Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £350,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Technical and Warlike Stores of the Air Force (including Experimental and Research Services), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for MR (Mr. Leach)
I think it would be as well if I state some of the reasons for the Vote which we are asking the Committee to accept to-day. The development of lighter-than-air methods of travel has lagged curiously behind the heavier-than-air methods, and aeroplane progress has been faster than the progress with ships. The experience of all countries in airship research has been full of disappointment, and our own has been unfortunate. After the War, when the general slump began, we practically abandoned all our work in this department under the stress of economy. The whole of our plant, buildings, ships and material were offered free to anybody who would undertake development work, but not a single offer was forthcoming. Efforts were made to enlist the Dominions in schemes with an Imperial basis, but they failed, as no one seemed able to afford the large expenditure necessary. It is true that in 1921 a conference of Prime Ministers, representative of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions, was interested in this matter. They went into deliberation on the subject and made the suggestion set forth in Command Paper 1474, thatfor the present the development of Imperial air communications to India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand must be by direct Government action.When a thing is desirable but offers no prospect of dividend the principle of State ownership has no opponents. For 466 three or more years we have done nothing in this matter. Our splendid up-to-date airship factory at Cardington has been closed. Our Research Department has certainly been at work making investigations and accumulating knowledge during that period.
Then came the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). I am bound to say he has displayed during those years very considerable faith in the future of lighter-than-air travel. Backed by powerful interests, he made certain offers, and I am satisfied that, on the whole principle of lighter-than-air travel, we are under special obligations to him. Negotiations were entered into and took the shape of a three-stage proposal. The first stage involved building one airship with a cubic capacity of 5,000,000 cubic feet, and her successful navigation to India, in not more than seven days. The promoters were to find £200,000 and the Government £400,000, and the time estimated for the accomplishment of the first stage was from one to one and a-half years. The second stage involved the building of two more airships and a weekly service to India. It also involved the raising of an additional £150,000 by the promoters and a further Government contribution of £1,200,000. The period estimated for the second stage was put at three years. The third stage involved three more airships and a bi-weekly service to India, the provision of £150,000 more by private capitalists, while the Government were to find a further £1,200,000. The time for this was estimated at three years. Then, following on that, there was to be an annual fee for eight years by the Government of £250,000, or £41,666 on each ship, as a sort of retainer. In addition, all existing airships, five in number, and materials, stores, etc., were to be handed over to the company as a gift. The original cost of these assets was well over £1,000,000, and estimating to-day's value at one-fifth of that amount, it means a gift to the company of £200,000. Cardington and Fulham are to be let to the promoters at a peppercorn rent. In 15 years this would be equivalent to a capital contribution of not less than £500,000. Thus the promoters were putting up £500,000 while the Government were putting up £5,500,000 in cash and in other ways. That looks sufficiently one- 467 sided, but other provisions make it still more so. The £200,000 worth of ships, material and stores is a gift. It is wiped off State assets like a bad debt. £500,000 worth of rent for Cardington and Fulham is also a gift. The eight instalments of £250,000, or £2,000,000, to be paid over by the Government as retaining fees, go into the coffers of the company.
What were we to get for that? A lien on the ships in case of war. The fee payments strike me as remarkably generous. Then there is a further provision for the subsidy payments. £2,800,000 are to be guaranteed by the creation of non-interest bearing debentures, and no assets are made to cover that period. For a period of seven years the promoters are in this way to be in receipt of a further subsidy of about £140,000 per annum. A commercial company able to borrow £2,800,000 free of interest would surely regard itself as on velvet.
Curiously there was a division by the promoters of their activities into two companies—one to be styled a guarantee company and the other an operating company. The guarantee company was to do the financing and probably to construct the airship. The other company was to operate the ships when built. The guarantee company was not to have more than 10 per cent. profit on the construction work involved, but on the other hand it could make unlimited profit on any orders which it might receive from all parts of the world. On its board the Government were not to be represented. The operating company, which was to work the actual service, was to have two Government directors, and out of its profits, after providing for reserves, one-half was to go to the repayment of the Government subsidies. Its initial capital was £200,000 while the capital of the guarantee company was £300,000. It is possible to envisage a position in which the guarantee company was doing very well, the operating company were making no profits, and in that case the repayment of the subsidies advanced by the Government could not be made. Any such repayments were only to come out of the profits of the operating company. Those of the guarantee company were not to be touched. There was a proviso also that at the end of the first year, if the scheme 468 did not look very promising—it had no chance of fruition—then the Government could cut its loss and clear out. The provision made for getting back the 2400,000 subsidy in that case seemed to me a little dubious, and I am very much afraid that it would under these circum- stances have been lost. A similar provision was also made to apply at the end of the fourth year, if at that time it appeared that the scheme was not going to work, and again the Government had the right to cut their losses and clear out. That means that their loss would probably be the full sum advanced up to then, namely, £1,600,000.
It is obvious that these safety provisions were not very safe after all. If there was any promise left in the scheme at the end of the four years, the Government would have been bound to continue their support. However morally certain they might themselves feel that the plan was a dubious one, the impelling force of the need for developing airships and the fact that the Government had all their eggs in this one basket, would, I feel sure, have made it impossible to retreat. There was another defect in the scheme which strikes me as fatal, and that was the monopoly position granted to the promoters. Under this scheme they would be the sole manufacturers of airships in the British Isles, and in the circumstances of the case nobody would be able to compete with them. They would be in possession of the finest and largest and most up-to-date airship factory in the world. The Government had been asked to bind itself to grant no financial help to any other airship company, and whether they might or might not have agreed to that proviso, I think it is a moral certainty that it would have worked out as the promoters wished, and that no other subsidies could have been made, in view of the very large commitments of the Government under this one. Financed as I have described, the promoters proposed to build for any other nation that came along. The results of research conducted at the public expense would be thus purchasable by any foreign Power, no competition here would have had the remotest chance with them, and for 15 years their position would have been impregnable. Further, in the opinion of my technical advisers, the initial stages of this scheme had not been well thought out. A 5,000,000 cubic feet 469 airship is more than twice as large as any airship which has been built yet in this country. No provision was made for a shed in India. Probably, it was the intention of the promoters to provide there a mooring mast on a monitor. The possibility of repairs being needed does not seem to have occurred to the promoters, and the fact that a shed would be necessary to make any effective repairs has not been part of their scheme.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
When the hon. Member says that, is he not talking of the experimental stage? Surely it would follow if successful?
§ Mr. LEACH
No other provision than the one I have indicated was named by the promoters at any stage. Under these circumstances the ship might very well get to India, and be unable to come back. Another point is this: If the Burney scheme had been adopted, the Government would have gained no first-hand technical experience in the construction, operation, and general development of airships. It would also have lost Cardington and Pulham, the only places from which at present research can be conducted. If airships are likely to have a serious use for naval, military and air force purposes generally, this presents us with rather a grave problem, and the House ought to consider that aspect of it. I suggest that the possibility of being in such a position could not have been entertained, and the wisdom of the Government in rejecting the proposal as it was originally made must now, I hope, be evident. For all these and other reasons, the Burney scheme was turned down. We should, however, have been very seriously lacking in our duty if we had not proposed anything in its place. In place of a scheme involving £4,800,000 commitments and other gratuities of at least £700,000, we have proposed the scheme outlined to the House a few days ago by the Prime Minister, and about which I do not need to go much more closely into the details, because they are set forth in his speech and in the details of the Supplementary Estimate in the White Paper.
But I would say this: The experience of every country shows the need for a good deal further research before an effective airship capable of travelling long distances can be regarded as a solved problem. We propose, therefore, to 470 begin that research and those experiments at Cardington, near Bedford. We shall first of all re-condition one of our existing ships for research purposes. We shall also at an early date proceed with the building of a new airship of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity. This will revive by degrees the more or less moribund life of Cardington village, which is also our property. Inside a year we may have 400 people at work there, though I cannot, of course, guarantee that figure. That number will increase the year following, and I may say that it takes no account of the contractors' workpeople, who will be at work enlarging the shed, making mooring masts, etc. W e shall construct overseas the necessary intermediate and terminal bases to enable the two ships, one built by us and one built by contract, to fly with safety between here and India.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
You cannot keep a shed secret after it is built. I think it is an important part of the scheme, and there is no reason why we should not be told where it is to be.
§ Mr. LEACH
The reason why I do not think it wise to discuss the site of the intermediate base is because we have not yet negotiated with the people who have to sell it. We have to pay some regard to wishes of Governments whose territory we shall be occupying in this way. The promised White Paper has been issued, giving the outlines of the proposed contract under which the second ship is to be built. That contract, I understand, is ready for signature as soon as the House agrees to let it go through. The time limit for the various stages of its fulfilment is three years, but I am told the prospective contractors are not of opinion that that length of time will be necessary. The total cost is £350,000. Our own costs will be much larger. We have to provide, as I have mentioned, these costly overseas bases, we have to recondition an existing ship, we have to furnish proper repair departments over- 471 seas, and we have, in effect, to make a highway to India.
§ Mr. LEACH
Perhaps I will try to deal with these matters later on. The whole scheme involves a three years' programme, a gross expenditure of £1,350,000, or, allowing for the re-purchase of the contractors' airship by them, £1,200,000. As set forth in the Estimates, of that total we are asking this year for £350,000. The question of technical staff and of expert research workers has been fully explored, and we are satisfied that in that respect we are properly and fully equipped. My Department may be said to be straining at the leash, in expectation of the word "go." We have faith in the outcome of this experiment. We look for a successful achievement, opening up a new era of Dominion relationship, because the communication with our blood relations overseas will be put upon a closer basis than it has ever be-en put before. It is certain that the Dominion aspect of the scheme, about which I have said so little, is nevertheless a very bright and alluring part of it, and the prospect of reaching India in five days, followed by that of reaching Australia in from ten to twelve days, is surely sufficient to take a few risks. In regard to our commerce, if this development prove successful, as I am confident it may, there are tremendous possibilities ahead, and it is therefore with a great deal of confidence that I ask the House to-day to give its support to this scheme.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
How long a period is expected to elapse -before we have the first ship able to make the first voyage to India?
§ Captain BRASS
How long a time will elapse before the hon. Member will be able to announce the place where he is going to have an intermediate station?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I am sure the Committee has listened with interest to the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and, at any rate on this side, we have noticed the progress that the hon. Gentleman has made and that has brought him to-day into this atmosphere of full blooded Imperialism. I cannot help hoping that the Under Secretary and his colleagues will take as great an interest in carrying out the other objects of the Imperial Conference, in which the members of the Conference were just as much interested as they are in this question of airships. There is another point that may not have struck hon. Members, as it struck me during the hon. Gentleman's speech. The hon. Member, as we noticed, has made great progress during his speeches in other fields of air policy. If we compare his first speech with his speech on the Estimates, and again his speech to-day, we see a very remarkable progress.
§ Sir S. HOARE
And to-day he comes before us, not only as a full-blooded Imperialist, but as a full-blooded militarist as well. He is going to do what I never should have ventured to do. He is coming to this Committee and asking hon. Members to agree to the building of a military airship by direct labour for the Government—a military airship to be built for the objects, as the Noble Lord described in another place, of the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. I never took any such militarist view of the immediate development of airships. I took the view, rather, that if airships have a future, that future lies in the field of commerce, and not in the construction of military airships that were abandoned at the end of the War, and until the Socialist Government came here, with the hon. Member as their spokesman, no one had any idea of reverting to it. Our scheme was a commercial scheme. Commerce was its foundation, and we had no intention of reverting to the building of military airships by direct labour under the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, or any other Department. And let the Committee notice, that while the Government have accepted every other part of the air policy of the late Government—their expansion scheme, the policy that they had adopted with reference to research, 473 the encouragment of light aeroplanes, and the policy with reference to starting an Auxiliary Air Force—their sole original contribution to the field of development of British aviation is the building of a military airship that the late militarist Conservative Government would never have dreamt of proposing to this House.
Let me come to a comparison between the scheme of the late Government and the scheme the outlines of which we have heard this afternoon. The Under-Secretary of State gave what, I suppose, he considered to be an accurate account of our scheme. He will forgive me for saying that I failed to recognise in the description that he gave, the description of the scheme to which we agreed last year, and which we should have embodied in a Bill, and brought before the House if we had still remained in office. Let me remind hon. Members what the scheme really was. It was, as say, a scheme based upon the fact that in our view the development of airships should be upon commercial lines, and with that basic fact in our minds we were prepared to make a loan without interest. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] There is nothing of which to be ashamed in that. In any pioneer work of this kind, it will be found necessary, and the hon. Gentleman, if he remains in office long enough to see his own scheme developed, will find at the end of the three years of this experimental period, he will be faced with exactly the same problem with which we were faced. We were prepared to make a loan at the rate of £400,000 a year for seven years, to be repayable out of subsequent profits. It was not a free gift; it was a loan secured upon the assets of the company. [An HON. MEMBER: "If any!"] I do not think there is any cause of disagreement upon that point. Obviously, any company operating a, scheme of that kind for several years would have considerable assets at the end.
Anyhow, it was to be secured upon such assets as there were, and it was to be repayable out of subsequent profits, the company receiving half the profits and the State receiving the other half. AL the end of the seven years' period during which these loans were to run, we hoped that there would have been six large airships actually working upon a commercial ser- 474 vice between England and India, and we were then prepared to follow the precedent that was adopted some years ago—and still, so far as I know, exists—of making a payment by results. Just as we make a payment—so far as I know, it still exists—to the Cunard Company for keeping in commission a certain number of fast trans-Atlantic liners, so we were prepared to make a fee payment for each airship actually running upon this commercial service, and supposing six airships had been regularly engaged upon it, we were prepared to make fee payments, as I say, upon actual results, to the extent of £250,000 a year for a subsequent. period of eight years. The scheme being, as I say, a commercial scheme, we were anxious that it should develop upon commercial lines, and that it should receive as little interference as possible from Government intervention. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I suppose that the interjections of hon. Members opposite imply that we were delivering ourselves into the hands of a commercial company, and that we were not taking adequate safeguards in the interest of the State. An hon. Member opposite says, "It looks like it, anyway." If that be his view, let me point out to him the safeguards we actually took. The first safeguard was to insist that, as a guarantee of the stability and the good faith of the company, a substantial sum of private money should be subscribed to the enterprise, and we insisted that during the course of the three stages a sum of £500,000 should be subscribed by private, investors.
That was not only essential from the, point of view of safeguard of the stability of the company, but it was also valuable from another point of view, for it seemed to us that the best stimulus to a company to develop its airships efficiently and quickly was to make it certain that that money would be lost if the company did not carry on its business successfully, and that the better it did its work, the sooner there would be a return upon that private capital. We regarded, then, this subscription of private capital as not only evidence of the stability of the company with which we were dealing, but as one of the principal incentives to make the company develop, and to make it develop. quickly and efficiently. But there was a further safeguard, and it may be that 475 hon. Members will think it even more important than that to which I have just alluded. We were only going to pay by results. The scheme was divided into three stages. There was to be no payment for the second stage until the tests of the first stage had been actually carried out. Just in the same way there was to be no payment for the third stage until the tests of the second stage had also been adequately carried out. That meant that the liability was strictly limited to the actual payments by results, and it is, therefore, altogether incorrect to compare, as the Prime Minister compared the other clay, and as the Under-Secretary of State compared to-day, the figure of £4,800,000 with the figure of £1,350,000 in his Estimate. The only commitment that we were prepared to ask the country to enter into was a commitment of £400,000, with no further payment of any kind whatever until the tests in the various stages had been carried out.
So much for the two principal safeguards. But there was another consideration that we had to keep in mind, and that was the consideration of safety. There, again, to judge by the speeches of the representatives of the Government, we would appear to have ignored that consideration altogether. Nothing of the kind was the case. The tests for the airships would have been as stringent and severe as the tests for airworthiness of aeroplanes. In both cases the Air Ministry would have been responsible for the airworthiness tests. I claim in all those three respects our scheme was amply safeguarded, and those safeguards make it very different from the travesty of the scheme that, the Under-Secretary has just described. He said it was a monopoly. It was nothing of the kind. It was a series of loans and payments to a particular company to carry out a particular service. There was nothing that prevented us from making similar payments to other companies. I should have hoped, if this pioneer work had succeeded, that by the end of the seven years period a number of other companies would have come forward. We never intended that there should be a monopoly. Our scheme was not in the nature of a monopoly. Had it succeeded, there would have been, I feel sure, a 476 large amount of competition, perhaps on this line, and certainly on the other air lines which undoubtedly would have developed. It was not an unsafe scheme. The Under-Secretary said a little while ago that the experts of the Air Ministry criticised it on the ground of safety. I can tell the Committee that so long as I was Secretary of State for Air there was not any criti2ism made against it, as far as I know, by any expert at the Air Ministry. The question was considered not only at the Air Ministry, but by the experts of the Admiralty, and also by the Committee of Imperial Defence. So far as I can remember, there was a unanimous opinion expressed that technically there was no reason why the scheme associated with the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) was not only technically feasible, but safe as well. The Under-Secretary shakes his head. I would ask him to remind me of any opinion expressed in opposition to this scheme during my term of office, on the ground that it was either technically impracticable or unsafe.
§ Sir S. HOARE
If the experts held that view, they never expressed it to the Minister in charge of the Department. If the scheme had failed, as I have just said, the country's commitments were strictly limited to the three periods. We should have cut our losses at any of the three, periods after the expenditure of the first £400,000, and if the scheme had succeeded, compared with the result—the meagre result—described in the Government White Paper, there would be a minimum of six airships running on a commercial service between India and this country. Compare the meagre result of these two experimental airships described in the White Paper, with the six airships running between India and England upon commercial lines. I emphasise those words "upon commercial lines."
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us if it is not the case that the British Government had—it was an essential part of the scheme—to hand over these airship sheds and valuable properties in land for a peppercorn rent?
§ Sir S. HOARE
Yes. We should have had to hand over the airship material for a peppercorn rent. I do not see any objection to that. Up to that time these two great air stations at Gardington and Puiham were lying derelict—
§ Sir S. HOARE
—and the material in the sheds, I know, was, from a commercial point of view, absolutely worthless. There was a clause in the agreement under which the company was to pay £500,000 for the two properties. I challenge the hon. Gentleman or anyone else to get anyone to bid anything like that sum for those two air stations.
We were making an experiment with the definite object of proving whether airships were or were not a practical commercial proposition. We were going to test that problem in the only way [...] which you could test it—by having a genuine commercial experiment. It was not the case of seeing whether airships could fly. Airships have been flying for 20 years and more. It was a question of seeing whether airships were going to appeal to passengers, and were going to appeal to manufacturers and get freights, That was an experiment upon which we were engaged. The question was one of seeing whether airships would attract passengers; that, if they were started, whether passengers would travel upon them, and people would wish to send letters and freight, and what use they were going to make of them. In an experiment of that kind it was essential to have a number of airships actually in operation. It is no commercial experiment to have one airship making a single journey. A commercial experiment is an experiment with a regular service between England and India, carrying passengers and freight. I would ask hon. Members to compare these two schemes with those facts in mind. If hon. Members accept my first proposition that the future of airships is commercial, is the experiment the Government are now making an experiment that is really going to prove that at all? Was not the experiment that we were prepared to make, namely, six airships in a regular service between India and Britain, the only commercial test that could reasonably be applied to the problem?
478 Let me come to one or two other features of the Government scheme. £1,350,000 is to be spent during a period of three years. All this money is expended without any possibility of return, unlike the £400,000 which we were prepared to subscribe, as I have stated, and which was alone repayable out of subsequent profits.
§ Sir S. HOARE
No, no, that was altered, and the division of profits was between the Government and the airship company. That in itself appears to me to show that the Government scheme is likely to be more expensive than ours. There are other considerations. The private company has only the opportunity of building one of these two ships, and is to be paid £300,000 if it is asked, with the option afterwards of buying the ship, if it has built it, at £150,000. The Committee will note that in that transaction there is no incentive applied to the private company such as we should have been able to apply if our scheme had gone through, by means of the fact that a large sum of private capital had been put into the scheme, and it was, therefore, an advantage to the company to build airships for a commercial service no cheaply and efficiently as possible. In this proposal, there is no incentive of that kind at all. More serious still, in so far as I can see, no ultimate policy is in the mind of the Government as to what is going to happen at the end of this three years' period.
Our programme was based, not on what was going to happen in the next 18 months, or even in the next year or two, but on what was going to happen in seven years' time, and in 15 years' time. It was based on the ultimate policy of getting the service of six ships actually running commercially between this country and the Far East. In the case of the Government scheme there is no ultimate object in view at all, so far as one can see. They are simply building these two ships, and at the end of the three years they will be little further forward, and will be, faced with the problems at the end which we were ready to face at the very beginning. Again, the Government scheme seems to me to suggest that there is no possibility of economic construction. You are going to have two 479 separate bodies of people each building one airship. Surely, the only economic way to construct airships, as to construct anything else, is not by building one isolated machine, but by having a policy that will lead to repetition, and by putting down your plant, not for a single machine, but for a number of other machines in the future; by that means the scheme of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge was during this period going to produce airships much more cheaply than possibly can be produced by the construction of one single airship either by the Air Ministry or by a private company.
There is one very serious objection to the policy of the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary. Here you are going to set up in the Air Ministry a great new airship department. At the present moment, so far as I know, there are in the Air Ministry very few officials who know anything about airships. You have therefore got to recreate a great airship department and set up a big Government organisation for the building of a single airship. Not only are you going to have a great department in the Air Ministry, but you are going to have two special boards set up on which will be represented seven or eight Government authorities. So far as I can understand, you are going to have a special investigation by a Committee of Imperial Defence into the relations existing between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. You are having all this gigantic organisation for the building of a single airship. You are not only having this gigantic organisation in Whitehall, but you are going to have what appears to me to be no less dangerous, that is, a new construction organisation at Carding-ton. I took the view as long as I was Secretary of State for Air that it was altogether unwise for the Government to embark upon a policy either of aeroplane or airship construction, because it seemed to me that there was every kind of reason economical, political and aeronautical against it, and it therefore came about that no aeroplane construction was undertaken by the Government at the Royal aircraft establishment at Farnham.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are now adopting their more Socialistic policy, and they are starting at Cardington new organisation for the direct construction of airships. There I disagree 480 entirely with the policy of the hon. Gentleman opposite, but, supposing I was wrong upon political grounds, let them consider for a moment how this proposition is going to work out economically. The attention of the Committee has been drawn to the fact that the construction of this airship at Cardington was going to employ 400 men and women. I should like to ask, in passing, whether these 400 men and women would not have been equally usefully employed if the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge had been commissioned to build two airships instead of one?
I want to know shat is going to happen to these 400 men and women when this single Government airship is finished? The essence of the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge was that it was going to develop into a much greater Service during a period of 15 years. Before this Debate ends I should like the Under-Secretary of State for Air to tell the Committee what the Government really intend to do when this experimental period is over. What is going to happen to these 400 men and women? Have the Government mapped out an ultimate policy beyond that time? Do they contemplate the operation by the Government of a commercial service? All these questions are very relevant to this discussion, and so far we have not heard a word about them in the speech of the Under-Secretary.
Let me go back now to what I was saying about the Air Ministry. I say that it is very unwise to set up this new Department on a big scale at the Air Ministry for this reason. It seemed to me when I was in office, and no less now, that the great problem of the Air Ministry is the. working out of the home defence scheme, and I cannot help regretting the result of the hon. Gentleman's proposal which will mean that this effort which should now be concentrated upon engines and machines for the home. defence scheme will be dissipated upon this new Department., which quite obviously, particularly at its commencement, must take up a large amount of the time of the Ministers and the experts of the Air Ministry. I hope that I have said enough to convince the Committee that there are great objections to the Government scheme.
That does not mean that I am not as anxious as they are to see airship de- 481 velopment, but it means rather that I am so anxious that I cannot help expressing my view that their scheme is likely to be. more expensive and less efficient in developing the air service than is the scheme for which the late Government was responsible. The result of the Government scheme is the building of a military airship when a commercial experiment is what is needed; the setting up of two separate organisations when one would do the work much better; and the dissipation of the efforts of the Ministers and the experts of the Air Ministry upon airship problems when they would both be much better engaged upon developing the home defence scheme and ensuring a quick supply of the best engines and machines in the world.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish to state at the beginning of my remarks that whatever may be thought of the late Government's scheme, in regard to which we have heard an apologia from the last speaker, and whatever we may think of the final decision reached by the Air Ministry, this House and the whole Empire should show some gratitude to the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) for having kept this question alive almost alone and unaided. I know the difficulties the hon. and gallant Member had during the War to get the Admiralty to move upon the question of paravanes, and he is experiencing a similar difficulty in regard to this question of airships. Personally, I am very sceptical as to the ultimate value of airships either for commercial or military purposes. I do not want to enter into competition with the right hon. Baronet who has just spoken or his successor. To me they appear like two horse dealers, each trying to sell a horse to an unwilling purchaser. I say that because I think the state of the House this afternoon shows how much interest hon. Members really take in this estimate of £350,000, and the inauguration, if all goes well, of this great Imperial air roadway to our great Dominions and our blood-brothers across the sea.
If you are really convinced that the airship has a future for commercial and military purposes, of which I am very doubtful, there is a great deal to be said for taking up this brand new State service on national lines. You have here an opportunity for a practical experiment 482 in State Socialism, and if it had been a frank acceptance of that position and an embarkation on that experiment there would have been a good deal to be said for it. Unfortunately the Government, I suppose because they are not quite sure of their political position, are not prepared to go the whole hog in that direction. On the other hand, there is something to be said for leaving the matter entirely to private enterprise.
We know what private enterprise has done in the shipping industry, and it might be supposed that the same thing would happen in regard to this question. This scheme, however, is neither one thing nor the other. It is a little bit of private enterprise and a little bit of State Socialism, and I believe you are going to get the worst of both. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote this question. The airship is supposed to have a utility, not for military purposes at all, but for naval purposes. I do not know where airships are going to be used for purely military purposes. The only military use made of them in the late War was to carry ammunition to the military forces in East Africa. For naval purposes, however, they may possibly have a utility, although with the development of the seaplane their utility will be largely diminished.
What I want to point out is that for naval purposes in regard to these airships you must have a non-inflammable gas, and I would like to ask what are our possible supplies of helium for this purpose? Have our experts gone into that question, because without helium an airship is extremely vulnerable, and, personally, I would not like to send up any of our men in airships filled with an inflammable gas in face of the rapid development of the naval air service. If these airships are to be used for naval purposes, where are they going to be used? Will they be used in the Indian Ocean, in the Mediterranean, or in the intermediate station? Will their shed he in Malta, Palestine, or some mandated area? They might be useful in the intermediate station for vessels operating over the Indian Ocean. If we are going to have a naval war in the future we may take it that it will be in the Pacific.
In the Pacific you will need your shed, and, therefore, you are bound really to have another shed built at Singapore or 483 somewhere else, to allow of operations over the Pacific. You might also need airships over the. Atlantic, and, therefore, I presume, you will have to come to some arrangement with the Irish Free State to erect one of these airship sheds in the West of Ireland. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) inquired as to the cost, and I understand that the Minister is going to tell us presently what it is. For the modern airship, I presume, it will have to be a revolving shed, so that it can always be trimmed to the wind, with mooring masts, huts, wireless, and everything else, and that is going to be a very costly business. If the airships are really going to be used for naval purposes, one or two sheds at least will be wanted for the Pacific, and a couple more for the Atlantic, in addition to the intermediate one for the Mediterranean, and all that is going to cost a great deal of money. Moreover, just as, when you build your great ships, you say you must have docks, and the late Government embarked on the extraordinary adventure of Singapore, so, having got the airships, there will be a demand for airship sheds. What the ultimate cost will be I do not really know, but it will be very considerable.
I must say I think the money which it is proposed to spend on these airships could be much better used in other directions—aerial directions. We are promised, or, at least, the hope is held out to us of a voyage to India in five days. At present airships are not very reliable for voyages in the Mediterranean or round these Islands, but even to-day it would be possible, with proper organisation and development and a little energy, to organise a commercial air service to India in very little longer time by means of aeroplanes, and it would certainly be possible also to extend that service to Australia with aeroplanes at a. much less cost. The hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge, of course, shakes his head, and I am perfectly well aware where both his heart and his head are, but I have not, in talking about airships, mentioned Australia at all. It will involve a further great expenditure of money to extend the airship service to Australia, or to make preparations in Australia for the use of airships for naval purposes over those waters, but the development of an aeroplane passenger 484 and commercial service to Australia would be comparatively cheap. I would much rather see the money spent in that direction, and it could he done with the aeroplanes that we already have. That is where I should like to see the Air Ministry really getting busy and going ahead. I am very sorry that they find themselves hampered by the agreement with the present heavier-than-air company, which, I am afraid, will be rather a nuisance to us in the future.
I consider that the state of development of civil aviation at the present time is deplorable. Recent events are too fresh in the minds of every hon. Member present to need recall, but on technical grounds the aeroplane journey to India or Australia, with a little further development, is perfectly feasible, and would be most valuable to commercial men doing business with those two great Dominions. It is not so much the value of a quick passenger service, although that, of course, is important. It is the great value of being able to send documents—cheques, bills or acceptances—quickly by air. The transmission of all those interest-carrying documents more quickly from one place to another means a great saving in interest., and it means a quickening up of commercial transactions between this country and India—our greatest over-sea market, which takes the greatest proportion of our goods of any part of the world; and, of course, the same applies to Australia to a very great degree. That is the direction in which I should like to see this considerable expenditure, rising to nearly £1,500,000. Furthermore, as regards preparations for aerial warfare, I would rather see a proportion of the money devoted to. increasing our squadrons of aeroplanes for the purpose of home defence, or, rather, of counter-attack, as it will be.
I notice that the hon. Gentleman trots out the old reason for further expenditure upon what really are armaments, namely, that of giving employment. He is going to employ 400 men. I hope he will send his speech to-day to the Minister of Labour, who, I am sorry to see, is not present, because he will be able. to use it in to-morrow's discussion on that subject. At any rate, he will be able to point to one positive new remedy for unemployment which the present Government have introduced. I look upon the airship in 485 its present state of development as in the same situation as the sailing ship in the early days of steam vessels. In those days coaling stations were few and far apart, and the marine engine was imperfect. The sailing ship, therefore, had great uses then, and there are uses for it still, for that matter. During the next few years, while the aeroplane and seaplane remain imperfect and undeveloped, there may be a field for the airship, but I am perfectly certain that the heavier-than-air machine will finally oust the lighter-than-air machine. I am convinced of this from what I have been able to study on the subject and from inquiries I have. made.
I therefore consider that, placed as we are, this money would be far better spent on heavier-than-air craft and on heavier-than-air experiments, and that an Imperial aeroplane naval service should be initiated and developed by the present Government, providing splendid training for the men in flying the machines, and binding closer together the different parts of the Empire. Moreover, if we can develop air communication by aeroplane in conjunction with other countries, we shall do a tremendous deal to keep down artificial 'barriers 'between the peoples. That is where I think expenditure will be more valuable than on this extremely doubtful and hazardous experiment, which, as I have said, is a mixture of State Socialism and private enterprise—neither the one thing nor the other—as to which I have very grave doubts. At the same time, I do not want to vote against this Estimate. I am not convinced in my mind that the scheme will be a failure, but I am not convinced that it will be a success. I only hope it will be successful, and at a reasonable cost. I do not share the hostility of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea. (Sir S. Hoare) to the Government's proposals, which have taken the place of his, and for very obvious reasons. I hope the Government. will succeed, but at the same time I ask them to pay very great attention to the one or two points which I have mentioned, and in which I think there may be some substance.
§ Mr. NICHOL
I should like to congratulate the Government upon one aspect of their Air Service policy. I should like to congratulate them on having turned down the airship policy 486 that was proposed by the previous Government. I think, however, that the Government have not gone quite far enough. In embarking on an airship scheme of their own, they are going into an experimental business. That is laudable in one sense, but I think there are much more urgent and necessary experiments in various other ways which would provide far more work than this particular one, and would be more useful, socially, to the nation. The previous speaker has mentioned that the public interest in airships, as it is shown by the interest here in this Chamber, is not extremely great. After all, so far as airships are concerned, public interest was at one period extremely great, but the history of public opinion, so far as airships are concerned, is for the most part a memory of disasters. There is not a single airship in the country in commission at the present time, and the inquiries into several of the disasters have shown that, compared with the heavier-than-air machine, the airship development is at an almost infantile stage.
We have to-day commercial services of aeroplanes starting almost as regularly as a train service to various parts of the Continent, and we have had aeroplane flights on a larger scale, all of which have come to disaster in one way or another, attempting to go round the world, showing that even the aeroplane, so far as great distances are concerned, is in the experimental stage and is by no means a commercial proposition. So far, however, as airships are concerned, their stage of development is embryonic in comparison. The question we have to consider to-day is, really, the proposal of the Government as compared with the scheme with which the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) is associated. That scheme has been defended by the ex-Minister for Air as being a commercial scheme. That seemed to he the chief note of his speech—it was a genuine commercial experiment, the scheme was a commercial scheme. I tried to keep count, but probably, when hon. Members look over the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, they will find that it was recommended as a. feasible commercial scheme over 20 times in the course of one speech.
I want just to deal with the nature of that commercial scheme. It was a scheme that was going to give a virtual 487 monopoly to one group—a group consisting, if I may so put it, of en engineering armament firm plus a petrol supply company, aided by a number of aeronautical enthusiasts. The group set out to do certain things, but in the process of their scheme they were going to get subsidies from the State to such an extent that no other firm or group of firms could possibly have competed with them. We were faced with the proposal to create a monopoly which was going to enjoy very large privileges, and was going to become embedded in our State machinery as an ex-Government Department. It was going, practically, to be a Government Department without any control. The scheme has been defended on the grounds that there were certain safeguards, but how much of the contribution to that scheme was to come from the State, and how much was to come from private enterprise—because that was held out by the ex-Minister for Air as being the chief safeguard? It is true that there were certain periods during which the scheme was going to operate, and during which it was going to be tested. It has been complained that the Government are only proposing to build one or possibly two airships, but I do not think that that proposal will be completed in any longer time than the first section of the Burney scheme. In the first part of the scheme the Government were going to put down £400,000, and the group were going to subscribe £200,000. I am not going into any of the technical difficulties, such as the question of mooring these great airships to monitors, or anything of that kind; I want simply to deal with the financial aspect of the matter. At the end of three years the Government would have subscribed an additional £1,200,000, and the private investors were going to produce £150,000. Then, in the third period, when there were to be three more airships—and this takes us eight years ahead—the Government were to produce another £1,200,000, and the group of private investors £150,000. Therefore, at the end of eight years, the total State contribution was going to be £2,800,000, and the private investors' commercial contribution was going to be £500,000. If this is going to be put before us repeatedly in speeches as being a commercial proposition, we wish to suggest that 488 I think in business even the Morris Motor Company, in spite of the taking off of the duties, could be quite easily run if it were going to be subsidised to the extent of £2,800,000, as against a private contribution of £500,000. Then again the fourth period took in another eight years and brings us forward 15 years in the total scheme. The Government contribution during that period was to have been £250,000 per annum, so that over the 15 years the total commitment of the Government was going to be £4,800,000. In addition the group was going to get a gift—because I do not think any money was mentioned—of five existing airships. They may be in a more or less derelict state. The stores and materials, as I think was suggested, cost over £1,000,000. Their present value may be as low as a tenth of that sum, but they have a present value, as has been shown by the experience of the Disposal Board. In addition these two properties were to be handed over to the group—the property at Pulham, estimated on a conservative basis to be worth £50.000, and the great Governmentt estate and sheds at Cardington, which cost the nation £500,000. I think it was specified that the State would retain a right over that property by the payment of a peppercorn rent—a rent estimated at something like 100th part of a farthing.
In this lauded commercial proposition the Government was going to contribute in assets and in money a total of almost £5,500,000. The total safeguard which was given for that was that the group were going to subscribe £500,000—an eleventh part of the money. Apart from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge, the group consisted financially of an engineering firm and a petrol supply company, and they could quite easily get their contribution back out of the profits on the actual building. One-eleventh is not a very big proportion to get returned in that way. I notice that as the scheme originally stood—it was said to be amended by the ex-Minister for Air—no repayments were going to be made. This money was to be lent interest free—a proposition which, when it was suggested it should be applied to housing, was turned down with derision. The money was to be given interest free and we were told that it was to be repaid, but a revelation was made, probably unwittingly, that the actual opinion of the ex-Minister 489 for Air was that repayments were entirely doubtful, and an actuarial calculation which was cited in another place in the Debate last week showed that if this company—I do not want to go into the question of the separation into an operating and a constructive company and a guarantee company—assuming phenomenal success, had been able to pay a 20 per cent. profit it would take at least 60 years to pay back. I am so pessimistic about airship development that I suggest that the ex-Minister's opinion that the repayments were extremely doubtful is likely to be nearer the truth.
The Government are to be congratulated on turning down that scheme. It was going to create a monopoly in the hands of the group over which extremely little control by the Government or by the public could possibly have been retained. It is true that certain tests had to be made at specified periods. They were technical tests, and were of such a nature that even though they had failed, the Government of the day would have been forced by financial pressure still to bolster up the company. We all know that, after a company has been committed to a certain amount of expenditure, there is extreme pressure to put more money in in order to save what has already gone. That is an argument which has been used repeatedly on the question of the guarantees and loans to the Sudan Government. It is extremely difficult, once committed to any such arrangement, for a Government, or even a private company, completely to extricate itself. The Government are to be congratulated on turning down the scheme. I only suggest that in putting forward their alternative scheme, while it will be clear of all the commercial difficulties and the chance of profits, which were extremely doubtful, the policy indicated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is likely to be of more importance to this country than airship development. We have experiments going on certainly in various parts of the world, and in one or two countries in particular, but our own experience of airship development up to date has been very largely a series of disasters. There is such a thing as building a machine, necessarily of the lightest possible character, which becomes uncon- 490 trollable. It is all very well to go on increasing the capacity of your gas vessels, but there are certain factors to be taken into account and airships appear to be rapidly getting to a stage when human beings cannot control them, and we come to the proposition in the end that the question of the human factor in control is an extremely important one. I suggest the development, if necessary on commercial lines, of the aeroplane service, and the money proposed should be better spent on that than on the method suggested in this Vote.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
I suppose it is natural for a new Government to take every opportunity they can of differing from the course laid down by their predecessors, but that I should have thought there were, in certain circumstances, occasions when even a new Government might follow upon the course which has been deliberately adopted by their predecessors, even though it might not be along the lines they would have advanced if they had only their own ideas to consider. For example, I should have imagined a Government which was so anxious to let it be known in the world that they had a considerable concern with the future of the Empire would have been. only too anxious to honour the commitments made by their predecessors in the matter of certain preferences. But after the contemptuous way in which this Government have treated the Dominions on certain questions of Preference which have been entered into by the late Government it is, I suppose, too much to expect that consideration would have been shown to a scheme which had been entered into by the late Government with an ordinary individual who happened also to be a member of the present Opposition. But it is at least permissible for every taxpayer to scrutinise the scheme which has been put up by the Government, and to see whether it is at least going to give us equal value for the same money. It is obvious immediately when one scrutinises this scheme that this is not the case at all. One is not getting the same value for one's money. In fact, I think if the Government had wanted to demonstrate to the country the superior advantages of Socialism over private enterprise, that is to say, whereby the geatest sum of money is spent with the least possible result, I think they could 491 not possibly hit upon a more convincing instance.
We have heard to-day a great many figures and a great many facts. We have heard about peppercorn rents, and on both sides of the Committee we have been given a good deal of information. As far as I can gather, under the Burney scheme they were going to provide one airship, which was all that was necessary as a test, to demonstrate the practicability of inter-Empire transport by lighter-than-air vessels, and this was going to be done at a cost of £400,000. A good deal of this sum was to he covered by the assets of the Airship Construction Company. The Government scheme provides for two airships at a cost of £1,200,000, and if it is not a success it is to cost £1,350,000. So you have a Socialist Government paying £600,000, or perhaps £675,000, for a ship which private enterprise can provide at £400,000. Not only are they spending 50 per cent. more for this ship, but, with that open-handed generosity which characterises Socialists all over the world when dealing with other people's money, they are plunging on two ships at the risk of both of them having to be scrapped. The Government propose to spend nearly three times as much and to get identical results. That, I suppose, is Socialist finance, It is, in fact, a more illuminating and instructive illustration even than the Budget. After all, in the Budget other people's economies were being used for the purpose of buying popularity. Here we have constructive Socialism. We have the first fruits of the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution, and we can note the cost. Under the Burney scheme there was a group of expert business men and experts in airship construction who were risking their own money, their own time and their own reputation in the effort to make a commercial success of the building and running of airships. They were to be paid strictly by results, and failure at any stage meant the end of all Government assistance, and any hope of personal profit also came to an end. In the Government scheme that incentive to care, effort and invention, which always exists when people who are engaged in an undertaking realise that success or failure will make all the difference in regard to 492 their prosperity, is largely thrown away. That is not good business. If the Government scheme be undertaken and proves a failure, it is not merely that a greater sum of money will be lost than would otherwise be the case, but it means also that the opportunity will have been lost of developing inter-Empire transport.
It is idle to pretend that the Government scheme is necessary, for State or military reasons, for the purpose of keeping so important an Imperial service under State control. As far as I can gather, the Burney scheme provides at every turn, every safeguard for the most complete control by the State of everything which in private hands might conceivably be used to the damage of the State or of the public service. One of my right hon. Friends on this side said that it was very unfair to defend this scheme by comparing things that are not comparable. The total amount of public money which would become involved in the Burney scheme if it became a complete success is compared with what the Government is going to spend on the initial and experimental stage of its scheme. How much the Government scheme will eventually cost, if it is a success and is carried out to the full on Socialistic lines, we have not been told. Perhaps we are lucky to have an airship scheme at all, seeing that an airship scheme had already been laid down by the last Government. The whole thing might have gone the way of other things—the way the McKenna Duties have gone, and the way the Singapore base has gone. Fortunately, airship construction does not do direct, violence to the principles of Free Trade, and the possession of airships to guard our shores comes more closely home to some of us than do the advantages of having naval ports to guard our Dominions in the Pacific.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I only hope that in courting failure in going forward with this scheme hon. Members will not succeed in putting back airship construction for an indefinite period. Even the demonstration of the utter futility of their political and economic doctrines will be dearly bought at such a price.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I have heard hon. Members say that they do not think that the airship is of much value. As an old naval airship officer, I should like to dip into the past and tell them one or two things about airships. In 1909 the Committee of Imperial Defence laid it down that the Navy were to develop rigid airships and the Army heavier-than-air machines. Consequently, the Admiralty laid down a rigid airship and carried out experiments with the "Mayfly," and she was afterwards wrecked through being structurally weak. Then they stopped building airships, but a little later the airmen pressed the Admiralty, and they gave us permission to develop non-rigid airships. We started and bought the "Parseval" airship from Germany and "Astra Torres" from France, and the Secretary of State for War gave to the Admiralty all the small military airships. We always thank him for the way the Army pilots trained the naval airship officers in air work.
The little flexible airships that we developed served as a small air fleet during the War. They did wonderful work. They patrolled all the waters round these islands, and there is no case on record of a merchant ship or any ship being sunk by an enemy submarine where these little airships were on patrol. They did very valuable work, and it is absurd for hon. Members to say that they are of no value. They showed how valuable they were, and we have to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely), who was Secretary of State for War at that time, for starting us with them. We did not lose a life, and no ship was sunk where these little ships were on patrol.
After the wreck of the "Mayfly" the Admiralty stopped building rigid airships, and we could not get them to commence their construction for a long time. Just before the War we again got approval to build rigid airships, and we had No. 9 rigid under design when the War broke out. But the firm engaged in building the airship wanted to take on Russian munitions, which they thought were of greater value than rigid airships, and the building of that ship was suspended by order of the Admiralty. Owing to the activities of the Zeppelins in the North Sea, all naval people pressed for rigid airships again. We started once more to 494 build rigid airships, but they were too late to be of any value in the War. After the Armistice, No. 34 was flown by a very gallant officer, the late Commodore Maitland, across the Atlantic, from East Fortune to New York and back. It took four and a half days to go out to New York and three and a half days to return. That showed the value of rigid airships. Where you find the value of rigid airship's is in naval reconnaisance, and the intercepted wireless signals received from the German Zeppelins when plotted show the wonderful reconnaisance work done by them over the North Sea. They were the finest scouts, and the Germans said that for scouting purposes in normal weather one Zeppelin was equal to eight cruisers. Yet hon. Members say that airships are of no value. What did the First Lord say in another place the other day? Speaking for the Admiralty, he said that they wanted airships, and they wanted them quickly. It has taken all the work of the airship pioneers, the Great War and the work of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) to convince the Admiralty that airships are of value for reconnaisance purposes in naval warfare.
I want to deal with this Estimate. I had the privilege of listening to the Noble Lord the Air Minister in another place, where he made a very fine speech. As an old airship pioneer I should like to congratulate him. In the short time which he has been in office he has grasped the problem very well. What we are considering to-day are the merits of the Burney group scheme against the Government scheme. The Burney group scheme was to provide six airships for a term of 15 years, and I think they were to get £4,500,000 out of the taxpayers' pockets. I agree with some hon. Members that that would give the Burney group a monopoly, and I am very much against monopolies. In the early days of submarines, we gave a monopoly to a firm to build submarines, and I think every submarine officer will agree with me that we should have been much more advanced in submarine development when war commenced if we had not given that monopoly in the early days. I always tried to break it down, but without success.
If anybody examines this matter from an expert point of view, they will agree that the Government is quite right not to give a monopoly to this particular firm. 495 Without any offence to the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge, I maintain that his scheme fails over the mooring arrangements. He made no attempt to build a hangar, but simply provided for putting mooring posts up in India or using mooring masts erected in monitors. I anchored the first airship to a mooring mast on water, and we broke the "Mayfly" by that experiment. It is very difficult to moor an airship to a mast on water. It is easy to say, "Moor the airship to a mast on a monitor," but it is difficult. If you want to repair an airship on a particularly long voyage from this country to India, how are you going to repair a badly damaged gasbag or the fabric when ripped off a fin or rudder when moored to the mast of a monitor? It is impossible to do it satisfactorily, particularly if the outer cover was torn off in large pieces.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
My hon. and gallant Friend says that it has been done, but he has not seen the big holes that I have seen, worn in the gas bags of airships by vibration. You cannot always carry out repairs at a mooring mast, and it is absurd for anyone to say so. You want a hangar, and a mast as an auxiliary. Wherever you have an airship station, you want a proper hangar and a mast, otherwise a mooring mast by itself is only a temporary arrangement for tieing up an airship at some place where you do not want to make a permanent base. Therefore, the hon. and gallant Member's scheme failed when he did not provide proper security for the airships and their crews. The Government scheme is to provide one airship built by the State and one built by a private company; but with so few airships, when you have your jigs and dies and everything together for construction, you will have a very difficult task to keep the men together. What are you going to do in regard to a private firm with 300 or 400 men used to turning out the first rigid, when the work has been carried out?
The Government scheme does not go far enough. I would like to see them come forward and ask not for the small sum for which they now ask, but for something like £10,000,000, to provide six 496 military airships and six commercial airships. That is what ought to be done. Hon. Members may laugh at my figure, but I would ask them to think of the large amount of money that has been expended in connection with the development of water ships. Look at the millions expended upon harbours and docks and quays—hundreds of millions. My scheme is for the spending of £10,000,000 for the provision of six military airships and six commercial airships, with airship sheds in Malta, Egypt, India, Australia, South Africa and Canada. If Canada had a scheme like that it would be well worth doing, because it would bring our Dominions into closer contact with the Mother country.
With regard to experimental work I do hope that the Under-Secretary will realise that there is no use carrying out experiments in laboratories for gas bags [...] hot climates. You want to send a complete section of an airship out to India. with its gas bag, hydrogen to inflate it, and to go into the whole question of leakage, by osmosis and of fabrics which will withstand a very hot climate, damage from actinic rays, and so on. You want to carry out a series of experiments on a full scale in the country itself to which you are going to send these airships. Otherwise you will be risking the lives of the pilots. In reference to the question of the gas to be used in these airships, I hope the Under-Secretary will appoint a small Committee to go into the whole question of helium, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Hull. In America you will get helium gas from hot springs and a certain amount from Canada, and though you may lose some 6 per cent. of lift by using helium, yet it is a noninflammable gas and makes the work far more safe for the crews. I congratulate the Under-Secretary very much on the way which he has put forward his Estimate.
With regard to crews. I hope that he will go into the whole question of training the pilots, because many of them have been dispersed and they want training in balloons and in flexible airships before they can work rigid airships. He has put forward a very good case and I congratulate him on doing so. I think he has lost his New Testament, and I am not quite certain that the Secretary of State for War has not pinched it from him.
I do not propose to go into the question of the relative merits of the Government scheme, and the scheme which is known as the Burney scheme. I think there is force in what the late Secretary of State for Air (Sir S. Hoare) says. I am inclined to think it might have been better to have concentrated more upon the commercial aspect, but I realise the arguments upon the other side, and I do not think anybody in this House will quarrel seriously with the hon. Gentleman when he says he is pressing forward experimental work on airships. The gallant Admiral speaks with exceptional knowledge. He was associated with me in the very beginning in the air business. We were together on the very first Committee which the Government set up, and the whole air service owes him a very deep debt of gratitude. I agree with what he says as to the necessity of being ready to continue the examination, but perhaps it might be better to see how this great ship works before we committed the country to any further expenditure.
It is a fact and a curious fact and a hopeful fact that although the bigger you build an aeroplane the more difficult it becomes, for various technical and obvious reasons with regard to span, stress and levels, the bigger the airship the easier the problem becomes. So supposing the design to be accurate, supposing your estimates are correct, which they are not always, it is much easier, from an engineering point of view, as a problem, to build an airship of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity than to build an airship of 3,000,000 cubic feet capacity. In the case of the aeroplane it is the exact contrary. The bigger you build it the greater the problem becomes, so that when you get to a size a very little larger than the largest which is now built the problem, so far as our present knowledge goes, becomes insoluble. That is an argument in favour of continuing the experiments with airships, to see if we really could work the sizes.
I would ask the Under-Secretary one question with regard to mooring masts. How far have the experiments gone which have been conducted as to the possibility of mooring these big vessels in considerable gales of wind? I know that at least two airships have been tested to 498 destruction at mooring masts, but I have been told that there is real hope, even in a full gale of wind, of constructing mooring mast in a particular way which will enable a ship of over 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity to ride out a storm. If that be so, I would plead with the Under-Secretary, if need be, to come to Parliament for a further Estimate so that we may have a number of such mooring masts between here and India. The recent disaster to a French airship, which we all deeply deplore, shows the need for mooring masts if they can be made in a way to be of any value.
It is true that there is more reliability about an airship, especially of the type that is proposed to be built, than you could get in the case of aeroplanes. The fact that the force of gravity is not opposed to it is in itself an immense advantage. Nevertheless, if an airship had the choice of several places to go to where it could tie up, that might be the means of saving the whole ship and, what is more important still, the 40 or 50 men on board. The importance of mooring masts lies in the fact that, unlike ships at sea, the construction of any kind of harbour is a matter of such immense cost, relatively, to the use which would be made of it, and to the cost of the ship, that I should imagine that a hangar in Egypt or elsewhere to house such ships would cost more than the ship itself. Therefore, if you wished to establish a great string of hangars all along the route, the cost would be prohibitive, and you must concentrate on mooring masts. I am glad that the Government have decided to go on, because if they find that these airships do succeed, and if they find that the very first trial should promise success, they should then continue their efforts so that in this matter of lighter-than-air craft we may regain the supremacy which we had been in danger of losing.
§ Captain BRASS
I was not at all surprised to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for East Renfrew (Mr. Nichol) who is unfortunately not present at the moment, because when comparing the granting of money for the Morris motor car and the granting of money for subsidised airships, he exemplified well the lack of imagination and the small mindedness of hon. Gentlemen opposite. You could not very well find two things 499 so totally different. In the one case you are trying to develop a great Imperial airship scheme; in the other case you are merely trying to develop the building of a particular kind of motor car in this country. I agree entirely with most of the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull. I am one of those people who, I am afraid, have not very great faith in airships, and I would rather see the money spent on heavier-than-air than lighter-than-air machines.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air was not, I think, quite accurate when he said that under the Burney scheme the only landing arrangements which the promoters of that scheme were proposing to arrange was that the airships should be moored to a mooring mast on monitors. That seems to be a preposterous suggestion. I cannot believe that in the scheme put forward by the Secretary of State for Air that was the only thing which the Burney scheme had suggested. I do not want to go into the question of whether private enterprise or a, State monopoly should be preferred, though from various speeches. delivered from the other side it does look as if the Government were trying to substitute private enterprise for its pet hobby of State socialism. What we have to consider more than anything else is what are we going to get out of this money?
Under the Burney scheme, the amount to be spent was £4,800,000. That was to be spread over a period of 15 years, and we were only going to spend that £4,800,000 on one condition. That was that the scheme was a success. I am certain that most Members in this House would agree that if you could establish a regular bi-weekly service between this country and India, it certainly would be worth the subsidy of £4,800,000 which is suggested. But we must remember that under the first part of the Burney scheme, £400,000 was to be provided by the Government and £200,000 by private enterprise, and that if the conditions laid down were not successful the loss would have been cut after the £400,000 had been spent by the State, and the £200,000 by the company. That is, if at the end of a certain period the company was not able to make an airship which within seven days had been able to go to India, then the second part of the scheme would not come into operation. Therefore if 500 the original scheme had not been successful, we could have cut our loss for a sum of £400,000. We could also have cut our loss in the second stage if the company had been successful, and had been able to fly an airship as far as India. Then the company was going to be given £400,000 a year for a period of three years—that was £1,200,000—provided that the public also subscribed another £150,000. At the end of that period, unless the company had been able to produce a weekly service for a period of three months, the loss up to that time could also be cut, that is we could have got out with a loss of £1,600,000 and a loss to the investing public of £350,000.
So it is not quite fair to say that you have two schemes, and that one scheme is going to cost the country £4,800,000 and the other £1,360,000. They are totally different schemes altogether. I do not think that, even if an airship were constructed to go as far as India, the second payment of £400,000 a year for three years, that is £1,200,000, is quite justify able. It would be quite easy to build an airship, and in fact airships have already been built, that could go as far as India in seven days. If an airship can do that journey, or even go across the Atlantic and come back again, it does not mean that you will be able to provide a regular weekly or bi-weekly airship service to India or to Australia. I am afraid that I am not a very great believer in lighter-than-air craft. I do not think we can ever get over the dangers and difficulties in connection with hydrogen. It is very explosive and dangerous. I am sceptical as to whether we can produce helium in large quantities in this country in the way that we produce hydrogen. In any case, it has not got quite the same lift. I would like to quote what the Secretary of State for Air said in another place:If airships can he operated in all climates and even under adverse weather conditions, probably there will he a great commercial future for them and by their means it may be possible"—
I understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is quoting a speech made in another place. That is against the rule.
§ Captain BRASS
The gist of what the Secretary of State for Air said in another place was that if you could produce air- 501 ships which would rise under abnormal weather conditions, and be operated in difficult climatic conditions, they would be extremely useful. With that I entirely agree. But the question which we have to decide is whether the scheme of the Government for reconditioning an old airship will prove that they can do that Everyone knows the inherent difficulty of landing an airship with its enormous bulk, The big airships are to displace five million cubic feet. That in itself makes landing extremely difficult. The airship is not, like the heavier-than-air machine, which can fly down; it must take up a very large space. Another difficulty is with the diffusion of hydrogen from the balloons in hot climates. I was in charge of one in the East, and there we had the greatest difficulty in keeping our hydrogen pure, because the rays of the sun affected the fabric, and immediately there was a diffusion going on, and after a very short time the result was that we got, not pure hydrogen, but a very explosive mixture of air and hydrogen. There are many things which make airships a very difficult proposition indeed. The example of the Dixmude is not very helpful. The disaster at Hull was also an example of what might happen to an airship. That ship broke in half. The Dixmude is a better example.
One can imagine the awful agony of about 200 people—that crews of these airships are to reach that total, I understand—if their airship were in a position like that of the Dixmude, when one of the engines or some of the engines had gone wrong or were out of place. There would be an enormous airship of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity, with 200 people aboard drifting along and not knowing where to land. It is impossible to land an airship under such conditions. I know what it is like to try to land an ordinary balloon of 60,000 cubic feet when it is drifting along in any sort of wind. I have tried, when it was going along at the rate of 30 miles an hour. The first thing is that the basket turns over and you are lucky if you are not shot out. One can imagine what would happen if it were a 5,000,000 cubic foot airship in the condition of a free balloon with 200 people inside and unable to land anywhere. What would probably happen would be that the crew would attempt to get out in parachutes, or some of them would, because, naturally, an 502 airship would be rigged with a proper number of parachutes. The first, two or three people might get out with parachutes quite easily, and the airship would not go up to a great extent, because the people would not weigh very much compared with the enormous bulk of gas in the ship. But if a large number of the crew tried to escape while the airship was drifting about the airship would go up higher and higher and would eventually reach an enormous height, losing all its buoyancy with the increasing height, and ultimately it would have to come down. It would come down like the balloon to which have referred, and it would be destroyed in exactly the same way as the Dixmude; it would be broken to pieces.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State what is meant by the statement that £1,200,000 is to be spent on airship experiments and airship research. What. is he going to do with the money? As far as I can see we cannot experiment very much in airships, because we know the difficulties of landing and so on. Is the Department going to experiment in producing a more efficient engine, or is it going to try to produce another kind of gas to take the place of hydrogen, or is it going to make experiments with mooring masts? Those are questions which all of us ought to ask. Are we going to get real value for the expenditure? Would it not be much better to spend this money on heavier-than-air craft? I think it would be better to try to develop flying boats. If you are going to try to get communication between an island like this and our Dominions beyond the seas, you could do it very much more easily by having something that you can land with less difficulty than an airship—something which could be landed at different places, something which has not always to be guided to a landing mast or something like that, but could more or less skirt a shore, and, if anything did happen to go Wrong, would not be, absolutely at the mercy of the elements, and could come down and have a sort of natural aerodrome on the sea in the lee of the land. You could come down and land in the lee of the shore, and there your passengers would be more or less safe. At any rate, they would not be in such a very precarious position as they undoubtedly would be if they were in an airship which was out of control.
§ Captain BRASS
I appeal to the Under-Secretary to consider the suggestions which I have made. I do not want to vote against this Estimate. I hope that the experiments which are to be made will be a success, but at the same time I think the hon. Gentleman ought to consider very carefully on what he spends the sum to be devoted to experiments and to make sure that the money will not be wasted.
§ Mr. WELLS
I welcome the fact that the Government have seen the necessity of airships. There has been considerable distress in my constituency of Bedford since the aerodrome there was closed. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he will give ex-service men, and ethers employed at that aerodrome in the past, the first opportunity of work, as far as that is possible. When the airship is built what is to happen to the employés at that aerodrome? It seems to me that the Government would provide work for about 400 people for a comparatively short time, whereas if they were putting another airship down work would be continuous for some time to come. I think that we might have had a more detailed statement about these airships. I understand that the Government propose to spend £1,200,000 in the next three years, but I anticipate that their scheme will cost very much more than that—pretty well double. I believe that the station in India will cost £250,000, according to the statement made in another place, and that the intermediate station will probably cost another £250,000. If the Government will give us more details of their plan it will be much more satisfactory.
§ Mr. AMERY
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Captain Brass) and one or two other Members have criticised the whole idea of devoting public money to further experiment and development in airship work. They have suggested that this money had better be devoted to heavier-than-air development and they have also suggested that all the evidence, so far, shows that heavier-than-air aviation is more important and more likely to develop than lighter-than-air aviation. I think at the very outset it is 504 desirable to say that this is not the opinion of all the technical experts with whom the late Government, and. I understand, the present Government, have been in close consultation. The real fact is that the fields of the two are entirely different. The aeroplane is, of course, far more formidable as a weapon of war. Its speed and fighting qualities put it in a category entirely different from that of the airship. But the airship enjoys certain other advantages which are calculated to make it much more important from the point of view of commercial development. It has not to spend great effort in overcoming gravity, and consequently it can carry a, much greater volume of freight or passengers for a much smaller expenditure of money than the aeroplane—for infinitely smaller expense. It can fly day and night and, what is also not unimportant, it can do so with great comfort to the passengers.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken- worthy) suggested that in future we should fly regularly to India by aeroplane. Two or three hours' flight by aeroplane is a little thing, but a flight occupying days in succession is a tremendous strain which nobody would willingly undergo unless it was absolutely and urgently necessary to do so. On the other hand—and I am speaking with, at any rate, a little experience—a passage on a great airship in ordinary weather conditions is the most ideally comfortable method of travel in the world. It is like travelling on a great ocean liner in a dead calm sea, and on the airship not only there will be decent sleeping accommodation and all the rest, but very reasonable walking accommodation. In fact, the accommodation on the larger airship of the future will be not very much less than that in this Chamber. These factors, combined with cheapness, make it possible that in the airship we may get a method of travel and light freight carriage of incalculable importance in the future development of the British Empire. The Under-Secretary of State for Air very truly said that the development of airships may have a great bearing upon the political unity of the British Empire. May I put forward just one instance. Had it been possible to-day to bring the Prime Ministers of the Dominions back to this country in a few days, would not the obvious solution of such questions as 505 Singapore and Imperial Preference have been to convene another Conference and arrive at unanimity, thereby solving these questions by agreement in the Empire? Very real political difficulties are often caused by the fact that after a Conference meets, Governments change and a new Government is either bound to do what it does not agree with or else throw over agreements which have been arrived at in the Conference. Here is a practical solution.
Again, most hon. Members of this House want to see something of the British Empire, but we know how great are the practical difficulties in view of the short vacations of this House. If we could visit South Africa in four days, the West Indies in three days, Canada in two days, Australia in ten days, it would give to all far greater opportunities in this respect than are enjoyed at present, and it would, in time. have an incalculable effect upon the whole sentiment of Imperial unity. The same applies, as the Under-Secretary for Air rightly said, to the question of development. Development depends enormously upon those who have the capital actually seeing the projects in which they are asked to invest money. It has always struck me as one of the greatest factors in the development of the United States that your American business man in New York can any day get into the evening train and in 24 or 48 or 72 hours inspect on the spot some business proposition thousands of miles away in which he has been asked to invest.
From all these points of view there are, if airships can be proved, very great possibilities in front of them. The same is true, though in a lesser sense, as regards defence. The airship in itself is not a fighting instrument: it is, as the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull has remarked, much too fragile and much too easily destroyed. Even with helium it is not a very strong instrument, though I may say, that even without helium there are various methods by which it could be made more immune than it was in the late War. But the real value of the airship in the future is that of a commercial vessel which can be turned to certain subsidiary purposes in the event of war. It could be used in an emergency for the very rapid conveyance of troops. The time will come when the 506 airship can be used for the conveyance of aeroplanes. But in the near future its greatest value, by far, will be in the service it can render to the Navy by reconnaissance over the great ocean spaces. I am not speaking of reconnaissance work in the neighbourhood of the enemy's main fleets, where undoubtedly its vulnerability would diminish its usefulness, but there are vast spaces of ocean, which, as the late War showed, have to be watched. The late War was one in which we fought in circumstances of peculiar advantage to this country in this respect, that the enemy had only one outlet to the open sea which we were able to block. In any other war with any other naval Power it would be impossible to block the cruisers and commerce raiders of that other Power, and we should always have on our side a demand for cruisers which could never be satisfied. The possession of airships with their very long cruising capacity and immense range of vision, could do a very great deal to diminish the costly demand for additional cruisers.
In that respect, the commercial airship borrowed for naval purposes or possibly for military and Air Force purposes, may be of the very greatest value. Of course it has to be proved fully, but I think the hon. Member for Eastern Renfrew (Mr. Nichol) and some of the others who spoke have underrated the extent to which the airship has already been proved. In this country very little has been done, but in Germany, up to the War, hundreds of thousands of miles were flown and many tens of thousands of passengers carried without any serious accident whatever. I ought to add that in Germany development has been stopped since by the Versailles Treaty. In this country important experiments have been carried out, and after all a British airship was the first successfully to cross the Atlantic and come back again, and as tributes have been paid to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) for his perseverance in this matter, I hope I may be pardoned if I add a word of tribute to the devoted and invaluable services of Air Commodore Maitland, a most gallant and distinguished officer, who gave his whole life to this work and actually sacrificed it in the disaster that happened at Hull. It is said that the risks are still serious in airship development, but hitherto accidents have 507 been largely due to frailty of construction, which in turn is due to the endeavour to build an airship for military purposes—to render it capable of rising to a very high level and also of carrying guns and other military additions. It was that and nothing else which was responsible, I believe, for the Hull disaster. The airship which is built purely for commercial purposes, especially the larger airship, will have a much greater safety factor. So much for the question of risk.
I entirely agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the late Secretary of State for Air that the right policy in this matter is a commercial policy. The time may come when it will be desirable to evolve a special type of airship for fighting purposes, but we are still far from that point, and what we need, even as regards defence, is a large number of commercial vessels. Two airships, or even six airships, amount to very little from the point of view of the Navy. It is not six but 60 or 600 commercial airships, with all the apparatus of masts, bases and sheds, developed in the ordinary way of commerce, which will be of any real use in the defence of the British Empire. It is by that standard, I suggest, we ought to judge any scheme put before this House. I do not propose to go at any length into the criticisms which have been directed against the Burney scheme on financial grounds. I would just say this, that the Under-Secretary of State. for Air, following the Prime Minister and following the Secretary of State for Air in another place, has gone on the assumption all the time that a State expenditure of £4,800,000 is involved. I submit that is a most unlikely result from the carrying out of the Burney scheme. As has already been explained, that scheme was to be in stages, and if there was a failure in the earlier stages, the Government liability would stop. If there is not a failure, if there is a success, the chances are that it will be a real success, a commercial success, and once you have a commercial success, naturally, there will be profits, with every reasonable anticipation of the repayment of this advance, not in the indefinite future but in the near future.
I know it has been suggested in another place that even with a profit of 20 per cent. the Government could not be repaid for 60 years. I have not investigated 508 the calculation, but it occurred to me the moment I read it, that if the company were making 20 per cent, on a service of six airships it naturally would not stop at that, but would at once launch out into much bigger operations, and make a much bigger total volume of profit out of which it would be able to repay the Government advance in a much shorter time. That brings me to the other suggestion that what we contemplated was a monopoly. My hon and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) suggested there were parallels between the encouragement given to a particular firm under the Burney scheme and the quasi-monopoly which he suggested was held by a particular firm building submarines. In that case, the particular firm was building something for the Government, in other words, for a very limited market, but if airships succeed, as I believe they will, the moment they are proved there will be any number of capitalists willing to find the money to launch new airship schemes in competition with the older company or to open new services. If the older company has had the advantage of a Government subsidy it has also suffered from the immense disadvantage of the cost of pioneering. Everything they do will cost them 50 to 100 per cent. more than the cost will be to their successors. Once you begin to turn out airships every six weeks, one after the other, as the Germans were doing during the War, you will be turning them out at half the cost of the present estimate. The successors of the pioneer company will gain by their experience. We had a similar parallel in this House only a few weeks ago, when attention was drawn to the subsidy paid to the Cunard Company. That subsidy was well justified to induce them to run ships at a speed which 25 years ago was not an economic speed. Since then any number of companies have run ships across the Atlantic at a much higher speed and done good business by doing so. It is simply a question of giving a real start to commercial enterprise, and if one commercial enterprise can prove itself with the help of the Government, then I believe other commercial enterprises will be able and willing to have a much smaller subsidy or no subsidy whatever to carry out the immense expansion which will be of real value either from the Imperial or the trade or the defence point of view.
509 What is the Government scheme? It is a scheme in which in the first instance, the Government builds a ship from the fighting point of view. I suggest that is entirely premature. We want to see hundreds of ships operating regularly from the commercial point of view before we consider what modification or revision is desirable to create the fighting service airship of the future. It is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, really rather absurd developing a great staff both in the Air Ministry and at Cardington in order to build one ship. Would anybody suggest that the Admiralty should open a new dockyard to build or repair one ship? It is obviously ridiculous. The whole effort is only worth while if you are going to have a continuous policy. Is it the policy of the Government to build one ship at this very great expense and then leave Cardington derelict, or is it their policy to turn out ship after ship as rapidly as possible? Do they mean to turn out a great fleet of military fighting airships? How are they going to man them and find the great expenditure which will grow round them?
On the other hand, are they contemplating turning out a great fleet of commercial ships? If so, what commercial service are they going to organise all over the world? There may be something to be said for collective social ownership of things that have been well proved and have got more or less into a groove like gas and water—I might even concede railways—and which are in the territory of the Government which undertakes the ownership. But here you are dealing with something absolutely experimental where any amount of money may be wasted. More than that, you are dealing with something which is going to operate not in this country but in the area of other countries. If there is one thing likely to lead to difficulties it is when a Government attempt to operate in the area and jurisdiction of another Government. It will be difficult enough for the British Government to operate bases or sheds in the jurisdiction of the Dominions, but the moment you come to a question of foreign countries you are in a much greater difficulty. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary, Ion this very question of intermediate stations, will the best station, from the point of view of commercial traffic or 510 even from the point of view of some of the naval work, necessarily be on British territory? If it is not, then surely it is much better to have that intermediate station built by a commercial company for ordinary commercial purposes, just as our ships work, say, in Alexandria harbour, and not to be faced with a crisis when you try to enforce quasi-military jurisdiction in the territory of another Government. These vessels, in so far as they are any use for defence purposes, will in the near future be mainly useful for the Navy. Will the hon. Member assure us that both in the construction of these ships and in the experiments carried out as well as in the selection of intermediate stations and sheds, they are going to co-operate in the closest manner with the Admiralty and secure the approval and concurrence of the Admiralty for the arrangements they make? If these ships are in the first instance to be used for naval purposes, surely it, is essential that the Admiralty should approve entirely of the policy that is being carried out.
I will now turn to the other side of their curiously hesitating and half-hearted policy. They have arranged for the building of one airship of a commercial kind. Are they going to work it? Apparently not. They are going to sell it back to the same company under another name. The Under-Secretary spoke with some doubt and suspicion of the difference between a building company and an operating company. I should have thought that there was no difficulty about that. After all, steamships, as a rule, are not built by the company that operates them. But what he is proposing involves the same thing. He buys an airship from a building company, and, even if it he nominally the same company, sells it back at a reduction. Nobody can conduct a commercial service with one ship. Is he going to follow this up by ordering commercial airships from this company or another company? The Committee is left entirely in the dark as to the policy. The policy of the late Government was perfectly simple. No military airship built for the present; a policy extending over 15 years and encouraging a fleet of commercial airships, which we hoped long before the end of these 15 years would lead to a great development of commercial air traffic. That at the maximum might have cost £4,800,000 or £320,000 a year. The 511 Government started with two ships which, in three years, are going to cost £1,200,000 at the least, or £1,350,000, i.e., over £1,600,000 a year. At the end of that time, having spent more money, we shall be just where we are to-day. To get a commercial service started you will still have to give a pioneer company some definite subsidy. After the three years are over, if they are in power, they will have to come back to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney), or some other commercial firm, and make a new bargain, and I am by no means sure they will make a better bargain than we did. If they had gone whole-heartedly for State construction that would have been intelligible, and there would have been a policy, and they might have given some indication of where that policy was meant to lead. As it is, we have two disconnected experiments. With regard to neither of them, do we know what they are going to lead to.
What is the policy? Is it to be a great development of fighting aircraft and of great and unnecessary expenditure involved coming from a pacifist Government, or is it to be a great expansion on the commercial side? If it be the latter, why not adopt that policy from the start? If it be the former, why not avow it to the House of Commons? It looks to me that what has happened is that the Government, partly afraid of doing anything that looked like encouragement of private capital, partly yielding to that instinct for expansion—I will not say megalomania—which exists in every great department—have produced a very fumbling and half-hearted scheme—I do not think it. deserves to be called a scheme—a very fumbling and half-hearted beginning of doing for airships something they do not quite know what and certainly do not inform the House about. I think they have made, in regard to a very important aspect of national and Imperial development, a very great mistake. To vote against their proposals would throw back the airship work even further. But I do hope the Government will at the earliest opportunity tell us what they really have in view. Are they in favour of commercial airship development, or are they building a great military fleet for I do not know what purpose?
§ Mr. LEACH
This has been an interesting Debate, and some very interesting points have been raised which it is my business to pay attention to if I can. First of all, let me say that with the criticism of the right bon. Baronet the ex-Secretary of State for Air (Sir S. Hoare), who urges that the cutting down of our commitments in regard to airship schemes is bad, on the one hand, and the attitude taken up by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who fears that we are going to spend far too much on airships, on the other hand, I feel in a contented and happy frame of mind, because, apparently, we must have hit something like the natural, healthy medium. A good many questions have been put to me by the last speaker as to where we are going, and what is to be the end of this policy, and what we visualise. I cannot tell him. We are in the position of looking at an industry which is more or less dead, and which we want to put upon its feet again if that is at all possible. The airship industry has had a chequered past. There is no complete certainty about security in its future. I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) has a great deal of confidence. I know he has examined this problem with a good deal of care and a lot of enthusiasm, and has come to the conclusion that airships are going to be a practical proposition for the benefit and comfort of mankind. He may be right. It is good to see so much enthusiasm in a cause which undoubtedly, if it succeeds, is going to add to the well-being and the comfort of mankind at large. The Government are making it their business to initiate experiments for the purpose of seeing if the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge is right. I believe he will turn out to be right, and I am content in asking the Committee to grant us this money for the purpose of making those experiments. We are going to build one airship for commercial passenger work and another far service purposes.
The right hon. Baronet the ex-Secretary of State for Air charges me with the contention that we were actually prepared to build an airship which was completely and solely for military purposes—a thing he would never have dared to do. As a matter of fact, under the Burney scheme there were to be six airships all of which were to have a military basis, and two of 513 which were to be constructed for the purpose of being of particular service use, and in the case of each of them there was to be a heavy payment as a retaining fee for war service if they should ever be required. Against these six military airships surely our one looks comparatively modest. [An HON. MEMBER: "If you take the commercial airship it makes two!"]
§ Sir S. HOARE
Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that the Burney airships were military airships?
§ Mr. LEACH
No, they were going to be built with a view to their use for military purposes. Their method of construction was to be of such a character that they would serve a military sense, and the fact that they were regarded by the ex-Minister of Air as a very valuable military adjunct indeed was demonstrated by the fact that he was prepared to pay a retaining fee for eight years of £250,000 a year. The right hon. Baronet further said that the Burney scheme was going to provide six ships to our two. As a matter of fact our scheme will provide three, two new ones and a reconditioned old one. The right hon. Gentleman appears to forget. that the six ships under the Burney scheme were to take seven years to build whereas our three ships were to be provided inside three years. Further, we shall by our method of doing it bring into existence a new factory for building airships. In place of one factory for the construction of airships, when our scheme begins to operate there will be two. It is idle, therefore, to urge that under the Government scheme the construction of airships will be on a restricted plan as compared with the Burney scheme because the fact is quite the other way.
§ Mr. LEACH
I am coming to that point now. I am asked what our intentions are when the scheme, which is to take three years, is fulfilled. I am not in a position to give an adequate answer to that question, but I should like to say that undoubtedly Cardington will be employed permanently for building airships in the name of the Government.
§ Mr. LEACH
When the need for military airships disappears it will be for commercial ships, but so long as the need for military airships exists the Government are going to pay attention to that need. Under this scheme we are hoping to build at twice as fast a rate as is provided by the Burney scheme. We are laying the foundation for a great and new enterprise for the building of airships. I am asked whether we will work alongside the Admiralty for all ships that may be designed for naval purposes. Not only can that promise be given, but I may say it is what we are doing at the present moment. Then I am asked whether we are going to conduct the passenger service to India when the passenger ship is built. The first intention is to offer it to the contractors who have built the ship—to offer it to them to undertake the service themselves. If it should tern out that they are not willing or prepared to make arrangements for the conduct of the passenger service to India, then I daresay the Government may feel itself in the position of having to conduct that service and they will make their preparations accordingly. But I am not authorised to say that the Government are going to conduct this passenger servire to India. Our purpose is to give the contractors the option of doing it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
But what is to happen if the contractors are unwilling? It is important to be prepared. Supposing the contractors are half-hearted in the matter, cannot the Government undertake to do it?
§ Mr. LEACH
We are talking of a period which has two years to run. If this Government be in office, as it is natural to assume from the prospects that it will be, and if our needs have grown, which it is natural to assume they will, then I have no hesitation in saying—without being able to give an undertaking in the name of a future Government of which I may or may not be a member—that I can see a picture of the Government of this country conducting with enormous success a mail, freight and passenger service to India for the great and lasting benefit and comfort, not only of the people of this country, but those of India as well.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Can the hon. Gentleman say what particular provision in the agreement with Imperial Airways Limited is the obstacle?
§ Sir S. Hoare
This statement is incorrect, and I must correct it. The hon. Member is free to make any agreement that he likes for an Imperial Air Route, with heavier-than-air craft.
§ Mr. LEACH
The right. hon. Baronet is not a believer in Government construction. He has told us so in plain, unvarnished terms. But during the War we did this wicked thing, and not only did we establish the finest, biggest and most efficiently equipped manufacturing concern for building airships, but we proceeded to build airships with considerable success at Cardington in the name of the Government. It is a practice which really started with Henry VIII, who began building ships which went on water and not into the air at Portsmouth in the name of the Government, and we are merely continuing that practice. Several important questions have been asked as to what is going to happen at Cardington when this airship has been built. Are the workpeople to be sacked or discharged and will the works be closed down? Naturally the Member for the division in which Cardington is situated is concerned to know the answer to those questions. I want to assure him, therefore, it is the intention of the Government to keep the place on its feet. Whether it is to be in the future conducted by private enterprise I cannot say, but at any rate when our experiments have been allowed to proceed to their fulfilment then I think it may be prophesied with a great deal of certainty that not only will Cardington be continued as an airship building factory, but other factories will have to be erected to cope with the demand.
§ Mr. LEACH
I have been asked also with regard to research respecting climatic conditions. Experiments in that regard will have to be made before the periodical service begins to operate regularly. They are going to cost money. We have to spend money in various ways, in order to make sure that when the ship begins flying, it will fly under conditions of safety as far as we can insure them.