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Expansion For Home Defence And Naval Co-Operation

Volume 161: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1923

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Lastly, there is the actual expansion that I am asking for the purposes of home defence. I am asking in these Estimates for 15 additional regular squadrons and for three additional squadrons for co-operation work with the Navy—an equivalent of 18 additional squadrons in all. As to the 15 regular squadrons, I should like freely to admit that the initiation of that part of the programme of expansion was due to my predecessor. Captain Guest, it will be remembered, obtained the approval of the late Government and the general assent of all parties in the House to this increase last summer. I am glad to say that the present Government is pushing ahead this scheme of expansion and we hope during the course of the next 12 months to have an equivalent of seven or eight of these squadrons formed. We hope further to have the whole scheme completed, if no unforeseen event occurs, during 1925. This scheme I would remind the House is roughly estimated to cost about £2,000,000 a year.

Is that in excess of the nine and a half squadrons formerly used for this purpose?

I am afraid I do not know what the hon. Member means by the nine and a half squadrons formerly used for this purpose.

I do not recall the actual passage at the moment. It is 15 additional squadrons over the 32 squadrons which have been in existence last year. In addition to these 15 regular squadrons for home defence there are the equivalent of three additional squadrons for Naval co-operation work. I suggest that the House should mark this increase for the naval unite. The last thing in the world I wish to do is to embark on a controversy which has been going on for two or three years, but I should like to remove a misconception which, it seems to me, has become prevalent. I have seen it said—not, I freely admit, by anyone at the Admiralty—that the Air Force has starved the Navy in the matter of air craft. Quite apart from the merits of the question of control, I do not think any hon. Member who looks impartially on the history of the last two or three years would say that that is so. The Geddes Committee recommended that the squadrons that were co-operating with the Navy should be reduced from six to two. Not only have we refused to make this cut, but we are actually increasing the naval squadrons to eight, and, moreover, during the last two or three years, so far as I know, we have never failed to carry out the naval requirements. A great part of our research work has been devoted to naval work. Many of our best types of machines have been made for naval work. Our naval air work to-day is many stages ahead of the naval air work of any other great Power; whether it be in the matter of deck landings, of torpedo attacks from the air or of long distance flights by flying boats our naval work is stages ahead of the naval air work of any other great naval Power, and the fact that the other great Powers recognise that that is so is shown by the frequent requests that we have for air information from them and by the further fact that a great Power like Japan actually comes to us for instructors in this particular branch of air work.

I have said nothing of the Army cooperation work. Not because I did not think it was vital but because we are asking for no extra military squadrons in these Estimates. One of the air cooperating squadrons is at present in the Dardanelles, but I am able to assure the House that, in spite of this fact, we are able to maintain our co-operating units with the army at Farnborough and on Salisbury Plain and at Maresfield, and, as far as I know, within our financial limitations, the Army is very well satisfied with the air work we have been able to give it during the last 12 months.