HC Deb 11 March 1943 vol 387 cc962-1001
Mr. Burke (Burnley)

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, appreciating the important part which civil aviation will play in post-war reconstruction, urges the Government to adopt a policy which will ensure the immediate development of civil air transport at the conclusion of hostilities, so that, in co-operation with the countries of the. British Commonwealth and with other members of the United Nations, this means of communication shall be turned to peaceful ends and promote better international relationships as well as the economic welfare of all peoples. I do not need to impress upon the House the importance of this subject of civil aviation. If one wanted to point out how important it is, we have only to consider what has happened in this Debate, when Member after Member has found himself dealing with the question. The subject is exercising the minds of the public to a very large extent. They are naturally concerned about what is happening throughout the world and about the position of the country in the future. Its ability to meet new conditions of air transport will, of course, be enormously increased, owing very largely to the technical advance which the war has brought about. People are mindful of the fact that we have now possibly millions of people engaged in the aircraft industry, directly or indirectly, and it is natural to ask what is going to happen after the war to the work that these people are now doing. The matter has been brought up in another place quite recently, and it has been debated on the Adjournment in this House. Questions have been addressed to the Foreign Secretary asking what proposals the Government have, in conjunction with other countries, for dealing with the problem. The Minister without Portfolio and the Air Minister have been asked about it. There is general interest, and world-wide interest, in this problem, which is going to have a tremendous effect on the economic and social future of mankind in general. It will, of course, be a very potent factor in the question of war and peace in the future. It is a subject bristling with many difficulties, and statements have been made on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean which have perhaps not helped towards a solution. I should be sorry if I said anything which would make things more difficult.

I am a little concerned about the interest which is being taken in civil aviation by certain interests who have been approaching the Air Ministry and attempting to get guarantees that their position will be safeguarded in the future of air transport. I am referring to the great interest that the shipping companies are now taking in the question. Three shipping companies at least have asked the Minister to give them a guarantee that they will be able to function in this line when the war is over. They are fearful lest the increase in air transport will interfere with their own future prospects. That is the kind of thing which has happened over and over again when any new idea has come into being. The people who are responsible for the old feel that their interests will be prejudiced. Shipping companies are wrong in believing that. There will be plenty of room, if a right policy is pursued, for shipping companies to increase their trade in one particular line, though a certain amount of luxury traffic or package freights will be borne by air rather than by sea. Given an expansion of industry in this country, there will still be plenty of room for both land and sea traffic.

Whether the shipping companies are right or wrong in believing that air transport will prejudice their future, I hope the Government will see that the future of civil aviation is not tied up with the shipping or railway interests. It must be allowed perfect freedom in a new element. There is a great danger that the shipping companies and other interests will attempt to stake out their claims in this new field. It is a field where we ought to start with new ideas. We ought to get away from the competitive notions of the 19th century and look upon civil aviation, not as a profit-making concern, but as something of service to our own people and to mankind as a whole. I hope that the Secretary of State will definitely say to these people that financial and vested interests will not be allowed to step in and run aviation in the interests of finance but that it will be run only in the interests of service. I would remind the Government that recently the Swedish Government, being approached similarly by shipping interests, have turned down their request to take part in air transport and have decided that there shall be one national Swedish scheme covering the whole of their external air lines. That is the line which the British Government ought to pursue. Indeed, it is the declared policy of the Government that for external lines there shall be one State-owned Corporation over which the Minister, by the 1939 Act, has a considerable amount of control. I sometimes wonder whether he exercises that control as fully as he should do. We realise that since the war began a considerable handicap was bound to be placed upon the workings of the Corporation. On the other hand, we must recognise that the Corporation started off on the wrong foot. Perhaps it is not right to say it started on the wrong foot, but that it started off with the wrong heads.

The State has paid an enormous amount of money to buy out two concerns, one of which, according to the Cadman Report, was bankrupt and the other highly inefficient, and the Government have put into the control of the new concern the representatives of the very financial interests that could not run the two concerns. There are people in charge of the British Overseas Airways Corporation who are there, not because of technical ability or particular business or commercial ability, but because they represent interests that began with Whitehall Securities. As a consequence, the outlook for civil aviation in this country is by no means a good one. The success of civil aviation in future depends, I believe, upon putting it under the control of men with vision, men whose ideal is service to the community, and, generally speaking, younger men with technical ability. I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) said a short time ago, when he congratulated the R.A.F. on its personnel being younger. That accounts for a good deal of its success, and I hope that with civil aviation we will start off in a different way and put people in charge of it who are there because of their keenness for their job, their anxiety to serve and their technical ability. We know what the position of the Corporation is at the present time. Two of the people on it represent the shipping industry, one is there because he is the son of a banker, and others are there because of their connection with the old companies. We must reorganise our outlook if the future of air transport is to be a good one for this country.

The House was much interested to hear about the Transport Command which the Minister announced, and I want to refer to it, because I believe it will have a great bearing upon the future of civil aviation. I assume that in forming the Transport Command for the R.A.F. the Minister has been influenced by the situation in America, where they have a Transport Command. There is, however, a great difference between the American system and what is, I imagine, to be the system here. Our civil aviation has always been considered the reverse of a military service. Indeed, the Cadman report said that they were two sides of the same coin. I believe that that is where a great mistake has been made. I hope there is no intention of handing over the whole of our civil aviation to the Royal Air Force and getting it tied up with it and run by military people from only a military point of view. When the war is over it has to be in a position to face a good deal of competition throughout the world. It is no use saying that we do not want competition; we have to face the fact that it will be there, and we have to be prepared for it. It should not be imagined that in America they have closed down all their air transport because they are serving the military requirements at the moment. According to a report from New York in December, although they have concentrated on serving their military requirements and have undertaken a great deal of work both internally and externally, their civil air mileage has decreased by only 28 per cent. The men who are running the Transport Command in America are running it with commercial minds and with a civil point of view. The head is Mr. George, a regular officer, who has stated publicly that when the war is over he is going into aviation in the commercial world. His second in command is C. R. Smith, who is president of American Air Lines. Mr. Wilson, of the Trans-Continental Air Line, is a colonel in command of the line in Australia.

Indeed, instead of civil transport being turned over to the military, what has happened in America is that the military have handed over the business of its transport to commercially-minded people. The result will be that when the war is over their air transport will be in a much better position because of the war, in spite of the fact that it has spent so much of its time on military aviation. Let me read an extract from "American Aviation" for October, 1942: If any one has any doubts as to the tremendous part the air lines are playing in the war effort, let him read North-West Air Lines financial report. This company, which had only 800 employees, now has over 3,600 and plans an expansion to 8,000 or 10,000. With other lines increasing proportionately for war work, think what this will mean in terms of qualified personnel for post-war expansion. Those words were concerned with civil aviation. The importance of the announcement made by the Minister depends on whether he is going to ruin completely the prospects of civil aviation by putting the wrong people in charge of Transport Command. If it is simply to be British Overseas Airways Corporation with the same crew and run by them, it will merely be the same horse entered in another name, and it will not serve the purpose of the military machine or be of value, when the war is over, to civil aviation. I believe that to be very important, and I hope that the Minister will take particular notice of it.

A committee of members of the Labour Party have been considering this question of civil aviation. I have not been a member of the committee, but I have seen the report they have issued. One of the suggestions they make regarding the future of civil aviation is that it ought to be under a different Ministry. I know the Secretary of State will not take exception to this, but the committee suggest that civil aviation ought to be under the Ministry of Transport. I must disagree with my hon. Friends on that point. I do not want civil aviation mixed up with shipping and railways, and I suggest that there, ought to be a separate Ministry for civil aviation. That is what is proposed in America at the present time, according to the reports we receive here. Let me give one other illustration of the way in which this matter is regarded in America. They are drafting young men into their Army, but it is significant that youths from colleges and universities are exempt from military service if they are going into the air line schools to be trained as civil air pilots. That indicates the outlook of America towards the future of civil aviation.

I have no desire to labour unduly the difference between ourselves and other countries in this matter, because I do not think we ought to look at it from the point of view of competition, or zones, or particular routes. I believe the situation has to be met in an entirely different way. I hope that the Government will be able to tell us, perhaps at the close of this Debate, or very shortly, what they propose to do, in conjunction with other Governments, regarding the international future of air transport. I hope the Government will approach the United States of America and do so with the words of Vice-President Wallace and Mr. Sumner Welles in mind rather than the statement of, say, Mrs. Claire Luce. I think it was Epictetus who said that every matter has two handles, and by the one it may be carried and by the other not; and this matter cannot be carried if we approach it in the wrong spirit, in the competitive spirit. What we ought to do is to take advantage of the great amount of co-operation there is among the United Nations during the war and try to carry that co-operation right through into the period of peace. We fly one another's planes and use one another's aerodromes, we provide facilities for the Americans over here and they lend us their goods, and we make our contribution to them in return. That is the spirit in which we ought to look at the future of civil aviation—from the point of view of co-operation and not of competition.

I should like to ask the Government whether they are preparing any plans and getting ready for discussions. Questions have been asked about it in the House, and we have been told that no discussions are going on with other coun- tries as to the future of civil aviation. Are the Government preparing any plans for the future of civil aviation at home? In another place it was stated that it takes five years to get from the drawing-board to the finished plane. I think that is an exaggeration. Other people have suggested two years, and some of those connected with the industry say that transport planes could be built in less time than that. Whatever the time, there will be a considerable lag, and if anything is to be ready for the immediate period of need after the war, the Government must begin straight away. Have the Government entered into discussions with the Dominions? Shall we be able to go to America and say, "Here is the united view of the whole British Commonwealth; here we are with these resources which we are prepared to put at the service of mankind at large"?

I suggest that the Government should try immediately to open discussions with the United States and with Russia and consider the matter from the point of view of the international control of the whole of the airways of the world. That is the point to which the situation will finally come. Of course, it will be difficult, but that is no reason for not facing up to the task. It would remove a great many other difficulties which we should have to face if we went in for a partial scheme. It would do away with the difficulty of zoning. I hope the Government will not suggest that the air traffic of the world should be parcelled out. I notice that Mr. Runciman, who is one of the directors of British Overseas Airways Corporation, suggested only this week that a European system should be set up. What does that mean? If we are to talk of running a European system, putting America on one side and Russia on the other, that will mean splitting the world into zones, spheres of influence, balance of power, and world war No. 3 very shortly. The suggestion I make is that we ought to go all out for the internationalisation of the airways of the world. Let us go to Americans and Russians and propose straightaway an international directorate of aviation, with representatives from the Governments of all the countries which are prepared to join. Representatives of many of the United Nations are in this country at the present time. Let us get collaboration also with the Dominions and make a proposal for an international direction and control of the whole of the airways of the world.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

What would you do with the nations that would not join? Would they run in competition?

Mr. Burke

If we got the support of America and Russia and the British Commonwealth we should have the support of the great air nations of the future. If we had that support, I do not think that other nations could afford to stand outside. At least it is well worth trying. We ought to try for the best and highest straightaway, because I am convinced chat in the long run we shall have to come to internationalisation, and if in the meantime we try for anything smaller, we shall only be running into competition after the war and laying the seeds of a future conflagration. If the Government will take that long view now, it will be taking the greatest practical step towards implementing the Atlantic Charter that can be taken, and be taking the greatest possible step towards guaranteeing the peace of the world in the future and the economic progress of mankind.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Anyone who gives this subject any consideration at all will know that it is naught with the most serious difficulties. I have discussed it with many friends who know something about aviation, and I myself have had some flying experience and know other people who are particularly keen about the future development of the world. It seems to me that the proposals we get are of a rather small character. First, there is the type of man who never looks ahead at all but is a real individualist. He says that even in this country he would like to see air lines privately owned and run, say, between London and Scotland, and then that the Postmaster-General, for instance, should be able to switch over his mail contracts from one concern to another if there is a prospect of his getting a better service. That is the extremely competitive type of person, who, I think, really has no chance of getting his views accepted in the post-war world. There are others who have realised that probably some form of co-operation is necessary. There are those who believe that the world should be divided into zones, each having its international authority but with one of the major Allied Powers exercising the main control in a zone. Another alternative is complete internationalisation, with air lines all being operated under the control of a great international corporation or committee on which the air Powers would be represented. I realise, as I am certain everyone else does, that the matter is full of difficulties.

Paying a certain amount of lip service, we may say that we are now co-operating with the Americans and our other Allies, and why should we ever become competitors in the future? But I think that unless the Government of each country accept some proposal along the lines which I shall indicate in a little while, serious difficulties will arise. Let me try to analyse some of the arguments now being put forward. Three or four times in this Debate Members have suggested that we should now devote some of our aircraft production facilities to making transport planes, so that we shall have some after the war, but in their minds they go further, because what they mean to say is that we ought to have a sufficient air fleet to be able to look Pan-American Airways in the face and do a bargain with them. Fundamentally those people know perfectly well that without some competing aircraft to throw into the bargain scale we shall get very little out of the bargain. Some countries will find themselves at the end of this war with no aircraft at all. Perhaps only three or four of the countries on the Allied side will be likely to have any aircraft: this country, America, Russia and possibly China. But I do not think that to set aside some of our aircraft production facilities now for the production of civil machines, so that we shall be in a position to engage in competing and bargaining afterwards, would be a really sensible proceeding. For at least 2½ years before they came into the war the Americans were building air transporters, and they are not even now devoting all their production to purely fighter and bomber aircraft.

Mr. Baxter

If we are not to do that, in what position shall we be at the end of the war? Already the Americans have fast passenger liners, and we shall have none. We all want to deal with them as friends, but one thing the Americans do understand is—as those who play poker will appreciate—that if there is something in the kitty, you are in a stronger position.

Mr. Bowles

I do not know anything like so much as the hon. Member does about poker. But he must have failed to follow my argument, because I was saying that even if any transport organisation here had 100 or 200 transport planes that would not put us in a position to face them. Tin-pot lots of aircraft in the kitty will not be any good. They like kitties to be pretty big and full. Therefore, I do not think that even if His Majesty's Government turned over some of their aircraft production to the production of transporters, their position would be anything like strong enough in the competing world such as my hon. Friend appears to believe is likely to come about.

I am going to put my case on the highest possible plane. What I personally am concerned about is that we have to bear in mind, and to try to achieve, the best possible service to the user of aircraft, whether the user is the individual passenger, the Postmaster-General of any particular country or an ordinary business man who wants to use aircraft to send his cargo. Consideration for the user should come first. I am not anything like as concerned about things like national prestige in this matter of world air transport, and the world will not be concerned so much about them, when it gets a little older. It has to be put in the second place. I well remember that when an Imperial Airways liner or a British Airways liner touched down on an aerodrome, say Le Bourget, it at once ran up its flag in the front of the aircraft; and that was done whether the liner was British, K.L.M. or any other. I think that is quite wrong. It does not matter. What matters is: Here is an aircraft doing a good job of work. It supplies a service. Are the people who use it really satisfied with the service they are getting? That seems the most important question. We must put national or operating companies' prestige in a very much lower place than the prestige that one ought to get by giving good service in use.

The scheme I should like to put before the House, not for laughter but for serious consideration, is not one about which you can use airy phrases such as, "We must internationalise air transport," without specifying the form of the organisation. I do not think it is good enough to say, as "The Times" aviation correspondent has said on one or two occasions, that the view is held that you should have a Corporation on which all Air Powers would be represented. My suggestion is that a body should be set up which might call itself World Airways, Ltd., or World Airways, Incorporated—I do not mind very much about the title—with power to issue three per cent. debenture stock in a decided quantity. It would be fixed-interest-bearing stock which would be made trustee stock. Governments, individuals, banks and commercial houses would be entitled to subscribe, and the organisation would receive the necessary capital.

The next thing, and a very important aspect of the matter, which I am adumbrating is that the directors or members of the board or committee should be the nominees of three small countries like, say, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, and not the nominees of Powers like the British Government, the American Government and Russia. I do not say this frivolously, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give it some consideration. I hope that by this process of nomination a position would be established which is not so easily achieved when the nominations come from some of the bigger Governments. If, for instance, the American Government—I do not want any word of mine to be used as evidence of antagonism, so perhaps I had better say the British Government—felt it was not getting a square deal and wanted to do a little finessing, the great big British Government, if it tried to bring pressure to bear upon those nominees of the smaller countries would find that the weakness of the smaller countries would be their strength. The strength of the British Government would be shown to be its weakness. The appeal to the good sense and the feeling of justice of mankind and the world generally would make people say, "This is a body doing a good job of work. We use it and are satisfied, and we see no reason whatever why commercial interests, or commercial interests using their Governments, should try to prevent the proper carrying-out of the duty that these men and their employees are performing in the world."

Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)

Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the capital would come from Britain and America and that the Norwegians, etc., would form the board of the proposed Corporation?

Mr. Bowles

Yes, it is quite possible.

Mr. Bull

I should like to see the hon. Gentleman trying to put it over in America or Britain.

Mr. Bowles

I am putting it over here now.

Mr. Bull

With all due submission, I do not think the hon. Gentleman is doing so.

Mr. A. Bevan

It will come, in time.

Mr. Bowles

It is possible to have a conception which is different from that of the hon. Member who interrupted me and which is a little new-minded and new-fashioned. The hon. Member seems to be rather an old-fashioned person.

Mr. Speaker rose

Mr. Bowles

Obviously, one of my remarks was out of Order. Hon. Members may put forward ideas in this House which sometimes come as a shock to other hon. Members. The idea of a wider representation than that of the capital invested may not appeal to some hon. Members. The body I am suggesting would be above national feeling. After all, it is not such a new thing. If the hon. Member had ever spent any time in Geneva, he would know it was possible for men to be so keen on their jobs in the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation as to put the international job above their national inclinations, whether they were British, American, Finnish or French. It is quite possible for honest men and women to do a job of service of that kind at the operating centre or various aerodromes, where they would have extraterritorial rights. If the interest of this Corporation is assured—and there would be no difficulty about the interest being assured—I see no reason why the capital could not be raised. People would be willing, even my hon. Friend opposite, who, I think, represents Enfield—and I am sure he would be glad to get 3 per cent.

Mr. Bull

I am glad to get the capital. I do not worry about the interest.

Mr. Bowles

I do not see any reason at all why the capital should be lost. There will be a world monopoly. It would be World Airways, Limited, and there would be no limitation at all. It would have a right to run internal air lines and shuttle services, and there would be an end of the silly business which goes on when one wants to go from Amsterdam, say, to Calcutta. You start at Amsterdam and get to Karachi, from where you go on to Calcutta. [Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friend will not interrupt me any more. He does not wait to see what I am going to say. My ideas are generally a surprise. When in Karachi, if I want to go across to Calcutta on the K.L.M. line, I am not allowed to do so. These things seem too ridiculous. My hon. Friend would probably have the right to get his capital back; certainly the interest would make the whole thing worth while.

I do not think an objection really can be raised on the ground that Government organisation kills progress. Aviation of all things has developed by leaps and bounds in the two wars which we have had since it has been invented. Probably no progress anywhere has been quicker or bigger than that of aviation. In matters of that kind, when the alleged enterprising people who have been building aircraft at great personal difficulty and shortage of cash, as we know, obtained Government control and Government money, they were able easily to see the thing through to success.

The other question is, Is this proposal going to be too big? I do not think that is an objection. It is a very big organisation, but the world is small in aviation. It is most curious when I discuss this matter with friends of mine. I say, "Let us have a discussion on civil aviation," and they agree that the subject is tremendously important, as it is linked up vitally with our export trade. Then I propound a scheme which is very big and important, such as I am now putting to the House. My friends then try to explain that, after all, the problem of civil aviation is not quite so important, and nothing like so important as to demand an organisation really world-wide. This is an important subject and should be dealt with in a big way. I do not just toss these ideas into the arena to have them summarily dismissed, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, and anyone else with responsibility, will give them serious consideration in the same spirit as that in which I put them before hon. Members.

Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)

The proposal just put forward by my hon. Friend really deserves serious consideration. Aviation is perhaps the first thing that has happened in our lifetime that gives an opportunity for the real public utility international corporation. I wondered why the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) was so shocked at the idea that small people should have control when they have not provided the capital, but if the hon. Member had gone into matters concerning the Ministry of Aircraft Production at all, he would know that there are a number of organisations in this country on the boards of which there are no Government representatives but which are using a very considerable amount of Government money. There is one organisation with a capital of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000; the Government have £20,000,000 in it, but there is no Government representation. The hon. Member need not be shocked at the idea of some voluntary body such as my hon. Friend suggested.

My feeling about this job is that none of us know enough about this matter to form a final conclusion. We should be able to get a certain amount of information from the Minister, who will be able to give serious thought to it. So far the Minister has not shown any indication that he has given any thought to it at all. It is a very serious matter that we might find ourselves at the end of the war with no international air service and America controlling practically the whole world with a monopoly. Certain interests in America have made it clear that that is what they want. A very considerable amount of opinion has been expressed which upsets that possibility to some extent. The time is ripe now when we can stake a claim and make some happy arrangement for international control such as my hon. Friend has suggested; or perhaps the Minister can put forward a better one. Whatever the control is to be, I think the way we started with British Overseas Airways was the wrong one. We took over two Corporations. I do not know whether they were bankrupt or not, but certainly they did not make any money.

British Airways did not make any money. If some people on this side are accused occasionally of being too suspicious, let those concerned take a little care to remove the ground for suspicion. What happens here? An organisation owns one of the companies which presum- ably has not been very successful; the Government come in and say "Let us take this into our own hands. This is going to be such a big problem we must have men of vision." That is the term used. I will tell you that two or three men who have shown some vision have been cleared out. The Minister knows about them. The Government's attitude rather implies that the men who had been running the company up to that time had not much vision. Otherwise, why take the action which the Government did take? These people took out of it £600,000. We repaid the owners of that company which had not been successful. They will tell you that they lost money on it. It is true they received £200,000 less than what was represented as paid-up capital, but they took out perhaps £200,000 more than the company was worth. That is the point, not how much they have lost in terms of nominal capital.

Let that be as it may, what was the sense of taking over a company which had not been very successful and leaving the same people to run it? Really the House must give consideration to this matter. Perhaps we cannot expect the present Government to organise a Socialist state for us but we have the right to demand that, in the application of their own theory, there should be at least intelligent capitalism if they want to run it in that way. We have the chairman, the vice-chairman, the director-general and the general manager, all, with one exception, connected with the old concern and with the financial interests which took out this very considerable sum of money. We have them going out to-day and preaching to different institutions in this country that Overseas Airways in no good for the future. Mr. Runciman, addressing a body of people in December, made it perfectly clear that so far as he was concerned his hope was pinned to private enterprise in the future. That is a man running a public utility corporation for the Government. A public utility corporation may be right or wrong, but the Government have committed themselves to it, so one would expect them to try to make a success of it. He said that he had not much hope in Government control in the future. Mr. Geddes, his immediate chief, in his speech to the shipowners, who are trying to get control of air lines, said in effect "Yes, you are quite right, boys—private enterprise. There is no hope in this kind of thing I am running." The chairman is a director of the Southern Railway and the Southern Railway are trying to get well into the air transportation business after the war in the same way as they are trying with regard to road transport. The chairman of Overseas Airways encourages the railways with which he is connected, to destroy the organisation of which he is chairman. Three men out of the four damn the thing they are running, which is rather bad.

I do not know how you are going to hope for much success on that basis. At least do let us have more seriousness when you commit yourselves to an experiment. If it is an experiment let us try it for all it is worth. If other people think this thing is no good, let outsiders destroy it, not those on the inside. One of the men running it said "We shall have plenty of scope after the war for using our ingenuity and lining our pockets." That was a very unfortunate phrase perhaps——

Mr. Granville (Eye)

Was that a public statement?

Mr. Edwards

Yes. I am not suggesting he meant it just as callously as it seems.

Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)

Will the hon. Member say who made that statement?

Mr. Edwards

I will if the hon. Member demands it. I did not want to bandy the name about. I have used people's names in this House and some have been victimised. I could give half a dozen such names—one in the last few weeks. Even the word of honour of Ministers has not been able to save them. There are Ministers on that Front bench who know that. If the hon. Member demands the name, I will give it to him privately. I have had some very bad experience in this respect. I think it is perfectly clear that the Government are in a predicament. They have committed themselves to one principle, and the people who are running it are doing their best to run it down.

The other people coming in are the shipping interests, and the shipping interests are fairly well represented in British Overseas Airways. I am bound to admit that, if anybody had to take over from Overseas Airways, I think the shipping people are perhaps the best equipped to do it, if you are going to change your method. We here cannot hope in the immediate future to get the kind of system some of us would like. That being so, we must get the best which the other side can produce. The shipping people have a vast world-wide organisation. I have used it considerably in the past. It is very well-organised. I do not want to see another Department coming in, building a duplicate organisation and doing the same thing, because they will not do it as well. I can see a case for the shipping companies making considerable economies if they do it. They say they are willing to do it with their own capital, and without any Government subsidy. The present set-up is having a very considerable subsidy, and as it works to-day it will want one for some time, but if we are to have a change let us be quite clear what is meant by working without a subsidy. I do not think Pan-American Airways get a subsidy in the strict sense of the word, but they have wonderful air mail contracts. More than 50 per cent. of their revenue comes from mail contracts. When these people speak of coming into the business and running it without a subsidy, let the country be quite clear whether they are getting something better in the way of mail contracts. If the shipping people can do it, it might be better than the present set-up. That is for the Government to decide.

Why has not the Secretary of State been talking with America? It is remarkable that at this stage there have not been any conversations. I think the people to do the talking would be Overseas Airways but I believe they are forbidden by the Act. I believe the Under-Secretary is the man to take it up. Will he tell us whether he has taken any steps, and if not, why has he not? Perhaps the Secretary of State is responsible. Has he taken any steps, and if not, why not? Is he going on to the end of the war in that way, so that we shall find ourselves with no steps taken? Do what you like, you will never overtake Pan-American Airways. You are not going to get your own machines in time. Of course, if you think it is a gesture, you could have a few on hand and point to this fact and threaten them, but you will have to buy the first machines—and for a considerable time—in America.

Why not? They will have to buy something from us. We have been talking about exports and imports after the war. May I tell of an instance, which came to my notice in the last few days, which puts fear into my heart, because it shows the mentality of the people upon whom we have to depend? Here we have been encouraging people to get busy about the post-war export trade. I can tell of a man connected with a firm here who went to considerable trouble to get in touch with a Southern State of the United States. He got an organisation going in order to obtain a flying start with our exports. Right in the middle of the negotiations, which were doing splendidly, he has been instructed by the Foreign Office that his permit has expired and that he must come home. Now he has come home; he was in the House yesterday. At this late stage the Minister has to admit to us that he has not even taken the first steps to discuss the matter. It is most distressing. If he has not the time why does he not say to the people in the industry, "We will get an amendment to the Act. It is your business to see to this matter, so get busy with Pan-American Airways"? I love to see the Minister's smile, but it is a very unprofitable one in these circumstances. He ought to get busy; he has no time to smile. He should not laugh at us; he needs to get busy, and give us a much more impressive statement than he has given to-day.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

I did not intend to intervene in this Debate. I do so only because the House is so sparsely attended. That may be a very unusual thing to say, but it is true. It seems to me to be a reflection upon the status of the House in its relationship to the powers of the Executive that one of the most important problems of the time is being discussed in so thin a House. Hon. Members in all parts of the House should realise that in the matter of civil aviation we are handling international dynamite. Anyone who reads the American newspapers, who has read the shrill denunciations of Senator Luce, who has read some of the American trade papers, or who knows some of the things that my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) has been telling the House, will realise that we are considering one of the test questions of international co-operation, upon which I do not hesitate to say the future peace of the world depends. How we solve this question will be a symbol of how all other international problems are to be solved. All over the world, particularly in America, in Russia, among the Poles, among the Dutch, among the Free French, and among ourselves, a very large body of young men are being mobilised and trained, with their own special identifications, with their own flags, which have special emotional associations, and with a jealous regard for the status of their own flags, which is going to be very difficult to deal with when you come to consider how it is to be fitted into some scheme of international co-operation. So I ask that this shall be not the least but the first of a number of discussions here, about this problem.

I have one point of disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough. I do not object to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet begun discussions. I would protest if he had begun his discussions, without first having preliminary discussions here. I do not want him to meet American representatives, officially or unofficially, nor do I want commercial interests over here to discuss the matter with their opposite numbers in America until we have discussed first principles. I do not want us to be confronted with a fait accompli. I would not like those commercial interests which are already snarling like beasts of prey to be stimulated into excessive zeal just now. I understand that the American Government have asked that we shall take part in discussions on post-war reconstruction. I hope that we shall respond—we have, I think, done so—but I hope that we shall not have a repetition of the Economic Conference of 1934, in which everybody went in with nothing to give but hoping to take something away. [An HON. MEMBER: "Led by the Americans."] Not only the Americans. We were all to blame. No nation went in prepared to put something into the common pool, but they all wanted to take something out. There was no pool to take anything out of, and the result was that the conference broke down in ignominious recrimination, leaving ill feeling behind. I hope that if we take part in discussions with the Americans and the Russians we shall be prepared to abrogate many of our sovereign claims and to throw something into the pool for mankind's sake. That is why I am glad to have this discussion, and why I hope it will be the first of a number on this subject.

The problem of civil aviation can be approached in one of two ways—either as an opportunity for exploitation or as an opportunity for international organisation. If you look upon it as a problem with which mankind is faced, the problem of how to organise civil aviation for human beings in a very much contracted world, there are certain solutions which immediately spring to mind. But if you are to consider international aviation as an arena of commercial exploitation, a number of other solutions occur, fraught with their special dangers. I have been reading some of the trade papers on this matter, and many of them are asking for free air. Free air means merely that you shall have international competition, so that anybody can go into the air or take passengers up and put passengers down wherever they wish. That is the claim they are making. The hon. Lady opposite need not shake her head.

Mrs. Tate (Frome)

I did not shake my head.

Mr. Bevan

I beg the hon. Lady's pardon. This is what has been claimed, and this is what has been said by a number of commercial interests now masquerading as executives of the Government. They want free air. See what happens if that occurs. We, as has been already pointed out, are very much behind. We have a small land area. We have not developed Imperial Airways sufficiently. We have not produced transporter planes, not only because we did not have our commercial future sufficiently in mind, but because we have never yet understood the nature of the war, so that we are still short of passenger planes, which are a very effective instrument of war. America has got them. Even the Dutch have more than we have.

Mrs. Tate

They had before the war.

Mr. Bevan

Yes, they had them before the war—more than we have.

Mr. Granville

Is my hon. Friend aware that before the war we ran practically all our services on foreign machines?

Mr. Bevan

Yes, and, as I say, even the Dutch had more. Therefore, if we are to start off by competition in free air, we are going to be very much behind. We are not armed with the weapons with which to fight that kind of commercial war. It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that we can buy planes, but that means operational competition with planes that we buy from other countries. Operational competition means that you will be up against an absolutely insurmountable difficulty. I remember when I was a member of a local authority in Wales, being chairman of an ad hoc body representing about 50 local authorities exercising licensing power over road passenger transport. We were operating at that time under a very old precept. We had an authority with a limited territorial area giving licences to a form of transport that had long transcended those areas, so we had to form ourselves into larger combinations, because the omnibuses licensed from a rural area stopped outside the urban area and the urban omnibuses could then take up the passengers and carry them into the urban area. The rich urban traffic starved the rural traffic and therefore the rural rates were very much higher than urban rates. In order to make urban passenger transport cheap, effective and just you had to give a licence to the man who served rural and urban areas together. What is to happen after the war? Before the war, long distance traffic was at a lower rate per mile than short distance traffic, but new methods after the war will make short distance traffic cheap.

If your international airways are to do the job, they must have access to the rich passenger traffic inside the frontiers of each country. So, we are faced with the same problem on a larger scale, in terms of civil aviation, as that which we had in road passenger transport after the last war. The approach to the problem is the same. What would happen if you had competition? We know what is occurring now. The shipping companies are coming in, and every kind of commercial interest is raising its head, and people will be watching how far vested interests are going to influence and exploit this vital matter and therefore upset the peace of the world. I would say to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air that in this matter—I am saying this with the greatest possible kindness—he and some of his friends were, quite properly—I am not complaining—associated before the war with commercial airways in this country and therefore they must remember—I am not making this as a threat—that the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter will be examined meticulously to see how far those commercial interests are having an undue influence upon the development of the policy of His Majesty's Government.

Captain Balfour

Is the inference of the hon. Member that because in 1938, before I was asked by Mr. Chamberlain to join his Government, I was interested as a technical director of a particular concern, I would, in some way, exercise my office in an improper way?

Mr. Bevan

Oh, no, I carefully guarded myself against that.

Mrs. Tate

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has spent a considerable time telling us how ill-equipped we are compared with America—with every word of which I agree—but does he not think it slightly contradictory to try in the next moment to portray the evils that would occur if air lines were run, for instance, by shipping companies? Is he not ignoring the fact that in America, which he has so favourably compared with ourselves, there are 18 competing air lines, and is it not vital to stop this policy of one chosen instrument if you ever want to be able to run them at all?

Mr. Bevan

I pointed out that if you abolished the chosen instrument and had a number of private competing concerns, you would have exactly the same sort of thing that we had after the last war in regard to road transport. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will permit me, I will develop that. What will happen? Some companies will find themselves with more capital than others, some with better routes than others and some with more political influence than others. Not only that. British companies may find themselves hopelessly handicapped as against American companies. I will tell the hon. Member what will happen. There will be backstair methods and wirepulling in order to get subsidies, direct or indirect, for British companies in order to sustain them against American competition. This has happened in other industries where this sort of competition has taken place. It has happened in shipping and in coal; it has happened in every country in the world and is bound to happen here. Behind it will be all the prestige of the R.A.F. and the Union Jack, and you will all be saying how essential it is to retain flying men here and the direction of transport aircraft because of the possibilities of war occuring again, and your civil aviation will be linked up with military aviation. We had that before. Everybody in this House knows that it is true. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) can contradict me, if she manages to catch Mr. Deputy-Speaker's eye.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House know that it is absolutely true that already in America the "Stars and Stripes" is being invoked for the future of civil aviation, and soon the Union Jack will be brought into the controversy here. If we are careful and statesmanlike and have vision in this matter, we shall avoid that situation. That sort of thing arises out of exploitation and out of private economic adventure in civil aviation. Supposing you abandon that, because of its obvious dangers and the Government becomes a partner and we have an international civil aviation board, on which representatives of the Government will sit, it will be even worse. All you will do is to stage, inside your international aviation conference, a competition between Governments. You will have the problems of zoning and of delimitation, and every problem, appearing as a quarrel between Governments, will be a quarrel between private companies seeking to invoke the aid of their own Governments. These attempts to solve civil aviation in present conditions of limited national sovereignties is a detriment to the peace of the world, especially when we consider that many millions of pounds of private capital is involved in these enterprises. That is why I approve and support the solution which has been tentatively put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). You need to have some central organisation, as he has suggested, in which not the strong countries but the weak countries would be given a chance. The strong countries would enter negotiations with guns in their hands. In all this matter of power politics the ultimate arbiter will be the size of the striking power of the nations taking part in the negotiations. There will be no principle of international justice, because the user of transport ser- vices will pass into the background and the claims of the various nations will come into the foreground. This quarrel will go on in sight of the whole world with guns in the background as the final arbiter.

If you have an International Aviation, Ltd., with individuals everywhere having investments in it and their own future being thereby involved in its success, you will have Bournemouth linked up with Minneapolis and both linked with Rotterdam. You will have an international citizenry having an international vested interest concerned with promoting and defending that interest against fragmentation by international rivalries. You will, for the first time in the history of the world, have built up a citizen interest in the maintenance of an international service, and your weak nations will be able to resist the strong nations because they will be able to appeal to organised world opinion to help them. If in addition to International Aviation, Ltd., you grant extra-territorial rights, many of the nations co-operating will have their own landing fields, gendarmerie, their own services and their own uniforms, not belonging to the flying forces of America or Great Britain, as a symbol and personification of international service with an élite of its own. You will have for the first time in the history of the world a framework in which you can build other services. Every time you approach this problem from apparently the same practical point of view there are more difficulties than in the ideal solution which I am trying to put forward to the House.

That is why we should remember, as H. G. Wells has said, that the frame of the past has been broken, that a new frame must be created and that that frame must have a world basis, because all these problems are world-wide. I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will approach the problem from this angle: that they must think about this now as world citizens, lest world war No. 3 makes us pay for our lack of vision.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I do not think this Debate can be left where it has been left by the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who, no doubt, will be surprised to learn that I agree with him to some extent, although I disagree with him most fundamentally in other respects. I would like to suggest a possible solution, which I think is a probable solution in view of world events, which would be neither completely sympathetic to my hon. Friends opposite nor to my hon. Friends on this side of the House. As I vociferously supported my hon. Friends behind me who have protested against the growing practice of Ministers, I want to take this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary on the administration of their office and their general approach to matters in this House, although I will leave aside their particular approach to-day They should, indeed, be proud to sit on the Treasury Bench to represent this great Service during the most critical years of its existence.

Where I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is this: It is not the least use his talking about the abolition of power politics. Power politics and the balance of power will be with us in the future far more strongly than in the past and will reside in China, the Soviet Republics, the United States of America and in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Nothing can alter that fact; no arguments, however eloquent, addressed by any Member of this House will alter the fundamental fact that the United States of America, Soviet Russia and China are determined to have control over the air services within their own territories. The idea that all these three countries—and, indeed, our own—would submit to control by some world body, consisting as I understood him to say, largely or mainly of small nations, is to know nothing of the realities of the situation or to know that the great President of the Soviet Republics, Premier Stalin, is one of the greatest realists in the world. I sometimes think that I would like to have Premier Stalin in this House so that he could put a few home truths to us all. He would tell us the ugly, naked, realistic facts, which are not always put in this House. If the House has a fault it is that it is often inclined to be led away by sentiment and soft and wishful thinking and to present a case in an attractive way believing that it represents the truth. Unfortunately, it often does not in the tough world in which we are living. As I have said, it is impossible to suppose that these three countries or our own would submit to international control of an internationalised air service.

I now intend to agree with something my hon. Friend said. I do not believe it is possible—and it is not because I like State control; obviously, as a Tory I do not—to leave the question of civil aviation in the hands of unrestricted private enterprise. I agree with that part of my hon. Friend's argument. It is an appalling prospect that there should be completely free competition in this matter. I can say what I know the Minister cannot say, that I hope that point will be made clearly in any discussions we have with America. All of us must be careful in speaking on this subject, because we all have an equal responsibility, outside the Government, to avoid saying anything which may offend our great Allies, but some of the views expressed about civil aviation in America have, in the opinion of many of us here, caused very considerable apprehension indeed. I think that apprehension might be conveyed in a tactful and proper manner to the Government and people of the United States. The story cannot be told publicly, but features of it are rather alarming. Fortunately, however, some statesmen in the United States appear to be alive to the dangers and are warning their people of what the effect might be.

I think it would be desirable if the four great Allies, and the smaller Allies as well, tried to come to some agreement before the war is over that they intend to nationalise or control civil aviation. This would, of course, involve their extending that control to the machines which, fly over other countries. Although a great deal has been said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, about the danger of zoning, I confess that unless something in the nature of zoning takes place, I do not see how it will be possible to avoid exactly those dangers which my hon. Friend is anxious to avoid.

Mr. Bevan

Does not my noble Friend realise that the problems of zoning arise entirely out of the realism which he says he brings to the matter? If there are four Powers which have to agree about the organisation of civil aviation, there will have to be zones, and there the conflict will arise.

Earl Winterton

I agree with my hon. Friend that there will be difficulties, but I want to say something here with which I think he will agree, although I must be careful how I deal with the matter, because I might be out of Order if I appeared to be getting on to another subject. The problem will be a great one, but it will not be greater than the one which will have to be solved between the four nations before we win the war, and that is, the production of a strategic policy, which I think is not there—a united strategic policy to win the war. The greater will include the less, and it may then be possible, after the war, to do something of the kind to which I have referred.

I do not wish to stand between the House and the right hon. Gentleman to whom the House will naturally want to listen much more than to me, but, in conclusion, I say again to my hon. Friends opposite that the idea of free competition in international civil aviation is impossible. I can agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that if there is to be national control of civil aviation, it should be done openly and properly, and not merely by means of some form of subsidy, because there is danger—naturally, I do not associate myself with all the criticisms that have been made by hon. Members on this side—that if there is a form of control which is a subsidy to a private company, it may lead to undesirable results both in peace-time and in war. Let us do it openly. At the same time I was rather alarmed by what was said by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who himself once occupied office at the Air Ministry, on the subject of internationalisation. I beg hon. Members to be careful in that matter. Above everything else, we have to realise that we are dealing with other countries as well as ourselves, and that it would not be of the least use doing one thing here if we could not get other countries to agree with us. In the long run it will be a question of compromise. I think that good work and an efficient task has been performed by the House in discussing these matters. It is as well that not only our own country, but our Allies and other countries should know the great and growing interest there is in this country in these matters and that some anxiety has been aroused in our minds by some of the things that have been said even by some of those who are the most friendly of our Allies.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

There is one aspect of post-war civil aviation which may have escaped the mind of the Secretary of State and which has not been raised in the Debate; it is the question of the ownership, after the war, of the aerodromes which we have already. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has looked at the contracts which allow us at least to call these aerodromes our aerodromes at present, but if it is the case that, with the cessation of hostilities, we are likely to lose some hundreds of aerodromes and then suddenly find that when we need them for post-war air transport, the nation has to buy them back, and probably pay a hundred times the original price to acquire them for the use of the nation, it will be a very serious state of affairs. It will be a bad day for us if, after we have developed these aerodromes, some municipality or other, recognising that there is a good aerodrome outside the town, finds that the system which has been followed by the Government makes it necessary for the municipality to buy that aerodrome for the purpose of having some scheme such as there is in Doncaster, where the land for a municipal aerodrome was obtained at what I believe to have been a fairly reasonable price. We do not want to allow the landlords, as well as the other persons who have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), to creep in. I do not want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) in regard to the nationalisation of land, but I hope the Government's policy will be that what we have we own at the present time, and that after the war we shall not allow any landlord class to creep in simply because we have failed to see that the contracts for existing aerodromes properly cover the matter. I would like to have an assurance that in this matter the landlord class will not creep in to exploit us after the war.

Sir A. Sinclair

In reply to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), let me say at once that, far from giving up any aerodromes, I am sorry to say we have still to continue the process of acquiring land and constructing new aerodromes; I am sorry because it makes so much interference with agriculture and food production, but glad indeed because it is a sign of the expanding power of the Royal Air Force. As to what the future may hold and how these aerodromes will be disposed of after the war, I do not think I am entitled to make any pronouncement now on behalf of the Government. Do not let the hon. Member think I was in any disagreement with what he said, for I listened with great sympathy to his point of view, but I do not think I a entitled to make a pronouncement now on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Walkden

Do we own those aerodromes now?

Sir A. Sinclair

As the hon. Member has raised the point I will look very carefully into it to see whether or not we own them all. If I answered rashly, "Yes," I might easily find that I had walked into a trap and that there are in fact some which we do not own, but I will look into the matter. Let me say now that I am very grateful to those hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate and have shown so clear a recognition of the repercussions which unfortunate statements would be certain to have in other countries. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke), who made such an interesting speech, referred to the statements that have been made on both sides of the Atlantic and which have naturally disturbed opinion in the opposite country. The hon. Member asked me whether I had been influenced, in bringing the Transport Command into existence, by the fact that there was already an Army Transport Command in the United States. The answer is "No, I have not been influenced by that." What has happened is that similar causes in the two countries have produced similar results. In America they have long had substantial numbers of air transport at the disposal of the Army Air Corps and the Navy Air Corps, and they have required to have a Transport Command to control those transport squadrons. We are at last about to have substantial numbers of transport aircraft at our disposal, and that is why I now need to bring this Transport Command into being.

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) raised the question as to what Ministry civil aviation should fall under after the war. I would ask hon. Mem- bers to keep an open mind on that. I am not asking them to decide in favour of the status quo but to keep an open mind. It is one of the subjects which the Government will have to consider very carefully in connection with the future of civil air transport, and the alternative suggestions which have been made will require very careful consideration. The hon. Member said he had very little sympathy with the idea of bringing it under the Ministry of War Transport, for reasons which seemed to me very strong. I think we must all keep an open mind as to what must be done after the war. He suggested a new Ministry. Of course, we shall finish the war with a very large crop of new Ministries. I am not at all sure that, when the time comes, it may not be wise to continue civil aviation under the Air Ministry, which has already obtained so much practical experience in that field. The hon. Member also said, rightly, that the policy of the Government is that of employing one chosen instrument to organise control of overseas air transport services. That is and remains our policy. That instrument is, of course, now working under my direction, and all its services are used for purposes connected with the war. Whether or not we shall in peace time have one chosen instrument is again one of the things that are being brought under consideration by the Government, and I am not prepared at this moment to prejudge that issue.

The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) raised a number of questions about speeches which have been made by officials and directors of British Overseas Airways Corporation. He will not expect me to reply to that because I have not had an opportunity of reading those speeches, but I thought he made a serious allegation when he said that one of the directors of the Corporation had stated that they would have plenty of scope to line their own pockets. That is a very serious allegation to make without giving the name of the director or the occasion.

Mr. A. Edwards

I will give the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the speech.

Sir A. Sinclair

Do I understand that it was a public speech, in which case I cannot imagine why the hon. Member did not mention the name of the director?

Mr. Edwards

It was Mr. Runciman. It was quite public. The Minister ought to have seen it.

Mr. Burke

It is fairly general knowledge. I have heard it myself, and I understand that the director-general made the speech in December.

Mr. Bevan

Why should the right hon. Baronet object? Ought he not rather to be grateful to this director for being so frank?

Sir A. Sinclair

I may have misunderstood the hon. Member, but, if I understood him aright, this gentleman is alleged to have said that he, as a director of a public company, was looking forward to lining his own pockets after the war.

Mr. Edwards

I was careful to say that it was a crude statement and an unfortunate phrase and that it probably did not mean what it appeared to mean.

Sir A. Sinclair

I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member might have found out what Mr. Runciman meant before he gave currency to the statement. I shall certainly study the speech to find out whether the hon. Member has given a fair interpretation of the phrase in its context.

Mr. Edwards

The Minister must not try to get away with something I did not say. I have not attempted to interpret it.

Sir A. Sinclair

I think it is a little unfair to people outside who are carrying heavy responsibilities. These directors have worked very faithfully and well for this Corporation with very meagre resources. I think it would have been fair to them to have found out what was meant by this, before making a quotation from the speech, which I think gave the House, and is likely to give the public outside, the impression that these trustees for the public interest in this great Corporation are, unashamedly, lining their own pockets.

Mr. Edwards

I must ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was particularly careful in what I said. I was talking of the responsible directors of this Corporation talking down the public utility idea to which the Government are committed and which they are running. The argument was intended to show that, after the war, private enterprise was to have full sway and not this type of thing. I said it was an unfortunate phrase which probably did not mean what might be inferred from it. Before going further the Minister had far better read the OFFICIAL REPORT. It will be fairer to me.

Sir A. Sinclair

I do not think the hon. Member conveyed to the House the meaning he thinks he did.

Mr. Bevan

The statement was: I am not concerned here and now to judge between these views but only to record my conviction that both now and in the future there is a place for every form of transport, and that we shall all find plenty of opportunity to exercise our wits and line our pockets in discovering how best to carry the greatest possible loads in the best possible way.

Sir A. Sinclair

I imagine that in making that speech the director was not referring to lining his own pocket.

Mr. Bevan

I read the speech yesterday but I did not myself pay very much attention to what was obviously a very maladroit performance. He was speaking to a very large number of people interested in commercial exploitation of civil aviation after the war and was referring to himself and all others who were looking forward to that situation.

Sir A. Sinclair

He never meant, I am sure, that he was going to use his position as a director of this Corporation or to use the Corporation as a means of lining his own pocket.

Mr. Edwards

It is a gross impertinence to suggest that I made such a statement.

Sir A. Sinclair

That was the impression that I and, I know, other Members gained from the hon. Member's remarks.

Mr. Edwards

The Minister has done far more damage by prolonging this discussion than anything that I said. I referred to it quite incidentally, and when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT, I am sure that he will agree that he owes me an apology. I went out of my way to try to defend Mr. Runciman. I have spoken to him about this and there is no reason why such an impertinent interpretation should be put upon my remarks. It cannot possibly be true, and I had no such idea in my mind. I know Mr. Runciman far too well to think such a thing.

Sir A. Sinclair

Then I cannot understand the point of the hon. Member's remarks. The impression he conveyed to me was different from that which he now says he intended and which I gladly accept. These directors have worked under my direction faithfully and well. As I have said, what the future of the Corporation will be is a matter for the Government to consider and decide. The hon. Member went on to inquire why I had not started talking to the Americans, or why I did not ask the directors of British Overseas Airways Corporation, with whose conception of their duties he did not agree, to talk to the Americans. I think that the hon. Member was effectively answered by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). It is not for me, an individual Minister, to broach the question. It is a question which can only be considered in its relation to the whole of our foreign policy and of our international relations after the war.

Earl Winterton

Would my right hon. Friend qualify that a little? When he uses the words "after the war" I hope he does not mean that this difficult and delicate question, which must be settled before the war is over, is not going to be dealt with on the higher level by the War Cabinet or the Prime Minister, with the President, before that time.

Sir A. Sinclair

I am obliged to my Noble Friend for making that clear. What I meant by "after the war" is that we must consider now what the position will be after the war, and the policy for civil aviation will have to bear relation to our whole field of international policy after the war. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that after the war nations would be coming into conferences on civil aviation with guns in their pockets. If that is so, a great many other things besides civil aviation will come to shipwreck, and a great many other hopeful plans for the future progress of mankind will come to shipwreck. In these circumstances we can only hope that it will be possible to obtain a good feeling between those nations mentioned by my Noble Friend, on whom will reside the power for good or ill to influence the destinies of mankind for decades and perhaps generations to come. Our only hope is that a different spirit will prevail in their councils.

The large issues of policy which were dealt with in several speeches, including those of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke), the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, my Noble Friend, and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), transcend the field for which I am responsible in this House. Accordingly, I have taken the occasion to consult my colleagues on these matters, and I regret to have to convey it to my Noble Friend, but I am about to read some observations which I am enabled to make on behalf of the War Cabinet.

His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the importance of post-war civil air transport, particularly to a country like the United Kingdom with its overseas responsibilities and its dependence on overseas trade. This has been made clear in statements by Government spokesmen in this House and in another place. The present war, like all wars, has acted as a forcing-house for technical developments, and the potentialities of aviation in the future are very great. We must not, as a nation, fail to play our full part in the development of civil aviation after the war. This also in fully appreciated by His Majesty's Government. Since the outbreak of war, the plain fact is that the resources of the British aircraft industry have been concentrated on the production of combat and training types. When we look back on the urgent need in 1940 and 1941 to produce fighters for the defence of this island and the continuing need of aircraft of the highest performance for our bombing offensive, for anti-U-boat work, and for the close support of our troops in the field, no one would question the wisdom of this policy.

Nevertheless, the time has now arrived when His Majesty's Government should consider what can be done—always without impairing our war effort—to prepare for the return of peace, be it sooner or later. That is why the Government, as one of several preparatory steps, set up a Committee early this year under Lord Brabazon of Tara to consider broadly the post-war types of civil aircraft likely to be required. The Committee lost no time. Their report, which is a secret document, was received three weeks ago. They recommended that work should start immediately on the design of civil aircraft of new types, which they defined in very general terms, and on preparing for the conversion of military aircraft and for the production of such types as are suitable for civil work. His Majesty's Government are grateful to Lord Brabazon and his colleagues on the Committee for their careful and practical review. Whatever form of international collaboration may be devised for post-war civil air transport, it will clearly be the duty of this country, both from our own and from an international point of view, to play a prominent part in the production and operation of civil aircraft.

The aircraft manufacturing industry is to-day our largest industry. We possess great technical skill and experience in aircraft and aero-engine design and construction. The types of aircraft on which we have so far concentrated are unsurpassed for quality and performance. We are confident that we can make a real contribution to the development of civil air transport after the war and it is our intention to do so. The first thing to be done is to take the necessary steps to provide aircraft of the types that will be required for passenger and goods transport after the war.

The War Cabinet have accordingly taken the decision that the design of a limited number of types of civil aircraft shall proceed with the assistance of the Government as and when it can be arranged without interfering with work on aircraft required for the war. The resources of the British aircraft industry in design staff are limited, and it is only by the unceasing efforts of the designers that British technical superiority over the enemy in military types has been, and will in the future be, maintained. However, we shall, in association with the industry, do our utmost to organise design staffs of the high calibre required so that they may start without delay on the design of some, at least, of the new types recommended and on conversion work.

The Government are also giving close attention to the organisation of civil air transport on the international plane after the war. There are many different possibilities—from world-wide international operation to the "closed air" system of the pre-war years, or even to the unregulated "freedom of the air." The last would inevitably mean fierce competition and the continuation of high uneconomic subsidies. In the view of His Majesty's Government, some form of international collaboration will be essential if the air is to be developed in the interests of mankind as a whole, trade served, international understanding fostered, and some measure of international security gained. The problems are, of course, immense and cannot be solved by one country alone. We, in this country, live in a small island and our internal services can never have anything like the same importance as the internal services operated within a large land area. This is one of the factors which must be taken into account and it is not being overlooked.

None of the arrangements we have made during the war with regard to air transport in any part of the world precludes us from working out new plans. Our exploratory work is, in fact, in hand and we are now in preliminary consultation with the Dominions and India. Consultation with other members of the United Nations will follow. For though air transport is a young industry and its potentialities have everywhere fired the imagination, its organisation in the post-war world cannot be considered in isolation but must be so framed as to be consistent, in spirit and in truth, with the principles which should govern the international economic policy of the United Nations after the war.

Earl Winterton

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend again, but the statement he has just made is very important. He said that it was made after consultation with his colleagues. Will he make it clear that that is really a statement of policy of the War Cabinet? Will he also consider whether it would not be well worth while to have this published as a White Paper?

Sir A. Sinclair

On the first point, I did say that I was making a statement on behalf of the War Cabinet. On the second point, perhaps that could be considered through the usual channels.

To look ahead is a virtue, but not if it means to slacken on the job in hand. We shall not make that mistake. I have said enough, I hope, to show that we have not been inactive. I have disclosed as much as can be disclosed. For the rest, I must ask the House to give us its confidence at this stage, as I am sure the House will understand that it would be a disservice to the national interest and might prejudice the success of negotiations that have not yet started, to press us to say more now.

Mr. Perkins (Stroud)

In view of the very great importance of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, and in view of the fact that Members in all parts of the House would probably like to have an opportunity of reading it and digesting it, will he use his influence with the Government to get a full day for the discussion of this matter, either a Supply day or some other day?

Sir A. Sinclair

The Government realise that there is great interest in this subject and that the House will require to have a day set aside for its discussion, and the Government are very willing for that to be done. I hope for the reasons which I have given in my statement that hon. Members will not press for it soon, but a day must certainly be provided, and I have no doubt that it will be.

Mr. Burke

There is one question I should like to put. Is it still the intention of the Government to maintain one chosen instrument for civil aviation or to let in any of the other interests?

Sir A. Sinclair

I hoped that I had made it clear that everything must be regarded as open, that there is no bar at all. Certainly the policy of the chosen instrument remains the policy of the Government now, but when we are thinking of the future after the war we are not bound to existing arrangements.

Mr. Granville (Eye)

I think the House has heard the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman with a great deal of satisfaction, but there are just two or three points I should like to put forward. First, I should like to ask whether he will get in touch with the Minister of Labour, because I think there is some danger in the fact that some of those on the designing staff, who are very important, are being called up in this latest call-up? If designers are wanted for this new project it might be as well to keep them back in its interest. The second point is that the right hon. Gentleman referred to getting in touch with the Dominions, and in that connection may I ask him to consider the interchange of designs and technical information and all the rest of it with the Dominion Governments?

Mr. Burke

In view of the statement which has been made I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.

Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive this brief incursion into the Debate at this hour. The point I have to bring to his notice concerns merchant seamen. At first sight it may not seem to concern his Ministry, but when I tell him that the point concerns the facilities which these men have for reaching their homes when on leave, and that his Ministry alone can provide a remedy for their present grievance, I feel assured not only of a sympathetic hearing but, what is much more important, of prompt and effective action. The difficulty has arisen in this way. In the ordinary course of events these seamen, of whom I represent 3,000 officers and men—a very large proportion in a population of 20,000—from time to time get leave. They have to go to Aberdeen and trust to get home by sea. In normal times the sea service is quite adequate for their needs, but that is not the case now, and instances have come to my notice of officers and men of the Merchant Service having to spend the whole of their leave at Aberdeen, without being able to get home at all. I do not think I need stress the tremendous hazards which these men are undergoing and the very great hardships they suffer. Many of my constituents have been torpedoed, not once but twice or thrice, in all the oceans of the world, and I am sorry to say that a great many of them have lost their lives. Hon. Members know what the casualties in the Merchant Service have been. It is a very great hardship that even one officer or man of our Merchant Navy should be deprived of one of these rare opportunities of reaching his home and visiting his parents or his wife and family.

This is where my right hon. Friend comes into the picture. He may think that the Ministry of War Transport or the Admiralty ought to deal with this question. Both the Ministry of War Transport and the Admiralty, I am glad to say, have co-operated over this question to the utmost limits of which they are capable, and because of what they have done most of those 3,000 men do manage to get home, but there remain a small number who simply cannot get home by the sea route. There is only one way by which they can get home, and that is to be taken there by air. What distresses me so much is that I find that a few of these men lie in Aberdeen for a week or it may be 10 days and that during that time perhaps 20 or 30 civil planes have flown to Shetland and yet they have not been able to get a seat in any plane.

I invite my right hon. Friend to deal with this matter himself. I can give him an enormous amount of information about it, and I am sure there is a remedy which he can apply. The civil airways flying to Shetland are mostly taken up with Government cargo, and that is as they should be. They take officers and officials on duty and carry the mails. It is obvious that all the people who travel on them have not the same urgency in their voyages, and there has come into operation a priority system divided into four grades. The first is A1, which obviously concerns very high officers and officials, and the other grades are A, B and C, the last being a very low-grade priority. I can assure my hon. Friend—and I travel constantly by this line—that if he will scrutinise the lists carefully he will find many who are travelling on the C priority, and in fact on all those priorities, who could make use of the greatly improved sea transport and thus leave room for the very small number of men of the Merchant Service to whom I have referred. The thing could be done without any fear of abuse.

My right hon. Friend could leave the matter to the Merchant Shipping Federation Reserve Pool in Aberdeen. The officer in charge could have the duty of recommending any hard case by telegraph to the Air Ministry. He could say, "Here is a sea captain with five days' leave who has come back, perhaps from Murmansk or North Africa. We want to get him home and back. He must rejoin his ship by a certain date. Will you give this man a priority?" I am not going to say any more on the subject and I do not expect my right hon. Friend can give me an answer now. I ask him to look into the matter most carefully, because it is raising a great deal of feeling in my part of the world. Much of this feeling comes back to me because I have been interested in these transport and leave problems since the war started. I have had communications from men in all the Services on the matter. Everything is now all right, except this one point and I am sure that my right hon. Friend can provide the remedy.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Major MILNER in the Chair.]

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  3. PAY, &C., OF THE AIR FORCE 42 words
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