HC Deb 10 March 1927 vol 203 cc1428-517

Question again proposed, "That Mr. SPEAKER do now leave the Chair."

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The party which received the adherence of the late Joseph Chamberlain and the late Cecil Rhodes, with their great dream of direct communication between the Cape and Cairo, could surely have carried it out to-day by aeroplane, when it has actually been flown by machines of the Royal Air Force. There are no technical difficulties in the way. It is simply a question of lack of drive, lack of imagination and lack of appreciation of the immense importance and economy of rapid communication by aeroplane, especially for the carriage of mails and business letters. I have spoken on this subject before in this House and I make no apology for returning to the subject now. We hear a great deal about developing our own Imperial estate. No single step, and at such a moderate expenditure of money, would do more than the extension of aeroplane routes throughout the Empire. Is it realised, for example, that in future years the normal means of communication between Canada and India will be by air over the North Pole? That is the shortest way. The recent flight of American aviators over the North Pole has proved that there were less difficulties than we had thought, and, when aeroplanes are further developed, that will be the ordinary way of going from India to Canada or from India to America, because it is the shortest route. It cuts off thousands of miles by taking the more direct route from America to India, and it will be the ordinary way of flying between those countries in the future.

The immediate thing that we can do is to extend the aeroplane mail service from Cairo to Sydney, Australia, and in the other direction down to the Cape. Why do we not do it? It is also immensely important that we must be able to fly direct from Croydon, in a series of comparatively short hops, to Cairo, and then on to India and Australia, carrying the mails in much more rapid time and also carrying business passengers and other passengers when they are pressed for time. When a letter is posted in London, it goes by aeroplane to Paris. That is only a local service. If it is going to India, it goes on from Paris by train to Marseilles, then by a P. and O. Mail steamer or some other steamer to Alexandria, and on by train to Cairo. Next, it proceeds by aeroplane to Karachi, and presently it is taken either by aeroplane or train on to Delhi. At the same time, the French are flying a local service from Paris to their North African colonies. The obvious thing is to link up with the French, who are only too willing to come into such an arrangement. This is the same idea that was dealt with by the hon. Member for Keighley but approached from a different angle. As to the carrying on of a joint Air mail to India and on to French Cochin-China, the French would be glad to come in, because their present restricted local service does not and cannot pay. Our Air route from Karachi to Cairo cannot pay without a heavy subsidy, because it is too short and because the saving is not sufficient; but if you could fly all the way by a series of hops from Croydon to India, and then on to Sydney, the service would pay for itself in a year or two, hands down.

Let us look at the example of the United States arid see what they have done. The distance from London to Bag-dad is approximately the same as the distance from New York to San Francisco. Because they have no Air Minister in the United States who talks about all sorts of problems in the future interfering with the Air Service, and the necessity of adhering to an all-red route and avoiding flying over foreign territory; because they have not that ridiculous nonsense to deal with in the United States, they have every day and every night aeroplanes running from New York to San Francisco, by way of Chicago. That is the ordinary way of sending letters. Every day in New York one sees mail vans marked "Air Mail," and one sees more of them than of ordinary mail vans. The air mail vans can be seen as frequently in the big American cities as the ordinary mail vans are seen in our own cities in this country. That is a service which pays for itself. It was started by the American flying service as a Government service, and now it is let out to contract and is a going concern and one of immense importance to the business men of America. It would be of equal importance to us if we were to link up our Overseas Dominions, especially Australia, with London by air, covering the distance in a week instead of having to spend six weeks in sending a letter from London to Sydney.

Transport is the key to Imperial development; but you must not be selfish. There must be give and take, and we must link up with the existing European stations. To-day there are regular air lines being flown from, Constantinople, Aleppo, and Athens, and it would be perfectly simple to link up with two short flights, or one would do, and by using the existing aerodromes and air lines, with no extra capital expenditure, fly direct from Croydon to India and thus link up with India and Australia. What is hanging this up I do not know, except the extraordinary mixture of military and civil aviation. The question of carrying mails throughout the Empire is a matter purely for civil aviation. Until we rid ourselves of this military obsession, where Empire flying is concerned, progress will be hung up. What the right hon. Gentleman has said about the mobility of a defence force in the air, what he said about a mobile striking force for the Empire, is perfectly true and sound, but do not mix it up with the other question, do not try to get an "all red" air route for the air mail route because it is absolutely impossible. We cannot possibly develop this great new means of communication, which I believe will be an instrument of peace and of enormous benefit to us, unless we link up with other European countries and capitals, and the more such a grand trunk air line touches and taps the great cities on the Continent the better it will pay. Then, perhaps, the aeroplane will become, as I hope it will, a great instrument for peace and national understanding and break down the artificial barriers between peoples.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

I make no excuse for intervening for a short time in this Debate, because I wish to direct the attention of the House to a subject which must have been more or less in the minds of many Members during the past year, and that is the subject of accidents in the Air Force. Before my right hon. Friend left for India I had a talk with him, and he and I were very anxious that an investigation should be made into this matter. We discussed the best means of having it. As a result of that discussion we came to the conclusion that a personal investigation by the Prime Minister would be the best thing. It would be carried out with all the authority of his office, and he would be able to lay the results of his examinations before the House of Commons. I devoted several days during the holidays in making my investigation, during which time I had placed at my service the results of the courts of inquiries, the accidents reports, copies of the technical discussions, criticisms of all kinds, covering every relevant point, statistics, comparisons of machines and of places, analyses of all causes, even of engine failure where no accident had followed. The flying history of pilots I examined, and I had the benefit of a personal discussion with officers in the Force of all ranks from the highest to the lowest, confidentially and privately. I also took the opportunity of paying a surprise visit to an aerodrome to examine for myself the daily routine of work there, and take the opportunity of informal discussions with officers.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) during his speech, being aware of the task I had undertaken, said he hoped I would give the House my impressions, and that in the first place is what I desire to do. I think the first thing that must strike any layman who conducts an examination of that kind must be the complexity of the work that is performed by the Air Force and fie manifold difficulties that are inherent in the performance of the daily routine work. It is difficult to imagine unless you have actually seen it in practice. Another thing that strikes one is the ground organisation that is required. Many of us with little or no knowledge of these matters may feel that there are too many men on the ground, but that is an opinion which can only be held by those who have had no experience at all. Rather the contrary is the case, as I shall show the House before I have finished. Another thing which strikes the stranger is the great difference between the civil and military work, which was illustrated with a wealth of detail derived from personal knowledge by my hon. and gallant Friend only an hour ago.

It is difficult to realise on the part of those who have never flown or who have never seen the Air Force at work that the primary weapon, the aeroplane itself, is a weapon of immense power, of immense speed, which weighs anything from a ton up to seven tons, that is to say, from the weight of a light motor car to the weight of a loaded London omnibus, and that that machine is driven to its landing place at the speed of an express train. It is good to get these simple facts in our minds before we begin to think about accidents and what causes them. And, in addition to all that, not only are these machines of immense power, but they are machines of the most delicate and beautiful structure, and it is a standing miracle to those who look at these things for the first time how so much power can be controlled by such delicate mechanism. One is struck dumb at the skill of the pilots when you see the innumerable controls with which they have to be so familiar that they can work them in every case automatically and at the instant. One realises the pitch of training that is required on the ground, and in the air, to make that great force what it is. Let us just remember one more thing about the Air Force in addition to what I have tried to describe. The Air Force, like all our military forces to-day, is striving to make every pound and every penny go as far as it can. Economy has been practised, I am convinced, to the utmost limit. You have a constant drain going on all the time of personnel from the home stations and even from the horn defence force to the garrisons overseas, and that we may well imagine makes the task of responsible commanders in the Air Force one of extreme difficulty. During the last few years, I can assure the House from my personal observation, there is no particular station, no particular unit and no particular type of machine, which stands out over a term of years as either superior or inferior to another. You get a slight variation, in accidents, of course, in this type and that, and in this station and that. It is very much as the run of ill-luck may happen to fall, but there is nothing that you can put your hand on in the detailed figures which will permit you to say that this type is more certain to lead to accidents than that, or that there must be something wrong with the management of this station because it has a worse record than another. There is another thing. The proportion of accidents that are due to remediable causes is a very small percentage of the whole, and I am glad to think that there are very few failures indeed that can be traced to the failure of the human element on the ground, and very very few to faulty design, even including the statistics which are brought in from the experimental stations where the new types are tried.

A question often asked is this: Is it not a fact that research is so improving the types of machines in design and devices and so forth, that the factor of safety is greatly increased? Many people think, and perhaps naturally, that it is possible to eliminate all causes of accidents in a service of this kind. The answer to the question is undoubtedly this" that it is true that research is improving design and is improving devices that make for safety, but there is another element, and that is that the progress of science is constantly designing improvements in engines, improvements in material, that machines become more powerful and travel at a much greater speed, and so just as you may hope that you are lessening the risk of accidents in one direction you are tending, at any rate, temporarily, to increase it in another. And for this reason. In the air man is still constantly increasing his knowledge. A great deal of knowledge is necessarily scientific knowledge, but a great deal of it is empirical, and can only be obtained by the pilot who flies his machine at greater heights and at greater speeds.

Fast air travelling is not wholly dissimilar in one respect from fast motor travelling. The faster you drive in a motor car, when you get up to high speeds, the greater the risk, for this reason—that if you have suddenly to make up your mind that a certain thing is necessary to he done, you have less time in which to make up your mind than when you are travelling slowly. It is exactly the same in the air, only multiplied by that difference in the speed of air traffic over ground traffic, always remembering that the slightest error of judgment which on land may mean just catching the hub of your wheel against someone else's and possibly your escape with a lucky skid, in the air would probably mean disaster. It is not a fact, speaking of the newer designs, that the older designs are more prone to disaster. I have found no proof of that. But what is the fact, and what we all know is the fact, is that the main cause of accidents, in by far the majority of cases, is traceable to the personal equation. I will explain what I mean.

What type of man makes a great airman? When I speak of a great airman speak of the military airman. I shall have a word or two to say by and by on the subject that my hon. and gallant Friend treated with such exhaustive knowledge. You do not want the phlegmatic type or the type that invariably puts "safety first" as its motto. The type that makes the flying pilot is the adventurous type, the quick-brained man, the man with great reserve of high nervous power. We all know that type in private life. We know the type which, when driving a car at considerable speed, will make a swerve on a greasy road to avoid a dog, knowing perfectly well what the risk is. The phlegmatic goes over the dog and the nervous type does not. That is the type of which the Air Force is composed.

Remember this; remember the elation of spirit in a young man of that temperament, just having learned the mastery of that marvellous and delicate instrument, the aeroplane, when he rushes up in a moment of time into a rarefied atmosphere and feels that there is nothing he cannot do with his machine. You may say, and it often has been said, "Restrict them and pull them up every time they do anything risky, and keep watching them." I doubt if that would have any effect on the type I have in mind. If it did, it could only make them less fit for the work for which they have been trained.

Here I would say a word about the difference between training for civil aviation and, training for military aviation. Every word that my hon. and gallant Friend said is true about the civil aviator starting from a fixed point and flying to a fixed point, with intimate knowledge of every yard of the course and the necessity of maintaining the rule of "safety first" A man who has to fight has to be trained to get off any ground, to come down on any ground, and to be always flying over fresh country. His work in war is always over fresh country, and also, as was put by my right hon. Friend opposite, who was Secretary of State for Air, he has to be up to every form of manœuvring and stunt in the air. Stunts are not made in the air because they are stunts. They are made because they are very often the only way in which the pilot can escape from the enemy when he meets hostile aircraft, and very often the only way in which ultimately he may hope to dominate the enemy. That is the work for which the man has been trained, and in the course of that he has to undergo a training of such a character that risks in it are unavoidable, even when the utmost amount of care is taken.

There is another thing which I saw at the aerodrome when I went. The pilots in this Service do not only go off the ground singly; they have to go off in groups. They have to go off as many as a dozen together, wing-tip to wing-tip, a proceeding which has in it elements of danger, unless the utmost care is shown and the utmost proficiency has been secured. That is necessary, because in going up to fight hostile aircraft it is essential that numbers of machines should be together and keep together from the start. Those conditions cannot apply to civil aviation; they do apply and must apply to the Air Force. There are no signs so far as I have been able to discover—I have examined a great many officers on this subjet—there are no signs, and I say that deliberately, of inefficient training in the Air Force. I think that the training, judging by the results, could not be better, and I think that the spirit of the Air Force is one of the marvels of our time. There is no finer spirit in any service in the world than there is in our Air Force.

There is one general criticism which has often been made arid for which I think there is some justification. I spoke a few minutes ago about the efforts at economy which have been made in all the Services, and I think tribute has been paid to the Secretary of State from all parts of the House, even on the other side. If you admit there must be an Air Force, no one would deny that the Air Force is managed economically. But it has been asked, has the staff of the flying units been reduced to somewhere near danger point; has it been cut down too far? I think it has. But let me immediately put this in: It has not affected accidents, and for this reason. If the ground staff be so slightly below numbers that it is impossible to give the supervision to all the machines that is required before they go up in the air, what happens is that flying is curtailed. It does not mean that any machine goes up in the air before it has passed all its necessary tests and has been thoroughly overhauled.

The amount of flying that is done naturally is increasing That makes a greater demand on the ground men and on the officers with whom rests the supervision of that work. If the amount of flying which ought to be done is to be done, and to be done under the only circumstances that will be tolerable to the Force or to the country or this House, then I think that is a question that wants some looking into, and I am glad to think that my right hon. Friend has been devoting time to it, and I believe that he will be making arrangements soon, if he has not already done it, for allotting a few extra men to these units. Then I think that that difficulty will be a thing of the past. But I do want to impress on the House that, although that is a difficulty which has arisen, it is not one which affects the safety of lives, because the only result is to curtail the amount of flying. It does not mean that unfit machines are allowed to go up.

I think that critics—I am saying this for the third time—do fail to realise the number of men that there ought to be on the ground in the Air Force. If anyone who has any doubts about it will go down to an aerodrome and just have a quiet look over a machine and the inside of it, and examine the machinery of it, then see the overhauling which is given to it, and see on what slender threads a man's life depends, I think he will realise the importance of the ground staff, and that wherever in the Government service money may be wasted, it is not wasted there. I should like to tell the House, because there have been many inquiries made about statistics, that the fullest statistics have been and are being kept in the Air Ministry. They are collated from the reports of the Inspector of Accidents, a civil official of whom I will have to say one or two things in a minute. They are collated from the reports of the Courts of Inquiry which are held on all fatal and serious accidents, both at home and abroad, and from the detailed records of flying in units, and the returns of all forced landings and engine failures, whether resulting in casualties or not. The figures taken from those reports are collected, examined and collated by experienced statisticians, with a view to throwing light on the problem or on any particular features of the problem, and the statistical results are communicated confidentially to the senior commanders for their own use.

I want to say a word about the reports made by the Inspector of Accidents. The Government have been asked, all Governments have been asked, why the reports of the Inspector of Accidents, amongst others, should not be published. Let us consider for a moment who the Inspector of Accidents is and how he reports. He is a civil official. He reports direct to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He is free by virtue of his office to criticise, any and every individual in the Air Service, from the highest to the lowest, including the staff of the Air Ministry. The publication of such reports as those would immediately restrict his freedom. I think the House will see why. It is not for a moment that he would be restricted by pressure from without, but with everyone—and I ask hon. Members to put themselves in his place—with everyone, there is a natural objection to making the kind of criticism that is necessary in cases like this and to bringing individuals into that criticism, if you know that that criticism is going to be made public. Nor, again, would witnesses—and this is of the utmost importance—speak with anything like the same freedom if they thought their evidence was going to be made public.

The great majority of accidents happen as they must happen, from some error, very often a slight error of judgment on the part of pilots, and it is a most curious and interesting fact that the majority of accidents happen within the first year or two of the pilot flying, after he has become a fully qualified and skilled pilot—which shows that very temptation, of which I spoke a few moments ago, to do everything you can with your machine when you are young and when you feel that you have complete mastery over it, and when you first have control over it, before you get that judgment which comes with time and with time alone. We must think—I am not speaking of the Force at this moment—of the added pain to relatives and sometimes, so are we constituted, the resentment, if at a moment of the deepest personal sorrow parents see in public a criticism that there has been some fault on the part of their son that has led to an accident. I can see no reason—I never have seen any reason and T can see none now that I have examined this matter—why reports of this kind should be published. They can do no one any good. They may do a great deal of harm. With regard to statistics, the same thing is true, if you come to think of it, in a different way. Statistics are most misleading, as anyone who has taken part in the Free Trade and Protection controversy will agree. Anything can be made out of statistics. When you get a run of bad luck, perhaps two or three accidents quickly and consecutively from a certain aerodrome under the command of a certain officer, and he gets pilloried in every paper in the country, he has his spirit broken and it may be his career is ruined.

One hon. Member of experience speaking this afternoon, said the men in the Air Force themselves do not think too much of these accidents. That is true, and it would have a bad effect on the moral of the Force if people were always looking out to see where accidents came, and were able to say, "That is so and so's' command; they had one last week; there must be something wrong there," it would destroy the confidence and the morale of all the officers and men in that district. As it is, the Secretary of State, and the Air Ministry under him, act as natural buffers between the Service and the rest of the world. They protect the individual commanders; they have to defend the Force and they have to answer criticisms. It is part of their duty, and it is right that they should have to do it An officer criticised in full publicity has no means of reply, and we ought to remember that. It would be an intolerable situation that individual officers or men, or individual stations, should become subject to criticism and attack which they are unable to resist, and that undoubtedly would be the case if the public had full access to all the statistics and reports which are issued. Of course you may ask, "If you cannot publish everything, is there no middle course?" I do not think there is. There is no middle course between the full publication of everything and the present system. If you published partial statistics and information, that would be misleading and would inevitably lead to perpetual pressure for further publication, and once you consented to the publication of a little you would have to give the rest and you would then suffer from those evils which I have endeavoured to describe.

Let me put this to the House, and it is the last word I have to say. Many of were Members of this House during the War, and those of us who were, have a vivid recollection of those nights on which the Whips walked down the darkened passages and said to us, "First warning; you have just time to get home." On our way home, perhaps just when the barrage was beginning, we knew that those wonderful men of the Air Force were climbing up rapidly in the black sky, lighted only by the baleful rays of the searchlights, into the hell that went on above, into the barrage, hunting about and being hunted, and performing deeds of valour that will be remembered as long as the world lasts. The men who can do that are, as I- said, men whose souls are filled with the spirit of adventure—an adventure and courage which nothing can curb. Those men are still with us in the Air Force, many of them as officers, who performer those feats, and the young men among them who have come since the War, are of exactly the same stuff and would do the same things tonight if the enemy came over London. I ask the House and the people of this country not to hamper these men. Do not indulge—and I beg the Press too—do not encourage the type of criticism which can only make them introspective and nervy. Support them all you can, but do not press for the publication of things which I am certain, as everyone is certain who knows anything of this matter, can only help to turn the edge of that fine temper and depress the most magnificent moral we have in this country.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I am sure all Members who are interested in the project of a great Defence Ministry welcomed the words of the Secretary of State for Air when he said that certain economies could be made by the introduction of this great air arm. I am one of those Members who think that the Estimates for the fighting services should be considered as a whole. It is impossible that we should consider these Estimates satisfactorily when, year after year, we have to deal first with the Army, then with the Air Estimates and finally with the Naval Estimates. On Monday next, we shall find the First Lord of the Admiralty taking most of the money. He usually does so. I think a great deal of the money taken by the First Lord should be devoted to helping on the air service, and particularly civilian flying. I have looked through these Estimates very carefully and they justify the criticisms which I have offered for some years past.

I am glad to see that the Ministry is going to scrap the old types of machines. I think we have gone on far too long with those old types, but when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is increasing the efficiency of the Air Service by 10 per cent., would he also tell us how the expansion of the home defence is proceeding? Is it going on normally or has the normal expansion been stopped? I observe that the total amount in respect of aeroplanes, seaplanes and engines is £5,904,000, but there is a "super cut." I hope we are not going to have super cuts and under cuts and big cuts and little cuts introduced into these Estimates, and I would invite the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) to go into that question and see if these super cuts cannot be deleted so that we may know where we are. I observe that there is an overhead cut of £300,000 on Vote 3. Will the whole of this come under Sub-head A, which reduces the total available amount of money to £5,904,000. As expenditure on engines previously was cut to the bone, a further £500,000 is to be spent this year on engines, but we are told that expenditure on aircraft will be less than last year. I should like the Air Minister to tell us if he is going to spend more or less money on aircraft this year than last year.

7.0. p.m.

Turning to the Memorandum, I congratulate the Air Minister, as an old pioneer of the Air Service, on his great flight. I think it is not so much the fact that he is the first Minister to fly to India, or that he has been the first to take an officer to his command in India by air, or that this was the first commercial machine flown to India that counts; it is the feeling of confidence which it gives to everybody who has to go in the air. I think special reference ought to be made to Lady Maud Hoare. Her flight was a very fine thing because she has set an example and there are many women throughout the Empire, particularly in Australia and our distant Dominions, who will have to travel by air on occasions. This great flight to India will give them a feeling of confidence and we ought to be grateful to that lady for undertaking it. The Memorandum indicates that the Air Minister is keen on the development of air rights. I was in Cairo last month and was speaking to that able administrator, Sir William Frederick Gowers, the Governor of Uganda, and I found he was keen on the Khartoum to Coomassie air route. It has just been started, and I should like to ask the Minister of Air what he is going to do to help it. Is he going to give a subsidy? It would be a splendid thing to connect up Uganda with Khartoum. That is one of the air routes which the Air Minister should subsidise. Sir William Gowers was very keen on it, and his secretary, Major Cavendish-Bentinck, was also very much impressed as to the value of the service. Will the Minister look into it and see if there is anything that he can do to help this new service?

Turning to the question of personnel, I notice in the Memorandum that the Minister is going to increase the number of airmen pilots. I should like to ask him whether these airmen pilots compare favourably with other officers or whether he gets more accidents with them. It is a small point, but it wants looking into, because there has been some criticism about it. Last year we had a large number of accidents. I have a right to talk about accidents, because I did all the submarine experiments for the Navy, and I never lost a man. We had the same problems in the submarine as some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway have in the mines. If you have an accident in a submarine you are just like a rat in a trap. You cannot get out of it. It is very much the same in the mines, and that is why we submarine fellows have the greatest sympathy for the miners when they have an accident. In the mines you have most efficient inspectors, men who go through the mines and do all they can to prevent accidents. In the submarines the Admiralty give us the best possible material they can get and every part which is used in a submarine goes through the closest inspection.

I ask the Air Minister, and I should have liked to have asked the Prime Minister, whether he is quite satisfied he gets proper aeronautical inspection of his machines. I am one of those who think that every squadron ought to have its aeronautical engineer inspector to go through the machines before they go into the air. It may be said that there are not many accidents through engines failing. That is true, but the other day, when we had an inspector from the Air Ministry in a room upstairs, I asked him how it came about that an aeroplane broke its wings in the He said that it was an experimental machine. You should not lose life through an aeroplane breaking its wings in the air because it is an experimental machine. I have had dozens and dozens of experimental machines, and I have never had such an accident. What is wanted is closer and better aeronautical inspection of machines. It is no good coming down to the House and saying that everything is all right. We all want to try and lessen these air accidents as much as we can. I do ask the Air Minister to go into the whole question of having real expert aeronautical engineers in this service. I should like to ask him, too, whether he could not establish an Accident Research Commission to go into the whole question of these accidents. I noticed yesterday in the Press that in Germany they have flown 4,000,000 miles in the air last year and only had one accident.


Civil flying.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I quite agree it is civil flying, but, if we had a real Accident Research Commission with a very good chairman, like Lord Weir or someone similar, who would go and study the question all over the world and make, the same study of it as the Prime Minister has, but, looking at it from the widest point of view, it would be worth while if we saved one or two lives a year. I would like to say a word about Farnborough. I see in the Estimates that it is costing £390,000, an increase of £4,300 on last year. The Minister also says that Farnborough gets a credit of £357,000 and that it is divided between Votes A, D, E, F, and J. I should like to ask how that is allocated between those special Votes. Special Vote G gets £166,000 for general research, including metal construction accessories, etc. Does Farnborough get any of that money? It is an important point, because it may run Farnborough up to well over half a million pounds, and the Air Minister promised he would try to get the Farnborough expanses down.

Turning to airships, I see that a complete section of R.101 has been erected and tested. In that design I understand that the Air Ministry have departed from the old Zeppelin system of having radial bracing wires. I would ask him to carry out very careful experiments before he does away entirely with those bracing wires. I do not know if in the other airship of the Airship Construction Company, with which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) is associated, he has retained the bracing wires. I see any hon. and gallant Friend nods his head. If he has done so, he is quite right. I do not know if the Air Minister has an internal girder running from the bow to the stern in his ship. If so, it is all to the good. I I talked with the late Lord Rayleigh, who was a great scientist on air matters, said he told me it was the most difficult problem of ell to calculate the stresses on a great rigid structure—the small stresses and particularly the torsional stresses. If the Air Minister departs from the Zeppelin system by doing away with the radial bracing, it may be found that, under certain conditions, the great punch of bite gasbag on certain girders and not on others may cause stresses which may fracture the girders. I hope the Minister of Air will look into that point.

I have had many letters about the Airship Construction Company's ship having its gasbags made in L, foreign country. I replied to all of them that I did not think if was so, but there must be some reason for it, and I would ask the Air Minister to clear it up. I think there is some slight danger in having airship gasbags made in a foreign country. They might not have the inspection they should have, and one might have a disaster through that. The Air Minister has also told us about his work at the Imperial Conference and has told us that our Dominions arc going to put up masts. Are they going to put up any hangars as well? When an airship flies from this country to a distant part like Canada, there ought to be a hangar for putting the airship in so that the airship can be overhauled if necessary. A mere mast, in my opinion, is not enough.

I would like to ask the Minister whether he cannot do more or civil aviation. We get very little money provided for that branch of aviation. I have not always seen eye to eye with Sir Eric Geddes, but Sir Eric Geddes is doing valuable work in his Imperial Airways Company, and he could do with far more money to improve the imperial Airways services. The percentage they get for civil aviation is very small indeed. I should also like to ask the Minister, when he comes to give rewards for these wonderful flights which are made, if he will remember the aircraft constructor pioneers. These men have had very bad times indeed. Before the War we could scarcely keep them going, during the War they were buffeted about by everybody, and after the War some of them went bankrupt. Now they are coming into their own again, but these great flights have been made possible only by the hard work of the pioneer aircraft constructor.

The hon. Member for Keighely (Mr. Lees-Smith) spoke about the limitation of air armaments. I would say to him that air armaments are in too fluid a state to make it possible to limit them at the present time. No hon. Member in this House can say how the aeroplane and airship are going to develop. Are we going to develop great airships with squadrons of planes on them, exactly the same as a Peninsula and Orient liner with her boats? How is the aeroplane going to develop? Into the monoplane, the bi-plane, the tri-plane, the quadro-plane or the gyro-plane? One cannot possibly say. It is all in too fluid a state. This development in the air is largely due to the work of the naval and military airmen, a handful of aircraft constructors, and a few civilians. We cannot say how it is going to develop, and, if you arc going to start restricting it now, it will not be the great benefit which we all hope it will prove. If you develop these great air routes, you link up all the countries in the world. In Italy, Signor Mussolini is encouraging these great flights similar to the flight of the Air Minister. In this way, you link up the peoples of the world, and you do a tremendous good for civilisation. I feel perfectly certain that that will do more for peace than anything else. Nobody can accuse me of advocating bloated armaments. Ever since I have been a Member of this House I have struggled to get the battleship abolished by agreement between the Powers, and I have also tried to get the Washington 10,000ton cruiser accepted as the largest unit for navies. I believe you can do that in naval armaments by agreement, but it will be false policy to try and limit an arm which will be of such great benefit to humanity and to the peace of the world.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ALAN BURGOYNE

It is not my intention this evening to detain the House for more than a very few minutes, as I do not desire to refer to more than one subject connected with this Vote. I would, however, venture to make, with all diffidence, one comment upon the speech to which we have listened from the Prime Minister. I am sure there is no one in this House or outside it who will not be grateful to him for the attitude he took up on a question which, as everyone knows perfectly well, has been causing a great deal of discomfort and unhappiness outside. It will tend more than anything else to allay and to stop the ill-founded criticisms which have frequently followed these disastrous accidents, criticisms that have been hurled, alike, at the Administration, at the machines and, worse still, at the ill-fated pilots. This Debate—and I have listened to a great number of Debates in the last 15 years in this House on matters connected with national defence—strikes me as being different in this way, that for the first time, in the main, there has been present no party spirit. We have, of course, had demands for economy, but I am not so sure that those demands have not come as much from this side as from the other. We are all at one with the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), who has just sat down, in a desire to cut out expenditure upon unproductive armaments, particularly of the Navy and of the Army, and I am bound to say that there is more cogent reason for urging reduction in them than in the case of the air. It cannot be said, except in so far as that in the building of a ship four-fifths of the cost goes into the pockets of the workers, that that is productive expenditure, but, when we approach the Cinderella of our defensive forces, which, after all, out of £115,000,000 spent upon them during the current financial year, is only to have the odd £15,000,000, we find that that service is actually almost as much for civil work as it is for defensive purposes.

It is to the civil side that I desire to direct attention for a few moments: My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel MooreBrabazon), in the course of his very exhaustive and interesting speech, made references to the sources of supply from which we shall have to draw our machines. How can we keep those sources of supply going? They are, if I may use a parallel expression, the shipbuilding yards of the air. In the case of the Navy, in the event of a great national crisis, we could, if we found that the armament firms accustomed to building war-craft were unable to come up to the war emergency, turn with ease to those yards which had the whole organisation for building commercial craft and ask them, knowing they could do it, to undertake the construction, speedily, of war-craft. We have got no such reserve where the construction and output of aircraft are concerned. The House should remember that, whereas we started the War with, I believe I am right in saying, 11 machines, we ended it with about 38,000 in commission, but the sources of those 38,000 machines have practically been swept away. I am not going to stand up here and speak on behalf of the commercial prosperity of those who are engaged in the construction of aeroplanes, but there is a very vast difference between endeavouring to boost an industry and demanding that the pioneers of this job, upon which the efficiency of our air service is entirely dependent, should be given such support that they do not go under and leave us without the reserves to which we can go in the event of a national crisis.

May I be permitted, on a personal note, to say that I was myself flying in 1909, and that I have followed the whole of this matter right the way through, and I am confident that nothing can be done under these Estimates, or any Estimates of which there is a prospect in the next two or three years, where civil aviation is concerned, which will be sufficient to keep going, by the orders given by the Air Ministry, the necessary constructional firms that we should require in the event of war. We have, therefore, to endeavour to extend the methods whereby we can bring grist to the mills of these constructors, and here I am going to make a suggestion that has not yet been touched upon in a single speech to which I have listened during this Debate.

There are only three ways in which you can help to keep those firms going. The first is by showing the flag, and by advertisements, to get orders from overseas. That method has been admirably carried out by the wonderful advertising trip—and I mean it in its very best sense, and beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to appreciate that, because he said he wished to draw the attention of the world to the fact that it could be done—that was undertaken by him and his wife, and by similar trips that are being undertaken, by long flights, which I hope will be encouraged. That is one way. The second is that we should endeavour to get foreign countries desirous of extending their civil flying to call upon us for flying commissions to train their personnel. We have done that for the Navy for years past, and yet we are at the present time more behind Germany, France, and Italy than it would be possible to believe. What is the reason? The reason is that they cannot take out machines in many cases, that the manufacturers of machines are not allowed to sell them because of the secret list, which, I understand, has now been to some extent eased up, be t far too late, as is so frequently the case where we are dealing with a Government Department. That may be a harsh criticism, but it is there all the same.

There is that point, that we are not sending out commissions to train up the personnel for foreign civil aviation ideals and the third point which I put forward, and hope the Secretary of State will not forget, is that we should encourage foreign commissions to come to us to be trained. It may surprise this House to know that one such foreign commission did ask to come over here. They made an approach to the Air Ministry from one of the South American States, and they were told that we would do what we could, but that they would have to pay £4 per day per head. France and Germany at the present time are making it easy to a degree to get these people to go over there. What is the natural result? Train them in British machines, and they will fly in British machines, and take them out. There you have a way that is going to have an immediate effect upon the financial stability of those firms that must be kept going; otherwise, we are in danger.

The Secretary of State gave us a very charming picture. I am bound to say have rarely listened to an address in this House that was so interesting during the years that I have been here, but we must get a little bit behind it. The percentage of money that is being devoted to civil aviation is almost infinitesimal, and if we are desirous of getting towards peace, upon which we had an admirable sermon from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), we cannot do it better than by speeding up the comity of nations through international exchange by air. The more we develop civil aviation, and get foreigners to come to us and our people to go to them, the closer are bound to come these international relations. I promised that I would not take up the time of the House, and I think hon. Members will agree that I have kept my promise. I have concentrated upon that one point of civil aviation, and I hope that greater endeavours will be undertaken by the Ministry to ensure that those firms, upon which we entirely depend for the well-being of the Air Force, will not be allowed to lapse or to go out.


It is perhaps proper that a speaker from the Liberal Benches approaching any question on the Fighting Services Estimates should do so, first of all, from the point of view of disarmament. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) talked about disarmament, stating that in his view the present was an inopportune time to discuss disarmament in the air, on the ground that the air weapons are in a state of development. I confess I am unable to see the logic of that argument. It appears to me that when these weapons are in a state of development is a far better time for attempting to suppress their offensive development than when they have reached maturity as destructive weapons, and I do not believe this House or this country realises even yet the destructive power of an aerial offensive.

I was reading the other day about a weapon which has been developed in the United States, which was described as an unmanned aeroplane. In that country it has been shown possible to launch an aeroplane from the ground, without any pilot in it at all, to despatch it for a distance of 35 miles, and to cause it to fall, loaded with high explosives, within a quarter of a mile of its intended destination. That appears to me to be a very important development. If any possible Continental enemy of ours, though I am not suggesting that such a thing is likely, should develop that weapon to travel a distance of 50, 60, or 100 miles, and should build 10,000 of them, I should like to ask how any defence which we can conceive of would be effective in protecting our great cities from destruction. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) stated that the French Air Force is not really a menace to our own. He did not give figures, but relied for his argument on complaints made in the French Chamber two years or 18 months ago.


No, in June, 1926.


If that be the case, the occasion to which I am referring must have been a, previous one on which the same complaints were made in the French Chamber. I have here figures, extracted from a number of authoritative sources, which give not only the numbers of French machines but of pilots as well. Italy has 600 first-line machines and 930 pilots, France has 1,280 first-line machines and 3,000 pilots, and Britain has 750 first-line machines and 2,000 pilots. I am well aware that the French machines are not in such a high state of development as ours, and I am willing to concede that French pilots are not as good, bat it is unquestionable that Britain at present is in a state of marked inferiority in the air. That is not an argument which can be used only to suggest that we should build into a position or superiority, but it is at, argument which suggests to us that one of two courses is possible. The position with which this Government is faced, and with which past Governments—because no Government has perfectly clean hands in this matter, for even the Labour Government carried on the air policy laid down by its predecessors, and added to the naval construction policy which had been commenced by its predecessors—have been faced, is that only two things arc possible for any sensible nation. Either we must build until we have it in our power to defend our cities and our people, or else we must press with all our might for disarmament negotiations in regard to the air, and it is the latter which I should prefer. I Sincerely hope the Secretary of State for Air and the Prime Minister, neither of whom has lifted a finger to propose disarmament in the air, will set about it without delay. I know I shall be told there is to be a preparatory conference on disarmament, but that deals with all armaments, and by the way they are going about it I think they will never reap any achievements. I suggest that the Prime Minister should go to France and Italy and state definitely, "I am in favour of abolishing the use of destructive power in the air." No aeroplane shall be used to carry any weapon; no aeroplane shall be used to drop bombs." If Great Britain made her decision clear in that respect, and other nations refused to follow, we should be justified in the eyes of the world in building aeroplanes to such an extent that we could protect our people from disaster.

The Prime Minister spoke about accidents. I can claim to speak with some authority on that matter, as I myself have had the misfortune to be in more than one aeroplane accident, and I am sure the Rouse and the relatives of flying officers will be grateful to him for giving this matter his personal attention and will value his personal investigation. I think he was actuated by the humanitarian motives which distinguish all his actions. At the same time, I am not satisfied that his investigation was efficient and effective, and I am going to approach the question from an aspect which, thought it may lay me open to misapprehension, must, nevertheless, be faced. I am going to invite the Secretary of State to tell the House to-night what are the regulations regarding the consumption of alcoholic drink in the flying squadrons. I know flying officers well, I know many of them as well as any hon. Member in this House, and I am glad to preface my remarks by saying that I believe there is no more abstemious and sober body of men in any walk of life. On the question of driving motor cars, it has taken us some years to realise that, in the fine judgments which are required to avoid a disaster, only one or two alcoholic drinks will have a damaging effect; though there was a time when one heard men boast that they could drive a car better when they were drunk than when they were sober. I say that in the fine, swift judgments that are required of an aeroplane pilot in times of emergency one alcoholic drink is going to make all the difference between disaster and safety, and I think it ought to be made an invariable rule that no aeroplane pilot should be allowed to consume alcoholic liquor at all before he flies on any day.

I know that such a decision, if made; would be unpopular, but the position has to be faced. Science demands that we should face it, and if it be not faced there will continue to be these accidents. I do not say the consumption of drink is a main cause of the accidents, or an important cause, but a any rate it ought to be removed as a possible cause before we investigate matters further. The Prime Minister referred to the investigations of that Air Ministry Inspector. I do not want to say anything in criticism of him, I do not know who he is, I have never met him, but I do suggest that the appointment of a fresh mind or fresh minds to assist him—not supplant him—would be one further measure which would help to restore public confidence. The Prime Minister appealed to us not to say anything which might upset the morale of pilots. Pram my experience pilots seldom read anything about Debates in this House. They seldom read very widely on political matters at all. I think the question of adding two or three inspectors to the Air Ministry's inspectorate ought not to be dismissed by the Ministry.

I am very glad the Under-Secretary of State for Air is here, because I believe it is his particular responsibility to superintend civil aviation, and I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I give my views on that subject. I think the Secretary of State threw a spot-light on those aspects of civil air development which were creditable to this country and left in complete darkness the unfavourable aspects. He states in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates that he can see a new era of Empire air development. I confess that I am unable to see it. He has been flying in lofty and exhilarating altitudes, and he may have been able to see the dawn of a new era, but if the House will examine the only relevant figures, which I am going to give they will form a contrary judgment. I know that figures are trying to follow and I will give as few as possible, but I want them on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I hope the House will bear with me if I quote more than they would ordinarily be disposed to hear.

In the Cross-Channel services in 1920 British aircraft carried 6,799 passengers and foreign aircraft 584. Obviously, we then had a very substantial start. In 1925 British craft carried 10,602 passengers and foreign craft 10,119. Those figures show that foreign passenger-carrying companies have been increasing by leaps and bounds their activity in carrying passengers across the English Channel; whilst since 1923 the British companies—or the British company, as it is now—has been absolutely stationary, and now, even in this particular field on which we pride ourselves on a, certain superiority, Britain carries only the same number of passengers as do the foreign companies. That is not the worst. In 1921 Britain was very substantially behind in the total mileage flown in the air. In 1925 the total mileage flown in civil machines by Britain was 862,000 miles, whereas Germany flew in civil machines 3,075,000 miles and France 2,946,000 miles. It is not only on the Continent of Europe that we occupy a disgraceful position—because it is a disgraceful position for an Empire like ours. In 1925, out of 14,500,000 miles flown in the world only 1,500,000 miles were flown by Britain. I ask the hon. Baronet whether he thinks that is satisfactory, and I ask the Secretary of State himself whether he thinks it is satisfactory? I consider it a disgraceful state of affairs, and one which ought to be examined.

This responsibility rests first upon Imperial Airways, which is the one combine which we have controlling the whole of British civil aviation. I have been reading their reports, and I notice that in 1925 Sir Eric Geddes said that the concern had passed through its teething troubles and that the twofold object of the company, to do justice to national aims and to provide a satisfactory invest ment for the public, would be advanced by the modified subsidy. So far as the investment for the public is concerned, I may recall that a few years ago this combine issued shares to the public at £1, and that they now stand at 1s., and with a 5s. call pending over the heads of the unfortunate shareholders. What about the national aims? Both France and Germany can show a mileage flown five times greater than ours. They carry as many passengers across the English Channel as we do. In every part of the world the French and German performances are ousting our own, and apart from the single case of the flight to India, as to which I join in paying a tribute to the Secretary of State for Air, there is hardly a corner of the world where British aviation can hold its head up. I think that calls for inquiry. We shall be faced shortly with a demand for more subsidies to assist Imperial Airways to carry out the task of development. Before any further money is granted we ought to have a formal and official investigation into the root troubles of aviation. It is in a bad way, and I hope the hon. Baronet will offer some suggestion as to how it can be improved.

  1. DISARMAMENT. 20,883 words, 1 division
  2. cc1505-12
  3. NUMBER OF AIR FORCE. 2,742 words
  4. cc1512-4
  5. PAY, &C., OF THE AIR FORCE. 908 words
  6. cc1514-5
  8. cc1515-6
  10. cc1516-7
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