HC Deb 21 December 1938 vol 342 cc2858-61
23. Sir M. Sueter

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the proposals known as the low-level scheme submitted by Messrs. Muirhead and Partners for the construction of a seaplane base at Langstone Harbour have been thoroughly examined?

Captain Balfour

Proposals by Messrs. Muirhead and Partners for the construction of a sea plane base at Langstone Harbour were considered at the beginning of this year. As, however, my hon. and gallant Friend is aware, it was decided after a full review of the many factors bearing on the siting of the Empire Air Base not to proceed further with the proposal to construct a base at Langstone Harbour Messrs. Muirhead and Partners had been notified of this decision.

24. Sir M. Sueter

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the present position of Imperial Airways, Limited, using Southampton as a seaplane base, is considered satisfactory; and whether any further proposals have been made to construct a seaplane base at Langstone Harbour by the Portsmouth town authorities or by private enterprise?

Captain Balfour

As I explained in my reply to a question by my hon. Friend the senior Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) on 29th July last, it will be necessary to seek statutory powers for the reservation of an area in Southampton Water for the exclusive use of aircraft for the purpose of the Empire Flying Boat base, and this is desirable for operation under most satisfactory conditions. I understand that an application for a late Bill on behalf of the Southampton Harbour Board was made on 15th of this month to the Chairman of Ways and Means. Meantime the control arrangements referred to in my reply are now in force, and are being operated jointly by the Southampton Harbour Board and the control staff of the base. I am aware that certain private interests contemplate putting forward further proposals for the establishment of a land and marine airport at Langstone Harbour.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

Is it not a fact that the Southampton Harbour Board has rendered every assistance to Imperial Airways to make the service satisfactory and that the Bill which is now in preparation provides facilities which will be much more satisfactory and make Southampton even more suitable than it is at present as an Empire air base, and, further—

Mr. Speaker

Question Time is not the time for making speeches.

Mr. Beaumont

Is it not a fact that Imperial Airways always desired to operate from Langstone Harbour and still adhere to their preference?

Mr. Simonds

Can my hon. and gallant Friend say whether in fact the Air Ministry is discouraging any construction at Langstone Harbour?

Captain Balfour

As regards the first supplementary question, I would like to confirm my hon. Friend's statement that the Southampton Harbour Board have been most helpful in every way. As regards the second question, whether Imperial Airways wish to operate at Lang-stone, I would only say that that is impossible, for reasons with which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is dealing on a later question, and I have no doubt that when legislative powers are obtained, if they are obtained, a satisfactory flying boat base can be made at Southampton, and, furthermore, that Southampton at the present time is operating in a satisfactory manner.

38. Mr. Beaumont

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty why he has recently informed the Portsmouth City Council that the project for the con- struction of an air base at Langstone Harbour is viewed with disfavour by the Admiralty, seeing that the council has not been made aware of any such objections at any time during the last two years which the negotiations for the construction of the base have been proceeding; what are the vital naval activities that would be prejudiced; and whether facilities could not be found for them without preventing the carrying through of a scheme which would be of the utmost benefit to civil aviation as well as to Portsmouth?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)

Until an alternative site for the Imperial Air Base had been found at Southampton the project appeared to be of primary importance to civil aviation and the Admiralty, despite misgivings, were prepared to acquiesce in the scheme, subject to it proving possible to resite elsewhere certain essential naval services. This was found to be impracticable, but as the Portsmouth City Council did not proceed with their scheme an expression of view by the Admiralty was not necessary. As soon as it was brought to the notice of the Admiralty that the new project of using Langstone Harbour was proceeding, steps were taken to inform the Portsmouth City Council of the Admiralty's objection before that council had committed itself to the new scheme. Of the naval activities which would be affected, perhaps the most essential is the A/A School at Eastney, which is the most important naval school for this type of training. This activity was materially advanced after the original air base scheme had been dropped, and has recently been completed. In addition, in view of the heavy traffic which must centre upon the proposed civil air base, gunnery and fleet practices of all kinds in the Portsmouth area would be seriously affected. In any case it is undesirable to have the main route for all aeroplanes coming to such an air base passing over our premier naval dockyard. For these reasons the Admiralty came reluctantly to the conclusion that they ought to indicate to the city council that the scheme was open to grave objection.

Mr. Beaumont

Is it not a fact that there is already a recognised civil air zone, which would prevent any possible clashing of the two interests; and, further, is my hon. Friend aware that Imperial Airways have always desired to operate from Langstone Harbour, and will he do his utmost to facilitate this scheme, which will provide an air base at no cost whatever to the rates or taxes?

Mr. Craven-Ellis

Southampton being the premier passenger port of the British Empire, does not the hon. Gentleman think Southampton is a more appropriate place for an air base?

Mr. Shakespeare

I am afraid that I cannot hold out any hope of the Admiralty changing its point of view; and in view of the fact that Portsmouth is our principal naval base, I do not think it is unreasonable that we should expect, or even ask, the city council, which benefits so greatly from having the dockyard there, that they should at least have regard to the primary interests of the Navy in considering their activities.