HC Deb 21 March 1935 vol 299 cc1457-79

"to provide, during twelve months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and the Air Force," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed Bill 48.]

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

7.48 p.m.


Suppose the War Office found it desirable to have on their establishment a number of autogyros for military work or light aircraft for transporting staff officers, would they have to come on the charge of the Air Ministry or on the charge of the War Office? It is rather an important question, and I should be glad if my right hon. Friend could give the House the views of the Air Ministry upon it. Are they prepared to provide them from the Air Ministry's establishment and pay, or would they come on the War Office establishment and pay? Still further, suppose, as is possible, it is found that the military would have to rely more and more on air transport for food, water, stores and so on, would that be done by the Air Ministry by transport machines possibly commandeered from civilian companies, or would the War Office do it themselves?

7.50 p.m.


My Noble Friend has raised an interesting point, which he raised on the main Estimates debate, but it is a point which involves a question of policy. I said on the last occasion that I would look into it and have it examined, and it is impossible for me to give him an answer before I have received full information on the subject.

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

7.51 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER

On page 35 of the Air Estimates it says that the number of scientific officers was 36 in 1934 and 25 in 1935. I should have thought we ought to have increased the numbers of scientific officers, because research work is of such great importance now, with the rapid air development that is going on. I notice that junior scientific officers are paid emoluments of £246 to £319. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State can tell me whether we are likely to get the best brains of the universities to assist the research work at Farnborough on such a small sum as £246. I think these emoluments ought to be raised. There is an hon. Member opposite from the Universities, who, I think, will agree that we shall not get the best men from the universities or any other institutions for such a small sum as that. I should very much like that matter to be looked into by the Under-Secretary of State. On page 48 of the Estimates it says: The Air Council have power to sanction rewards to inventors and royalties up to £1,000 in each case. Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether any of these scientists have earned any of these rewards for their inventions? That is a most important point. In America any scientist who produces an invention that is taken up for aircraft work gets a very large money reward, and I should like to know if our scientists at Farnborough have earned any of these rewards. On page 51, under the heading "Airship Development," it says: Provision is made under this subhead for the cost of maintaining a nucleus airship organisation. I should like to ask whether we go in for building any small airships for the Navy, and whether the Admiralty have asked for any, because during the War we found the small airship most useful for searching for submarines. In fact, during the War we never lost a food ship or a trade ship where we had a small airship patrol with it, and the captains of our Mercantile Marine ships, when they approached these shores towards the end of the War, were always asking for small airships as patrols. They had a great opinion of them for detecting submarines, and I should like to ask if the Admiralty have ever made any demand for these small airships since the War.

7.55 p.m.


My hon. and gallant Friend has asked about the numbers of scientists, and has stated the the number is smaller this year than it was last year. As a matter of fact, it is an increased figure this year, and it is only because there has been a reclassification that the hon. and gallant Member has been misled on the point. If he will look under the heading, "Ancillary scientific and technical staff," he will see that there has been an addition to the figure there as compared with last year. With regard to awards to be won at Farnborough, some have been won by scientists there, and although I do not know at the present time what particular inventions they were given for, I will find out and let my hon. and gallant Friend know. At the beginning of the Debate on Tuesday I stated that we had got this new scientific committee which has been set up to deal with the scientific side of defence against air attack and, as a result of the labours of that committee, I hope we shall be able to satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend on various points that have been raised, although not perhaps on the last point, on the question of airships, because I do not think that that is for the moment in our programme. No one knows better than my hon. and gallant Friend what our policy is on the question of airships. It is not one which has been fixed for all time, but for the moment we are holding a watching brief.


My point was this: Have the Admiralty asked the Royal Air Force for any of these small airships for patrol work in connection with the Fleet?


Well, they have not, as a matter of fact.

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

7.58 p.m.

Captain GUEST

It is with regret that at this time of the evening, when it would appear that most people want to go to dinner, one should reopen a discussion which was partially attended to last Tuesday. I say "partially," because I feel that as time goes on the Government of the day, whichever Government it may be, will appreciate the fact that civil aviation deserves a day to itself. It is not only for that reason that I ask the attention of the (House for a few minutes, but because so many important points connected with civil aviation have to be passed over and almost slurred over. No particular replies were given to several questions raised last Tuesday, dealing directly with civil aviation, which appear under Vote 8, and one of them is the question of the rights and wrongs of the convertibility of civil planes for military purposes. I have a few words to say upon that question, but the other matter which I wish to elaborate as rapidly as I can is whether further encouragement might not be given to civil pilots with the object of forming them into a reserve for war purposes if necessary. Those two points, I submit, were not really replied to, and very little attention was paid to them, but in my opinion they are fundamental points. If the world was not in a turmoil, I would not waste a moment of the time of the House in presenting to it on the Report stage of the Air Estimates details which would in normal times be but details, but which I submit are matters of vital importance to-day. Within the last 48 hours—in fact, since we had the Air Estimates debated in this House on Tuesday last—action has been taken by a neighbour, and presumably an ally, dealing with aerial activities and aerial defence.

That indicates the seriousness of the present international situation, and shows the vital importance of our considering in this House every detail of aerial development. My third point is that the development of civil aviation is the foundation of national air defence. How to get the best out of civil aviation I do not think has ever been studied. I do not know whose business it is. I do not know whether it is to be left to the Air Committee of the House of Commons from time to time to make speeches on this subject. Where is the driving force? It may be that it is not accepted as a truth that civil aviation is the foundation of air defence. If it has been proved true of the sea for centuries, why should it not now be accepted with regard to the air? The answer is that the air is not so widely understood, but if it is true that the merchant service is the backbone of the Navy, surely it is true that civil aviation is the backbone of the Air Force.

Unless we grasp this principle in time and pursue its logical development—it is not a bellicose development but a normal, natural development—we shall get so far behind that if trouble comes we shall not be able to catch up. I do not know how to press the point harder than that. One has tried by every known means to get the Government to say that there must be a definite proportion of assistance for the civil side, as compared with the military side. The comparison to-day is something pathetic. If you will not compare the figures of our own country, let me compare those of other countries. Other countries seem to appreciate the vital necessity of developing the civil side of aviation. It does not necessarily mean that they are warlike, or want a scrap with their neighbours. They appreciate that a new science, a new dimension, has come into human activity and are determined that whatever its disadvantages may be they will not be left behind. We are left so far behind by our neighbours, not only by America but by our European neighbours, that we really ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are not the poorest country in the world. We seem to find money for almost every other purpose except civil aviation. I do not know what is the blight. There is some dead hand hanging over this problem. Is it to be suggested that we cannot afford the money? Last year we were able to reduce the Income Tax by 6d. A penny on the Income Tax would give us enough and to spare to keep level with civil aviation developments in other lands. There is something to be explained, and that is my reason for not allowing this Vote to go through without discussion.

I do not think it is for lack of examples that the Ministry have been unable to do anything, for examples seem to stare us in the face. It cannot be unknown that German machines will carry 30 passengers at 170 miles an hour, and that they have been doing that for the past year. We cannot put up much more than half that speed. There is something wrong. Why is it that they have had the energy and the effort to go ahead? It may be answered that they have spent the money and we have not. The vote on German aviation in 1933–34 was £8,000,000. The vote for 1934–35 is £25,000,000. It may be said that is going into other channels than are described in their vote, but up to last year they were not supposed to have a military air force, and therefore I am entitled to presume it has all gone into civil development. These figures have got to be answered, and they cannot be left to simmer in the pot of unanswered questions. That is why the Germans can produce a machine which can go from Berlin to Barcelona in eight hours, carrying either 32 passengers or possibly two tons of bombs. This House, in view of the risks which are in the international atmosphere, ought not to be content to spend just about £500,000 on the development of the civil side of aviation.

I want to present this point to my friends of the Opposition, because I know from experience that they are always ready and willing to support an idea which is national as long as it is not bellicose. I take the Territorial Army. Many of them belonged to it at different times and many of them have fought gallantly in that capacity as officers or men, because they realised, as we do, that it is the obligation of every citizen to be ready to do his best when the time of war comes. It is to the Territorial movement that I would like to see this money devoted. I regard the Territorial as civil aviation. I regard the Auxiliary Air Force as civil aviation. I want the help of the Opposition to support this. I would go so far as to say that if they would support me in the view that the country must be made air-minded through civil aviation, I would gladly see a reduction in the military Vote. It is only in that way that we shall manage to overcome this problem and to regain the position that we held in 1918. I have had the opportunity I wanted to re-state the case for a separate day to be devoted by Parliament to civil aviation, because it covers a much wider ground that merely the stating of the military side, with its equipment. It has given me also an opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to our terrible paucity of pilots. You can turn a machine out in three weeks, but as you cannot turn a pilot out under two years we are foolish beyond belief in remaining so far behind.

Questions have been asked before now in this House as to the number of our pilots. I know pretty well, and I can remember most of the answers given on that subject. On the military side we have between 2,500 and 2,700. On the civil side it is only 2,502. When I speak of that figure let me draw the attention of the House to a most frightful waste of money. Not only has the Ministry been parsimonious in the money granted to civil aviation, but a great deal of it has been wasted. I looked back into the figures of "A" licence pilots who have taken licences with the assistance of the light flying clubs. I find that from 1929 to 1933, the best years of which I could get details, 4,500 pilots have taken licences, and nearly 50 per cent. have not renewed them; yet a contribution has gone from the State to these light flying clubs for every one of these licences taken out. Whichever way you look at it, the neglect of civil aviation, the lack of grasping the problem with energy and courage, is self-evident.

I am certain that as years go by we shall get further and further behind. I made a little comparison between what we spend as a great country generally in upholding our civilisation. I am not far wrong in saying we spend £800,000,000 in supporting our civilisation. We spend £500,000 in training our youth to understand the problems of the new dimension, a dimension which will probably be the deciding factor if war comes. The comparison betwen these two figures is grotesque. I feel certain that sooner or later we shall succeed in pressing our views on those who are in authority. We shall not relax our efforts until we succeed. We are a small body of people who have studied this civil aviation problem as closely even as the Ministers in charge of the Department, and until we get appreciation by the Government of the vital necessity of getting English youth into the air, and to understand it just like a child understands a bicycle in the street, we shall go on pressing our views.

8.11 p.m.


I desire to be associated with the remarks which have fallen from the lips of my right hon. and gallant Friend so far as the question of reserves of pilots and civil flying are concerned. We are at a great disadvantage compared with some of the European countries in that we have very few large aircraft in commission. Therefore, we have comparatively few really well-trained pilots who are capable of flying in any type of weather, compared with those in America and in continental countries. To make up the deficiency it is more than ever important that we should take steps at once for the improvement of the training of those who have already got some sort of licence. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in his speech the other day used these words, referring to the question of the pilots in the United States of America and in this country: There are proportionately more private pilots' licences in this country to-day than in the United States of America. Not that we are satisfied with these figures. We want to see them very largely increased, and during the year we have taken very active steps to effect that, of which I will tell the House later."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1935; col. 1022, Vol. 299.] I have searched through the rest of his speech, and I have not found that he has referred to this particular matter. Active steps should be taken for the improved training of any people who are prepared to be on the reserve, but who are nevertheless not able for territorial reasons to join any auxiliary air squadron. I do not think it would be very difficult to put a scheme into operation of that sort and it would be of very great importance. My right hon. Friend was perhaps a little misled in the number of licensed pilots in the light aeroplane clubs. He announced that at the end of 1934 there were 4,700 licensed pilots. What I do not think he understood is that a great many of these pilots belong to four or five, or even more, clubs, and the actual number of pilots who renew their licences does not approach anything like this figure. If that were the figure of last year, the £16,000 for the whole of the light aeroplane clubs would have been eaten up several times.

I want to say a word about Imperial Airways. Personally, I am not one of those who belittle what has been done by Imperial Airways. I appreciate that we may not have proceeded as fast as we should have liked, but I think we have proceeded on an economical and very sure basis. Undoubtedly the time has come when we have to make a very material expansion in our Imperial air services. My right hon. Friend told us the other day that 122 tons of mail were carried by Imperial Airways last year. I have looked up the figures, and I find that when all first-class mail is carried to the Empire, as is the long-range policy of the Government, we shall be carrying 20 times the load of mails which were carried last year. That will obviously mean an enormous augmentation of the fleet of Imperial Airways. I am one of those who believe that if you take all the machines with a lift capacity of four tons, which is the size of the large Imperial Airway machines, you will find that we shall require larger machines in the future, and if we are to transport passengers by day and night across the great Empire routes, it is perfectly clear that we shall have to have some form of sleeping accommodation on these large Imperial Airway liners in the future. I understand that the present fleet of Imperial Airways is only 36 to 38 machines. My calculation is that, with the increased amount of mail and the increasing amount of passenger facilities, at least 100 machines of larger type will be required, and that cannot possibly cost less than £2,000,000 of capital expenditure.

I come to particulars of our own local air routes at home. Those of us who have viewed the advances which have been made in this direction cannot be satisfied with them up to date. We cannot expect to see a really good, definitely well-organised service up and down or across this country unless it is assured of postal facilities as well. With the speed at which aeroplanes go at the present time and with the country so well served with railways and with roads it is not easily a paying proposition for these air services if only ordinary passenger travelling is concerned, but if the air mails are carried as well—and there can be no doubt that there must be very great acceleration of air mail services—these passenger and mail services are combined I believe it will be a paying proposition to run these inland services. It is for that reason that I hope my right hon. Friend will express his view to the Postmaster-General—whose work for the air we all so much admire—that at the earliest possible moment he should make use of as many of these inland services as possible for the carriage of first-class mails. I have asked several questions in regard to the mail to the Channel Islands. There is an excellent service which has been in operation for over a year and has taken a large number of passengers across to the Island of Jersey and back, with very great success. Yet this particular airway company has not, so far as I know, been given any mail contract. I should have thought that they had amply shown that they were capable of carrying out mail services for the Channel Islands by the regular service which they have given to the public for over a year.

There is another point to which I would draw attention. The railway companies have interested themselves in air services. Whether that is for the good of the air services or not is a very doubtful question. I still have at the back of my head the buying up of the canals by the railway companies and the buying of a great many omnibus services by the railway companies. Whether the buying up of air services or the assistance given to air communications by the railway companies means that they really intend to put their backs into the work or whether they intend to stifle those companies which are in competition with them, is a matter the development of which we shall await with interest. Yet another matter calls for attention. My right hon. Friend told us the other day that there is going to be, or there has been this year, an improvement in the meteorological services for civil flying. I would ask whether the Continental reports can be included in these services which are sent out from Heston Aerodrome or some other places. No Continental weather reports are given, and I think that matter might well receive consideration.

Another point is whether my right hon. Friend would consider the granting of facilities for Customs aerodromes in those parts of the country which are not so served at the present time. I think he must realise, in fact I am sure he does, that owing to the very large number of aircraft proceeding in and out of the air ports of London to-day—there are only two or three air ports which are Customs air ports—any person who does not live near a Customs aerodrome, unless they are able to go to Lympne must come into the London area and add to the congestion of those already overcrowded airports. If we could have a regional system within a reasonable limited area giving Customs facilities all over the country we should enormously reduce the danger of the congestion of the London airports, and it would be a very great advantage to all those who fly in this country.

I am glad to learn that steps are to be taken towards lighting up some of our internal air routes. I am not sure from the figures how much money is to be taken for that purpose, but I am certain that it is a reform long overdue. We seem to have moved into a vicious circle in this regard. Nobody will fly at night because there are no facilities and nobody will put up any facilities because there is no flying at night. These vicious circles are to be found in various walks of life, and somebody has to make a start to break through them. I am sure that with a little encouragement the Government might persuade the local authorities to take action, or they might give a lead themselves in the matter of lighting. I see no reason why the Government should not make a start by putting a light on the Cardington mooring mast. They have electricity at the top, and if they would put up a revolving light they would show that they are willing to give a start to the idea. There are a good many other ways in which the lighting facilities could be improved. Let it not be forgotten that this lighting is of enormous advantage to the Royal Air Force itself. It is not only a question of civil flying.

Every single extra light in this country may mean the saving of one machine. Let me give a personal experience. I was asked if I would light up my own private aerodrome in order to give facilities for the Air Force in their week's training. I was only too delighted to render what small assistance I could. The aerodrome was lighted, and it so happened that one of the largest types of British bombers had some difficulty with an accumulator and had to make a forced landing. Had it not done so those who were in the machine might have been suffocated owing to the fumes, and the machine might have been damaged or destroyed. I mention that incident in connection with my own private aerodrome in order to emphasise the point that if we had far more of these lighted aerodromes it might save not only a large amount of money to the Air Force in avoiding damage to machines but also it might save personnel. Certainly, it would be of enormous advantage to civil flying in all parts of the country. These are the points which I desire to put before my right hon. Friend. We thank him very much for the push he has given to civil aviation in the last year and for the long-range programme which he has put forward and last, but not least, for the wonderful achievement in linking up Australia with the mother country.

8.25 p.m.


I agree with very much that was said by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) as to the necessity for pressing on with civil aviation, and I am sorry that more money is not allocated to this purpose. A very small amount is taken, even with the subsidy, compared with the large sums which are going for the repair of old battleships. Civil aviation should get a little more money. My hon. and gallant Friend also asked who was the directing force in the matter of civil aviation. I submit that the Director-General of Civil Aviation is the man who should press on with it, but you must give him a good staff, and I should like to ask whether he has all the staff that he wants. The Estimates provide for the State-owned civil aerodromes at Croydon and Lympne. Is anything being done to speed up the facilities for getting to Croydon quickly? It takes far too long. It takes three-quarters of an hour from the centre of London, which is about as long as it takes a fast machine to fly from Liverpool to London, My hon. Friend suggests that the Minister of Transport has now made it worse; but it is a matter which should be looked into. I should also like to know whether any steps have been taken towards providing an aerodrome to the north of London to deal with the air traffic coming from the north. Instead of having to fly to Croydon, I think there should be a good aerodrome to the north of London.

In regard to air mails, the Postmaster-General has been most progressive, and the whole staff of the Post Office is becoming air-minded. Has the question of efficient aerodromes and aeroplanes on our air routes been considered so that the Postmaster-General will not be let in? He proposes to carry a large number of air mails and this traffic will increase. We want him to have the best equipment that is possible so that the air mail service will not be impaired. Then as regards the West Indies: Pan-American Airways have served the West Indies for the last few years most efficiently, but now with faster machines and increased range they are giving some of the islands in the West Indies a miss. They are feeling this very much, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will find it possible to help in some way by making a small grant towards starting a service in the West Indies. It is most important that they should be well served. I hope he will look into these various points and give me an answer some time in the future.

8.30 p.m.


I want to ask one question. The Under-Secretary has heard criticisms of civil aviation policy, and the Government have defended their position admirably. The accusation from all sides of the House has been that we are behind our European and American competitors. The Government's answer is that we have achieved economy, safety and reliability.


And popularity.


Yes, but popularity is not entirely confined to British lines. When you are making a comparison with American lines that fact does not enter. You can make that point with regard to European lines, but you must withdraw any comparison as to popularity between our lines and American lines. The American lines have achieved popularity if we are to compare American achievement with our own. The point I was going to make is that we are now going to run a trans-Atlantic service within the next three or four years in connection with Pan-American Airways. Is the same criticism going to be made—to be met by the same admirable defence on the part of the Government—that we are behindhand again? Have the Government a vision in front of them in civil aviation which will deal with flying from here to the Cape nonstop, to Egypt non-stop, and with a trans-Atlantic service? Is there any organisation in the Air Ministry, in addition to the hard working and efficient members of the Department, who have their daily routine work to do, which I would call the "to-morrow" committee. In some railway organisations there is a committee of the board of directors which is called the "to-morrow committee," and their job is to visualise developments 10 and 15 years ahead. Is there any committee in the Air Ministry whose job it is to look far ahead, beyond the immediate present, and lay out plans to be followed so that we shall be well ahead of our competitors in the matter of world aerial transport.

8.33 p.m.


There are two questions I desire to ask. The first arises out of the speech of the hon. Member for Melton Mowbray (Mr. Everard), who asked for more extensive weather reports and the inclusion of Continental weather reports in the daily bulletin. I consider this a very important matter. Is it not possible to get more detailed weather reports from the British Isles? At the present moment they are good in their way and fairly up-to-date, but there is nothing like sufficient detail covering all parts of the country.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

That arises on Vote 9 which is not now before the House.


Surely the question of weather reports would come under civil aviation?


No. We are now strictly governed by the rules in Committee of Supply, and we can only deal with the Vote before the House. The question of meteorological reports arises on Vote 9 which is not before us.


I should like to raise the matter at this moment, because the fact that the meteorological report has nothing to do with civil aviation is one of the grievances of the air committee of this House. It is so tied up with service flying that we cannot raise it on civil aviation. I hope the Under-Secretary will make it clear that the question of weather reports will be brought directly under the control of the Director-General of Civil Aviation, who is also a member of the Air Council. It is a matter which affects all flying people, whether private owners or air companies. I think that more use might be made of civil organisations like the Automoble Association. Every automobile association scout in a watershed would be willing to send in a weather report to a central area, where the details of these reports could be correlated at very little expense.

Another question I wish to raise I have raised on a previous occasion. It is one for which I have frequently been laughed at by experts on aviation. All the same the great theoretical experts do not always come so much into contact with actual practice. I believe there is no pilot regularly flying commercial planes inland or on a Continental air route, and few pilots of bombing squadrons who have to go across country, who do not find that it is possible to lose their way even with the best navigation in the world. You may be going over low cloud and your drift calculations may be set awry by a change in the wind. The weather in which you started may change and the cloud drop so low, or the ground mist come up, and you have to go on to some place not included in your route. Then you come out through the cloud, with limited visibility below you, and you have to find out where you are. It is not easy. I know that sometimes the names of towns are printed on the roofs of gasometers, but it is probable that you never see them. Now that the railways have taken up flying seriously, could not the Minister ask them to co-operate by Having the names of their stations on the roofs of those stations? All that a pilot would have to do would be to get to the nearest railway and read the name of the station on the roof. Then he could pick up his bearings and go on again.

8.38 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion on this Vote made an appeal to us who sit on the Labour benches. He said he was confident that whenever an appeal was made on the ground of national interest the party here would respond. He is quite right in his judgment to-night. We feel interested in this question of civil aviation, and we think it is a matter of vital importance that the utmost encouragement should be given to this form of transport. It is of great national importance that this country should be made the centre of a large aviation system. It is sometimes said that we have not developed civil aviation to the extent that other countries have done, and the reply has been that this country is too small, that there is little scope for flying beyond our shores, and that we are limited by geographical boundaries. But that is not the answer. This country, small as it is, is large enough to provide several large stations as the base of a central system which would radiate to all parts of the world, and especially to the Empire countries. It is true that this country is small, and in terms of flying time is only of one hour's breadth and two hour's length, but in spite of all modern progress in aviation remote parts of the Empire are still four, five and six days away from us.

Because of the lack of facilities for long-distance flying we suggest to the Government that the expenditure upon civil aviation should be immensely expanded in the provision of the kind of station that we have already at Croydon, with the necessary ground organisation. I live in the West part of the country. We could very well do with a station and aerodrome there as a starting point for the trans-Atlantic service; and there is no reason why we should not have direct flying facilities from Wales to Croydon. What is vitally urgent is a co-ordination of air, road and rail for the improvement of transport. There is a great future for air transport, and it will call for considerable organisation. Immense changes are taking place. I was pleased yesterday to find that we are carrying a very large volume of mail by air. Over 6,000,000 letters a year are taken from this country to Empire countries which are linked up with us, and convenience is immensely served by this service.

It is true that civil aviation is connected with military aviation, but we are hoping for the time when the air will no longer be used for purposes of war. Anyone who is conversant with the great developments due to science can look forward with optimism to a further shortening of the ways of communication. The new idea of taking advantage of the rarified atmosphere of the stratosphere for long-distance flying is one worthy of consideration. Planning has to come in any case in the building up of the new system of communications. We join with those who have urged the Minister to give more direct encouragement to civil aviation, and we hope he will be able to respond favourably to our request.

8.45 p.m.


I am very glad to see the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) is developing into an air expert. He came to see me a day or two before the Estimates Debate and impressed upon me the fact that although he was very much interested in flying, he knew very little about it, but I think the House now realises that in a very short space of time he has managed to increase his knowledge of the subject immensely. He has made valuable contributions to this Debate and to the Estimates Debate, and I hope he will continue to do so because it will be a great pleasure to us to hear him in future on these matters.

Turning to the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest), I cannot help thinking that while perhaps he is not quite satisfied with things as they are he shows a tendency to stress his criticisms rather too much. According to him it would appear that there is nothing right, that there is no improvement in the position and that we are doing nothing for the development of civil aviation, whereas everything that is being done by every other country in this respect is perfect. I do not think that my right hon. and gallant Friend really takes that view and I think he only develops that line of argument because he wishes to press this very important matter as strongly as he can. I do not think that our record in the matter of civil aviation is so bad to-day. I do not think that we have anything whatever to be ashamed of. It is true that certain countries spend enormous sums on some of their services but I think that for the money that we have spent in this country the results have been excellent. Nobody can deny the success of Imperial Airways. Its popularity is as great as that of the American Companies and it is certainly run more cheaply. I consider that our achievements in civil aviation are not at all bad and our plans for the immediate and distant future are full of the greatest possibilities of further success.

I shall turn later to other points raised by my right hon. and gallant Friend but before doing so I wish to deal with one or two questions put to me by other Members. First there is the point raised by my Noble Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Lord Apsley) as to painting the names of towns and cities on the railway stations. He said such an innovation would be of immense value especially in foggy weather. Of course, while we may encourage proposals of that kind these are not matters in which we can dictate. I have been told that while it would probably prove a very great convenience to people who have to fly in bad weather that these names should be displayed on railway stations, gasometers and the like, it would also be a certain amount of encouragement to people to fly lower than they ought to fly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That point has been put to me and I think it well to mention it while not denying the fact that such aids to aviation would be very valuable.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) raised one or two points which were also mentioned by other Members. I should like to say to him and also in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) that we are doing everything we can to achieve the objects which they have in view. When we remember the forward policy which is being adopted by the Postmaster-General we are full of hope as to development in that direction. With regard to the improvement of ground organisation all over the country we fully realise the importance of that question. We have done a great deal in connection with the meteorological and wireless services and we propose to do a great deal more this year. We propose also to make a beginning with the provision of electrical equipment for night flying which is another matter of the greatest importance. The question has also been raised of the provision of Customs facilities at aerodromes all over the country but that is not a matter for the Air Ministry. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who is responsible for that matter on the Front Bench this evening but I do not suppose that it would be in order to interrogate him on that subject to-night. It is, of course, a matter for the Treasury.


I did not mean to say that there should be Customs stations at aerodromes all over the country. What I suggested was that there should be one such station in each large area.


Wherever they were to be, I do not think that it is the affair of the Air Ministry. It would be necessary to get permission from the Treasury. I turn again to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth. He has stressed the case that civil aviation is the basis of military defence and everybody knows that civil aviation must have a certain definite value for defence purposes. But that value lies primarily in broadening the whole basis of the engine and aircraft manufacturing industries by creating wider markets for their products. On the other hand, there are two big points in connection with this question which I would like to suggest to the House. His Majesty's Government are most anxious that this great scientific gift of civil air transport which we believe to be a powerful force in stimulating peace all over the world, which offers unrivalled facilities of intercommunication between the nations, shall not come to be looked upon simply as a potential war machine. Various proposals have been put forward at Geneva to prevent that happening. Also, I think that it is easy in a way to overrate the value of civil aviation for war purposes.

Let me give the House a concrete illustration. France is spending over £1,200,000 a year on subsidies for civil aviation and the result is that they have a heterogeneous fleet of 180 civil machines in their commercial air transport. On the other hand, France's military air force which was mentioned by the Lord President of the Council in November last, has a first line strength of 1,650 machines or nine times the strength of her commercial fleet. For that sum of £1,200,000 we could maintain 10 regular and five auxiliary squadrons whose first line strength would be the same as the first line strength of that commercial fleet. But those first line machines would be of the genuine military type, with fully trained service pilots, reserves, and all the essential background of military organisation behind them. Therefore, I think we must be a little careful about drawing analogies such as my right hon. and gallant Friend has drawn with the Mercantile Marine. The tonnage of the British Mercantile Marine to-day is I believe some 30 times that of the Royal Navy. Contrast the figures with those for the French commercial and military air fleets—the latter nine times the size of the civil fleet in terms of first-line strength alone. I do not wish to prejudge the future. I hope perhaps that in the days to come these figures will be reversed. But we must have regard to the realities of to-day.

I would like to give the House a final illustration which is an answer to what my right hon. and gallant Friend said about the development of civil aviation in Germany. We all know that there has been a phenomenal development of civil aviation in Germany. That has been due to the fact that up to this year, owing to the Treaty of Versailles the whole of the technical and financial energies of that great country in aviation have been put entirely into the development of civil aviation. But the moment Germany begins to think of aviation in terms of defence, does she consider that her civil aviation is sufficient? Not at all. The moment she realises that, she insists on a strong military air force. Therefore, His Majesty's Government feel that although we ought to do everything we possibly can to stimulate the development of civil aviation in this country—commercial air transport and everything connected with it—and while it is our firm intention to do so, we are going to do it with an eye to its lawful and peaceful uses, rather than its use as a potential military instrument. That will be in accordance with the policy which we have consistently followed at Geneva and which we are sure is best for the peace of the world.

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth raised the question of pilots, and he queried my figures. Last year there were about 2,980 "A" licences and 498 "B" licences; 125 "B" licensed pilots also held "A" licences. There was a total number of civil pilots of 3,350. Nearly 1,200 new pilots took out "A" licences last year, and about 5,000 new pilots have taken out "A" licences in the course of the last five years. I do not think they are very unsatisfactory figures. My right hon. and gallant Friend has put forward a scheme for the further training of pilots through the medium of the light aeroplane club movement. He was good enough to let me have a memorandum dealing with his proposals last week, and we are considering it, and I hope shortly to be able to give him a further answer. There are one or two points in his remarks which have left me a little puzzled. I am not sure whether he realises that the light aeroplane club subsidy scheme provides for an annual grant of £10 for each pilot who renews his "A" licence. I am wondering whether he realises that so many new pilots took out "A" licences last year. I think that the figure of 1,200 is very satisfactory. There were only 18 clubs receiving subsidies 12 months ago. The number has risen to 33, and we wish to see it rise shortly to 40. That is a considerable increase. With this 100 per cent. increase in the number of clubs I shall be disappointed if we do not get a substantial increase in the number of new pilots produced in 1935.

Captain GUEST

May I help my right hon. Friend, because it will help the House? It is important that these figures should not overlap each other or be misunderstood. If my figures are-wrong, I should like to be informed, but the figures have varied so much in the Debates that the public should know how they stand. The figures I was given were that from 1929 to 1933, 4,295 "A" licences were taken out and 2,505 were not renewed. Those figures would suggest that practically 50 per cent. of the licences taken out during that period of four years have not been renewed. The figure which my right hon. Friend gives is that there are something like 3,000 existing holders of "A" licences. Is that so?


That is so. The figures I have given are up-to-date. I know that my right hon. and gallant Friend makes a great point about the renewal of "A" licences. As I said in the Debate two days ago, important as these renewals are, they are not so important from our point of view as getting new pilots. That is more important than maintaining them in flying practice after they have obtained their licences. After all, we give this allowance of £10 to the club for each renewal. I must again emphasise that the object of this scheme is to get new pilots with "A" licences, and, if we can have renewals as well to a great extent, we shall be only too pleased. If we can reconcile these two desiderata without an undue or lavish amount of expenditure, we shall be only too pleased to do so. We are considering the scheme of my right hon. and gallant Friend, for which I thank him, and these proposals are now under discussion at the Air Ministry.