§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.59 P.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair."
As I indicated to the House in November last, the Air Estimates which I have the honour of presenting this afternoon reach a sum of over £205,000,000, the largest sum in the history of the Department. This heavy expenditure is due mainly to the large number of modern aircraft now coming into the squadrons, the cost of providing additional manufacturing capacity, and the construction of new stations. One sometimes hears the allegation that the Air Ministry is the Cinderella of the Defence Departments, but, at any rate, that statement cannot be made to-day. In 1934 the Air Estimates were about £18,000,000. This year's figure is about twelve times that of our Estimates in any of the years from 1929 to 1934, and roughly doube the aggregate expenditure on the three Defence Services in each of the years 1932 and 1933. The increase this year of some £74,000,000 in a single year, which has come upon a succession of previous increases, is equal to the total of all the Defence Estimates in 1913. The first day of next month will be the twenty-first anniversary of the creation, in the stress of war, of the Royal Air Force as an independent service and of the Air Ministry as a separate Department of State. I think that the figures which I have quoted are a measure not only of our efforts and our rising strength, but also of the country's recognition of the importance of this new arm of the Services and its determination to make adequate provision for air defence.
The increase in projected expenditure will be found mainly under the headings of technical and warlike stores, works and buildings, and land. Some £93,000,000 is provided for aircraft and balloons, nearly 90 per cent, more than was under that heading last year. Provision is also made 2380 for the three new Commands which were created during the year, the Maintenance Command, the Balloon Command, and the Reserve Command which is responsible for the training of all sections of the Volunteer Reserve and for the elementary flying schools. Financial provision will also be found for the increased personnel of the Royal Air Force, including new squadrons overseas and the auxiliary and reserve forces, as well as for the expansion of training establishments and new technical training schools. Large additions are also provided for in relation to the reserves of pilots and aircraftmen. Thirty-five Royal Air Force companies of the Auxiliary Territorial Service for Women are being formed, and the necessary financial provision is included for this important service.
We have also to consider this afternoon a Supplementary Estimate in respect of expenditure in 1938, and I would like briefly to refer to that Supplementary Estimate now. The main purpose of this Estimate is to provide for additional personnel and for further expenditure in consequence of the acceleration that has been achieved in the expansion of the Royal Air Force. It is proposed to increase the provision under Vote A for the maximum number of personnel to 102,000, in view of the great response that has been made to our recruiting appeals, of which I shall shortly speak. Greater progress has also been made than we anticipated in the deliveries of air frames and engines, in the construction of stations and factories, and in the extension of the balloon barrage scheme, so that an increase is necessary on Votes 3 and 4.
There is one aspect of expansion to which I particularly want to refer, because many hon Members from time to time have communicated with me about it. That is the setting up of new stations, which of course brings the Royal Air Force into particularly close contact with the country as a whole. I am glad to say that in general the relations between the officers of my Department and the individuals, local authorities or other bodies concerned, are good. During 1938 work was started on some 37 new stations and that about 20 new stations will be required in 1939, and of course in all these cases there arises the necessity for close consultation with various interests. It is the policy of my Department to consult 2381 not only the other Government Departments concerned but to lend a sympathetic ear to the representations of those who may be affected by our activities. In that connection I would like to say that the assistance of Professor Abercrombie, whose appointment in an advisory capacity was announced last year, has certainly been of great value in this important work, which I would describe as that of reconciling the needs of defence with those of amenity.
I would now like to say something about the position so far as recruiting for the Royal Air Force is concerned. Since I spoke in the House and gave various particulars in November last recruiting has continued to proceed well. The response to the appeal I made in June for 31,600 pilots, observers, airmen and boys, for entry during the present financial year, has been excellent, and in fact this figure was passed last week. I remember that one or two questions were put to me on these figures the last time I spoke. Therefore I know that hon. Members will be interested to hear that of those obtained over 1,400 are pilots. The recruitment during the financial year which has ended is by far the largest for any single year since 1918. I think most Members of the House will agree with me when I say that the quality of the recruits is excellent and worthy of the Force itself. If there are any pessimists about to-day, one of the best things they can do is to visit one of the squadrons of the Royal Air Force.
Our extended programme necessitates a continuing flow of recruits of the same high quality. We shall need some further 20,000 during the coming year. I want to emphasise that we need particularly more air observers and more wireless operators. The additional skill and ability now required of air observers has made it necessary to employ them full time on observer duties. In August last, on account of that, we launched a new scheme of direct recruiting to meet the increased demands for air crews. We have also during the last few months revised the conditions of the short-service commission for pilots, and the upper age limit for entry has been extended from 25 to 28. Candidates are now given the opportunity of serving for six years on the active list and four years in the Reserve, instead of four years on the active list and six years in the 2382 Reserve as formerly, and a similar choice is now being offered to officers already in the Service. The longer period of active service will afford an opportunity of promotion to the flight lieutenant and will increase from £300 to £500 the gratuities payable on transfer to the Reserve. I also emphasise this—because it is an important aspect of the matter—that short-term officers will as hitherto receive every assistance from the Royal Air Force Educational Service in preparing themselves for a career in civil life, and on leaving the Service they will be helped to find suitable posts by the Royal Air Force Officers' Employment Association, which has been highly successful in this direction in the past.
Finally, I would say, as regards this particular question of recruiting, that when I spoke last on this subject I said I hoped that the strength of the Royal Air Force in June would be 100,000 officers-and men. I am glad to say that this number has already been practically achieved. I would only add this, in passing from this subject, that I think the House would like me to refer to and to commend the achievement of the Royal Air Force units in November last in the world distance record. It was carried out primarily as a service long-distance exercise, but it is more than a record, and it will be regarded as a further stride forward in the development of long-range flying in the interests of British defence. If anyone asked me to sum up very shortly the secret of the success of that endeavour, I would say that it was largely achieved by the team spirit which permeates the whole of the Royal Air Force to-day.
I would like to say something now about the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. There is increased provision this year for the reserve and auxiliary forces. Last year additional air and ground sections for both officers and airmen were formed to correspond with every branch and trade in the Regular forces. Thirty-three Reserve centres have been formed in urban areas, and we hope to organise over 20 more in the coming year. The men who have joined the Reserve are trained in their leisure hours, but a special scheme has recently been introduced for pilots and aircrews, so that when they have attained a certain degree of experience they can undertake continuous training up to six months in Royal Air Force 2383 stations, and in an emergency these men will be able to take their places in service squadrons without further intensive training. Of course the success of this scheme depends largely upon the cooperation of employers, and I would like to say that a fine example has already been set by banks and other institutions in permitting their employés to take part in the scheme.
Generally, recruitment in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve is proceeding satisfactorily and applications are being obtained in large numbers. Again, I would like to give this figure. Over 2,500 members of the Volunteer Reserve are now being trained as pilots. We have also decided recently to extend the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve flying training organisation overseas, and we hope it will be possible to form sections of the Volunteer Reserve, for example, in Malaya, Hong Kong and East Africa. In certain cases it will be possible to make use of the training facilities available for Air Force units, and in other cases civil flying training schools will be used. This scheme, I hope, will furnish opportunities to many young men who are resident overseas to undertake flying training, and to qualify as members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. On the Reserve side an important development has been the introduction of a new scheme of entry into Class E of the Reserve for pensioners and ex-airmen who have served in the Regular force. From July, when the scheme was launched, until November, 2,300 men had been enlisted in this Reserve, and since November this number has more than doubled.
Now I come to the Auxiliary Air Force. We are, as so many hon. Members know, because they are directly interested in that force, also adding to the number of officers and men in that force. The establishment of the flying squadrons has been increased, and their numbers expanded to include a substantial number of airmen as well as officer pilots. As a result of this increase, we shall need some 2,000 officers and airmen during the coming year. The number of the squadrons has been steadily increased since expansion began, and, with the squadron which has just been formed, there are now 20 auxiliary flying units. The Auxiliary Air Force now includes the balloon barrage squadron, and affiliated 2384 to the flying and balloon squadrons will be the Royal Air Force companies of the Auxiliary Territorial Service for Women, while, in addition to that, a reserve for the auxiliary squadrons has also been formed.
I would like also to refer to balloon defences. As the House knows, the first 10 units formed in the balloon barrage scheme were those in the London area. Recruitment started in the summer, and the squadrons are now practically up to establishment, and the barrage in London is now operable should the occasion demand it. So far as the other parts of Great Britain are concerned the balloon defences are now being actively organised and recruiting is proceeding well at most centres. The necessary buildings are being secured. It will be possible to make a start with the operation of a number of these barrages during the summer, and, I hope, to operate all barrages by the end of the year. A Balloon Command has been formed for the administration and training of the balloon squadrons, but for operational purposes the barrage will remain under the control of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Fighter Command, who is responsible for air defence as a whole.
Although I have spoken of what has been achieved during the past year, I would like to stress this note, not only in connection with this but with other matters to which I shall refer: that although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. In all, we shall need some 75,000 men for the Royal Air Force and its reserves and auxiliaries during the coming year. As I have said, recruitment has generally been excellent, and I do not doubt that we shall be able to obtain the necessary officers and men in the time available.
There are two movements very much akin to those about which I have been speaking. I would like to refer to the successful institution of the Air Defence Cadet Corps, which is a movement administered and organised by the Air League of the British Empire. Their progress has been most encouraging, and 84 squadrons of cadets have already been formed. I am glad, in this connection, to refer to an arrangement which has recently been made under which an additional grant will be made available to the British Gliding Association for distribution to the gliding clubs, which will 2385 undertake to give gliding instruction to air defence cadets. Cadets will be accommodated in summer camps, and it is hoped that a fortnight's intensive training will enable them to qualify for their glider certificate. Details are now being worked out between the Gliding Association, the Air League of the British Empire and the Air Ministry, and I hope the scheme will be in operation during the coming year.
The Civil Air Guard is also helping us, by providing a reserve which, in time of emergency, will be able to serve in the Royal Air Force or to give help in other ways connected with aviation. The Guard to-day possesses some 1,400 members in possession of "A" licences and 3,800 who are undergoing flying training. It has recently been decided to organise the Guard for service in case of emergency by classifying holders of "A" licences into three groups, according to their qualifications for different types of service. The first two comprise those who can serve as pilots, instructors, air-observers, wireless operators and air gunners, and the third comprises men and women who may be suitable for employment as ferry pilots, as ambulance pilots and for general communication duties. Certain selected volunteers in the first two groups will receive more advanced training than the rest, and members who are unlikely to qualify for any of these classes will be encouraged to undertake other forms of National Service. One of the advantages of this scheme is that it utilises the facilities provided by the flying clubs throughout the country for the training of pilots and air crews, thus lightening the task of the flying schools and providing a valuable addition to our training resources.
Training is, of course, most vital, and the aircraft which are now in use call for pilots who have had longer training and require a higher standard of airmanship than was required for the simple types of some years ago. At the same time, the number of pilots needed is many times what it was prior to expansion. I am glad to say that we are obtaining the greater number of pilots required with the longer period of training, and that the individual standard of airmanship is higher than it ever was before. There have been substantial developments of training facilities of all kinds during the year, and three additional flying schools will be 2386 opened within the next few months. There is another special step which is being taken. Special training schools will be formed, where pilots and air crews from the flying training schools will be given operational training on the service types which they will fly later in the squadrons, and members of the Volunteer Reserve will also attend these schools and so obtain experience on service types. Flying training for the Volunteer Reserve —and this gives some example of what is being achieved—is already being carried on at 32 centres, and it will be in progress at over 50 in the coming year. A question was put to me, when I spoke last, about navigational training. Special attention has been paid to that, and a course in navigation now forms part of the training of all Service flying schools. Undoubtedly, the development of larger bombers, with longer range, necessitates the provision of air observers and air gunners with a higher standard of efficiency, and, therefore, the length of the first course of training for air observers has been increased from three months to about five months.
I propose to say a word now about the accidents that unfortunately occur, and in which young and valuable lives are from time to time unhappily lost. With the growth of the Force and the development of fast and powerful machines, it is impossible to eliminate accidents, and the officers and men of the Royal Air Force would be the last to desire that measures should be laid down to forbid the taking of risks. The increase in the number of accidents during the last year is due to the increase in the number of hours flown by the Force as a whole. There was no increase in the number of accidents in relation to hours flown as compared with the previous year. But I know that the House would expect that I and the Parliamentary Undersecretary should pay special attention to the reports of investigations and of courts of inquiry into accidents. In the first place, each of these reports is studied by the technical and training departments and the causes are analysed. To supplement the investigations conducted by the inspector of accidents and the service courts of inquiry, I have recently asked the Inspector-General of the Royal Air Force, in conjunction with a committee representing the departments of the Air Ministry concerned and the Central 2387 Flying School, to review the whole accident position from the broadest point of view. We are, in fact, constantly engaged in endeavouring to find out whether there are any causes leading to accidents which are preventable and whether there are any further administrative or technical precautions which can be adopted to effect a reduction in their number. In the second place, the House will be glad to be informed that I have just taken steps to appoint a committee to investigate and to advise me on the medical aspect of all matters concerned with personnel which might affect safety and efficiency in flying and I am very glad to have secured the services of Sir Edward Mellanby to be chairman of this committee which will be composed of a number of eminent scientists and medical men with two representatives of the Royal Air Force Medical Service.
I would now say a word about the progress which has been made, and what has still to be achieved in relation to the expansion programme. I hope I am not putting it too high when I say that during the year we have made considerable progress in implementing our expansion programme and in re-equipping our squadrons with the latest type of aircraft. The number of first-line aircraft at home will have been raised to the figure of 1,750 by 1st April the date on which this programme was to have been completed. As regards the programme announced in May last for a Metropolitan Air Force of approximately 2,370 aircraft by the end of the coming financial year, good progress has been made in developing the necessary production capacity and in recruiting personnel, and I think I can say that there is every prospect of the programme being completed within the time promised. Four more squadrons have been established overseas during the year, making a total establishment of 30 squadrons, and certain additional squadrons will be formed in accordance with the programme already announced for increasing our overseas strength to approximately 500 first line aircraft. Further, as a result of the review to which I referred last November, of the requirements for the protection of our oversea territories and trade, the formation of certain additional squadrons has now been approved. As regards our new aircraft it can I think be said with confidence that 2388 they are as formidable as any in the world and that in the types now being issued to the bomber and fighter forces, we possess what we believe are the best in the world.
I would add this, because there is, I think, some misconception arising from certain observations which I made in November. I wish to emphasise that we have built up and are building up what I would call a balanced Air Force. I do not desire that there should be any misconception as to our strategic policy. We have not abandoned our traditional reliance on the value of the counter-offensive as an essential element in air strategy. A powerful striking force is not only a strong deterrent to attack. It is a vital component in any sound system of air defence. It is, perhaps, the case that there has been in the past a tendency to overstate the argument that "the bomber will always get through" and to lay undue stress on the claim that the counter-offensive is the only effective means of defence in the air. Developments in recent years have, in fact, reduced the supremacy of the offensive and added to the strength of the defensive in the air but that does not mean that we can rely for our defence on our fighter aircraft and our ground defences alone. The number of fighters we require is in fact conditioned by two main factors—the size and the shape of the area we have to defend, and the scale of attack against which we might have to defend it. Neither of these factors is fixed. Even the area to be defended increases in size with the increase in range of aircraft. That is why we are increasing our fighter strength, but we are very far from underrating the importance of our capacity to strike back and that was why I said in November that we were to strengthen our counter-offensive forces, by the provision of increased reserves of aircraft and trained crews. I would conclude on this part of my subject by saying that for an offensive to be successful, it must start from a secure base. Security of bases is one of the vital principles of war and it would be just as foolish to concentrate on offensive and neglect defence, as it would be to do the reverse.
I will deal next with the Fleet Air Arm. I think the House will wish me to give 2389 some account of the progress made towards the transfer of administrative control of the Fleet Air Arm from the Air Ministry to the Admiralty in implementation of the decision announced by the Prime Minister at the end of July, 1937. I am glad to say that very considerable progress has been made and that I hope it will be possible to transfer control from the Air Ministry to the Admiralty early in the coming financial year. It has, of course, been clear from the start that a considerable time would be needed to effect the complete transfer of the Fleet Air Arm, if loss of efficiency was to be avoided during the transition period. The practical difficulties were very great. It involved not only the building up of a new administrative organisation in the Admiralty, but also the provision and training of personnel to man the Fleet Air Arm in replacement of the Royal Air Force personnel who formed the whole of the maintenance and administrative personnel of the Fleet Air Arm in 1937. The provision of personnel has, indeed, been fundamental to the problem. Even now, a number of Royal Air Force personnel will have to be loaned to the Admiralty for maintenance duties until the naval personnel become available. I am satisfied that there is the fullest co-operation between the two services and I think the House may rest assured that my Noble Friend the First Lord and I will continue to work in unison to ensure that the requirements of the two services are equitably met and that in the interests of national economy there shall be no duplication of effort or resources in the promotion of a maximum efficiency for both services.
I wish now to say a word upon a matter in which I am myself very much interested, and to which I referred in November. I, personally, attach great importance to our research and development work, and I am glad to say that important progress has been made in many directions in connection with that work. The Estimates will be found to include an increased provision, totalling some £5,000,000, on this account. I would instance one or two examples of the progress which has been made because I feel that few services are more important to the Royal Air Force than this in which there are so many possibilities. Research into materials has resulted in the use of substances combining valuable 2390 mechanical properties with relatively low weights. Again, extensive tests with wings of various dimensions promise to eliminate the tendency of monoplanes to drop one wing when flying at reduced speed, while development of the use of landing flaps should enable high-speed aircraft to land within much smaller areas than hitherto. Great progress has been made in the development of aero engines and the air-cooled sleeve-valve radial engine, of which this country is the pioneer, has now been established in full production. Again, a fully efficient system of communication, particularly between ground and air and from one aircraft to another, is of vital importance and a special directorate under the Director-General of Research and Development, has been established to deal with the scientific and technical problems involved, and considerable advances can also be recorded in that very important field.
We owe much—much more than can be publicly stated—to the assistance which the Air Ministry has received from the unremitting labours of a number of scientists in many fields. Research is being carried on unceasingly at the universities and elsewhere by men of science who are content to work without reward or publicity. No fewer than 44 Fellows of the Royal Society are members of committees appointed by the Air Ministry or in which the Air Ministry is closely interested. Many of them are members of more than one of these committees. We are particularly indebted to the eminent scientists who serve on our various committees and I should like to acknowledge publicly how much the Government and the Air Ministry in particular owe to Sir Henry Tizard. I spoke in November of the considerable steps that we had taken in relation to our organisation and machinery for production. Since that time we have continued to build up and perfect our organisation, and at present more than half of our directors and assistant directors in the department of production including the Director-General are business men who have been brought in from outside. A number of new directorates have been formed and in addition to the directors of aeroplane production, engine production and armaments and equipment production, there are now directors of materials production, of statistics and 2391 planning, of sub-contracting and of war planning.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in November expressed his interest, as he always does, in the question of materials, and I think he would like to hear a word from me on that matter this afternoon. We have given considerable attention to the development of sources of supply, and the Director of Material and Production works in close collaboration with the aircraft producers as regards firms' requirements, and with the suppliers in regulating production and distribution, so as to ensure that each aircraft firm gets its fair share. I would also like to say, because the question was put, that I cannot find that there has been any occasion on which the Air Ministry has been unable to meet its requirements through any difficulty with other Government Departments. We have also during the year considerably increased our productive capacity by expanding existing sources of supply and obtaining new ones. The 11 factories established under what is called the shadow scheme are now in production, as is the new Government factory which was approved only in June last for the production of aero engine car-burretors under the management of the Standard Motor Company. Many of these extensions in existing factories approved this year have been completed, and they are coming into production.
I would like to refer to the arrangements which have now been made for a new and very important development in the organisation of aircraft production for the Royal Air Force. This group scheme, as I might call it, has the double object of reducing the number of designs in service and facilitating economical and rapid quantity production. It is an extension of the present practice under which aircraft of the same type are manufactured by more than one firm. Under the new scheme, three or four firms will be formed into a group, and orders will be placed for the manufacture of one type of aircraft to be distributed between the firms in that group. The organisation of the aircraft industry on this basis will, I think, facilitate large-scale planning and ordering, and it will have the advantage of lessening the volume of technical work through all stages of design, development and inspection, and of simplifying training, maintenance, store-holding and equipment 2392 throughout the Service. It will also—and this is important—reduce the dislocation that might result in war time if for any reason one of the manufacturing units was unable to continue in production. The scheme is being brought into operation with the full co-operation of the firms concerned, and it will not embrace only the firms in the aircraft industry, but the Government factories and the new factories which are being created by such firms as Metropolitan-Vickers.
I am also glad to report to the House this afternoon that our labour forces are continuing to increase month by month, and, excluding altogether the large number of persons who are to-day employed on sub-contracts, our labour forces have increased by some 40 per cent, during the last six months. We have steadily pursued the policy, which I indicated to the House a short time ago, of taking the work to places where labour is available and of encouraging sub-contracting. We have recently endeavoured—and some of my colleagues here this afternoon are associated with this endeavour—to encourage firms in Scotland to take on subcontracting work by arrangement. This has been done both at Edinburgh and Glasgow, and we hope that as a result of these efforts we shall further widen the field of production in Scotland.
There is another matter which has often been discussed in this House in connection with this Vote. While maintaining safety as a paramount consideration, we have endeavoured to reduce the number of modifications made in aircraft during production. In addition to the appointment as overseers at contractors works of serving Royal Air Force officers who can take decisions on many matters without reference to the Air Ministry, we have recently instituted at each contractor's works a local modifications committee, presided over by the overseers and comprising Air Ministry representatives and representatives of the firm, with a view to further simplification, and to the early decisions which are so essential. We have also taken further steps, while again maintaining safety—I emphasise tnat—as a paramount consideration, to simplify the work of inspection. Jigging and tooling of types in our present programme have also been launched on a considerable scale as well as for our future requirements, and in all these matters considerable assistance has continued to be rendered by the 2393 Supply Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary. The panel of industrial advisers I appointed in June last has also continued to give the Department much expert assistance and valuable advice.
The production of aircraft is proceeding at a rapidly increasing pace. It is not in the national interest to give our figures, but the vast sums that we have spent and have notified our intention of spending this year give tangible evidence of the efforts we are making. We are, in fact, now spending a quarter of a million pounds every day on the production of aircraft alone, and the figure will rise still further. It should also be remembered that in considering these figures a number of important organisations have not yet begun to produce or are not yet in full production. In November last I gave certain estimates to the House, and said that the output of aircraft in May of this year should show an increase of 150 per cent, over the output in May of last year. I am very glad to say that that estimate has proved to be on the conservative side, and that we have achieved that 150 per cent increase already. It was also said that by May of next year the output would show a 400 per cent, increase over May, 1938, and I am very hopeful that this fourfold increase will in fact be achieved by the end of the present year. I wish to make it clear that I have not taken the output of May last because it enables me to draw a particularly favourable comparison. Indeed if I had taken the first two months of 1938 and of 1939, I could have drawn a far more favourable comparison. On the basis of these two months, I could have said that production had gone up by something over 300 per cent.
I do not pretend—and I hope that no one in this House will misconceive what I am saying—that there is not much to be done. We have still a great task to accomplish, but—and I am sure that every hon. Member wherever he sits will rejoice in the fact—we can register a great increase in our intrinsic strength, and the House can be assured that that progress will become cumulatively more rapid. In all these matters, I would like again to say what a debt I believe the country owes to Lord Swinton for his patient and valuable work. It can be 2394 said that our plans have been, and are being, broad-based so that we can materially expand our productive capacity if war should ever come. This not only applies to home production. Next year I anticipate that the delivery of aeroplanes manufactured in Canada will commence. The engines will be British made, and all the accessory equipment is being obtained from Empire sources of supply. Here we have the beginnings of a great development and what may well prove to be an invaluable supplement to our production. As the House knows, a mission has also gone to Australia and New Zealand at the request of the Governments of those two countries, and we hope that the results will be to enable arrangements to be made for our mutual benefit in relation to aircraft supply. The contracts which we placed in June of last year with America are now being duly executed. A number of aircraft have already reached this country, dates of delivery have been expedited, and we anticipate that all aircraft orders will be delivered by the end of the year. In view of the increased speed of deliveries the contract for Harvard aeroplanes was recently increased from 200 to 400, and that of the Hudson aeroplanes from 200 to 250, and all are to be delivered by the end of the year. I am assured, from the experience we have already obtained at our flying training schools, that the Harvard type is a very suitable type for advanced training.
When I spoke a short time ago in the course of the proceedings on the Defence Loans Bill on the subject of profits in relation to aircraft production, I stated that the matter had been for some time under my close examination, and that, as more experience and data were now available, I had given instructions for a special investigation to be made in the Department to see whether any revision of the present system was desirable to meet changing circumstances. I told the House that if any revision were recommended, I would lose no time in discussing the matter with representatives of the aircraft industry. A few days ago I was informed of the result of this investigation. As the Committee will be aware, the contractual relations between my Department and the aircraft firms are governed by what is known as the McLintock agreement, which was negotiated in the spring of 1936 though not finally ratified until last 2395 year. The Departmental investigation showed, what I anticipated would be the case, that, while the agreement might have been well adapted to the conditions obtaining at the time it was negotiated, some modification of its terms is now desirable, having regard not only to the greatly increased turnover on the Air Ministry contracts, but to other changes in circumstances which have taken place since the agreement was framed. These changes are the enormous increase in orders and the consequential expansion of straight-run production, the extension of sub-contracting and the extent to which it has been necessary at public expense to provide capital assets in the shape of new factories and works extensions and in other ways for the financing of the programme.
Thus advised, I at once got in touch with representatives of the industry, who showed every readiness to meet me and to arrive at reasonable conclusions. They have taken what I consider to be a prudent and helpful step in inviting Sir William McLintock, who advised them when the present agreement was negotiated, to undertake an immediate review of the operation of the agreement in the light of all the circumstances now obtaining. The problem is one of great intricacy and difficulty. The circumstances of individual firms differ widely as regards amount and structure of capital, the real value of fixed assets, volume of turnover, experience, and so on. Most of them are in straight-run production, but a few are only now coming into production. I feel confident that in the light of such advice as Sir William McLintock may give them, they will be willing to accept a modification of the present agreement so as to ensure that due weight is given in the future to the new factors to which I have referred.
There is another side which I must touch on, a side to which I am very glad to turn—civil aviation—where we are properly utilising in the service of humanity all that science has recently provided for us in the air. I thought it was a very good sign when a few days ago in London representatives of 45 foreign Governments, including delegates from the Dominions, met together to approve—and all agreed—a convention designed to make uniform the duties on fuel used for flying—a very good example, 2396 indeed. We are embarking on a larger plan of civil air routes and a greater State expenditure. It is essential that we should do this if we are to secure an adequate share in the development of the vital communications upon which the Empire largely depends, and it is because of this that me Estimates include this year, notwithstanding our military needs, a sum of £4,700,000 for civil aviation—nearly three times the sum taken in 1933. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal more to be done so far as civil aviation is concerned. There have been advances which it is well to register. For instance, until six years ago aircraft employed on regular air transport services throughout the world flew 100,000,000 miles on a network of routes totalling 200,000 miles. In the current year it is calculated that the distance flown by aircraft will be nearer 250,000,000 miles. Six years ago aircraft operated by United Kingdom aircraft companies on regular air services flew 2,500,000 miles and carried 79,000 passengers. In the current year the mileage to be flown by such aircraft will be nearer 11,000,000 miles and the number of passengers will probably exceed 250,000.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Is the right hon. Gentleman now giving world figures, and if so, will he draw an illuminating comparison by giving the British Empire figures alongside them?
§ Sir K. Wood
Perhaps I will later in the Debate. Six years ago, also, 170 tons of air mail were carried in a year by British commercial aviation. Last year over 2,000 tons were carried in this way, and nearly 600 tons of letter mail were carried on the internal air services, nearly 750 tons on European sendees, nearly 850 tons on Empire services, and a small tonnage on other extra-European services. The British Empire continues to rank foremost as regards the length of route operated by regular air services, and at the end of 1938 the route mileage for the Empire as a whole was about 88,000 miles. The importance of civil aviation to the British Empire needs no emphasis. It has already, despite our recent preoccupation with the rearmament programme, continued to take an increasingly important position in Commonwealth economy. Nothing can stop it taking ultimately the place which its merits deserve and the difficulties of the present transitional period will pass away, 2397 I believe, with improved organisation and improved development.
The Memorandum on Air Estimates of 1939 draws attention to many items of progress both in regard to internal and external civil aviation and to several plans for the future which have yet to be developed. It is only a year ago since the Cadman Committee and its report focussed our attention on the subject of civil aviation and made several constructive suggestions, which have been receiving the close attention of my Department. It is in no spirit of complacency that I draw attention to one or two achievements in particular, and to one or two projects in the future. Civil aviation is in a transitional stage and suffers to some extent from having been forced to take second place to the more urgent activities on the military side, but I think the completion of the third stage of the Empire air mail scheme, which now makes it possible to carry all first-class mail on the Empire air routes without surcharge, is worthy of note. The Empire air mail scheme, with its imperfections, which we are doing our best to overcome, with its special Christmas difficulties and its present troubles in regard to equipment, is an achievement which cannot be paralleled by any other country in the world, but one which the structure of the British Commonwealth makes a necessary item in modern life, and one which it is only too easy to accept without reflecting upon the constructive imagination and the vision and labour which lie behind it. The scheme, however, like several other services in civil aviation, suffers from lack of modern equipment. In my opinion the problem most in need of attention and quick solution is the development and production of British civil air liners which, in merit, reliability and performance, can compete with the best that is now being produced in other countries. That is certainly not the position to-day and that is why American aircraft have to be purchased by the operating companies. The same thing at present applies to civil engines and I intend, if I have the opportunity, to endeavour to help to rectify the position.
In my judgment, civil development cannot be left as an ancillary to military development. Both in air frames and in engines the problems and needs are different. Nor can civil development be 2398 left to aircraft constructors alone, nor to operating companies alone, still less to the Government alone. In my opinion the first need is to define the objective and then to arrange for a degree of coordination and co-operation, which has not hitherto been possible. The objective, as I see it, is the production of British civil air liners of outstanding merit and performance which can be used by the operating companies and, what is even more important, can be sold in the markets of the world. It would be a great satisfaction to any of us, and to myself, to assist in the production of a British machine which was sought after on its sheer merits in the markets of the world, and which on those merits gave rise to demands for its successor. I am considering what can be done to further this, particularly having regard to the proposed merger between the Imperial Airways and British Airways Companies. The negotiations and arrangements are being carried on as far as the merger is concerned, and I hope it will soon be possible to introduce the necessary Bill.
I thank the House for listening to me for so long. I can, at any rate, claim that these Estimates are unprecedented. They are, of course, necessitated very largely by the increase in our defensive strength to meet the risk of air attack. I think we all deplore the need for the expenditure of these vast sums, and we look forward to the time when reasonable and saner counsels may prevail throughout the world. But, in the circumstances that exist to-day, it is inevitable that we should take these necessary steps for our own security for the discharge of our responsibilities elsewhere, and to help to secure, if we can, the peace of the world. This is a matter which the country has a right to demand and to have. It is for all these reasons that we are making these great efforts and spending these vast sums of money on air defence, as well as in the belief that it is one of the best means of preventing war.
§ Mr. Dalton
Before the Question is put, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will you give your Ruling regarding the scope of the Debate, and subsequently on Report? You ruled on the Army Estimates that on Report we might have a wide and general discussion, and I should be glad if you would give a similar Ruling in regard to the Air Estimates.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
If it meets with the assent of the House the same course may be adopted in regard to these Air Estimates as the House agreed to adopt yesterday in regard to the Army Estimates, that is that on Report, on Vote A, there will be that elasticity as to the subjects of discussion which has previously usually been allowed in the discussions in Committee. But that is on the understanding that there be no discussion on the Committee stage.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
The right hon. Gentleman has made a long speech, but not very long in relation to the large sum of money he is asking us to vote. He is asking for a lot of money, and I conceive it to be our duty to consider whether the scheme of expenditure which he is asking us to approve will give us value for money. Most of my observations will be directed to that one primary question. Are we getting value in terms of the number of aeroplanes that are being produced and in terms of the quality and the equipment of those aeroplanes, and, a very important matter, although he did not say much about it, are the prices that we are paying for these various objects which he has ordered, reasonable, or are we paying a great deal more than we should? In regard to organisation also, in its various aspects, we may ask whether the present organisation is efficient. That has a bearing on the question whether or not we are getting value for the expenditure which we are asked to authorise. Many of us have had, and still have, grave doubts on these questions.
The right hon Gentleman has been in his present office 10 months, and it is becoming less and less possible for him to pass any responsibility back on to his predecessors, and more and more he has to carry it himself. He came into office in May of last year when there was a very tense international situation, and when there was very grave concern in all parts of this House and in the country about the inefficient condition in which Lord Londonderry and Lord Swinton had left the British Air Force. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about his immediate predecessor, it is well known that that predecessor had to disappear because there was a widespread 2400 feeling throughout the country that he had not been making a good job of his position at the Air Ministry. He went, and the right hon. Gentleman was moved from the pleasant fields of Health to this rather different estate. That was in May of last year. Four months elapsed, and then we had the crisis in September, and there was again very grave concern felt by large numbers of persons in this House and in the country as to the show that our Air Force could have put up if in September war had come. Six months more have swept by; we are now in March, and one of the questions that the House will desire to probe is, how far since September, when admittedly many things were not as they should have been, those six months have been used by the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants in order to give us, at long last, an Air Force in all respects capable of performing the duties that may be imposed upon it.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and I have seen the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State on a number of occasions, as is fairly well known, during the time he has been in office, and have put before him a great mass of detailed and disturbing evidence of inefficiency, of defects of various kinds, and of delays in programmes. In regard to some of these matters I should not wish to speak publicly in detail, because I can well believe that, although much is known to the Intelligent Services of foreign Powers, not perhaps all is known to them. I must, however, without going into any such detail, point out that of the many statements that we have made to the right hon. Gentleman and the Undersecretary during the period that we have been in touch with them from time to time, that although some have been disputed, many have been admitted. The utmost that we can hope in regard to those deficiencies which have been admitted is that steps have been taken, to some extent, to correct them in recent months.
I should like to speak for a few minutes on the rate of production of aircraft. The right hon. Gentleman took as the starting point his own entry into office in May, 1938, and gave us the percentage of increase in the production of aircraft. 2401 It would, indeed, be a most shocking state of affairs if a very high percentage of increase could not be shown on that basis of comparison, because in May, 1938, in the Debate in this House, it was stated, and not denied, that the shadow factories had produced absolutely nothing. Not a single plane had been flown in May, 1938, that had been produced in a shadow factory. It would, therefore, be a shocking state of affairs if there had not been a very high percentage of increase in terms of production now, compared with then. We are now given to understand that there are some aeroplanes coming from the shadow factories, and it is high time, too. I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us absolute figures regarding the production now coming through, but I am going to ask him this question. In spite of what may be said about the increase in the rates of production, is there any evidence whatever for believing that the gap between the effective first-line air strength of this country and the first-line strength of that most powerful air force within striking distance of our shores—we all know where it is—is being narrowed?
When I was speaking on this subject in May I said that it was only ignorant optimists who held that time was on our side, even assuming great improvements in production here. In fact, I argued time was against us. Unless the right hon. Gentleman is more of a miracle-worker than we are inclined to believe, in view of the enormous additional productive resources which have been created by the German Reich, by one means or another, as compared with May last—and the events in Czecho-Slovakia since then have still further strengthened this view although we may be increasing rapidly in an absolute sense, we are still falling further and further behind the German air force in terms of first-line strength. If that is true, it should be admitted. The Germans will know it. Why, then, should we deceive ourselves? If it is true, it should be admitted, and there should be no optimistic dust thrown in the eyes of the people of this country.
§ Mr. Simmonds
The hon. Member is dealing with a very important matter. Does he claim that that is still the case, or is he merely asking for information?
§ Mr. Dalton
I am asking for information, but I am going to add that I shall 2402 be very much surprised if the straight answer to my question is not that the gap is still widening.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Arising out of that reply, is it not abundantly clear that the hon. Member will not get a straight answer, because it is not in the national interest to give it, and is it not, therefore, a great pity to cast these doubts on what is being achieved?
§ Mr. Dalton
The right hon. Gentleman must be the judge of what is in the national interest to tell to the House. I have no doubt that he will tell us the maximum that he thinks he should give us.
§ Sir K. Wood
A question was put to the Prime Minister the other day on this point, and he said, after consultation with me, that he did not regard it as in the national interest to give that information.
§ Mr. Dalton
The Government must carry their responsibility for reticence. I will merely say that in the light of such evidence as one can muster, and general considerations as regarding the comparative productive power of this country and Germany, particularly of Germany aggrandised by her recent performances, I am inclined to believe that that gap has not narrowed. I wish I could believe otherwise. We must, however, leave that particular issue where the right hon. Gentleman has left it for the moment. But if these matters may not be discussed in the House, then, indeed, we have reached a curious position. It is surely quite proper for hon. Members in any part of the House to put questions to the Government and it is the responsibility of the Government to decide how much they can reveal. I am sure we can all agree upon that.
As regards the types of aircraft as distinct from numbers, the right hon. Gentleman said that the types now being issued to the Air Force of both bombers and fighters, in this country were the best in the world. We were glad to hear that, because there has been a great deal of controversy, both in technical and other circles, in the past as to whether we were producing, either in bombers or fighters, the most suitable types, having regard to the duties they would be required to perform. In particular, last September there was ground for believing that a very considerable number of our bombers 2403 were not at all suited for the work that they would have had to do, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's statement which I have quoted does mean that we have coming into production on a large scale types of bombers which are much more effective than those which were the predominant arm of the Royal Air Force last September, and that they would be able to reach such targets as it would be right to allot to them.
So far as fighters are concerned, we have for a long time discussed in this House the Spitfire and Hurricane, with special reference to the delay in getting large-scale production and delivery of these types. Allocation of blame has been a matter of dispute as between the manufacturers and the Air Ministry, but that there were delays is not in dispute. We are glad that they are now coming into production in very much greater quantities, but there is still this point of doubt in some of our minds. Is the Air Ministry completely satisfied now that the Spitfire and the Hurricane are the most suitable types for the purposes for which fighters are required? There is a good deal of controversy about it, and I think that the Air Ministry, Farn-borough and the industry itself have not always been agreed upon this point. Therefore, I think something should be said to assure the House, if that is their opinion, now, that the Spitfire and Hurricane are as satisfactory as they can be made for the purposes that they would be required to serve. I will not go into the technical details, because it is verging upon the line of what might be regarded as not being in the public interest.
Now with regard to equipment of aeroplanes. I do not think it can be denied that in May the very detailed charges which a number of speakers, including myself, made regarding the very grievous shortage of blind-flying equipment, de-icing equipment, guns, turrets, sights, sextants, and other equipment were justified. No one from the Government Bench denied, nor I think can it be denied, that those charges were still substantially true in September. Can an assurance be given now that in the intervening six months these very grave deficiencies have been overcome? That is a point on which the House is entitled to some reassurance.
2404 I turn now for a moment to the prices which are being charged for these things. I was interested to notice the evident pricking of a guilty conscience revealed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. The McLintock agreement is now recognised to give something more than a square deal to the manufacturers, and something less than a square deal to the taxpayer. I was sorry that we could not have a little more detail given to us to-day as to how the McLintock agreement is going to be modified for the benefit of the taxpayer. At the present moment the thing is undoubtedly a ramp so far as the taxpayer is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman will claim—indeed he has claimed—that by sub-contracting arrangements he has done a great deal to spread the work of production over different firms in different parts of the country. In other words, he has recognised the force of arguments put forward from this side of the House and elsewhere against the ring. I do not know whether he would so choose to describe it, but he could, perhaps, boast that he has broken the ring as the result of representations made by us. But the ring is still a fairly profitable thing to have belonged to once. One of my hon. Friends says that it is a gold ring.
Let us for a moment consider one or two of the figures which I have here. These are figures of what is left by way of profit reckoned after the deduction of Income Tax and National Defence Contribution. Last year Hawker Siddeley earnings on ordinary capital were 47 per cent, and they paid 42 per cent. Bristol paid 25 per cent.; Rolls Royce, 22½ per cent.; Handley Page, 30 per cent.; Fairey, 15 per cent.; De Havilland, 12½per cent.; Short Bros., 42½ per cent. Taking a rough average they all earned double that, so that Short Bros, earned 82 per cent, on their capital, and paid in dividend 42½ per cent., and it is to be noted that all this is after deduction of Income Tax and National Defence Contribution, and after the distribution of very substantial capital bonuses during the period since air rearmament has been proceeding. I cannot imagine that anyone can be found to stand up and defend these profits as tolerable and legitimate from the point of view of the taxpayer, or from the point of view of ordinary decency in a time of national necessity. 2405 It is to be observed that none of the costing arrangements which are spoken about give us any real assurance in this matter, because all they can do is to take note of and check up the actual payments made, but what assurance have we that these payments are themselves reasonable, particularly when sub-contracting is developed and subsidiaries of these firms may be doing some of the work? I think that all who have given any thought to this matter are greatly dissatisfied at this evidence of profiteering in the last two or three years. It is a very tardy act of readjustment that the McLintock agreement should now be under review.
My own view is that we are spending a very great deal too much in these Estimates from the point of view of purchasing the actual quantity of aircraft which is being turned out. We are being grossly overcharged and gigantic fortunes are being made, which will, perhaps, be revealed when the owners die. But why we should be making millionaires nearly as fast as we are making aeroplanes I cannot think. There is a related matter to this—the question of the so-called Government factories. In the White Paper, on page 6, there is a reference to Government factories, but what that means, I understand, is not Government factories in the proper sense at all, nothing like our military arsenals, or our naval dockyards, but merely certain factories of which the Government own the shell, and which are run and managed by private firms already engaged in armament production. It is a misuse of words to call them Government factories, because they are not Government factories. I would remind the House that the Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of Arms which reported in 1936—and I wish to use polite language about it—was composed of a number of elderly and moderately-minded persons, yet even they went so far as to recommend that all branches of the Defence Services should have, at any rate, some element of genuine State manufacture in order that the costs of production in private firms might be checked by a comparable figure in a Government establishment in the full and proper sense of the term in which there was no question of any variable dividend or rate of profit.
That has been deliberately put on one side and shelved by the Air Ministry and by successive Secretarys of State for Air, 2406 and I think we should know why, in view of this enormous increase in productive capacity, they have not set up one or two State factories in the proper sense of the term on an exactly comparable basis to the naval dockyards and the military arsenals and small arms factories, so as to carry out that very reasonable recommendation of the Royal Commission. There would also have been some advantage in that in so far as it would have been possible to locate these Government factories in places where they would be relatively safe and invulnerable, and where there was a large quantity of available labour. The War Office have put a factory down at Bridgend. South Wales is obviously indicated as a relatively invulnerable part of the country, and it would have been better if one or two State factories had been put down in South Wales or West Cumberland, or even in South-West Durham, rather than placing them in a circle round Birmingham, Coventry, Castle Bromwich, and so on.
The right hon. Gentleman said something by way of self-justification about the Fleet Air Arm. I think he will soon have Lord Chatfield after him, if he goes on obstructing and delaying the transfer which was decided on by the Cabinet some time ago. It is not at all clear that the Admiralty are satisfied, but that is purely a squabble between Government Departments, with which we need not concern ourselves. There is another matter to which I want to refer which has been referred to in these Debates before, and that is the camouflage of aerodromes. The comment made in previous Debates has been that our aerodromes are exceedingly visible, that the buildings are stark, that the hangars are higher than they need be, and that large tracts of green grass are easily visible to enemy aircraft, It has been argued that last September visibility was very marked indeed, and that camouflage arrangements had been gravely neglected by the Air Ministry. That is one of the points that were emphasised by my right hon. Friends and myself when we saw the Secretary of State. The other day, the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to invite me to look at some of the aerodromes from the air. I appreciated his invitation and I went; but he will not, I am sure, think it unkind, or unappreciative of me if I say that I was not in the least reassured 2407 by what I saw. I believe that the Undersecretary of State was not very reassured either.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour): The camouflage was so good I could not find the hangars.
§ Mr. Dalton
I want to put on record the fact that that very pleasant trip for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman, has not shaken my opinion that there is a very great deal yet to be done with regard to this camouflage problem, and that much more ingenuity and sustained experiment will be required before the problem has been solved. With regard to the question of the Maintenance Command —another matter on which there was criticism previously—it is stated in the White Paper that the Maintenance Command has now been brought into existence, and is responsible for the administration of all storage units and depots at home. My information is that that statement is something of an exaggeration; for I am told that although it exists on paper, it is not yet effectively functioning. If that be so, it is another example of the very grave delay that has taken place in making what seems to many people, looking at the matter from the outside, a commonsense provision which ought to have been undertaken a long time ago. I would like to have a little more assurance than is given in the White Paper, in a jejune sentence or two, that the Maintenance Command is really functioning effectively now and is available to units for maintenance and repair purposes.
That leads me to the question of the whole organisation of the Royal Air Force in regard to maintenance and works services, chain of command, staff control, and so on, in connection with which it is notorious that there have been great differences of opinion within the Royal Air Force, and on which I understand a committee of investigation is now sitting. I hope we may be given some assurance that these problems will be worked out and settled in a way which will meet the views of the officers commanding the bomber and fighter formations. There is a feeling that the existing scheme is a fancy scheme drawn up by one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's advisers at the Air Ministry, who have been some time out of touch with active operations, and 2408 are not entirely up to date, very naturally, in their views on these problems; who look at them from the angle of sitting at a table in an office rather than actually flying a machine or carrying out such duties as those of the commander-in-chief of the bomber command. I hope we shall be assured that the views of the officers outside the Air Ministry, who would have to take command and take quick decisions in time of war, will be given at least as much weight as the views of those people who have been for a long while secluded away at desks inside the Air Ministry. It is notorious that there are great differences of opinion on the subject, and I would guess that the younger officers, who are still in active command outside, are more likely to be right than the people who will have easier access to the right hon. Gentleman, the members of the Air Council, and others within the Air Ministry. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us a little more on this subject.
I was very much interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about the various new formations—the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, the Civil Air Guard, and so on; but I want him to answer a question on this matter so that we shall not have a wrong picture of what is being done. He told us about the six months' period of training for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and he gave us other particulars about the different classes and groups into which entrants are to be divided; but I want to know what is the proportion of the people who are entering these formations who will really be able, on the basis of the training they are to get, to fly at the front or in this country in actual military operations in the air, in the event of war. Will the proportion be one-quarter or one-third, or what will it be? Clearly, the value of this training and these formations must depend upon the relative number of these people who will be available for those purposes.
With regard to recruitment generally, I was not in the least surprised to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is getting great quantities of excellent material. Nobody is surprised about that, except those pessimistic conscriptionists such as are to be found on the benches opposite. When an appeal is made, and when conditions have been improved, as they have 2409 been in some respects, no one is surprised that the response is excellent, except those pessimistic Conservatives who want to regiment this free people into totalitarian bondage. But one of my hon. Friends has asked me, since the Minister made his speech, to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to many sections of people, very properly; but he did not pay quite as warm a tribute as he might have done to those skilled workmen who are engaged in making these machines in the workshops. Perhaps the omission was unintended. Certainly, we have heard a great deal in the past about shortages of skilled labour, and there have been the skilled labour pessimists, just as there are the pessimistic conscriptionists. It has been alleged, quite falsely, that the trade unions were restricting output and making difficulties about people being trained, and so on. To-day, the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of denying that. All that talk is nonsense. To-day, the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of paying a tribute—and I am sure he will—to the skill and patriotism of those skilled workers in the workshops, without whom none of this programme could have been carried out at all.
Reference has again been made to the shortage of wireless operators. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman cannot get wireless operators. That is a matter to which I referred 10 months ago, when there was a grave shortage, as apparently there still is now. Is the shortage due to the wages that are offered and the conditions? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an explanation of the shortage? I should have thought that skilled men of this sort could have been recruited easily if the conditions and wages were reasonable, and if proper enterprise were shown in recruiting by the Air Ministry.
I want now to say a few words on the balloon barrage, a subject in which my hon. Friends took an interest long before the Air Ministry did. As long ago as 1936, my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) urged the creation of a balloon barrage, but the suggestion was brushed aside with contempt. Then, a small concession was made to the cranks, as they were then supposed to be, and the small sum of £4,000 was allotted for this purpose in 2410 the Estimates. My right hon. Friend hammered away and begged the Air Ministry to get a move on with regard to the balloon barrage three years ago. The Air Ministry has been very slow in this matter. If there is any value in the balloon barrage, then it is a serious thing that the greater part of the country is still without any protection from it. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was now completed in London. He said that in other parts of the country in which it is proposed that there should be balloon-barrage protection, the protection will not be properly completed until the end of this year. That is very slow; for a lot may happen before the end of this year. In the Midlands, where the right hon. Gentleman has been adding target to target in a most terrible fashion, in the Birmingham and Coventry extensions; in the North, in Sheffield and other cities; on the Tyneside, and in certain parts of Scotland, it is a very serious thing that the balloon barrage is still not available for those centres. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give information which might be of use to persons who are interested in knowing whether they would run into a balloon barrage or not, but we have been told a certain amount as. far as London is concerned, and I ask, for the reassurance of the massed industrial populations in the areas to which I have referred, whether something more definite cannot be said as to when these areas will have, at any rate, partial protection, as far as the balloon barrage can furnish it. The right hon. Gentleman said that greater progress has been made than he expected. If that be so, then his-expectations must have been pretty low, for the whole work has been very leisurely indeed.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the production of aeroplanes in Canada. I should like to say a few words about production of aircraft outside this country, both in the Dominions and elsewhere. He said that next year production would begin in Canada. Does he mean it will begin in the next calendar year or the next financial year? If it is not to begin until 1940, that is a very wretched state of affairs. I hope he means the next financial year. If there is to be no production in Canada until 1940, that is a grave reflection on the people who have been handling these negotiations. As to Australia, I gather that the Permanent 2411 Under-Secretary of the Air Ministry is there; and the fact that the Permanent Under Secretary, who has important duties to perform at the Air Ministry, has had to go to Australia rather suggests that contact with Australia had hitherto been rather neglected. When I was in Australia about a year ago, they were still hoping against hope that Lord Swinton would keep the promises he had made to them. He had promised to send them considerable quantities of aircraft of various types, and the Australians were still hoping against hope that those machines would be sent. As the machines have not been sent, they have been driven, and very properly so, to production in Australia itself. It would have been very much better if some years ago Australia had been definitely encouraged to produce machines herself, instead of being given promises that were never carried out.
In Australia, not less than in Canada, there are very great possibilities of industrial production. It is only the very simple kind of Imperialists who think that the Dominions are places where they grow great quantities of food to send away. In Australia, there are great industrial possibilities, and I hope that they will be very rapidly developed. It would be very much better to have a substantial production of aircraft there than for Australia to rely on getting aircraft produced in other countries a great distance away. So far as the United States is concerned, I gather that we are getting training machines only and we have the right hon. Gentleman's word for it that they are good. We have sometimes heard adverse things said about some of the planes that have come from the United States, but I take it that proper vigilance is exercised to see that what we are getting now is of use to us.
There is only one other general consideration that I would put to the House. The scale of expansion and the speed of technical development are unprecedented in the Air Force. There has never been in peace time, or even in war time, so rapid a scale of expansion and of large-scale operation. Equally, I suppose, the speed of technical development is quickening up. I do not want to make attacks on people who cannot answer for themselves, but I want to say that the 2412 speeding-up that is going on makes it more than ever necessary that the right hon. Gentleman should be advised, and predominantly advised, by people whose knowledge is relatively up-to-date. It would be most disastrous if at the Air Ministry there were a group of people having the right hon. Gentleman's ear and holding key positions, a group of people who had been there for a number of years, and who, by reason of their being there, have not got the up-to-date knowledge that is required by air officers with active commands outside and by people in the industry. It is clearly necessary for the efficiency of the Air Ministry at this time that in carrying out this job of unprecedented scope and difficulty they should be continually bringing into the highest positions within the Ministry men possessed of both drive and up-to-date practical knowledge of these problems. The confidence that will be reposed in the Air Ministry's technical advisers will largely depend on the extent to which these advisers are continually being moved on, so that the Ministry can continually have coming in new people who have a first-hand knowledge of these problems and have handled them in a practical way—have fired the guns and flown the planes—rather than people who, however distinguished their past career may have been, have been out of practice in these matters for a considerable term of years.
I want to press that with special emphasis upon the right hon. Gentleman. We are particularly anxious to be assured that new blood is flowing into these key positions. It is not unreasonable to say that, in so far as there have been grave difficulties and disappointments in achieving the programme and carrying out this complicated and difficult scheme of expansion, they may be partly due to the fact that the people who have been in the key positions have been trying to handle problems much too big and new for them. I will not make any personal allusions, but I think I have made the point I wanted to make sufficiently clear. I am not alone in making it, for it is widely felt in the country by people who are anxious as to whether these great sums of money for which we are being asked are being expended in such a way that they are really adding both to the defensive powers of this country and to those deterrent effects which it may be 2413 a legitimate part of our diplomacy to produce.
I will not ask any further questions, but I want to give notice that in Committee I will move a reduction of 100 men on Vote A because, as the questions which I have asked show, my hon. Friends are not satisfied that the Air Ministry have reached that degree of efficiency which we think it is essential should be reached if this country is to be effectively protected, and if we are to get value for the enormous sums we are spending. I forget how many men the right hon. Gentleman is asking for, but we shall move to reduce it by 100, and it will be clearly understood by those who understand Parliamentary procedure and do not desire to make untruthful misrepresentations outside, what significance should be attached to that Vote.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) need not have made any apology for the length of his speech, for we are dealing with large issues, and the real desire of everyone in the country is to know what is happening in this Service. There is now a very different feeling in the House from the feeling when we were discussing these Estimates a year ago, and I would like to congratulate the Minister and the Under-Secretary on the enormous amount of industry which they have put into their work, and on the spirit which I am certain they have got in the Ministry and the manufacturing side which has produced such definite results. I do not throw all the blame on Lord Swinton. The blame was largely due to the policy of the Government which started rearmament so late. The reason we blame the Ministry is that when it became apparent at the beginning of last year that the time had arrived when these dangers with which we were faced had to be met, there was only complacency and no drive or energy to catch up. There was, therefore, a dangerous lag. That was our complaint against Lord Swinton and the Ministry. The present Minister has done an immense amount to overcome that lag.
This is an enormous Estimate, and a lot of it will have to be of a recurring kind owing to new machines and new inventions coming along; and we shall have to look forward to a future which will mean big expenditure to the country. The Minister says that we have now got 2414 to the 1,750 front-line strength. We have achieved that through his energies. There is nothing enormous in that figure. It is the number we were told we were to reach when this enormous drive had taken place. The fact that we have just reached it shows how far we were behind. I do not know why it is considered wrong to ask for comparable figures of other countries. It is one of the most pertinent which can be asked in this matter. An answer was given to us once, and we have a right to know how we stand. No one who knows the German figures can deny that, even at the strength we have reached to-day, Germany is twice as strong as we are. That does not mean necessarily that we are in an equivalent amount of danger, because Germany, owing to the formation of her air force, has had to divide it up into air fleets which are composed of bombers and fighters. She has different frontiers which have to be guarded, and if she has double our strength it does not mean that our strength is so much less than hers, because with us air attack is bound to come from one direction only.
Therefore, I am not so alarmed at that figure, but I do not like the sort of idea that is growing up that Germany has now shot her bolt in the air. I do not believe it is right. I believe the German Air Force is still an immense menace, and we must not think we have dealt with it merely because we have reached a certain point in our defences. The Minister referred to his speech on the Address on 10th November when he laid enormous stress on the idea of what our fighter strength was going to be, and said it was to be between 5,000 and 6,000. I know that that was corrected in that Debate by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and that it has been contradicted to-day, but it alarmed people who had studied this question. Therefore, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear to other countries that we do not pin our defence merely on fighter policy, because it would be dangerous if that got abroad. There is a good deal of propaganda in the Press giving descriptions of new fighters—the Spitfires and the Hurricanes. Descriptions have been given of their armament, their machine-guns, and their speed, and how they will give complete security, because they will be able to attack and bring down any bombers that may come.
2415 I would like to ask the Minister to be very careful in considering this fighter policy because it is one that must change. These Spitfires and Hurricanes are not, as it is thought, new machines. They were considered as far back as 1933 and 1934, and a good many things have happened since then. I am not going to say that everything that is done in Germany and Italy is right and that all that we do is wrong, but there is an omen which must be remembered. Both these countries have been on active service during the last two years when we have not been. Therefore, their views are worthy of the greatest consideration. There are many things which we think are all right in peace time which, in the test of war, do not turn out as we would like. We know what happened at the beginning of the last War in regard to shrapnel and high explosives, which did not work out as it was thought in peace time they would. I would ask the Minister to consider the policy that is being developed of the single-seater fighter with eight small Browning guns and to consider whether the two-seater fighter which has a far heavier cannon will not have to be the policy for the future.
I know that Lord Nuffineld is to produce 1,000 of these Spitfires by the end of next year. They may, for all we know, be up to date, but no one will blame the Minister if he has to scrap anything which is out of date. The blame will arise if, when the time comes, we are found to be out of date because of a policy which has meant that the Ministry has closed its eyes to developments. I have talked to both German and Italian pilots who have fought in the war in Spain and know some of their views. If you are following a heavily-armed bomber in a single-seater and have merely machine-guns for the attack, it is much the same as firing upon a retreating elephant with a 22 rifle, because you are not going to do very much harm. It is necessary to have a heavier gun in a machine which can be manoeuvred to make an attack on the bomber not merely from one position, namely, exactly behind, where the armour is, but from the sides as well. There has been a description in the papers of the Defiant machine which is built by Boulton and Paul and has a gun, but that is only one machine. We are building Hurricanes and Spitfires, and I hope that the 2416 Minister will not think that it will be wasting money if he has to scrap what has been done in order that he may be able to move with the times.
I was glad to hear what the Minister said about accidents, and to learn that a committee has been set up. The subject of accidents, on which I asked a question yesterday, is a serious one, and one which, unless it is properly understood, may affect recruiting and the morale of the Air Force. The figures given show that 218 were killed and 166 injured last year, and they seem rather large figures, but if we taken into account the hours flown and also make comparisons with the accidents in other countries they are not figures of which we need be either frightened or ashamed. It is not easy to get the figures from Germany, but I have had some supplied to me from a certain source, and they were in the neighbourhood of 700 last year. That is a large figure in itself, and is also higher proportionately than our figure. The figure for Italy is greater than ours, and America has had to contend with immense difficulties in regard to accidents. I hope that the committee which is going into this question will not think it has merely to remain a Departmental Committee. When the force grows bigger and the number of accidents naturally become higher, they ought to put out comparable figures from other countries, so that our people can see that there is nothing to be alarmed at in our figures of air casualties.
There are one or two points concerning training which I should like to raise. Among the questions which the Minister will have to take up is that of pilots flying in other than war machines. The faster our machines are the less often pilots can use them, except during an actual attack or during exercises, but the skill and confidence of pilots depend upon the amount of time they can spend in the air, and if they can seldom fly these very fast machines they will not gain the confidence and skill which come only from experience. I hope the Minister will be able to look into that matter. Further, I hope that he will not let this great Service become a sort of "hush-hush" Service, in which things must not be said and things must not get out. I know there is much information that must not get out, but in flying immense improvements are coming forward every day, and it has to be remembered that those who 2417 fly the machines are not senior officers but junior officers, and it is from them that information which may lead to improvements will come. It is not easy for junior officers in any Service to complain, but as regards these new machines and the training which takes place in them there ought to be a feeling that there can be openness.
I am not going to blame the Minister for a lot of small happenings, and we shall have plenty of opportunity for going into them at some other time, but while he has made great strides on the production side, having done immense work there, there is another side of the Service to be considered, and I think the time has come for a searching inquiry into the running of the Air Force. There are big questions involved, questions of authority, responsibility, bureaucracy and personnel. All things are not satisfactory at the moment, and in many cases conditions are absolutely chaotic. It is from the Minister, of course, that the Service will have to get a lead in this matter. I will give one small illustration of what I have in mind, but it will be appreciated by anyone who has been an officer in a Territorial battalion. During the last 18 months I have had no fewer than seven adjutants and assistant-adjutants in my squadron. One cannot run an ordinary Yeomanry regiment or a Territorial regiment under those conditions, because they add immensely to one's difficulties. I am not complaining or saying that I have been picked out for this treatment, because I know that it has happened in other squadrons, but it does show that the system is not right. Many difficulties have arisen out of the expansion which has had to be undertaken, and yet officers have been moved on from one position to another in which they cannot be of the same use. What is required is a re-organisation of the whole system, which has been built up on the basis of a non-expanding Air Force, to suit the needs of an expanding one; but the lead must come from the Minister; it cannot come from the Service itself, because any criticism from inside can be so easily misunderstood.
Many points were brought up during the Debates last year and many of them have been settled, but we should like to know more about the arrangements at aerodromes, recreation for officers, and that sort of thing. We were given 2418 promises the year before last and last year, but they have not been carried out, perhaps owing to the pressure of other work, and unless those matters are dealt with they will affect the training of the squadrons. There is only one big question of policy on which I should like to raise a point. In connection with the Army we heard about the Staff talks which have been taking place with France, and that applies to the Navy too. Can we take it that similar talks are going on between the two Air Ministries? If we are in a war as allies of France our liability is going to be unlimited, and if we have made arrangements beforehand it will make all the difference, especially in the case of a hard and sudden attack from the air, as to whether we can rapidly bring into action the whole of our strength. I am not going to deal with civil aviation which, I agree with the Minister, is the nicer side of aviation to contemplate. It is sad to think that in the development of this new science so much thought and endeavour should be devoted to its use in war, and I hope that the very fact that it has brought the element of fear closer to the peoples of all countries may produce this good result—that a strong Air Force will be regarded as such a deterrent that we may get peace.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmonds
I feel that it is many years since the Opposition, both branches of it, have felt able to commend the activities of the Air Ministry in the way which their two spokesmen did this afternoon. It is true that they were critical in parts, but that is their proper function. We have only to think of the Debate last year to realise that we have passed from the most difficult period in the history of the Air Ministry to one in which there is a very great understanding of the problems of air defence. Probably the most outstanding observation made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air was that these Estimates show a ten-fold increase over those of a few years ago. I think the House might also have in mind two of our number whom we ought particularly to congratulate now that the air has taken its proper place among the defence Forces of the Crown. I am thinking particularly of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) who for many years has urged upon the House 2419 the necessity for a proper balance between the Air, the Navy and the Army. We are all delighted that he is here to see the fruits of his efforts, and we shall look forward to hearing him later in the Debate. There is another we all wish were still here, and that is the hon. and gallant Gentleman who was the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth, the late Captain Guest. Year in and year out he strove with all his force and all his assiduity to bring home to the House and the country how we were letting the sands of time run out in the matter of air armament.
I have always looked upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as one of the best publicists and showmen the Government have had, but I am not sure that in presenting these Estimates he has brought home to the country exactly what it is that has been achieved. I take an example from page 5 of the Memorandum. It says that during 1939 the strength of the Royal Air Force is expected to rise to 118,000. That is true as regards Vote A, but there is the Vote for the Royal Air Force Reserve and the Volunteer Reserve, 77,000 men, and the Auxiliary Air Force and the Auxiliary Air Force Reserve, 27,000 men, bringing the total up to 222,000 of all ranks. With the civil training schools and the university air squadrons we might have during this year 250,000 officers and menin all ranks of the Royal Air Force and its ancillary services. That is something about which the country ought to be told. If it were shouted from the housetops it would do more than anything to brace us up to realise that we have left behind the doldrums of 1938 and that we are able in the air to look squarely in the face any nation who would dare to attack us. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would feel able to give us information about which the country would be reassured showing exactly the number of pilots that he has available in different parts of the Service. He has mentioned pilots in this category and that, and I feel that any enemy could put those figures together and ascertain the total. Would it be in the public interest that the Under-Secretary when he replies should give us the information?
I come to the question of the 1,750 aircraft in the first-line strength. I agree with my right hon. Friend and with the 2420 Prime Minister that first-line strength can be misleading as a measurement of air strength. I feel that there should be some other way of bringing out the vast increase in our air potential, our striking power in the air, than by quoting so low a figure as 1,750. As was mentioned by the hon. Member from the Liberal benches just now, there is an increasing momentum in aircraft production. Everybody connected with air matters realises that there is now drive behind the programme, and that everybody is doing his best to press it forward. The development of aircraft manufacture in the Dominions is heartily to be endorsed, but it is not necessary to assume that all the aircraft factories in this country would be eliminated by hostile aircraft in order to justify the development in those Dominions of separate aircraft industries that could be of immense value in time of war. I am sure that the House will congratulate my right hon. Friend upon having taken this action.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) raised the question of relative strength of the German air force and our own, but I am afraid that he misunderstood my question if he thought that I was in any way deprecating an inquiry. I believe that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite also insinuated that. In fact, I initiated a debate on this subject in 1937, when I gave what I considered to be the then comparison. The point I wanted to bring out was that I thought the whole atmosphere as between German air strength and British air strength was so vastly important that it behoved us all, unless we were definitely assured that we were still not making up lee-way, not to make such a suggestion at all. I feel that the public pulse is tender upon this point. From what I know of German production and British production—whether we now produce at the same rate or not is a very difficult proposition for anybody to advance in this country. I believe that they are becoming substantially equal. Even if Germany has 150per cent, or even 200 per cent, advantage over our air strength, and if our aircraft manufacturing industry is approaching the output of the German industry, I believe we can say that we have turned the corner. My own impression from such information, as I possess from various sources at home and abroad is that we have, in fact, 2421 turned the corner, and that we can go forward with increasing confidence.
There has been a suggestion that in some categories the quality of our aircraft was possibly not all that could be expected. Of course, every type of aircraft that goes into production is out of date as soon as it is in quantity production, but if we compare British aircraft with any other aircraft in the world we shall find that we stand in the forefront for quality. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State could give us any information upon a subject which was advanced in the Air Debate last year from all quarters of the House, and which related to the development of wooden air frames, both for fighters and for bombers. It might not be possible to use them in aircraft of high speeds, but the fact that wood can be extensively used is known to all.
Many other hon. Members want to speak, and, therefore, I will leave any other remarks on the general subject to a later date, if there should be an opportunity, but I would ask the Undersecretary whether he can give the House information on the following points: Can he tell us to what extent the Royal Air Force intend to adopt cannon on new aircraft coming into the service this year? Can he tell us what provision the Air Ministry propose to make to utilise wartime pilots, many of whom are now over 40 years of age and not able to be used in any of the present reserves? They would certainly bring a great deal of strength to our AirForces if they could be utilised in time of emergency. I would like to emphasise the point that was made by the hon. Baronet on the Liberal benches relating to collaboration with France. When we talk about collaboration with any continental country there is always inherent in the British Force the sense that one has to walk very warily lest important secret information should leak out. Undoubtedly there must be the greatest caution, but the time has come when we can assist France and French aviation a little more than we are doing at the moment. I speak with some knowledge of French aviation, and I trust that my right hon. Friend has this matter in mind.
My last two points are purely personal. The first is with regard to the Under-Secretary of State. I have always under- 2422 stood that it was possibly going outside the bounds of tradition to appoint to a Department a Minister who knew anything about the work of the Department. In regard to technical Departments I believe that that is an absolute fallacy, and is responsible for some of the failures which have taken place in the past. I would congratulate the Under-Secretary of State as an airman, and as a man who knows something about the technical side of aviation. He has not been passed over for somebody who knew nothing about the problem, and I am certain that the Secretary of State will endorse fully the desirability of having an Under-Secretary who knows something about the job. My last word is this: Irrespective of the administrative successes of the Secretary of State I would like to say, as one who moves about in air circles in this country, that we have to be immensely grateful for the contagious enthusiasm on air matters which the Secretary of State has brought to bear upon these high duties.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes
I have one or two points to put to the Minister on the question of profit control. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear his speech last week, but I see that the Minister claims that satisfaction has been achieved in his Department because he reckons that the aircraft manufacturers are making only 6 per cent, on the estimated cost of the machines they manufacture. With all due deference I submit that that is not the way to look at the matter. To calculate profit on the estimated cost of machines is most misleading. Speaking as a manufacturer I should be delighted if the Government would always accept 6 per cent, on my estimates as being a fixed rate of profit which I could have. There is any number of ways of confusing the issue, if that is the Government's method of approach. The way to tackle the problem is to insist upon a limited rate of profit on the ascertained cost of the machines after they have been completed whatever the tendered price may have been—the tender price of course being the maximum. No other way will satisfy the public conscience in this matter. It is easy to do. The manufacturer can quote a firm price for machines and say what the content of profit is, if he likes, but it does not really matter very much. At the end of his contract he ought to be made by the Minister to submit a statement, audited 2423 by his own auditors and inspected by the Government, if you like, showing what profit he has made on the contract.
What amuses me about the Government's approach to the matter is that they seem to think that by dabbling about with cost accounts they can arrive at a satisfactory result. Every business man knows that cost accounts alone are no use and that they have to be correlated with the financial accounts in a way that can be done only by the auditors of the company. The Government, apparently, think they are getting at profit control, but they are not and I shall continue to press for a proper investigation until something is done by the Government on the lines proposed. On this point I would add that manufacturers are not by any means all villains, and that a great number of them would agree to such a scheme as I have so often outlined. I heard of a case only to-day in which the manufacturer actually pleaded with the Government to be allowed to come in upon a no-profit basis. He has not yet received his contract and he has also been told that his factory also is in a dangerous position. I should be glad to furnish the Minister with information that I have.
I was glad to hear from the Minister's speech that he, too, is dissatisfied with the rate of profit owing to the changed conditions in certain of the contracts because of improved output. I am glad that he has arrived at that conclusion, but I was staggered when he went on to say that he was proposing to ask Sir William McLintock to carry out another investigation. I am not casting any aspersions on Sir William McLintock, who is, no doubt, a very honourable man, but he seems to be the last person in the world to be asked to carry out this investigation. We want an independent investigation. You cannot expect a person who has been the father of a scheme to damnhis own child. That seems to me to be a quite ridiculous approach. Further, if I may say so with all due deference to Sir William McLintock, his history in regard to profit estimating in the City has not been very good.
With regard to civil aviation I speak with some feeling, because it is my unhappy lot to have to travel a good deal by air. The Minister spoke of what was being done in connection with Imperial 2424 Airways, and I would like to call his attention to the great number of complaints which arise in connection with the administration and performance of their services. They are always unpunctual, they are totally inadequate, and you cannot rely, when you set out on a journey, on getting to the other end within 48 hours of the schedule time, whereas by foreign aeroplanes you can arrange for your best girl to meet you at the other end and will not need to keep her waiting. I want to emphasise something very extraordinary in connection with this service. The other day, travelling from here to Egypt, I was calmly told in the middle of the voyage—I was the only passenger, not because I was too heavy, but merely because there were a great many mails— that if at a certain point they found more mails waiting for them, I should be jettisoned and the mails taken on in preference to myself. That seems to me to be perfectly preposterous from the point of view of encouraging traders to use the mail planes, which, after all, they ought to be able to do. Again, the mail service itself is very unsatisfactory. We are not allowed to send letters except by Imperial Airways, but, for example, it very often takes longer now to send a letter by the mail plane to Cairo than it used to take overland to Genoa and then on by Italian packet. You cannot rely on the service, and I hope we shall hear that the Minister proposes to give this matter his attention, because it is of vital importance to the industry of the country.
It would be interesting to know, if we are allowed to know these things, when the Government expect the first deliveries from the Nuffield factory. I have always regarded that factory as suspect. I remember the claims that were made for it when it was first started, and shall be interested to hear how it is getting along and when the first deliveries will be coming from it. Finally, the Minister spoke about the necessity for further purchases of land for various purposes. I hope that he will take steps to ensure that there is not the wild profiteering in land which most of these land purchases have involved hitherto. It ought to be done on a very low basis—I suggest a Schedule A basis, or for no sum at all where the land is de-rated, and in my view it really is a case of the grossest profiteering if anything more is paid.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Sir W. Lindsay Everard
I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. SImmonds) in congratulating the Air Ministry on the Estimates which they are putting before us to-day. I agree with him entirely as to the criticisms which we on this side have thought it necessary to make on the Air Estimates in the past, but I think that my hon. and gallant Friend, from the fewness of those who wish to speak on the Estimates to-day, will realise that there are no complaints against the Air Ministry, but only a few constructive suggestions. One thing that pleased me very much was the amicable agreement that has been come to between the Royal Air Force and the Navy on a matter which has been one of controversy for some time. In the times through which we have been passing, it is an excellent sign that things are really being properly coordinated in this country when we hear chat arrangements satisfactory to both Services have been made for the transfer of the Fleet Air Arm.
I listened with some interest to a speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not wish to join with him on the question of the strength of the German and British Air Forces, but I think it should always be borne in mind that there is nothing which becomes obsolescent more quickly than military aircraft. Although it may well be that six months or a year ago there was a great preponderance in favour of Germany vis-à-vis ourselves as regards number of aircraft, if we are producing today an equality of aircraft I cannot help thinking that the hon. Gentleman was wrong in saying that time was not to the advantage of this country. Time is very much to the advantage of this country, because their preponderance of aircraft built in the past is day by day becoming more obsolescent, and consequently of less danger to this country.
There can be little doubt that this House and the country see with great pride the influx of volunteers into the Royal Air Force, and, indeed, into civil aviation. I have had the opportunity of meeting and seeing many of those who have come from Cranwell and from Halton, and in the case both of officers and of other ranks there is no one in any Service who can surpass them in efficiency and smartness. I believe that, 2426 while we are able to intake personnel of that sort, the Royal Air Force must be a great credit and a tower of strength to this country for generations to come.
I should like to put to my hon. and gallant Friend a few questions which have been discussed with me. They are of some importance to those whom they concern, though perhaps they are small compared with the trend of this Debate. One is whether it is possible for the Air Ministry to take in, on the skilled personnel side, certain people who might not be fit enough to take their part as pilots, or perhaps as ordinary active airmen, but who would, in my opinion, be quite capable, with minor disabilities, of taking their part in the various skilled services required in the Royal Air Force. I should like to ask whether any special allowance is made in the medical examination for persons of that sort. Secondly, I should like to ask whether those airmen who join the Service as unskilled men are able, in the Service, to be trained as skilled men and take their place in one of the trades of the Royal Air Force. My third question is whether my hon. and gallant Friend could give us, without giving away any secrets, any further idea as to the future development and design of the aircraft which are coming forward to replace those which are in the Royal Air Force at the present time, and, fourthly, I should like to know whether my hon. and gallant Friend can give a satisfactory answer as to the arrangements for fuel storage in this country, which, with an increasing Air Force, is as vitally important as the production of aircraft itself.
If I might say a word on the Auxiliary Air Force, with which I have the honour to be associated, I think there can be little doubt that the Committee set up by the predecessor of the Under-Secretary has brought about several reforms in the Auxiliary Air Force which have been of great advantage from the point of view of aviation and of the Force itself. The turning over from bombers to fighters has been of very great advantage to the Royal Air Force as a whole, and I believe that, except for certain questions which are still outstanding, as to youths' ration allowances and so on, the financial arrangements both for officers and for men have been generally satisfactory to all concerned. Certainly I think that the 2427 influx of sergeant pilots into the Auxiliary Air Force is a step forward which will receive unanimous support in the House.
There are one or two points in regard to civil aviation with which I should like to deal. When I spoke on the report of the Cadman Committee, I ventured to suggest certain methods for the training of civilian personnel which I considered would be of great advantage to the country, and I also put forward some suggestions for the proper and full use of the aerodromes of the country. I am very pleased to see that great steps forward have been taken in both these directions. The majority of the municipal and other civil aerodromes in this country are being utilised by the Royal Air Force, the Auxiliary Air Force, training schools, or in other ways by the Air Ministry, but there are still several aerodromes where no flying of any sort, kind or description is taking place. I have in mind the aerodrome at Inverness, the aerodrome at Worcester, and the aerodrome at Ridg-way, Manchester, which last is not yet in use, but is, I know, to be used very fully shortly. Taking the aerodrome at Worcester as an example, I cannot help thinking that the corporation of that city must be extremely dissatisfied at having been persuaded to establish an aerodrome where there is not even a flying club, where no aeroplane lands or takes off, and in regard to which they have received no support at all from the Air Ministry. I cannot help thinking that, in a centre such as Worcester, there must be some use to which an aerodrome of that sort could be put.
There are, I believe, 20 aerodromes which are not used in any way by the Royal Air Force. Nine of them are shortly to be used, but I regret to say that among the remaining 11 is the one with which I am personally associated, namely, that of the City of Leicester, which was one of the first 15 towns and cities in this country to establish an aerodrome. It seems rather hard that they, who have been among the pioneers in the establishment of civil aerodromes in this country, and who at their own expense have put in night flying equipment and a great many other services, should not have received from the Air Ministry any support at all as regards the use of their aerodrome for any of the services connected with the Royal Air Force—work- 2428 shops, storage, auxiliary squadrons, schools, or anything else—whereas the Air Ministry have utilised a privately owned aerodrome only three or four miles away, and have put there, not only a large flying training school, but also volunteer reserves and, I believe, a navigation school. Surely one of these could be given to the Corporation of Leicester to encourage them in the work they have done.
I should like to say a word or two on the subject of the training of people in civilian flying. I consider that the ordinary youth of the country should start such training at the earliest possible age. Just as it is necessary, in learning to ride a horse, to start young, so it is necessary, if you are to be keen on flying, to start at an early age, and for that reason I was glad to see the new idea of air defence cadets started. I am glad to say that where I reside we have the honour of having No. 1 Squadron, the first in England. Now 82 squadrons have been formed, but I think the Air Ministry have been a little miserly in their treatment of these squadrons. I understand that the Army give 5s. per cadet per year for those who are found efficient; I think 4s. goes to the cadet corps itself, and 1s. to the Territorial Association. I know that these cadets are not working with the Territorial Association, but I feel that a larger grant should be given. I do not think it is really right to expect that the people who live in these districts should be expected to find the whole of the money for raising these Air Defence Cadet Corps, and not only raising them but keeping them up for years afterwards. I do not think a grant of £50 a squadron—that is 10s. a head—could possibly hurt the Air Ministry, and it would be of enormous advantage to the air cadet movement.
I know that the civil aircraft scheme is very near my hon. and gallant Friend's heart, and he will be extremely gratified to realise what an enormous success it has been. First of all, it has kept in operation flying clubs which would certainly have ceased to exist if the scheme had not been put into operation. There are now 65 flying clubs operating the scheme. I walked into the Aero Club before I came here and asked the secretary how many new licences have been applied for to-day. He told me "20." That gives some idea of the number of 2429 "A" licence pilots which, when the days get longer and the weather better, we are going to see improved. I think it is necessary that we should have, to look after the training in these clubs, one qualified Air Ministry instructor who can see that instruction is carried on up to Air Ministry requirements. It is impossible for the commissioners themselves, who may not have the technical knowledge nor the time, to take the responsibility that these "A" licence pilots are up to the standard, but they could find one of their qualified officials to undertake that work.
I wonder if it would be possible to include some of the people from the Dominions and Colonies. It seems hard if you get people from any part of the British Empire and the clubs are not keen to train them because they do not attract air subsidies. Under the Civil Air Guard scheme it would be impossible for them to come in unless a subsidy was provided. I am sorry that people are not able to come under the subsidy arrangement unless they are regularly resident in this country.
Throughout the Civil Air Guard scheme there are various groups of people who may be utilised in time of emergency according to what they are best fitted to do, either in flying or in some other capacity, but I think something should be done about private owners of aircraft. I think they should be notified exactly to what use they could be put with their aircraft in time of war. They are very anxious—many of them have spoken to me—to do everything possible to serve the country, and I think that those who are qualified to fly this particular aircraft—some are fairly big ones—should be told exactly for what purpose they would be required in time of war. I am delighted to see that civil aviation is going along. I am glad that our air lines are going to some places on the Continent where we have not been for a long time. It is a pity that they cannot run right through the Continent. The ships of the British Empire travel all round the world, which benefits the prestige of the British Empire more than anything. A really good line of first-class machines travelling through the centre of Europe, as far as Stamboul, if you like, stopping at all capitals and taking mails and passengers, even if they did not pay, would bring 2430 trade and prestige. I hope that when the new company is formed this is one of the things to which they will be able to give their attention.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Eckersley
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House welcomes the increased financial assistance proposed to be given to internal airline operators but would welcome further assistance in the development of airport facilities in this country and in the production of types of aircraft specially suitable for future requirements of civil aviation at home and overseas.In the first place, I wish to apologise to the House for the extremely brief speech in which I am going to introduce this Amendment, but I am just recovering from influenza and this is my first day out. Happily one of my hon. Friends will cover the ground, I hope, very fully, and so I will content myself with putting before the House one point which I feel perhaps more particularly fitted to discuss that anyone else present. I would first congratulate the Minister and the Under-Secretary upon a remarkable year's work. I hope that everyone in the House, and I am sure everyone outside, is delighted and gratified at the way in which the rearmament programme has progressed. This rearmament programme has carried with it the enormous expansion of an already great industry. The aircraft industry has assumed proportions which none of us would have believed possible a few years ago. We all hope that this great industry will not be needed for ever in the production of military aircraft to the extent that it is to-day. It may be that a great proportion of it will be used in keeping our force up to strength, but we all hope that continued expansion will not be necessary.
The question obviously arises for all of us what is to be done with the rest of the industry. At the moment we are not in the forefront of the nations in the manufacture of civil aircraft. This is not caused in any way by lack of designing ability, or by lack of control of the various aircraft factories or by lack of ability amongst the workers themselves. We must face the fact that very fine workmen may be in less remunerative jobs in the future unless we make some move towards providing them with the possibility 2431 of making civil aircraft. These civil aeroplanes, which we are going to use, I suppose, in our own civil air lines, are not, as some people would have us believe, all going overseas. It is not much good having an efficient network of overseas civil air lines unless they are linked up with an efficient network of internal air lines.
It is always a difficult job to get to the terminal airport of any major city in Europe in a short time, and London is no exception to that. Although I hope and believe that the Ministry have some plans for major airports other than Croydon, none of them, as far as I can see, can be very near the centre of the City. In that case, surely, it is not a bad idea to arrange for internal airlines to go directly to the airport from provincial cities to enable business men to make quick contact with their Continental customers. To give one example, we have at Manchester one of the very best, if not the best airport in the country, but if a Manchester business man wants to go to the London terminal airport to-day he has to go round by Liverpool and it takes him two hours. This is not really in accord with modern European practice. If I might make one small suggestion it would be that a service should be run, say, from Glasgow at about seven o'clock in the morning, which would arrive at Manchester by 8.15 and get to Croydon at about a quarter to ten in time to catch a great many of the European morning services. There is no return machine in the evening from London to the North. The only machine is one leaving in the morning and arriving in Lancashire at about half-past 11 and at Glasgow somewhere about 1.40 or 2 o'clock. If we had a return machine at about 6.15 from Croydon, which would take all the passengers from the Continental services arriving during the afternoon, it could halt at Manchester and arrive in Glasgow at nine o'clock the same evening. That sounds reasonable.
It may be said that it is not the business of the Government to insist on this and that it is a job for the operators themselves, but when the operators are approached the answer is always the same. They say, "Give us the traffic and we will give you the service." The reply of the chamber of commerce or the city council is, "Give us the service and we will give you the traffic." The 2432 Ministry have fired the first shot in the way of destroying this vicious circle. They have granted £100,000 as a direct subsidy to the internal air line operators, but unless those internal operators are going to speed up their services considerably that £100,000 will to a large extent be wasted. I appeal to the Minister to ensure, through the licensing authority, who are granting long-term licences, without which a subsidy cannot operate, that something in the nature of a better service for the public is given before licences are granted. A great many promises have been held out to Lancashire by the Government, of which a great many have been kept. Here is one way in which the Lancashire and Glasgow export trade could be helped enormously, and the Government would be killing two birds with one stone, because they would be to a small extent ensuring the future of the aircraft industry and the present exporting industries from the North-West.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am sure we all regret very much that my hon. Friend has been prevented, through illness, from making the speech which he would otherwise have made, and we all wish him a speedy return to his usual robust health. None of us will quarrel with him for giving us the opportunity of discussing for a short time this very important subject of civil aviation. We are indebted to him for rising from a bed of sickness, I believe against his doctor's orders, to take part in to-day's Debate. In these unhappy days, when of necessity our first attention and our maximum effort must be directed towards the production and equipment of machines for our Royal Air Force, civil aviation is undoubtedly being relegated to a very bad second place. But this, in fact, has always been so, and the excuse has always been the same. Before there was any thought of crises or the possibility of immediate war, a financially-starved Air Ministry never gave its civil department its share of nourishment, and so some of us, who believe, without any doubt, that there is a tremendous future for this new form of transport, question very much whether this is really a genuine reason for lack of development, or whether it is not rather a convenient excuse, eagerly seized upon by those who either do not want to see development 2433 in this new form of transport or, through dilatoriness or failure to gauge the situation correctly, have failed to deliver the goods.
There are two main reasons why I consider the immediate development of civil aviation to be of vital importance to the future of this country. The first is that, as my hon. Friend has said, we are in process of building up a vast capacity for production of aircraft, and we all hope that the day will come soon when the production of aircraft for military purposes will be greatly reduced. We should like to think that all the skill and knowledge, all the expensive factories and plant which we have accumulated, will not be allowed then to waste and decay, as similar organisations were allowed to do after the Great War, but that they will be utilised to capture the aircraft trade of the world. The second reason is that we have, as a country, leeway to makeup in this matter of civil aviation. It takes a long time to plan and develop all those things which have to be planned and developed before we can hope to catch, much less lead other nations which have shown greater foresight than we have so far displayed in this country.
Why does this country lag behind? I suggest that it is because those who have directed our policy have never realised that the ultimate aim of this development should be the economical carriage of passengers and freight by air lines run to time schedules in all conditions of weather, by day and by night. The military influence has always been too strong. We do, in fact, lead the world in the matter of private flying; we lead the world in the development of individual pilots, through our subsidies to flying clubs. This is all to the good. It gives the adventurous spirit of our people, which is as strong to-day as ever it was, an outlet, and it also provides the potential reserve of pilots should war be forced upon us. But this is not the development of civil aviation as we should envisage it. You do not need to qualify for a driving licence in order to travel to the seaside by motor coach, and I look forward to the day when our works outings will travel to Continental cities and resorts by air liners. Therein lies the way to peace and better understanding among the peoples of different nations. I want to see a complete change of outlook; I want, 2434 above all, to get rid of this military influence. It is because of that influence that many people have thought that air transport in this country would never develop properly unless the control was transferred to another Ministry. I do not think such a drastic course necessary. In fact, I feel very strongly that it is not, after having heard what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about civil aviation this afternoon. I am quite sure that he and his capable assistant, my hon. and gallant Friend the Undersecretary, are equal to preserving a proper balance between the two branches which, as the Secretary of State said, need such widely different directions.
If we accept the view that the real development of civil aviation means the economical carriage of passengers and freight in bulk by air, what are the essentials which must be provided before we can attain that end? The very first essential is the provision of suitable airports, properly equipped to deal with this traffic in all conditions of weather, by day and by night. However good your ship may be, you cannot make use of it unless there exist suitable harbours, and so we must have airports which, in fact, are airports; and we must not overlook the fact that the airport is the most costly item of all. Next, we must have directional control upon which the pilot can rely for guidance over the whole of these routes in conditions of bad visibility, by day or by night. You cannot rely on navigation from the aircraft itself without the aid of wireless. Do not forget that an aircraft cannot heave to, and it travels at a very high speed. This directional control is as vital to the pilot in conditions of bad visibility as are the roads to a motorcar or the railroad track to a train. However good your motor vehicle, it is useless if no road exists; however good your rolling stock, you cannot use it unless you provide a track for it to run along. The Maybury Committee emphasised both these essentials, and recommended the provision of this vital equipment by the Government. That was two years ago. I suggest that even then it should not have been necessary to set up a committee to teach the civil side of the Air Ministry such elementary facts.
Next, of course, we want aircraft. We want aircraft which are designed to meet the conditions which their work demands: 2435 passenger aircraft to carry passengers in comfort at the highest possible speed; freight-carrying aircraft specially designed to carry large and even bulky way loads, not necessarily at such speed. I want to emphasise this matter of transport of freight. Let us take a lesson from the older forms of transport. Freight has always been necessary to put transport companies on their feet financially, but you do not try to carry freight to New York in a worn-out passenger liner or to carry goods from Birmingham to London in a worn-out motor coach. That is exactly what the air-liner companies have been trying to do, making shift with almost unusable machines because the production of specialised new types is costly beyond their means. This is not the place for me to go into technical details, but I want to stress the fact that there is a great development in the carriage of goods by air awaiting the production of specially designed machines to carry the traffic at an economic rate, and I believe it can be done.
We state in the Amendment that we welcome the assistance which is going to be given by the Government to internal air-line operators. This will undoubtedly help a great deal, but I wish the Air Ministry would cease to draw such a rigid line between external routes and internal routes. I ask for a change of outlook in that respect. We are still in the infancy of this great new industry, and as it develops it will be quite unthinkable that all external traffic should pass through London. Beyond all question, we shall fly direct from Birmingham, not only to the Continent, but to America and to the Dominions. Therefore, I urge that a longer view should be taken in this matter. I urge the Air Ministry to plan and provide that assistance which only they can give. We ask for all possible assistance, for airports which are airports, the minimum being the implementing of the recommendations of the Maybury Committee. The Secretary for Air has on several occasions claimed that the Air Ministry has, indeed, helped municipal airports very largely, through the Volunteer Reserve schools and through the flying clubs and the new Civil Air Guard, but I rather wonder whether the boot is not really on the other foot. The Secretary of State was very lucky to find all over the country aerodromes which 2436 had been provided at very considerable expense by municipalities and others. The returns which many of them are likely to get through these schools, while very useful, do not represent the real object for which these aerodromes were constructed and I think they are entitled to some more lasting form of assistance.
I ask the Minister to consider the planning and equipment of at least one internal bad visibility route which will enable aircraft in this country, for the first time, to operate under all conditions of weather, by day and by night. I know all about the radio difficulties arising from the very small number of wavelengths available, but it would be better that an aircraft should deviate from its direct route under certain conditions of weather and arrive on time, than that services should be cancelled, as frequently happens to-day, or alternatively that unnecessary risks to life should be incurred. We feel that the development of civil aviation, apart from those respects in which it can be helpful from a military point of view, has been sadly neglected. We want to drive home the fact that a service must be provided and that in order to create the demand some risk must be taken. Having heard my right hon. Friend's few remarks this afternoon with regard to the development of civil aviation I hope that now, indeed, the time is not far distant when the Air Ministry will really tackle this very urgent problem.
§ 7.33 P.m.
§ Mr. John Rathbone
I want to support what the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have said with regard to the design of aircraft for civil air routes. Reference has already been made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) to a trip in an Imperial Airways machine. I had a similar trip at almost exactly the same time, and my experience was that those people who had never done such a trip before were surprised at the conditions, while those who had done such a trip before regtetted their inability to travel by some other line. There is a good deal of progress to be made, if we are to preserve and, if possible, increase whatever reputation we have in civil aviation. At present, these Empire flying boats are neither passenger-carrying nor mail-carrying boats. They are a mixture of both with a preference for mails rather than passengers.
2437 On the occasion to which I refer, we started out from Southampton on an extremely cold morning. The engines had not been warmed up and it was only with some difficulty that they were started. There was some sort of backfiring explosion which effectually wrecked what was left of the hearing apparatus and incidentally poured about a gallon of burning petrol on to the water below. I did not mind that because I knew that it was an all-metal machine, but it was not a confidence-inspiring trick. Owing to wind and weather and other conditions we had to fly at a considerable height and as the heating apparatus was out of order, in order to see out one had to scrape—not wipe— one's breath off the window. We arrived, more or less on time, at Marseilles only to be informed that we were ordered—both the machine in which I was travelling and another machine which was going eastwards to India and Australia—to wait at Marseilles for mails, which were to be flown out from Croydon. They were flown out in a very obsolete aircraft which eventually decided on its way to Marseilles to spend the night in Paris. We were, therefore, kept waiting in Marseilles for the whole of the morning, the afternoon, the evening and the night, during which time I must say to the credit of Imperial Airways, they got right down to the job of transferring all the passengers and luggage to one plane in order to send them on next morning.
This, of course, entirely altered the schedule. It meant that we could not spend the night in Rome where some of us had planned to spend it. We were thus deprived of an interesting experience, because that was the night on which the Prime Minister left Rome, and it would have been extremely interesting to have had an opportunity of studying the reactions of the Italian public on that occasion. We arrived at Cairo some 30 hours late. Those who had arranged to meet us there had given up hope of our arrival, not having been given any intimation by the local representatives of Imperial Airways as to what plane we were travelling in or when we were likely to arrive. Next, in spite of the fact that one may strike a match or light a petrol-lighter in the after-compartment of one of these machines, and that is considered entirely safe, yet there is no apparatus 2438 on board whereby the steward can even heat up a cup of tea. All the food has to be brought on board at the various stopping-places and put into thermoses. I do not know how many hon. Members have ever seen a sausage or a piece of bacon taken out of a thermos, but I assure them that it is not a particularly agreeable sight.
It seems ridiculous, if these planes are to be used chiefly for mails as they were during Christmas time and for some time afterwards, that so much space should be occupied by chairs for passengers who are not there. One finds it extremely difficult to get in between the table which is provided and the chair in which one is to sit, the space being cramped owing to the fact that an effort is made to get in as many chairs as possible. I suppose the original intention was to carry more passengers than mails. I found that the little details which count for so much in travelling were missing. Any passenger likes to know the names of the pilot and the other members of the crew of the plane, and in the case of any other air line by which I have travelled in any other country in the world, the names are always available. Even in the case of Imperial Airways there were blank spaces all ready for the names to be inserted. One would imagine that each member of the crew might have the obligation of carrying with him a name plate, and that it would be easy for him to slip it into the slot when he came on board for a voyage and to take it out when he was leaving.
Another point as regards the comfort of the passengers, was that I noticed that the automatic pilot which is, obviously, a very desirable instrument and relieves the pilot very much onlong journeys, was of a very "snatchy" kind, if I may use that expression. The result was that it was over-correcting the rudder and in the after-compartment one had the full benefit of a swing from side to side as soon as the flying boat had been put on its course and the pilot had "handed over" to the automatic pilot. I understand from people who have flown in Royal Air Force machines, that these are matters which can easily be put right. I suggest that they are all matters which ought to be watched very carefully if Imperial Airways is to continue as a firm with a reputation for studying the comfort of passengers. If, on the other hand, it is 2439 to be used largely for the carrying of mails then such advertisements as are now exhibited by Imperial Airways should not be exhibited by them any longer. They should not be allowed to state on their posters that Empire flying boats have a speed of approximately 200 miles an hour when, in fact, the average speed of the machine in which I flew was 95 to 105 miles an hour.
I ask my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary to give us some indication of what is to be the policy of Imperial Airways. Is it to be a preference for mails with a gracious permission to passengers to travel with the mails when there happens to be room, with the expectation of being jettisoned—I believe that is the term that was used—in the middle of the trip and with no knowledge beforehand of whether or not after taking one's ticket one will be able to leave on a particular day or not, whether the heating apparatus will be working and so forth? I hope that some policy will be decided upon, whereby this overlapping between passengers and mails will be avoided so that the mails will be punctual and people who desire important letters to be conveyed long distances in a short time will be able to rely on the service. In that connection I would suggest a reversion to the old arrangement whereby the addition of an air-mail stamp ensured that a letter would, at any rate, reach its destination sooner by air than by the ordinary route over land. These things must be considered if the reputation of our air lines is to be preserved, and I hope that we shall have a reassuring statement on those lines from my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ 7.43 P.m.
May I make two short points before the Under-Secretary replies? The first is in regard to the social and recreational facilities which the Air Ministry provide at the new camps which they are establishing.
Then I pass to my second point regarding which I am almost entirely in accord with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone). I wish to supplement what he has said by putting 2440 one or two questions. Does my hon. and gallant Friend realise that this year there is to be a great contribution from the Exchequer to civil aviation? That being so, one hopes that the muddle and confusion which has persisted in the policy of various Governments towards civil aviation is in process of being cleared up. It is extraordinary that it has taken this country 20 years or more to link up with the various parts of the Empire. As I understand—though I would like to have this reaffirmed definitely and once and for all—our policy now is to subsidise one organisation for oversea and inter-Imperial air communications which is, I think, in accordance with the findings of the Hambledon Committee. I think it vital for British prestige that our services should be efficient and up-to-date, quite apart from the great convenience and business advantage of such services and we welcome the Minister's statement that new machines will be available, I hope shortly, for these services.
I flew to Australia a few months ago, and it is impossible to exaggerate the extreme pleasure, and I might say joy, as well as convenience, which this service three times a week brings to the inhabitants of Australia. It is impossible to exaggerate the link which that makes between this country and the people in that far-off part of the world. Can the Under-Secretary give any date by which the service will be extended to New Zealand? Although I appreciate the various observations and criticisms which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin has just made, I have flown in Dutch, Italian and American lines, and I say quite confidently that our new flying boats compare favourably in comfort, security and regularity with those of any other air service in the world. There are various small matters which could be improved, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised them. I have a catalogue of small matters almost identical with that of his own. It is true that, although in various other ways we compare favourably, we are to-day very much behind in speed. But almost too much attention can be paid to speed. It should not be the sole criterion of the efficiency of any particular line.
I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that there should be, in these long oversea services, two different services, one for passengers and one for mails. At the 2441 moment the Imperial Air Service is primarily and principally a mail-carrying concern, and the result is that no individual who wishes to take his passage to Australia, or to any intermediate station such as Palestine or elsewhere, can know until almost the day before whether he can take a passage in a particular aeroplane. There should be one very fast mail service, no doubt flying over certain parts of the route at night. That should carry mail alone, or perhaps it might have two seats available for passengers, who, if they paid an extra £10 or £20, could, if there was room and the mail allowed it, take those places. For example, in the case of grave illness or something of that kind they should be allowed to go on the mail aeroplane at an extra cost, but there should be a regular passenger service which should cater entirely for the convenience, pleasure and comfort of the passengers. It should be arranged to arrive at various places of interest at the right time, and start at hours more or less convenient. The object of this aeroplane should not be to get mail to places as quickly as possible but primarily to serve the interests of the passengers concerned.
I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to tell us anything about a decision on the question of a central and adequate base for our modern aeroplanes in this country. There has been a great deal of discussion and a certain amount of controversy, and I do not know whether any decision has yet been reached. I realise that the Dutch to-day are ahead of us in regard to various gadgets and also in regard to propaganda. But, on the whole, we have made very considerable progress. We all believe that in a very few months maybe, and certainly by the end of this year, we shall have one of the most efficient, and perhaps the largest and most powerful air forces in the world, I hope it will not be too long before our civil aviation compares favourably with that of any other civil aviation service in the world.
§ 7.50 p.m.
I feel that hon. Members of this House who heard the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Eckersley) move, and the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) second the Amendment, will all be grateful that 2442 they have dealt with a subject which is of vital national interest; which is not really subject to the hurly-burly of party politics but in which all Members are interested irrespective of their political views. I should particularly like to congratulate, and to express my thanks to, the hon. Member for the Exchange Division who has come here from a bed of sickness. I would only remind him that modern medical opinion is that a flight up to approximately 10,000 feet is one of the best remedies for influenza or colds.
I regret that I cannot respond to the invitation extended to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) nor to that of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) to deal with Imperial Airways and British Airways policy, or with what the Government intend to do as regards our overseas services, nor can I deal with the unfortunate experiences of the hon. Member for Bodmin, because within the terms of the Amendment I should be out of order. But doubtless the particular questions which have been asked by these hon. Members can be replied to on the appropriate Vote should they require it. I would like to address myself to the Amendment, which does two things. It welcomes the aid which His Majesty's Government have given to internal civil aviation and it asks for certain further assistance. I hope to show, in the course of the short time that I intend to ask the House to give me their indulgence, that we are perhaps giving a greater measure of help than would appear from a scrutiny of the Estimates.
Internal civilian aviation, as the hon. Member who moved the Amendment has said, is developing. We are all, the Government and operators, feeling our way, and he would be a bold person who would hazard a guess as to when internal civil aviation in this country will be economically self-supporting. The Government have allotted the sum of £100,000 for five years on the basis of an annual subsidy, diminishing—and this was announced in Parliament last May —for the express purpose of assisting internal civil aviation. It was given in the special circumstances of the times and with particular reference to the defence situation, which, as is admitted on all sides, requires the maximum trained personnel and the maximum number of aircraft to be available. Such help will, we hope, go some considerable way towards 2443 allowing the internal air lines to become self-sufficient during the period of the subsidy. I realise too well, as does any hon. Member in this House who has knowledge of internal civil aviation matters, that this subsidy alone would not make internal civil aviation self-supporting. It must be combined with a building up of the traffic.
The hon. Member who moved the Amendment said quite rightly that it is not the policy of the Air Ministry or the Government to initiate air lines. That is the task of those who feel that there is a demand which can be made economically justifiable. What we are trying to do is to prime the pump with this internal subsidy money. I would like to make it clear that operators cannot expect that the whole of the £100,000 will be earned this year, because the basis of our subsidy is one which must allow for extensions to existing lines and higher frequencies of existing lines. Therefore, for these two purposes certain reserves must be retained between the maximum £100,000 and what is granted at the present time on the present time-tables.
I am hopeful that agreement with internal companies will be arrived at in the near future, because it may be of interest to the House to know that no single air line in this country has yet made any money. One leading group in 1936–38 lost over £160,000, and another group operating northwards shows losses of £40,000 spread over three years. These are only sample figures, but they are sufficient to show the economic difficulties hitherto of pioneering internal routes. I sincerely hope that, with the aid of the building up of the traffic, with the aid of the subsidy money and of the regulation of traffic control following the setting up of a licensing authority, that uneconomic aspect may disappear.
I think that the House will agree that the setting up of a licensing authority was well due when I tell them that that authority has rationalised routes as between 14 companies, has been sitting constantly and has issued so far 37 provisional licences. The licensing authority is administering a very different picture of internal civil aviation from that which existed a few years ago. Five or six years ago internal air lines in this country flew 1,500,000 miles and carried 2444 some 72,000 passengers. This year the likely mileage is 3,500,000 miles, and the number of passengers is probably going to be three times greater than the figure I gave the House a moment ago. The licensing authority permits certain schedules to be run, and it is to the licensing authority that operators must look for the co-ordination of our internal air line arrivals at terminal air ports with the departure and arrival of Continental lines.
The Air Ministry, like other Government Departments and other bodies can make representation to the licensing authority on this or any other subject, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, if we feel that representations are needed on this particular aspect, we shall not hesitate to make them. I will quote the words which the licensing authority is bound to observe by order. It has to have regard to the co-ordination and development of air services generally with the object of ensuring the most effective service to the public, while avoiding uneconomical overlapping. I am sure from the way that the licensing authority has been administering its task hitherto that it will take into consideration the point which the hon. Member put.
I would like to touch on the question of airports, and with regard to provincial airports, the House knows that the policy of the Government is that which was endorsed by the Maybury Committee and the Cadman Committee, that there is to be no direct subsidy for aerodrome purposes. Nevertheless, as the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington said, at the present time airport owners are gaining considerable financial benefits from the use of their facilities by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Auxiliary Air Force. I agree with him entirely that the Air Ministry owe a debt of gratitude to those who have been providing these airports during the uneconomic years in the past. It may interest the House to know that centres and schools for the training of Air Force puipls are operating at 29 civil airports— 14 municipal and 15 private—that negotiations have been concluded for the use of a further 13 before July, 1939, and that we are considering the use of a further 20. We have agreed in principle with the Aerodrome Owners' Association 2445 and the Association of Municipal Corporations on the basis of payment for these aerodromes, which, I think, is a somewhat novel one, and which, I hope, will be agreeable to those who are to receive it equally as it is agreeable to those who are paying, that is, the Government, in that not only are we obtaining flying facilities, but because the payment is based on number of aircraft used and average length of four dimensions of the aerodrome, i.e., so much per yard runway, we are getting an encouragement and obtaining increased landing areas, which we would not have had otherwise.
As regards the provision of radio and meteorological facilities for civil airports, here again we are pursuing a policy of active development. We have radio, air traffic control and meteorological facilities at many main airports, and we intend to give grants for night flying equipment and to provide radio at other airports as the demand seems to look as if it justified that particular locality. For instance, the hon. Member will be glad to hear that there is a high frequency beacon to be put at Ringway, there is to be another at Doncaster, and yet another at Belfast. We are purchasing nine further beacons to be placed at other suitable aerodromes, and this makes 15 out of a total of 19 vasualised by the Maybury Committee to which the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington referred. The provision of night-flying equipment is an important matter, as I believe, in that future internal air lines may to a very large extent run at night, carrying night mails. Our policy is to give grants towards the capital cost at suitable main aerodromes, and we have in this year's Estimates provision for Southampton, Manchester (Ringway), Liverpool and Belfast Harbour as our first selections. Any hon. Members who represent constituencies that have aerodromes which are not included in that list need not feel that they are being neglected, as others are to be selected later by the Air Ministry. Meteorological service can be obtained at all the main airports, and we are extending the service so as to link up civil airports where traffic is served and main centres so that there shall be a 24–hour service everywhere. I calculate that in a very few months any civil air line pilot, by means of his radio communication with the ground, will be able to get 2446 weather reports in mid-air in the course of just a few moments. We are providing radio at 10 new stations, and we are making substantial progress with meteorological development. We hope to establish traffic control at Renfrew, Belfast Harbour and Shoreham by June of this year, and radio at Belfast and Liverpool by the same date. We hope to add Birmingham shortly afterwards.
I would now like to touch on one more question concerned with airports, and that is the question of London terminal airports. There are two possibilities. One is a central airport where all London air traffic will be concentrated, both external and internal, but we have rejected that, as did the Maybury Committee, and we have preferred to concentrate upon a ring of aerodromes round London. The picture that I can see in the future is Heston, in a very different form from that in which hon. Members know it at the present time, with its present buildings demolished, reaching right up to the Great West Road, new buildings, and that by 1941–2. That should give a 2,000-yards runway in all directions. The next airport that one can see is Fairlop, and1 I think the nation owes a great debt to the City Corporation for its development. That too will have a 2,000-yards runway. Then when Heston and Fairlop are available we shall be able to turn our attention to Croydon. I hope we shall be able then to close Croydon down, because traffic facilities will be available at the other airports, in order that a major reconstruction can be undertaken and that that airport shall be made as good as nature will ever allow us to make it.
Finally, there is the possibility, looking into the future, which is so difficult to forecast in civil or in any other form of aviation, that a fourth airport will be necessary for that ring round London. Therefore, the Air Ministry are now in the process of purchasing the land at Lullingstone, in Kent, which is probably, in fact, it is by far, the most suitable site possible south of London. There is no immediate intention of developing Lullingstone, but if we have once acquired that laind, we have sterilised it from future building or other forms of development and ensured that fourth limb, as it were, of the likely traffic requirements of civil aviation, internal and external, for London.
§ Mr. Everard
Is the question of a new aerodrome north of London, for all traffic coming down from the north of England, with Customs and other services, so as not to pass over London, being considered?
I think Fairlop will fulfil that need. Fairlop is, as it were, north-north-east of London. We also have Heston, which is west with north in it, and we have then got Croydon, and we shall have Lullingstone. We have, as it were, that circle round London, and doubtless traffic will be diverted and allocated as between these different airports according to the suitability of the particular line which is coming in.
§ Lord Apsley
I am not sure that my hon. and gallant Friend did not make a slight mistake when he said, I believe, that the buildings at Heston would come right up to the Great West Road.
I said there would be new buildings, but I think I said—in any case, I meant—that the land would come right up to the Great West Road. Once we have this chain of airports round London, we may need some central form of administration for them—I would use as an analogy the Port of London Authority—in order that traffic can be co-ordinated to those airports, administration centralised as far as possible, and a common provision of radio and meteorological facilities made.
I want now to turn from the airports to the last point in the Amendment, which deals with new types of aircraft. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington, I, too, realise the unsuitability of many of the types of aircraft that internal operators have been struggling with in past years, but equally the economic aspect of internal aviation has not hitherto been one which has been likely to attract large capital expenditure for special types of aircraft suitable for internal lines only. I now have hopes that that is going to change. I hope that priming the pump and the stimulus that we have given will bring about a state of affairs which will allow the development of a new type of air liner for special internal use. We have asked the operators to get together and agree a specification for a general utility aircraft for internal aviation. It will have to be a compromise between the different 2448 requirements of all the separate operators. We have given a practical indication of our willingness to co-operate in the development of aircraft, not only technically, but also financially, and if hon. Members will consider the terms of the White Paper dealing with the subsidy for internal air lines they will see that it is a diminishing one year by year. Nevertheless, it contains the provision that at the discretion of the Secretary of State we may retain the subsidy at the higher level for those operators who are using an approved type of aircraft. I cannot give to-night any idea as to what type of aircraft that will be. That is not for me. It is for the operators to bring up their agreed specification, and when they do so the Air Ministry will sympathetically consider other requests for assistance in some measure for design and development of special internal aircraft, particularly if such a design could be of secondary use on feeder lines overseas. The Estimates contain details of considerable sums of money for the development of new civil types for overseas use, which is asked for and recommended in this Amendment.
The House will be interested to have brief details of three new types of flying machine. We have the aircraft which is at present known as the Short 14/38, which is a new land aeroplane. Three prototypes are being built, two of which are for medium altitude and one is to have a high-altitude pressure cabin for what is commonly known as stratosphere flying. The cruising speed of that aircraft at 25,000 ft. is calculated at 275 miles an hour, and the cruising speed of the medium altitude one is 245 miles an hour. We hope that the first prototype, that is, the low-altitude version, will be in the air some time in 1940. We are developing another type. We are preparing and constructing a low-wing, all-metal monoplane, with two engines, which should be ready by 1941 and which is intended to be used by Imperial Airways, British Airways, and, if this House passes the necesasry legislation, the new Corporation in the future. This particular aircraft will carry 30 passengers at 205 miles an hour.
In order that we may ensure British civil aviation having a supply of modern aircraft in the future, and in view of the fact that at present neither Imperial Airways nor British Airways are in a 2449 position to order aircraft of this type for the future, the Air Ministry have been able to place an order for two prototypes and 12 production machines straight away, so that there will not be any delay in supplying the new Corporation with equipment when it is required. The De Havilland Company deserve great credit for the development of the new air liner known as the Flamingo, which is flying well, and I hope the first production machine will be delivered this year. The Air Ministry have entered into a subsidy arrangement with that company on a sliding scale, in order to stimulate the early production of quantity machines. Then there is the large new G class flying boat, which is similar to the Empire boat. In order to igve some idea of the size of the new boat as compared with the Empire boat, the existing type of Empire boat has a weight of some 40,500 lbs. and the new boat has a weight of 71,000 lbs. and a range of 3,200 miles. Three of these boats are under construction, and they will be flying April, May, and June of this year.
I have tried to give the House a brief picture in words of the operation of internal lines and of how we are trying to assist, what we are doing towards helping airports in the provision of radio and meteorology, and what we are doing in the provision of new types of aircraft, but I would stress, in conclusion, that with all the willingness to spend money on new aircraft, with all the willingness of this House to vote money for the provision of up-to-date airports, and with all the determination on the part of those who are carrying out this policy to carry it out efficiently and rapidly, what we are doing now cannot be of full benefit to civil aviation for another two years from the present time. Undoubtedly the urgency and the magnitude of the Royal Air Force expansion has hampered to a great extent our civil aviation plans in design, in labour, and in material, but the general trend the whole world over has been for civil aviation to become a factor in international politics and part, as it were, of the country's defence scheme rather than letting civil aviation development towards the ideal of self-sufficiency. I am conscious, as the rest of the House is conscious that sometime in the future, we hope soon, this rearmament race will come to an end, and when that does happen civil aviation should be able to 2450 come into its own in this country and the rest of the world, and we in this country must be ready to play our part to the full and lead in civil aviation as we have done in so many other peaceful commercial enterprises in the past.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I wish to deal with some matters arising out of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into-the working of the Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence which is part of the Department of Civil Aviation. When the committee was set up I had some conversations with the hon. and gallant Member who was then Undersecretary of State for Air, and who is now Under-Secretary of State for India, and I should like to express my appreciation of the courtesy he showed to me in the matter, and of the fact that the undertakings he gave me in regard to the committee have been fulfilled.
I think the injustices which are revealed by the report of the Rae Committee are only exceeded by the inefficiencies which were revealed by the report of the Cadman Committee. Out of 61 paragraphs in the report 25 deal with the complaints of individual officers. These paragraphs constitute a very severe condemnation of the heads of certain departments responsible for what happened to the officers in question. I have heard the remark expressed that the report of this committee is a whitewashing one. That is not so. On the contrary, it is a severe criticism of the heads of certain departments, especially the Director-General of Civil Aviation, the Director of Operational Services and Intelligence and the Establishment Branch officers, who were concerned in the matter. Those who were responsible ought not to escape. The cases of the gentlemen referred to as Mr. A and Mr. B would not have arisen had the Establishment Branch officers done their duty. They connived at most irregular actions, and those actions which have come to light make one wonder how many more have occurred but have not come to light, and how many more will occur if an example is not made of those who are responsible for these two particular cases.
2451 Let me deal with some of the points of the report. The reorganisation scheme for the Department of Civil Aviation, out of which the Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence was evolved, was hatched in March, 1937. It was quite an elaborate scheme which provided for a new intelligence section but, by30th September, 1938, according to the report, it "had not yet been established." It provided for a staff of 44 officers for the Directorate. By August, 1938, only 29 had been appointed, so that 15 were still missing, although the report agrees that 44was "the minimum staff" necessary to enable the duties of the Directorate to be carried out. The report says:Shortage of staff and an incomplete organisation led to delays in carrying out routine work and forced the Directorate to leave certain problems untouched.Why was the reorganisation scheme so long delayed? Why this long delay in carrying it out? Why the long delay in getting the "minimum staff" which was necessary? Why carry out a scheme of reorganisation at all if you cannot see your way to getting the necessary staff for that reorganisation? I think all these paragraphs in the report constitute a very severe criticism indeed of the Director-General. The report proceeds:We have not sought to determine whether it (the Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence) is functioning with full efficiency, as this, in our view, is not to be expected.That is a pretty frank condemnation of the Directorate. What a condemnation of the Director-General that this Directorate should have been allowed to fall into a state where the committee say that efficiency from it could not be expected. The report says, further:The Directorate forms one section of the Department of Civil Aviation. It is important, therefore, that its relations to the other sections of the Department should be clearly understood and recognised by all concerned.I think we should all agree that it is desirable that the rest of the Department should know for what purpose one section of it exists, but the report says:We are of opinion that this is not the case. Some witnesses have stated that they regard it as purely advisory while others have ascribed to it certain not very clearly defined executive functions.What a comment on the Director-General and the Director of this particular Directorate, that they could not even convey to the Air Ministry information as 2452 to what the Directorate exists for. The report goes onto say:We recommend that an Office Notice should be issued to all concerned.I wonder if ever before in the history of the Civil Service a Committee of Inquiry has had to recommend to the head of a Department the issue of an Office Notice to explain that one of his Directorates really has a use, and what that use is. It is not surprising to readin the report this statement:It was suggested to us by some witnesses that there was no need for a separate Directorate of Operational Services and Intel ligence.A section of this Directorate deals with the not unimportant question of the examination of pilots. One report says:At the date of our appointment not only were those posts unfilled, but the remainder of the section exists only on paper.Outside help had to be brought in to do the examining of pilots. There was a decision on policy in this matter which was delayed for over a year. The report says:We consider that steps should be taken to ensure that the section is able to function properly.Well! That is quite an idea. Revolutionary, perhaps, but still quite sound. It is very satisfactory to read that this daring idea on the part of the committee isan opinion which we understand is shared by the Air Ministry.Another pious opinion expressed by the committee is that theyattach importance"—nothing less—to the inclusion in this staff of a nucleus of really experienced officers.Not a lot of them. Not too much experience, but just a modest nucleus of experienced officers. The report goes on to speak of an "authorised complement never filled." "Over-pressure of work." "Important matters left on one side." "An atmosphere of strain not calculated to lead to smooth working." "The existence of two cases of alleged unfair treatment, which were the centre of a good deal of controversy within and outside the organisation." "A degree of uneasiness current among the junior staff." Such remarks constitute a severe condemnation of the Director-General, because they show every symptom of the 2453 results of an inefficient administrator. As regards the two cases of alleged unfair treatment, the person referred to as Mr. A was dismissed, and the report says:The reasons which led the authorities to the decision to terminate the engagement were not communicated to Mr. A.The committee agrees that Mr. A was given no reason to suppose that his services were not proving satisfactory, or that the termination of his appointment was under consideration. They agreed that it came as a bombshell to him. They also mentioned that they were "impressed with his sincerity," and said:We regard it as unfortunate that he was left without intimation that his superior officers were dissatisfied with his work.They agreed that this inevitably led to suspicion and a sense of bad faith. In the case of Mr. B they said:It is unfortunate that, in view of his long service, he was not informed of the reasons for the decisions taken in his case.The result has been understandable suspicion. As regards Mr. A and Mr. B:In neither case were the reasons for the decisions communicated to the officers concerned … the omission has had regrettable consequences … it undoubtedly created an atmosphere of uneasiness amongst some of the junior officers as to their own position which would not otherwise exist … if a franker attitude had been adopted the circumstances leading up to our appointment would not have arisen.All this is a very serious condemnation indeed of those at the head of this Department. The committee conclude with recommendations designed to secure that the Directorate of Operational Services should become "efficient and contented" so that it is quite evident it has not been in that state and those responsible should go. I must also point out what I think is a very remarkable fact indeed in connection with these matters. The Director of Operational Services and Intelligence went to the Air Ministry from the Automobile Association. He took with him two other gentlemen from that association. One of those gentlemen now holds the post from which Mr. A was dismissed and the other holds the post which Mr. B was compelled to relinquish.
I would like to deal with the case of Mr. B in a little more detail. Following the dismissal of the last Secretary to the Air Ministry a Minute was issued as to the code by which civil servants should regulate their conduct. Taken all round, 2454 civil servants do live up to a very high standard of conduct and their compensation should be absolutely fair and just conditions of service, security of tenure and a reasonably good pension. A high standard of honour is expected from these men, and they ought to be treated equally honourably. In the Air Ministry one has heard tale after tale of officers passed over for promotion for no apparent reason and of others suddenly finding salaries reduced. To avoid paying pensions, numbers of them are never established, and are consequently exposed to dismissal at short notice. Many of the men who fail to get establishment have got as much as 20 years' service to their credit—they are the very men who have helped to build up the Air Ministry organisation. How long does it take to find out if a man is suitable for the Civil Service or not? It is not surprising that you do not find quite the spirit at the Air Ministry among civil servants as perhaps you find among the staffs of certain other Government Departments.
I believe that the directorate of the Department of Civil Aviation is not efficient largely because of the manner in which it has treated its staff in the past. Mr. B. served for 18½ years as a senior assistant to the Controller-General of Civil Aviation organising and controlling the Commercial Intelligence Section. As a reward for his services he suffered progressive reductions in salary. Whereas he began with a sum of upwards of £900, by June, 1937, he had come down to £650. In January, 1937, all the intelligence work on which he was engaged was taken away from him and given to the present D.O.S.I. The only reason given to him by the Director-General was "reorganisation" and it was emphasised to him that the change had got "nothing to do with you or your work." A month or two later he was given three months' notice, and then in April the D.O.S.I. to whom the intelligence work had been transferred announced his inability to take over the work. So Mr. B. agreed to carry on with it if his salary might remain intact. The Director-General thought this was reasonable and recommended it. Suddenly Mr. B. was offered a new appointment by the Establishment Branch, and it was a very peculiar appointment. It carried a salary of £650 with no rank, and no specific duties were laid down at all for the post. After remonstration the Establishment 2455 Branch temporarily withdrew this offer. Towards the end of May Mr. B. had an interview with the Director-General and the head of the Establishment Branch and pointed oat that he was still doing his old intelligence duties but was told that his salary could only be£650. He sought an interview with the head of the Establishment, protesting against the injustice of the reduction of pay, and he was asked what reasons had been given to him by the Director-General when the change was made. All he could reply was that he had been told it was due to areorganisation of the Directorate and the necessity to form a Trade Section.At this point another member of the establishment branch joined the interview and it was then revealed—this was at the end of May—that the decision about Mr. B. had really been due to an adverse report rendered by the Director-General of Civil Aviation and two other directors. I invite the House to compare that with the fact that the Director-General stated nothing of all this when he was communicating the decision and said there were "no complaints" at all to be made about Mr. B. While the Director-General had to admit to establishment branch officials that he had made an adverse verbal report, he could not deny to Mr. B. that he made "no complaint" at all but had placed the change on the basis of "reorganisation." It came out that the adverse report had been made, and the Director-General was asked why he had taken five years to discover the inefficiency of Mr. B. He then made the astounding remark that he had given up asking for any information from Mr. B. soon after he had taken over in1930 because he found he did not get any, and Mr. B. was "incapable of producing it." When asked why he had gone on year after year with Mr. B. if he had so much to complain of he could say nothing. He fell back upon the miserable excuse of saying that he had made no adverse written report. What is the difference between making a written report and a verbal report if the result of it is that a man loses his job?
Seven months after the re-organisation had been announced the D.O.S.I. had still not taken over Intelligence and Mr.B. was still going on doing it just as before, after losing his pay and losing his 2456 rank. The D.O.S.I. was asked why he could not take over intelligence and he said he had not been given his staff but he had communicated this in writing to the establishment branch and had informed the Director-General. After this Mr. B. again interviewed the Director-General and pressed the injustice of his treatment, and the Director-General then recommended to the establishment branch that his salary should go back to the old rate of £770 while intelligence work was being done, and should only go down to £650 when the work of the trade section was taken over. This was very extraordinary, because the Director-General had reported, apparently, that Mr. B.'s intelligence work was a failure and that for five years he had given up asking Mr. B. for any information. If Mr. B. was unsatisfactory in controlling the intelligence section, why did the Director-General reconfirm him in it? If he was inefficient, why not insist on the D.O.S.I. taking over the work and making it efficient? The establishment branch refused to accept the recommendation and said that Mr. B. must go on doing the intelligence work, but that his salary could be only £650.
Then, from August to October, Mr. B was pressing the Establishment Branch to give him details of the adverse report which had been rendered. He called the attention of the Establishment Branch to the Air Ministry's Office Instructions, which, of course, lay down in the clearest possible way that when an adverse report is made against the conduct of an officer it shall be made in writing, and that the officer shall be informed in writing of the facts contained in the report on which action is taken against him. The Air Ministry's Instructions on that point are clear and unambiguous. However, the Establishment Branch preferred to ignore them. They simply referred to a letter of 12th August in which they said that:It is true that no adverse report on your work had been communicated to you,although they themselves had revealed to Mr. B that the adverse report had been made, although orally instead of in writing. More efforts were made by Mr. B to get the terms of the adverse report communicated to him, and finally, the Establishment Branch sent a letter in which they conveniently said:This correspondence is now closed.2457 The first comment I want to make is this. How can any officer be supposed to do his work properly when he is forced to carry on, in simple self-defence, such a protracted correspondence as I have outlined, which must have raised bitter feelings of injustice and ill-treatment in his mind? I know this process very well. The heads treat a man unfairly. He protests. Then they use all the weight of their authority and every Departmental trick of procedure in order to give him no redress. He is forced, out of self-respect and indeed self-interest, to press his case. Everybody concerned begins to call him a nuisance. The sycophants, knowing that he is in trouble, curry favour by giving him the cold shoulder and passing round the word that he has got a bad name. The whole course of such conduct preys on the man's mind, and not unnaturally his work falls off. Then, of course, he is not merely a nuisance, but he is inefficient, and he is damned up hill and down dale for having become what those above him have made him. I do not know that I have ever come across a more pitiable story of shuffling and double-crossing in the treatment of a subordinate. I do not think anybody comes out of this business with any right to be called a gentleman or straightforward, except the victim of the treatment; and it is a narrative which must raise a very grave question as to the fitness of certain officials to hold their posts.
I would like to refer very briefly to what are the results of this sort of conduct. Such treatment of subordinates in a Department or in a Directorate works out inevitably in terms of inefficiency in that Department, and there is abundant and overwhelming evidence of the state of inefficiency which has existed in the work of the Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence in this Department of Civil Aviation. The House has been most indulgent in allowing me to put this matter before it at such length, and I do not wish to weary hon. Members with more details. I will quote however, briefly, the case of the "Air Pilot," a book which was out of print for 11 months. It is exactly as if, at the Admiralty, one could not get any charts or notices for mariners for 11 months. Suppose that one was appointed to a ship in the Mediterranean and tried to draw charts and notices far mariners, and was told that they were out of print, and had 2458 been for 11 months. Yet the "Air Pilot," a book to which the Air Ministry themselves call attention as being most important, was out of print and not available for 11 months. The delay in getting out that new edition of the "Air Pilot" was, in my opinion, directly traceable to the present Director of Operational Services and Intelligence, who failed month after month to produce decisions on questions of policy upon which the issue of the new edition of that work depended.
There is one instance after another of that sort of thing, about which I have chapter and verse, and which, of course, I should be very happy to produce or to quote from if time permitted. I will merely mention such matters as Control Zones, Movement Reports, Distress Procedure—a matter which was not amended until February, 1939, although I should have thought it was very important— Direction Finding, the Directional System, Aerodrome Surfaces, Aerodrome Obstructions, and the whole story of Publications. In each one of the instances which I have quoted, there is evidence of glaring inefficiency on the part of the Directorate.
We have heard to-day the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air. Undoubtedly, that statement was in many ways very reassuring, and one feels that the right hon. Gentleman has in many directions effected great improvements and shown great energy in conducting his work at the Air Ministry. But the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on at the Air Ministry. I think the facts I have quoted point to an utterly inefficient Directorate of Operational Services and Intelligence. They point to a failure to supervise the work of the Directorate by the Director-General of Civil Aviation. The Raye Committee's report points out, in temperate and moderate language, very glaring failures on the part of the Director-General and the Directorate of Operational Services. The facts show how shockingly the two officers to whom I have referred were treated by the Establishment Branch. It is a discreditable story, not calculated to enhance the prestige of the Civil Service. While sincerely congratulating the Secretary of State on a great deal of what was contained in his statement to-day, certainly I must tell him that I shall press, in every way possible, to secure that suitable 2459 notice shall be taken of the facts which the House has so kindly allowed me to bring to its notice.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Secretary of State for Air upon the able way in which he presented the Estimates. I am sure his statement will be received with great gratification throughout the country. I have to acknowledge what was said about me by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), that I should be gratified with the amount of money to be spent on the Air Arm this year. I notice in the White Paper that in 1935 the Air Force took £31,000,000; in 1936, £55,750,000; and that this year the amount is £220,750,000. For many years I have contended in this House that the air service gets only one-sixth of the money available for the fighting services. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) used to say that the other services got away with the loot. They certainly did, and now the Air Force is receiving the share which it requires to bring it up to efficiency.
I have been a critic of the Air Ministry for many years. I have been through the White Paper and the Estimates very carefully, and I find little to criticise. The Ministry was wise in not giving too much information about the expansion of the Air Force, because foreign governments do not give us much detail, and we ought to soft-pedal all information that is circulated. We ought to congratulate the chief of staff and his officers on the efficiency of the Royal Air Force. Many of us went to Northolt last year and saw the work they were doing and the high efficiency of the officers. The Secretary of State referred to the personnel, and it is gratifying to know that so many young men are coming forward to join the Air Force. It is now becoming a very popular service. The Secretary of State will have to make greater calls this year, and I hope he will get his figures up in the current year as well as he has done in the past year. We have had an Amendment dealing with civil aviation, which was ably put forward by the Mover and the Seconder. The Undersecretary of State, in a very able speech, said that London was to have a ring of aerodromes. If that is the policy, I hope 2460 he will see that these aerodromes are connected with the centre of London efficiently, because it takes so long to get from the centre of London to the aerodromes. If there is to be a ring that matter ought to be gone into and money expended to get better communications.
I hoped the Under-Secretary would say a word about the Empire Air Base, and I shall be glad if he will give us a little information about it. Controversy has been going on for many years between the Portsmouth authorities and the Air Ministry, and now Southampton has been brought into it. The Admiralty now say that Portsmouth cannot be used as an Empire Air Base, and I understand that the Ministry have looked to Southampton. I know Southampton Water very well, because I established our first sea-plane station at Calshot and I have flown over many times. Last year I flew over Southampton Water from Hythe in "Canopus," one of the Empire flying boats. There is no doubt that it is very restricted and my Royal Naval Air Service pilots would not have wanted to use Hythe for sea-plane work. The area is to be dredged so that sea-planes can use it.
Is the policy of the Ministry to develop seaplanes or aeroplanes for the Transatlantic service? Many people believe that the aeroplane in years to come will replace the flying boat, and aero-dynamically the aeroplane, more streamlined, is more efficient than the flying boat. The selection of a place as an Empire air base depends on which form of flying we shall develop. I think we ought to have not only water for the seaplanes to takeoff from, but an aerodrome in the vicinity. Surely this great Empire of ours can develop a large Empire air base in exactly the same way as the Germans have developed their great air base at Temple of. They have two miles of runways, and it is a very fine airport indeed. In the future our Empire air traffic will increase enormously, and we ought to develop an airport that will be as important to this country as Southampton has been in the past. I should like to know whether any alternative site is in view.
I want to pass to the South Atlantic air service and ask the Under-Secretary whether we are going to use flying boats or aeroplanes on that service. The French use aeroplanes. They have done 2461 some 300 crossings of the South Atlantic and have never had an accident. They tried seaplanes and had three or four accidents. The German use seaplanes for crossing about 1,800 miles, and I have heard recently that they are rather swinging towards aeroplanes on that service. It would be interesting to know what the policy of the Air Ministry is in that respect. I hope that they will press on with the development of a South Atlantic air service for this country because we are losing so much prestige in the Argentine while they see German and French machines crossing but never a British machine.
§ Sir M. Sueter
We might take a lesson from the foreigners. They have done great service in crossing the Atlantic and have given training to their pilots in long distance flying which may be very valuable in wartime.
The Under-Secretary told us a good deal about new designs. It is gratifying to hear that we are pressing on with them, and I would ask him whether, when the Ministry have a new design and the machine is successful, they cannot send some of this information to Australia. In that Dominion nothing but American machines are being boosted. Whenever we have an accident in this country, whether it is a service machine or civil machine, it is always published in large print in the Australian papers. The American machines are all boosted up, and that is good business for the Americans. We ought to take a leaf out of their book and see whether the Australian papers cannot have some information about our new machines. When the rearmament programme slackens off it may be useful to have the Dominions placing orders in this country and so keeping our men in employment.
The Secretary of State said that a Committee had been appointed to go into accidents. I saw in the Press the other day that the father of a gallant pilot who lost his life said they ought to have a curfew in the air service. I have had a good deal to do with experimental work in submarines and aircraft, and I have always impressed on the crews in the submarines and the young pilots in the Royal Naval Air Service that they ought to have a good night in when they had important 2462 experimental work to do. I thought that the father of this pilot rather inferred that some of the pilots have a late night, and then have the responsibility of flying a heavy bomber or some experimental machine. We ought to see that those young pilots are encouraged to go slow the night before they have important experimental work to do. We have narrowly escaped accidents due to retractable undercarriages jamming, and I should like to ask whether some of the hydraulic pipes or whatever they may be that are liable to go wrong could not be duplicated in order that accidents maybe avoided. Gun circuits in ships are-duplicated, and there are duplicate electric pumps for blowing the main ballast tanks of submarines, and I should like to know whether Farnborough has looked into the question of giving some guidance to the firms who build retractable undercarriages. They might get out some system whereby if anything went wrong the retractable under-carriage would drop its wheels into a position of safety for landing. I should imagine that it would be quite easy to devise an appliance which would make it safe for the pilot to land and so prevent accidents that might cause great loss of life. This year Farnborough is to get nearly £750,000, and I think it ought to justify its existence by giving guidance to firms in devising safety appliances on the lines I have mentioned. Further, I should like to know whether Farnborough is experimenting with catapaults, or doing anything to improve the acceleration and take-off of the railway system, because I understand that has-been suggested, and we should like to know what has been done. Farnborough is also to get £25,000 for experimental tracks, and we should like a little information on that subject.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Rathbone) was very much dissatisfied with his trip in a flying boat, saying that everything had to give way to the air mails at the expense of the passengers I thought the air mail service did wonderfully well this Christmas in carrying more than 300 tons of Christmas mail, and we ought to congratulate the Postmaster-General and his staff for getting all that tonnage of Christmas mail into the air. The hon. Member wanted to know whether he could not be provided with greater comfort and the mails be [...] some other way, perhaps. I want[...] 2463 the Under-Secretary whether they are going to develop a high speed mail service. We ought to develop a high speed service for mails and a slower service for passengers and for small merchandise such as they have in America. I think that is the solution to the complaint of the hon. Member for Bodmin. The Secretary of State referred to the amalgamation of Imperial Airways and British Airways. I hope that when a constitution is drawn up they will preserve the individuality of those two companies, because if that can be done there will still be a little competition between the two and that will be most valuable. There could be one control for finance and general administration at the top, but we want to keep up a little competition between the two companies, so as to ensure efficiency. I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary, or whoever is to reply, can answer the one or two points which I have put.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
I was not able to listen to the whole of the speech of the Minister this afternoon, but I listened for an hour, and should like to refer to one statement which he made and to one important omission from that speech which I noted. The statement was that an order had been given to America for aeroplanes and that the last of them would be delivered by the end of the year. That impressed me as being rather a peculiar thing. We are at the beginning of March and an order which has been given to America will not be completed until the end of the year. Why should the Government have given an order for aeroplanes to another country when there are so many men out of employment here? More than once the question has been raised of shipowners in this country getting their ships built abroad, and Members on all sides of the House have been opposed to that proceeding. If it is wrong for shipowners to do that it must be wrong for the Government to spend public money in another country rather than spend it in this country and so find work for our unemployed. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) said that it would be a good thing if some of the Dominions would give orders for aeroplanes to this country so that our men might find employment. If that is important it is just as important for the Government, when they have public 2464 money to spend, and aeroplanes are needed, to spend the money in this country.
The omission from the speech which struck me was that not a single word was said about the supply of oil for aeroplanes. The Minister seemed very happy that aeroplane production was increasing, pointing out that it was 150 per cent, more than in May last, but the more aeroplanes there are the more oil will be needed, and I ask the Under-Secretary to deal with the question of the supply of oil. Only a week or two ago I noticed that one Government Department, looking forward to a time when we might be at war, talked about oil for motor cars having to be rationed. The extract to which I refer is this:In the foreword to his booklet the Transport Minister says that in this island road transport depends mainly upon imported fuel. Great though our resources are for storage and maintenance of supplies, the heavy demands of active and civil defence must have the first claim on these, and ordinary commercial traffic will in all probability have to be rationed severely.What need is there to look forward to a time when it is necessary to ration oil? At the present time this country has to depend very largely upon foreign oil, although not altogether. The supply of oil is a really important matter of defence, because if a war broke out one of the first attempts of the enemy would be to cut off our supply of oil and to make it impossible for us to get supplies from overseas. When the Government are thinking of building an increasing number of aeroplanes it will be criminal for them not to give their attention to the supply of oil in order to meet the needs of those aeroplanes.
The first step of the Government ought to be to arrange a supply of oil as soon as possible. We stand for British oil for British aeroplanes. If there were no possibility of getting British oil, one could understand the Government being content to go on buying foreign oil, but we have passed the stage when we need to depend upon foreign oil. I ask the Under-Secretary why the Government propose to go on in the way that they are doing and why they will not make some effort to produce more oil in this country—as much oil as possible. It is well known that we do not need to depend upon foreign oil, and that oil can be extracted from coal. In 1934, 54,000,000 gallons were extracted, but in 1937 that figure had 2465 jumped up to 100,000,000 gallons. There is the advantage not only of an abundant supply of oil but of providing work for men who need it at the present time. While the Government were providing oil for their aeroplanes they would be providing work for the miners of this country.
Some of us believe that the remedy for the present difficulties in the distressed areas lies in the setting up of plants for the extraction of oil from coal. The Government appointed a committee to go into this question. The committee was favourable to the setting up of plants for the extraction of oil from coal, and said:It would be of considerable advantage if the establishment of a plant to work the Fischer process could be secured by private enterprise with the possibility of some Government assistance for the carrying out of research work.That committee recognised the necessity for something being done to set up a plant for the purpose of extracting oil. If private enterprise does not start such a plant it is the duty of the Government to do so. The Minister stated that he had been establishing shadow factories; it is equally essential that we should be independent of foreign oil and that we should produce oil from coal.
We know that plants have been established in this country and have extracted oil from coal, but we have never been told whether those plants were a commercial success or not, and if the Government would establish some of those plants we would be able to get experience and should then know if it was possible to extract oil from coal as a commercial success. The Government should not be content to let this matter rest where it is. It is important to many of us who come from the distressed areas. We believe that oil is needed and that the Government should be prepared to use some of the money which they have borrowed in the establishment of plants for the extraction of oil from coal. We expected that the Government would have done something in this matter long before now. They appointed a Commission for the Special Areas, and when Sir Malcolm Stewart was the Commis-missioner he dealt in his report with the question of the extraction of oil from coal. That part of the report is well worth reading. It says: 2466The most practical way of creating increased employment in the coal-mining industry would be by stimulating the use of coal for purposes for which it is not now being generally employed
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I am afraid that the hon. Member is now getting a little outside the scope of the Debate. The use of coal is not particularly relevant to an Air Estimates Debate. It is an important subject but I think the hon. Gentleman must keep a little closer to the military uses of coal in the air.
§ Mr. Batey
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but there is a provision in the Estimates for a supply of petrol for this Department, and I am suggesting that instead of the Government being dependent on foreign oil it ought to use home-produced oil, and it can do so only if they have plants for extracting oil from coal.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman was all right when he went only as far as that, but his argument was going beyond that point and he had begun to look at the matter from the industrial point of view.
§ Mr. Batey
That may be due to my candour. I am not in the habit of hiding what I am advocating. I confess that this argument is double-edged. I want British oil for British aeroplanes, and in doing that I am hoping to help the miners of this country. I believe that if the Government were to set up a plant for the purpose of extracting oil from coal we should noa htve one miner idle in the country, and that would solve the question with which we have been dealing. However, if you say that I cannot carry on the argument any further for the establishment of plants for the extraction of oil from coal, perhaps I have said sufficient to show that we have a grievance against the Government for not establishing plants for the extraction of oil from coal. Will the Minister tell us how much oil produced from coal is being used, the price paid for it, and the price that is being paid for foreign oil? That is surety in order, and I think he should be able to give an answer. I remember that two or three years ago one of the Parliamentary Secretaries—I think it was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty—said in this House that the home-produced oil they were using was 2467 perfectly satisfactory. Would the Secretary of State for Air say that the home-produced oil that is being used to-day is equally as satisfactory as the foreign oil? As far as I am concerned, the question is now how many aeroplanes we have. Whether it is 5,000 or 5,500 leaves me cold. For me the question is why, when all this work is being done, and there is a possibility of giving work to our men, we do not take steps along those lines? I hope that the Minister will give more attention to this question, and that, as he is prepared to build so many factories, he will use some of this money for the extraction of oil from coal.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I very much regret that the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), having raised a subject of great national importance, was not able to pursue it in an Air Debate. If I may be allowed to answer him in just a word, tar oil, whether produced by low temperature or high temperature carbonisation, is particularly deficient in hydrogen, and the only way of making it suitable for use in aeroplane engines is to hydrogenate it. As the hon. Member knows, hydrogenation plants are few in number and very expensive. The fuel used in modern aeroplane engines is a fuel with a tremendously high octane number, and consequently it is very difficult to convert tar oil into petrol that is suitable for aeroplanes. I must tell the hon. Member, however, that there is plenty of incentive to get oil from coal besides using it in aeroplanes. There is not a lorry up and down the country that should not be using oil from British coal, and although it is not a subject that one can discuss at length to-night, I can assure the hon. Member that there are many people in this country who are heart and soul with him in trying to get English coal turned into a more easily consumed product, namely, ordinary oil.
We have had a series of speeches, most of them very short, considering the importance of the occasion, but we had one of an hour and a half from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, and it only shows the complexity and enormous range of the subject which he had to cover that, even at the end of an hour and a half, he seemed to me not to have covered as much as I should have 2468 liked. He referred to the fact that it is only 21 years since the Royal Air Force was born. In the old days we could not keep a House to listen to anything about the air. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and one or two others, were the only people who were ever in the House at such times. We hammered and hammered to try to get an increased Air Force. It was almost absorbed by the Admiralty, and if the present Home Secretary had not fought for the Air Force it would have been swallowed up by the Army and Navy, To-day we are discussing astronomical figures, when only a few years ago we were trying to avoid the disappearance of the Air Force altogether.
I am quite unrepentant. I have spoken on these Estimates for nearly 20 years, and have always asked for more year by year. Monotonously I have pleaded for more money. Now we cannot ask for more money, and we cannot ask for more attention to this subject, because undoubtedly no one is more energetic or has done more than my right hon. Friend, and he has appreciated the colossal importance to the country of this particular subject. We are told that money talks. I sincerely hope that money will scream across the world and tell the world what we are doing in connection with this subject, and that the world will not be deceived by regarding this Estimate only, but will add the loan figures to it, and will thereby see the extent of the financial effort which this country is making in order that it may not be destroyed by potential enemies.
The Secretary of State tried to give us some information on the basis of a comparison of our present output with some typical figure in the past—I think the figure for May, 1936; but, as no one knows what the output was at that time, it really is of little use telling us what the percentage is now, because it means nothing at all. I cannot help reminding my right hon. Friend that 50 times nothing is still 50— [Laughter]—I should have said that 50 times nothing is still nothing, and even 50 times one is only 50, so that comparisons of this sort are not particularly helpful. One can see from the number of 2469 men employed, the amount of money that is being spent, and so on, that our output is rapidly approaching the figures which we were so afraid were being reached in other countries.
I could ask my right hon. Friend a thousand questions, but there are one or two points in regard to which I should have liked to hear something from him. I wanted to know whether we were so well equipped now with engines that we could afford to use two engines in fighters instead of one, and could afford to use six engines in long-range bombers instead of four. At one time we could only afford to use two, although we wanted four. These questions of policy have to be decided entirely by the extent of the supply, and my right hon. Friend alone must be the judge as to policy. He said nothing, either, about the question of the supply of cannon, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmons). I raised the question of cannon three years ago. At that time it was laughed at, but now, of course, it is essential, and I hope that our long-range bombers will shortly be fitted with cannon in order to make them safe from attack.
For the first time in my Parliamentary career I am, broadly speaking, satisfied on the question of air rearmament. I do not say that the whole thing is perfect; nobody can say that; but on this matter, for which we have fought for years, the Minister and the Under-Secretary, although, of course, their efforts are founded on the work of others, are by their drive, initiative, enthusiasm and appreciation, and, of course, their ability to "work" the Treasury, getting it into a position which no one else has even approached. We have got to the stage of national factories. The Opposition never seem to have got that satisfaction out of our national factories which I should have thought they might have derived from it. Those factories are, of course, managed to-day by various firms, but they are owned by the nation, and are always ready for use when occasion arises for national production. We have to remember, of course, that we are now waging a war, although it is a war without bloodshed; and it is a war which is going to have the effect of degenerating the lives of the poor, both in our country and in countries abroad, for generations to come. 2470 We cannot spend money in the way it is being spent now without it having repercussions on the people of the country.
I really rather want to know this, though I suppose the Minister cannot tell me. It seems to me that the industrial countries of the world—take ourselves and Germany—are manoeuvring themselves into the position, from the point of view of rearmament, that their national economic prosperity is going to depend finally on rearmament. I cannot see either Germany or ourselves stopping rearmament without the most tremendous crisis occurring, and it seems to me a cynical reflection on the ability of modern statesmanship that it might indeed be a fact that both countries would have to go on making armaments in order to stop an internal crisis. Anything more ridiculous than that one cannot envisage. It is not, of course, possible for us to stop now. We have to go on with this project until we are on absolutely equal terms with, and probably better terms than, any other country, but there must come a time when someone will call a halt. Narrow nationalism is having a malignant effect upon Europe.
What is going to occur in the future? I have said before that mechanical science has run miles ahead of political wisdom. It would seem to me that we are drifting towards Kipling's conception of the A.B.C.—the Aerial Board of Control—some international combine of air Powers which will eventually dominate the world from the point of view of a police force. I do not see how else the thing can ever end. The competitive system of armament building of the aeroplane type is so fantastically absurd that it must end eventually in the League of Nations idea embodied in some other stronger body, like a combined international force. If we could get Germany, ourselves and the United States together we could stop today every form of war throughout the world. The three of us could be the policemen of peace for ever. It is probably premature at present, but the world must drift finally towards that sort of combination. When does the time come for someone to say halt, who is to say it, and at what time do negotiations for the stopping of armaments occur? No doubt, my right hon. Friend cannot answer these questions, but they must give very sleepless nights to the governors and the statesmen of the world.
2471 There are two points on civil aviation that I should like to mention. My right hon. Friend, although fully appreciating the tremendous importance of the military side, made some very interesting remarks about the civil side. I am not very happy about the intention of amalgamating the two operating companies. I have always been an opponent of competition in transport. Years ago, when at the Ministry of Transport, I got generally blackguarded by my own side because I was not in favour of free competition. I always favoured the institution of a transport board. If you compete on parallel lines and one of the competitors eventually dies and gives the other control, that is a bad plan. But you get competition on healthy lines, say, for instance, in the supply of electricity, where the great power companies do not supply the same areas, but there is competition as between one company and the other on the basis of costs per kilowatt produced.
Though I do not advocate that there should be two lines competing on parallel routes, I should like to see the admirable suggestion adopted that the two companies should keep their individuality, fly on different routes and compare their costs and efficiency one against the other for the benefit of those who, after all, are paying for these lines, that is, the taxpayers. I hope my right hon. Friend will soon tell us that the idea of using Southampton Water has been given up for ever. It lies entirely the wrong way. There is no pilot in the world who can approach it with any safety. It is probably the most dangerous piece of water. The negotiations at Southampton were done quite irrespective of Imperial Airways. I do not believe they were ever consulted in the matter at all. It would be a wise thing to give up Southampton and consider the position de novo.
The time will come when someone, or some wise combination of nations, will say halt to this enormous expenditure. We have to remember that the call may come not only from this country but from abroad. It is ingenious and it is good for my right hon. Friend to concentrate now on making long-range commercial machines so that there shall be something ready to sell to the markets of the world, bat those are going to be very few. There is going to be a microscopic output and consumption of these machines compared 2472 with what is being made now in the military line. I should like him to look rather further into the future. One day we are going to use aircraft as we use motor craft. It may not be very convenient in this country, but up and down the world, and in our great Colonial possessions, some means of locomotion is wanted which will take you safely from place to place in the air. That is long overdue, but the brains of the aeronautical world have been concentrated on the military side and on long-range commercial aircraft.
We nearly got the kind of machine that we want in the small auto-gyro. If we could get a group of people to start that type of machine there would be an enormous demand for it, as there was for the small motor car. There has got to be a new orientation altogether. What we want is a small machine which you can sell to a private man. The ordinary machine sold to-day for private flying is still very difficult to operate. If you make a mistake you go to the cemetery, not the hospital. Something different is wanted, and if, when the time comes to stop manufacturing war machines, we have something which has a potenial market and which may be mass-produced for the whole world, there will be an opportunity for our manufacturers who are at work to-day on the production of armaments to carry on.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) certainly touched upon a very interesting and important subject when he envisaged the termination of the present armament race. He thought, and I believe with a considerable amount of foresight, that it might well be that when we came to contemplate the discontinuance of the present armaments manufacture we should find ourselves faced with a tremendous economic crisis. It would be strange if, when the nations were filled with the will to peace, they found themselves faced with economic problems which might perhaps be even driving them to war. But I do not think the hon. and gallant Member found a key to that problem when he suggested that we should turn over this vast machine to the manufacture of civil aircraft. It is true that great potentialities should be found in that connection, but it is not only the manufacture of aircraft which 2473 will be discontinued, but the whole range of manufacture for the Navy and the Army, which covers certainly 75 per cent, of the whole field of British industry. We must be prepared for something better than a drive for civil aviation if we are to confront the problems that will face us then.
It might prove that Germany—and I say this with a certain amount of shame —will find it easier to turn over from war to peace than we shall, because Germany has removed one of the great obstacles which exist in this country, the belief that all manufacture must pass through the great private profit-making machine. Unless we can envisage the destruction of that idea, we shall never be able to turn over to a peace economy. We find it possible to spend £3,000,000,000, £4,000,000,000 or £5,000,000,000 on the construction of armaments, yet when we look back we remember that we found it impossible to obtain the expenditure of one-fiftieth of that sum on unemployment benefit and the improvement of the social services. The provision of £10,000,000 to £30,000,000 was said in the long run to be beyond the capacity of this country to bear. I sincerely hope that plans are being made for the day to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred, because it may come upon us more suddenly than we imagine, and I hope that we shall make those plans with a higher spirit of idealism and courage than that with which we have ever faced the question of public works and social services in the past. There are a great many suggestions which, no doubt, we could give about that.
I want to say a word or two on a subject which has commanded much attention, and which must necessarily engage more the attention of the critics of the Government than those who are supporting the Government; that is, the system of control of the profits of the armament manufacturers. I have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air considers that he had done a great thing by fixing a proportionate profit of 6 per cent, upon turnover for the air manufacturers, [Interruption.] Yes, that is upon the estimated cost. In reading through this monumental work of the Estimates Committee, which we are quite prepared to accept if the evidence, rather than the summarised report, is taken as the test 2474 of what the Government are doing, we get this statement from an Air Ministry official:The first batch of machines or frames in this case cost £20,000 per air frame, dropping for the next batch to £10,000 per air frame, and then £9,000. Now it is £6,500, and I am hoping that, with the full run of production, we shall be dropping down to about £5,000.How is it possible, with prices fluctuating so enormously with the number of aircraft orders and with the increased facility of manufacture, to get an accurate profit on the basis of any fixed formulae? But, in addition to this 6 per cent., the manufacturers are also to get 20, 25 or 30 per cent, share of any savings. That appears to be a very valuable safeguard in the eyes of the Government. Although the manufacturers are only to get 6 per cent, on the estimated cost, if they are able to reduce that by a substantial amount they will get a percentage of the savings. But if the cost is frequently 30 per cent, or 40 per cent, below the estimated cost, far more will be paid to the manufacturers in respect of their savings on the target prices than in respect of their 6 per cent. If the target price was an effective criterion, we should look at it with more equanimity, but the fact is that it is to the advantage of the manufacturer that the target price should be fixed as high as possible.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
In any case, it is in the interest of the producer to get the target price fixed as high as possible. That was stated in the report. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) asked a witness this:It is obviously in the interests of the producers to get the initial cost up as high as possible on the original model?The witness replied: "Yes." So you frequently find these target prices fixed without any regard to the real cost. I am not in the least impressed by the fact that Sir William McLintock was going to draw up a new form of agreement. [Interruption.] That was what he said, but Sir William McLintock is going into consultation with the aircraft manufacturers, and between them they are going to hammer out a new form of agreement. 2475 I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would say what is the fact, because that is what we all thought he meant.
§ Sir K. Wood
What the aircraft industry has done, following upon representations which I have made to them, has been to consult Sir William McLintock, who was acting on their behalf in negotiations with the Air Ministry.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Sir William McLintock is the gentleman responsible for the agreement which is in force at present at any rate. It bears his name and it is the agreement under which the Air Ministry is working, and it is an agreement which strangely enough the Air Ministry refused to publish. We recognise that there is something in the contention that it has been the practice not to publish actual contract prices, but it is a new departure for the Government to refuse to diclose to the House of Commons the formula by which prices are arrived at. I do not wish to use strong language, but I am prepared to adopt the words suggested by an hon. Member sitting near me and say that the "basis of the racket" is this agreement. Why should that be kept secret? What conceivable reason can there be for withholding the McLintock agreement from the Members of the House and the public unless it is felt that it would expose some weaknesses and defects in the method of arriving at prices? I make the specific request that the Minister should publish the new agreement and the old one so that we can compare them and see whether we cannot offer some suggestions to him about them. The opposite number to Sir William McLintock, as far as I recollect, is Sir Hardman Lever. I am sorry to say that I do not derive any tremendous feeling of confidence from his operations because he was responsible for protecting the country against profiteering in the last War at the Ministry of Munitions, and we all know the result of his labours during those years. I cannot think that he has become much wiser in the meantime, although he is 20 years older.
I wish now to say something about civil aviation. I recognise that it is not in true perspective to devote a large amount of time to that subject with the situation as it is, but we are shortly to 2476 form a public corporation to take over the two leading civil aviation companies, and unless we raise our voices on this occasion we shall be confronted with a fait accompli in the form of a fixed price to be paid to the shareholders of these concerns. Before the Government decide what price they are to pay they ought to hear some views from Members of this House on the subject and I propose to trespass on the time of the House for a few minutes in order to give them one opinion, at any rate, upon this matter. We have to remember that the Government have paid close on £6,000,000 in subsidies to Imperial Airways and British Airways and that in May of last year we agreed to contribute a maximum annual subsidy of £3,000,000 for the same purpose. This company, whose shares have fluctuated from 6d. or 1s. to 62s. in the last 14 years, now has a market quotation of 28s. 6d. I shall not remind the Government that over a long period of years they could have pur chased the whole concern, lock, stock and barrel, for about £30,000. I shall not remind them of the fact that they once owned civil aviation in this country for £30,000 in cash, and £100,000 in shares. What I am trying to establish is that this company has never earned a profit without a direct subsidy and that by far the greater part of its revenue has been received from the Government.
When we approach the question of fixing the price for this concern, there are two or three things to be borne in mind. The first is that for many years the managers and directors of Imperial Airways have been concerned in "boosting" the market value of their shares. I do not mince words about that matter. The directors have spent a considerable amount of their time in propaganda and advertisement, and it is a strange fact that many of the advertisements seeking passengers for Imperial Airways appear in the financial pages of the newspapers. One can only conclude that they are really looking for two sorts of passengers —one sort to be carried by very skilful pilots along the skyways of the world, and another sort to go for a short ride with a very charming stockbrocker. I am certain that the end of that ride, as we can see from the course of the prices of Imperial Airways shares, would be as disastrous as anything which has occurred in the realm of civil aviation proper.
2477 All those facts must be taken into account before the price is fixed, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary not to be too much frightened by the powerful interests which own these shares. We know that these shares are held by extremely powerful interests, but it is difficult to find out who they are. When we look into the Somerset House list of shareholders we find that a vast proportion of the shares are held in the names of nominees. Sir John Reith holds only 500 shares and we can rule him out, but Moorgate Nominees own 400,000 shares in Imperial Airways and 86,000 in British airways; Bishopsgate Nominees hold 21,000 shares, the Midland Bank Trust hold 74,000 shares, and Strand Nominees 38,000 shares, and there is a much longer list of various mysterious holders. In addition to these shares, avowedly held in the names of nominees, a large number are held in the names of private individuals who are also nominees but not on such an organised scale. We do know that the Southern Railway has 50,000 shares and we think we know the price which they paid for those shares. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that they paid 13s., and the price to-day apparently is about 26s., so he will have a considerable argument to use in that case. What are the shares worth? I propose to read one opinion upon that subject.The market price depends entirely on the fact that the shareholders are going to get your money and ours, and that is morally and ethically wrong, besides being anti-social and just silly. The money of the public should not be spent in paying outrageous interest to professional financiers.Anyone who moves in aviation circles will recognise the style of that quotation. It comes from the editor of the "Aeroplane'' with all his impartiality in regard to these matters. The next opinion was given to me by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury about 18 months ago. At that time he was striving to establish the fact that these shares were not so valuable in spite of the large subsidies which had been paid. He was trying to point out that the average dividend which these shares had received over a number of years was only about 4 per cent, and that that therefore was the true measure of their value. I hope that measure of the value will prove equally acceptable to the Government of the day. 2478 This is what the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury said:The valuation of a share of this kind is largely a matter of opinion, and the fact that these shares command a premium over the issue price merely shows that the market is willing to take an optimistic view of the future of the company."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1937; col. 352, Vol. 326.]I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me his attention, because I am approaching a point at which I propose to give him some suggestions about what should be paid for these shares. We are in the position that anything which the Government pay over the issue price of these shares is paid merely because the market is optimistic. That would indeed be putting a premium upon optimism. If optimism is to be rewarded at its own valuation, how easy it would be for all of us to be optimists and how easy to become rich. I have more than once in my lifetime embarked upon some business proposition with tremendous optimism, but it has never been my fortune to encounter the National Government on these occasions, much less the Air Ministry, which, I believe, is the softest of all the Departments. I do not want to detain the House too long on that subject because I feel confident that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that his predecessors have had a pretty difficult time in the various Air Debates over the last 10 or 15 years in this House, and that if he comes here and pays an excessive price for these shares, whether it is British Airways or Imperial Airways, he will have as warm a reception as any Air Minister has had at that Box.
I want to say a word or two about the very core of the problem which is engaging our attention—the comparative air strength of Germany, Britain, Russia and France. I recognise with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey that there have been tremendous improvements in the output of bombing and fighting aircraft within the last few years. Nevertheless, I wish the Government would get out of the habit of attempting to reassure us by giving us multiplications of mythical and fictitious outputs at various selected periods of six months, 12 months or 18 months. I am certain that that does not result in any real concealment for those countries which are most desirous of getting at the facts. I am not saying that we should give 2479 away all our secrets and all our strength, and so on, but it would be possible to give much more specific information as to the comparative strengths. I have heard Members speak in this House about the tremendous number of accidents in Germany. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said that the figure of fatal accidents in Germany is about 700 per annum—and I think that is not an over-statement—and that in this country it was about 200 per annum. From that we appear to derive great consolation as though our methods of training were much more efficient than those in Germany, when in point of fact the truth may be that the number of flying hours in Germany is twice or three times that in this country. If that is one of the clues we have as to the comparative air strength of Germany it throws upon the Air Ministry of this country the onus of rebutting the fear that we are not even now narrowing the gap in current output between our own factories and those of Germany.
In these circumstances, surely it is incumbent upon us to face up to the problem without any prejudice against purchasing machines from the United States of America. I well remember when that idea was first mooted—and though I do not wish to make false claims, I was the first to suggest by Parliamentary Question that the United States should be approached—the tirade of criticism in the trade Press and those organs of aviation which depend for their advertisement revenue upon what they receive from the manufacturers of British aircraft. They were furious at the suggestion that we should purchase any aircraft from the United States. We ought to set aside every prejudice of that kind.
The second suggestion which I wish to make, though I have made it before, is that we should get into closer relationship with the Soviet Union than we have been hitherto. I am sure that I shall not be charged with any ideological prejudice here, because I have not got those feelings. I think I can make that claim as much as anybody in this House, but no one can deny that the number of aircraft in the Soviet Union at any rate is far greater than that of any other country in the world. That is known and admitted. It is admitted even in the 2480 German estimates. Why is it then that we are so reluctant to enter into closer arrangements and understanding with that country? There are many things about that country which a great many of us dislike intensely, but there is certainly no dispute over the desire for peace in that country. Why is it we are content to rely for our information about the efficiency of the Russian air force upon a single air attache. I think that that is an inadequate answer to our problem. I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other day whether he would send an air mission to the Soviet Union? Why should it not be done? Has the right hon. Gentleman approached the Russian Government and asked them whether they will be willing to accept such a mission? I asked the Prime Minister a short time ago when the British Ambassador last had an interview with the head of the Russian Government, and the answer was that it was when he presented his credentials. I really think that something ought to be done so that we may understand the true position. There have been some signs of rapproachement, but why has it come so late, and is it going to be carried to its logical conclusion?
We have now, unfortunately, embarked upon the stage when the greatest security for peace is the restoration of the equilibrium between Germany and Italy and the rest of the Powers of the world. We must face up to and recognise that fact. It is no longer on the good will of Germany that we avoid war, or on the good will of Italy for that matter. It cannot be denied that it is the equilibrium between these Powers and the democratic Powers which is the greatest safeguard for peace, and anything which tends to weight that equilibrium in favour of the democracies should be pursued to the end.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
I hope that the House will not think that because the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said a lot of very amusing things that there was not a stratum of truth in nearly everything he said to us. I think it would be fairest to the Secretary of State for Air if I were to endeavour, as a humble back-bencher, to sum up the situation, to distribute a certain modicum of criticism and to give approval wherever one can find reason for it. In listening to the Secretary of State 2481 this afternoon I came to certain conclusions with which I think the House will probably agree.
Beginning with what I think to be the most important point of all, which is the personnel of the Air Force, as far as I know, the Secretary of State was telling the truth and nothing else when he suggested to us that the personnel question has been to a very large extent solved and that the number of the personnel is satisfactory if not quite as complete as we should like to see it, and that certainly the quality of the personnel is at a very high level indeed.
There is only one small criticism I would like to make. He informed us that he was going to raise the age of entry for short service commissions. I hope that, that step is not being taken without very careful consideration indeed. When the system was first introduced, we found the older entrants were often young men who went in for short service commissions because they had been to some extent a failure in other walks of life. I am not saying that in nine cases out of ten that failure was not due to some misfortune rather than the fault of the man, but the fact remains that we did find, in the early days of the scheme, that of the older entrants there was a much higher proportion than among the younger ones who were not quite up to the standard. There is another point, that if a man enters at the age of 26 or over, at the expiration of his short service commission, he is at an age when it is almost impossible for him to get satisfactory employment in civil life. The Secretary of State referred to the committee at the Ministry which deals with the employment of ex-officers. My information is that it has not been, very successful, and I think it might be advisable if that body at the Air Ministry took more frequent counsel with the Appointments Boards of the various universities.
Turning from the personnel to the production of aircraft, here again there is no doubt that very great progress has been made. I think the right hon. Gentleman has imported certain civilians into the Air Ministry who have been of the utmost value in speeding up production. Whether, on the other hand, we are actually narrowing the gap which exists between our production and that of a potential enemy is a matter of grave 2482 doubt. Although we cannot expect to get specific figures from the right hon. Gentleman, my own view, from what I can calculate and from what I know, is that that gap, if it is not actually wider, is certainly not narrower and is not likely to narrow for some little time to come.
The next point is on the question of cost, and there, I am afraid, one cannot be complimentary to the Ministry. At the same time, it is only fair to say that the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman made to-day with regard to the McLintock agreement goes to the root of the matter, because it was that abominable document that put us absolutely in the cart and in the hands of the aircraft manufacturers. I was a little disappointed to find, from what the Secretary of State said, that in actual fact the new agreement is to be drafted by the same gentleman who drafted the original agreement. I can only say that until that agreement is very drastically modified, we cannot get out of the hole in which we were placed by Lord Swinton.
Then we come to the question of the Staff, and there again I think there has been a certain amount of Staff work which is open to very serious criticism indeed. Let me take just one example to show what I mean. We have all heard a great deal of the new types of fighters that are coming into production. It cannot be denied that when the first Hurricanes began to go to the squadrons, about a year ago, no one had the faintest notion as to what were the tactical schemes appropriate to that particular type of aircraft. Indeed, it is open to question whether that problem has been solved to this day. Yet for four solid years it had been known very well by the Air Staff that machines of that type and armament were going to be produced and to go to the squadrons, and I say that there is something wrong when the Staff allows a new weapon, which it has been known for four years was to go to the fighting forces, to go there in circumstances in which everybody has to get busy and try to find out how to use it. There is something very defective indeed in the Staff work there.
With regard to the relations of the Air Ministry to the Fleet Air Arm, particularly since the change was made, I would like to say a few words. To judge from the remarks of the Secretary of State, the 2483 House would imagine that the love felt by the Air Ministry for the Fleet Air Arm and the reciprocal love felt by the Fleet Air Arm for the Air Ministry was a love passing the love of women. I venture to say that really the wish was father to the thought and that the present situation is not quite so beautiful as the Secretary of State would have us believe. In such a case there are bound to be faults on both sides. On the one hand, you have the well known calm superiority of the Navy, which I think is intensely irritating to the Air Ministry, but, on the other side, you have the somewhat cattish outlook of the Air Ministry vis à vis the Fleet Air Arm, and if it had not been for the exercise of immense tact on the part of all the officers concerned, we should have had an even worse mess than we have already.
Let me give an example of the sort of thing that has happened. It is well known to many of us that there are two aerodromes in the Portsmouth area so close together that one man landing at one of them must do so with a left-hand circuit or else he will run into the other fellow landing at the other aerodrome. One of these aerodromes is at Lee-on-Solent and the other at Gosport. The Lee-on-Solent one borders on the Solent at Southampton Water, and the Gosport one borders on Portsmouth Harbour, and the two inner edges almost border on one another. Yet for some reason—whether it is cattishness, I do not know, but I suspect it is— although the Air Ministry have been willing to hand over to the Fleet Air Arm the aerodrome at Lee-on-Solent, they will not hand over the Gosport aerodrome. Instead of that, they are willing to hand over the Worthy Down aerodrome north of Winchester, which has the interesting quality that if there is a bad mist anywhere in Hampshire, it is to be found there. It is not only irritating, but it is also surely rather foolish on the part of the Air Ministry. For in the case of war, consider the position of the Gosport aerodrome. It will get all the bombs intended for Portsmouth Dockyard and the Navy, and why on earth the Air Ministry should want to take the responsibility of an aerodrome that will get all the nasty stuff intended for the Navy baffles me completely.
Furthermore, Gosport is the headquarters of the Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force. Within a few miles 2484 they have a magnificent new station at Thorney Island, which would make a magnificent headquarters at very small cost indeed and which would be much nicer for them. Yet merely to annoy the sailormen, merely because the Admiralty assume an attitude of calm superiority to all the other Services, we have this absurd position, that the Fleet Air Arm have been given Lee-on-Solent while the Air Ministry sticks to Gosport.
Let me revert to what is, perhaps, the most important point of all, and that is the question of the supply and cost of aircraft. Many hon. Members will agree with me that the form in which the Estimates are presented to us is very baffling. We have a great volume, of which the bulk is composed of information such as the statement that five charwomen at the Air Ministry have special allowances of 5s. 6d. a week, whereas the other four have special allowances of only 3s. 3d. The House may or may not be delighted to debate that kind of interesting information. Doubtless the Public Accounts Committee and1 the Estimates Committee will at some future date devote the whole time available for Air Estimate matters to items of similar importance. Having gone through many pages if similarly interesting items, we come to the item "Aircraft, etc., £94,000,000." That is all the information we get about it. What it represents we do not know.
It is impossible for the House to discuss these Estimates in the form they are presented to us year after year. When questions are asked the plea is often made that it is not in the public interest to give the information. My 20 years' experience of the House has convinced me that in nine cases out of 10 "public interest" in this connection means the interest of the particular statesman who happens to be at the head of the Department in question.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
Does the hon. Member suggest that the Secretary of State studies his own interest before the interest of the country?
Mr. Hopkins on
What I suggest is that the well known phrase "public interest" is very frequently used on the Treasury Bench in order that the Minister may avoid criticism. We are told, for instance, if we ask how much are we paying for a certain air frame, that it is not in the 2485 public interest to give the information. What possible public interest could suffer damage if the Secretary of State for Air told us that an air frame costs so much to the public? In the past when these things were done by competitive tender, it was not possible to give the information because it would be giving away the price of an individual contractor, possibly to a competitor. When it is not done by competitive tender, what earthly interest would be affected by the House of Commons being told what is actually paid for this sort of thing.
That brings me to my final point about the production of aircraft and the price we are paying. We have now reached a stage in our programme where the competitive tender has become a perfectly feasible proposition. In the very early stages when nearly all the designs were comparatively new, some quite new, there was; some ground for not adopting the competitive system, but now when we have type after type in full production and produced by more than one constructor, I cannot see any reason whatever why tenders should not be called for. Then we should get rid of the suspicion, which may be to some extent without a basis, although it has a very definite basis in many cases—a suspicion that the taxpayer is not getting what he is paying for and that the House of Commons and the taxpayer are to a large extent being humbugged by the Treasury Bench.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
It is remarkable what a different atmosphere exists to-day from that which existed during the discussion of the Air Estimates a year ago. My right hon. Friend is very much to be congratulated for the work he has done. He has asked for a further 75,000 recruits during the coming year, and I believe he will succeed in getting them before the end of the year. The hon. Gentleman opposite was very concerned about the number of aircraft coming into service, and. also about the gap between our own re-equipment and that of Germany. I have a certain amount of information which, by reason of the fact that I am a member of the Services, I cannot communicate. But I also use my eyes, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if he would like to spend a fortnight going round the country he would be able to see for himself what aircraft are being flown at all Royal Air Force stations, and that 2486 it would be practically impossible to find a station at which new aircraft were not being flown. My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) dealt with the question of the gap in production. I believe that gap is fast closing. We read in the Press some little time ago that production in this country had reached 400 a month. No one denied that, and we have reason to believe that is has considerably passed that figure.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Does the hon. Member take that figure to represent machines suitable for going to the squadrons?
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
No, not altogether, if you mean Service aircraft pure and simple, but general aircraft for the fighting service and for the training of personnel. Germany is reputed to have a very high output of aircraft. Nobody has put it as high as 1,000 a month, and I do not suppose it reaches that. It is certain that it is bound to be falling off at present. They are having great difficulty in getting materials and also they have a great deal of trouble with labour. I know a number of people well qualified to judge, who visit that country frequently and who are conversant with the aircraft industry in this country, who say that before the end of the summer we shall close the gap, and that the gap will begin to increase on the other side. I believe that will be the-case.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) discussed the question of camouflaging aerodromes, and I must confess that up to a point I agree with him. That is a matter which has been, rather neglected in the past, but I am glad that it is being taken up seriously now. It is extraordinary how easy it is, to see an aerodrome when one is not lost and how difficult it is to see it when one is lost. I have experienced that myself. Only last Sunday, my squadron-leader was leading my squadron to its war station—I am not at liberty to say where it is—and after the squadron broke up and the flights were landing, the flight: which I was leading was supposed to land at an aerodrome which I had often visited before, but which I could not see then, for the simple reason that since I had previously been there it had been camouflaged; and it was only when I saw another flight landing that I realised where it was. The problem of camouflage 2487 is being taken up very seriously in the Air Force now, and I believe that a great deal of good work is being done in that direction. Although one cannot expect hangars to be camouflaged perfectly, when a man has flown four or five hundred miles his eyes are tired—as indeed they are tired somewhat before he has flown that distance—and the camouflage makes it very difficult for him to see the aerodrome easily.
I would like to pay a very high tribute to the type of aircraft coming to the squadrons now. I have not yet flown the new Hurricane aircraft, although I expect to do a good number of hours' flying in them in the course of the next few weeks; but I have examined them, and men who have flown them have expressed themselves as highly satisfied with the performance of the Hurricanes. As regards the development of bombers, the flight of the Wellesley aircraft last year speaks for itself. I am sure that we lead the world in the development of bomber aircraft at the present time. I think my right hon. Friend was right in saying that he intended to have built in this country an enormous number of the fighter aircraft. He was quick, and rightly so, to assure the country that he did not intend in any way to allow the building of bomber aircraft to slacken. It seems to me obvious that if this country is to win a war, the first essential is to make absolutely certain that the base is safe; and therefore, we must build an adequate protection for that base. That means fighter aircraft. The old military slogan, "Seek out and destroy the enemy," is the only way in which ultimately the country can win a war, but first of all we must make safe the weapons with which the country is to win the war, and we must make the country safe. That must be done primarily, as far as the Air Force is concerned, by means of fighter aircraft.
As to personnel, I am convinced that we have in the Royal Air Force the finest personnel of any service in the world. I am on rather difficult ground, as I am a very humble member of the personnel. I am not a regular. I believe that in the regular Air Force we have the cream of our young men serving. One of its greatest advantages is that it is recruited 2488 irrespective of class. Men who are recruited for the Royal Air Force must primarily be physically fit, intelligent and well educated. With these qualifications they will, in all probability, make first-class pilots; in fact, they do. If these men are to give of their best and do their best, they must live like fighting cocks. They must feed absolutely perfectly. On the whole, the standard of feeding of the pilots is extremely good and in most of the messes I have visited it is very good, but I have been to one or two where it is not. I would ask my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to that, because I know that it is something which, as a former Minister of Health, he must have near his own heart. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that men on leaving their short-service commissions were fired on to the world with little opportunity of obtaining work and that nothing much was done for them. I have not the figures which I had last year when I brought the subject up in my speech, but I remember that between 68 and 78 per cent, of those applying for work to the Air Ministry on leaving their short-service commissions obtained work Therefore, there is little substance in what the hon. Gentleman said.
I would like to pay a high tribute to the work of the Air Staff. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland drew across our track the old bogy which we have had in these Debates on more than one occasion, namely, that the higher command were usually out of touch with the fighting men. We have had the bogy in different ways. We have usually been told that all the Air officers were completely useless and ought to be superseded by young fellows of 28 and 30. The hon. Gentleman did not put it quite that way in his speech this year. He inferred that the complaint was in regard to Air officers who worked in the Ministry and not those in command of the various stations in this country and abroad. I can assure him that, as far as I am able to tell, the work of the Air Staff is extremely good. The fighter command and the Air Defence of Great Britain depend entirely on the skilful staff work of the higher command. A fighting man in the air, a flight-commander leading his flight, is a tool completely in their hands. He depends upon them to be put in touch with the enemy, and provided 2489 that he can shoot straight when he is put in touch, that is all that is required of him. Practically the whole of the work depends upon the careful mathematical calculations—and, of course, the accuracy of their information—of the Air Staff. From what I have seen of the operations rooms in the sectors and at Uxbridge I think we can safely say that the Air Staff is doing its job extremely well.
The Auxiliary Air Force are delighted at the treatment which they have received at the hands of my right hon. Friend. We are very pleased indeed to have been converted from bomber squadrons into fighter squadrons. First, we cannot help noting that our expectation of life has one up from three days to, at any rate, a few weeks and that is a consideration when one has to put one's affairs in order in a hurry. Apart from that, it is essential, I think, that a territorial force such as the Auxiliary Air Force should be primarily for home defence, because in that capacity we are able to get to know thoroughly the sector in which we shall work should war break out. We are able to get to know thoroughly every inch of the ground we shall have to defend should an emergency arise. As bomber squadrons we could never do that, and we never got opportunities for long distance navigation practice which the regular Air Force has. Consequently, in every way it has been a great advantage to be converted to fighter squadrons. Again, as a result of the re-arrangement of our monthly allowances it is now possible for an officer in the Auxiliary Air Force to live a normal life, joining in the mess and not be out of pocket. That is only fair. In the past it was scandalous that an officer, who was giving up much of his time, should have to pay as much as £1 a week upon mess and travelling expenses. That state of affairs has been put right and we are extremely grateful.
In connection with the Auxiliary Air Force the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely) mentioned an interesting and important point, and that was the difficulty of having adjutants or assistant adjutants who did not stay long enough to get to know a squadron. I think that at the moment that is a difficulty which cannot be avoided. Promotion in the lower commissioned ranks of the Air Force is very rapid to-day. At the present moment there is a chronic shortage of flight 2490 lieutenants. There had been a chronic shortage of flying officers, and now it has gone up to flight lieutenants; and it is difficult to find people to fill these positions because they are being promoted and going up to a higher grade all the time. That is something which will right itself quite naturally in the course of the next year or 18 months.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend a lot of questions, which I am not going to ask him, about the strategy of the balloon barrage system. I should like to know how these balloons are going to be placed. Of course I have got fixed ideas about the usefulness of these balloons, and I hope that until he has a great number of them he will concentrate on putting them at places which we do not want bombed. If an airman is to bomb any object successfully these days he has to come low in order to hit it, and if the place is going to be stiff with a lot of wire ropes he will not do it twice. Until we have a great number of balloons I hope that is the strategy which is going to be adopted.
Nothing has been said so far about the University Air Squadrons, which play a valuable part in the work of the Air Force in general. These are three of them —at Oxford, at Cambridge and in London—and their primary object is to provide officers for the other branches of the Service, including the Regular, the Auxiliary and the Volunteer Reserve. Those officers whom I have met and who come from the universities are an extremely fine type and compare well with others. The Secretary of State is very much to be congratulated upon increasing the establishment this year from 75 to 100. In the second year he will be enabled to give them an opportunity of learning to fly the Service types of machine. That will be most valuable and they are very grateful.
One further word about something in which I am particularly interested, and that is the development of the Air Defence Cadet Corps. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman realises the extraordinary strides that have been made in this branch of the Service. Since last August 83 squadrons have been formed of the Air Defence Cadets, each containing 100 boys, exclusive of officers. At the present time we are raising one in North St. Pancras, and I believe that other hon. Members are raising them in 2491 their constituencies. No doubt they are forming a counter-attraction to the Army Cadet Corps. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if the best advantage is to be had there should be co-ordination between the Army, the Navy and the Air Cadets so that one does not take unfairly from the other. If you do not do that there will be a great deal of dissatisfaction all round. Something of that nature will have to be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Sir L. Everard) referred to the fact that the Government can grant only 3s. 6d. per head. We have to raise the money to keep these cadets going, and it is difficult to get people to find perhaps £200 or £250 before it is possible to raise a squadron. I ask for the Minister's sympathy in increasing that grant at any rate to what the Army Cadets get, 5s. It is not very much, but it would be greatly appreciated and would make all the difference to the work of those who are trying to raise squadrons.
Another point by way of criticism concerns radio communication in the air. I spent three week-ends sitting in an aeroplane with a helmet on endeavouring to talk to people in other aeroplanes and on the ground. Believe me, the communication is far from good. It is very difficult to get adequate communication with the ground and with other aeroplanes. Bearing in mind that the whole of the air defence of Great Britain depends upon the men in the aeroplanes being able to understand their orders spoken to them from the ground, this is something which the Air Ministry ought to use every endeavour, no matter at what cost, to get right in the shortest possible time.
The other point is somewhat specialised. It seems to me that if you are to adopt a really sound, long-term policy it is important to attend to the education of airmen's children. At the present time, on Service stations up and down the country, transport is provided for children of airmen to go to the nearest elementary school. If you wish to get a tradition in the Service you obviously hope that the sons of your airmen will go into the Service after their fathers. The Service to-day demands from its airmen a very high standard of education —a secondary school standard; and the 2492 Air Ministry ought to provide facilities for secondary school education on these stations. It is of paramount importance that all children who have the capacity should have this advantage, so that they will be up to the school certificate standard when the question is asked of them, when air observers and so on are wanted, "Have you passed the school certificate examination?" That is necessary if we want them to come on after their fathers in the Service.
If the Service were asked what they liked most of all about my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State, I think they would say they believe that in the Secretary of State they have a man who looks after their own personal interests, and who is interested in each and everyone of them personally. I know that that is so, because I have seen him at the stations going round and talking to the men, and I have listened to what the men have had to say afterwards. As regards the Under-Secretary, they are delighted to think that they have at last a practical man to help them—someone who can fly the fastest aircraft that are coming into the Service to-day, and see for himself what their vices and good points are. The Service is very grateful, we are all grateful, and the whole country is grateful, for the work that they have done during their period of office.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
During the course of this Debate I have heard references made to officers, pilots, scientists, business men and technicians, and I want now to make a few observations on behalf of the people who make the aeroplanes. As far as the technical side is concerned, I am fairly well satisfied. I believe that during the past 12 months, in particular, there has been a great improvement in the technical side. My observations will be based on page 6 of the Memorandum, from which I should like to give two extracts. It is stated that:The expansion and re-equipment of the Air Force is dependent on a very great increase in the production of aircraft, engines, armament and equipment of all kinds. The volume of production is now large. There is a substantial output from the Government factories.Later on there is this statement:Steps were taken during 1938 to create the large additions to productive capacity 2493 which will be required to implement the new measures announced in May and November, and to provide the necessary potential for further expansion in the event of emergency.This will mean an enormous increase in the employment of aircraft workers, and it is for them that I am speaking. For many years the War Office have had a National Council, which includes representatives of the Army Council, the trade unions, the employers, and others interested in whatever is being ordered by the Army Council. The same applies in the case of the Navy. The result of this machinery is direct contact between all the interests and the Government Department, whereby a large amount of unnecessary friction is eliminated and production continues without interference. Therefore, I am asked to suggest that the time has arrived, especially having regard to the enormous increase that will take place in output, when the Secretary of State should consider the setting up of a National Aircraft Consultative Council on which representatives of the Air Ministry should sit with representatives of the employers, the unions and others engaged in the industry.
We have seen from time to time that relatively high profits are being made. No one can deny that. If necessary, one could give illustration after illustration. The Secretary of State is taking steps to deal with it. Whether they will be adequate steps remains to be seen. While those relatively enormous profits are being made, the men engaged in the production of aircraft are not getting the return that they ought to be getting. There ought to be no one earning less than 25 per cent. The National Agreement states that prices must be fixed to enable men of average ability to earn at least 25 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of what?"] Overtime rates. In 1931 it was 33⅓ per cent. Owing to the state of industry and the economic position of the engineering industry, that was reduced to 25 per cent. It is quite reasonable to plead that the men ought to be earning at least 33⅓ per cent., but I am not asking for that. What I am asking is that there should be no one engaged who is coming out with anything less than 25 per cent, above the time rates. Some of us have put questions down in order to raise this with the Minister so that he could look into it in order that stoppages should be avoided. If I were engaged in the industry I should 2494 not be satisfied with 25 per cent. The average rate of earnings at present, compared with the huge profits that are being made, will be bound to reflect itself in some action being taken in certain parts of the country unless this question of piecework earnings is looked into.
The question of overtime is causing a little uneasiness in various parts of the country. It is very difficult to deal with because when the Secretary of State, or those acting on his behalf, order a certain type of machine the maximum number of men are put on to it in order to increase the output as soon as possible, and the result may be that in other departments there may be slackness while this is taking place. At the same time it is not good for it to be taking place. In some works men are being discharged and others put on short time while others are working abnormal overtime and week-ends in many cases. Overtime should be eliminated where possible, and reduced to a minimum in other cases. In Manchester at present there are men working overtime while others are being discharged. This is not healthy; it creates unnecessary friction, and the necessity is evident for setting up a National Consultative Committee, in order that these questions may be raised with the Secretary of State or those representing him rather than allowing stoppages to take place as a result of these grievances. Sooner or later, there will be a reduced demand from the Air Ministry. The probability is that before then steps will have been taken to swing over on to civil aircraft production in many cases. The aircraft engines being turned out in this country are as good as those turned out in any country, and what applies to the engines applies equally to other parts of the planes.
These highly skilled engineers employed on making these engines often go to night school, in some cases for five or six years. They have not only to become experts manually, but they have to have a good geometrical and mathematical knowledge. The interest which these men are taking in the output of their factories is as great as anyone could expect. They look upon the engines they are manufacturing as though they were manufacturing them for themselves, yet they can see before them the time when their labour will no longer be needed. It is not fair to these men 2495 and their relatives that they should be expected to give of their best with the prospect of the means test before them. Having got over 1931, as we have done, we have still the legacy of the means test, and it is always rankling in the minds of our men. The time has arrived when the Cabinet should consider removing that dark cloud from the horizon, so that these men shall not be humiliated by the means test, as others are being humiliated now.
§ 10.59 p.m.
I want to put one point, and if the Minister cannot answer it to-night I would ask him to consider it. It is with relation to the social amenities and recreational facilities accorded to the officers and men at the various schools which the Air Ministry are now building. I have two such schools in my constituency. If I mention one in particular, that at Gatesby, I do so only because it is typical of many others. At that school there are over 3,000 young men between 17 and 21, living on the edge of the Plain, and the only centre of entertainment is a small country town four or five miles from the camp. I know that the Ministry are doing everything possible within the boundaries of the camp and are providing facilities for football and tennis, in addition to canteens and cinemas. But the Minister knows that once the day's work is over, however attractive the canteen may be, the great majority of those in the camp want to get out of it.
The first essential is transport, and I have heard complaints from this and from other camps as well, that there are only very limited facilities for bicycles or cars. In some cases an officer or non-commissioned officer cannot keep a car because there are no facilities for garaging it within the camp or in the neighbourhood. It seems foolish to spend £1,000,000 on a permanent camp, and not to spend a few more pounds in providing some sheds for cars and bicycles. I hope the Ministry may be able also to supply means to erect Y.M.C.A. huts in the neighbourhood of these camps. In the case which I have in mind, a site has been offered and the Y.M.C.A. are prepared to run the hut, and I ask that the Minister should provide the money to erect it. The War Office have done this in an almost similar case 2496 in my constituency. The civil population are playing their part in trying to provide amusement and recreation for these men, and I think the Government could and should help. We cannot expect to keep 3,000 young men confined in a camp, with very little to do in their leisure time, without the risk of trouble of some kind arising. I believe we could limit that risk, if not avoid it altogether, by the means I have suggested.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
I wish to thank hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the way in which they have received these Estimates. I think we can say that we have had a very interesting and informative Debate and it is now my duty to offer some observations upon certain of the points which have been raised. I shall endeavour to deal with as many of the questions which have been put to me as possible, but they are so many that hon. Members will excuse me if I am not able, in the time at my disposal, to deal with them all to-night, and if I do not deal with all to-night, I may have an opportunity of doing so on Tuesday.
I would first make some observations on the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) who made a valuable contribution to this Debate. He said that, having regard to the fact that so much money was being spent in relation to air defence, he was concerned that we should see to it that we got full value for that money. I am as much concerned as he is in endeavouring to see to that. I recognise that a considerable responsibility, perhaps a bigger responsibility than ever, rests on my Department in that respect. As I said a few days ago, as regards the production of aircraft and matters of that kind, an elaborate system has been built up in the Department which has been personally examined by Members of this House and upon which they have expressed their judgment. I have also endeavoured to explain this afternoon that, following the examination which has been made in my Department, I am now going to take up certain of the terms of the McLintock agreement with representatives of the aircraft industry. I would explain to hon. Gentlemen who take considerable interest in this matter that the position of Sir William McLintock is that he has been consulted by the aircraft industry, and 2497 he will, I understand, act as their representative and carry on negotiations on their behalf. There is no question of Sir William McLintock either drafting or settling the terms of any provision that may be accepted, and I will take into favourable consideration the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman has made, that at the end of the negotiations upon which I am now embarking, the agreement reached should be published or some information given on it. The McLintock agreement has always been regarded as a confidential agreement, but there may be special circumstances in this case to warrant taking that course, and I will give the suggestion due consideration.
The hon. Gentleman referred to events that took place in September and expressed the hope that I might say that such defects as existed at that time have been remedied. In any event, whatever view we may take of that time, I dare say that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I express the opinion that the Royal Air Force and the Auxiliary Air Force would have given a good account of themselves. Having said that, naturally and I think, properly, the House would expect the Air Department to review the position in detail, and I would assure the House that I have personally looked at that aspect of it. Emergency measures upon the scale of those carried out in September, and, indeed, any large scale exercises, would normally reveal room for improvement in certain directions. Advantage has been taken to remedy any defects that arose at that time and to profit by the lessons that were to be learned.
The hon. Gentleman made a reference to discussions which he and his friends have had with me during the last few months in reference to certain questions which they had raised. I hope that I have been able to turn to benefit a number of suggestions which they have made to me from time to time. I would like any conversations of that kind to continue. I am anxious, as hon. Gentlemen will agree, to receive any suggestions which will help me in the work of my Department. I hope that some of them will have been profitable to me. I trust that hon. Members in all parts of the House will realise that they can come to me at any time and discuss matters in relation to my Department. I would like 2498 to thank all who have assisted in that particular way.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the important question of the new types of aeroplane that are coming into the squadrons at the present time, and asked whether we were completely satisfied with the Spitfire and the Hurricane. I think I can say—and I think hon. Members who are associated with the Royal Air Force will agree that I am not exaggerating when I say—that the Royal Air Force and all our officers and officials are completely satisfied so far as those two types of machines are concerned, and in fact we are getting requests for them from all over the world.
So far as the performance of bombers is concerned in September, I am afraid I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's assessment, but apart from that, I would like to say that in addition to the types which the House knows are now coming into service, we have even better and faster types with a longer range shortly coming forward. Therefore, apart altogether from the existing types which are known, we have others that are an improvement even upon them.
§ Sir K. Wood
I would not like to say. I do not want to limit myself to an exact month. So far as equipment is concerned, there has been a very considerable and all-round improvement, and the great majority of the deficiencies which were referred to at one time in this House, I think it can now be said, have been remedied. I will give one illustration, because I know the House was interested in the matter. Examples have been given in the past as to deficiencies in turrets. I am glad to say that all aircraft are now being issued with their full complement of turrets, and all arrears have been made up, with the exception of a small number of aircraft of one type, and in this type too the arrears are being rapidly overtaken.
To revert to the matter of the McLintock agreement, I shall, of course, inform the House as soon as I can of the result of the negotiations. The hon. Gentleman raised in that connection the question of costs, so far as sub-contracts are concerned, a very important matter and one which, I notice, has received par- 2499 ticular attention, especially with regard to those sub-contracts which are placed with associated firms. If hon. Members will look at the book which many of them have in their hands, they will find very interesting evidence by officers of the Ministry of the special steps that have been taken to deal with sub-contracts and particularly with those placed with associated firms. The hon. Gentleman made an important suggestion to me. He asked whether it would not be a good thing, in order to check costs of this kind, to have two or three Government factories erected, not factories which would be managed, as shadow factories are, by members of the industry itself, but by servants of the State, so that they would not only be owned but managed and run by the State. Apart from many other arguments that could be addressed to the point, I will content myself with one argument this evening, and that is that, from the point of view of checking costs, it would really be of no practical assistance to-day. It is true that land, plant, and buildings can be acquired by the Government, but the provision of the necessary personnel and particularly of expert management, would, of course, be essential to rapid and economical production. So far as management is concerned it would be practically impossible to recruit it to-day without taking it from other quarters already engaged in producing aircraft. Again, to train the supervisory staff would be a long process and might involve a long period of inefficiency. Again, a nucleus of skilled labour would have to be recruited from organisations already in production, and although the difficulties would be less acute than in obtaining recruits for the directing staff, still the difficulties would be very considerable. Even if you accomplished all that, I think hon. Members would agree that some years might elapse before the Government factory attained a degree of efficiency and economy comparable with private firms.
§ Sir K. Wood
The Nuffield factory was not established for the purpose of checking prices, but even Lord Nuffield's 2500 factory, with all the skill and energy he was able to bring to bear, could not be brought into operation without a considerable time elapsing.
We have to take another matter into account, which is well worth considering, and that is: Are you going to include design in your Government factory? It is very difficult to say that you should not do so, if it is to be an efficient Government concern, and, if you include design in your Government factory, the difficulties would be even greater, because one of the most difficult things at the present time is to secure designing staff. That, again, would mean, at the very best, drawing the designing staff from an industry now engaged in the work. If you did not have a designing staff, it would always be said afterwards, if the Government factory failed, that if the Government factory had been able to produce its own design the results would have been very different. Therefore, we are bound to come to the conclusion that if we were to start a Government factory for aircraft production we should have to include design. If we included design for the purpose suggested by the hon. Member, namely, to check prices of aircraft production, it is obvious that from the practical point of view it would have no material bearing upon the present situation.
§ Mr. Jagger
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that there are designers who would work for Lord Nuffield who would not work for the British Government?
§ Sir K. Wood
Every designing staff can be said, practically speaking, to be engaged on work of aircraft production. My argument was that if you started a Government factory and included design, you would have to take the designing staff from another concern. So far as Lord Nuffield is concerned, in his factory there is no designing staff.
I will deal next with the point the hon. Gentleman made in respect of the efforts we are making in the camouflage of aerodromes and matters of that kind. I agree very largely with what he said. I think 2501 perhaps the passengers who accompanied him might be expected to take a more sanguine view of what they saw or did not see, but it is perfectly true that it is very difficult to get finality in matters of this kind, and I want him to feel—because I regard it as a matter of importance—that we shall go on endeavouring to perfect matters in that direction, and when we have gone a little further I hope he will have an opportunity of seeing how we have got on. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Maintenance Command and offered some criticisms on the establishment of that command. Of course the Maintenance Command was only established last year. The development of it is, of necessity, gradual. It is an entirely new development and it has no parallel in either of the other Services. I think it can be claimed on its behalf that it has, in fact, already justified its formation, and it is no small matter when you remember that this Command will in fact comprise no less than 80 different units. Naturally we shall try to improve that organisation and I will certainly examine any suggestion which may reach me in that particular respect.
The hon. Gentleman also made—again quite properly—criticisms of the system of organisation which was introduced some two years ago. That change in the system aimed at, and I think has already achieved, speedier administration and what, I think, is very necessary— a higher degree of de-centralisation. It was only to be expected that it would require, in the light of experience, some modifications. The hon. Gentleman referred to the position of the Fighter and the Bomber Commands and their views. He will be glad to know that we have made some modifications in the organisation as a result of the advice of those two Commands. I agree with him as to the importance of efficiency in administration. We have appointed quite recently the small investigating committee to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I would also like to say that we do welcome, and I would like to encourage, and to further it if necessary, the advice and suggestions of the younger members of the Service. One or two other members raised that this afternoon. I have myself not: only endeavoured to take the opportunity of seeing many things for myself in the Air Force but on every occasion that has been offered I have 2502 talked to these young officers myself and it would indeed be wrong if we did not welcome suggestions which came from that particular quarter.
So far as the use of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve is concerned, the hon. Gentleman asked me to assess if I could what would be their value in the case of an emergency. It is very difficult indeed to give an exact assessment but I think it could quite certainly be said that the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve would have a definite and considerable value in an emergency. In this connection the hon. Gentleman may recall the statement which I made this afternoon concerning the steps we are taking to give pilots and air crews experience on service types of aircraft at regular units. Undoubtedly, that will increase considerably the usefulness of that particular section of the Force. I differentiate their value from that of the Civil Air Guard not because of the individuals concerned. Here again, one must look at the matter from the point of view of the categories that we have set up. Certainly, I would say that Categories A and B in the Civil Air Guard will be of definite value to the Royal Air Force, and Category C will certainly be useful as well.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, and also the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith), spoke of the work of the skilled men in the aircraft firms of the country. I would like to pay my tribute to all that they are doing. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent knows—for he was present on one occasion when I visited some works— whenever I have visited such works, I have endeavoured to express my thanks to the workers. Undoubtedly, throughout the country, the very great majority of these workers are working with a loyalty, a speed and an efficiency that must be the admiration of everybody. I will examine the suggestions that have been made by the hon. Member with regard to the National Aircraft Committee. I have given the hon. Member certain answers to questions about piece-work rates and overtime, and he knows that we are largely bound by the rates in the district; but I will again examine the statement that he has been good enough to make to-night.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked why we have such difficulty in 2503 getting wireless operators. Perhaps I did not express myself clearly on this matter. Our chief difficulty is the very large number of wireless operators that we require. It is true that they have to pass an educational test, but I would like the House to know that we are getting wireless operators in thousands. We are now training them at the rate of 6,000 a year. The difficulty is that we want such a very large number. Probably during the coming year, we shall require to train something in the nature of 10,000. The reason I specially mentioned this matter to the House was because of the size of the requirements and the further large number that we shall need.
I think the hon. Member did not quite follow me with regard to the balloon barrage, and when it will come into operation at places other than London. What I said was that I hope that it will be possible to start the operation of a number of these barrages during the summer, and to operate all of them by the end of the year. He also put a question about production in Canada. I attach importance to that for two reasons: first, that we should be getting additional aircraft; and, second, the possibilities it has in future in the supply of aircraft. When I used the words "next year" in connection with production in Canada, I referred to the calendar year 1940.
§ Sir K. Wood
The mission to which the right hon. Gentleman referred has gone to Australia and will be going on to New Zealand. It has been there only a few days and I have no information how far it has progressed. Directly I receive information from the mission I will make it available to the House. There is, I think, great prospect of a reasonable arrangement being made, to the mutual benefit of Australia and this country. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), who again contributed a useful speech, put three or four questions and observations which will be given proper attention at the Air Ministry. There are, however, one or two things that I would like to say now. He raised the important question of the two-seater fighters. The Air Staff are fully alive to the possibilities of this, and in fact one type is coming into 2504 immediate production and others are already planned. As far as common guns are concerned, a factory already exists, and we have now entered upon production on a considerable scale. I would like to add that the possibility of adapting existing fighter types for the use of cannon, if necessary, is also being actively considered. In the meantime I would like to assert that we are quite satisfied that our present multi-gun fighters are capable of shooting down any type of bomber. The hon. Member also suggested that fighter pilots should be given practice on other types in order to increase their flying experience, and I am glad to be able to inform him that steps have already been taken to provide fighter squadrons with aircraft for that purpose.
The last point the hon. Member raised, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) was about recreational facilities for officers and men. I cannot undertake, and he could hardly expect me to, to make contributions to the Y.M.C.A. It would create a precedent for other contributions. It was suggested that the Air Ministry should supply transport for men at stations which were at a distance from a village or town. Application should be made in such cases to the local traffic commissioners who make it a condition of a licence that such facilities should be granted. We have given serious attention to the question of recreational facilities for members of the forces. It is an important question because, with the considerable growth of the force, there is no doubt that the demand in this connection will increase. We have had a committee sitting for some time to see what could be done in relation to sports grounds, tennis courts, gymnasia and the like, and I will keep the matter under constant review, and will take what steps are possible to increase the facilities which I agree are so necessary Another important question which the hon. Baronet raised concerned the Staff talks with France. He asked what was the position of the Air Ministry in regard to them. The answer is that the conversations already begun between the respective Staffs are being continued, and that they quite naturally include the respective rôles of the different services, including the Royal Air Force.
An important question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. 2505 Simmonds) was what we are doing in regard to wooden aircraft. I think I have indicated in previous Debates that we are fully alive to the advantages of using alternative materials, such as wood, when they fulfil modern specifications. As the hon. Member knows, the training requirements of the Royal Air Force, which are very considerable, are, in fact, largely met by wooden aircraft, and we are experimenting with wood alone and in combination with other materials. I can assure him that I am keeping an entirely open mind on the matter. He also raised the question whether we could not utilise pilots over 40 with war-time experience. The answer to that is that war-time pilots who have kept up their flying since the War can be accepted in the R.A.F.V.R. up to the age of 42, but each case is considered specially, as 25 is the normal age-limit. There are also open to them the administrative and specialist sections. War-time pilots over the age of 40 who have kept up their flying experience, can also be accepted for Class A2 of the Civil Air Guard for use as instructors in case of emergency, and War-time pilots over the age of 40 with no recent flying experience may be accepted for Class C.
I had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), but I will examine it. He asked about the Nuffield factory. I am not prepared to commit myself to the precise date when the Nuffield factory will be completed and in full production, but will only say that at this moment steps are being taken to complete a part of the factory in advance of the whole and that I hope that some preliminary deliveries will be made, with the aid of associated sub-contractors, during the present calendar year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Sir W. Lindsay Everard) raised a number of questions. One was: Could the Air Ministry take in candidates who are technically suitable but not medically so? To meet those cases there has been a lowering of medical standards. Briefly the position is that men are now expected to reach standards known as "Fit, grade 2, general service" or "Fit, grade 2, home service." To that extent we meet the position which my hon. Friend put before the House this afternoon. Another question was, whether 2506 arrangements are being made to train in the skilled trades of the Royal Air Force men who have enlisted as unskilled men. The answer is "Yes." There are, in fact, excellent opportunities for men of sufficient education and aptitude to train in certain of the trades of the Royal Air Force if they enlist in the first instance as unskilled personnel. During the first year of his service an unskilled man, on being recommended, may be sent forward for training in certain skilled trades. A large proportion of the unskilled entrants among aircraft hands may be selected for training if they express a desire to do so.
I am looking into the cases, to which the hon. Member referred, of municipal aerodromes that are not at present being used for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and Civil Air Guard. The question of our fuel needs was raised by two or three hon. Members. We have made a careful examination of the fuel needs of the Services, and our scrutiny and calculation showed that if war broke out, the fuel would be available for our requirements, and that this supply would not become a limiting factor in our ability to sustain our Forces.
An appeal has been made to me by several hon. Members whether something further cannot be done by way of increasing the grants for the air cadet scheme. I have noted what has been said, but hon. Members will appreciate that as this is a matter on which I should have to consult the Treasury I have in consequence to be cautious what I say in that connection.
Another question was: Why have not private owners of aircraft been told how they and their aircraft would be used in time of war? In fact, we are now working on a comprehensive scheme for the whole of civil aviation in war, which will include privately-owned aircraft.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Bates) will expect me to make some reply to him. I will give attention to what he has said, but there are two observations I would offer upon the advocacy he is making, and has so constantly made, for the use of home-produced aviation spirit. As he knows, there is first hydrogenation. Quantities of aviation spirit produced in that way were bought in 1938 and in 1939, and will be bought during the coming financial year. The spirit can be used 2507 as produced and, in fact, forms part of the normal issue of standard fuel to Royal Air Force units at home. So far as low-temperature carbonisation is concerned, a small proportion of this fuel has to meet present requirements to be mixed with ordinary petrol. I will give further attention to the advocacy which I know, the hon. Gentleman has at heart. I am also indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieutenant-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) for what he has said. I have dealt with a number of the questions that he raised in connection with cannon and the equipment of fighters. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) put forward suggestions regarding the control of profits and matters of that knd. I will consider his suggestion as to the publication of the new agreement with the old one, when it is completed.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) raised some questions about the Rae Committee. I was not able to be here at the time, but he will recollect that I told him we were carrying out the recommendations of that committee. I believe he said some rather severe things about it and about the Air Ministry, particularly with reference, I understand, to a gentleman who is referred to as Mr. B. on page 16 of the report. I may say that both Mr. A. and Mr. B. gave evidence before the committee, and presumably put before it the points which the hon. and gallant Member has now brought forward. I would refer him to paragraph 51 of the report, in which the Committee say:It will be seen that in the case of both Mr. A. and Mr. B. correct decisions were in our view taken.With regard to the equity accorded to Mr. B., I would like the hon. and gallant Member to look at paragraphs 47 and 48 of the report, where I think he will find an answer to his criticisms. As regards the point he made as to the delay in filling the establishment of the Directorate of Operational Services, the staff was recruited as soon as it could be assimilated
§ and trained. I will examine the matter further, but at any rate I have given the hon. and gallant Member some brief reply.
§ My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) made a number of suggestions with regard to the avoidance of accidents, the institution of a curfew, and the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways; and he also asked about Southampton and the Empire Air Base. My reply is that, so far as I am concerned, that matter remains, and must remain, in the position stated by the Parliamentary Secretary on 21st December last. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend's question about the South Atlantic, the proposal is to use flying boats there. Perhaps he will allow me to study the other matters that he raised, and communicate with him in regard to them. In endeavouring to give replies to the questions which have been put to me, I hope I have not trespassed too much on the time of the House, but I thought that, as hon. Members had gone to the trouble of putting these questions, it was right and courteous and proper that I should reply to them, and I thank the House for allowing me so much time, both at the beginning and at the end of the Debate.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]