HC Deb 15 March 1937 vol 321 cc1802-22

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £2,355,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Aviation, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938.

12.23 a.m.

Mr. Everard

This is the one opportunity which we shall have, as Mr. Speaker has now left the Chair, of dealing with the whole question of Civil Aviation, which, I think, all hon. Members will agree is particularly important in the present dangerous situation. It is true that we have made very great strides in the rearmament programme, but I am sure it will be agreed by the whole House that great strides have also been made in our Imperial communications on the civil side and that they are probably the greatest achievement shown in the Estimates which have been presented to the House. I would like particularly to say a word or two on the great success which has attended the recent development by Imperial Airways. There has been considerable discussion this evening about taking machines off the drawing board. That has been done on the military side and on the responsibility of the Air Ministry, but I think a great deal of credit is due to the Imperial Airways for devising a system of flying boats and taking them direct from the drawing board without having one as a trial machine.

A great many of us in the past have been in the habit of complaining that Imperial Airways have been slow, and that our machines have not been as good as the machines of other countries running over the civil airlines of the world. We can congratulate ourselves that in the new flying boats we have some of the fastest machines of their sort in the world, and I understand from passengers who have travelled in them that they are also the most comfortable machines of the sort which exist. An achievement like that by what is to all intents and purposes, a public company, entitles us to say how much we appreciate the development which has taken place in that respect. In the Memorandum on page 14 I find the following words: A sum of £35,000 has been allotted in respect of subsidies to light aeroplane clubs in 1937. This should allow further clubs, in addition to the 48 clubs approved at present, to be admitted to the new subsidy scheme which will replace the present scheme at the end of March, 1937. If we are to understand that the amount of subsidy—which for the whole light aeroplane club movement throughout the country was 25,000 last year—is only to be increased to £35,000, and if that is to include provision for the advent of new clubs into the scheme, it appears to be totally inadequate. I think most Members, including Members of the Opposition, are sympathetic to the case for the light aeroplane clubs. It is realised that a vast number of people in this country cannot afford to own aeroplanes and have not facilities for learning to fly in any other way than through the light aeroplane club movement. It is realised that the clubs have catered for a large number of people as cheaply as was possible, considering the resources at their disposal. If they are to be able to carry on this work it will be necessary to bring down the cost of flying in those clubs even lower than it is at present.

I may mention one or two of the advantages of the light aeroplane clubs which will be self-evident to those interested in civil aviation. First, in a great many cases, they have been the only real flying centres of the various districts in which they operate. If it were not for their existence, no flying at all would have been seen in many parts of the country in the past. Secondly, they have done a great deal to improve the air-mindedness of the people and to bring into the Air Force the younger generation who are joining to-day, we are glad to hear, in such large numbers. The light aeroplane club movement has done much to bring the spirit of the air to the younger generation throughout the country. It has been acknowledged by the Maybury Committee that a considerable number of municipal aerodromes owe their inception entirely to the light aeroplane club movement. I venture to say that if these clubs were now to go out of existence, there would be a very great outcry on behalf of our municipal authorities, as they are to-day very often the only flying activities which are proceeding at all on some of the municipal aerodromes of this country. The Government have got extremely good value for the, I think, £150,000 odd they have spent in subsidies for these clubs since their inception. They have got their value in aerodromes useful for the defence of this country which, in my opinion, would not have been built but for the light aeroplane club movement.

Then it may be said that the whole of the private-owner movement in this country springs from the light aeroplane club movement. That is of great importance. Certainly of great importance is the fact that the light aeroplane club movement has kept in being in this country a section of some of the best instructors and the best of the ground engineers and mechanics who during the lean time when the Air Force was cutting down year by year have been kept in training and to-day are of immense value for the increased air services required. But our position under the agreement of five years ago which is just coming to an end is a very different one from the position when we originally negotiated the agreement for the light aeroplane clubs five years ago. At that time instructors could be got. There was a glut of instructors. There were quite a number of people coming out of short service commission. There were regular instructors from the Air Force with no job to go to. We could get ground instructors and all the facilities at a very reasonable cost. I must say I am glad that the time has come that this particular skilled personnel are able to command a higher salary. I think in the past they have been very largely underpaid, but the fact remains that the increase of these salaries sometimes up to as much as and more than 5o per cent. on what it was when the last agreement was made is entirely due to the present expansion of the Air Force. The Air Force require for their various types of reserve skilled instructors and ground engineers of the type which are used in the clubs. Time after time have instructors been taken one after another and given a higher salary. I am not grumbling at that for one moment. An instructor must go where he can get the best remuneration and perform the best services for the community, but I think the Government must realise when this new agreement is made that the extra cost of wages and expenses of running a light aeroplane dub must fall upon the subsidy footing if the light club movement is to continue in existence.

I would make one or two suggestions before I close. The Government might have assisted some of the clubs—I do not say all—but there are clubs in some parts of the country where, I think, the Government should assist by sending to them some of those personnel who will be recruited for the volunteer reserve. There are cases in certain clubs where an instructor is not fully occupied, and undoubtedly they can take on other pupils in the Volunteer Reserve. Secondly, I think there is no doubt that, owing to the Volunteer Reserve scheme, a large number of young men who would have gone to the various clubs for the purpose of learning flying will now obviously learn their flying under the reserve scheme for nothing, which will mean that far fewer licences will be taken out by the club, which under, the plan based on an allowance for each pilot produced would very materially reduce the income of these particular clubs. It seems to me that the only possible solution to that is that we should have a reasonable subsidy per hour upon flying time of these clubs, and with less regard of the actual number of licences taken out.

Personally, I think we ought to go a great deal further with our training in the club schemes than we do. We ought to encourage people to fly across country much more than we do, although I think we in the civil side of flying are not alone in that respect. The same may be true of the Air Force itself. Certainly as regards club members facilities should be given in the new scheme of subsidy for encouragement for them to fly afield across country, and further encouragement should be given to them to take advance training—taking B licences, learning to fly blind and at night, and flying on two-engine machines.

That brings me to a point in connection with two-engine machines. There are one or two clubs which have started to use two-engine machines for training some of their pilots who are more advanced in training. They are, obviously, very much more expensive to fly. You cannot expect the same cost per hour for maintenance in a large two-engine machine as you would require in a small single-engine machine. All these various points are bound to be taken into consideration under the new subsidy agreement, and I am convinced that if it includes, as I understand it does, the advent of new clubs, the increase of £10,000 will by no means cover the extra cost which will be incurred by the clubs. There is just this other point. If you charge your subsidy upon the hours flown you get a very large amount of it back in petrol tax. I do not know whether the Committee realises it, but for every thousand hours flown a club pays £250 direct in petrol tax. Therefore, if you encourage the increase of flying rather than give the money actually for licences gained, you obtain a very considerable amount of that subsidy back direct to the Treasury in petrol tax. In my own club it is interesting to note that in five years we have received in subsidy £2,570, and we have paid in petrol tax £1,150. In five years we have Actually received a net amount from the Government of £1,470 —not a very large amount considering the extreme amount of flying activity which has taken place around the City of Leicester during that period.

The hour is late, but there is one small item I should like to mention. I am glad to see that the subsidy for gliders is again to be paid. I do not think this House gives quite enough attention to the gliding movement. It may be that Members like myself do not understand very much about it. But what I do know about it is that in this country we have made very substantial advances in gliding during the last year or two. We have now two excellent gliding schools or clubs, and the subsidy has been expended in improving the gliders made in England which, I believe, now are very nearly up to the standard of those which are produced abroad. But between gliders and the light aeroplane club there is another group of aircraft not mentioned at all except in the Maybury Committee report where they are mentioned twice. They are called the ultra-light aeroplanes.

I would ask the Under-Secretary if he would be good enough to look into the matter of ultra light aircraft as regards subsidy. I am not suggesting that it should be the same amount of subsidy as light air clubs. It would be illogical to leave out that particular class of aeroplane which is really used by the working classes. It is one of the types of aircraft the working classes can build and use. I have done something which hon. Members opposite have not tried to do. I have started a club in my neighbourhood entirely for the working class. I have purchased three machines for this club. The charges for these machines are 15s. an hour with the Drone type, and 8s. an hour for the ground trainer. If you bring that down to the weekly wage of the weekly wage earner it is not too expensive for him to afford. He can of course, go to a flying training school and learn for nothing, if he wishes, but if he wishes to fly one of these light machines I think the Government should give him every possible assistance. I am asking the Government not to overlook the claims of these individuals who supply the bulk of the people the Government require to assist them in a military capacity. I hope the Government will assist them on the aviation side also. I hope I have made these points clear, and that the right hon. Gentleman will consider them.

12.42 a.m.

Mr. Perkins

I do not apologise for detaining the Committee, because I have been sitting here since 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, and I have not inflicted my voice on the House since the passage of the Air Navigation Act last June. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary one or two questions to which I have been trying to get some answers, and failed. I see he is very good tempered, and I hope he will now give me an answer. The first question is with regard to the airship "Hindenburg," which last summer on three or four occasions flew over the industrial north of England. At that time there was an outcry in the north of England, and in this House Members were convinced that the Zeppelin was flying over this country to take photographs of docks, citadels and harbours. The result of that outcry was that the Director of Civil Aviation requested the German Air Ministry to keep the Zeppelin away from this country. As a result the Zeppelin cannot now fly over England and there has been a great deal of feeling between the German and British pilots with regard to the ridiculous attitude of the Air Ministry. There were people who believed that Dr. Eckener and passengers on the Zeppelin spent the whole time leaning over the side taking photographs. Any time of the day or night any foreign pilot can fly from aerodrome to aerodrome with an unsealed camera, and can take photographs of practically anything he likes without fear of interruption from the police, provided he does not land at a military aerodrome and has declared his camera when he came into this country.

I am convinced that a considerable number of these foreign pilots do take photographs. I think it is perfectly ridiculous to stop the Zeppelin coming over this country because she might take photographs of a harbour or factory when any time of the day or night continental pilots can fly over the country and take such photographs. The best course for the Air Ministry would be to allow the Hindenburg to fly over this country subject to the condition that she should give an undertaking that under no conditions would she fly in cloud, because there is a real danger of collision. I am sure Dr. Eckener would give an undertaking that the Zeppelin would fly over or under clouds and in that manner the danger would be avoided. The commander of the Zeppelin should also be asked to give three, four or six hours' notice before crossing England, and the projected course, so that stations in the vicinity would be warned that the Zeppelin would be crossing England. By that means, I think, we can improve the relations between the German and the English people and we would allow the Zeppelin to fly over England to America with little or no danger of collision.

I would like to raise the matter of the British air service to Scandinavia. We have got a recognised and subsidised British air line service to Stockholm. If I go to Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son and try to buy a ticket by that British air line, I find it is impossible. I have to travel by Dutch or German machines. It seems to me outrageous that these booking offices should compel members of the public to fly by foreign machines when there is a recognised British air line on that route. I ask the Under-Secretary to give an assurance he will look into the matter and do what he can. In actual fact he has done nothing at all and the position is as it was. We are determined to take the matter into our own hands and we are going to oppose every railway Bill as it comes before the House because we know the railway companies are the principal cause of this outrageous state of affairs. We are going to oppose any railway Bill until we bring the railway companies to their senses.

I want to ask another rather important question. As far as we can see there are only two alternatives in the future for the aircraft industry in this country. We are going to have a war or art arms convention. The result will be exactly the same, since there must be a considerable curtailment of the manufacturing industry, and there is bound to be a considerable increase in unemployment, and some of our factories will close down. Is there anyone at the Air Ministry who is looking ahead and thinking of the future and of what is to happen to the industry and these men when the time comes for an air convention? I am making the suggestion that the only solution of that problem will lie in increased export of British civil aircraft.

I have recently been to Canada. When I was there I made many inquiries in Canada as to the possibilities of increasing the export of British civil aircraft. I must say I came back very greatly impressed. I discovered one fact that absolutely staggered me. At this moment unsubsidised air lines in Canada are carrying more freight on a ton-mile basis than the total freight covered by all the other air lines in the world put together. I think that perhaps will be an eye-opener to some hon. Members. It does show there is to be in the future an almost unlimited market for aircraft in Canada. It seems to me that now is the time for the Air Ministry to strike. The Americans are rapidly getting control of that market. Unless we step in now with a suitable machine, we shall find the whole Canadian market in future is run and financed entirely from America.

At the same time I made certain inquiries about the Trans-Canada Airway which is to be opened this summer from Winnipeg to the coast. Already the aerodromes for this service are being put down right across Canada. About '100 are being built, one every 30 miles. I ask the Under-Secretary to visualise the future. I, as a member of the British public, shall be flying across the North Atlantic by a British machine by Imperial Airways and getting out at Montreal and going on the All-Red route across Canada, but I shall not be flying then by a British machine; instead it will perhaps be by an American machine. So far as I can make out, the chances of our getting that contract for running mails and passengers across Canada are at this moment negligible. It is almost a certainty that American machines will be used on that All-Red route. I have made suggestions to the Air Ministry and it seems to me very important that we should try to get that contract. I have suggested that there is only one possible way in which we can get it, and that is to see if we can persuade the hard-hearted Air Ministry to allow the first six of the new Blenheim bombers to be converted into civil machines and shipped over to Canada. The reason I suggest that is because these machines are three years in front of their times. With these bombers we could outpace the American machines, because they are infinitely superior to them. I would urge on the Under-Secretary, for the future of British aviation in Canada, to see whether it could not be arranged that these first six Blenheim machines should be sent over there in order that we may get a foothold in this market which, I believe, will one day become very extensive.

I should like to turn to another subject of which I have given the right hon. Gentleman notice. It has to do with the question of de-icing. I read my "Daily Telegraph" last Wednesday morning and I found a most staggering fact, namely, that on Tuesday morning, a week ago, until half-past 12 in the morning no British aircraft of any kind could leave either Croydon or Gatwick for the Continent. Yet at the same time the French, Dutch, German and Swiss air liners all went to schedule. In other words, the British air liners could not fly last Tuesday whereas the foreign machines could. I read the article a little further and discovered the reason why. The British machines were not fitted with de-icers, whereas the foreign machines all had some form of de-icing equipment. The result was that at a time when ice-forming conditions were prevalent on the southeast coast only foreign machines went up, whereas the British machines kept on the ground.

When I ask the Under-Secretary what the excuse is, I know what he will say. He will probably say, "Oh, but the deicing equipment is not perfect." I know it is not. No one has ever claimed that it is. It is not perfect. The right hon. Gentleman is not perfect; nothing in the aircraft industry is perfect. But surely the facts speak for themselves—that the machines of four different nationalities which had got this equipment got there, whereas British machines without it failed to get there. If he wants further proof about de-icing apparatus, I hope he will take the trouble to go to America and see for himself, because all air liners there, or practically all the new ones, are equipped with it both on the wings and the propellers. If he will go there and talk to the pilots who fly these machines, he will come back as convinced as I am that the apparatus, although not 100 per cent. perfect, is nevertheless very much better than no apparatus at all. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say the Air Ministry has handed this over to Farnborough who are considering it. The Committee knows fully well all that that means. Whenever a Government gets into a difficulty it either refers the matter in question to a Select Committee or appoints a Royal Commission. The same is true of the Air Ministry. Whenever they get any trouble they try to shelter behind Farnborough.

I have attacked Farnborough on many occasions and I hold no brief for them. I believe they would fiddle even if London were burning. But I do claim it is rather unfair for the Air Ministry to shelter behind Farnborough on this occasion, because I do not believe Farnborough are the real cause of this unfortunate fact, that British aeroplanes are not properly equipped with this elementary safety device. The real cause lies in the Air Council. The Air Council sit in the Air Ministry and read all the reports that come in from the Continent, but in actual fact they do not get out on to the airways of the world to see for themselves what is going on. I believe the Air Council are largely responsible for the present lamentable situation in which we find ourselves, in which British aircraft cannot fly in freezing conditions, whereas foreign aircraft are able to come in and steal the traffic from under our noses.

I suggest, therefore, to the Under-Secretary that it would be very much in the interests of British aviation industry and British aircraft generally if one member of the Air Council could spend three months in the year touring the world, flying on American and Continental air liners, and on Russian, in order to see for himself, and not have to depend on reports pouring into the Air Ministry. He could then make reports to the Air Council and make comparisons between what foreign countries are doing and what we are doing in this country.

12.57 a.m.

Wing-Commander Wright

I, too, have been sitting here since 4 o'clock, but, notwithstanding that, I will keep my remarks as short as possible in view of the lateness of the hour. I wish to say a few words with regard to the Maybury Report which we have all read with such considerable interest. We had to wait for a very long time for it, but when we had it we admitted it was a very good report. That is not to be taken as meaning that we necessarily agree with all its recommendations. There is, however, one recommendation in the report which is extremely valuable. It is that the Government should instal proper directional control which would include fog landing and bad weather landing devices. The acceptance of that recommendation would entirely remove what has been the greatest stumbling block up to the present in the real development of civil aviation in this country—and when I say civil aviation, I mean aerial transport, and I am not referring so much to private flying.

In my view aerial transport is the real development of the future, and is the thing on which we, and particularly the Government, should concentrate. If this apparatus is installed it will make it possible to fly regular services day and night in all conditions of weather with reasonable safety such as one expects in the performance of public transport. These are the conditions for which the public have been waiting. The public do not need to be made air-minded in order to take advantage of proper facilities for air travel when they are offered to them. This is evinced by the fact that the part of the Maybury Report which has been seized upon by the public and the Press was not the important matter of directional control, but the junction scheme. This has aroused interest because they were particularly interested to know what opportunities were to be provided for them to indulge in aerial transport in this country.

It seems to me in suggesting that junction scheme the Committee were somewhat at fault. They seemed to think that a number of air lines can be run on a commercially sound basis taking the past as a criterion. That is the wrong outlook. They should be looking forward instead of backward. If the past is to be the criterion of aerial transport in this country, it is high time we put a stop to the amount of public money being spent to-day on civilian aerodromes, because it would be a very considerable extravagance. Of course, that is not the criterion. The job before the country and the Government is to provide proper services, and when they are provided they will attract the traffic. We have a very good example in the motor trade. If Henry Ford or Lord Nuffield had said, "When there are 1,500 people per week who will buy cars we will reduce the price," very few cars would be sold at 200. They took the long view and said, "We will put a car on the market at if £100, because we know in offering that to the public there will be 1,500 people who will buy that car each week.

It is exactly the same in aerial transport. We have to give the public a regular service at a reasonable cost, and, as far as we can ensure it, complete safety by the installation of a proper and well-known system of directional control. A reasonable price will follow in the same way as it has done with the motor car. To my mind the idea of the junction scheme completely spoils the great advance we were getting from directional control. If the amount of traffic is going to necessitate a junction scheme between our big centres, then we are going to waste time and money in this development. There will of course have to be a junction scheme for the reception of feeder lines from smaller districts. The suggestion of a junction air port has caused a great deal of despondency and alarm among those who have been, at the instigation of the Air Ministry, spending very large sums on the development of municipal aerodromes. Many of them find themselves entirely left out from this initial and national scheme of internal transport, and at least one very big scheme of one of the most progressive places in the whole country is definitely held up pending further information with regard to this junction scheme.

I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Air will be able to assure us that, at all events, before this scheme is finally put into operation those municipalities which are spending these very large sums of public money will be consulted, and that certainly they will be consulted before anything in the nature of exclusive licences are granted to any company or group of companies. Surely the municipality which is prepared to spend £500,000 in providing an aerodrome for the benefit of its own citizens is at least entitled to have the right to negotiate for such services as it may consider are necessary. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us an assurance in this matter.

There is another point on which I want to touch. I do feel that civil aviation up to the present has definitely suffered from being too closely linked to the military side. The Maybury Report shows the tendency that way. The requirements of military aviation and the requirements of civil transport are pulling in entirely opposite directions. The military side does definitely require people to be air-minded, because they want eventually to use them as pilots. They want many aerodromes and landing grounds of an entirely different type, and they want a method of giving the position of an aircraft to a pilot in the air which is not at all really suitable for the pilot flying a civilian transport machine. On the civil side we do not particularly mind whether people are air-minded. They will travel and make use of services when we give regularity, and reasonable prices and safety. The civil side requires large and specially constructed aerodromes suitable for bad weather, fog and night landing, and it requires a method of directional control which is absolutely essential for its proper development in peace time, and which is absolutely useless during war time. The conflict between those two sides has definitely set civil aviation back in this country.

On account of what is happening at the moment it is only natural that the civil side has had to take second place, and my only fear is now that the things which are required and recommended by the Maybury Committee will clash to some extent with the military side, and that possibly the civil side will suffer. I hope the Under-Secretary of State can also give us the assurance that where these clashes occur, as undoubtedly they will in connection with directional control, the civil side will get the fair end of the stick. I am one of those people who believe that the real development of civil aviation, the bringing it within the reach of the mass of the people, is going to help us towards that development of the universal peace that we all desire so much to see. I believe that in the end it may have an even greater effect than the military side of our aircraft.

1.10 a.m.

Mr. Lyons

There are two or three matters in connection with civil aviation which are causing many of us some great apprehension, and I would like to direct the attention of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to some of them. This is a Vote which stands at something approaching £2,500,000, representing a net increase of over £1,500,000 over the corresponding period of 1936, and even at this late hour perhaps I may be permitted to put to him some of the difficulties from which we are suffering. We welcome the increase of air activity and want to promote it each year. It is perfectly true, and we appreciate the fact, that Imperial Airways became the chosen instrument some years ago for the manifestation of our part in civil aviation, and I would like to pay my tribute to what I have experience enough to know is the perfected service in very difficult circum- stances throughout the Empire of that great, vast Imperial Airways system. It put an end to inefficiency and wastefulness.

But we also know that a huge amount of money has been spent in this country upon the development of civil aviation. Civil aviation cannot be yet expected to fly by itself. This House, by great majorities, has voted, quite properly if I may say so, large sums of money for the subsidy which will be paid for the Empire air services. There are major developments which we all welcome which have been costly and yet which we believe are absolutely essential for the air communication of our Empire. Distances must be overcome and our contacts made easier. But we believe in this country there is some substantial need for the development of internal air lines, and the recent record of the internal air lines of this country is very disturbing. I asked my right hon. Friend the other day to give me the details of those air services which have been suspended. We found many which had been performing their important services across country had been suspended from one cause or another. There has not been sufficient internal lines in operation. I found—speaking very locally upon this matter—that the air port of the City of Leicester, established at great cost with great hope with the intention of becoming a very important link in the internal air services of this country, is now catering for far less air traffic from internal air services than when it was first opened by the Secretary of State for Air three years ago. The place is there: the traffic is not promoted; it has not been maintained.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), has done much for the development of civil aviation in this country, and he will realise with at least the same regret as myself that what I have just said is, unfortunately, true. I would ask my right hon. Friend, in the work he has to do in the making of civil aviation, what is going to be the future of those airports, well able, as they are, to cater for traffic which is wanted throughout the country, yet for which apparently no subvention or aid is being given? The need for the development of internal air lines in this country is apparent. For years now, steps have been taken to make the public air-minded, and to make them realise that by air travel they can go in the quickest time between two given points in comparative safety with great advantages, yet no attempt is being made to maintain services which pioneers have put down, or to improve services which have been established between the airports of this country. The airports exist, and it seems that precious little help is forthcoming in order that they should be well established or developed.

What some of us ask for is not intended to confine the work of Imperial Airways. We do not suggest for a moment that this great Imperial body should suffer in the help given. Let us extend Imperial Airways wherever possible, but we do believe that, complementary to this great service, there are opportunities by which airports could be made more useful to the internal air lines. We hoped, when we saw municipal aerodromes established, that my right hon. Friend would come along on behalf of his Department and, in an attempt to make the community more air-minded, would help to lay out every attraction to invite people to come to these airports, to take enjoyment in the open air and to see the flying, even if they did not participate. Nothing has been done. Air lines have ceased because of the lack of assistance and because of the complete inability of flying by themselves, so that we get the position which has arisen in the City of Leicester, where there is a complete absence of commercial flying now. There was a very substantial service three years ago in cross-country traffic, when the municipal airport was first opened.

I want my right hon. Friend to tell me what steps are being taken to give a central airport at long last to the City of London. There can be no doubt that the situation at Croydon is very unsatisfactory. Time and time again recommendations are made. One place after another it is suggested should be established, but, so far as we know, although my right hon. Friend says that the May-bury Report is under consideration by his Department no steps are being taken to establish that very important airport for Central London. It would not take a lot of grants of money to make all the difference to civil aviation in this country. It would not take very much work from the Air Ministry to do something for each municipal airport that would make that airport a living thing in air communications. It would not take a great deal of energy to bring into being a Central London airport which would justify its position in the centre of the Empire. The air is indeed the road, rail and sea of the future. We go on year after year, and no steps seem to be taken. When can we expect that a site will be really chosen—not a nebulous position like the Fairlop site would be, a place that had no communication with London or facilities to take people to and from it, into the heart of London. I would like to know whether some steps could be taken immediately to establish in a central position an airport which will be a credit to London where air services mean so much. We must have a central, accessible airport: we are late now.

Reference was made to-night by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) to the attempts to give a service of British lines to certain places on the Continent. We have been asking about this for a long time. So far as I know no answer has been forthcoming. If it be the fact, as I am reluctantly compelled to believe it is, that you cannot go into a British tourist agency and book a ticket to fly to Stockholm or MalmÖ on a British line, the position is nothing short of disgraceful. If we are wrong, both my hon. Friends and myself would like to be corrected, but we are only unhappily too sure that the position is as has been indicated. Surely we could be told to-night what the reason is. I believe there is no fact at all which could justify the travelling of British people perforce on foreign air lines. We have the best service of air lines and the safest type of air travel the world has ever known, yet it seems as if, when one wishes to go to either Stockholm or MalmÖ, that one is forced to travel in a foreign line. What is being done to rectify this position? If there was an answer to that question, surely, over a long period of time, we are entitled to know what the answer is. What vested interest is being enforced by the railway companies? If there is some ramp we want it exposed. If there is any reason why the Air Ministry thinks the public should use foreign instead of British travel, we should like to know. Whatever the facts may be, it operates to the very great difficulties of the civil air development of this country. I have for a long time said that the Air Ministry should continue to control as one entity both civil aviation and the Royal Air Force. I do not want to see the divorcing of the two branches about which many people have spoken, but the present position shows that attention is not paid to the development of civil aviation which the position demands. At this hour one is compelled to curtail one's remarks; I have limited myself to civil aviation, though our other air programme is so expanded. I have not endeavoured to deal entirely with all these considerations of civil aviation, but I believe that this House is more convinced than ever of the great future for civil aviation. Development in the last few years has been rapid, and the development of the future should be far speedier. Let us see that our opportunities are not missed.

1.23 a.m.

Sir P. Sassoon

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester (Mr. Lyons) and the hon. Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) dwelt on the situation of the internal air lines. Both seemed to be agreed that the situation was not as happy as it should be. It was exactly for that reason that we set up the May-bury Committee to look into the whole question of civil aviation development in the United Kingdom. I think hon. Members will agree that that Committee has rendered a very valuable report. There are many things, of course, in that report to which members who represent great cities with municipal aerodromes of their own might, perhaps, take exception, but if the junction scheme be a success—after all it is only an experiment; it was only intended to be an experiment, and does not rule out direct services—and it becomes more widely spread over the country, I hope that the great cities of Birmingham and Leicester will come within it. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Erdington was in agreement with Sir Henry Maybury as to the need for extensive wireless radio development and beacons all over the country.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester was unnecessarily gloomy over the subject of airports for London. I know it is a subject in which he has taken the greatest interest. He has often asked me questions and often, I think, I have not satisfied him with my replies. But I cannot see why the proposal for making an airport at Fairlop should be looked at askance. It is not very far from London, and although at present the communications are not perfect, those which are to be set up will, I think, be satisfactory. In the vote we are taking to-night we hope that the Committee will approve of the purchase of Heston, a very suitable place for an airport for London. I think he should take a rosier view of the future of airports for London.

Mr. Lyons

Do I take it the right hon. Gentleman is not committed to Fairlop?

Sir P. Sassoon

No. It is a matter for the City of London. They are in negotiation, and I gather they are going to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) suggested that members of the Air Council should spend most of their time making an air tour round the world. If members of the Air Council were invited to do that, and they could spare the time, they would be very glad; but it is wrong to think that because they do not tour the world they are not fully aware of the developments in this and other countries and are not open to receive suggestions. On the subject of deicers it is true that there was an occasion last week to which the hon. Gentleman referred when certain continental liners were able to leave Croydon and English liners were not. There are apparently certain continental lines which fit de-icers, although I think the Belgians, Germans and Swiss do not use them. The difficulty of Imperial Airways liners is that they have very thin wings and it is impossible to fit the Goodrich de-icers on them. When they get their new monoplanes it may be practicable to fit these Goodrich de-icers. They use them in America. The principal thing is to keep the engine from freezing, and on our new types we are going to have the apparatus necessary to prevent this.

With regard to the booking offices, the Committee knows the situation. This is a matter entirely for the railway companies, and the Air Ministry have no control over them. We have tried in every possible way to get them to see differently on this subject, and we have failed. We hear—and I am very glad—that the hon. Gentleman is going to take the matter into his own hands. I congratulate him and wish him the best of luck.

Mr. Ede

Is that a Government pronouncement of their attitude towards railway companies' Bills?

Sir P. Sassoon

No. I said that if the hon. Member got the railway companies to include tickets for British companies, I would be the first to congratulate him.

Mr. Simmonds

I do not want to detain the right hon. Gentleman, but I would ask him a very important question. Would he undertake that the contract under the Maybury scheme will not be given to the railway air services unless they waive this objectionable attitude with regard to other lines?

Sir P. Sassoon

I do not think I would like to pledge myself to that without looking into the matter further, but I do say that we have done everything we can.

The question of the "Hindenburg" airship has also been raised. Hon. Members know the reasons why we asked the "Hindenburg" not to fly over England. It was purely for safety reasons. With the amount of cloud that we unfortunately have in this country, it is unsafe very often to have these big flying machines cruising over England, and we had on one occasion very nearly a bad accident, as hon. Members know.

Mr. Perkins

Why did you build the R. 101?

Sir P. Sassoon

It belonged to us, and we had to put up with that. We have to-day a request before us and I believe it is being considered. Finally, I would like to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Melton who gave us a very interesting account—and nobody knows better than he does—all about the light aeroplane clubs. He knows how much we appreciate all he has done for this movement, and how valuable the Government think that movement is. He made several suggestions with which I will not deal to-night, because, as he knows, they are under discussion with the clubs at present, and I think on certain matters we shall be able to meet them. He spoke, also, about the small ultra-light aeroplanes for which he hoped he might be able to get a subsidy. I think we must first get the whole scheme going with the clubs, and then when we have done that and got it properly completed, we can turn our attention to other matters.

Question, That a sum, not exceeding £2,315,000, be granted to His Majesty to defray the Expense of Civil Aviation, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, put, and agreed to.