HC Deb 03 August 1944 vol 402 cc1687-712
Mr. Tree (Harborough)

I feel that in raising the question of civil aviation to-day an apology is due to hon. Members in that I have nothing particularly new or striking to say on the matter. I will therefore be as brief as I possibly can. However, my hon. Friends and myself who are interested in this subject feel that it would be a dereliction of our duty if we did not raise this matter once again before leaving for a long Recess, and without voicing the alarm and despondency that we feel at the complete failure of the Government to state what their domestic policy in the matter is going to be. I suspect that the reason why they have not been able to make any statement is because they have as yet not been able to make up their minds as to what that post-war policy is to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), who, as hon. Members know, has given a considerable amount of care to this subject, wrote me the other day from Ottawa—he was on his way to Australia as a member of the Parliamentary Delegation—and told me that in the first six months of this year there have been no less than six Debates in the Canadian House of Commons on the subject of civil aviation, and it was considered there to be a matter of the greatest interest to the Commonwealth. In Washington, Members of both Houses of Congress are in constant touch with the matter and are, with the Civil Board of Aeronautics and the operators of the main lines, working on post-war problems. In striking contrast to the interest displayed elsewhere, we, the centre of a great Empire, vitally concerned with communications, remain apathetic and indifferent, and the fact is that that is due to the complete lack of guidance from the Government. At the moment, their only stock in trade, whenever we have a Debate on this subject, is the somewhat fly-blown cliché that there is a war on. It looks very likely that there may soon be a peace on, and if that happy event comes sooner than we expect—and the Prime Minister in his survey yesterday indicated that that might possibly happen—then, if I may use a vulgarism, it will catch us not with our trousers down, but with no trousers on at all.

It is with the object of warning this House of this real lack of plan that a few of us—and I speak to-day as a Member of the Tory Reform Committee—have urged that a few minutes in this Adjournment Debate be set aside to voice our alarm and our fears for the future. In the past 18 months, during which some of us have been constantly raising this matter in this House and wherever we could get people to listen to us, progress has only been reported in one particular sphere and nothing very concrete has even been reached on that. That is on the international side. There, thanks to the drive and energy of the Lord Privy Seal—and I am quite prepared to give praise where praise is due—some slight progress has been made. We had the Dominions Conference 18 months ago and, if its results were not startling, at least it got representatives from all parts of the Empire round a table. They were able to state their points of view, and it made some of them realise, perhaps for the first time, that we in this country were interested in the subject and wanted to approach it from an Imperial point of view. The conversations that were held with Mr. Berlé in April did, at least, tend to clear the air on a subject which might have caused a good deal of misunderstanding and friction if it had been allowed to drag on without elucidation between ourselves and the United States. I hope the report is true that a Russian delegation has recently arrived in Washington to discuss civil aviation with the American authorities. I only hope, if it is, that they will come on here and give us the benefit of their views before returning to their country, because no international agreement will be of the slightest use if the Russians do not become a party to it.

It is to be hoped that before the year is out, possibly immediately after the elections in the United States, an International Conference will be called, and at that Conference an International Convention will ultimately be set up to lay down standards of safety, good conduct in the air and on the ground, and also to decide on general principles whereby planes of one nation shall gain admission to, and fly over the territory of, other nations. These decisions must be taken before civil aviation gets really going in the post-war world. As I say, certain progress has been made by the Lord Privy Seal, and I hope that he will be able to go on as the representative to the International Convention because I know that it is a matter which is very close to his heart.

It is about the domestic management of civil aviation that we, on this side of the House, feel deeply concerned, and we wish to put on record our beliefs, and our fears, that nothing is being done in that respect. The first question that must be answered is, What Department of State is going to assume responsibility for civil aviation in the post-war world? Until that is done, it seems to me obvious that there will be uncertainty and fumbling in planning for the future. As to the views of this House, they were made quite clear in the last Debate that we had on the subject of civil aviation which, I think, was on 29th February. In the course of that Debate a unanimous desire was expressed from all sides of the House that civil aviation should be removed from the Air Ministry just as soon as was possible, and that it should be handed over to a civil Department charged with the future development of transport. It was argued at that time, with considerable force, that air transport is a part of transport generally, and that it should be the concern of the Department whose primary responsibility transport is. It seems to me that it is quite clear that the problem of transport and communication will assume such a very important part in the post-war period that it must become the business of a major Department of State.

For a time after that Debate, there were rumours that the Government were going to accede to the wishes of this House and make an announcement on the subject, but weeks slipped into months, and nothing happened. Evidence is now accumulating that the Air Ministry intends to continue its domination over the civil side of aviation if it can possibly do so. I am a very humble admirer of what the Air Ministry has done in the course of this war, and of the men who have made such a great contribution to winning this war. What they have done is beyond praise, but, equally, it seems to me, they are going to have their hands full at the end of this war in keeping up the lead they have established on the Service side in the course of this war. In addition to that, they are going to have the whole of the Transport Command, which will have to be maintained at a very large level when the war is over. Would it, therefore, not be to their own best interests that they should allow civil aviation to become a part of the general transport system? Unless this esssential decision is taken and the proper organisation assembled before the war ends, I am afraid it is going to find us in a very awkward position.

The next question that is greatly hampering the post-war development of aviation, and for which an answer is urgently required, is, What is going to be the basis of our air transport operations? Are we going to rely for all future developments on the Government-owned monopoly of the British Overseas Airways or are we going to allow private enterprise some share in the future development of aviation? It is quite clear that there is no lack of readiness on the part of private enterprise to enter on this development.

Mr. Montague (Islington, West)

With subsidies.

Mr. Tree

Many of them are prepared to operate on an entirely self-supporting basis, and are asking for no subsidies whatever. If the hon. Member opposite would like me to make way for him, I am perfectly prepared to do so on this matter. Many of these companies, who are asking for nothing except the right to operate, have worked out plans in great detail, and they have submitted these plans to the Government, but they are quite unable to get from the Government any idea of what their policy is to be. One by one, other industries are receiving from the Government an indication that the Government are prepared to consider what facilities they can afford in the post-war period for their development. Yet in civil aviation—one of the most vital and one of the most important of the younger industries in this country—the Government persist in maintaining a stubborn silence as to what their policy is to be.

Why is this? Is it because it is a political issue of such importance that a Coalition Government cannot come to a decision on it, and, therefore, do nothing about it, or is it that the Cabinet is so pressed for time that it cannot spare the necessary time to consider the matter and come to a decision? I do not know what the reason is, but, whatever it is, it is undoubtedly grossly unfair on those companies who cannot get on with their post-war plans. If private enterprise is not going to be allowed to take part, then they should be told so now, and they should be told to get out of the picture. If, in this matter, we lag still further behind the United States than we are already, then, in my opinion, that delay is very largely the responsibility of the Government.

In the matter of aircraft, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Group-Captain Wright) is going to say a word or two, but there is much cause for disappointment along those lines too. Promises made several times in another place, in the not far distant past, have remained unfulfilled, and the outlook in that direction is very black indeed, and we are going to have to rely on American aircraft for some years after the war. It is fashionable at present for some people to minimise the future of civil aviation. I have heard people say that a world service can be run with comparatively few planes, and that the whole thing is really of rather small proportions. But one need only study the reports that are constantly being sent to me by the Civil Board of Aeronautics in Washington to realise that the Americans have quite a different attitude on these matters. They are now making thorough investigations, not only of main lines but also of feeder lines. I received, the other day, a very long statement about a survey that had been made of feeder systems to cities and towns as short a distance as 30 miles apart. Yesterday, the Prime Minister, in his survey of world affairs, spoke for a moment or two on the amount of material that is being flown between India and Chungking and said that more was being flown to-day than could possibly have been carried over the Burma Road. I may be a super-optimist on this subject, but I do not believe any of us here now can possibly visualise the scope of civil aviation in all its aspects in the future, and I do want this country and the Empire to play their proper part in the future development of civil aviation.

Group-Captain Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)

I will not detain the House for many minutes, because my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) has put the picture—a rather unhappy picture—of the present position of civil aviation so clearly before us. But there are one or two points which I would like to underline. It is difficult really to enter into much detail at the present time, because what we are all held up for is a statement of Government policy. We have been asking for this for many years, and although we get hopeful suggestions at times that something is coming we are always disappointed, and so we go on raising this subject in the House on every possible occasion in the hope that the last drop of water will eventually wear away the stone. I take it that one of the things that is holding up this question of deciding policy is the fundamental matter of which Ministry is to administer this vital new industry. Until that is settled I do not see how we shall be able to make any great advance.

Members on all sides of the House have made it clear on every possible occasion that they desire to see civil aviation removed from the Air Ministry. It is a mystery why we cannot get this very necessary thing done. Apart from that, of course, we must know what is to be the method of operation. Is private enterprise to be allowed to return to the field? I say "return," because may I remind the House that a number of firms, some of them quite well-established, were forcibly closed down at the beginning of this war? Are they to be treated differently from the firms in other industries which have been closed, for various reasons, since hostilities broke out, or are they to receive the same treatment, which has been promised by the Government, that when the war is over they will be given priority in reinstatement in their own trade? Is civil aviation to be treated specially? When the B.O.A.C. Bill was introduced it was made abundantly clear that that Corporation was to deal only With external routes, and that it would not play any great part, internally, in this country. The next point on which we must have information is, What is the Government's policy with regard to the production of British air transport aircraft? Has anything really been done to implement the Brabazon Committee's Report? Would my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary tell us what progress has been made with the individual types which were suggested? Has, indeed, any progress been made, except with the "York"? Is he prepared to tell us that the "York" is a really satisfactory machine, comparable with the similar types in use in the United States? What has happened to the "Tudor"? I think I am right in saying that we were in hopes that the prototype of that machine would be flying in September this year.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

The end of this year.

Group-Captain Wright

I wonder how far the prototype of the "Tudor" has advanced. Obviously, my right hon. and gallant Friend knows a great deal more about this than I do and possibly he could tell us something about this when he replies to the Debate. It is all very well for us to talk about a policy of full employment and then proceed to strangle all those enterprising people who are showing such clear evidence that they wish to get ahead with their plans, and which will help in bringing full employment in the post-war period, whether by operating air lines or manufacturing aircraft.

How are we to keep our great aircraft factories going if we come to the end of hostilities and have no jigs and tools or, indeed, plans ready for the machines we are to make for civil use? It takes a long time to bring a machine from the drawing board into actual use, and I suggest that it will be necessary for the Government to take a risk and order civil air transport machines off the drawing board. We did it with some success in producing combatant machines, and there is no real reason why we should not do it with even greater success in producing civil machines with the greater knowledge which we have today. We must press the Government for help in that direction, otherwise we shall be behind in getting our factories going, and in coming within comparable reach of our friendly competitors across the Atlantic.

Then what about airports? Whose responsibility are they to be? How can anyone plan air routes unless they know there are going to be some organisation and some airports on which they can land and from which they can operate? There will be three types of airport. There will be the large airport for dealing with trans-oceanic services. Obviously it will have to be the responsibility of the Government to produce airports of that size and nature. Then there will be the airport for the British Isles Continental and internal main services. This should be the responsibility of the municipal authorities. I am sure they will very much welcome the opportunity provided they get proper guidance from the Government Department which is going to control the matter. They had rather an unfortunate experience in pre-war days but probably our knowledge has advanced a good deal since then and we may be able to give them better guidance now. I say it should be the responsibility of the local authorities because of the benefits which are likely to accrue to big areas which are well served by the air. One so often gets the suggestion put forward that flying is just a rich man's hobby and the other side is entirely overlooked. It may well be that the rich manufacturer may be the person who actually flies from the airport but if he returns, as the result of saving that time, with a very large contract which will find a great deal of employment for the district, then indeed the air can be said to be helping that district. You cannot possibly measure the benefits of civil air transport in terms of money.

There will be a third type of airport, quite a small affair, to deal with feeder services, and charter services, and indeed with private civil flying, and where the local authorities are not prepared to embark on aerodromes of that kind, it should be the right of private people and companies to lay them down. I should like to know whether the Air Ministry is considering this matter and has any plans. There would be in my opinion a very useful form of contact between the Air Ministry and whatever Department eventually handles civil aviation. I want to see the control of civil aviation taken away from the Air Ministry because I feel, as we all feel, that the first job of the Air Ministry is to run a first class Royal Air Force, and the outlook that you want for running a first class military service is entirely different from that which you require to develop a commercial enterprise, as air transport must be. We do not want the big posts in the organisation of civil aviation and air transport to be regarded as refuges for ageing Air Chief Marshals. We want very young enterprising men in those positions. But, just as we do not want old men at the top, we do indeed want young men at the other end of the scale. The training of the air crews might well be done through the Royal Air Force and its training organisation. The sort of picture that I envisage is the keen young man of the future—and the keenest of our young men in the future will want to get into close contact with the air—coming as quite a boy into the post-war Air Training Corps, moving from that into a volunteer reserve which will bring him up as a highly skilled potential member of an air crew ready to take his place in the Royal Air Force, in the Auxiliary Air Force, or indeed in civilian life, putting in, say, a month's training every year, and on the reserve of air crew.

I hope such an organisation as that will be the royal road or, if not, at least the normal avenue for all young men, who want to be connected in an active way with flying aircraft, because in the post-war period the flying of aircraft will have to be very severely controlled. As we develop the facilities for flying, in all weathers, day and night, the discipline will have to be very strict if we are to avoid casualties and disasters. It might well be that we should allow disciplined young men in the Royal Air Force to be seconded to this service because in those days, under the high pressure and strain that there will be flying civil air transport, there will be no room for the older type of man, however courageous a pioneer he may be, in carrying out this very heavy work, which has to be run day and night in all weathers to a very strict time schedule. So there will be room for that close contact with the Air Ministry where we can get the best from the Air Ministry, and alongside it the best, I hope, from private enterprise.

In this post-war development we shall require research facilities the provision of which will be very expensive, and it will be quite uneconomic, and indeed impossible, for individual firms to supply a number of these research centres. There should be a first-class research centre in this country, equalling anything that they have at present, or contemplate, in America, and that should be available to the experts and scientists, on both the military and civilian sides, though the qualities that they will be searching for will be almost diametrically opposed. Still that close contact and exchange of ideas will be most useful, and will, at the same time, provide a very close touch between the military and the civilian sides of aviation. I appeal again to the Government that they will, at long last, produce some policy, and tell us where we are going, so that we can begin to make our plans.

Mr. Montague (Islington, West)

It is manifestly impossible to deal adequately with the points made by the last two speakers in the time available, and I do not intend to do so. They are not new points, and they have been discussed thoroughly in preceding Debates. The House is well aware of the Labour Party's policy on civil aviation at the end of the war. I need only say that it is not a policy which supports a call upon the State for all the initiative, for all the science, for subsidies, for risks and for enthusiasm, just for the benefit of private investors who want to fill their bags with the cherries when civil aviation gets going. I will not say any more on policy because we cannot discuss it adequately now. I rise in order to give the Joint Under-Secretary of State an opportunity of dealing with a point which might well be mentioned as we are discussing civil aviation.

After Dr. Berlé visited this country, the Lord Privy Seal undertook, with Government sanction, certain duties in connection with approaches to America for a consideration of the international convention. Lord Beaverbrook made a statement in the other place a little time ago about the progress that has been made. I would like to know whether the Under-Secretary can add to that statement. I ask that particularly from the point of view of the international side of civil aviation after the war. The Lord Privy Seal made it clear—to me, at any rate—not only in that Debate but also in a statement he made to certain Members of the House, that Australia and New Zealand had agreed upon an Imperial policy, a policy of Imperial organisation and responsibility for the development of civil aviation, and that Canada, under the influence of the United States economically and in every other way—which one can understand—was not in agreement with the other Dominions on that matter. I know that what was called the Canadian plan was turned down, but some of us are rather hazy as to what kind of proposal will be made to the international convention from the standpoint of either an Imperial or an international organisation. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can enlarge on what the Lord Privy Seal said in another place, and whether any further development has been made since the subject of oil has been substituted for that of civil aviation so far as Lord Beaverbrook is concerned.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

I agree with my hon. Friends on the other side that we have raised this matter over and over again and have never succeeded in getting any kind of declaration from the Government on their policy with regard to civil aviation. I remember asking the Prime Minister two months ago in a supplementary question whether he could disclose to the House the policy that Lord Beaverbrook and the Government had in mind for civil aviation. I think his answer was that it was an interesting thought and he would give it consideration. It seems quite clear to me, and I think it must be clear to every hon. Member, that we can expect no post-war policy on civil aviation that will appeal to the obviously conflicting points of view in this House. I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Group - Captain Wright), about these things. How any hon. Member can expect that a Coalition Government can on this matter, any more than on any other matter, produce a policy that will be satisfactory to all people without sinking fundamental principles, I do not understand. My hon. and gallant Friend said that there were certain com- panies with enterprising directors who were anxious to get on and prepare their plans. I have no doubt that that is true. Why do they not join with some of us on this side and call a halt to the continuance of the Coalition Government? If that kind of call did come, not only from the country but from all sides of the House, it would not last very much longer.

I made a speech last week on the question of the disposal of Government stocks after the war. I did not see how it was possible for Conservative and Labour Ministers to commit themselves to what was to be done by a future Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said he spoke on behalf of the Tory Reform Committee. That Committee, I think, is very anxious for a continuance of the Coalition. They are always anxious to take the middle path, and they like Labour Members being in the Government. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot expect to have an abortive Government so far as post-war plans are concerned and retain their seats. I think they are very anxious to make these statements from time to time, as if they were the great spokesmen of the aviation industry in this House. They cannot get any satisfactory answer because the Government have not a policy. It is clear that the Government have not a policy. I know they have not and I think that hon. Members also know it. If, however, they have a policy, the Under-Secretary should say that they have and what the policy is.

I do not see why the House of Commons should always be kept in the dark as to what the Government are doing, what engagements they are entering into at Bretton Woods, or at the forthcoming international conference which is to set up a post-war world, and so on. Why is the House of Commons being put in this position? We are faced from time to time with faits accomplis, and we are told that the Government have said, "We will drive these decisions through the House of Commons." I therefore put it to the Government that they can only know what the House of Commons is thinking—on the assumption that we do represent outside opinion—if they tell us what they are going to stand for in these conferences.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

I understand that the object of the hon. Gentleman's speech is to show that the Coalition did nothing and had no policy. Why, then, should he expect them to do anything?

Mr. Bowles

That is their dilemma. I say that they have not a policy. If they have, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should tell us what it is. I would ask him whether Lord Beaverbrook has gone to the United States with any instructions. If so, what are they? Is he concerned only with oil, because there is a rumour about that he has gone under an oily surface in order to discuss civil aviation. It seems that the Government have some plan, because I have recently seen a most marvellous aerodrome in course of erection, with runways five miles long. Messrs. Wimpey have the contract, and it must be one of great cost to the country. So there is a policy being worked out administratively, and the House of Commons is being kept in the dark. Is this aerodrome being built on Government contract by Messrs. Wimpey? When did the House consider another airport? When was the House told about it? I do not think it was. I would also like to know whether it is necessary to have another big airport when we have airports already in the country. Here is a considerable diversion of labour so far as civil aviation is concerned. In conclusion I would again ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell the House what Lord Beaverbrook is going to do.

Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

The hon. Gentleman who raised this question apologised to the House for raising it on the last day of meeting of Parliament, but I am very glad he did so, because it would be wrong for this House to disperse for a long period without making one more effort to get some statement from the Government on their policy for civil aviation. I know that the Minister will say to-day that international civil aviation is an international question, on which the Government are not able to make a statement. I can understand that, but there is one thing I cannot understand, and that is why the Government have not yet proclaimed a policy in regard to our Dominions and our Colonial Empire, because that is within the narrow sphere which includes the Dominions and ourselves. We were told by Lord Beaverbrook a good long time ago that he had come to a complete agreement with the Dominions, and certainly with Canada, on the future of civil aviation, and that it rested now with America to come into line or for us to find an agreement with America, and then with our other Allied countries.

I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell us what is happening in our Colonial Empire. We have a very large net-work of air bases throughout the African Colonies, as indeed throughout the world. I have just come back from a tour of the West Indies, where we have air bases. People from the different Colonial Governments are anxious to get on with their plans for civil aviation, which are vital to their work, and yet they are frustrated, right, left and centre, because they say they cannot get a policy out of the home Government. That must be altered, because it is not only holding up civil aviation in those Colonies, but holding up the whole development of the Colonies. I know that places like Gambia have schemes of Colonial development which they are very anxious to get on with, but they cannot do so until the question of the siting of air bases is decided. It has to be decided, unfortunately, by the Air Ministry, who cannot make up their minds. I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell us to-day what is the policy with regard to the African Colonies to-day. There, if nowhere else, we must get on with Colonial development and we cannot do anything until we have our air bases.

There is another point, the future of civil aviation vis-à-vis the Air Ministry. Personally, I wish to see civil aviation divorced from the Air Ministry at the earliest possible moment. I have not always been of that opinion, but, looking back, I see that the Air Marshals have clung to this service for all the years before the war, with the result that the history of British civil aviation has been one of frustration, procrastination and ineptitude. We have the best pilots in the world, but they are having to fly the worst machines, while their working conditions, in respect of pension and everything that goes with it, are not satisfactory. What amazes me is that we have ever been able to find enough pilots to take up that career at all.

I do not hold any brief for the British Overseas Airways Corporation as opposed to any other form of civil air transport, but I think B.O.A.C. should be given a chance to prove itself. It has not so far had an opportunity of proving itself as an operating concern. Almost from the moment it was formed, it was taken over by the Ministry authorities. It thought it was going to get free and be able to operate, but it had to come under Transport Command. It has done a very good job in the war. It has not had a free hand, but has had to do what it was told, and operate under military conditions and control. Before we condemn an organisation which was born out of tribulation, as B.O.A.C. was after the failure of Imperial Airways and British Airways, we ought to give it a chance to show what it can do. At any rate, we are committed to B.O.A.C. as the chosen instrument for a time. Before it is condemned, I wish to see it given an opportunity, divorced from Transport Command, to carry out its own programme.

What will be necessary in order that it may do so? First of all, it must have the pilots. I do not think we have any need to worry on that score, since we have the best pilots in the world. Then we shall want well-trained air crews and ground staff. We need not worry about them. There is one thing to which we have to pay more attention than we have done in the past, and that is accommodation on the ground when people come down at the end of their journey. We must have better rest houses and hotels. That aspect of civil aviation has been hopelessly neglected by us in the past, but it cannot be neglected in the future. In addition, the service must run to a time schedule and keep to it. That is not being done to-day. If I had time, I could give illustrations to show where the convenience, comfort and feelings of passengers travelling with B.O.A.C., for instance, are completely disregarded, and timetables are turned inside out over-night, without any explanation to the passengers. There is no excuse for that. People ought to be told if it is necessary, for military reasons, to change plans and upset timetables. I am sure people would make allowances and they would not, as they do to-day, be nursing strong and justifiable grievances against the company which it may take very many years after the war to live down. I do not want to shut out the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and deprive him of an opportunity to reply to the Debate and I conclude by expressing the hope that he will give consideration to the points that have been raised.

Mr. Granville (Suffolk, Eye)

I shall take up only two or three minutes, as like the hon. Member who initiated this Debate I want to hear the reply of the Minister. The House of Commons has been very patient with the Government over civil aviation. We have had trickling and treacly little Debates late in the day on odd points in regard to B.O.A.C., and various suggestions have been made from all quarters of the House on how to improve civil aviation, but we have never at any time had a declaration of policy from the Government on the future of civil aviation. In another place there has been a fairly full discussion replied to by the Lord Privy Seal. Some of my hon. Friends and I, before the Empire Conference took place in London, begged the Government to state their policy, but the only answer we received then was that we had to wait until the meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers had taken place in order that the Government could then discuss with the House of Commons something in the nature of a policy. The Government could not commit themselves, the House of Commons was not to be committed without being consulted. Well, we have had the meeting of the Dominion Prime Ministers, and I listened most attentively to-day at the announcement of Business to see if there was to be a real Debate on civil aviation when we met again after the Recess, but I am surprised to find that is not to be the case. With all deference to my right hon. and gallant Friend, who, I appreciate, understands the problem of civil aviation because of practical experience in the past and close contact with it, he is of course not in a position to-day to make a statement on behalf of the Government as to what is the major policy on civil aviation. The only Minister who I imagine is in a position to do that is at the present time in Washington—more "Wings over Washington." The Prime Minister said, in reply to me a day or so ago, that the Lord Privy Seal was in Washington not only for the purpose of discussing oil, but to discuss again the question of civil aviation, and also that the Cabinet here had discussed it for two hours.

I think we are greatly indebted to my hon. Friend for raising this matter again to-day, but I think we ought now to press for something definite from the Government. Are we to have a Minister for Civil Aviation, because with all due respect to the Lord Privy Seal and his astute judgment and sage advice on these and other problems if this matter is to be really planned in the future with practical vision and if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past—and goodness knows there are men in this House who know something about the mistakes of the past—it is a full-time Ministerial job, and cannot be fully dealt with administratively by a Minister who has to give his attention to other important Cabinet matters during this vital phase of the war. Therefore, I would plaintively ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he has a direction or minute from the Air Minstry or the War Cabinet which will enable him to tell us that the Government have now decided that this problem is vital and important; that we appreciate the great strides being made in America on this matter with civil air attachés for consultation being appointed, and in view of the switch over to civil production they are now going to appoint a full-time Minister for Civil Aviation.

I would also ask him if he can tell us whether the Lord Privy Seal, in his further discussions in Washington on this subject, which I imagine were begun with Dr. Adolph Berlé in London, is representing the British Commonwealth, or is he there—my hon. Friend below the Gangway raised the same point in a different way—to represent, as it were, Colonial cabotage position? Or is he there as the voice of the whole British Commonwealth and its future plans for a great network of civil aviation throughout the British Empire after the war? I would also like to ask him this: We were told there was to be an International Conference, that Russia was to be invited to this Conference. I believe the agenda for this Conference has been more or less agreed. If that is the case and if Colonial cabotage is to be our case on the agenda, instead of the British Commonwealth acting as one unit in negotiating our whole future of civil aviation, can he tell us if that is to be on the whole agenda for that Conference or will fresh questions be raised? Can he also tell us when the Conference is to take place, and where? I hope it will be in this country, because, frankly, I am getting a little tired of this apparent one-way traffic of Ministers across the Atlantic. I think it would be all to the good to emphasise the unity of the Allied Nations if, occasionally, we had a Conference in this country, particularly as this country happens to be at the present time and will be after the war the greatest aircraft carrier or terminus in the world.

I do not want to take up more of the time of the House, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Are we going to appoint air attachés for civil aviation to our Embassies in the same way as America has recently announced? I would also like to emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friend opposite. What is happening about designs for civil prototypes after the war? Will we have them flying six years from now operationally which will be any good at all for trans-Atlantic and European traffic? Are we really making available the materials and man-power and research and technical development, particularly the designers—all of these things which are absolutely essential? Are we giving facilities to all those people who are working to produce these prototypes, so that we shall be in a position to fly British machines after the war, as a minimum over the all red route, or is it to be the case that again—and Heaven only knows the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows the implications of this—we are going to be entirely dependent on American civil aircraft to fly, not only on the trans-Atlantic but the European routes? Can he give us an assurance that whatever is decided upon at the International Conference, when it takes place, this country will be in a position to make its full contribution and not be left to bargain bases for aircraft with America? Can he assure the House that we will be in the position to turn over from war production to civil production and so avoid the great mistakes made in the past, and really give the British Empire the first proper chance it has had to develop its civil aviation fully?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

Hon. Members have many advantages over Ministers. One definitely is in a Debate such as this, when an hon. Member can, in a sentence, mention some great question of major policy, and perhaps in three sentences mention four points of major policy, and then say "I would like answers on all these points." I was in two minds as to whether to base my remarks upon the opening sentences of the speech of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), when he said it was impossible to deal adequately with points raised to-day in the time available, or whether to fall back on the apology with which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) started his speech, when he apologised for the Debate to-day because he had nothing new or particularly striking to say in the matter. I came to the conclusion I would be quite frank and say that I allied myself with him so far as major policy is concerned.

Nevertheless I will endeavour to answer some of the questions put to me to-day. The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate said he suspected that the reason for no statement on domestic policy was that the Government have not made up their mind. He is perfectly correct, and if he will refer to what the Prime Minister said on the 18th of last month he will find confirmation of that fact, when in reply to the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) the Prime Minister said: The whole of this question is being continually studied. I remember that we had a long discussion only a little while ago—two hours or more—upon it in the Cabinet, which is proof that the matter was gone into in very considerable detail. Capable men are giving it much thought, but of course it takes, far and away, a back place compared with the conduct of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 25.] I am second to none in my feeling regarding the importance of post-war civil aviation, but nevertheless my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Members of the Cabinet have got very many pressing matters to be decided, hour by hour, day by day, on foreign and on current war matters. [Interruption.] I listened patiently to every hon. Member who spoke, and I only hope that hon. Members will do me the courtesy of allowing me to answer their remarks.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues have many important and pressing matters, hour by hour, day by day, to settle. If they are to do justice to this very important issue, it is only right that they should be able to take it at the time they consider fit, when they can give it the attention that its importance merits. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said that the excuse is—to use his words—the fly-blown cliché, "There is a war on." I scarcely think that those words of his do real justice to the efforts of the War Cabinet, of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and of those who are directing the major strategy of this war. Of course, there is a war on. I think he will agree with me that, so long as the war effort demands 100 per cent. of the time, the attention, and the resources of this country, all other issues must take a back place. It is those who have the responsibility of allocating our resources of man-power and our resources of material, as between the conduct of the war and the preparation for post-war, who must decide upon the proportionate allocation. I, for one, and, I think, the majority of the House, will appreciate that at the present time it is easy for those who have not got the responsibility for that direction and allocation to endeavour to assess the relative factors. But I do not think that their assessment is of as much value as that of those who carry the responsibility.

I was asked what progress was being made in the international field. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), the hon. Member for Eye and one or two other hon. Members asked whether the Lord Privy Seal was continuing his discussion in Washington with Mr. Berlé. Yes, Sir. The House will be glad to know that the War Cabinet have authorised the Lord Privy Seal, while in Washington, on other matters, to resume conversations with Mr. Berlé on the international and civil aviation policy, and the intention is to take a stage further the various matters discussed during Mr. Berlé's visit to this country in the spring. It is also hoped to have discussions with the representatives of the U.S.S.R. and other Powers in the near future, preparatory to the international conference which is to be held on a broader basis.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does my right hon. and gallant Friend think that that is giving the matter the attention that its importance merits?

Captain Balfour

Yes, I do.

Mr. Bowles

Along what lines are they pursuing the talks? What is Lord Beaverbrook going to say? Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman know?

Captain Balfour

Lord Beaverbrook is going to endeavour to go more closely even than before into the various matters arising between the United States and ourselves, which will enable us to get a measure of agreement at that conference.

Mr. Granville

Does that mean that these are just incidental talks, or is the Lord Privy Seal accompanied by experts and a proper delegation?

Captain Balfour

The Lord Privy Seal has the facilities for communicating with this country by cable in a few hours, if he should wish to do so. He has certain experts with him, and the Government are in constant communication with him as regards his talks. I would make it quite clear that this is not, as it were, a by-product of the oil conversations, but a specific item that is going to be covered during the Lord Privy Seal's visit to Washington.

Captain P. Macdonald

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend ask Mr. Hull why he repudiated everything that Mr. Berlé said over here?

Captain Balfour

I am not going into that.

Mr. Tree

I would like my right hon. and gallant Friend to deal with a point that I made in the course of my speech. Is there any truth in the statement that a Russian delegation are in Washington to discuss the matter; and when they have finished there, are they coming here?

Captain Balfour

The Russian delegation have certainly gone to Washington, and we have been in communication with the Russian Government. Whether the arrangements are that they will come here, or go back to Russia first, I cannot say. That is a matter for the Russian Government.

Mr. Montague

This is a very important matter. I think the House should know what kind of mandate the Lord Privy Seal has. The Under-Secretary of State knows that both Australia and New Zealand have passed resolutions. By what authority does the Lord Privy Seal represent both this country and the Dominions?

Captain Balfour

Lord Beaverbrook does not represent the Dominions: he represents His Majesty's Government. He has knowledge of what measure of agreement was obtained at the Empire Conference last autumn, and no doubt he brings that knowledge to bear in his conversations with Mr. Berlé, which are aimed at smoothing the way towards an international conference, at which the parties will arrive with a large measure of agreement already on the major issues that are going to be discussed.

Mr. Montague

The Empire Board is ruled out?

Captain Balfour

I cannot say any more: I have given such information as I can. I want to turn to the domestic issue that has been raised, as to which Department civil aviation should stay under after the war. There is a unanimity of view in this House that civil aviation should leave the Air Ministry. Again, one can present a case for civil aviation leaving the Air Ministry, and a case against. The matter has not been decided by the Cabinet at present, and, beyond that, I regret that I cannot give any comfort. No doubt the Government will take full cognisance of and will recognise the views expressed in various quarters of the House to-day. One hon. Gentleman suggested that civil aviation should be handed over as soon as possible, but I do not think that there is any solid consensus of opinion that, in the middle of a war, you could take civil aviation away from the Air Ministry. I would like to make that quite clear. I do not think that in the middle of a war you could take it away, when the operations of civil aviation are directed to the war effort and are closely interwoven with those of the R.A.F. What is to happen after the war is at present an open question. As regards the question of private enterprise or State enterprise, of a chosen instrument or participation by existing surface transport interests, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said that the Government maintained a stubborn silence. Whether the silence be stubborn or not, I am afraid that to-day I must continue that silence. As the Prime Minister said, the matter is under consideration by the Cabinet, and the Cabinet, to be quite frank, have not come to a decision. I think that, for reasons which are adequate having regard to the war situation at the moment, I cannot say anything more on that. The hon. Gentleman also said that the United States are so far ahead and are making great plans for routes to be run. I can assure him that we, equally, are making great plans for routes to be run and we have a complete schedule of the routes which we think are desirable ones to be run over the world.

Mr. Granville

Routes to be run with American aircraft?

Captain Balfour

Not necessarily. Meanwhile, do not let us belittle our own efforts too much. The British Overseas Airways Corporation is doing a magnificent job of work. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) made some criticism, and talked about certain discomforts, schedules being put off and people kept waiting and other minor things. I do not know whether he was attacking the Air Ministry, but these are ordinary, minor matters to which the Corporation will pay attention. By and large, the Corporation is making a tremendous contribution, and, whatever may be the form of our post-war civil aviation structure, we are building up now a good solid foundation of pilots and mechanics.

I would like, if I may, to give two or three figures. I appreciate that hon. Members want to raise other subjects, but I am entitled, I think, to endeavour to answer everyone. Let me give these figures as a proof of our progress with the foundation of civil aviation in the post-war period. On 1st January, 1943, the route mileage of the Corporation was 49,000; on 1st January, 1944, it had risen to 72,000, with 25 services throughout different parts of the world. Passenger ton-miles, between January, 1942, and December, 1942, were 9,154,000; and, between January and December, 1943, 11,252,000. Freight has gone up by no less than 85 per cent.—all carried for the war—between 1942 and 1943. I give these figures as showing that the Corporation is doing very well and making a great contribution. It has grown from 109 aircraft on 1st January, 1943, to 140 aircraft at current date, many of these types being American, but some British, and I ask the House to give full credit to the Corporation for all it is doing. The hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Group Captain Wright) asked for information as to the progress of Brabazon types. There is a certain measure of progress, but I would be less than frank with him if I told him that it was as rapid as he, or, in one way, I, would like it to be. The limitation is larger military commitments, not as regards labour so much as drawing office staff. The aircraft industry have a comparatively small drawing office staff, but our military requirements must be met. Except for designated types of major importance, civil types are to have equal production priority with other designs. I am not going into a comparison between the York and the Tudor, but the Tudor is going on all right and one hopes that the first prototype may fly at the end of the year.

Mr. Tree

Could the Minister give the number of types?

Captain Balfour

No, I could not do that at present, but I saw the Brabazon I prototype last week at Bristol. An hon. Member asks if it would fly in six years. I sincerely hope it will, and I think it is going to be a very fine aircraft and one in which this country can take pride.

Regarding airport policy, the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington described three types, and, broadly, I agree with him as to those three types. I would like to disabuse the minds of some persons, who perhaps think that a terminal airport is a wonderful affair which is going to bring a great deal of prosperity to its district. It is an airport which is going to receive traffic for distribution over a wide area. We shall need only one or two terminal airports, and a number of emergency landing grounds for use in bad weather. I think the Government will have to assist in the provision of terminal airports, and that is being kept in mind. As regards the point raised by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), about an aerodrome not far from London, let me assure my hon. Friend that that aerodrome is being made for military purposes—for military transport purposes. We see great new military transports coming along and we need a new airport near to the heart of Government. As and when, after the war, we decide what airports are to be used for civil purposes, all suitable airports and their possibilities will be surveyed and the best one chosen. When my hon. Friend asks me by what authority it is being done, let me assure him that it is not being done by any civil authority, but under military authority, as it is to be a military airport for the war against Germany and against Japan, which involves long communications.

Another point concerned British Airways appointments and "dug-up Air Marshals," raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight. The Airways Corporation have the right to make their own appointments, and I think that, by and large, their appointments are pretty good, but, nevertheless, I like the picture given by the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington of the path of youth from the A.T.C. to post-war aviation.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight also asked why did not the Government declare a Commonwealth policy and what were we doing for the Dominions and Colonies. I am able to-day to make an announcement to the House, and that is that, at the invitation of the South African Government, one further step by the British Commonwealth in the consideration of civil aviation plans is to be taken. The Union Government of South Africa will shortly be issuing invitations to the United Kingdom and Governmental representatives of British territories in East, Central and South Africa to attend a conference which the Union Government are convening to discuss local air services and cognate matters concerning civil aviation on the Continent of Africa. We shall be glad to receive that invitation when it is received. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that there have been earlier discussions which have led the Union Government to suggest this conference and to be good enough to issue the invitations for it, and he will see, therefore, that we have not been entirely idle.

I have done my best in a very short time to answer many of the detailed points. I am quite frank with the House in that I cannot give satisfaction on the major policy issues, but I have, I think, said something about the Brabazon types, about the consultations which Lord Beaverbrook is having in Washington, and, I hope, given some indication of the active expression of British Commonwealth co-operation in the future of our civil aviation. I hope these statements will bring some measure of reassurance to hon. Members that the Government are very alive to their responsibilities in this matter, and are determined, in spite of criticism, which they do and should welcome, to go on to greater efforts.