§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (General Seely)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
In rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I will point out that it is a temporary measure, as is explained in its title. The reason why we have asked the House to pass this Bill is that unless we get legislation of this kind it is impossible to permit civilian flying at all. We are advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that we have not the power in the Air Ministry to make Regulations for civilian flying without legislation. Therefore, I commend this Bill to the House as being necessary in order to enable the science of 667 flying to be pursued other than by the military. The Bill provides that the Secretary of State shall have power to make certain Regulations, and, in order to forestall criticism of those Regulations, I would say that the object of them is solely to secure the reasonable safety of the public. We have no desire to impose upon civilian flying any restrictions which would in any way tend to prevent people from evolving new types or doing anything which they think will advance flying. But, of course, it is necessary to have power to secure the safety of the public, and this we shall obtain by the provisions of the Bill. The reason why this is only a temporary measure, and why it is proposed only to take power to act under it until the first day of next year, is that it will be necessary later in the Session, by permission of the House, to introduce a larger Act regularising flying in accordance with the provisions of a Convention, which we hope will be agreed to by the Allied Powers, at a Convention which will shortly meet in Paris. We have already made considerable progress in agreement with France, America, and other Allied nations, and I trust we shall come to a general agreement as to the regulation of flying. This will then be embodied in a Bill which I shall ask leave to bring before the House. In the meantime, this Bill will enable us to give permission to civilians again to commence to fly. I earnestly hope it may have a quick passage through the House, for he would be a rash man who set any limit to the possibilities of flying in the future; and the sooner we permit those who are interested in it to fly, under proper safeguards for the public safety, I think the better for all concerned.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The speech of my right hon. Friend will disarm any criticisms that I might have been inclined to make about this Bill by the very frank admission on his part that it is merely a temporary measure. But I would like to point out to the House that for the first time, new Regulations are going to be brought forward dealing with civilian flying of possibly the most far-reaching character. The Regulations that are going to be made by my right hon Friend at the present moment, though only temporary, will probably form the foundation of the subsequent Regulations or of the Bill which he propose to introduce later on. With great humility, I do want to pro- 668 test against this form of legislation—because it is really legislation—being carried out at the whim of the Secretary of State. If my right hon. Friend had introduced a Bill—and I have no doubt he knows there is a Bill already prepared dealing with this question—we should have been delighted to give it most rapid progress through the House. Instead of that, he simply introduces an enabling measure to enable himself or the Secretary of State for Air to make any kind of regulations he thinks fit, and those regulations will be in force for a year, and probably form the basis of future legislation.
These regulations are bound to interfere with the liberty of the subject in every possible way. They are bound to deal with registration, and the grant and suspension of licences for flying. As my right hon. Friend knows, prior to the War, no licence was required. The old Acts of 1911and 1913, whose rights are carefully preserved, were merely Acts enabling the Secretary of State to prescribe certain areas over which flying should not take place, one being, of course, London itself. I do not know whether the House is aware that there has been sitting a very strong Committee, which has drawn up a model Bill. Probably my right hon. Friend has that Bill and knows the contents of it. The House, however, does not know it. It was the strongest Committee—although I was a humble member myself—I ever sat upon. Representatives of the War Office, Navy, Air, Foreign Office, Treasury, Home Office, Board of Trade and His Majesty's Customs, were upon it. In addition, there were some flying men and some lawyers. The whole question of the regulation of flying in this country was gone into, and a most elaborate Bill was drawn up. I think we sat for over a year dealing with this measure, which, I venture to say, could be brought into the House and carried almost in a single sitting. It was completely accurate in all its details. Instead of adopting that, however, my right hon. Friend comes forward and asks us to give him, or his Secretary of State, the right to make any kind of regulation he thinks fit.
Although my right hon. Friend has disarmed me by his statement as to the temporary character of his Bill, there are one or two questions I want to ask him as to the regulations he is going to make, more particularly with regard to flying over other people's property. While it may be perfectly right for Parliament itself to 669 take away the right of a man to prevent flying over his own property, I suggest it is not right and proper to leave those rights merely in the hands of a Secretary of State. What provision is he going to make? At the present moment I very gravely doubt whether, by an Order made under this Bill, it would be possible for the Secretary of State to take away the right of any man to prevent flying over his own land. Of course that matter must be dealt with. At the moment the law undoubtedly is—I do not want to press the legal point of view—but the position undoubtedly is that a man who owns a piece of land or house owns the air above it right up to the sky. [Hon. Members: "No!"] I am very sorry there are any hon. Members who do not know the law. I thought all Members of Parliament would have known that. That has got to be dealt with, and it is desirable that it should be dealt with, because we could not have one eccentric owner of a particular piece of land, which might be under an aerial highway, stopping flying over it. But is my right hon. Friend proposing to deal with that by regulation under his Bill? If so, I suggest he should consult the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether it would be possible to deal with that by mere regulation under the Bill. Then what is my right hon. Friend going to do about territorial waters, or what one might now call territorial air? He preserves in his Bill territorial rights, but a three-mile limit is no earthly good in regard to the air.
I think my right hon. Friend should give a little move information as to the lines which the regulations are going to take. He takes power under the Bill to provide for "the registration, identification, inspection and certification of aircraft." My right hon. Friend, by regulations, is going to take upon himself the certification of every aircraft which is allowed to fly in this country. He knows that an aeroplane may be certified to-day and may be quite unfit for use to-morrow, and yet that aeroplane is to be let loose with a Government certificate, which any passenger who chooses to go in the aeroplane is bound to treat as an official certification of its air-worthiness. I venture to suggest my right hon. Friend should consult the proposals of the committee to which I have referred, which suggested that merely the type of aircraft should be certified as being an air-worthy type, and that it would be quite out of the 670 question to attempt to deal with the certification of the air-worthiness of any individual machine. Then, of course, the same thing applies to "the licensing, inspection and regulation of aerodromes". Is he going to give a certificate with regard to every aerodrome that is perfectly safe, because that, I take it, is what certification means. When I was on another Committee on the Air Force a little time ago we came across certain aerodromes which the Committee unanimously condemned as unsafe, but of which the military authorities felt bound to continue the use. Naturally at that time, during the War, we civilian members of the Committee could not possibly protest, but there are aerodromes to-day in this country which are not safe for ordinary purposes, and I think my right hon. Friend must take very great care as to what steps he is going to take about certifying certain individual aerodromes.
The last point I am going to ask is this: What steps is he going to take by his regulations, or otherwise, in regard to the question of damage by aeroplane accident? Suppose, for instance, an aeroplane comes into collision with another aeroplane and both men are killed, there is no possibility of finding out who is at fault. The machine drops and kills someone on the King's highway, or does damage to one of His Majesty's subjects. At the present moment everybody knows that if damage occurs on the highway from a motor car or ordinary vehicle, the injured person has to prove there was negligence. I do not know whether that is going to be the case in regard to aircraft. It is a very serious question indeed. That Committee, to which I have referred, reported that, in their opinion, an aeroplane should be treated as liable for all damage it creates, and that it should not be necessary for anybody to prove, or attempt to prove, negligence, because it would be impossible. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend has considered these points in the regulations he proposes to make, but before the House parts with the Bill I think I may be entitled to say, for the benefit of the newer Members, that the Clause in the Bill which says that the regulations shall lay for twenty-one days on the Table of the House, during which time an Address may be presented to His Majesty, is a mere farce. There is no real possibility, as my right hon. Friend knows, of objecting to these things laid on the Table of the House, simply because one 671 can never get the time of the House in order to do it. Therefore, before parting with the Bill, I ask my right hon. Friend to be a little more explicit and give us a little more information on the points I have raised.
§ Mr. MOSLEY
I must crave the indulgence of the House this evening not only on the usual account of a maiden speech, but I must ask it to condone in me that very serious offence which the great Chatham once described in this House as "the atrocious crime of being a young man." That dictum from the mighty past weighs rather heavily upon me this evening from the consciousness that I am to-day the youngest Member of this Assembly. The House, however, is considering a subject which, I think, we may claim as belonging principally to the youth of to-day, but, we may say with some confidence, to all generations of the future. I have not that experience which is possessed by some other hon. and gallant Members in this House; in fact, my total experience of flying amounted only to about a year, and I must confess, like thousands of others, that my brief contact with the air, and, on one occasion, at least, with her sister element the earth, left a rather more decided mark upon my body than my activity imprinted on the development of aviation. As one, however, who has an undoubted belief in the potential aerial supremacy of our country, I feel impelled this evening to draw attention to the greatest pitfall which could lower us from our present undoubted superiority in the air.
The war-time epidemic of bureaucratic control has had this nation in its grip for a long time past, and we may deduce from the Bill that we stand in very grave danger of its paralysing influence being extended to embrace the youngest child of the British public, our newly-found Air Force. It is universally admitted, I believe, to-day, that State control is beneficial in some spheres where the free play of individual competition and interest may jeopardise the safety and comfort of the community as a whole, but my contention is that the air is the very last conceivable sphere of human activity to be brought too closely beneath the eye of the clerk in Whitehall. We find in this Bill the very ominous phrase, "Inspection and certification of aircraft." There is a shrewd suspicion in the mind of the trade concerned, that inspection infers the arbi- 672 trary right of the State to supervise and intervene at every step of the daily business of the private exploiter of aviation. Surely the easiest and most effective means to the attainment of the desired end—the safety of the public—would be the imposition of the very heaviest penalties in any case of accident which could be attributed to negligence. This, of course, would not only prove less irksome to the private exploiter of aviation, but would actually contribute a greater guarantee to the public that every precaution had been taken. By adopting this course the Government would lay the whole onus of responsibility for public safety upon the shoulders of the company, who would naturally take every step to see that their own staff was kept at a proper state of efficiency, rather than run the risk of mishap, which would not only ruin their business, but actually curtail the liberty of those responsible.
If the Government undertake the work of supervision, little or no blame can be laid at the door of the company should anything go wrong. I am confident that the public would prefer to repose its safety upon the thoroughness and reliability of the work of the man with a halter around his neck in the shape of heavy penalties if anything go wrong than entrust their person to the tender care of some Government official or inspector who works upon the time system. All new types admittedly must be tested by the Government before being released for the purpose of public conveyance, but if this word "certification" imply any desire on the part of the Government to confine firms engaged in this work to any particular officially approved design. I am confident that the restriction will strike a very severe blow indeed at the industry of aerial manufacture in this country. Imagine in a few years' time some enterprising manufacturer introducing a novel design to the Government Department. Consider the hunt that would ensue through dusty tomes for precedents, and the abrupt refusal when it was discovered that no analogous type has been used in the great War.
Perhaps I exaggerate, but I am confident that many Members of this House will agree with the view that officialdom seldom approaches a novelty with any great predisposition in its favour. I have no very great knowledge of technique, but those who possess that knowledge inform me that it is quite possible that the distance 673 covered by aerial progress in the next decade may be commensurate with that traversed in the last. Surely that ought to open a whole new vista of the utmost development. If one, however, may judge our expectations from officialdom in the future in the light of past kindnesses received from the same quarter, then British manufacturers will embark upon this great new stage in their business with a millstone round their necks. No great exercise of the imaginative faculty should be required to foresee the day when the aviation tank and the aeroplane will have driven the Infantry and other similar units from the battlefield, whilst the furious speed and mobility of the aerially-armed plane, with a weight-lifting capacity which will enable it to carry heavy armaments, will have banished the battleship and the merchant ship from the ocean. If this view be correct—and it is widely believed I understand amongst people who should know—our official perspective in regard to aerial matters appears to be somewhat deficient. In fact, the suggestion that the present position of the air and the War Department should be reversed appeals to be not wholly outside the realms of humour.
In his speech on the Address the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill) told the British public not to be led into too extravagant expectations in regard to the future of the air. As I have explained already, my political memory is not long, but I have always been led to believe, in fact I have almost been brought up on the idea, that what the right hon. Gentleman suffered from was a paucity of that invaluable political asset called imagination. On this occasion, however, I must warn him that predecessors of his at the War Office fell into exactly the same error, in refusing to credit the possibilities of such rapid extension of the activities of aircraft as we have seen. That regrettable occurrence was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Col. Moore-Brabazon) in his speech on the same day. It was only one of a series of incidents of this nature. In fact, at every step of aerial development that Cerberus at the gate of progress, Officialdom, has refused to credit the possibility of the next step. The development of this great new sphere of our ascendancy, which admittedly contributed largely to the recent glorious termination of hostilities, was achieved almost entirely by 674 individual effort and sacrifice, in the face of an official lethargy and passive opposition which have seldom been rivalled even in the long record of these things which stand to the credit of British bureaucracy.
In dealing with this great problem success may mean the greatest tribute that has yet fallen to British initiative and energy, while one failure will in all probability mean the hot surrender of that hard-won commercial supremacy of the race, the fruit of centuries of individual effort and enterprise. Let us always, then, remember the empiricism of British bureaucracy, which has invariably been failure, and that British individualism has frequently pulled success through. Our Colonial Empire stands a glorious memorial of British individualism, and by no means one of State intervention. The peculiar genius of our race has always manifested itself in strange new enterprises where the individual stood alone, uninspired save by a spirit of adventure in entering new realms and ranges of human activity. In fact, we may say that from the days when Queen Elizabeth refused to countenance the adventurous schemes of Drake, down to the comparatively recent struggle to impress upon the official mind the supreme importance and immeasurable possibilities of aviation, our history has been one long story of individual enterprise and success surmounting every obstacle thrown in its path by official ignorance and apathy. I venture this evening to suggest, with all respect to the Government, that they should safeguard the public in every possible way by the imposition of the most stringent penalties in cases of proved negligence; that they experiment in matters of design by means of that very excellent staff and machinery which they now possess; but that, above all, they allow full play, without irksome or unnecessary restrictions, to that supreme manifestation of the genius of our race—individual initiative and enterprise—which has so frequently proved successful, while, on the other hand, the activities or in activities of State authority have proved a lamentable failure. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to allow the private manufacturer to look to the Government for protection and inspiration rather than for restriction and oppression.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
The House is to be congratulated upon the accession of the hon. Member for Harrow, and upon the 675 fresh and fluent contribution that he has made to the Debate to-night, with the suggestion in it of the contributions he will make to future Debates. I should not have ventured to speak, certainly not from the standpoint of my hon. Friend, who is the youngest Member, while I am sorry I am amongst the older Members of the House, but that I desire to speak from the standpoint of one who has been engaged during the War in the manufacture of aeroplanes, and who has all his life had to do with exact forms of Government inspection and Government interference, so-called, which is set forth in the Bill, and to which the hon. Member for Harrow appears to have a rooted objection. No one, so far as I have heard, has yet referred to the fact that the general provisions of this Bill are identical with the existing provisions and experience of some generations now of the relationship of the Government of the manufacture and carrying on of navigation by sea, and travelling by railway and railroad on land. No omnibus can run the streets of London without having had a certain amount of Government inspection and Government certification. No passenger ship, in fact no ship of any kind, can navigate the sea without having passed the inspection of a Government officer in respect to its safety so far as foresight and skill can secure it for those who will take passage in such ship. No railway train can possibly start, even with the hon. Member who has spoken on board, without every precaution having been taken by signals, and in the construction of the locomotive and coaches under Government inspection, for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the passengers. Is it then to be suggested that with all those precedents and all that experience of these precautions and the safety which has arisen from them, and which is well known, notwithstanding disadvantages—which I admit—that this new and extremely dangerous type of navigation in the air is to be set at large without any precaution by way of Government inspection to secure the public safety?
I venture to say that the Government would be criminally and morally responsible for the many lives that were at stake if we were to adopt such a principle as that which my hon. Friend has risen to advocate. I sincerely hope that the Government will, of course, agree to Amendments which will be moved in Com- 676 mittee, but I trust they will stick to the general principle of the Bill, and will see that proper precautions by way of inspection and certification, the testing of materials, and the examination of designs will be undertaken. I do ask my right hon. Friend to take this from me, as one having life-long experience in the matter, that he should do everything in his power to prevent the strangling of improvements which at one time so discredited the Board of Trade in their system of inspection, both as regards railways and steamships. There was a period, thirty-five years or so ago, when no improvements, however obvious, however well-vouched for, would be considered by the Board of Trade until, in some illicit way, such improvement had been tried and had been demonstrated to be satisfactory. When this Bill becomes an Act let such organisation as my right hon. Friend will, I hope, establish be guided by the highest possible and the most progressive scientific men that he can find. Let there be an experimental department if necessary. Let the Government officials not be obstructionists, but lead in the van of progress and encourage rather than obstruct. Having done that, having put their imprimateur upon that which is safe and their ban upon that which is unsafe, they will contribute to progress, and ensure the safety of those who will travel by what, I believe, will be one of the regular sources of transit in the immediate future.
I apologise for again troubling the House so soon after my recent speech, and I have been told that it is not a very proper proceeding. However, I would not like this opportunity to go by without saying one or two words upon this Bill. Aviation may be divided under two heads, military and commercial. The other night we discussed a little the military side of it, and the Prime Minister, I regret to say, has caused a very excellent Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), to lead a double life, for he is not only Secretary of State for Air, but he is also Secretary of State for War. To-night we are looking upon this subject more from the commercial side rather than from the military point of view. We welcome any Bill and will help any Bill such as this which does allow civilian flying, for that is a great thing which we want, and want quickly. We must recognise and this House must realise, however, that we are giving to the Government a blank 677 cheque in aviation, for that is what this Bill really means. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Under the system proposed the manufacturers of this country must stop immediately, but I understand that the Under-Secretary for Air has already consulted with the trade and has promised some modifications.
I want to ask for two assurances on points of general principle which, if the right hon. Gentleman will agree to, I am sure we can allow this Bill to pass. I want him to allow these people to design their own machines without control. Up to the end of the War no aeroplane was allowed to go up unless it had received the complete assent of the experts of the Air Ministry. I maintain that now we have got comparatively to peace, initiatives and all sorts of designs must be allowed to be developed wherever they like. Inspection has not helped aviation as much as people think, for it started badly. Lord Kelvin said that dynamic flight was an impossibility. The Government designed machines, and even with all the help they got from scientific gentlemen the Government machines have not been the same success as machines made by private firms, which have knocked the Government machines out. This contemplated inspection of design is what I object to, and I ask that the Government should allow machines to be built and tried, and when they come forward, as firms will do, with machines ready, that the Government shall look at them and see whether they are safe from the public point of view.
The second point I would ask the right hon. Gentleman is, that the State shall not be allowed to hamper the industry by excessive inspection on the ground of the safety of the public—I do not mean after the machine is built, but during the construction of the machine. The risk of disaster must always be felt, and no regulation will ever get rid of that. We have seen in the case of ships, with all their wonderful watertight compartments, the "Titanic" sink. Commercial aviation is a commercial proposition, and if people are going to carry passengers in their machines they are going to have to pay if they kill people in those macines, and the right body to regulate and inspect machines is Lloyd's, and not the Government. The whole tiling comes down to a commercial proposition, and you will have to bring Lloyd's insurance people into it. If the right hon. Gentleman can give me 678 later assurances on those two points I think that there will not be very much opposition to this Bill.
§ Mr. BARTLEY DENNISS
There is no doubt that this Bill is absolutely necessary, and one matter which is strongly in its favour is that it is only a temporary provision. It is too soon to allow the British public to be put at the mercy of every rash individual who chooses to go in for aeroplanes either for sport or for commercial purposes. This is not the first Bill to deal with safety, for we have had before one Bill in 1911 and another in 1913 dealing with safety.
There was the Air Navigation Bill of 1911, which was for the protection of the public—
Yes, every word of it. The other Act was in 1913 which brings under the Defence of the Realm Act the coastlines and territorial waters of the realm. This is not a Bill to legalise military flying because that has already most elaborate provision. The object of this Bill is to deal with commercial or civilian aircraft, and that being so, I look at this measure with a great deal of doubt and hesitation. It is perfectly right and proper that for the present at least pilots' licences should be given by the Government pilots and aircraft should be registered and certified, because there is no other body at present which is capable of performing these very important duties. The first two lines of the first Clause of the Bill are enough to inspire one with a great deal of doubt as to whether or not this Bill may not be used to crush the commercial use of aircraft altogether because it says:It shall be lawful for the Secretary of State by Order to regulate aerial navigation over the British Islands and the territorial waters adjacent thereto, and in particular….(a) the grant, suspension and revocation of licences to pilots and other persons engaged in the navigation of aircraft.It is the most general Clause I have ever seen. It allows the Air Council, which is the authority under the Bill to stop all aircraft and flying in this country. It can prevent them going out of the country or coming in or flying over the country. That being the case unless these regulations are inspired by people who are thoroughly 679 in sympathy with the commercial aspects of the aircraft industry then I am afraid that industry must very much suffer. We remember well what happened in the case of the motor traffic. We remember how the first motor vehicles were not allowed to use the public roads unless they had a man in front of them with a red flag, and they were not to go over four miles an hour. That ought to be a warning to the House. That was the first Government idea as regards motor traffic, and it completely put England behind the Continent in the manufacture and development of motor traffic. What I am afraid of is that this Bill may do something like the same thing with regard to aircraft.
Regulations have already been made with regard to sending expeditions to India. First, they go to Karachi, and then to Delhi. This has been done entirely under military auspices. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman will allow the aircraft industry to run a flight of aeroplanes to Australia from this country, or will he restrict them absolutely to military men and military pilots. An association with which I am connected is anxious to make a trial of flying from London to Australia. The route as far as Karachi has been mapped out by the Government. Then to Delhi, afterwards to Calcutta and Singapore, touching the islands of Java, landing at Port Darwin in Australia. Then east or west or directly south to Adelaide, following the telegraphic line, running directly north and south. I want to know whether the Air Council will reserve to themselves all the rights of experimental flying from the United Kingdom to the various Dependencies. That is a matter which they might kill entirely by regulation.
I had some little experience in the early part of the War as to the way in which the War Office look upon aircraft. I had occasion in 1915 to call at the War Office to introduce to the Transport Department a Bosch magneto, and the man who could make them, and at that time they were very much needed by the British Army; in fact, the transport was crippled for want of them. I saw an officer in the War Department and he told me he thought he could get five hundred a week at the time. I pointed out to him that Mr. Churchill was proposing to have a fleet of a thousand aeroplanes to be sent over the big towns of Germany, and that was a very
intelligent anticipation of Mr. Churchill in 1915. "Oh," said the major at the head of the Department, "nothing of the kind. Aeroplanes are of no use at all, except perhaps for scouting." And he turned down the proposition altogether. He said, "We cannot give up making our motors for our transports in order to make aeroplanes." The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says that he is not at the Air Ministry, but I hope that he does not know to whom I am referring, because I do not want him to know. That was the way in which, in 1915, I was met with regard to aircraft, and that sort of thing may happen in every Government Department. Therefore, while congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley) upon his eloquent speech, and the way in which he developed this particular point, namely, the dead hand of bureaucracy upon progress in commerce, I should like to have some assurance from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he does not contemplate keeping that dead hand upon aircraft navigation for ever and ever, but that he will at the earliest possible moment turn it over to the civil authority. A great French flyer is contemplating making a flight from Paris to Australia, and, if any difficulty is put in our way by the War Office or Air Ministry, I am afraid that the French will be first in the field. I might call the attention of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the report of the Aerial Transport Committee, at the end of which it says:
It is a matter of urgent necessity to establish a system of propaganda throughout the Empire in order to convince the whole nation of the vast importance and possibilities of aerial transport, and to familiarise the governments and local authorities with the subject. There is evidence of the initiation of such a system in every country.
Undoubtedly, Germany and France and America and other countries will leave us far behind if the dead hand of bureaucracy is permanently planted upon the industry. The greatest objection which I have to this Bill is that which I have mentioned before and which has been mentioned many times in connection with similar Bills. It is that these Regulations for all practical purposes are made without any power in this House of controlling them in any way. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) says that the ownership of the air is in the owner of the land. It is an ownership from the centre of the earth right up into the skies as far as you
can get. I very much question whether that is still the law. I am myself a lawyer, and I may say that I differ from him. We had a Bill in this House with regard to oil found under land, and it was very much questioned whether the owner of the land had any right in the oil. That question has never yet been settled. I dare say the same thing would occur with regard to the air. I live in a small place with a few fields round me, and I have within two or three miles of me the largest aeroplane station in England. They have been continually coming over my ground, flying so low that they wave to me below—a most dangerous thing to do—and looping the loop. I do not believe if I went to the Law Courts that they would grant me an injunction and say that I could prevent them flying over my ground. I see that the title of this Bill is the Aerial Navigation Bill. We talk about the Air Ministry and the Air Council. Why, therefore, have this awkward Greek word "aerial." I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would consider whether it would not be better to give us a simpler word.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I need not say that I have no intention of opposing this Bill. On the contrary, I take the opportunity of welcoming it for the one reason that it concentrates in the hands of the Air Ministry the various powers dealing with air-craft which it had been suggested might possibly be diffused among various Departments of the State. I want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Air Ministry one or two questions. Does the Bill give the Air Ministry the power required to enable it to undertake pioneer work in aerial navigation—the setting up of the aerial routes both in this country and in the Empire generally—which we suppose is going to be one of the chief duties of the civilian side of that Ministry's work? Secondly, is it not possible—this is rather a point that we may deal with in Committee—to limit the certification of aircraft to aircraft which are going to be used for public purposes, so that a private pilot will be at liberty to fly any aircraft? I say this because there will be a danger that unimaginative officials will not give either the encouragement or the scope to the private, adventurer which the progress of aerial navigation undoubtedly demands. It is said that there is a danger to the public, but it must be remembered that the danger primarily is to the pilot and pas- 682 senger in the machine rather than to the public, and we might suppose that alone would be a sufficient guarantee that no excessively dangerous experiments would be made. The hon Member spoke of us being powerless under this Bill. I am under the impression that the Orders mast be laid on the Table of this House and must remain on the Table for twenty-one days within which it will be competent for any Member to move an Address for the revocation or alteration of any one of them.
§ Captain BENN
The hon Gentleman will excuse me, but he is mistaken. On the contrary, this is exempted business, and we can go on debating an Address moved with regard to anyone of these Orders until the next morning. The right hon and gallant Gentleman in this Bill has at least given us the power to deal with the Orders when he brings them forward. The last Clause of the Bill says that the Act shall continue in force for one year. One would suppose that meant that the Act would expire at the end of the year, and that if it were not then renewed other legislation would be brought forward. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, however, that there is a contrivance called the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and I should like to have from him the assurance that we shall not find in the Schedule of that Bill which is practically undebated the name of this Aerial Navigation Bill. I wish to ask those questions, and in the meantime to say that under the powers that he is taking much may be done by the Ministry over which he presides for the progress of this great science.
§ General SEELY
I can only speak by leave of the House, but as briefly as possible I will answer the various points raised. We have considered the points advanced by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), and especially we have had in mind the recommendations of the Aerial Transport Committee, of which he was a very prominent member. The provisional Regulations which we shall draft, and which are the only ones to appear under this Bill, will in almost all respects follow the lines of those recommendations. Again, in addressing myself to all the hon. Members who have spoken, I would emphasise that this is an interim measure, and that we must later 683 have a larger measure, which will put in the form of law the whole of the arrangements for the regulation of flying in the same way as there are propel, regular Acts—as for instance, the Board of Trade Act—to regulate either land transport or sea transport. I would again emphasise that this is a Bill by which alone we are enabled to give facilities for private individuals to fly. Without it they cannot fly, and it is principally for this reason that I commend it to the House. The hon. Gentleman particularly asked a question as to certification. We propose that certification should be done daily by persons appointed by the manufacturers, with the approval of the Air Ministry. Thus you will not have perpetual inspection by Government Departments, which would involve an immense number of inspectors, or mean that the thing would not be properly done.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman mean that every machine is to be inspected and practically certified every day? Supposing there is a line of aeroplanes running from London to Manchester, would they have to be inspected daily?
§ General SEELY
Yes. The criticism made to me when I met the British Society of Aircraft Manufacturers was that the provision was hardly necessary, because, of course, every owner of aeroplanes must inspect them. I am sure it is a wise provision, and I also think it is wise to leave it to the manufacturers to make the inspection as part of their regular duty by persons approved by the Air Ministry. Subject to that, I believe it will work well. Those, I think, were the principal points which the hon. Gentleman put to me.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
There was the legal question about the right of flying over other people's land. What are you going to do about that?
§ General SEELY
I was going to deal with that in some general remarks with regard to the legal aspect in replying to several hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. By this Bill, which I hope will become an Act, we shall be able to do the things named in Clause 1, but that does not by any means include any of the things which we must do if we are to have a proper code of law for the air. They must be put in the larger Bill. The question of penalties for the forging of certificates, for instance, cannot be dealt with under this Bill. The 684 ordinary common and Statute law, as we know it, will have to be the law for the time being. If we were to attempt to make a code of law for the air, it would mean a very large Bill and involve long Debates. Therefore, this Bill only sets out to do that which I have described in my opening remarks, namely, to enable civilians to fly, with a minimum of interference on the part of the State consistent with the public safety.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley), the youngest Member of this House, made a speech to which I am sure we were all delighted to listen as coming from one who left a most distinguished regiment to fly over the Germans, and who flew as long as he could until he met with a sufficiently hard bang to force him to return to his other duties. We congratulate him on his escape and upon his return to this House. In his excellent speech, however, he did not take into account my opening remarks in which I laid emphasis on the necessity of avoiding bureaucratic control. I will reply to him and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Colonel Moore-Brabazon) at the same time by saying that the whole object of the Air Ministry, I can assure them, as long as I am there—and I know I can speak for my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill)—will be to see that the State helps and does not hinder, that it does its utmost to encourage new designs of every kind, that it does not profess to be a grandmother in any sense, and that all restrictions possible shall be removed.
We are determined the State shall only endeavour to open the way to skill and energy. It will not try to hamper or thwart independence of thought or action on the part of those engaged. When I came across the Regulations drawn up in the ordinary form, in which, following the precedent in regard to land craft it laid down that aircraft should be examined as to its suitability and safety, I struck out the word "suitability," because it seemed to me that the State had nothing to do with that. If somebody proposes to fly from here to Australia we should be only too delighted to help them in every way consistently with the general safety. If they want to fly on a kind of machine entirely new to us which we may think ill-adapted for the purpose, we shall not stop them so long as we are satisfied that the machine is reasonably safe. We shall have 685 nothing more to say on that point. As to the activities of the Aircraft Ministry, we intend to give the fullest information in our power as to new discoveries, making, of course, exceptions in regard to military secrets, but the public will be at liberty to take out their own patents and keep their own secrets. That seems to be peculiarly the duty of the State in this entirely new form of locomotion.
§ Lieutenant Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
May they build machines without submitting designs to the Air Ministry?
§ General SEELY
Certainly. We shall only insist that they are reasonably safe, as is done in the case of ships at sea. We propose to follow exactly the precedent set in that case. If a man chooses to build a vessel, however fantastic in appearance, or design, if it is reasonably safe, the Board of Trade makes no objection. The State must do its duty to see that there is reasonable safety. There were three definite points put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Captain Wedgwood Benn). The first was as to pioneer routes. The opening of pioneer routes is done by the military at the present time, and if the State is going to do it it will be the Royal Air Force which will take the duty. At the present time we can do what we please within the limits imposed by Parliament with military and naval aviation, and if the Treasury approve of the expenditure necessary for opening up new routes, say, from Cairo to Karachi, this Bill will not help us, but it will enable people to begin experimental flying.
With regard to certificates for machines which are not to carry passengers, I have been asked if everybody is to be entitled to break his own neck. I say undoubtedly he is so entitled. After all, the risk to those below is similar only to the risk people have of being run over by motor cars. I do not think it is necessary to require any form of inspection of machines to be flown by men themselves, nor is there any need that they should have certificates, as is requisite in the case of those who are going to carry passengers, goods and, it may be, mails. The principle that you must take care of yourself is a good one. We look forward to people doing in the future what they did in the early days of flying. They will really be pioneers. They will strike out entirely new lines, 686 making machines to their own designs—designs which all sorts of wise people may think to be useless and unsuitable for flying. Finally, I have been asked for a very definite pledge on a very technical point. I am very glad to give it. My hon. and gallant Friend wanted to be assured that this measure will not be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which is generally passed without debate. It shall not be put into that Bill, and I hope as I give this assurance the House will help me to pass the bigger Bill which we intend to present to Parliament and which will enable this Bill to become obsolete. I think I have answered all the questions put to me.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
There was a question with regard to liability for accidents. Are we going to do away with the common law question of negligence? Suppose I am killed by an aeroplane from above, will my executors have to establish negligence on the part of the aeroplanist, or would compensation be given merely because I was killed?
§ General SEELY
I put that point to the Attorney-General, and he was unable to answer it. I do not know how it stands. I think probably that negligence would have to be proved in the case of air accidents as in the case of land accidents. But that is merely my own obiter dictum. It is a long time since I was called to the Bar and I cannot claim that it is a sound opinion. I do not think this Bill will alter the position in that respect, but I will make a note of the point. It is a subject which must be included in the larger Bill which I shall bring in at a future date. If any hon. Members have any suggestions they would like to make on the general question and will send them to me in the course of the next few weeks, I shall be most happy to consider whether they come within the scope and intentions of the larger measure, and, of course, within the agreement for international flying. It is quite likely, this being a new Service, that there are points we may have overlooked. I do not know whether it would be reasonable to ask the House to take the Committee stage of this Bill tonight. I am entirely in the hands of the House, but, in view of the fact that we shall be discussing the larger Bill before very long, perhaps hon. Members might be not unwilling to accept this suggestion.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a second time.
687 Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—[General Seely.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[General Seely.]
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have been scribbling down a few Amendments while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, and I am quite ready to take the Committee stage now if he and the Clerk at the Table will assist me with my rather badly written Amendments. There are no particular Amendments I wish to propose, but I desire to raise a few points which one has not been able to mention in Debate. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept the spirit in which they will be put, I shall not oppose the taking of the Committee stage now.
§ General SEELY
I will certainly give every assistance in meeting the hastily-scribbled notes my hon. Friend has mentioned. I would not have suggested taking the Committee stage now but for the fact that all the matters which come up in the temporary Bill have been touched on in Debate. We might endeavour to get the Committee stage now, and take the Third Reading later if the House so desire.
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]