accept generally the description of the noble Lord. I think he is not contradicting the account that I gave as to how these various experts in design, so called, were assembled and consulted in common by him. They were not sent out to their different firms to work on their own. We had a co-ordination of the whole scheme under the Ministry itself. Is not that so?
§ LORD WEIR
That is quite so, but the point I am making on the other hand is that we stopped all design of aeroplanes and aero-engines by the State or the Air Ministry, and relied on the work done by the industry. From that time every British air-frame and aero-engine has been designed and produced by the industry, helped and assisted, it is true, by the results of the more fundamental scientific research work done in the laboratory. The result has been that in the field of design of military aircraft and aero-engines this country has been a leader, although, as I have said, no opportunity was given to it properly to develop production experience. Three years ago, therefore, this policy of relying on the aircraft industry to meet the main needs of the new programme was 1078 reaffirmed, and I refer to this to-day because I am under the impression that some critics of Air Ministry policy appear to forget that the responsibility for design and production of both air-frames and aero-engines is that of the aircraft industry. In my view, only by adherence to this policy can we succeed in having a strong industry on which to rely, not only for normal Service needs, but for the ultimate, I hope, still greater civil needs of the Empire and of the export trade.
Now let me say a few words on production. It is a much misused word, and is frequently confused with the word "supply.' Production is the concern and responsibility of the manufacturer of aircraft, not of the Air Ministry, other than in the sense of the supervision and recording of the progress of its contracts. It has been suggested, for instance, that in regard to production the Air Ministry should have a Production Department, charged with the duty of controlling and teaching the industry how to produce aircraft. At the present stage of air-frame development, I personally do not believe that anyone knows the best methods and means of producing aircraft. The lessons are being learned every day in the factories, and nowhere else can they be learned, much less taught. No! the responsibility for production methods and processes is one which must rest with the manufacturer. They have that responsibility now, and, in my view, have made very substantial progress, and the practical results are now well in evidence. Naturally, factory managements vary in ability and efficiency, and some find the solutions of their problems quicker than others. I think the appointment of Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner will do a great deal of good in bringing about the pooling of that experience among the different manufacturers. The real function of the Air Ministry in regard to supply is to make clear to the manufacturer what is wanted, quantitatively and qualitatively. After that it is the manufacturer's responsibility.
The next suggestion—and it is a suggestion made by entirely sincere and well-intentioned critics—is that all would be well if only mass production methods were adopted, and that an expert in mass production should be placed at the Air Ministry to ensure the adoption of this principle. The motor car industry is 1079 generally cited as a comparable example. Now this is rather a difficult question to answer convincingly in a few words, but I feel that the best short answer is that aircraft has not yet reached that stage of technical development of design which would justify anything like the full adoption of mass production methods and processes. The real foundation for very large-scale production methods does not lie so much in the methods themselves, but in the extent to which production possibilities are embodied in the design of the product itself. Mr. Henry Ford, for example, would, I think, agree that the foundation of the success of his model "T," the original "Tin Lizzie," lay just as much in the design of the car itself as in the methods he introduced, due to the fact that the cleverness of the design enabled him to devise and apply his wonderful methods. In regard to aeroplanes, it is the case that this lesson is being rapidly learned. The factory production staffs are working closer and closer every day with the designers, thus producing designs which lend themselves to more advanced production methods, but, on the other hand, it must be remembered that concurrently with this the demand for better and better aircraft performance still continues to have a premium value. Later on, when aircraft design becomes more conventional and progress in performance becomes less marked, then the production methods will more closely approximate to those of the motor car.
When I look at aircraft factories, or hear of what they are doing to-day, I am conscious of constant and steady progress in the improvement of methods and processes, the elaboration of new production machinery, of more advanced jigs and tools, and the steady elimination of the old crude methods, and I see plenty of evidence that the makers are setting up and creating adequate facilities for better planned production, rather than attempting to lay out, at great cost in time and money, production facilities which might ultimately produce airframes in great quantities, but at a date when the product itself would be nearing the obsolete stage.
Now I wish to take your Lordships back again to 1917, when, like to-day, criticism was directed against the alleged meticulous and harassing nature of the 1080 Aeronautical Inspection Department's requirements. Under the noble Lord I had to take over control of this Department in 1917, and I approached it with experience as a contractor, and I must admit with a measure of prejudice, and even some hostility. Before coming to a decision, however, on possible relaxation of inspection methods, which, of course, would have immensely helped supply, I studied the problem carefully and, as a result, I decided to uphold the very high standards which were set and imposed in those early days. The consequence has been that the Royal Air Force has been able to rely implicitly on the quality of its matériel, and I do not think it any exaggeration to say that A.I.D. practice has played a definite part in raising the general level of British engineering quality, and to-day I would regard it as a retrograde step to relax in any way the existing standards, and in any degree to run the risk of impairing the confidence of our pilots in the quality of the machines they fly.
My noble friend Lord Addison, in a recent debate, and again to-day, has spoken of an undue multiplicity of types, and naturally he recalled the old days of the War when we found ourselves faced with a very genuine multiplicity, and we cut the types down very considerably. Let me assure him that the policy of reduction in types was adopted by the Air Ministry three years ago, and is still an active policy, but due to another very important new policy, the reduction in types cannot yet be carried out to the optimum extent. This new policy was that of selecting types from what is called the drawing-board and not awaiting prototype trials. This involved taking certain risks, and to reduce these risks the Air Ministry, for any particular category of machine, cannot afford to rely on a single untried type. Consequently, there are two types where the ideal might be one. A review of the types on the programme to-day, apart from two older types used for training, discloses no undue multiplicity and no type finds its way to the programme unless there is a sound case for it.
Now let me speak for a moment of the scheme of shadow factories. The basis of the shadow factory concept was that of preparing in peace for war. The old 1081 system was that when war came, the expanding needs of the Services would be met, first, by the professional armament industry and, next, by adapting non-armament facilities. Now armament facilities, for example, air-frame and aero-engine workshops, tend to become more and more specialised. At the same time, the manufacture of non-armament products such as motor cars, tends to become still more specialised, and, accordingly, less and less suitable for rapid adaptation to the manufacture of armament supplies. On the other hand, in war the strong, capable producers of non-armament products with their great organisations, such as those of my noble friends Lord Nuffield and Lord Austin, are an invaluable national asset which must be utilised. With all this in view, and in addition to the great expansion of the professional industry, it was decided to create an auxiliary contribution to the programme by entrusting to organisations such as those to which I have referred the building of the shadow factories, and in this way to reduce the extent of our dependence on the adaptation of less suitable facilities.
Your Lordships will appreciate that the Air Ministry has had to face a treble task. It has had to create a strong Air Force in all the different fields, and next, on the material side, to bring about a vast strengthening of the aircraft industry so that the Air Force could rely on this industry as the Navy has done on the shipbuilding industry to meet national needs. To secure this result, the Air Ministry must guide, give help, and, above all, opportunity to the industry, but it must not attempt to take on its shoulders the burden of doing things which are the proper responsibility of the industry itself. Next, it was clearly the duty of the Air Ministry to make some preparation, not on paper, but in substantial reality, for war, by the erection of the shadow factories.
Now, my Lords, all these steps have been taken. The new and expanded facilities, both professional and shadow, exist and are equipped and the vast increase in the labour force referred to by my noble friend is now in action. Most of the technical design troubles are solved. Many of the production lessons have been learned and applied. The older types of machine are out of the pro- 1082 gramme except for training duties. Good types are now being delivered in increasing numbers, and the still newer types are now beginning to be delivered and will increase rapidly. That is the position and circumstances to which the Cabinet's new decision is being applied, and as a consequence of that decision, large additional orders have been placed so that each main contractor has a straightforward long-term production programme in front of him.
I believe these foundation policies to which I have referred are sound and will yield successful results. If you ask me if I am satisfied, my only answer can be that no one associated with a rapid expansion of a highly technical form of supply has ever any right to be satisfied. It is quite a sound thing to be impatient, even intolerant, with delays, but the impatience and occasional intolerance of the critic is no greater than the impatience I see on the part of those responsibly engaged on this expansion task, and as each difficulty arises it is being actively handled and there is a healthy spirit of drive in the Air Ministry. I can see nothing likely to prevent the realisation of the new programme according to schedule, even after making conservative allowances for technical delays and for obtaining and absorbing effectively the new labour required and the training possibly of that new labour. I hope you will not take anything I have said as said in any complacent spirit, but I would ask your Lordships to appreciate a point which I think the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, had at the back of his mind, that we are not actually at war, and that war possesses an atmosphere entirely of its own in its compelling power on drive and practice. As to how close you can come in peace in this country to that compulsion on driving power no one has yet any real experience, but when I consider the work of those who are executively responsible for this air effort, I am confident they are making very real and substantial progress.
§ TRE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I am sure the noble Viscount will allow me to congratulate him on the statement he gave us a short time ago, and I think your Lordships can feel great satisfaction that we are entitled by the institutions under which we live in this country to receive statements of this 1083 description. We have the right to ask for them and Ministers are only too anxious to give them to us. The noble Viscount gave us a very frank statement and I understand that a statement of a similar character has been made in another place. I am sure it has given us all a large measure of assistance in realising the great difficulties with which he is confronted and the manifold problems which he is called upon to solve.
A great many of us who are not closely associated with the administration of the Air Ministry have been made anxious by the tone of the criticisms which we have read in the newspapers and in the reports of speeches delivered by various people. There are charges there of incapacity and of inefficiency, and I am glad to think that the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Weir, who followed him, have given us a full answer. I am sure they relieve a great deal of that anxiety which may be said to exist in many parts of the country. I know that the noble Viscount does not object in any degree to constructive criticism. He is only too ready to receive from those who are anxious to assist him and to forward the object which we all have in view, their criticisms and the views which they are anxious to put forward. But I am not sure that I have not detected what I might call a political tendency in a great many of the criticisms which I have read. The noble Lord, Lord Addison who is not at the present moment on the Opposition Front Bench, gave us a very interesting speech, and he certainly surprised me by the meticulous analysis which he made of various measures which are being adopted by the Air Ministry. He went on to say that he could not be accused of grinding any political axe. I am sure he will not be popular in his Party if he absolves himself from any charge of that kind!
I feel, however, that your Lordships will agree with me when I say that the results which the noble Viscount has been able to show are surprising. Perhaps I may be allowed very briefly to take what I may call a dispassionate view of the history of the last few years. My noble friend who sits on the Cross Benches (Viscount Trenchard) and myself were associated with Mr. Churchill in dispersing what was the most magnificent 1084 Air Force that had ever existed. It was supreme on every front, and one can feel that it was due to the action in the air that the result came about as it did. I have always felt, and I feel now, that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Viscount. He it was who organised that Air Force. He it was who directed it; and moreover, he had a great hand in laying the subsequent foundations of the Air Force and of the Ministry upon which the noble Viscount has been able to build, with—I say—so much success in the last few years. Sir Samuel Hoare followed Mr. Churchill, and he established a small programme which he was unfortunately unable altogether to fulfil. I came on in the sequence of events, and I was hampered by finance and by the disarmament policy. Those two policies made my position a very difficult one. But we were pursuing a strange fallacy which underlay our foreign policy since the War: that it was possible for us to disarm and present ourselves as defenceless to the world, and at the same time to maintain our position in the counsels of the nations. You will remember public opinion at the time, and the propaganda which was stimulated by the friends of the noble Lords who sit on the Opposition Benches. That same Socialist Party, with their muddled and inconsistent points of view, have hampered and hindered the maintenance of our strength and authority throughout the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I am glad to see that in the last few weeks that policy has been reversed, and that we are taking a different line in foreign policy and are determined to make ourselves as strong as we possibly can. We all recognise that the Air Arm must play a tremendous part if we are ever called upon to measure our strength with that of any hostile country. I am not saying that it will take a decisive part, but it will play a very important part, and we feel very strongly that peace may depend upon the adequate provision of air defence. Some of us may say that we are living in an age of paradox, and that while we are doing our best to build up a strong Air Force, at the same time we are searching for means of establishing peace. I am quite convinced that the two go together; but I am anxious about what we might call this race in armaments. I most 1085 sincerely hope that the race in armaments will come to an end. If I might digress for one moment, I would urge upon the Government to engage upon those conversations with Germany, so that we shall know exactly where we are and what the intentions of the Germans are, and that we shall be able to make some adjustments in international foreign policy which may show us that this race in armaments may be stayed and that we may turn our activities, commercial or otherwise, to the benefit of all the nations of the world in the advance of civilisation.
It was the German rearmament which was responsible for the change in the policy of this country. It made us realise our deficiencies and make up our minds to rearm. The German development has been very interesting indeed. It has been very little understood. My noble friend the Marquess of Lothian has urged upon us the policy of parity. I do not wish to follow him in the speech which he made. I recognise his anxiety. By the figures which he gave us he would lead us to believe that the German air strength in the next few years will increase to an enormous extent. Lord Weir, in his final remarks, said that we were not on a war basis and that therefore our arrangements could not be moved forward with exactly that point of view in our minds. But I would venture to say a few words about the German Air Force. The German Air Force started de novo in 1933, and I can assure your Lordships that we were well aware of the course of its development. We were told by foreign Press agencies, supported by very eminent men in this country, that the German development was on a miraculous basis and had reached proportions of which we were supposed to know nothing whatever. I have followed that development very closely. Your Lordships will remember that, notwithstanding that development, no notice was taken of it at Geneva, and it was not until 1935 that we were satisfied that public opinion had reached such a stage that our policy could be reversed and we could go in for a policy of rearmament.
When I speak of the German Air Force, I think there is one factor which is very seldom recognised, and about which my noble friend (Viscount Trenchard) will bear me out. That is the question of training. I say without 1086 fear of contradiction that the training of our Air Force is incomparably better than the training of any other Air Force in the world. We have had great advantages: we have had the Air Force under my noble friend (Viscount Trenchard) for a great many years, and that training has been continuous from before the War. We know quite well that the different ranks which have been filled by promotions have produced a training which is second to none. We have considered from the earliest stages of promotion exactly those who should go forward to the higher ranks, and in contrast to the criticisms made to-day, in which it is placed second, third, fourth or fifth, I say that our Air Force, from the point of view of the training of its personnel and material, stands out in front of any Air Force in the world.
I am not saying that that position will be maintained if we adopt a complacent view at the present moment, but I am quite sure that the noble Viscount has no element of complacency in his mind. I know that he and his able staff are working day and night to produce the Air Force that we want. But let us make no mistake. We are living under institutions which none of us proposes to change. We are living under democratic institutions, and we know quite well the difficulties and the disadvantages which, in a rapid expansion of effort, and in comparison with the activities of other countries, we have to face. But we are determined that we will maintain those institutions, and we know quite well that there is no sacrifice which we can call upon our people to make for the maintenance of those institutions, and for the maintenance of the traditions and prestige of this country, which our people are not fully prepared to accept.
With regard to my own difficulties, owing to the financial stringency and the disarmament negotiations, there were no new squadrons formed between November, 1931, and 1934. If your Lordships will cast your minds back you will realise that the British Draft Disarmament Convention of 1933 contained a proposal that air armaments should not include aircraft exceeding three tons in weight. As a result of that no action was taken until 1934 to develop the air bomber, and it was in 1935 that I was able to make this statement to your Lordships' House: 1087By March 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.I am glad indeed to hear the statement which my noble friend, building on that basis, has been able to make to your Lordships to-day.
The noble Viscount spoke of numerous types and how it is naturally desired to reduce the number of those types, but your Lordships must also remember that the aircraft industry was organised in many small producing units, and therefore orders had to be placed for more types. It was necessary to place orders for many types because that was an insurance against a type proving a failure in production, and we can realise the progress we have made now that more than one firm—I think three firms—are producing the Blenheim aircraft. The routine for the development of aircraft is very complicated and difficult. One would imagine that there are people in this country who think that it is quite easy to produce aircraft, that they can be produced in numbers in the same way as motor cars are produced owing to mass production, but your Lordships must realise that after the design has been made on the drawing board there are numerous stages which have to be passed before that aircraft can be handed over to the squadron. Any modification which is made in the design changes that aircraft in varying degrees, with the result that all those modifications have to be very carefully tested, because such modifications—it might be an extra gun or something in the nature of a bomb load—alter the flying of the machine, Consequently all those stages have really to be gone through before the production of a first-class aeroplane.
I understand that these varying changes which take so long a time have had to be shortened, and therefore it is obvious that the Air Ministry have been faced with this tremendous difficulty, that whereas the various stages which I have spoken of have had to be eliminated, it was found 1088 at the final stage that the aircraft was not the machine that was intended. I think that with the risk which the Air Ministry have to take in eliminating some of these stages we may congratulate the Ministry on the results which they have produced in the aircraft now provided for the Royal Air Force. But I know that the noble Viscount will hope as soon as possible to revert to prototype policy, as it is called—the building and testing of one or more prototypes before production and orders are placed. Thus he will be able to reduce the number of types. The Secretary of State has given us various figures which, with the experience I have had, seem to me very satisfactory indeed. I know that the noble Viscount will carry out this further expansion, and may probably be in a position to accelerate it, but the fact that he is able to accomplish it is due to the long view that has been taken in the past in regard to the production of aircraft and the training of personnel.
I feel inclined to say, let the Air Ministry get on with its work. I know that we are entitled to make criticisms, and I know that the Secretary of State is not at all averse from criticisms which he knows are put forward in a helpful manner, but the criticisms which I have seen in irresponsible newspapers and elsewhere exercise a certain influence, they create an uncertainty, they create an anxiety throughout the Air Force, and they do much to create a certain lack of confidence. So while I certainly welcome any proper criticism being made, I would suggest to all those (and I think there are a great many in this country) who are not so straightforward in their criticism and who make criticisms with many political motives behind them, that they should realise the effect which they are having on a great and loyal Force which is doing its best to carry out the duties allotted to it.
The Air Ministry may congratulate itself on the provision of stations and of recruiting personnel, and it is only on the supply side that this debate has been concentrated. I know that there are immense difficulties in connection with supply. The noble Marquess has put forward a suggestion which he thinks may be a good one. I do not propose to argue that point with him, because I have no doubt that the Secretary of State in the remarks which we shall listen to later on 1089 will have something to say about that. I think my noble friend Lord Weir has disposed of that suggestion, and has shown us the manner in which supply is being developed in the best way. We know quite well that there have been delays, but those delays, which have been frankly admitted, were the result of the expansion scheme based on a small Air Force and a small aircraft industry.
The constructors, who have come in for a certain amount of criticism, have not had an entirely easy task. Most of them were what I might call the pioneers of the aircraft industry. During all those years in which this country was very slow in becoming what I may call air-minded, their future looked very uncertain indeed. The designs they had did not seem to create much interest here, and they had great difficulty in retaining their skilled designers and their skilled workmen. That is a problem which faces constructors now. It is quite true that their order books are full. They are called upon to put forward their best efforts, but they have to look to the future. I remember in the past, when I was Secretary of State for Air, the despairing messages I received from aircraft constructors about their designing staff, good men they wished to retain; but there were no orders at that time. Therefore one must realise that the constructors have not had such an easy time as some people would lead us to believe. When there is an expansion, as at present, they require increased floor space, they require additional plant, and they require additional labour. Speaking for the aircraft constructors and the manufacturing firms, I say they have done their very best to assist the Air Ministry in the difficult task with which they have been confronted. After all, if we try to draw some comparison with the situation with which my noble friend was confronted, it is as if we had been asked to treble our Army and Navy in three years and rearm them at the same time. Your Lordships will, therefore, realise what a colossal task has been before my noble friend.
My noble friend has also spoken of the responsibility for production. I fully share his view that production must rest with the industry and not with the Air Ministry; but in that connection I am inclined to suggest to my noble friend that in relation to subsidiary matters the Air Ministry might take it upon themselves 1090 to allot subsidiary firms to the great aircraft constructors for the construction and provision of such subsidiary matters. I hope I have made myself clear to the noble Viscount because I am inclined to think—I am not laying this down categorically or authoritatively—that the great firms are inclined to take too much upon themselves and to provide more from their own business rather than to rely on small firms which in ordinary peace-time are not perhaps doing anything that might be said to be closely associated with aviation but which in war-time would be called upon to provide the necessaries required as subsidiary items in the programme. I need not emphasize to your Lordships the wide difference between our conditions in this country and conditions which exist elsewhere. We hear a great deal about the German problem, and we hear a great deal of what they are doing, their power of replacement, and we are told that unless the Air Ministry look to it we shall be left far behind in the race. That touches the great question of the democratic institutions which we are determined to preserve, and I have no doubt whatsoever that we shall be successful in obtaining from this country everything that we want, the labour which is available and which is essential for all national purposes.
There are many smaller difficulties with which the Air Ministry have been confronted. There is the question of the location of new stations and training schools. It is a regrettable experience that there is a rooted antipathy, for various reasons, to the erection of new stations and training schools in different parts of the country. I came in for a great deal of these criticisms myself. I was told that I was destroying the whole bird life of the country. I was told that my one object was to destroy the local amenities which exist in our beautiful countryside. But I am given to understand that the bird life, instead of diminishing, has been stimulated by its contact with aviation, and photographs which I have seen show that birds are not at all averse from being close to targets. In fact, there is a stimulus to bird life which is increasing the population of our birds in this country! Local amenities come under the same heading, and we are told that our stations and aerodromes will destroy those amenities which the public have the right to enjoy. 1091 I had very satisfactory results on that point, and I feel that most people are gratified when they realise they are in contact with some representation of aviation.
I should like personally to pay a tribute to the work done at the week-ends by our Reserve and Auxiliary pilots. The splendid spirit which exists amongst those pilots shows me that any pessimistic criticisms of this country are wide of the mark. I am also gratified to realise that there is a very happy co-operation between the Air Force of this country and the Air Forces of the Dominions. Your Lordships are probably aware that officers from the Air Forces of the Dominions are at present at the Staff College and at the Imperial Defence College. There is an interchange of officers, and I am given to understand that Sir Edward Ellington is shortly going to Australia where he will consult with the Australians on the development of their aviation.
There is much more information which I know the Secretary of State could give us, but which I know quite well, and so do your Lordships, it is very undesirable should be given, but we can be satisfied that we have received from the noble Viscount the fullest available information on this important subject, and fuller information than is vouchsafed to any people in any other country. I have said a word about the tone of the criticism, and I am glad to think that the adverse tone of this criticism is perhaps not so very widespread. I regret the fact when I feel I can detect in it some political attitude of mind, some desire through the Air Ministry to injure the Government on which we rely and which we are convinced will see us through our difficulties. I have seen in these criticisms what I might call a desire to find a scapegoat, to find a head on a charger, to find somebody who can be sacrificed to a public outcry of which I think the foundations are not very solid. Perhaps I may have some experience of the position of a scapegoat, and if I may have suffered in that position I have no complaints whatsoever, because I always feel that what is so satisfactory in this country is that if one person disappears or fails there are innumerable others who can take his place with equal success and equal efficiency. But I am determined, 1092 from the experience that I have had, that if I can put forward an effort, and a strong effort, to save my noble friend from being made a scapegoat I shall do it. I say that because I am quite sure the work he has done at the Air Ministry is something for which we owe him a debt of gratitude. I would do it also on another basis, and that is that I feel it is always unwise to swap horses in mid-stream. I am quite sure that he himself with his able collaborators, and with Lord Weir—who, after his labours during the War, I am glad to think that I introduced back into the Air Ministry some three years ago—will give us the results the country is asking for, and which we have every right to expect.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I have a definite proposal to make, which I hope may commend itself to your Lordships on an early occasion. I join with my noble friend Lord Londonderry, who succeeded me at the Air Ministry, in saying that we must not make a scapegoat of the Secretary of State for Air. I agree that he has done the best he could, but I do not agree that we can be in any way complacent about the present situation, nor do I agree with Lord Weir when he said that war gave a great impetus, the inference being that we should wait until war came before we set to work to do the necessary thing. I am here to-day speaking with some knowledge when I say that the production side of our Air Force, and of some of our other forces, is lagging far behind our needs. Of that I think there can be no doubt whatever, though I am not laying the blame upon anybody in particular. But it is clear from the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, that the policy to which all Parties have now agreed commits us to a great further expansion.
Lord Lothian pointed out in an extraordinarily interesting speech the great, the phenomenal growth of Germany's Air Force. It is quite true to say, I think, that that mighty force is now turned not West but East. Anybody who knows about it knows that that is really so. But that does not absolve us here in Britain from pursuing the policy, upon which all are now agreed, of peace by armament. The peace part of the policy is now going very well, because the Prime 1093 Minister seems to have the extraordinary knack of always doing the right thing at the right time. In that opinion perhaps my noble friend Lord Snell will not agree, but he is supporting me in this proposal to spur the Air Ministry into increased production of armaments. That is a part of the business in which we are not keeping pace with the peace part. And the reason is that the three Services are competing against each other with no proper provision for priority, to which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, made reference. The rate of production is far too slow. In the last War, to which reference has been made by previous speakers, we found the same difficulty, and we could not solve it until we had established a Ministry of Supply, or, as we called it, a Ministry of Munitions. We shall not solve it now unless we do establish a Ministry of Supply.
I have put down a Motion for an early day which I propose to carry to a Division, and upon which I hope many of your Lordships will support me. In that Motion I say that it is imperative in the interests of national security that a Ministry of Supply for all three Services should be established forthwith. If we do not do that we shall never get the supplies we want. Nobody can go about the country without knowing that, although the Air Ministry are doing their best, there is a great deal of misdirected effort, and all that can be cured by a Ministry of Supply. I have presided over the Army Council, I have presided over the Air Council again and again, and I have been present at, and sometimes presided over, the Ministry of Supply. If the thing could be done then it could be done now; but it is not done. I say I have presided over these three bodies, and perhaps that is some excuse for my addressing your Lordships. I do not suppose anyone else present to-night has had that experience. The Ministry of Supply is a totally different body from the Air Ministry, or the Council of the War Office, or the Board of Admiralty. It is based in large measure on the heads of the industry who have the confidence of the industry. The predominant factor is industry, and if you have a man of extraordinary dynamic power, such as, say, Mr. Lloyd George, or like the one who came after him, Mr. Churchill, at the head of such a Council, you can get your industry going in a way 1094 which is quite different from anything you are doing now. There are many of your Lordships, I am sure, who are of the opinion that it is vital for us greatly to increase our possible and our practical output of munitions in order to ensure the policy of peace by armament, and I submit with all the power that I can command that we should form in the near future, and forthwith if possible, a Ministry of Supply to make us safe.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I intervene with some diffidence because I do not pretend to be an expert in air matters, nor have I, like most of the previous speakers, had some connection with the Department for Air, or with the industry; and it is because of the fact that I do not claim to be an expert that I have gone out of my way, before making any contribution to the debate to-day—and my contribution will be very brief—to consult people of as great reputation nationally and internationally as any who are taking part in the discussion to-day. I would like at the very outset to congratulate the noble Viscount who represents the Government in the Air Ministry for his known energy and for the acceleration in the output which has been brought about by that energy. But the real question I suggest—I would like to put it before he speaks in reply to the debate—is not whether the output is being increased by x per cent. but whether, as a result of the efforts which have been planned by the Government, we shall be in the position to carry out what I call for short the Baldwin pledge—that is to say, whether in two years' or four years' time we shall have a guarantee of equality, of parity with any European Power. That is the real question, and not whether there has been a great increase in output. The real problem is what our relative position is now and what it is going to be in the way of production. It is not good to attribute any feeling of anxiety which may be voiced to-day mainly or entirely to political bias. I am speaking as a strong supporter of the National Government, but I should be misleading your Lordships were I to fail to indicate that there is a real and a growing sense of anxiety in the country, not due to non-realisation of the increased output in production and effort, but due to a growing fear that we are not going to be in a position by reason of anything 1095 which has been announced up to now to fulfil the Baldwin pledge.
Now let me refer very briefly to what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and other speakers. God forbid that we should contemplate the possibility of war between this country and Germany or anybody else, but one has to mention other countries in order to get some sort of indication as to what our relative position is. I was told—I personally was not in a position to know it—that at the present moment the output of Germany is greater than the combined output of this country and the United States of America. Now that is a very serious state of affairs, and if we turn to the war potentiality, that is to say to the possibility of rapid expansion in case of war, I understand that many firms in this country are working double shift day and night, whereas in Germany a large number of firms are only working single shift. That is to say, that the possibility of increasing the output rapidly, in case of the catastrophe of war, is very much greater in Germany than it would be in this country. Then there is another point. The question of research is particularly vital where aeronautics are concerned. The Cadman Committee emphasized the fact that this industry was likely to see great changes, due to invention and progress. It was put to me by a well-known aviator that the machines of to-day might be quite obsolete in five years' time. It is, therefore, essential that we should not be behind hand in our research organisation. I understand that the research organisation of Germany is on a much greater scale than anything we possess, and that the organisation that is responsible for directing research can concentrate upon that, and need not devote its attention to research and the production of plant at the present moment as in England.
This debate, and the discussions in the country, remind me terribly of the sort of discussion which used to go on during the War—public anxiety, official re-assurance, some progress, and then repeated again. That, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords during the discussion, went on until we had a separate ad hoc Ministry of Supply, or Ministry of Munitions, call it what you like. I am not going to discuss the value of that, because 1096 it has already been referred to by other speakers, but I would venture to remind your Lordships of the observations made in the Cadman Committee's Report about the desirability of having industrialists running production, rather than pilots, however distinguished and however efficient. It is put in that Committee's Report in this way:However distinguished an individual officer may be, the problems of aircraft production on a large scale are, with modern processes, so specialised that it is contrary to all sense to expect a military officer without previous knowledge and experience of such matters, and holding office for a limited term, to deal effectively with the situation.I think the lesson that we most learned from our experience during the War is that this anxiety is bound to continue until we know that the Government are calling on industrialists to a greater extent than they have done yet. We are relieved by what has been clone, but we hope that to a greater extent than has yet been announced we shall be told that the leaders connected with the steel industry and alloys, with engineering and aircraft, will be called in and themselves made more responsible for the reorganisation and expansion of the industry.
Also, we trust that the Government will not rest satisfied with their present plans, and will outline something on a greater scale. If we have war we know what the cost will be in money and in lives. Let us by spending more money now, not only reduce the cost we should have to bear in the future, but reduce the loss of life which undoubtedly would be associated with war should it come. Until this is done public anxiety is bound to continue, and when it is done then the prospects of peace and of disarmament will increase. I hope that the noble Viscount who is going to reply on behalf of the Government, and who has already done so much to expand the air industry and the production of aircraft, will, not perhaps to-night but in the near future, be able to announce a still further expansion, because until that comes I can assure him that the anxiety which exists outside, which is not mainly due to political bias, is bound to continue.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, at this late hour you will not wish for a long speech from me, for I have already 1097 inflicted upon you one of very considerable length; but matters of such importance have been touched on, if I may respectfully say so, in a debate of very real value, that even at this late hour I would like to take them up in reply. May I in the first place, thank my noble friend Lord Londonderry for one of the most generous speeches I have ever heard delivered in either House. I do indeed appreciate it. I do not think I deserved it. I would say this—that we are having plenty of difficulties to-day. I do not want to minimise them, but they are nothing to the difficulties which he had. He was quite right; we have had to build up from a very small industry and it has taken time, and a great deal of time.
When he was dealing with it he was unable to build up that industry at all. He was never able to give orders on any scale. I think that before the expansion I was told by one aircraft constructor that the largest order the aircraft industry in this country had ever had, at least for the last ten or twelve years, was eighty machines, and they got that in two parts. I suppose two estimates were authorised. It is also perfectly true that his difficulties were enormously increased by reason of the fact that not only could nothing be spent during the Disarmament Conference period, but all the designing which was going on and production which was put in hand were deliberately designed to meet a period of Air Forces not only small in numbers but small in the character of the machines, and it was no sort of preparation for getting on with production of large bombers to get orders for small three-ton machines. One thing I am sure Lord Addison will not mind my saying. After all he said this afternoon I am delighted to note his anxiety that the programme should be adequate and rapidly carried out; but I am bound to say this—that all through that time, and much later, there was a steady objection by the Party for which he speaks to any expenditure on armaments at all. If he had had his way while the Disarmament Conference was going on there would not only have been a small aircraft industry on which to build—there would have been none at all—
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
—for he was consistently saying: "Why did Lord Londonderry insist upon maintaining an individual Air Force? Why should there not be a collective Police Air Force of the world?" It is all very well to say what he does, but if that advice had been taken there would have been just nothing on which to build, and our position would indeed have been hopeless. With his new-found interest in the matter, which I gladly recognise, and which I am sure is quite sincere, I cannot forget that if we had taken his advice and that of his Party and if they had succeeded in their opposition to rearmament there would not have been much prospect of our ever attaining to this or any other programme at the present time. A good many of his detailed criticisms were repetitions of matters which he raised and with which I dealt in a recent debate. He complained that we had not full numbers of skilled wireless operators. Of course not. That is exactly why the training was put in hand and why wireless operators are being trained as quickly as ever they can be, and why increased schools are being set up. He surely realises that you cannot recruit a fully trained wireless operator. To blame the Air Ministry or the Government or anybody else because when you are making a great expansion of the Air Force and require a very large number of wireless operators they are not immediately forthcoming, really is a nonsensical charge to make.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Of course they had been trained before. If they had not been trained before, if wireless training had not been going on before under the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, there would have been no wireless instructors. Of course wireless training has been going on at the Cranwell School, and that school will be doubled in its size on another site. The noble Lord said there were certain machines which had not got all the great navigational facilities which there are in machines which came later. That is perfectly true. Every aircraft which is 1099 introduced is an improvement on the aircraft of two years ago, otherwise it would not be introduced. He said it was wrong to have ordered certain bombers—bombers which other countries are very anxious to buy—because they had not got such full navigational facilities as bombers of later design and greater size which are now coming along. In the article written by the Chief of the American Air Staff from which I quoted earlier in the debate, there is a very interesting passage in which he says that whenever orders are given out in large-scale production someone comes and says, "If you only wait a little bit you will find something better." In this matter the better is the enemy of the good. It was absolutely necessary in the first place to order machines which could be produced at once, though they were not at all of the best, in order that we might get a greatly expanded force and have machines with which that force could be equipped in the first instance. It was right to order the best type of machine that could be ordered off the drawing board and not to wait. It is right now to be getting better types still into production.
The noble Lord says that no spare parts were ordered for machines. I really do not know where he got that information. If he goes to the manufacturers he will find one of the complaints they make is that we have ordered too many spare parts. Manufacturers naturally prefer to produce finished aircraft rather than spare parts and one of the difficulties is to get spare parts delivered parallel with machines. But if you take for instance air-frames and engines, it is always policy to order spare parts as well. He criticised the policy, which I think is a very sound one, of using some of the smaller firms to do repair work on particular types of machines. He objected to that and asked why it was not done in the Air Force. It seems to me the noble Lord was mixing up maintenance and repairs.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I have listened to the noble Lord with great care and 1100 I hope that he will read the reports of my speech and his own to-morrow morning. Certainly I think he conveyed to the House an erroneous impression of what we are doing. Maintenance, of course, is the business of the units, and is being done in the units, but surely it is very wise not to get, even if you could recruit it, an enormous uniformed personnel to do repair work as distinct from maintenance work. Maintenance work takes squadrons all their time. When you can get repair work done in civil industry by firms fully qualified to do it it seems to me very good business, and it would be sound business whether in peace or war.
If I may revert to a point raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, I would say that we are always trying to get as much sub-contracting done as possible. He will appreciate that the sub-contracts must be placed by the main contractors, but we have impressed upon industry throughout the great importance of getting all possible sub-contracts put out. I am not referring only to sub-contracts for parts of machines which are not really aircraft parts. There are many things that go into a machine—nuts and bolts and so on—which obviously it is not good business for an aircraft firm to make themselves. But even in what are technically the aircraft parts of the machine itself we aim at getting the maximum amount of sub-contracting.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I apologise for interrupting but what I was suggesting was that in regard to subsidiary manufacture the Air Ministry might allocate firms to do particular work. They might find that matters which are now being dealt with by big contractors could be more usefully done if those contractors had smaller firms allocated to them.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I take it that my noble friend means that we should allocate one smaller firm to work with one larger firm. That I think is well worth considering. We have done our best to introduce, so to speak, one firm to another and I am glad to see that the Aircraft Constructors' Association now embraces not only the large constructors but a tremendous number of other firms as well. I agree that it is very important within 1101 the industry to see that the work is distributed as widely and effectively as possible.
My noble friend the Marquess of Lothian raised two questions, both of the greatest importance. He gave certain figures as the estimate given him of German strength. It is always difficult for a Government spokesman, not in the least because he wants to shirk the question, to answer specific questions of that kind. Indeed my noble friend did not put, and was careful to avoid putting, a specific question to me, and I very much appreciate that. The assessment of relative strength and capacity in this or any other country is the duty of the Government to try to know as well as they can. It is not one Ministry, it is a great deal of collective information. The Government must have more sources of information at their disposal and a better capacity for checking and weighing the results that come from those sources than any individual, however well informed, can have. It is the duty of the Government to get that information, to weigh it with the greatest care—as they do—but the last thing in the world they can do is to communicate it. But it is the bounden duty of the Government, on that information, to frame and ask Parliament to approve the defence programme for all Services which in the circumstances they think necessary for our security.
I am not going into a discussion on parity now. It is a term which I am not sure that even the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, ever used. It is a bad term, and I will tell my noble friend exactly why I say that. "Parity" suggests that you take country X and say that there are 10,000 machines in it, therefore in country Y there must also be 10,000 machines. It may be that in country Y there ought to be, not 10,000, but 15,000 machines. It is not like opposing fleets, where you are dealing with capital ships and one capital ship comes up and meets another. It is quite a different problem.
What the Government have to be satisfied of is this. An attack may be made by a potential aggressor. In reply, two things are necessary. There is the active defence, the fighter defence, the antiaircraft defence, which must be sufficient to meet that attack. The size of that defensive force must obviously be conditioned objectively by the size of the 1102 force which may possibly be brought against it. Secondly, there is the counteroffensive force. Do not let us underrate the value and the importance of pure defence; believe me, that is not done; but it is and always will remain absolutely necessary to have a very strong counteroffensive force. If you are a country with a great Army, you must have a great many aeroplanes which will co-operate with your Army. If you have a small Army, you obviously do not need the same number; it would then be a sheer waste of money to have great fleets of machines of the kind which are useful to co-operate with an Army. On the other hand, if you are, as we are, a country depending tremendously upon its seaborne trade for its life, you must have a completely adequate section of your Air Force to deal with the protection of the trade routes and with general reconnaissance. You must also have all the machines which are necessary for training, and you must have great reserves behind—
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
—for wastage, which is very large. It is not because I am shirking in the least the necessity for the force being sufficient, but I would much prefer that, instead of using the term "parity," the noble Marquess would use the term "adequate for our necessities." It seems to express much more clearly and realistically what it is necessary that this country should have. I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said that there may at some date be an opportunity of debating this question further. The suggestion was made that there should be established a Ministry of Supply. That has been the subject of debate and of Government reply before. I suppose any Service Minister must approach this question almost with enthusiasm that such a Ministry should be established, if only for one simple reason. I hope I shall not be thought lazy for suggesting it. I am very fully occupied, as any Service Minister must be who has an enormously expanding Department. When you are trebling, quadrupling, the force in peace time in the kind of way in which we increased the Army in the War, it is a tremendous load. There is the whole personnel of the new squadrons 1103 —I am not pretending that that is the Minister's job, but he is responsible for it—and the whole business of supply. A Service Minister with a great expansion of the force must therefore, I think, approach this question with an inclination to say that he would like to see that done. I think it has been plainly said on more than one occasion that if the Government were satisfied—and it is, of course, a decision that the Government must take—that it would be useful, the Government would not hesitate to do it.
But I am not sure what my noble friend contemplates. If you are to have control of industry, as of course you have in war—complete control—then quite obviously a Ministry of Supply is absolutely necessary and inevitable. But that is not what you are working on now, and whether you would be materially helped by creating a single Ministry to which you would transfer, presumably, the supply sections of the three Services themselves, is a matter on which certainly there can be two opinions. On this the view of the Government hitherto has been very definitely that the balance of advantage would not lie with the creation of such a Ministry of Supply. But, my Lords, I do not propose to say more on that subject on this occasion. I was, indeed, a little taken by surprise when the matter was raised in this debate, but no doubt a fuller answer will be given at another time. I think I have dealt with most of the points which were raised, and I am very glad indeed to have had the opportunity in this debate of giving these explanations, which I hope have satisfied the House.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I do not propose, of course, to criticise the two speeches which the noble Viscount has delivered. I can only say that the noble Marquess could not resist the temptation of saying that this Motion had a political motive and bias. The Government know that the Motion was not put down with any such intention, and I only say that I think the debate has been extraordinarily useful and the purpose of the Motion has been served. Will the House allow me to withdraw the Motion for Papers?
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.