§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Perkins
I beg to move,That this House is of the opinion that a public inquiry should be held to review the present situation of British Civil Aviation and make recommendations.Like the daughter of Herodias, I ask the House to-day to give me the head of the Secretary of State for Air in a charger. I am asking for nothing less than a public inquiry, because I believe nothing less than a public inquiry will compel the Air * Ministry to take some action in the matter. My only regret is that the Secretary of State himself is not a Member of this House so that he could reply to the charges I am going to make. I hope, however, to give him an opportunity to reply to the charges, and in due course there will be another discussion in another place.
At the outset I ought to explain my own position. There have been rumours circulating to the effect that I am financially interested in the aircraft industry. I have no financial interest whatsoever in any branch of the aircraft industry. There is one possible exception, and that is that I am a director of a company which has received an inquiry and, I believe, an order from the Air Ministry to provide hydrogen plants for filling the balloon barrage around London. Beyond that I have no financial interest whatever, and the only reason why I am raising this matter this afternoon is because, like many hon. Members, I am thoroughly dissatisfied with the present position and future prospects of British civil aviation. We know that all is not well. We know that we are behind the Americans and Germans, and we dislike being laughed at by Americans and Germans, and even by the Dutch. Since I have been in rather close contact with a considerable number of professional pilots at Croydon I have heard several tales. When Messrs. Imperial Airways a few years ago tried to run a night service to Berlin they sent over a machine which, I am informed, they bought second-hand from the Royal Air Force, and when it landed at Berlin it was the object of a joke; German pilots actually tied a parrot's cage to its tail. Tales of this kind tend to bring British civil aviation into disrepute. I am trying in my own way to call attention to a serious position, and I am inspired simply and solely by a 418 desire to see British civil aviation leading the world in just the same way as British shipping leads the world now.
There are five matters I want to raise. They have been raised before but we have never had any satisfactory reply. First, there is the question of subsidies which are given to two British air lines—Imperial Airways and British Airways. Both these air lines run services to Paris. In other words, we are faced with the Gilbertian situation of two British air lines both subsidised by the Government competing with each other, cutting each other's throat, on the same route. I know the Minister's reply will be that British Airways are only subsidised to go to Scandinavia, and that they are not specifically subsidised for the London-Paris route. To that my reply is that if there was no subsidy whatever, neither of these air lines would be in existence for more than a year and, therefore, I claim it is true to say that we are subsidising two companies to compete with each other on the same route.
Next I come to the subject raised at question time to-day—the fact that after years of neglect there is no civil air-liner of a size suitable to sell in the Empire or in Europe. British Airways, the chosen instrument of the Government, a short time ago desired to buy more aeroplanes. They searched this country and could not find a suitable aeroplane, and as a result they bought German and American aeroplanes. To-night, when the night mail air service goes from Croydon to reach Berlin in the early hours of tomorrow morning it will be carried by British pilots on a German machine. But that is not only true of this country. It is true of the whole of our Empire. The new airline which is being opened across Canada is to be equipped entirely with American machines. In the early part of this year after I had come back from Canada I went to the Air Ministry and told them what I had heard, that the contract would certainty go to America. I begged, I implored, trie Air Ministry to release the only possible machine which could secure the contract for this country, that is the Blenheim bomber, and I was refused. I notice that since then Blenheim bombers have been supplied to Turkey.
The losing of that contract is an important matter. In the future a traveller 419 wishing to fly round the world will fly by Imperial Airways over the Atlantic and also over the Pacific, and he will fly from Hong Kong home also by Imperial Airways, but when he goes across Canada he will go on a British Air Line which is using American machines. But it is also true of South Africa. South African Airways have recently ordered 22 German machines in order to run services in South Africa, and last, but not least, Australia is beginning to follow suit. Australia has just ordered one machine from America. I am told it is a model, on trial. Unless the Air Ministry wake up to the seriousness of the position we shall lose for all time the whole of the Empire markets for British civil air power.
I come to a question which affects many hon. Members, and that is the position of municipal air ports. For the last eight years the Government have been encouraging the creation of municipal air ports, and a considerable number have been built. These air ports cost the ratepayers a great deal of money, but now the municipalities are finding them nothing more than white elephants. I have a letter written by an organisation called the Municipal Corporations Association, in which they say that the losses on these air ports vary from £2,800 a year to £20,000 a year. Everyone knows that these air ports, generally speaking, are completely stagnant. Meanwhile the officials at the Air Ministry sit back in their chairs with their arms folded, and so far have done practically nothing whatever to help these aerodromes. They have not even set up the licensing authority recommended in the Maybury Report. During the Royal Air Force expansion scheme many new aerodromes were built. In my own area there are three municipal aerodromes, and yet not one of these has been used by the Air Ministry. Instead of that they have built no less than six Royal Air Force aerodromes, and are going to build one large Government store. They have deliberately banged and bolted the door against municipal aerodromes in the west of England, and naturally there is considerable resentment among the ratepayers, who feel that they have been badly let down by the Government.
The fourth point is the question of an aerodrome for London. I claim that 420 nothing has been done and that nothing will be done in the near future for the creation of an adequate air port for London. Everyone knows that the wireless directions given from Croydon are described as second-class; they are liable to great error. In the middle of Croydon Aerodrome there is a terrific dip, so deep that an aeroplane can completely disappear from sight. In the words of the chairman of Imperial Airways, a gentleman who is not very friendly towards me at the moment, "Croydon has inherent drawbacks." I do not believe that whatever money is spent on Croydon Aerodrome it can ever be a first-class air port.
I come to the alternatives. There are Gatwick and Gravesend. Hon. Members may remember a prospectus which appeared in the newspapers on 6th June, 1935, under the name of Airports; Limited. I have read that prospectus, and I find one interesting paragraph which naturally was put right in the middle of the prospectus.The Air Ministry have undertaken that "…" they will enter into agreements with the company whereby "…" the Air Ministry will make annual payment to the company during the next 15 years.The amount, of course, was not disclosed. Later on, under the heading "Sources of Revenue," I find one of the sources mentioned was payment by the British Air Ministry under contract in respect of night flying equipment. The Air Ministry honoured their bond: The Secretary of State went down to open the airport a year later and was backed up by the Royal Air Force. I claim that in fact the Air Ministry encouraged this flotation. I claim that they were responsible for this flotation, and that on the statement which appeared, to the effect that the Air Ministry were prepared to pay a certain amount of money towards it, a considerable amount of money was put up. Many widows put up their mites because the Air Ministry allowed this statement to go forth.
What is the position now? The only air liners operating from there were British Airways, and in six months they had gone because the aerodrome was unsuitable, I am told that this morning the shares are worth about io£d. The widows' mites have all been lost and in order to save the face of the Air Ministry these two aerodromes have ceased to be terminal 421 airports for London and are now being turned into reserve training schools. I wonder whether, when these two contracts were given, there was any competition or whether they were given without competition in order to save the face of the Air Ministry. I cannot help feeling that the Air Ministry are very wise indeed to refuse the inquiry for which I am asking. Croydon is second class and it can never be more than second class. Gatwick and Gravesend are out of the question. Heston at the moment is too small. The London County Council have flatly refused to do anything because they say it is the responsibility of the Air Ministry. Now we are faced with the fact that London, the heart of the world, is left with one adequate aerodrome, and that one is only worthy of a second class Balkan State. Unless something is done and clone quickly passengers from London to Paris will spend more time on the road than they will spend in the air.
Now I come to my last complaint against the Air Ministry as such, and that is connected with the railway clearing houses. I made inquiries on this matter but found it very difficult to get accurate information. I am quite frank with the House, and if I am wrong I hope any hon. Member who is in a position to do so will get up and say that I am wrong, and I shall withdraw what I have said. But as far as I can make out there is the closest possible connection between the following companies: The railway companies, Imperial Airways, Railway Air Sendees, British Airways, British Continental Airways, Hillman Airways, Spartan Airways, Northern and Scottish Airways, Highland Airways, Western Islands Airways, Jersey Airways, Blackpool and West Coast Airways and the Isle of Man Airways. In other words, with a few exceptions practically all the internal and external services are under the same influence or the same control in this country. I shall make one or two observations on that point.
This amalgamation, this great organisation, has in fact closed all the booking facilities to anyone who is outside the ring. I well remember that about six or eight months ago this matter was raised in the House. Hon. Members here were very indignant about it. In particular I am referring to the fact that this octopus was then refusing to allow British Airways, which was a subsidised company 422 and then outside the ring—to allow the railway clearing house and travel agencies to book for them. There was an outcry. I raised the matter again and again in the House and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) took a prominent part in the matter. We blocked all the railway Bills until the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) made a very fine fighting speech and we won the day. The same thing has happened again. North Eastern Airways, the only air line going up to the north east of England and making use of municipal aerodromes on the East Coast, finds itself in exactly the same position. Not only are the railway clearing house and all the main booking offices closed to it, but they in their turn have used the big stick with their sub-agents and it is now practically impossible for anyone to buy a ticket for that air line. I believe that the policy of the railway companies who have got a very substantial holding in this group, is to treat civil aviation in the same way as they treated the canals in the early days. Either they want to break them or buy them out and if they buy them out, the idea is to wring their necks.
As I look ahead I cannot help feeling a great deal of sympathy for the professional pilots in this country, because it is going to mean in future, and probably means now, that every pilot if he is dismissed from one particular air line in this group automatically is dismissed from the whole lot. I believe the companies can use this weapon to force a general lowering of the status of pilots. There is one other point. This great amalgamation has, and certainly if it has not now will in future have, the power to hold a pistol at the head of the Government and to say to the Government, "Give us a subsidy for air lines in this country or we will shut down the whole of British civil aviation." I am as good a Conservative as any hon. Member behind me, but I cannot help wondering whether nationalisation of our internal air services and our external air services - would not be preferable to the present position, because as far as I know the whole of British aviation is rapidly coming under the control of two financial houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they? "] Hon. Members ask who they are. They are D'Erlangers and Whitehall Securities.
423 I believe that the Air Ministry know that what I have told the House is true. But the Air Ministry are either unwilling or incapable of doing anything. They have sat back with their arms folded. The fundamental trouble is, I believe, that members of the Air Council who rule the roost have a military outlook and drag along civil aviation in the same way as a mother drags along an unwanted child. Until we can get civil aviation away from the militaristic outlook of the Air Ministry and hand it where it ought to be, to the Ministry of Transport, we shall never get fair play for civil aviation in this country.
Let me now refer to a subject that I raised the other night, the position of the organisation known as the Air Line Pilots' Association. I am not going into great detail because I talked on this subject a fortnight ago. The main object of this Association in general is to maintain the status of professional pilots in this country, and as such we are at this moment opposing by every method in our power the present policy of Imperial Airways to cut the salaries of new pilots coming into the service. We are also opposing them on certain abuses which are becoming very common. There was an air liner called the "Hanno" which forced-landed somewhere near Bahrein some time ago. I have good reason for suspecting that the pilot had flown all night and in fact had been employed continuously for 18 hours on end without sleep. I am also informed that this is quite a normal occurrence for pilots east of Cairo. I cannot vouch for that statement because I have not seen the pilot, but I have seen a considerable number of pilots who are prepared at a public inquiry to come forward and give evidence to that effect. We do not want to dictate. All we want is to co-operate in a friendly way.
Let me give one or two instances of what I mean. We want to raise such matters as: the position of landing lights on aeroplanes; a pilot being unable to see the petrol gauges, or perhaps the instruments do not work under icy conditions; or the pilot cannot get his engine revolutions in conditions of snow or ice. These things are not found out by those who are sitting in offices in London. They are found out only by the men who fly 424 aeroplanes under all conditions. We should be told by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford, "Oh, but these matters can be raised now. Any pilot who finds these things can approach the management." Certain pilots approached the management only a short time ago about the equipment for the Budapest service, and they were all promptly dismissed. How can anyone say that direct approach to Imperial Airways is working successfully at the moment? No pilot dare complain because he will be dismissed the next day.
I repeat the charges I made the other night, that in my view and from the evidence put before me there has been a considerable amount of victimisation at Croydon. I find it difficult to believe that out of 200 pilots employed by Imperial Airways it is purely a coincidence that the chairman and the vice-chairman of this organisation should have been suddenly dismissed, although neither of them had ever broken anything and one of them had been employed by the company for some 18 years. There are many grievances. I am prepared at a public inquiry to give 10 to 15 cases where I believe that victimisation has taken place. I shall read one letter to the House. I have the original here and will show it to any one who is interested. A pilot wrote to the organisation:Imperial Airways have chosen to withhold my May and June flying pay, subject to my signing a form.The form was the new contract under which the pilot was to receive a lower scale of pay. They held a big stick over this pilot and said to him "Unless you sign this contract we are going to withhold your May pay and June pay." The Secretary of State has told us that he is satisfied there is no victimisation, but I most respectfully suggest to him that he has heard only one side of the case. He has interviewed only the Government directors; he has not interviewed the men themselves. Therefore I believe that he has prejudged the case. For that reason we are asking this House for a trial by jury. If we cannot get a public inquiry and if a trial by jury is impossible we ask for a judge who is at any rate prepared to hear both sides of the case and not to hear only one side. Why has this inquiry been refused? It is a simple thing. We ask for a public or a private inquiry—we do not mind which. Why has 425 it been refused? I believe the reason is that neither the Air Ministry nor Imperial Airways are prepared to face it. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State, if he sees fit, will either confirm or deny the rumour which is now in circulation to the effect that the staff manager of the whole company, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Tom Webb-Bowen, has suddenly resigned from the company. I am informed that that is the case and that lie has resigned on personal grounds; but I cannot help thinking that it is at least a little suspicious that this gentleman should suddenly have resigned at the very moment when this conflict is at its highest.
Suggestions have appeared in the Press, and have been made to me, that our organisation should join up with another organisation known as the Guild of Air Pilots. The Guild has done good work in the past, but it is now quickly becoming nothing more nor less than a city company. In fact, it is slowly dying, so engrossed in its own fat that it cannot see out of its own eyes. There are people who would welcome amalgamation with the Guild, but from what I know it appears to be impossible, because we have a suspicion—a very good suspicion, I think—that the Guild of Air Pilots is in close connection with Imperial Airways. If we cannot amalgamate with the Guild—and I have very grave doubts whether that will be possible—there is only one alternative left to us, and it is to look around for another and bigger tree, a tree with different leaves, under which we can take shelter. [An HON. MEMBER; "The T.U.C."]
I will now deal with matters connected with British civil aviation in foreign parts. As the House knows, there are two main operating companies, British Airways and Imperial Airways. My relations with British Airways are more than friendly. I am completely satisfied that they are doing everything in their power to uphold the prestige of British civil aviation. They are using up-to-date machines—I know they are American machines, but they have to be because there are no British machines available—they are using up-to-date equipment; they are popular; they are running to full capacity—and at any rate they are trying. But unfortunately, my relations with Imperial Airways at the moment appear to be a little strained. 426 In fact, I have not even been asked to dinner with the managing director.
It has been suggested to me that it is wrong to criticise Imperial Airways. It has been suggested that to do so is unpatriotic, and that by criticising them, one undermines British prestige. Imperial Airways are nothing more nor less than a public utility company. They are heavily subsidised by the taxpayers of this country, they are paying a very large dividend, and they are increasing their directors' fees. Surely Members of this House have not only the right but the public duty to subject this company to the most searching criticism and inquiry in order to see that we get value for our money. I rather resent the attempts that have been made to stifle criticism of Imperial Airways. Those attempts savour very unpleasantly of those totalitarian methods which are now so popular in certain countries in Europe and against which this country has been the main bulwark in the past.
I will give the House a few facts. In the first place, hon. Members know the Government's attitude. The Government wash their hands of Imperial Airways; they say that the company are merely sub-contractors and that the Government cannot take any responsibility for them. The second fact is that the chairman of Imperial Airways, a very able, charming and brilliant business man, is a director of many companies, and Imperial Airways have not a full-time chairman. The third fact is that there are two Government directors on the board. The fourth fact is that the Government hold all the deferred shares. The fifth fact is that there is an increasing subsidy being paid by the Government to the company every year. The sixth fact is that Imperial Airways receive very large mail contracts from the Government.
I wish, first of all, to criticise the company on financial grounds. I would like to pay a tribute to the sporting way in which the Air Ministry have not hidden anything and have given me all the figures for which I have asked. According to the figures which they have supplied to me, in 1936 Imperial Airways received from the Government £377,000, and it is estimated that in 1938, two years later, the figure will have gone up to £800,000, more than double. Out of this increase, the dividend, which last year 427 was 8 per cent., has been increased to 9 per cent., and the directors' fees, which were £6,500, have gone up to £12,000, very nearly double—no doubt due to the cost of living. With regard to pilots' salaries, many officially-inspired statements have appeared in the Press which have given the impression that pilots get round about £1,500 a year. I have made detailed inquiries, and I am prepared to dispute the statements that have been made. I have in my possession particulars of the assessment by the Income Tax authorities of one of the captains now employed by Imperial Airways. Instead of the £1,500 which I expected to see, there is only a miserable £300. I believe that if a public inquiry were made into the salaries that are paid to the pilots, the figures which have been given in the Press would be proved to be greatly exaggerated.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
Has the hon. Member any information as to what salary the pilots of Pan-American Airways get?
§ Mr. Perkins
I know that my hon. Friend has some figures on that subject, because he has just come back from America. I am sorry, but I have not the faintest idea what the salaries are. Whether or not the pilots of Imperial Airways get the figures which have been published, the facts remains that, according to a statement made by the managing director of that company to the Press, new entrants to the company come in at a lower rate of salary. In other words, I maintain that the salaries have been cut. It seems to me to be an outrageous state of affairs that a public utility company such as Imperial Airways, receiving an increased subsidy out of public funds, should in the same year not only cut the salaries of its pilots but increase its dividend from 8 per cent, to 9 per cent, and more or less double its directors' fees. I know what the excuse will be. Of course it will be that neither the dividends nor the directors' fees are paid out of the subsidy. But if there were no subsidy paid to Imperial Airways, there would be no Imperial Airways, no dividend and no directors' fees. I find it almost impossible to believe that it is possible to keep two different sets of accounts, one of which is dependent upon money that is received by subsidy, and the other based upon what is earned by other methods.
428 Hon. Members will say, "Criticise them as you may, Imperial Airways are the safest air line in the world." I dispute that statement. Hon. Members may remember that when the "City of Khartoum" crashed about two years ago, there was an outcry in this House and very unwillingly, after threats had been made to raise the matter on the Adjournment, the Air Minister finally agreed to publish the report of the inquiry. I have that report here. There are two statements of fact in the summary which stand out and which we must face. The first is to the effect that Imperial Airways had regularly been "cutting things too fine" on the Mediterranean route as far as petrol was concerned. The other fact which came out in the report was that if the ground organisation had been up to scratch, some lives could have been saved. That is food for thought.
I have made a few inquiries as to the number of accidents, and the deaths which have resulted from those accidents, during the last four or five years. I find that if one compares the figures for this year and last year with the figures for the two previous years, there has been an increase of 50 per cent, in the number of deaths. In 1934–35, 12 people lost then-lives, whereas in 1936–37 the figure had risen to 19. It is only by the greatest luck that that number was not very much higher, because although there were seven major accidents involving loss of life during the last two years, from information which I have received it appears that nine other major accidents occurred, and that only by amazing luck were no lives lost, since in some cases the accidents resulted in the complete destruction of the aeroplane.
§ Mr. Radford
Can the hon. Member inform the House how the accidents compare with the mileage flown?
§ Mr. Perkins
I was about to do that. I will show to the best of my ability the mileage flown by the German Lufthansa company and by Imperial Airways, and compare the accidents. According to figures which have been given me, this year the Lufthansa company will fly about 7,000,000 miles. It is estimated that Imperial Airways will fly between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 miles, which is definitely less than the mileage estimated 429 for Lufthansa. So far, this year, Lufthansa have killed one passenger, whereas Imperial Airways have killed 11 passengers. I have no doubt that in the course of the Debate we shall hear the statement that Imperial Airways still carry more passengers over the Channel than all the other air lines put together. That statement has been a hardy annual for many years, but I have made inquiries into the matter, thanks to the help of the Air Ministry, and I have obtained some interesting figures. In 1933, Imperial Airways carried the bulk of the passengers in and out of Croydon. In 1935, the number of passengers had dropped to 50 per cent.; and in 1936, to 42 per cent. For 1937, no figures are yet available, but if the drop continues—and I have the strongest reason for imagining that it will continue—it means that this year Imperial Airways will probably carry about 34 per cent, or less of the passengers. In four years it has dropped from the bulk of the passengers to about 34 per cent.
The reason is that the general public is beginning to find out the truth about Imperial Airways. There are four main services in Europe which are ran by this company. I claimed the other night that those services are the laughing stock of the world, and I have been criticised for making that statement. I will repeat it, and try to prove it. It has been said that as far as Imperial Airways are concerned, the European traffic is trivial, and that what they are after is the Empire traffic. That is true, but if one looks at the number of passengers carried on the Empire services and compares it with the number of passengers carried in Europe, one finds that six times as many passengers are carried by the European services as by the Empire services.
What are these four European services? First, there is the Budapest service. That has been suspended and the pilots who used to fly that service have been dismissed. It is said, of course, that Imperial Airways had no intention whatever of running that service during the winter. Unfortunately, the winter time tables have been published. The second service which Imperial Airways run is the London-Paris-Basle-Zurich service. That has also been suspended for the winter. Why? We are told, of course, that it is not a commercial proposition. I refuse to believe that no one goes from this country to Switzerland in the winter. At 430 least I find it very difficult to accept such a proposition. In fact, I made a few inquiries yesterday myself at the main travel agents in London. I rather unscrupulously suggested that I might be flying out to Switzerland somewhere about Christmas time, and I was told that the service now run by Swiss Air is becoming increasingly popular, and that it is necessary to book on this line a considerable time ahead. They even went so far as to say that an extra service to St. Moritz had been suggested.
If it pays Swiss Air to run a service and if they are considering putting on an extra service, why should it not pay Imperial Airways? The reason, and everyone knows it, is that their machines which they have been using on this service are not comparable with the machines used by Swiss Air, nor is their equipment comparable with that of their rivals. I will give the House one little illustration. One day in the course of this summer—it was, I believe, the day before Canon Streeter was killed in Switzerland—three Imperial Airways machines left Croydon for Basle. Owing to the weather at Basle they were compelled to land at Le Bourget in France. The service was stopped and all the passengers got out and they were all taken on to Switzerland by Swiss Air because Swiss Air had proper equipment whereas Imperial Airways had not.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
Was Canon Streeter killed in an Imperial Airways machine or in a foreign machine?
§ Mr. Perkins
As far as I remember he was killed in a Swiss machine or it may have been in a private machine. I am not certain. But as far as the two services which I have mentioned are concerned, both have been suspended for this winter. I now come to the third service which is the London-Brussels-Cologne service. This runs all through the winter but when we compare the time taken by Imperial Airways between London and Brussels and the time of their rivals, we find that Imperial Airways take 50 per cent, longer than their rivals. The fourth service, one which many hon. Members use, is the London-Paris service but here again if we compare the time taken by Imperial Airways with the time taken by British Airways their British competitors, we find that Imperial Airways take 50 per cent. longer. 431 In other words, out of the four European services run by the chosen instrument of the Government two have been suspended for the winter and the other two are 50 per cent, slower than the rival services. Again I say that Imperial Airways are not showing the flag in Europe. Even the Conservative Central Office, who have sent to many hon. Members a very interesting document called "Ten Glorious Days in Hungary" recommend hon. Members in that pamphlet to fly by the Royal Dutch Air Line. I have tried to prove and I hope I have succeeded in proving that Imperial Airways services in Europe are the laughing-stock of the world and I personally believe that they have done untold harm to British prestige.
I now come to the question of the machines. I am glad to see that the remarks which I made the other night are now being admitted both by the chairman and the managing director of the company. They admit that the machines are getting old and they put the blame on the Air Ministry. Probably that is correct but it does not alter the fact that when I am sitting in some distant aerodrome in Europe in the summer and a kind of Heath Robinson machine descends from the skies and everyone begins to laugh, I feel thoroughly ashamed of British civil aviation. I would make one observation for the future on this matter. According to the chairman's speech the new Ensign air liners were ordered in September, 1934, in other words about 31 years ago. If they were ordered 31 years ago they must have been designed at least three months earlier. Therefore, they were designed 3¼ years ago. But as far as I can make out the bulk of these air liners are not likely to be delivered for at least another six months and the last of them probably not for another year. It is a serious thought that when the last of these air liners finally takes the air on its maiden flight it will probably be from 4¼ years to 5 years old.
There is another question which I have raised before, and that is the question of equipment, and particularly blind landing equipment. This is a very serious matter. I know that there are people who think that if the ill-fated air liner which met with disaster last night had had some form of blind landing equipment, and if Brussels aerodrome had had some form 432 of blind landing equipment, that accident might not have taken place. I have already alleged and I repeat the allegation that for the last two years Imperial Airways have been running their service to Budapest with machines that have not been properly equipped, because they have not had blind landing apparatus. The first excuse for this—given by the managing director in an interview with the Press—was that it was no good fitting machines with this apparatus if the ground organisation was not there. But unfortunately for him as I pointed out in a letter to the "Times," of the seven aerodromes used on that route, six were equipped in this way and only one was not so equipped, that being Brussels. When it came to the annual general meeting of the company the excuse was changed. We were told then that it would have been absurd to have equipped machines with this system, because Croydon had only been equipped with it this year. But Heston has been equipped with it for more than two years and if an aeroplane coming from the Continent had been equipped with this device even if Croydon had not been so equipped, that aeroplane could at any time have gone on to Heston and made use of the equipment there. I claim, and I challenge any hon. Member to deny it, that the equipment provided for the pilots flying that line is definitely inferior to that provided by this company's rivals.
Lastly, there is the question of deicing. This also is a very serious matter. The House may remember that in the early part of this year the flying boat "Capricornus" crashed near Macon in an area which is known among French pilots as "the graveyard of French aviation." At the inquiry the pilot, who was not there to defend himself, was blamed. I had my suspicions of that crash because I was flying in that area at the time and I asked the then Under-Secretary of State for Air in this House on 14th April what weather report was given to the pilot. This is his answer:The weather forecast supplied to the pilot before he left England indicated that- conditions favourable for ice formation might be met up to 5,000 feet between Macon and Marseilles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1937; col. 996, Vol. 322.]Into this great wall of ice-forming conditions went the "Capricornus" with no kind of de-icer whatever on board. In due course the accident happened and the 433 pilot was blamed. I know that various reasons have been put forward but I firmly believe—though doubtless it will be hotly denied by the Air Ministry—that ice had some connection with that accident. There are four main de-icers. There is the German device which is fitted on some of their Junker machines and is I believe fairly satisfactory. There is the Dunlop de-icer invented by a Government servant, Mr. Lockspeicer, who is employed by the Air Ministry. I imagine, though I am not certain, that it was evolved at Government expense and in Government time. He, apparently, has sold this patent to the Dunlop Rubber Company, who have spent a good deal of money on it and it is still described as being in the experimental stage. The third type is the Goodrich de-icer. I wish to be perfectly fair and I know that the Goodrich de-icer is not ioo per cent, perfect, but it is fitted to British Airways machines, to Royal Dutch Air Line machines and to the Swiss Air machines. It is even fitted to the ten German machines which regularly fly over the Alps, summer and winter, and, according to an answer given in this House on 21st April last, its use is, in effect, compulsory in America. I have here a report which was published by two German scientists and which must be regarded as of some value because the Air Ministry translated it and it was published in the middle of this year. It is by Mr. Noth and Mr. Polte, and I quote their exact words:The only practical protection hitherto devised, however, is the Goodrich de-icer.For some reason which I do not understand, this de-icer has been more or less barred from Imperial Airways machines. We know that Imperial Airways have a close connection with the Dunlop Rubber Company and we know that the Dunlop Rubber Company is a rival of the Goodrich Rubber Company. We know that a great deal of money has been spent on experimenting with the Dunlop de-icer and we know that it is still in the experimental stage. We know that the Goodrich de-icer appears to have been barred by Imperial Airways. I believe it is utterly wrong that, because of rivalry between these two rubber companies, the Goodrich de-icer even though it is as I say, far from perfect, should have been barred from Imperial Airways machines during the last few years.
434 However, the situation now looks better because a new device has been evolved known as "Killfrost." It is announced in the Press that Imperial Airways propose to supply this to all their machines in future. I welcome the announcement and I shall watch the experiment with great interest. I sincerely hope that it will be a success but I have the gravest doubts because, as every pilot knows, heavy rain or hail will remove most things from an aeroplane. It will remove fabric and it will remove paint, and one cannot help suspecting that if an aeroplane which has this substance smeared over it, passes through an heavy hail shower the tendency will be for the substance to be knocked off. But, as I say, I sincerely hope the problem has been solved, and in order to give this new "Killfrost "a fair trial I do not propose to ask questions about it in this House for at least another six months.
I conclude on the same lines as those on which I started. I appeal for an inquiry, public or private, into the grievances of pilots now employed by certain British air lines, and I appeal to this House for a general public inquiry into the present position of British civil aviation. We are not leading the world. We are now running only a very bad third, and I believe that nothing short of a public inquiry will shake the Air Ministry into a sense of their responsibilities, and into a realisation of the seriousness of the present position.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I beg to second the Motion.
Seldom in my life have I heard a more terrific or more sustained onslaught than that which has just been delivered by my hon. Friend the Mover. Indeed, I think his speech must rank as the first aviation Philippic. It struck home in a very telling manner. I think my hon. Friend has the greatest courage, because hitherto it has always been rather looked upon that to criticise the great Imperial Airways was to do, so to speak, something against the Government. They have always had a mysterious connection with the State, and I think that anybody who has the courage to criticise them deserves credit, because they are indeed a powerful organisation. They have very powerful directors. They have two Government directors and vast subsidies, and they have 435 got upon their Board Esmond Harms-worth, who is a man belonging to a family which has shown great vision with regard to aviation, and I welcome him there. On the other hand, the directors have seen that the "Daily Mail" is muzzled by his presence there, and by the jam between the "Daily Mail" and the "Express" the "Express" is also loth to criticise. All the other great papers support the Government, and Imperial Airways are always supposed to be the Government, so that very little criticism ever gets out. Then they have a very marvellous publicity department, and their advertisements speak very well of them.
Anybody who takes on this great organisation puts on, so to speak, the mantle of St. George attacking the flying dragon, the great modern pterodactyl. Frankly, I am not afraid of them, but I think that we must not overstate the case, because there is no doubt that they have done good work. I would not like to let the House run away with the idea that they are a nefarious organisation, because that is not so, and one must remember that they have to run on English machines, and that that has been a very grave difficulty in view of the rearmament position. I think we must congratulate them also on that great gamble when they ordered so many seaplanes from Short's. It was a great gamble, but due to the genius of Short Bros, and of Mr. Gouge, they have obtained some very remarkable machines. Then they have been penalised by the non-delivery of other machines, and I think my hon. Friend's point was a good one, that those machines must be out of date when they are delivered, in that they must have been designed over three years ago.
Imperial Airways are, so to speak, the chosen instrument of this country. We have decided in this House that there shall be no competition on the great Imperial line. Aviation is not strong enough to stand a parallel competition from the point of view of being able to pay, but there should be competition, just as there is competition between great power companies. They do not supply the same great areas, but on the questions of cost, organisation and efficiency there is the keenest competition, so that I think other companies should be allowed to compete on different routes—different, that is, from 436 Imperial Airways routes—throughout the world, because what is happening to-day is that there are many routes where companies would gladly operate, but which are reserved for Imperial Airways, because one day it is anticipated that they will supply the need there.
This great Imperial job is difficult. It is pioneer work, but it is inconceivable that the country would ever allow it to fail, that Imperial Airways should ever actually go bankrupt, and consequently it is in effect a statutory company. But 9 per cent, is too much for a statutory company. The point has already been made by my hon. Friend, but I say it again for this reason, that if it is the desire of this country that British aircraft or Imperial Airways should encircle the globe with a service, much more money will be wanted for that purpose, and it will be very difficult for any Minister or Under-Secretary to come to this House and ask for millions of money for a company which pays 9 per cent. I think they are building up difficulties for themselves. We started Imperial Airways by amalgamating several companies that were flying, first of all, to the Continent, with a desire that they would, so to speak, blaze the trail across the earth to the extremes of the Empire, and I think it would be wiser if we had left transcontinental journeys to other companies, but Imperial Airways, quite rightly from the point of view of earning money, saw that here was money to be picked up.
There was one company in this country which ought to have seen a little farther than it did, and that was the Southern Railway Company. It ought to have been the great transporting company, aerially, abroad, but it did not see the great plum that should have fallen into its lap. The railways thought that they must not lag behind in a new method of transportation as they did in the past about omnibuses, and they formed an amalgamation between themselves, in which the Southern Railway joined, linking themselves up with Imperial Airways, and before they had woken up they found they were deprived of running outside England! English routes are not going to be very profitable, but Railway Air Services exists to-day with all the strong backing of the railway companies, and, as I have said, it has come to a jam with Imperial Airways. 437 The position to-day is far from satisfactory.
This question of not being allowed booking facilities still exists, and I want to bring to the notice of the House the question of North Eastern Airways, a recognised company which has been admitted to membership of the International Air Traffic Association as conforming in all respects to the international code, and members of the International Association, in fact recognised as on a par with Imperial Airways, British Airways, and other national air lines. I know nothing about it. I do not know any of the directors, except Lord Grimthorpe, and I only know him because he has always been a rival of mine, in riding the Cresta. This company appointed a firm in Perth, called Central Garages, to sell their tickets. They started very well, because they were well situated and conducted their business well and with people who might well use air services. All went well, and then North Eastern Airways received this letter:We regret to have to inform you that we liave been informed by Messrs. W. Alexander and Sons, of Falkirk (a firm that runs motor coach tours) that, owing to an agreement which they have with the railway companies, we cannot be allowed to continue as agents for them as well as to be agents for you. They have asked us either to relinquish the agencies with the airways companies or relinquish our agency with them. Seeing that for the moment Messrs. Alexander's agency is more worth while for us, it would appear that we shall have to relinquish the agency you were good enough to give us.Consequently they have to give up selling tickets for North Eastern Airways. It would not be so bad if this was just competition, but it is not, because there is no air service operating on the East Coast of England, and consequently it is pure restraint of trade. It cannot do any good to anybody at all, and when the Government permit this sort of thing, soon pilots will be refused licences because they do not fly on approved routes. The Government have encouraged local authorities to build aerodromes, but how could they justify them putting down these aerodromes when at the same time they allow this kind of thing to go on? I think that sort of difficulty calls for an inquiry. If that sort of thing is going to be allowed, it is obvious that the state of civil aviation, anyhow in this country, is far from happy. We also have to remember that the Maybury Committee's recommenda- 438 tion has been with us now for a long time. They themselves suggested that there should be a licensing authority set up to co-ordinate and organise internal air lines, but if the Government do not hurry up, there will be no internal air lines at all except those run by the railway companies, and I think that will be a great pity.
I want now to pass from attacks on one company or another to more general grounds. I am not talking about one line or another line, but about civil aviation in general, and speaking, I must say, as an old friend of aviation, I cannot help frankly saying that commercial aviation is far too dangerous. Nowadays accidents are often not reported, even grave accidents, because they have no longer news value. Fatalities happen in America which are not now mentioned in the papers, and we are getting to the position in which we have arrived at in regard to the roads, where 6,000 people are killed without anybody really worrying about it at all. The same thing is happening in the air. I saw the other day that some enthusiast had stated that you could travel 2,000,000 miles in an aeroplane before you were due for death. That sounds a long way, but I notice that a transport official of the London Passenger Transport Board replied that if that was their average, they would produce hundreds of corpses a week.
Air transport is nowhere near the state in which it should be. It is not for me to advocate now what I am sure is the right thing, and that is the divorcement of civil aviation from the Air Ministry. I have always been enthusiastic about it, but I appreciate that at present such a separation would be difficult. However, it has got to come. When the whole thing started and we went through the growing pains of aviation, it might have been a good thing to have linked these two things up, but we have grown up a good deal since then, and it is high time that we reviewed the position. I think it should be investigated by an inquiry. Suppose we ran London's transport by the War Office to-day, what sort of machines should we have? A form of bus tank. You cannot expect the Air Ministry to look at civil aviation from any other point of view than what is really their own job, and that is war, and until you divorce it from the control of civil aviation and get 439 the other considerations taken into account, you will never get along the right lines.
I think this question of research is all important, because it has been neglected for the military side. Look at what happened in America with civil aircraft lines competing one against another. They introduced variable pitch propellers, flaps and retractable under carriages, thus transforming civil aviation and adding another 100 miles an hour to its speed. These inventions and developments were practically forbidden by the Air Ministry on any English air line.
We want civil aircraft to be encouraged in every way. The Diesel engine is used on every other form of transport except on the one on which it should be compulsory, and that is- aircraft. Aircraft is never in a more dangerous position than when it is leaving the ground or just landing. These are the times when quite small accidents may cause the machine to turn over; and an accident which should result in nothing more than bruises and cuts results to-day in a terrible bonfire in which people are killed and burned. The introduction of the Diesel engine is not wanted very much by military machines because it has not got the performance but, British aviation has by virtue of geography to go on the basis of very long nights; and even to-day, owing to the Diesel engine using half of the weight of fuel per horse power per hour, if the journey is over five to six hours, it becomes already a lighter form of power. We had two years ago a magnificent engine called the phoenix, built by the Bristol Company. Why was that not encouraged? The only company using one now is the German Junker Juno, and they are going well ahead. It is essential to look at these things well ahead, because the first person who gets a fleet of aeroplanes flying on fuel other than petrol will, I believe, get the monopoly of air transport. Nobody is going to tolerate the dangers which are attendant on the use of petrol.
I hope that the House will accord us this inquiry because it would be a wonderful thing to take civil aviation right away from any idea of party politics. It is so absurd to think it has anything to do with party politics. We were not very wise when aviation was born. Why should the Government of the day have 440 been expected to hit on the most perfect organisation? After a few years of it let us review it again to see whether we have put the whole thing en the right lines. This wonderful development has been very costly in life, and I think that all who were keen to see the birth of aviation gladly gave their lives thinking it was going to lead to a good and wonderful new form of transportation. The real tragedy has been that in all those years we have created an armament and not a method of transportation. That cannot go on for ever. It is not the Government's fault. They have been pressed into that by the foolishness of man. It cannot last for ever. We must soon get back to a normal and sane outlook on life, and then the possibility of transport by air will be of paramount importance to this country owing to its separation from the other countries of the Empire. That is why I hope that the House will grant the inquiry in order to see that the development of our civil aviation is going along sound lines, and that later, when the great armament programme has ceased, not only in this country but in others, we shall be producing the best aeroplanes in the world for our own overseas use and for export and shall not be left behind, and have to purchase abroad.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I hope that the Under-Secretary will advise the members of the self-satisfaction group to withdraw the Amendment which they have on the Paper because, after the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins)—a speech made with moderation and without any undue feeling or prejudice-—I suggest that an unanswerable case has been put before us for accepting the Motion, no matter to what party we belong. I have not the technical knowledge of the hon. Member and I am not able to follow him. I intervene in order to put the position of the municipal authorities who responded with great patriotism and public spirit when the Air Ministry in 1928 asked them to prepare municipal aerodromes. Up to July, 1936, 30 great authorities had responded to the appeal. The position is, however, that the Air Ministry has left them in the air and they are now in possession of not very beautiful white elephants. The lowest cost of these aerodromes was £23,000. One 441 municipal authority spent £230,000, and Birmingham Corporation is proposing to spend about £500,000 in providing aerodromes. If these municipal authorities had not responded with such zeal and public spirit, the Air Ministry would have had to find the money for aerodromes from national sources. I would ask the Air Ministry to have some sort of policy and to abandon the old British habit of trying to muddle through in the planning of civil air routes and aerodromes, and to try and see how far these aerodromes can be connected with the Air Ministry for other purposes.
We have had the Maybury Report which jettisoned any prospect of usefulness for municipal aerodromes. That report, however, was practically stillborn, and I hope that the Ministry will say they have done with it and do not want to hear any more about it. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down put before us the position of the only company which is endeavouring to develop civil aviation upon the North-East coast. We know that this company has been blanketed, or, to change the metaphor, that the stranglehold has been put on it. The Hull Corporation was one of the first to respond to the appeal of the Air Ministry, and, as a consequence, the ratepayers, besides paying a rate of 19s. for other purposes, have to meet a rate of 4d. to pay for the aerodrome. All that the Air Ministry offers to such authorities as Hull is to give them some weather reports and a promise to consider the advisability of helping them to equip themselves with instruments for night and blind flying.
These great authorities, which have spent such huge sums of money because they believed in the good faith of the Air Ministry, are now left with the dog to hold, or, as the Under-Secretary would say, they have been left with the dirty end of the stick. I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something positive to say on this matter and will give an adequate reply to the hon. Member for Stroud, because, if I can judge the temper of the House, we shall not tolerate with any patience the attitude of mind which the Under-Secretary displayed in answering perfectly reasonable questions last week. We hope that there will be a change of heart and that when the Under-Secretary replies to the 442 perfectly reasonable speech of the hon. Member for Stroud he will give us some satisfaction.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:whilst emphasising the importance of a progressive policy for British civil aviation and desiring to impress upon the Government the need of speedy attention to necessary improvements, is not of the opinion that a public inquiry would at present serve any useful purpose.The Motion has been put before the House in a most able manner by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins). He spoke with great sincerity. He is a tried airman. He flies all over the Continent, and we value very much his contributions to this Debate. The hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Motion is our pioneer airman, the first man to fly in this country, and we are always delighted to hear him, and I hope that for many years to come he will give us the benefit of his great air experience. The Mover of this Motion and the Seconder have placed before us a very black picture indeed. I should like to try to paint a little less dark picture. The hon. Member who moved the Motion wants a public inquiry—I think he wants two inquiries—but I think our old way is the better. Some 15 years ago Sir William Joynson-Hicks, afterwards Lord Brentford, who was then a Member of the House, was chairman of our Conservative Air Committee. He and I talked together and said: "Could not we take air matters straight to the Prime Minister?" He agreed. I took air matters before the late Mr. Asquith when he was Prime Minister; and Mr. Bonar Law was also always very sympathetic to anything the airmen put before him.
It was exactly the same in the case of Earl Baldwin. If we wanted to put any air matters before him he received us and the matters were looked into. It was the same when the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister. We took many air matters before him. When there was a dispute about whether the Schneider air cup race should be run or not, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald received us and we went into that question, and it was settled within half an hour. Exactly the same happened when we wanted to 443 improve the position of the Director of Civil Aviation. Afterwards he was made Director-General of Civil Aviation, because we had placed the matter before the Prime Minister. I submit to my two hon. Friends that the best way to proceed is for a small deputation of Members who are keen on air development to go straight to the Prime Minister. Generally he has the Air Minister and the Under-Secretary for Air with him, and matters are gone into and are settled right away. As the whole question of air development is in its infancy, that is the better way to do it rather than to have a public inquiry.
The hon. Member for Stroud has put before the House the question of pilots, particularly in connection with Imperial Airways. There is no Member of this House who has had more to do with pilots than myself. I had hundreds through my hands when I was running the Royal Naval Air Service, and I always pitied the director of an opera company when he had to deal with prima donnas, because I often found those gallant men very difficult to handle. I submit to Imperial Airways that they should treat their pilots lightly; look at matters from the pilots' point of view and handle their pilots with a velvet glove. That is what I learned when I ran the Royal Naval Air Service—to handle pilots gently. They are gallant men, they take great risks, and they look upon matters rather differently, perhaps, from the point of view of the directors of their operating company.
§ Sir M. Sueter
The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) will have an opportunity of speaking in a few minutes. If she will let me get on with my speech I will do so as briefly as I can. She can then make whatever remarks she thinks desirable and criticise me. I was saying that the directors of Imperial Airways and all air operating companies should treat their pilots lightly and handle them gently. We have heard from the hon. Member for Stroud that he is of opinion that these pilots of Imperial Airways have been victimised. When I heard that I looked up the directors of Imperial Airways, and I saw one name, that of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Salmond. 444 He and his late brother were great men in the development of our air services; their names stand high; and I refuse to believe that when a company is formed with Sir John Salmond's name among the directors, and he is an active director, there is any victimisation of the pilots.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead)
I can inform the hon. Member on that point; he is not.
§ Sir M. Sueter
In addition to Sir John Salmond there is the chairman of the company, and he said in his annual speech that he had gone into all these cases and there was no victimisation.
§ Sir M. Sueter
It is not within my knowledge whether it was with the pilots. I do not happen to deal with the internal affairs of Imperial Airways. All I am saying is that in his speech the Chairman of Imperial Airways said that he had gone into this matter and that there was no victimisation. All I ask is that the great operating air companies should look into the whole question of their pilots' grievances. I think the suggestion has been made that the pilots of these operating companies should form themselves into an association, whether it be a guild of pilots or not does not matter, I think. If they did so the first thing to be done would be to have their grievances sifted by the executive of their association, and then place them before the directors of the operating companies. If the directors of the operating companies refused to look into their grievances they could appeal to the Air Ministry; and if the Air Ministry failed to give them satisfaction they could have their grievances laid before this House by their Members. I should like to see a strong association of them, and I do not believe that the directors of these operating companies would object to that collective action by their pilots.
Certain remarks have been made about Imperial Airways machines. I flew the other day in the "Canopus "—it was only a short trip down Southampton Water and over the Isle of Wight—and I 445 was amazed at the great progress which has been made in these flying boats. The Royal Naval Air Service introduced the first flying boats in this country. I bought the first flying boat, a French one, the Donnet Leveque, which went through her trials at Juvisy, just outside Paris. Then we produced the Sopwith Bat boat and purchased the first Curtis Atlantic flying boat and others of this type. We developed dozens of flying boats at Felixstowe, and they all did good work in the War, but the latest flying boats are a real advance on anything we produced at Felixstowe. Great foresight has been displayed by the Government, Imperial Airways and the contractors in turning out such efficient machines as these new flying boats. The hon. Lady the Member for Frome smiles.
§ Sir M. Sueter
The reason why the advances have not been greater is that, unfortunately, we have experienced economic depressions in this country and the money has not been available. To show the value of these flying boats, two of them, after being fitted with additional tanks, have flown the Atlantic 10 times. They were not machines designed for Atlantic flying, they were simply adapted by being fitted with additional tanks. Now Imperial Airways are designing new machines—I think they have three on order—and instead of being machines of 18 tons they will be 35-ton machines, which is a tremendous advance. There is an enormous future before this country in the use of flying boats, and that is why I have more than once asked the Air Ministry to look into the question of the harbours which can be used by flying boats in the Mediterranean and within the Empire. I ask the Under-Secretary whether he will advise the Secretary of State for Air to set up a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence to go into the whole question of harbours for these flying boats. Lord Strickland is perfectly right in trying to get a flying boat harbour built at Malta. We ought to have one at Cyprus, too. There is a salt lake at Akadtiri in Cyprus which has a Venetian 446 sluice fitted to it and that could be flooded and could make a harbour for these flying boats. Flying boats will develop enormously. The cost of them will increase probably up to £100,000 in a few years, and surely we should provide proper shelters for them. We should develop aerial transport not only in this country and in the Empire but throughout the world. We should transport goods by flying boats to every part of the globe, in exactly the same way as me have mastered transport by sea. We ought to have harbours in many parts of the globe for these flying boats and encourage every company operating them. We have to face up to this development of flying boats, and I submit to the Under-Secretary that he should give the matter of flying boat development very serious attention.
In regard to land machines. Imperial Airways have 14 of the Ensign class on order. One is about to be delivered now and will soon be put through her trials. There have been delays and that has handicapped Imperial Airways, but the fault has not been with Imperial Airways. We have been rearming, and naturally you cannot produce machines as quickly when you are rearming as if you were not, and I think it is unfair to try to blame Imperial Airways for that position. When Imperial Airways have the Ensign class running and the four of the Albatross class, which the De Havilland company are going to build, with a speed up to 230 miles an hour, I am certain they will make a far better showing on Continental routes. Imperial Airways have not only had to blaze the trial on these great air routes throughout the Empire, right out to the Far East, but have also been the pioneers of these big passenger-carrying seaplanes and aeroplanes, and we must give them credit for that.
I have a little criticism to make of the Air Ministry, and that is that they have been so backward in finding a company to fly the Southern Atlantic. For years I have been asking for this. The Germans and French have had companies operating in the Southern Atlantic for three or four years, and only a short time ago I received a letter from a retired naval captain living in the Argentine in which he said the prestige of this country suffers because no British aircraft come with 447 mails across the Southern Atlantic to the Argentine. The German machines carry our air mail. I do not know what figure the hon. Lady the Member for Frome was given to-day in answer to her question on the point, but according to the latest figure I have the Post Office have paid some £60,000 a year to get our mails across the Southern Atlantic. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has a different figure.
We are paying that large sum, and I submit that we should get British Airways to speed up and get their machines across the Southern Atlantic. That would be a fine training-ground, exactly as the French and Germans find it, in training our pilots in long-distance flying, and the sooner we start that service the better. There is also the West Indies. I do not think we ought to depend upon Pan-American Airways to run our West Indies Service. An hon. Member for one of the Liverpool Divisions raised this subject three or four years ago, but nothing has been done, and I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that he might look into the whole question of the Southern Atlantic and of the West Indies Service to see whether something can be done to hasten matters as much as possible.
When we first started the naval and military air services we had many criticisms from the different Departments. The Department which has helped civil aviation more than any other is the General Post Office. The former Postmaster-General, now Minister of Health, established an all-out service for getting all first-class mail matter into the air, wherever its delivery could be accelerated. That was a very wise policy and it has helped civil aviation. The present Postmaster-General has carried on that good work and we now have an air mail service throughout the Empire. Our mails are carried without surcharge at all. That shows very great vision on the part of the two Postmasters-General concerned and their able staffs at the Post Office, and that service is the admiration of the whole world. I submit to the hon. Member for Stroud that this air mail service throughout the Empire is surely not a black picture in our air history.
I agree with the hon. Member who spoke from the Labour benches about municipal aerodromes. We heard a great deal in the debates during the last two 448 days on the subject of air-raid precautions about a id. or 2d. rate. I would ask the Government to consider whether municipalities can be helped financially a little. A great city like Birmingham has to put up something like £500,000 to build an aerodrome. It is in the interests of the State to have such aerodromes, but it means an extra rate on everybody. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to look into the suggestions made by more than one hon. Member on this subject. The Langstone Harbour aerodrome, which is the aerodrome for Portsmouth, seems to be a long time in its development, and I would ask the Under-Secretary to speed it up. It is not fair to the pilots of Imperial Airways who operate in Southampton Water. When they come down there it is very restricted, and they may be in trouble because of the tidal waters and the yachts that are anchored there. I would ask him to see whether he can go into this question with the Portsmouth authorities.
I agree with everything said about the Diesel engine by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). In the submarines we used to have a petrol engine until we submarine men pressed for a safer engine. That led to the development of the Diesel engine for submarines, to avoid disaster from the explosions which you might get from petrol engines. I agree that if we can develop the Diesel engine for air work it will save a good many disasters. The only disadvantages about the Diesel engine in this connection are its great weight and that you get a good deal of vibration with it, but that may be overcome. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he can look into this matter and encourage firms. Let him give them a money prize, as we did in the early days of aeronautics, for the development of an air engine, for the best Diesel engine that can be produced for air work.
I have been connected with air development now for 29 years. That is a good long time. I have had to attack many people in authoritiy, at the Admiralty and also in this House, to try to get more air development undertaken in this country. I have seen many Prime Ministers about it and I have attacked them in the Press and in books with the object of getting air development advanced as much as possible, but I have never, I hope, done anything to undermine air 449 confidence. Air confidence is a very delicate plant indeed. Loose words are often said in this House and loose phrases made, and also on the public platform. Such phrases and words are taken in the Dominions as representing the ideas of a good many people in this country and they are placarded in the papers. I have two newspapers in my hand here, but I shall not read from them. They are very responsible papers in Sydney. One of the headlines is nearly a f inch headline and if anybody reads those headlines, representing what has been said by a responsible airman, they would realise the harm done to British air prestige. In the Dominions they have to place orders for machines and if they see headings such as I have in my hands they would never place another order for a British machine. Hon. Members above the Gangway will realise that when disarmament is finished we shall want all the orders we can get.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I should have said rearmament. We shall want all the work possible for the companies who build air machines; otherwise men will be thrown out of employment. If we lessen confidence among the Dominions we shall not get those orders. I beg hon. Members on all sides of the House to be careful in the criticisms they make, because words are taken out and are placarded all over the Dominions, and the result may be that we shall not get so many orders. We have a great responsibility in this matter. We ought to lead the world in civil aviation, but we shall not do it if we get too much destructive criticism. Nobody objects to creative criticism but destructive criticism leads nowhere. It does harm to British aviation and to British air prestige.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Motion which was so ably moved by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and seconded by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) calls attention to the present position of civil aviation and demands a public inquiry. That demand, coupled with the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud, leaves no doubt that the Motion is intended to be a private Member's Vote of Censure on 450 the Government and very definitely also upon the Air Ministry. The hon. and gallant Member who has proposed the Amendment, and myself, cannot agree with such a Motion, and we feel certain that the House would rather support an Amendment which, while emphasising the importance of a progressive policy in civil aviation and desiring to impress upon the Governmentthe need of speedy attention to necessary improvements, is not of the opinion that a public inquiry would at present serve any useful purpose.We are supported in that view by the knowledge that, within recent years, two Committees have covered a very wide field of inquiry and have made very definite recommendations.
In 1934 the Gorell Committee, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey was a member, made many suggestions relating to administrative questions and intended to free private flying from the unnecessary and even harmful restrictions to which it was then subjected. The Government appear to have lost no time in considering the recommendations of the Gorell Committee. The Air Navigation Bill was introduced in 1936, and in many directions it implemented the recommendations of the committee. I do not want to give a complete resume of the Air Navigation Bill, which speedily became an Act, but I would remind hon. Members that it covered matters relating to compulsory insurance, the setting up of an Air Registration Board, to which the Secretary of State for Air has already delegated many of his activities, inaugurated a new basis for the payment of subsidies, gave compulsory powers to local authorities to acquire land for aerodromes and assured fair wages and conditions of employment for all those engaged in air transport companies receiving a direct subsidy. The Government acted promptly, and their proposals received the endorsement of this House when the Bill became an Act.
Secondly, as recently as the end of 1936, the Maybury Committee issued their report. They made recommendations referring to the development of civil aviation and its general efficiency and usefulness in the United Kingdom. The then Under-Secretary of State for Air made it clear that the Government accepted the proposals. It is only fair to recognise that their application is comparatively 451 complex. A large number of small companies run the numerous air lines in this country, and many aerodromes are owned not only by the Ministry but by municipalities, private companies and individuals. The varying interests concerned cannot be unified and co-operated without some difficulty and considerable time. I believe it to be unreasonable to suggest that every recommendation of the May-bury Committee should by this time be in operation. Quite apart from the reports of these two committees there is the Fisher Committee, a standing Departmental Committee the functions and constitution of which were very fully described to the House by my right hon. Friend who is now the First Commissioner of Works. All air problems which affect more than one Department are referred to that committee, and I have no reason to suppose that such problems do not receive careful and prompt attention from the Fisher Committee.
I should like, if I may, to try to dispel the pessimism of the two hon. Members who placed this Motion on the Order Paper. As my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken has already said, I do not think that a true-to-life picture of British civil aviation need be painted in such dark colours. There are many signs of encouragement; in many directions British civil aviation is making considerable progress, and in some directions it is leading the world. I will try, during the next few minutes, to draw the attention of the House to some of the more notable achievements of British civil aviation, but at the same time I shall not hesitate to point out directions in which further action by the Air Ministry is urgently needed. I believe that neither the Air Ministry nor civil aviation need hang their heads in shame. On the contrary, although I know that much still remains to be done, I think they may take justifiable pride and derive considerable satisfaction from what has been achieved in times of considerable difficulty.
In reviewing civil aviation, it is convenient to divide it under two main heads, namely, external routes and internal routes, and it is with our external air routes that I wish to deal first. It has been the policy of the Government almost from the beginning to grant a monopoly of subsidy to selected companies over given air routes, and, whereas for some 452 years there was only one such selected company, namely, Imperial Airways, today there is a second, British Airways. But before dealing with these two subsidised companies I want to mention the other seven or eight enterprising companies who run some 13 or 14 regular services to foreign countries, carrying passengers and freight. I have no hesitation in saying that the ground organisation for these companies is entirely inadequate, particularly as regards night flying and blind flying. To overcome this difficulty, I would beg the Minister to urge municipal authorities to provide more aerodromes, and to ensure that existing aerodromes are fitted with up-to-date wireless and are subject to proper traffic control.
A second way in which companies such as these might well receive some assistance is in the construction of prototype machines. Because of the uncertainty of demand, because of the pressure of the rearmament programme, because of the lack of large orders, no constructional firm to-day is prepared to undertake the comparatively large expense of designing new types of machines. Both the Mover and the Seconder of the Resolution this afternoon have drawn attention to the fact that in some cases we have been forced to buy foreign machines. I am advised that to prepare the drawings and careful designs for a new machine may cost anything up to £10,000, and if a small-scale model is made, say a half-size model, which some constructors prefer to any wind tunnel test, a further outlay of some £20,000 may be required. No constructor can face that outlay if the probability is that at the best he will only sell one, two or three machines. He has to be assured that, if the machine is a real success, he will receive orders for 10 or more.
I suggest that the Ministry might bring the small operating concerns together, endeavour to get agreement on a design for one suitable machine, and even go so far as to subsidise the construction of the prototype. If that is done, there will be a reasonable chance of evolving a medium-sized machine of modem design and up to modern requirements, capable of carrying some 25 or 30 passengers—a machine, probably, too small for the requirements of Imperial Airways, but badly needed by these smaller companies. If that is not possible, I would suggest as an alternative that, while constructional 453 firms in this country are so completely full of orders, and when there is no unemployment, but rather a shortage of labour, consideration might be given by the Government to the question of the desirability of removing the tariff on foreign machines. The conditions of to-day are entirely exceptional.
I come now to the two companies which are receiving a direct subsidy from the Air Ministry, and I want first to say a few words about British Airways. This is a young company, but I believe that any unbiassed observer will agree that it has fully merited the confidence which was recently placed in it by the Air Ministry. I have some figures here which will illustrate the growth of this company during the last year, and I would like to mention that this company, as far as I know, is the only British company which runs a regular night mail service to the Continent. Between 1936 and September, 1937, the mileage flown by this company increased by 64 per cent, to over 1,000,000 miles, and the number of passengers carried increased by over 21 per cent, to 15,206. The operating efficiency on the day routes was well over 90 per cent.—over 97 per cent, in the case of the London-Paris route; and even the night mail service, in spite of a somewhat unfortunate experience with a particular type of machine, maintained an efficiency of 85.7 per cent. I submit that so far as this company is concerned, at any rate, there is nothing of which either the company itself or the Air Ministry, or, indeed, this country, need be ashamed.
I am not, however, altogether sure that the Air Ministry have treated British Airways fairly in one respect. When the company commenced operations, it used Gatwick as its terminus in this country. Unhappily, Gatwick has been found to be quite unsuitable for the work, and application was made by British Airways to be allowed to remove its terminus to Croydon. But, although foreign air lines are given every facility at Croydon, it was only with the greatest difficulty that British Airways obtained permission to use that airport, and even to-day no facilities are given for housing their machines at Croydon, or for repairing them there, or for doing the usual maintenance work. Machines have to be flown from Croydon, where the journey finishes, to Gatwick, if any work has to be done on them, or even if they have to be housed 454 for 24 hours or a week or more. I understand that the Air Ministry promised British Airways that Heston Aerodrome, which has quite recently been purchased by the Government, would be made available for British Airways very shortly. Indeed, the first promise of the Ministry was that Heston would be available in September of this year. That date has passed, month has passed month, and the Air Ministry have been compelled to advise British Airways that the date from which they could go to Heston has receded. The latest news that I have from the company is that they are now told that they cannot go to Heston until May of next year. As far as I know, operating companies are discouraged—I think prohibited—from owning aerodromes, and it is obviously the responsibility of the Ministry to provide a Government-subsidised company with a suitable terminus in this country. I hope the Minister will make a note of that, and will see if something cannot be done to make better arrangements for this most progressive and enterprising company. I have not much to say about the proposed route across the South Atlantic, but this route also has been entrusted to British Airways, and I have no reason to doubt, nor do I think that doubt has been expressed in any quarter, that British Airways will earn the confidence of the Ministry and the country over this route, as they have in the case of those over which they already fly.
I come now to Imperial Airways, and I want to say at once that I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who raised the question of dismissals among the pilots of Imperial Airways, must have the sympathy of the whole House. To say the least of it, it must be decidedly disconcerting if the association which my hon. Friend has taken a prominent part in forming finds that its chairman and vice-chairman have been dismissed by the company which employed them. I do not want to make the point that disruptive elements are likely to take the lead in forming an association of this sort; I believe that trade unions and similar organisations do far more good than harm. British Airways, Imperial Airways, or any other operating company, had better recognise at once that sooner or later they will be called upon to deal with a trade union of this sort, and I hope that that time may quickly 455 arrive. But my hon. Friend himself said that Imperial Airways was nothing more nor less than a public utility company. He cannot have it both ways, and I cannot see that he can attempt to deny to this ordinary commercial company the right which is enjoyed by other commercial companies, of dispensing with the services of the members of their staffs if they think it advisable. The House may care to hear the contents of a letter which I received only to-day. It is a communication signed by seven or eight of Imperial Airways' most experienced pilots, and it reads as follows:We, the undersigned Captains of Imperial Airways, Limited, wish to put it on record that we have complete confidence in the direction and management of our Company, and wish to dissociate ourselves from any statements which have been made to the contrary, with which we entirely disagree.
§ Mr. Perkins
Do I understand that only seven out of 200 pilots employed by the company signed that?
§ Colonel Ropner
Yes. I am only quoting the communication I have received. The feeling of the other 193 I cannot say, but I do think it may be of some interest to the House to know the feeling of those seven. So far as I am concerned, I will allow the matter to rest there. During the last few weeks and again this afternoon, the hon. Member for Stroud has very severely attacked Imperial Airways, and particularly their European services. He has said that those services are the laughing-stock of other countries. I submit that they are nothing of the sort. He makes no charge, so far as I know, that they are inefficient, or that there is bad organisation, or that the pilots, or even the machines, are unsafe, although he did endeavour to produce statistics, which went far from convincing me, that Imperial Airways' machines are not as safe as is popularly supposed. But the chief burden of his complaint is that machines are out-of-date, particularly with regard to speed. Speed is one of the most expensive luxuries of modern times. You can have it if you are prepared to pay for it. If the subsidy received by Imperial Airways is compared with that received by its foreign competitors, I would say that criticism might be just if the speed of their machines did not equal that of their foreign competitors.
§ Mr. Crossley
The hon. and gallant Member has just been praising British Airways, who also get a subsidy, which also presumably does not compare with that of other countries, yet their machines are among the fastest in the world. How does he meet that?
§ Colonel Ropner
I am quite prepared to meet that. I will show that Imperial Airways have some machines which are among the fastest in the world, but I am going to show first that, on the subsidy they receive, it cannot be expected that all their services will be the fastest in the world. I have a note of the subsidies paid to the Italian lines. They receive just over is. iod. per traffic ton-mile. The German company receives 3s. 2.8d. per traffic ton-mile. Air France receives from the French Government 7s. 2–7d. per traffic ton-mile.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Does that include the South Atlantic route? If it does it entirely alters the position.
§ Colonel Ropner
I would like notice of that question, but I have tried to get out figures which are a fair comparison. Imperial Airways get from the Air Ministry only something less than is. 6d., so it will be seen that the German service gets a rate of subsidy which is more than double the British, and the French company a rate which is nearly five times as great.
§ Colonel Ropner
I am not concerned with the dividends paid by Imperial Airways. If the hon. Lady looks up the record of dividends, she will not find that the company has been over-generous to shareholders in the last few years, but, whatever the rate of dividend, it does not alter the fact that, on a subsidy far lower than that of its Continental competitors, Imperial Airways runs an extremely efficient, if very slow, Continental service, and in so far as the Empire service is concerned, leads the world. Perhaps I might be allowed to give further particulars with regard to the European service, which has been the 457 subject of such vigorous attack by the hon. Member for Stroud. He has said that it is a "hardy annual" to be told that Imperial Airways carries 50 per cent, of the passengers on those routes. I am told that the figure is about 50 per cent., but, even if it is something over 40 per cent., that is not a bad record, with the machines it possesses and which I do not deny are at the moment slow and out of date. Fifty-two thousand people crossed to Europe by Imperial Airways last year, and 1,100,000 passenger miles were flown on these services. No one is going to persuade me that 52,000 people flew to Europe by Imperial Airway machines solely on the grounds of patriotism.
The fact is that the Hannibal type, although it may be out of date to-day, has done more than any other machine possessed by any country to put civil flying on the map. It is certainly out of date, but, as has already been mentioned in the Debate, the fact that Imperial Airways have not more modern machines is not their fault. Over three years ago the ordered a fleet of modern land planes, and delivery was promised in September, 1936, but, owing to the pressure of the rearmament programme, delivery is more than a year overdue. I think it is rather unfair of the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate to blame the operating company when, in fact, it is the fault of the constructional company that these machines are not flying on Imperial Airways routes to-day. But what was most unfair in his speech was that the hon. Member made no mention of what is being done on the Empire routes by Imperial Airways. From April to September, Imperial Airways have maintained services over 22,364 miles of Empire routes. If you take into account the services rendered by the Quantas Company, the total mileage served by Imperial Airways rises to over 26,000 miles. That is an astonishing mileage, but the flying over it has been conducted with a regularity of 99.72 per cent., and I submit that that is not equalled by any other air company in the world running a comparable service.
Other statistics are, that the total freight carried over the Empire routes was more than 5,000,000 ton-miles, and the passenger miles amounted to more than 188,000,000. Those are a few statistical points from what, I submit, is a truly magnificent record. The hon. Mem- 458 ber for Stroud and the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey are both far more experienced pilots than I am. I wonder if they have ever flown by Imperial Airways, and if either of them has ever flown along an Empire air route.
§ Colonel Ropner
I asked if the two hon. Members who proposed this Resolution had ever flown by Imperial Airways. Have they ever been to Australia or South Africa?
§ Mr. Perkins
Surely, the hon. Gentleman realises that my criticism applied only to Imperial Airways in Europe. I have again and again said that, so far as the Empire services are concerned, I am more or less satisfied.
§ Colonel Ropner
I think that is a very grudging admission. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] To say that he is more or less satisfied with Imperial Airways on Empire routes is decidedly a grudging admission. I suggest to the hon. Member that if he travelled on Empire routes, and saw what appears to me to be the magnificent organisation of Imperial Airways, he would be thoroughly satisfied. I have not time now to go into details on what is probably the greatest triumph of civil flying in all the world, namely, the inauguration of the Empire air mail service. This is a colossal undertaking, costing many millions of pounds and taking months of planning and preparation, and it cannot be wondered that it cannot be brought into operation in a few weeks, or even in a few months. Neither did the hon. Member pay a tribute, as I think he might have done, to the entire success of the experimental flights across the Atlantic. Neither the American nor the British machine was designed for the Atlantic crossing, but I think we may take some pride and satisfaction that it was the British machine that eventually held the record in both directions, and we may express our gratitude that they were achieved without mishap.
Now I would deal with problems which arise out of internal flying. I believe that there is something in what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey said, when he remarked that there is a danger that internal air routes may become a monopoly. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us this 459 afternoon that a licensing system will be put into operation as soon as possible. We do not want a monopoly in air services in this country, but rather co-operation between a number of firms.
There is one other question which is a matter primarily for this House and not for the Government to decide, and that is that we should ensure that the booking ban on air companies is removed by the railway companies from their agencies. I believe that if it became known, as it could soon be known, that a sufficiently large number of Members of this House had pledged themselves to obstruct in every possible way every single railway Bill that came before the House we should ensure within a few weeks that the railway companies would remove this ban. It is primarily the work of the Air Committee but it should be made the concern of the whole House, and if we cannot get the Government to take action in this matter the House itself can effect what we want and I hope that it may be done in the very near future.
Before the House could agree to a further inquiry being either necessary or advisable the Propeser or Seconder of this Resolution would have to show that some branch of civil aviation was in a very bad way. Neither of the hon. Gentlemen who spoke on the Resolution made out a case of that sort. If another inquiry was to be commenced it would be bound to retard the development which we all want to see. The Maybury Committee took nearly two years to report, and I certainly hope that we are not going to wait for another two years while another committee makes up its mind as to a series of recommendations. I believe, moreover, that no one would be more angry than the hon. Member for Stroud himself, if the Government had suggested a further inquiry and so shirked responsibility for immediate action in a number of directions. I hope that on consideration he will agree that the Amendment which we have placed on the Order Paper in fact expresses in better form than his own Motion that which he has in mind and with which I am sure we all agree.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
After the somewhat extended remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) I intend to endeavour to compress my remarks within the shortest possible space. I rise to say a few words in support of the proposal brought forward by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) in one of the most masterly speeches that I have ever heard in this House. No real attempt has been made to deal with the many criticisms he has put forward. I should like to pay a high tribute to the great services rendered to aviation in this country by Imperial Airways. There is no doubt at all that they are a great national institution who have developed that side of our national activities with great skill and resolution, but they are not above criticism. They were created by this House, and we are represented on the board, and there is every reason why we should, whenever a suitable opportunity arises, say what we think of the way they are conducting air affairs. The Empire services are magnificent, and I fully agree with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said just now. I shared with him that interesting little flight at Southampton. Imperial Airways have been attacked on account of their European services, and I think that a good reply has been made, because they appear to have done all they can, but they have not been able to obtain the machines from the manufacturers.
The main point with which I want to deal is the question of collective bargaining which I raised by Private Notice Question at the beginning of this Session. The dismissal of 10 pilots raises the whole question of collective bargaining, and it cannot be met by furnishing the names of distinguished persons who are members of the board, one of whom is not even in this country, as it turns out. You have to get at the responsibility and see not only whether so-and-so has gone into the whole question, but whether he has heard the other side, what could be said on behalf of the pilots themselves, and whether they have had an opportunity of putting to him personally exactly what their views may be. The precise position, as I understand it, is as follows. The Chairman, in his speech 461 at the annual meeting, on 10th November, said:We have no objection to our officers joining any association, and we regard this as a matter entirely for their own discretion. We have no evidence that our officers as a whole wish any association to negotiate with the company on their behalf. We have no objection to the principle of collective bargaining, but, if only in fairness to our employés, we must be satisfied before undertaking such bargaining that we are dealing with those who, in fact, our employés desire to represent them.In order to take the matter further I put down this question:Whether Imperial Airways, Limited, are now prepared to meet representatives of the British Air Line Pilots Association to discuss the terms of service of pilots in their employment in accordance with their wishes?The answer was:I understand that Imperial Airways, Limited, are not prepared to meet representatives of the British Air Line Pilots Association for the purposes indicated by the hon. Member."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, nth November, 1937; cols. 1864–65, Vol. 328.]It was a clear admission of willingness to accept collective bargaining, but a refusal to accept a particular organisation which desires to speak on behalf of these pilots. I wish particularly to say what I can in their support, because I have always felt that pilots are among the most gallant and admirable of all the citizens of this country, and ought to be given fair play in every way. I feel that what has happened in this case is the natural reluctance of all employers to face the fact that they have to deal with those who wish to speak on behalf of their employés. No employer likes it, and it is only after reluctance that employers can be forced, in the end, to accept it. I agree that they have to be satisfied that the organisation is really representative, and that it is lasting. The hon. and gallant Member opposite said that seven pilots had sent a letter saying that they were perfectly satisfied. Is he aware—and I should like to inform the House—that over 80 per cent, of the pilots employed by Imperial Airways belong to this organisation? Their names are available and they have nothing to hide. They have, all of them, expressed the desire that this association should act on their behalf in meeting the directors of Imperial Airways.
I should like to know—and perhaps the Minister would be good enough to tell us—what the Government directors think 462 of it. Over 80 per cent, of the pilots desire this association to act for them, and Imperial Airways refuse to recognise it, although they have accepted the principle of collective bargaining. There is a very interesting incident in this connection which I should like to call to the attention of the House. Imperial Airways accepted the principle of collective bargaining in the case of the wireless operators. Would the House believe that for eight years Imperial Airways refused to recognise the particular organisation representing the wireless operators? The organisation joined the Trades Union Congress, and within a fortnight they were fully recognised, and everything has gone straight forward ever since. I wonder what will happen if this organisation in the end thinks it necessary to link up with the Trades Union Congress. Possibly the fortnight's record might be broken.
With regard to victimisation, it is, at any rate, a very curious coincidence that these particular pilots, the chairman and vice-chairman of the organisation, should have been dismissed at that particular moment, and, upon a mathematical basis of probability, the odds are very heavy indeed against there being no connection between the two. I understand that the pilots who were flying the Budapest services represented that the machines were not safe to operate during the winter season because of the icing that was liable to cover the machines and bring them down in very dangerous territory. Imperial Airways accepted that advice but, although these men were senior pilots with long experience, they found that there was no longer any need for their services. Whatever may be the true facts, even if there is no relation between the two events, there is no doubt at all that the persons concerned, the pilots and employés of Imperial Airways, most definitely feel that there has been victimisation, and that fact alone is a reason why there should be a most careful and searching inquiry to find out the true facts, and to satisfy all concerned. Some suggestion has been made that the Guild of Pilots might join up with this air line association in some sort of amalgamation, but I understand that the suggestion is being made that one condition of that taking place should be that all question of collective bargaining should be dropped. I do not know whether that 463 is so, but that is my information. If that is the idea, it is perfectly fantastic, and nothing of the kind is likely to happen.
I have dealt with my main point, and I now want to emphasise various questions that have been put to the House. I should like more information about the progress of the South American service which has been handed over to British Airways. What is the policy of the Government in regard to civil aviation in this country? We ought to have a clear statement. Is the report of the Maybury Committee to be carried out soon, and is a licensing authority to be set up for the purpose of better co-ordination and organisation among the existing services? If it is delayed much longer and no action is taken, there will be nothing to co-ordinate because there will only be one company left. The railways control the greater part of the services, apart from certain minor small companies, and North-Eastern Airways is the only one operating at the present time. They are linking up the east coast. They have no subsidy. They fly from Croydon to Perth in the winter and to Aberdeen in the summer. Is it the wish of the Air Ministry that this company and other companies should be squeezed out and be forced to surrender and go into the railway combines? If that is not their view, they ought to state very clearly and plainly what their policy is.
A good deal has been said about the difficulties of booking. This is a very serious handicap. Here is one example. Of the services that are run from this country in the summer to Le Zoute in Belgium, one is run by North Eastern Airways with no subsidy and no booking facilities, and the other is run by Imperial Airways, with subsidy and booking facilities, but not by British machines but by the Belgian Sabena Company, which is put in front of North Eastern Airways and given preferential treatment against this British company, flying British machines with British pilots.
My final point relates to municipal aerodromes. I know how strongly they feel about this matter in the Midlands. They have been encouraged to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on most admirable and useful aerodromes, which are bound sooner or later to be an asset to the country. What is to be the policy of the 464 Government? Is any assistance, financial or otherwise, to be given to them? Let me give one example of the cost. In my own constituency it is costing a rate of I¾d. per year. Can the Minister say what the prospects are of a place like Wolverhampton, sometimes called the Queen of the Midlands, receiving the aerial support and, connections from the main lines which a great centre like Wolverhampton, with its surrounding districts of Wednesfield and Willenhall are entitled to expect? I support the desire which has been expressed for an inquiry, because I believe that through that we shall the sooner and the quicker arrive at a state of affairs when we shall be well on the way to being supreme in the air, as we ought to be.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
I cannot help feeling that the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment took a great amount of time on somewhat irrelevant matters. That is a pity, because the questions that have been raised are of a very serious description. I agree with one speaker that the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) was a masterpiece. I could not help being intrigued by the hon. Member's suggestion that conditions in civil aviation in this country are of such a character as to make him, a Conservative—there is no doubt about his political and economic convictions—feel favourable to the idea of nationalisation of air transport services. If conditions are as serious as he said, I think a case has definitely been made out for an inquiry into the present position.
Speaking personally and also for the party I represent, I believe the case for nationalisation of air transport services is overwhelming, and that case has been abundantly supported by the two speeches which began the Debate. The amount of confusion and the quantity of material that have been presented, suggesting that things are not all that they ought to be in regard to air services, and particularly that long list of competing air companies, with their own problems and difficulties, together with the difficulties between themselves, suggest that the time has come, indeed it came long ago, for air transport to be regarded as a public service. That is important from the point of view of what has been said about 465 monopoly. There must be monopoly in the air; you cannot help it. Even if you try to destroy that monopoly it remains monopolist in character, and because of that and the fact that the air is a service of the character that it is, without boundaries, without any question of private property in the air—all these things make out a case for a public air service.
Our attitude with regard to Imperial Airways and British Airways is that we do not want too large a distribution of responsibility for air transport services in this country, any more than we want it in regard to European and Imperial routes. The time will come when we shall have to nationalise air services in some way or other. Imperial Airways is a Government concern. It is by way of being a public utility society. There are Government representatives upon its board, and the Government have a certain financial interest, not very much. Because there are the beginnings of public responsibility and public utility in Imperial Airways we are justified—in fact that is one of the important considerations—in bringing to this House questions of criticism in a way that could not be done otherwise, and also in a way which will allow Imperial Airways, through the Air Ministry, to deal with some of the questions raised.
May I make a suggestion to the Under-Secretary of State for Air and those concerned with the Debate this evening? I do not think there can be any question that a large number of hon. Members, if not the majority, would like some kind of inquiry into the present position of civil aviation. The hon. and gallant Admiral, the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) suggested that a public inquiry would be undesirable on the ground that it would be public and that we did not want to depreciate civil aviation in this country and did not want to make too big a song about any discrepancies that might exist. That argument hardly applies to a private inquiry. True, the records of a private inquiry will be made public for those who are sufficiently interested, because they will be able to obtain records, but I think the disadvantages suggested by the hon. and gallant Member would be overcome if a private inquiry was substituted for a public one. I invite the Under-Secretary to agree to that suggestion. If he does 466 so, we might avoid a Division. Such an inquiry would do a great deal to allay much of the suspicion which undoubtedly exists in regard to the conduct of civil aviation in this country. I should like to know, when the Under-Secretary replies, whether some arrangement of that kind could be entered into.
The question which interests the members of the Labour Party particularly is that of the recognition of trade unions representing the air pilots. The usual answers given by Imperial Airways and those who are supporting them and defending them are quite familiar to those who are connected with trade union matters. They do not mind the workers organising and having their own union, but they must not interfere in any affairs of management or discipline. There is not a trade union representative who has not heard that kind of argument put over and over again by employers who do not want interference with management and discipline. In other words, they do not accept the principle of collective representation and organisation. Sir Alan Cobham, in a long letter to the "Times" says:We can sympathise with the desire of the hon. Member for Stroud to benefit the members of the Air Lines Pilots' Association, but that is, of course, a different thing from allowing them the right to interfere in the management of their employers' business.I read this morning that Imperial Airways agree to a measure of trade union or collective representation from an organisation known as the Guild of Air Pilots. They say, according to the "Times," that while they agree to that, no interference must take place in matters of management or discipline. The Guild of Air Pilots is an admirable institution. I had something to do with its foundation, to the extent of lending the prestige of my office to their inaugural banquet, but the Guild of Air Pilots is no more a trade union than is a motor club. On the other hand, the Air Lines Pilots' Association, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has pointed out, is a representative organisation. It represents 80 per cent, of the pilots of Imperial Airways, overseas and home, and its members number 270 out of 320 air line pilots throughout the country. There is no question about that organisation being representative. It was formed in May of this year.
467 What is the trouble? "Interference with management." Yes, interference with management if criticism is interference, if raising questions about the effect of management on the lives of pilots is interference. This organisation of Imperial Airways is by way of being a public utility body, but even if it were not, even if it were entirely a private concern, the time has gone by for people to talk in terms of non-interference with management. The question of management is important for those who work either for companies or for private employers, and it is doubly important, overwhelmingly important in the case of air pilots who have to take such a large responsibility in their everyday life, and have to take innumerable risks.
This question was first raised on representations made respecting the type of machine which had been put on the Budapest route for winter service. That machine, a perfectly good one for its purpose, was manufactured for tropical and sub-tropical use between Singapore and Port Darwin. It is a biplane with the usual struts which, on a winter service, become encrusted with ice. That machine does not serve the purpose of winter work, structurally or otherwise. The pilots pointed that out. They were so correct that Imperial Airways were bound to withdraw that machine. But the chairman and secretary of the Croydon section of the Air Pilots' Association were dismissed. Of ten pilots who were dismissed, nine were members of the Air Pilots' Association.
Let us see what happened. In that service there were many crashes over a period of years. It may be an exaggeration but the pilots have used phrases like, "The course is strewn with crashes "—crashes more or less of a serious character, and there were one or two deaths. A crash may mean anything from a small accident to a serious one, but the pilots were not satisfied with the machine and collectively, not individually, they surely had the right to make representations to the company as the people who would have to take the risk. They wanted these machines withdrawn. Three captains were dismissed, important persons, and the secretary and the chairman of the Air Pilots' Association. And they were dismissed in rather a curious manner. The same thing has happened before. They 468 were dismissed for lack of discipline; they did not do as they were told. What were they told to do? All the pilots were told to qualify so that they could put another machine on their certificate. They all did so, including those who were dismissed.
They put up a number of objections. What were they? Their objections were based on the fact that the machine had been turned down officially on behalf of Imperial Airways by one of the pilots four years before. He was asked to fly it to discover whether it was a suitable machine for the service of the company, and on behalf of the company he reported four years ago that the machine was unstable, of high landing speed requiring an enormous area to make a proper landing, and that it was a machine of lateral instability. After four years it should have been obsolete, but when the question of this organisation and its attitude was in dispute they were told to do this. They wanted to discuss the matter among themselves and there was a certain amount of delay. They were not given a date at which this had to be done. It was holiday time, and they had to do this qualifying in addition to their ordinary work; and because it was not done quickly enough they were dismissed. That is not the whole story. Imperial Airways appointed an operating officer who told these men that certain things were expected to be done. May I say that I am speaking, of course, at second-hand, and I shall be only too glad if what I say can be really contradicted. These are the facts which have been given to me, and I have no reason to doubt their truth.
These men, when they made representations about the weather and conditions generally on the routes they were expected to fly, were told, "You know you have a good record; you do not want to break that record." Over and over again I am told they have been met on the principle of getting as much out of the pilots as possible, yet at the same time their pay has been reduced by certain devious devices, by one-third in many cases, while the directors' fees have been increased by as much as 25 per cent. It must be remembered that the 9 per cent. dividend does not come out of the normal operations of the company. It comes out of the public subsidy; the State pays the dividend of 9 per cent. The pilots have objected to this. They claim to have a 469 right to a say in the conditions of their own service. Is there any hon. Member who will say that they have no such right; that no workman has a right to a say in conditions of service by means of collective organisation? The only way in which a man can feel safe is when he has the backing of his own fellows.
There is another fact in connection with the dismissal of another captain which if it is not shown to be untrue, is a really terrible thing. One of the captains was dismissed on the ground of a superfluity of navigating captains; there were, it was said, too many navigating captains. He was dismissed at the time the conflict took place between the Airline Pilots' Association and Imperial Airways. Yet a fortnight earlier two first officers were promoted to captain out of their probationary period because there was a shortage. That was within a fortnight. The captain in question is one of two pilots in the world with a master pilot's certificate for both land and marine flying. In the same week that a man with these qualifications was dismissed the "Courtier" crashed at Athens. It was flown by a man who had only one trip on a flying boat and that as a supernumerary. That case must be answered. I hope it can be answered, but a case like that and the fact that these men are feeling in this way is a complete justification for the demand for an inquiry, either public or private. There was the appointment of an air superintendent after the pilots' strike in 1924, and I suppose the idea is that they do not want another strike. After all they want the service to be efficiently run and the pilots of Imperial Airways and other companies are loyal men; they are not people who are likely to go on strike for the fun of it. But they are fully dissatisfied, there is no question about that, and the matter surely ought to be looked into.
I have said already that an earlier incident suggests that the attitude of Imperial Airways is old-fashioned in relation to trade unions. This is not the only case of people being dismissed for organising themselves as a trade union in Imperial Airways service. Some few years ago a similar attempt was made by the stewards in the service and I believe by some of the refreshment staff. They were not directly dismissed; there were other methods of dealing with the situation. I 470 understand that everyone concerned in that proposed organisation to establish a trade union was afterwards- offered a change of occupation, a change of venue. Difficulties were put in their way, they were asked to go to West Africa, and things of that kind. That was the method by which it was done. But there is not a single steward left who took part in that organisation. If that is true we have full justification for raising this question and for speaking as we do upon the subject.
I will not say anything very much about municipal airports. I have received letters from municipalities with airports who are much concerned about what are now practically white elephants to them. That again is a matter for inquiry; it is a question which should be looked into. These municipalities when it comes to elections are always criticised on account of their expenditure. The London County Council are turning down their responsibilities for a big London airport; and I do not blame them. When the gables of London are plastered at election times with attacks on the extravagance of the London County Council I do not wonder at their refusing to handle such a big venture as this, which should certainly be a State venture with full State backing. If there is any money to be set aside for a subsidy for aerodromes, London, the centre, is of great importance.
What about the Maybury Report, which is now well on the way to being a year old? What is being done to implement its proposals? The general reorganisation of internal air services has been referred to, but I will confine my remarks to one side only of that matter. In the report it is said that:If regular operation is to be maintained, the technical equipment at all standard commercial aerodromes should be identical, irrespective of their situation or the volume of the traffic using them …. It is important also that control should be impartially exercised and be divorced from any commercial interests connected with airport or aircraft operation; and the power to control will have to be exercised by an authority recognised and accepted by all concerned.The condition of air control is in a sorry state. There are 17 wireless telegraph and direction-finding stations available to civil aviation. Three of them work on a wave length of 900 metres, one upon a wave length of 826 metres, and 13 upon a wave length of 862 metres. 471 A great deal of jamming takes place. Whether it is due to the difference in metres I do not know, but in any case there is jamming as a result of the difference in power of the stations. These are matters which should be looked into because a pilot in bad weather may have to wait 15 or 20 minutes before he can land. One of the reasons for it is that very powerful wireless telegraphic stations jam each other as well as jamming the weaker ones. Also the company's traffic information is transmitted on aircraft wavelengths. In the event of delay in attaining magnetic bearings pilots can only estimate their position and when they are flying at 195 miles per hour there is an error of two minutes facing them 6| miles out. There are certain aerodromes with officially controlled zones and others with semi-officially controlled zones. The official ones have trained control officers while the semi-official ones are controlled by men knowing little or nothing at all about flying. I believe that Speke at Liverpool is one of the civil aerodromes where conditions are not all that they should be with regard to wireless information to the pilots and general air control. Some of the semi-officially controlled are, I am told, in charge of men who have no control over other aviation, and there is one northern aerodrome where there is no control over club flying, which takes place the whole time, whatever the conditions may be with regard to ordinary transport. That is the case even when the conditions are bad and it is necessary for the pilot to take advantage of his instruments and ground control.
The Ministry has stated that the Lorenz system is under examination. They are not quite sure about it. It is about time they were sure about it. It is not a very difficult thing. It is quite simple. I do not mean the technical side of it. Here we have German machines coming into Croydon with that system and our machines careering round without any sight of a landmark, subject to drift in fog and not being able to see the fights of the aerodromes. They have to depend entirely upon the information that they get from the control tower and may wander around for 18 or 20 minutes or even half an hour while the German aeroplanes, with the proper system, are able to land. That is wrong. It is also wrong that there should be unqualified people— 472 because they are technically unqualified—in charge of important aerodromes in respect to these questions of control of the air in bad weather. There is great danger and pilots realise that danger. That is one of the reasons why they want to organise themselves. The danger is one that is bound to go on increasing.
The suggestion that I have made, which has, I believe, the support of those responsible for the Motion and the Amendment, is that a small committee should be set up which could meet privately in order to examine all methods relating to civil aviation. The questions that I have raised about Imperial Airways should be examined and I feel sure that if that course were adopted not only would this House be better satisfied but the public and the country would be as well.
§ THE CLERK at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER during the remainder of this day's Sitting.
§ Whereupon Sir DENNIS HERBERT, the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair as DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) started by saying that he was going to demand the head of the Secretary of State on a charger. He certainly executed a lively dance, though it was not conducted in the conventional costume. The Movers both of the Motion and of the Amendment went to a great extent on parallel lines. They both admitted perfectly readily, as anybody connected with aviation must admit, that all is not perfect in the realm of civil aviation. They also emphasised, quite rightly, that we must concentrate our attention on a progressive policy for civil aviation. It may be said that that is a commonplace of all Departments, but it applies most particularly to a thing like the air in the present stage of scientific development, and I was therefore sorry that the hon. Member for Stroud frequently repeated that people in the Air Ministry sit back with folded arms. Quite definitely he put an idea into my head.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
Where hon. Members differed was as to the necessity or desirability of public inquiry. Undoubtedly there are many attractions 473 about the sound of a public inquiry. Anybody with a grievance to ventilate or a suggestion to make believes that a public inquiry may be the means of putting it right.
I was attracted by what the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) said when he emphasised that this Debate had not been in any way affected by sentiments of party politics. It is quite plain that the House to-day has debated this subject from a really ad hoc standpoint. But when it comes to the question of an inquiry one has to consider first of all what the scope of the inquiry has to be, and, secondly, what is the actual need for the inquiry, that is to say, what are the objects which can be brought about by an inquiry that cannot be brought about by any other method.
It was significant that both the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment were not by any means sure that everything was all right. They had many suggestions to make and many subjects on which they wanted information. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) mentioned the question of Portsmouth as an Imperial Airways terminus. That is a matter which is being very actively considered. Then there was the question of the South Atlantic route. Yesterday or to-day, I am not quite sure which, representatives both of the company and of the Air Ministry left these shores in order to survey that route. He also mentioned the question of the increased use of flying boats and the very important question of making sites in harbours where they could land.
The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) mentioned the particular point of British Airways but he did not press for an inquiry. One has too to consider what organisation exists for dealing with these affairs and what day-to-day machinery is in existence for dealing though not in a strictly public form with cognate matters. I think hon. Members will agree that the field of civil aviation as far as inquiries are concerned has been fairly fully covered. The Gorell Committee in 1934 went very carefully into the question of regulations, particularly in regard to private flying. Then we had the very comprehensive Maybury Committee in 1936. The terms of reference were wide. 474 I think hon. Members must agree that between those two inquiries the field of civil aviation from the inquiry point of view has been fairly adequately, and certainly recently, covered.
The hon. Member for Stroud in relation to the Maybury report mentioned the question of the inadequacy of the present air port for London. Perhaps the inadequacy of London's services in that respect is the fault of London for having grown to such a size before aviation was introduced, and the same remark applies to Paris across the water. She is in the same plight in regard to her central airport, and although the distance in London is longer the interval elapsing between arrival in Croydon and arrival in the heart of London is no longer than between the Paris airport and the heart of Paris. One is up against that difficulty of the growth of London and it is significant that the Maybury Committee in paragraph 116 stated:We have considered proposals for the unification of ownership of all aerodromes west of London. The advantages; of such a scheme are not apparent at the moment, but it is too early to make recommendations on this point until further evidence is available.Now I want to deal with what I call the structure and organisation of committees which, although not strictly of a public nature, and therefore not satisfying the requirements of some hon. Members, are in existence for the day-to-day or periodic consideration of matters relating to civil aviation. Firstly you have got the Inter-Departmental Committee on International Air Communication. That is in continuous session. Then the Empire Air Mail Committee is very shortly to be set up, which will include representatives of the Empire countries affected. You have got the committee on transatlantic flight, representative of the United Kingdom, Canada, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland. Then there is the Civil Airworthiness Committee, which is in permanent session, where you have represented the constructors, the operators, and the insurers, and a representative of the Air Registration Board will shortly be added. Finally you have got the quarterly meeting, which has just been started, of the Aerodrome Owners' Association. Its first meeting has been held and the municipal aerodrome owners were represented. That is what you have got in the way of standing committees and hon. 475 Members will agree that it covers a pretty wide field.
The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash said that he thought the Government might do a great deal more in the production of prototypes. I would remind him that it was really owing to the Government's taking upon itself the task that the DH91, which will shortly come into use in Imperial Airways, was constructed. I think that although hon. Members may wish that it had been constructed earlier, they will agree that it is a very fine machine. In point of fact, the Government have taken steps recently to press on with this sort of question. We have had meetings with the civil air companies at which we have tried to thrash out what is so essential, namely, a common specification, or common specifications, for certain types of aircraft for civil work which will meet the needs of civil companies operating in this country and abroad. The Air Ministry has been in consultation with the civil companies on that matter. I presided at a meeting recently, and although I do not suggest that that added any merit to it, at least I was able to hear at first hand what was being discussed. I suggest that a public inquiry on this matter could not get any nearer to the bone than the Air Ministry and the civil companies get in direct consultation.
Some hon. Members would obviously have preferred it if the reply to this Motion to-day had been made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport rather than by myself. One is always hearing suggestions that civil aviation should be divorced from the Air Ministry. Although the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey will disagree with me, I believe that civil aviation would lose enormously, from the point of view of technical development, if there were not this direct link.
I think I have given the House some indication of what we are doing on what I may call the ad hoc side. I wish now to deal briefly with the Maybury Committee. That Committee has very recently reported on the whole sphere of civil aviation in this country. I know that hon. Members hold various views as to the possibilities of civil aviation in this country, but at all events the report of the Maybury Committee represents a real 476 effort, having regard to all the considerations, to try to make civil aviation a success.
The points connected with civil aviation which were chiefly raised in this Debate related to bookings and municipal airports. The Maybury Committee stressed very strongly that there should be as much co-operation as possible between air and land transport. One has to bear in mind, however, the fact that although the railway companies may have certain statutory advantages, there is a very definite commercial side to a railway company. Many hon. Members seemed to suggest that there should be more governmental use of the big stick, but I think that they advocated a principle which, if it were applied generally and not only to their pet particular subject, they would deplore. There is then the question of municipal airports. This matter, particularly with reference to subsidies, was carefully gone into by the Maybury Committee. They indicated clearly in their report that one did not want the idea to get round that municipalities were starting aerodromes and that then they would be, so to speak, "sold a pup." They stated in their report:When municipalities were being pressed to provide aerodromes, it was urged and, we understand, generally accepted that receipts would be negligible for some years. It was also urged that they should be looked upon as a service to the community rather than as a source of profit, and with this view we concur.The Committee ended that passage in their report by saying:We do not, therefore, recommend any State subsidy to civil aerodromes.I think it is clear that the Government have not been guilty of any breach in that matter. We have had that clear and very recent recommendation with regard to subsidies to municipal airports. The hon. Member for West Islington, and other hon. Members, raised other questions, and asked in particular what was being done to implement the Maybury Committee's report. Hon. Members will understand that the licensing order requires a great deal of care. I think they realise the implications of a licensing order of this description and that it is something which cannot be done lightly. All I can say is that that order will be placed before the House at no distant date.
477 I come now to what I think was the main burden of the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud, that is to say, the question of Imperial Airways. The hon. Member used a phrase which is frequently used when he spoke of Imperial Airways as being the chosen instrument of the Government. Many hon. Members feel that that chosen instrument should be 100 per cent, perfect, and I concur with them. It is true to say, with regard to Continental services, that Imperial Airways are behind; it is equally true to say—and I hope this will also receive applause—that with regard to the Empire air route and the trans-atlantic route, Imperial Airways are very well ahead. In the nature of things, with air development, one is bound to have certain cases where a concern such as Imperial Airways falls behind in one thing and goes ahead in another. I am reminded of a song, "When one grasshopper jumps right over the other grasshopper's back." It seems to me that that is what is always happening in the sphere of aviation. I am sure the House appreciates why the new machines which have been ordered by Imperial Airways have not been delivered, and I do not think that is a subject in connection with which a public inquiry would serve any useful purpose. It is pretty well understood that the reason for the delay in the delivery of these aircraft is influenced by the rearmament programme. With regard to the question of de-icing or anti-icing—the House naturally appreciates the distinction—I do not think the hon. Member for Stroud was quite right in insinuating rather doubtful trade motives for the particular course which Imperial Airways have adopted. It is true to say that the Air Ministry itself has not yet decided on anything in the nature of a perfect de-icing apparatus or anti-icing apparatus. In recent instructions and regulations that have been issued on airworthiness, the Ministry has been careful not in any way to recommend something which it is not absolutely sure is efficient.
As to the other allegations made by the hon. Member for Stroud and other hon. Members against Imperial Airways, the policy of the Government towards the company has been well described and is well known. When the hon. Member for Stroud talks about subsidies on the one hand and dividends on the other, he should remember that, after all, the 478 arrangement entered into with Imperial Airways was on the basis of certain subsidies with a certain dividend limit, and that that arrangement has been continued not only under the present Government, but under preceding Governments. The hon. Member said that the Government insinuated that it had no responsibility for Imperial Airways. It has never insinuated anything of the sort, but a very clear dividing line has been laid down.
§ Mr. Montague
In view of the short time remaining, will not the hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the important question of the dismissed pilots?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead
I shall certainly come to that point, but I may say that the hon. Member did not allow me a tremendous amount of time. There is a dividing line between the commercial activity of the company and the control of the Government. The Government have two directors on the board of the company, and I do not mind mentioning again the name of Sir John Salmond, because I think he ought to be a guarantee that in one of the Government directors we have somebody who really has technical knowledge of what is required of a pilot. His absence from this country at the moment is due entirely to the fact that he is travelling on the company's business, largely in order to inspect the conditions of pilots in foreign parts.
On the subject of victimisation, I made it clear in a statement which I made to the House the other day that the Government are satisfied, and have the confirmation of the Government directors, that no victimisation has taken place. They are also satisfied that the company does not object to the principle of collective bargaining as such; but clearly the Government are not going to try to force on a commercial company, with which it is contractually connected, the recognition of any particular trade union or organisation. This is a matter which is very largely for settlement between the company and the pilots. I was very careful to point out the methods by which pilots could under the Fair Wages Clause, which is laid down in the Air Navigation Act, 1936, and in various agreements, take grievances coming under that particular procedure direct to the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Stroud will agree that in public and in private I 479 have been very careful to point out that method of dealing with grievances. Ii seems to me that the letter which the hon. Member read is one which he could quite rightly have taken before the Secretary of State.
The hon. Member for West Islington made a suggestion which I could not help thinking he made with a recollection of his own days in Office. I think he had Departmental considerations in mind, no less than the opinion of the House generally, when he suggested that the word "public" should be omitted. Certainly it is a very helpful suggestion and one which I think is in accordance with the sense of the House.
The Secretary of State authorises me to make the following statement: (1) In view of the specific allegations that have been made, the Secretary of State will, in fairness to both sides, set up a Departmental inquiry into the charges of inefficiency made during the Debate. The findings, with reasons, will be published. There will be no inquiry into matters already dealt with very recently by the Maybury Committee, the Government's decisions on which were announced to and approved by the House. (2) The Secretary of State will discuss with the Government directors of Imperial Airways the system employed by the company for dealing with its staff, including the methods by which pilots and others are enabled to have their grievances or representations fairly considered. It is impossible for the Government to conduct the business of the company, and the Government will not go into specific grievances or the cases of individual pilots. Nor will it dictate to the company as to the recognition of any particular union. The company has already stated that it has no objection in principle to collective bargaining.
If that is not actually the head of the Secretary of State on a charger, I hope the hon. Member for Stroud will be satisfied that it is the scalp.
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.