§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud)
Before the war we had a number of debates on civil aviation. Those debates took place because there was in this House a large body of opinion that all was not well with civil aviation. I can assure the Government that there is still in the House and in the country a body of opinion which is perturbed about the position. The other reason for those debates was the treatment meted out to the pilots. At that time the pilots were treated as untouchables, as men void of intelligence and bereft of reason. The Air Ministry, the Air Council, and the operating company would none of them even negotiate with the pilots' organisation. I am thankful to say that the situation has changed. Never have the relations been better between the pilots' organisation and the Air Ministry and the operating company. The door is not only ajar but wide open, and every necessary subject is discussed between them. But there is one rather small personal matter which the pilots have asked me to mention. When the Prime Minister went to Russia, when Lord and Lady Halifax flew over to America, and when the Prime Minister of South Africa went back to South Africa, they chose, for some unexplained reason, a comparatively inexperienced pilot, a man who holds no British flying qualification at all, and who in fact is not a British subject. These old pilots, who have been carrying the torch of British aviation for 20 years, regard that action of the Air Minister as a personal slight. I ask the Under-Secretary to use his influence with the Air Ministry and with the Members of the Government generally to do everything in their power to fly British in future.
My quarrel to-day is not with the operating company, as on previous occasions, but partly with the Secretary of State for Air and partly with the Paymaster-General. I wish to cross swords with the Secretary of State because he represents the Air Council. The Air Council never has been interested in civil aviation. I do not believe that it ever will be interested in civil aviation. It is commonly 2119 reported outside that the only time when members of the Air Council are interested in civil aviation is when they are getting rather elderly, and are looking round for directorships in the operating companies. My quarrel with the Paymaster-General is of a different nature. It has fallen to his lot to initiate a new era of world transport. I know what the Paymaster-General is thinking—he is thinking of that old Dutch proverb, "Young men think old men are fools; old men know young men to be so." But, fortunately, I am neither old nor young, but middle-aged. I am sorry for my right hon. and learned Friend, being suddenly pitchforked into this civil aviation arena. He has to make decisions—and to make them soon—which will affect the whole future of world transport, which I believe will decide whether we are to remain a first-class Power, which will decide whether we are going to have 100 years of peace or ever-recurring wars. He has my sympathy. For some reason my right hon. and learned Friend is at this moment finding it difficult to come to certain conclusions.
In August, 1941, an Inter-departmental Committee was set up, to explore the position and to advise the Minister. That Committee issued on interim report 11 months ago. I understand—I may be wrong—that that report was in the form of a series of policy questions to the Cabinet. Until those questions of policy are settled this Committee cannot go on functioning usefully. I do not know what is causing the delay. Eleven months is a long time. Perhaps the report has been mislaid, perhaps it has been pigeon-holed, or perhaps it has slipped my right hon. and learned Friend's memory. I urge him, with all the power I have, to come to some conclusion now. Until he decides these matters, nothing can be done for the future: no plans can be laid, and no decisions made. Unfortunately, while he is considering this matter—if he is—Pan-American Airways are stretching their tentacles all over the world. I am not in any way antagonistic to the great American nation. I believe that it is vital that in future we should co-operate with the Americans in air transport. I foresee that unless we do as soon as the armistice comes there will be a race between the Americans and ourselves to control the airlines of the world. We shall have 2120 practically no aeroplanes to compete, except those loaned to us under Lease-Lend. If we try to run airlines with those loaned to us by the Americans friction is inevitable. I urge the Government now, before we get to that stage, to call a conference with our American Allies, to settle once and for all which particular sphere of influence will belong to each country. Otherwise, I am convinced there will be friction, and we might even have another Boston Tea Party.
In the Pacific the Americans have a complete monopoly. As far as I can see, there is no prospect of a British air line ever operating in the Pacific. In the South Atlantic also the Americans have a complete monopoly. In the North Atlantic—and I include the southern route of the North Atlantic—I believe that for every British-owned air liner crossing it there are at least two American. That is a very conservative figure. Of our machines operating, every one is of American manufacture. We have in this country only two civil aircraft capable of flying the Atlantic—the "Champion" and the "Cathay." In Africa the Americans were given an entree. I understand, from an answer I have been given, that that entree was only for one year, and that after that year American civil aviation, as far as Africa was concerned, would be militarised. I believe that it has been militarised. But what is the difference? It is the same people, it is the same organisation, it is the same aerodromes. Everything is exactly the same, except that the men who are running the line, instead of wearing bowler hats and umbrellas, are now wearing tin hats and gas masks. It is merely a change of uniform. I trust that the Under-Secretary does not believe that the Americans after the war are going gracefuly to retire from Africa. If he believes that, he is the only person in the world connected with British aviation who does. Also, I understand—I hope I am wrong—that we shall shortly see the American air lines operating from Aden and from India. So much for the flying side.
Now the production side. As the House knows, some time ago an agreement was arrived at with America by which we would make the small aircraft—the fighter aircraft and the smaller bombers—whereas they on their side would make the big 2121 transport machines which could fly over the Atlantic. As a result of that agreement there are now coming off the stocks in very large numbers in America, the most modern transport machines the world has ever seen. These machines are coming in large numbers to all the internal air lines in America and also to the air transport command. Machines such as the new four-engined Douglas, the well known D.C.3, the two-engined Douglas are now pouring off the production lines and are equipping American Lines. In the almost immediate future we shall see coming out from the American factories aircraft at least twice as big as anything even contemplated in this country.
What is our position? British Overseas Airways have a considerable number of aircraft. It is probably not in the public interest that I should divulge the exact number, but at this moment they are using daily 13 different types, and in the near future they will be using 17 different types. As far as engines are concerned, they are now using 14 different types. This mixed assortment of aircraft consists partly of old crocks, five, six, seven years old, many of them ripe for the scrap-heap. It consists partly of R.A.F. throw-outs, crumbs from the rich man's table, machines which the R.A.F. do not want, and partly, owing to the generosity of our American friends' modem American machines. Luckily there has been a very substantial sweetening of these American machines, and now well over half of the British Overseas Airways machines are equipped with American engines and nearly a half, but not quite, of the British Overseas Airways machines are entirely American. It must be obvious to anyone how utterly impossible it is to run an air line with this mixed assortment of machines and engines.
What is our future position? And this is where I quarrel with the Minister of Aircraft Production. His Parliamentary Secretary has admitted in this House that no orders have been placed for genuine civil machines, no plans are in hand and no designs are being considered at present either for a civil engine or for a civil aircraft. I know what the Government will answer. They will say, "Ah, have you not heard of the 'York'?" I have heard 2122 of the "York." The "York" was not designed as a civil machine; it was designed as a bomber and then was converted to use with the Army. I am fully aware that that machine is an ideal machine for civil airways but—and facts speak for themselves—not a single one has yet been made available for British air transport. My hon. and gallant Friend will talk about another machine which I do not think I ought to mention in public, but I can call it the "W." The "W" is an R.A.F. outcast. It was designed for the R.A.F. and for some mysterious reason the R.A.F. did not like it and so they are generously handing it over to civil aviation—another outcast, another case of crumbs from the rich man's table. I allege that at this moment we have neither in this country nor in the Empire any modern British civil machine and that there are no plans for producing a modern British machine anywhere in existence.
It is always easy to be critical but it is always much harder to put up constructive suggestions. I do not believe that the pass is yet completely sold. I believe that we can retrieve the position partly if we take action now. I want to detain the House another three or four minutes just to put up one or two suggestions. First of all the short-term programme, the immediate programme. Surely it is not beyond us to bring British Overseas Airways up to date? I am told that if the Air Ministry or rather if the Air Council, that reactionary Air Council, would release but 30 machines at once—20 "Yorks" and 10 "Sunderlands"—we would at any rate be able to look Pan-American in the face. I fully expect that we shall be told that we may be going to get one or two "Sunderlands." I hope that that is true. I also hope, if we are going to get these "Sunderlands," they will be equipped with what is known as "full feathered airscrews." I am told by my friends that the idea is they will not have this elementary safety device. It seems to me almost criminal that the highly important people who now use our air lines should be asked to fly on machines that have not this elementary safety device. I am told that the Secretary of State will say, "Fancy talking of 10 'Sunderlands' or 20 'Yorks.' Why, it is quite impossible. We want every machine we can possibly get in order to bomb Germany." Will it really make any difference 2123 to the bombing loads on Germany if 20 of these "Yorks" are taken and instead of 990 machines going over on one night there are only 970? I cannot believe that the releasing of 20 of these modern machines will really have any effect whatever on our attack upon Germany.
There are four advantages of this scheme. I am told that, if we could only get these 20 "Yorks," it would be possible to scrap up to 60 of the old crocks now being used by British Overseas Airways, resulting in a great saving in personnel, expense, time and spares. The second advantage is that we could look Pan-American Airways in the face now, and if a conference took place we could bargain with them on equal terms. Thirdly, we would have something which would enable us to hold our own for probably two years after the Armistice because we have the "Yorks" for the long-distance lines and the boats for the Empire service, and provided we are allowed to keep them under Lend-Lease we would have the "Lodestars" for the European services. The fourth advantage is that two-thirds of the fleet would then be British, and instead of 17 types with 14 engines, we would have three types with three engines.
Now the long-term policy. I and many hon. Members have advocated this before. Surely the first thing to do is to take civil aviation away from the Air Ministry and hand it over to some other Department. Secondly, are we really wise in concentrating after the war on one chosen instrument? Would it not be better, in view of what is going to happen after the war, to have at least two or, if possible, three chosen instruments? Thirdly, would it not be possible to set up a Committee now with instructions to publish a report to the Government not less than three months hence to consider civil aviation in all its aspects? I do not mean to consider only air liners. I mean gliding, light aeroplane clubs, private flying, etc. If we had that Committee and if we could get a report, something in writing and something on which to work, then I believe we would have done something by initiating this Debate. The fourth suggestion is that we should design at once three aircraft and three engines for the future. I know the Under-Secretary will say that 2124 we have no designers. If he really believes that we are short of designers in this country, I hope he will discuss the matter with the Marines. Has he never heard of Sir Roy Fedden? Surely Sir Roy Fedden would have been far better employed designing the civil engine for the future instead of going off on a stamp-licking expedition to America.
But I am not without hope for the future. For the last three years I have been flying with the grand young men of the Royal Air Force. I know something of their thoughts, dreams and ideals, and I am absolutely convinced that when they come out of uniform they will not be satisfied with ships and trains; they will want something different and something faster, and not even the reactionary Air Council will be able to hold them back. They know what they want, and they will get it. There is, however, another reason why I have not given up hope. The public conscience is now beginning to awake on this matter. I have noticed that in the daily Press there have been several articles on this subject recently. Even that profound and dogmatic paper "The Times" is awakening. It published an article a week ago about the need for shipping companies to take up this matter. I hope they will, and I also hope that every director of these companies will sit down and read the report of the American Maritime Commission on this subject. That report was published nearly five years ago after the Commission had been set up to advise the American Government as to whether that great country should go in for super-ships of the "Queen Mary" class or super-airliners. After the most exhaustive inquiry they came to the conclusion that these comparatively slow ships cannot compete with fast aircraft. Six large flying boats of the future—and the future is very near—can carry in one year over the Atlantic more passengers than the "Queen Mary." The trip will take 10 hours or less against the five days of the super-liner. Passengers will travel at great heights in pressure cabins, above all the bad weather, and air and sea sickness will become a thing of the past. People will have in those 10 hours approximately the same standard of comfort as have the people who now travel to Scotland at night in an English sleeper.
2125 If we do not start to design these machines now, other people will. Other people will control our trade routes; they will get our trade; the pound sterling will not buy an ounce of confetti; the Beveridge Report will become an interesting relic of the past, and we shall dwindle until we become a second-class Power. Never were the stakes so high as they are now, and never was there such a grand opportunity as we have now. Did all those early pioneers in flying who gave their lives to produce modern aircraft and all those grand young boys who gave their lives in the last war and in this, do so in order to produce aeroplanes to perpetuate permanent blitzes every 20 years, or did they do it because people believed, as every pilot believes, that the aeroplane has been given to us to bring about an era of permanent peace and an undreamtof measure of happiness in this world? As I have said, there is a grand opportunity. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Air, his Air Council and the Paymaster-General will take it. If only they had one tiny particle of the foresight of that old and great poet Thomas Gray, who, 205 years ago, prophesied the future of British Civil Aviation. He said:The time will come when thou shalt lift thine eyesTo watch the long-drawn battle in the skies,While aged peasants, too amazed for words,Stare at the flying fleet of wondrous birds,England, so long Mistress of the sea,Where wind and waves confess her Sovereignty,Her ancient traditions yet on high she bore And reigned the Sovereign of the conquered air.
§ Group Captain Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)
I think the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) for raising this matter today. Certainly I would like to congratulate him on the excellent speech to which we have just listened and which was delivered in his usual breezy and forthright style. I have spoken on this subject so frequently that I find it difficult to add very much to the case I have put forward on so many occasions in the past. Nor do I feel that we can gain very much by going back and worrying about the mistakes of the past, mistakes which to-day are so clear and obvious. For instance, I suppose one of the worst mistakes we made in recent years was the sacrificing of 2126 the trans-African route. At the time those of us who saw clearly what would happen did not fail to raise our voices, but it was of no avail. The greatest mistake we have made in the past, of course, was the failure on the part of the Air Ministry, in spite of what was said in this House over and over again, to envisage that when the war broke out the right policy was not to shut down civil aviation but to develop and encourage it, because it would be such a very necessary ancillary part of the war machine. As a result of the failure to envisage that, this country is almost entirely lacking in suitable transport machines to-day.
We have been jockeyed into an exceedingly delicate and difficult political situation, from which it is not so easy now, with our commitments to the war effort, to extricate ourselves. I realise how difficult it is at the present time to develop an air liner for the future. I think there is something to be said for those who argue that we do not yet know how long the war will last and that development in aircraft and engine production is so rapid and great that even if we were to design to-day what was thought to be a suitable transport liner for the future, it might well become out of date very soon. That, however, is, I think, a reactionary view, and even at the risk of having to scrap our designs—the worst would be that we should have to keep bringing them up to date—I still think we ought to find time to explore the situation. One of the reasons why my hon. Friend and I particularly wanted to raise this matter to-day is that there is undoubtedly, at long last, a great wakening of interest in civil aviation throughout the country. This interest has been aroused largely because the aeroplane has proved itself the dominant factor in the successful prosecution of modern war. This was, of course, prophesied by many of us in those happier years when, on the Floor of the House, we fought at regular intervals what was known as "the battle of the Admirals." In the same way to-day, we prophesy that the aeroplane will also prove to be the dominant factor in the successful prosecution of the peace.
My hon. Friend has stated that the future of this great Commonwealth of Nations may well depend on how we handle this matter, and in that I cannot 2127 do otherwise than whole-heartedly agree with him. Although we are raising the matter now, we do not expect that the Government will necessarily be able to divulge to us such plans as they may be developing, if indeed they are developing any, at the present time. We appreciate that the future development of civil aviation must very largely depend on the shape of the world when hostilities cease. When I refer to the shape of the world, I do not mean so much its geographical shape, because I think it is agreed that none of the United Nations is seeking to alter very much the geographical formation of the world; I am referring to its shape politically. Obviously, the whole future of civil aviation, as of so many other features of reconstruction, must depend on the degree of co-operation or otherwise which will exist among the nations when hostilities cease. If we are to continue the present unified co-operation which we are using so successfully to prosecute the war, then indeed the future of civil aviation can be dealt with successfully, and I think the future will be bright, but if we are to return to a condition of insane, un-restricted international competition, the future of civil aviation, as of so many other features of reconstruction, will be exceedingly black.
There are, however, things which we can do now, and which we should be doing. If we assume that we are to have this co-operation, then we can envisage certain lines upon which civil aviation will develop. As soon as we can envisage a completely internationalised air transport service working all over the world, we can envisage a modification of that whereby the great Powers would more or less control certain zones of influence, and their individual systems would be interlocked and geared together so as to produce that world system of transport. We can envisage a situation in which there would be free and unrestricted use of both air and air ports. I cannot believe that under any system of co-operation we shall return to the dark days of restriction when a country thought it was improper for another country to fly in what it regarded as its air—that is, the air over its own territory—and when there were evil and discriminating influences at work as to who should use a particular airport. I cannot believe we shall return to those days. Therefore, there is a series of 2128 obvious lines on which the matter can be considered, and each of these policies, whichever may be adopted, will automatically raise a whole list of difficulties and problems which will have to be solved.
I suggest that if we leave consideration of the whole system until the end of hostilities, these problems will never get the proper consideration which they should have, and we shall return to a state oil chaotic confusion in which there can be no properly planned co-operation. The difficulties run on these lines. Let us suppose that we shall have an internationally controlled system of air transport. Shall we have a general pool of designs and improvements? Shall we design machines internationally? How shall we produce them, and will the countries, all working in co-operation, be given a standard machine to make at regular intervals so that there is a fair sharing out of the great industry which is bound to grow up consequent upon this development of new transport? Will the countries be given those orders under some regular system, or will they compete in the open market under price tenders? All those are points which should be receiving consideration at the present time, so that we may be ready to meet each and any of the situations that will arise.
There is another matter to which I wish to refer before concluding my remarks. It is a subject to which I make no apologies for returning, although it was raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) most effectively when the House went into Committee on the Air Estimates a few months ago. On that occasion, I supported the hon. Lady. The question was the condition of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I do not want again to reiterate the obvious failings which were stated quite clearly at that time, but I want to point out that even as the result of those disclosures nothing whatever has been done in the meantime. If we were in a time of peace, we should have in the British Overseas Airways Corporation all the makings of another Cadman Committee and an equally bad report. The Corporation is seething with discontent inside. This is well known. I think the fact is actually admitted even by those in control, but it is most regrettable that the directors will 2129 not face the situation and will not stand up, if it is necessary, even to my right hon. and gallant Friend at the Air Ministry.
When I spoke on the matter on the Air Estimates, I said I thought the Director-General was a first-class man who would tackle the job. I regret to say, although I know that the whole situation has been put most clearly to me, although he has been appealed to to take action, he has proved himself in the end, like the others, to be weak and not capable of standing up to the job. So there is something there which should and can be dealt with and there is no excuse for not dealing with it. It is really not fair to the British Overseas Airways Corporation, which after all is the chosen instrument of this House and was purchased from the shareholders in Imperial Airways and British Airways at very fair prices and a deal made almost when the war was upon us which has turned out very much to their advantage as things are to-day, it is not fair to the national interest, to civil aviation in the future, nor to himself that he should postpone dealing with this matter, because he is very busy, until he feels that he can make it more or less a whole-time job. The matter should be tackled at once. The Air Ministry has been the grave of a good many political reputations. My right hon. and gallant Friend is one of the few who have enhanced their reputations. I beg of him to show once again that keenness which he used to show on the Back Benches in the old days when he was a Director of British Airways and so not take any risk of losing the very great confidence which the House has in him.
§ Sir Lindsay Everard (Melton)
The last war was really the beginning of aviation. Out of the last war civil aviation was born. It is only 18 years ago that Imperial Airways itself was formed out of the amalgamation of the four companies then running between London and Paris. We have during the last few weeks been discussing various plans for the future of the country after the war. It is not generally well understood that although aviation itself means speed, there is probably nothing that takes longer than the preparations for aviation. You can put social reforms into operation and 2130 have reports within a few months, but it takes several years before you can get a new design of aircraft into the air, arranging landing grounds properly and all the other things that are necessary. There is no doubt that we have arrived at the moment when something must be done to speed up aviation after the war. We look upon ourselves as a first-class nation. We have never had first-class civil aviation. We have been a long way behind other countries. We could not even compete with the Dutch. Their Empire is not comparable with ours, but the K.L.M. Line is not only equal to but better than ours. A great number of officers serving in the East used to come home by that service because it was faster and more up-to-date. If we are to be a first-class nation, we must have first-class ideas of civil aviation. It is no good trying to run a first-class Empire with third-class aviation in the future, otherwise we shall court disaster, and we shall deserve it.
When I have spoken before on these topics I have said that in my opinion in the past civil aviation was best under the Air Ministry, but I qualified that by saying that there should be three definite Ministers, as there are with the Army and Navy. We have three to-day, but we only have really a temporary third, Lord Sherwood, I do not suppose we shall have two Permanent Secretaries after the war. Until we definitely get a Minister for Civil Aviation we shall never really make headway, because the Under-Secretary—I have the greatest respect for all that he does—has far too much to do with the military side of aviation to be able to undertake this job as well. After all, there are a Minister of Mines and a Minister for Overseas Trade, both under the Board of Trade, and there should be a Minister for Civil Aviation under the Air Ministry. If the Ministry are not able to support that, I am in favour of civil aviation going away from the Air Ministry altogether; because I am convinced that it has had a very poor deal from the Air Ministry in the past and it does not look as if we should have a very good deal in the future. The position is so grave and the issues are so important that we cannot now afford to do anything that we should regret later on.
If we had this Minister for Civil Aviation as a Department of the Air Ministry acting on his own, there would seem 2131 to me to be two things that we should press for. One is an open-sky policy on the lines of the Atlantic Charter, that is to say, freedom for all aircraft flying over all countries, doing away with prohibited areas which smaller countries delight to put all over their maps—to get a real understanding about the rights and privileges of flying over each other's country. We all remember the trouble the Italians gave us in North Africa, and they would not allow us to fly to Brindisi. Imperial Airways had to go by train from Paris. Now we have practically all the Governments of the free nations in this country. We presume that we shall win the war, therefore we should put some restrictions on those which are our enemies to-day as regards flying rights rights over their territories. I hope we shall. Now is the moment when we should call together those who are with us now in London and discuss an agreement as to an open-sky policy for the civil aviation of the world after the war. The second thing that should be done is to have a general more or less detailed arrangement connected with Empire and trans-Atlantic airways, not only on European services but also on engines, instruction and aerodromes and equipment. There are various other items which have to be dealt with under their various heads. The facts of most of them are already known. It is not necessary to waste years on a committee. Perhaps some of those headings would have to be considered by different committees, but there are a great many points of which everyone is fully aware which could quite easily be settled by the Minister himself should we have a Minister, as I suggest.
The important side of the future of civil aviation is our Empire services and the trans-Atlantic routes. Upon that hinges the whole future prosperity of the country. None of us really realises what the flow of goods and personnel is going to be after the war, when we get civil aviation into the minds of the people. People have become much more air-minded now. I well remember the time when we had complaints of somebody flying over somebody else's house because of the noise. That was only three or four years ago. Now we have a continual buzz of machines day and night, and people have got used to it. The more we get used to 2132 these things the more we shall use them. Aviation will be the method after the war of bringing the British Empire close to us and bringing our own people together. If we are not able to bring goods from our Empire to our own doorsteps after the war, and if we are not able to live next door to those who are now living in the Empire—literally next door because we shall be able to fly over and see them in a day—the Empire will not be as strong as it could be if we availed ourselves of the facilities available to us.
I cannot speak too strongly of the importance I place on civil aviation as the link between the whole of this country and various parts of the Empire and between the American people and ourselves. There is no doubt that for many years to come the Americans and ourselves will have to rule the world to all intents and purposes so as to see that things are rightly done in the world. We shall have to live almost in each other's countries in order to do that. I was amazed the other day when talking to an American friend in a train in this country. We were speaking about American problems, and he said, "You do not understand the size of the United States." I said that I had not been over there and that I did not. He then said, "Do you know that it is nearer to Washington from this train than some of the constituencies in America are to Washington?" That is to say, it is easier to get from England to Washington than from some parts of the United States to Washington. This is the sort of thing which really shows the vast importance of civil aviation to the Empire.
The training in the past for civil aviation, outside the Royal Air Force training, has to a large extent been done by light aeroplane clubs. The service these clubs have rendered to the country by making people air-minded has been of greater value than almost anything else from the aviation point of view. The future of the light aeroplane clubs is with the young men. I am one of those who believe that if we are to be citizens of this country we must make some sacrifice for our citizenship. We cannot just sit at home and expect everything for nothing—improved housing, better education, Beveridge Reports and all sorts of other things—without giving something 2133 in return. I hope that we shall never go away from some form of compulsory military training in this country. When a man has the rights of citizenship—employment, decent wages, decent conditions—he should in return serve his country for a definite term. That could be done through the youth services. Those who wished to serve in the Air Force would go through the Air Training Corps.
We should make full use of the light aeroplane club movement by taking our boys when they become 18 and teaching them to fly under R.A.F. instructors at the light aeroplane clubs as centres. In that way we should get a reserve of aviation which would be of enormous value and importance should we ever get involved in such a war as this. I am certain that there must be some give and take with people and that they must make some sacrifice for the country if they wish to be citizens and take all that the country gives them. This training could be done through the light aeroplane clubs, and it would well repay the expenditure of the Government, because the boys would be on the reserve of the R.A.F. at the age of 20, having had 50 hours' training with the clubs. It would be of enormous advantage to the Government and to the boys themselves. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for initiating this Debate and for his excellent speech. I hope that as a result of the Debate we shall get a reorganised start of civil aviation after the war on completely new lines, on the lay-out of 1943 and not on the lay-out of before the last war.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
On a point of procedure, may I point out that four Conservatives running have been called? Have not the Independents a right to be called? This is not a meeting of the Carlton Club.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member is making an observation which is quite out of Order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I make no apology for intervening in this Debate, and having been called by 2134 you, Sir, I consider I have a perfect right to address the House. The hon. Member who introduced this subject owes no apology to the House for having done so. He has taken a great interest in it and delivered a speech which was of the greatest interest to the House and a worthy introduction to the subject. The Secretary of State for Air will have heard from the observations which his hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary may have made to him that there is a general demand in the House to be reassured that plans are in existence and are actively being pressed on for the developments which we say are bound to be one of the features of the post-war world. He will know, none better, that the great thing we are deploring in the case of tanks is that while there were in the case of aeroplanes designs and plans and prototypes of machines which were capable of great and rapid reproduction of a type second to none in the world, there was no such machine in existence in the case of tanks. We are, therefore, still suffering in this case from the enormous time-lag between getting a thing on to the drawing board and getting it from the drawing board into reproduction. I am sure the House is not at all convinced that there is at present on the drawing board a machine fit to take its place in the post-war world with the enormous plans of development which we see under way on the other side of the Atlantic. Many of us who have had our attention forced on this by recent developments realise that it may well be that the industrial set-up of the world will undergo a transformation in the near future in some sense comparable to the transformation which occurred when the internal combustion engine came to supplement and to some extent replace the coal-burning engine. In many parts of the world which did not see developments coming they fell far behind and have not been able to make up the leeway since.
Some hon. Members have concentrated on the fact that after the war it will be necessary for this country to have something in which to fly. I would put forward a plea that it should have something to fly to. The planning of the machines must also cover the planning of the air ports, the great air harbours which will be necessary in this country. This is a small island, and it is necessary to make sure of the location of the great central 2135 stations which the air lines of the world will use because the geographical position of this country will again be of the greatest importance to its future history. Lying as it does on the rim of the Western Ocean, it is at the hub of international aviation, and it may well be that it will occupy in aviation a place as important as that which it now occupies in international telephoning—or did before the war. There was a small unobtrusive building in the City of London and anyone who wanted to telephone from any part of the United States to any part of Europe—and to many parts of Asia as well—had to speak through London, being put through by our telephone operators to whatever place he wished to communicate with. Here we have a necessity for planning, and therefore I hope very much that we shall have the views of the Paymaster-General. I was glad to see him in his place at the beginning of this Debate, although I must say it is a pity that neither the Paymaster-General nor the Under-Secretary of State for Air was able to watch with us for even one hour. The subject goes far beyond the Secretary of State for Air. When we see Uthwatt Reports and other Reports dealing with very shadowy things, in some respects very far in the future, we could well afford to give some time and some consideration to the lay out of these practical points which will arise at the Armistice immediately, with the movement of the civil tide which will then begin to flow. The speed factor in modern transport may gravely impair the maritime supremacy which this country has previously had by producing a vehicle which, as was said I think by the hon. Member who introduced the subject, will carry throughout the year a number of passengers equal to the number that could be carried by a great liner. It was said that six aeroplanes might carry throughout the year a number of passengers equal to the whole passenger load of the "Queen Mary" throughout the year. Those of us who are connected with great engineering centres like the Clyde realise that such a development might make the whole of that area, with its present equipment, obsolete, and it is a matter which demands the most urgent and continuous attention of His Majesty's Government.
2136 Many hard things have been said against planners but on this occasion, at any rate, the House is at one. It desires plans and it believes that in this matter planning must be done by and with the aid of the Government and the great machinery of research and statistics which the Government has in its control. The House clearly believes also, I think, that the subject should be looked at not merely as an adjunct to the military side, not merely as a shadowy thing for the future, not even as an opportunity for international co-operation, important as that is, but as an immediate practical problem for British industry, for British design and British planning the moment the war comes to an end, and on those subjects I am sure the House will desire a very clear statement by the spokesman of the Government when he replies.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
As other subjects fall to be discussed to-day, I will not intervene for more than a few minutes, but I should like to join In complimenting the opener of the Debate upon his extremely interesting and well-delivered speech. One thing I should like to say about that speech is that it disconcerted me and that I felt some regret to find that in opening a Debate of this character the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) should have spoken in archaic language about civil aviation in respect to the trade of this country and of our relations commercially with other countries. He used phrases such as "The race between us and America," "Looking America in the face," and "Bargaining upon equal terms," and he regretted the possibility of other people getting our trade. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) when he suggested that the development of aviation upon the civil side after the war should be an opportunity for international co-operation. Ten years ago and later, when the formation of British Overseas Airways was discussed here, I and other Members of my party put forward the idea of public responsibility for civil aviation in this country and the principle of internationalisation in respect of aviation between this country and other countries, upon the ground, apart altogether from our own views as to public ownership and internationalism, that the air is not a personal thing, is not a private commercial thing, is not even a 2137 national thing, tout is a medium which encompasses the whole world, and that there were many reasons for adopting a policy not merely of give and take but of developing a give and take between countries and for some measure of international control or at least international agreement in respect of these various air lines.
As the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove or some other hon. Member has mentioned, at that time and right up to this war we had the foolish spectacle of corridors in the air along which aeroplanes could not go because of the desire on the part of nations to keep secret their military plans. Those anomalies were due to the fact that we had considered the question of civil aviation from the point of view if not solely of commercial advantage certainly of national advantage, and I feel that now we have a splendid opportunity to review the whole question of civil aviation from the point of view of the world and the world's necessities after the war. That remark applies to a good many other subjects. We need to make a new start in many directions in view of the necessity for world planning, and I ask that in considering civil aviation after the war, and also what might be done before the end of the war to get it going upon sound principles, we should look closely to this question of world responsibility for the development of aviation.
I suppose we cannot accept the view that internationalism in a complete sense will be possible immediately after the war, but we have America, we have Russia, we have this country, and we have the other States of the United Nations, and we ought not to look at matters from the point of view of how we are going to race with each other for international trade but link it up with our economic necessities and the economic developments of the world in the future.
There is only one other point which I would like to raise, and it has to do with the subject of transport planes. This question seems to have been left so that we get the crumbs from the rich man's table, the rich man in this case being America. There is a comparison betwen the policy in respect of transport planes and the policy as regards dive-bombers. I cannot, 2138 of course, enter into that question, with the many technical matters involved, but it seems that we have missed the bus—to use a phrase that has been used in this House before—in respect of transport planes, and that we are now dependent upon the left-overs of America, a country which, at the very beginning of this war, put its civil aviation, to all intents and purposes, to use. The hon. Member for Stroud pointed out that Curtiss and Douglas planes and other big planes had been adapted for transport purposes upon scientific lines, with the direct idea of linking up civil aviation with their national needs now and therefore with the needs of America immediately after the war.
If that can be done by America, we also should have done that kind of thing, but we are not using transport planes as we ought to use them. Even if we get a fair proportion from America, it seems likely that we shall not use them as Russia, for instance, is using them. There are a hundred-and-one ways in which transport planes can be used in the war effort. In the case of the Soviet Union, transport planes are used very much in the war effort. We know that Germany is using transport planes very largely over in Russia. The Russians have the advantage from the military point of view. They have used transport planes all along for military purposes, and not merely for carrying personnel. Soon after the war began, a committee in Washington reported to the effect that 90 per cent. of military supplies could be carried by aeroplane and 50 per cent. of civilian supplies. Russia has also realised that possibility. They not only carry supplies for military purposes between various parts of the front line, but they carry medical supplies, nurses, and other personnel. They also apply transport planes to war production. I can speak of conditions in this country from my own memory of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. When you wanted components taken from one part of this country to another while a blitz was on, as was often the case at that time, you sometimes had to wait for weeks, although the components were vitally needed, because train services were disorganised owing to war conditions. In Russia that does not happen. The Russians use transport planes from factory to factory as well as for military purposes.
2139 I agree with the general trend of the discussion so far. We ought to look to our civil aviation, and view the necessities of this country in relation to the world, in respect to civil aviation. It could well be linked up with a more imaginative outlook on the part of the Ministries concerned affecting the development of transport planes now. I am sorry that so much has been left to chance in this matter. Here is a splendid opportunity to have fine planes, with fine designs now on the drawing board, ready to be taken off when the war is over, so that we shall be able to hold our own in the best sense of the word in respect to civil aviation. In talking about holding our own, I hope we shall not confine ourselves to the old idea that when we come to the end of the war we shall be finding spheres of influence and thinking of trade competition. We have to think of something more in the nature of world co-operation, or we shall otherwise want more transport planes and planes for military purposes before long for a war much more devastating than the present war has been, or may be before we finish with it.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
The House and the country owe a very great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member who so ably raised this matter in the House to-day. We know how often he raised it in the past, and we know also that the experience which he has had in this war has made him better qualified to raise it at present. I very much regret, considering the very short time which we have to consider this subject, that the Under-Secretary of State for Air did not find himself able to sit with us and to go without his meal until a later hour.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
May I interrupt the hon. Lady to say that I have not had a meal?
§ Mrs. Tate
Whatever the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was doing, and I am glad that he has not had his meal, it was a very great pity that he did not find himself able to sit here during the whole course of this very short Debate. I am glad that those who so often pleaded the cause of civil aviation before the war have, deplorably, been proved right. They have the right to ask that mistakes which have been made heretofore shall not be 2140 made again. We owe a very great debt to the men in the Air Force and to the home population for the part they are playing in the war. Unless this matter is treated with the seriousness which it deserves, we may very well find ourselves winning the war and losing the peace. I hope that due note will be made of the suggestions put forward by the hon. Member.
I hope also that we may go further than that. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether any real preparation is being made with regard to the sites of aerodromes on Empire air routes, and, far more important, to the starting of aerodromes on Empire air routes. Before the war, it was estimated in America that for every man in the air you needed 30 men on the ground. Certainly, as civil machines increase in power and complexity, an increasingly large number of ground personnel will be needed. We ought to have plans ready now or being prepared now, in order that, when the war ceases, we should know at once the number and type of ground personnel to draft to each aerodrome throughout the Empire routes. I would like to ask whether that is being done.
The hon. Member who spoke before me regretted that we had not got civil aviation as far as the drawing board stage, but that is wholly insufficient. All modern transport planes are being manufactured in America, and I believe that is a very great mistake, even in a war period. I know I shall be told that the needs of the war are so great that it is imperative to concentrate on fighting aircraft over here, but I believe that to be false economy and a false idea. I realise that I may be quite wrong and that my suggestion may be impracticable, but I would ask whether it is not possible to arrange for a larger proportion of fighting craft to be manufactured in America, and that at least some civil craft should be manufactured here. It is a matter of vital importance. Plans for the future are not enough, where this kind of manufacture is concerned. The Minister knows far better than I do that it is very many years before a plane can go from the design stage into the air. I do not think we can afford to leave it until after the war to bridge that gap.
Nor, I believe, have we even considered as we should have done the designs of the aircraft of the future. If the Air Ministry 2141 make the mistakes they have made in the past, and continue to make them, and refuse to consider the immediate building of at least some civil machines over here, will they do this; will they arrange the air routes that are to be flown immediately on the cessation of war and bring them to such a stage of perfection that within a few months of the end of the war we shall be flying these prepared air routes at least with mails in converted bomber machines?
I do not advocate the converted bomber machine as a transport plane, but I do say that if we had our Empire air routes so well prepared that we could move adequate personnel there immediately hostilities had ceased, we could at least get our air routes flown with mails in converted bomber machines, and that would be infinitely preferable to not having the routes flown at all, which I greatly fear they will not be unless we show far more foresight in civil aviation than we did before. I would plead, as I have pleaded for so many years, that civil aviation should be taken out of the hands of the Air Ministry. That is of fundamental and vital importance. We urged the necessity for years before the war. I was the only Member of my own party who voted against the continuance of the subsidy to Imperial Airways until 1953, and every day I live I feel more convinced that that vote was a right vote. I am not happy about the present British Overseas Airways Corporation, but I do believe that a matter as important as civil aviation should either be under a Department of its own or under the Board of Trade. In no case should it be left under the Air Ministry, for indeed civil aviation in this country has perished under the administration of the Air Ministry in the past, and nothing in the past should make us feel it is right to leave it in those hands in the future.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
One thing is quite certain, and that is that immediately after the war we shall have to use airways long before we have adequate supplies of shipping. It is of vital importance, as has been stressed today, that we must think about this problem now, and as Pan-American Airways have got so far ahead of us, I can see no way out except by a full investigation with a view to getting some international arrangement. We shall never overtake 2142 Pan-American Airways the way we are going. It is of vital importance that we should have the fullest investigation into this question of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. As one advocating in this House and in the country Government control and in some cases nationalisation, I only do so in so far as it will bring greater efficiency and public good. I have given some pretty horrible examples of inefficiency where Government funds are concerned. This Company is one, and I would like to quote one or two others.
I would like particularly to raise a question of British Overseas Airways administration, which I said yesterday I would speak about to-day. I asked a Question yesterday about the dismissal of Squadron-Leader Geoffrey Cooper, and I want to tell the House briefly what happened in this case. It was a case of his being much too efficient, much too go ahead. As a matter of fact he was probably a little self-assertive, but he was a man with some vision of what Overseas Airways should be, and what the organisation of our air transport should be in the future. He dared to express himself. It is provided in the Act that the managerial staff should have the right to make representations when they think that something is wrong. Speaking for practically the whole of the managerial staff he made representations. As a result he was sent abroad. He went to Asmara, where he was paid £1,000 a year with full keep and nothing whatever to do; he was simply sent out of this country because he was a bit of a nuisance. He dared to protest and wrote to other colleagues, pointing out what was happening out there, that nobody out there had a single thing to do and that people were drawing salaries of which they were thoroughly ashamed. He said he would rather go back into the R.A.F. and do his bit.
Here a remarkable thing happened. The censor, in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, intercepted the letter and sent a copy of it to the Director-General of the Overseas Airways Corporation, who, after an investigation, sent a signal to say that this man was to be sent home for dismissal—I have seen the original wording—before hearing him, before considering his report. He did return home and was accordingly dismissed. I have reason to suppose that practically the whole of the staff have in recent weeks 2143 again met and expressed their views, perhaps not officially yet, on this very serious situation of British Overseas Airways. It will be one of the most colossal fiascos we have had in this country if something is not done. It is thoroughly inefficient. It is a thorough disgrace to this House for not having taken action earlier on the administration of the Air Ministry. Another Department should look after commercial aviation. It should be removed from the Air Ministry at once. That is all I have to say about that particular case. The hon. Member who opened this Debate pointed out that the pilots got satisfaction when they as a body made representations. The only way there will be response will be by the managerial staff, who are practically unanimous, making representations and the Department taking the necessary notice.
It has been said that it is no use looking back. It is if we can avoid making blunders in the future. The question of Sir Roy Fedden has been raised. About two years ago he was being sent abroad to America, entirely against his will. He wanted to do his duty in this country. He realised more than any other man in this country what was needed. I have had the privilege of seeing some reports he submitted to the Government in 1936 and 1937, and he was told that the programme he outlined could not be afforded. He is a man of outstanding vision and engineering skill. At a time when he is developing new engines, some still on the secret list, which will be required for the future development of civil aviation, he is again being sent to America. On the former occasion I pointed out that it was some of the back numbers of the back room who wanted to be rid of him. He was a nuisance, but he was a genius, and some geniuses are a bit of a nuisance. He was a man with vision, and he was being sent to America. I said, and Members will find this statement practically word for word in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that if the Minister had any sense this man, who was being compelled to leave the country, would be kept here. I pay this tribute to Lord Beaverbrook. He got on the Atlantic telephone, and brought the man back to this country. The man was back within a fortnight. This man has built up the Bristol Aeroplane Co. He spent 20 years building up that company.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I would remind the hon. Member of the very recent Debate we had on this subject, in which, if my memory is not at fault, the hon. Member himself said all these things.
§ Mr. Edwards
But the question of the design of engines is essential to the subject we are discussing. The size of planes depends on types of engine, and that is a matter connected with the man I am discussing. What I want to say—it has never been said in this House—is that this company has had £14,500,000 of the Government's money, yet the Government have not a representative on the Board of Directors, and the company are in a position to dismiss the man who is essential for bringing out these designs. It is a matter of the control of organisations which have vast sums of public money. Take another company, which has developed what should be the most wonderful engine in the world, the "Sabre." It is still unsatisfactory. We have had a director of that company drawing £12,000 a year for the last 12 years. Now they make a deal with another company, because they are inefficient, and they get an immense sum as compensation. It is a disgraceful thing that public funds should be used in this way. From this compensation award their earnings would be between £300,000 and £400,000. The Department is providing £750,000 for a fictitious transaction, to buy some property which is being relet to the company in order that they may finance this deal. There are two cases in which private companies are being allowed to use public money in this way. Every important aeroplane manufacturing company at this moment is having trouble with or has parted with its principal designers and engineers. It is strange that when we are developing the most important engines these men should be treated in this way.
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
Is the hon. Member criticising my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air? I fail to see where the Secretary of State comes in.
§ Mr. Edwards
Previous speakers in this Debate have raised the question of the engines that will be required in future. I am trying to show that, no matter what else you do, if you neglect engine designs you will never get anywhere. It is essential that the men who can design engines 2145 should be kept here, and that they should be happy here. I doubt whether Sir Roy Fedden, who has been sent to America, will ever come back. The Americans are ready to buy men of that type. It has been said in the past that ours is an Empire on which the suns never sets. People will say in future that it is an Empire on which the sun never sets but on whose Ministers the light never dawns. Now is the time to take some steps. I have quoted in this House, and I will give the names and details again to any Minister who requires them, facts to show that in hardly a case of this kind which I have raised has there not been victimisation of individuals as a result. Men with the welfare of this country at heart, who dared to risk everything, have reported the position to somebody who could take action, and they have been victimised. The latest cases are Sir Roy Fedden and Squadron-Leader Cooper. The Minister directed that Squadron-Leader Cooper should be made a director of that company. The company, with £14,500,000 of public money, refused point-blank, and the Minister was weak enough to climb down. If we are going to use public money in private enterprises, we must see that we get a fair return, and that they employ people who have vision, who will develop industries that are so important to the future development of the Empire. Let there be no more victimisation of the people who have the courage and patriotism to come to this House and expose the position when their immediate superiors have refused to listen to them.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
By arrangement, I am replying on behalf of the Government, although the Debate has ranged—
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman replies, might I point out that this Debate, which is on a very important subject, has been in progress for only an hour and a half, half-an-hour having been taken up by a very important statement after Questions? Would the Minister consider allowing this Debate to go on for another half-hour?
§ Captain Balfour
The hon. Member knows that it is not in my hands to say how on a Motion for the Adjournment the time should be allotted to any subject. 2146 I was saying that I am replying for the Government, although the Debate has ranged over a wide number of subjects, affecting other Departments than that which I serve. I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will excuse me if I cannot, in the comparatively limited time at my disposal, answer all the detailed questions which have been put. But there are one or two particular matters to which I would refer. I would like first to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), and in particular with his reference to the case of Squadron-Leader Cooper, about which he questioned me yesterday, and which he said that he was going to raise to-day. The hon. Gentleman put forward, firstly, general strictures on the management of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and then dealt in particular with the case of Squadron-Leader Cooper. On the general issue, Parliament decided to give independence of management, carried through on commercial lines, to this public corporation, as it has done to other public corporations, and such independence of management must include, as I think the House will agree, rights of internal administration and control, including the engagement of staff and dispensation with their services. It would be an impossible position for those to whom the management of public corporations has been delegated if, on the one hand, we gave them independence and, on the other hand, we tried to exercise, almost the next moment, a restriction on their freedom in operating the functions we have given them. The security of this House and of the Government lies in the powers that my right hon. Friend possesses. He can remove the Board, he can remove individual members of it, he can add to the Board; but unless the Secretary of State considers that on grounds of public interest such a drastic step is necessary he will leave the management alone to carry on their own affairs.
As regards the case of Squadron-Leader Cooper, the hon. Gentleman asked me yesterday whether the services of this officer were dispensed with because he had voiced the widespread dissatisfaction among the senior staff, and whether I would cause an inquiry to be made into all the circumstances. In a Supplementary Question he asked me whether this officer was dismissed only after a copy of a 2147 private letter criticising officials had been sent to the Director of Overseas Airways by the censor, which the hon. Member alleged was an irregular thing to do. That was the first time I had heard it alleged that a private letter was sent by this employee and was supposed to have been intercepted and reported to the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I had thought that he was dealing with some 40 pages of complaints which this officer had sent forward and which document, indeed, the Corporation has not hesitated at all to hand to me on my request. I have made inquiries—it might interest hon. Members to know that they lasted until about midnight last night—and it is clear as a result of the inquiries I made in the short time at my disposal since answering the Question of the hon. Member, that his Supplementary Question made certain new statements purporting to show that the termination of this officer's employment was due in some part to the receipt by the Corporation overseas of information derived from censorship sources, and that this might be so. Whether the Corporation should have received such information and whether they were correct to base part of their case, if indeed they did, upon it, are matters into which inquiry must be made by the appropriate authorities. I am not responsible for censorship overseas, but as this event took place some months ago and some 5,000 miles away such inquiries must of necessity take time. In order that there shall be no suggestion that this officer is in any way prejudiced because of these events the Corporation has informed me that the notice terminating his services has meanwhile been suspended.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
May I have this point made clear? The Minister has just made a very fair statement. Do I understand that he is pressing for the inquiry to be made, or is it to be done by another Department, and can he confirm whether this particular letter was received by the Director-General from the Censor?
§ Captain Balfour
No, Sir. I have not had time to go fully into the details, but I am informed that the Corporation did receive some communication from censorship sources. Whether it should or should not have received it is an open question still, and whether it did or did not take that into account at arriving at the grounds of dismissal is also an 2148 open question still. These questions must be investigated. The first is a matter for various Government Departments, and the second is a matter for the Corporation, but until these issues have been decided, I repeat, the Corporation has informed me that the notice terminating his services have meanwhile been suspended.
I would like to deal with one more particular point, before I come to the main issues, and with which the hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate opened this statement, and I am sure that he will accept what I say in the spirit in which I reply to him. I was glad to hear him say that the relationship between the civil pilots and those who are in charge of their activities has never been better or franker, but he said the pilots felt somewhat aggrieved that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had flown with a United States pilot. I will only say that the pilot in question is a pilot serving with the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, a man of great distinction and experience, and, furthermore, the Prime Minister, as records will show, has flown both with British Overseas Airways Corporation captains and with Ferry Command pilots, a fair division of the honour of doing that particular job. There is such an abundance of talent among experienced captains that it is a matter of choice according to operational expediency whether he should go in one particular aircraft flown by one particular pilot or another.
I now want to come to the general Debate. I do not disagree at all with what I would term the forward view of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and others who took part in this Debate, nor do I quarrel with his statement when he says that there are disturbed feelings in the House. This is quite understandable, and I hope that what I say to-day will show that more has gone on than hon. Members, of necessity, hitherto have known and also the reasons why some of the questions which have been asked to-day and others which other hon. Members would have liked to ask cannot be answered in full. The theme running through this Debate has been, "Do something now." I think I have summarised it fairly well. There is a universal acceptance of the importance of air transport for our national future. 2149 There is no question about that, and the Government realise that as much as hon. Members who initiated this Debate, but the background of the whole picture must be that during the war the extent of our support to civil aviation has had to be measured by its contribution to the war effort. We have had to apply our available resources in terms of value rendered to that war effort. Our sole purpose—the sole purpose of every hon. and right hon. Member of this House—is to win the war, and where air transport can help, there we can support it, but, on the other hand, where there has had to be given a greater priority for some other requirement, then such priority has had to have preference over our air transport supplies. That is a fact which applies not only to equipment but to the operation of routes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Erdington (Group Captain Wright) and one or two other Members said that it was a great mistake to "sacrifice the African route." As the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) will probably remember, when she tackled me in no uncertain terms, as she always does, in the Air Debate last year on the Pan-American entry into Africa, I said what I repeat to-day, that we are glad to see the United States, formerly Pan-American Airways and now militarised as part of the United States Air Corps, in Africa or anywhere else if by so flying these routes they help in our combined war effort to win the war. We have had to concentrate upon first things first, both in routes and equipment, and our first need has been to build up an air force to beat the Luftwaffe wherever it may be met. It is worth remembering that we started this war with a big leaway in first-line strength and the balance has had to be struck as regards the conflicting calls upon our limited resources.
There is no hon. Member in this House who would not like to see a bomber force of sufficient strength and reserve to keep up a sustained effort of a thousand aircraft a night raids. That commands universal approval among all Members of the House. There are many hon. Gentlemen who are anxious to see that the Army have all the air support it will require, a sentiment which commands universal approbation. There is not an hon. Gentleman who would not advocate giving the 2150 Middle East its full requirements in aircraft, ample supplies of all types. We must have air-borne divisions. There is probably not one hon. Gentleman who would object to that statement, but they, of course, need hundreds of aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm must have its share of our capacity. We would all like to see air transport have its requirements met in full. But having said that, we come down to the fundamental fact that we all have to face, that you cannot get more than a pint out of a pint pot. If we had tried to satisfy every demand at any one time, we should have succeeded in satisfying no one and would have achieved nothing positive in any direction. I submit to the House that only those who have the responsibility and knowledge—and, with respect, that is not the critics to whom I have listened to-day—of what are our demands and what are our available resources to meet those demands who can properly judge where the balance should be as between the conflicting needs, including air transport. I claim that the result of the air warfare up to now justifies those who have had the responsibility for these decisions up to date.
I would like to refer for a moment to the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud when he talked about air transport having just a few crumbs from the rich man's table. Well, the crumbs of equipment provided have been worth £5,000,000 during 1942. They have been not such dusty crumbs; indeed, they have been quite substantial crumbs. My hon. Friend asked me about the new equipment coming to the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I am sure the House will appreciate that I cannot give the exact figures, as they would be of value to the enemy, but he is right in saying that a considerable number of Sunderland flying boats are coming to the Corporation. I must, however, correct him on one point, when he said it would be tantamount to a disaster if these aircraft were allowed to fly without fully feathering airscrews, known technically as hydromatic airscrews. We intend to fit these aircraft with these airscrews, but their supply lags behind the supply of aircraft, and we shall at first put these flying boats into operation without these hydromatic airscrews. But a consolation to him and to the pilots who will fly them is that Sunderland aircraft have 2151 been flying with the Royal Air Force without this particular fitment for several years, doing gallant service under very arduous conditions and often flying back, after an engine has been put out of action.
Hitherto we have had to concentrate our manufacturing resources on combat types of aircraft, and it is only now, for the first time since this huge struggle in the air started, that we can commence to lift our eyes from the immediate requirements of combat aircraft to supplying some part of the needs of our war effort in terms of British transport aircraft. The then Minister of Aircraft Production, on 14th July last, told the House that we had to look to the United States for our transport planes and that while the Government did intend to deal with future construction of cargo-carrying aircraft in this country and while at the present stage of the war effort all our expert engineers had to devote their skill to war work, we had, nevertheless, tried converting one of our bombers into a transport plane. I take issue with my hon. Friend when he mentioned that particular type and says that it is only a converted bomber. It is, in fact, a virtual redesign of that aircraft. The Minister said that an order had been given in March and that when he made his speech in July the aeroplane was actually flying. Since then it has been doing extended trials, it is now in production and deliveries in considerable numbers will take place next year.
I would, however, be misleading my hon. Friend and the House if I said that there was any prospect within the next few months early in 1943 of that aircraft coming forward in sufficient numbers for us to be able to think of it in terms of transport for the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I sincerely hope that the time will come—and I shall do my best to press for it—when we shall be able to get some of these aircraft for British Overseas Airways Corporation, but it is no good thinking that it will be next January, February or March because the aircraft has yet to be produced in numbers. In spite of this effort on our own part and of now being able to lift our eyes for the first time to the supply of our own transport needs, we must face the fact that with the combined resources of the United States and ourselves in the common pool for the common good of the 2152 common cause we shall have to continue to look to the United States for the bulk of our transport demands for the next two or three years of the war.
§ Mr. Granville
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the question of the design of civil aircraft? As he knows, almost every large concern in America has a design on the drawing board. One of the great difficulties in this country after the war will be in the change-over of the aircraft industry from a war to a peace footing. Can he say whether his Department and the Ministry of Aircraft Production have been through the industry to see whether civil aircraft designers are being employed on war production? If not, could they be put onto civil design now?
§ Captain Balfour
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that designers in the aircraft industry are being used to the full at the present time. The particular responsibility, however, of seeing when we can switch over design capacity from combat to civil types is not one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air or myself. It is one for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that at the moment our designing capacity is predominantly occupied with combat types.
§ Mr. Granville
May I put this point, because it is very important? To my knowledge there are experienced designers in the aircraft industry of this country working on sub-contract engineering. Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department, in co-operation with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, been through their names to see whether they can be put on to preliminary plans now for the design of civil aircraft after the war?
§ Captain Balfour
It is essentially the responsibility of the Minister of Aircraft Production, and no doubt he will read the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I will deal in a moment with the general picture of design and development of civil aircraft, but I want now if I may to refer to the post-war position. The Government want to go ahead wherever possible. We must look at post-war civil aviation in a big way. It is one of the major tasks of national reconstruction and must be approached in the determination that we must learn lessons from the past—some 2153 of which have been quoted to-day—and not be prejudiced by what has gone before in our willingness to introduce new methods to deal with new problems.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I presume that when my right hon. and gallant Friend says that he means that in every possible way, through every diplomatic channel open to us, it will be represented to our American Allies and friends that the fact that they are now running particular services through particular parts of the Empire during the war does not mean that they will have any right to do so after the war? That is the crux of the whole matter.
§ Captain Balfour
That is well understood. To use a colloquialism, we have agreed on the highest level with the Americans that as regards routes they are now running for military purposes on lines which may have commercial values "all bets are off" at the end of the war.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Can my right hon. and gallant Friend give us any information as regards the future of the Atlantic terminal airport in this country? Can he say whether it will be retained in British hands?
§ Captain Balfour
No, Sir. I could not possibly, without notice, give information on that comparatively detailed but important point. I repeat, we must be prepared to learn lessons from the past and not be prejudiced by what has gone before; we must be willing to be fresh in our outlook and to introduce new methods. The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tare) said that civil aviation should be taken away from the Air Ministry. The hon. Member for Melton (Sir Lindsay Everard) said that there should be a Secretary for Civil Aviation. Do not let us turn our minds against any of those things. Though I stand here as the representative of the Air Ministry, I am not going to say that it is right for ever that civil aviation should remain with the Air Ministry or that it should go from it. We have to start with fresh minds and a fresh outlook on all these, problems.
I want now to deal with the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). Although we are limited by the exigencies of war and we cannot divert any large amount of designing staff to the preparation of purely civil types, 2154 because the designing staff is fully occupied on war jobs, nevertheless we can now start thinking and planning without detriment to our war effort, and this we are doing. As regards aircraft, the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry are working in close concert on various aspects of post-war civil equipment. We have co-operation—and I think the House will be interested to know this—on the application of war-time radio devices and radio aids to peace-time needs. That is going on now and it has been going on for some time. This work is necessarily secret, but I can assure the House that it is being carried on with the determination that when peace comes our civil transport effort will have the advantage of quick adaptation of war-time practice to peace-time requirements, and I believe the turning of this work into peaceful channels will introduce an unthought-of era of safety in air-line navigation. The Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry are working closely on the broad design requirements for types of civil aircraft after the war. In reply to the hon. Member for Eye, of course, any civil aircraft after the war must of necessity have de-icing apparatus as part of its equipment. There is, as the hon. Member for Frome said, the dual problem of converting existing types of bomber aircraft to civil transport use during the interim period immediately after the war. Then there is the second more long-distance problem which must be tackled now—I mean long-distance only in the time that will be taken to solve it—of the design and construction of entirely new types for civil purposes.