§ Order for Committee read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. Montague)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The revised total of last year's estimate, allowing for the Supplementary Estimate of £760,000, was £16,960,000, so that Members will see that this year there is an increase in Air Estimates of £890,000 within a total of £17,850,000. This increase is due in the main to the provision of the up-to-date equipment, which is essential alike for safety and efficiency, the growing needs of civil aviation and additional outlay on scientific research work. During the financial year ending 31st March, five additional squadrons will have been added to the establishment of the Royal Air Force for purposes of Home Defence. One of these is a regular squadron and the other four are organised on a cadre or auxiliary basis. This means that the greater part of their personnel are serving under conditions similar to those of the Territorial Army. Their training is of a periodical nature and they would be embodied only in the event of a major war. When the plans for the Home Defence Force were first worked out, it was intended that 25 per cent. of the Force might be on this non-regular basis, but at the present time the proportion is much higher, for out of the existing 38 squadrons primarily provided for Home Defence 26 are regular squadrons and 12 are of the cadre or auxiliary type. The proportion of this latter type to the current total strength of the Home Defence Force stands therefore at the present time at nearly 33 per cent. instead of 25 per cent.
The House will understand the reason for this preferential policy in regard to non-regular units when it is remembered that a much shorter period is required for the formation of new regular squadrons. Auxiliary and non-regular units generally have to train their own 1926 personnel, both in flying and in ground duties, and they reach a high degree of efficiency if the pace is not forced. So it will be seen that the all-round development of the Air Force on the lines indicated in the Memorandum accompanying the Estimates calls for a larger increase of the slower developing units during the earlier stages of the programme, in order to ensure the due proportion of regular to non-regular units in the end. Auxiliary squadrons do not in their early days require to be equipped on the same scale as the regular squadrons. They require, in the first instance, machines of training rather than service types and so forth. But it must be borne in mind that, as these squadrons reach maturity, provision has to be made for equipping them with up-to-date service aircraft. In fact, the equipment programme for 1930 reflects their growing requirements in this direction.
I would like to stress the moderation and unprovocative character of British air policy and expenditure. If consideration is given to comparative air strengths and the trend of air expenditure of such Powers as France, Italy and the United States of America, the facts emerge that our Air Force is substantially exceeded in terms of first-line strength by these three other Powers, and that the Estimates which I am now introducing show an actual reduction on the gross figures compared with Air Estimates of five years ago, the gross figures being the proper comparison if one is dealing with intentions and policy. That is in striking contrast with very large increases in the air expenditure of the other Powers during the same period. This, moreover, is despite the fact that our overseas requirements for garrison purposes in the Middle East and India are much greater than those of other countries. On the basis of metropolitan strengths we have considerably less than a half-power standard compared with the standard of our nearest neighbour. In spite of these facts and figures, His Majesty's Government do not propose to deviate from a policy dictated by the firm intention not to be drawn into a competition in air armaments. Expansion will only take place in so far as it is forced upon us by developments abroad and no other course remains 1927 open. The development of the Home Defence Air Force is proceeding slowly on well-considered lines, whose aim is quality rather than quantity. Our objective is the maximum of efficiency in regard to both personnel and equipment.
It must be remembered, when considering these Estimates, that Air Forces are being increasingly employed in substitution for ground forces, and that thereby considerable economies have been effected. This has been done on a scale not yet attempted by any other nation, and the fact lends greater significance to the modest character of our present programme. The House is well aware, I think, of the success and economy achieved by the use of air power for defence in Iraq and, if I may quote a more recent instance, we have the case of Aden, where an air squadron has been provided for the last two years with a strength of 12 machines and a total complement of 200 men in replacement of one British and one Indian battalion of infantry with a total strength of about 1,600 combatants.
The recent disturbances in Palestine soon developed into a problem for the time being for ground forces, but on their outbreak troops were transported by air from Egypt within a few hours of the request for reinforcements being received. It is true to say that the prompt arrival of 50 soldiers by air did much to prevent further serious riots, but the main activities of the Royal Air Force were directed to reconnaissance patrols with the object of keeping the authorities informed of any large movements of insurgents either across the frontier or within Palestine itself. In some cases, also, aircraft were able to drive off attacks by Arabs upon isolated Jewish colonies before the arrival of ground reinforcements. Offensive action from the air was taken altogether 11 times, and it proved the salvation in many instances of otherwise defenceless communities, and there is no evidence of any innocent persons having suffered.
Towards the end of last year, the Royal Air Force rendered signal service in dealing with two rebellious tribes, subjects of Ibn Saud the King of Nejd, whose leaders, accompanied by their followers, after an unsuccessful rebellion against that monarch, took 1928 refuge in Koweit and in Iraq. We had given an undertaking to Ibn Saud that we would not afford refuge to these rebels either in Koweit or Iraq proper. In order to implement that undertaking, the political officer ordered the refugees to withdraw across the frontier. The refugees refused to go, but they also rejected the alternative offered them by the political officer that they should surrender unconditionally to the British authorities. This surrender was the only alternative possible in view of food and sanitary considerations, together with the danger of undesirable complications which might have led to general fighting and widespread loss of life. Eventually the High Commissioner authorised air action on a limited scale, the immediate result of which was the unconditional surrender of both tribes as required—some 7,000 people—to the Air Force commander. I may say that in this case the dropping of bombs as a warning proved sufficient, and there were no casualties to the rebels or on our own side.
Another recent illustration of the efficacy of air action occurred in the Sudan during December, 1929, where a small section of the Nuba tribe in Kordofan offered armed resistance to the police when engaged in the arrest of a tribesman who had been organising rebellion against the Government. The tribesmen took refuge in a strong natural position, and it became necessary to assemble a force of about 300 infantry to deal with them. The local Governor decided to induce surrender by taking air action in the first instance. After three days' bombing the position was occupied by the infantry without any casualties. There is no doubt that but for the preliminary air action undertaken, the operation could not have been carried through without heavy loss of life on both sides.
Then, again, in the Aden Protectorate in September, 1929, a certain tribe had been guilty of molesting travellers and looting caravans on the road from Dhala to Aden. Stoppage of tribal allowances proved to be of no avail, and the Sheiks were threatened with air action if the offences continued. Several demonstrations were then carried out over the area and warnings were dropped on villages. These measures proved 1929 effective, and it was not necessary to resort to air action. No further trouble has since occurred.
I do not draw attention to these aspects of Air Force activity in order to give them any undue prominence, but I think it is desirable that I should lay before the House these instances. They have occurred during the past year, and they show the prompt effectiveness and, I will add, humaneness of the use of the air arm, when such use, unfortunately, proves necessary.
On the other hand, a great deal could be said of what might be called the "non-military" uses of the Royal Air Force. I might cite, for example, assistance in cases of a medical and surgical character in emergency, particularly in India; rescue work on the coasts in the Middle East; warnings and subsequent reconnoitring of flooded areas in the case of the bursting of the Shyok Dam in India; survey, photography, participation in the anti-locust campaign in the Sudan; and at home cooperation in fishery protection against poaching by foreign fishing vessels on the East Coast. In this last matter a great deal of valuable work has been done, the importance of which has been generally and generously recognised. Excellent service was also rendered by the Royal Air Force at Felixstowe during the gale of December, 1929, when a flying boat cooperated in a search for overdue fishing craft. A long flight was carried out under difficult weather conditions and in a very high wind, and a number of fishing vessels were sighted—the greatest number, in fact, reported by any of the craft engaged in the search.
While dealing with the work of the Air Force during the year, I should like also to refer briefly to the long-distance flights which were carried out. Three Fairey III.F. aircraft of No. 45 Squadron completed a flight from Helwan, Egypt, to Nigeria and the Gold Coast and back, a distance of 8,400 miles; another four aircraft of the same type from No. 14 Squadron undertook the annual flight to Cape Town and back. It may interest the House to know that the aircraft arrived home again at Cairo, after a journey of 11,200 miles, late by five minutes. Four long-distance flights were undertaken during the South-West monsoon by No. 205 Squadron, Singapore, 1930 with the abject of trying out the weather possibilities for flying and the possibilities of maintaining a prearranged time-table between Calcutta and Singapore under adverse conditions. Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the gallantry of the two officers who, after having successfully flown non-stop to Karachi, lost their lives in an attempt to make a non-stop flight to Cape Town.
It may interest the House to hear something about education in the Royal Air Force. There has been built up an educational organisation which embraces not only the scientific side of the training both of officers and skilled mechanics, but also a comprehensive system of further general education by means of which the Service now affords its personnel facilities which are quite comparable with those which can be obtained in civil life. That there is a demand for this further education is shown by the results of a recent higher education test for airmen, for no fewer than 700 airmen, scattered throughout the Service at home and overseas, entered for an examination of a relatively high standard. There could be no finer testimony to the intellectual calibre of the airmen in the Service, nor a better guarantee that the ranks of skilled mechanics are not likely to be found wanting in the capacity to adapt themselves to new requirements. Airmen are, in fact, provided with educational qualifications which should be of the greatest possible value to them on their return to civil life. Every effort, of course, is made to keep in close touch with the educational and professional institutions and activities of the country.
The training which is received by aircraft apprentices is one which can well bear comparison with that which can be obtained in civil engineering establishments. Apart from the fact that this training equips the young men with a high standard of technical knowledge, sufficient to enable them to adapt themselves to civil engineering practice, the Service, too, gains a body of mechanics who combine a very high degree of mechanical skill with a sound knowledge of engineering and scientific principles. During the year 1927, there were 1,836 boys examined and out of that number 970 were attested; in 1928, 1,981 were examined and 1,033 attested; while in 1929, there were 2,343 examined and 1,072 attested. These figures show that 1931 local education authorities with whom the closest touch is maintained, are cooperating with the Air Ministry in satisfactory and increasing measure.
As to the training of officers for the specialist branches of technical work such as engineering, wireless, armament and the like, most of this is, of course, carried on within the Air Force itself, but as it is desirable that a few officers should be trained to an advanced stage in the higher theoretical aspects of these branches, a policy has been adopted of making use wherever possible of the resources of the universities of the country. Thus every year a number of officers who have already qualified in the Service in engineering and in wireless are sent to Cambridge, there to follow the normal course for the Mechanical Sciences Tripos, while others with suitable qualifications are sent to Cambridge or to the Imperial College of Science to follow a course of aeronautical research. I hope I have not unduly stressed this aspect of Air Ministry policy, but I do feel that it is eminently satisfactory that our educational organisation is so well fitted to produce officers and airmen not only with a high standard of technical knowledge but with a wide outlook upon their work, qualities which will, moreover, be of inestimable value to them later in civil life.
Coming to technical matters, I have time only to refer to one or two heads of research and development, and I will not discriminate between experiments of major interest to the Air Force and those applicable to aviation generally. I am sure it will interest the House if I mention first that the problem of aircraft noise is being actively investigated. The reduction of noise in aircraft will not only make for the greater comfort of passengers, but will reduce the disadvantages of air traffic passing over inhabited areas. It is possible by modern methods to secure measurements of noise, for there are instruments that have been devised in the past few years which have made this investigation a relatively simple one. These instruments show that the intensity of the noise in the cabin of an air liner is 1,000 times as great as that in an express train although, of course, the human ear does not perceive that difference.
1932 The chief sources of noise, it has been found, are the engine and the airscrew, when the latter is revolving at a high speed. It is considered almost certainly practicable to reduce the tip speed of airscrews, that such reduction will conduce to greater efficiency, and that it will at the same time make a considerable difference in the resultant noise. Parallel with these investigations the question of reducing the noise of engine exhausts by means of silencers has been studied with promising results. I may mention that the National Physical Laboratory is cooperating with Imperial Airways and the Dutch Air Lines in acquiring data of the noise in aeroplane cabins, and a series of experiments has been made on sound transmission through the walls of the cabin. It is hoped that, as a result, good progress will be made in this important matter.
There is another problem, that of aerodynamic interference of one part of an aeroplane with another, that has been closely investigated. It has been found that the resistance of the fuselage and wings of an aircraft to the air flowing past them is in general greater when they are combined together than the sum of their individual resistances when separated. The reason is that each part sets up a turbulence which interferes with the free flow of air round other parts. The importance of this kind of research is shown by the fact that if aircraft had little more resistance than that caused by skin friction, it is calculated that probably only half of the power now necessary would be repaired for the same result. It will be clear to hon. Members that this line of research is all the more important as the limitation of engine power is approached.
As hon. Members are no doubt aware, it has long been the custom for models of ships to be tested in large tanks before their shape is decided upon and construction begun. This policy is followed also with aircraft except that an air channel, called a wind tunnel, replaces the water channel; although for tests upon the qualities of seaplanes a water tank is also necessary. Very important developments are taking place in the construction of wind tunnels. The present type of wind tunnel used can take only quite small models and they do not provide an air speed much above the landing 1933 speed of a fast machine; such low-speed tests do enable a fair prediction to be made of the performance of the full-scale aeroplane when flying at the ordinary angles of incidence of the wings, but when the stalling speed is approached the full-scale flow over the wings is no longer represented by the wind tunnel tests, which then become actually misleading; it is just when the aeroplane is near its stall that we most need to know its flying characteristics to avoid dangerous spins or nose dives into the ground. Such tests, of course, have in the past had to be made by test pilots flying test machines, a method which is slow, expensive and dangerous.
There is a way out of the difficulty, and that way is to run the wind tunnel with heavy air, air made heavy by pumping it to a pressure which gives it a density 20 times as high as it is normally. There is then a compensating effect and the air flow around the model behaves as it would on the full-sized aircraft. One such air tunnel already exists in the world and that is in the United States, but steps have been taken to build a compressed air tunnel at the National Physical Laboratory in this country. This will have an even higher efficiency than the American tunnel and will enable all types of military and commercial aeroplanes to be tested in model form. It was laid down in last year's estimates and is expected to be completed in 1930–31.
Great as is this advance in the design of wind tunnels, it does not go the whole way. If the fullest possible reduction in money, cost, time and flying risks is to be obtained, it is necessary to be able to test a full-sized fuselage and airscrew under conditions approximating to actual flying. Let me show the nature of this problem by one example. There are indications that the air-cooled engine, simple as it is, pays a heavy price in increased head resistance, which, however, it may be possible to avoid in large measure if the engine is fitted with a stream-lined cowling. On the other hand, such a cowling interferes with the normal air cooling of the engine, and the only way of determining the balance is that of full-scale tests. Again, there is the question of time and money consumed in flying tests if not the element of risk; for these reasons the American Government 1934 decided to build a very large air tunnel to work at normal pressures and at a speed of about 100 miles per hour. The air stream of this tunnel is no less than 20 feet in diameter and takes 2,000 horsepower to propel it. It is possible, if we are to judge by the experience of the United States aeronautical authorities, to make by this means remarkable advances in aeroplane efficiency and we hope to be able to explore its potentialities. Provision has been made in these estimates for the commencement of work on such a tunnel and we hope to be able to do so in the course of the year.
The outstanding achievement during the past year in engine progress was the intensive development of the Rolls Royce "R" engine, which was used in the Schneider Trophy winning aircraft. By normal standards this engine should give approximately 820 horse power, but the two engines used actually sustained an output of over 1,900 horse power over the course.
Advances are continuing to be made in the development of air-cooled engines with their simplicity of installation, freedom of water corrosion troubles and ability to be warmed up before flight in much les3 time than the water-cooled type. Hitherto the water-cooled engine has had the advantage of presenting a smaller frontal area, enabling a more efficient design of fuselage to be constructed. This superiority, however, is being reduced in favour of the more simple air-cooled engines by the study of different types of cowling to which I have already referred, of the effect of the shape of the body behind the engine, and the use of the Townend ring, which, when placed in front of the cylinders of a radial engine deflects the air flow and decreases the resistance.
It is hardly necessary for me at this date to do more than mention the Schneider Trophy Contest in September last, which was won by Great Britain in the wonderful speed achievement of 328.63 miles per hour. The result was a triumph which is shared by the technical staffs at the Air Ministry, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, the National Physical Laboratory, the personnel of the Royal Air Force High Speed Flight and last but by no means least the British aircraft industry. The triumph was increased a few days later when the Commanding 1935 Officer of the High Speed Flight set up a world's record of 357.7 miles per hour upon a Supermarine Rolls Royce aircraft. As the House is aware, it has since been decided not to continue Government participation in the race for the reasons that an international sporting contest should not be carried out officially by military services and that to do so is now no longer justifiable, in view of the interference with the routine work of the Air Force. Undoubtedly, useful experience has been gained from these contests in the past and official participation was on that account justified, but further progress can now be made with greater economy by other means. It is hoped that the widespread public interest displayed will make it possible for the Royal Aero Club and the aircraft industry to organise future contests without Government assistance. There are many other items of research with which I should have wished to acquaint the House, if time permitted, such as, for instance, an experimental wireless rotating beacon which has been developed for direction finding purposes. The device is considered likely to be of considerable value both for shipping and aircraft, and the cost is being divided between the Board of Trade and the Air Ministry.
I wish now to pass on to another and most important aspect of Air Ministry work, namely, civil aviation. The House will note that there is an increase in the Civil Aviation Vote this year. This increase is mainly due to the provision for an additional subsidy in respect of the inauguration of the Imperial Air Service to South Africa about which I will say a few words shortly. The existing service between England and India has now been extended to Delhi under arrangement with the Government of India. Existing agreements with the light aeroplane clubs will terminate in the course of this year, with two exceptions. We have given careful consideration to the future of these clubs. The work which they have done in promoting a practical interest in flying throughout the country has been excellent, and after the most sympathetic consideration of the possibility of giving them financial assistance when their present agreements expire, we have come to the conclusion that it would be equitable 1936 and justifiable to give them assistance on the same scale as that now given to National Flying Services, Limited, and the necessary provision has been made in these Estimates. I know that some of the clubs have been anxious as to the future, and I hope that the announcement which I have just made will cheer them on to a continuance of the good work which they have done in the past.
I have mentioned the service to South Africa, which is due to commence in a few months' time. The negotiations with the various African Governments and Administrations concerned, more particularly His Majesty's Government in the Union of South Africa, for the installation of a weekly service between London and Cape Town have been brought to a successful issue during the year. The Union Government will make a substantial contribution towards the requisite subsidy over a five years' period and will lend their support and cooperation generally. The other Administrations concerned, the Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, have also undertaken to contribute and co-operate in a similar manner. The survey of this route is well advanced and everything is proceeding according to plan. It is contemplated that a regular service between Alexandria and Tanganyika should commence in the autumn of this year and the through service to Cape Town in the spring of 1931. I think the House will agree that it is eminently a matter for satisfaction that with the practical financial support and assistance of the Union Government of South Africa, and the other Administrations which I have named, this great Imperial Trunk Air Route will before long be inaugurated.
Hon. Members will probably wish me to refer to the position of the projected service to Australia which will complete the other great outstanding Imperial Trunk Route. The Government of India have now extended the England-India service from Karachi to Delhi by means of aircraft chartered from and operated by Imperial Airway". The preparation of the ground organisation of the route across India is being vigorously pushed forward. The section to Calcutta will be ready by the end of March, and it is hoped that by the autumn sufficient progress 1937 will have been made to render possible operation to Rangoon. The Government of India are now examining the question of the possibility of extending the air service from Delhi to Calcutta and to Rangoon at the earliest opportunity. Proposals have also been submitted to the Air Ministry for the operation of the remaining section between Rangoon and Australia, and it is hoped to find means in conjunction with the Governments of India and Australia to inaugurate the through service to Australia as soon as possible after the route along the coast of Burma has been organised. It would be premature at the moment to give an estimate of the date by which the route will be in operation, but the House can rest assured that this project will be pressed on with as a matter of the first importance.
I now come to a matter of more than ordinary popular interest— "Airships" —and before stating the present position, I think it is not only convenient, but necessary to explain the origin of the programme decided upon in 1924. The airship branch of the Royal Air Force was closed down in 1920–21, and negotiations of various kinds were undertaken with a view to transferring the existing fleet of airships to some outside body, with a view to their commercial operation. I need not go over airship history during the intervening period; but in 1922–23, two schemes were put forward by Commander, now Sir, Dennistoun Burney for taking over the factory, plant and existing airships, carrying out a programme of research and building a fleet of airships to operate a commercial service to India, in consideration of large Government subsidies. Ultimately the Government in 1924 decided upon a smaller scheme, the main features; of which were the carrying out by the Air Ministry of a full programme of research and experiment and the building of two airships of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity, one to be built by the Royal Airship Works and the other by a private company. The design and construction of these airships were to be based upon the results of the theoretical and scientific investigations carried out since the disaster to R38, and to comply with rigid requirements as to airworthiness, laid down by the Aeronautical Research Committee, as well as the independent inspection 1938 of the Director of Aeronautical Inspection. The carrying out of a flight to India by each airship was to be a last stage in flying trials, to be followed by a continuity period of development before commercial operation was undertaken. This meant the design of two airships nearly double the size of any airship yet constructed in the country; and their construction to comply with exacting requirements as to factors of safety and to provide passenger accommodation on a scale never before attempted. As a result of the Imperial Conference of 1926, there was a further requirement imposed of carrying out a flight across the Atlantic to the mooring tower erected by the Canadian Government at Montreal.
These two ships are in being; R.100, built by the Airship Guarantee Company, Ltd., has a gas capacity of well over 5,000,000 cubic feet, while R.101, built at Cardington, will exceed this capacity when the alterations which are now in hand are completed. R.101 was moored out during the whole of November and confounded the prophets of disaster by successfully riding out storms in which the wind gusted up to 83 miles per hour. During a line squall the airship swung through 135 degrees in a minute under a wind of 35 miles per hour. The maximum force registered by the bow indicator was something over 15 tons, though the airship is designed to withstand a strain of 30 tons at this point. There is no doubt that from a constructional point of view the completed airships have definitely disproved many of the gloomy forecasts, ranging from minor defect to utter disaster, which have been made from time to time, and I would like to say at this point that both in the Press and in public speech many criticisms have been made that have been based upon predictions very far indeed from accurate knowledge of the facts.
The meteorological investigations of the Indian route which have been proceeding steadily show that conditions will generally be adverse on the return journey both between Karachi and Ismailia and Ismailia and Cardington, with a consequence that a large reserve of fuel will have to be carried for the first experimental flights in the East of R.101. Allowances also must be made for the fact that the lift of an airship decreases as the temperature rises and the barometer falls, since its lift is determined 1939 by the weight of the volume of air which it displaces, and warm air is lighter than cold air. For these reasons, having regard to the need for a safety policy in a programme of this expensive character, it was decided not to attempt the return flight to India in March or April. The flight might well have been attended with success, but unnecessary risks would have had to be taken. Consequently, an extra bay will be inserted in R.101 during the summer, which will increase her capacity by 500,000 cubic feet and give her an additional net lift of about nine tons. The suggestion that has been made of this additional bay providing for an unanticipated defect is not true. The bay with the consequential extra lift is found to be possible not because of defect, but because of the satisfactory strength which the airship's tests have disclosed.
The proposed programme for 1930 for R.100 consists of flights to Montreal and back between May and September, and between October and March schedule flights between Cardington and Ismailia. For R.101, a flight to Karachi and back in September or October, then again to Karachi in December or January, after which there will be mooring trials and experimental flying from Karachi. The minor alterations to R.101 should be completed by the end of April, and certain flights may take place preliminary to the programme mentioned. Regularity, of course, is essential for commercial operation, and before this stage is reached it is obvious that there must be a period of experimental flying on the Indian route to acquire operational and financial data and data for further technical developments. There is also the desirability of developing a mechanical means for the transfer of an airship from the mooring tower to the shed when it is necessary to undertake major repairs, and these Estimates provide for experiments to be made to evolve a satisfactory system.
I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the House, but I felt that hon. Members would desire an adequate statement in reference to both the Service and Civil aspects of these Estimates. I will, of course, do my best to deal with particular points that may be raised in debate. Air progress will, I am convinced, be rapid in the future, both in technique and safety. We cannot but desire that our country should stand well 1940 in this as in other forms of material progress, bearing in mind that the test of all material advance is its moral value as a means of human civilisation and world friendship.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
With the new bay that is to be made in R.101, what will be the total lifting power of that airship?
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I had the privilege six times of introducing these Estimates to the House, and I therefore can appreciate the difficulty of the task with which the Under-Secretary of State has been faced. It is a very difficult task, in the course of half or three quarters of an hour, to cover the whole field of our air activity, and I venture to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on having, in less than three quarters of an hour, given us in a mass of details some idea of almost all the many and various activities of the Air Force and the Air Ministry. I was particularly glad to hear him pay so generous a tribute to the activities of the Air Force overseas, and to the efficiency and the very humane manner—and I emphasise the description "humane" which he gave to these activities—in which they have been carried out in such places as Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and the North-West frontier of India. I have no desire to retort that in my own experience, when I made similar statements, criticisms were urged against those activities from this side of the House. It is almost worth changing from that Bench to this to hear that kind of tribute coming from the hon. Member as representing a Socialist Government.
I should like to add a further tribute to those that he paid to the officers and men of the Air Force. During the last 12 months the Air Force has suffered a very severe loss in the resignation of the man to whom the success of the Air Force is chiefly due—Lord Trenchard. There is no man who should receive greater credit for all those successes that the Under-Secretary of State recounted in such detail this afternoon than the late Chief of the Air Staff, and I would venture to pay my tribute—a tribute, I am sure, shared by Members on all sides of the 1941 House—to the wise judgment, singleness of purpose, and strong and sympathetic character that, in all these eventful 10 years, Lord Trenchard has devoted to the service of the Air Force and to British aviation generally.
There are two or three questions that I should like to put to the Under-Secretary of State before I deal in a rather more general manner with the Air Estimates. My first question concerns the programme for Home defence, and I would like to ask him to tell the House at some period in the course of this Debate whether the policy of the Socialist Government of to-day towards the expansion programme for Home defence is the same as it was under the Socialist Government of 1924, when the then Secretary of State, and the present Secretary of State, announced in another place his agreement with what is known as the first stage of this expansion programme, namely, the building up of a Home Defence Force of 52 squadrons. Is the policy of the Government to-day the same as it was then? At present, of these 52 squadrons, 38 are in being. Last year we added five to their number, and I should have been happier if more than one squadron had been added to this Force this year.
If the Under-Secretary of State tells me that he is adding no more squadrons than one to the Home Defence Force this year, because he wishes to consolidate the existing squadrons, because he wishes to bring their equipment more up to date, because he wishes- to put their establishments upon a firmer foundation, then I must accept his answer. If, on the other hand, he 6ays that it is the sign of a policy that repudiates the building up of this Home Defence Force, then I must point out to him that he and the Government are undertaking a very heavy responsibility. Even now, after eight years' expansion, as he told the House this afternoon, we are only fourth or fifth in the list of air Powers, and each of the other great air Powers of the world—France, America, Italy—is at present engaged upon a programme of further expansion. In any case, this question is so important in the field of home and Imperial defence that I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to give the House a specific answer to the question that I have asked him during the course of the Debate.
1942 My second question concerns the present position of air disarmament, again a very urgent and important question. At the present moment we are thinking mainly about naval disarmament. I am inclined to take the view that in the years to come the most urgent disarmament question will be the question of air disarmament. After a good many years experience in connection with air questions I can tell the House that I look with the greatest anxiety at what appears to be a new race of air armaments being developed between the great Powers of the world. The House will forgive me for repeating figures that I gave some weeks ago. It is a sinister fact that the expenditure of all the great Powers, except ourselves, on air armaments, is literally bounding up year by year. The expenditure of France has risen by no less than 113 per cent. during the last five years; the expenditure of Italy has risen 25 per cent.; and the expenditure of the United States by no less than 140 per cent.
I would like to know what is the policy of the Government in this very urgent and important question of air disarmament. I suppose that in the course of the next few weeks, at any rate in the course of the next few months, the Preparatory Commission at Geneva will be resuming its sittings. When those sittings begin again what is the programme of the Government to be, and what is the policy that they are to urge at Geneva? If my experience is worth anything at all it would go to show that the mistake that has hitherto been made at Geneva is to complicate the problem with too great a number of technical details. I would urge upon the Under-Secretary of State, as representing the Government, that he should use all the influence that he possesses to keep the problem as simple as possible, and if he cannot obtain complete agreement over the whole field of air disarmament, then at least to begin along the line of least resistance and to advance step by step and stage by stage.
My first warning to the Under-Secretary would be to keep clear of all the mass of technical details that some of the representatives at Geneva have heaped upon this problem during the last few years. My second suggestion to him would be to investigate again a project in which I personally was very much interested before I went out of office, 1943 namely, the possibility of arriving at a parity agreement between the three great air Powers of Western Europe, France, Italy and ourselves. I believe that along that line there is a chance of successful development. Not only should we prevent the risk of a race in air armaments growing up between three allies and friends, but also an agreement of that kind would be the best basis for a more general agreement to be reached between all the Powers of the world in the League of Nations at Geneva. Be that as it may, I would like the Under-Secretary to give us some idea as to what course the Government are going to adopt when the consideration of these questions is resumed at Geneva.
There is a third question dealing with a different subject but a subject that the hon. Gentleman himself mentioned in his speech. I would like to know in somewhat greater detail the policy of the Government with reference to air records, and particularly the Schneider Cup Race. I agree with very much of what he said about the Schneider Cup Race. Certainly I agree with him in the tribute that he paid to all concerned in making our success possible. I agree with him further in what he said as to a victory of this kind being of substantial value to the prestige of British flying and of the British aircraft industry. I have no wish to throw in his teeth the fact that the Government is apparently leaving the race to private enterprise. But I would like to know a little more as to what is really in the mind of the Government about the next race. The Under-Secretary told us that there would be no Government entry, and that private enterprise must in future undertake the initiative. That may mean several different things. It may mean that the Government will stand aside altogether and give no assistance, or it may mean that, though they do not themselves make an entry, they will give assistance in other ways.
Does the Government position mean that some of the high speed machines that are now being built to Government order will be lent to the entrants, or does it not? Does it mean that although an Air Force unit will not be posted to undertake the race, yet Air Force officers will be allowed to act as pilots or as officers in the British team? These questions 1944 are very important. I am very much afraid that unless assistance of this kind is given to the Aero Club and anyone else who can make an entry, it will be found, in face of the Government competition of other countries, that we shall not be able to bear the expenditure or produce the crews or machines. While I cannot blame the Government for withdrawing, as a Government, from entry into the contest, I should be; very sorry to see this race go by default in two years time, and some other country gain for its aviation and for its aircraft industry the prestige that we have gained for Great Britain during the last two years.
There is one further question to which I would like an answer. The Under-Secretary of State told us about the projected development of the Far Eastern route to India and eventually to Australia. Would he give us a little more information upon two points connected with this route? I had hoped that agreement had been reached with all the various Governments along the route between here and India. I now see in the Press that difficulties have arisen in the matter of flying over the Italian section. I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Gentleman at all with questions upon negotiations that may be going on between ourselves and the Italian Government, but I would like to know how it has come about that whilst other countries, France and Germany for instance, have already obtained flying facilities over Italy, at the present moment, so it seems from the public Press, we have no similar facilities.
Then as to the further section of the route, the Australian section. What is the position with the section between Singapore and Australia? Can the Under-Secretary give us any information about the negotiations with the Commonwealth Government? After all, the section to India is only part of this route. The really important part of the service is the through route, the whole way from here to Australia. I would be glad to hear that the Commonwealth Government are taking an interest in this further section and are going to provide a proportionate amount of the cost of the service.
Those are the four questions that I put to the Under-Secretary, but they are not the main reason for my rising to take 1945 part in the Debate. Important as these details are, involving, as many of them do, substantial amounts of expenditure, they do not seem to me to be so important as the broader issues of air policy upon which really depend the large sums of money that we are asked to vote. After experience of a good many Estimates Debates, it seems to me that we are sometimes apt to get submerged in the smaller details and to forget the bigger issues. I ask the attention of the House to what is really the basic question of air expenditure: What is the use of air power to the British Empire, and what part can air power play in our system of Imperial defence? I know that a question of that kind, so broad and so comprehensive, is not susceptible of any final answer. But at the same time we have had about 10 years of peacetime experience, and during that period we have accumulated considerable data which at least help us towards a provisional answer. It is about 10 years since the Air Force was first organised for peace purposes. It is about eight years since the Air Force took over the Iraq command in the Middle East. We have the means of at least giving a provisional answer to the question that I have put. I say that the one prominent lesson that emerges from these 10 years of experience is that unless an almost intolerably heavy burden of expenditure is to be put on the British taxpayer, air power must be used as a substitute for and not always as a supplement to other forms of defence. If for everyone of our Imperial commitments there is to be added to the naval and military forces a third service, superimposed upon the other two, the result will be so heavy a burden of expenditure year after year that the British taxpayer will find it almost intolerable to bear. In Iraq, unlike the French in Syria, where there is still a large army of occupation side by side with a strong air force, we definitely substituted air power for the then existing form of defence. Just before I went to the Air Ministry we were actually spending on the garrison in Iraq more than £20,000,000 a year. We substituted air control, and that amount has been reduced to £1,500,000 a year. We have withdrawn between 20 and 30 Imperial battalions and have actually reduced 1946 our Air Force in that time from eight squadrons to four squadrons. That is a very remarkable illustration of what I mean by using air power as a substitute for existing forms of defence rather than as a supplement to them. The Under-Secretary has quoted the instance of Aden. The Air Force took over the garrison at Aden two years ago, and even in this short space of time the result has been to reduce the expense of that garrison by more than 30 per cent. What is still more remarkable is this. It has been necessary to re-establish British prestige upon the frontier, there have been incursions across the frontier for many years past. This single squadron of the Royal Air Force, to which the Under-Secretary alluded this afternoon, took control of the operations and has re-established British prestige on the frontier with scarcely any loss of life and carried out the operation at a cost of £8,000, whereas if a military operation had been undertaken under the conditions of the past experts have calculated that it might have cost the British Exchequer between £6,000,000 and £10,000,000.
I could give the House other examples, but I see that time is passing quickly. I must mention, however, the case of the North West Frontier of India. It was often said in the past that the Air Force could not operate in that area because it was too mountainous; the conditions were too difficult. During the last few years this new arm time after time has undertaken pacifying operations and practically with no expenditure of life or money peace has been established and law and order maintained. Under very different conditions, the same has been true of the Sudan. The difficulties urged against the introduction of the Air Force there was not the mountainous character of the country but the high grass and the difficulty of landing in territory much of which is a swamp. I have flown over the country myself, and I know the kind of difficulty with which the Air Force is confronted. But, in spite of these difficulties, air power, time after time, during the last two or three years has shown itself capable of maintaining law and order and re-establishing a situation that had got out of hand and has carried out these obligations at practically no expense to the British taxpayer and no loss 1947 of life to the Royal Air Force; and, what is more remarkable still, with scarcely any loss of life among the natives against whom the air arm was directed.
The mere fact of being able to fly an aeroplane over territory in which disorder was on the point of breaking out, showing the power of the British Empire within a few hours of the starting of the trouble, has been sufficient to re-establish law and order without the dropping of bombs or any kind of military operation. I maintain that this experience has been so uniform, so remarkable, so successful during the last eight or 10 years that the time has come when the House of Commons and the Government, to whatever party it may belong, should consider whether we ought not to carry this programme of substitution further and whether there are not other directions in our system of Imperial defence in which we can equally use the speed, the mobility and the effectiveness, of this new instrument, the aeroplane. On the one hand we are faced with a growing burden of taxation and the need of finding economies somewhere and somehow. On the other hand we are faced with the desire which I am sure is shared by every hon. Member, that we do not wish to be involved in long and protracted military operations in any part of the Empire if we can avoid it. I believe that a further use of air power can help in both these directions towards finding some measure of a solution of the two difficulties with which we are faced.
I come to the question of expenditure. I do not know whether the experience of the Under-Secretary has been the same as mine. When the time drew on for drawing up the Air Estimates it always seemed to me that year after year there was an annual wrangle between the Treasury and the three Service Departments. The Treasury, quite rightly, was anxious to see expenditure reduced. Sometimes it came about that, apart from the merits of a particular question, this or that Service Department was asked to make an overhead cut on some rough and ready calculation of 5 or 10 per cent., or whatever it might be. Then there ensued a long controversy between the various Departments, and at the end cuts were made and reductions effected, some of them at any rate, definitely injurious 1948 to the efficiency of this or that of the three Services. The existing system was assumed to continue; and, taking the existing system as the basis of the negotiations, these reductions were brought about. It may be that this or that establishment was cut down, this or that number of men were retrenched in the Army, Navy or Air Force. Reductions were made which did not save the taxpayer any large sums of money, but year by year tended to make one or other of these services a little less efficient than it was before. Although that may be the line of least resistance it is a most dangerous way of making economies, and I suggest that it would be much wiser and much more effective to consider these questions fundamentally and see whether it would not be better to make really drastic changes in the system, in certain carefully considered directions, rather than to go on with a policy of cheeseparing and rendering the existing system less and less efficient than before.
I suggest to the House that in a further substitution of the air arm we have the means of making a real and substantial alteration in the whole system of Imperial defence, of saving money, at the same time not making less efficient any of the existing services. If we can make fuller use of the mobility and the fluidity of air power, which can act as a corrosive acid where military action is necessary and like oil where pacification is needed, if we can make our defence capital more liquid, not tied up as it is at present, we can safely make further reductions in our defensive expenditure without any loss to the internal or external security of any part of the British Empire. Here at home we shall have to make a very definite change in our general outlook towards the new features of the problem of Imperial defence. It is no good having aeroplanes that can fly 150 miles an hour and the same old methods going on in the government of the day or in Whitehall. The essence of air power is its speed. It is no good having an instrument that can act with the greatest possible speed be it in the Middle East or in the Sudan, or on the North-West Frontier of India, if delays occur in coming to decisions in Whitehall which neutralise and indeed destroy the speed of that new instrument. I well remember, during my own 1949 experience in recent, years, bow, time after time, the quick application of air power was delayed by the need of consulting—it might be on some quite insignificant incident—seven or eight different Departments in Whitehall and seven or eight different officials.
If we are to make full use of this new instrument of speed there must be greater unity of control at the seat of government. These delays which, time after time, have made a difficult situation a great deal more difficult and dangerous than it otherwise would have been, must, in future, he avoided. Next, I suggest to the Under-Secretary that the time has come for a comprehensive and impartial inquiry upon the lines which I have been venturing to indicate to the House. Hon-Members may think that after many years of contact with the Air Ministry and the Air Force I am biased; that I take a too one-sided view of the capabilities of this new instrument of speed. I remember that a soldier once said of me that I "must have been bitten by a mad aeroplane." Let us then have an inquiry by men, whoever they may be, who take a less biased view than that with which I may be charged. I believe that with the experience of the past 10 years, and with the evidence, some of which I have quoted to the House, there is now a mass of material which an inquiry of this kind might fruitfully investigate.
If an inquiry of this kind were held, I believe it would be found that air power could be safely, economically and effectively used to a greater extent than at present upon the North-West Frontier of India, to take one single instance. If that were found to be so, it would be a great advantage to our whole system of Imperial defence, and in particular to the Army. It has always seemed to me that the burden of providing the very large number of battalions required on the North-West Frontier imposes a very difficult and heavy obligation upon the Army. Were that burden lighter, it would be possible to develop our Imperial Army on more modern and, possibly, more effective lines. I cannot, this afternoon, go into that question because it would not be in order but, obviously, it would be easier to proceed further with mechanisation if we had not the obligation to provide for this large number of battalions in a place to which 1950 mechanisation is not so applicable as to other parts of the Empire. I believe that an inquiry of this kind would find, from the experience of the last few years, that air power could be used on a greater scale in India. The defence of India has always seemed to me to be largely a question of air defence. I have never been able to believe in the possibility of an invader penetrating the passes of the mountains which divide Afghanistan and India, if there was a strong Air Force on the Indian Frontier. Then, as I said earlier, as regards law and order, the air arm has been found most effective in the last few years in quelling disturbances with scarcely any expense or loss of life.
Secondly, I believe that an inquiry of this kind would find that the newer types of flying boat could be usefully employed for some of the coastal defence work which is now undertaken, often under unhealthy conditions, by old and sometimes out-of-date sloops and coast defence craft. This is a new feature in connection with this question. It is only within the last year or two that we have been able to develop the kind of flying boat which could, in my view, carry out these duties. As to airships, I should be more cautious in my predictions, but, there again, I believe that, not in the next few months, but in the not too distant future, it will be found that airships can undertake at least some of the long-distance reconnoissance work now exclusively undertaken by cruisers. It may well be found that airships will be useful as troop carriers for the Army under certain, perhaps restricted, conditions. It was with those ideas in view that, year after year, I went on doggedly with the airship programme, the later stages of which we are to consider this afternoon.
Lastly, I believe that an inquiry of this kind would come to the conclusion that the development of civil air lines may play a very useful part in the organisation of our Imperial defence. I do not mean that I wish to see the starting of civil air lines which are outwardly civil lines, but are really intended as strategic military lines. I do not wish to see the civil machines developed as a hidden reserve for the military air force. I have always wished, and have made my wish plain time after time in this House, that civil and military aviation should develop 1951 quite distinctly and I believe that, year by year, we shall see the civil machine becoming more and more clearly distinct from the military machine just as the Atlantic liner has become more and more distinct from the battleship or the cruiser. I wish to see civil air lines developed, not as strategic military lines but as civilising-channels in the various parts of the Empire over which they are organised. I believe sincerely in the statement of General Sherman, whose life has recently been written by Captain Liddell Hart, that "transportation is civilisation." At the end of the War of Secession, General Sherman was made governor of the territory between the Pacific and the Mississippi at a time when there was great unrest among the Indian tribes, and when the security of the American States was gravely threatened by Indian incursions. What did General Sherman do? He did not ask for a great army of occupation. He started consciously and definitely to develop the Union Pacific Railway because, as he said, transportation was civilisation.
I want to see that kind of development undertaken with our civil air routes. I believe that every long distance civil air route, whether it be to the Far East or to Gape Town—to take the two great trunk routes as my illustration—will be found of the greatest assistance in our system of maintaining law and order, and keeping the Pax Britannica, and will encourage the avocations of peace, just as, in a smaller way, the building of the Eazmak road upon the Afghan frontier has already encouraged trade and social intercourse and, as a result, has stabilised a difficult situation. I believe we shall find that the civil air routes of the future will be of great help to us in maintaining law and order in the Empire and, as law and order are better maintained so it will be possible to reduce, at least, some of the military commitments which now involve heavy expenditure on the part of the British taxpayer. If we can rationalise our defence services on those lines, if we can make greater use of speed and mobility, if we can diminish the frozen capital of our Imperial defence, then I believe we can make economies in our defence expenditure much more safely than we make them to-day as a result of the yearly contest between the Departments and the Treasury and the 1952 cheeseparing which goes on in many directions under the existing system. I make no apology to the House for having raised these general questions. Important as the details of these Estimates may be, it is these general questions which control large sums of expenditure. Upon the answers to them depend the future course of our defence expenditure, and, much more important than that, the future efficiency and security of the defence of the British Empire.
§ Mr. MANDER
In congratulating the Under-Secretary upon the interesting way in which he has presented these Estimates, I should like to be permitted also to congratulate the Prime Minister on the real contribution which he has made to national air-mindedness and interest in aviation, by making journeys from time to time on official business, or for other reasons, by air from one part of the country to another. I hope that other Ministers, particularly the Minister of Transport, will avail themselves of air travel in order to show that it is perfectly safe—as safe as any other form of traffic—and is very much quicker and very much more delightful than other forms of traffic.
I was very glad that the hon. Gentleman was able to say what he did about light aeroplane clubs and to indicate that the subsidies are going to be continued under certain conditions, because they thoroughly deserve support of that kind. Four years ago there were only five clubs; since that time, the clubs have increased four-fold and the number of members tenfold, while hundreds of pilots have been trained very cheaply, because there are no heavy directors fees or managers fees to pay in connection with these clubs. They are run by local patriotism and local rivalry, and a great many people are willing to give voluntary services. They have been able to give this training very safely, because there have been a remarkably small number of accidents of a serious nature.
There has also been an interesting development of owner pilots largely through these clubs, and there are people now who have their own aeroplanes just as people have their own cars. That is a development which has increased largely through the instrumentality of clubs in this country. As a result, we have had a valuable development in the aircraft industry, and 1953 light aeroplanes and British engines are being exported to different parts of the world in a way that may gain us a real and valuable place in the markets of the world through our air craft industry. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman one or two questions with regard to the subsidies, because I do not think that it is altogether clear on certain points. With regard to the continued subsidies, I quite understand that all the clubs which are now receiving subsidies will continue to receive them; I also understand that certain new clubs which have been in operation and functioning for some time, and are not receiving subsidies, will be entitled to do so under the new regulations. I shall be glad to know if that is so.
There is the further point that towns may be thinking, as Wolverhampton is, of starting light aeroplane clubs, and this year, and possibly next year, will have clubs running in a satisfactory manner, with aerodromes and members with machines. Will they be entitled to participate in these subsidies? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to indicate that, subject to certain guarantees, they will be allowed to participate. Then there is the question of the limit which any one club may draw in the way of subsidy. Two thousand pounds a year is the limit, and I want to ask the hon. Gentleman if that remains the limit, or whether it has been altered or reduced in any way. I hope that it has not been reduced, because it is an incentive to a club to carry on actively with its work to know that it is working up to earn an increased subsidy. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me the date on which this new subsidy for existing clubs which are not now drawing a subsidy comes into operation. I understand that it may be 1st April, and I shall be glad to have that confirmed.
Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to consider if it would not be possible to arrange for some of the young men who are being trained as pilots, with the idea of ultimately going into the Air Force, to get their instruction, not as now by special schools kept for the purpose in different parts of the country, and paid for at a high figure by the Air Ministry, but through the medium of these light aeroplane clubs? I believe that it would be a considerable economy if it were possible 1954 to work on these lines. It would also be helpful for the clubs, and it would be cheap. These young men are not members of the Air Force; they are civilians. They are civilians now during the period of training, and I suggest that ab initio to the time when they qualify for their "A" licence, arrangements might be made for them to receive their instruction through the light aeroplane clubs. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider if an advantage might not be obtained by proceeding on those lines.
Then there is the question of municipal aerodromes. A number of towns have acquired aerodromes, but there are others which are equally keen and anxious to have them, but which are not able to procure the necessary ground. They find, when they approach the owners of the land which is suitable for the purpose, that the owner realises that the land is much more valuable than he ever thought it was before. It seems necessary that compulsory powers should be granted to municipalities to purchase at a fair valuation land in the neighbourhood of their cities for the purpose of aerodromes. In certain cases it will be difficult to make progress unless powers of that kind are given, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to indicate that the Government are thinking of introducing compulsory powers, in the same way that municipalities have compulsory powers for acquiring land for other important national purposes.
I notice in the Estimates a reference to Croydon, and I should be glad to know what there is that remains to be done at Croydon Aerodrome. Anybody who has landed or taken off there will admit the great improvement that has been made by removing the buildings from the centre, and having the offices at the side; but I gather that there is still something further to be done, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say what it is. I should like to ask him if the Ministry are considering night flying services. Are they contemplating any experiments in that direction similar to those being carried out by other countries, such as France for example? It is a matter of great importance, and it would be interesting to know how far the Ministry have gone, and what are their ideas in that respect.
There is only one point I want to make with regard to airships, apart from ex- 1955 pressing the hope that the hon. Gentleman will afford facilities to Members of this House to make a real flight—a real flight this time, not only a very enjoyable lunch, but a real flight to different parts of this country, and possibly to Egypt or Canada. I shall not be inclined to support airships until there has been a demonstration that they will carry even Members of Parliament. I suggest that what tells very greatly against airships is the question of landing. So long as there are only about half-a-dozen different places in the world where airships can land, their usefulness will be severely limited. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to say something about that. What ideas have the Ministry got to enable airships to land in emergencies, either on land or sea, other than the particular towers where they are obliged to go? We cannot expect to get very much use out of airships until that problem has been overcome.
I was very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said with regard to the necessity of keeping separate civil and military aviation. I hope that it will be the Government's policy here, and that they will urge it upon the appropriate committee of the League of Nations to see that there is no military influence and no hidden subsidy or any other means of that kind by which civil aviation is being made to turn out of its true course and influenced in engine and speed and things of that kind by military considerations. From the point of view of disarmament it is important, and I hope that the Government will use their influence at Geneva in that direction and come to an international agreement of that kind. Every country naturally feels that there is a danger of civil aviation being extended on a large scale, and being the cloak of a readiness for military operations.
The question of air disarmament is essentially a problem that ought to be dealt with from an international point of view. You cannot fly very far in Europe without going over the boundaries of some country or other. If I may take as an analogy, the International Sleeping Car Company, they have found it necessary to have an international company, because, obviously, they are continually 1956 going from one country to another. The safest and wisest way of overcoming the dangers and suspicions that arise from civil aviation is to have in the long run some international trust or cartel which will have control over all civil aviation in Europe. That would mean that you would have officers belonging—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
The hon. Gentleman must realise that that would require legislation, and is outside the scope of the Estimates.
§ Mr. MANDER
I was not suggesting that the Government should introduce legislation, but I was rather putting it in this way, that when they came to deal with aviation on the Disarmament Commission of the League of Nations, they will press the view on other countries that the right way is to have an international arrangement by which all civil aviation is dealt with as one. You could have an international staff, and that would mean, whether the officers were Swedes, Germans, Frenchmen or Englishmen, that they would be continually travelling about, and would be able to find out whether things were being run on correct lines, or whether there was something being hidden which ought not to be allowed. An arrangement of that kind need not interfere with certain countries undertaking certain parts of the work. I should be sorry, for instance, if the admirable services run between Croydon and Le Bourget were interfered with. In addition to the Sleeping Car Company, there is the case of chemical warfare, which would naturally fall to be dealt with on similar international lines.
In the Debate yesterday on the Navy Estimates, some reference was made to the vexed question of the independence of the Royal Air Force, and the suggestion was made that the Air Force ought to be placed under the Navy in some way. I protest most strongly against that view. The experience of the War shows—and nothing has happened since to alter it—that it is fatal to allow a new Service, with fresh ideals and with a great future, to be tied on to another Service which naturally looks upon it with a jealous eye, and wants to confine it and control it to do its own work from its own point of view. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea referred to the part that the Air Force might play 1957 as a substitute for the Army. How could you possibly get work of that kind carried out, substituting the work of the Air Force for the Army or the Navy, if it were subject to the control of one of those two Departments? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say that the Government have no intention of re-opening this matter, and that the Air Force will remain an independent Department of equal status with either the Army or the Navy.
Lastly, may I be permitted to pay a tribute to those gallant young men—not all of them young, by any means—who are flying officers in the Royal Air Force? They have been called the "cavalry of the clouds"; I think the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) first used those words, when he was Prime Minister. They carry out work of a far more arduous nature than their colleagues in the Army or the Navy, because in peace time they are daily, at many times almost hourly, risking their lives on duties which require the greatest gallantry and the greatest endurance. Look at the fact that last year 42 pilots in the Royal Air Force lost their lives—right in the time of peace! We have every reason to be extremely proud of the officers and men of this great new service. They have made us leaders of the world in speed records and I believe the House will desire to do everything to support them by making ample provision in the Estimates now before us.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
First, I should like to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the very able way in which he presented his statement today. I notice that this year the Secretary of State for Air has been able to get a little larger share of the cake, or, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) always calls it, a good share of the "loot." The three fighting Services have to fight for a good share of the loot, and this year the Secretary of State for Air has got a little more, but I do not think his share is yet big enough. In the last two or three years the Air Estimates have been one-seventh of the total defence Votes; this year they are about one-sixth. The Under-Secretary told us that we were not in a very good position in comparison with foreign nations, but expressed a pious hope that they would reduce their 1958 air armaments. I would like to ask him to give the House the number of first-line machines that we possess and that are possessed by France, Italy, the United States and Japan. I understood from his statement that he thought we were about third on the list. I think we are far lower down than that, about fifth, and we ought not to get too far astern of other nations in the matter of air armaments. I notice that we are adding only one squadron to the Home defence squadrons, one squadron of flying boats, and two flights to the Fleet Air Arm. Yesterday, we had a very interesting Debate on the Navy, and I listened attentively to most of the speeches. I thought they were covered with barnacles, because some of the speeches made by my colleagues who are old sailors really alarmed me. They were talking about the few cruisers we have, and saying the Government and the Board of Admiralty were all wrong in being content with so few, but not a single one of them mentioned the air craft-carriers or the Fleet Air Arm, though surely these must come into the calculations of the First Lord of the Admiralty when he, advised by the Sea Lords, determines the number of cruisers we are to have.
I hope the hon. and gallant Member is not going to give us yesterday's discussion over again.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
What I have been saying has a bearing on these Air Estimates, because for years the Navy have looked down on air work; but now the progressive Sea Lords are beginning to understand it and take it into their calculations in providing cruisers. One of my colleagues, the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) made a very interesting speech yesterday, and questioned the statement in the White Paper that the value of battleships is problematical. I hope I shall not be ruled out of order for that statement, because it has some bearing on this question. The reason why the value of battleships is problematical is that the air arm has knocked out the battleship. [Interruption.] An hon. Member behind me says, "Question." From the moment we dropped Whitehead torpedoes from a seaplane at Calshot we put one nail into the coffin of the battleship, and when we straddled a battle- 1959 ship, used as a target, with bombs, we put more nails into the coffin of the battleship; and now I am very glad to read that the Government of the day say that the value of the battleship is problematical. In my maiden speech in this House eight years ago—it is nine years next August—I advocated the abolition of battleships because the air arm had knocked them out. Now we are told that their value is problematical, and I congratulate whoever drew up that White Paper for having the courage to put forward that contention. Yesterday, we heard a good deal about the Naval Conference, what they ought to do, and what they ought not to do, but I am perfectly certain that when those wise statesmen from all the chief naval Powers who are attending the Naval Conference conclude their work, they will say, "Give the battleship a holiday; do not build any more for many years, and let it gradually die out." I am quite certain that is one of the things they will advocate at the conclusion of that Conference.
We had an interesting speech from the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), the late Secretary of State for Air. He touched on many subjects, all of which show how necessary it will be for us to have a Ministry of Defence with a Minister to decide not only how much of the Vote the air arm should get but also how the air arm should be used in different parts of the world. I know the good work of the Air Service in Palestine, Iraq, Aden, and elsewhere. Only a short time ago machines taken from Iraq accomplished the splendid service of evacuating the whole of the Corps Diplomatique from Kabul. Six hundred people were brought out of Kabul without the loss of a single life. In 1840 we lost 12,000 men in evacuating Kabul. That shows the great value of the air arm in the service of humanity. We want to know from the Under-Secretary whether there is not some further work which the Air Service ought to carry out. For instance, could not they patrol the Persian Gulf? I think they could undertake that work with great efficiency. Their machines fly at great speed, and would cover the distances about three or four times as fast as any gun boat.
Next I would mention the case of Malta. Lord Strickland, who had come 1960 home from Malta, made a very good speech in another place in which he advocated the building of a breakwater at Malta for the protection of flying boats, but he was told that the cost would be prohibitive. Only last month I was in Morocco, and I saw breakwaters being built at Casablanca, Tangiers and Cape Centa, and on the Spanish side of the Straits of Algeciras, and I am quite certain that it was not at any prohibitive cost; and we ought to be able to afford a small protective arm in one of the harbours at Malta to guard flying boats. We need not build a breakwater, but something ought to be done to make Malta a real air port. I hope the Secretary of State for Air will look into that question when he has some leisure.
Turning to the Memorandum, I come to the question of training. I notice that we are giving extra training in gunnery and torpedo work. I hope the day will come when we shall create gunnery, torpedo and engineering specialists in the Air Force. We have them in the Navy, and the efficiency of the Navy has been improved by those specialists, and I feel it would be a good thing for the Air Service if they had men trained in the higher work of their profession, of course giving them small extra allowances for that training, such as the specialists get in the Navy. I would like the Under-Secretary to tell we whether it is intended to go in for this higher training of specialists in the Air Force. On page 5 of the Memorandum I find that Farnborough is to have £41,500 extra for reorganisation. Hon Members opposite are rather keen, I know, on the development of State enterprise. I remember giving orders to Farnborough when I was at the Admiralty in charge of the Air Service. We paid them a lot of money, but we never got anything out of them, and I have no great opinion of Farnborough. I daresay they do useful secret work, work of a confidential nature, and I know that all there work very hard. Last year the Secretary of State for Air told me they had actually produced a flow meter. This afternoon we were told by the Under-Secretary that they are going into the whole of the question of noises in machines, and I hope Farnborough will produce a noise meter. Farnborough gets too much money, I think; there is nearly £500,000 for Farnborough, and 1961 from the time of the Armistice it has had something like £300,000 or £400,000 every year, but has not produced much for it.
Will the Under-Secretary tell the House this evening what Farnborough has produced in the nine months since he took office? It is a very fair question and I hope it will be answered. I am sorry the Government will not support the Schneider Cup races in future. I believe it is good for the industry of this country that we should support them, as it is very good for the Air Force to take part in them. We have only to look at the small weight per horse power of the Rolls-Royce engine, as given on page 6 of the Memorandum, to see how beneficial these races are, because we should never have got it down to that weight if it had not been for the Schneider Cup races. Those races are a great encouragement to designers to turn out the best, whether in engines or in machines, and I hope we shall not let the race go by without giving it a good deal of Government help.
Now I pass on to airships, and first I want to congratulate Colonel Richmond most heartily on his fine design for R.101. He scrapped the whole of the Zeppelin design and started on a new design off his own bat. He was given this work to do by the State and he has carried it out wonderfully well. His ship has flown. She has turned out to be a little too heavy, but when we first introduced submarines we could not get our weights down, and when we built the Mayfly, the first rigid, we could not get her weight down. [Interruption.] We had an accident with her afterwards, but that is no part of my argument. It is very difficult to get these weights down. When we had the small airships and the flying boats there was the same problem. If Colonel Richmond has to introduce a new bay, I ask the Under-Secretary to give him one word of caution. His design is built up of additional girders made of steel tubes with duraluminium wires and duraluminium struts. That will be quite new, and they will be inserted in a ship that has been in the air and stressed a little. It may happen that in putting a new bay into this ship when she is in the air going at a high speed and the rudders are put over, torsional stresses will be brought to bear, and where the new bay 1962 joins up to the old bay you may get distortion of the girders. I ask the Under-Secretary to get his experts to check and cross-check every calculation they make. The late Lord Rayleigh told me that it was one of the most difficult things in the world to calculate those stresses, particularly the torsional stresses in rigid airships. We do not want any accidents to occur in putting in this new bay. I think we ought to congratulate Sir Dennistoun Burney on his design of the R.100; he has kept more to the rigid Zeppelin design, but he has turned out the fastest ship in the world, and I think that is a very great achievement. I understand that the outer covering wants re-doping and patching to repair it and make it efficient, but I ask the Air Minister not to hurry forward these flights to India and to Canada. In the early days the airship met with comparatively few accidents, because we trained the crews very thoroughly, and I think we should train the crews and get them as perfect as possible before undertaking long distance flights to India and Canada. We know that they can fly to those places and even round the world, but I hope the Air Ministry will not hasten airships to make these flights to India and Canada simply because it is a popular stunt.
I turn to civil aviation. I really think that £500,000 for civil aviation is much too small, and that the amount ought to be increased considerably. The Secretary of State for Air in the late Government went into the matter fairly fully about developing the air routes. We cannot spend too much money in developing these air routes. Many hon. Members opposite do not believe in the Air arm for defensive purposes and they do not believe in it for developing the Empire, but surely they must believe in it for linking up nations and bringing them together in order to advance the general cause of civilisation. Consequently, I think I shall have the support of hon. Members opposite in asking for more money in order to develop civil aviation. Aviation has done wonderful work in Australia where doctors have been able to fly about the country bringing people who are sick to centres where men and women live. We are doing fine aviation work in Africa and Canada, and £500,000 is much too small a sum to devote to the development of civil aviation.
1963 I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the Ministry have done anything in the West Indies. When I was in the West Indies some years ago they had a Conference there. We went into the whole question of developing the air service in the West Indies and this is what the Conference reported. They said that they wanted an Air service to British Guiana, a service from Guiana to Trinidad, a coastal service from Trinidad to Curacao and a service from Trinidad to Barbados. They wanted some £25,000 a year for that purpose. The other day we had a saving on the Civil Aviation Vote of £39,000 in the Supplementary Estimate. We are going to reorganise the Farnborough staff at a cost of £41,000, and that will make £80,000. That sum would cover the creation of a West Indian air service, and you would get far better value for the money which has been saved on the Civil Aviation Vote at Farnborough by spending it on the establishment of an air service in the West Indies. I ask the Under-Secretary to look into that fact.
I should like to associate myself with the very fine tribute which the Secretary of State for Air has paid to Lord Trenchard in the last paragraph of his Memorandum. I started air work some three years before Lord Trenchard, and when we unified the Royal Naval Air Service with the Royal Flying Corps, Lord Trenchard was put in charge as chief of the staff. I have watched his work for many years, and I can say from personal observation that no man ever worked harder in building up the Air Force. He worked night and day at the Air Ministry. He was an example to all the young flying officers, and we men who went out for a separate Air Force pay tribute to him for the fine way in which he has built up a great air service. One of the finest tributes given to the air service was given by General Italo Balbo, the Italian Under-Secretary of State for Air when he said:A perfect Air Force which in skill and courage ha6 given a unique example to the whole world.That is part of Lord Trenchard's work.
§ Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I want to join with every hon. Member and right hon. Member who has spoken in congratulating the Under-Secretary of 1964 State for Air on the occasion of the presentation of his first Estimates. The chief of the Air Force is in another place, and therefore the Under-Secretary has a difficult job in handling a highly technical question. I never doubted for a moment that the hon. Member would be able to handle the question very skilfully, because I happen to know how clever he is at performing feats of magic, because I know of his prowess as a fellow-prestidigitator. The first question that strikes one in a general glance at the Estimates is the point brought out at the end of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). The first thing that strikes one is the apparent lack of co-ordination in the amount of money to be divided between the three fighting services. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea put forward that point of view. I recall the time when the right hon. Gentleman was on this side of the House in years gone by when we used to put forward a demand exactly from the same point of view. No attempt has been made to apportion the money available between the three fighting services. I do not suppose that even the Committee of Imperial Defence examines the Estimates of the three fighting services. I do not want to go into that question now, but I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) that you will never get a really scientific allocation of the money required for the three defence services until you have established a Ministry of Defence. That is borne out by the difference in policy adopted by the different fighting services. That is the difference, shall I say, of the yardstick.
I want to deal chiefly with the Civil Aviation Vote, but I will deal first of all with the military side of the question. It has been continually reiterated that a war between this country and Continental countries is unthinkable, but, so far as the Navy is concerned, our naval strength is based on the assumption that war with certain European countries is thinkable, very possible and probable. But if this unthinkable war with France or some other European country should eventuate—a war which we hope will not eventuate—it will not be in the first instance a naval war but an air war. If 1965 the unthinkable war with France takes place, the destruction in the first few days, nay, in the first few hours, will be a bombing raid by French aeroplanes upon London.
What are we prepared to do? Are we prepared to be content to allow France to have a four-to-one ratio of aeroplanes to this country? According to the latest figures with which I have been supplied, in January of this year France had 4,730 fighting aeroplanes compared with 1,292 in this country. I am not arguing in favour of increasing the strength of aeroplanes in this country, but I am simply pointing out that the whole thing is very anomalous. If we are safe in the air, if we are safe from air bombing by France with an Air Force of four-to-one Strength as compared with the British Force, there is no need to stick out for a two-power standard at the Naval Conference. While I am talking about our military aviation, there is one important point which is always overlooked, and that is provision for the civil population. I do not know whether that question comes within the Department of my hon. Friend, but I think we ought to know whether any research work is being done to look after the interests of the civil population, because in case of war the civil population are going to play an equal part with those in the trenches, if not a very much worse.
There is one other question concerning the military side of the Air Estimates. My hon. Friend, when he introduced the Estimates, quite rightly referred to operations which were taking place in different parts of the world. He referred to the action which had been taken by the Royal Air Force in Arabia, and he told us that as a result of threats certain tribesmen had come into the territory of Iraq under British protection. I have been informed that these tribesmen, who are supposed to have been either Colonial Office agents or Indian Government agents, were released and handed back to King Ibn Saud. One of these chieftains, Sheikh Feisal-ed-Dowish, on the way back to the headquarters of King Ibn Saud, died. I want my hon. Friend to make quite sure, before he hands back any more Arab chieftains who have been evacuated into our territory, that sufficient guarantees are obtained that these men are not butchered on the way back to their homes.
1966 With regard to civil aviation, which is really the most important side of this question, I justify my action in speaking on these Estimates on two grounds. Whether we are militarists or pacifists, we can support a cheapening of the Defence Forces. We can support the idea that it is more economical to spend money on the Air than on the Navy and the Army, and that is why I supported the idea of a Ministry of Defence. But I am also tremendously keen on developing civil aviation, because I feel, like other Members who have already spoken, that civil aviation is going to be tremendously important to this country, and I am profoundly disappointed at the small allocation of money that is being made for it. Looking through the Air Estimates, and looking at the sums that have been allotted for the development of civil air routes, it seems to me that they have been prepared with a complete lack of imagination.
There are very great possibilities in civil aviation. First of all, rapid communications all over the world, and particularly in those parts of the world where steamers cannot be got and where there are no railways, are essential to the trade and commerce of this country. In the second place, I have always held that air communications would assist tremendously towards the breaking down of barriers between the nations of the world. That has been the whole history of the development of communications in the past. When there used to be wars between one part of the country and another, there were very little means of communication, but, as communications gradually developed, the units of the nation that went to war with each other gradually got together; and, similarly, as air transport is developed, as the barriers in the way of rapid communication are broken down by wireless, by aircraft, and by other means, the result is to bring the nations of the world together and to reduce the danger of war.
I think that a great deal more could have been done. In their limited sphere, Imperial Airways have done very well, but there are one or two dangers. Imperial Airways, under the monopoly which was given to them by the late Government, have certain powers which I do not think always go towards the 1967 development of new air routes. They are rather conservative, and rightly so, from their point of view, but no new air route can be started without Imperial Airways being given the first right to tender for that route, and they are in this peculiar position, that they have all the data, they have all the facts, they have all the particulars as regards the cost of running these routes to Paris and to India, and that information is kept confidential. I am not sure even if the Air Ministry is able to get that information, and certainly no new company, wishing to start a new route in a part of the world where there is no air route at present, would be able to get it.
What is happening? Quite rightly, Imperial Airways concentrated on the India route, and I am very sorry to say that the India route is doing very badly. Calcutta, Bombay and the other large towns in India are not getting sufficient advantage out of Imperial Airways to warrant the payment of the extra freight. That is shown by the fact that the average amount of mails carried, up to quite recently, was only 550 lbs. on the outward journey and 440 lbs. on the inward journey. Exactly what I foresaw two or three years ago has happened. As I pointed out at that time to the then Secretary of State for Air, an insufficient number of machines was ordered, and accidents have occurred. An accident occurred in the Adriatic, and I have seen letters from passengers who flew in those machines two or three flights before that last serious accident occurred, from which it is quite apparent that these accidents are due to shortage of aircraft, insufficient equipment, and an inadequate number of pilots when one goes sick, or something of that kind happens. That is the reason why these accidents occur, and that is the reason why the Imperial air route to India has failed, so that people now have to go by train all the way to Athens and round by Egypt.
I have never really appreciated the reason for going to India via Italy and North Africa. It certainly is not the most direct route, and it certainly has not turned out to be the most comfortable and efficient. Probably the idea was to make it an All Red Route, and to link it up with the other route to South Africa; but, as a matter of fact, it has 1968 not turned out to be an All Red Route at all, because the countries with which we had to negotiate, namely, France and Italy, have given rise to certain difficulties. Other countries are getting in "on the ground floor" on the direct route to India in front of us. There are the French and the Dutch services on what one would imagine is really the direct route to India, via the Balkans, Constantinople and Beyrout. Very soon it will be possible to book by either a French or a Dutch route to India. There are also the German and the Russian routes, and all these countries are getting in, and getting in very efficiently, on the one route on which we should have concentrated.
In view of this, I think we ought to know, and I would ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to tell us when he replies, in view of the failure that has; occurred in the past due to Imperial Airways having ordered an inadequate number of machines, how many machines are on order for use on the Imperial Airways London to India route. I believe that eight 40-seater Handley Pages are on order, but, surely, those are purely experimental. We all know the reputation of Mr. Handley Page as an aeroplane designer, but the first of these machines has to be tried out and tested before the other seven are put into production. I think we ought to know the programme, so far as Imperial Airways are concerned, not only for the route to India and Australia, but also for the new route which is going to be opened this year between Egypt and South Africa. We want to be assured that, when these routes are put into operation, they do not come to a speedy conclusion, as the India route has, due to lack of a sufficient number of machines and of pilots.
It is not only the Red Routes that we have to worry about. If we turn to other parts of the globe, where there are great possibilities for civil air transport, where are great tracts of country over which aircraft is the one means of transport that is going to civilise those countries and do good, we find that in those cases we are allowing other countries to get in "on the ground floor." If you go to South America, you find that already the United States are running regular postal services, practically encircling Brazil, Chile and 1969 the Argentine. Practically the whole South American continent is now covered by the air transport companies of the United States, with France and Germany taking second place, and not a single company belonging to this country. If you go to the Far East, you find that, linking up with the Imperial Airways route between this country and India, the French are developing the route on to China, and the Russians and Germans are developing the trans-Siberian route.
Why are we restricting ourselves to the Indian route, rather ineffectively, without a sufficient number of machines, and are now beginning to operate only half of the South African route? Possibly it is due to the fallacy of the basis on which our civil aviation was started nearly 10 years ago, I think by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). His thesis was that civil aviation had to fly by itself, but that is a fallacy. You do not expect the air ships to fly by themselves, so why should you expect the aeroplanes to do this work, which is very much more valuable, by themselves on a paying basis? That is not the policy of a single other country which has any commercial aviation of any account. If we examine what is happen ing in America or France, or Germany, we shall see that their subsidies are many times those of this country. If we look at the last Report on the Progress of Civil Aviation, we shall see it stated, on page 71, that the American Government, not directly but through their Post Office, subsidise their routes internally to the extent of £2,545,000. Their foreign con tracts receive £419,000, and, through the Department of Commerce, another £1,141,000—altogether nearly £4,000,000 of subsidies to the American routes. The Estimates of the French Air Ministry were published in the "Times" of the 2nd January—
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Before the hon. Member goes to France, would he say if those figures are for carrying mails? There is only one subsidy that I know of.
§ Mr. MALONE
I think that that is the way in which the American Government do it. They give a very substantial subsidy on mails, far more than the subsidy that we give to Imperial Airways for the mails to India. It might be called a mail charter, but actually it is a subsidy. If we take the French Air Estimates, which 1970 were published in the "Times" on 2nd January, we find that, out of a total Estimate for the Air Ministry of £16,668,000—a much smaller total Estimate than that which we are being asked to pass to-day—there is a subsidy of £1,681,000 for commercial and civil aviation. I apologise for burdening the House with so many figures, but they are really very important, as they show the development of other countries as compared with this country. If I may make the comparison in another way, I will give the mileages of the four great countries—the air route mileages, the route mileages of regular flying services. America stands at the top with 37,037 miles. Then there is Germany with 16,500 miles, then France with 16,000 miles, and this country with 5,305 miles.
Taking it in another way, the number of commercial aircraft employed on these routes, in the case of America, is 400, in the case of Germany is 238, in the case of France 345, and in the case of this country only 23. These are the figures at the end of last December, and surely it would not have been unreasonable to ask the Air Ministry to devote at least £1,000,000 to the commercial and civil side of their Air Estimates. Even if they had £1,000,000, they would still be devoting far less to this work than any of the other great aeronautical countries of the world. After all, this Government is doing great work for peace, and even £1,000,000 will be looked upon as a great message of peace in linking-up the countries of the world. Not only are we not developing commercial air routes to distant parts of the world, but there is talk of Germany capturing the Hull to Hamburg route. I do not know what progress they have made, but it seems to me extraordinary that a German company should be projecting to run a route from Hamburg to Hull and across the British Isles to link up with the Norddeutscher Lloyd at Gal-way. All these examples show that this country is lagging behind in commercial and civil aviation, and we have to change that. Last August a Committee was appointed—I think my hon. Friend was the chairman, the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) was one Member and the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) was the other—to go into all these questions. Will my hon. Friend tell us how often they have met, 1971 or whether they have met at all. The hon. Member for East Woolwich has been engaged on very important work in Palestine, and he will not have been able to devote himself to the question.
I should like to make a suggestion in regard to Transatlantic routes. The French are making preparations to cross the Atlantic to the South. I believe we can take a very reasonable and cautious step to shorten the Transatlantic passage by developing flying off from liners. I should like to know whether the Ministry have considered that question at all. Now there is a great opportunity to develop flying off from Transatlantic liners, which has been carried out with great success from the "Ile de Paris" in the Messageries Maritimes. There is a good opportunity in the three new Cunarders which are just going to be laid down. Now is the time for the Air Ministry to get their technicians together and consult the designers of the Cunard Company and see whether some flying off arrangements cannot be provided. If you can do that, you might very well save 24 hours in the Transatlantic passage.
I was very glad to hear that my hon. Friend is going to continue the subsidy for private flying clubs, but I should like an assurance that that renewed subsidy is not going to be confined to the old original clubs which have been in receipt of this subsidy. I should like to know that every new club that passes certain tests and conforms to certain qualifications will be entitled to this grant on a per capita basis of the pilots who are taught. The Northamptonshire Aero Club, with which I am connected, and which is one of the finest light aeroplane clubs in the country, was formed just too late to receive a subsidy under the original scheme. They have been doing very good work, and I should like to know whether they will be qualified under the new subsidy.
Now I come to what, I think, is the most important question in the Estimate—the question of airships. I do not blame the Under-Secretary at all. It is not his fault. It was not his conception. He has only just gone to the Air Ministry and, as far as airships are concerned, he has to rely entirely on his technical advisers. In the Estimates we are allowing 1972 a total sum of £354,000 for the airship section. Let it be quite clearly understood that this sum is purely to-keep the present show going for another year. It is not going to produce any new airships or any concrete result. I believe the time is long overdue when the whole airship policy ought to be reviewed, and we should seriously consider whether the time has at last arrived when we can cut our losses before more money is spent and more lives are needlessly risked. My reasons for putting this forward are these: First of all, there is the purely financial question. I will assume that these airships, R.100 and R.101, are going to do what they were originally intended to do, and fly regularly to India, South Africa and Canada according to the programme drawn up in that excellent book which was so well prepared by the late Air Minister called "Approach towards a System of Imperial Air Communications," published at the time of the Imperial Conference of 1926. for the purposes of my argument I will assume that these two airships are a success, and that they are capable of flying all the time in any weather and under any conditions. It must be perfectly clear that two airships are totally inadequate to carry out a regular service to any part of the world whatever.
If you are to get the result which was put in this book of a service of airships all over the world, you will need to have, not two but 10 or 20 airships, and the amount of capital that you will require will be at least £10,000,000 or £20,000,000. So that, assuming that these airships are a technical success and that there is nothing wrong with them, you have to look forward to raising a sum of at least £10,000,000 to £20,000,000 before you can make a beginning with a regular commercial service. This sum of £354,000 is simply keeping the staff going for another 12 months. You are not going to get any commercial development out of the money allowed in this year's Estimates. A fraction of the £10,000,000 that you are going to be asked to raise next year, if spent on commercial civil aviation, could produce regular routes to every part of the Empire, because there is nothing experimental, nothing at all problematic about the modern development of heavier than aircraft. We know that existing machines can be bought off the stocks. 1973 If they are bought in sufficient numbers, they can run a regular service weekly or bi-weekly to any part of the Empire except Canada. Even the amount of money that is being devoted to airships this year would be sufficient to double the work that Imperial Airways is doing, and if you doubled the work that Imperial Airways is doing it would be a tremendous benefit to civil aviation. That will not be a question of experimenting. There is no technical uncertainty. It is purely a question of money. The Chairman of Imperial Airways at the annual meeting last year made that point clear.
On financial grounds alone, even assuming that those two airships are a success, there is ample case for an inquiry into the whole position of the Government's airship policy. But the situation is very much more serious, because it is well known to anyone who has been following the construction and the development of R.100 and R.101 that these two airships are failures. They can never be run on regular services. They can never be used for commercial purposes. There is no value in either of them for commercial purposes. All the Press photographs about lunches on board the airships at the mooring mast at Cardington carry no weight. All the Press notices about the number of hours they have remained tied up to their masts impressed me not at all. It is easy to tie a football up to a mast and to get it to remain there for 12 months. That is not the test. The real test is whether the airship can fly regularly and efficiently during a large proportion of the weeks of the year. Neither of these airships can do that. They are too slow to fight against the average wind that they will have to meet, and they cannot carry a load which will make them commercial propositions. But that is not all. There is nowhere where they can land. They may be able to remain at mooring masts in different parts of the world but, supposing they start on their journey to India or Canada and the wind gets up and they cannot get back, there are only four places in the world where they can possibly pick up a mooring. There are other questions. Throughout the last four or five years a very well-known naval constructor who has had some experience of these matters, Mr. Spanner, has summed up very devastating criticism of the structural design of these ships. As a 1974 layman, I think the charges that are contained in the technical books written by Mr. Spanner are quite sufficient to warrant an inquiry into future policy.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Do I under stand that Mr. Spanner is an aeronautical expert? I do not recollect his name in connection with any airship work. I know he was a constructor, but I do not think he ever had anything to do with airships.
§ Mr. MALONE
He was a naval constructor, and there is a great deal in common between naval and airship construction.
§ Mr. MALONE
There have been mishaps with nearly every airship that has been constructed. There was the American "Shenandoah" and the French and the Italian airships. In fact every airship that has been built in the last few years has come to grief with disastrous results to those in them. If anyone has had a talk with some of those who went round the world in the "Graf Zeppelin" there would be no demand for seats in these airships. Anyone who has been across the Atlantic in the "Mauretania," which is about the same length as these airships and can imagine what it would be like to be in one of them when it is trimmed to 47 degree" by the bow, will understand the sort of trouble you are going to get in these ships. But, whatever may be the views of Mr. Spanner or myself, the most serious indictment of the practicability of these ships comes from the man who invented them, Sir Dennistoun Burney. He is the one man who was responsible for influencing not merely the last Government but the two Governments before that. He was responsible by his persuasion and his energy and his skill, and I pay a tribute to his energy and devotion to his cause, because he put his whole heart into it. He is the one man who persuaded the Government to take up this scheme.
What happened? On the very eve of these two airships being tried, he has written a book which can be read as nothing more than an apologia preparing the public for the complete failure of these two airships. Anyone knows that these 1975 two airships are a failure. What does he want? He proves now that these airships are a failure, and that the only possible chance of success is to start another programme involving an expenditure of £10,000,000 in the building of airships of 10,000,000 cubic feet instead of 5,000,000 cubic feet; supporting an entirely new idea of landing, and of alighting on the water, and involving experiments for which there can be no justification whatever. That is a very serious question, for he is the man who designed the airship and persuaded the Government to take it up, and he comes along and says, "I am wrong. I made a mistake. These airships are a failure. There is nothing in them. You have to try again on an entirely different scale and an entirely different principle." If there is anything in my contention on the financial question that you cannot afford to spend money on airships, and if there is anything in the technical criticisms put forward by Spanner and by Burney and many other people, then further risk of life on these airships is utterly unjustifiable.
My personal view is that money has been wasted. It has been poured down the sink, and practically nothing has been attained. Nothing would be lost by an early closing down of this tremendous expenditure, which has involved over £100,000 on salaries alone. I am very conservative in these matters. I know that in the past new inventions have always been criticised. My hon. and gallant Friend knows that even aero-planes were ridiculed and that before the days of the locomotive people tried to prove that it would not work. When the steamship was first coming in, the Admiralty put on their naval constructors to "prove" that the first steamship would never steam across the Atlantic. While the Admiralty constructors were trying to "prove" that, the first steamship, the "Great Eastern," accomplished the first Transatlantic voyage. What, therefore, is the statesmanlike course to pursue? One might, for example, hand over the airships to the Admiralty in return for one or two cruisers. That would save us some money. I think that probably the Admiralty would accept the bargain. I would like to suggest this in all seriousness. We have to save the faces of the late Air Minister, of the Air Minister before that, of Sir Dennistoun 1976 Burney and many other people. I do not want to belittle at all the wonderful work which is being done by Colonel Richmond and the people on the spot. They are not responsible for policy. They have produced the best possible results within the limits at their disposal.
In order to save the faces of those concerned, I suggest that the best thing the Government could do would be to appoint a committee to review the situation at the earliest possible date. A committee has just reported on the Channel Tunnel, and why cannot a similar committee be appointed to go into this question? If I were asked to draw up the terms of reference, I would suggest that they should be, "To review the airship policy of this country, and to consider in the light of the experience of the last five years, and the present stage of airship development, and also of the progress made by heavier-than-air craft, whether further expenditure on airships is justified." I believe that they would decide that we ought to cut our losses with the airships. If we did that we should release this £354,000 and the £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 which we are going to be asked to spend the year after. We could devote that money to civil aviation purely and simply. We could develop the air routes throughout the Empire and provide a route between here and Australia, and between here and South Africa; we could also develop our air transport to America, South America and the Far East.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air has a great opportunity before him to develop the civil side of aviation. Technical experience is not required. Pilots are there waiting to fly the machines, and courage and initiative are alone required to develop fresh air routes throughout the world. It will help trade and commerce, and will contribute in no small degree to a reduction of unemployment. At the same time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air has a unique opportunity while in charge of one of the War Departments to use his energy, and the money which the House gives him, in developing a peace arm which may well assist in bringing the nations of the world together, and benefiting the cause of world peace.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
After listening to the very interesting speech 1977 of the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and after reviewing the Estimates, I confess to a feeling of disappointment which, I think, is probably shared by some of the hon. Members opposite. My feeling of disappointment as regards the feeling which will be shared by hon. Members opposite is based on the words of the present right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India who, in speaking on the Air Debates last year, used these words:If at any time a Minister of a Labour Government were called upon to discharge the office which the right hon. Gentleman (the late Secretary of State for Air) has discharged with so much distinction, that task would be infinitely harder, because his supporters on this side are determined to put the engines in reverse, and see whether it is not possible to get a limit set to the things which we believe, brilliantly conceived and nobly served as it is, is one of the most destructive and dangerous weapons which exist in the world to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1929; col. 611, Vol. 226.]I look on the Order Paper, and I cannot find what I understood from my colleagues has appeared year after year while we formed the Government and the hon. Gentlemen opposite were in opposition, Motions to abolish the Air Force, the Navy and the Army as the Estimate" came up. My feeling of disappointment as regards the Estimates is that in presenting these Estimates, the present Government have not seized the opportunity which I had hoped, as one firmly believing in the Air, having served in the Air Force and still being connected with the Air, one day a Government would seize, namely, a bold air policy of substitution such as was touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for Air. That is one reason for my feeling of disappointment. The second reason is, because in these Estimates there has been nothing done to help civil aviation in the way of it being developed in the most prosperous and most beneficial manner to this country. I think that the great chance of some Government will come when they are determined to hack through the traditions and through the vested interests of the older Services and to recognise that the air is the power which can command in the future. Though there is no question of abolishing the other Services or of trying to deprecate the other Services, nevertheless the Cinderella of the 1978 Forces, the Air Force, only then will be allowed to have its proper place in perspective in regard to the other two Services.
I want to put forward this double thesis for my argument. First, I think—and I believe that I am on common ground with Members of all parties—that we spend in this country too much on armaments in relation to our national expenditure, and, secondly, that we have a datum line of national security below which we must not go. If you accept those two, you must explore every avenue to see where you can obtain the necessary saving, and yet not go below that datum line of national security. I submit that it is only a very bold air policy which will meet the case. The party below the Gangway in their election propaganda promised cuts of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 in armaments, and the present Under-Secretary of State for Air comes down to the House and is almost apologetic when proposing an increase of something like £700,000 or £800,000. I look forward to the time when the desires of the Liberal party for a large cut in national expenditure will be fulfilled, and when, at the same time, the hon. Gentleman who may be the Secretary of State for Air will come down and ask for £10,000,000 more. If you aim at the ideal of making a cut of say £35,000,000 upon our established Services and give £10,000,000 back to the Air Force, you will be obtaining a net saving of £25,000,000. I maintain that it is something which is worth exploring to see whether we cannot obtain such a saving without sacrificing national security.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said just now that in propaganda we had promised to reduce the expenditure on the fighting Services by £40,000,000.
§ Captain BALFOUR
The hon. and gallant Member must keep up with his rate of change of parties. It is only 1979 natural that other Services will fight any proposal which interferes with their traditional rights. There are hon. Members who have served long and distinguished careers in the other Services. If one looks at the report of the Committee of Imperial Defence Sub-Committee, published in 1924, there is the unanimous finding of our three Service Staffs in this country in these words:That while menace of attack from the air has greatly increased, the liability of the country to seaboard invasion has considerably diminished compared to pre-War standards.Despite that statement, made over five years ago, there is a great disparity still between the relative strength of the Air Force and the relative strength of our nearest neighbours. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) made out that we were considerably higher. I think that, approximately, our nearest neighbour has 1,300 first-line aircraft as compared with our 600 to 700. In the opinion of the three staffs, which I read just now, there is, obviously, an admission of the vulnerability of this country from the air, and, in view of that admission, it can reasonably be put forward that the needs for air defence should have precedence over the needs of the other forms of defence. The reply of my hon. Friends who have served in the Navy always is that the Navy is the only possible means of defending our food lines and that the cruisers are essential, but even in these own preserves of the Royal Navy I think that there will be encroachment by the flying boat in the future. But the great field for economy lies, possibly, in the direction of the abolition of the capital ship, in view of its obsolesence by virtue of the development of aircraft. I want to quote three opinions. First, the late Sir Percy Scott, who was a recognised naval authority, in 1922 wrote:A bomb weighing 18,000 lbs. would be sufficient to destroy a present day battleship, while one of 4,000 lbs. would be sufficient to blow any post-Jutland battleship out of the water.You have that great German, Admiral von Scheer, who, after the United States Air Corps had sunk what was known as the unsinkable Dreadnought, the "Ostfriesland," wrote: 1980Only recently, experiments in America have made it clear that a battleship may be sunk by aeroplanes. Even though the factor of defence did not enter into these experiments, it cannot be denied that the prospects are favourable to the aeroplane—since an attacking fleet cannot remain in motion permanently. It requires rest for the engines, time for taking on board munitions, fuel and oil supplies, it must dock for repairs, lie at anchor—and it is then that the opportunity for air attack presents itself.7.0 p.m.
Finally, I suppose we all admit that practical demonstration is the most valuable form of data from which to draw conclusions. The United States have carried out more practical experiments on the capital ship versus the aeroplane than any other nation in the world, and, after they had carried out the "Alabama" and "Virginia" experiments, the joint staff of the United States wrote:It will be difficult, if not impossible, to build any type of naval craft of sufficient strength to withstand the destructive force that can be obtained from the largest bomb an aeroplane may be able to carry from shore bases or sheltered harbours.A finding such as that should cause disturbance among those who have traditionally held that they are the senior service for the defence of this country.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
As a layman to an expert, may I ask if any aircraft has ever succeeded in sinking a warship in time of war?
§ Captain BALFOUR
Yes, they have. In warfare, very often a mere miss from a bomb is more vital than a direct hit through concussion. There was a submarine sunk by a bomb of about 300 lbs. although the detonation occurred about 175 feet from that submarine My right hon. Friend, the late Secretary of State for Air, has quoted the cases of Iraq, Aden, Palestine, and Syria. In all those cases air control has proved itself to be efficient, humane and more economic than the older forms of defence when used with the Air Staff point of view and not with the Army Staff point of view with the use of the air subordinated to the ideals and needs of the Army. At the Cairo Conference in 1921, when the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, was faced with an expenditure of £27,000,000 for 51 Army units, he decided on a bold experiment of air control. As a result, the expenditure 1981 in Iraq is approximately £1,500,000, and there is no need now to keep our white troops in those unpleasant hot climates or to consider the question of Iraq being a burden on the taxpayers because air control has justified itself fully. I am not trying to make out any case that the other Services are obsolete in any way, but that the mentality of the staffs of the other Services is nearly obsolete in some ways. The present policy of the Government and the policy hitherto pursued by all Governments really pursued to a logical conclusion produces three semi-crippled forces instead of one efficient force—the Air Force—and two other forces efficient but reduced and with their responsibilities transferred to the newer arm.
I should like to support the suggestion of the late Secretary of State for Air when he said that it has now become a question that should be put forward to some form of Select Committee or impartial tribunal. The critics of the air must admit that there is a prima facie case being put forward by the devotees of air which should be submitted to some such committee in the interests of the taxpayers and economy and security. My one suggestion about that Select Committee would be that the terms of reference should be narrow, should be carefully drafted so that there would not be the old two to one jealousies of one Service with the other two Services going for it. Instead of that, our Imperial defence should be divided up, and they should take East Africa, West Africa, the Persian Gulf and the other parts of the world place by place and examine the problems of each and see if air control cannot be substituted in any of those regions. That should be the procedure rather than some wide committee to see if the Army or Navy can be abolished in favour of the Air Force.
I want now to turn to the Service within itself. Here I speak possibly with more authority than others in this House, having served in that Service for many years and having many of my friends in this Service. It is just as well we should ask ourselves if all is well within that Service. The answer, as regards moral, is "Yes, never finer!" As regards keenness, "Yes, they were never keener!" As regards duty, they have never performed their duty better or had a better 1982 sense of discipline. Yet, year after year, the Under-Secretary of State for Air or the Air Minister comes down to this House and says with pride that the Air Force has extended its activities, is doing more work and often with pride adds that it is spending less money. That can only be carried out at the expense of something, and that something is the danger of overloading the junior ranks of the Royal Air Force beyond their capacity or willingness. At present, they have had plenty of work, and there is plenty of flying for them to do. In the summer training season they are occupied from morning to night. It is questionable whether we can go on extending the responsibilities of the Royal Air Force without facing openly and frankly the need for an expansion in the personnel to enable them to cope with those extended duties.
There are no great rewards in the service. The pay is nothing exciting. I have already raised the case of the pay of a squadron leader in the Air Force corresponding to a major in the Army. After five years in his rank he is drawing a shilling a day less than the corresponding Army officer after serving five years. I do not think any Member in this House would dispute that there are risks in flying. After all, every time a pilot goes up in the air he is risking his life, and he has to depend not only on his own skill, but on that of his mechanics and of the men who made the aeroplane. Our casualties are falling, but they are there. Everybody who has served in a squadron knows that there is danger and that they are not given the recompense which that danger deserves. When I raised that question, my hon. Friend replied by pointing to the prospects of the Service and saying that one should take into consideration the prospects of promotion and the career offered.
The late Secretary of State for Air, introducing the Estimates last year, dealt with the new promotion scheme for the Royal Air Force and said that it may take months, possibly years, to enable a better career to be offered to those officers whom it was desired should be helped by such a promotion scheme. I trust the Under-Secretary of State for Air will give some reply to this question. In this new promotion scheme, with the ante-dates and other details which we 1983 need not go into now, will there not be some hard cases of War pilot veterans who have not specialised through any fault of their own and who are suffering through this new system? He will have to admit, when he looks into the question, that there will be hard cases. There are always hard cases when you introduce any new Measure. If he admits there are hard cases, is there any prospect that the Air Ministry will by means of a modified pension retirement scheme help out these officers, who cannot be offered the permanent career which their services deserve, so as to allow them to go out into civil life before they have given all the best years of their life to the Royal Air Force and while there is some opportunity for them of getting a livelihood in civil life.
I now come to civil aviation. I said at the outset that I was disappointed that there seemed to be nothing done in the direction where civil aviation can be most helpful, and that is to free it from the monopoly at the present time. It is rather invidious that a Labour Government should be the Government that supports a monopolistic subsidised concern without any protest; even in the Secretary of State's Memorandum, there is no indication that he intends not to continue such a system when the Air Ministry can end their agreements. To leave to such a company as Imperial Airways the responsibility of performing Imperial duties together with that of performing their duties to their shareholders is wrong for this country and is not a method which will enable civil aviation to be developed in the national interest. Under the present system, the Government are obliged to offer to Imperial Airways the first tender for any subsidies going, and that immediately has the effect of successfully stopping any reasonable competitive bids. The troubles of a monopoly are two-fold in the case of Imperial Airways: first, it prevents competition and, second, it does away with the need for the most modern equipment. When you have no competition you need not have the most modern equipment provided you keep your equipment safe and efficient. Imperial Airways have a wonderful record for safety and efficiency in their service, but you are not getting progress so long as their duty to their shareholders remains and so long as they receive 1984 in subsidy more than is required to pay 7½ per cent. dividends to their shareholders.
The brightest spot in this civil aviation is private flying by our light aeroplanes. We have built up an unsubsidised industry, a healthy industry exporting to all parts the best light aeroplanes in the world. I am extremely glad to see the subsidy provision for these light aeroplane clubs put forward in the Estimates. I am in sympathy with what has been said on this matter by two other hon. Members. We have only a limited sum of money. Could not some scheme be devised whereby that sum of money, if it cannot be expended, can be widened in its distribution, so that some other clubs, just as deserving, though they have not had the opportunity, can be brought in and given an opportunity? If the money cannot be enlarged, there should be some form of restriction on the per capita grant for pilots' training. For instance, it should only go for pilots trained between the ages of 18 and 50. It is undesirable that there should be any restriction, but it is better that there should be restriction and a widening if that is the only way a widening can be brought about. Now that pilots are being trained all over the country, I hope that there will be some stipulation that grants will only be given to approved clubs, and one of the conditions of approval, I suggest, should be that the instructors or a large percentage of them should have served in the Royal Air Force. After all, we have to help the short service officers in the Royal Air Force to earn their living in civil life, and that would he a means of providing a channel—and I hope an expanding channel—of employment for those officers.
As regards airships, I do not wish to speak on them except to say that, as one who does not believe in airships, who has flown heavier-than-air machines for 15 years, nevertheless I feel that, though this is a risky experiment, yet we have gone so far that we cannot draw back, and we must prolong it to a logical conclusion, so that we can come to a definite decision one way or the other.
My final appeal to the Under-Secretary of State is with regard to the aircraft industry. I speak here as a member of the aircraft industry and as one who is interested in it—I tell the House that 1985 quite frankly—and naturally, being connected with the aircraft industry, I should not vote on any question of Supply, but it is only right to tell the House that I am interested. The Air Ministry want to develop flying and we must have an aircraft industry as a form of national insurance, and we want to get it as cheaply as we can. Let us see if we cannot expand the ways of showing the flag. We can do it in wider ways than we are doing at the present time in this country. Why should not the Air Ministry arrange to send machines to the opening of approved municipal aerodromes? Could we not have another long distance cruise? There is a crying need for one, and for a demonstration of the British flag and British influence, in South America. We shall have the Buenos Ayres Exhibition in 1931. I believe that the flying boats will not be ready for that, but if we could send an aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, with types of aircraft on board produced by this country, I believe it would do a tremendous amount for the prestige of this country and that it would help the aircraft industry in no small way.
With regard to races, I hope the Air Ministry will lend pilots for the Schneider Trophy to any firm that enters for that race, as well as lending machines, and I can only say that if they do lend pilots, they must lend them as pilots on duty, because you cannot expect an officer to go on leave and to fly civilian aircraft, with the high risk that is involved in the Schneider race, if he runs the additional risk of losing all his pension rights in case of a mishap. I think the Air Ministry should allow these officers special leave and treat the risks of that race as though they were flying on duty. That is the least the Air Ministry can do.
We have a very young industry and a very young Service, but a very fine Service. It is the finest Flying Service of any Air Force in the world, quite irrespective of size. I sometimes think we need not worry about parity, because any single British pilot, in a British machine, with British merit and the traditions of the Royal Air Force that were built up during the War, could take on any two or three people, if ever that time came, which I hope will not be the case. We have got this Service, and we have to 1986 nurse it in every way possible. If the Air Ministry will put forward their best endeavours and realise the difficulties and the growing pains of this great new art, the future of this art, so far as this country is concerned, is assured, and once the future of the air is assured, the future of this country itself, as regards defence and mobility of transport, will also be assured for years to come.
§ Mr. KINLEY
It is time that a new note was sounded in this Debate, for so far apparently everything that has fallen from the Under-Secretary of State has been accepted as being right and proper by those who have spoken. I want to sound an entirely new note, and while not touching civil aviation or anything connected with it in the slightest degree, I regret that the Under-Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, did not bring forward an Estimate for a substantially reduced Air Force. At a later stage the Estimate will be challenged, but for the present I want to put the general view of those who do not agree with what is now accepted as being orthodox on this question.
I would recall to the mind of the House the fact that we are now dealing with a War Department that is only in its infancy. It is a mere baby compared with the others. The Navy is an exceedingly old Service, which, in the course of generations, has developed to its present position, to a position in which the leading countries of the world have realised, and have been forced to confess publicly, that their own creations are in the position of being a universal danger to mankind. Because of that, it has been necessary to convene the Five-Power Conference. There was a time when every one of the countries concerned in that Conference had its Navy, which corresponded with the Air Force of to-day, and unless we now take a firm stand and refuse to allow the Air Force as a fighting machine to be developed any further, we shall in the future just settle down to a continued and steady development of a fighting force in air machines, just as we have done with the navies and the armies of the world.
The time to consider whether reductions cannot be possible is not when every country shall have developed an enormously powerful Air Force; the time to deal with this, the time to call Five- 1987 Power Conferences, is when this new, murderous industry is in its infancy. Let us remember that in dealing with the Air Force we are dealing, as one hon. Member has already suggested, with one that is much more deadly than either the Navy or the Army, and much more dangerous in its potentialities. In days gone by the only countries that could hope at any time even to begin to develop a navy were those countries that were fairly wealthy and fairly large countries, but in the future the countries that will be able to develop an Air Force will be every country in the world. It is so cheap to buy a solitary aeroplane, it is so easy to get one aeroplane built, and there is no difficulty in the way of any country in the world finding a patriot who, at a time of national crisis, would be prepared to sacrifice his life deliberately in the attempt to cause the maximum amount of damage to those with whom at the time his country might be either at war or on the verge of war.
Another aspect of this question is that any European country will not have the slightest difficulty in utilising, in times of emergency, the spirit of nationalism and of patriotism. There will be no difficulty at all, when an emergency arises or is apprehended, in finding, even in the smallest European country, large numbers of individuals who will be prepared, for their country's sake, to face the greatest risks that any war under any circumstances can offer them, and that is the risk of instant and certain death, to leave their country and, with a huge bombing machine, simply make their way to the nearest hostile citadel or metropolis and there drop their bombs and reduce the largest city of the largest Power to a mass of bloody remains of what formerly was its population. Those things are possible. We know that at the present moment an individual aviator can leave any of the larger countries of Europe and, within a few hours, can drop the largest of bombs right on to any of the towns that may be selected as the objective. What does the aeroplane cost? What does the bomb cost? What does the man cost? These things are as easily obtained to-day as was an oar for an ordinary rowboat in days gone by. The European Governments could easily pro- 1988 vide, in an ever increasing number, these machines of instant and sadden and cheap murder.
The Under-Secretary of State, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that they had no intention of entering into a competition in air armaments, and only a couple of sentences later he informed the House that they were already engaged in such a competition, for we were told what was our relative strength as contrasted with that of France and with that of the United States. It is clear that the only reason for thus contrasting our Air Force on the one side with the Air Forces of France and America on the other is to let us know that the Government are keeping an eye upon the developments that may take place in other countries. Further, we were told that the Government had no intention of embarking upon any extended Air Force unless they were driven to it by developments that might take place in other countries. In other words, we are prepared, we are watching with keen eyes the Air Force developments that take place elsewhere, and we are going to see that Great Britain will not be let down in the future. We hear that our position in the world is to be maintained so far as the Air Force is concerned, just as we have striven to maintain it on the water and on land in the past.
I submit that along those lines there can be only disaster so far as the peace of the world is concerned. As a matter of fact, we are here to-day declaring to the whole world that we have not the slightest faith in anything that has been done in the past or that may be attempted in the future by the League of Nations. Indeed, the position is this, that simultaneously we send our official representatives to talk peace at the meetings of the League of Nations, and representatives in this House to ask that the Government may be provided with the armed forces that will enable it to put into effect any of its intentions or desires, or those things that hitherto have made against the peace of the world. In the days that are to come we shall meet together to discuss the limitation of air armaments, but the time to do that is now, while air armaments are weak and still undeveloped.
1989 Now is the time to get the whole of the countries of the world together and to get them to agree that in the future there shall be no development of air armaments or air forces in any direction that can be used for the crushing of humanity, for the increasing or extending of empires, or for the breaking of peace as between nation and nation. That is an essential thing at the present time, and it could be done. There is only one nation that can do it, and ought to do it, and that is the nation which stands at the head of the world's armaments. We can only hope to make any progress in any appeal that we may make to those who, whether on the water or on the land, are weaker than us, to limit their air armaments to their present figure or even a lower one, if we set the example. The position at the present time is that there are many countries which in days gone by have been compelled to accept an inferior position amongst the nations because they were utterly unable to develop either a large land force or a large sea force. They could neither build up nor maintain a large and powerful Army, neither could they build and maintain a large and powerful Navy, and for that reason they have been compelled to accept permanently an inferior position amongst the nations of the world. In the future every one of those nations is going to be in a position to develop a large and powerful Air Force, because that can be done much more cheaply and much more quickly than the development of navies or armies.
Therefore, unless the matter can be dealt with now it will become increasingly difficult as time goes on, because these countries, smarting under generations of oppression, as it appears to them and prevented from generation to generation from expanding their territory because their neighbours had larger navies or larger armies, will in the future, finding it possible to achieve their abject and getting their revenge against their old enemies by means of an Air Force, easily equipped and so quickly and suddenly used, will in their turn be tempted to nurse within their hearts a hope for the arrival of the day when they will be able to take their place amongst the larger powers of the world by blowing to bits those who in the past have been responsible for keeping them down.
1990 Along those lines world peace is an utter impossibility. Let us begin by setting an example to the rest of the powers of the world by declaring that this most deadly arm in the world, so far as we are concerned, is not going to be used as a weapon either of offence or defence, that we are going to take our stand in the affairs of the human family and of reason and of intelligence, and if this will not suffice, we shall not be prepared to resort in the future to the instrument of murder, as we have done in the past. On those lines world peace is possible, but along the existing lines no kind of world peace is possible. I hope that when the existing position is challenged we shall find in the Division Lobby that there is a larger measure of support for these views than many hon. Members suppose.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) in the new note which he has introduced. On the contrary, it is pleasant, and not the least so because of the comparative infrequency with which one has the opportunity of doing so, to congratulate one's opponent. We on this side of the House are justified in being in that fortunate position to-night. The Estimates which have been presented would not have disgraced the former Administration. Those who are responsible for them could expect no higher praise than that. I would like to congratulate the responsible Ministers upon having continuity in Air policy. The last speaker was able to congratulate the Under-Secretary on having said that he would see that Great Britain was not let down in the future. Lest anyone should agree with the opinions to which we have just listened, and should think that the increase of £890,000 in the net Estimate for this year is inconsistent with our national policy of promoting international peace and disarmament, it would not be out of place to compare our net figure of under £18,000,000 for the Air Estimates this year with the Air Estimates of the United States of America. That great country, with its nearest air rivals many thousands of miles distant from its shores, is preparing to spend in the coming year £33,000,000 upon its Air Estimates. The United States are the best judge of their needs, but when that huge figure is borne in mind 1991 the claims of the Under-Secretary of State for Air that the present Estimates demonstrate once more the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government to avoid disastrous competition in armaments, is fully justified.
While I am glad on general grounds to see that a little more money is being given towards the needs of this young and growing Service, I think that the continued encouragement which is being given to the auxiliary Air Force squadrons is particularly satisfactory. I should have liked to have seen one or two more auxiliary squadrons included in the Estimate, and I hope that it will not be thought that I am allowing personal considerations to prejudice me in my opinion of the value of those squadrons. The personal connection which I have had with them is of too recent a date to stand in the way of my being able to emphasise the high standard to which those squadrons have attained. It is obvious that I cannot claim the smallest share of the credit as to the standard which has been reached, but, on the other hand, I have been able in the past few months to gain a much closer experience of the value of those squadrons than would have come my way if I had only seen them from the outside. I am convinced that in these auxiliary Air squadrons the country has a valuable addition to our Air defences. From the first, a great deal was expected of them. They were and are amateurs competing with one of the most highly trained, if not the most highly trained, of the Services of the world. For all that, they have shown that they can take part with credit in combined exercises with the regular Air Force. If a great deal was expected of them at the start, they have fully justified that expectation.
There is one direction in particular in which I would have liked to see an experiment made. I welcome in these Estimates the addition of one more flying-boat squadron. I could give personal experience of the capacity and power of these flying boats and of their comfort and convenience. There is no end in sight of the use of these flying boats in developing the civil and military communications of the Empire. They preserve the nautical tradition of the British race, and their employment is bound to 1992 go forward and increase for the very reason that has given life to that nautical tradition. The salt is in the nostrils and the sea is in the blood of the people of these islands. Why not, therefore, make use of this national instinct by forming an auxiliary squadron of flying boats or seaplanes at Southampton, or some other convenient place? If a squadron of that kind were formed there would be a spate of applicants to join it. Those who give expression to their love of the sea in connection with amateur yachting and sailing clubs could serve a very good purpose in this connection, and furnish a personnel second to none. I appreciate that expense may be a difficulty in this connection, because flying boats are costly units. Perhaps a start might be made with seaplanes. Flying boats would be bound to follow automatically, once a start had been made and the principle accepted. I see no technical difficulty in fitting in a unit of this kind into our defence system. It might be advocated very much on the score of home defence.
These Estimates do not provide very adequate provision for home defence. I understand the necessity of going slowly. The addition of only one more squadron is a very modest provision. Certainly it is better than nothing, but in comparison with our needs we are certainly very weak in home defence. Relative to other countries, even when we take into consideration the increases that have been made in the Air Force up to date, we are in a worse position than in a better position. Other countries have been going ahead faster than we have. I am speaking of numbers and not of efficiency, but however efficient our squadrons maybe we cannot afford entirely to disregard numbers. Our vulnerability from the air is vastly greater than that of any other European Power, and we cannot afford to neglect our home defence problem any more than we can afford to delay the development of our overseas communications. I suppose this is a time when one has to be content with little. We have this year one more home defence squadron, and that is something, and we have an increase of £89,000 on Vote 8, which I welcome very gladly.
It has become a platitude to say that the potential benefits of civil aviation to our country are enormous, but it is a platitude that has to be repeated over 1993 and over again until by repetition these potential benefits become actual benefits. I was very glad to hear what the Under-Secretary of State told us this afternoon about the progress of the air route to Africa and the development of the route to Australia. I hope that later on he will be able to give us the information for which my right hon. Friend asked with regard to those routes, as well as the route to India. Dealing with Vote 8, I am very pleased to see that the subsidy to light aeroplane clubs is not to expire altogether. In common with so many hon. Members I think that the light aeroplane clubs have done very valuable work. When they come on to their new basis and come under an organisation similar to that of the National Flying Services, I am sure that they will continue to do very valuable work.
Another direction in which most admirable work has been done is in the University Squadrons. Both at Oxford and Cambridge these squadrons have quite won their footing in the life of the university, one might almost say in the curriculum of the university. They have drawn a type of young man who is likely to be most valuable both to military and civil flying. The increase in the popularity and efficiency of these squadrons has been very marked, and this success prompts me to ask the Under-Secretary whether he would not consider the advisability of forming a squadron on similar lines for the University of London. If such a squadron were formed it would receive a great deal of support, and I think it would be a short-sighted policy to allow reasons of finance to postpone the formation of such a unit.
I do not under-estimate the difficulties of the financial situation, but there is another question which I think will have to be answered and answered very soon, and that is as to the building of a new Air Ministry in Whitehall. The inefficiency of the present arrangement is becoming notorious. It is not only inefficient, but very expensive. I understand that the rents that are being paid for the Air Ministry and premises connected therewith amount to £48,000 a year. That sum represents the interest on £1,000,000. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State will be quite content to have a new Ministry costing much less than that. To the ultimate saving of cost which would ensue would be added a notable increase in the 1994 co-ordination of the three fighting Services, which would find themselves for the first time within reasonable distance of each other.
There are two other points with which I shall deal briefly. I was glad to see that the present Administration is going on with the building of a new Air Force Cadet College at Cranwell. The commencement of that work was one of the last acts of the late Administration, and one which, I feel certain, will not bear the least fruit. There is still a great deal more to be done there. I am glad to see in the Estimate that £30,000 is allocated towards the cost. Finally there is the question about the short service commissioned officers at the end of their term of service. They present one of the most difficult problems of the Air Force, but it is a problem of which, in the best interests of the Service, it is necessary and most important that a working solution should be discovered. We were able in our time to do a great deal towards a solution, and I would like to hear whether what we were doing is being continued. I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary can state that our efforts are even being improved upon.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The discussion has ranged over so large a number of subjects that in the time that I can reasonably take it will be rather difficult for me to reply to all the questions that have been asked. The House will know that there are two Motions to follow dealing with civil aviation, and that in Committee there is to be a Motion upon Vote A. The discussion so far has dealt largely with the question of civil aviation, and if I deal with that and with what has been said upon the larger question of disarmament, I hope the House will not call upon me to take up much of its time afterwards. The right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) spoke about the programme for home defence. I appreciate very much the remarks that he made upon the attitude of the Government and about the Estimates that were presented by me on behalf of the Air Ministry. He asked whether the programme of home defence at the present time represents a policy of consolidation, of better equipment and greater efficiency, or a real stop in the home defence plans. It does represent a policy of consolidation and efficiency. It will be agreed that it is necessary to look at the up-to- 1995 date equipment of the Air Force not only from the standpoint of efficiency, but also from the standpoint of the safety of the personnel. But I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, after what he said later on the subject of cheese-paring, can suggest that we are taking any unnecessary course in this policy of consolidation, when he remembers that we are putting the whole financial position upon a normal basis.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what our position is with regard to air disarmament. Our position is naturally one of sympathy, and support of all that can be done on reasonable lines to secure common action in this direction between the nations of the world; and that is a position of continuity. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we still stand for the policy that was stated by my Noble Friend in 1924. I would like to quote what my Noble Friend said in another place:The scheme -will be worked out in definite stages, but without any break in the continuity of policy. I stress the reference to stages, and I have no doubt that it may arouse some misgivings, but I do so because if some such conference as that held recently at Washington should provide for an all-round reduction of armaments, we might be able and we should be eager to take full advantage of its provision.Two years after that, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, in the memorandum introducing the Air Estimates for 1926 said:The effect of the recent decision is that in existing circumstances even this date"—he was giving a date for the proposed completion of the home defence force—need not he aimed at for the completion of the programme, and that the advances towards it in the next year or two at any rate, can be gradual and deliberate. This decision, which relates only to the rate of progress and not to the strength to he eventually attained, is open to review in accordance with the international situation, and in particular with the results of international discussions on disarmament. Apart from such contingencies, which are still in the future, the total of Air Estimates will necessarily rise considerably in future years.Those two quotations express a continuity of policy which is also represented in the Estimates which I have had the honour to present to-day. We stand precisely for that position, remembering—this is the justification for any charge of 1996 slowing down—that there has been in international relations some considerable progress even since Locarno.
I have been asked a question in reference to the Schneider Cup and as to whether there will be Government assistance either in the form of lending high speed aeroplanes or lending officers to assist the participation of this country in the next contest. I am afraid that I must give a completely negative reply. It is not proposed to give Government assistance of that kind. Every other kind of assistance that is possible will certainly be given, and there is a great amount of assistance that can be given in the way of technical advice and in other sympathetic ways; but it will not be possible either to lend machines or officers. When the right hon. Gentleman says that we are thereby leaving the contest to private enterprise, and that it is rather remarkable that a Socialist Government should do so, I would point out that it is very questionable whether any other country will be- giving Governmental support of that character in the next contest. After all, it is, moreover, a sporting contest, and of all things that is the kind that should be left to individualism and private enterprise.
I was asked a question with regard to substitution. All that I can say upon that matter is that, while I fully agree as to the possibilities of effective substitution of the air arm for other arms in various parts of the world where we have responsibilities, this is a subject which at the present moment is before the Cabinet. It is, therefore, quite impossible for me to make any definite statement as to what may be in the mind of the Air Ministry or of the Government upon this particular subject. With regard to the question of the Italian section of the route to India, it is the responsibility, after all, of Imperial Airways rather than the responsibility of the Government if they have not been able to come to a satisfactory arrangement with the Italian Government on this question. As hon. Members know, the route to Athens has been changed to an overland route, which is not so easy during the winter months as it is in the summer. Negotiations, however, are still going on with the Italian Government on the possibility of a route via Naples and Corfu. 1997 That is a sufficient answer, I think, to hon. Members who have raised that particular question. The route between London and Egypt via Italy has now been diverted, and, subject to the necessary provisions being granted by the countries concerned, will now continue via Cologne, Belgrade and Salonica. It is about 100 miles shorter, but during the present season it is necessary that some part of it, so far as passengers and mails are concerned, shall be undertaken by train.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) referred to the question of light aeroplane clubs and asked what is meant by the statement that these clubs will receive a subsidy upon the basis of what is now given to National Flying Services. The answer to that question is that any light aeroplane club which conforms to the conditions of membership and otherwise of existing subsidised clubs is at liberty to apply for official recognition as an approved club, and, if so approved, will be eligible for payment in respect of its members under the new arrangements as from the 1st April next.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
It is a question of approval, and the hon. Member will realise that there is a limitation so far as payment is concerned. The amount of £15,000 is put down in the Estimates for this purpose, but if a miracle happened and every village in the country started a light aeroplane club we should have to reconsider the situation. The aerodrome at Croydon, to which reference was made, has been the subject of some concern to the Ministry for some time, and, apart from the major alterations, to which the hon. Member referred, the condition of the surface at Croydon is not at all satisfactory. You must remember that Croydon is the air port of London, and you have very large aeroplanes landing there; and you are going to have larger ones still.
§ Major HILLS
Is it intended to fill up the very big hollow in the aerodrome at Croydon, which is big enough to hide a Handley Page biplane?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
That is rather an exaggeration, but the right hon. and 1998 gallant Member indicates the kind of work there is to do at Croydon. A sum of £6,250 is included in the Estimates for the provision of portable floodlights at five aerodromes in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, to enable flights at night to be regularly undertaken on the India route. This will mean a considerable reduction in the time it will take to travel by aeroplane to India.
§ Mr. MANDER
May I ask whether the limit of £2,000 for a light aeroplane club is going to be altered in any way?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
No, I do not think there will be alteration in the limit. It will be a grant upon the same basis as that received by National Flying Services, and the limit is to be retained. However, I will let the hon. Member know definitely the real facts of the situation. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) asked for the comparative figures of first-line machines for this country, France, Italy, the United States and Japan. These are the figures, although it must be remembered that they are only approximate—Great Britain, 770; United States, 900; France, 1,300; Italy, 1,100; and Japan 500. That shows that this country is fourth and Japan fifth. The hon. and gallant Member also asked what has been done at Farnborough during the nine months that the present Government have been in office. Farnborough is a research establishment, and it is difficult to answer a question like that in definite terms without going into a great amount of technicalities as to the kind of work in progress; and it is not always possible to indicate the exact value at any particular moment of the work being done. The Royal Air Establishment has a full-scale laboratory essential for testing and developing new ideas in aviation generally. One item of research which has given promising results during the period in question is that of fuel for airship engines, particularly the use of gas fuel in conjunction with kerosene. Research is also proceeding on the possibility of converting a standard petrol aircraft engine to a heavy oil engine as used in R.101. On aircraft there is proceeding a development of the slot system—the slot and aileron control. I extend an invitation to the hon. and gallant Member to visit the Royal Air- 1999 craft Establishment and see for himself exactly what is being done.
With regard to airships, the hon. and gallant Member gave us a new version of the proverb of putting new wine into old bottles by suggesting that it is possible, if a new bay is put into R.101, there may be peculiar torsional stress. I do not know what value there may be in that suggestion, but I will be glad to bring to the notice of the people concerned with the work that is now in progress the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member. He also suggested that it is undesirable to hurry forward test flights. We have not hurried them. In all the developments of the airship we have gone on the principle of safety, and the time taken has been much longer than we expected would be the case. The result, however, has been very satisfactory so far as the tests which have been undertaken are concerned, and the work done by both airships has proved their value from a constructional point of view if from no other.
The position of the West Indies is a very difficult matter. The Air Ministry thoroughly realise the disadvantage of leaving the West Indies to the penetration of other countries, and this has been going on. We have been trying to find ways in which it will be possible to encourage British aviation in the West Indies. We have explored a number of different proposals, and the Consultative Committee appointed by my Noble Friend to deal with the subject of civil aviation generally has been engaged in investigating the whole subject of aviation in the West Indies. There are difficulties; financial difficulties in particular. After all, inter-Colonial development of aviation is one thing, and Imperial development is another. Inter-Colonial development must depend upon the 8ytmpathy and interest of the Colonies concerned, and that interest and sympathy is best shown by their willingness to consider adequately the financial side of the question. We are anxious that the difficulties shall be overcome, and we are hopeful they will be, because the West Indies are a link between South America and our own Dominion of Canada, and, ultimately, we hope to see Dominion as well as Colonial development of civil aviation 2000 as a result of what we may be able to do.
Coming back to the question of the Royal Aircraft Establishment for a moment, I should like to say that the work that is being undertaken, and for which money is asked in the Estimates, is work that has been held up for a long time. The necessity for re-organising the Royal Aircraft Establishment has been recognised for some time. As long ago as 1924 an investigation which was made showed that a considerable amount of workshop concentration is necessary, and the work that is being done is absolutely necessary for continued efficiency and is of that nature—namely, workshop concentration rather than expenditure on new buildings or things of that character. If further details are required I shall be glad to give them.
The speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) showed, I think, an evidence of his own powers as a magician. He understands the principle of mis-direction; ho will know what I mean. He dealt with the subject of Imperial Airways and made a number of statements that I thought lacked justification. He began by speaking of the rebellion against Ibn Saud, and went on to say that Sheik Dawish had died after he had been surrendered by the Government to the King of Nejd. That has been contradicted. I do not know whether Sheik Dawish was killed, but the suggestion of the hon. Member that he was done in by Ibn Saud and that we gave him up to the King without any guarantees, is not correct. As far as the arrangements for the surrender of rebellious subjects are concerned, we did everything that could possibly have been done to guarantee their safety, and I do not think that more can be said upon that subject.
The hon. Member also raised the questions of Imperial Airways, and monopoly in information. The subject of the aircraft industry and the views which they had as to what information should be made public regarding the costs and so forth of the operation of Imperial Airways—bearing in mind that it is a subsidised company—is one which is now being considered by the Consultative Committee, and I had better ask the hon. and gallant Member to wait until the 2001 whole question has been thoroughly gone into by the committee. It certainly is not true to suggest that the reason for the accidents upon the Indian route was any lack of efficiency or lack in number of aeroplanes or pilots on the part of Imperial Airways. I must repudiate that suggestion. There is no reason to believe anything of the kind. Several meetings of the Consultative Committee have been held, and although the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) has not been present at all of them, owing to important duties undertaken by him in reference to Palestine, those meetings have been exceedingly valuable and good results are bound to come from the formation of that committee.
The hon. Member went on to speak about airships, and said that a commercial service would cost £20,000,000 to begin with. That is another very extravagant statement. I am perfectly willing to admit that at the present stage it is impossible to think of airships from the standpoint of commercial profit, but no one who knows the history of the airship programme would imagine for a moment that it was ever anticipated that airships would be running on commercial lines at this stage, or that the results of the experimental work done as part of that programme, would be available already in the form of actual commercial profit. The point is that there is plenty of evidence of the future value of airships throughout the world—a value which other countries recognise. Germany and America believe in airships and are spending more money than we are spending in developing them, and in carrying out experiments with a view to overcoming natural and special difficulties in the way of commercial development. The suggestion is made that the money which has been spent upon airships, if it had been spent on subsidising heavier-than-air craft would have done more to help the development of civil aviation. That sounds rather like the kind of argument used at the beginning of the railway era in this country, when it was said that if the money spent on the development of railways had been spent on the development of new stagecoach services, the interests of transport would have been better served. After all, the use of the air as a means of transport is in its infancy, both as regards 2002 lighter-than-air, and heavier-than-air machines.
§ Mr. MALONE
Does the hon. Gentleman compare the aeroplane and the airship with the stage coach and the railway engine?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I was comparing the type of argument used by the hon. Member with the kind of argument used by the people who did not believe in railways one hundred years ago. Then the hon. Member said, "Supposing the wind gets up." That is an indication of the kind of superficial view which is taken of this subject. I know that the hon. Member, if not an authority upon aviation, knows a great deal about the subject of airships and aviation generally, but I am surprised that he should use such a phrase as that. He says there are only four places in the world where airships can come to earth and be safe in case of gales, because of the necessity of mooring masts. I am almost tempted to answer him in the terms of Stevenson as to how much worse it might be for the cow, but as a matter of fact the airship is in a far better position than the aeroplane as far as gales are concerned. A violent gale is seldom more than 70 miles in width and with the meteorological service which is available—more available in the airship than in the biggest type of aeroplane—they are better able to deal with the position which is suggested by the phrase "supposing the wind gets up."
I am not going to take responsibility for the development of the airship programme but, as I pointed out, what the Labour Government did in 1924 was to cut down a very elaborate plan to one of comparatively small dimensions. We must do justice, however, even to the airship, and I would point out that airships are able to carry out isolated flights with loads over distances which have not yet been approached by any aeroplane; that of, approximately 425 persons who have crossed the Atlantic by air, only 25 have travelled by aeroplane, and that every airship passenger has arrived in safety. Its advantages further include the ability of the ship to remain in the air irrespective of the engines, so that ordinary running repairs can be made while in flight, the provision of adequate room for making observations and carrying out navigation while proper chart-tables and 2003 navigating instruments can be carried; in these respects, the airship has all the advantages of the seaship. By means of direction-finding wireless, the position of the ship can be ascertained with the greatest accuracy while astronomical observations and meteorological reports enable early warning to be given of the approach of unfavourable climatic conditions.
There is a great deal to do yet before we can say that the airship programme is complete, or that the airship is established as a commercial proposition, but I think it will be the general sense of the House that, if there was any time when we ought to have cut down expenses in order to avoid prospective losses this is not the time. If we ought to have done so at all, it ought to have been at an earlier stage. I do not admit that there ought to have been any cutting down, but, when we have two airships which are in themselves very fine productions, twice as big as anything that has ever been done before, airships which have proved even stronger than was anticipated, and have carried out test flights in an exceedingly satisfactory manner, it is not the time for the sake of the extra expense involved by the completion of the trials and by getting the results of the trials into the ships, to say that we shall not go on with the programme.
§ Mr. MALONE
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to misinterpret what I said. All that I advocated was an inquiry as to what the present policy is leading us to, and my hon. Friend has not come to that point at all. What are we leading up to next year?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not know that I can say that an inquiry is necessary at the present stage. Plenty of information and data are available, and whatever proposals are brought forward in future can be brought forward with a full knowledge of what can be done and with the results of the experimental work that has been done so far. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) spoke about monopoly subsidies to Imperial Airways. As a matter of fact, they are not monopolies of flying. It is possible for any commercial firm to undertake commercial flying if they regard it as advantageous. The 2004 monopoly is, of course, only a monopoly of the subsidy. Any firm cannot get a subsidy for the particular routes in question, but I would like to point out to the hon. and gallant Member that the policy of leaving competition to fight it out was tried and signally failed. The position became perfectly impossible, and the Imperial Airways consolidation, and the monopoly subsidy to which the hon. and gallant Member refers, was the outcome of the report of the Hambling Committee, which went thoroughly into what was practicable and what was not on the subject of commercial aviation at the present stage. We are hoping, of course, that eventually we shall get to a time, when Government subsidies will not be required, and when the whole business shall be run upon commercial lines. I think there is every prospect of that being realised within a reasonable number of years, but aviation has yet to be fostered by Government money if we are to stand at all in competition with the world in this important and valuable new development in transport, a development which is not only of commercial value, but, as more than one hon. Member has pointed out is of value from the standpoint of international relationships. I will take note of what the right hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) said about the possibility of a squadron for the University of London.
I would like to conclude by saying a word upon a subject that has been raised by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley). That subject will be discussed during the Committee stage as a result of an Amendment which has been put down. The speech of the hon. Member was very well phrased and logical, but I think that it was more logical than reasonable. I am quite justified in saying that, because I do not agree at all with the attitude of the hon. Member. Disarmament by progressive inefficiency is of all ways the most impossible and unreasonable. After all, if there is to be an Air Force, or any kind of' armaments, there is no argument for having it inefficient. If you want disarmament, let us know how far you want to disarm, and why; and, if you take the view that all use of defensive power is unholy and wrong, then that view is one that at least has the merit that it can be understood. The hon. Member speaks about setting 2005 an example. I suggest that the figures which I have given to the House this evening, and the recent history of the Air Force, show that this country is setting an extraordinary example in relative disarmament.
We stand for efficiency, and there is a great deal in efficiency, even more than some Members think who consider that only a gesture need be made. This country has made that gesture, and the result has not been to support the line of argument which is put forward by the hon. Member for Bootle, because, while we have at least relatively disarmed, and actually disarmed if you compare certain years with the present year, yet, when we have done that, other nations have not done the same. I disagree entirely with the point of view that it is possible for any nation to disarm without consideration of what other nations are doing. That is not the policy of the Labour party; that is not the policy of the trade unions of the country, or of the Independent Labour party, which provides the left-wingers of the Socialist movement in this House and outside. All those sections of the Labour movement in this country stand for the position for which the Government stand, and that is to recognise that we cannot disarm without international agreement, and at the same time we need not be provocative. We can do all that can possibly be done to make the gesture suggested, and to give a lead to foreign countries, but there is a point when it is necessary to consider the security of the country.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Does the hon. Gentleman consider that Germany is not as secure as need be now that she has disarmed?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am not going to be led, especially at this stage of the proceedings, into a general discussion upon disarmament, and of the points that are suggested by the interruption, except perhaps to say that, so far as aircraft is concerned, Germany is proceeding upon the civil side very fast indeed. In many ways Germany has developed far better than we in civil aviation. The position that this Government stand for is the acknowledged policy of peace and disarmament, and of doing all that can be done to get other nations to agree to disarm. The right hon. Baronet who 2006 began the Debate spoke about Geneva and the Preparatory Commission. We have taken the line which he suggests to avoid complications as much as possible. We wanted to get an agreement by which there should be limitation simply upon the first-line strength. That has been found to be impossible owing to the attitude of other countries, and the strength has to be considered in conjunction with horse power, which makes it a much more difficult and complicated problem. If the hon. Member for Bootle realised all the complications there are in this problem of international peace I do not think he would speak quite so freely as he does about the possibility of disarmament by gesture.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I have put a lot of questions to the hon. Member, and I will not press him for an answer, but I would ask for an assurance in connection with one matter. I would like to know what is being done with a view to securing appointments for short-service officers at the end of their service and whether the position is improving.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The situation is improving, and, if the right hon. Gentleman desires it, I will give him full particulars when we reach that particular Vote in Committee.