HC Deb 01 July 1936 vol 314 cc539-79

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [25th June], "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Question again proposed.

10.50 p.m.


May I ask the Patronage Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is not possible to consider the circumstances of this Debate this evening? It was understood earlier that the Air Navigation Bill would be taken after the Malta Bill on the assumption that the Malta Bill would be finished about nine or half-past nine o'clock. A large number of Members wished to speak on this Bill and it is now very late. The Bill, as amended, ought to be carefully considered, and we on this side think that another time should be given for the Third Reading. It really is too late to begin now.

10.51 p.m.


At Question Time to-day the Deputy- Leader of the House, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition, said that, of course, we should not start on the Malta Bill if we could not reach it by about nine o'clock, but he added a further sentence to the effect that in any case we must get the Report stage of the Finance Bill and the Third Reading of the Air Navigation Bill. That was made perfectly clear. When the Third Reading of this Bill was postponed last Thursday, in response to a Motion made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division (Captain Guest), it was pointed out to the House that it would mean that the Bill would have to be taken on another occasion, which would mean an overloading of the programme. On that occasion he used these words: May I thank the Government and the Patronage Secretary for having given way to the feeling of the House? It is not so much that one is disinclined to talk on the Third Reading late at night, but it is hard to do so after a prolonged Debate on the Report stage. I would like to register my thanks to the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary for the action they have taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1936; col. 2114, Vol. 313.] The feeling was that the House had been sitting all day on the Report stage of the Air Navigation Bill; a good many Amendments had been moved and carried, a number of alterations had been made to the Bill, and therefore the House considered it unfair to carry on with the Third Reading straight away, without seeing the Bill in its new form. In view of those arguments the Government were prepared to postpone the Third Reading, but, having met the House, and in view of the fact that it is not yet Eleven o'Clock, that there is still a good deal of business yet to be accomplished and that hon. Members have had an opportunity to consider the Bill in its amended form, I hope that they will agree to take the Third Reading now and dispose of this Measure, which has been in front of hon. Members for a good deal of time now—on Second Reading, Committee on the Floor of the House, Report stage, and now Third Reading.

10.54 p.m.

Captain F. E. GUEST

I think that the Patronage Secretary has stated his case very fairly, but on the other hand he has admitted that he had hoped the Malta Bill would be disposed of earlier than now.


I am afraid my' right hon. and gallant Friend misunderstood me. I did not say that. I said that unless the Report stage of the Finance Bill was disposed of by nine o'clock the Malta Bill would not have been taken. The Finance Bill might have gone on until eleven o'clock. Even so, in accordance with the statement made to-day by the Deputy-Leader of the House, we should still have been prepared to ask the House to take the Air. Navigation Bill.

Captain GUEST

I am myself bound to stand by the present decision, but I would like to register regret that the Bill is being taken at this late hour. I do not know how late the Debate may go on. There is great disinclination among those who are keen on the Bill to keep the House up for a long period. I do not know even now whether it is too late to ask the Patronage Secretary to consider it in that light. There has been no obstruction of the Bill in any part of the House from the start, and I should have thought that that would apply equally to the Third Reading. I myself cannot vote for postponing the Debate, as I am committed by what was said the other night, but I think it is a great pity.

10.56 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day three months."

It is perfectly correct that from no section of the House whatever has there been any attempt to hold up the progress of the Bill, and I think it can be reasonably said that the Debates throughout have expressed the desire on the part of every section and every party in the House that the Bill, when it finally came to be considered as a complete Measure, should be one of value to aviation. But I would like to say at the beginning that, although the hour is late, we are on the Third Reading, and, when the principles of the Bill are principles of magnitude, we cannot be expected extensively to cut short what we feel it necessary to say in regard to the Bill as it now stands.

The Measure is one which, in a very remarkable degree, has shown the expediency of having certain aspects of it considered by those responsible for bringing it to the House in the light of criticism, that is to say, the Under-Secretary of State and those who have been responsible for piloting the Measure. In many respects they have very reasonably and generously given way to a certain amount of criticism, but nevertheless we consider that the Bill to-day is one of considerable inconsistency. It is a compromise, and it shows the disadavantages of a Measure embodying serious compromises. Let us consider what the purpose of the Bill is in the main. The most important consideration in the Bill is the increase of subsidies from £1,000,000 to £1,500,000 a year as a maximum, to be granted in subsidies to aviation transport companies. That amount of money is to be found by millions of direct and indirect taxpayers in this country who are not likely to get any direct advantage from the progress of aviation, and I think we ought to consider very seriously what advantage they may be able to get indirectly.

We have heard in the course of these Debates a great deal about the importance of aviation to this country. I am not concerned to deny the importance of aviation, as, indeed, of other industries, especially new and growing industries, to the economic development of the coup. try, but we ought to know why aviation is so important that millions of taxpayers in this country, who will never have any chance of direct advantage or gain from aviation, must be asked to continue to provide the money for these new and in creasing subsidies to private concerns. First of all, aviation itself—the idea that we live in a world of speed. That is all very well, but I remember the late G. K. Chesterton telling of a resident in the part of the country in which he lived who boasted about finding some transport connection that saved him a quarter of an hour a day, and he was very proud of having done it. Mr. Chesterton's com ment was to ask him what he did with the quarter of an hour, and there was no answer. When we get, as the basis of asking for huge sums of money from the House, the vague statement that aviation is something that has to be developed and fostered, we are entitled to inquire why, and what advantage there is for the great bulk of the people. I do not deny that there is advantage, but I want to know what it is. Is it a question of air-mindedness? I suppose greater speed in commercial correspondence is of some importance, but I do not see why commercial people should not themselves foot the Bill if they want greater speed in their letters. I am inclined to consider that the real importance of aviation is the matter of training pilots and providing the basis of military development.

Captain GUEST

Hear, hear!


That is admitted by a right hon. and gallant Gentleman who, of all people in the House, ought to know what is behind the demand for vast public expenditure upon civil aviation. If that is the reason, these expenses ought to come in the Air Ministry Votes, and not in a Bill of this character purporting to subsidise civil aviation, because of its importance from a civil point of view.

Captain GUEST

I think they do come under the Air Estimates. There is an increase in Vote 8.


I am perfectly well aware that Vote 8 deals with civil aviation, because civil aviation comes under the Air Ministry, but we are not dealing with Vote 8 to-night and, when I said it should be a question of Air Ministry responsibility, I meant on the military and not on the civil side. It ought to take its proper place, and the House and the country ought to understand what this £1,500,000 to subsidise private air transport is being asked for. The point of view of the Labour party upon this Bill is that public money ought not to be granted to private monopolies without public responsibility and public representation upon the boards even of public utility companies. The idea of subsidising—I quote the phrase from an article in one of the flying papers: in order to carry out the anxiety to see air transport take its place among ordinary capitalist commercial enterprises, that is the meaning of the phrase that was used, that aviation some day may fly by itself. It is that the public shall find millions upon millions of money in order to foster the development of Air Ministry and then the State has to be kicked out and the industry has to be left to fly by itself and make its profits by itself and for itself. Viscount Elibank recently said: In all the circumstances it would be an act of folly to split the available sub- sidy funds among concerns operating either now or prospectively over the same route merely on the ground that it is a good thing to encourage competition. I agree that monopolies, as a general rule, are had, but in the development of our Imperial communications unity of control and administration is essential for efficiency. I should like that phrase to be remembered for a moment: for the planning of long-term policies, for the negotiation of concessions with overseas countries, and for the most economic employment of public funds in the form of subsidies. He goes on to speak about Imperial Airways and British Airways. So that after that public enterprise has succeeded in building up a highly profitable air commerce, the public are to be politely told to get out. Let me put this point: If the Government have no other alternative than to entrust plans of air services in the North Atlantic—this is a very vital point in connection with the whole of the discussions—to Imperial Airways, why is that not the case with regard to the route in the South Atlantic? If the South Atlantic route is to be open to tender, why not the North Atlantic route? There are five companies according to the statement of the Under-Secretary of State, that have been ready to submit plans for the South Atlantic proposal. That of Imperial Airways is a huge monopolistic concern. I have personally no objection to that monopoly as such, but if there is to be a monopoly and it is to be fostered by subsidies, we want to know why there should not be a greater public control and representation than there is. I know that there is some public representation. The Government hold 25,000 shares, but there is to be a great increase of capital. The public do not come in there. There are indications that that capital will be gambled with upon the Stock Exchange, and those gambling profits will be made by people who are really using public money for the purpose, and yet no increase of representation upon the board is proposed. Why is there no grant of shares in return for the amount of money which the House of Commons is asked to grant? The Under-Secretary of State, in his speech on Second Reading, said: The British air transport can best meet the very keen competition from abroad if it is handled by commercial companies in which the Government has a financial stake. T think that a State controlled organisation might very easily find itself severely handicapped in such a sphere of operations. There is the further danger that such a change might result in too cumbrous a unit of management, with a consequent rigidity which might well prove a handicap to efficiency and progress. If that is correct—and I would like the Under-Secretary to mark that point—it is just as much a case against giving a monopoly to Imperial Airways as it is against the State organisation of the air services. It is a privately-owned monopoly at the present time, and if that is the argument against a State (organisation, which is backed up by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) in very similar terms, it is, of course, the old out-of-date argument against Socialism used by people who do not understand what Socialists desire in connection with public enterprise. It is only when the public have a finger in the pie that it is said that the management becomes cumbrous and rigid.

This company and its associated companies serve four continents, and every day the machines of these companies fly a distance which approximates three-quarters of the earth's circumference. It has dealings in 25 currencies, carried over 24 million letters last year, travelled three times as far as it did five years ago, and had almost four times as much transport. That being so, if it is dangerous from the point of view of efficiency to make the air service a public service, as we propose, then from the same point of view it is dangerous to vest these monopolistic powers in Imperial Airways. But I am not taking that line. I think that Imperial Airways does its work exceedingly efficiently although there are some in this House who disagree with me. It is a very fine organisation, a big organisation, and it would he just as possible for that organisation to become a public utility concern, more directly responsible to this House, with public money at least having something to do with public interests and ultimate public control. We do not desire that our idea of development in this direction should be misunderstood. Socialist Members, and the Labour party generally, do not propose that every type of industry should be directly State managed. There are some types of industry which can be managed better that way. The Post Office is, of course, an obvious illustration because of the nature of the business it conducts. We suggest that in the case of the air you have a medium which is world-wide, which has no frontiers, no barriers, and we say that it should belong to the whole community and that it should be developed for public purposes by the public. In this matter of air navigation we should avoid the muddle we have seen in the development of other forms of transport for the last 100 years. Professor Keynes put the matter thus: In many cases the ideal size for the unit of control and organisation lies somewhere between the individual and the modern State. I suggest, therefore, that progress lies in the growth and the recognition of semi-autonomous bodies within the State—bodies whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public good as they understand it, and from whose deliberations motives of private advantage are excluded, though some place it may be necessary to leave, until the ambit of men's altruism grows wider, to the separate advantage of particular groups, classes, or faculties—bodies in which the ordinary course of affairs are mainly autonomous within their prescribed limitations, but are subject in the last resort to the sovereignty of democracy expressed through Parliament. If we take the history of transport—railways, road transport, or even public concerns like electricity and agriculture in their modern public developments—we find precisely the same thing that I have suggested we are in danger of finding in regard to air navigation, and that is that we begin by considering vested interests. As the industry develops, there is evident the impossibility of allowing complete private control, because the public must come in somewhere. All sorts of compromises come about, as happened in the case of railways and road transport. With regard to railway development, from 1834 the companies showed a tendency to combine, in 1839 a Select Committee of this House reported that railways should not be allowed to combine unchecked by competition and uncontrolled by authority. Mr. Gladstone's Committee in 1844 proposed price revision, provision for the State buying the railways in 10 years, and for Parliamentary trains. They supported the Parliamentary train and got it, evidently to provide Mr. W. S. Gilbert with one of the punishments which fit the crime. We went on until the War, when it was found necessary to nationalise the railways. We went back from that after the War, and to-day a kind of compromise. It is the same in the case of electricity and road transport. You have the electricity undertaking in a state of perfect chaos and in the case of the London Passenger Transport Act you have to-day a compromise because it is impossible to carry on a competitive individualistic concern under modern transport conditions; you have a compromise which satisfies no one. One may instance other industries to show how disadvantageous it is not to take at the beginning of a new industry the opportunity to arrange and organise it for the public service when it is in the nature of a monopoly, as the air service must be. Where it is a, question of a monopoly, as air navigation must be, we should begin right and see that the community which will have to foot the bill rather extensively should have real effective control.

A word upon the question of insurance. There again we have an illustration of compromise. We welcome the little bit which has been given us by the Government on the question of insurance, but at the same time the whole thing is inconsistent and absurd. You still have left the absurd notion that you have to consider the question of insurance against accidents from the standpoint of the machine itself. Why? Because insurance companies will not give an unlimited insurance for property as for life. In that case, why not consider even now, because there is still time to do it, if insurance companies are willing to give anything approaching unlimited insurance for life, making it a question of unlimited insurance for life, leaving your restrictions upon property? That would be the sensible way of dealing with the question. Captain Lamplugh, of the British Aviation Insurance Company, a great authority on insurance, says: Aviation has burst, or perhaps more literally has crashed, upon a world of transport which, generally speaking, was well appreciated by the whole community, and the insurance world in general is trying to assimilate or digest a form of hazard of which it has no previous experience. There are only a few hundred aerodromes in the country and that is an argument for broadening the whole question of air insurance so that aircraft insurance can be covered for a greater risk. He went on to say: Aviation insurers will naturally be anxious to avoid increasing third-party premium rates. This is not a question of altruism but of sheer business common sense. The increase of aviation insurance business is bound up with the increase of civil aviation … It must be borne in mind that, at the moment, the cost of insurance is divided between a very small number of insured, as compared with motor car insurance, for example. We are to look forward to a big increase in flying in this country, and that means that the insurance companies will then have experience and will be able to decide as to the terms they can give for aircraft insurance. I think I am entitled to ask what guarantee there is in this Bill that when risks are lowered, as it is hoped they will be, by the increased use of aircraft, the premiums will come down? Surely the question of compulsory insurance ought to have been considered from a very much broader point of view, and from the point of view expressed by Captain Lamplugh. Aircraft insurance is in a tentative stage at the present time. As it becomes a much more certain business actuarially the way ought to be left open to deal with the question as to how we are to insure against accidents both to life and to property. The absurdity still remains in the Bill that you depend for a great deal of the insurance on the weight of the aircraft, which has nothing to do with the case. It ought to be possible to find some way in which, with the development of aviation, the insurance companies will find their feet and be able to offer reasonable insurance premiums, so that unlimited insurance, at least for human life, can be embodied in an amending Measure in the future, and the matter be dealt with in some sensible way, instead of being left at this very unsatisfactory compromise.

That is all I wish to say to-night. We have dealt with the Bill in its various stages. We have put our point of view, and I think it will be agreed that we have done so with reason and without any desire to hold up the progress of the Bill, for we recognise that, in the main, it is a necessary Bill and that the new aspects of aviation have to be dealt with by legislation in this House.


Captain GUEST

It is very difficult, unless one is moving the rejection of the Bill, to take the time of the House at this hour without being sorry for the Members one keeps here, but the Bill is of such importance to many of us that I ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. A phrase fell from my hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill which I would like to take up with a view to straightening out a thought which he was expressing, and in which I think he rather drew a wrong impression from a remark I had made previously. He conveyed to the House that I favoured this Bill and the development of civil aviation purely for the purpose of getting more military pilots. That is not so. I favour this Bill on its own merits, but I am glad to think that a large number of recruits who may come at some time or other to the defence of the nation in the air will be assisted by the operation of the Bill. I think that is a fairer way of putting the matter, because from the point of view of National Defence the more aviation there is of a civil and commercial nature the better. It is only by a volume of activity of this nature that we shall get a large number of men, both for flying and for working in the shops, who will come to the national aid in times of emergency. Therefore, I feel that the Bill is a good one. Our excuse for asking the House to consider certain details at this hour is the importance of the Bill. Aviation is a new science which is just being put on its legs and the Bill deals with it legislatively for the first time in an intelligible fashion. In other words, the Bill is the Magna Charta of civil aviation and as such it is worthy of special consideration, because on it will be founded the activities of civil aviation for the next 10 or 20 years.

To-night, I do not propose to go into the details of the Bill. I propose to ask the Under-Secretary to give attention to what may be described as a side-issue, but is a matter very closely linked with the Bill, although it has not played a large part so far in these discussions. The sum which the Bill proposes to hand over to civil aviation in excess of what has gone before is about £900,000 a year. A sum of £600,000 goes to one company in respect of services for Imperial purposes which have been efficient and admirable; but there is a further £900,000 to go to other companies for what may be called aeroplane or seaplane Empire routes, and we know that a large sum is to be devoted to the northern trans-Atlantic service. The Government a good many years ago decided that airships had no real value. Rightly or wrongly, after the untimely accident to R 101 they closed down their airship programme. I submit that there are good reasons for reconsidering that policy. The importance of this question has been brought to our notice by the tremendous illustration of airship possibilities which the Germans have given us, and there are certain facts and figures which the House may have omitted to notice and which might, I think, be usefully brought to their attention.

I have made a careful comparison of what an airship can do and the likelihood of what a seaplane can do on this route in regard to which the House is voting money to-night—because we are definitely voting money in relation to the North Atlantic route. The crossing of the North Atlantic is a matter which requires careful study, and I presume that it has already received careful study from whatever company is proposing to undertake this service. It is a very alarming study. Figures, which can be obtained by anybody, prove—and I think the view is supported by Colonel Lindbergh—that the extreme northern route, the Iceland-Greenland route, though shorter is impracticable and may be ruled out of consideration. The next possible route to be considered is the Ireland-Newfoundland route, and I ask the House to give attention to a comparison between airship performances and seaplane performances over that route and a comparison of costs as between two such services. The builders of the "Zeppelin" tell me that a quarter of a million would reproduce the "Hindenburg" quite easily, and I am informed that a comparable seaplane would cost £350,000. Then, when you come to consider what it could carry, you see that it could not carry half as much as a "Zeppelin." The actual figures are that a 134-ton seaplane would cost £340,000. If it was lucky, it might carry 32 people, and no freight, while, on the other hand, a "Zeppelin" could carry 100 people and 10 tons of freight.

Then you have to make a comparison of these forms of transport, not only on carrying capacity, but you have also to carry your mind further and consider such things as speed, fuel, fog, and storms, and it is on the word "storms" that I would lay stress. If you are flying a seaplane which can just carry itself, its fuel, and a limited number of passengers, it must stick to its route. If it comes down in the Atlantic, it has not very much hope. It has either got to go through or dive, and we know what the latter means. On the other hand, an airship can drift away in a storm, it can go on with its engines almost stopped, saving fuel all the time, and come in safely round the base of the storm, which may be 600 miles away. That is the feature that will attract the public—safety rather than speed—because both are much speedier than any of our ships on the sea, and safety will win the day in the end. I am told by one expert airship man that he frequently chases after a storm so as to get into the tail of it and be taken along with it, so as to increase his speed. You cannot conceive of a seaplane doing anything of the kind; all that it can do is to butt through as best it can. I looked up what is the percentage on the various routes of storm, wind, and fog, none of which affect the airship in any degree at all. The other day the "Hindenburg" came across, and I read in the papers that there was some trouble, a nose-dive, and that all the crockery was broken. I wrote to the captain about it, and he wrote back and said that it was true to a certain extent, but that the man on the elevator wheel was a beginner who had come to them to be trained, and he was a bit careless in his working of the elevator rudder. It happened to be just before lunch, when all the tables were set, and so the crockery was broken, but he said: In spite of that, he was butting into a wind of 60 miles an hour, and but for than little accident of broken crockery, the ship was as steady as when you crossed in it yourself three weeks before. When you consider the risks of the North Atlantic route for seaplanes, I find—I could produce argument after argument in favour of the reconsideration of the Government's airship policy—that the foggy days on the Ireland-Newfoundland route run into 30 per cent., there are 18 storm tracks on this route, and the 100 miles per hour winds run to about 22 per cent, of the days in the year. It is a problem which has not been sufficiently carefully considered, and I do ask the Government to reopen consideration of their airship policy, to devote a little of this money to reopening Cardington and getting together a staff. I am sure it will not be difficult to delve into this problem once again. The reason why I ask is that if we do not tackle it, we shall get left farther and farther behind.

In this connection let me say that only yesterday the "Hindenburg" came in, and I saw someone who had come across in it, and he said, "I wonder whether you people in Parliament know that two officers of the American Naval service were on board, one an admiral and the other his assistant, a captain." He gave me their names, but I have forgotten them. It was the same when I came over. The Americans are studying this thing with the greatest possible care. They realise that they have made mistakes in construction, as we did. They are not satisfied that the airship cannot fly, that it cannot be taken on by them. If it can be taken on by them, it can be taken on by us as well. Therefore, I think it is worth while asking the Ministry which is responsible for all forms of flying—and the word "airship" is just as much in the Bill as the word "aircraft"—to go into this thing with the greatest possible care. I find some curious statistics connected with civil commercial airship acitvity. One is that in 20 years no paying passenger has been injured. The only accidents that have occurred involving loss of life have occurred in experimental flights. A company in America called the Goodyear Company have four airships and they are training 26 pilots a year. Everyone of them who is trained on civil airships becomes a potential war pilot. Whichever way we look at it, other countries are doing more than we are. It looks like the story of aeroplane development on our military side spread over the last three years. We are just not doing things. We are letting other people do the things and we are hoping there will be sufficient time to catch up. It is a dangerous policy to follow in these tricky days.

If it is not out of order, I would like to throw a consideration or two into the minds of hon. Members who wonder sometimes whether an airship has any military value. This is very little off the general subject of our Debate because, after all, the airship is capable of both commercial service and some military use. The military use was referred to shortly after the War by great naval experts, and both Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty committed themselves to saying that one airship was worth six cruisers. What they meant was that for convoy purposes they were invaluable. It seems to me that to have commercial airships which you can use for some other purpose at some other time is well worth increased consideration. It is said that the submarine greatly fears the airship. For this and other reasons I do not think the House should be put off in pressing the Government into developing the airship programme because some may think it useless for military purposes.

Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER

Is the "Hindenburg" filled with hydrogen or helium, or with both?

Captain GUEST

Entirely hydrogen. The reasons are that it is cheaper and has an increased lifting power of 10 per cent. over helium. The fact that we were unlucky with R101 should not make us afraid to try again. I have been told things about R101 which frightened me in some ways, and I feel I must pass the little bit of information I have collected on to the House of Commons. I do so in perfect good faith. It is that the principal reason for its collapse was faulty construction. I have had it explained to me as an amateur that the valves were in the wrong place and were lateral instead of the other way. When the ship rolled she lost her gas and she went to the ground because she had not the buoyancy necessary to carry her own weight. I mention that because I think we can learn lessons from other people. I would not be averse as a taxpayer From giving an order to Dr. Eckener to build us an airship. I would not be too proud to do that. Other countries are buying our aeroplane engines because they know we can make them better, and why should we be too proud to buy a commercial machine of that sort from the country which can build it? When we are voting enormous sums of money—to be handed over to I do not know whom—to various firms whose chief objective is to cross the Atlantic by seaplanes, this other way of getting over should be taken into serious consideration.

I should like to draw attention to a little further information which I have collected, and that is that negotiations are going on to-day which, if they are concluded—and there is no reason why they should not be—will mean that in four or six years there will be four great countries flying the oceans with their ships—Germany, America, Holland and Japan. If that is anywhere near true, and in my belief it is true, it is the business of the Ministry to give the House some answer on this important point. Can we afford to lag behind? We are not so poor that we cannot afford to keep pace with the activities of other countries. It is all the greater pity when it is remembered that at one time we were a long way ahead of other countries. In 1919 we sent the R34 to America successfully, and then, shortly after the loss of the R101, we closed down. We have really wasted the nine years' start we had in airship construction, management and navigation, and I hope that this Bill, with all its good qualities, will be accompanied by some definite statement from the Ministry that this point will not be lost sight of, at least that further investigation will be made. I had the good fortune the other evening to be supported by the late Secretary of State for Air, who said that he himself had been in favour of carrying on further experiments of this nature. Therefore, I hope that the Ministry, who have been able to produce a magnificent Magna Charta for civil aviation, will not allow themselves to go down in history as having been not big enough and not brave enough to consider competition in airships such as is being undertaken by other countries.

11.43 p.m.


We have now got to the Third Reading of this Bill, and I think that those of us who are interested in air matters should pay our tribute of thanks to the Patronage Secretary for the time of the House which he has given to us. I should like to thank him for the fact that we had the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, and that we have had time for full consideration of the Measure. My right hon. and gallant Friend has pleaded the cause of the airship. I do not think this Debate is an occasion to go into that area. But I was on the commission that investigated the loss of the R101, and I cannot admit for one moment that that airship came to ground through lack of buoyancy. You can bring an airship down tail first through lack of buoyancy, but that airship came down nose first, and that is inexplicable except through some catastrophe which has never been explained.


Was it not because the netting which held the gas bags down had been released to give greater capacity? The gas bags chafed against the rigid structure and she lost gas, and that was the cause of the loss of buoyancy.


I did not interrupt before, but we cannot get into a debate on what caused that disaster.


I could answer all those observations of the hon. and gallant Member, because I am very familiar with this particular case. My hon. and gallant Friend should read the report again. There were not even nets on the gas bags.




My hon. Friend who is leading the Opposition made two points on which he asked for an answer. One was, Why pay money to civil aviation? That is a big point which I do not think ought to be answered by a private Member. It is to be answered from the Treasury Bench ex cathedra, with all the authority of the Treasury Bench. His second point was, Why not nationalise? A true Socialist, I suppose, would like to nationalise everything, down to children, and the true Conservative would like to run everything by private enterprise, down to private armies. There are hundreds of things lying between those two extremes upon which it is very difficult to take a decision, and I think this matter is one of them. The choice between nationalisation and running by private enterprise is a very narrow one. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that if you are to take the line of running it by the State, it is as well to do it at the beginning, and not later on.

We ought to pay tribute to Lord Londonderry, because it was due to him that the Gorell Committee was set up, and that at least part of civil aviation was freed of control by the State which was having a very severe effect upon it. The insurance schemes seem somewhat experimental and perhaps not wholly satisfactory, but they are a great experiment and we have given great powers to the Ministry to control our civil aviation as a great commercial asset. It is on the great air line routes that the importance of this Bill must rest.

We can refresh ourselves with this thought, that Imperial Airways, although a chosen instrument of the Government, is not the only instrument. There are to be competing companies. Although I voted against the Second Reading of the Bill, I must thank the Government for inserting, not under tremendous pressure, this Clause, which puts before this House any agreement which the Government may make with private companies, and allows us to bring it under debate, even after 12 o'clock. That point was not included in the Bill when it started, and I again thank the Government very much for putting it in. I am still not wholly satisfied with the arrangement that has been come to. I know that the arrangement with the Imperial Airways is, so to speak, a hybrid, a mixture of Socialism, private enterprise and competition. I suppose the genius of this race for compromise may make a success of it; but I am not frightfully happy about it. I still think it is to this country that oppressed nations turn when they say their prayers; they look upon us as standing for more than any of them.

In the development of civil aviation, we are going to send from this country a piece of England, and this country will be judged by what arrives from it out there. I would like to be assured that when an aeroplane arrives from this country it is the best and the fastest in the world. It has to reflect and to be a complete example of the genius of this Country, its great workmen and its great engineering. I do not quite see how you are always to have the best achievement if you try to combine private profits with running a great Imperial air service. The excuse will be constantly put before us that they cannot afford the best machines because they have to pay dividends. We have had that said already, and we are very inclined through that to lag behind. I do not see how we are to bring that before Parliament, how we are constantly to urge these lines to be really up-to-date, unless we all become shareholders in Imperial Airways and turn up at the annual meetings, which would not be a satisfactory way. We have launched this Measure to-night. Whether it will be air-worthy or not time alone will show. I would like to have seen more imagination put into it. This is one of the few times we have dealt with civil aviation apart from its distressing connection with war. I hope that this Measure will allow us to see in our time superlative air lines running from this country and linking up all parts of the world. I wish the Measure "God-speed."

11.51 p.m.


The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said that millions of people in this country would never get any benefit from the subsidy that is to be paid under this Bill. In my constituency we grow a lot of tomatoes, and I hope one day to see them transported by air all over the country. That would benefit even the poorest people, because the tomatoes would be transported cheaply and the people would get cheap tomatoes. I want to see the carriage of light merchandise by air, as is done extensively and cheaply by American airways, to the benefit of a great many people. The subsidies under this Bill are small compared with the subsidies given to the agricultural industry. I doubt if we are allowing enough money under the Bill to develop civil aviation properly.


The hon. and gallant Member uses the illustration of the subsidies to agriculture. Those subsidies have not succeeded in providing cheap milk and other produce for the people of this country.


I was talking about the transport aspect only, and of civil aviation being developed so that light merchandise could be transported cheaply for the benefit of the people. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) in saying that we should pay a tribute to Lord Londonderry and the Gorell Committee for the hard work and investigations which they have brought to fruition in this Bill. I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air on the way he has handled this Bill. I would like to ask him a question about the North Atlantic service. We saw two machines at Messrs. Short which we were told were to be converted for flying the North Atlantic. I would have thought that for a big problem like flying the North Atlantic a special machine would be designed, instead of Empire route machines being converted. It is a big problem, and it ought to be tackled by having a special machine built for crossing the Atlantic. Has the Under-Secretary any design for that now? When we visited Messrs. Short's works I did not see any new design under construction at all. There were 28 of one type, except for the two machines which were being given extra tanks to increase their range up to 3,000 miles. In our submarine days we always used to have other types being built, like the A, B and C class submarines, one better than the other; and the same was the case when we were developing flying boats at Felixstowe. Is the Under-Secretary going on with that? Is a machine design being got out for crossing the North Atlantic? I should also like to ask when the trials are going to take place of the machines which are under construction at Messrs. Short's works for flying the Atlantic; and when the experiments are to be carried out with Messrs. Short's special type of machine for flying the Atlantic These have been a long time under construction, and it is time we heard more about the trials.

With regard to the Southern Atlantic, we have been told that five schemes have been submitted, and that these five schemes have been gone into and referred back to the proposers; but all this is taking months, and I submit that we might speed up a little, and try to get an air route established across the Southern Atlantic. I have said before that I had a letter from a naval captain in the Argentine in which he said that our prestige was suffering because we had not a line running out there, and British people in the Argentine objected strongly to their letters coming by German and French air mails, and were asking why they could not come by a British air route. I should be glad if the right hon. Baronet would he kind enough to answer these questions.

11.58 p.m.


While I should like to associate myself with those who have expressed appreciation of the labours of the Gorell Committee, I regret that we here are not able to express similar appreciation of the results, because we are not enamoured of the principles embodied in this Bill. I do not intend at this late hour to keep the House for many minutes, and there are certain aspects of the Bill which I will content myself with summarising in order to make clear the attitude that I, at any rate, take towards it. In the first place I would point out that the title "Air Navigation Bill" is a complete misnomer. The Bill not only deals with air navigation—indeed, it deals very little with air navigation—but it is an Air Planning Bill, it is an Air Subsidy Bill, it is an Air Insurance Bill, it drags in several other matters relating to the Air Force, and it deals with the wages and conditions of employment of persons employed in various activities of civil aviation. I think there could be no more unsuitable name for it than "Air Navigation Bill."

I should like it to be on record that I have said that this Bill ought not to have been brought before the House as one Measure. The House has not had the opportunity of giving adequate consideration to all the principles involved in the Bill, and, indeed, anyone who wished to make a comprehensive or even an adequate Third Reading speech on it would have to be something of a debating athlete. I do not intend at this late hour to attempt to qualify for that distinction, but it ought to be made perfectly clear that we do not agree that the Bill can be looked upon as a magnificent charter of civil aviation, as it was described just now by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest). The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) wanted our civil avia- tion to be an example to the rest of the world; he stated that this country stands for more than any other country. When one wishes to discontinue the standing position, one does so either to advance with rapidity or to retire. I can only agree with him in the latter sense, that this country has stood for a very great deal in the sense of declining to offer resistance where it ought to have resisted.

May I say a word about the responsibility of the State directors? We on this side are very disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman in that he has failed to grasp a great opportunity for bringing the industry under State control. We want to ask him to give us as much as he can of that principle. The first thing he can do is to ensure that the State directors on the board of the greatest civil aviation company, Imperial Airways, are instructed as to their duties. We have had most disquieting examples in different Debates of the way in which Imperial Airways has looked upon its national responsibilities. We found that it regarded itself as in the position—to use a colloquial expression—of a dog in the manger and viewed with envy any attempt by smaller companies to impinge upon what it considered to be its monopoly on any air route. We even found that it declined to give assistance in the removal of wreckage. Carrying that principle a little further, though no such example was quoted, it would decline to assist in such measures as extinguishing fires. I hope the right hon. Baronet will not belittle this. It was made clear that Imperial Airways is not alive to its national responsibilities, and the only way we have of bringing those responsibilities to their notice is to instruct the State directors to see that they are observed.

A further defect in the Bill is its provisions in regard to insurance. On the plea that the paucity of premiums greatly increases the liability to be borne by one company in the case of a serious accident, the Bill completely abrogates every principle of insurance that has been on the Statute Book before, except in the limited case of merchant shipping, where the analogy is not a correct one. If the Bill had approached the principle of insurance for aircraft in a proper manner, it would have taken it out of the hands of private enterprise altogether. If you have four, five or six companies splitting up the business, obviously upon one of them one accident might fall with extreme severity, but if you take the total amount of premiums which would be paid by every aeroplane in flight and offset against them the total amount of damage done by every aeroplane in flight throughout the year, it would be very much easier to arrive at a better actuarial premium and make it a more businesslike proposition.

The Bill does a great deal, but what it omits is perhaps even more serious, because we have contended—and I believe we have right and wisdom on our side—that the real way to make civil aviation prosper is to make it pay. Profit, as our system stands, is the first and final criterion of success. We temporarily accept that principle and say if you want to make civil aviation prosper you must make it pay. If you wish to make it pay, the only way is to expend more money upon research in order to design machines which will carry a paying load without subsidy of any kind.


I would remind the hon. Member that on the Third Reading the House can discuss only what is in the Bill, and not what is not in the Bill.


I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for having been diverted to that interesting theme. I have a list here containing a number of things which this Bill does not do, but I believe that I can make my position clear by saying that the Bill does a great number of things which it ought not to do, and that it does not do the things which it ought to do. I will abstain from quoting the Prayer Book, but we all know how the ancient words put it. Though the right hon. Gentleman has lost the opportunity of putting a State Measure upon the Statute Book, he will at any rate do one thing before he quits his present office: he will inaugurate an inquiry and provide a plan, so that when his successors come, as inevitably they will, to make this a State enterprise, he will have sown the seed for the harvest which we shall reap.

12.8 p.m.


The, hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) pleaded for a nationalised Air Service, and both of them used reasonable arguments. An enterprise partly private and partly subsidised is easy to attack, but it has certain advantages. I think that in this case the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, but I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is nothing that is final in this world. In my lifetime I have seen a very great extension of State action. Services are now given by the State which were not thought of in my boyhood. If there is a better way of running a great service like the Air Service—a better way than a subsidised service—I believe that the British people, with their political genius, will recognise the fact.

The hon. Member for North Aberdeen made some criticism of Imperial Airways, and I, too, want to deal with the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), who, I think I can show, quite innocently misled the House, or rather was misled himself, in the account that was given to him of the accident which took place at Croydon Aerodrome. What happened was that an aeroplane crashed because the pilot had not wound down the under-carriage. According to the complaint made by the company who owned the aeroplane, they applied to Imperial Airways to remove the wreckage. They actually started upon the work, but when it was discovered by the official of Imperial Airways that they were helping a firm under their boycott, they immediately instructed their men to discontinue the work. Therefore, as my hon. Friend very properly said, they not only did not assist in taking the aeroplane to a place of safety, but they left a danger spot on the aerodrome.

I have taken the trouble to find out exactly what happened, and I think that my hon. Friend will see that he has been rather seriously misled. At a late hour on the night of 8th June an aircraft belonging to Air Dispatch was damaged in the way that I have stated. The foreman of Imperial Airways night shift was asked by Air Dispatch to bring the damaged aircraft to the shed. He went with a tractor and two or three men to the damaged machine but found that it could not be towed without risk of further damage, and that a considerable amount of work would be required to jack it up on a trolley before it could be removed. At that time the night shift of Imperial Airways were fully engaged in preparing their own aircraft for the next day's service and could not without dislocation allow their own maintenance work to be held up for other work. I need not remind the House of the immense importance of maintenance work which goes on always before a flight is begun. The foreman, therefore, asked the Air Port Control Officer whether he considered the damaged machine was a danger. The House knows that the Air Port Control Officer is not an employé of Imperial Airways, but is employed by the Air Ministry. The Air Port Control Officer replied that it had been marked with red lights and he did not propose to ask assistance of Imperial Airways in removing it. Therefore, the foreman of Imperial Airways did not feel justified in taking the men on the night shift off their regular work, but they did lend to Air Dispatch all the plant and tools they desired, including powerful jacks of various types, timber and other appliances. I think the House will admit that is a very different story. The decision to leave the wreck on the aerodrome was not taken by Imperial Airways but by the Air Port Control Officer and Imperial Airways did all they could, in view of their own work, to assist in the salvage.

The last speaker alluded to the charges made against Imperial Airways. On that I plead in aid what the hon. Member for West Islington said. He said air transport must be a monopoly, and when you have a great service that is built up partly with the taxpayers' money and partly by shareholders' money you cannot allow people to come and butt in and have the cream of your traffic and disorganise your own traffic. I am sure the House will admit that. For my part I entirely accept the assurance of the right hon. Baronet that he will see that these somewhat difficult relations between the subsidised company and the unsubsidised one are properly regulated. I would also remind the House that there are two Government directors on the board of Imperial Airways. What is happening is that the service is built up and the goodwill is created, and then perhaps some unsubsidised line comes and tries to push off some of its passengers on to the subsidised line. It pushes off the least profitable part of that traffic and expects the subsidised line to accept passengers and goods on uncompleted obligations. I mean by that that the contract is not made by the subsidised line but by the unsubsidised, and anybody who knows anything about the law of national and international air transport knows what a complicated matter it is. I would plead that after consideration, the State has given this monopoly and is going to give some more monopolies and on that monoply public money will be borrowed. I should like to say a word to the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate). She has been one of the most active critics of Imperial Airways.


And still is.


She quite frankly told the House that she hoped to be interested in, and I am sure she will take an honourable and distinguished part in, the trans-Atlantic air service. I sincerely hope she will and I wish her well. But may I say that when she comes to work that service and is faced with all the practical and immense difficulties of building up a great air transport line, I think she will find that criticism is one thing and action is another. I had the inestimable advantage of sitting on the Board of Imperial Airways when they were starting, and I may tell the House that the difficulties at one time seemed to me almost insuperable. It has been a very difficult thing and a very great performance for that company to have built up a great service which, as the hon. Member for West Islington has told us, flies every day three-quarters the circumference of the world at the Equator and serves 25 different countries. It is a very easy thing in an enterprise of this sort to find faults here and there, but I put it to the House that the great fact remains that there is a service, and it is operating efficiently and with success. Whether some other form of control, such as State control may come, I do not know, for I am not a prophet, but what I do know is that nobody can have anything to do with that service without feeling an immense interest in air transport. I want to see it en- couraged, and to see all such enterprises encouraged. I want to see us lead in the air as for many centuries we have led on the seas.

12.17 a.m.


I am not, like the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) withdrawing my objection to the Bill because I believe it is not nearly as much a Magna Charta for civil aviation as it is a Magna Charta for Imperial Airways. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) begrudges the money for commercial aviation and cannot understand how it affects the ordinary man in this country. I think the whole of our future trade and the whole of our future relationships with our Empire are bound up with the development of commercial aviation. It is, therefore, very difficult to understand how the ordinary citizen in this country is not to be benefited by the development of air services. It is because I am sure that under this Bill, which gives to Imperial Airways this enormous subsidy for as long a period as another 15 years, that we shall not have the development of civil aviation for which we have a right to hope that I propose to vote against this Bill to-night. I admit that in some ways Imperial Airways has built up a magnificent service and I admit that it is, compared with many other lines in the world, a very safe service, but I think that we are very rash to hand over this subsidy for 15 years without the power of revision and without any check as to the services that we are being given.

The right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain F. Guest) mentioned that £900,000 was to be devoted to the schemes connected with the Atlantic, and he spoke as though the North Atlantic route were still open to tender. That route is already given to Imperial Airways, and I may say that another route given to Imperial Airways is the West Coast of Africa. One of the things to which I object is that Imperial Airways has the West Indies, the West Africa and the North Atlantic routes for 15 years irrespective of whether it runs a line or not. Once we have passed this Bill, we shall have no power to say whether the subsidy shall continue to be given and whether those routes shall be con- fined to Imperial Airways if it has not utilised its power to run services on them.

The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) mentioned the South Atlantic scheme. We understood from the Under-Secretary that the scheme was open to tender and, as the House knows, five schemes were submitted, with one of which I was connected. The House also knows that all the schemes were returned to the applicants by the Air Ministry. I was lucky enough to see several of the letters, apart from the one which was connected with my own scheme, and I can only say that anyone who has read them cannot possibly suppose that the Air Ministry at the present time have the smallest intention that the South Atlantic route shall be run at an early date, and certainly not by any of the companies which have tendered for it. Within the last few days I have had information from one of the largest financial houses in this country to the effect that they understand that that route is, in fact, already given to Imperial Airways. I do not mind who has the route, but I do say that it is imperative that we should have a service across the South Atlantic. It is deplorable that other countries should to-day be flying the South Atlantic, that the Germans should even be flying the North Atlantic, and that this country should not be flying on either route. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth said that we ought not to be too proud to buy an airship from Germany if we feel that they are ahead of ourselves in the building of airships. I say that we ought not to be too proud to copy the airships or the seaplanes of any other country if they are superior to those which we ourselves produce. What matters is that we should have the best machines obtainable in the world and make them ourselves at the earliest possible moment; but we cannot afford to allow the air routes of the Atlantic to be flown by other countries because we are not capable of producing machines to fly them ourselves.

An hon. Member has asked when we are to expect the trial flights of the Short machines. As the Under-Secretary told me in answer to a question to-day, the trial flight of the first of the Empire boats is expected to take place in a month's time, but we know that that is already four months later than was originally intended. I do not believe that, good as those boats are, they are comparable with the seaplanes being built to-day in other parts of the world and flying in other parts of the world. I think it is regrettable that Imperial Airways should have paid the dividends it has paid before it had managed to make its aeroplanes at least comparable to the best being produced in other parts of the world. No other company pays dividends unless it has kept its plant up-to-date. I believe that Imperial Airways has fallen too far behind in the type of machine which it allows to be flown on its routes, and if we pass this Bill we may he sure that it will be able to go on in the same way for another 15 years at least. I think this is a matter which ought to come before the House for revision in seven years' time and that is why I intend to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.

12.26 a.m.

Captain PLUGGE

I would like to intervene in this Debate because the question has been raised of the value of civil aviation in the furtherance of military aviation, because if I may be permitted to say so, I had the opportunity of gaining a great deal of experience on that subject, as a member of the Inter-Allied Aeronautical Commission of Control in Berlin, which commission framed the rules for the limitation of German civil aviation in order that it might not be used for military purposes. In past debates and indeed in this present one there appears to have been an assumption that the subsidy of £1,500,000 for which power is sought under this Bill would be allotted in totality to Imperial Airways unconditionally and for the full period of 15 years. That assumption has been dispelled by the pronouncement by the Under-Secretary for Air that the Fisher Committee was set up for the specific purpose of watching the progress and development of our international air routes and with a view to seeing that the money provided and services available by way of assistance was utilised in the most efficient way possible. I personally consider and hope that the Government will continue on the advice of that committee to allow the major developments of our Imperial air services to be carried out by Imperial Airways. I am sure that many hon. Members here who recently visited my constituency and had the opportunity of inspecting the magnificent flying boats being built for Imperial Airways by Messrs. Short Brothers at Rochester, will share my view.

The speeches of hon. Members opposite would lead one to believe that vast profits can be made on long-distance civil aviation routes, especially if such enterprise could be supported by Government subsidy. The reply to that suggestion is to examine the financial returns of the principal aircraft operating companies. In so doing we find that the highest dividend paid by Imperial Airways never exceeded 3.6 per cent. It is true that Imperial Airways shares stand rather high at present but that is merely indicative of confidence of speculators in the future of civil aviation and of their faith in the generosity of the Government subsidy. To divide the subsidy among a, great number of small air lines in all parts of the Empire would not be conducive to securing an improved and valuable Empire air service. As we have seen from various examples, it would only tend to increase the cost per ton mile and either decrease the chances of greater speed or increase the risk under which the services run. If we look back to the year 1924, the date of the formation of Imperial Airways, we see that the Government then found themselves faced with the disagreeable situation of having four competing companies, all on the verge of bankruptcy. The method adopted was the formation of a single company which could enjoy the maximum traffic available and make the most efficient use of whatever subsidy was available from the Exchequer.

What is the financial result of that policy? There has been a long-term Government contract and a subsidy on a diminishing scale. If we examine the records of the committee instituted by the League of Nations, dealing with the subsidies granted to civil aviation in different countries, we find that the system adopted by this country of subsidising Imperial Airways is a very satisfactory one. We find that in Great Britain the subsidy amounts to 3s. 5d. per ton mile; in Germany, 4s. 10d.; in France, 8s. 11d.; and in Italy, 12s. 5d. per ton mile. These figures show that our policy of concentration has to date enabled us to work far more efficiently than other countries. All this shows that on empire routes there is nothing to be gained by allowing one British company to compete against another. We need to concentrate all our forces on overcoming as effectively as possible the competition of foreign air services, and that can never be done if we dissipate a large part of this £1,500,000 on supporting cut-throat competition among our own nationals. From where can we learn a lesson? We might turn towards the United States of America, which is often quoted as the most forward country so far as civil aviation is concerned. I had the opportunity of visiting the United States last year and of crossing from New York to California, and there is no doubt that the Americans have got a very excellent system of civil aviation. But what is it costing them? Here again I would like to quote some of the figures. These figures are given by the Federal Aviation Commission. This commission published figures in 1935. We read that between the years 1927 and 1929 over 500,000,000 dollars were invested in civil aviation—well over £100,000,000. Moreover, during the last seven years up to 1933 the Federal Government itself contributed £25,000,000 on air transport. That amounts to £3,000,000 a year. Now what do the Federal Aviation Commission state in their findings: It appears in short, that financial disaster is in the making for a large part of the present air transport system. Whether it makes its appearance in six weeks or six months or longer we cannot state, but we cannot see how it can be postponed indefinitely. That is the position which has arisen in a country where competitive bidding in the air mail service was encouraged. Now for the final conclusions of the Federal Aviation Commission. This reads: The, present competitive bidding in the air mail business is of doubtful value, and is more or less a myth. If we throw these matters open to competitive bidding, you will find promoters coming in and wanting to bid for contracts, having no knowledge of the cost, having no knowledge of the factor of obsolescence, having no knowledge of the amount of equipment they have to throw away each year because of the improvements in the art, having no knowledge of the bad luck and the unusual losses that are not directly incidental to aviation. The concluding sentence reads: We believe that we should be better off if we could pick our man in the present state of the art, rather than to submit the results to competitive bidding. I think, therefore, it would be most unfortunate if we were to expose to the risks of competitive tender the management and imaginative scheme put forward last year by the Air Ministry and Post Office for developing a system of frequent and cheap air mails to all parts of our Empire. Visualise for a moment the wonderful opportunity the United States affords to civil aviation. Here is a land 3,000 miles across with over 100,000,000 people all speaking the same language, with no customs and no frontiers. Without trouble beacons can be erected right throughout the land 10 to 20 miles apart with their white revolving beam and their red signal continuously flashing the morse code letter indicative of each position. Yet by advocating this competitive bidding they find on trial that it has not proved a success. We have another example this time much more close to us. It is an example provided by the problems of London transport. When I came back from the Spa Conference, where I was one of the aeronautical delegates, I was asked by the then hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, a genius in transport matters, now Lord Ashfield, to join his group of underground companies. This group then controlled the London General Omnibus Company. We were faced on the roads of London with the competition of what was known as pirate omnibuses.


We cannot go into London Transport.

Captain PLUGGE

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to make the point that encouraging small companies taking the cream of the transport was not a thing to be advocated, and eventually it was dispensed with in this field, too. I think, therefore, it would be a great disadvantage if we were to allow the money of this subsidy to be dissipated instead of being used to place British air transport on the trunk routes of the Empire beyond the influence of foreign competition. I would like to say in conclusion that the Under-Secretary of State for Air deserves the heartiest congralulations of all those who are most interested and concerned in the wellbeing of British civil aviation, for his hard work and pertinacity in carrying this Bill through this House, and I hope that in future years when these air lines run safely and regularly between the various parts of the Empire and to the far ends of the earth, and when our system of Empire air communications is the envy of the world and a source of new strength and wealth to our Imperial heritage, his responsibility for its inception will not be subject to the oblivion of time.

12.35 a.m.


There is one matter I wish to bring to the attention of the Government. I am a regular reader of a periodical called the "New Yorker." I see that the Under-Secretary, by the look on his face, is also a regular reader of this most interesting paper. In its edition of 6th June of this year there is an advertisement which has been paid for and inserted by Imperial Airways which boosts its new flying boats, and after a long description of the flying boats it finally ends up by saying the weight fully loaded will be about 20 tons and the speed about 200 miles per hour. I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether that is true. On the information I received when we went to see those new flying boats at Short's this advertisement is deliberately misleading because these flying boats will not cruise at anything like 200 miles an hour if they are fully loaded. We are giving the Minister power to-night to pay out to Imperial Airways a sum up to £1,500,000 every year. I want to know whether any proportion of that money goes in advertising. I want to know whether the British taxpayers' money is being used deliberately to mislead the American public. I want to know also whether these advertisements are being inserted with the knowledge and consent of the two Government directors on the board of Imperial Airways.

12.38 a.m.


I would not have intervened had it not been for the observations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). He referred most courteously, I think, to a speech I made on the Report stage, and he thought that I had allowed myself to be misled in a letter that I read to the House. I would like to say that the letter I read was a letter written by the managing director of an unsubsidised air transport company to the civil air transport officer at Croydon Aerodrome on 8th June, a copy of which was sent to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air on 10th June. On 25th June I drew the attention of this House to that letter. I took such precautions as any member of this House would take to see that it was a bona fide letter substantially accurate, and as a result of a letter I received last night from Imperial Airways, much of which my right hon. Friend quoted, I have spent most of the day investigating the matter further to see whether I ought properly to comply with the request of Imperial Airways that I should in some way withdraw my association with that letter. I can only say that as a result of all my investigations to-day I find that letter still to be substantially accurate.

I believe the Under-Secretary of State for Air is regarding this matter as a serious one, and is investigating it carefully, and I do not feel therefore that I am called upon to worry the House with many details to-night in refutation of the information which my right hon. Friend gave. I do think this is a most important matter, because throughout the years of subsidy agreements, all subsidy companies should appreciate their responsibilities to the State and to unsubsidised companies, and I am very gratified that the Under-Secretary for Air has given the House a most categorical assurance that he will watch the subsidy agreements to see that national interests are not sacrificed to the commercial interests of these companies.

12.42 a.m.

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

At this late hour and in view also of the fact, on which many hon. Members have commented, that the discussions on this Bill have been very full, I do not think the House would wish me to detain them very long. I, therefore, propose, as briefly as I can, to deal with a few specific points that have been raised. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) made again, with his usual force and eloquence, a plea for the nationalisation of these State air undertakings. I would like to repeat what I said to him on the Committee stage, that although we do not in any way rule out the possibility of his policy coming into force in some year in the future, we still think that at the present moment and in present circum- stances, and also in view of the very keen commercial competition we have to face and meet all over the world, our present policy is the best one. He has commented on the millions which the taxpayers were contributing towards these schemes of ours, but I think many more millions of the taxpayers' money would have to be contributed if it were a State-run undertaking, for you would then have to run the risk of the losses which have been more noticeable than profits up to now.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me what was the object of the development of civil aviation. He said that, of course, this was a delightful thing but that it was not really important or essential. I should have said that in the case of a great Empire like ours, the speed and ease of communications and the development of them was very essential for us to keep our Empire together.


I cannot let that pass. It may have been my fault, but my purpose was not to question the value of civil aviation but actually to ask the question, What was the purpose of it? in order that we should discuss what was the purpose, so that we might be able to know where the money was going.


I hope I did not miscontrue what the hon. Gentleman said. I think he will agree with me that it is very essential to a great Empire like ours. He also commented on a remark of mine that as a State undertaking it might prove to be too cumbrous a unit. He asked why, if it is not too cumber. some for Imperial Airways, it should be for the State? But it is because we realise that Imperial Airways will have quite enough on their hands that we are proposing in future to give subsidies to other companies on other lines.

The question of insurance was also raised by him and by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). While, of course, I do not wish to go into the whole matter again or to try to make out that the scheme is a perfect one, it is as good a one as we could devise in the face of the difficulties. It is quite obvious that although one would like to see unlimited liability for loss of life, on the information we have received it would certainly mean a serious increase in premiums. If, however, at some future date it is possible to review the whole policy, there is no reason why a short amending Bill should not be brought in, as has been suggested. There is actually at the present time a committee sitting at the Board of Trade investigating the whole subject of insurance.

The right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake division (Captain Guest) made a very interesting contribution towards the Debate in the shape of a plea for airships. I may perhaps in a few words remind the Committee of what has been the policy of the Government. After the disaster to the R.101 it was decided that we should hold a watching brief for the next few years until the possibilities of airship development were more crystallized than they were then, and to see what happened in America and in Germany. We know that the two American airships "Akron" and "Macon" met with disaster, and the "Hindenburg," which was supposed to have been launched last year was not launched until this March. Therefore the review we intended to have last year had to be put off. I would like to assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, without going further into the matter, that we are considering the matter very closely at the Air Ministry, and as soon as we think airships have proved themselves a useful and essential instrument we shall certainly embark on them again. I would like to thank him for the very interesting and important information he was able to give us about airships.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) asked me two questions—whether the flying boats he had seen at Short's, fitted with extra tanks, were the only ones which we were developing for the North Atlantic route. We know perfectly well the difficulties that confront us in that venture, and of course we shall have flying boats specially built for it. These two flying boats which have been fitted with extra tanks are for purely experimental purposes and will soon, I hope, be able to embark on their trials. He also asked me to speed up the South Atlantic route. As he knows, several schemes have been submitted to us and I think, although it may seem there has been some delay in going ahead and coming to a conclusion on the matter, it is a compliment to those who have submitted the schemes that we have considered them so closely and with such care.

The hon. Member for North Aberdeen reminded the House of a remark made on the last occasion about an accident which occurred at Croydon and the action or lack of action by Imperial Airways. All I would like to say on that is that I have received an answer from Imperial Airways which seems to show they have a clear case as far as they are concerned, but I want to wait until we get a counter-reply, and I can assure the House that the thing will then be sifted absolutely to the bottom.

The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) developed an old theme with all the charm of novelty and I do not propose, nor would the House wish me, to cross swords with her in defence of Imperial Airways at this time of night. I would however like to correct one misapprehension. She seems to think that Imperial Airways are competitors for the South Atlantic route. That is not the case. Any schemes for the South Atlantic route will be considered—except any scheme that comes from Imperial Airways. We are certainly not too proud, if necessary, to order a seaplane or a flying boat from any country if we thought it would be better than ours.

Captain GUEST

Or an airship?


Or an airship. But I think our industry is capable of building flying boats, or aeroplanes, as good as, if not better than. anybody else in the world, as I think the hon. Lady will admit in years to come. One more word in connection with the quotation which the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) read from "The New Yorker." As he said rightly, I am usually a regular reader of "The New Yorker," but I seem to have missed the copy from which he quoted. As far as the information which it contains regarding the new Short flying boats is concerned I would say it is substantially true. Their top speed is very nearly 200 miles per hour. They do not cruise at that speed, and the advertisement did not say that. Their cruising speed is over 150 miles per hour. They have a top speed of between 190 and 200 miles per hour and they carry a load at that speed of very nearly 20 tons. I think that for an advertisement, it is much more accurate than any advertisement I have seen for many a long day. Although he has not asked me I would just like to give him a re-assuring bulletin about the Heston gasometer. I expected him to inquire about that. I have been informed that arrangements have been made whereby the upper perimeter of the gasometer will be lighted by eleven lights and there will also be a centre light on the ventilator. They will be flameproof lamps and they will be linked up on two separate circuits to lessen the chance of failure owing to a breakdown. The central light on the ventilator will also be duplicated. I hope

the installation will be done within three months.

I would say in conclusion that I think this Bill is a very necessary Bill and that it has certainly been made into a very much better Bill by the friendly criticism and help which my learned Friend and I have received from all sides of the House. In thanking them again for the assistance they have given, I hope they will now give us the Third Reading of the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 130; Noes, 54.

Division No. 265.] AYES. [12.55 a.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Furness, S. N. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Gledhill, G. Palmer, G. E. H.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Penny, Sir G.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Gower, Sir R. V. Perkins, W. R. D.
Apsley, Lord Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Petherick, M.
Aske, Sir R. W. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Plugge, L. F.
Atholl, Duchess of Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake) Porritt, R. W.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Guinness, T. L. E. B. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Guy, J. C. M. Rankin, R.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Hannah, I. C. Reed. A. C. (Exeter)
Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury) Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Bird, Sir R. B. Harbord, A. Ropner, Colonel L.
Blindell, Sir J. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Bossom, A. C. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Boulton, W. W. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Horsbrugh, Florence Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Hunter, T. Scott, Lord William
Bull, B. B. Jones, L. (Swansea, W.) Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Simmonds, O. E.
Channon, H. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Kimball, L. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs) Latham, Sir P. Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Craddock, Sir R. H. Leckie, J. A. Storey, S.
Craven-Ellis, W. Leech, Dr. J. W. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Cross, R. H. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Crowder, J. F. E. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Stuart. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cruddas, Col. B. Lloyd, G. W. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C. Loftus, P. C. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Dawson, Sir P. Lyons, A. M. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop) Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Tree, A. R. L. F.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Duggan, H. J. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Wakefield, W. W.
Duncan, J. A. L. McKie, J. H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Elliston, G. S. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Ward, Irene (Wallsend)
Emery, J. F. Markham, S. F. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Entwistle, C. F. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Errington, E. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Wise, A. R.
Erskine Hill, A. G. Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.
Everard, W. L. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Fleming, E. L. Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H. Major Sir George Davies and
Fraser, Capt. Sir I. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Captain Arthur Hope.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.) Griffiths, J. (Lianelly) Kelly, W. T.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Lawson, J. J.
Banfield, J. W. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Leonard, W.
Barr, J. Hardie, G. D. Logan, D. G.
Bevan, A. Harris, Sir P. A. Lunn, W.
Burke, W. A. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)
Dagger, G. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Mainwaring, W. H.
Dalton, H. Jagger, J. Marklow, E.
Ede, J. C. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Messer, F.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Milner, Major J.
Garro Jones, G. M. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Montague, F.
Paling, W. Smith, E. (Stoke) White, H. Graham
Potts, J. Smith, T. (Normanton) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Pritt, D. N. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Tate, Mavis C. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Rowson, G. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Seely, Sir H. M. Thurtle, E.
Simpson, F. B. Tinker, J. J, TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Westwood, J. Mr. John and Mr. Mathers.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.