§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. Montague)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of this Bill is to give the President of the Air Council, the Secretary of State for Air for the time being, statutory authority to enter into long-term agreements to spend by way of subsidies up to £1,000,000 in any year for the next 10 years. The Bill enables the Secretary of State to make these agreements for the purpose of civil air transport, whatever policy may be adopted, although no change of policy is anticipated. The Bill simply regularises the position regarding these agreements where previously there was some slight doubt. I would like to point out to the House that there is no proposal to give the President of the Air Council an open cheque limited to £1,000,000—if the House will excuse an Irishism—for the expenditure of that amount on subsidies. The amount is entirely a covering amount, and is a gross figure. It includes Appropriations-in-Aid, for instance, in the case of the Cape to Cairo service. I might mention that these Appropriations will amount to more than 68 per cent. of the cost of subsidies. It will be seen, therefore, that it will be quite impossible, at any rate for some years, for the President of the Air Council to spend the whole subsidies or even as much as the £1,000,000, except in so far as those subsidies do include these particular Appropriations. The covering figure of £1,000,000 is estimated in the light of possible and hoped-for future developments in civil aviation.
As we had a very full Debate upon the Financial Resolution, the ground being very fully covered, and I made a fairly long statement in moving the Financial Resolution and in replying to the Debate, I hope that we may have the Second Reading of this Bill without undue expenditure of time, particularly as I believe it to be in essence a Bill that is agreed to by all sections of the House.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
On the Financial Resolution of this Bill I ventured to make the criticism that it was unnecessary to ask the House to give the Air Ministry powers it already possesses. This afternoon, I do not propose to return to that line of criticism, but to make one or two observations upon other aspects raised by the Bill. First, let me congratulate the Under-Secretary and the Government upon yet another example of their their flight from Free Trade. Here we see the Government doubling the subsidies, or, anyhow, enabling the Secretary of State for Air to double the subsidies to a new infant industry, the air transport industry. What a curious example of the confused economical theories in which the Government have lost themselves! To-day they ask the House to give them authority to double these protective subsidies for air transport, at the very time when they are proposing to take away not dissimilar help from other industries such as the lace industry in Nottingham. But to-day I do not linger upon that side of the question, and I do not desire to be drawn into it any further.
The Bill, as the Under-Secretary has just said, empowers the Secretary of State for Air to make long-term agreements for the support of air transport with a maximum expenditure of £1,000,000 a year. That is to say, we are asked to-day, if not to authorise the expenditure of £1,000,00C a year, at any rate to envisage the possibility of an expenditure of £1,000,000 a year during the next 10 years. In the present Air Estimates the actual expenditure that we have been asked to vote amounts only to £428,000. If, therefore, the Bill becomes law, an expenditure is contemplated of more than double that amount. I am glad to think that the Government and the Treasury now contemplate so great an increase to the expenditure in support of civil air transport.
This afternoon, I want the Under-Secretary of State for Air and those Members of the House who are particularly interested in the question of civil aviation, to ask themselves the question how this great increase in civil aviation expenditure is actually going to be spent during the period of time in which this Bill gives the Secretary of State for Air power to make agreements with air transport 1657 companies. I imagine that the Government, by inserting the figure of £1,000,000 in the Bill, and I imagine that the Air Ministry, by accepting that figure, have in their minds some definite view as to how this money is likely to be expended. This afternoon I should like to ask the Under-Secretary some rather more detailed questions than we were able to ask on the Financial Resolution, and to let him take the House into his confidence as to what lines of policy are behind the actual terms of this Bill. For instance, I should like him to tell the House what new air lines he has in his mind as fitting objects for the increase in subsidy that is contemplated under the Bill? At present, the Imperial Airways Company has a monopoly of subsidy, if not a monopoly of operation, over the main European lines, over the line to India and over the contemplated line to Cape Town. I imagine that the Government have no intention of breaking the agreement that at present exists with the company, and that, therefore, they do not contemplate, under this Bill, subsidising other services upon these three main Imperial Airways lines. But I should like, before the end of the Debate, the Under-Secretary to give us a definite answer upon that point.
Then, assuming that there is no intention of subsidising services over lines that are already subsidised, are there any other services that the Government actually have in mind at the present time? For instance, one of my hon. Friends the other day asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what was the intention of the Government in connection with the proposed civil air service in the West Indies. The Under-Secretary said that, unfortunately, the West Indies were very hard up, and while the Government viewed the project with sympathy, little or nothing could be actually done for that service. It is rather hard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should leave the West Indies to drift on towards bankruptcy, should suggest no possibility of helping their finances, and yet the Under-Secretary comes down here and says that, because the West Indies are so hard up, they can do nothing for this West Indian line. In any case, we should like to hear, before the end of the Debate, in some-what greater detail than we heard the 1658 other day, what really the Government do intend to do with a service that has now been under consideration for a great many years.
Then there is a second suggestion, which has been made many times in the past, to start an air service to South Africa, not along the central or eastern routes, but along the western route, and to take on its way the West African Dependencies of the British Empire—a very useful service, and a flying line already opened some years ago by Sir Alan Cobham. Will the Under-Secretary tell us during the Debate whether this is one of the lines that it is contemplated to subsidise when the Government have their powers of spending twice the amount of subsidies which they possess to-day?
There is a third line about which I should like to ask for some information, for it raises a point of a different kind. Do the Government under this Bill contemplate subsidising air lines outside the British Empire? I mean by that, do they contemplate subsidising an air line like the air line across the Southern Atlantic from this country to South America? From the point of view of trade and traffic, there is a great deal to be said for subsidising a service of that kind, and I should very much like to hear the views of the Government upon the subject during the course of this Debate.
There is the question which was raised at some length by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) on the Financial Resolution of subsidising internal air lines in Great Britain. I have never disguised that I have never thought that, when there is only a limited amount of money at the disposal of the Air Ministry, it is wise to attempt to subsidise short distance air lines over these shores when it is remembered that they would have such keen competition with other highly developed methods of transport. But now they are contemplating an expenditure of twice the present amount of expenditure in civil aviation, I should like to hear the views of the hon. Member upon the question. It may be that now we contemplate spending twice the amount of money on civil subsidies, there may be an opportunity of subsidising a line, say, for instance, between Ireland 1659 and Liverpool and London, for which I have always thought there is some justification. It may now be possible to contemplate a line of that kind when within an expenditure of £300,000 or £400,000 a year such a project would have been impracticable.
I am sorry to weary the hon. Member with so many questions, but they all bear very directly upon the considerations raised by this Bill. There is the question of air transport by airship. The hon. Member told us the other day upon the Financial Resolution that it was contemplated in the Resolution and under the Bill, supposing a practicable project came forward, to include subsidies to airships in this general authority, the Subsidies to Air Transport. I am aware that as far as airships are concerned we are still in the experimental stage. The two airships upon which we have spent so large a sum of money and to which we have devoted so much research work and so many operational experiments during the last five or six years are only now taking their first flights. I understand, however, that in the next few months it is proposed that one of them should fly across the Atlantic to Canada and that the other should make a flight to India. Like every Member of the House, I hope that the experiment is going to succeed. I hope that these flights are going to be carried out with safety and comfort, and I agree that even after these flights a further series of experimental flights will have to be arranged.
But I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to-day, for I suppose he has a clear objective in his mind as to the airship policy in the future, what he intends to be the next stage? Supposing these experiments succeed—and I am one of those who believe they are going to succeed—what is going to be the next step? We want to avoid a gap between the experimental stage and the operational stage of a regular airship service. How does he propose to bridge that gulf and how does he propose to bring airships, as he suggested the other day upon the Financial Resolution, into the scope of this Bill?
When I was at the Air Ministry I had always contemplated that as soon as the experimental flights had been completed we should do everything in our power 1660 to transfer airship development to commercial interests. It seemed to me that when an enterprise was as new and uncharted, as was the development of airships, the sooner the Government could get out of it and the sooner private enterprise could come into it the better for everyone concerned, and the more likely that the experiment would succeed. I therefore contemplated that about the stage that has now been reached in airship development we should begin to consider the possibility of creating an Empire Airship Transport Company. I say particularly an Empire company. I am sure that everyone who has studied the question of airships will agree with me that it is most important to spread the expense and the knowledge and experience as wide as possible, otherwise the overhead charges of an airship service will be so great that I am very much afraid that no single company will be prepared to face them. It costs a sum of about £150,000 to build an airship shed and it costs about £75,000 to build an airship mast. Overhead charges are so high that they would weigh down any airship service that was started upon a narrow foundation. I hoped, therefore, to do what was possible to start an Empire airship service for regular airship transport between London and the Dominions and between one Dominion and another. I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State to-day whether that still is the general policy of the Air Ministry under this Bill, and, if it is not the general policy under this Bill, what is their policy for the next stage in airship development?
Important as these specific questions are in connection with air transport and in connection with the authority which the Government are asking under this Bill, they do not seem to be as important as one or two questions of an even more general character. The Bill envisages a period of 10 years. Ten years may seem a comparatively short time but it is a very long time in the history of aviation. It is about half the whole period of the life of air transport. During the last 10 years we have seen many startling changes in the field of air transport. What kind of changes do the Government contemplate are going to take place in the next 10 years during the existence of this Bill? At present we have a limited number of civil air liners plying regularly over two or three air lines. 1661 They have built up for themselves in the country and in the world a remarkable good will. They have a fine record for regularity, punctuality and safety, but no one, not even the keenest adherent of civil air transport—and I would venture to number myself amongst the keen adherents of air transport—would say that we should be satisfied with the present state of affairs or that the experiments we have made during the last two years justify us in saying that air transport has revolutionised the whole system of Empire transport. We have built the foundations. We have gone, on the whole, slow. I think that in the early days we were wise in going slow. We first had to show to the world that an aeroplane could start definitely at a regular time and that it could carry passengers and freight comfortably to a given destination, and return to these shores at a regular and definite time. But that is only the first stage in the enterprise upon which we are engaged. I should be very sorry if, during the years contemplated under this Bill, the progress of the next 10 years proved to be as slow as the progress of the last 10 years.
So far we have had what I thought was wise in the early days of civil air transport—a system of monopoly. We found that when the Government were subsidising a number of civil air transport companies all that they were doing was subsidising competition against themselves. I therefore had no doubt during the time that I was responsible at the Air Ministry that in the early days of the development of civil air transport this system of monopoly was the wisest system, and I was supported by the fact that most of the countries of Europe had in recent years followed our example. But I am most anxious during the next 10 years that the existence of this monopoly should not mean monotony, and that the fact that we have concentrated on one or two specific points should not mean that during the next 10 years there should not be a greater variety of operations and a greater diversity of experiment than has been possible in the last 10 years. Let me suggest to the Under-Secretary certain ways in which I believe this increased expenditure could be well devoted to stimulating variety and diversity for insuring a much quicker progress during the next 10 years than has been possible in the last 10 years.
1662 At present there are about 30 British air liners flying backwards and forwards between certain given points carrying passengers, mails and freight. They carry them at no very great speed, the average speed is something under 100 miles an hour. Although great improvements have been made in recent years they do not carry passengers in any great comfort as compared with a modern train or an Atlantic liner. They are still noisy, the cabins are narrow, and there is the inconvenience—a very difficult matter inded, I admit—that the aerodrome is very often a long way from the point to which the passengers are going. I should be very sorry if all that happened as a result of this Bill was a doubling of the subsidy to existing services and that this state of affairs, although it compares well with systems in other parts of the world, should jog on during the next 10 years without any material change. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that with the greater powers behind him, and in view of the fact that the Treasury contemplate the possibility of spending more than double the amount we are spending now, he should devote a substantial part of this sum to the encouragement of new experiments with a view to trying out, first, new kinds of service and, secondly, new methods of operation.
Let me take, first, new methods of operation. I suggest that he would be very wise to devote a substantial amount to encouraging diversities of types of machines and diversities of services. Now we have a general omnibus machine attempting to carry out duties of all kinds. The Under-Secretary will do well to make the experiment and differentiate between passenger services and mail services upon some given line. The existing machines only go 100 miles an hour, they travel by stages of not more than 300 and 400, at the utmost 500 miles, and they do not fly by night. From the point of view of the mail services, the post is not gaining the advantages which it really might gain under a much quicker kind of service. The Under-Secretary would do well to devote some of this money to an experiment on mail services with small, quick machines, which go at the pace of several of the military machines now actually in service and on which I have made many long distance flights. They 1663 should travel at the rate of not less than 150 miles an hour, for longer stages of 700 miles, instead of 300 or 400 miles; and, let me point this out, that you will avoid some of the complications connected with landing in foreign countries if you have these longer stages, and they should fly by night, which is very important. With a service of that kind, exclusively for mails, tried out experimentally under this Bill, it would be found that mails could be taken to and from India in about 36 hours instead of the six, seven or eight days now taken by the passenger service. Further, if a similar mail-carrying experiment was tried in the case of South Africa, I believe it would be possible to take British mails to South Africa and bring the South African mail back here in not more than 72 hours for each journey. That is a valuable experiment, and I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that it is one of the experiments contemplated under this Bill now that there is more money at the disposal of the Air Ministry.
There is a further side to this problem. Just as I would try out an experiment with mail carrying so I would try out an experiment for making passenger lines a great deal more attractive and popular than they are at the present time. Only a limited number of men and women travel on air liners and, although improvement has been made, the number of passengers is still a great deal less than many of us hoped would have been the case. With these increased subsidies it would be extremely wise to insist upon the development of much bigger and more comfortable passenger machines than are at present in operation. We have now a good deal of data at our disposal upon the question of passenger machines and the time has come when experiments might be made with an air line for instance down the West Coast of Africa by big flying boats, in which we can offer much greater advantages to the ordinary passenger by air than have been possible during the last few years. I say particularly by flying boats. I know that it is a question of controversy between experts, but I have always thought that the really big machine of the next 10 years will be a flying boat rather than a land machine.
1664 During the time I was at the Air Ministry, we built one or two big land machines and we were always faced with the practical difficulty of their great weight and the strain upon the wheels when they landed, and with the difficulty of finding land aerodromes sufficiently big for really large machines to land and take off. Side by side with these experiments we made other experiments with bigger flying boats, and I think we have now sufficient data to make a really long step forward, perhaps not during next year but at any rate during the period in which this Bill will be in operation. I should like to see this experimental passenger service started down the West Coast of Africa—I take that as a useful and practicable kind of service—with flying boats that will take nut 10 or 12 people, but 30 or 40, and at the end of 10 years, an even greater number of passengers.
Further, and this is the last suggestion I shall make to the House, there is the problem which I hope will not be ignored when the Government comes to decide the allocation of the subsidies under this Bill, and that is the problem of getting the ordinary passenger from the capital, from London for instance, to the point where the machine is actually going to start upon its long distance Empire service. It may be said that if the development of the next 10 years is going to be to a large extent upon the really big flying boat that the inconvenience to the ordinary passenger will be greater in the future than in the past, and that instead of having to go by car from London to Croydon, he will have to go to Southampton, or Liverpool, or Portsmouth, or whichever port from which the flying boat service actually starts. I am aware of that difficulty, and I suggest to the Under-Secretary that under these subsidies he should find a place for experimenting with air taxis, a small machine, with great controllability, which can rise and descend in a very small space, and which could take a passenger from the centre of a great city to the aerodrome or the port from which the long distance service actually starts.
So constantly has this side of the subject been in my mind that for several years I took a close interest in the development of various experimental 1665 machines that might, if the experiment were successful, be extremely useful as air taxis, flying for services such as I have mentioned. For instance, there is the machine known as the autogyro which can rise and descend almost vertically, and which might make possible an air taxi service between London and the port of emigration. We have already shown in the Fleet air arm that it is possible for high speed machines to land safely and take off from the deck of ships themselves going at great speed. The problem of flying an autogyro in a comparatively small space in the centre of London, and landing again when the autogyro returns in the same spot, is really a much simpler problem than that of landing a high speed Fleet bomber on the floating deck of an aircraft carrier. I suggest, therefore, that the Air Ministry will be wise to contemplate a substantial expenditure upon further experiments with machines such as the autogyro.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I would make the experiment by actually making the service. I do not think a single experiment would be sufficient. I would also suggest that with such questions as the future of Charing Cross bridge and Charing Cross railway station coming up for consideration, he should, in connection with the future of air transport, make strong representations to the Ministry of Transport and to the various authorities concerned that an opportunity should be given for the construction of some big flat roof, or other space which would make possible such an air taxi service as I have mentioned.
I have purposely covered a wide field in dealing with this Bill, because it is a Bill which envisages expenditure not for this year or for next year but for a period as long as 10 years. It is vitally important that every Member of the House who is interested in the development of civil aviation should ask himself how he thinks that development should take place, and how that money can be most wisely spent during the 10 years in which the Act will be in operation. What I want to avoid, and what I believe every hon. Member wants to avoid, is civil aviation subsidies degenerating into 1666 nothing more than a dole to keep alive one, two or more civil transport companies during a period of years, and then as the 10 years run out, the Air Minister of the day, whoever he may be, coming here and saying: "I must have another 10 years' Act, and I must have another long period of subsidies, because we are no further on towards making civil aviation self-supporting than we were when the subsidies started."
In a matter of this kind we have to take a long view of the future and to insist, in the interests of the taxpayers and of every one who is really keen about civil aviation, that this money which we are asked to authorise to-day should be used not as a dole for keeping alive this or that air transport company, but as a temporary stimulus which year after year will help to make civil air transport more self-supporting, so that at the end of the period no further subsidies will be needed. To-day, we have much data upon which we can base our views of the future. We have a very good record in the field of operations. We stand perhaps the highest in the world in the matter of safety and reliability. We have first class ground organisation over the routes already in existence, and we have the best pilots in the world. What we wish to see is a development upon these foundations which, during the next 10 years, will make progress much faster than has been possible in the first chapter of the history of civil flying, so that at the end of the 10 years no further Bill will be necessary, and civil aviation will be economic and paying for itself without Government subsidy.
§ Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I was very glad that the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) did not pursue the argument that the subsidy to air transport was analogous to the safeguarding of the lace industry, and compel me to point out the complete absence of any analogy between the subsidisation of air transport and the Nottingham by-election. The right hon. Gentleman asked certain very pertinent questions. He asked us to consider what is going to be the development of air transport in the next 10 years. That is the important question to which we have to turn our minds to-day, and on which we have to press the Under-Secretary of State to give us some indication of what is in the 1667 minds of the Air Ministry. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House will oppose this Bill. The Bill gives the Government power to enter into contracts for the next 10 years, amounting to £1,000,000 a year. Many of us have consistently urged that, in the development of air work, where you are developing a new service and a new industry you must have long-term contracts. For that reason, I am sure that the settlement of orders spread over a long period—it might also apply to military aviation with very great benefit—will be of great benefit to trade and industry.
We want to know to-day, on broad lines, what are the future developments on heavier-than-air lines that the Air Ministry have in mind, what increase, if any, there is to be of the subsidies to the existing contractors, the Imperial Airways, and what new air lines the Air Ministry expect to be put into operation during the next 10 years. Further, how much of this £10,000,000 is to be devoted to lighter-than-air craft? I have seen no indication in what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, or in the remarks made during the discussion on the Financial Resolution a few days ago, of any great development in regard to heavier-than-air craft. On the Air Estimates, a few months ago, I pointed out that we were losing our position in many quarters of the globe where air transport is going to be a subject of tremendous development. For example, in South America and also in the United States of America they are running regular passenger services practically round the whole continent, certainly round South America. There are French and German companies already there, but there is not a single British company and, as far as I am aware, there is not a single attempt being made for British companies to operate in South America.
Then there is the route to the Far East. It is in these long-distance routes that the greatest development in aircraft is going to take place. I have always contended that there is very little value in developing the route between London and Paris. There is no time factor of any value in that service, but when you get to these long-distance routes, you get tremendous advantage in the time factor 1668 by the development of such routes. As far as the routes to the Far East are concerned, either across Siberia or any extension of the routes to India, either Russian and German services in the first case, or French services in the other, are getting in first, and in fact are the only companies in the field. There is another recent development which I should like the Under-Secretary to consider, and that is the transatlantic route. We cannot fly across the Atlantic regularly with heavier-than-air craft, and airships are not likely to fly across the Atlantic regularly for years, if ever they do fly regularly across the Atlantic.
The use of aircraft in connection with transatlantic steamship services means a saving in time of many hours. That service is already being operated by other countries. Over a year ago the French Messageries Maritimes first carried out experiments on these lines, and only last week it was announced that two of the latest Atlantic liners, the Bremen and the Europa, intend to make this a regular practice in their translatlantic service. When their ships arrive 300 miles west of Lands End they will launch aeroplanes as a regular part of the routine service. These aeroplanes will deliver mails in Berlin, and will also stop at the air station in Southampton, with the result that they will probably be two days ahead of the mail service delivered by the liner itself. What is the Air Ministry doing about this service? Is it in touch with any of the great British steamship companies? Has the Air Minister approached the Cunard Line or the White Star Line to see whether anything can be done with regard to the existing ships of those lines, or is he getting into touch with those companies to see whether in the new ships that both companies are laying down—the gigantic ocean Leviathans of 50,000 or more tons which are reported to be about to be laid down—something can be incorporated in their design to admit of aeroplanes flying from the ships as part of their regular routine when they arrive 300 or 400 miles from this country?
What is the policy of the Air Ministry in regard to the air routes already in operation? Take the India route. The right hon. Member for Chelsea, quite rightly, paid tribute to the regularity with which the India route is being operated, 1669 but anyone who examines the figures cannot fail to see that the India route is doing very badly, commercially. The gain to commercial interests in Bombay and Calcutta is not sufficiently good to justify the payment of the extra money, and there have been far too many accidents, far too many breakdowns, due, I believe, to the fact that I pointed out in this House two years ago, that there are inadequate machines and pilots on this route. There is nothing experimental in the development of air routes. It is more or less purely a question of money. We have machines that can fly under almost any conditions, that will carry any sort of load, passengers or goods, that will fly by night as well as day; we have seaplanes, we have plant for every purpose, and the only factors that are preventing development over the new routes in South America or new routes across Siberia or in continuation of the India route are not technical difficulties but the initiatve of the Air Ministry and the spending of money.
Before we give the Air Ministry sanction to enter into contracts amounting to £1,000,000 a year for 10 years, we ought to know what new routes the Air Ministry have in contemplation, and what increases they contemplate in the existing routes in order to make them more useful to the commercial and private people who use them—particularly the routes to India and Australia—has the Air Ministry in contemplation. We ought to be told also what has happened to the Consultative Committee. Last year that Committee was appointed—I think the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) is a member of the Committee—to go into the whole question of civil air transport. What has that Committee done? What conclusions have they come to? Have they presented a report to the Air Ministry and, if so, will the report be published? If they have been examining this question they must have produced by this time a very useful report. It seems rather strange and treating the matter hardly seriously that one member of the Committee, the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) should have been appointed to another Commission, which necessitated spending his time in Palestine. It 1670 seemed to those of us who are outside, that the Civil Aviation Consultative Committee were not really treating the matter seriously.
There is an even more serious question to which I would call attention, and that is the amount of money which the Air Ministry intend to spend upon lighter-than-air craft in the next 10 years. My suspicions that the Air Ministry have a policy in mind in this respect are confirmed by a report which appeared in the official organ of the Government this morning—The "Daily Herald." My hon. Friends will agree that the "Daily Herald" is never wrong, that it is always accurate in what it puts forward. I find from the "Daily Herald" this morning that the Government is about to launch into a new airship policy. They are going to build a new airship, to be called R.102, which will be bigger and faster than the other two airships, and they are going to start a new method of airship mooring masts. I have been always suspicious that the Air Ministry were contemplating some development of this sort, and now we have confirmation of it.
Before we pass the Second Reading of this Bill, we ought to know a great deal more about the details of the airship programme which is being prepared. If we are going to launch out into a seven million cubic feet airship, that money is going to be poured down the sink. The right hon. Member for Chelsea spoke about R.100 and R.101 as being in the experimental stage. I think that is quite true. It is also quite true to say that anyone who looks upon the airship question with an unbiased mind must realise that R.100 and R.101 are failures, both commercially and technically. They are failures commercially, because they cannot carry a load which will make them pay commercially.
That would not matter if these two airships were likely to be of any benefit from the technical point of view, but those of us who have watched their development must realise that R.100 and R.101 are also failures technically. For instance, they are unable to fly fast enough to enable them to make any long-distance flight with success in any wind other than a light breeze or a dead calm. What is the good of an airship of that sort to take out for commercial purposes? 1671 Moreover they cannot get out of their sheds except when it is practically a flat calm. As we saw the other day, when there was little wind, one of the airships at Cardington was damaged when being brought out of its shed. They cannot land, except at two or three places in the world, where mooring masts costing £75,000 have been erected. In that respect, they are very far behind the German Zeppelin airship, which will land anywhere where there are landing facilities.
If anyone doubts that these two airships are a failure, I would remind them that the man who designed the airships and who was responsible for energising three Governments to spend over £2,000,000 on these airships has now turned King's evidence, and has described the failure of these two airships in a book which he has written. No one could be a better judge of their possibilities than the man who designed them and forced three Governments to spend over £2,000,000 in putting his policy into operation. He, surely, is the one man who ought to know. What does he say? He says that these airships are failures, and that the public ought to realise that they are failures, and face the fact. He says that the only possibility of building an airship with any chance of success is to build an airship twice the size of R.100 and R.101—an airship of 10,000,000 cubic feet capacity, and invent an entirely new method of mooring them, something like a floating dock. I understand, according to the report which appears in the newspaper this morning and according to my own inside information, that some of the Air Ministry experts agree with Commander Sir Denistoun Burney. They agree that the present airships are failures and that you must start again and build airships very much bigger.
The difference of opinion between the Air Ministry experts and Sir Denistoun Burney is this, that the Air Ministry know that they cannot come before this House and ask for approval to build a 10,000,000 cubic feet airship, because that means rebuilding all the airship sheds all over the world, but they realise that you can probably get a 7,000,000 cubic feet airship inside the existing sheds so long as the wind does not blow or, at any rate, does not blow in the wrong direc- 1672 tion. Therefore, I understand that the Air Ministry are in favour of going on with a scheme half-way between an airship which has been proved a failure and the airship which Sir Denistoun Burney thinks will be a success. In other words, the Air Ministry are proposing to build very soon, when they can get approval, a 7,000,000 cubic feet airship. I suggest that one of the reasons for scrapping the old programme and saying that they have achieved certain results by the experiments and then putting forward a new proposal, is in order to carry on the bluff for another two or three years. There is no justification whatever for launching out in this way, and I hope that before the House passes the Second Reading of this Bill enabling the Air Ministry to enter into contracts for the spending of £10,000,000 of public money during the next 10 years, we shall get an assurance that no policy of the sort I have mentioned is contemplated.
The Air Ministry has what I might call the airship complex. It is advised on these matters by interested people. It turns to people who are doing very well in the development of airships within the limited resources they have at their disposal. I pay them full compliment for what they have done at Cardington and Howden, but they are fighting against forces which they cannot overcome, and I suggest again, as I have suggested before, that before any more money is spent on these gas bags the Air Ministry ought to take outside technical advice. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will review the whole position before the Bill is read a Second time. We must know what is in his mind in regard to heavier-than-air craft. What new routes does he propose? On what increased augmentation of existing routes is the money to be spent? What is the Air Ministry's view about the future of airships, or lighter-than-air craft? Before we give the powers that are asked for in this Bill we want to be quite certain that this country is getting its money's worth out of expenditure upon a service which is going to develop the facilities for trade and commerce and to be a big factor in bringing the nations of the world together.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
When the Under-Secretary of State moved the Second Reading of the Bill, his words 1673 were that "no change of policy is remotely anticipated." One could not help feeling, when we are asked to authorise the spending of something double the amount that is being spent to-day, that that announcement of the hon. Member calls for thorough examination.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
When I referred to no change of policy, I meant no change of policy in regard to subsidies, which is all that this Bill has to do with.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
I accept the hon. Member's explanation and apologise if I misconstrued his statement. At the same time when we are discussing the Second Reading of this Bill, one cannot but feel that when history is written we may be blessed for some of the things that we have done, and it is very likely that prayers will not be offered for our sins of commission but because we did not know what we might have done. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) showed an enormous appreciation in his wide survey of the possibilities of air development which may take place, and which we ought to investigate from every point of view, and in regard to which we have a right to an answer from the Under-Secretary of State. Up to date we have gone, as we have done on a great many other things, much on the lines of least resistance. When we started an aeroplane service it was between London and Paris. Then it went from London to Switzerland, then from Switzerland, and finally to India, and now the talk is of extending it, a little late in the day, I cannot help thinking, from India to Australia.
We have never, as it were, taken the sphere of the world and put our fingers upon the points of strategically-known commercial communications and said: "There, and there and there are the lines upon which the world's air communications are going to develop, and that is where we want to get in first." Take the island's between Australia and India, or take the air communications of the West Indies, which were referred to the other day by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). It is obvious that the great commercial communication lines of the future must centre on such islands as these, situated as they are between great continents and between great com- 1674 mercial centres. It is worth while risking more money and applying more money to envisage, with real imagination, some hope for the future, to get an air service where we in this country will have been the pioneers and will have had the first whack of prosperity that may be coming.
The right hon. Member for Chelsea also pointed out the complexity of air services, and the hon. Member who has just sat down did the same thing. When I started farming, I thought there was such a thing as a dual purpose cow, and that she could be milked and fattened. I gradually found, to my cost, that there are two lines of development—beef and milk. When you come to aeroplanes, you cannot really make an effective compromise, except at a great price, to get an air service that will both carry passengers and mails with equal success, and the price is not worth paying. In America, to-day there are immense developments purely and entirely on the principle of paying for your mail rather than your passengers. For instance, this summer I wanted, in a hurry, to get from Chicago to New York. One would have thought these great cities would be the first cities in America to encourage passenger service. Such a service was not in existence, and they would not carry passengers on their air mail service. The air mail service went there coûte que coûte, and they did not take the risk of carrying passengers. Right through America they have an enormous commercial air mail service flying by night, flying under all conditions and in all weathers, with the routes lit from start to finish.
For these reasons, we have a right to know whether there is any idea in the mind of the Under-Secretary of State for development not necessarily in this country but throughout the countries where we have the right to fly and a right to demand a future for civil aviation. Canada has not been mentioned to-day. Surely, Canada, as a link between the Far East and ourselves, is a country where there is more need, because there are fewer road communications and fewer rail communications, than in any other of our Dominions, for a great air service and a great air policy. Here is a chance for us to step in, and to step in with imagination, with the help of the Canadians. The Canadians we have 1675 just heard to our gratitude have given us an enormous preference in their tax arrangements. We are debarred, through various ca-uses into which one need not enter, from giving them anything like the same preference in our trade, but we can, with a view to developing our air transport subsidise Canadian and British air services and help to establish commercial communications over the whole of that vast hinterland in the North of Canada, which is largely forest and lake, and where air communications is, to-day, practically the only possible means of communicating with efficiency and speed.
There is another point of view which has not been stressed and that is the desirability not only of getting into the air services of the world but of getting in with machines of our own manufacture. To-day we have the reputation of building machines as good as any in the world, and there is a great opportunity here—just as was the case with the motor industry 20 years ago—for expansion and for finding new avenues of employment for our people. It is worth while considering a system of subsidies directed towards the factory just as much as towards the actual manipulation of the air services. We should encourage the development of the mass production of commercial aircraft. Mr. Ford has seen the possibilities of mass production in America, and there are also great possibilities for us in regard to the mass production of aeroplanes to provide the means of intercommunication in such places as the North of Canada. If we step in now, we might develop an industry there far greater than we could ever have at home. At home we have telephone lines, and electric power lines running Criss-cross all over the country; we have high hedges, small fields and a foggy climate, all of which militate against what is called, in the jargon of the times "air mindedness." I cannot help feeling that our air power of the future must lie outside as well as inside this country and in the linking up of the scattered parts of the Empire throughout the world. Our great merchant navy has become absolutely necessary to us as a people dependent on imports and surely the time is not far off when a great merchant air navy will be just as necessary to us.
1676 It has been reckoned that if one takes the coast lines which the British Empire has to defend, and the lines of communication which we have to maintain for commercial purposes, our naval needs are equal to those of the United States, France, Italy and Japan combined. That there may be various fallacies in the reckoning I am willing to admit, but that that sort of comparison is at all possible in the case of the Navy, surely makes it imperative that we should look to the future and to the time when it will be necessary for our air service to be developed as highly as our great merchant navy is developed to-day. We have been told, rightly, that safety and reliability are the key-notes of the air service which we have already built up. To-day we have some 28 machines as our commercial air fleet. We have an airship tied by a nose-ring to a post, like a bull at a fair—or two airships—but that is the total of which we can boast to-day. When we look at the enormous developments which have taken place in Europe, the United States and South America during the last year or two, surely it seems time that we added to the motto of "safety and reliability" that of "adventure and foresight."
§ Major MILNER
A few questions arise in connection with this Bill, concerning which many hon. Members on this side of the House would like further information. I understand that the Bill proposes to pay subsidies and "to furish facilities" to those "persons" who enter into agreements to run regular services of aircraft. Are these subsidies to be limited to private enterprise—to companies and individuals who run these services—or have the Government any idea of public or semi-public services to which such subsidies will also be paid? There is no definition of "persons" in the Bill. For instance, have the Government any idea of setting up an organisation on the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation, or is it merely proposed to subsidise those organisations which are at present running aircraft services? The obligation to pay subsidies is, apparently, limited to those who run services. There appears to be no provision for local authorities who are willing, at considerable expense, to provide aerodromes. At present many municipal authorities are keen to have their cities in the fore- 1677 front of developments in flying, but the only help which the Air Ministry gives is to extend advice and technical assistance. We know that the Director of Civil Aviation is active in going round the country and "boosting" flying, and endeavouring, quite properly, to prevail on local authorities to provide aerodromes. In point of fact, at the present moment there does not appear to be a sufficient number of people sufficiently interested in flying to take advantage of these aerodromes if they are provided.
I should like to know if these subsidies are also to be made available to local authorities who, if not willing to provide regular services, are at any rate willing to provide aerodromes? For a good many months the councils of Leeds and Bradford have been desirous of providing an aerodrome. The Air Ministry have advised as to a site and, indeed, have promised to license more than one site. The advice of Sir Alan Cobham and other authorities has also been obtained, and the hesitation of the municipality is due solely to the fact that financial conditions in that part of the country are not good and it is doubtful whether the provision of £20,000 or more is worth while in the present stage of aviation development. If these subsidies could be made available for local authorities, I am sure that development would proceed more quickly. Then I should like to ask, if these subsidies are to be given only to private enterprise, what control will the Air Ministry exercise over the companies or individuals running these services? Do they propose to lay down conditions, and, if so, what are the conditions?
One knows that at present subsidies are being paid to limited companies carrying on flying services in this country, and I understand that the Air Ministry have very little control over those companies. Those companies are offering wholly inadequate terms to local authorities in respect of the provision of aerodromes. Apparently they are only willing to pay a rent of 2 per cent. or something of that sort, and, as regards the provision of buildings, they are only willing to pay the municipalities some 4 per cent. of the sum which the municipalities have to put down to provide the buildings. If subsidies are going to be given, will the Air Ministry have some 1678 control over these concerns and will they be in a position to insist upon these concerns making fair bargains with local authorities? That is the essential thing to my mind.
I should also like to know if it is the policy of tine Air Minister to license aerodromes, however close together they may be, or do they exercise some control in regard to the provision of aerodromes so that there shall not be competition between neighbouring authorities? I suggest to the Under-Secretary that it would be right and proper, and would meet with favour from the greater portion of the membership of this House, if we had some indication that the Ministry intended to ensure greater public control than exists at present in these matters. Such an indication would encourage a good many of us to vote for these subsidies to private concerns even in the present stage of the development of flying. I think it is the general desire that the Ministry should exercise adequate and proper control in the interests of all those with whom these companies have to make arrangements, in the interests of the public authorities, and in the interests of those who desire to make use of the services.
§ Mr. BAILLIE-HAMILTON
I wish to ask the House, in the first place, for that indulgence which is always extended on the occasion of a maiden speech, and I guarantee at the beginning of my speech that I will not take up more of the time of the House than I can help. In fact, I would not have intervened at all in this Debate had it not been that, having listened to the speeches made when the Financial Resolution was first introduced, there remains in my mind a certain feeling of doubt as to the working of this subsidy. I listened with great interest to the speeches made on the Financial Resolution, and I could not agree with the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), when he said that he considered the Resolution unnecessary. It seems to me to be a vital thing for civil aviation in this country that it should have as much publicity and as much advancement as possible. That is why I welcome most heartily that particular Resolution.
I do not think I am alone when I say that I consider that civil aviation in this country needs more encouragement than 1679 anywhere else in the world, if it be admitted, as it was admitted by the right hon. Member for Chelsea, that we in this country pay in subsidies to civil aviation far less than any other country where civil aviation is of vital interest. The doubt which was in my mind was as to the exact application of this subsidy, and the Under-Secretary of State for Air would set at rest the minds of a lot of people if he could give us an assurance that some form of guarantee or undertaking would be given by any firm of British manufacturers which was receiving a subsidy as to how that subsidy was going to be used.
My noble friend the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) referred to the possibilities of the extension of civil aviation in Canada. There we have a field with very vast possibilities, but as things stand to-day in Canada no apparent effort is being made to market British machines. The only British machine which is used at all in the west of Canada is the Haviland Moth. That has led to the assumption and the belief in Canada that British aircraft is too light for service in Canada and unsuitable for real hard work in the hinterland of that country. The main company, the Western Canada Airways, has now standardised the Fokker machine, and if it had not been for adverse conditions in Canada during the last year, a Fokker factory was to have been set up in Winnipeg.
It seems to many of us that some guarantee should be given by British companies that when they are provided with subsidy money they will devote some of their energies and some of that money to popularising British aircraft, not only in Canada, but, as a previous speaker said, in South America and all over the world. We must try to combat American influence in this matter. There are many American firms operating in the west of Canada, while we have machines built in this country which are perfectly able to do the job which these American machines are doing. That is all, I think, which hon. Members in this House really want as an assurance from the Air Ministry. They want to know how this money is going to be spent, and they want a guarantee that it will be spent in the 1680 way that is most beneficial to aviation. When we look at the tremendous speed at which the progress of civil aviation advances, when we think of all the records which are broken daily, when we remember that even to-day we are in process of seeing a very gallant record in danger of being broken—I am referring to what may be happening the day after to-morrow—if these grants and subsidies are used in a really efficient and careful manner, with guarantees from the companies to whom they are extended, we can, as we should, be first and foremost examples in the world of the progress of civil aviation.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Baillie-Hamilton) on the speech that he has just made, and I am sure the House will look forward on many occasions to hearing him address them again. In one way I welcome this Bill which has been introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and in another way I do not. I notice that the civil aviation expenditure on subsidies is £1,000,000 instead of about £448,000, as it was last year.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I point out that this is not a Bill for providing money at all, but for providing statutory authority for long-term agreements, which is quite a different thing?
§ Sir W. BRASS
I agree, but at the same time, if the hon. Member had not brought in this Bill, it would not have been possible to grant these subsidies in the future. In other words, the subsidy paid to civil aviation is going to be increased by this Bill to £1,000,000 a year. The Bill directly allows the Secretary of State for Air to expend up to £1,000,000 a year, over a period of 10 years, for the purpose of paying subsidies and furnishing facilities to persons for maintaining regular services for the carriage by air of passengers, goods, and mails. I agree with most of what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) said, except one thing. I do not think he was quite right when he referred to the "Daily Herald," as he said it always spoke the truth. I think possibly in the future the same thing may happen to the "Daily Herald" as has happened to George Washington recently, as we have noticed 1681 in the papers, and possibly the "Daily Herald" may be found out, though it never had the reputation that George Washington had.
The hon. Member mentioned a good deal about airships, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether airships can be included in this subsidising of civil aviation, because I notice that in the Air Estimates for 1930, on Vote 8, there is an item of £428,000 for air transport services, £15,000 for light aeroplane clubs, and £5,000 for National Flying Services, Limited, making a total of £448,000 for civil aviation subsidies. I want to know whether this Bill is restricted to the subsidising of light aeroplane clubs, National Flying Services, Limited, and any other services, like Imperial Airways, which is the big one, of course, or whether, as the late Secretary of State for Air mentioned, experiments can be made. If experiments cannot be made, I think this is a restricted Bill, because it is rather forcing the money from the Air Ministry to be spent on subsidies to companies which either exist now or will exist in the future, and which are regular service companies, instead of enabling the Ministry to spend that part of the money which they can devote to civil aviation on the development of experiments, which I think should be done—important experiments, for instance, such as the hon. Member opposite mentioned, in the delivery of mails from big air liners, and so on.
I would like to see an experiment in the future made on these lines: I would like to see the mails which are now coming up from South Africa taken off by catapult or something like that near Madeira, taken on to Marseilles, and then brought up to England, and possibly also, on the east coast of Africa, that the mails should be delivered from Aden, taken right up until the aeroplane joins up with the India service, and then brought right back to the Mother Country. Those are experiments which, I think, are exceedingly important, because if in the future you can establish a feeling among the people of the country that their letters are being delivered by air mail regularly, I think you will find that they will begin to say, "Well, my letters are always delivered up to time, and I think I might 1682 just as well use the air service myself, and in future, whenever I get an opportunity, I shall try to go by air." That is a very important point.
Then I want to know whether in these subsidies could be included, for instance, money for aerodromes, night flying aerodromes, lighting of aerodromes, meteorological services, and experiments in making big flying boats. I feel that flying in this country, this big, maritime Empire of our, depends tremendously on the development of the flying boat. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for Air has said on that point, and I would go further. I think the flying boat is going, in the end, to supplant the land machine altogether, because you can build a very much bigger flying boat than you can build a land machine, the reason being that you have not the space on the land for a very heavy land machine to land, and you have an aerodrome of infinite size on the sea. Consequently, you can build a very much bigger flying boat, with very heavy engines, that can run a long way before it gets off and that has a long distance in which to land.
Therefore, I think you will find, in the not very distant future, that these big flying boats, like the German DO.X., will be developed tremendously, and I am only frightened that in this Bill, which I think is restricting the money of the Air Ministry to subsidising air lines, the money which ought to be used for the development of the technical part of aviation and the building of these big flying boats may merely be given as a dole, as my right hon. Friend said, to some of these big civil aviation companies, like Imperial Airways, which, as we all know, is more or less a monopoly at the present time.
Could the Under-Secretary of State tell me, in his reply, whether the £1,000,000 which is put down in this Bill is cumulative, and whether it will be used as, for instance, the Empire Marketing Board money was used? If the money for the Empire Marketing Board is not spent in one year, it accumulates and can be spent in the next year. Can the same thing be done with the £1,000,000 which we are to allow to be spent in subsidising air services? With regard to the Civil Aviation Consultative Committee, to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, I 1683 prefer to say nothing about it, but to leave it to the Under-Secretary, who is the chairman, to tell us about it.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I should like to join with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) in congratulating the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Baillie-Hamilton) upon his maiden speech. We listened to it with very great interest. I recalled our old colleague, the late Captain Foxcroft, of whom we were all fond, and in the hon. Member we see a worthy successor to him. I hope that he will be in the House a long time to join in these air Debates. I agree with him that this Bill is very necessary. The late Secretary of State for Air has said that he does not think that it is necessary, as he had managed to euchre the Treasury for a good many years. Other Ministers, however, have not the persuasive powers of the late Secretary of State, and it is right that the financial position of these services should be put on a proper footing.
Several points arise out of the Bill upon which I would like to touch. I am afraid that the Under-Secretary is burdened with many questions, but he answers them so ably, that I am tempted to add a few more. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe, I believe, belongs to the consultative committee, and I hoped that he would tell us something about the work of the committee, but he has passed it on to the Under-Secretary. We have had very interesting speeches from the former Under-Secretary of State for Air and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone), and they pointed out how necessary it is to develop these great air routes for transport and the carrying of mails. Who is responsible for advising the Air Ministry on what lines we should develop? We heard in the last Debate on this subject from the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) about the carrying of air mails across the North Sea and to Ireland. We may want to carry air mails to distant parts of the Empire, and I should like to know who is advising the Air Ministry as to where we can carry mails economically and efficiently, because I feel that we are dropping behind. Does the Postmaster-General come into it?
1684 The hon. Member for Northampton told us about the development of air mails in South America. Only a short time ago I read in the Press that a great company in Germany had an undertaking with China to carry mails straight from Germany to that country. Then Canada carries mails across the United States down to South America, covering the 12,000 miles in 14 days. I think that we are rather being left behind. I know that the routes that we have are run very efficiently and economically, but we ought to press forward. I agree with an hon. Member that we ought to have information of what the advisory committee has been doing, and I would like to see a report published once a month. It is a good thing to have reports monthly to show how many meetings the committee have had and what they have advised to be done. The former Secretary of State for Air gave us an interesting book on Imperial communications, which was published in 1926, and I should like to see some information like that published showing exactly how civil aviation is being developed.
The Under-Secretary has said how disappointed he was that the Air Ministry could not come to some arrangement in the West Indies for the postal services. I agree that the West Indies may be hard up, and that it is difficult for them to instal new services. The Under-Secretary was with me when Colonel the Hon. J. L. Ralston, Minister of Defence for Canada, gave an interesting lecture on how Canada had developed her civil aviation, and could he not get the Air Ministry to approach Canada and see if they could develop the air services in the West Indies on Imperial grounds? This country might be able to help a little. Canada would help, and no doubt the West Indies could find a little financial support. Canada might develop these services in the West Indies, because it is not right that the air services there should be run by the United States.
Are the Air Ministry doing anything to develop Malta as a real air base? After the Naval Conference which has just taken place, I feel that the naval centre of gravity may shift from the Far East to the Mediterranean again, and it is very probable that we may have to run our mails straight from this country to Malta. We should, there- 1685 fore, develop Malta as a first-class air base. We want to have good facilities in Malta for landing the flying boats. Lord Strickland wants to build a breakwater. It was discussed in another place, and he was told that it would cost £15,000,000. I understand that it can be done for very much less than that, and that Lord Strickland says that it can be built for £3,000,000. That ought to be gone into to see if something could be done to develop Malta as a real air base, because Malta will become more and more important as years go on.
If money is going to subsidiary services, who is to be responsible for the safety of the machines in those services? The hon. Member for Northampton referred to the large number of accidents on the England to India air route; who is to be responsible for giving airworthy certificates to new machines? Is anything being done to make the large flying boats more airworthy? I understand that if they crash, very often they may sink, and something ought to be done, perhaps by means of something in the wings, to give them more buoyancy, so that when they come down on to the surface of the sea, they do not break up at once. That brings me to the question of the safety of passengers in fog-flying. We know that fog extends for 400 and 500 feet up, and one method of indicating the position of the aerodrome is by a balloon; there are also radio beacons and equi-signal beacons. Is the Director of Civil Aviation being hampered at all by the Treasury in getting the latest instruments for giving the machines the proper position when flying in fog? This is an important point, because it means the saving of life, and everybody in the House wants to see that the passengers who are carried by aircraft are carried with the greatest possible safety. I would like an assurance from the Under-Secretary that every assistance, financial and otherwise, is given to the Director of Civil Aviation to get the very latest instruments that can be obtained for the safety of aeroplanes when flying in fog, and also in sandstorms which create the same problem.
In dealing with the safety of the machines the hon. Member for Northampton made a rather severe attack on airships. I agree with him on many 1686 points, but I do not agree with him when he says that airships are quite useless. The R 100 and R 101 are big experiments; they are worthy of big-brained men, and I do not think that it is quite right to say that they are a failure. They have flown quite successfully, and the structures have stood up to the stresses. They may not be quite as fast as the hon. Member would like, but he should not condemn them until the trials to Canada and India have been carried out. When the R 100 flies to Canada, I suggest that the Under-Secretary should get his leading airmen to go into the whole question of the supply of helium gas to airships. It is a non-inflammable gas and much safer than hydrogen gas; it is used in the United States airships, but it is difficult to obtain. There are traces in the air to the extent of 0004 per cent. by volume, but it is difficult to extract from the air. In the United States, however, they can get it from mineral springs, and in Kansas they get something like 100,000 cubic feet per day.
With the whole of Canada being opened up by civil aviation as it is now, there may be found mineral springs from which we can get helium gas. It ought to be looked into, because helium gas is a much safer gas to have in these giant airships, which will be driven in future in spite of what the hon. Member for Northampton says. They would lose a little in lifting power, for hydrogen lifts 70 lbs. per thousand cubic feet, whereas helium gas lifts 63 lbs., but it is worth while to give up that amount of lift in order to have safety. I would ask they hon. Gentleman to look into the point, and to get his men when they are in Canada to consult with the scientists to see if they can find helium gas in some of the mineral springs.
In the air Debate I asked the Under-Secretary whether any experiments had been carried out in sending the outer cover fabrics of gas bag materials to hot climates to see how they stand the actinic waves. We sent some fabrics to Somaliland for experiments which were stopped by the War, and now the material is quite different. The gold-beater bags may be different in the way that the seams are joined together, but the question ought to be studied, because we do not want any accidents to airships 1687 when they work in hot climates. One other point concerns small airships. I understand that in America they are running six small airships, six Goodyear airships, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary if he knows what they transport. They run from Ohio, where they have a training centre. I also wish to know whether he is giving assistance to those who are running the small airship, A.D.1, in this country, because there may be a future for advertising purposes in the development of small airships, and the enterprising young men who are running A.D.1 ought to have every encouragement. Then there is the point of separating civil aviation from the Air Ministry, which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull in the last Debate. I think it would be a most retrograde step to divorce civil aviation from the Air Ministry. Civil aviation is only in its infancy, and it needs tender nursing, because we want every assistance which the Air Ministry can give in "blazing the trail" and finding new routes in different parts of the Empire. I hope that the Air Minister and the Under-Secretary will do everything possible to help civil aviation and prevent it being separated from the Air Ministry, because it would not make for efficiency if they were separated. As a final word, I should like to ask why in this Bill we use the phrase "the President of the Air Council"? Why do we not stick to the words "Secretary of State for Air"? We had a tremendous fight to get that title in the past, and now we have it I think it should appear in this Bill in place of the alternative title.
§ Major ELLIOT
The discussion has ranged over wide areas and air lines in other parts of the world, and I would like to bring it back to air lines somewhat nearer home. In Scotland we are particularly interested in a project, which may or may not materialise, for an air line between Scotland and Ireland, and the municipality of Glasgow in particular are interested in the possibility of forming an air port for their city. I understand that the project of an air port is very dear to the heart of the Air Ministry, and that it has done its utmost to press upon Glasgow the desirability 1688 of providing a municipal aerodrome; but while facilities are short, and finance is still shorter, the Ministry, in its turn, ought to do everything it can to encourage the municipality. The whole future of air transport must depend not merely upon the facilities which are provided by the Ministry but upon local authorities and other big institutions taking up the formation of aerodromes. An hon. Member referred to the desirability of fostering municipal interest in this matter and expressed his regret that the Bill did not make any provision for the payment of a subsidy towards municipalities which were starting aerodromes. I do not go as far as that.
I want to point out that the locality chosen for an aerodrome by the municipality of Glasgow, the field of Abbotsinch, has been "jumped," if I may use the expression, by the Air Ministry. No doubt it is right that the Air Ministry should have an aerodrome there, but they propose to confine it solely to military flying and to use it for the Territorial squadron located in the city. It may be very inconvenient for two organisations to share the one aerodrome, just as for two gentlemen to share one bed, but that is better than that one man should have to sleep on the floor, and if this aerodrome is taken civil aviation will almost certainly have to sleep on the floor, that is to say, it will have to do without an aerodrome altogether, and the interest in civil aviation, which is developing there in a promising fashion, will tend to wither away. It is the more difficult to understand the action of the Ministry in this matter since the Renfrew aerodrome is being used by both civilian and military organisations. It is not as if the authorities were proposing to locate in Glasgow several squadrons of full-blown fighting aeroplanes. It is proposed to put only an auxiliary squadron there, and it is highly desirable that any facilities which can be given for developing an air port there should be provided, because we shall reap the benefit when transport lines come to be developed between Scotland and Ireland, and, possibly, between Scotland and England.
The municipality asked the city Members to raise the matter with the Air Ministry, feeling they ought to be left to develop the aerodrome, which they found for themselves, and that if they 1689 were not permitted the sole use of it that at least the Ministry should share it. I agree with the remarks made that with the heavy expenditure which the development of a municipal aerodrome entails, it is not often we can get the local authorities screwed up to the point of undertaking it, and if a local authority, when it has screwed its courage up to that point, finds the aerodromes taken over by the Air Ministry and not used for civil flying it is a little apt to think that the enthusiasm of the Air Council for civil flying is not perhaps as great as it purports to be. The development of civil flying and the provision of facilities for aircraft are a necessary preliminary to arousing that commercial interest which will have to establish these long-distance air lines for which this agreement provides. Unless we get a certain airmindedness, it is impossible to suppose that the necessary interest will be aroused.
Here is a case where a local authority had actually located the site for an aerodrome and had repeatedly written to the Air Ministry asking them to withdraw from the competition for this field. From the Air Ministry's point of view this offer of cash from the Scots is not lightly to be turned aside, but, if it is, at any rate let the municipality come in on a partnership basis. If this effort on the part of a local authority is discouraged it will be a long time before we can arouse enthusiasm again. Civil flying organisations, and notably the West of Scotland Flying Club, which is one of the largest of the civilian organisations, will be discouraged, and will either have to give up work altogether or will have to attempt to take over and redevelop the Renfrew aerodrome, which is so bad that the Air Ministry have given it up and will have no more to do with it. If the Under-Secretary would give this matter favourable consideration, and if he would plead with his powerful chief, to whom we cannot address our remarks personally to-day, that just now, when money and facilities are short, they should be shared with the localities, it would be a great satisfaction to us.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I cannot help thinking that a great deal of the discussion upon this Bill this afternoon, including the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), has 1690 been somewhat wide of the mark. This Bill does not provide money for civil aviation. It is perfectly true that a Money Resolution was necessary, but that was because a maximum sum of £1,000,000 is mentioned. Actually, no difference is made in the authority of this House over the expenditure upon subsidies or upon civil aviation under the Estimates. The purpose of the Bill is simply to give statutory authority to the President of the Air Council or the Secretary of State for Air to make long-term agreements instead of, as at present, allowing the whole question of those agreements to rest upon the year-to-year financial sanction of the Estimates themselves. That is all the Bill proposes to do, and some of the subjects dealt with have therefore been wide of the mark, but nevertheless I will do my best to answer some of the questions which have been put to me.
§ Mr. MALONE
There is an important point which ought to be cleared up. There is statutory authority to enter into the contracts but no authority to pay the bills. What is the position with regard to a contract with an aircraft firm or anybody? Has my hon. Friend taken legal advice on this question?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not think we need go into the legal side of that question this afternoon. The Bill explains itself. The agreements must be settled by the House of Commons on the appropriate Vote. If an agreement is entered into there will be statutory authority for it, and even a change of policy on the part of a succeeding Government will make no difference to payments under that agreement. It is simply a Bill of that character, and not one which is providing a definite amount for the purpose of developing civil aviation or for subsidies to civil transport companies.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Each contract will have to be ratified by this House. Nothing whatever is altered with regard to procedure. In the past a White Paper has been laid and the amounts allocated to this purpose, as other purposes, have been debated upon the Estimates and sanctioned in the Votes. That procedure still obtains, but it has been considered that the rather vague point with regard to statutory authority for long-term 1691 agreements should be settled definitely by this Measure. I have been asked a number of questions with regard to subsidies for the development of civil aviation in the West Indies and outside the British Empire and also on the subject of airship policy. It would be admirable from the point of view of prestige and commerce if we could develop British enterprise and British influence in various parts of the world. We have a number of schemes on hand at the present moment. We have the service to Delhi in conjunction with the Government of India. We must get on with those services before we can really consider any other large scale services such as those hon. Members have suggested. One hon. Member suggested a service across Russia to China. Those ideas may be important, but from the point of view of what is practical at the present time, I am afraid that we must confine ourselves to those larger projects which we had actually in hand. After all this question is not so simple as might appear to be the case. It is not a question of the Government itself running services in the West Indies. It is not proposed, I should imagine, by any section of the House at the present time that a service should be run as a State enterprise in the West Indies or any other part of the world.
Of course the alternative to a State enterprise is a private company which may be subsidised as Imperial Airways has been subsidised, but the conditions of a subsidy to a private company must be completely satisfactory to the Government, and to the technical people who are competent to deal with those questions. In all such schemes we have to make sure that the schemes have a satisfactory financial backing, and that there are adequate prospects of them being a financial success. I do not know that that can be said to be the case so definitely as we should like to see in the case of the West Indies project, but this is a matter which is being investigated. There is the Venezuelan side, and there is also the fact that the West Indies are a link between Canada on the one hand and North America and South America. It is perfectly true that the subject has been discussed with Colonel Ralston of Canada, and negotiations and discussions are still going on. The Air Ministry are probing every possible direction in order 1692 to come to a solution on this West Indies question. We hope to find a solution and if a scheme is found to be practical on the larger lines of Canada, the West Indies and South America, no one will be better pleased than the Air Minister and myself.
A question has been asked with regard to the next stage of the airship programme. I do not think it is reasonable to ask me to deal with a programme of that character which includes the whole of the civil aviation programme for the next 10 years. I cannot undertake to do that and I must point out in regard to airships that the next stage mint be one of experiment upon lines that will be of practical use for testing the possible commercial development of airships. In other words we must find out how far it is possible for long distance airship trips to be undertaken. We must experiment in order to know what kind of regular service it is possible for airships of this kind to undertake. I am unable to go into any of the largely conjectural questions as to what will be done with the airships when we know their commercial potentialities. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the 'Daily Herald?'] I am not concerned with what a newspaper may say. We have heard a good deal about "intelligent anticipation," but, if there is any anticipation at all on this subject, I should imagine that it would be as intelligent in the case of the "Daily Herald" as in any other case. I am not, however, going into that point.
I have been asked a question about the consultative committee and whether it has reported. The committee which was appointed has met regularly and gone very thoroughly into a number of important questions as the hon. and gallant Member knows. It has reported to the Secretary of State on two subjects and will be making a third report very shortly. The first report was upon the subject of the West Indies and it dealt with all the difficult aspects which are involved, but I am not going into those questions this afternoon.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not think there is any idea of making those reports public, because they are reports to the Secretary of State, and the committee 1693 was appointed for the purpose of advising him. The first report is upon the subject of the West Indies, and the second report deals with the general question of aircraft manufacture and the relations of the Air Ministry to trade in regard to the conditions of manufacture. The third report will deal with the very important question of scientific research and development. Those are the three general subjects which have been discussed, and which are now under consideration.
May I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Baillie-Hamilton) upon his maiden speech this afternoon, and I am sure that we all hope that in future debates on aviation, even if not in other debates, his voice will be heard.
The question has been raised as to whether it is not possible to co-operate with Canada, in the development of aviation. May I point out that Canada has her own aircraft lines, and I think she is enterprising and vigorous enough to develop her own aviation. I do not know that we can, as a quid pro quo for the fiscal advantages given to us by Canada, impose our aircraft manufactures upon her. The subsidies we provide for air services are intended for maintaining Imperial communications. With regard to the question of a breakwater in Malta, I am afraid that the discrepancy which has been shown in estimating the cost of those undertakings is only one indication of the difficulties. The cost would be very formidable, and almost impossible taken in conjunction with the other commitments into which we have entered.
I think I have now covered most of the points which have been raised which are relevant to this Bill. The last point I wish to refer to is the question raised about Abbot's Inch. It is not correct to say that the Air Ministry were in competition with the Corporation of Glasgow for the purchase of that particular piece of land, because the Air Ministry had that land in mind quite a long time ago, although it is perfectly true to say that the purchase was delayed on account of certain technical difficulties which arose but were later solved. In the meantime the Corporation of Glasgow have expressed a desire to establish a municipal 1694 aerodrome on that spot, and I am extremely sorry that there should be differences on this paint between the Air Ministry and the Corporation of Glasgow. We are most desirous that municipal aerodromes should be encouraged, and we do not wish to put any difficulties whatever in the way of any such development. Of course military conditions have to be considered. The former station at Renfrew is no longer suitable, and therefore it is proposed to transfer the squadron to Abbot's Inch.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There seems to be a misunderstanding that this is a Debate on the Air Force Estimates. That is quite an error, because this is a discussion on the Air Transport (Subsidy Agreements) Bill.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
May I point out, Mr. Speaker, that the Bill authorises the payment of subsidies to persons and the furnishing of facilities for their aircraft? It seems to me that the expressions "any persons" and "to furnish facilities" would bring in the municipal aircraft place that has been mentioned, and that might give the Bill a rather wide meaning.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I finish by expressing the hope that the Corporation of Glasgow will not slacken their effort to establish a municipal aerodrome and that we shall see one established there before very long. I hope that civil aviation in Glasgow, as well as in other cities and towns throughout the country will, within the next few years, have such an impetus as will bring civil aviation from the British point of view into a position more comparable with other countries than it is to-day, and nearer to the standard which all sides of the House desire to see civil aviation attain.
§ Mr. MANDER
There are one or two points that I should like to put to the Under-Secretary. In the first place, I should like to ask him whether it would be possible, in the case of future development under this Bill, to pay subsidies to municipalities for light aeroplane clubs who may decide to run, either experimentally or on a permanent basis, passenger carrying or other services to 1695 different parts of England. It might be possible that a town in such an important central position as Wolverhampton might want to link up with London, Manchester, Glasgow, Norwich or Ireland, and there are many important centres in England which might conceivably in the future be linked together through the instrumentality of light aeroplane clubs, and possibly, in some cases, by the municipalities. I do not know if there is any scheme of the kind at the moment, but I should like to ask whether it would not be possible to use the money under this Bill for a purpose of that kind. It would seem to me to come within the provisions of the Bill as to a subsidy for passenger carrying purposes, and I think we might get a very interesting development along lines of that kind.
In the Debate last week, the Under-Secretary said, in reply to a question I put to him, that it was hoped to resume the flights of the Indian Air Mail Service by the coast of Italy instead of taking the present route via Athens. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would say why there is such anxiety to make use of that route, which I understand takes a considerable number of hours longer than the present one, which goes across country via Athens. The Italian Government have made a great many difficulties in carrying the arrangement through, and I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman why it is that we cannot continue the present arrangement. Possibly it is that there is some very bad hilly country that has to be flown over before Athens is reached, but I think the House is entitled to know why we should revert to another route that takes longer.
Then the point has been raised as to whether it is desirable to keep civil aviation linked up with military aviation at the Air Ministry. The Under-Secretary last week pointed out quite clearly that it was almost inevitable that civil aviation should be influenced to a considerable extent by military reasons, in connection with aerodromes, machines, and so forth. I think, however, that it is generally felt, not only in this country but in other countries, that it is desirable as far as possible to allow civil aviation to develop on its own lines, without any interference or influence or control in the interests of military aviation. The hon. Gentleman's reply last 1696 week made me wonder whether it is not desirable, in view of the influence that is inevitably exerted at the present time by the military side of the Air Ministry, to take civil aviation away from the Air Ministry and put it either in a separate Department by itself or under the Ministry of Transport or something of that kind. There may be objections and difficulties—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member now appears to me to be raising an entirely different question of policy from that of this Bill.
§ Mr. MANDER
I only raised it because, in the Debate on the Money Resolution last week, a question on that point was permitted. I would only say, in conclusion, that it is my hope that as large a proportion as possible of this sum of £1,000,000 will be spent on civil aviation, because I think it is in the interests of this country and of the world that rapid progress should take place in that direction.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
Whatever view may be taken with regard to the procedure which has been adopted in this case, this Debate has shown that no one who is interested in civil aviation will quarrel with the decision to take a larger sum for the purposes of developing air transport. We know that other countries, with far less reason than ourselves, are spending very much more than we are every year on their civil aviation. Compared with the sums which are annually spent by France, Germany and the United States of America on this object, the sum of £1,000,000 is not very much to boast about, but anyhow it is a great advance on what we have been doing up to the present, and, therefore, I think that the House must have been all the more disappointed by the speech of the Under-Secretary of State.
After all, this £1,000,000 is certainly a larger sum than the £448,000 allotted in this year's Estimates for civil aviation subsidies, and, therefore, we had hoped that the Under-Secretary would be able to tell us that he had been applying his mind to a great many more schemes of wider scope and of a different character from those which are now under consideration. For many years the West Indies scheme, for instance, has been under consideration, but even now, with this increase in the Civil Aviation Vote, 1697 the hon. Gentleman still seems to find it as difficult to envisage as it has been in the past. I should like to ask him what is in his mind in connection with this vastly larger sum. Has he any plan prepared, or is any policy being worked up? Does this Bill mean business, or is it merely a gesture? We live under a Government which is rather fond of gestures, but I have no hesitation in saying that the disappointment will be general and widespread if we see no concrete results from this Bill. Difficult as I know the present financial situation is, no one will grudge the sum of £1,000,000 spent on the development of civil aviation so long as they can see concrete results from it.
After what the Under-Secretary has said, we cannot, apparently, expect to see, anyhow for a year or two at the beginning of the 10-year period, the whole of this £1,000,000 spent in that way, but I do hope that in one way or another the whole of the sum for which powers are now being taken will be spent. After all, the development of civil aviation does not depend only upon giving subsidies to air lines. As has been pointed out in the Debate this afternoon, there are many other ways of developing civil aviation—through, for instance, survey companies, light aeroplane clubs, and so on. I do not see what difficulty there would be in applying the whole of this sum very usefully even in the current year. If, however, time is needed for the Ministry and for civil aviation to get into their stride and prepare themselves for these great opportunities which are now being opened out to them, I hope that no time will be wasted, and that the Ministry will spend up to the hilt on the development and assistance of civil aviation the full sum for which provision is made in this Bill.
Even on that point there are some questions that I should like to ask the Under-Secretary. Has any decision been taken as to who are to be the recipients of this great generosity? No one has a greater admiration than I have for Imperial Airways, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said this afternoon, in regard to reliability, punctuality and safety they stand alone. They are the only non-self-supporting company in the world, 1698 that have got nearer than any other to the ideal of flying by itself; but, at the same time, they are in a position of splendid isolation in that they are the only British subsidised air line. It is doubtful whether it is advisable that this position of splendid isolation, essential though it may have been up to the present, should be continued indefinitely. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite believe in unrestricted competition. Their economic principles demand it. I am not so ardent a believer in unrestricted competition, but, nevertheless, I think a little competition is good for the soul, and I think that a little competition of this home-bred variety might be very good for Imperial Airways. I should like to be assured, therefore, that the whole of this sum in subsidies is not going to be given to Imperial Airways, and even that all of it that will not go to airships. I should like to see one or more flying companies in this country for the purpose of developing other air lines, both within these islands and outside.
The uses of air transport in this country have been handicapped by the very high efficiency of other and older means of transport, but, all the same, I am certainly not prepared to accept the view that there are not openings—many good openings—for the development of air transport, even within these islands, in the United Kingdom or between Great Britain and Ireland. Competition in air transport does not postulate the running of rival services side by side over the same routes. We have progressed beyond that, and beneficially, with our railways. We have not brought all our railways under one group, and there is a definite competition between different railway groups. Competition of that kind would be very stimulating to Imperial Airways. There is no lack of openings within the Empire, or between parts of the Empire and other countries, for other services which would not compete directly with Imperial Airways, but which would act as a challenge to Imperial Airways to maintain the same outstanding position that they have held so far among the air lines of the world. That challenge would be two-edged; it would be good for civil aviation, and the competition would be mutually beneficial.
Another and, I think, not unreasonable hope which I entertain, and which was 1699 very forcibly brought out in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, was that subsidies might be given to encourage mail services as distinct from services that carry mails and passengers. I think that Imperial Airways have been greatly handicapped in the past by the effort, at this stage in Empire communication, to supply services for both passengers and mails. A passenger service, to be successful, requires a very elaborate ground organisation, its machines are larger and slower, the stages are shorter, and the possibility of attaining a night service is more difficult of attainment. By the use of smaller and faster machines, it ought not to be impossible to organise a mail service to India which would be equally as successful as the recent flight of the Duchess of Bedford to India and back in eight days, with a machine that was certainly not at all the latest product of aeroplane manufacture. Mails are carried between San Francisco and New York at a speed of 150 miles an hour, and there is no reason at all why we should not equal that. It ought to be easily possible to send a letter to India and get a reply by air in the same time that it now takes Imperial Airways to do the journey one way, either out or back. Such an expedited service would result in the carriage of an enormously increased amount of mails. At present, except for very special reasons, the amount of time taken makes it hardly worth the extra cost, but if a letter could be got to India in three days it would put the service in quite a different category, and a far wider public would be encouraged to take advantage of this quicker method.
I have taken India as a convenient example, but, if the objective were merely the carrying of mails, many other routes would be made practicable at once. Our important trade with South America would be immensely assisted by speedier methods of sending mails. A passenger service to South America by heavier-than-air machines is still a thing of the future, but a service of mails is already within the bounds of possibility. I saw in the papers a few days ago that the French have already started a service of mails to South Africa. With all our important interests in South America we ought not to be dependent on foreign 1700 lines, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider that when he considers the many plans that he will, no doubt, be able to secure with this vastly increased sum. I should like to know how far the points I have raised have been considered as to the methods for utilising the sum of money which will be available under the Bill. I had thought, before the hon. Gentleman's speech, that they had all been considered. I hope that they have and that we shall soon be told what decision has been reached and what policy, if any, has been framed. If the purpose of the Ministry is to make full use of these added powers, I am sure they will find that, as far as this side of the House is concerned, there will be, both now and on the later stages of the Bill, nothing but constructive and helpful criticism.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope that I may be permitted, as an older Member of the House, to congratulate the Under-Secretary on the way in which he has presented the Bill and on the fullness and civility of his reply. I congratulate him as heartily as I do upon his article in the "Herald" this morning. I hope that nothing I say will persuade him to get on to his feet again and make a further reply, but I want to make one point which has not been made hitherto. Everything has been touched on except the safeguarding of the subsidies when once they have been advanced to these private companies. I can only register once again my protest against giving large grants of public money to private companies without securing on the boards of those companies some representation of the public interest. I do not want a lot of dummy directorships to be taken as retiring jobs by Members of Parliament. What I want is a representative of the Treasury on the boards of these companies, so that the money cannot be squandered. We have seen such wildcat finance during the last few years that it is increasingly obvious that, if large sums of public money are to be advanced in this way, there should be some check upon the way they are spent. I beg the hon. Gentleman to see that the Treasury consent to the proposals put forward by the Air Ministry is coupled in some way with Treasury representation on the boards of companies—whether by a paid director or by a pure representative of 1701 the Treasury does not matter, but let us have some check upon the squandering of public money.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I wish to raise a point which, I think, has not been touched upon. The Minister has had many suggestions made to him as regards the using of this subsidy. A short time ago there was issued to those principally concerned, I think by the Post Office authorities, a very interesting time-table, with many details as to charges for air mails, accompanied by maps showing the extent of the air mails run by the Post Office. I was very astonished to note that in that map the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland found no place whatever. They were on the map, but there were no air services marked as running to the Free State or to Northern Ireland. It seems to me that, in subsidising air services of any kind, those that we ought to be most anxious to help at the very beginning are those which connect up our own people, and especially those parts of the Empire that are near at hand. It also seems to me that the Minister, unless there are some objections of which I am unaware, would meet with a favourable reception from the Irish Free State in proposing that a really efficient service should be set up, say, between Dublin and London. In present circumstances, not only are we without an adequate service between this country and Ireland, but, as the result of that, Ireland appears to be very badly placed as regards air communications with the rest of the world and the rest of Europe. I was, therefore, hoping that, if this was brought to the attention of the authorities of the Free State and Northern Ireland, they would go more than halfway towards meeting us, and, possibly, bearing their share of any subsidies that might be involved. I regret that I did not have an opportunity of raising this point before the Minister made his reply, because I should very much like to have heard whether there are any real objections to the scheme.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
A little time ago I heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) make a fine appeal for Scotland. We have just listened to an hon. Member making an equally fine appeal for the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Nothing has been said yet about Wales. I rise to 1702 make as strong an appeal as I can for Wales. There is a growing opinion there that, as regards matters of Britishinterest, Wales has been, and is being, neglected. We have one spot at least that may be most useful in this scheme. I want to make a strong appeal to the Under-Secretary to consider the claims of Pembroke Dock. I do it on two grounds. First of all, you would have in Pembroke Dock all the advantages that Switzerland has, for instance, at Geneva. There you have a fine stretch of water which, I am certain, could be used with great advantage. We have just heard about a scheme connecting up Ireland with this country by means of airships. You could not have a better jumping-off ground than Pembroke Dock.
Further than that, I am certain that, in connection with a fast line of steamers, we will say from Milford Haven, you could have an airship service of great advantage which might run from Pembroke Dock to London. Why is it that every time public money has to be spent in this connection it always goes to England? We have much more suitable places for developing an air service, particularly in Carmarthenshire. We hear the clamant claims of Scotland and England, but it is England which gets the money every time. I would also base this claim on another ground, that is that, if we could get Pembroke Dock as an airship port, we should be doing something to solve the very great problem of unemployment. We have been promised a number of aeroplanes, which perhaps may employ 70 men. If we had this air port in Pembroke Dock, we should do a very fine thing for a town that is now absolutely derelict.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I should like to draw attention to a point which has already been raised, that if you are going to devote a sum of money of this kind for companies or persons developing these services, it would be advisable for the Ministry to see whether it would not be possible to link up the communications between the larger towns of Great Britain. The case has been mentioned of Glasgow, Edinburgh and the North of Ireland. As I read the Bill, it will clearly be part of the Minister's job to go into the distribution of this money, and I think he might have given some information as to whether he had any scheme in mind. 1703 The hon. Member who has just spoken referred to a particular area. May I, as possibly the only representative of an even more important and greater area than has yet been mentioned, as a representative of the West country, point out that there you have a much more natural and efficient area for development, because the people of Wales are slow, the people of Scotland are behind-hand, and the people of Ireland are not reliable. The people of England are all right as far as Devonshire, but when you get further East, they cannot compare in intellectual outlook with those of us who come from the West country, and when you are administering these funds you ought to see that the best minds are using and applying the money. From that point of view, we have excellent sites, such as Plymouth and Devonport. I need not mention the obvious, which is the best point of all—Torbay.
May I go back from that to the statement of the Minister? I do not know which speech was the most mixed, the first or the second, but the second undoubtedly was curious. Someone asked him about the legal position under the Bill. He waved it away with those airy gestures which we associate with the father of the House when he is getting over an awkward point. I want to know what the legal position is. We have had no explanation. All these hours I have been waiting in the hope that I should hear it, and I am disappointed. Could we not have it before the vote is taken? It might possibly save me from having to move the rejection of the Bill if I could see a Law Officer of the Crown come forward. The next point on which the hon. Gentleman was vague—I will not attempt to go into all his vaguenesses—was that he seemed to think that each agreement made under the Bill would have in some way to be laid before the House. Is that so? Under the Bill as it now stands, would it have to be laid as a White Paper of some sort and pass the House in the ordinary form, or would it merely come as an Estimate? My hon. Friend in front of me is in the same position. We neither of us know precisely what he meant. I would not put any money on it that he knew himself.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
As far as that is concerned, my hon. Friend below the Gangway is very fortunate, thanks to the intellectual supremacy which he enjoys among the Scots, in having induced them to adopt him as a Member of Parliament, and they have been very lucky in the bargain, if I may say so. I want to go back to the three main points of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman amazed me in his first and second speeches. He said nothing about what was meant by "the carriage by air of passengers, goods and mails." He did not explain to us—I do not know whether I should do it for him, or merely ask him for a few details—what form of passengers he meant. He did not intimate on any general scale the uses of these three forms of carriage and this is the main principle of the Bill with which I am trying to deal. As far as passengers are concerned, may I put it from this point of view? Surely the object of carrying passengers to-day should be, as far as air is concerned, to endeavour to get the greatest possible facility for carriage between certain points which are widely separated. The point has been raised by other Members as between various parts of Great Britain itself. It has also been raised as between various parts of Canada. I want to know if under this particular system of carriage—I conclude that the money is intended to be used for the development of the Empire as a whole—it is to be possible for the Minister to help the carriage of passengers between two Dominions under this Bill as it now stands? I think that we should be given an answer as to whether a company running between two points outside Great Britain would be entitled under the Bill to get a part of the £1,000,000 or not.
I come to the question of mails. There is a most important matter which I would like to emphasise, that, as far as mails are concerned, there have been a large number of Government contracts in connection with the Post Office, some of which have been good and some of which have been bad. In these contracts in some cases most curious things have been influencing the contracts themselves. There have been various forms of pressure, for instance. As far as any contracts made in connection with mails are concerned, we should have a definite 1705 assurance from the Minister that he would only enter into contracts of that kind if he had a reasonable and proper assurance that they were likely to be remunerative in a comparatively quick time. Then the hon. Gentleman did not tell us why he had fixed on this particular sum. After all, it would be perfectly possible for me to move, in due course, a reduction of this sum. It would be a great help and service in saving my time and the time of other people—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has missed his opportunity; he should have moved the reduction on the Financial Resolution.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I quite agree as far as that is concerned. There is a point on which, I think, the hon. Member ought to have given us some information. That is a point which was asked by another hon. Member, as to whether the sum mentioned here, if it is not all expended by the end of the year, as seems very likely in present circumstances, would be allowed to accumulate as under the Trade Facilities Bill and be carried on to the following year, or whether it would automatically go back to the Treasury? I believe that the hon. Gentleman was asked that question once, if not twice, in the early afternoon. I realise his particular difficulty. He has not had the usual help on this question from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I think that the House has a perfect right to be told whether this is a sum which is going to accumulate.
The next point I wish to raise is why he fixed this sum to go on for a period of 10 years. I do not believe that this point has been raised in the Debate. It is conceivable under modern conditions, that in four, five, eight or nine years' time there may be some modern invention in connection with a service like this which may quite easily render many of these agreements at the end of a few years so much waste paper. Something may come along which may revolutionise the whole position, some method of landing, or any other of the innumerable things which people well acquainted with these services would know much better than I. I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman if he has any particular reason, having regard to the points I have just raised, for thinking that this is a satisfactory term of years to which to ask 1706 the House to agree. It is quite clear, from the point of view of the State as a whole, that it would be better not to have such a long period as there is in the Bill.
Just now the point was raised, that if you spend this £1,000,000, or if you give this guarantee, which deals with a very wide possibility of persons, there should be, if not in the Bill, at any rate in the contract—and this is an opinion which, I know, a very large number of Members behind me are expressing—definite terms laid down that the bulk, if not the whole, of the material used and subsidised by this money should be of British origin. It is a very important point and one which has been barely raised to-day. In these days, when we have great quantities of money being poured out by the Exchequer, we have the right to expect that a Minister of the Crown bringing in a Bill asking us to make further exactions, further demands from the people—it is no good the hon. Member shaking his head at me. There is no doubt at all that we have as a House of Commons the right to ask that he should give us a reasonable reply on this matter, and that he should lay down that British materials are to be used.
There is a further point which I wish to raise. This Bill is quite openly and frankly a subsidy Bill. The whole principle which underlies the Bill is that of a subsidy. You cannot get away from that. The principle of the Bill is thoroughly and fundamentally unsound. There can be no great advantage in times such as these in the mere transfer of money, as you are doing under the Bill, to help or subsidise, or whatever you like to call it, one particular line or form of industry. It is not a sound principle and ultimately, although you may give a little shove-up to some particular thing or other, you cannot possibly develop on sound lines by the means which you are using here. I admit that, as things are to-day, it seems a fact that one section of the House after another is inclined to these Bills, yet, fundamentally, if you can do away with this kind of thing, and so do away with the congestion on the Exchequer, you would be able to free capital on a large scale, and then there would be no need whatever for a Bill of this principle.
Although I would do everything possible to help forward these various 1707 kinds of transport by air, and I have no great preference as between passengers, goods or mails, this kind of action is rather reminiscent of the days of the Coalition Parliament, when at one time we were doing things and the year after we were undoing them. I think that this sort of Bill is bound to hurt other forms of trade and industry. Although you may spend money to advantage on one or two of these occasions, on the whole, directly you get the Government interfering in these matters, you get a natural contraction of mind. The Bill itself might have a few good things scattered about it in a nondescript way. Under this Bill the Government can reorganise these things, instead of allowing the natural genius of the British race to develop on its own lines. I believe that, if we left this form of Government control out of these matters, our air services would develop very much quicker than they are developing to-day, and in a very much more lucrative way, which would bring much good to our trade, industry and commerce.
§ Mr. EVERARD
There are one or two matters of very considerable importance in regard to which we have not received any reply. The people of the country will be very dissatisfied when they see this Bill. They understood, as I understood, that we were to receive £1,000,000 a year for civil aviation. I now understand from the Under-Secretary of State that this is a sort of maximum and that there is no likelihood at all of £1,000,000 a year being spent. The public therefore have been under an illusion that this large expense was going to be incurred in regard to civil aviation. As far as I can see, the Air Ministry have no fresh schemes of any importance to bring forward at the present time.
I should like to reinforce what was said a few minutes ago regarding the air services in this country. We are finding this money and, therefore, the English people—and I include the people of Wales, Scotland and Ireland—are entitled to the first benefits of the expenditure. I have been approached on several occasions—and I expect that other Members of the House have also been approached—by different individuals and by different firms wishing to start new forms of air transport in this 1708 country. Is there any likelihood at all of these new services which are being projected receiving any of this money, or any other money? It is well known, and the Under-Secretary knows it also, that you cannot start a new civil air service unless you receive a subsidy. This has been shown to be the case in every country in the world, and, unless some support is forthcoming, there is no doubt that these projected new services will not be undertaken. As a matter of fact, we are going backwards in certain respects. Two years ago, and again last year, when the House was not sitting, I spent some of my vacation playing cricket. I went over to play in the Channel Islands and was able on both occasions to get air transport there and back. I understand that that service has since been discontinued.
The year before last, Imperial Airways undertook this particular service, as it was part of their arrangement with the Government that, unless they did a certain amount of transport overseas by means of flying boats, they would not get the subsidy. I believe, having carried out their arrangement with the Government in that respect, that, as soon as the India route came along, they were able to transfer their machines to that route. Therefore, as far as Imperial Airways were concerned, that route was discontinued last year. Last year another firm took on the work temporarily, but I think I am right in saying—and the Under-Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—that to-day there is no service at all, and there is very little likelihood, unless a subsidy is forthcoming, of this service being started again. I put down a question to-day asking the Postmaster-General when the Channel Islands were going to be connected with the telephone system of this country. It is a very poor outlook for outlying parts of this country when they cannot be connected either by telephone or by air communication. We know the difficulties of other means of communication with regard to these particular islands, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State that at least part of this subsidy may be devoted to that purpose.
Part of this money, I take it, will go towards the equipment of certain aero- 1709 dromes used by Imperial Airways and other services. I would like to call the attention of the Under-Secretary to one or two matters in regard to which part of this money could well be spent for the improvement of aviation in this country. You may pass up and down the country in any type of machine, and yet be struck by the fact that many of our aerodromes are not up to standard. We should do a great deal to popularise air communication if, in the great majority of these larger aerodromes, we installed systems of wireless telephony, so that the various aircraft proceeding from one part of the country to another could find its way and direction, especially during foggy weather, which is one of the great difficulties with which we have to contend in this country. I also believe that for the expenditure of a very small amount of money we could vastly improve our air communication by seeing that local authorities inscribed the name of their town, for instance, on the top of gasometers where it would not be detrimental to the general outlook and appearance of the town, so that those proceeding by air might very easily be able to find their way up and down the country. These are two ways in which the Government could assist materially in improving air transport, and making it more popular for the use of the whole community.
I wish to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has said regarding the use of this money for the purchase of British-made machines and equipment. I am convinced that the British machines are the best machines in the world, and there is no reason at all why any Englishman should fly in a foreign machine when he can fly in machines which are so well made by our own manufacturers. No subsidy should be given to any company for the use of any machine, any part of which is of foreign manufacture. The Under-Secretary of State should not be afraid of spending more of this money on civil aviation. Whatever opinions may be held in different parts of the House on the question of spending more money on the military side of aviation, I believe that there are few who would disagree with the spending of money on the improvement of the civil side and so assisting the trade and the easy passage of the people of this country. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able further 1710 to improve the various types of communication, and I would again particularly call his attention to the fact that the Channel Islands' service had to be discontinued.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Montague.]