HC Deb 18 March 1930 vol 236 cc2006-29

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: This House welcomes the development of civil air transport, both as a means of peaceful inter-communication and a bond of common interest between nations in general, and more particularly as affording a further unifying link for the British Commonwealth of Nations; and desires that this country should take its appropriate share in aiding and fostering such development. It is the fortune of the Ballot, really, which gives me the opportunity of submitting this Amendment. I possess no special knowledge of aviation, and the only direct contact I have had with it was confined to the War years, when I was with the well-known firm of Messrs. Rolls-Royce, Limited. Wonderful strides have been made in the years since then with new ideas, new developments and new gadgets, so that almost a revolution has taken place since the days when Rolls-Royce, Limited, manufactured their first aero engine; but the great change which we all welcome is that by which instruments formerly produced for destruction are now being turned to the purpose of aiding civil aviation and helping the progress of the nation in peaceful pursuits. Happily, the Secretary of State for Air is in a unique position among the three Ministers of the Fighting Services in that a small portion of his estimate is devoted to a purpose which is not destructive, the promotion of civil aviation. That small portion at any rate is not negative, but is in a sense creative, assisting to create commercial air lines to link nation to nation and to spread Imperial air routes right over the face of the globe like some gigantic cobwebs. I am glad progress is being made in that direction. I want to see this country leading the way in civil aviation. That is the tradition of this country, and instead of spending half-a-million on the development of civil aviation and many millions on the military side of aviation we ought to do all we can to secure some readjustment of those figures, because the one does offer great prospects and the other is confined merely to the destructive side of life. I am glad to see that light aeroplane clubs have been given similar terms, so far as the subsidy for pilots is concerned, as obtain for the national flying services.

I want to know what is being done for municipalities which are desirous of establishing air ports. Several years ago I understand, municipalities were asked by the Air Minister to take an active part in establishing air ports. I have here a document from the Association of Municipal Corporations, part of which is devoted to this question. It refers to certain matters which were raised at their meeting on the 23rd of January and were then approved. The document states that they considered a communication from the London Chamber of Commerce calling attention to the difficulties which local authorities have experienced with regard to the acquisition of land for municipal air ports. They also call attention to the desirability of legislation being introduced to prevent the erection of factories and other buildings so near to an aerodrome as to create an obstruction which may involve the cancelling of a licence already granted. Under Section 8 of the Air Navigation Act of 1920 local authorities, with the consent of the Air Council, can only acquire or hire by agreement land for the purposes of an aerodrome, and the Municipal Corporations Association recommend the council to make representations to the Air Ministry requesting them to initiate legislation conferring compulsory powers upon local authorities for the acquisition of land for air ports, subject to the exercise of such powers being approved by the Air Ministry. I hope we may have an opinion from the Minister on that point, because it is obvious that if municipalities are to develop air ports they should have these powers, and not have their work interfered with by huge chimney stacks erected by industrial undertakings.

I am glad to hear from the Under-Secretary that great progress has been made during the past year or two, and that our route to India has been established and active steps are being taken for the purpose of completing a route to South Africa. But our progress in this matter must be viewed in relation to what has been done by other countries, because progress is only relative, and if we are behind other countries we cannot say we are progressing fully. I am glad to see that since last year the air mileage of commercial routes of this country has increased from 2,000 miles to 5,305 miles. How does this compare with the air mileage of the commercial routes of France, Italy, Germany and the United States? I understand from figures supplied to me that Germany has a mileage of over 16,500 miles of commercial routes, Italy 8,180 miles, France 17,200 miles, and the United States 11,600 external miles. There seems to be a great difference between our mileage and the mileage of other countries.

There is another comparison which might be taken. The number of aerodromes in this country seems to be somewhat backward when it is compared with the number of aerodromes of other countries. I understand that the figures show that up to December, 1929, we had 19 aerodromes, compared with 425 municipal aerodromes in the United States and 415 commercial aerodromes. It is only fair to say that it is not fair to compare a small country like ours with a country like the United States so far as aerodromes are concerned, and we should find a better comparison if we compared our country with France and other countries nearer our own shores. When we come nearer home, we find that France has 15 aerodromes compared with our 18, and one seaplane station, Germany has 89 and seven seaplane stations, while Italy has 13 aerodromes and 13 seaplane stations. There may be very good reasons for this great difference, and I admit that figures are often very misleading. Of course, I cannot say that those figures bear a proper relation to the true position of affairs. I notice that in the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Northampton this evening he drew attention to the number of civil aircraft actually flying. I do not know whether his figures are correct, but my figures are that Great Britain has 22 civil aircraft actually flying, the United States 400, Germany 265, Italy 64, and France 411. I understand, despite this disparity, that we are the nearest to commercial success in civil flying of any country, with the possible exception of Holland, but there seems to be a wide margin between Continental countries and our own. I do not know whether that is right or not, but I have it on good authority, and, if that is so, it will show that, if we do not possess the largest number of aircraft, we are well on the way to making civil aviation a commercial success.

There is another point I wish to put to the Under-Secretary. I would like to know whether it is a fact that in countries where they have a larger number of aerodromes and mileage, and a larger number of aircraft flying than we have in this country, that increase can be attributed to the payment of subsidies. Our subsidies to aircraft companies are not so high as the subsidies paid by other countries. The United States spend the enormous sum of over £3,628,000 for this purpose, but it is only right to say that £886,600 is paid for foreign services and £792,270 is paid to contractors for transport. In Germany the subsidies amount to £517,410. The amount for subsidies in France is £1,400,000, and Italy £609,690 up to December this year, while the amount paid by this country is only £354,000.

I would like the Minister to tell the Committee if these larger subsidies explain the difference in the larger number of aircraft and the increased number of aerodromes in other countries as compared with this country. Is that the explanation for the great difference? I would also like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is quite satisfied that the money paid in subsidies by this country is being spent in the best possible way. Is it not being spent in a way which tends to stultify enterprise and initiative? Is there any reason why we should be committed to one company only, namely, the Imperial Airways Company? I understand that that company is reliable in every sense of the word, but the point I am raising is whether the policy of concentrating our subsidies on one company produces for us the best possible results. I am told that another company approached the British Government—its name is the Atlantic Airways Limited—asking for facilities for the establishment of a British air service which it desired to inaugurate from Trinidad to Georgetown, British Guiana, and thence to South Africa. The' British Government are believed to have granted temporary facilities in Trinidad to the Pan-American Airways for the operation of air services. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary, when he comes back, will be able to say whether that statement is correct. If so, I am sure that the House will be very interested to hear his reply.

I am sure that the House is interested in this matter, in view of the possibilities, and in view of the fact that we carry in our ships 8omethng like 60 per cent. of the ocean-borne freights, while the amount of air-borne freights carried in British aircraft is only an extremely small proportion, I understand not more than 6 per cent. I am sure that, if the Air Ministry is desirous of making a great step forward in the development of civil aviation, the House of Commons will be only too glad to give them the necessary facilities, in view of the fact that every aeroplane built employs men in something like 40 indusrties; and at this juncture I am sure that the nation would be pleased to 6pend considerably more than £500,000 in this direction, when once they knew that by doing so we should not only be extending the prestige of this country, but also bringing work to its workshops and extending a very important and civilising influence throughout the world.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so because it gives the House, and particularly Members on this side, an opportunity to put themselves right on this very important Estimate. I confess, for myself, that when I first glanced at the Estimate and saw the increase, I had to look into it very closely for justification, and, even so, the difference in allocation as between the civil aviation section and the war section of the Vote shows a very bad disparity. However, there is something to be said on that score, because on closer examination we see that it is largely for replacement. Taking the aggregate increase this year, I should have been well pleased had the amount been far more than it is, provided that it had been applied to the very important civil aviation section of the Estimate.

9.0 p.m.

The object of this Amendment is to emphasise the value of civil aviation and of the peaceful inter-communication that is thereby established, and the civilising influence of transport and communications of a world-wide character. Something has been said earlier in the discussion about the hesitancy in regard to airships, and the Under-Secretary just now was referring to the fact that developments had forced upon us the necessity of facing the logic of events, and pointing out that all great improvements, such as railways and other means of transport, had their beginning. But, if ever there was a service calling for imagination, for rapid development, and for the expenditure of money, it is civil aviation. It has already been shown that we lag far behind other countries in Europe and the world generally in this respect, in regard to mileage flown, mileage routes, and aerodromes, and I think-that there should have been a larger increase under this Vote for civil aviation, which is represented in Vote 8. We have under this common Vote the engine of war, and also a very wonderful and evergrowing industry with tremendous possibilities, both scientific and utilitarian. We have not only an industry, but a transport facility, and, as was said earlier in the Debate, transportation means civilisation. If we intend to take our place among the nations of the world in regard to developments and in regard to peaceful inter-communication between nation and nation, if, indeed, we intend even to face up to peace, there are aspects of the Air Service which make the possibilities of peace more easily applied than in the case of the other arms of the Fighting Services of the Crown.

I only desire to support the plea that the attention of the Air Ministry should be directed even more to the development of civil aviation so that the engine of war may be rather made into an engine of peace, and wealth and the possibilities of development may be utilised in full. Much has been said about the development of airships and aeroplaoaes, but I think that the airships that we have have yet to be tested out to the full extent, and I would urge upon the Air Ministry caution as to the development of this rather clumsier method than the heavier-than-air machine. I hope that the House will support the Air Ministry in developing civil aviation in this country to an extent that will make us more comparable in this respect with the nations of the Continent and of the world in general, so that, while we now stand in a ratio of something like one. in four as compared with France, we may get to something like parity as far as civil aviation is concerned, without prejudice to the avoidance of anything like a race in armaments so far as the fighting side of the Service is concerned. I plead for a clear cut between the fighting side and the civil side of this Service, and I hope that the one will be developed to its fullest extent even at the expense of the other.


I welcome the occasion for a discussion on civil aviation and civil aviation alone, and I congratulate the Mover of the Amendment on the case that he has made. I agree with him entirely. I believe civil aviation is one of the great peace-making influences in the world. I want to see it extended, and the more you extend it, the more you differentiate between the civil aeroplane and the fighting aeroplane, and the more you bring forward commercial flying, the further off you put war. I believe that flying over all the countries that we do when we get into an aeroplane shows us the immense difficulties we avoid by going in the air. I flew recently to Sweden. I passed over six or seven different countries. They all looked just the same from the air. When you go from one to another you have to speak a different language, and all that you avoid in the air.

The hon. Member criticised, on certain well-known lines, the record of civil aviation in this country. He took, first of all, the mileage of the routes. All that mileage of routes means is a certain line that you mark on a map. You may fly often or seldom. The Germans claim in their mileage of routes a route from Berlin to Teheran. It is flown once a fortnight. We claim in Imperial Airways a route from Paris to London and that is flown four or five times a day. So a bare comparison of mileage is no true comparison. Nor is the comparison of mileage flown, for you must know the size and carrying capacity of the aeroplane that flies. Some aeroplanes will carry one or two passengers. Some of our biggest ones will carry 20. The only true figure to take is not the mileage flown by aeroplanes, but the passenger mileage or ton mileage flown.

With regard to the numbers of aeroplanes flying, I would make this comment. We do the most work with the fewest aeroplanes. I should like to see more money spent on civil aviation and more aeroplanes in the air, but still we manage to do our work with many fewer aeroplanes than foreign countries, and that is all to the good. I want the House to understand one thing very clearly. No large-size aeroplane, no aeroplane except a very small Moth, flies without a subsidy. It cannot be done at present. All the countries subsidise, and the simple distinction between them is the amount of subsidy that they give. We give a small subsidy, £500,000 to a service which includes the Indian service, and will include the African service. That is far smaller than other countries give. If you want more, you have to pay. I believe our money is far better spent than the money of any other country, and I am certain that our service is far and away the best in the world. There are three tests that you ought to take of civil aviation. Is it safe? Is it reliable? Does it hold out the prospect of flying commercially without a subsidy? On those three tests, we come out a long way on top.

First of all, we have far the safest civil flying service in the world. I have flown in every European service, and I am always glad to get back into a British aeroplane. I flew the other day to Sweden—I will not say in what service it was, but it was not a British aeroplane—and we had a forced landing. The record of accidents is far less in the British flying service than in any service in the world. The next question is that of reliability. For years past we have known that aeroplanes can fly fast from point to point, but what we want is that they should go from point to point on time. When you land from an aeroplane you may have to catch a boat or a train, and it is no good to have a six-hours' delay and arrive after your train has gone. You must have a very high percentage of arrivals on time, and we have far the best record in that matter. Our aeroplanes are by far the most regular, and they fit into the scheme of the world and the business organisations of the world far better than any foreign service. Thirdly, we are the only country that looks to civil flying paying its own way. In all other countries, without exception, no account is taken of the possibility of aeroplanes flying without a subsidy. I do not know whether it will come at the end of the 10 years' period from 1924 during which the subsidy to Imperial Airways runs, but I believe it will come in the lifetime of some of us, and I am sure it will come first in this country.

That brings me to this: The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. G. Oliver) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) criticised the policy of giving a monopoly to Imperial Airways. There are occasion" when you do best by competition, and there are occasions when you do best by eliminating competition. You have to choose between the two, and there is no hard and fast rule that you can lay down. All I can say is that we tried the system of unlimited competition in the air, and the result was chaos. We got nowhere, we had a good many accidents, and we saw no prospect at all of making flying a commercial success, so five or six years ago Imperial Airways was formed, and was told that for 10 years no other company would be subsidised, and in my opinion the plan succeeded. Imperial Airways has done wonders. It bas very largely advanced the science of flying. Without a subsidy limited to one large company you would not be able to undertake big enterprises, you would not have behind you the personnel and the experience, and you would have to have a lot of small companies springing up here and there, drawing your subsidy, spending it, and giving you very little for it. So I put it to my hon. and gallant Friend and to the Mover of the Amendment that in this case it has paid us over and over again to limit our subsidy to one large company. When you give public money to a company which has shareholders, the State must keep a very tight hold upon it. I am all for very tight control. I think that I can say that the control of the Air Ministry has been extremely tight. When the company was first formed I was given a seat on the board and I sat on the board as long as I was out of Parliament. When I got back again, I did not think that it was right to sit on the board of a subsidised company, and so I resigned my seat; but I can assure the House that the control of the Air Ministry is a very Teal and a very stringent one. I do not in the least object to that, for that ought to be the case when a company receives public money.

I want to ask a question of the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I am rather alarmed about the route to India. I have never liked the route flown through Italy. I wanted quite a different route. I wanted the route of the old Orient Express as far as Constantinople. I think that you have now to treat India as a proposition by itself, and not try to provide an Egyptian service with the Indian service. To go to Egypt is to go too far south, and it involves a long flight over the sea, which I do not think is as safe as flying over land. I would much rather see the flight made straight to Bagdad via Constantinople. Bagdad is the Clapham Junction of the Near East, and lies on one of the direct routes to India. I never liked the idea of flying through Italy, and now we cannot fly through Italy. We have to fly to Cologne and go on the Orient Express to Athens, and at Athens get into the aero- plane and fly to Egypt and on to India. If hon. Members will look at the map they will see that it is a long route, and you do not go as quickly as you might, because you have to go part of the way by train.


One of the difficulties of the alternative route suggested is the crossing of Asia Minor.


Yes, I know, but could you not go to Constantinople and then fly your aeroplane along the coast down to Haifa and so across to Bagdad? I think that the competition over the Indian routes will soon be so great that we cannot afford to go so far south, because India is the great Mecca of the East, and all countries are trying to get there. There are two or three routes to India, and the shortest one is by the shores of the Black Sea and Persia; but, from our point of view, the best route is to Constantinople and then to Bagdad. I do not like the plan of flying over the Mediterranean. I think that it is too long a sea journey, and I hope that we shall try a different route.

I should like to say a few words about airships. I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone). When hon. Members of the House of Commons are applying for tickets for a flight in R.101 or R.100 I shall go up in an aeroplane. I do not think that sufficient experiments have yet been made with airship flying to make it as safe as aeroplane flying. There is a great deal more to be learnt before it is commercially possible and safe. I am prepared to fly in any well-equipped and well-flown aeroplane, but I shall leave to my hon. Friend on my left and my hon. Friend below me the privilege of going up in R.100 or R.101, though I hope nothing untoward will happen to them. I am rather alarmed to find that the design of R.101 has to be changed. It is all very well to tell the House that a new bay is to be put into R.101, but I understand that a new bay means that you cut the airship in two and give it a new middle. It is a pretty drastic criticism of the design if you have to cut the airship in two and give it a new waist. That is, apparently, being done to increase its carrying powers. An increase of one's waist always increases one's carrying power, but I suggest that the design of that part of the anatomy ought to have been considered at the time when the type was settled. I hope that when the R.100 flies across the Atlantic for the first time—I see that she is to go to Montreal—my hon. Friends will not take tickets for the trip.

It has been mentioned that a system has been mooted to the effect that aeroplane insurance should be run on the same lines as shipping insurance. As it is necessary to have inspectors examining ships and reporting as to their insurability, we have now arrived at a time when aeroplanes should be examined in a similar manner and the premium for insurance settled. Insurance is a very heavy item in civil flying. When we started Imperial Airways there was a ring of insurance companies, and we were charged 20 per cent. premium for insuring the aeroplanes. Twenty per cent. covered everything, the risk in the air and the risk of fire on the ground, and I think that the House will appreciate that no commercial company can possibly make money when it is faced with a premium of something like 20 per cent. The figure has since been reduced, but still it is very high. I think that if there were a proper system of inspection by the insurance interests themselves, it would lead to a smaller premium. I am much impressed by the hardship suffered by the aeroplane building companies, because the demand for civil aeroplanes in this country is so small. If you go to Germany you find that the great Junker company is selling aeroplanes all over the world and that it systematises the manufacture of aeroplanes and turns them out by mass production. This has two effects. First of all, it sells the aeroplanes very cheaply and it also establishes a very big industry. We have a very small demand for the big civil aeroplanes. I wonder if something could be done to stimulate trade. I believe that we build the best aeroplanes in the world, only the demand for civil aeroplanes is so small to-day that it hardly pays any maker to devote very much attention to them. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) suggested last year that the Ministry might hold an exhibition of aircraft. I wish they would do something of the sort. The world ought to know how well we can build, and we should gain if we did hold an exhibition of that sort.

That is all I have to say. I thank the Minister for his very clear statement. I am deeply interested in civil flying. I am quite certain that it is going to be the transport of the future as far as letters, passengers and light merchandise are concerned. I want to see it extended in every direction. Let those Members who criticise us for being behind-hand not forget that we in these islands will never fly commercially over the greater part of the country. We shall only fly over the 60 miles which separate London from the Channel. We shall not establish an air service from London to Glasgow, for the simple reason that it pays a man better to go by train, because the gain in the air is too small, and the route is too short to allow an aeroplane to catch up the train. But we have a great future in the Empire and in the world. We are now in a very strong position, and we are the only people who look forward to flying without a subsidy. I want to see this enterprise stand alone. I believe that it will. The Air Ministry is going the right way about it, and I hope that they will continue on the same road.


There has been a great deal of criticism to-night with regard to the Minister's airship proposals, and also against airships themselves. Personally, I welcome the proposals of the Minister to apply more money for airship development. It shows an appreciation of the possibilities of this new service, and, to my mind, it is going to mean a new link in Empire communication. Airships are not competitors with aeroplanes or seaplanes. They would be capable of travelling some thousands of miles without stopping, and the aeroplanes and seaplanes can be used for inter-communication at the end of the journey. I think that the development with regard to airships this year has been very remarkable. First of all, I should like to call attention to what has happened in Germany where the Graf Zeppelin flew round the world last August—a journey of 21,000 miles over Europe, Asia and America, across the Atlantic and Pacific, completing the journey from Tokio to Los Angeles. The time taken was 21 days, 7 hours, 34 minutes, but the actual flying time was 12 days less 27 minutes. That was a very remarkable achievement, and it shows the interest taken, because in the United States the utmost enthusiasm was shown to those on board the ship and for the ship itself. It carried 60,000 pieces of mails to America.

To-day, in America there are two airships being built which are due to be finished in 1931. They are of 6,500,000 cubic capacity, which is easily larger than our airships in this country. I would like further to call attention to the reports from Germany in regard to the Graf Zeppelin. She has made 50 flights averaging 1,462 miles and totalling 73,000 miles. Over this distance the engines consumed a total of 8,300,000 cubic feet of gas fuel, which is different from any fuel used in this country. An interesting report on this performance of the Graf Zeppelin is contained in what Dr. Eckener said on finishing this trip, namely, that the airship was not suitable for trans-Atlantic work, and that he would build another airship following the lines of our new British airships the R100 and the R101, which are far in advance of any ship ever built before. I believe—it has been so reported, at any rate—that they are five times as strong in structure as any previous airship built in this country.

There have been criticisms of airships to-day by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone), and he called Sir Dennistoun Burney as a witness on his behalf. I think he must have misunderstood that book. I have had several discussions with Sir Dennistoun Burney on the airship question, and he never intended to condemn airships by his book. He was only showing what would possibly be the airship development of the future in this country. There are four main objectives to overcome in building these ships. The first one is with regard to the structure, which, as I have said, in our ships is now five times as strong. The Minister, in his opening speech, told us that the R101 rode out a gale of 83 miles an hour at the mast without any undue strain, and also swung to 135 degrees in one minute owing to a sudden change of wind, which is a far greater achievement than riding out the gale. I think the House will remember that it was the R33 that was torn from the mast and badly damaged a few years ago in a wind of only about 44 miles an hour, which shows the enormous change that there has been since that time. It is also Anticipated that if we were to build another airship to-day there would be a saving of 10 tons in its construction and consequently a greater lifting power. I admit frankly the airship is an experimental ship; it must be at the present stage, but there is a very great future before the airship.

The next point of importance is the engines and the fuel used. The R101 is run on heavy oil, and the R100 on petrol. The R100 was also designed for heavy oil, but the engines could not be obtained when she was ready to take the air. To my mind, petrol is a great danger to airship work. The Germans are using gas. Gas is not so dangerous. When there is a leakage of petrol in an airship it collects at the bottom of the ship and a spark may lead to an explosion, but with a leakage of gas, the gas rises and escapes of its own accord out of the ship. But by far the safer thing is heavy oil. Not only is it safer, but the cost is £5 per ton as compared with £25 per ton in the case of petrol. Moreover, given engines of equal weight, the heavy oil will carry the ship 25 per cent. greater distance. The great difficulty is to get heavy oil engines designed light enough for this particular work. I hope that the Government will see their way to offer a substantial prize to any firm that can produce a suitable engine for airship work.

I was sorry this afternoon to hear the Under-Secretary say that they were experimenting with the heavy oil engine for use with petrol. I hope that petrol will not be used in the airships of the future. I think that with heavy oil, if we can obtain a suitable engine for airships, we shall very soon afterwards develop a suitable engine for the aeroplane, which would be very valuable in this country. I note that in the accidents which have occurred the numbers killed in civil flying have gone up, although the accidents have gone down. I think that is due to the explosion that so often occurs when a machine comes to grief. I must congratulate the Minister on the fact that the accidents which have occurred in the Royal Air Force in the last year were less than in the last two years. I think that is a very remarkable thing, when you think of the enormous amount of additional flying that is done to-day. The record of accidents in this country, both for the Royal Air Force and for civil machines, has been extraordinarily low, and instead of going up with the additional flying, they are inclined all the time to go down.

In regard to gas for lifting airships, in America they have been developing helium, which is a non-inflammable gas, while we in this country are using hydrogen, which has a greater lifting power. If you have a 6,000,000 cubic feet airship, and helium is used, she will only have the lifting power of a 5,000,000 cubic feet airship using hydrogen. At the same time, if helium and heavy oil for fuel can be combined, to my mind the airship of the future will be as safe as a taxicab. There is no danger of fog. The trials carried out with the R.100 quite recently were carried out very often when the ground could not be seen, or the sea for a long while at a time, and the ship returned to her mooring mast in a heavy mist. She was in touch all the time with the ground and knew exactly her position.

The last point that I want to mention in regard to airship construction is the question of mooring masts. We have only one mooring mast in this country to-day, and we have two airships. The United States of America are building two airships, and Germany is building airships, and I think it will be very difficult to deny a ship either from America or Germany a visit to this country, but it will be extraordinarily difficult to have a ship here if we have two ships of our own and only one mast for the ships that will be in existence in the next few years. It is essential to build one more mast or perhaps two more masts in this country, if we are going to cope with the future, and I should like to ask the Minister whether the cones that are fitted to the mooring mast are standardised both in Germany and in the United States, so that our ships can visit there and we can receive visits from them.

It takes to-day 16 men to moor an airship to its mast at Cardington, but it is a very different matter if you are going to get an airship in or out of its shed. To do that takes from 400 to 450 men, and I welcome the statement on the Paper that experiments are to be carried out to move an airship by mechanical means into or out of its shed. I always believed, and think still, that there is considerable danger to the men when they are bringing out an airship from its shed or taking it in, and this can only be done in very still weather, but if mechanical means are successful, as I believe they will be, an airship will be able to be moved with about 50 men, and even if a slight breeze is blowing it will make no difference. Mechanical means are being used in America in taking their ships into and out of their sheds. I hope also that mooring masts will be developed in Malta, in South Africa, and in Australia. I believe that a site has been chosen in South Africa and Australia, but so far nothing has been done, and I think we should welcome the assistance of the Dominions in our airship programme.

I believe the airships will be of immense benefit to this country, not only to our people, but to the people in the Dominions. It has often been said that trade follows the flag, and I can conceive that trade will follow the airship. A British airship would be met in the Dominions with the greatest enthusiasm by British people, and I believe it would help to cement the Dominions and the home country together more cloesly.


I should like to ask leave of the House to reply to one or two important questions that have been raised upon the Amendment. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment wanted a reply to a question about Atlantic Airways, Limited, and he spoke about permission being given to that company for a service to the West Indies. As a matter of fact, the American services that are operating in the West Indies are operating by a special short period permission, for a period of six months, and from time to time the position has to be reviewed. As I have already said, the Air Ministry have considered the whole question of the development of civil aviation in the West Indies. Atlantic Airways, Limited, is the name of a company which was formed for the purpose of such development, and it applied to the Air Ministry with a view to a Government subsidy, in conjunction with possible subsidies from the Colonies themselves.

The Consultative Committee went into the whole question very thoroughly, and reported favourably upon the proposals to the Secretary of State, but owing to the financial difficulties of the Colonies, and to a number of other considerations, the proposals of Atlantic Airways Limited, have fallen rather to the ground for the moment, although I believe that that Company is considering other ways in which it may be able to put forward a scheme for the effective development of aviation in the West Indian Colonies. As I have pointed out, the Ministry is exploring the question from a number of points of view, and particularly looking at the development of aviation in the West Indies from the larger Imperial as well as from the inter-Colonial point of view.


We have learned that Imperial Airways, Limited, receive a subsidy from the Government. Some of us hold the view very strongly that where financial assistance is given by the Government, the Government should have proportionate control, and I am wondering whether in this case a precedent has been set in that connection and whether the Government has control over Imperial Airways, or has any holding of shares in return for the subsidy which it gives.


That question relates to Imperial Airways from the standpoint of a possible precedent for future developments including the one to which I have been referring, and I will answer it by saying that there are Government representatives on the Board of Imperial Airways. Sir Herbert Hambling and Sir Vyell Vyvyan are the representatives of the Government, and to that extent there is Government control over the management of the company. The financial interest of the Government in Imperial Airways is a holding of 25,000 Deferred £1 shares, credited as fully paid, so that the principle which the hon. Member desires should be applied in cases of subsidy does apply so far as Imperial Airways, Limited, is concerned.

I want now to refer to the question of the employment of short service officers. There was a scheme initiated by Lord Trenchard some three years ago, under which boys from public schools should be selected by the Air Ministry as suited for short service commissions and be taken into the employment of large firms. The firms which originally expressed their willingness to adopt the scheme include Dunlops, General Electric Company, Metropolitan Vickers, Humber, British Thomson-Houston, J. and G. Weir, and I believe that that list has very largely been extended since. The entrants under that scheme would serve a preliminary period of a year with a firm and become short service officers for five years, afterwards returning to the employment of the firm.

I do not know whether that answers sufficiently the question that was put to me, but I think it shows that as regards short service officers the Air Ministry have given consideration to their future and their standing in civil life. In addition to this matter of providing for short service officers I might mention that everything possible is done to find employment for airmen when they leave the Service. There is an agency called the National Association for the Employment of Regular Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. That body receives an annual contribution from Air Ministry funds, and there is a close alliance with it. In other ways a great deal is done in order to endeavour to place airmen advantageously in civil life after they have served in the Air Force. In my opening speech and in my reply I have covered a very wide field and I do not think that I have missed any point that bat been raised. If I have missed any point, I shall be glad in the Committee stage to reply.


I directed a question to the Under-Secretary in his absence, respecting Atlantic Airways, Limited. [HON. MEMBERS: "That has been answered."] I was not aware of that.

Commander BELLAIRS

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) drew attention to the question of mooring masts and said that there was only one mooring mast in the country. Have the Air Ministry considered using as mooring masts old warships that are going to be scrapped? Mooring masts might be built into these old warships and they would then be mobile mooring masts.


I cannot say definitely that that question has been considered, but I should like to think it over and consider it in detail later. The question of mooring masts is, of course, one of very great importance. There is only one mooring mast at present in this country. It was not intended during the preliminary stages of the trial flights that R.100 and R.101 should be in the air at the same time. Their flights were to be conducted at separate times. In the future, however, and it may be the near future, it will be necessary to consider the question of mooring masts.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Bedford in regard to the development of airships in foreign countries is of interest. The present Estimates show, by the amount of money devoted for the purpose, that we are actively considering the question of the mechanical handling of airships by the use of some system analogous to the existing American system, which is that of stub masts, shorter masts nearer the ground, which can be manipulated on a kind of pivotal basis in conjunction with a system of rails enabling the airships to be guided in and out of the shed. The figure which the hon. Member gave of 16 men required to handle the attachment to the mooring mast is not quite accurate; the number is 12. By means of the development of stub masts and the mechanical method of enabling the airship to enter and come out of the shed, it will be possible to avoid the employment of the very large number of men which is necessary at the present time to get the airship from the mooring mast to the shed. That is a development of the near future. America has started on these lines, and their experiment has proved a practical success. We are hoping to be able to follow on analogous lines and so make the system much more efficient than it is to-day.

Commander BELLAIRS

I should like to make a few remarks on civil flying. It is obvious that we have fallen behind in our civil aviation, compared with other great Powers. I have heard nothing to-day to convince me that we are going to redress the balance, and that that balance will not increase against us as time goes on. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) tried to disparage some of these remarks, but later on he called attention to the fact that the Germans were selling far more aeroplanes than we are, showing that Germany is going well ahead of us. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that just after the War we were in the most advantageous position of any nation. We had the largest resources, we had the finest airmen and the finest mechanics. There must be some reason for this country having got behind, and I think the reason is that, although we had a good start, physically and materially, we made a bad start in principles.

In 1918, a Committee was appointed to inquire into civil aviation transport, known as the Civil Aviation Transport Committee, and the principles laid down by that Committee were hopelessly wrong. They laid down the principle that civil aviation, which is peculiarly within the province of the Air Ministry, is a military question. Had we started that way when we invented steam engines—a far greater revolution than aviation—and had we put all steamships under the Admiralty, the Mercantile Marine would never have developed in the way that it did. The second principle laid down by the Committee was that it was vitally necessary that airmen should conform fully to military requirements. Had we laid it down that railways should conform to military requirements we should never have got the fine system of railways that we have to-day. The Duke of Wellington and the War Office violently opposed the building of the London to Portsmouth railway on the ground that it would facilitate the invasion of this country—a perfectly hopeless proposition.

When we allowed our cables to be unrestricted we got a monopoly of the cables of the world, and it was only when people began to interfere with our cables on the ground of strategy and all-red cables that we began to lose our monopoly of the cable service. The third principle laid down by the Committee was that types of commercial craft should for a long time be governed by their effective military use and that this requirement should be satisfied even at the cost of a serious diminution in the commercial value of both routes and craft. Could anyone conceive a more intolerable military proposition in regard to civil aviation? The two things are utterly incompatible. Military enterprise ever tends to discipline and rigid methods, while civil enterprise means the very breath of freedom. There is a great deal of philosophy in the saying: High o'er the fence leaps Sunny Jim, Freedom's the force that raises him. The result has been that all lines, clubs, aerodromes and companies depend upon the nod of the militarists and have become parasitic. In regard to the development of railways, steamers and road transport, there have been no subsidies, but payments for services rendered. The Lusitania and the Mauretania were the only exceptions where subsidies were given. The railways were, however, assisted to acquire land. The steamers found ports already in existence. The aeroplanes leapt into the air, so to speak, and they did not find aerodromes ready, and they did not find resources on shore ready. It was in these directions that the Air Ministry might have assisted far more than they did.

For instance, take Hong Kong as a shipping port. Some years after we acquired it the "Times" contained an article which stated that the place was not the slightest use and that no shipping was going there or could go there. We then provided resources for the shipping, and the port became one of the biggest in the world. We ought to have spent liberally on aerodromes, landing grounds and research, and especially on research. The Navy Estimates are down by £5,000,000. How has that been done? The Government gave an assurance to the Admiralty that we were safe from a first-class war for 10 years. The Air Ministry have had the same assurance. Lord Trenchard as Chief of Staff told us that the wastage of aeroplanes is 30 per cent. in peace time. That is to say, the life of an aeroplane is 3⅓ years. If we are not to have a war for 10 years would it not have been much better to have spent a great deal of the money that is available on civil aviation instead of on military aviation?

There is absolute inconsistency in the way we act with regard to disarmament. We demanded of Germany complete severance of all military ties. She is not allowed any military training in aviation in the agreement of 1926. But when we made an agreement by which Germany was disarmed the European nations said that they would disarm themselves. Surely we ought to apply to our civil flying exactly the same standard as we apply to Germany with regard to civil flying? What has been the result of military control? We had Lord Trenchard, Chief of Staff in 1022, making a speech at Glasgow in which he said that money spent on civil aviation had much better be spent on purely military effort. He changed his mind about that, I know, and the Secretary of State for Air in that year also changed his mind later and is now engaged upon increasing civil aviation in this country. The same Lord Trenchard told us that the wastage of aeroplanes in war would be 80 per cent. in the first month of war. Does not that point to the wisdom of building up more reserves through civil flying, as would be done if we had many aerodromes and civil aeroplanes? Even in the improbable event of war the civil part is of a great deal more importance than the military part because of the resources that it builds up.

10.0 p.m.

I must say a few words more in regard to inquiries on these matters. We have had no public inquiry in this country. We have had private inquiries. The Americans carried out a thoroughgoing inquiry into the whole question of aviation, including civil aviation. It was carried out under the direction of Mr. Coolidge and was under the chairmanship of Mr. Dwight Morrow, the present American Ambassador to Mexico, who is now at the Naval Conference in this country. He has a very brilliant American brain. That Committee reported that: The union of civil and military air activities would breed distrust in every region in which commercial aviation sought extension. It went on to say: The peace-time activities of the United States have never been governed by military considerations. To organise these peacetime activities, or what is thought may ultimately be one large branch of them, under military control or on a military basis, would be to make the same mistake which, properly or improperly, the world believes Prussia to have made in the last generation. Those are very grave words which reflect on our system. On 19th July, 1927, I asked the then Prime Minister if he would have an inquiry on civil aviation and its association with the military department. I was refused that inquiry. I do not think that the question will brook delay and therefore I do not now ask for inquiry. The party opposite which has no responsibilities in this matter, might well insist, as it is the party professing the most pacific intentions, on the two being separated to-morrow.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]