HC Deb 20 December 1934 vol 296 cc1328-31
52. Captain P. MACDONALD

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he is yet in a position to indicate the nature of the Government's proposals with regard to the further development of commercial air routes within the Empire; and, if not, whether any announcement will be made before the House reassembles after the Christmas recess?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he can now inform the House of the results of his efforts to accelerate and increase our Empire air services both for mails and passengers; and when such revised schedules will come into operation?


By leave of Mr. Speaker, and with the permission of the House, I shall make a statement at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions:


I will, with the permission of the House, make as full a statement concerning the development of Empire air communications as is possible at this stage, on behalf of my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air and also of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, without whose active support the scheme could not have been evolved.

The proposals are of a far-reaching character, and represent the results of many months' work by the Air Ministry and the Post Office, in consultation with Imperial Airways. They were approved by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in the late summer, and full details were subsequently communicated to the other Empire Governments concerned. It will be appreciated that, until the views of all the Governments concerned have been received, the scheme must be regarded as a basis for discussion only, since their agreement and co-operation are essential. Let me repeat, this scheme depends for its realisation upon the willing co-operation and support of all the Governments concerned, so that the whole matter rests at present on a purely provisional basis, and my statement this afternoon must not be taken as prejudging the issue.

The scheme contains three main features. In the first place, there is to be a very material improvement on present time schedules between the several parts of the Empire concerned; secondly, there is to be a substantial increase in the frequency of services; and, thirdly, all first-class mail to the Empire countries covered by the projected services is in future to be carried by air. As regards schedules, the scheme as suggested to the other Governments concerned envisages a schedule of just over two days to India, two and a-half days to East Africa, four days to the Cape, four days to Singapore, and seven days to Australia. As regards frequencies, provision is made for four, or possibly five, services a week to India, three services a week to Singapore and to East Africa, and two to South Africa and Australia respectively. With regard to the letter rate proposed, I can as yet say nothing definite, but we hope that, in so far as concerns letters posted in the United Kingdom for Empire destinations, subject to the successful outcome of our negotiations with the Governments concerned, it may be in the region of the present Empire rate of 1½d., but this will apply per half-ounce instead of to the first ounce as at present. I may say that correspondence covering at least eight sides of special light paper can be sent within the half-ounce limit. It will, of course, be for the other participating Governments to fix their own postal charges.

An integral feature of the scheme is a comprehensive programme for the development of the ground organisation of Empire air routes on a basis which will enable the services, which will cater for passenger as well as mail traffic, to operate by night as freely as by day.

Finally, I should add that it will not be practicable to give further details as regards finance, types of aircraft, etc., until the negotiations with the other Governments concerned are completed; and, in particular, I can as yet give no date for the inauguration of the scheme. The provision of the necessary fleet, ground organisation, etc., will require a period of something like two years before a project of this magnitude, constituting, as it does, the largest step forward which has yet been taken in the development of Empire air communications, could be brought into full operation. Further, on the postal side, the Postmaster-General has asked me to make it clear that there is little possibility of introducing the 1½d. postal rate for Imperial first-class correspondence carried by air before 1937.


While welcoming the encouraging statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask him whether there will be an opportunity of discussing this subject, and whether any Supplementary Estimate will be required for the inauguration of the service?


I do not think that any Supplementary Estimate is needed for the moment. We are carrying on with the inauguration of the necessary work.


While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his statement, may I at the same time ask him what Governments concerned have not yet acquiesced in this scheme, and when he expects that agreement will be reached?


I am afraid I cannot answer that question.


May I also ask my right hon. Friend, on behalf of many Members of the House who are particularly interested in this matter, to accept our congratulations? Further, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, so far as the aircraft are concerned, we have a certain leeway to make up; and will he, therefore, consider whether he ought not immediately to take some steps to place orders for prototype high-speed aircraft, in order that the scheme may come into operation as soon as possible?


We are fully aware of the importance of taking every step to facilitate an early commencement of the service.

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