HC Deb 04 July 1934 vol 291 cc2012-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Hudson.]

9.18 p.m.


I beg to ask leave to refer for a brief time to the question of night air mail services, as regards which, as it appears to my hon. Friends and myself, this country is in a deplorable position. I gave notice to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air and to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General that I intended to raise this matter, and perhaps I may express my indebtedness to them both for being present this evening. But before going on to discuss that question I am sure the House would wish me to compliment my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the extraordinarily fine demonstration of airmanship which the Royal Air Force carried out at Hendon on Saturday. Not only were all the manoeuvres perfectly executed, but they struck a note of admiration in the hearts of our foreign visitors, which, I think, redounds greatly to the credit of all concerned. And while mentioning that, although a reference was made to the matter at Question Time yesterday, I am sure the House would also wish me to express our condolences with the relatives of that gallant officer who lost his life in such tragic circumstances that afternoon. Although the Air Ministry, by the very evidence of the Royal Air Force display on Saturday, has shown itself capable of developing that which has been initiated by its predecessors, I regret that I cannot feel so confident about its ability to initiate for itself, particularly so far as civil aviation is concerned. The dismay which my hon. Friends and I feel at the absence of British night air mail services has alone prompted us to delay the House at this hour.

This is not, however, an entirely inopportune moment, because in a very short time now our aerodromes will be deserted, our hangar doors will be closed, our engines will be cold and mute; but for other nations this is the beginning of the hours of activity. Their aircraft will be a-wing wrestling with the night, and forging their way towards their air ports, spread with illumination. That being so, it does give us food for thought. At 10 o'clock the German night air mail plane will leave Croydon carrying the mails collected by my right hon. Friend and his servants and taking them to all parts of Northern and Central Europe. The tragedy, as I see it, is that the Government seem to be so satisfied with our position of relative inferiority. In the course of a series of questions which my hon. Friends and I have addressed both to the Air Ministry and the Post Office during the life time of this Parliament we have obtained a number of answers which, I fear, can be called little better than excuses for inactivity. The first reason given by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air was that distance came into the question and rendered it unnecessary for us to take any initiative.

Let me remind hon. Members of some of the comparative distances involved, if we take only these islands and the countries served by the German night air mail service. From London to Aberdeen the distance is 522 miles, from London to Inverness 568 miles. But these are the distances which the German night air mail services are flying: From London to Cologne and Frankfurt 390 miles, from Frankfurt to Berlin 254, from Frankfurt to Stuttgart 95, from, Frankfurt to Munich 180, Cologne, Hanover and Berlin 280, Hanover to Malmo 250, and Berlin to Koenigsberg 320. That is an average, for the whole German night air mail services, of 310 miles, compared with something between 400 and 600 miles from London to divers parts of Scotland. It would seem, therefore, that the distances hardly provide a solid reason for our inactivity; and if there were in these islands no opportunity for night air mail services, nor, indeed, from this country to Europe, there is at arty rate the Empire, which should be opened up by this means.

Let us think for a moment of the position in America. They have in that country no less than 626 air-ports fully equipped for night flying. We have four. They have 18,655 miles of fully-illuminated airway; we have virtually none. The Germans, whom I have already mentioned, are flying 98 services a week. We are not flying a single one, unless my right hon. Friend should say that Imperial Airways do from time to time fly at night. With that I should agree, but let me emphasise that they have not any scheduled night services, and we have the authority of Imperial Airways themselves for saying that they only fly at night when they desire to make up time and that, for the moment at any rate, they do not propose to undertake any development in this respect.

The second point that my right hon. Friend has made in regard to his lack of initiative—or, should I say, that of the Government—is the absence of demand. That objection, however, falls to the ground for two distinct reason". The first is that the Government, if they think a thing desirable, have not in other spheres waited until they have been driven into action, but have of their own accord initiated the desirable advance. Unless my right hon. Friend is singularly forgetful, he will recollect that there have been deputations both to him and to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General from some of the most distinguished commercial associations in the country. I have here a pamphlet with a copy in it of a press notice issued by the General Post Office in which my right hon. Friend admits that such important bodies as the London Chamber of Commerce, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of British Industries have all been on his track and on that of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air to try to prove to them that there is in fact at this moment a commercial demand for these services to be initiated. One particular plea was made by those bodies that our air mail on the Empire routes should fly at least 2,500 miles per day, which I think would be quite insufficient, though it would nevertheless be about double that which we are achieving at the present moment.

The third objection that my right hon. Friend found to his taking any action in this matter was that it was primarily a matter for the operating companies. I presume that he had in mind, first of all, Imperial Airways. Heaven forbid that we should rely on that company, in the early future at any rate, for speeding up the air mail. It his shown itself to possess an anti-speed complex which might well eclipse that of my hon. Friend the ex-Minister of Transport. Indeed, Imperial Airways seems to regard the whole Empire as a built-up area in which it is naughty to fly at much more than 100 miles an hour. Imperial Airways have quite frankly told us that it is sitting in a very comfortable position on its subsidy and on its receipts and that it sees no reason why it should undertake any further national or Imperial development to the detriment of its shareholders unless this House pays it for such extra services as it may render. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is capitalism!"] That may be capitalism, but the fact remains that if we are to rely upon Imperial Airways, we must find the money for the necessary developments. The argument thus clearly comes back to the point that we depend not on the initiative of the operating companies but on the initiative of the Government. So far as new operating companies are concerned, both my right hon. Friends would agree that it would be perfectly farcical to go into operation in the hope that there might be air contracts available to them. In America, when air mail services are required, the Government have called for tenders. Surely, if their agreements with Imperial Airways permit, that is also the way in which our Government must proceed.

I would not, however, base my argument purely on an indication of the fallacies in the objections which my right hon. Friend has put to the House at various, times, for I can advance four distinct and constructive grounds on which night air mail services are necessary to this country and to the Empire. The first is the commercial need. It is intolerable that we should be in the hands of a German air transport company to decide when and how and with what frequency our urgent commercial mails should be transported from this country to the rest of Europe. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General that we must have in our own control a service giving to British commerce as fine an opportunity for quick postal facilities as any other country possesses. My second reason for believing this initiation essential is that of our Imperial unity. If some Puck could pour into our eyes the juice of Imperial contraction and we could awake to see Canada where Ireland lies, Australia where France is and New Zealand in the place of Switzerland, surely that would be a vista that would mean a very great deal to every hon. Member of this House who feels any regard for our great Empire. Such a vista is indeed what the night air mail and fast air mail services offer us in the immediate future, but it is one which the Government do not yet seem fully to appreciate. We could have our letters in India in 24 hours; we could have them in Australia in a little over two days. Yet we are proposing even now to take more than five times those periods.

My third reason for thinking the night air mail essential to us is the military one. Although here I bow to my hon. and gallant Friends such as the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) and the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), whom I see opposite, I believe it is almost axiomatic to-day that pilots who fly a regular service through all weathers obtain an experience both in airmanship and in navigation with which it is almost impossible for a military service run on peace-time lines to compete. I have not found one man who, having any experience of the comparative merits of training of pilots on these air services and of training pilots in an ordinary military establishment, would disagree for one moment with that contention. Therefore, I say that we are giving to Germany an extraordinary advantage, compared with our own night-flying pilots. If we want a further example, we have only to cast our minds back to the debacle when President Roosevelt asked the American Military Air Service to try to run the air mails, the night air mails in particular, in America. It was a tragic farce; tragic because of the deaths which occurred to the personnel, and a farce because of the absence of any efficiency in getting the mails to their destination. Only last Sunday, the "Observer," in a leading article, used these important words: When we look at the development of Germany's civil aviation and remember how much longer it takes to organise the handling of aircraft than to build the machines themselves, it is manifest that there is not a day to be lost unless we mean to leave our destiny at the disposal of others. When one takes into consideration certain other disquieting factors which have been brought to our notice regarding the use of germs from the air by certain foreign Powers, surely we cannot neglect giving our pilots every facility for a first-class training.

There is a fourth reason, although it may not appeal to all hon. Members as much as it will, I think, to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air. Our export of aircraft in time of peace is important to us as a nation because it augments our productive power in time of war. Within the last few days the British aircraft industry has shown to the world at Hendon its new types of aircraft. At that aerodrome I met a number of my foreign friends, and several of them expressed their amazement to me that England was giving to America, Germany and other countries a monopoly in high-speed mail and passenger-carrying craft. The Scandinavian countries who buy their military aircraft from us would not dream of buying their civil machines also. Although the Swedish air force are mounted on Hawker aircraft, all the civil planes there of the modern class are brought from the United States.

With those four considerations in my mind, I have given to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air notice of four specific questions, and it would be of great service to all in the House and in the country who are interested in this matter if we could have the Government's answer. I ask: (1) Do the Government accept, as a result of the representations made to them by commercial bodies, that there is a genuine commercial demand for night air-mail services? (2) Do the Government appreciate both the importance to Imperial unity and commerce, and the practicability, of at least doubling the speed of the Imperial air mail in the immediate future? (3) We would like to know whether the Government agree that the experience gained by pilots flying on the regular night mail services would be of the greatest value to the nation in times of war? and (4) In the light of these considerations, and if the Government feel that there is any substance in any one of them, have the Government formulated a policy with regard to the inauguration of night air mail services? We hope that when my right hon. Friend comes to reply he will be able to give us a little more comfort than is contained in a declaration made by the Postmaster-General a little while ago, in which he said these matters were being discussed by the various Departments concerned, but that it would be a very long time before any decision was arrived at. We hope, in view of the urgency of this matter, that the Government will give us some greater crumb of comfort than that.

At the time of the General Election I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, with almost every hon. Member on our side of the House, poured scorn on Free Trade in a Protectionist world. We said that in future we would be abreast of the times, and that we would eliminate the mental hysteresis which is the curse of all Government Departments. Are the Government, in so far as night air-mail services are concerned, fulfilling this pledge? Although in 1914 it was a feat to fly at all, by 1924 that was not enough, and we expected an aircraft to fly at least 100 miles per hour and to be capable of making its way through all weathers during the hours of daylight. Again the times have changed, and it is no longer enough for our aircraft to fly 100 miles per hour in daylight; they must be able to fly at 150 or 180 miles per hour, both day and night. That is what we must do if we are to be abreast of the times and maintain our international preeminence, and even our own self-respect. On the material side, although our aircraft have not the speed of the civil machines of other nations, we could at the moment forge into action something that would fill the bill passing well.

There is only one factor lacking, and that is the will of the Government to initiate this development. If the Air Ministry and the Post Office would bring themselves to suffer the pain of this new idea of having to fly not only in the day but in the night, we could move quickly forward. How should we regard a steamship line if, as soon as dusk fell, its vessels dropped anchor and lay hove to until the morning before proceeding on their journey? But that is precisely what our air liners are doing to-day. There are, in fact, greater reasons for our planes to fly at night than for our vessels to proceed over the sea at night. The night is more suitable for flying; it is less bumpy, it is cooler, and it is better for radio reception. Therefore, there are many reasons why the Government should modify their psychology on this matter and proceed on more modern lines. Their vigorous policy in almost every other sphere accentuates the discredit which we feel attaches to the present position of our air mail and night air-mail services. I trust that, not only for the sake of the reputation of the Government as a whole, but for the sake of their own personal reputations, my right hon. Friends at the Air Ministry and at the Post Office will adopt modem conceptions and allow them quickly to crystallise into practical enterprise.

9.47 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER

I congratulate the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) on the very able speech that he has just made. He has covered the ground uncommonly well. I join with him in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Air and the Secretary of State on the wonderful performance that they put up at Hendon last Saturday afternoon. I have attended many of these pageants, and I think that this one was the best that I have ever witnessed. The manoeuvres were splendid, and I think it reflects very great credit on the Chief of the Staff and all those who assisted him in organising such a successful afternoon's flying. I also deplore the very sad accident that happened to the son of the Lord Mayor, with whom I have the deepest sympathy. At the time he was carrying out a public duty in my constituency at Bishops Stortford.

I join with the hon. Member for Duddeston in asking the Under-Secretary of State to encourage night flying as much as he possibly can. When War broke out, we had very few pilots who could fly at night—only one or two had just been up—and we were called upon to defend this country from the Zeppelin menace. We could not defend the country properly until we had developed night flying, and then we knocked out the Zeppelins. I would also ask my right hon. Friend to encourage night flying as much as he possibly can because I see in the near future that we shall have to carry our mails throughout the Empire by air. I am very glad to see the Postmaster-General on the Front Bench, and I would invite him to go into the whole question of the speeds of the air machines in America. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Brigadier-General Makins) was in America a few months ago, and, on his return, he told me that the pilots carrying mails from San Francisco to New York did some wonderful flying, at speeds over 200 miles an hour. In one case the speed worked out at, I think, 260 miles an hour, and now in America they are using for the air mails machines capable of 250 miles an hour in normal flying, which may be worked up to 300 miles an hour.

The Postmaster-General has a wonderful opportunity. He has a clean sheet for developing air mails in this country and throughout the Empire, and I would ask him if he could not set up a little air department in his office to go into the whole question and study it properly, sending people out to America and getting every detail that it is possible to get with regard to the carrying of air mails. I am certain that it would be worth while. We could plot out this country, with centres between which we could fly, we could have linking lines, and I am certain that the Postmaster-General himself will see that it is necessary to carry first-class air mail matter with the greatest rapidity that is possible. The public will press for it, and I ask him seriously to go into the whole question. As speeds develop, the business men of this country will not be content to send their letters by a train which only travels at 50 or 60 miles an hour, getting their mails the next morning; they will want to get replies to their letters a few hours after they have sent them. That can be done by developing the air mail services, and I ask the Postmaster-General to give this matter his serious consideration. It has got to come; there is no question about it. Public opinion will force him to do it, and the sooner he takes up the development of our air mail services the better.

9.53 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir WALTER SMILES

In supporting my hon. Friend in this matter, I would like to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to the question of the mails to Ulster and Belfast. I have been crossing on that route from Belfast for over 40 years, and there has been practically no improvement in the time at all. When I used to cross as a boy, we left London after tea, and arrived home in Belfast for breakfast. Exactly the same time holds good to-day; you have to leave Euston at 10 minutes past six, and you get to Belfast at half-past six in the morning. It takes about 12 hours by train and steamer. By the new air route which has just been established, it is, of course, only possible to fly in the day-time. One leaves the aerodrome at Romford at a quarter to one, and is due in Belfast at hlaf-past six in the evening. The time is cut exactly in half, and the machines are not very fast ones either. When I got on to one of them and watched its speed, I never saw the needle go above 100 miles an hour.

The time at which it is necessary to post letters in London for Belfast makes matters very difficult for business men in the North of Ireland. It is not always possible to have letters ready by six o'clock, and, although it is possible to post up to half-past seven with a late fee, very often that is inconvenient. It is inconvenient for passengers also, because, if they want to leave later than half-past seven, by the Holyhead-Kings-town route, they have to go through the Irish Free State, and it is not everyone in Ulster with whom that route through the Irish Free State is popular. In the first place, it means two Customs examinations, one at Kingstown and the other on crossing the border into Ulster.

Here is a great opportunity for the Postmaster-General to seize. A great deal of time could be saved on the route to Belfast, and it certainly ought to be possible to post a letter here up till one o'clock in the morning and have it delivered when the office is opened at nine o'clock. There is an extremely good aerodrome at Belfast Harbour, on the Lough itself. It is a very flat piece of land, which has been reclaimed from the sea. There are no pylons or dangerous hills about, and it should be comparatively easy for a pilot to make a safe landing. It is true that the earth has not yet properly settled down, but, at the rate at which these air mail services are developing, I feel sure that the earth will be extremely hard before the service is introduced unless we see some improvement.

9.55 p.m.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that in his opinion we could not expect to see international trade reach the proportions that it had formerly reached, and that is a view that all of us share. He said we have to look to trade in the future with our Dominions and to an expansion of the home market. In order to trade with our Dominions we have to do what we can to enable them to develop rapidly, and there is nothing that will help towards their rapid development so surely as a regular, rapid and inexpensive air mail service. We have had in the past the disadvantage that our Empire has been far away from us. That is an excuse that we no longer have, because by air it can be reached in a very few hours. Only yesterday the President of the Board of Trade said he was shortly going to ask us probably to grant a subsidy of some £2,000,000 to shipping. We all know why British shipping has reached its present unfortunate state. It is because British goods have been carried to British ports by foreign ships. It is certain that, whether we develop our air service or whether we do not, the normal method of transport in the future for passengers and for mails, and later on for the lighter classes of goods, is going to be the air, and it will be a lamentable and a disastrous thing if we allow the air lines of other nations to capture our trade. Our Dominions will be far more likely to do business with countries which can reach them quickly than even with ourselves if we do not trouble to reach them with the same speed. Sentiment is not going to count for ever in the modern world unless we prepare ourselves to deal with modern problems in a modern way.

We all know that the Postmaster-General has the development of the Post Office at heart, but, if the Post Office had not a monopoly, it would not be possible for it to continue its existence, if it were a private concern, unless it were to put a very large proportion of its profits back into the modernisation of its service, and we have a right to demand that the Post Office should modernise the means of transport by giving us a cheap flat rate for air mail services. It is no longer a luxury. It is a vital necessity. When every other country is developing its service and when, above all, night flying is commonly practised by other nations, we should not allow ourselves to be so far behind. One thing we have to learn is that safety in the air depends too much in this country on the skill of the pilot. Safety in the air eventually should depend on the excellence of the ground organisation, and we have no ground organisation whatsoever. It is an absolute scandal that the safety of our air service should depend on the excellence of our machines and the skill of our pilots. They ought to be able to rely on having properly lighted air routes. They ought to have a ground organisation which can keep them in contact and describe to them weather conditions at different heights at all times of their flight. That is already in existence in America. It is one of the first things to ensure safety in the air.

It is a terrible thing that we have nothing in that direction at all. It is very sad that Imperial Airways are still content to fly machines which have a cruising speed of some 100 miles an hour and have not done more towards the development of ground organisation. I sincerely hope that, where regulations are made with regard to safety, they should be left in the hands of the aircraft manufacturers. It is in their interest to produce safe machines. If they are going to develop trade, it will not be in their interest to put unsafe machines on the market. There must be a slight element of risk in the beginning, but leave the regulations for safety in the hands of the manufacturers of the craft and not in the hands of experts, who may at best only be experts of their day and who are far too prone to look at the conditions of to-day and not at the conditions of the future.

10.1 p.m.


In the Debate on the Adjournment for the Whitsuntide Recess my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) brought this matter up, and the Lord President of the Council replied that, as the matter was highly technical, neither he nor the Under-Secretary of State for Air was in a position to reply. I do not know why he included the Under-Secretary of State for Air, because whenever I have tried to catch him out with a supplementary question I have always found him only too alert, if not with a satisfactory answer, at least with an apt one. He has now had several months in which to consider his reply. What argument can he advance against those which have been put forward by my hon. Friend? He can say that, owing to the geographical formation and position of this country, a night air mail is not necessary. It may be contended that the distances are too short; that our railways are too efficient; or that the demand is lacking. Each one of those arguments can be spatchcocked. The average distance for the German night air mail is only 310 miles, and that between Frankfurt and Stuttgart is only 95 miles. The distances between London and Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Belfast, Dublin and Cork are all vastly in excess of that figure. Nor is the argument that the demand is lacking valid. If the Germans can run a night air mail service between London and Berlin, how is it that there is only a demand for that service to be run by the Germans and not by the English? I also understand that probably in the near future the Dutch Royal Air Mail Line will run a service between Amsterdam and Hull. Why is there no demand in this country for such a service when there is a sufficient demand for a service to be run by foreigners?

It is because aviation in this country is entirely regarded from a military point of view. I submit now as I have submitted in the past, that aviation should be based on civil flying with military flying as an offshoot. It is considered necessary for us to be powerful in the air. Germany is considered one of the most powerful aeronautical countries in the world, yet she does not possess one single military aircraft. The reason is that she has taken every opportunity to develop her commercial and civil aviation by flying both day and night. In every school in Germany there has to be one master who possesses an "A" licence for gliding. In other words, in some four or five years time every German boy and girl will have practical experience in flying. It is this fact, that Germany is advancing so rapidly with her civil aviation, that is causing such alarm in Europe. So little attention is paid to civil aviation in this country that the Director of Civil Aviation is not even a member of the Air Council. It seems to me utterly impossible for the true aspect of flying to be set before the public if the man in charge of civil aviation has no say on the Air Council at all.

In the present state of international affairs, an increase in the Air Force of this country is considered necessary. Even more important than the production of machines is the training of pilots. There is no better way to train a pilot than that he should be trained to fly at night. There is no better way, or a more useful purpose for which he could fly at night, than to carry air mails. The Postmaster-General is one of the most progressive Ministers in the Government and the Post Office has achieved wonderful success. I can assure my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air that if he would only prepare the ground organisation necessary for night flying, Imperial Airways would be only too willing to undertake night flying and I am sure the Postmaster-General would avail himself of the facilities of Imperial Airways.

10.6 p.m.


One of the most regrettable discrepancies in respect of this problem is the fact that exports from this country by air are smaller than most of those of the countries in Europe. We sent by air in 1932 not more than £1,250,000 worth of goods whereas one of the small Balkan States sent more than £1,000,000 worth. We are a great exporting country, and the fact that we are one of the smallest air carrying countries in Europe calls for very careful consideration by the Air Ministry and other appropriate departments. I took careful note of what took place when the Postmaster-General received a deputation of commercial men and which included members of the London Chambers of Commerce. Four very explicit reasons were argued before him, and very substantial and relevant facts were put in support to show how his department could vitally help the trade and industry of this country. It was pointed out that in regard to the sending of travellers' samples and of contracts, and the cost of general commercial communication, much required to be done, and that "greater speed" was vital if we were to compete successfully with European countries for orders. So long as we are tied by a "snail gallop" of 100 miles an hour in the air we cannot compete in regard to these preliminary contract matters. It is essential that we should adopt up-to-date commercial methods in regard to the sending of samples and the conveyance of trade letters and contracts, and the question of greater speed was argued before the Postmaster-General as being vital and essential to our future as a manufacturing and exporting nation.

Another thing which is essential, and which has been referred to to-night, by the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) is the "conveyance of air mail at a flat rate." For example, the charge for the first half ounce to South Africa is 1s. and to India 8d., both of which are too much when comparing similar charges by other countries. If business firms have to send out two or three thousand letters, samples and circulars at present prices by air mail, the expense is one which no industry can really stand in view of the competition with which we are faced to-day. The Postmaster-General is making considerable profit in his department, and we should have some of this money to help trade and industry, not by subsidy but in reasonable charges. More favourable air mail rates are given in Germany and in France than obtain in this country. Let us put some of the profit which the right hon. Gentleman is making—and he is making plenty of it—into this air-carrying business of his department so that air communications with the Empire also may be considerably improved and cheapened. Another claim put before the Postmaster-General was "increased frequency of service." I would not for a moment support any system which jeopardised human life.

Let me quote some other statistics in regard to commercial air flying. From January, 1928, to December, 1932—nearly five years—there were only six fatal accidents as the result of commercial flying in this country, and there were 7,750,000 miles flown while only 20 passengers were killed. George Stevenson and his "Rocket" killed a few cows over a century ago. But human life is precious and must be considered appropriate. Reference has been made tonight to the very sad accident in which the son of the Lord Mayor of London lost his life. Those who have had the privilege of flying in the capacity of passengers know that extreme care is taken for the safety of those who travel by air, but the snail-like gallop which at present obtains will not do for commercial concerns in this country. There is the question of the carrying capacity of the air mails to be considered. Why cannot the aeroplanes be fitted with a half-ton container capacity, so that they do not interfere with the passenger service, to carry printed paper and commercial paper carriage and general small packets. There should be an arrangement for carrying mails in specially constructed compartments so as contribute to the greater speed of the machine. In conclusion, I must emphasise again very strongly that we do less exporting of goods by air than any country in Europe, and it is essential that the Postmaster-General and the Under-Secretary of State for Air should "get busy" and try to do something to assist commercial concerns in this country by providing better and cheaper air communications and move forward in legitimate fashion ahead of the world's competitors, the British place first as always.

10.14 p.m.

Captain BROWNE

I should like to add a few words to what has been said with regard to civil aviation. The cost of travelling by air should be brought within reasonable bounds; passengers should not be called upon to pay twice as much as the cost of travelling by rail. It is important that the matter should be brought before the appropriate authorities at this time, for unless we bring down the prices now people will not become air-minded and the whole system will be held back. If high prices are charged for air travel the public will not give their patronage, but if prices are brought within the reach of the people they will patronise the air services. Another air station should be provided in Ulster at Londonderry, which would be 460 miles from London. It would be about 360 miles to Belfast and another 100 miles to Londonderry. At Magilligan Strand the hinterland is very flat, and a very fine aerodrome and landing place could be made, within a few miles of Londonderry. He hoped that the Postmaster-General would take this matter into consideration and that he would take steps to have the mail service to Belfast speeded up. At the present time the journey occupied 12 hours, which was the time occupied 40 years ago. He strongly recommended this question to the proper authorities.

10.16 p.m.


The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) has performed a public service in initiating this Debate. Our present airways are very much in the position of the motor industry when the red flag was carried in front of the car. There is little idea in this country of the tremendous strides that night flying has made between the Continent and the Dutch East Indies. When the House rises for the summer Recess I shall have to decide whether I shall take a passage on a Dutch air liner, which will take me from this country to Calcutta in a little over four days, or whether I shall be patriotic to go by Imperial Airways, which will take about double the time. I think that I shall be patriotic; and confine myself to our own aeroplanes. But it is not everyone who will inconvenience himself to fly in that way. We are face to face in the immediate future with tremendous competition in aircraft, of which night flying is an essential feature. To me the position is very much like that of a man going from London to Edinburgh by express train, which stops at Crewe for two and a-half hours for refreshments, while another train going on the east coast route gets to Edinburgh two and a-half hours quicker by not stopping midway on the journey. Our air service is in the position of a stopping train in competition with an express. That practically sums up our position abroad.

At the Air Pageant last Saturday I stood among thousands of people and was struck by a comparison of our machines with the old contemptible British Army in the War. I wondered in the event of matters on the Continent or in Germany in particular becoming worse and war breaking out, how long our Air Force would last if it came to really serious fighting. I was tempted to think that in a very few weeks, or possibly days, that magnificent Air Force would be almost exterminated, because it would be outnumbered by 10 to one in competition with the aircraft of Continental nations. An aeroplane night service would be a splendid training ground for pilots, who could be depended upon in a national emergency, and I would strongly urge on the Air Minister, in collaboration with the Postmaster-General, to give earnest attention to the possibilities of what can be done in the way of developing air services at night.

There should be no parsimony so far as finance is concerned. No one can travel abroad by air without having the fact brought home to them at every moment that we are in a very backward position compared with foreign nations. Take, for instance, the journey from here to the Far East. You leave London by air and arrive in Paris. Then you get on a train and go right through to Brindisi. You stay the night there and land at Cairo in the afternoon of the next day. You wait there until the next morning, and then arrive at Gaza where you stay the night. You leave early the next morning about five o'clock and get through to Baghdad, where a whole night is wasted again. You start at six or seven o'clock the next morning for Bahrein where another night is spent. Then you get to Karachi at about four or five o'clock the next afternoon and leave the next morning. Another night wasted. And so you proceed to Calcutta, where you arrive at five o'clock in the afternoon and leave the next day. In this way the whole of the nights are wasted by sleeping in hotels when you could be making your way to your destination.

If we have competition we cannot expect to retain our business if we go on in this way. Other people just as capable as ourselves are ready to take our place. The weakest will go to the wall, and at the present moment we are a C3 rather than an A1 nation in the air as far as speed is concerned. One would like to think that the winning of the Schneider Cup and many other remarkable feats in the air should be turned to commercial use. Let us keep in front of other nations rather than lag behind and get their dust. What we require is energy, imagination and determination. Given these three qualities British aircraft will be second to none in the world. I ask the Postmaster-General to put the coping stone on the magnificent work he has done at the Post Office by leading this great nation right into the forefront of civil aviation, and then he will be able to challenge his opponents to do better if they can.

10.23 p.m.

Captain F. E. GUEST

At this late hour I can assure hon. Members that I do not propose to occupy more than a few moments, but I must take this opportunity, as a Member of the Air Committee, to add my views to what has been said this evening. Year after year, month after month, whenever a chance has occurred, everything in the way of friendly criticism has been addressed to the Government but no notice has been taken of it whatsoever. Month after month, in Debate after Debate, arguments have been put forward and elaborate speeches have been made to which light replies have been given. The net result, so far as the military side of aviation is concerned and so far as civil aviation is concerned, is that literally nothing has been done. I defy anyone to contradict me. I gather that on an Adjournment Motion one is not necessarily restricted to the question of civil aviation, and I submit to the Government that on the military side during the whole of the long summer and spring not a thing has been done except to give expression to platitudes, and to say that if, and if, and if, the Disarmament Conference fails then they would not be content to remain in the ignominious position of sixth Power in the aviation world, which we are to-day.

We shall not get a chance to say a word on this subject until next October. The House will rise in a few weeks; the long Recess will follow; October will come; the Disarmament Conference has gone to smithereens; and yet we do not know. Surely this House is entitled to know, and the country is entitled to know, whether something is being done and not merely being thought about and whispered about. My charge against the Ministry is not ill-founded. I submit, with great respect, that nothing has been done. The Air Committee and those who have helped it have time and time again tried to draw the attention of the country and the Ministry to the great national military aviation danger in which we stand to-day. Every day I am seeing officers who are on the fringe of retirement, some of them priceless men with 20 years of experience behind them. They do not know; nothing is told to them. But I know, and most of the people in the Air Force know, that to lose these pivotal men would be a great loss. Many of them would be almost irreplaceable. Yet in spite of the talk about possible expansion there is no indication that expansion is taking place. If you lose your personnel you are lost. I submit that with respect to the Treasury Bench as being a true statement of affairs. I have never been one of those who argued in favour of immense development of equipment. I know that equipment can be produced in a very short time. But the ground organisation and personnel are the foundation of any Air Force, and for us now at this critical moment to lose valuable men would be a very serious thing indeed.

So much for the military side. On the civil side less than nothing has been done. For two or three years now in succession the contribution made by the State to encourage civil aviation has been diminishing. When it has not been diminishing it has been a matter of a thousand or two pounds more. One tries to make some reasonable comparison between our activities and those of other countries, but there is no comparison possible at all. We are just being laughed at. Every other country has taken proper and reasonable steps to encourage the civil population to understand the meaning and the use of the air. We are making no attempt whatever. Our little humble flying clubs can hardly carry on. A little effort was made the other day to get a reduction in the Petrol Duty. Members were pushed off to some other Department and were told to approach the Treasury. It is not the business of the Treasury; it is the business of the Air Ministry to fight the battle for civil aviation.

I submit that I am not wrong or improper in saying that the Air Committee have been patient to a degree, and that those who support the committee have been equally patient; but this country has now become the laughing stock of Europe, tnd it has become a discredit to the main body of the electorate of the country, largely because there is a lack of courage on the Treasury Bench. They know that as well as I do. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for Air know perfectly well the position that Britain occupies to-day in aviation, both military and civil, is really unworthy of a great political party such as they represent. The aftermath will come. There is not the slightest doubt that Europe is in a turmoil which they cannot control. I doubt very much whether any one knows which way it is going. Can we, who have gone through so much and made such sacrifices in the past, afford to sit back and take chances?

The Government carries great responsibility on its shoulders. It is one direction in which the cheapest form of insurance can be undertaken. It is a question of a few millions. Last year we voted £6,000,000 to the wheat grower, and it is well known that in subsidising wheat you are simply handing £6,000,000 out to the people who grow wheat. Yesterday it was intimated that we proposed to hand out £2,000,000 to those who build ships. The Under-Secretary of State for Air knows that with £2,000,000 he could do an immense deal to strengthen both the military and civil sides of aviation. I feel sure that this Government will be carrying a grave responsibility if they ignore the demands in this connection which the country will put upon them before they are very much older. I support strongly my hon. Friend who has raised this subject to-night and those other hon. Friends of mine on the Air Committee who have supported me in this matter. I only wish that we could to-night record our disapproval of the Government's attitude. It would be the disapproval of friends and not of enemies, but there is only one way in which to record such disapproval, and on this occasion certainly if a vote were being taken, I would vote against the Government.

10.32 p.m.

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

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who himself occupied the supreme position in the Air Ministry in such brilliant fashion, has just made a most important contribution to this Debate, but he will understand, just as the House generally will understand, how impossible it is for me, in an Adjournment Debate and occupying the humble position which I do occupy, to make any statement upon such important matters of Government policy as those which he has raised. My hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside) has almost made it unnecessary for me to speak at all because he told the House exactly the kind of answer which I could not fail to make to the questions addressed to me. I would like at the outset of my remarks to thank the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) and other speakers for the very kind remarks which they made about the skill and efficiency of the display given by the pilots of the Royal Air Force last Saturday. I also thank them for the condolences and the tributes paid to the victim of the very tragic accident which occurred on that occasion. These, I know, will be deeply appreciated by the relatives of that gallant officer.

The hon. Member for Duddeston has raised a subject upon which he has spoken on other occasions and on which he has asked my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and myself questions from time to time. I am sorry that the answers which he received to those questions have not relieved his anxieties, which I know are due to a genuine desire for the welfare of British flying and the safety of these islands. The hon. Member's argument was based upon two major premises; first, that the air defences of the country have been jeopardised by the neglect which the Air Ministry has shown in regard to night flying, and, secondly, that the gap in our defences in this connection can be filled by subsidising civil night flying. I respectfully submit that both these premises are false. We are not neglecting and have not neglected night flying. Night flying is one of the most important parts of the duties of the Royal Air Force and is carried out to a far greater degree than my hon. Friend imagines. Moreover, the amount of night flying which takes place in the Royal Air Force has very largely increased during the last three years.

I am advised, and I concur in the view that it would not be in the public interest to give precise figures as to the amount of night flying carried out year by year in the Royal Air Force but, knowing the interest which hon. Members take on the subject, I would like to give them as much information on the subject as I can. The extent to which night flying is practised by units of the Royal Air Force varies, naturally, according to the different duties which they undertake, but altogether there are about 70 squadrons of the Royal Air Force which in one way or another practise all the year in night flying. In addition to those 70 squadrons, a great amount of night flying is done by other units at Farnborough and by headquarter units in various stations. In a matter of this kind, one must necessarily be guided by expert opinion, and I am sure the House will be satisfied with the assurance that the amount of night flying which is undertaken in the Royal Air Force is considered to be ample, in the opinion of those who are best qualified to judge.

I may perhaps give the House a clearer idea of the amount of night flying which is undertaken in the Royal Air Force if I give some simple illustration. If civil night air mails were instituted running from London to Penzance, to Swansea, to Liverpool, and to Edinburgh, and the journeys were return ones, and were undertaken every night all through the year, the amount of mileage to be flown in the services would be substantially less than that which is undertaken and performed every year by units of the Royal Air Force. Moreover, the night flying which is done in the Air Force is not by any means fair-weather flying. The pilots who practise night flying in the Air Force fly in all weathers, except perhaps in circumstances of fog, in which even an air mail pilot perhaps would not be able to leave the ground.

I hope I have said enough in this connection to make the House realise that the air defence of these islands is not being neglected, and perhaps I have said enough to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston that that is the case. I think I may have already done so, because I feel that in this question tonight he has somewhat shifted his ground from what he has said previously, because to-night he seemed to be concerned rather less with adding to our night flying experience and more with speeding up the air mail. No doubt it would be possible, by a sufficiently heavy subsidy, to set up a night air mail which would very considerably speed up the Empire air mail, and no doubt the experience gained by the pilots who would be flying those machines would be of value to the nation in time of war, but it is a complete misapprehension of the facts of the situation to think that this would be of the greatest value. As a matter of fact, the effect would be very small indeed. Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer felt justified in adopting the German method and allocating public money to the maintenance of unremunerative night air mail services, the number of civil pilots who would obtain experience of night flying in this way would be absolutely negligible compared with the number of pilots who get this experience in the Royal Air Force.


Does not that depend entirely on the frequency with which those pilots fly? If each pilot flew every night in the year, which is manifestly absurd, possibly what the right hon. Gentleman says is true, but otherwise I think he should modify his statement.


I am informed that it might not mean that more than 10 to 12 civil pilots would be trained on night flying during the year. We are pot in a position to adopt German methods with matters of this kind, even if we desired to do so, and before public money is allocated for a purpose of this kind it is necessary to get the permission of the House for that money to be spent. It would therefore be necessary to show that it would be justified by the results. It must be shown that there is a public demand for these services sufficiently large to justify a subsidy of this kind. Otherwise we are going to spend money without any thought for the taxpayer or without the Treasury being the watch dog of the taxpayer, as happens in other countries. It is difficult in this country to justify a large expenditure of public money without showing there is a case for asking for it or that there is a demand for the expenditure. The other reason why we might do that would be if the provision of night flying pilots trained in this way were really essential to the public safety. I consider, in spite of what my hon. Friend has so ably and eloquently said to-night, that neither qualification exists at the present time. There has been no evidence that there is any demand for night passenger service and air mail traffic by itself, taking the figures, are entirely insufficient—


May I without wishing to interrupt the sequence of my right hon. Friend's argument say that he is entirely misstating the case. I would inform him on the best grounds that there is now half a ton of mail, which is just the appropriate quantity to fly from this country to India each week. Why cannot that be taken night and day instead of going to sleep at night on the ground with the passengers and crew?


I listened with the greatest patience, and with pleasure too, to the whole of the speech of my hon. Friend, and I think he might allow me to complete my argument. I do not complain of interruptions, but perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to finish my sentence. Although he will not agree with me, I may succeed in persuading other people. I was in the middle of a sentence in which I was saying that the air mail traffic of itself was entirely in-sufficient to make a night service remunerative. On the other hand, as I have shown, the amount of night flying which is done by the Royal Air Force is quite sufficient from the point of view of safety, and would not in any way be materially affected by the handful of pilots which my hon. Friend suggests would be trained. He is not right in saying that a genuine commercial demand exists if he means a demand on anything approaching a commercial scale. The total daily air mail from this country to Europe amounts to 353 pounds. Of this, 129 pounds is carried by the Luft Hansa night service between London and Cologne. My hon. Friend gave the most poetic description of this hour of the night when our wings were folded and our engines were mute, when our hangar doors were closed and the machines of all these other countries were tuning up to carry this immense amount of mail and freight, which amounts, as I have said, to 129 pounds. What that means financially can be gathered from the fact that the total weight of mails and freight which is carried on that service averages only 35 per cent of the pay load capacity.

Although the hon. Member said that practically all other countries in the world except ours have these night flying air mail services, neither France nor Belgium has night flying. A night air mail service was tried out in Belgium in 1930 or 1931, but was discontinued and not restarted. In Germany, only 10 per cent. of the regular air service mileage is night flying mileage; and Germany has no military air service. Therefore, so far from Germany, as the hon. Member said, having a monopoly of night-flying skill, it would be far fairer to say that the night-flying experience of Germany cannot possibly compare with our own. On the other hand, though no regular night flying is done by Imperial Airways, as everybody knows the company's aircraft land at nearly all times of the year, except in the middle of summer, after dark, and that on some of our longdistance air services in the Empire they nearly always start before the dawn and land after dark.

Further, the hon. Member referred to the "débâcle" in America when the service pilots tried to run the air mail there. No lesson can be drawn from that failure of the United States Air Arm Corps to operate flying services which can fairly be applied to the Royal Air Force. The reason why the service pilots in America, put up such an unfortunate show when trying to run civil air mails was not that they had no experience of night flying; but that they had no experience in instrument flying. Everybody knows that month by month experience of instrument flying increases in the Royal Air Force, and that now there is hardly a pilot in the Royal Air Force who has not learned to fly by his instruments. Therefore, when he flies in bad or foggy weather, he is able successfully to navigate his machine. After all, when the Royal Air Force was called upon, as it was for five and a-half years, to run the civil air line between Cairo and Baghdad it did it with the greatest possible success.

It follows from what I have said that I am unable to accept the hon. Member's premises, either that there is at this moment a genuine commercial demand sufficient to justify a subsidy or that the training of civilian air pilots in night, flying is essential for the safety of this country. That night flying on Empire air routes will come one day I have no-doubt, and the sooner it arrives the: better. I hope that even this year, on portions of the Imperial route to India, there will be even still further night flying than there is already. From the air mail point of view, if there is a separate air mail line, the more night flying there is done the better; but from the passenger point of view, people who have flown these long distances realise that there is a certain amount of fatigue to the passenger, and that if they fly all day and all night for a certain period a great many passengers get very tired. But I think that it will be found in the very near future that there will be an increase in the amount undertaken on these routes, and that as a result the time will be speeded up. When a substantial demand arises for night air services, internal or otherwise, the civil air companies over here will certainly not find the Air Ministry unsympathetic or unhelpful. Meanwhile, the policy of the Ministry necessarily remains that which has already been indicated to the hon. Member in replies to his questions. At the same time, I would congratulate him on his speech which, as a contribution to this subject, was most interesting and instructive.


Without wishing to detain the House, might I thank my right hon. Friend?


I am afraid the hon. Member has already exhausted his right to speak.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes before Eleven o'Clock.