§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I do not apologise for introducing a Debate on Civil Aviation. It is very important. There have been, I think, seven Debates in another place of reasonable length, and we have had four of much shorter duration. I have asked the Leader of the House or the Deputy Prime Minister whether we could not have a Debate before the Chicago Conference opens on 1st November, and even as recently as yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister said "No." We have spent a great deal of time on the Town and Country Planning Bill, which is relatively unimportant in comparison with what I think are the tremendous issues involved in the question of whether the world is to organise Civil Aviation so that it will be a boon to mankind and not the cause of another war. Feeling strongly, as I do, I am obliged to take advantage of this first opportunity afforded by the Vote of Credit, to put forward views which are shared by a substantial number of hon. Members on this side of the Committee and also, I find, by a growing number of people outside who are very interested— not financially—in what is happening. They are interested to see the amount of space that the Press devotes to the future of Civil Aviation, the speeches that are made in various places by Ministers and others and the letters that appear from time to time in the Press. There is undoubtedly great public interest in this question and possibly it is wider outside than is appreciated by certain hon. Gentlemen in this House.
2732 I propose, with the permission of the Committee, to go over, fairly quickly, the history and the experience of this country and the world from 1919 to 1939. There are two main aspects to which I wish to refer because, as far as I can see, they will be repeated, judging from the White Paper which the Government have issued and which is now, I imagine, their policy on the matter. One of them is referred to in these words:His Majesty's Government propose that a new Convention should be drawn up to take the place of both the Paris Convention of 1919 and of the Havana Convention of 1928, and to make provision for the regulation of international air transport. This Convention would(1) re-affirm the principle of national sovereignty of the air and define what should for this purpose constitute the territory of a State.Further on, there are provisions dealing with the elimination of uneconomic competition and for the general reduction and control of subsidies that may be paid. I submit that as both those factors are likely to arise again in the future if the Government maintain their present policy, based on the terms of the Convention of 1919, a policy of paying subsidies by this country and other Governments, I take it that there will be no question of my being out of Order.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
The hon. Gentleman refers to a matter of Order. As far as those two dates are concerned they relate to conferences, and quite obviously the hon. Member could not discuss what happened at those conferences, because they are not included in this Estimate. It would not be wrong to say as an illustration that at this or that conference such and such a matter was arranged and that it proved wrong, and that therefore it would be better to remedy it under the terms of the White Paper.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Williams; that is what I should like to do and I hope I shall be in Order. First, I want to refer to the policy of this country on subsidies. In 1920 the present Prime Minister, who was then Secretary of State for War and for Air, stated:Civil aviation must fly by itself; the Government cannot possibly hold it up in the air."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1920; Vol. 126, c. 1622.]That view did not prevail for very long for it was perhaps the next year or the 2733 year after that this country agreed to pay Imperial Airways £1,000,000, spread over the following 10 years. I do not want to go into details, but I would just mention that from 1919 to 1939, either on the recommendation of the Hambling Committee or on the recommendation of earlier ones, we paid subsidies in one form or another to Imperial Airways, and later on to British Airways, on certain Scandinavian routes and the Berlin route. That policy seems likely to be perpetuated in the future. The Government's proposals seem to visualise the probability that the Government will try in some way or another either to subsidise chosen instruments or, alternatively, to subsidise by the indirect subsidy of mail contracts.
I would like to put before the Committee and the Minister a first consideration. I am sure that he is aware that the competition did not last very long. It soon became obvious that it would be foolish for K.L.M. and Air France to fly from Amsterdam to Paris at the same time. Therefore, they came to an agreement that that kind of silly throat cutting should not take place, that they should at least organise their schedules. There was an arrangement reached, but more important to my mind was that not only did they arrange, as it were, a pooling of their schedules, but also a pooling of their receipts. We had the position that the total of European Governmental expenditure in subsidies, apart from the U.S.S.R.—I think it was in 1938–39—was between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000. What actually happened was that these subsidies and receipts were pooled and shared between the various operating companies at that time. On this question of subsidies I wish to quote Mr. Michael Young, who wrote a book "Target for To-morrow No. 7 Civil Aviation." He wrote:Civil aviation was in one sense in a topsyturvy state before the war. In every part of the world there were aeroplanes flying from one spot on the earth's surface to the other, irrespective of whether the flights were economically justified or not. On many of the most important world routes, especially in Europe, there were, as a consequence of the handsome and regularly paid subsidies, half empty or even completely empty planes flying between the main air centres.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I should warn the Committee that what is now becoming a considerably lengthy history of what 2734 happened in aviation before the war, and relates to other countries as well, is really outside this Vote of Credit. An illustration in respect of the past, within reasonable limits of brevity, might be regarded as a method of dealing with this White Paper, but I do not think we can really go deeply into the history of the past in aviation.
§ Mr. Bowles
I naturally do not wish to find myself outside the Ruling of the Chair, but our representatives are going to a conference with 54 other nations in ten days' time. One of the things they are to discuss isto eliminate wasteful competitive practices and in particular to control subsidies";to ensure equitable participation by the various countries engaged in international air transport"; andto maintain broad equilibrium between the world's air transport capacity and the traffic offering";and so on. All I am trying to argue is this. Lord Swinton, if he arrives back from West Africa in time, or whoever is to represent this Government, is to meet the representatives of some 54 other nations. They are to discuss matters which are bound to cover the whole of the earth's surface. In these circumstances I submit with respect that the experience even of Europe before the war is a relevant matter so far as the two aspects with which I wish to deal. One of these is subsidies and the other is national sovereignty of the air, which seem to me to bring about the most fatal consequences. Therefore what I am trying to do is to persuade the Government not to repeat the bloomer—perhaps mistake would be better—that, as the past shows, was made. I think even the Government might be able to learn from experience, and it is my duty, as far as I can this afternoon, to say, "You have had the experience, every country engaged in air transport before the war has had an experience like it. Do not repeat the mistakes which I submit were made—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I have no objection to that; I think it is reasonable to call the Government's mind to what has happened in the past. But that is very different from giving a longish history of the past. I say, give it as an illustration but do not argue it. Certainly hon. Members cannot go into the whole of the world position of aviation before the war.
§ Mr. Bowles
Then I can go into the whole of the world position in the future? The position of subsidies before the war was ridiculous. I hope that when the Government realise that something like 200,000,000 French francs went in one year from the taxpayers of Europe on almost infinitesimal traffic they will not do it again.
On the question of the international convention the Government intend to try to have re-enacted a principle which I remember quite well, and which I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend who has taken an active part in using air traffic as I have, will know well, the really foolish obstacles mainly dictated by nationalism, which were put up by the Governments of various States against other countries' air lines flying over certain territory at all. When I flew to Kenya I was not allowed to fly over Italy. I had to take a train from Paris to Brindisi, a journey of 36 hours, because the Italian Government exercised the right, recognised in 1929, saying that any country had the right to prohibit alien— I think that is the word—or foreign aircraft from flying over its territory. We also know perfectly well that when it came to a question of trying to fly over Turkey to India the Turkish Government prohibited that from taking place, with the result that a serious diversion had to take place in this very important air line to the Middle East and the Far East.
Surely two things which should not be repeated are subsidies and going back to this national sovereign conception of the air. If there is one thing that has broken down national frontiers surely it is air transport. I can understand that coast lines provided natural frontiers to shipping. I can also understand that rivers and high mountains provided natural frontiers between one inland country and another, but aircraft can fly over at anything from 100 feet to 30,000 or 40,000 feet, and none of these natural features, whether the Channel, oceans or high mountains, really affords any rational frontier any longer. I am very glad to see my right hon. and gallant Friend here, and I hope he will tell us, when he comes to reply, why it was that the British Government embodied in this White Paper on the future of air transport, the old fashioned conception that this country and every country should have complete 2736 territorial rights, complete sovereign rights, in the air over their territory and territorial waters, or as may be defined at the conference in Chicago. That surely is an anachronism. Are we to continue to live in this world and have it artificially broken up by language, and currency differences, and each country having national sovereignty of the air above its territory? I put it to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and through him to the Government, and I imagine that hon. Members on both sides will agree, that that kind of consideration should not be perpetuated any longer.
§ Mr. Bowles
I think the hon. Lady is one of the most rude women in the House. I have not left this Chamber since 11 a.m. —I have had no lunch; I have been waiting to take part in this important Debate. I am very surprised that the hon. Lady should have interrupted as she did. Perhaps I had better leave her to think over what she has said, and on this or some later occasion, she may decide to withdraw what I think was an offensive remark.
§ Mr. Bowles
I do not think there is any point in butting in like that. I was saying that we should try to get away from old conceptions and learn from experience. We should try to build a new world with modern conceptions. One of the things we have heard in the early part of this interesting Debate was how this world is almost one unit. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was talking about how if one country becomes poor it immediately affects the standard of living of other countries. The whole force of the last three hours' Debate is that the world is a unity, and is not to be regarded as a lot of different nations which can really and truly live in isolation one from the other. I put the view 2737 to my right hon. and gallant Friend that we must not allow these nations which are to meet at Chicago to perpetuate these very old fashioned, and if I may say so very dangerous, ideas in the future.
I might also be allowed to say what I find is happening now. Now that the war appears to be coming to an end a large number of people who did not in the past take very much interest in the future of Civil Aviation are now preparing to jump in and help themselves. The railway companies have produced plans.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That has definitely nothing to do with the White Paper. Railway companies or private companies are outside the White Paper. It is purely an international White Paper.
§ Mr. Bowles
With all respect, Mr. Williams, it is not. It is a framework within which private interests can work.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member cannot discuss under this White Paper the provision of flying services by the railways.
§ Mr. Bowles
This is a very important aspect to which I know you will; Mr. Williams, give your usual fair consideration. Here we have in this White Paper the framework, or the skeleton on which the details may be built up. Within this framework is being laid down, not operational control—it does not suggest chosen instruments or private enterprise at all, no proposal to say how it is to be run. It says that if air services are to be run we must see that this happens, that this or that country gets a fair share, we control subsidies, and so on. Within that framework there are naturally growing up people who say, "Very well, within this framework we can run a very good air line to South America, or inside this country." All I was saying, and I would submit that I am in Order, is that it is true that at the present time—even before the issue of the White Paper—in view of the approaching peace, people were wondering how they can assist air transport in the country and the world. Some of them happen to be railway companies, others shipping companies. They have met representatives—
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes; but I must make it quite clear that this is a matter of international air trans- 2738 port. The White Paper itself does come within the Rules of Order for this Debate, but the question of rail transport or shipping services is out of Order.
§ Mr. Bowles
Very well; but may I say without mentioning anybody at all, that there are interests, which will become vested interests in the future of Civil Aviation in this country, which are making approaches and trying to bring pressure to bear on the Government. That is quite well known; it is not secret information that I have got; it has been discussed in the public Press and elsewhere, and I know that various people are doing exactly what I think is fatal. They are beginning to pull the coat tails of the Government in this country, and they would do the same thing in other countries, in order to forward their own private interests. I am against private interests, whether they are shipping companies, railway companies, or what not, running private air lines. I am against chosen instruments, because I think that they are a fatal risk. I am not asking for the repeal of that policy. The British Government are supporting British Overseas Airways Corporation, on the one hand—it is their way of contribution to the world air lines—and Pan-American Airways is the mainly-recognised instrument of the American Government. I visualise that kind of thing spreading.
Civil Aviation may be fascinating, but it is very dangerous indeed. One of the things that frighten me, and frighten many people outside, is the fear that we are going to have pressure groups growing up, in this country and elsewhere, who are going to use their political influence. There is no vested interest in aviation in Europe —British Overseas Airways Corporation does not count. The railway companies and the shipping companies are not yet vested interests, but they want to vest their interest as soon as they can, and we must prevent that.
§ Mr. Bowles
Perhaps I might raise the question on the Report stage. Would that be all right? At any rate, I do not want to argue that. There is in the "Sunday Times" a weekly feature called "Post-War Forum," and on 10th Sep- 2739 tember the question of Civil Aviation was discussed. Somebody who was anonymous contributed, and I wrote a letter, which perhaps it would not be unbecoming if I read to the Committee, because it gives my case better than I could make it in a speech:Discussions about the future of Civil Aviation often seem to imply that there are only two choices open to us, namely, free private enterprise and the Government's single 'Chosen Instrument,' i.e., British Overseas Airways Corporation. Perhaps I may be permitted to point out that there is a third and not unsubstantially supported policy, that all commercial flying in the world should be run by one international authority, which might be called World Airways Ltd.That would not need legislation, because it would not have to be passed through this House; so I hope it is in Order.Undoubtedly post-war flying is international dynamite, and its proper organisation will prevent it becoming the cause of another world war. We believe that regard must be had to the best possible service to the user"—Note that, please—and that questions of national prestige and the manufacture and use of the products of particular firms should not enter into the matter at all. Let World Airways Ltd. buy the best aircraft and employ the best personnel to provide the best service. No one who can read between the lines has any doubt that already fierce struggles have been going on here and at Washington between Lord Beaverbrook and Dr. Adolf Berle, American Under-Secretary of State. There is not much doubt about the American Government's policy, but there is a great deal as to whether our Government has a policy at all. The Coalition Government after the last war was often pictured in cartoons as a double-headed mule, than which it is hard to think of any animal more sterile. Whether we keep the 'Chosen Instrument' policy or abandon it in favour of private enterprise will not keep the British Government out of international trouble, for it will either fight for its own instrument or be forced by private interests to fight for them. World Airways Ltd. may sound idealistic, but often the ideal is also the only real solution. In any case, it has been advanced by Labour speakers in the House of Commons, for it is Labour's policy, and it is also the policy of the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. I think if it could be clearly told to the people of the world it would be their policy as well.The world, thanks largely to transport, and particularly to air transport, has become a very much smaller place. We know that aircraft fly all over the world. Why on earth not go the whole hog straightaway and organise, by a world airways authority, the running of a service of airways to China and right across to 2740 California. There is no reason why private interests should get their teeth into this. I saw a most interesting statement, that certain interests—we will not name them—were saying, "We can visualise, if we are allowed to do it, a loss for a certain number of years out of our resources, a period during which we shall be breaking even, and then a period when we can obtain the profits that we deserve." People say that they will accept the expenditure and the risk involved if they think there is any risk attached to it—which they do not.
I think this is one of the most important subjects that face us at the present time. Unless we organise the problem right from the beginning, unless the British Government can go to the conference and advocate a policy which the Labour Ministers and every Member on this side stand for, that world airways must be organised by a world authority, there is no solution. I think it is important that there should be this body, which can obtain capital from wherever it is wanted at a fixed rate of interest, whether governments, banks or individuals subscribe. You can make it trustee stock, and fix a rate of interest which will make it possible to attract as much money as you want. You will not give the shareholders the right to nominate directors: they will merely have their money in it, without any such rights. As I have said before, the Governments of the small countries, such as Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland, should nominate men who are, first, internationally minded, and, second, believe in providing the world with a decent air service and, third, are capable of selecting people—in other words, to use the old phrase, they should appoint men on the appropriate grounds of ability. Let nobody say that there are not 10 or 12 men in this world who can be trusted and who have the ability to devise, organise, and direct a world airways authority. They would then be able to appoint their working personnel, who would enjoy extra-territorial rights, and would have to run, control and operate all the air services of the world. We do not want any half-way method. It is just as fatal to visualise America being run by Pan-American Airways as Europe being run by Pan-European Airways, or Africa by Pan-African Airways; and so on. In such a system you would have the next world war in embryo, with inter- 2741 continental wars before you knew where you were.
Let us realise that this question of Civil Aviation is the touchstone, the testing question of whether the people who have been brought so close together during this war can take this new thing, and develop it in the interests of men, in order that the best service possible can be supplied, and that then we can go on from there. But if we fail, in the first years after this war, to bring about the beginning of world organisation and world government, many millions will have been wounded and will have died in vain during this war.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I would first like to congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) on having raised this subject to-day. He told us that he felt that no apology was necessary. Far from feeling that any apology is necessary, I think it is vitally important that the subjeot should be raised. Every Member who is interested in the subject has been greatly handicapped by the sudden change of Parliamentary Business, and by having no realisation until the very last moment that it was possible to raise the subject to-day. In my opinion, we should have had a day's Debate on Civil Aviation. I pressed for that last week, and had a very curt reply. It should have taken the form of the Government's policy embodied in the White Paper, which would have given this House had it so wished an opportunity of attempting to amend that positively incredible document.
I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Nuneaton said about the vital importance of Civil Aviation to the world, I am interested for that reason in its importance to the Empire, and to this country, after the war. I disagree more wholeheartedly than I can possible say with all his theories except one. I hope that the House will realise that I have had, owing to the change of Business, to make this speech without any preparation whatever, that I speak only because I regard it as a matter of such vital importance and because we have been given no other opportunity of raising this matter before a conference which may mean that we are pledged to a policy which none of us has had any real opportunity of discussing. I hope that the hon. Member will not consider me offensive if I, feeling 2742 as deeply on this subject as he does, criticise his ideas, which, I accept, he sincerely believes, though it passes my understanding to know why. [An HON. MEMBER: "He had no lunch."]It is not only a question of his having had no lunch—
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I should like for a moment to refer to the White Paper, which the hon. Member for Nuneaton, whose ideas as to its tardy appearance are rather like mine, again like myself but for different reasons, does not regard as satisfactory. I should very much like to know how the ideas embodied in the White Paper are going to be put forward, and my whom. We know that, on 23rd October, there is an Empire Air Conference in Montreal. Presumably delegates from this country will go to that conference to represent the national policy. The House of Commons has never been permitted to know what the policy is. It would be extraordinarily comforting if one were really able to believe that the Government were quite certain what their own policy was.
§ Mrs. Tate
The hon. Member may know it, but the Government have never really told the House what their policy regarding Civil Aviation in the post-war world really is. We are also aware that after the Montreal Conference there will be a conference in Chicago on 1st November. May I ask the Under-Secretary who is to represent us at both these conferences? A Minister has at long last been appointed to take charge of Civil Aviation. Unhappily, I gather he is, at present, more or less under the Air Ministry, and I believe that, at the moment, he is in West Africa. Is he to be brought home from West Africa in time to represent us at that conference, and, if so, before he goes there, is he to 2743 to be allowed sufficient time in this country to confer with those who are deeply interested in the development of Civil Aviation after the war, or will he go only to put forward the policy of the chosen instrument? I think these are very important questions. Personally, I do not favour the policy of one chosen instrument, but the Government may still favour the policy of one chosen instrument, which it will continue to subsidise, but whatever their policy we ought to know it.
§ Mr. Montague
On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Williams, with regard to future speeches—including my own, I hope—on whether the question of the chosen instrument can be discussed, in all that it implies, because it does raise very vast questions?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Certainly not in all that it implies, because it certainly would involve legislation. The matter of the chosen instrument is getting on to ground which would seem to be really beyond the province of the White Paper, and going beyond the financial question of this Debate.
§ Mrs. Tate
With very great respect, Mr. Williams, we are asked to sanction the expenditure of an enormous sum of money. Surely as British Overseas Airways Corporation is subsidised by the Government, and is entirely under the control of the Air Ministry and moreover of the military side of the Air Ministry, it should be in Order to discuss that chosen instrument, financed by money which we are being asked to vote.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes, anything which actually is being done can be discussed, but any change of policy would, I think, require legislation, and that is the direction in which we must not go.
§ Mrs. Tate
Naturally, I will make every possible endeavour to keep within your Ruling, Mr. Williams, and, if we may discuss what is actually being done, I hope it is in Order for me to ask what is not being done at the moment, because that is what is also important. I ask the Under-Secretary now whether Lord Swinton is to represent us at this conference; if so, when he is expected to arrive there; if he is to represent us, whether he is to be permitted sufficient 2744 time in this country, before he goes there, at least to meet those in this country who would wish to inform him of their view as the best interests of this country regarding Civil Aviation in the post-war world, that being what is to be discussed at the conference. Turning to the White Paper, on page three we find that the Government declare they wish:(i) to meet the needs of the peoples of the world for plentiful, efficient and cheap air services.There is not the slightest doubt, whether the Government go to this conference or not, and whoever they send to the conference, that the needs of the world with regard to "plentiful, efficient and cheap air services" are going to be met. That is a certainty. What matters is who is going to meet them and where, and whether those who hope to meet them on behalf of this country will be able to ensure that the Empire air routes are safeguarded by this country and the Empire. I differ fundamentally from the hon. Member for Nuneaton, who talked of a scheme of international world airlines.
§ Mrs. Tate
I did not do so but I would remind the hon. Member that this is a free country, and if I wanted to shrug my shoulders, I should do so, and I have far better shoulders to shrug than the hon. Member has. I am making a speech on a very technical subject, which, owing to the change of business, I have not had time to prepare, and I hope you will not divert me from my argument, because you know very well how offensive I can be if I am diverted.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am not trying to divert the hon. Lady; I am only hoping that she will keep in Order.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am extremely sorry, Mr. Williams, but hon. Members opposite are trying to lead me away from the subject. I say that cheap and efficient air travel round the world is an absolute certainty; other nations will provide it if we fail to do so. 2745 2.30 p.m.
Therefore, No. 1 is really merely voicing what anyone with a sense of reality knows will be the fact. No. 2 is askingto maintain broad equilibrium between the world's air transport capacity and the traffic offering.If you provide really efficient air lines, that again in time would right itself. I would very much like to ask the meaning of No. 3. I direct the Committee's attention to this because it has an importance which it is very difficult to over estimate. The Government proposeto ensure equitable participation by the various countries engaged in international air transport.We are told that at the conference there are to be 54 Governments represented. The size and responsibilities of the countries represented will be very different. What exactly are we to understand by the word "equitable"? I want to be certain that whatever else happens the interests of Great Britain will be proportionately represented, and I should like myself to be sure that the interests of the Empire as an Empire will be proportionately represented. Are we to go to a conference and is this country to be pledged to abide by arrangements laid down by a small country with neither our responsibilities nor our power? For instance, the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), in discussing the currency arrangements, stressed the difference between the responsibilities of a country of the size of Monaco and a country the size of the United States. I agree and therefore I want to know what is meant by "an equitable participation." Is equity to be judged on the world interests of the countries concerned, or on the existing or previous air lines of the countries concerned, or on the capacity of the countries concerned to run an air line, or what is the basis of equity to be?
As a nation we go to the conference very gravely handicapped by the appalling mistakes we made in the past. For years before the war I implored this country to allow transport planes to be designed, built and flown unfettered by interference from the Air Ministry. There is absolutely no question that we can build, design and produce aircraft which are second to none in the world. We have done it in the field of military aviation, and it is one of the catastrophes of our time that, owing to the mistaken policy 2746 of the Government, we have considered transport planes as merely peace-time planes and that military machines were the only machines in which we ought to interest ourselves in the war period. America, with her vision and her imagination, has appreciated from the first that the transport plane is just as much a part of the military machine as the military plane. She has been building these planes for many years past.
However, I believe that America is only too anxious and willing to co-operate with us on the question of Civil Aviation if we have a reasonable policy. The mistake to-day is in trying to parcel out everybody's rights into little compartments, terrified that someone else is going to get a little more than you are. I want freedom. Let America have rights provided that we have exactly the same rights. That is all I ask. With regard to machines, it is obvious that, if we are to run efficient air services round the world, we have to buy transport machines from America for several years to come. I admit that the principle of Government direction is absolutely essential, and with regard to all technical matters, the more effective you can make an international organisation the better. The ideal for all questions of safety and such technical matters is, of course, that they should be under international control, and the larger the number of nations you can persuade to agree to that the better.
I hope that all British interests are to be invited forthwith to make application to conduct services over the main world trunk routes and Empire communications. I know that that must be very painful to the hon. Member for Nuneaton but it is absolutely essential to the wellbeing of this country and the Empire. I believe that if that application were made the response would be extraordinary and I hope that Lord Swinton will come back and ask all interested people to meet him and not tie us to a policy of one chosen instrument.
I, personally, am against direct subsidies. I believe that you should have the chosen lines running on an equal basis and no subsidies, and that all approved companies should be awarded their proper proportion of mail contracts. There are airports all over the world to-day. The routes are mapped out. I do not know 2747 how many hon. Members have seen maps of the American Army Transport Command Services, but they are extraordinarily interesting. The routes are there. Then, let us fly them but do not let us apportion pieces of the world and restrict our own traffic, and do not let it be restricted by other nations whose interests are infinitely less than those of our own and whose interest in and necessity for running air lines is very much less than our own. Britain should receive proportionately no less favourable treatment than any other world Power, and are we certain that that will be assured at the forthcoming conference? The word that is important there is "proportionately" no less favourable. If the British Overseas Airways Corporation is to be the only official instrument of the Government, it will inevitably rule out the possibility of other interests starting up and it will be terribly to the detriment of our trade and of our Empire and our economic stability. I hope sincerely that we shall reach agreement with the Empire at the conference at Montreal.
If the Government are concerned in wishing to put forward an Empire air policy at the conference at Chicago I cannot consider a date when the American elections will be at their height as most opportune. I regard it as completely fantastic to send there at such short notice a Minister who has been very busy in West Africa, who has not had time, whatever his ability, to make himself aware of what the most recent aviation interests of this country are, nor in view of what private enterprise if unfettered could achieve what policy it will be advisable to pursue. If he were the greatest genius living he would not have had time in which to consider all these matters thoroughly. I am a great admirer of the Chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, but if he approaches the Minister he does so as Chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and must of necessity put forward views in the interests of the Corporation. I therefore ask, Are we tied to the chosen instrument and those views which are to be put forward to the conference, or are the views of industrialists of this country who are vitally interested to receive any representation whatever? I may be a lone voice, but I protest with all the power at my command at the abominable 2748 way this House has been treated with regard to this policy. Also at sending a Minister who, however great his ability, has had no time to acquaint himself with the feeling or capacity of this country today or of the policy it would, in view of that, be wise to pursue. I doubt, indeed, if the Government know their own policy on the matter. I protest against the Government not having permitted us to have a Debate on Civil Aviation. A Debate on the Adjournment would have been useless, and what we are saying here to-day is useless because it is said on this Vote and we can take no action. We should have had a Debate on the approving or disapproving of the White Paper, which may prove exceedingly mischievous and dangerous; therefore, again, I protest at the way the House has been treated.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
While my speech will not be so vehement as the one we have just heard from the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), I do think that there is a very important point of principle and a still more important point of procedure with regard to the international air line. I do not altogether disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) about the possible ultimate desirability of an international air line, but I am quite certain of this, that just as in the League of Nations we started at the wrong end so, in exactly the same way, we shall be starting at the wrong end if we try to get international air lines now. The way we should proceed in all these international things is not to start with some grand scheme at the top but to work up from realities from below. The assumption which underlies his argument, that peoples quarrel but Governments do not, is entirely contrary to my experience.
§ Mr. Bowles
No, I complained about different nations having their own chosen instrument. I said in the letter I quoted that their Governments could not keep out of international trouble because they would be obliged to support their own chosen instrument. I think it would probably be better to go the whole hog to start with, rather than to let Europe have a network of vested interests in air routes, because then we should have to fight them. Let us start now, because there 2749 is very little opposition in Europe and there are no vested interests.
§ Mr. Colegate
I am afraid I could not agree with that. I very much doubt whether the hon. Member for Nuneaton has any idea of the nationalistic feeling that prevails to-day, not merely in individualistic countries but most of all in countries like Russia, who have an entirely different mentality to ours. To suppose that Russia is internationally-minded over these matters is, in my opinion, totally to misconceive the whole situation. The difficulty which we found in the experience we had between the two wars is that whereas nations will not object to private individuals supplying them with particular services or particular classes of goods, immediately Government trading or Government interests come in then immediately it arouses nationalistic opposition which creates very great difficulty.
Now we had no difficulty whatever in buying goods from Russia before all matters were in the hands of the Russian Government, but the moment the Russian Government started trading as a Government—I am not offering any opinion on its merits or on the desirability of the 1917 revolution—immediately political considerations were brought in. I was one of those in favour of trading with Russia and I was attacked on all sides—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
If we are going into the question of trade with Russia we are getting very near to being outside the Rules of Order, and I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman, having made his illustration, to come on to the actual White Paper itself.
§ Mr. Colegate
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Williams, but I think you will agree that the illustration was really extremely apposite to this question of international air lines, and that brings me to the White Paper. Whatever we may think about the policy of international air lines, and I would by no means wholly condemn it, I do say it is far too early to consider it, and, therefore, we should ask that when the British Government go to this conference, they should see that ample opportunity is given for the British genius— British private enterprise—to make its contribution to these services. There can be no question that British genius in aviation is the foremost in the world to-day.
§ Mr. Bowles
If it is the foremost—and I am not doubting that it is—why should the hon. Member worry about my scheme, because it will get the orders?
§ Mr. Colegate
The hon. Gentleman is inviting me to discuss a subject which I am not certain the Chairman wishes me to pursue, but I may perhaps say if British genius is left untrammelled it will work on very different lines from British genius in harness, in which it is somewhat uncomfortable. I would only add that if we had had international transport 50 years ago the hansom cab and the omnibus industries would be the biggest industries in the world to-day. I do beg Members of the Committee on this air question—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We are entering too much into a Debate in regard to the value of private and public enterprise. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to say a certain amount, because the same statements were made on the other side, but he really ought to keep to the point.
§ Mr. Colegate
I will endeavour to do so, Mr. Williams, but I may perhaps point out, with the greatest respect, that the White Paper deals with this very question of competitive practices, subsidies, and equitable participation in international air transport. That is my argument, that the whole question of subsidies bears tremendously on this question of private enterprise. On that I disagree with the hon. Lady the Member for Frome, although I agree with much she has said. I do not like concealed subsidies. If we are to have subsidies, let us all know what they are and let them be paid direct. Then the taxpayers in every country know exactly where they are and what they are paying. Do not wrap it up in a mail contract, which is a service for carrying letters and parcels. We want to judge it on an economic basis. If mails should go by steamer or by some other form of transport, let us know which is the more economic method. Let us have direct subsidies. I would appeal to the Under-Secretary of State that our representatives at the international conference should try to bring out into the open quite clearly what subsidies are being, or will be, paid for international air transport, because we shall never get the matter straight unless we deal with it on those lines. 2751 I am a little uneasy about cheap air services. We are asked here to see that the people get cheap air services. What does that mean? If it means that we are to get air services at a reasonable rate, having regard to the expense of the traffic, I am in favour of it, but are we to have air transport at a ridiculously uneconomic price? If that is what it means, it is greatly to the disadvantage of this country. If our mercantile marine is to be largely undermined by wholly uneconomic air transport it is certainly not to the advantage of this country, and I hope, therefore, that the word "cheap" in paragraph 6 (i) means at a reasonable economic cost and does not mean that these services are to be so heavily subsidised at the expense of the taxpayers of the different countries that a great disturbance will be caused in the normal means of transport.
One other thing needs to be borne in mind. In the past the British Government has not, as compared with certain other Governments, kept perhaps as closely in touch with the industrial and commercial interests of this country. In some ways that has been a good thing. It has been an honourable tradition of the Foreign Office not to over-support British traders. However, a good many other countries do not take that point of view. For instance, I think our American friends very often keep much closer in touch with the industrial and commercial interests of their country than do our representatives. I hope that in this forthcoming conference our representatives will give the greatest consideration to the people who are interested in this matter. It is a great, growing, and perfectly legitimate trade, both in manufacture and operation, and it is really essential that our representatives at this forthcoming conference should, in conjunction with the representatives of the Dominions, put up a case and stand fast on this matter, which will affect so vitally the future development of this great new industry. I would ask the Under-Secretary to see that the views of those who may be concerned are carefully borne in mind and that our representatives put up a strong case, which they can do. It is really essential, not merely for our own immediate interests but for the future necessities of this subject. Nothing is 2752 ever to be gained by a group of countries like the British Empire putting up a weak case. It invariably leads to disappointment, resentment and friction in the future, and it is essential that right from the start it should be understood by all concerned that we stand for the fullest participation to which this Empire and this country is entitled in this great, growing traffic, and we intend to have it.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
Like other hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate, I was not aware that the subject was to be raised until a short time ago. I have, therefore, not prepared any speech, but I have tried to follow the course of the Debate to see what is disturbing those people who are so anxious to have one at this time. As one who took part in the last Debate in this House on the Adjournment before the House rose, I feel that considerable progress has been made since that date, and I do not share the apprehensions of the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) over this White Paper. Quite frankly I see nothing in it to be alarmed about, nor do I feel alarmed about the appointment of a Minister who will be responsible, I hope, for putting the British case.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member would not wish to misrepresent me. Far from being apprehensive at the appointment of the Minister, I welcome it. All I regretted was that there was no longer time between his appointment and the conference for him to make himself familiar with the subject and hear the various interests of this country.
§ Captain Macdonald
I did not want to misrepresent the hon. Lady, who expressed apprehensions, but not at the appointment of the Minister. I think we have made tremendous progress since the last occasion when we had a short Debate. Up to then, we had been getting nowhere. We had had Debates in this House and in another place and the results were always negative. Since then, however, a great many things have happened. We have not only had a new Minister appointed, as we demanded, we also asked that he should be a Minister of Cabinet rank, that Civil Aviation should be divorced from the Air Ministry, that a new Department should be set up to deal with Civil Aviation, that aeronautical research should be taken away 2753 from the Ministry of Aircraft Production, or the Air Ministry, and a new Department set up to deal with it. These things have since been done. A new Minister of Cabinet rank has been appointed, a new Department will be set up, I understand, when legislation has been passed through this House, and Civil Aviation is to be divorced from the Air Ministry as soon as is possible having regard to the war situation. Only a day or two ago there was a very important announcement by the Minister of Aircraft Production to the effect that a college of aeronautical research is being set up with a Government grant of £5,000,000. That, I think, is an admirable step which I am only sorry was not taken many years ago. That is progress, and we ought to be thankful for it.
But I share the view of the hon. Lady who said that this should have been done long ago, for then the Minister would have been given a better opportunity of studying the case before meeting 54 other nations in an international conference. On the other hand, I do not fear that Lord Swinton has not sufficient knowledge of this subject. For many years he has been associated with air matters, as we well know, and we have reason to be grateful to him. He was responsible for setting up shadow factories before the war and for the laying down of certain types of aircraft for the defence of this country. We have every reason to be thankful to Lord Swinton for the foresight and energy he put into his job at the time. When the history of the Battle of Britain is written, as it probably will be one day, people will realise what a wonderful job he did. It was my duty as adjutant of fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain and afterwards to see that squadrons were kept supplied with aircraft and I know what a near thing it was at that time, and that is the answer to those who criticise the Government for not laying down a programme for transport planes at that critical time.
After all, Lord Swinton has had opportunities of keeping in touch with this subject. He has been a Cabinet Minister for a considerable time; all the time he has been in West Africa he had been a member of the British Government and as such, I presume, has received Cabinet papers. If I know anything about him I am sure that he has had those papers, and has read them. Therefore, he should 2754 be well informed as to what has been going on in the Cabinet as regards Civil Aviation. Further, I know that while he has been in West Africa he has done a great deal of work in connection with Civil Aviation in preparing bases and so forth in that part of the world. I believe he has done a good job, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies will, I am sure, tell us when he comes to survey the work of his Department.
I do not wish to follow the Utopian flights of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) into the stratosphere of international air lines. I think we should be satisfied that we have got this White Paper as a basis for discussion at Chicago. We will, I hope, have the support of Canada and other Dominions—which is very important—for most of the White Paper's proposals. If there is any opposition I do not think it will come from the Empire. We shall have to meet it from our competitors in Civil Aviation. I hope that as many of the proposals as possible will be adopted, because the White Paper was drawn up in the interests of this country and the Empire and in the hope that they would be accepted. There may be things in it which are not acceptable to everybody in this House, but, as a basis for discussion, I do not think there is any room for complaint about the White Paper. I am sure that we all wish Lord Swinton God speed and good luck, and that we shall give him every possible support in the task which he is about to undertake at the forthcoming conference in America.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I rise to put only one point to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary, and I should be grateful if he could find it possible to answer it. I join with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) in saying that this White Paper represents a very satisfactory basis for the forthcoming discussions at Chicago. The point I wish to put arises out of what my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) said with regard to the third objective of the Government, as set forth in page 3 of the White Paper:To ensure equitable participation by various Governments engaged in international air transport.2755 That point is brought out a little more fully in Section 7, paragraph (4), which states:The convention would provide for the elimination of uneconomic competition by the determination of frequencies."Frequencies" are defined as the total services of all countries operating any international routes. The paragraph goes on:Distribution of these frequencies between the countries concerned. …I understand that the Lord Privy Seal, in another place the other day, spoke about quotas of aircraft. I regret that I have not the relevant passage, as HANSARD is temporarily out of print, but I would be grateful if my right hon. and gallant Friend would tell me whether it is a fact that the numbers of aircraft to be contributed by every country to this scheme of international Civil Aviation will be fixed in any way, or their numbers determined at the conference. After all, we are in a rather serious situation in that we have no transport aircraft on the stocks except some for military purposes. Some drawings and plans are being prepared, as I understand it, and we are told that at any time within the next three or four years Civil Aviation transport machines will be produced. What is to be the basis of these quotas? Are we to invite international approval to a certain quota in this country which is based on the numbers of aircraft which we would hope to have operating in three or four years' time, or is to be fixed upon the estimated numbers of aircraft which we hope to purchase from the United States as soon as the war ends? Exactly what is the basis of the quota?
It is quite possible that we could argue for a large quota, on the basis of our standing in the world and the prospects that there are, throughout the Empire, for Civil Aviation. We could make that quota high, but there is not the slightest use in doing that unless there is the prospect of fulfilling it. Alternatively we could make the quota small, having regard to our present resources and capacities, and ensure at the conference that the quota was flexible and took into account our expectations in the future.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Yes, I take it that that is what is meant by "determination of frequencies."
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Anyhow, conception of the quota of machines lies within that mention in the White Paper of the determination of frequencies. I would be glad if my right hon. and gallant Friend could elucidate the meaning of that paragraph.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
I hope to keep within Order this afternoon, and I intend to be commendably brief in my observations. I think it is a little unfortunate that the Debate on the subject is as restricted as it is on such a Motion as we have before the Committee. I cannot accept for one moment the idea which has been expressed that this White Paper, which comes within the Rules of Order, is confined solely to questions of air law and technical regulations. It involves a great deal more; those and other questions overlap, even in the wording of the White Paper itself. For one thing, the important consideration of the principle of national sovereignty in the air is involved, but if one developed that subject it would lead us into very wide fields. The question of uneconomic competition, which infers that if we are to provide for its elimination we must provide for the preservation of economic competition, wherever it might be, is also involved. The question of ownership and of operation is involved in all that is behind the White Paper, and therefore it is involved in what is behind our delegations, both the official one to Montreal and that to the larger conference at Chicago.
I am concerned with the atmosphere that is involved in this, because I cannot for the life of me see that these regulatory proposals as set forth in the White Paper are anything more than proposals to regulate private competition and the interest of private concerns in Civil Aviation. I will not develop that, but I feel that I ought to stress the point that we cannot divorce the question of regulation from the more vital and general principles involved in both the productive and the operational side of Civil Aviation. I read the other day that the scientists of the world are directing their attention to inter-planetary communication. I wonder how a Martian would interpret the idea of planetary sovereignty of the stratosphere. Surely the point involved is that the air is such a different medium from 2757 that for any other kind of transport—so universal a medium—that we cannot consider the question of air transport, in respect of speed and everything else, from the old narrow points of view which have been involved in the past and which are included in the speeches that we have heard to-day.
§ Mr. Montague
I used that by way of illustration, and we have had it on several occasions from your predecessor, Major Milner, that a passing reference is not necessarily out of Order. Anyhow, I will not develop the question of the Martians but will confine myself to one or two things which have been said to-day. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate). I could not help thinking that she completely made out the case for internationalism which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). A great part of the difficulties and the problems that she raised would not arise, but for the fact that competition in the air is being visualised on the basis of private ownership. The hon. Member behind her spoke, in as contemptuous terms as she did, about internationalism in respect of Government enterprise in Civil Aviation.
§ Mr. Colegate
I was not contemptuous. What I pointed out was that we found, when the Government started trading, that there were very serious frictional difficulties.
§ Mr. Montague
I notice that the people who are most touchy are those who are never afraid to offend the susceptibilities of other people.
§ Mr. Colegate
I must protest. I am not in the least touchy. I desire to help the hon. Member. He made a mistake. I spoke to a large extent in agreement with one of his colleagues.
§ Mr. Montague
These interruptions are really unnecessary. I do not think the hon. Lady will deny that she is contemptuous of the whole idea of internationalism in Civil Aviation. When I spoke of the contempt of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) I had in mind that he made reference to the hansom cab as an 2758 old method of transport which would still be in operation if the State had had during the Victorian era a control of the development of transport. I interpret that expression as one of contempt for the principles for which I stand. But, if the hon. Member does not wish to be convicted of contempt, I will not convict him of contempt of court. I will not debate the assumption that there must be inefficiency under State control, but I want to rebut the assumption that efficiency is the first consideration here. The international character of aircraft, and of this universal medium, and what it may involve in respect of the possibilities of future war, and the relations of State to State, are much more important than efficiency and, even if it meant a smaller degree of efficiency, that would not be too big a price to pay for a real prospect of peace in the future, which we are not likely to get under the kind of competitive scramble involved in the principles for which the hon. Member stands.
§ Mr. Montague
If the hon. Lady stands for private enterprise in robot planes she may develop her own argument. I do not know what she means. Robot planes are certainly not evidence of private enterprise by any means. They are evidence of efficiency. She is always so anxious to interrupt that, if I allowed her, she would probably get me far away from the subject. But I resist the assumption, first, that international control of operations and production which would be involved in the policy for which the Labour Party stands necessarily means inefficiency in the development of Civil Aviation even to the extent represented by the hon. Member who spoke about the hansom cab. I do not admit that, but, even if it were true, it would be true only to a degree. Civil Aviation in its international aspect is so vital to the future of the world that I think it will be a matter of comparative unimportance whether this or that degree of efficiency is reached by this or any other country. Not that I in the least regard Civil Aviation as unimportant. I think it is very important and I want it to be developed by this country in its stride.
We must have a sense of proportion and must put one thing with another when 2759 we are dealing with such vast issues as are involved in this matter. If we expanded Civil Aviation 20 times over pre war, we would not require air displacement to more than the extent of eight big bomber squadrons of the Royal Air Force. I shall not develop that, but my speech in the last Debate, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, and articles in the Press, even from those who are vitally interested in Civil Aviation, have put the point that we are stressing too much. My complaint is that it is being done deliberately on the part of people who are commercially and in business interested in private interests in Civil Aviation. There is no need for hon. Members to interrupt. It is my view, and I am entitled to put it.
§ Mr. Colegate
The hon. Member is not entitled to impute motives in that manner. I have not the slightest interest in it.
§ Mr. Montague
The hon. Member must not take too much on himself. It does not follow, because I followed him in the Debate, that every reference I make is personally directed to him. No one can doubt that private interests in this House in Civil Aviation have got together. We have to hand it to the business Tories. They are not like some of our people, who seem to think it is necessary to suggest that other Members who are loyal to the party are not altogether loyal to the interests of the class they represent. The business Tories always stick together so far as their class interests are concerned. There is not the slightest doubt that behind this agitation the disproportionate aspects that have been expressed in this House and outside, and in the campaign in the Press, are the private interests of people who want to make money out of Civil Aviation. We think that the interests of Civil Aviation are much more important to the world than the interests of a few commercial firms. Whether it is a question of the railways or shipping or anything else, we are not concerned as a party with their interests against the interests of the nation and the world as a whole. There is to be an Empire discussion with officials on the 24th. Is there a mandate behind that discussion in favour of an Empire policy or a policy of an Empire board? We have two of our greatest Dominions, Australia and New Zealand, who have 2760 accepted a policy which is identical with that of the Labour Party in this country.
§ Mr. Montague
I am not concerned with Russia. I am concerned with the British Empire. I hope that Russia will realise her international responsibilities in regard to Civil Aviation, because I cannot believe that she will be self-contained about aviation. She will have European interests. I am convinced that Russia will in time come into a rational organisation of world air transport. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us what the position is in respect to Russia.
The White Paper is, in general, to be welcomed. I remember many years ago, when I.N.C.A. got into its drive, what problems and difficulties we had in European aviation. All the time there have been two air laws for one medium, one as the result of the Paris Convention of 1919, and the other as a result of the Havana Convention of 1928. That is because America has been pan-American in its ideals. One must say that Canada and America were in step so far as that pan-continental idea is concerned. We are under no illusions about the position.
It may be Utopian to talk about international aviation. It is to the extent that we cannot force an international policy upon countries that will not have it, and we know precisely where America stands. All that I am concerned about is that, in any discussions there may be between the nations of the world in respect of air regulations, air law, and all the rest of it, we shall have the background of a larger ideal than that of private enterprise and competition, with its inevitable results in the bloody business of war over again. Let me repeat that the difficulties and troubles that have been brought forward in the Debate to-day are based upon an assumption of private enterprise, and that they may be overcome easily if we have a real international policy dominating the air transport of the world.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
There is one question I would like to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) will not be surprised if I do not enter with him into those wishful substrata spheres of controversy to which he 2761 has just referred, except to say that we must beware of wishful thinking in the country and in this Committee. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), that neither Russia nor the United States at least are likely at this juncture to agree to international control.
§ Mr. Montague
Are not those precisely the arguments that led to the disruption of the League of Nations?
§ Lady Apsley
I will not pursue the controversy of Government control versus private enterprise, except to say, as an air pilot, that I know we need the best in the air and I do not think we can get the best without trial and error. No Government can afford to make mistakes. Therefore, the Government, if they are wise, do nothing. In my opinion that has been our trouble as regards Civil Aviation in past years. I will not however enter into that controversy. The question I want to ask is this. Our representatives will go to the United States to carry out the points in. the White Paper; can we have any assurance with regard to the machines which it is proposed we should use to carry out what is in the White Paper? There, I think, is the whole crux of our future in the air in the immediate post-war years. Are we going to be allowed to build suitable aircraft in this country or must we rely on what can be obtained from elsewhere? There is a rumour going round my constituency. My right hon. and gallant Friend will know the private enterprise to which I refer when I say that it is situated on the edge of the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thorn-bury (Sir D. Gunston). There is a strong rumour in my constituency that they have had ready for a year the designs of a magnificent post-war civil air transport plane. The rumour is very strong that we cannot build that plane because the Americans tell us that they do not like it and that it is too far ahead of any design that they have. I would like to hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend that we have more freedom to go ahead on our own. I would therefore like to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend either to contradict that rumour or to make quite certain that the plane which is being built with the enterprise, skill and integrity of my constituents will have a chance very shortly to show what it can do.
§ Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
I hope the Committee will have gathered from my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) that her ideas, which she presented to the Committee with commendable brevity, are definitely other than those of the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. Montague). I was tempted to make a debating speech in reply to him, but I refrain from doing so because I know that there is a good deal of other Business still to be taken. I must, however, say one thing. Time after time the hon. Member makes innuendoes against hon. Members on this side of the Committee. He tries to do it in every speech, and it ought to be pointed out to him. He never offers a shadow of proof, but he suggests that those who have an interest in Civil Aviation are interested only because they have private interests in it. That suggestion is perfectly monstrous. It is just as bad as hon. Members on this side saying that Members of the Labour Party are interested in Nationalisation only because they hope, if they can bring it about, to get fat jobs. No one says that on this side because no one thinks there is any truth in it. I hope the hon. Member will try to clear up his mind, and not bring out such innuendoes again.
§ Mr. Montague
I cannot allow that observation to pass without reply. I made no innuendo against the hon. Member, but I was referring to the hon. Lady. All I said, and I repeat it, is that the whole of the argument that has been put forward from time to time in the agitation throughout the Press has been upon the basis of the commercial enterprise of private firms, whether in shipping, railways, or air manufacturing firms. It is a fact, and everyone knows it, and to say so does not constitute a personal reflection upon anyone.
§ Mr. Petherick
I hope that is a withdrawal, and I hope that the innuendo will not be repeated. I therefore leave that point. The appointment of Lord Swinton is extremely good. He has a good knowledge of the air from his previous experience in the Government. He is extremely industrious and strong-minded, and is a very active man. As to the White Paper, I have read it, but I would like to read it again before coming to any final conclusions about it. I thought that the introduction was very good. It is soundly written, and I con- 2763 gratulate the Government on it—with all the reservations that we all make that that is subject to further examination. I would like to make a further observation, which is the real reason for my getting up. It may appear to some hon. Members that this is the point rather of a sea-lawyer, or of an air-lawyer. If they will look at the last Clause in the White Paper they will see that it reads like this:Such, in broad outline, are the proposals which His Majesty's Government favour in present circumstances for the ordering of postwar international civil air transport. The proposals are of a provisional nature and may be modified in the light of the views expressed by other countries.There is no word that they may be modified as a result of views expressed in Parliament. I hope it was only a slip. I do not believe for a moment that it would be done deliberately. Perhaps the draftsman, or the Minister who "vetted" the White Paper might have been just a little more careful with those words. I hope that Lord Swinton will have a really good term of office and that he will do all he can—as I know he will—in the interests of British aviation.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
The Debate, which has taken the form, as hon. Members themselves have characterised it, of a series of unprepared speeches, has ranged from hansom cabs to the stratosphere and from the extreme internationalism of the Left to the hard advocacy of private enterprise. The task is not so easy therefore for the Under-Secretary who has to answer. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who opened the Debate, said that in his view the purpose of Civil Aviation was that it should be a boon to mankind and not a menace. With that objective not one person in this Committee is in disagreement. The disagreement enters when we come to the process of implementing that objective. I took note of one sentence of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) when he said That he hoped the views of all concerned would be borne in mind at the Chicago Conference. If the Government were to bear in mind at the Chicago Conference the views expressed to-day by all concerned the Government would not have any 2764 policy at all, because we should be torn first one way and then another. What the Government have done is to endeavour to give a broad lead by laying this White Paper, which puts forward proposals for an international regulatory system. The hon. Member for Nuneaton based his speech on two main contentions. The first was control of subsidies, and the second the need for abandoning the principle of sovereignty in the air. The retention of that principle was also criticised by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague).
On the first point I would put the point of view of the Government in a sentence. We want to abandon subsidies so soon as is practicable, and, provided that that process can be carried out by an international agreement, in such a way that this country does not suffer a disadvantage. We all remember the lessons, which we have had to learn bitterly, of unilateral disarmament in order to set an example to the world. Let us not fall into the same error when we seek to consider the possibility of unilateral abolition of subsidies. Let us lead with other nations towards an agreement that subsidies shall be abolished. When we come to subsidies—I do not want to go into this subject in any detail—they are hard to define. A subsidy may be a cash payment. It can be provided by selling aircraft at a price lower than is economically justified. It can be introduced by an absurdly high mail contract or by an enterprise which runs a prosperous internal line loading its overheads from a less prosperous external line on to the internal line.
Broadly speaking, we have taken the view in the White Paper that control of subsidies depends, as it were, on a three-legged stool. The first leg is control of frequencies. The second leg is control of rates, that is to say you will have to try to get some measure of rates in relation to speed, not the high rate you pay but the low rate you pay. There must be agreement whereby people will not be able to fly at more than X miles an hour for less than a particular sum. Otherwise you may enter into a world speed race which, in aviation, may be as costly as any other international race. Third comes the control of subsidies. We want control of subsidies. We have said so in the White Paper. If we fail because countries adopt subterfuges or methods of hidden subsidies, 2765 I believe that the three-legged stool can stand on two legs, control of frequencies and control of rates. That is why we put forward these three proposals, but it is on the first two, which I have just enunciated, that we lay importance.
Then, as regards the freedom of the air and the rights of national sovereignty over the air, we maintain that a nation shall have sovereign rights of the air over its own territory, and I believe that to put forward any. other concept at the Chicago Conference would be very much like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. The hon. Gentleman said—these were his words—"We must not allow the 53 nations at Chicago to perpetuate this doctrine." I would ask him how this country is to go forward and forbid 52 other nations to adopt a conception which most nations in the world, including many great Powers, have shown no signs yet of being able to abandon.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would agree that in certain cases this country and the Empire could give a tremendous lead. I do not think we should run away from supporting those views.
§ Captain Balfour
This country is not running away. It is being practical and setting an example by saying we can allow the doctrine of sovereignty of the air to continue with no menace to the rest of the world, provided that it is by a world-regulated free system. We say we want the maximum degree of freedom in the air, and in this White Paper we have laid down the four freedoms; first, the right of innocent passage, second, the right to land for non-traffic purposes, third, the right to drop passengers originating in the country of origin of the aircraft, and fourth, the right to pick up passengers in another country destined for the place of origin of the aircraft. We want to see the whole world accept these four freedoms, but we are not prepared to concede those freedoms except as part of an international regulatory system. Those who have the interests of this country and the British Empire at heart—and although it it a little out of fashion in these days to talk about the interests of the British Empire, I think the more we do so the better—[Interruption]. I am not the slightest bit ashamed of saying that at Chicago we want to see that the interests of the 2766 British Empire are adequately looked after. At Chicago we can do two things. We can look after the interests of the British Empire, and we can forward the doctrine of freedom of the air, provided that we are insistent that we should only concede those four freedoms laid down in the White Paper in return for subscription to an international authority which will administer the new international regulatory convention.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman assure the Committee now, that the rest of the Dominions endorse the point of view which is now being applauded by the people behind him? Are they entirely in agreement with the opinion he is voicing here?
§ Captain Balfour
Yes, indeed. If the hon. Member will turn to the Records of Debates in another place, of 10th May, column 694 onwards, he will see that in that place the Lord Privy Seal announced this:I repeat that the principles, the elimination of uneconomic competition, the setting up of national quotas, equilibrium between transport and capacity"—
§ Captain P. Macdonald
Surely, anybody is allowed to quote Government policy as adumbrated in another place, or in this place or outside?
§ Captain Balfour
I will naturally bow to your Ruling, Major Milner. I did take counsel with the Deputy-Chairman beforehand, and I understood that I would be in Order but naturally I bow to your Ruling.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Further to that point of Order. I have a clear recollection of a Ruling not so many days ago, that a statement of Government policy, whether delivered in this House or in another place, could be quoted verbatim.
§ Captain Balfour
I think I can, without transgressing the Rule, having read the most relevant passages assure my hon. Friend opposite that what was said by the Lord Privy Seal in another place, is virtually the main part of this White Paper. He said we had first adopted the Canadian Draft Convention which also incorporated those very principles, and then we had got agreement with the Dominions on putting forward a regulatory system, the outline of which is contained in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Bowles
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman explain, as his right hon. Friend did not the other day, what the Lord Privy Seal meant by uneconomic competition?
§ Captain Balfour
The Committee has a lot of work to get through and I have a lot of things to answer. I think it would be best to allow me to do my best, or my worst, as the case may be, and see if I can take that in my stride. We are being realistic at the Chicago Conference, and are putting forward proposals for an international regulatory system.
I come to the speech of the hon. Lady for Frome (Mr. Tate) who spoke, she said, without any preparation. It was a speech, if I may say so powerful in language and form. She expressed surprise and complaint at the document being produced at such a late date. I must not transgress the Rules of Order, but if she would look up the particular columns of HANSARD of another place, to which reference has been made, she will see there is nothing new in this White Paper, nothing which has not been put before Parliament previously in Ministerial declarations. This is a tidying up and collating of various declarations that have been made previously. I think she must admit that point if she will turn her mind back to the sentence I was reading when I was stopped by you, Major Milner. She asked me certain questions. She asked how the White Paper would be put forward, that presumably delegates will go to Montreal, and she said the date of the conference was fantastic. It was not for us to say. We are going to the conference at the invitation of the United States, and she must not blame His Majesty's Government for a date for which we had not the responsibility of setting.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air said, the conference at 2768 Montreal on 24th October is to discuss operational and technical problems connected with the establishment of air routes between the Commonwealth countries, whereas the International Conference at Chicago is to be on broad world matters. The hon. Lady has asked who is to represent us at both conferences. It is not usual in the case of official conferences to reveal the names of civil servants, because any deliberations at official conferences must come back to Ministers for endorsement. Of course, it will be a civil servant who will be leading our delegation.
As regards the Chicago Conference, to the best of my knowledge, Lord Swinton will be back in ample time to be in this country to study the situation and be present at Chicago. The hon. Lady asked: Would he have time to confer with interested parties, or would he put forward the policy of the Chosen Instrument? It would be out of Order to go into that, but I can say this—which covers also the point made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who said that this was a proposal for the orderly control of private enterprise. These proposals allow of the national expression of any nation subscribing to the National Convention on Civil Aviation, in any form that that nation likes. You can have private enterprise, if you like, under these regulatory proposals, and you can have State regulation. It would be out of Order, and it would not be germane to the issues raised in the White Paper, to discuss whether this country continues on its present policy or modifies that policy in future.
§ Captain Balfour
No; the whole agenda and the purposes of the conference, which were declared in this House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, show that it is of a limited scope and on an official level. That is the agreement come to by this country and the various countries of the Empire. Of course, Lord Swinton will be able to confer with who- 2769 ever he likes. I do not know whom he will confer with. But my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) was quite right when he suggested that Lord Swinton was up to date on these matters. We have taken special steps since his appointment to send all the papers, including reports of the deliberations in this House and in another place, to him, so that he will be right up to date when he arrives in this country; and he will then have some days in hand, to consult those people whom he may wish to consult. The Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) asked about equitable distribution. He asked—and I think there is some slight confusion in his mind—was there going to be a quota of aircraft? There is no conception of limitation of aircraft. What we want is some measure of agreed control of frequencies. The determination of frequencies will be based on a formula which has to be agreed, but we would like to see it based on a formula which will take traffic, actual and potential, into account, but is not based on the supply of available aircraft.
I would like to answer at once the question put to me by the Noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley). She said that an aircraft was being made in her division, and that there was a rumour that it was not being proceeded with because the United States did not like it, and because it was too modern. I only wish that some of the critics of that particular aircraft—known, I think, as the Brabazon One—had heard the tribute of the Noble Lady and the secondhand tribute of the United States, that it was so modern, because the criticism has always been that it is going to be out of date before it flies. Actually, I do not think it will be, but I assure the Noble Lady that there is no truth in her suggestion. That aircraft is being constructed so far as our policy of the first importance of military effort will allow. I think I have answered all the questions which have been put to me, and I thank the Committee for having given me this opportunity of endorsing what so many Members on all sides of the House have said, that we wish Lord Swinton well in his leadership at the Chicago Conference.
Question put, and agreed to.
2770 Resolved:That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,250,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for general Navy, Army and Air services and supplies in so far as specific provision is not made therefore by Parliament; for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war; for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community; for relief and rehabilitation in areas brought under the control of any of the United Nations; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.Resolution to be reported upon Tuesday next; Committee to sit again upon Tuesday next.