§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House is of opinion that the early provision of additional aerodromes in these islands is an essential pre-requisite to the further development of commercial and private flying, and urges that all necessary measures should be taken to this end, including the provision at the more important centres of adequate wireless and meteorological facilities.First, may I crave the indulgence of the House for the fact that I have no great experience of aviation. I am raised, by the fortune of the ballot, to this Icarian honour. Unlike Icarus, I do not intend to trespass beyond the limitations of my knowledge, and I will deal with the Amendment leaving out technical questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) will second and I know he will deal, as be is well qualified to deal, with those aspects of the question which require the long experience that he has enjoyed in the pursuit of aviation. But it does not require great knowledge of the subject to realise that success in the air depends primarily upon organisation on the ground, and facilities on the land will predetermine the use that you make of the air. We have heard a number of speeches, principally the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the Lord President of the Council, explaining the very grave posi- 2090 tion of the country from a military aspect. I want the House to leave that behind. I want them to consider the question of our commercial opportunities in the air. It is impossible for a nation, especially this great nation, to be entirely oblivious to the needs of commerce. Time is money, and quick transit between different points is the first factor of commerce. The country which does not have speedy transport will be very gravely affected in the future. If you look forward to the future, I do not say that the world will be quite as pictured by Huxley or Wells, but we can be certain that a town which has not adequate provision for aircraft will be as isolated as a town to-day which has no rail or road service.
It is of great importance to see what were the conditions in our large towns at the end of last year. There were 17 towns of more than 100,000 inhabitants which possessed no aerodrome, and 34 towns of over 50,000 inhabitants were similarly deprived of that accommodation. York, which was once the capital of England, and Edinburgh, which is still the capital of Scotland, were without an aerodrome. Even Aberdeen was not sufficiently lavish to provide an aerodrome for its business men. If you look at your great industrial centres, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton and Birmingham were all without that primary accommodation, which will be as indispensable to our sons as railway stations were to our fathers and the old coaching inns were to our grandfathers. We must not delay in this matter. England has the swiftest surface transport in the world. That makes the use of an aerodrome all the more important. Aircraft with a speed of 80 to 100 miles an hour may be able to land in small fields or restricted spaces. If you have large numbers of aeroplanes for commercial purposes, as I believe will soon be necessary, with a capacity of 200 miles an hour, you must have adequate landing facilities and adequate hangars for housing them. It is no good connecting this country for business purposes with aeroplanes of a slower speed. We must have aerodromes that are accessible. If a business man has to make a long journey from the centre of the town to an aerodrome he will lose some of the advantage of the air journey by having to traverse the built-up areas between the aerodrome and the centre of the town. That makes the 2091 Amendment all the more important, because every day that a town delays in the provision of aerodromes the possible site for an aerodrome is being pushed further out into the country.
I would ask the Minister in what way he is encouraging towns to apply for his approval for the reservation of sites for A 1 landing grounds for aerodromes near the centre of towns, and also whether he is encouraging towns to reserve sites and to schedule them for aerodromes in town and regional planning schemes. In this connection I was very pleased to read in the "Times" a few days ago that the Minister had appointed an Aerodromes Advisory Board, under the chairmanship of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest), to advise on the question of the reservation of sites for aerodromes. What is the full scope of that board's activities Will they be able to advise not merely local authorities but also the Minister on this question, and will they be able to advise on matters which will require legislation? Will they be able to go into the whole question of aerodromes where legislation is necessary? I have great fears about the building up of this country. We are putting up pylons and aerial cables all over the country which will make the provision of aerodromes in some districts a very difficult and very expensive task. I hope the Minister is sure that he has or will have adquate powers to deal with that menace.
I have spoken so far from the commercial and economic standpoint. May I mention the point of view of health? When we plan our towns in the future let us not plan them in that hurried and haphazard way of the nineteenth century which produced the slums that we are pulling down to-day. The towns of the future will have to have a factory area, an open belt of country and dormitory areas. It is in the open belt, which will be the lungs of the town, that we must place our aerodromes. It will be a fortunate thing that the aerodrome in the open belt will provide revenue to compensate for the non-revenue producing parks in the remainder of the open belt. I should like to link up this question of aerodromes with the question of the toll of the roads. The holocaust of the roads cannot be the 2092 last word that civilisation has to offer in regard to our transport. Why do we have that heavy toll of the roads? Surely it is because of the blending of slow transport with swift transport. It is the pedestrian who has been caught by the business man trying to get faster to his place of business. Fortunately for the Amendment there is no such thing as a pedestrian of the air. If we can put the speed merchant in his proper place, which I believe is in the air, we shall have provided one solution for the congestion of the roads.
We are very far behind other countries in the provision of aerodromes. For that, I do not indict my hon. Friend. In 1930, on the Air Estimates, I listened to Mr. Oliver, who was then the hon. Member for Ilkeston, who moved a Motion on this subject. He claimed that in the enlightened days of the Socialist Government there were 19 aerodromes in this country. To-day I understand that there are 78. For that fact a great deal of credit must be due to my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary, and the Noble Lord, the Air Minister. Other countries have not been idle. When Mr. Oliver spoke he said that Italy had 26 aerodromes, France 15, and the United States 840. To-day Italy has 48, France has increased from 15 to 136, and the United States from 840 to 2,030. These are very startling figures. It means that we have some leeway to make up on this question of aerodromes. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us how many more aerodromes are under construction, how many are under consideration, and what effort he is making—I know he is making considerable efforts—to get more aerodromes constructed all over the country. I give him full credit for what he has done to popularise aerodromes, and I give credit also to the London Chamber of Commerce for initiating the Air Port Conference last year. They convened a very representative gathering of local authorities. The conference was presided over by the Lord Mayor and was opened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales who, I believe, has done more than anybody else to popularise the use of the air and to encourage the use of the air, not only by the force of his personality but by the courage of his personal example. I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us what results have already come from that conference, how far the 2093 local authorities have responded and how many laggard areas there are.
We have always been the leaders of commerce. We were the pioneers on the sea, pioneers in colonisation and pioneers in the industrial revolution. We have never claimed to lead in the race of armaments; we have always followed and have been driven by necessity. But in this matter of air development somehow we are failing. Our local authorities are reluctant to embark on aerodromes. They say: "It is all very well for the United States to have 2,000 aerodromes, but they have wide open spaces. That is no use in a small cramped little island like ours." I do not think that argument will hold water. It is a form of caution which is very contrary to the spirit of adventure which we have shown in the past. If we are to keep our position at the head of the world's commerce we shall have to destroy that reluctance and to embark upon a wide policy of aerodromes. It is because I feel that we are slipping behind in the march of modern civilisation in this respect that I commend the Amendment to the House.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am sure the Under-Secretary will be pleased to have a few moments' rest from the excitement of the military side of his Estimates and to discuss the civil side, upon which I think there is general agreement throughout the House. I should like to join my hon. Friend in appreciation of what has already been done by the municipalities and by Chambers of Commerce in regard to the provision of aerodromes in this country. I think I am right in saying that 18 municipal aerodromes have been established and that there are in the course of preparation five or six others. I think the municipalities during these times of great financial stringency have shown very considerable foresight in pushing forward with what I believe to be the most important development work for the traffic of the future and in subscribing money towards the provision of aerial facilities. I should like to impress upon municipalities my opinion that it is vitally important that aerodromes should be started. It is very important that a site should be immediately procured near to the towns.
2094 It is easy for anyone to visualise that with an aeroplane flying at 200 miles an hour, as they very soon will be in everyday flight, the mere fact of having to make a half-hour's journey to get to the aerodrome will be equivalent to 100 miles journey in the air. That fact emphasises the importance of having the aerodromes near to the towns. Every municipality on a main trunk line which has a large population requiring these facilities could at small expense obtain a site and clearing sufficient for landing grounds, and possibly have a hangar for one or two machines. I would not suggest that immediately any vast expenditure of money is necessary, but with due consideration of economy it would be well for every municipality to make a start in obtaining space and clearings for a suitable landing area for any type of machine. I should like to amplify what my hon. Friend has said in regard to the large areas in America. It is far more important for us to have more aerodromes than it is for America, because our climate is definitely worse and we have great difficulties in this country in winter in flying. It may be that one wants to ascend rather more quickly than one would expect, therefore intermediate landing grounds are a great advantage if we are to keep up a regular service for business purposes in the winter.
I am delighted that the Government are setting up an Advisory Committee, because I am certain that just as it is important that we should have a proper system of town planning, it is also important that we should have a proper system of aerodrome planning. There are places throughout the country where the establishment of large aerodromes is of vital necessity, just in the same way as electrical development. Under the electrical development schemes which we adopted some years ago there are certain main stations which develop the current and others are subsidiary. So I say that in the development of aerodromes there must be certain main points where larger aerodromes could be placed and smaller aerodromes, linked up with them, could be developed under a definite system of conformity, so that we would have a properly regulated method of aerial transport. Beyond that, the actual buildings themselves and the amenities of the aerodromes need control. There is no earthly reason why we should not 2095 have picturesque and beautiful aerodromes if they are properly planned. On the Continent, and particularly in Germany, you see hundreds and even thousands of the ordinary working-class public for whom amenities are provided at the aerodromes, places where they can have tea, with nice gardens and flowers, where they can see the flying, can get interested in civil aviation and can get the real air sense which we desire to see in all sections of the population here. I hope that the Under-Secretary will bring these views before the advisory committee when it is set up.
My hon. Friend was right in saying that there are some municipalities holding up these schemes. It is a very difficult problem. You may get a new municipality which says, "We are not going to provide an aerodrome at present because you cannot tell us for certain that there will be a service running from it, or that it will be used to any large extent in the immediate future." When you talk to a business friend and say to him, "Why don't you let your commercial traveller fly round the country? On the Continent the work is done much more quickly." He may reply, "There are so many towns in England where there are no aerodrome facilities." Between the two we are at a deadlock. It is obviously the duty of the municipality to provide the facilities if ordinary commercial people undertake to use them.
What I consider to be a very grave danger to our future aerodrome development is the aerodrome position in London itself. You have now the aerodrome at Croydon. I am sure the Under-Secretary will not think that I am overstating when I say that with the large amount of aerial traffic now going into Croydon ordinary private flying is not required. In fact at Croydon they are not very pleased for you to use the place as a general landing ground for London, except in the case of air liners. That leaves us with Heston; Hanworth, which is rather in the throes of possible changes; Stag Lane, which is being developed as a building site; and Hatfield, which is rather too far away to be of very great service to ordinary commercial interests in London. It is of vital importance to commercial interests in this centre of the Empire that some steps should be taken to provide an aerodrome 2096 nearer the centre of London. I can visualise a future when we have aerodromes, one necessary for air mail traffic going out of London, one for goods traffic going out of London, one for private owners' flying, and another necessary, as Croydon is to-day, for the great air liners going to and from the Continent. In future we shall require at least four big terminal aerodromes. But I do not see any effort being made to obtain any sites or any provision being made for the improvement of facilities.
Let me turn to the Customs side of the matter. I have spoken of the congestion that exists at Croydon. It is, of course, a fact that if you fly from Croydon down the main Continental route to France there is considerable congestion, so much so that my right hon. Friend has made provision whereby in foggy weather certain routes have to be taken backwards and forwards to the Continent. It seems to me that matters would be very materially assisted by establishing a few Customs aerodromes in various parts of the country. We ought to have one Customs aerodrome in the centre of the Midlands, one in the Eastern Counties and one somewhere in the West. From those Customs aerodromes, without touching Croydon or Heston or coming into conflict with the Continental traffic from the London air ports, one would be able to fly direct to the Continent. I believe that with the exchange of goods, which I expect to see in a very few years coming by air from the Continent, the time must soon arrive when we shall have to establish Customs aerodromes in all great centres of the country. With the congestion of the flying on the Continental route the sooner such Customs facilities are available the better it will be for all concerned.
Another side of the subject is the construction of aerodromes by private enterprise. I think great gratitude is due to the Light Aeroplane Club and others who have established aerodromes of a semipublic kind. But it is not so gratifying to realise that when one turns agricultural land into aerodrome land one becomes liable for very heavy rates. At least we are in a better position than France, for I understand that up to a few months ago no French aviator was allowed to land even on his own private field, but was obliged to land at some municipal aerodrome.
2097 We are very sadly behind other countries in the provision of night flying equipment and aerodromes. North of London there is not a single aerodrome which has a regular night flying equipment in operation. People will say that no one in England flies at night and that therefore it is not necessary to provide facilities. Others will say that as soon as the facilities are provided, as soon as a proper line of beacon lights is established, and as soon as directional wireless is in operation, they are prepared to use night flying equipment and fly at night in England as they do in France and other countries. Our climate is no worse for night flying than that of a great many parts of France and Germany. It is only that we have not the night flying equipment in any part of the country, except in that small portion between the Continent and Croydon. Not even is the air port of Manchester fully equipped with lighting facilities.
I hope the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that the Government are taking steps to push forward this most important provision of night flying apparatus at the large terminal aerodromes, together with some method of lighting, possibly on the top of the electric pylons, to provide some guidance by night, or in any other way which can be devised whereby we can start night flying immediately. I am certain that not only from the civil side but from the military side also we are far behind other countries.
There is to be a race from London to Melbourne in October. How many pilots have we who would be capable of flying a machine of the requisite size and pace throughout the night for perhaps three nights, as pilots from other countries will do? Look at the night services which are run in America. Forty-three per cent. of the commercial lines in America are run at night. I do not wish for one moment to criticise the wonderful service of Imperial Airways to this country, but it is not with a feeling of pride that one goes to Cologne and other places on the Continent and sees every sort of Continental machine flying hour by hour in the night, and then to realise that in England no one is flying at night.
I wish to say a few words about wireless directional finding which is mentioned in the Amendment. There again 2098 we are rather behind in our provision. It is well known on the Continent and in America that the only way to supply a regular service day and night through all weather is by having directional wireless equipment on your machine, or devices of a similar nature. I believe I am right in saying that except for Croydon and possibly Lympne and Pulham, where you get bearings for flying over the country, there is no method, even if one has fitted directional wireless on one's machine, whereby one can make use of it in England. When I look at the Estimates I am rather disappointed to see in the civil aviation Vote that the "Technical equipment stores and experimental services" is the only Vote which has been reduced. It is reduced by £6,600. I hope that that does not mean that the Under-Secretary is not going to experiment further with direction finding and with wireless services which are and must in future be of such vital importance to civil aviation in this country.
I agree entirely with what was said this afternoon about the excellent work of the meteorological section in this country. Having flown in a great many parts of the world I think that there are no better weather reports in any country. I do not say it is not possible for the reports to be expedited, but the actual reports as given out are unequalled by any reports anywhere. I ask that particularly in the North of England, particularly at the Manchester Station, it should be possible to send out reports. I understand that they are to be sent out at Cranwell instead of at Heston, and possibly that will make things easier, but there is considerable difficulty in the North of England in obtaining these reports, and also in using the wireless services at Manchester, which I understand are not in regular operation unless one gives notice by telephone before going up in the air. For all the reasons stated I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Lord APSLEY
I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for having brought up this question. His speech and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), who seconded the Amendment, show how lamentably behind we are compared with other countries in this respect. This is 2099 a matter of urgent importance, and one which ought to be dealt with straight away. I do not think that either of the hon. Members who have spoken fully indicated the position. I am afraid that we must say that the Air Ministry are responsible for the present state of affairs in two ways. First, they have been guilty of a sin of commission, in regard to the regulations which govern the granting of licences for aerodromes. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned that several towns were backward in proposing sites for aerodromes. Let us put ourselves in their place. When any town considers having a municipal aerodrome, its representatives go to the Air Ministry to find out the regulations governing the granting of licences as to size and so forth. They find that their aerodrome has to be 600 yards by 600 and has to fulfil certain other specifications such as absence of high trees or buildings or hills from the near vicinity. They look round for a site which fulfils those requirements and they find that land in the immediate vicinity of the town is far too expensive to make it economically possible to build an aerodrome there. Either they give up the idea or else they go further afield where land is cheaper.
That is why almost every town here and abroad which has an aerodrome, has it 12 or 15 miles away from the civic centre which it is proposed to serve. That is a matter which could be remedied. There are different types of aircraft, and there is no reason why an aerodrome must be 600 yards by 600 yards. You can land an auto-gyro or even a Moth in an ordinary average field. It should be possible to allow a town to start an aerodrome on a smaller basis and to grade the aerodromes according to the types of machine which they are meant to serve. A small town, where there is not a great demand for aviation but where there are a few commercial travellers and business men who want to travel abroad, could start quite a small aerodrome so long as only certain types of light aircraft were permitted to use it. Later on when the demand became greater and when they had perhaps saved some money they could have an aerodrome on a larger scale further afield to serve machines of a larger type.
2100 Here comes the second trouble, and this is the sin of omission for which, I am afraid, the Air Ministry must take responsibility. It is regarding the question of traffic to and from aerodromes. The Air Ministry, of course, is a service department concerned primarily with military aviation. Civil aviation to it is a secondary issue and it has no control whatever or even influence over any other forms of transport. I have raised this question over and over again and so has my hon. Friend the Member for Melton with various Ministers and various permanent officials at the Air Ministry but we have always had the same reply—that this was a matter over which they had no control. I have gone to the Ministry of Transport and asked them whether they could do anything to relieve the situation. I was referred to Lord Ashfield. Lord Ashfield, however, has no concern at all with aviation. He is only concerned with the London Passenger Transport Board and there is no reason why they should go to any expense to provide better and quicker transport to the existing aerodromes.
That is the state of affairs at present. Taking the case of London alone we find that the aerodromes round London were constructed at the behest of a number of clubs who catered for their own members, these being nearly all residents in London possessing their own motor cars. To them it was of little import where the aerodrome was situated or what the facilities were for getting into London by omnibus or train. But the ordinary bona fide traveller arriving by air omnibus, on one of the services that are now beginning to operate in this country, or the private owner flying his own machine but with no car at his disposal in London, find themselves stranded. I use air transport myself every week because it is the best and quickest way that I can get out of London to my home, which is some 95 miles away. It takes me on an average an hour to fly between Heston and my home, say an hour plus 10 minutes if it is against the wind, and an hour less than 10 minutes if with the wind.
I can get to either Hanworth, Heston, Croydon, or Hatfield. Croydon I rule out and Hatfield is too far, and that leaves only Hanworth and Heston. At Hanworth, there is a very good train service from Feltham by which one can get into London in 25 minutes, but the 2101 trains run only every half-hour. That is a matter in which the Air Ministry might have some influence with the Southern Railway to induce them to run a more frequent train service, and to make Hanworth a possible air centre for London. As regards Heston, matters are more complicated. There it is necessary to hire a taxicab which costs 2s. 6d., get on to the Great West Road and wait for an omnibus and it is a 1s. fare in the omnibus to London. That takes an hour all told between Heston and London. Thus, to fly almost 100 miles only takes an hour, while to cover the 10 or 15 miles into the city takes another hour, which hardly makes the total journey any quicker than if it was done by train, although you have the advantage of being able to start whatever hour you like.
I would ask the Under-Secretary to give us some hope that he will use his personal influence with the Minister of Transport, Lord Ashfield, the railway companies, and all the powers that be, controlling our complicated transport system, to get a more speedy method of transport from the centre to the existing aerodromes round London. I have heard the suggestion mooted of a central airport in London something like the Templehof at Berlin. Apart from the enormous expense and the difficulty of finding any suitable site nearer than Wormwood Scrubs, there is the question of fog which would be severe in the winter months. Possibly, for that reason sites round the South-West and South-East of London would be the best as the most likely to be free from fog. But in respect to London I suggest that the question is not so much one of the possibility of a central aerodrome, as of speeding up transport between the centre of the Metropolis and the existing aerodromes.
It has always seemed to me that it was a pity that Imperial Airways was started as a flying concern. I remember the Lord President of the Council making a striking speech in this House showing how particular industries were liable to be affected by changes of fashion and method, to which large and cumbersome organisations and amalgamations could only adapt themselves with difficulty. A sudden change of fashion might make a complete alteration of industrial plant necessary and a large concern could not afford to raise the capital to make the 2102 necessary changes. But a small flexible industry, started perhaps by one man in a single shop would suddenly spring into being and defeat the large and cumbersome organisation. That speech I fear has largely been forgotten in the country although it was a very striking speech. No enterprise is more liable to sudden changes in method, and public taste and fashion than aviation. New developments may make existing machines obsolete. Therefore, it is a dangerous form of enterprise to start on semi-Government lines or with a Government-assisted organisation like Imperial Airways.
Perhaps in the early stages when there was nobody else in the field it was necessary to do so and I think everyone in the House will give credit to Imperial Airways for the wonderful pioneer work than have done. But I am not sure that in time to come it would not be wise for Imperial Airways to sell off or to delegate their actual flying activities to other companies, particularly railway, shipping or aviation companies, and to concentrate on ground work and on getting aerodromes all over the world on British territories where the best facilities could be given, facilities that would only be possible with a Government-assisted concern. I refer to such matters as the provision of directional wireless and weather reports. Diplomatic action, too, is sometimes necessary to get passage through a country which may be recalcitrant in the matter of wayleaves. Facilities for changing money should also be afforded, as well as many others which, as I say, would only be possible to a large concern. If there is to be any internationalisation of flying I would like to see arrangements of that kind being made and firms like Luft Hansa, Cooks and Lloyds and others, who have great experience could assist in building up a good ground organisation in connection with flying which would be world-wide. The actual flying could be carried out by small flexible companies, flying perhaps over very small routes at first and gradually extending their activities and making use of the aerodromes provided by Imperial Airways.
I would gladly see the shipping companies coming into line in the same way as the railway companies are doing with regard to internal services in England. I believe that in the future all mails will 2103 go by air and that the ships which now carry mails are bound in the course of time to lose those contracts. For the sake of their shareholders alone, the shipping companies ought to take an interest in forming new air companies to run the mails. I should like to see not a weekly but a daily mail service to India. That would be really useful. Such a service would immediately take hold of the public imagination and people would make use of it as often as possible. Also, there might be a bi-weekly service to Australia. But these things can only be done if there is a good sound ground organisation which I believe Imperial Airways could well provide. It would also—and this is a matter of extreme importance—provide a means of employing Air Force pilots with short service commissions when they have finished their three years' service. It would open up facilities for the absorption of these men into aviation and give them experience of flying in all weathers, which is most necessary, if we are to build up a sufficient reserve of pilots and mechanics to meet any possible military emergency.
There are two other questions to which I wish to refer. One has been raised before, but I think that it is of importance now that railways are beginning to come to the assistance of flying. The Air Ministry should suggest to the railway companies that they should paint the names of the towns on their railway stations. I have often, in flying from one place to another, had to cross over a bit of high ground or a mountain range with low cloud, and when I have come out I have not been certain whether I had my true bearings or not. One looks out for familiar objects, and the first thing of all that one notices is a railway. If you follow it you know that it will lead you somewhere. If we had the name of the town on each station it would be easier still, and there would not be so many pilots, including Air Force pilots, losing their way. Suggestions have been made about gasometers being used in this connection. They would be of no use. You might fly all round a town in a fog and not see the particular gasometer, but if you knew the name of the town was on the railway station for certain, and, as you can see the smoke of a train miles away, you would be able to follow the line until you saw the name of the 2104 town. You could then take up your bearings and carry on on a new compass bearing.
As far as weather reports are concerned, the hon. Member for Melton has a greater experience than I have of Continental flying, and I bow to his opinion, but, all the same, I think that if he had been with me about two months ago in the control tower at Lyons, and had seen the way the French do their weather reports, he would have been amazed, as I was, to see anything done so efficiently. Every minute, reports were coming in from almost every area of the country which could be covered. The work was done scientifically by watersheds. We get here fair general information in the reports, such as "a depression approaching from the Channel, and rain and a south-westerly wind will spread over the South of England." It is generally an hour or so late, but even so it gives you no local information which varies very much from watershed to watershed. This could easily be done by getting certain post offices in each watershed to arrange for messages to be sent as to the state of weather in that particular area. For instance, you might find that the atmosphere east of Reading was quite clear, with fog over the downs, and heavy rain on the other side. There is always different weather on one side of the Cheviots from that on the other and the same applies to the Pennine Range. I believe that more could be done by means of local information, particularly with regard to fog and low cloud if the information were telegraphed regularly to some central station and then wirelessed to all the aerodromes.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
I will not follow the remarks of my Noble Friend with regard to the past and future of Imperial Airways, because it would be difficult for me at this moment to pronounce upon them. The House was interested, as it must be, to hear such an authoritative account of civil flying in this country, but I was disappointed that he should have found the meteorological system in France so much better than our own. He says that our weather reports describe the depression coming across the Atlantic and rain coming from the south-west, but they have not done that lately, anyhow. We should be pleased to see in our 2105 morning report that rain was coming from the south-west. I think that the suggestion about cheaper transport facilities between aerodromes in London was entirely right. It is the case that the advantage and the time that we gain in flying are very much lost and nullified by the time it takes to get to or from the aerodromes. Anything the Air Ministry can do to bring pressure on the Ministry of Transport to that effect, we will do. Civilian flying has been so successful during the last few years that the methods of transport have not been able to keep up with it, and I am convinced that the transport authorities will have to cope with the particular need in the course of the next year or so, in view of the fact that so many people are using these aerodromes and using flying as a means of transport.
In congratulating the Mover of the Amendment upon having raised this particularly important question in the House to-day, I should like to say that I am in complete agreement with him, and also with the Seconder. I should like, in particular, emphatically to endorse his view that no large centre of population which wishes to keep abreast of modern progress can afford to do without an aerodrome of its own. In my view, the increased activity of internal air services during the past year, to which I referred earlier in the evening, is significant. It is the beginning of a movement which will grow. Of that I am absolutely certain; but the rate of growing will depend necessarily on the number of aerodromes which are available. As the Mover of the Amendment said, an adequate chain of aerodromes is essential to an adequate system of air transport. It would be a thousand pities were the natural and inevitable development of internal air transport to be held up by an insufficiency of aerodromes. Personally, I look forward confidently to a very considerable increase in internal air lines in the next few years. I think I may fairly say that the local authorities all over the country are waking up to the realities of the situation. The conference at the Mansion House last December, to which the Mover of the Amendment referred, did a great deal to awaken and stimulate interest all over the country.
2106 I think it will be agreed on this particular question that local authorities are definitely becoming more aware of the essential need of reserving sites for aerodromes in their town-planning schemes. As far as the Air Ministry is concerned, we are only too anxious to do everything we can to give all the encouragement and assistance within our power. The hon. Member asked how many civil aerodromes there are to-day in these islands, how many are in course of construction, and how many under consideration? He is naturally anxious to know whether there is any prospect of a considerable increase of aerodromes in the future. The figures are not as good as some of us might wish, but they are by no means discouraging. It is true that at present only 16 towns possess licences for municipal aerodromes. That is nothing like enough, but it must not be forgotten that, in addition, 10 municipalities have purchased aerodrome sites, most of which are already in course of preparation as municipal aerodromes. Nine other municipalities have the purchase of aerodromes under consideration, and five more have reserved in their town-planning schemes areas and land which the Air Ministry have pronounced suitable for the development of civil aircraft. My Noble Friend in this particular connection was rather anxious that the Air Ministry should be more lenient in its advice on the size and the sites of these aerodromes, and I dare say that in a great many cases he is right, but, as he would be the first to realise, up till now it would be unsuitable to sanction as municipal aerodromes, areas which were too small and which would result in accidents. Every aerodrome must be judged on its merits.
In another 83 towns sites have been inspected, and a further 72 can definitely be said to be taking an active interest in the question of providing aerodromes. That makes a total of 192 towns which either have aerodromes or in one way or another are moving in the matter. I am not going to say that this is enough, but it is a beginning. Requests for guidance and advice have been received by the Air Ministry from so many local authorities that there has been difficulty in dealing with them all. It has been found impossible to visit in detail these centres and advise local authorities in the selec- 2107 tion of suitable sites, but the difficulty has been got over by giving temporary approval to aviation consultants to whom local authorities can look for expert advice. It is hoped that suitable arrangements for the provision of such advice and help will be made in the near future by the Aerodromes Advisory Board. I should like to explain that the Aerodromes Advisory Board has been formed for the express purpose not only of securing a sound design for aerodrome layout, buildings, and equipment, but also for ensuring that properly sited aerodromes are provided and that meanwhile sites shall be acquired or included in town-planning schemes.
§ Mr. EVERARD
Does the Under-Secretary mean that the board are going to recommend the Government to buy aerodrome sites or recommend this to the municipalities? I understood that they were going to recommend the Government to buy.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
They will make a recommendation to the local authority. I am glad to say that we have been able to secure as the chairman of this board the hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest), and no one with more push and drive could have been found for the position. We feel that with him at the head of this board we shall definitely get a move on in this important matter. I think that answers the hon. Member's question as to what is being done in regard to developing the technique of aerodromes. The functions of the Aerodromes Advisory Board will be to provide guidance and assistance. The House will, therefore, appreciate that definite progress is being made with the assistance of the Air Ministry in developing air-mindedness among the municipalities and local authorities generally, and in the provision of aerodromes or the arrangements for suitable sites before it is too late.
As regards the existence of internal air services, there are five actually in operation, namely, Inverness-Wick-Kirkwall, Renfrew-Campbeltown-Belfast, Campbeltown-Islay, Shoreham-Portsmouth-Ryde and Heston-Jersey. During 1933 there were a number of other temporary services in contemplation which I feel sure will be in use during the next summer. 2108 In view of this increase in activity, the hon. Member's question with regard to wireless and the meteorological service is pertinent. Such services are scarcely less necessary to the development of internal services than are aerodromes themselves. Steps are being taken at once to provide for three mobile wireless telegraph stations, one of which will be stationed at Renfrew and another at Hull and two additional mobile wireless telegraphic stations are to be included in these Estimates. It is proposed to establish a permanent station as soon as possible at Renfrew, when the mobile station there will be available for service elsewhere. We are also considering the provision of wireless facilities at Jersey and the Isle of Man.
I hope I have satisfied the House that this important question is not neglected, and that progress is being made. I am sure that this Debate will hasten this progress. Nothing can stop the development of internal air services; but a little foresight, a little real interest now on the part of our local authorities can do much to render that development more active. In conclusion, may I make a further appeal to local authorities and municipalities on this particular question. I look forward to the future when people will only use the air as a means of transport, and I think that towns and cities which neglect to make proper provision for the establishment of aerodromes, or leave it so late that the acquisition of land is too expensive, will find themselves left out in the cold. I have dealt with the questions raised by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and I hope that the able advocacy of those hon. Members who have spoken will be of immense assistance in furthering this important movement.
§ Mr. TURTON
In view of the satisfactory reply made by the Under-Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER
I want to congratulate the Under-Secretary for Air upon the able way in which he has put forward the Estimates to-night. It is always difficult for an Under-Secretary to shoulder such a task, but he has done so this evening with 2109 his usual ability. I also want to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on his great flight to the Near East and India. It is perfectly splendid for a Secretary of State to travel 16,000 miles by air in just under seven weeks. It must be most encouraging to his officers in distant stations to know that the Secretary of State is coming to visit them, and I am glad that he has returned safely.
The statement of the Lord President of the Council will be welcomed in all parts of the House. There was only one thing missing. He did not tell us how long it will take before the Government decide whether the draft Convention is going to be acecpted by the Disarmament Conference or not. The Disarmament Conference has been sitting for two years, and has achieved nothing as yet. Now we are told that they are going to sit again in the hope that something will be done. In the meantime, the people of this country are getting anxious as to the protection that is provided against attack from the air. We are the sixth air Power, and we are getting very little money for the Air Force in these Estimates.
The Under-Secretary talked about the Air Service being co-equal with the older Service, the Navy, but if you look at the Estimates you will find that the Air Service is only getting one-sixth of the amount that is provided for Defence. I think that is far too little. What does the Chief of the Air Staff do at the conferences which take place? Is the case for the Air Ministry put properly by the Chief of the Staff, because I cannot understand any man in the position of Chief of the Air Staff accepting these figures. I think he ought to resign sooner than accept these figures, because they are totally inadequate for the defence of this country. We are told that the world is ready for a gesture of peace. In my constituency it is all very fine to talk about gestures of peace. At Hertford during the War we had houses blown up from the air, and we had a tremendous number of glasshouses destroyed; and if hostile aeroplanes came over now, they could lay the whole of the glass in the Lea Valley waste, shatter it to pieces and destroy the livelihood of thousands. They are asking in my constituency, "What are 2110 we doing about it? Are we providing proper protection from the air?" And I have to say, "No, we are not."
In 1923 the Lord President of the Council, when he was Prime Minister, told us that we should have 52 squadrons and that they were the minimum for the defence of this country. Well, we have gone on all these years, and we have only 42 squadrons to-day, and I understand that two more are provided here, making 44 in all. To-day in this House we have heard Member after Member saying what other nations are doing. One hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench said that Russia was training a million pilots, and so on. We have heard what Germany is doing in the air, and a Member of the Opposition told us a week or two ago that they had hundreds of machines there. We know what France is doing, that she is overhauling her machines, and we know what Italy and the United States have in the way of machines and men. All this is altering the whole of the air position. They have probably three or four times more machines altogether in Europe than they had in 1923, and I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether his air advisers now tell him that 52 squadrons are adequate for the protection of this country. I hope he will give me an answer to that question.
People in this country seem to think you can expand an Air Force very quickly indeed, but that is not correct. General Henderson and myself, when the War started, had the greatest difficulty in expanding our Air Force, because Parliament had not provided sufficient money for a reserve of pilots, a reserve of machines, and a reserve of engines. It was Parliament's fault, not ours. We must have proper provision made so that, if we have to expand quickly, we can do so. It takes a long time to train pilots. There is a pilot officer sitting opposite, and he knows how difficult it is to train good pilots. Hon. Members have only to read the book recently produced by General Groves to see what would happen if we had untrained pilots. He paid me the compliment of saying that we had better trained pilots in the Royal Naval Air Service, and I thank him for that. We took great trouble in training our pilots, but you cannot turn them out in a short time.
2111 Another thing, when you have to consider expansion, is this: In the early days of the War we could get parts of machines, wings and so forth, sent out to woodworkers on sub-contract, to firms who did woodwork. They could build up these machines and parts fairly easily, and we got machines delivered with rapidity that way, but it is different now, because they are all metal machines, and there are not many firms in this country who can work in metal. Therefore, we want the Air Ministry to go into that question and to see if we have enough firms who can work in metal should an emergency arise. My third point is with regard to engines. I think everybody who understands anything about engines should pay a great compliment to those at Farnborough who are working on engine design. They are doing a great national work, not only with aero engines, but with research work, by which all civil engineering benefits, and it is recognised throughout the whole of the country by all who know anything about engine design. It is a very difficult thing indeed to design a good aero engine. You want the greatest skill in engineering science to do it, and then you want very skilled mechanics to build the engine.
Before the War we scarcely had a firm in this country which could build an aero engine, and we got the Sunbeam Company in, and I got the Rolls-Royce Company in, to build these aero engines. Now, at the moment, there tare only about four or five big engineering firms that can turn out these aero engines. I think the whole basis of supply ought to be broadened, and I want the Under-Secretary of State to look into that question. I have mentioned three things: first, the question of pilots, whether we cannot get more pilots trained; secondly, whether we have enough firms which can build these metal machines; and, thirdly, whether we have enough firms to turn out these aero engines in an emergency. We do not want to have to do what we did in the War, and that was to go to France for our engines. We had thousands and thousands of machines delivered in this country that we procured from France, and we ought to be very grateful to the French engineering firms for the way in which they supplied us with aero engines. I think we ought to look into it in this country and see that 2112 we are more self-contained, because, after all, the whole of the success of these machines in war time depends on whether or not you have a good aero engine.
Out of these Estimates does the Under-Secretary of State provide any money for research work in building a new engine? I think we ought to have at least one or two engines being built to new designs, the best designs we can get in the country; but it costs money, and the firms have not the money to do it on their own. They must have encouragement from the Air Ministry, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he will look into that point, to see if more encouragement can be given to the engine firms in this country.
With regard to civil aviation, in these last six months we have had a tremendous amount of fog. We have had fog all over this country and fog over France, and when these passenger machines leave this country and fly across to France, I think they have a very small margin of petrol left, because everything goes into the pay load. Probably they may have petrol for only 10 minutes' flying in the air left, and that is rather nerve racking to a pilot in foggy weather. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to look into this matter also and to see if he can ask Imperial Airways, Limited, whether they could discard a little of their pay load—two passengers, say—and put it into petrol. If you were to discard two passengers, it would give you, in these big passenger liners, probably another 15 minutes' flying, and if you added that to the 10 minutes' ordinary flying that is left over, it would give nearly half-anhour in which to search for an aerodrome if the pilot could not find the one he was making for, owing to fog. It is a small point perhaps, but it is very nerve-racking to a pilot with a lot of passengers on board when he knows that his petrol is running very low.
Another small point is this: What steps are the Ministry taking to set that pylons and wireless masts are properly illuminated and to see whether they have any fog signals? We want to reduce these accidents to a minimum. I gave all my views on the Air Service in a speech just before Christmas, so I will not say anything more now, but I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to tell 2113 us exactly what the Lord President of the Council meant by his announcement to-day. We want a definite pledge that if the Disarmament Conference cannot come to an agreement, we shall level up our Air Force to a parity with the nearest great air Power.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I should like to switch the attention of the House over to a subject which has not been touched on to-night, but which I have raised on every possible opportunity which has occurred to me while I have been in the House. I am referring to the subject of the noise created by aeroplanes. We live in an age of mechanisation. Gradually the efforts of mankind are being replaced by machinery and engines. Mechanisation brings advantages and disadvantages in its train. It is our duty, as far as possible, to eliminate the disadvantages. In speaking of the noise of aeroplanes, I am not referring to those inside the aeroplanes, for if they submit themselves to the annoyance of noise it is their own business. I am referring to the unfortunate people on the surface of the earth who have to endure the irritation and annoyance of aeroplanes whether they like it or not. Not very long ago the British Association appointed a committee on noise—
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
On a point of Order. Is it in order to discuss a committee on noise when other people want to discuss the Air Estimates?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member is discussing noise in connection with aeroplanes, and is therefore in order.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I hope that the House will not regard what I am saying in a facetious sense because there is, as I shall prove, a large amount of opposition to aeroplanes and aerodromes on account of the irritation caused by noise. The British Association did not regard it as a facetious matter and appointed a committee to inquire into it. They had a large number of letters from people all over the country in which various sources of noise were mentioned. The result of the correspondence was that a prevalent source of noise was the flying of aeroplanes. A noise may be harassing and injurious or simply unpleasant. When an 2114 aeroplane flies round a church during service, as has happened, that is harassing. It is injurious when it flies round a hospital or a home where sick people are living, for they necessarily suffer nerve strain from the noise caused by aeroplanes. Let me impress on the Minister that the irritation and annoyance caused by aeroplanes is keeping back the development of flying. I know that flying must grow and develop and that it may he made a great boon to the world, but if it is accompanied by the establishment of aerodromes in particular places which cause hostility to flying among half the people round about, flying will not be advanced. In order to prove what I am saying, I should like to read one or two letters that have been sent to me as the result of letters I have written to the "Times" and speeches made here. Here is a typical letter:In this neighbourhood, within three miles of Hanworth Park aerodrome, our evenings and particularly our weekends are entirely spoilt for us by the ceaseless noise of aeroplanes, often flown at a few hundred feet. If one is tired and in need of rest and fresh air, it is quite out of the question to obtain them in one's garden; if one is ill the house is quite unbearable. Yet there is absolutely no relief to be obtained from the existing machinery. The ordinary citizen, such as myself, who has bought his piece of land and built his house before the opening of an aerodrome, has as yet no redress if his whole enjoyment of them is denied him by persons who contribute nothing to the neighbourhood in which he is a ratepayer. I have tried all avenues open to the ordinary citizen, but there is nothing to be done—it is obviously impossible for any good to come of reporting the matter to the police. They are very courteous and do all in their power, but their hands are tied by the necessity of proving that the low flying was to the public danger. From the Air Ministry itself absolutely no satisfaction is to be obtained by any ordinary member of the public. Representations have been made to it by the Ratepayers' Association and the District Council of this neighbourhood without the slightest effect upon the intolerable noise which we have to endure. As to 'joy-riding' being calculated to make the public 'air-minded' or to promote civil flying, I can say very definitely that in this neighbourhood the behaviour of the inconsiderate and selfish people who fly here has had entirely the opposite effect and the majority of us would be thankful for any restrictions that could be placed on civil flying.I will read another letter from a man whose name I will mention. He is Mr. Holbrook Jackson, and he said: 2115For some time now I have been endeavouring to obtain some relief from the noise from aircraft which has utterly destroyed the quietness of the district of Mill Hill, where I am a property owner, and where I have lived for nearly a quarter of a century. My experience has been similar to yours. The Governments of the day seem to be quite indifferent to the annoyance caused by unnecessary noises from aircraft. They will neither insist on silencers being used nor to flying being limited to those hours which cause least annoyance to the general public. In fact, they seem to be quite content to allow airmen to become a public nuisance.… Very few people can sit in their gardens at flying times on a summer's day because the finer the weather the greater the noise.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
Before the hon. Member reads another letter may I inquire if he has ever suggested to his correspondents that they might move to vicinities where there are no aeroplanes?
§ Mr. L0VAT-FRASER
Why should they? Why should a man who has lived for over 30 years in Mill Hill move because the aeroplanes are a nuisance?
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I suggest it is up to him to decide where he shall live and not to protest against an aerodrome coming to the vicinity in the normal prograss of civilisation.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
No. I could go on reading letters as long as the House would tolerate me, but I hope that the House will recognise that there is a grievance.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I see no reason why if a man has lived in a particular locality for years he should be compelled to leave his house because of the nuisance created by aeroplanes. I had intended quite seriously to speak as a citizen on behalf of many other citizens, but if hon. Members are going to take a facetious view of the matter I feel that my time is wasted. I do not wish to retard the business of the House by dwelling on it. I would only ask the Minister whether he can do anything or whether he is doing anything to mitigate this evil. I am sure that the right hon. Gen- 2116 tleman himself will be the first to admit the business of flying is being retarded by the opposition created by the noise of aeroplanes. I canot help thinking that something could be done, and I hope the Minister is considering this matter in a serious spirit.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I would like first of all to apologise to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), but we have very little time in which to discuss the actual Estimates, and it did appear to me that there are other opportunities which could have been taken to ventilate what is, no doubt, a perfectly legitimate grievance.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I apologise for having interrupted the hon. Member. It is obvious that the feature of this afternoon's Debate has been the pledge given by the Lord President of the Council, a most welcome pledge which, I think, will go a long way both to promote peace and to allay the very genuine anxiety which is felt so widely regarding our present position of inferiority in this vital respect.
§ Mr. PERKINS
On a point of Order. Are we not entitled to have a Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench during this important Debate? The question of our expansion is—
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
As I was saying, it is the question of what other people do and not what we want to do that will decide the policy of this country during the next few years. One point strikes me as rather curious. Ever since 1919 Germany has been passionately denouncing those who speak of her war guilt, and yet Germany seems determined to leave no stone unturned, if another war does occur, which would lay herself open to a similar charge. The discussion this afternoon has hardly touched on the details of the Estimates at all. It has been concerned with parity and our relative position to other countries, and I think it is a very good thing that that should have been so, because under the present system, whereby one would be out of order in attempting to discuss anything not directly related to this one Service, all detailed discussion of air 2117 affairs is vitiated, to my mind. It is absolutely impossible to discuss the Air Estimates without relation to the other two Services, with which they are completely interlocked. I hope we shall never again be faced with the need for discussing these three Services on three specific Votes on three separate days, and find ourselves unable to discuss the whole three together. The whole question of the Services and Imperial Defence is interlocked, and cannot be divorced. I am not at all sure that it is not actually harmful that the grievances and the vested interests of one Service alone should be ventilated on one afternoon.
May I give two brief illustrations of how impossible it is to discuss air defence without discussing the other Services? There is no single point in the British Empire more vital than the Suez Canal. What is the position with regard to the defences of the Suez Canal? Twenty-five years ago a defensive zone really amounted to the range of the largest available gun; to-day a defensive zone is the radius of an aeroplane. Yet when we come to the Suez Canal, that vital point, what do we find? To the north, Palestine and Transjordania are a sphere of control of the Air Force; to the south, Egypt is a sphere of control of the Army; and the vital point which they have to protect, lying between the two, is in the sphere of control of neither the one nor the other. It is a perfectly hopeless situation. How can we discuss the position of the Air Force in Iraq without considering the ground defence for the air bases? I shall not elaborate the point, because I should be out of order, but I can say this, that thanks to the present system of having two watertight compartments concerned with the defence of Iraq the Air Force in Iraq is to-day in a position of real gravity, and every Iraqi knows it.
I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary for information on just two or three points bearing upon this interconnection of the Services. I would like to know how the scheme of the seconded officers from the Army to the Air Force is going on at the present time. Immediately after the War it was considered to be a vital factor in the future of the Services, and as providing one of the main ways in which the Army was to become familiar with the working of the Air Force. I asked a question on the subject 18 months ago, and the answer given me was that 2118 since the War 128 officers only have been seconded from the Army to the Air Force, and of those 128 only 52 were still serving, which showed that the seconding scheme was merely being used by the Army to get rid of their "duds," at least for the most part—sending those whom they did not want across to the Air Force, as is proved by the fact that the majority did not go back to the Army. Any really keen officer has been discouraged by the Army authorities from going across to the Air Force; there has been no inducement whatever to him to do so. I wish to know how that scheme is going on now, and whether the situation is improving.
The next point I wish to raise concerns the exchange of staff officers. We learned recently that at long last a small beginning had been made in this direction. I wish to know whether it is going to be developed, whether the best available people have been sent across from one Service to the other, and whether, when they got to the other Service, they have been put into really important positions where they would be of use; or is the whole scheme going to be blanketed and made a farce? I should also like to refer to page 90 of the Estimates. I am not going to press the Under-Secretary about this—it may be there was a slip in printing or rather a phrase has been mal-expressed—but under the heading "Royal Air Force Staff College" I read:The Staff College at Andover is devoted to the higher professional education of permanent Royal Air Force officers, with functions broadly analogous to those performed for the Navy by the Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich, and for the Army by the Staff College, Camberley.The staff training of those two Services needs to be much closer together than "broadly analogous." There can be only one doctrine of war. Are the curriculae of those two staff colleges approved by the responsible authorities of the other Services? We cannot have antagonistic staff training, which I am afraid we have at the present time. We have the most efficient Air Force in the world to-day for its size, and have an extraordinarily efficient and trusted chief of the Air Staff, but that is not enough. The trouble is that the political direction of the Services has not kept pace with the changing times and the fundamental difference which the introduction of a third arm has made. That is the vital fact. 2119 There must be complete reorganisation of the Governmental direction of the Services to secure that real co-operation and co-ordination without which the Services will merely fight for their own ends, without which we shall never get economy and efficiency, and with which we shall, in another war, go to certain chaos and disaster.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
Am I entitled to move to report Progress, in order to call attention to the fact that we have present no Minister connected with the Air Ministry, or no Cabinet Minister?
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)
On that point of Order. May I point out to hon. Members that I have been here during the whole of this Debate and that the Under-Secretary for Air was here until a quarter of an hour ago?
§ Sir E. GRIGG
I make no reflection upon the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The Lord President of the Council has made an extremely important declaration of policy, and I think that a Cabinet Minister should be present to hear what the supporters of the Government think about the declaration. There is no Member of the Government present. If I am entitled to do so, I propose to move the Adjournment of the House.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is entitled if he chooses to move the Adjournment of the House or the adjournment of the Debate, in order to discuss the point which he raises.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I do so in order to call attention to the fact that, after an extremely important declaration of policy by the Lord President of the Council, there is not present upon the Treasury Bench a Cabinet Minister or any Minister connected with the Air Ministry whose Estimates are being discussed. I make no complaint whatever against the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who has shown the greatest courtesy in sitting through this Debate. I make no complaint of him, but when an 2120 extremely important declaration of policy has been made, it is important that some Cabinet Minister should be present to hear what the loyal supporters of the Government think about that declaration. We have not had a more important declaration in this House this year, or during this Parliament. I feel very strongly, and I think that I am supported by other hon. Members, that we should adjourn this Debate.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
On that point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled to take up the time of the House in making a speech in support of his Motion? If so, I hope that he will not be long.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I support the Motion. It is not only the loyal supporters of the Government who would like to have a Cabinet Minister here. Often in this House we have a row of, or one or two, Under-Secretaries in important Debates, and I think it important that on a matter like this we should have someone who can speak for the Cabinet. There should be someone here connected with one of the Services. The Under-Secretary of State for Air had to go out, but he has sat through the Debate with very great patience. It is not treating the House with courtesy. I have nothing to say against the Secretary for Mines who is representing the Government, but he is not connected with the matter which we are discussing, and we should have someone who is.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I associate myself with this Motion. Repeatedly this year, owing to the House only having an Under-Secretary in charge of a very important Debate, whenever a question has arisen upon the Air, the Lord President of the Council has stepped in and said that he must answer, because a question of great policy is involved, and a Cabinet Minister must speak. If that is the case, this is a time when a Cabinet Minister should be here, to listen to what the reaction is upon the House of the pledge which was given this afternoon with regard to bringing our Air 2121 Force up to a position of parity. There are other questions which we would like to know more about—the question of the time period, what was meant about the new air convention, and so on. We look into the future without any idea of what the Lord President of the Council meant. It is grossly unfair and discourteous to the House that, first of all, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) should come along and throw off one of his disarmament speeches, to be immediately followed by the Lord President of the Council, with a complete Cabinet sitting here, and that then we should be left in the air afterwards, to talk about anything we like without any interest whatever being taken in it by the Government.
There are other points upon which we should like enlightenment. One is the reaction of these Estimates upon the Estimates of the other Services. It might well have been a courteous thing for the First Lord of the Admiralty, or for the representative of the War Office to hear what we have to say with regard to the reaction of one Service upon another, but I cannot help reminding the House that it is only to-day that we have been given the Army Votes, and yet it is repeatedly admitted by all that it is a question of the defence of the country and not of three separate items. I hope that we shall divide upon this question, and that we shall show with no unmistakable voice our opinion of the Government's discourtesy to the House upon this question.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson)
I was not in the House when this Motion was moved, and I can only say that I recognise the feeling which exists in all quarters that such a situation should have come about. I do not think there is anything I can say, except that I have taken the most prompt and quick action that I can to remedy the situation. There is a certain grievance, but now that I have made an explanation I would ask if hon. Members would not be agreeable 2122 to withdraw their Motion. I have said that I have taken the most prompt steps that I can, and within three or four minutes the defect will be remedied. I ask hon. Members to withdraw the Motion so that we may get on with the discussion. I assure them that I am expressing the opinion of the Government in saying that.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
We are much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but this sort of situation is often happening. This is not the first time that protests have been made from this side of the House, but on this occasion it happens that the protest has come from another side. The House is being treated more and more in this way. Cabinet Ministers rush in to hear some particular speech, and immediately the speech is made, out they go. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) appears here, and at once there is a flood of people who rush in from the other end of the Treasury Bench. Speakers of the Opposition or supporters of the Government are treated with the scant courtesy of being left with anybody who happens to be about to listen to them. I hope that the House will divide on the Motion.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
In view of the very courteous explanation made by the Chief Whip, and in view of the fact that he has assured us that a Cabinet Minister will be present on that Bench before long, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion. I should like to explain that nothing in what I said was intended to carry any reflection upon the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who has shown great courtesy.
§ Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 22; Noes, 159.2123
|Division No. 150.]||AYES.||[9.14 p.m.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Banfleid, John William||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Edwards, Charles||Maxton, James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Paling, Wilfred|
|Buchanan, George||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lawson, John James|
|Daggar, George||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Grigg, Sir Edward||Peat, Charles U.|
|Albery, Irving James||Grimston, R. V.||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Apsley, Lord||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Petherick, M.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Radford, E. A.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Hammersley, Samuel S.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Rankin, Robert|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Hornby, Frank||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Buchan, John||Horsbrugh, Florence||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Burnett, John George||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Hurd, Sir Percy||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Scone, Lord|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Jamieson, Douglas||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Copeland, Ida||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Law, Sir Alfred||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Leckie, J. A.||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Stones, James|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Lees-Jones, John||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Denville, Alfred||Lindsay, Kenneth Martin (Kilm'rnock)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Dickie, John P.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Doran, Edward||Loftus, Pierce C.||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (Pd'gt'n, S)|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Dunglass, Lord||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Elmley, Viscount||McCorquodale, M. S.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Martin, Thomas B.||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Morgan, Robert H.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Morrison, William Shephard||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Munro, Patrick||Withers, Sir John James|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Womersley, Walter James|
|Goff, Sir Park||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Greene, William P. C.||Palmer, Francis Noel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Pearson, William G.||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward and Commander southby.|
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
The range of subjects over which this Debate has revolved indicates very well the necessity of separating the two features of Air Ministry control at the moment, namely, civil air transport and air warfare. When my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary suggested in his speech this afternoon that, on account of common research, it was desirable to maintain civil air transport under the Air Ministry for War, I would assure him that he has been rather poorly advised on this subject, because other countries where civil air transport has been separated from war in the air have proved by their pro- 2124 gress that the problems are so entirely different that it is essential to have two quite separate departments. I can only hope, as I have said elsewhere, that the Government will very soon realise the necessity for putting all our communications, by sea, by air and on the land, on a proper footing under a Ministry of Communications. So much for that subject on this occasion.
With regard to the one aspect, civil aviation, I should like to make two points. There has been voiced a considerable fear, among those intimately connected with civil aviation, that the Government are beginning to accept Imperial Airways as co-partner with themselves in the responsibility for the development of civil aviation. I want to suggest to my 2125 right hon. Friend that, when the agreements with Imperial Airways come up for revision or for renewal, it is not a matter that is to be assumed as a subject for renewal. The whole proposition, which has vastly changed since Imperial Airways was first inaugurated some 10 years ago, has got to be taken into consideration. It may be that some of the steamship lines are now in a position to operate Empire air services. It may be that it is proper to continue Imperial Airways in this important work. Let it not be thought that I castigate Imperial Airways in any way for their excellent technical efficiency and operation. It is, nevertheless, important that the very point that has been made in connection with the air mail contracts in America should not in any degree be made here. It would appear that the last Postmaster in the United States discussed with the Air line Companies behind closed doors the operation of air mail services, and we have seen in the Press the present reaction both on the President of the United States and on public opinion in that great country. I wish to see that any possibility of that criticism being brought against the Air Ministry and against Imperial Airways is removed by a clear and open discussion of what is to take place in the future.
The other point I wished to make in connection with civil aviation is one that was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth Captain Guest): on the operation by the railway companies, in connection with Imperial Airways, of internal air lines in the country. Some fear has been expressed that the company would act in a monopolistic spirit to put out of business all those internal air lines which my right hon. Friend mentioned in connection with the Amendment. I have taken some little trouble to find out the intentions of this group, and I am assured by Imperial Airways that it is their hope and their intention to co-operate with everybody who is at present in the air transport business in this country. I sincerely hope that the Air Ministry will take note of that intention of Imperial Airways and see that there is no unfair competition by this great concern. It has come very late into the business 2126 against these smaller companies, some of whom have been operating successfully for a considerable period.
I will turn to the other aspect of the Air Ministry's activities, war in the air. Those who are primarily interested in this subject ought to congratulate the Government on several heads. First—and I think we ought to emphasise this point, because it was so much in our minds in the early part of the life of this Parliament—there has been, combined with efficiency, the most extraordinary economy on the part of the Air Ministry. When we want to see more done, we are often apt to forget the economy that is effectively practised. Knowing something of the detailed activities of the Air Ministry, I should like heartily to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State and his Noble chief upon their important work in this direction.
Then we have, as I think, a most important declaration—although I was sorry to see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) did not seem to appraise this White Paper at quite the standard that many of us did. The Government here say that we shall have parity, and that they cannot accept the position of continuing inferiority in the air. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said that those were mere words. I do not accept that point of view at all. We hoped that the Government would be able to amplify what is written in this Memorandum by assuring us that if the Disarmament Conference failed or adjourned inconclusively, there would be an immediate preparation by the Government for some expansion of our Air Services. I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said on this subject this afternoon. Mentioning that there might possibly be a second effort to obtain an Air Disarmament Convention when the general Disarmament Convention had been proved infeasible he said:If all our efforts fail and if it be not possible to obtain this equality in such matters as I have indicated, then any Government of this country—a national Government more than any and this Government—will see to it that in air strength and air power this country shall no longer he in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.I, for one, would thank sincerely and without any qualification the Lord 2127 President of the Council and the Government for this most important declaration. I should, however, like to ask my right hon. Friend this one question. I gathered from the spirit of his speech and from the spirit of that declaration that there would be no undue delay before he put his elbow to the wheel and arranged for this inferiority to be wiped out of the political map. I should like to ask him if he will tell the House when he is replying, or through the mouth of his Under-Secretary, if we are right in assuming that if he comes to the conclusion that a general Disarmament Convention is impossible, and if after a short period it also becomes clear that this narrower Air Disarmament Convention is equally impossible, the Government will find themselves forthwith able and willing to carry out the declaration in this White Paper. From what I hear from all quarters of the House, it is our hope that the Government will feel it possible to amplify their important declaration in that respect.
There is one other aspect of this question of air armament to which I should like to draw attention before I sit down. We have been given these four, or six, squadrons extra, according to how one likes to calculate it, but I do not think that number is so important as the answer to this question. Has the Government reviewed the whole situation with which it would be faced if an immediate expansion of our Air Force became necessary, to see where are those bottle-necks, those constraining factors, that would prevent an immediate and proper increase in all necessary directions? As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral (Sir M. Sueter) has indicated, there are pilots, mechanics, aerodromes and hangars, and—very important—there are manufacturing plants both for aircraft and for engines. Has the Air Ministry a three-year or a four-year plan? Has it envisaged the troubles that it will have to face if it should be necessary, say, to double our Air Force in the course of the next three years? With some knowledge of aircraft construction, I feel that that answer is much more important than the indication that we have four or six more squadrons this year. I hope, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, that he 2128 will be able to tell us that such a general survey has been undertaken and that in the Ministry there are papers indicating how certain factors in the problem may be immediately modified in order that a general expansion may be quickly possible.
Lastly, I would ask him this. As I review the activities of the Air Ministry, and knowing the immense ability of my right hon. Friend and his gallant chief, I cannot think that they are being allowed to go full steam. When some 10 years ago I had the privilege of becoming a member of the Air Ministry staff, I was told by a senior colleague, "If you do not do anything too good and do not do anything too bad, you will get on very well." I have the feeling that some such sentiments may have been expressed by a section of the Cabinet to my right hon. Friend. But I trust he will soon free himself from the yoke of this Egyptian bondage. There is no other sphere where one can for a small expenditure of money obtain such great and conspicuous results. We saw that flight of the Italian Armada under General Balbo. When I went to America a few weeks ago that flight by the Italian seaplanes was spoken of everywhere, and it has had a powerful political effect on American public opinion. There was also that extraordinarily fine flight of American seaplanes to Hawaii. There again there was a conspicuous effort on the part of the Government to show to the people the value of air power and to increase their air mindedness.
I hope my right hon. Friend will give some thought to this matter. He spoke of a number of service flights in the course of the year, but not one of those flights really stirred the nation on this subject of air power. In particular, we must remember that we are still, although many are apt to forget it, a great Imperial power. If I may refer to one Dominion as an example, in Canada they have never seen a squadron of British aeroplanes, and yet at their air pageants they regularly have flights and squadrons of American aircraft coming and demonstrating. I hope everyone will understand the powerful anti-Imperial effect on the Canadian mind of these American demonstrations. When I was in Ottawa in January, I heard the hope expressed 2129 in several quarters that the Royal Air Force would send over squadrons of planes and show the flag in that great Dominion. That is just one way in which the Air Ministry might show a little more flair and indicate to the public that they are well abreast of the times. One fact about all these dictators seems to be their flair for publicity. I cannot see why a democratic Government and an efficient and powerful Government, such as our own, cannot keep abreast of the times in that respect. Those of us who are indebted to the Government for the economy and efficiency that they have shown in conducting our air affairs in the past year, will realise that there is one further hope that we have, and it is that we shall hear from the Government that there is to be no undue delay over this second air Disarmament Convention before they would feel it incumbent upon them to enforce that parity that they have so properly promised us.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
I do not claim to be an expert where matters of the air are concerned, and I only intervene because of very grave disquiet which has been aroused in my mind, and which has not been laid to rest by any statement that has been made to-day. I feel disquiet on two subjects, first on the subject of time and secondly on the subject of finance. The Lord President of the Council gave us to understand that he had great hopes from the mission lately carried out by the Lord Privy Seal. There is not a Member of the House, and there is not a man or woman in the country, who does not hope with all their hearts that the optimism of the Lord President of the Council will be justified. The right hon. Gentleman also said that, if the Disarmament Convention failed, the Government would prepare the next morning an Air Convention. If we have to wait indefinitely, as the last speaker said, for the results of that Air Convention before we attain to aerial parity, then indeed we are lost. I should like an assurance from the Lord President that, should the Disarmament Conference fail, and should there seem no likelihood of the success of the Air Convention within a short period of time, then the Government will bring forward Supplementary Air Estimates, and that we shall not have to wait until next year's Air Estimates before the 2130 matter is again considered. I would also stress this on the ground of finance. The Under-Secretary, in introducing the Estimates, which I cannot but think must have seemed strangely inadequate to an Under-Secretary as interested in the welfare of the Air Service as we know him to be, stressed the fact that their size is in part due to the need for economy. Other nations are spending ever increasing sums on their air defences and on aviation generally. Should the Air Convention fail, we shall not only find that we have to keep up with other nations as regards our annual expenditure; but we shall suddenly be faced with a colossal sum to be spent on aerial defence and aviation generally in order to attain parity. I would ask the Government where that enormous sum of money is to come from and whether it would not have been more economical to spend a larger sum each year instead of letting ourselves fall so far behind in our air development.
To return to the Estimates on the Vote for civil aviation the Air Ministry in a spirit of self-congratulation states that, with an increase of £20,000, the Vote is higher than it has been for the last 10 years. When the House considers what other nations are spending for the advancement of civil aviation, I think that is no matter for congratulation. I notice that provision is made for participation in a service to Bermuda. That, of course, will be largely used by the inhabitants of the United States to go to a holiday resort. Glad as I am to see that even so small a British possession is not neglected, I regret very much that more has not been done to foster inter-Imperial air communication. The Under-Secretary told us how only a short time ago it had been possible for a business man to visit Iraq, Uganda and many other places in 80 days, whereas, had he gone by the old-fashioned route, it would have taken 180 days. I fear that when the Government consider the air they compare its achievements with achievements of older forms of transport and not with the air development and achievement of other countries. We congratulate ourselves because we can now reach India in six days by air, whereas it took 12 days by the sea route. I do not think that is a matter for congratulation. I think it is a terrible thing that we have not done more 2131 to foster rapid Imperial air communication as would be possible if we were equipped and trained for night flying. That can only be done if we have properly lighted routes and radio beacons. I think that this is important not only for defence but for commerce and, where you are considering commerce, you have not to consider air speed as compared with the speed that you have on a boat. You have to compare it with the air speed attained by other countries. Trade will only wait for the best obtainable; it will be satisfied by what is good in comparison with obsolete methods. Time in regard to the air is all-important, what we have to do to encourage civil aviation must be done now. We cannot afford to wait; the air development of other countries is too rapid. To me the period of time in regard to flying has been burned into my brain in a way that I can never forget, for as a child I was punished for getting up at night, in 1909 or 1910, I think, to watch Graham White make his first flight from London to Manchester. Only five years later the people who punished me for getting up that night were telling me to leave my room and go down to the basement because of the bombs which were falling on London. Therefore, it is no consolation to me to hear what we may do for this country in regard to aerial defence in two, three or four years. I think the Government need more imagination. It is what we are prepared to do to-day that matters.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Captain JAMES MacANDREW
I had intended to speak on the question of the subsidising of aerial transport services, but owing to the line the Debate has taken and the fact that I had a certain amount of practical experience as a pilot during the War in France, I should like to comment on what the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said in the earlier part of the Debate. He referred to aeroplanes bombing the aerodromes where the aircraft of the enemy were housed. On two different occasions in France I took part in an expedition for the bombing of enemy aerodromes. We collected all the machines that were in the area, something like 70 in number, and we went over at heights ranging from 100 feet up to 15,000 feet. We took with us bombs of every description. The 2132 machines that were near to the ground were laden with ammunition. We went about 20 miles over the lines to a German aerodrome and we simply wrecked the place. We saw the smoke from the petrol going up a thousand feet, and every hangar, so far as we could see, was in flames. On some of our aeroplanes we had cameras and photographs were taken of the damage that was done. A day or so later we went over in the same sort of formation and did the same thing to another aerodrome. As far as I could see the damage was complete. During the whole expedition we only lost one machine. So far as I know—I was told this, and I cannot verify it—there were no more enemy machines seen in that section of the line for the rest of the War.
After that, we were sent down south, near to Cambrai. I cannot understand why we did not pursue the same policy down there. We seemed to carry on in the original way of chasing each other round the sky, but with nothing like the same material damage resulting. I succeeded in getting shot down myself in that occupation, whereas in the previous occupation of going over with a tremendous force and laying waste the enemy aerodromes, I never felt so safe as I did on those occasions in France. Apropos of these comments, I think it would be a good thing if the Air Ministry looked into the question of aerodromes in this country. As one goes through the country one sees very big hangars which would make most delightful targets for anybody who wished to drop bombs on them, provided they did as we did, fly low within a few feet so that they could not possibly miss them. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was correct when he said that the centre of attack in the next war, if we have the misfortune to have another war, will be the enemy aerodromes. It strikes me as being the obvious thing to do to get them in their houses and absolutely wreck them before they can come out and do damage. I do not think that the first aim and object will be the big cities, as was suggested by some hon. Members. That is a very important point to remember.
There is another point I should like to mention. I did not have the experience of going up in bad, obsolete machines 2133 during the War, but lots of my friends did. There is nothing more dreadful than sending people up in obsolete machines simply to get them used up. The advances that took place in flying during the War were very great, much greater in my opinion than took place before the War or has taken place since the War. I am a little inclined to think that if we do have the misfortune to have another war it would not be long before the machines which are looked upon as being the very best at the present time would soon be obsolete. We cannot rectify that just now, but we must have the material to be able to supply as quickly as possible a better type of machine than the enemy has. That is the greatest form of defence. It is an undoubted fact that during the War the side that had the best machines was the side that had supremacy in the air for that time.
It is a question of experimenting in the circumstances that arise as to whether or not one can get better machines. My experience is that if you had a great many machines and you went over the line safely, as we did on some occasions, with a tremendous lot of machines, if it came to fighting nobody would attack you. Pursuing that line, the Germans were extremely clever with their travelling circus. They kept in one unit, and when it suddenly appeared in different parts of the line it was able to attack any who were unwary among our people. We do not want a tremendous lot of machines to become obsolete, but what we really want are machines that are better than the machines on the other side. I know that there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and therefore I will not mention anything about the subsidy for Imperial Airways, but will close down.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Captain IAN FRASER
I will not take up the time of the House for more than a minute or two, but I wish to express the anxiety of a Londoner for the wellbeing and security of London, not merely because so vast a number of people live here but because of the Imperial importance of London. I welcome more than I can say the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the reply of the Lord President of the Council. I earnestly hope that the speech of the Lord Presi- 2134 dent of the Council indicates that there is a determination in the Cabinet and in the Government that we shall make preparations for increasing our air armaments, should the need arise. My anxiety is that which has been expressed by other hon. Members, that one conference will follow another and one convention will sit after another, during which time other nations are building, and we are only hoping and talking.
I cannot help feeling that it would allay a great deal of anxiety if at the end of the Debate the Under-Secretary could make some statement as to how long we may patiently await agreement before we ourselves begin to lay the foundations for a rapid development of our Air Force. No one more than I desires peace. No one more than I desires that every avenue of peace, such as discussions on the lines of disarmament conventions or air disarmament conventions, should be continued and should succeed, but I am beginning to have a feeling that the discussions themselves would be likely to be more fruitful if Europe knew that Great Britain really meant air parity. A constant affirmation of the belief on the Treasury Bench that some convention can be had if only we go on long enough seeking it, appears to be an invitation to other folks to keep us talking as long as they can while they go on building. I ask for an assurance that there will be some time limit to our patience, for we who live in London and represent London have a real apprehension that the present weakness should not continue.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Sir GIFFORD FOX
I wish to impress upon the Government the very great anxiety and apprehension felt by many people owing to the comparative figures of our Air Force and the air forces of neighbouring countries. Naturally we do not want to see more money spent than is necessary at a time when it is so important that we should reduce taxation and restore the cuts. Nevertheless it is wise to realise that it will be for no one's good if we as a nation are unable to defend ourselves against sudden attack, and that it will not be to our advantage if our influence in foreign affairs is weakened by knowledge of our military inferiority. Although in some respects it may seem a paradox, it may well be that the more strongly this coun- 2135 try and the Empire are armed the more prospects there are of world peace, because we as an Empire do not want to attack anyone as our people are peace-loving and the most tranquil in the world.
So I welcome this small increase in the expenditure, coupled with further expenditure on the Fleet Air Arm. I think it is a step in the right direction, and that at last we are reversing the policy of the last 10 years and saying to the rest of the world, "We are not going on with unilateral disarmament." I particularly welcome the pledge of the Lord President of the Council that if these conferences do not succeed, if foreign Powers will not reduce their air forces to our level, we shall have to increase ours to their level. In the past we as a nation have never allowed our Navy to be inferior to the navy of any other country. So in modern times we must keep our Air Force at least on a parity with the air forces of countries that are within striking distance of us. I agree that it would have been a great mistake to go in for a policy of large expenditure when there is still a possibility of some Convention being signed, which would oblige us to scrap a large number of machines straight away. Naturally, we all want a Disarmament Convention signed.
If there are going to be delays the Government might consider the possibility of helping to increase our personnel of pilots by, perhaps, encouraging Imperial Airways to have services more than once a week to South Africa and the Far East. I hope that the Under-Secretary will pay particular attention to the question whether it would be possible for more first-class air mails to be carried by Imperial Airways. The Dutch are beginning to realise that it is possible to run two forms of service. There is one which might be described as a pleasure service, and the other for people returning on leave, who are not particular whether they get up very early in the morning and travel for a long time in the day, because all they want to do is to get back as quickly as possible to their own country. I hope the Government will consider the possibility of enabling Imperial Airways, perhaps by a larger subsidy, to have a more frequent service than once a week.
2136 There is little doubt that as far as the fighting Air Force is concerned it is a very economical form of defence. It can be used either in land or naval operations. We have seen recently how the Air Force has been able to keep order in the Aden Hinterland and on the North-West Frontier of India, at very little cost compared with the enormous expenditure which would have been necessary if we had sent a land expedition there. There has been no illness or disease and very few people have suffered as a result. I hope the Government will see that we in this country, who have always had a Navy superior to the navies of other countries in the past, have an Air Force at least on a parity with any air force of any country in Europe.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
I would like to congratulate this and past Governments since the War on having reduced our Air Force and the rest of our Services to a minimum in a very praiseworthy attempt to give a good example to the rest of the world; at the same time I would like to congratulate them perhaps a little more sincerely for having, in making this reduction, an additional motive about which we have not heard quite so much, though I fail to see why attention should not be drawn to it. Our statesmen have been gambling for 15 years and with the nation as the stake. To my mind it has been a legitimate chance, for the odds have been in our favour just as much as they were on that memorable occasion when Disraeli backed his judgment concerning the Suez Canal. With Germany disarmed and France fully occupied in keeping her so, it was reasonable for us to suppose that we had nothing to fear in this country for a considerable period. We have taken advantage of this, and to what effect? To-day, we find ourselves the first nation in the world to be well on the return to a sound economic basis, for we have been spending our money for this purpose rather than like other nations spending vast sums on armaments, the majority of which, as has been pointed out, are already obsolete.
I would like to congratulate the statesmen who have been responsible for these courageous, I might even say Machiavel- 2137 lian tactics. The Lord President of the Council has been at the helm at many previous Governments during the last few years. I wonder whether he could throw any light on these particular tactics. He has the reputation, the just reputation, of being honest and simple and enjoying his pipe just as about as much as anything else. I have often wondered whether the Lord President is as simple as he would like many people to suppose. This great national gamble has been going on now for some time and in my opinion it has been well worth our while. But I consider that 15 years is long enough for us to take a chance. The time has now come when we can, in all probability, expect surprises at any moment, from any quarter, and we should be ready for any such emergency, especially when we recollect that it takes at least three years to organise efficiently one new squadron. Of course we know it is not the new machines which take the time. It is the satisfactory training of the personnel. I am told by experts it cannot be done in less than that time.
I welcome as much as anybody in this House Lord Londonderry's undertaking in the Memorandum, and the more specific pledge that we have had from the Lord President of the Council. I consider it a great step forward. There is just one very small fly in the ointment and it is this. I can remember many promises that have been made in all good faith in the past, but have not been carried out, even to this day. I sincerely hope that this pledge will not follow in the footsteps of certain pledges in the past which have never been carried out.
I make no excuse for saying a few words concerning the general policy of air defence. I listened with greatest interest to the views and experiences of a practical war-time pilot who spoke a few minutes ago, and I am in complete agreement with everything he has told the House. I, also, as a war-time pilot feel very uneasy concerning the general policy of our air defence, and since speaking in this House a short time ago on this very subject, I find that my views are shared by quite a large percentage of the community including several members of the Royal Air Force. I suggested on that occasion that we were concentrating too much on the retaliatory machine and not enough on the actual defence machine or what I choose to call 2138 the interceptor. If the Under-Secretary of State for Air were to answer that criticism, I expect he would repeat the old story about bombers getting through when visibility was bad and would add that when visibility was good the interceptors could not get up to the height of the raiders in sufficient time, and as the raiders could cover such an immense expanse of sky, we would require to have thousands of intercepting machines to be able to find the enemy over such a large radius.
That would be the criticism levelled against my suggestion. On a first view, such a reply would appear to be sound enough, but I contend that from the practical point of view the implications are erroneous for reasons which I shall state. We have first to understand a completely new psychology. We cannot take the examples of the last War when considering what our actions will be on any future occasion. We have to remember that the raiding nations of the future are going to rely entirely on the success of air raids to win a war, and they know that unless they could disorganise and consequently demoralise us within a short period they would give us an opportunity of conducting reprisals. In those circumstances it would be no use for them to start at all unless they were reasonably certain of creating the chaos necessary for their purpose in a very short space of time. To achieve this it would be hopeless for them to consider coming over to this country when visibility was bad. They might possibly, flying by compass, manage to hit one or two odd spots in this Metropolis. They might even hit anywhere else a target as large as London, but I am told by experts that, flying by compass, they are not likely to hit any target smaller than London—that is to say coming from a distance of at least 200 miles. I contend that this would not be good enough to win a war. From their point of view it would be essential to put out of action certain strategic objectives, for example, Central London, Whitehall, the General Post Office, the British Broadcasting Corporation—in fact disrupt our most vital communications. With the same end in view they would have to first locate and then bomb certain rail-heads, ports and aerodromes.
2139 Those practical objectives would be known to us as well as to the enemy and I suggest that our interceptors would not roam about a vast expanse of sky, but would be detailed to patrol over a certain number of defined vulnerable points. As to the interceptors not being able to get up to the desired height, it may surprise the House to know that since I last spoke here on this subject, I have made an additional and somewhat startling discovery in this respect. I think the House ought to know the details. We have a machine to-day—and this is in addition to what I told the House the other day—that can go four miles up in the air within 17 minutes of an alarm being given. Those hon. Members who have experience in these matters, will say that that does not amount to very much, but when I tell them the details perhaps they will appreciate the fact that it is a remarkable performance. Those 17 minutes include the giving of an alarm when one is not expected, the waking up of the pilot, his dressing, getting to his machine, warming up the engine, getting it out of the hangar, getting into the machine, getting off the aerodrome and going up to a height of four miles. I think the House will appreciate that to be able to to do that in 17 minutes is one of the most amazing achievements of modern engineering.
I should not be in the least surprised if our unrivalled aeronautical engineers have not got up their sleeves a wizard machine that would even surpass the extraordinary performance of the machine which I have just mentioned. It is a little disheartening that the authorities refuse to move with the times, and to admit quite frankly that circumstances have now changed. We are not taking sufficient advantage of this unique weapon that British brains have provided. Norway and Jugoslavia, have actually placed substantial orders for these machines, and I believe that other countries have made inquiries. We are just about to order two new squadrons under our new programme. Neither of these squadrons consists of interceptor machines; they are both to be bombing machine squadrons.
I will give another figure which, I hope, may interest the House. We have in this country to-day 512 machines, not count- 2140 ing reserves or the Fleet Air Arm, mostly bombers, but all of which could be converted into bombers if necessary. We have only 36 machines that have a good enough performance for preventing raids in this country to-day. Surely this is a ridiculous proportion. The air policy of the Government at the moment is to concentrate upon the bomber and to ignore the interceptor. They say that they cannot stop the raiders, and that we have in the future to rely upon reprisals. I consider that to be a defeatist policy, and, in view of modern developments. I think that it is out of date. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary one question. The Government have resigned themselves to the slogan, "The bomber will always get through." We have heard it on many occasions. Surely, an intelligent enemy would say with reason, "As England has not the means to stop us, and she admits it, let us raid her when visibility is perfect. Do not let us trouble about London at all, but let us concentrate on her aerodromes and destroy her means of retaliation."
I should like to know, considering the present defence policy of the Government, the answer to that question. I do not consider that it is any good replying that, anticipating a raid, all our machines will have been distributed all over the country in various fields or other places. I do not think that that is a sufficient answer, for the whole essence of the success of a raid in future will be complete surprise. If it is not a surprise, it cannot be successful. We have very few aerodromes in this country. Many are situated in the South, all of which, of course, would be known to the enemy, and the enemy could be over those aerodromes before we should be able to get our bombers off the aerodromes and to safety. I would ask the House to recollect that a bomber takes a great deal longer to get off an aerodrome than those small, remarkable interceptors to which I have just referred. I should like to make clear that, nevertheless, it is essential that we should have a percentage of bombers. But I contend that our policy from now on should be to concentrate on these new interceptors until we have as many of them, or more, as we now have bombers, and progressively to keep to that ratio. Incidentally, an interceptor is three times as cheap as the average bomber.
2141 I believe that sooner or later, more likely later, I am afraid, the powers-that-be will have, reluctantly, to move with the times, and appreciate that our defence policy is at present being influenced by vested interests, and by out-of-date slogans, both very dangerous when it is realised that an enemy is sure to employ tactics for which we are least prepared.
§ 10.22 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I am sorry that the Lord President of the Council should be more or less compelled to be here to listen to me, but I know the House will feel with me that it is perhaps as well that the right hon. Gentleman should be in the Chamber in order to hear the variety of inferences which hon. Members may draw from his very important pronouncement this evening. It was somewhat paradoxical that when we were discussing the Air Estimates this evening the only Minister on the Treasury Bench at one time should be the Secretary for Mines. Earlier this evening we had a remarkable speech from the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but it would be incredible for him to wait to hear a speech from me. I think, however, that even from me perhaps some answer is required to some of the things the right hon. Gentleman said, and perhaps the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) will pretend in the meantime to be the right hon. Member for Epping, in whose place he is sitting. While the right hon. Gentleman was delighting us with the majesty of his eloquence, a phrase from that most remarkable of all his books, "The Aftermath," kept moving in my memory:Death stands at attention ready to shear away whole populations en masse.And yet the right hon. Gentleman with infinite subtlety sought to declare himself in favour of conventions to limit and regulate air warfare. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Disarmament Conference had virtually failed. In my view the word "failure" imports finality. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can be considered to have assisted the Government in their efforts towards general disarmament? He referred to the "harsh realities of the European situation." In my humble submission these "harsh realities" have arisen directly as the children of the de- 2142 lays of the early days of the Disarmament Conference, and I can recall no incitement and no encouragement of the Government on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He cited a phrase which is commonly used by the Secretary of State for War and the Foreign Secretary—"the edge of risk." These slogans, Mr. Speaker; how they harass us! As the Lord President of the Council has implied to-night, every nation is tempted to say precisely the same thing. We shall all be standing upon that edge so long as air forces are nationally owned, and any nation which joins in the gadarene adventure of rearmament is merely accelerating the general stampede over the precipice.
The right hon. Gentleman later pleaded that Britain should recover her former freedom and independence. "Let us," in his own words, "preserve our full latitude and discretion of choice." I wonder to what former days the right hon. Gentleman was referring. Had we really, in his view, before the War, any freedom of choice in the event of neutralities being violated when we had guaranteed to preserve those neutralities? He spoke recently on the wireless, when he was permitted I believe to say precisely what he liked, in terms of respectful eulogy of the League of Nations, to which he referred as a "great and august body." But does the Covenant of the League of Nations keep us free and independent? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman recollect the terms of Articles 10, 11, and 16? The right hon. Member for Epping also said, "I do not agree that these international conventions are not worth the paper they are written on." In fact, he was saying, "Let us be independent, but let us limit our independence by being parties to some definite and limited engagements." I could not understand where the right hon. Gentleman was trying to lead us. In my view, never was confusion worse confounded. The right hon. Gentleman seeks to regulate air warfare. In my submission, the only intelligent policy is to seek to eliminate it.
May I congratulate the Government upon what I respectfully consider the magnificent way in which they have resisted what I would take leave to call the wicked and half-baked clamours which we have heard recently that we should quickly implement a vast increase in our Air Force? It may be justly said that the same diplomatic restraint is not 2143 equally visible in our Naval and Army Estimates. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who always delights the House, said that the country was unhappy about our aerial condition, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) said the country was anxious. It is not the policy of His Majesty's Government which has made the country either unhappy or anxious; it is the "Daily Mail," in my humble submission, from which the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey quoted something that was written in 1923—and quoted without any approbation whatsoever. In spite of the admitted increase in our various Estimates, a total increase of several millions, there is still, I believe, going to be an ample margin in the Budget to make the life of the unemployed a little more tolerable, a cause which a good many hon. Members in this House have sincerely at heart. We are enjoying the reassurance that the surplus built up after so many years of painful sacrifice is not going to be frittered away in what I dare to call useless armaments, because I believe aerial armaments nationally owned, are worse than useless now.
This is a contentious world, and sooner or later we shall have, with some other Power, a dispute, and unless we transfer this aerial power from the disputants to the judge, the nightmare of the Lord President of the Council will indeed extinguish our daylight. We have not heard to-night whether the Royal Air Force is intended primarily for defence or for reprisals. I would not go in any detail into that, because there is not time, but I would with great respect quote from the famous speech of the Lord President of the Council on the 10th November, 1932, when he said:I am firmly convinced myself, and have been for some time, that if it were possible the air forces ought all to be abolished.I wonder if that is still the policy of His Majesty's Government; and does the rest of that passage still stand? The right hon. Gentleman continued:If they were, there would still be civil aviation, and in civil aviation there are the potential bombers.A little further down he said—and I am trying to do no violence to the context by my quotations: 2144In my view it is necessary for the nations of the world concerned to devote the whole of their minds to this question of civil aviation, to see if it is possible so to control civil aviation that such disarmament will be feasible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; cols. 635–6, Vol. 270.]Have we yet heard the plan of His Majesty's Government for the internationalisation of civil aviation, and if not, dare I respectfully ask, why not? I hope His Majesty's Government will not meet us by any complaint about the impracticability of spontaneously producing furry mammals from the apparatus of the conjuror. Is there any reason why the internationalisation of civil aviation should be so insuperably difficult? Why should there not be an international company? Other things have been controlled by international companies. Moreover, aeroplanes are essentially international. For this scheme to succeed inspection, continuous and automatic, is a vital prerequisite, but in my judgment you need something more than that; you need an extra-national or, if you will, an international force.
Hon. Members have heard many times how easy it is for civil aviation to be prostituted to the ends of destruction, and if there were some international authority with this unique and peculiar power I believe the problem would be solved. Moreover, we should be sustaining the judge by that force which the nations of the world still persist in respecting. I cannot agree with those who are only able to sentimentalise about the League of Nations. In my view it must not only be made august; it must be made powerful as well. We went in detail into this topic as long ago as the 13th December last, and I hope the Government are not going to ride away with the retort that it is "Utopian." That kind of adjective is no consolation to those who may suffer from an inability to discover some solution. This scheme will remain Utopian just so long as too few people desire it. It is absolutely certain that public opinion in this country and elsewhere is embracing this scheme of an international force as being not a long-term but a short-term solution. I respectfully invite His Majesty's Government to give in this matter that leadership which our democracy expects and not lag behind the opinion which is already crystallising in this country.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Captain BALFOUR
At this late hour I will not detain the House very long. May I first be allowed to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend who introduced the Estimates? It is the only occasion during the year when we have such an opportunity, and some of us who take a particular interest, not only in the Parliamentary side of the Air Force, but in the service side, have a particular pleasure in paying this tribute to him to-night. Disarmament and the question of air parity have been so fully and amply covered by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President, that I do not think that it needs any words of a back bencher to support the Government, except to say that we feel reassured by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. We interpret that statement in the sense that if there be any unsatisfactory outcome from the Disarmament Conference—an unsatisfactory outcome, not a complete breakdown, but a complete negation of any hope—then immediately we must take it that the Government will take such steps as are necessary to safeguard the aerial defences of this country. On that interpretation, which I trust my right hon. Friend will tell me is a correct interpretation, I can tell my right hon. Friend that he has my support, and I believe the support of the vast majority of the Members on the back benches, and that we heartily welcome the Government's intentions.
We have had a long speech, full of interest, from the hon. Member for Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid). I do not want to go into questions of high or staff policy, because I am not qualified to do so. It is many years now since I was in the Service and many years since he was in the Service, and I do not think it is our job here to go into those questions. It should be completely satisfactory to us in the House of Commons to leave such complicated staff policy questions to those who are studying them day in and day out and who best know. But what I do take exception to, as I believe the majority of the House does, is the hon. and gallant Member coming down here and drawing a conclusion as to the erroneous tactics of air staff policy while basing himself on quoting serving officers in the Air Force as not agreeing with what the staff are doing. I do not think it is a credit to the hon. Member. I think that in so doing he is bringing discredit 2146 on the Service, and I would only say that all of us in this House will dismiss that case, built up on statements which serving officers are alleged to have made, with the contempt which it thoroughly deserves.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will agree that serving officers have a right to their personal opinions and views as to tactics which should be undertaken, and I consider I had put them forward in a perfectly reasonable way.
§ Captain BALFOUR
Serving officers have a perfect right to have their own opinions, but I do not think it behoves hon. Members who have received Service opinions on Service matters from officers, presumably in a personal and private capacity, to come down to the House and use those personal statements to build up a case in criticism of the air staff policy. I will leave the matter at that, and let the House judge on the merits of the particular question. My only complaint as regards the Estimates is with respect to our long-term planning. In every sphere of our national life we are talking about long-term planning. On balance, it looks as though the Disarmament Conference were going to have a negative result, which I am sure would be regretted by every hon. Member, and the question is whether we are planning far enough ahead. The right hon. Gentleman gave me a reply to a question which I put to him the other day as to the number of squadrons which could be accommodated in the existing bricks and mortar. After all, bricks and mortar take a long time to put together. It is the bottle neck of the situation. The answer was that we could accommodate three more squadrons. Are we, in our long-term policy, preparing now to acquire land and get ready the plans for building further aerodromes? It would not cost money to start at the present time, only forethought.
On the subject of the training of personnel, we have heard from many hon. Members to-night of the importance of having a vast number of pilots, and I entirely concur, but it is not much good having large numbers of pilots in light aeroplane clubs if they have never had an opportunity of flying service aircraft. There ought to be some connecting link between the types of aircraft used in the 2147 Royal Air Force and the types of aircraft used by flying clubs, and medically fit and suitable young men should have an opportunity of bridging the gap, and not at any expense to themselves. Returning to the question of planning ahead, what is happening as regard the fuel supplies for the Royal Air Force? I was seriously disturbed the other day when the right hon. Gentleman said that 50 per cent. of our oil came from Russia. In reply to a supplementary question he said we could not get elsewhere suitable supplies for our engines. The first principle of Imperial Defence is to be self-sufficient so far as possible, and if we cannot get Empire supplies of oil we had better change our engines for engines which will take oil obtainable from sources within the Empire, or, alternatively, we should look round to find some suitable Empire source of the particular type of oil required. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell me that that problem is being overcome in one or other of these ways.
Finally, I wish to ask what is happening as regards co-ordination in Imperial defence. The very mobility of our air arm is a new opportunity for the Empire to have an Imperial air-defence policy. The very mobility of squadrons which can fly from one end of the Empire to the other in a very short space of time allows us to look ahead without being clogged by the methods of the past. I believe that our Dominions are willing and anxious to carry their fair share of Imperial defence. At present they are not doing so. We spend approximately £2 2s. per head in this country upon armaments; Australia 18s., Canada 5s. and South Africa 2s. 6d. I am not casting any reflection on those Dominions because of the small amount which they spend. I believe that they would be willing to co-operate and to spend more in the future than they have spent in the past if there were more mobility in building up an Imperial defence scheme.
There was a great outcry in the newspapers a little while ago upon the subject of the Singapore Defence Conference between our authorities and Australian defence authorities. We could go much further than that, and the Singapore Defence Conference might be continued until finally we had an Imperial Defence Conference in which an Imperial defence 2148 policy could be hammered out, based primarily upon the mobility of the Royal Air Force. The Estimates are all that we can expect, when they are taken in conjunction with the statement made by the Lord President of the Council. I think that in this House we have one desire, which is that we should get away from the old archaic ideas of defence which existed when there were only the Army and the Navy. We should realise that there are the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and that, as time progresses and we get older, the Royal Air Force will play an ever-increasing part in Imperial defence.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I should be very sorry if this Debate came to an end without two or three sentences from this side of the House, seeing that no one from this side has spoken since the very important pronouncement of the Lord President of the Council. I do not want our side to be misunderstood. I merely rise to say that it was a grave pronouncement, as everyone recognised at the time. I cannot speak at this moment officially on behalf of the party, but I merely say that the announcement of the Lord President of the Council will be given very careful consideration, and I merely ask for our party freedom without any commitment at all.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
May I be allowed to answer some of the questions that have been put during the course of the Debate? As a matter of fact, there have been very few detailed points, because hon. Members know so much about the Royal Air Force that there are very few points about which they want to ask. The Debate has proceeded on very broad lines. The pronouncement which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has made has given complete satisfaction to all those who have been anxious to know the policy of the Government. The speech which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) made—
I do not want to interfere with the right hon. Gentleman in what he is saying, but to correct him before he proceeds with his sentence. He said that hon. Members were satisfied in every degree with what the Lord President of the Council has said. I can only 2149 submit to him for his assistance that there are grave doubts as to whether there is some time limit attached to the statement made by the Lord President of the Council.
§ Sir P. SASSOON
When I said that hon. Members were satisfied, that was the impression that I had received. I cannot, of course, add anything to what has been said, and to what I considered was a very full, frank and fair statement. After the words which fell from the Lord President of the Council hon. Members who have any confidence in the Government, must have confidence that the Government will do everything they feel is necessary for the security and safety of these islands. I was beginning to comment upon the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet who made as usual a very interesting contribution. His suggestion about the possibility of enabling pilots who are not members of the reserve and not in the Royal Air Force to get a certain amount of training in service machines was particularly interesting, and is one which I am certain the Air Ministry will consider, as it will the one regarding inter-Imperial communications. With regard to the question of oil fuel, I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend was disappointed the other day when I was not able to say that any of the oil used came from Imperial sources, but we are doing everything we possibly can to try to remedy this unsatisfactory state of affairs, and hope in the course of the next year to be able to make some arrangement for getting either all or certain supplies of this particular oil from Imperial sources.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Drake (Captain Guest) asked me some questions about the arrangements recently concluded between the railway companies and Imperial Airways for the operation of internal services in this country. In the first place, he asked me whether the Air Ministry were aware that these arrangements were pending. The answer is in the affirmative. The Air Ministry, however, saw no reason to intervene, if that is what my right hon. and gallant Friend meant. After all, it is five years since these particular powers were conferred upon the railways, and I would further point out that there is one outstanding lesson which has been carefully and laboriously learnt in the field of transport, and that is the necessity for 2150 avoiding anything like cut-throat competition, both between the older systems themselves and between the older and the new systems. There is nothing new in principle in the understanding that has been reached, if it be a definite understanding, between the railways and Imperial Airways. That such an understanding might in certain circumstances lead to abuse is undeniable, but I suggest that we should not assume that any abuse will arise in this case. If, however, the new machinery were used to stifle, on behalf of vested interests, the development of internal air transport in this country, the Air Ministry would take appropriate measures to remedy the situation. That, I think, is also a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for the Duddeston Division of Birmingham (Mr. Simmonds), who raised the same point, and who also made the interesting suggestion that detachments of flights, with a British aircraft carrier, might visit Canada and show the flag there. That suggestion will be given careful consideration.
We had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Captain J. MacAndrew), who spoke as an ex-pilot and with all his war experience, and I think the House listened with the greatest possible interest to all that he had to say. I quite agree with the necessity for keeping up-to-date as much as we possibly can, and that was why I spoke of the great importance of technical developments, and of how anxious the Air Ministry are that their research department shall always be kept up-to-date. Everyone who knows the work of that department realises how valuable and efficient it is.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) made a point about the employment of officers from the Army. There is a scheme on foot, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, not only for the seconding of officers from the Army to the Royal Air Force, but also, after they have returned to the Army, for their coming back again for a further period. Then there is the employment of Air Force officers in staff appointments, and there is also the question of the joint staff, and the importance of having a Joint Staff College. I fully realise that it would be an excellent thing if the three staff colleges were on the same spot, but 2151 everybody will agree that each individual staff college has to work out its own particular problems. We have at present a considerable amount of co-operation, including joint exercises and so on, and also the Imperial Defence College, which is exactly what the hon. Member suggests. Everything that can be done in that connection is being done short of moving all three staff colleges into one spot. We are fully aware of the importance of having as much co-operation as possible between the three Services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) raised a point with which I must deal, because he has been waiting patiently for a year to raise it, and if I do not reply to him now he will raise it again on some other occasion and feel dissatisfied with the answer. The point is one of interest to hon. Members of the House, and perhaps more to people outside: it concerns the noise of aeroplanes. I should like to assure him, and to assure hon. Members, that the Air Ministry is examining this question with the greatest possible sympathy and attention. Nevertheless, to appreciate that the noise of an aeroplane can be tiresome, irritating and even harmful, as the hon. Member made out, is one thing, but to devise an adequate remedy for it is another. There are regulations on the subject. Flying in a manner calculated to cause alarm or annoyance can be dealt with by the police. It is, however, just as impossible to prevent occasional young and foolish pilots from doing tiresome and irritating things with aeroplanes as it is to prevent young and foolish people from doing tiresome and irritating things with sports cars or motor bicycles, or even to prevent the unseemly noises that they are able to make with no other instruments than those with which nature has endowed them. There are regulations against flying low over London and against flying over churches during service hours, and everything possible is done to see that those regulations are applied.
2152 When one thinks of the amount of flying that is done, not only by commercial and service aeroplanes but also by private owners, one cannot say that these offences are increasing anything like in proportion to the way in which flying itself is increasing. We must keep a sense of proportion about these things. I suppose that there were far louder outcries against the noise, dirt and danger of railways than there is now against flying. We have become used to railways, and to realising that people who live near them have to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience. The same applies now to people who live near aerodromes and on air routes. We live in a noisy age, and we must face the fact. By all means let us do all we can to minimise the evil, but to put silencers on to aeroplanes, as has been suggested, is not practical politics. Perhaps one day aeroplanes will be sufficiently powerful and efficient to enable silencers to be put on them, and possibly when that day arrives the people who live on air routes will lie awake at night listening for the familiar roar that never comes. There must be a certain amount of give and take. Modern invention brings with it advantages as well as disadvantages, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Although the hon. Member is not here, I hope he will feel that I have taken great care of his interests and I assure him once more that the Air Ministry is doing everything it can to give sympathetic attention to this very important point. If there are any points that I have not dealt with, I will write to hon. Members who have raised them, but in any event there is always the Report stage to look forward to.
§ Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 193; Noes, 22.2153
|Division No. 151.]||AYES.||[10.56 p.m.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Barclay-Harvey, C. M||Browne, Captain A. C.|
|Albery, Irving James||Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Bernays, Robert||Cadogan, Hon. Edward|
|Apsley, Lord||Blaker, Sir Reginald||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Borodale, Viscount||Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Broadbent, Colonel John||Carver, Major William H.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Rankin, Robert|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Jamieson, Douglas||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Rold, Capt. A. Cunningham-|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Copeland, Ida||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Remer, John R.|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Law, Sir Alfred||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Cross, R. H.||Leckie, J. A.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Crossley, A. C.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Lindsay, Kenneth Martin (Kilm'rnock)||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Denman, Hon. R D.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Denville, Alfred||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Scone, Lord|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Loder, Captain J. de Vera||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Loftus, Pierce C.||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Elmley, Viscount||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Mabane, William||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Spens, William Patrick|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McKie, John Hamilton||Stones, James|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Martin, Thomas B.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A. (p'dd'gt'n, S.)|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Goff, Sir Park||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Tree, Ronald|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Greene, William P. C.||Morgan, Robert H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Grigg, Sir Edward||Morrison, William Shepherd||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Munro, Patrick||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Palmer, Francis Noel||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Peaks, Captain Osbert||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hornby, Frank||Pearson, William G.||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Peat, Charles U.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Petherick, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Captain Sir George Bowyer and Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward.|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Radford, E. A.|
|Hurd, Sir Percy||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Edwards, Charles||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Banfield, John William||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maxton, James|
|Batey, Joseph||Groves, Thomas E.||Paling, Wilfred|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Price, Gabriel|
|Buchanan, George||Lawson, John James||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lunn, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dagger, George||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, Valentine L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. D. Graham.|
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]