HC Deb 19 March 1936 vol 310 cc683-722

Question again proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

6.50 p.m.


I was describing the value of the report which my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley furnished on his flying trip. He has given us this afternoon a very interesting speech, containing a great many valuable suggestions based on the observations he made during the course of his flight. We at the Air Ministry are very glad to have his report, and look upon it as a valuable contribution. I was particularly glad to hear his remarks about the situation in our great public schools so far as the Air Force is concerned. I myself have been round to a great many schools, bent on propaganda work with the object of trying to convey to those schools a greater knowledge of what the Air Force means as a career for their boys. As my hon. Friend mentioned, one of the great difficulties so far has been the attitude of the parents, who on the whole do not seem to give any encouragement to their boys to join the Air Force. Another difficulty lies in the masters, who, at most of these public schools, know very little about the Air Force. They are in a very important position, because they meet the parents and discuss with them the careers of the boys, and, if they had a greater knowledge of what the Air Force would mean as a career, I think they could be of considerable help. The Air Ministry stress very much the system of liaison with these schools, and we hope that in the coming months the great schools throughout the Kingdom will realise their responsibility and do what they can to send a bigger and better contribution to the third aid newest of the Services. My hon. Friend described how a short time ago the Air Force was a rather rough place, but now, he said, it is a fit place for anyone. It is not only a. fit place for any boy, but, it provides him with a most interesting eareer. If a boy goes into the Air Force, the moment he gets his commission his personal responsibility begins, and his life from then onwards is one of great movement and interest; and as far as the short-service officer is concerned, when the time comes for him to leave the Service he can at least feel that he is very efficient and skilled in a trade which must be of great use to him in after life.

The two hon. Members who spoke last dealt with the question of parity and the Prime Minister's pledge. The Prime Minister announced last year our determination not to accept a position of inferiority, and that policy of course stands. But the difficulty, as my hon. Friends know, is to find a reliable basis of comparison. It is not enough to say that we must have the same number of machines as some other Power. Numerical parity is not necessarily real parity. Any comparison that is to be of practical use must be a comparison of like with like; otherwise it is only misleading. We have to consider many other factors besides the actual numbers of machines immediately available to take the air. There are questions of training facilities, reserves, performance of machines, proficiency of pilots and formations, and many others. And the platter does not even end there, because, as I said in my speech on the Estimates, behind all that you require on the part of the industry the capacity to turn to war production—what I described as the war potential. All these factors have to be taken into consideration, and we have done so. We believe that the programme we have set before the Douse will give us real parity. Perhaps I might put it in this way. In the first place, we are creating a force which, judged by character and quality both of men and machines, we believe to be a most effective offensive and defensive instrument; and, secondly, according to all the information that we have been able to receive and obtain from many different sources, we believe it to be adequate in numbers at the present time. But, of course, the situation must be watched continually. Situations are continually changing, both here and abroad, and, as I say, it will be watched constantly.


If the Germans are training pilots for some 4,000 machines, as we pretty well know they will be by 1937, does my right hon. Friend think it right that we should only have 1,750, because they have their reserves and their factories organised behind them exactly as we have? That is a point which I do not quite understand.


Would my right hon. Friend also say whether there is a. time limit within which this parity will be achieved?


As my hon. Friend knows, we are working to a programme which is to be concluded in 1039. As I have said, the situation may change, but we are going to be elastic, and if we find it necessary to increase we shall have to do so. At present we are building up an adequate and efficient Air Force with what we consider at present to be adequate reserves; and, what is more important, we are building up this great war potential which is to put the industry on a basis which will not only enable it to increase and give us our requirements in time of war, but from now onwards will enable it to produce the numbers of aircraft and engines that we require.

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

6.58 p.m.


We can allow this Vote to pass so far as criticism from this bench is concerned except for just one point, on which I would like an answer from the right hon. Baronet. It is in connection with the remuneration paid to people under the control of the Royal Air Force in the lower ranks of civilian service. I do not know what the principle is, if there be one at all, on which the Royal Air Force operates so far as ordinary industrial employment is concerned. The Fair Wages Clause is in operation, I understand, the principle being that the general level of the highest standard of any particular district, whether it be a trade union standard or not, shall be that adopted by the Service. But there are numbers of other people who seem to me to be treated in a very gingerly fashion by the Service so far as remuneration is concerned. There may be an explanation, and the one or two instances to which I want to refer may be instances of people of comparatively youthful years. In any case, when you are paying male clerks, under Grade III, for a 42-hour week, 55s. 2d.—rising, of course, to higher salaries as the years go by—and for a 44-hour week, in some cases, 51s. 3d.; when temporary clerks are paid 55s. 2d., and in the Provinces, 51s. 3d., and women clerks 32s. and 27s., it seems to me that that is a very mean type of remuneration. And I would like to point out in that connection that, although it may be true that there is no organised trade union applicable, in the sense that they have quite the status of the bigger trade unions there are several trade unions which deal with quite a large number of these people. Cleaners, for instance, get £1 5s. a week. Whatever they may be cleaning, and it may be a very small kind of occupation, it is plainly impossible, for anyone to live on £1 5s. a week and it seems to me quite disgraceful that an important service like the Air Ministry should be paying salaries of that kind. But I wanted to refer to the amounts which are paid to typists. We have typists here whose rate is £107 a year. Surely this House must recognise that a salary of £107 a year, roughly £2 a week, is not an adequate remuneration for a typist, whatever the grade, if the typist is efficient. That is all I want to raise on this particular Vote. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can deal with the points off-hand, but, if not, perhaps, he will look into the question and communicate with me afterwards.


I certainly will do that if I may. All I will say is that these rates of pay are common to all Government Departments. They are not only applicable to the Air Ministry, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will address his question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I will look into the points.

7.3 p.m.


I should like to raise a question about the scientific staff at Farnborough and their emoluments. I think that we pay these scientists far too little. Their emoluments are very small indeed for the work they do. I would like to see them raised because the private firms give greater emoluments and the hest men go into private firms. We want to see some of the best men at Farnborough and I ask the Under-Secretary if he will take the matter up with the Minister to see if we cannot get some of the higher positions paid better, because we want to attract the best brains that we can from the universities and public schools. This is an important matter and it may mean everything to the Air Service.


I will certainly look into that question. It gives me great pleasure to hear my hon. and gallant Friend holding what is, obviously, a brief for Farnborough. He has on past occasions not used such friendly language, and I see that now he has become. converted to the uses and advantages of Farnborough and wants to make it as efficient as possible.

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

7.5 p.m.


There are two points which I want to raise. First, I would like to draw the attention of the House and the Under-Secretary to the fact that a very important consideration has not been touched upon in the course of the Debates on these Estimates. I am surprised that the subject of Singapore has not been referred to. It seems to me that the question what is happening to the aeroplane base at Singapore is one about which we should have very full information. I suppose that I would be quite out of order—and I do not wish to be—if I ventured into the realms of high policy, but we all recognise that the base at Singapore is regarded as of very great importance strategically. I think that a great deal could be discussed on that matter. But the Base is there; it is regarded as extremely important. It certainly was when I had anything to do with the Air Ministry, and we find in the Estimates, on page 74, provisions for an extension, of the Base to accommodate further units, quarters for officers, two additional landing grounds, and for the accommodation of a volunteer air force unit. I think that we might be told a little more in detail about this expansion, the reasons for it, and also something that we ought to know, and that is the relations from the standpoint of co-ordination between the Naval arid Air Force elements at Singapore. Suppose something happened in the Pacific, and military action had to be taken, I do not know whether the co-ordinating general would have something to do with the co-ordination of the Forces there. But exactly what relations exist between the Navy and Air Force at Singapore is a matter of great interest from the standpoint of organisation.

There is one other point I should like to raise. What is the position to-day about that matter which was a source of a great amount of trouble some years ago—the question of the rights of representatives of trade unions to meet their men engaged in constructional work on aerodromes? There are certain rights, but it seems that the last word rests with the commanding officer, and I suppose that that is necessary in the circumstances. A great deal is talked about the secret units of aircraft and the need of keeping close control over aerodromes to avoid espionage. At the same time, there is the usual right that is given in constructional work for trade union representatives to be able to meet, the men on the work in order to discuss with them questions of trade in union organisation, and so on. I gathered some time ago that there was doubt as to what was organisation and what was propaganda. I would like the Under-Secretary to say what the rights are in this matter.

7.10 p.m.


There is a small matter which affects my constituency on which I would like some information. I see on page 61 that the Ministry propose to build two new aerodromes in Gloucestershire. As the House will readily admit, there is no more beautiful county than Gloucestershire, and when we find ourselves faced with two new aerodromes we are a little nervous. For what purpose are these aerodromes to be built, and where and when does the Minister propose to build them I would like to make two suggestions. There are near my constituency four or five disused Wartime aerodromes. Would it not be better, instead of building these two new aerodromes, to rebuild two of those old Wartime aerodromes? Gloucester and Cheltenham have recently joined up and gone in for a municipal aerodrome. Many of us feel that that may shortly become a white elephant, and it seems to me that as the Ministry have encouraged them to go in for that aerodrome, the least we can ask for is a reserve training school on that aerodrome. If that could be provided, the ratepayers of Gloucester and Cheltenham would be only too delighted.


I would like to ask a question with regard to certain expenditure which is to take place on aerodromes in Egypt. I am wondering whether the Air Ministry have in mind the possibilities of the negotiations with the Egyptian Government which may result in considerable changes regarding where the Royal Air Force is 'stationed in Egypt. I should like to be assured that the Ministry are not going to spend money where there is any chance of it being wasted expenditure.

7.12 p.m.


I can give a full assurance that no expenditure will be undertaken or contemplated without it being assured that it will not be wasted. With regard to the two aerodromes in Gloucestershire, I am afraid that I cannot give any information to my hon. Friend. We have not decided yet where they will be or which will be the sites selected, and if beforehand we were to announce that, in a certain area of that beautiful county an aerodrome was to be put up, I am afraid that the result would be that the taxpayer would have to pay a good deal more for the site. But as soon as I can give my hon. Friend information on the subject, I certainly will.


Could the right hon. Gentleman answer my question as to the possibility of the Ministry using the municipal aerodrome?


They can put in for a contract, of course, just like anybody else, and I will see that it will receive very sympathetic consideration.

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

7.14 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in the course of the Debate on Tuesday I referred to the question of the speed factor and the time factor with regard to aeroplanes and national defence. He spoke of fighting planes of a speed of over 300 miles an hour, and I said that bombing planes were probably not very far behind that speed. I drew from that the conclusion that from certain considerations with regard to time and distance, unless there were other methods of defending London, we should have a great difficulty in using aircraft for the purpose of defence. But I see that there is a complete justification of what I said with regard to that margin in the difference between the two types of aircraft in what has been stated in the Press about a new bomber, a Fairey Battle, which was in the air yesterday, and about which there is a good deal of technical information in the newspapers. We are told that the speed of the bomber is considerably over 300 miles an hour and it is a bomber which no fighting plane can catch. If we are building bombers which no fighting plane can catch, is it to be imagined that other nations are not doing or will not do the same thing?

This idea of a race in armaments—because that is what it amounts to—is not a question of this peace-loving country arming against some other country, but of a see-saw between countries with regard not merely to the quantity but also the quality of aircraft and, following that, we must increase our efficiency in one way or another. The same kind of thing is shown in what has happened in the last year or so in reference to the arming of fighting aircraft. We began by increase-the machine gun power of our small fighters by 100 per cent. What was the answer to that from one country alone—France? At the Aero Exhibition in Paris last year there were similar machines armed not with machine guns but with small bore cannon. Our answer has been to put cannon in ours, improving the efficiency of the cannon. That is a very fine game played slowly but one that will lead to bankruptcy and war. What appears in the newspaper even this morning about our bombing strength fully justifies the attitude of the Labour party in regard to the general question of arms and the race in armaments.

7.19 p.m.


We are saying goodbye to-night to some £40,000,000 on the Air Force Estimates, and on this Vote we. are saying goodbye to the expenditure on our aircraft and equipment, therefore, I do not think the House should let the Vote pass without looking at some of the right hon. Gentle-roan's statements in introducing his Estimates. As the last speaker said, in relation to the gun position, time after time almost as soon as a programme has been brought before the House it has been rejected as obsolete because it has been insufficient for the growing menace of the international situation. No one can foresee how long the adequacy of the technical equipment that is going to be supplied under Vote III will be sufficient and how soon we may not in turn have to throw it overboard on account of the pledge we have from the Prime Minister on parity on which these Estimates are based. My right hon. Friend had a very legitimate satisfaction on two grounds, firstly that we had doubled our first line strength of aeroplanes in the last two years, and secondly, that there were going to be more deliveries in the next three years than there have been during the 17 years since the War. That is to be welcomed but I do not believe my right hon. Friend's remarks gave us sufficient reassurance that the magnitude of the industrial problems that confront the country is being met. Hon. Members may say that I exaggerate what we may have to foresee under Vote III, but 16 months ago Marshal Petain—and I feel that one is entitled to quote here the words of such an eminent soldier and citizen—gave the German factory capacity for aircraft at 2,500 machines monthly and the labour involved as 250,000. My right hon. Friend took some satisfaction that we have introduced into the aircraft industry 6,500 more men in the past three months. Let us only hope that the figures for the whole year will be such that the 250,000 in the German aircraft industry is not a menacing figure when compared with our particular achievements.

It may be—let us hope it, is not so—that within the next to o years our Royal Air Force may be faced with some situation entailing action. In the last War the wastage on first line aircraft was approximately 100 per cent. per month at the end of the War and the production of aircraft was approximately 2,000 per month. The right hon. Gentleman takes pride, quite rig fitly, that we have in peace time doublet our Air Force in the past two years from 750 to 1,500, but if the situation arose where aircraft would be needed on a war basis, we should not be able to replace our 100 per cent. of 1,750 metropolitan aircraft in one month. It would probably take on the present basis something like one to two years to replace, and during that time the country would be denuded of the necessary first line defence aircaft. One can confirm the right hon. Gentleman's statement that our first line aircraft are to-day as good or of better performance than any aeroplanes in Europe, but fine aircraft in small quantities do not overcome the industrial problem of large scale production.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in the defence Debate asked a question which I have not yet heard answered, how we stood in regard to the programme; were we late in deliveries? Were the Estimates of the Air Ministry going to be fulfilled? In many directions the House is going to be disappointed in the deliveries that are going to take place during the next year or year and a-half in first line aircraft. Machine tools and lathes which are wanted to buld them are taking 32 weeks to deliver. There is an unseemly scramble among manufacturers endeavouring to obtain the necessary specification materials. Tie obtaining of small parts for aircraft is getting more and more difficult, and the right hon. Gentleman's Department is not entirely blameless as regards delay. I could give a case of six new aeroplanes waiting for weeks in a shed to be delivered by the manufacturer but unable to be delivered because the Air Ministry had not supplied engine revolution indicators. Under a, system which allows that sort of thing to happen, we cannot with confidence go on saying that the industrial planning of the Air Ministry is adequate. As against this, these difficulties are being overcome, but it is as well to face them and not be complacent about what we have as against the German mass production system of distributing parts to all the engineering firms in their country.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the event of action by the Royal Air Force in the next year and a half, we should not have to go back to war-time methods in the construction of wooden aircraft for an emergency which entailed 100 per cent. wastage of first line aircraft. When we build two or three new small aircraft for the Air Force, would it not be a wise precaution to have half-a-dozen wooden prototypes of each type in order that the woodworking industry, which can be swung over quickly in the event of emergency, is ready for such a step? The Air Ministry Supply Department should not have the burden of the responsibility of working out these problems. It is the duty of the Supply Department to ensure that the agreed needs of the Air Staff are supplied, but there is such a multitude of problems—labour problems, the supply of materials, watching the production capacity of all our factories—that I would ask whether the Supply Department should not be supplemented by a directorate of production department staffed by those not liable to be moved from the Ministry as soon as they have learnt their job, and to co-ordinate with Sir Arthur Robinson5s Committee. They should work separately from the Supply Department, who already have their hands full in seeing that the technical requirements of the Air Staff are reasonably met.

In my view the last words in the right hon. Gentleman's speech were the best, in which he hoped for the eventual limitation of first line aircraft, because I do not believe there is one of us who is sup- porting this programme and making suggestions for its efficient carrying out who does not earnestly desire to see a limitation and feel that, until it comes about, the problem of air defence is almost insoluble. But while we are aspiring to that limitation, the Government have to carry the responsibility of the defence of the country, and we all want to see that it is cheap, safe and efficient. We have a common object, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider any suggestions in order that we may achieve it.

7.30 p.m.


The right hon. Baronet must be satisfied with the progress which he is making with these Estimates and I hope therefore he will give a more explicit answer to the questions which I am about to put to him, than he has hitherto given to my inquiries. I have two points to put to him one of which is of minor importance and the other of major importance. I shall deal with the minor point first, as it is the more technical, in order to allow the right hon. Gentleman time to have inquiries made into it. We are voting over £1,000,000 for petrol for the Royal Air Force. We know that very important developments are proceeding in regard to various types of petrol. There is one type, known, I think, as Isoplane, which is reported to give a development in power of from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. when used in a suitable engine. If this type of petrol is developed, I believe it is not too much to say that it would render obsolete a considerable number of our engines. If it were found that it could be produced at an economic rate, I am given to understand that, requiring as it does certain modifications in engine design, it might, within a month render the design of every one of our engines obsolete. I am told that it is not an easy type of petrol to produce and is at present very expensive but I would be interested to learn what the Air Ministry is doing to meet that situation.

I have described that as a minor point though it is potentially a major point, and I come now to my second point which is of great immediate importance to this House and the country. We on these benches are not satisfied with the assurances which we have received with regard to the price to be paid for this vast aircraft expansion. We have asked, repeatedly, what is being done to see that we do not pay too much and the only assurance we have been able to get is that there will be a costing clause in every contract. No business man would say that that was an adequate safeguard. What type of costing clause is it? What is the wording of the clause? What assurance is there that contractors will not bring in raw materials at inflated prices and show them in the costs? Is the costing to be based on labour and materials or on labour alone and what percentage is it, on whatever basis it is imposed? We have been questioning the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the service Ministers on this point and yet the House appears to be content to allow its primary task to be overlooked, as I contend will be the case if we do not know on what basis we are paying for this vast increase in armaments.

All that I have been able to get by way of an explicit statement from the right hon. Baronet has been the announcement that the Ministry is proceeding on what is called the "I.T.P. system." This multiplication of initials, by the way, is very confusing. I admit that on this side we are even greater offenders in this respect than hon. Members opposite, particularly in our political descriptions—"Natsopa," for example. This I.T.P. system is apparently a system of provisional instructions to proceed. I take it to mean that the Air Ministry, in their discussions with the various contractors have had arguments as to the basis of price, that they have failed to come to agreement with the manufacturers and, as a policy of despair, they have said to the manufacturers, "Go on producing these things, as the need is very urgent and we shall leave the fixing of the price until later."

I hold no brief for the manufacturers but it is just as much in the interest of the State as in their interest to make this inquiry. How long is this policy to continue without some specific basis of price being fixed. I questioned the right hon. Baronet on the matter during his speech. I apologise to him for having interrupted him but I have found that unless one can pin him down to an answer on the spot, to a question of this kind, when he comes to wind up the Debate he replies to all the compliments and takes no notice of the criticisms or the questions put on serious practical points. The Air Ministry is well known for that and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has, I think, spent hours in replying to compliments and ignoring criticisms of the Department. The House ought to insist on more specific answers on these points. I asked the Minister whether any contractors were refusing to proceed on the I.T.P. system and I was not favoured with a very ingenuous reply. The Minister glided over the point and we do not know now whether my allegation is correct that contractors are refusing to proceed with the manufacture of equipment because they are not satisfied with the system.

Suppose a manufacturer is asked to take a contract for 100 aeroplanes. Some of those aeroplanes may be composed of as many as 50,000 parts, every one of which has to be designed and separately costed. Everybody knows that the manufacturer is incapable of producing them all in his own factory and that a system of extensive sub-contracting exists. When the manufacturer does not know the price which he is going to get, how can he arrange his sub-contracts? It may be all very well for some of the extremely wealthy aircraft manufacturers who have made enormous profits since the War and kept them. They have large financial resources. But are manufacturers generally to be asked to commit themselves to ordering these parts, without knowing how much they will be able to pay to the sub-contractors for them? It may be that some of them will have a good case to make against proceeding on those terms.

I ask, therefore, is it beyond the wit and skill of business men in this country to deal with this as a matter of urgency? It is largely a question of accountancy. It is a question of deciding on a basis of costing that will not involve profiteering. Is there no organisation, no tribunal or court, which could settle that question? If not, I suggest that the Ministry should get together a body of accountants and form them into a tribunal, instead of asking the aircraft industry to rely on the ordinary common law in this matter. The common law I believe is that if no price is stated "a reasonable price" shall be paid but that would involve litigation and I am sure neither the Ministry nor the manufacturers would wish for that. I suggest that it should be possible to set up some form of arbitral tribunal which could settle these prices in cases where any dispute arose. That is the point of major importance to which I desired to refer. I, for one, am not content and I believe many on these benches are not content that these Estimates should pass without a protest from us on the back benches against the fact that no safeguards at present appear to be provided against profiteering, beyond the good intention of the Service Ministers. That is not enough, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will do something to reassure us.

7.39 p.m.


Hon. Members in considering this Vote will congratulate Farnborough on producing an anti-ice device—which is a little strip of leather—but I think the right hon. Baronet might have given us a little more information about the experimental work which has been carried out at Farnborough as a result of the large sums of money voted by this House. I think what we are told about this little strip of leather is hardly sufficient information for us. In the very able speech of the Under-Secretary introducing the Estimates he mentioned the geodetic system of construction but he did not inform us who invented that system. I believe it was an officer of the old Royal Naval Air Force who invented it. We would also like to know what firm is using it and whether this new invention can be used by other firms as well. It has struck me that the Short-Mayo composite machine which has tanks in the wings might be used with advantage if there was an opportunity for repeating the design.

On page 47 of the Vote there is an item concerning the purchase and repair of balloons and portable hangars. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) raised the question of kite balloons. It was the Royal Naval Air Service which introduced kite balloons into the Army and Navy, but I do not think that the system of nets hoisted up in the air by kite balloons proved very successful. Indeed the only machines that I ever heard of being caught in these nets were two of our own. But I would ask the Under-Secretary whether any experiments are being carried out with the more modern type of kite balloons. The Parsifal type and the Cacao types are quite out of date. They have now a better type of kite balloon in France, a distensible type which I understand is very satisfactory. This balloon is being used for the night defence of Paris, and I should like to ask whether any have been supplied for the defence of London. Then there is the new balloon which has its own power and can move about freely by its own power without the necessity for deflating it every time it is taken down. We ought to be told whether experiments with these new types are proceeding

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) is very interested in the question of airships. He has taken a lot of trouble concerning them in the past and in that connection I want to put another question. Now that Germany is building submarines again, has the Minister considered that one of the most effective weapons against the submarine in the late War was the use of small airships as spotters. The small airship on spotting a submarine signalled to the surface craft. The submarine was then chased and an explosive charge dropped over her. The German U boat captains hated to be seen by these little airships. Now that the Germans are reintroducing submarines into their navy, has the Admiralty asked the Air Ministry for small airships of the type which were so effective in the late War?

7.44 p.m.


I also wish to raise the question of airships and to ask the Minister what the policy of the Government is with regard to those machines. Reference has been made to a long-range flying boat costing £40,000 and capable of flying across the Atlantic. In order to get across the Atlantic I believe that this boat would have to be fitted with special tanks taking the place of passengers and freight and that this would give it a range of about 3,000 miles in still air. I cannot help feeling that the heavier than air machine has limitations in regard to long-distance flight. I do not think you can at present build a heavier than air machine carrying passengers and freight with a range of more than 1,200 to 1,500 miles non-stop. Of course, if a breakdown occurs to the machine, you must descend on the land or on the sea wherever you may be, and if it is a break in the machine, it is a very much more serious matter.

There is a machine, which I think we all know, which has crossed the South Atlantic many times with passengers and freight, and that is the Graf Zeppelin. I should like to give the record of the Graf Zeppelin. From 18th September, 1928, to 10th December, 1935, this ship has flown 13,357 hours and a mileage of 847,000. It has carried people to the number of 32,962, and the mail carried has been 35 tons. This ship has made 111 ocean crossings, which include seven crossings of the North Atlantic, one over the Pacific and one across the Arctic Sea. This ship has encountered bad weather on every ocean. Even more striking are the statistics for last year only, when the time flown was 3,519 hours, with a mileage of 220,000, carrying 5,219 people and 14 tons of mail and freight. That is an extraordinary thing, and I think it has proved the value, at any rate to the Germans, of that ship. There is no doubt that the Postmaster-General in this country is interested in it, because I expect he pays many thousands of pounds freightage for our letters. An interesting point is that only once has the Graf Zeppelin had to delay starting from Friedrichshaven, and that was for 24 hours, when the wind was very strong, and the ship in the hangar, but in the summer months it makes fortnightly crossings over the South Atlantic. It may be said that there is only one machine that is doing this work, but even so I think it shows that there are very expert and experienced airmen in Germany, specially trained, who can make that machine do what it has done for this number of years.

Germany is not the only country that has airships, and in this connection I would mention the Goodyear Company in the United States of America, which has been running five or six small ships for 10 years. These ships have totalled 2,000,000 miles, they have operated in 38 States, and they have made 65,000 flights and have carried nearly 200,000 passengers without injury to a single passenger. I understand that they are shortly proposing to form a Netherlands Airship Company using Zeppelins between New York and Batavia, with intermediate landings at Barcelona, Cairo, and Aden.

I suggest that no country in the world can make better use of long-distance ocean travel than this country, and I do not think we ought to wait and see what other people are doing. I think that some action ought to be taken by this country. Other nations too are using airships. In Russia there are four non-rigid and five semi-rigid airships, and they are building two very large rigid airships to-day. France is still experimenting. The United States of America, I believe, are going to start building airships on a large scale. There is a report issued in January last by the Secretary of the United States Navy of the committee set up to make recommendations as to the future design and construction of airships. It is a report dealing with the use of airships for offensive and defensive purposes, such as coastal patrol service, detection of submarines and mines, guidance of troop convoys and naval vessels through minefields, services for strategic reconnaissance, and as aeroplane carrier. The committee also considered the use of airships for commercial services and for safety. Speaking of these airships, this report states: All developments of new forms of transport and, more broadly, all new developments are subject to possible hazards. This has been true in marked degree with the airplane, the heavier-than-air form of transport. We have, however, accepted these hazards and casualties as a part of the price which must be paid for all such steps forward. Regarding the safety of such types of construction, we consider the entire record of the service of small non-rigids and of rigid airships of moderate size, in convoy and patrol services during the Great War and elsewhere as warranting the assertion that safe, useful ships of these types and sizes can be designed, constructed, and operated. The report then deals with large rigid airships as follows: On the whole, therefore, with special reference to larger rigid airships, we believe it is practicable to design, construct, and operate such airships with reasonable assurance of safety, etc. The unanimous opinion of the committee was that: The Navy Department should continue with a positive and carefully considered programme I cannot help feeling that if the airships had been left to the Navy in this country, we should have continued to have some airships at any rate, though perhaps not on so large a scale. I should like to see the Air Ministry build a ship on the lines of the Graf Zeppelin, which has been successful, and not of the very large size which was tried before, to train men and make them accustomed to the air. We have practically no men who can work airships in this country, and I think we ought to have an airship for training men and for experimental purposes only. If a civilian airship is built at all, I think it ought to be built by civilians and not by the Ministry, but I think the Government would have to assist, and I hope that any suggestion should receive encouragement from the Government. The Ministry, I hope, will assist by granting the use of mooring masts or sheds, as may be necessary. It may be that if the international situation settles down in the next few weeks, we may have a visit from the new Zeppelin. If so, I hope she will be welcomed, and I think it will create greater interest in airships in this country. In conclusion, I think it would be wise for our Air Ministry to set up a committee to go into the whole question of airships once more.

7.52 p.m.


Before I refer to the question of Farnborough, may I say how gratifying it is to know that after spending nearly £4,000,000 in the last 10 years on Farnborough, at long last they have discovered something which every other country has had for the last two years. Can the Under-Secretary of State answer the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend behind me, namely, whether it is not a fact that the best brains are not to be found at Farnborough but in the private firms that are manufacturing aircraft? Is it not a fact that if there is a really good, intelligent, bright young man at Farnborough, he is nearly always bribed away, because that is what it amounts to, into one of the aircraft manufacturing firms?

7.54 p.m.


I have recently returned from South America, where I had opportunities of confirming everything said by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) with regard to the Graf Zeppelin. They say that in Brazil you can set your clocks by the arrival and departure of the Zeppelin. I do not say that it is an economic service, but I can say this, that Germany in providing a regular service to South America throughout the summer and is certainly showing the flag and impressing the people of South America with the fact that Germany is at any rate trying to keep in communication with that very important market and part of the world. There are other countries besides Germany which are showing the flag. They are France, Italy and the United States of America. They carry the mails at a low rate, they are showing their countries' flags to Argentine, Chilian and Brazilian interests, while we are doing absolutely nothing in that direction.

Another point that I want to make—and I should like an answer about this—is that we have an air attachéin South America who is supposed to represent our air interests in those countries. I understand that he has about eight or ten countries which he is supposed to visit periodically with the object of looking after our air interests, but how does he travel? He is obliged to travel in foreign machines, because he has no machine of his own, and if he goes from Brazil to the Argentine, or from the Argentine to Chile, or from Chile up the coast, he has to travel in foreign machines. That has been going on for many years, and I understand that our people out there have been promised year after year some machine that will show at least that we are in a position to build aeroplanes. People here do not realise the amount of propaganda that is carried out by commercial people in those countries. I saw statements just after a certain accident in Alexandria to the effect that these accidents were very common with British mails and that in fact the British were very backward about making machines. It was said that we had good pilots but the worst machines in the world, and that is why the Brazilian Government were buying foreign machines instead of British. All that, of course, is a complete fabrication and is deliberately put out by the interests concerned, but are there no means of combating that sort of propaganda? The best means is to send out British machines to show the flag and at any rate to allow our air representative in those countries to travel in a British machine. That is all I am asking. I want to know whether the Minister is doing something about this and whether he will provide a machine for our air attaché in South America.

7.56 p.m.


Yes, we are. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) opened this discussion with the request for information about the performance of our latest bombers. That is to say, he described the performance of our latest bombers as being now within almost the margin of the fighters. That is true. The speed of the bombers is going up, but there is a margin still, and I do not know what comment one can make about that. Progress must go on, and I think that perhaps as progress goes on we shall find answers. I think we should be very pleased that the performances with our new machines are going in the way they are. The hon. Member used that point to embark upon the whole policy of defence and offence, and on this particular Vote it would not be possible for me to follow him there. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) described the hitches in our programme in rather a gloomy manner. These things are bound to happen at the beginning of a great expansion programme, when one is setting before oneself such a big task. We are aiming at a very big output, and we have not yet been able to make all the progress that we hope to make very shortly. What we want—and I know my hon. and gallant Friend is with me here—is to put the industry on the broadest possible basis, so that we can get to the production which we shall require eventually in the shortest possible space of time. I feel that we are working satisfactorily towards that end.

The hon. and gallant Member made an interesting point about the production side of the Air Ministry, and there I entirely agree. We have decided to create a new appointment at the Air Ministry under the Air Member for Supply, who will be a Director of Production. This appointment we intend to fill by a very good business man with special experience from outside. The question of wooden construction is also under consideration.


Will that new man be a member of the Air Council?


I do not think so. I think he would be finder the Member for Supply, but I am not quite sure about that, because the appointment has not yet been made. I feel that it would be premature to give my hon. and gallant Friend any answer about the possibilities created for all of these new types which are being built, but the matter will be very carefully looked into. I do not think it is safe to assume in any case that we would have to go back to wooden production. I hope that machines will be turned out in the materials in which they were originally designed. I am sorry that the hon. Member should have such a poor opinion about the Air Ministry that he thinks that the only answers they give are answers to compliments. It is good to think that we have had any compliments at all, and the lion. Member himself has, I am sure, contributed to that quota in his day. Let me answer a minor question that was put to me about iso-octane petrol, which is petrol of a very high octane value. All the machines being produced will be able to use iso-octane petrol and all the old machines can be easily adapted to use it.


I was very much concerned to know what steps were being taken to produce the petrol as well as to adapt the machines, in view of its revolutionary effect on the power of the engines.


I cannot say what steps we are taking, but we are taking all the steps necessary because we recognise the great importance of this matter. As to the question of contractors, I thought I had made it plain that there was no case of the sort suggested, according to my information. An hon. Member proceeded to say that the procedure outlined as I.T.Ps. was not suitable, and that we should have let these contracts be settled without doing everything we could to see that the prices were as low as possible. I should have thought that the hon. Member would have been glad to see that we were determined to fix the price only when we had all the data we needed. He asked how these contractors do the work ii the price has not been fixed. I explained that they were getting progress payments, that is, they were getting payment; on a percentage of a provisional price. I said that this price was lower than the price which the Department thought that they would ultimately have to pay. He suggested that it was largely an accounting matter. That is why we have so largely strengthened the accounting staff at the Ministry. We have also secured the assistance of the best business brains in the country, and they are helping us to the best of their ability. We are very glad to have them there.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) was very contemptuous about my reference to a device for preventing the formation of ice on wings. It was a simple device, I said, but it is a very important one, and not less important because it is simple. As to experiments at Farnborough, the people there are there more to investigate the inventions of other people and to try them out. But they were the originators of the automatic pilot, which has been a great help to our pilots. They also developed the "Queen Bee" aeroplane, and many other things. I think that Farnborough fulfils a most important function, and I am sure that the industry think so, too. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) raised the question of whether it was not a fact that private firms were bribing people away from Farnborough. Well, if the people who are trained and work at Farnborough are of such a high standard that they are bribed away, that only shows what an important place Farnborough is.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) raised the question of airships. Our policy is still that of maintaining an open mind and holding a watching brief. We are closely examining the data in regard to progress abroad in other countries which are producing these airships, but the disasters to such ships as the "Akron" and the "Macon," I think it was called, must be remembered. I should not agree in saying that the future of lighter than air aircraft is not justified. What we are doing now in regard to balloons is, I think, the right policy.


There is the question of kite balloons.


We realise what a very important matter it is, but it is a matter about which one does not really want to say too much. The hon. and gallant Member can be assured that we are fully aware of the question of kite balloons.

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

8.9. p.m.


There are two little matters about which I want to ask for information. With regard to a large gas-holder which lies approximately 2,000 yards north of Heston aerodrome, for the last five years I have been suggesting to the Air Ministry that the time had arrived when this great obstruction to civil aviation should have a beacon on top. The Ministry have always said, in reply to questions in this House, "We have not got the power." Almost the same answer was given again and again in regard to the wireless mast alongside Croydon aerodrome. Pilots always said that one day it would be hit by aircraft. Sure enough, it was hit, and the result was the loss of two or three lives. In the case of the gas-holder, all pilots say the same thing—that one day in foggy weather, or one night, some machine will go into it. For my sins, I had something to do with the building of that gas-holder, and if an aeroplane did go into it there would be a disastrous explosion. There was an explosion at Neunkirchen, in Germany, about two years ago which laid waste the country for a long way around. A large piece of London which has grown up around this gas-holder would be devastated if this obstruction were struck. Has the Under-Secretary really considered this problem? If he has not power, surely the time has come to take power to see that there is a light on the top of the holder.

There is another matter—the question of the waste of public money paid to light aeroplane clubs. I am not by any means satisfied that we are getting the best results out of these clubs. At the moment practically anyone can learn to fly at these light aeroplane clubs. It does not matter whether a person is lame, halt, blind, infirm, a lunatic, a cripple, a fit or unfit man or woman who is taught to fly at the expense of the taxpayer—and no questions whatever are asked.


Is the hon. Member aware that at any rate in the best of these clubs, before they begin to instruct a man, the person will have to undergo a medical examination in order that money will not be wasted as the hon. Member suggests?


There is, of course, a medical inspection, but who does the inspecting? Is it the doctors from the Ministry, or is it one's own doctor? Has the hon. Member ever yet heard of anyone failing in a medical examination for an A licence? I must say I did know of one man who failed—because he had lost one eye and the other was so shortsighted that he could not see across this House. We are teaching to fly, at the taxpayers' expense, all kinds of people who are no use to civil aviation. Questions are asked as to how many people go on with flying when they have been taught, and we have never had a really satisfactory answer. In my view, probably two-thirds who are taught to fly at the expense of the State give up flying in about five years, and therefore they are little or no use if a state of emergency arises. I have brought up this matter on five previous occasions. I know that any suggestion that originates from this House is never considered. Is the Secretary of State absolutely satisfied that we are getting full value for this £25,000 we are voting every year for our light aeroplane clubs? Is there an unanswerable case for its continuance? Will he consider measures used in France for subsidising the light aeroplane movement?


I served as a pilot during the last War. I am sorry to see so little money allotted to the development of civil aviation. Among the troubles, I think, with which we were confronted at the beginning of the War was lack of belief in the aeroplane by people who were not in, the Force and that aeroplanes we flew were out of date. I believe that the Germans were more air-minded in those days than we were. I believe that it is by civil aviation that we shall increase our air-mindedness. Is there no way in which more grants can be allowed to civilians of all ranks of life who are anxious to learn either to fly or to understand aeroplane construction? In my own constituency two days ago people who are interested in aviation were telling me that they would like to be associated with civil aviation, but that they cannot afford it. Perhaps some of the money might be reserved for assisting the development of air-mindedness throughout the country. I am sure there are a number of young people who want to learn to fly if it could be made easier and cheaper for them to do so. If we looked upon them as a nucleus for war help, or commercial work, we should gain. Could there not be more consideration and more funds allotted for the cause of civil aviation?

8.15 p.m.


I should like to take the opportunity in the Debate to-night to press home two or three points which I raised in the course of the discussion last Tuesday. The Under-Secretary, in view of the large range of matters with which he had to deal, was not able to find time to touch upon more than one of the points I raised, and I was not altogether satisfied with the reply which he gave. I refer to the position with regard to companies other than Imperial Airways. How far are they to be encouraged or permitted to undertake the organisation of services in different parts of the world? I put to the right hon. Gentleman the position of companies who desire to develop the routes to South Africa and South America and across the Atlantic. He was good enough to give a reply, and I will quote what he said: Certainly we have no intention of obstructing any company from operating any service anywhere, but, as I said in my speech, we do not wish to encourage services which would lead to duplication and waste of money and effort. We learned these lessons by painful and costly experience in other forms of transport both at sea and on land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1936; col. 328, Vol. 310.] I agree with the general proposition, but it is still a little vague, it cuts both ways and places an outside company in a difficult position. They do not know where they are. Is it not reasonable for a company with aspirations of that kind to go to the Air Ministry and to be given a definite answer to the question: Do you encourage us or advise us to develop routes on these lines; do you definitely say that you think we ought not to do so, and do you say that the Air Ministry cannot look favourably upon it? My information is that advice of the t kind cannot be obtained from the Air Ministry at the present time, and it is not fair to people who are anxious to go ahead, without any subsidy, to organise a great international service of this kind. There is the further point as to whether, if such a company were organised, it could compete on equal terms for mail contracts. Could it get a contract if it submitted the lowest tender?

There are two other small points with which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal, and which I mentioned the other night. What is the position with regard to directional and blind landing? I know that it is in an experimental stage at Heston at the present time, but what steps are being taken which may lead to it being spread throughout the country, and perhaps made compulsory, as it is in the. United States of America? The other point is the position with regard to the Sperry automatic pilot. Can the Under-Secretary say whether experiments are being carried out, and what action the Air Ministry have taken to encourage the use of that appliance, which is used to a very large extent in the United States of America I should be much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman could give some reply on those matters.

8.20 p.m.

Marquess of CLYDESDALE

I wish to call the attention of the Under-Secretary to a growing grievance among professional pilots in Scotland. At present there must be some 40 B licence pilots in Scotland, and all initial B licence tests have to be carried out in London. That puts the pilot to a great deal of expense and takes up considerable time. These tests are composed of flying such as cross-country tests, night-flying tests, and various technical examinations. I should like the Under-Secretary to consider whether it is not possible for these initial tests to be carried out in Scotland and so encourage more young men to obtain B licences. At the present time it is a great deal more difficult for a pilot to obtain a B licence if he lives in Scotland than it is if he lives in England.

Another point which I would put even more emphatically is that of the qualified professional pilot. When a B licence pilot has been qualified, he has to pass a medical examination every six months. Normally speaking that medical examination is carried out by the Central Medical Board in London composed of military doctors. It is however, true that as far as Scottish pilots are concerned, under certain conditions, they have to attend the Central Medical Board only once every two years and the other examination in Scotland. I ask the Under-Secretary whether it is not possible to set up a medical board in Scotland. The Under-Secretary no doubt is fully aware that there is a considerable number of professional pilots who resent being examined under the Central Medical Board by military medical officers, and who would much prefer being examined by civil practitioners. Would the Under-Secretary consider the matter from the point of view first of the pilot? The cost to a Scottish pilot in attending the medical examination must be at least £10. He also loses two days employment. Secondly from the point of view of the firms.

There are two civil training schools in Scotland, and they are training young pilots for the Royal Air Force and doing work of national importance. The companies have to lose the employment of these pilots on two days whenever a pilot has to attend the Central Medical Board. Thirdly, the work of the Air Ministry must, at the present time, be very congested, and if a medical board were set up in Scotland, it would relieve the Air Ministry of a good deal of the increased work. There is no reason why a medical board should not be set up in Scotland. Scottish doctors are quite capable of performing this work, and the number of pilots, now about 40, is steadily increasing. I urge the Under-Secretary to do what he can to rectify what is now a, growing grievance and one that may become a great grievance.

8.26 p.m.


It is so seldom that I agree with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) that I must say how delighted I was to hear him raising the question of the unsubsidised air transport companies. The work that these companies are doing deserves the fullest possible support from the Air Ministry and the Post Office. This support has been coming, I believe, from the Post Office, but the same cannot be said of their treatment by the Air Ministry. I want to ask for a greater assurance than the right hon. Gentleman gave us last week concerning the treatment by the French Government of British unsubsidised lines flying from England into France. It has been the policy of His Majesty's Government ever since air transport commenced on a civil basis to endeavour to make it self-supporting. Here on the lines from London to Paris we have at the moment, in addition to Imperial Airways, which is a subsidised company, no fewer than four British unsubsidised companies successfully flying against the competition of the British subsidised company, Imperial Airways, and the French subsidised company, Air France. We have now reached a stage when these unsubsidised companies are flying at rates for passengers and freight and bullion, which is now a very important part of air transport freight to the Continent, at substantially less figures than the subsidised companies.

Human nature being what it is, it is not difficult to foresee the subsidised companies saying to each other, "This is getting serious. Here we have a company not receiving State grants, operating efficiently at rates less than we are, running a commercial service, and making a profit. If this goes on what is going to happen to our subsidies?" I believe that Air France brought the position in which they were being placed on the cross-Channel route before a commission set up by the French Air Ministry to consider the French civil air transport services, and that one of the decisions of this commission was that France must endeavour to eliminate all foreign services flying at less, by way of passengers or freight fares, than Air France. Consequently, all British companies, other than Imperial Airways, flying between England and France, have been given formal notice that unless they raise their fares and freight rates to those of the subsidised companies the French Government will withdraw their permit to fly to France, and the net result will be that the whole of the business which these unsubsidised companies have built up will be swept away and destroyed. I asked a question on this matter, and the feeling of the House was evident from the support I received. I am not at all reassured by what I have heard from the Air Ministry.

The Air Ministry seems to take the view that our chosen instrument is Imperial Airways; that the whole power of the Government and the Foreign Office will be behind that company, and that if these unsubsidised companies get into difficulties with foreign countries we cannot allow our main air policy to be diverted by having a quarrel on behalf of these unsubsidised companies with a foreign government. That is a fundamental error, and is entirely contrary to the whole basis of the Government's policy regarding civil air transport. Their main aim is to make civil air transport self-supporting. Here are four companies who are making civil air transport self-supporting, and the best way to get away from subsidies for air transport is to see that these unsubsidised companies are not eliminated by any foreign government in this way. I hope the Under-Secretary will give us some definite assurance that the whole power of the Foreign Office is going to be behind these companies in order to prevent their elimination. We do not want to be told that the French Government are within their rights. This country should stand up for the rights of its own nationals, and foreign governments should understand that we can only run reciprocal air services when they observe the decencies of international commerce.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and I have crossed swords before on the subject of light aeroplane clubs, but I have got my point, because the Government are spending much more money to-day than four years ago. I think my hon. Friend completely mistakes the purpose of these clubs. Hon. Members who are interested in flying will agree that they have vulgarised flying and brought it into touch with hundreds and thousands of people in the country, to whom flying before was a closed book. Had it not been for these clubs we should never have had the country standing behind the Government in the increases which are put before us in the White Paper. I believe that they have done a great service to the country in spite of what my hon. Friend said.


I am not in any way antagonistic to light aeroplane clubs. All I want is that they shall be put on a proper basis.


The fact remains that the clubs are receiving per capita much less subsidy than they received 10 years ago, and it would appear that the position which my hon. Friend regards as desirable is being gradually reached. So far as the Heston gas-holder is concerned, I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will recall the number of questions that have been put to him on this point, but throughout the last three years he has told the House that the matter was being looked into. I can only express gratitude that in the meantime the gas-holder has not been flown into, because, as my hon. Friend said, it will be in due course, and an almighty explosion will then take place. This applies not only to the gasholder, but to wireless pylons—of which there are many and some of which rise to 600 or 800 feet—which are not illuminated at night. That is a sin against those people who go into the air. It is no good the Air Ministry saying that they cannot do anything or asking what they can do; it is essential that the Government, if they desire to encourage aviation, should take a firm line on this matter.

I want now to turn for a few minutes to Imperial Airways. A substantial part of the Vote we are now discussing goes into the pockets of Imperial Airways. I have on many occasions criticised the company, but I would like to note one great change this year. I think it is a most important and fundamental change, because it is a change of heart. In previous years Imperial Airways have always said that they have the exclusive right to receive subsidies in all these areas, namely, in Europe, along the route to the Cape, along the route to Australia and now in the North Atlantic. In the country and on the Floor of this House we have said that it is improper for Imperial Airways to prevent any other company from running a service in their territory with the assistance of the Government in those cases where they do not themselves desire to run the service. Until the last two weeks the whole of Europe was tied up to Imperial Airways. The Government were not permitted to support financially any British company except Imperial Airways in the whole of Europe.

As hon. Members know, there are a, large number of routes on which, for the sake of our national prestige as well as our commerce, British aircraft ought to be operating. Consequently, I was more than delighted to find that the directors of Imperial Airways have responded to the plea we have so often made, and, without any consideration in return, have agreed that my right hon. Friend should subsidise another company, British Airways, to fly on the route London-Copenhagen-Malmo-Stockholm. That is an excellent beginning, and it shows a, public-spirited attitude towards British civil aviation on the part of Imperial Airways. When they see how much good this has done to their prestige, I trust they will try the experiment again in some other territories where they are not utilising their subsidised position.

Unfortunately, there have been serious accidents, or at any rate one serious accident, during the year which has been the subject of a very large number of questions in this House. I refer to the loss of the "City of Khartoum" off Alexandria. It may be fair to Imperial Airways to examine the basic cause of that accident, in which the public has taken an immense amount of interest. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) will be interested to know that the basic cause was the application of sanctions against Italy. Prior to sanctions being applied by the League of Nations, the flying boats of the "City of Khartoum" class were not in the habit, except with a following wind, of flying direct from Crete to Alexandria. Instead they flew from the Western end of Crete, from the Bay of Suvla, into Tobruk in Libya, and from there along the Egyptian coast into Alexandria. When the Italians closed Libya to British civil aircraft and the civil aircraft of all nations members of the League, the "City of Khartoum" was forced to fly from Crete straight to Alexandria. That was the basic cause of the accident. The second cause was that the Air Ministry constantly refused the advice which was given by many hon. Members in 1931 and 1932 that it ought to make provision for new civil aircraft when the present civil aircraft, for one reason or another, became unserviceable, and, as everybody knows, when the unfortunate fire took place in the Scipio type of aircraft in Brindisi Harbour, Imperial Airways were forced to bring these very old flying boats into service again.

The accident unfortunately has taken place and the inquest has been held. That inquest showed that I was not very far of the mark when I pressed my right hon. Friend, on several occasions before the inquest was held, to make greater efforts to have divers sent down to inspect the hull of the flying boat. In the course of the inquest the inspector of accidents said that he desired more technical information. Even now insufficient efforts have been made to examine the hull, and I have that on the very best authority. I would like to inquire of the Under-Secretary whether he has really used all the power of the Air Ministry to ask the assistance of the vast concourse of Naval personnel in Alexandria Harbour to come and either raise the hull, which is only 60 feet deep, or send divers down to examine important details which may throw light on the crash.

So far as the technical side of Imperial Airways is concerned, we have this year seen three main developments of great interest. The first is the new Armstrong Whitworth land plane, carrying some 50 passengers; the second is the new Short flying boat; and the third is the Mayo composite aircraft. During the Committee stage of these Estimates I was very sorry to hear the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) give some figures which appeared to me to be very wide of the mark. I would like to suggest to her that, although she is usually well informed on these matters, her informant in this case has led her somewhat astray. She said that the new Short flying boats had a maximum range of only 1,500 miles, and that they would not be ready until 1937. She went on to compare them with an American boat, the "S. 43," which she said had a maximum range of no less than 3,000 miles and was able to carry a pay-load of from 3½ to 5 tons. Of course, she meant the "S. 42," and doubtless that will be corrected in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

I would like to say to the House, and I think it is most important, that, as we have built up a very considerable market in civil aircraft in foreign countries, it is not in the interests of any section of the community, least of all those employed in building these aircraft, that our foreign friends should get the impression that we are now building flying boats which are substantially less efficient than those of America. Therefore, I would like to say that the range of the new Short boats is not 1,500 miles, as my hon. Friend believed, but the maximum range is 3,000 miles, and at that range the boat will be capable of carrying 1,000 pounds of pay-load. Of course, we think of the China Clipper flying across the Pacific and sometimes flying 3,000 miles, but that is a good example of how careful one must be when making these comparisons. I believe that on every flight of the China Clipper across the Pacific it has been completely stripped of all internal accommodation—no seats, no buffets, no lounges, but simply the bare hull. These things account for a substantial part of the weight.


Nobody would be more delighted to find that the Short flying boat has the range which the hon. Member mentioned, but if I gave these figures and if they are proved to be wrong, I can only say that they were the specifications of the new Short flying boat given in "Flight and the Aeroplane."


I can assure my hon. Friend that since she made her speech, which caused me grave concern, I have take a great deal of trouble to obtain the figures. Among other things, I have obtained the specification figures given by the manufacturers of the American boat to which she referred. In our new Short boat the whole of the equipment for night flying weighs more than 1,800 lbs. The total useful load of the American boat to which my hon. Friend referred was only 8,000 lbs., so that if that 1,800 lbs. for the night flying equipment is omitted, it will be seen that the comparison is completely vitiated. Then my hon. Friend turned from the Short boat to the Mayo composite air boat, and I think that she used the most unladylike terms in calling it a flying abortion. The fact remains that she, with other hon. Members, has on numerous occasions protested against the lack of experimental aircraft and the need for cutting adrift from the conventional and trying something fundamentally new. Imperial Airways, with the support of the Air Ministry, are making these experiments in the Short Mayo composite aircraft, and I suggest that it is a little early to turn it down flatly in the way my hon. Friend thought well to do until all the experts concerned have carefully investigated the possibilities of this type of craft. That craft will shortly be flying, and if, as I am sure she will be, my hon. Friend is honest with herself and the House, she will say during the next Air Estimates that she grossly under-estimated the potential value to air development of this craft.


Cannot the hon. Members settle these domestic differences outside?


It is not a domestic difference at all. These are points which will, among other things, substantially influence whether foreign nations purchase British civil aircraft or go to Germany, France or America. When Lancashire is endeavouring to get the aircraft industry to set up factories in that county it behoves hon. Members from that area to take some interest in the Air Estimates. Anybody who has noticed the Parliamentary conduct of civil aviation since the vast increase in the Royal Air Force will be aware that the system has commenced to fail. When the Royal Air Force was but a slender force, the Under-Secretary was able to give a great deal of time to civil aviation. To-day, as his replies to our questions indicate, he has not that time, and I go so far as to say, in view of the fact that the increase in the strength of the Air Force is the paramount object of the Air Ministry, that he would be wrong to give his time to civil aviation. That emphasises that hon. Members who put before the Prime Minister two years ago their views on necessary changes in the handling of civil aviation were correct when they said that there should be an Under-Secretary for Civil Aviation—

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

That would require legislation.


I will content myself with saying that we regret the Under-Secretary has not, in view of his greater responsibility, been able to give as much time as he was wont to to civil aviation, and we trust that the powers that be will duplicate him as soon as possible. I want to congratulate the Air Ministry on the efforts which it is making to speed up the Empire air service in spite of the calls on the industry for service aircraft, and I trust that the difficulties with Australia will be successfully surmounted.

8.52 p.m.


I merely wish to stress the point made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and the Noble Lord the Member for East Renfrew (Marquess of Clydesdale) with regard to medical examinations for both A and B licences. The hon. Member for Stroud said that he knew very few cases where people had been failed for the A licence, but I know of several, and I know that they have not always been failed for justifiable reasons. The time has come when we should follow the example of America in regard to both A and B licences and have a large number of the medical profession certified as capable of passing people for these licences. That would obviate the difficulty which the Noble Lord mentioned with regard to people coming from Scotland to London in order to obtain their B licence. In America there is a large panel of medical men who have special apparatus and special instructions as to the physical requirements necessary to enable a pilot to be in a proper condition for flying. That is not always understood by the ordinary practitioner. I would urge that when we are seeking to make the country more air-minded, the time has come to set up a proper panel of medical men with these requirements.

8.54 p.m.


I want to put before my right hon. Friend the case of the light aeroplane clubs. He knows that the agreement to which the Government have come with the light aeroplane clubs will end next year. There is a strong feeling in the light aeroplane club movement that some alteration should be made in the subsidy arrangements within the next few months, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that we might have a method of payment based on flying time instead of on licences. I do not wish to go into that point at any length now, but owing to the demand to-day for instructors, not only in the Royal Air Force but, particularly, in civil flying, this particular type of trade union—as I am sure hon. Members of the Labour party will be pleased to know—is able now to command a very much more substantial rate of pay. That item costs flying clubs a large amount of money. If a club which had to pay £400 or so a year to an instructor is now required to pay £700 or £800, obviously a subsidy which before was adequate for the club does not now suffice.


Does the hon. Member suggest that the clubs shall have these subsidies without. a means test?


I am not talking about butter or margarine, I am talking entirely about light aeroplane clubs. The Maybury Committee Report is expected, I am told, very soon, and I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he sets up, as I understand the Air Ministry are likely to do, a permanent committee to consider all problems dealing with the organisation of civil flying in this country, not to forget private owners' interests. I have become very frightened at the position of private owners in civil flying, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to let us at least have a voice, even if we are out-voted, when this committee is set up.

The last point I wish to raise is that I am not very well satisfied with the position which the Air Ministry take up regarding the grant of "B" licences to people who come out of the Service. I think an officer coming out of the Service gets a "B" licence for flying very much too easily. I am not criticising the ability of Royal Air Force pilots, but everybody knows that flying in a squadron is a very different thing from taking people across country in a multi-engined machine, and I am not satisfied with the manner in which the tests for commercial pilots' licences on different types of machines are carried out. As my right hon. Friend well knows, any "B" licence pilot to-day can pass out any other "B" licence pilot on a new type of machine. I have reason to believe that these tests are very often carried out, so to speak, in the by-ways and hedges. I am not at all sure that they are always adequate tests, especially in the matter of landings.

I would refer my right bon. Friend to the disaster, which we all so much regretted, on the day when his late Majesty inspected the Fleet, which happened to an aeroplane which had left Heston loaded with people. The Air Ministry ascertained through their inspector that the cause of the disaster was entirely due to the pilot's lack of knowledge of that particular type of machine. I would point out to my right hon. Friend how very dangerous a thing that is for civil aviation. I want him to make perfectly certain that "B" licences are granted only to persons capable of flying civil machines, and that the tests are carried out before competent people. I would ask, in conclusion, whether my right hon. Friend can tell me what is the position of the pilot in that case. I know that the Air Ministry have power to take away a licence, or to put certain difficulties in the way of pilots who have obviously committed as error of judgment, and I should like to know what was done in that case.

9.1 p.m.


As to the last point raised by my hon. Fr end the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) the Air Ministry have power, of course, to suspend a pilot's licence. The other points he mentioned, all very important points, are under consideration by the Maybury Committee, and I hope that we shall have a report from them shortly.


In the particular case which I mentioned will my right hon. Friend tell me, or at any rate let me know later, what actually happened to that pilot?


Yes, I will. On the question of the subsidy to light aeroplane clubs, the present contract or arrangement expires, I believe, in May of next year. The best method of dealing with the money available for light aeroplane clubs is at present under consideration, and I hope that by the date of the expiry of the present arrangement regarding the light aeroplane clubs the Air Ministry will have come to some definite conclusions, and that it will be possible to introduce new systems and methods which will prove satisfactory to all the clubs. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) raised questions concerning the gasometer at Heston. My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston complained that this matter had been under consideration for a very long time. I am sorry to say that that is true, because it is not a very easy question on which to come to a decision. It raises considerations of what constitutes an obstruction and what does not, and of where we are going to stop in this matter. Is every church steeple to be regarded as an obstruction? Obviously the matter is one upon which it is not easy to come to a decision. I agree, however, that the gasometer at Heston raises an altogether exceptional issue. It is a very large, very high and very inflammable obstruction, and it lies dangerously near a very important air route. Therefore I think I can say that this case will be treated exceptionally and on its merits.


Does that mean that something will be done in the course of the next two months say, because my right hon. Friend has tried to justify the delay in making a start by saying a good deal of investigation has been necessary? Can he say that something will be done in the next two months?


No, I am afraid I cannot go as far as that, but only say that we intend to treat it as an exceptional case, because we realise its importance just as well as does my hon. Friend. I think the hon. Member for Stroud attacked light aeroplane clubs rather unjustly. Our system of subsidising light aeroplane clubs is different from that under which the French subsidise their clubs. The subsidies over there are intended to enable clubs and individuals to buy aircraft whereas the primary object of the system here is to secure an increase in the number of trained pilots. It is a different system altogether, and I think our light aeroplane clubs are on a better footing.

The hon. arid gallant Member for North West Camberwell (Major Oscar Guest) made a speech with which I entirely agreed. In the last three years the expenditure on civil aviation has risen by 65 per cent., which shows that we are anxious to do what we can and that we are spending more money on civil aviation. The remarks of the hon. and gallant Member were extremely valuable. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) quoted an answer which I gave to his question the other day. When I listened to my answer from his lips I thought it was an extremely clear answer. I can only repeat what I said in that reply. I might supplement it by saying that, of course, every case must be examined on its merits. As to radio beacons, as I have often said in this connection, those used in foreign countries are still very much in an experimental stage. We hope that the new systems that we are trying will be successful, and I do not think any time will be wasted. In regard to the Sperry automatic pilot, I will let the hon. Member know. I do not believe that it is better than our own, but I will look into it. The question of Scotsmen wishing to apply is one which I looked into the other day. There are very few, and the number of B licences in Scotland is very small at present. I do not think the numbers would justify the setting up of a special medical board.

Marquess of CLYDESDALE

The number of professional pilots in Scotland is steadily increasing, owing to the recent creation of two civil training schools. The number of B licensed pilots in Scotland has been very substantially increased this year. Is it not the case that the number of pilots who have recently started work as professional pilots in Scotland may have been overlooked?


Very few applications have been received from Scotland for "B" licences, and I do not see any reason for creating a special medical service. My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) raised the question of unsubsidised companies flying to Paris and elsewhere from Croydon. I would remind him that when the original application for permission on behalf of the Hillman's Services was made, the French demurred, because of the probable adverse effect upon traffic of the Government subsidised services, and they only authorised it on the understanding that the position would be reviewed after a period. The French are not alone in insisting upon an agreement with regard to time tables and fares. When we wanted to start a new service to Scandinavia, all the countries over which we had to pass made the same stipulation. The Department at present has no case to argue with France. We have, none the less, said that if these companies can find common ground based on arguments of substance on which to make representations, we will give them support. I think that is all I have to say.