HC Deb 17 March 1931 vol 249 cc1946-74

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: this House is strongly of opinion that every possible encouragement should be given to all organisations concerned with the development of every system of Imperial Air transport, and that adequate provision should be made for the progress of civil aviation throughout the Empire. I appreciate the fact that there are many hon. Members far better qualified than I am by technical knowledge and experience to move this Amendment, but the luck of the Ballot has given me the privilege of raising the question of civil aviation and to urge the Government to do all in their power to assist and develop it. I am glad it has been my good fortune to raise this matter because it is a subject which is of national interest, upon which hon. Members desire to elicit information from the Government and also to offer some genuine constructive proposals. I am not one of those who enjoy a flight in an aeroplane, in fact, I never come down from a trip without making a solemn vow that I will never leave mother earth again until I go to a far more permanent abode than any to which the Air Force can take me. I realise that aviation as a means of transport for mails and passengers, and for certain kinds of merchandise, has come to stay. I think I can also show by figures that it is a very rapidly developing aspect of our national life and one which already plays a not unimportant part in our industrial welfare. The number of miles flown last year by civil aviation was 136,000, and 618,000 passengers were carried, together with 13,000 tons of merchandise. Over 1,800 aeroplanes were used and 3,000 aerodromes are prepared and equipped to receive them.

These figures show what an important part in our national and industrial life civil aviation plays to-day. We are apt to decry the efficiency of our own services. I thought that in the matter of civil aviation we were behindhand and extravagant, but I must frankly confess that after making a study of this question I have nothing but admiration for the work that is being done in civil aviation in this country. At the same time civil aviation will never be a commercial proposition in this country. It may be that individuals will continue to use aeroplanes for business and pleasure purposes to an increasing degree, but as a commercial proposition I think we are already too well served by our railways. Sir Eric Geddes, in flying to Birmingham, was not able to save any time by going in an aeroplane rather than by the two-hour train service from Paddington. In the same way, if we take Edinburgh, unless there is a far more highly developed night flying service it will be more convenient to get into the train at midnight and arrive at Edinburgh early next morning than to occupy a certain portion of the day in flying to Edinburgh.

There are certain principles which should govern civil aviation, safety, regularity and economy, and I heartily subscribe to all three. My adhering strictly to these principles we may occa- sionally find ourselves temporarily eclipsed by some other country, yet in the long run we shall be the gainers. If civil aviation is to be made a commercial proposition, you must have the entire confidence of the public. The confidence of a few experts has been secured already, but speaking as a purely ordinary member of the public, I prefer that civil aviation should be carried on with 80 to 90 per cent, of regularity and safety rather than that it should make any spectacular flights. It does not worry me in the least to learn that one country has flown more miles or greater distances than we have. The question that arises is, why is it necessary to give this subsidy? It is not given in the case of railways or shipping. How much longer will it be necessary to give this very substantial subsidy to civil aviation? There is only one air service as far as I know which is run on a commercial basis, and that is in the State of Columbia, whose capital is 600 miles from the sea. They charge three times the amount of the train service fares for flying from the port to the capital, and they have succeeded now for some years in running a highly profitable commercial line. With that exception there is no civil aviation service which is run at a profit.

The obvious reason is that aviation has come upon a world which is well organised already as regards transport. Railways developed slowly as they were shown to be a commercial proposition, but we in this country, nor any other large nation, can possibly refuse a subsidy to civil aviation if by such refusal we are deprived of any civil aviation whatsoever. Of course you can increase speed. There was a great outcry some time ago by a prominent person because as they were flying by an Imperial Airways machine they were passed by a German machine. It is perfectly easy to increase your speed if you are prepared to pay more money, but I understand that if you increase your speed by 20 per cent. you also increase your cost by 50 per cent. It is purely a matter of pounds, shillings and pence, whether you are prepared to compete in speed with other foreign countries.

There is one aspect which should be borne in mind, and that is that civil aviation does not desire to compete with railways or shipping. Its primary object is to be complementary to these means of transport. It is on the lines of a complementary service that the greatest benefit lies for civil aviation. There are various other things, such as the surveying of land, crop spraying and fire fighting, all of which are of more importance in the Dominions and other parts of the Empire than in this country. The two main subsidies with which I wish to deal are the subsidy, roughly of £3,000,000 spread over 10 years, for the Indian route, and that of £1,000,000 for the African route. It is highly satisfactory to learn that in the last 10 months on the Indian route there has been a 100 per cent. regularity of flights. I do not know whether that figure is up to date, but it was the figure given to me a few weeks ago. On the other hand, it is possible to offer certain criticisms in regard to the Indian flights. Here I must apologise, for I realise that it is impossible not to repeat some of the comments already made.

The average pace for the Indian route is only 28 miles an hour. Of course I recognise that unless you are going to introduce night flying it will be very difficult to increase that speed to any considerable extent. Again there is the criticism that the charges made for postal service are too high. I understand that there is a charge of 6d. per half ounce. Unless you can get the business community as a whole to regard the Indian mail not as something exceptional, but as the ordinary method for sending a greater part of correspondence, I do not think you will ever put the service on a paying footing. The London Chamber of Commerce feels strongly on the question of having a special rate for a quarter ounce packet, and that matter I believe the Under-Secretary has under consideration. Will he tell us his views on the subject?

There are one or two other questions I want to put. I am not clear what is the exact position in India to-day. Is it a separate organization? For instance, if the passenger is on his way beyond India is he allowed to proceed in the same machine? In the matter of merchandise have goods to be transhipped at Karachi into another plane belonging to a separate organisation in India? I heard the Under-Secretary's statement, but I confess that I did not understand it fully. Various questions have been asked in the House, and each answer seems to have complicated the matter even further. Also I would like very much to know approximately when the Under-Secretary thinks that the full flight to Australia will be open. He has told us of some of the difficulties. If he can hold out some hope that within six months it will be a fait accompli that will reassure many people who are beginning to doubt whether this nil flight will ever be carried into effect. What are the Dutch doing in the matter? It would be rather deplorable and depressing if they forestalled us on this essentially Imperial route.

There are two observations I wish to make with regard to the African flight. My first word is as to the advisability of trying to do something for West Africa as well as East Africa. I understand that the East, African route from London to Cairo will be open on 1st June. At present they have reached Kenya. I understand that all the Governments are co-operating, both by friendly assistance generally and in regard to finance, to the complete satisfaction of the home Government. But in regard to West Africa so far nothing whatever has been done. I want to put in a very special plea regarding it, and to emphasise the aspect that I have already mentioned, namely, the Air Service being complementary to other services. Hon. Members are aware that the service of civil servants in West Africa is for 18 months. That is a long time to serve in a horrible climate. Special arrangements have been made in the last year by which civil servants and others can get exceptional terms to come home for a long leave. It is the journey that does them the good.

This opportunity is only effective to-day to Sierra Leone. South of that you have the Gold Coast and Nigeria, to which the service does not operate. Nigeria has 20,000,000 inhabitants among whore is a very considerable body of Englishmen. If it was possible to arrange some weekly service from Nigeria and the Gold Coast to Sierra Leone it would be possible for English civil servants in those two countries to come home for a period of a few days during each term of service of 18 months. I have been pressed by many representatives in the Service to put this point before the Government. Those are countries in which it is impossible to keep your children. It makes a whole difference to a man's term of service for 18 months if he knows that once during that time he may come home and see his family, if for a few days only. I ask the Under-Secretary to give this suggestion his serious consideration.

I have been discussing with various authorities the African flight, and I do not think that the full difficulties of that flight are usually apprehended. To run a regular service is a very different thing from doing a solo flight. The one is adventurous and spectacular and dangerous, and the other has to be commercial, regular and safe. I know that the one is necessary to the other. We have had many brilliant examples, of which we are all proud, of the solo flight. There are so many different conditions to be considered in dealing with this question. For instance only by experience can you find out what are the varied conditions at different times of the year. South of the Sudan at one time of the year you can land in an ordinary aeroplane, but six months later the whole place is swamps and bogs and you have to change into a different kind of aeroplane altogether. You can unload supplies at various points along the route at one period and store them with safety, but during the other six months of the year, owing to the temperature, and the animals, big and small, that live in those countries, you want totally different conditions to protect those supplies.

It is not like the Indian route, along which you have not to cross very high mountains. On the African flight almost every kind of atmosphere has to be experienced. It is only practice and long experience that will show exactly what are the best types of machines to make the London to Cairo flight the success that it ought to be. I am mentioning these difficulties only because I think a great many people are impatient because more has not been done already. It would be useless to start a service which is to be of the greatest use to all those who live on the East Coast of Africa unless it was started on sound, sane, common-sense, regular and safe lines.

One word more as to the amount of subsidy which is necessary. As I have said, if you want to get a more frequent service, to run twice a week instead of once, you want greater speed, and you can have it if you are prepared to pay for it. Other countries subsidise civil aviation from a variety of motives. France wishes to equip the greatest possible number of aeroplanes; Germany because she has not an air service of her own encourages civil aviation; America allows the Post Office to subsidise civil aviation to the tune of over 90 per cent. I believe that we strike a very happy medium. Here are some of the difficulties. The subsidy given by the United States of America is 8s. 1d. per mile flown, in Germany it is Ss. 8d., in France 15s. 8d. and in this country 5s. 7d. per mile flown. That shows that we run the service on a far more econmical basis than any other country. Then take the average number of miles flown by the individual airman. In the United States it is 32,000 miles, in Germany 31,000, in France only 18,000, and in this country 68,000. Here again the figures show that we get far better value out of the aeroplane with our subsidies than does any other nation. We are working along sound commercial lines.

As was pointed out by Sir Eric Geddes in an interesting speech at Cambridge a few weeks ago, there are half a dozen factors upon which we may hope to see considerable economies effected in the near future. It is no idle dream to hope that in a few years we shall be able to establish civil aviation on a commercial basis in this country. I am certain that the country that can first make civil aviation a commercial proposition will capture the trade of the whole world. We are working along those lines more rapidly than any other country. Let me ask one or two questions. First in regard to the Post Office charges for mails. It is contended that the Post Office is making a profit out of the charge of 6d. per half-ounce. Most of the letters do not weight half an ounce. The Post Office does not refund to the Air Ministry or the civil aviation authorities the profit that it makes. It is contended by some that the Post Office should not make a profit out of this service, which is already largely subsidised by the taxpayer. Then there is the question. of the night postal service, which the London Chamber of Commerce, representing various other bodies, seems to think, and no doubt rightly, is a very important factor to be considered.

8.0 p.m.

Further, there is the question of the Transatlantic Air Service. It has been mooted—whether it is within the realm of practical polities I do not know—that by the Azores and Bermuda it would be possible to get a Transatlantic service which would be very advantageous commercially. A further question is, what steps are being taken in regard to an international conference or negotiations for air transport? There have been conferences in the past, and the results in many cases have been highly satisfactory, and I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State contemplates any further conference to clear up a variety of points, of which no doubt he is already only too well aware.

In other realms of transport, in railways and in ships, we have always been pioneers, and I think we can still be proud of our position. We still run, I think, the most efficient railway service, and we certainly run actually the fastest train that runs in the world. In shipping, in our mercantile marine, we have no need to be ashamed of the position which we occupy in the world to-day. I am quite certain that in this new development of civil aviation, with those characteristics which I believe we hold in a greater degree than any other nation, courage, patience, and common sense, if we pursue a policy based on those principles, we shall be able to show the world that we are neither dead, dying, nor asleep, and that very shortly we shall be able, not only to compete, but to compete successfully, in this direction with any other nation in the world.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so with great pleasure, because I see that the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. G. Oliver), on the benches opposite, moved a very similar Amendment to this that was received generally last year with approval on all sides of the House. The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Ayles) is waiting to pounce on the Under- Secretary of State to remove the whole of the Air Force except 2,000, but I think that even he will agree with us that money expended upon the improvement of the civil side of aviation is money of which he could himself support the expenditure. Therefore, I feel that we are on safe ground in moving this Amendment.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) has touched on the difficulties with which the Under-Secretary of State is faced. There is no doubt at all that very great and important extensions could take place in the matter of our Imperial flying resources if the money were available. We find that not only in this country is it difficult to be able to increase the amount of expenditure for civil aviation. We find even one of the greatest companies operating in France recently finding it difficult to get any money from the Government for the extension of its service. I noticed in the paper a day or two ago that the Compagnie Generale Aeropostale, which runs the longest air route in the world, that from France to Buenos Aires, is in a very difficult position and has asked the French Government for a subsidy of £640,000 a year for 14 years and has been unable to obtain the sanction of the French Government for that expenditure. That shows quite clearly that even in France, which is probably one of the most important air countries in the world, it is difficult to maintain the services which they have in operation at present.

I would like to make one or two observations on the progress of our Imperial air routes, and to consider what are the advantages and the disadvantages of having only one company to which we pay these subsidies. It is well known that the only company that receives these subsidies from the. Government in this country is Imperial Airways, Limited, and I do not wish to depreciate—in fact, I admire enormously—the work which they have done and are doing to-day, but at the same time I appreciate also that there may be times when, owing to the amount of work which they have in hand, there may be equally good companies which could undertake some of the smaller local services, which would implement and improve the air services, particularly near our own homes here. I should also like to point out that whereas we hold on land, at sea, and in the air "records" for the fastest times, it cannot certainly be said that we hold the "record" for the fastest time for our ordinary Imperial liners. Their average rate of about 85 miles an hour can be nearly doubled to-day by some of the air liners turned out by other countries, and unless we take steps to increase the speed of these air liners I think we shall find the trade going to other companies which are able to provide faster machines.

I should like also to say that there is one thing about Imperial Airways, Limited, which deserves the very greatest credit, and which is no doubt why it is held in such esteem by the travelling public of this country. That is the degree of safety which they give to the travelling public. It is well known that as you increase the pace of aircraft you also increase the stalling speed, rendering it more dangerous for landing if forced landings have to be made, and from that point of view Imperial Airways, Limited, are far safer, in my opinion, than any other line which operates for civil purposes at the present time.

With regard to the new air route to the Cape, I understand that the 5,700 miles are to be divided into eight stages, that from Cairo to the Cape will take eight days and eight nights, and that the passengers will spend the nights at eight allotted resting places on the way. That is all right from the point of view of the travelling public. The Under-Secretary of State has spoken to-day on the question of noise in aircraft, and last year he stressed the same point. I do not think anybody here will consider that eight hours' flying in one of those big cabin liners is not as much as anybody wants to do for eight or nine days on end. That may be all right from the point of view of the travelling public, but are the travelling public going to be of more importance and larger in numbers than the amount of mails which these machines could carry? If it can be shown to the public that the mail contracts are more important than the passenger carrying, I think we should not fly on this route for only eight hours a day, but certainly for the best part of the 24 hours, which could easily be done under a properly organised system of night flying and linking up from point to point.

I am glad to know that an arrangement has been made with the Italian Government, because that, of course, again will reduce the time which it will take to get to Cape Town from 12 days, which is the estimate at present—that is, four days to Cairo and eight days from Cairo onward—to 10½ days, as the Under-Secretary has told us. By night flying that could easily be reduced to seven days, and I suggest that if we could send mails to Cape Town in seven days, the air mail services would be very much more largely used by the business community of this country than they are being used at present. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether proper experiments have been made as regards the wireless conditions out on this new route. I am always led to understand that a great part of the disturbance which we hear in this country on our wireless sets is caused by the sand in the Sahara, and if that be so—and I believe it is right—surely if aircraft are operating so near to the Sahara as that route will be, it will be almost impossible to use wireless for the purpose of communicating with their various destinations for direction; and I would like to know whether experiments have been made to show that wireless can be used successfuly in that region for the direction of aircraft, or, if not, what particular methods will be used for direction finding purposes. As regards the extension of the route to Australia, I see that in the Memorandum which is published with the Air Estimates it says: His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom attach great importance to the extension of the existing Indian service to Australia, and are ready to contribute to its cost. Modified proposals for the organisation of a mail service in the first instance have been communicated to His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia an Bother interested administrations. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State exactly where we stand in this matter. Is he still carrying on negotiations with His Majesty's Government in Australia, and what is the suggestion as to the amount and proportion of the cost which would be borne by this Government and by His Majesty's Government in Australia? Personally, I am very glad to hear this afternoon that he is taking steps to put an experimental air mail service into being to see how it will work and whether it can be carried on satisfactorily in the future.

With regard to the service to the West Indies, I should like to ask what is the position of Atlantic Airways, Limited, who were given, I understand, power to run services in the West Indies. I believe that the power given to them lasted for only a year, and I should like to ask whether that has been extended, if a further licence has been granted to them, and, if so, on what particular terms?

I should also like to bring to the hon. Gentleman's notice some matters which are nearer home. I do not see why we should not be able to speed up our transatlantic mails by running a service from Galway across the centre of England to Hull. It seems to me that if the mails could be met at Galway, or even better if the planes could fly from the ships, as has been done from the "Ile de France" and other liners, we could save a considerable time in the mails crossing over the Atlantic. I should like to ask whether there is any consideration being given to the question of running a service from Galways say, to Birmingham and then across to Hull for these mails.

Then I should like again to bring to the hon. Gentleman's notice, as I did last year, the fact that there is no communication at all by air with the Channel Islands. Imperial Airways, Limited, used to run a service with the "Calcutta" flying boat, but that was taken off and put on the India route, and to-day there is no air service in operation at all. When you come to consider that if you want to leave London for Jersey by train and ship, it takes you 12 hours, and if you wish to fly from London to Jersey, it takes you 2½ hours, it seem to me that, from the point of view of mails, of newspapers, and of the travelling public, that indeed is a service more than any other on which aircraft should be made available.

On the question of the air mails, something must be done to make the carrying of air mails more popular. I believe that of all the mails which go to India, only 5 per cent. are sent by air. I do not think that the Post Office authorities in this country have been very helpful in this matter. I understand that the Air Ministry and the London Chamber of Commerce and others have been pressing for some alteration in the postal services by air, but up to now little has been done. The suggestion has been made that the issue by this country of a definite air mail stamp would popularise the carrying of air mails. This is the only country of which I know which does any considerable amount of flying, and yet has not a proper air mail stamp, and, no doubt, the issue of such a stamp would do much to popularise the air mail with the general public and also advertise the various air services from this country to the Dominions. We are only carrying 6 per cent. of the whole of the world freight carried by air, whereas we are carrying 60 per cent. of the whole of the world freight carried by sea, and if we do not make efforts to popularise these air services among the general public of our country, we shall seriously fall behind in this important matter.

I should also like to know what is being done to improve the instruments in use on long air routes. If night flying is to be put into operation, as I understand it will be very shortly, I should like to know whether the Ministry have considered new types of beacons, and what types of lighting will be available for aerodromes on the long routes. It seems to me that in traversing a desert country, it will be necessary to have a long chain of beacons, if night flying is to be done safely. I believe that the United States are a long way ahead of us in the use which they make of beacons and various methods of lighting aircraft for landing purposes, and aerodrome lighting, and matters of that sort. Although we have in this country firms who are capable of making all these appliances just as well as any others, we have been very backward in this matter up to the present.

I very much appreciate what the Minister has been able to do in giving further assistance to flying clubs. They constitute an important part of our general civil aviation activities, and they have trained a great many pilots, both for the Royal Air Force and for other types of flying. In fact, most of the pilots who have carried out pioneer work in various parts of the Empire, by showing the amount of time occupied in reaching outlying parts of our Dominions, by making surveys and other work of that sort, have been trained by these clubs. It is a great pleasure to find in a time of financial stringency that this subsidy, which is not large but is of considerable help to the clubs, has been allowed to remain in the Estimates this year. I hope and believe that in the future, when times are better, we may be able to expend more money on the civil side of aviation.

I firmly believe that nothing can do more to cement the British Empire than air services between its various parts. We deplore the fact that the construction of airships, which was an integral part of our inter-Imperial air system, has been attended with such disaster, but it remains all the more necessary to focus attention on heavier than air craft in order to link up the various outlying parts of the Empire—the purpose for which the airships were to be constructed. I hope that the Minister will do what he can to meet the views which we have expressed, and, on our part, I think we can assure him of our support particularly in what he is doing for civil aviation.


With regard to the first part of the remarks of the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), I shall say nothing at the moment because that subject will be dealt with later by some of my colleagues, but I should like to refer to the second part of his speech in regard to civil aviation. I very heartily support the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), because I am one of the representatives of a city which has been foremost in pioneer work in regard to aeronautical science. The spacious and up-to-date air port at Bristol is evidence of the great initiative and activity shown by Bristol men in reference to this important aspect of our future industrial and commercial life. It is not merely because it is a commercial development that civil aviation has the hearty support of my hon. Friends and myself. Those of us who are students of our Empire are not desirous that the Empire should break up, but rather that it should become stronger and develop and fulfil its destiny in the highest and noblest sense. No one can consider the component parts of the Empire without realising the inconsequent development which seems to have characterised its growth—in some parts we find the highest type of civilisation and in other parts we find backward peoples. Civil aviation and the development of Imperial air routes will enable us to develop much faster the various parts of the Empire and bring them up to a higher level.

Those of us who have considered our African possessions for instance, must realise that it will be a good many decades before we have the economic resources required to bring together the parts of our African Empire and link them up to the Mother country in an intimate way. I suppose that future Imperial Conferences will treat more and more realistically the differences which exist at present between ourselves and the outposts of the Empire. We want those difficulties to he surmounted as rapidly as possible and it is only by association, by intimate contact, by rapid communication that we can get over those difficulties which have brought disaster to Empires in the past. It was exceedingly difficult 100 years ago to get from here to Constantinople, but to-day it is only a matter of a few hours. It is not long since a journey from here to the Antipodes was a matter of weeks, but now it is only a matter of days. As we can annihilate distance and get nearer together, the more we shall get to understand one another's difficulties, and the more we understand one another's difficulties the more we shall cement our Empire and accomplish our destiny in a way that is worthy of the work of our forebears. Because of that, and because civil aviation is probably the only civilised form of transport to those who travel to other countries; because I believe that it will link up the component parts of the Empire and the rest of the world in a way that will make for world peace, I heartily support the Amendment that has been moved by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite.

Lieut.-Colonel GAULT

I support the Amendment so ably presented to the House by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), and I should like to preface my remarks, seeing that I seldom find myself in agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite, by complimenting the Under-Secretary of State upon the presentation of the Estimates. In view of the need for national economy, I also congratulate him upon having effected some real economies, which may be described as minor financial prunings without impairing in any way the services for which he is responsible. In fact, from a perusal of the White Paper, I take it that efficiency has been actually increased. I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon the admirable record in long-distance flying which was carried out by the Royal Air Force during the last 12 months—a record which embraced some 115,000 miles without injury to personnel or any serious damage to the machines involved. That is indeed a record of which the Royal Air Force and the nation can justly be proud.

It is rightly said that necessity is the mother of invention. It was probably the necessity of finding wider markets in the world that took our forebears on to the high seas many centuries ago. Necessity, coupled with the spirit of adventure and that search for trade, led up to the navigation laws of the 16th century, which are perhaps the foundation of our maritime supremacy of the last few centuries. As in the sixteenth century the need was for us to go upon the seas, so to-day there is a very real need for us to take to the air. We should, therefore, do well to follow an advanced policy, and introduce the necessary legislation for the betterment and improvement of our air services, particularly of the civil air lines, which are so necessary in order to link up the great Imperial heritage which is ours. If we are to be successful in becoming an air-minded race, it is very necessary for our people to be afforded means of getting off and getting on to the ground. That means aerodromes. It is true that we have 129 civil aerodromes, and 50 Royal Air Force aerodromes in the United Kingdom, but these have to a large extent sprung up without any comprehensive scheme, with the result that there are some districts with a large proportion of aerodromes and other districts with none at all. The Minister will be wise to do everything in his power to encourage local authorities to establish aerodromes on a comprehensive scheme so that the flying services of the country, the local services, and amateur flyers may be able to travel where they will throughout the 'United Kingdom.

This brings me to the question of surfaces. Too much attention cannot be paid to this detail. Comparisons are frequently odious, but I think that the general opinion will be that the services of our aerdromes in England do riot compare favourably with the surfaces of aerodromes in Germany. The Germans have realised that by creating and establishing aerodromes with good, or perfect services, they have reduced the wear and tear on their machines, and that money spent on establishing good aerodrome surfaces is money well spent. Aerodromes at Tempelhof, Hamburg and Cologne can almost be described as lawns; they may perhaps he too perfect. I was glad to see in the White Paper that the Ministry intended to improve our aerodrome at Croydon, and to improve the surfaces there. The question of control of ground discipline should receive some attention. I have been much struck by the ground discipline in Germany, and although we may not have reached the stage where air traffic has developed to such an extent that there is a great deal of congestion at aerodromes, I am inclined to think that the discipline and control of German aerodromes can be taken as a model for us to copy. Too frequently we see machines going on to our aerodromes without any definite scheme of starting them off, and with the gradual growth and development of aviation that may be a factor of danger in air navigation. I would also like to see the Air Ministry arrange the necessary communication from aerodromes by telegraphs. I was surprised when I last landed at Lympne a few months ago to find that it was impossible to communicate by telegram from the aerodrome. That question should be looked into in the early future.

I was gratified to learn from the Under-Secretary that in future the reports of inquiries into accidents will be made public. It is most necessary to create confidence in the minds of our people. If the public are told the cause of accidents they will not be so diffident about air travel as they are if that knowledge has been withheld from them. Light aeroplane clubs are particularly to be commended, for they frequently have to carry on under difficult circumstances and in conditions calling for a considerable amount of sacrifice. It is interesting to note how many people display their interest in flying by becoming members of these local clubs. They have taught large numbers of people to fly in the last few years. I was glad to learn from the Under-Secretary that there are more than 1,700 holders of A licences; with the holders of the B licences, the total flying membership is brought up to about 2,000. That number would make a sound cadre of flying personnel in the eventuality of war, and on that account and by the encouragement they give to our people to take to the air, I believe these clubs are doing a tremendous amount of good in furthering the interests of aviation.

I would like to say a few words on the air routes. I understand that before long the Indian-Australian route will be extended as far as Singapore. In view of the report that the Luft Hansa Company has been granted concessions or awarded a contract to establish a service from Berlin across Russia to China, I think the Under-Secretary ought to consider the possibility of extending our service beyond Singapore along the Pacific coast, and perhaps as far as Japan. That question might be investigated and a report sent to the Ministry. The advance made in the Cairo to the Cape route is satisfactory, everything being taken into consideration, and I was extremely glad to hear that a regular service will probably be in operation within the next few months. That leads me to the question of the west coast of Africa; and as possession is nine-tenths of the law, and those who are on the spot first usually gain some advantage, I ask the Under-Secretary whether he does not think it desirable to investigate the possibility of establishing an air service on the west coast of Africa? The question of the West Indies and Canada probaly does not come within the scope of the Ministry here, but that air route presents many possibilities, and I trust it may be taken into account in the contemplation of a comprehensive scheme of linking up all the air routes of the Empire for postal services.

I understand that in the United States of America, where great strides in aviation have been made during the last few years, the aeroplanes carrying the post are machines capable or doing 150 miles per hour. Speed will unquestionably be one of the determining factors of the future of aviation, and although we must pay every attention to safety, still, if we do not endeavour to improve the speed of our machines we may lose business and influence in competition with other countries. We ought to concentrate upon getting a higher speed machine for carrying the post than we have at the present time. In regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) said in connection with the possibility of carrying the ocean-borne mail from Galway to England, I had in mind that experiments on the same lines might be made with incoming steamers in the Channel. It would bring New York another 12 hours nearer to London if the mails could be collected from the steamers by air and brought by way of Plymouth to London, `with emergency landing grounds at, say, Taunton, and some convenient spot on Salisbury Plain. We also require an air line that will link up Northern Ireland and the industrial north with Amsterdam and the German services. I would like to know whether the Under-Secretary thinks such a service is a possibility and would prove an economic success. I should not advocate such a service unless the prospective business warranted it.

On the question of night flying I wish to draw attention to the night lines of the United States, which are lighted up over distances of thousands of miles. In Germany, too, large numbers of airways are illuminated by beacons set eight kilo-metres apart. I hope the Ministry will give consideration to the development of mail services and night flying in the near future. I am not in entire agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) when he said that airways ought to be regarded as complementary to the great steamship lines and the railroads. Looking forward over the next 20 or 30 years, and taking into consideration the development of this new science during the last generation, I think the time may come, and perhaps sooner than we anticipate, when in the matter of long-dis- tance journeys the railroads and the steamship lines will become complementary to the air lines.


It is a strange circumstance that we are discussing the development of the air service without being able to say anything of the great disaster that befell R 101. Of course, it is no fault of the Government that we have not yet the report of the inquiry before us. These matters have to be considered with extreme care. The comparative value of lighter than air and heavier than air transport is a question of immense importance in our Imperial communications. Many hon. Members in this House have expressed a definite opinion upon that question, and I ask the Under-Secretary to use his best endeavours to see that this question will be fully discussed. Previous speakers have made a very emphatic demand for an extended air service. That may be a very excellent thing, but hon. Members should bear in mind that, with the exception of two unimportant instances, no commercial air service in the world is being run on its own and unsubsidised. Although I am afraid that we shall have to spend more money on air services, we must not disregard the fact that it all costs money. Those who have preceded me in this Debate have left very little for me to say on the general question, and I will confine myself to commenting upon one or two matters and asking some questions of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Debate, and I ask him to be good enough to answer my questions when he replies.

First of all, I should like to know the reason that delays the flight to Australia, and perhaps the representative of the Air Ministry will be able to tell us on what section it is now being held up. The hon. Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) referred to Imperial Airways, and he told us that, although mails came here from Scandinavia, there was no mail from here to Scandinavia in British planes. Some time ago I attended a conference at Copenhagen, and, from what I saw there, I know that it would not pay us to carry air mails to Scandinavian countries. Consequently, we have to concentrate on the Imperial routes. I was very glad to welcome the admirable speech made by the hon. Member opposite who laid stress on the value of quick communications inside the Empire which are bound to bring peace in their train.

Now I come to our old friend the Colwyn Report. I have pressed previous Governments to publish that report, and I believe its publication would not do any harm. I am told that that report very much favours the development of the air service for national defence. I do not know whether that is so or not, but I am sure its publication would not do any harm, and I hope the hon. Member who will reply to this Debate will make representations in the proper quarter, and that at long last, after waiting 41 these years and continually pressing the Government, that report will be placed in our hands.

My next question is whether the Government can do anything to encourage the manufacturers of aeroplanes in this country. We make the best aeroplanes in the world, but our trade in civil aeroplanes, especially of the large liner type, is very small compared with what is being done in Germany. I am inclined to think that if an exhibition of aeroplanes was held here it would show what excellent passenger-carrying planes we are making. We may be criticised because our planes are too slow, but great speed is not the only requirement, and safety is very important. I have flown in the planes of nearly every service in Europe, and I think that our services are by far the best and the safest. I think we should try to establish an export business in planes, because the demand of the world for aeroplanes is bound to increase, and I am sure that we could produce in this country the best planes in the world.

With regard to the postal air service, surely the time has arrived when our postal charges should he standardised. We pay the same stamp on a letter to French China as on one to Paris: and vet we are living in the 18th century as far as our air mail services are concerned. I know that at one time in our postal service we used to pay a separate rate to Birmingham, to Carlisle, and to Edinburgh—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Dunnico)

I am rather inclined to think that the question of air mails is a matter for the Posit Office, and not for the Air Ministry.


I quite accept your correction, and I was going to suggest that the hon. Gentleman might consult the Postmaster-General. I have made my point. I should like now to say just one word about Imperial Airways. It was criticised by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), who said that Imperial Airways was too big, that we ought to have smaller companies in charge of smaller local services, and that we should do better by breaking up the subsidy and spreading it out. That question has often been argued in this House, but I would submit that, of all services in the world, an air service is the one that requires centralisation, because, without immensely skilled care on the ground, you cannot get safety, and without the most efficient pilots you cannot get safety in the air either. You could not expect a small company to have that skilled personnel which a large concern like Imperial Airways can command. and it is just in these smaller services and with these smaller planes that I should expect the most unpleasant accidents to occur.

When people criticise the British service, I want to put before them the points that I should look to if I were called in and asked to express an opinion on some air service. I should ask, first of all, as to the standard of safety—the proportion of flights made without accident of any sort. Next I should ask how many of the journeys are completed journeys—in how many does the plane that starts on the route get to the end? We have a very large percentage. Ninety-four per cent. of the journeys that are started by imperial Airways, including the Indian service, are completed to the destination, and that is a far higher percentage than in any other country in the world. The third question that I should ask would be: How many of these planes get to their destination within a reasonable time? We all know that aeroplanes can fly fast, and we all know that., if all goes well, they can go from one point to another in a certain time; but what we want to know is that they will get there in time to catch the steamer or the train which starts from that place, and there again Imperial Airways have an immense superiority over the rest of the world.

9.0 p.m.

The next question that I should ask would be: How many machines are you using per 100 miles flown? That is a very important thing commercially, because the one thing in transport is always to keep your machines moving, and the fewer machines you can use per 100 miles flown the nearer you are to paying. My last question would be, how many ton-miles or passenger-miles have you got per plane? On the answers to these questions I should be able to express an opinion on the value of the service. But do not let the House forget the one thing that transcends everything else, namely, safety. It is not only that you want to spare suffering, but you want the air to be so safe that a passenger taking a ticket will not inquire or ask himself whether the air is more safe than a steamship or a train, but will just take the route which most pleases him and seems most convenient. For all these reasons, I think we have the best service of any in the world. It can be improved, no doubt; all human things are capable of improvement; but let us be certain that, when we criticise it, we are criticising it on right lines. Lastly, I think we are the only country which looks to unsubsidised flying, and looks forward to a time when our planes will fly without any subsidy at. all. On the bigger question of civil and military flying, I would say to the House that, the more you develop the civil side, the more you put the military side into the background. I quite agree that at present you can convert a big passenger plane into a military bomber, but, just as you get a differentiation between the warship and the passenger ship, so, as time goes on, you will get that differentiation in the aeroplane, and the more we get our people air-minded, and the more they get a civilian air mind and the less they think about military planes, fhe better.


I should like, first of all, in reference to this Amendment, to draw the attention of the House to the fact that as long ago as 1927 a Cabinet Committee exhaustively investigated the subject of civil aviation, and came to the view, which they expressed strongly, that we should concentrate on the development of long-distance Imperial lines, because those lines offered a prospect of ultimately becoming re- munerative. That policy was supported in preference to frittering away our resources on short-distance services in Europe, apart from existing commitments. So far as Imperial Airways are concerned, I think that on the whole, realising that the British policy is a policy of reasonable safety first, and that our standards are high in that respect, it has shown slow, but nevertheless steady progress, representing, in regard to our Imperial routes and our continental services, a satisfactory and healthy condition of affairs. If the extension to Australia gets going—and I have already explained that there is a tentative scheme for the extension of air mail services from Calcutta to Australia by way of Rangoon and Singapore—then with the Indian and African services, we shall have cause for congratulation even in comparison with the services of other countries.

I would like to make a comparison, which I am sure will interest the House, in this respect. Some hon. Members and some writers in the Press have on occasion been pessimistic in their expressions with regard to our civil air services, but I do not think that that pessimism is justified, bearing in mind, of course, the geographical difference between this country and continental countries. I remember the story of the American who, when he was in an English railway train, expressed himself as fearful as to whether the train would run off the island. It is really the geographical position of this country that gives rise to difficulties in regard to the necessities and the possibilities of our development in civil aviation.

We must, of course, take Imperial figures for comparison. We find that, if we include the service from Cairo to the Cape, which, it is hoped, will be in full operation, not as early as June, as one hon. Member suggested, but more likely somewhere about July, there will be this year no fewer than 29,300 miles of air services in the British Empire, as against 24,650 for France, 17,900 for Germany and 10,700 for Holland. Of course, naturally, in view of the vast spaces of America, the figures for the United States are larger than ours. This comparison between British and continental services, shows, I think, that we are in a healthy state, and that the pessimism of certain people on this subject is not quite justified.


Could the hon. Gentleman give the figure for America?


The figure for America is 49,550 miles. The need for speeding-up the development of Imperial air routes is constantly before the Air Ministry, and efforts are continuously being directed to that end. The further extension of the service across and beyond India has been the subject of continuous consideration and discussion with the administrations concerned and with Imperial Airways, Limited. At the end of 1929 the Government of India inaugurated an air service from Karachi to Delhi with aircraft operated by Imperial Airways, Limited, under charter, and leave announced their intention to extend this service to Calcutta as an Indian State route. It is expected that this extension will be opened at the end of the present year.

I wanted to say something with regard to the question of the Indian service. The matter has been raised and some amount of doubt has been expressed as to the position. Under the Indian Post Office Act, the sole right of couveyance of mails in India is vested in the Governor-General in Council. The Government of India intend to organise an air service between Karachi and Calcutta for the conveyance of mails, passengers and goods, commencing at the end of this year, on the expiration of the present charter which Imperial Airways have, over the section from Karachi to Delhi. That service will run in connection with the Imperial Airways service to Karachi. In view of the probable separation of Burma from India, the Government of India do not propose to extend that Indian State service beyond Calcutta. When the Government of India received proposals for Dutch and French services across India, they were quite prepared to insist that mails should be dropped at the Western port of entry, that is Karachi, and picked up again at the Eastern port—Calcutta or Rangoon—such mails being sent across India by rail till such time as an Indian State service was prepared to take them across by air. It was upon the urgent representation of His Majesty's Government—this is quite an important point in view of what has been said with regard to the Dutch service across India—who feared, I will not use the word reprisals, but, possibly, unfavourable repercussions by the Dutch or from the French in the Dutch East Indies and French Indo-China and possibly other countries traversed by the England-India air route, the Government of India agreed to allow the Dutch and the French to carry transit mails across India. They are not, however, using either of those services for the transmission of Indian mails.

In agreeing to this course, the Government of India stipulated clearly that Imperial mail carried by Imperial Airways should be handed over to the Indian State Air Service for conveyance by air from Karachi to Calcutta. A further item of information in this rather important matter is that the Dutch and the French pay the normal rates for housing and landing services within India. Wireless and meteorological services are provided free. No proposal has ever been made to the Government of India that Imperial Airways should be allowed to operate on similar terms to the Dutch and French. It has always been suggested that the Government of India should pay a subsidy to Imperial Airways. In view of pledges given from time to time in the Indian legislative assembly, a subsidy to any company other than an Indian company with rupee capital and a majority of Indian directors is out of the question. Those are facts which, I think, will satisfy all those who have taken part in the Debate and have referred to this question, and they are facts which I am happy to be able to give to the House. As regards the second great Imperial air route, that is the route to the Cape, I have already given the House the facts. The first aircraft on the preliminary service to East Africa left London on 28th February. It arrived at Mwanza in Tanganyika on the 10th of this month. The through route to the Cape should be in operation during the course of the summer. I have mentioned that probably it will he more like the end of July than the beginning of June.

As regards European air connections, the agreement with Imperial Airways, Limited, provides for the regular operation of services to Paris, Brussels and Cologne. The question of the development of efficient day and night air routes by mail services linking up this country with various Continental centres is being examined, and improvements are being effected in the lighting of the Croydon air port and in the lighting of the air route on this side of the Channel in order to facilitate flying by night. Electric boundary lights are undergoing trial with a view to installing some form of lighting around the whole of the aerodrome during the current year, and with a view to assisting night flying aircraft when in the vicinity of the Surrey hills, a new beacon has been installed at Merstham, near Redhill. This will be the first of a new type of beacon.

So far as air connection between this country and Canada is concerned generally, I can only a this moment express a pious hope that we shall get on in the direction of the development of air services across the Atlantic, but the facts of the case are not sufficiently advanced for me to be able to say anything to very great purpose in that direction. Everything will be done in every way possible to develop such a service, especially in the interest of air cooperation between Canada and ourselves. It is the Air Ministry's policy to concentrate primarily on the Imperial routes rather than on short services to the Continent, since we feel that this is the best use we can make of the very limited funds at our disposal. With the inauguration of the Indian and African services, the Empire is beginning to be linked up by all-red routes, and we are taking all possible steps to extend the Indian service to Australia, although the actual tentative proposals at present are confined to air mails, and we must leave the question of a passenger service to later development. When these are accomplished, we shall have brought into being the main trunk routes which the Empire requires, and it will then be up to the British territories traversed by these trunk lines to put ribs to the backbone, as it were, in the form of feeder services.

If I may refer to the question of aerodrome discipline at Croydon, that is controlled from the control tower. I am satisfied that the system is exceedingly efficient. It is true that the surface of Croydon aerodrome is not entirely satisfactory, but much attention is being paid to it. I went over the whole surface with the officials of the Ministry only a few days ago, and I am very much concerned about the condition of the surface there, especially in view of the new developments in heavier air liners, and so forth. But it is hoped that a certain amount of money may be found from this year's Estimates for the purpose of improving the surface. I can assure the House that the whole position is being watched, remembering, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that Croydon is the air port of the world. It ie the finest air port in the world, although I should like to say, since Tempelhof, Berlin, has been mentioned, there are some aspects of aerodrome maintenance and development we could properly apply in this country, especially on the social side. One of the things about the Berlin aerodrome is the fact that it is a real social centre for all kinds of social activities, and people flock there, with the result that there is a great development in air-mindedness. I think that, on the whole, the Ministry can claim, in view of the circumstances and the differences between Great Britain and the Continent, with our own peculiar problems, we are not, at any rate, as behind in the development of civil aviation as has been implied by some of the things which have been said by one or two hon. Members opposite.


There is the question about West Africa.


There has been an investigation and a report as to the possibility of West African services, but all I can say at the moment is, that the Air Ministry realise the importance of development in West Africa. For the moment, however, it must be subsidiary to the Central African route; we must get that going. There are questions with regard to feeder lines and so on, and the whole question is fully in the mind of the Ministry.


In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair].