HC Deb 21 March 1933 vol 276 cc216-33

"1. That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 31,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India (other than Aden), during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.

2. That a sum, not exceeding £4,110,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Pay, etc., of the Royal Air Force at Home and abroad, exclusive of those serving in India (other than Aden), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.

3. That a sum, not exceeding £1,610,000, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Works, Buildings, Repairs, and Lands, including Civilian Staff and other Charges connected therewith, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.

4. That a sum, riot exceeding £7,203,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Technical and Warlike Stores (including Experimental and Research Services), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934.

5. That a sum, not exceeding £490,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Aviation, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934."

4.27 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out "31,000," and to insert instead thereof, "30,900."

It is quite a pleasant feature of this Vote, at least to those who sit on these benches, that the Air Force according to these Estimates will be reduced by 1,000 men this year as compared with 1932. But even with the number standing at the figure mentioned in the Estimate we con-shier it to be still too large, particularly for the purposes which the Air Ministry itself indicated during the previous Debate a week ago. For example, in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State, on the strength, distribution and organisation of the Royal Air Force, it is stated: The strength of the Royal Air Force remains accordingly at last year's figures of 75½ regular squadrons including the equivalent of 13½ squadrons in the Fleet Air Arm. He goes on: The Home Defence Force still embodies only 42 of the 52 squadrons of the original programme; and of these 42, 13 are non-regular. On these figures in the White Paper it would appear that 42 squadrons out of seventy-five and a half is really too large a proportion purely for home defence particularly when the major part of the speech of the Secretary of State dealt with the operations which had to be undertaken by the Royal Air Force in various parts of the world in policing and also for the purpose of protecting certain tribes from the attacks of their more unruly neighbours. The right hon. Gentleman justified the use of the Air Force in other parts of the world by a description of the effects which these machines of the air had upon the uncultivated minds of the tribes who were attacked.

I submit that if the main use of the Air Force was for the purposes that he described in other parts of the world, 42 squadrons are still too many, although 10 squadrons short of the original programme for what may be called home defence, because the greater part of the speech that he devoted to discussing the uses of the Air Force in home affairs was with regard to flights, development in the ability of the airmen to beat existing records, and various other matters affecting the efficiency of flying in the Service generally. If the 42 squadrons that we have operating as a home defence force are to be used merely as a training ground, I submit that the numbers are much too large and that they could be reduced still further.

The Government themselves have agreed to reduce the number of men in the Air Force and to postpone the extension of the programme upon which they themselves decided several years ago. The home defence force alone is still 10 squadrons below the original programme, and the very fact that, in these so-called troubled times abroad, when we are being advised outside this House from various sources to become even more vigorous in our training because of the possibilities of war—the very fact that the Government themselves consider matters to be so peaceful, or at least the dangers so little imminent, that they can afford to reduce the numbers of airmen by 1,000 and still keep the Air Force under the strength originally decided upon, is a justification for the attitude that we have adopted all along. I am not endeavouring to criticise harshly the defence put up by the Air Minister last Tuesday for the use to which the Air Force has been put abroad in protective and policing operations. It may have been necessary, but I suggest that the main future of an Air Force in this or in any country will be to develop civil aviation so that it can be used either for tourist purposes, pleasure purposes, or commercial purposes and that as a weapon either of defence or offence in the armoury of any nation it will cease to be considered as a part of those Services.

4.35 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)

The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) began by saying that he was satisfied with the reduction that we have been able to effect in the Estimates this year, but hardly had I recovered from the pleasure of the compliment when he decided to move still further to reduce our numbers by 100 men.


I did not say I was satisfied. I said it was satisfactory, but not fully satisfactory.


It was partially satisfactory, anyhow. The hon. Member went on to say that, judging from the speech which I made last Tuesday in introducing the Estimates, it was obvious that the numbers wanted for home defence were too great, because I dwelt to a great extent on the activities of the Air Force overseas. That is true, but when I dwelt upon the activities of the Air Force overseas, I was trying to show to the House that in the discharge overseas of their essential military duties they were able at the same time to perform a large mass of beneficial and productive work as well. It is obvious that that kind of work could not be performed either to the same extent or in the same manner in England, and if I am not able to dilate upon that kind of work at home, that does not mean that the squadrons which we have at home are too numerous for the purposes for which they are created, namely, the purpose of home defence.

The hon. Member tried to draw me into an argument as to whether a fighting force is of any use for offence or defence, but I do not think on this occasion I will follow him into those fields of controversy. It is a usual experience in these Debates on Service Estimates to find that the proposals that are put forward by the Department concerned arouse criticism from two diametrically different directions. There are those who find fault, as we know, with the Estimates for being inadequate to provide for the essential safety both of this country and of the Empire, and, on the other hand, there are those who urge, with a fervour which we must admire even if we do not altogether agree, that the fighting Services should be abolished altogether. One result is that the Ministers who are responsible for presenting these Estimates are left occasionally with the not uncomfortable feeling, perhaps, that they have been able in their Estimates to hit the happy mean. Certainly it would be more pleasing on these occasions if the whole House could unanimously agree to the Estimates, but that is really too much to ask, and therefore one has to fall back upon the consolation that, having satisfied neither of the extreme opinions, one has perhaps done just about right.

I would have that feeling if it were not for the fact that the advocates of disarmament go so much further in the pursuit of their particular policy than those who urge that the Estimates do not go sufficiently far in providing for the necessary safety of the country. There is some limit to the claims of those who desire to see our Air Forces greatly increased, but there is no limit to the abolitionists. They apparently would be willing for this country to disarm alone among the nations of the world. Therefore, criticism from both sections of opinion does not necessarily, unfortunately, imply that the Estimates have succeeded in holding the balance truly.

In restricting these Estimates to the very modest figure which we have presented, I think the Air Ministry have shown great restraint and considerable faith in the influence that this may have upon the other nations of the world. I do not think that I can develop that theme any further, but I should like to repeat what I have said on other occasions, that we have in recent years done our best to show an example to the world and the nations at large. It is quite clear that in doing so the Air Ministry fully realises what its responsibilities are and, realising them, understands that there are also limits to the risks which this country can run. Therefore, I hope I may make the appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw his Amendment, and I am sure he will do so. He has stated his case very moderately, and I hope that now, in view of the decrease that we have made in these Estimates, he will not wish to press his Amendment any further.

Question put, "That '31,000' stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided: Ayes, 212; Noes, 28.

Division No. 91.] AYES. [4.42 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro, W). Peaks, Captain Osbert
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Grimston, R. V. Peat, Charles U.
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Gunston, Captain D. W. Potherick, M.
Albery, Irving James Guy, J. C. Morrison Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Pownall, Sir Assheton
Applin, Lieut.-Cot. Reginald V. K. Hales, Harold K. Pybus, Percy John
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon) Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Hammersley, Samuel S. Ramsay, T. B. w. (Western isle)
Balniel, Lord Hanley, Dennis A. Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Hartington, Marquess of Reid, David D. (County Down)
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Hartland, George A. Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Beaumont, Hn. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Renter, John R.
Beit, Sir Alfred L. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Robinson, John Roland
Bernays, Robert Holdsworth, Herbert Rosbotham, Sir Samuel
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Ross, Ronald D.
Blindell, James Hopkinson, Austin Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Hornby, Frank Rothschild, James A. de
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George Horobin, Ian M. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Horsbrugh, Florence Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Browne, Captain A. C. Hurd, Sir Percy Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Jamieson, Douglas Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Jesson, Major Thomas E. Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Burnett, John George Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Salmon, Sir Isidore
Butler, Richard Austen Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields) Salt, Edward W.
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Campbell, vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Kerr, Hamilton W. Savery, Samuel Servington
Castlereagh, Viscount Kimball, Lawrence Scone, Lord
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Knight, Holford Skelton, Archibald Noel
Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Christie, James Archibald Lambert, Rt. Hon. George Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Colfox, Major William Philip Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Conant, R. J. E. Leech, Dr. J. W. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Cook, Thomas A. Lees-Jones, John Soper, Richard
Cooper, A. Duff Leighton, Major B. E. P. Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.
Copeland, Ida Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Cowan, D. M. Lindsay, Noel Ker Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.
Cranborne, Viscount Lloyd, Geoffrey Spens, William Patrick
Crooke, J. Smedley Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. Gr'n) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Loder, Captain J. de Vere Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Dalkeith, Earl of Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Strauss, Edward A.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Mabane, William Strickland, Captain W. F.
Davison, Sir William Henry MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton.
Dawson, Sir Philip Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Denville, Alfred McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Sutcliffe, Harold
Drewe, Cedric McKie, John Hamilton Tate, Mavis Constance
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Templeton, William P.
Duggan, Hubert John McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Dunglass, Lord Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H, D. R. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Eden, Robert Anthony Marsden, Commander Arthur Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Elmley, Viscount Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Wills, Wilfrid D.
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.) Morrison, William Shephard Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Everard, W. Lindsay Muirhead, Major A. J. Womersley, Walter James
Fox, Sir Gifford Munro, Patrick Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Fuller, Captain A. G. Nation, Brigadler-General J. J. H. Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff).
Ganzoni, Sir John Newton, Sir Douglas George C. Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks)
Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Nicholson. Godfrey (Morpeth)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Nunn, William TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Captain Sir George Bowyer and
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Palmer, Francis Noel Captain Austin Hudson.
Attlee, Clement Richard Cripps, Sir Stafford Grundy, Thomas W.
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Daggar, George Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normgnton)
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Hirst, George Henry
Buchanan, George Dobbie, William Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Edwards, Charles Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Kirkwood, David Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Wallhead, Richard C.
Leonard, William Parkinson, John Allen Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Logan, David Gilbert Price, Gabriel Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Lunn, William Thorne, William James
Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Tinker, John Joseph TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mr. Groves and Mr. D. Graham.

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

4.50 p.m.


There is one matter which has excited a great deal of interest in the Midlands. I refer to the action of the Ministry with regard to the use of the sands at Mablethorpe. The question was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) at an earlier stage. Some of us gave our help during the past year and approached the Air Ministry in order to get some consideration of the disquiet which the arrangement has excited in the public mind. This area is very largely used as a resort by people from the Midlands, particularly from the city of Nottingham. It is also much used by a very large number of ramblers and hikers, who find the area particularly suitable for their purpose. When the Ministry announced that they were going to use the sands at Mablethorpe for bombing and other exercises we approached the Under-Secretary and made a request that particular consideration should be given to the public in this matter and negotiations took place with the local authorities who also were concerned about the arrangements. The Ministry arranged, I think I am right in saying, to exempt the month of July. [Interruption.] Well, at any rate, we asked that the holiday months of July and August should be exempt from the bombing exercises so that the public should not be unduly interfered with. After consideration my hon. Friend did agree to exclude part of that period, and we are much obliged for that concession. I raise the matter now to ask whether the Ministry could stretch their friendly consideration and exempt the few days over the August Bank Holiday. I understand that the August Bank Holiday does not come within the arrangement.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

What we ask for in the coast towns is to have an extension of the facilities already given by the Air Ministry to the last 10 days of July.


I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. The last 10 days of July are regarded favourably by persons from the Midlands, and I would ask whether the Ministry can meet the public wishes in regard to this period. If it were found impossible for the purposes of the Service to extend the concession over all of the holiday period, perhaps the substitution of some other period might be arranged so that this particular period of 10 days round about the end of July and Bank Holiday might be entirely free for the purposes of public enjoyment. We want to give the Ministry all the facilities they desire, and we thank them for the help they have given during the past year in meeting the public wishes and I do hope that they will be able to go a little further in the way suggested.

4.55 p.m.


I do not think my hon. and learned Friend could have been in the House last Tuesday when this particular matter was so exhaustively dealt with by several hon. Members interested in the coast towns. I thought that the answers that I gave then proved satisfactory. The House will have been able to judge from my hon. and learned Friend's speech how far the Air Ministry have gone towards meeting the local inhabitants during last year. We had hoped that the large mass of hikers and ramblers to whom my hon. and learned Friend refers would also have been satisfied. I am asked in regard to the 10 days at the end of July. I am afraid that I cannot give any very definite answer at the moment. We cannot close the ranges for any definite period through July, but we are prepared to draw up our programme during that month with as much regard as possible to the wishes of the local authorities. When one remembers how far we have gone already to meet them, I think my hon. Friends might accept that assurance.


I am much obliged to nay hon. Friend.

4.56 p.m.


I should like to raise a larger question on this point, which comes a little nearer to my own home. I refer to the occupation of a portion of Hampstead Heath by the Air Ministry. The Under-Secretary gave an answer on this subject which I think surprised the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis). How is it that the Air Ministry schedule such areas as have been mentioned for their purposes? Surely, there is no special need for the Air Ministry to schedule an area at the seaside for its purposes. There is plenty of available land suitable for the purposes of the Air Ministry in other parts of the country without interfering with the comparatively limited opportunities that people have for enjoying the beauty spots of the seaside. Similarly, in regard to Hampstead Heath. No one will say that open spaces are too plentiful in any part of London or in the environments of London. Why, then, should the Air Ministry dump itself on Hampstead Heath and interfere with the pleasure of the general public?

This matter is not restricted to the Air Ministry. There seems to be a growing tendency, and it is time that the House protested against it, on the part of the Services to schedule and reserve for themselves places at the seaside and elsewhere where the general public go for their pleasures. Why they should schedule these areas is beyond my comprehension. The Services ought to take more care to avoid friction. Such things create animosity and unnecessary feeling. In the case of Mablethorpe sands it beats me why the Air Ministry should go there and interfere with the rights of the people to enjoy a lovely stretch of coastline. Such a proceeding requires justification from the point of view of the public weal. We ought to get from those in charge of the Services an undertaking that they will not interfere with areas where people go in their thousands year after year to enjoy a short period at the seaside, and the same argument applies to a place like Hampstead Heath, I do not blame the Air Ministry particularly. It is right that public resentment against this development on the part of the Services generally should be expressed in this House.

4.59 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

The Under-Secretary seems to be under the impression that everybody was perfectly satisfied with what he said on the previous occasion. I think he has a letter from the representatives of Mablethorpe pointing out that they are not satisfied and that they ask for the whole of July. I have suggested a compromise. While I thank the Under-Secretary for the way in which he says that he will make his arrangements this year, I would ask him to reconsider his decision not to give us the last 10 days of July.

5.0 p.m.


I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two points on this particular Vote which appear on page 72 under Iraq. There is a sum of £30,000 for a new station at Dhibban, which is 50 miles from Bagdad and in the middle of the desert. It is to be built at an unknown cost because the estimate is still under consideration. We have given up under the treaty arrangements with Iraq the Hinaidi aerodrome and recovered one-third of the initial cost of construction and maintenance. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if, under the new arrangement whereby we are building this station, there is any provision as to its being ultimately taken over at a valuation by the Iraq Government when the present treaty lapses, and possibly new arrangements which we cannot visualise at this time come into force? There is another Vote for £1,000 for the Calcutta-Singapore route landing grounds. This is again in respect of a total the amount of which we are not told as it is still under consideration. We are thus putting a few letters towards our signature on blank cheques in respect of both these items. Are the landing grounds on the Calcutta-Singapore route for service use, or are they to be turned over to civil aviation for Imperial Airways to use when they extend their Imperial service? It seems to be a case of the taxpayer once more carrying the burden of providing landing grounds for Imperial Airways. I do not say that it is not right to do that, but it is a form of hidden subsidy, and I would like to know how much of the initial outlay will be covered in respect of interest by the landing fees which the right hon. Gentleman hopes to get in future in the form of revenue on these aerodromes?

5.3 p.m.


My hon. and gallant Friend rightly said that the totals of these two items are still under consideration. Therefore, I cannot give him the amounts. As soon as I can, I will let him know. We are not, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, signing blank cheques at all. We are signing cheques to the tune of £30,000 in the one case and £1,000 in the other. If we thought that the totals were going to be very much less than that, my hon. and gallant Friend would have had cause for complaint, but unfortunately the £30,000 will not be a sufficient sum to carry the whole cost. Therefore, we are safe in taking this initial sum. As soon as I can get any information, I will let my hon. and gallant Friend have it. A further point that was asked was in connection with the taking of Maplethorpe for the use of the Air Force. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) asked, "What are we coming to? What is this new policy of continually—and increasingly—taking more and mare areas to be scheduled for military purposes?" It is obvious that as long as we have Fighting Services they must have areas over which to train.


Why take seaside resorts?


I was coming to that. The hon. Gentleman said that we were always taking the particular localities that were most favoured and were most popular at the holiday season. Then he said, "Fancy going to Hampstead Heath of all places and spoiling the pleasure of the people who use that healthy spot at holiday periods." It is obvious that the hon. Gentleman does not know for what purpose we went to Hampstead Heath It was merely to inhabit a particular house, and I do not think that that house being inhabited by the headquarters of an Auxiliary Air Force unit will spoil the pleasure of holiday-makers at Hampstead any more than if there were other inhabitants, civil or military, in that house.


Why cannot the house be more suitably located near Hendon Aerodrome?


Not only has it to be near Hendon Aerodrome, but near the homes of the people who use the headquarters, who are auxiliaries and volunteers and work in all parts of London. This house was chosen as the most central place for the men to attend their lectures when they were not flying. The house was there; we did not build it or disfigure it in any way. We simply took a house that was there, and we occupied it. With regard to Mablethorpe, the particular range that we need there has to be by the seaside because there are special kinds of firing at moored targets that necessitate a seaside area. We went round the whole of the coast of England to try and find a place that would cause the least possible amount of interference. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we did that, and we found that for every reason this particular locality was the most suitable. I really think that the hon. Members who voice the claims of the inhabitants of Mablethorpe so ably will eventually find that we are not so difficult to deal with as they think.

"That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

5.8 p.m.


I should like to follow up a question which I put to the Under-Secretary on Tuesday, which was only partially answered by him. Under the heading K there is an item for marine craft on which £80,000 was spent in 1932, and for which there is an Estimate of the same sum for 1933. I asked on Tuesday how many marine craft there were in operation and whether when orders were placed for these motor boats, tenders had been invited from well-known firms which could build them. I am constrained to ask that question because I have never-seen or heard that estimates were at any time invited to build the last flotilla of 20 motor boats which was obtained by the Air Service. I understand that most of those boats, if not all, were built in Southampton or adjacent to it, but that no estimates were invited from other firms. It is rather difficult to understand why an order for a flotilla of 20 at onetime should be given to one firm located in one particular part of the country when unemployment is so rampant in other parts of the country, and when there are other firms capable and efficient enough to undertake the building of these boats. That part of my question was not answered by the right hon. Gentleman. It is understandable that the Air Service should require, in addition to having air races over the land, marine craft in order to act as an auxiliary service to any operations that may take place over the sea. I should therefore like the Under-Secretary to give me some information with regard to any contracts that have been placed in the past, particularly for the last flotilla, and I should like to know what the Minister's intentions are with regard to any future orders.

5.11 p.m.


I thought that I answered this question to the best of my ability towards the end of Tuesday's Debate. This particular marine craft is of a type peculiar to the Air Force. They have to perform functions which are not identical to those performed by other marine craft which are to be found very readily and which are tendered for by other firms all over the country. We have made a point of putting the construction of this particular kind of marine craft out to tender to all those companies which we thought could give us the results we needed. The House will realise how essential it is that we should have the right type of craft. They should be of high speed to act as seaplane tenders and very often to rescue anybody fallen into the sea, and they have to perform functions of vital importance. We have, wherever necessary and possible, put the matter out to contract and public tender.


May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman? Why are not plans submitted to firms who have shown that they are able to adapt themselves to the requirements of any particular form of motor boat? Surely if the Air Service wish for the best type of boat to suit their requirements it can be submitted to other firms.


They were submitted.


No tenders were invited from any of the motor boat builders in Scotland, who are among the highest class of builders.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member has already spoken once and has received his answer.


May I put it in the form of a question? Was any tender invited from any firm in Scotland?


I do not think that I can say anything more than I have said. If the hon. Member has any particular point to raise perhaps he will write to me and I will go into the matter and let him know better than I can by question and answer.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

5.14 p.m.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a little more information than he did last Tuesday with regard to the progress that is being made with the Imperial air route to Australia? As the first paying passenger on the African route last year, I should like to pay a tribute to the extraordinary efficiency and the courtesy of that particular Imperial air route. I do not think it has yet been realised what an immense boon and blessing this air route has been, and will be to an increasing degree, to a very large section of people from this country who are in the Civil Service in Central Africa, or to the settlers in that part of the world. In times gone by there has been some criticism that that African route ought to have been started several years before it actually came into operation. As regards the route to Australia, the Dutch have for some time now operated, and operated successfully, a very efficient line.

I think the African route has been so successful for two reasons: one is that there is unity of control, and the second reason is to be found in the generous contributions made by the Governments of the various countries over which the line passes. There has been some talk that other parties—the Indian Government, or the Australian Government, or separate companies in those countries—are likely to demand and perhaps to receive the right to organise and control a particular branch of the England to Australia air line. It seems to me that that would be a fatal mistake. I do not think we can have efficiency on these long-distance routes unless we have unity of control. It is perfectly obvious that if there is a delay in any section of the line over which Imperial Airways have not got control there is no inducement to Imperial Airways to accelerate their planes on the other portions, acceleration involving an extra expenditure on petrol. I hope and trust that Imperial Airways will accept no responsibility whatever, and that the Government will encourage them not to accept any responsibility, for any portion of the line beyond Karachi or Singapore over which they have not complete control. In the American airlines to South America, which have been operating efficiently and successfully for many years now, this principle of unity of control has been maintained, and I hope that the Under-Secretary may be able to give us some further information on the point, at least tell us that the matter is still under consideration with the Governments concerned, and that he may be able to give us some assurance that Imperial Airways, having operated with such success the line to Africa, will not be allowed to take over responsibility for operating a line to other parts of the Empire on which there cannot be unity of control.


I would like to ask the Minister of Air whether any steps are being taken in the direction of internationalising civil aviation, and, if so, what steps?

5.18 p.m.


I wish to ask the Under-Secretary if he can give us any information as to whether it is the Government's ultimate idea that Croydon air port should be reserved for Imperial and cross-Channel traffic only, and, if so, when the Government contemplate that such a policy shall come into operation. At the present time there are several small and struggling but very worthy concerns located at Croydon air port who are living with the sword of Damocles over their heads. They have been granted only short-term tenancies by the Air Ministry, and if they could only know that within two or three years they would have to give up the tenancy—even know that the further tenancy was limited to only one year—they would have greater peace of mind, even though they had not increased security, than they have under the present system, when they do not know whether they may have to leave at any moment.

A second point I wish to raise concerns National Flying Services. In this Estimate National Flying Services appear with no subsidy. Some years ago the Government made an agreement with this company one of the conditions of which was that they should lay down a great number of provincial landing grounds. Owing to various financial and other reasons they have not been able to fulfil that obligation. Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether, under this Vote, there is in contemplation any fresh subsidy agreement with the small provincial clubs which have grown up as a result of the work of National Flying Services? I think they merit special consideration in the matter of grants to civil aviation even if the financial headquarters which brought them into being has failed and so forfeited its rights under the original agreement.

5.21 p.m.


Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to look into the question of securing some relaxation in the regulations As to permits required for flying in Palestine and Egypt? Ordinary civil flying is almost impossible in Egypt unless one can give, I think it is, 48 hours' notice to the Residency and get a permit; and it is practically the same in the case of Palestine. It seems to be rather absurd that it should be fairly easy to get a permit to fly over Syria, and so much more difficult for an Englishman to get a permit in the case of one of our own mandated territories. If the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to communicate with the Director of Civil Aviation for Egypt I should be extremely grateful.

5.22 p.m.


In reply to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), I will do all I can to look into the matter which he has raised, and see what can be done. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) asked me about the future of the small companies at Croydon. As he knows, eventually, of course, that air port must be used entirely, or to a very great extent, for the main traffic he referred to. We fully realise how uncertain must be the outlook of the small companies at Croydon, and we will bear that very prominently in mind and try to see that any hardship inflicted on them is made as light as possible. The same observation is true of the subsidiary clubs of National Flying Services. I cannot say anything more about that at present except to say, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, that the Air Ministry have the deepest sympathy for all these clubs, which were ancillary to the parent headquarters, the National Flying Services. With regard to the Australian route, I do not think I can add anything to what I said last week. I think my hon. and gallant Friend was present, and was able to judge of the progress made, which during the past few months has been extremely satisfactory. We hope that, unless there are other and unforeseen difficulties, the service will start not later than the early autumn of this year, and the point he raised about unity of control is being borne very prominently in mind. There will be unity of control as far as Singapore, and we hope and expect that the agreements we make with the Australian Government, with whom we are negotiating in the friendliest spirit, will result in the most efficient service possible.


Resolutions reported,