HC Deb 10 March 1932 vol 262 cc2073-118

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that His Majesty's Government should take all possible steps; by way of research, training of personnel, and maintenance of ground equipment, to facilitate the immediate resumption of practical experiment in the development of rigid airships as soon as financial conditions permit. Good fortune in the ballot, which never attends me if a financial prize is at stake, has on this occasion given me a more estimable reward by affording me the opportunity, in bringing forward this Amendment, to address the House for the first, time. It will, I know, afford me its usual indulgence. I desire to draw attention to the question referred to in the Amendment, because, in common with many others, I have been concerned by the great curtailment of activity that has taken place in connection with the de- velopment of airships, and by the decision, now unfortunately carried into effect, to scrap the Airship R.100. The Government proposes to spend not more than £16,000 upon the development of airships. It is true that they intend, for that sum, to retain a small, though only a very small, technical staff, and to keep their masts and other equipment in order. It is true that they may say that they are carrying out two of the objects set forth in the Amendment. But as far as research goes, the technical staff that they propose to retain is so small that I think it will not be able to do anything whatever in the way of constructive research, but will be confined to keeping a note of developments that occur abroad. In any case, for an ultimate resumption of practical experiment and of construction of airships, the most important requirement of all is the existence of a personnel trained in the construction and operation of airships, and for that the Government appear to be making no provision at all.

I would like, accordingly, to ask whether the Government have any intentions beyond their immediate policy in connection with airships, and to urge them to consider the disadvantages that may ensue to us if through their policy we lose such knowledge and technical skill as have been acquired in the last five or six years. Let me at once say that I have no scientific or practical knowledge of, or interest in, aircraft in general or airships in particular, and as a mere layman, therefore, I have no technical qualifications which enable me to form an opinion of the slightest value as to the ultimate potentialities of rigid airships. But what as a layman I can see, indeed what I cannot help seeing, is that the Germans appear to have been able to construct a rigid airship that will go, and that will go safely, and they seem to have been able to fly it safely all over the world. I cannot help seeing also that both Germany and the United States are devoting considerable attention and considerable sums of money to airship development. It is only natural in these circumstances to experience the feeling that if the Germans can do a thing, we ought to be able to do it too. I cannot but deplore the fact that where, so far, the Germans have at least relatively succeeded, we should not only have failed relatively, but should virtually have given up trying.

I interest myself in this matter not for one moment because of any interest in the military possibilities of rigid airships, but entirely on account of their possible civil use for commercial purposes. It does appear to be not impossible that there may be permanent limitations, as regards size and carrying capacity, to the development of heavier than air machines operating under their own power, at all events in the lower atmospheric strata. If that is so, it does appear that if airships can be successfully developed there may be a very great sphere of usefulness for them on account of their greater carrying capacity, their longer range of operation, and their ability, which the aeroplane has not, to remain in the air independently of the continuous functioning of their engines. If there is to be a commercial future for them, one thing that is certain is that there is no country in the world to which they might be more useful than our own. There are many features in connection with airships which I need not enumerate, on account of which, in the present stage, their commercial development by private enterprise is virtually impossible without some form of Government assistance.

It is pertinent to inquire how far the present policy, or lack of policy, on the part of the Government, has been dictated by the disaster to R. 101, and how far by the need for economy. After the disaster to R. 101, the Government said that they would not announce their plans until they had some report from the Economy Committee. On 8th May last year the Economy Committee wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer advising the adoption of pretty much the same policy as the Government are now following, and advising the scrapping of the R. 100. A Debate took place on 14th May, when the Prime Minister announced a policy which was not by any means an acceptance of the Economy Committee's recommendations. He proposed, not indeed to adhere to the plans in existence before the disaster, but to follow a middle course with, an expenditure of something like £140,000 a year, involving in particular the retention of the R. 100 and its reconditioning and use for experimental flights. That course met with the general approval of the House. I will not say that economy was not an urgent need at that time, because it has been an urgent need for years, but it is true to say that at that time, although the Economy Committee had been set up, the full urgency of the need for economy was not appreciated by the Government then in power or in office. Therefore, I think that the modification of policy which was announced by the Prime Minister on 14th May was dictated rather by the disaster to R. 101 than by the need for economy. The further curtailment since made by the National Government was no doubt dictated on grounds of economy. I think there can be little doubt that both the airship disaster and the need for economy have played a part in reducing the Government's activities to their present very exiguous state. Neither the disaster nor the need for economy alone would have led to so large a suspension of activity.

8.0 p.m.

I treat this matter on the footing that airships are certainly not a proved failure. I do not see how one can say that they are a proved failure after the enormous amount of flying done by the Zeppelins during the War, after the voyages of R.34 and R.100 to Canada, and after the world-wide flights which the Graf Zeppelin has made. Some hon. Members may not agree that they are not a proved failure, but I think I am certainly entitled to treat the question on the footing that airships have not proved themselves a complete and final failure. That was the view most emphatically expressed in the Debate by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary of State for India, a former Minister for Air, and also the view acceded to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who presided over the Committee which inquired into the R.101 disaster. Let me remind the House of the view which the Prime Minister took at that time. The position which we find ourselves in at the moment is this, and I think the whole Committee will he with me when I state it, that airships up to date have neither proved a failure nor achieved an assured success, and that the report, most illuminating as regards what appears to have happened to R. 101 in the last stage of its fatal journey, leaves that statement as I have made it."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 14th May, 1931; col. 1391, Vol. 252.] The Secretary of State for India said that the report did not show that there was anything wrong with airships as such. Accordingly, I proceed on the footing that airships are not a proved failure. After a failure in an enterprise which is not a proved impossibility the natural instinct, the human instinct, and particularly the British instinct, is not to give up, as we seem rather to have done in connection with airship construction, but to try again with all the more energy and determination to succeed. Ultimate progress in the material sphere, and for that matter in the intellectual sphere as well, is only made by learning from failure, by persevering through disaster and by trying again after defeat. I do not think there are many hon. Members who have learned to ride the bicycle without falling off a few times. Mankind has not been deterred from further effort, now largely successful, towards the conquest of the air, by the fate of Icarus who flew too near the sun so that it melted the wax by which his wings were attached to himself. Hon. Members of the Opposition and their political associates in the country do not appear to have been diverted by what was for them the disaster of the last General Election from a continued advocacy of Socialism in our time, and, while I cannot predict their ultimate success, I can at least admire their pertinacity. If I may give one example from the intellectual sphere it was only after great difficulty and prolonged failure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) came to see the light on the fiscal problem, but he persevered, and I might say to the Liberal benches in front of me that there is no need to despair if you keep on trying with an open mind.

Very different from the spirit of resignation to failure which the Government's airship policy seems to exemplify, was the spirit expressed by the Lord President of the Council at the time of the industrial difficulties of 1926. Sadly recalling the failure of his efforts to promote greater industrial harmony, he said that he had failed so far and that everything he cared for was being smashed up, but that that did not take away from him his faith or his courage. He said that he was going to pick up the bits and start again. That is the spirit which achieves success, and I am wondering whether we in this country should not have picked up the bits of the R.101 and started again, and tried to accomplish what up to that time we had not been able to achieve. So much for the, disaster as having influenced policy.

What about economy? If the Government do no more in this connection than they are proposing to do I am afraid it is inevitable that we shall sacrifice very much of the knowledge and experience that has already been gained about airships in recent years, and lose much of the technical skill that has been acquired in their construction and handling. The certain result of that must be that if we want to start building again, or if we have to start building again, we shall have to build up all these things from the beginning and at a very greatly increased cost. Let me remind the House that the policy of the Government last May, an essential part of which was the retention of R.100, was urged upon the House by the three right hon. Gentlemen who are now Members of the Government as being not only the right course and the best course, but, most particularly, as being the economical course. The Prime Minister in that Debate said: Suppose airships are not going to be complete failures, and suppose, owing to experiments and to experience gained, say, during the next three or four years, we feel we must go back to some active and practical interest in airships, it will be a tremendous mistake if, in the meantime, we have been training no men with the skill and capacity required specially for airship construction. Later on he said: You have to keep a nucleus which is experienced in flying, which is experienced in the behaviour of ships, and which is experienced in the handling of ships, because if that is allowed to go, and you have to come back to some construction, then you have got to create the whole thing from the beginning, and not only is time wasted, but a great deal of money is squandered as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1931; cols. 1395–6, Vol. 252.] The Secretary of State for India in the same Debate said: In view of the great advantages that airships may mean to the British Empire in the future, I do not see how we can scrap all the research and experimental work, the value of which I cannot overrate, which has gone on during the last five years. We cannot pull to pieces R 100 after she has made only one or two flights and allow America and Germany to proceed with a really ambitious airship programme. We should lose our technical skill, we should lose, what is almost equally important, our operating experience."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1931; col. 1404, Vol. 252.] It is difficult, indeed it is impossible, to reconcile the present policy of the Government with the views expressed by right hon. Gentlemen so recently as last May, views which were accepted at the time by the House as justifying the policy then pursued. The need for economy may be greater now, and better understood, but that cannot make economical what has been decided to be uneconomical. There is one other consideration. I fear that the present position in this country amounts to little less than acquiescence on our part in German supremacy in this branch of aeronautics. The world is bound to think, even more surely than before, of the Germans as the experts in this connection. The Germans, people will say, can build airships and fly them successfully all over the world, but, though the British tried too, they were not much good at it. That is an idea which if it becomes prevalent is not only hurtful to our pride but damaging to our prestige, and it may some day, when airships become commercialised, deprive us of trading opportunities.

I have no intention of risking my own life in an airship and it may be said that in those circumstances I have no business to suggest that the Government should do anything in the way of allowing other people to engage upon hazardous adventures in airships in the future. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Govern-should send its servants or allow any of its servants to embark on trips in airships until there is every reason to suppose that complete safety has been secured. What I urge is that they should prepare for the time when another voyage can be made with that perfect security which will be required. I am sure that the overwhelming desire of all those engaged in work in connection with the airships at the time of the loss of R 101 who were not lost with the airship was to go ahead at once and wipe out that failure and avenge their comrades by mastering the elements and the natural forces which destroyed them. I should like to remind the House of one more expression of opinion given by the Foreign Secretary in that same Debate. Speaking of the Government's proposal to retain R 100 he said: If that is, as I believe it is, a good, practical, economical course, what a satisfaction that we should be able to adopt it! The dying thought of these men who were destroyed in France was, I am sure, that they were giving their lives to a great adventure. It is not the way of the people of this country to give up a great adventure because of a calamity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1931; col. 1416, Vol. 252.] The same right hon. Gentleman on the same occasion called attention to the fact that this is an international question in the sense that it evokes the co-operation of different nations for the general advancement of science and the benefit of mankind as a whole. He urged on that account that we in this country should at least do our share. He said: We cannot expect America and Germany and other countries to afford us the value of their progress and developments if we do not do something ourselves. I commend that sentiment most humbly to the House.

It is a source of legitimate pride to us that it has been the privilege of the British race to blaze many trails for the benefit of mankind as a whole. The opportunities of the British people for service and leadership in the world were never greater or more numerous than they are to-day. This is a comparatively very small matter, the question of airship development, but I should not like to think that we are taking our failure lying down, renouncing all claim to eminence, let alone pre-eminence, and putting aside all ambition to be a pioneering nation. In departure from the policy commended by the Prime Minister and other Members of the present Government to the House as the right and economical policy last May, and accepted by the House as such, the R 100 has been scrapped. I waste no time, as I have wasted no words in the Amendment, regretting what has been irrevocably done. Nor do I urge that the Government should at once start to build another large airship. What I urge, and what the Amendment affirms, is that short of building another airship at once they should do everything possible by preserving our knowledge and technical skill to prepare for the resumption of construction at the earliest possible moment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

In doing so, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. W. Johnston) not only on his luck in raising this subject, but on the manner in which he has presented his case. I am sure that the House will be very pleased to hear him on future occasions. I support the Amendment, because it reaffirms the decision which the House took last May. The Debate on airship policy on that occasion to which the Mover of the Amendment has already referred, was, to my mind, of great importance. It took place about six months after the disaster to R101 and after the report known as the Simon Report was in the hands of hon. Members. The decisions taken by the Government were taken deliberately and with considered judgment. The Prime Minister decided that Cardington should be kept as a nucleus and R100 restored for the purpose not only of flying experiments but of scientific experiments and he told us that the cost would be £120,000 in the first year, £130,000 in the second year and £140,000 in the third year. The right hon. Gentleman said these words: In these days of financial stringency what can be saved must be saved but sometimes saving is a form of very shortsighted extravagance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1931; col. 1397–8. Vol. 252.] While I am speaking on the financial aspect of the question I should like to repeat what was then said by the present Secretary of State for India who was for a considerable time Secretary of State for Air: I will say that it would not be true economy after this expenditure of money after this accumulation of technical knowledge to scrap this great experiment for the sake of £100,000 for three years."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1931; col. 1404, Vol. 252.] We have thus a general decision which was supported by the House of Commons and also by the right hon. Gentleman whom I have just quoted. I wish to ask why has that decision been reversed? It is not because of financial stringency because the scrapping of R.100 might easily have been postponed. I cannot think for one moment that that is the reason. It was a metal airship and it would have remained in its shed and suffered no hurt for months or even years. What was the reason therefore why R.100 was broken up. It looks to me very much like the deliberate destruction of a national asset. It may have been considered that its existence would have been a temptation to future Governments and that it was desired to make further experiments prohibitive in regard to cost and as difficult as possible. But we must remember that R.100 was a magnificent ship. It had a trial flight to America and back. It only had two short trials, the total flying time being 296 hours and during those flights, as far as we are aware, no serious trouble occurred and nothing seriously affecting its structure.

The Mover has called attention to the fact that the Graf Zeppelin is still flying. I believe that it still has the original cover and that it is paying its way, at least it did so last year. Already, I am informed, a time-table has been arranged for it for next year when it is to cross the Atlantic on more than one occasion. R.101 cost £500,000. It has now been sold, I suppose for a paltry sum of a few hundred pounds. It is the finest piece of airship engineering the world has yet produced. Then Cardington has been closed down—the only place in the Empire where British airships might have been successfully developed. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his speech last year said that the airship was a sort of side issue. I think that the great difficulty in regard to the whole airship question is that it has always seemed to be regarded as a side issue. There was no senior officer specially trained in airships to advise the Air Council. That showed a want of thought on the part of the Ministry. They could not keep in touch with what was going on at Cardington.

I agree that all the energy to-day is being directed to heavier-than-air machines and it is natural to concentrate upon a service which is so valuable and so successful. I should like in that connection to offer my congratulations to the Under-Secretary on the splendid work which has been done recently in connection with long distance routes especially in Africa and India. We know that the expenditure upon the service is very limited and I think that in the Debate there has been every encouragement to the Secretary of State to ask for a larger Vote. He cannot possibly carry on the experimental work which is necessary on the Vote now asked for. The results in regard to heavier-than-air machines have been remarkable during the last few years but even to-day we cannot safely cross the Atlantic on a heavier-than-air machine. The only machine that has been successful in crossing the Atlantic is the airship. We have crossed the Atlantic four times by airship. The Germans have crossed it many times, and have also been round the world, and no doubt they will cross the Atlantic by airship again very soon.

I have a special interest in Cardington because it is in my constituency and the effect of the Government's recent decision there has been devastating. The Prime Minister in his speech last year told us that when the disaster to R101 occurred there were 860 employés at Cardington. To-day there are 16 non-industrial and 55 industrial employés there. I am glad to say that the Air Ministry have done their best to find work for those people who lost their employment through the cutting down of the various staffs. They found work for 108 and we realise how difficult it was because these men had specialised in this class of work and had each spent from three to six years at it. It is different from any other work and it is almost impossible for these men to get back into engineering or other trades when they have been so long engaged in airship work. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) spoke about the meteorological department. We had a very fine meteorological department at Cardington. That has been removed, I do not know where it has been transferred but the work was most valuable.

I submit that, although, of these two airships, one has been scrapped and the other destroyed in the disaster, yet we have learned something. I admit that the lesson has been costly, but we must recognise that we have learned a great deal which is of value in regard to airship development. We have learned much in regard to stresses in various kinds of materials and also with regard to the heavy oil type engine. I wish also to ask the Under-Secretary a question concerning a rumour which appeared in the Press some months ago to the effect that Dr. Eckener had made an application in connection with a company which was to be formed in America and Germany and this country for taking over Cardington as a base for airships. Cardington is a magnificent aerodrome as those who have visited it will agree—one of the finest in the country. There are big workshops and enormous sheds, each capable of holding about a hundred aeroplanes. The Government have also about 500 acres of land there which is absolutely flat with no buildings on it and hardly any trees. There are, of course, ditches and a few small dykes, but it would be a suitable spot for an aerodrome for ordinary aeroplane work, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give some hope to the people of Cardington that something will be done there before long to re-start and re-engage some of those who have lost their jobs.

I would suggest also the forming of an airship school. For one thing, it would help in continuity of policy. Recent airships have been controlled by aeroplane experts chiefly, and the nearest approach to an airship school that we have had in this country was the experimental station at Pulham formed by the late Air Commodore Maitland, where most valuable work was carried out. It would be a very bad thing indeed for this country if we threw away all the knowledge which has been gained upon this subject during the last few years.

I would also like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether the question of airship policy will come before the Imperial Conference at Ottawa. I remember that some years ago, at the last Imperial Conference, this matter was very much in the forefront, and hopes were raised in Canada, Australia, and South Africa of a general airship service; and a great deal of money was spent in preliminary work, in mooring masts, etc. I hope that this matter will once again be raised at the Conference, because I think it is impossible for this country to leave to Germany and the United States of America the future development of the airship. I do not see why those countries should show us the way that we ought to take the lead. We know very well that the sea has taken generations to conquer, and we cannot say that we have actually conquered it yet, so we cannot expect to conquer the air with airships in a few years. It will take probably many years, and the disaster that befell the R.101 has put us back, I suppose, for at least 10 years in airship development. I would say, in memory of those who gave their lives in that great adventure, Let us not turn back now, but let us carry on with experimental work and see if we cannot plan out something for the future so as to recover our position in airship development.


It has given me great pleasure to hear two hon. Members plead the cause of the airship. Most of the great friends of the airship perished in the great disaster to R.101, and to us who are left, but who grew up with most of those who were killed, it is very pleasing to hear two hon. Members pleading for what those who died represented, but what is for the moment a somewhat unpopular cause. I must say that I think the Mover of the Amendment has simplified the ease by stating, quite frankly, that there is no military reason for an airship at all. Once you dismiss the military side of it, the problem becomes a somewhat simpler one. You will remember that there was a book published by the Government, called, I think, "The Approach to a System of Imperial Air Communications." That was a very great ideal. It visualized great lines of big liners from one part of the Empire to the other, from which spears of aeroplane services should radiate, and it was the idea that that might become a real thing, something which would link up the Empire, that really animated the airship school.

8.30 p.m.

Then came the crash. The Prime Minister asked me—I was not a Member of this House at the time—to go on to that inquiry, and for six months, with the present Foreign Secretary and Professor Inglis, we did, I must say, dig into the question of airships as thoroughly, I think, as was possible. While I was an enthusiastic airship man before going into that inquiry, I must say that that inquiry shook my enthusiasm very much. It shook it terribly, and I feel that one can sum up the position to-day in a very few words. First of all, will it pay? If it is not a military proposition, on what other justification can it exist, if it is not to pay? I very much doubt whether you are going to fill an airship with 100 passengers when that airship is filled with hydrogen. The last disaster will take many years to eradicate from the human mind. It was one of the most tragic and dreadful things, and arising from such a simple cause, just a rather slow stranding, with consequent fire.

The building of airships is now an international problem. It started in Germany, we copied the Germans, and now the Americans have copied us. They have built a machine with a capacity of 7,000,000 cubic feet. Ours was 5,000,000 cubic feet. I think that, along the lines of greater and greater airships, there is a possibility of success. The Americans are in a position in which we are not; they are filling their airship with helium. We cannot do that, and the enormous expense of this proposition quite appals. There may be political considerations which may make it worth while to show a great airship going up and down the world. It may be worth while, but practically, at the present time, I do not believe it is possible to ask the taxpayer to produce the money to go on with this matter. I am of the opinion that to keep the very smallest nucleus going is the right thing, but that for the next few years the most important thing to keep in the air is the pound, not the airship.


I should like to congratulate very warmly the Mover of this Amendment on his remarkably eloquent and interesting maiden speech, and I hope that we shall often have the pleasure in this House of hearing his views, especially on the occasion of the Debate on the Air Estimates. I know that hon. Members listened to him with the greatest possible interest and with no little sympathy, as they did also to the remarks that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells), also on the subject of airship development. No one in this House, I know, can regret the policy that has been adopted during the last year in airship development so much as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, whose constituency is so closely associated with airships, but the House will recollect, as the Mover of the Amendment rightly said, that the whole question was discussed and gone into last May, when the position was made perfectly clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as it was also by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for India and Foreign Affairs. No one is more qualified to discuss the details of the situation than my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, with the exception perhaps of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who, quite apart from his general knowledge of aviation and of his long interest in these matters, was also on the Court.

But the whole situation is governed by the question of finance. His Majesty's Government decided last August that, in view of the economic crisis, they had no option but to reverse their previous decision and to accept the recommendations of the May Committee. In accordance with those recommendations, the R100 has been broken up, with the exception of a single bay, which is being kept for experimental work. The Royal Airship Works at Cardington and the bases at Karachi and Ismailia have been reduced to a care and maintenance basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford asked what was the point of breaking up R100, and said that it would have been better to have kept it in its shed for a year or two, so that, if the policy were reversed, it could be taken out again to very good purpose. That would not have been the case. In view of the great financial stringency that exists, we cannot afford the sum that would have been entailed in the maintenance of that big ship. Quite apart from the fact that it would have cost over £1,000 a year to keep in the very minimum condition of fitness, I very much doubt whether, after a year or two years, this great metal airship would have been at all fit for flights of any extended nature. The corrosion that would have taken place, in spite of the maintenance and care lavished upon it, would have made it impossible to use it for any extended flights at the end of two years.

As a result of the policy upon which we have decided, we have saved a sum of £120,000 in these Estimates. It would have been quite impossible to produce this substantial sum which was needed towards the reduction in these Estimates if we had not taken this step. No one regrets this decision more than the Air Ministry, but it must not be taken as a decision against the utility of airships. I believe, as the Mover of the Amendment said, that the case for airships has neither been proved nor disproved. I am very much against those people who say that the disaster to R.101 is any reason for going back on former policy or for considering that, because of that disaster, there is no future for airships. Only the exigencies of the financial situation cause us to call a halt for the moment in our investigations. We have been careful not to close the door upon the possibility of resuming our investigations as soon as circumstances permit. The existing machinery at Cardington and Overseas will be maintained, and the whole organisation can be set in motion with the minimum of delay as soon as money is available for the purpose. Meanwhile, bur policy is to hold a watching brief with a nucleus organisation, which will carry on a modest programme of experiments and keep closely in touch with all developments and experiments that are being carried out in foreign countries.

In only two countries—the United States of America and Germany—are serious programmes of airship development being continued. I believe that in Germany, owing to the financial situation, the second large Zeppelin has not been laid down, although the scheduled time for it is long overdue. I believe that in both those countries the programmes have been considerably retarded owing to the financial situation. We have already arranged to send one of our most experienced pilots to the United States to establish first-hand contact with what is being done there and to keep us informed of developments. As far as Germany is concerned, similar arrangements are also being made. We shall, therefore, benefit from such development and the experience that is being gained; as far as experience is concerned, we are certainly losing nothing. We are doing everything we can with the limited funds at our disposal.

It will be very wrong to allow ourselves to be stampeded into any action by the terrible disaster which overtook R 101, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey has said, this sort of thing is bound to react on the public mind and one must take it into consideration. But if that had been entirely the reason for the policy we are adopting, it would have been adopted directly after the disaster, and the policy decided in May last year would have been a very different policy. Probably it would have been the policy which we are adopting now. The hon. Member can be sure that our present policy is entirely due to the financial stringency, and I hope that at some future date it may be possible to resume the work of airship development as my hon. Friend would like, because, after all, we must remember that lighter-than-air craft have a very remarkable career behind them. The work of the Zeppelins in Germany and airships elsewhere have shown us what they can do. If they can be developed successfully, they hold out a promise of inestimable advantage to mankind, and to no country more than the British Empire, scattered as it is over the Seven Seas. No country could share more in those benefits than the British Empire. But for the time being, we are bound hand and foot by the financial situation, and we must contain ourselves in patience until better times.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question again proposed.


Now that we have come back to the Debate on the original Question, I should like to make one or two remarks to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whom I should like to congratulate on the way that the Estimates were introduced. I am afraid, however, that I cannot entirely agree with all that is contained in the Estimates. In studying them, I have come to two conclusions: first, that we are spending too little money in the right way; and, secondly, that we are spending too much money in the wrong way. The right way is expenditure on the Royal Air Force. It is clearly stated in the Memorandum which the Secretary of State has published with the Estimates that the Royal Air Force is suffering in efficiency because of the cuts. The Memorandum states: There has been no option but to sacrifice a number of important items in the programme, but effort has been concentrated on producing the results demanded of the Royal Air Force by the nation's necessities with the minimum loss of efficiency. It should be noted by every hon. Member of this House, on whatever side he sits, and whether he agrees with the expenditure on the Royal Air Force or does not, and also by everybody outside this House, that this policy of economy in connection with the Royal Air Force has been carried to a degree where it is now definitely affecting the efficiency of the Service. That that is the case is admitted by the Secretary of State in this official document, and it is no light matter, to be passed over easily, because whether we agree with having an Air Force or do not, at any rate we all want to get 20s. worth of value for every pound, and here is an admission that we are not getting it at the present time.

I personally, in common, I think, with many other Members am disturbed at this reduction of expenditure on the Royal Air Force, particularly when we compare our expenditure on air armaments during recent years with that of European countries. The right hon. Gentleman himself told me, in answer to a question a few weeks ago, that since 1925 we have slightly reduced our expenditure on air armaments, whereas in the same period France has increased her expenditure by no less than 130 per cent., and the United States of America has increased its expenditure by no less than 150 per cent. Those figures make one think seriously whether, so long as we retain a fighting air force, it is worth while to pursue the cheeseparing policy we have been forced to adopt owing to the economic crisis, or whether we ought not to start a campaign throughout the country to proclaim that expenditure on the Services is not a wanton expenditure, is not, profligate expenditure or expenditure that is tempting people to fight each other, but is the best form of national insurance until the world ideal—to which. I think everybody subscribes—of universal peace and disarmament is attained; and it is only as to when that ideal will be attained that we differ from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway.

I would ask the right lion. Gentleman, now that we have cut down to the bone —and, in fact cut into the bone—the expenditure on the Royal Air Force, and now that with this limited expenditure he wants the maximum possible number of first-line machines, whether he will definitely contemplate, as soon as circumstances permit, increasing the number of squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force. I do not suggest that this should be done at the expense of regular squad- rons, but. I think this is a line of policy which ought to be taken up. The right hon. Gentleman himself knows full well, as he has had the honour of commanding these squadrons, that their work has been a revelation as to their efficiency and achievement, and has surprised people both inside the Service and outside. Will he tell me whether it is the policy of the Air Ministry to increase these squadrons, and also at the same time to have single-seater fighter squadrons and, possibly, flying boat squadrons as well as the bomber squadrons to which they are confined at the present time.

In looking at these Estimates one must remember that one is dealing with a fighting Service. At present it is politically unpopular, it is not the fashion, ever to mention the word "war." As the Financial Secretary to the War Office said in introducing the Army Estimates, we must keep that word away from every growing boy and girl in the country, and only when they are 17 may we reveal to them the awful truth. I think we ought to cut out sentimentality, to cut out sloppy thought, which is half our trouble to-day, and realise that we are dealing with a war Service, and that as long as we have a war Service we must consider it in relation to the possibility of a future war. The next war will I believe be decided by air power, but not air power as we knew it in the late war. No longer will military objectives be the chief targets of the Air Force. Rather will there be definite onslaughts, cruel, if you like, but deliberate onslaughts, on industrial and residential areas.


Hear, hear.


I am glad to hear the cheers of the Leader of the Opposition, because I agree with him that it is much better to face up to these facts, though after we have faced up to them we may well have a slight difference as to how to follow on from that point. I believe the next war will be very much a political war. By that I mean that the democracy which holds longest to its leaders, the democracy that follows the war policy of its leaders, will be the democracy of the country that wins; and the democracy of the country which first turns and abandons its leaders will be the democracy of the country that is conquered. We have got to face this new problem of the next war, this definite onslaught on residential and industrial areas in order to bring political pressure on political leaders. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest will give place to the survival of those with the greatest patience and with the greatest degree of capacity of self-sacrifice.

If hon. Members accept my contention as to what the next war may bring forth, I would ask them to approach the war problem in the light of that contention. We must prepare from the staff point of view; we have to prepare our fighting forces with a view to tackling these problems. Very often from small beginnings there springs up some movement which has ever-growing influence. Although one may scoff at the movement at the moment, because it is so small, nevertheless it may come to have an abiding and a deciding influence when the next war comes. I believe there is growing up to-day in the Royal Air Force a new development, a new movement, which is going to be the deciding factor in the next war, and which should certainly be taken into consideration in connection with the present Disarmament Conference at Geneva.

I am going to put this proposition to the right hon. Gentleman, and ask him if he will tell me whether I am stating a fallacy or a reality. During the last war we always assumed that, day or night, the operations of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Flying Corps must wait for suitable weather—that is, fine weather—but now we have the new development of blind flying, of instrument flying. A pilot can be trained to use new and marvellous instruments which will enable him to navigate his aircraft, under perfect control, and keeping on a perfect course, in fog or in cloud, without ever seeing the ground. I have been consulting some experts on this subject, and they tell me that now a pilot could leave the English coast in an aeroplane and fly on to London in thick fog or in cloud without ever seeing the ground, could get to what he thought Was the centre of London on his mathematically-calculated course, could release his bombs and fly back to the coast without ever having been seen by those on the ground, and that he would get within a quarter of a mile of his objective.

If that can be done now, what possibility does this new development not hold out as regards the future It holds out a prospect something like this: On the north coast of Europe there will be a foreign air base, and at 10-minute intervals bombing machines will leave that air base and fly to the coast. The leader will send to his followers, by wireless telephone, information as to the weather conditions; and lot me stress the point that the favourable weather conditions then will be just those weather conditions which rendered aerial warfare impossible during the last War. He will wireless "Conditions are good," which will mean fog, rain, cloud—typical English weather. He will go on to the centre of London, followed by his successors at 10-minute intervals, they will drop their bombs, and they will fly back without ever having been seen by any of the anti-aircraft batteries or any of the fighter squadrons. They will be enveloped in the cloud, and will drop their bombs on their objective. I grant that they may miss it, may, indeed, miss it by a quarter of a mile, but they will have plastered their bombs over some residential or industrial area and annihilated civilisation in that particular area. If you get that possibility, I submit that it alters the whole scheme of the relation of the strength of our Air Force to that of foreign countries.

Hitherto I, in common with many other hon. and right hon. Members who have studied this problem, have never taken seriously the contention that civil aircraft can be converted at once into military aircraft. It may be said that our military aircraft could easily shoot down civil aircraft, and it would be like shooting a rabbit at short range. By the new development the civil aircraft of any foreign country becomes a potential bombing aircraft. All you want is the necessary instruments for the pilots to fly through clouds. If you do that with civil aircraft, you can make them into potential bombing machines. I submit that this new development has made it absolutely necessary to take into consideration at Geneva the relative strength of civil aircraft as well as the service aircraft of the various countries in the world. I want the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, to tell me whether I have drawn too imaginary a story as regards the possibilities of civil aircraft. If I have not, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether he admits my argument as to blind flying, and whether civil aircraft should not be taken into consideration when assessing the air armaments of any country? I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me whether, if these facts are taken into consideration, they do not increase the disparity between this country and other countries, and make it more than ever necessary that we should reserve any further measure of disarmament until other countries have set us an example?

9.0 p.m.

I come to my second contention, that we are spending too much money the wrong way. Here I regret to say that, in common with an ever-increasing body of opinion inside this House and outside, I feel that the development of civil aviation is being definitely retarded by the monopoly subsidised agreements between Imperial Airways and His Majesty's Government. By virtue of those agreements the whole question of Imperial development is placed in the hands of one company responsible to its shareholders. That is a system which is costly, and has not up to the present achieved success. My indictment is that it. is absolutely wrong in principle. I grant that it gives the right hon. Gentleman and his Department an opportunity for getting out of the difficulties of an argument. If he is attacked as regards the development of air routes the right hon. Gentleman is able to say, "Oh, that is private enterprise, and we cannot interfere." On the other hand, if he is attacked as regards the expenditure he can say, "That is an Imperial development, and we must not grudge the expenditure," The present system eliminates all competition. The right hon. Gentleman may say that his policy has succeeded, but I maintain that it has not. I think everybody agrees as to the need of Imperial development. We all agree as to the coincidence of Imperial air routes being used by the Royal Air Force and commercial users, but I submit that the policy of development of Imperial air routes should be one controlled either by the Government or entirely by private enterprise.

The present system is a sort of hybrid arrangement. If it were Government en- terprise there would be responsibility to this House, because we should be using the taxpayers' money, and there would be a check on the expenditure under Parliamentary control. If it were a system of private enterprise dependent on the achievement of certain conditions set up by the Government, if those conditions were broken the Government would be able to end that arrangement. The system should be either Government or private enterprise, but not as it is to-day. In the present state of our Imperial air routes I suppose that the Under-Secretary of State for Air made the best case he could with the very poor material at his disposal when he said that our Empire air line mileage was greater than that of any other country; but he did not say where it was flown over, and I shall listen with great interest to his defence of that assertion. The right hon. Gentleman told us to look at the route from Cairo to Egypt, which was 1,120 miles through the air and 975 miles by a foreign railway, and which would be available in time of war for the aircraft of this country. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say if that would not be available in the case of a European war.

Take the route to Australia. There is a great, marvellous Australian route operated by Imperial Airways, but it has only been flown once by Imperial Airways, and then the aeroplane crashed. The end of it was that an Australian pilot had to come and rescue the mails and fly back from England to Australia, and he did this with a degree of efficiency which Imperial Airways have never been able to achieve. On this route lies India, and what has happened there? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that Imperial Airways, the company in which his Department is so interested, has succeeded in achieving the maximum advantage in relation to the Government of India? I make this direct charge that these negotiations of Imperial Airways have been bungled, and bungled badly, as regards the Government of India. Communications are one of those services which had been handed over to the Government of India for their own administration, and, naturally, with the feeling and the desire of India to build up for herself—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

We cannot possibly discuss, on these Estimates, what the Government of India want to do.


I was not going to encroach on the subject of the Government of India, but was merely going to develop the point that Imperial Airways, with the Government of India, adopted a policy which was not likely to succeed in achieving the efficiency which we desire to see, and for which we are voting money to-night, but which we are failing dismally to get. Messrs. Imperial Airways, in their negotiations with the Government of India, did not consult or give that consideration to Indian opinion which would have insured for those negotiations a successful conclusion. Had there been some consideration for Indian opinion, such as an Indian Board of Imperial Airways, had there been consideration for the feeling that communications were one of the Indian services, those negotiations would have been brought to a successful conclusion, instead of the All-Red route to Australia being stopped, as it is to-day, through the Government of India declining to allow Imperial Airways to run their service across India.

Again, I do not think that the South African service is a very creditable service to-day. I see from the memorandum that the service is now operating, but I think that, if anyone takes the times of the services operating to-day, they will find that it would be considerably quicker to go by car, and in one case the mails arrived by boat rather earlier than by air. It, may be said that there has been bad luck with the South African route, but I would charge this to Imperial Airways, that the bad luck has been caused through the opening of the route before the machines suitable for it were ready, and that the reason why this had to be done was the impatience at the ever-increasing delays of the countries which this route traversed, and the dilly-dallying of Imperial Airways before getting the route going.

I see that in the memorandum there is foreshadowed a further burden on the taxpayers of this country, of, I think, £10,000, owing to the possibility of the negotiations with the Government of Persia breaking down and its being necessary to have a West Arabian route. I think that we ought to know in the House of Commons something more about this expenditure before we pass it, tonight. We ought to know whether the taxpayers are to go on paying for the development of routes for Messrs. Imperial Airways when those routes are not used efficiently. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, does he of his own knowledge know if Imperial Airways surveyed this great Arabian route with a naval officer of great distinction and eminent service in submarines? That was scarcely likely to give the maximum of efficiency in surveying that route for air development.

At every step Imperial Airways have had primarily to study the interests of their shareholders who always receive their dividends, sale and secure in the knowledge that the taxpayers will disgorge the necessary funds. At every step Imperial Airways have to study the interests of their shareholders at all costs, even at the cost of Imperial development. We have recently been discussing in this House a Tariff Bill, and fears have been expressed on all sides that inefficiency would be sheltered behind tariffs. [Interruption.] Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen cheer. Let me tell them that there is a greater degree of inefficiency behind this monopoly subsidy than ever there will be behind the tariff. Imperial Airways have the finest pilots in the world—grand pilots, men of great experience, men of great caution and men of great ability; but, besides pilots, there is other organisation, and there is a directors policy, and I submit that there is inefficiency both as regards policy and as regards certain parts of their organisation. These great air routes are used almost entirely by Messrs. Imperial Airways, and, therefore, any other commercial user or any other private user is virtually in the grip of this great monopoly subsidy company.

I do not want to make a charge of inefficiency without being able to prove it. I have here a letter which I will show to the right hon. Gentleman if he wishes it, but I do not want to disclose the name. It is from a pilot who recently flew to Iraq, to India and to Persia, and this is what he says about the route: I landed at Rutbah Wells to re-fuel. The landing fee was 6s."— more than the Government charge at their Croydon air port. Petrol cost 6s. a gallon. Petrol could be obtained some half-mile further on from a petrol station used by the desert track motor cars, at 4s. a gallon. He says that when he landed at Basra he was charged, for native labour manhandling the Moth in and. out of the hangar 9s., and, for garaging, another 9s. The Government dare not make these charges, or the company would be unable to pay their subsidy out of the taxpayers money to the shareholders. He goes on to say that on his return to Bagdad to collect his machine, he required the machine at five o'clock in the morning, and went there to see the aerodrome officer at five o'clock. He was in bed, and refused any assistance, saying that it was too early, and also what an infernal nuisance these dashed civilians were—but "dashed" was not the word. He says: I did not get the machine out of the hangar till six o'clock. I was here charged the usual exorbitant prices, plus £1 for the kind attendance of the aerodrome officer. When he eventually did attend, he attended in his pyjamas. On arrival at all the aerodromes in Persia which are controlled by the Luft Hansa, one had no sooner landed at the aerodrome than a small car would come out containing two Germans, who would give a stiff Teutonic how, welcome you, offer you their services, and recommend one where to get the cheapest petrol. That gives an idea of the treatment received from Imperial Airways on these great Imperial routes, which are supposed to be developed for the purpose of civil aviation, and not for the purpose of enabling a monopoly subsidy concern to ensure that its shareholders shalt receive their dividends. If that has happened once, it will happen again, and I submit that it must discourage the users of our great Imperial air routes, who ought to be encouraged—both private owners and rival commercial operators. This state of affairs is a disgrace. I do not mind scandals, but, if there is a Government scandal, this House of Commons can control it. If there is a private scandal, and it runs counter to the law, the law will control it. What I object to is a continuance of private scandals at the taxpayers' expense. The defence of the right hon. Gentleman will probably be three-fold, and I may perhaps help him in regard to it. It will be, firstly, that Imperial Airways and the Government are bound by agreements until 19391 It will be, secondly, that, if those agreements had not been entered into, there would be no civil aviation to-day; and, thirdly, that really the company is doing very well.

As regard the first, I would only remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Hambling Committee recommended a fifty-fifty basis—that the taxpayers and private enterprise should each bear their equal portion of the charges. But this has been abandoned long since. Imperial Airways had contributed something over £2,000,000 of your money, Sir, and mine, and the shareholders have subscribed something like £500,000. Surely, before the House of Commons votes any more money to a monopoly subsidy company, at least there should be an opportunity, which I am sure they would be glad to take, so that they could have another issue of capital and the private shareholders should be allowed an opportunity of bringing their four-to-one chance up to a two-to-one chance. If it is good enough for you, Sir, and myself and the taxpayers to pay out this money equally, it should be good enough for the private investor to subscribe for the necessary shares.

On the second point, aviation might be on a healthier basis to-day if Imperial Airways had never been born. We should have been nearer the right hon. Gentleman's dictum that civil aviation must eventually fly by itself. We should have had something more like the American system, whereby the Post Office pays for the fast transport of air mails, whereby speed is the essence of air transport, whereby, there would have been a development of Imperial air routes with fast mail carriers, not worrying much about passenger traffic but giving a maximum of efficiency in business communications. I do not want to be unfair to the company, I am being very mild with them. Undoubtedly the company has done good work. It has good features. but another concern, a private enterprise concern with a Post Office mail subsidy, something more on the American system, with speed as the first consideration instead of dividends at the taxpayers' expense would have been better for civil aviation rather than the formation of this monopoly, subsidy company.

As regards the last point in the defence, that the company are doing very well, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is going to give us more figures as to mileage. If he quotes statistics so can I. It costs the taxpayers 2½ times the fare charged to an individual passenger to transport him from Cairo to Karachi. The fare is It costs the taxpayers £180 in addition. It costs us to take a passenger to Paris something like £8 in subsidies. He will tell me perhaps, as he has done before at Question Time, that I am using figures unfairly. I could equally tell him that he will probably use those selfsame statistics to the advantage of his case when he stands up to reply. But it is not. figures that count, it is facts, and the facts are that we are paying openly in subsidies, we are paying surreptitiously in loans and equipment, in advantageous terms for aerodromes set up in the desert with Government money, we are paying as regards staff at the Air Ministry and as regards meteorological service for the maintenance of Imperial Airways, and the results have not justified the expenditure. The Government is tied to Imperial Airways until 1939. I want to ask this assurance, that no fresh agreement, no fresh moneys, no fresh promise will be made to Imperial Airways and no fresh negotiations for further expenditure at the taxpayers' expense will be made until we have had an opportunity in the House to investigate the present state of affairs and until the House of Commons has had an opportunity of inquiring into and reporting on the results achieved to-day.

I am sorry to ask one more question of some importance. There are two Government directors on the hoard of Imperial Airways. One of them flew to South Africa the other day on that great initial air flight on the all red route when the machine arrived two days late. I understand that a report has been received at the Air Ministry from the Government director. Will it be made public to Members of the House of Commons? I do not ask for private information as regards the financial or internal arrangements of the company. What I ask for is a report on the condition of the air route. I ask for a report as to the state of the aircraft and the route. I ask—and I think every Member in the House will support me—that we should have that report laid on the Table. They are Government directors and what is the good of them if we cannot get the benefit of their advice? Are the Government satisfied or are they not, and if they are not satisfied, what are they going to do about it? Are they going on under the present arrangements? If they are satisfied a good many of us are not. A good many in the country are not satisfied with the development that has been achieved under these arrangements.

Hitherto the House of Commons has always been two Front Benches opposing each other, with the back benches supporting their respective Front Benches. The right hon. Gentleman now on the Front Bench is surrounded, except for a small segment of a circle, entirely by back benches. For the first time in recent Parliamentary history the back benches control the House of Commons and they are just feeling the glory of the position. They are just starting to know their power, and I glory in the fact. This is one of the instances when I shall use every endeavour—and I think a good many other Members will support me—to ensure that this question is ventilated—not that the issue is prejudged. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) seems to think I am biased. All I ask for is a straight and honest inquiry by the House of Commons into the present monopoly subsidy agreement. If he denies that inquiry, the surrounding troops will gradually come nearer and nearer until the right hon. Gentleman is enveloped by those who are determined to see that justice is done to the taxpayers and to Imperial air developments.

Brigadier-General SPEARS

After the fierce onslaught by my hon. and gallant Friend I feel that I must be extremely gentle. May I say how sorry I am that I did not hear the Under-Secretary's speech, but I explained to him that I had to be elsewhere. My regret is all the greater for I have heard on all sides what an excellent speech it was, and the only thing that has been some compensation to me is that I have had the pleasure of listening to very remarkable maiden speeches from the young representatives of the Air Force. Those speeches do credit to them as they do to the force which they represent. If it is not considered presumptuous in an old soldier, who saw much of the work of the Air Arm during the War, to con- gratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the force he represents, I shall be glad to do so. As an old cavalry soldier, I am glad to see that the old cavalry spirit of which we were so proud is not dead. Emulating Pegasus, the horse has found wings, that is all.

I cannot spend the whole evening throwing bouquets at my right hon. Friend, for he is himself too good a horticulturist for me to emulate him in this connection. I had intended to put to him a certain number of precise questions, but, as the hour is late, I am not going to do so. I should like to make it perfectly clear that any remarks I may have to make are, of course, not in the least personal in their nature, and they do not mean in any way that I have not the most profound admiration for the whole of the Air Force. What I shall have to criticise is a certain spirit and a certain mentality to which I will allude in a moment. I have often thought, as I watched the right hon. Baronet defending his Department in this House, that it was not a very easy task. The Air Arm is a species of infant Hercules. The right hon. Gentleman is the political nurse of a promising, healthy, but somewhat bumptious child.

9.30 p.m.

Something has been said by at least one Member in reference to some questions which I put concerning the mechanised force in Palestine. One hon. Gentleman thought that clearly it was almost indelicate on my part to venture to ask questions concerning a certain branch of the Air Service in Palestine. If I had ever thought of not pursuing the subject, that speech would have determined me to go on probing the question to the very bottom. What is the question? The Air Force has set up a certain number of mechanised units in Palestine and Transjordan. It also has a couple of battalions. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said that naturally the Air Force was given a theatre of operations, and when they wanted mechanised units they went and got them, and nobody ought to venture to inquire into the subject. It was said that the War Office refused to give those mechanised units when they were requested. Let us get at the bottom of this. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman that 10 years ago, after mature consideration, Palestine and Transjordan were handed over to the Air Ministry. The implication of the answers he gave in this House was that the Government then decided that any additional forces required would be forthcoming; if the Air Force required battalions, then those battalions would be given; if they wanted mechanised units, those mechanised units would be handed over. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that that is what actually happened. I believe that what happened was that about 10 years ago the Air Ministry suggested it was perfectly capable of keeping order in those countries by means of aviation. It sounded cheap, and the idea appealed to Ministers. If it is a fact that the War Office refused those forces, and that the Air Ministry was entitled to ask for them under the decision given 10 years ago, then the War Office is very much to blame, and all it means is that there is a complete lack of co-ordination between Ministers.

I should like to know if that is the case. On the other hand, if the War Office answered by saying that the Air Force undertook to keep order in Palestine and Transjordan with aviation, and asked why, therefore, it should give the Air Ministry extra forces, that is perhaps another matter. There is something there which this House is entitled to know, because it is on factors such as these that this House will have finally to decide whether it means to have a Ministry of Defence Or not. The House is perfectly capable of deciding whether there is that efficient co-ordination between the Services which ought to exist. I do think we are arriving at a perfectly ridiculous position owing to this method of handing over whole theatres and countries to the Air Ministry. In Palestine, for instance, according to the answer given me by the right hon. Gentleman, there is a total force of 3,500 men. Out of that number, 240 belong to air units, and yet the whole country is under the Air Ministry. On the face of it, I must confess it sounds absolutely ridiculous.

Before leaving the subject of mechanised forces, the right hon. Gentleman advanced as his reason and justification for the Air Force creating mechanised units of its own, the fact that these armoured cars communicated by wireless with the aeroplanes. That is something which is childish. I have not heard such a contention put forward. Do not your aeroplanes in flight communicate with the guns? If they do, is that a. sufficient reason for the Air Ministry to start its own batteries? There are rumours that the Air Ministry desires to have handed over the control and duty of defending the North-West Frontier of India. I should like to know the views of the right hon. Gentleman upon this subject. Before any such decision is taken, I hope that those people who look very small and insignificant from the air but who, nevertheless, strangely enough, still have to win battles—I mean the infantry—are consulted.

If the infantry, who have experience of the North-West Frontier, are consulted, they will tell many a tale of villages reported to have been destroyed but which were not destroyed at all. They will tell of how the hillmen under a threat of an air attack simply shelter in the caves, and, when the air raid is over, issue forth unscathed and unharmed prepared to tackle the advancing infantry. I know of one case when the hilimen did come out prematurely from their caves. When the matter was inquired into by a political officer, the hillmen explained that they abandoned their caves because they were being devoured alive by fleas. They were far more frightened of the fleas than of the right hon. Gentleman's flying machines. There is, perhaps, a lesson to be adduced there. The right hon. Gentleman's Department is very keen upon making reorganisations. I think that he might make a useful alliance with those insects. It might prove a very useful adjunct to his flying machines.

Some of us object to the lack of co-operation which is displayed by the Air Ministry in dealing with the more senior Arm. The Navy and the Army are working perfectly amicably. There is not a shadow of difficulty between them, and I wish that the same could be said of the Air. All that we ask is, that the Air Ministry and its staff should display that spirit of good will and of co-operation without which we cannot possibly get efficiency in the Services. If the Air Ministry displays these virtues, it will receive the whole-hearted support of the soldiers in this House. If it attempts to economise—and its overhead charges are far too heavy to-day—it will earn our gratitude, but if the Air Ministry does not display that spirit of good will and of comradeship, and if it goes on, to use a gangster phrase, attempting to "muscle" into territory when it has no right to do so, we shall oppose it and use our very best endeavours to get the Air Ministry abolished, save as a minor organisation to look after civil aviation.


I have listened to most of this very interesting Debate, and I join with hon. Members in congratulating the Minister upon his very clear exposition of the Estimates, and also in complimenting those hon. Members who have delivered maiden speeches. The Minister gave us a splendid panorama of a trip he undertook recently. I felt in my imagination as if I had been with him in an aeroplane passing over the Straits of Dover, Central Europe, arriving in Egypt, and proceeding far away into India. On the route we sighted some wrecked motor cars and two or three sick Emperors as well. And everything went on very well until we came back home. As we passed over the Isle of Thanet we encountered a storm. That is a fair picture of the Debate this evening. I would say to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) that if one-half of what he said to-night is true—


It is all true.


I think that the Lord President of the Council ought to take note of his statements. It is another question as to whether he means it all. To one who is only acquainted with the Service from a distance, the statements which have been made this evening, and the facts which have been brought out in Debate, are really very interesting indeed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman behind spoke as a soldier and said that he did not know very much about this arm of our Forces, because he served in the Army. I am very much further removed from this Service. I am an old coal miner. The airman goes up and the collier goes down. Those at a distance can as a rule see a great deal of the game, notwithstanding.

I wish to put two or three points to the Minister in charge. I was very sorry indeed that the Minister, in speaking of the reductions in the Estimates, congratulated himself on those reductions, primarily because they were brought about consequent upon the financial stringency through which we are passing. There was not a single word in his excellent speech which would indicate anything else but that if he had plenty of money he would double the strength of the Air Force. I think that he would spend very much more money upon it than he is doing now if funds were available. On the other hand, I wish to support the policy outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), that the nations of the earth should be very careful in handling this new instrument. We have heard contradictory statements to-day as to the use of civil aviation in this country. One hon. Gentleman who professed to know something about civil aviation said that it was never intended that this section should be used at all in war except for defending our shores. Lo and behold! the following speaker, who seemed to know quite as much about the subject, said that there was no sense at all in having civil aircraft unless it was brought into line for fighting purposes in the event of war. These contradictory statements have befogged the issue somewhat.

The Under-Secretary made a statement that the Air Ministry could not afford to have these reductions in any subsequent year. He further said that among the nations we were fifth in the size of our Air Force. Comparisons have been given in past years by Ministers of the size of our Air Force in relation to the Air Forces of several other countries in Europe. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary did not give us some comparative statement, because it is hardly enough to tell us that we are fifth on the list. I noticed another omission. In the past we have had some figure given showing us the improvement in the number of casualties among the men in the Air Force. It is, of course, a very dangerous occupation, although we are told that it is safer to fly than to travel on some of our railways. Will the Under-Secretary tell us what improvement there has been in the matter of safety. He might, for in- stance, compare the number of our aircraft with that of France. He might also say bow aviation has developed in the countries surrounding us in Europe, not only in regard to Government aircraft but also civil aviation.

The hon. and gallant Member for Thanet used certain phrases which might have led one to think he was a Socialist. At any rate, he was very bitter against private enterprise.


Subsidised private enterprise.


Most private enterprise is subsidised in some form or other. Therefore, the hon. Member must be opposed to private enterprise and he ought to join our party on that issue. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that there is a genuine feeling that there is something radically wrong when the State is subsidising civil aviation and giving money to companies which are doing very well financially. I have had some figures presented to me which show that one company, subsidised heavily by the Air Ministry, is doing remarkably well and paying a good dividend. The principle on which subsidies have been given in the past has been in order to help infant struggling industries. When they have secured their feet, at it were, the subsidies have been withdrawn. That has been the common practice in regard to subsidies. If 25 per cent. of what the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet said about Imperial Airways is true, the Government ought to inquire into the matter forthwith.

If civil aviation cannot be carried on in this country without subsidies from the State, would it not be very much better if the whole of civil aviation was carried on under the control of the State? One would never think in regard to the Army of asking a private company to establish a battalion and making a profit thereby. And I could never imagine any Government, however capitalistically minded it might be—and this is about the most capitalistically-minded Government that I have seen—handing over part of the Navy of this country to private enterprise, subsidising it, and allowing that company to make a profit out of the transaction. But that is exactly what we are doing in relation to civil aviation, and I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us more about the question of subsidies.

One hon. Member said that what we need to do is to spend more money, to establish a very much stronger Air Force, and to build more aircraft in preparation for the next war. What a delightful spectacle! I have some reason to speak on this subject. I represent a Division in Lancashire, and it may interest hon. Members to know that German aircraft came as far as Lancashire in the last war. They destroyed a great deal of property and some lives were lost. I want therefore to combat the argument that we must build up an Air Force so strong that, whether there is fog or rain or whatever the atmosphere may be, we shall be able to prevent any aircraft coming from any other part of the world to our shores. Even if it costs another £17,000,000 or £20,000,000 we are told that we must do that. Every militarist, every anti-League of Nations advocate talks like that. To-morrow in France, Belgium and Germany they will probably say: "There was a Debate in the House of Commons yesterday, and they were talking of flooding the United Kingdom with aircraft to such an extent that the time may come when British aircraft will drop bombs on Paris, Berlin and Brussels." Statesmen and leaders of thought in all the countries of Europe ought to keep away from that line of thought. They ought not to be always thinking of attack or defence. If they do so, the cost of armaments will become so heavy that the peoples will get so sick of armaments that they will cry out to Geneva to settle the problem for good.

I believe that the time is fast arriving when aviation, when all the craft that flies through the air, must ultimately come under the control of an international authority. After speaking with men of knowledge and repute on this matter I find that those who favour this new instrument of destruction—in the end that is what it will mean—and who favour its development, are themselves terribly afraid lest they may see the day -when it will be actually used in warfare. I hesitate to think what might happen in what is called the next war. Hitherto, we have engaged men for wars by the thousand and have sent them abroad and paid them a shilling or so a day to do the fighting for us. But the last war gave the north-east coast of England a taste of war in the air and, as I have said, enemy aircraft came up as far as Lancashire. Moreover, a great deal of property was destroyed and lives were lost within the City of London itself. If war comes upon Europe and aircraft is fighting aircraft, the civilian population of the countries engaged will suffer on a very terrible scale indeed.

The argument now used by some hon. Members is that what we all have to do, if a war takes place, is to drop bombs on centres of population in order to induce foreign peoples to bring influence upon their Government and to prevent the war being carried on. But I can see something else. Some hon. Members have said that aircraft can drop bombs within a quarter of a mile of an objective when blind-flying. I am not sure that in case of war bombs will be dropped only on the poorer quarters in England and should imagine that the so-called enemy will aim bombs at the mansions, the palaces, and the houses where our statesmen live, and so bring the issue of the war much nearer to the seat of trouble than by dropping them on poor industrial districts. There would be hardly any sense in dropping bombs in Whitechapel or Bow for instance, I am not sure about Bewdley or those districts, but I will leave that point there.

This is really a very serious issue indeed. I am completely uninformed as to the technique of the Air Farce; I know very little about it; but it does seem to me that the Government of this country will be faced soon with the problem of the co-ordination of our transport services. Aircraft is used now for the carrying of goods and mails and so forth, and the time will arrive when the Government will have to consider the relationship of railways, road transport, and aircraft transport, and probably will have to combine them all under State control. For my part, I am quite convinced that, in the development of civil aviation in this country, and the fact that these heavy subsidies are granted to companies which pay enormous profits, the work could be done very much better by the State itself. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to be good enough to let us have answers to the few points I have raised. Once again I say as a layman that I have been very much delighted with to-day's Debate.


I think that the Debate has been made remarkable by the great number of extremely eloquent and well-informed maiden speeches to which we have had the pleasure of listening. It has been proof of the contention in my earlier speech that this essentially young service attracts youth. I feel that it is a very comforting thought indeed, with regard to the future of Debates on the Estimates, that so many young, skilful and eloquent Members of the House take such a keen and instructed interest in aviation and in all air matters. During the Debate I have been asked a great number of questions and I shall do my best to answer some of them. If I do not answer all, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me. I will communicate with them or write to them, and I would also remind them that there is a Report stage of these Estimates next week, when I can again be subject to cross-examination.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), in the course of an extremely interesting speech developed an Argument for internationalising the air forces of the world. I think that in a way he really answered his own speech, because ho placed before the House so clearly the great difficulties associated with the whole of his idea. It is, of course, closely linked up with the general question of disarmament. We in this country can certainly say that we have given an example to the world in the matter of air disarmament. Although at Geneva we are as anxious as, if not more anxious than, anyone, to see these disarmament proposals bear good fruit, however anxious we may be for disarmament and the cause of peace, we cannot act entirely alone. But, if I may, I will reserve any further remarks I have to make on that extremely intricate subject for the Report stage, when I believe my hon. Friend intends to give his views on the subject at further length and more closely connected with disarmament. I will reply then to him and to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies).

10.0 p.m.

One of the most interesting maiden speeches that we have had was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ashford (Captain Knatchbull). His speech showed that he has devoted a great deal of attention to aeronautical matters and has made himself familiar with all questions relating to the air. In common with other Members 10.0 p.m. he made a very eloquent appeal to me on behalf of the Light Aeroplane Clubs. I am, therefore, very happy to be able to announce that my Noble Friend has decided that the grants to these clubs, which under present arrangements terminate on 31st July of this year, shall continue after that date. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I do not give any more details. The matter is only just more or less in the process of being concluded, but I was very anxious to make that statement to the House now. I hope he will accept that statement, and allow me at a later date to give him further details. But I might broadly say that a revised scheme will be introduced under which payments for new licences will be on a more generous scale than at present. Our object, naturally, is to enable as many clubs as possible to earn larger sums than they are doing now, but as a condition of these more generous terms, it will be necessary to effect a considerable reduction in the permissible annual maximum, which up to the present has been £2,000 for any one club. Otherwise, the scheme could not be financed. As my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, this annual maximum has never been earned by any particular club. The average earned is only a fraction of the maximum.

We hope to arrange for a far wider and more beneficial distribution of the amount available. It is hoped that that result will be attained, and that the whole scheme will benefit by it very substantially. In order to give the club greater security of tenure we contemplate that the new scheme shall be of five years' duration. That is subject always to hon. Members in this House voting for it year by year in the annual Estimates. I need only add that these clubs are performing a very real service in the development of aviation, and I. am pleased to think that I was at the Ministry when the scheme was first initiated. They are doing a tremendous amount to develop that air-mindedness in this country which those who are interested in this science are so anxious to see spreading far and wide. I am pleased to think that in this connection the hon. and gallant Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), whom I welcome as one of the latest recruits to aviation, will not have to carry out the dire threat he made, at which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council winced, that unless he got some satisfaction he would have to demand that his salary, which up to now he has forgone, should be paid and handed over to the light aeroplane club in his constituency. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) put a question with regard to the Schneider Trophy, and asked whether the rules under which it had been carried on ought not to be changed. I am happy to think that that contest is completely over; we have won the trophy and are going to keep it. The contest had certainly outlived its usefulness, and it had become altogether too dangerous. We have for the moment benefited by all the lessons it was possible to get out of that particular contest. Another very interesting maiden speech, doubly interesting because it was made by one who has been a pilot, was that of the hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside).

I do not care to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) when he spoke of "this chaplain business." I decline to interfere in any way with the spiritual comfort of the Air Force, but if he remembers that the Air Force is scattered over wide areas, then the number of the chaplains is not too great, and I am convinced that they do their work extremely well and give a great deal of comfort to the troops to whom they minister. In his excellent speech the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) touched upon a point which is a very tender one with me—the question of meteorology, which is absolutely vital to the Air Force. No one realises more than the Air Ministry how extremely important it is that all possible progress should be made in this direction. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that it is somewhat peculiar that we are able to estimate an eclipse 500 years ahead and yet cannot know definitely whether to take an umbrella or not if we go out in the afternoon. We still have nature with which to cope. This question is being studied as fully as possible by some of the greatest scientists in the country and considerable progress has been made in recent years.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) raised the question of noise. I would advise him to fly to Paris at the first opportunity on the latest Handley Page machine, when he will have an opportunity of realising what a very agreeable and almost intimate conversation can be carried on now in these latest machines. I should also be willing to take him up in my own little Puss Moth so that he might see the great strides that have been made towards mitigating what has hitherto been a most unpleasant feature of air travel—the great noise.

I hope the time will never come when the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) has no grievance against Farnborough because I should feel that there was something missing in his enjoyment of the Debate. This afternoon he did his level best to pretend that he was not pleased with what has been done at Farnborough, but I could see that really he was pleased that the new seaplane tank had been completed and also that the new large wind tunnel will soon be ready for experiments. It will be the largest in the world and will be of extreme utility and assistance for aircraft research.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

There was the point of the external noise of the aircraft not the internal noise. With a machine in the air you get noise from the exhaust and the engine and the propeller and I have had letters from some of my constituents complaining of the noise of the machines flying over houses. I suggest that the research department should go into this and try to keep the noise of the machine down externally as well as internally.


We are going into that matter. I agree that a great deal of noise does arise externally but the matter is being taken up and I think the result will be just as satisfactory in mitigating external noise as in mitigating internal noise. We have mitigated noise internally and hope to do a great deal to minimise noise outside. Now I come to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour). I heard a great deal from him about Imperial Airways. A certain amount of criticism has been directed against this company for the reason that it enjoys the monopoly of a subsidy on certain Empire routes. I would remind the House that the decision to grant a monopoly was taken very deliberately and after full consideration; it was taken after the policy of independent competing companies had been tried and had failed. Commercial air transport has not yet reached a stage when it can be carried on without State aid. That being so, and the money available being limited, it was thought better to concentrate rather than to disperse the assistance which the State could afford to offer, and so avoid the waste of public money which must inevitably occur when competing companies are subsidised and seek to outbid each other for a limited amount of custom. As soon as the regular air transport services can carry on without assistance, these subsidies will naturally come to an end, but as I said this afternoon in my speech those results for which we hoped are taking rather longer to arrive than was, perhaps, at first expected. I submit that the facts show that we are doing our best to encourage civil air transport in the best possible way and that we are using State funds to the best advantage. I should like to say, also, that other countries are spending far more than we are on subsidies. The United States which was quoted by my hon. and gallant Friend spend ten times the amount that we spend. During the last 7½ years we have spent something over £2,000,000 in subsidies on air transport. The United States, I believe, lost about double that sum during the latest complete year, so that I do not see in what way we should benefit by copying the example of the United States in this direction.


May I ask my right hon. Friend if he would be so good as to answer this question? Are the Government entirely satisfied with the way in which the monopoly subsidy agreements made some years ago are working out in the light of experience? That is one of the questions which I put to him and I may also remind him of the other question which I put to him bearing on this matter. It is this: Can we have a report from the Government Director of Imperial Airways as to whether, in his opinion, these subsidy agreements are working out in accordance with the desires and hopes of His Majesty's Government?


As regards the first question perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend would not mind allowing me to finish the statement which I was making. With regard to the second question about a report, I think from the Government Director, I may say that the Deputy-Director of Civil Aviation has, himself, gone out on the first journey to the Cape and back. I expect him home shortly—I should think within the next fortnight —and, as soon as he returns, I will certainly call upon him to give a report verbally on the whole of his journey, which is obviously the best way.

Captain BALFOUR rose— —


The hon. and gallant Member himself made a very long speech, and he must allow the Under-Secretary to reply.


On a point of Order. I only wish to ask the Under-Secretary to answer my question as to whether any report has been received or not.


No point of Order arises.


I am perfectly willing to answer that question. To my knowledge no official report has been received by the Air Ministry. My hon. and gallant Friend, however, really made my speech for me. He asked me a number of questions and then he said that he knew exactly what I was going to say in reply to them. That makes it almost not worth while for me to offer those replies. However, being kindhearted, I will give him a few of those statistics which be feared so much I might give. Imperial Airways are now operating 12,000 miles of routes, a sixfold increase within the space of four years. That seems to be quite satisfactory and it is equal to about a quarter of the United States mileage at one-tenth of the United States subsidy. That is not, a bad testimony to the efficiency of Imperial Airways and the soundness of our methods.

I have a lot of figures here about traffic receipts which I should be only too delighted to send to my hon. and gallant Friend but I do not think it is worth while giving them now. I do not think that any other company can show a greater average pay-load per machine or a greater average horse-power per machine. I do not for a moment suggest that the organisation of Imperial Airways is absolutely perfect. Of course it is not. Neither Imperial Airways nor the Air Ministry object to legitimate criticism but under the circumstances I think the Exchequer and the taxpayer are getting very good value for their money from that particular company.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman towards the end of his speech said that if I did not give him satisfaction now or at some future date, he would be closing in on me with back benchers and would bring his troops against me in full force. In this connection, and with regard to his remarks about the directors and shareholders of Imperial Airways sitting down and raking in their dividends at the cost of the taxpayer and the State, I should like to tell him that for the first four years of this subsidy arrangement no dividends of any sort or kind were paid to any of the shareholders, and, taking the average over the seven years, they have been paid three per cent. All that I can say is that when the hon. and gallant Member brings his troops against me I hope he will have some more accurate ammunition than that or he will find that his followers will soon be breaking away from him.

There is only one more point that I need mention and that is the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears). There again I think I am extremely fortunate because I cannot help thinking that his speech was answered beforehand by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey, who, I really think, put the matter in the right light. It is surely not a really contentious matter, not a revolution in itself, that operating in Palestine and Transjordan, the Air Force should have their own armoured cars. It is, as I say, a policy which has been in operation for the last 10 years, and it has been extremely successful. It has been very efficient and economical, and there are several reasons why the Air Force should have their own armoured cars in those countries. Cooperation between the aircraft and armoured cars is extremely useful, and it is of the first importance that there should be the possibility of an interchange of personnel between the armoured cars and the Air Force units. Therefore, it is obviously important that the personnel of the armoured cars should also be Air Force personnel. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not take this matter too seriously. It is, after all, a thing which is working very well, and I think he might perhaps leave it at that. I have dealt to the best of my ability with most of the questions which have been raised in the Debate, and I hope the House will now allow us to bring the Debate to a close and give us the Votes.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

  1. NUMBER OF AIR FORCE. 45 words
  2. c2117
  3. PAY, ETC., OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE. 56 words
  4. c2117
  6. c2118
  8. c2118
  9. CIVIL AVIATION. 49 words