§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud)
I believe the House and the country as a whole, and the Empire, are profoundly exercised, even alarmed, at the present position and future prospects of British civil aviation. There are three reasons for it. First of all, it is generally understood and accepted that the nation which at the end of the war is best prepared to enter world air commerce on a really large scale will be the first to recover its economic stability. The second is that the aircraft industry, is now the biggest industry in the country, and, if no steps are taken now—not at some future date but now—when the war ends there will be whole areas distressed, there will be whole counties practically paralysed, and we shall be faced with 43 hordes of unemployed all concentrated in certain selected areas. The third reason is that many of us believe that, if civil aviation is allowed and encouraged by the Government to develop, wars will become an interesting relic of the past. We believe that, if civil aviation is allowed and encouraged, to go ahead, this will really be the last world war.
There is grave anxiety in the country and in this House. It shows itself in two Motions on the Order Paper.
§ [That this House is of the opinion that a Conference of representatives of the Dominions, India and Great Britain, shall be called forthwith in, order to plan a post-war Empire policy for Civil Aviation removed from the control of the Air Ministry.]
§ [That this House is of the opinion that Civil Aviation, in view of its paramount importance for post-war trade and Empire communications, should cease to be controlled by a fighting service and should be placed under a Civil Ministry as soon as practicable after the war.]
§ Both Motions are of a critical, challenging nature. They are both signed by over 140 Members from all political parties. The Government have seen fit not to accept either of these two challenges, and, unfortunately, no opportunity has been given to us to vote on the specific issues concerned. It will be impossible for us to vote to-day on those issues. I know that we shall get many soothing promises. Soothing syrup will be poured on the troubled waters. We have had those promises before. I remember that in 1936 and 1937 we were given assurance after assurance that everything was all right, and that held the field until an independent committee investigated the whole thing, and then we found that those promises of the Air Ministry were valueless. How do we know that these new promises that we are going to get to-day are valid? How do we know that they are worth any more than the promises that we had just before the Cadman Report? I think the present position can be summed up better than I can sum it up by the Report just issued by the chambers of commerce and the Federation of British Industries in this one line. After investigating the whole matter it says it regrets to report that it is most profoundly exercised by the situation that is revealed.44
§ I am proposing to put forward five suggestions. I do not claim for a moment that they are new. They are as old as the hills. They have been raised in this House and in another place again and again, but they have never been answered by any Government. The first is that a round table conference of representatives from the Empire as a whole should be called immediately in London. It is common knowledge that talks have been going on for some considerable time. They have been of a vague nature. They have been carried on in a leisurely, drowsy atmosphere with no sense of urgency. Months have gone by while these talks have been going on, and no decisions have been arrived at, and I do not believe that any decisions will be arrived at so long as these conversations are carried on by signal and by letter. The only way in which we shall get decisions is to get these representatives of the Empire here in London round a table, and then, I believe, in a comparatively short time we shall get decisions taken, and, once the Empire is united, then and then only will be the time to discuss those things with our Allies, and in particular with the Americans.
§ My second suggestion is that one Minister of Cabinet rank should be put in sole charge of civil aviation, and he should be given as his right-hand man a permanent Under-Secretary of State—not a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, but a Permanent Under-Secretary. At this moment there are four Ministers directly responsible for British civil aviation. There is, first of all, the Under-Secretary of State. He is really keen on civil aviation, his heart is in it, but he is absolutely powerless to act. He cannot plan for the future. He can merely carry out the views and opinions of the Secretary of State. He is merely the Secretary of State's stooge, or flunkey, who carries out his right hon. Friend's wishes. It is very unfair to blame the Under-Secretary for the present condition of British civil aviation. It is not his responsibility. The responsibility must lie with the Secretary of State himself. He is on the Air Council. He represents the Air Council in the House. I hoped, when the Secretary of State was appointed, that we really should get a move on, because he was a very young man who, like other Members of the House, had sowed many wild oats. 45 Some of them looked rather hopeful. In 1910 or 1912 he did a thing which is very unusual for a Scot. He financed the building of an aeroplane. Anyone who financed the building of an aeroplane in 1910 or 1911 must have been regarded at that time as a very great enthusiast. Unfortunately this spark of air-mindedness which was obviously in his make-up was not allowed to develop. As soon as ever he came in contact with the air marshals and the Air Council, they quickly quenched him, and my right hon. Friend now is nothing more or less than the henchman of the Air Council. He loyally carries out their wishes. He is too weak to fight these air marshals.
A very grave responsibility, in fact I believe the bulk of the blame, must lie on the Secretary of State's shoulders. Outside this House I believe that there are few if any people interested in civil aviation who have any confidence left in the Secretary of State for Air. Of course, her will say, like the other Ministers concerned, "But this is not my responsibility; it is the responsibility of the Minister who has to plan for the future, the Minister without Portfolio." For 18 months hon. Members on all sides of the House have been endeavouring to get certain information from the Minister without Portfolio. We have attempted on various occasions to draw his attention to the existence of civil aviation. We have tried to draw his attention to the dangers of delay. We have tried to draw his attention to the urgency of the matter. My right hon. and learned Friend, however, has sat there, and he was not to be drawn. Old birds are hard to pluck, and my right hon. and learned Friend is a very old one. I am satisfied that when he gets up in the morning he repeats to himself those words of Socrates:
Those who are quick in deciding are in danger of being mistaken.
Owing to my right hon. and learned Friend's lack of decision in this matter, one or more than one vital year has been lost, and slowly but surely British civil aviation goes drifting along and sinking deeper into the mire. A grave responsibility rests on my right hon. and learned Friend's shoulders. He will, of course, say, like the others, "This has nothing whatever to do with me. How can I plan for the future when I have no aircraft? Surely the responsibility is not on my shoulders; surely the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Minister of Aircraft Production."
The Minister of Aircraft Production, No. 4 on the list, will rightly say, "I have been there only a short time. It takes anything up to five years to design and build an aeroplane. You cannot expect me to produce rabbits out of a hat. If you put a bull into a field, you do not expect a calf next morning. No orders have been placed for about two months by the Air Ministry. I cannot take the responsibility for this."
§ Four Ministers are giving a fine exhibition of that old English game, common in the Civil Service, known as "passing the buck". They are passing it round and round. No one Minister dares take the responsibility, and while they are patting the ball to and fro over the net, British civil aviation sinks and sinks. I do not blame the Minister of Aircraft Production; it is not his fault. I do not blame the Under Secretary; it is not his fault. I do blame the Secretary of State and the Minister without Portfolio. I wonder whether, with their great experience, their great talents and their great knowledge of affairs, their services might perhaps not be better employed in some other sphere. Perhaps the Government might be strengthened in another place, or perhaps the board of the Suez Canal might be strengthened. I am certain that until they go we shall never get civil aviation on a proper basis.
The third suggestion I have to make is that civil aviation should be taken away from the Air Ministry. It should be put either under the control of a Ministry of its own or under a glorified new Minister of Communications or Minister of Transport. I do not believe that air marshals are the right people to run a great commercial air enterprise. They are second to none at their jobs. I have the greatest respect for them as fighting men, but, as George Bernard Shaw once said: "I never expect a soldier to think." Air marshals, generals and admirals have a one-track mind, a mind on war. Their minds do not run on commercial lines. They are trained to fight, to bomb, to kill, to destroy. They are not trained to create and to improve. Their outlook is purely military, and what is needed in this job is a commercial outlook. Because of this we find in the Civil Aviation Department a lack of drive, a lack of vision and a lack of interest. This lack of interest at the top runs through the whole
of the Department. Lord Reith, who ought to know more about this than anyone, because he was No. I boy running British civil aviation before the war and in the early part of the war, said in another place:
The Air Staff do not understand it, and it is not their job.
I agree with Lord Reith. The result of this Air Ministry control is that our civil aviation now is slowly but surely sinking deeper in the mire. There is only one way out of it, and that is to take it away from these fighting men. No admiral in peacetime would meddle in the affairs of merchant shipping. Generals in peacetime do not meddle in the affairs of the London Passenger Transport Board. Why, therefore, should these air marshals be in a position to hold back the development of civil air transport? I know what my right hon. and gallant Friend will say and how he will defend them. He will say that the last report on civil aviation was the Cadman Report and that it recommended that civil air transport should be left to the Air Ministry. That is true, but the Cadman Report only made that recommendation provided that five conditions were fulfilled. Not one of those conditions have been fulfilled. Therefore, I claim that it will be a complete fallacy for my right hon. and gallant Friend, when he gets up later in the Debate, to say that the Cadman Report was in favour of keeping this thing under the control of the Air Ministry when it only agreed provided five things were done, and none of them has been done.
§ Mr. Perkins
I cannot remember them off-hand. The first was that there should be a Permanent Under-Secretary of State. The second was that there should be a Cabinet Minister directly responsible. I cannot remember what the other three were, but they were comparatively small points. The first two were the most important.
My fourth suggestion is with regard to the question of aircraft. I believe that we ought to go ahead and design aircraft and engines now, particularly engines. Engines are more important than air frames. It takes longer to develop a sound, safe, civil engine than it takes to 48 produce an air frame. Even before the war our most modern civil aircraft in this country had to be equipped in order to make it fly with American engines. I know that the Government are now playing with this problem. The surplus of their designing staff are now busy in designing civil engines. I hope that the Government are riot planning to try to produce an aircraft for the future which is equal in comparative performance to the American aircraft now flying. If we do that, when our machines come off the stocks in 1947 or 1948, we shall be once again five years behind the Americans. We must jump one jump ahead. We must plan a machine which in 1947 or 1948 will be equal to the best American machines coming off the stocks then. That is not all. The Government will say that they have allocated the surplus designing staff to design machines. There is only a very small number. What are they doing now? For what are they designing? It takes four to five years to produce aeroplanes. Are we designing fighting machines now for five years hence? Are we designing fighting machines for a war in 1947, or 1948, or 1949? Do the Government believe that this war will still be going in 1948 and 1949? If not, surely it is pure waste of time, effort and energy to keep these enormous designing staffs designing fighting machines for five years hence. Surely it is only common sense to switch a small proportion, say 20 or 30 per cent., over to design air frames and engines so that in 1947 and 1948 we may have some aircraft that can compete with the Americans.
My last suggestion concerns the Board of British Overseas Airways. I do not propose to raise any question of personalities. I have no intention of throwing any mud or criticising the present Board, The Board are in the saddle, they have some rough country in front of them, and I wish them the best of luck, but I would put forward one suggestion for improving that Board. On the Board there are at the moment only two persons who are capable of flying solo. I therefore suggest to the Secretary of State that the Board should be improved and strengthened by the addition of flying people. We do not want any more City directors; the Board is overladen with them. We do not want any more discarded Cabinet Ministers; we do not want any convalescent air marshals. What we do want are keen 49 young men who fly themselves, who live for aviation, who have got flying in their blood, who have got their reputations at stake in flying, with no conflicting interests, with no divided loyalties, men who, by their enthusiasm, their example and their leadership will inspire the whole staff from the top to the bottom and will really make the show go with a swing. I know that the Minister when he replies will say, "These people are all busy now doing other jobs." I suggest that this task of running British civil aviation now should have the highest possible priority, and if these men are now in other important war jobs, they should be taken out of them and pushed back into civil aviation, where they rightly belong. But supposing they are not available, and it may be they are not available, in this country, why not go out into the Empire and see whether they cannot be found in the Empire?
I believe this matter is urgent, I believe it is more than urgent, I believe it is critical. The pass is daily being sold, and unless we are careful future generations will be let down. Unless decisions are taken now, then, as far as I can see, when the war ends there will be no alternative left to us but to plough up our aerodromes, to disperse all our R.A.F. personnel, to disperse all our factory workers. It would be a crime to mankind to scatter to the winds this great accumulation of skill, effort, energy and human material. It should be kept for the benefit of the world. It should be used for the benefit of the world in the future.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
During the last three months, in another place, there have been three Debates on this vital subject of civil aviation, Debates of exceedingly high quality. During the same period a mounting volume of space in the Press has been devoted to the same subject, a good deal of it of a critical kind. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) has said, from time to time some of my hon. Friends and myself have put down Motions which have gained very widespread support in the House. We therefore do not feel that we have any apologies to make in having asked for this Debate on civil aviation to-day. We feel it very important that the views of people who have given considerable thought to this matter in the past few 50 months should be made known before the Government bind themselves to any one particular policy which they might find it difficult to alter, once decisions had been come to. The country is, not without reason, very anxious about this subject. It feels that somehow or other there is a lack of initiative and drive on the part of the Government, and it feels that something should be done about it. The answers that were given to the three Debates in another place by Lord Sherwood, the Under-Secretary of State, have in no way allayed that anxiety. It is not the slightest bit of use to say, as he has done on three occasions, that we have to win the war first. We all know that, but, equally, we know that there is no time to be lost in coming to a decision on post-war civil aviation. Only disaster can come if we stumble into these tasks with the same lack of foresight, the same inefficiency and vacillation that characterised our approach to it in the years between the wars.
From time to time the Secretary of State for Air, the Minister without Portfolio, and other Ministers get up and say that they intend that after this war we shall have an air service second to none. They also tell us that they are working very hard to bring that about. Yet nothing seems to happen. What is it that is retarding and hampering the Government in this matter? Personally, I have no means of knowing, but I cannot help thinking that they are becoming bogged down on the subject of internationalisation, and that in some quarters, not confined to the Air Ministry, there are people who are pursuing this hare and intend to pursue it to its death. In this vast field of endeavour which is civil aviation I and my friends have found more misunderstanding and more differences of opinion on the question of the meaning of the word "internationalization" than on anything else, and I hope very much that when the Deputy Prime Minister speaks later he will give us his own interpretation of that word, and also say whether the Government are in any way committed on this matter. If by internationalisation is meant the setting-up of an international body analogous to the Board of Aeronautics in Washington or to the Air Registration Board here, having as its duty the co-ordination and making as uniform as possible such matters as airworthiness of craft, rates, pilots' certificates and so on, 51 I am quite sure we can get full agreement on that. If by internationalisation is meant freedom of the air above a certain height and the use of ports and facilities for planes of every nation, with obvious restrictions of capotage, and so on, I hope we can get agreement upon that as well. But if by internationalisation is meant a world-operating company having a board on which there are members of all the countries in the world, flying planes of all different sizes and makes, piloted by pilots of every nationality under the sun, then I believe that, however fine it may be as an ideal, it is pursuing the impossible, Not only that, but it is going against the well-established principles on which the United States have built up the finest civil air service in the world, and I am perfectly certain that they would not and do not intend to relinquish those principles.
My own view—and I say quite specifically that I am now speaking purely for myself—is that instead of pursuing the impossible, we should attempt to obtain agreement on the principle of large operational units, at any rate for the time being. Each unit to be under the control of one of the Powers signatory to the Atlantic Charter. That within the boundaries of these units, each country should work out its own needs and its own aspirations. That inter-unit main line communications should be encouraged in every way, subject merely to the agreement and that the international body of which I spoke a moment or two ago should act in these matters as an arbiter. If a system of this kind could be made to work, then internationalisation might ultimately emerge. Personally I do not think it beyond the bounds of possibility that we might be able to get an international company working for Europe before this war is over. But I do believe that there is a far greater chance of ultimate success, if we advance step by step in these matters, rather than attempt to force the broader aspects of internationalisation upon a world that is as yet not ready to receive them.
What is it that my hon. Friends and I are asking for to-day? I think we ought to make ourselves quite clear on this point. First and foremost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has said, we want an Empire air service 52 second to none in efficiency, speed and comfort. We believe that we have a great contribution to make in rebuilding the world at the end of this war, but we believe that this contribution can best be made if it comes from the group of self-governing democratic countries which is the Empire, rather than from this small island, which is too small even to have its own internal air services. If that contribution is to be effective and based on the unity of Empire, which has developed as a result of this war, then we must have far closer ties between all members of the Empire than have ever existed before, and the best means of achieving that is by a really good Empire air service. At present, grave doubts exist in the minds of some of at least some of those responsible for Dominion air services about our ability in this country to give a lead or to infuse the vitality necessary for a great project of this kind. Further, they fear that, even if we do give a lead, we cannot deliver the goods, owing to our lack of planes and other attendant services. They are, therefore, considering whether it would not be to their best interests to sign up with the United States, because they know that they could get everything they need from the United States. It would be a tragedy if we allowed this opportunity of knitting the Empire together to be wasted and lost, simply because we did not have in this country men with sufficient foresight and energy to seize the spirit of the hour. As Lord Bennett said in another place a few weeks ago, if this country fails to recognise the importance of the air, largely as a substitute for the sea, with respect to our prestige and importance in face of the world, we shall cease to be a first-class Power.
We are, therefore, asking the Government, first to make up their minds as to what their own needs may be, and then to call a conference of representatives of the Dominions, India and the Colonies, having first asked them also to prepare a statement of what their own requirements may be. That this conference should set about the task of drawing up a comprehensive Empire air scheme to ensure rapid and frequent communications between all parts of the Empire. They should not stop at that. They should also consider what permanent body should lat set up in the shape either of an Empire Air Development Council, 53 or, if it is finally decided that the B.O.A.C. shall remain the chosen instrument of, the Government in regard to Empire communications, it should be turned into an Empire Air Corporation putting on to it, as members of the board, representatives of the Dominion air lines—as I believe was envisaged by Lord Reith, when the Corporation was first started—and also infuse it with Dominion capital. We further believe that a conference of this kind could best be conducted under the chairmanship of a man of the type of Lord Leathers, who has a great knowledge of matters of transport, and has also abundant vitality.
Once we have reached agreement with the Empire we should waste no time in approaching the United States and others of the United Nations, with a view to getting a common agreement that shall be fair to all, based on the elimination of unnecessary rivalries. My own view, as I think perhaps the House knows, is that the future and happiness of the world depend on the amount of Anglo-American co-operation that we are able to achieve as a result of the war. I would, therefore, in regard to negotiations which will obviously be of a very intricate nature, sound a word of warning. I do so, because I find in certain circles in this country a widespread misunderstanding of American psychology. It appears to be based on the belief that the Americans are very sensitive people and that therefore you must never tell them anything which might hurt their feelings, and as a consequence cause misunderstanding. In other words, we have a tendency to wrap up what we want to say in cotton-wool phrases. I assure hon. Members that the effect of doing this is just the opposite to what is meant. It merely confuses and annoys and makes them very often think that we are trying to "pull a fast one." There is nothing that a tough American business man or politician likes more than to see someone coming out of his corner, swinging, and be prepared to fight for his principles. I submit, therefore, that we who have principles in these matters, should take America into our full confidence, at the same time standing firm in our belief and on the reasoned condition that what we propose to them is not only to our interests but also to the best interests of the United States and the whole world. Finally, and I say this advisedly, we 54 ought not to delay in this matter of approaching the United States and others of the United Nations. There is no time to be lost. It would be a tragedy if we did not come to an agreement in the near future, and if the peace treaty were to be disturbed by bickerings over matters that could have been settled during the course of the war.
The third point is one about which I am not going to worry the House for more than a moment or two, because I know that there are other hon. Members with far greater knowledge of the subject who will want to speak on it themselves. It relates to the production of suitable types of aircraft and the provision of air crews and other technical matters. I only want to say that it is not the slightest use making agreements with the Dominions, the United States and others of the United Nations if we are going to be unable' to fulfil those obligations. Therefore I hope we shall receive an assurance from the Secretary of State for Air that he is getting on with the job of finding suitable aircraft and looking after their mates. I understand that the Brabazon Report, which was made known to the Secretary of State some months ago, made recommendations in regard to some of these technical matters. Perhaps the Secretary of State will be able to tell us whether he has done anything to implement those recommendations.
My last point is the divorcing of civil aviation from the Air Ministry just as soon as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud gave us a clear picture of the relations existing between the civil aviation department of the Air Ministry and the Air Minister. I think we may say that it was neither very illuminating nor satisfying. During the course of the last few months my hon. Friends and myself have been trying to get such information on these matters as we possibly could. We found no one in the course of our interrogations who recommended that civil aviation should be retained by the Air Ministry. Everyone we talked to was most emphatic that it should, at the very earliest possible moment; be taken out of the hands of the Air Ministry and put either into a renovated Ministry of Transport, which you might call a Ministry of Communications, or that it should have a separate Ministry of its own.
Transport is transport, and air travel is an integral part of that system of com- 55 munications called transport. Certainly the experiences which I had shortly after the beginning of this war did not make me feel any' happier about the way in which the Air Ministry is handling these matters. At the beginning of the war I was sent to the United States on behalf of the Ministry of Information, and I returned to Lisbon by Pan-American Clipper at the end of November, 1939. That and a number of other journeys which I have made since that time have given me a chance of studying the really fine service that the company have developed. Just before I left America the Neutrality Act had come into effect, which meant that no American ships or aircraft could go into the territorial waters of the belligerent States, and that American citizens were not allowed to travel on the ships of foreign countries. The importance of Lisbon was therefore found to increase in importance. On arriving at Lisbon I found there was no air communication between Portugal and this country or France, and it took me 12 hours longer to reach Paris by train from Lisbon than it did to cross the Atlantic.
On arrival in England, I went 'to see the Secretary of State for Air, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and told him that it was very important that we should get a service started as soon as possible. Nothing however was done, and it was not until the fall of France, over six months later, that we were to get a service started and then only because we were able to use Dutch pilots and Dutch planes. Meanwhile, we had sent two Flying boats designed for the Atlantic service which had no armament up to Norway, where they were both bombed and put out of action very speedily. I only give that one example to show the lack of complete understanding of civil needs which seems to exist in the Air Ministry. In conclusion, my hon. Friends and I intend to pursue these matters until we get satisfaction. To-day we have stated out views to the Government and hope that the Government will be able to give us a reply. If they do not, we shall, at some future time, have a chance of recording our dissatisfaction. We will not hesitate to do this, because we believe this matter to be one of great urgency and of the utmost importance to this country, the Empire and the world.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I have listened to both the previous speakers very carefully, and I find that I cannot follow on the lines that have been taken by them. The problem of future civil aviation is one of the most important we have to face at the present time, but I do not think that the solution which they have proposed is any use whatever. I have made it my business for some time to consider all aspects and variations of these matters, and the other day I got hold of the First Report of an Independent Committee on the future of Civil Aviation. That committee included a certain number of gentlemen who are friends of mine and have taken a very great interest all their lives in civil aviation. In the foreword to the report they explained that the report is published:as a representative cross-section of informed opinion as expressed to the committee.I went through it very carefully. It should be read by everybody who takes an interest in these matters. The point on which I disagree fundamentally with other speakers in the Debates, either in this House or in another place, is in regard to the objects in view. On page 13 of the report, under the heading of "Conclusions," there is this expression:Such conditions are necessary in the public interests.Let us get this quite clear. Before the war I was travelling in Germany on the railway, and I had some difference of opinion with a railway official. I said to him, "Now, do the public exist for the railways or the railways for the public?" His answer was that the public existed for the railways. My first point is that the aviation service should exist for the public and not the other way round. It is clear to me from all the reports and the Debates that people are thinking in terms of vested interests, which clearly implies profits. In regard to this matter we find the most extraordinary combination. I will come back to that matter. I do not know whether the two hon. Gentlemen who preceded me were not taking any notice, or whether either of them was present at the very excellent lecture which was given by Dr. Edward P. Warner before the Royal Aeronautical Society.
§ Mr. Bowles
Nor was I. I read it last night. I should like to quote what I think 57 is the basis of the whole position, the real dividing line between hon. Members on the other side and hon. Members on this side. This is on page 4:If the primary aim is to be the rendering of a genuine public service to the largest possible number of people, freeing their personal movements and their communications, and the movements of the products of their manufactures and arts and. tillage, and bringing into the stream of commerce the products of regions now inaccessible, and enriching the lives of the people in those regions in return, the development will follow a certain course, and certain types of aircraft will be sought. If on the other hand air transport is to be judged primarily in terms of its contribution to national prestige, and used as a pawn in a political game, we shall have another type of service and a demand for aircraft to a different specification, in which showiness will play a larger part than serviceability. In purely physical terms, air transportation is making the world one neighbourhood. If there is so little wisdom among us at the end of this war that we lose the opportunity of making the world a neighbourhood in fact, the handicapping and perversion of the development of air transport will be a part of the price that we shall pay.I personally choose the first alternative, that of public service.
I want to talk for a moment about this question of national prestige. When this country built the "Queen Mary," and she sailed on her maiden voyage to New York and was received by large and loud-cheering crowds, I am perfectly certain that not one of those citizens looked down his nose and said, "This is a British product, and our prestige is offended because this is the finest ship in the world." I am perfectly certain that they, like ourselves, like scientists, like any normal type of persons, were interested in the job of work produced, and were nothing like so concerned as to whether it was a national product or whatever term of that nature might be used. What people were concerned about was, "Was it a good thing or not?" What I think people in the world will be concerned about in civil aviation will be, "Is tile user getting the best possible service?" and that they will not concern themselves whether tie aircraft belongs to this country or to Pan-American Airways.
§ Mr. Perkins
Does the hon. Member not feel that Americans as a whole are extremely proud of Pan-American Airways as a company?
§ Mr. Bowles
I am coming to that. Of course they are, and we ought to be proud of some of our 'aviation exploits as 58 well, but that is not the point I am making. What the ordinary user is concerned about are comfort, speed and so on. I am perfectly certain that if any Member was standing on Vienna Station waiting for the Orient Express to take him to Istanbul he would not concern himself with any other fact than "Would it be a comfortable journey, was it going to be the speediest and safest means of getting there?" and other such considerations. I do not think he would care whether it was run by Wagons-Lits or anyone else. What he would care about was whether it was a comfortable train, and whether it would take him to Istanbul in the earliest possible time and in the most comfortable way. I do not think for one moment that the world of users is anything like so concerned as to who makes the aircraft, or whether it is owned by British or American concerns.
What hon. Members on the other side are frightened of is that they may be faced with intolerable competition, but we are faced with the fact that the Americans have got on with the job, admittedly because they were not in the war. They have built a large number of transport planes, while we have concentrated on fast fighters and medium and heavy bombers, to the exclusion, almost, of transport planes which may be used after the war. I believe that the Ventura is the only bomber type we have that can easily be changed over for use in civil aviation. I would like to emphasise that real national prestige is a fact that can exist, but I think it exists in matters of culture and not private profits. I also notice in these various suggestions and reports that have been made public that they expect direct or indirect Government subsidies, direct subsidies in the form of money, and indirect in the form of free aerodromes, free landing rights, radiolocation, control officers, and so forth. Yet they are also trying to run a system of private enterprise. That is not private enterprise. That is controlled enterprise. The only logical conclusion, I suggest, is that if you cannot make your private enterprise pay, which it is obvious you cannot, you must not try to exploit the British and American publics.
§ Mr. Bowles
I will tell the hon. Lady my views on the B.O.A.C. afterwards. I think it would spoil the Debate if the B.O.A.C. and their directors were to be dragged in.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am not in favour of handing over a certain amount of public funds in the circumstances I have described. I should think that if there is to be private share capital, there should be fixed interest-bearing stock. Yet subsidies, direct and indirect, are visualised in the forms I have mentioned. That is not private enterprise. It is just private profit making. I do not think any person except those who agree with the view I put forward in the previous Debate have anything like the proper solution. It may be the ideal solution, but to my mind ideal solutions are sometimes the only practical ones. After I made my last speech I found that Mr. Ely Culbertson, who wrote some famous books on contract bridge, wrote a book about the same kind of scheme as I advocated. I think I shall have to return the compliment and write a book on contract bridge and send it to him. How important civil aviation is regarded by Dr. Warner in that magnificent lecture—I refer to it with great humility—may be seen when he says:I see no reason why the airlines should not, within a very few years, be handling at least two thirds of the total pre-war rail and air traffic over distances of over 1,000 miles or more, and a quarter of the existing traffic on routes as short as 200 miles.That gives some idea, on a conservative estimate, of the lines on which civil aviation will have to be planned. I should also like to refer to two quotations from the Report of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. It says:The governing principle should be this; industry to be the instrument of public policy —not public policy the instrument of industry. Production should be governed by the real needs of the community rather than by the inducements of private profit making.A little further down it says:The great sustaining power of the State must not be turned into a prop for irresponsibly conducted private business. Specious cries for self-government in industry mean in practice the right of the private owners of industry to go their own way, often with the help of the State, and without any safeguard for the public interest. Down that road lies national decline and decadence, as the years before the war gave alarming evidence, On behalf of the 60 whole community, labour will challenge any such tendency and resist it as the inevitable fore-runner of exploitation, economic Fascism, and national decline.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
The hon. Member talks about service to the community or profit as being opposed to one another. How is the industrialist say myself, to discover whether he is doing any service unless the community pay him a profit? That is his only method of ascertaining whether he is performing a service to the community.
§ Mr. Bowles
I will answer that in one sentence. One has to say, What is the dominant motive why this effort is taking place, service to the public or profit to the shareholders? I want to propose very quickly what I proposed last time, and I am particularly glad to understand that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is taking some part in this Debate, because I think it is important that he should be reminded, not that he needs any reminder, of what the Labour Party stand for. We have two Government spokesmen in this Debate, one the Leader of the Labour Party, the other the Leader of the Liberal Party in this matter, which requires a most progressive outlook in every way. The suggestion I make is that we have to start with this principle of service for the user. I do not believe that any national negotiations, either between Governments or between industries, are going to bring about a real solution of this matter. Let me put this position: Say the Americans have 9,000 transport planes and we have 1,000—these are purely hypothetical figures—and we enter into negotiations. That means 10,000 altogether, which means that our percentage strength in bargaining on that ground alone is 10 per cent. We can say, "Very well, we have a far-flung Empire over which the Americans will want to fly their aircraft in the development of Pan-American Airways. This will be a useful bargaining card." We shall have haggling, and we shall find other countries just as decent as ourselves such as Switzerland, who will have no planes and no overseas territory to enable them to enter into that sort of competition. The principle I advocate is that an international airways corporation, or company—I do not mind what you call it—must be floated. Arrangements will have to be made for it to raise stock which will be fixed interest-bearing stock which can be 61 subscribed for by any Government, any bank, any insurance company, or any individual, a trustee stock—paying interest at a rate sufficient to get the necessary funds for capital.
The next principle—and this may take the breath of some hon. Members away—is that the directors should be nominated by the small countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, and should not be nominees of the big Powers, such as America and ourselves. I do not mind whether the nominees are nationals of other countries than that of the nominating countries. I see no reason why, if the Norwegians, Swedes and the Swiss find an outstanding, internationally minded Englishman, he should not be put on the Board. But the small countries should have the right to nominate, because if they have that right, a good deal follows from it. Their very weakness is such that they will say, "In our weakness lies our strength," and they will be able to appeal to world-wide public opinion against any big Power which attempts to bring pressure to bear, if, for example, the American Government had been got at by Lockheeds or some other company to try and bring pressure on the Board and to try to do a quick one. Therefore I say that the sort of Board you want is one of men and women who are really internationally minded, whose one genuine desire is to provide the world with the very best air service possible. They will then look around the world for the best aircraft for the particular job, the best pilots, the best personnel, the best control officers, the best ground staff, and so on.
It was wonderful to find, as we had done from experience between this war and the last, that men and women, whatever their nationality, could forget about their nationality and provide an international service. Those of us who spent some time at Geneva know that on the Secretariat of the League and of the International Labour Office there were people who were able to forget their nationality and to carry on with their job. If it were a question of health services in China, for instance, even if an official happened to be British, it did not matter to him whether Mr. Neville Chamberlain thought that no money should be spent. I believe that in that way lies the only 62 solution. It may sound ideal, but I am certain it is the only practical solution.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford City)
What will happen under my hon. Friend's proposition if the United States, which is the most efficient civil air transport Power in the world, refuses to have anything to do with this scheme and operates a rival undertaking?
§ Mr. Bowles
There is always that possibility, but the aircraft industry in each country is always a relatively small vested interest in comparison with other vested interests. The agricultural industry in the United States——
§ Mr. Bowles
However important we may think civil aviation is, in pounds or dollars or any other currency, I am cotain that there are other interests in tit United States which in value amount to much more than the aviation industry. I want Governments to say that they will not be dictated to by vested interests in their countries, but that they will be progressive-minded and get together and agree on this solution.
§ Mr. Hogg
I do not think my hon. Friend has quite seen my point. Does he not appreciate that political opinion in America at the moment—the other interests to which he has referred—is very well satisfied indeed with its own system of private enterprise, and does not want to substitute my hon. Friend's alternative?
§ Mr. Bowles
My answer, I think, is quite a clear one. One of our sources of strength is that we have this widely-flung Empire, and we have some kind of agreement with the Dominions and the Colonies. Therefore, we should be able to restrict the tentacles of this great Pan-American Airways going all over the world. I am not going to stop at this question of civil aviation. I think that we hall in a little while need to change the title of this organisation from International Airways, Ltd., to International Communications, Ltd. It will take over shipping, railways, the cables, the telegraphs, and so on. I think that if you had a body of that sort, which was honestly internationally-minded, with that sort of control over communications, of all forms, in every country, you would be able to put pressure on any country to make it think 63 again, to use a colloquialism, if it started any funny business, and, secondly, to stop the building-up of a Luftwaffe beneath the wings of a Lufthansa.
§ Group-Captain Helmore (Watford)
I crave the indulgence of the House on intervening in this Debate, but it so happens that I have spent the greater part of my life in aviation and in research and experiment for the purposes of the air. I feel somewhat diffident in making this maiden speech, because, as I suppose is inevitable in a Debate, many of the points that I hoped to make have already been adequately dealt with by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In addition to this handicap, I am somewhat limited by the fact that I am closely associated with the Departments engaged on research and development in connection with aircraft. I am thus unable to let myself go as far as I might like to do on technical subjects. At first, if the House will bear with me, I would like to generalise a little. It seems to me that we might divide this problem of civil aviation into two distinct categories—our tactical planning, which involves many of the matters already discussed, and our purely technical planning, which is perhaps even more interesting, because we are not proposing to fly in Ministries or committees, but in aircraft of British manufacture.
I would now like to touch briefly on our tactical planning. There is no doubt that the Government should certainly make an approach to the Dominions and to our Allies on these matters, but such an approach would have to be on a very helpful and co-operative basis, and should not in any sense be made in any spirit of competition. It has been suggested that we should tap our Allies on the heads with a stick to wake them up to the realities of civil aviation; but at this very moment w are fighting for our lives, for our freedom, and for the ending of wars, and with such an ideal in our minds it is inconceivable that, because one of us happens to be making aircraft which might be useful after the war, while we ourselves are making aircraft of great striking power against the enemy, this hazard should act to the detriment or advantage of either one of us. I believe that our peoples are fighting for this ideal of freedom and for the ending of war, but if one might judge from the tone of some of the remarks 64 which have been made to-day, civil aviation might well tend to become one of the most productive instruments for the promoting of wars ever conceived.
It seems to me obvious that, in making any approach to our Empire and to our Allies about the future of civil aviation, we should make that approach to include aviation in general both for peace and war and so avoid the mistake that was made after the last war, when we formed the League of Nations and gave it no striking power to implement its decisions. For this reason we must create jointly with our civil aviation control an air police force, capable of enforcing any decisions made against aggressors and thus ensure that wars will cease. We have already had the experience of aircraft being made for war by the Germans under the guise of civil aircraft, and if we do not have control of such matters in future, we may yet begin the sowing of seeds for future wars. With great diffidence, I would urge the Government, in their discussions with the Dominions and with our Allies, to bear in mind that the air, both for war and for peace, is indivisible, and that any discussions should be based on the fundamental principle that we must never have another war. That is all I have to say on the tactical aspect.
I would now like to turn very briefly to the technical side. I shall not keep the House long, but at any rate hon. Members will believe that what I say on this subject is sincere. I feel that we are faced with a very great problem in attempting to make civil aircraft in the middle of a war. It has been indicated in general terms, by Government spokesmen, that we should not let go the substance of victory for the shadow of peace-time advantage. The Government are right in taking up the firm attitude that we should stick to making war-time aircraft, but we should nevertheless try 'to work in with our war programme the making of types which will be useful after the war. It may be necessary, from a purely "bread and butter" point of view, to be considering reconditioning bombers, and turning them into transports. It may be necessary to plan some transport aircraft of the more or less conventional types. But in my belief the 'future of the air lies entirely in speed—and speed per se. The country that sticks to speed in the air gets predominance in the air. The aeroplane without greater speed is only a little more 65 dangerous and less decorous than a horse and cart.
I would recall what happened in 1929 and 1931, in the Schneider races. The Government of the day took a pretty poor view of the Schneider races. Many people in the country were asking, "What is the good of these machines? They have no carrying capacity or endurance—all they have is speed." The Government took such a similar view of the suggestion to hold the race in 1931 that it had to be turned into a sort of "charity flag day," and but for the beneficence of Lady Houston that race would not have been flown. And yet, it is no exaggeration to say that our technical victory in the Battle of Britain was founded on our victory in the Schneider race of 1931. We got an enormous amount of information from that race about our fuels and our engines. The low-wing monoplane was born in that race, and its great successors—the Spitfire and the Hurricane—are the descendants of the Schneider winner. Let nothing I have said, however, detract from the genius of Mitchell and others, who, using the data obtained from that race, applied the principles then proved to their own great prototypes.
We have a native genius for speed. We have always been the fastest race—except at rare intervals—on the land, the sea, and in the air. Take that great example of the independent genius of our designers, the Mosquito. That is an immediate step forward in speed which I believe makes us at the moment the fastest race in war. We must now look to the next step, which may well come from some future series of high-speed bombers or reconnaissance aircraft—a step which, by the mere removal of guns or bomb racks, might give us a high-speed mail plane which might one day capture the Blue Riband of the Atlantic air crossing. From the experience and research data gained in the creation of fast war aircraft, from the employment of almost sonic speeds, low-drag wings and new power units we can obtain material not only essential for war, but invaluable to aviation in peace.
We have, as our greatest single industry, our aircraft industry. We have thousands of men and women whom we have turned into the finest technicians in the world. We have at every hour of the day and night, and probably at this moment, our own pilots and air crews 66 flying over enemy targets—men who will be pretty useful at making landings on the well-lighted flare paths of peace-time aerodromes after their experience in lighting-up the dark paths or Germany. We shall not need to train many pilots after this war for civil aviation. We owe it to these great people and to this great industry to see that their chosen element, the air, is open to them as a new world to conquer—this element which they have made their own during the war.
Our whole history has shown, as already indicated in this Debate, that we are the world's greatest transporters. We have from this small, virtually unproductive Island, through the genius of our sailors and sea-faring men, and through the ability and enterprise of our traders, spread our culture and our Empire all over the world. We must see to it that in the future we become not only the greatest sea-faring race, but the greatest air-faring race as well, and that by the great network of our Empire communications we may draw ever closer to us those great Dominions which have fought for us so devotedly in this war.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
I find some difficulty in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down—I feel that I hardly have the eloquence to do it—but I do so with very great sincerity, because both in matter and the opinions expressed his contribution has been an invaluable one to this Debate. I believe I express the opinion of the whole House in these congratulations. I only regret his speech because he has said, so much better than I could, many of the things I would like to have said, but I am very glad that it was one speaking in the uniform of the Royal Air Force who made many of these statements.
We have had in this Debate two speeches which perhaps were a little too confident but which I think could simply and easily be solved if we had an energetic and intelligent Government considering the situation. These speeches perhaps did not recognise some of the difficulties of this problem. It is most valuable to have a debate on this subject because, as the previous speaker said, the future of this country is so much dependent on how we deal with the air problem after the war. We have been a seafaring people, and I am one who believes that 67 both in war and in peace the aeroplane has changed the whole situation and that the importance of air power for good in peace and for victory in war cannot be over-estimated.
Two rather conflicting views 'have already been expressed in this Debate. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) outlined ideas which are in the minds of many people and may seem to be a little idealistic and impracticable. As far as I am concerned, my mind works more in that direction than perhaps the more narrow and slightly aggressive line, suggesting a purely Empire policy, which was to be put down somewhat firmly in front of our Allies, who were to be told: "We are deciding this and getting on with it during the war; take it or leave it." Though perhaps I am over-stating what the hon. Gentleman said, that is a somewhat dangerous policy for us to adapt. This problem is full of complications, both internal complications in the affairs of our own country, and in leading us to possible difficulties with our Allies and mistakes after this war. We must realise that, while a purely Imperial policy has much to be said for it from some points of view, we are also a European country and have to consider our relations with Europe as well. The air has brought us so much nearer. A policy which will suit the Empire will not necessarily be right for Europe, and while people are very anxious in this country that perhaps America is getting ahead of us in transport plans, it is worth remembering that some of our Allies—the Dutch and the French—who played a big part in civil aviation before the war are in a much worse position than we are. If we in this country were to define finally an Empire policy which did not leave room for our Continental Allies, it would be doing to them just what we complain that some interests in America are doing to us. I see the possibilities of danger in friction with our European Allies if we do not take them properly into our scheme.
§ Mrs. Tate
The hon. Member has seen the possibility of friction in that line. Does he see any possibility of friction in the suggestion, which he says he favours, made by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that small countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Poland should decide who directs the European Allies?
§ Mr. Roberts
I was rather careful what I said about the proposals of the hon. Member for Nuneaton, and I am not in the least subscribing to all he suggested, but he did put, as I said, in a rather extreme form, the view that air transport after the war ought to be controlled internationally in the interests of every country. That is an opinion which I found lacking in the speeches of those who opened the Debate. I have not yet heard that of the hon. Lady. I was suggesting that, especially from a European point of view and not an Empire point of view, that was a matter we must keep in mind. It is vitally important that we in this country should become air-minded, not only Imperially but in the European sense too.
I wonder whether enough research is being done to-day, and again, the hon. and gallant Member implied that much more must be done. I wonder whether that research really can be done by any other organisation than the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. To take that research and give it to another Department at the present time would merely be duplicating and delaying work which has to be done. It must be done as part of the work which is being done by the two Ministries connected with the aircraft industry and the Air Force. I would like to say in that connection a word in defence of the Air Ministry. Perhaps it is because for about a year I had the privilege of working in the Air Ministry. It is a little ungracious to the Air Force as a whole, including the air-marshals, who started this war with a very small Air Force, in a country which was not very air-minded, to complain that they have not kept their eye on civil aviation when they have done such a magnificent job so far as concerns the main and overwhelming object that they were asked to carry out. They have, after all, built up an Air Force second to none in the world and done more to make this country air-minded than anybody else, and now we are told that the responsibility for the other side of the Air Force—the civilian side—must be given to the Ministry of Transport. Shipping interests are important to this country, and no doubt after the war they should be closely connected with our air civilian transport, but there is a danger that the shipping interests might cramp the development of civil aviation. The Ministry of War Transport, at any rate, is almost entirely 69 concerned and mainly staffed—I think I am right in saying—with people connected with shipping. I do not know that they are really the best people to control the future of civil aviation.
The development of air transport is at a stage still in which it is no exaggeration to say that the development is a headlong development. It may be that some country has the advantage of us at the present time in types of air transport, but I am not sure that, after the war, that will necessarily last very long. The possibilities of the development of transport—larger and faster planes, perhaps—are enormous, provided we have our research and our aircraft industry organised well and the public behind the developments. We must be very careful before we allow other commercial interests entirely to control that development. I would like to see greater developments in our universities of interest in air affairs, the establishment of both technical professorships in our universities and also perhaps of some organisations for studying the history of the air and developments in other countries as a means to the general end of developing our interest and understanding of air affairs.
Finally, we have to fit commercial flying into our international economic and political policy after the war. I hope to see an international air police force. We have to consider how that international air police force will affect the development of civil aviation. I also hope to see international economic planning and some international body—you may not call it the League of Nations, but it may be a strengthened and more powerful League of Nations—in which the United States will take a much fuller part. The development of civil aviation is going to be an immensely important factor in international relations. Let us not at this stage be pushed into a thrusting, nationalistic point of view with regard to the development of civil aviation. Let us, instead, try to make our policy fit into a policy of international co-operation after the war.
§ Sir Robert Rankin (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I desire to speak for only a few minutes and, if possible, to obtain some information. I recognise that of primary importance will be our discussions and arrangements with the Dominions about air transport, but I 70 have not heard in this Debate or anywhere else any allusion to the announcement made recently in Washington that in June or July there will be held a series of British and American conferences on postwar air transport. Also, has it been stated who will be the British representatives? The Civil Aeronautics Board, the governing body of the American aircraft industry, has opened a poll asking plane manufacturers and air lines for their views on American air policies. I would like to know whether there is any possibility of a poll being taken in this country and, if so, who would conduct it. Would it be the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Aircraft Production or a new Aircraft Transport Department? What air policies for service routes not reserved by the British Overseas Airways Corporation will be available for shipping companies and others who desire to put forward their views, wishes and intentions to a Government Department?
Even at the present time nobody knows how many shipping companies have specific projects in view, largely because they have not been invited to give their views. Yet of this one may be confident, that if a well-established British shipping company, on its own initiative and capital, desires to run a British air line and is allowed to do so, it will be as likely to attract good technical management and energy for that purpose as any other industry. In 20 years' time it may well be found to have put up a better performance than most and in the process may well have set up some wholesome and invigorating standards and have made a useful and characteristic contribution of its own to British air commerce.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I make no apology for taking part in this Debate to-day, because ever since 1934 I have consistently tried to bring before the House the extreme importance of the development of civil aviation. I think I am the only Member of my party who voted against the subsidy being extended to Imperial Airways until 1953, and I did so because I thought then that Imperial Airways had no right whatever to pay a large dividend while they were running a service of obsolete machines. None of the views which I expressed then as to the inability of the Air Ministry to visualise the importance of civil aviation has changed. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and my hon. Friend the 71 Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) have rendered a signal service by making the kind of speeches they have made to-day, but I rather think that they took an overoptimistic view of the present situation, gloomy though their speeches were.
One thing which has been noticeable in this House to-day is that everyone has spoken as though civil aviation and military aviation were entirely separate problems. In my view that is not the case. Civil air transport, whether this House and the country have yet realised it or not, will inevitably dominate both peace and war in the future. Had we had greater vision in the past as to the possibilities of civil aviation, had we done more to develop the right kind of machines and had we paid greater attention to the running of our services throughout the world, it is not too much to say that the course of the war might have been altered and its length appreciably shortened. We are very thankful for the wonderful victories we have lately celebrated in North Africa, but I wonder whether we have appreciated as we should have done the immense importance and potentialities of airborne divisions, which rely to an enormous extent on air transport. If we had, I wonder whether we should not have saved thousands of lives and would not have celebrated our late victories much earlier than we did. The Government will no doubt tell us later to-day how impossible it was for them to concentrate on the production of civil machines when they were engaged on the production of military machines. In my opinion there is far too great a division made between the two; too great a price can be paid for a policy which concentrates only on the production of military aircraft.
One of the Motions standing on the Order Paper to-day demands the separation of civil aviation from control of the Air Ministry. From the bottom of my heart I believe that that is absolutely vital. So serious is the position that I doubt whether we can afford to wait until the end of the war before that separation is made. I should like to give one or two reasons why I believe that to be so tremendously important. The Air Ministry had charge of civil aviation before the war, but the grave situation in which we now find ourselves did not start with 72 this war. It is not the result of this war nor the result of having to concentrate on the production of military aircraft during the war. It is the consequence of years of systematic neglect of a vital problem in the years before the war. I wonder whether the House fully appreciates that civil aviation is under the control not only of the Air Ministry but is also under the control—and a very strict control—of the Treasury. That would be satisfactory if those who control at the Treasury had imagination, vision or knowledge of the operation of civil aircraft. I think I am right in saying that the man who ultimately advises at the Treasury is Sir Alan Barlow. I am sure he is a man of very great gifts, which I of all people am most able to appreciate. I am sure he is good at mathematics and can probably multiply, subtract and add—things which I have never been able to do—but if we go on much longer under his control, there will not be quite so much to add. To Sir Alan Barlow a new idea is very much what a black beetle is to me—something to be immediately squashed with feelings of distaste at having met it.
Before the war expenditure on route equipment of Empire Airways was, in certain cases, under the Empire air mail scheme and was subject to very strict Treasury control which was exercised through the civil aviation department's financial and operational branches, both of which considered requests made by the company for equipment and facilities and had the power to query and veto such requests. This is not the time to go into the general question of Treasury control, but I suggest that any such arrangement which may prejudice the prestige and safety of air activities ought to be avoided in future. I wish to know whether that same conception appertains to-day. Again, before the war Imperial Airways were controlled to a deplorable extent by those in charge of military aviation, who, for some reason which it is very difficult to understand, appeared to have a wholly hostile attitude towards Imperial Airways.
As I have already said, the situation is far more serious than my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and Harborough led the House to believe. I think they under-stated their case. We have asked that we might have an Empire Air Council summoned immediately. That is highly 73 desirable, but I regret to say that information which I received over the weekend makes me very apprehensive as to whether it is really a practical proposition to-day unless we are willing to be guided far more than we have been guided up to now by the wishes of the Dominions. Does the House realise the seriousness of the present position? Do Members appreciate that about 60 per cent. of the money invested in Trans-Canada is American money? Do they appreciate that owing to the seriousness of the position it has been possible for the first time in history for a Dominion Minister to make a public statement that Canada intends to act independently of Great Britain? Mr. Harold Fish, of the Quantal Air Line in Australia, is a man who has had over 23 years' operational experience in aviation. He has written an article in a public paper stating that the Dominions demand a lead from this country. Why is he over here, and what has he asked us for? I think it is well known that after our loss of Java we lost a very large number of flying boats. Did Mr. Fish ask us to supply him with transport planes in order that he might keep running the services that were then in operation? If he did, what was our answer?
What have we answered? To-day there ought to be a service between this country and Australia and an Empire service between Australia and India, and there could be such services. I believe that when Mr. Tripp a short time ago said that America appreciated the great contribution that we had made to the war effort, and that we had had to concentrate on military machines, and that if we needed them we could have all the transport machines we wanted, he was perfectly sincere. I believe that if we had a policy which we ourselves understood and could make plain to the world, a genuine Empire policy, we should meet with the most generous co-operation from the United States. But no country with the appreciation of the importance of civil aviation which America has shown and is proved to have, can possibly co-operate with a country which has no policy. You can only negotiate with those who understand the problem about which you are trying to negotiate.
While it is absolutely essential that we should have an immediate Empire Council, I cannot help asking myself whether the Empire will be willing to confer in this 74 country with those who are to-day in charge of British Overseas Airways Corporation. I do not wish to make any personal attack. I think we should try to keep away from personalities. But it is not right that we should ignore both the City and the representatives of the Empire, who are gravely concerned at some of those appointments. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation should be strengthened by one or two additional members who are pilots and keen on flying. To be keen on flying is not enough. You might just as well say that a shipping line could be run by those who are keen on yachting. No one has a greater love of the air than I have myself but what you need on the Board of Overseas Airways Corporation, and what is so remarkably lacking, is someone with a vestige of knowledge of operation and control of air routes. There is not one human being on that Board who has any such knowledge. In fact the one thing that is absolutely common to all these directors is that they know nothing of that, and very few of them are in the position, even if they had great knowledge, to devote more than a small percentage of their time to what is by far the most important problem affecting this country to-day apart from the immediate execution of the war.
If the Secretary of State is sincerely of the opinion that he has chosen the best possible Board, I can only extend to him my very sincere sympathy, but at least, if that is his opinion, surely he thinks those people should devote their entire energies to the work of British Overseas Corporation and nothing else, and I think hardly any of them are in that position. I appreciate the right hon. Baronet's sincere interest in aviation. I do not wish to be discourteous to him. I appreciate immensely the important problems that face him. We are all immensely proud and immensely grateful for the magnificent work of our Air Force. We are however certain that it is a mistake to believe that the future safety of this country, in peace or war, is ensured by the development of bombers and fighters alone, and I believe the Secretary of State has not the glimmering of a conception of the importance of civil aviation. I think he is entirely immersed in theoretical proposi- 75 tions which have no reality. I admit that internationalisation of the air may be a contribution in theory but, if you believe in internationalisation of air as an ultimate aim, you have to be able to make some contribution, as an Empire, before you can ever hope to achieve it. Before the war we had wonderful fluency of eloquence, and complete lack of understanding, of collective security. Had we really supported collective security by being a strongly armed nation, able to make our contribution to that collective security, we should not be at war to-day and lives would not have been lost, cities would not have been ruined and Europe, which remains under this awful yoke of terror and suffering, would be free.
It is just the same with internationalisation. You have to be able to make a contribution. Before you can co-operate with the Empire, as it is vital that we should do, you have to have a policy clearly laid down which they can understand, and then you can go to America and I believe they would meet you with generosity, understanding and co-operation and, unless we and the Empire cooperate with America after the war, you may talk of the peace and a better world and a better Britain but there can never be realities. The sands of time are running out. It is, already, almost too late. I wish it were possible to-day to vote on this issue. I would with pleasure reduce the salary of the Secretary of State. I should regard myself as having achieved a great benefaction to the country if I coup do it. I cannot join with the hon. Member for Stroud in the flattery that he poured out on the Under-Secretary, whom he called the Minister's stooge. No one has any right to be a stooge and, if the Under-Secretary had the love and the understanding of civil aviation which my hon. Friend so generously attributed to him, he would long ago have resigned.
I beg the House to appreciate the immense importance of this issue. I beg the Minister to understand that we are serious. We know that we shall get promises. We had promises before the war. I ask Members to look up the Debates before the war in which we were promised a service across the Atlantic in 1937. We were always told it was just going to run. It was always just going 76 to happen, but it never did. I shall look with the gravest suspicion on any promise that the Secretary of State makes. It is no good trying to work spells upon me. This is a deadly, serious matter. I hope that at a very early date, unless we have some concrete assurance that something is really being done, the House will, in no uncertain manner, show by its Vote that it will no longer tolerate the dangerous and indefensible position in which we now find ourselves.
§ Group-Captain Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)
This is a happy day for me, after having tried for many years, on the Air Estimates and every other possible occasion, to raise some interest in air transport, to find, at last, that the people of the country are really roused and are also very disappointed and disturbed at the apathetic slackness of such action as has already been taken by the Government. This alarm is fully reflected in the House to-day and, while I and my hon. Friends quite obviously cannot go into the Lobby, it must not be assumed that we have been outmanoeuvred through having been compelled to discuss the broad principles of air transport on this Bill. Unless in the next few weeks some energetic action is taken by the Government we shall, most certainly, find an opportunity of dividing the House on the matter. For years a few of us have tried to get the country to realise the possibilities of this new means of communication and to cease regarding the aeroplane merely as an instrument of destruction, for it has always had far greater possibilities as an instrument of peace. Had the same energy and drive which have now been put into the production of combat aircraft been directed to the development of air transport after the last war, it is more than likely that this war would never have taken place. We have to realise the extraordinary effect on communication and on the possibility of negotiation which aircraft has brought to the world. It is, I think, no exaggeration to say that it is actually quicker to-day, apart from being far more effective and efficient, to go to the United States of America to negotiate than to do it by cable.
The House must be grateful to the two hon. Members who opened the Debate today. They kept their speeches very much to the main issues, and I hope the House will insist that when the Government 77 spokesman replies he also keeps to the main issue. We cannot be satisfied by a few vague platitudes thrown out while energetically chasing the many red herrings which have been drawn across the path. We are not concerned to-day with such matters as the unfortunate squabble between the late directorate of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the Air Ministry. We are not concerned with the personalities of the new board. We are not really concerned to-day whether there shall be one or more chosen instruments in future developments and we are not concerned to-day whether those instruments shall be run under national control or by private enterprise. All those points are important but they will only arise if the Government pay attention to the main issues, because unless they do there is a considerable danger that we shall have no air transport at all and therefore the other matters will not arise.
What are the main issues? The first, as was put by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), is that we must consider the British Commonwealth of Nations as the Unit. No other State or combination of States is so suitable for developing civil air transport as the British Commonwealth of Nations. Covering such a vast area and so widely separated, yet with no two areas more than 2,000 miles apart, it is almost ideal for the development of a great interlocking air service. We must develop that because by doing so we shall forge a link which will hold this Empire together in the future. We can only do this if there is wholehearted co-operation among all the Dominions. We can, I am sure, only obtain this co-operation by the calling together of a conference of representatives of Dominions, Colonies and India, awl this country must not expect necessarily to dominate that conference. We can only obtain it by forgetting sectional interests and not trying to gain local advantages for this country or for any particular Dominion. We can only get it by cutting through red tape and basing the whole thing on the principles of lease-lend which have been so effective in our war effort. The Dominions are unquestionably expecting a lead from this country. It will have to be an energetic lead if they are not to be tempted to turn away in certain instances to the United States where a very energetic lead is already being given. If as the result of this suggested conference of representa- 78 tives we can produce an Empire organisation, possibly under an Empire air board, we can obviously make the text step, which is to enter into negotiations with the other United nations.
Probably most of us would have at the back of our minds as a long-term policy the ideal of internationalisation, but, as has already been pointed out, the time for that has certainly not yet come. One cannot conceive the United States of America or Russia entering into complete internationalisation at the present time. Therefore, if we chase that hare and talk in the idealistic way in which the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) spoke to-day, we shall not progress very fast or very far. If in fact that is the outlook of the Government and the line on which they are trying to advance, it will readily explain why they are making so little progress. When we have created this Empire organisation we must then talk first of all to the United States because they of all people have most fully developed air transport outside their own country. We must talk to them, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) in the sort of language which they appreciate and understand. We must tell them clearly that the British Commonwealth of Nations is not going to be pushed off the map. We must tell them at the same time that we are anxious and most willing to co-operate to the full with them so that we may all take our proper place in this great development. We must remember that air transport is not merely the carriage of passengers and goods. It is a new form of communication, and the British Empire is entitled to have its intercommunication by aircraft in the same way as it has it by radio or by cable. It is merely a newer and better form of communication, and no other organisation, whether it be a country or an Empire, can hold together unless it is developed to the full.
The third thing we must do is to pursue the development of aircraft. I pointed out in the House only a few days ago that unless we act quickly we shall be in danger of being faced, if the end of the war comes suddenly, with large and magnificent modern factories all over the country employing many hundreds of thousands of skilled workmen becoming idle. Many of us are hoping that those factories will go a long way in solving the problem of employment. How can they 79 do so if we arrive at the end of the war without any designs of machines to manufacture? We all know that it takes some five years to bring a modern machine from the drawing board into production. What is to happen to those factories during that period? Are they to stand idle? Are the workers to be dispersed to other industries? It is vitally important that work on designs, and even the preparation of jigs where possible, should be carried out so as to be ready for that time when it comes. It has been pointed out clearly in the Debate that it is much more sensible to be designing now for civil aircraft than designing for fighter aircraft unless, of course, the Government are certain that we shall be fighting this war in five years' time.
The other matter to which the Government must turn their attention is research. This country is lamentably behind the United States in that matter. There is nothing more important, when one views the vast expansion of this new business of aircraft production as we hope it will be in future, than the proper and immediate development of research. We have the finest engineers and designers available. We have to realise that now that aircraft have reached speeds approximating 400 miles an hour we can no longer be content to sit back and rely on the artistry and inborn genius of particular men. The whole thing has moved out of that sphere and advance can only be made in the cold light of scientific research. The apparatus, which does not exist in this country on anything like lines comparable with the United States, must be provided. It must be provided by the Government. We have made the mistake in the past of concentrating our research too much in one place. It wants splitting up, part of it in Government establishments dealing with particular aspects and part of it dispersed in the aircraft works themselves.
There is a vast field for research in the aircraft industry. Aircraft themselves are only in the very elementary stage at the present time. Problems of fuel, the danger of fire, the problem of the weight of fuel which has to be carried compared with the weight of useful load are directions in which there can be great improvement. It may be by technical improvements in connection with fuel itself, or it 80 may even go so far as the electronic transmission of power from the ground. When those days come what a vast difference it will make to the operations of aircraft. I ask the Government spokesman to confine himself within those narrow aspects of the main issues, because they are the all-important things, the things which my hon. Friends and I, after many months of close investigation, have come to believe are essential before any real advance can be made. We cannot be satisfied with anything less than a promise of swift and quick action. I hope that that promise will be forthcoming. I feel that historians will probably say that this Debate was one of the most important that has ever taken place in this House, for the whole future of the British Commonwealth of Nations will depend upon the action which is taken by the Government as a result of it. This is no occasion for the lacksidaisical passing of minutes between national Departments or for impersonal cables on a bilateral basis between Governments. Only can we advance by a conference and the creation of an Empire air board, and I hope that the Government spokesman will given us an assurance that every effort will be made to bring that about at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
Although I am rather late I should like to join in the appreciation which has been expressed for the very excellent maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Group-Captain Helmore). I thought that quite a breath of fresh air was brought into the Debate by a speaker coming from the military side of aviation and it was an indication to those who know a good deal about the necessities of Britain and of the Empire of the importance and value of international agreements and understanding. I noted that the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Group-Captain Wright) made it perfectly clear why it is desired by those responsible for this Debate that there should be first of all an Empire discussion and the formation of an Empire civil aviation board. To put it almost in his own language, rather appropriate American slang, the idea is that we should be able by Empire agreement to tell America where she gets off. [HON. MEMBERS: "No" and "Nonsense."] Hon. Members can say that if they please. The 81 hon. and gallant Member said that when we got it agreed to by the Empire then we could tell America that she must allow this, that or the other, and that we have a position in the world against America.
§ Group-Captain Wright
What I said was that we should be able to tell America whether we have developed civil aviation or not, that the British Empire is not going to be pushed off the face of the map, which is an entirely different thing. I said we would then say that we were perfectly willing to co-operate so that each country had its fair share.
§ Mr. Montague
I think it must be apparent to most Members who listened to what was said that there was no necessity for a remark of that kind in respect of America unless it meant what I say it meant. At this moment it was quite inappropriate, and that is the reason why I took it to have that meaning and implication. Anyhow, if hon. Members will allow me perhaps it will be better to get along with the discussion and for me to say what I want to say on behalf of the party I represent on this subject, the importance of which I understand and which is quite recognised. In discussing civil aviation certain fundamental things need to be considered. The fact is that aviation at large, apart from the special question of national defence, is, as has been said, indivisible, like peace and military strategy. All forms of transport are the carrying from place to place of men and materials. Land, sea and air are the three dimensions of transport, and, like the dimensions of space, they are welded together by the factor of time. In theory, the separation of air transport from shipping, road, rail and all other means of communication is illogical, and in practice it is bound to be and is found to be a source of confusion, of duplication and of inefficiency.
As a member of the Transport Commismission set up in 1928 I had to be concerned with the details of road haulage and railway transport, and I saw for myself how the questions of public service and transport development were sacrificed to narrow and unimaginative self-interest and sectionalism. Later, at the Air Ministry, I was impressed by the argument, which was then as now largely in vogue, that technical advance in civil aviation called for the control of civil aviation by 82 the Ministry charged with the highest technical responsibility, but I have come, and I know that my party agrees with me, more and more to the view that civil aviation is the business of a Ministry of Communications, and not of a separate Ministry for civil aviation alone, because we do not subscribe to that. We want a Ministry of Communications which would be in effect a larger and more comprehensive Ministry of Transport. The Civil Aviation Department in my time was under Sir Sefton Brancker, and as was to be expected of him, it was administered in a spirit of lively enthusiasm, but it had little more to do with the progress of air transport as a civilian service than a registrar of births and deaths has to do with the health of Britain. On technical grounds, of course, it is necessary that there should be a communion between all the Departments concerned, between the military side, the civil aviation side, and all the rest. There is the greatest necessity for that; but the transfer of the A.I.D. to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and the formation of the Ministry itself, affords a parallel sufficiently appropriate and useful. Recently, under the control of Air Marshal Linnell, who has taken up new duties in the Middle East, there was an illustration of the way in which a production Department and the Air Ministry were able to collaborate, and I am sure that under the-new direction that collaboration is working smoothly and well at the present time. We stand, therefore, as a party for a Ministry of Communications which shall include shipping, railways, road transport, the air—every form of communication—because all transport, as I say, is indivisible, and, in spite of what one hon. Member says, really its fundamental concern is carrying men and materials from place to place.
The history of civil aviation in this country since the Londonderry and Hambling Committees affords a complete illustration of the folly of attempting to ride two horses at once when the horses are going in opposite directions. When Imperial Airways was formed the totally inadequate sum of £1,000,000, payable over a period 10 years, was offered by way of subsidy. I say it was totally inadequate because of the cost involved per passenger mile at that stage of development and the long range speculative character of flying at that time. 83 There is not very much difference now. With all that is said about the future of civil aviation, there will be for many years a vast difference between the cost per passenger-mile or per ton-mile of air transport and surface transport. The amount of private capital in that venture was farcical as we all know. Imperial Airways could have been bought out at the price of a song. But what was done? Instead of accepting the importance of long range development in the public interest when it could have been done on the most favourable terms the Government of the day said, "We cannot let these poor shareholders down. We will give you a run for your money. You are our chosen instrument"—the chosen instrument mind has been in evidence to-day—"and we will increase the subsidy." I do not want to spend time going over the whole history, because that is generally known, but it is necessary to refer to the headings. The Government support of civil aviation in that way failed. The Cadman Committee issued its condemnatory report. British Overseas Airways Corporation was formed out of Imperial Airways and British Airways, and Imperial Airways shares, which could at one time have been bought for 1s. each, realised 32s. 6d. each. I am not going back to moralise upon that transaction, because I am more concerned with the lesson. After all, what are two or three millions in the light of these budgetary days? I daresay the hon. Member opposite is very pleased to see the public purse utilised in order to raise shares that could have been bought for 1s. to 32s. 6d.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
Since the hon. Member has referred to me, I was amused at trying to see what was the distinction he is drawing. He told us that he was not going back in order to moralise but he was going back in order to draw the lesson. I should like the distinction explained.
§ Mr. Montague
If the hon. Member will listen instead of laughing he will hear. It is the only answer I can give to that. The hon. Member is fond of laughing out of his turn. The lesson is that the worst features of private enterprise and State bureaucracy are encouraged by the inadequate bolstering up of an equally inadequate private venture. That is the 84 lesson I draw from the experience of the past and I do not forget that experience when we hear so much about the public-mindedness of the people who talk about civil aviation to-day. The British Overseas Airways Corporation, with its guaranteed 3 per cent., its absence of voting rights for the shareholders, and the completely overriding powers of the Secretary of State is a step in the right direction, but only a step. One provision in its charter, if that is the right expression, is that it should not utilise other than British aircraft in its normal operational activities, which is a piece of characteristic futility worthy of the days of Ottawa. I have heard bitter criticisms about the quality of the Corporation's aircraft and the general sluggishness of its operational activities from the very people who believe in the out-of-date doctrine—or at any rate who did believe in it—that employment can be best encouraged not by pooling the results of world technical skill but by building barriers to keep out and by some magic or other not to keep in. I suggest that the purpose of the modern science of aviation, so far as it is unprostituted, is opposite to this. It is economically and culturally to bring the whole world together.
I want to say one or two rather blunt things about the question that has been raised to-day. I do not want to be misunderstood. I think it is necessary to debunk a good deal of what has been said about civil aviation. I speak for myself about that. My party do take the line that we should not neglect the technical development that we owe largely to the quality of our military machines, and that we should all take pride in our civil aviation and give as much support as we can to its development. On the other hand, much that has been said to-day suggests that we should develop civil aviation for private advantage, in order to resume and intensify the struggle for commercial supremacy, with all that that involves in national intrigue and jockeying. When I hear all the talk about American enterprise and tributes paid to its success as an indication of the power of private enterprise, I feel it necessary to point out that that enterprise has been very often supported by secret subsidies. What is the use of hon. Members talking about private enterprise, when they come to this House for Government assistance and Government——
§ Mr. Montague
My answer is that it is completely untrue. The American industry was one of the most heavily Government-subsidised industries in the world.
§ Mr. Montague
That is a truly wonderful definition of private enterprise. When I hear hon. Members deplore the way in which we are supposed to be heading for inferiority in regard to air transport I wonder whether it is really expected that we are to map out the air for ourselves as Hitler mapped out the earth for himself. A colleague of mine in this House asked me the other day whether we were to bring in the Poles and the Yugoslavs. My answer would be that we should bring in the Hottentots if they could make a contribution to public welfare and human good. The trouble with the League of Nations was not that small groups were brought in but that small minds were not kept out. I am not so sure that we need be very much concerned with the fact that great air liners are coming here from the United States for immediate post-war development. If America can produce civil aircraft, why should she not do so? She can produce good military craft. She can send Liberators and Fortresses here, and they do not compete with the Lancasters and the Spitfires. We are grateful for American production for war purposes, and I see no reason why we should be so anxious on the subject of peace production. By all means let us produce and develop the best we can, but let our industry take that production in its stride. After all, we cannot really compete with America and China.
§ Lieut.-Commander Brabner (Hythe)
We can produce, and it is ridiculous of the hon. Member to say that we cannot compete with America.
§ Mr. Montague
Evidently I have got under the skin of some hon. Members. I say that we cannot expect to compete against America or Russia in technical development and in scientific research, if by competition is meant beating them out 86 of the market. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who wants to beat them out of the market?"] I propose to state my case and that on behalf of my party, and if hon. Members do not like it, I am sorry. It is a point of view that ought to be expressed, because it is held by a large number of people. I am speaking in a representative capacity, and merely to be interrupted in that way does not serve the purposes of good debate. If America can produce good civil craft I do not think we should be very much concerned about it. We can produce good radiolocation. Fortresses do not compete with Lancasters, but co-operate. We have to gain operational efficiency on the new routes, but we cannot expect a monopoly. All the same, some agreement is necessary, but no bargaining for transit and landing rights. How can we achieve stabilisation of rates on the basis of competitive or hidden subsidies or of the keen competition for which we are invited to prepare? As Lord Sherwood said in another place:The policy of the freedom of the air without any corresponding international regulation of commercial aviation means competition far more fierce than any yet seen, and the intensification of heavy material subsidies.That is the point. We should seek to collaborate in peace just as closely as in war. I suggest that it cannot be done on a basis of private commerce, each country being jealous of what it calls its rightful position. I do not know what a rightful position is in the air. I understand that the relativists say that there is no such thing as a position in space.
What is being done? Is there to be an international Commission charged with the examination of details? Is there to be a policy of more than words? Have we an Empire policy? I know that Quantas, Tasmanian and Indian lines will be linked up as before, but it ought to be possible to bring the British Commonwealth together in the form of an Empire Aviation Executive concerned with Empire routes and their operation and not as a competitive weapon. The purpose with which we should do it should be concern for Empire routes and their operation, and to be ready, with the Mother Country, to join with the U.S.S.R. and the free countries of the world in a comprehensive and loyally observed world air policy. A well-known writer upon air matters has said:There need be no cause for concern or jealousy so long as there is between the 87 United Nations as clear an understanding on the needs of peace as there are on the needs of war. Rather we should rejoice that the war effort now and the foundations of international communications later on are being supplied by an industry which, for the past 12 years, has produced without doubt the best transport aircraft in the world. The aircraft need be no cause for anxiety, so long as the allocation to the Allied Powers is on a fair basis.I suggest that we need a heart-to-heart talk with our American friends and also a recognition of the fact that Russia and China exist as future great air Powers. The American newspaper "Time" asked the question—and I do not think I am so foolish in bringing this point of view to the House:Will Britain and the United States jockey to form rival imperialisms based on air power, or will they unite in a common policy of freedom of the air as well as freedom of the seas?"—which is the position of my party upon that issue? We agree with the calling of an Empire conference by all means, but we do not agree that that conference shall be called merely to lay down the basis of a competitive policy against the rest of the world. [Interruption.] I understand that hon. Members protest that that is not their intention. I will show in a few minutes that it is the point of view of a good number of people who are talking about civil aviation to-day, and I gathered that some of the speches in the Debate rather indicated that point of view.
I said that we needed a heart-to-heart talk with our American friends, but there is too much talk on both sides about the rewards to which the enterprise of each country is entitled. Commercial interests have too much grip. For instance, I would like the Secretary of State to bear in mind the conditions which were attached some time ago to the sale of three Boeings in this country. Those conditions, agreed to by His Majesty's Government, were to the effect that the machines should not be used in commercial services over the Atlantic. The result seems to indicate that the allegation is correct that on all flights between Baltimore and the United Kingdom only Government passengers and Government mails are carried, no matter how long delayed trans-Atlantic mails may be. This might be only a small matter, but it shows which way the wind is blowing. That agreement was made under the pressure of the manufacturing 88 company. If the Government, even in war-time, cannot do what they like over an ocean which is common to both countries, simply because of the pressure of a private firm, the sooner we discuss these matters upon frank and even terms the better. Such ideas are not peculiar to Americans.
It is a comment on the seriousness and urgency of the question of common agreement, that a writer in a British flying journal should point out:In or around London to-day are to be found the heads of all the European powers comprising the United Nations. We have, in addition, an almost permanent American Air Commission, and responsible executives from China and the U.S.S.R. always available for consultation. In these two latter countries, civil aviation will be developed on a huge scale. To recognise an oportunity and not avail ourselves of it in such a critical period of the world's history is little short of criminal. As far as I am aware, there exists no body, not even a disinterested committee, empowered to discuss with these representatives of European powers the restoration of air communication in Europe.I would advise hon. Members who are amused at these ideas being put forward in the House of Commons to read the leading article in "The Times" this morning, which puts the whole case for internationalisation in better language than I possibly could. It points out that the chief commercial advantages of air transport are speedy delivery of urgent and valuable traffic, the saving of special packing, reduction of the risks of theft, and spare parts and accessories can be flown to industrial plants, where time is an important consideration.
All these things together do not justify the extravagant anticipations of some people concerning the future of civil aviation, and are for the most part inspired by the anxiety of the aircraft industry to cash-in on the drive for rehabilitation. Here I am expressing my own point of view. Even the most optimistic estimate of the costs per ton-mile show that it will be for many years higher than for surface transport. I do not take the line that we should be indifferent to the development of civil aviation or that civil aviation has no important future, but when I hear and read of the claims made and the clichés repeated, I feel the need for sober consideration of the facts.
Propaganda and education for the development of air-mindedness are called for. We must create a demand, which is 89 what the brewers said when they started their crusade for the creation of beer-mindedness in the young. Why should we create a demand for anything? There is a little bit of philosophy about it, but, after all, human happiness does not come from the multiplication of demands. The idea that we should go out of our way to create demands, this idea that we have to be air-minded and that the whole community are bursting for the opportunity of travelling in the air—[An HON. MEMBER: "They are."] Come down to my constituency and see what they think. It is simply nonsense. So far as transport is capable of development on natural and economic lines, well and good, and I say that it should be able to look after itself. There are 45,000,000 people in these Islands who are supposed to be bursting to fly in the air. How many of them are likely to become air-minded in any practical sense? I cannot go down to my constituents and tell them to be air-minded, for the majority of them in ordinary times have to be wage-minded, rent-minded and even dole-minded. They are really not interested in how quickly a few wealthy people can be flown from Britain to New York, and they do not believe that serious inroads upon unemployment can be made by the rapid conveyance of specialised goods. They would be rapidly conveyed if we did not develop the production of aircraft in this industry.
But let us have a sense of proportion about all this. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear."] I am glad Members agree with me as to the necessity for a sense of proportion. Industry ought to be able to take all there may be in this aspect of trading in its stride without so much fuss. The definite, far-reaching and aggressive policy demanded by Lord Londonderry is based on the conception, if not designed to perpetuate, that if we do not get back helter-skelter into the cockpit of commercial competition we shall be left and no longer able to hold our own. Let me quote three short sentences in three recent speeches made in Debate in another place—and this is an answer to an interruption during the earlier part of my speech on the question as to the design and idea behind this whole agitation. First:The whole position of this country as a world Power depends on the position we are going to occupy"—
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Further to that point of Order. Did not the hon. Members who spoke first and second quote from speeches made in another place?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
It is not usual to quote from a speech made in another place in the same Session of Parliament. I do not know whether the hon. Member is doing so or not.
§ Mr. Montague
I am referring to a Debate on civil aviation which took place in another place about a week ago. (AN HON. MEMBER: "Already quoted from.") I did not know it was out of Order to do that, provided I had the quotation with me and that I did not mention the other place by name.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is rather a question of degree, and perhaps the hon. Member will proceed, and if necessary I will call him to Order.
§ Mr. Montague
This is my first quotation:The whole position of this country as a world Power depends on the position we are going to occupy in the air. The only manner in which we can proceed is that we should tell the world and our people here and in the Dominions the position we are going to occupy and how we are going to occupy it. We have for centuries exercised great influence throughout the world, and we are determined to go on doing it.Again:The greatness of this Kingdom as the centre of the Commonwealth of Nations arises from the fact that, in the past, the sea has been dominated by our influence. We established ourselves as a great trading country. We are what we are partly by reason of the geographical position of these islands and largely by our mastery of the sea.Finally:This country was built up by what is known as the command of the sea. It was built up by the fact that our ships sailed throughout the length and breadth of the oceans of the world. I say that the same must happen in the skies.Those are quotations from speeches, all of which took that line throughout the whole Debate. Now it is true, of course, that we established ourselves as a trading nation by our command of the sea. It was a competitive necessity of past history, and I do not know that we are any the worse off for it at the moment. But 91 are we telling the world that we propose to continue domination in the only sense of the word applicable to air transport? Do we tell the United States and Russia not that we are prepared to share the command of the sea and air with them but that we propose to dominate both? Stress was laid upon scientific research, and rightly——
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
The hon. Member has just said that that point was stressed through the whole of the Debate, which he has been out of Order in quoting. Would he be good enough to say to whom he is referring?
§ Mr. Montague
I think the question of Order had better be left to Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Stress was laid in this Debate and in the other.
§ Mr. Montague
The Government were asked to give urgent attention to the matter. The achievements of Russia were praised, though it was not proposed to follow the example of Russia in respect to public enterprise. But is internationalism in science repudiated? We have had a repudiation of internationalism, at the present moment at any rate, in respect of air transport. Does science as science concern itself with command and domination except the command and domination of nature for the benefit of humanity? It is true that science is used for base ends, but that is not the fault of the scientists or in accordance with the freemasonry of the scientific world. None know better than the scientists that commercial rivalry if persisted in in a world of advancing technique means the destruction of all concerned. The case attempted to be made out in this and other Debates is based on the assumption of continued economic rivalry. I assert that the idea that we can beat—perhaps that is a better expression than "complete with"—our two great Allies, Russia and the United States, in scientific research, technique and practice, is simply nonsense. If they set out to do it, they could beat us easily. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Those Members are thinking in pre-1914 terms. It is about time they woke up to the significance of the great world war. At any rate it is that kind of mind which brought 92 the country to that war, and will bring this country and the world to destruction sooner or later if it prevails.
I say it is simply nonsense to talk about beating the world in the same way as Hitler has talked about beating the world in a military sense. If civil aviation is to be used for the sowing of more dragons' teeth, then to hell with civil aviation so far as I am concerned. [Interruption.] That upsets our friends, I know. Furthermore, if it is demanded that the Government should assume an aggressive and courageous policy, build up national prestige and so forth, let it be understood that we support this on two conditions; (1) the closest possible co-operation shall be sought at once with our great Allies, and ultimately with the rest of the civilised world; and (2) that civil aviation shall be developed as a responsible service, civil in fact as well as in name. I do not rule out national prestige in the best sense. I am not turning down civil aviation—I recognise its importance—but I am turning down what I call a lot of nonsense talked about it by people who want to exploit civil aviation for trade and commercial purposes. That is what I am opposing. We should summon an Empire conference without delay, but I rule out the notion that it is the Government's business to encourage and subsidise and to nurse, in the name of private enterprise, competitive adventure. The interests concerned are itching for the spoils of a new gigantic exploitation. Why people in this country should lose their heads and become air-minded, in the sense of light-minded, I do not understand. I am told that some firms are already seconding design staffs for the preliminary work of developing luxury craft. If that is true, we should be told upon whose authority. We are at war, after all; and we are not at war for the interests of aviation production firms. Let them be bluntly told that the Government are not supporting any agitation of that character.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)
In view of that very serious charge, would the hon. Member satisfy the House by giving the names of the firms who are seconding these people?
§ Mr. Montague
Something has been said about spreading the net for small birds. No, thank you. I think we have had experience enough on this side of the House 93 as to what private interests and their campaigns are in this country. Also we have the history of civil aviation in front of us, and we can learn lessons from that history. I said at the beginning that we should look to fundamentals. We rarely do. For the most part, on most subjects, we are concerned with the consequences of past errors, and, being so exclusively concerned, we perpetuate those errors in another form. I beg the House to bear in mind that we are engaged in discussing something that is important to world civilisation, to a degree immeasurably greater than any order of priority or prestige for any nation in this world, including our own.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I want to intervene in this Debate for only a few minutes, to deal with certain aspects of the subject. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will be speaking later. We are indebted to the hon. Members who initiated this Debate on this very important and extremely interesting subject. It is a subject that involves large issues of policy, both now and in the post-war period, and it is, of course, possible to extend the Debate over a very wide field. I am going to deal with only a very few points. I feel that this Debate will be memorable for the maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Group-Captain Helmore). He gave me the impression of speaking from a background of wide knowledge and deep thought. I think that Members wished, as is not often the case in this House, that he had gone on longer. I am sure we shall be glad to hear him again.
The hon. Members who raised this matter, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) in particular, seemed, I thought, rather to ignore the conditions under which we are debating to-day. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud very carefully, but for the first to or 15 minutes, except for an allusion to the existence of air marshals, I should not have realised that there was a war on at all. The speech was delivered with great charm, but in rather a peaceful atmosphere. I was most interested in 94 the hon. Member's accusations, particularly of the four Ministers, two of whom were dismissed with a caution, and two of whom were to come up for sentence. He might have thought a little of what those Ministers have had to do during this war. I was rather surprised when he seemed to suggest that civil aviation should have an A.1 priority, and that we could afford to take certain people away from vital war work and put them on civil aviation for post-war. That suggests quite an unwarrantable complacency. He suggested that if we could not find them here, we could find them in the Dominions; but I know from my experience that he would find that the Dominions are as much all out for this war as we are ourselves.
But I think it is right that we should be considering this subject. In the course of this war, as in the past, there has been an enormous development of aviation, and people are naturally thinking, especially at this stage of the war, of what is to be the course of aviation history after the war. What the ordinary man is thinking about is, "How can we make man's conquest of the air a blessing and not a curse, a means of shortening the distances which separate the members of the human family in spirit as well as in travel time?" Just as the conquest of the air has altered conditions in war, so it will alter them in peace. I would like to say how much I welcome references made by the hon. and gallant Member for Watford and my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) to the fact that you cannot divorce this question of civil aviation from that of military aviation. The conquest of the air has affected all our ideas of how to obtain security for our people. It has made much of the old conceptions of strategy, frontiers and so on, obsolete.
The people of Britain over the centuries have built up a great Commonwealth and Empire, which, as my hon. Friend said, has been based on sea power. We have now to consider how it is to function in a world where the aeroplane can pass over all frontiers, and where sea routes to be safe must be protected by air forces as well as by ships of war. Therefore, in considering civil aviation you have to consider the general security set-up, so to speak, of the world. It would not be appropriate for me in this 95 Debate to enter into that problem, but if civil aviation has a domestic aspect which has been stressed, it has an aspect which links it up with the whole wide problem which is, put shortly, the securing of the world from fear. We all have a direct interest in it. I was rather sorry that some Members seemed to think that there was some division between this country and the Dominions on this subject. I have not found that so. Let me cite a speech by Mr. Mackenzie King in the Canadian House of Commons on 2ndApril. It has been quoted before, in another place, but it will bear quoting again:The Canadian Government strongly favours a policy of international collaboration and co-operation in air transport and is prepared to support in international negotiations whatever international air transport policy can be demonstrated as being best calculated to serve not only the immediate national interests of Canada but also our overriding interests in the establishment of an international order which will prevent the outbreak of another world war.I think we should all subscribe to that view. We must not consider the interests of Great Britain only, or even those of the British Commonwealth and Empire only, but those of the whole world. But it necessarily appears in every Debate on aviation questions that we have to consider the position in this country. There are countries with great continental territories, such as the United States and the U.S.S.R., that have full scope for great development of civil aviation within their own frontiers. Compared with them these Islands are just little dots of land. You can fly in a plane from one end of Great Britain to another in a very short time. As the centre of a great Commonwealth and Empire, we have urgent need of as good air communications as we can possibly get. We need to keep in touch with the Dominions, with India and with the Colonial Empire, because there we have a quarter of the world's inhabitants scattered over every Continent. Some of our Colonies are very small and isolated; others, like the Dominions of Canada and Australia and the Empire of India, and some of our Colonies, too, in Africa, have great stretches of country and have urgent need for the development of internal air communications. But what is needed in the Commonwealth and Empire is, obviously, connection in the best possible way between all its parts. Therefore, our 96 problem, speaking here in Great Britain, is predominantly concerned with external communications with the Commonwealth and the Empire and also with all other countries. That being so, while we are convinced of the need of the utmost international co-operation in civil aviation and, as soon as possible, of discussing these matters with other Governments, whether they are located here or anywhere else, it is natural and right that our first approach should be to our fellow members in the Commonwealth.
May I here correct what seems to be a curious misapprehension as to the way in which the British Commonwealth works? Some hon. Members are very old-fashioned in their ideas. I hear frequently the demand that we should summon an Empire air conference. It is not for us to summon and for others to obey. That is not at all the line on which the British Commonwealth has developed. An hon. Member opposite shakes his head, but that was the word that was used—a demand, and a demand not in the time that might suit the other members of the Commonwealth. The hon. Member laid it down in terms, "at once to summon." That is not the way things work. They are full and equal partners in the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Attlee
Perhaps I am as well acquainted, as Dominions Secretary, with what the Dominions wish as the hon. Lady. But a conference can only be arranged if that is the will of the members of the Commonwealth. It may be that it is a good idea that hon. Members have that a conference should be called, but it may not be the idea of the Dominions. It may be that there is a different method of approach that they would prefer; it may also be that the time-table laid down by hon. Members does not happen to suit the Dominions. They have their own particular problems. I should like Members to get out of their heads at once the idea which goes back to the far past that it is for us to summon. It is certainly for us to approach them, and that is precisely what we have done.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
This is rather an important matter and may cause disturbance in the 97 minds of the Dominions. Surely, the word "summon" in that sense is only used to convene a conference with the Dominions. The term "convene a conference" would very properly come from the Mother Country.
§ Mr. Attlee
If hon. Members had said, "to approach the Dominions with a view to asking them as to whether they thought a conference would be the best way," that would be one thing. That is not the way it has been stressed in this Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members say, "At once, summon." I am taking that point because it is one that hon. Members sometimes forget. I say that we are fully alive as to how essential it is in the interests of the Dominions as well as other parts of the British Commonwealth that there should be the fullest unity of view of all parties within the Commonwealth. We are also convinced that one of the essentials for the future working of the Commonwealth is the development of our communications, and I know that that view is held in the Dominions as well. Precisely with these objects in view, we have been in communication and consultation with the Governments of the Dominions and with the Governments of India. We have been seeking with them a solution to the problem which will best serve our common interests and the interests of the whole world. We have sent to them the results of preliminary studies that have been made here and the consideration which we have given to the subject here during recent years. We have sent them and asked them for their views, and we have received from some of them expressions, necessarily only provisional, of the point of view to which they have come both as to general lines of policy and in the way in which other countries should be approached.
These are only provisional, and they are not complete. One at least of the Dominions has made it plain that it is not yet ready. Its preliminary studies have not been completed, it is awaiting certain reports and it cannot even formulate provisional views as to what should be the next step. But I am hoping that in a very short time it will be in a position to state them. That is the position. We wish to act in this, as hon. Members have said, with other members of the Commonwealth and with the Government of India. We are therefore consulting with them, 98 but it is no good my trying to lay down a policy and saying, "This is a policy to which we have come," when as a matter of fact we have not yet arrived at that point. That is all the answer I can give on that point to hon. Members. It is impossible for me, standing here, to say any more than that the Government are pursuing all these questions in consultation with the Dominions, with a view to arriving as soon as possible at common agreement, both as to the method of future proceedings and policy, and so to go on from there to consulting with other countries.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Challen (Hampstead)
Is not the House entitled to know what the Government's provisional views are?
§ Mr. Attlee
I am not prepared to give the views. We give our views in consultation with the Dominions.
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
Leaving aside the question of whether a conference is asked for or summoned, will the right hon. Gentleman make it plain one way or another whether after the bilateral conversations have finished and the Dominions have made their own preliminary views clear, he has suggested to them that there should be a conference of Dominion representatives or not? That is a simple question and one to which we are entitled to an answer.
§ Mr. Attlee
We have asked the Dominions as to which is the best way, in their view, of making that personal contact which you must have, but I am not prepared to give any details, because I have not received any yet. I do not think it is a useful thing to examine exactly what the methods would be, because I have not got the views of the Dominions yet on that point. There are various views.
§ Major Thorneycroft
I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to give Government details of policy, but whether the Government think a conference of Dominion representatives would serve a useful purpose. Surely they are entitled to have the Government's views.
§ Mr. Attlee
There are various forms of conference which you can have. We are now consulting with the Dominions as to what form of consultation is best, whether some wish for a formal conference or an informal talk. The matter is still under discussion.
§ Mr. Tree
I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the difficulties we are having in this matter arise because of the fact that we are advocating a policy of internationalisation, and I asked him to define his meaning of that word. Will he do so now, in order to give some indication of whether the Government are pursuing that policy in their negotiations with the Dominions?
§ Mr. Attlee
There are various methods by means of which this problem might be dealt with; among other matters some form of internationalisation may be considered. [Laughter.] Really, I do not know what has upset hon. Members. I might also say that some forms of private enterprise or some mixed form of private and public enterprise can be considered. Even some eminent Americans have advocated on this subject some form of internationalisation. As I say, all these matters are being considered in order that we can form views and get together for further discussion. I do not see why it should be considered a deplorable thing to look at these views——
§ Mr. Attlee
I cannot say further than that, except that we are in full consultation. But there are two points, among others, on which action has been taken. The first is one which has been raised a good deal in this discussion, namely, the construction of a suitable type of plane for transport purposes. I must again emphasise a point which has been made more than once by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production, namely, that nothing concerning our post-war position in aviation matters must be allowed to interfere in any way with, or diminish, our war effort. I must stress that. The first job 100 we have to do is to win this war; we still have to contemplate the possibility of a prolonged war both in Europe and in the Far East, and new types of fighting planes must be brought forward to maintain the equality of our Air Force and our Naval Air Service. There is an ever-growing need for air transport in war operations. The inauguration of the Transport Command in the Royal Air Force is one of the signs of the importance that the Government attach to this matter of transport planes.
But over and above these demands for war purposes there is the question of what can be done in the way of preparing for civil aviation after the war. The House no doubt remembers that a Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Brabazon of Tara to consider and advise on the type of plane which will be required for servicing the various routes, internal and external, and on which this country will have to rely after the war. Their report was received a few weeks ago, and since then the War Cabinet have decided that they must undertake the responsibility for the necessary preparation of the various types recommended, so far as that can be done without interfering with war production. As a result of that decision, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production has initiated consultations between his Department and the principal aeroplane constructors to see what can be done to advance the matter without impinging in any way on the war effort. Naturally it is very difficult to find the necessary staff at this stage of the war, but, nevertheless, it has been possible to allocate the different design jobs for some four types of planes to certain firms who may obtain assistance from other firms as to sections of the design work, so spreading the new work that it will not interfere with either the present or prospective war effort. If during the course of design and construction there is a clash of interests as between essential work for the war and progress with the civil types, then war work will, of course, take precedence. Certain other arrangements are in hand for the adaptation of existing types for civil service, as was also recommended by the Brabazon Committee.
These planes, if they come into production while the war is in progress, will be extremely useful. I cannot tell how long 101 the war will last—some hon. Members on the other side seem optimistic, but I should not dare to prophesy—but, as I have said, these planes will be extremely useful for war transport. At the same time, they should provide a basis of nevi./ and up-to-date British planes when the war is over on which to rebuild our air services and to establish those new services which will no doubt be required for the Empire and the Commonwealth as well as for international communications. The present orders that have been placed are for designs and prototypes so that it must of necessity be a considerable time before any such planes take the air. But everything will be done, always with the reservation that war production must not be interfered with, to get ahead with new designs as speedily as possible.
The second point is the development which has taken place in various parts of the Commonwealth and the Empire of facilities for aviation undertaken primarily for military reasons, but which will be available in the post-war period. All this work has necessarily been dictated by purely military and strategic considerations which will not operate after the war, but will remain as a solid asset for civil use. In all the Colonies which are on routes now being used and which may be used after the war aerodromes have been constructed which are capable of taking the largest planes, while there are subsidiary works such as hangars, workshops, administrative buildings and roads. Meteorological services have been built up into the network covering the Colonial Empire, and there are highly skilled meteorological officers with great knowledge of tropical data and forecasts. Similarly, in the Dominions and India there has been a tremendous development of aviation services. The Colonial Governments have been asked to furnish us with all their data and views on postwar civil aviation developments in their territories. Their reports are being received and studied. After all, it must be remembered that civil aviation is a practical subject. You have to consider traffic requirements and possibilities for passengers, mails and freights, and information as to aerodromes and routes must be examined. All this information and the work which has been done will be of the utmost value when it comes to working out the implications of civil aviation policy.
102 I cannot close without again emphasising that our policy is to develop civil aviation as a service of mankind. I believe it is vitally necessary for the economic and political security of the world that air transport shall be developed on the basis of international co-operation. There must be no return to the pre-war system of unbridled competition leading to political rivalry between the nations. Finally, never again must we have a system under which unscrupulous Powers can use the development of civil aviation as a cloak for military planning.
§ MR. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
The right hon. Gentleman began his speech with a generous reference to my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and Harborough (Mr. Tree) for having introduced this subject to the House. Their speeches were of high quality and persuasive, and we owe them a debt for the perseverance and patriotism which have caused them to bring this matter to our attention. It is not a matter of transitory interest. It is not a mere matter of machinery. It is not a Departmental topic. It is fundamental. It goes to the roots of our national being. There are occasions, and this is one of them, when it is relevant to break down simple subjects into their constituent elements, and we may well ask whether the conditions which were responsible for our emergence as a great Power still prevail. Does the prospect of a universal development of civil aviation modify our position? Looking back on the causes of our good fortune, we find them to be simple. We had no land frontiers. This meant that we could take as much or as little of Continental wars as we willed. Our neighbours had to pour out their human and material treasure. Our villages were not destroyed, our homes were not ravaged and our factories were not reduced to ruins. This is the first war in which we have undergone these experiences. This means that air power has an influence for good or ill upon our capacity to survive. What is true of war must be true in peace. We are not fighting this war, as we fought previous wars, by reliance on sea power or land power. We are fighting it and winning it by the use of air power, either singly or in combination with the other Fighting Services. Our continuous bombing offensive, which is shedding such lustre on our pilots, is for 103 the domination of the Italian and German skies. Our Armies could not rout the enemy in North Africa until they had the close support of an irresistible overhead arm. The campaign against the U-boats proceeds more successfully in proportion as aircraft, in increasing numbers and of improving range and quality, become available to aid the efforts of the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine.
These facts mean something, and it is evident that air power in the age that is coming will be as decisive in bringing about the rise and fall of nations as sea power was in the past. We owe our greatness—it is elementary—to our geographical situation on the great trade routes of the sea, leading to Europe and to America, and not only to that but to our harbours; we have more natural harbours in proportion to the extent of our coastline than any of the Continental nations. These factors of insularity and good harbours weigh for nothing in the air age. It is only by our own conscious efforts that we can reassert in the future the pre-eminence that we gained in the past. How are we situated for this undertaking? Favourably, I think. An examination of the map will disclose this remarkable fact, that, if the point of a compass be placed upon London and a hemisphere drawn of the world, that hemisphere contains the whole habitable globe with the exception of Australia and a small portion of South America. There is no other centre in the world on which you can put a compass and draw a comparable hemisphere. If you put it on New York, the greater part of the circle will contain sea and not land surface. We are at the very centre of the land mass of the world. We have an incomparable advantage, and we have before us a prospect of greatness exceeding that which we have ever achieved, if we only avail ourselves of it.
Counteracting that remarkable advantage is the smallness of our Island, which is not suitable for the great development of internal air services. But why should we consider ourselves as an island? It is when we come to consider ourselves as an Empire that the picture changes. We have heard speeches to-day from the Benches behind me, and from a Bench below the gangway, which seemed to suggest that our consideration of our- 104 selves as an Empire contained in it something indelicate or offensive to our Allies. But the existence of the Empire is a living proof of our belief in the possibilities of internationalism. If we consider our' selves as a unit smaller than an Empire, we shall, of course, be outdistanced by the greater entities of the United States and of the Soviet Union. Let it therefore be clearly established that we regard ourselves in the beginning, and in the end, from first to last and entirely, as an Empire.
A chosen instrument has been selected, the British Overseas Airways Corporation, for the task of making a network of Empire aerial routes. I hope that this will not always remain a monopoly, for when you are dealing with vast spaces you must leave room for individuality. But accepting for the moment that this is the chosen instrument, what is to prevent us now from offering seats on the Board of that Corporation to the various parts of the Empire in proportion to their commercial interest and inviting them to guarantee its finances upon a like basis? That is a question which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough in essence put. I quite see that it may not be possible for the Government to answer it and I do not wish to press them for an answer. They are obviously in a difficulty. There is no reason to reprove the Government. We do not know to what their negotiations may lead. I do, however, reinforce the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that when the arrangements come to be made we should consider ourselves as an Empire and that we should make this offer that they should have seats upon this board or upon the board of another corporation to be formed. This is not a question of profit-making. This is a question of our existence, of our survival.
When we have settled the matter of the Empire we come to the international aspect. A proposal has been put before the House that the British Empire—or at any rate the constituent parts of the British Empire, for the argument seemed to be that it would be wrong for them to combine—the United States, Russia and the other great countries of the world should put up the capital for a world international airways and that this great entity should be administered by Sweden, Switzerland and——
§ Mr. Bowles
I did not say administered. I said that they would have the right to nominate directors. I said that these countries would be the nominating countries and that there was no reason why they should confine the nominations to their own nationals.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I accept that. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I am trying to deal objectively with his proposal, and I do not wish to misrepresent him. The proposal is that the directors should be nominated and that the countries having the power to nominate should be. Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Latvia.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Such a proposal is to carry nationality to the most extreme limits. It is the great Powers which are international in spirit, not the small ones. It is this country which by its blood and treasure has saved or is in process of saving these small nationalities. They are the peoples who attach the greater importance to their national rights and who will not always combine in tariff unions or in unions to make a common foreign policy. The proposal is absurd, in my view. It is as if the independent Members of this House were constituted into an over-riding authority and had the power to nominate the directors on the Front Bench. I should take a very personal view of my rights in that matter.
Let us deal with what is practicable. This international bird will not fly. Its feathers are too numerous and too heavy. Let us deal with what can be achieved. The function of an international body is to draw up a code of procedure to which all nations can subscribe. This code of procedure must be technical. It must be concerned with the imparting of meteorological information, with standards of air-worthiness and with the qualifications of pilots. It must be concerned, let us hope, with the definition of what is meant by the freedom of the air, whatever this phrase may mean, whether the nations are prepared to accept that every country shall have the right to send aircraft over any other country, whether the air usque ad coelum belongs to the nations over which it circulates, whether the aircraft of other countries shall have the right to alight with passengers and whether they shall 106 have the right to gather freight and traffic freely in other countries—these are technical questions suitable for a convention. Such a convention existed before the war. It may be modified, but that is the proper sphere of international activities. If you expect more from an international arrangement than this at the beginning I think that you will crash a great ideal. Subject to that code, the Queensberry Rules of the Air as one might define them, it will be possible for nations to make bilateral or multilateral agreements.
What is to happen in Europe? There is a whole continent which will be economically derelict after the war in which our guiding and constructive influence can play a great part. It is not known what the intentions or policy of Russia may be and, therefore, one forbears to speculate upon that important subject. At all events, Britain and Russia have some part to play. To play this part they will need aeroplanes. Where are these transport aeroplanes? Whence are they to come? We had a statement from my right hon. Friend which I think is of a hopeful character. The Government are to assign a proportion of our designing skill and of our productive capacity to transport aeroplanes. I do not think we can ask more than that. I do, however, protest against the idea that we may divide fighters and bombers into one category and transport aeroplanes into another, and say of fighters and bombers that they are useful for the conduct of the war and of transport aeroplanes that they are of subsidiary advantage. I think that they are of the utmost importance to the conduct of the war. If the making of them were really a distraction from our war effort, serving no proximate purpose, we should be wise to throw ourselves upon the good will of America and rely upon their helping us at the conclusion of the war. The Germans arrived in Tunisia because they had transport aeroplanes. They delayed us for six months there because they had transport aeroplanes. If we are to invade the Continent of Europe, shall we not be very much advantaged if we have transport aeroplanes carrying airborne divisions to the Continent? And when it comes to achieving the complete surrender of Japan, why, this is the instrument which is most likely to bring about that result rapidly.
107 This is not a distraction from the war effort. If, however, it should be the case that we finish the war and we have to face this new era, in which air transport will play such a part, without transport aeroplanes, we need not be ashamed of accepting assistance from America. It has been pointed out that while America may have aeroplanes, we have the greater number of the bases which are necessary for flight throughout the world. There is nothing vulgar about that, although it has been suggested that there is something almost as improper about it as there is in making an Imperial arrangement. There is a perfectly fair contribution which we could make to this difficult problem, and it has this advantage, that if as a result of America having the aeroplanes and of our having the bases we can draw closer the bonds which tie the United States to the British Empire, then we shall be achieving something of permanent value, for every additional common agency we can establish between us is a guarantee of the preservation of peace in the future.
Therefore, I submit, we need not look with apprehension upon the future. We have, however, one immediate question to decide, and that is, How shall we administer air transport domestically? There is much to be said for its retention as one of the responsibilities of the Air Ministry. Their record is not a bad one. They have had difficulties in the past owing to the lack of money. They have had a very close association with the aircraft industry from its foundation. They have knowledge of the pilots, and, indeed, they will have trained all the pilots. All the technical skill resides in that Department. There is much to be said for leaving the administration where it is. On the other hand, it is argued that air transport is but one aspect of transport as a whole. Just before I went to the Ministry of Transport as Minister there was a Committee under Lord Gorell which examined the allocation of duties. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air was a member of that Committee. This was in 1934. A minority report was presented, signed by Lord Brabazon and another member of the Committee, suggesting that civil air transport should be handed over forthwith to the Ministry of Transport. I must say that when I was at the 108 Ministry of Transport I did cast covetous eyes upon this branch of transport, which seemed to offer the greatest possibilities; at any rate, it would get people off the roads. But that was only a minority report, and the majority suggested that the responsibility should remain with the Air Ministry.
There is, however, an intermediate solution which I commend for consideration. In the last war, when it was desired to give great prominence to military flying it was decided, although both the War Office and the Air Ministry had an interest in this subject, to set up an Air Ministry to concentrate on military flying. As our future depends—I believe it to depend—on the arrangements which are to be made for fostering civil flying, would it not be worthy of examination by the Government whether they should appoint for a limited period, especially now, a Minister solely charged with the consideration of the possibilities of this great subject? It is understandable that the Secretary of State for Air and those who speak for him in another place should repeatedly be saying: "We have not time in the war to give our whole minds to this subject. We are concerned with the battlefield." There could be found men, and interests, and industries, outside whose minds are not wholly focused on the battlefield, who could assure themselves that all preliminary arrangements were being set in train, that the arrangements were in order, that the estimate of pilots was complete, that the requirements of technical equipment had been thought out in advance—could concern themselves, in short, with laying the foundations upon which we can build in the future. They could do that, withdrawn from all other considerations. It is often said that we have too many Ministries already. It does not matter how many Ministries we have. The question is whether they have a function to discharge. If we need 100 Ministries we must have them, for the country's welfare must be secured. I therefore submit this suggestion to the Government, and indeed it is one which has found support in the course of the Debate.
I do not think that my hon. Friends who introduced this Motion have cause to complain of the manner in which it has been received by the Government. They are under the disadvantage that they can- 109 not disclose their plans, but they will be very much to blame if they have not profited by the arguments which have been submitted. This is a Debate second to none in importance among any which have been held. It is concerned with a subject which we cannot postpone until after the war. What is this idea that war and peace, the struggle and its aftermath, are disjointed episodes in the history of mankind? There is a continuous evolution in progress, and we must act now with wide eyes upon our destiny. Our past greatness was secured by our pre-eminence afloat, and it is our duty to keep the mind of this country upon the realisation that our future is aloft.
§ Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes (Nottingham, Central)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has covered almost all the fundamental points of this great subject. As he has indicated, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of this island, the future of the Empire, the future peace of the world depend upon what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air and the Government decide to do and to do very soon now. I cannot lay too much stress upon the urgency of this subject. I would urge that as soon as possible whatever conclusion is come to should be made public throughout the world. I think the future depends not only upon policy but upon the wise and energetic handling of the whole subject, even more than it did at the end of the last war. The opportunities in the air then, as now, are illimitable and the conditions are ideal. Public interest, I am glad to say, has recently flared up and is still growing rapidly. We of the British Commonwealth of Nations had and have the foremost place in design and technique. We had and have unrivalled quality and quantity of personnel. We had and shall have worldwide bases, a very important factor. At the end of the last war we had the foremost place in the field of operation, and we shall have it again at the end of this war.
But progress was hampered after 1919 by the lack of Government support and of financial and public support. It was false economy, apathy and indifference which were fatal in the years since the last war and until this war. I have been waiting for this day for rather more than 24 110 years. It was at the end of 1918 that Lord Weir who was then Secretary of State for Air and I, as Chief of the Air Staff, evolved two schemes. One was that there should be a predominant Imperial air force, together with a mercantile air service, and the other was that there should be a predominant mercantile air service with a small spearhead air force. Had either of these schemes been adopted it is conceivable that this war would not have occurred. Neither, however, was adopted owing to the craze for economy. I think it was a false economy. I so well remember, and it is worth recalling at this moment, that in January, 1919, when I was still Chief of the Air Staff, I addressed the London Chambers of Commerce on this very subject of civil aviation and urged, with all the power at my disposal that it should be supported and carried into effect with the utmost rapidity and constant support. It was not supported, except by the Press, in those years when I was Controller-General for Civil Aviation from 1919–1922. There was practically no Governmental support and very little public support. From 1922, when I came into this House, to 1928, I continued to urge both here and throughout the country without avail that civil aviation should be developed. I urged its immense importance not only from the commercial and strategic points of view, but for the political communications of the Empire, in order to bring Prime Ministers and other concerned together to obtain the constant unity of policy which was and is the difficulty at the present day. If the air transport scheme is carried into effect from now on, it will be of immense value in cementing that gap in our Imperial structure. It is the only thing which can cement that gap.
I beg the Government, the House and the public not to let all this happen again. We surely must not make the same mistakes. Indeed, it would be of the utmost danger if we made any great mistake of policy at the present time. We must frame a policy, it must be the right policy and it must be carried into effect as soon as possible. Just as there is a supreme opportunity, so there are immense difficulties, but I cannot think that they will not be overcome, if there is good will and the real will to overcome them. After this war there will, inevitably, be international rivalry for air transport. We must be realists in this matter. For many years we 111 have all believed that the best that can be done for the world can only be effected by close collaboration between the United States and the British Empire, but we know also that practical and satisfactory collaboration can only be achieved with mutual understanding and the most careful thought by experienced men on both sides.
After this war, as after the last war, every nation will immediately place its own interests first and international considerations second. We have to face it. Another point which has been brought out is that it is indispensable that the air arm should be considered in relation to its value for Defence purposes. In peace, commercal aviation will be an adjunct to sea and land transport. I claim that it will be an adjunct, it will assist and will in no way strangle or undercut or impede our sea transport or our railway or road communications. There should be no fear of cut-throat competition. We can all see that the air will be reserved principally for the carriage of passengers, mails, perishable goods, samples and the like. In speed and long-distance work lie the fundamental values of air transport.
One of the difficulties will be to avoid competition with America. Unlike ourselves, since 1921, American air transport has been consistently and strongly supported by the United States Government, both in operation and research. I do not blame America in the least. She is perfectly right to do all she can. Her commercial public thinks of commercial air transport in commercial terms. That does not mean that we should not put our strength into our own operational and technical development and, in a word, into forming a better transport service for the public use than any which exists in the world. We should have that opportunity if we will take it. Hitherto we have lagged behind other countries. But I do not agree with those who claim that civil air transport has been altogether neglected during the war. The British Overseas Airways Corporation's flying boats and aeroplanes flew about 10,000,000 miles during 1942. But I claim that very much more than we have done must be done in the future. For this we must have at the earliest possible moment a practical coordinated poly, internal or domestic, Imperial and international.
112 What then are our internal requirements? We all know that we cannot rely upon converted bombers to operate our civil air traffic. That is one of the lessons of the last war. We can use them as a stop-gap provided we realise that they are only a stop-gap, and are not carried on indefinitely into the peace, as was the case after the last war. It was one of the causes of our undoing. We know too that unless the result can be used during the war we cannot divert a large proportion of our aircraft factories from the supreme task of winning the war. That is common knowledge. It is no good repeating it ad nauseam. We all agree that the war has got to be won, and won as quickly as possible. Yet I am convinced that a proportion should now be so diverted, and that we should also give much more attention than we have done, and so far as I know are giving at the present time, to planning, in every sense, the best air transport service for the future we can. We hear a lot about social and economic post-war reconstruction. None of us quarrel with that. We all realise how much it is wanted, but I would point out that little or nothing has been said until to-day about this lifeline upon which the recovery of this island and our Empire will largely depend.
Another point I should like to underline is that there have been immense developments in aeronautical design and construction and in the performance and reliability of engines, during the course of this war. Immense developments are in progress now. Far greater developments are coming in the future. This is one of the aspects I should like strongly to urge. We should throw a great deal more weight than we have done into our research and design sections. We should push on design and research much more than we have ever done before, not for this year or next year or five years, but for 10 years or 20 years to come. But, in addition, we should search for some revolutionary practical and fundamental changes which will carry our aircraft construction not 5 or 10 years ahead but in our stride two or three decades ahead of anything in existence. Do not believe anyone who tells you that we are nearing the peak of possibilities of air transport. Nothing is less true. The design and experimental work on the best type of trans- 113 port aircraft well in advance of the peace is absolutely essential now.
I would mention only two or three instances in this regard. We have at present only one or two chairs of aeronautics. These are useful but in no way adequate for the purpose. It must be recognised that not only are we on the brink of a new air era, but that this also entails radical new developments of aeroplanes and engines. There are such problems, for instance, as the prevention of flutter at high speed; design of wings, particularly smooth wings, to give lamina flow by reduction of drag; the aerodynamics and the structure problems connected with the design of large aircraft, which will have to be immensely strong; metallurgical research to improve strength weight ratios; and for light alloys that will stand high temperatures. Another great need is that of teaching places for the young engineers and scientists who will be required to keep us ahead of the times. There are innumerable problems of this sort, none of which has really been tackled seriously so far as I know, and all of which require money, plans, energy and support to get them into being. The Ministry of Aircraft Production and the War Cabinet should ensure that we start a really strong crusade on design and research, short range, long range and very distant range. The Minister of Aircraft Production should also call upon the assistance of aircraft firms. But by all this I do not mean that the Government should have a monopoly of design. You cannot have too many trained brains at work to try and solve these problems, and get rapidly improving forms of vehicles available for air transport in the future.
Surely this is a wise policy both for defence and for peace. If the war has not ended by the time these aircraft are being produced, they will be of the utmost importance to the war effort later on. They will meet a need in policing and food supply, in doctoring and innumerable other services to a stricken Europe of which many of the rail and other communications will be broken down.
Setting up an Air Transport Command is, I think, a step in the right direction, as I said in the last Debate, but it does not in my opinion go nearly far enough. I realise, and most of us realise, the arguments for keeping the B.O.A.C. outside that Command, but I think the present 114 position is definitely unsatisfactory and it would be better if, for the duration of the war, we could put all our air transport under the Air Transport Command as a unified whole. As to whether there should be an additional Minister in charge my opinion is that there should be such a Minister and a staff. I will touch upon the question of the Air Ministry in a moment. Arrangements should also be made for the Air Transport Command to be built up as a complete unit, a complete going concern transferable to a civil Ministry at the cessation of hostilities, if not before. It should include all the necessary sections which it will require after its separation, such as design and research, planning, wireless, meteorology and so forth. One of the greatest mistakes made after the last war was that design and research were divorced from the Civil Department altogether. The Service side, naturally, used all the available money. The R.A.F. was not interested in the broader aspects vital to the progress of civil aviation, and civil aviation, for this and other reasons, accordingly languished.
Another point which wants looking into very carefully, and concerning which there is an immense amount of pre-organisation work to be done, is in regard to civil aerodromes and sea airports, which should be an integral part of our air planning. Preparations on a large scale and much subsidiary organisation are necessary to bring this into being. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport said, it is perfectly true that this country is the nodal point of the land service of the globe. Hon. Members may have seen a diagram in "The Times" a few weeks ago showing that England is the centre both of Imperial and international communications. This Island should be made the hub of a vast network of Imperial and international traffic in the future. It can be done if we will it to be done. We must plan the very best terminus, aerodrome and airport possible, and have it ready for peacetime. In this connection it is not always understood that, although we have a vast number of aerodromes in this country, and more are being put up all the time, not 10 per cent. of them will be of the least value to us for peace purposes after the war.
As regards the personnel of Air Transport Command, I think that the officers 115 and the men should be asked to agree to transfer to a civil service after the war, and that they should be selected accordingly. The question of management, which has been touched upon by various hon. Members, is, in my opinion, of the utmost importance. Unless you get the very best men for management—as, indeed, for the whole service—you will do the service a fatal injury. It is the management upon which so much will depend. The best qualities are wanted. I hope that the Government will ensure that those who are charged with the duty will not only get the best men, but will give them full and unstinted support afterwards. This brings me to the form of Government Department to be employed in the future. The Air Transport Command, being a complete entity—if what I suggest is done —should be handed over, at the Armistice or before, to a civil Ministry. Whether that Ministry is an up-to-date Ministry of Transport, a Ministry of Communications, or an independent Ministry I will not argue at the moment. My personal view is that it will be better for the service to be supported by an independent Ministry. But the Ministry must be supported by the Government and the public, or it will wither again.
Having laid down our domestic organisation, we want to ensure that the Imperial aspect is put into effect, and a policy laid down and carried out, with adequate machinery. We all know that the greatest world asset that we have is the character of the British Empire, which is, incidentally, better suited than any other group of nations for air transport. We know too—and I should like to underline what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport has said—that the British Commonwealth of Nations is, or certainly can be made, the finest instrument of civilisation in the world; and the most varied and united of free human institutions. But to ensure this the best way to support it is by rapid air transport, on a clean-cut organisation. If a satisfactory Imperial policy can be framed, it must, as I have said, have some organised body to carry it into effect. I would agree with one hon. Member who suggested that the Board of the Air Transport Command, or B.O.A.C., or whatever it is to be called, should have members from all the countries of the Empire. It should be on an Imperial basis, and if it is to link 116 the whole Empire it should have representatives of the whole Empire on the board.
The first question they will have to consider will be that of the freedom or otherwise of the air. After the last war we agreed—wrongly, as I thought at the time—to a closed air policy. It was that "closed" air doctrine which was largely the cause of so much trouble internationally. The free air policy allows passage of aircraft just as ships are allowed to sail where they will. But the main point is that we should decide the right policy, and carry it into effect. I think the free air policy is the most suitable, combined with domestic reservations. America would naturally reserve transit between the United States and her dependencies, and we would naturally regard all Imperial routes in the same way, and Russia and China would operate on the same lines. But there must be unanimity of view on such matters as monopolies, State enterprise, competition, subsidies, rate fixing, etc. I think that within the Empire the aircraft should all be of Empire manufacture. Routes and airports should be fixed by the board which is set up to carry out this policy. They should also co-operate with the United Nations body which will then be set up. In my opinion, there should be no monopolies and no hidden subsidies.
What is the Government's view about control? I hope we shall get some statement as soon as possible; it will clear the air, and it will help everybody who is struggling with these matters to reach the best conclusions. Do they favour international organisation, national state organisation, an Empire corporation, or what? It is most important that they should make up their mind, and make their solution public as soon as they can. Personally, I can hardly see Great Britain or the Dominions or Russia, or any other nation, considering seriously the question of the internationalisation of air transport, if by this is meant international ownership, operation and control. It is quite fantastic. But just as the American services should be under United States control, so the British Empire services must be under Imperial control. The French, Dutch and Belgian Empires will, I am sure, take the same view. There must be unrestricted right of flying over foreign countries, and the international use of the air, under the 117 regulations, of course, of the United Nations and of the international body which will be set up later for their control. The importance of coming to a friendly understanding with America in all these matters is of course obvious. Hon. Members may perhaps have seen what Mr. Sumner Welles has said, but I think it is worth repeating.There could be no surer road, no surer means of bringing unmitigated havoc for the future than for the United Nations to enter the post-war period as rivals and opponents in commercial and financial policies. Rather as helpers in a common task in seeking and achieving international and economic stability and well being together, we can solve this gigantic problem. Opposed to one another no one will surviveWe all agree with that and we hope American public opinion and American administration will support it. I hope that in the near future we shall have a clear indication of the Government's intentions. It must bend its energies to the production, design, development and improvement of material. It must set up an adequate and suitable internal organisation and ministerial control. It must take the lead in a united Imperial air policy, whether it is to "summon" or "convene." I do not mind what word is used but I cannot see why this country should not give the lead. There is no time to waste. That also has been said. The solution of this problem may well assist international collaboration in other spheres, political and economic. It may indeed be the stepping-stone to many others. If agreement, on the other hand, is not possible the prospect of that co-operation, without which world progress is impossible, may be remote. A sound solution can and must be found.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
I intervene in this Debate with some hesitation because, so far, the participants in it have been experts in one faun or another. I can claim to be no more than the voice of that ordinary man to whom my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister referred. The test of what should or should not have been done in civil aviation is in the end to be found in the way it affects the lives of the ordinary men and women and not in the way in which it satisfies the specialist. I hasten to say I am an unrepentant believer in complete internationalism, a policy to which I believe this House has 118 to come in the ultimate, however far away the ultimate may be.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has left the Chamber because I wish to say a few words concerning his observations. In the opening part of his speech he entertained the House to a very interesting map analysis and asked a little oratorically why we should regard ourselves as an island. The answer seems to me to be plain. We are an island as a positive fact, and compared with the United States of America, in terms of the development of civil aviation, there is here a much smaller home market. We must face the fact that the great mass of our people are for the most part confined to these shores; they cannot afford the time or money to go oversea. The distance from London to San Francisco is the distance from London to Bagdad; therefore, although there might be a competition between the British Commonwealth and the United States of America, it would be a form of competition between one competitor operating over long routes and the other having a vast internal system.
It would have been surprising if the right hon. Gentleman had denied himself a little mirth at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) but in enjoying himself he went a long way towards the complete repudiation of the doctrine of internationalism. He reached right conclusions but took the long deductions. He preferred to see some agreement—I hope I do not misquote him—between the major Powers concerned, which would lay down a schedule of what he called Queensberry Rules in civil aviation. The term "Queensberry Rules" presupposes that there is to be a fight and it presupposes also that there is to be a referee for the fight. I inquire, therefore, between whom is the fight to be and what is it to be about? Is it to be worth having in any case, and if Queensberry Rules are violated—and boxers have been known to try to violate them—who is to be the referee to pull them up at the right moment?
This Debate has had more than one curtain-raiser outside. There have been speeches and articles about the future of post-war civil aviation. There seem to 119 be two main streams of thought. I wish to submit to the House the reason why I still regard myself as an unrepentant believer in complete internationalism. One believes in competition either between States, within State, or between groups of States. I am sure that virtue is not to be found in that field. In our own internal transport arrangements, we have suffered from all the consequences of what is sometimes called healthy competition, or what Sir Frederick Handley Page has recently called the healthy stimulus of competition. I believe that to be a contradiction in terms. In internal transport in this country we have suffered all the disadvantages of the competitive age and no advantages have resulted for the general public in consequence. Moreover I read an article recently by Mr. Farey Jones who called for a subsidy for purposes of developing new and first-class types of aircraft. That is always the accompaniment of the competitive instinct.
I speak with some knowledge because I have association with the railway industry, there we have had intensive competition without any good resulting anywhere. We have had to resort in the end because of the debilitated state of railway finances to a kind of system of State subsidy. Financial stress consequent on the ferocity of their competition has resulted in the fact that they cannot now raise capital if they try to, and they dare not raise it if they could. Therefore they come to this House, in order that its better authority and security may underwrite their capital-raising and so that they may obtain capital which they would otherwise be unable to obtain themselves. Competition in these fields, either within a State, or between State and State, or between groups of States and groups of States, will bring nobody any advantage and will impose on the general consumer all the disadvantages which have resulted from competition in other forms of industry. I, therefore, discount the idea of competition in this field between country and country, in terms of civil aviation, just as I do the equivalent competition between railway and railway and county and county. So far from accepting the idea that within competition virtue is to be found, I prefer the views of those who believe in international collaboration.
The war has, undoubtedly, stimulated the technique of aircraft production, par- 120 ticularly in the matter of engine power and the prospect of commercial flying in the stratosphere. It has stimulated, also, the notion of air travel and conveyance. This may be a beneficent instrument in the life of man but, again, it can just as easily be disastrous. I do not profess to be a specialist in these matters but one need not be a specialist to understand that a large heavily-engined plane, built for civil transport, could just as easily carry troops. Other types of planes built for civilian purposes would also lend themselves to war purposes. There are landing grounds, ground staffs and trained crews, all ready at a moment's notice to be employed for non-peaceful purposes. Even if they were never so employed, and even if it were never intended so to employ them, it is impossible to ignore the conclusion that if a certain country were allowed to develop large squadrons of heavily-engined planes, all the neighbouring countries would be driven by sheer defensive instinct to build large fleets of protective fighter aircraft. So would begin a new armaments race. Indeed, there would almost be a recurrence of the mad race which characterised the years before 1914, when each great European country was trying to build what was arithmetically impossible and make its navy twice as big as that possessed by any other country.
The French, in their Memorandum presented to the Geneva Conference, in 1932 said:Of all the measures which have hitherto been considered internationalisation of air transport alone seems likely to constitute a real obstacle to the utilisation of such aircraft for military purposes without hindering development or technical processes.In their leading article to-day "The Times" says:Internationalisation may be a dream"—there are people who think that dreams sometimes come true—The British Government should make known to the American Government that they want the largest amount of internationalisation which is now possible within existing circumstances.Nobody could ask for more than that. I am aware that the proposal for internationalisation of civil aircraft probably means some apparent sacrifice on our part. The geography of the British Empire obviously offers a unique opportunity for long-distance air transport. But, on the other side of the balance sheet, so to 121 speak, there is the enormous geographical home market possessed by America, with the advantage it gives to the United States. Be that as it may, I submit that the measure of our apparent sacrifice would also be the measure of our real desire to take the leadership of the world for the sake of international co-operation. With that desire and purpose, I believe that this problem could be tackled with a great degree of success.
§ Sir William Everard (Melton)
During the many years I have sat in the House of Commons this is the first occasion on which I can remember a whole day being set apart for a discussion on civil aviation and it is a red-letter day in the history of those Members who have been trying to press on various Governments for many years the importance of this form of transport. We are particularly indebted to the hon. Members who opened the Debate. Their speeches were excellent and covered most of the points we have in our minds, but there are one or two matters not, I think, mentioned by them to which I would like to refer. One is the question whether civil aviation is to be removed from the Air Ministry. This is an old story. For many years now, some of us have thought it important that we should have an Under-Secretary for Civil Aviation in the House because the present Under-Secretary, like past Under-Secretaries, has had to work not only on the military but on the civil side of aviation. Civil aviation has become so much more important to-day, that we are not satisfied with the position as we see it. What is required to-day is a Minister whose sole object is planning the future of civil aviation. Whether the Ministry was a Ministry on its own, with a Cabinet Minister, or a Department of a Ministry, provided it had its own executive powers, it would be a great improvement on what we have experienced in the past.
There can be no doubt that there is something to be said for leaving civil aviation with the Air Ministry provided it is not under the military influence of that Ministry because a large number of subjects are analogous to both the civil and military sides of aviation such as meteorological services. It would be absurd to spend a lot of money on two Ministries which were carrying out the same experiments. If civil aviation could be divorced from the military side, it would be advisable that it should be made 122 a watertight department of the Air Ministry. It is necessary to get away from the military side which has dominated so much in the past. I hope very much that once our plans for civil aviation have been arranged, it will not be necessary for the Air Ministry to interfere very much. The chief matters with which we shall have to deal will be the safety of the operation of aircraft and our relations with foreign countries. I hope we shall be able to run civil machines in future without a subsidy. If we do not ask a Government Department for a subsidy surely we should be pretty well free to do what we like in civil aviation provided we abide by certain rules. If that is so, I hope we may not have the same amount of control by any Ministry as we have had in the past.
I was very disappointed with the Deputy Prime Minister's reply to the plea for a meeting of Empire representatives for a frank discussion on the future of Imperial aviation. I cannot understand what he meant. He did not tell us how long he had been asking for reports. Did he start to ask for them as soon as he heard that this Debate was to take place? Is he to get these reports in a week or a month, a year or five years? He gave no idea of when they are likely to be available. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) that we do not intend to leave this matter where it is to-day, particularly after a reply such as that as has been given by the Deputy Prime Minister. It is up to us to find out, week by week and month by month, what replies have been received and why a meeting of Empire representatives has not taken place. Obviously, it is for Great Britain to suggest to the rest of the Empire that it would be a good thing, from the point of view of the constituent parts of the Empire, that there should be a meeting. There is nothing wrong with such a suggestion; in fact, I am sure it would be welcomed by the Dominions and Colonies. After all, we have to arrange our overseas airways within the network which it is intended to arrange in the Dominions and Colonies, and it is impossible to plan for them, until we have had a conference to see how these things are to be arranged. For that reason, it is vitally important that we should have this conference at the earliest possible moment.
The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said something about 123 civil aviation being only a rich man's show and that his people in Islington were not interested in it and did not want to have anything to do with it. It seems to me that the only way we can live after the war is by trying to extend our export trade, and that must obviously be done by getting good salesmen to go all over the world, and the fastest method Of sending them will be the best method of being able to get the trade by being first in the field, or anyhow not the last. If that is the hon. Gentleman's view, I am rather sorry for him and his colleagues. I wished very much while he was speaking that the microphones could have been in operation all over the country so that the people would really have understood the view that he and his friends hold on this aspect of the matter.
There are on this question of Imperial air lines a considerable number of routes which will have to be run, and I do not believe that all these routes should be run by British Overseas Airways. A reciprocal arrangement might be made with the United States for services across the North and South Atlantic. We had plenty of money for the railways to start, and I believe after the war we shall get plenty of money for the development of the Empire by air, and I believe an effort should be made in that direction. We should require at least 1000 machines, large and small, to run our Empire services after the war. I was glad to hear the announcement that we are starting in a small way to plan the building of some of these machines in this country. I look at it in this way, that the United Nations are all in the war together, and the United States and we both stand to lose or gain by the result of the war, and therefore it will be reasonable to suggest that the production of aircraft should be more or less on an equality between these two great Powers, because, although the war at present may be chiefly in Europe, there is no doubt that the end of it will be chiefly in the Pacific, and therefore we shall have to take longer journeys with transport machines to carry our people and supplies over there to assist the Americans, as I understand we have undertaken to do, whereas at present they have to bring them here. Therefore, if we came to an arrangement to divide up the manufacture of carrying machines of 124 that sort, we should not only equalise our effort in the war but start on equal terms after the war. I cannot see any reason why we should not be able to come to some arrangement with the United States on lines of that sort. I agree that after the war, until we have our own aircraft, we shall have to use a considerable number of American machines, but I am not at all afraid of that. After all, they are very good, and they will have British crews and will fly our ensign. I cannot see any reason why, because we came into the war early and had to give up the manufacture of our machines, it is any discredit to us to use the machines of another country, particularly America, which is helping us so much to carry out our commitments.
A certain amount has been said about the freedom of the air. I personally should like to see all barriers done away with. My experience goes to show that it is the countries with the largest number of barriers which have nothing at all to hide. We, who had something to hide, had practically no barriers at all. You could fly where you liked, except at a few places like Portsmouth. In Yugoslavia the whole map was blotted out with prohibited areas. I think all that is nonsense and pure waste of time. Steps should be taken to do away with all these unnecessary barriers to aviation, and we should all be allowed to fly over one another's countries. Perhaps we should have to fix a certain height, but I should not mind that. I think there should be the greatest possible freedom of transport through the air, over all countries, for all machines.
No one has spoken to-day about training after the war. That in itself is a very important problem. There is the training of pilots, ground crews and mechanics, and there are all the other ancillary services. To my mind that should be done by setting up now a great aeronautical university. It could be subsidised to some extent by the Government, but by charging fees it might be nearly self-supporting, and it would be of enormous value to the aviation industry and the future development of British air lines. Even those who have served in the war in the Royal Air Force will have a great deal to learn when they are going to fly civil machines. There are all sorts of different technicalities, and many who have been in the past observers will wish to be pilots in the future. In all 125 these sorts of ways I am certain that an aeronautical university would be of very real advantage, and I hope the matter will be considered.
There is another question on which it is rather difficult to speak, because I do not know whether we are going to have any form of compulsory military training after the war. I most sincerely hope we are, but I am only one speaking for-myself. The whole future training of the youth of the country depends on that fact. For instance, the Auxiliary Air Force depends on whether we are to have compulsory military training for a year or six months. At present all the boys leaving the Air Training Corps have to go into one of the Services. After the war, if there is not national military training, a great many of them will not go into any force, but will go straight into civil life. It seems to me that the State should step in and have some sort of training scheme for these boys and teach them to fly at Government expense, on condition that they join up with some type of reserve. I think a great deal could be said about that, and it is a matter of very considerable importance. I think my right hon. Friend who had so much to do with the civil aircraft scheme before the war would agree that it is rather out of date to-day, in so far as we have to put too much stress on the older people and not enough on-the young. If we spend money in the training of young people in the Air Training Corps at the age of 18, it will be money well spent, because these people will form a potential reserve. Training is an important factor when we are considering the future of civil aviation. We have spent a very profitable time in ventilating these views to-day. We so seldom have a chance to do so, and the interest of Members has been shown by the attendance during the Debate. I hope that the Government will have taken some notice of the views which have been put forward and that the outcome of the Debate will be of mutual advantage to this country, the British Empire and the world at large.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
The House always listens to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Sir W. Everard) with the greatest interest on the subject of civil aviation and particularly light aeroplane clubs, in which he was one of the pioneers. Owing to his great courage and foresight, many young men were encouraged to begin their 126 early experience in flying. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in his desire to see instituted in this country an Empire aviation institute and in conjunction with this to see the young men of the Royal Air Force who desire to take post-war training for civil aviation given the opportunity of taking post-war courses now, as I believe is done in the Army and Navy. This has been one of many interesting discussions on civil aviation that we have had, and it has produced a number of first-class speeches. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hare-Belisha), to which the House listened with great interest, rescued us from the deep depression in which we found ourselves during the speech of the Dominions Secretary. Like other hon. Members who take an interest in civil aviation, I felt greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), who since the days before the Cadman Report has battled through all kinds of weather to try and establish civil aviation in this country and the Empire. I listened to his speech, on which I congratulate him, and to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) with the greatest interest.
I think that the Dominions Secretary was a little hard on my hon. Friend in suggesting that he did not know there was a war on. I thought that he made out a very reasoned case and that his demands were very modest. When the Dominions Secretary came to deal with the proposal to call an Empire conference and to establish a Commonwealth air board I thought that he made a completely disappointing statement. I almost felt that he hardly knew his way about the Statute of Westminster or the Balfour Declaration. According to the Statute of Westminster, it is possible for any Dominion to request a meeting or conference to discuss any specific subject which has to do either with foreign affairs or with any constitutional point affecting the Commonwealth of Nations. I thought that the way the right hon. Gentleman used the word "summon," which I have seldom heard used in the Debate, was a little unfair. I would like to ask the Government a question which was asked by my hon. Friend in an intervention, whether our own Government in London have made a suggestion to the Dominions that there should be a Commonwealth conference on the question of post-war civil 127 aviation. Whatever the replies may have been from the Dominions, a good deal depends on how the request was put to them, how the suggestion was worded, and the details that they were asked for. Are His Majesty's Government themselves in favour of such a conference, and is the Dominions Secretary himself in favour of it?
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) was not in his best form to-day. He has rendered considerable service to aviation. In two Governments he has done a good deal in aircraft production and the field of aviation, and I feel that he has made a better contribution in this respect than he did in his speech to-day. I think really that he will agree with me that technical development in this country, even on civil aviation apart from military aviation, can compare with the development in any other country. It may be that we have not the quantities here because of certain agreements that have been arrived at in Washington, and it may be that every major aircraft concern in the United States has designs on the drawing board or prototypes in production. It may be that in one concern in America they have a larger designing staff than in the whole of the productive units in this country.
§ Mr. Montague
I said in my speech almost what the hon. Member is saying. I admitted the technical development and the high standard of development in this country. My only point was that if we are to undertake a fierce commercial competition with America and America turns all her resources upon that competition, we cannot hope to beat America, Russia and the other countries. Therefore, I deplored the tendency to suggest, as same hon. Members seem to be doing, that we must go in for a competition on commercial lines, which would not help the cause of civil aviation either in this country or in the world and would certainly not help the cause of international peace.
§ Mr. Granville
The hon. Gentleman's intervention may be an afterthought, but the impression I gained from his speech was that he thought we could not hope to compete technically with the United States. I am sure he will agree that in technical development and design of en- 128 gines, aircraft and the various safety devices this country now stands as high as any country in the world. I agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. If we were to go for a bullheaded competition with the United States, as he suggested in his speech, civil aviation would never be used in the future as we would wish it to be used. Most of the speeches in the Debate have emphasised that we should try to co-operate now and get down to talks with America, and what has almost surprised me is the way that hon. Members have said that they were fully prepared to use American aircraft at the end of the war. Before the war we not only used American aircraft but we had to use German aircraft.
Then my hon. Friend went on to say that there was no great public interest in the post-war development of civil aviation. That is not my experience. My experience is that civil aviation has captured the imagination of our people, but, unfortunately, it has not captured the imagination of the Government. My hon. Friend who introduced the Motion made out, I thought, a very strong case for transferring civil aviation from the Air Ministry. I imagine that the new Air Transport Command will not be immediately demobilised at the end of the war, and it seems to me that a great deal will depend on whether Air Transport Command is to continue under the direction of the Air Ministry or is to be handed over to some other direction. What matters a great deal is that the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation shall have powers and opportunities to begin now planning the development of aviation in the British Empire.
Some months ago I suggested—it is my evergreen—the institution of a Commonwealth air board, but on that occasion the Secretary of State for Air said that while it was an interesting suggestion there might be fiscal difficulties in the way. Since then I have looked up the Act which handed British Airways and Imperial Airways to the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and I find what I thought, that there is no private enterprise at all associated with British civil aviation. One hon. Member above the Gangway who made an admirable speech seemed to take the wrong turning, to be seeing everything in the terms of development by private enterprise, but there is 129 no private enterprise in British Overseas Airways Corporation. The Act envisaged that the Treasury should issue a three per cent. stock with no voting rights attached to it—it was to be a publicly controlled corporation—but the war prevented the issue of that stock. In the interim the National Debt Commissioners put up the capital, and the stock is at present held by Government nominees. I should like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to reply to say whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed after the war with the original idea of issuing that three per cent. stock, because if so surely that disposes of the fiscal difficulty to which the Secretary of State referred, as the Dominions could then be given an opportunity to subscribe to or acquire some of that stock. I hope therefore that the Government will take that into consideration.
We have had a number of Debates on the set up of the Board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and I was glad to note the restraint which the hon. Member who opened the Debate showed in not referring to the personnel of the new Board. It seems to me there are two things which the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and the Secretary of State for Air, could do to give us full Dominion representation on a board for the development of aviation in the British Empire. First they could make the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation an Empire body and invite representatives from the Dominions to sit on it. There may be difficulties in the way, and I do not think the House desires to press the Government on the point. But surely it would be possible now to set up a Commonwealth and Empire advisory air council to meet at once. Under present war conditions the best way of dealing with the problem might be to invite representatives of the Colonies and of the Dominions to form such an advisory council, which could be something of an effective buffer between the Government and the directorate of the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
A good deal has been said about international federation in this Debate. I would remind the House that we had gone a long way towards securing this before the war. There was a great deal of cooperation between various companies and various countries in the development of 130 civil aviation, co-operation as regards fares, routes, use of airfields, services and the servicing of aircraft. If we are going to ask for international co-operation in civil aviation and we intend to do it through the set up of the United Nations, it seems axiomatic that we must proceed with the Commonwealth of British Nations as a unit for the purpose of negotiation, for the purpose of arriving at preliminary agreements, for almost every purpose of development and organisation. I am sure that my hon. Friends above the Gangway must see the wisdom of having, instead of some vast international conference such as often produces nothing, the one effective delegation which has always worked, the British Commonwealth of Nations. If we have agreed upon a policy in conjunction with the United Nations surely we should go to a conference as a commonwealth unit and not as a series of disjointed units. Replies which have been given to questions in the House have not made it clear whether representations had been made to the Dominions to obtain a Commonwealth policy before we began our discussions with the other Allied nations in order to arrive at agreement on post-war policy. I should like to know whether there has been discussions or talks with Dominion representatives, some of whom are here in London now.
§ Mr. Attlee
I thought I had made that perfectly plain, that that is precisely what we have been doing, that we were dealing with our friends in the Commonwealth first before any approach was made to the other Nations. I made it abundantly plain.
§ Mr. Granville
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that clear, because the Minister without Portfolio in some of his replies had said that we must wait until he had finished his discussions with the United Nations and other Governments. At the present time within the United Nations there is a complete exchange of information on all types and designs relating to military aircraft—technical designs, new fighters and bombers, all kinds of information is exchanged. Instead of talking about competition with America let us emphasise co-operation. Just as we are exchanging the fullest in. formation about these military aircraft why should not the Government begin to exchange with the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Governments of the 131 United Nations all the information we have in our possession regarding design, safety devices and all the rest in respect of civil aircraft? If the United Nations in their wisdom believe that one of the-best methods of obtaining security after the war is through an international police force, a tremendous responsibility rests upon those who are planning the development of civil aviation. Lufthansa was the father of the Luftwaffe, and there must be the closest co-operation between all the United Nations with regard to civil aviation and the design of civil aircraft, because any such system would depend upon dose inspection and supervision. Therefore those two problems are closely related.
There is another aspect of the matter. If the Commonwealth of Nations is to-be organised as a unit after the war and is to be something of an international peace force in itself, surely one of the lessons we have learned is that aircraft production must be spread throughout the Commonwealth. The problem of Singapore was not only the problem of aircraft; the bottle-neck was in shipping. In any system of international police force to defend our cousins and friends across the sea we shall need a skeleton and a nucleus industry in Australia, for example, for the production of aircraft and aircraft engines and the like, and the same in South Africa, Canada and elsewhere, and possibly somewhere in the Middle East. I see that Mr. Handley Page has made a similar suggestion, that we must have an aircraft industry which is planned throughout the British Commonwealth of nations on a proper basis, so that it could be developed in time of war. Therefore I would press the Minister to set up a Commonwealth Advisory Air Council in London now. The last time I suggested it he said that there were fiscal difficulties, but that it was an interesting suggestion. I have tried to explain that the fiscal difficulties are not there and that there is nothing in the way of the setting-up of a Common-Wealth Advisory Council in London now.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I think that if the hon. Member will be good enough to turn up my speech, he will see that his recollection of what I said is not quite accurate.
§ Mr. Granville
I have pointed out that after the war, if the 3 per cent. stock is to be issued by the Treasury, as is envisaged by the Act which handed over British Airways, then Commonwealth countries would be given an opportunity to subscribe to the stock. So I do not see what fiscal difficulties there are in the way at the present time. Then we must spread the aircraft industry throughout the Commonwealth and not centre it in this Island. Finally, the Deputy Prime Minister has suggested that we are to have four prototypes. I have heard it suggested that we shall produce 500 airliners after the war, at the rate of 100 a year. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me said that 1000 was nearer the correct figure to service the air routes of the Empire. If the right hon. Gentleman expects that 100 air liners will meet our needs, I would press him to reconsider that figure. This has been an interesting Debate and well worth while. I am very grateful to the hon. Member who opened the Debate for giving us an opportunity of expressing the real opinion of the House of Commons. If the Government interpret that opinion, they will go on and do something about this problem now.
§ Commander Brabner (Hythe)
The speeches of the hon. Member who has just sat down and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hare-Belisha) dragged us out of the depression which settled upon us after we listened to the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) and the Deputy Prime Minister. I felt that if that was to be the official view of this House, there was very little hope for civil aviation in this country in the future. When the Deputy Prime Minister was arguing about the use of the word "summon" it reminded me of the arguments we had about the meaning of the word "alsbald" in a telegram from Hitler about six years ago; we could have spent the time much better if we had got' on with the job. We have tried to find out what is in the mind of the Government for the future of civil aviation, but I do not think we have been particularly successful so far. At least, the Government have some inkling of what is in the mind of Members of the House of Commons.
I should like briefly to put forward three points which are of a rather technical and administrative nature, underlying some of the things which have 133 been said. I do not see this necessity for us always to be engaged on a wild scramble to get second, third or fourth place. It is becoming almost pathological in the party opposite not to face up to the slight effort required to compete with, but not necessarily to beat, other great nations. The hon. Member for West Islington seemed determined that on any account we should be led by the Labour Party into a scramble for being at some other place away down the line. It is time that that sort of thing stopped. We as a nation have attained a certain amount of greatness by our own efforts. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, who said that just as our future 200 years ago lay at sea, so to-day it lies in the air. We must realise that. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass. Apart from anything else, I wonder whether the industrial population thinks about the views of the party opposite. Except for agriculture, the aircraft industry is the biggest in England.
§ Commander Brabner
The aircraft industry is second to none. I am certain that after the war all the people who have been earning good wages by making good aircraft will want to work in an industry which offers them a comparable return.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern)
Can the hon. and gallant Member tell me of any firm making civil aircraft which could possibly absorb the labour, energy and materials required for war purposes?
§ Commander Brabner
I obviously could not expect this industry to be totally employed on civil aviation, but if we open up the Empire and guide this matter with imagination and vision, we shall be on the right lines. I wish we had a Joe Chamberlain here to-day instead of this futile meandering in a pedestrian sort of way. We have to keep this matter in proportion, and I am trying to put it in its proper proportion. Let me tell hon. Members what it means in terms of figures. Before the war, the United States maintained a most efficient system of commercial aviation with 350 aircraft. The total number of civil aircraft produced in America before the war was something like 200 a year, produced by 40,000 operatives. This is where I want vigour and vision to be used. In the United 134 States at the moment a plan has been produced with a rather long title, "The Report of the Transportation and National Policy of the United States National Resources Planning Board." The Board estimate that they can reasonably look for a sevenfold increase in mail traffic and something like a 200-fold increase in freight traffic. That is the sort of line the United States are taking on this matter. Why, even if one considers a sevenfold increase in mail traffic, Imperial Airways and British Airways before the war operated between them something like 100 aircraft, and a very inefficient service they provided. We were using German aircraft in Africa and so on. I feel that if we are going to make British aircraft span the world as we ought, 1,000 aircraft is the sort of thing which is reasonably required. That is for mail purely.
The possibilities of air freight I do not believe have been scratched up to now. If America is aiming at a 200 per cent. increase in freight, surely we must do something of a comparable nature—more, if you like. We have more necessity for it in that we have not these enormous internal air lines to give us our short runs. Therefore we should expand even more than that. If you allow 1,000 aircraft for mail and passengers, allow what you like for freight, 3,000 or 4,000, I do not know but it is no use starting out on this industrial and Imperial adventure with a pettifogging idea of getting by with 100 aircraft a year for five years. If you do that, you have the risk of having extreme and bitter industrial trouble in this country. Personally, I should support it.
Having said that about our commercial possibilities, like others who have spoken I do not want to engage in a commercial dog fight with our Allies, but I do want it to be realised we are not a second-rate Power. We are not prepared to take second place to anybody, but we are prepared to be bracketed first with any number of Powers you like. It is time somebody said that. I quote from the "Manchester Guardian" of to-day:There is little likelihood of Labour support for a Tory proposal for a Commonwealth conference on air policy. Labour does not seem to think a conference necessary to formulate a Commonwealth policy. Besides, it is asked, might not such a conference be misunderstood in the United States?135 We really have reached a dialectical and political low——
§ Mr. Montague
May I point out that every Member from the Labour benches in this Debate has supported a conference of the Dominions on this question of civil aviation? The only difference is how far that shall be used for the kind of competition that does not come within the definition of the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Commander Brabner
That was not the impression I got from the hon. Member's speech. I got a different impression, that he was not prepared to compete on any terms, that he was prepared to go in for aerial disarmament and aerial uselessness, by example.
I want to make three or four practical suggestions before I sit down. Whether we like it or not, aircraft go up in the air and go down to the ground, and we cannot stop them. Therefore the fundamental thing on which Imperial air lines must operate is aerodromes. That has been said in this Debate, but I wonder whether it has been sufficiently visualised. Like some other hon. Members, I have had some experience in this war of flying through, across and over Africa, and the aerodromes we have at nodal points in our system of Imperial communications are very bad. I do not know what is causing them to be inferior. I should have thought that labour was adequate, but any Member of this House who has been to Lagos or Bathurst or even Khartum is surely appalled at the sketchy nature of the aerodromes there, at the rather doubtful facilities available, at the general discomfort and general inefficiency. I would not say necessarily warlike inefficiency, but from the point of view of a potential commercial concern. I think they can be and I hope they are being improved, and I certainly ask, and hope other Members will ask, the Government to see that they are improved. Therefore, I would suggest that the fundamental thing is that we must have a chain of aerodromes all round the Empire. The second point I would make is that if we are agreed in this House that the Air Ministry should not have control of civil aviation—and I think there must be general agreement on that; I think that if the Admiralty took over Lloyds Register to-morrow there would be cries of horror 136 from everybody, and I do not see any reason why the Air Ministry should be any better than the Admiralty in this respect—and if there is to be a non-Service authority to control civil aviation after the war, it should be set up now, to get on with its planning. I do not think we have considered sufficiently in this Debate the other ramifications, the hotels which must be set up, the insurance which will be required, and so on. We must have some form of outside body to deal with international safety regulations —a point which was dealt with by the hon. Member who spoke last. That is a point to be dealt with at once, and I hope the Government will take steps to see that it is done. It is a practical suggestion, and it will not involve any reduction in our war effort.
I mentioned the figure of 230 or so civil air liners a year from America before the war. It is perhaps not sufficiently realised in this House that we built the American air liner industry. That being so, I see no difficulty in our going to the Americans and saying, "We have to build war aeroplanes in order to fight the war. You cannot stop your production the moment the war ends, and so you will produce far too many aircraft. Will you sell them to us?"[An HON. MEMBER: "When are you going to employ your men?"] We are going to employ our men just as soon as we can turn over from bomber production to civil production. That we are going to turn. over should be made quite clear to every other nation. But we are not going into a dog-fight competition, and I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to buy American aircraft and use them on our air lines. I would like to make this suggestion. I do not believe it will be particularly popular; but, because I believe in the force of reasoned competition, I would like to throw open even the air lines of the Empire to international competition. I think that we messed up the motor car industry, for instance, by futile Government regulations on horse-power, petrol tanks and things like that. Let us start with a clean sheet. If we are going to survive as an industrial nation, let us do so off our own bat. If we are not, tariffs and things like that will only give us a few more years of life—they will only postpone the end for a few years. While we must have some regulations about internal air lines, short halts, and all that sort of thing, the Empire 137 routes should be open to other nations, to compete on equal terms with our own. That should be reciprocal, of course; we should be able to go from Vladivostock to Moscow if we wished. Then I believe we are certain to get sufficient supplies.
The two suggestions I have made and would like to see implemented or an undertaking given that they are being done are (1) the production of a chain of aerodromes, and (2) an agreement made as soon as possible with the United States that, while we get on with the making of war aircraft almost exclusively, they will be prepared at the end of the war to sell us some of their surplus transport aircraft. I believe that that agreement can be achieved so long as we have the Empire Air Council to approach them.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The hon. and gallant Member seemed to be under some misapprehension as to what my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said. I think he was very definite. I hope that the House will be under no misapprehension as to what I want in this matter. The openers of this Debate have-done an excellent service in introducing this subject to the House. I felt that the Government should have been more diligent in responding to the request, not from one quarter only in this House, but from all quarters, for a Debate on this subject, which was long overdue. Many hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate have done so with a wide knowledge of their subject gained by actual experience. Both hon. Members who opened the Debate actually possessed their own aeroplanes. Other hon. Members in this House also possessed their aeroplanes, but it was a most expensive hobby. The House wants the Government to take air travel, whether it be for human being or freight, out of the sphere of being an expensive hobby into the realms of practicability.
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) is right that this matter of air travel for us is a matter of life and death, obviously it cannot be left to private enterprise but must be a matter for the Government. The Government to-day do not give fighters and bombers to private enterprise to deal with, but deal with them themselves. They have set up their own factories to make them. I would like to impress upon hon. Members opposite, who seem to think 138 that they are the only people who are considering this matter and have it at heart, that we do not differ from them on the importance of the subject. At least many of us have not had the opportunities of experiencing the value of travel by air as hon. Friends opposite have, either through their own private efforts before the war or through their military efforts in this war. We recognise that air transport is just as much a tremendous possibilty in the lives of the citzens of any country in the future as the railways were 100 years ago. I understand that what my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington had in mind when he said, "My constituents are not thinking about this matter at the moment," was not that they are not thinking about it, but they are thinking about the air with feelings of horror and fear, because all that they know and many of our constituents know about the air is what they have experienced from the cargoes which have been unloaded on them. The proportion of our constituents who have ever travelled by air, perhaps even the proportion of M.Ps. who have so travelled, is comparatively small. They have travelled on ships and railways, and even those who before the war had perhaps only two weeks' holiday during the year, were encouraged by organisations inside the Labour Party, by the Workers' Travel Association, for example, to travel, and they availed themselves fully of that opportunity.
They had no opportunities of travelling by air, because it was too costly; it was limited to those who could afford to pay first-class fares. We realise only too well that we must have cheaper air travel and that our exporters must have facilities in the air similar to those they have had in ships if we are to continue to exist as a first-class nation. But we are not the least bit concerned with the effort being made by some interests at the present time to use the necessity of our people as a means of profit for those interests who want to cash-in on this necessity. I hope hon. Members opposite will agree with me in that respect.
If we are to limit the possibilities of converting all technical developments and improvements which have been made by countries in the realms of civil aviation, into military horrors, I believe we shall have to restrict and limit the operations 139 of so-called private enterprise. I welcome the suggestions which have been made, principally from this side of the House, for some form of international agreement between all countries so that we can make the aeroplane industry and the aeroplane itself something primarily of use to consumers. No doubt some will make a profit——
§ Mr. Crawford Greene (Worcester)
The hon. Member said "restrict and limit." Why limit private enterprise in the air?
§ Mr. Bellenger
If the British Overseas Airways Corporation is any example of private enterprise, then I should certainly limit it. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not."] I realise that, well knowing that hon. Members will tell me that this Corporation is not a private enterprise corporation. But let us consider how it was formed. It was a compromise with private' enterprise; it was an amalgamation of two private enterprises that had never made a success of their private enterprise. Why? Because financial limitations were imposed upon them.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have a little patience. It was not the desire of the Labour Opposition in those days that the Bill should be passed in that form. Now we are seeing some of the disadvantages of that Bill and the efforts of the present Under-Secretary, who, presumably, is to answer for some of its misdeeds. If he does not answer to-day, he will 'have to answer at some time for a Jot of what has happened in connection with the British Overseas Airways Corporation. He knows the financial mismanagement that occurred with these two firms which led to their being amalgamated and bought out at a high price by this country, with Government funds.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I would be willing to give way, but other Members wish to speak. Unless the hon. Gentleman has some substantial point to put, I hope he will allow me to proceed. I think we are all agreed on the desirability of improving our civil air transport, and by "our" I mean British. Let me say that I am well disposed to British air transport. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I am, because I am a Britisher. There are Britishers on this side of the House as well as on the other. I like to think that I prefer to travel on certain occasions in British made ships or aeroplanes although I know that German and American made ships and aeroplanes are just as good, and sometimes better than British. But I hope hon. Members will not misunderstand me. They prefer to travel British the same as we all do sometimes. I suppose it is because we are not all impartial.
But what I think we have to consider is this: We have not got to enter into some wild competition with America merely because America has more transport planes than we have at the moment. We have obviously to keep our end up, because it is a matter of life and death to us, not only in peace but in war. But if we are going to enter into unrestricted competition with America, as would seem to be suggested by some of the speeches that have been made to-day, and as indeed has been suggested by some speeches. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which?"] Was it not Senator Claire Boothe? Read some of the things she said. Read some of the reports of the Committees of Congress which have sat on this matter in America. [Interruption.] Hon. Members will agree with me on that, even if they disagree that some of the speeches in this House seem to suggest that it is inevitable that we must enter into some unrestricted competition with America. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps I misjudged the tenor of the speeches, as hon. Members misjudged the hon. Member for West Islington. We are all capable of making mistakes. But, assuming that I am wrong and that the post-war policy of this country will not meet with any competition from America and that it will all be plain sailing, it is more than ever necessary for the Government now to come to some arrangement with America, and, of course, with other great Powers, and small Powers too, because they build aeroplanes as well. Hon. Members opposite have been very 141 noisy in their interjections. It rather makes me suspicious that they have some ulterior motive. I have had some connection with discussions that have been going on outside on this matter, and I know a good deal of what is behind a lot of the propaganda that has been going on in the newspapers.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I must remind the hoe. Member that one of the Rules of the House is that we may not impute motives to other Members.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Of course, they would be ultra-patriotic motives. I was not attempting to impute evil motives. I was attempting to show that there is propaganda going on at present which leads me to believe—[Interruption]. Surely hon. Members will not deny that there are vested interests who want to have a big finger in this pie; and it will be a big pie. The shipping and railway interests will want to have their share in it. I hope I am not imputing motives to hon. Members opposite when I say that some of them also have very big fingers in the shipping pie and the railway pie. Some of them are concerned that this matter shall be dealt with in the same way that we dealt with many of our Imperialistic matters in the past—in a jingoistic way. I agree with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who said that, if it were at all possible, we should have international co-operation. I do not know whether it is possible. I rather doubt it at the present moment. I fear very much that we are in for an international war in civil aviation as we have it now in the military sphere. I say that, judging by speeches and writings to which I have paid consideration in the past.
I hope that hon. Members, even if they cannot treat my speech with respect, will treat the subject itself with respect. The two hon. Members who opened the Debate did so. They are earnestly concerned, as is my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, with something of vital interest to this country. We want civil aviation to be as much British as possible, both in aeroplanes and in their operation. Some of us are very dissatisfied at the way the Government have dealt with it in the past. I admit their difficulties and limitations. I understand quite well the difficulties that the Deputy Prime Minister was under when he was 142 speaking about calling an Imperial conference on this matter. Hon. Members, if they are fair, will know the difficulties under which the Government are suffering. I do not want to minimise them too much, because at times I am critical of the Government. I am critical in this respect, that I think they are attempting to deal with the British Overseas Airways Corporation in war-time in a patchwork manner, and that is what is causing a great deal of discontent in the country. It is making the people believe that the Government themselves are not genuine in this matter. That is causing a great deal of discontent and disturbance in the minds of hon. Members. I can well understand why a threat has been made to the Government that if they do not give a satisfactory answer to-day, they will have further Debates with the possibility of Divisions being recorded.
When the Deputy Prime Minister spoke he did not, in spite of these limitations, which I understand, give us the impression that the Government were actively doing something. It is sometimes difficult, as hon. Members opposite know, even to appear to be criticising one's own leaders, but we owe a duty to ourselves, our constituents and the country to assess all that has been said to-day in the right balance. I do not think for a moment that even if the Government called a conference of the Dominions we would get much further forward, because the Dominions themselves have not made up their minds. That is why the Government cannot make up their minds. The Deputy Prime Minister hinted that one Dominion had not been able to send back to this country its advice on this matter. I should like to know which Dominion that was. Suppose it was Canada. Her interests economically lie more with the United States of America then they do with us Imperially. Hon. Members opposite must know the interlocking of finance between these two countries. How can this matter be dealt with Imperially if interests like Canadian economic interests are to a certain extent in conflict with Imperial interests? I believe from what I have seen of the penetration of the American motorcar industry into Canada and Australia before the war that the tendency in the future will be for the self-governing Dominions to link themselves economically more with countries that are not inside the British Empire.
143 Australian statesmen have spoken during the war of dependence upon America. What happens in war time may happen even in peace time.
Therefore, when hon. Members opposite make a fetish, as it were, of this idea of calling an Imperial conference I say they are going too far. What they should try to impress upon the Government is to get some sort of policy to present to the House. At present we are talking in. the dark, because we know nothing about the Government policy. All we do know is that they are trying to patch up the chosen instrument, which never could work and never will work in its present form. Even if I have said things, as I usually do, which may not have met with the entire approval of Members of my own party, I have attempted to look at this matter from what I would call a British point of view just as much as hon. Members opposite. I may not agree with hon. Members opposite in their solution. The problem has been posed, and posed well, by various speakers. I agree with the problem and the immensity of it, but I say that the Government are asking for trouble because they have given us no lead. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Air will do so when he comes to speak to-day, and then all will be well; but if he does not, I shall join with my hon. Friends opposite in criticising the Government further, because I think they are, at the present time, pursuing a laissez faire policy.
§ Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)
I have been present during most of this Debate and should like to associate myself with all those Members who have congratulated the hon. Members who opened the Debate. One thing I regret is that during the whole of this Debate, at any rate during the time when I have been in the House, no mention has been made, not even from the Labour benches, of the captains of our civil aircraft and the ground crews. I think it is time that the people of this country and those Members of the House who are unaware of it should begin to realise the gallant and splendid work those men have done and are doing. They are all employees of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. How many people in the country realise that we have aircraft captains who pioneered the, flights across the Atlantic? Many of 144 them have done more than 50 trips to and fro. I do not wish to dispute or to discuss the efficiency of other nations, I am talking of my own country, but how many realise that through the captains and crews of the British Overseas Airways Corporation we alone are keeping a regular two-way traffic across the Atlantic, East and West? It is a terrific proposition, which most people thought was quite impossible. There are captains of our civil aircraft who have flown 16,000 hours, covering more than 2,000,000 miles.
Let us look at Africa in connection with civil aviation. The route from Lagos to Khartum was pioneered by British Overseas Airways aircraft in 1936, that is, seven years ago. The present route from Lagos via the Congo to Khartum originated in a very inspiring manner from the British point of view. There was a British flying boat called the Clyde, commanded by Captain Lorraine, due to sail for the United States. France broke down, Italy entered the war, the Mediterranean was closed, our communications with the Far East were finished for the moment. So the Clyde started off, without warning, from here to Bathurst, Bathurst to Lagos, Lagos to Leopoldville, uncharted and having no motor launches. All of it had to be provided, and it was done by Captain Lorraine of the Clyde. The Clyde unfortunately no longer exists, but, fortunately for us, Captain Lorraine is still alive.
There are many of these splendid civilian captains alive to-day carrying on our civil aviation service. I speak rather personally, because I happen quite recently to have travelled 14,000 miles over these routes, always under the command of a British Overseas aircraft captain. It is true that my first plane was a Liberator, whose captain is known almost throughout the world. We went over the seas, by land plane, to Lagos, and then I changed into a seaplane and flew over the land to Cairo. I would like the House to realise that we have a fleet of seaplanes that during last year flew over 3,000,000 miles and carried 9,500,000 tons of cargo. The House should realise that the pioneering all over Africa has been done by our men of British Overseas aircraft. It is not true to state that that is private enterprise. It is not, and all this question of shareholders and private capital seems a very small matter. We 145 are here dealing with a very great Imperial and national issue, and it is essential that this House and His Majesty's Government should get a full grip of the position. We shall need after this war still more to bring this Empire together.
I am speaking to the House in a special capacity as Chairman of the British Council, and I would like to suggest—I doubt whether many hon. Members would seriously contradict me—that what the ordinary man in this country and in the Empire really know about each other could be written down on a very small sheet of notepaper. Here, to my mind, is our real chance. In the old days, before the development of aviation, it took many, many weeks, to reach Australia and many, many weeks to come back. People have not the time. The hon. Member has just talked about the cost. That also is a vital question. If we are to bring this Empire of ours together so that the peoples understand each other, it seems to me that speed in communication and cheapness of communication are essential. I would definitely like to see an Imperial Airways Corporation gradually built up—you cannot do it in a week—which shall be able to transport the ordinary people of the Empire from one part of it to another. That would involve some system of subsidy. Whether it is given on individual tickets or whether it is given to the Corporation as a whole, I would leave to other authorities to work out, but it seems to me essential that this new system, this new development of air transport, has become vital to the future understanding of the British peoples of the Empire.
When it comes to our friends in the United States and our Allies, Russia and China, I think it must be obvious—after all, we are all human—that the United States have a great advantage. They have almost a Continent over which they can experiment in civil aviation. We on the other side have an Empire, and we can experiment over our Empire. At the present moment we have no civil planes with which We can compete with the United States. I do not particularly wish to compete, but I do wish to have a bargaining counter, and we must have that bargaining counter. This is my appeal t6 the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air: I agree that 146 we have got to finish the war, but surely it does not mean 100 per cent. production of war aircraft. Surely a small percentage, one, if you like, could be spared to design the planes, civil planes, for the after-the-war period. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the present Board of the B.O.A.C. is adequate and sufficiently informed to plan for the future to survey air routes, to decide upon types of planes? I am not particularly concerned either with this Board or with its predecessor, but I would suggest that the time has come when we should have a Board and, associated with it, some at least of these splendid men who have flown the world over in all weathers, and who really know what civil aviation requires.
The Admiralty deals with the fighting Navy, but in peace-time it has nothing to do with the Merchant Marine. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) said, the War Office has nothing to do with the London Passenger Transport Board. Why, then, should the Air Ministry have anything to do with civil aviation? I find some difficulty in under-Standing that. Civil aviation is wholly different from war aviation. I have flown with civil pilots, extraordinarily skilled men, and men of complete courtesy and endurance. I do not deny that our military pilots have those characteristics, too. But, as a civilian, I like to be in a plane of which the pilot says, "The weather report says that it is going to be bumpy ahead, so we will go a wee bit higher," and then to go a bit higher, and sail on an even keel—or whatever the term is. The civil pilot realises the squeamishness of one's anatomy. Sometimes I might want to come down and see a giraffe, and the civil pilot will bring me down to see the giraffe, or to see a herd of elephants, if the conditions are suitable. If we are to encourage air transport, it has to be comfortable and safe enough for the ordinary civilian. As one hon. Member said, the number of people who have been in the air or want to go there, is infinitesimal. I had never flown until a few months ago, and I used to say that nothing would ever make me fly. But now that I have done so I shall be glad to do so again, provided that I can have these civil pilots, who will give me a comfortable journey. Also, our aircraft must be designed for comfort. That is 147 an important point. Is it really impossible for us to spare now a handful of people to design civil aircraft, land planes and seaplanes, for the future?.
It is not only the flying men but the ground staffs too, stretching all the way to India, living in pestilential climates, who are glad and proud to do their job in the Empire. But they are suffering from malaria, from all the troubles that come from living on the Equator and in ugly and unhealthy climates. I think I do not go too far when I say that the splendid civilian pilots and crews, and these men, equally important, who serve on the ground, who have kept these flying boats going during the war, flying over 3,000,000 miles, when they discuss these things in their mess, are saying to each other, "We are glad to do it, we are proud to do it, but what of the future? Is there a policy? Are we going to have an Empire policy or a national policy? Is all this worth our while? "The House and the public would do well very gravely to ponder these considerations. I believe that the B.O.A.C. has 14,000 employees. These men are splendid, and we just cannot let them down. The Air Ministry is not the proper Ministry to deal with civil aviation, and I would implore the right hon. Gentleman to consider that the Empire should meet and immediately be summoned so that we can get together and arrange and discuss Imperial air communications. I implore, him to bear these things in mind, and I implore His Majesty's Government to consider whether really now it is not possible, and indeed urgently necessary, to set up a separate Ministry to deal with this vitally important subject of civil aviation.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South- East)
When one prepares a speech for delivery in this House and it so happens that the Minister concerned speaks first, it is, as a rule, necessary to make a rapid revision of one's notes, but in point of fact, if only: time permitted, which, unfortunately, it does not, I have no reason to alter anything I was going to say since the Secretary for the Dominions and Deputy Prime Minister gave no assurance whatsoever on any points that have been raised by hon. Friends. Unfortunately, however, I must obey the dictates of the clock and promise only to occupy ten minutes, consequently I can only say in 148 passing that I would add my voice to that of practically every other hon. Member who has spoken in favour of the Empire conference, and doubly so since hearing the arguments advanced by the Deputy Prime Minister. Also, I had every intention, had there been time, of lacing, as heavily as I could, that policy of internationalisation of which we have heard nothing from the Government and on which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air will no doubt have something to say.
I must pass on as rapidly as I can to my next subject, and that is a few reflections on the chosen instrument policy versus private enterprise. I looked up the Debates of July, 1939, on the B.O.A.C. Bill, hoping to find wise words spoken on a lofty plane on the subject of private and public enterprise, but evidently I over-estimated, for with the exception of a vigorous defence of private enterprise and an attack on the Bill by the present Minister of Information, the Debate consisted for the most part of a wrangle, about the price paid for Imperial Airways shares. And, bless my soul, if the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has not started it all up again.
There was one important factor which emerged from the Debate to which I shall refer in a moment. It was pointed out during that Debate that the Cadman Committee, which reported in 1938, had recommended that British external air transport should be concentrated into a small number of well-founded and substantial organisations. The same route, however, should not be operated by more than one British company. So far as the first part of that recommendation is concerned, the Government proceeded completely to ignore it; indeed, they did the reverse. I have no doubt that I shall be accused of speaking for vested interests, but I am much impressed by the arguments I have heard and read for throwing open civil aviation to all corners, particularly to concerns experienced in the art of transport, such as shipping companies, railway companies and the like. Shipping companies have not only got a world-wide organisation and offices, but they have installations capable of handling passengers and goods in many countries and throughout the Empire. At the end of the war they will have decimated fleets and a large amount of money with which to re-equip. 149 The question is: What will they do with that money? Are they to be encouraged to invest in the most modern form of transport, or are they to be asked to carry on in the way they have been living for many years past? There then arises this important question: Could they operate in the air with the British Overseas Airways Corporation still in existence? I fear that the two propositions are mutually exclusive. The shipping companies could, it is true, tender for certain routes as yet unopened, such as the route to South America, but what is it that makes an air line attractive, nay, possible? It is the air mail contract. Is it likely that the Government, who are, unfortunately, in my opinion, committed to no surcharge for air mails—at least in the Empire—will not insist on all air mails being carried by their own company, the fortunes of which are of great concern to them? The words "air mail surcharge" are politer than the word "subsidy," and it is, moreover, paid by the public, and is, therefore, a form which I personally prefer.
But without the air mail contract who is prepared to operate, except, of course, to skim the cream off certain gilt-edged routes such as the London to Paris route, which we ought not to allow any interloping private company to do? I have been forced to the conclusion, as a result of my own arguments, if for no other reason, that we would be well advised to wind up the British Overseas Airways Corporation in its present form and either establish a number of Government air companies or, as I myself would prefer, to put out the different air routes to tender with, of course, the proviso that there should not be more than one British company operating in each, with a proper air mail surcharge. The prosperity and efficiency of the great American companies have been built up on this basis. I suppose I might be accused a wanting to put back the clock in making this proposal, but I would remind the House that we put the clock back every year at the end of summer time and that we would be well advised to get accustomed to the idea of doing so when certain political dreams do not come true.
I would like to say a few words on the subject of Air Ministry control of civil aviation. Here, again, I find myself in agreement with the great majority of today's speakers. I expect the Secretary 150 of State for Air will rush to the protection of civil aviation as a mother would protect her child. Yet I wonder why. The operation of civil aviation is as different from military aviation as chalk is from cheese, and, moreover, it has always been neglected by the Air Ministry. It is not even properly represented on the Air Council, for it has no Air Member who may be considered the expert. Its only representative is the Secretary of State himself, who is, as a rule, much too wrapped up with other matters. The Air Ministry really should be glad to get rid of civil aviation, and the Ministry of Transport should be equally glad to take it over, since it is a subject which is part of their ordinary business.
If you revert to the Debate of July, 1939, you will find that the foundation of the idea was laid. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Secretary of State for Air, announced that a Civil Aviation Development Committee was to be set up that summer. Its function was to coordinate the need for new types of aeroplanes so that construction might be concentrated on a relatively few types. Above all, he announced that the Committee was to be independent of the Air Ministry and was to work through the Directorate of Civil Research and Production. I recognise that this is only a beginning, limited to the technical side, and has nothing to do with administration, and also that the Department mentioned has migrated, under a different name, to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which is closely related to the Air 'Ministry. Indeed, the change is rather reminiscent of the man who moved from his mother-in-law to take up residence with his aunt—not very exhilarating perhaps, but a change nevertheless. Anyway, this announcement so encouraged the House that Lord Brabazon said:… from now on we shall see that thing happening for which I have been hoping all my life, the divergence between military aviation and civil aviation. The Government, the House of Commons and the country have hitherto always looked upon civil aviation in the same way as a cow looks at a passing train—'very wonderful, but nothing to do with us.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1939; col. 1864, Vol. 349.]Alas, he spoke too soon, for the war intervened, and we heard no more of that Committee, but I hope the Government will take courage from their previous 151 action and announce that they are prepared to go a step further to-day.
My final point is regarding the production of civil aircraft. That I place well at the bottom of the list, for if we have Empire agreement, if we have ample bases, if we have a good ground organisation, and, finally, if we get international agreement, which I look upon as very different from internationalisation, aircraft will soon be forthcoming, whether British or American. Yet shortage of aircraft to-day is advanced as a reason why no progress can be made. Indeed the Under-Secretary, speaking in reply to a motion at the Conservative Party conference the other day on the subject of civil aviation, asked the audience which they would rather have, a civil air liner or a Lancaster, a transport plane or a Spitfire, or words to that effect. But the delegates did not react to this dilemma, because it is not the issue. We do not ask that there should be any interference with war production. We only ask—that was the only concrete statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister—that there "should be certain plans made now. The issue is that, if the Empire resolves on a policy of civil aviation second to none, all the rest will fall into line.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
We have had, in the general opinion of everyone who has sat through most of the Debate, as I have done, a discussion which, to use an old-fashioned phrase, can be said to be of high endeavour and great purpose, and it is to the credit of the House that such attention has been paid to the subject, as has been shown by the attendance throughout, because it is in no sense a party, or indeed a political, question. For once may I say, as an old Member of the House, Let the House be proud of its position in this regard. Too often we crowd these benches, and people who are never seen at ordinary times come in to listen to some personal question or some little thing in which no one outside is the least interested. Here to-day, on a matter on which, unfortunately, the country is profoundly ignorant as yet, we have seen very real enthusiasm in all parts of the House and a real determination to try to arrive at some form of common agreement. It is my usual role when I stand at this Box; or indeed elsewhere in the 152 House, to act, with deliberation, as an irritant in the House, but on this occasion I am anxious to act as an emollient, a sort of Zambuk—an ointment which is put on to prevent people coming out in a rash. I am anxious to put certain points to which, I hope, my right hon. Friend will assent and which do not, I think, cut across what I believe to be the general consensus of opinion in the House.
The first of the points is this. My hon. Friends on this side of the House—and I am not going to say anything which will offend them—were not, if I may say so, quite as clear as they might have been, on this point. It is that no one of any political party in this country would dare to say, and I venture to say that no one in any of the Allied countries would dare to say, that the self-governing Allied nations known by the term of the British Commonwealth of Nations, have not a perfect right in this and every other matter, to act together as a unit, if they desire to do so. No one would dare to use the old-fashioned term "Imperialism" about that sort of concert. All that my hon. Friends of the Tory party have asked, and I hope that my hon. Friends of the Socialist party do not dissent from it, is that as a first and primary consideration, before we do anything else, we should endeavour to arrive at a common policy' with the Dominions. I say that with intense earnestness. Perhaps all of us realise the importance of this question in the world to-day, from the point of view even of the conversations that have been going on in Washington, and I should like it to go out from the House to-day—and I hope my right hon. Friend will emphasise the matter more than the Dominions Secretary did—that we have a perfect right to have that concert and that we shall do our best to arrive at it and to act as a unit.
The second point, I admit, is slightly more controversial, but again I hope that my hon. Friends on this side of the House will agree. We must have in this and in all other matters of relationship with other countries what the French call un sens des choses possibles—a sense of what can be done. Some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House do not correctly interpret the prevalent opinion in the countries of two of or great Allies, the United States, or the Union of Soviet 153 Socialist Republics. At any international conference a proposal that the civil aviation of the Soviet Republic or of the United States should be under international control would have, to use a common phrase, about as much chance as a snowflake in hell. There is no Russian statesman and no United States statesman who would agree to such a thing. I have to say something which is unpopular and I am prepared to be misinterpreted from both sides of the House. It is a fact which is unfortunate from the point of view of the Tory party on the one side and on the other of the party of my hon. Friends on these Benches, that Russia is a collectivist country and has made a success of public enterprise, but it has a nationalist policy and does not believe in the international sentimentalism of the past. Russia is determined after this war to have in civil aviation as in everything else an industry and to make it succeed, and the same is true of the United States.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Will the Noble Lord agree with this? Although it may not be possible to have the type of international organisation envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) it is possible to have international agreement.
§ Earl Winterton
I was coming to that. On both sides we all agree that there must be devised the closest possible code of international rules for civil aviation, in regard to air-worthiness, the use of air ports and the like. No one could contemplate, no Tory could contemplate— and I can talk to the Tory party on this matter— that there should be unrestricted competition. Nobody has ever suggested it. It may well be, and here I do not altogether agree with some of my hon. Friends in the Tory party, that it will be feasible from our own point of view to have a national civil force, as Russia will certainly have a national civil aviation. I deplore this hurling backwards and forwards across the House of questions about private enterprise and public enterprise. Let me say frankly, as the House has always been very kind to me as an old Member, that after this war there will be, whether the Tory Party like it or not, far more public control than there was before the war, but infinitely less than my hon. Friends on this side of the House want. Neither side is going to get very much ammunition from some of the 154 speeches that have been made in this Debate if the National Government is going on, because it will not be a case of either all private enterprise or all collectivism. Therefore it is no good one side saying to the other side, "All you think about is private profits," and the other side retorting, "All you think about is whether things should be run by the State." What we want is to have the best civil aviation possible.
I cannot say, because I am not in a good position to judge, whether the right hon. Gentleman is or is not a great man in the sense of being a great administrator. All I know is that under his administration the Royal Air Force has attained marvellous achievements, for which he is entitled to receive credit, but, believe me, he has to prove himself much more than merely worthy of his office. He has to prove himself in the interests of the nation. From the point of view of the nation he has to prove himself a pathfinder and a pioneer, because if by the year 1950, for example—and we may presume that we shall be at peace by then—we have not got a civil aviation worthy of our position among the nations we shall be in the same calamitous position that this country would have been in, in 1850, if it had not had the shipyards and the merchant navy.
Those are the facts. It is a terriffic responsibility for my right hon. Friend and it cannot be put aside by some Minister, getting up and making the sort of speech that the Dominions Minister made. It is not a question whether Dick the Socialist likes it or Bill the Conservative does not; it is on a much higher plane. My right hon. Friend is entrusted, by virtue of his high office, with one of the most responsible tasks that any Minister has had. It is second only to that of the Prime Minister. He is the man who is responsible for seeing that, after the war, this country fills a position in the air and in civil aviation worthy of the tremendous record which she has had in the years during the war.
§ The. Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I agree with the Noble Lord that we have had a most interesting Debate. Let me answer straight away the first challenge which he threw out to me. He said: "Let the right hon. Gentleman make it clear. Is it the policy of the Government that the 155 first consideration, before we do anything else, is to arrive at a common policy with the Dominions?" I am glad to be able to answer "Yes" to that question. That was the burthen and the theme of the speech which the Secretary of State for the Dominions addressed to the House at an earlier stage. We are now striving to arrive at that common policy with the Dominions. When my right hon. Friend was speaking, one or two hon. Members cried out, "Give them a lead." What exactly did they mean by that suggestion? If giving the. Dominions a lead means telling the Dominions what to do— [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Let me make my opinion clear at any rate. The Dominions are proud, powerful nations, grown-up nations. Canada will emerge from this war, when Germany and her Allies have been defeated, the fourth strongest military Power in the World. If hon. Members mean when they say "Give a lead" that we are to take the initiative and to call the Dominions into consultation, well, that we have done. That path we shall strenuously pursue.
Nobody will deny that we have listened to an extraordinarily interesting and varied Debate, and, indeed, I hope that my fellow Members will sympathise with me in the formidable task which I have now to attempt of replying. I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to reply to all the interesting points which have been raised, but I will make a real effort to reply to as many of them as possible. The broad issues of policy have already been dealt with by the Deputy Prime Minister—effectively dealt with on behalf of His Majesty's Government. It is not for me to trespass on that field. Incidentally one or two of my hon. Friends have raised issues which trenched upon this field and upon which I think I am entitled to make one or two passing comments.
The Debate was introduced in a lively and interesting speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins). Verily, he was looking for a fight. He spoke of the challenges of 1934 and 1936, of questions that had never been answered by any Government, of valueless promises which he had received from Government after Government; and for all their sins, it seemed to me, while has was speaking, that I was held responsible. He felt sure 156 that our promises would be no better than the promises of our predecessors, and I heard one of his supporters shout out, "No, they won't be worth a damn." Clearly, he was spoiling for a fight, but he hardly betrayed from the beginning of his speech to the end the slightest appreciation of the fact that there is quite a sizable fight going on outside the walls of this House. I am engaged in that one, and I have no time for any enemies but Hitler and his friends. The hon. Gentleman made great play at the beginning of his speech with the number of Ministers who shared responsibility for solving the problems of civil air transport; let me say to him in all frankness that he was wrong in suggesting that I have ever shirked or disclaimed my full responsibility for civil air transport as for any other branch of the work of my Department.
I cannot claim, indeed I am not entitled to claim, responsibility for the solution of those larger problems of international policy on which the formulation of our national plans depend. They affect large numbers of Departments in the Government; they affect very prominently such Departments as the Dominions Office, the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office, and obviously I cannot claim responsibility for all those larger issues of policy. But for the rest I have always accepted and asserted my full responsibility and answered for them frequently. True it is that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State has a special and well-recognised responsibility in that field, and one which he discharges faithfully and strenuously, but I have always accepted and asserted my ultimate responsibility. This is in fact the third time in three months that, apart altogether from answering Questions, I have answered for those responsibilities in this House.
The hon. Member for Stroud said too—I do not hold this too much against him, but he did say it in passing—that the air marshals are too stupid to think. These are the men whose clear visions of the requirements and realities of the war, and whose close co-operation with the scientists before the war have enabled us to beat the German Air Force in the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Africa, the Battle of the Atlantic, the Battle of Italy, and now, I believe, in the Battle of Germany. Far from fighting them, finding as I did the Metropolitan Air Force outnumbered by 157 four to one by the German air force, I have certainly scraped together every resource I could find and insisted on devoting it to the strengthening of our fighting Air Force. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) pointed out that our air transport has played by no means a negligible part in this war, and that is abundantly proved. The whole of our air transport, as the House will know, is now used for war purposes and war purposes only.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree), in the interesting speech which he made speaking second in the Debate, complained that the Air Ministry lacked-understanding of civilian needs. He gave us an account of his experiences at the beginning the war when we were very short of fighting aircraft indeed, and that was not the fault of the Air Ministry. He gave us an account of his experiences then and how when he came home via Lisbon he found he had to come by train, and that finally when an air service to Lisbon was opened it was opened by my right hon. Friend and myself with the help of Dutch pilots. We were, I must say, glad and grateful to those gallant Dutch pilots of K.L.M. for coming forward and doing that service. They have done it splendidly, and it was a great addition to our war effort, and we needed to use for the purposes of the war every resource at the disposal of the Allies. Here was a war resource which we used for the purpose of this service, and we do not deserve blame for that, I would say to my hon. Friend, we deserve rather his praise. He referred to the fine Atlantic flying boats which had been built for trans-Atlantic work which were sent, not in my time—actually it was done before my time—to Norway to take part in the operations there. I have no reason to defend it, although it was an absolutely right decision—I can say that honestly to the House without having any personal motive; it was an absolutely right decision to use those flying boats for the purposes of the war.
The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) told me she could not be here. I forgot to tell her that I was going to mention this in passing; I am very sorry to mention it in her absence, but I think I should mention—I hate doing it when she is not here—the reference that she made to Sir Alan Barlow. 158 It really is not a good thing to attack civil servants. Sir Alan Barlow is a most loyal and devoted civil servant. Incidentally, he is keenly interested in the problems of air transport, and is helping us very much with them now. I only hope that the hon. Lady will take some opportunity of getting in touch with him and searching his mind—and, indeed, of contributing to his knowledge of the civil air transport problem. That is a digression. What I was going to say about the hon. Lady's speech is that she said it was a mistake to believe that the future of our country could be guaranteed by fighters and bombers alone. That was not the mistake, indeed, which we very nearly slipped into before this war. She went on to say that it was costly to count too much on military aircraft. It was the opposite mistake, as I say, that we slipped into at the beginning of the war, when we were in a minority of four to one against Germany in relation to our Metropolitan Air Force.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Certainly not: I am talking of numbers. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha), and to that extent the hon. Lady the Member for Frome, that transport aircraft are of immense importance in war. But there must be a balance. You must first of all have adequate fighting aircraft for the protection of your transport aircraft, or you will meet the same fate as the German transport flotillas have met in the Tunisian theatre in recent weeks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport says, "Why should we regard the designing, of these new civil transport aircraft as in any degree a detraction from our war effort? Why should we think there is any risk in it, because they will be so useful for the invasion of Europe when they are made?" But I am afraid it will take a very long time to make them. It will be some years before the larger types have been designed and brought into use. They will not be available to help us in this war. That was why the Deputy Prime Minister Made it so abundantly clear that progress with these new types of transport aircraft must at every stage be limited if they come into conflict with the requirements of the Royal Air Force. The hon. Member for Stroud asked what we are designing for now. I am afraid 159 he takes a too sanguine view of the length of the war. We are still engaged in a deadly struggle with powerful enemies in Europe, and when we have finished with them we shall still have a powerful enemy in Asia to tackle.
But apart from that, I would say to the hon. Member that, while it is perfectly true that the aircraft that we were flying over Germany last year bore the names of Wellington, Halifax, Stirling and Lancaster, and the aircraft that are flying over Germany this month bear the same names, they are not the same aircraft. The engines are different, the fins are different, the noses are different, the shrouds may be different; and in a great many ways they are very different aircraft. [An HON. MEMBER: "The bombs are different."] The bombs are different, as my hon. Friend reminds me. In many ways they are different aircraft, and that is the result of constant' work by the designers. That work must go on all the time, to increase the effectiveness of our attack and the safety of our crews.
In my speech last year I mentioned the harvest which we were going to reap from the work of our scientists and designers. I told the House this year that we had reaped a good many rich harvests and that we were going to reap more. Every harvest that we reap is the result of, and to some extent is going to impose new tasks upon, our designers in our aircraft industry. If you get a new piece of scientific equipment, you have to build it into the aircraft. It means that you may have to solve not only difficult installation problems but difficult aero-dynamic problems too, so the work of the designers is going on constantly, and for the safety of our crews and the effectiveness of our offensive we must keep them at it all the time.
As for the rest of the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud, I have something to tell him that he will not like to hear at all, but he spoke very frankly to me, and so I am going to speak very frankly to him. However he may regard it, I must tell him that I find myself in a very large measure of agreement with the rest of his speech. He struck two notes which afterwards dominated the Debate, first, that we are not one small island but part of a great Empire. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke to-day, of course, as the acting 160 head of His Majesty's Government, but he also spoke as the Dominions Secretary, and I venture to think—and I am probably right—that if the Prime Minister had been here to-day, my right hon. Friend would still have spoken, and spoken as Dominions Secretary, 'because we have put first in our work the importance of coming to an agreement with the Dominions. After the war we shall be one of two things; either we shall be a small island of 45,000,000 people in a world dominated by the Great United States of America, with 130,000,000, and the great Soviet Union, with a population which no one can number, but which may reach up to 200,000,000—either we shall be in that position, or we shall be the centre of a great Empire which will be bound together by our air routes, with all the business of the Empire greatly simplified by the fact that Ministers and high officials will be able to move rapidly and easily from one part of that Empire to another. There really is no ground of difference between the Government and the House on that.
Secondly, the other theme which the hon. Member mentioned at the end of his speech, and which was caught up by a number of other speakers, was that we must build up an organisation of air transport for the benefit not of one country only or of one Empire, but of the whole world. This latter theme was stressed by other Members, notably by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). I listened with great, interest and a large measure of agreement to the speech of my hon. Friend opposite, but where I did part company from him was where he said—he will correct me if I am wrong—that "people want swift, comfortable, safe travel, but who cares who builds the aircraft?" I must say that I do care who builds the aircraft. It is important that we should encourage a strong and efficient industry here. I glory in the fact that we have built up the best and most powerful Air Force in the world on the basis of our flying industry, our designers, our scientists—and our air-marshals. I must give them a share of credit. We have built up this great Air Force, and I believe we have a contribution to make second to none to the future of air transport.
§ Mr. Montague
I do not want to contradict what the right hon. Gentleman has said about his interpretation of my remarks, but I think it was rather biased and coloured. What I did say was that the air future of this country would be a great future, and that we ought to do our best to develop the industry here but, at the same time, if it was to be a question of competition with America, Russia or China, then I would prefer that we should not consider so much the question of who builds the aircraft.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am glad that the hon. Member has cleared the point; I am sorry if I am at all responsible for misunderstanding what he said. I can assure him that it is not our policy to rush into national rivalries and competitions with America or any other country. We want to get agreement and co-operation. Let me say that I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said about keeping in mind our small Allies. I need refer only to the Dutch—who have helped us enormously in air transport during this war. There are others, such as the Norwegians, who have dose the same thing and we must keep them all in mind. If I may digress for a moment I would like to go back to something else which was said by the hon. Member for West Islington. He mentioned the Boeings, the acquisition of which we owe to the initiative of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary and which have proved to be a priceless possession to this country. The hon. Gentleman appeared to think that there was some agreement to limit their use. I can assure him that that is not the case.
What is true, and what might have given rise to the impression that there was such an agreement, is that we told the Americans honestly and truthfully—indeed, the facts are such that it could not be other than true—that we should want the Boeings for war work, and nothing but war work. We have used them for war work and nothing but war work but there is more war work to be done and war passengers to be carried; by war passengers I mean those who have to go abroad on war duty. There is more work than can be done by these Boeings at the present time. It is not true to say that there is anything in the contract of purchase that they should be 162 used for nothing but war purposes; but they are in fact still being used for war purposes and nothing else.
Let me return to the theme I was talking on just now about the importance of co-operation in world transport and the nations working together to make civil air transport the service of mankind, a point which was so eloquently elaborated in a most remarkable maiden speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Watford (Group-Captain Helmore), which raised the whole level of this Debate. The Government agree with him that the development of civil air transport must accord, as he says, with the ideals for which we are fighting in this war and must serve the happiness and progress of mankind. The hon. and gallant Member, the hon. Member for Frome, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port agreed with him on another point of importance, namely, that military and civil air problems must be considered and discussed together. The defence aspect of the air problem is vital, and we could not, for example, go further in the international organisation of civil air transport than was warranted by international arrangements in other spheres of policy, including defence.
Now I come to a subject on which there may be some difference of opinion between me and nearly every speaker who has addressed the House. At the same time, it is a subject on which my mind is not closed but on which I think it my duty to put to the House some considerations different from those which have been put forward by others, that is to say, the administration of civil air transport by the Air Ministry. The hon. Baronet the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) said it ought not to be under the Air Council. It is not under the Air Council. It comes directly under the Under-Secretary and myself, through the Director-General of Civil Aviation and the Permanent Under-Secretary of State. [Interruption.] Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Baronet. I thought his point was that, as it comes under the Air Council, it ought to have a separate member of the Air Council. It was removed from the control of the Air Council in 1939. During the war the connection between civil air transport and the Air Ministry must be maintained in the interest of the war. We must have this close and immediate 163 control of civil air transport to ensure that it is used to the utmost extent for the benefit of the war, that it can render from day to day the best service to the conduct of the war of which it is capable. I am sure that if hon. Members would look more closely into this, they would find that it would be very much to the detriment of the British Overseas Airways Corporation to be removed from the Air Ministry during the war, for they would find it very much more difficult to apply for supplies from a strange and separate Ministry than they do at present —to obtain equipment, spares, personnel, meteorological and radio facilities, which can be discussed and settled quickly in the confines of the Air Ministry. Then it is very important that there should be close working with the Transport Command. We have an admirable pattern to go upon in what has been done by close working in the North Atlantic service, and I have an Integration Policy Committee working in the Air Ministry dovetailing the activities of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the Transport Command. Finally, I noticed an interesting report issued by an independent committee of which Captain Lamplugh was chairman, in which the committee said that it was almost impossible to dispense with the connection between civil aviation and the Air Ministry during or, indeed, immediately after the war.
Now we come to the post-war period. There will be in the immediate post-war period intense pressure on the Transport Command and the British Overseas Airways Corporation. But, indeed, it is difficult to define what the post-war period will be. Will it be when peace has been made, or when hostilities have ceased, or when hostilities in Europe have ceased and the war is still going on with Japan? During the immediate post-war period after hostilities have ceased in Europe there will be the tasks of feeding Europe and of transporting prisoners, and other tasks of the utmost urgency, and it would be imprudent to contemplate making any change immediately after the war.
Now we come to peace-time. That is where my mind is more open, and I would ask my hon. Friends, too, to keep an open mind. This is a complicated subject, and I will not discuss it fully now, but there are one or two considerations 164 that I would like to put in hon. Members' minds. The Gorell and Cadman Committees both reported in favour of civil aviation remaining with the Air Ministry, although the Gorell Committee suggested that it should be reviewed in 10 years' time. The Air Ministry is the repository of flying zeal and experience. The people in the Air Ministry are determined to develop flying to the utmost. They are keen on it. If civil aviation were put under a separate Ministry, no doubt the people there would be as keen, but I think it is doubtful whether you will get an additional Ministry for civil aviation. If it is put into some other Civil Department, I doubt very much whether you would find there the same zeal for flying as you have in the Air Ministry and as you will have after the war.
§ Sir Douglas Thomson (Aberdeen, South)
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on producing almost exactly the same arguments that were used in the, Admiralty in 1916 to show that it was impossible to remove merchant shipping from the control of the Admiralty?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am not producing arguments. I am asking my hon. Friends to bear in mind some of the considerations which tell on the other side.
§ Sir D. Thomson
Will my right hon. Friend see that he is drawing almost the same arguments as were drawn in 1916?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I would ask my hon. Friends to address themselves to the merits of the arguments rather than to historical parallels, however interesting. What I think it will really depend on very largely is the reorganisation of other Departments of the Government after the war which are closely related both to the Royal Air Force and to civil aviation. I refer in particular to the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Ministry of Supply. Will there be a Ministry of Aircraft Production after the war, or will there be a Ministry of Supply which will embrace aircraft production? We have to consider very carefully—and this is perhaps the crux of the matter—where research and design will be. Would it be right to break up aviation research and design and to have it under the control of more than one organisation? Questions like that will have to be considered very carefully. If aircraft production comes back to the Air 165 Ministry, and if research and design are there too, in that case there would surely be a very strong case for civil aviation to remain with the Air Ministry. But, as I have said, I am keeping an absolutely open mind on this matter, and I would ask my hon. Friends to do the same.
Not very much has been said to-day about the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation, though it has been touched upon by one or two speakers. I believe that we have been very fortunate in the gentlemen and the lady whom we have found to take positions on that Board. It is not an easy thing in wartime. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud- said this was one of the most vitally important jobs, and that we should drag people out from wherever they may be and put them into British Overseas Airways Corporation. I am afraid that other Ministers would not share that view. There are a great many important jobs to be done in war-time. There are some people now serving in the Royal Air Force, with a background of civil aviation, who are acquiring there a splendid and varied experience, keen young men who may well in the future find places on the Board. As a matter of fact, I have kept some places vacant, and I hope and believe that it will be possible to strengthen the Board, good as I believe it to be, and industriously as the members have applied themselves to their difficult task. I agree with, my hon. Friend that the time will come when it will be a very good thing to strengthen the Board with these keen young men with modern flying experience. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport and my hon. Friend, the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) raised the question of Dominion representation on the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Would the right hon. Gentleman, for the benefit of the House, tell us a bit more about the present. Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation and the qualifications of the various members? It would be immensely interesting.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I would father deal with points that have been raised in Debate than add to them. I am afraid that I cannot even now deal with all of them, though I am struggling to deal with all I can, and I do not want to add to my burdens by dealing with points which 166 have not been raised in the Debate. As regards the question of Dominion representation on the Board, I did deal with that fully in reply to a speech which the hon. Member for Eye made in a Debate on the Adjournment of the House a few weeks ago. I want to be quite clear about this, that I do not think it would be appropriate to invite the Dominions—and if we did ask them, I do not think they would regard it as appropriate to accept—to put representatives on to the Board. British Overseas Airways Corporation is a United Kingdom Corporation created by the legislation of the United Kingdom Parliament and financed by a deficiency payment out of the Treasury of the United Kingdom. The Dominions regard the Corporation as a thoroughly United Kingdom organisation, just as Trans-Canada Air Lines are a purely Canadian organisation or the South African Air Lines are a South African organisation.
§ Earl Winterton
In that case—and I do not want to enter into a controversy on the matter—will the right hon. Gentleman' tell us why Air-Commodore Critchley was appointed? Is he not a Canadian?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
He is a British subject and a subject of the United Kingdom. He is a taxpayer in this country, where he lives. Surely the Noble Lord is not suggesting that being Canadian-born is a disqualification for any appointment in this country. He will, of course, be responsible, through the Board of the Corporation and through me, to this House, and I shall be responsible for the Corporation in this House.
§ Earl Winterton
My right hon. Friend did not understand the proposal which was made. The suggestion was that it was possible to find in the Dominions excellent representatives to serve on this body. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he could not ask the Dominions to find those people because they would not be responsible to the Dominions Parliament or to this Parliament. Air-Commodore Critchley is not responsible to this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is. It was thought worth while finding out whether there were any Dominions people who were willing to serve.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
That is not the proposition which has been made. I agree that it has often been made in very vague 167 terms. My Noble Friend made use of the words "representatives of the Dominions." I want to say something else on this point. It is not appropriate to ask representatives of the Dominions, or appointees of Dominion Governments to go on to the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation, but, as I said in reply to my hon. Friend the other day, the suggestion that there might be an Imperial body, with either advisory or executive functions, is very interesting. I do not at all exclude that. It would be a truly Imperial body, exercising either advisory or controlling functions in relation to Imperial transport. It would, of course, be constituted not by the United Kingdom but by all the Dominion Governments, and its constitution would emerge from the consultations which are now taking place. Those consultations will result in a certain policy and that policy will require machinery to carry it out. That machinery may well take that form— I am not saying that it will, because that will depend upon what the members of the conference decide and what the Dominion Governments want, as well as upon what the United Kingdom wants—and would emerge from that conference as I have suggested. There are a few other points made by concluding speakers——
§ Major Thorneycroft
I did not quite catch the last remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. Did he say that there was to be this conference of Dominion representatives and that a new Empire body would emerge? Did I understand him aright?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I think my hon. and gallant Friend has caught me out in the use of the word "conference." That word is unwarranted. I should have said that out of the consultations now taking place an agreement on policy might be reached which will require such a machinery and it might be a very useful kind of machinery.
§ Major Thorneycroft
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but this is an important point. Is it the view of His Majesty's Government that no conference should take place, or have they recommended that a conference should take place? This is a matter upon which a decision must be made, and I 168 would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make the point plain to the House.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I will make it perfectly plain. There is to be no question of telling the Dominions that we want them here for a conference. I make that perfectly plain. We are now engaged in consultations with the Dominions, and it may well come about that in those consultations there will be agreement on the part of the Dominions and ourselves that a conference would be a good thing, but that must emerge as a result of the consultations which are taking place, and there can be no question of, as my right hon. Friend said, summoning a conference. [An HON MEMBER: "Why not suggest one?"] My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Sir. W. Everard) urged the importance of the educational aspects of this problem, which he considered were being neglected. I can assure him that we are now in active consultation with the Board of Education on that subject, and that we entirely share his view of its importance.
My hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Hythe (Commander Brabner) and South-East St. Pancras urged that we should see that it was the Government policy to have a civil aviation second to none. I hope I have made that clear in the course of my speech. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe said, "Plan big." He is perfectly right—plan big and look far ahead. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Watford mentioned that it was not enough to plan big and to have aircraft coming out which will be only just as good as, or perhaps a tiny bit better than, the aircraft of other countries which will be coming out at the same time. We want to plan big and far ahead. If we are behind now in the production of transport aircraft for reasons with which the House is familiar, we mean to take full advantage of the technical advances which have been made during the war, and to plan ahead for the future.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe, I think, mentioned the condition of aerodromes in West Africa, which he thought very deplorable. I do not see him in his place. I wonder at what date he was there. I do not think they are up to civil air transport standards, but they are up to war standards, and I think well up to war standards. 169 The Under-Secretary of State has only just returned from West Africa and has seen for himself, and he gives me a different kind of picture, provided it is a war standard and not a civil air transport standard about which we are speaking. I was glad that he mentioned the Colonial Empire. We have talked a good deal about the Dominions in the course of this Debate, but the Colonial Empire is a very important part of this problem. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, through the Governors of the different African Colonies, is conducting a survey of the needs and requirements of the people, and the resources—meteorological, air fields, and other resources—of those territories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger) raised the question that few people have travelled by air. We must change all that. It is our endeavour to try to make air transport more widely popular and a cheaper service in the future than in the past. The right hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir M. Robertson) paid a high tribute, which I was very glad to hear, a very well deserved tribute, to the crews of our transport organisation. He asked whether people could not be spared to design civil aircraft. I suppose he could not have been present when the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement, arid made it abundantly clear to the House that such designs are in fact being made at the present time. I agree with the two right 170 hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Noble Lord and the Member for Devonport that this Debate has clearly revealed a remarkable consensus of agreement—I do not say full agreement—in Parliament about the immense opportunities for peaceful development which civil air transport offers to Britain, the Empire and to the whole world. It will encourage us to press on vigorously with our consultations with the Dominions and the United Nations in the planning of civil air transport development in the interests of the progress of the world.
§ Mr. Bowles
Has my right hon. Friend no answer to make on my speech, which I think was a constructive one, beyond dismissing it in one half-sentence?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.